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for Friday, January 9, 2009

Counter X

Comics sales were pretty much across the board in the dumpster in 2000. Marvel dumped a great many of its countless X-Men spin-offs. Among the survivors were three titles - Generation X, XMan, and XForce - lumped together under the "Counter X" brand. Warren Ellis was hired to revitalize the trio, providing plots, stories, and overall themes to other writers. I didn't read these titles during their original runs, but, as they've now been reprinted in trade editions, I'm giving them a second look.

Counter X Vol. 1 [$19.99] reprints X-Force #102-109, and my initial reaction was amazement this Rob Liefeld-created grotesquerie ran so long. I honestly don't recall seeing that many issues of the title and have mercifully forgotten however many I might have read back in the day.

The premise of the Ellis-helmed X-Force was terrific. Disgruntled, world-weary mutant spook Pete Wisdom recruited four mutants to dive off the radar and go after the various black ops "mad science" programs that caused, were causing, and threatening to cause even more misery for mutant and normal humans alike. The stakes were high, as witnessed by the seeming death of one of the team by the end of the first of the two story arcs collected in this volume.

Ian Edginton, whose comics I've praised on several occasions, was the writer for both arcs. Ellis is credited with the plot for the first arc. For the second, the credit read "based on a story by Warren Ellis." The first arc wasn't as new reader-friendly as I would have liked, but, by the second, Edginton was doing a good job introducing the characters every issue. Unfortunately, the second arc got a tad wonky by its conclusion, as if its twists and turns didn't twist and turn as originally planned.

The really ugly elephant in the Counter X room was its art. Whilce Portacio's storytelling was indicative of the truly awful Image-style work of the era and even his actual drawing fell flat. I had a tough time recognizing Tabby/Boom-Boom/Meltdown. She looked as if steroids had altered her form in most unpleasant ways. Some of the later issues of the book had better storytelling and better drawing, but none of them looked good. It wasn't just speculators who damaged the comics marketplace at the turn of the millennium. The industry was churning out stacks of crap faster than the comics stores could flush them.

Counter X Vol. 1 is definitely of its time. Despite some worthy efforts by the writers, it doesn't rise much above the mediocre. It earns a dismal one out of five Tonys.



TONY'S BACK PAGE: Convention Fun and Pains


I've worked on enough conventions to have learned there's no way to please every one. Some fans are disappointed if the guest they saw last year isn't on hand this year. Others expect the show to bring in every possible guest they can think of. They don't understand budgets, especially in these days of increased hotel, meal, and travel expenses. They don't understand most shows lack the wealth of Comic-Con International. They don't understand that some guests don't want to attend some shows.

The International Superman Exposition (Cleveland, 1988) had Kirk Alyn, Noel Neill, Jack Larson, the current Superman comic-book editor, artists, and writers, Julius Schwartz, Curt Swan, and the largest display of Superman art and memorabilia ever gathered to that time. It had an enormous exhibitors area and dozens of guests from comics, Star Trek, and science fiction. It was as spectacular an event as it was, sadly, a financial disaster. Which is a story for another time.

One woman came to the Expo with her kids. She spent the whole day at the show. At one point, she left her kids in their car for hours and returned to the con while they were napping. No "mother of the year" awards for her.

That night, as the Expo was closing for the day, I got a phone call in the show office from the woman's husband accusing us of ripping off his wife because - and this is a quote - we didn't have enough Superman stuff at the show. His wife spent over eight hours at the Expo, but we didn't have enough Superman stuff.

I tried to reason with him, but it became obvious his wife had wanted to see Christopher Reeve at the show and didn't. Never mind we had never advertised Reeve as a guest. We knew he was filming something somewhere that summer. For that lady, it wasn't a proper Superman event without Christopher Reeve. I hung up on the husband when he called me a "super rip-off artist."

No convention is perfect. Disappointments and complaints come with the territory. But you really should cut folks running these events some slack. They aren't Supermen.

Sometimes it's a struggle for them just to be halfway decent Clark Kents.

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back on Monday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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