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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

New issue of Baxter Stock FAQ


It's been a crazy busy autumn for us at DC in the 80s -- this was due to a combination of some massive heatwaves making it too difficult to focus on anything, co-editor Mark Belkin getting married and us frantically prepping our next fanzine... which we're proud to declare is finally available to the masses:



The Computer Gaming Issue contains an overview of all those cool DC comics computer games you probably missed out on in the 1980s. 16 pages. Ashcan-sized. Cover art by James Pascoe (Batman: Sword of Azrael, Legion of Super-Heroes) and back cover art by A. Kapellusch.


Q: Okay, so it's just another retro-gaming fanzine. Why would I want this?

A: Well, first of all, retro-gaming is awesome -- so that alone is worth the price of admission. Secondly, it's not *just* a retro-gaming fanzine -- it takes an in-depth look at all the DC comics-related computer games released in the 1980s. Also, it's in 3D.


Q: What?

A: Exactly -- it's a full-color 16 page (includes front and back covers) DC comics fanzine printed in 3D. We've even include a pair of anaglyph 3D glasses to view the fanzine.


Q: How many of these 3D fanzine do you have in stock?

A: We're not telling -- but once they're gone, we're not printing any more.


Q: Your previous fanzine had an interview with Michel Fiffe, Steve Lightle, J.M. DeMatteis, and Rick Veitch. Isn't retro-gaming a bit out of your wheelhouse?

A: Not at all. If it's eighties-related, we're on it. We've actually written a few video game reviews for this site: Reviewing the Batman Returns computer game (DOS), Replaying SEGA's Batman: Revenge of the Joker, and Taking a look back at 1994's The Death and Return of Superman video game. In fact, Justin is a card-carrying member of Vintage is the New Old and, to date, has written one article for them (with more to come, I'm sure).


Q: So... are you changing your format? Will DC in the 80s/Baxter Stock now become a retro-gaming site/fanzine?

A: Nope. This issue is just a one-shot until our next issue of Baxter Stock is ready -- hopefully for early 2018. Consider this as Baxter Stock #1.5?


Q: I'm color blind, so red and blue 3D glasses won't work for me OR 3D images give me headaches OR I refuse to support the red-and-blue 3D anaglyph industry for my own personal reasons.

A: No problem, we've got you covered. A black-and-white version of this fanzine is also available.


Q: How much is this going to cost?

A:

The 3D issue costs $5.50 USD + shipping. (high quality paper + color ink)

The black and white issue costs $3.50 USD + shipping. (high quality paper + ink)

Yes, we combine shipping.

Prices are subject to increase once the initial pre-order drive is done.

Q: I want one! How do I get one?

A: Send an e-mail to dcinthe80s@gmail.com, include your mailing address and how many copies you want. We'll take it from there.


Q: How soon will I get it?

A: I imagine we'd be shipping in January 2018 after the Christmas rush is over -- and since we're located in Canada, depending on where you live, it might take a week or two to arrive.


Q: Are there any more copies of your first zine left (the one with all the interviews)? I want one of those, too.

A: Yeah, we still have a few left in stock. Those retail for $3 USD + shipping. (high quality ink + paper)


Q: I live in [someplace that's not Canada or the United States], will you ship to me? 

A: Yes. Yes, we will.


Cheers,
Justin

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Reviewing the 1988 Peacemaker mini-series

While the 1983 Vigilante ongoing series kept most of us on the edge of our seats (let's not even mention the ending), it was during writer Paul Kupperberg's tenure that new and not-so-new characters (ex: Harry Stein, Valentina Vostok/Negative Woman, Black Thorn, Harvey Bullock, The Agency, etc) would be introduced to the title in preparation for the upcoming Kupperverse Paul was gradually building. Most surprising -- to old school Charlton Comics fans, anyways -- would've been the very dramatic re-introduction of Peacemaker to the modern DC Universe.

Vigilante #36 (1986). Mike Grell cover. This would've been an instant 'buy' for me if I had seen it on the shelves.

Then


Created by Joe Gill and Pat Boyette, Peacemaker first appeared in 1966's Fightin' 5 v1 #40 published by Charlton Comics. In an 8-page back-up feature, the reader is introduced to Christopher Smith: an American peace diplomat... who moonlights as Peacemaker: a man who loves peace so much that he's willing to fight for it. Fun Fact: a 'Peacemaker' is also another name used for the Colt Single Action Army revolver and was the standard US military service revolver in the late 1800s.


Panels from Fightin' 5 v1 #40 (1966).
Fightin' 5 was cancelled after issue #41. Peacemaker then headlined his own 1967 ongoing series -- which lasted a total of 5 issues. Christopher Smith was depicted as a suave peace envoy (with a direct line to the White House) who used tools of diplomacy to resolve global conflicts before they could escalate. When that failed, he became the Peacemaker. This was a last resort, of course. Smith HATES war and violence.

Peacemaker #4 (1967). Charlton comics.

Typically, the threats came from a communist country wielding an atomic-powered whatever, but this was during the mid-to-late sixties, and the Cold War was all anybody was talking about anyways. Peacemaker's weapons played a bit more on the sci-fi side: jetpacks, a helmet with a laser on it, some sort of gizmo that can scramble enemy missile commands, and more that I'm forgetting -- all of these were Smith's own inventions. Try to image if James Bond secretly slipped into a costume to battle villains and you've got Peacemaker.

Peacemaker #4 (1967). Charlton comics.

A bit more of Peacemaker's history was expounded on in his 4th issue: he operates out of a Chateau (location never specified), his father was an army officer turned statesman, his mother was a laboratory researchist, he's a brilliant inventor who has helped the United States on numerous occasions... and his major motivation for all this?

Peacemaker #4 (1967). Charlton comics. What an altruistic guy!

Surprisingly, for such a fondly-remembered character, Peacemaker only appeared in eight Chartlon Comics issues -- yet was still considered to be among the Charlton Action-Heroes line-up. I could've sworn he was a member of Americomics' Sentinels of Justice in 1983 with the rest of the Action-Heroes, but apparently he didn't make the cut.

I was hoping to discover that Paul Kupperberg was one of the original writers for Peacemaker and this would've all been tied into a neat lil' serendipitous bow -- but alas, that is not the case. For anyone wondering: Kupperberg had indeed written for Charlton Comics... but it was in 1976...and it was only for supernatural anthology titles (i.e., Haunted, Ghostly Haunts, Ghost Manor).


Now (well,... the mid-to-late eighties)


If you had only started reading comics in the early 80s, Peacemaker would've been a totally NEW character to you. Prior to this, you might've spotted him in a few panels of the Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series, but the three-issue story arc in Vigilante #36 - 38 allowed Kupperberg a chance to flesh out this relatively obscure character to a brand new audience -- and what we got was a completely different Peacemaker from the version Charlton Comics fans grew up reading. He still has an arsenal of advanced weaponry, but now he's a little... 'unhinged'. He's a 'counter-terrorism freelancer' who loves peace enough to KILL for it. He has no hesitation blowing off a terrorist's head at point-blank range. Collateral damage is not an issue to him, he'll even fire on allies if it means getting the job done -- he's pragmatic like that.

panels from Vigilante #36 (1986)
In his first post-Crisis appearance, Peacemaker has gone AWOL and intercepts a hostage situation facilitated by Arab terrorists. His employer (the Agency) worries that he's a liability and wants him terminated. The machinations of these circumstances leads to an impromptu team-up with Adrian Chase. Absent is the debonair persona of Christopher Smith, and instead we get a disheveled civil servant who's apparently constantly talking to himself. Kupperberg makes a point to demonstrate what a loose-cannon Peacemaker is, and we are treated to gratuitous displays of Christopher Smith dispensing hot lead and pro-Americana slogans. Remember: Vigilante was a direct market title -- meaning that it was not available on newsstands and could only be obtained if you went to a comic book shop or ordered a subscription -- so the creative team could get away with a little more violence and mature content than would usually be found in a DC title.

panels from Vigilante #36 (1986)

This story arc must've been popular, because Peacemaker returned for another three-issue story arc in Vigilante #41 - 43. There's a lot more emphasis on just how mentally unstable the Peacemaker is -- he's having full-on conversations with his helmet, and is convinced there's some sort of conspiracy against him (which is his main driving reason to return to New York City and kill members of the Agency).

panel from Vigilante #41 (1987).
We get a bit more insight into Peacemaker's relationship with his helmet -- he's guided by the voices of the souls he executed and this seems to drive him on his quest for vengeance. After a narrow defeat, the story arc concludes with Peacemaker being detained.

Kupperberg's re-invention of Peacemaker as a 'take-no-prisoners patriotic killing-machine' was kind of an extreme parody of the blockbuster Hollywood action heroes of the time combined with a healthy dose of Reagan Era American flag-waving patriotism mixed in. During the 1980s, the United States' foreign policy was largely centered around winning the Cold War and ending communism, and the courageous muscle-bound American soldier single-handedly mowing down all of America's enemies with a large assault rifle (think: Sylvester Stallone in Rambo, etc) had pretty much become the people's hero. Kupperberg kept Vigilante grounded in reality and based many of his storylines on current events -- plane hijackings were the terrorist operation du jour (there were eight international plane hijacking between 1984 and 1985) -- and the infamous Karachi Pan Am Flight 73 hijacking occurred the same month that Vigilante #36 was printed.

Vigilante #42 (1987). Again with the "commies". sigh.


Which bring us to our feature presentation:

Peacemaker #1 (1988). Cover by Tod Smith.
If you were hoping that this 1988 mini-series would be the continuing adventures of a seriously damaged anti-hero, you'd be sorely disappointed. [And, admittedly, that would've made a great mini-series.]

Writer Paul Kupperberg and illustrator Tod Smith rejoin forces (this time with inks by Pablo Marcos) to bring us a new chapter in the life of Christopher Smith and picks up right after we left off in Vigilante #43.  While his appearances in Vigilante made Peacemaker out to be a morally reprehensible character, this mini-series paints him as a tragic hero who emotionally feels the toll of each life he didn't save from terrorism.

panel from Peacemaker #1 (1988). Pencils by Tod Smith, inks by Pablo Marcos.

What about his deranged extremist behavior in the pages of Vigilante? That's all explained away in two panels:

panels from Peacemaker #1 (1988). Pencils by Tod Smith, inks by Pablo Marcos.

I'm just going to re-iterate that the Christopher Smith/Peacemaker in this mini-series is a VERY different man from the one we saw in Vigilante; he runs something called the Pax Institute [some sort of humanitarian organization?], he feels guilt about not stopping terrorism fast enough, he lives like a billionaire in the Swiss Alps, he doesn't want to take human lives if he can help it, and those deceased souls he collects in his helmet that talk to him? That's done with. Instead, he's got a different type of psychological demon to confront. In a way, this is more like the Charlton Comics version of the character -- but he's still got residual mental issues.

panels from Peacemaker #3 (1988). Pencils by Tod Smith, inks by Pablo Marcos.

Seeing as how Peacemaker's modus operandi is stopping terrorism, this mini-series revolves around him trying to foil a large-scale international terrorist plot being spearheaded by none other than Doctor Tzin-Tzin -- all while battling his own personal demons, of course. [In case you were wondering, Doctor Tzin-Tzin appeared in the mid-sixties as a Batman villain, and was more or less played up as a Fu Manchu knock-off. Last seen in a 1977 Batman story.]  This is reminiscent of Peacemaker's earlier Charlton adventures in which he dealt with international threats.

panel from Peacemaker #1 (1988). Doctor Tzin-Tzin!

Kupperberg goes to great care to add details about Peacemaker's elaborately revised origin by including correspondences between various high-ranking officials at the end of each issue. These are actually pretty long and tedious reads, but they reveal how Christopher Smith became an anti-terrorist commando, we learn of something called PROJECT: PEACEMAKER and we get the full details on his support staff.

It was obvious that this mini was a pilot to see how an ongoing series would fare, and since an ongoing didn't happen we can only assume it didn't generate enough interest. [As far as I know, it was never reprinted, either.] To be honest, I had a bit of trouble maintaining interest in this mini -- it's heavy with international politics and seems extremely topical for the time it was written. Kupperberg is no stranger to writing about international political intrigue (see: Checkmate!), and -- from an 80s historical revisionist perspective -- rehashing the Cold War is kinda cool, but I just couldn't get into it and the plot kinda confused me.

The art was okay -- lots of action sequences and the pacing was steady. The biggest surprise in this mini (for me, anyways) was the inclusion of Doctor Tzin-Tzin as the main antagonist -- mainly because he was a villain in one of the first Batman comics I owned. By 1988, I'm not sure if Tzin-Tzin was considered to be an offensive racial stereotype or just one of those Z-list DCU villains everyone had forgotten about, but it was entertaining to see this long-forgotten Batman villain appear in a modern story.

Batman v1 #285 (1977). Jim Aparo/Tatjana Wood cover

It kind of boggles my mind that the SAME WRITER could revamp a character so dramatically. I'd understand if it was a new writer who decided to undo everything Kupperberg had previously done, but frankly I thought the 'psycho' Peacemaker as seen in Vigilante would've made for a much more interesting character to read about. Don't get me wrong -- I still love the idea of Peacemaker, but this mini left thirty-something year old me a little underwhelmed. I'm sure 10 year-old me would've purchased it, regardless.

I've dwelled on it a bit more and decided that the reason I wasn't so keen on this mini was because Peacemaker seemed isolated from the rest of the DCU. Other than an obscure Batman villain (last seen in the late seventies) and an appearance from Harry Stein, there was no real connection to the DC universe -- no mention of Superman, the Teen Titans or anything, really. I realize that Kupperberg was trying to build a foundation for his own universe of characters, but there was no need for Peacemaker to exist in a vacuum. Maybe he could have had other Kupperverse chararcters appear? I don't think Peacemaker was interesting enough on his own to keep an ongoing series going. As we saw, Peacemaker works MUCH better when he's accompanied with other established heroes (see: Janus Directive and Eclipso series)

The Vigilante was not MY first introduction to Peacemaker -- it was from an old, tattered copy of Who's Who that my parents let me buy at a flea market one Sunday afternoon. I would've been around nine or ten years old at the time and probably didn't read his bio unless it was to check if he was a 'good guy' or 'bad guy'. To be quite frank with you, it was adoration at first sight. How could a 10 year old who played with G.I. Joes not be drawn in by a gun-wielding super-soldier with a radar dish for a helmet? And his radar dish helmet emits a sonic wave attack? And he flies around with a jetpack? Damn. Needless to say, I have a fondness for this character.

This wasn't the end of Peacemaker, however. He would re-appear in Checkmate! and appear sporadically across the DCU shortly thereafter.


A few 80s moments:


It wouldn't be a Paul Kupperberg mini-series without a Ronald Reagan appearance:

panel from Peacemaker #4 (1988)


Or how about that Berlin Wall? (cue up Scorpions' "Winds of Change")

panels from Peacemaker #4 (1988).


Friday, October 20, 2017

Mark Belkin interviews Joe Staton

Joe Staton is not only a legend in the comics industry, he is also one of the nicest human beings you will ever meet. It is always a pleasure to speak with him about his past, what he is doing presently, and what he is going to be working on in the future. And if you’re lucky enough to meet his wonderful wife, Hilarie, then you are twice as lucky to meet two of the nicest people on the comics circuit today.

His list of work for DC is massive. Batman, Green Lantern, All-Star Comics, Justice Society, Huntress, World’s Finest, Millennium, Power Girl, and so much more. Originally from North Carolina, Joe has made New York his home state for more than 30 years, and can be found at conventions all around the country. We were lucky enough to speak to Joe at a convention recently.




----

Mark: Thank you, Joe, for joining us today.  First question -- how did you meet up with Steve Englehart and end up working together on Green Lantern

Joe: Basically, he was assigned as the writer for Green Lantern. I had come back to DC from First comics. The plan when I came back was that Len Wein would be writing and editing Green Lantern. Somehow -- by the time I got back -- Len was gone and Andy Helfer was editing, and I guess Andy had assigned Steve writing duties. 

Mark: When I spoke with J.M. DeMatteis, he said that Andy was very influential on his Justice League run. Was Andy very influential on your run with Green Lantern? Was he a 'hands on' editor? 

Joe: Um... yes, and sometimes a bit more 'hands on' than Steve would've preferred. Steve had lots of good ideas, and Andy had some ideas of his own.

Mark: Steve was a very rebellious soul from my understanding...

Joe: Well, an independent soul, yes.

Panel from The Green Lantern Corps #201 (1986)


Mark: So you got to work on Green Lantern -- and I know one of the big things to come out of your run was Guy Gardner. Defining the 'bowl cut' for generations. How did that come about? What was your mindset in drawing Guy Gardner?

Joe: Steve was setting up a whole new approach to the [Green Lantern] Corps, and Guy had been almost entirely written out [of the mythos] -- he really didn't exist anymore. So basically, Steve developed a whole new Guy Gardner character based on that name and just that position in the corps. His idea was -- certainly in contrast to Hal [Jordan] who was such a good guy and such a stable character -- Guy would be a real contrast.

I picked up on what Steve was doing with it, and the way we'd brought Guy back is that he was in this intensive care facility -- he was pretty much brain-dead. When he came back, he had been in custodial care -- and my idea was that the crew (the people who worked at this facility) would basically come around a give him a bowl cut, like, once a month. And when he came out of his coma it's his haircut and he just stuck with it. It's an institutional look.  

Mark: It is. I heard they're making a Green Lantern Corps movie, and I know for a fact, that they will probably use the bowl cut. So a whole new generation of people will get exposed to that idea.

Joe: <laughs> ...the idea of ugly haircuts...

Can you make out the bowl cut in this silhouette?


Mark: So you got to illustrate the death of Earth-Two Batman in 1979's Adventure Comics v1 #462. How was it getting that? Because that was a pretty consequential story to be given. Did anyone talk to you about that at the time? Was there a huge "Oh my god, I can't believe this!" type-of-thing?

Joe: As I understand it, Joe Orlando was the editor, and this was to be Joe's last issue. Paul Levitz wanted Joe to go out with something consequential, so that how he got to the 'death of Batman' story. The weird thing there was that Mike Barr was the assistant editor, and when the script came to him he was horrified and Mike was, y'know, really trying to stop the whole thing. People realized this was something consequential, and then there were *other* people who thought that Batman should ONLY be killed by the Joker.... so, y'know, there were different ideas there.


From the brilliant Brave and the Bold #197. Also, about death and Earth-Two Batman.
Mark: Moving a little bit forward, you and Steve Englehart worked on Millennium -- which was the big cross-over series from the tail-end of 1987. How did that get handed to you guys? What was the thinking/reasoning?

Joe: Yeah, well, I know that Steve had a lot of new age ideas he wanted to work out. So, he was brought in, and he had a lot worked out. Andy [Helfer] was editing again, and Andy was always good at bringing in people from England, or Japan, or whatever... and his original plan was for Ian Gibson -- the English artist -- to do the art on Millennium. BEFORE scanning or e-mailing, before all THAT, it was FedEx ... international FedEx. But it quickly became apparent that really wasn't going to work on the very tight schedule that the book had. So, I think the book was 3 weeks late at the point I was brought into it. I wasn't scheduled to do it, I had no idea that I would be doing it. So, I was just kind of thrown into it. And Ian was told that okay well he's not doing the WHOLE job anymore, but he's still inking it. So he did stick around for the inking. I certainly would've understood if he decided not to, but he stuck with it.

Since the book was so late -- and it was at a time that there were a lot of changes going into the DC books (a lot of costumes were changing and different things) -- basically I penciled with what information I had, Ian inked with what he had, and then the whole thing came back to the production department who kind of re-drew things on the fly trying to make everybody's costume look right before it went out. 

And then there was a lot of political intrigue going on at DC at the time -- both internal politics and actual political politics. Steve [Englehart] was very left-wing in his politics and he wanted to make a lot of anti-fascist statements. I kind of share Steve's politics, so it didn't bother me. But Jenette [Kahn] leaned on Andy [Helfer] to lean on Steve, so Steve wasn't allowed to come up with the ending he had planned for Millennium. It's amazing we got it done at all.


A comic called Focus that focused on the comic crossover Millennium. Say that 5 times quick.

Mark:...and that moved onto 1988's The New Guardians series -- which you pencilled -- and that series sort of hung around for a little while. Was that series also affected by politics as well at the time?

Joe: Oh yeah. Since the whole ending [to Millennium] would've been different, and the spin-offs would've been different -- the New Guardians was kind of coming up with a spin-off book on the fly.  [laughs] That was another weird one because there were so many ethnic and political characters... and I'm fond of caricature -- like, I can't help it -- and I was REALLY worried that some of my characters were going to be offensive whether or not I wanted them to be. So, I worked with that as best as I could. It's amazing any books ever got put out.





Mark: I'd love to expand on that at some point. Before we finish up... retaining the rights to E-Man... was that always an issue? Was that an issue with First Comics (because you had to gone First Comics)? Was it an easy early-80s creator owned? Or was it difficult? What kind of difficulties did you have with that over the years?

Joe: Well, First [Comics] got the rights from Charlton [Comics], and the idea was that I'd pay First back from my royalties/income to cover their expenses, and eventually E-Man would come to me. Over the years various papers were slipped my way to sign, so the deal I wound up didn't exactly add up to what I was counting on from First. So, I ALMOST own E-Man but some of the earlier material is controlled by the remains of First.

Mark: And what happens with those remains? Who's in charge of those? Do you think those will ever be re- printed?

Joe: It's a possibility. We'll keep on trying to figure that out.

Mark: Thank you for sitting with us today, Mr Staton.

Panel from E-Man #4 (1983). Property of First Comics.
E-Man: the shape-changing superhero!


Joe Staton has been working on the national Dick Tracy comic strip since 2011, and has won Harvey Awards for Best Syndicated Strip in 2013, 2014 and 2015! He is a frequent guest at conventions, and if you see him, stop by and say hello!

-Mark Belkin



Thursday, September 14, 2017

The 1986 Deadman mini-series (written by Andy Helfer and illustrated by José Luis Garcia-Lopéz)

We're inching our way to Halloween, and what better time to review one of DC's most macabre super heroes? If you haven't read our review of the 1985 Deadman Deluxe Reprint series, I'd recommend you start with that (go ahead... we'll wait), because this mini-series picks up where that reprint series left off.


By the mid-to-late eighties, the 'mini-series' seemed to be DC's launch vehicle of choice for testing reader reaction to any new ongoing series they were thinking of piloting (see: Aquaman, Phantom Stranger, Peacemaker, Hawk & Dove, Shadow War of Hawkman, Red Tornado, etc). That was exactly what this was -- DC trying to determine if there was enough reader interest to merit a Deadman ongoing series. Short answer: no. 


If you're reading this article because you're curious about the life & times of Deadman, I'll give you the run-down of what happens in this mini:

Accompanied by his identical twin brother Cleveland and Batman, Boston Brand/Deadman is still recovering in Nanda Parbat after being poisoned by the Sensei. [Thankfully, later in the first issue, the reader is treated to a quick recap of everything that happened during those 1967/1969 Strange Adventures and Brave and the Bold stories leading up to this.] Rama Kushna wants Deadman to stay and become the defender of Nanda Parbat, but Deadman wants to leave and go back to the real world for a few weeks and tie up some loose ends in his former life.

Panels from Deadman v2 #1 (1986). Art by José Luis Garcia-Lopéz.

He possesses Cleveland's body and heads back to the circus to says his good-byes. Of course, he wants to rehash his glory days as a high-flying trapeze artist... and this is when an unknown assailant assassinates him AGAIN (while he's possessing his twin brother's body). The first issue ends with Deadman bargaining with Rama Kushna for the life of his brother, Cleveland.


Panels from Deadman v2 #1 (1986). Art by José Luis Garcia-Lopéz.
Well, here's your first spoiler: Cleveland doesn't make it. Deadman resolves to hunt down his brother's killer, and manages to do so before the end of the second issue. A new supporting character is introduced: Maxwell Loomis (aka Major Mite) -- an acrobat/clown who is also an agent of Rama Kushna's. The second issue is overflowing with exposition: we discover the origin of Rama Kushna and Nanda Parbat (and how they're connected), we learn about Rama Kushna's relationship to Deadman, and we discover that Boston Brand isn't the first person to be an agent of Rama Kushna's.

It's probably worth noting that the antagonist in this mini-series is, once again, The Sensei of the League of Assassin (but not really, though). Deadman confronts The Sensei, but it goes poorly because the League was expecting him and set a trap. Second spoiler: it is revealed that the Sensei is actually possessed by the spirit who formerly held Deadman's position as Rama Kushna's herald -- a man named Jonah -- who wants to see Rama Kushna and Nana Parbat destroyed. There's a siege and a major battle is fought.

In the fourth issue, everything gets wrapped up: Rama Kushna sacrifices herself to put an end to Jonah, the city of Nanda Parbat destroys itself, the residents of Nanda Parabat are relocated around the world, the Sensei (no longer possessed by Jonah) goes back to being a ruthless gang leader, and Deadman commits to carrying on Rama Kushna's legacy by doing good. The end.


 


Staring all the way back in 1982, Andy Helfer was best known as an editor at DC comics (Atari Force, Green Lantern, Super Powers, Justice League of America), and the Deadman mini-series was some of his first writing/plotting/scripting for DC.

I can appreciate what Helfer was trying to do here -- part of being a writer and wanting to tell a story sometimes means wiping out everything the previous guy built so you can have a clean slate to work from. To this effect, Helfer effectively wiped out EVERYTHING Neil Adams had engineered (i.e., Rama Kushna, Nana Parbat, twin brother Cleveland, etc) from his run on Deadman back in the late sixties.

In the first issue's letter column, Helfer confirmed that he was a bonafide Deadman fan, and has vivid memories of picking up those Neal Adams' illustrated Strange Adventures stories right off of the spinner rack. He was heartbroken when the Deadman run came to an end, and added "seemed to me at the time, though, that it never actually did end -- that we left poor Boston right in the MIDDLE of his biggest adventure yet -- an adventure that saw print, oddly enough, as a Batman team-up in BRAVE AND THE BOLD." Sure enough, it was revealed to Helfer by Dick Giordano that the ending was rushed and condensed to fit into a twenty-page format because "it would be Dick's LAST opportunity to do a full-length Deadman story." Helfer even mentions that while he was Special Projects Editor under Joe Orlando, he'd longed to ask Neal Adams about that ending, but never got the chance. According to Helfer, it was Dick Giordano's idea to finish the original Deadman story after seeing the sales for the Deluxe Reprint Format series. Giordano's only request was that the new mini-series picks up where the original reprints left off.

Helfer did a few things in this mini that answered a few unsolved mysteries the original Strange Adventures issues had set up but never resolved -- namely, why Deadman couldn't possess the Sensei (because he was already being possessed by Jonah), who occupies the hidden city of Nana Pandut (the world's most evil beings), and what Rama Kushna's whole deal was (a misguided deity who was doing more harm than good). The mini-series concludes with all of the former Nana Pandut residents being scattered across the globe, and Deadman needing to re-collect them -- hence creating a plot device for an ongoing series.

Panel from Deadman v2 #3 (1986). Art by José Luis Garcia-Lopéz.
I suppose the biggest concern here -- for continuity cops, anyways -- was that resolving a 1968 Deadman story nearly 20 years later kind of messes up the continuity of everything that's happened between now and then. Helfer acknowledges this in the letter column of the first issue, and promises to provide readers with a list of all the Deadman stories that get retconned out of existence in the last issue, and then -- probably due to deadlines -- decides that readers should do their homework and submit which stories they think should be retconned instead (and hey... Crisis on Infinite Earths was still fresh in everyone's minds, so Helfer could probably get away with it). This was all preceded by Helfer gently reminding fans to write to DC if they'd like to see an ongoing Deadman series.


I was delightfully surprised to discover that Garcia-Lopez had illustrated this mini-series. Either I already knew this and forgot, or just never knew.

Page from Deadman v2 #1 (1986). Art by José Luis Garcia-Lopéz.


I mainly know of Garcia-Lopez' work from the 1982 DC Style Guide and from any promotional art associated with the Super Powers Collection action figures. I had no clue he could draw this fiercely. I'm understanding why he's considered to be a living legend.

splash page from Deadman v2 #3 (1986).  Art by José Luis Garcia-Lopéz.


panels from Deadman v2 #1 (1986). Art by José Luis Garcia-Lopéz.

Page from Deadman v2 #1 (1986). Art by José Luis Garcia-Lopéz.

Xeroxed copies of the first issue were sent out in advanced to selected readers so they'd have something to print in the third issue's letter column. A few readers who wrote in said they were kinda lost as to what was going on in the mini-series since they were a little unfamiliar with the intricate details of Deadman, and some pointed out things that didn't make logical sense. Even Mike Baron chimed in:

In 1986, Mike Baron would've been working on Nexus for First Comics.
Baron would end up writing a Deadman one-shot in 1989 for DC comics.


I was really expecting Deadman to be searching for his brother's killer throughout the entire mini-series, but that quickly got resolved by the second issue. I'm glad that Helfer introduced an even BIGGER threat to Deadman -- a villain who is also incorporeal and can play in the same league as Deadman. Deadman's a ghost, so it's a little difficult to have an opponent who can physically harm him. In later Deadman stories, his biggest opponents will be falling in love and loneliness.

One of the reasons I don't think this mini-series 'picked up' with fans is because Deadman doesn't play well as a solo character. (Batman appearing for the first seven pages for the first issue was kind of a tease, because he doesn't appear again in this mini.) Deadman NEEDS other 'established' DC characters to star alongside him. He's not interesting enough to support a book by his lonesome. I would, however, love to see this reprinted -- with nice crisp colors -- just so we can enjoy that Garcia-Lopez artwork again. As you can probably imagine, my copy is pretty worn.

To me, the 1986 Deadman mini-series will always be infamous for having a house ad that terrified me as a child. I literally could not even look at this page too long (I was a pretty squeamish kid). The look of anguish on Boston Brand's face(s) was just so horrific that it frightened me very much.




Justin

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Deadman: re-exploring the 1985 Deluxe Reprint editions

In 1985, DC reprinted the first seventeen Deadman stories in a seven-issue Deadman Deluxe Reprint series. When first published in 1968, the Deadman stories (mostly illustrated by Neal Adams) appearing in Strange Adventures v1 had become an instant fan-favorite and won numerous awards and recognition for both Adams and DC.

A new Deadman mini-series was published in 1986, and it's been hinted that the decision to launch a new Deadman mini was directly inspired by the success of this reprint series. 

DC house ad. 

The 1985 Deadman Deluxe Reprint edition reprinted material from 1967/1968's Strange Adventures #205 - 213, 1968's Brave and the Bold #79, 1968/1969's Strange Adventures #214 - 216, and finally 1969's Brave and the Bold #86. Phew. It also contained a few Neal Adam back-ups from various DC anthology mags (i.e., House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Witching Hour) that I quickly skimmed through. With the exception of the very first Deadman story being penciled by Carmine Infantino and inked by George Roussos, every other story in this collection was illustrated by Neal Adams

I've always had a healthy curiosity about the origin of Deadman. I didn't really know much about the character except that 1) he was dead, 2) he's dressed like an acrobat, 3) he could possess any living body, and 4) he's always hanging around DC's other mystical heroes. I was curious to see how this character came to be and which other heroes he fraternized with (if any).

Strange Adventures #205 (1967). cover by Arnold Drake.

At the time of Deadman's introduction, Strange Adventures was a sort of supernatural/fantasy anthology series for DC. It started in 1950 as a science-fiction title and would introduce new sci-fi characters like Captain Comet, Star Hawkins and the Atomic Knights over time, but the title slowly evolved to an 'anything goes as long as we can sell it' anthology format -- hence came Animal Man, Enchantress and lesser-know heroes like Cliff Battles (aka The Split Man). 

opening page from Strange Adventures #205 (1967)

Deadman's feature was originally presented as a supernatural whodunit; Boston Brand is murdered, gets the power to return from the dead as a ghost, and needs to figure out who his killer is from a list of suspects. The reader is led to believe that the killer is one of the suspects shown on the first page. Note the scripter? Arnold Drake. Drake also co-created The Doom Patrol, Stanley and his Monster, and Polaris (for Marvel's X-Men). Chris Sheehan and Reggie Reggie of the Cosmic Treadmill really go into depth about the life of Arnold Drake, and it's really worth checking out.

Within the first few pages, we discover that Boston Brand is a tough-guy acrobat with a heart of gold -- he even owns a 20% stake in the travelling circus that he performs in -- and it is revealed that quite a few people that want to see him dead. Obviously this doesn't get resolved in one issue.

This shouldn't be a spoiler by this point, but Boston Brand is assassinated in this first story (while in his acrobat outfit) by an unseen gunman. For reasons unknown, the deity Rama Kushna gives Boston Brand the power to walk among men (as a ghost) until he has found his killer. Enter: Deadman.

Strange Adventures #205 (1968). Death of Boston Brand.
Art by Carmine Infantino and George Roussos.

In an interview with Nicola Cuti, it is revealed by Drake that he was "influenced by the state of mind of the sixties when he came up with Deadman." Cuti explains that the late sixties were "noted for a dynamic rise in interest in the occult and especially Eastern Mysticism. During the fifties, the attitude of the people had been 'Aw c'mon! You know there ain't no such thing as ghosts.' but the coming of the Hippies brought about a rejection of the pragmatic way of life and a return to what was natural." And, by association, this included the supernatural. Cuti adds "Most of the young people of the era were into Astrology... and the most popular singing group of the period, the Beatles, was deep into Eastern spiritual teachings. Such teachings included the transmigration of the soul, astral projection and reincarnation."

The next five issues of Strange Adventures have Boston Brand/Deadman chasing down false leads (and indirectly helping people or solving crimes along the way) until he gets his first big break and discovers his killer has a hook for a hand. The quest begins anew, as he's now looking for a killer named 'The Hook' (or, in some cases, just 'Hook'). In issue #211 the reader discovers that Boston Brand has an identical, still-alive twin brother named 'Cleveland'. What a twist! (Neal Adams takes credit for the creation of Cleveland.)

panel from Strange Adventures #211 (1968). Identical twin brother inexplicably pops up. Neal Adams art.

In Strange Adventures #212, an important supporting character gets killed, but the next issue reveals that he makes a miraculous recovery -- so he doesn't die. Strange Adventures #213 is followed by The Brave and the Bold #79 (also drawn by Neal Adams) and stars Batman. It's revealed that 'The Hook' is identified to be the brother of Joe Chill (the thug who originally killed Batman's parents). This leads to an impromptu team-up between Batman and Deadman. As the story progresses, we discover that it's NOT the SAME guy who killed Boston Brand -- so Batman and Deadman part ways, and Deadman continues searching for his killer...

...and we're back to Strange Adventures #214. Deadman decides to abandon his quest on finding his killer and, if he can possess other people's bodies, why not possess the body of someone who already has a great life? (Which, honestly, is what I would've done six issues ago) Somehow, inevitably, the Hook gets mixed into this, and Deadman's back on the hunt for him.

Strange Adventures #215 is a turning point in this whole saga as Deadman finally catches up with the Hook. Coincidentally, Neal Adams is writing the book again. Up until the previous issue, Deadman had only been busting up small-time extortionists, gangsters, con men, muggers and street thugs. Things are starting to get a bit more 'heavy' as Deadman stumbles upon a society of assassins, and we are introduced to... The Sensei.

panel from Strange Adventures #215 (1968). Neal Adams art.

So, for any astute readers who are familiar with the Batman mythos -- yes, this is the same Sensei who is second-in-command of the League of Assassins. This is the FIRST appearance of The Sensei and the League of Assassins. This is actually an interesting junction in the plot as I had completely forgotten that Neil Adams was an architect of some of Batman's more prominent rogues (i.e., League of Assassins, the Sensei, Ra's Al Ghul, Man-Bat, the revival of Two-Face and the Joker in the early 70s, etc...), so let's give credit where credit's due.

As the story progresses, it's revealed that the League of Assassins are disappointed with the Hook's performance as an assassin, and execute him. Now that Boston Brand's murderer has been brought to 'justice', Deadman's quest is over, right?
 
panel from Strange Adventures #215 (1968). Neal Adams art.
We discover in Strange Adventure #216 that Deadman's quest will continue anyways. Through a series of circumstances, he finds himself in Nanda Parbat where he gets to meet Rama Kushna and asks her permission to keep existing as Deadman now that his mission is over. Rama grants him this request. We're not really sure what Deadman's new mission is -- I guess just to 'be'? Nanda Parbat is also revealed to be an enchanted land -- much like Shangri-La -- that allows Deadman to be alive again.

The last story in this reprint series is from The Brave and the Bold #86 (1969). Written by Bob Haney and illustrated by Adams, this issue has Batman, Deadman and Deadman's twin brother, Cleveland, teaming up to thwart a plot by the League of Assassins to destroy Nanda Parbat. Somehow, throughout all of this, it is revealed that Deadman was poisoned by an assassin while he was in solid form.

page from Strange Adventures #211. Neal Adams art.


Arnold Drake wrote the first 2 stories in the ongoing saga of Deadman, followed by Jack Miller who wrote the next 5 stories (Miller was also editor of Strange Adventures around this time). Neal Adams started writing AND illustrating the Deadman feature in Strange Adventures #212. This lasted for two issues, and then Robert Kanigher took a stab at writing a story, and Adams would continue to write until Adam Strange reprints started headlining the book. Both Brave and the Bold Batman stories were written by Bob Haney, and while the first one read like a "one-off" that didn't really add to the overall saga of Deadman, the second BatB story led directly into the 1986 Deadman mini-series written by Andy Helfer.

Giordano reveals that Brave and the Bold #86 was the 'cannibalized' version of a Deadman story called 'Balance of Power' that Adams wrote as the last chapter in the Deadman saga -- BatB #86 was published nearly ONE YEAR after Strange Adventures #216. So, why did Deadman's story finish at Strange Adventures #216? Giordano explained to Cuti, in issue #6 of the reprint series, that "popularity, surprisingly enough, has very little to do with a book's demise." In essence, it suffered from poor marketing and poor distribution, so not very many fans got the chance to read it. Giordano went on to explain that, back then, distributors ordered copies of a book based on last month's sales. Despite fan enthusiasm, Strange Adventures was not a high-selling book (around 125,000 a month), so they were forced to cancel the Deadman feature and replace it with something more appealing to readers. If Deadman had his own self-titled series at the time, things may have been different.

----

For all intents and purposes, this feels like a Silver Age story; there's a whodunnit meant to engage the reader, there's lots of red herrings and false leads that keep the reader coming back, a mysterious identical twin is revealed during the course of the story, a supporting character is killed (but actually 'pulls through' in the next issue), and the women are somewhat powerless and need men to save them. It seems like this story was written with the intention of the reader being able to solve the mystery along with the protagonist, but -- as you can see -- the story just evolves into something convoluted.


Panels from Strange Adventures #208 (1968). Deadman's never-ending quest to uncover his mystery assassin is.the driving force behind this feature Neal Adams art.

I feel like the story drags on seven more chapters than it needed to -- but of course, they were probably trying to stretch it for everything it was worth since it was the head-lining feature in Strange AdventuresDick Giordano more or less confirms this in his interview with Nicola Cuti in issue #6 of the reprint series: "DEADMAN was not conceived as an ongoing series. It was supposed to be a limited series with Boston Brand finally confronting his killer, but we liked the character so much we tried to keep him running for as long as we could. After a year, however, of him nearly finding the Hook or following false leads, we knew that our readers were going to become tired of the device... after all, even The Fugitive finally caught up with the one-armed man." 

It's never made clear why Boston Brand was chosen by Rama Kushna to come back as a ghost to hunt down his killer. The best the reader can guess is because Boston stuck up for the fortune teller in the first issue? Was there a grand plan here, or did the deity just feel sorry for Boston? This left a huge opening for future story potential. (FUN FACT: 'Rama Kushna' is based on 'Ramakrishna' and plays an important role in Hinduism. Look it up.)

panel from Strange Adventures #205. Carmine Infantino and George Roussos art.

Nicholas Cuti (best known as writer for Charlton Comic's E-Man from the seventies) managed to interview Arnold DrakeCarmine InfantinoDick Giordano and Neal Adams about their involvement in the creation of Deadman, and snippets of these interviews are scattered across this seven-issue reprint collection. This is all pretty cool,...

...however, the BEST reason to pick up this reprint series is for the Neal Adams art. Adams, as I'm sure you are already aware, is in a league of his own. He's one of those artist's whose work you can spot at and make no mistake that Adams' work. He's often imitated, but never successfully replicated.

Neal Adams art from Strange Adventures #208 (1968). Extreme facial close-ups.

When I think of Neil Adams' art, I think of an artistic style that exudes realism. I think of facial close-ups filled with expressive emotion. I think of dynamism and vibrancy (his characters rarely look stiff), and advanced coloring that relies on gradients (rather than solid colors) to give his figures an almost 3D perspective. Adams' art doesn't have very many sharp edges or corners, and his shading is almost always cross-hatching. He uses panel layouts that encourage the reader's eye to follow the action or, in some cases, dramatic splash pages that can really draw a reader into a story. Adams, prior to working for DC comics, had spent the first three and a half years of his career illustrating the Ben Casey comic strip -- a medical 'soap opera'-style syndicated comic strip that appeared in newspapers across the country -- which would have given him plenty of experience on dramatic pacing and facial close-ups.

Strange Adventures #212 (1968). Dramatic splash page.

My favorite issue of this reprint series is issue #7 or, more specifically, the reprint of Strange Adventures #216. As the series progresses, it would seem as if Adams gets a bit more experimental with his panel layouts and designs -- maybe it had to do with the fact that he was now plotting, writing and illustrating everything on his own (aka: complete creative control)? Regardless, Adams pushes the boundaries of what we've seen so far and includes a lot of visual effects that are just plain clever and fun to spot. I'm a sucker for optical illusions, so this issue really went a long way for me:

Neil Adams includes a 'Jim Sternako Effect' in Strange Adventures #216. Literally. Can you see that he literally spelled out 'A Jim Sternako Effect' with the pink smoke?

I just love it when an artist can take several seemingly unrelated panels,...

panel from Strange Adventures #216. art by Neil Adams.


panel from Strange Adventures #216. art by Neil Adams.


panel from Strange Adventures #216. art by Neil Adams.


...and combine them to create a 'big picture':


All this to say; between the high-quality Baxter Stock paper and vivid coloring, the Nicola Cuti interviews and the wrap-around covers, this entire reprint series was a great score for Neal Adams and/or Deadman fans. It might be pretty difficult to find these issues now -- thankfully DC has reprinted Neal Adams' Deadman material (and other early Deadman stories) in softcover TPBs -- like four volume's worth. I'm not sure if the Nicola Cuti interviews are included in these new TPB reprints -- DC has a tendency to surprise fans, so you never know -- but these would be the cheaper alternative to tracking down and collecting these 1985 Deluxe Reprint issues.


Justin