Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Captain Atom #13 (1988)


Captain Atom #13 (March, 1988)
"We Three Kings..."
Writer - Cary Bates
Co-Plotter - Greg Weisman
Pencils - Pat Broderick
Inks - Bob Smith
Letters - Duncan Andrews
Colors - Nansi Houlihan
Editor - Denny O'Neil
Cover Price: $0.75

Today we're going to visit Nathaniel Atom as he faces a truly dangerous concept... spending Christmas all by his lonesome!

Let's keep the poor guy company, shall we?

--


It's Christmas Eve, and we open with Nate tossing his United States Air Force identification card (with his Cameron Scott alias) into the drink, symbolizing how he'd just quit working for the organization.  He reflects on the position he'd recently been put in where he was coerced to endorse Major Force.  Force was a fella who underwent the same sorta splody-origin as Captain Atom, and was eventually expected to be his successor.  Turns out he wasn't nearly as stable as our man Atom, however.  This is a good and bad thing... good, as in, Nate can use this information to slip out of his subservience to General Eiling.  Bad, as in, hey we've got a new atomic villain.


While Nate burns his clothes, we shift scenes over to General Wade Eiling, who is up in the mountains getting ready to celebrate Christmas with his father, and step-children.  His step-children, if you'll recall, are Nathaniel Adam's biological children.  Wade married Nate's wife following the Captain Atom Project.  He stands by the fireplace, lost with his thoughts, when his father offers him a penny for 'em.


Back to Nate... he's sitting along in his apartment, running recent events through his mind.  He has no family, no friends, no job... and worst yet, it's Christmas!  Who wantsta be alone during the Holidays?  Well, at least he doesn't have to deal with Eiling anymore... well, not counting the whole "he raised my kids" thing.


We jump over to a nearby phone booth, where we meet a man named Chester King.  He's calling his wife to let her know he'll be running late... again.  He has something he has to do for his boss, Mr. Wiley.  You might think that with a name like "wiley", nothing good will come of this... and you'd be right!  Chester has been tasked with burning down a condemned hotel!


It's cool though, with the Christmas bonus Wiley is willing to cut, the King family will be able to take a trip to the Bahamas!  So giddy at the prospect, Chester hands over a wad of cash to a beggar.


Back up the mountain, the Eiling men chat, while Nate's kids have a snowball fight.  Papa Eiling notes that his son has changed... he's always been a "business first" type'a guy, but now it's even worse.  As he expresses his concern, Wade cuts him off to take a phone call.


Back in D.C., Nate aimlessly wanders the streets.  He thinks to himself how he's not sure he belongs in this world.  Having lost two-decades, he's a man out of time and place... and without being bossed around by Eiling, he's really quite lost.  On his way into a bar, he hands that same beggar a quarter.


We rejoin Chester as he rigs a ramshackle building to go boom.  Little does he know, however, a dozen of the neighborhood homeless has been squatting there to escape the frigid cold.


With his job completed, Chester heads into the same bar Nate's cooling his jets at, and offers to buy a round for the house.  We get a whole bunch more exposition from Nate's thought-bubbles... man outta time, yadda yadda yadda.


Back with the Eilings, Papa is regaling the children with his story of the time he had a run-in with Hans von Hammer, Enemy Ace!  Ya see, Papa's plane was leaking fuel... and yet, he still attempted to take Enemy Ace on.  He lost the dogfight, however, Ace let him live.  Rather than shoot him down, he offers a salute before parting.


Papa Eiling responded to that gesture with... a torrent of gunfire!  Enemy Ace vanished in the distance, so this was a futile gesture at best.  The elder Eiling tells the kids that it's taken him his entire life to understand Enemy Ace's "code of honor" in letting him live.  Basically, when lives are on the line... it really doesn't matter who wins or loses.  Life's not a game at that point... there's no "scorecard" when you're faced with your own mortality.  Wade calls this "life lesson" a bunch of crap, and suggests Papa's gone soft... or senile.


Back in Washington, D.C., the bar patrons hear an explosion!  A frantic passerby rushes in to tell them that the old hotel is all lit up.  The bar empties into the street, when someone mentions all of the squatters.  This is brand-new information for budding arsonist, Chester King!


Suddenly, a man... engulfed in flames, rushes from the Dixie Hotel... it's the same beggar that Chester gave money but a few hours earlier.  Chester smothers the flames with his coat... but, it's clearly too late.


An onlooker suggests there's nothing anyone can do... it's best to just wait for the fire department and emergency services.  Little do they know, they've got a bonafide superhero in their midst!  Captain Atom takes to the crisis, all the while thinking to himself that this feels like the first time he's acted truly heroically since coming back.


Back up the mountain, the Eiling men talk s'more... and it's just as contentious as ever.  It's plainly clear that Wade has little affection for his father... or at least that's the impression he's trying to give.  Nate's son, Randy overhears the discussion.


Back in D.C., emergency services have arrived, and the burned beggar is pronounced dead.  Chester stands there with a blank look on his face for a bit before dropping $5,000 into a Salvation Army bucket.  Yeah, that about evens things up, doesn't it?


We close out with Captain Atom's heroism being celebrated at the bar... they've got him hoisted on their shoulders and everything... just like on the cover!  He is approached by a woman named Eve Eden (Nightshade), who tells him they have a "mutual uncle".  They decide to head out and spend the evening together.  Let's hope she didn't mean "uncle" literally, eh?


--

This was an interesting issue.  It's not often in comics that we take a look at the loneliness the Holiday Season can bring.  I guess maybe that's not something we necessarily want to think about.

We look at Nate, and... well, dude is very much alone.  Being time-displaced, he no longer has a family... he doesn't have any friends, and since quitting his gig in the Air Force, he no longer has any direction.

That's one of those things you don't really think about when quitting or leaving a job.  Even if it's not a dream gig, it's not the absolute worst thing in the world to have a "direction".  Having worked a bunch of contract positions in my time, there have been a handful that I've hated... but, those first few days after they wrap up... eesh, talk about becoming a wandering soul.  It was actually during one of those "nebulous interims" that I read through this volume of Captain Atom for the first time!

Not sure I'd suggest hitting up a bar when in that sort of state, but I ain't here to judge.  Something I will say though, Nate refers to the bar as a "pub".  Was that ever American slang for a bar?  Seems like people use that word to sound worldlier than they are.  Ehh, maybe I'm projecting.

Let's look at the Eilings for a bit.  Another big part of the Holidays for many folks is facing their family dysfunction.  Usually in entertainment, that's ramped up to comical levels... but here, it's pretty... I dunno, dark.  We don't get a happy ending, or even a mutual understanding.  Only disdain... and, while it's not terribly pleasant to read, it's refreshing that we didn't get the cliche hug and clink of eggnog mugs.

Also, I don't have much of a frame of reference for DC's War characters, but it was neat seeing Enemy Ace here.  Love the effort DC made to tie their characters together.  Seems the opposite is true nowadays!

Finally, there's Chester King.  Dude burns down the Dixie Hotel... and in so doing, kills a bunch of homeless.  Seems he learned his lesson, right?  Only... there's no real comeuppance.  Can't remember if King and Wiley show up again down the line... I suppose it wouldn't surprise me either way... and at the end of the day, I guess it doesn't really matter.  Dude did something bad, and it facilitated Captain Atom's first (non-government mandated) outing as a superhero.

Overall, this isn't a comfortable issue... and probably not one I'd add to my normal Christmas rotation, but I did enjoy it for what it was.  I'd recommend checking it out, though it will help if you have the proper context for Nate's lot in life.  This issue is available digitally.

--

Interesting Ads:


On the Fifth Day of Christmas on Infinite Earths, I gave to you, Captain Atom #13!  Scooby-Doo! #139, Superman #369, Impulse #34, and a Flash (vol.2) #73 Discussion and Review.


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Monday, December 17, 2018

Scooby-Doo! #139 (2009)


Scooby-Doo! #139 (February, 2009)
"It's a Wonderful Fright!"
"Velma's Monsters of the World: The Yeti!"
"Santa's Evil Elves"
Writers - Alex Simmons, John Rozum, & Robbie Busch
Art - Robert Pope, Dan Davis, & Scott Jeralds
Colors - Heroic Age
Letters - John J. Hill
Editor - Michael Siglain
Cover Price: $2.50

Today's going to be an interesting one... never been much of a Scooby-Doo! fan, I honestly can't think of the last time I'd actually seen an episode of it.

My most recent run-in with the property was reviewing Scooby Apocalypse for Weird Science DC Comics... and hoo boy, I remember hating that.  That was a whole nother animal though... and doesn't really "count".  That said, there's no way that this will be anywhere near as painful as that.

--


Our first story opens with Scooby and Shaggy running from a phantasm called "The Plotter".  They are chased into a large creepy house on a hill.  Shaggy locks them inside the place, all the while wishing he'd never even heard of things like ghosts, or phantoms, or even... Mystery, Inc.!  You see where this one's headed, right?


The guys fall down a flight of stairs... and when Shaggy comes to, they head out to find their friends.  Unfortunately for them, they run into a weird blue astronaut-looking monster... but, oddly enough, it's one that the recognize!


Shaggy and Scooby make their way into town, where they run into Daphne... and guess what?  She doesn't recognize them.  Not only that, she doesn't know Velma or Freddie... and she's never heard of Mystery, Inc.!  She admits that she enjoys solving mysteries... but seems almost embarrassed by it.  Their confusing chat is interrupted by a clown-baddie (who they also recognize).


Running away, the guys rush smack-dab into... Freddie, who's looking like the King of all Crossing Guards.  He's trying to direct traffic, and he tells Shaggy that he too, never heard of Mystery, Inc., and since he was a High School jock, nobody took him seriously when he suggested he wanted to solve crimes.  They're, of course, interrupted by the arrival of a few more familiar ghouls.


Scooby and Shaggy rush into a nearby van... and wouldja lookit that, Velma's inside!  You know the drill, she doesn't know nothin' about no Mystery, Inc. (though she does call her van "The Mystery Machine"), and while she's interested in inventing stuff, nobody has ever taken her serious enough for her to actually put her thoughts into action.


Shaggy realizes that nobody remembers Mystery, Inc. because he wished it away!  It's also why all of these familiar ghouls are wandering about... without "those meddling kids" around to catch 'em, they're still causing trouble!  He and Scooby rush back to the house on the hill to try and make things right again.  On their way, they are tossed off a bridge by a gaggle of baddies.  Before we know it, Shaggy wakes up in the basement of that ramshackle house.


Shaggy, somehow, uses his dream to deduce that Mr. Scamlin is behind the whole thing.  Ya see, dude wanted to scare people out of the area so he could build an amusement park... which, honestly sounds a whole lot cooler than some creepy disheveled houses!  How did Shaggy figure this whole thing out?  Um, well... if you can tell me, I'd appreciate it!


Our next story is a shorty, featuring Velma dropping some knowledge about the Yeh-tay.  It's only two pages, and ends with Shaggy asking how the snowman he and Scooby built looks... to which, Velma says it's "Abominable".  Geddit?


Our third and final story opens with Shaggy acting as the world's weirdest Mall Santa.  The rest of Mystery, Inc. comments that the security guard, Felix, has been on the job as long as they can remember, and they have a feeling that this is his final Holiday Season.  Felix is accepting some donations for the Children's Christmas Charity Fund.


Suddenly, some creepy elves descend on the mall, and snatch Shaggy Claus's sleigh!


These little jerks mean business too, the sleigh is hooked up to a waiting helicopter, and Shaggy is flown "all the way" to the North Pole.  It's really just a nearby cave with a sign... but, Shaggy's really not the brightest knife in the shed.  Inside the "North Pole", our man meets a young lady...


... who's actually the horrible creep, Cindy Claws!  I mean, really... "Auntie Claws" was right there.  Anyhoo, she reveals that she swiped Shaggy so she can get inside the mall vault and steal the Children's Christmas Charity Fund.  What a heel!  She promises Shaggy all of the Roast Beast he can eat... which, nearly sways him, before he realizes that those kids gotta eat too.


As the Mystery Machine trudges its way up the snowy mountain, Shaggy gives up the combination to the mall safe... and passes out.  Or, does he?  No sooner do the baddies leave, then he wakes up.


Just then, his pals show up.  Since Shaggy is a dope, he mistakes them for more baddies... and tries to escape before they can mess with him more.  The sleigh flies out of the cave, and snags Scooby along the way.  They zip all the way down the mountain, right back into the mall.


They rescue Felix the Mall Cop, and look on as the naughty elves crack that safe...


... from which, emerges a great big Santa Claus projection!  This scares the baddies straight... or, at least, freaks them out long enough for them to be caught.  Ya see, Shaggy gave up the combination so easily because he knew what they'd find in the safe.  The safe was booby-trapped because Felix had mentioned that a creepy lady and her creepy kids had been casing the joint for weeks.  Good thing it turned out that a grown monster woman was scared of Santa Claus!


--

Anytime we look at a "kids" book, I invariably feel like a complete boob for trying to "analyze" it.  So, let's preface with a simple question... Would a child enjoy this comic book?  Yeah, I bet they would.  It's well drawn, and the stories are suitably silly and compelling.

With that out of the way... let's start overthinking things!

If you don't reveal plot elements until the very end of a story... you're not really "setting anything up", ya dig?  In our bookend stories, we get these "reveals"... which, I mean... I'm not sure we can even call them that, because we weren't given any hints along the way.  There's really no "a-ha! moment", despite both stories ending with an "a-ha!".

Looking at the first story, Old Man Scamlin wanted to buy up all the dilapidated real estate to build an amusement park.  Dunno, that just sounds awesome, doesn't it?  Anyhoo, the only hints of this is that all of the buildings we see have "For Sale" signs on 'em.  That's all well and good... but, doesn't the entirety of the middle of this story take place inside Shaggy's delusion?

I mean, we're playing with the It's a Wonderful Life gimmick, right?  So, Shaggy running into his pals (who don't recognize him) is part of his dream, right?  I dunno... I'm overthinking it.

Speaking of which, do the same with the final story.  We learn (at the very end) that Felix noticed Cindy and her Sons lurking around the mall for a little while, which is why the safe was booby-trapped... but, that's not a reveal, right?  Not really, anyway.  Okay, that's enough outta me.

This was an issue that I'm sure the people it's written for (it is a DCKids book, after all) would really enjoy.

--

Interesting Ads:


On the Fourth Day of Christmas on Infinite Earths, I gave to you, Scooby-Doo! #139, Superman #369, Impulse #34, and a Flash (vol.2) #73 Discussion and Review.

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Sunday, December 16, 2018

Superman #369 (1982)


Superman #369 (March, 1982)
"Superman's Last Christmas!"
Writer - Cary Bates
Pencils - Rich Buckler
Inks - Frank McLaughlin
Letters - Ben Oda
Colors - Adrienne Roy
Editor - Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.60

It's the Third Day of Christmas on Infinite Earths... annnnd, we're batting around .500, right?  So far, we've had a really good issue of Flash... followed by kind of a stinker issue of Impulse.  Let's see if this issue of Superman nudges our average up a bit!

--



We open in Galaxy Plaza, where Steve Lombard and Lana Lang are on the air... anxiously awaiting the arrival of Superman and this year's Galaxy Christmas Tree!  Lois and Jimmy are watching from the sidelines, and are sure the Man of Steel's lateness has something to do with some sort of crisis or another... and, indeed it does.  While searching Maine for the perfect Christmas Tree (and bah-humbugging the whole time), Superman comes across a house falling into a sinkhole!



He saves the house, and the family inside it... and even triggers a molten "fill" on the ground to even it up.  With that job behind him, he continues his search.  He finally finds just the right tree... but, still ain't quite feeling the Christmas Spirit.  He feels like maybe he should've just sat this Holiday Season out... and even suggests that procuring a Christmas Tree is sorta-kinda a waste of his time.  Well... it's not like he's wrong, but... gotta say, I don't wanna hear Superman talking like this.



Back in Metropolis, we meet up with Agent Cory Renwald.  If you're a regular reader of this blog (or, ya know... pre-Crisis Superman books), his name oughta ring a bell.  I won't spoil his "secret" for ya yet, because it's kinda the crux of the issue.  Anyhoo, he's in Metropolis, walking down Delancy Street... when suddenly, he's jumped by a bell-ringin' Santa Claus!  Cory digs deep into his Secret Agent training and... dumps the Santy Claus into a (moderately convenient) nearby open manhole.



We return to Galaxy Plaza just as Superman is arriving with the giant Christmas Tree.  Onlookers... uh, look on, as he wraps it in lights and ornaments... and don't fail to notice Superman scurrying off before they throw the switch.  Moments later, Clark Kent arrives on the scene to meet up with his friends and coworkers.  Turns out, he's just as bah-humbuggy as his super-self... which makes him rather an irritant to Lois and Jimmy.



We rejoin Cory Renwald as he approaches a construction site.  He reveals that he's in Metropolis on business.  He calls in to "base" and learns he's supposed to be following the every move of... Clark Kent!



It's a little while later, and we've shifted scenes to the Fortress of Solitude, where Superman is undergoing a sort of light-therapy.  In resting under these Rynarian beams, his body is forced to relax.  He's just had it with the hustle and bustle of Christmas in Metropolis.  He thinks back to his childhood and all of the wonderful Christmases he'd shared with his folks, Ma and Pa Kent.



While he's getting all loosey-goosey under the lights, he fails to notice that someone has entered the Fortress of Solitude... if you took a look at the cover, you'll know the interloper is... Parasite!  Superman, in his relaxed state, is easy-pickin's for the purple jerk, who locks the Man of Steel in a full-nelson.  Worth noting, at this point in the continuity, Parasite knows that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same.



Superman is finally able to recover, and with one helluva thrust, breaks the full-nelson.  He then hurls Parasite a mile across the Arctic expanse... where the baddie finds himself lodged in a glacier!  Lucky for him, he'd managed to siphon off a bit of Superman's power... and so, he heat-visions his way out of icy captivity.



The next day in Metropolis, Lois and Clark are out Christmas shopping.  His super-hearing picks up on the sound of a rifle bolt being primed, and he frantically scans the area for snipers.  He's rather shocked to learn that the sniper has his sight set on him!  It's an underworld crime syndicate goon... however, before he can pull the trigger, Agent Cory Renwald arrives and kicks him in the mush.



Clark uses his x-ray vision to read Cory's credentials, and just assumes the Agent (who he'd once helped as Superboy) is there to investigate the syndicate.



We follow Renwald to a nearby payphone, where he calls in to his boss.  It's here we learn the true reason for the Kent investigation.  Ya see, Clark Kent has betrayed the United States... not by turning to another foreign power, but to aliens from another planet!  Cory decides to get a better look by posing as a repairman and sneaking into Kent's apartment.



When Cory opens the door to Apartment 3-D, a microscopic alarm is triggered... this causes a high-frequency Zee-Zee-Zee sound to fill the air... which, Clark Kent immediately picks up on.  I gotta wonder why he'd set his alarm to make the same sound as Jimmy's signal watch, but whattayagonnado?  His telescopic vision reveals that the home invader is... Cory Renwald!



Clark rushes off to the storage room to "supe up"... unfortunately, the room is already occupied... by Parasite!  Remember, he knows the secret identity.  Why he doesn't just tell the world and ruin Superman's life (lives?) himself, I haven't the foggiest.



The two titans battle and Superman is hurled threw a window... and, since Parasite managed to siphon off a bit more of his super-energy, Superman plummets to Galaxy Plaza below... and smashes right into the Galaxy Christmas Tree!



Back at 344 Clinton Street, Agent Renwald has wrapped up his investigation... and wrestles with himself whether or not he'll reveal Clark Kent's "secret".  He gets into an cab where he chats up the driver.  The driver gives him the correct code-phrase to inform him that he's part of the Agency as well.  All he's willing to say to the driver is that he found something.  He'll only spill the beans-in-full to the head honcho of the operation.



It's here that we learn that the cab driver is actually... Parasite.  Not only that, the Parasite was behind the entire magilla.  He was the handsy Santy Claus on Delancy, which is when he enacted his plan to control poor Cory Renwald... from there, he orchestrated the Kent investigation.  Again, why bother?  When you already know the secret... this just seems silly.  Seems like Parasite just wants to screw with Superman in both his personas at the same time, just to see how he reacts.  I'd figure that's more Mxy's territory, but... heck, it's Christmas, we'll allow it.



Superman finally returns to his apartment, where he performs a scan of the place.  It's clear to him that Renwald did a pretty good job digging around... and even found some of his interstellar trophies (which Parasite knew Renwald would come across).  Superman worries that his secret... might be out!  Ya know, to yet another guy.



No time for that, though... it's time for the Galaxy Christmas Party.  Clark makes a brief (and pointless) appearance before taking back to the skies.  He happens across Renwald meeting with the Agency's head honcho... who is, of course... Parasite!



Parasite attempts to siphon off more super-energy... however, this time, Superman's ready (it only took him like two decades!).  Wait'll I tell you just what he did to prepare.  Ya see, Superman's weakness is, of course, Kryptonite... and so, he sprayed himself with a "low-grade dose" of Green-K... so that when Parasite got to suckin'... he'd get a body-full of the bad stuff.  This is just so dumb.  But it works, and that's all that matters!



We wrap up back at Clark's apartment, where he's visited by... Agent Cory Renwald.  Cory spills the beans about what he'd learned while digging through Clark's apartment... he'd learned that Clark Kent was raised (shocker) by the Kents in Smallville... the same couple who took him in during his days as a juvenile delinquent!  So he's, sorta-kinda, Clark's brother in a way.  But, like... not at all.  But, sorta.



Cory credits the Kents for putting him on the straight and narrow... he'd never be an Agent for the United States government if not for their intervention.  Clark seems less happy to be meeting his "brother" and more relieved that this knucklehead didn't put two-and-two together and figure out that he's Superman!  We close out with the fellas reminiscing over Christmas with the Kents.



--

Well... this was better than yesterday's Impulse comic.  Yeah, that's not really such high praise, is it?

Let's look at this one for what it is... it's an attempt to legitimize the stories going on in New Adventures of Superboy (also being written by Cary Bates) by inserting Clark's sorta-kinda brother, Cory Renwald into a main title.  That's not really anything to get mad about... but, there really isn't much more to it than that.

The Parasite bit was oddly convoluted... and while I'm no "Parasite Scholar", I don't understand why he'd go to such lengths just to annoy Superman.  I mean, dude's got the secret... and he chooses to just screw with him?  I don't get it.  Again, I'm not sure if there's anything that precludes him from spilling the beans... but, this just seemed silly.

I wanna touch on Superman's "bah humbugginess" here.  I get that some folks don't dig the Holiday Season, and I can respect that... but, Superman being so cranky just doesn't feel right to me.  His claim that fetching a Christmas Tree is a waste of his time... I dunno.  Let's look at this for a second.  This is pre-Crisis Superman... the one who could sneeze the Sun into another galaxy, right?  Shouldn't he be able to fetch and trim a tree in like... less than a second?  They play kinda loose with just how fast Superman is... and, while I get it... it's also kinda tough to reconcile.

I mean, if we're talking about "wasting Superman's time"... dude spends (at least) forty-hours a week working.  That's certainly hinders him from being Superman, right?  If he's so concerned with being Superman all the time... that kinda mucks up the whole concept of having a secret identity... and really affects the "core" of the character... don't it?

I'm almost certainly thinking too hard about this... it was just an "off-hand" remark from Superman when he was cranky... but, I feel like we're expected to "accept" it, when it just raises so many more questions, and flaws in the "secret identity" concept.  You'd think they'd shy away from that when trying to maintain a suspension of disbelief.  Ehh, whattayagonnado?

Overall... it was neat seeing Metropolis all decked out for Christmas, and as a stickler for lore, it was cool having Cory Renwald inserted into the then-current continuity.

--

Letters Page:



--

Interesting Ads:



On the Third Day of Christmas on Infinite Earths, I gave to you, Superman #369, Impulse #34, and a Flash (vol.2) #73 Discussion and Review.
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