Category Archives: superhero

A Look inside Bruce Jones’ Run on the Incredible Hulk

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Even after repeated readings of Bruce Jones’ run on The Incredible Hulk, we get a visceral thrill from turning the page to find this portrait of Hulk grimacing, with a bullet firmly gripped in his teeth. Our judgment of Jones’ run as the finest treatment of Hulk may remain a minority opinion, much like our appreciation of Chuck Austen’s X-men work. As authors of the dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court of Geek, we ask your indulgence for but a few pages.

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Marvel gave Hulk a new #1 issue in 1999, the first renumbering of his series since Tales to Astonish became the Hulk’s own series at #102 back in 1968. John Romita, Jr., jumped on board with issue #24 of this series for an Abomination story, left, and came back with #34 to team up with Jones for Return of the Monster. The Jones/Romita collaboration gives us a brilliantly-executed silent story, where Banner’s meditation practices and an autistic child make a deep connection.

We also get something often attempted but rarely achieved: Banner Hulks out at the most dramatic moment for maximum effect.

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Jones implicates Hulk in the murder of a young boy, which steers the plot towards crime or spy fiction interspersed with ‘day in the life’ stories where Hulk confronts normal people in troubled times. Lee Weeks joins in the artistic foray as the insidious plot thickens – and let’s not forget the stunning covers by Kaare Andrews!

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Mike Deodato draws the next Abomination story. One can scarcely imagine a better choice of artist for what follows: the dark underground recesses where a captured Abomination seethes, the stark desert landscapes where Banner finds love that threatens to destroy him, the savagery of rage and passion consuming the minds of monsters in combat.

We are fans of the Abomination from way back in the 1970s – probably thanks to reading his sick origin from 1967′s Tales to Astonish #90 as reprinted in 1976′s Bring on the Bad Guys – but this story beats them all. The role of the Abomination’s wife in all this is a brilliant way to inject new life into the old monster!

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With all the grim teeth-gritting monster muscle-flexing freakouts, Jones and Deodato take a quiet two-page sequence that more subtly captures the evil of the Abomination. What kind of sick, twisted bastard does what happened to the Hulk to himself, on purpose, just so he can be bigger and meaner to everyone else on the planet? Emil Blonsky, scumbag scientist – that’s what kind! Let’s join him for this brief journey of malevolence across the plains.

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Deodato doesn’t finish the entire run with Jones, but he does stick around to draw hordes of nasty little beasties in the Split Decisions chapter, and continues to provide stellar covers for most of the run.

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Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man: He can absorb the properties of anything he touches. Since it’s a divine power, he can still function rather than turn into, for example, a brainless carrot or a lump of steel. Instead he gets their properties like strength, resistance to damage, and… lots of Vitamin A.

Jones and Stuart Immonen take us on a ride with this big mean creep, and it does have its moments, but not quite as grand as what came before.

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Towards the end of Jones’ run, the series seems to exhaust its awesomeness. Iron Man and Hulk stories usually turn out well, but the crime/spy feeling of the book gives way to more “superhero” style stories. Perhaps Hulk got smashed by editorial decisions as Marvel rolled out their Marvel Knights imprint in 2004, or perhaps Jones merely paved the way for Peter David to return to scripting Hulk. We don’t know! We do however, get a resolution to how the Hulk became a fugitive at the beginning, and Jones nicely wraps up all the plot threads.

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The occasionally lackluster end of the series doesn’t really diminish the highlights of the first half. It took us a while to collect the whole thing, and some parts we read more than others over the years. We recently sold our collection of this run on Ebay, but we’d happily read it again someday! Collectors can find it as issues #34-76 of The Incredible Hulk (1999 Series) or as the eight-volume Incredible Hulk trade paperbacks (2002-2004).

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1978 Hot Wheels Spider-Car

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Although we posted about the Spider-car back in 2011, we took some more photos of this awesome little toy to sell it on eBay. Mattel did a great job with these back in 1978, and many of them have held up well through the years. You can usually find one for about $20 in excellent condition.

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Of the handful of our childhood toys we re-collected in the last few years, the Spider-car stands out in one amazing way. It was the only one that was still as much fun to play with as when we were little! As kids, we could get lost in epic storylines created for our toys. For example, plastic dinosaurs and Star Wars figures could have a war that lasted all day, only to team up when Godzilla showed up on their battlefield. Better call in GI Joe for back-up!

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But despite a nostalgia for those immersive days of playing pretend, we just couldn’t get there again with our old toys. They seemed to lack the same magic. Spider-car, however, turned out to be just as much fun to “drive” all over the house, do spectacular aerial stunts, and generally forget for a few minutes this dreadfully serious business of being an adult.

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This made us wonder if perhaps all the utterly ridiculous toys scattered around the houses of our child-rearing friends are not really there for the kids! How many fathers have bought the latest toy for their sons just so they could play with it too? Most working adults seem to have the means to buy most of the toys they could ever want. But, by the time you can do that, you may have also lost much of the child’s ability to get completely absorbed in play.

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While we don’t plan on raising little Martians of our own anytime this century, the Spider-car did help us reconnect with that state of mind. These days, we simply find it takes different kinds of toys and activities to get there. We can get caught up in sketching, painting, doodling, and jamming on a guitar for hours where time just melts away. Instead of creating worlds with plastic dinosaurs, we can create universes on paper. Now, the Spider-car can’t take credit for all of that directly, but it did serve as a reminder: a reminder that as adults, we have the power to create a safe place for that inner kid that is still with us, and set him free to play at his leisure for a few hours.

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Marvel Treasury Edition: Thor by Kirby

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Marvel Treasury Edition #10 features the mighty Thor in a four-issue saga by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby. The original issues reprinted in this gloriously oversized edition are Thor #154, #155, #156, and #157. Considering any one of these original issues will run you from $15 in a VG condition to $200 in a CGC-graded 8.0 VF condition, a $15-$30 copy of this treasury edition will leave some cash in your pocket and deliver the goods in a superior format.

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And it truly is superior. Just look at these gorgeously reproduced pages and that mind-stunning back cover! Jack Kirby’s artwork at this size never fails to crank the awesome-meter into the red.

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The story itself starts off well, with a big bad monster foolishly released by some power-mad moron. Guess what? It presages the end of the universe! Oops!

The monster – called the Mangog – begins an unstoppable march towards Thor’s home in Asgard. Its ineluctable progress drives just about all the action in this story, as hero after Asgardian hero fails to stop Mangog’s tenacious travels. It’s very dramatic, true, but essentially you get one long fight scene bathed in delicious Kirby Krackle.

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Normally we would hate spoiling the ending, but this story spoils it on its own. After all this cosmic-level struggle, the pay-off kind of sucks. Odin steps in at the end, waves his hand, and puts a stop to the whole thing in deus ex machina fashion. This cheapens the epic struggle that comes before it by suggesting that, well, we had nothing to really worry about the whole time.

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Despite this let-down of an ending, one can have some great fun with Thor and his friends along the way, valiantly struggling to overcome their implacable foe. Readers who may have looked forward to Ragnarok (end of the universe, basically) would have to wait until Thor #200, some pages of which we have in our archives.

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Whether you collect Jack Kirby art or classic Thor issues, Marvel Treasury Edition #10 probably deserves a place on your shelf. We recently sold ours on eBay, but you can usually find it in stock. It’s big, it’s bold, and the lame ending does little to detract from Kirby’s masterful visual approach leading up to it.

Readers who don’t mind black and white reprints will find this story in the Essential Thor paperback #3. Let’s have a look at some more interior pages from this titanic tome!

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The Atom by Simone & Byrne

DC’s 2006 series All New Atom kicked off with three issues of Gail Simone and John Byrne bringing us fast-paced stories full of science fiction themes and size-changing adventures. We confess we lost interest in this series once it started tying into Countdown to Whatever Crisis We’re Having This Year. But, these early stories delivered a lot of fun, and Byrne’s artwork looks terrific in the hands of inker Trevor Scott and colorist Alex Bleyaert. This scene from the second issue starts off with a giant ant!

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This scene in the second issue where a young man tries out his new Atom powers never gets old. The next scene, from the third issue, gives us the horrifying but strangely awesome spectacle of M’Nagalah. We met M’nagalah in the pages of Swamp Thing and Swampy’s spotlight in Challengers of the Unknown.

If any Atom comics have ever screamed “Make me into a movie,” it’s these issues of All New Atom! You can buy them as single issues, or collected in the All New Atom trade paperbacks. Let’s have a look!

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An Inhuman Retrospective

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We’ve always had a fondness for the Inhumans as characters and concepts despite the lackluster treatment they often receive in print. The Inhumans first appeared as supporting characters in the Fantastic Four when creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby still masterminded that title together. In 1970, Kirby launched Inhumans on their own adventures in Marvel’s second attempt at an Amazing Adventures title.

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Marvel ran the 1961 Amazing Adventures for just half a year, its first six issues collecting some entertainingly vintage stories by Kirby and Steve Ditko, Dick Ayres, Paul Reinman, Don Heck, and Larry Leiber. You can preview many of these golden-age sci-fi and monster stories in our archives.

Beginning with a new #1 issue – something that seems a monthly event at Marvel these days – the 1970 Amazing Adventures put both the Inhumans and the Black Widow on the cover. The Black Widow stories have some wonderful John Buscema and Gene Colan artwork you can preview at Diversions of the Groovy Kind.

The Inhumans get the full Jack Kirby treatment for three issues. He writes and draws them in pretty straight-forward superhero adventures. We have the first story in our archives. Like Kirby’s Black Panther, they seem to lack much depth, but make fast-paced action stories for young readers. 1970 also gave Inhumans fans another Jack Kirby treatment of his genetically-modified heroes: the final issue of the first Silver Surfer series.

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Even the Mandarin appears in these Amazing Adventures, in his utterly ridiculous “Asian Villain” outfit! The Inhumans made it about 16 issues in this format, with Roy Thomas and Neal Adams stepping up to create new stories after Kirby left. But like Thomas & Adams’ X-men, the Inhumans were doomed as a publication.

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Okay. Not exactly doomed. They got their own title after that! Leaving behind the anthology comic format, the Inhumans had earned their own shot as title characters. Doug Moench and George Perez launched them with Inhumans #1 in 1975. We have that first issue in our archives, too: Spawn of Alien Heat!

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That series showed a lot of potential, but its struggle to find its feet is almost palpable. You can find it reprinted in a hardcover format as Marvel Masterworks: Inhumans #2 from 2010, the first volume of which covers all those Amazing Adventures stories plus their origin story from Thor.

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Marvel billed the Inhumans as “uncanny” in this series, a word they would later apply to the X-men. The “Uncanny X-men” stuck, and few readers of bronze-age Marvel recall anyone but the X-men ever being uncanny! Gil Kane moved from cover art to interior art in this series. Although his style seems rough after Perez’s smooth work, Kane delivers some truly classic 70s work in stories like “A Trip to the Doom” in issue #7.

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In what now feels like a desperate ploy to boost sales, the Inhumans fight Hulk in their final issue. The same thing happened to Kirby’s Eternals in the mid-70s. Bad sales figures? Hulk Smash! “Let Fall the Final Fury” turns out to be the last appearance of the Inhumans in their own title for about 25 years.

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Despite some great guest appearances in John Byrne’s Fantastic Four in the 1980s, the Inhumans never really got a stellar treatment until Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee crafted a twelve-issue limited series for them in the 21st century. We have some of that artwork in our archives. The Inhumans live up to their potential in this compelling story, despite its reliance on the same old struggle with Maximus the Mad.

The four-issue Inhumans series by Carlos Pacheco earlier that summer had some stunning art by Ladronn. It attempted to free the Inhumans from the only two stories they ever seemed to get: the fight with Black Bolt’s mad brother, and their thing about needing to live on the moon. Pacheco stepped in and said, “Let’s shake this up a bit,” taking their conceptual struggles in the next logical plot direction.

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But, in the wake of the Jenkins/Lee story, Marvel decided on a “next generation” approach to the Inhumans. The book became more teen-friendly and introduced a new, younger set of Inhumans characters, some of whom we met in Jenkin’s story. This 2003 Inhumans series ran for twelve issues. It has its merits and perhaps competed at the time with Marvel’s Runaways and Exiles for a teen audience wanting teen characters. Of those three, only Runaways really kept our attention, proving to be a book about teens that older audiences could appreciate, too.

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And that, dear Martians, is why some lucky buyer overseas ended up with a stack of Inhumans comics from us! We collected those first Kirby issues, the run of their 1970s title, and the Jenkins/Lee paperback, along with some other minor Inhumans goodies from over the years. It was fun to have them all close at hand for a few years, and we did hold on to our single-issue copies of the Jenkins stories.

As we liquidate our physical comic book collection to help pay for our Master’s degree, you can support the Martian resistance by shopping in our eBay store. A special thank you goes out to our readers who have helped spread the word about our sales through Twitter!

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The Day the Nazis Ruled Latveria, and Other Astonishing Tales!

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Of all the glorious splash pages in Astonishing Tales #1-8, this one of the Red Skull turning Latveria into Nazi Nation cracks us up the most. It’s so wrong in so many ways. Red Skull, what were you thinking? Do you have ANY idea what Dr. Doom is going to do to you when he gets home? And why does the decor look like a high school assembly?

But let’s start at the beginning. Long before we used the controversial picture above to sell the set on eBay, Jack Kirby kicked off Astonishing Tales #1 in 1970 with a Ka-Zar story. Ka-zar versus Kraven sounds like a manly jungle free for all, but the tale lacks substance. Each issue, however, provided two stories, and the second one features Dr. Doom. Roy Thomas teams up with artist Wally Wood for several issues of unique stories in the Dr. Doom archives.

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After Stan & Jack wrap up the Kraven story, Gerry Conway and Barry Smith tell what may be the greatest Ka-zar story of all time. X-men fans may recall Garokk the Sun God from the days of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s run. Byrne & Claremont’s tale, one of our favorites, has its roots in the pages of Astonishing Tales. Barry Smith renders the Savage Land and its inhabitants like never before or since. Conway’s tale is so awesome we could almost forgive him for killing Gwen Stacy… but we won’t.

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Stan’s brother Larry Lieber takes the reins from Roy Thomas to continue Doom’s adventures, which include revolution, androids, and bringing a mummy back to life. It’s a whacky mix of themes that Wally Wood renders like its still the golden age at EC Comics. And did we mention the Red Skull shows up while Doom is on vacation? Guess what – he turns Latveria into Nazi Nation! What an idiot.

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Conway and Smith continue their dramatic portrayal of the Savage Land through several issues. Just look at that splash page!

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Just when you are thinking that you might subscribe to a monthly title featuring Dr. Doom drawn by Wally Wood, the creative team begins changing. Gene Colan joins Gerry Conway for a pretty awesome Black Panther story, the goofy gimmick of drilling underground in Wakanda serving as an excuse for a fine character study of the opposing monarchs, Doom and T’Challa.

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Herb Trimpe steps in with what seems a Frazetta-inspired pose for Ka-zar, and Colan’s pencils seem to become more flowing and abstract in his next few issues of Doom.

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Doom’s mystic battle is one of our favorite examples of Colan’s style, rendered in bold flowing areas of black ink.

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But despite these creative high points in these little-known and certainly underrated stories, they might have been too odd for the market at that time. Doom got the axe and the book became Ka-zar’s title for more than a year beginning with the ninth issue. Later, it would become a sort of proving ground for potential characters. Tony Isabella and Dick Ayers would give us “It!” for a few issues, and then Deathlok by Rich Buckler and Doug Moench. The Guardians of the Galaxy also make an appearance, but Marvel axed the whole title after issue #36, six years after it began.

We recently sold our ‘reader’s copies’ set of the first eight issues, but you can usually find Astonishing Tales (Marvel, 1970) in stock. Many well-worn copies exist, so prices on VG+ Marvels from this era remain super cheap. Just try finding VF/NM copies, though, and you will have yourself a collecting challenge!

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Moon Knight by Moench and Sienkiewicz

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One of our earliest childhood friends was a huge Moon Knight fan, so let’s have a look at some highlights of the series from the 1980s. The first issue declares the “macabre” Moon Knight, and elements of the supernatural and spooky would remain an integral part of the character. “Macabre” may be overstating the horror element, but you know how bronze age Marvel thrived on alliteration!

The artwork is nowhere nearly as experimental as what Bill Sienkiewicz later developed for books like Elektra: Assassin. We have heard Moon Knight compared to Batman, and Sienkiewicz delivers a style that seems well-suited to attracting a Batman audience accustomed to the classic work of Neal Adams and Marshal Rogers. Sienkiewicz shows an early flair for dramatic layouts and panel shapes, as these pages show.

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Doug Moench cranks up the macabre in issue #12 by introducing Morpheus, a walking nightmare with a face only his mother could love and lots of icky black goo. This otherworldly menace gives Sienkiewicz a license to get weird, with dark and dramatic renditions of creepy interiors and conflicts.

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The energetically odd-shaped panels remind us of Neal Adams work on the X-Men during his brief stint with Roy Thomas on the title. In a 2001 interview with Comic Book Resources, Bill admitted his fascination with Adams’ style: “Studying Neal’s work, … I became obsessed … and became fixated on it. It was like my intention was to be Neal. … There was no one at this point saying don’t do that, you’ve got to be your own person. … When I finally got started, what got me hired was the fact that I drew like Neal. Neal in fact called up Shooter and said, ‘I’ve got this kid fresh off the street and he draws like me. Is that a problem?’”

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Next up, let’s have a look inside issue #15. This one is so insane… Something about white supremacists breeding rats in army helmets – and then a giant talking rat-man named Xenos shows up to assassinate a politician with a gun. WHAT?

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But, #15 also has some cool ‘Moon Knight Files’ that discuss his weapons and origin and his different personalities. Though not as kooky as the Badger, Moon Knight had a thing about his identity. “Shades of Moon Knight” by Doug Moench also tells us about the development of the character as a concept.

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Of all the issues we’ve read of this series, #24 stands out the most in terms of art and story. Focusing Moon Knight on crime takes him out of the spandex-clad superhero vibe and gives us some powerful human drama, masterfully rendered by Sienkiewicz. Let’s just look at the opening pages from this mini-masterpiece. Sienkiewicz treats us to visually-appealing ‘stained glass window’ shapes, lots of dark shadows defining people and spaces, and great depictions of Moon Knight in stark black and white.

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Pretty awesome, huh? If the whole series had been this intense, we might have tried to fill in every issue in our set!

We also dig this illustration from a subscription ad that portrays Moon Knight in an iconic pose rendered entirely in black and white. This needs to be a poster!

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More dramatic black and white Moon Knight art appears in this ad for #25.

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Before we go on, let’s pause for the sake of interested collectors. You can collect these 1980s issues very inexpensively as the single issues of Moon Knight Volume 1, or in the black and white reprint Essential Moon Knight. Essential Moon Knight covers, in three volumes, all kinds of early Moon Knight stories, the Moench run, and the first six issues from the second series, and more! And don’t forget the Moon Knight Special Edition, which reprints on higher-quality paper the early back up stories from The Hulk. Now let us move forward in time to the short-lived Moon Knight Volume Two!

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Marvel cancelled the title and brought it back in a second volume with a new creative team, printing “Fist of Konshu: Moon Knight” on the cover. Frankly, we don’t understand why. It doesn’t have a significantly different vibe than volume one, and revisits the themes of ancient Egypt and Morpheus in its early issues. We get a hint that Moon Knight’s split personality and new relationship with his power source will be a focus of the series, but it isn’t all that different than before.

The Morpheus tale in #3 really is creepy, but Marvel’s “new” printing process makes the colors decidedly garish to our eyes. (We processed them here to look a little more normal.) Many books circa 1985 had this look, and we don’t like it any better now than we did then. It seemed like an attempt to move into today’s high-quality formats but … without really having a clue how that would work. Despite this harsh judgment, we dig the disturbing nightmare worlds created for some criminally insane residents of the institution! Totally twisted.

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The new creative team finds its feet in the first few issues, but then the book gets passed around. In #5, Jo Duffy gives us a morally grey tale where Moon Knight may or may not be in the right when he tries to stop a murder.

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Issue #6 sports one of our all-time favorite Moon Knight covers, a wonderfully painted and suitably spooky scene. James “Priest” Owsley steps in for a tale that ends our collection. Moon Knight jumps through a closed window and then hugs a crack whore before busting out of some chains super-hero style. All in a day’s work!

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Priest gave us some memorable stories in the 80s and our favorite Black Panther story more recently before moving out of comics and on to other endeavors. We also moved on to other things besides Moon Knight at this point in our early teenage collector days. The second series was cancelled after just six issues. What was the point of the reboot? We don’t know.

But, we have always had a fondness for the character, probably because he just looks so awesome when drawn well: the white cloak, the ankh, the face shrouded in darkness. We can’t help but wish that Sienkiewicz had some day returned to the character with his more lavishly abstract style, loaded with shadows and supernatural weirdness. Moon Knight works best the farther he gets away from standard superhero fare and off into the world of madness, mystics, and dreams.


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