Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Four comics that changed my life

This is one of those things being passed around the net, much like the "ten books that changed your life" thing I wrote up last year and just remembered that I forgot to schedule, so it still hasn't been posted. Whoops! Anyway, it sounded like a fun exercise, so here we go!

He-Man and the Power Sword (1982)
This was one of the minicomics that were famously packed in with every Masters of the Universe action figure in the 1980s. It's the first one sequentially, and the first one I ever got. As far as I know, it was also the very first comic I ever received. I was not quite three years old when I got this, and looking at it in the car on the way home is my earliest memory. This might be fudging the rules just a bit, as the first four Masters of the Universe pack-ins were technically illustrated storybooks, but they've always been considered part of the minicomics line, so I'm counting it.
This one is important for several reasons. First and foremost, it ignited my lifelong love of reading. It was the desire to read my MOTU comics (as well as my dinosaur books) whenever I wanted that led to me learning to read by the time I was five. (No more of that "having to wait until someone felt like reading one to me" crap!) It also kickstarted my affection for the heroic fantasy genre, which eventually led me to the work of Conan the barbarian creator Robert E. Howard, who remains one of my very favorite authors. I wanted to create my own characters and adventures like the one in this comic, which led me to start writing and drawing. Alfredo Alcala's badass art was a huge inspiration. One of the strongest impressions I got from this was how cool and creepy Skeletor was, which began my fascination with villains. So many of my major interests can be traced directly to this comic! It is easily the single most important book or comic I've ever gotten.

Amazing Spider-Man #360 (1992)
This wasn't the first comic I bought with my own money-- I had a few I had picked up here and there over the years-- but this was the comic that got me started buying comics as an ongoing thing, and not just something I would pick up occasionally when I had a little money and couldn't find a toy I wanted in my price range. We were selling magazine subscriptions as a school fundraiser, and among the Southern Livings and Better Homes and Gardens were a couple of comic series: Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America. Subs were only $5 each, so I figured what the hell, I'll get one. I opted for Spider-Man, which was a good thing, considering how bad the Captain America comic was at the time. (Though ASM would quickly start going down the tubes itself. It wasn't easy to find good comics published by Marvel in the '90s.)
Anyway, this issue featured the antihero Cardiac, who had an nice eye-catching visual design. He's largely a generic vigilante combining aspects of Batman and the Punisher, but as a 13 year-old, I thought he was pretty cool at the time. This was the conclusion of a two-part story, and I had little idea what was going on, but I enjoyed it all the same. I haven't read it in about twenty years, so I have no idea how it would hold up, but that hardly matters. This comic and the larger world it hinted at was the springboard for me wading into the deep end of the comics pool for years to come.
Interesting side note: the next issue was the first appearance of '90s darling Carnage.

Sin City (1993)
I'm referring to the original hardcover collection here, just to clear up any confusion. (I know it's since been given the title "The Hard Goodbye," but as that title wasn't conceived until the movie was released, it appears nowhere in this edition of the book, so I don't refer to it as such.) I picked this up a year or so after it was published, based on a recommendation from the owner of the comic store I frequented. He was so sure I'd dig it that he knocked $5 off the price, and told me to bring it back the next week and swap it for something else if I didn't like it! I could hardly refuse such an offer, so I bought the book and got back in the car where my mom and grandma were waiting. (It would be another year before I got my own car.)
This book blew my mind wide open. The noir atmosphere, the gut-punch of an ending, and above all else, the art were all amazing. The feeling I had as I opened this book and looked at the art for the first time must have been comparable to how movie audiences felt when they first saw King Kong in 1933. It was that significant. The visuals in this book remain astonishing, and Frank Miller would refine this art style over the next few years as he made further trips to Sin City. None of them had the visceral impact on me that this first book did, though.

Nightwing #19 (1998)
I had drifted away from the comics world during my last couple of years in high school, so I hadn't picked up a comic (a new one, anyway) in about three years when I came across this at the local Books-a-Million. I was immediately struck by three things: 1. Nightwing finally had his own series. Cool. 2. His new costume was pretty awesome, and much better than his earlier ones. 3. HOLY FUCK THEY"VE DESTROYED GOTHAM CITY WITH A MASSIVE EARTHQUAKE!!! Comic events have become a standard thing, and were kind of played out even at the time, but such a massive shakeup of the status quo was something we just didn't see that often in major titles like this. This wasn't one of those events that would be forgotten about as soon as it was over. Gotham had been leveled by this massive quake, and to make things worse, the Batcave was right along the fault line, so the cave and everything in it was utterly destroyed, and Wayne Manor had collapsed into it! I had to read this story, so I bought this issue and quickly sought out part one of the crossover.
As for this issue itself, it focuses on Nightwing returning to Gotham right after the quake (he had established himself in another city to the south of Gotham) to help rescue survivors. It's a good, solid action-packed story with some great character moments, the type of thing Chuck Dixon excels at. Scott McDaniel's art seemed to leap off the page with energy, a perfect companion to the story. I was immediately hooked. This got me back into comics, and I've never stopped buying and reading them since.

So, those are my four. I've got a few honorable mentions that didn't quite make the cut. I may give them their own post if anyone wants to see them. Feel free to chime in with your own in the comments!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Rant Review: LEGO Collectible Minifigures Series 13

It's time again to visit your local retailers and spend a half hour groping little foil baggies! That's right, LEGO CMF series 13 is here! This lineup is quite possibly the best yet, which is saying something, as the bar is set very high. Although there is one minifig in this set that doesn't excite me personally, there's not a dud in the bunch, and several are absolutely outstanding. I haven't had the spare cash to pick up a full set yet, so we'll only be looking at the six I have today.

Hot Dog Suit Guy instantly became one of my must-have minifigs the moment I saw him in the lineup reveal. He's one of those oddball minifigs that hold such tremendous appeal for me. He proved to be one of the most difficult to find, as groping through three cases (two of which were the side-mounted double cases the local Target always gets) produced only two of him. He has no painted/printed details on his torso, but who cares, right? The hot dog overlay covers all that up. The little mustard squiggle is actually sculpted, not just painted on, which is always nice. This bugger was hard to find, but he was worth the trouble! He's a standout minifig in a fantastic lineup.
Groping guide: Obviously, feel for the hot dog overlay. This thing is big, and it makes this the easiest minifig in the series to identify. It's hard plastic, not the softer rubbery plastic as you might have guessed, so keep that in mind when groping. Given his relative rarity (2-3 per case of sixty), popularity, and ease of identifying within the packet, he seems to be the first one picked whenever a new case is stocked, so good luck!

Female Cyclops is part of a trend in the CMF series of producing a male minifig, then releasing a female counterpart several series later. Some may gripe about this habit, but I'm quite happy with it. More female figs is a good thing, and more monsters are always welcome in my collection! Cyclops has the exact same parts as her male counterpart from series 9, and is differentiated purely by paint detailing. These are all great little details, including her lipstick, beauty mark, and little bones used like safety pins to hold her top and loincloth together. Her head has two faces, which is always a nice bonus. One is a normal smiling look, while the other has a half-lidded smiling expression. She also has the same club, just in a different shade of gray. All in all, this Cyclops is adorable and fits very comfortably into my haunted house display.
Groping guide: The headpiece is a pretty easy to locate in the bag, though its shape is pretty similar to a couple of others in this series. The horn and pointy ears are good indicators, but even those are somewhat similar to the Goblin's head piece. To confirm you've got the Cyclops, find the club as well. It's easy to discern through the foil. She appears to be one of the less common figures at three per case.

Old West Sheriff is another excellent offering in this series. I really dig Old West stuff in general, and Lego doesn't make nearly of enough of it to suit me. The sheriff is very striking with his Sam Elliott mustache. There are some excellent painted details, including his bolo tie, watch chain, gun belt & holster, little crow's feet around his eyes, and badge(with an extra on his hat, cuz why the hell not?). He has his requisite revolver, and a "Wanted" poster featuring the bandit from CMF series 6.This is a great minifig with a lot of character, and he pairs up well with series 12's old grizzled prospector. Hopefully we'll get many more western minifigs in the near future!
Groping guide: The sheriff is one of the easiest to feel for in this series. His hat is a dead giveaway, and if you need confirmation, find the little 2x2 tile. No one else in this series has it, so you'll know for sure it's the sheriff once you find it. He's common at 4-5 per case, so should be easy to find.

The Evil Wizard will be giving you visions of Flash Gordon and Max von Sydow, as he was clearly heavily influenced by Ming the Merciless. This is another minifig that just knocks it out of the park, with fantastic paint detailing on his face and torso pieces. His cloak is in two pieces to achieve the very suave popped collar look. The red and black flame design is very striking, and his long black beard and flaming staff complete the look. This fella is neck and neck with the hot dog suit guy and the king (we'll get to him in a minute) for my favorite of the series.
Groping guide: The wizard is as easy to find as the hot dog suit guy, as he is the only minifig in this series that has the large triangular skirt piece. Find that, and you've got yourself a wizard. He's one of the more uncommon ones at three per case, and seems to be getting snatched early like the HDS guy.

The Paleontologist is another very welcome female minifig, and a science-oriented one at that, which is even better! I had to have this one, as I spent my childhood determined to be a paleontologist when I grew up. (Once I got older, however, I realized that paleontologists spend much of their time digging in the dirt and sweating, two things I loathe, so I became an armchair paleontologist instead.) There is nice detailing on her torso, with a tied-off scarf, big pockets, and belt. She also has short sleeves, something we began seeing with the Simpsons series last summer. Her look is completed with her shorts, knee socks, and glasses. Her hair and pith helmet are one piece. A bone and ammonite complete the ensemble. This is a minifig that might not be as widely appealing as some of the other more outlandish ones, but I'm damn glad they made it, and it's already a favorite of mine.
Groping guide: Thankfully, she has several parts unique to her in this series that make her easy to identify. Her hair and hat piece are pretty distinctive, and the long braid makes it even easier to identify. The ammonite is a one-stud tile, and can be tough to find in the bag, so look for the bone instead. She's one of the rarer ones at 2-3 per case. Like the HDS guy and evil wizard, it took three picked-over cases before I found mine.

The Goblin is desirable on many levels. As a staple of the fantasy genre, he'll fit right in with Lord of the Rings and medieval displays, and for my purposes, he's yet another monster I can put in the haunted house. He has the excellent paint detail typical of this series, with a ratty vest and shirt, a rope belt that would make Moe Syzslak envious, plentiful patches, a sinister grin, and empty yellow eyes. His pointy hat and ears are one piece, and I can totally see this part being used for a classic Green Goblin in Lego's Marvel line in the future. His accessories include a big nasty notched sword and a big bag, possibly containing his laundry.
Groping guide: The sword and the bag are the things to feel for here. A few of the others in this series also have swords, but the goblin's sword is very distinctive. Locate it, then find the bag to verify. He's one of the most common at five per case, so army builders rejoice!

The King is the final minifig we'll be looking at today. Lego has made a lot of kings over the years, and of all the ones I've seen, this one is the best. Apparently inspired in equal parts by the Burger King mascot and He-Man's dad King Randor, his outfit is a rather complex pattern of red, blue, and yellow that somehow works very well. These are colors that frequently suffer from bad bleed when used together, but the lines are remarkably clean and sharp here. Like the evil wizard, his cloak is in two pieces: the red cape, and the black-spotted overlay. His bushy beard fits under his head, as is the norm, and his hair is part of the crown piece. Despite being separate pieces, the beard and hair mesh perfectly. He also includes a sword for knighting or gutting people, as the situation warrants. This is an excellent minifig, quite possibly the best in this series, and one of the best I've seen in quite some time.
Groping guide: The sword can easily be confused with one of the other swords in this series, so feel for the crown. It's big and has a bunch of points on it, so it's pretty distinctive and easy to discern in the bag. The king is fairly common at four per case, but I suspect he'll become one of the tougher ones to find the longer this series is out.

That's it for this time! I'll cover the rest of this series (or the ones I plan to get, anyway) as soon as I can spare the cash for 'em. In the meantime, scroll down for more photos!

Business is booming!

The female cyclops and the goblin are making themselves at home in the Haunted House.

Put 'em up, varmint!