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Monday, February 29, 2016

Taking a look at DC Heroes RPG (1984/1985)

Above is an ad for DC heroes RPG - a tabletop role-playing game system published by Mayfair Games in 1985. The Teen Titans were one of DC’s more popular titles at the time, so it would make logical sense that they would be used to market the game.

Thanks to the introduction of Dungeons and Dragons (published by TSR) to the mass market in 1974, tabletop Role Playing Games (RPGs) became immensely popular in North America during the late 70s and the early 80s. Once other companies began to realize how much money was to be made in the potentially untapped tabletop RPG market, new properties introducing different RPGing concepts (ranging anywhere from vampires to race car driving) were jumping in to get a piece of the action. It was only a matter of time before comic companies realized that tabletop RPG gamers were mainly 1) college students and/or 2) middle-class North Americans ranging in age from late teens to early 30s - which also happened to be the same demographic comic book specialty shops were targeting with their direct market comic books. Marvel and DC both arrived late in the game, but still gave it their best shot (e.g., Marvel Superheroes published by TSR and DC Heroes published by Mayfair Games).

If I had to describe a tabletop RPG game in play: it consists of a bunch of people sitting at a table imagining adventures together and rolling dice. And it lasts several hours. It’s basically an adult version of people playing “make believe” with agreed upon rules. I ain’t knocking it. Some people I know have been playing it for decades, so there obviously must be something to it in order to keep such a huge fan base captivated for so long.

I’m not going to give you a review of the DC heroes RPG game system (I am not a tabletop RPG gamer and wouldn’t even know where to begin rating this), but you can find some reviews here, here, and here. Instead I am going to review this game system as a DC comics aficionado - describing what the game components consist of and how it would benefit your comic reading experience.

The DC Heroes RPG is available in three components: the DC Heroes RPG master set, gaming modules and source books. I am assuming you start with the box set as the starter kit, and everything else in meant to enhance your play experience. The modules provide you with adventure scenarios and the source books provide you with data about additional characters, weapons and locations. The New Titans source book was a publication released in 1990 - it contained a nice synopsis of every issue featuring the titans until the date the source book was published, as well as stats and additional origin information on pre and post-Crisis characters (Titan members, friends, allies, and villains) . It really went out of it’s way to explain the psychology (personalities and/or motivations) of the characters. The module I had a chance to look over (H.I.V.E.) was published in 1987 and contained adventure scenarios (most likely used by the Game Master) as well as very precise information on the enemy (troops, stats, history, battle formations), but no stats about any of the heroes (I guess that’s why you need the master set). The front covers of these publications are pretty cool, but there is barely any art in the interior.

First off, I distinctly remember Marv Wolfman gushing about this project in the letter pages of a few issues of the New Teen Titans v1. I remember his enthusiasm for the DC heroes RPG gaming system and how he and his creative staff had a lot of input towards character stats, power and abilities, origins and histories as well as insights into their personalities/personal motivations. If you are role-playing the Teen Titans, Marv Wolfman wants you to do it correctly. I also remember reading that the DC Heroes RPG was the first place that blueprints for the Titans Tower were printed, and Wolfman and company were so impressed with the final result that they reprinted them in an issue of the New Teen Titans.

I suppose it could be used to a settle a debate about who could lift more weight between Cyborg and Starfire, but all in all, the information contained in these modules/source books are so ‘in depth’ that it couldn’t be used for anything but role-playing. While I think the New Titans source book would make a very handy companion for any Teen Titans fan, I’d probably spring for an entire copy of DC’s Who’s Who run (1985 - 1991), mainly for the art.

While DC Heroes RPG is no longer being published by Mayfair Games (bought out by Pulsar Games sometime in mid 90s), you can still find these modules/source books pretty cheap online or from the bargain bin of your local used book store/gaming store. has a pretty nice overview of the DC Heroes RPG system and Siskoid's Blog of Geekery has a really good review of the New Titans source book. Together, they have joined forces to bring us the DC RPG Hero Points podcast, which you can access here:

If you want a more in-depth look at the contents of the DC Heroes RPG master kit, check out the following pics:

This article first published in September 2013.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Cosplay male pin-up: Nightwing

Nightwing was cosplayed by Brian Milne (aka Test Subject B Labs) and photographed by David Ngo (aka DTJAAAAM) at FanimeCon 2013.
We couldn't just post the above photo without adding the next photo to compliment it. Also taken at FanimeCon 2013, but this time by Emilia Mccabe (aka iizel). This photo has Brian Milne posing with Skip cosplaying as Robin.

The New Teen Titans ongoing series (which debuted in 1980) saw Dick Grayson evolve from Batman's teen-aged sidekick to a competent young adult who would lead the Teen Titans (and arguably be known as one of the greatest leaders in the DC Universe). Actually, the whole series is about these former sidekicks and young adults 'coming into their own' which is what made the New Teen Titans so appealing to fans - kind of like those 1980s teenage 'coming-of-age' films John Hughes was so well known for.

Of all the different iterations of Nightwing out there, THIS is my favorite costume. This is the costume Dick Grayson wore when he debuted his NEW Nightwing persona back in Tales of the Teen Titans #44 (1984). I honestly can't visualize the 1980s Teen Titans without Nightwing in the group pic. (Maybe it's the garish blue costume? I don't know.)

The big "reveal" from Tales of the Teen Titans #44 (1984)

Regardless, this particular costume is affectionately known as the "Disco Nightwing" costume thanks to the body-hugging properties of the outfit, the flamboyant patterns, the HUGE pointed popped collar and the open neckline that starts at the chest (designed as a nod to Grayson's circus roots, I'm sure), but the similarities to the 70s Disco suit are undeniable.

The Disco Nightwing is a difficult cosplay to pull off correctly, and what I like the most about these pics is that this is exactly how I would've imagined Dick Grayson to look if he were a real person and existed throughout the 1980s. How old was Dick when he first donned the Nightwing costume? Well, it's kind of tough to say - series creator Marv Wolfman places Grayson somewhere between the ages of 16 and 18 years old when he first began leading the New Teen Titans as Robin, so I'd be guessing Grayson becomes Nightwing sometime in his early 20s (the whole Crisis On Infinite Earths thing makes it difficult to gauge an actual age).

For anyone who didn't catch it, David Ngo's photo is a clever jab at all those 'posterior shots' Nightwing is so famous for - Nightwing has consistently been voted as having one of the nicest backsides in comics and is frequently being positioned in panels to exploit that. David Ngo takes a lot of fantastic cosplay photos and we plan on showcasing more of his work in the future.

Emilia Mccabe's photo is brilliant because a) it features Nightwing with Jason Todd Robin*, b) they are both in a fighting stance and kind of look how I'd imagine if Dick Grayson and Jason Todd were about to throw down against you, c) Skip (cosplaying Robin) looks exactly how I'd imagine a 12 to 14 year old Robin would look in juxtaposition to a twenty-something year old Nightwing, and d) the color filter on the photo makes it looks like it was taken from sometime in the 80s. Absolutely smashing.

We managed to track down Brian Milne and ask him about this very kick-ass tribute to Dick Grayson and his love of the Teen Titans.

"I chose that Nightwing because I grew up loving the original Teen Titans. When I was putting that costume together I was originally working on the 90s Knightfall-era costume but I decided to switch it up", Brian told us.

Born in the late 80s, Brian grew up with a brother who was ten years his senior who was already well-experienced with comicdom, and thus he was raised on 80s and 90s comics along with old sci-fi and horror movies (which are basically the best things to be raised on).

When asked about his favorite Teen Titans story line and if he's still reading the title: "Favorite story line is a tricky one [laughs]. I always loved the entire Judas Contract story line, that was one of my faves. I haven't been reading the newer stuff due to always being busy." Brian is a HUGE Teen Titans fan and even went so far as to show us a photo of his comic book collection.

And then we asked him when he thought the series peaked? [I volunteered that I thought it was just before the early 90s when baby Wildebeest joined the team. -J] Brian replied "For me it was around the same time. I did like the reboot series featuring the new team led by teen Atom. The one right after Zero Hour."

Brian's favorite Robin (Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, or Tim Drake)? "When I started Drake had just become Robin and Dick was already Nightwing, so Tim had a bit more of an edge there. Along with the new costume made by Neal Adams."

And finally: "The Classic Nightwing suit took me about a week to make from beginning to end. The toughest part was laying out the little black elastice into place for the chest details - that took a day on it's own."

We were also lucky enough to also get a hold of Skip and ask her about her cosplay choice. Skip is a MAJOR BatFamily fan and told us "I chose Dick Grayson/Robin because I love the character and I think the costume is really funny (like all costumes from the 80s). I'm a huge fan of the BatFamily and Batman comics. I've been following the comics since I was very young and it would almost be easier to say which comics I haven't read! My favorite comics would probably have to be Nightwing: Year One and the Impulse series from the 90s. I also really enjoyed Batman: No Man’s Land and Dick’s run as Batman with Damian as his Robin before the reboot. Like I mentioned, it’s almost easier to say what I haven’t read and it’s really hard to pick a favorite!" wrote a really in-depth history of Dick Grayson (with images) that we couldn't help feel inadequate if we didn't include:

*Skip later told us that she was actually cosplaying Dick Grayson Robin in that photo. I'm choosing to overlook that. Dick Grayson and Jason Todd being photographed together is more comic accurate, and why crush our fanboy dreams of having Nightwing posing with the angriest pre-teen ever in a vintage photograph?

Monday, February 22, 2016

The story behind 'Jane Fonda' Supergirl

Also known as 'Pat Benatar' Supergirl, 'Olivia Newton-John' Supergirl, or simply 'Headband' Supergirl, this version of Supergirl was featured prominently throughout the early to mid-80s and will probably (depending on when you were reading DC comics) be cemented as the 'definitive' Supergirl in many fans' minds (thanks, in part, to the fact that she was wearing that particular costume on the cover of 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths #7).

When did Supergirl's iconic 'Jane Fonda' costume first appear? Well, that's actually a two-part answer...

A new costume for Supergirl was first announced by series writer Paul Kupperberg in the letter column of The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #12  (1983). To celebrate it's one year anniversary, The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl would be dropping the 8-page Lois Lane back-up feature (so Supergirl would have an entire book to herself) and Supergirl would get a new costume. The first glimpse of her new costume was revealed in DC Sampler #1 (1983) and became a permanent fixture in the series as of Supergirl #13 (1983). The most noticeable difference is that her top in no longer low-cut - her previously exposed neckline is now covered by a huge 'S' crest. Her hotpants were also traded in for a frayed mini-skirt (with shorts underneath), and the shoulders of her costume were given some red accents (should pads?). According to the story, her new costume was meant to replace her old costume which was destroyed in battle during Supergirl #12.

Fan reaction was mixed. Some found it "too conservative" while others liked it and compared it to the original 1960's Supergirl costume (while remaining modern and up-to-date).

Previous costume
New costume

Describing Supergirl's new costume as 'in-step' with contemporary 80's fashion is a pretty fair assessment. The 80's were all about looking powerful, and adding accents to Supergirl's shoulders made them appear broader (hence, the 'shoulder pad' effect). The mini-skirt had experienced a revival in 80s fashion, and was most likely at it's peak when this costume design was conceived. The new costume proudly displayed Supergirl's physical female form while remaining sleek, functional and flowing. (Spandex was featured quite prominently in the 80's.)

The next big change to Supergirl's outfit was the addition of the headband and a new hairstyle (a permanent wave - aka a 'perm'). She appears with a headband on the cover of Supergirl #17 (1984) - but only wears it on the last panel of the last page. The headband was a symbol of her Kryptonian citizenship. Interestingly, it's been pointed out that only Kryptonian men wore the headbands of citizenship, but Paul Kuppeberg quickly corrected that by explaining it was a Kryptonian custom and not a hard-and-fast Kryptonian rule. Supergirl's hairstyle was also updated in issue #17 (last panel along with headband) explaining that her new 'do is a result of a specialty treated comb that also changes her hair color. Fan reaction to the new headband and hairstyle was overwhelming positive (in contrast to the polarized opinion of the new costume).

Supergirl #17 - last few panels

Again, the headband and big, teased hair were a nod to 80's contemporary fashion. This was influenced by a mix of the early 1980s aerobics/fitness craze that was sweeping the nation (hence the headband), and the hair... well, just watch any music videos from the early 80s and you'll be able to pick up on that reference. The 1980s are considered as 'the decade of excess' and the hair styles were no exception - film and music stars wore big, teased, bouffant hairstyles as a symbol of glamour.

So how do we get 'Jane Fonda', 'Pat Benatar' or 'Olivia Newton-John' from all of this?

Jane Fonda is an actress whose career experienced a revival in the early 80s when she released a series of home aerobics videos called 'Jane Fonda's Workout'. Fonda has been pinpointed as one the catalysts for the 'fitness craze' that took the early 80s by storm. To that effect, Jane Fonda is a pop culture reference to the 'fitness craze' and the closely associated 'aerobics fashion' (i.e. headband) that Supergirl appears to be sporting. 

Pat Benatar is an American Pop-Rock singer who enjoyed much success in the early 80s. Benatar was one of the music video fashion icons du jour, and coincidentally was experiencing a 'headband-wearing' phase around this time - so you can probably see the perceived association between Pat Benatar and Supergirl's 'new' look.

Olivia Newton-John is an English-born Australian actress/singer (most famous for her role in 1978's Grease) who, in an attempt to re-ignite her music career, re-branded herself as a soft-rock bad girl/vixen in the late 70s/early 80s. Olivia rocked the head-band pretty hard with her blonde hair, blue eyes and lithe figure. Olivia is probably the most similar in physical appearance to the 'new look' Supergirl - if you don't believe me, check out Olivia's provocative 1981 "Physical" music video (which was banned in Utah, thankyouverymuch). It's been said that "Physical" sparked the whole "headbands as a fashion accessory outside of the gym" fashion thing in the early 80s, so who knows how much of Supergirl's 'new look' was actually influenced by Olivia Newton-John?

What was really going on

Behind the scenes, it was the "movie people" (Alexander and Ilya Salkind, I'm assuming) who wanted Supergirl redesigned. When the Salkinds acquired the film rights to the Superman franchise in 1978, they additionally picked up the film rights to Supergirl. 1983's Superman III, also produced by the Salkinds, was a flop and the idea of a Supergirl film was conceived in the hopes of revitalizing the film franchise. Apparently, the headband costume was dreamed up by the "movie people" in 1983 and DC was encouraged to work it into their Supergirl ongoing series.*

So why did the movie version of Supergirl (Helen Slater) look like this?

Please note the absence of the headband in the final Supergirl costume design

Apparently, when the "movie people" did screen tests featuring the 'perm and headband' version of the costume, audiences didn't respond well. (This may have something to do with the 'fitness gear as street wear' fad being on it's way out in 1984.) There are still some images of the prototype costume floating around - check out this really embarrassing photo Helen Slater probably doesn't want you to see. The final version of the Supergirl film costume incorporates a lot of the 'new look' costume design found in the comics: big 'S' shield on the chest, frayed mini-skirt, (almost) knee-high boots with yellow trim below the knee, and the (almost) v-shaped yellow belt. DC comics stuck with the headband version of the costume until Supergirl's death in 1985, regardless.

*Comic Book Legends Revealed #458 by Brian Cronin

The fact that Supergirl's ongoing series was cancelled two months before the movie release is a mystery of the ages. Supergirl #17 (introduction of the headband and hairdo) proclaims "SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE" above the cover logo. Changing the name of the title from The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl to simply Supergirl may have been requested so that it would sit on the retailer's shelves beside her cousin Superman's title (especially if the retailer was displaying issues alphabetically) and thus gain more exposure.

Friday, February 19, 2016

DC in the 80s interviews Fred Hembeck

If you were reading DC comics from 1979 to 1981, you'll probably recall the 'Daily Planet' news pages found in the monthly issues. It was normally set up to look like a 'faux' newspaper front page complete with a lead article, a few bylines, short teasers about that month's releases and (depending on the month) a two-to-three panel gag-strip by Fred Hembeck. Fred Hembeck has a very distinct 'cartoony' style that is immediately recognizable (mostly in part due to the swirls on his characters' knees and elbows).

What you probably don't know is that during 1977 to 1981, Hembeck was also writing/drawing a feature for The Comic Buyer's Guide called Dateline:@#$% which was basically a place for Hembeck to wave his 'FanBoy Flag' and discuss/comment/criticize on whatever was happening in comics at the time. In essence, Fred Hembeck - with his unique combination of illustrations and words - was the first 'blogger' on comic fandom. This is pretty significant since, prior to the internet, there wasn't much of a way to find out what was going on in comicdom unless you read it in on the letters page of whatever comic you were reading, your local comic book shop employee was giving you the 'inside scoop' or you picked up one of the few hard-to-find 'comic book news' magazines that were being printed (it would still be another decade before Wizard Magazine would begin publication). Mr Hembeck was cool enough to answer some of our questions we had about his time at DC comics (and then some) during the 1980s...

DCinthe80s: Before you became a cartoonist/humorist for The Comic Buyer's Guide, you tried to break into the biz as a 'real comic book artist'. You compared your style to Neal Adams. Through my searches, I've only seen one of these images: a wash and line drawing of Abbott and Costello with the Andrew Sisters (circa 1976). I'm really curious if you have any more of these kickin' around (especially of DC characters). I'm somewhat curious to see what the art of the "Fred Hembeck the world never knew" looked like. Also, why Neal Adams? Were you highly influenced by his books or was he the current 'artist du jour' that all of the kids were trying to imitate?

Fred Hembeck: In one of my early Fantaco books (reprinted in the Omnibus, I did a feature reproducing several of the pages I unsuccessfully shopped around before transitioning to my cartoony style. And many years later, as a lark, I was invited to illustrate, in a straight style, an 8 page Brother Voodoo story written by Scott Lobdell in Marvel Super-Heroes #1 - Spring Special (1990). Unfortunately, they assigned a Filipino inker to finish it, and as is the case with many of artists from that part of the world, the inks totally overwhelmed my pencils, which in some cases were totally redrawn. Not that they weren't made better for the effort, but it sorta defeated the purpose of taking a shot at seeing what serious Hembeck art would look like. While I'm mildly disappointed that experiment failed, I'm perfectly happy with the way things have turned out overall. Had I stayed on my original track, I may've worked my way up to being a totally forgettable mediocre penciller, and that would've been that. As it is, while I'm still well aware there are plenty of folks who do the cartoony thing way better than I do, somehow my style--coupled with my writing (I never planned to be a writer)--managed to strike some sort of chord. And as for Neal Adams, I still have full sketchbooks of my copies of his classic late sixties work, mostly rendered in brush! I primarily picked up how to draw gritted teeth from him--my actual storytelling sense is more Kirby and Ditko. But when you're in high school circa 1970, Neal was the man to aspire to! I finally met him at a con about three years ago, and told him about my full sketchbooks copying his work done while I was in high school, and he quickly changed the subject--I guess being told how devoted to his work I was in my teen years while standing before him sporting a white Gabby Hayes beard unnerved him a bit!...

DCinthe80s: Based on all of the research I've done, you lived in New York while you were illustrating the Daily Planet comic strips for DC Comics from 1979 to 1981. Were you actually working in the office as a full-time staffer or were you just dropping off your strips and leaving? How involved were you with the 'DC comics office culture' of that time? I'm kind of wondering if anything happened at DC that made you want to disassociate with them, since after leaving DC - other than Fantaco publishing your work - you pretty much became exclusive to Marvel Comics from then on (Marvel Age, FF roast, etc)? I also know that you did a Zoot Sputnik backup feature in 'Mazing Man in 1986, but I'm thinking that may have had more to do with the fact that your pal Bob Rozakis was manning the project.

Hembeck: I've NEVER worked in a comics office environment--even back then, slipping art into the mail did the trick. I WAS offered a chance to be an assistant editor at DC over the phone once, round abouts 1980, but my wife had just started a good job at IBM, and it made no sense for us to move 90 miles down to NYC instead. Plus, I'm just not boss material, and I knew it. There was no particular reason for my leaving DC, save for the fact that the Daily Planet page went from appearing all across the line to only in their limited number of Dollar Comics--and then, when they were gone, so was I. Marvel recruited me for Marvel Age, and I soon became so identified with them, DC (someone once told me--don't recall who) was reluctant to use me. But no big conspiracy, as best I can tell. 

Fred Hembeck

DCinthe80s: Your work is very familiar to me. Your comedic strips always served as a juxtaposition to whatever serious plot line was happening in whatever comic book I was reading at the moment. Your style of drawing is iconic in a sense that someone can immediately recognize it as 'hey, that's a Hembeck' and can be immediately associated with 'ha, comics can be fun and shouldn't always be taken so seriously'. That being said, has there ever been any favorite titles/characters you were super-serious about and felt very protective over (ex:"Nobody better mess with my X-Men")?

Hembeck: There was a time when I'd get my panties into a knot over some radical change to characters I'd grown up reading, but eventually, I realized that everyone is entitled to "their" version of these icons--if I don't like what they're doing with 'em currently, well, no matter; I still have all my old comics where everybody's acting the way they should, don't I? I mean, I never swallowed the notion that Mary Jane (and later, Aunt May) knew Peter was Spider-Man pretty much from day one. It's a good thing I gave up reading the title before the Clone Saga  commenced! Pretty much the last "truth" I cling to is that Bucky is dead, though from all reports, the Winter Soldier storyline is a top-notch one.

DCinthe80s: In your interview with Pronto Comics, you mentioned Don Martin (among many many others) as one of your indirect influences for your cartooning style. One of your blog entries has you gushing rhetorically about your love of MAD Magazine and it's 'copycat' mags (Sick, Cracked, etc) and you even go so far as to review Mark Evanier's 'MAD art' book. All that being said, how did you NOT end up being a writer/artist for MAD magazine - was there no interest there? I know that you wrote a story for Marvel's WHAT THE--?! lampooning Nick Fury...

Hembeck: When I was growing up--and right into the first couple of decades of my career--MAD magazine seemed to have the exact same list of contributors every single issue. It seemed to be an extremely closed shop, so I just never even gave attempting wrangling my way inside a thought. Plus, I feel my writing isn't quite on the same wavelength as their usual approach. (I also wrote and drew Daredevil and Dr. Strange parodies in two other early issues of WHAT THE? as well.)

DCinthe80s: I've read your story about you having dinner with Dave Sims and Chris Claremont in the mid-80s. You revealed that you couldn't really participate in the Sims/Claremont convo because you'd only read the first dozen issues or so of Cerebus. Were you a big fan of any other titles from the 80s? (DC/Marvel/Eclipse/Pacific/etc)

Hembeck: My daughter was born in 1990--I didn't realize it then, but that's when my comics reading began to decline (though it'd be a little over a full decade later before I totally gave up the ghost). In the eighties I was a big fan of anything by Frank Miller, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Alan Moore; also Nexus, American Flagg--I read EVERYTHING in the eighties, and enjoyed a lot of it. Even--yup--US 1!

DCinthe80s: The first appearance of Lobo (in 1983's Omega Men v1 #3) has him killing a character named 'Humbeck' who seems to be a parody of you. Is there a story there? Did you know the late Roger Slifer and/or the current Keith Giffen?

Hembeck: No story there. Done with no prior knowledge on my part. Just a little tribute--at least, that's how I took it! (I believe I'd met Roger in passing previously; I never have met Keith face to face, but we did speak on the phone a few times concerning me contributing story and art to an origin page in an Ambush Bug issue, and, later, 2 pages of art only in his Epic series, Video Jack).


DCinthe80s: I know that you slowed down for a while in the mid-80s. I've got a quote from the Tom Spurgeon interview: "It was just a matter of feeling like I was kind of getting redundant that point. Plus I was doing more work for Marvel and DC, and I was hoping to branch out a bit more with the big companies at that point." My question to you - which direction were you hoping to go? Did you have plans for a more 'serious' series? I read that you enjoyed working on children's titles and that KIDZ was a project you were eager to launch - were you talking about branching out from single strips and one-pagers into an entire ongoing series?

Hembeck: Yeah, well, the best laid plans and all that. A big ol' definitive NO on "serious" series, but I DID spend way too much time on that big ol white whale of mine, KIDZ. I've got just over 300 pages of the story done in finished layouts, with the story's end nowhere in sight! Sigh. Well, live and learn. 

DCinthe80s: I'm really thankful for the internet age. I think it's fantastic that someone can basically e-mail you, request a commission, pay you online and have that commission delivered to their door. It takes the sting out of missing you at a convention because I couldn't miss my niece's birthday on that particular day or etc. I read that you do a lot of silver age classic cover redos as well as single character commissions. Which DC character is your most frequently requested commission?

Hembeck: I'd say Batman is the most requested DC character that comes my way, which should come as no big surprise. In an addendum to my answer to the last question, it's much more practical for me to work on commissions and/or eBay offerings than to devote time to strips done on spec, which is why I've been doing so much of that over the last several years. But I really would like to get back to doing strips, and hope to carve out some time for that in the year upcoming.


So that concludes our interview with Fred Hembeck. I just wanted to mention that Hembeck is a pretty cool cat, really likes the Beatles, has his own website with a very entertaining blog, and is super-approachable and modest. Thank you for answering our questions, Mr Hembeck. Once again, in case it was missed the first time, all of Hembeck's Dateline:@#$% strips as well as his early 80s Fantaco books are reprinted in the 912 page THE NEARLY COMPLETE ESSENTIAL HEMBECK ARCHIVES OMNIBUS.

A lot of the basic questions (ex: "How did you get into comics?") weren't asked because they've been covered so many times by other interviewers. If you liked this interview with Fred Hembeck, here are a few other interviews we recommend (not to mention the ones we linked to in our interview):

[Special thanks to Rob Perry for helping me prep the interview questions. - J]

Monday, February 15, 2016

Review of Arion, Lord Of Atlantis ongoing series

Arion, Lord of Atlantis started as a back-up feature in the Warlord (issue #55 to be exact) back in 1982. Apparently, then-editor Laurie Sutton mentioned to Paul Kupperberg in passing that Dragonsword (the Warlord’s current back-up feature) wasn’t going to last forever and they were going to need a new back-up feature to run. The only requirement for something to be a back-up feature in the Warlord was that it had to be of the sword and sorcery/fantasy genre. Kupperberg suggested a story about a young mage and Sutton requested that it be set in Atlantis - and that, my friends, is the origin of Arion, Lord of Atlantis. The hardest part of the whole creation process was coming up with a name for Arion (which was finally decided at the last possible minute) - other potential names included Orion, Atlan and Tynan. Arion was ultimately created by Kupperberg (writer) and Jan Duursema (artist).

The Arion, Lord of Atlantis back-up feature ran from Warlord #55 to #62 (1982). The back-up feature was alright and focused heavily on myth and magic and cosmic blah blah blah, but I found the language was very ‘Old English’ (i.e.: 'nay’, 'ye’, 'verily’,…) and that took away from my enjoyment of the series*. Nevertheless, it still set up the premise of a plot and some interesting story elements/characterization and it was enough to please fans. By the time the back-up feature ended, Arion had his own ongoing series the following month - which is relatively unheard of for a back-up feature. Although we shouldn’t dismiss the power of a back-up feature… Legion of Super-Heroes started as a back-up feature and look how they turned out. Conquerors of the Barren Earth then replaced Arion as the Warlord’s back-up feature once Arion got his own ongoing series.

In the early 70s, the sword-and-sorcery genre was experiencing a revival. The most notable example of this was Marvel ComicsConan the Barbarian published in 1970. In an attempt to cash in on this trend, DC comics rolled out a few sword and sorcery titles during the 70s: Sword of Sorcery, Tor, Claw the Unconquered, Kong the Untamed, Stalker, Beowulf and the Warlord. Of all the DC sword and sorcery titles released, only the Warlord managed to survive into the 80s. In 1982, the Conan the Barbarian film was released and it gave the sword and sorcery genre another surge of popularity. Keeping this in mind, in the early 80s, DC comics was publishing at least seven sword and sorcery titles: the Warlord, Arak, Amethyst, Masters of the Universe, Camelot 3000, Conquerors of the Barren Earth, and Arion, Lord of Atlantis.

Arion, Lord of Atlantis #1 picks up where the back-up feature from the Warlord dropped off, and the reader is thrown into the middle of a story. Kupperberg was continuing his previously established storyline and Jan Duursema resumed pencilling chores on the ongoing series. Fans were already accustomed to Duursema’s pencils, as she had previously pencilled a few issues of the Warlord. I’d probably argue that Duursema’s pencilling got better as the series progressed, but that just may be me getting used to the art as it seemed to be a nice fit for the atmosphere and mood of the story.
It needs to be noted that while the series was named after Arion, his three comrades-in-arms (the oriental Lady Chian, the Native American Wyynde and the teenaged Mara) were just as popular as Arion was. I’d probably argue that Lady Chian was MORE popular with the fans than Arion - eventually Lady Chian received her own back-up feature in the series. Kupperberg is known for writing strong, self-sufficient women (ex: Supergirl and Powergirl) and Lady Chian was no exception. It was later revealed the Lady Chian was loosely based on Mariko from the Shogun series, and I’m going the guess that Wyynde was inspired by Chief Bromden from 1975’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Mara was named after Kupperberg’s wife and was mainly inserted as a comic relief character to contrast the other three stoic serious characters.

One of the strong points of this series is that Kupperberg inserts a lot of characterization into the storyline which results to a lot of characters/interpersonal relationships growing and constantly changing. Kupperberg intentionally set it up so that Arion was introduced as a snobbish, anxious, unlikable person with cosmic-like powers just so that Kupperberg had something to work with (ex: allow him to grow as a person and become more human and compassionate). One of the hurdles Kupperberg had to cross was that Arion began the series as an all-powerful mage, and the problem with all-powerful characters is that it’s pretty easy for them to battle any foe and solve any problem. If a character is never really in danger, then the element of excitement is never there. Kupperberg solves this by having Arion lose his magical powers sporadically throughout the series and Arion trying to regain his lost powers is a recurring theme of the book. Another recurring theme is Arion’s conflict with his evil brother (which fans got tired of halfway throughout the series). The series also deals with magic vs science, as science was slowly being introduced to Atlantis and this caused friction amongst the population.

The Arion, Lord of Atlantis series is notable for the creators (Kupperberg and Duursema) following through the series from beginning to end. There were a few exceptions of course: Kupperberg left for other projects and Doug Monech took over writing chores from issues #4 to #11, and Cara Sherman Tereno filled in for Duursema from issues #24 to #29. For anyone who didn’t know: Jan Duursema is married to artist Tom Mandrake (and I believe he was inking over her pencils for the first ~12 issues). Editors changed several times throughout the life of the series - it went from Ernie Colon (#1 to #8) to Joe Kubert and finally ended with Karen Berger (#27 - finale).

This series lasted 38 issues and a double-sized finale - not bad for what began as a back-up feature. In 1983, advanced sales of Arion led every other DC comic book with a November cover date - which gives you some indication that it was a popular title during the first year of it’s run. Arion’s sales began to decline as interest in the sword and sorcery genre began to decline - so I’m guessing somewhere around summer of 1984. Around this time, the series began to heavily borrow elements from science fiction… I’m just going to say it: at this point in this series his primary weapon is a flame sword (which acts very similar to a light saber) and in issue #22 he battles something that looks like the Sarlacc pit - these are two big nods to 1983’s Return of the Jedi (intentional or unintentional?). I’m not sure if Kupperberg was aware that the series was being cancelled as new supporting characters and storylines were being introduced right until the bitter end. In 1992, Kupperberg tried to revive a modern-day version of the series (Arion the Immortal), but it only lasted 6 issues. Kupperberg finally concluded the Arion story he set out to tell in his Two Tales of Atlantis e-book.

While Arion, Lord of Atlantis may have been cancelled in 1985, that did not prevent the series from having some sort of impact on the DCU. The Atlantis in pre-Crisis Arion universe was not the same Atlantis as seen in pre-Crisis Warlord universe (even though one title debuted in the other). I’m not even sure if it was the same Atlantis that Aquaman inhabited. The Crisis On Infinite Earths (in an effort to add cohesion to the DCU) retconned that. It was revealed that Arion’s Atlantis was the same as Aquaman’s Atlantis (as explained in the 1986 Aquaman mini-series), and that Arion was actually Power Girl’s grandfather and that Power Girl was not a Kryptonian (as previously believed) and was actually an Atlantean. Kupperberg was writing Power Girl at the time, so it all worked out (also: Kupperberg tends to run a tight ship in regards to characters he writes). The Dark World that appeared in Arion also played heavily into Amethyst’s Gemworld mythos (edited by Karen Berger) and I think there’s some sort of connection whereas the inhabitants of Atlantis came from Gemworld or something. There’s a 1990 mini-series called Chronicles of Atlantis that deals with all of this.

Arion Lord of Atlantis was an enjoyable series with solid writing. The characters are well-written and they grow on you. The locale is set in 45,000 BC, so don’t expect any interaction with any other modern-day DC characters (exception: DC Comics Presents #75 where Arion teams up with Superman - written by Kupperbeg). It wasn’t a ground-breaking series, but it definitely filled the void for a sword and sorcery title and had it’s moment in the sun. Kupperberg did fun things like hold a reader-based costume submission contest in which Arion would wear one lucky reader’s costume for several issues. Kupperberg and Duursema were really cool about interacting with the readers.

*When Mara is introduced in Arion, Lord of Atlantis #1 she was a jive-talker using 80s slang (ex: “buster”, “old man”, etc.). Apparently Mara was cast as a street-tough Atlantean kid, and was written to speak like she was from Brooklyn. It was a mistake made before Ernie Colon started editing. Doug Monech phased it out.

This article first published January 2014.

Friday, February 12, 2016

updated Valentine's Day cards from the 1980s for 2016

In an effort to streamline it's comic universe with it's TV and movie universes, DC comics has updated and re-released it's Valentine's Day cards (first released in the late 70s/early 80s) for 2016. The DC in the 80s webzine feels it's our dutiful obligation to bring them to you first:

Art: José Luis Garcia-Lopéz (Praise be His Name)
Words: Justin Francoeur and Mark Belktron
Photoshop skillz: Justin Francoeur

All images property and copyright of DC comics.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Cosplay pin-up girl: Lashina

Spotted at 2012's Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2) and photographed by Pat Loika, Julie Wilhelm cosplayed as the former leader of the Female Furies (as first introduced in Jack Kirby's Mister Miracle v1). Being a member of Jack Kirby's Fourth World, Lashina played a big part in the New Gods/Apokolips mythos, but was pretty much confined to that corner of the DC universe.

After Mister Miracle v1's first run ended in 1974, Lashina was nary heard from again - until she was featured in John Ostrander's Suicide Squad ongoing series (1987). The late 80s were a good time to be a Fourth World character, as they were starting to appear more often in the mainstream DCU (mostly thanks to their involvement in the Super Powers Collection action figure line). Mister Miracle and Big Barda became members of the Justice League in 1987, Darkseid became a force to be reckoned with in the 1986 LEGENDS cross-over event*, and a relatively unknown member of the Female Furies became a regular character in Suicide Squad.

Lashina didn't appear in Suicide Squad as herself per se, she took on the moniker of 'Duchess' - a tough-as-nails mercenary styled after the likes of Ellen Ripley (Alien, 1979) or a female-version of John Rambo (First Blood, 1982). The big budget action blockbuster, as a film genre, was quite popular in the United States during the 1980s - so re-branding Lashina this way for a then-contemporary audience was very tactful on Ostrander's part. I love Ostrander's series for the fact that he took older, obscure DC characters (usually villains) and integrated them into a book where they could potentially be killed off on a whim. Pure genius.

So enough about Duchess, and more about Lashina. I really like this particular cosplay photo, as it depicts exactly how I would imagine Lashina if she were a real person (fighting stance and all). The sheer intensity and determination in Willhelm's eyes would make me seriously think twice about taking on this ferocious hand-to-hand combatant. Much credit needs to be given to the photographer, Pat Loika, who chose the correct angles to photograph the subject.Thanks again to Pat Loika for allowing us to publish this photo.

*Darkseid was also the primary antagonist in 1982's The Great Darkness Saga, but that kind of detracts from my point, so I'm going to omit it. ;)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Where did all of the links on the right-hand sidebar go?

Update: We had to move the links to a separate page (which you can find here), because there are just too many great sites out there to link to. Also, I want to be able to add more drawings and etc to the front page right-hand menu. As it was, the links was going to take up about 45% of the visual real-estate.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The REAL origin of Booster Gold (as revealed by Dan Jurgens)

Booster Gold was created by Dan Jurgens and first appeared in Booster Gold #1 (1986). While his first ongoing series lasted a mere 25 issues, he did manage to acquire a fan following in Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis' Justice League of America series (most notably as Blue Beetle's partner-in-mischief). As of this writing, it's been hinted that Booster Gold will be appearing in CW's Legends of Tomorrow television series. Has anybody ever wondered how did this character come to be?

Thankfully, Creative Continuity actually had the foresight to ask Dan Jurgens that very question when they ran into him at the 2015 Baltimore Comic Con AND they managed to record his answer.

I'm concerned that this interview is going to get 'lost' thanks to information overload that is so prevalent in this day and age, so I'm transcribing it (well, just the relevant parts concerning this article). I'm doing this so that if this video ever gets mysteriously deleted, future generations will have it - y'know, for posterity.

I don't transcribe things very often, but took the liberty of omitting any awkward pauses, um's and uh's as this appeared to be a spontaneous interview.

I'm going to assume the interviewer is Harold Gant based on the quick internet search I did on him. The video didn't credit who the interviewer was. This video was published Feb 10, 2015.


HAROLD GANT: "Now I've also noticed that Booster Gold is another character that you've created..."


GANT: "Now where did the inspiration for him come about?"

JURGENS: "Booster came from a lot of different places, one of which was just the idea that I wanted to do a super-hero that was different from everybody else that was out there.

And so this is like 1984, and at that time the celebrity culture as we know it now was just starting to emerge and some of that was because video was becoming more portable - people could take it around... y'know something like this [gestures to camera]... and paparazzi and everything were emerging at that time.

And at the same time the Olympics were on, and they were talking about an Olympic athlete who had signed an endorsement contract even before they won a medal*. And that was thought to be a really 'out here' kind of thing like 'ugh.. can you imagine that?'.

So.. you add all that together, along with my desire to do something just kind of fun and different, and that's where Booster came from."  


And now that Jurgens spells it out for us, that kind of makes sense. Booster Gold's flying robot sidekick, Skeets, actually acts as a flying camcorder throughout the series relaying film footage to whatever client needs it. Booster Gold's very own personal paparazzi/portable video recording device. So there you have it, straight from Dan Jurgens himself: Booster Gold was a product of the 80s.

*That wouldn't be uncharacteristic of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. According to 'Los Angeles 1984 Olympics Games' entry in the online Encylopaedia Britannica:

Under the direction of the American entrepreneur Peter Ueberroth, the 1984 Olympics witnessed the ascension of commercialism as an integral element in the staging of the Games. Corporate sponsors, principally U.S.-based multinationals, were allowed to put Olympic symbols on their products, which were then marketed as the “official” such product of the Olympics. A spot on the torch relay team sold for $3,000 per km. The Olympics turned a profit ($225 million) for the first time since 1932. Despite concerns about growing corporate involvement and the reduced competition caused by the communist boycott, the financial success and high worldwide television ratings raised optimism about the Olympic movement for the first time in a generation.

For the life of me, I CANNOT determine which Olympian Jurgens is referring to. If you do know, be a pal and write it in the comments section, wouldja?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Review of 1985's Red Tornado mini-series

In 1983, Kurt Busiek was still relatively new to writing for the comic book industry when Dick Giordano (editor in chief at DC comics) offered him a chance to write the Red Tornado mini-series. Prior to this, Busiek had written an issue of Green Lantern, a few issues of Marvel’s Power Man/Iron Fist and a few Green Lantern Corps back-up tales. Giordano’s big plan was to have lesser-know JLA characters featured in their own distinct mini-series (most likely with the hopes of raising reader interest in the JLA). When Giordano asked Busiek if he had any ideas on how to handle the Red Tornado, Busiek jumped at the opportunity (once citing Red Tornado as one of his favorite DC characters). Busiek sought to alter Red Tornado for the better - attempting to make the character more in touch with his human side - hence adding to the Red Tornado mythos and giving future writers something more to explore. Thus, the creation of this four issue mini-series.

One of the biggest challenges for Busiek was making the Red Tornado interesting. Popular opinion in DC fandom (at the time) was that the Red Tornado was one of the more boring characters out there. As a matter of fact, since being introduced by Gardner Fox and Dick Dillin in 1968, the Red Tornado had already been killed off and resurrected twice in JLA history before appearing in this mini-series. The problem with the Red Tornado was that he’s always been a passive character in a comic series (JLA) that focused on big drama - Red Tornado was either the first character quickly destroyed/disabled by the villain to demonstrate how powerful the villain was or Red Tornado hung out in the back and did some busy work while all the other more popular characters had all of the action. This isn’t really surprising considering the Red Tornado was originally created as a revamp of a Golden Age DC character (Ma Hunkel) and was never intended to be more than an annual guest-star.

The plans for this mini-series were hatched in 1983 and it took about 2 years before they finally saw completion. Something else was happening during 1983 and 1985, and that something else was the plotting of the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline by Marv Wolfman and other DC editors. It was decided by the powers that be at DC comics that Red Tornado would be destroyed once again in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (2 months after the mini-series came out!). Busiek wrote this mini-series with the intention of it leading into a regular series, but by the time it had been launched Busiek was made aware of DC’s plans for the Red Tornado - thus rendering his story somewhat useless - an exercise in futility.

Kurt Busiek really hit his stride when he wrote 1993’s Marvels for Marvel Comics. He then went on to create Marvel’s Thunderbolts (1997), write Marvel’s Avengers from 1998 - 2002, and create Astro City. In his post-1992 career, Busiek has won a ridiculous amount of awards for either being the year’s best or favorite writer.

I was enticed by this very house ad when I was youth, always making a mental note of checking it out someday. I always liked the Red Tornado and was eager to learn more about him. I mean, really, this character was just made to appeal to young comic book fans. Gaudy red outfit with an arrow on the head? Awesome. Big cape with a really high collar? Awesome. An android? Awesome. I remember being very enthralled by the Super Powers Collection Red Tornado action figure and his ‘tornado action’ legs. When I did finally pick up this mini-series many many years ago, I felt it was added bonus that it was written by Busiek and illustrated by Carmine Infantino. I remember being a little disappointed with the mini-series, however, as I was hoping for more appearances/involvement from other JLA members. I guess that just goes to reinforce the sentiment of Red Tornado being a dull character when he’s not part of a group.

This article originally published in November 2013.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Cosplay pin-up girl: Looker

Enjoy these images of the very talented DJ Spider cosplaying as Looker (from the Outsiders) for DragonCon 2009. In DJ Spider's own words: "Looker is possibly the silliest costume to be created by DC Comics. But, as it is ridiculous, that means it had to be made!"

Created by Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo, Looker first debuted in The Outsiders #1 Baxter format (1985). Similarities between Looker and Marvel's Jean Grey/Marvel Girl (of the X-Men) have been drawn, while other fans have just dismissed Looker as a device to help fill the void that was left as Batman was no longer on the team (or in the book, for that matter). In an effort to defend the creators of a series I grew up reading, I'm going to boldly theorize that Mike W Barr and Jim Aparo recognized the growing cultural significance (and absurdity) of supermodels in the mid-80s and decided to base a new character after one. Hence, making Looker a reflection of the culture of the 80s.

Nevertheless, Looker's character starts as a timid bank employee who morphs into a tall, stunning, statuesque red head - which I believe DJ Spider exemplifies extremely well. (DJ Spider is actually 6'1"). I'd also like to point out all of the costume intricacies that DJ Spider detailed so carefully. It's a very ridiculous and impractical costume (i.e. a bow, a tiny cape, a large chain hanging from neck, an open collar and a one-armed/one-legged leotard) and the costume design may have even been a jab from Barr/Aparo about the prevalent materialism and conspicuous consumption of this decade. Of course, I could just be reaching here...  

I'd have to say my favorite thing about this photo shoot is DJ Spider (who obviously understands this character) striking a 'model pose' that Looker seems to be famous for (as seen on the cover of Batman and the Outsiders #31 (1986) and her entry in DC's Who's Who #13 (1986)).

DJ Spider is kind of a big deal in the cosplaying community, and is well-known for cosplaying obscure Marvel and DC female characters. You can find out more about her and her current projects here. #thatDJSpider


The character of Lia Briggs [Looker's alter ego] was created by Alan Davis - he had the idea to make her a shy 'bank teller' type, while the super-hero design was by Aparo. Lia appeared in Batman and the Outsiders 2-3 months before Looker appeared in The Outsiders Baxter series. Davis was the artist on Batman and the Outsiders at the time when Aparo was on the Baxter title. (Thank you, Rob Perry!)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Jesse Farrell sculpts the Sandman (Wesley Dodds)

Jesse Farrell is a longtime DC in the 80s reader (back from our tumblr days) and an artist who lives in Massachusetts. He chose to sculpt the Sandman Mystery Theatre Vertigo version of Wesley Dodds Sandman, as Jesse is a fan of the series and he liked the low-rent Shadow aesthetic of the character. Jesse says that he was inspired by Guy Davis’ interpretation of the character, as well as the rotund, overcoat-wearing protagonist of a Moebius story, To See Naples.

This piece was sculpted with a gray mix of Super-Sculpey and Sculpey III over an aluminum armature, molded in Smooth-On Oomoo 30, cast in Smooth-Cast 300, primed and painted with acrylic paints and accented with chalk and pastels. The finished piece stands about 7″ high.

I realize that Sandman Mystery Theatre ran from 1993 to 1999, and we are really pushing the boundaries for what we are considering an 80s webzine - but consider that Wesley Dodds Sandman was a recurring character in 1981's All-Star Squadron on-going series. The Wesley Dodds Sandman (as seen in the Vertigo series) is a pudgy, nonathletic, homely amateur detective - which is a HUGE departure from the sharp, handsome, millionaire playboy as portrayed during the Golden Age (and - if the continuity stayed intact - throughout the 80s as well). The Vertigo series gave him quite an overhaul and even went so far as to connect him to Neil Gaiman's Sandman.

At the beginning of the Vertigo series, Wesley Dodds wears a gas mask with a slightly longer/bigger filter cartridge canister. It's closer to the end of the series that Sandman starts wearing the shorter filter cartridges. As seen in the issue covers below:

Jesse Farrell has a lot of other fine sculpts (which you can see here and here), and will even create commission pieces. Thanks for sharing this with us, Jesse.