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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Erik Tramontana reviewing 1988's The Weird mini-series

In the course of my ongoing Justice League International reread, I saw ads for a series I’d never heard of called The Weird. I was a little hesitant at first, but Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson, the creative team that gave the world Batman: The Cult? I couldn’t pass this up. So I bit the bullet and got the series on ebay for $3.50 plus shipping. Why such a low price, I wondered, and why haven’t I ever seen a collected edition before?

Turns out, it’s complicated. This series has phenomenal Bernie Wrightson superhero art, some of Jim Starlin's trippiest concepts ever, and yet it somehow remains excruciatingly boring. If you cut the fat and trimmed this four-issue miniseries into an 80-Page Giant, we’d likely be talking about it in the reverent tones we reserve for early Vertigo, but -- as it stands -- it is more of a curiosity of Post-Crisis "Throw Everything Against the Wall and See What Sticks" DC. Join me as I learn Who Is... What Is... THE WEIRD.

In the slums of Metropolis, a guy is doing some sort of occult ritual in his seedy apartment. The ritual somehow causes a huge explosion of light over the city.

Superman investigates and discovers a construct of pure energy. He tries to touch it and the entity knocks him backwards three miles, in the first of many physical comedy routines peppered throughout the book. Captain Atom and J’onn J’onnz show up to check it out, bringing the rest of the Justice League with them.

A note in the beginning of the issue says that the story takes place before Justice League International v1 #7 (1987), which explains why Doctor Fate is still with the team.

Fate and Guy Gardner can’t figure out what the being is, and it is resisting the Green Lantern ring’s probe, so Guy turns up the juice a bit. The energy being explodes again and blacks out the city (and Blue Beetle’s Bug along with it), and knocks Guy unconscious.

The construct splits into two smaller pieces and looks as though it is about to attack the city. One of the pieces floats around the GENEX genetic research lab, while the other lands in a funeral home and disappears with the body! Batman thinks the creature is trying to build itself a body to contain its energy, because Batman is a scientist. The creature blows up a chunk of a building but disintegrates the rubble before any can reach the ground and hit an innocent bystander.

Guy tries to contain the being inside a forcefield, only to have it emerge as if from a cocoon minutes later, in this psychedelic two-page spread:

And what emerges is this:

No, it’s not EC Comics Horror Host The Old Witch, this handsome devil is The Weird himself. The League brings the now-humanoid creature to STAR Labs and discovers that its organs are not yet fully-formed even though he appears to be an adult. Superman uses microscopic vision to determine that its alien molecular structure is unstable as an atomic bomb, and the reaction could level Metropolis at any moment. Beetle pulls a 'Cisco Ramon' and names the creature.

Guy is wrong here. It is NOT a good name.

Batman wants to take The Weird to Mars for study, but The Weird won’t allow himself to be apprehended. The Weird walks right through Guy’s ring constructs in another physical comedy routine, and then Doctor Fate tries unsuccessfully to teleport him away.

The Weird eludes the League embarrassingly easily and shows up at Jason Morgan’s apartment (remember, the half-face guy casting spells?) but Morgan isn’t home. Morgan isn’t home, so The Weird goes to check in on the family of the dead guy from the funeral home. The little kid sees him and says “Dad?”

END OF ISSUE ONE, and if the whole thing ended here the story would be all the better for it. I LOVED this first issue. It’s funny, it looks great, it’s intriguing -- it reminded me of the early issues of The Sandman, when Martian Manhunter or John Constantine would show up to help the reader make sense of this strange new comic. Plus it’s got the great Todd Klein on letters, just as The Sandman did throughout its run. But, unfortunately, here on Earth-Prime the series went on for three more issues.

Issue two picks up where we left off, as TV reporter Lance Armstrong (ha!) explains what happened in issue one. Military guys ask Superman to find The Weird and also please don’t mention that he has an unstable molecular structure that could blow up Metropolis or maybe even the world.

Batman does a bit of Bwa-Ha-Haing, but it’s Batman so the joke doesn’t really land (picture Lieutenant Holt on Brooklyn 99):

The Weird flies Billy to the beach for some father-son bonding.

Billy drops some next-level 1980s slang:

The Weird explains that Billy’s Dad’s body is his host -- he has all of his memories and looks like him, but is something bigger than before. The Weird has super strength, can alter his molecular density, and can affect energy. Then there is like seven pages of wacky exposition.

There are these energy beings, you see, called Macrolatts and Zorolatts, and The Weird was a Zorolatt. He hated his crappy life being subservient to the Macrolatts, so he came to Earth where he’d be powerful, using this dimensional bridge. So far so good.

“The Jason” is one of the bad guy Macrolatts who merged with a skid row bum so they could stabilize the dimensional bridge.

The Weird liked Earth enough to try and stop the Macrolatts from taking over so he jumped through after them, wrecking the bridge in the process. "The Jason" must be prevented from re-opening the bridge.

The Weird leaves Billy and flies off to confront The Jason but is stopped by Superman. Superman chases him through Metropolis in some scenes of top-notch physical comedy. The Weird causes a building to collapse on Superman to buy himself some time.

The news is now reporting that The Weird is unstable and highly dangerous. The Weird wastes no further time confronting The Jason at his apartment.

They do battle in Jason’s apartment bathroom. The JLI are on the scene! During the fight there’s an explosion and Guy is prevented from getting in. Doctor Fate uses protective spells to save the civilians.

The Jason puts an energy shield up around the building to prevent the outsiders from interfering in the fight.

During the battle, Jason tells his sob story -- dead dad, drunk mom murdered, nothing ever good enough, homeless, garbage man, prison, booze -- until the Macrolatts promised to make him as special as he’d always believed himself to be.

More physical comedy ensues.

The Weird tries to reason with Jason but it’s no use. Jason traps him in a bubble and tries once again to open the dimensional bridge. The Weird realizes that if he goes critical mass then he could blow up the bubble -- and a chunk of Metropolis with it. He decides it’s worth the risk.

Two Macrolatts make it through the portal.

Sadly, The Weird realizes he must kill The Jason to save the Earth. He dies right around the same time as my enthusiasm for this miniseries.

Meanwhile, Superman gets hit with a bolt of energy while flying, and, bizarrely, Nuklon from Infinity Inc disappears (Nuklon’s sudden appearance makes me wonder if this story was originally intended for the Satellite Era League, with Firestorm playing the Nuklon role. As is, it’s a weird and jarring intrusion on a fairly self-contained story).

J’onn becomes tangible and knocks out The Weird. Batman instructs Guy to take him off-planet, but suddenly Superman and Nuklon are possessed by Microlatts!

There’s a big fight with Supes and Nuklon vs the Justice League. The Weird is all, "we can’t defeat the Macrolatts and it’s pointless to even try," and frankly I agree with him. I could not care less about any of this at this point. Batman and Superman have a Dark Knight Returns style throw-down that nearly kills Batman and it’s like 'Meh'.

Macrolatt Superman and Nuklon rage through the city. The Weird bows down before them and knocks out Batman to demonstrate his loyalty to his Macrolatt overlords. The Weird offers to let the Macrolatts absorb him and assist in their takeover, all they need to do is reach out and touch him but…

meme from original creator: unknown

The Weird absorbs the Macrolatts and prevents the invasion. Unfortunately, he still has that pesky unstable molecular structure.

The first thing he does is build a giant ship in a bottle, as a gift to Billy. They have a tearful goodbye.

The second thing he does is ask the JLI to take him to an empty planet to die.

He goes nuclear.

Well, that’s over with. It started out so promising, but by the time I got to issue 3 it became a total slog. I would love to know the behind-the-scenes of this story because I have a million questions.

 I wouldn’t recommend reading the story, necessarily, but if you happen to find a copy of Mystery in Space Vol 2 at the library or flea market by all means pick it up and flip through. It’s worth a look for the Looney Tunes-esque action slapstick fight scenes, and for the bizarre spectacle of seeing Justice League International in a Karen Berger proto-Vertigo comic. It’s no Infinity Gauntlet or Cosmic Odyssey (and it’s definitely no Batman: The Cult), but it is trippy Jim Starlin sci-fi so how can you lose.

You may NOT remember seeing The Weird on your local spinner rack (or even in the comic book shop you frequented), but you MAY remember this full-page appearing in various 'comic journalism' publications (notably Amazing Heroes):

the ad had the same art as the cover of The Weird #1 (1988), which was illustrated by Bernie Wrightson.


Erik Tramontana is a teacher, a dad, and a lifelong Batman fan. He blogs about 1990s DC comics at, and we're really grateful that he writes these amazing reviews for us. View more of his DC in the 80s reviews.

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-Mark Belkin's interview with Jim Starlin at the 2018 Albany Comic-Con

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