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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Reggie Francia interviews Scott Shaw! at the 2017 Silicon Valley Comic Con

How could anyone reading DC comics in the early 80s forget the Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew ongoing series that ran until 1983? You probably saw it previewed in a DC comic (either as a house ad or an insert), and were immediately drawn to it. If not, you had probably seen references and hints about Captain Carrot in the last 30 years of DCU continuity. We've always wanted to sit down with the creators of the series -- Roy Thomas and Scott Shaw -- and ask about what happened to the series, why did it die out and will it ever see a revival. Thankfully, Reggie Francia had the opportunity to do just that at the 2017 Silicon Valley Comic Con on April 21st. Reggie asked some pretty engaging questions and got Scott Shaw! talking, and, well... we'll let you just go ahead and read the rest...

Reggie: We know that you were a big fan of Jack Kirby when you were growing up. You did some Saturday morning cartoon work (Hanna-Barbera). You were the manager of a comic book shop in L.A.?

Scott: Not in that order, but yes, those are all true. [laughs]

Reggie: Your first Marvel Comics work was a What If idea you pitched to Roy Thomas while he was in your shop?

Scott: That was not my first, but it was one of my firsts. At the same time, I was working on the Hanna-Barbera comics that Marvel was publishing [1978's Laff-A-Lympics]. So I think those actually came a little bit before...

Reggie: ..and this was the "What If The Spider Had Been Bitten By A Radioactive Human?" story from 1978's What If v1 #8?

"What if the spider had been bitten by a radioactive human?" story from What If v1 #8 (1978). Illustrated by Scott Shaw!

Scott: Yes, and the radioactive human was a friend of mine from high school -- Roger Freedman -- who became a physicist. I figured he was the perfect guy to be the scientist to become radioactive. He actually now writes a lot of very heavy material on physics, but he used to letter my comics. So he's very proud that he's in a Marvel comic.

Reggie: From what I've heard, Captain Carrot was ALMOST going to be a Marvel Comics feature...

Scott: It was when Roy had it long before I was involved. He and a fella named Sam Grainger -- who was an excellent cartoonist, although at Marvel he mainly (in the 80s) worked as an inker -- but he did a comic called The Sentinels for Charlton Comics that's one of my favorites (because it looks more like the way I'd draw super-heroes, it's very cartoon-y). Anyways, he and Roy had come up with this idea of this thing called Captain Carrot, and since they were both at Marvel at the time (and this was years before I first met Roy), but they were never able to sell it. So I didn't even see the thing until years after Captain Carrot was published. So mine wasn't really based on it, it was just the name.

The Sentinels from Pete Cannon - Thunderbolt #55 (1966). Charlton Comics. Art by Sam Grainger

Reggie: So it wasn't because of Roy Thomas and Jim Shooter having a disagreement that it never happened?

Scott: I couldn't tell ya, but I don't think so. I don't think that had anything to do with it. They did have disagreements, but I don't remember Roy ever saying anything about that [being the reason it was] cancelled.

Reggie: So was Captain Carrot basically DC's attempt at kick-starting the 'funny animal' genre again? It was also a parody feature akin to something you'd find in MAD magazine. Was this part of DC's attempt to reach the pre-teen market?

Scott: More than anything, it was DC's attempt to get some new characters on Saturday morning animation. Because I had been working at Hanna-Barbera. Roy and I actually had met at some of the early comiccons (because I was one of the kids who helped start them). but we really started to get to know each when I started working at a comic book shop near Hanna-Barbera. and he came in there and we became friends that way. That's how I got the job on the 'Man-Spider' story.

Captain Carrot -- by that time I was pretty seasoned in animation --  and DC wanted to do a comic that could be made into a cartoon show. So initially, it was not Captain Carrot -- it was Super Squirrel and the Just'a Lotta Animals. Roy and I did a pitch, and I did a two-page thing, and they said "we don't want characters based on existing properties -- we want new characters that have no ties to Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman". So then we came up with the Captain Carrot characters, and I turned in designs, and then Joe Orlando went over my designs. In fact, there's an upcoming issue of Back Issue Magazine that'll be the first time Joe Orlando drawings of the Zoo Crew will be published. He took my drawings and made them a little more exaggerated.

Just'a Lotta Animals as seen in Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew v1 #14 (1983). Illustrated by Scott Shaw!

Then it turned out DC decided that they didn't want me to do it, they wanted Joe Staton to do it. They went to Joe Staton, and Joe said "I know Scott's stuff, he'd be much better for you guys". So then Roy re-convinced them "Scott works in the studios -- he knows what they want". That's how I got the job. At the same time, I was still doing work for the studios on the side.

The main thing they wanted was a show. The second thing they wanted -- Roy and I, at least, wanted to make it funny like the early Mad Magazine. The other thing I brought to it -- I had actually done underground comix before I had did any of that stuff -- and although I wasn't, like, this recent X-Men artist that was added little hidden messages into the backgrounds, I just wrote it from a point of view that, now, when I talk to people who were kids when it was coming out, they say that it was almost like reading an underground comic for kids. I didn't put anything dirty in it, but I did put stuff that was just kinda weird and not what you'd see in like a Harvey comic or Disney comic. So I'm glad that kids liked 'em. In fact, for a long time, it was really hard to find copies of Captain Carrot that hadn't been just 'read to pieces'. They'd always turn up in the 'quarter box', because the cover would barely be on. I loved seeing that because it meant that the kids actually read 'em.  

Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew #6 (1982) - pencilled by Scott Shaw! and inked by Al Gordon

Reggie: Marvel Tails -- first appearance of Spider-Ham -- first hit the shelves in Nov 1983 (about the time the last issue of DC's Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew was being published). Was this a coincidence, or was this Marvel's attempt to grab up your readers? (Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham, published under Marvel's Star Comics imprint, only lasted seventeen issues from 1985 to 1987.)

Scott: Y'know, I don't really know. I kinda doubt it. There are a lot of examples of that sort of coincidence where something's kind of just 'out there in the ether': Swamp Thing/Man-Thing, X-Men/Doom Patrol, there are other examples, too. So, I don't know if that has anything [to do with it].
The thing I was kinda disappointed about it was, though -- and this sounds kinda John Byrne-ish because he has this kinda mentality -- he criticized Captain Carrot by saying "Captain Carrot wouldn't name himself after a carrot". It's like, "well, that's where he gets his powers, John". But it always bothered me that Spider-Ham was named after a cooked pig. It's like, shouldn't he have been Spider-Pig or Spider-Hog?

I thought Man-Spider and his world was... I mean, the guy that drew a lot of issues of Spider-Ham was a guy named Steve Mellor, and I LOVED his stuff. I would've liked to have seen what HE would have done with Captain Carrot. The Spider-Ham stuff never really struck me as being fun or clever enough. Well, I'm not putting it down, but I felt like my version of the animal characters I'd already come up with some that were funny -- they didn't need to recreate it. But of course, I probably wouldn't have drawn it, either. [laughs]

I couldn't have done BOTH at the same time.

Marvel Tales #1 (1983) - Steve Mellor art

Reggie: So we've established that Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew was originally being prepped for the Saturday Morning cartoon treatment. Is it true that at some point it was almost optioned as a cartoon?

Scott: It WAS optioned as a cartoon. In fact, I was paid TWICE -- two years in a row -- when ABC wanted to do a Captain Carrot series. The first time, no one asked Roy nor myself to participate in the pitch -- and I saw examples of it -- and strangely enough the presentation was written by Jeffrey Scott (who was out main writer on Muppet Babies about a year after that, and that was at Marvel Productions, oddly enough). Anyways, so I got my payment -- now I only owned 10% of Captain Carrot -- and I got $2500. So I don't know how much DC made. but they [ABC] were paying good money for options. But they decided not to go with it.

So the next season they wanted to option it again... and again, Roy and I were NOT consulted. But this time it was really weird: they wanted the Zoo Crew to have a side-kick of Wonder Woman.

Yes, that was my reaction, too.

I think they were just trying to figure out -- it's like maybe DC wanted Wonder Woman for a show, maybe the case was like Hanna-Barbera, where sometimes they'd take two different presentations to a network meeting and the network would say "oh, we like both of these shows" and suddenly we'd wind up with Casper the Ghost in the future with two lady space CHIPs. (I worked on that horrible show, by the way.) But that's how it came to be. A lot of shows in the 80s were made that way. So I think the networks liked [it]... they thought they were being creative. It actually resulted in a lot of REALLY horrible shows. I think this was kind of the case.

Reggie: Is it true that Roy Thomas changed his car's license plate to ZOO CREW after the title was announced?

Scott: Yes. Yeah, Roy was a very playful guy. He also had a 'Roger Rabbit' rabbit that was nibbling on the legs of their coffee table.

Reggie: Captain Carrot was also meant to unite all of the licensed DC comics funny animal characters of the past (ex: Peter Porkchops, Dodo and the Frog, The Terrific Whatsit, etc). Why did the funny-animal comic start to die in popularity?

Two Funny Animal features from DC's Funny Stuff #72 (1953). Source:

Scott: You mean back in the 1950s? I think they had just been -- y'know, after World War II super-heroes weren't as popular, they had new genres. Funny Animals weren't a new genre, but with everybody having, like, the Disney license and all these other studio licenses, there was just a proliferation of them. Then at that point, Romance comics (although they've existed for years) suddenly became a BIG deal, Archie comics became a BIG deal. I think it's just the way comics used to be -- different genres would be more popular than others. Now it's been the super-hero [genre] as the dominant (at least in mainstream) since 1960 or so, and we don't remember what it was like to see [others]. If you're in the 70s and 80s [comics], look at those subscription ads, only about a third of the titles are super-heroes from DC (and probably Marvel the same way when you think about the Horror comics, the Westerns, and there were like two or three Sgt Fury spin-offs at the time). I think Funny Animals just probably played themselves out where they were all canceling each other out on the newsstand.  

1974 DC Comics house ad

Reggie: You started as penciller of Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew, but starting with issue #9 you became the scripter as well as artist, and eventually became the writer of the series, and then you left abruptly after issue #18. a regular creative team was planned by issue #20, but the series ends with issue #20. What happened there?

Scott: I wasn't delivering work on time. DC wanted the stuff to be more and more involved. And quite honestly, they kept promising me a page rate that never happened -- so I was having to take more and more stuff in animation. Roy was very patient with me. It was not a matter of flaking out, but I had to be able to pay my rent. So I left the book abruptly -- I was very upset about it -- but I felt that I deserved to be let go.

Quite honestly -- and this sounds very egotistical -- but I'm a TRUE cartoonist. I think funny. Maybe people don't THINK I'm funny, but I mean that's what I'm trained to do. Every attempt to do Captain Carrot since I went off the book, they either look like regular super-heroes that have to have animal heads, they're trying to make them 'serious'. They had Captain Carrot recently meet Harley Quinn and I felt bad, but the inker showed him to me at a convention and I said "he looks like a maniac, he looks like he wants to kill somebody". That's not what these characters are about.

Convergence: Harley Quinn #2 (2015)

Recently they did this thing were he had a realistic rabbit head.   I couldn't figure THAT out. They did a thing called Captain K'rot where he's like a space pirate -- he's drinking and going after women and stuff.

Threshold #3 (2013)

Again, it's like I don't understand exactly why, but DC refuses -- y'know, they did have Bill Morrison and I do a new version [Captain Carrot and the Final Ark!] and they didn't promote it at all. And then when we pitched doing more stories we were told "well, it didn't sell", and my answer was that "you didn't promote it".

Captain Carrot and the Final Ark! #1 (2007)

Quite honestly, every few years, the big companies decide "we're gonna do comics that kids like". I never said "let's do comics kids like", I said "let's do comics that kids can understand, but that older readers..." -- Carl Barks was a big influence on me, John Stanley -- all these guys who wrote kiddie comics that adults dug just as much as kids. That was always really my intention.

They don't seem to understand that the only way this ever worked is if it was funny, cute AND appealing. It doesn't have to fit into the way all super-hero comics are now, because it's not a super-hero comic -- it's a humor comic.

The thing that Roy and I -- and Dan -- I have to mention Danette Thomas, Roy's wife, was a huge influence and had lots of input. She was in our story meetings and had an equal vote to Roy and I. And she, then and now, is a wonderful lady and an asset to Roy and a really GOOD writer. She never gets enough credit.    

If I did it now, I'd probably cut down on the puns. Not eliminate them, but just not go so 'double down' on them constantly. Unfortunately, there are very few comics out there now that are trying be funny --  at least in a cartoon way. They might have super-heroes trying to be funny, but it's still a super-hero comic. We treat our characters 'serious plots, silly characters' and that way everyone got (what I thought) the best of both worlds.

Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew #8 (1982) - illustrated by Scott Shaw!

Reggie: I tried watching recent kiddie cartoons -- I don't know, I grew up in the 80s -- and I just don't 'get it'. Some are, I think, too serious and the creators feel the kids should understand them already or I don't know...

Scott: I think that when you're writing for children, the first thing you need to do is think "I'm NOT going to write for children". You need to understand certain things -- kids don't understand flashback sequences or sophisticated story elements. Smart kids will look up words they don't understand. Smart kids will go out of their way -- if you're talking about something they've never heard about -- they'll figure it out. All the best children's comics NEVER catered down to kids, they've treated them like "maybe you don't know everything yet, but you're not stupid".

Current cartoon shows, they're not for our generation. You could be my son (I don't know how old you are), but I'm 65 years old. Even so, neither of us are the age group for current cartoon shows. I was talking to somebody the other day: I know that the new Teen Titans show is VERY popular -- the designs are cute -- but I can't stand it. I don't think I'd enjoy working on it. I realize now it's because I'm just not in touch with that anymore. If we were doing new Flintstones cartoons, absolutely.  I worked on Duck Dodgers -- that seemed to work pretty well.

I do like some new shows. I really like Gravity Falls, I really like The Regular Show (even thought it's a complete rip-off of Bill & Ted). I like Steven Universe. There are shows now that are NOT annoying, on the other hand, I've worked on the most annoying cartoon show of all time: Annoying Orange. Sooner or later, I'll have to serve my time for that.

Reggie: It's kind of interesting that you weren't involved in the Oz-Wonderland War trilogy -- Carol Lay illustrated this series (she was an inker on the last few issues of the original Captain Carrot series), and Joey Cavelieri wrote it (he also wrote the last issue of the original CapatainCarrot series) -- since you DID follow-up with a "Whatever happened to Captain Carrot" feature in 2006's Teen Titans v3, and then 2007's Captain Carrot and the Final Ark (a Countdown tie-in). Clearly, the character is still close to your heart. Have you seen Captain Carrot in Grant Morrison's Multiversity?

Scott: Nah, when I saw the cover and the weird rabbit head, I thought "well, this isn't mine".

Reggie: Is this pretty much the end of Captain Carrot as a 'funny animal' as we know it?

Scott: As long as Warner Bros. exists, they will find any excuse to bring back characters that they own. A lot of people aren't aware of it, but they own all of the Hanna-Barbera characters. That's why we're getting these stupid comic book reversions of the Flintstones. Somebody at the top of Warner Bros., or in the middle even, is saying "why aren't we using these characters anymore? why aren't these characters popular?". That will happen with EVERY character DC ever does.

The Flintstones #1 (2016)

When Captain Carrot and the Final Ark came out, there was some executive at Warner Bros. or DC who'd never heard of the characters, and her question was (when they got their monthly stack of comics) "why aren't we doing toys of these characters?" Well, that was one of the original plans -- not only a cartoon show, but toys. Well I've designed toys. I've designed toys for Todd McFarlane's company (with the Hanna-Barbera characters). So I was contacted by somebody from DC Direct who said "They want to do Captain Carrot toys" and I said "I'd like to design those Captain Carrot toys". We were in serious talks, but no papers have been signed. Then he called me and said "the toys have been bumped from the schedule because they need to have toys for The Spirit movie and the Justice League movie" (the one that never was made).

Reggie: And we know what happened with The Spirit movie...

Scott: The Spirit movie was just horrible, and the other one didn't exist. But they never put the stuff back on the schedule. So..

Y'know, they will always figure out ways.  I heard that Space Cabbie turned up in some recent DC project -- maybe a cartoon show? I forget what it was. I mean, that's a DC property from the '50s that only old guys like me even remember.

Space Cabbie then and now 

Reggie: I think I read about him in a Green Lantern issue recently...

Scott: Yeah, but my point is... as long as they own this stuff, they'll never let it die. What they will do, however, is try to change it so it's not the version Roy and I did, so they don't have to pay us or our families any money -- because I own 10%, Roy owns 5% and Gerry Conway owns 5% (that was more of a deal between him and Roy than me).

Reggie: One last thing... this was a question from one of our twitter followers: "I'd like to hear your take on the current environment for comics and if you think they'll be hurt by the popularity of comic book characters in other media. In other words, will the explosion of movies/tv/whatever hurt the books?"

Scott: My opinion is, is that as long as they are making a lot cartoon shows and superheroes about existing comic book characters, more and more children are interested in comic books, graphic novels... y'know,.. the source material. They may not be interested in old comics, but if the companies put out material for them that's good -- that's not just junk -- but I mean find guys that understand how to write well for kids. I think there will always be room for these kinds of books (maybe not talking animals, necessarily). Quite honestly, anthropomorphic is the term that is now used, I still don't quite understand it -- I guess that when it's serious it's 'anthropomorphic', and if it's funny it's 'funny animal'. (Captain Carrot was both, so I don't know what you'd call that.) But I don't think any of this will ever hurt the comics field.

I think that we don't ever have to worry about that. I think what we have to worry about is losing children as a target audience. I'm part of that generation, really -- but when comic fans took over the comic business. I think an awful lot of comic fans were tired of being called 'babies' because they read comics when they were kids, so they're embarrassed to be publishing [comics targeted towards kids]. I mean Disney owns Marvel, yet Marvel doesn't publish any Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck comics? That's crazy! They have IDW publish them. IDW is a fine publisher, but Disney owns Marvel... why aren't they taking the risk of themselves?

Anyways, things will change. Things always change. Maybe the comic business will have to collapse and rebuild itself from the ground up with children again. I don't know. I doubt that will happen with all of these movies, but sooner of later there's going to be too many movies. Sooner or later all of this geek fandom is going to crash. But y'know kids will always love talking animals. I mean, we'll all be dead and buried and there will still be new Scooby Doo cartoons. As much as I hate Scooby Doo, he will outlive us all. [laughs]

Reggie: Thank you, Mr Shaw. We really really appreciate you giving us this interview.


Reggie Francia got hooked on comics back in the '80s because his parents thought it would help with his reading skills. It did help with his reading skills, but it also turned him into a comic book junkie. Being an E.R. nurse, medical devices in comics drawn incorrectly still irks him.

Do you want to read more about Funny Animal comics? Try The Big Blog of Kid's Comics. Tell 'em DC in the 80s sent you. ;)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Reggie Francia interviews Trina Robbins at Silicon Valley Comic Con 2017

If you only had 10 minutes to chat in-person with Trina Robbins, what would you talk about? You could easily spend hours chatting about her experiences working in the underground comix movement, her active role in promoting female creativity in the comic book medium and any anecdotes she had about some of the famous musicians she's met. Not only is she a sweet person, but she's also incredibly well-spoken and engaging to converse with. Thankfully, DC in the 80s correspondent Reggie Francia got to meet Ms Robbins at the 2017 Silicon Valley Comic Con and has the chance to ask her about her thoughts on Wonder Woman (this a DC comics blog, after all).    

Reggie: First up: your first published work (that we know of) was for Yellow Dog Comix...

Trina: That's right. That was in the late 60s -- 1968 or 1969.

Yellow Dog #11/12

Reggie: That was pretty much as underground/indie as you could get...

Trina: Absolutely undergound.

Reggie: Shortly thereafter it was the It Ain't Me, Babe comix one-shot in 1970.

Trina: That was the VERY FIRST all-women comic book, and I produced that.

Reggie: From then on, you had a pretty steady career working in underground comix and voicing your opinion on women (and feminism) in comic books. You had some work published in 1981's Eclipse Magazine.

Trina: I did in the 80s. And here -- [hands Reggie a book, the book is Sax Rohmer's Dope] -- this is a series that I serialized for Eclipse in the 80s that is now being collected into graphic novel form and will come out in 2017 this year.

excerpt from Eclipse Magazine #5 (1982) - illustrated by Trina Robbins

Sax Rohmer was a very beloved pulp writer in the early 20th century -- this story is from 1919 -- and he's probably best known as the creator of Fu Manchu.

Reggie: You even co-authored the Women and the Comics book with Catherine Yronwode [pronounced 'Ironwood'] in 1985.

Trina: That was the VERY FIRST history of women cartoonists that we did together. I've done many MANY since.

Reggie: So, now that we summed up your background, what were the circumstances that led you to work at DC comics in 1986?

Trina: The four-part The Legend of Wonder Woman series that I drew in 1986? They were between comics, as it were. I mean, they had just killed her off in their Crisis On Infinite Earths and George Perez was working on reconstructing her, but they had this four month period with NOTHING. So I always felt that they just had this meeting and were like "what should we do?" and somebody said "what the hell! why don't we just give it to Trina -- we all know she loves Wonder Woman. Even if she screws it up, it's just four issues and then George Perez will come in." So I think THAT'S what happened.

Issues #1 and #4 of The Legend of Wonder Woman mini-series - cover art by Trina Robbins

Reggie: Wonder Woman was put on a temporary hiatus for at least a year between the end of Wonder Woman v1 #329 (1986) and Wonder Woman v2 #1 (1987). How was fandom feeling about Wonder Woman at the time? In your opinion... was she in need of a MAJOR OVERHAUL?

Trina: I think she has OFTEN been in need of a major overhaul. I adore Wonder Woman, obviously -- I'm sure you know that -- but the trouble is that she IS a comic book character and she's owned by DC and they don't have any SET rules. So, whoever takes her over can just do whatever they want with her. Sometimes it's wonderful and sometimes it's terrible.

Reggie: I agree.

Trina: The artists are always guys who can't keep their hands off her costume -- they always want to redesign her costume. There was this one outfit that looked like it was from a 1980s punk nightclub or something. Terrible outfits. Right now I love what she's wearing.

Wonder Woman #98 (1995) - "80s punk nightclub" costume - art by Mike Deodato, Jr.

Reggie: How about the Diana Prince white outfit?

Trina: Ugh! Ugh! That was in the late 60s, and that was based on Emma Peel's catsuit from the Avengers TV show. It was terrible.

Wonder Woman v1 #189 (1970) - Diana Prince "white outfit" - art by Mike Sekowsky

Reggie: You are credited as being the FIRST woman to illustrate a Wonder Woman comic in 1986's The Legend of Wonder Woman mini-series. (A woman illustrating a Wonder Woman series makes perfect logical sense, truthfully.) I'm understanding that the mini-series was a 'send-off' to the character -- this was both yours and Kurt Busiek's 'good-bye' to the character?

Trina: Busiek wrote it and we co-plotted it. At the time, I didn't feel secure enough to write it myself. If this were to happen again today, I would totally write it myself.

Reggie: I scanned carefully for any easter eggs you may have included in your art, but I couldn't find any... side-stepping the obvious that Suzie is meant to represent a 7 year-old you -- care to indulge us if we missed anything?

The Legend of Wonder Woman #1 (1986) - Wonder Woman meets Suzie. Illustrated by Trina Robbins

Trina: Susie was indeed me. I even have a photo of me at home with my braids looking just like her.

Reggie: 1989's Wonder Woman Annual #2 had a predominantly female staff of writers, pencillers, inkers, colorists and letterers. You even wrote yourself into your contribution of that Annual.

Trina: Oh yeah! The was a Wonder Woman special -- 'all-women'!

Reggie: Do we have you to thank for that?

Trina: No. It was DC or maybe George Perez  who thought it would be a good idea.

Wonder Woman Annual #2 (1989) - Diana meets Trina - illustrated by Ramona Fradon

Reggie: In your opinion, as per Wonder Woman's publication history, what was done RIGHT about the character and what was done WRONG? I realize you're a longtime fan, so I'd like to hear this.

Trina: You mean, in all 75 years that there was Wonder Woman?

Okay, well I think the original Wonder Woman was PERFECT. As far as I'm concerned, that's the TRUE Wonder Woman.

I think they really went wrong in 1968 when they took away her powers and put her into the Emma Peel jumpsuit. And she opened a boutique! I mean, what kind of Wonder Woman opens a boutique?

Wonder Woman #181 (1969) - Diana's boutique - pencilled by Mike Sekowsky, inked by Dick Giordano 

I think, more recently, oh my god -- I've forgotten his name -- I've mercifully forgotten his name. He brought in all those Greek Gods... he brought in a character called The First Born. Wonder Woman was just, like, kinda following along and was kinda observing, and it was all about these OTHER characters and not her. It was terrible. He then invented this horrible thing about her father being Zeus and she's NOT made out of clay. This is a guy who knows nothing about mythology, the great heroes --- I mean Adam [of Adam & Eve] for God sakes -- and lots of other mythic heroes are created out of clay -- and she IS a mythic hero. In fact, tomorrow there's going to be a panel on super-heroines and I'm going to be on it JUST to talk about Wonder Woman.

Reggie: In 2005 there was a story in which Wonder Woman broke Maxwell Lord's neck. I thought that was really out of character.

Trina: That WAS totally out of character. Wonder Woman doesn't kill. She's no Batman. She reasons, she has compassion, and she uses her lasso. She doesn't kill.

Reggie: A little off-topic, but you actually have a co-creation credit on Warren Publishing's Vampirella (1969). I found that out just a few weeks ago by accident.

Trina: That's an exaggeration -- all I did was design her costume. People think I created her and I'm always correcting them because I do not like to take credit for something I didn't do. I never drew Vampirella.

Reggie: So you knew Jim Morrison of The Doors, Cass Elliot (aka Mama Cass) of The Mamas and The Papas, and Joni Mitchell even referenced you in a song? Which other famous musicians were you friends with?

Trina: I have my memoirs coming out from Fantagraphics coming out this September 2017. We'll leave it at that. ;)

Reggie: Will do. Thank you for chatting with us, Ms Robbins.


Reggie Francia got hooked on comics back in the '80s because his parents thought it would help with his reading skills. It did help with his reading skills, but it also turned him into a comic book junkie. Being an E.R. nurse, medical devices in comics drawn incorrectly still irks him.

Joanna Molloy from The Fresh Toast also interviewed interviewed Trina Robbins about her work as the first female artist on Wonder Woman and her comic book roots. Great read! Check it here.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Children’s Crusade - a review

We here at DC in the 80s are BIG fans of DC's Vertigo imprint. While it was officially instated in 1993, in our hearts & minds it already existed by the end of of the 80s when it was pretty obvious that Morpheus, John Constantine, Alec Holland, Cliff Steele and Buddy Baker were occupying a world of their own (detached from the rest of the DCU). Nearly five years in the making, The Children's Crusade was the first MAJOR cross-over of these Vertigo characters. Erik Tramontana decided to give us the run-down on this cross-over event...  

1993. The year after The Year Punk Broke. Jurassic Park made us all hold on to our butts, while Tag Team's "Whoomp! (There It Is)" caused us to fall in love on the dance-floor, and a young Joe Piscopo taught us all about the magic of Cybergenics Phase 1. Meanwhile in the world of comics, seemingly every publisher hopped onto the Image bandwagon, with Topps Comics, Bongo Comics, and Malibu all debuting new universes, while Marvel and DC gave us Maximum Carnage and Knightfall, respectively. In hindsight it was obvious the bubble would burst, but at the time comics were big business, and new superhero lines were cropping up everywhere.

In 1993 DC also created the Vertigo imprint, partially as a home for creator-owned works like Moonshadow, and partially as a way to tie together the DC mature readers Berger-verse titles like Animal Man, Swamp Thing, and Doom Patrol. Considering that The Sandman was one of DC's biggest financial and critical successes, it only made sense to make their first crossover Annual event a direct sequel to a Sandman storyline, written by Neil Himself.

The Children’s Crusade picks up the story of the Dead Boy Detectives from Season of Mists. An eleven-year-old girl hires the boys to solve their first-ever case: all of the children from a small rural village have disappeared without a trace. We see flashbacks to the Children's Crusade (where an evil man disguised as a monk led children to slavery under the guise of religion) and of the Pied Piper of Hamlin (who stole away the town’s children as payment for services rendered).

One of the boy detectives has a prophetic vision of children of great power in "The Free Country". During the course of their "investigation", the boys use nursery rhymes to summon spectral children from the Free Country -- a magical place where children go to escape the cruelty of the adult world. This is where the missing children have gone, our detectives are informed, and soon all of the world’s children will be "safe" in the Free Country. The Free Country children plan to use the talents of some special kids, all of whom happen to be featured in the Vertigo launch titles: Black Orchid, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and the brand-new Books of Magic ongoing series.

The main problem with the idea of a Vertigo crossover is that while most of the titles were technically in DCU continuity, most hadn't crossed over with another superhero book in years. Animal Man, for example, had left the Justice League Europe before his psychedelic meeting with Grant Morrison, well before any of the Peter Milligan wackiness. If I remember correctly, by this point he was mainly going by "Buddy" and not even wearing a costume most issues! The tone differs wildly from issue to issue; some titles like Books of Magic advanced huge chunks of plot, while others (looking at you, Doom Patrol) barely even mentioned the Deadboy Detectives and the missing kids. In Swamp Thing, Tefé Holland and Maxine Baker (Animal Man's daughter) go on an adventure reminiscent of Wizard of Oz or Narnia, while in Doom Patrol there's a serial killer stalking kids, and Animal Man features federal agents in a Ruby Ridge/Branch Davidian standoff with the Baker family. Tonally, it's just all over the map. There's a hilarious "On The Ledge" for that month about how bad and dumb crossovers are that pretty much sums the whole mess up:

As I said on my blog's writeup of each issue of the crossover, I am a Neil Gaiman superfan. I will buy any comic his name is on, even crap like the Marvel's Angela mini-series or Tekno Comix' Mr. Hero the Newmatic Man. As an English major obsessed with comics, The Sandman trade paperbacks were everything to me. The Children’s Crusade doesn’t match the lofty heights of The Sandman (or even Marvel's 1602), but Gaiman's bookend chapters are as readable as anything else Vertigo was putting out at the time. If they had just jettisoned the whole crossover idea and had Gaiman pick and choose characters he liked (like in the original Books of Magic or Black Orchid) the whole thing would read much more smoothly, rather than trying to bash all these square pegs into round holes.

If the point of this stunt was to convert the reader into a line-wide Vertigo subscriber, then it failed miserably. As a snapshot of where "mature readers" DC Comics were at in 1993, it’s interesting. If you're a true Sandman or Books of Magic fan, Children's Crusade is essential; DC finally put out a trade paperback last year, with the annuals replaced with an all-new middle chapter that presumably reads a lot smoother. So read the trade, unless you can get the whole series on the cheap someplace like ebay or comixology.

Cover gallery:

How about some house ads?

-Erik Tramontana

Erik Tramontana is a teacher, a dad, and a lifelong Batman fan. He blogs about 1990s DC comics at

Friday, April 14, 2017

Super Powers by Erik Tramontana

As everybody reading this website surely knows, the Super Powers Collection was an action figure line by Kenner, based on the Justice League of America comics. Super Powers merchandise was everywhere in the 1980s and still shows up today, like on this sick t-shirt I bought at Target:

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Dope t-shirt I got at Target

Even though I was a huge fan of the Super Friends TV show as a kid, I somehow missed out on the toys. Here is a picture of the Hall of Justice that I got at a yard sale for my kids, as modeled by Michael Keaton Batman and Swamp Thing:

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"So, uh, you ever see Mr. Mom?"

But we don’t care about toys, t-shirts, or lunchboxes, we are here for the comics. And brother, were there ever comics!

DC put out three series of Super Powers comic books between 1984 and 1986. The first series was plotted by Jack "The King" Kirby and scripted by Joey Caliveri, with Adrian Gonzalez pencils and Pablo Marcos on inks. Kirby also did the covers for this series, and both wrote and drew the concluding issue, #5.

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Super Powers - Kirby on covers and plot

For a long time the Super Powers series was ignored by fans -- Kirby was past his prime, it was based on a toy line, it was "out of continuity" (more on this later). I bought nearly the entire run in quarter bins over the years and they never seemed to be in short supply. And, to be fair, the first series isn't really all that great.

Darkseid grants great cosmic powers to the survivors of the gladiator games of Apokolips. These "Disciples of Doom" are sent to Earth to distract the superheroes while Darkseid’s armies take over the planet. The Disciples grant super powers to the world’s worst super-villains: Lex Luthor gets time distortion, The Penguin gets mind control, Brainiac receives the power to activate "racial memories" (yikes), while the Joker gets his own psychoactive dimension to play with. The newly-empowered villains pick fights with the superheroes (Hawkman, Superman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin) and lose badly.

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Luthor using his brand new powers.

There are some good bits in this series, like Superman the Barbarian...

...and The Joker trapping Batman and Robin in a crazy-town dimension, but there is an awful lot of filler before we get to the main event in issue 5.

The concluding issue of the first series is raw, unfiltered Kirby and it undoubtedly blew some little kids' minds back in the day (Spaceship Earth -- We’re All On It!). Stranded in Apokolips, the Super Powers team touch a mysterious object that transports them to several bizarre worlds. The machine is "The Worlogog, a physical manifestation of time and space itself!". The Worlogog was built and controlled by Metron of the New Gods. Metron bounces the super guys around the dimensions to cover their tracks so Darkseid can't follow. Metron is going to use the Worlogog to boost the superheroes' abilities and wreck up Darkseid’s armies. Darkseid uses Boom Tubes to attack Earth at different points throughout history: Metropolis 80,000 AD, Ancient Asia, Atlantis...all defeated by Metron and the Worlogog. Metron sends the super-guys home in Brainiac’s ship, while Darkseid lives to scheme another day.

While it managed to transcend its origins as a toy tie-in at times, series 1 was just a warm up for Super Powers series 2, where things get really crazy. For the second series, Paul Kupperburg takes over as writer, while Kirby pencils and Greg Theakson inks. If you've ever wondered what a Jack Kirby JLA story would be like, you've come to the right place. This is the good stuff.

The first page has a footnote: "Takes place after The Hunger Dogs OGN". This is all the proof I need that this is 100% in New Gods continuity and therefore an official part of the Fourth World saga. After the events of The Hunger Dogs, Apokolips is no longer under Darkseid's rule and the huddled masses want to track down their former ruler and kill him. Darkseid kills some peasants and monologues that the universe will pay for this travesty. Darkseid meets up with Kalibak, Desaad, and Steppenwolf in an underground bunker. They take one last trip in a broken Boom Tube and leave Apokolips behind for good, setting down on Earth’s moon. Darkseid plans to get his mojo back by conquering Earth.

Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice, Batman informs the Justice League that five "seeds" from outer space have landed in England, Rome, New York City, Easter Island, and the Arizona desert. These space seeds are burrowing into the planet’s core, which surely can’t be good. The League splits into teams, Gardner Fox style: Green Lantern, Dr. Fate, and Wonder Woman travel to Easter Island; Superman and Firestorm head to Rome; Red Tornado, Hawkman, and Green Arrow go to Times Square; Martian Manhunter and Aquaman travel to England; and Batman, Robin, and The Flash haul ass to the desert.

The heroes learn that the seeds are, in fact, evil, and when you so much as touch them they open up a time portal and whisk everyone back into the past. This leads to great bits like Martian Manhunter and Aquaman fighting the Knights of the Round Table, Wonder Woman and Dr. Fate accidentally creating the Easter Island statues (they’re aliens turned to stone! Oh Kirby), and Superman and Firestorm fighting Roman gladiators.

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Pretty expensive for a VHS tape!

One terrific bit has Kalibak strapping Green Arrow to the hood of the Boulder Bomber, which -- if you're going to do a toy commercial in your comic -- is absolutely the way to go.

The two best parts in the whole series are undoubtedly the Times Square and Arizona chapters. I have an ironclad rule when it comes to purchasing comics: if there is a dinosaur or a Frankenstein on the cover then I MUST own it. Issue 2 features Martian Manhunter fighting a Tyrannosaurus in the middle of Times Square and it's the Devil Dinosaur sequel we never knew we wanted.

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If the Supergirl season finale doesn’t feature J’onn punching a T-Rex  I am never watching the CW again.

And then there is issue 5. If you ever wondered where Grant Morrison got the inspiration for Rock of Ages, look no further. In this issue, Batman hits the seed with a batarang and hordes of Parademons emerge from a time portal. The portal takes the heroes into a dark future where Darkseid has won and converted Earth into a new Apokolips. "New Las Vegas", in what used to be the Arizona desert, has become a shrine to Darkseid. If you have ever seen images from this series on Tumblr or Twitter or wherever, they are probably from this issue, because it is trippy as hell.

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Rock of Ages trial run

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Black light poster? Yes please.

Civilians attack Batman and Robin for wearing forbidden superhero costumes and the Parademons take the heroes to the Arena, where they have to fight The Hulk -- I mean Mongo "Crusher" Monsoon.

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I wonder what would happen if Batman fought the Hulk and Jack Kirby drew it?

After defeating Crusher, the JLAers are about to be killed by Parademons when The Flash intercedes in the nick of time. They escape the arena, steal a time travel device, and get back to the past.

In the finale, issue 6, the superheroes handily defeat the henchmen and Parademons before tracking down Darkseid. A giant hologram Darkseid offers to make the heroes part of his chosen Elite Guard, but of course they refuse. The hologram hand shoots the good guys with an agonizing neural disruptor ray and traps them in a power-disrupting holding cell. Darkseid monologues that he is going to activate the seeds with an Omega Effect Amplifier and add their super powers into the mix. J’onn J’onnz shapeshifts himself into some kind of freaky non-sentient being without a central nervous system, allowing him to escape the pod and the neural disruptor ray. Once out J’onn is able to shift back to his normal form and free the others. Superman and Dr. Fate race to Earth to deflect the Omega beams, blocking them from making contact with the seeds. Desaad betrays Darkseid by sabotaging the machine. Darkseid disappears thanks to his own Omega Effect, while the other Apokoliptikans escape through the star gate. Earth is safe once again!

Proving you can’t keep a great concept down, Super Powers has seen a revival at DC this year. In addition to the Aw Yeah series for kids, Super Powers has come back as a backup strip in Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye, part of the Gerard Way-led Young Animal line. Written and drawn by Tom Scioli, the auteur behind Transformers vs G.I.Joe, Super Powers uses the toyline and Jack Kirby comics as a jumping-off point for an idiosyncratic and offbeat take on the DC Universe.

When taking notes for this write up, I spent three pages trying to summarize the plot, which is pretty impressive considering each installment is only two to three pages long. The series provides new origin stories for The Wonder Twins and Green Arrow, a look at Etrigan's past as an angel before the fall, a glimpse of Flippa Dippa’s future as an underwater archeologist with the Sea Devils, Captain Marvel Jr. crucified on the Rock of Eternity, an army of Superman clones, the arrival of The New Gods, and a Morrison-esque shattering of the fourth wall.

Best Green Arrow origin.

I want to say more about the Scioli series (plot summary, spot-the-reference, theories, you name it), but it's still available and well worth reading on your own. On my blog JLA Classified I have gushed about the Young Animal imprint and called Cave Carson my favorite comic of 2017, and I think you will agree. If you are into 1980s DC and Vertigo comics (and I know you are!) then you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Batman 89 also Dark Knight and Killing Joke with a bit of Animal Man thrown in.

You can get both Kirby Super Powers series in the Kirby Omnibus cheap on Amazon, and Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye is available wherever fine comic books are sold.

-Erik Tramontana

Erik Tramontana is a teacher, a dad, and a lifelong Batman fan. He blogs about 1990s DC comics at