• magisterrex Retro Games

    I've been gaming since the days of Pong and still own a working Atari 2600. I tend to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games. Sometimes I digress. Decades after earning it, I'm finally putting the skills I learned while completing my history degree from the University of Victoria to good use. Or so I think. If you're into classic old school gaming, this blog is for you!

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Obsolete Comic Reviews: The X-Men vs. The Avengers 1987

Back in 2012, wrote a series of Obsolete Comic Reviews for a website that has since itself become obsolete. The good news is that nothing is truly ever lost on the Al Gore Superhighway. Below is the recovered review; hope it pleases!

When I first heard about the upcoming Avengers Vs. X-Men twelve issue miniseries from Marvel Comics, my first thoughts were something along the line of, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”  Marvel being Marvel, the ad copy reads that this series “brings together the most powerful forces in comics for a super hero war like you’ve never seen before and will never see again“…but perhaps my memory is a bit sharper than those Marvel advertising hacks, as I can recall a miniseries that brought the X-Men and The Avengers into conflict, the 1987 four-issue limited series, The X-Men vs. The Avengers.


The X-Men vs. The Avengers #1

The limited series’ story revolved around Magneto and his past, and opened with the remains of his former space fortress, Asteroid M, falling down to Earth.  While out on a leisure time excursion with the X-Men, Magento hears a radio report of The Avengers in action as they attempt to dispose of those pieces that threatened populated areas.  So begins a four issue arc of Magneto’s pondering self-doubt of who he is: the villain of his past or the hero of his present.  Will he suffer a Dantesque fall from grace to match Asteroid M’s fate?  Or will he face his past and accept the judgment and consequences for his actions?

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #2

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #2

Interspersed between panels of his brooding are the reactions to the Master of Magnetism by the various heroes he encounters.  The Avengers seek to capture Magneto to bring him before the World Court to stand trial for crimes against humanity.  The X-Men consider a human court predisposed to judge against such a well-known mutant, and so protect their former foe (and current ally) from the Avengers.  And the Soviet Super Soldiers are a wild card that seek to capture Magneto and return him to the U.S.S.R. to stand trial for his crimes against the state (for destroying the city of Varykino and sinking a Soviet nuclear submarine).  As Magneto is a polarizing figure, everyone involved has an opinion of who and what he is and stands for, and it all played out during The X-Men vs. The Avengers.

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #3

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #3

The first three issues of the miniseries were written by Roger Stern, with art provided by Marc Silvestri.  However, the Marvel editorial board did not agree with the direction Stern wished to go in the final issue (which was to show Magneto as an unabashed villain), and changed the plot against his wishes.  Rather than staying on, Stern stepped aside and the final issue was written by Tom DeFalco.  Stern stated that DeFalco had nothing to do with the editorial decision, but did not name the editors involved.  Perhaps it’s not that difficult to generate a hypothesis on who was responsible, as the editors of the book were Mark Gruenwald and Ann Nocenti.  By this point Gruenwald was an Executive Editor and the man in charge of Marvel Continuity (the “Continuity Cop”).   It seems improbable that the “Continuity Cop” would permit such a departure from the accepted Marvel Canon for Magneto, and because of the respect his fellow editors had for Gruenwald, I doubt if anyone would have championed Stern’s story.  (It’s also interesting to note that Stern was fired by Gruenwald from writing the ongoing Avengers series shortly thereafter…but I digress.)  Regardless, Stern did not finish the series.

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #4

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #4

Stern’s absence was not the only one from the final issue: the talented Marc Silvestri, who would later go on to success as one of the seven founders of Image Comics in 1992 with the Top Cow imprint, only managed to pencil the first three issues.  Between the third and fourth issue, Silvestri was tapped to draw the Uncanny X-Men, and since that series was the engine that kept the Marvel money machine chugging along, Keith Pollard picked up the pencils for The X-Men vs. The Avengers.  It’s a bit of an odd situation when both the writer and the penciler of such a small limited miniseries move on before its completion!

There is a lot to recommend in The X-Men vs. The Avengers.  A good story, lots of action with believable conflict and motivations for those involved, and with only four issues, it does not feel artificially extended.   As part of the trilogy of VS. miniseries Marvel released at the time (Mephisto vs… and The Fantastic Four versus The X-Men were the other two), this is a recommended journey into late 1980s comic book storytelling.  Thumbs up!

Obsolete Comic Review: Elric 1-6 (Pacific Comics)

In the 1970s, DC Comics and Marvel Comics dominated the comic retail world through nationally distributed newsstand sales. I remember well the joy of walking into the corner store and perusing the comic rack. However, as the decade progressed, the direct market grew, as specialized comic book shop stores began to propagate across North America. Hand-in-hand with this growth came new publishers with new material, new formats and new deals for creators. One of the first of these new publishers actually began as a mail-order company, grew to become a distributor, and then made the leap into the unknown by becoming an actual comic book publisher. That company was Pacific Comics.

The owners of Pacific Comics, the brothers Schanes (Bill and Steve), used their extensive contacts to land some high-calibre comic book talent to help launch their publishing venture[i]. The first was arguably the biggest name in comics – Jack Kirby – who wrote and drew Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers and published it under the Pacific Comics label. Anyone who has read this series can attest that this was not some of King Kirby’s best work, though. Fortunately, other talent followed, including the creators of the comics this article is actually about: Elric.

Elric #1 (Pacific Comics)

Elric is the story of the last Emperor of Melniboné, an empire long in decline. Elric’s destiny is to be entangled within the plots and contrivances of the Lords of Chaos while fighting for his crown against the wicked ambitions of his cousin, and to ultimately search for the Black Sword, Stormbringer. It is a tale of epic fantasy whose protagonist is a drug user who is neither a force for good nor evil, driven by motives different from our own and bred into his character by his upbringing in an alien environment from our own. It is more than the standard Hero-With-A-Bigass-Sword fantasy fare, and I highly advise anyone who enjoys fantasy who has never before heard of this series to find Moorcock’s original books: they are classics!

Elric #2 (Pacific Comics)

Elric was published in 1983-1984 near the end of Pacific Comics’ run as an independent comic book publisher. It was based on Michael Moorcock’s 1972 story, Elric of Melniboné, adapted for comic book format by Roy Thomas and illustrated by P. Craig Russell and Michael T. Gilbert. The creative team of Thomas and Russell had collaborated on Elric projects before this one, with the 1982 Marvel Comics story The Dreaming City (found in Marvel Graphic Novel #2) and again with While Gods Laugh (in Epic Illustrated #14), and they were aptly suited for working on the larger six-issue Elric adaptation. Thomas’ ability to draw out the key elements of Moorcock’s work while preserving his overall linguistic style was an integral reason why the series was (and still is!) such a joy to read. Thomas himself explained his process as:

I’ve never been one of that school who believes an adapter is under some sort of pressure to “improve” an already splendid original, or to prove that he is the true genius and has made a saleable piece of work out of a pile of junk. I leave that to the moguls of TV and movies, omniscient in their insecurities.[ii]

Elric #3 (Pacific Comics)

Even more important to a comic book is its look, as it has always been a very visual creative medium.  Of course, the artistry of P. Craig Russell and Michael T. Gilbert did not disappoint. The dreamlike imagery breathed otherworldly life into the page, vividly portraying Elric’s decadent world and the strange entities that he interacted with.

As good as the art was, by issue three its quality seemed to improve, due to a change in the comic’s production. The previous two issues were done in “an accepted, fast, and relatively inexpensive way to color a story.[iii] The originals were copied, and then colored, but the black color was not reproduced exactly, causing the art of the copies to look less crisp than the originals. The new method was called the “Grey Line” method, which reproduced the black lines as faint grey lines during the copying process. This resulted in a much better quality artwork once colored. Even more interesting, Pacific Comics changed their production of Elric once more by issue four. The process was improved again by changing the copy method from the “reflective” method to a “laser scan” method, which in turn improved the white spaces in the artwork. [iv] It was unusual for a comic book publisher to incur more expense mid-stream of a series in the name of quality, and to do it twice within the space of two issues was exceptional.

Elric #4 (Pacific Comics)

So how did Elric fare within the comic book industry? There was quite a “buzz” at the time within comic shops and direct distributors for this comic series. I grabbed it as soon as I saw the art and was enthralled.  Others were too, according to Mike Friedrich, Elric’s editor:

The retailers and distributors report to us that Elric is one of the best-selling new titles released in the last year…”[v]

David Scroggy [Pacific Comics’ Editor in Chief] tells us that Elric garners the most mail of any PC title – and they’ve got some pretty good ones…[vi]

The comic was successful enough that plans were made to continue the comic through another story arc, with issue seven being announced, albeit coming two months later to give the team time to rest.  However, Pacific Comics did not publish another Elric story under their label after issue six. Why?

Elric #5 (Pacific Comics)

The answer was simple: by the time the creative team was ready to start up again, Pacific Comics was already going out of business. By September 1984, the Schanes signed over control of their company to a liquidation company, and Pacific Comics ceased to exist.[vii] The publication rights for Michael Moorcock’s’ Elric universe were picked up by First Comics, who kept the creative team of Roy Thomas and Michael T. Gilbert together for their June, 1985 to June, 1986 seven issue story arc, Sailor on the Sea of Fate.

Elric #6 (Pacific Comics)

Elric has continued to find a comic book audience over the years, with the most recent being BOOM! Studios’ Elric: The Balance Lost. Yet Pacific Comics’ Elric series remains my favourite comic book adaptation of Moorcock’s albino anti-hero. Perhaps it is because of Russell and Gilbert’s amazing art outclassed much of the standard super-hero fare I read at the time; perhaps it was because the series represented my first taste of what the direct market and indie publishing could offer. Regardless, the six issues have followed me wherever I’ve moved in the past 28 (!) years, and remain some of my favourite comics in my collection to this very day. If you have the opportunity to pick up this six issue run, do it! You won’t regret it!

[i] Elric #2, Mike Friedrich Editorial

[ii] Elric #2, “ET CETERA…” column by Roy Thomas

[iii] Elric #3, Mike Friedrich Editorial

[iv] Elric #4, note in the Letters column

[v] Elric #5, Mike Friedrich, Editorial

[vi] Elric #5, Mick Friedrich, Editorial