Action Comics Weekly #631 (1988)

Action Comics Weekly #631 (December 20, 1988)
Green Lantern: “Detente”
Black Canary: “knock ’em Dead, Part 8”
Phantom Stranger: “Cat and Mouse, Chapter 1”
Superman: “Point Blank”
Speedy & Nightwing: “Rocks and Hard Places, Chapter Six: Old Friends, New Enemies”
Blackhawk: “Kissoff–That’s a Russian Word, isn’t it?”
Writers – James Owsley, Sharon Wright, Paul Kupperberg, Roger Stern, Cherie Wilkerson, & Martin Pasko
Pencils – M.D. Bright, Randy DuBurke, Fred Carillo, Curt Swan, Vince Giarrano, & Rick Burchett
Inks – Romeo Tanghal, Pablo Marcos, Murphy Anderson, & Tom Mandrake
Letters – Albert DeGuzman, Steve Haynie, Bill Oakley, & Agustin Mas
Colors – Anthony Tollin, Gene D’Angelo, Petra Scotese, Tom Ziuko, & Adrienne Roy
Edits – Denny O’Neil, Dan Raspler, Robert Greenberger, Renee Witterstaetter, Mike Carlin, Barbara Kesel, & Mike Gold
Cover Price: $1.50

There’s one nice Jim Starlin cover, ain’t it?  Probably one of the more striking from this run… well, striking in a good way, there are a few that stand out in their ugliness!

Not much to say going into this compendium post… no big announcements, no waves sending us in various directions… it’s just another issue.  Nothing wrong with that… but, by the same token, not a whole heckuva lot to say about it either.

Last week’s poll turned out about as I’d guessed it would:

Nice to see the Secret Six get a little bit of love on their way out the door… though, I didn’t vote for them myself.  You know me, I see Blackhawk… I vote Blackhawk.  Wonder if that’ll change with next week’s (tomorrow’s, actually) arrival of MALVOLIO in the Green Lantern feature?!

Here’s this week’s poll… to the scant (and getting scant-er) handful of you still pushing a radio button, you have my humblest and sincerest thanks!

Best Story in Action Comics Weekly #631?

Green Lantern

Black Canary

Phantom Stranger




Shareable Poll Link: https://linkto.run/p/KNW5F8OT

We open with a shivering Hal touching down in the Nevada desert.  A confused Captain Atom arrives soon after.  He expresses concern, even if he can’t help but rub in the fact that he bested Green Lantern in that fight last chapter.  To this, Hal informs him that the only reason he was able to beat him was due to his Power Ring being outta juice.  But then, get this, each of these goofballs has come around to the other’s position on the Bethel Traveler!  Hal feels like he’s a dangerous threat, while Atom admits he overreacted!  What a difference, seven-hundred and thirty-two weeks make!

Cap gives Hal a lift to the rooftop where he left his Power Battery a few chapters back, only to find that it’s… gone?!  Waitasec, Hal was able to just make the battery “appear” on the roof… but, now he actually has to physically go to it?  Guess he’s super-duper-outta-juice.  Hal decides to… get this… hunt the streets of Los Angeles in search of his Lantern.  A half-hour later (L.A.’s a surprisingly small town), he spies it in the window of the Broome & Fox Pawn Shop!  As he enters the shop, it turns out he’s interrupting an attempted robbery.  Ho’boy… our man just can’t catch a break today!

As this is going down, Captain Atom is checking in with “Military Intelligence”, where they reveal that the Bethel Shrine has been located on their radar… Nate’s gotta act now to neutralize the threat.  At the Pawn Shop, Hal attempts to employ a little bit of psychology into the situation… which doesn’t manage to win him any friends.

Moving on a bit, Atom is still chasing the Shrine… but is having one heckuva time keeping up.  Hal fights off the would-be robbers, who are kind of a paradox onto themselves.  One kicks Hal square in the jewels to gain an advantage… and yet, they still only engage him one at a time.  Who says there’s no honor among thieves?

Hal tosses his ring over to that Lan-tern in the window (arf, arf,)… mutters the oath, and bada-bing, he’s back in bidness.

We wrap up (finally!) with Captain Atom returning to Hal to apologize.  He reveals that the Bethel Traveler got away… and he now has a better understanding of how difficult Hal’s job is.  Wait… I thought the Traveler decided he/she/it wanted to stay on Earth?  First opportunity it gets, and it leaves?  Okay then.  A fittingly weak ending to a weak (and overlong) arc.

Oh man, what a winding and endless road this arc was!  It almost made me miss the Freak Show.  Almost.

This entire arc (well, much of this entire run in Action Comics Weekly) was much ado about nothing.  I wanna say this Bethel Traveler storyline was probably going to be revisited in whatever Green Lantern ongoing was planned to follow… but, the prevailing rumors claim that there was an editorial shift around this time, and all of the Priest/David stuff (minus the death of Katma-Tui) was buried.  Unfortunately, that extends to a certain gentleman we’re going to meet next time.  We’ll probably do a point-by-point look at this overall run toward the end.

So, for this chapter?  Hal loses his Lantern… the Lantern he always seems to be able to just make “appear”.  I mean, his recent run-in with Priest showed him that he didn’t really need the thing in the first place.  Seems kind of counter-intuitive to have him seek it out here.  Unless… the original plan was for him to realize he didn’t need it, and the editorial shift decreed otherwise?  That would actually make some sense.

Really, this entire chapter was kind of a mess.  While the previous GL/Captain Atom chapters were dull and plodding, at least we felt a bit of plot progression.  Here though?  It feels like there might’ve been a few too many plates spinning in a few too many offices at the DC compound.  Just wildly unsatisfying… and leaves a bad taste.

It’s not all doom and gloom round here though… because, in exactly one week:

Boy, I hope I’m not overselling this one!

We open with Black Canary walking past the Paper Lantern… pub?  Restaurant?  Whatever it is… and it appears as though she is being followed.  We shift scenes to a date between a Ron Thompkins and a “Peter Barrie”, who is really a very unconvincing Cat (the character, not the animal) in men’s clothes.  They confirm my suspicions from last week… this is going to be an AIDS story.  Looks like both Ron and “Peter” have it, so it ain’t as big a thang if they hook up.  Back outside, a car barrels toward Dinah, only stopping at the last moment when the driver (Ken Glazier) realizes it’s not The Deb in his headlights.

Inside, “Peter” mixes Ron a drink… and those of us following along know exactly what that means.

Back outside, Dinah demands answers from Ken.  We learn that The Deb was a woman he was having a fling with… and also, who he’d gotten AIDS from.  This got as ugly as you might imagine, and wound up costing him his marriage.  Dinah asks who might be next on The Deb’s hit-list, and, as luck would have it… he mentions Ron Thompkins!

Back inside, Ron feels the effects of the Chloral cocktail… but before he ultimately succumbs, he learns the true identity of his killer.  Duh, it’s Cat.  With his dying breaths, he lunges for her.  We do learn something particularly interesting here, though… according to Ken, he didn’t transmit the virus to her.  There’s a “but” to punctuate this sentence… but he doesn’t get the opportunity to elaborate.  Just then, the body of Ron hits the pavement right in front of them.

Inside, Cat changes out of her fella clothes and makes an escape.  At this point, Dinah chats up a security guard and kinda puts two and two together.  This wasn’t The Deb… but a woman who has experience playing a man… maybe one currently starring in a production of Peter Pan.

I hope this doesn’t sound like a cop-out or anything, but… if you’re following my coverage of this Black Canary feature, you can almost just reread any of the (repetitive) wrap-up thoughts from this arc, and it could apply to this chapter as well.  The story is solid, storytelling is a bit all over the place, and the experimental/stylized art does the narrative no favors.

We do manage to learn a thing or three this time out, however… so, let’s pull out the bullet points and itemize our discoveries.

  • Ken Glazier was trying to kill The Deb, after really mucking about in her life.
  • Ken Glazier might’ve also been the guy sending out the ransom notes?
  • The Deb transmitted AIDS to Ken… who did not then transmit it to his ex-wife, Cat.
    • But… 
  • … might’ve transmitted it to their child?  Maybe?
  • Cat is seeking revenge on everybody tied up in Ken’s affair… and is a very unconvincing fella.

I think that’s where we’re at.  I feel like if I am reading this right (which, honestly, I may not be), it’s going to be pretty academic from this point on.  I guess we’ll all find out together!

We open in New York City where there seems to be something of a plague of cats roaming the streets.  They all gather around Cassandra Craft, who I’m assuming is someone I probably ought to recognize.  She is then attacked by yet another person I probably ought to know… Tala, Mistress of Darkness!  It would appear that Cassie had been blinded, but again… I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea how, when, or why.  Elsewhere, the Phantom Stranger and Doctor Terrence Thirteen play chess.

Thirteen isn’t quite sure why the Stranger wanted to hang out this evening, and during their conversation manages to lay out exactly why characters like the Phantom Stranger never seem to work for me.  He says of the Stranger, “You pop out of nowhere, do your magic, and then disappear–“, and yeah, that’s just about the size of it!  The chat is interrupted by a powerful psychic something or another emanating from the door… when the Stranger answers it, it’s… duh, Cassandra.

We’re briefly invaded by a flood of their shared memories.  We learn that they’d once faced off with Tala and, not to get too far ahead of ourselves, a fella called Tannarak.  After the battle, Cassie was blinded and left to believe that the Phantom Stranger had been destroyed.  Little did she realize, he just took this as an opportunity to slum it on the East Side getting to learn about the human condition.

The next two pages were laid out of order, which made this already rocky read for me all that much more confusing the first time through.  We’ll just cover it the way it was intended.  Cassandra informs the Stranger of Tala’s return… which catches him off guard.  Dr. Thirteen is incredulous about the whole deal, and is kind of a jerk about it.

The Stranger retires to a darkened room so he can engage in some psychic search, but comes up empty… that is, until Tannarak bursts into the apartment!

Welp… this was the sort of story I was worried we’d get every time the Phantom Stranger feature popped up in Action Comics Weekly.  A kind of dully, over-dialogued slog.  The last few times we bumped into him, the stories have had a more experimental feel to them, here though… it’s like I grabbed a random eight-pages out of a random Bronze-Age Marvel Essentials volume.

In reading this, I actually got pangs of trying to fight my way through the first Essential Defenders volume just trying to get to that fun and esoteric Steve Gerber stuff I’d heard so many good things about.  There, as here, It was just characters (or takes on characters) that I didn’t care much about, pedestrian art, and a feeling like what I was reading didn’t actually matter.  Not bad, but dull… and could’ve been so much better (as Paul Kupperberg has shown us).

We’ve got four or five more weeks with the Stranger (he’ll actually survive the upcoming Crash of ’88! crossover, hopefully this one picks up adequate steam and interest before long.  I know this character and sort of story can speak to a great number of comics fans, but I’m sorry, I ain’t one of ’em!  Speaking of which…

Clark Kent is given a short tour of the Fellowship’s facilities, and promised that if he only give himself over to Superman-Worship, he’d be granted with the same sort of phenomenal powers as they.

Later, while retired in some guest room, CK uses his x-ray vision to follow the cosmic beam that he believes has endowed the Fellowshippers their gimmicks.  As he does so, he notices that there is a small army heading directly for them!  He suits up, and heads out.

In the middle of the California desert, he confronts the tanks and jets.  They refer to him as a “demon”, and blast the bejeezus out of him!

Well, I can’t say there wasn’t any action here!  While this is still moving at a rather glacial pace, I’m just happy it’s moving at all.  Hopefully, now that the initial confrontation is out of the way, things will begin happening at a quicker clip!

Unfortunately for today’s piece, there still isn’t all that much to say.  We learned that it was cosmic beams causing the Fellowship to have their powers… so, that wasn’t exactly new information.  It is leading somewhere interesting, though… of that, I can assure you.  I just hope I manage to stay awake long enough to get there!

We pick up right where we left off… well, sorta.  Speedy is still pursuing the Sanas thug who nabbed Button… but, it kind of looks like he’s on the other end of the train car this time out.  The car is rapidly approaching that other car full of explosives, which really denotes an air of poor planning in the Sanas organization.  As luck would have it, Speedy’s pretty good with a bow and arrow, and so, he’s able to hit a nearby switchbox which sends the train down a safer track.  The shift also throws the thug to the ground, causing him to drop his gun.  Button nabs the piece.

The thug regains his bearings, and… get this, goes to toss the brat off the car!  I guess she wasn’t all that important alive to the Sanas then?  I’m tellin’ ya, poor planners, these Sanas.  Speedy manages to swoop in just in the nick of time and save the tot.  Back home, Button and Moira come around to the idea that their new pal Roy is actually one of the “good guys”.

Elsewhere, Hunter (the train turlet guy) is talking to a fella who is warning him about his current investigation.  Basically, what it comes down to is “be very sure about any accusations you’re about to make.”  Well, when you’re going to accuse the police of being terrorists, I suppose that’s not the worst advice!

We rejoin Roy and the kids right after they’ve picked up… heyyy, is that Dick Grayson?!  Holy smokes, I forgot all about him!

As they drive, Roy realizes that there’s been a car on their tail for an uncomfortably long time.  He speeds up, Dick tells him to slow down… the car behind them begins to open fire, and so Dick tells him to speed back up.  Cute enough exchange.

Dick grabs a bow and arrow, and fires a shot into the passenger’s door of their pursuers… which allows them to get away.

We shift scenes to the police station, where an Officer named Clapton is outed as an enemy to the F.O.E.s.  In order to, uh, “mitigate any risks” pertaining to the Friends of the Empire’s Orange Day plans, he’s sent on patrol… right in the middle of a Sanas funeral.  Whoops.  The Sanas climb all over his squad car, and pummel it with blunt objects.

We wrap up at the Orange Day Parade… where some little kid pulls the old “drop and run” with a briefcase.  Moira immediately knows what’s up, and bolts into the street (without Button, mind you).  We close with a boom!

A good, if not just a little bit disjointed, chapter here.  Feels more like a series of vignettes than an actual story.  Just a lot of “bouncing around”… though, there’s definitely a feeling of progression.

Dick finally shows back up… even if it’s both out of costume, and for only a handful of panels, but that signifies that things are likely about to “heat up” (and come together) as we move forward.  Whatever the case, the overall narrative we’ve got going here is pretty darn intriguing.

The Police being in the F.O.E.’s pocket is interesting… though, I feel like we haven’t been properly introduced to this Clapton character.  From how he’s discussed, it almost feels like we should know him… but, we don’t… do we?  

I do wanna say that Moira running away, leaving her sister behind to presumably perish in the blast, felt a little bit out of character.  She always struck me as a “not without my Button” type… maybe I’m just missing something.

Overall, another good installment… this would probably read even better all in one go!

We pick up, still at the White House where President Truman and Company are making their pitch to the Blackhawk Team.  Ya see, the United States isn’t so much worried about LSD fomenting any Neo-Nazi movement, they’re more concerned about the Red Menace.  They see LSD as having a potential role in Communist propaganda.  After dismissing some of his aides, Truman gets into the real nitty-gritty with Janos and the Boys.  He sees Blackhawk as being able to handle both the covert ops… and any possible “heat” that might result.

Meanwhile, back in Singapore… our gal Nat finds herself cornered by some gentlemen who wanna “ask her a few questions”.  She fights them off, best she can, but isn’t able to escape.  She’s injected with something-in-a-syringe and taken away.

Then, in Munich… a carrier pigeon delivers a message to the Nazis we’ve been checking in with over the past few weeks.  Frau Whatsherface is seductively putting on her nylons while a dude named Dieter reads her the missive.  Looks like all is going according to plan for them… also, looks like Gretchen is going to be going “incognito” pretty soon.

Back in Singapore, Blackhawk Airways is closing down… so, we can probably assume they decided to take Truman up on his offer.  Mairzey reports that she was able to get her entrance visa, and we learn that she’ll be stepping in for the missing Nat.  They don’t know she’d been abducted… and just assume she ran off.  I guess patterns of behavior eventually catch up to ya!

We pick up a few days later, I’m gonna assume stateside, where the all-new Blackhawk Airways, Inc. has set up shop.  Jan, is aroused from a nap by some bonehead.  In response, our man delivers what might be the first-ever recorded Shoryuken!  Turns out, this dude is just the driver for Constance Durabont… of Durabont-Cathcart Pharmaceuticals.  She’s arrived to be flown to Germany… to get’a da Ell Ess Dee.

We wrap up back in Germany, where Frau Whatsherface (now wearing a short-haired wig) is preparing for the handsome Mr. Prohaska to arrive… so she can kill him… and, uh, judging by the “Next Week” blurb… maybe bang him too.

I can understand and appreciate that one my very best day I’m going to be very overly (and annoyingly) rambly and repetitive… but, when we’re dealing with all of these short serialized features… it’s kinda hard not to repeat myself.  You could literally look at any of my recent Blackhawk “reviews”, and it’s going to look rather samey.  I love this feature… love the art… love the mature themes.  Yadda yadda yadda.

So, while all that’s great as a comics reading experience… it leaves this portion of the piece dreadfully difficult to compose.  I don’t want to waste anyone’s time with tangents (I already spend whole podcasts doing that!), or pick nits just for the sake of length… but, I also don’t wanna look like I’m half-assing anything.  It’s a toughie.

So, that’s where I’ll leave it.  This was very much a transitional chapter… multiple scene shifts, pieces getting into place (or seemingly taken off the board altogether).  I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this one shakes out!

Letters Page:

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Same as they ever were!  Won’t bore ya with the repeats!

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