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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Review of the Shadow of the Batman deluxe reprint series

Reprinting older material was nothing new for DC comics (see: DC Blue Ribbon Digests), but in the early 80s the new Baxter paper format was all the rage and several acclaimed comic runs were being selected to be reprinted with the new upgraded paper stock. You have to remember that this was before reprint TPBs became "a thing". I’m not 100% how they selected which comic runs to reprint - some are pretty obvious (I’m sure 1986’s Roots of the Swamp Thing was reprinted because Saga of the Swamp Thing was getting a lot of attention thanks to the Alan Moore treatment), but I’m going to guess that some were based on fan request (ex: Simonson and Goodwin’s Manhunter) since I don’t think they had the commercial appeal to launch an ongoing series. Whether that was the case or not, in 1985, Batman fans were lucky enough to receive a deluxe reprint of Steve Englehart’s Detective Comics run in their local comic book shops.

Shadow of the Batman reprints Detective Comics #469 - #479 (1977-1979), stories from House of Mystery issues #254 and #274 (1977 and 1979), a 2-part story from Weird War Tales issues #51 and #52 (1977) and a story from Mystery in Space #111 (1980). The common denominator in all of these stories is that Marshall Rogers had something to do with all of them (whether he was the colorist or illustrator), so this almost seems like a tribute to Marshall Rogers. It should also be noted that every wrap-around cover of this series was (beautifully) illustrated by Rogers.  

Englehart had been writing for Marvel Comics in some shape or form since the early 1970s. By 1976, due to disagreements with new Marvel editor-in-chief Gerry Conway, Englehart quit Marvel with the intention of moving to Europe. Jenette Kahn (who had just became the new DC comics publisher) managed to get a hold of Englehart before he left. Kahn was insistent that Englehart work for DC comics to help ‘fix’ Justice League of America since all of DC’s big-name talent had recently migrated to Marvel comics. Englehart reluctantly agreed, but on the condition that he only worked with DC comics for a year and then would resume his travels to Europe. Part of the deal also included Englehart being able to write Batman since it was one of his favorite characters. Englehart wrote the scripts for the issues he was assigned to and then took off for Europe, never knowing who would be illustrating them or if they’d ever see print - just hoping for the best. Englehart’s Detective Comics run was such a big hit with the DC editorial staff that he was asked to add an additional issue to the originally planned 7-issue run. 

I know from experience that proclaiming something to be “the DEFINITIVE Batman” is a hot-button issue among Batman fans, but we can’t deny the impact Englehart’s run has left on the Batman mythos:
  • the re-introduction of the newly-costumed Deadshot (last seen in 1950’s Batman #59). Deadshot would go on to play a major role in John Ostrander’s 1987 Suicide Squad series.
  • the first appearance of Dr. Phosphorus. Yes, Englehart created Dr. Phosphorus.
  • the re-introduction of Hugo Strange (last seen in 1940’s Detective Comics #46). You know that famous story where Hugo Strange discovers Batman’s secret identity? Yes, it’s in here - Englehart wrote it.
  • the first appearance of Rupert Thorne (created by Englehart and Walt Simonson). Rupert Thorne would be a major recurring character in 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series.
  • the Joker “Laughing Fish” story. An infamous Joker story that has been reprinted/re-adapted more times than I can list. It set the stage for the homicidal maniac Joker that we all know and love.
The problem here is that DC’s ad campaign didn’t do this reprint series any justice - this house ad only took up a third of a page and seemed like it was included as an afterthought. I guess readers were supposed to see Englehart’s name and recognize that it was good? The art in this ad doesn’t even begin to hint at the true artistic beauty of this series. It contained forty pages with no ads, featured higher quality paper stock/coloring, and was illustrated by Walt Simonson, Al Milgrom, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin (not all at once). From the point of view of a Batman fan, this is a very entertaining reprint series: Bruce Wayne/Batman was now operating out of a swingin’ downtown penthouse in Gotham City (as opposed to Wayne Manor), Dick Grayson Robin makes a few appearances, Silver St Cloud (a fan-favorite love interest for Batman) is introduced, and a terrific assortment of Batman rogues are featured (ex: Joker, Deadshot, Hugo Strange, Dr Phosphorus, Penguin and Clayface III).

Englehart has stated in the past that his aforementioned work on Detective Comics (which he has nicknamed 'the Dark Detective’ run) was pivotal in the development of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film. Englehart has always remained officially uncredited for his contribution to the 1989 Batman film. Englehart’s run has also been collected in 1999’s Batman: Strange Apparitions TPB.

On an interesting side note, I wanted to comment on DC’s decision to reprint the two stories from Weird War Tales #51 - #52 in this series. Upon first inspection, the stories have much ado about nothing - it’s a story about animorphic dogs living in a post-apocalyptic London, England. Upon further research I discovered that they’re a part of a Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth prequel storyline called Tales of the Great Disaster. Kamandi was an ongoing series (created by Jack Kirby) that was published by DC comics from 1972 to 1978. Crisis On Infinite Earths pretty much retconned this storyline out of existence, and Kamandi would end up becoming Tommy Tomorrow. 

*Note: Detective Comics #478 - 479 were written by Len Wein.

It should also be noted that each issue in the 5-issue Baxter reprint series had an impresive wraparound cover by Marshall Rogers. That's "tape-inside-your-locker" poster-worthy right there!

This article first published in January 2014.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

An Ode to Impel - How the non-sports trading card boom of the 90s affected us millennials

If you collected DC comics into the late 80s, then you probably collected DC comics into the early 90s. And if you collected comics into the early 90s, then you probably have a metric ton of non-sports cards (aka: comic book cards) stored in boxes around your house hoping to appreciate in value (by the way, they won't) - you can thank Impel for that.

Impel, officially known as Impel Marketing, was the company that formed in 1989 and quickly picked up the licenses to publish DC and Marvel comic book trading cards in the early 90s.

Prior to 1991, if you wanted DC comics trading cards/stickers and were living in North America, you either had to buy a bag of bread (Sunbeam Bread, Taystee Bread, Langendorf Bread, Wonder Bread), a box of Cracker Jacks, a bottle of Superman Vitamins, a bag of Hostess potato chips or a 3-pack of DC comic books from a large retailer.

The important thing to take a way from all of this is that companies were using DC cards as promotional items to help sell their products. I'm positive the popularity of the Filmation and Hanna-Barbera Super Friends cartoons were paramount in helping companies decide that DC characters were a great incentive to convince kids to convince their parents to buy specific products. Apparently, there was NO market for collectible trading cards based on DC comics characters.

Anyone who collected comic books during the 70s and 80s is going to point out that Topps released numerous trading card sets based on the Batman and Superman TV shows/movies from 1966 up until the 90s. Yes, that is correct, but they were based on the movies/TV shows and only featured DC characters that appeared in the movie/television show. The only exceptions to this were a) the Superman in the Jungle trading card set released by Topps in 1966 and A&BC Gum in 1968, and b) the DC Comics Covers sticker/trading card set released by Topps in 1970. The latter was released to a test market in limited parts of the United States and for whatever reason was never re-released - hence strengthening my theory that card companies (or DC comics) didn't feel that there was a large enough market to sell trading cards based on DC comic book characters.

Apparently Marvel comics had a better lock on the collectible card market, as they have a large catalog of trading card/sticker sets dating back from the 70s. Comic Images consistently released Marvel comic trading card sets during the last half of the 80s, but they were mainly sold in comic book specialty shops and marketed towards collectors.

In 1989/1990, I was an 8 year old boy with a $5 - $10 per week allowance (depending on how generous my parents were feeling). So this article will be very subjective as to my point of view as a comic book collector from that era. Keep in mind, at this period in my life, I was still a collector and not a speculator - so any cards I collected during that era are nowhere near mint, and I really had no long-view of what might be worth money someday.

I do believe that when Impel picked up the licenses for Marvel and DC comics, the market was just ripe for a new collecting fad. I can say this with confidence, because in 1986/87, ALL of the kids in my elementary school (including myself) were collecting Wacky Packages cards produced by O-Pee-Chee.

After the Wacky Packages phase was done, I remember feverishly collecting the Batman Movie trading cards released by O-Pee-Chee in 1989. The Batman Movie cards were sold at my local convenience store, and the box of cards was located right by the checkout counter for the most perfect impulse purchase ever. The Batman Movie was HUGE in the summer of 89 as 'Batmania' was sweeping the nation - and I, of course, got caught in the tide. When my local convenience store stopped selling the Batman Movie cards, I started collecting the Dick Tracy Movie trading cards (also released by O-Pee-Chee in 1990). This is how I KNOW we were all ready for something bigger - I didn't even really LIKE the Dick Tracy movie. I was collecting cards just for the sake of collecting cards.  All of my friends in the neighborhood were collecting them, and I just wanted to be 'part of the gang'.

It wasn't very much longer after that I accidentally stumbled onto the greatest non-sports trading card discovery of my life: Impel's 1990 Marvel Universe 1 trading cards.

The novelty of the Impel Marvel Universe 1 cards were quickly obvious:
  • original art on the cards (this was major in contrast to Comic Images and the O-Pee-Chee movie cards, who seemed to re-use previous movie stills or comic book art for their cards)
  • a full biography of the character on the back of the card (this was also pretty major - remember, we didn't have the internet or Wikipedia back then, so whatever info you learned about a character was either through a comic book or whatever your friend told you about them)
  • a hologram in 1:10 packs!
  • recaps of major Marvel events/cross-overs (this was a great way to catch up some of that Marvel lore you missed out on)
  • the accessibility to new Marvel characters you previously knew nothing about
  • they were highly detailed and didn't look cheap
  • all of my friends were also into Marvel comics (so I had lots of fellow collectors to trade with)
  • if you don't believe me, see for yourself. For a limited time, Marvel comics has posted images of these cards to their site.

The Marvel Universe 1 cards made a huge impact on comic book collectors and were more successful than anyone ever suspected they would be. Stores just could not keep these cards in stock and boxed sets quickly sold out almost as soon as they were released to the public. The appeal, to collectors and Marvel comics fans, was trying to complete the base set and/or the hologram chase card set. You need to remember that NOTHING like this had been done before, so it obviously took the comic book collector world by storm. In comparison to the Impel cards, the Comic Images and O-Pee-Chee trading cards looked cheap and flimsy. Impel and Marvel were actually selling an experience to trading card collectors (and Marvel fans) and set a higher bar for future comic book trading card sets. This was the beginning of the comic book trading card boom that would see a glut of non-sports trading cards flood the market (and dominate a significant majority of my disposable income) from 1990 to 1996. It wouldn't be long before EVERY comic book publishing company (and then some) would have their own trading card sets to try and get "a piece of the action". It also wouldn't be long before all of said trading card sets would be trying to outdo each other in quality (ex: better quality card stock, nicer sheen, etc) and chase cards (ex: foil cards, autographed cards, lithograph cards, animation cells, etc) in order to stand out in the market from their competitors, until it suddenly cost $4 to buy a pack of cards (in contrast to the dollar they used to cost).

Surprisingly, DC comics wouldn't jump onto the trading card trend until 1992 with their 'DC Cosmic Cards' trading card set. (The DC Cosmic Cards were very similar in style to the Marvel Universe 1 cards.) By this point, Impel had already released Marvel Universe 2 in 1991 and Marvel Universe 3 in 1992 cards, and were in the process of re-branding themselves as 'SkyBox'. That's right you are reading about the origin of SkyBox cards.
Much like the comic book crash of 1996, the non-sports card collecting boom came to an end due to over-saturation. Too many cards sets were being released, and there was not enough demand from collectors. To make matters worse, non-sports card collectible magazines (ex: Wizard Magazine) were artificially driving up prices and sending the speculator market into a frenzy, and many collectors thought they were sitting on a small fortune. I remember pleading with my parents to let me rent a safety deposit box to keep my two completed Marvel Universe series 1 & 2 sets safe, lest someone break into our house and steal them while we were gone camping for the week-end. The problem with the whole 'speculator pricing market' is that even though something is listed as being worth $100, the real challenge is finding someone who is willing to pay $100 for it. The even bigger question is: who decided it was worth $100? [that's something to discuss another time] 

To summarize, if Impel hadn't done such a great job with Marvel Universe series 1 cards, we would never have had the non-sports cards collecting boom that lasted throughout the first half of the 90s. You can blame Impel or thank them - that's your call to make.

In it's heyday (1990 - 1993), the non-sports card collecting boom was a really exciting time and I'm very reluctant to part with any completed sets I have from that era - a lot of good memories are attached to those cards. In a future article, I'm sure I'll be examining the DC Cosmic Cards and DC Cosmic Teams cards in greater detail. I might even take a look at the O-Pee-Chee Batman Movie cards (1989) if I'm really feeling inspired.

For more Impel/Skybox trading card fun, check out:

Thanks to The Secret Origin and Lasting Impact of the Marvel Universe Cards by David Harper, Marvel 75: Trading Cards of the 90's by Tj Dietsch and Of Comics and Men: A Cultural History of American Comic Books by Jean-Paul Gabilliet, Bart Beaty, Nick Nguyen for the additional background info.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Review of 1989's Mister Miracle v2 ongoing series

Mister Miracle was created by Jack Kirby in 1971 and was included as a part of Kirby’s Fourth World story line which was introduced in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #134 (1970). Mister Miracle’s first ongoing series lasted 18 issues from 1971 to 1974, and was then revived again for another 7 issues from 1977 to 1978. It would appear that the Fourth World interest had fizzled out by the end of the decade and Mister Miracle and the rest of the New Gods went into comic limbo after a 1980 Justice League of America appearance (issues #183 - 185).

Kirby’s Fourth World characters experienced a revival in the mid-80s, thanks in part to Darkseid’s appearance in the Legion of Super-Heroes’ Great Darkness Saga story line (1982) and Kenner deciding that Darkseid and his crew would make the perfect villains for the Super Powers Collection toy line (and accompanying cartoons and comic books) in 1984. Part of the revival included a deluxe format reprint of the 1971 New Gods saga in 1984 and a Hunger Dogs graphic novel in 1985. Kirby’s Fourth World characters really hit their stride in 1986 when Darkseid was revealed to be the villain responsible for the Legends cross-over event, and it wasn’t much later that all of the New Gods became integrated into the DC universe and Mister Miracle became a member of the new Justice League (written by Kieth Giffen and J.M. DeMatties) in 1987. Coinciding with Mister Miracle joining the Justice League was a one-shot special published in 1987 reminding readers who Mister Miracle was.

Mister Miracle would finally get another ongoing series in 1989 as the Fourth World’s involvement within the DC universe was at all-time high: the Cosmic Odyssey event was just wrapping up, the Forever People had just concluded a six issue mini-series, Mister Miracle and Big Barda had become prominent members of the Justice League International, Lashina (of the Female Furies) was on John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad roster, and another New Gods ongoing series was about to debut. It really was a good time to be a Fourth World character.

The premise of Mister Miracle’s 1989 ongoing series was pretty simple - Mister Miracle and Big Barda want to escape all of the crazy superhero shenanigans and just settle down for a quiet ‘normal’ life in the suburbs. J.M. DeMatteis was the first writer for this series - which made sense since Mister Miracle (and Big Barda) had become a permanent fixture in DeMatteisJustice League International and no other writer (save for Keith Giffen) probably had a greater hand in fleshing out the character since his 1987 return. As you can suspect, the new Mister Miracle ongoing series had many humorous elements as seen in DeMatteis and Giffen’s JLI and really played up the whole 'superheroes trying to settle in a small town without drawing attention to themselves’ aspect. Len Wein became the writer after issue #8 and, while he still kept the humor, the series shifted direction and started to move toward Mister Miracle heading on an intergalactic tours sans Big Barda. I’m not sure if I mentioned that Mister Miracle and Big Barda were heavily integrated into the Justice League universe, and just to demonstrate that point, Justice League Special #1 (which occurs between issue Mister Miracle v2 #12 and Mister Miracle v2 #13) is a pivotal issue in the series and Mister Miracle subscribers would not have received it unless they had ordered it (or sought it out at the local comic book shop). The series then focuses on Mister Miracle’s adventures across the galaxy all while a subplot about a robot Mister Miracle being introduced and killed off within the pages of Justice League America (also by Giffen and DeMatteis) ran subsequently. It should be noted that Doug Moench picked up writing chores at Mister Miracle v2 #14. The final big story arc in this series is about Mister Miracle returning to Earth, moving to Manhattan with Barda and company, deciding that he no longer wants to be a hero anymore and begins to train his old protege Shilo Norman to become the new Mister Miracle. Ian Gibson illustrated the first 5 issues and was then promptly replaced by Joe Phillips who became the regular artist for the rest of the series (minus a few fill-in issues by various illustrators).

If I had to describe this series to someone, I’d tell them it’s very very good with many elements of Giffen’s Justice League incorporated into it (the humor, anyways). A gritty realistic mood was trending as far as comic books were concerned in the late 80s, and to have a series jump on the humor bandwagon (à la JLI) was a refreshing change. Many fans pointed out that this conflicted with the OTHER Fourth World series at the moment (The New Gods) which had a much darker tone, however this may have been done in respect to Kirby’s 1970s Mister Miracle series which also kept a light tone.

Big Barda plays just as much a role in this series as Mister Miracle does, and I’m somewhat surprised she didn’t get her name included in the title. If you are a fan of Kirby’s Fourth World universe, I’d recommend checking this series out as A LOT of Fourth World characters make appearances. One of the interesting things about this series is that it picks up on a lot of the story lines and characters that appeared in the 1971 Mister Miracle series, meaning that Mister Miracle’s history/existence was NOT rebooted by the Crisis On Infinite Earths event. I guess there was no point in messing with perfection? While this series is being reviewed in a blog about DC comics from the 1980s (because the first issue was published in 1989) it really is more of a 1990s series - it even contains the obligatory Lobo cross-over (as Lobo was appearing EVERYWHERE in the early 90s). 

This series ended at issue #28 (1991) and Moench managed to wrap up any loose ends by the final issue (although it was revealed that he did have plans to have Barda’s new Female Furies battle her former team, but plans had to be scrapped). Mister Miracle continued making appearances in the DC Universe until he got another ongoing series in 1996. Shilo Norman (who was reintroduced in this series) also made sporadic appearances throughout the DC Universe and is still a fan-favorite to this day.

This article first published in March 2014.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Lou Scheimer and Filmation

Lou Scheimer, co-founder and president of Filmation, passed away on October 17th, 2013 at the age of 84.

If you were alive in the 80s and old enough to watch cartoons, you’d probably remember some of Filmation’s more popular animated productions: The Tarzan/Lone Ranger Adventure Hour (1981-1982), The Tarzan/Lone Ranger/Zorro Adventure Hour (1981–1982), He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983-1985), The Adventures of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1984-1985), She-Ra: Princess of Power (1985–1987), The Original Ghostbusters (1986 - 1988) and possibly even BraveStarr (1987–1988).

As far as collaborations with DC comics are concerned, in 1981 Filmation produced The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam!. This one hour program combined animated segments of Filmation’s Shazam!/Captain Marvel cartoon, animated segments of Filmation’s Hero High and live-action segments of Filmation’s Hero-High (usually as a song or a sketch between cartoons). Originally, Filmation wanted to create a Superman cartoon, but they couldn’t get the cartoon rights (possibly because Hanna-Barbera currently had them?) so they settled for Shazam! instead, since he was pretty similar in design to Superman*. The Shazam! cartoon was a pretty faithful adaptation of the DC comics’ version and featured the entire Marvel Family and villains. Not surprisingly, the Shazam! cartoon was easily the best part of the hour (13 cartoon segments were produced - watch ‘em if you can). The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam! was cancelled on September 11, 1982 due to poor ratings.

When the Super Powers Collection toy line was in full-out marketing mode, Warner Home Video re-released episodes of Filmation’s late 1960s Superman, Superboy, Batman and Aquaman animated segments but repackaged it as a Super Powers Collection VHS set.
Filmation had a really strong run of cartoons during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, most likely because they owned the animated rights to Archie, several DC characters, Star Trek, He-Man and a few other popular properties. Filmation shut down it’s animation studio in 1989.

Lou Scheimer and Filmation, you will be remembered fondly.

TwoMorrow’s publishing has a book entitled Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation, which I’d strongly urge you to check out if you’re into this sort of thing. wrote up a quick bio on Lou Scheimer, which you can read at:

*It should also be mentioned that Filmation produced the live-action Shazam! television show in 1974.

This article was originally published in Oct 2013, immediately following Lou Scheimer's death.

Review of 1987's Blackhawk: Blood and Iron mini-series (the one written and illustrated by Howard Chaykin)

Blackhawk was created by Chuck Cuidera, Will Eisner, and Bob Powell for Quality Comics.

Blackhawk was a title originally published by Quality Comics back in 1944. Blackhawk would continue to be published by Quality until 1956 (issue #107) in which, opting to withdraw from the comic book publishing business, Quality leased the characters to DC comics (then called National Periodical Publications). DC comics picked up where the series left off (at issue #108) and after a rocky publishing history managed to get the series as far as issue #273 before being cancelled for good in 1984.

The 1987 Blackhawk prestige format mini-series was the third revival of the title (revived in 1976 after a seven year hiatus and again in 1982 after a four year hiatus). For all intents and purposes, we can consider this the ‘post-Crisis’ Blackhawk reboot.

The premise of Blackhawk is pretty simple: it’s about an international squadron of WWII-era fighter pilots (led by a man named Blackhawk) who battle whatever the tyrannic force of the day was - so during the 1940s they mainly fought Germans. Of course, you’d never know this reading Chaykin’s Blackhawk revamp - as he pretty much expects the reader to already have some some of understanding of who or what Blackhawk is. My only knowledge of Blackhawk prior to this series were his few guest appearances in other DC titles during the late 70s/early 80s - so there was a bit of research needed to figure out what was going on.  

The big deal about this mini-series was that it was written and illustrated by Howard Chaykin. Chaykin had always been a somewhat controversial writer - trying to push the envelope in regards to adult themes as far as the Comics Code Authority would allow him to go. Most reviewers who have written articles about this mini-series always make a point of comparing it to Chaykin’s American Flagg! (published by First comics from 1983 to 1988). Keeping this in mind, I read the first 20 issues of American Flagg! just so I’d have some sort of context as to what reviewers were basing their comments on. I recognized quite a few similarities between these titles: both Reuben Flagg and Blackhawk are 'men of uniform’, both Reuben Flagg and Blackhawk have vivacious sexual appetities, both titles feature a lot of Russian ('Bojemoi’), both use frequent media interludes (news clippings, radio, tv, etc) to give the reader some background as to what’s going on, and both titles have lots of (implied) sex and political power struggles at play.

A major sub-plot in this mini-series is Blackhawk (a man of Polish decent) being under investigation by the United States for being a communist sympathizer. This was not a new change Chaykin had made: originally Blackhawk was introduced as a Polish citizen back in Military Comics #1 (1941). Since the invasion of Poland was still news, Blackhawk creator/artist Bob Powell suggested that Blackhawk should be a Pole (with the intention of making the story topical). During the course of the original ongoing series (I think by the time the title is picked up by DC comics), Blackhawk’s nationality is retconned to American and he becomes an All-American hero. 

Reactions to this mini-series were mixed: many fans applauded Chaykin for his innovative visual style and fresh breath of life into the character, while others criticized that Chaykin’s depiction of an 'all too human’ Blackhawk was a huge departure from the selfless and stoic Blackhawk they grew up with. Nevertheless, Chaykin’s Blackhawk mini-series was successful enough that Blackhawk received a weekly feature in 1988’s Action Comics. Later, Blackhawk would receive it’s own ongoing series in 1989.

On the surface, this seems to just be another World War II era adventure where the hero is racing against time to stop the atomic bomb from falling into the hands of the enemy. However, Brannon Costello’s brilliant essay on sub-themes in the mini-series exploring Chaykin’s views on Fascism and Mass Culture has encouraged me to go back and read over all of the subtleties I may have missed the first time. All in all, a very interesting book, but not the jumping on point I’d recommend for someone who wants to find out what Blackhawk’s all about.

This article originally published in March 2014.

Review of 1985's The Shadow War of Hawkman mini-series

Hawkman, created by Gardner Fox (writer) and Dennis Neville (artist), first debuted in All-American Publications’ Flash Comics #1 (1940) and faded into obscurity sometime in the early 50s. In 1961, Hawkman got a Silver Age revival in the pages of DC’s The Brave and the Bold # 34 (under the direction of Editor Julius Schwartz). This new Silver Age Hawkman was once again co-created by Gardner Fox (the other co-creator being Joe Kubert) and had an altered back-story to differentiate him from the 1940’s Golden Age Hawkman. While the Golden Age Hawkman was an Egyptian prince reincarnated in modern day times, the Silver Age Hawkman (and his wife Hawkwoman) was a winged cop from another planet who arrived on earth (and took up permanent residency) in pursuit of a criminal.  Although Silver Age Hawkman (Katar Hol) was in the ‘here and now‘ (as far as the Silver Age was concerned), Golden Age Hawkman (Carter Hall) was still prominently featured in Earth-Two related stories and was a founding member of the Justice Society of America (so he was never really far from view).

Written by Tony Isabella (creator of DC’s Black Lightning character) and illustrated by Richard Howell, the concept for this mini-series arose when Dick Giordano (Vice-President Executive Editor of DC comics at the time) simply decided that Hawkman was due for a comeback. Isabella submitted the winning mini-series proposal by promising “a bold new direction for Hawkman, a clearly defined mood for the series, a story that creates an unstoppable upheaval in the life of Hawkman with effects that will continue long after the mini-series is complete”. Isabella did deliver on these promises by devising a plot that had Hawkman and Hawkwoman immersed in a “trust no one” environment that involved ties to their Thanagarian home-world, and killing off a long-time support character to the Hawkman mythos. To his credit, Isabella did his research before writing this mini-series and read every single Silver Age Hawkman/Katar Hol appearance that DC had ever published prior to 1985. He treated all previous Silver Age appearances of Hawkman history as cannon and even goes so far as to retcon (or dismiss as ‘imaginary tales’) the adventures that didn’t make sense or seemed out of character for Katar Hol*. Mini-series editor Alan Gold was completely on board with Isabella’s ideas.

Most readers don’t realize it, but Hawkman was *this* close to being the sacrificial lamb in DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event (1985). When the idea of Crisis on Infinite Earths was conceived in 1983 - 1984, it was suggested that a major character needed to die in order to give the event some sort of resonance. It was already agreed that Kara Zor-El Supergirl was slated to bite the bullet, but the DC editorial team were looking for more characters to die, just to give the event a little bit more “oomph”. Hawkman was on the short list of characters to be executed, but Marv Wolfman quickly nixed that idea. The DC editorial team were not completely unjustified in considering Hawkman for death – since his creation in 1961, Hawkman titles had always suffered from weak sales and cancellation. In 1984, Hawkman was at an odd junction in his super-hero career as the JLA had just been disbanded in Justice League of America Annual #2 (1984) and relocated to Detroit - leaving him with no regular series to be featured in.

Isabella had no plans to have Hawkman or Hawkwoman rejoin the JLA, and had his own vision of a storyline that would keep the Hawks engrossed with their own troubles until the late 80s – if this mini-series amassed enough positive reader feedback. As expected, this mini-series was a ‘test run’ to determine if Hawkman had enough of a following to merit a regular ongoing series. Isabella was pretty confident it would. His confidence would prove correct as (thanks to high sales) this series was followed by a Hawkman Special in 1986, and then an ongoing series later in 1986. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that this mini-series was heavily promoted in The Comic Buyer’s Guide (Isabella was a regular columnist for the publication). For the record, this mini-series occurs before Crisis on Infinite Earths.

FUN FACT: This mini-series introduces a character named Fel Andar (created by Isabella and Howell) who would be later used by John Ostrander in a big retcon fix trying to explain why there were so many multiple Hawkmen running around in the late 80s.

* Isabella observed that Hawkman always sold weaker and got cancelled more frequently. Hence, weird things always happened to Hawkman and Hawkwoman to stir up interest in their series.

This article originally published in April 2014.

Review of 1989's El Diablo v1 ongoing series

In 1988, the decision was made that Action Comics would be published on a weekly basis and would be retooled as an anthology series. Co-editor Brian Augustyn was brainstorming different ideas for features to fill the weekly series, and the revival of El Diablo was born. However, this was going to be a new take on an old character. 

El Diablo (created by Robert Kanigher and Gray Morrow) first appeared in All-Star Western #2 (1970), operated during the American Old West (~1866 AD) and appeared in DC Western titles sporadically throughout the 1970s and early 80s. Essentially, Western El Diablo was a masked cowboy who was possessed by a demon spirit and battled evil - a cowboy/vigilante series mixed with some supernatural elements. This new El Diablo was a completely different character with no connection to his predecessor: his adventures would be set in a modern day (late 80s) Texas border town, he had no super powers or supernatural connection, and he was Hispanic.

The Action Comics Weekly series reverted back to a monthly title starring Superman by the time the concept and creative team for the new El Diablo feature was assembled, but DC gave them the green light to go ahead and create a new ongoing series for El Diablo regardless. 

In this ongoing series, El Diablo was the alter-ego of Rafael Sandoval - a Mexican/American city councilman - who decides to become a masked vigilante when he feels the system is failing the people. As previously mentioned, El Diablo has no super powers, so he’s more or less a masked adventurer rather than a super-hero. The non-super powered vigilante fighting street-level crime was a popular trend in comics at the time (as seen in Green Arrow, Batman, the Question, the Huntress, etc…), but El Diablo did it a bit differently - he was a vigilante who acted on a need to serve his community (as opposed to a vigilante with a personal vendetta to fulfill). While that may not mean anything significant to anyone reading this review, the setting is just as important as the character itself - El Diablo operates in a multicultural (African Americans, Hispanics, Caucasians) hotspot and spends most of the series trying to prevent the different communities from going to war with each other and band together against the real villains (i.e.: drug lords and political manipulators). Combine this with the fact that most of the stories deal with real-world issues such as the drug trade, landlords vs tenants, big business vs poor working class, human trafficking, illegal immigrants stealing American jobs, and you’ve got yourself an extremely socially-conscious comic book series. As you can guess, this series is steeped in realism - El Diablo is aware that it’s a bit nuts to be a costumed vigilante, sometimes El Diablo loses a fight, sometimes the villain gets away, and sometimes it’s not always obvious who the real villain in the story is. Many readers compared El Diablo to Will Eisner’s the Spirit, but I’ve never read the Spirit, so I can’t confirm or refute that claim.

One of the most surprising details about this series is that nobody on the creative team was Hispanic - writer Gerard Jones (better known for co-writing The Trouble with Girls published by Eternity comics) is a Caucasian from California, artist Mike Parobeck is a Caucasian from Illinois and editor Brain Augustyn is also Caucasian. Not that it really mattered since (according to the Latino readers) they still managed to hit it out of the park as far as ‘keeping it real’. Part of this had to do with Jones staying as far away as possible from racial typecasting when writing the characters, yet staying true to their culture. Jones even went so far as to add Hispanic dialogue to several issue without any subtitles so those of us who don’t read Spanish were clueless as to what was being discussed. Jones’ original intent for this series was to cast a new and more humane light on the icon of a costumed vigilante and to create a “believable” city that functioned as a realistic human community (not just a metaphorical “urban hell” as depicted in most other vigilante books). The citizens of the story were just as important as the vigilante himself, since the masked hero is a symbol intended to unify “the people”. Within the first few issues of the series El Diablo manages to recruit a gang of youths (called the 'Los Diablos’) to work as street operatives - Jones stated that this was a homage to Jack Kirby’s Newsboy Legion concept from the 1940s.

The El Diablo series more or less operated in a self-contained universe as Batman, Superman, the Teen Titans or the Justice League are never mentioned. El Diablo, however, did refuse a Justice League membership in Justice League America #42 (1990). Surprisingly, a DC Western character does appear later on in the series, but not the one you’d expect… the Vigilante (Greg Saunders) appears in El Diablo #12. If the Greg Saunders Vigilante doesn’t mean anything to you, that’s because you are probably too young to remember him. Greg Saunders was a DC Western character from the 1940s who rode a horse and sang songs, and after a 40-year hiatus was suddenly appearing sporadically throughout the Earth-Two titles (i.e.: All-Star Squadron, Young All-Stars, Infinity Inc) in the 1980s. A pretty obscure character to make a guest appearance, in my opinion. Maybe because El Diablo operated out of a Texas border town?

El Diablo, while intelligently written, did not have strong sales. It probably shouldn’t have lasted longer than 12 issues, but the creative team was given an extra 4 issues to wrap up any dangling plot lines. Apparently, in a demonstration of 'sticking to story integrity’, the creative team opted to follow their original story rather than changing their format to meet public demand. SPOILER: The series ends with El Diablo retiring from vigilantism and going back to being a full-time politician - his parting message being that we can all be heroes by raising our voices and speaking up in a public forum in defense of our values. Interestingly enough, this was not the ending Jones had originally planned on writing, Jones just wanted to give the reader some sort of resolution. As detailed in the letter column of the last issue, Jones still had plans for El Diablo and was hoping for a mini-series or one-shot to explore these stories (but it never happened).   

It was suggested by readers that the reason the series struggled in sales was because the main and supporting characters were Hispanic. The fact is: El Diablo was the first Hispanic DC character to receive his own ongoing series. Latino superheroes were somewhat sparse and under-represented in the pre-1990s DC universe.  Notable Hispanic characters include El Dorado (appeared in Super Friends cartoon during late 70s), Fire/Green Fury/Green Flame (first appeared in a 1979 Super Friends comic), Vibe (a member of Justice League Detroit in the mid-80s), and Wildcat II (member of Infinity Inc in mid-80s). Is there any truth to this theory? Jones had smugly stated in the letter column of El Diablo #16 that the series got more attention in “real world” journalism than the comic book press. He also publicly thanked Vista, Hispanic Magazine and Texas Monthly for drawing positive attention to the series.

After all but disappearing from the DCU after his series was concluded at issue #16, El Diablo’s last modern day appearance was in an Infinite Crisis one-shot in 2006.

Originally published in April 2014.

Review of The Demon v2 mini-series

Originally a creation of Jack Kirby’s in 1972, the Demon came into existence because there was a big demand from DC for new horror characters. The Demon’s first series ran until 1974, from then the character made sparse appearances in the DC universe until 1984 when Alan Moore included him in a Saga of the Swamp Thing run (#25 to #27) and fan interest in the character was raised considerably.

Based on this new popularity, DC decided to have Matt Wagner create a mini-series that re-introduced the new ’Moore’ version of the character (who is once again speaking in rhyme*) hopefully with the intention of generating enough sales to justify a regular series.

Etrigan the Demon makes frequent appearances in the DC universe during the 80s, often as a protagonist but sometimes as an antagonist. He finally got his own ongoing series in 1990.

This mini-series was written and penciled by Matt Wagner. Wagner is better known for his Comico/Dark Horse series Grendel. The Grendel series spends a lot of time dealing with demons and the devil, so Wagner is working in familiar territory here. While Etrigan the Demon (as a character) didn’t interest me that much, I found Wagner’s ‘film-noir’-ish art made me nostalgic for his early Grendel series (in a good way) - because, let’s face it, in this mini-series Jason Blood kind of looks like Hunter Rose. 

*His first appearance in the Demon #1 (1972) had him rhyming a few times, but then he quickly dropped it. He goes the next few years talking like a normal person. Until he makes an appearance in DC Comics Presents #44 (1984) and starts speaking in rhyme again. From 1984 to the present, the status of whether Etrigan rhymes or not depends on whoever has final creative control of the publication at the time (ex: Len Wein and Alan Moore vs John Byrne).  Here’s a link to someone who did more research than I did on this subject: more about the rhyming Demon.

This article first published in May 2013.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Review of Green Lantern v2 #133 to #151 (1981 - 1983): Marv Wolfman’s run

After Green Arrow was evicted from the series, Green Lantern v2 began to get a whole lot better. (Green Arrow already had a long residency as a feature in World Finest v1 since 1977 - so don’t feel too sorry for him.) Denny O'Neil, who had been writing Green Lantern since it’s DC Explosion revival in 1976 (Green Lantern v2 #90), wrote another six issues after Green Arrow had been booted out of the series and then left DC to work for Marvel comics in 1980. In his last six issues of Green Lantern, O'Neil managed to return Hal Jordan to his roots - Carol Ferris was re-instated as a potential love interest, Thomas Kalmaku (AKA Pieface) was back to being his sidekick, and Hal Jordan was once again a test pilot for Ferris Airlines. Another element O'Neil brought back was Hal Jordan’s arch-nemesis Sinestro - most of O'Neil’s final six issues involved a running plot of Hal Jordan battling Sinestro (with a dash of classic Green Lantern villains Hector Hammond and Star Sapphire thrown in for good measure). Whether it was a good time for O'Neil to cut and run from DC was up for debate as he had previously killed off Batwoman (Kathy Kane) in the pages of Detective Comics that very same summer.

Green Lantern v2 issues #130 to #132 had guest writers. Bob Rozakis wrote issue #130, Mike W Barr wrote #131 and Paul Kupperberg wrote issue #132. What’s noteworthy about these issues is that we’re starting to see more of Green Lantern’s classical villains appear (Sonar and Evil Star). Another interesting development was occurring: now that Green Lantern wasn’t tethered to Green Arrow, there was more room to explore the Green Lantern mythos, and that included the Green Lantern Corps. The Green Lantern Corps played a prominent role in a few of O'Neil’s post-Green Arrow issues, but more importantly, the Green Lantern Corps received a back-up feature in Green Lantern v2 #130. Written by Bob Toomey and drawn by Alex Saviuk, the Green Lantern Corps stories were some previously completed but unpublished work that finally had a chance to be printed. Fans loved the concept and demanded more Green Lantern Corps stories. [more about that later]

Green Lantern v2 #132 saw a price jump from forty to fifty cents - this involved an extra eight pages of story and this is when Adam Strange became a back-up feature. Written by Laurie Sutton, the Adam Strange back-ups would run until Green Lantern v2 #147. There would be another price increase to 60 cents by issue #144, for an extra 2 pages of story in 1981.

Marv Wolfman became the regular writer for Green Lantern v2 at issue #133. DC comics acquired the talented Mr. Wolfman after he had just left Marvel comics due to a dispute with Marvel’s editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter. Building on the momentum of O'Neil’s ‘back-to-basics’ approach for Hal Jordan, the first thing Wolfman did when he started writing Green Lantern was to shine up all of Hal Jordan’s relationships that had gotten a little vague over the last 20 years. He aimed to bring Hal and Carol Ferris back together, get all the characters set up, give Hal some new friends and create a new support cast as a launching pad for more stories. Wolfman also continued with the hit parade of classic Green Lantern villain appearances: Dr Polaris, Goldface, and Black Hand all appeared during Wolfman’s run. Interesting to note that Wolfman tried to make Goldface THE arch-foe of Hal Jordan. He wanted a foe whose super-powers were less important than the threat of his very existence. Wolfman also brought back an old one-time Green Lantern foe, The Tattooed Man, only to have him killed off*. This was possibly one of the first times a Green Lantern foe had been killed off - fans were a little annoyed by that little stunt. Wolfman explained that the Tattooed Man was killed off because his powers weren’t unique. Wolfman introduces the Omega Men (and the Vegan Star System) in Green Lantern v2 #141 (this would spin-off into it’s own series).

Long-time readers will most likely remember Wolfman as the writer who 'humanized’ Hal Jordan. Wolfman believed that what made a series work were the characters - if they are interesting and if their problems are engrossing. He believed that a blend of good stories, good characters and situations, coupled with interesting action sequences was the key to a successful series. Wolfman and his editors (Jack C Harris, Len Wein, Cary Burkett and Dave Manak) decided to infuse a stronger personality in Hal Jordan (more so than done in the past). Wolfman really tried to get to the 'root’ of Hal Jordan. Another interesting plot element that Wolfman likes to explore is the masked crime fighter versus the legal system angle (as seen in Green Lantern v2 #145 - #146) - Wolfman would further explore this idea in his 1983 Vigilante series.

As you are also probably well aware, Marv Wolfman was the mastermind behind the Crisis On Infinite Earths event - a grand gesture intended to make DC’s continuity way less confusing. You begin to recognize that Wolfman was making a concentrated effort to establish a DC-wide continuity in his Green Lantern v2 run:

  1. Re-introduction of older characters to a modern audience. These include Space Ranger from Green Lantern v2 #136 - #137, and Bruce Gordon/Eclipso from Green Lantern v2 #136 - #138. Wolfman is a stickler for cohesion, and demonstrating that characters from the old DC anthologies were still an active part of DC continuity is a major part of crafting a sense that everything is tied together and occupying the same universe.
  2. Integrating characters from another title into the storyline. The Gordanians make an appearance and the H.I.V.E. are mentioned. Both sets of characters are from the New Teen Titans series that Wolfman was also writing at the same time. Most fans don’t realize this, but Wolfman was writing New Teen Titans, Action Comics and Adventure Comics while he was writing Green Lantern v2. Integrating characters from another series as a way to create cohesion within the DC universe.
  3. Answers the age-old question: if Hal Jordan was facing a global threat, where were all the other heroes? During Green Lantern’s battle with Eclipso, Wolfman made a point to show the rest of the Justice League’s efforts in combating the threat. Trying to keep the idea that although all of these characters occupy different comic book titles, they all occupy the same planet. 
  4. Wolfman addresses problems about Green Lantern v2 not meshing with prior DC history (case in point: Green Lantern v2 #136-#137 contradicts 1978’s Showcase #100). Wolfman explains that someday soon they will straighten all of that out (pre-lude to Crisis on Infinite Earths?). 
  5. Wolfman later incorporates some pre-existing Guardians of OA history into Crisis on Infinite Earths. The scene where a rogue Guardian (Krona) tries to view the creation of the universe thus unleashing the anti-monitor already existed prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths being written - Wolfman just retconned it slightly without altering anything major to meet the story’s needs. The Guardians of OA would come to play a major part in post-Crisis DC continuity (see: Millennium event)

The last issue of Wolfman’s Green Lantern v2 run was issue #151 - after which he plotted issues #152 and #153 (while Gary Cohn and Dan Mishkin scripted) and became co-editor with Ernie Colon shortly thereafter. Wolfman dropped the series because he was too busy with the Teen Titans, Action Comics and the new horror/adventure series that he was planning. Wolfman left the series sending Hal Jordan in a new sci-fi direction (banished from earth by the Guardians of OA), his view was to get Hal off of Earth - Wolfman reasoned that Hal should be the Green Lantern of his entire space sector, not just the planet Earth. Green Lantern v2 #155 was the last issue pencilled by Joe Staton (Keith Pollard took over pencilling chores afterwards) - Staton would return as regular Green Lantern penciller two years later. 

What was Wolfman’s impact on Green Lantern during his two year run? Green Lantern’s sales were very good when Wolfman took over, but dipped quite badly after the Space Ranger story arc. Sales of the series started climbing again after the introduction of the Omega Men. Sales for Green Lantern v2 were really high as of issue #147, so Wolfman left the series in pretty good health when Mike W Barr took over as regular writer.

While Wolfman’s excellent writing, characterization and new direction for the series during this time period is definitely worth noting, I’d say the biggest development during this two year period was the Green Lantern Corps taking a more prominent role in the Green Lantern mythos. The Green Lantern Corps appeared in Green Lantern v2 #127 (while O'Neil was writing) and there seemed to be a pretty good response from the fans, so the Corps started to get a little bit more exposure in the series.

In 1981, a 3 issue mini-series written by Len Wein and Mike W Barr was published titled Tales of the Green Lantern Corps that mainly focused on the Corps as a single unit (this included Hal Jordan). Various Green Lantern stories in the past had featured alien Green Lanterns in one-off team-up stories, but suddenly it was made aware that the Green Lantern Corps consisted of a diverse race of aliens with it’s own culture.

The critical and sales impact of the Tales of Green Lantern Corps mini-series had a notable impact on Green Lantern v2 - lead stories began to have more alien Green Lantern Corps members and, as a result, more Green Lantern Corps members (Ch'P, Salaak, Arisia, Galius Zed, etc…) were introduced in the pages of Green Lantern v2. The Green Lantern Corps were so popular with the readers that the Adam Strange back-up feature was removed (#148) in favor of more Green Lantern Corps back-up features appearing instead. Paul Kupperberg (who was fresh on his stint from DC’s Ghosts) was writing said back-up tales and Don Newton and/or Carmine Infantino was illustrating. Incedentaly, Kupperberg/Infantino also worked together on 1982’s New Adventures of Supergirl series.

*In possibly THE most obscure spin-off ever, the Tattooed Man received his own Vertigo mini-series in 1993:  Skin Graft: The Adventures of a Tattooed Man written by Jerry Prosser and illustrated by Warren Pleece.

This article first published in June 2014.

Marvel takes a jab at DC Comics (via CRAZY magazine)

…well, it was all in the name of ‘satire’, so I guess that doesn’t really make it so scandalous.

MAD magazine, a satirical black-and-white publication that debuted as a full-color comic book in 1952, had reached an all-time high with a circulation of 2,132,655 in 1974. Marvel comics being saavy enought to recognize a good thing when they saw it, decided to release their own satirical black-and-white publication called Crazy Magazine in 1973.

Crazy magazine ran from 1973 to 1983 and went through several iterations that depended heavily on the editorial direction.

Marv Wolfman and Steve Gerber were the first two subsequent editors and, with the intent of producing a publication with a different “feel” to it, allowed the magazine to feature work by Harlan Ellison, Basil Wolverton, Neal Adams, and Don McGregor (among others). Early sales of the magazine were poor (this was attributed to Wolfman’s and Gerber’s “too-sophisticated” approach), and Paul Laikin took over as editor in issue #16.

After Laikin became editor, the magazine became profitable again, but mainly because he reduced the payment rate for contributed material so low that no regular Marvel artists or writers had any interest in working for the magazine. The quality of the work suffered and this is most likely the point in time when Crazy Magazine was considered to be another MAD/Cracked Magazine clone.

Crazy stayed very close to the popular black-and-white humor magazine format and this included TV and movie parodies, observational humor on pop culture, features with “Crazy” in the title (ex: “A CRAZY look at…”, “The CRAZY guide to…”, etc), fake magazine parodies, fake full-color inserts, and they even had an Sylvester P Smythe/Alfred E Neuman-esque mascot named Irving Nebbish (he’s in the phone booth on the cover of issue #50). If you compared the interior contents and visual layout of CRAZY and MAD, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish which was which.

Marvel comics decided to give the 'original dream’ another shot and replaced Laikin with Larry Hama. Along with Hama came an increased budget (meant to offer higher pay rates to contributors) with the intention of bringing high-quality talent. The idea was to move away from 'juvenile’ material and to no longer be seen as a MAD magazine duplicate. Hama also planned on introducing regular features and even ushered in a frightening new mascot - Obnoxio the Clown (see cover of issue #81 above) - to replace Nebbish.

Crazy magazine’s last issue was issue #94 published in 1983.

You can view digital copies of Crazy Magazine on the Internet Archive.

Still building it

This blog is under construction. Depending on what time of day you check this site out, you may notice a different background or title. That's okay - I'm just tryin' things out.

I'm trying to emulate the look and feel of a DIY fanzine from the 80s as much as possible. If you see anything you like(d), give me a shout.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Myth: 1980s English rock band, Killing Joke, took their name from the Alan Moore Batman graphic novel of the same name

While that would be totally cool from an 80s pop culture perspective, it’s actually false since Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland was published in 1988, and Killing Joke (the rock band) was formed about a decade prior (1978).

When asked about the origin of the band name, Jaz Coleman (Killing Joke’s vocalist and keyboardist) once explained:
“the killing joke is like when people watch something like Monty Python on the television and laugh, when really they’re laughing at themselves. It’s like a soldier in the first world war. He’s in the trench, he knows his life is gone and that within the next ten minutes he’s gonna be dead … and then suddenly he realises that some c*nt back in Westminster’s got him sussed - ‘What am I doing this for? I don’t want to kill anyone, I’m just being controlled’. (Laugh At Your Peril With Killing Joke. Allied Propaganda. May 1979.)

The band itself is still kickin’. Check their Facebook page:

Review of Jonni Thunder AKA Thunderbolt 1985 mini-series

When Roy Thomas started working for DC comics in 1981, he wanted to create a NEW male character called Johnny Thunder (he was very fond of the name).  Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway were discussing the neglected private-eye comic book genre and came to the conclusion that nobody had successfully mashed up the private-eye and superhero genres in a while - this was the spark that led Thomas to flesh out the idea for Jonni Thunder AKA Thunderbolt and a rough plot was quickly established. While Conway was too busy to do the actual writing, he did co-plot the first issue of the mini-series.

Roy Thomas’ wife, Dann Thomas, was a big fan of Raymond Chandler (and detective fiction in general) and jumped at the chance to collaborate on this mini-series. It was Roy and Dann who decided that Jonni should be a woman who aspired to be like her hero, Philip Marlowe*. Dann Thomas wrote the first draft for the four issues based on the plot that she, Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway brainstormed. Roy Thomas did a quick re-write smoothing everything out - but the majority of what you read in that series (the snappy dialogue and the one-liners) were written by Dann.


Ernie Colon (who had been working with Thomas on the Arak ongoing series) was Thomas’ first choice as an artist, but Colon got wrapped up with Amethyst, and Dick Giordano was eager to take over as illustrator for this project - so Giordano became the penciller and inker of this mini-series. Giordano was still editorial vice-president of DC comics when he accepted this assignment - prior to Jonni Thunder AKA Thunderbolt, Giordano’s last interior artwork was for Wonder Woman #300 (1983).

Between the conception of Jonni Thunder AKA Thunderbolt in 1981 and the actual realization of the project (due to Thomas’ and Giordano’s busy schedules), DC had published another PI series - Nathaniel Dusk (written by Don McGregor) in 1984. (Allegedly, McGregor was overjoyed that Nathan Dusk didn’t have to incorporate super-hero elements and was able to keep it strictly detective fiction.)

The mini-series itself had a film noir type detective plot with supernatural/sci-fi/fantastic elements (as usually found in comic books). Curiously, none of the 4 issues in the mini-series had a Comics Code Authority (CCA) Seal on the cover - indicating that it was targeted towards a more mature audience. I noticed that some parts of dialogue were heavy with subtle sexual innuendo, but I hardly doubt it was enough to not be approved by the CCA.

Jonni Thunder AKA Thunderbolt was extremely well received by comic fandom - Don Thompson, editor and respected comic book critic, praised Jonni Thunder AKA Thunderbolt in the Comic Buyer’s Guide and even stated that it read better than Nathaniel Dusk. Alas, Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano’s extermely busy schedules meant that neither would have any time to work on a Jonni Thunder AKA Thunderbolt ongoing series. At best, they would be able to work on the occasional Jonni Thunder AKA Thunderbolt mini-series or graphic novel, but nothing ever came of it.

Jonni Thunder later appeared in Infinity Inc (another book Roy Thomas was writing) from 1986 to 1988 as Skymaster’s main squeeze. Her adventures with the team occurred after the Crisis On Infinite Earths event, so I guess they would count as post-Crisis appearances.

As previously mentioned, this is NOT the first Johnny Thunder to appear in DC comics... Johnny Thunder (first named ‘Johnny Thunderbolt’) first appeared in Flash Comics #1 (1940). Created by John Wentworth and Stan Aschmeier, he was a bumbling comedic character who had a sentient energy-being thunderbolt pet who would do whatever he commanded (akin to a genie in a bottle who has to obey his master’s wishes). All of his adventures were set in the present-day (so, around World War II). His antics were a regular feature in Flash Comics back-up stories from the get-go – until about 1948 when the newly introduced Black Canary took up his slot. He also starred concurrently in All-Star Comics from 1940 to 1948 as a member of the Justice Society of America (and it looks like Black Canary booted him out of that series, too).**

A few months later, a NEW character named Johnny Thunder appeared in All-American Comics #100 (1948) only a few months after the original Johnny thunder was ousted from his two regular books.  This new Johnny Thunder rode a horse named Black Lightning and his stories took place in the latter half of the 1800s in the American Old West. This new Johnny Thunder did not have access to a thunderbolt pet and really had no connection the aforementioned Johnny Thunder. This new Johnny Thunder had a pretty nice run and even became the headliner for All Star Western in the late 1950s. Western Johnny Thunder’s star faded in 1961 with the cancellation of All Star Western.
Despite the fact that Jonni Thunder had the ability to become a living thunderbolt energy-being and the original Johnny Thunder controlled a sentient thunderbolt energy being, no connection was ever made between the character (missed opportunity?).

I am of the opinion that a catchy name never dies and there will always be a ‘Johnny Thunder’ to reflect whatever is happening in current comic book pop culture as long as DC comics is around. Case in point, in the 1940s (also known as the “Golden Age” of comic books) superhero ‘funny’ books were the predominant genre in comics books, thus we had a comical character with fantastic powers named Johnny Thunder appear. When the superhero genre died out and the Western genre emerged, we suddenly had a new Western-themed vigilante named Johnny Thunder appear. It’s a pretty bold declaration for me to state that Jonni Thunder was a product of the second and third-wave feminism movement (ex: a strong, assertive, independent female who can go toe-to-toe with any man) -  all I could think about while reading Jonni Thunder AKA Thunderbolt was how the lead character reminded me of Candice Bergen’s character Murphy Brown (aired from 1988 to 1998). And finally, for the late 90’s, Jakeem Thunder: an African America youth who gains possession of the original Johnny Thunder’s pet thunderbolt and uses this new power to become a hero. I’m strongly suggesting that DC introduced this new version of ‘Johnny Thunder’ to their readers to demonstrate that they are “hip with it”.

*Philip Marlowe is the main protagonist in Raymond Chandler’s detective fiction.

** Don’t worry, he would re-appear again in Roy ThomasAll-Star Squadron ongoing series (1981 - 1987) and make sporadic appearances in other comic book whenever the Justice Society of America was involved. At the time of Jonni Thunder AKA Thunderbolt’s publication, America vs the Justice Society was also being published.

This article first published in August 2014.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Five Questions with Steve Erwin (co-creator and penciller of 1988’s Checkmate! ongoing series) by Reggie Francia

Thanks to Roland Reedy for permission to share!

Five Questions with Steve Erwin (co-creator and penciller of 1988’s Checkmate! ongoing series)

Reggie Francia: Who came up with the design for the suits? Was it you and Paul [Kupperberg] or John Byrne?

Steve Erwin: John Byrne designed the Knight uniforms. As the story was related to me, Paul was telling Byrne about the Checkmate concept over lunch and as they were talking, John was scribbling out visuals for the Knights. Paul left with a nice pencil sketch which I was given a photocopy of to work with later on after the title was approved. [Paul Kupperberg gave us his account of this story here. - editor]

Reggie: My very first issue was #12 where Stein went to Bongo world. I read that issue a hundred times back in ‘89 I think. I just fell in love with the story and especially your art! There where a couple of guest pencillers and till the series ended. Was it because of other commitments that you didn’t pencil the other issues?

Steve: Checkmate v1 #12: I just took a look at my stack of pages from that. Really fun to do, with all the space shuttle stuff to draw. The editor let me do a bunch of double-page spreads. FYI: I was in the middle of the issue when word came that it was going to be our “Invasion” crossover issue. I had to re-draw a few pages, rework some stuff here and there so we could make our plot elements fit. As I remember, the guest artists were brought in so that I could move ahead a few issues. I’d probably have to look at that part of the run for a refresher. It was a long time ago.

Reggie: Have you ever read the new series [Checkmate v2]?

Steve: I read the first issue of the new series. It looked really nice but I didn’t have a clue what was going on, so I didn’t go past that. It’s like it was continued from a story that started someplace else.

Reggie: Did you have any input in the stories for volume 1?

Steve: Did I have input in the first series? LOADS!! I worked with Paul [Kupperberg]  and the editor in the development stage to design most of the costumes and support characters that weren’t pre-existing. Paul wrote the series plot-style not in a script form, so when an action sequence came up he gave me the basics of what was to happen and what needed to be included, and otherwise I “choreographed” it all myself. He often asked where in the world (literally) the story should go next.

Reggie: Favorite issue?

Steve: Favorite issue? That’s hard. #11 is one of them ‘cause I played with adding characters resembling characters from TV shows. Other numbers I don’t recall offhand, but the issue set in Israel was fun to do, lots of double-page sequences. Thanks for the trip back in time!

This interview was conducted by Reggie Francia.

Reggie chatted with Steve Erwin a second time about his work on 1991's Deathstroke the Terminator v1, the 1988 Checkmate! ongoing series and his DC comics work on Star Trek. Check it out here.