Saturday, January 31, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The Uncanny X-Men #215 (Comic-a-Day #31)

The Uncanny X-Men #215, MAR 87 (w) Chris Claremont (a) Alan Davis

There we go again, judging a book by its cover. These three goobers look like they're asking for trouble to take on Storm (even without her powers) and the cover artist doesn't help much, either. That being said, the rest of the issue happening before we get to this scene perhaps made things a little more palpable.

We open with some nice paneling of a landing plane, quickly escalating matters into a crashing plane. Madelyn Pryor is the only one to make it out alive, the pursued and shot by the Marauders, then making it out alive again. Ridiculous, sometimes, how hardy these characters are. Not so much is Madelyn's inner monologue: some real poignant stuff here.

Cut to the X-mansion where Storm isn't trusting anyone and she splits up the group to keep the wounded safer than they would be at the mansion. She and Wolverine (though she doesn't trust him, either) head on a job to upstate New York. There they find Jean Grey's older sister's house in smoldering flames, but they also fine...Jean Grey?!

Wolvie flips out and socks Storm. She wakes up chained in a dungeon, like something out of a horror movie. Her captors are "crime fighters" who do their duty by chasing their victims across wooded areas for punishment. Not much like their cover-counterparts, these guys are surprisingly likable. Ex-WWII mutant vets, we no longer needed them after the war,so this is how they deal with it.

I know I've complained about the obsessive use of the word "caper" here and in The New Mutants, but I can't make heads or tails of Claremont. The Marauders continually use the word "skirts" to refer to women, but Super Sabre at least gets original using words like "dollface," "sweets," and "honey."

Friday, January 30, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The Uncanny X-Men #214 (Comic-a-Day #30)

The Uncanny X-Men #214, FEB 87 (w) Chris Claremont (a) Barry Windsor-Smith

Dazzler is tired of hiding, and she's going to cut loose, even if that means letting others onto her status as a mutant. It's a neat feeling seeing Windsor-Smith's depiction of Dazzler's light shows with Claremont's description of being a musician. I've been on both sides of the stage, and it's magic every time. Much like Claremont telling it like it is.

The issue basically revolves around the entity of Malice who has hijacked Dazzler and then runs through the rest of the X-Men before she takes off to some other hapless soul.

Not a bad offering, but not great. Art really moved this one along.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The Uncanny X-Men #213 (Comic-a-Day #29)

The Uncanny X-Men #213, JAN 87 (w) Chris Claremont (a) Alan Davis

Even with the cover touting Sabretooth and Wolverine throwing down, this is Psylocke's issue. Davis makes some interesting choices here, and they stand out enough for the reader to focus on almost wholeheartedly. After that first splash page of Psylocke's visage amid sparks and splotches, we're treated to a cross between moths and Mardi Gras masks. Weird, but works.

We're treated to another brief recap of the state of affairs at the X-mansion: Morlocks filling up the infirmary, but Nightcrawler, Colossus and Kitty Pryde as well--injured and near-powerless. Psylocke fills us in on these details: Nightcrawler so deep in a coma she can't get a read, Colossus alert yet paralyzed and Kitty discorporeal and fading.

She's not yet trusted and warming the bench when trying to ascertain the whereabouts of the New Mutants, she's blasted by an uncanny psionic blast...from a hidden enemy! Sabretooth is back, and his man-pants attitude is misogynistic to a fault. He is a bad guy, to be sure.

Wolverine goes all Stabby Staberson on Sabretooth, and Psylocke gets an idea.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The New Mutants #46 (Comic-a-Day #28)

The New Mutants #46 DEC 85 (w) Chris Claremont (a) Jackson Guice

I enjoyed what they did with the Mutant Massacre map, but they're should've been less arrows and more direct connections. This doesn't feel like a crossover, but more like a mega-event, throwing issues in just to shill books. It's barely worth writing about.

  • The Morlocks have been brought back to the X-Mansion, and they're having a tough time dealing with an amazing loss of life.
  • Magik transports herself to Muir Isle to get Dr. McTaggert out of the shower. Magik chooses an awful-looking outfit for Doc Nekkid.
  • Sunspot and Rhane are dealing with the stress of death, and we learn how much of an ass Sunspot can be.
  • Magik zips she and Karma to her apartment, looking for Karma's family. There's a bomb tripped when they turn on the lights.
  • The rest of the New Mutants head to the Morlock tunnels where they're confronted by Warlock's father, Magus!
Really disappointed with this issue (the art doesn't help, either) because it feels extremely out of place with the rest of the event. It's disjointed and feels like an X-men knockoff team, but without the fun. There's no memorable scenes (save one where Mirage sees death hanging over the mansion) or neat play with paneling.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: X-Factor #10 (Comic-a-Day # 27)

X-Factor #10, NOV 86 (w) Louise Simonson (a) Walter Simonson

A two-page spread is really showing off the skills of the Marauders sticking it to the Morlocks. This is to set readers up really, but is more concise (and pretty) in a couple of pages than in the last few issues. Angel and Jean Grey hightail it out with Rusty, all the while mutants confused about who X-Factor is and what they're all about. But they're dressed as bad guys! But they're funded by Warren Worthington III!

Cyclops, Iceman and Beast try to even the odds on the side of the Morlocks, but the Marauders have been at this assassination thing too long, and they're much more willing to kill. Artie, Leech and Caliban are being hunted by Sabretooth and X-Factor saves the day on that account.

Angel and Jean Grey make their way back to the sewers to help out their teammates (but only after they've had a moment) but angel gets hit up by the Marauders and pinned to the wall by Harpoon's...harpoons. If I'd not seen Apocalypse arrive and take Plague with him as his First Horseman, I may not have picked up on this eerie foreshadowing...

Monday, January 26, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: X-Factor #9 (Comic-a-Day #26)

X-Factor #9, OCT 86 (w) Louise Simonson (a) Terry Shoemaker

Okay, so the Mutant Massacre issue flowchart doesn't help all that much, or I was too into Uncanny to give it much of a thought, but it's not HORRIBLE skipping around. This issue bleeds well into the last two reviews of Uncanny 211 and 212. Feels like more of a flashback or even an "and over in X-Factor!" Kudos for not charging $3.50 for a mega issue.

Freedom Force is after some guy named Rusty and with a name like that it's no wonder he can control fire. Turns out this mutant hunting government agency is actually on the up-and-up, albeit a little rough around the edges. Normal people are stepping in because Rusty and his lady friend look like them, and they're not having it. Then along comes X-Factor and they step in because the normals are going to start rioting.

This seems to be the first meeting between young mutants Artie Maddicks and Leech. It's nice to see some kids meet amidst all this carnage and "seriousness." Friendship is pretty important these days.

The X-Factor arrives in the Morlock tunnels to help their friend Rusty, in their original X-Men costumes. There's a silly juxtaposition here where X-Factor are good guys posing as bad guys and Freedom Force being bad guys posing as good guys. What a conundrum.

And hey, while we're on it (and I know I'm not reading ALL the titles coming out of Marvel at this point, but...when did Jean Grey come back?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The Uncanny X-Men #212 (Comic-a-Day #25)

The Uncanny X-Men #212, DEC 86 (w) Chris Claremont (a) Rick Leonardi

The Marauders have maraudered the Morlocks and Wolverine is on the prowl.

Slumming through the carnage and tunnels a mile beneath New York City, he's got an itch to scratch. With such a deep-seated hatred for these mutant killers, he's going to need his adamantium claws to get at it. Storm's ordered him to bring back one of these for questioning, and gives our guy the go-ahead take care of all else any which way he chooses.

The telepath Psylocke is in contact with Wolverine, and it's unfortunate that no one fully trusts her as an X-Man yet, because her powers make for some really swank paneling. She shows up trippy and ghost-like, and startles the dickens our of our hero. That said guest artist Leonardi is a good fit for the issue--things look good, and not missing a beat from JRJr's work. Taking lots of cool chances with paneling here.

The few surviving Morlocks are healing up at Xavier's School, but it's not looking good. They're not faring well. The Marauders have been thorough and unrelenting. Colossus isn't doing well, either, but you can't tell through the armor. Someone should have known something was up: he still hasn't changed out of his armored form.

Upside? We've not seen much from him since he's joined the ranks of the X-Men, but Magneto pulls out all the stops to heal his student with magnetism. Cool stuff.

Downside? In addition to Kitty Pryde unable to unphase, now it looks as if Colossus is paralyzed. Cool stuff.

Storm is having a tough time dealing with the loss of life and her position as leader of the X-Men and the Morlocks. Calisto (last leader of the Morlocks) is having a tough time with Storm being a sissy. Nice watching them duke it out. \

Then there's the knuckle-down drag-out fight between Wolverine and Sabretooth. 'Nuff said.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The Uncanny X-Men #211 (Comic-a-Day #24)

<a href="">X-Men: Mutant Massacre</a><img src="" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />

The Uncanny X-Men #211, NOV 86 (w) Chris Claremont (a) John Romita, Jr and Bret Blevins

I am a jaded man. While going through my comics bounty, I noticed a few of the X-titles with the same cover border. I didn't think much of it, only because I'm used to the day and age of variant covers. Turns out these all belong to the same crossover event.

Oh, another crossover? Jaded, to be sure.

The Marauders have made their way through the Morlock tunnels. They're chewing bubble gum and kicking butt, and they're all out of chewing gum. Mutants killing their own, there's a half-dozen of these mooks hunting their prey pretty handily. A burrowing behemoth manages to make his way to Xavier's school, just before passing out. X-Men to the rescue.

Wolverine and Nightcrawler are still not at the top of their game, and it shows, getting it handed to them. There are some pretty neat scenes here including a bit of a gritty one where Kitty Pryde phases just before being blasted by a shotgun. In a strange twist of fate, Kitty phases into Rogue after her powers with disastrous results.

Jaded I may be, but I'm looking forward to where this Mutant Massacre is headed.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The Uncanny X-Men #210 (Comic-a-Day #23)

The Uncanny X-Men #210, OCT 86 (w) Chris Claremont (a) John Romita, Jr. and Dan Green
"The Morning After" is really just that: another of those issues resetting the status quo by tying up loose ends and giving us little nudges as to the future of the book. Not a whole lot happens in this issue, but there're a few neat scenes that deserve a look.

There are two mutants being pursued by a group calling themselves The Marauders. They've executed some guy named Richard (who has ties to the Hellfire Club) before we find out what his powers are. He's got a gun though, and it's mentioned three times in as many pages, so it may be that or that I'm just getting into this a little too late. They're also connected to the Morlocks, and this female mutant has the need ability to make herself flat. Too bad for her, she'll be "flatlined" before the issue's over. Ba-dump.

There's a bit of Dazzler here, and someone in the mirror making threats. The X-Factor is in their infancy, but they keep turning up. Magneto's asked to join the Hellfire Club.

Folks are giving Rogue a hard time in Bloomingdale's, for being a mutant, not for putting on too much rogue. There's a witch hunt out for Nightcrawler as well., but his friends have found him and the crisis is averted. All thanks to the mutants sticking up for themselves.

Things are okay here, just not as stunning as the last few issues. The highlights however, are twofold, first page and last interestingly enough: first page splash of the guy Richard being shot with an energy spear is the first time I can see something recognizable out of JRJr. Last page last panel shows the hunted female mutant getting the screws to her. Beautiful how BOOM is spelled out coming down the subway tunnel. Boom, indeed.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The Uncanny X-Men #209 (Comic-a-Day #22)

The Uncanny X-Men #209, SEP 86 (w) Chris Claremont (a) John Romita Jr. and P. Craig Russell

Now THIS is what I'm talking about: Action, action, action.

Nimrod is on the offensive and everyone is in his way. The Hellfire Club are caught off guard, torn between trashing the X-Men and saving their own skin. At least Storm and the rest of her crew know what they're getting into. Can't we all just get along?

Another great paneling intro with Rogue, still retaining Colossus's metal skin. CH-BAM is the only onomatopoeia worth it's salt. Sebastian Shaw is still making to thump his enemies, and Rogue's not putting up with it. Salty, indeed.

There's some great teamwork at play here, from both sides of the mutant line. There's little to no "psi-attacks" going on during this little fracas, and that it elevates the plausibility of the fight much healthier than normal.

Best part of the book, though, was Rachel's journey into (?) the Body Shoppe as Spiral danced her way to getting Rachel to side with her. Is that part of what she does?

Anyhow, the colors and trippy atmosphere are something you could get lost in. I'm unsure if Lady Deathstrike went through something like this back in issue #205, but boy-howdy is this some stunning storytelling.

Throwback Thursday: Junk in the Trunk #1

I'm supposed to be on my way to Renovo Elementary right about now to teach a class on narrative fiction.
My son Harrison is in the middle of a double infection, hives, diaper rash and teething, so we're going to forgo it today and double that up next week on both Thursday and Friday.

Upon doing some research as to how I was going to present this I at odds with my own narrative story: non-fiction, of course, but with bits and pieces (even whole chunks) of information that may or not even become relevant in the grand scheme of things.

Not sure how old this contraption is. It's like a suitcase, but there are pockets for things, not for dirty socks or personals, but papers. It's very heavy as well.

I do know, however, it was bequeathed to me from my uncle Kevin Dremel, he of my new comic-a-day blog benefactor and Cartoon fame. That said, there's had been a bunch of old songwriting stuff in it which includes handwritten songs (most of which are original) copyright info and all sorts of neat posters and other business hullabaloo.

I've commandeered  this briefcase years ago to throw my own stuff in. It's a neat little box and originally thought of as an item for a character that has yet to be introduced.

Stay tuned next Wednesday for some idea of what's packed in here...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The Uncanny X-Men #208 (Comic-a-Day #21)

The Uncanny X-Men #208, AUG 86 (w) Chris Claremont (a) John Romita, Jr and Dan Green

The rest of the X-Men are visibly upset that Wolverine has taken it upon himself to take their teammate Rachel down. He makes a good case, they all do, but it all comes down to being heroes.

Selene isn't a very nice person, either. We see her come to the rescue of a mugging victim in disposing of her attacker, then she turns on the victim. There's some banter back at the Hellfire Club, and they're going to hunt down Phoenix for themselves. She's already wounded, it couldn't hurt, right?

We're re-introduced to Nimrod, an extremely high level Sentinel, in a few panels showing some really neat computer-type elements of Nimrod's mechanics. And as we learn more about Nimrod, specifically his burgeoning sentience.

In the next scene, we see Rachel coming to. There're a few great panels here as well, spotlighting her psionic abilities and how they manifest themselves.

Rachel hones in on Wolverine and puts a hurting on him. Nothing beats being thrown in front of a train by a telekinetic. Some other very neat power uses here, namely Rogue accidentally touching Colossus as he's partially underground.

Mmmm, and that closing scene with Nimrod laying the smack down. Gorgeous.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The Uncanny X-Men #207 (Comic-a-Day #20)

The Uncanny X-Men #207 JUL 86 (w) Chris Claremont (a) John Romita, Jr and Dan Green

Now this is a great little issue. JRJr's art is getting better as well, which makes things much more palatable.

Just when I thought I couldn't get Rachel's mewling little voice outta my head, we get a glimpse at exactly where in the future it is she's coming from, and it's dark. Just the way we like it.

Rachel's been having these bad dreams, mostly due to stealing her teammates' powers during their fight with The Beyonder. Of course, she's still trying to come to terms with her future self being a mutant hunter. Bitch.

Anyhow, she's been having nightmares starring our no-nonsense buddy Wolverine. He's chasing her around, and it's just what she deserves. The guilt is killing her, and it might as well take the form of the best there is at what he does.

There's some more backstory as when Rachel first came to our timeline where she had a run-in with the vampire mutant Selene. She's now the Black Queen of The Hellfire Club and Rachel feels that by evening the score she'll at least make up for some of her sins.

Rachel's finally confronted by Wolverine in the digs of the new Black Queen.

Does she really want to commit what adds up to murder?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The Uncanny X-Men #206 (Comic-a-Day #19)

The Uncanny X-Men #206, JUN 86 (w) Chris Claremont (a) John Romita, Jr and Dan Green

This issue opens with Storm rescuing a couple from a mugging---without her powers. She's still a formidable opponent, and makes easy work of these hooligans. Storm is herself then confronted by San Fran's finest, and makes a new friend in Lieutenant Bree Morrel, perhaps a friend when she needs it most.

Obviously still reeling from events with The Beyonder, the X-Men are hiding out at the residence/offices of one Jessica Drew (previously Spider-Woman) and her investigator partner. The neighborhood is supposedly haunted, so that's how the mutant menace can slouch around without being noticed much.

There's some weird scene here with the new Phoenix is balancing dirty dishes on her way to the kitchen when Rogue excitedly mentions they received a postcard from Cyclops, Madelyn Pryor and baby. Rachel drops the dishes and she freaks out quite a bit.

Kitty Pryde heads out on a date, only to find the craziness of Freedom Force back in full...force intent on apprehending the X-Men again. they've recruited a new Spider-Woman to join the ranks and fight surprisingly well as a team. Some bold moves by the X-Men turn disastrous, and it looks as though Freedom Force is going to win...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The Uncanny X-Men #205 (Comic-a-Day #18)

The Uncanny X-Men #205, MAY 86 (w) Chris Claremont (a) Barry Windsor-Smith

If Claremont is going to take the entire team for a spin with individual issues, they can have my money. Of course, you've got to have the right story and art. Who'm I kidding. Not too picky, am I?

Let not the cover deceive you, we're not going to see Wolverine go through any more testing. We are, however, introduced to the origin of Lady Deathstrike. She and her cyborg friends are out for blood, Wolverine's to be specific. Some very nice humanity on display in just the first few pages, makes me hopeful for the rest of the issue.

I was not disappointed.

Lady Deathstrike and her lackeys have been giving him the business for quite awhile it seems, but we'll get to that before long. Wolverine is being stalked through snowy streets of Manhattan. For some weird reason, Katie Power from Power Pack makes a cameo appearance, playing good cop to Wolverine's bad. He's bloody and broken, and healing on the run. Before long we find out that she's turned him into an animal again, and he's angry.

Such a powerful issue that strikes such a chord watching Wolverine dish out a clawed defense. Even in all his animalistic nature, he still manages to be one of the good guys.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The Uncanny X-Men #204 (Comic-a-Day #17)

The Uncanny X-Men #204, APR 86 (w) Chris Claremont (a) June Brigman

Sorry to skip an issue, but 203 isn't with the others. I was thinking about looking around for one, but since it was a Secret Wars II issue, I wasn't all that worried about it. It seems as if the X-Men were spirited away for some confrontation with The Beyonder, and Nightcrawler didn't make it.

The title of this issue is "Whatever Happened to Nightcrawler" and here we get a brief glimpse of that. Kurt's hanging out on rooftops a la Batman saddened by the fact that They Beyonder didn't take him with the rest of the X-Men. We see Nightcrawler at his worst here: mulling over his cowardice in not following his friends, and shaking off his fur like a dog. Seems like he's also been shacked up with some actress (who is also a magic-user) and our little blue friend gives her the ol' heave-ho.

After a time, Nightcrawler hears a familiar noise and follows it to find that it's a pawn of Arcade having just kidnapped someone. He follows that to Arcade's Murder World and proceeds to help some damsel in distress.

There's some action here of he and this lady being chased, but you don't get a sense of impending doom as scenes cut back and forth to Arcade and his musings. It could also be Nightcrawler discussing that Arcade often lets his victims go if they prove worth of his mettle.

There's a lot of Kurt's crises here, he wishing for the days when being an X-Man meant something, the fun they had, and where fearful sacrifices don't do much good.

Hopefully more on that soon.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The Uncanny X-Men #202 (Comic-a-Day #16)

The Uncanny X-Men #202, FEB 86 (w) Chris Claremont (a) John Romita, Jr.

A bit of another throwaway issue here. Marvel's in the middle of their Secret Wars II crossover, so we've got to get through that. There's a little movement in the overall storyline (a little Magneto, a bit more Rachel) but overall, this is for selling comics.

The new Phoenix is taking it upon herself to take out The Beyonder. He's a bad guy, and that's all we really find out about this guy. You could tell this wasn't Claremont's idea: there's zilch in the way of setup and background for the character.

Rachel finds The Beyonder on the island of Alcatraz and as she tries to kill him, The Beyonder bestows upon her the power to do the deed. He pulls no punches, he's serious. Of course, he shows her images from a future where the other X-Men have been exterminated (at her hand, no less) and pulls Omega series hunter-killer Sentinels to the present. Now she must decide whether to destroy him...or save her friends.

There's some pretty neat Sentinel moments here as they do their best to seek and destroy. Some neat points here where they don't have a bead on Rachel or her Phoenix guise in their systems. They also know Shadowcat, but only by the name she goes by in the future: Ariel.

All in all okay, but ready to get back to the story.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Epic Beards of Reveiw: The Uncanny X-Men #201 (Comic-a-Day #15)

The Uncanny X-Men #201 JAN 86 (w) Chris Claremont (a) Rick Leonardi and Wilche Portacio

This issue's title, Duel, hits us on all sorts of levels, and it starts with a baby. While all of the other mutants are googling over this newborn, Cyclops is shown looking quite displaced in the upper right-hand corner of the first splash page. He's having a hard time dealing with this, I suppose.

I get where he's coming from; honest, I do. They say the mother goes through a bunch I can't vouch for, but I've personally gone through an amalgamation of fears, tears and beers over the last year. Seems to me one's mortality is finally decided once that kid makes himself known.

Sure, Cyclops is worried about Professor X and the future of the school at the hands of someone like Magneto, but my if he didn't call his wife while he and the team were in Paris, while every other team member made sure to do so.

HIS WIFE WAS PREGNANT, people. Are you blind, Scott? Seeing red, perhaps?

Scott's not sure if he belongs on the team, and he's not only confronted about it by Storm, but by his wife as well. Looks like there's going to be a throw-down. The Danger Room takes center stage the rest of the issue Cyclops against a power-downed Storm. Who shall be the victor?

There's some other stuff that went on here, but Scott was so pensive the entire time, it was hard to focus on anything else.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The New Mutants #35 (Comic-a-Day #14)

The New Mutants #35, JAN 86 (w) Chris Claremont (a) Mary Wilshire and Bill Sienkiewicz

As per Charles Xavier's wishes in X-Men #200, Magneto is calling the shots now. This is really your typical "fish out of water" storyline, Magneto sitting the kids down to have a little chat about how things are going to be. The he proceeds to kick their butts in the Danger Room.

After having it handed to them, The New Mutants retire to dinner where they argue over Magneto and their need for training. Since they're mutants, they think it's perfectly acceptable to let Mirage walk home, in the dark, by herself. For the record, it should be more than okay, but a couple of frat guys don't think so.

During an attempted rape, Mirage is saved by Brightwind, the winged steed she brought back from Asgard. Making it home safe enough, Magneto takes matters into his own hands because he "swore I would care for them as my own flesh and blood." The New Mutants are pretty cranky he's doing the job that's supposed to be up to them.

Will there be any chance The New Mutants be "attracted" to their new teacher?


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: Uncanny X-Men 200 (Comic-a-Day #13)

Uncanny X-Men #200, DEC 85 (w) Chris Claremont (a) John Romita, Jr and Dan Green

Magneto on trial!

This issue comes in three parts: exposition from NPR broadcasts with Neal Conan (no joke!) as well as actual trial and some caper featuring the X-Men. This is their book, so I suppose we should give them time on the page.

The trial is a nice little writing technique that introduces the story telling us who and what Magneto is all about...and why he stands on trial. There's not much that we didn't already know if you know anything X-Men history, but it does revolve a bit around a confrontation with Mutant Alpha wherein Magneto gets zapped back to babyhood and forced to live his life again. A big crux of the defense trial hinges upon this.

And in a weird little scene, we see a brother and sister team (who look suspiciously like Jamie and Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones) who're going to somehow stick it to the X-Men.

In the meantime, the X-Men are zapped from the annual issue's jaunt to Asgard, luckily bringing them right to Paris. Professor X isn't doing so well, but he's not letting on about it. While the X-Men are getting their feet back under them, there are attacks of foreign soil, signed by the X-Men.

Could this be what the creepy brother and sister team have been up to?!

All in all, a well-paced issue with not many surprises, but satisfying interactions from all angles. Oh, Corsair and Lilandra show up at some point and make no effort to check in on Madelyn Pryor, probably because the imminent death of Professor X is more important than the imminent birth of her child. Go figure.

Special shout-out goes to Kitty Pryde who finds out that she needs glasses. Classic.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: X-Men Annual #9 (Comic-a-Day #12)

X-Men Annual #9, 1985 (w) Chris Claremont (a) Arthur Adams

Epic, friends. Truly epic.

It's got to be something in the way you throw these few mutants head-first into a sword and sorcery story, because I just craved each and every page. There's a nice head shot intro on the first page for starters, each and every member of the team here so that we can get an idea of who we're dealing with. Then there's a nice jump into the action as the X-Men find themselves awoken to Kitty Pryde's screams as she's makign some sort of psychic contact with Magik. Very easy gimmie, but it works on getting everyone together, and quick.

A shame Rachel isn't going to tell Cycolps that he's her dad, because subtle hints are cluing him in enough, I suppose. She shows up wearing a knock-off Jean Grey costume asking "Hey guys--what gives? You look like you've just seen a ghost!" Somebody give this kid a psychic slap now. Oh hey, I'll take on Phoenix as a name, too. Now that I think about it, that seems pretty creepy.

As the X-Men prepare for their assault on Asgard, there's a dream sequence where all of The New Mutants are very vocal about their love for Asgard. Though Loki never has a direct hand in how all this pans out, his influence by bringing them here has helped shape their opinions on their adventure. It might be hard getting them out.

I won't spoil the mechanics, but lots of wheeling and dealing at the hands of Loki, much like what we saw in the culmination of the X-Men/Alpha Flight crossover issues. Lots of mythology and growth (for our New Mutants, at least) and great storytelling.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The New Mutants Special Edition #1 (Comic-a-Day #11)

The New Mutants Special Edition #1, 85. (w) Chris Claremont (a) Arthur Adams, Terry Austin

Boy-howdy, think I'm going to have to reconfigure my days if I keep getting such monstrous issues like the last few. Forty-eight pages I could handle, even back-to-back, but sixty-four pages walloped me good tonight. Looks like I'm in for a treat again tomorrow.

That being said, Claremont took it easy on me. No major teams mash-ups (quite the opposite) and Adams' art was so spectacular, I could probably read this again. No joking.

Speaking of jokes, the ol' trickster himself is back in this issue. Loki seems to be calling the shots, and I've now figured out why it is that Ann Nocenti has us reading things in order. I'll tell you, I'm so very impressed with this issue that I won't mind reading another annual.

Being the snarky guy that Loki seems to be, he's still a bit riled up with the X-Men after the events of the team-up with Alpha Flight. Not sure how he's honed in on Ororo, she with absent powers, but he wants to move in on that. He figures he can get her to come to him by offering her powers back. As an aside, I'm digging the use of the term "dusky color" for those mutants who aren't Caucasian. Really fills out the believability of the gods.

Anyhow, Loki has Enchantress do his bidding by bringing Ororo to his side, but as she's busy helping train The New Mutants, seems as if the kids are along for the ride as well. As they're confronted, Magik teleports them from Asgard...only to mess things up, again. Turns out her powers aren't given their full abilities in the Enchantress's castle and the rest of her teammates are scattered to the wind. Seems not necessarily time and space as they're wont to do, but all about Asgard and the surrounding provinces.

This is where things get good. There aren't any conflicting thought bubbles or unnecessary talking going on, but just kids scared away from their homes and friends. It's refreshing to see them doing things themselves. We (me, jumping in mid-run) really learn about these characters, powers, etc. Makes for such good storytelling. It was easy to focus on individual concerns once they were let to explore

Enchantress still has her hooks in Magik and she somehow takes Magik's dark side from her and sends her on an errand to collect the rest of her friends. Each of the kids are off on their own, fighting their way out of these worlds with surprising deftness and solid results.

I was still a bit hesitant on the actual cross-over event between these titles, but things wrapped up without Ororo being rescued and the mutants in turmoil over their new lives in Asgard. Some really good stuff going on here.

Adams' art is superb. Not one panel had anything that wasn't necessary and panels burst with life and vibrancy. It could very well have been the feel of Asgard's realms, but I got a feel Adams was destined for some sword and sorcery work. Very much appreciated. Panels were varied throughout (and breaking bounds of lines) that made for a fascinating read.

Best of the bunch so far, our of eleven days.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: X-Men and Alpha Flight #2 (Comic-a-Day #10)

X-Men and Alpha Flight #2, JAN 86, (w) Chris Claremont (a) Paul Smith and Bob Wiacek

Talisman opens up this issue following Kitty Pryde in search of Rachel. She's a budding archaeology student and her father Shaman feels she may be able to figure out some of the reasons as to why things are going down. As a nice aside, some of her first words are a cranky repartee as to the practicality of her outfit. She finds a sketchpad which was referenced last issue by a guy who has been blessed with powers and now goes by the moniker of Master Builder. The sketches at the beginning of the book are beautiful, but towards the back, they're nothing but childish scrawlings.

The thought plickens.

They find Rachel quickly enough, and this time she's not swinging. They find her in a forgotten city and a runestone that hails some ancient god. A bit here is revealed about Talisman being angry at her father, reflecting on the relation forming between Rachel and Cyclops. Though tectonically stable, the cavern begins to magic.

Talisman accidentally touches this Firefountain and it disappears, as if her magic is interrupting the magic of, well, the magic. They head back to the rest of the group where Kitty Pryde spies Madelyne Pryor bathing Wolverine in her magical white light. Kitty confides this in Wolverine where he's been "healed" of his berserker rage. He's forgotten about hunting down Snowbird, however, somehow duped by the two other humans who had been leading him to find her.

Turns out those of magical abilities are going to be left to die. There's a big existential moment where they realize to heal the world of hunger, poverty and the like, lies in the deaths of those who wield magic. In the meantime, there's some obligatory fighting that takes place here among those ideals which they'll uphold.

The Master Builder is confronted with his sketchbook and we find that though he can create wonderful things, he no longer has the creativity to do so. THEN the mutants realize that even though humans gain power, mutants will STILL be higher on the evolutionary ladder. Quite the conundrum.

Loki comes down off his throne, completely upset that these folks will give up free will just to gain some superpowers. As everyone is looking a gift horse in the mouth, Loki takes away everyone's suped-up powers and THEN lets them try to beat him up.

The good guys win. That's how it is. Loki takes the city in the snow away and our heroes need to leave. Before they do, however, Cyclops needs to go find Rachel in the ruins. She's choosing not to tell Cyclops that this version of him was once married to Jean Grey...and she's the culmination of the two of them.

Old wounds need to be healed, and Rachel's chooses to let hers open and go gangrene.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: X-Men and Alpha Flight #1 (Comic-a-Day #9)

X-Men and Alpha Flight #1, DEC 85, (w) Chris Claremont (a) Paul Smith and Bob Wiacek

Again, I can't be sure how this is all going to tie in to this "How to read X-titles this summer" hooplah, but I'm at least willing to give it a go. There are some brief mentions to other stories going on around the same time, but for the most part, I think they just want you to buy more comics. Interestingly enough, I believe I owned this once upon a time when they reissued it in the 90s.

Though I've never been a Marvel zombie (other than playing X-Men: First Class for the Playstation) I dig the writing. My particular beef with all of this is that it's hard enough trying to figure out an entire team's worth of members, let alone another team as well. Too much stuff going on it makes one's brain hurt. Throw in all sorts of other plot points and I'm just about lost.

A crib sheet would help, or maybe a less ambitious writing resolution.

Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor are in a plane above the Arctic Circle with a bunch of environmental researchers. There's not much said about what they're doing, but there's a lot of anti-mutant sentiment among the passengers. There's a nice nod here to Ursula K. LeGuin's novel The Lathe of Heaven which sounds as if this comic may have some correlation to. Claremont is ambitious as ever, and we're seeing the fruits of this.

The atmospherics are in a tizzy and Cyclops mentions in an off-handed manner that Shaman of Alpha Flight had once forced their plane down to Calgary where they got into a tussle. Cue ominous foreshadowing music. There's a bright light and...end scene.

Cut to the X-Mansion where newly initiated team leader Nightcrawler is joined by Colossus, Rogue, Wolverine and that thorn in everyone's side Rachel. As her telepathic powers manifest in the Danger Room, she projects a time from her future where Sentinels are attacking...because she's led them there. She has overridden the machine and Professor X has to step in and get things under control. Before doing so, however, Rachel glimpses a scene of her father Cyclops in a blaze of fire. Rachel takes matters into her own hands and hunts down Alpha Flight because these are the words Cyclops mentioned on the plane.

Kids these days.

Alpha Flight protects Canada, eh, so after some knock-down, drag-out fighting with the X-Men, they all travel to where the plane should have landed. There, they find a marvelous city where none should be. In this city they find Cyclops, Madelyne Pryor and the expedition survivors who are either "healed" of their mutant powers (read honed) or given fantastic powers if they previously had none.

It's crazy, mixed-up, but most embrace this strange turn of events wholeheartedly. I mean, why wouldn't Puck want to be cured of his dwarfism? And Rogue able to kiss Northstar, even if he is gay. Again with the continuity, has this even happened yet?

Some crazy stuff goes down when Shaman's medicine bag gets emptied of crazy monsters, but not before we see Professor X and his obvious doubt and find that Scott and Madelyn are with child. Madelyn knows it's a boy (she's psychic, too?!) and Rachel freaks out a bit more.

So yah, there's a lot going on here. A long, satisfying read in 48 pages. Tons of characters and French Canadian accents to get around, but we do what we can.

Oh, and did I mention Loki may be involved in these shenanigans?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: Uncanny X-Men #199 (Comic-a-Day #8)

Uncanny X-Men #199 NOV 85 (w) Chris Claremont (a) John Romita, Jr. and Dan Green

Ann Nocenti is a liar.

I did not need to read The New Mutants #34 (they had an off-hand remark) and I'm going to safely assume that absolutely none of these X-titles have anything to do with one another. We'll see, however.

Other than that, I kind of liked this issue. I've unfortunately got little background information to go on as to why things are they way they are, but comics are like that sometimes. Cyclops is taking out his anger and aggression on the Danger Room, Wolverine is smoking a cigarette and this new chickie Rachel has hopped into the picture. Looks like there's plenty to be scared about, Professor X dying and whatever's going on with Rachel. "You're scared, I can see it in your thoughts." 

We get a nice picture of who Rachel is as she visits the cemetery and the grave of her dead mother, Jean Grey. We see her at her grandparents house then, babbling about timelines and witnessing telepathic ghost confrontations. No wonder she's scared, too. Looks like she's going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Meanwhile, Mystique (looking quite flattering in her white and black dress) visits Val Cooper to bring The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants under the employ of the United States government as a sanctioned team (and save their collective mutant bacon.) Give a hearty welcome to The Freedom Force. Their first order of business is to take out Magneto.

Cut to Magneto and Kitty Pryde at the National Holocaust Museum for remembrance to those who have fallen and those who have survived. Nice nods here to the plight of mutantkind, especially once Mystique and the rest of her team shows up. Magneto is fessing up to his own atrocities and hands himself in.

Where will they go next?!

Magic Monkey

Magic Monkey
visited me in my dreams
last night.

He dances in
on clouds of stardust
and silly banana peels.

A little oooh oooh
a little aaah aaah
a little
slinging his shit around
because that's just
what monkeys

Dress 'em up
in fancy top hats
and tails,
but he's still a monkey.

He doesn't know any better.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The New Mutants #34 (Comic-a-Day #7)

The New Mutants #34, DEC 85, (w) Chris Claremont (a) Steve Leialoha

Magik quite deftly handles the ticking time bomb that is Warlock. By placing herself under the will of the techno-organic hero, knowing full well he would not take her life. "Whew." she says.

Karma's got it in her head (and in everyone else's) that by psychically lobotomizing The New Mutants and Storm she'll stall any chance of them defying her once and for all. Magik magiks she and Warlock back a few years to Storm's first meeting with Professor X and we finally get a glimpse as to what the heck is really going on here. You didn't think a good guy could be so bad, could you?

There's a satisfying conclusion here, definitely doable and within the realms of comic book possibility.

Could, however, Leialoha possibly get on top of his penciling game? Things are moving in a positive manner, but if he'd just spend as much time as he had on pages 1 and 9 and 10?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The New Mutants #33 (Comic-a-Day #6)

The New Mutants #33, NOV 85, (w) Chris Claremont (a) Steve Leialoha

How, exactly, is Karma still in charge of these New Mutants? They've got connections to the rest of the X-Men, and though Karma was once one of their own, if she's causing this much trouble, wouldn't you think they'd take her out?

As luck (or storyline) would have it, there are three or four of their numbers left to fend off psychic attacks. I'm enjoying seeing Karma's use of her powers: as a couple dances cheek to cheek, Karma inserts one of the New Mutants between them and riles things up. She likes who she is.

Mirage and Magik make their attack at Karma's bar, unable to rescue all their friends. Allegiances change like the wind, fitting because Storm is in the picture helping out. Back and forth between Limbo again, Magik brings Warlock with her--only Warlock doesn't like what he finds.

The Warlock parts are the best par of these few issues, art included. Warlock's speech is finely tuned to an aware machine of sorts; however, I'm still unable to pin down what he is exactly. Warlock turning into a vehicle is all fine and good, but the way the word forms "TRAITOR" as his face? Classic.

Why would he have any reason to say this, hovering in Limbo? Guess you'll have to stay tuned.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The New Mutants #32 (Comic-a-Day #5)

The New Mutants #32 OCT 85 (w) Chris Claremont (a) Steve Leialoha

In a continuation of last issue, we've got a little flashback on our band of mutant teens as to how their friend (now enemy) Karma was presumed dead, but was actually missing. Professor X knew, but he doesn't count. Baldy always seems to hide things like this from his students. For their own good, my ass.

Leialoha's art really takes away from the issue here. The entire book feels rushed and there are very few panels that are given any kind of love. I count about a half-dozen panels, pages two and three that show the chaos of a building under destruction and a team in peril. I'm guessing that an eight member team is just a little much to handle.

The kids go on a "caper," a term bandied about as if they're gumshoes in the thirties. Partner comes up a lot, too. I'm surprised, especially after reading two great issues by Claremont.

The story revolves around their continued search for Karma, following her to the Pacific Island nation of Madripoor. There is a nice nod to Star Wars here, referring the place to Earth's version of Mos Eisley. Later on as we get to see Warlock's powers manifest as he takes on his teammate's forms, one of which is a debonair Muppet.

The New Mutants fall into yet another opportunity for Karma to use her telepathic powers, giving them over to fight each other, again. Magik has used her powers to retreat she and Mirage into Limbo to escape Karma's headgames. Against her wishes, Magik teleports 5000 miles to Cairo, but ends up heading back in time--Magik's powers don't work well over long distances. Here, however, they meet Storm's ancestor in the past, helping them teleport again, only to go too far into the future. They meet up with older New Mutants and they're hardened criminals, apparently from the effects of Karma's influence.

This is a three-issue search party. Let's hope they find her soon.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The New Mutants #31 (Comic-a-Day #4)

The New Mutants #31, SEPT 85, (w) Chris Claremont (a) Bill Sienkiewicz

As per last evening's suggestions via Ann Nocenti's Bullpen Bulletin, I'm going to go ahead and read crossovers in order, but since the New Mutants installment doesn't begin until issue 34, I figured I'd go back and read what I've got to get me to that point. That being said, I'm saddened that I don't have more issues featuring the art of Sienkiewicz. This is his last issue (sure, I peeked, but even the covers are so startlingly different that I knew something had to be off) but maybe that one to excite me wasn't enough to miss it entirely.

Sienkiewicz--that's a hard one to type--is just phenomenal. I keep looking over at the cover and up above as I type these words and I can't help but get the chills. Characters whom I've never read and therefore no reason to be rooting for are being used as puppets. It's some creepy stuff.

Robert de Costa and Amara Aquilla are in some sort of coliseum fighting for their lives against a robot being controlled by an unwilling Kitty Pryde. In the background, Dazzler is performing for a bloodthirsty crowd, and they're lapping it up.

I've always gotten the X-Men and mutants, sure, but no one has ever made it work for me like Claremont. Making mutants fight each other to the death helps me understand homo sapiens' distaste for mutants and their ilk in a frightening way, sickening as to how someone would enjoy such spectacle. But the way he describes Dazzler's light show and the beauty of it, the deep-seated desire it wonder we humans would be jealous of such power.

Great paneling and artwork by Seinkiewicz: he shows beauty on par sunsets and sunrises, but the dark is ghastly, gritty stuff. Beautiful final image of the team and others whom we haven't seen yet, and a great send-off for Seinkiewicz. Needs to be seen to understand. Make mine Marvel?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: The Uncanny X-Men #198 (Comic-a-Day #3)

The Uncanny X-Men #198, OCT 85, (w) Chris Claremont (a) Barry Windsor-Smith

Jason Ritz and Freddie Wadsworth have urged to start my reading on this task with Marvel, but I was reluctant to start with something as deep as Claremont's X-Men out of sheer cowardice due to my lack of knowledge of the characters, continuity, etc etc etc. I believe this issue has set me straight.

Turns out that Storm is going through a crisis of conscience of her own as well. This is by no means a stand-alone issue (there's too many head games for that) but it's a nice little story tied up in a nice little package. She's been hit by a bullet and that's cracked her skull, and she's lost her powers. Ororo spends the first half of the issue facing visions of her teammates and her own fears.

She meets a young pregnant woman in the desert and proceeds to take her village so she can get the help she needs in delivering her baby. What follows is a quiet tale about loss for the whole and what individuals can do to stem that tide.

Story, art and paneling were top notch. Looking forward to reading more.

To ease my fears, I was happy to find a scorecard y editor Ann Nocenti in the Bullpen Bulletin for the summer's (not Summers, get it?) X-titles that were all written by Claremont, giving me a proper order in which to read them. Turns out my booty includes them.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Epic Beards of Review: Fantastic Four #287 (Comic-a-Day #2)

Fantastic Four #287, Feb86. Marvel Comics. (w&a) John Byrne

This is Peggy McArthur, average American house-wife. In ten seconds she will make a decision--
     --if it's the wrong one it will mean the end of the Fantastic Four!

Having barely read any Fantastic Four in my life, I can't imagine how having head-of-household Mr. Fantastic could make this "The world's greatest comic magazine!" Regardless of his stiff demeanor (even for someone as pliable as he) this issue's scribe brings us up to speed. The FF are living in the Avengers mansion while their pad is being rebuilt. On the cusp of events happening in the Secret Wars II, Doctor Doom has reared his ugly head (hey, there's a reason he wears the mask) only to be vaporized again. She-Hulk has taken the place of Thing on the team and Johnny Storm is dating Thing's ex. Clobberin' Time, indeed.

After the Wasp sits through Reed's tedious explanation of his new invention, a device to monitor the brainwaves of the maybe-not-dead Doctor Doom, she realizes it's almost time to get her hair done (seriously) with Sue and Jennifer. Reed Richards can't be bothered with putting his arms around the girls, but he'll walk them to the foyer. Just in time to not see the computer go wonky with a potential delta wave match. Only in funny books.

The girls are getting their hair did and someone attacks the Latverian Embassy. Certainly couldn't be Doctor Doom, could it? Of course not--it's the Invincible Man. Turns out he's attacking because his wife and son have been taken hostage. He mysteriously knows the ins and outs of the Embassy, but obviously can't do this alone. He acquisitions the help of the ladies and it turns out to be a set-up. But who could be pulling the strings?!

There's some good stuff here. Nice, solid plotting and it makes for a nice story even if we never see the end. My favorite scenes are the obvious demeaning of women because it's just so blatantly ridiculous. Though the girls kick a lot of tail, Sue's pratfalls would probably make her happy she's the Invisible Woman: instinctively throwing a force-field around herself when she hears Invincible Man's voice, but later lets a housewife sneak up and hit her on the head with a vase. Comedic gold.

First Friday Guest Blog: Man Voyage Part I

(Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of First Friday pieces here at The Oracular Beard, but more importantly, this is the first in a series of pieces by the one and only Anthony LaLota of The Echo & Sway fame. Smart and funny, this guy writes well. Pay attention, you might learn something.)

This past August, Jared and I took a three day road trip up through NY’s gorgeous Hudson Valley in the second installment of Man Voyage, an annual tradition that began in 2013 to celebrate our impending fatherhood. The trip evolved a bit this year but the basic premise remained the same: a general recharging of the batteries through good food, craft beer and a renewal of friendship. Afterward he asked me to write a guest blog entry for you beardlets and though I don’t share your enthusiasm for facial hair, I’m more than happy to oblige. 

            It wouldn’t feel right to omit the first chapter, so we’ll begin with 2013’s Man Voyage I: the Delmarva Peninsula. Part II will follow suit, and I’m hoping these entries are up to the high standards Jared sets with his fantastic writing here on TOB, as I’d love to make this contribution after each years’ trip. 

            First of all, let’s make sure we’re pronouncing it correctly: like Bon Voyage, only we’re two dudes on a trip celebrating our manhood, so it’s Man Voyage. If you think it’s a stupid name, you’re clearly not manly enough to understand. It’s also become known as Beers & Bros and B-roadtrip, if one of those tickles your fancy. 

            As the summer of 2013 was winding down, we began to realize how excited, nay woefully unprepared we were for this greatest of changes about to besiege our lives. What better way to calm our nerves than to talk the whole thing out on the open road, stopping occasionally to discover some new grub and brew? We pride ourselves on going local wherever we are, and Man Voyage was going to embody that spirit. 

            Delmarva is a term for the peninsula that shares land between Delaware, Maryland and Virginia (see what they did there? So clever). It used to be a wasteland for decent beer – in all the years my wife and I vacationed in Ocean City the best we ever got were European imports at the Irish pub on the boardwalk. I poked around on Beer Advocate and found a few new places had opened in the years since, and I’m happy to report that Delmarva has finally joined the world of craft beer, with some damn fine establishments so far. 

            Fordham/Dominion and 16 Mile breweries would’ve added a few more stops but we skipped them.  Fordham/Dominion was once the exclusive craft beer they served at Rams Head Live in Baltimore – I tried several at a Hold Steady show and none impressed me. I bought a sixer of 16 Mile once on a whim and downright hated it. If you’d whole-heartedly recommend either place please share; I’d love to make this trip again and will include them next time.

            Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats is a Rehoboth staple. There’s a reason their beer is so widely distributed and renowned – I’ve long been a fan of Sam Calagione’s innovative brews, and their take on simple styles like the pale ale (Shelter Pale) and the IPA (60 Minute) stand out more than most, and the food at the restaurant has never disappointed. We met our friend Tom at his Milton, DE apartment 40 minutes north of Rehoboth (he and his lovely wife Maria were kind enough to let us couch surf for the night), and he drove us the rest of the way. 

            The only negative is the word’s gotten out about this place.  It’s always been busy, but I’d never seen it like this. On a Tuesday night we waited an hour to get seated, and could barely squeeze in at the bar in the meantime. I don’t mind waiting a bit for good food and beer, and with it being peak season I assumed we would, but it wasn’t just busy – it was overrun with drunk frat boys and family men deep into their mid life crises, wearing their sunglasses indoors, whining about the lack of sports on TV and holding entire conversations exclusively via dick and fart jokes. One moron in particular repeatedly harassed the hostess about his wait time, at one point putting his arm around her in an attempt to woo her into seating him sooner.  I offered my condolences and asked if this type of malarkey was common. “More often than I’d like,” she responded with a frustrated smile. It’s a shame really. The bitter part of me wants to blame Sam’s involvement in the “Brewmasters” show for overexposing the brand, but my sensible side knows it’s just damn good beer and the idiots would seek it out eventually.

Aside from that unpleasantness it was a damn fine visit. Previously, my only complaint was their lack of one-offs or draft only selections. For such a renowned brewery, they only ever had their flagship brews, maybe a seasonal and some aged bottles. This time around they boasted a whopping 19 beers on draft, four of them brewpub exclusives. This is what I’ve always expected from a place with the production capabilities of DFH. Jared, ever the IPA loyalist, had the 120 Minute, which is delicious and smooth but it’ll knock you on your ass. The 15% ABV is really well hidden in the flavor and it sneaks up on you quick. The Firefly (session pale ale), Stewed (strong English style pale) and Piercing Pilsner were all very quaffable, the pils and Firefly tasting especially nice on a hot summer night (we’ve since seen the pilsener in bottles in PA).  

Some genius in the kitchen deserves a promotion for stuffing an onion ring with bacon and putting it on top of a burger – maybe this is already a trend and I’m late to the party but it’s the first time I’ve encountered this miracle of burger innovation. And just when I thought it couldn’t get better, they actually cooked it rare – Wisconsin cheddar, bacon stuffed onion ring and a little bit of blood. Bravo, DFH. The other highlight was our dessert of Choc Lobster, a beer I admittedly was prepared to order based on the name alone. I balked when the waitress told us it was brewed with live lobsters in the kettle – I don’t care for lobster, but she insisted it was the perfect dessert beer. She wasn’t lying – a chocolate porter with an aftertaste of ocean.  Sounds funky but I’d drink another in a heartbeat. 

A post-dinner dip in the ocean was the perfect end to the evening, for me anyway. I’d poked fun of Tom and Jared for not having the nerve to get in, though they didn’t spend the 40 minute drive home soaking wet with nothing to dry off with. Maybe the joke was on me.  

After a refreshing nights’ sleep Maria prepared a lovely scrambled egg and sausage breakfast. We stopped in downtown Milton at Dolce, an extremely welcoming cafe and bake shop, snagged some piping hot coffees to go and took them on the downtown river walk through the shopping district, along some boat docks and a public park. It was quiet and scenic, and a relaxing way to spend an hour before heading south to Salisbury, MD for Evolution Brewing. 

Evolution didn’t open until 12:00 and it was only an hours’ drive to Salisbury, so we had some time to kill.  Fortunately in the very small town of Laurel, DE we stumbled upon Attic Fanatic, a very large antique mall sprawled out over a few buildings. We were looking to kill maybe 30 minutes and wound up inside almost two hours. Antique malls are always a mix of useless junk and things you can’t believe someone would want to get rid of. Me, I go for vintage clothing and furniture, 50s/60s bric-a-brac, vinyl, old photos and postcards, and they had plenty. If we’d been driving a small pickup truck instead of Jared’s Ford Focus I might have walked out with a mid century end table or even a small dresser. 

Evolution is a rather large building with a nice palm tree fa├žade, and houses a more formal sit-down restaurant and tasting room with a long bar, a few pub tables and table top video game console with all the classics – Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, even Mappy. We played a few video games over beers until we got hungry enough to order some lunch. Best sandwich on the trip was a toss-up between the DFH burger and Evolution’s glorious Wednesday special of a $5 brisket sandwich. Slow-smoked and tender with a house-made root beer sauce, Jicama apple slaw and a big ol’ pile of fries. The bartender offered us a locally made cajun dipping sauce for the fries and I dumped it on the second half of my sandwich as well.  

The beer at was every bit as good as the food. The IPA was delicious, very hoppy but balanced and thirst quenching after coming in out of the heat. The ESB was good, but I’ve got to learn to stop ordering ESBs.  My favorite representation of the style is Oliver’s ESB at the Wharf Rat in Baltimore, and thus far no other has lived up to it. The brewery exclusive Wandering Monk Belgian Pale Ale, however, was exceptional. A lot of traditionalists, even some whose writing I admire (I’m talking to you, Lew Bryson) aren’t keen on the style but Belgian Pales and Belgian IPAs have really grown on me and if I’m in the right mood, have become my go-to when trying a new place.

The Prelude Belgian Gold (also a brewery exclusive) sounded tasty but a bit high in ABV after we’d already had a few pints. The bartender poured us a 4 oz sample size and didn’t even charge us for it. Add in a friendly chat with a down-to-Earth local who congratulated us on procreating, offering us some wisdom he’s acquired after raising three daughters, and the bar was set quite high for the day.

Tall Tales Brewing Company in Parsonburg, MD, was an easy 20 minutes up Ocean Gateway toward Ocean City.  They have the benefit of sharing their building with a landscaping company so the place is really done up, though we were both disappointed in the lack of the “tall tales” theme. Aside from a few small logos printed on the beer menu, there’s nothing of it to be found. Rather the atmosphere is a bit industrial for my taste; the bar area and tasting room have a sort of corporate feel, and the men’s room looks like something that yuppie couple from Beetlejuice would’ve had installed in the house after Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin died. It’s all very sharp, just wasn’t for us. 

Anyway, that’s a small complaint. The beer was tasty – we had the Some Beach Island Ale, a nice session Blonde ale with Kolsch yeast, the Excalibur IPA and Bonnie & Clyde DIPA, and Paul Bunyon Pale. The Paul Bunyon was probably my favorite – very citrusy hop character like an IPA but a bit smoother and balanced like a pale. It seems like one of those all-around good beers that craft beer snobs and fizzy yellow piss water drinkers alike could agree on. The bartender couldn’t have been friendlier, chatting us up about their brews and renovation plans to put a massive patio and fire pit area out back before sending us on our way to Burley Oak Brewing, just up the road in Berlin.  

While the bartender at Tall Tales was friendly and very accommodating, her directional skills need some work. She attempted to guide us to Burley Oak by telling us to “turn right at the giant produce sign about five miles up the road.” By “giant” she meant “slightly larger than an average street sign” and by five miles, she meant 15.  It was a small hiccup, and well worth it. Burley Oak was one big open space with a long bar, a few tables constructed from old barrels and a display area with a ton of merchandise (how many different shirt designs does one brewery need?).  Christmas lights bordering their detailed chalkboard draft list and a cutout picture window view of the brewers in action are both nice touches. 

Their beer was some of the best on the trip, with fun names to boot – Aboriginal Gangster (IPA with New Zealand hops), Waffle Stomper (Belgian IPA), and Golden Sex Panther (lemongrass & basil saison, admittedly not as fun to drink as it was to order…I settled for a sample). Small-batch stuff is always the best; most I’ve found aren’t quite as good as our nearby Selinsgrove Brewing Co, only served in-house, but Burley Oak is close. Everything tasted like it had just been tapped moments before we arrived.  .

Tall Tales seemed to cater more to the flourishing summertime tourist crowd, whereas Burley Oak had a more local feel to it. Burley Oak’s event calendar features original singer/songwriters and bring-your-own-vinyl nights rather than the run-of-the-mill karaoke and Jimmy Buffet tributes that overrun most beach vacation spots. The drawback is slightly less focus on the travelers – which isn’t to say the staff at Burley was the least bit unfriendly, just more eager to chat up the regulars they know will be back every week. It’s more an observation than a complaint – the bartender was quick to offer refills and answer questions so if he’d rather chat business with the guy who owns the jet ski rental place down the road it’s fine by me.

Two and a half hours and a drive across the good ol’ bay bridge later and we were in my home-sweet-home-away-from-home of Baltimore. I’ve written countless songs about my love/hate relationship with that city, and being there with my wife, family, friends, and anyone I care about is centering in a way I can’t describe.  My sister Caitlin lives in suburban Catonsville and was a very gracious host, so we treated her to dinner at the newly opened Heavy Seas Alehouse downtown, just off Little Italy. 

The Heavy Seas brand has been a Baltimore staple for years but until recently they’ve only had a tasting room and tours at Clipper City Brewery in Halethorpe, just south of the city. The alehouse looks like a revamped old warehouse and impossible to miss with the giant Heavy Seas logo shining down Bank Street.  It’s gorgeous inside, all rustic looking wood to compliment the brick walls, large scale beer posters and ship memorabilia hanging everywhere. Since there were three of us we decided to order an assortment of the snacks and small plates to share: cured meats and cheese with mustards, soft pretzels with beer cheese sauce, prosciutto with apple compote and ciabatta crisps. All were okay but nothing I’d hurry to try again. Next time we’ll get sandwiches. 

The beer was top notch as always, matey. I was thrilled they still had their summer seasonal Red Sky at Night on tap. Saison with Belgian yeast and candied sugar, goes down smooth with a warming, boozy finish.  We gulped down a few beers, filled a growler with their Marzen lager for later and headed back to the ‘burbs for some video games and Netflix before passing out on the couch. 

You can count on three things in life: death, taxes, and every coffee shop ever employing two types of people: the mopey hipster with unkempt hair too tired to take your order because he hasn’t had his coffee yet, and the excessively peppy hipster in a beret who can’t wait to make your order because she’s had too much. Bean Hollow in historic Ellicott City was no exception (Avenue 209 is the only one, not that we’re biased). Sad emo barista looked physically pained after writing our short order of two coffees and one muffin. No matter, it gave me something to chuckle about early in the morning. We took our coffees on a stroll through Taylor’s Antique Mall (since closed), and headed on toward Frederick for our last stop of the day.

Brewer’s Alley in downtown Frederick was the first brewpub established in Frederick County, in 1996.  Maybe that statistic set my expectations a little high but we didn’t enjoy our experience there at all. We sat on the patio outside. Our waitress took forever to come over, and was bored and annoyed at answering our very simple questions about the menu. She interacted the same way with the other patrons, and after listening in a bit I discovered most of the other servers were the same way. I asked the hostess where the bathroom was and she grunted and pointed without looking up. They all gave sad emo barista a run for his money. 

The visit would have been salvaged by a decent meal and beer but those weren’t great either. Pale ale and IPA tasted so similar I wondered if the bartender accidentally poured the same beer twice.  I ordered the cask IPA next figuring I couldn’t go wrong with a cask beer. I was wrong again. Aside from having a better mouthfeel from the cask pour, it was one of the most unexciting IPAs I’ve had. Fish tacos and pulled pork sandwich were very uninspiring as well. I don’t mean to totally run the place down but how it scores an 89 (“very good”) rating on Beer Advocate is beyond me. It would take a lot of steady rave reviews over a decent period of time for me to go back. The rest of downtown Frederick is nice though. Tree-lined and clean, with a quaintness despite the constant bustling of traffic. 

The Man Voyage manifesto was accomplished. We ate and drank heartily, most of it very, very good, and what wasn’t all that great didn’t matter. The driving in between, singing Springsteen, Tom Waits and Van Morrison tunes, imagining the mistakes we’ll make in the years to come while championing each others’ strengths and positive attributes, giving encouragement and wondering how our kids have any chance of leading normal lives with us as their fathers.  That’s the stuff Man Voyage is made of.

Beer and food too…because who wants to think about all of that on an empty stomach?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Comic-a-Day and more news for youse!

My beard's a-bristlin' with good things coming.

It certainly helps that I had the opportunity to use my brand-new French press this morning on my day off from Avenue 209. Anyhow, I'm sorry I've not got much to say here, though there'll be more coming down the pike before too long. Here are some new things on the horizon:

1. Taking a shot at reading a comic book a day this year. I've got a longbox full of goodies that have been sitting around for the last five years or more, and it's about time I do something with them. They come from the music man himself, my uncle Kevin Dremel. There're about 150 issues from the mid-80s, bearing both Marvel and DC logos. I've got long runs of Claremont's Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants from over at Marvel, while the Distinguished Competition offers a lot of mini-series, including Watchmen and Man of Steel.

Since there are less than half a year's titles, I'll also be dipping into some books I bought at a storage unit a couple of years back. I got lucky with Knightfall, Death of Superman and some of the Carnage books.

If I'm still looking for more reads along my journey, I'll find some earlier eighties mags that I've purchased from my good friend Dave who was getting rid of his. He's a lot more, so maybe I'll keep this up, if I can. I'm hoping to interview both Kevin and Dave in the months to come.

2. I'm also going to try a First Friday sort of guest blog here, maybe throw that in conjunction with the interviews. First up...TOMORROW...will be my partner-in-crime over at The Echo & Sway doing the honors with his first write-up of our now annual Man Voyage brewery tour. Check us out at Webster's in State College January 25 for their musical brunch.

3. I've also got a poetry reading at Webster's July 1. (You can never promote too early.) Since the title of my first novel is Last 4th of July, I figure I'll do some of the ballad stuff as well.


Anyhow, it's the first Thursday as we speak, and that means So You Wanna Be a Comic Book Nerd for publication in the Williamsport Sun-Gazettte.

What a momentous beginning, the first comic book article on the first of a new year. What, just because I’m a nerd about comics doesn’t mean I can’t also be a nerd about auspicious numbers, too? 

As I’ve stated in previous articles concerning such fine works as Saga and Outcast, a number of companies reissue bestselling series with $1 number ones. Yes, you’ve read that right: your local comic shop has a multitude of beautiful beginnings for just a buck. Cheap, sure. Worth it, absolutely.

Be forewarned, however: these books will keep you reading.

Editor’s note: There are like a bajillion different issues at your local comic shop, stories for every palate!

Batman #1, DC Comics. Scott Snyder (w) Greg Capullo (a) 

I was more than a disgruntled fanboy when DC rebooted their entire line of comics, but I’m also more than willing to admit that at least this first installment of the first arc, The Court of Owls, has plenty of promise. The first few pages introduce the city of Gotham as a character itself then quite hauntingly jumps into Arkham Asylum as Batman fights alongside the Joker. Plenty of intrigue right from the get-go, worthy of the world’s greatest detective. This arc is collected in trade, as well as a special edition with a story-centric owl mask.

The Manhattan Projects #1, Image. Jonathon Hickman (w) Nick Pitarra (a)

This little ditty puts the science in science fiction. Take what you know about Robert Oppenheimer and the production for the atomic bomb and mix it up with the weird heebie-jeebies and far-flung scientific theories. Murder and mayhem ensue. Keep an eye out for other famous visionaries of history. The Manhattan Projects is reprinted in trades, deluxe formats and is featured in a new spin-off series.

Revival #1, Image. Tim Seely (w) Mike Norton (a)

Image bills Revival as a “rural noir,” but that’s putting it lightly. There’s some jibber-jabber on the radio that is playing in the background, but makes itself quite apparent as the issue progresses towards the story’s climax. There’re some pretty heavy Christian themes weaving like a bloody thread, where revivers come back from the dead, but changed. Some creepy stuff going on here. Revival is now out in trades as well as deluxe editions.

Y the Last Man #1, Vertigo. Brian K. Vaughan (w) Pia Guerra (a) 

What’s a post-apocalyptic setting even more frightening that hordes of bloodthirsty zombies? How about a scenario where the world is populated only by women and that one unaffected lucky guy? Yorik Brown is searching high and low for his girlfriend, venturing across continents so he can propose. Smart, funny and (best of all) believable, Y clocks in at a mere sixty issues and can be found in collected trades and deluxe editions.


Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #115. Marvel Comics. (w) Peter David (a) Mark Beachum

I'm guessing what I'm going to find reading these issues this year will be a bit of disconnect in the overall history of the books. Luckily I've got longer runs of some of the Marvel that'll make things easier to digest.

Poor poor Peter Parker, always down on his luck. J. Jonah Jameson isn't the only one making a bad name for the old web-head either: a bunch of punks are pulling off crimes wearing masks of Cap, the Hulk and Spider-Man. Ridiculous, yes, especially since the rest of the issue doesn't mention this again.

But they DO mention that Spidey's old flame (?!) Black Cat is around and her bad luck is rubbing off on him. The ever-so-astute Doctor Strange finds that "The bad luck aura that affected you is a combination of natural gene mutation and science...bordering on the sorcerous." Well, it turns out that by ridding our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man of the bad luck just so happens to place it back on the provider.

There are a few back stories here that aren't fully fleshed out, definitely ramping up the suspense for issues to come. At first I had thought (hoped?) that the cosmic Spidey suit was working against him, but to no avail. The cover says a thousand words, most of which are something akin to "This happens in this issue, but not nearly on a level so grand."

The best parts of the book are the introduction of some young pre-teen who has some powers of his own, the paneling is just fantastic bottom panel pg 11 and mid panel pg 12. Spidey meeting Strange on pg 19 is pretty swell, too, in a very trippy, magical way. The bottom two panels with Black Cat aren't half bad, either.

As an aside, last page last panel, Black Cat is in just about the same position as Spider-Woman was on the variant cover earlier this year.