Thursday, March 23, 2017

1st Issue Special #13 (1976)


1st Issue Special #13 (April, 1976)
"Lest Night Fall - Forever!"
Plot & Edits - Gerry Conway
Dialogue - Denny O'Neil
Art - Mike Vosburg
Cover Price: $0.30

Hey it's another issue of that strange mid-70's series which I seem to have a bit of an obsession over... 1st Issue Special!

Today we're going to discuss a book featuring the Kirby Kharacters... though the issue itself isn't written or drawn by the King!  This may just be the first story done without his involvement... which is something, I guess.  He doesn't even get a passing mention in the "Story Behind the Story" page...

This is also a series that actually wound up getting picked up as a regular ongoing series... though, it did hit a year later while DC was "exploding".

Well, let's hop in and see just what Orion... that is Orion, right?... and the crew are up to!

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We open with Orion (of the New Gods) busting through a wall.  His costume is certainly different from what we are used to... he's wearing a more traditional-looking outfit which isn't all that dissimilar to Animal Man's... in certain panels, the "eye holes" in his mask are sorta shaped like Buddy Baker's goggles... the headgear also kinda looks like Spartan from WildC.A.T.s.  Anyhoo... enough with the fashion report... he bursts through and enters into battle with Kalibak.  They pound on one another for a bit, while Orion tries to learn the whereabouts of Darkseid.  Kalibak obviously... ain't talkin'.



During the fight, as heroes (especially those in 1st Issue Special) often do, Orion begins to day dream... recalling the events which led him here.  He remembers returning to New Genesis and meeting with Highfather, Scott Free, Big Barda, and Metron.  He comes with dire news to report... Darkseid is planning for a war which involves the invasion of Earth.



No sooner does he share the news than wave after wave of Parademons descend upon the group.  Orion and Barda hold them off the best they can until Metron is able to open a Boom Tube to send the baddies back to Apokolips.  At this point it is decided that Orion head to Earth to stop his father, Darkseid.



Back in the present, Orion and Kalibak continue their struggle.  They are evenly matched, and so... Orion blasts the floor under his foe to send him falling to the story below.  He continues working his way through the tenement, until he runs afoul of... Granny Goodness!  She puts him down with a single blast... after which, his limp body is dragged away by the horde.



Back on New Genesis, Highfather is acting woeful in front of a roaring fireplace.  He is soon joined by Metron who informs him that "The Source" has been activated.  The pair head out to the Wall of Prophecy to see what's up, and are greeted by a message warning what might happen should Orion be successful in falling his father.



Metron expands upon the warning by revealing that he had located Darkseid... and learned that he had, get this... attuned his heartbeat to the rhythms of Earth's Sun... this means, should he die... the Sun will explode.  Sounds legit, right?  I don't think this "stuck"... though, it's just wacky enough that I wish it had.



We rejoin Orion as he comes to.  He is surrounded by his captors... who are just dudes in tank tops wielding spiked clubs and rinky-dink laser pistols.  Orion easily bests them in combat and escapes captivity... only, he's not on Earth anymore.  He looks up to the fiery red sky, and realizes that he's in a lazy Crisis on Infinite Earths tie-in on Apokolips!



Orion walks the streets, and it isn't long before he runs into his half-brother, Kalibak... and, wouldn'tcha know it, they fight again!  This time, Orion wins decisively.



He breaks through the doors of Darkseid's palace... and winds up face-to-face with the man himself.  He threatens to kill his father... which is news that Darkseid basically brushes off.  Kalibak begs for another opportunity to fight... and in a great panel, Darkseid just nonchalantly shoves him down!



Before Orion can lunge at Darkseid, they are joined by Highfather and Metron.  Highfather informs the lad that his efforts have been an exercise in futility... what's best for the Earth is letting Darkseid live... not that we can say with 100% certainty that Orion would've been successful, right?



The New Genesis gang heads home, leaving Darkseid alone with his thoughts.  To his mind, they are currently at a stalemate with the good guys... but, I don't think I agree.  Darkseid can kill any and all of the New Genesis folks... it's just that they cannot kill him.  I dunno.  We wrap up with Highfather and Metron telling Orion not to lose hope... there will be a war, but for the moment at least, there is peace on New Genesis.



--

Another interesting issue of 1st Issue.  This one is strange in that what happens could (should?) have had an effect on the entire DC Universe.  This is almost too relevant a story to appear in this series, ya know?  The idea that Darkseid is readying for an all-out war on not only his neighbors on New Genesis, but the Earth as well... really should be something the DC heroes know about, and aid the opposition against.

Now, I don't wanna slag on the relevance of my beloved 1st Issue Special... but, c'mon, this series brought us Lady Cop, the Dingbats, and the Outsiders (not those Outsiders)... hardly movers and shakers of the DC Universe.  This story feels large, and important... which is a good thing!  Just a weird way to end this volume... as this is the final issue of 1st Issue Special before it faded into the sunset.

I mentioned it above, but... as silly as it is, I really kinda dig the idea that Darkseid cannot be killed without the Earth being destroyed.  I haven't read the Return of the New Gods series that spun out of this, but I'd definitely be interested in checking it out... to see how creative they get with this concept.

I'm not sure quite how I feel about Orion's new costume.  It's definitely more traditional... which, I dunno... I mean, it's sharp, but it's lacking something from his earlier wacky helmet.  The art overall, however, was really quite good.  It's definitely not Kirby, but Vosburg does a great job here with the characters.  Darkseid is perhaps a bit on the dinky side, but overall, I really dug the look of this.

I keep thinking, with how many DC characters that it would be great for them to bring a concept like this back... even if it was a digital-only (or digital-first) sort of thing.  There are plenty of characters we haven't seen (or seen very little of) since Rebirth... it might be interesting to explore some of those.

As for a recommendation... well, if you recall... we sorta kinda have a demandment here, if you come across an issue of 1st Issue Special in the wild (for a reasonable price), you just gotta snag it!

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(Not the) Letters Page:



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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Action Comics #654 (1990)


Action Comics #654 (June, 1990)
"Dark Knight over Metropolis, Part Three: Deadly Covenant"
Writer - Roger Stern
Penciller - Bob McLeod
Inker - Brett Breeding
Letterer - Bill Oakley
Colorist - Glenn Whitmore
Associate Editor - Jon Peterson
Editor - Mike Carlin
Cover Price: (Still only) $0.75

Okey doke, let's wrap this one up!

--


We open on a pretty contentious scene in which Superman and Batman patrol the Metropolis skies.  What's interesting is Superman is acting quite a bit standoffish... almost as though he's intimidated that Batman is on "his turf".  Perhaps it's more him seeing Batman not returning his favor of staying out of "his" city.  Either way, I really dig this.


They happen upon the building across from Cat Grant's apartment... ya know, the one where the roof caved in.  Superman decides to investigate the scene, while Batman enters Ms. Grant's pad to search for clues.  Superman is shocked when, digging through the rubble, he finds Gangbuster's helmet.  He's even more surprised to hear Jose Delgado's familiar voice from above.


Jose shares what had happened that night... and mentions he might have imagined Chiller shape-shifting into his likeness.  Moments later, Shockwave emerges from the rubble... and it appears as though like he's lookin' for a fight.  Superman is happy to oblige... and the fight doesn't even occur on panel, so that oughta tell ya how it went.


We shift scenes to an industrial park where Cat Grant is being delivered to an Intergang-allied doctor.  This is Doctor Moon, and he is interested in altering Ms. Grant's memories so that she will offer a more favorable testimony during Morgan Edge's pending trial.  I'd forgotten that she was a key to all that.


It isn't long before the World's Finest arrive on the scene to dispatch some justice.  Chiller immediately suggests that Shockwave sold them out.  Yeah, prob'ly...


While the heroes tangle with the disposable armored folks, Doctor Moon decides to take advantage of the distraction by flipping the brain-drain switch on Ms. Grant.  Before he can, however... Gangbuster launches into the scene and kayos the good doc.


The fight continues for a few pages, and wraps up the only way it can.  As the dust settles, we can see that Intergang big-bad Mannheim has been watching the events transpire via video monitor.  In a great bit, his "yes man" Gillespie asks what this means for Morgan Edge... and Mannheim's all, "Ehh, I guess this means he takes the rap."  Cold-blooded.


Superman readies the baddies for arrest while chatting with Cat and Gangbuster.  It's brought to his attention that nobody's seen Batman for a few moments.  Well, of course not... because he split... that's kinda what he does.  This time, however, he left a note!  On his cute Bat-logo stationary to boot!  He informs Superman that he'll "know where to find him."


Well, where can that be?  Oh yeah, Amanda McCoy's apartment... it's awesome that so many loose ends are being tied up here.  Such a "packed" issue, yet it's not overwritten and it's not an info-dump.  Superman arrives, finding Batman sitting (sitting on a couch... which is funny to me for reasons I can't quite put into words) amid McCoy's wrecked and ransacked pad.


Superman first accuses Batman of the ransacking... which Bruce just brushes off.  He hands over the book he's been reading... Amanda McCoy's diary.  It would appear she was quite the prolific journal-writer... and boy howdy, she wrote about everything... which includes the fact that Superman and Clark Kent are one in the same!


From here, we get a bit of a guided tour regarding several key moments in Superman lore dating back from just following the John Byrne Man of Steel reimagining!  Amanda being fired by Luthor for suggesting Superman is really Clark Kent, her hiring a P.I., who wound up dead in Clark's apartment (during the Exile story), up to and including her own demise... which, of course isn't written about in the diary, but I think we can take Batman's word for it.  I would have to imagine that these two pages were mighty satisfying for long-time readers!


Superman realizes that the folks who killed Amanda were likely now in possession of the Kryptonite ring.  Oh, not so... Batman reveals that he's had it the entire time.  Superman is a bit off-put by this revelation... maybe he's a bit shaken to realize that at any point in their team-up, Batman could have actually killed him.  Batman hands over the lead-ring-case, and suggests Superman take the diary, along with the Smallville High School Yearbook, and Kent family photo album he'd found in the McCoy abode.  Wow, lady was a bit obsessed, no?


We shift ahead in time and across the bridge to Gotham City, where Bruce Wayne is checking the morning news.  The headlines indicate that Morgan Edge was found guilty... and, the Jane Doe at the morgue has been positively identified.  As Alfred brings him his morning tea, the Batcave alarms go off!


He heads downstairs and throws on his costume to greet his "guest".  Of course, it's Superman... and from the way he's talking, this is likely his first post-Crisis visit to the Batcave, which is pretty cool!


The two chat... and it's still pretty contentious.  Superman even says that they are not friends.  He tells Batman that he trusts him... he feels that he is a good person, who is working toward similar ends as himself.  He proceeds to hand over the Kryptonite ring... explaining that, should he (Superman) ever become mind-controlled, or go rogue... to use it to put him down.  Awesome scene, and amazing way to end this storyline!


--

Dark Knight over Metropolis ends on a high note!  I think I'm so used to storylines petering out... or just plain not ending, that this really caught me off guard!

We had a few big moments here... so, let's unpack those first.  Let's start with the ending... it's here that Superman gives Batman the Kryptonite ring, with the instructions to "end him" if he were ever to go rogue.  It's funny to think about in retrospect... even if Superman and Batman didn't see eye-to-eye in the post-Crisis world, I always remember them knowing each other a bit better when Batman is given these instructions.  Reading it back now, it's crazy to consider that the two were little more than strangers at this point!

Their standoffish nature and uneasy alliance is great.  I really dig this version of the World's Finest... Superman telling Batman to get out of his city, Batman revealing that he had the Kryptonite ring the whole time... all great stuff!

The reveal of just how deep Amanda McCoy's Superman/Kent obsession runs was really cool as well.  We readers knew a bit about it, from the events way back in Superman (vol.2) #2, Intergang killing the P.I. in Clark's apartment during the Exile storyline... just so many bits and pieces weaving together perfectly here.  This truly feels like something that had been built toward since the Man of Steel reimagining.  It's as though we can draw a line under this... with the next month's books being the start of a real and proper "next chapter".

The actual Cat Grant-Intergang story kind of pales when compared to all the rest of the stuff we just discussed, but it was handled quite well.  I'd forgotten that she had vital testimony in the Morgan Edge case.  I thought it was really cool how Mannheim just decided to cut his losses when things went sideways.  He was cool with helping Edge... but, when push came to shove, he was fine with just walking away.

Overall... this entire storyline is most certainly recommended.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Adventures of Superman #467 (1990)


Adventures of Superman #467 (June, 1990)
"Dark Knight over Metropolis, Part Two: Taken to the Grave"
Writer/Artist - Dan Jurgens
Ink Artist - Art Thibert
Letterer - Albert DeGuzman
Colorist - Glenn Whitmore
Associate Editor - Jonathan Peterson
Editor - Mike Carlin
Cover Price: (Still only) $0.75

Welcome back for part two of Dark Knight over Metropolis, where... I do believe our crossover heroes actually share some panels!

--


We open with Superman flying over the streets of Metropolis.  It seems he's a bit off his game... perhaps preoccupied, because... he is in his city.  We flashback to Clark Kent returning to his apartment after his date with Lois only to find his patio door open.  He initially feared he'd been the victim of a robbery, until he saw a note from the Batman.  How adorable is it that Batman signs his correspondence with the bat logo?


He shift scenes over to Batman as he performs some detective work at the morgue.  He'd found some intel regarding a recent homicide victim who had traces of radioactivity on her person... we heard all about that in the first chapter, remember?  It's really pretty neat that Batman's captions during this bit are designed to look like they are pieces of print-outs from a dot-matrix printer.


While he procures a set of prints from the cadaver in question, he is approached by a security officer with his gun drawn and pointed.  Batman refuses to answer any of his questions, and leaves in spite of threats to sound the alarm.


As luck would have it, Superman hears the alarm and decides it would be in his best interest to head in its direction.  Along the way, he believes he sees Batman running across a rooftop.  Upon closer inspection, the roof dweller is our old friend, Gangbuster!  Gotta wonder how Superman thought a dude with a round helmet and no cape might be Batman.  I mean, I get that it's nighttime, but still... c'mon.  The two briefly chat, and we learn that Jose is staked out on the roof to keep an eye on Intergang-target, Cat Grant.  Moments later, Batman does join them... and pulls Superman away so that they might speak in private.


After the World's Finest leave, Jose is joined on the roof by... Cat Grant!  He insists she return home, as it's far too dangerous for her to remain.  At that very moment, the roof gives way, and Gangbuster falls to the floor below... where he gets kayoed by Mannheim freelancer, Shockwave.  It is here we learn that the Cat Grant on the roof was just a shape-shifted Chiller.  The baddies chat, with Chiller then taking the form of Jose Delgado himself!


Shortly the heroes arrive at a car that Alfred has fitted with computer equipment.  They scan the photo Batman took of the corpse at the morgue so it might be reconstructed to give them a better lead.  When the corrected-photo pops out, Superman immediately recognizes the face of the woman who had recently approached him with not only his secret identity... but a Kryptonite ring!


Superman spills all the details of the event and Batman remains tight-lipped about his being in possession of the ring.  Superman posits that the ring is likely somehow connected to Luthor, and so the pair decide to head to LexCorp to begin their investigation.  Once they arrive, Superman shorts out the surveillance equipment... which, one would imagine would be a big help.  Unfortunately, the security detail can still track them by body heat.  Anyhoo, they head deep into "Sector Lex" and come across the podium which held the ring.  Batman taps into the computer to check on their Jane Doe... and is able to deduce that the body belongs to an Amanda Marie McCoy.  They escape before security arrives.


We shift scenes to Cat Grant's apartment.  She is getting ready to attend the big Zenith Awards Banquet... and her "scrumptious" date/bodyguard Jose Delgado has just arrived.


We then jump ahead to that very same banquet.  It's certainly a who's who of Metropolis, with a focus on the journalism elite.  Lois and Clark attend as a couple, and before they can get too comfortable they are approached by... Bruce Wayne!  It appears as though this scene is the first (post-Crisis) meeting between Lois and Bruce, though I might be mistaken.


Moments later we observe another important first (post-Crisis) meeting.  This time it's Bruce Wayne meeting Lex Luthor!  Lex is particularly jovial on this night... which Clark immediately attributes to Lex knowing that he and Superman are one in the same... because, ya know... Amanda McCoy knew, so why not her boss?  Turns out, however, Lex might just be in a good mood... and happy to see the fella (Clark) who saved his life a little while back.


Moments later a platoon of Intergang baddies descend from the sky above.  Johnny-on-the-Spot Steve Lombard decides to capture the entire event on camera... much to (television viewer) Morgan Edge's aggravation.  Gotta say, it's funny to see Edge eating a can of beans for dinner!


Clark heads off to change into his "work clothes" when a beam is fired at him.  Luthor dives on Clark to save him from the blast.  Not only did Lex "save Clark's life" he illustrated to Clark that he hasn't the foggiest clue that he's really Superman.


Lex and Clark share a "now we're even" moment before Clark brings Lois to safety.  He then uses his heat vision to heat up the water in a nearby pool to create a wall of steam, in which he can change clothes.  Batman is holding his own against the ground forces, and so Superman flies up to the craft that brought them in... well, he flies through it, actually.  No worries though, he first used his x-ray vision to ensure there would be no casualties.


After the fracas, Superman notices that Cat Grant is missing.  We then shift to Shockwave... who has Gangbuster hung up on a wall.  B-b-but, if Gangbuster's there... how could Jose Delgado be with Cat?!  Well, I'm glad you asked... because we now learn that Cat's on a date with a shape-shifted Chiller... and she is just ripe for an abduction.


--

Now it feels like we're getting somewhere!

I enjoyed this chapter a whole lot more than the previous.  Not to say that was a bad issue, because it wasn't... it was just so heavy with sub-plots.  This installment truly felt like it was part of this story, where part one felt like a bridge between a previous story and this one.  Can't fault it, it's just the way the system was designed.

Anyhoo... yeah, thought this was pretty great.  I'm a sucker for important moments, and (if I'm not mistaken) this issue had a couple.  We got Bruce Wayne meeting Lois Lane and Lex Luthor.  Both introductions felt completely organic... and not at all forced.  It would stand to reason that Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor would eventually meet, being as though they are both big in business.  I'm actually surprised there was no mention of them having met before this.  I guess this issue had the benefit of happening before "the 90's" fully set in, and everybody had to have a nebulous and unspoken connection with everyone else.

I dug seeing Batman use some detective skill here.  Scenes like the one in the morgue truly illustrate why Batman is always a step or two ahead of everyone else.  From what we see here, he is a research machine, and follows up on his findings and hunches.  This is the kind of Batman I love... it's not an arrogant "smartest guy in the room" type of thing like we get so often, instead it's an obsessed "need to solve this" kinda thing.  That fits my view of what Batman is (and should be).  Makes me sad that we never got a long Dan Jurgens run on the Dark Knight.  I think he would have done a phenomenal job with the character.

I've long said that one of the things that kept me away from DC Comics as a kid was that I thought the villains were, by and large, pretty lame.  Outside of some of the biggies, I thought they were really lacking when compared to what Marvel was offering.  When I saw Chiller and Shockwave in the earlier chapter, those feelings flooded my head.  Lame villains.  Here, however, Jurgens was able to make them work... and work amazingly well!

The scene with Chiller and Cat... is truly horrifying.  When I read this the first time, I'd somehow forgotten about the scene where Jose gets kayoed.  So, when he arrived to escort Cat to the banquet a few pages later, I thought nothing of it.  Reading it back, however... that's a (no pun intended) chilling scene!

Overall, a great issue... and one that I'd definitely recommend.  Like we discussed yesterday, it's available digitally, and for your convenience, has been collected in trade paperback.

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