Action Comics Weekly #623 (1988)

Action Comics Weekly #623 (September 6, 1988)
Green Lantern: “Priest”
Shazam!: “My Week in Valhalla, Chapter One”
Deadman: “Seventeen”
Superman: “Revelations”
Secret Six: “Standard Allowable Abductions”
Phantom Stranger: “The Devil Was a Baby”
Writers – James Owsley, Roy Thomas, Dann Thomas, Mike Baron, Roger Stern, Martin Pasko, & Paul Kupperberg
Pencils – M.D. Bright, Rick Stasi, Kelley Jones, Curt Swan, Frank Springer, & Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
Inks – Jose Marzan, Rick Magyar, Tony DeZuniga, Pablo Marcos, Murphy Anderson, Frank McLaughlin, 
Letters – Albert DeGuzman, Jean Simek, Helen Vesik, Bill Oakley, & Dan McKinnon
Colors – Tony Tollin, Nansi Hoolihan, Daniel Vezzo, Tom Ziuko, Carl Gafford, & Petra Scotese
Edits – Denny O’Neil, Dan Raspler, Mike Gold, Barbara Kesel, Mike Carlin, Robert Greenberger, & Renee Witterstaetter
Cover Price: $1.50

Alrighty, back to normal after our little trip to Christmastown… and whattaweget?  An all-new Showcase strip in Shazam!, and the Phantom Stranger popping in for a visit.  Not a bad week, all told.  Though… I guess I ought to inform y’all that next week marks the return of… Black Canary.  Oh boy.

This week’s cover comes to us from Brent Anderson, who you might know better as the artist on Astro City.  It’s a nice moody cover… wherein Superman does his best Batman impression.  It’s also one which necessitated me having to utilize my dime-store PhotoShop skill to crop the top off Superman’s head, and overlay it over my (equally dime-store) “branded” trade dresses!

Let’s head into double Poll-ookaville… or Poll-a-palooza!

First, Action Comics Weekly #622 from two weeks back.  Blackhawk goes out on top… which seems about right!

Next, in the interest of Christmas on Infinite Earths… in July, the results of our Merriest Poll yet!  Also, the most active poll we’ve ever had here on the site!  It was a tough vote… so many great stories in that issue!  Deadman takes the win… and that’s how I voted as well.

Next, this week’s poll!

Best Story in Action Comics Weekly #623?

Green Lantern




Secret Six

Phantom Stranger

Shareable Poll Link: https://linkto.run/p/PP0QWO5F

It’s been a couple of weeks, so here’s a refresher.  Our man Hal started working for some flight outfit… and kept his Power Battery in his locker.  This one time, perhaps even his first day, the Battery exploded, taking half the locker room with it.  From the Oan shrapnel shot out a yellow beam… which Hal is now following into Sectors unknown, fully aware that his ring will rendered powerless within 24-hours without its daily charge.  We open this chapter ten-hours into his journey with our man arriving on a strange little planet.  After a little bit of recon work, he happens across a long-armed red alien in a gown.  Their initial meeting doesn’t go all that well.

The red alien manages to catch the Hal’s ring-slung emerald energy… and uses it to drag Green Lantern off the planet, and to a sort of synthetic planetoid.  The alien deposits Hal into a sort of tunnel.

Jordan is approached by a sentry robot… which he blasts to pieces.  Then, a little orange alien heads over and gives Hal a great big hug.

Before he knows it, Hal’s surrounded by a whole lotta aliens of varying shapes and sizes.  Then, the red alien formally introduces himself as “Priest”.  Hmm… do I make the obvious reference here or later on?  Either way, Priest informs Green Lantern that he had been brought to this place in order to prevent a war.

Just then… wouldn’tcha know it, full-blown war seemingly breaks out!  Purple robots burst through the walls of the planetoid… lasers blazing!  The friendly aliens do their best to fight off the assault… but are unable to do so without casualty.

Hal lifts the corpse of the alien child who had hugged him earlier from the wreckage, and informs Priest that he will help them out.

This really isn’t my favorite arc… but it seems to be the kind of arc that happens fairly regularly in Green Lantern stories.  Hal (or John, or Kyle, or Guy, or whoever) gets stuck unwittingly playing peacemaker between some warring (or soon-to-be warring) factions or groups.  It’s pretty well-trodden, and it’s never particularly interesting… at least not to me.

There always seems to be undertones of political intrigue… but, most of the time it just falls flat.  That’s one of the problems I have with comics handling subjects like war.  I mean, rather than there just being a pair of groups having a disagreement, while never second-guessing that they’re in the right… it usually devolves into the righteous good against an actual super-villainous opponent.  Or, two super-villainous groups trying to out-super-villain one another.  I did read through this one not too long ago for the Podcast, and… this definitely goes more toward the latter… but, it’s still not going to be terribly interesting though.  At least the Freak Show aren’t going to show up!

Now, for the obvious reference of the day!  Our alien’s name is “Priest”… and the story is being written by a fella who will soon go by the name Priest.  Not sure if there’s any rhyme or reason for the character having this name… though, I suppose if I were really interested, I probably could find out.  Until I learn otherwise, I’ll just assume it’s a coincidence.  We’ll be talking much more about Priest (the alien) in the coming weeks.

As for the brutal scene inside the planetoid… it was quite well done.  I suppose it could be argued that it was “rushed”… I mean, the little hugging alien kid dies like two pages after he first appears, but you still feel a little something.  Not like I wanted Hal to forge a friendship with the little bugger before he bit it, but this just felt a bit quick.  It served its purpose though… Hal’s on board, and willing to help shut down the war.  Fair enough. 

We open with Billy Batson waking up.  While he goes about hi morning rituals, a radio broadcast plays… it’s reported that the police are in the middle of a “Mexican Standoff” with some armored car thieves… and so, our young man says that magic word.  We head across San Francisco, only to find the standoff is still a’happening.

One of the baddies presses his pistol against the head of a civilian.  A split-second before he can pull the trigger, however, Captain Marvel slips his hand between the piece and the face.  This causes the gun to backfire, killing the would-be shooter.

Cap doesn’t take this turn of events all that well.  A news reporter attempts to get a word with the hero, but he isn’t able to put into words what just went down.  He flies off to his Uncle Dudley’s apartment and “Billies down” before sharing his story.

Just then, a phone rings.  It’s his boss from WHIZ-TV, Elvira Thickert… and I tell ya what, this woman looks like an Elvira Thickert.  She also kinda looks like the woman from the Bonkers Candy commercials, if you remember those.  Anyhoo, she wants him to look into the gang that attempted to pull the armored car heist.  She claims they were a part of the Neo-Nazi group called the “Sons of Valhalla”.  Billy’s gotta head into the slums and have himself a chat with Dawn, the newly dead guy’s daughter.

Dawn tells Billy a bit about her family.  Her father joined up with the “Sons” after losing his farm.  The organization convinced him that he only lost his farm because of a “worldwide Jewish plot”.  Ay yai yai.  Anyhoo, now her brother Duane’s gotten wrapped up with the group… and will be attending a Sons of Valhalla Summer Camp in a few days.

They continue chatting, when news of the day’s events are played on the television.  Captain Marvel is briefly seen… to which, Dawn chucks a lamp through the screen.  Good job, now ya got nothing!  Billy, with a tear in his eye, promises to help her.

This… was okay.

Something I don’t get about the Showcase Presents (which, as a descriptor, is missing from this story) features is… these are supposed to be stories to whet the readers appetite in hopes that an ongoing title will follow… right?  Least that’s how I’ve been taking it.  Maybe that’s just the way Showcase used to be… I dunno.

Reason I say this is… you’d figure if that was the case, the creative teams would come out “guns blazing” with more of a bombastic and memorable story.  I mean, I’ve read this feature before… a couple of times, and darned if I could tell ya a thing about it.  Heck, I just read this chapter a few minutes ago, and I’m sorta struggling!

Not to say this was bad, because it wasn’t… it’s just, outside that dude’s gun backfiring, it wasn’t all that memorable.  Hopefully in the coming weeks this one will pick up.

We pick up with the twins (Stella and Delia, the “Zombie Queens of New Orleans”) relishing the fact that they’ve been brought “back to life”.  They don’t even seem to notice that Deadman has left until he’s already gone.  The twins figure he and the Madame will prove to be thorns in their side before long… and, they’re probably right.  At that very moment, Deadman-as-Clara is given the down and dirty on the girls by Waxahachie.  Turns out it has something to do with the fact that the number seventeen (heyyy, that’s the title of this chapter!) is a base-integer.  Ya see, the twins committed suicide when they were 17… and that was 17 years ago.  This, for whatever reason, enhances their twinning power.  I don’t know diddly-squat about Voodoo, so I’ll just take her word for it!

We also learn here that Legros (now being written as LaGros… now also, a vegetable) was acting in the interest of the twins as a sort of facilitator in trying to summon an African Deity called “Gage”… and, at least according to Waxahachie, it looks like they were successful!  She drives Deadman-as-Clara back to the school so he can jump-bodies.

This is where Old Luke rejoins the story.  We saw him early on in a brief scene.  He is described as odd and simple, and the Madame is certain he won’t “miss any time” if Deadman were to take up occupancy.  And so, he does!  The thing of it though, once Clara stirs back to normal, she’s none too pleased to learn she’d been possessed… like, two or three times at this point.  She calls Waxahachie a witch, and storms off.

The Madame shrugs it off, figuring Clara will cool her jet eventually… and turns to Deadman-as-Luke.  She gives him their mission… in order to stop the Peckshaw Twins, they’re going to have to find their original bodies… and destroy them!  Grave desecration, hmm?  I guess I’m starting to understand why Waxahachie might not want Clara(‘s body) involved with the proceedings! 

Waxahachie takes Deadman to Wildwood… where the Peckshaw Twins had once called home… and are now buried… so, uh, I guess technically, they still call it home.  It’s here we learn that Wellman LeGros also lived here, as when he was a boy, the family found him there.  We close out with their arrival at the boarded up Estate.

I wanna take a minute (or two) and compare the way this story is being told to a more contemporary “Voodoo-themed” book.

If you’ve listened to our Sandman Universe Gatherum series of episodes over at the Chris and Reggie Channel, you’ll know that among those titles is one called House of Whispers.  It’s a book steeped in Voodoo mythology… almost to a fault.  That’s all well and good, right?  But, here’s the thing… that book doesn’t tell us a darn thing about the mythology.  If you’re uninitiated to Voodoo lore, you’re really just dropped in blind.  You’re not likely to understand any of the references or allusions… and, because of that, the twists, turns, and revelations in the story fall absolutely flat.

I feel like writers today try and challenge themselves… overusing symbolism and real “deep cut” references in order to make themselves feel smarter than they are… and, if any of the readers actually “get” the references… well, they’re just one of the “cool kids”.

Another thing writers try to do is tell only the exciting stories.  Just like building a house, you need to put in the difficult (and comparably un-glamorous) work of laying a foundation before you can start putting up walls.  Sure, putting up walls makes it look like a house… but, a stiff wind can knock it all down without a solid foundation.

Why am I talking about this?  Well, here in this Deadman feature, we’re getting a bit of a learnin’ in Voodoo, African deities, symbolism, the effect base-integers might have (whether it’s “legit” or not)… but, with Waxahachie’s words… Mike Baron is laying a foundation.  This might have been a comparably unexciting chapter, but it was a necessary one.  Had this come out in “current year”, I fear these scenes would have been omitted… with a hope/expectation that a reader wouldn’t have a problem reading this alongside a Wikipedia tab.

What I’m trying to say… though, I’ve clearly taken the scenic route, is… I appreciate this chapter doing the un-glamorous work of attempting to educate the reader in either actual Voodoo lore, or the Mike Baron-take on Voodoo lore.  This way, as we approach our pay-off, we’ll all be at a similar level of understanding.  There (hopefully) won’t be any “out of left field” deus ex machina type stuff… it’ll (again, hopefully) all make sense in the context of the story being told.

Art’s still great, though the Madame seems to be looking more and more bestial with each panel.  I’m not sure if that’s a conscious decision… or, maybe we’re just not getting her “best side”.

Our strip opens with the Consortium… that group of baddies we’ve learned far too little about to this point.  Their gimmick is that they’re big into R & D… and they’ve made some technological breakthroughs.  The thing of it is, they see the arrival of Superman as a sign of the Apocalypse.  Alrighty then.

We get a shot of Superman on their giant monitor… and, hey… it’s just like the one on this week’s cover!  They run down the Man of Steel’s accolades, and discuss how what was once “hero worship” has now, for some, become full-blown theological worship.  The Consortium is certain that Superman isn’t the Messiah… but, the Anti-Christ.  Stands to reason they wanna wipe him off the planet.

Ya know what?  I enjoyed this one!

Over the past many weeks, I’ve complained about this strip… mostly framing my misgivings in the fact that so little happens.  That was probably a bit unfair, considering the minimal “real estate” Superman gets each and every week.  My other complaint was, irrespective of the amount of “action”… we also haven’t been getting all that much in the way of information.  We knew so little about what was going on, that even using my go-to descriptor of “nebulous” would’ve been too gracious.

Here, however, we’re starting to learn more about the motivations behind the Consortium’s actions… and, it’s a welcome thing.  Would I have preferred getting this information say… a dozen weeks ago?  Sure, but whattayagonnado?

If future installments of this strip continue to deliver even half as much exposition as this one, I think I might just stop dreading “Superman Day”.

Picking up where we left off, LaDonna and Steve have just been surrounded by some armed folks inside Crandall Stadium at Jefferson University.  LaDonna has radioed to the rest of the Six for assistance… and does something rather ingenious.  She surrenders her piece, however, before doing so… triggered it to blow!  I can’t believe I’ve never seen that done before!

The explosion result in a literal “moving of the goal posts”… actually impaling one of their armed pursuers!  That’s far more gory a scene than I was expecting to see.  LaDonna dives for their gun and picks off a few more of the baddies.

Then… a car pulls it, and if I’m not mistaken… the Hunter S. Thompson-looking guy gets out.  I thought he died a few weeks ago?  Oh well.  Either way, he demands LaDonna and Steve get into his car.  For whatever reason, they comply.  Maybe they really wanna meet Mr. Fenedy?  As they leave the scene, the Secret Six VTOL approaches.  During the ride, “Hunter” notices LaDonna’s Signal Watch… and comments that he’d confiscated one just like it a few days prior.

Speaking of which, we shift scenes to check back in with Tony and his hitchhike-hostage.  They stash her car in a parking garage, and flirt/fight about their next move.  It’s here we learn that Shelley is a fashion model… because, of course she is.

We jump back to the previous scene, and the Sixers has followed LaDonna’s signal to her ever-changing location.  The VTOL sets down in the car’s path… and LaDonna is able to wrestle her way to freedom.  Steve tries to flee, but Luke is able to convince him (at gun-point) to hop on board.

We wrap up in Tony and Shelley’s motel room… and, naturally… they do it.  Stockholm Syndrome is a helluva thing.

Not gonna lie… the fatigue is real with this Secret Six feature.

This isn’t bad… but, c’mon, how many more twists are we gonna get before we put this one to bed?  There’s something to the law of diminishing returns with this.  I’m more and more underwhelmed with every twist, turn, and reveal.

I really thought Hunter Thompson-dude died in pursuit of Tony several chapters back.  I mean, he drove off a bridge, didn’t he?  Maybe Fenedy has an army of dudes who look like that?!  I don’t know… and, unfortunately, this late in the game I really don’t care.  I just want a resolution… and, unfortunately, we ain’t getting one for like two months.

The Shelley and Tony scenes were pretty baffling… and are written in such a way where there’s this odd familiarity between them.  I keep feeling like there’s something to their relationship that I’ve been missing this whole time.  The fact that they hop into bed at the first opportunity doesn’t really help matters.  Oh well.  Next week promises to be “Tony’s Story”… maybe that’ll shed some light on this.

Overall… this feature really needs to step it up.

We open outside a church, where a baby has been left at the doorstep.  A Nun and a Priest… hey, that sounds like the start of a joke… find the child and take it inside out of the cold night.  Once inside, the wee child starts… speaking!  Speaking… evilly, in fact!

Before long, dozens of dazed people begin converging on the church.  Among them, is a certain Stranger.  Inside, the baby reveals himself to be… the Devil!  To prove this, he surrounds himself in a flaming pentagram.  Well, he’s got my vote!

The baby commands that the Priest and Nun do his bidding, but they refuse.  No biggie, the evil tot performs some evil magic tricks to pass the time, including making snakes show up on a platter.  Just then, the Phantom Stranger enters the scene.  The Devil-Baby summons some, uh, smoke-demons from the flaming pentagram to surround him.

The Stranger makes short work of the shadow/smoke things… and so, the baby forces the Nun to attack.  She cannot resist, but begs the Stranger to stop her assault.  Then… the church is overrun with those dazed civilians… all scratching and clawing at the Phantom Stranger.

The Priest looks on, and laments his failures and uselessness.  He watches as the Stranger is beat down… and, out of the corner of his eye, spies the large cross on the altar.

He hoists the cross over his head… and smashes the baby with it.  Annnnd… that’s it?  Okay, fair enough.

Well… uh, while I dug this… I can’t deny that it was about as “basic” a story as we’ve seen in some time.

I get the impression that our takeaway was supposed to have a lot to do with the Priest having lost his faith… but, that really isn’t played up until the very end.  Had the story opened with that revelation, I feel like the ending would have had a bit more “oomph”.  As it was, it just felt like we hit a wall… at a very slow speed.

Heck, the Phantom Stranger himself barely even played into this story.  Had the devil-baby attacked anyone, we might assume that the Priest would have “rediscovered” his (evidently) lost faith, right?  I dunno.  Either way, I thought him beating the devil with the cross was a pretty neat visual.

The art was solid, as we would expect from Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.  From a production standpoint, I feel like the lettering was a bit on the rough side… but, nothing too terrible.

Overall… a somewhat forgettable and “basic” outing for the Phantom Stranger.

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