Professor Marc’s Homework Assignment: Part One

September 5th, 2007 by | Tags: , , ,

Where I work, I have a friend there who I will simply refer to as Professor Marc. I won’t post a picture of him since he may not dig that. Plus, he is really, really weird looking and if you’re reading this while in an early morning stupor, it will really fuck up your day and possibly take you out of the article. So to hell with that.

Marc’s level of comic knowledge makes me look like a guy who asks, “What’s a Bucky?” He’s about eight years older than me and has tons more experience than I do as a comic geek. It’s the kind of thing where I mention my “Deadshot’s Tophat” articles and he immediately gets the joke of the title. He’s the kind of guy that can name every single member of the Superfriends, including the guys that showed up for one episode like Plastic Man, Green Arrow and the ones I still can’t recall. In a sad kind of way, I sort of look up to him.

How do you become a comic know-it-all, anyway? I can read a bunch of comics, but it’s hard for me to branch out. Picking up something completely random and giving it a read is easier said than done. I could be spending that time reading a really good Justice League run or catching up on Daredevil. Still, I’m a man who loves his obscurity. A lot of the stuff I review on this site is stuff I make sure hasn’t been overly reviewed elsewhere on the net. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t touched the Ultimate Warrior comic. It’s old hat.

Professor Marc decided to lend me a hand. From his bottomless comic collection, he handed me nineteen random backissues to help build character. Stuff I would never think of reading on my own. Some issues are from comics I know of. Some issues are from comics I had no idea even existed. Only one of them is an issue that I’ve even heard of prior. Professor Marc’s list has more of a Marvel slant, but there’s still a good amount of representation all around.

I’ve read through six of these issues so far, so it’s time for part one of my book report.

The Toxic Avenger #5

Year: 1991
Writer: Doug Moench
Artist: Rod Ramos
Synopsis: This had to be the first one I read. I really don’t have much experience with the Toxic Avenger, honestly. I used to watch the Toxic Crusaders cartoon and years ago I watched Toxic Avenger 3 during one of those weekends when we got free Cinemax. But he is the Steve Rogers of New Jersey, so it’s my Jersian duty to read up on him.

It’s a handful of issues into the series, where the mutated and tutu-wearing Melvin has already landed his blind girlfriend Claire. As the Toxic Crusader, he’s so far defeated a group of crazed bodybuilders and reformed them. Unrelated to Toxie, the same bodybuilders have been dying. Though it isn’t Toxie’s fault, he is a toxic monster, so the police go after him. Even though he shrugs off their bullets and can easily stomp them flat, he calmly asks for 48 hours to prove his innocence. Scared out of their wits and having no other options, the police accept.

The other part of the issue deals with Doctor Chemo, who works under the comic’s villain Mr. Chairman. Chemo and his roided out dog man Demos use the dead bodybuilders to create a Frankenstein monster to finally rid themselves of the Toxic Avenger. Toxie defeats Demos in a graveyard brawl, but then is faced with the patchwork monster Biohazard!

Best Part: Toxie and Claire go through what would be boring exposition via their dialogue. What saves it is that they’re taking a stroll through broad daylight as regular citizens run screaming, “MONSTER!” Our protagonists barely even notice this.

Worst Part: Can’t help but think of Toxic Avenger as the anti-Mask (“Big Head” Mask, even if he does share a resemblance with Ricky Dennis). The Mask was a dark and gory comic book with a huge body count that translated into an amusing, but extremely toned down movie. The Toxic Avenger movie is known for its hardcore violence and gets toned down into this short-lived series. If that’s not a worthy complaint, then I guess I’d go with the designs for the villains. Most of them are rejects from 80’s hair metal videos.

Bottom Line: A lot of the jokes don’t hit the mark and there seems to be one too many subplots going on, but the comic tries. It wasn’t very bad at all. Maybe I will see what the rest of the series has to offer.

The Original Dick Tracy #1

Year: Originally 1943, reprinted in 1990
Writer: Chester Gould
Artist: Chester Gould
Synopsis: As Dick Tracy walks home through a big rainstorm, he’s attacked from behind by a large and hideous woman with a whip. She takes him to her home where she introduces herself as Mrs. Pruneface. She demands revenge for the death of her beloved husband and classic Dick Tracy rogue Pruneface. She and her henchman Emil go with an overly elaborate scheme to murder Dick Tracy. See, what they do is… First they take this spike and… Aw, forget it.

My first reaction is that it’s really ridiculous and totally unnecessary. Then I kind of want to try that on somebody. That’ll teach Wanderer to not write anything for this site anymore.

Dick is able to find a way to dodge the spike, but the heat exhausts him and the fridge is still going to crush him. Dick’s supporting cast uses some nice detective work to find him in time. Meanwhile, Mrs. Pruneface gets totally plastered at a bar and loudly brags about her handiwork while Emil pleads with her to shut up.

Finding out that Dick survived, Mrs. Pruneface hides out with Emil and uses makeup to create a new identity as a chef until things blow over. She goes from a job at a 5-star restaurant to being the mayor’s personal chef. Her cover is blown and she murders a teenage friend of the family. Dick Tracy figures out where she is and gets there in time to help take her down for good.

Best Part: Despite the cutesy art, Mrs. Pruneface is legitimately scary. She only succeeds in killing two people here. One is her henchman Emil, who she beats to death with a lamp. Shockingly violent, considering how much blood is shown leaking out of his head in repeat shots of his corpse. The other is a teenager who falls into a pool along with her and gets drowned for his troubles. The narrations succeeds in making the forced drowning grizzlier than it should be.

Worst Part: Lots and lots of repeated dialogue to fill out space. Like we’d get a scene of the mayor telling Mrs. Pruneface, “I am the mayor and I like your cooking! Work for me!” Then cut to a scene with Dick Tracy figuring stuff out. Then back to the mayor saying, “I’m telling you, I’m the mayor and I like your cooking! I want you to work for me!” Then I remember that this is a bunch of old daily newspaper strips edited together and it makes more sense.

Other than that, the ending is really lame. Dick goes to confront Mrs. Pruneface, only to find her shot dead in the kitchen. The killer? The mayor’s wife. She was an invalid and bedfast for years, but saw that Mrs. Pruneface was up to no good and snapped into action. That would have been a pretty nice ending if it wasn’t for the pesky lack of exposition. Up until finding the corpse, we hadn’t heard a goddamn thing about this woman. It’s like if Spider-Man 3 ended with Hellcat rescuing Spider-Man instead of Harry.

Bottom Line: Lame ending, but otherwise pretty solid. I think the most unfortunate part of reading this was that at no point did I get hit on the head and have a totally awesome dream sequence where I call myself Vok Twacy.

I’m pretty confident I could take Neon Noodle in a fight.

Alpha Flight #105

Year: 1992
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artist: Tom Morgan
Synopsis: It’s Christmas time in Canada! That isn’t the only thing worth celebrating. The guys get together to throw a little bachelor party for Madison, who is a week away from being married to Diamond Lil. They don’t go all out, but instead hang out at a bar and drink to their hearts’ content. A man armed with a shotgun barges into the bar, demanding cash from everyone while promising that he’ll pay them back. Alpha Flight just laugh at him and take him down without breaking a sweat. The guy gives a tearful explanation about why he’s reduced to this and swears that he didn’t want to hurt anybody. The fact that he had no bullets backed that up. Since it’s Christmas, the Canadian dudes let him off the hook and help him get back on his feet.

On the other side of the coin is the ladies of Alpha Flight. Vindicator, Diamond Lil and Aurora go celebrate with a bachelorette party. Aurora is constantly shifting back and forth between her two personalities – the prim and proper self and the wild self – and acts offended when they enter a male strip club. Later, she snaps into her fun-loving self and jumps on the dance floor, trying to get a little too personal with the dancers. Then comes Pink Pearl, a whale of a woman and Alpha Flight villain that owns this club. Aurora fights her off and sends her to the streets.

At 3 in the morning, Northstar hears a message on his answering machine from Aurora, asking him to bail them out of prison and never breathe a word of this to anyone. Northstar just goes to sleep and smirks at what a kidder his sister is.

Best Part: They make fun of Puck a good amount here.

Worst Part: Puck being in it.

Bottom Line: Not bad at all. Even though it was a filler issue and nothing of worth really happens, the dialogue is snappy, informative to a new reader and mixes a little plot in there. Like a scene where Sasquatch tries to tell Wild Child about a connection they have from the past, only to be cut off by the would-be robber.

Hyperkind #8

Year: 1994
Writer: Fred Burke
Artist: Roger Cruz
Synopsis: Hyperkind is part of Marvel’s ill-fated Razorline experiment. Razorline was like an early attempt at a Vertigo-like line, helmed by the ideas of Clive Barker. The story of this comic, which takes place in a reality that isn’t Marvel 616, is that decades ago, there were superheroes. Two aliens (not unlike the Skrulls and Kree) used Earth as a warzone. A third party arrived to help out the humans by giving a select few superpowers. They became the Hyperkind. Years after the fact, the world is brainwashed into forgetting they exist. A new generation of heroes inherit the lost powers and take up the mantle of the Hyperkind.

Those guys aren’t important. Our story in this issue focuses on Tempest, one of the original Hyperkind members. A gold medal-winning gymnast, she was the first hand-picked guinea pig for the Hyperkind experiments. She later died in battle, with her soul being sucked into some kind of computerized purgatory. Honestly, I’m trying to describe this as accurately as possible. Years later, she escapes captivity and ends up in the present. Trying to figure out what happened, she gets captured and is deemed insane. Then she is kidnapped by a group of legless monsters that convince her to help them destroy the Hyperkind.

Did any of that get through?

Best Part: The villain’s name is Paragon John. To name your villain that with a straight face is pure balls.

Worst Part: Like I said, Tempest escapes the computer afterlife. She rematerializes in the middle of a freeway. She’s also only wearing underwear.

The idea is that she spends a page or two running around like this in a scene that’s supposed to be funny and sexy. I get that. But what the hell? Traditional sci-fi logic (ie. Terminator) suggests that she would materialize naked. Considering the Comics Code and how nutty the rest of the story is, I can easily buy that she’d rematerialize with a full set of clothes. But choose one or the other! It’s not like she died wearing that. As weird as it sounds, by not making her naked, the scene is even more gratuitous.

Bottom Line: I don’t think I’m really missing out on anything by passing over the Hyperkind series. It’s only less than a year’s worth of issues, so maybe one day if I’m that bored. Also, I can’t help but shake the feeling that Warren Ellis could have made this whole concept awesome.

The Frankenstein Monster #14

Year: 1974
Writer: Doug Moench
Artist: Val Mayerik
Synopsis: Ah, Frankenstein’s Monster. Easily, he’s one of the most likeable of all the classic monsters. He’s always easy to side with, whether it be the literary version, the Boris Karloff version, the Monster Squad version, the Grant Morrison version, Victor from Darkstalkers, Herman Munster or the incarnation from that movie where he traveled around Europe with a dwarf and Sting played Dr. Frankenstein. I can’t be the only person who’s seen that one.

The real protagonist seems to be Ralph Caccone, a teenager and former gang member that somehow got Frankenstein’s Monster to be the Norman to his Mighty Max. He’s returned to his home to find his father beaten to death by the Night-Creature, a green monster amalgam of various animals. His mother enters the room and runs to the corpse, crying and blaming herself for this. Then the Night-Creature crushes her head. Ralph blows a gasket and tries to fight the Night-Creature himself. He gets tossed into a wall.

Several pages later, Frankenstein’s Monster sends the Night-Creature running. He could follow, but he sees that Ralph is too broken up and needs him there. The police are on their way to investigate the noise of the fight and if they were to discover Ralph and the monster standing over the dead bodies, it would look really, really bad. They escape in Ralph’s father’s van and soon find themselves followed by an old man in a car. The old man gets intercepted by a group of gun-toting goons and Ralph decides it’s probably best to help the guy out, even if he is tailing them.

The monster shrugs off bullets and annihilates the armed men. The old man introduces himself as a private investigator named Eric Prawn. He, like the three goons, has been looking for the monster for months. He brings the two to his apartment to explain things in private. What they find is a man with a gun and a rather large man named Zandor, ready to kill Detective Prawn.

Best Part: The initial fight with the Night-Creature was pretty rad stuff. Well-narrated and due to the two characters involved, lacked any and all dialogue. Really nice art, too.

Worst Part: Nothing major comes to mind. It was actually pretty solid.

Bottom Line: Like I said, pretty solid. By this time, the series had lasted over a year, which all things considered, is kind of impressive. I’m sure the full 18 issues aren’t the most exciting batch of comics to come out in the 70’s, but based on this piece, they certainly don’t seem like eyesores.

Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes #345

Year: 1986
Writer: Paul Levitz
Artist: Greg La Rocque and Larry Mahlstedt
Synopsis: Legion of Super-Heroes is one of those properties that I just can’t get into. I can’t bring myself to watch the cartoon. I wasn’t so crazy about the Justice League Unlimited episode with them. Any special appearance by them does nothing for me, except maybe the very end of Justice.

In this story, they’re dealing with a ship that’s the size of a planet, almost like the Death Star, only it’s populated by a bunch of barbaric, cyborg Mr. T’s. The major difference between this and Star Wars is that Element Lad doesn’t want to blow the place up no matter how dangerous it is, since killing is wrong. They end up fighting Tir, the mech-armed leader of the Mr. T barbarians and figure out that the best course of action would be to just mess up the planet’s engines and go home.

Then we get a backup story involving Dream Girl and the White Witch. Dream Girl gets visions of a monster scampering through the ship. The two investigate and chase the monster, thinking that the Legion may be under attack. Turns out to be something different.

Nice Thing costume in the back there.

The Legionnaires are celebrating that old Earth holiday and decide that things wouldn’t be the same without getting their resident witch to join in on the fun. It’s nice to see that even in the future, people are cheap and uninventive enough to do the white-sheet ghost costume. Either that, or it’s suddenly apparent why there aren’t that many black members of the Legion.

Best Part: Really easy to follow. Despite the over-abundance of characters here, I still get what’s going on with only a very basic knowledge of the Legion roster.

Worst Part: Due to all the subplots and characters filling up the pages, the ending seemed to be wrapped up a little too easily. Other than that, I have nothing to hold against the story other than my own bias.

Bottom Line: There’s a reason why Levitz’s run is so well-regarded, I suppose. The whole Legion thing is still way too busy for me to ever try getting into, but I still enjoyed this short stint of reading. Now that I think about it, there’s only one man who could get me to read Legion of Super-Heroes on a regular basis.

Coming in a future installment of Professor Marc’s Homework Assignment: gunslingers, soldiers and I’ve been warned to brace for “genital mutilation”. If that’s not incentive, I don’t know what is.

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4 comments to “Professor Marc’s Homework Assignment: Part One”

  1. That’s a fairly diverse range of comics, ‘Vok.

    Who’s the guy going down the chimney on the Alpha Flight cover? It looks like a canadian, black-clad Spider-Man. And what do you have against Puck anyway?

    Mrs. Prune-Face looks pretty damn freaky. I think the blankish eyes are a big part of that.
    “The narrations succeeds in making the forced drowning grizzlier than it should be.”
    Really? What’s it say?

  2. I can’t believe that Toxic Avenger series lasted 11 issues.

    I think Cruz drew her naked at first and the underwear was added later. Look how her hair is strategically centered on where her nipple would be. I think Dave Campbell pointed this out in another Cruz comic years ago on his blog.

    Essential Monster of Frankenstein Vol. 1 is well worth picking up, the Gary Freidrich/Mike Ploog issues are beautiful.

  3. A very good job indeed young Gavin. I think Dan is right as the Barkerverse was supposed to be hard R before Marvel got cold feet. Mrs. Pruneface is one of the creepiest designs of a vilainess like ever. I want to encourage those reading this to go check out Barker’s novels to see just how hard Harris and Co. dropped the ball.

    Frankenstein to me represents the bronze age and was a hell of a read.

  4. Who’s the guy going down the chimney on the Alpha Flight cover? It looks like a canadian, black-clad Spider-Man.

    I believe that is Wild Child.

    And what do you have against Puck anyway?

    He was always shooting snot rockets at Pedro.

    “The narrations succeeds in making the forced drowning grizzlier than it should be.”
    Really? What’s it say?

    The key thing here is that rather than a quick drowning segment, they’d go back and forth. First the kid accidentally knocks her into the water, removing her glasses, wig and face putty. It changes to a panel of the mayor reacting to the noise, then a couple panels of the other teens running off (they don’t know that it’s Mrs. Pruneface. They’re just running away because they don’t want to get in trouble).

    We see the two panels I posted in the article. Another bit with the teens. Another bit with the father. Back to the drowning. Back to the father. Several panels of drowning. Once again with the father. Then Mrs. Pruneface swimming over the limp body. Here’s the full narration without breaks:

    “Infuriated at being recognized, and determined to prevent discovery by the mayor, Mrs. Pruneface holds the struggling lad beneath the water. Holding Chuck under the water with one hand, Mrs. Pruneface flattens herself against the side of the pool. The lad makes one final struggle. It takes all the strength the muscular woman can muster to hold him down. Then — a few bubbles. The body relaxes. Mrs. Pruneface holds on — to make sure.”

    It’s not just the drowning that makes it unnerving, but the drawn-out suffering.