DC NEAR-MISS: Marvel Graphic Novel #11 – Void Indigo (1984)
“Book One: Tortured Souls”
By Steve Gerber & Val Mayerik
Logo Design – Ron Fontes
Letters – Andy Kubert
Edits – Laurie Sutton & Archie Goodwin
Edits-in-Chief – Jim Shooter
Cover Price: $4.95
From Marvel Comics
Today we’re going to look at the “Near Miss” that made me want to start up the “Near Miss” format… the seemingly doomed-from-the-start and much-maligned in the comics press, Void Indigo by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik!
Now how exactly was this a DC Near-Miss? Well, lemme start by dropping my obligatory “I’m probably not blowing any minds here…” bit, before revealing that much of what we see in Void Indigo was originally pitched to DC Comics as a new take on Hawkman!
In a piece written by Steven Grant for CBR around the time of Steve Gerber’s passing, he would write the following:
|Now Ain’t the Time for your Tears – The Life, Times and Lonesome Death of Steve Gerber
by Steven Grant (February 13, 2008)
I’m guessing (and/or projecting) that this might’ve been where a bunch of fans (my age and younger) first found out about this. It was here that I learned about the “DC Near Miss” nature of Void! Though, it was hardly any big secret. Here is a blurb from an article that appeared in Amazing Heroes #54 (September 1, 1984) that mentions it:
I’ll be including the Amazing Heroes article in its entirety toward the bottom of the post. Another case of confirmation came in Sean Howe’s wonderful Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (2012, Harper):
And, finally… another, from Steve Gerber: Conversations (2019), edited by Jason Sacks, Eric Hoffman, and Dominic Grace:
I think that about covers my bases well enough, no?
Now, I first ran into Void Indigo… probably early-mid 2000’s. It was a book that, I dunno… kind of mystified me… made me feel very uncomfortable. I only knew of the Marvel Graphic Novel (#11… the one we’ll be looking at today), and was completely unaware of the two-issues that would come out from Marvel’s Epic Imprint before the entire thing was canned. So, really… all I knew was that this bugger had a very weird (and haunting) cover.
For years they had this one bagged copy of the Graphic Novel at a nearby Atomic Comics… and I’d often picked it up, intending to buy it… just so I could finally “solve” what it was all about. I mean, just looking at the cover… what kind of ideas does that conjure up? It’s a Ben Franklin-lookin’ fella with red skin. What could that possibly mean?! I couldn’t figure it out… and that really got under my skin.
You ever try and judge a book by its cover… and come up empty? It’s a very frustrating feeling… and it can really begin to fester. Another off the top of my head, which we more than likely won’t be talking about here is, The Bozz Chronicles. Another Epic-Imprint title… whose covers really “haunted” me.
When I finally did pull the trigger and buy the thing… again, probably early-mid 2000’s, even after reading it, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. At first blush, it’s certainly not in my wheelhouse as far as setting or genre… but, there was still something there that, at the risk of sounding like a pretentious git, “spoke” to me. What’s more, I now knew that this Graphic Novel wasn’t a self-contained thing… there was more to the story!
And so, I popped into my obsessive “research mode” and found out all I could about this thing called Void. I learned that only two issues came out from Epic… because it had to be pulled due to it’s extreme violence! Distributors didn’t wanna keep distributing the book! Famously (or infamously), Bob Ingersol from the Comics Buyer’s Guide (#579 – December 24, 1984) referred to Void as a “crime against humanity”!
So… what we’re going into here was a) originally written with Hawkman in mind, b) is unfinished, c) is still a concept I can’t shake my odd obsession for! Since there are only two other issues of Void Indigo (plus an online synopsis for the final four intended issues we can look at), lemme know if you’d like to see me cover ’em all here!
Let’s do it!
Our story opens with… well, a story. It tells of how a foursome of Sorcerers called the Dark Lords have ruled over the world for a very long time. Everything’s been hunky-dory for ol’ Koth, Hemuth, Eeyod, and Zepharr for ages at this point… however, of late, their Empire has been in decline! War has broken out… Barbarians are rushing the now-burning cities… it’s a pretty wild scene, and the Dark Lords ain’t diggin’ this one bit!
But… what are they to do? They’ve grown so old over these past many years… and their own strength has begun to wane. The foursome gathers around a “Living Orb” (think crystal ball), where they are given something of an answer. Ya see, in order to regain their youthful vigor, they’re going to require some… human sacrifices. And so, they command all of their people to line up to die! Annnnnd… the people of this world have zero reservations about doing what they’re told.
Now, you might be thinking… wow, that was an easy fix… but, nonono. Ya see, the fact that these people are so passionless and submissive has made their life energies more or less useless to the Sorcerers! Their dying too easily speaks to their wills to live… and so, the Dark Lords are gonna need someone on the block who might put up a fight.
Enter: Ath’Agaar… the fiercest Barbarian Chief in all the land. We meed him, while he’s atop a woman named Ren… and, they’re, ya know… bangin’. There’s a bit of coitus interruptus (if I’m using that term properly) when the Dark Lords arrive on the scene. Ren lets out a scream, which results in her having her lips sealed… forever!
Ath’Agaar leaps out of bed and, sword in hand (his actual sword, that is) lunges toward the Sorcerers. They respond by wrapping him up in some summoned serpents… which only holds him for so long… but, unfortunately long enough for the baddies to teleport all of ’em to the sacrificial stone.
Once out of the snake-wrap, another of the Sorcerers conjures up a spider’s web to slow the Barbarian’s approach. This actually manages to sticky him up good enough to render him more or less motionless. He watches as Ren is chained to the sacrificial stone while begging the Dark Lords to kill him in her place.
They… do not. Instead they spend the next several hours… torturing poor Ren. Blinding her… stabbing her… rending her apart, before finally… mercifully (?) ending her life.
Next, it’s Ath’Agaar’s turn… they don’t even bother wiping Ren’s blood from the stone before fastening him to it. As one of the Dark Lords slashes dozens… if not hundreds of little slashes across Ath’s torso, his life passes before his eyes… and we’re privy to much of it.
They torture our man for three entire days… before finally allowing him the release of death. The “killing blow” is delivered by the one called Koth, with a bejeweled spike… being hammered through Ath’Agaar’s forehead into his brain. It’s really quite gruesome.
The Sorcerers stand around, kinda congratulating themselves on a job well done… and, whattayaknow, they actually look a fair amount younger than they did at the start of this thing.
Then… suddenly, Ath’Agaar… wakes up?! With a scream, he yanks the spike from his dome… which, ya know, really freaks the baddies out.
He then proceeds to, in the words of one of the Sorcerers, “dance an idiot dance”. As Ath’s reanimated body “dances” it edges ever closer to the Dark Lord’s “living orb”. In order to stop the Barbarian from getting any closer, one of the Sorcerers fires a bolt of magic at him… which severs the hand holding the spike. Unfortunately for the bad guys, the severed and spiked hand flies right into the very orb they were trying to protect. Whoops.
Then… Boom. The next several beautifully painted pages reveal that this event destroyed all of the civilization on this world. We also learn that this was Earth… many, many centuries ago.
All of these deaths at once causes something of a disharmony in the “sphere of souls”, whatever that is. I’m going to assume it’s some sort of afterlife situation. What this results in is something called “Renegade Souls”… unable to accept their passing. It’s here we see that there are six in particular of interest. Ath’Agaar, Ren, and the four Dark Lords. It’s revealed that they six were doomed to endless reincarnation… sometimes lives as brief as an insect… other times, as long as a redwood. Ya know, this might’ve actually made for a good take on Hawkman, don’tcha think?
We jump ahead some hundreds of years to (I assume) the “present day”. We see a man lying in a bed… this is the reincarnated Koth, who was the Sorcerer who drove the spike into Ath’Agaar’s noggin back in the long ago. From his own head, comes… an Eidolon. It exits the physical body… and leaves.
The Eidolon finds itself at the “great chain of being”, the “continuum of pure spirit” otherwise known as the… Void Indigo! It is able to deduce here that, of the “Renegade Souls”, Ren and the four Dark Lords all reside on Earth… but, that one pesky Barbarian is still missing.
The Eidolon travels 50,000 light years… where it finds itself in the midst of an interstellar battle between warring spacecraft. It spies one small craft in particular… and decides to pop on in.
What… er, who it finds, is a pilot named Jhagur. Curiously, this Jhagur has a birthmark on his forehead… right where Koth had driven that spike so long ago. The Eidolon touches the spot… and its suspicions are confirmed: this Jhagur is the Ath’Agaar it’s been seeking.
At this point, Jhagur’s little space craft is nailed by a blast from an Imperial Warship… and so, our man (somewhat encouraged by the Eidolon) decides to flee. Then, for some reason, he stops… and, get this, returns fire at the ginormous beast of a ship! The Eidolon begins to chant “Void Indigo” over and over into Jhagur’s mind… disorienting him long enough for the Imperials to smash his tiny ship with another blast.
This blast proves to be enough to knock our man out of orbit… and sends him crashing into the nearest planet, which is… duh, Earth. More precisely, New Mexico, USA.
Jhagur exits his ship… and moments later, it explodes into a million little pieces. Looks like our man is stranded… and so, he decides to hoof it into safety. Days pass before he winds up in the town of Quimby… which doesn’t look like it’s a real place, though there is (or was) a College by that name in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Anyhoo, that doesn’t really matter… what matters is our red-skinned, Ben Franklin-haired friend might’ve found some shelter. He passes through a trailer park, and peers inside the windows like a creep. He sees a family watching television, and finds the sight to be rather curious.
He heads to another trailer, and watches while a man and woman have sex… to completion. He finds this to be rather entertaining… makes me wonder if he’s going to ever put two and two together and start a video library. His amusement, however, is short-lived… as he hears the woman scream out for help.
Back inside the trailer (I’m assuming it’s the same one), the man and woman are fighting. Dude mocks her sexual prowess and takes a bunch of money from her. She ain’t cool with none’a that, as she was saving that cash to take herself to Los Angeles. The fella suggests there might be other ways for her to find a ride to L.A. I tell ya, this dude’s a class-act.
Our gal screams a bit louder, which really riles the fella up… ya see, he’s married, and his wife and chirren are within earshot. This dude isn’t the wisest adulterer, is he? Anyhoo, Jhagur is witnessing this whole thing, and decides it’s time for him to intervene. He taps a button on his belt which acts as a speech-translator, and calmly asks the fella to back off. He does not.
And so… Jhagur fires a bolt from his Indigo Eyes, which… get this, melts the flesh off the bones of his foot. To make matters worse, the dude freaks the hell out… stomps said foot, which (audibly) shatters it into a whole bunch of pieces! Absolutely brutal!
The gal realizes it’s her time to git… and starts gathering up her cash. She refuses to get the goofball any medical attention, instead suggests he just yell for his wife and kids to come. She then decides, while she’s at at… she may as well just steal this dude’s truck. Jhagur asks if he can come along with her… and she’s down.
On the ride toward California, the two get acquainted. She introduces herself as Lynette Cumpston… which, kinda sounds gross. He says his name is Jhagur… which we now learn rhymes with “Jagger”… to which, she suggests his first name might be “Mick”. He doesn’t argue that. He then uses his magic belt to shapeshift… taking the form of a rugged fella on a Camel cigarette billboard. This doesn’t seem to creep ol’ Cumpston out in the slightest!
Once in Los Angeleeze, Lynette gets a gig as a cocktail waitress… and tells “Mick” he’s going to have to pull his own weight if he wants to keep a roof over his head. She hands him some fake-ID’s she had made up for him, and told him he’ll need to get a job as soon as possible. Our man sits in their apartment watching television for a few weeks to better familiarize himself with this world.
As time passes, Mick gets himself a job in construction… and it turns out, he’s pretty good at the gig. During the nights, while Lynette is working, he expands his mind by reading about various philosophies and religions.
Everything seems cool… but, there’s one thing Jhagur can’t seem to shake: bad dreams! He dreams of foreign faces… and of a certain bejeweled spike… while the words Void Indigo continue to ring in his head.
We jump ahead about a year. It looks like our Mick Jhagur has gotten himself a promotion to Foreman… either that, or he just likes bossing people around. Anyhoo, on this day in particular, while he’s telling this one fella to get back to work, he is presented with something weird they found on the job-site. It’s… the bejeweled spike!
Mick grabs the thing and… completely loses his mind! He pounces on the guy who had it, and starts shouting the words “Hate” and “Kill”… until he’s finally dogpiled and knocked out. Lynette comes to pick him up and take him home. Mick insists that the spike was the same one he’s been haunted by in his dreams… Lynette, easygoing as she is, kinda shrugs it off and offers to turn on the TV for him.
On the television, our man watches a news report. Among the stories, is one featuring an Olympic Gold Medalist named David Trepper, who has been dealing with a condition called Myasthenia Gravis… which is a real thing I really don’t wanna link to. Anyhoo, this Trepper has been hospitalized, and is reportedly near death. What’s more, he… looks kinda familiar, don’tcha think? Why, he’s the guy who released the Eidolon earlier! Also, he’s among the faces haunting Jhagur’s dreams! Seeing this, our man rushes to Dorman-Conner for a “visit”.
Before we know it, Mick’s at the Medical Center, and has to barge his way into Trepper’s room. Trepper chants “Void Indigo” a few times… and even refers to our man as “Ath… Agaar…” Jhagur shakes Trepper til he starts speaking more coherently… and it’s revealed (to him, we already knew) that Trepper is actually Koth… the one who buried that spike in Ath’Agaar’s head.
Koth continues, explaining that he’s guided Jhagur to Earth for a specific purpose. Ya see, “these days” are not unlike those during the first time they’d crossed paths. People are no longer concerned with ideals… only power (oy). He instructs him to find the rest of the Sorcerers… and Ren. Jhagur uses his Indigo Eyes to burninate David Trepper before fleeing the scene.
He’s able to get away… and before long, arrives home. He explains the situation to Lynette… who, finally appears to be taking this seriously. She tells him that his great “hunt” sounds completely futile… and that’s even if we accept the fact that these Sorcerers and Ren actually exist in the first place!
We wrap up with Jhagur asking Lynette if she can sew him a “warrior’s garment”… which she does, and boy howdy, it looks pretty silly! Though, in fairness, maybe not as silly as seeing this alien fella in a pink polo.
Ya know… there’s just something about this book. It still gets under my skin a bit. It’s off-putting, uncomfortable… kind of up its own ass… but, I can’t lie to ya and say I don’t absolutely dig it! It’s been a minute since I’ve revisited this (had this on deck for an episode of the Cosmic Treadmill)… and even longer than that since I looked at the two Epic issues… but, yeah… I really enjoyed my time with this!
The story is… convenient, in that the “Rebel Souls” or whatever just happen to be the only six characters we met back in “the long ago”, but ultimately, it works. Especially since this was intended as a (six-issue) miniseries… in the days before six-issues meant half-an-Avengers-conversation, we don’t have all that much time to waste making connections.
Let’s address the “crime against humanity”. Let’s take a look at the violence. Is this a violent book? Heck yeah… it’s outright brutal. Naturally, looking at this with our (ugh, I apologize ahead of time for this) 2020 vision, it doesn’t look all that crazy, does it? I mean, to the folks over at Avatar Press, this is barely foreplay.
Let’s try and take ourselves back to the early-1980’s… this is pre-Watchmen, pre-Dark Knight Returns, the “maturation” of mainstream comics wasn’t really a “thing” yet. The “Grim and Gritty” wave was still a year or two away. So… whatta we got? Well, we’ve got some pretty graphic(ly written) torture. The painted art (which we’ll get to) does a really good job disguising some of the actual gore… the words, however, cut pretty deep.
We know that the Sorcerers plucked out Ren’s eyes… we know all of the gruesome things they did to Ath’Agaar, up to and including driving a spike into his brain… but, I feel as though it was the writing here that was the most brutal (in a good way). Gerber does have a way of getting into the more “flowery” side of prose, and that can be annoying… but… the way he’s able to massage the language and describe these horrible and unthinkable events, is almost… I dunno… “beautiful” in a way? He really was wildly talented.
More on the violence… The way Jhagur dealt with the fella in the trailer park… full-on horrific. It was pain that you could almost feel as you were looking at it. As the dude with the burned off foot was about to stomp down, all I could think was “nononono”… and, then, when he does… all dem tiny bones snap like so much dry kindling.
The final bit of violence occurred sorta off-panel, when Jhagur eye-beamed ol’ Koth in his hospital bed. But again, it was more the way Gerber described the event that will stick with you. The fact that Jhagur was able to get away because the stink coming off Koth’s burned out body was too much for the folks at the hospital to bear. It really ups the intensity of what might’ve otherwise been a (relatively) benign scene.
What other “mature” bits did we have here? Well, there was a fair amount of nudity… there was human sacrifice… there was a sex scene. I mean, there was plenty here that I couldn’t see making the final cut in a “new look” Hawkman. Which reminds me…
Are we living in the “right” timeline? Would our man Jhagur and the concept of Void Indigo have been a better Hawkman than the Hawkman we got back around the time of the Crisis?
Well, I’m probably not the best person to ask… ya see, I know this won’t be popular, but I find Hawkman (outside of that all-too-brief Geoff Johns run) to be among the dullest comic book characters ever put to paper. So, yeah… I’d say this would’ve made for a great (that is to say, finally interesting) take on Hawkman’s reincarnation gimmick!
If this were accepted by DC as the “new Hawkman”, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have gotten quite this dark/mature… I mean, this is decades before the lazy shock storytelling of Black Label became a thing over there! I like the fact that it would’ve given Hawkman a “quest” of sorts… that’s a storytelling trope that I really enjoy in the first place. Having an overall “goal” to the story… that can be dragged on (technically) forever due to various interruptions, emergencies, and side-quests.
I gotta wonder, considering the absolute mess DC made of Hawkman post-Crisis, if any of the brass ever thought of Void Indigo as “the one that got away”? I ain’t nobody, brass or otherwise, but I sure do!
I had a lot of fun sharing this one with you all today, and I hope you all dug it too… if you’d like for me to cover the rest of Void Indigo (including Gerber’s own synopsis for issues 3-6), please lemme know in the comments or wherever you can find me! And hey, maybe we’ll even take a good long look at that Bob Ingersol Comics Buyer’s Guide “lawsuit” he filed against Jhagur!
“Further Into the Void” by Peter Sanderson, from Amazing Heroes #54 (September 1, 1984):
“Void Indigo” by Dwight Jon Zimmerman, from Marvel Age #21 (December, 1984):