New Talent Showcase #1 (January, 1984)
Forever Amber: “Forever Amber”
Sky Dogs: “Sky Dogs Away”
Rock of Ages: “The Rock of Ages”
Class of 2064: “Class Trip”
Writers – Rich Margopoulos, L.B. Kellogg, Tod Smith, & Todd Klein
Pencils – Stan Woch, Tom Mandrake, Tod Smith, & Scott Hampton
Inks – Rick Magyar
Letters – Duncan Andrews, Andy Kubert, & Todd Klein
Colors – Jeanine Casey, Shelley Eiber, & Helen Vesik
Edits – Roger Slifer, Marv Wolfman, & Ernie Colon
Cover Price: $0.75
Well, we’ve done it! We made it through the first issue of New Talent Showcase (only eighteen to go!), and I think I can safely say we’ve “kicked off” Year Five of this here humble and unspectacular little blog. We’ll be following up with Issue #2 in… I wanna say, six days. Still working the kinks out of the “triple-feature format” I’m attempting to employ for the next little while. You’ll have to let me know how/if you’re enjoying it as we move forward. I’m open and flexible to whatever… so, lemme know!
Now, when we did our year-long run-through of Action Comics Weekly… our “compilation posts” would look at and discuss whatever cover we’d been given that week. Here, with New Talent Showcase, however (especially the first 15-16 issues), the covers are… these kinda weird “collages”, and hard to really “judge”. I suppose we can just mention that, while all four stories get some “play” on the wraparound, our “cover feature” is Forever Amber… and it’s not a half-bad image. It’s a new image… doesn’t appear inside the book… so, that’s something! Going to assume it was drawn by Stan Woch.
Anyhoo, I hope you’ve all enjoyed this look into New Talent Showcase #1. If it was your first-time through (as it was mine), I’d love to know your thoughts! If you’re an NTS Veteran… lemme know how you feel this one has aged! I’m not going to waste anybody’s time with a “Poll”… however, if you wanna share which story you dug the most, definitely feel free to leave a comment!
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!
We open on the Indian Ocean, where a Pirate Vessel is fleeing from a brutal raid they’d performed in Bombay. Their number fears being tracked down, I assume, by Indian Authorities… or, ya know, just the angry people from India they’d just robbed… but, those are not the people this ship-o-fools ought to be wary of. For, they’re about to be boarded by the… Sky Dogs! So, more or less, Pirates from the Sky.
These folks, if the fella who I assume to be their leader, can be trusted… are kind of the Robin Hoods of the Seven Seas. They have no problem stealing from those who “prey upon the innocent”. And so, the Sky Dogs engage in battle with the baddies.
The leader of the Sky Dogs, this Captain Hawke, shares in some sorta-kinda competitive banter with a compatriot named Ndemba, before bursting through into the… uh… “living quarters” of the ship? Inside, he happens to find… if you pardon the vernacular, wenches!
Hawke immediately pours on the charm… introducing himself as both a Gentleman and an Adventurer. Sounds pretty romantic… maybe I ought to add that line to my business card. One of these “wenches” claims to be Princess Zelaleddin, the daughter of “The Great Mogul”, which makes her the Princess of all of India. I guess we’ll just have to take her word for that… frankly, I’m not interested enough to Google none’a that. Hawke swoops her into his arms, and promises to rescue her… he also informs her that, where they’re going, they’re not going to need roads… err, water, as his ship, the “Moonjammer” flies overhead.
On board the Moonjammer, Hawke introduces Zelaleddin around… and also explains just how this rig manages to stay afloat. He claims that this was among the discoveries of one Mullah Ka Khwaja (I’m never going to be able to spell that without cheating). Speaking of words I have a hard time spelling, our friend Ndemba overhears this chat, and interjects that Ka Khwaja is nothing more than a faker. Uh, dude… you’re currently on the flying boat.
Hawke suggests that Zelaleddin just meet Ka Khwaja herself and make up her own mind, because, as luck would have it… he’s on-board too! We find him, naturally, gazing into a crystal ball. He shows the Princess a vision of… her father’s palace being infiltrated by the fearsome pirate, Captain Kidd. He wants to know about the Crown of Siva and some Seven Jewels of Power. When the Court Astrologer reveals that he hasn’t the foggiest idea what Kidd’s talking about… he is killed. Also, Kidd’s packin’ his own mystic… who can tell they’re being watched… and so, the “transmission” is cut.
Zelaleddin begs Hawke and Company to aid her in saving her kingdom… and promises to give him “anything” in return. I get the feeling that Hawke’s crew thinks this means “a whole lot of money”, while the Captain himself feels as though he’s about to get lucky. Anyhoo, the Moonjammer Gang decides to throw in with the Princess… and it looks like Captain Kidd’s days might just be numbered.
Hey, not bad! This story didn’t so much “move” me, but it didn’t make me tune out either… which, for a dude who really only reads superheroes nowadays, might be saying something!
I don’t particularly find Pirates to be all that interesting, but I definitely appreciated the little bits of characterization we were able to see here in this opening chapter. Captain Geoffrey Hawke seems like a fairly charismatic protagonist… and, I really enjoyed his playfully contentious back and forth with Ndemba.
Having the Sky Dogs sort of be of a Robin Hood bent… ehh, perhaps a bit cliche, but I’m cool with it. I mean, we’re less likely to root for actual pirates… right? I think this could probe interesting going forward… with Hawke dealing with the dissonance between altruism and pirating. Though, I might just be thinking too hard about how “deep” this little story might go. Heck, at this point (and by design), I couldn’t even tell ya how many parts it has! For all I know, it ends next issue.
Captain Kidd is an interesting choice of antagonist… and I’m wondering if this is supposed to be the actual William Kidd… who was executed for being a pirate after a trip to… the Indian Ocean. Hmm… perhaps? Far as I can tell, we didn’t exactly get a “timestamp” in this issue, though we can probably assume it was quite a while ago. Hopefully this will blend some more real and fantastic elements as we proceed.
The art here was really good… and comes from a fella (I’m assuming) we’ve all actually heard of! Speaking of which… let’s meet our makers:
L.B. Kellogg comes from the world of fanzines… he actually co-created one called First Flight (1975) with the very same artist he worked with in this here feature! Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate a whole heckuva lot about First Flight online… but really dig the fanzine-to-comics “pedigree”… especially back in the long ago. Kellogg’s comics credits are limited… just Sky Dogs, some Star Trek, and a couple issues of World’s Finest. Worth noting that he had a character named after him in X-Men comics… apparently a local sheriff in a story was named in his honor.
Across the table, Tom Mandrake… a fella who we’ve seen several times here already. He is probably the most prolific of all the “New Talent” we’ve looked at here so far… and, lemme tell ya, his credits are numerous! His work has spanned several decades. Worth noting, he married fellow comics pro, Jan Duursema… and, check this out, their wedding actually happened in “the backyard” of the Joe Kubert School(‘s original location)! Pretty wild!
Overall… I’m feeling optimistic about Sky Dogs… and am looking forward to seeing where it’s headed!
Submitted for your approval, one Paul March… a man on a self-appointed quest… a quest for answers. His journey brings him to a remote mountain, in a part of the world he had never darkened. Atop the mountain, sits a man… and this man, aged and alone, has been waiting for Mr. March’s visit for a very long time. While this old man has answers… they appear to be to different questions than the ones Paul brought.
The old man tells him that the answers are in fact here… however, to find them… Paul will have to do the exact same thing he did… sit, and wait. The old man shares that he has been sitting on this spot for fifty years… if March does the same, all will be revealed. Well, Paul doesn’t like the sound of that… and so, he backhands the poor old fool with all his might!
And so, without the old man around to be given his nebulous “answers”, Paul decides to sit… and sit… and sit. Wouldn’tcha know it, some fifty years later, the answers come to him.
Also, some fifty years later, the cycle begins anew.
This was pretty clever, I guess… and coming in at only four-pages, didn’t overstay its welcome.
If it wasn’t obvious by my hacky opening paragraph… this felt very much to me like a Twilight Zone episode… only without the implied guilt about how man is the worst thing ever. Though, in fairness, our Mr. March is portrayed like a jerk.
We don’t know what he’s running from… and we don’t know what answers he’s seeking… but really, none of that matters here. It’s all about the “calling”, I suppose… and, from the looks of it, this “calling” chooses a new vessel every half-century. The cycle repeats without end… giving us a feeling of both optimism that the answers to the riddles of the universe are eventually answered… and hopelessness, in the understanding that once the knowledge is procured… the original “vessel” will probably be murdered by their successor.
Not sure if there’s a lesson to be learned here. Patience, perhaps? Though, if patience were the thing… the cycle would be broken, right? Oh well… I’ve probably already devoted more thought to this than most. I suppose we can leave it for now. Talk about lack of patience, right? Overall, though… I enjoyed this well enough.
Let’s meet our maker… it’s just one dude this time out, Tod Smith. We’d already met him here at the blog… he provided pencils for a good chunk of the earliest part of the Green Lantern Action Comics Weekly feature (including the Oprah chapter!). This here little story, if the DC Wiki is to be believed, is Tod’s only credit as a writer. If that’s true, it’s kind of a shame… because, this was quite well-written. Not overblown and flowery as we might expect from a “New Talent”. As for his art… well, Smith’s had a fairly prolific career… at both Marvel and DC (among others). It looks like his longest stint on art was for Marvel’s Darkhawk series in the early 1990’s, where he stuck around for 24 issues. Other notable runs include Vigilante, and Omega Men for DC… and Green Hornet for NOW Comics.
Our story opens on Mars… it’s March 19, 2064… which, doesn’t really feel like the far-flung future it probably did back in ye old 1984, does it? There’s this Martian Virus, see… and it looks as though it might just change the fate of human society. We begin with a man in a flying saucer type of vessel (with the words FREE EARTH crudely scrawled across it) attacking a much more refined-looking transport vehicle. He is threatened with destruction, should he decide not to back off. He continues nonetheless… resulting in, well… his destruction. Welp, can’t say they didn’t warn him!
We shift scenes to a darkened room, where a Doctor/Dignitary of sorts laments any loss of life in the name of procuring this Virus… so, we might assume that this “Free Earther” is a sort of Freedom Fighter, attempting to use this Virus for “good”? Well, we’ll get there. Anyhoo, this Doc-Dignitary expresses that he is sort of a double-agent… both smiling for the establishment (Lagrange) and wanting to get this Virus sent off to Earth. Ya see, he’s snuck a bit of it into the medication of a girl named Chryse Bantry… who is about to be rocketed off to Earth.
Okay, another scene-shift… to a residence in the Lagrange Colonies. Now it’s May 28… and a young student named “Pern” is woken by his parents, because today he’s to board a shuttle! Ya see, it’s the Class of 2064’s big trip… and, as luck would have it, they’re headed to Earth! Now, I’m not exactly sure if Lagrange is necessarily on Mars… or if it’s some sort of gigantic floating space station near Mars. I suppose if I were a betting man, I’d say it’s on Mars (maybe?). Whatever the case, “Pern” has a bit of a space-hangover, having partied a little too much the night before… but, he’s still quite looking forward to the adventure. Before heading out, Pern’s Pop warns of the “Free Earthers”.
We rejoin Pern out on the fields, where he meets up with his pal Tycho. Wow, lotsa “futury” names here. They talk a bit about the “Free Earthers”… who are apparently the “biggest threat” to their whole way of life. We learn that Tycho has been tapping into the Police Computer system to keep tabs on the Free Earthers… this makes Pern a bit uneasy.
Our boys make it on time to meet up with their friends… and it’s here that we meet a young woman named Maris. Pern thanks her for the party the night before and immediately begins to flirt. Tycho doesn’t know how Pern can be so outgoing.
Apologies (for near tardiness) are given, bags are stowed, seat-backs are returned to their yadda-yadda-yadda… and it’s two-minutes til take off. We learn that there’s going to be a “Martian Girl” on board… which, I don’t know if she’s just from a Colony on Mars… called Mars… or, whatever. Hmm… could this be that Martian Girl?! The folks in charge are not 100% certain she doesn’t have “it”… and by “it”, I’m pretty sure they’re talking about that Virus.
The shuttle takes off… and the Class of 2064 is finally headed to Earth. At this point, the students are introduced to, heyyyy, whattayaknow, Chryse Bantry… that Martian Girl. She apparently won a scholarship of some sort to get a seat on this here rig. She doesn’t look like your stereotypical “Martian”… she just looks like a gaudily-dressed human gal. Our boy Pern is immediately smitten…
… and so, he heads right on over to flirt. It’s here that we learn that “Pern” is short for Copernicus… which, yikes. They chat for a bit, with Chryse not appearing to be interested in the slightest… not that I can blame her. Anyhoo, we see here that this entire exchange is being observed by… the Free Earthers! They have a sneaking suspicion that this Martian Girl is in fact “carrying” (because they, like Tycho, have tapped into the Police Computers)… and they’re going to do whatever they can in order to confirm that… up to and including… killin’ her!
Wow… I really enjoyed this! This might be the strongest offering from this issue… just really solid stuff!
Only thing I’m kind of wonky on is the difference between Lagrange and Mars… though, I’ll concede that might just be a case of my being too dense… or thinking too hard. I know there are things called “Lagrange Points”… which, I sort of understand, but wouldn’t attempt to explain. Not sure if this has anything to do with that… or if anything I’ve typed into this here paragraph even matters!
The characters we’re introduced to are pretty relatable… the conflict has been established… the world(s) have been built… all in eight pages! You really can’t ask for much more from an opening chapter! Really fun stuff here… looking forward to seeing where this one goes!
Our writer, Todd Klein is probably a pretty familiar name to comic fans… though, maybe more as a Letterer. He is one mighty prolific fellow… who actually has a fair amount of writing credits to his name! He wrote (among other things) a bunch of back-up features in Green Lantern (vol.2) and had a decent run on Omega Men for DC Comics. I tell ya, if the DC Wiki is to be believed, he’s got credits doing just about anything one can do in the comics creation process. He maintains a blog that I really cannot recommend enough if you’re a fan of DC Comics History… there is an absolute wealth of information and ephemera to check out here!
Let’s talk art for a minute. I really dug the way this story looked… it evokes a little bit of Moebius, giving the characters both a familiar yet otherworldly feel. It comes to us from Scott Hampton, a heck of an artist… and a fella with a really interesting resume. He’s done a bunch of work in the industry, including (but not limited to) Simon Dark, Doc Savage, and Star-Spangled War Stories featuring G.I. Zombie for DC… some Sandmanny stuff for Vertigo… plenty of non-DC stuff, and even provided painted art for the Magic: The Gathering card game! Really excellent stuff!
Overall… yeah, I think Class of 2064 gets my vote for best story this time out!
(Not the) Letters Page:
Ain’t no Ads… so, here’s the back cover!