Tag Archives: X-Men

What If Phoenix Had Not Died? (1981)

What If 27 Cover

The early 80’s were my prime years of comic book collecting, and Marvel’s What If? was one of my favorite titles.  Each issue introduced by The Watcher would present an alternate history of Marvel characters based on one twist of fate in a previously established storyline.  There were some fantastic issues of What If? from 1981-1982, particularly What If Daredevil Became an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.? (#28, August 1981), What If Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk? (#31, February 1982), What If Elektra Had Lived? (#35, October 1982), and What If The Fantastic Four Had Not Gained Their Powers? (#36, December 1982).  I recently reached into the old box o’ comics and found one that stood out as one of my favorite issues of What If’s early 80’s run, and a story that truly stood out for me that entire decade: What If Phoenix Had Not Died? (#27, July 1981) written by Mary Jo Duffy with art by penciller Jerry Bingham and inker John Stuart.

We bought our copy of What If? #27 new off of the spinner rack at our comic shop back in 1981.  Frank Miller’s dynamic cover stood out among most other comics released that month, with his bold line work and the intense colors capturing Phoenix’s power while flanked by the helpless X-Men.

One of the reasons this story resonated with me was  because less than a year earlier Jean Grey/Phoenix was killed off in Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin’s classic X-Men #137 (Vol. 1, Sept. 1980).  As I read that issue for the first time back in 1980, I held up hope that the X-Men would prevail in their battle with the Imperial Guard.  But as their epic battle ended with each member of the X-Men taken down in defeat, Jean’s death was even more shocking.  At that young of an age, I couldn’t understand how the folks at Marvel could have ended the story with the X-Men losing and a main character actually dying.  The only other comic book story to have that big of an impact on me was the death of Elektra in Daredevil #181 (April 1982), but unfortunately as I got older I became more jaded and skeptical with every Marvel character’s death and subsequent return.  That story in X-Men #137 got me more emotionally involved as a reader and fan of the X-Men, as Cyclops and the rest of the team came to terms with Jean’s death and dealt with their own issues as the decade went on.  To this day, I consider the Death of Phoenix one of my favorite comic book stories of all time and one of the greatest in Marvel’s history.  So when What If Phoenix Had Not Died? was published the following year in 1981, it was one of the stories I had to read.  X-Men was my favorite title and I was eager to find out what would have happened to them in this alternate history.

What If 27 Page 1

What If Phoenix Had Not Died? begins with The Watcher providing a recap of Jean Grey’s history in the original X-Men storyline (her transition from Marvel Girl to Phoenix, mind control under Mastermind and her time as the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club, the destruction of the star D’Bari leading to the deaths of 5 billion humanoids, and the X-Men’s fight with Lilandra’s Imperial Guard leading to her death).  Six pages in, the story takes an alternate turn when toward the end of their battle with the Imperial Guard Jean saves Cyclops from a blast and alters her destiny.  Jean and the defeated X-Men are taken to the Shi’Ar imperial flagship, and their psychic lobotomizer removes her telepathic powers.

What If 27 Page 6

What If 27 Page 7

Upon their return to Professor Xavier’s School, a now powerless Jean tries to adapt to her diminished role within the X-Men.  A distress call from Lilandra leads them to a showdown with Galactus and his herald Terrax.  The X-Men, led by Cyclops are on the verge of defeat against Terrax when the Phoenix force re-manifests itself in Jean and a blast of her power relegates Terrax to a powerless human form.  Galactus backs off and the old Phoenix is back.  But eventually the temptations of the Phoenix force get the best of Jean, and the story takes a darker turn.

What If 27 Page 28

No spoilers here.  Writer Mary Jo Duffy (Power Man and Iron Fist, Star Wars, Wolverine) and artist Jerry Bingham (Iron Man, Marvel Two In One) pack a lot of drama and action into What If Phoenix Had Not Died?: Jean’s emotional roller coaster as a result of her transition from mutant to human, the temptations of the Phoenix force when her powers return, and the ensuing consequences of the darkness that consumes her.  At a whopping 34 pages, this qualifies as an event and it doesn’t disappoint.  Even as a “done in one” single issue story, the shocking fate of the X-Men is darker than most other stories of that era and stays with the reader long after the last panel.

Nowadays our copy of What If? #27 has a worn cover and the middle pages are separating from the spine, which is a testament to how much we enjoyed this story.  Ten or twenty years ago I would have kicked myself for not bagging and boarding it, but the current condition brings out the nostalgia even more.  Turning through the pages the other night reminded me of quite a few lazy days at age 8 sitting on the living room floor reading and re-reading this issue, and brought back the same excitement and emotion as it did the first time I read it in 1981.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Captain America Project #13: Jim Lee

The Captain America Project: 20 artists, 20 drawings of Captain America on one page.

#13: Jim Lee (Justice League, All Star Batman and Robin, X-Men, WildC.A.T.S.)

I wrapped up an incredible haul from 2010’s Big Apple Con and New York Comic Con with this amazing Captain America sketch from the great Jim Lee.  I uploaded a larger than usual image to show the texture and shading from the exposed pencil lines bringing out a darker mood in Cap’s expression.  This is an amazing sketch.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

2012 New York Comic Con

The New York Comic Con was held October 11-14 at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center in New York City.  This was my sixth time attending the show in the last seven years and I’m amazed at how much the convention has grown since the first NYCC in 2006.  If I remember correctly, that first NYCC was in a space no bigger than this year’s Artist Alley and was relegated to the lower level of the Javitz Center.   Now it takes up the entire convention center and it’s still barely enough space for the thousands of comic fans and cosplayers that attend.

NYCC started on Thursday but I had a three day pass beginning on Friday.  I left work early Friday afternoon and cabbed it to the Javitz Center.  There was a good crowd at the Javitz Friday afternoon, but despite the number of people on line the wait time to get in was minimal (on all of the three days I attended) thanks to the fantastic planning by the event organizers Reed Exhibition Companies.

First stop: Artist Alley!

For me NYCC has always been about meeting the comic book writers and artists in attendance, particularly the men and women whose work I read from 1977-1989, and this show didn’t disappoint.  I had spent the week prior to NYCC looking over the list of comic creators that would be in attendance and putting together a list of who I would try to get sketches from.  My list ran down an entire page and would have cost me about a month’s salary if I was able to get all of the proposed sketches, so  I scaled it down to my “must haves.”

The first artist I met was Rick Leonardi, penciller of many Marvel titles including Cloak & Dagger, The Uncanny X-Men, and Spider-Man 2099 just to name a few.  I’ve been a big fan of his over the years, and at last year’s show I had commissioned a sketch of Cloak and Dagger from him that is one of my favorite pieces of art in my personal collection.  Lucky for me Rick’s sketch list wasn’t filled up yet when I arrived.  I asked for a Dr. Strange and he hit this one out of the park.  This sketch is definitely one of the highlights of my book.  He even added Kirby crackle!

Dr. Strange sketch by Rick Leonardi.
2012 New York Comic Con

Next up was one of my favorite inkers, Bob Wiacek.  His run on The Uncanny X-Men with penciller Paul Smith in the early 80’s is one of my all time favorites.  I decided to get a Wolverine sketch on 11″x17″ comic art board based on Paul Smith’s amazing cover from Uncanny X-Men #173.  I initially asked Bob to draw Wolverine only with the intention of having another artist draw Rogue, but I quickly changed my mind and asked him to include Rogue as well for a full cover recreation.  He showed me the pencils on Saturday, which were AMAZING, and the commission will be fully inked and FedExed to me this week.  Needless to say, this will be the signature piece of my comic art collection.

Going into the show I had a Tony Daniel sketch on my wish list, and I was able to get not one, but TWO sketches from Tony on Saturday and Sunday.  First up was a sketch card of Poison Ivy, followed by a sketch of Harley Quinn in my sketch book.  Not only is Tony an amazing artist, he is one of the nicest people I have met in my years of attending comic conventions.

Poison Ivy
Drawn by Tony Daniel

Tony Daniel shows off a Harley Quinn sketch

I was also fortunate enough to get this great Savage Dragon sketch from Erik Larsen.  The hits just keep on coming!

One of the highlights of the weekend was chatting with several of the creators in attendance about their work.  I have a copy of Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics by Les Daniels and decided to get the Marvel alumni in attendance to autograph the inside cover.  I walked up to Louise Simonson’s table for an autograph and was surprised to see former artist/editor Carl Potts.  I had a great conversation with both of them and mentioned to Carl that I’m proud the owner of a page he drew from Alien Legion #4 (inked by Terry Austin).  Bob McLeod was very generous with his time discussing the creation of The New Mutants (post to follow!).

I walked the exhibit hall floor a few times, mainly to check out the original comic art for sale.  I fully expected the number of attendees to peak on Saturday, but the show floor was also crowded on Friday and Sunday.  After awhile I decided to stick with Artist Alley.

I did buy one piece of published original comic art over the weekend, a religious themed page drawn by Rick Leonardi and inked by Joe Rubinstein from a story they collaborated on back in the 90’s.  I won’t give too much information on the piece because I’m hoping to write a blog post on it for the Holidays.  But I will say it was a page that I wanted to buy when I first saw it online, but never thought I would have the chance to purchase it.  Now it’s officially part of my “not for sale” collection.

I had a fantastic time at NYCC over the weekend and overall I thought the show was an amazing success.  This picture pretty much sums up for me:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

There Are No Nerds Or Geeks Here

From the time I was six years old I was quoting movies.  My teachers seriously thought something was wrong with me.

The first movie I remember seeing in a theater was Jaws.  It had been re-released in my hometown as part of a double feature with Jaws 2.  This was 1978 (back when our theater had only one screen).  I was six years old and I can truly say it didn’t make me afraid of going into the water…I couldn’t swim (still can’t).  My father took me and my older brother to see it one afternoon, and by the time we got home I was quoting Roy Scheider’s line just before he fired his M1 rifle into the oxygen tank that (SPOILER ALERT) blew up the great white.

“Smile, you son of a…”  BLAM!

That line was part of my description of Jaws to Mrs. Farrell, my grandparents’ upstairs tenant, when she asked me about the movie.  I may have substituted another B-word for “blam” to explain to her what Chief Brody was really trying to convey.  Needless to say she was surprised by my vocabulary and retention skills at that age.  Hers was the first of many baffled looks and shaken heads that would be a theme through most of my childhood.

When my father used to take us to the movies, more often than not we would arrive five to ten minutes after the movie started.  We’d sit through the film, the entire credits, wait another twenty minutes in our seats in the empty theater, then watch the movie from the beginning of the next screening.  Once the movie reached the part that was playing when we first arrived, Pop would get up and say, “Okay, we can go now.”

Some of my favorites back then were: Jaws, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Flash Gordon, Excalibur, The Big Red One, Time Bandits, and the only move I’ve seen three times in a theater: Superman The Movie.

Amazing Spider-Man #175 (Copyright Marvel Comics)

 

The first comic book I remember owning was The Amazing Spider-Man #175 (December, 1977).  The Punisher and Spider-Man were teamed up against a villain called The Hitman.  The cover by Ross Andru showed The Hitman pointing his rifle at The Punisher who was kneeling at the edge of the Statue of Liberty’s crown holding up an injured Spider-Man, who in turn was holding up J. Jonah Jameson.  My brother had picked it off of the spinner rack at the local convenience store and I remember just sitting on the floor of my grandparents’ house staring at that cover, trying to figure out the storyline from that one image.  How did they end up on top of the Statue of Liberty?  How would they get out of this situation (with Spider-Man’s arm injured, no less)?  Was The Punisher a good guy or a bad guy?  The story inside didn’t interest me.  At age five I probably wouldn’t have understood most of it anyway.  I just immersed myself in that cover, creating story upon story in my young mind.  It had tension.  The bad guy had the upper hand, but Spider-Man had to get them out of this.  God, I love the Bronze Age.

Some of my favorite comic books of the 70s and 80s:  The Uncanny X-Men (especially the Claremont/Byrne/Austin and Claremont/Smith/Wiacek runs), The Fantastic Four (the Byrne run), The Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel Team Up, Star Wars, G.I. Combat, Sgt. Rock, and Cerebus.

Please read the title of this post again:  There Are No Nerds or Geeks Here.

This blog won’t be a forum for rants about how George Lucas ruined the Holy Trilogy with unnecessary CGI, whether Han shot Greedo first, or for fighting the stereotypes about comic book readers.  It’s for the less rabid folks like me that appreciate movies and comic books and have an even greater appreciation for the creators that brought them to us.  I’ve had the pleasure and honor of interviewing a few of them.  Those interviews will be posted soon, along with reviews of lesser known movies, some classic comic book storylines revisited, and some posts on my latest passion: original comic book art.  I’ll try to go light on the nostalgia (but I can’t make any promises), and even lighter on the snark.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,