Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Crabs, Assemble!, Part Twenty-Six: X-Men: Inferno Crossovers

 "What does this have to do with a massive binge-read of THE AVENGERS...?", you might ask.
I'll tell you....

 One of the joys of having about 15 years worth of unread comics piled into your man-cave is that, somewhere in that pile, you probably have at least part of a run that hasn't been fully collected elsewhere. Such is the case with 2010's X-MEN: INFERNO CROSSOVERS. The Walter Simonson era of THE AVENGERS hasn't been collected, leaving me with a sizeable gap in my marathon. Yes, I could buy the individual issues digitally, but digital is, for me, a very last resort, and...I really didn't care that much about missing those issues. The little bit of Simonson's run that was collected in THE AVENGERS: HEAVY METAL didn't exactly wow me, so I figured I'd just move on with the marathon. BUT......somewhere in the stacks and stacks of unread books, this collection called out to me.

 "I'm here...I'm here...I have three issues of that uncollected run inside me! Read me!!! READ ME!!!!"

 So, here we are.

 1988's INFERNO crossover hit just as I was getting back into comics. I had dropped Chris Claremont's UNCANNY X-MEN around issue #210 because it was becoming unreadable, but I picked up the UNCANNY issues of this crossover, was still unreadable. But, some of the crossovers were fun, which is why I scooped up this omnibus-in-all-but-name collection, which runs a juicy 602 pages. The premise of the event was a demonic invasion of Manhattan, with Marvel's mutant characters front-and-center, and the rest of their New York-based characters playing supporting roles in their own books.

 X-MEN: INFERNO CROSSOVERS collects POWER PACK #'s 40 and 42-44, THE AVENGERS #'s 298-300, FANTASTIC FOUR #'s 322-324, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #'s 311-313, PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #'s 146-148, WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #'s 47-48, DAREDEVIL #'s 262-263 and 265, EXCALIBUR #'s 6-7, and CLOAK AND DAGGER #4. To say that this is a mixed bag would be an understatement.

The book starts with POWER PACK, a team that never really interested me. The premise (Four young siblings are given super-powers by aliens) is original, but I always found the kids to be bland and boring. This crossover seems to have come just as the book was imploding, with Louise Simonson writing one issue before handing the baton over to penciller Jon Bogdonove, who writes two issues, before being unceremoniously replaced by Julianna Jones. The first issues finds Power Pack's all-too-human baddie The Bogeyman being dispatched to Limbo after a demonic deal goes wrong, only to return later as a true Bogeyman. These issues are insanely wordy, the kids all seem to share a personality, and, while I appreciated the twist that Bogdonove introduced into the concept, seeing it immediately, if cleverly, undone an issue later by a new writer was kind of a bummer. I also thought the topless shots of the youngest Power sister were odd, even if she had no nipples, and the segment that shows (Even if the writing ignores it completely..) the oldest Power brother urinating into a toilet was even odder. Also, for a book that I always assumed was aimed squarely at younger readers, there's a ton of really dark stuff going on, to say nothing of the endless "SEX!!! SEX!!! SEX!!!" signs in Bogdonove's Times Square. Not a title that I would recommend.

More oddness follows in THE AVENGERS, which starts off with the team disbanded. Jarvis, who is British, is living with his mother, who writer Walter Simonson depicts as a foul-mouthed brute of a New Yorker. That bothered me so much that I still can't stop thinking about it. These three issues are barely a crossover, as Jarvis and "The Captain", as Captain America was known then, battle demonically-possessed cars (!!), before The Captain assembles a new team of Avengers to save Franklin Richards from some egg-looking bad guy. Seriously, this has to be THE weirdest villain that I've ever egg-shaped pedophile.

 Just why this perv wants kids is never explained, so I assume that he's just some super-powered deviant. We do, however, get a classic moment when new Avenger Gilgamesh says "He is not MY son, egg with a voice." More stuff that I could have skipped.

From there, we visit THE FANTASTIC FOUR, helmed by the hated Steve Englehart. Englehart uses these three issues to once again dredge up Graviton, Mantis, and FUCKING KANG!!!! (Kang also appears in the AVENGERS issues, but IT'S A DIFFERENT KANG!!! Like one Kang isn't bad enough!!!) I can see why Englehart got bounced all around Marvel....No one seems to give two shits about Mantis, but he kept on shoving her down our collective throats in every book he wrote. More stuff that I could have lived without, but the Keith Pollard/Joe Sinnott art is easy on the eyes.

 Finally we get to the meat of the collection: Eight interconnected issues of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, and WEB OF SPIDER-MAN. AMAZING  is written by David Michelinie and illustrated by Todd McFarlane who blew up on this book. His regular people range from decent to amateurish, but, man....could he draw heroes and villains! These issues feature Mysterio, The Lizard, The Green Goblin, and The Hobgoblin, and are mostly just excuses for huge battle scenes and gratuitous Mary Jane cheesecake. Trifling, but loads of fun.


 The real good stuff comes from SPECTACULAR and WEB, both sublimely written by the legendary Gerry Conway. Sal Buscema illustrates SPECTACULAR, and he's never looked better. WEB is illustrated by Alex Savuik, who isn't the most exciting artist, but he gets the job done well. The Spider-books were all intimately connected at this point in history, and the story here basically flows from one title to the next seamlessly. Interesting sub-plots abound, featuring Joy Mercado, Ben Urich, Aunt May, Mary Jane, Joe Robertson, J. Jonah Jameson, Flash Thompson, Harry and Liz Osborn, Betty Leeds, and Mary Jane's scheming niece, Kristy. I recommend this collection just for these Spidey issues, and I wish Marvel would collect more of WEB and SPECTACULAR from this era.

 Next up is Ann Nocenti and John Romita, Jr.'s DAREDEVIL, which was waaaaay too weird and hallucinogenic for my tastes. Next!

Chris Claremont and Alan Davis' EXCALIBUR is represented for two issues, and, while Davis' art steals the show, this is prime wordy Claremont, made worse by him trying to be funny, which he can't pull off.

 The book is rounded out by a truly atrocious CLOAK AND DAGGER issue that served no purpose whatsoever.

 So: No extras of any kind, and mostly meh-to-awful contents....BUT....those eight Spider-Man issues are gold. Buy the collection just for them.

 Quality control issue: This hardcover sat, bagged in a treasury edition bag, in a pile since it was purchased in 2010. Upon cracking it open the other day, the dustjacket had become fused to the front and back boards of the book. I assumed it was just stuck, so I gently pulled it off...a small chunk of the inside back portion of the dustjacket ripped off, and the front and back faux leather boards had some serious white streaks and discoloring. Ugh.

 X-MEN: INFERNO CROSSOVERS nets a paltry five out of ten devil heads, solely for those Spidey issues.

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