Captain Atom #7

In this entry, the Captain goes on a top secret military mission with Wonder Woman’s very own Col. Steve Trevor.

 Captain Atom (2nd series, 1986) issue #7

 ca7

Published:          June 23rd 1987

Cover price:       75 cents (US), $1 (Canada), 40 pence (UK)

Cover:                   Captain Atom being cut open by the sword-wielding Cambodian.

Pencilled by:     Pat Broderick

Inked by:             Bob Smith

Title:                     “The Cutting Edge” [32 pages, 22 story]

Credits:

Cary Bates (W )

Pat Broderick (P)

Bob Smith (I)

Duncan Andrews (L)

Carl Gafford (C)

Denny O’Neil (E)

Starring:              

General Wade R. Eiling (USAF, Head of the Atom Project), Sgt Jeffrey “Goz” Goslin (USAF), Col. Steve Trevor (USAF), General John Hilary (USAF), Randall “Randy” Eiling (USAF), Margaret “Peggy” Eiling, Martin Allard (USAF, Eiling aide, Atom Project)

Guest-starring: Plastique (Bette Sans Souci)

Intro:                    

The Cambodian, a deadly mercenary armed with an X-ionized sword capable of cutting Captain Atom’s exo-shell.

Intro:                   Lt. Barker (USAF), dies in this story.

Intro:                    Ian Rydley (mercenary), dies in this story.

Comments:

Col. Stephen Rockwell Trevor and General John Thomas Hillary are supporting cast members of the post-Crisis Wonder Woman, of course.   Both are based at Hanscom Air Force base where Hillary serves as its commander.   In real life, Hanscom AFB is in Bedford, Massachusetts and has been a non-flying base since 1973.

Steve_Trevor_whos_who

The post-Crisis Trevor and Hillary first appear in Wonder Woman (2nd series) #2.  And before you ask, no, Trevor is an older character post-Crisis and, in contrast to most depictions, doesn’t have an intimate relationship with Diana (Wonder Woman) in this continuity but they do develop into trusted friends and this remains strictly platonic with Trevor’s affections focused elsewhere.

In fact, Zero Hour DC sliding timeline aside, it’s revealed that Trevor was born slightly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which although it would make Trevor chronologically at least, older than Nathaniel, they would certainly be kindred spirits and have similar frames of reference, even if an “under cover I’m prematurely grey” Nathaniel can’t acknowledge it without exposing the Atom Project.

Hillary unknowingly co-opts Eiling’s asset Captain Atom because Cameron Scott’s bogus military identity has duplicated parts of Nathaniel’s real military deployment history – his time serving in Cambodia, an expertise vital to the success of this mission.  You have to assume that was a little sloppy on the part of military intelligence/Atom Project; I suspect it was probably a time-saving move but these tend to have unsuspecting outcomes.

Eiling is promoted in this issue by the President of the United States who is still identified as Ronald Reagan which is consistent with other DC comics of the era (e.g. the Legends mini-series).  Eiling becomes a three-star General here; the promotion dissuades him from complaining about Hillary’s unexpected use of his asset without his permission or knowledge (although it’s clear he was sorely tempted initially – he may not personally like his asset, but he knows its value).

As shown on the cover, Captain Atom’s skin is cut (something thought previously impossible); the concepts of Ashana Long (Babylon’s mother) and her X-Ionizer are introduced here although she is only referred as “the inventor” and is not explicitly named by General Hillary [this information may be on a “need to know” basis, unless of course he doesn’t actually know himself or considers it irrelevant to the current mission brief].  This will, of course, play out in later issues.  It’s worth noting from a continuity standpoint that the X-Ionizer was lost in 1969 (this is relevant, of course).

Randy Eiling makes an appearance after getting a flight back from his Greenland posting to celebrate his step-Father’s promotion.

Nathaniel’s nervous about the Cambodia mission and starts telling corny jokes, something he did back in issue #1 before the atomic bomb detonates.   It’s a coping mechanism that both Angela (Nate’s deceased wife) and now his daughter, Peggy, recognize.  Some other writers will pick up on this characteristic when introducing the Captain to their own readers.

Hillary allows both Trevor and Nate to pick their own trusted back-ups; Nate chooses Goz.

Synopsis:

 Nathaniel in his guise as USAF Intelligence agent Cameron Scott is recruited, without Eiling’s knowledge, by General Hillary to assist Col. Steve Trevor on an infiltration and rescue mission in Cambodia.    Having undergone the necessary flight training and briefing, the squad, including Nate’s best friend Jeff Goslin, prepare to meet a mercenary to trade for a long-lost US military asset called the X-Ionizer, officially lost since 1968.

However, they find the mercenary dead and the device vanished.  Two other agents, Plastique and The Cambodian fight for control of the device for their own mysterious paymasters.   Caught in the crossfire the US team is separated and attempting to save the day, Nate transforms into Captain Atom and is caught by surprise when the Cambodian’s unnaturally sharp samurai blade cuts his skin and dangerous Quantum energy starts to escape and causes a large explosion.

 In the confusion Trevor and Goslin lose track of the other members of the team and, securing the X-Ionizer, prepare to exfiltrate leaving Nathaniel to his fate…

To be continued!

 

Thoughts:

What an issue.

It is probably the purest distillation of the reasons why I like this series so much.

It uses past continuity, explores new history (Nate in Cambodia, X-Ionizer), uses another character’s supporting cast really well (arguably their absence in Wonder Woman is even given an in-story reference), puts Nate in peril by cutting him – something even he is surprised about, pushes Plastique’s story forward (outside The Suicide Squad), introduces a dangerous new villain and has a bit of Eiling family drama and politics.

Honestly, this is pretty dense stuff.  What’s not to like?  Even the cover ‘pops’ with energy and dynamism.

Quick thought – Well, the USAF had to craft the metal cocoon from the crashed alien UFO somehow didn’t they – was that achieved using the X-Ionizer, back in the day, before it was lost?   And where was it going anyway?  And why?  More questions…

Best quote:

I’m taking the X-Ionizer!

I told you in French – I told you in English – but you would not listen!

This is the only other language I know.

(KA-BOOOMM!)

Plastique, demonstrating her negotiating skills to Nate and Trevor.

 

Bottom line:

Excellent use of the wider DC universe and perhaps for the first time, Captain Atom is in genuine peril as we learn his invulnerable alien skin isn’t quite so invulnerable after all…

5/5 on both counts

 

Wait, haven’t I seen that cover before?  And isn’t that The Cambodian?

Why, yes…yes, you have and yes, it is:

youngjustice10

Young Justice #10 (cover dated January 2012)

Featuring the animated ‘Young Justice’ of the 2000s (from Cartoon Network) rather than Peter David’s similarly named post-Zero incarnation in the 1990s, this cover heralds a story called “Hot Case”.  It is the conclusion of a two-part story started the previous issue with a tale called “Cold Case”.  Note the lovely cover by Christopher Jones:

youngjustice09

Young Justice #10 was written by Kevin Hopps and Greg Weisman, based on the series created by Weisman and Brandon Vietti.  Both Hopps and Weisman wrote episodes for the cartoon so are well-acquainted with the characters.  As a consequence, this gives the comic a very authentic feel and its issues can be treated as “lost” episodes.

Greg_Weisman_Christopher_Jones_Kevin_Hopps

Greg Weisman, Christopher Jones and Kevin Hopps (l-r)

Photo sources:  http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=328084587229143
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38497744
Photo (c) TihIngamHom

And, yes, you read correctly, that Greg Weisman, he of Captain Atom fame (even if at this point he’s not regularly credited as co-plotter with Cary Bates).

I am not going to say anything else about this in the current entry as I will revisit it, in detail (I promise) when we get to Captain Atom #9 which despite this cover is probably the most appropriate place to take this particular continuity side-step.

I will say that if you’re a Captain Atom fan, these two issues are highly recommended.  Moreover, if you’re a Captain Atom fan (and if you’re not you’re probably on the wrong blog to be fair…) it is worth pointing out that Atom is a frequent guest star on the Young Justice cartoon and in the DC comic adaptation, including its outgoing “Invasion” storyline.

These two issues can be found as are part of the collected Young Justice trade paperback entitled “Young Justice Volume 2: Training Day”.

YJ training day

And there’s even a Young Justice Captain Atom figure (which is mostly “on model” apart from the red boots).  You have to admit, this is better than the Justice League Unlimited version…

yj captain atom

This won’t be the last time I link to Young Justice.   As we edge closer to the end of Cap’s original DC run we will see that another of his adventures had been freely adapted for the Young Justice comic during the Invasion arc.  All of that still to come, of course!

On the whole, Young Justice is a very good DC adaptation, containing much of the flavour of 2000s DC comics which I like.  If you’ve not watched any episodes or read any of the comics they are certainly worth your time.

 

Elsewhere in the DC Universe

Some interesting reads also available at the same time as this issue of Captain Atom.  Here are a few choice picks.

Fury of Firestorm #63

Firestorm 63

Put simply, it’s Captain Atom vs. Firestorm – round 2 in a story called, “Rogue Hero”.

It’s written by John Ostrander, pencilled by Joe Brozowski, inked by Dick Giordano, lettered by John Workman, Jr. and coloured by Nansi Hoolahan.

Following on from the previous issue, Firestorm is still demanding nuclear disarmament.  The President responds by arranging a meeting, feigning an interest in Firestorm’s ultimatum.    Eiling sends Captain Atom to the meeting and a battle ensues, started by the Captain.  One of Firestorm’s hosts, Professor Martin Stein, suffers a seizure and Firestorm is forced to flee as his fusion starts to fail.  The President refuses to give into Firestorm’s demands and Task Force X, The Suicide Squad, are ordered to bring Firestorm into custody.  This story continues in Firestorm 64 and Firestorm annual 5.

That’s a pretty brief synopsis to be honest as there’s a lot more going on here.

For more on Firestorm, you won’t find better than Firestorm Fan.

 

Hawkman #14

Hawkman14

This issue continues a story started in the previous issue which reintroduced the DC assassin Bolt into the post-Crisis universe.  Although he had first appeared in Blue Devil #6, Fury of Firestorm #45 and #46 and in the villains-oriented issues of Crisis (#9 and #10) he had never really enjoyed a lot of success in the wider DCU.  Here, he is seen going up against the Hawks in an engaging tale written by Amethyst and Blue Devil co-creator Dan Mishkin.

Why is this important?  Well, Bolt will next appear in Captain Atom #9 as a dangerous adversary for our hero, intent on “removing” useful leads in Nathaniel’s investigation into his original court martial.

Although it’s fair to say that Bolt never really hit the big time in terms of being a top-drawer DC villain, he does later trouble the Will Payton Starman (Starman #2 and #3) and appears in Suicide Squad (issues #63-#66).

And he will appear again, at a vital juncture, in future issues of Captain Atom.

 

Justice League #5

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“Gray Life Gray Dreams” by Keith Giffen, J.M.DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, Al Gordon, Bob Lappan and Gene D’Angelo.

Well, this one is pretty infamous, isn’t it?

Yes, this is the Batman “one punch” moment.  You know – the one where Guy Gardner is becoming so insufferable, boorish and outright argumentative that even the Dark Knight can’t find any other solution than simply punching him out.

So he does.  With one punch to the face.

And, famously, Black Canary much to her eternal chagrin – misses it completely.

It’s around about this time that this incarnation of the Justice League really starts to hit its stride.  Although the personnel and members haven’t quite settled down yet, we’re truly on the path to it becoming the DC franchise juggernaut of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

For more on the Justice League (International), including Captain Atom’s upcoming membership, try the highly recommended Justice League International: Bwah-ha-ha podcast bought to you monthly by the Irredeemable Shag and his guest hosts.

Oh, and there’s more on this in an upcoming edition of Twomorrows’ Back Issue magazine (#91, to be exact).

backissue91

And, of course, there’s always Kevin Maguire’s blog which is very entertaining.

I’m linking this so that you don’t accidentally visit the Daily Mirror’s Kevin Maguire by accident…

Superman #9

superman9

To “Laugh and Die in Metropolis” is brought to you by John Byrne, Karl Kessel, John Costanza and Thomas Zuiko.  It’s the Joker in Metropolis, quite early in his run of post-Crisis appearances and before the Bat-hype really starts to bite with Tim Burton’s Batman.

Seriously…if you don’t own this, why not?

This issue has one of my favourite logical plot-points of the post-Crisis Superman.   For years Superman foes had been using lead to out-fox the Metropolis marvel (his “x-ray” vision notoriously being unable to penetrate it).  In this issue, Byrne explains why this isn’t such a clever idea…

As usual, for all things post-Crisis Superman there is no better place than to visit Michael Bailey’s Fortress of Baileytude.

Silverblade #1

Silverblade1

“Is he man…myth…or monster?”

The start of a deluxe-format 12 issue maxi-series (when such things existed) that focuses on the adventures of Jonathan Lord, an ageing swashbuckling movie star who had his heyday in the 1940s.

Written and created by Cary Bates, drawn by the late, great Gene Colan, this series – although technically outside the DCU – is well worth your time and can still be found at a reasonable price.

I’m not going to spoil the plot here as it’s got some very sly twists and turns that you should encounter first-hand.  Put simply, this is Cary Bates writing a very engaging fantasy series in his late-1980s purple patch.

 Highly recommended.

 

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Captain Atom #6 (1987)

In this entry, it’s Captain Atom vs. Dr. Spectro

 captain atom 6

Captain Atom (2nd series, 1986) issue #6

Published:          May 26th 1987

Cover price:       75 cents (US), $1 (Canada), 40 pence (UK)

Cover:                  Captain Atom being attacked by an illusory Dr. Spectro

Pencilled by:     Pat Broderick

Inked by:            Bob Smith

Title:                    “A piece of the Lie” [32 pages, 22 story]

Credits:               Cary Bates (W )

Pat Broderick (P)

Bob Smith (I)

Duncan Andrews (L)

Carl Gafford (C)

Denny O’Neil (E)

Starring:              General Wade R. Eiling (USAF, Head of the Atom Project),  Theresa                                              Delgado (government PR agent)

Guest-starring: Martin Allard (USAF, Atom Project)

Intro:                     A Tampa Police lieutenant, Holis Upert, Police forensic scientist, “Jake”                                     and friend; a documentary film crew.

Cameo:                 Margaret “Peggy” Eiling, Randall “Randy” Eiling in photographs on Wade                                 Eiling’s desk.

 Comment:          Captain Atom’s body is surely being squeezed like toothpaste – but that                                       could be part of the illusion.

Synopsis:

Tom Emery, now using technology adapted from his ex-employer The Rainbow Raider has become Captain Atom’s “legendary” foe – Dr. Spectro.

Spectro starts a reign of terror using hideous apparitions in order to get the US Military’s attention.  He is doing so because he knows that the Dr. Spectro character is a fake, part of an intricate and bogus back story set up by the US military to engender public trust in Captain Atom.   Emery attempts to blackmail General Eiling, threatening to spread word of his discovery and endangering the Captain Atom project.  As Eiling acknowledges, Emery now has a “pie of the lie”.

Captain Atom enters the fray…

Thoughts:

It’s all going a bit “Mysterio”.  Not that it’s a bad thing, but you have seen it before.

No, the real meat of this issue is how the military deal with Emery.  First they try to bribe him, then they publicly capture him and imprison him.  Whilst inside he is bribed just enough to keep him quiet while other criminal elements are paid keep him on his toes through the arrangements of “accidents”.  Captain Atom then goes to the prison and threatens the other prisoners to leave Emery alone.

Miss Delgado (chronologically introduced first in Secret Origins #34) appears here for the first time and tries to make Eiling see the positives in the situation: By the taking on the role of Dr. Spectro, Emery has actually reinforced and verified the cover story they have created.  His public defeat by Captain Atom is simply another good bit of PR.  Even with the bribe, it’s a pretty cheap victory.

And, lest we forget, Emery did murder Mabel Ryan in cold blood last issue, so he’s hardly an innocent.

But don’t fret, this version of Dr. Spectro will return when the Atom Project need a bit of holographic trickery…somewhere around issue #15.

From Nathaniel’s perspective, you have to wonder just how long he’s going to be able to go along with the lies and shiftiness that Eiling is demanding.  In issue #3 he lied on national TV, in this issue he’s essentially threatening a prison full of inmates in order to protect his secret.  This won’t end well.

Best quote:        “Sometimes I even lose my temper.  I don’t think any of you wants to see what                                     happens when I lose my temper.  I have a hunch it would hurt – hurt a lot.  And                                 like I said…my hunches usually don’t miss”

                               Captain Atom threatening inmates

Bottom line:      Closes the Dr. Spectro storyline…for now.   Good art by Broderick again,                                      good plot and scripting by Bates.

Overall a good issue.  4/5 on both counts.

 

Elsewhere in DC Universe

Short story: It’s another rich month in the 1987 DC universe.

Highlights this month if we look in closer detail we encounter:

Pay attention, there will be a test.

These four comics operate as a continued story, mostly trying to fix the issues that post-Crisis continuity had bought to the 30th Century’s Legion of Super Heroes (LoSH).

Pre-Crisis it had been established that the Legion had been influenced to form by the historical adventures of the 20th Century Superboy.  And, indeed, Adventure Comics #247 by Otto Binder and Al Plastino has Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy time-travelling to Superboy’s time to test him for membership in their super-hero club (LoSH).

I have to admit, I always thought that was a bit cheeky(!)

Over the years, LoSH grew in membership and Superboy/Superman/Supergirl etc all became active and intrinsic parts of its continuity and adventures.

All is good.

Then came Crisis on Infinite Earths and John Byrne’s Superman revamp where it is established that there never was a Superboy and that Clark’s powers didn’t manifest until he was much older.  Byrne’s logic was simple – the Superboy stories had no dramatic tension as the existence of the older Superman character proved that Superboy was never in peril; he obviously couldn’t die.

So along with a lot of the other Silver Age paraphernalia (the endless raft of other Krypton survivors, Supergirl, Krypto, the Phantom Zone etc) it was all jettisoned to form (what some called at the time) a “Marvelized” version of Superman.

As a consequence, there was no Superboy to inspire the formation of the Legion.   And, yet…the LoSH still existed.   A bit of a puzzle and it needed sorting.

Enter John Byrne and LoSH writer Paul Levitz.

The Time Trapper was one of the most powerful and mysterious of the enemies which regularly confounded the LoSH.   Rather than directly oppose his rival, the supremely powerful sorcerer Mordu, he chose to create a force for good to pitch against him.  This force became known as the LoSH.

However, having discovered the lack of a Superboy in the post-Crisis timeline he knew he had to create one in order to retain established events and the creation of the LoSH.   The Pocket universe was born from a splinter of the main reality, with the Trapper causally destroying untold trillions of lives as he pared it down to the only planets and systems he needed.

Consequently due to these complex machinations of the Time Trapper all the post-Crisis trips to-and-from the post-Crisis 30th Century had been to the 20th Century of a Pocket universe containing Krypton and a pre-Crisis approximation of Earth-One and its champion Superboy.  You’ll note there was no attempt to recreate a Supergirl by the Time Trapper (Matrix was created on Pocket-Earth much later) as she wasn’t key to the LoSH’s formation.

This story runs through LoSH #37, Superman #8, Action Comics #591 and LoSH #38.

I won’t spoil it; it is in turns nostalgic, sad, funny and epic.    LoSH continuity changes don’t end there, unfortunately and it gets much more complex as it goes.  Read here, if interested.

The future of the Pocket universe would be revisited in several months time in the Supergirl saga.  It’s not pretty, but it is a cracking storyline and comes highly recommended.

Superman (2nd) #21, Adventures of Superman #444 and Superman (2nd) #22

 

Superman Annual 1 supermanannual 1

In a tale called, “Tears for Titano”, writers John Byrne and Ron Frenz (also pencilling), inker Brett Breeding, Colourist Tom Ziuko and letterer Albert DeGuzman introduce super-ape Titano to the post-Crisis universe.  Then kills him.

Titano pre-Crisis adventures; Superman (1st series) #127 (his introduction) and my favourite Superman (1st series) #324.

First of all, who among us doesn’t like a super-ape?  Hey, hands down at the back there!

This modernised version of Superman (1st series) #127 from 1959 is competently written by Byrne and a double duty-pulling penciller Ron Frenz.  Byrne is of course the driving force behind the post-Crisis revamp of Superman and Frenz is more critically identified with Marvel’s Spider-man (he is excellent on that title, incidentally), Thor and the Fantastic Four in this time period.

In fact, it would not be until 1995 when Frenz moved to DC Comics from Marvel that he would become the regular artist on Superman, particularly identified with the modern take on the Superman Red/Superman Blue era.  Back in 1987 Frenz’s slighter-weighted Kirby-esque (to my eyes at least) take on Superman wasn’t quite right.  By 1995 though, it was a great interpretation.

Titano is, for many, a one-note character.   For me, he was the star of 1978’s Superman #324, one of the very first DC comics I ever bought off a newsagent’s shelf in the UK.   Love that cover, love that story by Marty Pasko.   Again, I ask, who doesn’t like a super-ape?

Fury of Firestorm #62 

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In the story called “To regain tomorrow”, written by John Ostrander, drawn by Joe Brozowski, inked by Dick Giordano, Coloured by Nansi Hoolahan and lettered by John Workman, Jr, Professor Martin Stein leverages his influence over Ronnie to commence nuclear disarmament…

Principal interest to us about this issue is that it guest stars a certain two star USAF General…no doubt up to no good.   But it’s nice to see him in the wider DC Universe.  He will soon become one of the “go to” characters for writer who needs a military presence in the wider DC Universe.  And generally, he’s manipulative and grumpy wherever he goes.

Green Lantern Corps #215, “I think…therefore”.

greenlanterncorps215

Salakk… and a Lass   No, really, it’s a pun on the phrase “alas and alack” which may be used as a somewhat theatrical exclamation of sorrow (very apt here).  A great cover by Ian Gibson (more on him later) and another good issue in the (seemingly divisive) Green Lantern run by Steve Englehart.

First a bit of back history, way back in Green Lantern #8 a pre-Crisis Hal Jordan had been brought to the 58th century by the Solar Council and, filling Hal’s amnesiac mind (a side effect of the time travel) with the suitably heroic personality of “Pol Manning”, he dealt with threats to their security as their Solar Director.

When you think about this idea it’s actually an incredible proposition; you’ve effectively given Hal Jordan a second costumed identity.  In a weird way, it’s a bit Adam Strange-like, if you squint and see the 58th century as an analogue for the planet Rann and the time travel device is essentially the same macguffin as Sardath’s zeta beam.

pol manning

He even had time for a romance in the form of Solar Council secretary Iona Vane.  That would be his Alanna, I guess.

hal jordan pol manning

Hal visited the 58th century on multiple occasions (GL #12, GL #51, GL #136 etc).

A young Hal even defended it during Zero Hour (ironically…um, spoilers?)

zero hour pol manning

Post-crisis, the future called upon Hal once more but he was off-planet.   Instead, they grabbed Salakk who was on Earth at the time.

salakk as pol

The council implanted him with the Manning persona and altered Vane’s mind to see Salakk as “Hal” (hence the cover to #215).  What could possibly go wrong?

This is an interesting spin on an old silver-age concept, one of Englehart’s particular talents and strengths as a writer, along with knitting anomalous continuity threads into a coherent narrative (Predator, anyone?).  Honestly, Geoff Johns is surely the love child of Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart, isn’t he?:)

Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual 3

Tales_of_the_Green_Lantern_Corps_Annual_3

“In Blackest Night” (6 pages),written by Alan Moore, drawn by Bill Willingham, inked by Terry Austin,  coloured by Gene D’Angelo and lettered by John Costanza.

It is fair to say that DC Comics’ editorial fluctuates between favouring the idea of a solitary Green Lantern and a fully functioning and vibrant (or should that be verdant?) Green Lantern Corps.

While I have nothing against the Kyle Rayner post-Emerald Twilight period where he was the only Green Lantern (Hal was now “Parallax”, Guy became ”Warrior”, John became a Darkstar and Alan Scott became “Sentinel”), for me, the flexibility of the core concept is the idea that the Corps is a large body.  It draws strength from the idea that despite being diverse in physical nature, social attitudes and spiritual beliefs they generally pull together for the cause of universal justice.  It’s somewhat noble aim but can still be nuanced and fractious when it needs to be.

So, enter Alan Moore in short story mode, asking an obvious question, “How do you recruit in a space sector such as 0911 where in the Oblivion Deeps there is no light or concept of light-emitting objects, such as a lantern or even colours…such as green?”

Using the Guardians as his proxy, he poses this question to Katma Tui and she resolves it well by recruiting a new “Lantern”, Rot Lop Fan.

I won’t spoil it, if you haven’t read it before.  It has been reprinted in the various DC collections of Alan Moore’s work but not in any Green Lantern collection (at time of writing).

Early and later covers of Alan Moore’s collected DC works.  Lovely Bolland cover on the second trade paperback…

It’s not quite as universe-building and mythological as “Tygers” in Tales of Green Lantern Corps Annual #2 – after all, that single story gave us:

  • Abin Sur’s rationale for coming to Earth in a spaceship (Hal’s origin, of course)
  • The planet Ysmault (future home of the Red Lanterns), previously throneworld of…
  • The Empire of Tears
  • The Five Inversions
  • Sodam Yat, the Daxamite Green Lantern
  • The Children of the White Lobe
  • Ranx the sentient city and blink bombs
  • The concept of a Green Lantern Corps “Revelations”; Geoff Johns’ “Blackest Night” (as he acknowledges in his introduction to the story when it was reprinted in the Green Lantern Brightest Day trade paperback).

But for all that, it is the more joyous, I think.

Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters #1

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Wow, the hits keep coming, huh?

Mike Grell writes, pencils and inks.  Julia Lacquement is the colourist and Ken Bruzenak letters.

Despite being a long-time Justice League card carrying member, having long backup runs in Action comics, Detective comics and World’s Finest, the emerald archer had always struggled with landing his own series.  Sure, there had been a reasonably well-received 1983 miniseries by Mike W. Barr, Trevor Von Eeden and Dick Giordano, but nothing really came of it.

And then came Mike Grell and his three part prestige Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters mini-series which deservedly won the 1988 Eisner award for best finite series.   It led to an ongoing series, mostly recommended for mature readers during its lifetime, which ran for 11 years including 5 annuals and a separate mini-series called “Green Arrow: The Wonder  Year” which retold the origin in 1993.

Longbow Hunters redefined Green Arrow.  He moved from Star City to the more realistic Seattle, living with girlfriend and partner Dinah “Black Canary” Lance.  He embarked on a quest as an urban hunter, tracking criminals of all stripes including rapists, mobsters, spies, serial killers and eco-terrorists.  His adventures became more grounded, dispensing with concepts such as the trick arrows that he had relied on for years.  Even when Hal Jordan guest starred in issue #20, he was simply “Hal” checking in on his friend, not as Green Lantern inviting him on a cosmic adventure.  Those days seemed to be in the past.

Instead, focus was placed on the relationship between Oliver and Dinah, including their sex life, feelings of mortality and their legacies.   A devastating attack would rob Dinah of both her sonic cry and her ability to have children; neither would return for many years (healed by a Lazarus pit in Birds of Prey).  Oliver and Dinah even started to age in real time, something that most DC characters seemed to avoid.

In many ways it was a Jon Sable-like treatment of a beloved character and there’s even a thinly-veiled Grell take on Sable in Green Arrow #15 and #16.

Or perhaps, more precisely, it was the flavouring of DC comics with a splash of 80s “indie comics” realism that companies such as First Comics (Sable’s original publisher) had promoted.  It couldn’t have hurt that editor Mike Gold had edited both books.

Possibly Longbow Hunters is, in its own way, seismically as significant for Green Arrow as Neal Adams’ seminal redesign of his costume and Denny O’Neil’s “Hard travelling heroes” storyline in Green Lantern/Green Arrow.

Grell lasted for 80 issues and his impact on the character continues to this day through the popularity of the CW’s “Arrow” TV show.    The details and situations may be different but thematically the DNA is clear to read.  Only Andy Diggle’s Year One mini-series has perhaps contributed more to the character’s growth, ironically by revisiting his past.

Highly recommended.

 

Sidebar: Alan Moore

Moore’s DC career is uniformly brilliant, of course.  Superman (closing out the Bronze age pre-Crisis era with “Whatever happened to the man of tomorrow?” and Annual #11’s “For the man who has everything”), Swamp Thing, Watchmen etc.

But before then, well…that work was exceptional.  And I’m not even going to include Warrior’s revival of Marvelman, his Doctor Who weekly backup strips or his work with David Lloyd on V for Vendetta.

As someone rightly said, everything comes back to 2000AD

2000AD, a British science fiction anthology forged in the anti-establishment, punk-fuelled days of 1977 was a revelation to youngsters of the day (of which I was one).  Although I initially read (and preferred) its superior IPC stable-mate “Starlord” (no relation to the post-Guardians of the Galaxy Marvel character), by prog 86 of 2000AD the two had merged.  Starlord had ended and its choice strips had been cherry-picked and transferred to 2000AD (ABC Warriors pre-cursor Ro-busters, Strontium Dog and Timequake).

British comics operated a very common launch, merge and dispose lifecycle which it applied with ruthless precision for anthology comics.  This was humorously referred to as “hatch, match and dispatch”, mirroring the birth, marriage and funeral notices in newspapers.  If you had a favourite comic in the 1970s and 1980s the very last words you probably wanted to see were:

“Inside: Exciting news for all our readers!”

This either meant your favourite comic was ending, soon to be swallowed whale-like by a comic you didn’t like or, worse still, your favourite comic was (often) prematurely ending stories you liked to accommodate surviving strips from comics you couldn’t stand.  It was often a bit of a lottery, but in the UK, we’d gotten used to it over the years.

Two do go into one!  2000AD prog 85, Starlord 22 then 2000AD and Starlord 86

To be fair though, 2000AD’s merger with Starlord was a good experience overall and the book was strengthened; its character roster enhanced and enriched with newer strips sitting comfortably alongside older strips such as Judge Dredd and a revived Dan Dare.

Due to its anthology nature, strips came and went with alarming frequency, ensuring a regular shuffle in writers and artists that kept the comic fresh and inventive.

Although differentiating “better” artwork is a skill learnt early (and almost subconsciously) by most fans (although tastes do evolve and mature), even at a young age it was still possible to appreciate certain writers more than others.  For me, enter Alan Moore.

alan moore 2000ad

Moore had produced many one-off and irregularly continued stories in 2000AD strips typically known as “Future Shocks” or “Time Twisters”.  As periodic space-filling one-offs, quality varied greatly and they were (and still are) used as a gateway for aspiring creators cutting their teeth on “Twooth” (as it is affectionately known) before they branch out to bigger things.  But, as Will Eisner often demonstrated so vividly where so many others failed so miserably, telling a short self-contained story as a sequential comic strip is an art form in and of itself.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Moore wrote many of the most entertaining and emotionally resonant 2000AD Future Shocks.   There are some stories that I can still remember vividly to this day, almost 40 years since I first read them, their final panels (image and dialogue) taking up valuable real-estate in my brain, rent-free.  And I don’t begrudge them a single neuron.

Happily, as the individual 2000AD “progs” can be a pain to track down, Rebellion did publish a collection of these, replacing a much older pair of rare Titan albums, in 2006 entitled “The Complete Alan Moore Future Shocks”.

Early Titan album reprints and the later 2006 Rebellion collection, sadly without the Kevin O’Neill covers.

My favourite is probably “The reversible man” but I have soft spot for “The regrettable ruse of rocket redglare” (a Flash Gordon/Ming parody), “Bad timing” (a nice Jor-El/Superman parody), “Ring road” and “The Time Machine”.

With writing by Moore and art by Ian Gibson, Dave Gibbons, Alan Davis, Brendan McCarthy, Steve Dillon, Bryan Talbot, Jose Casanovas, Garry Leach, Paul Neary, Mike White, Eric Bradbury, Jesus Redondo, Robin Smith, Jim Eldridge, Ron Tiner & Alan Langford … honestly, how can you possibly go wrong?

What’s more you get to meet Abelard Snazz – mutant mastermind – the man with the two-storey brain!  In six adventures! Seriously, what’s not to like here?

And, while you’re there, please tell me whether you think 1982’s “The Bounty Hunters” doesn’t thematically bear a slight similarity to “Mogo doesn’t socialise” from Green Lantern #188 in 1985.

Here’s a clue:

future shock page 2

For more on Moore, I’d recommend:

 

The Ballad of Halo Jones

Moore’s bittersweet but ultimately uplifting and inspiring tale of an ordinary young girl who becomes dissatisfied with her life and just wants to “get out”.

Sample 2000AD issues for each book

Titan reprint volumes

 

And escape she certainly does in a series of stories beautifully illustrated by Ian Gibson.

Sadly only three acts were ever published and, although Gibson has drawn Halo again in images and vignettes beyond the published life of the character, Moore will apparently not revisit the character, allegedly due to ownership issues with the publisher.

If I recall correctly, the original plan was to have each book visit Halo’s life at various intervals and essentially chart her life as she explores the universe and finds her place within it. Book 1 has a lot of universe building to do, so can seem a little slow, but its themes are expertly threaded into Book 2 and onwards into Book 3.

Put simply, The Ballad of Halo Jones is one of those rare occasions when comics as an art form transcend their four-colour (and in Halo’s case, it’s mostly monochromatic) nature and become a living, breathing entity, forever fated to be rediscovered as an overlooked masterpiece by a fantastic writer and an immensely talented artist by future generations to come.

All being said, I’d rather live in a world which has seen three books of Halo Jones than one without any.

 

D.R & Quinch

Spinning out of a 1983 “Time Twister” one-off “D.R. and Quinch have fun on Earth” in prog #317 into their own strip, Waldo “Dimished Responsibility” Dobbs and Ernest Errol Quinch starred in a series of anarchic adventures, each beautifully drawn by Alan Davis.

It’s “lowest common denominator” funny and absurd at times but also has a great deal of heart, wit and charm.

Tracking down issues from 1983, 1984 and 1985 is a bit of a pain but if you’re interested please use the Wikipedia entry or Barney (“Keeper of the 2000AD database).   Alternative options include the various collected volumes available:

Various collections of D.R. & Quinch stories, the centre volume is a lovely Titan hardback.

Now that I reflect on this, I can’t help but notice a similar trajectory between Chrysoprasia becoming Crazy Chryssie in D.R. & Quinch and Dr Harleen Quinzell becoming the Joker’s main squeeze and DC breakout star, Harley Quinn.  Unfortunately my attachment theory isn’t strong enough to analyse it.

crazy chrissie

Hmm…probably just an excuse for some Alan Davis art, I shouldn’t wonder.

And, then, finally, as it’s a lot more divisive: Skizz.

Debut 2000AD issue, early Titan album and recent DC/Rebellion reprint.

Skizz was initially a 1983 strip written by Moore and drawn by Jim Baikie which follows an alien interpreter (“Skizz”) from Tau Ceti after he crashes on Earth.   Book 2 and 3 follow but for me the first tale, focusing on the impact of an outsider on a young girl’s life is the most essential read.

skizzandroxy

Yes, superficially, it’s a bit like ET: The Extraterrestrial, but that’s just a lazy reading and Moore deserves a little more credit than that.

Reportedly it’s not one of his favourites, but then he has distanced himself from much of the work that essentially built his industry reputation.   That is, of course, very much his prerogative and I respect him for it.

That said it shouldn’t stop us enjoying them though.

Why don’t you try a few?  You’ll find a good range of Moore’s work at your local comic shop.  And if you want to explore 2000AD, try their site – it has a very friendly online community, always happy to answer questions for new converts.

2000AD is often seen as enjoying a “golden age” in the 1980s.  Without the efforts of talents such as Alan Moore, it certainly wouldn’t have glistened quite so brightly.

 

Posted in 2000ad, baikie, bates, broderick, englehart, gibson, issue, moore, review, villain | Leave a comment

Captain Atom #5

Well, it had to happen, and in fact it already has

In this entry, Captain Atom meets Firestorm again…for the first time.

captain atom 5

Captain Atom (2nd series, 1986) issue #5

Published:          April 21st 1987

Cover date:        July 1987

Cover price:       75 cents (US), $1 (Canada), 40 pence (UK)

Cover:                   Captain Atom being attacked by Firestorm, the Nuclear man.

Pencilled by:     Pat Broderick

Inked by:             Bob Smith

Title:                     “The return of Dr. Spectro” [32 pages, 22 story]

Credits:

Cary Bates (W )

Pat Broderick (P)

Bob Smith (I)

Agustin Mas (L)

Bob Le Rose (C)

Denny O’Neil (E)

Intro:                     Mabel Ryan, an investigative reporter (dies in this issue) and her publisher, Walter.

Intro:                     1st appearance of Tom Emery assuming the role of the fictional Dr. Spectro.

Intro:                     General Crenshaw (An USAF General attending a public function with Captain Atom)

Origin:                  Post-Crisis Dr. Spectro.

Starring:               General Wade R. Eiling (USAF, Head of the Atom Project), Dr. Heinrich Megala (Chief Scientist, the Atom Project), Sergeant Jeffrey “Goz” Goslin (USAF, Nathaniel Adam’s best friend), Margaret “Peggy” Eiling.

Guest-starring Firestorm (composite hero, currently comprised of Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein)

Comment:          Ok, this is where the government’s “big lie” starts to cause problems.  It won’t be the last time, either.  Already the “big lie” centred around Captain Atom is starting to crack because of a government “deep throat” leaking information to the press.

Synopsis:

Our issue starts with a tale about Captain Atom vs. Dr. Spectro.  This story is utterly fabricated by the Government’s PR agency, headed by Theresa Delgado (see Secret Origins (2nd) #34) for more on this.

Mabel Ryan, an investigative report accidentally “creates” a new “Dr. Spectro”.  Nathaniel spends quality time with his daughter (following developments nicely from issue #4), Goz intercepts Nate’s orders to try and work out what’s going on and Firestorm gets the wrong end of the stick which causes a break out of fisticuffs between the two nuclear powerhouses.

Rating:                  Story : 5/5 (Excellent)

                                Art : 5/5 (Excellent!)

Review:

It’s a very dense, busy issue but there are definite developments which will have dire consequences moving forward for both sides of our hero’s life.  Overall, loved it, especially the idea of someone being led to a fictional role and then adopting it for their own use.

Thoughts:

I’m dividing this into two parts.  Initially I’ll take a look at the issue itself then I’ll focus on the first meeting between Firestorm and Captain Atom which occurred in a Superman team-up in DC Comics Presents #90.  More on that later, I promise.

Back to the issue at hand.

The first thing to mention is that it was surely inevitable that DC would have their two nuclear powered heroes (I am excluding the Justice Society’s Atom and Infinity Inc.’s Nuklon for convenience) meet up and fight.  Frankly, I am almost surprised that it took until issue 5; these days a guest appearance of this type usually occurs a lot quicker to goose early sales figures and potential consumer interest.  You know what I mean, “Fan favourite character guest appears in issue #2”’; Spider-man, Wolverine, Lobo, Superman, Batman, Deadpool – the list goes on.

The second thing to mention is that although Captain Atom and Firestorm’s meeting will set the tone for many future meetings of the pair, the real purpose of the issue is to expose the fragility of the “big lie” and introduce Dr. Spectro into the DC Universe.  And remember, Dr. Spectro is a fictional character.  No, really.  Even in the DC Universe he doesn’t exist apart from in a bogus Captain Atom casefile created by Theresa Delgado and her government-sponsored PR team.

Firestorm and Captain Atom

Firestorm and Captain Atom aren’t (initially at least) the best of friends.   They meet quite a few times during Captain Atom’s first few months as an active hero and will, many years in the future, be part of the same team (and on somewhat better terms).

Looking slightly ahead, we have at least two more immediate encounters in the Firestorm book, occurring in issues #63 and #68.   There are other appearances (earlier during Millenium for example), but these are our next stops for these two heroes so keep your eyes peeled for these in upcoming articles.

I’ve got to admit, I just love the dynamism of Firestorm #63’s cover.  Ouch…that’s going to hurt in the morning.  Also great composition.

Dr. Spectro

Doctor Spectro was a villain who debuted in Captain Atom #79 and was created by Steve Ditko and Joseph Gill.  His main power was that he could use prisms to control human emotions.

 

Although it appeared that he died in #79 he was brought back by popular demand and appeared (and was defeated again) in issue #81.

Apart from a few cameos in Crisis on Infinite Earths (with other villains in #9 and #10), that was it.

And then came Captain Atom (2nd series) #5.  Part of the magazine exposé into Captain Atom’s “big lie” origin, masterminded by Theresa Delgado’s government sponsored PR, includes the creation of fictional enemies for the good Captain.  One of these, Dr Spectro, is discussed in good detail during the magazine piece.

Issue #5 starts with a lovely “recreation” of this encounter, complete with silver age costumes…

doctor spectro magazine splash

A determined reporter tries to hunt down the secret civilian identity Dr. Spectro, assuming he has simply gone into hiding (as they do).

She finds a previous lab assistant of a man called Roy G Bivolo.  Bivolo of course, is best known as the man who became the Rainbow Raider, an infamous Flash rogue.

rainbow raider

“Hey, “, thinks the reporter, sniffing a lead, “ that’s a very similar MO!”  She tracks down the assistant, Tom Emery, after some discussion he decides to take the advance she is offering for his memoirs, kills her and uses abandoned Raider technology to become the new (and only) Dr. Spectro.

doctor spectro modern

This is going to cause a few problems, of course…as we will see in Captain Atom #6.

 

DC Comics Presents #90

Let’s start by placing this comic into some wider context.   DC Comics Presents (DCCP) was DC’s second longest running team-up book after Batman’s fondly remembered “Brave & the Bold” title.  Started in 1978  it runs for 97 issues and 4 annuals until 1986, its team-up remit essentially terminated by John Byrne’s post-Crisis Superman revamp and the evolution of Action Comics into a pseudo team-up book from issue #584 until issue #600 when it changed to an anthology format as Action Comics Weekly.

During DCCP’s sparkling if slightly uneven run it introduced and featured countless heroes from across the DC Universe, teamed up (generally) with Earth-One’s Superman.

Among the standout issues for me are the beautiful two-part Marty Pasko and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez (“praise be his name”) Flash team up that premiere the series, the “Whatever happened to..?” backups which started in issue #26, Len Wein and Jim Starlin’s introduction of cosmic bad guy Mongul in #27, Keith Giffen’s Ambush Bug in #52 and Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing in #85.  It’s also notable as it features the last pre-Crisis “Phantom Zone” story in the final issue (cited as an unbannered Crisis cross-over by most).  Any of the annuals, particularly those featuring Kristen Wells as the 29th century time-travelling Superwoman, introduced in Elliot S! Maggin’s Miracle Monday, is also worth exploring.

At some point I’m sure these will be available in a few DC omnibuses.

(Now that I review that list I am also going to add DCCP #8 which features a great battle between Superman and Earth-Two’s Solomon Grundy.  I first encountered this story through a black & white reprint in the Superman Official Annual 1980.  For those of you not aware of the wonderful world of UK annuals I’m afraid that’s definitely beyond this site’s remit, although I might visit a few of them if the fancy takes me!)

By December 1985 the Crisis on Infinite Earths had completed, at least in publishing terms; issue #12 shipped on the 5th of that very month.  However, unlike the “big bang” re-launch that DC used post-Flashpoint for the New52 reboot, post-Crisis changes were gradually rolled out across its universe.   Some books were affected faster than others.

For example, pre-Crisis Superman had adventures for at least another 7 months or so after Crisis #12 was published before John Byrne’s “Man of Steel” revamp was published in July 1986.

Although DCCP #90 is generally accepted as the next appearance of Captain Atom after Crisis #12, in most indexes, this isn’t really the same Captain Atom that we know from the post-Crisis universe.

DC_Comics_Presents_90

Neither, unfortunately, is it the Earth-Four pre-Crisis Captain Atom, although the blue, red and silver uniform is very similar.  No, this is someone quite different, having an origin similar to the Charlton Comics/Earth 4 version but not quite the same.

Hey, maybe the post-Crisis DC bible, “History of the DC Universe”, based on the Monitor’s tapes as archived by Harbinger, will help…

history DC universe

Nope, that doesn’t help at all (although, as drawn by George Perez, it looks exceptionally good) as the origin sounds post-Crisis but the garb is pre-Crisis.  Hey, you don’t think that the Monitor fell for the “big lie” do you?😉

Moreover it would appear that Firestorm, Superman and this Captain Atom are all residents of this same Earth.  So, it isn’t Earth-One unless the conceit is that this Captain Atom has operated in complete anonymity all this time.

It’s possible, given its publication date of November 7th 1985 that it is a “mayfly” reality created by combining Earth-One, Earth-Two, Earth-Four, Earth-S and Earth-X before the single DC Universe’s timeline is reset and solidified.  Possibly it occurs somewhere around the events shown in Crisis #10.

Alternatively it’s an adventure on a different DC Earth pre-Crisis, somewhere in Hypertime or just a fictional story.  Hey, as someone once said, aren’t they all?

The key differences in the DCCP #90 story entitled “Escape from Solitude”, written by Paul Kupperberg and drawn by Denys Cowan, between post-Crisis Captain Atom and the “mayfly” one is that he appears to be working at NASA, has an origin similar to the Charlton Comics original albeit without any military involvement (it was a NASA launch) and there’s a conceit that Captain Atom has been operating exclusively for the White House.

Perhaps the greatest twist though is that Superman diagnoses that Captain Atom and Firestorm’s nuclear powers are having an adverse affect on each other; they have to stay apart for the rest of the adventure.

DCCP 90 page

As far as I know that wrinkle, along with a number of aspects of DCCP #90’s Captain Atom continuity didn’t carry across to the Cary Bates post-Crisis version.

It remains an interesting “elseworlds” for me, describing a world I never really got to know but one where its tiniest glimpse was intriguing.

DC Blockbuster

Ah, I was leading to this one and, it probably explains the DCCP strip (maybe…)

Worth mentioning here as things, as we have seen, could have been all very different for the Captain and many of the other Charlton heroes.

As Charlton comics ceased publishing in the mid 80s, DC’s Paul Levitz bought the rights to its line of Action Heroes in 1983 and presented them to Dick Giordano as a gift at the price of $5000 per character (no, really).  You may recall that Giordano had been the managing editor at Charlton during the 1960’s so of course was well acquainted with the characters and their rich history.

DC’s initial plan was to publish the Charlton heroes in a 32-page anthology format called “Blockbuster Weekly” which then changed to “Comics Cavalcade Weekly”, recalling a previous DC Comics marquee.  Dave Gibbons (pre-Watchmen) drew the following cover and a pilot issue was subsequently put together under Robert Greenberger, a then recently-hired associate editor.

comics-cavalcade-weekly-2

As you can see from this cover, all of the Charlton heroes were still sporting their classic costumes, almost as if no time had passed since their heyday.  Superman’s inclusion was an acknowledged sales tactic; the incorporation of reprinted Sunday newspaper strips would give the book a saleable hook at the newsstand.

So somewhere in another reality we would have had in 2-4 page chunks:

  • Blue Beetle by Steve Englehart, David Ross, and Alex Níno.
  • Judomaster by creator Frank McLaughlin
  • Peacemaker by Keith Giffen and Gary Martin
  • Peter Cannon – Thunderbolt by creator PAM (Peter A. Morisi)
  • The Question by Mike W. Barr, Stan Woch and Rick Magyar
  • Sarge Steel by Andy Helfer, Trevor Von Eeden and Dick Giordano and…
  • Captain Atom by Paul Kupperberg and Paul Chadwick (replaced by Denys Cowan).

And yes, Aunt May, I do wonder if that DCCP issue was reusing unused Captain Atom content from this aborted weekly.

Of course, Alan Moore had already started his development of the Watchmen in 1984 and his early thoughts focussed on the impact that a superhuman character such as Captain Atom would have on the real world, particularly in terms of religion, social interaction, politics and military might.  Captain Atom became Dr. Manhattan and the Charlton Comics link was dropped at Dick Giordano’s appeal (primarily because Moore’s story would make the characters unusable – rapists, dead or mass murders – afterwards), but as frequently noted, the analogues are clear to see if you squint hard enough.

 

However, Comics Cavalcade Weekly did not see the light of day, reportedly because the new DC talent assigned to the strips delivered artwork which wasn’t up to the usual DC standard; the project was canned.

Eventually, most of them, including the Captain, appeared as residents of Earth-Four during the Crisis and then some (Blue Beetle, The Question, Captain Atom, Peacemaker) graduated to their own post-Crisis DC titles or guested in others.  Nightshade’s frequent appearances in Suicide Squad (as a charter member), Captain Atom and Secret Origins are good examples of the latter.

For more on Blockbuster Weekly, the Charlton/Watchmen connection, I’d recommend TwoMorrows Back Issue #79.  It’s a really great read and highly recommended for any student of the era.  I mean, I’d buy it just for that gorgeous cover:)

 BI24_COV

 

Elsewhere in the DC Universe

There are many standouts this month, but this time I am only going to focus on a single title.

Doctor Fate has had a fairly horrid publishing history; a key golden age character created in More Fun Comics #55 in 1940 by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman but he’s never really enjoyed an outstanding and lengthy solo run.

As a member of the Justice Society he often seemed subservient to The Spectre in terms of power levels (hey, who wouldn’t, he’s the wrath of God, after all) and being a magically-oriented character meant his powers and abilities were sometimes poorly defined.  On reflection it’s essentially the same issue I have with Marvel’s Doctor Strange.

Despite appearing in many of the annual JLA-JSA team-ups, the revived All-Star Comics of the 1970s which concluded in Adventure Comics and a smattering of guest appearances in Brave and the Bold, DC Comics Presents, 1st Issue Special, #9 (with great art by Walt Simonson) and various Giffen backups in Flash (#306 to #313), it perhaps wasn’t until the 1987 mini-series by J.M.DeMatteis and Keith Giffen that things started to look up for the character.

An engaging ongoing series by J.M.DeMatteis and Shawn McManus followed to similar acclaim, ending on issue #41 with William Messner-Loebs.  A writer who I think doesn’t get enough kudos, particularly for his work on DC’s Flash (post-Mike Baron), Wonder Woman (post-George Perez), Wasteland, Jaguar (!mpact imprint) and Comico’s Jonny Quest book (and the Jezebel Jade spin-off).

These are good comics and well worth your time.  If you find a copy, please do take a peek.

Incidentally, and as I head out the door of this instalment, that DC Special Series #10 has lovely Mike Nasser/Netzer art on the Black Canary origin.

Posted in bates, broderick, issue, origin, review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Captain Atom #4

And, as we say in the UK, “you wait for ages and then two buses come along at the same time”.

For your perusal, Captain Atom issue #4.

CA4

Captain Atom (2nd series, 1986) issue #4

Published:          March 26th 1987

Cover date:        June 1987

Cover price:       75 cents (US), $1 (Canada), 40 pence (UK)

Cover:                  Single image of what appears to be a floating and unconscious Captain                                        Atom along with the words, “Missing In Action” and dissipating energy.

Pencilled by:      Pat Broderick

Inked by:             Bob Smith

Title:                     “Father’s Day” [32 pages, 22 story]

Credits:                Cary Bates (W )

Pat Broderick (P)

Bob Smith (I)

Agustin Mas (L)

Carl Gafford (C)

Denny O’Neil (E)

Cameo:                Margaret “Peggy” Eiling and Randall “Randy” Eiling as children in a dream                               sequence as described by an adult Peggy Eiling.

Intro:                  Herbert, Peggy’s psychotherapist.

Intro:                  Dr Anton Sarrok (forename not yet revealed), appears in Megala’s                                                nightmare only.

Intro:                     Homer Lockleed, son of industrialist Martin Lockleed and an aide of General Wade Eiling, he disguises himself as “Nathaniel Adam” in this story.  Next appears in Captain Atom #10.  Martin is heard on the telephone but doesn’t appear until Captain Atom #14.

Starring:               General Wade R. Eiling (USAF, Head of the Atom Project), Dr. Heinrich Megala (Chief Scientist, the Atom Project), Margaret “Peggy” Eiling (now 23, last seen as a 1 year old in Captain Atom #1), Martin Allard (last seen in Captain Atom #1, appears next in Captain Atom #6), Robert “Babylon” Long.

Comments:        Peggy’s birthdate is 7:05am, August 9th, 1963 and she was delivered at the Southern General hospital.   Nathaniel reveals his existence to his daughter, Peggy but doesn’t explain how he still looks so relatively young.  The Government “PR” campaign has followed the Nightzone television interview with a magazine version called “The Captain Atom story”.   Nathaniel experiences a Quantum “step” for the first time, shunting him instantaneously six days into the future.

Synopsis:

This story starts to fill in gaps in the history of the Captain Atom project whilst propelling and concluding the plot that started in the previous issue.   When last seen, a somewhat “nothing to lose” Captain Atom had absorbed the leaking radiation from the US Navy submarine Stalwart in order to save the seamen’s lives.  Absorbing too much energy, far too quickly he simply vanishes.

Initially, we pick up the story about seven hours later and Captain Atom can still not be found despite a thorough investigation from a naval deep-sea submersible.

The scene shifts to five days later and Eiling has resigned himself to the fact that Captain Atom is dead and is judging the best time to tell the President; frankly he’s not overly upset.  Megala on the other hand isn’t so happy and is suffering from guilt and this manifest itself as nightmares featuring an ex-colleague Dr Sarrok and an accusatory Nathaniel.

Unbeknownst to Eiling, his aide, Homer Lockleed has developed an unnatural fixation on Peggy and, privy to her deep-routed feelings of perceived abandonment by her real father and the real secrets of the Captain Atom project, disguises himself as Nathaniel and tries to abduct her…

Thoughts:

A character driven issue for sure which takes the good Captain off the board for the majority of the issue so we can explore his supporting cast and their relationships.  This isn’t the last time that Cary Bates plays this particular trump card.

We learn about Peggy’s sense of abandonment and her thoughts about her conflicting feelings for her real father and step-father, Eiling.  We also discover that Megala’s is deeply troubled by Nathaniel’s treatment by Eiling and the Government and that he has perhaps been party to some shadowy mistreatment of a colleague in the past.

Other connections start to form – Eiling’s link to Martin Lockheed, whom he feels he can threaten with impunity.  This issue is really starting to connect some of the dots, it’s just not that obvious to the reader yet.  Be assured though, all of these threads will be brought together in future issues.

 Best quote:        “Hang up or I’ll melt the phone. Your choice.”

Bottom line:      It’s probably not the most action-packed issue we’ve seen this far although, small spoiler, Peggy’s rescue is a good set-piece.  Look at issue #5 for that kind of knock-down battle if that’s your thing.

No, this issue is more an examination of people’s guilt, sense of belonging and the righting of moral wrongs.   Though the final page could be seen as a bit schmaltzy, it does tug the heartstrings a little and is probably something that more modern comics could do a little more often.

Elsewhere in the DC Universe

Well, probably the most significant thing is that Batman #408 features the post-crisis origin of Jason Todd.  You know, the one where he’s a street punk and steals the wheels off the Batmobile?  This post-Year One , post-Crisis on Infinite Earths story updated the character’s previous “Dick Grayson”-like history from Batman #357 in order to make him more unique.

Batman 408

What it apparently did, however, was to simply make him more unpopular, ultimately leading to the 1-900 telephone poll that comic fans used to determine the ending of the “Death in the Family” storyline in Batman #429.  You know…the one where the Joker battered Robin half to death with a crowbar and then blew him up?  Yeah, that one.

Batman 429

I’m not going to debate the pros and cons of this.  For my money, Batman is a very flexible character and a good writer is capable of writing stories with and without a Robin.  Killing a character can make for very good drama, it can also be expedient and done on a whim.  Given good character development and depth we know that a Robin can work really well, just look at Tim Drake’s tenure for contrast.

Though of course, courtesy of Superboy Prime’s Infinite Crisis reality warping punches Jason was ultimately brought back and became the Red Hood, the original event remains a bit of a touchstone, originally foreshadowed somewhat by Frank Miller’s Dark Knight imagery as a possible future.

jason todd costume dk

Speaking of Batman, Detective Comics joins in the arc-friendly trend that’s emerging as it embarks on Year Two, written by Mike W. Barr and drawn by Alan Davis and Paul Neary.  Although it is nowhere as seismic in its impact on Batman continuity as Miller’s Year One, I have a soft spot for this storyline and even quite like Todd McFarlane’s art on part two onwards.

Detective_Comics_575

For completists out there it’s worth noting that the Reaper character introduced in this storyline also returns in the 1991 one-shot, “Batman: Full Circle” and has a brutal encounter with the post-Crisis Gotham-based Alan Scott Green Lantern in the wonderful Black Canary tale in Secret Origins #50.  Although DC’s Zero Hour: Crisis in Time will remove The Reaper from continuity the concept of a pre-Batman vigilante is a good one and it reappears from time to time.

Batman_Full_Circle

Once the Year Two storyline has ended, Mike W. Barr sticks around for a two-part Two-face story and after a four-way Millenium cross-over with Suicide Squad #4, Spectre #10 and Captain Atom #9 (we’ll get to that don’t worry), we welcome the ongoing powerhouse team of 2000AD’s John Wagner and Alan Grant who will shape the book for some time to come including the introduction of invigorating new characters to Batman’s rogues gallery including The Ventriloquist, Anarchy and The Ratcatcher.

Next up, Flash #1 featuring Wally West as he starts to step into the running shoes of Barry Allen.   Barry had previously died during the Crisis in a self-sacrificing bid to upset the Anti-Monitor, officially in the process becoming DC’s first patron saint.

flash 1987 1

Wally, now aged 20 and no longer strictly a “teen” titan, comes fresh from the pages of Legends #6 and goes on to enjoy a long run (pun intended) featuring stellar writing turns from Mike Baron, Willian Messner-Loebs, Mark Waid and Geoff Johns.

Much of Barry Allen’s modern character development owes a lot to this version of Wally West.  To see him return in DC Rebirth was an emotional experience, I’ll admit.  I’m certain many others felt the same.

Elsewhere Justice League meet the Champions of Angor post-Crisis (they first appeared in 1971’s Justice League of America #87 as a thinly disguised version of Marvel’s Avengers), Swamp Thing encounters Medphyll, the vegetable-like Green Lantern of sector 586 during his space-based exile in a delightful story by Alan Moore called, “All Flesh is Grass”.

What I like about this is that Moore gives Medphyll a more suitable oath (rather than the typical “In brightest day, in blacknest night…”):

In forest dark or glade beferned,
No blade of grass shall go unturned.
Let those that have the daylight spurned,
Tread not where this green lamp has burned.

And finally, although probably more contentiously, Roy Thomas introduces his replacement book for the All-Star Squadron – The Young All-Stars.

young all-stars 1

There’s been a lot written about Roy Thomas and the impact of DC’s Crisis of Infinite Earths on his beloved Earth Two.  I have no doubt that the erasure of golden age versions of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow & Speedy etc probably caused a great deal of distress and heralded the end of All-Star Squadron as an ongoing title.  That said, although Roy may not have enjoyed the post-Crisis destination, his Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover issues were very enjoyable and professionally written.

Young All-Stars, with its Crisis “energy” analogues of Iron Munro, Flying Fox, Fury and Neptune Perkins could probably never prove to be an acceptable replacement – the older characters and their personal histories were just too big, too important and too cherished to be forgotten or overwritten by simple creative choice.

It’s probably fair to say then that this title, as well intentioned as it was, never really stood a chance.  That said there are some very good issues to be found in its 31 issues and single annual so I can heartily recommend adding it to your reading list if you’ve never taken a look.

Next up, issue #5 and a certain DC flame-head – well, it had to happen, didn’t it?

Seriously, just how good was 1987 on the whole?

 

 

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Captain Atom #3 (2nd Series, 1986)

Hi – apologies for the delay(!) – but I’m back from the Quantum field and onto a regular weekly schedule.  As you’ll notice, this is a rather big instalment and covers material from March 1960 up to, well, present day.

In addition to Captain Atom #3, I’m also including Secret Origins (2nd Series) #34 which has the background (and media PR campaign) to the “false” origin presented in Captain Atom #3.  There’s also a lot of real world content too.

This entry dedicated to Darwyn Cooke – thanks for putting the fun back in my comics.

Captain Atom (2nd series, 1986) issue #3

Captain_Atom_Vol_1_3

Published:       February 26th, 1987

Cover date:      May 1987

Cover price:     75 cents (US), $1 (Canada), 40 pence (UK)

Cover:                

Montage dominated by the three “evolving” versions of Captain Atom (according to the “Big Lie” origin) with a mushroom cloud constrained as a background inside the largest figure.

Pencilled by:     Pat Broderick

Inked by:             Bob Smith

Title:                     “Blast from the Past” [32 pages, 22 story]

Credits:

Cary Bates (W )

Pat Broderick (P)

Bob Smith (I)

John Costanza (L)

Carl Gafford (C)

Denny O’Neil (E)

Intro:              

1st appearance of Tod Donner, host of TV topical affairs/chat show “Nightzone”.  See Comments for his real-world (or Earth Prime, if you prefer) inspiration.

Intro:

The nationally televised “show and tell” presentation of the “Big Lie” designed to present the American people with a rationale and digestible “heroic” backstory for the new government-sanctioned hero, “Captain Atom”.

Origin:                 

Captain Atom’s fabricated origin as part of the “Big Lie”.  As noted elsewhere, it’s basically the 1960 Charlton Comics origin as originally written by Joseph Gill and drawn by Steve Ditko back in Space Adventures #33.  Although not true, it would be this very origin that the general population and heroes/villains alike would believe for some time.  It has some nips and tucks here and there, but it’s essentially the same.  It won’t be the US Government’s (or Eiling’s) last attempt at creating a bogus origin either, but that’s for the future…

Starring:              

General Wade R. Eiling (USAF, Head of the Atom Project), Dr. Heinrich Megala (Chief Scientist, the Atom Project), Sergeant Jeffrey “Goz” Goslin (USAF, Nathaniel Adam’s best friend), Margaret “Peggy” Eiling (now 23, last scene as a 1 year old in Captain Atom #1)

Comment:

Ok, this is where it starts getting complex and, to be fair, slightly genius.

For most Post-Crisis revamps, older Pre-Crisis continuity was mostly junked or at best comprehensively revamped for more modern sensibilities.  Generally this meant time-shifting the  origin 20 years or so (making the characters essentially younger), trimming perceived golden age (or silver age) whimsy (bye-bye Bat-mite) and paring things back down to their core concepts.

For some characters the effect was subtle (Batman, who it could be argued, has a fairly timeless origin didn’t really change a great deal, rather he was stripped down, mostly through Frank Miller’s “Year One” arc in Batman #404-#407, to the essential essence of the character), sometimes the revamps were considerable (Superman, whose John Byrne Marvel-style “Man of Steel” mini-series initially shed most of the Silver Age paraphernalia which had accumulated over time).

Additional challenges were perhaps present for the “other Earth/other Publisher” characters such as Charlton’s Earth-Four characters (of which The Question is a prime example) and (originally) Fawcett’s Earth-S characters of which Captain Marvel (or Shazam!) is by far the best known.  In each case their Earths operated using a different story logic to the then mainstream Earth-1; as a consequence some tonal shifts were additionally made when everything merged to become the post-Crisis DCU.

Occasionally things were changed out of sheer necessity, for example Power Girl and Huntress, who no longer could be Earth Two legacy characters (Superman of Earth-Two’s younger cousin Kara and the daughter of the Earth-Two Darknight Detective and Catwoman respectively).  This meant brand new origins had to be sewn from fresh cloth whilst still retaining most of the narrative and visual continuity that had gone before and, essentially, which had made the characters popular in the first place.  Power Girl therefore becomes the Atlantean Sorceror Arion’s Grand-daughter (initially…although this is eventually reversed in Infinite Crisis) and a new Huntress alter-ego is created in the form of Helena Bertinelli, a mobster’s daughter/princess.

Although there were definitely some missteps here and there (maybe one for another day), it was undeniably an exhilarating time to be a DC reader with fresh takes on classic characters being launched thick and fast at the comic reading public with nary a negative murmur:  Byrne and Wolfman’s Superman, Miller’s Year One Batman, Perez’ Wonder Woman, Mike Baron’s Flash, Truman’s Hawkworld, Grell’s Green Arrow, Christopher Priest’s Emerald Dawn … the list went on and on.

All of it, from my perspective, sheer class – DC had struck a genuinely creative rich seam and was diligently mining it for all it was worth.

Whilst fellow ex-Earth Four heroes Blue Beetle and The Question had subtly-altered histories to fit the Post-Crisis DCU, Cary Bates and Greg Weisman went one better on this book; they essentially kept all the major beats of the pre-Crisis Earth Four adventures published by Charlton Comics, creatively becoming part of the new Captain Atom’s “bogus” case file, part of the “big lie” that the US Government had crafted to earn public trust by “admitting” that he had been covertly protecting them for some time.  Which of course, he hadn’t, but as I said: genius.

Talk about having your continuity cake and eating it!

ca 3 blast from the past

In this way, old tales were still (kind of) able to be referenced and, bonus, it didn’t matter if they seemed quaint and old-fashioned, as stories of a secret cold-war “past”, this was perfectly natural and simply enriched the narrative.

Of course, there would always be the problem of doing the “research” properly and making sure these past claims were bullet-proof.  As we will later see, holes start to form and the results of this prove fatal for some of the people involved.

However, for now, it’s genius and gets the immediate results required:  A “new” superhero instantly becomes America’s “he’s-always-been-there-you-just-didn’t-know-it” secret protector, only reluctantly coming out of the shadows, cast as a sympathetic widower honouring the promise to his dying wife that he should openly embrace the world and do “great things” with his fantastic powers.  What’s not to love?

Theresa Delgado, a Public Relations consultant hired by the US Government, is the brains behind the “big lie”.  Secret Origins (2nd Series) #34 has much more on this (see later in this article).  It’s possible, of course, that she, like Old Wizard Shazam and Earth Prime writers before her, had a brain that was simply “tuning into” the pre-Crisis Earth Four reality.  Or it’s just plain-old coincidence.  Personally, the “Julius Schwartz” in me likes to think it’s the former as that somehow ironically bookends Cary Bates previous Earth One/Earth Prime adventures in Justice League of America! Your mileage may vary, naturally.

For the record, Theresa will continue as a supporting character on-and-off for a while yet, but you need to read the Secret Origins issue for her proper introduction.

What about the actual story.  Well, without giving too much away, this is presented as following two separate events – Atom’s interview with Donner where he reveals the false history and Atom’s somewhat confrontational “top-brass” briefing and attempted rescue of the crippled Nuclear Submarine, the Stalwart.

The story ends with Atom’s apparently destruction as he recklessly, perhaps because he feels lost and rejected by his children, absorbs excessive leaking atomic energy much too quickly.

As we’ll discover, there is a limit to the rate at which the Captain can absorb energy and channel it into the Quantum Field via his metal skin, if this is uncontrollably exceeded, the effect is an unpredictable Quantum Leap (like the original which took him instantaneously from 1968 to 1986).  The length of time-jump appears to be proportional to the amount of excess energy soaked up; in this case, the energy was relatively small so the leap is actually more of a Quantum “step”, but we’ll look at this next time.  At this point in his career, his ability to “hold out” is limited; he’ll get much better at this as time goes by and even learn to use it to his advantage.

Suffice to say this aspect of the Captain’s power set is both interesting as a potential plot device (if used well as it is in Captain Atom #37) and potentially characterweakening (and way too predictable), much as with Superman’s kryptonite, if used repetitively or poorly.

There are very few DC Universe-wide crossovers where Captain Atom has been allowed to play a fairly central role, “Invasion!” notwithstanding (as we will see around Captain Atom #24).  To my chagrin, this weakness has often been used to take Captain Atom off the board, especially during such larger conflicts or miss them altogether because he’s “in quantum transit” as they occurred.

I can think of a few of these just off the top of my head without any real difficulty: Armageddon 2001 #2, JLA/JSA Virtue and Vice, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.  That said, perhaps the most inventive use of it was the deliberate one at the end of Justice League: Generation Lost #24 where basically Cap saves the day by threatening to purposefully do this.  But I won’t spoil that here…I do recommend the entire series though.  It has one of the best nods to another character’s mid-series continuity change I have ever encountered.

But I won’t spoilt that here…  :)

The Post-Crisis DCU’s ABC News has a presenter called Tod Donner.  He’s clearly based on real-life American news anchor and journalist Edward James Martin “Ted” Koppel who presented a show called “Nightline” on ABC from 1980 to 2005.  Although the epitome of an American news anchor, he was born in Nelson, Lancashire and immigrated to America in his teens.  British readers may also be interested to know that he was succeeded by our very own Martin Bashir (yes, he of Princess Diana interview fame).  That presenter time-span puts Koppel (and his programme) clearly in the frame as “Tod” and “Nightzone”’s respective inspirations.  Let’s not even mention the surname pattern of vowels and consonants:)

Ted Koppel, Nightline

Ted Koppel, Nightline

Ted Donner Nightzone

Tod Donner, Nightzone

Donner will reappear in later Captain Atom issues, which I kind of like from a “light touch” continuity point of view, the conceit being that Donner’s programme’s is “an old friend” of the Captain’s since transmitting his “official” public reveal.

I find it somewhat heartening to think that, like his real-world counterpart, Donner’s Nightzone career may also have lasted until 2005, perhaps when he was succeeded by the DCU’s equivalent of Bashir who went on to report the Infinite Crisis a year later.

Ok, here’s some comparison imagery.

Firstly, the problem in the rocket when the screwdriver is dropped…

Space Adventures #33 original (Steve Ditko)  SA33 drops screwdriver
DC Comics Presents #90 Earth-? (Denys Cowan).  dccp 91 captain atom origin
Secret Origins (2nd) #34 “Big Lie” retelling (Alan Weiss)  SO34 screwdriver
Captain Atom #3 “Big Lie” re-telling (Pat Broderick).  Note, he’s USAAF now, rather than USA.  CA3 drops screwdriver

The explosion…

Space Adventures #33 original (Steve Ditko)  SpaceAdventures33March1960
DC Comics Presents #90 Earth-? (Denys Cowan).  dccp 91 captain atom explosion
Captain Atom #3 “Big Lie” re-telling (Pat Broderick)  CA 3 explosion
DC New Frontier #6 (Darwyn Cooke)  New_Frontier_Captain_Adam's_Death

His reintegration back on the ground following the rocket’s explosion in orbit…

Space Adventures #33 original (Steve Ditko)  spaceadventures reintegration
DC Comics Presents #90 Earth-? version (Denys Cowan)  dccp 91 ca reintegrate
Secret Origins (2nd) #34 “Big Lie” retelling (Alan Weiss)  so34-2
Captain Atom #3  “Big Lie” retelling (Pat Broderick)  CA 3 reintegration

For quick comparison, here’s an abbreviated version of the origin as seen in Charlton Bullseye (2nd) #7.

Charlton bullseye 7 1982 captain atom origin

The bogus origin makes use of the original Captain Atom costume (originally blue, but then re-coloured to its much more recognised gold in successive adventures and reprints).  This debuted in the real world in Charlton’s Space Adventures #33:

captain atom 3 costumes

And it also features the second, silver, blue and red suit that debuted in Captain Atom #87 which was used during the second part of silver age, through his sporadic bronze age appearances and then in DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths and his team-up appearance in DC Comics Presents #90.  His rationale for making his costume alters in the big lie retelling: in the original Charlton tales it was a special liquid metal that once sprayed on his skin was absorbed and enabled him to not only protect others from his radiation but also help hide his secret identity.  When he charged his power, the coloured liquid metal came to the surface of his skin to form the patriotically coloured uniformed.  In the big lie retelling the silver effect was simply caused by the progressive nature of his powers over time.

captain atom silver age blue

Interestingly a later DC Captain Atom story arc would see his power’s fluctuate necessitating the “real” use of these costumes.  But, again, a story for another day.

Rating:            Story : 5/5 (Excellent)

                           Art : 5/5 (Excellent!)

Review:              

I love this issue.  It works on so many different levels.  We have the Donner interview and bogus bio which encapsulates the Charlton origin and stories in a creative and compelling manner, intertwined with the rescue of the Stalwart nuclear submarine and then the meeting of Nathaniel and his grown-up daughter who doesn’t know him from, um, Adam…and then the self-sacrificing Quantum step from a man who’s feeling he may as just disappear off the face of the planet.  And who promptly then does!

Writing and art work are on fine form here with the reader hopefully feeling increasingly sympathetic to the heroic and morally dubious somersaults Adam is being forced to perform in order to retain his freedom.  But then, after all, he is an airman and he is used to following orders.  He just really doesn’t like them at the moment, but that’s not going to stop him from following them and, above all, saving lives if he possibly can.

Even at the risk of his life.

Best quote:        “Good night, Captain Atom…and may God be with you.”

Bottom line:

My favourite issue so far, and given what we’ve seen so far, that’s amazing.  It’s usually a revealing sign when you can remember exactly where you were when you first read a particular issue; this one was read on a hot afternoon whilst sat on my Grandmother’s front door step waiting for her to return home.  Happy days.

Elsewhere in the DC Universe

Ok, this is a bit of a cheat.  We’re going to have a look at Secret Origins (2nd Series) 34 which is “elsewhere” in terms of continuity rather than concurrent publishing.

This issue was published as part of a three part series-within-a-series focusing on various B and C-level (I hate those terms, but there you go…) heroes of the then Justice League International (the JLI).  Issue #33 had already focussed on Jack Kirby’s New God Mister Miracle, Green Flame (“Fire”) and Icemaiden (“Ice”).  Issue #35 would tackle Maxwell Lord IV, Martian Manhunter and Dan Jurgens’ favourite time-travelling self-promoter Booster Gold.  Taken together these issues form a lovely triptych by DC fan-favourite Jerry “the extraordinary” Ordway:

Secret_Origins_Vol_2_33 Secret_Origins_Vol_2_34 Secret_Origins_Vol_2_35

What’s probably true here is that the covers work better together than as individual images, but then, that is the entire point of a triptych😉

Issue 34, published September 20th 1988 and cover dated 1988 detailed the secret origins of Rocket Red 4, Captain Atom and popular Green Lantern G’Nort.  The cover shows them flying out of the JLI’s New York embassy which they moved into during JLI #7’s classic “Moving day” story (with events occurring simultaneously with Captain Atom #10, as we will see).

DC had previously covered the post-Crisis origins of the Justice Society of America (itself an update of DC’s somewhat belated bronze-age telling of the team’s 1940 origin in 1977’s DC Special #29) in Secret Origins #31 and the Justice League of America in Secret Origins #32.  The latter has plot by Keith Giffen, script by Peter David and lovely art by Eric (“Oz series”) Shanower.

As a side note, the JSA origin isn’t bad but the art by Michael Bair, an artist I like a great deal, is a little variable in places.  Incidentally, there’s a lovely debate over the importance or probably more accurately, the historical significance and story beats of having/not having Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as part of the inaugural JSA adventure over in episode 31 of Ryan Daly’s Secret Origins podcast.  This beautifully crafted podcast series is now a member of Rob Kelly and Shag Matthews’ Fire and Water podcast network.  If you haven’t already done so, please do check the Secret Origins podcast and, indeed, any of those featured on the network; they are all uniformly entertaining, educational, inspirational and just plain FUN.  Listening to these reminds me why I love comics so much.  My personal favourite is probably the “Who’s who” podcast.

Although the whole of the Secret Origins series has the highest possible recommendation, these 5 issues are brilliant examples of post-crisis cohesiveness.  None of these are my favourite single issue, however; that accolade goes to the fantastic Black Canary origin in the last issue (#50) by writer-supreme Alan Brennert, but any issue in this series is worth your time.  Actually, pretty much any comic written by Alan Brennert is worth your time!  He hasn’t written many, and they are scattered across the two big publishers’ timeline, but arguably there’s not really a duff one in the entire set.

Sidebar – Alan Brennert substantive comic checklist:

Publisher Title Cover Notes
DC Batman: Gotham Knights #10 (“Batman Black and White”)  Batman_Gotham_Knights_10 “Black and White” Batman backup with art by José Luis “praise be his name” García-López.  The other Gotham hero, Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott, also appears.  If that’s not a good reason to get this comic, I don’t know what is, frankly.
DC Batman: Holy Terror one-shot. (Elseworlds imprint)  Batman_Holy_Terror Set in an intriguing church-state Elseworld continuity and definitely one of the better Elseworld tales complete with a whip-smart plot-twist concerning the identity of the “Green Man”…  smart money was on the Martian Manhunter.  Art by Batman supremo of the day, Norm Breyfogle.
DC The Brave and the Bold (1st) #178  Brave_and_the_Bold_v.1_178 Batman’s pre-Crisis Bronze Age team-up book regularly offered-up delightful combinations of characters.  Brennert’s use of Steve Ditko’s Creeper certainly fits the bill with neatly delineated art by Jim Aparo.

The Creeper is one of those characters who despite having many erratic appearances across the DC universe over the years, remains difficult to pin down in terms of excellent execution.

Variations such as Vertigo’s 2003 re-imagining of the Creeper in 1925’s Paris by Jason Hall, Cliff Chiang, Dave Stewart and John Workman (him again) is an intriguing read.  Do check it out if you can find it.

DC The Brave and the Bold #181  Brave_and_the_Bold_v.1_181 Brennert brings back Hawk & Dove in a continuity-busting tale that, while respectful of the characters’ history, inexplicably ages them beyond their peers (it could almost be ghost-written by Bob Haney), something which the Teen Titans book later (correctly) ignores!   An entertaining story though, somewhat embraced by Karl Kesel’s story in Hawk & Dove (3rd) #25.   Great art by Aparo again though; what an artist!
DC The Brave and the Bold #182  Brave_and_the_Bold_v.1_182 It was one of the more fascinating aspects of the pre-Crisis universe: Earth-Two’s Batman had died (in 1979’s Adventure Comics #462) leaving behind a daughter (the Helena Wayne Huntress) and his former ward (Robin) to continue the fight crime against crime in Gotham.  Taking the younger Earth-One Batman to Earth-Two was always a treat, especially when drawn by Jim Aparo.
DC The Brave and the Bold #197  Brave_and_the_Bold_v.1_197 As a follow-up, Brennert decided to lift the veil (not the Vicki Vale…) on the Earth-Two Batman’s relationship with his universe’s Catwoman.  Justice Society appearances abound in a Scarecrow tale that prefaces the origin of the Helena Wayne Huntress in DC Super Stars #17.  Great stuff, lovely art work by Justice Society regular Joe Staton.  Even better, old-school Bat-logos on the cover!
DC Christmas with the Super-Heroes #2 (Deadman)  Christmas_with_the_Super-Heroes_2 Amongst the gems in this post-crisis seasonal anthology is a short story fittingly called “Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot”, featuring a continuity-skirting heart-tugging reveal that still brings a lump to the throat after all these years.

And it’s Alan Brennert who writes that Deadman tale, neatly executed with sparkling art by Dick Giordano.

DC Detective Comics #500  Detective_Comics_500 Ah… “To Kill a Legend”, the first story in this anniversary issue is a true classic and one often reprinted in “Greatest Stories” compilations and perhaps rightly so.  In this tale we find Earth-One’s Batman given the chance by the Phantom Stranger to prevent the deaths of the Waynes…on Earth Five – even if it means on that world the legend of Batman will never rise from that alleyway’s broken survivor.   Giordano again picks up the pencils and inks to tell (perhaps) Brennert’s finest tale of DC’s “what if…?”.
DC Secret Origins (2nd) #50 (Black Canary)  Secret_Origins_v.2_50 The final issue of this series features a number of post-Crisis origins, including an update of “Flash of Two Worlds” written by none other than Grant Morrison.

However, it’s the Brennert-penned post-Crisis origin of Black Canary featuring both the Justice Society of America and the Justice League of America that steals the show.   By presenting a finely crafted (and logical) timeline with graceful continuity nods to the Golden Age Green Lantern and Mike W. Barr’s under-valued “Year Two” Batman tale, this is a sheer delight and comes highly recommended.

Note.  This version replaces the somewhat complex Earth-Two to Earth-One transit origin retcon (“She’s actually her own daughter but never realised”) that was attempted pre-Crisis in Justice League of America (1st) 219 and 220 to resolve the thorny issue of Black Canary’s age.  The solution was, to say the least, somewhat unique.

 

DC Wonder Woman (1st) 231  Wonder_Woman_Vol_1_231 Marty Pasko adapts a Brennert Earth-Two Wonder Woman story which also features the Justice Society of America.
DC Wonder Woman (1st) 232  Wonder_Woman_Vol_1_232 Ah, you guessed, yes, it’s part two by the same creative team.
Marvel

 

Daredevil (1st) #192  20565-2190-22943-1-daredevil Not a job many people would have wanted – writing the first issue after the conclusion of Frank Miller’s seminal run on Daredevil.

For my money, Miller and Mazzucchelli’s “Born Again” follow-up run is far better as the storytelling is just wonderfully constructed and executed, but even so, a very tough act to follow!

 

Brennert’s tale is engaging and well worth a read, supported by some great Klaus Janson art, of course.  Miller may get much of the acclaim but it’s clear to see that Janson was just as important in shaping the horn-head’s adventures.

Marvel Star Trek #12  Eclipse_reason_comic Post-Star Trek: The Motion Picture adventures in the merry Marvel tradition.   The series didn’t last very long nor reach the creative heights of DC’s later versions.  This story, featuring plot and script by Marty Pasko and Alan Brennert, harkens back to the original series’ sensibilities and manages to spend much-needed development time on Janice Rand, a neglected Trek character is ever there was one!

And if you’re in the UK, you can visit Amazon to order a lovely hardcover collection of Alan’s DC Batman work, “Tales of the Batman Alan Brennert”.  (Note.  The original, unpublished version of this instalment pleaded with DC to publish a collection like this – now, I can happily just provide the link).

Issue #34’s Captain Atom origin, a tale called “Yesterday once more” which was written by Bates from a plot by Weisman (so it has to be taken as authoritative), is basically the backstory to the creation of the bogus bio related in Captain Atom #3 and mainly focuses on Theresa Delgado’s attempts to construct a tale that meets Eiling’s (and by extension, the US Government’s) requirements.  Eiling’s not easy to please, it seems.

Alan Weiss (best known for his Marvel artwork) supplies the line work here; it won’t be the only time he gets to draw the good Captain, see Armageddon : The Alien Agenda #3 for that, but that won’t be until 1992.

Incidents related here as part of the bogus origin include:

Sarge’s tale of the origin  Space Adventures 33 Originally from: Charlton Comics’ Space Adventures #33 (March 1960)), Joe Gill and Steve Ditko.
The boy and the stars (poorly child)  space adventures 40 Originally from: Charlton Comics’ Space Adventures #40 (June 1961), Joe Gill and Steve Ditko.

Really elsewhere in the DC Universe

Ok, so back in this timeframe…

The reboot Post-Legends Justice League (not yet formerly “International” but it’s heading in that direction) starts in earnest, courtesy of the stellar team of Keith Giffen, Jean-Marc Dematteis, Kevin Maguire and Terry Austin.

It also introduces (to the best of my knowledge at least) the much imitated, parodied and referenced “looking up at the camera” group shot of the last 20 years or so.  God, that’s such a great cover; the word “iconic” is overused, I think, but in this case, it’s well deserved.   To think that Kevin Maguire was a relative newcomer to comic art at this time!

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Justice-League #1 DC Comics, 1987

Why the love?

Simply put: this team is interesting.  There’s the new female Doctor Light (introduced in Crisis), the most reader-accessible New God, Mister Miracle (and his wonderfully acerbic-but-loyal assistant Oberon), the 80s revamped (costume-wise from Detective Comics #554) Black Canary, JLA-stalwart Martian Manhunter (seen by many as the heart of the Justice League), the 2nd Blue Beetle (Ted Kord), Captain Marvel (“Shazam!”), Green Lantern Guy Gardner (often seen as the 4th  most popular Earth GL after Hal Jordan, John Stewart and Alan Scott, but riding high at that time post-Crisis due to that maxi-series and his redevelopment in the Green Lantern Corp book) and…Batman.

Yes – Batman, the same guy who was just completing part 4 of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s masterfully reworked origin in the “Year One” arc progressing through the eponymous Batman title.  At the time this seemed both logical but also a little odd; Batman wasn’t being promoted as much of a team player anymore (see his appearance in Superman’s Man of Steel 3” for a flavour of how things have changed post “Man of Steel” mini-series) and his inclusion here seems more like a tent-pole exercise rather than fulfilling storytelling logic.  As it turns out, he fits in just fine, he’s the gravelly voice of reason and experience in the crazy-ass events that slowly unfold.  Some might argue that Batman is the cranky Uncle to the Martian Manhunter’s perpetually put-upon Dad.  I think there’s some truth in that.  Thankfully, Batman is a character that fits all types of stories – he isn’t just the avenging-son obsessed scourge of the Gotham underworld.  Let him have some fun and humanity, this is comics y’know?!

It’s fair to say that Justice League becomes a book as much about friendship than beating up the next power-mad scientist/alien/dicatator determined to hurt innocent people (although that happens too).  I think that’s why it is still eminently relevant and reads so well today – its themes are still as important today and, possibly, pre-configure many of the popular comedy-dramas (I refuse to say, “dramedy”) of the 1990s and 2000’s.

According to Andy Helfer’s introduction to the first JLI trade (“JL: A New Beginning”, 1989), Batman was gifted to him by a sympathetic Denny O’Neil (Batman’s then editor) as most of the established DC pantheon was off-limits to the Justice-League due to their ongoing reboots.  Helfer could bring in Hal Jordan (he was the editor of Green Lantern) but chose Guy Gardner instead.   Relying on lesser known characters required a storytelling shift  in approach and ethos and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.  Personally, I think we’re all the better for it.

Interestingly DC didn’t include that introduction when they reprinted the trade which is a shame as it’s informative reading.  Whether it was a question of permissions, rights, sloppy reprint editing, page limits, internal politics or publishing desire…who knows.

Anyhow, here’s the original collection and its later reprint:

jlitrade jli trade reprint

The former is paperback only but has that nice introduction by then-editor Andy Helfer so is well worth tracking down on ebay if you’re a fan.  The reprint is readily available as a hardcover and trade but lacks that behind-the-scenes introduction, sadly (and inexplicably).

So, yes, it’s played mostly for laughs but generally these humorous moments are emerging naturally out of the deadly scenarios being experienced rather than being played directly for farce; in some cases it’s just how some of the heroes cope with their fears of failure or potential defeat.

So don’t let the detractors stop you digging into this series if you’ve been told to ignore anything before Grant Morrison came onboard and recruited his “magnificent 7” version of the League.

While that’s undoubtedly good, this, for my money, is majestic.

The team that starts this month won’t stay, of course.  Black Canary will eventually leave due to events in Mike Grell’s masterful Green Arrow The Longbow Hunters and its ongoing’s emergence as a “recommended for mature readers” title.   Doctor Fate will soon undergo his own reinvention in his own series.  Captain Marvel will, apart from a four part tale in Action Comics Weekly anthology (issues #623 to #626 ) after Roy Thomas’ projected “Shazam!” ongoing didn’t see publication reportedly due to writer and editor differences, be relegated to guest star status across DC books.  There was perhaps the feeling that DC didn’t know what to do with the light-hearted hero in the darkening comic climate.   Fortunately, Jerry Ordway’s Power of Shazam graphic novel in 1994 will eventually see that dream of a new ongoing series fully realised.  Doctor Light equally does not stick around, mainly due to Max Lord’s early deceit.  Batman too will leave but that’s not for a while.

In terms of collecting this series, back issues remain somewhat inexpensive and DC has collected together six volumes of this classic series, along with the Justice League Europe spin-off and the various annuals.  Hopefully there’s more to come, who knows, DC’s reprinting master plan is a mystery to most of us.  Pester DC politely, perhaps?  I’m sure you know their new west-coast address…

Of course, Captain Atom’s not in the Justice League yet, but (spoiler warning), he will be…  That membership will play out in both the Justice League book(s) and his own title in the near future, arguably with a lasting impact for both.

Other notable events this month include the Hawkman’s Shadow War which featured a cross-over of sorts with Byrne’s revamped Superman (Action Comics #588 and Hawkman #10).

hawkman10 action588

Of course, if you’re any kind of DC fan you’re probably aware of the continuity knots that DC tied itself into with Hawkman in the 1980s and 1990s.  Principally this was because even though Tim Truman’s Hawkworld series was (and still is) an excellent read, the ongoing Hawkworld series had Thanagarian Shayera Thal and Katar Hol coming to Earth in present day.

At a stroke it invalidated a lot of the post-Crisis appearances of both Hawkman and Hawkwoman.

hawkworld Hawkworld_v.2_1

If that was true, just who was the Hawkman in the Justice League?  Who’s been fighting the Shadow War?  Come to that, why are the Golden Age Hawks similarly styled to these new people coming from another planet?  It was, to put it simply, a bit of a mess.  There were others, of course, in a confused post-Crisis state – Donna Troy, Power Girl, Superboy’s involvement in the Legion, Shade the changing man etc.  But Hawkman was undeniably the poster child for continuity issues back then.  At least Grant Morrison made it an active story point in Animal Man (and just how good was that!?)

Geoff Johns eventually fixed most of it (as he clearly relishes the challenge of tidying up after a big unruly continuity party) but I’d give John Ostrander considerable credit for laying some of the solid groundwork in the ongoing Hawkworld title.  Since then we’ve had Brightest Day (which confused things again, unbelievably) and DC New 52’s “Savage Hawkman” – something I didn’t personally enjoy a great deal, but it will be “someone’s” Hawkman, somewhere, I guess.  Hopefully with DC’s emerging rebirth changes, we’ll see a little more of the older continuity coming back into play as DC moves forward.

Then again, I could be wrong.

Savage-Hawkman

This surely wasn’t progress, was it?

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Captain Atom #2 (2nd Series, 1986) – Postscript

As is often the way with these things, I may suddenly decide, “Boy, I wish I’d included X, Y or Z”.  When this happens, I’ll add a simple postscript post.

As it is, I’m currently working on Captain Atom #3, which is probably one of the most important books in the first year’s worth of issues (after the Post-Crisis origin introduction in issue #1, naturally).  It is where the public get the full, televised Captain Atom “big lie”.  That’s a continuity banquet of immense proportions as it’s going to feature a lot of ancillary titles in telling the tale.  And not all of them are DC.  Or Post-Crisis. Yes, it’s that detailed.

So, in the meantime, quick update post…

This one is basically all about Plastique, our Canadian Quebec separatist friend from issue #2.  As noted, she had made her explosive first appearance in Firestorm but would become a fixture in the Captain Atom title for some years to come.

When we left her at the end of #2, Captain Atom had famously thwarted her plan by doing this:

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Ouch..!

And it was widely televised in a live feed.  Not so good for your criminal reputation, perhaps. But definitely benefiting the Captain.

Question: So where did she go next?

Answer: the New Suicide Squad!

So, this little feature is called…

Whatever happened to Plastique!?

Suicide Squad #1 (cover dated May 1987) was on the shelves and spinner racks by February 26th 1987.  It followed closely (2 weeks) on the heels of Secret Origins (2nd Series) #14 where the background of the Suicide Squad’s pre-cursory umbrella organisation (in Post-Crisis continuity) “Task Force X”, was detailed.  Nicely dovetailing into DC’s established lore, the group was set up in the wake of the 1950’s “mystery men” fading away into the background after the US Government’s McCarthy-driven hunt for “reds under the bed” put a sour taste in the mouth of the fabled war-time heroes, the Justice Society of America.

Here’s that Secret Origins cover, teasing the past (Dinosaur Island?) with a hint of Brimstone from DC’s recently completed Legends event.

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Featuring a starkly illustrated cover by Howard Chaykin, tight script by John Ostrander, pencils by Luke McDonnell and inks by Karl Kesel, the first issue of Suicide Squad essentially introduced the post-“Legends” team, explained the high-risk stakes (paraphrasing Amanda Waller, they must “do what needs to be done, survive the experience and have their sentence commuted to time served”) and sent them on their first mission.

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As you’ll notice, that’s Plastique on the cover; she’s part of that initial mission.

I won’t detail just how that mission goes (for her or the team) as the back issues are generally available at a reasonable price and DC did collect Secret Origins (2nd) #14 and issues 1-8 in a trade paperback called “Trial by Fire” in 2011.  Here’s that cover:

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Hopefully they’ll do a volume 2 at some point…in the meantime, buy volume 1 if you haven’t already😉

Anyway, here’s Plastique “in briefing” from issue #1…

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And, naturally, there’s a lot of not-so-charming banter between the criminal types assembled.  Cue a classic Captain Boomerang tirade which acts as a neat primer on Plastique’s career so far…

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And, even better, footnotes.  As an avid comic reader and collector in the 1980s these were typically done brilliantly at both DC and Marvel, helping an interested reader track connected story threads in different issues with ease; editorially-speaking this is leaps and bounds ahead of what we tend to get these days.  I know there are arguments (perhaps valid ones) about them “pulling” the reader out of the narrative at a key moment but, hey, it’s a comic; footnotes are part of the “chrome” around your 9-panelled world, so leave them alone!

So to summarise, that’s where Plastique went after Captain Atom #2, presumably after regaining consciousness…but don’t worry she will come back, oh yes!

As a bonus, here’s the original Suicide Squad house-ad that featured in many May 1987 cover titles , including Captain Atom #3.

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Speaking of which, I’d better get back to that!

See you soon.

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Captain Atom #2 (2nd Series, 1986)

Captain Atom (2nd series, 1986) issue #2

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Published:          January 29th, 1987

Cover date:      April 1987

Cover price:     75 cents (US), $1 (Canada), 40 pence (UK)

Cover:               Montage dominated by Captain Atom with clenched fist.  Other images include Dr Megala, Batman, Superman, Firestorm, Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) and Plastique.  There is also a slightly obscured “Time(ly)” magazine and a nuclear mushroom cloud.

Pencilled by:     Pat Broderick

Inked by:             Bob Smith

Title:                     “Captain Atom…A True American hero?” [32 pages, 22 story]

Credits:                Cary Bates(W)

Pat Broderick (P)

Bob Smith (I)

John Costanza (L)

Carl Gafford (C)

Denny O’Neil (E)

Intro:                1st appearance of Captain Cameron Scott, USAF – a new “deep cover” alias  created for Nathaniel Adam to use whilst in his “civilian” identity.

Intro:               Operation “Catch-up” – an intensive 6 week programme designed to re-orientate Nathaniel Adam after his re-emergence from the Quantum Field 18 years after he vanished.  This programme included technology, socio-political science and changes in cultural trends such as popular music.  Adam passes this programme and is released into the Intelligence arena as Scott and the public eye as “Captain Atom”.   This story starts about 12 days afterwards…

Origin:             Captain Atom’s relationship with villain/terrorist/Quebec separatist freedom fighter (your mileage may vary) “Plastique”/Bette Sans Souci.  This development will continue throughout the run of this book and beyond…as we will see.

Starring:          General Wade R. Eiling (USAF, Head of the Atom Project), Dr. Heinrich Megala (Chief Scientist, the Atom Project), Sergeant Jeffrey “Jeff” Goslin (USAF, Nathaniel Adam’s best friend), Batman, Blue Beetle (Ted Kord), Firestorm and Superman.

Intro:               Phillipe, a Quebec separatist freedom fighter and two co-conspirators, one of whom commits suicide by detonating her explosive belt.

Intro:                   Traynor, another USAF Intelligence officer acting as Scott’s contact.  Will he reappear..?

Guest-App:      Ronald Reagan (President of the United States of America in the DCU); it is two months since he green-lit Eiling’s Phase Two of the Captain Atom project – the multimedia introduction and heavy saturation of Captain Atom in order to engender public trust in a new superhero.

{probably, though he’s not explicitly named} Brian Mulroney (the 18th Prime Minister of Canada in our world, possibly also in the DCU).  In real life he held this position from September 17, 1984 to June 25, 1993.  He was also leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada from 1983 to 1993.  The “Timely” magazine cover in this issue is dated July 1986 and this, although a topical reference, is likely to be relatively recent given the saturation period of the Captain Atom PR campaign; this reinforces the belief that this Prime Minister in the DCU is probably Mulroney.  And he looks quite like him (see picture below).

Guess-App:      Batman – probably between Detective Comics (1st  series, 1939) #572 and #573

Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) – probably between Blue Beetle #15 and Justice League #1 (launching next month – cover dated May 1987!)

Firestorm – probably between Firestorm #59 and #60

Superman – probably between Action Comics (1st series, 1938) #587 and Booster Gold #16

Appearance:    Plastique (Bette Sans Souci).

Comment:          Guest appearances from four of DC’s well-known heroes.  It’s quite a mix: Batman and Superman (two of DC’s top-tier “Trinity”, along with Wonder Woman), Firestorm (DC’s other “nuclear” hero and Blue Beetle (like Cap, another ex-Charlton/Earth-Four hero, recently relaunched in the Post-Crisis DC Universe).  Interestingly each character here will fulfil a function within the Captain Atom “big lie” arc (as we’ll see).  We’re also privy to each hero’s thoughts and they are pretty spot-on in terms of (then) characterisation; Superman’s optimism (Kansas farm boy positivity), Batman’s suspicious (boy does this get overplayed – see DC’s Identity Crisis, OMAC Project et al), Blue Beetle instantly likes the new hero and feels something of a kindred spirit somehow (Earth Four residual memory?) and Firestorm acts like a grumpy teenager and is basically jealous of (a) the attention fostered on the newcomer and (b) the fact that Captain Atom has taken down one of his rogues gallery (Plastique).   All of this is economically and nicely observed by Bates and Weisman.  And they’ll end up meeting; it won’t be pretty.

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Blue Beetle – DC’s Post-Crisis launch… #1

Comment:           We’re clearly post-Legends here with Batman particularly conscious of the public’s view of the negative press that heroes have recently endured.  In these cynical, conspiracy-theory driven times, isn’t it ironic that a government aligned hero somehow seemed more trustyworthy back then?  I doubt that would happen now, it would be an even bigger “sell”, I think.

Comment:           In a coincidental meeting (you are creatively allowed one per issue), “Cameron Scott” reveals his real identity and return (Adam, not Atom) to USAF Sergeant Jeffrey “Goz” Goslin – his now, much older best friend who just happens to be the assigned contact (- surely that was done deliberately by Eiling?)

Comment:          Atom takes Plastique’s best shot – enough energy to vaporise a Nuclear power plant; he’s not hurt at all by this, to her amazement.

Comment:          Atom punches out Plastique and this image is photographed by the world’s press and is broadcast internationally, instantly confirming his heroic status in the minds of the public.

Comment:          Through Eiling’s machinations, Adam’s original pardon is suspended, thus Adam agrees to “act” out the role of America’s newest superhero: Captain Atom.  He does so to (presumably) leverage military intelligence assistance in proving his innocence.  This is termed “Phase Two” of the Captain Atom project and it includes 5 key components, so far:

  • The truth is essentially limited to Megala, Eiling, 3 senior military figures (one is called “Rupert”) and President Regan – but this isn’t really true, presumably the PR people also know..?
  • Nathaniel Adam’s Operation “Catch-up”
  • Captain Atom multimedia saturation.
  • The establishment of Nathaniel Adam’s new “deep cover” identity of USAF intelligence agent Cameron Scott.
  • A “cover” origin – much more on this next time!

It’s clear from this issue that he’s already chafing under the arrangement and expresses his frustrations to his contact.

Rating:                 Story : 4/5 (Very Good)

                           Art : 5/5 (Excellent!)

Review:             There’s a lot to like here, but it’s only issue two and it’s already getting complex.  In simple terms, our hero in this issue has 4 delineated identities – he’s Nathaniel Adam (the real person), Captain Atom (the US government hero identity that he’s slowly growing into), Cameron Scott (his 1980’s USAF Intelligence deep cover) and the “fabricated” Cameron Scott who tries to join Plastique’s gang of Separatists.

                            This issue is about a public debut – it’s about becoming the everyday all-American hero that the US Government (and Eiling in particular) wants to leverage.  Why he ultimately wants to do this will be made clear…eventually.

In regards to the good Captain, given that you’ve just saved the lives of the US President and Canadian Prime Minster on live TV surely your hero credentials are pretty much assured?

These guys seem to think so.

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Even Batman starts to think he’s been too “judgemental”…you, Bruce?  Surely not!

Somewhat more significantly is the introduction of Plastique here as her adversarial relationship with our hero (sorry, that is a bit of a spoiler) will develop somewhat “unexpectedly” over the next 50 issues or so; unexpected considering her character’s history, perhaps.  Classically a Firestorm foe, she hadn’t really developed as a character since the Crisis, apart from internalising her powers.  I could argue therefore that she’d become more of a Captain Atom character than a Firestorm one, I guess in a similar way that The Kingpin had become Daredevil’s “property” (under Frank Miller) rather than Spider-man’s, although he had initially appeared in the webhead’s book.  For those keeping track her first appearance is in Fury of Firestorm #7, albeit with artificial powers (she later gains these through genetic manipulation).  She also joins the fabled Suicide Squad, but that’s a story for another day, perhaps.

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Fury of Firestorm #7 – First appearance of Plastique…

Best quote:        “The world isn’t ready to see me lose my temper.”

Bottom line:      Nathaniel shows he’s a bit rusty at Intelligence work, Atom lands a punch(line) and a headline.  A great, engaging read, propelling events forward for all major characters and helping to develop some of their more sympathetic natures.

Elsewhere in the DC Universe

Legends is all over bar the shouting and longer-term ramifications.

Perhaps the most important development from this line-wide DC event was the launch next month of DC’s new Justice League book, as written by Keith Giffen, Jean Marc Dematteis, drawn by Kevin Maguire and edited by Andrew Helfer.

Cover to Justice League (1987) #1

Justice League (1987) #1

A landmark comic which undeniably altered the dynamic of superhero teams by focusing on the relationships between the characters as much as the adventures they shared.  It becomes the start of a complete Justice League franchise which lasts in one form or another until Grant Morrison’s (equally iconic) eventual re-launch with DC’s big 7 in late 1996.  It goes without saying that we will start to look more closely at Justice League when it becomes JLI – Justice League International – at issue #7; let’s just say that a couple of new characters join…

My admiration for this series knows no bounds and DC have sensibly released (as of January 2013) six volumes of this series.  Hopefully they’ll do more, after all they’ve only just got into the Adam Hughes art!

It simply cannot be recommended highly enough.  If you’ve never read it, try it.

Also of note is Doug Moench and Gene Colan’s relaunch of The Spectre which picks up on his character beats from the Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series.  This is the lesser-known series which came before John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s seminal and well-respected take on the character.

Cove to The Spectre (1987) #1

The Spectre (1987) #1

Well worth a try if you spot it in the back issue bins.

And finally, Shazam!

Or perhaps that should be Captain Marvel?

Either way, April 1987 was also the cover date of the post-Crisis DCU launch of the “new” version of Captain Marvel.

Cover of Shazam: The New Beginning #1 (of 4)

Shazam: The New Beginning #1 (of 4)

“From the pages of Legends”…it said on the cover.  Well, that’s true to an extent.  The Captain Marvel appearing here is certainly the hero you’d expect to see.  I’m just not sure whether he’s the “big red cheese” you remember!  From Roy and Dann Thomas’ take on Billy Batson to the pace and tone of the adventures herein, this is very different to what you’d probably expect having read Legends (and indeed any Pre-Crisis Captain Marvel adventures).

Dark and somehow forceful in nature, Shazam: The New Beginning is a great mini-series and, to the best of my knowledge, never reprinted.  You can still pick this up relatively inexpensively and it is, in my opinion, a great read.

Although Captain Whitebread…um, Marvel, would appear in a few Justice League stories and Jerry Ordway would relaunch him to great fame in the “Power of Shazam” original hardcover graphic novel…this was the first attempt Post-Crisis to do so.  And, kudos to the Thomas’s, they did try to do something very different.  They largely succeeded.  That it stands out in my memory amongst the thousands of comics I’ve read is surely testament to that.

And, hey, it even has the old wizard Shazam remembering the Pre-Crisis Shazam Family!  What’s not to love?  And I haven’t even mentioned the Tom Mandrake moody and sinewy artwork.

It’s fair to say that playing Captain Marvel “straight” doesn’t seem to work as well as playing him slightly whimsically.   However, somehow, this version works.  It’s just a shame perhaps that we never got to see any more.  My recommendation?  Buy it, naturally!

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