Monday, December 31, 2018

Outsiders (vol.2) #1α (1993)

Outsiders (vol.2) #1α (November, 1993)
"Blood & Ashes"
Writer - Mike W. Barr
Pencils - Paul Pelletier
Inks - Robert Campanella
Letters - Ken Bruzenak
Colors - Stuart Chaifetz
Editor - Bill Kaplan
Cover Price: $1.75

Happy New Year's Eve, friends!

We're going to be doing things a little oppositty here at the blog... we're going to close out 2018 with an "Alpha" issue, and ringing in 2019 with an "Omega" issue!  That's right, back in ye old 1993, DC decided to release two different versions of Outsiders (vol.2) #1!  Oddly enough, this happened two years before the Marvel event I usually blame for the Alpha/Omega issues, Age of Apocalypse!  Good on ya, DC, rolling out the irritating stunts first!

Now, it is New Years... so, we do have a decision to make.  Are we going to be more annoyed tomorrow by people quoting Neil Whatshisface Tyson about how "New Years Day is meaningless" or are we going to be more annoyed by the people who express outrage at those quoters?

Makes me wonder, before we had social media... how could we so effortlessly and carelessly attempt to ruin other peoples' good time?  That's what we in the biz call "Progress", my friends!

Anyhoo, let's knock this one out... I've got about 18 hours of Twilight Zone episodes I've seen skatey-eight hundred times before waiting for me.


We open in Markovia, where a vampire has decided that his next feast will be on the Outsiders.  He wanders passed a cave, where he gets the attention of a rather large bear... who decides its next feast will be on the vampire.  A man (who we'll meet in a bit) watches the whole thing go down, and seems more than pleased to see the vampire get his.

The following morning, we head to a different part of the country, where a pair of fellas named Barron and Wylde are visiting in order to try and sell the Markovian Royal Family some security.  They are greeted by Brion (Geo-Force) Markov... who hands over a gift as a sign of a warm welcome.  There's a bit of a hiccup here, as Barron's assistant, Wylde slaps the package away... just as it explodes!  Wylde says that it looked different from the other packages he wrapped... which would imply that they brought it with them, though here, it's clearly Brion giving it to them.

Inside the palace, the security salesmen meet Queen Ilona... wife to Brion's late-brother, Gregor Markov.  She is wheelchair-bound, and recently gave birth to Brion's nephew, Gregor, Jr.  The salesmen show their stuff... and it's a pretty unimpressive-looking suit.  Upon seeing the suit, Brion shoots them down.  Ilona isn't pleased with being upstaged in front of the salesmen, and reams him out in the next room.  She says he "contradicted her", which I didn't see happen... maybe that's a scene from the Ω issue?

Anyhoo, Queen Ilona decides it might be best for Brion to have some "time away", and he doesn't seem all that bothered by that.  After he leaves, we see that this dialogue has been witnessed by a vampire named Roderick.  It's revealed that they (Roddy and Ilona) were behind the bomb in the package... which, again, makes me wonder how Wylde noticed it?  Anyhoo, they realize they want Brion out of the picture, and figure they'll have an "accident" befall him during his time away.

We jump over to Brion as he unpacks at his Summer cottage (complete with armed-guard at the door).  The place is attacked by a swarm of vampires!  Brion is able to hold his own, and even winds up staking a few!  Before the last one "dies", it tells its would-be target that vampires have infiltrated the country... and it's already too late.  Brion suits up.

Back at a hotel, Charlie Barron is trying on the "Technocrat" suit, when he receives a call from his wife.  The phone cuts out, and so he and Wylde decide to have a look around to see what's up.  Once outside, they find themselves pursued by bear!  Wylde unloads his pistol into its gut... which doesn't do much to slow it down.  The bear rips away at his belly, at which time Wylde jabs a knife into its throat... killing it.  But, ya know... he's probably going to die from his injuries anyway...

... or is he?  Enter: that dude from the beginning of the issue.  We learn that this man goes by the name Faust... as in Sebastian Faust, son of Felix.  This is his first appearance, so... bags and boards at the ready!  Anyhoo, Faust says it isn't too late to save Wylde, and gets to work with the hoo-doo.

The result is a disturbing amalgamation of Wylde and the killer bear.  Before our man-beast can get a good look at himself, the trio are descended upon by... vampires!  Technocrat is able to take them out with some electrified darts.

Back at the Castle, Roderick prepares Ilona for her upcoming appearance on Markovian television... where she will announce that Brion Markov is a traitor to their people.

Speaking of Brion, once he enters the area, he finds himself attacked by vampires Wylde!  It's a short-lived skirmish, and they are able to straighten things out pretty quickly... like in a matter of a panel or two.

The now-foursome heads toward Castle Markovia, and digs themselves in under the walls.  Once inside they meet... the rest of the Outsiders!  That's Halo, Katana, and Looker.  If we wanna know how they got here, we're going to have to check out Outsiders (vol.2) #1 Ω... which we will, tomorrow.  Anyhoo, they're reunion is interrupted by the pontification of Roderick!

He sends some vampires out... which means we get a couple of pages of Outsider on Vampire action... including holy water!  While this goes down, Brion gives chase to Roddy... who leads him right into Castle Markovia's in-house TV/Media center!

Now here's where it gets clever.  Roderick wraps his hands around Ilona's throat... Brion rushes over to pull him off of her... just as he does, however, Roderick snaps Ilona's neck!  Now, what's so clever about that?  Well... Roderick's a vampire, and so he isn't picked up by cameras... which means, all of Markovia just saw Geo-Force snap the neck of their beloved Queen!

Roderick takes advantage of the shocked Brion, and smacks him around a bit before taking his leave.  When Geo-Force comes to, he heads into the hallway, where he is greeted by the rest of the Outsiders... who inform him that Looker has been killed!  The following day, news of the apparent assassination has spread globally!


Ya know, I talked about a choice we have to make up in the preamble... and now, I'm met with another.  What's more boring?  A whole lotta vampires... or a whole lotta zombies?  Luckily, that one can (and will) end in a tie.

Gotta say, up to the very end of this issue, I just wasn't feeling it.  It was written in a rather confusing way... which, I mean, we could "write off" as being fleshed out in the Ω issue.  That is, if some of these boggling bits actually are!  I get that this is a gimmick, and I understand why they did this... I mean, during the early-to-mid 90's, DC figured out a way to release two #1 issues in a month (week, even!).  It's a great way to juice sales, but that doesn't make it a satisfying read.

We can look at the torrent of Team Titans #1's... each with a variant origin story.  Scuzzy move?  Sure... but, you didn't need to buy all five to keep up with the ongoing narrative... the origin bits were just added flavor to flesh out characters who (I'm guessing) DC assumed would be around for a long time.  With this stunt, we're losing out on half the story... and, I mean... there are footnotes saying "Confused?  Well, you wouldn't be if you read the other half of this story!"  That's kinda lame, innit?

Okay, enough of the gimmick... what about the issue itself?  Markovian intrigue never really rocked my socks, but the way this one wrapped up was incredibly clever!  It really took me aback for a moment there... the entire world thinks Geo-Force snapped the Queen's neck!  Really well-done, and really compelling.

The new characters we meet here are... fine.  Faust, Technocrat, and Wylde... decent enough, I guess.  The latter two won't really get much play outside of this title... which might be for the best.  I will say that it is refreshing to see new (non-derivative) characters introduced any-which-way-we-can though!  We don't get enough of that anymore.

I'd be remiss not to mention that (despite the Image-looking cover) this issue is drawn by my main man, Paul Pelletier!  Just love his work... though, his Halo kinda looks like she should be starring in Power Pack at this point.  Everything else though, is tops!

Overall... this is a bargain-bin book at this point, and one that shouldn't be too terribly hard to track down.  I always look at this volume as the "forgotten" one.  It doesn't get all that much play.  I'd say this is worth checking out for the art, and the twist ending!  This issue (α and Ω together in one file) is available digitally.  I'm almost tempted to grab it myself to see how it's paginated!

I'll close out today by being just the latest person to wish you a Happy and Safe New Year.  There'll be a lotta jerks on the roads tonight... don't add to their number!


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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Justice League of America #107 (1973)

Justice League of America #107 (September-October, 1973)
"Crisis on Earth-X!"
Writer - Len Wein
Pencils - Dick Dillin
Inks - Dick Giordano
Editor - Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.20

Been in a bit of a Crisis-y mood the past couple of days... so, let's go even further back in the annuls of the Justice League/Justice Society team-ups... and meet us some Quality characters while we're at it!


We open with members of the Justice Society getting ready to load into the Transmatter Machine in order to perform a little interdimensional travel... nothing bad could come of this, right?  I mean, the Transmatter Machine almost never goes wonky... right?  Ahem.  At that moment, in the JLA Satellite hovering over Earth-1, they too are preparing to load into their Transmatter Machine.  Not sure why both teams need to get in, if they're planning to have their get-together on Earth-2... but, whattayagonnado?

Red Tornado, originally from Earth-2, expresses interest in returning there alongside the Justice League.  Green Lantern puts the kibosh on that, because the Transmatter Machine has only been tested thus far using inanimate object and live subjects.  I guess a robot is somewhere in between?  Okey doke.  Anyhoo, Batman, Elongated Man, and Green Arrow file into the Machine... and Ollie mentions that he feels a bit of a draft in the box.

Then, simultaneously on both Earths... the Flashes of their respective teams press a button, sending their teammates... somewhere.  Again, not sure why the Earth-2 heroes (which included the Golden-Age Superman, Sandman, and Dr. Fate) needed to get in the box to begin with... but, not much we can do about that now!  Was this just supposed to be a trade?  Maybe it was just a test.

Anyhoo, the dimensionally-lost heroes wind up arriving on an Earth none of them recognize.  We learn straight away that this was likely Red Tornado's fault.  Ya see, he stowed away in the JLA's Transmatter Machine (which explains the breeze Ollie felt).  This threw everything outta whack and sent the heroes to... a world where Nazi tanks roam American streets?!

Superman is almost giddy at the prospect of wackin' some Ratzis... and hops right into the fray!  Everything looks to be going swell, until one of Dr. Fate's "enchantments" is deflected by the baddies, and winds up walloping Superman!

Then, one of the Nazi tanks emits a high frequency sound, which boggles the heroes' minds and bodies enough to temporarily take 'em out.

Before the Nazis can swarm, they are cut off by... Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters!  They make short-work of the tanks (and men in 'em) which makes me wonder why they just haven't taken down the Reich themselves?  They certainly seem up for the job!  Once the dust settles, they carry the heroes of Earths 1 and 2 back to their secret hideout, located behind a propaganda poster of The Fuhrer.

Here, it's explained that on this Earth, the Axis Powers won World War II.  Evidently, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt succumbed to a fatal heart attack in 1944... and the government kinda fell into disarray... delaying several "projects".  For example, by the time American nukes were completed... Germany also had 'em, leaving the world in a stalemate... and so, the war rolled on for decades!  Then, at some point in the late 1960's... it all ended.  Ya see, Hitler's "brain boys" concocted a mind-control ray to make everyone fall in line.  Everyone, except the Freedom Fighters, that is.  They have an "immunity" to the ray... which I gotta assume came in the form of a funky flu shot.

He then introduces us to the members of his team... which is a good thing, since this is their first DC Comics appearance (and perhaps their first appearance anywhere in over a decade)!  The team consists of the Human Bomb, Doll Man, The Ray, Phantom Lady, Black Condor, and of course, Uncle Sam.

Ollie interrupts the introduction and asks why the Freedom Fighters just haven't destroyed all the mind-control devices.  Sam explains that they're hidden via a "mental block", meaning... they could be just about anywhere, and nobody would be any the wiser.  I guess that immunity-inoculation only goes so far then?  Dr. Fate digs a crystal ball outta... well, outta a pile of refuse from the looks of it, and figures he might be able to hoo-doo up the location.

Black Condor isn't sure they should trust these gaudily-dressed interlopers, but Uncle Sam puts him in his place with the quickness.  Now, this is a team-up issue... so, you might know where this is headed.  Dr. Fate deduces that the mind-control devices are in three different locations (Eiffel Tower, Mt. Rushmore, and Mount Fujiyama)... which means, it's time to split up!  The heroes (sans Red Tornado) blink outta sight.

We pick up with the team of Batman (Earth-1), Dr. Fate (Earth-2) and The Ray and Human Bomb (Earth-X) as they're stood before the Eiffel Tower.  The Ray decides to take point, and head up to the top of the Tower... where he is greeted by, you guessed it, Nazis!  After kayoing a lot of 'em, one manages to trigger an alarm... which causes a whole lot more to come pouring out from a nearby door.  I've never been to Paris, but I didn't realize there was so much room atop the Eiffel Tower!

By now, Batman has... get this... climbed the entire height of the Eiffel Tower.  The Nazis, who have kayoed the Ray, unload their rifles in Batman's direction.  Lucky for him, they're pretty bad at this, and only wind up shooting through his cape.  Batman seems, perhaps a bit too relaxed during this situation.  With the Nazis distracted, Dr. Fate and Human Bomb arrive to take care of business.

When the final Ratzi is knocked out, the heroes turn their attention to those doors the baddies came pouring out of.  They're insanely thick, and would take forever to bust through... that is, if you're anyone but the Human Bomb!  Bomb punches right through the wall with an explosive right.

Inside, they find themselves stood before the mind-control device... and it's massive!  Surely, there's some sort of physical sleight of hand at play.

The machine whirs to life, and after scanning the fellows stood before it, creates humanoid life-forms to take 'em out.  If you look quickly, you'd swear this machine just created the Metal Men!

We get a few pages of the heroes fighting the synthezoid baddies... it's a stalemate until they realize (by accident) that each bot is tailored to its target... and so, the heroes just shift from battling one bot to another, and it's academic from there.

With the synthezoids taken out, the machine... does what it should've done in the first place... it attempts to control the heroes' minds!  And it works!

Well... sorta.  The heroes walk in lock-step toward the machine... and, all at once, karate-chop the thing to pieces!  The hell did we just witness?

Well, Batman explains that while they were mind-controlled, they still completed their mission via "reflex action".  Ya kidding me with this?  Oh well... it's a moot point anyway, because we learn that the heroes' Mind-Control Machine was in another castle.

We wrap up back on Earth-1.  Jay Garrick is communicating to Hal Jordan, who by now realizes that the missing heroes aren't on either Earth.  He fears they might be dead... which is a really lame cliffhanger, since we already know they're not!


I'm usually kind of a sucker for the "break into groups and seek out the MacGuffin" type of story... but, this... ehh, maybe it's just my own fatigue, but this just didn't do it for me.  Just didn't feel any urgency... maybe it's the inactivity of the Freedom Fighters... maybe it's the ease with which Dr. Fate was able to triangulate the locations.  I dunno.

I am still a sucker for introducing new/existing characters into the mainstream.  Part of me wishes DC did something similar to this upon acquiring the WildStorm characters.  I think that would've been a lot cooler than what wound up happening... and might've opened up some fun possibilities.

Now, Earth-X... always a weird one.  Many folks know that this was originally going to be called "Earth-Swastika" (DC actually already established an "Earth-X" in the pages of a Jimmy Olsen comic (above) a few years prior), which... I mean, would be considered "edgy" today, but I wonder how that would have been received back in the early 1970's?  I mean, we'd only be a few decades removed from World War II at that point.  I suppose we'll never know!  And, ya know... that might not be a bad thing.

The Freedom Fighters characters, not the most exciting group'a folks... but, still neat to see them.  It's funny seeing the Golden-Age Superman take part in this adventure... he's a bit more "froggy" than his Silver-Age counterpart... and really seemed to be stompin' for a fight with the Nazis!

Overall... decent-enough story, but the prospect of watching another couple of teams face off with Mind-Control machines over the next issue or two, just doesn't do it for me.  Also, what a lame cliffhanger... oh no, Hal thinks the heroes (who we spent the entire issue with) are dead!  Yawn.  This issue is available digitally, and has been collected as part of Crisis on Multiple Earths, Volume 3.


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Saturday, December 29, 2018

Justice League of America #220 (1983)

Justice League of America #220 (November, 1983)
"The Doppelganger Gambit"
Writer - Roy Thomas
Pencils - Chuck Patton
Inks - Romeo Tanghal & Pablo Marcos
Colors - Gene D'Angelo
Letters - David Cody Weiss
Special Thanks - Marv Wolfman
Editor - Len Wein
Cover Price: $0.60

Okay, we set the table yesterday... and now, it's time to reveal the secret of the Black Canary doppelganger!  So... who's ready to have their mind boggled?!


We open on Earth-1, where the members of the Justice Society (and Red Tornado) are scattering to the winds in order to take care of those super-baddie team-ups we learned about last issue.  On their way out, they run into Sargon the Sorcerer.  After fighting with him for a bit, they decide to work together.  Also, Sargon has brought a guest... the unconscious (and un-Spectre-y) Earth-1 Jim Corrigan!  There's a footnote to an upcoming JSA miniseries to explain this... not sure what that mini might've been.

After a brief refresher on the happenings of the last issue, we pop back over to the Thunderbolt Dimension, where Black Canary and Starman are still bewildered by the appearance of Dinah's doppelganger.  We learn that this evil Johnny Thunder is from Earth-1... and the "real" version is still lingering.

Dinah asks how T-Bolt can follow the commands of someone as twisted as (the Earth-1) Johnny Thunder.  Naturally, T-Bolt really doesn't have much choice in the matter.  Earth-1 Johnny lets him share his tale of woe... because hearing it tickles him greatly.  It's also necessary exposition to move the story forward, so there's that too.  Anyhoo, he begins by talking about his former master, the Earth-2 Johnny Thunder... who, back in the long ago, began working alongside Black Canary.  Oh, also... Cei-U is pronounced "Say You"... so, gotta watch out around Lionel Richie!

Johnny began having feelings for Dinah, as one might imagine.  Shortly into their partnership, Johnny began having trouble summoning T-Bolt.  This was due to a Badhnesian Hex, however, Johnny T. assumed T-Bolt was ignoring him three out of four times.  He tells T-Bolt to beat it, and decides to quit the Justice Society.  Black Canary winds up taking the open spot on the roster.

Some time passes, and Dinah meets a man named Larry Lance... and they hit it off.  It isn't long before they're an item, which really burns ol' Mr. Thunder.  Dinah even gives him the "love you like a brother" spiel, which... I mean, c'mon... hasn't he suffered enough?

More time passes... After refusing to unmask, the Justice Society dissolves.  Dinah and Larry wed (Johnny is invited to the ceremony, but cannot bring himself to enter the church)... and shortly after that, the Lances welcome their daughter... also named Dinah (see where this might be headed?).

When little Dinah is probably around a year old, the Lances are visited by... the evil Wizard!  Before big Dinah can unleash some maternal kung-fu on him... he puts a spell on the baby!  Every time she opens her mouth... she lets loose a senses-shattering cry!  Surely, you know where this is headed now.  At this point, Mama-Dinah decides to enlist the aid of Johnny Thunder and his pink genie.

T-Bolt reveals that, while the baby is bellowing like there's no tomorrow... she isn't in any pain.  He offers to take her to the Thunderbolt Dimension, where she will be placed in a stasis of sorts.  The Lances, fearing they have no other choice, agree.  T-Bolt takes an extra step, and places a suggestion in the heads of the Lances (and Johnny) so that they think the baby has died.  He figures this would be easier for everyone.

Back in the present, Johnny-1 has T-Bolt check in on Flash and Hourman as they take on Chronos and the Fiddler in Mexico.  They arrive to find all of the civilians (and their pets) frozen in time.  After going on the attack, the Fiddler gets down, forcing the heroes to dance madly.

Johnny-1 grows bored of this, and has T-Bolt shift his focus to Egypt, where Huntress and Red Tornado are fighting Icicle and Dr. Alchemy.  In a scene just as boring as the one in Mexico, the villains are triumphant.

Next stop Stonehenge, where Power Girl and Sargon the Sorcerer are taking on Felix Faust and the Wizard.  The baddies make it so the heroes see each other as villains, and let them fight it out.  These "present" scenes might be necessary, but they sure do feel outta place with all of the retconny exposition getting dumped in our lap!

Back in the Thunderbolt Dimension, Johnny-1 decides Black Canary and Starman have heard enough... and commands T-Bolt to kill them.  He struggles with the decision, but ultimately... he is a genie who answers to any Johnny Thunder, so he doesn't have much choice in the matter.  Thankfully, "light creatures" manage to remove Johnny-2's gag... and so, he's able to override the command of his Earth-1 counterpart!  Well, that sorta came outta nowhere, dinnit?

Johnny-2 socks Johnny-1, and sends T-Bolt back to Earth-1 to help the Justice Society deal with the villains.

He does so by... waking up all of the kayoed and comatose Justice Leaguers!  Together, the two teams make short work of the "Crime Champions".

And so, all that's left is... explaining who and what the Dinah Doppelganger is!

Dinah suggests that the doppelganger might be her daughter.  Just then, Superman and the Spectre show up to shed some light on the subject.  Superman explains that, during the battle with Aquarius (which we touched on last issue), Larry Lance did in fact die.  But also, Black Canary was bombarded with enough radiation to kill her as well... only, not immediately.  She asks Superman to take her to the grave of her daughter before she dies... only, T-Bolt brings them into the Thunderbolt Dimension where she can see that her daughter is still among the living... though, in suspended animation.  Mama-Dinah suggests that Young-Dinah take her place.

And so, Superman asks T-Bolt to take care of bidness.  They exchange mind and memory... leaving nu-Dinah with the same feelings of loss over "her" husband, Larry Lance, though removing any memory of ever having a child.

It doesn't take all that long for Dinah to come to grips with all of this reality crashing down on her... and we wrap up with her asking Superman for a single favor... to let her explain the craziness to Ollie!


So... you get all that?  Pretty simple when you come right down to it, right?  Right?  Is this thing on?

I received a few comments on social media when I shared the first part of this story yesterday... the consensus was that this was a "retcon done right".  I can't help but agree with that sentiment... this was very well done.  It's just too bad it was only in continuity for a couple of years!

Post-Crisis would keep it so Dinah was a second-generation hero... only remove all of the mind-wipiness and Thunderbolt Dimensionness of it.  Similar to what they did with Wonder Woman, her mother served with the Justice Society... while the younger (more relatable?) Dinah was active in the present.

Now, let's try and break this down.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again now... what I wouldn't give just to watch Roy Thomas at work!  Just to watch him crack into his reference materials to pinpoint exactly how and when a revision would fit... and actually make sense (in a comicbooky way)!

We jump back to Golden Age adventures of Black Canary and Johnny Thunder (with footnotes), to her replacing Johnny on the Justice Society (with footnotes), to her relationship and marriage to Larry Lance... to Larry's death and Dinah's move from Earth-2 to Earth-1 (again, with footnotes).  That's what we knew going in.  Well, that plus the fact that when Dinah "landed" in Earth-1, she was able to perform her Canary Cry.

The addition of the baby makes sense when you take into account T-Bolt's power of suggestion/memory-suppression.  The hex from the Wizard even explains why nu-Dinah has a Canary Cry!  The memory-merge explains why nu-Dinah believes she had a husband... who she had lost in the battle with Aquarius.  If we squint... hell, even if we don't... we can make this "work" in our heads.

I mean, these days I doubt a month goes by where Marvel or DC isn't putting out solicits that promise us that "everything we thought we knew... was wrong!"... and usually, the result is underwhelming, unsatisfying, and really... doesn't make a quarter of the sense that this (arguably, overly complicated in and of itself) story does.  There was far more care put into this story than "Ooga booga, they were a Skrull all along!".  Roy Thomas and Company didn't only give the readers a story that took actual effort to tell... they gave the readers enough respect to put that effort in.  You can tell that this mattered to the people putting it together.  This was also from a time before there was an Internet to "tear in half"... so, there's a measure of sincerity to take into account as well.

Overall... a fun little info dump, with nods to DC history.  The action portions were a bit dull... but ultimately (and unfortunately) necessary.  I'd say this arc is well worth checking out... if only to see how much care Roy Thomas and company put into introducing new concepts without telling long-time readers that the stories they're familiar with no longer matter.  This issue is available digitally.  This arc will be added to our "Collected Editions" Page.


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