Tag Archives: Kurt Busiek

SBTU Presents: Top 10 Biggest Avengers Moments of the 1990’s!

Hello, Legions of the Unspoken!  I hope that you are better than me and have enjoyed Avengers: Age of Ultron by now.  We went to the Ultimate Marvel Marathon, only to find out that the big enchilada, Avengers: AoU, would be in 3D!  I am not sure I have related this before to the Legions, but I have vertigo and therefore cannot handle a 3D movie!  So we sucked it up and left early.

To date, I still have not seen the movie.  I am sure I will, but to placate me until then, and to satisfy all of the guests taking a gander here due to the Super Blog Team Up, I am going to give you the top 1990’s moments for The Avengers.  Now all of these moments won’t be highlights or the best stuff that happened to them, but they will certainly be the ones that stood out the most, had the most impact, and generate the most buzz, good or bad, to this day.

10-THE CROSSING

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Aren’t you glad I warned you that there’d be stuff you hated on this list?  Don’t you wish that either the warning had come sooner or that this had come later?  This is legendarily bad.  So bad that we are still talking about it not just as the worst moment of Avengers history in the 90’s, but it is probably the worst moment for the Avengers period.  In this story, we learn that Tony Stark, Iron Man, has been working for Kang for years and is a traitor to the Avengers.  The Avengers have issues defeating him, so they go back in time to retrieve a young Tony Stark to beat the current Tony Stark for them.  That makes no sense, and after this story, it is almost NEVER MENTIONED again.  After Heroes Reborn/Return (which we’ll see more of later in this article) Tony Stark is just back.  Of course, that’s the worst thing that happened in this story.  Other awful things happened, too, such as the Wasp looking like this:

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9-Spider-Man joins The Avengers

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This one is controversial and creates a huge schism for superhero fans.  I first learned of Spidey’s status as an Avenger by the 1991 trading card above.  Should Spidey be an Avenger? There are several story arcs in the 80’s dedicated to such an idea, but it isn’t until 1991 that it finally happens!  Of course, it wasn’t easy, as at one point in Avengers #316 he gets offered a spot on the team, only to have said offer be rescinded.

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It would be just 13 issues later when Spidey would be brought in as a reserve Avenger, complete with one of those “WHO WILL BE IN THE AVENGERS” trademark covers the group likes to do so much.  Spidey even gets to stick it to J. Jonah Jameson without webbing up the Daily Bugle Publisher’s mouth.

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My two cents on Spidey being one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is that he should be in…but only as a Reserve Avenger.  That makes sense to me, as Spidey is always fun to see team-up with folks once in awhile, and he’d be there if the situation was large enough, anyhow.  Seeing him month in and month out is just no fun, though.

8-At one point, there were 8 simultaneous Avengers-related titles on the shelf at once.

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The 1990’s are said to be the decade of Image Comics and the X-Men, and rightfully so.  The Avengers, however, were no slouches. Despite spending most of the decade as perceived 2nd-tier players, you could get 8 titles related to the Avengers!  Of course, some of these were solo titles that were not Avengers titles, but I cannot imagine Quasar, Thunderstrike, or Wonder Man getting titles without their Avengers connection.  In the opposite manner, Mighty Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America certainly could have stood on their own without any Avengers ties, but the fact that these three guys are “The Big Three” of The Avengers means that even in their own books, being an Avengers is an integral part of the character.  Throw in Avengers and Avengers West Coast, and you’ve got 8 books in the year 1993 to choose from to get an Avengers fix.

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7-Acts of Vengeance

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This one is a bit of a cheat, as the event actually begins in 1989, but it crosses over into 1990 just enough to garner it a place on this list.  If more of it had happened in the 90’s, rest assured it would have a higher spot.  As it is, the idea of the greatest supervillains of the world switching partners and taking on other foes is a great one, and it led to some awesome stories everywhere from Spider-Man to Punisher, with stuff like Daredevil taking on Ultron in-between.  We also got a sweet John Byrne FF#1 homage cover.  As one cover blurb states, it was the “ultimate Super-Villain Team-Up”.  Read that in a Vince McMahon voice, please.

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6-Heroes Reborn

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Marvel was slumping from the loss of the speculator boom, and their flagship titles, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America, and Avengers, were slumping not just in terms of sales, but in how they were seen by the audience.  As stated earlier, Image Comics, X-Men, and Spider-Man (among several properties) had taken the eminent position in the marketplace.  This led Marvel to throw a Hail Mary by reaching out to Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee to re-tool these properties and bring them back to the audience as cool and hot properties.  Heroes Reborn resulted in great sales, including the best selling issue of Avengers of all time, but the sales were not quite what was needed to pay the salaries of Liefeld and Lee.  There was harsh criticism of the books as well, especially Liefeld’s Avengers and Captain America.  About midway through Heroes Reborn, Marvel asked them to take pay cuts.  Lee acquiesced while Liefeld balked and walked.  After a year, the deal was done, and we’d get Heroes Return, but Heroes Reborn might be the loudest Avengers moment of the 90’s, and it almost certainly generated the  most revenue in Avengers comic book history; the movies, of course, are another story.

5-Avengers West Coast Disbanded

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When I started reading comics regularly, there were two branches of Avengers.  This made Avengers seem awesome and very important.  Avengers West Coast was also consistently more entertaining than its east coast cousin when Roy and Dann Thomas were at the writing helm, while the Bob Harras Avengers title just sort of floundered.  I didn’t see the end of Avengers West Coast coming.  I remember being shocked when I read about it in Wizard or Hero Illustrated or some such magazine.  I was upset, and I didn’t understand why they’d trash this legacy for Force Works.  I liked FW all right, but it was no Avengers West Coast to me, and while much of that grandeur surrounding The Avengers has been restored, I wonder why in the last decade of umpteen badrillion Avengers books named everything from New to Secret to Pet Avengers, why we couldn’t have gotten the return of Avengers West Coast…

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4-Operation:  Galactic Storm

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A huge part of the history of The Avengers is the role that the mega epic plays in their history.  If they didn’t have any, we could not refer to them as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” and they probably would not be the center of the movie world.  The Avengers mega epic menagerie  includes great stories like The Korvac Saga, The Thanos/Warlock/Mar-Vell Saga, The Kree-Skrull War (to which Operation:  Galactic Storm was sort of a sequel), The Avengers-Defenders War, and more.  Operation:  Galactic Storm is one of the biggest editions to the cosmic cabinet that holds these mega epics…LITERALLY.  The story goes on for 19 parts through 7 different titles, and it has epilogue stories that even include a Silver Surfer issue.  While it is unwieldy at parts, and it was definitely stretched too thin, the ongoing saga has that epic feel that The Avengers really didn’t capture as often as they should have in the 90’s.  There’s also a giant moral theme that permeates the story and the epilogues, and it also spawned a really crappy video game.

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Get ready to play as Thunderstrike…with Thor as your backup. Who thought that was a good idea?

Emily Scott will be taking a closer look at Operation:  Galactic Storm later this month, as we are celebrating The Avengers all month long!  She will be crafting a 2-parter because that’s what passes for a mega epic around here.

3-Avengers Forever

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I’d call Avengers Forever confusing, but that would sort of be like saying that race cars go fast.  That sort of description is appallingly insufficient.  Avengers Forever centers around Kang, The Destiny War, Rick Jones, Immortus, and a cast of different Avengers from throughout time as they run into other Avengers throughout time.  I have read this three times, and that’s honestly the best way to put it.  Actually, a better way to put it might be a love letter to Avengers continuity.  It is confusing, but it is also quite a fun book, and it is beautifully done by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino.  Just enjoy getting to see cool stuff like the Avengers teaming with Killraven against Martians, as seen above, and Two-Gun Kid vs. Kang, and you’ll be ok.  Try and make too much sense of it and you will have a headache that can only be destroyed by Ant-Man.  Enjoy it as a romp, and well, you get a romp.

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2-The Last Avengers Story

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Peter David crafts a dark tale that isn’t saturated in grim and gritty nonsense that Ariel Olivetti  renders in an eye-pleasing darkness that seeps into everything.  The Avengers aren’t what they used to be, kids, and what they used to be was kids.  David’s story highlights the inherent advantages that villains have within the superhero paradigm.  He also shows us a world gone mad, heroes broken for different reasons, and the fate of the children of several of the heroes.  Also, we get Cannonball in this for some reason.  I guess in this timeline, he grows up to be an Avenger instead of Cable: The Sequel.  In the end what passes for The Avengers gather to make their last stand against an assemblage of their greatest foes, and many of the Avengers who are left simply don’t make it, but hope remains for those who do.  Darry Weight will take a closer look at this masterpiece later this month!

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1-Ultron Unlimited

In my mind, this isn’t just the greatest 90’s moment in Avengers history, but this is truly the greatest moment in Avengers history, period.

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That.  That’s it.  That panel epitomizes The Avengers.  Even their heaviest hitter, Thor, is war-scarred, having battled all that Ultron has to offer.  Captain America and Firestar are beaten down too.  Despite the hardship, despite the war they have just gone through, and despite their fatigue and injuries, The Avengers are here to do a job, and that job is saving the world.  Ultron is at his uttermost worst in this tale; in contrast, the Avengers have never been better, shone brighter, or come through against more horrendous odds.  That, to me, is what The Avengers is all about.  When things look bleak, they find a way.  When the odds are stacked against them, they unstack them.  When the worst villains show up, they get confronted by the best heroes.  Those heroes are…THE AVENGERS!!!

Just want to give an honorable mention here to the Infinity Saga.  I had it on the list, but it’s really more of a Marvel Universe story instead of just an Avengers one.  One could make the same argument for Acts of Vengeance, but it ended in an Avengers title. and so I justified it.  While the Infinity Saga did crossover into the Avengers titles, it was more or less contained within the three mini-series under the “Infinity” heading.

Thanks for enjoying our top ten! Now, Assemble with these other fine folks in the Super Blog Team Up!

10 Best All-Star Squadron Covers

Top Ten Character Deaths

10 Best Super Hero Hairstyles

10 Best Bronze Age Heroes

10 Wackiest DC Covers

10 Favorite Moments of the Chase

Top 10 Avengers

Top Ten Most Important Martian Manhunter Villains

Top 10 Avengers Covers

Top 10 Avengers Super Battles

Top 10 Green Lantern Ring Slings Not in Modern Continuity

Top 10 DC Titles That Ended Before Their Time

Top 10 Who’s Who Legion Entries

Top 10 Avengers Sketches

Top 10 Super Dogs

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THE KIRBYVERSE! AN UNLIKELY SEQUEL TO THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK BY DARRY WEIGHT

“…a bunch of guys trying to get into Hell but the Devil won’t let ‘em, ‘cause they’re not all bad. So they try to go out and do bad things, which turn out to be good!”

That is Jack Kirby (on March 14, 1993) speaking about his new series, Satan’s Six. Not that there is any problem attributing that quote. Who else but the King of Comics could sell a premise like that? For more on that particular series see Emily Scott’s article focusing on these “rejects from Hades… because they couldn’t do anything bad!” This is “Indie Month,” so let us discuss the rest of the line that proved to be the last major work from the medium’s greatest creator and the chrome-foiled cards that came packaged with it.

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Can you tell this came out during the Gimmick Era? If you cannot then look agai- Wait, what…?
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THEY COINED THE TERM! I already respect this comic line more than the New 52.

This is one of the few occasions such synergistic marketing made sense, as the publisher was Topps, the trading card company, still in business today years after “Fleer” and “SkyBox” went the way of the Hologram Card. I was confused after learning that the King’s long reign ended at this company, but that was his greatest gift, always leaving the reader with no idea what would happen next.

Jack Kirby passed away in 1994. I imagine it was not just The New Gods’ Black Racer that greeted him but all of his characters, lined up to send off their curmudgeonly father figure. You have seen the movies, you have bought the toys. You know his work even if you have never seen it before. If you found this blog by accident and have decided to stick around, you probably have at least one friend who corrects you when you say, “Stan Lee created all of these characters, right?”

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“Look at Mr. Smiles over here. Where’s your wife, old man? What a Class A pre-vert.”

After years of toiling away for everyone else, Jack made his move. Topps Comics was the new guy on the scene, during the height of the comics boom, and they wanted to see what designs and characters the King had squirreled away during the years that came after he realized Marvel and DC were never going to cut him in on the real action. You may remember this tactic as exactly what is happening right now, more than two decades later. Every time you read Avengers or X-Men and realize that it has been a while since you have seen anything truly new, jot down the date and look at what that same creator had coming out from a company where they took home the rights to the books. I imagine the headspace was the same.

What did Topps get to spend all of that hard earned trading card money on? The Secret City Saga! The sprawling, four-colored epic that would usher in the next era of superhero comics. Or at least that is what everyone hoped. The end product itself is remarkable but not for the reasons it should be. Comprising a five issue mini-series (beginning with a #0, which I imagine someone had to explain to Jack without coming across as Funky Flashman) and three one-shots, each of which introduced a new character of Jack’s own design, the saga is one complete story with the promise of more that, technically, never came. Kurt “Maximum Security” Busiek (because of that book I own every single Marvel issue from December 2000) attempted a few follow-ups including, “in the tradition of the X-Men,” the “TeenAgents” and Dynamite’s “Kirby Genesis” from a few years back.

The original issues boast talent on an unprecedented scale. Though the designs (and most importantly the copyrights) are Jack’s, the first thing you see is Walt Simonson’s cover for the inaugural issue. He is joined by Roy Thomas’ script and Steve Ditko’s pencils. They were not just successors in the industry that were honoring the work of their hero but were Jack’s peers getting another shot at storytelling in the way they knew how, an oasis amidst the grime n’ grit that we all recall fondly. Even the next generation gets in on the action with the daughters of Marvel Bullpen regulars Artie Simek and Sol Brodsky showing up in the credits. This thing reads as if it were a pitch for a series about the Third Act of the greatest creators from the Age of Marvel Comics that are not Stan Lee. Even “The Man’s” presence was felt in the form of Jim Salicrup, the series’ editor, doing his best Stan impression on every non-story page. Have to fill those pages somehow and there certainly were no outside advertisers in these things. Plenty of house ads though (I may hunt down Jurassic Park before I watch Star-Lord take down Devil Dinosaur next Summer).

So why did it fail so miserably?

To say that the Secret City Saga detonated on the launch pad would not be fair, but when the first character we meet in 1993’s Bombast #1 is a black teenage junkie running from “The Crack Man,” you can see why this does not appear on anyone’s Top Ten Lists for the decade in question (not that it has ever been collected). He is joined by the manipulative, careerist newscaster, one of two female characters, and the heroes themselves, who are as white (and in at least one case, as blonde) as any of their European descended super-peers, regardless of the fact that they are from Chicago 15,000 years ago (a fact we are reminded of again and again in case that is something you are likely to forget). Glimmers of what could have been show through with Glida, the Nightglider, drawn and dressed more practically than her peers at any other company at the time.

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Not “The Crack Man” but I am pretty sure someone grabbed one of the reimagined NFL designs Jack did in the seventies. At least I hope they did.

Here is where the reach of the King is felt. I am not sure where the line between Thomas and Jack’s contributions is, but some of the ideas feel quite familiar. Every fifteen millennia the Human Race is replaced. We men of today are the Tenth Men and the superpeople of the story are of our forebears, the Ninth Men. No civilization yet has been spared the ravages of “The Darkstorm,” but the last one at least tried to save whatever came after. Without getting too muddled in the nonsense, the Greatest Military Heroes and the Finest Scientific Minds were sequestered away, in a Secret City built far beneath what is now Chicago, to wait for the next inevitable collapse. Big ideas, sprawling across the page, with more new characters and gimmicks than you even realize upon first read? That’s Jack Kirby. This story sits on my shelf next to “The Fourth World” and “The Eternals” where it feels right at home. There is a sense of grandeur, a broadening of scope, on display here that most superhero stories simply do not bother with (either because their creators cannot or will not for fear of leaving us poor readers behind). To explain what I mean, I should begin with my entry point, Captain Glory.

Captain Keltan was an epic warrior of the Last Age. He fought “The Primitives” (by which I think he means whatever we are descended from) and won Glorious Battles! He was, as the Ben Grimm-esque Bombast keeps reminding him, a Commissioned Officer, and so a little of the Lower East Side kid bleeds through once again. Keltan means “glory” in the sing-song language of our garishly garbed antecedents. This is also the name the aforementioned newscaster christens him with. Such discrepancies, the origins of the characters’ names and what exactly they are trying to accomplish in the modern world, are commonplace. I am not sure how tight a ship was being run, but Topps Comics did not survive the nineties, so that may have something to do with it. Keltan is the type of Captain America figure that Jack has been peddling since the forties, and that is not a bad thing. Keltan wants what he wants and that is the best for everyone no matter what the personal cost. He understands the burden of leadership and of wearing that sweet freakin’ mask.

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If this image had not been the cover to a Jack Kirby Collector magazine I would think that someone had just penciled over an old Captain America cover.

The Ninth Men’s principal city-state was Gazra, a wonderland in complete harmony with the natural world, though in relative isolation. This is not the case for all of the Other Previous Men, some of whom were far more advanced than us. Jack always reminded us how small we can be and how to strive for more. This particular ancient civilization had no time for mechanical or artificial structures. They did just fine without them, providing ongoing conflict when the heroes are thrust into the Modern World. They did have vibrant, beautiful colors that we apparently shun. The type of bold, primary colors that only seem to work in the world of comic book superheroes (even their movie counterparts never seem so bright by comparison).

Glory is a man who is, just about, the last survivor of a way of life everyone he meets from here on in will never understand. He dresses as if he were wrapped in a nation’s flag, its ideals and hopes. He is the best of what was, and even the tone of his voice is enough to sway characters who cannot understand him to his cause. He even has incredible “super” strength from all that time spent in “genetic hibernation.” Jack may not have had the chance to really develop Superman while he was working at DC but some of what he could have done seems to have made its way here. One of the interesting storytelling devices used is that the three main characters never learn English. There is no throwaway line about why the language barrier has been breached nor is it merely ignored altogether. It is acknowledged and dealt with in some creative ways. The alien nature of superpower is retained.

Though this is a new shared universe, Officer “Savage” Dragon makes an appearance, and a few of his early adventures are mentioned in passing. Dragon, for the uninitiated, has met damn near everyone in his long superhero career. Taken holistically, in a St. Elsewhere snow globe kind of way this would mean that a fair chunk of this universe has been witnessed since. Salicrup actually mentions, in one of his off brand Stan’s Soapboxes, that he personally believes there to be only one “uni”verse (hence the name), and as far as he is concerned nothing should bar the Ninth Men from meeting the Justice League or the Avengers. Being an avid fan of The Multiversity, I prefer packing away each world into its own little box. The first brush with superpower this world has comes from a variety of age-old superpeople showering the world with naturally grown super-weapons and technology that dwarfs our own in creativity and brilliance. The characters we are introduced to are only a small cross-section of the ones that have survived, and an entire Super City resides beneath Grant Park.

The potential here is as much a Genesis story as anything in ongoing superhero stories. As much as I would have liked to have seen this world again, either in Image or some expanded Dynamite verse, I wonder what these ideas would have been like had they found their way into an issue of Fantastic Four or Jimmy Olsen. I would never decry Jack and his heirs the chance to profit from the work that, literally, consumed his life, but years later I feel bad that these ideas are unused with no one to speak for them. They could just as easily be ignored by Marvel along with the First Family over in that sandbox. At least there we would have had a chance to see where this would have gone.

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We hardly knew ye. To think, you could be getting Converged into Battleworld if you had played your cards right!

The Democrat pictured here was revealed to be a shape-shifter (named I-kid-you-not “Shiftor”) who collapsed beneath the burden of having to impersonate a man occupying such a potentially duplicitous job. Shortly after he sacrificed his life in a noble gambit to stave off an awful, prolonged death and get back at the man who cursed him. I imagine this made cover artist, and noted Objectivist, Steve Ditko quite content. This series is a product of its times no matter how much it attempted to call to mind an earlier era and still remain timeless. President Clinton plays a major role in the story and each issue comes packaged with Collectible Trading Cards. I know this because that fact was advertised on each cover. That was the selling point here, as much as the creators and promise of “Action Adventure!” in case you were wondering why this series did not recently celebrate a Milestone Triple Digit Issue Number alongside its peers Spawn and Savage Dragon.

The villains and heroes alike look as if they were designed for a toy line that was never made. Each villainous member of “The Renegades” makes sure to shout his name and remind the boys and girls at home what his special ability is. Bombast can throw things “really well” and even Nightglider has her patented glide-suit. They come off as toy ideas that even Masters of the Universe would have passed on, and I am pretty sure the primary foe, General Ordiz, is supposed to have the lost hidden technology of an eighties recording devices on his chest.

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He cuts well is what we are saying, and, yes, that is Dave “Watchmen” Gibbons’ sign-off just beneath.
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Yeah, that is Bill Sienkiewicz. These issues are worth hunting down with their original polybags just to see whose name is attached to the trading cards.

Another problem is that not enough time had passed so that the bad could be forgotten. There are many adaptions of Darkseid’s invasion of Earth and “The Coming of Galactus!” but what we never see is a bold retelling of the time the New Gods went up against Don Rickles or Reed Richards berating Sue Storm for “being a woman.” Context is important because as it enters into its Act 3 the Secret City Saga goes completely off the rails. Not content with merely hinting at the advanced back stories of the characters we meet briefly (more than I have ever seen in an issue of Youngblood), and making sure that I had to read the Wikipedia entry on Mayor Daley, the Secret City Saga decides to plug a longstanding plot hole in Western Literature when it answers, as an issue’s cliffhanger no less, what exactly Lewis Carroll meant by a Boojum.

I cannot speak for the man but I am pretty sure this is the best comic to ever feature his work, though its main competitors are whatever covers Zenescope Entertainment produce and Alan Moore’s Victorian Era fanfic The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (which has devolved into clever tricks to get around paying for the use of copyrighted characters, because why would he of all people have a problem with that?). The intentionally nonsensical creature is actually a mythical creature of the Ninth Men’s age whose sudden appearance shocks them as much as the normal humans watching the spectacle unfold. Someone mentions a famed “Dr. Snark” and his psychic abilities and then, in typical Kirby fashion, an unimaginably powerful shape-shifter speaking gibberish takes down a living machine that has existed since the dawn of time that has transformed into robot named Genetitron.

For all its faults, I will miss this book.

The Secret City Saga is only part of the larger Kirbyverse which went on to include other properties that Jack held onto. Silver Star, late of Pacific Comics, joined the fray as did Captain Victory. You may remember him from such series as that one where the writers involved tried desperately to retain his greatest selling point (he is Orion of New Genesis’ son, Darkseid’s grandson) without incurring the wrath of the Gentr- I mean DC! Silver Star’s new series had one issue see the light of the day, same with the re-titled “Victory,” though both promised more to come. The artwork is a clear departure from the SCS. Maybe this was a move meant to increase sales but I am not sure. To go along with the theme, the latter title even had an honest to goodness variant cover, hallmark of a book that no one will ever regret buying. The artist is one of the few that needs no introduction and can, literally, be recognized instantly from afar.

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I did not have the heart to remove the watermark as sadly my copy is the standard issue and only that site seemed to be aware of this.

This issue saw print at about the same time that Jack Kirby passed on, leaving behind a richer legacy than any I have ever come across in fiction, regardless of genre or medium. We cannot know how involved he was with any of the “Kirbyverse,” never mind the Secret City Saga, but what we do know is that the last comic the line published had a variant cover by Rob Liefeld. This issue promised “the end” on its cover, but it is a poor one (my favorite sendoff is the Jack inspired portrayal of Dan Turpin in 1998’s “Apokolips… Now!” from Superman the Animated Series). If you can see past the trappings of the series, there are a few gems worth knowing about, but if nothing else look upon these books as a cautionary tale. We have no way of knowing where we will arrive but it is not always a place of our choosing.