Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Power Girl (vol.2) #12 (2010)


Power Girl (vol.2) #8 (July, 2010)
"The Little Things!"
Writers - Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Art - Amanda Conner
Colors - Paul Mounts
Letters - John J. Hill
Associate Editor - Rachel Gluckstern
Editor - Mike Carlin
Cover Price: $2.99

Welcome friends to the... final day of Vartox Week!  It was bound to happen eventually.

I wanna thank everybody who joined me for this deep dive on a character that, really, not many people care about.  It's been a really fun learning experience... and a great exercise in challenging my own preconceptions on just who and what Vartox really is.  We'll talk more about that below the synopsis.

Worth saying, I feel like this weird three-week-long theme "week" really helped to breathe new life into this humble blog.  I think anyone who maintains a blog with regular posts, and I don't just mean daily... could be whatever sorta "deadline" you impose on yourself, I think all of us are prone to burnout.  Burnout is definitely a real thing... especially when your "subject" is as niche as comic books tend to be.

I mean, people today love superheroes... but, not so many actually seek out folks' opinions (or even information) on the "real" stuff.  Without a whole lot in the way of engagement, sometimes it feels like we're writing into the void... and if you've joined me in this Vartox-void, I thank you.

I hope you all enjoyed this as much as I have!

--



We open with Power Girl and fake-Terra (the other fake Terra) about to relax in an emofluid spring down in Strata... which allows us to see Kara try on a very ill-fitting bikini.  Well, when in Rome.  They take a load off and reminisce while the golden waters project their memories.  We briefly mentioned the Ultra-Humanite yesterday... turns out, the baddie had messed with Atlee (the other fake Terra) in the interim, and Power Girl had to save her.



We shift scenes to Satanna getting out of... er, Savana Jerusalem's bed.  Truly a case of "strange bedfellows".  If you recall, Savana was supposed to provide Satanna with a weapon with which she could take out Power Girl.  Savana's all "not so fast, kemosabe"... and invites some Big Daddy's from BioShock in the room to take Satanna out.



Back in Strata, Power Girl and Terra leave the emofluid springs.  Just then, they run into Atlee's family.  Kara cannot help but to be touched at the sight of the reunion... something she definitely didn't expect.  Her mind is flooded with thoughts of her own lost family... friends... and Universe.



After a light snack... or, at least an attempt at one... Power Girl heads back to Brooklyn.  Terra promises to follow a few days later.



Kara returns home... and tries to think of a name for her cat, before settling on "Stinky".  That's not a euphemism, folks... and shame on you for thinking it was.



Heading to work, she runs into Fisher (Bronze Medal Champion in the regional Jimmy Olsen lookalike contest).  Turns out, this skeevy little perv took some compromising pictures of her... but he's seen the error of his ways, and turns over the "only copies" of the snaps (yeah, right).



After a ride on the subway, Kara emerges from the underground just in time to see...



There he is!  It's Vartox... and he's fighting a great big baddie called Galaxorg.  Well, maybe Galaxorg isn't all that bad.  Ya see, they're only fighting because Vartox tried moving in on the Big G's wife.  If fairness, he thought she was single.  Kara "Pee Gee's" up, and tells the goofs that they don't gotta stop fighting... but they can't do it here.



Galaxorg and Power Girl take turns throwing Vartox into orbit while they hash out the details of changing the venue of this hyper-powered struggle.  Galaxorg proves himself yet another sex-pest when informs Power Girl that he could be persuaded to leave.  This goes over about as well as you imagine.  The Big G ain't pleased, and refers to Kara as "Vartox's whore".  Uh-oh.



Power Girl wrecks Galaxorg... until he decides that discretion is the better (only?) part of valor.  He refers to Vartox as "Tynolan scum", which proves he's never really read the Bronze Age stuff, before vanishing.



After the dust settles, Vartox makes yet another plea for Power Girl's affections.  It isn't very effective.  Instead of traveling the stars with our man, Kara instead simply "escorts him" back to his head ship.  And that... is the last we'd see of Vartox in the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe.




Jumping ahead, we join Kara at work.  She's informed by her employee Alice that they'd just gotten a major investor in a group calling themselves Vega 9.  Oh, also... she resigns.  I suppose this would mean more if I hadn't only been reading the Vartox issues of this series.  Kara then takes a phone call from a fella named Carl... who I'm assuming is a callback to a prior story.  Either way, he's "Vega 9", and he's happy to be an investor.



We wrap up with Kara being called into the lab for one of her employee's birthday parties.  Turns out, the party is actually... for her!



--

There's a pretty good way to wrap up Vartox Week.

I said it yesterday, but it's series' like this one that give such a wonderful snapshot of just how much fun the tail end of the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe was.  It's truly a shame books like this one had to be deep-sixed in order to make way for the "more accessible" New-52!  I think a book like has a fairly universal appeal... you don't need to be ensconced in DC lore to follow it, but if you are you'll probably have a deeper appreciation.  Plus, it's funny... and the art is phenomenal.  What's not to dig?

This is the final issue for this creative team... next issue would bring in Judd Winick, who, if you've been reading this blog with any regularity, you know he's a fella I run hot and cold on.  It was actually his first issue (#13) where I first tried out this book back in 2010.  I didn't come back for #14... but, back then I was just getting my "comics footing" back... I think I was just grabbing anything I could get my hands on.

Let's talk Vartox.

I've brushed up against it a few times lately... a "happy accident" of running a blog like this is that I'm afforded the opportunity to challenge my own preconceptions about titles, creators, characters... ya know, just everything I thought I knew about comics.

When I first got it in my head to do a little Vartox "spotlight", I figured it'd be a neat little aside... a "funny, ha-ha" where we all poke fun at the Sean Connery lookalike.  Hell, at the start I kept referring to him as the "Manliest Man Who Ever Manned"... as a gag!

What I wasn't expecting was to be so captivated by this character.  I wasn't expecting to be so taken with his seemingly never ending tragedies.  If you go back to our earliest looks at Vartox (easily available on our dedicated Vartox Week page), it seemed like an endless torrent of crap was being rained on him.

Every single time we ran into him... something horrible has happened.  If it wasn't his wife being murdered it was his planet being destroyed.  It was around then, that it clicked.  I finally got it.  Vartox, is a Superman... that failed.  He couldn't save his wife... he couldn't save his planet.

It's almost a shame how he was treated in the post-Crisis... as just a goonish punching bag, and later, as a sex-pest.  Though, I will say, underneath the creepy predatory facade, the Power Girl creative team were able to "bring it around" and give him some much-deserved depth.  They also gave him what might be his first (and only) actual "win".  The first time he was able to save his people.  If not for Vartox's efforts, Valeron would've withered.

Overall... I said it yesterday, this Power Girl series is an absolute treat, and you owe it to yourselves to check it out.  This issue is no exception... I had a blast with it, and I'd bet my lucky dime you will too.

And that, my friends, was Vartox Week.  I wanna say, this has been enlightening, and so much more fun than I'd ever imagined.  It definitely helped recharge my bloggy-batteries, and stave off the dreaded (and inevitable) burnout.  After all, we're still 66 days from Post 1000...

I think we've gone above and beyond in showing this obscure fella some love.  Hopefully in the months and years to come, folks who wonder just what this Sean Connery-lookin' dude is all about will come here and bask in the glory that is... or was... Vartox Week.  Keep that magic in your hearts always, my friends.



While we're done with this subject... we're not done talking DC Comics by a long shot.  Come back tomorrow, where we'll be finally wrapping up another long-lingering project.

--

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Monday, August 20, 2018

Power Girl (vol.2) #8 (2010)


Power Girl (vol.2) #8 (March, 2010)
"A Groovy Kind of Love"
Writers - Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Art - Amanda Conner
Colors - Paul Mounts
Letters - John J. Hill
Associate Editor - Rachel Gluckstern
Editor - Mike Carlin
Cover Price: $2.99

Welcome friends to the penultimate entry in our Vartox Week Spectacular!  We'll wrap up our deep-dive on The Man tomorrow!

--


Picking up where we left off last issue, Power Girl and Vartox are fighting off a gaggle of IX Negaspikes, which were created thanks to Kara freezing the one beastie with her super-breath... then shattering it into dozens of pieces... which all grew into their own full-blown IX Negaspike.  During the melee, she notices that this new bunch of monsters isn't quite as alert as the one she destroyed... and so, she has a plan.  Vartox isn't so sure he's up for a repeat performance.


After Power Girl suggests he might just be scared, he comes around.  The pair use their hyper-freezing-breath to ice up all the IX's... then smash 'em!


Leaving even more of the critters... however, as Power Girl assumed, they are completely docile.  Ya see, she figured out that no matter how many bodies the IX Negaspikes were shattered into, there wouldn't be enough brain-power to keep them all "on task".  They send the now cow-like monstrosities deep into space.


After the dust settles, Vartox makes another plea to Power Girl to hear him out about why he visited... and exactly what he's "chosen" her for.  At this point, Kara's almost punch drunk... and agrees to dinner.


We shift scenes to a creepy club in Manhattan where Satanna and her army of animal hybrids are convening.  She is trying to track down the Ultra-Humanite in order to do some brain-swapping... or maybe the Humanite already did... I can't be sure.  There's also word of a "creepy bald man" delivering some new tech... we'll meet him later.


Meanwhile inside the Head Ship, Vartox changes into his Valerian formal eveningwear... which amounts to a see-through robe and an eye-patch over his you-know-what.


Power Girl ain't havin' none'a that... especially if she's expecting to eat.  She sends him off to get into something less comfortable... though, by the looks of it, I'm not sure what could possibly be less comfortable than that.  He returns in a sorta disco-looking tracksuit.


He excuses himself to finish cooking, and suggests Pee Gee go change into something a bit fancier herself.  He directs her over to his on-board clothier, and after making him promise to turn off all of the cameras, Kara hops in.  She returns in a beautiful gown... and Vartox is left speechless.


So distracted, in fact, that he doesn't realize that their romantic dinner is burning!


Kara suggests they just order some take-out... and, next we know, the giant head-ship is hovering over a Brooklyn pizzeria.


While they dine, Vartox explains the reasons for his visit.  He's there, of course, so Power Girl can help repopulate the planet... only, it's not exactly how we (or she) might imagine.  He tells her about the contraception bomb... and also about his dead wife, who he claims was murdered (which... I suppose is kinda true).


Then... he gets down to it.  Valerians don't mate the same way humans do... they don't perform the "act"... no physicality, and in his words, none of the "sticky stuff".  Kara's confused... but also a bit curious... hell, so am I.  He shows her to the "Fertility Room".


Now, here's where it gets weird... er.  On Valeron, males and females both get pregnant (not Vartox though).  Their replication is more of a spiritual thing... as though they give birth to themselves... regeneration of their souls and stuff.  It's really weird.  It also involves a "Pregno-Ray", the very mention of which causes Power Girl to busts a gut.  Vartox chose Power Girl because her Kryptonian make-up will be able to stimulate the "fertilizer" without causing her any negative side effects.


Power Girl figures, what the hay... and offers her services.  Moments later, she re-fertilizes Valeron.


After which, Vartox gives her what appears to be, a most sincere thank you.  Kara's all "okay, okay... you can go home now."


We rejoin Pee Gee as she arrives back at her apartment.  She's greeted by her cat (and a dead roach) before passing out in bed.


We wrap up with Satanna... who is still seeking out the Ultra-Humanite.  At the moment, however, she's having a meeting with that "creepy bald man" we mentioned earlier... turns out, it's Doctor Sivana!


--

There's this weird trap I fall into when reviewing comics.  I doubt it's something completely unique to me... but, when I'm reading something... I almost can't help myself but to look for the nebulous quality known as "heart".  Nebulous, because I can't put into words exactly what I mean by it... it's more of those "you know it when you see it" sort of things... and you know it's missing when you don't.  This run on Power Girl absolutely has heart... the humor is human, and the characterization is genuine.

Here we get to brush aside all of Vartox's bravado... and we're left with that tragic character, not so different than the one we (or whoever among us was already alive and reading) met way back in 1974.  This is a man who wants to do right by his people... not a silly gigolo, but an altruist.  Risking harm and humiliation in order to re-fertilize his beloved Valeron.

What's more, it was really nice to see Power Girl "come around" to him.  Seeing him less as a sex-pest, and more as a man... a champion to his people... hell, the only hope of his people.

The creative team does a spectacular job here having Vartox straddle the line between obnoxious and unselfish.  As we've learned during Vartox Week... this fella is far more complicated a soul than you'd expect this silly-looking Sean Connery rip-off to be.  He's the kinda guy... if he didn't have bad luck, he'd have no luck at all.  So, it's nice... some thirty-six years after he first appeared, to finally see him "win" one.  It was certainly a long time coming... 

Going back to the concept of "heart"... the art brings that in spades.  The looks Power Girl and Vartox share... there's annoyance, sure... but there's also... I dunno, it's hard to explain.  Not so much pity... as, an almost playful curiosity from Power Girl here.  Like, she thinks Vartox is a creep... but also sees him as harmless... amusing, even.  Amanda Conner truly brings both of these characters to life... and it's a shame she (and the rest of the creative team) wouldn't be around on this title much longer.  I've said it before, and I'll say it now... the art here is pure "candy".  Just love it.

Overall... yep, track this one down.  Hell, track this entire run down, Vartox-less issues and all... it's a great snapshot of what made the tail end of the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe special.  Hopefully you have an easier time than I did finding it "in the wild".  If the hunt ain't your thing... this issue is ready and waiting for you via DC Digital.

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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Superman #389 (1983)


Superman #389 (November, 1983)
"Brother Act!"
Plot - Cary Bates
Script - Paul Kupperberg
Pencils - Curt Swan
Inks - Dave Hunt
Letters - Ben Oda
Colors - Anthony Tollin
Editor - Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.60

I've lost count at how many Vartox Week Miracles we've bumped into during this, Vartox Week.

Today we're going to be discussing an issue which I described yesterday as being "for Vartox Completionists only"... and you'll see why by the end.  Another thing I said yesterday was that I checked with a few local shops about taking a peek in their back rooms to see if they might find those two issues of Power Girl we so desperately need...

... and I got that fateful callback yesterday afternoon!  The books were located and I'm pleased to say that Vartox Week will roll on.

--


We open with a man in a phone booth trying to get a hold of Clark Kent's office at the Galaxy Building.  The operator can't really make out what he's trying to say... perhaps because he's making the call outside of a noisy construction site.  Speaking of construction... our man in the box is very nearly clobbered with a wrecking ball!  Luckily, Superman just happened to be in the neighborhood... and managed to save the stranger from a squishin'.


Before they get a chance to chat, Superman checks on the wrecking ball operator... only to learn that the poor fella'd been hijacked.  Somebody bonked him on the head, and took over the controls... this was no accident!  During the distraction, our mysterious man in the box removes his phony goatee and leaves the scene.  It's gotta be Vartox, right?


Later, at the Galaxy Building... Lana and Lois look at a picture of the two of them after dousing each other with fruit punch.  Yeah.  They see a rather dapper looking fellow enter the floor... and, wouldn'tcha know it, he's trying to contact Clark Kent.


Only, he's not in.  Jimmy Olsen and Terry Long's little brother turn the corner... and they recognize the man.  He's just gotta be Vartox, right?  This freaks dude out... so he, um, jumps out the window!  Don't worry though, he is using his jacket as a parachute.


He attempts to make his getaway on a nearby roof... but runs smack-dab into the chest of steel.


After some questioning, the man removes his disguise... revealing himself to be Vartox Secret Agent Cory Renwald!  If you're asking yourself "Who?"... you're not alone.  Turns out this fella was, at one time, another foster child to the Kents.  He spun out of a single issue of the New Adventures of Superboy, which... I dunno... kinda feels like a cheap way of introducing actual unseen elements of "history".  I mean, Clark Kent having a brother seems like it should've been a bigger deal.  Anyhoo, Cory's got amnesia.  Last thing he can remember was waking up in an alley... with pockets full of cash.


Superman decides to drop Renwald off at Clark Kent's apartment... so his "brother" can explain who he is... and how they're "connected".


Back at the Galaxy Building... everybody seems to be looking for "the elusive" Clark Kent.  During the hunt, Lana chats up Perry... and he's super-jazzed about having dinner with his wife that evening... as their relationship is kinda on the rocks at this point.


We rejoin Superman at the Pentagon, where he's learning a bit more about what's been going on in Renwald's life of late.  I mean, he's your own brother... you never think to pick up a phone?  Oh well, I suppose it's a two-way street, right?  Anyhoo, he learns that Renwald has been selling secrets to the enemy!


Superman's all "no way"... to which, the F.B.I. is all, "yuh-huh".  He asks for a few moments to try and get to the bottom of the situation... but the F.B.I. ain't havin' it.  Unfortunately for them, you really can't threaten Superman.  He leaves anyway.


Back at 344 Clinton, Clark and Cory reunite... and we get the quick and dirty on how they're sorta-kinda brothers.  The sight of a photo of the Kents is enough to bring Cory's memories back.  Clark cuts through the chatter and gets down to the nitty-gritty... what's all this about him being a traitor to the United States Government?


Cory reveals... it was all a set-up, see?  He's bein' railroaded by some mooks to take the fall, see?  Clark's all "okay, cool"... and suggests he turn himself over to the authorities... and together, they'll get to the bottom of this.  To which, Cory karate chops Clark.  Yup, that explains the cover.


Cory rushes out of the apartment and flees the scene.  Clark "supes up" and goes to give chase... only, at that very second, Lana Lang reports that a tanker had flipped over spilling toxic nastiness all ova da place.  Superman decides that'll have to be priority one.


Which is rather unfortunate for Cory... because, he only gets a few steps outside of 344 Clinton before being struck in the neck with a poisoned blow-dart.


Upstate, Superman takes care of business... dropping a, get this, city-sized dome over the affected area... then sucking up all of the toxic fumes, and rushing into outer space to exhale.


Back in Metropolis, an unconscious Cory Renwald is loaded into a remote control jet.  The baddies admit straight away that they framed him for treason... and plan on having him take a "kamikaze" flight... crashing directly into the President of the United States.


And, they might've gotten away with it... if they didn't spend the last half hour explaining their plan to an unconscious man, and just got on with it!  Superman arrives, and diverts the jet into the drink.  He then pulls Cory from the cockpit and carries him to safety.  Cory hopes that this is enough to convince the authorities of his innocence.  Since this is his final appearance ever... I'm guessing it was not.


We close out with a pair of epilogues.  First, Perry White is stood up by his estranged wife at the posh eatery.


Second, and more importantly... a comet is rushing through space, and in it's flamin' head... well, there he is... Vartox!


--

See... toldja this one was for Vartox Completionists only.  That epilogue, of course leads into a three issue arc which we've already discussed here earlier during Vartox Week.  If you're interested in following that thread, click'em the covers below.



Gotta just love how Vartox is the cliffhanger... I wonder what the difference between cheers and groans was from the readership at the time!

Now, for the actual issue... it wasn't a bad one, it was just a strange one.  You might get the feeling like Bates was trying to legitimize some of the Kent-history he was spinning over in New Adventures of Superboy by carrying Clark's never-mentioned foster brother into the "main" books.  It reminds me of when John Byrne brought elements of Spider-Man: Chapter One over into the main Spidey books (post late 90's relaunch).  It always comes across as cheap... and might actually de-legitimize the entire thing in the minds of the reader.  I feel like it kinda did for me.

Unfortunately, not much more to say about this one.  It marked the final appearance (and likely the final mention) of Clark's "brother" Cory Renwald... so, I guess it's got that going for it.  There are some interesting "soapy" bits with Perry White's dysfunctional marriage.  Overall though, if you're looking for Bronze Age/pre-Crisis Superman stories... there are tons out there that are better than this.  I say it again... if you absolutely need every appearance of Vartox... then you're going to want to pick this one up too!

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Letters Page (featuring Kent Phenis... again and always!):


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