Tag Archives: marvel comics

The Saga of Crystar – Crystal Warrior #8

crystar8

The Saga of Crystar – Crystal Warrior #8 July 1984

There’s been a hole in my Danzig collection for quite some time. It was a hole that was easy to fill and actually quite cheap considering most Danzig records fetch well over $100 these days, but an important piece was missing. And that piece is not what one would necessarily expect, but I would assume most Danzig fans have this item in their collection, and that item is a copy of Marvel’s Crystar Crystal Warrior.

The eighth issue is the lone issue any Danzig fan likely cares about. No, Glenn Danzig did not write this particular comic like he would many under his own Verotik banner, nor did he illustrate it. He actually had no involvement with it what-so-ever. It seems unlikely this particular comic would hold much appeal for what Glenn Danzig seems to enjoy in a comic, though there are some demons present. There was one piece of artwork associated with this issue though that he seemed to like, and it’s staring anyone who picks this issue up right in the face.

danzig logoYes, that green demonic skull at the base of the cover should look familiar to anyone who is a fan of either Danzig or Samhain. Put that image in white and it’s what most recognize as the logo for those respective bands. That particular skull was present on the cover of Samhain’s debut LP Initium, which debuted a mere month or two after this issue, and it really came to life on the third LP, November-Coming-Fire. It was split in half in 1988 when the first Danzig record debuted so that half of it could occupy the record’s cover and the other half the back. Since then, it’s been featured on numerous t-shirts, posters, and promotional fliers. Interestingly, the image never again appeared so brazenly on the cover of another Danzig record. A waxy, red, version does appear on the cover of Danzig 7 and it was on the more recent covers record as well, albeit as a sticker on the cellophane.

Perhaps this isn’t particularly surprising since much of The Misfits was lifted from another source. The Misfits Fiend is simply The Crimson Ghost, a mostly forgotten film serial. The font the band often used was lifted from Famous Monsters of Filmland and many of the songs are basically ripped from horror comics or films. Lifting this image from a current Marvel publication was a bit more bold on the part of Danzig. It was from a failing comic and toyline, but it was current. And with how much financial problems Marvel would run into not long after, it’s actually pretty amazing there was never a lawsuit (that we know of). The creator of the image, artist Michael Golden, has never received recognition (or money) from the band or any of Danzig’s labels over the years for his contribution. Since the image was made for Marvel, it’s likely Marvel retained sole ownership of it and Golden may have had little to fallback on in terms of legal options. He has somewhat needled the band at conventions by selling t-shirts of the skull with the name Golden replacing Danzig. Numerous fans who have met him have had him sign their copy of the first Danzig LP so if he’s angry about the whole thing he doesn’t seem interested in directing it at fans of the band.

golden skull

Turn-about is fair play.

As for Marvel, it’s surprising the publisher has never gone after Danzig for some of that t-shirt money. By now more than 35 years later, the publisher probably forfeited any claim it could make at this point. Crystar is a long forgotten brand no longer associated with Marvel. I suppose they could republish the works in a trade as a way to strengthen a case, but is it really worth the trouble? It might be hard to even prove how much money the logo has made for Danzig making it hard to settle on a number. And it would be hard to prove damages at this late stage too. Back in 89 when Danzig was selling a shirt featuring the famed skull strangling Jesus would have been the right moment to claim such damages were being felt by the association of the two brands, but again, such claims don’t hold much weight over 30 years later.

Perhaps you are wondering at this point just what is Crystar Crystal Warrior? It seems important to note that the cover features that as a title, but the series is more commonly known as The Saga of Crystar – Crystal Warrior. The comic was apparently created by Marvel in response to Masters of the Universe. Marvel partnered with Remco, mostly known in the 80s for its WWF figures, to create a toyline with a companion comic, much like Mattel had done with He-Man. He-Man though was a success and scored an animated series while Crystar floundered for 11 issues and did not receive more than one line of action figures.

crystar toy ad

Not all that hard to see why this thing failed.

The Saga of Crystar tells the story of Crystar, The Crystal Warrior, who is the leader of the Forces of Order. They are opposed by The Forces of Chaos (it practically writes itself) who are led by Moltar, the leader of the lava men that comprise The Forces of Chaos and brother to Crystar himself. Not many credits seem to have retained regarding the creation of the series, perhaps because few actually wanted to be associated with such a cynical cash grab. This particular issue, titled Anniversary, was written b Jo Duffy with pencils by Ricardo Villamonte. Dave Simons handled the inking, Janice Chiang lettering, Andy Yanchus coloring, with Ralph Macchio as editor alongside editor-in-chief Jim Shooter. And of course, Michael Golden handled the cover.

Issue 8 basically occurs right in the thick of everything. It’s almost entirely a flashback to events that preceded the start of the series. Crystar and his people apparently were flesh and blood at one point, though he was peculiarly always named Crystar. They apparently became crystal to defeat the Forces of Chaos, who were able to enlist Crystar’s brother and turn him into a lava man. My guess is Moltar had affection for Crystar’s fiancé or something to help cause the rift.

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I was expecting something pretty terrible, but this is actually fine. Artwork is good, story is more developed than expected, though also not terribly interesting.

The issue begins with Crystar and his people seeking to forge an alliance with another faction. He’s a bit solemn though and his people wonder what’s up, prompting Crystar to tell a story about why today is so special. Apparently long ago, he and his brother were taking a break from war to visit their uncle who was hosting a party of sorts. When a sea monster threatens the coastal lands, the brothers head out to stop it. Finding it too difficult, they return to the village and regroup. A woman by the name of Ranilla has studied some scroll with a solution for their problem. She was recently wed to one of Crystar’s current (and future) allies, Koth, and they have a little chat that foreshadows Koth’s death.

It’s a fake-out! The men return to battle the sea monster armed with the knowledge that dislodging a crystal in its chest should kill it. A creepy wizard guy has been spying on them though, and he commands the demons of chaos to attack. It’s a chaotic scene, but during it Ranilla is killed instead of Koth. One of Crystar and his brother’s allies, Hyeth, comes to their rescue and takes out the monster when Crystar fails. He too dies when a straggler spears him from behind, and the issue ends with Moltar in the current day explaining to some of his minions that on this day he refuses to take up arms against his brother in memory of Hyeth’s heroic sacrifice.

It’s all very maudlin and actually quite slow. I was not prepared to read a story about hunky men wearing little more than bathing suits waxing poetic about unrequited love. The artwork is fine and the characters bare more than a striking resemblance to that of the more famous Atlanteans from Marvel. Crystar is definitely designed to resemble He-Man as the two basically have the same haircut and it’s even more apparent when he’s depicted as a human. If I were to compare the two, this property was definitely not as shallow as Masters of the Universe, but it also lacks the fun personalities found there. Apparently the series did cross-over into the broader Marvel Universe with Dr. Strange and even Nightcrawler making appearances, but it’s pretty crazy to imagine this occupying the same space as Marvel’s more famous titles. I suppose if you’re one of the few fans of Crystar still around, start petitioning Disney to include him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

michael golden

Michael Golden

As for the character’s legacy, it’s basically just as the origin of the Danzig skull. Some toy and hobby enthusiasts likely remember the toys, but they were fairly unremarkable, though they did feature dragons which is always cool in my book. For me, this is a long-sought piece for my Danzig collection that I kept putting off for no particular reason. I think I always wanted to just run into it in a comic shop for ten cents or something, but nothing can really hide in this day and age. Virtually every eBay auction mentions Danzig in the title so it’s no longer a well kept secret. It is a cool-looking skull though, so for whatever it’s worth, thanks Michael Golden!

 


Dec. 9 – Spectacular Spider-Man – “Reinforcement”

reinforcement

Original air date June 29, 2009

It’s not my favorite, but if you wanted to argue that Spectacular Spider-Man is the best animated series based on a Marvel property then I wouldn’t fight you on it. The show ran from March 2008 to November 2009 and produced a tidy 26 episodes. It was a re-telling of Spider-Man with an obvious emphasis on the Steve Ditko years, but with plenty of modern twists some coming from the still popular Ultimate Universe at the time. The designs for the characters were stylized, yet simple. The style used for the eventual Disney Infinity brand actually reminded me a lot of this show. Basically anyone I’ve ever spoken to about this show enjoyed it, and the only reason it was cancelled seems to be directly related to the Marvel acquisition by Disney. It was cheaper for Disney to discontinue the show and look to create a new one using internal assets. And since Sony still did and still does own the film rights to Spider-Man, there was probably less emphasis placed on him as opposed to characters Marvel and Disney could control.

Because of the somewhat premature cancellation, a lot of what the show was setting up was never really paid off. The final episode is titled “Final Curtain,” indicating there was at least some attempt at finality and that the creative forces behind the show considered that this was the end, but there was still so much more. Some of that is seen in this episode as Spectacular Spider-Man did an excellent job of creating lore for the series that could be referenced and built on continually. Like the comics itself, at some point that lore may have become unmanageable and the show could have suffered as a result, but it’s a shame it wasn’t allowed to reach that point as it feels like the show had at least another 26 episodes in it.

spectacular spider-man

Spectacular Spider-Man only managed to produce 26 episodes, but they were 26 quality episodes.

One thing this show did was lean heavy on holidays. There’s Halloween episodes, Valentine’s Day, and of course Christmas. This episode, “Reinforcement,” takes place on Christmas Eve. It’s a true episode for the show in that Christmas is just a framing device, this isn’t a true special where everything stops for the holiday. And it’s going to be a rather chaotic Christmas for our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

patch

Hello, Patch!

The episode begins with Spider-Man (Josh Keaton) chasing some leads on Mysterio (Xander Berkeley). Apparently he recently swiped some high-tech stuff that can’t wait until after the holidays. Spider-Man is in a bad mood as a result and he’s pretty forceful with the thugs he interrogates at a local dive. One fellow he’s looking to speak with goes by the name of Blackie Gaxton (Steve Blum), and he’s fairly tight-lipped. As Spidey confronts Gaxton, an eye-patch wearing man is cautiously eavesdropping on the conversation before trying to slip away. Spider-Man notices him, and feeling he got what he could out of Gaxton, he takes off after him. He confronts him in the alley outside and the guy introduces himself as Patch (James Arnold Taylor) on account of his eye patch. Spider-Man wants to know who Mysterio is working for, and Patch offers up a name:  Master Planner.

marching orders

Here’s a story…

From a control room an older looking man watches Spider-Man via several monitors. He goes by the name of Tinkerer (Thom Adcox-Hernandez) and I just bet Spider-Man will have a joke for that name should they cross paths. He communicates with a shadowy figure over a video monitor and we come to know that person as The Master Planner. Dumb name aside, he has a good idea and shows Tinkerer the images of several super villains on his screen. They’re all presently incarcerated somewhere and he wants to spring them to take out Spider-Man. Comic fans should instantly recognize them as The Sinister Six! Or Sinister Seven?

At Ryker’s Island, a patrolling guard comes to the cell of Adrian Toomes (Robert Englund) and Quentin Beck. For you non comic fans, that’s Vulture and Mysterio. He notices they have no reaction to the call for breakfast so the guard enters their cell and finds that Toomes has been replaced with a hologram and Beck is a dummy and the guard sounds the alarm. We next head to the Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane where a Dr. Ashley Kafka (Elisa Gabrielli) is leading a therapy session. The attendees include Cletus Kasady who has no spoken dialogue and is the someday Carnage, but the show never got that far. The other two individuals there are known to viewers though:  Doctor Otto Octavius (Peter MacNicol) and Max Dillon (Crispin Freeman), better known as Dr. Octopus and Electro. Electro is openly hostile towards Kafka and demands to be called by his super villain name while Otto is meek and receptive to treatment. Soon, an animal-like Kraven (Eric Vesbit) bursts in and takes out the orderlies. He’s there to spring Otto and Electro only Otto has no interest in leaving. He cowers in fear by Kafka who pleads with Max to stay and continue his treatment. Using his birth name on him again was a mistake, and the villain shocks her into submission as he flees with Kraven.

peter and liz

Peter believes pity is the way to a woman’s heart.

At Rockefeller Center, Peter Parker is enjoying a night of ice-skating with many of his friends and classmates. It’s revealed Gwen Stacy (Lacey Chabert) is upset with him about something stemming back from a prior episode while Peter seems to be openly trying to woo Liz Allen (Alanna Ubach). He seems to be doing an okay job, perhaps too okay as he decides to tone it down with the ice skating and intentionally flops onto his rear. He’s looking to get close to Liz via some skating lessons, but when she takes pity on an injured Flash Thompson (Joshua LeBar) it sinks Pete’s ship. He then tries to cozy up to Gwen, but she refuses to be his second choice. Mary Jane Watson (Vanessa Marshall) saw the whole thing and tries to give Pete some friendly advice to slow down and focus on what he wants. The message seems to go over his head as he seems to immediately turn his attention to courting MJ. He suggests they spend some time together and she declares she won’t do so without some hot cocoa, so Peter takes off to get some. Apparently MJ doesn’t mind being his third choice.

master planner commands

Behold! The Master Planner!

At Tinkerer’s base, the Sinister Six have been assembled. They’re given their marching orders by Master Planner. All of the villains have their gear back and are ready for action. Master Planner explains he wanted to assemble a Sinister Seven, but since Dr. Octopus refused they’ll have to settle for Sinister Six. He then gives them their target for the evening:  Spider-Man.

MJs advice

MJ swooping in like a vulture.

Back at Rockefeller Center, Peter is off getting the requested refreshments when Electro and Vulture attack. Kraven had tracked Spider-Man’s scent to the location and Electro is tasked with drawing him out. The sudden commotion causes Peter to spill the hot cocoa all over himself and burn his tongue. With his friends running for cover, Pete is forced into action. Spider-Man swings into action unleashing his trademarked banter, only with his tongue burnt it’s mostly indecipherable. The villains point this out and Spider-Man is basically shamed into shutting up. It’s rather amusing and Spidey shuts up just before it started to become annoying.

electro down

It’s going to be one of those nights.

Spider-Man is forced to lure the villains away from the screaming public, especially after Electro uses the ice as a conduit injuring several bystanders. He targets Vulture first and takes advantage of the fact that Vulture is clearly trying to keep his earpiece from getting damaged. Spidey knows there’s some coordination going on, plus this isn’t the first appearance of The Sinister Six in this universe. He eventually webs up Vulture causing him to slam into the giant Christmas tree. When Electro tries to free him he ends up doing more damage by igniting the tree Vulture is webbed in. The tree starts to come down, and Flash gets to be a hero by shoving Liz out of harm’s way, but with his foot in a cast he’s all but stranded. Spider-Man makes the save and deposits Flash on a nearby rooftop. Flash is pretty awestruck and even requests Spider-Man sign his cast, but he’s got more important things to worry about.

vulture webbed

Vulture is basically attacked by Christmas.

Flash inadvertently provided enough of a distraction for Electro to blast Spider-man into traffic. He bounces around on moving vehicles while Electro gives chase, eventually reaching a tire warehouse of some kind. There, Spidey is able to toss a ring of tires on Electro and his powers end up melting them down creating a rubberized prison for himself. He has no time to gloat though as a giant fist of sand smacks him in the face. It belongs to none other than Sandman (John DiMaggio) who’s partnered up with Rhino (Clancy Brown) this evening. They end up on a pier where Spider-Man is forced to get resourceful. First, he uses a fire hydrant to turn Sandman into mud then he merely outwits Rhino into going onto the ice nearby. He’s much too heavy, and Spider-Man tosses him a scuba tank claiming he’ll need it as he crashes through the ice.

A little water wasn’t enough to stop Sandman though, and he comes roaring back. Spider-Man notices he’s a lot slower than usual though and deduces that the added water is freezing in the Christmas air. The problem for Spidey though is that his web shooters have become frozen as well, forcing him into simply dodging the slow version of Sandman. He’s able to position him under a tree where he dumps a ton of snow on Sandman causing him to freeze completely.

rhino and spidey

Rhino is the classic strong but dumb adversary.

With four down, Spidey reasons that Shocker and Dr. Octopus are still out there waiting for him. Emboldened by his victories, he calls out for them. He soon spots them on a nearby rooftop, and getting his web shooters functional once more, he web-swings his way up to kick them in the face. Only that’s what he intended to do, but comes to find that they’re holograms. This version of The Sinister Six features Mysterio and Kraven instead, and they reveal themselves when Kraven blasts him off the roof. Mysterio comes riding in on a dragon (he’s a showman) and Spidey is forced to flee. He tries to use a billboard depicting his favorite press-man, J. Jonah Jameson, as cover but Kraven comes smashing through it. He gets Spidey in a bear hug and the two trade verbal barbs before Spidey is forced to web Kraven in the face. He forces them off the building they were on and lets Kraven absorb the brunt of the fall. Mysterio comes in with his crazy, mechanical, dragon and Spidey is forced to flee into a nearby department store.

kraven claus

The Kraven of this show is far more cat-like than I’m used to.

There, he approaches a woman giving out free perfume samples and takes the whole thing. When Kraven comes roaring in he smashes the perfume in his face to overwhelm his enhanced sense of smell. The perfume is like torture to Kraven. Mysterio comes in and forces Spidey to the ceiling. He opens his cape and a bunch of Homunculi burst forth to attack Spider-Man. They’re merely a nuisance that spouts witty dialogue and Spider-Man makes short work of them. Mysterio vanishes in some smoke and reappears on a balcony above. He approaches the department store’s Santa and Elf workers and Spider-Man swings in for the rescue, only to get tackled by Kraven before he can nail Mysterio. Spider-Man is about to flee the balcony when Mysterio shouts for Kraven to stop. Only the call to stop came from below. Spidey looks down to see Mysterio, the real Mysterio, and realizes the one on the balcony with them is a robot copy, and it’s about to self-destruct. Uttering an “Oh fudge,” Spidey quickly swings-in to save the Santa and Elf and avoid the explosion. Kraven wasn’t so fortunate.

santa saved

That’s gotta get you on the good list for life.

Spider-Man is then free to pursue the last remaining villain. As he and Mysterio trade insults, Spidey finds it hard to actually land a blow. Realizing Mysterio has made himself invisible, he covers the whole area in webbing to reveal him. Spidey tries to interrogate the incapacitated Mysterio, but he’s just taunted by the villain. “The Master Planner has a Master Plan.” The police then arrive to clean everything up.

merry webbing

Mysterio is surprisingly ill-prepared to deal with Spider-Man’s webs.

Back at Rockefeller Center, Gwen is worried about Peter and thinks the tree may have fallen on him. MJ is there as well and they’re both worried, until Peter walks in with a couple cups of cocoa. He explains the snack stand ran out and he had to go off and find another place for cocoa. Gwen hugs him and then is a bit embarrassed by her display of affection while MJ mostly stares in disbelief. As the cops have the tree raised, they find no one under it. Vulture is missing and a deep hole is in his place. Tinkerer is viewing all of this on his monitors that see all, and Master Planner’s voice pops in to say the extractions were complete indicating most, if not all, of the villains have escaped. We then head back to Ravencroft where Otto is watching news coverage of the villainous activity in the city with great trepidation. Dr. Kafka tries to assure him that everything will be all right when his mechanical arms come crashing in. They abduct the doctor against his will and drag him out screaming.

doc ock escape

Doc escapes against his will, or does he?

At the Parker home, Peter is watching the news as well with some disgust. Aunt May (Deborah Strang) enters the living room and requests Peter turn that off since it’s Christmas and all. Pete agrees and then fetches her present from under the tree. She unwraps it to find a framed photograph of she, Peter, and Ben Parker. Peter remarks that it’s their first Christmas without Uncle Ben putting a more concrete timeline on the events of the show. May places the photo on the mantle remarking that Ben is always with them. They embrace and we get a nice exterior shot of their snow-covered home as the episode comes to a close.

peter-and-may.jpg

Have to end it on a happy Christmas image.

“Reinforcement” is not a typical Christmas special, but similar to our other super hero special this year from X-Men:  Evolution, it’s still a satisfying experience. There’s a lot of little Christmas puns throughout the episode, mostly through Spider-Man’s banter. Most of it is actually pretty charming, and Spidey even makes a premature ejaculation joke at Mysterio’s expense which caught me off guard. There’s also plenty of public domain Christmas tunes sprinkled throughout the episode, so it has some of that Christmas charm without really being “in your face” with it. It’s not as stand-alone as “On Angel’s Wings” though, thanks to the lore built into the show. As someone who had not watched an episode of this show in some time, it was a bit challenging to remember all of the relationships, especially with Peter and his many ladies. It’s a fairly action-packed episode though and watching it made me want to revisit the series in full.

As a Christmas special though? It’s a tough recommend because of all of the prerequisite knowledge needed to fully enjoy the episode. Obviously, if you’re into Spider-Man it’s a minor hurdle. And if you’re familiar with this show then you probably will want to watch it every year. If it had leaned more into the Christmas feeling I could have possibly recommended it as a general Christmas special, but I think this one is for fan’s only.

Unlike many of the specials we look at here, Spectacular Spider-Man is pretty easy to get ahold of. It’s low episode total likely helped in getting it a full DVD release, and there are streaming options as well. You just won’t actually be able to find this one on television since Disney has a new Spider-Man show of its own to promote. And if you don’t want to watch it via legitimate means, there are illegitimate means of viewing it too, though if you like Spider-Man I do recommend just getting the whole series.

 


Dec. 3 – X-Men: Evolution – “On Angel’s Wings”

x-men evolution intro

X-Men: Evolution “On Angel’s Wings” originally aired on December 15, 2001.

Long after the X-Men animated series that originated on Fox Kids had ended, along with basically every other Marvel cartoon at that network, X-Men:  Evolution showed up on Kids WB. It’s kind of odd considering WB owned DC and yet they went in on X-Men, but X-Men were still popular and were gearing up for a run on cinema. It also didn’t hurt that a lot of talented people were attached to the show, and today’s episode features the duo of Boyd Kirkland and Frank Paur, both former directors on Batman:  The Animated Series.

snowy nyc

A snowy New York, which may have possibly been edited considering the events of 9/11 two months prior to air date for this one.

X-Men:  Evolution was an attempt at making the X-Men appeal to a younger audience. It fit-in with WB’s programming which also included super heroes like Static Shock and Batman Beyond. Even The New Adventures of Batman had placed an emphasis on the allies of Batman, including the very young Robin and the not quite so young Nightwing and Batgirl. The setup for X-Men:  Evolution was not that radical from other depictions:  young mutants were gathered at the home of Professor Charles Xavier (David Kaye) to learn how to control their mutant powers. Only in this show, basically everyone is in the Kitty Pryde/Jubilee role of being a teen and they include:  Cyclops (Kirby Morrow), Jean  Grey (Venus Terzo), Nightcrawler (Brad Swaile), Spyke (Neil Denis), Rogue (Meghan Black), and Kitty (Maggie Blue O’Hara) herself. The twist comes in that the students do not receive their schooling at Xavier’s mansion and instead attend a normal high school where they are put into conflict with a teenaged version of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Also, Storm (Kirsten Williamson), Beast (Michael Kopsa), and Wolverine (Scott McNeil) are teachers at Xavier’s home. Yes, Wolverine is in kind of a grumpy uncle role in this show, which is definitely an odd place for his character, but probably better than having a teenaged Wolverine. Thankfully, he doesn’t lust after Jean in this one. Honestly, the setup of the show never appealed to me and sounds kind of dumb. I checked out a couple of the first season’s episodes when this show premiered and they were pretty lame. Surprisingly, the show started to find itself in season two. It established some strong conflicts and the young team assembled works well. I was wrong about the show, and it actually turned out quite well in the end.

lonely warren

A lonely, wealthy man, just watching some TV. Note the lack of Christmas decor.

In season two the show rolled the dice on a Christmas episode. “On Angel’s Wings” is predictably about the character Angel (Mark Hildreth), who previously had not appeared in the show. It starts off in New York, where the wealthy Warren Worthington is shown in an isolated state. He’s ignoring his phone calls and watching television. Elsewhere in the city, a fire is ripping through an apartment building and a disabled woman is trapped inside. Her daughter is pleading with firefighters to save her mom, and this mobilizes Worthington. He flies to the sight, enters the building, and removes the woman leaving her safely on a nearby bench. No one witnesses it, but her daughter soon spots her mom and runs over to her. They embrace, and when the daughter asks how she escaped she tells her a real, live, angel carried her to safety.

scotts present

Rogue sheepishly gives Cyclops his Christmas present early. They actually would have made a cute couple.

At Xavier’s mansion, everyone is getting ready for the holidays. The kids will be leaving to head home and they’re having a little party in celebration. Two students will not be leaving:  Cyclops and Rogue. Cyclops, being an orphan, has no home to go to while Rogue is a runaway with a poor home life. There’s nothing for her to return to. As the other kids give gifts and Nightcrawler tries to steal a kiss via mistletoe, Jean looks on with jealous eyes as Rogue gives Cyclops a gift. If I recall correctly (and it’s been many years), Cyclops was one of the few to be nice to Rogue when she first showed up early on so she took a liking to him. Plus, they’re both able to kind of bond over the fact that neither is able to fully control their mutant powers. Rogue’s crush was not reciprocated in a romantic way, and Cyclops may even be oblivious, but Jean notices. And like basically every other version of the X-Men, Jean and Cyclops are romantically linked. As everyone departs, leaving only Xavier, Beast, Cyclops, and Rogue behind, Jean looks on with some sadness and worry as her limo drives away (what a tough life).

angel in action

Angel in action.

In New York, the Angel makes another appearance in Central Park thwarting a mugging. An onlooker is shown and he looks rather menacing. Later, a car gets into an accident on a suspended bridge (maybe the George Washington?) and the Angel, now in a resplendent super hero costume, swoops in to make the save. The car is up against the cables and he first saves a child from the backseat then returns for the parents. As everyone celebrates his heroics, the shadowy man from the park emerges. Summoning powers of his own, he makes one of the broken, steel, cables grab onto Angel. Startled, he flutters his wings and accidentally knocks the little girl he just saved off of the bridge. He dives into the water after her and does return her safely to the bridge, though she’s unconscious. The man, obviously Magneto (Christopher Judge), then shouts that it was the angel who knocked her off. The crowd of onlookers then turns on the hero, declaring he’s not a real angel just some freak, and he’s forced to flee.

cd shopping

I miss CD shopping.

At the mansion, the X-Men have heard the reports of the angel sighting in the city. Feeling kind of restless, Rogue wants to head out and see what they can uncover and she and Cyclops are permitted to go. They have a discussion and it’s revealed that Cyclops kind of wants to believe the person is indeed an angel, while Rogue is dismissive of the concept. She does apologize to Cyclops though, fearing she hurt his feelings, but he assures her he’s fine. They go to a music store and are browsing CDs when they hear about the latest sighting. It’s quite a trip seeing the pair thumbing through music and Cyclops listening to the free previews on a headset – my how the times have changed.

On_Angel's_Wings-_Scott_n_Rogue

The city of New York is alive with Angel Fever!

We’re then whisked away to a hospital room. The little girl Angel saved is in a coma and her parents are understandably worried. Angel drops in on her and seems depressed over what happened. He swipes a doctor’s jacket and heads off into the hallway. There, Rogue and Cyclops are at a nurse’s station asking about the young girl and they’re told they just missed her parents who left to head to church. Angel overhears this and starts heading off. Rogue notices a feather wafting out from underneath the coat and alerts Cyclops that it’s him, rather loudly. This startles Angel and he takes off running. The two X-Men in training give chase, but he escapes out a window.

angel and magneto

I will admit, that’s one bad ass looking Magneto.

At the church, the girl’s parents are shown praying in an otherwise empty building. Angel is looking on from a balcony in the back, shamefully.  The camera pans and a figure lurks in the shadows behind him. It’s Magneto, now in costume, and he confronts Angel. He knows who he is and that he lives an isolated, lonely, life. He points out how quickly the people turned on him at the bridge, despite his best efforts, and uses a lot of the same arguments you’ve probably heard from Magneto before about why humanity can’t be trusted. He offers him a place for people like Angel and he, but Angel turns him down rather angrily not wanting to associate with “freaks and weirdos.” He’s a self-hating mutant.

x-men and angel

Angel meets the X-Men. They discuss tailors.

Magneto is not going to let Angel just walk away. He attacks, and Angel is forced to flee the balcony. The people below see him as Magneto uses a chandelier to wrap Angel in a chain. As he falls from the sky, a red laser beam cuts through the air and blasts Magneto out of the church through a stained-glass window. Cyclops and Rogue, now too in costume, come running in and free Angel. Magneto quickly returns as a confused Angel flees once more. With Magneto baring down on the young X-Men, Angel emerges from behind Magneto and wraps him in a bear hug. Cyclops calls for him to stand down, and pummels Magneto with more optic blasts knocking him from the sky. While on the ground, Rogue is able to get up close and personal with the Master of Magnetism and syphon away some of his energy. Now armed with the powers of magnetism herself, Rogue is able to chase Magneto through the skies of New York City. Magneto though is a pro with these powers and is able to knock her from the sky, but Angel is there once again to make the save causing Rogue to playfully remark, “I’m starting to think you are a real angel.”

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Of course, Rogue needs to be rescued by an angel since she was a non-believer earlier.

Apparently admitting defeat, Magneto is gone and the trio of heroes are back at the hospital. They’re in the waiting area probably hoping to hear how the young girl is doing. Cyclops explains who they are and gives the X-Men sales pitch to Warren, who questions how they’re any different from Magneto. As they talk, a doctor comes out to tell the parents of the girl that she’s awake and going to be all right. Warren is overjoyed and sneaks over to the girl’s room. As he does, Rogue asks Cyclops if he thinks Warren will join the X-Men and he curtly responds, “No.” They join Warren though as the little girl tells her parents she saw her angel again in her dreams. This puts a smile on Warren’s face while Rogue squirts a few tears. We’re then treated to a little montage of the other X-Men and how they’re enjoying their holiday. Jean with her family, Kitty doing Hanukkah stuff, and Wolverine kind of sadly just playing pool all by himself in a dimly lit dive. Xavier and Beast are shown last toasting a couple of hot beverages in front of a Christmas tree to close this one out.

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Looks like that little girl is going to have a Merry Christmas after all!

“On Angel’s Wings” is what I consider a quiet Christmas special. It takes place around the holiday, but Christmas just serves as a backdrop for the events in the episode. Tying Angel to the holiday is a smart move, since his obvious biblical appearance lends itself well to the theme. Though despite his presence, this doesn’t go full Hallmark Channel on the Jesus stuff. Beast quotes the Bible at one point, and other than the brief talk of Cyclops possibly believing in angels, the episode chooses not to dive into that subject. There’s also no Santa Claus or anything of that nature. The episode is also very stand-alone as it doesn’t aim to resolve anything like Jean’s jealousy or Wolverine’s loner tendencies or even what Warren Worthington will do next, but it’s still a satisfying little story. The ending is a bit sappy, but the montage was rather tasteful. Also, it should be noted, this show looks terrific and is miles ahead of the old animated series. New York City looks especially authentic and I always enjoy the cool tones of winter in a cartoon.

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We need to slide this one in for the Jewish fans.

The voice cast for the show does leave a little something to be desired. Our leads are pretty good, and I think Xavier and Beast sound about right (though Beast is basically a carbon copy of the same character from Fox’s X-Men), but there is also a woodenness to some of the performances. Not every line is crips. The tone of Megneto’s voice is rather intimidating, but the inflections aren’t there (especially when he can’t just be scary, like when he was shown among the mob on the bridge). The character designs are fairly simple and work well. Cyclops has a bit of an X-Factor vibe to his costume, but with the open Jim Lee cowl. Magneto looks rather imposing as his face is often entirely black when in costume, the shape of his helm also reminds me of Age of Apocalypse Magneto. Rogue’s costume is a bit on the bland side though and I never much cared for the design. It has an odd piece of green armor across the chest that’s rather boxy looking. And in general, the female X-Men are drawn rather maturely. It’s a tad creepy how sexy the animators made these children.

X-Men:  Evolution has seen an incomplete home video release. It’s also no longer on television, but good news, no one seems to care about it so it’s easy to find online for free. If you want to spend the holidays with Marvel’s most famous mutants then go for it. It’s better than the other X-Men Christmas episode and it should put you in the Christmas spirit.


Marvel Legends Series 6 – Deadpool

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The name is Deadpool, Captain Deadpool.

In celebration of the release of Deadpool 2 I thought it would be a good opportunity to take a look at one of my favorite action figures from the Marvel Legends line – Deadpool! Marvel Legends is a series of action figures that originated with the now defunct ToyBiz and is now owned by Hasbro. The series launched around the turn of the millennium and was a sister series of sorts to the Spider-Man Classics line. It was a collector oriented line that likely grew from the diminished sales and interest in the standard ToyBiz figures. This was also after McFarlane kind of changed the game in terms of what an action figure could be with its Spawn line. McFarlane placed greater emphasis on the sculpting process realizing that spending just a little more time tooling a figure could give it broader appeal. Adding more detail to a sculpt really adds little cost to the individual toy and this proved to be a wise move. I’d even wager the Spawn toys were likely more popular than the comic.

ToyBiz, as well as other toy manufacturers, were forced to play catch-up. ToyBiz would end up not only improving its sculpts, but would also prioritize articulation correctly assuming that collectors who removed toys from its packaging would want to be able to create dynamic poses for their mini heroes. ToyBiz would only get better as the years went on before Marvel eventually decided it no longer wanted to be in the toy manufacturing business. ToyBiz was owned by Marvel and the Marvel toys it put out represented basically the entirety of the company’s catalog. Rising oil prices were making plastic more expensive and Marvel probably felt it could make more money, while assuming less risk, by simply licensing their intellectual properties to other manufacturers, which is how Hasbro eventually took over. It was a bit of a bumpy start for Hasbro and for awhile the line was discontinued all together, but its made a return of sorts over the last couple of years.

Marvel Legends Series 6 arrived basically during the height of the line’s popularity in late summer 2004. ToyBiz had yet to tap into all of Marvel’s hottest properties so there was still great anticipation for every line. They had also hit on some new sculpts and were packing their figures full of articulation. In particular, a figure of Daredevil for the Spider-Man Classics line (which had been rebranded as simply Spider-Man with an emphasis on a younger audience) that would go on to be the base of many other ToyBiz figures, including this one of the Merc with a Mouth – Deadpool.

Back when this figure first came out, Deadpool was far from a household name. He was largely a character getting by on his cool design, even if it was derivative of several other heroes and villains from comics. His comic was niche, but certainly unique given the character’s lunacy and penchant for breaking the fourth wall. This was in an age when the only popular Marvel properties were really Spider-Man and the X-Men. In a pre Marvel Cinematic Universe world, the likes of Iron Man and Captain America were for comic geeks only, though the Ultimate Universe was gaining in popularity and The Ultimates, the version of the Avengers for that world, were a pretty big reason why.

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A meeting of the minds.

Marvel Legends Series 6 was a notoriously difficult series to find at retail. By now, the secondary market and specialty shops were fully aware of the line’s popularity and collectors were forced to battle with scalpers at the big box stores in order to land the toys they coveted. I don’t think I ever came across the entirety of this series at retail, which also included figures of Wolverine (brown costume), Juggernaut, Phoenix, Cable and The Punisher (Thomas Jane). Since The Punisher was based on a movie likeness, he was the only one I ever saw at retail because few people wanted him. I knew I wanted Wolverine, Deadpool, and Juggernaut especially so I actually pre-ordered them through an online retailer. I paid a premium, but it proved to be the right move as they quickly went up in price basically every where they weren’t sold out. I eventually traded with another collector for a Phoenix, and I never got my hands on Cable which is a shame since he would have paired nicely with Deadpool.

Deadpool was easily my favorite of what was otherwise a good series of figures. The Daredevil base is obvious given the tell-tale shoulders, but ToyBiz even left the holster on his right leg for Daredevil’s baton weapon. For Deadpool it makes a good holster for his sai, which were holdovers form a prior Elektra figure. In addition to those weapons he also came with two AKs, two katana, a handgun, and an alternate unmasked head. He also came packaged with Doop, not pictured because I never cared for the Slimer knock-off and didn’t bother to dig him out of storage. He also has an action stand which was becoming commonplace for the line in lieu of a more elaborate base. Eventually the bases would be dropped all-together for build-a-figure pieces to construct much larger figures. Deadpool also features a belt that’s separate from his sculpt. I suppose you could remove it if you really wanted to. It has holsters for his weapons plus molded on grenades and his adorable little mask-logo on the belt buckle.

Deadpool possesses extensive articulation which is befitting a ninja. He can be posed in almost any position you can think of. His joints are nice and tight and he really only needs the stand for more dramatic aerial poses as he can comfortably stand on his own just fine. The sculpting on the body is fairly simple and relegated mostly to just his musculature. His face features subtle, but effective, sculpting suggesting an angry expression is lurking underneath. His secondary, Freddy Krueger-like head, looks spectacularly disturbing and sports a character appropriate wild grin. The only short-comings with the sculpt lie with the hands and shoulders. The bulky shoulders were the cost of making the arms capable of posing in basically any position. They were the main draw-back to this character base. The hands are also articulated and we’ve come to learn over the years that articulated hands just don’t work well to hold weapons. Deadpool’s weapons are all nice and light, so he can hold them just fine, but you will be constantly tweaking them to get them just right (and don’t bother with the sai as they’re almost too thin for any worthwhile pose). If he were made today he’d probably just have swappable hands or just non-articulated ones capable of gripping both a sword and gun.

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What always stood out for me with this figure is the simple look of Deadpool. The red on black is striking and there’s little that can be messed up as a result. The loads of accessories are also a huge benefit. Even if the sai kind of stink, they’re still nice to have and look good in that thigh pouch. The handgun is tucked away neatly on a holster while the katana and AKs can be stored on the back of his belt. The AKs don’t seat all that well, but it can be done. Lots of accessories plus places to store them is something i appreciate in any action figure, especially since keeping track of numerous little pieces can be a huge pain. The only thing he can’t store on his person is the second head, but that would be a little odd if he could.

As you can imagine, the Legends line has taken new stabs at Deadpool, especially in light of his growing popularity thanks to the film franchise. I have never been tempted to buy another though because I’ve always been happy with this one. Had I purchased one I’d probably be forced to concede it’s an improvement, but that wouldn’t diminish my fondness for this one. Deadpool is perfectly suited for the world of plastic and movies so it’s great to see this character’s popularity explode. And as a legacy piece, those who were at ToyBiz should be proud they made an awesome Deadpool when few people wanted one and it can still hang with today’s action figures more than 10 years later.


Logan

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Logan (2017)

A popular “gotcha” question from when I was a kid concerning comic books and the X-Men was, “What’s Wolverine’s mutant power?” The desired response was a reference to his claws, at which point one could interject with a “Nuh-uh! It’s his mutant healing factor!” Of course, later in the 90’s it would be revealed that his claws actually were a part of his mutation, thus putting an end to that one, but it was always kind of a stupid piece of trivia anyway. Wolverine’s defining trait are his claws, the healing stuff was just a way to excuse the beating he took in the pages of Incredible Hulk and X-Men. If he didn’t have those unbreakable claws, he probably never would have become the most popular member of the X-Men.

And yet, Wolverine’s claws were always a bit of an obstacle for comic writers and artists, and eventually animators and film makers as well. You have this violent, bad ass character, equipped with blades that can cut through almost anything, but he really can’t use them because of the obvious gore factor that would involve. Instead, Wolverine would often use the claws for show, deflect some attacks, cling to walls, cut through a fence, and everyone’s favorite – hack up some robots. That’s why it’s particularly liberating to see Wolverine go all out in the opening moments of Logan.

To a newcomer, or even someone who has just fancied themselves a casual fan, the violence and gore present in Logan will seem over the top, perhaps juvenile. The R rating the movie garnered may be viewed in a cynical fashion to appease young males who want f-bombs and blood out of their movies. For those who have been with this character since their childhood though, it’s a stark reveal of just who Wolverine is. This is the Wolverine we hear about from other characters, spoken of in hushed tones and feared by his enemies. This is a superhero who’s primary offense, and defense, is to just start hacking. And since this is applied to an older, very cynical, Wolverine we get a character who doesn’t operate in half measures – if you get in his way and threaten him or those who cares about, Wolverine won’t hesitate to remove your face from your skull.

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If you’ve always wanted to see Wolverine do this, then Logan will make you very happy.

Logan is a film set some 15 years or so in the future. It’s not a dystopian world or a wasteland. There are no flying cars or laser rifles, the setting is just an excuse to take a look at an aging, dying, Wolverine. When the film opens we see Wolverine has taken on a very mundane job as a limo driver. He walks with a limp, is an apparent alcoholic, and his wounds don’t close as quickly as they used to. When he’s not working, he’s scoring drugs and hopping the Mexican border where his perhaps only friends are hiding out:  Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). The drugs Wolverine purchases are for Xavier, who’s past the ninety-year mark and struggling to keep his wits about him. When the world’s most dangerous telepath can’t control his old brain bad stuff can happen. Wolverine is apparently saving up some cash to buy a houseboat where he and Xavier can live out the rest of their days without fear of harming anyone, or anyone bothering them (in the case of Wolverine).

Wolverine’s day to day life is disrupted when a borderline hysterical woman (played by Elizabeth Rodriguez) comes seeking his aid. Offering a substantial amount of money, she wishes for Wolverine to smuggle her and her daughter into Canada. Wolverine wants nothing to do with her, apparently not wanting any trouble. Soon a young man barges into his limo looking for info on the woman. He is Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), and we know from his demeanor and bad-ass cybernetic hand that he is certainly a bad dude and probably what the young woman is running from. Upon hearing this, Xavier naturally wants to help the woman as he senses a mutant presence, Caliban smells it as well (his mutant power). This is a big deal as there hasn’t been a mutant born in this world in over twenty years. Wolverine is sort of conned into helping the woman, and things get messy before they get any better.

Since she’s featured so heavily in the promotion, and the film makes little attempt to create any mystery about it, I might as well continue along and talk about Laura (Dafne Keen), the young mutant Wolverine and Co. end up taking in. Laura, known as X-23 in the comics, is a young girl with a very familiar set of powers and abilities, and also temperament. She is referred to by other characters as Wolverine’s daughter, but it might be more accurate to call her his clone. She’s on the run in search of a place called Eden and is running from Pierce and the people responsible for her existence. After the lengthy setup, the film turns into a road movie with Wolverine, Laura, and Xavier.

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Jackman and Stewart are just beautiful in their portrayals of Logan and Xavier.

Logan is not a feel good movie, and it doesn’t offer much mystery. I found myself anticipating almost every beat the film hits, but I also didn’t care. The world of Logan is harsh and unfriendly, but there are small moments to break up the grim that either provide humor or just a small slice of life. Xavier and Laura make for a fun pair and easily form a warm relationship, even if Laura is essentially mute. Perhaps to the surprise of some, Xavier is the character most often relied upon for comic relief. He and Wolverine clash well, but underneath the surface conflict it’s obvious the two love and respect each other. Wolverine is a surrogate son of sorts to this version of Xavier, and waits on him like a doting son, though he seems to take some enjoyment in complaining about it every step of the way. The relationship feels very authentic, which is a word that kept coming to me as I took in this picture. Patrick Stewart comes across as especially authentic as Xavier. There’s a scene where the trio sits down to dinner with some strangers and Stewart plays Xavier in a way that’s reminiscent of every dinner I’ve ever had with an elderly person I had only just met. He’s delighted to speak with someone other than his irritable traveling companion, but his performance never teeters on parody.

Hugh Jackman is a captivating Wolverine in this film. I suppose that comes as no surprise since he’s been playing this character for almost twenty years now (the same can be said of Stewart). Jackman worked with director/writer James Mangold on the story, loosely adapted from the Old Man Logan story from the comics. It’s clear from interviews with Jackman that this was an important film for him and an important story for him to have a part in telling as Wolverine, for it’s to be his last turn as the character. The Wolverine of this film is best described as the exact assumption most would have of an old man Wolverine. All of his lesser traits -his irritability, cynicism, vices and so on have only been strengthened by father time. He’s still a good guy inside, but his pessimism makes him more of an introvert than he’s ever been. The film doesn’t dwell on the past, but it makes it obvious that all of the X-Men are dead. This is a Wolverine who has lost everything. He doesn’t want to start over, he’d rather just die. He’s pulled through this movie by other characters as well as his inner sense of duty, but it’s a struggle. The film tells this story through action and not so much dialogue. In doing so, Mangold is able to avoid a lot of the tropes that plague other films attempting to tell a similar story.

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I wonder where she gets it from…

Laura proves to be a compelling character in her own right. Portrayed by newcomer Dafne Keen, Laura is a wide-eyed girl experiencing the world for the first time. Everything is interesting and new to her, and Keen is forced to tell us what Laura is thinking through her actions alone while also being restricted from changing her usual stoic facial expression. She’s a fun character to watch when the film slows down, but also a sad character during the action sequences when we are forced to watch a young girl brutally eviscerate other people with cold precision. She’s in a way been denied humanity, while also being denied a childhood. Again, Mangold does a great job of just putting this out there in the film without editorializing it. We don’t need a character to tell us now depressing her upbringing was. The film slowly gives us more and more of the Laura character and it’s one of the few aspects that feels rewarding. I would guess most people will leave the theater wanting to see more of this character in the future.

All of this is to say the movie isn’t perfect. Like most superhero pictures, it’s probably longer than it needs to be. While there are no obvious scenes that could have been axed, the film does move slowly and if an editor had been ordered to keep the runtime under two hours they probably could have found a way without much compromise. The film is also so centered on Wolverine and Laura that the antagonists feel like after-thoughts at times. And as I mentioned, it is very predictable and there is a sequence in the middle of the movie that bothered me as a result because the characters should have been able to see the danger up ahead.

The flaws within Logan are minor and do little to bring down what some are calling the best superhero movie yet. I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate, as Logan could function as any kind of movie if you took away the super powers. The film isn’t centered on a conflict of good vs evil with the fate of the world in the balance. It’s a character driven film, and for people who have considered themselves fans of the Wolverine character, this is probably the film you’ve been waiting for. It’s a film for those who appreciate the essence of what makes Wolverine special, and it’s able to present the character in an authentic way without devolving into a ton of fan service. More importantly, this is also clearly a worthy story for Jackman to go out on. This is his finest performance not just as Wolverine, but of any film I’ve seen him in, and I assume that was the personal goal of Jackman going into it. I was totally fine with this being Jackman’s last time playing Wolverine, but once the credits started rolling I must admit I was starting to wish for more, and as they say in show business, always leave them wanting more.


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