Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Story Thus Far...

Captain Thunder and Blue Bolt Vol. 2 #2 (Hero Graphics, November 1992, $3.50)
"Hard Targets" Writers/Creators: Roy and Dann Thomas, Artist: E.R. Cruz, Letterer: Jean Simek, and Editor: Dennis Mallonee.

This is an impressive comic book published by a Long Beach, California-based imprint that also published Windraven Adventures, Tigress, Murcielaga She Bat, and Flare. The "Back Issue Department" on the inside back cover suggests that there were 10 issues in the first volume of this series, and the inside front cover is dedicated to a full page of text, "The Story Thus Far..." so a lot has come before this issue.

Story aside -- and I'll return to that below -- this comic book is beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. Cruz's black-and-white artwork is crisp and stunning, a real find in a little-known (to me) comic like this. His extremely finely inked illustrative style would be at home almost anywhere: commercial and book illustration, pulp fiction magazines, sf digests, even the horror magazines of the '70s. What a wonderful surprise. Cruz is a Filipino artist who did a lot of mystery and war comics for DC in the '70s and '80s. Most of his work seems to be centered on G.I. Combat, House of Mystery, and The Unexpected. He is a wonderful artist, and this book is worth checking out just for that -- astonishingly detailed black-and-white comics. Pages 13, 19-20, and 26 are particularly impressive.

The story by Roy and Dann Thomas, a husband and wife team, then, is worthy of Cruz's artwork. Captain Thunder and his son are after the Merchants of Menace, causing the villains' plane to crash and catching its leader as he parachutes to safety. He leads the two heroes to a secret compound, where he bargains away the other Merchants before unleashing some sort of monstrosity, a "living vacuum cleaner," an energy-siphoning Mantis-Tank dubbed the Critical Mass.

Blue Bolt's energy is drained and Captain Thunder trapped in the construct. The issue ends with Blue Bolt revitalized and about to attempt a rescue. Even newcomers to the series and involved plot line will be impressed by Cruz's artwork, the highlight of the issue. Apparently, there was no #3.

Availability: This issue has not been collected. We recommend Alter Ego: The Best Of The Legendary Comics Fanzine and The Best of Alter Ego Vol. 2.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Science Fiction and the Supernatural

Forbidden Worlds #65 (American Comics Group, April 1958, 10 cents)
"There's a New Moon Tonight" Pencils and inks: Ogden Whitney, and Script: Richard Hughes.

While the main story in this issue is squarely science fiction, the other short pieces are more supernatural in scope. The 15-page lead piece tells the tale of aerospace scientist and MIT alumnus Ben Widdemer, who leaves behind the mechanical toys of Precision Plastics Inc. to respond to the Soviet launch of Sputnik and "reach for the moon." He falls for liaison agent Mary Simmons, in reality a Russian operative named Olga Kurilenko.

Widdemer's satellite New Moon can accommodate him as a passenger, and Simmons declares her love for him while holding a bomb in her hand. The satellite goes out of control and lands on a strange, bleak planet, where Widdemer meets the survivors of an alien race who plan a mass invasion of Earth. Their invasion is not successful.

The one-page "Wartime Episode" (Pencils and inks: John Forte) reunites a 2-year-old boy with his parents many years later. In the uncredited four-page "No Place to Hide," perhaps the best story in the issue, an erstwhile embezzler is kept from committing his crime. The uncredited one-page "What's the Answer?" is a time-traveling tale of ghostly medical attention. And the five-page "Return of a Hero" (Pencils and inks: John Forte) brings a Hungarian hero back from the dead to lend a hand in the rebellion against Communism.

The issue also includes a two-page letter column.

Availability: Dark Horse offers several collections (Forbidden Worlds Archives Vol. 1, Vol. 3), as does PS Publishing (Forbidden Worlds Collected Works Vol. 4Vol. 5, Vol. 6) and Gwandanaland (Forbidden Worlds Readers Giant #2 and Forbidden Worlds Readers Giant #3).

Shaolin, Kung Fu, and Samurai

The Beast Warriors of Shaolin #3 (Pied Piper, September 1987, $1.95)
"Come Lady Death" Scripter/Creator: Peter Quinones, Penciller/Creator: Glen Johnson, Inker: Marty Lasick, Letterer: JoAnn Nielsen, Editor-in-Chief: Roger McKenzie.

Published by Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Pied Piper Comics, this title joined other comics such as Ex-Mutants, Power Factor, and The New Breed. With occasionally manga-inspired artwork, the comic focuses on martial arts Beast Warriors named Phan-Ku, or Dragon; as well as Tiger, Snake, Crane, Bear, and Mongoose.

The issue opens with Dragon engulfed in flame. Crane rescues him. To the south, Bear and Mongoose stop at an inn to quench their thirsts. There, Mongoose is drugged and Bear must face Dim-Mak, "iron palm master of the delayed death touch" alone. He succumbs in combat but regains consciousness with Mongoose.

A dragon comes to Phan-Ku, and Mongoose falls into the clutches of Na-Ling, advisor to Princess Kuan-Yin and employer of Dim-Mak, assigning him to procure the Beast Warriors's bones, which are said to contain magic and be quite valuable.

I was initially confused reading this issue because Princess Kuan-Yin looks a lot like Snake, and it seemed that the friends and enemies in the title are awfully closely aligned already. Regardless, I'm sure the previous issues set up this edition well and that things were much more clear for longer-term readers.

This issue also includes an eight-page preview of the then-forthcoming first issue of The New Breed, the "world's greatest mutant mag." Written by Publisher Mark L. Hamlin and Editor-in-Chief Roger McKenzie, and drawn by Jeremie Johnson, the preview takes place in the year 2990 and establishes the threat of the ratbeasts, which are attacking a wooden fort that protects the holy seed. The New Breed is introduced as characters in five profile pages draw by Johnson and Scott Rosema.

Other than its Midwestern origin and relationship to Ex-Mutants, there's not a lot to keep this reader, with either the Beast Warriors or the New Breed. A fourth issue was never printed, so perhaps The New Breed never hit the stands, either. A one-page directory of authorized direct distributors lists 16 distributors, including Capital City, Heroes' World, Friendly Frank's, and Styx.

Availability: This title has not been collected.

Deathlok and the Cosmic Cube

Captain America #288 (Marvel, December 1983, 60 cents)
"Mazes" Scripter: J.M. DeMatteis, Penciler: Mike Zeck, Inker: John Beatty, Colorist: Bob Sharen, Letterer: Diana Albers, Editor: Mark Gruenwald, and Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter.

Captain America is a decade in the future, following his guide Godwulf with the cyborg Deathlok through the streets of New York City circa 1993. They witness the aftermath of a corporate takeover of the United States by Roxxon Oil and the Brand Corporation, its clandestine group the Nth Command sending the country's superheroes into "hostile realities" to kill them, ridding the world of heroes.

Some pockets of humanity found safety from the warring factions and the madman Hellinger. Godwulf leads the two to a group of his friends, including Sage, Swashbuckler, Gentle Sam, Big Man, and Iron Butterfly, who carries a guitar strapped to her back.

Hellinger is in fact Harlan Ryker, a Brand researcher who focused on bionics and cybernetics, creating Deathlok out of Luther Manning. Godwulf's friends and other survivors rally around Deathlok and Captain America to take the fight to Hellinger, now a cyborg himself.

They arrive at his headquarters in upstate New York and gain entrance to his fortress, where they encounter an automated, ever-changing maze. Only Captain America and Deathlok make it through the labyrinth to face Hellinger.

DeMatteis's script is exposition heavy, which is necessary to situate the issue. While I haven't read the other comics in this storyline, there's a lot of potential here, and the idea reminds me of the "Days of Future Past" storyline in The Uncanny X-Men. Zeck's artwork is strong, and the large panel featuring Hellinger on page 19 is excellent. It'd be worth seeing where this storyline started -- and what repercussions it'll have on life back in 1983, especially given Scarlet's hypnotic kiss with Nomad.

The issue also includes ads for ABC and NBC's Saturday morning cartoon lineups, Victory Games's James Bond role-playing game, TSR's Star Frontiers, and a letter column featuring four letters of comment.

Read Also: Marvel Spotlight #33 and Marvel Two-in-One #27.

Availability: This issue is collected in Marvel Masterworks: Deathlok Vol. 1 and Deathlok the Demolisher: The Complete Collection.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Mystery Men and Comics History

All-Star Squadron #3 (DC, November 1981, 60 cents)
"The Dooms of Dark December" Writer/Co-Creators/Penciller: Roy Thomas and Rich Buckler, Embellisher: Jerry Ordway, Letterer: John Costanza, Colorist: Carl Gafford, Editor: Len Wein.

The conclusion of the All-Stars's first mission finds the team—comprising Johnny Quick, Robotman, Libery Belle, and others—on the parallel world Earth-Two in late 1941. Per Degaton has traveled back in time with a group of cronies to engineer a pre-emptive Japanese attack on northern and southern California. Safe in his sub-oceanic carrier, he revels in the defeat of the Justice Society of America on an active volcanic island in the Pacific.

The Shining Knight and geologist Danette Reilly have infiltrated Degaton's submarine and face Wotan, Professor Zodiak, and Solomon Grundy. They escape and return with the All-Stars just as hypnotized pilots approach Monterey, California. Hawkman, Robotman, and Johnny Quick fend them off, and the JSA is revived by the Spectre to square off against Grundy and the others, who are soon returned to their own times as Degaton flees.

Even isolated from the first two issues, Thomas's story holds up reasonably well as a standalone, and Buckler and Ordway's artwork is solid, if not surprising. Page layouts often incorporate smaller panels—seven or eight per page—and the image of the Spectre looking above the active volcano on page 21 is wonderful. Thomas's retelling of Degaton's gathering of the other villains from across time—Wotan from the late '40s, Zodiak from 1948, Grundy from 1947, so so on—establishes some sympathy for the lesser criminals, mere pawns out of time, "expendable," even, in Degaton's plans.

The issue also includes a Red Tornado Hostess Cup Cake ad ("My computer brain informs me we must bait the Vacuum Vulture with something dark and delicious.") and a "Super-Villain Fact File" profiling Grundy, Zodiak, Wotan, and Sky Pirate. Page five includes an off-hand mention of King Canute, king of Denmark, England, and Norway, referring to the legend of King Canute and the tide, which in later tellings portrays him as a deluded monarch who believes he has supernatural powers.

Availability: This issue is included in Showcase Presents: All-Star Squadron Vol. 1.