Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive!

September 14, 2013

backissue54coverBack Issue #54
Feb 2012

Published by TwoMorrows Publishing eight times per year, Back Issue celebrates comic books of the 1970s, 1980s, and today through a variety of recurring (and rotating) departments. That unassuming description from the TwoMorrows website hardly comes close to the level of awesome of this magazine. Recently changed at issue #52 to 84 pages of full color in a nice square-bound format, Back Issue is filled with lengthy articles about comic book characters, creators and events, not to mention tons of original art, unpublished pencil sketches and the occasional commission piece. Alpha Flight appears in this issue in one of those commission pieces, but under dubious circumstances.

In an article “Phoenix Rising” by Jim Ford, the entirety of the Dark Phoenix Saga, a story found at or near the top of nearly every “best X-Men story” list on the Internet, is told in great detail, along with several rare and unusual images of Jean Grey. A few of these are Byrne commissions, and one of them is quite an odd choice: a montage of X-Men characters commissioned back in 2010. Yes, Jean Grey is in the image but is so small and among so many other characters that it’s rather puzzling why this image was chosen in a Dark Phoenix Saga article.

backissue54bclick to enlarge

The actual image as published is a bit small, so here is a higher resolution version. The Alpha Flight characters in the image are Mac (costumed), Heather (not costumed), Northstar (scowling), Aurora, Sasquatch, Shaman and Snowbird (prev 4 all smiling). Aurora is holding a sign, that reads, “Bon Jour Nathan! Je T’amie!” For those of you who were reading Alpha Flight comics instead of paying attention in French class, that means, “Hello Nathan! I love you!”

More information about the original commission piece, and some interesting Alpha Flight tidbits, can be found at the official John Byrne website. The owner of the original commission piece is the extremely talented Nathan Greno, director of the Disney movie Tangled, and John Byrne fan extraordinaire.

An amateur colorist decided to download a scan of the commission, freely available at John Byrne’s website, colored it, and posted it online, which TwoMorrows then lifted, crediting it only as “artist John Byrne’s drawing of the X-Men cast of his legendary tenure.” The original commission piece from 2010 is shown below.

backissue54aclick to enlarge
(note: the link leads to a very high resolution image which is a rather large file)

Nathan later found out about TwoMorrows using this image without his permission. Unlike other instances when commission owners were publicly acknowledged in a subsequent issue after contacting TwoMorrows, no such acknowledgement has ever been published. When Joe Hollon wrote to TwoMorrows regarding an uncredited contribution published in Back Issue #53, TwoMorrows published an apology in issue #58:

Joe, our sincere apologies for that goof. We juggle so many images and image sources that occasionally an error like this occurs. Thanks for understanding-and for your art contribution.

The most likely explanation for the lack of apology to Nathan is that TwoMorrows was never contacted and informed of the error, but it’s still odd for them to have published the colored version of the piece without properly crediting it.

He’s the best at what he does… and what he does is imperceptibly tiny.

September 10, 2013

wolverine300coverWolverine #300
Mar 2012

Similar to the What If? #200 issue that came out of the other end of the re-numbering craze to arbitrarily re-start a comic book series at a very high number (as opposed to the re-numbering craze where you start over at #1 every 4-5 months), Wolverine #300 is arguably around the 300th issue or so of the various Wolverine series, give or take a few issues. This oversize issue contains a seven-part story and a preview of Jeph Loeb’s Sabretooth Returns, along with three pages of character designs and four pages of tiny cover thumbnails of the 300 issues arranged in a tight array, including many, many variants. Alpha Flight Collector is very much impressed with the kind of painstaking indexing work required to create such an array, and is thrilled to find many Alpha Flight characters on those covers!

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Due to the volume of material, the actual thumbnails are extremely small and the cover detail is quite hard to discern. So here are much larger images of the issues shown in the array:

Wolverine #35 - Puck

Wolverine #35 – Puck

Wolverine #95 - Vindicator (Mac)

Wolverine #95 – Vindicator (Mac)

Wolverine #110 - Shaman

Wolverine #110 – Shaman

Wolverine #142 - Heather, Northstar, Synth Mac

Wolverine #142 – Heather, Northstar, Synth Mac

Wolverine #143 - Heather, Synth Mac

Wolverine #143 – Heather, Synth Mac

Wolverine #172 - Guardian (Mac), Sasquatch, Shaman, Snowbird, Aurora, Puck

Wolverine #172 – Guardian (Mac), Sasquatch, Shaman, Snowbird, Aurora, Puck

Wolverine #179 - Shaman

Wolverine #179 – Shaman

Wolverine #28 - Northstar

Wolverine #28 – Northstar

Note that we still aren’t sure which Mac is on the cover of Wolverine #142 and #143, but I think it’s Mac’s Synth clone.

Note: there is a cover variant by Geof Darrow, one by Jim Cheung, a blank variant and a second printing sketch variant of Adam Kubert’s original cover.

wolverine300coverdarrowvariant Wolverine #300 – Geof Darrow variant
wolverine300covercheungvariant Wolverine #300 – Jim Cheung variant
wolverine300coverblank Wolverine #300 – blank variant
wolverine300coversecondprintingvariant Wolverine #300 – 2nd printing variant

Mister Jeffries “saves everyone” trifecta now complete!

September 9, 2013

xmen23coverX-Men #23
Mar 2012

The giant blob of X-Men from the early issues of this title pared itself down to a manageable team of six mutants for this story arc: Colossus, Storm, Psylocke, Jubilee, Warpath and Domino; with minor roles for the rest of the X-Men back on Utopia, the island headquarters of Cyclops’ team. Of course, that’s where Mister Jeffries has been, choosing to remain with the X-Club after the events of Schism. In the final issue of the “Machines of War” arc, Mister Jeffries appears in three panels as a regular member of the X-Men Science team, having joined up in Uncanny X-Men #505.

The mythical Balkan country of Puternicstan had bought an army of Sentinels to attack their enemy neighbor Symkaria, a master plan doomed by the appearance of not only the X-Men but also the Avenger War Machine, who eventually team up to fight the giant robots. Figuring that Madison Jeffries, second to none when it comes to defeating Sentinels, could help from afar, Psylocke telepathically contacts him from halfway around the world, beaming an image into his mind of a Sentinel control contraption plucked from the mind of the evil Dr. Kamarofski.

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Victor Gischler’s focused and brilliant Jeffries is one of the best. Not surprisingly, Madison is expected to discern the nature of the Sentinel control contraption solely from the beamed schematics and whatever other thoughts Psylocke transmits, and he succeeds. He deduces that they need to send a coded shutdown command to the Sentinels to defeat them, as smashing the contraption would just cause their default mutant-killing programming to take over.

Locutis of Borg approves.

Locutis of Borg approves.

Sounds familiar? In the Star Trek: TNG episode “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II”, Data defeats the Borg collective by planting a sleep command as suggested by Picard’s re-emerging consciousness after being assimilated into Locutis.

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Unfortunately, the only guy who can enter the shutdown command, the evil Dr. Kamarofski, gets shot to death. As the Sentinels close in on the rest of the team and nearly kill Storm, Cyclops and War Machine, Psylocke allows her body to be taken over by Mister Jeffries, who then enters the shutdown command into the contraption, saving not only the team but also the entire country of Symkaria from being destroyed.

I can't believe all I touched when I was in control of Psylocke's body was a computer keyboard.

I can’t believe all I touched when I was in control of Psylocke’s body was a computer keyboard.

The Mister Jeffries “saves everyone” trifecta is now complete, including the time he saved everyone on Earth in X-Men #15, saved everyone on Utopia in X-Men: Schism #4 and now has saved everyone in Symkaria. What a nice job by Victor Gischler who used Jeffries in such an awesome way, far from the action of the rest of the story arc, but with brilliant simplicity.

Note: this issue, although released on the same day as X-Club #2 which did not carry the Regenesis banner, does carry the Regenesis banner.

Note: this issue has a Venom variant cover by John Tyler Christopher, part of a series of variant covers that appeared across the Marvel line in January 2012 to promote the Venom: Circle of Four event.

xmen23covervenomvariant X-Men #23 – Venom variant

Madison Jeffries is the luckiest guy ever. For one hour.

September 8, 2013

xclub2coverX-Club #2
Mar 2012

Simon Spurrier’s five issue X-Club miniseries continues with a nicely paced second issue that offers fairly equal page time to each of the X-Men Science Team members, advancing the storyline while also presenting the characters. He successfully manages a good balance among superhero storytelling, techno-babble and humor, which is his trademarked style on the X-Club. Madison Jeffries appears extensively in this issue as a regular member of the X-Club, having joined up in Uncanny X-Men #505.

Picking up from last issue, the X-Club members are in four different locations, with Dr. Kavita Rao on the Stringstar space elevator anchor base, Dr. Nemesis diving underneath the base platform, Danger back at Utopia (the headquarters of Cyclops’ X-Men team), and Mr. Jeffries in orbit on the Stringstar space elevator platform. He uses a scanner to detect isotope levels while in an odd exchange with Dr. Nemesis. It’s odd not only because Dr. Nemesis has an empathic starfish bonded to his head blurting out the most hilarious “inner monologue” lines, and not only because Jeffries is playing the straight man to all this, but because it reveals to the reader that he’s not exactly sure about his feelings toward Danger. Alpha Flight Collector has already expressed disapproval over portraying Jeffries as a mechaphile, but the way Si Spurrier eases him into realizing his emotions makes it more of a touching revelation to himself than a bizarre joke. It’s a realistic exhibition of sexuality that’s on a sophisticated level beyond the shock of fetish humor and has turned this fan around from otherwise negative opinion on the subject.

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Paul Davidson continues to draw Jeffries surrounded by little bits of floating machinery and gadgets in purely iconic imagery of the character, similar to what he did in the previous issue.

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Simon Spurrier’s Jeffries is described quite clearly as “spaced out” in the intro page, and he wastes no time displaying him as such with a scene exiting the observation room on the space platform. Rather than using the door, he uses his technomorph powers to make his own exit, sealing it up behind him as he departs. Mr. Jeffries claims not to be able to remember “people-rules”, but he’s been at Utopia for quite a while since being recruited. Apparently it’s important to show in both pictures and words how “spaced out” the guy really is.

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He is then hurriedly sent back down for an hour-long descent in the space elevator pod, which is essentially a moving holosuite, and if there’s ever a chance for adolescent fantasy humor to play out, it’s here, folks. For those new readers, it’s obligatory for this blog to present the finest comic book art of modestly dressed women drawn in a respectful manner with realistic proportions.

Quark approves.  That will be 2 bars of gold-pressed latinum, please.

Quark approves. That will be 2 bars of gold-pressed latinum, please.

Cyclops then contacts Mister Jeffries, asking him to help out with Danger, who has gone completely insane back at Utopia. He mentions that Emma Frost suggested there might be a connection between the two, which Jeffries awkwardly denies, but apparently Emma knows more about Jeffries’ psyche than he does about himself. Remember that Emma Frost had performed a memory wipe on Jeffries at the conclusion of the Age of X storyline back in X-Men Legacy #248, a procedure that seems quite intimate, so it’s plausible that she really does know what’s going on deep inside his mind, even if he’s not completely at terms with it.

Using the holographic hard-light emitters in the pod in a more X-Clubby fashion, Madison then builds an interface to Danger’s Operating System and is knocked about quite a bit. Images of Mister Jeffries getting knocked about are quite familiar to Alpha Flight fans at this point and there’s no shortage of him writhing in pain, crawling in agony and laid out flat as the interface is finally broken from Danger’s end.

Writhing in pain

Writhing in pain

Crawling in agony.

Crawling in agony

Laid out flat

Laid out flat

Note: Unlike the first issue of this mini-series, the cover of this issue does not carry the Regenesis banner identifying this as part of the loose crossover event that followed the Schism event.

Northstar cameo in Astonishing X-Men #45

September 7, 2013

astonishingxmen45coverAstonishing X-Men #45
Feb 2012

Alpha Flight v4 writer Greg Pak had a short run on the Astonishing X-Men title (issues #44-47) before Marjorie Liu took over and got Northstar all married and whatnot. During that run, he set up what would eventually spin off into the very fun alternate universe-hopping series, the X-Treme X-Men, and ultimately conclude with the X-Termination crossover. In this, the second issue of the “Exalted” arc, readers learn the shocking backstory of the circumstances under which the X-Treme X-Men team formed. An alternate version of Northstar appears in one panel in an ambiguous role.

On an alternate world where 616 Cyclops suddenly found himself in issue #44, a mutant uprising led by Magneto had successfully taken over the world. A team of X-Men led by that alternate world’s version of Cyclops battled Magneto’s mutant team and won, cracking the planet as a result. This background info is beamed directly into 616 Cyclops’ mind by an alternate Charles Xavier known as Savior, providing a quick visual expository to the reader.

astonishingxmen45

In a mentally projected scene from that world-cracking battle, one of the combatants is Northstar, fighting X-23 and shown wearing a version of his classic black and white costume with a white belt and gloves with starburst cuffs. You can decide if that ear is pointy enough; Alpha Flight Collector thinks it’s on the border. Unfortunately, due to the limited amount of explanation, it isn’t clear what side Northstar is fighting for, because neither he nor X-23 is properly identified in any previous panels as belonging to one side or another. It’s as if Greg Pak’s script said “Ok here, just draw a bunch of random X-Men fighting each other in a big tangle of punches and stuff, whatever!”

astonishingxmen45b

Look for Northstar in the lower left corner of the scrum. It’s left to the reader to speculate whether Northstar or X-23 would sympathize with Magneto or Cyclops in this alternate world, which is a fairly interesting question to pose. But overall, I’m glad that out of all the mutants that could have been in that scene, an Alpha Flight member was included rather than overlooked, so thanks to Greg Pak and artist Mike McKone for this little cameo!

Note: the cover carries the Regenesis tag, identifying this as part of the loose crossover event that followed the Schism event. The next two issues of Astonishing X-Men in the “Exalted” arc do not carry the Regenesis tag on the cover.

Jeffries does nothing at all to help, fans thrilled anyway

January 3, 2013

xmenlegacy260coverX-Men Legacy #260
Feb 2012

Mike Carey’s long-term run as writer of X-Men Legacy comes to its conclusion with the second and last part of the “Half a Step” arc. As mentioned previously, this arc was published well after the X-Men split into two parts under the Schism and Regenesis storylines, so the big mysteries about who was going to go where had already been resolved. Mister Jeffries, who we knew would be staying on Utopia with Cyclops, appears in a few panels as regular member of the X-Men Science Team, having joined up in Uncanny X-Men #508.

Picking up from last issue’s events where Rogue discovers that Ariel, a doorway teleporter, had been trapped in a fiery half-state of existence, the Science team is recruited to figure out how to get her back. While sitting around at a conference table, Mister Jeffries makes a suggestion that they use the same dimensional barrier technology used back in the four-part “Devil at the Crossroads” storyline (X-Men Legacy Annual #1 and issues #228, #229 and #230) to catch Emplate.

xmenlegacy260b

When Rogue shoots down the idea and fellow Science Team member Dr. Kavita Rao agrees with her, Jeffries capitulates and jokes:

xmenlegacy260

That is a reference to the beast he fought with Rogue in X-Men Legacy #244, which is one of the most popular pages on Alpha Flight Collector. I wonder why. Oh yeah, boobs.

It was a nice touch for Mike Carey to insert these references, but also not unexpected in the last issue of such a run for a long-term writer to reminisce this way. Unfortunately, because Rogue decides not to pursue the technological route to rescue Ariel, that’s all we get out of Jeffries. Note that although Northstar was on hand last issue to help out, he’s not needed in the rescue and doesn’t appear.

So ends Mike Carey’s run, and since he was so good to Alpha Flight collectors, a small recap is deserved. He tended to write Jeffries as way smarter than the guy actually should be, but since it’s an error in the character’s favor, it’s easily overlooked. Carey also played a pivotal role with Northstar and Aurora’s storylines, effectively returning them to existence in his opening arc, the Supernova issues #188-#190 and 2007 Annual, and for that we are indebted to him. After a quick Northstar cameo during the Utopia arc in #227, he would end up including Jeffries in the aforementioned “Devil in the Crossroads” arc (4 issues), a cameo in issue #234, the Second Coming issue #236, the aforementioned “Rogue’s boobs” issue #244, the Age of X storyline (5 issues) and this final arc (2 issues) for a total of 20 issues. Not bad at all, and thanks, Mike Carey, for keeping the flame alive for Alpha Flight fans for so many years and so many issues!

The Mystery of the Ambiguous Mac

January 2, 2013

oittmuwpgr5coverWolverine, Punisher & Ghost Rider: Official Index to the Marvel Universe #5
Feb 2012

Note: Despite being clearly printed on the cover, “Official Index to the Marvel Universe: Wolverine, Punisher & Ghost Rider” is not the actual title of this series. The indicia reveals it reversed as above.

The Official Index to the Marvel Universe, or OITTMU, continues in its third incarnation by covering various Wolverine, Punisher, and Ghost Rider series. The first two incarnations covered Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, Avengers, Thor, and Captain America. The index contains detailed synopses of individual comics, including all of the relevant data pertaining to the comic as well as a thumbnail of the cover art, 2 issues per page (roughly). Alpha Flight appears in this issue in reprinted art from the covers of Wolverine #142 and #143 (Sep and Oct 1999).

Click to see full-size version of the solicited cover

Click to see full-size version of the solicited cover

Originally, the solicits for this issue indicated it would start at issue #142 for the Wolverine section of the book, but the writers only got so far as issue #133 last issue. The solicits are based on estimated page counts, so it’s typical to be off by a few issues. Since the usual arrangement is for the first indexed issue of the section to be shown on the cover in thumbnail, we would have had Alpha Flight on the cover of this issue had the estimate been accurate! Instead, the cover for Wolverine #134 (not an Alpha Flight appearance) made it to the big show. It’s the second time we were robbed of this distinction, as the same situation happened with issue #3 of this index as well.

The section on the Wolverine titles covers issues #134 through #169 with a few special issues published during that portion of the run. Alpha Flight members appear in issues #142-#145 and the Wolverine & Cable special, also known as “Guts & Glory”.

Cover to Wolverine #142 showing ambiguous Mac

Cover to Wolverine #142

The covers for #142 and #143 feature some of the team just after Alpha Flight volume 2 ended, with Puck, Northstar, Heather (as team liaison) and one of the two James MacDonald Hudsons. At the time, there were two Macs running around; one being the original Mac who had returned at the end of volume 2 (who at this time took the codename Guardian) and the other being “Synth Mac”, his younger clone (who at this time took the codename Vindicator). Because of similarities in their costumes and the fact that neither one was costumed in those issues, we can’t tell who is who on the cover of Wolverine #142 nor #143. There is also a small flashback panel in Wolverine #145 with a similar ambiguity: an unnamed Mac is shown wearing a cowl with a red stripe but we can’t tell which Mac it is, especially since the flashback is to events in issues #142 and #143 when neither Mac was wearing a costume. The index positively identifies the Mac in that small flashback panel as Guardian but also notes the error of showing him in costume at all.

Cover to Wolverine #143

Cover to Wolverine #143

Why so confusing? For those of you who keep track of these sorts of things: as of Alpha Flight v2 #20, “Real Mac” was wearing an all-white cowl and “Synth Mac” was wearing a cowl with a red stripe down the middle. The next chronological appearance of either of them is Wolverine #142, but again, neither of them are shown in costume in that issue (except in flashback). “Synth Mac” dies in issue #143 (oh sorry, uh, spoiler alert!) and the next appearance of “Real Mac” after this arc is in Generation X #58, where he is wearing an all-white cowl. The confusion starts when we next see “Real Mac” again in Wolverine #171, where he is wearing a cowl with a red stripe, continuing to wear this through several other appearances.

wolv2142coverinset

The actual images printed in this index are thumbnailed so here are the insets, magnified to clearly show the red stripe on ambiguous Mac’s cowl, as well as Heather in her “Team Liaison to Department H” costume holding an awesome looking gun.

wolv2143coverinset

Unfortunately, the information about the issues in the index doesn’t address the mystery of ambiguous Macs on these covers; perhaps it was too subtle even for the usually insanely detailed writers of the OITTMU series. It’s not too subtle for Alpha Flight Collector to still be worrying about this 13 years later, though. My personal opinion is that “Synth Mac” is on the cover of both of those issues based on the supposition that if he were costumed at the time, he would be wearing a cowl with a red stripe.

The index also helps out with positively identifying Ghost Girl (Lilli Stephens) for the first time in a small flashback panel in Wolverine #142 showing the reorganization of the Beta Flight team after volume 2. This places Wolverine #142 as Ghost Girl’s last chronological appearance, not Alpha Flight v2 #20 as previously thought.

Two known continuity errors in Wolverine #143 are pointed out and sort of explained. The first is when Vindicator (“Synth Mac”), while not wearing his EM suit nor cybernetic helmet, blasts Weapon X (Garrison Kane), which should have been impossible. The index explains this by suggesting, “his synthoid nature may have granted him additional, previously unrevealed powers.”

plausible

The second is in the 2nd story of Wolverine #143 when Walter Langkowski tries to explain where A.I.M. could possibly have obtained Snowbird’s body to reincarnate. At the time Walter was in Snowbird’s body but he suggested they obtained the body from her grave. The index notes, “Sasquatch’s explanation here that Snowbird’s body regenerated while in its grave cannot be accurate. [Wolverine #172 (2002)] implies that the Inuit gods had a hand in resurrecting Snowbird, but the exact mechanics of her return are unexplained.”

plausible

There was a chance for these continuity errors to be resolved with the publication of this index… but if the information doesn’t exist, the writers don’t have much to give us.

Oy vey! Chinese food for Christmas?

January 1, 2013

marvelholidayspecial2011coverMarvel Holiday Special 2011 #1
Feb 2012

It’s pretty much a sure thing at this point that Marvel intends to skip any sort of 2012 Holiday issue, so what better way to wrap up the season than by looking back on last season’s issue? Originally published as a series of free Digital Comics in late November and early December 2011, Marvel Holiday Special 2011 #1 came out in print on December 14, 2011. For those of you who keep track of these sorts of things, that was before both Chanukah (which started the night of the 20th in 2011) and Christmas (which falls on the 25th every year). Sasquatch appears on the last page of the fourth story of four in a single panel cameo.

While the other three stories are your usual Christmas stories, this one, titled, “Chinese Food for Christmas” is a quasi-Chanukah story featuring arguably the most famous Marvel Jewish character, Ben Grimm as The Thing. The reason it’s “quasi-Chanukah” is that the entire basis of the story is the unofficial tradition that Jews eat Chinese food on Christmas, making this a Christmas story, not a Chanukah story. The Thing, along with Kitty Pryde, Moon Knight, Songbird, Wiccan and Sasquatch (all of whom are Jewish) gather for a banquet at a Chinese restaurant and invite some kids along to celebrate.

Wait, Sasquatch is Jewish? What? Yes, Walter Langkowski’s religion was never addressed in any of the Alpha Flight issues, and John Byrne probably never intended for him to be Jewish, but sure enough, Jim Starlin popped this little gem on us, seemingly out of nowhere:

Panel from Infinity Crusad e #1 (Jun 1993)

Panel from Infinity Crusade #1 (Jun 1993)

When various heroes around the world visualize their religious icons, Sasquatch is shown witnessing the Star of David, and just like that, he’s Jewish. Langkowski isn’t a Jewish surname but must have sounded plausibly Jewish to Starlin when he needed an international character to be Jewish. Why he didn’t pick Sabra is beyond me, and Alpha Flight Collector has always been just as confuzzled as anyone else about that Star of David panel, but it doesn’t contradict anything else and Sasquatch wouldn’t have made it into this issue otherwise, so no complaint.

marvelholidayspecial2011a

The only part of the story that is related to Chanukah at all is an image of Wiccan lighting the candles in the lower right corner of the last page, but it’s completely wrong. After you get past the whole concept of someone named “Wiccan” lighting them, note that Jews don’t light Chanukah candles after the holiday is over (earlier in the story, one of the children notes that Chanukah had ended, placing the actual story in 2010 because in 2011 the eight-day holiday ended “late” on the 28th and in 2009, The Thing wouldn’t be wearing his FF costume). Additionally, only new candles are used, not the half-melted ones shown, as they are supposed to be burned down to completion each night. Also, the central candle should be higher than the others, not even in height. Wiccan should be using that central candle to light the others, not his powers. Finally, there should be a gathering around while prayers are uttered, as lighting the candles is a religious event, not a decorative action. I’ll go ahead and guess writer Jamie Rich (who is Jewish) wasn’t so explicit in his script on these details, and that both penciller Paco Diaz and editor Daniel Ketchum (neither of whom are Jewish) did the best they could, but in the days when Marvel Comics was Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, this shanda would never have happened.

Note: the part about Jews eating Chinese food on Christmas is completely accurate.

Note: the Digital Comics version’s cover was based on an interior panel and not used as a section separator in the print version:

marvelholidayspecial2011originalcoverthumb Marvel Holiday Special 2011 #1 – Digital Comic cover for the fourth story

A Mighty Thor followeth a tiny Puck

December 12, 2012

backissue53coveBack Issue #53
Dec 2011

Published by TwoMorrows Publishing eight times per year, Back Issue “celebrates comic books of the 1970s, 1980s, and today through a variety of recurring (and rotating) departments.” That unassuming description from the TwoMorrows website hardly comes close to the level of awesome of this magazine. Recently changed at issue #52 to 84 pages of full color in a nice square-bound format, Back Issue is filled with lengthy articles about comic book characters, creators and events, not to mention tons of original art, unpublished pencil sketches and the occasional commission piece. In this issue, we have one of the tiniest Alpha Flight appearances ever. Puck appears on a reprinted cover of Thor #373 (Nov 1986).

The entire issue isn’t about Thor, but he dominates most of the page count. Sharp-eyed readers already recognize the cover artist as Walt Simonson – an original Thor image so awesome that Back Issue moved its title block to the lower left corner so as not to detract from it in any way! An insanely long twenty-page (!!) article by Westfield Comics’ Roger Ash, “Flashback: The Tapestry of Walter Simonson’s Thor”, about Simonson’s legendary run on Thor (which spanned from issue #337 to #382) covers almost every major and minor plot point from each issue, along with dozens of cover thumbnails, interior panels and original sketches. Included is the cover to Thor #373, which was one of twenty-nine Marvel 25th Anniversary covers released in November, 1986 with a border drawn by John Romita, Sr.

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Alpha Flight fans already have at least one of those 29 issues, as Alpha Flight #40 was part of that set, and if you squint down very close and look in the very lower left corner just beneath the UPC box, you’ll see Puck’s eyes just poking out. Unfortunately, due to poor quality control, many covers printed from that massive print run are offset slightly in the vertical and one can barely see Puck at all on many copies, but some are printed and cut more proper to show him better. This highly magnified image shows what one would see if the bottom edge the cover were shown all the way to the bleed, brought back to glory from 1986 by the wonder of Marvel’s digital comics app:

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One can see from the large image above that either the issue used for that reprint had a shifted cover or the image was cropped to remove a ragged bottom edge. One can see from the size of the text to its left that the cover is just a thumbnail to begin with. In actuality the height of the reprinted cover is only two and a half inches (that’s 6.35cm for you metric folks), so Puck’s little corner is barely visible at all. This is just about the tiniest Alpha Flight appearance ever. But, there’s no such thing as an Alpha Flight appearance too tiny to collect, as far as I’m concerned.

Note: The reprinted cover above is the DM (Direct Market) cover with Thor’s hammer Mjölnir occupying the box where you’d normally find the UPC bar code on the Newsstand cover.

Note: My apologies to Dante for the title of the post. I couldn’t resist.

Madison Jeffries in X-Club #1

December 10, 2012

xclub1coverX-Club #1
Feb 2012

It’s no surprise Simon Spurrier got behind the writer’s desk for this 5 issue mini-series, seeing as how he’s come to “own” the X-Club from the two one-shot spinoffs: X-Men: Blind Science #1 from the Second Coming event and X-Men: Curse of the Mutants – Smoke and Blood #1. Set just at the start of the Regenesis story arc, the X-Men Science team finally get a monthly series all to themselves. Madison Jeffries appears as a regular member of the X-Club, having joined up in Uncanny X-Men #505.

Simon Spurrier properly includes science in the science fiction of this series, having the X-Club launch a space elevator platform. Wait, what? Guffaw! No, this is actually a real scientific effort dating back decades from its popularization and effective legitimization by Arthur C. Clarke in his 1978 novel Fountains of Paradise. Even NASA has a web page about space elevators and there’s an International Space Elevator Consortium who sponsor annual meetings to address the technology. So already, the premise of the series is just perfect – that kind of “hardcore yet wacky” science you’d expect for an X-Club series.

While X-Club members Drs. Nemesis and Kavita Rao stay behind at a goofball press conference at the equatorial base of the elevator, Madison Jeffries and Danger ride the space elevator platform straight up, manufacturing a carbon tether along the way. He’s shown wearing an environment suit, surrounded by hovering workbots similar to the Matilda coffeebot from the Age of X series.

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Unfortunately, Spurrier decided to pick up on a meme that I was hoping would drop forever: Jeffries’ attraction to Danger, which was bizarre and inappropriate when first mentioned in New Mutants #9, seeing as how Diamond Lil, his wife, had been killed just a few hours before. It was also bizarre and unnecessary when Fantomex brainwashed Jeffries into asking Danger out on a picnic lunch date (she doesn’t eat) in Uncanny X-Men #529. If this issue were the first instance of Jeffries’ attraction to Danger, it would be a lot easier to swallow. Enough time would have passed since Lil’s death and Spurrier’s distracted version of Madison Jeffries would fit well with the quirky nature of mechaphiliacs. It’s unfair to blame Spurrier for the other two issues, but still, I prefer the version of Madison engaged to Heather and married to Lil over this version.

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One thing this issue gets right with Madison Jeffries is his technomorph powers. In nearly every scene, artist Paul Davidson has Jeffries holding a gizmo or finagling with some floating bits of metal and gadget parts, drawing perfectly iconic imagery for the character panel after panel. Notice the magnetic anchor clipped to his suit that allows him to move freely about the deck while staying tethered, a clever and useful gadget for a zero gravity environment up on the platform.

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Then, Danger jumps off the platform (no parachute, of course), an Atlantean grows tentacles before exploding into a pile of eyeball brain goop and a seagull shoots laserblasts out of his beak at an adamantium-encased sea turtle. Did I mention Simon Spurrier wrote this issue?