Friday, May 26, 2017

Justice League of America #173 (1979)


Justice League of America #173 (December, 1979)
"Testing of a Hero!"
Writer - Gerry Conway
Penciller - Dick Dillin
Inker - Frank McLaughlin
Letterer - Ben Oda
Colorist - Jerry Serpe
Editor - Ross Andru
Cover Price: $0.40

Jive Turkeys... Man, maybe I should'a saved this for Thanksgiving...

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We open with the Justice League huddled atop a building looking down at a prospective new member... Black Lightning!  They watch as he easily takes down a trio of sleazy pawn shop robbers.  Green Arrow thinks he'd be a great new member because he's cool... smart... brave... and... and... black!  He sounds like a contemporary Marvel Comics editor (hey-yo!).  Anyhoo, the Flash takes exception to Ollie's suggestion that the League takes on a "token black".



The discussion becomes heated, with Flash suggesting that Oliver is too blinded by his liberalness to be objective.  It doesn't quite come to blows... but it gets close.  Zatanna is surprised by Barry's short-tempered behavior, and Hal reminds her (and the reader) that we're not too far removed from the murder of his wife, Iris.  Superman steps in to break up the debate, and posits that they could give Black Lightning a test to see if he's worthy... and the League agrees to let him be the judge.



Elsewhere, a costumed geek called the Regulator is summoning hundreds of rats so he can take care of everyone who has deserted him in his civilian life.  I don't suppose this is the fella that Nate Dogg and Warren G were singing about in 1994.



At the Metropolis Police Headquarters, Black Lightning is chatting up Inspector Henderson about the three losers he just turned in.  Henderson cautions him that the City Council is considering a new law regarding costumed vigilantes.  Pierce isn't worried seeing as though there's no way Metropolis would ever do anything that might also hinder Superman.  He leaves and thinks to himself how difficult it is for him to talk "street jive"... he must, however, to keep people off the track of his real identity.



As he walks, two villains jump out from a darkened alley and a fight is on.  Black Lightning takes them both down with ease, throwing the big hairy one (Primak) into an electrical pole and dousing the electricity-themed one (Human Starburst) with a fire hydrant.  Inspector Henderson and a few street cops hit the scene to make the arrest.  Henderson notices something a bit... weird about the baddies, but doesn't share his thoughts with Lightning.



Meanwhile, the Regulayyy-tor and the rats break into S.T.A.R. Labs.  It's not entirely clear, but the rats may have eaten a guard.



We return to Black Lightning... who is being watched by an impressed Superman.  Pierce descends into an alley, where he is struck by an invisible foe... the Trans-Visible Man!  This begins a fight that Pierce is unlikely to win... in fact, he gets pummeled pretty soundly by the invisible man.  Just to rub salt in his wounds, a Musketeer-looking fool saunters up and starts waving a sword in his face.  Now this being a baddie that Lightning can see means we're in for a more competitive fight.  Pierce pounces and wraps his hands around the Musketeer's neck... but stops himself before he can inflict any lasting damage.  The relieved Musketeer unmasks revealing himself to be... Green Arrow!



In fact, all of the baddies Pierce has fought tonight were, in reality, members of the Justice League.  Black Lightning is confused, and I gotta say... I don't blame him one bit!



Superman gleefully informs Pierce that he'd passed their test.  Pierce tells the League to pound sand.  Well, he actually tells them to get "another boy".  The story ends with Superman suggesting that they might see him again soon... and a shot of the (partially eaten?) S.T.A.R. Labs security guard.



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What a weird issue...

While highly enjoyable, it's still kinda strange to see the League running an unknowing Black Lightning through a rigorous examination to see if he's worthy of joining.  I mean, what would it have hurt to ask him beforehand if he had any interest in coming on board?  Would've saved everyone a bunch of time and pain at the very least.  It's a good thing he didn't break poor Ollie's neck when he had him pinned down... I'm not sure the League could have stopped him before he "cricked" one way or the other.

With that said, I really do appreciate the concept of testing potential new members... especially in this day and age where nearly every member of the DC Universe is or has been a part of a Justice League and every member of the Marvel Universe is or has been a part of an Avengers team.  I miss teams being a bit more choosy about their number... and each member feeling somewhat elite for having made the roster.

One thing I've come to find during my dip into the pre-Crisis League is just how irritating Ollie can be.  Such a pain in the ass, he seems hardly worth the hassle.  Him having found his inner-liberal makes him wildly sanctimonious and quite grating.  His thought that Black Lightning would make a good member, and giving his skin color as one of the reasons seems a bit "out there" reading with 2017 eyes... I actually had to read the panel more than once... I didn't think he'd actually "went there".

It's funny that Hal frames Barry's outburst as being a result of having just lost his wife, ya know... rather than pinning it on the fact that Ollie might have chosen his words poorly, and Barry's reaction... while overblown, wasn't terribly out of line.

Overall, this was a decent introduction to the character of Black Lightning.  Of course, we know him better as a member of the Outsiders... but it's neat to see him going solo.  I really appreciated the idea that his "jive talkin'" was nothing more than an act.  I like the attention to detail used here.  He knew it would be the best way to keep his Jefferson Pierce identity secret... and perhaps, by playing into stereotypes, he would make it harder to identify overall.

If I'm not mistaken, Pierce wouldn't officially join the Justice League until post-Infinite Crisis in the mid-2000's... so, it was a long time coming.  This issue is available digitally, and is well worth checking out.

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Letters Page:


 

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Xenobrood #0 (1994)


Xenobrood #0 (October, 1994)
"Strange Brew"
Writer/Co-Creator - Doug Moench
Artist/Co-Creator - Tomm Coker
Inker - Keith Aiken
Letterer - Dan Nakrosis
Colorist - Tom Luth
Editor - Kevin Dooley
Cover Price: $1.50

While we were researching for our Zero Hour episode of the Weird Comics History Podcast, there were a handful issues that neither of us had.  For those, we used various online resources for summaries and informational tid-bits... however, there was one book we couldn't find anything about.

We were nearly convinced that the book never even released... and it's only now that I'm holding the thing in my grubby hands that I can be sure that it was!  Today we're going to discuss the riddle wrapped in an enigma that is... Xenobrood.

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We open on location in Kuwait, where a busty GBC news anchor interviews our bemulleted star, Professor Zecharia Leight.  He's in the midst of an archaeological dig in hopes of uncovering information about ancient Sumeria.  As luck would have it, as the cameras roll, Leight's team are just about to hit the mother lode!


Leight hops in the hole, to help retrieve the dozens of discovered clay tablets.  While down there, something catches his eye... and so, he brushes away the loose Earth only to discover... an odd metallic rod.  He refers to it as an OOPA, or an Out-of-Place-Artifact... which, is a very interesting subject, even on our own Earth-Prime.  


He refers to it as a "Machine-Tooled Chrome-Tube", which is good enough for me.  Remember, this entire affair has been televised... and one such viewer is a sinister-looking fella with a mohawk-mullet (mullhawk?).


We rejoin Zech (which I will likely refer to as Zach at least once in this piece) as he jots some notes into his journal... after which, he retires to bed.  He dreams about his girlfriend Lorna maniacally burning all of his research notes along with the OOPA rod.


Our man is shaken back to the waking world, just in time for a... ninja to arrive in his bedroom to steal the OOPA rod.  Zech leaps from the bed so fast that when his body faces one way, his mullet faces the other.  In his tighty-whiteys, he grabs the rod and throws himself out the window...


... where he finds even more ninjas!  They chase him through the alleys before reaching a dead-end.  With Zech cornered, suddenly the baddies are bathed in a baby-blue light... and I wonder if any of them might have been secretly holding a blood-smeared smiley-face button!


We jump ahead a bit to join Leight as he visits several science facilities in attempt to learn more about the OOPA rod.  Several universities, NASA, and S.T.A.R. Labs prove to be of little help.  It isn't until he visits Creighton Engineering that a new wrinkle is added.  By aiming a laser through a couple of prisms, and then into the rod, a projection appears on the ceiling.  Zech, and his belly-shirt, are super excited to write about his findings... and so he heads to the Morning Star cafe... which has the foolish business plan of being closed on Sundays.


As he journals, we get a silly little throwaway scene in which a woman wearing Seinfeld's puffy shirt (if it was conceived by Rob Liefeld) makes fun of a stereotypical nerd.  Oo-kay.


I guess this scene isn't completely "throwaway" because, the puffy-shirt is playing music from the jukebox... and Zech is rhythmically tapping on the OOPA rod along with the tunes... which causes a compartment in it to open, revealing four tiny crystals!


Later on, we rejoin Professor Leight at his arsonist dream girl, Lorna's apartment.  In sharing his findings with her, she posits that the line-y ceiling projection from Creighton may represent liquid and light... and so, they test the crystals with 142 different liquids... none of which cause a reaction.  Lorna heads home to grab a few Z's before having to go to work, and suggests Leight also try and get some sleep himself.  Alone with his thoughts, Zech finally realizes what he needs to do... and expresses this in an extremely cringy way.


He calls Lorna, which gives us a scene of her in a bit of mid-90's comics undress... which somehow reveals far less skin than many costumes of the day.  His theory consists of using salt water and sunlight... just like how life first developed.  She's super-excited and says she'll be right over.  Zech gets creepy, and says this is his "lucky night".


The pair conduct the experiment... and before long, the crystals grow into these disgusting looking balls of super-dense protoplasm.  Some time passes, and Zech has himself a vivid dream in which he is surrounded by four featureless glowing golden figures.  When he wakes up, the protoplasmic balls have combined into one... by that night, they re-split into four... but larger.


Soon, it's clear that the experiment is outgrowing Zech's dingy digs, and so Lorna invites him to move the operation over to her place in Brooklyn.  Some time passes, and the balls of protoplasm have matured into body-shaped bags of nerves and organs.


That night, Lorna and Zech decide to sleep at the lab on cots.  It's a good thing they did, too... because this would be the night that the... ninjas decide to strike once more!  They enter through the skylight... and give Zech a kick to the mush.  One ninja heads over to the basins... and gets a massive uppercut by the body within.  It's here that we meet... the Xenobrood?


They make short work of the ninjas before teleporting them into deep space.  When the protoplasmic dust settles, they turn to Zech and inform him they are here to obey his every command.  Looks like our mullethead is the modern-day Aladdin!


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Not gonna lie... when I first cracked this one open, I did so fully expecting to hate it.  Just looking at the cover... this looks like a stereotypical 90's superhero comic put out by some second-tier publisher... though, depending on your "DC in the 90's" mileage, that very well might be what it is.  Anyhoo, the cover is ugly as sin... poorly laid out, and features some very underwhelming character designs.

Then we open the book and find... well, not an amazing story... but also, not a horrendously terrible one either.  Not sure why DC decided to launch this in the wake of Zero Hour, as it appears not to have anything to do with it... though, I suppose that might be revealed in subsequent issues.

The genesis of the four "Brooders" was well done.  They're a completely blank slate, so there's no worry of contradicting or reworking any old continuity... which is a good thing for any book launching during this era.  It's not often we could pick up a "ground floor" issue of anything from the Big Two.  In fact, if not for the S.T.A.R. Labs or Daily Planet mention, we wouldn't even know this was occurring in the DC Universe.

Our main character is pretty annoying to look at... but we'll discuss his fashion sense in a bit.  When I saw him on the cover, I was actually scared for a moment that I'd somehow missed a chapter between Danny Chase's dismissal from the Titans and his reemergence as Phantasm.  Dude really resembles him on the cover.

The art here vacillates between pretty good and painfully heinous.  There are panels here where the characters look downright fetal... like with heads coming directly out of chests.  It feels like it would be more at home in a late-80's independent slice of life comic than a mid-90's superhero one.

Speaking of the 90's... I was there for them, and I really don't remember things being so ugly.  During 1994 I was a sophomore in high school... and dudes weren't wearing mullets and belly-shirts.  Girls weren't wearing "puffy shirts" and pants that buttons just below their chests.  Just seems so strange... who knows, maybe I'm wrong.  Perhaps I'm being short-sighted... I guess I can say at least where I was in New York, folks didn't look or dress like this.  Maybe the mid-west was still in the midst of mullet-fever.

Anyhoo... I suppose my main takeaway after reading this is that... Yes, Xenobrood exists in the world.  It's not going to rock your socks, and at times it's difficult to look directly at... but it's not bad.  Although this may be due to my outright dismissal of the concept before reading, I kinda dug it... and believe folks can get an enjoyable read out of this.  I will say... if I come across further issues of this short-lived series in the cheap-o bins, I will very likely pick them up.

Shockingly... this entire run has been made available digitally... which, if I thought there was even the slightest possibility of, would have come in quite handy during my earlier Zero Hour research.

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(Not the) Letters Page:


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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Superman for the Animals #1 (2000)


Superman for the Animals #1 (2000)
"Dear Superman..."
Writer - Mark Millar
Penciller - Tom Grummett
Inker - Dick Giordano
Letterer - John Costanza
Colorist - Glenn Whitmore
Separator - Digital Chameleon
Editor - Paul Kupperberg
Creative Consultant - Richard DeAngelis

Alrighty, gather 'round... we're about to learn us a thing or two about how we ought to treat animals.  That's right... it's time for another PSA!

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The issue opens with a few unfortunate folks penning letters to Superman... these missives are all quite serious, missing children, disabled veteran, war zones... but on this night, Superman is moved more by a letter by a 12 year old boy named Tommy Delaney.  Lois tries to drag her hubby to bed, but he informs her that it's a "work night"... and continues to read.


Tommy Delaney's father had his job transfer him to the generic suburb of Springdale, meaning that Tommy would have to change schools.  Well, nobody likes that... and young Tommy is no exception.  On his first day of class he's paired up with a "tough" kid who looks like he shops at the Army surplus called Ballser.


He almost immediately falls in with Ballser's boys, including such luminaries as Charlie, "Donuts", and "Eightball".  I know I'm impressed!  Anyhoo, as they leave the school, Ballser complains about their teacher's pet squirrel (he's nursing it back to health), and to punctuate his point... he chases some birds!  The first lesson of this PSA: don't be a bird around Ballser.


We jump ahead to the geeks hanging out at the Delaney house playing video games.  Ballser grows bored, and decides to shake things up by introducing a contest to see who can hold their breath the longest... and the contestants will be, Tommy... and Tommy's goldfish.  This kid is twisted!


We advance a bit further to the geeks hanging out by the nearby junkyard.  Ballser has "borrowed" his father's rifle... so, yeah... this is about to escalate pretty quickly.  Anyhoo, Ballser hands the piece over to Donuts so he can get revenge on the yard's guard dog.  The geeks hide in the nearby brush to get in position for their shot... and, get this... they actually shoot the damn dog!  Jeez.  They then run... because they're stupid, cowardly kids.


Later that afternoon, Jeb the junk man returns home.  He lives right next door to the Delaneys... and we now learn that the bullet destroyed his poor dog's leg, and it had to be amputated!  We also learn that there has been a rash of animal attacks in the neighborhood of late.  I wonder who might be behind them!


Tommy considers turning Ballser (and himself) in, but chickens out.  We shift a bit later on, where Ballser coaxes a cat into a cardboard box.  The other geeks wonder what he's going to do with it... even suggesting they drown it.  What is wrong with these kids?  Ballser says he's got a better idea, and leads the losers to an expressway overpass.  He bellies up to the guardrail, and... tosses the cat into rush hour traffic!


Only, the cat never lands.  Ya see, Superman just happened to be in town.  He catches the cat, and without saying a word, leaves with it.  Ballser calls him a "Boy Scout".  Yeah, real original, pal.


It turns out that Superman was in town due to there being a fire at a nearby chemical plant.  Superman saves the day, and in particular, saves Tommy's father at the plant.


Some time later, at the school... Tommy heads into class, only to find the geeks stopping up the sink to flood the classroom.  Upon closer inspection, we see the teacher's rescued squirrel is being drowned in the deluge!


The teacher arrives, causing the kids to flee... which, next to abusing animals, is what they do best.  He pulls the squirrel cage out of the wash, however, it's too late.


We rejoin the kids at Ballser's house, where he is having a grand old time.  He really showed that squirrel, didn't he?  By this point, Tommy has decided that he's had quite enough of Baller's crap.  A slap-fight ensues, during which Ballser throws a suitcase at Tommy... which opens, revealing dozens of pet collars!  Looks like we just found out who was behind the local animal cruelty... as if there was ever any doubt.


Tommy, Donuts, Charlie, and... the other one... (duh, Eightball) all decide it's time to turn their young lives around.  The first step is coming clean about all of their bad behavior... followed by some self-imposed penance volunteering at the animal shelter.  Everything's looking up for the geeks, they've even made new friends (including g-g-g-girls!).


The issue wraps up with Tommy putting the finishing touches on his letter to Superman.  To show how much he's changed, he's shown with a cat on his lap.  Some time later, Superman meets with Tommy to say that's he's proud of him.  He's not buyin' it... and I ain't either.


--

Okay, let's start at the beginning.  I think many comic fans know that Mark Millar can "go into business for himself" when writing a story.  In the opening page we see letters written by victims of some pretty hardcore circumstances.  I mean, missing children... frickin' warzones... crazy stuff.  And yet... Superman decides to give his full attention to a letter about a neighborhood nogoodnik with a penchant for mistreating pets.  I gotta wonder if that was some "biting" commentary by Millar illustrating that, in the grand scheme of things, there are things in this world far worse than a pre-teen sociopath collecting collars.

I figure it's a big world, and there's enough room to worry about all sorts of things, but maybe Millar would rather not be hamstrung writing an animal cruelty PSA.  I'm almost certainly projecting here... but, dude's got a track record of not playing the ball where it lay.  Or doing so, with an eyebrow raised.

Now for the actual story... I feel it's a bit misguided.  Sure, Ballser did some terrible things to animals... however, if we were to look at this clinically, it's somewhat unlikely that harming animals was his "goal".  Harming animals, or exerting dominance over powerless critters is usually a sign of potentially severe underlying issues, including antisocial personality disorder, psychopathy, sociopathy... what I'm saying here is this is more a mental health pamphlet (or perhaps a peer pressure pamphlet) than a "Hey, be cool to animals" one.

I suppose, like other Public Service Announcement type books we've discussed here... it could have been far worse.  I gotta say, I was quite pleasantly surprised to see Tom Grummett's name in the credits.  I wouldn't have guessed they'd use an A-Lister for a giveaway like this... but, I'm glad they did.  I just adore that page of Superman surrounded by letters... it feels "real", making this PSA also feel "real", rather than just occurring in a vacuum... somewhere, at sometime.

Overall... I'd say this is worth checking out.  It's a bit over the top in places, and Superman is hardly the "star", but there's novelty value to be had here, as well as great art.

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Coloring Contest!


 

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