New Talent Showcase #1 (Forever Amber)
Writer – Rich Margopoulos
Pencils – Stan Woch
Inks – Rick Magyar
Letters – Duncan Andrews
Colors – Jeanine Casey
Edits – Roger Slifer
Being a daily blog, I kind of miss out on those opportunities to kinda just sit back and, for lack of a better term “bask”. I’m writing this piece on January 31… so, the anniversary day for this site. A day I probably should just be taking a deep breath and relaxing… pleased with the fact that I made it through yet another year.
But no… instead, I’m reading New Talent friggin’ Showcase. Wish I knew what was wrong with me! Oh well.
So yeah, New Talent Showcase… I know I’ve threatened it a time or two during the latter half of Action Comics Daily… and the response I would get each time was… mixed. A few people were interested in exactly what sort of stories we’d get from NTS… others, I suppose already knew what sort of stories we’d get. In all honesty, I’ve tried reading this… a few times, and it never held my interest all that long. I can say with confidence I never even finished this first issue!
Well, starting today: we’re gonna try. Now, please wait a moment before clicking the back-arrow on your browser, or swiping left or whatever the hell we do on mobile devices. New Talent Showcase is just one of the things we’ll be covering for the next little while! Having learned a pretty powerful lesson in “reader retention” during our near-year of Action Comics Weekly, I’m going to try and keep things from becoming too stagnant here by rotating three different features going forward.
The agenda is thus: we’re going to do the first issue of New Talent Showcase… then, something else… then, something else… then, New Talent Showcase #2, and so on. Ya dig? As long as I’m able to keep things straight… this should be kind of fun. Either that, or I will literally be just left talking to myself. I guess we’ll find out, eh?
Ya know, it’s funny… four years ago I was toiling away on a Forensic Psychology project regarding Amber Hagerman… which actually led me to the creation of this very blog. Here we are kicking off our fifth year… with Forever Amber!
We open with a woman just having infiltrated a treasure trove of sorts. Before her, if we can sift passed the overly-flowery narration captions, we can see an idol surrounded by jewels and what-not. She swipes as much of the loot as she possibly can, when she notices that the very idol itself has some very valuable-looking jewels set insides its eye-sockets. She spies a hunk of Gold Quartz in the right-eye, and decides to go for it. When she does, the bugger starts to sizzle… and actually fuses into the palm of her hand-meat!
The resulting, ya know, searing pain prompts her to recall just how she got herself into this predicament. We jump into flashback land, where we learn that she hails from Vietnam and is of mixed race… her mother Taiwanese, and her father (presumably) an American G.I. (who our protagonist has never met). Our gal, Amber, spent her childhood being shunned by the rest of the Orie… er, Asian children, for being different. She grew up (to the ripe old age of sixteen or so) performing in sort of a traveling circus.
Amber’s mama, Su Wan, holds out hope that daddy will eventually come back and save them from this life. In fact, she regularly prays before his framed photo. We learn that, while he hasn’t come to “save them”, he does send them money (and love?) with regularity. Amber’s pretty much over it… she tells her mother to, more or less, “grow up”, and slaps down daddy’s shrine.
She stomps out of their tent… and passes by a Hindu Priest named Nuri. He gives her a bit of a spiel that conflates Buddhism and Hinduism… and, as I’m no religious scholar, for all I know this might make sense. He invites her into his tent to pitch a sort of baptism… in the name of Kali… wherein our gal would become a “living instrument” of the Dark Goddess. Fair enough.
Time passes, and the Vietnam War ends. The South falls to the North… and the United States suffers a humiliating loss. This sends many a South Vietnamese into hiding and/or fleeing into nearby Cambodia. Amber and Su Wan travel to a refugee camp in Thailand… and it’s not a great life. Worth noting, this Vietnam War news comes to us courtesy of… The Daily Planet! So… does that mean Forever Amber is officially part of the DC Universe?! Maybe we’ll find out… though, probably not.
Amber continues performing… though, not in an official “circus” capacity. She does her acrobatics to wow the crowd, all the while her partner, Ho Diem picks their pockets. We learn that she’s resorted to this unsavory method in order to pay for her mother’s medication… Su Wan has fallen quite ill. Oh, and ol’ Ho Diem has quite the hot-pants for our Amber.
Time passes… and Su Wan dies. After Amber discovers the body, she spies the photo of her hated G.I. father on the nightstand. She blames him for Su Wan’s death… and vows revenge. He too will die… but, by her hand!
Amber bids Ho Diem farewell… forever… and heads off to Cambodia. She had learned that a Dacoit Temple there housed many riches… riches, with which, she can “buy her revenge”. This brings us back to the present, where Amber… now with added gem-palm… finds herself surrounded by a gaggle of Dacoit Faithful. They presume to test her, to see if she is worthy of keeping the “Sun-Stone”. With Amber shattering their sword with but a swipe, I’d have to say… so far, so good.
The Dacoits continue their assault, prompting Amber (the woman) to respond to one with a palm-strike to the chest. This palm strike turns the fella from flesh and bone to… well, amber (the crystalish resin). The poor goofball shatters into a million pieces.
The attackers keep attacking… however, Amber is more than capable of holding her own. A blast of light emits from the Sun-Stone, which manages to blind a few of her would-be assailants.
She then breaks out of a full-nelson when she sorta overhead-throws this one eyepatched Dacoit. He goes flying right into the blade of yet another Dacoit. Worth noting, the dialogue around this point is… really quite bad. We all know that comics ought to be more “show” than “tell”. This little bit gives us a whole lotta both. I mean, the goof with the sword actually proclaims: “My drawn dagger-! No!! He landed upon it… exactly as the blonde vixen planned!”. Ay yai yai.
At this point, exhausted Amber decides to try and bluff her way out of this. Even though she can barely stand, she remains strong… and, more or less, dares these Dacoit to come at her. Rather than doing so, the attackers all bow to her. She has proven herself worthy, not only of the Sun-Stone, but to as much of the loot as she can carry. The bid her leave in peace.
We wrap up with Amber preparing to board a ship bound for America.
So… a little dry. Well, maybe more than a little dry.
I feel like, if you’re going to launch an “experimental” title like New Talent Showcase… you might wanna do it “with a bang”, so to speak. While I can’t necessarily hold its placement against Forever Amber… I do question why this got the lead-off spot here. Just seems a bit too, I dunno story-heavy, to really grab a new reader. Though, perhaps I’m just projecting.
So, what do we got here? Well, we got a lot of story. They really crammed a whole lot of graham into this one… which, while a bit dry, did a really good job of setting the table and getting as much of the exposition out of the way. In light of that, hopefully subsequent chapters will be able to swing a bit freer… and move at a brisker pace.
Now, I can’t pretend to completely comprehend the Gestalt of this piece. I’m no religious scholar either, so I don’t know how fast-and-loose the creative team is being with the various faiths and whatnot. That didn’t pull me out of the story, so I suppose it’s kind of a moot point (for me). I dig the idea of Amber trying to seek out her father for revenge… and am actually kind of looking forward to following up with her search.
The fantastical elements added here with the Golden Quartz embedding itself into Amber’s hand was pretty cool. Gotta wonder how that will wind up playing out over time. Overall… this wasn’t bad. I was honestly kind of dreading it… but, had a decent enough time. Hopefully the rest of the stories here can keep up!
Now, since some of the New Talent Showcase stories are one-and-dones, I figure we should “meet” our creative teams with their first appearances in the run.
Rich Margopoulos… didn’t do much at DC Comics. In fact, Forever Amber looks like it might be it. He did do some work for Harvey, Archie, and Marvel from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s however. Worth noting, he is the owner of a Bachelors Degree in Philosophy and Religion from Stockton State College (now Stockton University) in Galloway, New Jersey… so, he probably had a pretty good idea what he was talking about with the religious content of this story!
Across the table sits Stan Woch. A graduate (?) of the Kubert School, and a fella we’ve actually covered here. He does good work, and was moderately prolific at DC Comics throughout the late 1980s. Looks like he only kept active in the industry until around the turn of the century. Still, not a bad body of work!
Tomorrow: Meet the Sky Dogs!