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Into the back issue box #47

My comic book shoppe had a sale last weekend, and I found a bunch of cheap comics! So we’re back for a while, until I run out of them or he has another sale, in which case we’ll continue! Whoo-hoo! I’m sure you want me to post even more here!

What the hell is up with Xavier's head?!?!?!?  It looks like it's on a worm's body!As always, I link to the ground rules for these posts. New readers might be a bit confused. This week, unfortunately, we have a terrifically mediocre comic (I bought some comics that look truly awful, but this is just mediocre). But might it hook a new reader?

Firestar #1 (of 4) (“Mark of the Mutant!”) by Tom DeFalco (writer), Mary Wilshire (penciler), Steve Leialoha (inker), Tom Orzechowski (letterer), L. Lois (letterer), and D. Graziunus (colorist). Published by Marvel, March 1986.

Back in the early 1980s, I watched Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, just like all the cool kids (you know you did!). I did not, however, read comics back in those days, so I had no idea that Firestar was not an existing Marvel character. So here, years after she debuted on television, we get a mini-series showing her “origin” – mutants don’t have origins per se, they have genes, but we still need to see the drama in their lives that make them turn to Professor Xavier or Emma Frost. This is issue #1, so it’s probably more new-reader-friendly than issue #3, say, might be, but still – if you were a new reader, would you want to continue with Angelica’s story?

We begin with a left hand. It’s the hand of Angelica Jones, and two old hands are showing her that she has “the mark” because the lines on her hand converge to form an “M.” Now, Angelica must not be too bright, because anyone who’s ever looked at a hand can see that they all have “M”s on them, but Angelica believes her grandmother when “Nana” tells her she’s special. We also learn this is Angelica’s “thirteenth year.” This becomes significant (well, to me) later on. Angelica’s father – Bartholomew – tells her to get off to her new school, and once he leaves, we learn that Angelica’s mother is “lost” – I’ll assume she’s dead, and not at the mall like Dilbert’s father – and that Bartholomew’s job keeps him moving. We don’t learn what he does in this issue, unfortunately. We also learn that there’s something wrong with Nana – in her words, she’s “just an old woman who’s starting to wear out.” Gee, I wonder what’s going to happen to Nana?

Really, pink girl?  Those are the best insults you could come up with?We switch to Angelica arriving at West Morris High School (which sort of exists) and deciding, without speaking to anyone, that she’s a nerd. Of course, the older, trampier girls target her as a “loser,” and Angelica doesn’t dispell this idea because she keeps staring at her hand as if she’s never seen it before. You NEVER noticed the “M,” Angie? Really? DeFalco allows irony to creep into the story as the girl who’s built like a brick shithouse has the nerve to call Angelica “fat.” They quickly forget our heroine, however, because Cassie, the queen bitch (think Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls or, if you’re old, Kim Walker in Heathers) has her sights set on Chuckie Belson, the blond football star – she tells her friends that she’s devoted the entire semester to “putting [her] brand on that stallion.” Okay, that just brings up a lot of weird images. She grabs Chuckie, but of course he sees Angelica, and because men in the Marvel Universe are POWERLESS when it comes to redheads, he ditches Cassie and says hello to our heroine. This is where I felt a bit icky. As I mentioned above, Angelica is in her thirteenth year. I’m sure DeFalco meant that she was 13, but her thirteenth year is technically the year that she’s 12. We can argue that she oughtn’t be in high school, but perhaps she’s really precocious. Now, we don’t have any idea how old Chuckie is, but he’s a football star, implying he’s not on the junior varsity, and he simply looks older – like 17 or 18. I know we’re not supposed to feel skeevy reading as he puts the moves on Angelica, but it makes me uncomfortable. This was 1986, though, a (slightly) more innocent era, so I’ll forgive DeFalco. It’s just a bit weird.

We cut to Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and DeFalco does a good job explaining what exactly Xavier is doing out there in Salem Center. If you’re reading a mutant mini-series in 1986, you probably already know what Xavier is doing, but this was back when comics writers and editors didn’t automatically assume everyone reading was a long-time comics nerd who could tell you if Mary Jan Watson was a natural redhead (she isn’t, of course – didn’t everyone read the original, suppressed Amazing Spider-Man #154, “MJ’s Shocking Secret!”, which was banned because it showed graphic depictions of MJ’s bikini waxes?), so DeFalco makes sure that people reading this cold will know who Xavier is and why he’s interested in Angelica. Emma looks like a robot ... a sex robot!We also get a scene at Emma Frost’s Massachusetts Academy, where Ms. Frost treats Hellfire Club guards poorly (she mind blasts a guy for getting some coffee because they might have missed the manifestation of a mutant, even though the entire process is computerized – her machine is called “Mutivac,” which sounds like something to vacuum up any mutants it might come across – and therefore should probably be recording a manifestation) just to show how badass she is … as if the dominatrix gear she’s wearing didn’t give it away. Then, with those introductions out of the way, it’s back to Angelica!

In her class, the teacher has asked her about the Treaty of Versailles, about which Angelica knows nothing, as they didn’t cover it at her last school. I again call bullshit, as if Angelica is really 13, she’s just come from (probably) sixth grade, and I can’t imagine any sixth-grade class covering the Treaty of Versailles. Even if she’s transferred in from a junior high and she was in seventh grade before this, I still can’t imagine a seventh-grade class covering the Treaty of Versailles. And why is she in a class with kids who are obviously so much older than she is (the evil girls again)? Oh well. She tries to make friends with the evil girls, but they shun her (like the Amish!) and as she sits there stewing, her mutant powers activate! We know this because Mutivac turns on just at that moment, plus we see red lines emanating from the carton of milk she’s holding. The dude monitoring Mutivac tells Emma Frost that she’s “emitting an incredible level of psionic energy for a first timer!” because she can’t just be a garden-variety mutant – she has to be a super-mutant! DeFalco then gives us this deathless prose, accompanied by this image:

Whenever I see this, I can't believe it got past the censors.

Yes, somehow DeFalco slipped a money shot past Ann Nocenti (the editor) and Jim Shooter (the editor-in-chief). And one involving a 12- or 13-year-old. Dear Lord.

The teacher who got, um, unloaded upon is the same one who put down Angelica because she didn’t know about the Treaty of Versailles, so of course she’s even lower in his estimation, even though she explained that the milk carton “just seemed to explode when [she] opened it.” I’ll bet. Anyway, Mutivac has lost the trace, but Emma’s not worried – Angelica’s psionic level will grow with each manifestation until they can find her. So a few months later, Chuckie catches up with Angelica and tells her she should enter the ice sculpture contest the school is having. Cassie, the queen bitch, watches this flirtation with narrowed, evil eyes. Later, as everyone sculpts happily, Chuckie runs toward the group, ignores Cassie, and bops on over to Angelica, complimenting her on her kicky beret. Cassie and her evil minions plot … revenge!

Twerp?  What is this, 1955?

The next day, right after Angelica leaves for school, her grandmother drops dead of a heart attack. We couldn’t see that coming! Actually, we don’t see her drop dead, we just see the beginnings of the fatal attack. Then we switch to Angelica being happy to underline the tragedy unfolding at home, but she’s only happy for a panel until she sees that her ice sculpture has been destroyed. She stares at her palm, which causes Cassie to ask her why she’s always doing that, and Angelica reveals that her “M” means she’s special. Boy, if you're dating Angelica, you don't want to piss her off!The other girls, naturally, point out that they have “M”s too, which causes Angelica to believe Nana lied to her and also makes her angry enough to melt all the other sculptures. Chuckie shows up, tries to comfort her, but she runs away, leaving her hat behind. Oh, the hat! She tries to call Nana, but she melts the phone. This, of course, sets off both Cerebro and Mutivac. Xavier and Frost are on the scent!

Angelica hurries home, where she sees the ambulance taking Nana away. Man, she’s having a shitty day. We switch quickly to her and her father standing over the grave, and Angelica tells him they have to talk. She shows him what she can do, and “sometime later” he sits in his room, head in his hands, thinking “My baby … my angel … is some kind of freak! A blasted mutie!” Hey, way to support her, Bart. Dialogue comes from off-panel, offering to help. It’s Emma, of course. She goes into Angelica’s room, tells her the “M” on her palm is special, and then tells her that her father has already arranged to send her to Emma’s school. Just then, Xavier and Nightcrawler pull up in a “sleek limousine” and Chuck realizes that Emma is already there. “We arrived too late,” he says. “We’ve failed!” He then says, as we reach the end of the issue, “That poor girl –! May God protect her!” Man, what a fatalist!

She should have said, 'Whatever, Dad.  Just don't fuck with me!'

As a first issue of a mini-series, this does its job. It introduces Angelica fairly well, even with the holes in the story. DeFalco makes sure that we know who the opposing sides struggling for Angelica’s loyalties are, and Wilshire’s art is perfectly serviceable. I’m not terribly sure, if this was your first comic, that you would be back. It’s pretty mediocre and does really nothing to showcase why comics are so cool. This feels like a prose story with some pictures, and really, the only nice blending of writing and art, unfortunately, is when the milk carton blows up. And that’s (unintentionally, let’s hope) hilarious.

Firestar #1 won’t make you hate comics and everything they stand for, but it’s also not the kind of comic that makes you think the artform is the greatest thing ever. But it sort-of introduces a cartoon character to the Marvel Universe (she first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #193, but this story takes place “before” that), so there’s that. It could be a lot, lot worse!

29 Comments

I was conflicted about this story. I believe in the Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends that it had been established that Firestar was, a former X-Man, when in fact in the books she was never, ever shown. So I was alternately annoyed at this piece of retroactive continuity but was very curious as to how this was gonna be established as well. I picked up the book for that reason.

If memory serves, although the X-Men made an appearance, she was never a true “X-Man”. That annoyed me. And her power was a little wonky for me. So she emits microwaves. Visible microwaves. Ehhh…I know it’s comics physics but still….

Wilshire’s art didn’t impress me and I don’t feel that she was able to depict Firestars powers visually. As the reviewer said, it was mediocre and simply served to establish Firestar as a character in the Marvel Universe proper. And it worked! She’s still showing up in the New Warriors, Avengers and Marvel Divas!

Blllll-eccccccch, that sounds awful. I’m think Tom was a bit out of his element, here…

Also, I think people unfairly malign the 90s for their “grim-n-grittiness.” This was 1986… and we’ve got the story of a 13-year-old girl who discovers she has superpowers that let her generate deadly heat rays, and fly (though I guess that must have come in later)… and it’s played as a misery-drama with no element of fun whatsoever.

You could certainly argue that, in the real world, something like this WOULD be a disaster, but this wasn’t the real world, it was the Marvel Universe. Sheeesh.

CLIMAX!

As the ancient Mr. Burgas no doubt knows, “Mutivac” is a reference to the old “UNIVAC” computers of the real-world 1950s (and Jack Kirby’s Challengers of the Unknown, for that matter). Weirdly enough, tons of comic-book super-computers get “VAC” names, like the Leader’s sentient computer Omnivac or Alan Moore’s peripheral Top 10 character Metavac (of nthe law firm of Goebbels, Mtavac, and Fischmann).

Actually, I think ‘Multivac’ refers to Isaac Asimov’s supercomputer in many short-stories he wrote. The ‘vac’ refers to vacuum tubes. The oldsters reading this undoubtedly remember taking their TV’s tubes to the supermarket to get them tested and replaced. Seems like forever ago, don’t it?

Man, does Tom DeFalco write some of the most horrible comics EVER! This is just awful writing & the art makes everything just that much worse. This is an example of what makes me embarrassed to read & collect comics.
Gonna have to re-read some Planetary or something to wash this out of my mind.
absolute GARBAGE!
DFTBA

Omar: My dad worked for Sperry Univac in the 1970s!

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

November 14, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Multivac was a reference to the real UNIVAC series of computers, which were named so as an abbreviated for of UNIVersal Automatic Computer. (For examples of non-automatic computers, think of anything from an abacus to an adding machine or Babbage’s plan for a Difference Engine.)

Almost all the old computers ended in AC, i.e. Eniac; this is also where the robotic Superman enemy Brainiac got his/its name, as well as the Brainiac toy whose manufacturers sued DC over the trademark.

An exhaustively detailed, 2,000-word review devoted to a mediocre 25-year-old comic from a consistently mediocre (albeit hugely successful) publisher featuring a … wait for it … mediocre and eminently forgettable character? Not enough high-quality, underpublicized comics out there to keep you busy, sir?

fit2print, you summed up my feelings about this site in general. While I’ve enjoyed many features on this site, I find it extremely odd that a site called Comics Should Be Good spends so much time obsessing over crappy superhero comics. Widen your horizons, people.

Get a life, Burgas.

Daniel O' Dreams

November 14, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Wow what’s with all the vitriol? I remember quite liking this comic as an 11 year old. No surprise it doesn’t hold up well but jeez is it THAT much worse than say the average issue of Marvel’s or DC’s monthly output? If anyone is intrigued about the rest of the series I recently saw it’s collected in a digest sized trade (like Runaways) I was actually considering picking it up.

Oh Also I always got the impression Angelica was written to be older and they made her 12/13 because of the whole “mutant powers manifest at puberty” thing. I’d bet her age was a later addition to the story.

Sheesh, people. The entire point of this exercise is that I want to see if random comics are easily accessible to a first-time comic book reader. This one is, but it’s not that good otherwise. If I have the time to write an entire post on it, what’s the problem? As for highlighting underpublicized comics and widening my horizons … well, you obviously don’t read the site that often.

I wasn’t just referring to you, Greg, and I apologize for sounding holier-than-thou. It’s true I only started reading this site about six weeks ago, but I’ve been here every day since, and read most of the archive, and 95% of this site is dedicated to superheroes, with the rest devoted to manga. Where are the alternatives? Are there no “good” alternative comics?

And no offense, but I don’t believe ANY superhero comic would make a non-comics-reader want to start reading comics. Not even Watchmen. I have introduced a few people to comics, and people unfamiliar with the medium respond better to types of stories they’re already familiar with. I gave men From Hell, Eightball, Hate and old R. Crumb. Some of those guys ended up reading superheroes, most of them stuck with alternative comics. I gave my girlfriends Love & Rockets, and some ended up reading Sandman. But it never worked the other way around. If superheroes appeal to someone, they’re already reading them.

I love comics because of the format itself, not because I’m a fan of the genres that dominate the format. I don’t limit myself to one genre of movies or novels, but most comic fans do limit themselves to superheroes.

And in closing, I’ll say take Greg’s advice and check out Starstruck by Lee and Kaluta.

Ed: Yeah, I don’t know how well superheroes work in appealing to new readers. They did to me back when I started buying comics, but who knows these days.

The problem with any comics blog is that so much that comes out is superheroes and manga. It’s somewhat frustrating that other genres aren’t more prevalent, but that’s the way it is. We do review quite a bit that’s not superheroes, but it kind of goes in cycles. Back in September I reviewed over 20 books (one a day) that weren’t superheroes. I’m about to crank up more of them, because I have a decent stack of non-superhero stuff. Look for it soon!

“An exhaustively detailed, 2,000-word review devoted to a mediocre 25-year-old comic from a consistently mediocre (albeit hugely successful) publisher featuring a … wait for it … mediocre and eminently forgettable character? Not enough high-quality, underpublicized comics out there to keep you busy, sir?”

“Get a life, Burgas.”

Bwah hah hah! Of all the things on the internet, this is the most internetiest.

He wrote it. He posted it.

All you did was sit on your ass and read it. And then complain about it.

Bwah hah hah.

I remember this mini. I thought it was OK, though I was underwhelmed by the story being so low-key until the final confrontation with Frost (which Emma should have won easily, but didn’t!) The how-can-she-not-notice-everybody’s-got-Ms-in-their-hands thing baffled me as well, this wasn’t a preteen girl we were dealing with. I can’t help but think it was written more for girls than boys; in that sense it probably worked, but not for me.

Note that I like Firestar, both in TV and the comics. It’s just this mini that didn’t impress me much.

The giant pink girl built like ten brick shithouses shouldn’t be making fun of anyone’s weight.

This comic looks awful.

Wait, Mary Jane isn’t a natural redhead??

Now my Sunday is spoiled…

Nice review, Greg, even if this isn’t a comic I would want to read. But that’s one of the reasons I love the site– it turns me on to things I might like, but also offers interesting spins on material I’d just ignore. When folks show up simply to slag off on people with different tastes, it makes me think of the old Pauline Kael line about movie critics: “We read critics to discover a sensibility, to be alerted to hings in the film we didn’t notice before. The opinions we can usually handle ourselves.”

I still say ‘Multivac’ is a tip of the hat to Asimov. One author to another. Check wikipedia’s entry for Multivac. I agree that Asimov’s Multivac was a reference to the original UNIVAC, he stated so many times. If memory serves he mentions that the ‘vac’ (at least for his Multivac) referred to vacuum tubes. But his short story “The Last Question” follows Multivac through the millenia to the point that it becomes AC (and it is an automatic computer, no longer consisting of tubes).
I’d say you guys are also right, but are missing the Asimov connection.

this is the first i heard fire star got her own comic for she was created just for the cartoon but got so popular spun off into the comics . always wondered how Emma got here to join the hellions thought it was due to brainwashing by Roulete. and also thought her powers was microwave blasts of nova level.

I thought the ‘AC’ stood for ‘Analog Computer’ (some computers WERE analog in the early days). It even says so in ‘The Last Question’, which was Asimov’s favourite story, by the way.
So Firestar was thirteen when this story began? She was just finishing her junior year in New Warriors, if I remember correctly, and in Marvel Divas she mentions having been to grad school. During all this time, Franklin Richards has aged three or four years at the most. I really wish Marvel could get their timeline straight.
I went to the bookstore today. Not the comic book store (although I went there, too), but the regular bookstore. It’s a Hastings, which is one of those big chains, but it might just be a regional chain, so I don’t know if you other people have heard of it. Anyway, they had two boxes in front of the comics section, which I was stunned to discover were filled with old comics, all for 99 cents. And I don’t mean unsold issues from several months ago (they often sell those off for 99 cents)– I mean old ones, mostly from the ’80s and 90s! And all in really good condition! (I even found a Luke Cage, Power Man from 1975. It didn’t even have a UPC on the cover.) And this store has NEVER sold used comics before, as far as I’m aware.
Anyway, they had Firestar #4, but they didn’t have the first three. So I reluctantly decided not to get it. (The comic book store does have all four issues, but they’re four dollars each there. I’m willing to buy some comics for that price, although I don’t like going any higher, but I’m not sure I want to pay that much for Firestar.)
I did find Secret Wars #12, so I’m really excited. I’ve been waiting twenty-five years to find out how that story ended! (The comic book store has it for six dollars. Definitely more than I’m willing to pay. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to find an affordable copy.) I got ten books altogether, which added to what I’d already spent at the comic store is a bit more than I really wanted to spend today. If I’d known they were going to have those for sale, I wouldn’t have bought the stuff I bought I the comic book store. Oh well. I’m not expecting these old books to still be there next time I get to go to town. (I live in a teeny-tiny town some forty minutes away, and I don’t usually get to check out the bookstores more than twice a month.)
None of you may care, but I’m still walking on air.

Hey, maybe Ms. Brick Shithouse is all muscle.

I had this whole series. It gets weirder. It’s half-romance comic, half superhero comic. And it’s no worse than any other comic out there. Sometimes, reading something bad teaches you more than reading something good.

Thanks for doing this column again Greg. I missed these.

Mary, I love Hastings! The one we go to has an excellent graphic novels/TPB section, so I always end up spending more there than I should (even with the used prices and discounts). But I have to admit that I’ve only glanced at the 3-in-a-bag back issues they have, since the ones I’ve noticed mostly had titles I didn’t care that much about (although like you, I’m happy about the general idea of such older issues being available at cheaper prices), But your post makes me think I should really pay more attention the next time I’m there– I mean, a Luke Cage from 1975 is too good to pass up!

These weren’t the three-in-a-bag books, although they had a ffew of those, too. These were single issues (in bags, with boards). I was really shocked to find them at Hastings.

I like 25 year old superhero comics, even the mediocre ones.

What the Mutt said.

If you’re bitching about Greg reviewing old comics maybe you should read the ground rules he posts at the begining of every one of these entries. If you keep reading after that and get pissed off, well it’s your own damn fault.

Into the Back Issue Box is a favorite of mine. I’m always interested to see how well a random issue does at enticing a new reader into the world of comics. It never (well hardly) ever fails, the older a comic the better the chance that it will spell out all the necessary things a new reader needs to know.

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