I love a lot of dumb things. I love old professional wrestling. I love Jean Claude Van Damme movies. I love 90s New Jack Swing. And as previously stated in my entry about Grab Bags, I love bargains.
Of course, I also love comics. So when you get comics at a bargain price, I can get pretty excited. I’ve picked up some odd stuff while picking through quarter bins. Most comic shops have one, and bargain bins are my bread and butter, especially at conventions (how else could I purchase a near-complete run of Spider-Woman vol.1 for under $5?). But they’re not the only means by which you can get cheap comics.
Something that’s been around since at least my childhood is the comic book value pack. Some of the first comics my mom ever got me at the grocery store were a pair of Batman comics in a DC pack. It came with a cardboard insert that had cut-out DC trading cards. Pretty cool, honestly, even if I ended up not being all that interested in the Batman comics that came packaged within. During the 90s we had a slew of these polybagged comic book three-packs, usually around $1.99, and occasionally containing something decent (although there were an awful lot of horrible Turok, Rai, Harbinger, and H.A.R.D.Corps comics to swim through). I actually managed to get a couple of issues of Jack Kirby’s Mister Miracle in some of these packs, which still seems crazy to me now. If you loved reading comics and weren’t too discriminating about what you read, at two bucks you got yourself a handful of reading material, at least.
I don’t know why I was surprised to find these things still in existence when I went to the Dollar Tree a month or so back. It makes sense, really; there were so many comics printed in the 90s, it seems comic shop owners will forever be up to their necks in Warriors of Plasm, Freex, and Bloodshot back issues that they just can’t get rid of.
These days, they’re $1 for two comics (instead of $2 for 3 comics). Also, to make it seem more valuable, the company responsible (CardsOne, who also repackage vintage 80s and 90s baseball cards and sell them at discount stores) has included “1 Free Bonus Superhero Trading Card in every bag.” Awesome!
On that note, let’s also look at the other claims made on the package. CardsOne says that this pack “is a great item or gift for any comic book enthusiast,” and that “all comic books” inside “are family friendly and will bring hours of enjoyable reading.” Let me stop typing for a second so I can laugh.
Okay. Right off the bat, try to picture the kinds of comics that come to mind when you think of this criteria. First, they should appeal to a “comic book enthusiast.” Second, they need to be “family friendly.” Third, they should take hours to read. Hours. Frankly, unless they’re only packing Claremont-written books that last goal is not going to be possible. But now I’m just being mean.
So I (naturally) bought a stack of these. Now, unlike the Grab Bag from my last entry, you can actually see what you’re getting. This means I spent my time looking through the rack of them and picked out ones that at least might be entertaining. I noticed was that there were a large number of 90s Superman comics (pre- and post- Death of Superman, including many issues featuring the Super-Mullet) as well as quite a few CrossGen titles. Neither of these should really surprise you or I. Also, I noticed a few 90s Top Cow and “bad girl” comics. So there’s your family friendly entertainment right there.
Picking one pack from my stack, I went for one that I felt might make for the most interesting review, a pack containing Ballistic/Wolverine and an issue of Comico’s Justice Machine. Let’s look at that combination right there. One book is a crossover from the 90s featuring Wolverine and a gun-toting cyborg lady with huge breasts, the other book is from an obscure 80s series that is really only known for introducing Bill Willingham’s Elementals, itself an obscure Comico series that nobody really cares about, either.
I actually remember the Top Cow/Marvel crossover that Ballistic/Wolverine was part of, Devil’s Reign. The premise is that Mephisto has discovered the Top Cow universe and decides to go there to steal souls or something, since the usual Marvel superheroes have no dominion there. Because, you know, a fake Satan can’t spend all his time dissolving marriages. But somehow Marvel superheroes manage to find their way into the Top Cow universe and blah blah blah who gives a crap. Honestly, I don’t remember much of it making any sense when I read it the first time (these crossovers rarely do).
So this issue is Chapter Four of the crossover. Thankfully they’ve included a summary of what’s happened so far, which doesn’t do much to make any sense of what you’re in for in the next twenty-odd pages. Oh yeah, also: there are sixteen people credited with creating this comic. SIXTEEN. We have the usual stuff, like Script, Pencils, Inks, Editor, etc. But we also have “Penciling Assists,” “Ink Assists,” and even “Lettering Assists.” We have three people credited with “Production” (whatever the hell that means in a comic book), and then some guy named Peter Steigerwald, who gets a hilarious novelty credit. And please note that I am not including the corporate titles for Marvel or Top Cow, which are both included on the inside cover. That’s a lot of people working on one comic. Granted, it’s part of a crossover, so maybe some extra editors and such are going to be in the mix. I’m sure this just means that the comic will be of superior quality to, say, your usual comic where maybe six people were directly involved. Right?
It took sixteen people to create an incoherent, cliched mess, in which absolutely nothing makes any sense.
We start with Wolverine in Times Square (on New Years Eve, because it’s perpetually NYE in Times Square) in what we assume is the Marvel Universe, partaking in the non-Joe Quesada-approved act of smoking a cigarette. He says some stuff about Landau, Luckman & Lake (some intergalactic law firm that was frequently used as a plot device back in the 90s) and he’s looking for somebody named Zoe and already I don’t know what the hell is going on. I don’t know who Zoe is and I don’t know why she is important. And then Wolverine goes to an LL&L office, which just so happens to be inside an S&M club.
Which itself is, ironically enough(ugh), inside an old cathedral. Like in all those 90s action flicks and music videos, right? And I’ll tell you right now, you can practically hear Prodigy’s Fat of the Land blasting in the background when you see the inside of this club, which you will see is populated by pretty much every background character from an issue of Spawn. Amongst the crowd you will notice a guy painted up like the Crow, along with an actual vampire.
Logan makes his way through the crowd, partaking in some of the most typically-90s-Wolverine (read: hackneyed) inner monologue imaginable. There’s a “funny” bit involving a scrawny bespectacled geek getting tortured (much to his pleasure) and then a useless security guard who has worse aim than an Imperial Stormtrooper (he misses Wolvie, who can’t be standing more than 5 feet away, directly in front of him), until Wolverine gets to the door or office or whatever it is he’s looking for.
And then he’s in Times Square again. A different Times Square (WHAT A TWIST!) where militant futuristic cops are beating up a dude who doesn’t feel like having fun. Or something. And Wolverine, being a superhero, decides to beat up the cops all while making a comment about the gestapo (oh hey, even Wolverine resorts to calling people Nazis; he should get into politics!). The futuristic cops fight back until they’re gunned down by a mysterious new ally, the titular (not intended as a pun regarding her large breasts, I swear) cyborg “heroine,” who actually says, “You can call me Ballistic,” with a straight face. Then she says a bunch of horrible stuff that not even 90s-era Nomad would say.
Ballistic takes Wolverine to an abandoned building, where she gives us a mouthful of exposition and Wolverine smokes another cigarette. There’s some stuff about Heatwave (the former leader of Cyber Force, who’s turned bad and made himself mayor of New York) and Zoe working together because of mind control, and our two heroes (I use this term loosely) decide to team up.
We then cut to Heatwave and Zoe in another old cathedral (man, what is up with all the cathedrals in the 90s?). Heatwa- sorry, The Mayor is dressed in a very Nazi-esque uniform (yay, subtlety!) and is hairless, making him look more like gestapo Michael Chiklis than the Cyclops/Spartan-knockoff he started out as. We get some vague references in the dialogue to “He” (Mephisto) before Wolverine and Ballistic zipline (from an undisclosed building far out of view) through a window, guns blazing.
And then we get Wolverine decked out in his best 90s look, complete with black camo paint.
What exactly is that particular camo supposed to do, anyway? I have no idea. Also, pay attention to not just the gun Logan is holding, but also the pistol strapped to his chest (if you can pick it out among all the various pouches, straps and grenades). This is going to be important to note, because three pages later Wolverine says, “I ain’t too big on guns.” I suppose that makes sense, as it explains why he carried two relatively little guns instead of some giant Liefeldesque cannon. It’s all about scale, guys.
Everybody fights, Zoe breaks free of the mind control she’s been under, they seemingly beat the bad guys, and then everybody in Times Square has disappeared (presumably taken by Mephisto). Then we get a shot of Witchblade in a pin-up pose (on her knees), with Mephisto looking like a drooling creep (usually a look reserved for Top Cow fanboys), saying it’s Witchblade’s turn (I honestly don’t want to know).
I love how Sarah Pezzini’s waist is barely wider than her Witchblade-bearing forearm. I also have no idea anatomically where her right shoulder is supposed to be hiding under that hair, and I do wish, for the sake of her own comfort, that the Witchblade provided more support for those ridiculously huge, drooping breasts (well, at least they aren’t defying gravity like most artists would depict at that size).
And that’s our comic. I’ve seen Christopher Lambert direct-to-video movies that make more narrative sense than this. I especially love how Wolverine just goes along with this the whole time. “Oh, this cyborg that kills cops in this world I don’t recognize wants me to join her. Okay.” It’s as though, at this point in his superhero career, nothing is going to surprise him. And really, when the adventure turns out to be as by-the-numbers as this, I don’t blame him.
Then there’s all the questions I have about Mephisto’s plan. Granted, I haven’t read the whole series since 1997, but like I said earlier, I don’t remember it making a lick of sense back then, either. Why does Mephisto need to mind-control the likes of Heatwave and Zoe to get the people of New York to congregate in Times Square? Why doesn’t he just mind-control everybody in New York? And heck, if he can control people’s minds, why hasn’t he ever tried it with the Silver Surfer or Thor or any of the other Marvel heroes he’s been after over the past forty-plus years? Oh wait, because that’s entirely against his character. Controlling people’s minds isn’t even something he tends to do (is that even one of his powers?). That’s not what Mephisto does; there’s no sport in it. If he could do such a thing, then he wouldn’t bother masquerading around as Satan or Lucifer, making deals with people.
It’s idiotic, but I can’t say I’m surprised by a comic co-published by a company that’s made most of its money off of T&A (after doing X-Men knockoffs didn’t pan out for them). Speaking of T&A, how about that family friendly content, huh? I’m no prude, but I can’t imagine parents who actually care about things being “family friendly” finding this to meet their standards.
What about those “comic book enthusiasts?” I think maybe the folks at CardsOne mean “people who hate themselves (but not as much as they hate women).”
Okay, that’s it for me for right now. I need to go outside (where there’s currently a foot or so of snow) and clear my head. Wash the taste of this out of my mouth.
Up next: part two of this debacle, in which I read an issue of “one of the most popular comic titles of the 1980s,” (according to the official website) Justice Machine.