New Talent Showcase #2 (February, 1984)
Sky Dogs: “A Magic Carpet Ride”
Class of 2064: “Between Earth and Sky!”
Forever Amber: “Transition!”
Writers – L.B. Kellogg, Todd Klein, Gary Kwapisz, & Rich Margopoulos
Pencils – Tom Mandrake, Scott Hampton, Gary Kwapisz, & Stan Woch
Inks – Rick Magyar
Letters – Philip Felix, Todd Klein, Duncan Andrews, & Andy Kubert
Colors – Shelley Eiber, Helen Vesik, & Jeanine Casey
Edits – Marv Wolfman, Ernie Colon, & Roger Slifer
Cover Price: $0.75
Boy how time does fly… it’s time for our second compilation of New Talent Showcase! It’s funny, when I compare this to Action Comics Daily (is he really going to keep bringing up ACD? Yes, he is.), those issues, despite only being two-chapters longer… felt endless in comparison to these. These (two) issues have just flown by!
This time out, my favorite from last week, Class of 2064, gets unseated by… well, everybody else’s favorite from last week, Forever Amber. Thought our three “main” features here were all pretty decent. Our “one-off”… ehh… kinda weak this time around. You can all be the judge when you get to Danger Dungeon.
Stick around at the end of the post, as I’ve included a few pieces of NTS ephemera sent in by pal of the site, Matthew O’Hara. You can read some of the seminal editorial about this concept there!
We pick up with Captain Kidd and his Mystic inside the Great Mogul’s place. While holding the Man of the House at knifepoint, the latter is able to open a hidden panel on the wall… which reveals the Crown of Siva. With that, all they’ll need now is to find those Seven Jewels of Power. Looks like we’re in for a long quest! Well, we’ll just put a pin in that for now. Just then, through a window in the ceiling, our Sky Dogs (and Mullah Whatshisface) soar in on a Magic Carpet!
Captain Hawke hops off the ride and fights his way through the baddies (like, literally “though” them… despite the lack of bloodshed) on his way to confront the nefarious Captain Kidd.
Meanwhile, Ndemba and Mullah share a little Odd-Couple banter on the carpet… before the latter dumps the former to the ground below. Speaking of which, Princess Zelaleddin is still aboard the Moonjammer, acting like quite a brat. She demands to be taken into her daddy’s palace… and so, the Sky Dogs oblige… by just tossing her off the side of ship! I mean, these goofs just committed a murder, right?
Well, as “luck” would have it, Zelaleddin lands right on top of Captain Hawke. If that’s not bad enough for the Dogs, just then Kidd’s Mystic chants an incantation or something at Mullah which crashes the Magic Carpet. Looks like the baddies have got the upper-hand.
The Mystic heads over to the Crown of Siva… however, before he can put it on… he’s stabbed in the back by Captain Kidd himself! Ya see, Cappy ain’t keen on sharing the booty. Speaking of booty, he also grabs a fainted Zelaleddin and tosses her over his shoulder. Turns out, though, she might not be as “fainted” as she appears.
The scene then shifts to Captain Kidd’s ship… and I swear, this was probably supposed to be a whole nother chapter… it’s just way too jarring. The Sky Dogs catch up to Kidd… and ram the skip (from the sky) but good. With just a swoop, Cap’n Geoff manages to rescue the Princess. Feels like that should’ve been a bit more difficult, no?
Back ashore… it would appear as though Kidd’s Mystic survived being stabbed through the heart! He concocts a wicked tempest, and vows vengeance against both Captains.
We wrap up with Kidd… apparently having given the Dogs the slip? Like, he’s just gone. Our heroes lament the fact that he got away… and also, that he got away with the Crown of Siva. Well… not so fast, kemosabes… if you’re an observant reader, you’d have noticed when Zelaleddin was “feigning unconscious”, she was actually rooting around in Captain Kidd’s pockets. How she managed to steal a friggin’ crown from the dude’s pants without him noticing, I’ll never know… but, she did! Annnnd… that’s the end. Like, really… this story is over(… for now?).
Sooo… that’s it, then? Like, really? Okay.
I’ve already mentioned a time or two in the New Talent Showdays coverage that I’m purposely remaining ignorant on the direction(s) of these features. It isn’t often enough that I get to be surprised about where things go and/or how (and when) things end. I feel like that’ll just be part of the “fun” in this endeavor. I’m likely projecting, but I feel as though many who come across these posts will also either not know or not remember many of these tales… so, it’ll be something we’ll all experience “together”.
I gotta say, I was quite unprepared for Sky Dogs to wrap up after just two chapters. Now, that’s not to say that it won’t return as we work our way through the volume… and, it’s also not to say that it definitely will. I just don’t know… and, while that is a good thing in the way of “mind percolation” and thinking about all the ways that this could continue, it puts me at a disadvantage as to how I oughtta cover this two-parter in a “vacuum”. Do we discuss this as “Arc 1 (of x)” or as a completed “package”, ya know?
I suppose, not knowing if/when the Sky Dogs feature will return, it’s probably wisest to look at it as a “done deal”. Especially when we consider just how disjointed and rushed this one became toward the end. It really feels as though we received more than one chapter’s worth of story here… but, in such a way that it had very little impact.
Let’s look at the main beats… Captain Kidd “kills” his Mystic, who turns up alive just a page or two later… as if it was some big reveal. Cap’n Hawke just swoops over Kidd’s ship and rescues the Princess… which, for what should be a moderately big deal, feels like it was a complete afterthought. Like, just something they had to “fit” into the eight-pages they were allotted. And, while we end on an up note… it’s still something of a cliffhanger. The only thing missing here would’ve been a note saying “If you’d like to see more from Cap’n Geoff and the Sky Dogs… write to 666 Fifth Avenue”. What I guess I’m trying to say is… this could’ve been paced better, and… while I’m certainly no fan of decompression… Sky Dogs might’ve needed a third chapter in order to give us a less-rushed ending.
I do want to say, however, that I absolutely loved the art here. Mandrake gives us some amazing-looking faces, and excellent scenes of action. Those faces though, definitely the highlight of this feature for me. Just so emotive, and well done!
Chapter Two opens with the Lagrange Field Trippers setting down at Grand Canyon Base (after a stop in Hawaii we don’t get to see)… we see this information being reported to that gimp-suited Free Earther that we saw in the “Next Issue” blurb last week. He reminds one of his followers that they need the girl (the Martian with the Virus)… and they need her unharmed. Meanwhile, at Canyon Base, we get us a nice heaping dollop of exposition. Looks like World War III occurred in 2025 (so, I guess this blog will definitely not hit its 10th Anniversary), however in the years since, Earth has started to make something of a comeback thanks to resource-trading with the Lagrange Colony.
We get a brief cutaway with that weirdo Free Earth dude, where he talks a bit more about the nebulous virus. I’m really not sure what to make of it at this point… hopefully, that’s intentional. From here, we pop back over to the Canyon, where dozens of hot air balloons take in the sights from above. Our main man Pern would really like to go on one… mostly so he might get the opportunity to be alone with the Martian Virus Vessel, Chryse Whatsherface.
The teacher, Mr. Rampling gives our guy the “thumbs up”, and so (after apparently trading out his orange shirt for a green one) he makes a spectacle out of asking for the fair Martian’s company. She turns him down flat (after making reference to something that went down in Hawaii… that, again, we didn’t see). Instead of hangin’ with Pern, she’d much rather be accompanied by Tycho! Tycho, being the nebbish weirdo that he is, passes her along to a new kid named Robert Paya… who, apparently knows more about hot air balloons than anybody.
The kids then hop in “mule”… which is to say, a little ship, so they can jet off to the balloon landing site. Just then, a balloon draws near, however… it’s already occupied… by some Free Earthers! The baddies (well, I think they’re the baddies) fire oodles of tranq darts into the quartet of kids… and manage to knock Robert completely out. Amid the distraction, they nyoink Chryse into the balloon with them.
She begins to panic… then, feigns like she’s going to pass out. We’re getting a lot of that this week in New Talent Showcase, ain’t we? Anyhoo, as she sways around on weird street, she knocks the gun out of one of the terrorist’s hands… and grabs it! She holds the Free Earthers up, threatening to fire… before reality sets in, and she realizes that… she hasn’t the foggiest idea how to pilot a balloon.
Back at “Wotan’s Throne”, Pern and Tycho shake off their own tranqs… and proceed to hop into the “mule”. Naturally, neither of them have ever flown such a thing, but… Pern’s gotta Pern, he doesn’t give nary an “eff”. He does what he can to make the thing take off.
After a quick check-in with the Martian Hostage Girl (where she laments the fact that Earth’s gravity is too damn heavy), we wrap up at the Canyon Police Center, where… some guy… notices that the balloon with Chryse on board is about to fly into a Microwave Receiver… which will make it go boom. Then, he’s held up… I think? Maybe?
Bit of a mess, right? Not bad… just, I dunno… “sloppy”?
Just like when we ran through Action Comics Weekly, I get the feeling that American comics writers haven’t quite “solved” the eight-page story. The pacing is kind of hectic… and uneven. It’s hard to get our bearings when we bounce from tight-paneled action to entire (somewhat wasteful) pages of exposition. It feels kinda backwards.
That said, there still is a lot to like here. For one, the art… it’s still quite excellent! Well, outside of a couple coloring gaffes, and the fact that a lot of the kids have “Byrne face”, which is to say, their faces (and haircuts) are identical, so it’s a little tough to tell ’em apart in a crowd. I guess that’s more a “storytelling” complaint than anything though.
The story… well, we get a few callbacks to things, that honestly, seem more interesting than anything going on on-panel. We get a callback to a “swimming mishap” having to do with Chryse and Pern in Hawaii. Frankly, I think I’d rather be seeing that play out. I feel like we really ought to care about these characters, otherwise, what does it matter when one of ’em gets abducted? We’ve seen Chryse on, what… a half-dozen panels? All we know is she’s the Maguffin Martian… and that’s just not enough to get me to invest in her well-being. Maybe the scene was cut to fit into eight-pages? Maybe we’ll actually get to see it later on? I dunno. All that having been said, I did think it was funny that she chose Tycho as “chaperone”.
Overall, a weaker chapter than the opening… but still, (despite my paragraphs of kvetching) plenty to dig.
We open with little Toddie Hunter dozing off in old lady Gallstone’s math class. She attempts to wake him by asking somethin’ bout square roots. When that doesn’t work, she just shouts that it’s lunch time. That happens to work. Wonk wonk. Now awake, poor Toddie gets a mouthful from the ol’ bitty. To which he, uh… burps in her face? She goes back to her lecture, and our boy goes back into Day Dreamin’ Davy mode. You ever play that game? It really wasn’t very good. Definitely one that you’d regret renting if you intended to spend your entire weekend playing it.
So yeah, Toddie winds up back in his fantasy world… and happens to fall smack dab onto some dude. Well, not just any dude, he falls down on the “Feep” who was on his way to battle a troll. Some other goofballs (and a sword from the lower east side) are absolutely aghast at the situation… since, with the Feep out of commission, they ain’t ever gettin’ their gold back.
The short of it is… these folks need their gold back, and they’re going to try and convince Toddie to be their new champion. It’s really all we’re getting for the next page or two. Kwapisz manages to squeeze in a joke about how ugly Ronald Reagan is, so I’m sure he got a bunch of high-fives around the office… or, maybe it was just a way to ingratiate himself as a “New Talent” into the DC office culture? Who knows. Anyhoo, we get a good look at this Titan Troll, and… yeah, he looks like a pretty mean customer.
Toddie, however, ain’t exactly feelin’ it. He’s all “thanks but no thanks”, and goes to leave. That is, until the witch (yeah, this motley group has a witch), “poofs” up a woman in a bikini… who, lemme tell ya, is all over our boy Tod. The kid is quite excited… and, it’s now I wanna remind you that his body is actually in Math class right now. That could lead to a rather uncomfortable situation, no? Oh well, at least this arousal-ruse (arusal?) gets Tod on board with fighting the troll.
And so, before we know it, he and that wise-guy sword are stood right before the Big Bad. Tod’s shakin’ in his boots, but the sword decides to take a big ol’ bite outta the Troll’s toe.
Tod hightails it outta there… with the Troll giving chase. He runs all the way back to the goofball “base”, or wherever those dopey characters hang out. This is rather a dumb move, because… as mentioned, the Troll is only a few steps behind. Tod is directed to a picture of the “ugly” President of the United States (there’s another round of high-fives for ya, Gar! I think a Mister Englehart is first in line!). Behind the portrait is a Thermo-Neutron Grenade. What luck!
Tod lobs the pineapple into the crowd of trolls… makin’ em all “ka-pow” real good.
The geeks celebrate their victory… and the fake lady in the bikini plants a kiss on Todd’s cheek. He responds by, well, kissing back. The thing of it is, however, that he’s actually kissing the ol’ battleaxe, Ms. Gallstone! This little bit of sexual assault hilarity leads to our boy Tod being dragged into the Principal’s office. Wonk wonk wonnnnnk.
Yeah… didn’t much care for this.
Something about this art style really turns me off… can’t really say what it is. I mean, technically, it looks really good… it’s just not for me. It reminds me a bit of Phil Foglio’s work… which, again, isn’t bad… it’s just not up my alley. It feels sort of like something out of a Saturday Morning cartoon… but not one of the “premium” cartoons, if you get what I’m trying to say? This would be the “time-filler” show at 11:30am, to lead into Soul Train or whatever.
As a story? Ehh. I feel like they had the ending in mind, and wrote to it. We needed Toddie to kiss the ol’ bag… and so, that’s what was written to. Probably not something we’re supposed to think all that hard about… but, I gotta wonder if a few moments before the kiss, if Tod might’ve been chewing on a classmate’s toe. Hell, that probably would’ve made for a funnier scene. Much funnier than the “That Reagan is soooo ugly…” (how ugly is he?) stuff that was shoehorned in.
We get to meet Mr. Gary Kwapisz today. He started his professional art career back in the late 70’s/early 80’s drawing for The Comics Journal. Oddly enough, just yesterday I came across some of his work in an old issue I found. I tell ya, it looks quite a bit different than what we get here. While today’s piece wasn’t really the kind of art that I like, I can’t deny that it illustrates just how versatile and talented an artist Kwapisz is. He would also provide art for Marvel’s MAD-alike, Crazy Magazine.
He didn’t do much for DC Comics. Outside of this, he would work on a few issues of Hawkworld… and, a story we covered here last Christmas, the B’wana Beast story from DC Holiday Special ’09! Across the street at Marvel, Gary did a whoooole lotta work on the Conan family of titles (also Moon Knight and Punisher)… but sorta stepped away from the mainstream around the time of the speculator boom.
Anyhoo… yeah, didn’t dig this… though, that’s likely more an indictment on my personal tastes… I could definitely see others liking it.
We open with Amber approaching a sketchy-looking bar located at a Thailand port. Inside she bee-lines it over to two fellas who she hopes might be able to provide her with safe-passage into San Francisco. The one dude tells her to buzz off… to which, she plops a sack full of jewels in his lap. The other dude still thinks taking her along isn’t worth the risk, and pulls his gun… to which, she tells him to go ahead and shoot her! Ya see, their tub is set to meet up with an opium dealer somewhere offshore… and her death might just cause the authorities to begin sniffing around.
And so, they decide to let Amber tag along on their trip to the States. We catch up with them a few nights later, when one of the fellas in charge enters Ambers room… and proceeds to force himself on her.
Amber tries fighting him off… even starts shining up the Sun-Stone in her palm to take care of the scumbag “for good”… but, decides against it. Her only purpose right now is revenge against her father… and so, she just lets it happen.
Until… they are interrupted by shots being fired by the Cambodian Pirates they’re supposed to be doing the Opium deal with! Ya see, the Pirates seem to have changed their minds. They’ll take the payment… but, now they’ve decided they’re going to keep the merchandise too! Oh, and they’re going to kill everybody on board too. So, yeah… bummer day.
Amber ain’t gonna take none’a this laying down, and so she gets all up in the Pirate’s face… to, well, offer sexual favors if he lets her live. The Pirate doesn’t even have to think about it… he refers to her as a tramp and goes to push her away. When he does, however, he notices the Sun-Stone embedded in her hand… and decides he wants it for his own.
At this point, Amber’s got no qualms about firin’ that bad boy up and making it do the hoo-doo it does. With but a smack, the Head Pirate in Charge is turned to… forever amber. The Pirates and the Smugglers then start rumblin’!
It isn’t long before the Smugglers come out on top… and, at this point, Amber’s taken control of the entire operation. She orders the dead pirates tossed off into the sea… and the Smugglers (including the fella who, just minutes before forced himself on her) all oblige because… I mean, she’s one scary broad!
Six weeks later, the tub arrives in San Francisco… and our Smugglers learn the hard way not to screw with our gal, Amber. When they go to seal-the-deal on the Opium sale… turns out, Amber got there first, and used her weird alchemical powers to turn the booty into glass.
We wrap up with Amber attempting to get into some sort of warehouse… only to be discovered by the Po-lice.
This was pretty great! I feel like so far (I mean, we’re only two issues in…) New Talent Showcase is ending with its strongest story. Last week, Class of 2064 blew me away, and now Forever Amber really killed it! This chapter was just awesome.
When I first opened up to this one, I assumed it would start with “Three Months Later… in the United States” or something. I didn’t think we’d actually see her travels… or really, have any reason to. I feel like, in showing it, we get to see just how “down and dirty” the underworld can be. Amber, really not having any other options… and at this point, nothing left to lose, is forced to just let things happen… so long as it leads to her ultimate goal. This was an uncomfortable read… but, worth it.
I also dig that we learned that Amber’s powers can work on actual “things” rather than only on people. Her turning the opium into just shards of amber was pretty cool… and, we gotta assume that her sex-pest very likely paid the ultimate price for that.
Really good stuff here. Not sure how many more chapters we have for this feature. I’m hoping (though doubting) we have many more to come.
Pal of the blog, Matthew O’Hara passed along these “Meanwhile” pieces that appeared in DC Comics around the time of New Talent Showcase… in fact, they’re both announcing the endeavor… and then telling potential New Talent that they’ve received wayyy too many pitches!
The first would appear in DC Comics with the cover date of May, 1983:
The second would appear in DC Comics cover-dated April, 1984:
Huge thanks to Matthew! Once I get the “New Talent Showdays” standalone page set up, I will feature these columns there as well!
(Not the) Letters Page: