Sunday, May 10, 2020

Marvel's 1994 X-Men/Captain Universe personalized comic

The above advertisement and mail-in form appeared in a lot of Marvel Comics in 1994; I remember seeing it all the time, but I never went ahead and placed an order. The ad was for an X-Men/Captain Universe crossover comic (officially titled "X-Men/Captain Universe: Sleeping Giants") that would be personalized for each and every order. If that weren't cool enough, the book had a cover by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt.

I probably never got this because of a combination of things: I was never a big X-Men fan, I didn't want to rip anything out of my comics, and at 13, $14.95 plus shipping seemed like a lot of money. Still, probably because of that dang cover, it was one of the various promotional comics that has managed to stick in my mind ever since I saw it.

Twenty-five years later, the book is relatively hard to find and usually not cheap, either, but after searching for a number of years, I managed to get a copy. It was a little beat up and didn't have the accompanying trading card, but at least I was able to get one for a price that wasn't too steep.

And then, of course, two weeks later, I found another, nicer copy for even cheaper. What can I say? The (Captain) universe is funny like that. So now I have two copies of this mail-in book, ones that once belonged to Josh Meinhausen and Allen Bechy. Josh's copy was more well-read, to be sure. I also get the feeling that the post office didn't take great care of these in transit back in '94. Nice copies are tough to come by.

Captain Universe is a relatively obscure cosmic Marvel character, which combines the "Enigma Force" (sometimes called the "Uni-Power") with a nearby host; the idea here is that Captain Universe is "the hero who could be you!" So in times of crisis, the power is granted to someone in need. That seems built in for a story like this, where folks could write in and get their name in an actual Marvel Comic.

From what I can gather, the trading card (also personalized) came stuck, face down, to the front cover when it arrived. Maybe the white strip had sticky stuff (official term) on it or something. Anyway, mine is detached, but it doesn't take anything away from the presentation. And the card is harder to find than the book, for obvious reasons. This also features Hildebrandt Bros. artwork!

Let's take a look inside the book. One thing that became obvious really quickly was that the book takes absolutely every opportunity to put the buyer's name in. It probably shows up, almost shamelessly, 30 times throughout the book. You're welcomed on the inside front cover with a letter from Stan Lee himself.

Allen Bechy's copy had text that didn't line up super well in the printing process, which I'm sure what a disappointment at the time. And the personalized text has a different weight and feel to it than the other, standard stuff, but it's still kind of impressive that this worked out at all on such a large scale.

The story is by Bob Budiansky and Jim Craig, both industry veterans if not stars. The plot is fairly generic: a kid (ostensibly you) travels to New York City where bad stuff happens. You're transformed into Captain Universe, team up with the X-Men (after a brief confrontation), and save the day. Everything about it is very 1990s, but it's about what you might expect from a comic like this from '94.

"Suddenly, I'm not plain old Allen Bechy anymore!"

The X-Men show up at the shopping mall where this all goes down. Wolverine is unnecessarily aggressive the whole way through.

See? Wolverine threatens to rip your lungs out. For no reason! Why did this make it into the book?

The mail-in form asked for your home town, for the purpose of tossing it out there a few times. So now we're closer to showing up at Allen Bechy's house in Utica, NY.

It also asked for a friend's name, as your character stops to make a phone call. Josh's friend was "Dad".

Well, it looks like Captain Universe saves the day! Here's some more poorly aligned text! Oh well.

On the inside back cover, you can get a personalized letter from Charles Xavier.

The back cover also folds out into a double-sided poster, complete with your name on both. These are also by the Hildebrandts, and are more satisfying to look at than the entire interior comic.

A lot of kids tore their posters out, as well, so I'm lucky that I was able to get a copy that was in good shape.

The very back cover - also personalized, as no space could go to waste - tells you a little bit about Captain Universe.

There are two versions of this book: one with a male Captain Universe and one with a female version. As you might expect, the female version of the book is much more rare and thus expensive. I don't know if I'll ever shell out $300 for that version, but I'm at least happy to have finally found a copy for myself. It was an ambitious and fun concept and I'm sure it made a lot of kids happy for Christmas of '94.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Marvel Fanfare 46 original art

Hello everyone! It's been a while since I've gotten any original art, but I was recently able to grab the above page and I wanted to show it off.

This page comes from Marvel Fanfare #46, an '80s anthology title; this issue, as you can see by the cover, featured the Fantastic Four. The cover story has the Mad Thinker stuck in the body of his Awesome Android, so he comes to the FF for help.

The artwork is by Louis Williams with inks by Bob Wiacek. And since this page is pre-2000s, it's got all of the glorious lettering, as well. Jim Novak added them right on the art, as opposed to pasting them on as some letterers would.

I'm especially excited to have all four team members on the page. Reed certainly gets his share of panel space on this page.

But of course, there's also good ol' Ben Grimm, who manages to get a few good lines in, as well. That panel on the left is a great one, with really nice linework from Williams and Wiacek. Oh, and there's the tiny little page number pasted on at the bottom!

Flipping the page over, there's an extra sketch, presumably by Williams, too! I love little additions like this. The page is surprisingly clean overall, with only a little Wite Out on the front, and none of the editorial notes that I'm used to seeing. It's another great FF page to add to the collection!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Whatcha reading?

If you've got a comic book collection, then you probably have a few stacks of unread books. Over the past few years, I've slowly fallen behind on reading the new comics I get every month coupled with the back issues I've also picked up. I've kind of been resigned to the fact that I would never catch up - ever - but then, what do you know? A global pandemic can stop almost all comic book production in North America.

The last full week of comics shipping from Diamond distributors was at the end of March, and Diamond recently announced that they would start shipping once again for books that go on sale May 20th. That means we've got about two months with only a few new comics coming out - DC managed to get a few books to stores in April through some new distribution channels - and I actually got to the end of my "new comics" pile a few days ago.

Because there's not much else going on, I thought I'd share a few titles that I've got lined up to read during these interesting times.

The last few books I read from my "new" stack were DC's oversized 80th anniversary titles that just came out: Flash, Wonder Woman and Robin. I was surprised to find that the Robin issue was the best of the bunch. DC obviously had a hit with Action Comics and Detective Comics #1000, and now they're doing it with every book they have. Ah well.

The first new books to come out after the March shutdown were the Walmart DC Giants in the middle of April. I'll admit that I was somewhat comforted when I found them in their usual place at the checkout line. Our Fighting Forces, in particular, was actually pretty good. Oh, and the Batman: Caped Crusader Giant was actually a Target exclusive from a couple months ago, but I only found it recently (before we all went on lockdown).

I finally took the time to complete my run of Route 666 from the now-defunct Crossgen Comics. I came very late to the Crossgen party when they were up and running; I started reading El Cazador and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, just about a year before the company went belly-up in the early 2000s. Route 666 is something of a PG horror story; I'm enjoying it, even though it gets repetitive at times.

Any suggestions for other Crossgen titles I should pick up? I've got my eye on Negation. I know this company crashed quite spectacularly back in the day, but I appreciate their willingness to try out different genres.

The X-Men's Beast had a short run on Amazing Adventures back in the '70s - this is where he first changed to his furry form, although he's grey in this series. I don't know what possessed me to pick up his appearances in this title; I'm not a great fan of Hank McCoy or the X-Men in general, but I guess he's only in seven issues and only the first is a bit pricey. It's pretty much what you'd expect - overwrought superhero drama that tends to be a bit over-expository. But the covers are nice and it was an interesting change for the character that has seemed to stick.

Back in November, at the Rhode Island Comic Con, I found and bought the entire "Just Imagine Stan Lee" line of DC titles. It interested me when I first saw it, about 20 years ago, but there were too many titles and the prestige format meant a price tag that was too hefty for me at the time. Luckily, these books have not held their value at all, so I was able to get them all for a pretty cheap price. These books are currently in the on-deck circle, so to speak (remember sports?). I don't have great expectations for any of these, but the art on most of these looks great, and it's an interesting concept, at least.

Lastly, we've got Friday, a new digital series from Ed Brubaker and Marcos Martin, published by Panel Syndicate. I don't have any great interest in digital comics, especially ones that I know will eventually be printed. But I enjoy Brubaker and absolutely love Martin, and other books from Panel Syndicate have been top notch, so I got this first issue. And what do you know? It's great. I highly recommend it. You can download it here:

Well, that's it for now. I hope that everyone is safe and continues to, you know, stay inside and read comics. What are you reading these days? Leave a comment and let me know!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

What will happen to Comic-Con?

It wasn't much of a surprise, but I still felt the earth move a little bit when Comic-Con officially cancelled its July 2020 event. This will be the first time in its 50-year history without Comic-Con International, and I, for one, will really miss it, even though I agree that they had to do it. I had originally held out a sliver of hope that there could be some semblance of a convention later in the year, but I think it's time to face facts - 2019 might be the last year for really big conventions of any sort for a while.

The two biggest comic book conventions are currently in San Diego and New York City. Other large-scale cons are, for obvious reasons, in other big cities, many of which have been hit hard by COVID-19. SDCC and NYCC, though, are both in states with progressive governors who have both expressed caution about opening up big gatherings, and these two conventions are among the biggest in the country. I have to imagine that NYCC, scheduled for October, will also be cancelled. New York has been hit particularly hard by the virus, and projections don't point to a vaccine until 2021 at the earliest. Both the Javits Center and the San Diego Convention Center are currently being used to provide shelter for those cities' homeless populations.

Comic-Con has announced dates for its 2021 show, in its usual mid-to-late July slot. It seems unfathomable to think that this won't happen and we all won't be back to "normal" by then, but if the virus is still around next year, even in small numbers, a huge gathering like Comic-Con might be the perfect disaster to jump-start the spread once again. I hope - and would imagine - that Comic-Con actually has two or three plans in mind: one for the normal time and place, and one or two others set later in the year. Now that they actually have time to plan, I think it's more reasonable to think that they'd have a backup going into next year, as challenging as it might seem to have to plan multiple options for such a huge event. If California is still restricting gatherings in mid-2021, would those in charge consider a change of venue for a year - Las Vegas, for example? And would anyone even show up if they did that? (I know that I'd be hesitant.)

One of the reasons why SDCC is such a beloved show is that it fits so well into the San Diego cityscape. Whereas NYCC is mostly limited to the Javits Center (even when it's under construction!), the San Diego show sprawls out into the bayfront, into neighboring hotels and theaters, onto the streets, bridges, parks and restaurants and storefronts of the surrounding area. It's difficult to properly describe, but it's like the whole city is a playground for five entire days. It's a shame to lose that for 2020, and it'll be even more of a shame if the '21 show is imperiled, too. But what can anyone do? The world is a different place than it was even a few months ago.

Through it all, I'm grateful for having been able to attend Comic-Con every year since 2012. I know I'll save money by not having to book flights and housing, and I won't be buying the truckload of exclusives I often do when I'm there. But I also will miss out on the experience of being there that is just second-to-none for me.

Missing Comic-Con means that I'll miss out on the professional opportunities that come along with it. I've had more doors open for me because of Comic-Con than, really, any other event I've ever attended, and it means that the two books I was working on as 2020 show exclusives are no longer happening. More than anything, I'll miss visiting with the friends who I only see at the show. Comic-Con brings so many like-minded people together, and I've made some friendships because of it that really wouldn't exist otherwise.

I'm rambling, of course, but this is all to say that I'm sad that Comic-Con has been cancelled, and I'm sad that NYCC is surely to follow suit, and I hope that they can both start back up for 2021, even though that's no sure thing.

Maybe I'll post some of my favorite pictures from previous years soon. Heck, I always post pictures from that show. In any case, I look forward to the day that I can go back. I hope it'll come back, better than ever.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

What now for the comic industry?

About a month ago, I was in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and of course, I stopped at a comic shop - Comic Kings, to be specific. While I was in Virginia, the national conversation started about the coronavirus in the US (this in itself was a few months too late), and a few weeks later, much of the country is under lockdown, with businesses, sports leagues and, well, seemingly the entire comic book industry mostly closed or on hiatus.

There are many considerations more important than the shipping schedule of comic books right now, of course, but hey, this is a comic book blog and I sometimes write comic books, seems pertinent to talk about it here. This has affected me personally beyond being just a fan - Free Comic Book Day has been delayed for the foreseeable future, which means the Tick FCBD 2020 Special I wrote won't be out in May. I have a few projects that I'm working on that are now up in the air and might be cancelled outright. I'm delaying my Planet Comics Kickstarter campaign and pushing it back to some later date. I was even helping out at a local comic shop on a temporary basis, organizing stock - with shops closed, that's finished.

Wednesday, April 1st, will be the first Wednesday without new comics for non-holiday reasons for the first time that I can remember after Diamond announced that it would no longer be receiving any new shipments from publishers. Comics showed up in stores the day after 9/11, if you remember - though this is a different circumstance.

Organizers are postponing and cancelling comic conventions all over the world. Emerald City Comic Con was the first major show to be pushed back (at least) in March, followed quickly by Wondercon in Anaheim. I am, of course, closely watching for any news on Comic-Con in July. This is a gathering where over 100,000 people show up in a relatively confined space for five days in a row. Unless something changes quickly, I have to believe that this show will be delayed until late 2020 (September or November, maybe?), if it won't be cancelled altogether.

All of these precautions are, of course, good ones. Going to a Free Comic Book Day signing or a comic convention would be a terrible idea during a pandemic, and all of the current social restrictions will be worthwhile if we stick with them. But I still have some disappointment that these yearly staples are in jeopardy while we all stay home.

What does this mean for the comic book industry, though? For one, it shows the vulnerability that exists by having a single point of distribution - Diamond Comics Distributors. That's not to say that things wouldn't (or shouldn't) be shut down right now if there were a hundred different distribution channels, but it does point out how much power Diamond has. If something were to happen to the company - a natural disaster or financial issues, let's say - to the point where it couldn't ship anything, the entire industry in North America would shut down in a day. That's a scary thought.

This also shines a spotlight on digital comics. Comic fans have always resisted changes in format, and moving from a physical product to a digital one is one of the biggest changes you could have. But now, with no physical distribution for the near future, digital comics are pretty much the only way anyone can read new stories. So far, it appears the reaction has been mixed, as some companies are sticking with print-first, while others are releasing a few titles digitally this Wednesday.

As someone who spends way too much of his income on comic books, I've always been mostly ambivalent about digital copies, especially when they're stored elsewhere and you can't copy them to a hard drive. And going digital completely eliminates variant covers - which is kind of a relief, but it's hard to deny that variants are a big part of some publisher's business models.

This also means that comic shops are left in a very precarious place. A hypothetical shift to digital means that a lot of these stores would be left in the lurch and will go out of business - I can't see how that wouldn't happen. Even if graphic novels and collections would stay in print, comic stores could never compete with Amazon. There wouldn't be anything for them to sell, and that, I think, would have catastrophic impacts on the industry.

In the meantime, I'm actually kind of relieved to get a chance to catch up on some of my unread books. I know that I'll never be completely caught up - this is the curse of a comic collector - but not having a pull list that I have to keep up with, when my income is, well, down, is a small silver lining. I cleared out my folder on March 18th and placed an online order for books on the 25th, so I've got plenty to tide me over for now, and I guess we'll see if I can make a dent in my unread pile in the next few weeks. Still, it is very weird to not have any new comic books to look forward to this coming Wednesday, and if this turns out to be a long-term issue, who knows what lasting repercussions it'll have?

For now, stay safe, blog readers, and try to stay inside. The next few weeks and months are sure to be very interesting. Here's hoping that the comic industry can make it to the other side, even if it comes out looking different than before.

Oh, and Comic Kings had this great Thing/Hulk artwork hanging up inside the store. Check it out!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Every Funko Pop! Thing bobblehead

How's everyone doing? Staying safe, I hope? Here's to staying in and catching up on the mountain of comics that I'm sure everyone has waiting for them. In the meantime, let's take a look at some toys I have.

I've talked about my thoughts on Funko Pops before, but it bears a brief recap: I don't know what someone would do if THESE are what he or she decided to collect. There are literally thousands of these things, and yet I know there are some out there who try and get every single one. What kind of warehouses do these people own?

For my own part, I like to think of myself as someone who is kind of ambivalent about Funko in general. I'm not particularly taken with the molds and the whole thing has a Beanie Baby flavor to it.


And yet. With the license to almost every property ever, it's hard to avoid buying at least a few of them, right? I never thought I'd have many, but then they made Fantastic Four Pops. And Futurama Pops. And Space Ghost Pops. And Firefly Pops. And Tick Pops. And Pittsburgh Steelers Pops! Last year, they made two Weird Al Pops. It seems that they've got my number, except that they've also got almost everyone else's number, too! It really is something.

Because of Marvel's self-imposed clamping down on all things Fantastic Four, Marvel's First Family went underrepresented at Funko for several years. But now that the embargo has been lifted, they're catching up. A few months ago, the first FF Pops since 2011 showed up, and there have been quite a few. I've gotten some of them, but naturally, the first priority for me was to get the new Thing Pops. Since Target released its 10-inch Thing exclusive a few weeks ago, I've now got all of them that have been released, and I thought I'd take some pictures of them to show here on this very important blog. Let's take a look!

This is the first Thing Pop made, part of the first wave of Pops based on Marvel characters. The Thing is number nine in the set! I bought this at a comic shop when it first came out, naturally, and I'm glad I did. It soon went out of production and is hard to find (and is kind of expensive). I've got this one in one of the protective cases that Funko makes (which, I know, is another way they get you), but for years, it was just in a box with some other Thing toys. It's got a little scratch on the box, but, honestly, whatever.

Here's a look from the side.

Next is a black and white exclusive from Gemini Collectibles. I got this online and, for whatever reason, it seems like this one is the easiest to find of all the original Thing figures.

And here it is from the side. This one has the same number as the regular figure. Funko took a different tactic in later years and gave individual numbers to all different variations.

This is the metallic San Diego Comic-Con exclusive from 2011. It is, unbelievably, one of the most valuable items I own. I picked this up at a small convention in Pittsburgh sometime around 2014 or '15. It was listed at, I think, $30, and I tried to talk the seller down to $20, and at the end of the show, I succeeded. Now this thing, limited to 480 pieces, is listed at around $1000. That's ridiculous, and if I had any sense in my head, I'd sell it now because there's no way it'll retain that value. But I can't get rid of a Thing figure. You're all welcome to think of me as an idiot, because it's probably true.

There is, supposedly, a version of this figure out there with black eyes instead of blue. I've even heard that all of them got shipped to one Hot Topic store in Chicago (but who knows if that's true). I'm not sure if the black eyes were a mistake or if it was meant to be a different figure altogether. I've never seen a picture of one, so I don't even know for sure if they actually exist. But I'm not really concerned about that. Is my collection incomplete without one? I don't know - maybe, but I'm okay with not having it.

Until this year, the only Fantastic Four Pops out there were the previous Thing figures and Dr. Doom, which had a regular and metallic version (there was a Silver Surfer Pop made as well, if you count that). In January, though, Funko got the green light to start releasing FF figures again, and they went all out in doing so. There have been three new Thing figures so far, and I expect them to release more versions in the future.

The first one is the regular version. In the nine years between figures, the Thing looks a little more detailed with a longer face. This one is numbered 560, and I think that number represents all of the figures released in the Marvel line.

Here's the side view.

Barnes and Noble landed one exclusive, and went with the Thing in a trench coat, an old FF staple. This one was easy to find - I walked into a store once I knew they were on sale and picked one off the shelf.

Here's the view from the side.

This last one is the most recent, just released in February. It's a super-sized, 10-inch figure exclusive to Target. Your friend (and mine) Larry helped me out by picking one up on the day they landed in our local stores, and let me tell you...this thing is massive. Why is it so big? Where am I going to put it? It's huge. This one cost $30, as opposed to the usual $10-$15.

And here it is from the side. It has an ever-so-slightly different pose from the regular figure, and is numbered 570.

Some of the other FF members got exclusive figures made, from the Collector Corps subscription box, to GameStop, to Hot Topic...Dr. Doom just had one branded with the cancelled Emerald City Comic Con logo. Fantastic Four merchandise is quickly making its way back to stores. These are just a few Things among many.