Interviews Reviews Guest Stars Fanzine Misc

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Introducing new contributor Michael Campochiaro

We're very proud to add Michael Campochiaro to our ranks of regular contributors. Michael is a seasoned veteran of retro pop culture journalism and has written for Sequart, The After Movie Dinner, Spectrum Culture and his own blog, Words Seem Out of Place. Typically we don't expect new contributors to provide an essay on why 80s comics were so influential to them, but Michael was so enthusiastic about it that we just couldn't refuse. Alright, that's all you really need in the way of introductions. On to Michael...

As often happens with obsessions formed at a young age, a friend's older sibling played a key role in kick-starting one of mine. By the early to mid 1980s I'd been reading comic books for several years already. I was just a wee lad though, content to read Super Friends, Batman, Amazing Spider-Man, and Justice League of America, mostly, plus whatever other books looked cool on the spinner rack at the local convenience store. Then, somewhere around '83 or '84, my friend's older brother introduced us to his prodigious comics collection. Now, he was a teenager and had his own bedroom/bachelor pad in their finished basement. It was filled with cool comics, movie posters, and art he'd drawn of his favorite characters. For the two of us, who were around eight or nine years old, this made him a God.

We spent countless hours on the floor in his room, completely engrossed in comics. This was also during the real independent comics boom of the early '80s, so he had plenty of issues of American Flagg!NexusWhisper, and Badger, from upstart companies like First Comics and Capital Comics. We were like kids in a candy store, only our candy store stocked comics.

One day my friend's brother mentioned the local comics shop. When I expressed no knowledge of its existence, he implored me to check the place out. When I got home I immediately asked my parents to take me there. They knew comics had inspired my burgeoning interest in art and drawing, so they were fine with encouraging this growing obsession. Off I went, usually with my father, every month (sometimes twice monthly) for the rest of my childhood and on into my teen years. My father was the most patient man I've ever know This patience was on full display every time he'd wait quietly for me at the LCS, while I perused the new issues and dug through the back issue bins, lost in the four-color wonder of it all. Even the shop itself was like heaven to me: it was small and cramped and packed so tight you could barely squeeze around people in it. It was complete sensory overload for a kid like me: posters, toys, memorabilia, and of course thousands of comics.

Nexus meets the Badger: Nexus #7 (1985, First Comics)

I came of age at the exact right time to be a comic book nerd. Shortly after discovering my LCS, a succession of groundbreaking comics were released. One of these was Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns in early 1986. I was ten. It astounds me now to think of a ten year old not only reading, but absorbing, the brutality and despair in those pages. Yet I did, and it changed me, made me see not only comics but literature and art differently. Batman had been my favorite character up to that point and would remain so for several more years. I'd never read a Batman story like this before, though. Afterwards, it felt like I'd graduated to the next level. The next level of what, I had no idea, but some small step in the transition through adolescence was occurring.

Another book that changed my life during those years was the graphic novelization of "The Dark Phoenix Saga", collecting Uncanny X- Men #129–137. This released in '84 and I can still see it on an endcap at our favorite local bookstore. The stunningly painted Bill Sienkiewicz cover art, commissioned specifically for the collected edition, beckoning to me: "Buy me!" My mother saw how much I was drooling and said, "Let's get it." These stories had originally been printed a few years earlier, but here, in one gorgeous package was the meat of the saga. A perfect volume for a young reader like me to experience the eye-opening epic grandeur of Claremont and Byrne's Uncanny X-Men. At nine, I was hooked again, this time on the X-Men. To this day, "The Dark Phoenix Saga" remains my single favorite comic book story. I've written about it at my blog before, if you're interested.

This being a blog about DC Comics, I'll refrain from pining any further for the great Marvel Comics of my youth. I'll say this though, during those heady days of collecting as a kid, my go-to titles were always a mixture of DC and Marvel: the various Batman titles, Justice LeagueGreen LanternCaptain AmericaUncanny X-Men, the assorted Spider-Man books, and on and on. I quickly learned that comics nerds liked to choose sides in the eternal DC vs Marvel debate, but I usually played Switzerland because I absolutely adored so many comics from both publishers. Now it's clear to me that I was attracted to DC because their heroes were so iconic, so out of this world and inspiring. They were like living myths, or at least as much as four-color characters on a page can be considered living. Marvel, on the other hand, both satisfied and encouraged my taste for outsider, marginalized characters. They were loaded with characters who reflected my own adolescent awkwardness. They were extremely relatable.

Comic books were the fuel I needed as a kid to explore my own imagination, to encourage my own artistic talents, to take things farther than I'd known was possible before. I was awestruck at the gloriously expressive art in those pages, hooked on characters that I quickly grew to see as inspirational totems (I'm looking in your direction, Rogue and Green Arrow), and constantly amazed at the fantastic adventures that comics took me on. If my comic book origin story sounds familiar, that's probably because it closely mirrors your own.

-Michael Campochiaro

We're looking forward to more Michael Campochiaro submissions in the future. In the meantime, here are some previous articles he's written on various comic book properties:

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Superman's origin according to Ruby-Spears Productions

Ever wonder what happened between the time young Kal-El was adopted by the Kents and his arrival in Metropolis? If I were to assume... and I probably shouldn't, I'd say most folks reading this site already have a pretty good idea. For this piece/series, we're going to put all of that out of our minds, pre-Crisis, post-Crisis, whatever. Where we're going... we have little need for such terms.

In 1988, Ruby-Spears Productions created an animated Superman series that ran on CBS during the Saturday morning time-slot. The episodes would feature an 18-20 minute feature, and be followed by a short Superman Family Album segment which served to fill us in on the Man of Steel's childhood and adolescence. I figure those might be the best place for us to start our coverage!

Let's take a look at the first installment... The Adoption, written by a very familiar name... Marv Wolfman!

We open with Jonathan and Martha Kent sitting in the office of the Smallville Orphanage. They explain that they found the young boy on their farm... and even considered adopting him themselves, after all they'd always wanted a little boy of their own. Gotta mention that the Kents are portrayed as being at least in their 50's, which would put them at over 70 by the time (spoiler alert) Clark becomes Superman. I don't recall them being of the same generation as Aunt May... but, at least in the Ruby-Spearsiverse, they just might.  They are told that the orphanage usually looks for younger folks to give children to, but they'll... erm, keep them in mind. As the young boy is handed over, he begins to fuss.

I really appreciate that Mr. Warner from the orphanage isn't depicted to be evil or malicious in any way. He's just a man doing his job, and has no ill-intent for the boy or his previous guardians. As the Kents leave, the Walters family arrives... they're looking for a sweet young boy with no inclinations toward "roughness"... I never realized picking a child was like picking the flavor of ice cream you want in your waffle cone, but we'll let that slide. Either way, Mr. Warner's got just the lad for you... or does he? [On a side note, Mr Warner *may* have been an homage to Warner Bros (the parent company of DC comics) — there's a later episode with a villain named 'McFarlane'. -JF]

The Walters decide to... go another way. Some time later, The Kenny's (and their cat) arrive. At that very moment, our boy is flying off to visit the nearby Zoo... Mrs. Kenny is hopeful their potential new baby likes pets. C'mon now, all young children like animals. Though, this one might like his cats a bit on the larger side.

With another set of parents fleeing the facility, Mr. Warner must stop to consider the possibility that this young tot is acting in way that would purposefully scare potential parentals away. Thinking aloud, he posits that perhaps the boy has his own idea for proper parents... to which, the baby begins clapping. Warner and Conroy leave the baby alone and unattended to check who is next on their list... which seems a pretty unsafe thing to do. Anyhoo... being left by his lonesome, our tot of steel heads out on a night-flight all the way to the Kent Farm, where he nuzzles in between his would be guardians and goes to sleep.

The following morning, the Kents awaken to the shocking appearance of the baby they'd dropped at the orphanage... um, earlier that day? Busy day, right? Martha asks what they should do, to which Jonathan suggests they go back to the orphanage... and convince Mr. Warner to let them legally adopt the child! They (preemptively?) name the boy... Clark Kent. The baby seems to dig the idea, because he chooses now to utter his first words... Mama and Dada, don't be such a cliché Clark-O.

A touching start to the series... really quite a cute story.

The strange thing about this series, at least to me, is that I have a difficult time reconciling that this hit network television in 1988. I can't say for certain where I mentally "place" this... but the late 80's certainly ain't it. [Just for context: Ruby-Spears was also responsible for 1979's The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, a 1986 Karate Kommandos (starring Chuck Norris) animated feature, Thundarr the Barbarian, a Rambo cartoon, that Police Academy cartoon we all watched on weekdays before grabbing the bus to school and that god-awful 1986 Lazer Tag Academy cartoon. -JF]

I'm not sure what it says about the current comics/entertainment culture where when I sat down to watch this I thought for sure the orphanage's Mr. Warner was going to be revealed as a baby seller and slaver. I was quite pleased to be mistaken... and for the light comedic take we received instead. On a side note,

I find it funny that nobody thinks twice about this baby flying around a room on a rocking horse or abducting a lion from the zoo. It's just accepted! Imagine having to return a lion to the zoo! How would one even go about doing such a thing? Yeah, I'm thinking too hard about it... it's kinda what I do.

Overall, had a decent amount of fun with this silly short. This (somehow) wasn't part of my childhood, so that's not nostalgia talking. Hope this was an enjoyable read... if you dug it, let us know. Also, if this show was a part of your childhood (or adulthood!) please feel free to reach out and share your memories of the series.

-Chris Sheehan

Can't wait for the next installment in this series of articles? For more of Chris Sheehan, check out his highly recommended Chris is on Infinite Earths blog. He also co-hosts the very excellent Cosmic Treadmill podcast with Reggie Hancock!

Friday, March 24, 2017

USENET fandom - Crisis on Captive Earth and the true identity of "Satan Girl"

About a year ago, there was a semi-regular feature here at DC in the 80's called Usenet Fandom... wherein I would dredge up forum posts about comics from the prehistoric internet and, with my own superpower of "hindsight" proceed to dissect and analyze them... making us "future folks" feel quite a bit smarter than all those college students pulling up BBS's and newsgroups via primitive modems.
As I often do, I found myself getting sidetracked... and eventually lost my way with the feature.

Well... let's give it another go, shall we?


Today we're going to discuss the blockbuster follow-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths... Crisis on Captive Earth! Wait, what?!

In a missive titled, "The 'Next' CRISIS?" on January 28 1986, Usenetter "Mr. B", says:

We'll discuss Crisis on Captive Earth in a bit more detail below, however... this is a portion of the text page from Secret Origins #2 (May, 1986) Mr. B is talking about:

I'll agree somewhat with Mr. B, the origin story was perhaps a bit hokey... but, very likely contorted to fit the existing plot.  The text-piece in the back of the issue discusses the entire history of the character (and plenty of neat Charlton Comics information!). That being said, perhaps DC was trying to tie everything in as neatly as possible. This doesn't always make for the snappiest or most exciting story, but it works.

Gil Kane's artwork here, while not bad... sort of dates the book, and makes it feel much older than it is. I have similar feelings anytime I read pre-Crisis "Trial era" Flash comics with Carmine Infantino on art. Mr. B is mistaken as to the penciller on the Blue Beetle ongoing... that would be Paris Cullins (though, Chuck Patton did draw issue #10).
Crisis on Captive Earth, eh? Well, research indicates that you and I might know this maxi-series better as Crisis of the Soul! Hmm, still nothin' huh? Okay... Crisis on Captive Earth became... Crisis of the Soul... which then became... Legends!

Per Amazing Heroes #62 (January 1, 1985) which served as their 1985 Preview issue, this story was originally envisioned to take place in a twelve-issue maxi-series by Paul Levitz, Len Wein, and Jerry Ordway. Legends would only run six issues, and would feature Wein, as well as John Ostrander and John Byrne in the creators' chairs... and it's finished product may have only matched the scrapped maxis in when it would start hitting store shelves.

Jerry Ordway offered the following:
"The Crisis sequel was Crisis of the Soul, and featured the Corruptors from Legion continuity, I think. It was meant to be very personal to the heroes, showing them the darkness and having them deal with it and reject it or not. The Corruptors basically quarantine the Earth and that’s all I remember off the top of my head. Paul Levitz and I plotted out the main beats, and it was all set to go, until the editor ran into resistance from the other editors who didn’t want to have to cross over with it. Then when the editors changed, I bowed out. It became Legends, but it was fairly different from what we originally planned."

A piece from TwoMorrows Publishing's wonderful Back Issue #9 sheds a bit of light on this subject. The two-pages included below come from their free-preview of the issue... they always put out great work, and are well worth your time.

From Back Issue #9 (2003)

Whoop... Legion of Super-Heroes stuff. That really puts me at a disadvantage. Let's see what we might be able to unpack here without much in the way of context. Satan Girl, from what I have deduced, was created as a dark-mirror of Supergirl (Kara Zor-El) when she had been exposed to Red Kryptonite while on an adventure in the 30th Century.

Adventure Comics #313 (October, 1963)
Since Red-K was no longer a "thing", post-Crisis, this character went away... very quickly, in fact (more on that in a bit) that is, until Zero Hour where she shows up to give the Legionnaires grief as a time anomaly. Not sure why Mr. B included this bit, but I'm pretty glad he did.

For completist's sake, here are a couple of replies I was able to locate... surprisingly, none of which add anything to the CRISIS talk... it's all Satan Girl here...

On February 2, 1986, "CF" answered in a post titled "Sensor Girl=Satan Girl" with:

On February 5, 1986, "TY" followed up with:

So from this, I gather that Satan Girl only lasted the one story... again... not sure why Mr. B included this... but it was a fun education regardless!

That's all we've got for this installment. I hope folks enjoyed this... and as always, if you have any additions or corrections, please do not hesitate to write-in! Thanks for reading!

-Chris Sheehan

Can't wait for the next installment in this series of articles? For more of Chris Sheehan, check out his highly recommended Chris is on Infinite Earths blog. He also co-hosts the very excellent Cosmic Treadmill podcast with Reggie Hancock!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Rad Ads - Play By Mail, the ROCK T-shirt that is 'sweeping the country', and Mindreading

Welcome back to Rad Ads — the article series in which we look back at comic book ads that ran in DC comics during the eighties (and sometimes the early nineties — depending on how inspired we're feeling). Today's segment is brought to you by Rad Ads alumni Chris Sheehan (of the Chris Is On Infinite Earths blog) and returning contributor Jason Brown (you may remember him for his review of John Ostrander's Suicide Squad from last year.)

Seen sometime in 1981:

Jason: This ad seems to hold promise; play your favorite game ... make new friends ... join a "Society". Chess, Checkers, something called "Pool Checkers" (which sounds like someone who pulls needles and condoms out of the kiddie pool at the local public park), and Othello. That all sounds fine until you get to the "through the mail" part. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't that mean a couple weeks minimum between moves? Wouldn't I rather debate world economics with the DMV sloths from Zootopia? I mean, aren't we talking a game time roughly equivalent to time it would take to raise a toddler? Or backpack around the world? Or finish university? "Why yes, I earned my bachelor's degree in theme park engineering, and won that game of checkers."

Hey look, if you can't find one other person to play Chess or Checkers with you might want to invest a little time away from the comic book collection out in the world of people. Start out with "Hi", then if you do OK with that part, try following up with "How are you?" Send your money to 'South Bend, Indiana 46660'? Kind of a red flag.

Chris: The American Postal Game Society... could you even begin to wrap your head around such a thing? I see an insane man standing at a podium making proclamations to an audience of stuffed animals and action figures... maybe his disappointed parents are there too.

Either that, or this is a dude who visits the post office every day to try and "sell them" on his idea. He's got this elevator pitch where he explains that they’ll strike it rich by selling "man sections". The postal employees just smile and nod and tell him that his idea is "pretty good".

Could you imagine sending $10 in the mail to some post office box with an index cards that reads "I want two man sections"... what does that even mean? What do you expect to receive in return? Another index card that says "Okay"? Things like this make me so happy crowdfunding wasn't a thing back in the 1980s.

...and then in 1986:

Jason: "Conquer all of Europe, or even an entire galaxy. Colonize a planet or destroy it ... YOU decide." Raise a civilization, then raze it to the ground. Kill 'em all on my random whim. My people will learn to love their Lord; and fear him! There very fates will be my playthings! The entire galaxy will tremble as I bring down my terrible hammer of judgement! Um ... yes ... every three weeks. But you know, they have been "industry leader" for 16 years, so ... well you know, they must know how to give me the play by mail adventure payoffs I'm looking for. Flying Buffalo sounds about right.

I dabbled in Play by Mail games back in the late 80s. The first one that I played was Duelmasters. You design your gladiators, then fill out these battle sheets, your strategic actions for the whole game. Then you send it off, obsess about it, pine for it, get depressed waiting for it, and about 3 weeks later a computer generated report of your battles comes back and it's the most exciting thing in your life for about ten minutes. The computer generated battle — I guess they fed all the data into a computer (at least that's what they said ... for all I know, they just made it up) - reads like a play by play: "this character did this", "that character did that", "this happened", "that happened". You either win or lose and then can post stuff about it on the newsletter. I remember feeling like a real celebrity reading my own contributions to the newsletter.

I was pretty new and some people were exchanging info on how to crack the code of the game and stuff like that. I made a team of six characters that I named after an Anthrax album called Among the Living, and all my characters named after heavy metal songs. The one character I had that never got defeated — he won 6 times — was called Subjugator. I think it was probably legitimate - I think Subjugator was a well-balanced design, so he kept winning. Now I'm thinking they secretly let you have one character who wins a lot to keep you sending in your money. (I wasn't capable of that level of cynicism back then.) I had this other character, called Nuclear Assault (named after the band), and he was a really speedy character. He had very fast repetitive attacks and won 2 or 3 matches. Then I got cocky and went up against this undefeated opponent, called Rook Lamachine who deflected all of my attacks until I ran out of steam, then finished me easily. I'll never forget Rook Lamachine for giving me the gift of humility.

That same company made another game called Hyborian War which is set in the world of Conan the Barbarian.You rule of a country in Hyborea dealing with politics, finances and all this other boring crap I couldn't get a handle on in high school. So you put in your orders for your country for that turn, and then they send you back the report of what's happening. I ruled Asgard, north of Cimmeria, Conan's homeland, and I basically drove it into the ground. Asgard was half-decent when I started and just a smoldering crater when I finished. I couldn't seem to figure out the politics or finances or any of that stuff. I discovered that ruling a country isn't as easy as one might think.

Before I kicked the Play By Mail habit for good, I played another one where I ran a street gang. The goal was to pull off crimes and take over city blocks. What a great vehicle for the imagination.

The last one was called Alamaze — which was a fantasy world — but I never got around to playing that one (because I think I discovered girls or music or something else legitimate).

I just checked online and these games still exist. What's hilarious is that anyone would want to participate in Play By Mail games now that the internet exists. What's even more hardcore is the fact that I just ordered the starter package for all of them.

[Editor's note: As of this writing, Flying Buffalo is still an existing gaming company, holds a prestigious list of awards for the games they've created and offers Play By Mail/E-Mail games, Smartphone Apps, custom dice, German miniatures, and a Nuclear War card game. Got to hand it to this company to keeping true to the dream.]

Circa 1984:

Jason: This ad looks similar to when they are trying to emulate something North American, but it's actually coming from Kazakhstan or someplace like that. It kinda looks like they reproduced (and by reproduce, I mean they had a ten-year-old draw it), some vague images of ... AC/DC's Angus Young, I think ... wearing his school boy uniform ... yeah, that's definitely Angus Young on the bottom left. I'm pretty sure that's Brian Johnson (the singer of AC/DC) on the top right with some sort of bass guitar that looks like a really big deformed piece of black licorice. And then there's the guy beside him, who has a devil head (that maybe looks like someone put a cigarette out on it), and finally it says "MASTERS OF METAL" by the collar.

Sweeping the country? I'm not totally convinced. Don't get me wrong, I mean it is a pretty rockin' shirt. Personally, I might have first hired a real artist, or maybe at least used some photos. Also, the composition is a little ... oh, I don't know, ridiculous? Hey, let's put these shitty child drawings in a nice display, but leave the bottom right blank. Then we'll cram "MASTERS OF METAL" up by the neck like it's an afterthought. It's like some cement worker had a bright idea to make a killing tricking comic book fans into buying this garbage shirt he threw together with his buddy who owns a printing shop and his artistically talented son (who sketched some pics from a magazine with AC/DC in it he found in a ditch). None of them speak English, so they couldn't read any of the names and by the time their cousin who does know English transcribed the ad, they had already used the magazine for toilet paper. "Ah!", exclaimed the cement worker as he tapped his forehead, "Just say that it features the world's HOTTEST guitarist eh? The Americans will know who it is! We will be rich!" The one part of the ad that I truly respect for being truthful and accurate is the claim that wearing this shirt, you will definitely be the talk of your friends. (Seriously though, can I still buy this?)

Chris: The first time I came across this ad I would have bet money the “Masters of Metal” were carrying rifles and not guitars! It’s as though a third-world insurgency decided that a horrendous t-shirt would sweep whole country and make many many USD’s.

I’d like to think that in the years that followed this shirt morphed into the more iconic (though equally rockin’) "three wolf moon" shirt.

Sometime in 1987:

Jason: 'Mindreading: learn the secrets and amaze your friends!' Wow, what an incredible deal. Keep in mind, they're not just baiting you with a preview - you're getting the complete course for 5 dollars (plus a dollar postage.) Yep. Mindreading for $6. Now I'm thinking this has got to be along the lines of "If she bites her lip and fidgets with her hair it means she likes you," or "If he becomes intensely quiet and you notice his fists are clenched he might be angry, unless he just drank a lot of water, in which case he may just have to go to the bathroom." Where you finally get the thing just hoping and praying or some kind of low level super powers but then it just falls flat. Just like x-ray glasses and Sea Monkeys.You can almost hear old JoJo Deutch laughing at you as you look in the mirror and see nothing but a big sucker. Unless it was a real thing and there is actually a whole alumni of JoJo Deutch mindreaders out there. But if that's true, I hope none of them also bought the MASTERS OF METAL shirt.

Chris: I always wonder why mindreaders and psychics advertised at all… it kinda goes against their whole schtick, right? I mean, if they can read minds and tell the future, advertising is a pretty poor and foolhardy expense to incur. I gotta wonder if the esteemed JoJo Deutch foresaw nobody buying her amazing course? Hell, at the very least… wouldn’t you figure she would just send the course out to the people she knows will be interested?


If you enjoy reading about the comic book ads of yesteryear, then you're going to enjoy Chris Sheehan and Reggie Hancock's 18th Weird Comics History podcast for the Weird Science DC Comics blog. Chris and Reggie cover the life and times of novelty purveyor S.S. Adams and bodybuilder Charles Atlas and relook at a few of the comic book ads that appeared in the 50s, 60s and 70s. [Chris and Reggie also combo'd last year to bring us one of our first Rad Ad articles.] 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

One of our favorite trading card sets — 1994's Superman: Man of Steel Platinum Series by SkyBox

Note: This review was directly influenced by a house ad Micheal Bailey posted in his very excellent Fortress of Baileytude website. If you're a Superman fan and are seeking a great example of a well-organized website that discusses Superman in great depth, I'd recommend checking out Bailey's site. These cards had been sitting on our desk for the last 4 months now, and we swore we'd do a write up on them sooner... but, better late than never. ;)

Following DC's 1992 Death of Superman event, and then the subsequent Reign of the Supermen event, public interest in Superman was at an all-time high during 1993. [ lists that 1993's Top 5 highest-selling comics were all Superman comics.] DC comics — recognizing a good thing when they saw it  quickly released a flurry of licensed products to capitalize on the renewed interest in the comic book property, and collectors were soon treated to a Superman: Man of Steel Platinum Series trading card set (published by SkyBox) in 1994.

Promo card for lower-budget 'Collector's Edition'. Painted by Daniel Horne.

In the early 90s, DC comics had always been 2 years behind Marvel comics when it came to producing trading card sets. Case in point: it was only 2 years AFTER Marvel had released their Marvel Universe I trading cards that DC had released it's first non-movie trading card set [Doomsday: The Death of SupermanSkyBox 1992]. By the time DC had released it's 1992 DC Cosmic Cards trading card set (it's first all-encompassing DCU trading card set), Marvel was releasing it's first fully-painted Marvel Masterpieces trading card set.

I'm sure this had to do with the fact that Topps held the Batman license as far as trading cards were concerned. [I bet you noticed the absence of any Batman and Batman-related characters in any pre-1994 Impel/Skybox DC trading card sets, eh?] I don't know why DC didn't just stick with Topps for trading card publishing. Maybe Impel/Skybox was offering them a better licensing deal? Either way, I'll probably come back and re-write these last few sentences someday when I have some hard evidence as to why DC didn't want to do business with Topps anymore.

Thankfully, this all turned around come 1994 when DC released about half a dozen trading card sets within the span of a single year. When I sit down and calculate it, I'm pretty sure I spent more of my disposable income on trading cards about comic books that year than I did on actual comic books.

Don't get me wrong as a DC comics fan, 1994 was a great year for non-sports trading cards: we got our first REAL Batman trading card set, our first fully-painted DC comics set, and the introduction of over-sized/widevision trading cards. I think a lot of us DC fans exhaled a collective sigh of 'finally' as DC had finally caught up to Marvel in terms of variety of product and quality. Besides, I was getting tired of having my Marvel friends flaunt their Marvel Masterpieces cards and me wishing out loud that DC would produce something just as good.

#32: "Behold, A Dark Knight!"  painted by Dave Dorman

The Superman: Man of Steel Platinum Series trading card set had all the elements of an 'instant win'. A few details that immediately caught my attention included:
  • it was a 90-card series of over-sized, fully-painted trading cards,
  • it recounted Superman's life from Superman #1 (1987) up until then-current 1994,
  • it was released at two price points: a collector's edition and a premium edition,
  • and it was 'a limited collection, with production less than that of the celebrated "Doomsday: Death of Superman" trading card series'.
A fully-painted trading card set was pretty exciting for fans. At this point, a fully-painted anything was pretty exciting for fans. Alex Ross and Kurt Busiek's Marvels [published by Marvel Comics] was released earlier that year, and within weeks Alex Ross became a household name [among comic book fans, anyways]. As previously mentioned, Marvel had already released a set of trading cards with the realistic and highly-detailed painted art of Joe Jusko two years prior, so this was DC playing 'catch-up'. The Superman: Man of Steel Platinum Series was not DC's first fully-painted trading card series of the nineties, that distinction went to the DC Master Series (which was released a few months prior).

The over-sized/widevision aspect was a nice selling point  but, at this point, I remember collectors still being kind of unsure about this new format. On the plus side, you were getting more card [a widevision card measured 2.5" x 4.5" vs the standard 2.5" x 3.5" trading card], but the unusual size of these trading cards meant that you either had to buy six-pocket plastic card protector sheets or you had to keep 'em stacked up in a pile somewhere safe. Since the six-card protector sheets were a little more expensive and were only meant for widevision cards, a lot of us opted for the pile 'em somewhere safe option. Upon further recollection, I seem to recall collectors dismissing this as a 'flash in the pan' as far as the gimmick era of trading cards were concerned, so they didn't think to invest much into it. Surprisingly, the 'widevision format' did survive, and was heavily utilized by Topps (of all companies) for it's Star Wars trading card sets.

#64: "Panic in the Sky!"  painted by Bill Sienkiewicz

To me, the biggest achievement of this card set was getting me interested in Superman again. I'll be the first to admit, Superman is NOT my favorite DC character. Yes, I did follow the Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen! storylines, but only because I thought he was getting phased out and being replaced with someone more contemporary. Other than that, I had little to no interest in Superman or his history. To me, he was too powerful and lacked the frailties that made for an interesting protagonist.

#65: 'To Lead the Justice League' — painted by Nick Choles

This card set covered the first seven years of Superman's career since the John Byrne's 1987 reboot (most of the events spotlighted are from the Superman v2 ongoing series) and concluded somewhere shortly after Superman's return from the dead. I liked that not every card depicted 'the shot heard around the world' and sometimes revisited some of Superman's less-epic confrontations... like his first encounter with C-list villain Rampage (who later became a supporting character in Starman v1) or when Superman battled Massacre [a villain so forgettable I had to look up his name twice]. Many cards feature characters you already recognize, which piques your interest even more and makes you realize Superman's post-Crisis career may have been more entertaining than you originally gave it credit for. In short, it's really hard NOT to get interested in Superman after flipping through these cards.

#41: 'Rampage!'  painted by Hector Gomez

The two different price points (premium edition for the more serious collector, and collector's edition for the budget version) made this a very tempting impulse purchase for high school students who only had $10 to their name every week. My local hometown comic book shop sold the collector's edition for approximately 3 weeks before they were gone from the shelves and I never saw them again. I wasn't even aware a premium edition of this set existed until a few years ago.

The big difference between the two versions wasn't just the price, but the overall look & feel of the cards and the potential inserts/chase cards you could pull from a pack. While the collector's edition had a nice enough (if not plain) metallic ink border, the premium edition had a shiny reflective metal border with embossed rivets. The six chase cards in the collector's edition consisted of Spectra-Etch versions of cards found in the base set (1:7), and while they may have looked good, weren't exactly 'must haves'. Meanwhile, the premium edition contained the Kerry Gammill-designed SculptorCast insert cards (1:18) and the highly-coveted Man of Steel SkyDisc (1:240).

Forged-In-Steel SculptorCast FS3: "Showdown with Doomsday" by Kerry Gammill

The SkyDiscs were the holy grail of DC trading card collectors in 1994. I personally don't own any, but I've seen them before at trading card dealer's tables. They look like honest-to-God holograms  like you're peering down at a green 3D model of Superman through a little circular porthole (this was a big contrast to the early "holograms" Impel/SkyBox was using for it's DC Cosmic Cards and DC Cosmic Teams insert sets, which seemed more like several layers of foil enhanced 2D images than an actual 3D hologram).

SkyDiscs were pretty big in 1994, as SkyBox released 4 of them that year (usually as a cherry to top off a set). There was a Batman SkyDisc available in the Batman Saga of the Dark Knight trading card set, another Superman SkyDisc available in the DC Master Series trading card set, the aforementioned Superman SkyDisc from this set, and a Death SkyDisc in the widevision Vertigo trading card set. The widevision Sandman trading card set included a 3-D Stereo Hologram chase of Morpheus  but I've never seen it in person so I can't confirm if it looks like a SkyDisc or not. The DC Master Series contained 'SkyDisc redemption' cards (which you needed to send away for in order to receive your SkyDisc), and I'm not 100% sure if the Man of Steel Platinum Series had a redemption card system, as well. Nevertheless, as a lover of all things holographic, I'm seriously going to need to track these down someday.

A snazzy binder was also available to collect the trading card set:

I didn't know this binder even existed until I started researching this card set. I'm guessing this was something you needed to order directly from SkyBox? I have no clue if it came with the entire trading card set decked out in 6-pocket plastic card protector sheets, or if you were expected to buy the cards separately.

It's written right on the promo card [see Bailey's link] that this collection was 'limited' and had a 'production less than that of the celebrated "Doomsday: Death of Superman" trading card series'. So... how many Doomsday: Death of Superman trading cards were produced? Apparently, only 10,000 cases of the SkyBox Doomsday: Death of Superman trading cards were produced in 1993. That doesn't really feel that scarce  especially since I often stumble on dealers trying to sell the entire base set for $5 USD.

#49: 'Mongul!' — painted by Scott Hampton

I always have to laugh when the set boasts that 'Roger Stern wrote the text copy' as a selling point. I guess this was to add to consumer confidence? Stern was heavily involved in the Superman-titles from the late-80s to the mid-90s. I'm chuckling because I don't think anybody really cares who wrote the text copy, as long as it has some sort of coherent summary on the reverse of the card and isn't mistakenly confusing Superman with Spider-Man. If you're buying this card set, it's for the art and the novelty of it (and you might even be Superman fan), and probably not because Roger Stern added 50 words to the back of each card. Some of my favorite Roger Stern works include his 1980s Amazing Spider-Man run [co-created Hobgoblin] and his 1980s Avengers run for Marvel Comics. Check 'em out if you haven't already.

#47: reverse of "Enter Supergirl!" — text by Roger Stern

I'd be reluctant to call this is the first REAL Superman set from DC comics, considering both 1992's DC Cosmic Cards and 1993's DC Cosmic Teams gave a decent amount of attention to Superman, his allies and his villains, I'm just going to disregard the 1992 Doomsday: Death of Superman and the 1993 Return of Superman trading card sets (both produced by SkyBox), since I seem to remember them re-using a lot of art from the comics and not really bringing anything new or exciting to the table.

The art is the strongest selling point of this set. Illustrators included Bill Sienkiewicz, Joe Phillips, Joe DeVito, Les Dorscheid, Zina Saunders, Alexander Gregory, Hector Gomez, Donato Giancola, Eric Peterson, Dave Dorman, Scott Hampton, Denis Rodier, Dan Brereton, Steve Fastner / Rich Larson, Ray Lago, Nick Choles, Tom Fleming, Jon Bogdanove, Daniel Horne, Kieron Dwyer, and Nelson DeCastro  a lot of these same names contributed pieces to the 1994 DC Master Series (also by SkyBox). I believe a lot of this art was used exclusively for this trading card set, and sometimes, when searching original art auctions, you might see a painting of Superman by one of the above-mentioned artists and wonder "Where is that from? I don't recognize that from any comic I've read" and now you know why.

In a set with such amazing painted artwork, it's a little difficult to pick out my favorites. Bill Sienkiewicz's cards always stood out for their smoky, watercolor-esque effects:

#73:"Superboy!" and #74: "The Cyborg Superman" — both painted by Bill Sienkiewicz

Of course, anything with an entire shot of the Justice League was a card I cherished:

#40: "Living Legends!" — painted by Joe Phillips
[I never really understood why LEGENDS was the only DCU cross-over event that got a mention in this set. Nothing about Millennium, Invasion!, or Armageddon 2001. Probably because Byrne contributed quite a bit to LEGENDS?]

And who could forget the pivotal moment in which Cyborg Superman finally got what was coming to him?

#78: "The Man in Black!"  painted by Bill Sienkiewicz

A few of these cards do bring back fond memories of characters and/or storylines that were long forgotten. Like the introduction of the new villain Conduit (created by Dan Jurgens and Louise Simonson) who was being set up as a major NEW arch-nemesis in Superman's life [last seen in 1995]...

#88: "Conduit Means Power!" — painted by Joe DeVito

...or that time Supergirl/Matrix discovered Lex Luthor was just 'using her'? [as recounted in 1994's Supergirl v3 mini-series — written by Roger Stern]:

#82: "The Vengeance of Supergirl!" — painted by Nelson DeCastro

In summary, this trading card set was a card set done right — it was released at the right time (i.e., just as the non-sports trading card boom was picking up steam), featured the right talent and focused on something fans were excited for. Utilizing over-sized/widevision trading cards to give us more art was a brilliant use of the card, considering the talent working on these cards. Releasing these at two price points also made it accessible to both casual and die-hard trading card collectors. Prices on these trading card sets vary wildly (depending on the dealer), but a full base set of premium edition will almost always cost at least three times as much as the budget-friendly collector's edition. I found the base set cards nice enough on their own, and decided to skip out on collecting the SpectraEtch insert cards. If you ever do happen to chance upon a SkyDisc for a decent price (and you decide to buy it), send me a photo so I can envy you from a distance.

In the longview, I don't know if these cards succeeded in raising interest/readership for the Superman books being published by DC at the time. I do remember being very interested in Superman's history for a while after collecting these, but I also remember the landscape of the DCU had changed dramatically by this point and I suddenly didn't recognize many of the current characters running around anymore — so I'd mainly stick to collecting back issues from the late 80s. As far as raising awareness in John Byrne's post-Crisis work on Superman, this trading card set was successful.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

“Prize Fight” - A review of 1992's Green Lantern v3 #25

Here's welcoming our new contributor, Deron Murphree. We know you'll enjoy! (Because, really, who doesn't enjoy reading about Guy Gardner?)

cover art: M.D. Bright

The spring of 1992 marked a transitional period in the Green Lantern mythos. Guy Gardner had been Earth's residential Green Lantern for quite some time. But for whatever reason, DC felt the book needed a shot in the arm to boost sales. The way you do that is you dust off old Hal Jordan and you thrust him once again upon the readership and back into the spotlight. Hal has, after all, been the poster boy for all things Green Lantern.

When we begin with issue number 25. Written by Gerard Jones and edited by Kevin Dooley, Hal Jordan is returning to Earth after a long absence. He's been sent by the Guardians to reclaim Sector 2814. To be fair, the Guardian are not exactly clear as to how to go about doing this, but we do know early on that Hal expects Guy to just hand it over to him. Hal claims that Guy’s made a mess of things on Earth and that the members of the Justice League want Guy Gardner to step down. We find out that not everybody wants to see Guy Gardner leave the Justice League of America. Although Ice understands her fellow teammates' frustrations, she still chooses to support her man.

Fire and Ice are carrying some snacks when Hal Jordan shows up to inquire the whereabouts of the team's Green Lantern. Moments later, Hal Jordan arrives at Guy Gardner’s apartment in an attempt to convince Guy that his time's up as the Green Lantern of Sector 2814. This does not bode well for the tensions escalating between them. Hal argues that Guy has really botched up things here on Earth and that it’s his right to be the Green Lantern of Earth. Guy responds by reminding him that Hal left Earth to find his smile. I chuckled when reading this because it reminds me of Bret Hart telling Shawn Michaels the same thing in a WWE storyline years ago. If you've followed the WWE product over the years, then you know what I am referring to in terms of parallels.

Speaking of WWE shenanigans, Guy Gardner does an excellent job of getting under Hal Jordan's skin. If I didn’t know better, it would appear that Guy knows how to push Hal’s buttons. Guy eggs Hal on to the point that the two agree to a one on one confrontation. The loser leaves not just the JLA but the Green Lantern Corps as well. Again, this feels like a pro wrestling storyline. A "Loser Leaves The Corps" fight spells out to me like a "Loser Leaves Town" match. It’s the same kind of concept with a similar result.

panel from Green Lantern v3 #25 - pencilled by Joe Staton and inked by Romeo Tanghal

At first, the two of them are duking it out ring for ring until the damage to the city starts to become apparent. Superman and the rest of the JLA try to intervene only to be dissuaded by the Green Lantern Corps. John Stewart gets in between Guy and Hal and notifies them of the subsequent damage surrounding them. This prompts Guy Gardner to convince Hal Jordan that they must finish their battle with some good old fashioned fisticuffs. As chapter three began, you could feel the action reach a crescendo. All you needed to do was cue the "Rocky" music.

While I do believe that Guy Gardner gets a raw deal here, he does have a few shining moments here in this issue. Guy proves that he’s one of the toughest to ever don a Green Lantern ring. He pushes Hal Jordan to his physical limits. Hal wins by employing Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope strategy in that he allows Guy Gardner to punch himself out. At one point, Guy Gardner keeps fighting on despite having suffered a broken hand. During the issue Hal begins to doubt his abilities when he’s absolutely floored at the depth of Guy Gardner’s rage. Guy may be a little clumsy but he hits hard enough to rattle your rib cage to its breaking point.

panel from Green Lantern v3 #25 - pencilled by M.D. Bright and inked by Romeo Tanghal

In the end, Guy Gardner is a man of his word even in defeat. Though reluctantly, Guy does surrender his ring to Hal Jordan. This is something that is difficult for Guy Gardner to deal with in that he probably feels like he is losing a large chunk of his identity. Hal Jordan freely admits that he needs to be a Green Lantern. It wouldn’t be too long after all this that Hal would lose his mind and become Parallax. Hal’s legacy would be forever tainted by this and he would betray the Green Lantern Corps.

This is something that is difficult for Guy Gardner to deal with in that he probably feels like he is losing a large chunk of his identity. I get that Guy Gardner is a character that is difficult to like, but he does have some great qualities that are often overlooked by some comic book fans. Guy Gardner is the loyal, rough and tumble backbone of the Green Lantern Corps. He has endured nasty comments from Hal Jordan, John Stewart, and even the Guardians about his rough around the edges demeanor. As evidenced in this issue, there were members of the JLA like Blue Beetle who were quite outspoken in regards to their disdain of the team’s Green Lantern. Guy Gardner’s had a history of abuse from his father and is accustomed to being laughed at and humiliated by others. He has been conditioned to bully others as a way to deal with the abuse from his childhood. This sensitive subject matter only gets seemingly glossed over during the New 52. The only one who supported Guy through all of this was his girlfriend, Ice. It takes a certain kind of commitment to wear those over-sized boots, the over the top white belt, and let’s not forget about that iconic bowl-shaped haircut.

I don’t think the writers and editors at DC during that time were exactly sure of what to do with Guy Gardner. There was a large percentage of readers who despised him and the way Guy was handled in terms of writing made it seem that the creative team did't care too much for him either. Either way, creatively speaking, Guy Gardner got a raw deal. Guy Gardner would eventually go on and achieve his own kind of underrated success in the form of Guy Gardner: Warrior.

This issue was chalked full of eighties references. All you had to do was look around Guy Gardner's apartment in the panels. He had a poster of Sylvester Stallone’s "Rocky" franchise on his wall as well as VHS tapes of Rambo: First Blood. The issue reflected the times and dated itself by the pacing of the story. The artwork was decent in some areas but proved to be a little disjointed when multiple artists were added. Some of the panels were jarring in Chapter One and took me out of the moment.

panel from Green Lantern v3 #25 - pencilled by Tim Hamilton and inked by Gary Yap
If you are a fan of 1980's action films like Rocky 3, then you will enjoy this issue for its 80’s feel. The whole fight sequence made me think of the second fight between Rocky Balboa and Clubber Lang.

-Deron Murphree

Deron Murphree is a sucker for the more forgotten heroes and villains of DC Comics. He is an advocate for Jason Todd and Earth's True Green Lantern, Guy Gardner. Deron's new website is currently still under construction but you can follow him on Twitter @DeronMurphree or you can message him care of this website.