Tuesday, May 23, 2017

DC Comics Presents #71 (1984)


DC Comics Presents #71 (July, 1984)
"The Mark of Bizarro!"
Writer - E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciller - Curt Swan
Inker - Dave Hunt
Letterer - Ben Oda
Colorist - Gene D'Angelo
Editor - Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.75

Superman and Bizarro?!  Me am not interested.  Please don't enjoy!

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We open on Bizarro Earth where Bizarro Number One has just beaten up the Bizarro Justice League... and in only one sentence I have a pretty good idea how many times I'm about to type "Bizarro"... I'll try and rein it in.  Anyhoo, from here we get some expositional chatter to fill us in on what Bizarro World is all about... which is followed by a bored Bizarro Number One creating a new "arch-villain" for the B-League... Bizarro-Amazo!


This Amazo proves to be different from the original by stealing super-powers from the Bizarro-Heroes and giving them to the unpowered.  Kind of like a Bizarro Robin Hood.  He starts by giving Bizarro-Aquaman's powers to the cowardly and powerless Yellow Lantern.


He bursts through the wall of the Bizarro-League's "satellite", which is naturally, a submarine.  He continues his path of power-sharing by giving Bizarro-Lois Lane some superpowers.


This gives Bizarro Number One an idea.  He decides to change into his Clark Kent duds, so Amazo will again endow him with superpowers... and it works!  Amazo is pretty ticked by the subterfuge, and decides to fly to non-Bizarro Earth where there is only one Superman he can take the powers of.  Number One gives chase.


We now shift to the "real" world, where it's business as usual at the Daily Planet.  Jimmy's being annoying... Perry's being annoy-ed, and Lois tries to keep the peace.  We learn that Superman and his long-time childhood friend Clark Kent are in Smallville dealing with a broken bridge.  Jimmy is told to keep an eye out for Clark's return, which leads to him immediately finding... Bizarro Clark Kent!  This totally proves to Jimmy that the real Clark Kent couldn't possibly be Superman.  O-kayyy.


Number One explains the situation to Jimmy, who in turn alerts the real steel deal via signal watch.  Moments later, Superman arrives and is filled in on the Amazo threat.  To further punctuate the potential of the power-thief, Jimmy is suddenly endowed with great power (though the jury's still out on if they came with "great responsibility").


At the same time, Morgan Edge is given super strength, and Lana Lang (who is in her annoying "luv" phase) appears to have gained a bit of telekinesis.


Superman, Number One and Jimmy find Bizarro-Amazo flying over Metropolis, and decide to engage.  Well, Jimmy's told to hang back, but the "Supers" look to pounce.  They are both easily swatted away by Amazo... knocked through a nearby building.  They then redouble their efforts... which also proves to be rather futile.


The blue and red clad pair fall back and hide behind a cluster of clouds.  Superman knows they cannot beat Amazo head on, and will need to trick him.  Before you can say "plot convenience" Superman has devised a plan!  The first step of which includes hurling a(n abandoned) building toward the baddie.  The pair immediately follow the throw with some super-speed shenanigans to make it appear as though Bizarro-Amazo might have lost a step.


Superman then goads Amazo into taking a swing at him.  As the punch is about to make contact, he uses his super-breath to halt it.  This makes it appear as though Amazo's punches no longer have any "oomph".


The third step is especially odd.  As Number One starts punching Amazo, Superman uses his heat vision to hit Amazo's sensory centers to make it feel as though it's experiencing extreme pain.  I mean, why not just start with that?  Anyhoo, this convinces Bizarro-Amazo that by giving powers to civilians, his own powers have become weakened.


Bizarro-Amazo learns the error of his its ways, and proceeds to depower all the folks he had just moments earlier empowered.  This includes Jimmy Olsen, who is flying right next to him.  Fortunately (?) Superman is able to save the lad before he becomes an irritating pile of street pizza.


Bizarro-Amazo then heads back to the cubic Bizarro-Earth, where he makes everything right (wrong?) at least as it pertains to powers.  He does refuse to depower Yellow Lantern, however... which vexes the faux-Jordan immensely.


Bizarro-Amazo proclaims himself to be the greatest villain in the history of Bizarro-Earth.  Number One tells him that the biggest villains, Lex Luthor and the Joker have no superpowers... and so, Amazo decides to one-up them by... putting himself into suspended animation.  Cute.


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Now... I like the Bizarro concept.  Think it's a fun little diversion every now and again, and one that sometimes brings a real feeling of danger.  I mean, it's a broken backwards version of Superman, what's not to like?  With that said... an entire issue of "Me am" dialogue?  That's a bit rough.

I got about four pages into this... and had to kinda push the rest of the way through it.  It wasn't a bad issue by any stretch... I just felt like the gimmick wore itself out pretty early.  I don't think I'd ever be able to read more than one Bizarro story in a row.

The way Superman outsmarted the Bizarro-Amazo was pretty creative... though, as I mentioned above, if you could access his sensory centers... why wouldn't you just lead with that?  I mean, even if you're not inflicting "real" pain or damage... the feeling of pain might just be enough to take down a threat.  I suppose he had to make sure Amazo would make things right, power-wise... so fooling him might be more advantageous.  I don't see Superman "torturing" Amazo into doing what's right.

The cover is pretty striking... and lets us all know that sticking the Joker on a cover regardless of how involved he is with the story within has always been a "thing".  I'd be lying if I said that didn't get my attention... so, I guess I'm part of the problem!

Overall, if you're a fan of Bizarro... and can deal with "Me am" dialogue for 22 pages, you'll probably dig this.  The art is great, and we get a whole slew of Bizarro cameos.

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Action Comics #979 (2017)


Action Comics #979 (July, 2017)
"Revenge, Part One"
Writer - Dan Jurgens
Artist - Patch Zircher
Color - Hi-Fi
Letters - Rob Leigh
Associate Editor - Paul Kaminski
Editor - Mike Cotton
Group Editor - Eddie Berganza
Cover Price: $2.99

I understand that complaining about something like having a big reveal spoiled on the cover is kinda like shouting into the wind in 2017, but, c'mon... the Cyborg Superman reveal was kind of a big deal to some of us "old timers" who weren't quite sure whether or not this version was still a "thing" post-Rebirth.

Oh well... let's get to it.  Oh, by the way... Hank Henshaw is still Cyborg Superman... just so we're clear.

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We open with Mongul totally wrecking Superman all around Metropolis, to the point where the Man of Steel is actually begging him for mercy!  How did this happen?  Did we miss an issue?  In fact, no we did not... this is just the result of Mongul having a Black Mercy flower attached to him!  Folks may know that from the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons story, For the Man Who Has Everything... though, a helpful footnote reveals that this was also part of the opening arc of Trinity (which I never got around to finishing!).


Meanwhile, Lois and Clark are taking a look at their new apartment in Metropolis.  I'm not sure if their big move is a result of the recent events of the Superman (vol.4) book, or if it was just time for them to make a change.  Either way, they appear happy to be home.


We shift scenes to Superman's Himalayan Hideout where Mongul, the Eradicator, and Blanque are combing through the wreckage in search of... the Oblivion Stone!  They eventually find it, however, also find themselves confronted by Fortress inhabitants Dratania and Klon.


Back in Metropolis, Lois and Clark sign their lives away for their new apartment and consider how they might introduce the idea of moving to young Jonathan.  The conversation doesn't get very far, as Clark is alerted to the goings-on in the Himalayas... and so, faster than a speeding bullet, he splits.


He arrives at the ruins, and receives a static-y status update from Kelex.  The Oblivion Stone has been taken... by Blanque.  He continues through the wreckage, only to find the bodies of Klon and Dratania.  Kelex reveals that Blanque wasn't working alone, and informs Superman that he was flanked by the Eradicator and Mongul.  Superman swears vengeance.


Meanwhile on the Moon, Blanque and company arrive... and Mongul is none too pleased with the idea of handing over the Oblivion Stone to Hank Henshaw.  Things become heated, and before we know it, a fight is on.  It's at this point that Henshaw strips himself of his human trappings and garb, revealing himself to be... Cyborg Superman!  If only that wasn't spoiled on the cover.


At this point in reading, memories of Green Lantern (vol.3) #46 and the fall of Coast City during The Reign of the Supermen came flooding back.  Mongul and Cyborg Superman are no strangers to one another.  Moments later, I read something similar coming out of the Eradicator's mouth.  So happy to have some more of the old continuity back!


The issue wraps up with Cyborg Superman overpowering Mongul, forcing him to his knees so he might kiss his hand.  During which, Cyborg Superman reveals their recruitment mission isn't done yet... next stop *Zzzzz* er, I mean, Zod!


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It isn't often that I write a preamble that mentions all my misgivings with a particular book.  Honestly, the only problem I have with this issue is the fact that Cyborg Superman appears on the cover.  Even though I'd say there was very little doubt that Henshaw would ultimately be revealed to still be the Cyborg, I really think that reveal should have occurred on the inside.

Otherwise, I dug the hell out of this.  It feels like with every issue I'm getting another piece of my childhood back.  That's probably the wrong reason to like something, but... whattayagonnado, right?  There are so few contemporary things in this hobby that make me happy anymore, so when something does... I just gotta hold on to it.

The story we get here is a great opening chapter that uses subplots from previous issues.  It feels like Jurgens is using that old, pre-"written for the trade" comics storytelling structure... and, it just feels like home.  I just love that we're getting story arcs of varying length, with "connective tissue" in subplots.  It's such a striking and welcome change from "every six issues is a new 'movie', pal!"  Just couldn't be happier with this series.

Should I mention the art?  Probably oughta, right?  Well... damn, this was a very pretty book!  I remember first experiencing Zircher's art around the turn of the century on Marvel's Thunderbolts, and I thought he was great back then.  Somehow, he has managed to become so much better!  He did such an amazing job here... and I notice there's no inker credited, so I gotta figure he pencilled and inked this book.  Dang.

Well, if I haven't gushed enough... I'll say it again, the Superman titles have been my tippity-top Rebirth books.  This really feels like Superman-done-right.  So glad that Dan Jurgens is steering this ship toward 1,000 (and hopefully beyond... and by beyond, I don't mean Action Comics Volume 3 #1).  If you grew up in the 80's or 90's and miss that Superman... I think you're safe to come "home".

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #225 (1977)


Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #225 (March, 1977)
"And Who Shall Lead Them?"
"A Matter of Priorities"
Writer - Paul Levitz
Pencillers - Jim Sherman & Mike Nasser
Inker - Bob Wiacek
Editor - Denny O'Neil
Cover Price: $0.30

When folks think of important creative figures in Legion of Super-Heroes history, one name that is often at the very top is Paul Levitz.  I figure for this installment of "Learnin' the Legion", we'll go back to what I believe is his first Legion issue!

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We open during Wildfire being sworn in as new leader of the Legion of Super-Heroes.  A very angry Superboy bursts onto the scene, claiming Wildfire cheated him out of the position... because, he had more votes!  Things nearly become physical as this entire confrontation is being televised on WGBS.


As Superboy is being restrained by Mon-El and Ultra Boy, Dream Girl and Lightning Lad inform him of a change in the Legion Constitution... since Superboy (and Karate Kid, evidently) are only part-time members, they are unable to fulfill the role of Legion leader.  Kinda begs the question why so many people would vote for a part-timer, right?  Superboy did say he had the most votes!  Anyhoo, he stomps out in a huff, kvetching at Shadow Lass on the way down the hall.


Hours pass, and the Legion is alerted to their first big threat under Wildfire's leadership... the Resource Raiders are attacking a dam on Earth!  It looks like this crew is widely known as plundering resources throughout the galaxy.  The Legionnaires swoop into position, rescuing the nearby civilians...


... before taking aim at the Raiders' own odd flying saucer.  Lightning Lad and Shadow Lass hold the spinning disc at bay while Wildfire breaks off to attend to the busted up damn.  Before he might give it "one good blast", Superboy flies in and takes the brunt of it.  After throwing the Resource Raiders into orbit like a Frisbee, Superboy explains that the dam was coated in tiny explosive powder, which if ignited would've destroyed the entire valley.


Later on, in the Legion Lounge, Ultra Boy claims that there was no powder on the dam... otherwise he would have been able to see it with his Penetra-Vision.  Shadow Lass doesn't want to think that Superboy may be trying to set their new leader up... to which Dream Girl thinks there might just be more going on here than meets the eye.


We shift to the Legion's Hall of Uniforms, where an embittered Superboy skulks in the shadows.  He comes across his bounty... a Wildfire costume, just as the real-deal Wildfire shows up.  A brief skirmish ensues, ending in the darkness.  Once the dust settles... Wildfire leaves the room... or is it?


It isn't long before the Resource Raiders (I gotta stop typing Rescue Rangers) return to pillage and plunder, and Wildfire summons the Legionnaire to battle stations.  The team questions how Wildfire could have seen the Raiders, as they were hiding behind satellites... without penetra- or telescopic vision, this shouldn't be possible!  Wildfire simply replies that he "has his ways".


The Legion attacks the Raiders... and Wildfire is almost immediately blasted to atoms!  At that very moment and to everyone's surprise, Superboy shows up!


As Superboy enters the fray, and helps the team easily take out the Raiders, he explains that the reason he's been such a jerk is because he saw that the Legion computer predicted whoever was the new leader would be blasted and killed during their first mission... and he intended to (literally?) take that bullet!  During his fight with Wildfire in the Costume Room, Wildfire convinced him that he would have a better chance of surviving the (Kryptonite-laden) blast.  Wildfire slips into his spare costume, hoo-ha, the whole world works.  Everything's cool in Legion-land.


Our back-up story provides us with an "unknown tale" from Legion history.  It occurs on a spaceship where Legionnaires, Timber Wolf and Sun Boy are escorting Ambassador Relnic on a diplomatic mission.  Timber Wolf believes the intergalactic mass-murderer Tseln of Thaun is also on board... and despite Sun Boy's arguments, set out in pursuit.


In giving chase, Timber Wolf grabs a lone drape off the wall, and hurls it at his bounty... which turns out to be fellow Legionnaire, Princess Projectra!  It's really unclear just what the hell is going on here... like, I think he threw a drape at her... but it creaked when it came off the wall... like maybe it was a piece of the wall itself... but that would probably have taken Projectra out, right?  I dunno...


Anyhoo, Sun Boy and Relnic catch up, and we hear more about the mission of diplomacy.  Relnic is to head into the Dominion Worlds to avert a pending war with the Dominators.  We also get some exposition on Tseln.  The Legion have followed him across 12 planets, and still haven't gotten a good look at his face.  It's said that the baddie is quite superstitious and always kills using a ceremonial knife.  Relnic attempts to reason with Timber Wolf to settle his tea kettle... as it would be most unfortunate if the Dominators were to find out that he was secretly being escorted by Legionnaires.


Timber Wolf retires to his room, unhappy with having to wait... while Relnic, Sun Boy, and Princess Projectra have themselves some dinner... and, as it turns out, a show!  Suddenly the main area of the ship is filled with flame as a pair of smilin' demonic beasts make a (very) dramatic appearance!


The devilish-duo starts rattling the chains of the passengers when, wouldn'tcha know it, after some very comics-code-friendly threats, the very superstitious Tseln of Thaun shows his face... and ceremonial blade made of Mithril Silver!


Tseln attacks, but gets kayoed for his troubles.  The Devil-dude vanishes as ship security descends on the mass-murderer.  Turns out the devil was (I think) Timber Wolf under a Princess Projectra projec-tion, and the flames were courtesy of Sun Boy.  The whole ordeal is written off by the captain as the "ship's entertainment getting out of hand".  We wrap up with the Legionnaires whispering to each other about having stopped a mass-murderer without Relnic even realizing it.  Wonk wonk wonkkkk.


--

Ehhhhh...

While the first story wasn't terrible, I really found it hard to believe that Superboy would act like such a brat.  I mean, would the Legionnaires not listen to him if he spoke to them about his findings in private?  Did he really need to cause a televised Legion-incident by storming in on the swearing-in ceremony?  Did he really plant gunpowder on the dam?  Did it really matter that whoever was in charge was going to be blasted by the Raiders?  Seems like Wildfire would've survived without Superboy's assistance, right?  I mean, buddy's an energy-type being, right?

The (brief) mystery of who is in the Wildfire costume was decently done, I suppose... but, if Wildfire was always Wildfire... how could he suss out the Raiders if they were hiding behind satellites?  I mean, that was a red herring to make us thing Superboy was under the mask... but isn't really explained away, unless I'm missing something.  Perhaps Superboy tipped Wildfire off after they put their plan together?  Was there a plan?  Oof.

Even with all of my misgivings/confusion, I gotta say... I enjoyed the first story a whole lot more than the back-up.  This one was just a chore.  This is the kind of story that always scared me away from the Legion... just three random Legionnaires in an out-of-costume adventure.  I mean, I can hardly identify some of these characters in costume... in their civvies, I'm totally lost.  That isn't to say there wasn't a fair amount of exposition... and by "fair amount" I mean a TON.

I'm still unclear on what it was that Timber Wolf through at Princess Projectra... was that all part of an elaborate act to smoke the baddie out, or did the "act" start with the devil illusion?  Why couldn't Relnic know what they were doing... I mean, he already knows his "bodyguards" are really Legionnaires, right?  Did he really need deniability?  Is he so dense that he wouldn't realize that, when the baddie gets captured due to a mixture of an illusion and flames, that perhaps Sun Boy and Princess Projectra had a hand in it?  I dunno...

The art for the first story was pretty great.  I was a bit disappointed initially that Mike Grell wasn't on art after seeing his work on the cover (along with Superboy's man-sized sideburns!), but Sherman put in some excellent work.  Nasser's work in the back-up was a bit sketchy, but not bad at all.  I definitely prefer Sherman's though.

Overall... perhaps not the best initial outing for Mr. Levitz.  From what I hear (and what little I've read) his run with these characters throughout the Bronze Age and beyond is pretty legendary.  Believe it or not, the first Legion of Super-Heroes story I (attempted to) read, was The Great Darkness Saga.  That would kinda be like reading Crisis on Infinite Earths as a brand-new DC fan (which I also did some 20 years ago).  I look forward to eventually giving Great Darkness another look when I have a better grasp on the characters and their world... I'm sure I will have a much better appreciation for it by then.

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