Nightstalkers #3 (January – 1993 – Marvel)

Nightstalkers #3

The Nightstalkers can’t always get along.  Especially when it comes to Blade and Hannibal King.  What with Blade being the progeny of a mother who had been bitten by a vampire, and King being a vampire, they are often ready to tear at each other’s throats, literally.  When clues are put in front of them that the military might be interested in creating a vampire super solider they put their differences aside again to combat the greater evil.  Not without sniping at each other with sarcastic comments though.

It is all a trap though, set up by Hydra’s D.O.A. (Department of Occult Armaments), their group of scary villains is ready to take out the Nightstalkers in an effort to capture Hannibal King so that they can use him for a prototype for the vampire super solider.  Not for the military though, but for the nefarious plans of Hydra.

There is less complexity to the plot of this comic than there is to your average children’s show, and at least those teach you something.  Blade as a character is a one trick pony (reading this it seems strange that the Blade movie was as good as it was), all he wants to do is kill all things supernatural, even his own partner.  His anger really points to a need for therapy.  Hannibal King is a little more complex, struggling with his dual nature, he hates being a vampire and clings to his humanity as often as possible.  The problem is that he vocally makes a point of it every chance he gets.  Drake is almost a non-entity in this issue, literally there just to point his big gun at monsters and shoot.

The villains aren’t much better.  Pyre, who sets her self and others on fire.  Rotwrap, a mummy who is full of deadly insects.  Malpractice, evil robot doctor.  Innards, who uses his own entrails as weapons.  Their powers are silly, and they really don’t seem like they would be effective of particularly useful in a fight (with the exception of Pyre).  Yet they somehow manage to overcome the Nightstalkers by the end of the issue.

There are really no chills in this issue, and not really any thrills either.  They telegraph where this issue is going pretty fast, and frankly it is a little uninteresting.  I assume the Nightstalkers will be taken to a Hydra base which they will have to escape, and that Blade will be hesitant to rescue King.  I guess I’ll find out if I’m right next issue.

Next Time: The Outdoorsman #1: Bon Appetit or How to Kill a Chubby Vampire

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Ghost Rider & Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance #2 (September – 1992 – Marvel)

Spirits of Vengeance #2

Taking place between Morbius #1 and Darkhold #1 the second issue of Spirits of Vengeance is a bit of a one off.  Returning to the Quinten Carnival for a bit of a break.  When you are John Blaze you don’t get a break though, and on the way back they pick up a follower.  At the behest of her master, Styge, Steel Wind is on a mission to have her vengeance on Ghost Rider and Blaze.

She is going to look silly while enacting that vengeance too.  Looking like she walked right out of an issue of Youngblood she was clearly a nod to the idea that Image was putting out comics that scared Marvel to death.  At the time those Image titles looked so fresh and cutting edge, and there were some serious missteps in the Marvel Universe where they overcompensated to try and keep up.

Luckily John Blaze saves the shit out of this issue.  A midst a brutally pedestrian monologue from Steel Wind about vengeance and justice and the wrongs done to her and her sister.  Blaze, ever the tough guy biker bashes her up side the head and holds her to the ground with a boot knife.  There is something to be said about how awesome a guy can look in a trench coat with a giant knife standing next to a motorcycle.  This verges on a lot of the same problems that I have with Nightstalkers, but reigns itself in right when I think I’m going to get really irritate with it.

After Steel Wind gets put in her place and Blaze tells us about how much he loves his family (not just wife and kids but the carnival as well).  The Rider (who is in a coma for a lot of the book) tells Blaze that he knows what he needs to do to save Dan Ketch (who is trapped inside the Ghost Rider with mortal wounds), and that next step is finding the Darkhold Redeemers.  The interweaving of story lines was my favorite part of the Midnight Sons in the 90’s and it is still one of the coolest parts of all the books.  The issues stand up just fine on their own, but if you want to read the full scope of it, you have to pick up the other titles.  Pretty great marketing scheme now that I think on it for a little bit, and Marvel got the bulk of my allowance for my middle school years so it worked.

I feel like a lot of the issues of Spirits of Vengeance that are time lined between the other Midnight Sons issues feel like they are just there to tread water.  They are place holders while a bigger story is going on.  Good for fleshing out the back stories and personalities of the main characters.  Bad for becoming a place where stupid villains go to die.  Unfortunately Steel Wind is one of those stupid villains that thankfully is gone, for now.

Next Time:  Witch Doctor Volume 1: Under the Knife

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Nightstalkers #2 (December – 1992 – Marvel)

Nightstalkers #2

Of all the Midnight Sons titles Nightstalkers was always my least favorite.  It is the title that succumbs to  the super hero genre the most.  They are three over powered heroes, Blade (sword wielding half-vampire), Hannibal King (animal blood drinking full blown vampire), Frank Drake (non-vampire decedent of Dracula with a huge ectoplasm gun).  The are always fighting against super villainy baddies (like for example in this issue).  They wear costumes that strike me as being silly, and probably a little impractical in a fight (I mean come on a cape and a cravat).

Coming back to these and re-reading them, they do suffer from all of the things that I don’t like about all the superhero titles.  The second issue of Nightstalkers revolves around that too.  In their first big stand alone face off they end up dealing with a HYDRA task force called D.O.A. (Department of Occult Armaments).  There is a little subterfuge before the Nightstalkers know that that is who they are fighting against, since D.O.A.’s peons are a fortune teller and her two semi-literate assistants.  She escapes into the waiting arms of Hydra but as a punishment for their failure at bringing the Nightstalkers in they are soon face to face with four D.O.A. operatives:  Malpractice, Innards, Rotwrap and Pyre.  That’s right they have silly super villain names.

I have always wanted to like this title more than I do, but it just never did anything surprising or different than you would find in say The Avengers, or Justice League, and for me that just isn’t what I’m looking for.  I have never understood why they would waste all that good potential of characters driven by pain and loss into just making another superhero book.

One of the things that redeems this book for me a bit is the interplay between the three Nightstalkers.  Their’s is a marriage of convenience.  They all seek to eradicate all supernatural forces in the world, and in the end that includes each other.  As a young man I think I only kept up with this title through about issue ten, so I’ll be interested in seeing where that particular dynamic goes.  I know that there are only eighteen issues of the comic though, so I doubt that it will come to a real head where they all kill each other off, guess I’ll find out.

This is still my least favorite of the Midnight Sons titles, but I will get through all of them eventually, I would feel like I was doing the work that a writer and an artist put into the title a disservice by not reading it all (hopefully they don’t completely let me down).

Next Time: Cthulhu Tales #2

Morbius: The Living Vampire #1 (October – 1992 – Marvel)

Morbius #2

I’m re-reading these as I review them, and as I read the new issues of the re-boot of this title, and I have to say they are like night and day.  There is a attempt at revealing the seedy dark underbelly of New York in the re-boot of Morbius that is out now, that this comic accomplishes far better.

The plot of this issue find Morbius trying to get his shit together after the death of the woman he loved (at his own hands), and a whole lot of drama that came with the entrance of the Spirits of Vengeance into his life.  The one thing that is holding him together is his choice to only prey on the corrupt.  Even with all the moral ambiguity that comes with being not just a vigilante, but a vigilante that lusts after human blood, the decision to only kill those who “deserve” it give Morbius a purpose that allows him to focus on his other problem, a cure.

To that end he returns to the home of his only remaining friend, Jacob.  When Morbius tells him of his new plan to use his need to feed only on the wicked, Jacob accepts the idea and sets out to do whatever he can to help Morbius.

Meanwhile forces are alining against Morbius.  The corpses that he is leaving behind get the attention of the police, one of whom places a call to a mysterious man in South America, who immediately gets a plane back to the States.  Not to mention that Spider-Man already has Morbius on his radar.  Thought that feeling is mutual.  Morbius wants to meet with Spidey again, because once that radio active blood of his alleviated the symptoms of his disease for a while.

Writer Len Kaminski knows his way around the vigilante story.  Having written for other horror titles like Lady Death, Hellstrom, and Scare Tactics, he knows his way around the horror genre too.  The internal debate that Morbius is constantly having concerning the physical action that he needs to take to remain alive gets a chance to be aired outside of the inner monologue.  The introduction of Jacob gives Morbius a Devil’s Advocate that has enough of a callous demeanor to him that it seems to push Morbius further towards that vigilante mindset.

Ron Wagner provides a dark canvas to tell that story on.  All of the characters seem jagged and textured to the point that they just ooze humanity and darkness.  The black borders to all of the pages gives it an even darker feel, like there might be something lurking on the edge of the pages.  The art in this is done just right, and the menial thug that Morbius feeds on this issue doesn’t look like he fell out of Mad Max, so that is a bonus.

It is hard for me to divorce nostalgia from this review, but I have to say that even without the veneer of, “I loved this as a kid,” this is a really solid title.  There is a palpable sense of desperation in Morbius about what he is going to have to do to stay alive.  There is a disconnectedness from Jacob that is a touch disturbing, as far as voices of reason go he isn’t the best and seems very enabling of Morbius.  It will be interesting to see as the title goes on if it maintains this sense of darkness and urgency as traditional super heroes are introduced into the fray.  I for one am excited to re-read on!

Next Time:  Baltimore: The Plague Ships TPB

Darkhold #2 (November -1992 – Marvel)

Darkhold #2

Outside of the Spirits of Vengeance title, Darkhold was my favorite of the Midnight Sons books.  There was something about its angular art work and heavy black shading style that always appealed to me.  For some reason (which in retrospect has a lot to do with me being a kid and not knowing better) I felt that the book looked modern and hip, and to this day it looks different from pretty much any book that I have been into over the years.

So the second issue of Darkhold takes place after the Rise of the Midnight Sons series and the defeat of Lilith by the Midnight Sons.  Vicki Montesi, Sam Buchanan, and Louise Hastings are hot on the heels of another black envelope, this time tracking down an arsonist who has been given a Gamma bomb by the mysterious Other.  This time they have little help in finding the page that is on the loose by way of a hell hound whose only job is to track down the page and destroy it.

All the while they are being badgered by not only the Darkholders who seek the release of whatever evil the Darkhold has in store for the world, but also of government agents who are just trying to keep intruders away from the already compromised Gamma bomb.  The three fighters just can’t seem to catch a break, leading up to the final panels.  Modred the Mystic’s appearance to screw things up, and the evil Darkhold dwarf handing out yet another of the Darkhold’s pages to an unsuspecting victim.

While the issues of Darkhold are part of an ongoing series, it was one of the best for stand alone issues.  While the whole of the series made a great overall story, the creature feature narrative made it so you could miss an issue or two know the basics of what was going on, but get a great thriller in just on issue.  A real testament to writer Chris Cooper’s ability to put together a great book.

The art by Richard Case, who also drew for Doom Patrol and Doctor Strange, is quirky and angular, and still remains one of my all time favorite styles (to the point where I’m thinking of hunting down other things that he has done) and made Darkhold a must have every month for me when I was in middle school.  Overall Darkhold is a solid comic, and while this issue is part of the world, and character building that every title needs, it is a really solid issue with tie ins all over the place with the rest of the Marvel Universe.

Next Time:  Essential: Marvel Horror Vol. 1

Rise of the Midnight Sons (TPB – 2000 – Marvel)

Rise of the Midnight Sons TPB

Rise of the Midnight Sons TPB

Collecting Ghost Rider #28 & #31, Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance #1, Darkhold #1, Morbius #1, and Nightstalkers #1.

When I was 12 I desperately wanted this collection.  I would pick up my copy of Wizard every month and see how much my poly-bagged collectors issues of the Rise of the Midnight Sons series was up to.  Because like most everyone else in the 90’s there was a brief moment when I thought all of those first issue collectors editions would be worth thousands of dollars soon, and I would be able to buy all the comics that I ever wanted ever when I traded them in.  In the mean time I wanted to have this collection so I could read the books that were trapped in those collectors poly-bags over and over again.  What better way to do that than with a collection in book form that would never be worth as much as my single issues would ever be.

I never got it, because it was twenty dollars, and while my middle school allowance would cover a couple of books that were $2.50 a week, I didn’t have the financial wherewithal to just save up for a month to pick it up.  I had to have the books that were on the stands that week.  If I waited to pick up the graphic novel, how would I ever keep up with the current titles.  Oh the mind of a 12 year old geek!

Now I’m an adult, and there is ebay, and this little gem allowed me to pick up all those old poly-bagged comics and this guy so that I could reread the titles, without taking them out of their precious bags.  (though the giant poster that they all make is a huge temptation to open them).  I have to tell you, having these in a collection isn’t a let down at all.  These comics are just as fun as I remember them being.

The entire saga begins with Ghost Rider #28.  John Blaze is following around the newly minted Ghost Rider, Dan Ketch as he goes on a vengeance spree.  He is collecting common criminals and piling their inert Penance Stared out bodies in a crypt in a cemetery.  The cops are catching on to the action in the cemetery and soon Blaze and the Ghost rider find themselves trapped.  Enter The Caretaker another enigmatic motorcycle riding man who shows them a back way out of the crypt.  They escape, but stranger and more important things are afoot, as Lilith mother of demons has returned to the Earth, and her Lillin including her child Blackout are out to help her conquer the world.

Spirits of Vengeance #1 continues the tale, Blaze and Ghosty are still on the run from the cops, making their way back to the carnival that Blaze runs with his family.  Blaze isn’t sure why Ghost Rider is going so mad with rage until the Rider shares the vision of Lilith that he has had with Blaze.  The rush back to the carnival intensifies.  Meanwhile Lilith is reborn and her children gather to her in the Antarctic, including the teleporter Pilgrim.  Soon Blaze and Ghost Rider are back in the carnival and Lilith is is “getting the band back together,” by soliciting the help of Creed, and evil priest that can shoot his limbs from his body.  A showdown at the carnival is imminent, and the title doesn’t disappoint.  The Lillin and the carnies battle it out, with Blaze and The Rider coming out on top.

With Lilith on retreat, Blaze and The Ghost Rider go in search of other creatures that are a part of Ghost Rider’s vision of Lilith.  Thinking that all who were revealed to him will be enemies.  Enter Michael Morbius in Morbius #1.  Ghost Rider and Blaze arrive looking for him, ready to destroy him, not realizing that though he suffers from an insatiable lust for blood, it is tempered by his humanity.  He is a vampire through infection, and longs for nothing but to be free from his disease.  With that in mind he solicits help from another doctor friend who has helped him develop a serum that keeps him normal.  Everything is fine until one of Lilith’s children sneaks in and adds a little bit of demon blood to the serum.  Morbius goes mad and Blaze and Ghosty think they are going to have to put him down.  Instead Morbius gets control of himself, and vows to Ghost Rider to only feed on the blood of the corrupt.  Problem solved, time for Blaze and Ghost Rider to move on.

I feel obligated to point out here the vast superiority that this comic has to the current Marvel Now Morbius title.  Everything about it is better.  The art is darker, the plot is thicker, Morbius is way more serious about healing himself, and taking out some baddies on the way to recovery.  I’m still going to read the new Morbius title, but revisiting this one just reminds me of how far the new one falls short.

Darkhold #1 introduces us to a new villain.  The Darkhold, a book full of the most evil of spells, and the hideous little dwarf that is handing pages of it out to unsuspecting citizens.  Meanwhile a cabal of evil men called The Darkholders is busy trying to enable the dwarf to spread his vile darkness.  Blaze and the Ghost Rider come to put an end to the latest creature that The Darkhold has release, just in time for Lilith and her brood to fight against them as well.  Also arrives Vicki Montesi, daughter of one of the men sworn to keep the Darkhold in check, Sam Buchanan an agent from Interpol that has no belief in the mystical but has been charge with protecting Vicki and Louise Hastings an occultist that is driven to fight the Darkholders as well.  Soon the Darkholders, teamed up with Lilith go on the attack but with the aid of Ghost Rider and John Blaze they are able to thwart not only the two cults, but also the worm creature that threatens to consume all of humanity.  Lilith is on the run again.

The Nightstalkers are also a team, and their vow is to literally purge the earth of all supernatural creatures.  That includes Ghost Rider.   So when Ghosty comes knocking on the door of Blade, Frank Drake and Hannibal King, they are ready for a fight.  The same basic misunderstanding that happens between Blaze and the Rider with Morbius occurs here.  Soon though the Spirits of Vengeance and the Nightstalkers are Teaming up to defeat a common enemy, Lilith and her children.  There is one exception though, aside from teaming up to defeat Lilith the Nightstalkers make it clear that Ghost Rider is not safe with them.  There is no tentative agreement, only their desire to see all supernatural creatures eradicated from the Earth.

Which brings us to Ghost Rider #31, the Midnight Sons have all met.  The lines have been drawn and the time for the Midnight Sons to confront Lilith has come.  Pilgrim draws all the players to Antarctica and the battle begins, drawing to the logical conclusion.  Semi-good triumphs over ultimate evil.

As a whole this series stands the test of time.  It is dark and bold.  The evil is really evil and the good guys aren’t really a whole lot better.  The art is strong and the writing isn’t nearly as cheesy as this kind of horror vigilante super hero stuff can be (seriously check out some of the Punisher stuff from the 90’s the writing in them is so weak it is nearly painful).  For me it is hard to go wrong with these titles, I’m sure as I dig into the subsequent issues of them I will regret saying that but for now they are great.  If you haven’t dug into this branch of the Marvel Universe, it is worth a little trip to visit the Midnight Sons.

Next time: Revival #1

Morbius the Living Vampire #1 (January – 2013 – Marvel)

Morbius The Living Vampire #1

Morbius The Living Vampire #1

I’m not sure that I really get the point or Marvel Now.  Right now it just kind of seems like an excuse to dump a bunch of first issues of titles that have been around forever onto the market.  Sure they are “re-booting” a lot of the titles in an effort to make them more hip and with it, but I don’t know that a lot of the titles out there really need that.  Do we really need like four Avengers titles?  Or a reboot of the very well fleshed out Wolverine saga?  Or a hip new version of the Michael Morbius story?  Probably not.

As a devotee of the Midnight Sons titles of the 90’s this title coincided almost perfectly with me getting back into comics so seeing issue #1 I bit, pardon the pun.  It was a bit of a let down.  The Morbius of this new Marvel Now title seems a little silly.  After climbing out of a river Morbius runs away from the law to a suburb of New York called Brownsville, on the advice of a homeless man who suggests that as a prison escapee there may just be to many super heroes in New York for Morbius’ taste.  “For the most part, super heroes never even heard of Brownsville,” the homeless many says.

“Sounds Perfect,” is Morbius’ reply.

Things in Brownsville are fine, if a little seedy and dirty until Morbius steps in to help a young lady against some local thugs.  Soon he finds himself on the wrong side of a mohawked and heavily pierced gang leader who could have walked out of any shitty 80’s post apocalyptic sci-fi schlock.   Soon Morbius is on the run and gunned down leaving the first issue with a cliff hanger that kind of makes me wish this was a one shot.

There is a lot that I don’t like about this comic.  Characterization is weak, nameless homeless guy, standard sci-fi gang thug, and Morbius himself comes across as childish (unlike the scientist that he is supposed to be).  The writing is pedestrian, and I think it does a  really poor job of representing a long standing and interesting side character in the Marvel Universe.  Even the “sciency” things Morbius says about the physical (rather than mystical) nature of his affliction seem forced and silly. I’m sure I will be picking up forthcoming issues, just in the hopes of a turn around in the title, but the guy at the comic book shop put it best when he talked about his title, “When I first met you I thought to myself, ‘You seem smart, why are you reading that?'”

Richard Elson’s art on the hand I like.  He has a really clean and precise style that reminds me a lot of cartoons or illustration.  It doesn’t really hint at the darkness that is could, and because it is so precise Brownsville doesn’t seem as grimy as they say it is.  I like the style, I just don’t know that it fits the story that could be told with the Morbius character.

Here’s hoping that the title ages with grace and beauty instead of getting stupider as it goes.

Next Time:  Cthulhu Tales #1