Archive for June, 2009


Jog on Batwoman

June 25th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

As usual, Jog did it better than I was going to:

Almost every ‘superhero’ page in this comic is like that, often crashing across double spreads for maximum exhibitionism. It’s not enough for Batwoman to take on a gang of villains; inset panels must transform into red-tinted lightning bolts raining from the sky. Perversely, it’s not a quick read at all, since these vainglorious layout do everything to grab your attention as soon as you turn the page and force you to linger on their contours, even as, say, a panel of Batwoman getting into costume is shaped as an arrow, guiding you to the next image in a way that draws screaming attention to the obvious act of reading in sequence.

I may have some thoughts later, but I enjoyed Batwoman’s first issue.

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A Little Voice Inside My Head Said Don’t Look Back, You Can Never Look Back

June 24th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

I believe I was the very last person in the world to discover hulu, but when I did, I was very pleased to see that the first few seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer were on it.

“Fantastic,” I thought.  “I can put them up on my computer when I have to clean up, or fold clothes, or  just whenever I feel like seeing some of my favorite episodes again.” Read the rest of this entry �

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Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

June 23rd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I’m a little surprised at how much of my taste in comics has its origins in Daredevil. I got back into comics largely through buying copies of Frank Miller’s Daredevil Visionaries. I’d never read his run on Daredevil, and it was just what I needed to leapfrog onto the Bendis run, which led to other Marvel books, and so on. When I was a kid, Miller was my introduction to both grown-up comics and crime comics.

There’s another aspect to this that I haven’t talked about, before. Before I was introduced to Grant Morrison’s work, before I discovered Joe Casey, Ann Nocenti introduced me to weird comics in the pages of Daredevil. I didn’t have many issues of her run, but I had some of the ones with Typhoid Mary and a few seriously off-kilter tales.


I’ve been re-reading Nocenti’s run on Daredevil, and it positively leans. Her run is as much about how Daredevil is an overly violent fascist and a failure of a hero as it is about swashbuckling and dating. Nocenti got right up in the face of what it meant to pull on tights and beat up a criminal and did a pretty good job of breaking it down into its component parts. She has Murdock struggle with the thought of solving problems with his fists, forcing him to look at the effect he has on his environment. She introduced the Fatboys, a gang of youths who alternate between assisting Daredevil and getting into trouble. They follow his example and sometimes they get hurt. Sometimes they hurt people.

What’s so amazing about Nocenti’s run is that she followed up Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Born Again, one of the top five best superhero stories. Picking up the reins after two masters of the game told an amazing story must’ve been daunting, but Nocenti handled it well. She picked up the storylines they left, continuing on with a law practice-less, but happy, Murdock.

Brubaker and Bendis’s Daredevil is inextricably linked to the Frank Miller version. They’re continuing on in the same kind of story that he started back in the day. Nocenti, though, swerved right out of the gate. Her Murdock flipflops from confident to troubled, wrestling with his demons with the help of his girlfriend.

Typhoid Mary, whose origin story is collected in Daredevil Legends Vol. 4: Typhoid Mary, has been one of my favorite villains since I was a kid. Obviously, I didn’t get the Madonna (Mary)/Whore (Typhoid) complex that helps define her character or the subtle (?) feminism that Nocenti slipped in. There was just something about her that was, and is, endlessly interesting to me. She wasn’t like Batman’s villains, who were just crazy for the sake of being crazy. She wasn’t like Spider-Man’s villains, either, who were concerned with wealth. I don’t know that I had the mental capacity as a kid to articulate why I enjoyed reading about her so much. Mary was just undeniable.

The best word for her, as near as I can tell, is “uncomfortable.” Lesser writers will treat her as a generic crazy chick, Poison Ivy Plus Catwoman Minus Clothes. Nocenti, though, used her like a scalpel. She wasn’t a Bad Girl, but she was a bad girl. Typhoid Mary was a lot of issues distilled into one creature– religion, sexism, feminism, violence, and morality collided in her. She’s genuinely damaged goods, and troubling.

Mary is the easiest thing to point to when describing Nocenti’s run on Daredevil, but it’s just a part of the whole. There was the nuclear holocaust-obsessed son of a supervillain, the trials of the Fatboys, and the Inferno crossover. It’s creepy, but not creepy like a horror comic or a T&A book. It’s a crawling creepy, a book that makes you feel uneasy. Heroes who are far from perfect and entirely too human, a city full of people who refuse to be categorized into neat little boxes, the way a homeless woman tries to tell her husband where her gift is before she’s murdered by a villain… “that’s not right” sums it up pretty well.

Nocenti’s one of my favorite writers. No wishy-washy “one of my favorite female writers” or “throwback writers” or whatever. Just straight up, real talk, “favorite writers.” She’s good at what she does, and well worth seeking out. She’s spent the past few years out of comics, including filming a documentary, but she’s got a story in Daredevil 500 this August, with art by David Aja.

Good on her and good on Marvel for seeking her out. I’d like to see more work out of her in the future. I miss her voice in comics. Marvel should reprint more of her Daredevil. She did something special, and I think she’s been unfairly overshadowed by Miller’s run. Both are classic for different reasons.

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Dear Billy, Is This All I Get?

June 23rd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Due to reviewing the Lone Wolf & Cub books once a week, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of months thinking about justice and revenge. The reasoning behind revenge, the stresses it puts on someone, the sacrifices necessary to pursue revenge, and even, occasionally, my own personal feelings about it. It’s a little draining, to be honest, but fascinating at the same time.

Garth Ennis and Peter Snejberg’s Battlefields: Dear Billy, published by Dynamite Entertainment, takes the idea of justice and revenge head-on, but not exactly in the way I expected. Most creators, when writing a story about revenge, tends to take the obvious route. Something horrible happens, usually in graphic detail, someone makes a promise, and then a whole lot of people die. You’ve seen it with Ultimate Hawkeye, whose entire family was murdered. Ogami Itto is stacking the bodies up like cordwood. Daredevil’s gone on multiple revenge quests. Omar from The Wire spent the bulk of the fifth season of the show killing men who wronged him.

Ennis and Snejberg present an entirely different scenario. During World War II, on the way to Java, Carrie Sutton, and several other British women, were captured, raped, machineguned, and left for the dead by Japanese soldiers. Carrie was the only survivor.

After her convalescence, Carrie is discharged and becomes a nurse for the British in the Eastern Theater. She meets a man, the Billy of the title, and they fall in love. Their romance allows both of them to escape from the war, both mentally and physically, as they were both brutalized by the Japanese. Billy had been caught after landing his plane, and was bayonetted, though Carrie pretends not to know that. She keeps Billy in the dark about her past, as well. Billy likes the idea of portraying the war as no big deal to his little lady, and she enjoys indulging him in that fantasy. However, it isn’t enough. When a Japanese prisoner of war is brought into Carrie’s hospital, she smothers him with a pillow.

Carrie and Billy’s relationship disintegrates when he says the wrong thing to her. After a night out drinking with friends, they get into an argument about what’s going to happen after the war. Carrie asks, “If the Japs are to be groomed as allies, what the hell are we supposed to do about them?” Billy replies, “Now we learn to love them, Carrie.” And Carrie cannot take that, and so their relationship, and the book, ends.

Carrie went through a harrowing experience and had no outlet for those emotions. There was no way she could actually have justice or closure for her suffering. There would be no trial, no execution, no recompense. So, she killed men. It didn’t make her feel better, but it did do something to make her feel less bad, if only for a moment. The thought of learning to love the people that had traumatized her was too much.

I think the fundamental question at the heart of this book is “What is forgivable?” Being raped and near-murdered left a hole in her heart, and it was an injury that she never truly recovered from, despite finding solace in Billy’s arms. The only thing she wants out of the Japanese, the only thing that makes sense to her, is revenge. After they’ve surrendered, she feels that the British and American should twist the knife and “make them pay.”

Obviously, Carrie murdering the defenseless men is a crime. It’s an act of evil. At the same time, I feel like I understand where she’s coming from. After being hurt, the only thing you want, the only thing you dream of, is hurting someone back. That’s where messy break-ups, painful divorces, alienations, and falling outs come from. It’s the “get-back.”

So while reading, I condemned Carrie with the rational side of my brain and empathized with the other side. It forced me to look at myself and try to figure out how I would react if put into a situation where revenge was easy. And I found that I don’t have an answer. Carrie’s actions are inexcusable, but she was hit very hard by the war. Where Billy could be content with victory, she could not. No act could ever salve her wounds. I’m not saying it’s right, but I understand.

Ennis throws the idea of suffering in silence, British valor, and stiff upper lips directly under the bus. Carrie never gets to discuss her ordeal with anyone, choosing instead to keep it in herself, and it festers and rots inside her. Billy can talk about his injuries with other military men and gain some semblance of comfort, because that’s what men get to do. This may be the key difference between Carrie and Billy’s approach to the war. Carrie is forced to keep it inside, while Billy gets at least a moment to air it out.

Dear Billy is one of my favorite Ennis works, in part because of the ambiguity it spawned in my thoughts. There are no easy answers to be found here. No comforting condemnation of any act. Ennis leaves it up to the reader to decide the morality of Carrie’s actions, and how that applies to us as human beings. This is definitely one of the most melancholy things that he’s written.

Battlefields: Dear Billy is part of a three part cycle. Night Witches and The Tankies round out the trilogy, which will be collected into a Battlefields hardcover later this year for thirty bucks. I’m not sure why Amazon lists Dear Billy as not released, as my own copy and Dynamite’s site suggests otherwise. It’s cheap, just thirteen bucks, and worth your time.

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Fourcast! 04: It’s Innocent, Really!

June 22nd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

We’ve got a surprisingly DC-centric Fourcast! this time around. Highlights:

-We’ve got theme music! It’s 6th Sense’s 4 A.M. instrumental. It’s licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial License. 6th Sense / CC BY-NC 3.0. I dig his work, so it was a treat to find “It’s a 6th Sense Beat Yo!!” on the Free Music Archive. 6th Sense is a great producer. I play about 30-some seconds after the intro and before we get into it, and then the full track at the end of the cast as an outro. Hope you dig it!
-We get right into a discussion of Brave and the Bold #24, courtesy of DC Comics, Matt Wayne, and Howard Porter. We both enjoyed it, though I’m not sure that’s clear on my part, and we both had a few misgivings about Porter’s art.
-A brief digression into the relationship between Static and Blue Beetle. Here’s the image in question, from Heroes #4, written by Matt Wayne, drawn by Chriscross:


It’s a good series, I hope DC reprints it asap.
-Michael Johnson, Mike Green, and Francis Manapul’s Superman/Batman #61? That’s a fun comic right there. The Mash-up story has been really dumb, but very fun, and between Penguello and Brainycat, has some awesome designs.

-We get into our Continuity-Off at the end. Esther explains Supergirl’s past boy/girl/horsefriends, while I break down Gambit’s tortured past. Or is that torturous? I can’t tell sometimes.

We’ll be back in a week with the beginning of a DC vs Marvel knock-down, drag-out, fight to the death.

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Lone Wolf and Cub: Black Wind

June 21st, 2009 Posted by david brothers

When I started this, I didn’t expect to read about Ogami Itto mowing down several people with a shotgun. However, he did, I did, and now I get to tell you about it.

Volume 5, Black Wind, has five stories this time: “Trail Markers,” “Executioner’s Hill,” “Black Wind,” “Decapitator Asaemon,” and “The Guns of Sakai.” I found “Trail Markers” to be pretty snooze-worthy. It’s a short tale, just thirty pages, and it’s almost like a recap/infodump of sorts. We find out how Ogami finds his clients, which seems to be based entirely around luck and being in the right place at the right time. The Yagyu clan reveals that it has been around two years since their last encounter, and that the shogunate has heard rumors of Ogami’s current status and how he came to be there. They’re beginning an investigation, which means that it may be the end of the road for the Yagyu clan.

And you know, this story was pretty boring. I realize that it sets up “Decapitator Asaemon,” but it could’ve just been left out with no issue at all. We see Retsudo, and he’s menacing, and they send people out to kill Ogami. He effortlessly dispatches him and reiterates the fact that he doesn’t care about the life of a samurai any more. His way is death, he knows only meifumado, blah blah blah.

“Executioner’s Hill” fares somewhat better, but still ends up being predictable. We meet the Zodiac Gang, they see Ogami, they realize that he’s the guy who decapitated their lord back when he was kogi kaishakunin, and decide that they want revenge. They lure Daigoro away with the sound of the drum that candy salesmen use, which was a fascinating reveal, and then attack Ogami. He dispatches them easily.

“Executioner’s Hill” had one moment that stood out to me. When Ogami realizes that Daigoro is being kidnapped, he rushes after him. Once he catches up to the gang, and they threaten Daigoro, Ogami simply tells them to kill his son. All that will remain are corpses in the sand. The Zodiac Gang call him out on this, since meifumado is supposed to be emotionless and hard. Why did he show concern for his son?

lw-c-05-01Ogami explains that he was simply following natural law. It is the nature of man to avoid danger and death. However, once you are in the midst of it, the only sensible thing to do is embrace it and approach the situation with a clear mind. I thought this was the best part of the story, as it explained something that genuinely needed an explanation.

“Black Wind” was my favorite of the book, for the exact same reason I liked volume 4 so much. It dealt with Daigoro more than Ogami, and in doing so, revealed something about the life the father and son are leading. It opens with Ogami working in a rice paddy with the women of a village. Daigoro is not confused, exactly, but he looks at Ogami as a “new father,” as he’d never seen this side of Ogami before. He enjoys it very much, and for the first time, he wants to do what his father does. He never gave a thought to being an assassin, but this looks good. It makes him warm.


We’re treated to more of Daigoro throughout the story. He finally gets to pick with the women and his father, and he enjoys it. He eats dinner with some members of the village, and they’re all impressed at his poise and manners. He’s an exceptional child, and it shows. He smiles. And then, when men come to the village and threaten his father, the boy’s face turns empty again and shishogan sets in.

The revelation of why his father is doing the planting, which is considered beneath the status of even a ronin, is fascinating, as well. A young girl was killed by accident during the course of his quest, and her dying words were thoughts of her family and hometown. While doing the planting, Ogami buried strands of her hair with the rice. It was a surprisingly tender turn, and shows that Ogami still has some sense of decency.

“Decapitator Asaemon” is straightforward. The shogunate sends Asaemon, the third best swordsman in the land, to investigate and find out if Ogami has genuinely become an assassin. Retsudo interferes with their battle, and Asaemon dies. Nothing particularly special here, though it does set up Samurai Executioner, another Koike/Kojima production.

“The Guns of Sakai” is… something else. There’s a lot of talk about what it means to be a man, to innovate, and to be honorable in it. I really enjoyed it. It features an expert gunsmith, one of the subordinates of the five gunsmiths of Sakai, the official gunsmiths of the shogunate. He’s under inspection because he is creating new weapons without the permission of the shogunate.

Ogami catches up with him, and grants him one last request. He speaks to his apprentices of honor, of innovation, and of what the soul of a gun is. He curses the shogunate and the fact that guns went from being killing machines to expensive ornamental pieces of stagnated junk. Later, he reveals that he knows that they sold him out and kills them. Before Ogami kills him, he declares that Ogami should use this new weapon and keep the plans for a repeating gun.

That, of course, leads to this, when the five gunsmiths catch up to him:


And well, there it is. Volume 6 next week. I won’t be sick, so it should be up on time.

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Today’s Mathematics: De Likkle Comic Man Dem

June 19th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Two instances of dumb ways to write “ethnic” characters, one counter-example, and a brief explanation.

The first two! On the left, we have Brother Voodoo Brudder Voodoo. On the right, we have the Shaolin Scientist Squad. From New Avengers #53 (Brian Michael Bendis and Billy Tan) and Punisher #6 (Rick Remender and Tan Eng Huat), respectively.


A counter-example for Brudder Voodoo, from Gambit #9 (John Layman and Georges Jeanty):


A brief explanation:
Brother Voodoo was needed to fill a role. As part of filling that role, he’s got to talk with a comic book Carribbean accent, I guess. Even though he hasn’t been portrayed as talking like that recently, nor originally, I believe. But, you know, he practices voodoo, and voodoo dudes need to have that authentic accent. Never mind that he’s a psychologist and Haitian ex-pat who’s been living in the States for years– he needs to be de likkle Claremontian stereotype, brudder. Just so you know he’s foreign.

The other is the Shaolin Scientist Squad, who are kind of like an evil Sons of the Tiger, I guess. My problem with them? Having Chinese villains refer to a “Great Western Satan” is like having a Jewish villain screaming about how Captain America is merely an avatar of Yacub, maker and creator of the Devil. GWS is something I’ve only ever seen in regards to Islamic extremist rhetoric, most notably courtesy of Iran a couple decades ago, not Chinese.

Nah, son. You got to do better.

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Friday Flashbacks 02: Ghosts and Rivals

June 19th, 2009 Posted by Gavok

I guess I should put down some set-up first. This is from Avengers/JLA #4, written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by George Perez. It came out a little bit before Marvel and DC made some of their bigger modern changes. The team rosters were still more classic than in recent years, still before the days of Disassembled and Crisis of Conscience. Hal Jordan was still the Spectre.

I won’t go too deep into the story, but it involves Krona making a bet with the Grandmaster that puts the two super-teams on opposing sides. Not that that needs too much extra effort, though, as Captain America and Superman seem to have it in for each other. Superman sees mutant hatred, Dr. Doom, the Hulk and the Punisher running wild and considers the Avengers a bunch of failures. Captain America sees how the people in the DC world worship the Justice League to the point of museums and monuments and considers them little better than world conquerors. This leads into more than one throwdown, including a fight where Superman beats up Thor.

Fast-forward a bit. To save reality from Krona, the Grandmaster has been pushing the two worlds closer together. Reality rewrites itself again and again. The Avengers and Justice League go from being from two distant alternate realities to neighboring realities. Then they go from two teams that visit each other’s worlds on a regular basis to two teams that co-exist in the same world. Few are able to see through the lies.

Finally, the two teams find the Grandmaster, who wants the heroes to go stop Krona from destroying both their worlds. Due to reality being rewritten over and over, the teams are both down to their more base, classic rosters and identities and want to know exactly what they’re fighting for. Using the last of his powers, Grandmaster shows them a series of screens that broadcasts their histories. Despite all their victories, it focuses mainly on these heroes watching the losses that are meant to be. Tony Stark’s alcoholism, Aquaman’s loss of hand, Bane breaking Batman’s back, Doomsday killing Superman, Captain America losing his abilities and failing in his attempt to rely on armor tech, Odin’s death, Jason Todd’s death, and so on. The more important ones here are that Barry Allen sees that he’s going to die, Scarlet Witch and Vision see that their children will be creations from Wanda’s own madness, Giant Man sees the smack that he will never live down and Hal Jordan sees his descent into becoming Parallax.

And yet, in the end, the two sides decide that it is not up to them to judge the realities they are saving. They band together and plot against Krona. Superman suggests Captain America lead them, which he agrees to.

I swear, when I was intending to write this article, I thought these pages were more than two. Three, maybe four. They’re just so dense with dialogue that it’s bursting at the seams. That’s George Perez for you, I guess.

All five of those different conversations are aces, especially when you notice the segues. Notice how each conversation ends with another character in the shot. It took me forever to see Captain America in the background window. What I really loved about this scene is the stuff with Hal and Barry.

How messed up it has to be for these two. Barry knows that win or lose, he’s going to be dead within hours. It’s depressing, but not nearly as bad as what Hal has to be going through. Barry goes out honorably. Hal knows that not only is he going to die, but first he’s going to go crazy and take out a bunch of his friends before becoming the Darth Vader of the DC Universe. And he’s fighting to preserve that! It’s fucked.

Maybe it’s just me, but you can read the weight of it in Hal’s oath. The way he seems so less enthused compared to all the other times. Is it defeat? Sadness? Intent to do his best one last time? Shame? Bitterness? Is it that he realizes that the very oath he’s reciting has been proven to be nothing more than a lie?

But there they are, Hal and Barry, supporting each other. Just by the mutual reassurance, the two doomed friends are all but removed of that weight. It’s a nice, bittersweet scene, but sadly loses something thanks to their later resurrections.

I think I decided about including these pages for this installment because of all of that going on these days. Personally, I feel totally fine with Hal coming back (Green Lantern is more of a job position than identity, allowing Kyle to thrive on his own, though admittedly to a lesser extent). I can’t bring myself to care about Barry Allen’s return, outside of a couple choice moments in Final Crisis. Unless Steve Rogers stays away from the Captain America mantle and becomes the new leader of SHIELD/HAMMER for an extended period of time, I feel like his death could have lasted another three years. And Bart Allen… shit, I don’t know. That poor guy got messed up so much since Geoff Johns got his hands on him that I can’t say what’s best for him at this point.

Bottom line: I guess I feel like in scenes like this, the finality of one fictional character’s death strengthens the quality of life. But that’s me.

Back to the Avengers/JLA comic, there was one panel I’ve always loved for a stupid reason.

Look at Captain America. That’s the moment I realized that Steve Rogers has balls made of vibranium. He goes on to threaten Superman with such confidence that even now, my brain is trying to come up with ways for that outcome to be a possibility. I’ll get back to you on that. Cool as that is, that’s not why I bring it up.

I don’t know if this was a subtle way to intentionally foreshadow Avengers: Disassembled, but let’s see what happens when we remove the guys on the right.

Hey, now!

By the way, I still miss Hal’s kickass white hair tufts.

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I Love Being Right

June 18th, 2009 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being right.  Oh, the smugness.  Oh, the false sense of righteousness.

I have said, repeatedly, that Superman/Batman is a great comic.

And in issue #61, I was proven right, yet again.  Fantastic art by Francis Manapul, a well-written story by Michael Green and Mike Johnson, a ton of in-jokes, a surprising yet logical conclusion, and on top of all that?

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Eyedol Worship: The Killer Instinct C-C-Comic Book

June 17th, 2009 Posted by Gavok

(Gavok note: This is another old PopCultureShock article I wrote that I figured I’d bring home to 4th Letter. Call it nostalgia from doing the Tekken article.)

Back in the mid-90’s, fighting games were a pretty big thing. Over the span of several years, an untold amount of sequels and forgettable copycats oversaturated the videogame market. Once all of that calmed down – somewhere around the turn of the millennium – only the big names remained: Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, King of Fighters, Guilty Gear, Virtua Fighter, etc. They continued to have sequels and updates as the others just got thrown to the curb.

And yet, for whatever reason, Killer Instinct fell off the face of the Earth despite its popularity. In the mid-90’s, the first game was huge. It was a huge seller on the SNES and the sequel was one of the first big games for the Nintendo 64. After that, it just died. Rare just kind of forgot it existed and instead made a bunch of games starring talking animals.

But you know what? I still remember Killer Instinct. I remember it enough that when I found out that it had its own comic back in the day, I had to get my hands on it. Scoot over, kids, and I’ll tell you the story of a ninja monk, a killer robot, a disgraced boxer, a secret agent, an animated skeleton, a man made of fire, an alien made of ice, a cyber Native American, a cloned dinosaur, a two-headed Cyclops and the evil organization that brought them all together. Let’s look at the Acclaim-released Killer Instinct comic book.

Each cover uses the rendered style that came with the games. While the style is a bit dated, it still just feels… right. That would get old quick if the interiors were like that, but thankfully they are not. Amazingly, the interior art is excellent throughout the series. They’re done by Bart Sears, Sean Chen, Steven Butler, Dale Eaglesham, Doug Tropea-Wheatley, Scot Eaton and David Boller. What the hell? The comic has seven different pencillers for six issues and somehow it feels totally consistent! That’s weird. There are a handful of different inkers too, so they can’t be to blame. Huh!

There is only one writer, though. Art Holcomb takes the reigns in all six issues of this. What’s interesting is how the series is laid out. The first three issues are a basic retelling of the first Killer Instinct game. The latter three issues are special one-shots that take place afterwards. This came out in the latter half of 1996, around the time the second game was making its way to the arcades.

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