Archive for August, 2009

Girls Night Out

Power Girl #4

Power Girl treats Terra to a night out at the movies, beats up trolls and an environmental supervillainess, takes care of company business, and gets a new apartment. I mean, those are the main plot points. I guess that leaves out funny details like Terra’s overblown fear of horror movies, Power Girl shooting down the guys from the “Big Bang Theory” TV show, Terra fighting giant monsters without her pants, Pee Gee hiring the supervillain after she beats her, and Pee Gee’s famously horrible cat pooping on someone’s sportcoat.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Just extraordinarily funny and awesome. And how cool is it to have one of those “Day in the Life” stories that actually involves someone headbutting a giant lizard?


Marvel Divas #2

I know, I know, the title is just awful, but it’s really a lot better than it sounds. Angelica “Firestar” Jones has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and her physicians include Night Nurse and Dr. Strange. She gets an appointment to see Dr. Hank Pym, but she’s still pretty flat-out terrified, no matter how brave she tries to be. Felicia “Black Cat” Hardy can’t get a loan to start her new detective agency, which is making her consider returning to a life of crime. Monica “Captain Marvel” Rambeau is trying to fend off Doctor Voodoo’s romantic advances (at one point, he sends a zombie to her apartment to deliver flowers) and agrees to help him acquire the actual fer-realz Monkey’s Paw from the new Baron Samedi. And Patsy “Hellcat” Walker meets up with an old boyfriend, Daimon Hellstrom, better known as the Son of Satan, who offers to cure Angelica’s cancer for the low, low cost of Patsy’s soul.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good soapy superheroics that’s both dramatic and funny. There’s tons of emphasis on Angelica’s cancer, at the expense of the other characters’ subplots… but on the other hand, none of them have any subplots that are as scary as Angelica’s, do they?

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The Heroes at HERO


HERO Comics #1

Here’s something that’s definitely worth your four dollars.

This is a benefit comic for the HERO Initiative, a federally recognized not-for-profit charity dedicated to helping comic creators, artists, and writers who are in dire financial straits. They’ll help pay medical expenses, rent, even help creators find paying work in the comics industry.

If you know anything about the history of comics, you know that lots of creators never got paid very much money. We like to think of comics as a career path where you can get fame and fortune, but it’s often just not so. Creators in the Golden and Silver Ages were often underpaid, and even today, when creators get paid a lot more, there are still plenty of people who don’t get the high-profile work that leads to bigger paychecks. And even someone who makes good money can find themselves in deep financial trouble, especially where medical expenses are concerned.

And the comics industry hasn’t always been too kind to the people who helped make it successful — DC fired a lot of its creators in the ’60s when they had the gall to ask for insurance, Marvel notoriously tried to keep Jack Kirby from selling his old artwork, and comicdom’s poster children for creators-getting-royally-screwed-by-their-publisher are Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, whose families are on the verge of making DC pay through the nose for the rights to Superman.

And those are just the high-profile cases. Silver Age Superman artist Curt Swan had to keep working into old age to keep money in the bank. Wayne Boring, another Superman artist from the ’60s, ended up working as a part-time bank guard before he died. Fletcher Hanks, whose colossally bizarre but enthralling comics were collected in 2007 in “I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets,” froze to death on a NYC park bench in 1976. More recently, Howard Porter, who illustrated Grant Morrison’s “JLA” series, suffered a hand injury and was unable to draw for two years — he had to drive a school bus to keep from going broke.

Basically, being a comics creator is hard work, and the HERO Initiative tries to smooth out the rough spots.

So what do we have in this comic? It leads off with the first new “American Flagg!” story that Howard Chaykin has drawn in years and includes a comedic piece by Lowell Francis, Gene Ha, and Zander Cannon about Hollywood’s attempt to modernize the Biblical story of Samson, along with a sci-fi fairy tale by Kaare Andrews. There are pinups and portfolios by Arthur Adams, J. Scott Campbell, Matt Wagner, and Mark Schultz, and a script by the late comics writer Dave Simons.

But the best pieces are a couple of one-pagers. First, Josh Medors brings in a very simple story, more text than artwork, about how HERO helped him stay on his feet financially and emotionally after he contracted a rare form of cancer. And finally, HERO president Jim McLauchlin tells a short story about meeting one of the charity’s beneficiaries at a convention and learning just how much HERO had really helped him. Both stories are deeply, deeply moving, and serve as great illustrations for the HERO Initiative’s work.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Go buy this comic, and if you can spare the scratch in this economy, consider tossing HERO and your favorite creators a little coin.

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Death and Darkness


Blackest Night #2

The zombie invasion of the DC Universe really gets going, as we get treated to zombified versions of Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Aquaman, Dolphin, Aquagirl, Deadman (though the ghost version of Deadman is still fighting the good fight), Hawk (but not Dove), Pariah, Firestorm, Crispus Allen (For an omnipotent avenging spirit serving God Himself, the Spectre sure does get spanked a lot, doesn’t he?), and even a bunch of zombie sharks, with Tempest as our spotlighted B-list zombie convert. Green Lantern and the Flash drop a car on the Martian Manhunter to stop him, but it doesn’t put him down for very long. DC’s magic users fall under attack and lose one of their most powerful members. But the bulk of this issue is devoted to the harrowing attack by Aquaman and his undead underwater minions.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I know a lot of folks object to the darkness of this series — and I know I’ve often had my share of gripes about gratuitous, shock-value deaths used by DC to pump up sales and look like tough guys. But DC sure has spent the past decade killing off and reviving as many of their characters as they could — maybe the time’s come for DC itself to take a closer look at their use of the dead-superhero crutch. Also, zombified superheroes, free of the nudge-and-wink giggles that marred “Marvel Zombies,” is just too good a concept to pass up.

Yes, we’ll get really, really, really sick of spandex-wearing zombies by the time this is through. But I think the ultimate test of the worth of this series is going to lie at the end of the run. Namely, if they’ve returned at least 95% of these characters to life by the last issue (which is what I think they’ll do), then we can say it’s all been worth it. If it’s just another slaughter-them-all-and-pray-for-good-sales gimmick, then we’ll be safe writing off Dan Dildio’s DC once and for all.


Astro City: The Dark Age, Book Three #4

Charles and Royal Williams completely screw up and fail to kill Aubrey Jason, the criminal who murdered their parents years ago. A cosmic being called the Incarnate is preparing to destroy the world. The Apollo 11 have been permanently stripped of their powers. An idiot superhero called the Point Man uses an awesomely powerful weapon called the Innocent Gun against the Incarnate — too dumb to listen to warnings to stop, he learns too late that the gun is only supposed to be fired once, by someone with a pure heart, at the time of Earth’s greatest need, and as a result, he may have doomed the whole universe. The Silver Agent is able to control the omniversal wormhole in time — or has he?

Verdict: Even for a comic called “The Dark Age,” I wasn’t expecting anything quite this depressing and grim. I’ll give it a thumbs up anyway, ’cause it’s incredibly well-written and illustrated, because I expect it’ll all make sense at the end, and because of the awesome announcement Kurt Busiek makes in the letter column — the series is going to be publishing monthly soon. But I am very disappointed about the loss of the Apollo 11 — they were fantastically cool in the brief glimpses we got of them, and it’s too bad they won’t be around any longer.

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Overview of the Underground

I don’t get the opportunity very often to help preview new books. I don’t even know that I’d want it to happen very often — I seem to be busy enough just reviewing the durn things after they come out. Still, when you get an e-mail from seriously-fer-realz Jeff Parker, writer of Agents of Atlas, Mysterius the Unfathomable, and some of the best freakin’ issues of Marvel Adventures: The Avengers, saying, “Hey man, check this out”… Well, your self-control kinda goes and sits in the corner and giggles for a while.

So anyway. Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber got a new Image comic coming out around September 23 called “Underground.” As far as I can tell, it’s not a superhero comic, or sci-fi, or fantasy, or any of the usual sub-genres — just plain adventure fiction.


Here’s their official description of the story:

Park Ranger and avid caver Wesley Fischer is on a one-woman mission to stop Stillwater Cave from being turned into a tourist trap, but public opinion is not on her side. When locals begin blasting in the cave, Wes and a fellow ranger investigate – and a confrontation spirals into a deadly chase deep under the Kentucky mountains!

I got to read the first couple issues, and they’re really good — Lieber’s a great artist, Parker’s a great writer, so it’s not surprising that they’d create something really outstanding together. It’s tense and suspenseful, and the cavern setting really helps heighten the claustrophic feelings you get from the story — these characters are people who are stuck in deep, dark, terrifying places, in more ways than one. And I like that the bad guys aren’t melodramatic, mustache-twirling supervillains — they’re unethical, and they’re criminals, but they’ve gotten into trouble because they’re making dumb decisions, not because they’re Pure Unholy Evil. In other words, the characters, both the good guys and the bad guys, are being treated like they’re real people, not cartoons, and that’s a very good thing.

And Lieber’s art, while certainly pointing up the menace and fear that can come from being trapped in cramped, pitch-dark places hundreds of feet underground, also makes it clear that caverns also have some of the most beautifully eerie scenery you can find anywhere on the planet.


Part of the reason this appeals to me is the cavern aspect — for most of us who’ve lived in West Texas and the Lubbock area, one of the best known caverns in the world is only a few hours away, and while Carlsbad Caverns National Park is best known for its developed cave, complete with electric lights, smooth walkways, pre-recorded tour guide, and underground restaurant, it also has a number of undeveloped caves in the park, with no lights, no concrete paths, rope bridges, and a few areas where you have to crawl through extremely narrow passageways. When I was younger, I got to go on one of those undeveloped cavern tours, and it was one of the most affecting experiences of my life. It wasn’t enough to turn me into a caver, but it was certainly the type of thing you never, ever forget.

And aside from the gunplay, explosions, and constant threat of danger, “Underground” got my nostalgia pumping for those undeveloped cavern tours. If you’re healthy enough to go on long, strenuous hikes deep under the earth, you should definitely consider taking a weekend to enjoy some of these ranger-guided rustic cave tours. But even if you’re not, you can still enjoy Parker and Lieber’s “Underground” this September.

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To Hell and Back

I got two different Mike Mignola comics, and I’m gonna review ’em right now! Try and stop me!


Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #5

While Hellboy tries to get his friend Alice into a demon-guarded castle where her injuries can be healed, the newly crowned Queen of the Witches makes her plots against Big Red and demonstrates her power on a fae ambassador, compelling him to leave to commit regicide. Our second feature is a story by Gary Gianni about a group called the MonsterMen who travel into the Underworld to help un-haunt a house and getting stuck with a powerful (though silly) demonic relic.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The Hellboy story has plenty of action, thanks to Hellboy fighting an all-powerful demon, and plenty of creepy, thanks to the Queen of the Witches, who could scare you into a year of nightmares. The second feature is plenty silly (its evil relic is called the Mustache Diabolico), but I wish it had a little more background on the characters.

B.P.R.D: 1947 #2

In this story of the early days of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, Simon Anders is in big trouble. He’s one member of a small squad sent to investigate vampire attacks in post-war Europe, and he’s been lured by a pretty girl to the ruins of Chateau Lac D’Annecy — but the ruins aren’t ruins anymore, and there’s a big party going on with a lot of women dressed up in fashions from the 1750s and a lot of suspiciously withered servants. At the stroke of midnight, the ladies take Simon flying off to “the Festival” — a ritual to Hecate attended by withches and vampires — including Baron Konig, the vampire believed to be behind the attacks in Europe. The next morning, the rest of the BPRD squad make their own trip to the castle — but all they find is ruins, Simon’s notebook, and ominous coffins.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very spooky stuff, which has certainly become a hallmark fo Mignola’s various BPRD series. The artwork by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon is quite stunning as well.

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Friday Night Fights: Gutter Analysis!

We’re in the 12th and final round of the latest cycle of FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS! And it’s time to really unleash the brutality! Behold — from 1993’s Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud:


Holy — That’s it?! Irma Lou, whar’s mah whuppin’ stick?! That idjit comic book punk jest went TOO FAR!

Now wait a minute, wait a minute, we’re gonna have to analyze this one a bit. Now for any of my readers coming direct from the LubbockOnline site, who may not be as familiar with comics, this comes from a section of the book where McCloud is explaining something called the gutter. What’s the gutter? See that little strip of empty white space between the two panels? That’s what they call the gutter. ‘Cause it’s the gutter between the panels, see?

If you take 24 frames of film and run them through a standard movie projector, you get a whole second of story. Run 172,800 frames of film through the projector, and you get a two-hour movie. You’re not aware of every individual frame of film because your brain is able to ignore the micro-gaps between the images and string everything together so that it makes sense.

Comics are the low-tech version of that. Each individual panel functions as a frame of film, or a moment of action. The gutters act as the flicker in the projector that helps you get the images transitioned. It works because the reader’s imagination actually creates the transition, instead of relying on a mechanical effect from the camera, or by fooling the brain into blending images together.

For example, take the two panels above. If you consider them separately, there’s nothing about them that gives them any inherent meaning. There’s a guy with an axe. There’s a cityscape with a screaming word balloon. They could even come from two different comics, right? But the gutter is there to tell you “There is a connection between these,” and your brain and your imagination intuitively grasp the connection.

But ultimately, in those two panels, where is the violence? The first panel shows a guy with an axe and a potential victim. The second panel shows a scream.

Where does the violence take place? Where is the impact that would make this a Friday Night Fight?

The violence took place in the gutter between the panels. And that means the violence took place inside your head.

Did the axe hit the victim in mid-back? Did it sever the artery in the leg? Did it get buried in the victim’s skull? Did it take his head clean off? Did the madman miss the victim entirely and, overbalanced, fall screaming down the stairs? Did the victim’s wife step out of the doorway and shoot the madman before he could land the fatal blow?

You tell me. All the violence took place in your head. You made the transition. You scripted the action. You decided who lived and who died. Inbetween the panels, you became a god, able to decree how brutal the fight was, how bloody, how final. It was all you, man.

That’s the power of the gutter.

And dang, after all that analysis and theoretical flimflam, I think we all need to take a few minutes to ROCK OUT. Everyone on your feet for Savatage!

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Raiding the Booster Club


Booster Gold #23

The award for most eye-catching cover of the week goes to this issue of “Booster Gold.” When was the last time you saw DC or Marvel do a photo cover on one of their mainstream books? It don’t happen often. (And no, no idea who the cover model is. Might be Dan Jurgens’ wife, maybe? Or daughter… How old is Dan Jurgens anyway?) (UPDATE: Luke in comments informs us that the cover model is Blair Butler from G4TV’s “Attack of the Show.” Feh, you media-savvy youngsters! FEH!)

Aaaaanyway, Booster and Skeets have completely failed to save the Teen Titans, so they take the late-arriving Raven on a trip into the future (How’s that supposed to keep the Titans from getting killed? Quiet, you!) to see what the ultimate result is — the four-eyed interstellar demon Trigon the Terrible takes over the world and kills the JLA! It’s all part of a scheme by the evil time-traveling Black Beetle and his mysterious benefactor to do, um, something evil. Meanwhile, Booster, Skeets, Raven, and Rip Hunter meet up with the alternate-future versions of Zatanna and Kyle Rayner, who are part of the rebellion against Trigon. Booster sacrifices himself to keep the rebels’ base hidden, but ends up facing Trigon all by himself.

Our second feature, of course, stars the Blue Beetle, who is running around with his friends Paco and Brenda battling a robot disguised as a woman named Maria. She was built by your standard robot-building mad scientist, who considers her his masterpiece because he gave her the ability to feel emotions. But Maria hates having emotions, and she wants her “dad” to take them away. Can the Beetle stop Maria and her army of killer robots before it’s too late?

Verdict: It’s not that bad, all things considered, but the plot is a lot more illogical and random than seems to be normal, even for your stereotypical comic book. Running around in the future isn’t going to keep the Titans from getting killed in the past, so why even bother?

The Blue Beetle story, of course, is pure thumbs-up. Very funny dialogue and great action. The Beetle should have never been cancelled.


Secret Six #12

Wonder Woman shows up on Smyth’s slaver island, and she thinks the Secret Six have killed former fill-in Wonder Woman Artemis (She’s actually okay, but Wondy doesn’t realize that). While it initially looks like none of them can go toe-to-toe with Wondy, Jeanette eventually manages it, despite getting beat like a rented mule, when she fully activates her powers as a banshee, turning into a carbon-copy of the Silver Banshee, making Wondy relive Jeanette’s gory death-by-botched-decapitation, and reducing the Amazon to a drooling vegetable. And even that isn’t the scariest thing on the island — before long, we meet Smyth’s horrific patron.

Verdict: Thumbs up. As always, excellent dialogue and art, but the creepy factor really gets cranked up high in this one. Jeanette’s transformation and her memories of her death are pretty disturbing, and Smyth’s crucified but still scary friend is unnerving, just by his sudden appearance.


Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels #2

Sir Edward is on the trail of the monster that attacked him and is murdering people around London. While investigating another murder, Grey finds himself invited to the rotten side of town to meet a man called the Captain, a low-rent, barely legal occult detective. The Captain has an inkling about what’s going on, and he takes Grey to meet a medium — the real deal, able to summon an ectoplasmic spirit guide, who offers a small lead in the case and gives Grey a warning about a mysterious spectral figure stalking him. But Grey has other mysterious stalkers to worry about — the demonic bloodsucking monster is still on the prowl.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very moody, spooky scenes on display throughout here. The medium and her spirit guide are simultaneously wholesome and creepy, and the suspense level gets turned up nice and high by the end.

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Y’all Come to Cthulhu Country!

I’d been looking forward to reading this, ever since I learned it was going to be written by Aaron Williams, creator of my much-beloved “PS238” series. Could a guy best known for doing humor comics pull off an unusually weird horror comic? And then I went and got distracted during my move and missed the first issue. D’oh! Luckily, there were still some left over when the second issue came out, so I grabbed both of them.

North 40 #1

Our setting is the small redneck town of Lufton, in rural Conover County, where a couple of goth geeks have managed to get a copy of the Necronomicon, which they accidentally… activate. The result: a heck of a lot of previously normal people get turned into semi-cthulhoid monsters, and the county borders become deadly to anyone who tries to cross them. Our players include Sheriff Morgan, who seems to be one of the few county residents who has managed to keep his human DNA intact; Dave Atterhull, belligerent white-trash drunkard turned superstrong man-mountain; Amanda Walker, teenaged outcast turned scythe-wielding sorceress; Wyatt Hinkle, a much-abused country boy who ends up becoming completely indestructible; Luanne, the cafe waitress who can see everything; and Jenny, former lovestruck teen virgin and current lovestruck teen virgin zombie.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Not a lot of story progression yet — we’re just getting introduced to our characters. And it is a very enjoyable mix of Lovecraftian horror and backwoods superheroics. The characters are a lot of fun, too — I love Miss Sparks, the highly religious coffee shop owner, who goes into high-level freak-out mode — probably pretty sensibly — about her customers turning into multi-eyed monsters.

North 40 #2

Luanne can see everything that needs to be seen in town, and she’s rigged up Conover County’s only working telephone system — she writes notes to people and has magic crows deliver the messages. Sheriff Morgan is looking to establish some order — by recruiting Dave Atterhull, the biggest, meanest redneck in town. Wyatt Hinkle delivers a little beat-down for some of his high school tormentors. Amanda Walker learns more about magic and gets sent on a quest by her mysterious mentor. Jenny the Zombie rounds up some dates for the prom. And something bad is on its way.

Verdict: Another thumbs up. Very enjoyable, very creepy, and even very funny here and there. More plot development coming, I’m sure, and I love the glimpses we’re getting of some of the nasty, squirmy fates that have befallen some of the residents in town.

This is just a miniseries, but I’m looking forward to the next two issues…

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Lubbock’s Comics Connections: John Ira Thomas

Let’s crack open our vault for another entry in our occasional series on current and former Lubbockites who have worked in comics, cartooning, and animation. Our subject today is John Ira Thomas.

John is a comics writer who publishes with Candle Light Press, a company he helped form. As a comics writer, he doesn’t have what you could call a traditional portfolio, but I will include some of the comics pages with his writing, even though they’re illustrated by different artists.


John was born in Cheyenne Wells, Colorado and spent a lot of his childhood in Eastern Colorado, where at one point, one of his father’s coworkers suspected him of being the Antichrist because he could read at 18 months old. John and his family later moved to Texas, spending a few years in Perryton, Texas (coincidentally, I spent a few years in Perryton, too — I lived there after John had moved on) before moving to Lubbock to attend Texas Tech. He got a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a masters in classical humanities.

While at Tech… Well, I’m gonna let him tell it:

I’d been writing things since I was little, even tried drawing some comics. But it was a bar bet that got me going later on. My good friend Ed Boland, a serious comics fan, distilled it all into a simple challenge: write three comics plots, right now. I’d been protesting that since I didn’t draw, I wouldn’t know how to write comics. He disagreed; he also won the bet. The plots stayed on that napkin until I could find an artist.

After that I went on to the University of Iowa for a Ph.D., but settled for another M.A., this one in Latin. I just got burned out on the whole grad school to professorhood path. At that point I decided it was time to really make a go of this. Iowa City is known as a writer’s town, but there’s an amazing number of artists here. I cast about for someone to draw the one of the stories on my napkin and found Jeremy Smith. Once we made our first comic, “Absence”, we put it out as a zine and walked straight into a dozen other folks who were trying the same thing. After all this time, six of us are still making comics together.


John and his friends founded Candle Light Press, which distributes through the bookstore market instead of the direct market in comics. Among the comics that John has written are:

  • “Numbers: A Tale of Shades and Angels” – art by Jeremy Smith – A guy finds himself at the top of a vigilante’s hitlist after running a dead pool on the killer’s previous victims.
  • “The Man is Vox” – A mentally-damaged man takes on a telepath who can read minds and erase memories.
  • “Lost in the Wash” – A guy running a coin-op laundromat makes a deal with a man-eating water monster that lives in the pipes — as long as he can keep providing human munchies for the monster…
  • “Zoo Force: We Heart Libraries” – This one follows a small superhero team that patrols the trailer courts at the edge of Freedom City, Texas.


John’s comics are available through print-on-demand at the Candle Light Press website, and you can also check out their fan page on Facebook.

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Gazing into the Future


Madame Xanadu #13

In our current setting of 1940, Nimue’s ability to foretell the future isn’t helping her get any closer to the mysterious and murderous Al Nar and his diabolical black hound, so she turns to some of her other magical gifts — she sneaks into the city morgue and talks to a corpse. And she is able to get a new lead — the name of Richard Miller, a friend of both of the murdered men. But Miller isn’t interested in any spooky stories, leaving him open to attack by Al Nar. And in our flashbacks to 1493, Nimue’s close relationship with a local farm girl is getting a lot of hostile attention from the Inquisition. Can Madame Xanadu save herself and her friend before Torquemada decides to take them into custody?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Another beautiful, moody, and eerie story by Matt Wagner and William Kaluta, whose lush, retro art style is perfect for a comic set in the ’40s. My favorite scenes here have got to be the mystical interrogation of the corpse in the morgue, which is jammed full of neat magical bits, and the scene where Madame Xanadu meets Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman.


Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth #2

Zombie Head Deadpool and his caveman headhunter slaves have captured Regular Deadpool and his dishy A.I.M scientist buddy Dr. Betty. He tells his origin story — how he originated in the Marvel Zombies universe and got stuck here without the rest of his body. And speaking of the rest of his body, Zombie Head Deadpool has decided he’d like Regular Deadpool’s body and assigns some of his headhunter goons to lop off Wade’s noggin. But Regular Deadpool plans it out perfectly and gets them to chop off his arm instead. What the? Then he grabs his arm, Dr. Betty, and Zombie Head Deadpool and escapes from the cavemen. Then they fight off some dinosaurs and get captured by Hydra.

Verdict: Thumbs down. When you read all of that synopsis, it doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that’d be boring, does it? But it’s actually boring. And you really gotta work to make zombie heads, dishy evil scientists, a chopped-off arm, headhunter cavemen, and dinosaurs boring.

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