“…this is a job only WE can handle!”

I’ve had something of an urge of late, call it nostalgia, call it curiosity about how the material had aged, to revisit the work of John Byrne, one of the most popular comic creators of the 1980s, so I’ve been picking up a bunch of it and trying to put together complete runs (some of it, I’d owned previously and sold, while other books, I still had). As a lot of his stuff can be found in dollar bins still, I’ve made quick work of finishing my Byrne runs of The Incredible Hulk, West Coast Avengers and, yes, Canada’s super-team, Alpha Flight.

So, over the past 10 days or so, I made it through the entire John Byrne Alpha Flight run (1-28 of Volume 1), about half of which I’d bought as they came out, and a few issues of which I’d gotten as back issues over the years before I swooped in on all of ’em recently. It had probably been 30 years or more since I’d read any of it.

How did reading it as a grown-up go? Well, it takes its time getting started, but the story really starts moving around issue 11, by which time Byrne had stopped aping Claremont’s narrative style so much, and finished establishing the backstories and personalities of most of the individual characters. When the whole thing does kick into high gear, it really doesn’t stop moving through the rest of the run. Byrne’s run even ends on a cliffhanger (several, in fact, but one very big one in the last panel), right before he switched books with Bill Mantlo and Mike Mignola and went over to The Incredible Hulk (I’ll be reading those 6 issues next) to wrap up his first run at Marvel.

Beyond that, what I noticed while reading the book was that, while a bunch of things were cringe-worthy in the way that older comics often are when dealing with women, or with pretty much any other part of society that’s underrepresented or othered, there were also a lot more of those people in Alpha Flight (not all of them caricatures, either) than there were in most books of that time period, and, in some cases, this one. The whole thing was this experience of pretty regularly saying “Oh, he totally fucked that up” as I was reading through the issues, then remembering that, between 1983 and 1985, almost no one was even trying to fuck up the subjects in question that John Byrne was dealing with. It’s very far from a perfect series (and in particular, Byrne’s insistence on making almost all the female characters in the book a little younger than he should’ve is vexing and creepy to see now, given the benefit of hindsight, but also pretty far from unique in the genre at the time), but at the same time, it still broke all sorts of ground in mainstream comics that I’m not sure if Byrne’s getting credit for these days. It’s a case of very mixed feelings about the book for me now, which boil down to the question of whether it’s better to try to do representation in fiction and fuck up pretty regularly (and again, I’m aware that people were way less enlightened in the 1980s than we all thought we were at the time, so it’s sort of hard to decide where to set the bar there), or if it’s better not to try at all. I’m gonna lean ever-so-slightly here toward it being better that Byrne tried and fucked up a bunch.

Where the art’s concerned, it was Byrne at or close to his peak (and the covers, as you can see, were particularly amazing on a few occasions, especially in the first year; by the way, thanks/apologies to Marvel Database for the covers I ganked from there, to save myself some scanning), but the paper quality back then did his work (as well as his colorist Andy Yanchus’ work) no favors at all, and there are points in the run where Byrne’s workload seems to catch up with him a little (he was also writing, penciling and inking Fantastic Four at the same time he was doing all 3 on Alpha Flight), but from issue 16 on, he gets assist from Bob Wiacek and Keith Williams on the inks.

Overall, it was definitely worth it to catch up with some old friends, fill in some of the gaps in my memories, and do something of a “Your Childhood Favorites: Were They A Trash Fire?” study on a book that a bunch of us were pretty fond of back then, but I’m not walking away from it feeling like I read great literature, and I don’t know if I’d recommend it to anyone coming in cold on the material. It is definitely a mess in parts, and I don’t think it stands up as an all-time classic by any means, but I’m not sure that it was written to be one, either. I think that, going by both the source material and some background I read in interviews over the past few days, John was just trying to make the best of a story people weren’t going to let him not tell, working with what he knew at the time.

Hey, y’all, a card trade!

 Bo recently got himself into the pre-1978 card collecting game, finally, with a pretty big vintage purchase, so I was finally able to trade him some old stuff, and he did the same for me.

Got some ’67-’69 cards, so we’ll go in order. I cannot get over Don Sutton ever being this young. He looks like he’s 12 here.

Damn, I love this McCovey.

Onto ’68s, where I’m across the 400 mark on the set now (of course, the last 191 cards have something like 30 Hall of Famers, including Mantle and the Ryan and Bench rookies, so I probably won’t finish that soon). Never have a problem with getting a Hank Aaron card I need, though. (The other guys don’t suck, neither.) Keep ’em coming!

Billy Williams, with some artistic embellishment.

I’ve been buying cards for 38 years, and have owned hundreds of thousands of cards over those years. This is, amazingly, my first ever and only playing-era flagship Eddie Mathews card.

Pops cards seem to come to me late in set-building, too, so this is welcome.

Elston Howard looks thrilled both to be a member of the Red Sox and taking this picture.

Bill White looks cool, like he usually does.

This card of Pete is almost in condition as bad as my Munson rookie. Fine with it. Upgrading intentionally would be money I don’t wanna spend on this guy anymore.

Ken Boyer and Superman both go to the same barber.

I also crossed the 400 mark on ’69! (I never would’ve guessed that I’d ever be anywhere near that.)

I have at least 2 Joe Niekro on the Cubs cards now, and it’s still not something I’m used to yet. Looks like some alternate universe shit.

World Series cards, lookin’ awesome.

GREAT card of Odom. He’s got that “Don’t even try it” look in his eyes.

Here’s Rico…

…and Sutton, still looking way too young, to close it out. I went through his cards after I scanned these, and figured out that the back of the ’71 card is when Don looks like he went through puberty.

(Borrowed from The Trading Card Database because I didn’t wanna get it out of my album.)

Suddenly, he looks like a grown-up. It’s like he saw some shit during the ’69 off-season, and he’s a man now.

Thanks, Bo, for trade #5939203582010382!

Still Here, Hella Busy, Here’s Some Stuff

So yeah, between health stuff (the flu this year was a nightmare and I was sick to some degree or another for 3 months, but I am better now), wedding planning, home renovation and other things, it’s again been quiet here of late. So, let’s wake things up a little with a few pictures.

Holy crap, new Megos! I traded a spare that I had, and got these two well-loved but still pretty solid looking guys in exchange! I haven’t had a Falcon figure since 1986 or so, and I’d never owned a Mego Aquaman before I got him (one of only a few from the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes line that I hadn’t owned; I’ve still never owned an Invisible Girl, Penguin, or the regular, non-Fist Fighting Riddler…). They’ve both taken up residency on my desk, along with some others from my Mego loose figure collection.

(From back to front, though some will need no introduction: Superman, Batman, Mr. Fantastic, Mr. Spock, Iron Man, Falcon, Aquaman, Lizard, and a 7-Eleven Metamorpho cup in front of Lizard, also a relatively recent add.)

Our local flea market opened for the season recently, too, which was a blast, because it seems like every year on opening day, all of the vendors have a real “I’m so glad we made it through another winter” vibe about them, like a very real appreciation that we’re all still here together, and even if “here” kinda sucks sometimes, we’re at least at the flea market.

I only ended up getting one picture in the field on opening day, taken of an APF TV fun Pong clone. I don’t see a bunch of ’em in the wild these days. I passed, because I’ve got a Super Pong, an Ultra Pong, and Atari 2600 Video Olympics, and for me, that’s Pong enough. Still good to see ’em surviving, sorta.

Here’s what I did pick up on the comic book end of things. These were all very affordable, even the Avengers #181 (which I’d forgotten was the first appearance of Scott Lang, who becomes Ant-Man not long after that). From left to right: Avengers #181, New Teen Titans Vol. 1 #7 and 8, Infinity Inc. #1, Moon Knight #24 and 26, Marvel Premiere #51 (Black Panther), Captain Canuck First Summer Special (always happy to find some original Comely goods in the wild), and Fantastic Four #232 (the beginning of John Byrne’s big FF run).

Don’t worry, people who came here by way of cards. I got some cards, too!

I had a few of these (Palmer, Slaton, and Doyle Alexander are doubles, and all are available for trade), but generally, if I see Hostess cards, I buy Hostess cards. Very happy to snag a Carew (his cards in any set ever are tough for me, for some reason) and, of course, SIXTO!

So, what’ve y’all been up to?

Lots to catch up on…

Sorry about that, folks. Life happened again for a minute. I’ve been sick for most of this calendar year, but I seem to finally be getting better, knock wood. I did some things other than play Skyrim for 260 hours this winter (I’m horrified and amused by this number), while I was convalescing. I’ve even managed to leave the house a few times this month, and of course got into plenty of trouble when I did, so let’s examine the trouble I found both from my house and out in the world!

I bought one more single pack of ’18 Topps on one of my Target runs. Anyone need either of these two inserts?

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This may not look like a Holy Grail comic book to some, but this issue of Adventure Comics completed a run of issues 425-490 for me that I’ve been working on since childhood. In that run is every issue of the original Adventure Comics that happened post-Legion of Super-Heroes and post-Supergirl, but pre-the last 13 issues, which were done as reprint digests. There’s all kinds of great stuff in this run: among others, you’ve got Black Orchid, The Spectre, The Creeper, Deadman, Justice Society of America, The New Gods, Dial “H” For Hero, and all three of the gentlemen featured on this cover.

I got it in the damnedest way, too. I’ve been looking very pointedly for this book for a few years (since I realized it was the last one I needed), trying to get it for a price I felt reasonable (some of the bigger online comics dealers wanted a bit too much for it), especially in bins that flea market and comic show dealers had out, and whiffing on that. So, I’m reading a post on a Facebook comic group I’m in where a guy found a pretty early issue of Adventure (in the 30s numbers-wise), and some wise guy chimes in with “I’ve got #476 if anyone wants that”, totally figuring no one cared. I was instant messaging him so fast, it made his head spin. Because he didn’t want to gouge me too much on shipping, and because he had some other comics to unload, I grabbed a couple more from him…

Mmmmm, first Paul Smith X-Men. I don’t hear this from other people too often, but Paul’s probably my favorite X-Men artist. I’m giving thought to trying, very slowly, to put together a run of Uncanny X-Men from as close to #94 and Giant-Size #1 as I can get (my earliest right now is #107, but I’ve got a run from #128-143, and I’ve also got #109 and #121), through to maybe #200, because that would cover the first year I read it as new issues, during which I found that I didn’t enjoy the current book as much as I did issues #175-back. (I’m of the mind that X-Men started to lose its footing right around where most current fans started to love it, which would be post-#200, so I’m kind of an X-Men hipster. If any of you have ever read Uncanny X-Men #177, I would’ve ended the series right before Mystique gets to Nightcrawler.)

I also got this. In another collecting project (and to let y’all know in advance my comics projects usually go way, way more slowly than my card ones have over the past decade) I’m working on all 4 “team-up” books (The Brave And The Bold, DC Comics Presents, Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One), because they were really fun comics that I was always drawn to as a kid. Let’s see how Batman ends up hanging out with Black Lightning, before he ended up hanging out with him a lot! Superman and Sgt. Rock? How’s that work? Aunt May and Franklin Richards hanging out with Galactus? Sign me up! The Thing and The Sandman drinking in a bar? SOLD.

2 more games for if I ever finish Skyrim and don’t just decide to start over to beat the game “the right way”. I’ve been hearing about both Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus for close to 2 decades, so I snagged the first reasonably priced used copy of this collection that I could find. I don’t have a PS4 yet, so I can’t play the latest remaster of Shadow of The Colossus yet.

With Syndicate? I played the hell out of the Atari Jaguar version (an idea that probably horrifies people who played it on PC, but I think the 3DO version was probably even more of a nightmare to navigate), and while the reviews haven’t been great for this update, I’ve been curious, and it was $5 new.

From there, I hit a comic and card show, and while I passed on getting a pic and autograph from Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat (who still looks great, and seemed to be a nice guy, especially to the kids he met), I did scour a bunch of cheapie bins for fun stuff.

These two finished my Top 10 run!

Can you tell that I’m an anthology book junkie?

I’m about two-thirds of the way through a complete All-Star Squadron run now. Earth-2 is also kind of a thing for me.

Onto the cards…

I liked everything I saw from this kid in the postseason. I always hesitate a little to add young, current players to my player collections, but I think he might end up sticking.

Another Dontrelle relic. Cool color scheme. Not the greatest condition, but it was a buck.

#puigyourfriend

If only we’d all known, 5 years ago, that you’d be able to get Puig relics for $2! This is a fun one, too, from those winter cards.

I didn’t get Ricky Steamboat’s auto for $20 (or the $30 pic and auto package combo), but I got a friggin’ Homer Bush autograph for a buck!

Finally gettin’ on the Vladimir Guerrero Jr. board. (Yeah, I know what I said about Bregman, but he’s not second-generation from one of my favorite players of all time.) By most accounts, the kid has a very bright future ahead of him. Let’s hope it works out that way!

From a 5 for a dollar bin? Sure, why not.

Also from the 5 for a dollar bin. Can you believe these monsters vandalized what’s otherwise a pretty decent condition ’71 Topps card? Of course you can. This is available for trade. No, I’m not replacing the Ron Fairly in my set with this one.

Needed this for my ’70 set. To paraphrase Springsteen, it ain’t a beauty, but ‘ey, it’s alright…

I don’t know if I had any Inception baseball before this. Happy to start with a Scherzer.

I am such a sucker for these 2000s legends sets that were really just filler cardboard for autograph chances, but looked pretty nice while doing that. These got me over a third of the way through this one. Especially like Raines, Cey, Santo and Staub in this batch.

And, finally, I got the complete set of these (1991 Comic Images Silver Surfer cards) at my local comic book store. Scanning does absolutely no justice to how insane, psychedelic and 1990s-tastic these cards look, but I’ll show you 3 of my favorites, anyway.

First issue cover!

I still have a very run-down t-shirt with a version of this image on it.

You have to love psychedelic extreme close-ups of Thanos with shiny, shiny teeth.

That’s been my February so far. How’ve you all been?

2018 Topps is here! Yay, I think.

Let’s jump right in. Here is the first card of the 2018 season, for me, anyway…

Thumbs up to you too, Matt, though I’m not sure if you’re giving me the thumbs up because you did something in this game, because you got traded away from the Barves, because you figure there’s a good chance you’re gonna get paid a ton of money to sit on your ass, or because you just wanted a cool baseball card. Either way, this may be my favorite Matt Kemp card of all time (though it didn’t have a ton of competition).

Here are the card backs, for those curious…

They got me used to partial stats fairly quickly, in part because my vision’s taken a serious hit in the past year or so, but also because it sorta reminds me of Donruss. The fronts do, too. The designs are different, but something about the use of color and the full-bleed on the front reminds me of late-period pre-Panini Donruss, figure ’03-’05.

I am with all of you who think there was a better use of that dead space to the right of the social media and the factoids, but I don’t know if a QR code would’ve worked at that size, and there’d probably be some debate as to what site it’d go to, or what function it’d serve. Stats at mlb.com or Baseball Reference? If it gets you a Bunt card of the physical one, do they just give you white base, or is there some element of chance there? Speaking of, I don’t think the flagship design lends itself to the “10 parallels of the same base card” dynamic on Bunt, so we’ll probably see another season of divergent physical and digital flagship cards, bah. But yeah, if they’re taking away full stats, dead space is a bad idea. Even, from a graphic design perspective, if they’d widened the facts, and centered the social media box, I think it would have been better, but this reeks of “we were going to put something in that space, probably a QR code, and had to nuke it at the last minute”. Moving onto some more cards…

Springer was a lot of fun to watch in the Series. Not as much fun for me as Alex Bregman (who I think is gonna be an unbelievable player), but still a lot of fun.

Mookie looks like he’s simultaneously pulling a Carlton Fisk and dancing here. Mookie don’t care, though, because he won his arbitration case!

Well, I won’t have to worry about these being super-overpriced when it comes time to finish this set. Frazier’s got an RC logo on his card when he was first in Bowman in, what, 1994?

I won’t have to worry about these, either. Would you believe I got these back-to-back in my hanger box?

Here’s some ’18 base of other players I collect (I mostly limit my current players to my fantasy team, hence the Mookie above, but I have been buying Greinke’s cards forever, it seems). I really love the Realmuto card. It’ll probably be his last Topps Marlins card, but it’s a gem.

The box promised 2 Jeter highlights cards, and now that his name is mud, they gave me three! I’ll hang onto them, though. He may have a plan in Miami that doesn’t just make him look like a big jerk forever (one of the sports stories of the next decade’s gonna be seeing how that all plays out), and I have some good memories of watching him play. Plus, I finally live in a part of the country where people will part with Jeter cards without asking for vital organs.

Anyone want these?

The Arenado sorta-gold’s 755/2018, if that makes a difference. Really disappointed that they didn’t go with actual card stock for the ’83s, like they did with the ’87s last year. And yeah, I’m basically good on any of these insert sets, not building them. Pretty flat inserts this year, and for this, I am RELIEVED.

I should also mention, though they won’t be pictured here, that I got 14, count ’em, 14 horizontal base cards in a row in this pack. The reason they won’t be pictured is that they were 14 pretty uninspiring horizontal base cards, of players I don’t have much of a vested interest in. Still, that’s what they went with in this pack, after the inserts were done. Weird collation.

How do I feel overall about the pack and this year’s flagship? It’s a mixed bag, but a step up from ’16 and ’17 on the base design. I’ll be building it (damn it), so send me your base doubles. The inserts are pretty lukewarm, especially the ’83s, so I’m gonna pass on those and trade whatever I get that isn’t a player I collect. Still, I don’t feel like I actually wasted my time and money buying these, like I have for 3 out of the past 4 seasons (’15 was awesome, but it was the only truly awesome flagship set of the past 5 years).

So, here’s my want list for Series 1 base:

2018 Topps (Have 63/350): 2-3, 5-6, 8, 10-13, 15, 17-21, 23-51, 53-74, 76-78, 81-82, 84-86, 88-93, 96-104, 106-107, 109-116, 119-121, 123-126, 128-137, 139, 141-143, 145, 148-154, 156-160, 162-167, 170-178, 180-182, 184-192, 194-197, 199-202, 204-211, 213-220, 222-224, 226-233, 235-240, 243-247, 249-251, 253-254, 256-258, 260-262, 264-266, 268, 271-274, 276-285, 288-289, 291-304, 306-310, 312-316, 318-322, 324-325, 327-329, 331-333, 336, 338-346, 348-350

How’d y’all do?