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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

28 years later: An interview with editor Michael Eury

It was only a few months ago that I came to the startling realization that Michael Eury, who edited several titles for DC comics in the late 80s/early 90s, was also the same Michael Eury who is the editor-in-chief of Back Issue magazine (TwoMorrows Publishing) — one of the finest comic book journalism magazines covering the Bronze and Modern Age that you can currently purchase. I love chatting with DC comics editors; they are the unsung heroes of the comic book industry who often played a pivotal role in the overall direction of a series and were privy to business and marketing decisions that ran in the background. Mr Eury is a really cool cat, and agreed to chat with me about a few of the DC titles he oversaw.

Hawk & Dove v3 (1989 - 1991)

Justin: I just finished re-reading and reviewing the 1989 Hawk & Dove v3 ongoing series (in which you were the editor from issues #10 to issues #17). Before you became the solo editor of the series, you were assistant editor to Mike Carlin for several issues. Were you a fan of Hawk & Dove before you were assigned this book?

Eury: Absolutely! I was a child when Steve Ditko's Hawk and Dove premiered in Showcase #75 and remember reading it and a few issues of the short-lived Hawk and Dove series when they were first published. At the time I wasn't old enough to fully understand the political ramifications of the characters' names — I just "got" the concept of ideologically opposed teens arguing with each other... which was, in 1968, a pretty "Marvel"-like treatment for DC's usually harmonious, interchangeable characters.

Hawk and Dove premiered at a time when DC began experimenting with different types of characters and books, under Carmine Infantino's watch as editorial director. The Creeper, Bat Lash, Anthro, plus the one-off Dolphin story in Showcase, were books that excited me as a kid who had been lured to superhero comics because of Batmania engendered by the Adam West TV show.

Justin: How did you end up becoming editor of Hawk & Dove? (I noticed that New Gods was also being edited by Carlin before you took it over)

Eury: I was hired at DC as an associate editor, having been an editor previously at Comico the Comic Company, and worked under group editors Mike Carlin, Denny O'Neil, and Andy Helfer on their books, soon taking over some of them on my own. Hawk & Dove was the first one I got to solo-edit. Not only was I excited about having my own book to oversee, but I felt connected to the characters (although by then it was a different Dove) because of my childhood passions.

Justin: If I had to summarize Hawk & Dove v3, the first half of the series was them trying to establish themselves and learn the mystical secrets of their origins, and the last half of the series (#18 and onward) was them becoming a mainstream DCU book (with lots of interaction from other DCU characters). Between yourself and the Kesels, where there any conflicts about the direction of the book? Or were you both heading in the same direction?

Eury: Karl Kesel, Barbara Kesel, and I had a wonderful working relationship. Not long ago, Karl told me that I made him feel like Hawk & Dove was DC's most important book.

The guest stars were a way to anchor Hawk & Dove within the mainstream DC Universe — another example is a minor, blink-and-you'll-miss-it one, where Hawk & Dove #9 featured a bit tying in to that month's Superman vs. the Flash race occurring in another book.

Justin: Around issue #15, the book turns to a Sword & Sorcery genre for several issues. Were there ever discussions of changing the genre of the series (i.e. Sword of the Atom)? Or was this just a fun thing to deviate and keep the title interesting?

Eury: Hawk & Dove never stopped being a superhero book — it just evolved into a multi-layered one. From the get-go, the Kesels had intended for Hawk's and Dove's connections to the Lords of Chaos and Order to be part of their background... a connection that Don Hall and Dawn Granger were originally unaware of.

Eury: Incidentally, I've written a Hawk and Dove history — covering from the Ditko original and ending with the New 52 version, but focusing mainly on the '80s-'90s version — for my magazine, Back Issue #97, which ships June 14th, 2017:

Behind the Scenes at DC comics

Justin: You left Hawk & Dove after issue #17 and began working on other projects [ex: Who's Who v2, Eclipso: Darkness Within]...?

Who's Who in the DC Universe v2 #9 (1991)

Eury: Actually, my trajectory at DC was a little more involved than that. The looseleaf Who's Who in the DC Universe, which I co-developed, started while I was still editing Hawk & Dove, New Gods, Legion of Super-Heroes, and Huntress. I was promoted to be Dick Giordano's aide in a newly created position called "assistant to the editorial director," forcing me to give up my books. After a year in that role, I wanted to be more hands-on in the editorial bullpen and returned to the editor's desk. That's when I returned to Legion of Super-Heroes, developed its spin-offs Legionnaires, Valor, and Timber Wolf, plus Eclipso. I had a goal of developing more titles set in the the 30th century — really building a bit of a future franchise — but didn't stay at DC long enough to realize them.

Justin: So... I'm placing you as Giordano's aide somewhere between late 1990 and mid 1992?

Eury: I don't recall the exact date, but it was in the early spring of 1990 that I became assistant to the editorial director, a title I held until mid-1991, at which time I went back into the editorial pool.

Justin: Those first few years of the 1990s were a particularly crazy time for comics — the peak of the nineties comic book craze was somewhere around 1993 — and DC had a glut of competition on the market. Most notably were Marvel with it's X-titles and Spider-man, but there were other up-and-coming comic companies like Valiant (who started by publishing Nintendo and WCW comics), Malibu (with it's few indie titles) and Dark Horse (who held licenses for the Star Wars, Aliens, Predator and Terminator franchises). How was head DC editorial dealing with all of this new competition?

Eury: The early '90s were indeed a crazy time, with cover gimmicks and variant covers luring readers to buy multiple copies (of course, we've seen a resurgence in that during the past few years). It was disheartening for some of the DC editors when Marvel's rebooted Spider-Man and X-Men books sold so many copies (I remember at San Diego Comic-Con '91, I presented Keith Giffen with an Inkpot Award and introduced him as someone who has "more ideas per minute than Marvel has covers of Spider-Man #1. That remark earned a "look" from Carol Kalish, who at the time was Marvel's marketing chief.) We even joked around the office that DC was "number two with a bullet," the "bullet" being a gag about DC's logo, the DC bullet.

Justin: During all this, DC remained steadfast in printing it's TSR titles (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Spelljammer, Forgotten Realms, etc), which, I hate to say, didn't really leave a lasting impact on comicdom in general. Would you know why DC didn't discontinue the whole line? Were the sales on these books that great? Or was there a demographic DC was really trying to reach with these books?

Eury: I wasn't directly involved with any TSR books so I can't answer those questions. I do know that DC had its eye on producing comics connected to emerging popular media for some time... remember, in the early '80s DC published a number of Atari mini-comics, followed by the Atari Force ongoing series.

Justin: As an aide to Giordano, were you instrumental in working on any big DC editorial "plans" that never saw realization? Coincidentally, do you have any amusing anecdotes of working with Giordano? (I understand he got very upset when someone leaked the 'secret' ending to Armageddon 2001 and DC had to make a swap at the last minute)

Eury: Dick was a sweetheart of a guy. You might be aware that I wrote his biography, Dick Giordano: Changing Comics, One Day At a Time, published in 2003 by TwoMorrows Publishing (it's now out of print).

Thankfully, copies of Eury's book are still available in digital format.
Dick was fond of telling people during meetings that "Michael keeps me honest." He said that jokingly, and it meant that I was there to help him keep track of discussions (and, I suspect, be his backup "ears," since Dick had a severe hearing loss).

Speaking of Dick's hearing loss, one had to speak loudly and clearly when communicating with him. I began to realize that at time our "private" conversations in his office sometimes attracted eavesdroppers outside of his office door. So when we needed to discuss something confidential, we'd often take an elevator ride!

I don't recall Dick's specific reaction to the Armageddon 2001 leak, but a lot of people were ticked off by that. Unfortunately, the fix (substituting Hawk for Captain Atom as the good guy-turned-bad) wounded the story... but sometimes, you've gotta do what you've gotta do!

New Gods v3 (1989 - 1991)

Justin: As I read over New Gods, I'm realizing that it was very self-contained and more or less focused on Orion and New Genesis/Apocalypse. Let's face it, the series could've been called 'Orion' and nobody would've realized the difference. After the Bloodline Saga concluded (New Gods v3 #13), you became the primary editor. The book had Orion and Lightray in the city, interacting with common day people, and we started to see more interaction with other DC characters (Mr Miracle, Superman, Thanagarians, Mon-El), as well as more attention to Lightray and other tertiary New Gods (Fastbak, Metron), and the introduction of Yuga Khan. What caused that direction change? Was it because the title's sales were slowing down and you decided to make it more integrated? Or was it just something you felt would benefit the series? (I believe the theme you were exploring was 'how Gods compare to humans on earth')

Eury: Those of us in group editor Mike Carlin's camp were trying to better consolidate the DC Universe through crossovers and guest-shots. The direction of the series was really at the discretion of its writer, Mark Evanier — Mark was one of Jack Kirby's assistants back in the early '70s when Kirby was originally producing his Fourth World books, and really, no one was better suited at the time to write those characters than Evanier (with the possible exception of Kirby himself).

As New Gods editor, I did briefly entertain offering the book to Neil Gaiman as writer. This grew out of a pitch Neil made to me, when I was editor of Secret Origins during the end of its run, for a Darkseid origin. I had to tell Neil that Secret Origins was being canceled, but later realized how perfect Neil would be for the Fourth World mythology. Then I got promoted to being Dick's assistant and I regrettably never pursued that.

I must mention that in May 2018, Back Issue #104 will feature a "Fourth World After Kirby" theme, exploring all of the post-Kirby incarnations of the New Gods characters.

Justin: What were DC's plans with the Fourth World characters going into the 90s? There was Cosmic Odyssey, and both Mister Miracle and the New Gods had an ongoing series, the Forever People had a mini-series, the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion had been appearing in Superman titles, and the Female Furies had been appearing in Suicide Squad. Was there any resistance from the Jack Kirby estate on the use of the characters?

Eury: Kirby was still alive during most of what you mentioned, and the characters were DC's property. You could argue that the New Gods, et al., make better supporting characters than headliners. That still holds true today. And Darkseid, in particular, has been elevated to — arguably — DC's number one super villain.

Darkseid pin-up from Who's Who in the DC Universe v2 #1 (1990). Illustrated by Mark Badger.

Justin: The New Gods (as a comic book series) have never experienced that much longevity, I think the New Gods series you edited (which concluded at issue #28) had the longest run. Would you have any hypothesis as to why that would be?

Eury: I never considered its longevity until you mentioned it. Perhaps it was because the characters better interfaced with the rest of the DCU. Other than Superman and Jimmy Olsen, Kirby kept his Fourth World at arm's length from DC's other characters (although before long, other creators started using Kirby's characters, such as the Batman/Mr. Miracle team-up in Brave and the Bold #112 (1974)).

Legion of Super-Heroes

Justin: I'm also going to to point out that Mon-El appeared in a lot of Legion of Super-Heroes titles you edited, was one of Eclipso's main henchman in Eclipso: The Darkness Within, appeared in New Gods during your editorial run, and you were instrumental in launching his first ongoing series in 1992. Is Mon-El (aka Valor) a character you were fond of reading about while growing up?

Eury: When I was a kid reading the Legion in Adventure Comics and then the Cockrum/Grell era in Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes, Mon-El was one of my two favorite Legionnaires (the other being Ultra Boy). Funny how I zeroed in on the two Superboy knock-offs... Mon-El fascinated me, from his original status as Superboy's "brother" to his cool costume to his tragic banishment to the Phantom Zone (I wrote The Brave & The Bold editor Murray Boltinoff back in the '70s asking for a Batman/Mon-El team-up, temporarily liberating Mon from the Zone for a Bat-adventure; sorry that never happened... would've love to have seen Mon-El drawn by Jim Aparo).

Justin: You were the editor for Legion of Super-Heroes v4 #31 (1992) — in which it is revealed that Shvaughn Erin was actually a man the whole time. Was there any complications in running that story? Did Legion fans react poorly or amicably to that 'twist in the plot'?

Eury: Well, it was shocking, especially for the time! Reaction was mixed, as I recall, but today it turns out that the story was revolutionary for its time.

...and that wraps up our interview with Michael Eury. We wanted to thank Mr Eury for being particularly generous with his time. 

We also wanted to spotlight that not only is Mr Eury the editor-in-chief of Back Issue magazine, but he's also authored a few DC comics companion books. A few that you may recognize:

Special thanks to contributing editor, Rob Perry, for help compiling the questions.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Reviewing the 1996 Fleer/Skybox DC Outburst: Firepower trading card set

About a year ago, while cleaning my closet, I found a dozen or so of these cards lying around in a box mixed with a bunch of other non-sports cards. DC Outburst: Firepower is a trading card set I had totally forgotten about.

Actually, when I first found them, I thought they were misplaced chase cards from another set. You see, these cards really stand out for being "DC Comics' First Totally Embossed Trading Card Set" [at least, that's what the promo card boasted], and you can feel (and sometimes see) that parts of the card are protuberant in a very slight way. For the first time ever, you could feel the contours of your favorite DC characters. (Oddly enough, Power Girl was NOT included in this set.) "The FURY of Batman. The SPEED of the Flash. The STRENGTH of Superman. FEEL them all for the first time!" is how they advertised this trading card set. This card set was slated to release for February 1996.

This is a somewhat modest-sized trading card set weighing in at 80 base cards, 20 Maximum Firepower insert cards (2:3 packs) and 2 Holoburst chase cards (1:36 packs). Cards came 7 in a pack and retailed for about $1.50 USD. Fleer non-sports cards [i.e. X-Men 1994 Fleer Ultra, Marvel Masterpieces 1994, Marvel Universe 1994, The Amazing Spider-Man 1994] were typically a little pricier, but had a nicer card stock and better card art (not to mention triptychs, 9-card puzzles and desirable chase/insert cards). Fleer had been owned by Marvel Comics since July 1992. Marvel later purchased SkyBox in March 1995. In essence, this was a merger of two of the most POPULAR non-sports trading card companies.

This wasn't Fleer/Skybox's first collaboration; they released the DC versus Marvel Comics trading card set two months prior, and the Fleer/Skybox Amalgam Comics trading card set would be scheduled for February 1996 as well.

By 1996, only 6 years after Impel's Marvel Universe Series I trading cards had been introduced, the gimmick era had seemingly hit it's apex and just about anything you could possibly do with a trading card had been done; we'd seen foil cards, hologram cards, over-sized/widescreen cards, chromium cards, pop-up cards, redemption cards, puzzle cards, 'foldees', metal cards, canvas cards, holopix cards, spectra-etch cards, autographed cards, die-cut cards, animation cell cards, embossed cards and a few more I'm forgetting. [Actually, I was pretty sure there was nothing left to be done until 'fabric' cards started popping up in the last two decades.] My first memory of any sort of embossed trading card was from 1993's Milestone: The Dakota Universe trading cards (by Skybox) in which the set's two chase cards were embossed foil cards — which, if I seem to recall, didn't inspire much excitement in me since it was the chase card of a relatively 'ho-hum' Milestone character.

So what was so special about 'embossed' cards? It's a little difficult to capture this effect on camera, but take this normal looking trading card...

card art by Rod Whigham
...and if I tilt the card in the light juuuust riiight... can kind of see the embossed features of the card. Notice how the fiery orange 'Firepower DC' emblem in the left corner sticks out? And how Mr. Freeze's fist kind of protrudes from the card? You can even sort of make out the word 'Outburst' at the top of the card. This was the magic of embossed trading cards, folks. What a time to be alive.

Gimmicks aside (and I do assure you, this was a "gimmick") there isn't very much going on for this trading card set. Actually, the more I flip through these cards, the harder it is for me to justify posting this on a website about DC comics in the 1980s [since, in 1995/1996, DC comics had become more 'extreme' to keep pace with the then-current comic book market]. If nothing else, this will be a nice flashback of what was going on with DC comics in 1996.

Based on my somewhat limited memory, the 1996 North American comic book landscape was dominated by the massive DC vs Marvel/Marvel vs DC event that seemed to have taken up the better part of that year (not to mention all of the DC/Marvel cross-over books). While it was being massively hyped by Wizard Magazine, I remember being more interested in the Amalgam titles that were being published alongside the event. Actually, other than DC's Kingdom Come series (released later that year) and various Vertigo titles, I had pretty much given up on buying comics in general [but still picked up the occasional 'comic industry talk' magazine to see what was going on].

I always felt that the character selection in a trading card set is quite telling of what was going on with the comic book company at the time. As I examine these, I like to pretend I'm a comic book archaeologist digging up facts and piecing together history about a lost era in comics. Let's revisit some 1996 DC comics memories:

Card art by Stewart Johnson
Azrael (Jean Paul Valley) is the second card in this base set — which is a spot normally reserved for a high-profile character — which once again reminds us what a hot property Azrael was after the resolution of 1993's Knightfall/KnightQuest/KnightsEnd saga. His self-titled ongoing series ran from 1995 to 2003 for an impressive one hundred issues. In hindsight, I'm actually surprised that a Knightfall spin-off character could attain such longevity, considering that - to this day - I still know nearly nothing about the character.

card art by Chris Renaud
The Ray was one of those 'new generation' super-heroes that was introduced in a 1992 mini-series that was successful enough to have an ongoing series in 1994. In 1995, even with his own ongoing series, he was often a mainstay in the Justice League Task Force ongoing series or could be found teaming up with one of the other "new generation" super-heros [i.e. Damage, Kyle Rayner Green Lantern, Superboy, etc] somewhere in the DCU. The Ray's ongoing series ended in October 1996, almost six months after this card set had been released. As of this writing, there's talk about The Ray headlining his own CW animated feature — which caught a lot of fans by surprise, considering I don't think this character has crossed anyone's mind since his heyday in the mid 90s.

Starman card art and Fate card art both by Tony Harris.

1994's Zero Hour event indirectly introduced a few new 'modernized' characters to the DCU, one of them being Jack Knight as Starman (created by James Robinson and Tony Harris) and another being Jared Stevens as Fate (created by John Francis Moore and Anthony Williams). Unsurprisingly, (Chase Lawler) Manhunter wasn't featured in this card set since his ongoing series was cancelled before 1996. Fate lasted 22 issues, took a hiatus, and his adventures would be continued in the late 1996 Book of Fate ongoing series for another 12 issues. Starman's series was way more successful and would have an 80-issue run that would conclude sometime in 2001. I always kind of chuckle to myself as Fate kind of looks like Al Bundy (Ed O'Neill) from Married with Children on this card. (Full disclosure: as of this writing, I have never read the 1994 Fate v1 ongoing series, so I couldn't even tell you if it was good or not.)

Orion card art by Joe St. Pierre. Mr. Miracle card art by Ron Whigham.

Orion and Mr. Miracle. Ah yes, this reminds us when Kirby's Fourth World has a sudden resurgence in the mid 90s (Mister Miracle v2 and New Gods v3 had both ended in 1991). New Gods v4 debuted in 1995 (hence Orion being important again), and Mr Miracle got another ongoing series in 1996 (it only lasted 7 issues). Another newly created Fourth World character, named Takion, received an ongoing series in 1996 — which also only lasted 7 issues. New Gods v4 hung around until 1997, and a new title called Jack Kirby's Fourth World was published later that year. Both Orion and Big Barda (Mr. Miracle's wife) would become members of Grant Morrison's JLA in 1997 and Kirby's Fourth World mythos would stay relevant in the DCU for years to come.

card art by Rod Whigham
I don't think any DCU character has ever undergone such drastic character development changes as Green Arrow's former sidekick has. At this point in his superhero career, Roy Harper Jr had re-joined the Teen Titans and renamed himself to 'Arsenal'. When I first saw this trading card back in 1996, I'm positive I had no clue who this was and thought it was a new character DC was trying to sell to the masses. Wasn't Green Arrow's sidekick, Speedy, supposed to have red hair? This guy's got blond hair. In an interview with Bill Walko from The Titans Companion [2005], Teen Titans editor Johnathan Peterson revealed that the name change from Speedy to Arsenal was a DC trademark thing, and was out of editorial's hands (as the order came from the top). The last issue (#130) of New Titans hit the stands sometime in late 1995/early 1996, and the team no longer looked like anything I remembered it being — Starfire, Changeling and Raven were still around, and Donna Troy was still on the team (as Darkstar), but that was about it. This would probably explain why this trading card set didn't have much Teen Titans representation. Arsenal had a one-shot special sometime in 1996, Tempest (aka Aqualad) had a four-issue mini-series in late 1996, and the Teen Titans were given a new ongoing series (with all-new members) by Dan Jurgens in late 1996.

card art by Joe St. Pierre
On the topic of DCU characters who had undergone drastic alterations... we've got 'Warrior' here, but you may remember him as 'Guy Gardner: Warrior'. Guy Gardner, who was probably one of DC's most memorable characters during the late 80s and early 90s, was given a makeover during 1995's Zero Hour to become 'more extreme'. No longer needing to resort to a power ring (green or yellow), his whole body could morph into any weapon as it had been revealed that Gardner possessed alien DNA or something like that. This was another character that had fallen off of my radar since his powers had become so ridiculous that he didn't interest me anymore.

card art by Ron Wagner
Neron here was the main antagonist in the Underworld Unleashed event that DC published sometime in late 1995. Since this trading card set was released in early 1996, it could be expected that Neron was still on DC readers' minds [especially readers who were late to the party and picking up their issues several months afterwards], so it only made sense to dedicate a trading card to him. Underworld Unleashed was an event I completely skipped out on, but had the general understanding that a lot of my favorite DC villains were either jacked up with enhanced powers or altered in such a way that they were no longer recognizable. I just didn't have the heart to read this one.

Flipping through the rest of the cards:
  • Man-Bat had a 3-issue series in early 1996. He got a card all to himself in the 'super-heroes' section.
  • Bane, who was still a hot property for DC comics following Knightfall, also gets his own card in the 'super-heroes' section. I think his big appearance during that era was in the 1995 Batman: Vengeance of Bane II one-shot.
  • Catwoman, who's ongoing series launched in 1993, was still holding strong and the series would run until 2001. Jim Balent penciled the first 77 issues of Catwoman v2, left the title and started penciling Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose for Broadsword Comics.
  • The Justice League spin-off titles (Justice League America, Justice League Task Force, Extreme Justice) had all wrapped up by mid-to-late 1996. The 4 issue Justice League: A Midsummer's Nightmare was published around this time to act as a prelude to Grant Morrison's new JLA ongoing series.
  • Jerry Ordway's The Power of Shazam, which began as an ongoing series in 1995, was going strong in 1996 and would continue publication until 1999. This was easily one of the more interesting DCU titles being publishing at the time — I'm sorry I didn't pick up more than the first few issues when it first started.
  • Batman was still a popular seller for DC comics in 1996, as evidenced by the slew of Batman-related titles published that year [i.e. Batman: Scar of the Bat, Batman, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Batman: Shadow of the Bat, Detective Comics, Batman Chronicles, Batman: Black and White, Batman: GCPD, Batman: Death of Innocents, Batman: Gordon's Law, Batman: The Long Halloween, Batman: Blackgate, Batman Plus, etc.]. I'm sure this was the reason why about half the villains featured in this set were Batman villains.

I'm going to start on a positive note and tell you what I like about this set:
  • the colors on the card are bright and vibrant (as demonstrated in the scans above),
  • the artists are listed on the back of the card — which is always a nice touch,
  • the insert cards are easily attainable (2:3 packs),
  • the Holoburst chase cards are more or less 1 per box, and
  • in some cases, the embossing actually enhances the card art and makes it appear like the character is bursting right out of the card. It's kind of neat, actually. 

Here are some of the reasons I'm really not keen on this set:

1) There's an incredibly limited character selection. Of the 80 trading cards in the base set, only about 20 of them are villains. It wouldn't be so bad if the other 59 cards (I'm not including the checklist here) were unique super-heroes, but we get the same heroes repeated several times over. Characters that get repeated more than once include Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern,... which makes sense, since these are DC's BIG properties, but it would've been nice to see some attention given to some of the other DCU characters being published at the time (i.e. Legion of Super-Heroes, L.E.G.I.O.N. Showcase 95/96, etc).

Just one of the four Superman cards featured in this set. Art by Norm Breyfogle.

2) The way this set was organized. The base set is divided into seven sub-categories: Attack: Full Force, Attack: Out of the Blue, Attack: Armed and Dangerous, Dirty Deeds, To The Rescue, Close Calls and FreeStyle. None of this makes any logical sense to me. The first three Attack sub-categories have all the unique super-heroes, and the last three sub-categories are various repeats of the first. After carefully examining the reverse of the trading cards, it would appear like we've 'hacked' into Oracle's private database and are reading about the characters in question.

As evidenced by the text on the reverse of these cards, the further you go into this collection as an 'unauthorized log-on', the less time you have before the file 'locks'. I can understand what they're trying to go for here, but all of this extra 'computer interface' aesthetic just doesn't work on the back of a 2.5" x 3.5" trading card. Because of all the extra real estate taken up to make it look like an 'authentic database interface', we're left with enough space for about 2 sentences to describe the character. My theory is that this set was probably planned several months in advance (mid-1995) and the editors weren't even sure what the future plans for these characters were going to be — hence they had to keep the card text pretty vague.

3) This was a terrible era in DC comics [for me, anyways]. Yes, this is pretty biased, but 1995's Zero Hour pretty much rang the death knell for my favorite era in DC comics. It wasn't Zero Hour itself that made me give up on DC comics — I actually thought Zero Hour was pretty good — it was more of the state of comic books at the time. The art and characters had all shifted to becoming 'more extreme'. The 'gimmick era' had burned me out. There were no new ideas floating around, and everything was just being recycled over and over again. That's how I felt at the time. I figured that Zero Hour would be a nice book-end if I was going to take a hiatus from comic book reading for a while. When I was picking up comics, it was either Morrison's The Invisibles (Vertigo), Neil Gaiman's Mr. Hero the Newmatic Man (Tekno Comix), The Maxx (Image) or whatever Grendel book Dark Horse was publishing at the moment.

4) It's pretty bad when the base set cards look better than the insert cards.

Spot the insert card from the rest of the base set cards:

If you picked Parallax (#2 in the line-up), then you are correct. The dead give-away was the moderately foil-stamped 'Maximum Firepower' logo on the card, you say? Funny, because that's really the only thing that really separates the insert cards from the rest of the base set cards. The 20 card insert set appears to be centered around the 1995 Parallax View story arc that ran in Green Lantern v3 #63 - 64, but skims over a few important details (such as what made this such a turning point in Hal Jordan's character development) and only goes so far as to describe each Justice Leaguer's contribution to the overall victory. Actually, this was one of the selling points of this card set: an original story penned by Alan Grant (Batman: Shadow of the Bat, Lobo) that would be featured on the backs of the 20 card insert set. I never took the time to read it. This insert set didn't even do anything cool like join up to form one big puzzle or anything. From an aesthetic point of view, there was really no reason to seek out these insert cards, as the base set cards arguably looked better. Admittedly, the Holoburst chase cards do look pretty cool, but that's mainly because I am a sucker for holograms.

5) That 'je ne sais quoi' that I just can't seem to put my finger on. By this point, I've re-written the paragraph you're currently reading about six times now. My first few versions had me blaming the card art for my dissatisfaction with this set — but that's not entirely fair. The art is actually good. Examine any individual card on it's own and you'd be quite satisfied with it. Most were illustrated by Chris RenaudJoe St. PierreNorm BreyfogleChris Batista and Rod Whigham, with accompanying inks by Scott HannaJohn NybergBarbara Kaalberg, or Chip Wallace (among others). I think the problem (for me) is that the art is very reminiscent of the Image Comics 'house art style' that DC and Marvel had started emulating [e.g. dynamic and extravagant art, overly detailed, gritted teeth and 'in your face' poses] in their books around this era. I realize that criticizing a trading card set containing nothing but dynamic, action-packed card art (in order to take advantage of it's embossed gimmick effect) is pretty hypocritical — yet here we are. Upon further reflection, I think my biggest slight with this set is that it reminds me of all the mid-90s comic book industry elements that made me want to quit comics for a while. To me, these cards are a salute to a long begone era that will (hopefully) never repeat itself again.

card art by Norm Breyfogle
I will be the first to admit that there are BETTER sets out there capturing this era of DC comics, and you'd probably be happier with the DC Legends Power Chrome set (from Skybox) that contains more characters and was released one year prior, or even the 1994 DC Master Series (also by Skybox) which is just beautiful to look at.

Why should you buy this? You were at a flea market, and you found a box of these cards for less then $5. Pick 'em up. You're a die-hard Superman fan and you want to purchase the four Superman cards in the base set? Go for it. As previously stated, these cards look pretty good on their own.

If you're a 'got to have it all' DC comics trading card collector (like me), or the DC Outburst: Firepower trading card set is just something you have fond memories of and want to own, you can pick up the entire 80 card base set for about $18 USD (as of this writing) on e-bay. The 20 card insert set will cost you another $15 USD, and the 2 Holoburst chase cards are about $10 USD a piece.


If you're a fan of DC comics from the mid-90s, I'd strongly recommend checking out The Unspoken Decade — Dean Compton, Emily Scott and Jason Symbifan discuss and review ALL comics from the 1990s (this includes Marvel, DC, Image, Malibu, etc) and actually manage to spotlight the good ones. It's a great trip down memory lane for those of us who want to remember the "gimmick era". ;)

Some Unspoken Decade articles we recommend:

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A brief overview of DC's Super Powers v1, v2 and v3 mini-series' from DC comics [1984 - 1986]

House ad for 1984 Super Powers mini-series

In 1984, DC comics published a 5 issue mini-series to accompany the Super Powers Collection toy line released by Kenner that same year. Written by Joey Cavalieri and illustrated by Adrian Gonzales (with inks from Pablo Marcos), the characters featured in this mini-series are coincidentally the 12 action figures released for the 1st wave of the toy line -- which leads me to believe that the main goal of this mini-series was to act as a cross-promotional strategy. [This makes sense since both G.I. Joe and Transformers were each tied in with a Marvel Comics title and their toy lines were both quite successful.]

DC comics ad for 1st wave of Super Powers Collection action figures.

This mini-series manages to tie a few pieces of silver-age DCU history into the storyline leading the reader to wonder if it's part of DC continuity (pre-Crisis). For example, several characters held onto their silver age origins, yet Lex Luthor and Brainiac were completely redesigned by George PĂ©rez and Ed Hannigan for the toy line (as they appear in this mini-series). Additionally, certain elements of the Super Powers universe were "borrowed" from the Hanna-Barbera Super Friends cartoon that ran from 1973 to 1982 [ex: the Hall of Justice, which started off as the main HQ for the Super Friends, makes an appearance]. The whole story has a "Silver Age" feel to it and comes complete with a big reveal at the end in regards to who the mysterious antagonist is.

A second six-issue mini-series is published in 1985 and is set after the Hunger Dogs graphic novel. The second mini-series was written by Paul Kupperberg and illustrated by Jack Kirby (inked by Greg Theakston). Like its predecessor, this mini-series takes special attention to spotlight the new characters (and a few vehicles) being released in the wave 2 of the toy line. This second wave of the toy line was notable for including re-designed versions of Kirby’s Fourth World characters (Darkseid, Desaad, Mantis, Parademon, Kalibak, Steppenwolf) and Kirby manages to stay faithful to their toy line appearance throughout the mini-series*. Each issue ends with a bio of the characters who appeared in the issue, so once again I’m going to assume that this series was heavily marketed towards consumers who would be buying the toys. If you have no other reason to check out this second mini-series, do so because it's a Kirby-illustrated Justice League of America story (really, the Super Powers team IS the JLA, just under a different name).

Super Powers v2 #3 (1985) - Kirby's Mantis gets a redesign 

A final Super Powers mini-series was published in 1986, and takes place sometime after the second mini-series. By this point, it's safe to say that the comics were separate from the rest of DC continuity. The 3rd mini-series was (again) written by Paul Kupperberg and has a bit more 'depth' to it. Kirby did not pencil this mini-series, but Carmine Infantino did. The Fourth World characters are once again faithfully drawn as they appear in the toy line (note: Orion looks ridiculous) and the series features gratuitous appearances of the vehicles from the toy line (look up the justice jogger if you ever get a chance -- totally worth it). By this point, new characters specifically created by Kenner for this toy line are beginning to appear -- including one named 'Janus’ who is never released as a figure. Rumor has it that by this time the toy line was struggling and a Darkseid-themed playset was also in the works but was never released, so there’s a good chance an extra character may have met this fate as well. Kenner ceased the Super Powers Collection toy line after 1986 and no fourth mini-series was ever published. You can read more about the history and final days of Kenner's Super Power Collection at:

Super Power v3 #2 (1986) - Golden Pharaoh and Shazam with a gratuitous shot of the toyline vehicles in the background

*Jack Kirby received royalties for his redesigned Fourth World characters. This is notable because Kirby never received royalties on all of the other Marvel Comics characters he co-created (Fantastic Four, Hulk, original X-Men, original Avengers, etc…).


[This article originally posted on our tumblr in July 2013.]

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Mark Belkin interviews Doom Patrol illustrator Richard Case

I can safely say that the Grant Morrison and Richard Case's run on Doom Patrol is my favorite run of comic books of the 1980s. The first issue was as good as hearing my first Cure song. Being introduced to the Brotherhood of Dada was like my first Sisters of Mercy album and the interplay between Cliff, Crazy Jane and Rebis was like listening to the second side of DM101. It’s sad I don’t see these characters today, but they will always be there in that psychedelic, wild, British Invasion, lysergic acid diethylamide made into comic book form. I could probably write a book about the run, so I felt very fortunate that Richard Case spoke to me about his life, and his time on Doom Patrol. -Mark

Mark Belkin: I want to thank Richard Case for joining DC in the 80s for this interview.

Richard Case: You're very welcome, thanks for inviting me.

Belkin: I’m working on a Grant Morrison-era Doom Patrol article, and wanted to start by talking about your run — from issue Doom Patrol v2 #19 (1989) until... when did your Doom Patrol v2 run end?

Case: I worked until Doom Patrol v2 #66 (1993) — which was 3 issues past Grant Morrison's last issue. His last issue was #63. So I did the first 3 of the actual Vertigo issues, which started with #64 which was written by Rachel Pollack. I stuck around long enough to bridge the gap from the regular series into Vertigo.

Doom Patrol v2 #19 and #66: both covers illustrated by Richard Case

Belkin: Doom Patrol was one of your first comic book runs.

Case: Yeah, it was the second thing I did after working on Dr Strange for Marvel. It was for 1988's Strange Tales, originally. Strange Tales was split between Dr Strange and Cloak and Dagger at the time. This ultimately led to me penciling the first four issues of 1988's Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme (also by Marvel). I was living up north, and decided to move to North Carolina in the meantime, and figured before I moved away from New York (where all the publishing houses were) it wouldn't hurt to shake some hands over at DC and show my work around. As a freelancer, you'd want to be able to do that. I did NOT expect, y'know,  two weeks after moving to North Carolina for them to try to contact me and basically offer me something — which turned out to be Doom Patrol. I was a little reluctant at first, I really liked Doctor Strange, but as soon as I saw Grant's proposal for what he had planned — that was a no-brainer — I could tell right away that this was going to be an AMAZING book to work on.

Richard Case pencils from Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #2 (1988)

Belkin: Do you remember what initially sparked you in Grant's proposal and made you feel that this a book you'd be excited to work on?

Case: It was a number of factors. Already you could tell that he was going to play up the 'weirdness' of those characters. At that point, the book [Doom Patrol] had kinda started to feel like a "poor man's X-Men". Honestly. [Marvel's] X-Men, at the time, was kinda like the 'sexy' characters, and they [the then-Doom Patrol creative team] were trying to really 'sexy it up', at least that was kinda my feel to it. I think Grant said it best in the proposal: "These are heroes that, if they were sitting on the subway, you would NOT want to sit next to them. They're the weird characters who are just a little upsetting/off-putting somehow." So there was that element — which seemed very interesting to me — the whole weird/surrealistic stuff he was going to play in.

He'd even had already mentioned the Brotherhood of Dada as an upcoming storyline, Coming right out of art school, that sounded really cool to me that I'd get to play around with that kind of stuff. The psychological element — introducing a character like Crazy Jane, introducing the element to Rebis of the Negative Man and... we tried to actually get Negative Woman to be the other being that was fused, but for whatever reason, they didn't let us do that - so that's when he introduced Dr. Eleanor Poole who ended up fusing with Larry Trainor to become Rebis.

Those elements. It wasn't JUST big fight scenes, there was also that 'psychological element' thing I thought was going to be really interesting and fun to draw.

Belkin: What other themes, when first seeing the early scripts and going into the The Painting That Ate Paris, what kind of things were you seeing that you were excited to draw?

Case: A number of things. Even architecturally, Grant kept challenging me with things like the Scissormen storyline where we end up in all this Gothic architecture (cathedrals and etc). Red Jack's temple/house was very much modeled after Versailles — we put a lot emphasis in the chandeliers and water fountains in there. That was a fun challenge, it wasn't always fun - perspective-wise,... but it was a helluva lot to fit in, especially for a monthly book.

Doom Patrol v2 #23 (1989)

Belkin: Walt Simonson just stopped by to say hello so we had to stop the interview for a minute.

Case: Just to backtrack a little, before I was doing comics, I interned for Walt Simonson. While still in school, I did an internship with him. That definitely helped open some doors and even got me in at Marvel in the first place. I interned with him for a few months, and then after I graduated I was his assistant for a little while. He still had a studio in New York (Upstart Studios), at the time, there were several other artists there as well; so I assisted Jim Sherman a bit with some coloring work and I met Elaine Lee there. That was a good to "get my feet wet" in a few different ways. My first actual comics credit is for helping color an issue James penciled, and Elaine did half the colors and brought me over to help color the other half the issue. I was totally surprised to see my name in the credits, because, it's like "who am I?" (laughs) That was really part of my way in.

Belkin: At the time, Grant Morrison was known for his surreal, almost psychedelic, work. When you received the scripts did you have to change anything mentally? Get into a sort of 'mental place' when you had to draw them?

Case: I kind of feel like I was already 'there'. That was, again, part of what attracted me to the project. I grew up on super-hero comics — to me it wasn't as fun to draw 'straight-forward' super-hero stuff. The fact that they were having 'challenges' — that weren't just straight-forward fisticuffs and big explosions and stuff — that was all very interesting to me. Coming up with different ways to visualize some of that, is really what it was. Even the symbolism kinda stuff that we started delving into — he would give me a good idea of where to take that so I kinda understood where he was coming from with that. I would do a lot of my own research. Often when I got a script, (this of course was before there was an internet) to do any of the reference gathering, I would plan on spending the day (or at least half a day) down at a library at the local university just looking up all of these references that he would put into a script. To me, that was actually a fun part of the puzzle — it was interesting reading and following up on "where is he coming from with some this stuff?". I found that interesting.

Doom Patrol #38 (1990)

Belkin: Earlier I spoke with John Workman. and he said he would get your pencils and there was one with a girl sitting and he said he felt that he didn't even want it inked since it was such an amazing image on it's own. Do you remember that story? It might've been Alice? Do you remember that at all?

Case: No, I don't.

Belkin: I’ll have to try to find that panel with John Workman in the future. Did you have a lot to contribute to the Brotherhood of Dada (as far as the look and etc)?

Doom Patrol v2 #26 (1989)

Case: Those characters Grant definitely did sketches for — he's actually a pretty decent artist himself. He had a pretty good idea as to the general look — like some of the details... I'm thinking like Mr Nobody himself... he kind of envisioned him. He was a little blockier, I kind of gave some extra life into him, I definitely gave him a lot more animation. I figured "there's a chance for a character to be very animated". But even details on a character like Sleepwalk — where it worked out the silhouette profiles for the eyes, the little beds on the shoulder pads, pajama pants, the big boots — that was all him. So yeah, he designed those characters, I just had fun drawing them. For some of the detail work of some of those, I was looking at — there was a French fashion designer named Jean-Paul Gaultier...
Belkin: Sure, Gaultier, yeah. The pointy bras. Madonna...

Jean Paul Gaultier concept art + Madonna. source unknown

Case: At that time, he did — in The Face magazine (which was a British magazine) — he did his own version of super-heroes. I borrowed a little bit of some elements of that. His work was really fascinating — it was totally avant-garde to cutting edge kind of stuff. It really felt right for some of those kinds of characters. Funnily enough, a few years later, he did the designs for The Fifth Element. I could see a lot of that, and it totally felt of the same universe of where we coming from for the designs we were coming up for some of our characters.

Belkin: In the run of issues, like the Painting that Ate Paris, were you incorporating different art movements or ideas into comic book form?

Case: Absolutely, yeah. And that was very much the area where I felt like... y'know, trying to take Futurism and Constructivism, and then figure out how to draw that as comic book pages, and still have a fight scene falling through it the whole way was a very interesting challenge. Some of them I think came out okay, others like Fauvism didn't really — some of the ones that were very much just color-on-color, that was hard to figure out how to translate that - because I'm just responsible for the black and white art. I did leave a lot of notes for Danny Vozzo who was coloring it. Especially back then, the computer coloring was still new and fairly limited. It was a little better than just standard four color, but there was only so much we could do to get that across. Some of those, I feel didn't work as well, but it was definitely a fun challenge to try it out. Yeah, that whole experience was great.

Doom Patrol v2 #29 (1990)

Belkin: Were there any difficulties working with Grant at the time? Were there at times where you would get something and have no idea what's going on?

Case: There was a couple times I'd call him because, again, pre-Internet and no e-mail. Some questions I'd convey to my editor to try to get an answer, other times I needed an answer a little more directly so I'd give him a call. Back then he didn't even have his own phone — it was just a hallway phone. So I'd call over there, somebody would answer it, and I'd hear them go walk away and then a couple minutes later Grant would show up at the phone. Of course I'm paying 1987 international phone rates this entire time. Plus, he has a fairly thick Scottish accent, so it was a little tough — he's trying to talk me through it and it was a little hard to understand. Yeah, so there was those natural kind of difficulties. (laughs)

But honestly, he knew he was throwing a lot of 'out there' concepts in there. For the most part, he described them very well in his scripts — enough for me to be able to draw it. Those times were not all that often and I honestly can't even remember any of the specific things I called to ask about, at this point. It was a long time ago.

Belkin: Was Danny the Street one of them?

Case: Danny was pretty well-defined, because Danny was the thought-child of Brendan McCarthy and Grant. I think Brendan had even done some sketches of Danny — I did a lot translating to flesh it out to a full street - I actually modeled a lot of the shops on Danny from local shops in small towns that I either lived in or lived next to in North Carolina. I live in a town called Hillsborough, it's very close to Chapel Hill, but it is a small little town with a Main Street. There's even little elements — there was a 'weigh yourself'' machine in there...just an obscure little thing... right next to a bank. I slipped that in there at some point. Even the shape of the lamps are based on that — except I just curlicued them and stuff like that. The basic framework of it all came from real life. The movie theater came from a town only a couple of towns away that was an old-fashioned movie theater. I was like "that looks perfect" and just modified it some, but the basic look of it was already there.

Belkin: Did you enjoy drawing Robotman — who was consistent but maybe with metal parts — or Crazy Jane who was almost always a new character? Was that a lot of fun?

Case: Oh yeah, she was great fun to draw just because of that. With every personality I'd try to get that across — and some of them were fairly nuanced. Obviously there's the ones like Black Annis or Flaming Katy where she completely transforms herself, but other ones, it's just almost the way she looks at you and to try and get that across in just the way I shaped her eyebrow or curled her upper lip or something like that. I'd even do little things where I drew the hair slightly different if she's flipping back and forth. That was obviously a lot of fun.

And Cliff is such a plucky character — a fun character to draw. I always especially liked drawing him if he got punched in the mouth and his jaw was kinda hanging off a hinge.         

Doom Patrol #46 (1991) - Crazy Jane, Robotman/Cliff Steele and Danny the Street

Belkin: At the time, was there a huge "oh my god, this is kind of big" thing going on? Like the reactions at comic conventions? Were you guys reaching rock star status?

Case: We definitely hit that 'cult status' at that time. By then, I was doing San Diego every year. Grant did at least a number of those shows every year. We'd do group signings and have a pretty good line, I still have friends that I met — that I met at one of those shows and we'd became friends over time — kinda stuff. It was never a HUGE seller, but it definitely had that element where it felt like we were getting recognized a lot. I know in some of the British fanzines they'd even have a list of the most popular or best titles over there and Doom Patrol v2 was in their 'top ten' almost consistently at the time. So that was cool.

Belkin: Now, John Workman said that there were some changes in the art early on, and that somebody else changed the way your drawings came out. Did you ever find the finishes changed from your original vision?

Case: Yeah, and I wasn't always happy with the inks. I was VERY happy with Scott Hanna's inks from issue #20 to #24, but he moved on to another project, and we got John Nyberg — who is a much 'brushier' inker. I didn't feel like our stuff really gelled at first all that well. But I started going a bit bolder with my line — and we balanced it out a little bit — so by the end of his run I was definitely happier with the results we were getting. But, yeah, we did eventually get to a point where I started trying out a little bit, and I did ink little bits and pieces here and there, whole sections at points, and then the very last issue that the two of us [Morrison and Case] worked on, I inked it all myself. I was like "Ah! I finally got my chance to ink a whole issue!" — of course I would ink it completely different these days. Evolution as an artist right there for you.

Belkin: And then you went on to [Neil Gaiman's] Sandman, and now you do animation...

Case: Actually, I do concept art for video games. That's the field I'm in now. I'm doing a lot of environmental stuff and some character work. I still dabble in comics. Annie Ammo. Slowly writing that and drawing it. But since I'm doing it all myself on the side of doing a day job, it goes very slowly. Once I have a block of it done, then I'll actually release some more of it. We had a website — a web release-type comic for a while — and I contributed little small stories. The main story is still yet unseen.

Belkin: We'll watch out for that. Thanks for joining us today, Richard.