Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: 1st Issue Special #9; Dr. Fate

I have talked about the DC Relaunch a lot over on my home site Supergirl Comic Box Commentary and obviously most of that discussion has been centered around the Superman Family.

But this relaunch touches everybody in the DCU and touches some bodies more than others. Some characters are nowhere to be found in this new order. In fact, the entire Justice Society has been 'given a rest'. Here is a link to that news: http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2011/06/dan-didio-dc-comics-has-decided-to-rest-the-justice-society/

Now I have been collecting JSA on and off for a bit and I felt their sudden departure from the new DCU warranted a post here on DC Bloodlines. And me being me, I figured some obscure back issue from the 1970s would be the way to go. And since Dr. Fate is one of my favorite characters, and I feel woefully underutilized by DC, I thought I would review his solo story from 1st Issue Special.

My first encounter with the JSA and Fate came in the form of this DC Special Digest which reprinted a couple of Golden Age JSA stories, the first appearance of Power Girl in All-Star Comics, and this Fate story. I have fond memories of these digests. I kept a small stack of them at my Grandparent's house so I would have something to do if I became bored there. Trust me, they were pretty dog-eared by the end.

Well, I loved that Fate story a lot; I was simply mesmerized by the art and the story that when I found 1st Issue Special #9 later on in life, I bought it. In fact, the cover above is a scan of the comic from my collection, autographed by cover artist Joe Kubert and interior artist Walt Simonon. I really try to pick issues that are important to me to get signed at cons.

1st Issue Special was a sort of Showcase like book put out in 1975 and 1976, trialing characters to see if there was enough interest to warrant a new title. The list of characters is interesting and diverse, from Jack Kirby doing Atlas and Manhunter, to Steve Ditko doing Agent:Assassin and The Creeper, to The Warlord by Mike Grell. This has to be a relatively early work from Simonson but the art still pops off the page today.

But of the handful of those issues I have read (including the Mikaal Thomas Starman issue), I love this one the most. Written by Marty Pasko you learn everything you need to learn about Dr. Fate in a short 19 pages. And he gets to fight a mummy! A mummy!

Add to that the brilliant draftsmanship by Simonson and the crazy cover by Kubert (a flying Sphinx knocking over buildings) and you have a win that you to can own for around $5 if you find it in the back issue box.

From the opening splash page, you are drawn into the story. Fate is surfing the wind, talking about a long-dreaded struggle he is rushing to face. It is a great opening image.

But for me, it showed from the start just how stylistically Simonson was going to pencil this issue, from the great font for Dr. Fate, to the concentric circles of varying sizes sprinkled about, to the details on his shoulder straps standing in stark contrast to the blank helmet. I am going to gush a lot about Simonson throughout this post, so bear with me.

Fate heads to the Boston Museum of Egyptology only to come across a grisly scene. A recent sarchophagus acquisition held the living mummy Khalis. And after murdering the 2 museum curators on hand, Khalis engages Fate. But there is more than meets the eye here. Khalis recognizes Fate, talks of a past with Nabu, and wades into battle.

I love how Simonson adds dust and bits shedding from Khalis, letting the reader sense just how he is moldering, decomposing. The cracked and breaking word bubbles add to the effect. And I also love the warped ankhs seen in Khalis mouth.

Surprisingly, Khalis is able to defeat Fate pretty handily. And we learn why. Much of Fate's power comes from his Amulet of Anubis. But that amulet is also Khalis's source of power, it obeys him. Armed with his powerful artifact, Khalis stumbles out into Boston to have his revenge!

Beaten senseless, Fate stumbles back to Salem and enters his doorless tower to rest and recuperate. Nabu recedes into the helmet, leaving a battered Kent Nelson to heal with the help of his wife Inza.

You definitely sense just how frustrated Inza is. She is trapped within the tower, isolated from the world except for her husband. And he, of course, is sharing his body with Dr. Fate. So she barely has any time with Kent. Tired of living alone, fearing for her husband, and feeling helpless, she leaves the sleeping Nelson.

This is the end of this touching scene ... a scene where Inza finally vocalizes her feelings to her husband only to find that he has passed out and hasn't heard a word of it.

I love the small column to the right with the Fate helmet formed by shrinking horizontal black lines. That felt very Steranko to me.

When he awakens, Kent hits the books to learn as much as he can about Khalis.

A worshipper of Anubis, Khalis was a mad priest who preached fiercely for the God of Death. Pleased by Khalis' service, Anubis gave his servant the Amulet of Anubis.

Armed with that power, Khalis enslaved the city, forcing them to build a temple to Anubis. That is ... until Nabu showed up. The Lord of Order removed the Amulet from Khalis, freeing the city from his power. The slaves got their revenge ... live mummification of Khalis. But Anubis isn't out of the picture. He makes Khalis a member of the undead until he has been reunited with the Amulet.

As a kid, I thought this was too fantastic. The idea of them holding down Khalis as the embalmed him was chilling.

And I love the hieroglyphic scroll Simonson uses here to bookmark the flashback.

And, like many good first issues, we get a retelling of the hero's origin story.

Again, so much of this works because of Simonson's art. I love the young Kent seemingly gestating in the ankh as he learns his mystic secrets. And the figure of Fate, arms out, mirroring the ankh below also works. This added visual vitality spiced up this simple regurgitation of the origin.

Time heals all wounds. Given some space, Inza realizes that leaving Kent in his time of need might not have been the best idea. And since he was so easily trounced by Khalis, maybe Inza should do some research on her own.

But it turns out that Fate might not need the extra help. With Anubis being a God of Darkness, Fate assumes light to be a weakness for Khalis. So Fate casts a spell which drains all the light from Boston and focuses it into a beam. It nearly destroys Khalis but the mummy is able to barely survive and slink off.

This is another one of those great Simonson panels. I love circle of Ankhs which manifest as part of the spell, the perspective just perfect. And again, we see Khalis literally decomposing before us, bits of him blasted away within this globe of light. Just some sick stuff from Simonson throughout this issue.

But things get wilder still. First, Inza has discovered a key vulnerability of Khalis on the sarcophagus he was entombed in.

And then, sick of skulking, Khalis decides to change the settings of the game, using his magic to manifest a pyramid into the Boston skyline, right next to the Prudential building. (That's my home town!) Then he calls upon Anubis himself. When I first read this comic, I loved the story twist that Anubis has no recollection of Khalis or his service to him. It was just delicious to think of Khalis sitting in that casket dreaming of serving his god, a god who has forgotten him. Frustrated, Khalis actually rips the mummification bandages off his face, hoping Anubis will recognize his faithful servant despite the rotting flesh.

When Fate shows up, Anubis makes Khalis a new deal: destroy the Lord of Order and he will bestow more rewards on his supplicant.

But Fate is ready. Armed with the spell Inza found, Fate channels Ra the sun god, unleashes a withering beam of light and heat, and vaporizes Khalis. What a great panel, the hawk head, the sun, the helmet of Nabu all surrounding the action pose of Fate. Really spectacular!

With Khalis turned to dust, Fate reclaims the Amulet of Anubis. The magical pyramid and Anubis both fade away.

But as important as Anubis leaving is Nabu receding, letting Kent and Inza share this victory together. They make a good team.

Fate has since had a varied career including a pretty odious retcon where he had a Cable-like appearance and wielded a knife made from the melted Helmet of Fate. But no matter what Fate story I read, this one ... a perfect blend of story and art ... has remained my favorite. There is no denying that this is a fun 'done in one' issue. How this didn't garner enough mail to prompt more stories has always mystified me.

Hopefully, at some point Fate will reappear in the DCnU. And hopefully it'll have this sort of feel.

Overall grade: A+

Monday, June 27, 2011

Who Are These Women?

Who Are These Women???
Who are these women? Not Black Canary, we know who she is. And evidently the gal in the middle is Sterling. But who are the other two?

The obvious call for the redhead is Poison Ivy, but why would Poison Ivy help out the good guys? Looks to me like it might be Rose & Thorn instead, which would be a novel approach. That to me would also explain the black part of the costume.

And the sword slinger? Tell me this is not Katana. Please, please, tell me this is not Katana. Katana has made some questionable costume decisions over the years but if this is her, this is the absolute worst of them all. This sort of costume would have sucked in the 90s, and now that it's the 10s, this thing is absolutely atrocious. Ugh.

I guess it doesn't matter. It's Birds of Prey not written by Simone, so it won't last. Plus, it's Birds of Prey, period. So I am not buying it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Secret Origins Annual #1: "...The Doom Patrol!" (1987)

Cliff Steele returned to the Midway City mansion that once housed the Doom Patrol, but was detained by its automated security system. Robotman needed to prove that he belonged, so he began recounting the origins of himself and his team.

  • Cliff Steele was a race car driver and all-around adventurer until a freak accident at the track nearly cost his life. Steele's mind was placed in a robotic body by an unknown surgeon, but believing he was better off dead, Robotman rampaged through the city streets. Steele eventually tracked down the person responsible, Dr. Niles Caulder, but was won over by the genius' philanthropy.

  • Niles Caulder had been made a wealthy man after his published findings on the potential of medically assisted immortality netted him a mysterious patron. However, Caulder decided to join the Peace Corps in the 1960s, serving in the worst slums of Calcutta, India.

  • A teenage girl named Arani turned up so near to death Caulder worked night and day without sleep to rehabilitate her. The two fell in love, and secretly married. Caulder gave Arani of version of his immortality serum tailored to her genetic make-up, which also afforded her powers over temperature. Fearing the mysterious patron who still hounded him through agents, Niles left Arani at a remote monastery while he finally addressed the problem.

  • The evil General Immortus had lived for hundreds of years, but his longevity was faltering, so he had hired Caulder. When money failed to yield results, Niles Caulder was taken prisoner, and a bomb surgically implanted in his chest. Caulder managed to fake his death and have a robot-surgeon remove the bomb, but the automaton inadvertently left Caulder a paraplegic in the process. Knowing that now more than ever he would need assistance to deal with Immortus, Caulder began enlisting agents of his own.

  • Larry Trainor was test piloting the X-19 experimental jet orbiter for the Air Force when a sunspot fried its circuits. Trainor managed to land the craft and come out without a scratch, but was kept in isolation for months due to taking on extraordinary amounts of radiation. Eventually, a mysterious benefactor later revealed to be Caulder provided bandages that allowed Trainor to shield himself from contaminating his fellow man. However, Trainor wound up essentially homeless and mentally unstable from his experiences. Upon seeing a boy nearly run over by a train, Trainor released an energy for from his body which saved the kid. With renewed purpose from this super power, Trainor hooked up with Caulder.

  • Rita Farr was a famous actress and stuntwoman who worked with director Steven (Spielberg) on a jungle adventure story (involving the unnamed Indiana Jones.) Unexpectedly carried away by a current during a scene on a river, Farr landed near volcanic geysers that emitted a strange gas which turned Farr into a size-altering freak. Whether in the palm of your hand or others in her own, Farr's Hollywood career was over. Placed in a room with Larry and Cliff, Rita was given a rousing speech by Caulder to turn their tragedies in a triumphant Doom Patrol.

  • The team faced such threats as Immortus, the Brotherhood of Evil, the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, and the alien criminal Garguax. They gained additions to the family like Mento and Beast Boy. However, the original three plus Caulder willingly gave their lives to save fourteen innocent strangers in a fishing village from a trap set by Madame Rouge and Captain Zahl.

  • Robotman was blown to pieces, but his brain survived to be found by Doctor Will Magnus, who built him a new body.

  • Soviet pilot Valentina Vostok tried to defect to the United States with a stolen experimental jet, but ended up crashing at the site of the Doom Patrol's deaths, and absorbing Larry Trainor's disembodied energy form. This allowed Vostok to fly and project energy beams. After reaching the U.S. in secret, Vostok eventually met Arani Caulder, who was in the country investigating her husband's death after learning of it by fluke. To this end, especially while working under the assumption Niles was still alive but in hiding, Arani was forming a New Doom Patrol.

  • Joshua Clay was a teenage hoodlum in Midway City sentenced to either jail or military service. Choosing the latter, Clay served in Vietnam, before a confrontation with a mass murdering squad leader caused the medic to display previously unknown energy powers. Clay deserted while on short time and made his way back to society as a wanted man, perfect fodder for Arani Caulder.
  • The New Robotman stumbled upon the New Doom Patrol and attacked them before being convinced to join them instead. As a group, the team confronted General Immortus and later, a Russian automaton called the Cossack sent to retrieve Vostok. The New DP joined forces with Power Girl against Reactron (a Post-Crisis revision to a Supergirl adventure,) while Superman helped with Negative Woman after Vostok's condition deteriorated to one closer to Larry Trainor's.

  • Infighting caused the group to split, so it was Robotman working with the New Teen Titans who successfully brought Rouge and Zahl to justice for the murder of the original Doom Patrol.

Cliff Steele's walk down memory lane was a ruse to preoccupy him while armored government agents descended upon the mansion to capture him. However, the men were under the command of Valentina Vostok, who had begun working to supervise superhuman activity with the government. Vostok couldn't bear to compromise her former associate, so she called the men off, leaving Robotman to decide his next course of action. He would pack up and move to California, hoping to leave the past behind him.

"The Secret Origin of The Doom Patrol!" was a pleasant enough visual companion to a slew of Who's Who entries written by Paul Kupperberg. This is the only instance of John Byrne doing full are chores that comes to mind in which his embellishment is comparable to any of his best inkers. The whole thing was a primer for a Doom Patrol series relaunch, complete with preview pages and creator interviews. That was all well and good, but I was a bit miffed that the behind the scenes text features usually afforded an issue of Secret Origins were not present, gypping the back-up feature "The Secret Origin of Captain Comet".

Brave New World

Friday, June 24, 2011

Who's Dat: Fancy Freddy Sparga

Real Name: Freddy Sparga
Occupation: Regional Manager for the Crime Cabal
Marital Status: Unknown
Known Relatives: None
Group Affiliation: Crime Cabal
Base of Operations: Electric City
Height/Build: Approximately 5'9", overweight
Eyes: Black
Hair: Black
First Appearance: OMAC #5 (May-June 1975)

The Crime Cabal was one of the major mob outfits in The World To Come, and Fancy Freddy Sparga was their regional manager in Electric City. This placed him in charge of "The Terminal," an underground operation where kidnap victims would have their minds evacuated and replaced by the highest bidding "body-buyer." This computer brain transplant was still in the planning stages when it was discovered by an undercover Peace Agent and reported to OMAC. Sparga was alerted to the double agent, and ordered his and OMAC's assassination via a new missile rifle. However, both men were saved by the satellite Brother Eye, and evidence of their seeming demise was planted to allow OMAC a free hand in investigating. With the help of mugger Buck Blue, OMAC caught Sparga while he was negotiating a sale to the Godmother, and Fancy Freddy was arrested by Peace Agents.

Fancy Freddy Sparga presumably had the resources of the Crime Cabal at his disposal, which included manpower, weapons and vehicles.

"That'll teach the Peace Agents ta poke in Fancy Freddy's apple pie!!"

Created by: Jack Kirby

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Review: Beowulf #2

Hi again, Anj from Supergirl Comic Box Commentary  here, once more taking over DC Bloodlines to review some of DC's 1970s fantasy comics. I hope you have it in you to bear with one more look. I have already reviewed Stalker #1 and #2 as well as Beowulf #1 here. It was pure serendipity that put Beowulf #2 in my hands just 2 weeks ago, a find in the bargain box at my local comic book store.

As I said when reviewing the first issue, had I read this issue as a very young boy, it would have been imprinted on my brain. Crazy battles, beautiful women, and a noble savage hero? What more could an impressionable young boy ask for? The truth is this sense of nostalgia, knowing how a young Anj would have devoured this book, makes me look at it with a more gentle critique.  And this issue is so crazy I sort of chuckled my way through it. It is definitely 'over the top' and sometimes that works, like it did here.

But moreover, this comic is such a nonstop roller coaster ride of the most wild fantasy concepts. Writer Michael Uslan isn't rewriting Beowulf here; he is absolutely going crazy here taking the hero to bizarre and unexpected places. It is just crazy enough to make me want to find the other issues of this run (6 in total). And Ricardo Villamonte stretches his legs a bit here as the landscape varies. Yes, he has a more classic photorealistic illustration style. But he also gets the chance to get a little wild as Uslan's scripts drift far away from the original Beowulf text.

Remember that last issue ended with Beowulf on his way to Castle Hrothgar when his foil Unferth used black magic to send Beowulf and his men to a swamp loaded with satanic crocodile men.

Sinking in the muck, Nan-Zee the comely Scyfling warrior that Beowulf freed from Satan's control last issue, advises the warriors to not fight the sand, instead allowing it to engulf them. It seems a little quick for Beowulf to be listening to her like this, but he must sense she knows what she is doing. And just like that Beowulf and his men sink into the mire.

In the meantime, we find that Grendel is suffering some angst as he tries to figure out just who he is. Of course in the Beowulf, Grendel is simply a cannibalistic monster, a spawn of Cain. To have him trying to come to grips with who he is was an interesting way to go. It seems daily Grendel asks his mother why he is who he is. Daily? Can I say 'poor Grendel'? Maybe he wants to be something more than killer.

But before he can even come to grips with these thoughts, before he can say he wants to be something else, Satan himself invades Grendel's mind, telling him to again go to Castle Hrothgar and kill the Danes.

I don't want to say this makes Grendel a sympathetic character, but it certainly gives him some strange depth.

For those thinking that Beowulf was simply going to drown in the swamp, you haven't read many comics. Much like the 'siren nest' in Beowulf #1, the swamp was actually a doorway directly into hell. Nan-Zee recognized this from her years as a 'slave maiden of Satan'. Now why you would want to actually go to Hell rather than try to get out of the swamp is a different question. I know I would rather get back on terra firma and fight croc-men than battle my way out of the underworld.

So the straight path to Castle Hrothgar has taken a detour.

And here is one of the more memorable moments in the book for me, one I am sure I would have loved as a kid.

Facing Medulus, a three-headed Hell hound, Beowulf loses all sense of nobility and some might say humanity. He becomes a pure instrument of savagery, filled with a 'burning rage of vengeance'. He bludgeons and gores the hound to death with his horned helmet, the skull of a minotaur, until its 'off-white ivory is painted bright red with satanic blood'.

I mean, look at that third panel, Beowulf chanting 'death' as he grips the helmet. Yes, if an old Anj is pleased a very young Anj would be very pleased. That is twisted, awesome, and somehow cleared by the Comic Code Authority.

In the aftermath of that battle, with Beowulf talking about how they cannot rest a moment, how they must be as vicious as their demonic opponents, Nan-Zee decides to get amorous. Yes, she will teach him how 'softness' now and then is a good thing. Looks like there is a place for some pleasure and passion in this den of evil.

Nice little art tricks here, their bodies in complete silhouette. And all that sort of action is off-screen, much like in Conan books.

Later ...

The team meets yet another 'slave maiden of Satan', this time a giant fire woman, naked but for some well placed licks of flames.

The men's responses are hilarious. Beowulf sounds jealous of his harem (knowing Nan-Zee was once there). Meanwhile one man wants a blond. Umm ... she's 40ft tall and made of fire and wants to kill you! Maybe you shouldn't be cat-calling!

Regardless of the tomfoolery, she is tough to beat, being red hot and all. Only Nan-Zee knows the answer; the demon's power lies in her hair. After a quick coif by Nan-Zee, the demon needs to retreat. And that retreat leads the team deeper into Hell.

Again, I would have been giddy about this as a kid.

After beheading a dragon, the group walks into Hell's throne room and have a conversation with Satan himself. They are talking to Satan!

Okay, that is pretty sick. I like the throne. It is either resting on the backs of slaves, a pile of skulls, or both.

Satan then goes on to talk of how he is bored in Hell and needs amusements to pass the time. And when he heard the happy noises from Castle Hrothgar, he sent Grendel there to end the party. He doesn't come right out and say he is Grendel's father but he does say (and I quote) that he "... er, knew his (Grendel's) mother once."

And in another loony moment, Beowulf gets sick of being called a 'toy' for Satan's amusement and actually assaults the Devil, cutting off Satan's ear.

Beowulf cut off Satan's ear!!! THAT JUST HAPPENED!!!!

That is crazy. And wonderful. And inspired.

That angers Satan. But rather than kill Beowulf and his men, the Devil lets the warriors go, transporting them to Hrothgar's land. But he gives them a quest, a Satanic game for them to play. Beowulf must drink the ambrosia of the zumak fruit  and then drink the venom of the black viper. Only then can he defeat Grendel. If Beowulf does not complete these quests, Grendel will continue to kill with impunity.

Nice swirling chaotic feel to this splash page.

Back at Castle Hrothgar, Grendel goes on his second rampage. I wish I could explain it but these were my favorite panels of the book. Grendel just effortlessly tosses this Dane out the high tower window. This is another example of a part of this book that I would have dwelt on in my childhood. That is just horrific.

Grendel does ask Hrothgar if this man is his 'favorite'. I suppose it could be the comic equivalent of Aeschere the trusted advisor of Hrothgar killed in the Beowulf poem. But Aeschere is killed by Grendel's mother in that work.

Beowulf arrives at the castle, transported there by Satan. Grendel contemplates attacking but he is held in check by Satan who wants the Geat to go on this quest for venom and ambrosia. The quest could bring Satan more amusement than a battle right then would.

At some point, Uslan must have realized that he wanted to insert some parts of the actual poem's story. We see a brief retelling of Beowulf and Unferth's confrontation over his swimming contest with Breca as the characters lounge in the Mead Hall. It actually mirrors the poem nicely and briefly, even Beowulf's rebuke of Unferth's unsavory battle survival skills.

In some ways this is also inane. What could Beowulf be thinking? "Hmmm, just a couple of hours ago Grendel tossed some guys out of windows while I was cutting Satan's ears off. I know ... let's chill out and get drunk!" I think I would want all my faculties available and be on guard at all times.

The decision gets made to head out on Satan's quest. Grendel must be defeated. And Hrothgar makes Unferth join Beowulf's team. In the poem, Unferth ends up respecting Beowulf, giving the Geat his family sword Hrunting. So maybe Uslan wants to show how the two end up becoming comrades in arms.

Okay, as I said before, this comic was a complete guilty pleasure which made me feel like I was 9 years old again, reading comics until the covers came off. It is filled with all the things that make fantasy books great. But add to that the nuttiness like squaring off against Satan and I knew this was a winner. I was so giddy reading it, I have to give it a high grade. It's like saying I enjoyed the movie '300' ... it isn't an Oscar winner, but it was a flat-out awesome time.

And I'm not the only blogger here at DC Bloodlines that liked the book. Here is Luke's review of the whole series, which sounds like it gets ever crazier. From  El Jacone's Comic Book Bunker:http://ljaconesbunker.blogspot.com/2008/07/discount-bin-finds-beowulf-dragon.html

Overall grade: A (if you are in the right mood)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Doom Patrol #2 (September, 2004)

In the new origin of Larry Trainor that will be forgotten within two years and directly contradicted within four, dude was supposed to fly a spaceship around the sun under the guidance of Niles Caulder. Something went wrong, and he ended up flying the failing ship right toward the control center Caulder and Rita Farr were working out of. Caulder remote ejected Trainor, who refused to do it himself in hopes of guiding the ship away from where his friends could be killed. Frustrated, Trainor projected the Negative Man for the first time to carry the craft to safety. Fatigued, Trainor felt better when the Negative Man returned to him, only to learn it also made him intensely radioactive.

Flashback: That part where the enlarged Rita fell through a wall? Happened again. The new kids joined the fight, with Vortex being clever enough to create a portal toward a solar light source. Unfortunately, while in possession of metahuman bodies, the vampires were safe from the sun.

Elsewhere: In Antarctica, a science project went awry without my hanging out until issue three or later to follow-up.

Flashback: The same exposition the punk kid teleporter gave last issue.

Presently: The Chief explained to Nudge and Faith how to separate the vampires from the metahumans, the sun hit the bloodsuckers, and they erupted in flames. The punk kid teleported to Castle Crucifer with Negative Man in pursuit. Larry continued talking amongst the Patrol about the stuff he was doing as Negative Man, until the pain of separation caused the energy wraith to go crazy. The Doom Patrol followed up, and found Green Lantern John Stewart trying to contain Negative Man while Batman saw to Martian Manhunter. With Larry's arrival, the wraith settled down, and returned to Trainor. Larry was concerned about the attack on Manhunter. "Fortunately, I was able to render myself intangible just at the moment he struck at me. He did no damage." Come to think of it, most of that was still a flashback, after all.

The punk kid wormhole guy tossed Batman aside and tried to escape, but Rita Farr had figured him out through subtle clues, and killed the vampire with sunlight. The Sleuth from Outer Space offered, "Excellent deductive reasoning, Miss Farr. My compliments." Trainor apologized for the attack on J'Onzz, and everyone went their separate ways on good terms. Bruce Wayne later blew twelve million dollars buying Castle Crucifer and having Green Lantern tear it down.

In the aftermath, Faith remained to train Nudge in the use of her powers, and Rita told the Chief that her group had decided not to rat him out for using Nudge as bait. "It's not something you are ever going to do again."

"Hearts of Darkness" was by John Byrne with Doug Hazelwood. The book remained all exposition, but little plot and no soul. Byrne's trying to be clever with the timeline by visiting different areas at different points, but it just feels like two issues of wheels spinning.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Comicpalooza 2011

I'm a poor full time student, so going to Comicpalooza 2011 was a bad idea for my wallet. Still, there was an artist at the show that had owed me a piece for over a year who had agreed to finally deliver, and I was kind of OCD about getting some new commissions this year. I was still wavering on attending up to the last week, and had to juggle several social obligations and anemic finances, but finally got there on the last day of the con. It was way up on the third floor, and then past all the plush halls from last year to a large auditorium where several sporting mini-arenas had been laid out.

I pressed on through to a second auditorium, which had been laid out as an intentional maze of tables and draped backdrops to force attendees to go through the entirety of artists' alley before being offered multiple avenues to dealers and special events. There were some sort of flight simulators, an area for laser tag involving inflated obstacles, an awful lot of steampunk paraphernalia, and other assorted oddities. Here's a breakdown of my non-commission related observations, activities, and purchases...

Sports: There was MMA training, and practice with padded escrima sticks. It took less than ten minutes to be completely over roller derby. I managed to miss Doomsday Wrestling, and Muggle Quiddich looked lame. Would a radio-controlled Golden Snitch be that difficult to put together?

Authors: I had no intention of getting tied down talking to writers, but after spending eight hours on the floor, I would have been happy for any distraction. However, these guys must have all been wearing tarps of invisibility or been at panels, because I never saw/recognized a single one. I'm not saying I could pick Fred Van Lente out of a line-up though, so there's that. There was a Chris Sims there, but not the blogger, and how sad is it that the latter trumps some cat from Wizards of the Coast in my book?

Cosplay: There was a guy in zombie make-up running around telling puns while carrying a fake heart. I think he was promoting a booth that applied zombie make-up to con-goers. One couple went as mummies wielding axes while swathed head to toe in black with no visible eye holes. The floor must have been at least eighty degrees, so that was heroic. I hit a solid costume contest while I was waiting for a commission. A totally in character Captain America won best male cosplay, Black Widow took best femme, some whacked-out version of the Joker had best villain, and Noir Spider-Man & Kingpin took best group. Personally, I really liked the Dalek, who received some sort of bonus prize. Fella even had some kind of voice box and automated wheels. I tried to get pictures of a Supergirl for Anj, but they all had horrendous red eye, and I missed a Donna Troy. I asked a Green Lantern John Stewart to pose, and that turned out better. I ran into Wonder Woman and Superman later on the con floor, and asked them for a shot under better lighting.

There was a lot of group cosplay. I tend to like the steampunk stuff, but Star Wars is a total snooze, and why are people still hung up on the Ghostbusters? Is it just that you can be authentically overweight in those coveralls? There were also a bunch of cos-vehicles, including an ECHO-1 and the jeep from Jurassic Park.

Comics: I picked up a nice fat stack of 21 random Bronze Age Wonder Woman comics, including all three parts of the "Judgement in Infinity" arc I've wanted to read since it was first advertized in 1982. Scored the first 18 issues of Comico's "Justice Machine." I re-completed my set of "Wild Dog" after a few decades apart, plus 3 out of 4 "Power Comics" issues (reprints from an African publisher of work by Bolland & Gibbons.) Filled in some "Blue Devil" gaps, caught the '80s Goodwin/Simonson "Manhunter" reprint and "Countdown Special: The Atom." Bought the only three copies of "Amazing Heroes" I could find, a set of the "Roots of the Swamp Thing" mini-series and a few odds and ends. I paid no more than a quarter for each, and most were 5 for $1.00.

Artists: Arthur Suydam had an expansive booth full of poster sized prints. There were a good deal of zombies. I'm glad that's working out fort him. Larry Elmore worked off a modest table with his own prints across the way. Dirk Strangely had a ridiculously tall booth that I studious avoided. I don't get the appeal, especially after twenty years of Tim Burton crap.

Publishers: In the eight years I ran my shops, I never had much luck selling stuff like Hate or A Distant Soil, despite some effort. I'm sure Bedrock City Comics Company manages to move some units, but I've never found Houston to me very responsive to books published outside Diamond's Premier section. There were a lot of bored people manning indie booths, and I passed them often collecting commissions, so I really had to keep my "homeless people" eye aversions rapid to avoid getting sucked in. Twee and Goth seemed to be a very popular theme. A guy named Jason Poland rocked the former, vaguely reminding me of the Matt Smith Doctor. He managed to wrangle me, so I had to look at his mini-comic and straight up own my lack of interest. In case you're less mean than I am, you can try Robbie and Bobby here. It's a comic strip about a boy and his robot, which is not a selling point to a grinch. I never spotted him at the con, but one small press publisher was an irregular at one of my shops. He used to work as a bouncer, and once shattered a '90s plastic glow-in-the-dark Green Lantern ring on some unruly guy's face.

Celebrities: I could care less about autographs, and I find the prospect of forced small talk with minor celebrities extremely off-putting. Still, it's kind of neat to breath the same air as famous people, so whenever I passed that way, I'd cast a glance toward the signing booths way in the back of the show floor. I don't know who Dan Braverman is, but I saw him wandering around the grounds once or twice. James Hampton is a con regular, so for the second year in a row, I gazed at him for a few seconds from 100+ feet away as he signed some dude's glossy photo. I think Peter Mayhew was the only Star Wars guy that showed, but I didn't actually lay eyes on him. I've seen him once or twice at other cons, and a guy that big is tough to miss. I heard someone say he had some kind of debilitating fall or something. I also never saw Sean Maher, but I got a good look at Sam Trammell. He's a smallish guy, but just as handsome in real life as on TV. A big deal was made over Edward James Olmos, but I missed him entirely. Some girls were giggling over their Devon Murray pictures, but my girlfriend's being a Harry Potter fanatic (damn you ABC Family weekend marathons) just made me want to run the other way. Marina Sirtis is holding up well, and seemed very affectionate with her fans, standing up and shaking hands. I overheard folks saying nice things about Tony Todd as well, but there was only so close I wanted to get to Candyman.

Film: There were a lot of no-budget horror filmmakers hocking their wares, with one in particular creating a micro haunted house on the con floor that provided enough shade to allow for a decent screening. They had a number of cosplayers around, including a blond girl in the Halle Berry Catwoman costume. For some reason I was constantly crossing that chick's path. I'm sorry, but I'm Team Pfeiffer, so that get-up bugged me.

By mid-my-day I was tired enough to eavesdrop on a group conversation involving an angry organizer in the blessedly air-conditioned lounge area. She was dealing with one director who kept stealing her personal audio equipment, which was preventing bands from playing, because the idiot filmmaker insisted it was better for screening his flick to twelve guys in attendance... Yes, even though there was better equipment available, optimized for clarity over projection, perfect for a film in a small room. Plus, he'd sent her a bunch of threatening text messages, so she was trying to track him down for a confrontation, but he kept hiding from her. Con drama is so much more fun when you're not remotely involved. Plus, no loading longboxes of unsold comics into a van. There were some anime people, but if it doesn't involve schoolgirl outfits and untoward tentacles, I really don't care.

Music: Passed on all of them, including Adam WarRock and some American J-Pop, which given the last sentence of the previous paragraph, was probably best for everyone. Plus, I heard they were having sound problems...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Who's Dat: Marshal Kafka

Real Name: Kirovan Kafka
Occupation: Bandit Marshal
Marital Status: Unknown
Known Relatives: None
Group Affiliation: Leader of his own mercenary army
Base of Operations: Central Europe, The World To Come
Height/Build: Approximately 6'0" and stocky
Eyes: Blue
Hair: Black
First Appearance: OMAC #3 (January-February, 1975)

Marshal Kirovan Kafka commanded his 100,000 strong mercenary army within his own unnamed Central European nation and against territorial neighbors. Massacre was their specialty, as Kafka played out his dream of becoming a Caesar. Those dreams were crushed by the One Man Army Corps, who used his own advanced weaponry and the incredible resources of Brother Eye to demolish the bandits and capture their leader. Kafka was turned over to the Global Peace Agency to be tried for war crimes at the Court of Justice. Kafka was charged with the following:

  • Mass Homicide: 3 Counts
  • Execution of Prisoners: 9 Counts
  • Conspiracy to Invade: 2 Counts
  • Intent to Subjugate and Enslave: 12 Counts
  • Design and Execution of Mass Terror upon Civilians: 3 Counts
  • Use of Weapons Outlawed by International Agreement: 2 Counts

Kafka was unrepentant, laughing at the charges and threatening more deaths when his avenger arrived at the super-court. True to his word, a doomsday creation had been unleashed against the court, but was redirected into space by OMAC. Kafka was last seen being escorted to confinement.

Marshal Kafka had an enormous army and spectacularly advanced arsenal at his disposal. These included remote guided rockets, massive tanks, vertical take-off planes, barrages of barbed cannonballs, armored golf-carts, and a heavily armed mobile bunker weighing seventy tons. All of Kafka's forces were geared for mobility, so that all of his resources could be redirected on short notice to overwhelm any opposition. Kafka also had a bioengineering program with which he created an astonishing creature of unidentified construction with a nigh-impervious exterior that could project intense flames and sonic waves.

"I'm not impressed by your gimmicks or speeches... Marshal Kafka will dictate peace! ...By the power of his weapons!"

Created by: Jack Kirby

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Coming Soon on DC Bloodlines...

The Taskmaster
The Prince
The Warrior
The Elemental
The Enigma
The Crusader

Together, these Six shall stand firm against all of Earth's enemies.

Welcome To The Edge.

Review: Beowulf #1

Hello again! It's Anj from Supergirl Comic Box Commentary and once again I have dusted off a 1970's DC Comics fantasy book to look at here at DC Bloodlines.

As I have said before, I love the idea of this blog. How great for there to be a site where the depth of DC Comics can be explored by multiple bloggers with different viewpoints and passions. And I am glad when time allows me to come here and post about some non-Super related topic.

I mean where else would I feel welcomed when I want to talk about Beowulf #1?

My interest in the 1970's DC fantasy books was rekindled by Gail Simone's treatment of them WonderWoman #20-23 back in 2008. In that storyline, Stalker organizes Diana, Claw the Unconquered, and Beowulf into a group to fight the demon god Dgrth.

Simone and artist Aaron Lopresti really shine here, showing Diana to be an extremely capable warrior but also armed with compassion. And clearly the two creators have as much a love of DC lore as any fan.

Here is a scene from the opening chapter of that arc, where Diana first meets Beowulf. He initially thinks she is an agent of his enemies, sent to trick him. He attacks. Diana is eventually able to reason with him.

The look of Beowulf is exactly that of the 70s comic. He is shown to be a ferocious fighter, nearly unstoppable. But unlike the cursed Stalker or the unhinged Claw, Beowulf is shown to have a sense of nobility, a deeper sense of ethics. While Diana fights next to all the warriors, she relates best to Beowulf.

And so ... on to the comic.

Beowulf was written by Michael Uslan and penciled by Ricardo Villamonte.

Here is the opening page of the book, a very nice montage page by Villamonte with some minor exposition about the world that Beowulf lives in. It is really a lovely page, Villamonte showing he is up to the artistic task on the book. I mean, a devil head, a comely woman, a warrior swinging a mace ludicrously too big for his frame. It all works ... it would still work today. My description sounds like a video game cover.

If I had seen this in my youth, it would have affected me in many many ways. I would definitely want to collect every issue that came out.

One thing I found amusing about the issue was the letters page. While it included short bios of Uslan and Villamonte, it also talked about the actual literary work Beowulf. DC made sure to say that while elements of the book would mirror the 'real' Beowulf, that Uslan would be given some leeway to explore other aspects of the character. He might also 'fill in' areas of the story, adding to what existed. The funniest line in the column was DC telling the reader that they should not use the comic to help write a book report. I guess it was a simpler time.

The comic starts off with classic Beowulf moment. The devil Grendel lurks in his swamp and cannot rest. He hears the joy coming from Castle Hrothgar and that happiness causes him great pain. Whatever he needs to do to shut off that noise he will do ... and that means blood will be spilled.

This is not at all how I imagine Grendel in my mind. I always think of him as a more ogrish, distorted human, but human. So this much more monstrous version of Grendel, orange fur or orange scales, was different for me.

His reasoning reminds me of the Grinch, someone who wants to stop Christmas from coming because of the noise down in Hooville.

As for Beowulf, we meet him on the battle field. He and his men are wading through enemies, slaughtering the army of the Franks.

With that battle won, Beowulf is greeted by a bard of some sort, an insane appearing minstrel/raconteur who tell him in cryptic verse about how a Satan spawn is attacking his father's friend's land.

Bound by honor, and his belief in the Teutonic ideal of 'lof' ... fame that will keep your name alive forever, he boards his ship and sails to Hrothgar's lands. As I said above, this code he follows is the core of Beowulf. He is often called the 'noble savage' in the book.

Meanwhile back at Castle Hrothgar, the raucous festivities of the mead hall continue on.

Interestingly, the minstrel that was just speaking to Beowulf is shown singing here as well. In fact, his songs are in praise of Beowulf and his great deeds. This irritates Unferth, a member of the court. Unferth seems to have some hatred in his heart for Geats such as Beowulf. But he is appropriately chastised by the lord of the hall.

Hrothgar knows that the 'wandering minstrel' has traveled far beyond just the lands. The soothsayer admits that he is a servant of the gods, of Wyrd, and that his words speak the truth (even if it is hidden in tricky verse).

Hrothgar also knows that Beowulf is worthy of the praise. Beowulf's exploits are already well-known.

But the party takes a sudden bloody turn when Grendel arrives. Invulnerable to the Frankish weapons, Grendel simply plods through the hall killing as many men as he can get his hands on. It is a great scene with great art. I especially like the panel showing shadows on the wall leaving the bone-crunching details of those murders to my imagination. Sometimes that works better than showing me everything.

Temporarily sated, Grendel leaves the hall and goes back to the peace of his swamp.

Beowulf's voyage to Hrothgar's unfortunately does not go peacefully.

En route, the ship gets lured towards rocks by a siren's song. The crew falls sway ... but not mighty Beowulf. He throws himself into the water and that shock clears his mind. He then swims to the crags to confront the siren face to face.

Showing incredible will power, he does not succumb to her magic and takes her out.

But there is more here than meets the eye.

The woman was not a siren after all but a lure. And this is no simple rocky outcropping; it is a doorway to Hell itself, guarded by demons. Now I'm not sure where that massive rocky club comes from but Beowulf has it and wields it effectively bashing in the skulls of the monsters.

The demons have numbers though and just as the last demon is about to eviscerate Beowulf it is killed, run through by the woman Beowulf just punched. I like twists like that. It is suddenly clear there is more to this woman than just being a 'damsel in distress'.

She tells Beowulf that she is a Scyfling warrior  who was trapped by the demons and forced to obey them.

The great Geat laughs at such an idea, a woman warrior, let alone a Swede. But her skills are pretty evident as she does what no one has yet done in the book ... landing a blow and knocking Beowulf off his feet.
But our hero isn't dispatched that easily. The tables turn quickly and suddenly the roles are reversed. Hmmm ... you can cut the tension with a knife.

With nowhere to go, she joins the crew hoping for a ride back to land.

After that small side adventure, the ship finally lands in Hrothgar's realm. Beowulf meets one of the Hrothgar's messengers and they plan their trek back to the mead hall.

But Unferth, skulking in the shadows, doesn't like that idea. He was so easily defeated by Grendel. If Beowulf vanquishes the monster, Unferth will be ridiculed. Rather than think of what is best for the kingdom, he thinks about himself. Using dark magic, he changes the lay of the land, creating a false road that will lead Beowulf and his men into the dangerous swamp lands.

And the evil spell works. Suddenly Beowulf and his men are hip deep in the bog, surrounded by lizard men, disciples of Satan.

What a cliffhanger! Good enough that when I recently saw Beowulf #2 at a local comic shop I bought it. You probably will be seeing more of that book soon! I have to say I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would, but not nearly as much as I like Stalker.

Certainly, the art is radically different than what Ditko did on that book. This is much more traditional 'sword and sorcery' art. And the story is actually a bit denser than I expected. Exposition is written in rhymes and poetry at times.

But outside of place names, character names, and the idea of 'lof', this could just as easily have been a Conan book. Beowulf #2 takes many strange turns making me think that if I see other issues of this short series, I'll be there.

As I said, my interest in these characters was reignited by Simone and Lopresti. Here we see how deep their vision and respect for these books go. This Grendel is the same Grendel as in Beowulf. And they fight on a bone lined bridge much like was saw in Stalker #2.

We only catch this glimpse of Grendel in Simone's arc. We never see a fight. I wonder if Simone had sequel in her mind.

Since I have touched on Simone's arc so much, I figured I would let the cat out of the bag. In the end of Wonder Woman #23, Dgrth is beheaded. The four warriors kill him on an ancient stone table. I love Diana's words here: "I lowered my sword into the empty sockets of his eyes until I hit the living meat underneath." Chilling. Lovely. I miss Simone's Wonder Woman.

I'll thank Diabolu Frank again for spearheading the creation of this blog. Glad I was able to help these last three weeks. And I'll continue to try to post here more. Suggestions?

Overall grade (Beowulf): B (raised half a grade due to art)
Overall grade (Wonder Woman 'Ends of the Earth'): B+ (knocked down half a grade because Dgrth gets taken out to easily)