AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
3 out of 5
Batman & Captain America
(Art by John Byrne)
A Marvel and DC crossover story set in 1945. Captain America and Bucky return to the US on a secret mission to protect a secret military project. When the project is threatened by the Joker they team up with Batman and Robin to foil the criminal clown but learn of a more sinister power behind the plot.
The two title characters are so perfect for a crossover that it amazes me that it took until the mid-90s for it to actually happen. Everything about them complements each other, even down to having youthful sidekicks. Byrne takes this already brilliant set-up one stage further by making the whole book an homage to the 1940s comics which made both characters famous. He imports the storytelling style of those old stories, as well as some of the visual style, whilst still keeping enough of a modern feel that it doesn't come across as too campy. I loved how he mixes the art style of the 40s with some distinct Byrne-isms to make it feel wholly original.
For me the highlight here was seeing the villains (Joker and Red Skull, of course) turn on each other. Where the Joker is far from the Skull's idea of Aryan perfection, the Joker states that he may be crazy but even he wouldn't knowing work for the Nazis. Sure it's a bit hamfisted, but I like that the villains are shown to have their own motivations, not just plot requirements.
This is definitely one of the better Marvel/DC crossovers.
4 out of 5
Darkseid Vs. Galactus: The Hunger
(Art by John Byrne)
A Marvel and DC crossover story. When the Highfather senses the impending arrival of the world-eating Galactus he hides New Genesis, forcing Galactus to focus his attentions on the planet Apokolips and its malevolent ruler Darkseid.
I'm not a big fan of DC's New Gods but it has to be said that Darkseid is the perfect foil for Galactus and seeing these two powerful entities facing off is definitely worthwhile. I particularly liked that the resolution to the story did not simply involve the titular villains having a fight but instead very much focuses on their battle of wills.
This book has two major faults though. The first is that it feels the need to include full backstories for New Genesis, Apokolips, Galactus and the Silver Surfer. This is not a long book at all and spending so much time covering ground that's probably familiar to all but a totally casual comics reader (and, seriously, would a casual reader start with this?) means that it doesn't get to spend much time on a story of its own and therefore doesn't have much of one. The other fault is that there's altogether too much character introspection presented as dialogue. It's a holdover from the olden days of comics where every character had to say exactly what they were thinking but by the mid-90s when this came out Byrne should've know better. I mean, do we honestly picture Darkseid and Galactus laying out their internal struggles to each other in conversation?
3 out of 5
Namor The Sub-Mariner: Namor
(Art John Byrne & Bob Wiacek)
Marvel's Mightiest Heroes Book 1, collecting the first nine issues of Byrne's 1990 Namor series. Believed dead and with the throne of Atlantis lost to him, Namor befriends Caleb Alexander and his daughter Carrie, before deciding wield power and influence in a new way; as the CEO of an growing business empire. However, he still has to battle threats such as the Griffin, the gigantic pollution monster Sluj and the Headhunter.
I've never particularly liked Namor as a character, with him usually acting arrogant, unreasonable and entitled wherever he happens to show up. Plus Aquaman gets a lot of flack for being lame, but almost all of those same lame things are part of Namor's repertoire, except he does his thing wearing only his Speedos. However, I was willing to have my mind changed and went into this book hoping that John Byrne would show me a side of character I could really engage with.
Unfortunately Namor's no more charismatic here than elsewhere, Byrne simply justifies his objectionable personality with some pseudo-science about oxygen levels in an out of the water causing Namor to be temperamental. There is a half-hearted attempt to make him something of a rich, powerful eco-warrior but he comes across as something like a bad imitation of Captain Planet (I've no idea which came first in real-life, however). Instead Byrne leans really heavily into Namor getting involved in high-level business as the CEO of Oracle, Inc. Although this came out in 1990, having the hero be a major player in corporate business is such an 80s style concept that it feels almost comically dated now.
Add in some pretty lame villains (particularly the rich and sadistic Marrs siblings) and you end up with a book that's mostly boring, with a protagonist that it's very hard to like. Namorita is more compelling, I suppose, but not enough to make the whole book better.
2 out of 5
The Invisible Woman
(Art by John Byrne, Jerry Ordway and Al Gordon)
Marvel's Mightiest Heroes Book 6. A supernatural wave of hatred strikes New York and none is hit harder than Sue Storm. Her mind twisted, she has to fight those she loves most before trying to reclaim her identity and gain vengeance.
These five collected issues of 'Fantastic Four' from the 80s reveal a watershed moment for the one of Marvel's first and most important superheroes, in part by acknowledging her importance. For a long time Sue was written in a fairly sexist way, often being the foolish damsel in distress in contrast to the three heroic, decisive male members of the FF, but here Byrne turns those ideas on their head. In fact, he addresses them directly in the story and has Sue's subconscious resentment of that treatment being the trigger that unleashes a darker side of her personality. Unfortunately this dark persona chooses to wear a revealing black BDSM dominatrix outfit, but I guess there was only so much progressive feminism that comics could cope with in the 80s.
Although this book does address some interesting issues regarding how Sue is treated and perceived, with a nice moment right at the end where she chooses to set aside the codename Invisible Girl and officially become the Invisible Woman, the actual story here is a mess. The plotline of New York being consumed by hatred ends in a 'continued elsewhere, in a book you'd need to pay extra for' moment and the second half, whilst featuring the same villain, is a totally different story about the FF travelling into the so-called Microverse. So, whilst there's thematic cohesion to this book, there is no narrative cohesion and it therefore suffers as a reading experience.
Also, and it's not really Byrne's fault, I want to call-out just how terrible some of the names of things are here. The 'Microverse' is a bit silly, but there's no excuse for the 'reducto-craft' and, far worse, the villain of the piece; 'Psycho-Man'. Seriously, 'Pyscho-Man'.
3 out of 5
Collaborations & Anthologies:
Captain America: Blood On The Moors (here)
Essential X-Men Vol. 1 (here)
Essential X-Men Vol. 2 (here)
Indiana Jones Omnibus: The Further Adventures - Volume 1 (here)
Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Guardians Of The Galaxy (here)
Professor X: Psi-War/The Muir Island Saga (here)
Superman/Batman: Alternate Histories (here)
The Amalgam Age Of Comics: The DC Comics Collection (here)