Wednesday, February 26, 2020

NTS #3 - Forever Amber

New Talent Showcase #3 (Forever Amber)
Writer - Rich Margopoulos
Pencils - Stan Woch
Inks - Steve Montano
Letters - Duncan Andrews
Colors - Jeanine Casey
Edits - Roger Slifer

Today we say goodbye to the feature I was certain was going to be New Talent Showcase's flagship strip... Forever Amber!  Not sure why, but I really thought this was going to be our one "constant" throughout most of the run.  Probably because it was the cover feature in NTS #1... and the first story in the book.

Whatever the case... today it ends!  Not sure if Amber is Forever-Gone, or if she'll be back down the line... though, well... if I were a betting man, I'd figure it best to say our goodbyes to the fair Servant of Kali today.


Our final chapter picks up right where we left off last week, with Amber being held up at some warehouse by a group of police officers... one of whom promises to splatter her "pretty brains" all over the wall should she get out of line.  He continues running her down, and even tosses a few racial epithets for good measure.  It looks as though all hope is lost for our Amber, when suddenly... gunshots!  Remember how last time, that one rapist guy was trying to sell all that opium... but Amber turned it all to, well, amber?  Well, this is the fall-out from that.  The rapist has very likely just been shot to death.  All the cops, but one, rush off to the "tub" to find out what all the hub-bub's about.  Lucky for Amber, the officer left guarding her is sympathetic to her situation.  He too is of mixed race, and knows how difficult that can be... he assures her that America is still a land of opportunity and sends her away.

We follow Amber all the way to... her father's house!  Wow, I wasn't expecting to meet him quite this quickly.  She knocks on his door, as the Sun Stone glows.  When he answers... get this, he's overjoyed to see his daughter!  He rushes for an embrace, which Amber returns... and they both start crying.  The End.


Okay, it's not really the end.  Inside, Amber and Mr. Jones catch up.  All seems to be going well, if not a bit reserved.  Amber finally asks her big question: Why did he abandon them all those years ago?  Well... I hope you're ready for some exposition, cuz I'm about to deliver dollops.

Ya see, Roderick Jones was a Combat Engineer in the Vietnam War.  While on R&R, he met Su Wan, fell in love, and dey make'a da baby.  Su Wan was already with the Circus, and Roddy was called to the field... so their relationship seemed doomed from the start to be a short one.  Fast-forward later in the war, Roddy is exposed to Agent Orange... and his quality of life plummets.  He's discharged, and broke... but still sends whatever he can to Su Wan and Amber.  He never called for them to join him in America, because, as he puts it... he's a "rotting corpse gradually rotting away."

This sends Amber and a weird "This is America" style rant... she just can't believe that the government would turn its back on its people this way.  Dad explains that, back then, everyone had "blind faith" in Washington, D.C. and didn't ask any questions.  During Vietnam, really man?  Ya tellin' me there weren't any... I dunno, "movements" during that era?  Hmm.  Anyhoo, the discussion is interrupted by a ringing phone.  It's Jones' buddy Scully... and, from the sounds of it... somethin' big is about to go down.

Ya see, there's this Army General Brillhart speaking out against the Vietnam Vets who have been pressuring Congress for more medical aid... and, well... the Vets are pretty ticked.  So ticked, in fact, that they've kidnapped the General!  What's more, they're planning on executing him... tonight!  Dad decides he's gotta intervene and stop his pals before they do anything they'll regret.  Amber insists she come along as well... and so, she does.  Before we know it (18 minutes later), Amber bursts through the door of the place where the General is being held.  She does her "Kali this, vessel that" spiel while wiping out a gaggle of Vets.  When finally stood before the General... well, let's just say, this dude's a real piece of work.  He breaks out a Fred Blassie line, mocking Papa Rod for being a "Pencil-Necked Geek".

Brillhart assures the Vets that he has no fears about dying... which, might just be his way of trying to call their bluff.  Welp, Scully don't play that... and instead of backing down... he raises his rifle to around the General's eye-level.  Jones, however, steps in before he can pull the trigger.  Then, it's Amber's turn to talk.  She reflects on a time where she and Su Wan tried getting into the American Embassy... and were given the boot by some Colonel.  She draws a single rose from a nearby vase.  Wow, nothing sets the stage for an execution like a vase full of roses!  These Vets sure know a thing or two about the romance aspect of an assassination.  Anyhoo, she picks up the rose... and turns it Forever Amber!

She then threatens to do the same to the General... annnnnd, knowing this broad ain't screwing around, he finally gives up.  He begrudgingly tells the Vets that, while he can't actually help them fight for their benefits... he can stop running their names through the mud.  The Vets are cool with that.  We wrap up with Amber and Daddy Rod walking up to the United States Senate for a hearing on Agent Orange.  The End... probably?


Betcha weren't expecting this to be a story about the fallout of the Vietnam War... because, I sure wasn't!

This wasn't bad or anything, it just went a whole 'nother direction from where I assumed it was heading.  Really not sure why we even needed Amber to have her Sun Stone powers for a story such as this, ya know?  She only really used it a couple of times... and, it was more as an "added" thing than anything outright intrinsic.  She could very well have beaten up any number of goons using her actual fighting prowess... and, heck, there had to be another way she could'a FUBARed the Opium deal.  She could've "Secretly replaced their regular drugs with Folgers Crystals" or something.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, with all the set-up... it feels like Amber was being built for more than just this type of story.  I feel like she should be sparring with Super Villains, not threatening some General with a rose she turned to glass.  I mean, what's next: Amber stands up during the Senate Hearings on Agent Orange and starts ominously and threateningly waving her Sun-Stoned hand around?

Let's talk pacing, because... boy howdy, did we get quite an exposition dump today!  Feels like multiple chapters worth of information was plopped in our laps... so much so, that we're barely given the opportunity to digest it all before the story ends.  I wonder if this was always planned as a three-part arc, or if Margopoulos and Company assumed this would run a few more issues before wrapping?  It feels to me like the first two-parts were (relatively speaking) lollygagging compared to this.  This was some breakneck "go-go-go" stuff.

Again, it's not bad or anything... I just wish it had more time to "breathe".

Speaking of "breathing"... I don't actually own New Talent Showcase #4 (and try as I may, I haven't been able to find it anywhere over the past several weeks)... so, this feature might be going on a bit of a "breather".  No worries though, I've got plenty more in the works, including a whole new (very-much DIY) "Showcase" I'll be introducing this weekend.  Should be fun, especially for readers who want to see some more stuff from the actual DC Universe here.  I'm really looking forward to it.  We've also got Superman's Birthday on 2/29... so, expect something kinda weird that day too!  Hopefully, before long, we can pick up with NTS where we left off!  Heck, maybe I'll find it in the next couple days to render this entire paragraph completely meaningless!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

NTS #3 - Ticker Blood

New Talent Showcase #3 (Ticker Blood)
"Ticker Blood Rides Again"
Writer - Brian Jacobs
Art - Geof Isherwood
Letters - John Costanza
Colors - Robin Keuneke
Edits - Marv Wolfman & Ernie Colon

What's this... yesterday a Sword & Sorcery story, and now a Western?!  Better watch out, lest I find myself becoming a "well-rounded" comics enthusiast!

Let's do it!


Our story takes place in Arizona, 1892... so, quite a while before the Class of 2064's World War III decimates the state.  We're at a prison in the middle of nowhere, where a Lieutenant (there's that difficult to spell word again) Bo Tucker has strict orders to retrieve a man who had been serving a sentence for multiple murders.  A man, named Ticker Blood.  So... with all the names in the world, and we've got a Tucker and a Ticker... really?  Now, about Ticker... he's quite the mess.  He's haunted by nightmares, screams, and laughter.  In fact, when Lt. Bo comes for him, he isn't 100% sure whether or not it's the "real life", or just another dream.

Together, they mount steed and begin their long trek back to the Fort.  Tucker won't tell Ticker why he'd come for him... mostly due to the fact that he isn't entirely sure.  He repeatedly tells our man that he's just "doing his duty".  Blood laughs, revealing that just "doing his duty" is what got him into the mess he's been in for a decade.

Nearly a week passes before the T's arrive at the Fort.  Ticker is deposited at the Nurse's station for a once-over.  The Doc insists he have his shackles removed before she proceeds with the examination.  He's sat on a bed... and, the sound of children playing outside that really throws him for a loop.  With this, he leaps up, thanks the Doc for her kindness, and rushes outside.

Ticker heads toward the Sheriff's station, and overhears the reason why he'd been freed.  Ya see, there's a bit of a "problem" a town or two over... something having to do with creatures.  Blood bursts into the station, and reveals that this is the exact situation he found himself in ten-years prior.  Ya see, he and his men entered a town... which had been taken over by creatures.  In fact, Tucker's own men transformed as well!  He continues to explain that the only reason he'd been spared was... he ran.  He ran into the desert, then snuck back in after nightfall, and set the whole dang town on fire.

The Sheriff apologizes for not believing Ticker Blood all dem years ago... then dispatches T & T off to investigate the "problem".  As our men enter the town, they are approached by a "cute little girl".  Tucker rides toward her, and Ticker's all "not so fast, kemo sabe".  Just then... the kid yanks her own head off, revealing a mess of tentacles and suckers that latch onto Lt. Bo!

Before he knows it, Ticker is surrounded by tentacle-heads!  He throws himself through a Gun Shop window and engages in an hours-long firefight.  Lucky thing that Gun Shop was there, no?  The story ends with Ticker victorious... but, once again finds himself surrounded by authorities.  Are his troubles behind him... or have they just begun?


This was pretty cool!  I really wasn't expecting this to veer into the horror-realm.  Thought this was going to be a straightforward (and dull) western romp!

Ticker's tale is a tragic one... imprisoned under false pretenses, haunted by the terrible things he had been forced to do.  It's just a really great foundation for an empathetic character.  I also appreciate how we're kind of walking the line between reality and insanity throughout.

Early on, Ticker's unsure whether or not this is even real... which, kind of just felt like an attempt at playing off his fragile mental state.  However, the deeper we get into the story, the more the reader might find themselves questioning it themselves.  The ending here is quite striking.  Ticker has "slaughtered" yet another town, including (assumedly) his own ally.  Was this real?  Was it another tortured flashback?  Did Ticker ever actually leave his cell in this story?  What would be the best ending?  This is really good.

Let's meet our New Talents!  Brian Jacobs... uhh, wrote this?  The only thing that comes up anywhere online (including the DC Wikia) is a character with the name from some Zenescope book.  According to Horror Comics in Black and White: A History and Catalog, 1964-2004 (McFarland & Company, 2013) he contributed to Creepy #130 (August, 1981).

Across the table sits a far more familiar name, Geof Isherwood.  He would go on to have a prolific career in comics, with runs on Suicide Squad for DC, and Doctor Strange, Conan, and The 'Nam (among others) for Marvel.  It isn't often that these New Talents actually have recognizable names, so it's always a treat when they do!

Overall, this was a good one... and, just like with By Ancient Agreement, a story I never would have read if not for this project!  Good stuff!

Tomorrow: The Senses-Shattering Conclusion of Forever Amber!

Monday, February 24, 2020

NTS #3 - Ancient Agreement

New Talent Showcase #3 (Ancient Agreement)
"By Ancient Agreement"
Writer - Beppe Sabatini
Art - Dan Day
Letters - Duncan Andrews
Colors - Helen Vesik
Edits - Marv Wolfman & Ernie Colon

Welcome to this week's "one-off" feature... one that takes us into the realm of Swords and Sorcery... which is definitely not in my personal wheelhouse.

Tomorrow's piece, for all I know, might be a one-off as well.  Ya see, I do not have New Talent Showcase #4... and, I've been hunting for it for a few weeks now, without a lick of success!  Unless I'm able to track that bugger down, we might find ourselves with an overlong "Bizarro Binge" to fill the time until I do!

If only it were #VartoxWeek... that's when the miracles happen!


This story opens with a King Tobias stood atop a tower within his kingdom.  He laments the fact that on this very day the "King's Treaty" expires.  What's that?  Well, ya see... there's some sort of "Ancient Agreement" in this realm regarding the King's ability to bear an heir to the throne.  Today is the last day for Tobias to, well, have a son.  If his (thankfully pregnant) wife can't pop the tot out before nightfall, they're out on their butts.  It's almost a certainty that Tobias will be removed from power before tomorrow... to the point to where his replacement, Vulmic is waiting in the nearby waters.

Tobias checks in on his (third) wife (The King is a two-time... two-time widower), and... no dice... no baby just yet.  The King than meets with one of his royal guards, who informs him they are more than prepared to fight off Vulmic and his forces, should it come to that.  Tobias, however, wishes to stick to the original treaty he'd agreed to.

Well, about that... Tobias' Royal Guard have decided to go on the offensive.  While Vulmic acts an irritant, a great big fist raises out of the water... and smashes one of the warships to splinters!

At that very moment, on board another of Vulmic's fleet... a man begins to glow.  He's their Alchemist.  Ya see, up until now, with the treaty in place, no one could use magic against Tobias.  Now that there has been outward aggression, the treaty is null and void (I guess)... and so, magic begins to flow!  Oh, we also learn that Vulmic was responsible for the deaths of Tobias' prior two wives... which begs the question, just who really broke the treaty here?!

Tobias rushes back to his wife's bedside... and finds an insectoid assassin readying to murder the queen... and their unborn child!

We spend the next few pages watching Tobias and Vulmics forces fighting... and, while it's all rendered nicely, there really isn't all that much to say about it.  Suddenly, however, the monsters and magic vanish.  Vulmic stands in disbelief... uncertain as to what might happen next.  Well... what happens next is, Tobias emerges from his chambers, hoisting aloft... his son.


For a story that I never would have read on my own, I thought this was pretty good.  Even when I first flipped through to create my cover-images, I saw the art (which is great... but, didn't exactly inspire my interest), I figured this was going to be a slog.  Thankfully, it was only an eight-pager... and managed to keep a really good sense of urgency throughout.

I am, however, left with a few questions... mostly regarding the nebulous nature of this "treaty".  It seemed as though this "pact" was, in a way "natural".  As soon as it was broken by Tobias' men, magic returned.  So then, why wasn't the treaty broken when Vulmic murdered the previous two Queens?  Is this Ancient Agreement only predicated on outward aggression from the King?  That doesn't exactly sound fair, does it?  Oh well... it was what it was... and it all worked out for Tobias in the end.

Since this is a new "feature", it means we have some New Talent to meet... so, let's do that.  Beppe Sabatini, in addition to having a very fun-to-say name (give it a try!), was a prolific letterhack before trying his hand at writing comics.  He has written... well, a few comics stories.  For DC, in addition to this, he wrote "S.O.S. From Nowhere!", which appeared in Action Comics #572... which featured a trio of short stories, that also included Mark Waid's first DC Comics story, "The Puzzle of the Purloined Fortress!"

Found a little bit about his letter-writing days in Superman: The Persistence of an American Icon (2017, Rutgers University Press) by Ian Gordon:

Across the table, we've got Dan Day.  If that surname is familiar, it's because Dan is the brother of Gene Day.  I don't know a heckuva lot about Gene, other than the fact that he passed way too early, and was something of a mentor to Dave Sim, the creator of Cerebus.  Back in the late-90's I found myself reading a lot of Dave Sim's writings... not necessarily his comics, but his essays.  Many of them referenced Gene Day.  If I recall right, Sim even spearheaded a Gene Day Award in his honor.

Now, as for Dan... he, like Beppe, has a handful of credits to his name for both Marvel and DC.  He worked in the indies, notably for Renegade Press.  The DC Wikia also credits him with some of the turn of the century era Cartoon Network books... which feels like something of a style clash.  I've never read one'a those, so I can't speak to it!

Anyhoo, this was pretty good... and I enjoyed it.  I'm also glad it doesn't look like it's getting any subsequent chapters.  Overall, worth a look!

Tomorrow: Blood is "Ticker" than Water...

Sunday, February 23, 2020

NTS #3 - Class of 2064

New Talent Showcase #3 (Class of 2064)
"Class Trip, Part 3: Dark Side of the Earth"
Words & Letters - Todd Klein
Art - Scott Hampton
Colors - Shelley Eiber
Edits - Marv Wolfman & Ernie Colon

Yowie Wowie... today we're wrapping up yet another of our features!  Man, New Talent Showdays is turning out quite a bit different from (say it with me) Action Comics Daily!  I really thought that these stories would stick with us for, at the very least, 4-6 weeks.

Heck, the back cover of this very issue promises that we'll also see the "startling conclusion" of Forever Amber!  So that's all-three of our NTS "flagship" features done... already!  This is one wild ride, innit?  I tell ya, when I finally get around to publishing the "dedicated" New Talent Showdays page... it's gonna look disjointed as hell!

Let's wrap up our time with the kids and Free Earthers!


We open with Pern and Tycho rescuing Chryse from the hot air balloon just in the nick of time before it hovers over the microwave receiver.  Feels like we've missed a scene between chapters, as I don't quite know how we got here, but alas... here, we are.  After getting to safety, a still unconscious Chryse begins to seize.  Pern's all sorts of worried, but Tycho assures him that she has epilepsy, and appears to be past the worst of her seizure.  Pern's a bit annoyed that Tycho did some background checking on the object of his affection... but, whattayagonnado?  Chryse comes to just in time for our trio to be confronted by... FREE EARTHERS!

While elsewhere, the Canyon Police bumble and stumble their way into a plan, the Big Free Earth (BFE) fella proceeds to chat up the children.  He claims to mean them no harm, and just wants to show them the truth.  They hop into his hooptie, and fly over the site of World War III's Ground Zero... Phoenix, Arizona?  Whaaaa?  Well, Phoenix has such a bad case of "little big town syndrome", I'm sure this was a fist-pump moment... even if it's only due to the absolute decimation of our fair city.

The Big Guy keeps talking... and shares with the kids the story of how the ones that survived the bombings had to deal with radiation... all things we've come to expect from fallout-type situations.  The craft lands and the kids exit, only to find themselves at a "Radiation Camp".  The BFE tells Chryse that they need her.

Back at the Canyon, the Police still try and figure out how to track down and rescue the children... but, they're too boring to really dedicate an entire paragraph to, so... back to the Camp!  Chryse has her memory jogged about her last visit to the Doctor... before the trip.  If you recall, from way back in Chapter One, that Doctor had mentioned something about getting the "virus" out to Earth.  Well, this is when that happened.  The Virus was placed into Chryse's medication in hopes that it would arrive safely where it was needed.  The BFE removes his gas-mask-helmet gimmick, to reveal his deformed visage.  He tells the kids that he's dying... however, the "virus" can help those around him who are not yet that far gone.  Chryse doesn't even need to think about it, she hands over the virus-laden meds.

The BFE puts his helmet back on and asks the kids to relay the true story of the Free Earth movement upon their return to Mars (or wherever).  Pern and Tycho agree... and, check this out, we get a group-hug out of it!  Isn't that the most adorable thing you've ever seen?

Right about now, the Canyon Police finally catch up with the kids... and they're taken back to rejoin their classmates.  When the dust settles, Pern tries to "seal the deal" with Chryse.  Well, I've got some bad news for ya, Copernicus... the Martian Girl only has eyes for Tycho!  Chryse and Tycho retire to the bedroom... and, from the hearts floating about... are probably in the process of doin' it!  Welp, didn't expect that... but, I should've.

The story proper ends the following morning.  Tycho makes a comment about The War of the Worlds... and compares it to this instance of the Martians landing on Earth.  He just hopes they were in time.


That was a pretty satisfying ending, wunnit?  I don't think it's anything we didn't already see coming, but it was still quite good.

From the get-go, it felt as though we weren't given all the information we needed about the Free Earthers.  Even in the earliest pages of this feature, it seemed as though they were more "freedom fighter" than "terrorist".  Though, I suppose nowadays that might be a dicier and more contentious statement than I intend for it to be.

We're living in an era where the media has a measure of control over the "narrative".  Regardless of your stance, you always know when "your side" is getting the short shrift in the news.  The Free Earth Movement has been condemned... to the point where the children of Mars/LaGrange are told, in no uncertain terms, that the FE's are the bad guys.  If you recall, the one bit of advice Pern's father gives him before leaving on the trip was to watch out for Free Earthers.

The earlier parts of the story had several "doth protest too much" sort of statements... so, the ultimate reveal was pretty-well telegraphed.  If a writer tries to convince you over and over again during the earliest part of their story that something walks and talks like a duck... you can be damn sure it's not gonna wind up being a duck.

That said, this was all perfectly fine.  The cast was, for the most part, likable... and the threat/non-threat felt substantial.  The writing was quite good, with some fun moments of humor in otherwise dire scenes.

I think my only problem with Class of 2064 overall was... the sorta-kinda disjointed feeling I'd get between scene transitions.  I feel like there were a few scenes left on the "cutting room floor", ya know?  I could be completely talking out my ass (and I likely am), but some scenes just "happened", ya know?  Last week we talked about the "beach stories" that the classmates reflected on.  Feels like we should've seen that... otherwise, why bother referencing it? Even consider the opening to this chapter.  Pern and Tycho are already saving Chryse?  Feels like we missed something.

Also, the brief cutaways back to the Canyon Police... felt like both too much and not enough time was spent with the cops trying to track down the kids.  It was a worst of both worlds situation... made me wonder why Klein even bothered with it.  I don't think we needed a page of the Police lamenting the fact that they'd have to deploy a helicopter to facilitate the search... but, we got one!  While this added a "scene" to the story... it didn't add anything substantial.  Ya follow?  There really wasn't any need for it, because nothing actually came of it.  I'd have been fine if the Canyon Cops just showed up at the end, and told the trio that they'd been looking for them all this time.

Overall, though... I think if you sat down with this story, you'd have a mostly good time with it.  As mentioned, the characters are likable... and, as cliche as it might've been, it's always fun to see the girl wind up with the nerd, right?  I probably ought to mention the art... which remains fantastic throughout this entire feature.  I really wish there were more chapters of this.  I haven't looked into the future... so, for all I know, we might just get another go-round with these kids down the line.  I kinda doubt it... but, ya never know!

Definitely recommend checking this one out.

Tomorrow: The King's Treaty...?

Saturday, February 22, 2020

BIZARRO BREAK #4 - Wonder Girl

BIZARRO BREAK #4 (Wonder Girl)
"The Wonder of it All"
Writer - Mo Willems
Art & Colors - Ellen Forney
Seps - Matt Madden
Edits - Joey Cavalieri

What a weird turn of events here... a story by, Mo Willems?

If you're not familiar with that name, well, lemme catch y'up.  Mo Willems, among other things, is a children's book creator... most notably, the Pigeon and Elephant and Piggie series' of books.  My wife, a second-grade teacher, is a huge fan and Mo's books are a favorite of her students.  So yeah, wasn't ever expecting to cover anything by this fella here on the humble blog!  The #BizarroBreak truly is the gift that keeps on giving!

Funny thing, apparently I bear a passing resemblance to the fella... and so, I have been mistaken for Mr. Willems by my wife's students (and, oddly, co-workers) on more than one occasion.  I guess all of us salt-n-pepper bearded white fellas look alike!

I mean, I guess I can kinda see it... though, thankfully my beard hasn't gone that white yet!  The rest of the hair on my head, however... well, no comment.

Anyhoo... let's get down to it!


We open with Wonder Woman (when she was a girl) reading a magazine, and finding an ad for a Lasso of Truth (only $99.95!).  She calls out to her mother, I'm assuming Hippolyta, to ask for it for her birthday.  Some four-to-six-weeks later, the booty arrives.  She ka-rippps it out of the package, and immediately tests it out on her gal-pal, Etta Candy.  Etta reveals that she only hangs out with Diana to get closer to Steve... and also, that she and Steve have kissed.  So... this is gonna be one'a dem "be careful what ya wish for" sorta stories, innit?

Diana heads over to the football field to confirm all this... and, gets even more bad news.  Looks like Steve kisses anything with a pulse!  Also, everyone else she lassos up gives her some pretty brutal truths!

At home, Di elicits advice from her mother on what she should do next.  Unfortunately for her, she lassos Hippolyta up before asking... and so, she learns just what a bother all of her silly questions really are.  Wonder Woman (when she was a girl) bursts into her bedroom, lamenting the fact that she doesn't have the courage to tell people what she really thinks... and so, she decides to lasso herself up!

Before we know it, she's rocketing toward the Holliday Mall.  After bursting through the wall, she sees her pals all having a heckuva good time.  She decides her only "truth" is to be true to herself.  And so, she ditches the lasso in a garbage can and joins up with her clique.


This was a cute story... but lemme tell ya, I did not care for the art.  It almost looks as though they were trying to make some of these characters appear as ugly as possible.  Like, Diana herself is incredibly off-putting.  Not sure why an artist would go to such lengths, when clearly not every character comes across as homely.  Really made this story more difficult to read than it should've been.  I kept wanting to look away... which, ain't good.

As for the story... like I said during the synopsis, it's one'a dem "be careful what you wish for" sort of deals... and, as such, it works!  It works quite well.  It's pretty clever, and as someone who has read very little Wonder Woman, I'm not sure if this sort of thing is "well-trodden ground" in her stories... so, I found a measure of novelty in it.

Overall, despite my misgivings regarding the art, this was a harmless, fun little story.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Wasteland #3 (1988)

Wasteland #3 (February, 1988)
"American Squalor"
"Dies Illa"
"Lotus Blossom"
Writers - John Ostrander & Del Close
Art - Don Simpson, David Lloyd, & George Freeman
Letters - Steve Craddock & Ron Muns
Colors - Lovern Kindzierski
Edits - Mike Gold
Cover Price: $1.75

Business really picked up with this issue!  Rather than relying on navel-gazing, attempts at "satire", and weird open-ended storytelling... Wasteland #3 (mostly) rocked my socks.  Feels like the Ostrander (and Ostrander-heavy) stories are shouldering the burden on dragging this series to an adequate level of quality!

Nothing against Del Close, but... his stories (at least so far) have been rather meandering, way too "ya had to be there"... and, as you'll see in a bit, don't so much have "endings"... but instead "stopping points".  Hopefully they'll get better as we go through!

Before hopping into the hyphens... our cover, which has zippo to do with anything inside the book, comes to us from William Messner-Loebs, and it's, ya know, not bad.


We open with our Harvey Pekar-alike, Henry Pequod fresh off an appearance on the David Lettermaning Show.  He tells the story of how he's had to leave work a bit early of late... because, for whatever reason, he's had this overwhelming feeling that his bed was on fire.  Okay then.  This one time, it's around 4:15, and he tells a friendly janitor, named Mr. Boot about his fears... to which, he is told that ever since he's been making these TV appearances, he's been acting way-out weird.

Anyhoo, Henry heads home to check on his bed... and, unsurprisingly (?), it's not on-fire.

The story continues... the next time he'd gotten this feeling, it came a little bit earlier in the day.  The clock reads 2:45  Once again, Henry runs into Mr. Boot... who tells him that he really likes his comic book "American Squalor", but feels as though every time he goes on TV, "David Lettering" makes him look like a trained monkey.  We're getting deep here, folks.

Henry, once again, heads home.  This time, he finds that his bed... well, it isn't exactly "on-fire", but damned if it isn't smoldering.

The next day, Henry tells Mr. Boot about his smoking bed... to which, the Janitor's all "what does that prove?"  All it proves is that he's paranoid.  At this point, the clock on the wall reads 12:10... and that feeling has hit our man again.  He heads home, and well hot-damn, the bed is blazin'!

Another day, another conversation with Mr. Boot.  Henry tells him that the bed was full-blown in-flames.  Boot asks what might be behind it.  Henry suggests spontaneous combustion.  Mr. Boot corrects him, claiming that it's Henry's own fears manifesting as the inferno.

He then asks what Henry's greatest fear is... to which, we learn it's making a fool out of himself on television.  Well, how 'bout dat?  Boot tells him that he'd already done that... and suggests that he figure out how to not be afraid anymore.

And so, Henry Pequod learned a valuable lesson about fear... and his burning bed.  He tells us (or Lettermaning) that he doesn't go home early anymore... and, in fact, many nights he doesn't go home at all.


Last time we started a Wasteland, I mentioned the concept of the "No Occasion".  Those personal or secondhand stories and anecdotes you might think you have a reason to share, but at the end of the day, you really don't.  Because, with so many of them, it's a "you had to be there" situation, ya know what I mean?  I took "no occasion" from a line in the song, Tempted by Squeeze: "I said it's no occasion (it's no story I could tell)".

And yeah, this is another one of those.  Perhaps not as "inside baseball" as last issue's opener, since Harvey Pekar/Henry Pequod was a public figure, and many comics enthusiasts know of his life, times, and quirks... and yet, still kind of a disappointment.  I feel like we get a lot of build... and the dialogue's really on-point... but then, it just ends.  Actually, it doesn't even really "end"... it just stops.  That's the problem with anecdotes... very seldom do they have "endings" or resolutions.  They just kinda sputter out and stop.

Worth noting, the art here was pretty spot on for an American Splendor riff.  We're going to be seeing plenty of really strong work from Donald Simpson.  If you're familiar with his work, you know it's pretty great stuff.  If not, well, hopefully after our Wasteland journey, you will be.


It's after-dark in the city... just before 8 PM.  A pair of officers prepare for all the "crazies" to come out... and, wouldn'tcha know it, they just happen to run into one of their regulars.  This is a (mostly harmless) pickpocket.  They do the thing, where they rattle his cage... only this time, dude's packin'!  He pulls a gun on the officers, and gets perforated pretty good.

Before the fella dies, he gurgles something or another about something of a second coming.  He claims that, after midnight, only the damned will remain on Earth... and so, he thanks the officers for "saving" him.  Ya dig?

Lieutenant (I hate spelling that word!) D'Amano turns to his partner, Stu and asks about all this rapture stuff.  Ya see, Stu's kind of religious... or at the very least, more so than D'Amano.  Stu tells him of the second coming... and how there are supposed to be "clear signs" of such a thing coming to pass.  Just then... he is struck by a massive coronary.  He is pronounced dead at 9:10 PM.

D'Amano is sent home by the doctors, and told to get himself some rest.  He declines a ride home, and proceeds to walk... through a rather seedy portion of the city.  He happens across a pair of muggers beating the hell out of a fella.  D'Amano doesn't even think about it... he just squeezes off a few rounds down the alley.

He stands over one of the muggers... and asks why they attacked (killed, actually) that man.  The mugger says he wanted the dude's hat... and so, D'Amano blows his brains out!

D'Amano's walk continues... and, it only gets more depraved from here.  We're about to crank up the "Mature Meter" here... so, here's your warning.

In the subway, he comes across a man forcing a woman at knife-point to, well, service him... orally.  She notices D'Amano and begs him to help her.  What he does is... blows her brains out.  Ya see, she's not one of the damned... she deserves to pass before the clock strikes midnight.

Moments later, the clock does strike midnight... and so, Lieutenant D'Amano throws himself in front of a car!

He wakes up hours later... surrounded by Doctors who tell him they saved him!  Here's the thing though... a) he has no arms or legs, and b) the Police Department wants to know all about that dead woman in the subway.  Welcome to Hell, pal! 


Now this... this, is more like it!

This one kept me riveted throughout.... and actually didn't fumble the ball with its ending!  So many of these Wasteland Chapters have been "almost good", before getting tackled on the one yard-line.

Let's take a look at this.  We've got a pair of officers working the night shift... in a really unpleasant part of the city.  You gotta figure this is "old hat"... these two have done this every night for the past many nights.  So, what's so different about this night?

Well, besides the fact that one of 'em dies of a heart attack early in the evening... this night was jump-started via the "power of suggestion".  Lt. D'Amano is hyper-keen on all of the depravity around him.  But, why?  You gotta assume that this night, on the face of it, is no different from any other night on the beat.  There are always going to be bad people... ne'er do wells, creeps, killers, predators, perverts.  But tonight... with the slightest possibility of a "second coming" looming, D'Amano seems to be viewing the world through a different sort of prism.

He doesn't bother arresting anybody... he just kills 'em.  Is he just hopeless?  Or is he trying to make himself into a "good person" so he doesn't wind up "left behind" in the post-midnight Hell on Earth?  It's a pretty interesting dichotomy, innit?  His "mercy-killing" of the assaulted woman was particularly striking... I actually had to look it over twice to make sure I was seeing it right!  I really wasn't expecting that!

Poor D'Amano winds up, for all his trouble, limbless... and likely about to be incarcerated.  I guess no good deed goes unpunished... orrrr, he just overreacted to the passing of his partner, and let the ramblings of a lunatic skew his view... and now he's paying for it.  A wonderfully creepy story.  More like this, please!


We open on a... murder scene?  For a moment, I was positive this was going to be revealed as being a scene in a play or some sort of new age performance, but... nope!  It's an actual moider!  Our "star", a blonde man in glasses, sits nude among the quartet of corpses he just "facilitated", and he's feeling a bit philosophical.  He talks about the feeling that comes with committing such an act... the feeling, of love?  He cradles and thanks his latest victim, before closing her eyes one final time.

He proceeds to get up and wash some of the death off of him.  He takes a shower in his victims' home.  When finished, he pretties himself up before the bathroom mirror... and takes note of the now-dead family's toothbrushes.  He picks up the one belonging to the little boy, and admires it.  He reveals that he knew these people... which makes the scene all the more creepily intimate.

He gets dressed, and bids his victims adieu.  On the front stoop, he is greeted by the family cat... and thinks to himself, had the family owned a dog instead, he would have had to kill it too.

We follow our killer to the train station.  There, on the platform, a woman in a fur coat catches his attention.

On the train, he watches her... he thinks about everything that might be going on in her life.  He is absolutely lost in his thoughts about this woman.  She eventually exits the train... and so, our man does too.

He follows her through the terminal, thinking to himself that... one day, he'll be caught.  The Police will catch up with him.  He just can't help himself though.  He continues on his way, taking note of many of the familiar faces he sees.  He wonders about them.  He sees these people all the time, but feels no connection to anybody.  His thoughts come back to the connectedness one might feel when they take the life of another.  Quoting the criminal/writer, (Jack) Henry Abbott, from his book In the Belly of the Beast, he compares the "union" a killer has with his victim as more intimate than sex.  Our man buys a single rose at a flower stand.

His thoughts roll on.  He wants this intimate union... with another warm body, but first... he wants to know everything about her.  He compares this "relationship" to the lotus blossom... and we close out with him handing that rose over to a woman (possibly the same one from the train, if she's ditched her fur coat), who happily takes it.


Here we go!  This issue sure picked up with it's second and third stories!  This is the kind of envelope-pushing I was hoping for with Wasteland... the kind of stories I could've sworn I liked so much my first time through the series!  This brought the exact level of discomfort that I assumed would be with us throughout this little journey.

Now, in a post-Dexter world, a story like this might feel a bit contrived.  Though, I feel like back in ye old 1988, attempts at romanticizing serial murder were probably a bit more novel.  This story hits only a couple of years after Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), which drew its inspiration (in part) from the killing spree of Henry Lee Lucas of the late-70's/early-80's.

Here, our unnamed assailant shares his skewed views on murder with us.  Whereas normal people might view things like love-making and committing as the "peak" of a relationship... our man feels quite a bit differently.  The act of committing murder is fetishized, it's the absolute closest he can be with another human.  In the most twisted of ways, I mean, I'm not equipped or qualified to argue that.  He's literally ending people.  In the open, we see the weird euphoria the act brings him... he actually thanks his victims.  It's very weird... very uncomfortable.  You feel kinda dirty even just analyzing it.

His methodical stalking and plotting is very hard to watch.  He's also portrayed as something of a charming fellow.  Things like this might make you question just about anyone who crosses your path... and that might just be the point of it all.  Really... can't say enough good about this one.  It's not often I feel "creeped out" in reading, but this one brought all the cringes (the good kind of cringes).

Our man quotes a noted prisoner-author, Jack Abbott.  Now, Abbott might not be the sort of fella you wanna adopt your sensibilities from.  He was a real person... and, a real interesting case.  He'd been arrested for something or another, and while in prison, he killed a fellow inmate.  He began a correspondence with, of all people, Norman Mailer... and In the Belly of the Beast was born out of these missives.  Mailer even wrote the foreword to the book!

Check this out though, Abbott was eventually paroled (due, in part, to a whole lot of lobbying).  One month later, he killed again!  Abbott wrote another book in the clink before eventually committed suicide.  So yeah, probably not a dude to model one's life after.

Overall... I feel like Wasteland #3 knocked it out of the park with it's latter two chapters.  This one's worth a look!


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