Joe Kubert’s The Redeemer (2013)
“A Time of Death… A Time of Life!” from Joe Kubert Presents #2 (January, 2013)
“The Reckoning” from Joe Kubert Presents #3 (February, 2013)
“The Golden Warrior” from Joe Kubert Presents #4 (March, 2013)
By Joe Kubert
Letters – Adam Kubert
Associate Editor – Chris Conroy
Editors – Scott Nybakken & Joey Cavalieri
Stop me if you’d heard this… but, we’ve got an interesting one today! A Near–DC Near-Miss, even! This particular story we’re about to take a look at… almost didn’t happen! In fact, the folks at Back Issue! Magazine even wrote a “Greatest Stories Never Told” feature about it back in 2008 (see below)… at which time, it was still an “unpublished story”. And, check this out… upon finally learning about the backstory, I came to the conclusion that I’d actually had the thing on my book shelf for a better part of a decade… and never even realized it!
The story we’re going to look at, if the title didn’t give it away, is Joe Kubert’s The Redeemer… or, just The Redeemer, I suppose. I first learned a thing or two about it about a year ago, during an Amazing Heroes binge. It’s not out of the ordinary for me to stumble across old comics magazines in the wild… usually priced at a buck-or-below. Being the would-be/wannabe comics historian that I am, I will more often than not snag ’em when I see ’em.
Well, during one of my flip-throughs, I came across Amazing Heroes #34 (November 1, 1983), which has a curious cover feature… Joe Kubert’s THE REDEEMER. Something about it really fascinated me… not sure what it was. Perhaps it was simply the fact that this cover story was something I’d never seen or heard of before! Even with some of the more obscure AH covers, I can usually say that I’ve at least heard of whatever it is they’re showing. The Redeemer, however… nada!
I checked out the article (which I’ll include below in its entirety), and came to learn that Joe Kubert (and DC Comics) had pretty big plans for The Redeemer. It was originally slated to be a 12-Part Maxiseries, somewhat comparable to semi-“evergreens” like Camelot 3000. According to Joe, in a 1994 interview with The Comics Journal (included below), due to having spread himself a bit too thin, he was having a difficult time sticking to his deadlines for Redeemer… and even made the suggestion to Paul Levitz that DC shorten the series to six-issues. As mentioned, this was during the days of Camelot 3000, Ronin… and a few other mini/maxiseries’ at DC Comics that were already wildly behind schedule.
Asamattafact, those scheduling challenges were cited as the reason why The Redeemer was originally pushed off the schedule! From that very same Amazing Heroes #34 (1983):
Five-months doesn’t seem too crazy a delay, especially when none of the issues had already come out by this point. This isn’t Geoff Johns just “not getting around to” his Doomsday Clock obligations for a half-year because comics no longer stack up to his more lucrative ventures… this is Joe Kubert a) not wanting delays in his work, and b) perhaps not wanting to be lumped into a pile of other work featuring almost comical (if it weren’t so sad) scheduling “difficulties”.
Anyhoo, we jump ahead thirty-some years to the announcement/solicitation of the Joe Kubert Presents miniseries.
Probably a “must-buy” for fans of Joe… but, honestly probably not something that would move my interest-needle all that much. The next solicit, however:
Even without knowing the backstory of The Redeemer, just hearing that it’s a “lost classic” is enough to cause me to tune-in. Granted, I totally missed out on this at the time… but, I gotta wonder how many folks might’ve checked this out simply out of curiosity? Things like “lost classics”, missing media, untold stories, aborted storylines… those are things that can definitely get “under the skin” of comics enthusiasts… they conjure up so many thoughts of “what could’a been?”, that just make the synapses start firing up. It’s for that reason why I’ve decided to devote this much attention to The Redeemer.
So, without further ado… let’s hop over the dashes and get into the synopsis. This is a long one (sixty-some-odd pages of story), so buckle in and (hopefully) enjoy!
Our story opens in the Himalayas, where a small cadre of mountain climbers make their way toward the snowy summit. It’s taken the months to get this far… but, they know it’s where they need to be. Atop one of the peaks, sits a castle… they enter. Inside they pass all manner of warrior from various eras of history. They appear to be frozen… but, not so much from the bitter cold, it’s more they’re just “frozen in time”. They continue through the halls, until they find themselves stood before… The Infernal One!
They are greeted… and The Infernal One reveals to them why they are here. Ya see, this is a mission… not just of life and death, but of soul. He speaks of one called “The Redeemer”… one who has lived many lives, and has been “tested” many times. With each subsequent life, this Redeemer gains knowledge and insight… which this Infernal One finds to be rather threatening.
The Infernal One lays it all out there… this group he’d summoned must destroy The Redeemer… to fail, would bring damnation upon all of them.
The group is dismissed… and they make their way back down the mountain, confused over what exactly is expected of them. They quarrel a little bit over who might be the bigger threat, The evil Infernal One… or this Redeemer? A consensus is ultimately struck, and they agree… they gotta stop The Redeemer.
We shift scenes to outer space, where a small shuttle is approaching the Space Station: Mineral. Oh, it’s also the year 2557. Not sure what year the Himalayas scene occurred in… but, we’ll talk a little more about that in a bit. On board is a fella named Jim Torkan. If you’re familiar at all with The Redeemer, and all the promotional imagery thereof, you’ll know this guy. He’s described as a “brilliant young chemist”, which is good enough for me. We learn that the small spacecraft was delivering news reporters to interview him for some TV spots.
Our man is immediately taken with a beautiful young reporter named Jen Seine. Now, flip back a few pages… or scroll up a few inches… was this Jen Seine part of the mountain-climbing group that visited The Infernal One? Anyhoo, they hit it off right away. Jim takes her over to show off his collection of toxic chemicals… while there, she sort of propositions him to “come up and see her some time”. Oof, it’s gettin’ real steamy in here!
We jump to that night, where Jim’s having a heckuva time trying to fall asleep… and so, he figures “what da hell?” and heads over to Jen’s quarters for some quality time. They chat the night away.
Morning comes… and the Space Station is suddenly swarming with uninvited guests. Some fella with a cabbie hat and a Brooklyn accent leads a group of bounty hunter-types around… demanding both Torkan’s chemicals… and, hey, why not take the girl too! Jim responds to this threat with a punch to da mush.
Jim and Jen beat a hasty retreat… though, since we’re on a space station, there aren’t all that many places they can hide. They rush toward… uh, a basement… running past a whole lot of crewman corpses along the way.
While the baddies stomp above, in the basement Jen… get this… tells Jim to consider the possibility that he’s on the “wrong side” here. Hmm. Perhaps these bounty hunters aren’t the bad guys after all. Well, I’m sure all the dead folks upstairs don’t agree. This triggers Torkan to have some weird flashbacks… different eras, different warriors… he feels as though he’s lived several lifetimes. I mean, we kinda “get it”, right? I think we might’ve just found our Redeemer. Jen tries to convince him it was all a dream… but, whattayagonnado?
After hunkering down for a bit, Jim and Jen head back to his lab to fetch his chemicals. He decides to leave a distraction for the baddies, in the form of some gems that resulted as a byproduct of the chemical-processing. He scatters them all around the floor… and waits.
Like moths to a flame, the geeks are mystified by the shimmery jewels. They pounce… well, all but the “Boss”, that is. Turns out, Torkan laid these gems down atop some high-voltage lines… and so, these bad guys have been rendered into rather crispy critters. Jim and Jen hold up the boss-man.
The Brooklynese Boss basically dares Jim to kill him… after all, there are more like him where he came from. He reveals that he works for the “Big Boy”… and promises that, in the end, the Big Boy will get what he’s after. He then makes Jim an offer… join them. Jen hops on this with the quickness, and presses Jim to accept the offer.
Torkan thinks on it a bit, before deciding that it may behoove him to actually meet this “Big Boy”. He agrees to return with this fella, who finally introduces himself as “Miklos”. And so, they load into a small craft… and skidoo off the Space Station: Mineral. All along the way, Miklos promises that Torkan made the right decision… and now has the potential to make “more dough” than he’d ever dreamed of.
The craft flies further away from the Earth… which surprises our man Jim. Turns out this Big Boy doesn’t reside on Earth, but on a crazy-looking meteoroid! Well, a space-station that looks like a meteoroid, anyway!
When on board, Jim is escorted into the Big Boy’s quarters… where the large fella is surrounded by beautiful attendants. He looks, pretty much exactly how we might expect him to. Now… just like we did with Jen… if we flip back to the Himalayas scene… there was a heavy-set bald fella there, right? Could they be one and the same?! That’s not a rhetorical question… I really don’t know!
After introductions are made, the Big Boy takes Torkan through the many “trophies” he’d procured over the years… and also reveals that they pale in comparison to Big Jim’s own chemical concoctions… because, ya see… those chemicals hold the potential of “mind subjugation”, which is to say… with them, they can control and dominate anybody!
Big Boy offers Jim a deal… and, without any other options… it’s one he cannot refuse. We wrap up this chapter with The Infernal One swearing that he will eventually rule the soul of… The Redeemer!
from Joe Kubert Presents #3 (February, 2013)
After a brief recap-attack, reintroducing The Infernal One and Jim Torkan, we are given express confirmation (as if we needed it) that Torkan does in fact “harbor the seed” of The Redeemer.
Torkan, who along with Jen are stood before the “Big Man” on his wacky asteroid, is given the lay of the land. The Big Man orders Torkan back to his research satellite in order to procure his mind-control chemicals so that they may rule the Universe together. He’s even prepared to offer a group of his own slaves as test-subjects! Jen is remanded to the Big Man’s throne room as sort of “collateral”, ensuring Torkan doesn’t attempt a double-cross. Also, our good friend, Miklos will be accompanying our hero on his fetch-quest.
Before we know it, Torkan and Miklos are back on board the Mineral Satellite… and are having a rather passive-aggressive back ‘n forth over the slaughters of their respective crews. Back on the Asteroid, Jen reveals to the Big Man that she has designs on Torkan… which may not be all that different than his own!
Back at Sanctuary, The Infernal One smiles knowing the pieces are starting to fall into place.
We rejoin Jim and Miklos… and, in a really strange bit, they begin to fist-fight! Miklos runs rather hot and cold, don’t he? A few minutes ago, he seemed to consider his dead crew mates nothing more than “collateral damage”. Now, he’s ready to come to blows over them? Weird. Jim Torkan easily overpowers the goof.
Back at the Asteroid, it’s noted that a “Juicy” Luxury Liner is soaring through nearby space. The Big Man orders a “Procurement Protocol”, and so the thing is magnetically drawn to the Asteroid, and captured by the Big Man’s crew.
Moments later, Torkan and Miklos return… and, they don’t seem all that worse for wear, considering they were just beating the hell out of each other. They almost seem… I dunno, chummy at this point! Anyhoo, Torkan informs the Big Man that he’s got the goods, however, will need a day to perfect the formula. Big Man’s cool with it, and informs our hero that he’d just wrangled up a whole bunch more guinea pigs for the chemical test.
Jim is greeted by Jen, who really seems keen on Torkan doing exactly what the Big Man asks. She has framed her position out of, well, self-preservation I suppose. She seems scared for her (and Jim’s) life… and assures him, if they’re “taken out”, the Big Man already has everything he wants… this mind-control chemical will be exploited regardless of Jim’s own involvement.
Twenty-four hours passes, Jim has ironed out the kinks in the chemical, and it’s ready for testing. Big Man has one of his slaves step forward. He’s injected… and before long is rendered completely docile! It would appear that the mind-control chemical… works! The Big Man immediately orders Jim to continue inoculating the slaves.
Jim is not cool with this, after all… it’s too soon to observe any potential side-effects. Why risk the lives of all the slaves, when they can just wait and see what happens to the one they’d already injected? Big Man ain’t wanting to hear all’at and makes it clear to Jim that this was an “order”. Our hero is suddenly flashed back to one of his past-lives. In it, he’s a slave himself… powerless, with “no mind, body or soul of his own!”.
Jim absolutely loses it… and he lunges for the Big Man’s throat!
The Big Man calls for his guards… and, get this… Miklos actually calls for all of the slaves to step up and help Torkan! Whaaaa? The uprising is soon quelled, and Torkan is overwhelmed… at which time, Big Man orders Miklos to stand before him… to be shot dead! Miklos tells Torkan that they’re “even” now… considering Jim didn’t kill him on the Satellite during the first chapter, he figures he owed him at least this much.
After a blast, Miklos is rendered to nothing more than a smoldering pile of bones.
Big Man calls for Jen to step forward… and she gets all up in Jim’s face, asking why he’d fight all this! After all, Big Man offered him wealth beyond his wildest dreams for his cooperation. Jim looks at Jen, and as she’s “going off” he notices her face subtly changing into something a bit more “ghoulish”. By his reaction, Jen knows the jig is up… and orders the Guards to kill him!
Jim wrestles the Guards off of him, and once again lunges for the Big Man’s throat. He manages to wrangle a pistol, which he holds up to the Big Man’s head in order to get the crewmen to back off. Torkan intends to board the Luxury Liner along with all the hostages and the Big Man himself. They’re gonna leave this here rock, seeeee… and the Big Man’s gonna go to the Big House, seeee?
The Big Man begins to panic, and before long we’re in the middle of a sad little wrestling match. Jim, still packin’ heat, decides to just blast the Big Guy in the face… which, just as it did with Miklos a few pages ago, renders the blob into nothing more than bone. Jim and the Hostages (which would be an awful name for a band) head off to safety.
This chapter concludes with Jen in Sanctuary pleading her case to The Infernal One. We see here that T.I.O. doesn’t take kindly to failure… he grows to immense size and literally crushes her in his fist. Wow!
For our third (and sadly, final) chapter of The Redeemer, we get to take an in depth look at one of Jim Torkan’s past lives… this time, he’s a Confederate Soldier at the tail-end of the American Civil War. We join the battle, already in progress with the North and South amid an awful and bloody clash.
Now, here’s the thing… a few Confederates survive the battle, only to be informed that the Civil War… ended, two days earlier! General Lee surrendered. So, this latest battle and all of the resulting casualties were for nothing! An exhausted Lt. Jim Torkan laments the needless loss of life… cries into his hands, and slowly walks into the horizon with his horse.
Time passes and he comes across a damsel in distress. Some Union soldiers have a girl tied up, and it looks like they’re more than ready to have their ways with her. One turns to Torkan (greeting him as “Johnny Reb”), and offers him a good time with the gal as well! The Infernal One looks on, devil that he is, hoping that Torkan gives in to his baser instincts and takes the bait.
Naturally, our Redeemer does not. In fact, he stops to beat the hell out of the Union bully… gets into a brief firefight… and ultimately, saves the girl!
After untying her, she begs that he take her along with him… wherever he’s going. He refuses, but hands over half his food rations and a stack of greenbacks so she might get somewhere safe. The gal is heartbroken to be left alone… as Torkan heads off in a westerly direction.
We follow Jim as he travels from Georgia to Texas… which, I would assume took him quite awhile. One night in Texas, our man decides to set-up camp. As he sleeps, his dreams are flooded with the scenes we covered during the first two chapters of this tale… The Big Man, Jen, Miklos, and the Chemicals. He is awakened by a gunshot!
Turns out, this is his pal Doc Bender, who just shot a rattler that was getting a bit too close to Torkan for comfort. The Doc sits down next to him and they catch up. He shares some rumor and innuendo of a treasure they might track down in the Arizona/New Mexico Territory… a suit of Golden Armor! Jim’s down for the hunt.
And so, we jump ahead a little while… and rejoin Jim and Doc as they’re about to enter a tiny Red Dead-lookin’ town. They head into a Saloon to grab a drink, and it would appear that their purposes for being here have proceeded them. An old Native in a tattered cloak informs them that they can take the pair to the yellow metal armor. In fact, it’s ripe for the picking… ready to be “redeemed”.
The barkeep tells them not to pay the cloaked figure any mind… but, Torkan and Bender decide they’ve got nothing to lose. The Native agrees to take them to the armor, some several miles out of town. Upon arrival, however, Doc Bender shoots the poor dude in the back! What the hell, Doc?
Bender claims that the Native was about to pull a knife… though, that certainly isn’t clear in the art. Our pair are at the bottom of a Mesa, and proceed to climb the thing in hopes that the “Golden Warrior” might be at the top. It’s not. Instead it’s an entire Tribe… led by, Firehair?! Waitasec… Firehair? So, does that mean The Redeemer is part of the actual DC Universe?! More on that below.
Knowing the jig is up, Doc Bender pours a vial of Magnesium into a water pot, to catch it on fire… hoping to scare the Tribe. It kinda works… whatever the case, Firehair tells the fellas to beat it, and warns that if their paths cross again, he’ll have ’em both flayed!
And so, Jim and Doc leave… they don’t get far, however, before being joined by a young member of Firehair’s tribe. He has a map to the reported location of the “Golden Warrior”, and promises to bring the men to it, as it would (somehow) “buy his freedom” from the Tribe.
The trio follows the map, and are led to a cave. Upon entry, they not only find the Golden Warrior… but also, a gigundous lizard creature guarding the thing!
The young Tribe member recognizes the beast as “The Blind Lizard”, and for the next two pages, a fierce battle rages. Jim Torkan grabs the sword from the Golden Warrior suit, and manages to stab the beast. This causes the Lizard to writhe in pain, thrashing around… destroying many of the natural “supports” of the cave.
The walls start tumblin’ down… and poor xenophobic jerk, Doc Bender is killed. Torkan and the Native Boy manage to escape the wreckage, however, the Golden Warrior suit is lost forever.
We wrap up back with The Infernal One, still concocting ways to steal the soul of The Redeemer (turns out Doc Bender was another Infernal Agent, like Jen!)… and a promise that our next adventure will feature Jim Torkan’s Roman Gladiator incarnation. Unfortunately, it was never to be…
What an interesting concept! What an absolute treat!
Now, I’d never assume that many folks are as tickled by things like “aborted storylines” or “missing media” as I am, but… man, what a wild and fun trip this was! It makes the mind race… gotta wonder, had this come out back in 1983… and if it truly does take part in the actual DC Universe (going by the Firehair involvement)… how many subsequent stories might’ve been altered? You’d have to assume (or at least I would) that a character like Jim Torkan might’ve played a role during Crisis, right?
*Worth noting before we continue, Joe Kubert has said (in the Amazing Heroes piece included below) that The Redeemer “is not set within the mainstream DC set of interconnected universes in which most of the company’s characters live.”… but, if you ask this idiot-blogger, where there’s smoke, there’s Firehair… or something.
The character of Jim Torkan feels like one that would’ve been plucked and played with in more recent years. Again, that’s under my wild (and hope-fueled) assumption that The Redeemer was set to occur in the DCU.
The crux of the series being the battle for Jim Torkan’s soul is a good one… and opens up many interesting possibilities to show The Redeemer struggle and deal with his actual human flaws. While that might become a bit formulaic, I have faith that it would’ve been handled well. I feel like, had this managed to pull off it’s entire 12-issue run, we’d look back at it very fondly.
Something that jumps out at me is how well this sort of story/maxiseries plays to the strengths of Joe Kubert. Not only can he deliver his usual excellent work, but he gets to play in so many different comics genres! Our first two chapters were futuristic sci-fi (with flashbacks to more low-tech eras), and our third was a Civil War/Wild West story! The fourth part promised to take place in Ancient Rome! How much fun was Joe having here?
It’s a true shame this didn’t manage to hit when it was intended, and rather than it getting a true “spotlight”, only surfaced as part of an anthology series, that didn’t do all that great in sales. Though, it was a niche project, with a heavy (for the time) price point of $4.99… the first issue (which doesn’t feature The Redeemer, but does feature a shiny “#1”) only shipped 14,842 copies. I mean, plenty of books would kill for that number in 2020… but, even only eight years ago, this was very low. Issue #2, which did feature The Redeemer dropped even lower down the sales charts, only shipping 10,542 copies. So… ol’ Jim Torkan didn’t exactly entice (m)any curious readers.
I wonder if this will be a project that ever sees completion. Joe Kubert has quite the legacy… his family and students loom large in the industry. I’d love to see some sort of collaborative effort in working off of Joe’s notes to finally finish this one off!
Overall, had a great time with this… much more fun than I ever expected, in both narrative and research. You can find these issues of Joe Kubert Presents digitally, or in collected edition (like I did).
Good and Evil: The Redeemer, 30 years later by Joe Kubert from Joe Kubert Presents (2013)… including an original cover sketch, along with the original title for this property: “Karma“!:
Greatest Stories Never Told: Joe Kubert and The Redeemer by Dewey Cassell, from Back Issue! #26 (January, 2008):
The Eternal Contest: A Preview of Joe Kubert’s The Redeemer by Peter Sanderson, from Amazing Heroes #34 (November 1, 1983):