Uncanny X-Men, Part 19: Phoenix, Firelord, and the Imperial Guard!

Saturday, September 12th, 2020 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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Welcome to Part 19 of my reread through the Uncanny X-Men. In this post I want to cover Uncanny X-Men #105-110, which finishes the first part of the Phoenix Saga, from their last fight with Eric the Red, the alien Shi’ar spy, to the fate of the M’Krann Crystal, which fully shows the full set of changes that Jean Grey has undergone when she resurrected herself in issue #101. This post begins though, with a side-trip to Iron Fist #11, which was also being written by Claremont, and drawn by Byrne and inked by Dan Adkins. We do this only to see Jean and Scott leaving the hospital.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu Part Twelve

Friday, September 11th, 2020 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

MOKF 61Master of Kung Fu in 1978 was in the process of finding its footing again. Paul Gulacy’s departure from the title left an enormous hole for the series’ two new alternating artists, Jim Craig and Mike Zeck to come up to speed and offer readers a comparable level of accomplishment. Just a few years earlier, martial arts mania had swept much of the Western world on the strength and charisma of Bruce Lee. Marvel had quickly responded with the creation of Shang-Chi and Iron Fist (among other characters). Master of Kung Fu soon spawned a companion magazine, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. By 1978, only Master of Kung Fu was left to showcase a non-superpowered martial artist hero. Morally complex scripts and artwork that took its cue from Jim Steranko’s groundbreaking work for Marvel in the 1960s were the essential ingredients to keep this niche title from fading in sales with the waning martial arts fad.

Issue #61 kicked off the epic-length “China Seas” story arc that saw writer Doug Moench drawing inspiration from Milton Caniff’s long-running newspaper strip, Terry and the Pirates. Moench and Jim Craig launch the story with Shang-Chi having moved in with Black Jack Tarr at the Savoy. Sir Denis Nayland Smith is visiting Melissa Greville in hospital where she is  finally recovering from injuries sustained back in issue #51. Leiko Wu is struggling with loneliness and regret as she sits in her apartment listening to “Dreams” from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours LP. Black Jack Tarr buys a print of Frazetta’s “The Silver Warrior” from an art gallery before meeting up with Sir Denis as Clive Reston arrives to visit Melissa in hospital.

Jim Craig’s artwork was improving dramatically with a truly lovely rendering of Melissa preparing for her discharge. Moench’s script and Craig’s artwork renders the start of Clive and Melissa’s relationship surprisingly sweet. Shang-Chi, lost in his thoughts of Leiko and with Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” running through his head is set upon by a Chinese assassin called Skull-Crusher. Their fight is brutally realistic and intercutting it with the supporting characters’ normal interactions is surprisingly effective. Leiko attempts to rekindle her relationship with Clive only to discover he is now dating Melissa. Shang-Chi is in the dark about who has hired Skull-Crusher to kill him until Clive and Melissa deliver a letter mailed to Shang-Chi care of MI5 from Juliette which will send him back to Hong Kong to aid the other woman who broke his heart and take him back into conflict with Shen Kuei, the Cat in an unexpected call back to issues #38 and 39.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu Part Eleven

Friday, September 4th, 2020 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Master_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_52Master_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_53Master of Kung Fu was a critically acclaimed series in 1977, but one which was burning out its creators in their efforts to maintain the high standard of quality in an industry that required juggling numerous assignments each month in order to earn a living. Artist Paul Gulacy had recently departed over the pressure and writer Doug Moench was struggling to keep up with deadlines as well. The series had just concluded an epic eight-part story arc with issue #51 that saw Shang-Chi separated from both his estranged father, Fu Manchu and the mentor who had become his father figure, Sir Denis Nayland Smith. Readers eager to find out what would happen next in Shang-Chi’s life would have to wait 90 days as issue #52 was a flashback to an untold and largely comedic adventure set a year earlier in the continuity while issue #53 was a reprint.

Issue #52 saw the return of Groucho Marx as cabbie, Rufus T. Hackstabber now paired with W. C. Fields as his equally disreputable cousin, Quigley J. Warmflash in a misadventure that seemed better suited to Steve Gerber’s contemporaneous Howard the Duck series. This Moroccan interlude involved the return of rogue Si-Fan agent Tiger-Claw seeking Fu Manchu’s elixir vitae which he believes is hidden inside an elusive antique statuette of an elephant. The story is a fun mash-up of The Marx Brothers, W. C. Fields, Casablanca, and The Maltese Falcon. A man-sized statue of the Black Bird itself can be glimpsed among the bric-a-brac crowding Warmflash’s curio shop. The story features not one, but two spectacular crashes of Hackstabber’s taxi cab and also provides Warmflash with a lovely (but rather dim) nightclub singer/belly dancer daughter, Dinah. A hoot to be sure and returning guest artist Keith Pollard did an excellent job capturing the likenesses of two Golden Age of Hollywood comedy legends, but Tiger-Claw’s return was squandered amidst the barrage of laughs and outrageousness on display.

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Uncanny X-Men, Part 18: Juggernaut and Magneto – For The Very First Time!

Saturday, August 29th, 2020 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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Welcome to part 18 of my Quixotic reread of the X-Men, starting with issue #1 in 1963. We’re now in 1976 and I ended my last post partway through #101 because Phoenix’s introduction is the real climax of the last arc and it made sense to stop there.

After Phoenix’ appearance and the hospital reunions, a new story arc starts, insofar as one can ever say a story starts or ends in Claremont’s braided narrative. In this post, I’m going to cover the last half of Uncanny X-Men #101 to the end of issue #104 because it covers the new X-Men’s meeting with two hugely important and iconic villains: the Juggernaut and Magneto.

Personally, this set of stories fits into my life in that I read issue #101 in French in B&W as an 11 year old in 1982, and couldn’t afford to read issue #102-#104 until the summer of 1987 when they were reprinted in the Classic X-Men. So I’d been waiting 6 years for these stories. The Classic X-Men reprint series was great — it allowed me to fill out all the story gaps in my collection; by then, by trading with friends or buying from the comic shops in Toronto, I’d already gotten a complete run from #134 onward.

With Phoenix in the hospital in issue #101 (October, 1976) the X-Men, led by Banshee, go to Ireland on a forced vacation. Jean needs rest and support the Scott and Professor X can offer, and the new X-Men need to get out from underfoot.

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Understanding Gamers through Belly Laughs: Knights of the Dinner Table by Jolly R. Blackburn

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Three issues of Jolly Blackburn’s long-running Knights of the Dinner Table, all shipped simultaneously: #273, 274, & 275

The COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc with virtually every aspect of life around the globe. That was driven home to me (again) when three issues of my Knights of the Dinner Table subscription were delivered in a single envelope last week.

Given all the upheaval the world has gone through in just the last five months, it was an eerie look into the recent past to open the first of them, issue #273 (planned on-sale date: May 2020) and read Jolly R. Blackburn’s editorial, written in March 2020 and titled “And Just Like That — Everything Changes.” Children of the Apocalypse, gather round and read these words from the long ago before-time:

Hey folks — I hope this finds each of you reading this, healthy, safe and doing well. Clearly, with what has transpired in recent weeks, that is most certainly not the case for everyone. Many of you have likely lost loved ones. are sick, unemployed, wondering what the future will bring or all of the above. This is indeed something that has left no one untouched.

I [know] that Knights of the Dinner Table has always been a refuge of sorts from the hard realities of the real world. Readers come here to forget their worries, have a laugh, possibly be touched and celebrate the love of rolling dice and gaming with friends. That won’t change… we’re all in this together, despite differences.

As I write this, there is a lot going on. The nation is in a state of self-isolation and shut down. I wanted to tell you what that means for KenzerCo and the Knights even though in the grand scheme of things, it might be the last thing on your minds. We are fortunate in that we are a small company with our own warehouse and shipping facility. Barb and I continue to ship product twice a week and can do so without interacting with others. So we are completely safe in doing so.

Here’s the glitch. Our distributors recently announced they will NOT be shipping product to retailers until this is all over. Which is understandable because many game and comic shops are currently shutting down and there’s no place to ship product to.

On top of that. the printer who publishes our monthly deadtree issues is in a shutdown also!

Take it from me: It’s tough to keep a monthly magazine going when both your printer and your distributors cease operations. But Jolly and team battened down the hatches and did it, producing digital issues, and getting out them subscribers, on time. And when their printer opened up again they did a bulk run of all three issues, shipping them to subscribers as quickly as possible. Getting all three at once allowed me to read the issues back-to-back, and re-appraise just what it is that Jolly is doing, and how much it’s impacted the hobby.

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Uncanny X-Men, Part 17 – 1976: Sentinels in Space and the Rise of Phoenix!

Saturday, August 15th, 2020 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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Welcome to part 17 of my quixotic reread of the Uncanny X-Men, beginning in 1963. I’m seeing how far I can go. Issues #97 to #101 are special for me because they loom large in my personal experience of collecting the backstory. This post covers a special period for X-Men and Marvel history too.

The introduction of Phoenix as the new incarnation of original x-man Jean Grey was a gigantic development, with impacts on the Marvel Universe that continue to play out in comics in 2020. An argument could be made that the creation of Phoenix was as significant an event as the creation of characters like Wolverine or the Silver Surfer. Each character opened up new kinds of stories to be told in the Marvel Universe.

Issue #97 (February, 1976) was created by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum with Sam Grainger on inks, whom I personally find too rough to catch the finesse of Cockrum’s pencils. The issue opens with alien space ships and a huge space opera battle.

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Uncanny X-Men, Part 16: Enter Wein, Claremont and Cockrum in 1975

Saturday, August 1st, 2020 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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Welcome to the 16th installment of my reread of the X-Men, starting from issue #1 in 1963!

Today’s post is kind of a big deal, because Giant-Size X-Men #1 is the launch pad for the modern X-Men. This of course leads to the gigantic sales success in the early 90s, the cartoons, the movies and everything. In essence, after a five-year absence of new X-Men stories, Giant-Size X-Men #1 adds to the X-pantheon three previously-created, but little-known mutants (Sunfire, Wolverine and Banshee) and four brand new ones (Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Thunderbird).

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It Has Everything I Hate. And Yet…

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

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I find it delightful. Though so much about it means I shouldn’t.

Good afternoon, Readers!

I have been, for the past week and a bit, binge-watching InuYasha (English subs, as I much prefer the voice acting in Japanese). It is a series I began long ago, then just stopped watching. When I saw that Netflix had it, I decided to give it another go. After all, I had vaguely fond memories of it. Let me tell you, I am finding it absolutely delightful, even though it is choc-full of all the tropes that I generally despise. I’m struggling to figure out why I like the series so damned much. Make no mistake. I do. I have finished all the episodes in the original seasons, watched all of the movies, and am not far off finishing The Final Act, where the story is finally, after a long break to permit the manga to catch up, coming to a close.

There is so much about this show that I shouldn’t like. Yet somehow… well, I absolutely love it. To the point where I’m considering buying the whole lot on Blu Ray to binge whenever I please without fear of my streaming services dumping the series after a while (as they so often have with various shows).

First, let’s start with the trope I despise the most in any medium. The love triangle.

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Uncanny X-Men, Part 15: 1974 and 1975 – The Last Tales of the Original X-Men

Saturday, July 18th, 2020 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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Welcome to post 15 of my re-read of the X-Men, which began in the Silver Age with X-Men #1 in 1963. We’re now well into 1974. We’ve gone through pretty much every appearance and guest appearance of the X-Men and even some X-Men-adjacent characters and we’re only a year away from Len Wein and Dave Cockrum’s new take on the X-Men in Second Genesis.  I’m going to talk about five issues in this post and note a few others for those who want to read in a really completist way.

The first set of issues is a two-part Magneto appearance in The Defenders #15-16. I glossed over Magneto’s Amazing Adventures appearance against the Inhumans in the last post because he was bringing a bit of a tired plot to the table (creating a bunch of mutants from scratch to command and send into battle).

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James Davis Nicoll on Five Science Fiction & Fantasy Works Inspired by Role Playing Games

Sunday, July 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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I enjoyed James Davis Nicoll’s recent posts here at Black Gate, Ten Classic Unplayed RPGs, and Ten WTF Moments from Classic RPGs. James and I were both introduced to role playing games in Canada in the late 70s, and he shares both my fascination and enduring sense of wonder with the early games of that era.

James maintains his own site, jamesdavisnicoll.com, one of the better SF book blogs. (This month he’s reviewed Roger Zelazny’s 1969 minor classic Creatures of Light and Darkness, David Gerrold’s A Matter for Men from 1983, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s just released Mexican Gothic, about a perfect blend of old and new in my book.) But what I want to highlight today is his regular column at Tor.com, and in particular his June 10 article “Five SFF Works Inspired by RPGs.” Mostly because it showcases one of the greatest webcomics ever created, Rich Burlew’s brilliant Order of the Stick.

Of course, the standard by which RPG-themed satire is judged is Rich Burlew’s long-running Order of the Stick (2003 to present). What began as a gag-a-strip stick-figure webcomic mocking the quirks of 3rd and 3.5th edition D&D quickly grew into something more. Sane Man fighter Roy Greenhilt has assembled a ragtag gang of eccentric colleagues and set out to defeat the evil lich Xykon. Seventeen years later, the lich is still… uh, “alive” may be the wrong word… active.

What began as a simple plan to find and kill an undead being of unparalleled power and evil has spiralled into an epic tale featuring grand sieges, true love, tragic death, character growth, and increasingly alarming revelations about the likely fate of this world. It’s an impressive work. There are reports that a conclusion looms, so this would be a good time to catch up on the archive. Note that print collections are available.

The article also discusses J. Zachary Pike’s Dark Profit Saga, Meg Syverud & Jessica “Yoko” Weaver’s webcomic Daughter of the Lilies, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s 2016 novel Spiderlight, and Phil Kahn and T Campbell’s long-running webcomic Guilded Age. Read the whole thing here.


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