Sunday, November 20, 2016

Jemm, Son of Saturn #1 (1984)


Jemm, Son of Saturn #1 (September, 1984)
"the arrival"
Writer - Greg Potter
Penciller - Gene Colan
Inker - Klaus Janson
Letterer - Bob Lappan
Colorist - Tom Ziuko
Co-Editors - Janice Race & Dick Giordano
Cover Price: $0.75

Today we're going to discuss a comic that... kinda gave me the creeps back in the day.  I'd never actually read the comic, however, I would often see the... I wanna say, half-page ads for this when I'd read my back issues of this vintage.  It featured a gangly red alien with dead eyes and a blank expression.  He stood before a young child.  Now I knew it wasn't going to be a scary book... or even an attempt at a horror title... and I knew the red guy was the protagonist as well... there was just something about the ads that really made me feel uncomfortable.  I mean, it is Gene Colan art... and he's known for some spooky stuff.  I suppose it's all about the context.  The image in the ad came without any, which left my mind racing for just what this could be about... and me being, well... me, I tend to take it to a disturbing place.  This will be the first time I'm reading this, so let's see just how "scary" this bugger is.

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We open with young Luthor Mannkin walking home through the dangerous streets of Harlem.  He appears to be lost in his own imagination as he pretends he is a space ranger hunting down the killer Octo.  He turns a corner and finds that reality is far more terrifying than his imagination.


He attempts to flee, however, the alien's wiry fingers ensnare him.  He is dragged into the darkness and soon finds himself looking eye to eye with the creature.  There is a glowing jewel on the alien's head... and he uses it to zap young Luthor.


We shift scenes to one that is... somewhat similar.  This time we're following Luthor's older brother Lincoln Mannkin as he walks home through Harlem.  He is pulled into an alley by street hustler, Reginald.  He's quite a character... ends every sentence with "m'man".  Now, apparently Lincoln owes a Claudius Tull a grip o' the green... and Reginald is here to collect.  He gives Linc until the next night to pay up.


Lincoln returns home to his blind grandfather where he is mistaken for his younger brother.  This causes Linc to fly off the handle and start reading the geezer the riot act for only caring about young Luthor.  He then proceeds to make a phone call to a scumbag associate named Vin... despite the old man's protests.


Back in the alley, Luthor and the spaceman get better acquainted.  Luthor realizes that he only got "zapped" because his new pal was just as scared as he was.  This was the image that was on that creepy house ad.  Luthor insists the spaceman return home with him... and before they leave, the creature morphs into his superhero-esque outfit.


Meanwhile... in New Jersey, some NASA scientists are huddled around a strange spacecraft... or just a spacecraft, the "strange" would be implied.  Here we meet a pair of engaged scientists... a sassy female, and a reserved fella.  I definitely have my doubts on the mortality rate of at least one of them...


... Speaking of which... suddenly a pair of robo-alien sentries present themselves and blasts the sassy female scientist.  Whoops.


We return to the boy and his alien as they enter the Mannkin apartment.  Here our man meets "gramps".  During the introductions, he is able to eek out that his name is "Jemm", which the Mannkins immediately mistake as "Jim".  He is welcomed "home", and is told he'll be cared for.


After a brief visit with the NASA folks, we get confirmation that the lady did in fact die.


Back at the apartment, the Mannkins and Jemm are sitting around the dinner table awaiting Linc's return.  As they hear him stomping down the hallway, Luthor decides to hide Jemm in the bedroom so that they can surprise his big brother.  Little does he know, however, that Lincoln is not alone... he has with him the snappily-dressed Vin!


They remain in hiding while Linc and Vin devise their plan.  We repeatedly hear that Vin has "the equipment", which I assume is a euphemism for a firearm... and whattayaknow... it is.  They have invited Reginald over, and upon his arrival... they jump him.


As luck would sadly have it... Reginald, regardless of his attire... is not a stupid man... and he did not come alone.  With him is the giant plunder-man himself... Bouncer.  The big guy proceeds to whup every fool in there...


... Which causes Luthor and Jemm to emerge from the bedroom.  Jemm and Bouncer enter into a struggle, which ends with Jemm blasting him with his... er, gem.


In the distraction, Reginald snatched young Luthor and took off with him to the roof.  Shortly, Jemm is hovering in front of them.  Before he is able to act, however, blind gramps tackles Reginald... causing all three to go flying off the roof!


Jemm has to act fast, and is only able to save one falling human.  He obviously chooses Luthor.  Which, at first, delights the lad to no end.  That is, until he realizes that Jemm wasn't able to also save his grandfather.


Jemm begins to cry... and Luthor realizes that he didn't "choose" to let his grandfather die... he "chose" to let him live.  Jemm scoops gramps up, and the two proceed down a darkened street.  In the foreground, we get a shot of the strange robo-aliens from the crash site.  To be continued...


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Well now, that wasn't scary at all... was it?  It was actually a great little opener.  It's almost like we get a series of vignettes featuring members of the Mannkin family, which then weave together into the story that will go forward.  Very impressive storytelling and an inspired route to get where we need to be by chapter's close.

Since this is an inner-city story, it's not all that difficult to guess where this one was going... but, that isn't a bad thing... especially when the characterization and art are so solid.  There are such feelings of frustration and unease bubbling right under the surface all throughout this piece.  Each character has their motivations, and I feel, believes they are being altruistic in their attempts to make things better for the Mannkin family.

I was quite pleased that the NASA bits were kept to a minimum.  When we first met the doomed scientist couple, I was afraid that we were going to rapidly lose the character aspects of this story and have it turn into a straight-up science fiction type romp.  I do... eventually see it going that way... it almost has to.  But, for now... I'm glad it's more about a boy and his alien than super-secret-government-yadda-yadda storytelling.

I do have one complaint... and it's a strange one... the lettering!  The lettering here is strange.  Captions and word balloons are positively packed with verbiage... and in many instances... hell, most instances... there did not appear to be proper spacing between words.  It isn't often I get distracted by lettering, which I guess is why it stood out to me so here.

Overall, a great story... if the lettering was better, this would be an immediate recommendation.  I hate that my reservations with this one comes from an aspect of the books that many people ignore... or neglect, but this was a difficult read.  There were pages where I had to take my glasses off and push my face almost into the page to try and decipher the words.

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(Not the) Letters Page:


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