Monday, November 19, 2018

Justice Society of America (vol.2) #2 (1992)


Justice Society of America (vol.2) #2 (September, 1992)
"Days of Valor"
Writer - Len Strazewski
Pencils - Mike Parobeck
Inks - Mike Machlan
Letters - Bob Pinaha
Colors - Glenn Whitmore
Editor - Brian Augustyn
Cover Price: $1.25

Boy, it's been ages since we covered the first issue of this series.  Ages!  As luck would have it... my JSA box somehow made it to the top of the pile(s) during a re-sorting.  I probably ought to come to grips that... this is my life now... organizing, and reorganizing boxes... a Sisyphean task, if ever there was one!

--


We last left off with Jay and Alan doing their best Wayne and Garth impression... Not!  Either way, they're back in the game... but, they're not yet a Society.  We open in a subway where a protester is about to get his block knocked off by a couple of big dudes... we'll find out more about this conflict as we continue.  Lucky for the fella, a pair of septuagenarians happen to enter the scene.  They are Ted and Al... better known to some as Wildcat and the Atom.  The buff baddies refer to them as "geez" (which we're gonna assume is short for "geezer" and not the plural of goose)... and so, a fight is on.


Al's a bit trepidacious... after all, they've only been back from the "other place" for a little while, and they're not totally secure in their powers.  Also, it wasn't too long ago that Ted Grant didn't have the use of his legs.  Regardless, the pummel the punks, and Ted even hands the victim a business card for some personal training.


The former heroes continue on their merry way, passing even more protesters during their walk.  Looks like there's an evil corporation called Ultragen mucking with the environment.  Al waves it off as "politics" before he and Ted enter the GBC Building... both wondering if the other brought their costume.


In the down below, Ted and Al find their path lit by a green light.  It's Alan Scott... and he's got something to show them.  He and Jay had brought all of their old Justice Society relics out of storage and set up a neat little base of operations.


Ted thinks it's pretty cool... especially seeing his old heavyweight championship belt among the decor.  Al, the rational one, thinks this is all childishness which really ought to be left in the past.  He calls it a museum... and refers to themselves as nothing more than "museum pieces".  He goes on to harangue Alan and Jay for wearing costumes in their seventies, that looked silly even when they were in their twenties.


Ted asks Al to lighten up a bit, and just hear Green Lantern and Flash out.  Turns out, Alan (decked out in his gaudy GL costume) kind of agrees with Al!  He agrees that they're just old fools... but continues, and says that they used to be young fools anyway.  But, they've come back for a reason...


The Justice Society still stands for something... it's just a matter of finding out what that is.  Al crosses his arms and asks a pretty simple question, "Where's everyone else?".  Apparently, the only former JSAer yet to check in is Johnny Thunder.  Sandman is still recovering from his episode (last issue), Starman "sends his support", Hourman is dealing with his sick son, and Dr. Midnight is busy opening up a clinic.


So... whattabout the Halls?  Well, let's head to the videophone and find out.  Turns out Carter and Shierra are in the Middle East, presumably on a dig.  A heated political climate precludes their leaving just yet.  Also, their son Hector recently passed away... in an issue of Sandman... which, I gotta say, I never thought would actually be "footnoted" in a mainstream DC book!


The team chats a bit more.  Carter brings up how he had the opportunity to work alongside the Justice League... and thought they were a great team.  He hopes that perhaps some of his talents might've rubbed off on them, to make them even greater.  Just then, the Halls are called away... something big appears to be happening off-panel.


And with that, Al and Ted seems to come around.  Maybe the Justice Society's purpose is in bolstering the next generation(s) of heroes.  As it turns out, Ted and Al are already in the process of opening a training complex anyway.


Alan receives a phone call from his wife Molly (the former Harlequin)... she tells him that there's some trouble brewing with the Ultragen protesters being beaten by some storm troopers, or something.  The JSAers decide now's as good a time as any to shake off some of the rust.  Turns out both Ted and Al brought their costumes.


Topside, the Society tries to manage the hostile situation.  A mummy who just happens to be looking on (and who is familiar with the JSA), manages to taze Jay.  Then, Alan is shot at with some wooden bullets, which puts him down.  Looks like this Ultragen group is well-prepared.


Well... maybe not.  Wildcat finds himself under a dogpile of storm troopers... and it looks like Al's about to be run over by a tank... when, the Atom punches through the tank with his Atomic Punch!


The Justice Society is victorious... and as the dust settles, we learn that a mysterious shadowy figure has been watching these events unfold... and they're not happy.


We wrap up with the team returning to their new headquarters... and boy are they surprised by who they find there!


--

Ya know, no matter how much fun I have with this volume... and how annoyed I get for DC cutting it off at the knees, despite it being a (relatively) strong seller... when reading back, I kinda get it.  This definitely wasn't the kind of story DC (or superhero comics in general) was trying to promote back in ye old '92.

It's sorta funny how something that could be viewed as "dated" during the time, went on to actually feel rather timeless.  You ask me, this aged so much better than most things that were clogging up the shelves back in the early 1990's.  Sometimes, the formula oughta just be "don't mess anything up".  Fine classic superhero storytelling, with clean and dynamic art.  That sorta thing was at a premium during the era of excess... and it's why stories such as this stand above so many of its contemporaries.  For more of the day's offerings, take a look at the Entertainment This Month... ad below!

For the issue itself?  It's relatively low-stakes "street level" stuff (for the moment).  It was a neat way for Al and Ted to shake off some of their limbo-rust, and hop back into action.

Al especially was an interesting character here... and I really appreciated his conflicted point of view.  Seems like he's the only one who realizes that they're all at an advanced age... and really, are only being held together by magic, which could "go away" at any moment.  Of course, that mix of nostalgia and peer pressure is too much for him to deny, and so... he's back in his togs.

I wanna mention that footnote to Sandman #12 (which we did discuss here... ages ago).  I thought this was especially cool... simply because I never expected it.  Sure, Vertigo wasn't yet a thing (I believe we were 3-4 months away from the official rebranding at this point), but still... those proto-Vertigo books (Sandman, Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol, Animal Man, Shade the Changing Man) always seemed to be so disconnected to the goings on in the mainstream DCU, that any mention of any of them feels special.  As a big fan of lore and the "everything matters" school of storytelling, this really tickled me.

Overall... a fun romp, with some wonderful characters... and amazing art.  Well worth a revisit.

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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Batman #459 (1991)


Batman #459 (February, 1991)
"Saturday Night at the Movies"
Writer - Alan Grant
Pencils - Norm Breyfogle
Inks - Steve Mitchell
Colors - Adrienne Roy
Letters - Todd Klein
Assistant Editor - Kelley Puckett
Editor - Denny O'Neil
Cover Price: $1.00

Had such a good time visiting with Alan and Norm yesterday, that I decided to keep it going today!

FYI: Harold completionists... we do get a sighting here!

--


We open with a look at the movie listings... looks like there's a whole lotta garbage playing in Gotham theaters, which... hey, I'll hand it to 'em for realism!  We've got blockbusters like the Pre-Teen Karate Cockroaches, and Where Skulks the Skeletoid... Also, howsabout that, it looks like Wild Dog got himself a movie deal!  We pan out and see that it's Jim Gordon and Sarah Essen checking the listings for their night out on the town.  They ultimately decide on The Mark of Zorro... because, of course they do.


Back at the Batcave, it looks like our new friend Harold is getting along just fine.  He's only been there two days, and he's already concocted a hologram projector to further disguise the place from potential passersby.  The way Bruce is smiling, I gotta wonder if he's planning on fitting ol' Harold for a Robin costume.


We pop over to the theater, where a family tries buying three tickets for the Pre-Teen Karate Cockroaches... only, it's sold out!  The bratty son is getting testy... and so, the father suggests that while they're there, they go see The Mark of Zorro.  Peter, the boy, isn't exactly excited at the prospect... and isn't scared to let his folks know.


We rejoin Batman as he... well, does what Batman does.  He descends on a bunch of baddies, and beats them up.  That's how a lot of Batman scenes start, isn't it?  Anyhoo, he winds up saving an out-of-towner named F. Joseph Leonard from a mugging.  Ol' F.J. is appreciative, but is going to hightail it out of Gotham A.S.A.P. as possible.


Batman recognizes the would-be robbers as Spades Mulligan and Freak Curtis... he "interrogates" them in order to get them to spill the beans about their supplier.  Looks like they're quick to squeal.


Back at the theater, Jim and Sarah arrive... and load up on snacks.  Gordon promises that he'll begin his diet... maybe even quit smoking... on Monday.  Yeah, yeah, yeah... if I had a nickel.  They take their seats in the back row... so they can neck a bit.  We can see that Peter and his parents are seated way up front.


We rejoin Batman as he approaches the address given to him by Mulligan.  As he arrives, we can see that the gang is watching a bootleg tape of Where Skulks the Skeletoid... lucky stiffs!  Batman arrives and gasses the geeks.  Unfortunately for him... the big boss isn't in!


Back at the theater, Peter's proving to be a horrible little snot, who is ruining the movie for everyone within earshot.  His parents do the responsible thing, and drag him out by his ear.  Wow... how refreshing!  These days his folks would be too busy texting to even realize their kid's being a jerk.


Outside, Batman's on the trail of the supplier... Rassler.  He chases him right to the entrance of the theater... where he stumbles upon a young family making their exit.  Starting to see the parallels yet?  Mother, father, son... exiting The Mark of Zorro... yeah, you get it.


Just in case you didn't get it, here's a full page spent making the callback to that fateful night the Waynes went to the movies.


Luckily, this doesn't wind up being a repeat of that night.  It's a good thing too, could you imagine the jerky vigilante young Peter would've grown up to become?!  Batman swoops down, drawing all of Rassler's fire...


... only it wasn't Batman... just his cape!  Batman appears behind Rassler... and kayos him with ease.


With Rassler out, young Peter runs up to thank Batman.  He asks how he came to be a superhero... to which, he replies that it all sorta-kinda started with The Mark of Zorro.  Hey, technically... that is about the size of it, right?  It's only now that Pete realizes how cool Zorro is, and he drags his folks back into the theater to watch the rest of the film.


A little bit later on, the movie lets out.  Jim and Sarah happen upon Rassler, who's being shoved into a squad car.  Gordon attempts to get involved, but the officer waves him off to enjoy the rest of his evening.  As they walk down the street, Jim and Sarah express their love for one another.


Jim walks Sarah to her hotel, but declines a "night cap" since he's got work in a few hours.  As he leaves, he lights up a cigarette... annnnnd has a heart attack!


--

Well, that was bummer ending!  But, kind of a perfect one.

We talked yesterday about how, every single day the amount of choices we have seems to lessen.  It's kind of a "sense of urgency" type of message... or, just a bit of regretful reflecting.  "What I could'a done" "What I should'a done"... all the way to "Why did/didn't I do that?"

Here, we have a Jim Gordon... who finally seems to have made a choice, he wanted to make a long time ago.  And, wouldn'tcha know it... no sooner does he make that decision... than it all might be taken away from him.  It's tragic... but human, and is so well done here, that it's hard not to come away from it, a bit... well, maybe not choked up (considering we know Gordon "gets better") but, perhaps... I dunno... reflective about things in our own lives.

At the risk of being a bit precious and/or ridiculously self-indulgent... Are there things (within my control) that I've always wanted to do?  Are there good reasons why I haven't?  What's holding me back?  It's sobering... because, as we learned last issue... one of these days, that choice will be off the table.

The other thread we follow here... is Batman's.  I gotta admit, when it became clear where the whole Mark of Zorro thing was going, I kinda groaned... but, perhaps that's not entirely fair.  These days, "that scene" is so overplayed, that it's almost lost all of its poignancy... it's just "that scene", and writers are always alluding to it.  Back in ye old 1991, I couldn't say if it was just as exploited... but, whattayagonnado?

Overall though, this was yet another great outing by Grant and Breyfogle.  This is definitely one of "those" runs... runs you should do whatever you can to seek out.  Especially if you're reading the current stuff, and miss stories where things actually happen... you'd do well to check in on issues of this era.  This issue only features one page of Harold, so it might've missed out on being included in the Essential Harold Omnibus, Volume 1... but, it is available digitally!

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Saturday, November 17, 2018

Batman #458 (1991)


Batman #458 (January, 1991)
"Night Monsters"
Writer - Alan Grant
Pencils - Norm Breyfogle
Inks - Steve Mitchell
Colors - Adrienne Roy
Letters - Todd Klein
Assistant Editor - Kelley Puckett
Editor - Denny O'Neil
Cover Price: $1.00

It's funny... was looking through my past several dozen posts here, and found a disturbing lack of Batman!  Gonna try and rectify that.

--


We open with Batman rescuing a child from a group of heroin pushers... who are attempting to forcefully inject the lad with the stuff.  Batman swoops in, whups ass, and takes the boy to safety... only, when he unmasks... it's Commissioner Gordon!  Okay, it's just a dream... Gordon's dream!  He's sitting outside the Gotham Train Station... waiting.  He think about how he, if things were different, could've been the "Night Monster" that is Batman (you just wait, mister).  He shakes it off and goes for a burger.


Nearby, a young girl carries a broken doll toward a ramshackle building.  In a neat touch, it's still Gordon's narration... and he discusses how with every single day that passes, the choices we can make grow more and more limited.  It's wildly unpleasant, but so well presented.  Anyhoo, the girl believes there's someone called "Mr. Fixxit" living among this squalor (not that Mr. Fixit).  A man who can fix literally anything... and so, she leaves her doll (along with a candy bar for payment) and leaves.


We rejoin Gordon as he's finishing up his late-night burger... and just then, he catches some young punks spray-painting a wall.  When he announces who he is... the kids just run off.  He goes into a coughing fit as he attempts to give chase.  Luckily, a certain caped figure just so happens to be passing by.


These punks... they ain't the brightest.  They only run a few streets over... and instead of chalking up tonight as a "win" (or at least a "non-loss") they start spray-painting a homeless man's face.  Well... that was a dumb move, as it gave Batman more than enough time to catch up.


Remember that girl with the doll?  Well, she hasn't returned home... and her father is ticked!  He grabs a baseball bat and heads out to deal with this mysterious "Mr. Fixxit".  Along the way he knocks on every door in their apartment building... looks like he's forming a mob!


When we get back with Gordon, he's loitering around the train station... again.  But why?  Well, ya see, Sarah Essen is returning to town.  Folks familiar with Batman: Year One will know that Essen is the woman who Gordon briefly cheated on his wife with.  Anyhoo, she's transferring back to Gotham from New York.


Gordon wonders why he's even here... it's not like he's ready to strike up a relationship (or even a conversation) with her.  And so, he tries to slip away unnoticed.  Unfortunately for him... a purse-snatcher picks just this moment to, well, snatch a purse.


Back at the dilapidated building, that mob has assembled... and they're armed with just about every kind of swingable blunt object you might find in your home.  They call out to Melissa (the little girl), and promise that they won't let "that freak" hurt her.  At this point, Batman swoops in to check the temperature of the situation.


He asks if anyone called the police... to which, nahhh... nobody did.  Looks like they want to exact their own form of neighborhood justice.  Batman suggests he go in first to get the lay of the land.  The mob refuses... even going so far as to push him out of their way!  They tear down the rickety fence, and head toward the structure.  Batman decides to do some tec'ing, and follows the tiny footprints nearby.


Back at the Railway Station... Gordon's down!  Gordon's down!  Gordon's down!  Lucky for him, there's another cop nearby... Sarah Essen!  She holds the purse-snatcher at gunpoint... and the former lovers have a pretty awkward reunion.  Once the creep is in cuffs, they decide to head out for a cuppa coffee.


Back at the building, the mob zeroes in on Mr. Fixxit... who, well... is that hunchback dude from the cover.  Hold all gasping til the end.  Anyhoo, Melissa's dad proceeds to threaten the poor fella... and is just about to bash his brains in with the ball-bat before...


... Melissa enters the room!  Turns out she just got stuck under some fallen scaffolding on her way out.  Mr. Fixxit didn't do anything to hurt her.  Melissa's dad drops the bat, realizing that he might have been the monster all along.  We'll talk more about this in a bit.


It ought to go without saying that by now Mr. Fixxit has repaired Melissa's doll.  Her father is beside himself with shock... because, as far as he knew... all of the dolly's electronics were burned out.  Melissa gives Fixxit a peck on the cheek, and they leave.  Before exiting, however, she asks Batman if Fixxit will be going away.  He replies that he will... but, that he'll be taken care of.


Batman tries chatting up Fixxit... but the poor dude don't talk.  He recognizes him as Harold, a scarily-brilliant engineer and former associate of the Penguin (during The Penguin Affair... a story I'm surprised we haven't yet discussed here).  He wonders what to do with him.  He knows he can't turn him in to the authorities... he would just wind up being sent to an institution from there.


We rejoin Gordon and Essen at Mel's Diner where they're having some coffee and catching up.  Looks like they're both available these days.  Jim's wife passed... and Essen's husband was killed in the line of duty.  There's really nothing keeping them apart now.


They chat a little while longer... and decide that, whatever their shared future holds... they should definitely take it slowly.


We wrap up in the Batmobile.  Batman and Harold are heading back to the Batcave... looks like Harold's going to be working for the good guys from now on!


--

Okay, so how great was this?

Gordon's narrative here fit the issue perfectly.  It was almost poetic in a way.  The idea that every day windows of opportunity close all around us... is such an unpleasant thing to consider.  It's true, of course... but, wow... how sobering is that?  Jim even goes as far as to say at a certain (very young) age, you know you'll never be the Gerber Baby.  It might sound crazy (and maybe a bit of an extreme example)... but, that doesn't make it any less true!

Framing his story with a narrative discussion of "choices" is really so perfect.  His entire night out is a choice he's made... that he isn't so sure about.  He could be there to meet Sarah at the train station... or, he could just sneak away.  It's so very human that when you're faced with a decision you labor over... you start thinking about other choices you could've/should've made along the way.

I mean, we get Commissioner Gordon dreaming that he's Batman... and when he wakes up, he considers that... had he made a different decision (or twenty), that he could've been Batman!  Don't worry, Commish... your bat-bunny costume is only a couple of decades away.

The Harold story was pretty cool... though I did have one problem with it (which we'll get to).  I've always had a weakness for "boogeyman" type stories... the type of tall-tale that would go around the schoolyard.  For us growing up, there was the Diaperman... a man (who may or may not wear a diaper) who lived in the woods behind the school.  We spent many an afternoon trying to find him... because we were idiots.  Couldn't imagine a gaggle of geeky kids doing something that stupid nowadays!

Anyhoo... so, Mr. Fixxit... the phantom toy repairer of Gotham City.  Such a fun (and creepy) idea... and, most scarily... one that you could see kids falling for!  Heck, if the Diaperman advertised that he could make it so I wouldn't have to blow in my Nintendo cartridges anymore... I... er, well... let's just be happy that he didn't.

So, yeah... really dig that premise.

Now, what I didn't so much dig... let's talk about that "Melissa got stuck under the scaffold" thing for a second.  I get what we're going for here.  Mr. Fixxit/Harold isn't a bad dude... and he didn't do anything to hurt Melissa.  But... if that mob didn't assemble and come out to bash his brains out... Batman would've never searched the building... and so, at the end of the day... there's a pretty good chance Melissa would've died under the debris!  So, in essence, it's a good thing that Mel's father gathered the troops and stomped on in... right?!  I realize that makes things a little less heartwarming... but, it's kinda got to be said.

Also, what kind of a father would Mel's Pop be if he didn't wanna bash in the brains of the guy he thinks took/hurt his daughter?  I mean, even as enlightened as we all claim to be nowadays... I couldn't say with any certainty that I wouldn't swing first, ask questions later.  It's kind of weird that Mel's Pop is kinda framed as a bad guy from the first moment we see him.  Would we prefer reading about a father who doesn't care that his very young daughter is roaming the slummy Gotham streets in the middle of the night?!  Just not really buying that bit.

Overall... for the most part, I had a blast with this... and I'm sure most Bat-fans will too!  This story has been collected in the Essential Harold Omnibus, Volume 1... okay, no... that's not a thing that exists... but, it is available digitally!

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