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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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Harley Quinn and Power Girl #1 (2015)


Harley Quinn and Power Girl #1 (August, 2015)
"Extrastellar Exxploitations"
Writers - Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Artist - Stephane Roux
Colors - Paul Mounts
Letters - John J. Hill
Assistant Editor - Dave Welgosz
Editor - Chris Conroy
Group Editor - Mark Doyle
Cover Price: $3.99

You might be able to tell by the book we're covering today that I was unsuccessful in tracking down those two subsequent issues of Power Girl.  I guess we used up all of our Vartox Week miracles!

I do have a calls into a couple of local comics "warehouses"... and I'm hoping to hear back this weekend.  So, fingers-crossed, we could just be back in the thick of it before long!

For today though, we're jumping through the Flashpoint... through the New-52!... and into that weird and short-lived DCYOU era for our next appearance of Vartox.

For completion's sake though, the main man did make a single panel cameo in Action Comics (vol.2) #15 (2013)... which I'll include here.

From: Action Comics (vol.2) #15 (February, 2013)
Grant Morrison (w) / Brad Walker or Rags Morales (a)
And no, we're also not counting his appearances in those lame-o Channel-52 bits... okay, okay... maybe I'll include a few choice "news reports" down below... I mean, where else are you going to see Vartox in a hot dog costume?  Seriously... 

--


We open with Harley and Power Girl being spit out of a portal... which causes Harley to spit out everything she'd eaten the previous day... right on top of a cute little Mister Mind-lookin' critter.  They're in the Sombrero Hat Galaxy, by the way.  They soon run into a creepy little fella who refers to himself Sleezox, the uncrowned and exiled Sexyprince of Valeron.  Oh, it's worth noting, Power Girl is currently an amnesiac... so words like "Valeron" ain't ringing any bells.


After being insulted, Sleezox sics his pet hydra on the ladies... and before long, we go full-blown Bugs Bunny.  Power Girl gets swallowed... Harley hops on one of the heads and pounds on it... Pee Gee bursts out of one of the beast's throats... then, Harley just appears with an arsenal that would make 1991 Cable jealous.  Suddenly I'm feeling really old because... I don't "get" this.  Like, am I supposed to be laughing right now... or just cock my head to the side, smirk, and say "Oh, that Harley...".


After dispatching the dragon, the ladies come across... a giant mustachioed head.  It scans them... and recognizes Power Girl as Kara Zor-L.


I neglected to mention this yesterday, but I'm pretty sure this giant head is a nod to the Zardoz movie.  Take a look:


Here's Sean Connery actually climbing out of the thing.  I mean, it's gotta be a nod, right?  Also... I gotta actually see this movie... I'm guessing I'm missing a lot of references to it.


Anyhoo, the gals climb inside, and it's completely plushed out in 1970's style... as one might expect from Vartox.  Beanbag chairs, lava lamps... we're a disco ball and glowing dance platform away from a swell ol' time.  In fact, the head himself claims it was designed (and scented) based on acquisitions from Vartox's first visit to Earth in 1974.


The giant head then takes Harley and Kara to Vartox... or more accurately toward Vartox.  Ya see, he's currently being held captive by a fella called Oreth Odeox, who wants to rid the galaxy of hedonism.  Vartox promises, however, to get his groove back.


Hey, we already used that line...


Anyhoo... Harley and Pee Gee are shot down while passing the Valeron Moon of... Lustox.  Oh boy.  They run into an acne-addled alien who accuses them of being prostitutes... ya know, outfits that show off their ample curves... and also tight enough to facilitate... um, well, Karflippian toe?  Harley blasts him to cinder.


Which starts a big ol' thing.  They ladies are swarmed by dudes who look like A.I.M. rejects, but Power Girl takes them out with the quickness.  To avoid further scuffles, she then crushes Harley's adorable little death-pistol.


Then... Groovicus Mellow shows up!  Power Girl, being an amnesiac, doesn't remember him.  He recognizes her as the "original" Power Girl... as in, the same one from the pre-Flashpoint DCU... which scratches me where I itch, but... it's a Harley book, who could say how "in continuity" it is.


Then... they are attacked by a space armada.  To be continued... but, not on this blog until I procure the rest of this mini.


--

So... Harley Quinn is basically Deadpool now, right?  Ehh, I guess ya go with what works... though, I can't say that I'm a fan.

That's not to say it's bad... just not for me.  Makes me feel positively ancient to be rolling my eyes more than even slightly curling my lip.  The book we discussed yesterday... now that was funny... and I don't just mean "comicbook" funny... actually funny.  Like, caught off guard where I laughed through my nose kinda funny.  This... this was just wacky Deadpool antics.

We don't get a heckuva lot of Vartox here... and it's starting to feel like he's going to be a one-joke pony at this point.  He's just a polyester Pepe Le Pew.  Could work for a one-off, but I'm not sure I want more more of it than that.  Though, maybe (and hopefully) I'll be proven wrong when I procure the rest of this run.

The art here comes from Stephane Roux... who, I'm guessing was trying to evoke a more "cartoony" style to fit this story... but, I gotta say, I had to check the credits twice.  This looks nothing like his spectacularly gorgeous work from the pre-Flashpoint Zatanna series.

Overall, if modern Harley Quinn is your bag, you're probably going to love this.  If it's not... hell, you still might have a good time here.  All I can say is, it's not my thing... and, in my opinion, it's a step backwards from the pre-Flashpoint Power Girl series when it comes to comedy and characterization.

Now, you might think this is the end of Vartox Week... buuuut, it's not.  I've got a "for Vartox completionists only" pick set up for tomorrow... because, I'm sure by now, we'd all refer to ourselves as "Vartox completionists", right?

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Assortment of rather pot-bellied Vartox features in Channel-52!:


... and, of course, Vartox in a hot dog costume!


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Friday, August 17, 2018

Power Girl (vol.2) #7 (2010)


Power Girl (vol.2) #7 (February, 2010)
"Lust in Space"
Writers - Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist - Amanda Conner
Colorist - Paul Mounts
Letterer - John J. Hill
Associate Editor - Rachel Gluckstern
Editors - Bryan Cunningham & Mike Carlin
Cover Price: $2.99

Woof... what a time I had tracking this one down.

Visited all of the shops within a 50 mile radius (and called shops upwards of two-hours away... and nobody had it!  Heck, most of them didn't even realize there was a Power Girl series pre-Flashpoint!  I tell ya, you get some odd looks as a stocky bearded man when you ask if they have "any more Power Girl".  The things I do for this blog...

Anyhoo, I managed to come across this one in a disorganized last ditch 50-cent bin dive... I guess luck was on our side!  Or maybe, just maybe, it was a Vartox Week Miracle!  This copy does have a bit of a scuffed up cover, which is probably why it's been left to rot in a 50-cent bin, but that's okay.  Not like I'm planning on flipping any of the Tomes of Vartox... to do so would make me rather a heathen.

I was unable to find the two follow up issues to this one though.  No shops in the Central Arizona area has 'em... so, unless I just happen across 'em at a Used Books Store or a Record Store, we're going to bounce around Vartoxville a bit from here on out.

--


We open on... Valeron!  Vartox the Hyper-Man (the Hyper-Man?) is battling Kashkavon Yeti Pirates.  One of whom refers to him as a "Tynolan".  Being the Vartox-savvy readers we are now... that just doesn't make sense.  Vartox only found his home on Tynola after the destruction of Valeron.  Feels like we're getting a bit fast and loose with the main man's origin.  Anyhoo, he's victorious... only, as a parting shot the Yeti's detonate a Contraceptive Bomb in the Heart of Valeron's capital... Crystal City.  Now, the Valerians will not be able to reproduce!


So, it will be left to Vartox... the Manliest Man who ever Manned (and the lone non-sterile Valerian) to keep Valeron pumping out babies.  For which, he'll need a suitable mate.


Valeron Chancellor... Groovicus Mellow... offers Vartox a few pennies for his thoughts, and it's clear from the get-go, he's chosen Power Girl for to makin' da babies.  He compares her "physical endowments" to be on par with his own.  Which... I mean, I don't have any measuring tape... so, we'll just take his word for it.


Speaking of Power Girl... on Earth, she and Dr. Mid-Nite are tracking down the villainous Blue Snowman.  Blue Snowman's caption refers to their being an old Wonder Woman villain... and, they ain't lying!  First Appearance: Sensation Comics #59 (November, 1946).  Only appeared a handful of times... and, far as I can tell, this issue was the first time since the late 1940's that they'd appear.


Pee-Gee and Mid-Nite make short work of the baddie... and take a moment to admire their pipe (because, snowmen need pipes, ya see).  They deduce that there is likely millions of dollars worth of tech in the thing... and what the Snowman was trying to steal wasn't worth half'a that.


This chat is interrupted by the arrival of... Oh. My. God.  Vartox has a spacecraft shaped like his head.  He makes his intentions clear... he's here for Kara Zor-L.


Also, we get a caption telling us that Vartox's real name is Vernon O'Valeron... which, ya know... it ain't.  That was a phony civilian ID that he and Superman came up with back in the long ago, so Var could pose as a Galaxy Building Security Guard.  Vartox is Vartox.


Neither Kara nor Pieter are all that impressed.  And so, get this... Vartox fires off his "musk" in their direction.  It apparently smells like "burnt armpit hair and elephant urine"... and it's enough to kayo poor ol' Mid-Nite.  Vartox shrugs it off... ya see, his seduction musk ain't for dudes.  Kara isn't affected... which doesn't seem to trouble Var as much as you'd think.


Then... Blue Snowman wakes up, removes her helmet... and charges at Vartox, intoxicated by the musk!


Unable to win Kara over with his words, Vartox decides to impress her with his fighting prowess.  He summons forth an IX Negaspike via a transport leash... which kinda looks like Zack Morris's cellphone.


Blue Snowman hops into battle to protect her beloved Vartox... and is... uh, eaten.  Like, right away.


Vartox is then smashed by the Negaspike, sending him through a bunch of walls, Looney Tunes style.  He hits so hard that the transport leash breaks!


Power Girl attempts to take care of business... however, the beast is far too strong.  Vartox shakes it off and leaps back into the fray... but is equally ineffective.  Kara decides to buy them a moment of time by Fastball-Specialing the Negaspike into a nearby mountain range.


As they pursue the beast, Vartox reveals that this is a futile venture... the Negaspike is un-defeatable.  Ya see, he was just going to fight it a little while before using his transport leash to send it back home... making it look like he'd bested it in battle.  Now that the transport leash is busted... looks like they're kinda outta luck.


Power Girl ain't pleased... heck, she ain't even flattered.  At this point, however, she does tell Vartox to quit referring to himself in the third person.  Oh by the way, Vartox has been referring to himself in the third person for this entire issue up to this point.


We wrap up with Power Girl using her super-breath to freeze the Nagaspike... then she shatters it with a punch.  Vartox is all... "you might not have wanted to do that..." because, ya see... all of the Negaspike bits... have already grown into full-blown beasts of their own!


--

Okay... this might just be my favorite thing right now.  I had so much fun reading this that I don't know where to start.

I suppose I could get my continuity-crankiness out of the way first, right?  I mean... if I didn't address this stuff, what kind of continuity-crank would I be?  Probably a happier one...

This is kind of a mishmash of everything we knew about Vartox... the Valeron/Tynola bit... and also, his "civilian identity"... when it was established that Vartox never had one on Valeron, he was simply Vartox.  I suppose as a "funny, ha-ha", Vernon O'Valeron works as good as any... it's just a funny name.

Now, this is what I always assumed Vartox to be... a sorta gigolo, an egotist... I mean, he just looks the part.  So, when we went all the way back through his roots over the past several weeks of Vartox Week (hrmm), I was rather taken aback by just how wrong my first impression was.

I will say, initially... I was a bit turned off by the depiction in this very issue for reducing the character to... I dunno, acting like he dressed?  I'm not sure I'm explaining that all that well... hopefully you get my jist.  He's always looked like a goofball gigolo... and now he's acting the part.  Ya dig?

That having been said... maybe it's a case of my own confirmation bias (is that the right term?) trumping my normally slavish adherence to continuity, but... man, I loved this.  Everything from Vartox's head-shaped ship... to him firing his phermones... to his trying to impress Kara by fighting an unwinnable fight.  This Vartox certainly "brought" the charm... in spades!

And of course... that art.  Damn.  I can't for the life of me figure out why we haven't covered more Amanda Conner books here on the blog... I think this might only be the second one!  We're going to have to do something about that... this is pure candy.  Amazing work... really couldn't imagine this issue having the same charm under anyone else's pencils.

Overall... this gets a tremendously high recommendation... continuity coughs and all.  If you're trying to track it down, I hope your hunt is a lot easier than mine!  This issue has been collected in the Power Girl: Power Trip trade paperback, and is available digitally.  Run, don't walk!

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"Lenticular" Cover:



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