Chase #6 (1998)

Chase #6 (July, 1998)
“Girls’ Day Out”
Plot & Script – D. Curtis Johnson
Plot & Pencils – J.H. Williams III
Inks – Mick Gray
Color & Separations – Lee Loughridge
Lettering – Clem Robins
Associate Editor – Dana Kurtin
Editor – Eddie Berganza
Cover Price: $2.50

During the late 1990’s, DC Comics offered a smattering of offbeat experimental titles.  It was a really fun time to be a fan… you never really knew what you were going to get.  There were titles like Young Heroes in Love, Major Bummer, Chronos and the title we’re going to look at today… Chase.

(Cameron) Chase worked for the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO) as an agent.  I believe currently she is set to (or already has) appear in the new Rebirth volume of Supergirl.  Today we’re going to see if we can’t get to the bottom of what makes her tick.

We open at the Department of Extranormal Operations offices.  Sandy Barrett is going about her daily duties, and we learn that our titular agent Cameron Chase will be returning to duty the following Monday.  She had been out several weeks due to having a wall fall on her while she was watching over the Teen Titans during their action figure launch.  This was the Teenage Atom-led version of the team that included folks like Joto and Argent.  Ms. Chase was comatose for a time, but as mentioned… she’ll be back tout suite.

Monday is still a few days away, so Cam and her sister Terry are enjoying a day out in the city hitting the shops.  Terry wants to head up to the top of the World Trade Center… Cameron agrees, with the caveat that they drop off all their purchases at her office along the way.  Before going DEO-bound, Terry pops into a convenience store to pick up the latest issue of Herotab… which is like the superhero equivalent of the National Enquirer.

At the offices, Cameron deposits their new chachkies in her office while Terry gets hit on by a “superhero” named Ivan.  In her office, there’s a JLA themed bouquet of balloons waiting for her along with a note from “Bear”, who I’m assuming is Ms. Barrett.

After dropping off, Cameron rescues Terry from Ivan… by telling him the object of his flirtation is currently dating Lobo.  Really funny stuff here.

The sisters load into an elevator and prepare for their twin-tower trek.  Moments later there’s a rumbling… it feels like there’s an earthquake… and the elevator comes to a sudden halt.  Terry’s mind immediately goes to Gotham City, who during this era had just experienced a cataclysmic quake that led into the epic No Man’s Land storyline.  Cam calls Barrett on her cell, and learns that there’d been an incident on one of the upper floors concerning a tentacled test subject that broke free.  She tells Terry it’s just a power outage, and there’s nothing to worry about.

While “sitting tight” Terry cracks open her new copy of Herotab… which sports a cover hinting at a romantic relationship between Booster Gold and Firehawk.  Deeper inside there’s a story about a girl who accuses her father of secretly being a supervillain.  This story appears to bother big sis, and she asks her to kindly not talk about it.  Whether out of true interest, or just to be a jerk Terry does the exact opposite until Cam nyoinks (er, fwaps) the rag out of her hand.

Terry can’t figure out that hub-bub is all about… can’t understand why her sister would react in such a way to just some “goofy story” in a tabloid.  Well folks, sometimes stories like that aren’t so goofy… when you’ve lived something similar.  It’s story time…

Turns out that Terry and Cameron’s father was a costumed crime fighter… the Acro-Bat.  During the 1960’s, the Justice Society of America was more or less in semi-retirement.  The baby-boomer generation began filling the holes left in the hero… and villain communities.  The Acro-Bat led a group of heroes called the Justice Experience.  I love the way this is all described.  It seems as though these costumed folk were just bored… and so they decided to become either heroes or villains.  Very interesting take on vigilantism and villainy… just playing the part to combat boredom.

At first Terry is reluctant to believe anything Cam tells her.  It just sounds too ludicrous to be true!  Their old man was a school teacher… nothing more.  Big sis insists what she says is true… she’s even got a fat DEO file upstairs to prove it.  Terry gets excited thinking that perhaps she has superpowers, and begins thinking about how their father passed.  She assumes he died saving the world.  If only…

Ya see, once there was a man… Larry Trapp.  He was gifted and brilliant… though unfortunately suffered deformities at birth.  One day he met a woman who saw through his less than aesthetic visage and fell in love with him.  She was Caroline Anders… and sadly, she was caught in the crossfire of a super-battle between the Justice Experience and the villainous House of Pain.  The authorities levied no charges on any of the “heroes”… so Trapp made it his mission to exact his own version of justice.

He placed the blame for the death of his lady love at the feet of the superhero community… and as such, they became the object of his scorn and the target of his vengeance.  Who better to start with than the leader of the Justice Experience, Acro-Bat?

Cameron found her father’s body in their living room.  Trapp had already left for his next target.  The police dubbed him Doctor Trap because he would booby-trap each of his lairs, so that when they were discovered those who found it would be in a fair amount of peril.  He would wipe out the entire Justice Experience, along with many of their friends… and even enemies.  This dude was a force to be reckoned with.  Ultimately, a handful of JSA retirees were able to capture Trapp.

Terry is not reacting to this new information all that well, feeling as though she’d been lied to her entire life.  She begins lashing out at Cameron, asking if she’s only in this line of work to “get back” at their father.  Before Cam can explain, the power resumes, and the elevator doors are pried open by the rescue team.

Once out, Barrett approaches Chase about her next assignment.  Normally she would be cool with this, however at the moment she has more important things to attend to.  She says it’ll have to wait until her “official” return to work, and heads over to Terry.  She is able to get across the point that she kept that information from her to protect her, and the sisters appear to be pals once again.

We close with Barrett entering the office of DEO head Mister Bones.  She tells him Chase was wiped from the goings on that day and the upcoming Gotham City gig would have to wait until Monday.

I said it in the preamble, and I’m saying it again… the late 1990’s were such a fun time to be a comics fan.  It was when the old tricks stopped working… a company couldn’t just slap a foil cover on a book and expect it to sell in the six-figures.  Fans and speculators alike were tired of stunts and fatigued from events… the big two (and the rest) had to actually buckle down and “get creative”.  I wish something like this would happen today… but sadly, people just seem to eat up the variants and events.

Reading this issue of Chase felt very much like experiencing one of those excellent “Tales of Times Past” from the James Robinson Starman.  Everything from the tone to the artwork is evocative of those swell tales.  I love anything that adds to the lore of the universe… and as I have a bit of a blindspot as to what occurred between the Justice Society’s heyday and the start of the “modern” age of heroes, this story was most welcome.

Lets discuss the superhero malaise of the 1960’s.  How cool is it that this new generation of costumed folks only become so because there’s nothing better to do.  Chase talks about the goofy “deathtraps” the supervillains would come up with… which really speaks to some of the campier elements of that decade, like the Adam West Batman stuff.  I really dig that this is described as basically the adult version of “cops and robbers”… where groups would just “decide” whether they were the heroes or the villains.  Such an interesting approach… that actually fits when you think about it.

Doctor Trapp’s story is pretty intriguing.  Here’s a fella who has had a real rough time of it.  He was born deformed… and when he finally finds someone who can get past it, he loses her.  It’s enough to drive anybody nuts… not saying it justified or excused his actions… just saying that it’s a really good origin for a villain.  If I’m not mistaken, this issue is his sole appearance.  I’m kinda surprised he never surfaced during the reemergence of the JSA near the turn of the century.  I think he would have made a great addition to their pantheon of baddies.

The sisterly dynamic between Cameron and Terry was neat.  You get the feeling that Cam really takes it upon herself to overburden herself with responsibility.  You also get the feeling that this is not a new character trait… probably something she’s dealt with for most of her life.  Something that has affected the way that she deals with others… including those in her own family.  Assuming that she is the judge of what information her sister would be able to handle, not only says a bunch about her… but also how she views Terry.  Terry appears quite immature… however, it can be questioned whether or not she truly is… or if she’s living down to her big sis’ expectations.  Really good stuff here. 

I’m not sure why Dan Curtis Johnson doesn’t have more creator credits to his name… this series is fantastic. This is procedural before procedural became cool.  This is before there were books like Gotham Central and Marvel’s Alias (later The Pulse).  Definitely ahead of its time… and overall, a great time.  The art is wonderfully moody when it needs to be… and as I said earlier, very evocative of the work on Starman.  Excellent stuff here.

Luckily, and surprisingly… this entire ten-issue series is available digitally and in trade paperback.  That is issues one through nine, with a #1,000,000 for good measure.  Definitely worth your time if you’re looking for something a little bit different… but still adds to the tapestry of the post-Crisis DC Universe.

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