Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Action Comics Weekly #636 (1989)


Action Comics Weekly #636 (January 24, 1989)
Speedy: "Exiles"
Demon: "And Etrigan Waits"
Phantom Stranger: "All That Jazz"
Superman: "The Face and the Voice!"
Phantom Lady: "Daddy's Girl"
Wild Dog: "Crack Up, Chapter One: Wrong Turn"
Writers - Mark Verheiden, Alan Grant, Paul Kupperberg, Roger Stern, Len Strazewski, & Max Collins
Pencils - Lewis Williams, Mark Pacella, Andy Kubert, Curt Swan, Chuck Austen, & Terry Beatty
Inks - Frank McLaughlin, Bill Wray, Murphy Anderson, Gary Martin, & John Nyberg
Letters - Tim Harkins, John Costanza, & Bill Oakley
Colors - Julianna Ferriter, Tatjana Wood, Adam Kubert, Tom Ziuko, Glenn Whitmore, & Carl Gafford
Editors - Robert Greenberger, Dan Raspler, Renee Witterstaetter, Mike Carlin, Mark Waid, & Brian Augustyn
Cover Price: $1.50

Welcome to the new era!  A whole lotta new-ness in the ACW air... new and returning friends filling the pages as we meander ever closer to the end.  Next week, we're going to add another new property, and it's one I'm really excited to talk about again... Hero Hotline!  It's been... yeesh, nearing on four years since the last time we discussed them on this blog!

So... how bout dis cover, eh?  Pretty lousy, no?  Makes me feel like the "Cover Late!" Post-It Note might be legit!  It comes to us from Dick Giordano... which lends further credence to it being a last second fill-in.  I wish I could tell ya that the covers will only get better from here... but, we're about to enter a stretch of pretty unpleasant ones!

Let's take a look at the results for, probably the weirdest poll we're going to ever conduct here:


That was a bit closer than I thought it would be!  I didn't have much hope for The Crash of '88!... though, as a novelty and for its Blackhawk-adjacent nature, I could see why folks might wanna vote for it.  Green Lantern gets to leave these pages with his head held high, winning the week.  Well deserved, I believe.  I was very happy with that story, and the subsequent post.  I enjoyed being able to share all that Malvolio-goodness!

Now, this week's "new look" poll:

Best Story in Action Comics Weekly #636?

Speedy
Demon
Phantom Stranger
Superman
Phantom Lady
Wild Dog

Shareable Poll Link: https://linkto.run/p/9MAMP7E5

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We open with Roy trying to get his daughter, Lian for fall asleep... and so, he tells her a bedtime story... which facilitates a quick and dirty retelling of his origin story... even the part where he was hooked on drugs, and impregnating terrorists!  I mean, that's... I can't even think of anything witty to say.  It, uh, does the job... the tot falls asleep, but will she still respect her father in the morning?  Eh, like she was even listening... looks like she's de-aged from toddler to infant since last we saw her.



We join Roy... either the next day, or maybe later the same day... pounding the pavement, in full costume.  Are we sure he's not on drugs right now?  I mean, dude looks goofy as hell walking the streets, in broad daylight... wearing the Speedy costume, as an adult!  Anyhoo, enough "costume shaming"... for now.  Our man is actually looking for work, and thinks he's found a lead on a gig as an Private Investigator for some nearby outfit.  Upon arrival for the interview, he finds himself in the middle of a bit of a to-do!



His would-be boss, Mr. Burley is tossed through his office door by a squat little bald fella.  This fella's packin' heat, and looks to be about to "finish the job" when Roy fires an arrow into his barrel... and, that's no euphemism.



Speedy then kayos the creep... however, is stopped by Mr. Burley.  Ya see, the bald fella is a dude named Geniello... and he's just being "emotional" right now.  Dude's (fifth) wife is cheating on him... and so, he's just letting off some steam.  Alrighty, then.  So, Roy inquires about the gig... and Burley ain't too keen on giving it to... well, a dude who just walked in dressed like Robin Hood's cousin.



Roy's all "screw this noise", and decides he'd be just as happy serving people at the nearby Del Taco.  Before he can leave, however, Burley stops him... asks why he doesn't just sign on with the police or the feds.  Roy tells him that ain't his scene... even though we just spent something like nine chapters trying to get him back into the good graces of the C.B.I.!  Burley begrudgingly decides to take a chance on our man.



 That evening, after feeding Lian while scanning through the file Burley gave him on Mr. Donald Lossner, Roy hits the streets once more.  After changing into his workin' clothes, he happens across a young woman who just had her purse snatched.  He chases the thief into an alley... annnd, is held up at gunpoint.



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So... there are a couple of ways we can view this.

As a story, it's not half bad.  Some questionable parenting decisions and fashion-choices aside, this was a decent enough opening chapter.  Anyone "uninitiated" to Roy and his world get a concise origin story for him... and, from there... we wander into a boilerplate "street level" story.

As a continuation of the last few times we dealt with Roy Harper in the pages of Action Comics Weekly?  It kinda fails.  It shows a lack of regard for the previous... what... fifteen chapters we spent with Roy (and Dick)?  I mean, their nine-part second arc was basically a Speedy solo as it was... and none of that is reflected here.

Here, he's complaining about only being able to afford ramen noodles and peanut butter... and pounding the pavement for work, when I'm pretty sure he'd be welcomed back into the C.B.I. post-the Sepulveda Affair.  Hell, I'm pretty sure one of the agents literally welcomed him back into the fold during that last chapter!

Also, Lian has gone from toddler... like maybe just shy of preschool age... to infant.  I know that happens in comics all the time... but, not usually two issues later in the same title, right?  Is this a prequel?  I dunno.  I mean, knowing what we know now about how little the comics industry cares about things like "continuity", it's easy to write it all off... but still, it's annoying.

I probably ought to mention Roy's mind-boggling bedtime story... Hush little baby don't you cry... daddy's coming back after he snorts this line?  Rock-a-bye Lian, tomorrow we'll play... your terrorist mama tried to blow up the U.K.?  Weird stuff.  I get that it facilitated the retelling of Roy's origin... but, wow...

Overall, not the worst way to kick off our "new-look" Action Comics Weekly... continuity frustrations aside, this still won't rock any socks... but, it's readable and enjoyable for what it is.

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We open with... well, a page of sorta difficult to read text.  It just lays down some foundational information about Etrigan... the story proper begins with Jason Blood getting a phone call from a frantic woman hoping he might be able to help out with her possessed son.  Blood tells he that he no longer practices Demonology... and we find out this isn't the first time he's had to explain this to her.  A woman named Glenda enters the room... far as I know, she's a regular cast member for the Demon.  Whatever the case, she insists upon Jason that he help this woman out... and so, after a bit of prompting, he does.



We get a bit of information as to why Jason Blood no longer deals with the demons... something about having lost somebody, and this fella named Randu being blinded.  There are no footnotes, so I haven't the foggiest if/when any of that occurred.  Anyhoo, he arrives at the possessed boys' home, and draws a Star of Saint Michael on the wall before beginning his ritual.  The boy begins vomiting... which is pretty much what we've all come to expect from an exorcism.



From that vomit, rises a gargoyle-looking critter... and this thing is ticked off.  At that very moment back at Blood's place, Randu begins freaking out... prompting Glenda to reach for the Philosopher's Stone.  I don't know what any of this means...



In the stone, an image forms... the image of, Morgaine Le Fey!  I--I don't know who that is, but the very sound of it nearly puts me to sleep.  Maybe I'm being unfair.  Anyhoo, at this very moment Jason Blood summons forth Etrigan the Demon... who's looking quite a bit "beefier" than I remember.



Etrigan incinerates (and eats) the Gargoyle... before setting his sights on the young boy.  We wrap up with Etrigan referring to himself as that boy's Uncle?!



--

Okay, this really wasn't bad at all!  Ya know, just like Superman... I've got a weakness to magic and the supernatural, so anytime a character like Etrigan pops up, I just immediately glaze over.  But... this one was alright!

I am quite ignorant of the Demon, his cast, and his trappings... so, all of the references went over my head.  Thankfully, being overly knowledgeable about the fella wasn't really a requirement.  Sure, had I known, it might have been a more satisfying read... but, I feel like not knowing didn't really hurt the way I received this.

I'm not sure what a Morgaine Le Fey is... but, doesn't Scarlet Witch have one'a her too over in Marvel?  Seems like the sort of character that leads to several months of very boring-to-me stories.  Guess we're about to find out!

Overall, I kinda dug this... and feel it was a strong opening chapter.  Art was strong and suited the tone... I guess I can say I'm cautiously optimistic about this feature!

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Our story opens down on a subway platform.  An old musician named Loblow Jones recognizes a fella by the name Ezra Griffith... and so, he rushes over to catch up.  Ezra ain't quite feeling this reunion (in fact, he claims not to recognize the man at all), and so he bugs off on the train to get away.  Poor Loblow is just left standing there all by his lonesome.



We join the Phantom Stranger, who is doing that thing where he's reading every book in the library to learn everything he can about the human condition... or something.  He's also doing a bit of "people watching" like ya do.  He sees Loblow Jones leaving with a book called "Music and Magic"... and grows curious.



We shift scenes to Ezra Griffith's place, where he has apparently been listening to the same record on repeat for the past little while.  His wife is a bit concerned, and tries to comfort him.  Ya see, this record is of music created by, you guessed it, Loblow Jones.  Griffith's father was an evil publisher record producer who was able to get Jones to sign away all his rights to Superman his music.  Ezra was rather taken aback in seeing Loblow doin' his thang for spare change in the subway earlier that day.



Their chat is interrupted by the sound of... saxophone music.  Outside, leaning against a street lamp is, you guessed it again, Loblow Jones... and he's belting out (does one "belt out" on sax?) one heckuva tune.



The Phantom Stranger's on hand to watch this all go down... and the scene grows even weirder as children begin emerging from all of the neighborhood houses.  It's almost as if Loblow is a low-key Pied Piper of sorts!  A man rushes from his home brandishing a rifle... but the Stranger stops him before he can pull the trigger. 



The Stranger then attempts to reason with Loblow... but it's a No-go.  Before long, our man is literally buried by the music!



But then, it's deus ex time!  The Stranger pulls himself to his feet... spouts a few words, and Loblow is snapped out of his trance.



We wrap up with Ezra checking in with Loblow... and we learn that, he was so hurt by being "ghosted" in the subway, that Loblow wanted some revenge... and since Ezra's daddy took away his "babies" in his music, the Jazzman was going to return the favor by... ya know, literally stealing children.  Thank goodness the Phantom Stranger arrived in time to... ya know, tell him to knock it off.


--

So... this story kind of encapsulates everything I find wrong with the Phantom Stranger.  You start with an interesting premise... ramp up the drama, or suspense, or comic-approximation of "horror"... build to a climax where everybody is painted into a corner... then, the Phantom Stranger speaks.  I mean, that's it... he speaks, and everything goes back to normal.

Y'ever watch the old Power Rangers show?  They'd get their butts kicked for the better part of a half-hour, when suddenly "It's Morphin Time"... big-ass robot, fifteen second battle, everything ends all hunky dory.  This is sort of like that, only we don't get the satisfaction of seeing people dressed like robots stumbling around and destroying a cardboard city.

I mean, this is worlds better than that "Cat and Mouse" four-parter we covered a few weeks ago, but... man, this might be more disappointing, simply because it felt like it could've been much better!  Sure, it was heavy-handed... and was probably more than a little bit "commentary" on creators rights... but, it was good!  Ezra wasn't painted so much as a cloven-hoofed villain, but a son who might get stuck holding the tab for the sins his father committed.

Loblow... I mean, really dude?  You decide you're going to steal children... from folks who had nothing to do with you signing away the rights to your music?  Sure, it'd be one thing if he was just going after the Griffiths... but, every kid in the neighborhood?  C'mon Loblow, how you gonna feed all dem kids?  Think it out, man.

The art was pretty great... I thought the Kuberts did some wonderful work here!  Really, my only complaint here is the deus ex, finger-snap ending.  Overall, it's probably the strongest Phantom Stranger story we've looked at in Action Comics Weekly... but, that strength only makes the anticlimactic ending stand out even more.

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Superman swoops back in from space just in time to stop his buddy Bob Galt from eating the butt-end of a Consortium rifle.  He tells the baddies to beat it... and, well... they do.  They just leave.

Superman tries to convince the Fellowship to quit worshiping him, before going to take off.  Before he can get off the ground, however, he is stopped by a very familiar voice!  A voice that claims to be both God and the Devil.  The voice... of Darkseid!

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Well, it took us thirty-six weeks, and seventy-two pages... but we now finally know what we're up against.  And well, that's it.  All this was was a reveal.  It's a doozy of a reveal, don't get me wrong... but, there really isn't all that much more to say about it.  It's Darkseid.  Cool?

Stop me if you've heard this one before... hopefully, now that we're getting some answers... something might finally happen in this strip!  Just like our Man of Steel above... I'm not holding my breath.

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We open during a graduation... I was going to assume this was for college, considering the age of the graduates... then, a few panels in, I thought it might be the police academy,  but we're going to learn that it's a more specialized institution.  Whatever the case, our Phantom Lady and her friend are waiting to hear their names called... and make it known to the reader that they ain't wearing anything but their guns under the gown.  Not sure what the point of that is... but, we'll allow it.  We jump ahead several weeks to Dee reuniting with her daddy... an Attorney General in Washington, D.C.  He's happy to see her, and introduces her to his aide, Roger Richter before kicking them both out of his office.



In the hallway, Dee and Rog become a little more acquainted... with the latter informing the former that her daddy's been acting pretty weird lately.  Also, something about an "arms deal" that I'm guessing we'll find out more about before long.  Before he can explain, however, they are interrupted by the arrival of Edwin Guerrehart, a D.C. lobbyist, and his "heavy" a caveman-looking bruiser named Gronk.  From the sounds of it, Edwin seems to have a lot of influence in the beltway... he even beat a manslaughter charge!  The lobbyist bursts into Dee's Daddy's office.



Dee waits outside for the meeting to wrap, and as Edwin and Gronk make their exit, she trips them up with an umbrella.  She then jams the point of the thing into the back of Guerrehart's neck, promising to run it right through if he makes the slightest move.  She threatens him to back off.


We wrap up with Dee reuniting with an old friend (and her new roommate), Sarah Somethin-or-nother.  She a student at Georgetown... and, that's about all we know.  Anyhoo, that night, Dee practices her yoga or tai chi... or whatever it is she's doing, before asking if she can "use" some of the leftover boards from their new IKEA furniture.  After getting the thumbs up, Dee savata kicks right through one of em... before asking if she can next use the bricks.


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Here's the thing... this wasn't very good.  I mean, it was kinda silly, kinda dumb... but, I dunno... I kinda liked it?

It felt very low-stakes... and, almost like I was reading a book from the !mpact Comics line... which, considering it's Strazewski, it makes sense.  Chuck Austen's pencils here even evoke an "impacty" feel.

So, whatta we got here?  Well, Dee Tyler is our Phantom Lady.  A recent graduate of... uh, Ninja High School?  Maybe?  I dunno.  She also might be a nudist?  That bit felt kind of out of place, though I suppose if we're trying to establish what makes this lady tick, it's not the worst thing.  She throws one helluva kick too... so, there's that.

Her father is a D.A. in D.C., and he's been acting a bit erratically of late.  He's stressed out due to some "arms deal"... and is regularly barged in on by lobbyists and their simian heavies.  I guess that's going to be the "meat" of this arc... so, I may as well make peace with it.

And, that's really about it.  I think this is going to wind up being a six-parter... and there are definitely worse "chapter ones" out there... many of which we've already covered here!  Fingers crossed this one stays fun.

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We open in the midst of a drug-deal going down in a seedier corner of the Quad Cities.  Li'l Georgie Washington has quite a racket, and is just about to hand over a little satchel of the white stuff when he's interrupted by, our favorite vigilante, Wild Dog!  Just like Nancy Reagan, our man has a hard-line against drugs... also, just like Nancy Reagan probably would, he throws the dealer through the plate-glass window of the nearby "Golden Tingles" massage parlor.



After doling out some street justice on the would-be purchasers of the stuff, Jack calls it a night.  We rejoin him as he and Lou Godder are sitting down to a drink.  Lou thinks Jack overreacted... which is kind of how most of these conversations go.  He brings young Georgie's race into the discussion too... which, I dunno, seems forced.  Jack never mentioned that Georgie is black... he just had a problem with the fact that he's selling drugs to kids even younger than he is.  Lou is quick to remind him that much of Georgie's clientele are white kids... and again, why?  Is this an example of that "whataboutism" I've been hearing so much about lately?


Anyhoo, Lou continues... explaining that Georgie's dad is out of the equation, his mom is on welfare, and he's got a grip of siblings.  If that isn't bad enough, The Cosby Show is on... to remind him of all the things he doesn't have?


We jump ahead to whenever Li'l Georgie Washington gets out of the hospital... and, whattayaknow, he shows up at Jack Wheeler's garage.  Ya see, he's supposed to meet with a fella named Lou Godder about a job.  Jack gets the jist, and gives the kid the gig... minimum wage, twenty-hours a week.


So far, so good... Georgie appears to be working out fine.  Lou checks in with Jack, and we learn that Georgie's older sister is close friends with Lou Godder's daughter (who Wild Dog saved wayyy back during his original mini-series).


We wrap up with Georgie at school, being chatted up by some nogoodnik named Willie.  He's got himself some jewelry and a nice car... and also, an offer Georgie might not be able to refuse!  Ya see, our G-Dub isn't interested in getting back into the racket... he doesn't even wanna touch the stuff.  Willie informs him all he needs is for Georgie to keep an eye out for cops... he'll handle the rest.  I... don't like where this is headed...


--

Boy, I'm happy to have Wild Dog back on the roster!

This was a pretty strong opening chapter, however... my main takeaway is the weird and forced racial stuff coming from Lou.  I feel like I missed a panel... or a line, or something.  His reaction here is akin to Jack having actually said something derogatory regarding black youth... but, he didn't!  He never brought up race at all... just so weird.

I wonder if maybe there wasn't originally a line included where Jack makes some sweeping statement regarding black kids... and editorial realized that probably wasn't the best look for a protagonist to have?  Who knows... it was just a really awkward bit of dialogue.

It's like when you're in a conversation, and suddenly something pops into your head that would fit the discussion perfectly... only, the person you're talking to is still talking.  And so, you hold onto this nugget of chatter-gold, and even if the conversation goes in a completely different direction, you do whatever you can to wrangle it back so you can drop your little knowledge bomb.  By which point, nobody cares... and you look like you've ignored everything they'd said since.  Probably because you did.  We've all been there... right?  Right???

Anyhoo, everything else here... worked!  It might be a bit cliche, kid trying to clean up his act... fly right... all that noise, only to be tempted into getting back into the racket by a smooth-talking pal.  It's nothing we haven't seen before, but it works.

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Letters Page:


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