Thursday, February 28, 2008

Never give a Dynamic Man an even break

Superpowers #1 (Dynamite): We’ll start with this little press release blurb from Dynamite: This powerful series is overseen by Alex Ross who has designed every hero within these pages; scripted by Jim Krueger with art by Carlos Paul, this is the most powerful comic book event of the year!

Excuse me? Tweaking the Black Terror's costume, does not constitute designing the hero. The basic original design is still there. And frankly, looking at the changes, I cannot say any of them are necessarily an improvement on the originals, they're just different. His Green Lama “design” is basically the Lama's original look on the pulp covers. The rest of the heroes that appear in costume, from the sketches in the back and the Flame and Dare-Devil on the back cover are all the original designs.

Just to work ourselves through the story, the art and coloring work better together this go around. Maybe part of that is that I’m not familiar with the original pencils so I’m not seeing everything that was lost.

Page 1: Dynamic Man and un-named woman. There’s a reason for Dynamic Man’s aloofness and comments here to be revealed later on. His referring to Dr. Moore, the doctor figured prominently in his origin. In the bottom panel among all the gray statues, we see a golden urn, Pandora’s Box.

Pages 2 & 3: Bruce Carter III (Fighting Yank) & the American Spirit. Carter is speaking figuratively in calling his ancestor Benedict Arnold and striking me as being a bit hard on him, the Spirit just a little less so. It seems to me that Carter the First was as mislead as Carter III was.

Page 4: Tsarong was Jethro Dumont’s manservant dating back to the pulp incarnation.

“Jet” Right away we get into the little things that bother me. This is not the character hating the name Jethro but the creators and imparting their will over the context. The very fact that he was introduced to us with the name of Jethro whether it be in the pulps or his various comic incarnations tells us he doesn’t dislike the name. The original writers introducing us to the character under the name is the same as the character telling us what they prefer to be called. It’s why the id’s of the Blue Beetles are DAN Garrett and TED Kord and not Danny or Daniel and Theodore or Teddy. If he preferred to be called Jet or by his middle name, then that’s what we would have been told his name was at that point in the original stories and not 60 years later.

Page 6: The Green Lama works great as a robed hero here, not an easy look for a comicbook artist to pull off really. We have another reference about him only recently being aware of the “Meta-Natural World” or in other words, the supernatural. This might have worked if the Green Lama we saw last issue was the pulp version who was philosophical and meditative but otherwise used science. However, we saw that the Green Lama was fully the Mac Raboy one who gained super-strength, flight, and invulnerability when chanting his Buddhist phrase. I really like how GL plays a major role and his characterization for the most part, but the execution with him is shoe-horning him into a role that he doesn’t fit.

Such as pages 7 & 8 where we see that he’s become a mystic able to travel through space via greenery. While this makes an interesting counterpoint to the Flame who picked up a similar trick studying in Tibet only with flame while Hydroman does it with water (only through science and not mystical abilities). But, this is pretty much changing the very nature of the Green Lama to fit the story instead of letting the story be directed by the characters involved. For a history of who and what the Green Lama is and has been in the past, I’ll direct you to an older post: The Mighty Return of the Green Lama.

Page 10: The Dynamic Family again. The mask that lets the Fighting Yank see evil, that was given to him last issue, not a power he had in the forties. However, if he always had this mask, wouldn’t he have realized that imprisoning the heroes in the urn didn’t work, that it didn’t make any difference in the supernatural realm in ridding the world of evil?

Pages 11 & 12: The Dynamic Family is beginning to show their true colors, but the motivations are unclear

Pages 14 & 15: The Green Lama shows that he still has some of the powers he had before. Dynamic Man is along the lines of the Golden-age Superman himself (Wayne Boring even worked on the character some).

Page 16 & 17 spread: I already talked about my feelings about the Black Terror re-design but here’s another inconsistency of the story. The Black Terror went into the urn in his original costume and been trapped there. Yet he emerges in his Ross-tweaked costume. I guess you could say the art in the last issue was “wrong” and he was in reality wearing this costume, but then the flourishes that Ross gave the gloves and mask would be anachronistic for the 1950’s.

Pages 18 &19: I always thought that the Yank’s cloak was magical because it was imbued with the ghost of his ancestor. No ghost would imply no powers. The Black Terror in the 40’s was one of Nedor/Standard/Better’s generic powered heroes aka super-strong and bulletproof. Except when done by Mort Meskin and Jerry Robinson where he didn’t exhibit any powers . He wasn’t really as bloodthirsty as portrayed here, assuming the time in the urn didn’t help any. But, every revival of the character has portrayed him as being a darker character than he was originally. Tim also known once as Kid Terror in his one solo outing wore an identical costume as the Black Terror and helped him fight crime.

Page 21: Dynamic Man is revealed as a robot. Android really. The Doctor Moore referred to on page one had built him. He and the Timely Dynamic Man appearing in THE TWELVE are basically the same character with just a few minor changes. However, the Chesler Dynamic Man eventually picked up a kid brother with identical costume and powers and no explanation that I know of was ever given. The implication here is that he built his “brother” like he built all of these Dynamic Family members. Now, whether JMS is likewise holding on to reveal THE TWELVE’s Dynamic Man as an android to explain his also odd behavior or will retcon out that origin we’ll have to wait and see. Personally, I’d have revealed that the Chesler Dynamic Man was alive all along only with amnesia induced by Moore’s experiments and only thought he was an android. And let Marvel keep the android origin.

War Journal pages
Dynamic Man and Family: Curt Cowan is Timely’s Dynamic Man. Don’t know if the Chesler version went by that name but by the time he gained a kid brother, he was going by the name Bert McQuade and he’s called Bert elsewhere in the story.

Sketches Pages:
Hydro (Hydroman): 1940, Re’glar Fellers Heroic Comics 1-29 (Eastern Color Printing). One of Bill Everett’s several water based heroes. A friend of Bob Blake’s develops a serum and antidote that allows one to dissolve into liquid, appear from various liquid sources (once materializing out of an ink pen). Bob allows himself to be injected with it, thinking it’d help him fight forces of evil. He must’ve decided he might need a little more of an edge and also made a bulletproof outfit.

Fighting Yank we know.

Silver Streak: 1940, Silver Streak Comics #3 (Lev Gleason). A racing enthusiast swami is suspicious of drivers’ deaths caused by giant insects. After a man he hypnotized to race for him is killed, the swami resurrects him and instructs him to track down the killer. The driver now has the power of super speed.

Captain Future (2): 1940, Startling Comics #1 (Better). Scientist Andrew Bryant experiments with gamma and infrared rays, discovering that "crossing" them gives him superpowers. He decides to fight crime. His girlfriend is Grace Adams, a detective of the Agatha Detective Agency. Future has superstrength and fires lightning-like bolts from his hands. NOTE: The first Captain Future is a pulp sci-fi space hero from the same publisher. That Captain Future made it into comics called Major Mars, while Bryant co-opted the name for his superhero id.

Woman In Red: 1940, Thrilling Comics 2-18, 20-22, 24-30, 34, 35, 38, 46 (Better). Police Detective Peggy Allen, aka the Woman in Red, helped the police solving tough crimes. The police commissioner was aware of her dual identity. As the Woman in Red, Peggy carried and used a gun. I’m guessing she was a fan of Wilkie Collins’ WOMAN IN WHITE. Woman in Red is one of the first of comics’ first female superheroes, depending on your criteria and whether you consider Fantomah a superheroine or require superpowers for the character to be considered such (which would then kick Batman out of the genre).

Target & the Targeteers: 1940-49, Target Comics vol 1 no 10. Niles Reed invents a bullet proof costume and recruits friends Dave Brown and Tom Foster to help clear his brother’s name and avenge his death. They wear identical costumes except where Niles’ I s yellow, theirs are red and blue. There was briefly early on a Female Targeteer. Of interesting note, some of the non-War years adventures were written by Mickey Spillane.

Cat-man: 1940, Crash Comics 4 & 5, Cat-Man Comics 1-32. 1940. David Merryweather was one of the many heroes who got his start when his parents were killed while in the jungle leaving the orphan to be raised by animals, but one of the few to actually adopt a costumed identity. Early in his career, he had all the attributes of the cat: agility, night vision and nine lives. Eventually, he joins the army and gains a ward, Katie Conn, who dresses in an identical outfit and calls herself Kitten (1941, Cat-Man Comics #5). Katie's parents were killed in a trainwreck and was already a trained acrobat. She also worked with other side-kicks as part of the group Little Leaders. By war's end, Kitten is depicted as pretty much a full-grown woman.

The Owl: 1940, Crackajack Funnies #25 (Dell). One of my favorite characters, I like the simplicity of his costume for one. He’s Nick Terry, a special investigator, who takes up the costumed identity when he feels the law is a bit too restricting in dispensing justice. He eventually confides his identity to his newspaper columnist girlfriend Belle Wayne who shortly takes up a similar costume to help him out as Owl Girl.

Strongman: 1940, Crash Comics #1 (Tem Publishing). Playboy Percy van Norton is given a book of “yogi” which he studies until it gives him a body and mind of a superman (putting him on par with Dynamic Man in the strength and stamina department though Strongman cannot fly). As Percy he pretends to be meek and unadventurous, a playboy Clark Kent to his Strongman Superman.

Major Victory: 1941, Dynamic Comics #1 (Harry “A” Chesler). A soldier is killed and is then brought back to life as the superpowered Major Victory by “Father Patriot”.

Dynamic Man and Dynamic Boy: already went into the history some of Dynamic Man. HOWEVER, this is the wrong Dynamic Boy. See, Chesler also recycled that name and in addition to Dynamic Man’s brother and sidekick, they had two Dynamic Boys that were solo acts, Kent Banning is Dynamic Boy in Dynamic Comics 2 & 3, pre-dating Dynamic Man’s partner and then another one in Dynamic Comics #13 (according to the GCD). I guess the argument could be made is they all are constructs by Dynamic Man, his earliest Dynamic Family. Unless the contradiction is addressed in-story though, it’s still an error.

One of the things missing so far is a sense of fun. It is falling into the same tropes that Alan Moore’s Terra Obscura issues of TOM STRONG and the following two mini’s did by Paul Hogan. The same thing doom that looms over THE TWELVE. And the same thing that helped drive me from the mega crossovers from the companies of late. It’s all about heroes vs. heroes. Heroes cannot be noble, there have to be darker sides to them. The villains are bad, but at least they aren’t hypocritical thus they gain a measure of nobility and respect. To their ownselves, they be true.

It’s especially frustrating when I maintain a site that shows just how many colorful and interesting golden-age villains existed. They weren’t all spies and gangsters. Even I was surprised by just how many I have discovered. In Fox Comics alone where we got the likes of the heroes Blue Beetle, Samson, and the Flame, we had villains with their own strips: the monster creating Dr. Mortal, the Gorilla (a gorilla whose brain was swapped out with that of a conniving scientist), the Sorceress of Zoom who ruled a whole magical city.

Instead, we are still getting watered down versions of Alan Moore Watchmen where superheroes aren’t to inspire us to be better but to warn us against becoming monsters ourselves.

Other books this week, real quick.
JLA: CLASSIFIED #53. The penultimate issue to Roger Stern and John Byrne’s arc and it has been a lot of fun, full of superhero action and a truly worthy villain. The comic has been plagued with coloring issues though. This time out, when the JLA get realized as the gods they could be, Black Canary is colored as if she’s Wonder Woman who’s not in this issue. It’s really confusing when on panel she’s called Black Canary and you see someone that looks like Wonder Woman attacking some perps along with some birds. My first thought was that Black Canary had been turned into some birds and then I realized that WW isn’t in the flashback scenes.

STAR TREK: ALIEN SPOTLIGHT: ROMULANS: Another John Byrne comic and a hoot at looking at the Romulan people in the days of the original tv show. There’s a few flaws in that while JB nails the costumes and designs when drawing from the show, but the designs of the buildings and other space vehicles are more his style which really sticks out. The lead character of the honorable Romulan chosen to captain the first Bird of Prey with the cloaking device and charged with starting a war sets up a nice conflict of personal honor vs duty to one’s government and family.

JSA: CLASSIFIED: Wildcat takes the ring in what looks to be an interesting story as he investigates some suspicious goings ons at one of his old gyms. I could do without the guest-star at the end, but it looks to be a great tale. Based on this one issue so far, I’d love to see them handle a Wildcat ongoing.

JSA: Interesting to note that both JLA:Classified and JSA feature powerful supervillains that see themselves as god-killers. Yet, Stern and Byrne’s been good old-fashioned superhero storytelling and non-stop action and will be complete in 5 issues and Geoff Johns’ story has been building for 13 issues and will continue for a few more. This issue does manage to do what Johns does best which is character moments. As much as I loathe Jakeem Thunder, Johns does a good job with him here and the Kingdom Come Superman paying a visit to the Daily Planet is almost as powerful as JMS’ handling of Captain Wonder in THE TWELVE. Makes me wish Johns was on something like the original Secret Six or Challengers of the Unknown.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Some Comic Book Reviews

Gotten a little behind. News of impending layoff, a car accident and subsequent health dealings and a few days off to spend Valentine’s Day with the one I love can do that to a person. Well, the Hallmark holiday has come and gone, I’m mostly recovered, got a new car and still face an uncertain future on the job front in a couple of months. Hey, here’s a thought. Instead of worrying about immigrant labor taking menial and blue collar jobs while still putting some money back into our economy (they still gotta live and eat while here), how about doing something about all of those jobs being sent overseas to third world countries. Far more Americans are actually losing jobs to outsourcing than laborers being brought in to clean Wal-mart in the pre-dawn hours.

THE SPIRIT #14. A new creative team comes aboard, Aragones, Evanier, Ploog and Farmer. The results… it’s an OK book. It’s actually more akin to the type of book I would expect when someone announces they are bringing back a character like Will Eisner’s Spirit. Stylistically, it’s more akin to Eisner’s work which unfortunately means it’s devoid of any real life because the story is really about capturing the spirit of the creator and not the spirit of the character, the Spirit himself. Darwyn Cooke had taken the character and combined the retro charm and some stylistic flourishes of Eisner and merged them with his own style and storytelling creating a piece of Fusion Jazz in comicbook fun. Whereas this is more of a college band doing a cover tune and just succeeding with it mostly.

ZORRO #1. Like Dynamite’s SUPERPOWERS, there’s a painted look to the comic that I feel sadly undercuts the artwork. It’s a pretty book, but the artist, Francesco Francavilla is capable of such lush linework it seems a shame to lose it.

Like THE SPIRIT, the end result of the book is one of being merely OK. While it’s giving us the origin and background of the character, it does so through flashback and narrative so we still see the title character in action (which they didn’t do with the Lone Ranger book which is why I didn’t get it, I’m sick of monthlies that are written solely for the Trade Collection in mind).

However, I hope that they paid some serious royalties to Isabella Allende as it makes heavy use of her over-hyped novel. Maybe not “over-hyped” since that implies that it was heavily hyped. It just seemed that those that read it loved it whereas I thought it was good but nothing really special. She romanticized the Indians too much in contrasting them with the evils of civilized men. Plus, making Zorro being truly part-Indian weakens the character a bit. His empathy now stems not from just a sense of justice and right & wrong, but partially because he's one of them. He has a vested reason to care. It’s subtle, but I think it’s also very significant as it changes the character’s basic motivation.

I’m not really sure why there needs to be a big focus on the origin story anyways. The concept of Zorro is fairly simple to understand and thanks to movies and such, people already understand the basic nature of the character. A little bit to establish the context and status quo and take us directly into the actual stories. And give him back his mustache! It’s better than no Zorro comic, but if you haven’t read them, I’d recommend going to the store and through the back issues for Topps’ version done by Don McGregor (which he continued as a gorgeous daily newspaper strip that also has been collected).

BRAVE AND THE BOLD #10: This comic keeps getting better and better. Although why they are replacing Perez on the book in what’s the final issue to the current story arc makes no sense, even as much as I love the work of incoming artist Jerry Ordway. At least it’s an artist of a comparable style and skill.

Here it’s still Perez and continuing the story of the classic Challengers of the Unknown reading the Book of Destiny serving as framing stories of various team-ups. We have Superman traveling to the past and teaming up with the Silent Knight and a slightly more recent past as Aquaman teams up with the newly formed Teen Titans on the day of his wedding to Mera. The book deftly shows why Perez is a natural for this title as he is able to draw superheroes, knights, a dragon, kid sidekicks in an underwater environment and make it all work wonderfully. Waid gets credit for actually making me laugh with a comment by Green Arrow about why Speedy wasn’t present.

Waid also makes me groan though with the Silent Knight giving his last name as “Kent”. It’s just too cutesy. Not to mention, wasn’t the Silent Knight one of the Hawk God avatars and thus according to Geoff Johns’ cosmology, a reincarnated Carter Hall? It’s one of the big problems with DCU right now, their continuity is totally screwed up, this time just rebooting and changing things arbitrarily such as the Doom Patrol, the past Justice League membership (again), the various books with different versions of Teen Titans. B&B seems to embrace that convoluted continuity as we have the original Challengers of the Unknown (though Red was wiped out of all existence a reboot or two ago), the current Doom Patrol makeup, but the old Metal Men who have also been recently rebooted if I got the gist of Will Magnus’ involvement in the mega-crossover last year and the current mini-series. So, ignore all the stupid retcons and such and just read this title. It’s more fun anyway, better written and drawn than about anything else put out by DC right now.

The Twelve #2. A good second issue. I only had a few quibbles. Such as why does Captain Wonder's chin look so humongous when he's not wearing the mask but more square jawed generic when he is wearing it? It's just plain distracting. We really don't see anything about Fiery Mask, Laughing Mask, Witness, or Mr. E. That's a pretty large chunk of the cast. Reading a bit about Mr. E's golden-age stories, he strikes me as being far more interesting a character than he's been played as here. He had a vampire as an arch villain! Bringing Electro into the compound makes zero sense in context of the story other than JMS needs him to be there.

Have to wonder about the timing of the narration as well. We know that it's the Phantom Reporter looking back to the early days out, but it implies that he's still ignorant of Vietnam and television especially if he's aware that the Rockman's people had never been discovered. JMS seems to not be able to keep PR's narration sound logically as if it's being done in the present, after the fact that he and the others have returned to active duty and not revealing too much when talking about the events happening in the recent past, so depending on the scene PR sounds as if he's narrating just as it happens. Instead of his narration being fully in the present after the end of the story, it reads as if it’s only in the present of whatever scene is being presented. That’s bad writing. Also, with PR’s job and background, it's a bit hard to bite that he's still out of the loop and having that hard of a time adjusting. The fact that there are still newspapers and such, he'd easily find a job regardless of the loss of "sources". Technology has changed, but a reporter’s job wouldn’t be that different.

My biggest quibble is the main plotline isn't delved into at all, despite it being the final climactic page of the first issue and the first page of this one. Will probably read fine in trade format, but a little frustrating in the monthly. It’s coitus interruptus of comic book storytelling.

However, JMS totally delivers on the heroes out of time bit and looking into different characters. The Captain Wonder scene was completely natural and organic and very powerful. It defines for us the type of man that he is and is heartbreaking in its pathos. I liked in seeing the hints of the Black Widow's dark background. And we feel a bit for Rockman. I hope his origin stays in place though (I don’t really care for mentally ill superheroes). Sure, in today’s context it is a bit fanciful, but this is the Marvel Universe after all. We know there are undersea and underground kingdoms and such. One more isn’t really a stretch.

FANTASTIC COMICS: Erik Larsen had this to say about his book:

And yeah, you may have seen "The Twelve" and maybe even "Superpowers," but this is another animal entirely.

This isn’t a depressing “everything has turned to crap and look how old, tired and silly looking these characters are” story -- we’ve seen those tepid tales time and time again ever since Alan Moore trotted out Marvel Man. This isn’t some pale imitation of an Alan Moore story -- it's an upbeat, energetic “look how cool these characters are and can be” type of thing.

Unfortunately, he’s wrong and this really didn’t live up to its potential. Overall, it was more pastiche than anything else, full of cutesy and slightly mocking elements in its attempts to be lighthearted. A big indicator of where it went wrong is the fact that it chose to mimic the bad paper and printing of 25-60 years ago with rough paper and out of register printing. See, right there it’s not about the story-telling and the characters, it’s about Artifact creation. It’s not about embracing cool characters and looking at what the creators did right in those days and telling stories that live up to that but looking at what was limiting and wrong, the parts you make fun of now that things have advanced past that. And, it’s trying to recreate an experience not through the story itself but through the physicality of the product. This prevents the art and writing to really deliver the story because the product itself is part of the story and as such the whole point is to be aware of the fact that it’s not real but a fake.

The individual stories are a hodge podge themselves. Larsen’s Samson tale illustrates the weaknesses of Larsen as a writer as it’s mostly just fluff mocking the idea of kid sidekicks. I’ve not read SAVAGE DRAGON in some time, but here his artwork looks rushed despite the powerful cover. Captain Kidd and the Golden Knight are the two of the most obscure heroes here, but their stories are also the best of the lot with only a few cutesy groaners. Yank Wilson starts off well, but denigrates into being more cutesy over-the-top parody than an action story. Stardust is an essay disguised as a story in that it’s more or less “about” something than a story in and of itself. Flip Falcon is interesting but it also is an exercise in completely re-inventing the character into something drastically different. Space Smith reads as a chapter in an ongoing story that’s completely pastiche and low on substance. Sub Saunders is appropriately 90% in German in that it makes the text of the story as indecipherable as the hideous artwork.

THE PHANTOM #16. Another book that has been getting better and better lately. The artwork and storytelling has settled into a decent consistency. A couple of story arcs are being tied together, telling a moving opening chapter to the next arc. One thing I liked with the recent issues is they are finally bringing something to the Phantom that was solely needed: villains worthy of the character. When superheroes were starting out, there was a tendancy for the flashy heroes to have a bit more mundane foes. The more mundane the hero though, the flashier his villains were, as if there was only so much un-reality they could put on the page. Eventually, supervillains become more and more prevalent as the public became used to the idea of super-characters and wanted to see adversaries worthy of the heroes, not just situations requiring Superman to bust down a wall (thus, a shift towards the story being about conflict and jeopardy and not just a display of ability). Eventually, Holmes had a Moriarty.

For some reason, the Phantom never really caught up. While he’s been in print for decades in both strips and comic books, his foes seemed to get increasingly mundane. The only fanciful stuff about the Phantom seemed to be the Phantom himself. He needs stories and adversaries that are as colorful as he is. I’m not calling for superpowers, aliens, and true supernatural elements to be brought in, but I am saying I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing a little of the larger-than-life sense of those things to be injected alongside the stories of real concerns of Africa and the jungles.

Also, of interest in this book are two of the ads of upcoming comics by Moonstone. One, the return of Captain Action! As a big Gil Kane fan, there’s a lot this series is going to have to live up to, but I’m hoping for a fun book. And Chuck Dixon is returning to a classic character he helped re-introduce people to 20 years ago: Airboy! A little pet peeve as the ad is a bit misleading that if you aren’t aware of the fact you might assume that Chuck CREATED Airboy himself and not just updated the character for the 80’s.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Steve Gerber Passes away

It's pretty much all over the comics news sites that Steve Gerber passed away. I'm not really going to attempt an obit or retrospective of his career. There are better informed people than me that can do that. This is more about how it affects me personally. For a great retrospective look at his career, I'd suggest going to

Steve Gerber's writing was probably always about 5 years ahead of me. His work was often personal and literate and I was always just a little too young to really get into it. I loved the Defenders, but I only read them sporadically in those pre-comic book shop days and I'm probably more familiar with David Kraft's run than Gerber's. I liked the design of Omega, but he was a bit too enigmatic for me. Howard the Duck was too far out there for me to get the satire at that young age (and I'm really a superhero guy at heart). It was probably Man-Thing that struck the most resonating chord with me. As far as I know, all teen-agers feel a bit of that isolation and one-of-a-kindness that permeated the character, feeling like if you could only make people really see you and not just your exterior. My first exposure to Man-Thing was in one of those comics that came with records (had a few of those) which was a retelling of issue #5 about a sad clown that commits suicide. A powerful story with wonderful art by Ploog. By the time he did SLUDGE for Malibu, I was more aware of him as a writer and as the creator of that Man-Thing story and excited to read Gerber's new series.

I sympathized with his causes that lead to DESTROYER DUCK and I still do. I'm not naive about companies and copyright ownership and such. But, it does irk me to see the company bring in other creators to work on a fringe title like Omega, the Unknown (or at DC, Black Lightning) when the people that actually created the characters and concepts are available and willing to work on the characters. And I've read that a big reason why we don't see Marvel really doing anything with the Malibu properties are the contracts that Malibu had with the creators of the series that gave them a certain amount of control. I would have loved to have read an Omega, the Unknown comic as done by Gerber.

Strangely, it's probably his work in animation that I most enjoyed and I was completely unaware that he was behind the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS and THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN cartoons. As with the comic DESTROYER DUCK, I was more familiar with Jack Kirby's involvement than I was Gerber's. G.I. Joe and Transformers, I was a little too old by the time those came around to really enjoy, a reversal of his comic book work.

Gerber passed away from complications to Pulmonary Fibrosis, which is a scarring of lung tissue that as it spreads you irrreversibly lose that much of the lung's ability to function. Doctors don't really know the causes of it. While Gerber was a longtime smoker, there is no direct link between smoking and Pulmonary Fibrosis. It definitely wouldn't have helped him combat it or the effects as he'd already be started off with reduced lung capacity.

My own father had developed Pulmonary Fibrosis. He'd given up smoking a decade earlier. Doctors postulated the cause to be viral, a result from either when he had been seriously sick a year earlier or the medication from that. Fighting the illness took a toll. He was on steroids to fight the progress of the scarring and even went in for surgery which was botched and left him with even less lung capacity, to the point that he had to keep an oxygen tank handy. When it looked like he had gotten that under control, they discovered a lung cancer. Whether it was linked to the fibrosis or not was undetermined, the cancer could have just been masked by it. But, it was a fight that he couldn't win. He wasn't even 50.

My heart goes out to Gerber's family. I know a little of what they faced and I have the utmost respect for the man and what he tried to accomplish in standing up to the companies and championing creator rights. A fight still going on, not just in comics but with the writers' strike in Hollywood. God Bless.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


I just got the book last night so I hadn't been able to comment. I saw the pencils by Sadowski and how good they looked, but this painted finished product didn't look good at all. Especially disappointing is the two page spread where Samson was painted purple! The paints over Kaluba's sections didn't look as bad, maybe because he uses a finer sketchier line than Sadowski's bold linework where it and the painted colors seemed to fight each other. Which really was a shame because Sadowski made such a point to get costumes and the looks correct. Subsequent issues are going to feature redesigns by Alex Ross even though most of the characters don't really need them.

Ok, here's the basic plot of the first issue, what you may consider SPOILERS will be contained, so skip it if you hadn't read it already. Basically, in the days of WWII, the Fighting Yank, Black Terror, original Blue Beetle and the Flame are sitting in on an invasion plan. They are told a story that says there might be some mystical reasonings behind the Death Camps and the Fighting Yank needs to retrieve an artifact, the source of all evil, Pandora's Box. The other heroes dismiss this mystical mumbo jumbo. After the success of that mission, he is shown the evil spirits that exist in the world because of the box (really a Grecian Urn) and he's told they need to be put back as well as "hope" in order to save the world. However, when he tries to convince the other heroes, they don't believe him and have a hard time even believing that he talks to a ghost (his Revolutionary War ancestor from whose cloak he draws his powers). So, he secretly hunts many of the heroes one by one and captures them in the urn, filling it with hope. In the present day, moments from dying of old age, he's visited by an "American Spirit" telling him that he's been duped and he must set it right!

See, this really doesn't make any internal sense, it falls down in the area of the plot vs. the characters and characterization. It's almost the exact same trap that James Robinson's GOLDEN AGE falls into. A big reason that particular story works is that it conveniently ignores the mystics. While it supposedly has every post-crisis DC golden-age hero in it, there is no Dr. Occult, Dr. Fate, Spectre, Zatarra, etc, because the final battle has to be a physical one. The only really powerful mystic hero is Johnny Thunder and he's denigrated as a character. It's the internal illogic of teaming up Dr. Thirteen with the Phantom Stranger and having him constantly not believe in magic. He comes off as a putz. Stories and characters in superhero comics fall flat when they dismiss magic out of hand despite serving on superhero teams with the likes of Dr. Fate and Dr. Strange and fight magicians as well as aliens and the such. I had recently read a golden-age JSA story where Hawkman and the team tried to rationalize magic even though he's a reincarnation of an Egyptian prince! When a character is in a full-blown superhero universe, sometimes having them act as someone reasonably would in the real world is actually very unrealistic in the context of their world.

The conceit of this story is that pretty much all golden-age characters exist on one earth. However, in the story context characters have trouble believing in the Fighting Yank's story and are all about being rational, when the said group he's talking to includes the Flame and Green Lama whose very backgrounds are in the mystical/philosophical. The Flame and Flame Girl actually have superpowers based on the Flame's mystical training. The big invasion we see Phantasmo, Golden Lad, Cat-man, Amazing Man and Man of War, all whose abilities are based on magic. Likewise a few others are scattered through the book, and by the conceit of the book we can safely assume even more. It can be logical that these heroes that haven't all worked together much and some of the science based ones might have trouble with the mumbo-jumbo, but not the way it's set up here. Here, his story is being dismissed by characters who would know better. The basic dilemma of the issue just doesn't make sense with the characters involved. It felt completely forced.

Now, for those who aren't as well versed in the Golden-age heroes as myself, let me give you a bit of annotations for who's in the book. Go find your copy, I'll wait.

Ready? Good.

Page 1, panel 3. Old Bruce Carter III who will be revealed as having been the Fighting Yank. panel 4, the American Spirit. This is a new character created for the story.

Page 4. A wonderful painting of the Fighting Yank as he appeared in Nedor comics. That bit of work is actually by Ross.

Page 5, panel 1. Black Terror, the original Blue Beetle (both heroes got powers through chemicals), the Fighting Yank, the Green Lama, and the Flame. The latter two heroes studied in the mystical capital of the world, Tibet. As the Green Lama had a very inconsistent career as a superhero so it's unclear at this point what abilities he may or may not have here. The Flame has the mystical ability to control fire and appear and disappear through the tiniest amount of flame.

Page 8, The Fighting Yank talks about his ghost ancestor. In the original comics he was visited by the ghost of his ancestor, the first Bruce Carter, who tells him where to find a cloak. While wearing the cloak he has superstrength and is invulnerable to bullets. The ghost can also manifest itself to take a direct hand in saving his life, usually once per story.

Page 14, panel 1. Black Terror and sidekick Tim (also called once Kid Terror), Samson & Davey, the original Dare-Devil (called in this story Devil or Death Defying Devil), Pyroman (whose powers are electrical not fire in nature), the Flame and Flame Girl (whom the Flame had given duplicate powers of his), Blue Beetle and possibly his junior side-kick Sparky with his back to us. I'd never seen his side-kick and cannot really tell anything from the back of the head. Behind the Flames, Green Lama and the Face (a non-powered hero who wears a fright mask to scare his foes), and behind them, Dynamic Man and Dynamic Boy (though that looks to be the wrong Dynamic Boy costume, that of the kid hero that WASN'T Dynamic Man's brother and partner).

Page 16, from the back towards the front: the Hood, striped cape possibly belongs to the Eagle, Silver Streak (another mystically based hero, he had died and was brought back to life by an Indian fakir with a penchant for race cars in order to hunt down his killer), Samson, Dare-devil, Fighting Yank, Blue Beetle, a cape with stars could belong to several characters, and the Flame. The Flame here is shown with his body flaming a little. Over time the character went from just controlling flames and using a flame gun to actually being able to make his whole body be engulfed in flames.

Page 17: Samson, unknown patriotic hero with blue boots with a white star, Flash Lightning (also Lash Lightning or just Lightning) and Lightning Girl, the Arrow and the Fighting Yank

Page 18: from the back, it's Green Giant fighting the Claw, Airman and Green Lama flying side by side, Captain Battle is the patriotic hero below to the left and American Crusader to his right going across the center spread. The ground forces are Tim, Black Terror, American Eagle, and Cat-man.

Page 19 Phantasmo and Golden-Lad are two more giants fighting the Claw, the Owl flying by them, Boy King with a sword and standing in the hands of his Giant (an animated stone statue or golemn). Flying is Magno, Captain Future shooting lightning bolts. And on the ground here is a blonde Amazing Man, Man of Flint, Hydroman, Dare-Devil, Man of War, and a purple Samson.

Page 21, panel 2. Ok, here we see this is definitely the Green Lama as done by Mac Raboy thus with Superman-esque powers. So, he gains vast superpowers by saying a mystic phrase yet he has trouble believing in Pandora's Box or that it should at least bear looking into?
Panel 3. That's American Eagle with his back to us. He has superstrength, invulnerability and can fly, so why we just see Samson leaping into the air? And that's the Arrow again with the bow.

Page 22: Yarko in the back row or another turbaned/tuxedo mystic hero. Man of Flint and the Target on the second row, and the Dart, Arrow and Flame Girl on the front row. The Dart was an ancient Roman that made it to the present due to a fight with an ancient sorcerer. To the right of the grave, Dare-devil, Fighting Yank and the Green Lama on the front row, cannot make out who is behind them.

Page 23: Panel 1, The Black Terror. Panel 2, Pyroman. Panel 3, the Face (it's the effect of the urn that's doing that to his mask, not any natural powers it has). Panel 4, Miss Masque (to be called Masquerade in subsequent issues). Panel 5, a boomerang of Dare-Devil's.

Page 24: The man with goggles is Skyman, the crowned boy beneath is Boy King. Red hooded guy is more than likely the Arrow, the boy with the multi-colored crest and red mask is Rainbow boy, Kitten with the cat ears, the Liberator in the star spangled shirt. Not sure about the boy in blue with a V on his chest, Raven is the guy in purple. The star-masked guy is more than likely Captain Courageous, possibly American Eagle in the small panel beneath him. The little square overlapping the Raven's, I have no idea. And that looks like the Green Lama below that but we know the Green Lama wasn't one of the ones taken.

Page 25: Getting Alex Ross designs and re-designs. The face in blue is a completely redesigned Scarab and at the bottom we see Frankenstein monsters/soldiers along the lines of Dick Briefer's version of the Frankenstein monster of the 40's (whom the Green Lama and other denizens of PRIZE COMICS fought on one occasion.

Page 28, In limbo we see several of the big guns we've already seen. A small figure next to Miss Masque, that's the Owl. The men in the otherwise identical red, yellow, and blue costumes are the Target and the Targeteers.

Heroes of the American Spirit: Captain Red Blazer and side-kick Sparky are the flying ones. MLJ/Archie's the Shield is behind them and a silhouette of Captain America. The man with the eyepatch is Captain Battle, the one with the star on his forehead is probably the Conqueror. The hero flying off to our left is probably Captain V (there were a couple with similar looks), the one flying to the right, too generic to make out. The man with the star mask is again Captain Courageous and the one with the eagle on his chest is natually the Eagle. Uncle Sam is up front and center.