Just in time for Halloween, it’s monster-hunting fun with both the elder and younger Bloodstones! Well, the Elsa parts are fun.
The first story collected in Bloodstone and the Legion of Monsters is, yes, the 4-issue, 2011 Legion of Monsters mini-series that marked the Marvel writing debut of Dennis Hopeless, and it’s almost worth the $34.99 on its own. While not as wacky and jokey as Nextwave fans will want Elsa to be, there’s still a germ of what would become the trademark Dennis Hopeless humor rooting in this almost unavoidably farcical concept.
But there’s plenty of drama, too, and the whole thing is so wonderfully paced that all the tension successfully ramps up and comes to a head at the conclusion — only to be throttled back momentarily, before the REAL conclusion. The narrative mainly focuses on Michael Morbius, as this wasn’t originally intended to be an Elsa Bloodstone vehicle, but she definitely comes out looking strong, and all the other characters (even seemingly bit ones) get their moments.
And Juan Doe is the perfect artistic partner for Hopeless on this one. His frenetic, highly stylized pencils may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it fits the tone of Legion of Monsters perfectly, and his panel layouts are delightfully non-standard. Will Quintana’s colors are just dark enough for a monster story, but still with the brightness of a tale that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Things get a little more serious in a 9-page story from 2009’s Marvel Assistant-Sized Spectacular #2, by the inimitable Chris Yost. There’s still some humor, and a situation eerily similar to the one from Legion of Monsters, but there’s also a premise that might make some uncomfortable, leading to an end that’s somehow disheartening and triumphant at the same time. It seemed to be setting up a status quo that never happened which given, the uniqueness of what Yost established, might be a shame.
Sadly for artist Joh James, following the previous story in this collection makes him seem like a poor man’s Juan Doe. The exaggerated proportions are there, but the fine details in facial expressions and motion that bring Doe’s work together are not. Ulises Arreola’s colors measure up well enough though, pulling off many the same tricks as Quintana’s.
Funnily enough, there’s an 8-page digital-first story, ALSO from 2009, that pushes Elsa completely into the other direction — toward Nextwave and BEYOND. Rick Spears pens Astonishing Tales: Boom-Boom & Elsa, which imagines the pair as teenagers talking about boys. It’s not as simple as a superficial appraisal reveals, though, as there’s enough innuendo to make the reader wonder if that’s REALLY what they’re after, and why the hell Spears doesn’t get more Big Two work. James Callahan’s pencils are appropriately cartoony and Nathan Fairbairn’s colors finish the feel nicely.
The six pages written and drawn by Faith Erin Hicks from 2010’s Girl Comics #2 take that sensibility to the nth level, but without the subtext. It’s a tale of boys being dumb and sexist and what girls do to deal with it, though it’s more light-hearted than it sounds. The bright yellows and pastel pinks of colorist Cris Peter help make sure of that.
And then we get to the SECOND half of Bloodstone and the Legion of Monsters, which is devoted entirely to Elsa’s father, Ulysses, the 10,000-year-old, uplifted caveman who first took on the gem and the mantel of monster hunter. The entirety of his debut story from 1975’s Marvel Presents #1 & 2 is here, a Bronze Age comic with major Silver Age sensibilities.
Writer John Warner begins with a leviathan rising from the deep to wreak havoc, although it may not be in control of its own actions. A being with the power of possession makes himself known, and somehow uses this ability to deliver to the reader about an issue and a half of Bloodstone’s origin, providing a different kind of introduction but also making for the most sluggish scuffle ever. The art by Pat Boyette and the colors of Diane Buscema are typical Marvel house style of the time.
Which is in huge contrast to the material from Rampaging Hulk #1-6 and #8, presented in glorious black and white by penciller John Buscema and inker Rudy Nebres. No wonder it has a Conan vibe! That is, until you read the super groovy ’70s stylings of Ulysses, his swell actor bud and the rotating cast of D-list villains that parade through the issues. There’s an attempt (by Warner, again) to add depth by playing the villains off each other, but the result can come off feeling muddled and unfocused.
Ultimately, Bloodstone and the Legion of Monsters feels like two different collections from two different eras sandwiched together, because that’s pretty much what it is. The fact that Ulysses and Elsa share genetics is the only thing binding these characters together, as they are portrayed completely differently and presented in ways as dissimilar as Gone with the Wind is to No Country for Old Men.
It’s unclear WHY Marvel thought this was a good idea. As a modern reader, I’m enamored with the Elsa stuff, but Ulysses falls flat for me. Will the oldheads who clamored for reproductions of the classic material give a damn about the butt-kicking, girl power princess? You’d have to think not. Instead of making two different volumes for the two different audiences, we have one book that probably doesn’t completely appeal to either. I don’t know how you sell that in world where back issues and digital media exist.
And I don’t know how you grade it, either! So take my numeral with a grain of salt, and decide yourself if you’re enough of a Bloodstone family superfan to make this worth your while.