Friday, August 29, 2014

Unearthed: Justice, Inc.#2

Before I begin the review, let's talk about the Avenger; he's a pulp hero who appeared in Street & Smith magazines from 1939-1942 - a fairly brief tour of duty, yet he's been brought back via the medium of comics several times, courtesy of DC Comics. Most recently, he appeared in 2009's First Wave; he also appeared in DC's Shadow comic books and in his own mini-series around 1989; the series we're looking at began in 1975 and lasted only four issues. Launching as a companion book to DC's Shadow series, it seems as though whenever someone dusts off the Street & Smith back catalog he's given a mandatory revival. His DC books have been called Justice, Inc. after the Avenger's team, rather than himself - probably because of potential difficulties from either Steed & Ms. Peel or the Maria Stark Foundation.

Although I haven't read the Avenger's pulp stories, nor have I read issue #1 of this series, I don't think that's a necessarily a problem. Not being a comic book character by origin, the Avenger comic book incarnations have to seek new audiences by matter of necessity as his original demographic are all either in rest homes or cemetaries. Also, the first issue was written by Dennis O'Neil & Al McWilliams while as of this second issue Jack "King" Kirby is the man on deck. "Kirby is here!" should have been proclaimed on the cover. Let's check out that cover now, yeah?

Kirby's name isn't advertised per se, but you can't miss it - this is during the years where Kirby's signature had become an obtrusive seal. This is a good cover, although I don't think the pose of the "Sky Walker" is quite correct - he seems to be simply hovering mid-air, not walking. Oh, right, I should also mention the Avenger, the series hero - he's the man on the left.

We begin this fast-paced action-packed tale with a title splash page, something Kirby had mastered about 30 years prior (but seldom used in the Marvel super hero books) while the story begins on page 2. Helpfully, the title page informs us this is an adaptation from a story by Kenneth Robeson. We open on a train which derails due to someone sabotaging the track. The Avenger and someone named Smitty happen to pass by in their airplane and land to help the survivors. However, they find a gang of looters pillaging the bodies of the dead train passengers. After being roughed up, the looters admit they weren't responsible for the derailing but simply took advantage of the situation. However, they're all distracted by the presence of a man walking on the sky above them. As the skywalker disappears into the clouds, the Avenger tells Smitty they need to fly their plane to Chicago.

At the Chicago manor of inventor Robert Gant, we meet his African-American butler & maid, Josh and Rosabel. A gang of men in trenchcoats enter the manor and shoot Gant to death; seeing this, Josh tries to fight the killers bare-handed; he's helped by the Avenger & Smitty. Introductions are made and although at first Josh changes his dialect to a "minstrel show" voice, the Avenger recognizes Josh is wearing a Phi Beta Kappa Key on his suit, meaning he's actually quite intelligent; resuming his normal voice, Josh begins to learn about the Avenger and both he and Rosabel are welcomed to join Justice, Incorporated as they hunt the men responsible for Robert Gant's death. In an aside, Smitty tells Rosabel how the Avenger is really Richard Henry Benson and how his face was frozen in grief after his wife and daughter were killed. We're beginning to learn about the Avenger, although we still don't know why the derailed train and skywalking man led him here.

Checking Gant's laboratory, the Avenger learns Abel Darcy had been financing Gant's experiments and Darcy owned the train which was derailed. The foursome head downtown to confront Darcy, but mid-transit they see the Skywalker, just as a skyscraper suddenly collapses into rubble. The Avenger tells Smitty, Rosabel & Josh to help the survivors while he carries on to Darcy. The Avenger bursts into Darcy's office and questions him about Gant. Darcy says Gant had been developing a new type of steel for railroads; this was evidently all the Avenger needed to know and he exits, enters a hotel and uses a makeup kit to disguise himself as Darcy. When Darcy leaves his office, the Avenger takes his place there and searches the office, finding documents which explain everything (unfortunately we're still in the dark), but a gang of hoodlums enter the office, having ascertained "Darcy" is really the Avenger; thus, a fight breaks out.

The Avenger's makeup takes a bad dent during the scuffle, but Josh arrives (disguised as a janitor) to join the fight; however, the gang overcome the two men with a gas grenade. The gang tie the men up and leave, playing a message for them from Darcy (I guess Darcy knew the Avenger would return and recorded this immediately after their encounter?). Darcy informs him the Skywalker will be coming to destroy the building housing Darcy's own office. Darcy intends to extort Chicago for millions by threatening to destroy their skyline. The Avenger & Josh get our of their ropes and leap from the building to its neighbour before the Skywalker destroys it.

At last, the Avenger explains what's been going on: Gant created a sound ray which can cause steel to vibrate into pieces and Darcy tested it on the rail which was destroyed. Darcy also ordered Gant's death to protect the secret (although since the Avenger somehow knew Gant was the inventor of this sound ray without any sleuthing, that was a waste of time). Gant's other great invention is an invisible metal which has been used to create an invisible airplane - that's what the Skywalker has been standing upon (and now Paradise Island will lose their monopoly on invisible jets!). In fact, the Skywalker is Darcy himself.

The Avenger returns to his airplane and pursues the Skywalker, firing armor piercing shells which hit the Skywalker, causing him to accidentally activating the sound ray; the sound ray destroys his plane from the inside and the Skywalker falls to his death.

Following the story, there's a text piece "Justice Inc. in the Movies?" Although author Allan Asherman is confident the Avenger would soon have his own feature film, 40 years later it remains a pipe dream. The article is mostly fan-casting the film because in the primitive days of 1975, there was no Wizard magazine.

Thoughts: Kirby delivers an excellent series of action-filled panels, but there's way too much plot in this book, probably because of its origins as a novel. The trail which led the Avenger from the train crash to Chicago isn't apparent and it takes too long to connect the train crash, death of Gant, Darcy and the Skywalker together. Kirby's fine action-based story is not complimented by O'Neil's dense mystery-based plot.

Additionally, we don't get a very good look at the Skywalker because he barely appears in the story and is always at a distance, seen from the heroes' perspective until the finale, so the revelation he's actually in an airplane is interesting, but unprecedented. We're also never given a proper introduction to Smitty, nor is Rosabel ever seen to possess a talent or knowledge which justifies her membership in Justice, Inc. If the mystery were toned down - perhaps by omitting the train crash & robbery and instead opening at Gant's manor - there might have been more room to better establish the protagonists and antagonists.

So far as the story goes, I most enjoyed Josh's brief turn to "minstrel show" dialogue and his quick reversal when the Avenger found him out as a college man. That was a neat touch of period race relations.

I can't overstate Kirby's contribution to this comic; I fear with a lesser talent - an artist incapable of delivering information in a concise, energetic, highly visual manner - O'Neil's laborious plotting would have rendered this book impenetrable.

Next time: More of Kirby and the Avenger in Justice, Inc.#3!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Unearthed: The Destructor#3!

Welcome back to my examination of Atlas Comics' 1975 series the Destructor! Having covered issue #2 last time, we're on to issue #3!

For the third time in a row, Larry Lieber handles the cover art. Here we have our hero being attacked by the Huntress and her giant kitties while a stadium of businessmen cheer her on. I don't think anyone would seriously think for a minute that the Destructor is going to be defeated, but at least this cover sells this issue's villain - it certainly sells her more effectively than Deathgrip on the previous issue's cover. She actually looks formidable and avoids Deathgrip's awkward posture. As always, simplicity serves this comic best.

Perhaps the most important thing to note are the white fringes which have appeared on the Destructor's boots and gloves, evidently to give his appearance about 5% more pizzazz while still remaining pretty generic. The new design is found within as well.

We open "In the Hands of the Huntress" to note that while writer Archie Goodwin and penciler Steve Ditko are back again, inker Wally Wood is MIA. Sadly, now that the series finally has a significant female character to be drawn, Wood has tapped himself out. The actual inker is uncredited, but the Grand Comics Database attributes the role to Frank Giacoia.

We're back to the Combine, the faceless masters of last issue's villain Deathgrip; they're no longer quite as faceless, as one member - Dr. Shroud - is identified as the one who designed Deathgrip's hand. Shroud is working on something called the Darkriver Project, but believes they should deal with the Destructor at the same time (having evidently forgotten that the entire reason they involved the Destructor last time was to pit him against their rival Big Mike Brand). Noticing from films of his fighting style, Dr. Shroud believes the Destructor possesses enhanced animal-like senses; to that end, he has brought in an expert tracker: the Huntress! She demonstrates how her "laser-lash" weapon generates a crackling energy whip, boasting "there's practically no limit on what it can do!" Truly? Can you use it to fill out your tax return?

We return to the deserts of New Mexico... no wait, the pine forests of New Mexico where Big Mike Brand's ranch is located. From the Destructor's dialogue about his wounded arm, it seems this is indeed soon after last issue - no explanation as to why he changed his costume. To sneak back into Brand's ranch... because he couldn't walk in through the front door as Jay Hunter why, exactly? - the Destructor flings himself over the security fence by using one of the newfound pine trees as a catapult. Wow, after two issues of no particular storytelling issues, suddenly there are a lot of little things turning up.

While the Destructor takes a nap to let his left arm finish healing, Angela confronts her father about his career as a criminal, which she learned about from Deathgrip. Big Mike insists he's been preparing to confess his activities to the authorities, but Angela notes he lied to her about his life for 19 years - it's hard to trust him now. Big Mike's right-hand man Pepe notes he's been looking into Jay's background and learned about his connection to the Destructor (from issue #1), but Big Mike is too distraught by the conversation with Angela to pursue this train of thought.

The Destructor wakes up at night for a little Destructor: After Dark on Cinemax, as evinced by Angela heading to Jay's room in her nightie; Jay switches back to his civilian clothes in time to greet her and his arm is fully healed now. Angela is so clearly distraught that Jay helpfully speaks one of her speech balloons for her (above).

After hearing Angela's story, Jay heads out the next day as the Destructor, revisiting the auto yard Deathgrip used ("yesterday," he claims; I guess the police have already cleared up the crime scene?) to find out if the site owner had been working with Deathgrip. However, the Huntress (somehow) anticipated this and the Destructor sets off a trap which gasses him unconscious. The Huntress collects her quarry alongside Lobo, her Wolverine-before-it-was-cool-to-be-Wolverine sidekick. Returning to the Combine in Las Vegas, Huntress tells them she's caught the Destructor but rather than simply kill him, she intends to let him go free and hunt him, while cameras capture the event for the Combine's pleasure. The Combine point out this is not what they asked for and it makes more sense to kill him while he's helpless, but the Huntress is in love with this Most Dangerous Game homage.

The Destructor wakes up inside of a cage somewhere in the wild and smashes through the bars. The Huntress observes and sets after him with Lobo and her two pet mountain lions Siva and Kali. We now learn Lobo is infatuated with his mistress, but she is adamant that he's merely the "back-up man" and isn't physically attractive (as Wolverine had yet to make hairy comic book trolls sexy). The Huntress tells Lobo he can only hunt the Destructor if she fails, but she won't. Me-ow! I'd say she had him whipped, but if she tried her laser-lash would kill him.

The Destructor finds no way out of the valley the Huntress deposited him in as there's a force field encasing the area. Siva & Kali attack him but he dives into a pool to flush the big kitties away. His costume torn and scratched-up, the Destructor runs right into the Huntress! He manages to get past the laser-lash by throwing a piece of kindling at her, causing her to strike it with the lash and thus leaving her open to a punch, but Lobo intervenes to try and save the Huntress, causing the Destructor to run away. The Huntress throws two of the giant claws from her headband at him and the claws explode. She prepares to resume the hunt but Lobo insists on going ahead to prove he's "man enough" for her. Lobo follows a trail of blood to a cave and blindly opens fire with his gun into the mouth of the cave, but the Destructor's wounds have already healed and he snuck out of the cave, knowing it would bring someone there; with Lobo having wasted his amoo, the Destructor easily trounces the less-than-bright flunky.

The Destructor again tries to get through the force field, but this enables the Huntress to catch up. One of her lash blows strikes the force field as she tries to strangle the Destructor and the backlash hurls the Huntress over a cliff to her death (not that we readers knew they were standing on a cliff). With the force field shorted out due to the lash, the Destructor escapes, leaping himself away from the Combine. The next day the Combine scour Las Vegas to find the Destructor, reasoning his wounds would be severe enough to give him away in his civilian guise; of course, their men go right past Jay Hunter, whose body has again completely healed.

Thoughts: It's not as good as before, and not only because Wally Wood is gone (it doesn't help, anyway). The Combine have gone from being clever schemers who utilize the Destructor as a pawn against their enemies to a typically brain-dead criminal organization whose wealth of resources can't handle a lone man who barely knows they exist. Big Mike has gone from being possibly-good to essentially a reformed mobster, which makes him a lesser threat to the Destructor. And while the Destructor's terrific sensory powers would have been well-served in the Most Dangerous Game pastiche this issue, instead the Destructor seems to get through problems by relying on his healing factor (put he and Lobo together and you've got Wolverine!). Earlier issues were generic, but well-handled. This issue is just plain generic.

Next time on Unearthed: Something completely different; having looked at three obscure 70s Ditko comics, let's visit the King himself: Jack Kirby's Justice, Inc.!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

R.I.P.: Lauren Bacall

Back in the 1990s, I once began a conversation about Humphrey Bogart films with a co-worker. He was an older man, having easily 40 years over me. He more-or-less liked Bogart's pictures but complained about "all those movies he made with Lauren Bacall." I didn't have a retort prepared for him because I could only recall three pictures Bogart & Bacall made together (Dead Reckoning, Key Largo & the Big Sleep). In fact, there were only four Bogart-Bacall pictures.

Still, there was some kind of backlash against Bacall, a perception from outsiders that she had profited on her marriage to Bogart and Bogart's legacy, rather than being a talented actress in her own right. That was certainly how many critics reacted to her 1994 performance in Pret-a-Porter. Personally, I haven't much effort into seeing Bacall's roles outside of the four she made with Bogart (the only non-Bogart picture from her filmography I've seen is Harper).

Now that Bacall is dead, everyone is free to praise her again - just as the public originally loved her in To Have and Have Not (the fourth Bogart-Bacall film I couldn't think of in the earlier anecdote). There is very little about the film which is memorable, but for those moments when Bacall smoulders her way into the scenes. It fits perfectly with director Howard Hawks philosophy: "A good movie consists of three good scenes and no bad ones."

As an OTR fan, I should also make mention of Bacall's appearances in radio comedy & drama (almost always at Bogart's side). Although she and Bogart had their own syndicated show - Bold Venture - I can't really recommend it. It's okay, but every episode tends to sound alike. Instead, check out this fun episode of Jack Benny (mp3 at archive.org) where Bacall guest stars (naturally with Bogie tagging along).

Lauren Bacall will be remembered primarily as Bogart's better half, but she seemed to serve the role admirably (certainly better than his previous wives). One more piece of Hollywood's great past has been lost.

Monday, August 18, 2014

R.I.P.: Bob Hastings

I don't often comment on the deaths of old-time radio personalities - their ranks being (sadly) both small and finite - but there are some who certainly shouldn't be overlooked. Such a person is Bob Hastings, a talented performer whose career meets at an intersection between two of my interests - comic books & old-time radio. He passed away June 30th.

Hastings' was already a radio performer by age 14, beginning a career in voice acting which lasted 70 years. Hastings' first great role from the comic book genre came when he portrayed Archie Andrews on the radio (for about eight years). Unfortunately, it's a pretty awful radio show. Many radio shows of the day which featured comedic adventures of teenagers cast members used "funny voices" - actors whose voices cracked and broke. Archie's radio show was easily the most egregious offender against one's hearing (even the adult characters' voices crack). It's generally affirmed that Archie is one of the lousier old-time radio programs.

Fortunately, there was a lot more of Hastings on the radio in those days. Probably his greatest gift to we OTR fans were his appearances on NBC's Dimension X and successor program X Minus One, two great science fiction anthology shows. My favourite episodes with voice acting by Hastings are (links will take you to an archive.org mp3 file):

  • Cold Equations Tom Godwin's infamous tale of a woman who steals aboard a spaceship and the horrible reprecussions of her actions. Hastings portrays the husband of the doomed woman.
  • Marionettes, Inc. A swell Ray Bradbury story where men purchase android duplicates of themselves so they can escape from their wives. Hastings has a minor role as a bank clerk.
  • Junkyard A weird, almost equal parts funny and horrifying story about men setting their starship down on a world where people constantly lose knowledge, leaving the crew unable to recall how to activate their engines. Hastings plays a crewmember.
  • Skulking Permit A funny story about a colony which has been cut off from Earth for far too long; as Earth reestablishes contact, they're desperate to prove they're just like the humans they've read about in books, unaware Earth is now a tyrannical dictatorship. Hastings plays one of the complacent colonists.

Although he played Superboy on a 1960s animated series (his voice still quite able to achieve the teenage tones he'd used as Archie), Hastings' most beloved voice acting role came in 1993 with the launch of Batman: the Animated Series. His voice now roughened up by the passage of time, Hastings portrayed Commissioner Gordon. On the program, Gordon rarely got to be more than a stooge to the show's titular hero, but Gordon got in a few good lines from time to time and in one memorable outing - "Over the Edge" - went through an emotional rollercoaster which pit his brain and nerve against Batman himself.

Hastings remained with the program through 1999 and for many of us, served as the definitive Commissioner Gordon. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us, Bob!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Unearthed: The Destructor#2

Not content to give up after issue #1, I'm back for more of Atlas Comics' generic-yet-appealing super hero the Destructor!

Again we open with a Larry Lieber cover because - inexplicably - Atlas Comics did not realize advertising the fact Steve Ditko served as the series' artist might bring in more readers (of course, covers were always done early; p'rhaps Lieber drew all of the series' covers before Ditko had even been hired). Take notice of the words "All New No Reprint" in the top right corner. By 1975, the comic book industry had certainly been overrun with reprinted stories and the publishers usually disguised the fact that said reprints were not all-new material. In fact, it's been alleged that the entire reason for Marvel expanding the number of reprint titles in their library was simply to crush Atlas, forcing them off their newsstands (theorizing that vendors could more easily sell reprints of Don Heck's Avengers or Werner Roth's X-Men than gamble on an unknown quantity such as Morlock 2001 or Demon Hunter). If the direct market had been a force in those days, Atlas might have stood a better chance.

Anyway, the cover also serves to introduce the issue's villain: Deathgrip. He doesn't seem that formidable here (if his right hand can emit crackles of destructive energy, why is he bothering with that hook in his left hand?) and the woman hanging off the girder is needless clutter. The previous issue's cover was a touch generic, but it did a better job of selling the Destructor.

This story is called "Deathgrip!" and is again brought to us by writer Archie Goodwin, penciler Steve Ditko & inker Wally Wood. We resume the Destructor's tale by visiting the fallout from the first issue. While Destructor's primary foe Max Raven is dead, his lieutenant Lash and his mob are still a concern. There's a nice Daredevil-like bit where the Destructor's superhuman senses alert him to a truck trying to drive him over while he's in the midst of a fight. With the rest of Lash's men down, the Destructor moves in on the leader, but Lash points out if he's brought down, the Syndicate will simply bring in another leader, just as Lash replaced Raven. He suggests the Destructor should strike at the Syndicate's leader Big Mike Brand, who lives on a ranch in Ransom, New Mexico. The Destructor swallows this story and sets out to investigate Brand.

Once the Destructor leaves, Lash meets with a shadowy figure (soon revealed as Deathgrip) as they conspire over how they've tricked the Destructor into bringing down the Syndicate so their true masters the Combine can take over. While Jay Hunter briefly flashes back over his origin story, Deathgrip hints at his own origin (apparently the Combine supplied him with his bionic right hand) while being self-aware enough to note "Subtlety can hardly be the stock-in-trade of anyone called Deathgrip!" However, Deathgrip isn't with Lash simply to conspire - the Combine wants Lash killed. Deathgrip does so, apparently by burning through Lash's throat with his hand (Ditko cuts away for matters of discretion). "See Lash? No subtlety!" Deathgrip remarks. Again, while the Destructor is a fairly average series, Goodwin's scripting is well above average.

While Jay sets off to New Mexico, thinking how prior to his father's death he used to idolize Big Mike Brand, Deathgrip checks in with the Combine. The Combine want Deathgrip in Las Vegas for a new assignment, but he insists on following the Destructor's actions. The Combine agree, provided he serve only as a last resort - the Combine don't want Brand's death to be traced back to their agents.

In the New Mexico desert, Jay catches a rattlesnake and uses it to startle Brand's horseback-riding daughter Angela, giving Jay an opportunity to win Brand's confidence. One can't help but notice inker Wally Wood always wakes up when it's time to ink a pretty girl (and all girls are pretty in Wood's comics). Jay's plan works and Brand invites him back to the ranch, although Brand's top bodyguard Pepe is suspicious of Jay. For good measure, Jay fouls up Brand's car so he can save the day again through his mechanic training.

Jay soon accepts a job offer as Brand's chauffeur and intends to tear Brand's empire apart from within. As a continuing premise, this isn't too bad; if Jay's double identity/purpose is discovered by these people, it's worse than losing a secret - it would mean his life. And you thought Aunt May gave Peter Parker a lot of grief! Over dinner with the Brands, Jay meets Angela's boyfriend Glenn Thorne, whose curly perm suggests an underlying menace.

That evening, Jay dons his costume and breaks into Brand's office where he discovers Brand no longer has anything to do with the Syndicate operations Lash had been dealing in. The Destructor is seen by Brand's guards before he can leave and they shoot him, but his healing powers again save his life. Elsewhere, Deathgrip hears about the break-in and fears the Destructor might know Lash lied to him; he decides to go against the Combine and strike immediately.

The next day, Glenn takes Angela for a drive to an auto dump, where he removes a mask and wig to expose himself (in a fully-clothed manner) as Deathgrip tells of his origins as a cardsharp who lost a hand in an auto wreck. He again uses "subtle," this time to describe his ability with cards, but notes with his new hand "I can never be subtle again!"

Soon, Deathgrip sends a message to Big Mike: get out of the country and don't turn anything over to the authorities, or Angela will die. Jay overhears this and has begun to think Brand might not be the terrible gang lord he once was; Jay decides he'll rescue Angela. At the auto yard, Deathgrip shows off the compactor and has Angela locked inside a car, planning to crush her if her father doesn't comply with his demands. Fortunately, the Destructor arrives. Although Deathgrip's bionic hand causes Jay terrible pain, his quick healing enables him to stagger through and eventually he manoeuvres Deathgrip under the compactor's crane; Deathgrip's metal hand causes him to cling to the magnet and the Destructor releases him in the compactor, crushing him to death. The Destructor leaves the auto yard with Angela, still wondering if he'll have to kill her father.

Thoughts: Not bad. Again, average and I didn't find Wood's inking as energetic as before - the first issue had a kind of softness about the lines, whereas this issue feels almost glossy. Still, I'm one of those who always enjoys Ditko's layouts and Goodwin is virtually unbeatable as a scripter, so it's still a decent package. This is a minor treasure - worthwhile for any fan of Ditko, Goodwin or Wood.

In the next installment of Unearthed: The Destructor#3!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"There is still honor in war!" Usagi Yojimbo: Senso#1 review

Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo has been on hiatus since 2012 and won't truly return until next year, but at least some brand-new Usagi material has finally emerged: Usagi Yojimbo: Senso, a six-issue mini-series set about 20 years into the character's future.

For a fan such as I, there's a lot to enjoy in this book - Usagi and his old rhinoceros friend Gen are now employed by the Geishu Clan (something Usagi had avoided in the regular series), Lord Noriyuki is now fully-grown, Jotaro is now an adult warrior and the series' top antagonists Lord Hikiji and Hebi appear in full armour (Hebi's snakey body always makes armour on him a little hysterical to see). Heck, Hikiji appearing on-panel is an awfully rare occurrence!

In the midst of this showdown between Noriyuki & Hikiji's forces, there's a scientist named Takenoko who has developed a turlte-like tank for Noriyuki's side; this is the first hint of the science-fiction elements in this story, which are later enhanced by the arrival of a giant metal cylinder from space, which we readers already know from interviews will contain Martian invaders! Will they have tripods? I can't wait to find out!

Senso#1 is filled almost completely with action sequences, beautifully composed by Sakai. We've seen large battlefield scenes in this series before, but here Sakai has the room to fill the pages with details - it's all too-too great and we know there's more to come! The crash of the Martian cylinder is a particularly well-caught burst of energy. Senso may not be set within the same continuity as the regular Usagi Yojimbo tales, but I'm pleased as punch with this first outing.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Creator credits for Guardians of the Galaxy

I decided not to cheat myself out of a good time with my friends and so, relented in going to see the new film Guardians of the Galaxy, then placing a donation to the Hero Initiative greater than the sum of my ticket.

Besides which, I eased up a little on the film because I had heard in advance that there was particular emphasis on the creators (notably Steve Gerber & Val Mayerik for Howard the Duck) and because Marvel chipped in to give bed-ridden Bill Mantlo a private viewing of the film.

Rather than my usual means of grouping entries together by the comic where they originated, instead I'm grouping these by the creator, from most-used to least. It's difficult to know which creators were responsible for which ideas which wound up in print, hence my crediting the writers and artists in every instance - yet, in some cases the idea could have originated with the inker, colorist, letterer, editor or someone whose name didn't even appear in the comic.

Keith Giffen Writer co-creator of the Kyln, an extraterrestrial prison (Thanos#7, 2004); co-creator of Drax's redesign with red body tattoos (Drax the Destroyer#3, 2006); co-creator of Moloka Dar, an inmate in the Kyln; Star-Lord held as an inmate of the Kyln (Thanos#8, 2004); co-creator of Groot's ability to regrow himself from a single piece (Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord#3, 2007); co-creator of Star-Lord building a team of agents out of a prison, including recruits Groot and Rocket Raccoon; Groot and Rocket Raccoon's friendship; Star-Lord's helmet with full faceplate, red goggles and breathing unit; Star-Lord favouring twin guns; Rocket favouring heavy artillery; Groot termed a "Flora Colossus" (Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord#1, 2007); co-creator of Drax wearing only pants; Drax preferring knives as weapons (Drax the Destroyer#4, 2006); co-creator of the Nova Corps operating as jailers (Annihilation Prologue#1, 2006); co-creator of Drax being held prisoner (Drax the Destroyer#1, 2005). Artist Co-creator of Rocket Raccoon, an anthropomorphic adventurous raccoon (Marvel Preview#7, 1976).

Jim Starlin Writer-Artist creator of Gamora, a dangerous green-skinned woman who wields knives (Strange Tales#180, 1975); creator of Gamora's name (Strange Tales#181, 1975); co-creator of Drax the Destroyer, a green-skinned man with great power and singular focus on hunting his enemies to their deaths; Thanos, a death-worshipping intergalactic warlord who inflicts genocide; Drax's vendetta against Thanos (Iron Man#55, 1973); co-creator of Thanos' quest for ultimate power (Captain Marvel#27, 1973); creator of Gamora's species the Zenwhoberis; Gamora adopted by Thanos; Gamora operating as Thanos' assassin; Thanos' base called Sanctuary (Warlock#10, 1975); creator of Gamora turning against Thanos (Avengers Annual#7, 1977); co-creator of Drax motivated by the deaths of his wife and daughter, which involved Thanos (Captain Marvel#32, 1974). Writer Co-creator of the Infinity Gems, six all-powerful stones; Thanos seeking the Infinity Gems (Thanos Quest#1, 1990); co-creator of Thanos travelling upon a hovering throne (Silver Surfer#34, 1990).

Jack Kirby Writer-Artist creator of the Celestials, immense intergalactic creatures who judge worlds (The Eternals#1, 1976); creator of the Celestial Eson (The Eternals#9, 1977); co-creator of the Skrulls, from whom the Chitauri were derived (Fantastic Four#2, 1962); co-creator of Ronan the Accuser, a Kree who wields the hammer-like Universal Weapon (Fantastic Four#65, 1967); co-creator of the Cosmic Cube, an all-powerful energy container (Tales of Suspense#79, 1966); co-creator of Him, an artificial being who emerges from a coccoon (Fantastic Four#66, 1967); co-creator of Groot, an immense tree-like being from Planet X (Tales to Astonish#13, 1960); co-creator of the Kree, an extraterrestrial race of conquerors (Fantastic Four#64, 1967); creator of Jemiah, one of the Celestials (The Eternals#7, 1977).

Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning Writers co-creators of Knowhere, a city carved from the interior of a decapitated Celestial; Cosmo, a Soviet dog in spacesuit who dwells on Knowhere (Nova#8, 2008); co-creators of Rocket Raccoon sticking Groot's remains in a planter to regrow him (Annihilation: Conquest#6, 2008); co-creators of Gamora, Drax, Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon and Groot banded together as the Guardians of the Galaxy; the Guardians of the Galaxy on Knowhere; the Guardians of the Galaxy wearing matching uniforms; Rocket as the team's tactician; Rocket disliking Cosmo (Guardians of the Galaxy#1, 2008); co-creators of Groot's iterations of "I am Groot" having multiple meanings (Guardians of the Galaxy#17, 2009); co-creators of Groot's vocabulary limited to little more than "I am Groot" (Annihilation: Conquest#2, 2008).

Stan Lee writer co-creator of the Skrulls, from whom the Chitauri were derived (Fantastic Four#2, 1962); co-creator of Ronan the Accuser, a Kree who wields the hammer-like Universal Weapon (Fantastic Four#65, 1967); co-creator of the Cosmic Cube, an all-powerful energy container (Tales of Suspense#79, 1966); co-creator of the Collector, an extraterrestrial procurer of rare items, including sentient people (Avengers#28, 1966); co-creator of Him, an artificial being who emerges from a coccoon (Fantastic Four#66, 1967); co-creator of Groot, an immense tree-like being from Planet X (Tales to Astonish#13, 1960); co-creator of the Kree, an extraterrestrial race of conquerors (Fantastic Four#64, 1967); co-creator of Kraglin, an extraterrestrial criminal (Tales to Astonish#46, 1963).

Bill Mantlo Writer co-creator of the Nova Corps, an intergalactic force of peace officers comprising Nova Centurions (Rom#24, 1981); co-creator of Rocket Raccoon, an anthropomorphic adventurous raccoon (Marvel Preview#7, 1976); co-creator of Howard the Duck wearing pants (Howard the Duck#2, 1979); co-creator of Carina working for the Collector (Avengers#174, 1978); co-creator of Rocket Racccoon as a swashbuckling hero with the moniker "Rocket;" Rocket based in the Keystone Quadrant and Halfworld; Rocket's friend Lylla (Incredible Hulk#271, 1982).

John Buscema Artist co-creator of the Nova Centurions, Xandarian soldiers garbed in uniforms with chin-exposed helmets, a red starburst on their foreheads and a triangular star pattern on their chests; Dey, a Xandarian Nova Centurion; Nova Prime, title given to most powerful Nova Centurions (Nova#1, 1976); co-creator of Nebula, a blue-skinned villainous space pirate (Avengers#257, 1985); co-creator of Nebula related to Thanos; Nebula attempting the destruction of Xandar (Avengers#260, 1985).

Timothy Green II Artist co-creator of Groot's ability to regrow himself from a single piece (Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord#3, 2007); co-creator of Star-Lord building a team of agents out of a prison, including recruits Groot and Rocket Raccoon; Groot and Rocket Raccoon's friendship; Star-Lord's helmet with full faceplate, red goggles and breathing unit; Star-Lord favouring twin guns; Rocket favouring heavy artillery; Groot termed a "Flora Colossus" (Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord#1, 2007).

Marv Wolfman Writer co-creator of the Xandarians, an alien race very similar to humans (Fantastic Four#204, 1979); co-creator of the Nova Centurions, Xandarian soldiers garbed in uniforms with chin-exposed helmets, a red starburst on their foreheads and a triangular star pattern on their chests; Dey, a Xandarian Nova Centurion; Nova Prime, title given to most powerful Nova Centurions (Nova#1, 1976); co-creator of Xandar, homeworld of the Xandarians (Fantastic Four#205, 1979).

Mike Friedrich Writer co-creator of Drax the Destroyer, a green-skinned man with great power and singular focus on hunting his enemies to their deaths; Thanos, a death-worshipping intergalactic warlord who inflicts genocide; Drax's vendetta against Thanos (Iron Man#55, 1973); co-creator of Thanos' quest for ultimate power (Captain Marvel#27, 1973); co-creator of Drax motivated by the deaths of his wife and daughter, which involved Thanos (Captain Marvel#32, 1974).

Gene Colan Artist co-creator of Howard the Duck wearing pants (Howard the Duck#2, 1979); co-creator of Ronan depicted with blue skin; the Kree depicted with blue skin (Captain Marvel#1, 1968); co-creator of Yondu, a blue-skinned extraterrestrial with a red fin on his head; Yondu's yaka arrow, which is controlled by whistling; a team named the Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel Super-Heroes#18, 1969).

Ron Lim Artist co-creator of the Kyln, an extraterrestrial prison (Thanos#7, 2004); co-creator of Moloka Dar, an inmate in the Kyln; Star-Lord held as an inmate of the Kyln (Thanos#8, 2004); co-creator of the Infinity Gems, six all-powerful stones; Thanos seeking the Infinity Gems (Thanos Quest#1, 1990); co-creator of Thanos travelling upon a hovering throne (Silver Surfer#34, 1990).

Mark Gruenwald Writer created the Collector's real name Taneleer Tivan (Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe#3, 1983); co-creator of Saal, a Xandarian Nova Centurion (Avengers#301, 1989); co-creator of Korath the Pursuer, one of the Kree Pursuers (Quasar#32, 1992); creator of Yondu Odonta's surname (Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition#5, 1986).

Steve Englehart Writer co-creator of Star-Lord, alias Peter Quill, a half-alien man orphaned at a young age who becomes a space-adventuring gun-wielding hero while searching for his origins; Meredith Quill, Peter's mother whose death leads him to discover his origins (Marvel Preview#4, 1976); co-creator of the Collector pursuing Infinity Gems (Silver Surfer#7, 1988).

Keith Pollard Artist co-creator of the Xandarians, an alien race very similar to humans (Fantastic Four#204, 1979); co-creator of Xandar, homeworld of the Xandarians (Fantastic Four#205, 1979); co-creator of the Pursuers, powerful Kree soldiers (Inhumans#11, 1977); co-creator of the A'askavarii, an extraterrestrial race (Black Goliath#5, 1976).

Sal Buscema Artist co-creator of the Nova Corps, an intergalactic force of peace officers comprising Nova Centurions (Rom#24, 1981); co-creator of Rocket Racccoon as a swashbuckling hero with the moniker "Rocket;" Rocket based in the Keystone Quadrant and Halfworld; Rocket's friend Lylla (Incredible Hulk#271, 1982).

Paul Pelletier Artist co-creator of Gamora, Drax, Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon and Groot banded together as the Guardians of the Galaxy; the Guardians of the Galaxy on Knowhere; the Guardians of the Galaxy wearing matching uniforms; Rocket as the team's tactician; Rocket disliking Cosmo (Guardians of the Galaxy#1, 2008)

Mitch Breitweiser Artist co-creator of Drax's redesign with red body tattoos (Drax the Destroyer#3, 2006); co-creator of Drax wearing only pants; Drax preferring knives as weapons (Drax the Destroyer#4, 2006); co-creator of Drax being held prisoner (Drax the Destroyer#1, 2005).

Steve Gan Artist co-creator of Star-Lord, alias Peter Quill, a half-alien man orphaned at a young age who becomes a space-adventuring gun-wielding hero while searching for his origins; Meredith Quill, Peter's mother whose death leads him to discover his origins; (Marvel Preview#4, 1976).

Roger Stern Writer co-creator of Carina (Avengers#167, 1978); co-creator of Nebula, a blue-skinned villainous space pirate (Avengers#257, 1985); co-creator of Nebula related to Thanos; Nebula attempting the destruction of Xandar (Avengers#260, 1985).

Tom Raney Artist co-creator of Rocket Raccoon sticking Groot's remains in a planter to regrow him (Annihilation: Conquest#6, 2008); co-creator of Groot's vocabulary limited to little more than "I am Groot" (Annihilation: Conquest#2, 2008).

Arnold Drake Writer co-creator of Yondu, a blue-skinned extraterrestrial with a red fin on his head; Yondu's yaka arrow, which is controlled by whistling; a team named the Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel Super-Heroes#18, 1969).

Roy Thomas Writer co-creator of the Soul Gem, from which the Infinty Gems were derived (Marvel Premiere#1, 1970); co-creator of Ronan depicted with blue skin; the Kree depicted with blue skin (Captain Marvel#1, 1968).

Don Heck Artist co-creator of the Collector, an extraterrestrial procurer of rare items, including sentient people (Avengers#28, 1966); co-creator of Kraglin, an extraterrestrial criminal (Tales to Astonish#46, 1963).

Chris Claremont Writer co-creator of Star-Lord journeying through space alone on his ship (Marvel Preview#11, 1977); co-creator of the A'askavarii, an extraterrestrial race (Black Goliath#5, 1976).

Wellinton Alves Artist co-creator of Knowhere, a city carved from the interior of a decapitated Celestial; Cosmo, a Soviet dog in spacesuit who dwells on Knowhere (Nova#8, 2008).

Doug Moench Writer co-creator of Bereet and her species, the Krylorians (Rampaging Hulk#1, 1977); co-creator of the Pursuers, powerful Kree soldiers (Inhumans#11, 1977).

Walter Simonson Writer-Artist creator of the Dark Elves (Thor#344, 1984); Artist co-creator of Bereet and her species, the Krylorians (Rampaging HulK#1, 1977).

Jim Shooter Writer co-creator of Carina (Avengers#167, 1978); co-creator of Carina working for the Collector (Avengers#174, 1978).

Carlo Pagulayan Artist co-creator of the Sakaarians, an extraterrestrial race with stone-like technology (Incredible Hulk#92, 2006).

Brad Walker Artist co-creator of Groot's iterations of "I am Groot" having multiple meanings (Guardians of the Galaxy#17, 2009).

Greg Pak Writer co-creator of the Sakaarians, an extraterrestrial race with stone-like technology (Incredible Hulk#92, 2006).

Gil Kane Artist co-creator of the Soul Gem, from which the Infinty Gems were derived (Marvel Premiere#1, 1970).

John Byrne Artist co-creator of Star-Lord journeying through space alone on his ship (Marvel Preview#11, 1977).

Scott Kolins Artist co-creator of the Nova Corps operating as jailers (Annihilation Prologue#1, 2006).

H.E. Huntley Artist co-creator of Kraglin, an extraterrestrial criminal (Tales to Astonish#46, 1963).

Steve Gerber Writer co-creator of Howard the Duck, an anthropomorphic sardonic duck (Fear#19, 1973).

M.C. Wyman Artist co-creator of Nebula's body reinforced with cybernetics (Silver Surfer#72, 1992).

Val Mayerik Artist co-creator of Howard the Duck, an anthropomorphic sardonic duck (Fear#19, 1973).

Pasqual Ferry Artist co-creator of Ronan as a servant of Thanos (Ultimate Fantastic Four#35, 2006).

Marshall Rogers Artist co-creator of the Collector pursuing Infinity Gems (Silver Surfer#7, 1988).

Greg Capullo Artist co-creator of Korath the Pursuer, one of the Kree Pursuers (Quasar#32, 1992).

Ron Marz Writer co-creator of Nebula's body reinforced with cybernetics (Silver Surfer#72, 1992).

Mike Carey Writer co-creator of Ronan as a servant of Thanos (Ultimate Fantastic Four#35, 2006).

Ralph Macchio Writer co-creator of Saal, a Xandarian Nova Centurion (Avengers#301, 1989).

David Wenzel Artist co-creator of Carina working for the Collector (Avengers#174, 1978).

Bob Hall Artist co-creator of Saal, a Xandarian Nova Centurion (Avengers#301, 1989).

Steve Epting Artist co-creator of Ronan working with Korath (Avengers#346, 1992).

Bob Harras Writer co-creator of Ronan working with Korath (Avengers#346, 1992).

Darick Robertson Artist co-creator of Saal's name (New Warriors#40, 1993).

Fabian Nicieza Writer co-creator of Saal's name (New Warriors#40, 1993).

Mark Millar Writer co-creator of the Chitauri (The Ultimates#8, 2002).

Bryan Hitch Artist co-creator of the Chitauri (The Ultimates#8, 2002).

George Perez Artist co-creator of Carina (Avengers#167, 1978).

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Unearthed: The Destructor#1

Or, INTRODUCTORY TO DESTRUCTORY!

Funny thing: after Hands of the Dragon I'd planned Atlas Comics' Destructor to cover my next few entries of Unearthed, when earlier this week Calamity Jon tackled Destructor on his site, Gone & Forgotten. Go read his article if you'd prefer a few laughs over my ramblings.

From the cover of the Destructor#1, it seems at first glance to be another undistinguished comic book like so much of what was crowding the spinner racks of 1975. The art here is by Larry Lieber & Wally Wood, hence why there's an effort towards Kirby-ish dynamism (Lieber) and a large-busted woman (Wood). It's our first look at the Destructor himself and there's not much you can about a costume such as his; it's rather generic. Even the unique-looking pointed red tips travelling up his brow bring to mind DC's Hawk (he of and the Dove). I think the advantage of a simple super hero costume (such as Destructor's) is that when it's set against a detailed backdrop, it pops out. The disadvantage is that against a bland background, the figure is lost. Where does the Destructor fall? Read on...

The Destructor's debut story "The Birth of a Hero!" (cripes, even the title's generic) is written by Archie Goodwin, penciled by Steve Ditko and inked by Wally Wood - so right there, there's your reason for bothering with this comic. If neither Ditko nor Wood are to your tastes then I can only suggest - perhaps you aren't that interested in comics? Goodwin has not been praised to stratosphere as the two artists have and many of his plaudits are due to his work as an editor. However, he was a truly fine writer as well; I think most Iron Man fans would agree with me that he was that series' first truly fine author. Can these talented men sneak a quality hero past Atlas' publishers? Let us see...

Our setting is the exotic locale of Newark, New Jersey, where mobster Max Raven occupies his time with one hand in his pocket, watching his goons rough someone up. Hm. We meet Jay Hunter, a young delivery boy whose primary job in the Raven mob is to bring his boss the take from their numbers racket. Jay is interested to see them working over one of their own men and follows up this observation by suggesting he could be a bigger help to them. This inspires Raven to have Jay killed, rather than accept Jay into his ranks and get at least a few months of valuable service out of him before finalizing the matter. Raven's a little paranoid to think Jay should die for being ambitious, to put it neatly.

Jay goes to see his scientist father Simon, who disapproves of Jay's lifestyle. Simon believes the serum he's been working on will enhance the senses of whomever ingests it. Jay doesn't believe his father will ever obtain the funding he needs, but their conversation is interrupted by Raven's gunman Blitz, who shoots them both. Dying, Simon gives the serum to Jay, tells him to find something hidden in the lab closet, then perishes. The serum saves Jay's life, granting him a superhuman healing ability, but he's still sent to the hospital, suffering from nightmarish visions (excellently captured by Ditko). Hearing that Jay is alive, Raven has Blitz killed to prevent him from speaking. If this trend continues, Jay may not need to seek revenge on Raven, Raven might obligingly kill off his entire mob!

Jay sneaks out of the hospital and tries to lie low with some friends, but they want nothing to do with him (you can tell the gal above has more ink than pencil in her lines, eh?). Jay winds up hiding in his father's lab, where he accidentally discovers his enhanced abilities also include superhuman strength. In the hidden closet his father mentioned, Jay discovers a costume.

"Bringin' down Raven'll take somethin' more vicious... ...a Smasher, a Destroyer... a Destructor!"

Thus he decides upon is name and begins to strike back against Raven in his costumed identity, using his inside knowledge of the Raven mob to destroy their hideouts. Jay sends messages to Raven where he claims the Destructor is working with him to destroy Raven; the use of a double identity in this situation doesn't quite make sense to me as he's fighting Raven in both guises, but at least it rattles Raven so he wonders who Jay's new friend could be.

The Destructor's continued assaults upon Raven's mob coupled with Jay's constant taunts begins to wear upon Raven's reputation. He decides to call in the Slaymaster! We next witness Slaymaster as he goes into action against a gang in Ohio he'd been hired to kill. The Slaymaster wears normal-looking duds - a suit, sensible shoes, gloves and a quite Ditkoesque hat. He also has a large belt of gadgets (such as a rope), two guns and wears a net-like mask over his face (being Ditko, I'm not quite sure if the mask is supposed to be netting, cloth or perhaps nylon?). It's interesting to note that all of the people Slaymaster slays he shoots in the back; hardly a sporting one, he. Slaymaster accepts Raven's bid to have both the Destructor and Jay killed.

At this point we're halfway through the story and the Destructor thinks back upon his father's death. Perhaps the story was originally intended to be broken up within an anthology, such as Atlas' Thrilling Adventure Stories? The Destructor heads to another of Raven's front companies, the Giant Novelty Co. Wait, seriously? We went from Newark to Gotham City? Entering the factory, the Destructor walks right into the sights of Slaymaster, who successfully strikes our hero twice (the story would probably be over here but for Destructor's healing ability). The Slaymaster calls out to the Destructor, boasting of all the technology at his hands to help hunt the hero. The Destructor has nothing but his own hands and feet for weapons, but this new challenge encourages him to better understand how his powers work; through concentration, he learns how to better pinpoint his enemy's location and train his reflexes to dodge his attacks. It's in this sequence that Ditko finally gets to show off the kind of stylized acrobatics which are his forte. At one point Destructor leaps up and grabs a pipe in the rafters to avoid being seen by Slaymaster, but the noise of doing so gives him away. It's all one great cat-and-mouse contest unti Destructor leaps on him and a gun goes off.

The Slaymaster seemingly returns to Raven to report on the Destructor's death, but it turns out to be the Destructor wearing Slaymaster's clothes. Before Destructor can have his revenge on Raven, Raven's lieutenant Lash bursts in with two gunmen and shoot Raven to death, blaming him for the destruction of their mob. The Destructor roughs up Lash and the others, then reveals his identity to Raven before the mobster dies (his dying thought: cousin Chill said there'd be days like this). Visiting his father's grave, Jay declares it's not enough to simply obtain revenge; he resolves he'll carry on as a hero.

Thoughts:

Gosh darn it, I like this comic. Yes, the costume, origin and set-up are very familiar, but it's told well. Goodwin, Ditko and Wood were (in Ditko's case is) masters of comic book storytelling and they make no real missteps in this tale. If Atlas had produced more comics like this - hired experienced talent then stepped out of their way - their reputation might have been a bit better.

Atlas didn't seem to understand what it had here - I mean, this is a class-a creative team, yet they spent their time thumping their chests to remind people Larry Lieber was Stan Lee's brother, or Martin & Chip Goodman claiming credit as "the men who created Marvel Comics." Sure, what history of Marvel Comics would dare omit mention of Chip Goodman? He certainly left an impression on all our minds, unlike that Ditko guy who, oh yeah, created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange! Ah, phooey. Atlas deserved to fail.

I realize this will sound like damning with faint praise, but Atlas Comics have a very good selection of advertisements. When you look at a 70s publisher like Charlton, the second-rate ads tend to confirm their status as a second-rate publisher, but Atlas' ads were as good as anything running in Marvel or DC at the time - one of the benefits Martin Goodman enjoyed would have been that rolodex of all the people he worked with at Marvel. Heck, there's an ad for Jim Steranko's Mediascene and I don't recall them running in Marvel titles. That's a pretty good get!

In the next Unearthed: The Destructor#2!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Grand Comics Database

I've been a fan of the Grand Comics Database for about 15 years - it's long been my preferred source for looking up information on comic books. For a while now, I've been an indexer for the GCD and I'm actually enjoying it a lot; perhaps it's filling the void left in my life when I quit working for Marvel? As an outsider looking in, I just assumed the GCD was complete; looking closer, I began to see where gaps existed and I've been doing my best to fill gaps where I can. My specialty has long been Marvel Comics, which the GCD have pretty well covered; however, the smaller publishers need quite a bit of filling in and that fits with my refocused priority to prop up creators rather than corporations.

Perhaps my greatest contribution so far has been in the service of one of my favourite creators: fellow Canuck and all-around great guy James Turner. Having indexed all of his Rex Libris & Warlord of Io for the site over the last two weeks, the GCD has about 200% more Turner than it did before. It's the least I can do for someone nice enough to link to this blog on his own (also nice enough not bother me for naming this blog after a joke in his Rex Libris).

Anyway, don't be surprised if you see my name somewhere amongst the swirl of those hundreds who index at the GCD. Sapere Aude!

Monday, August 4, 2014

More Canadian whites on Kickstarter!

Earlier this year, Rachel Richey & Hope Nicholson combined efforts to produce a quite successful Kickstarter for Nelvana of the Northern Lights (as I've mentioned on this blog before). With "Canadian whites" (original Canadian comic book content of the 1940s) being so expensive and only lightly researched over the decades, it's a tremendous gift to see this renewed interest in the field.

With Nelvana in the rearview mirror, Richey's new Kickstarter project is a collection for perhaps the best-known Canadian adventure hero of the 1940s - Johnny Canuck, a Bell Features hero like Nelvana.

For her part, Hope Nicholson is now creating a collection for Brok Windsor, a Maple Leaf Comics hero who's quite obscure, but I'm fascinated to learn more about him.

Maybe I'm a little more excited than most about these projects - in the last year I've gone from being pretty ignorant about my home & native land's 1940s books to being able to rattle off the history of the "whites," the major creators and characters at the drop of the hat (which I've had to do thanks to the media attention the Nelvana book brought to my workplace).

These are new Kickstarter projects but have brought in money so quickly they're pretty dang certain to fund themselves. I mention them here not so much to promote the Kickstarters as to get the word out - anyone who missed out on the excitement of their book about Nelvana (or who is looking forward to IDW's release of their book), make sure you get in on Johnny Canuck & Brok Windsor too!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Unearthed: The Hands of the Dragon#1

I wasn't alive during the days when Martin Goodman - reeling from having sold away his Marvel Comics - attempted to catch lightning in a bottle for a second time with his blink-and-you'll-miss-them Atlas Comics. Much of what I know about Atlas came from reading the Encyclopedia of Super Heroes (written by Atlas' own Jeff Rovin), various histories from periodicals and, of course, the online humour of Gone and Forgotten and Bully the Little Stuffed Bull. The overall consensus: Atlas Comics were not very good.

But why rely on heresay evidence? Why not spend some of my hard-earned money and experience Atlas for myself? There are two possible scenarios:

  1. It transpires that I find Atlas Comics rather good and their negative qualities exaggerated.
  2. It transpires that I find Atlas Comics tremendously bad and perhaps entertainingly so.

Let's hope there's no third option: relentlessly tiresome. Let's turn back to June, 1975 and Hands of the Dragon!

Atlas' covers certainly look a lot like the contemporary covers issued by Marvel at the time, eh? In their ads, Atlas were all-too happy to invite comparisons to Marvel (such as calling themselves "the New House of Ideas") and perhaps they hoped readers might pick up an Atlas book by assuming it were one of Marvel's. They truly were the Asylum of comics, eh? They pinned their hopes on readers overlooking the publisher's name on the topper.

Between the young orange-skinned fellow with black hair, red slacks and bare feet appearing beneath a series titled "Hands," one can assume this series was intended to be the "mockbuster" of Marvel's Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu (who also appeared in Deadly Hands of Kung Fu). If the art seems particularly like something from MoKF, it's worth noting this book's artist, Canada's own Jim Craig, went on to draw MoKF after Paul Gulacy exited that series. To that extent, you could consider Hands of the Dragon the resume which won him his later job.

Of course, Craig wasn't a particularly well-liked MoKF artist and he would later be overshadowed by his fellow Canadian and former collaborator on Orb magazine, Gene Day. A tangled web, indeed. Still, this is like finding a lost issue of Master of Kung Fu.

The cover blurb declares, "From the holocaust of an atomic explosion comes the toughest kng fu fighter of them all!" Please remember those words.

We open on a splash page of the masked kung fu hero the Dragon battling a tattooed man with a machine gun. The story has no title, it's simply "The Hands of the Dragon." The writer is Ed Fedory, not someone I'm familiar with, although the Grand Comics Database identifies him as writing plenty of horror stories for Skywald.

The story flashes back to Japan, World War II. An old man is journeying home to China with twin infant boys strapped to his back - his grandsons. Just as the old man passes near Mount Fuji, a bomb dropped there long ago suddenly detonates and although the grandfather avoids death, he's flashed by the radiation and one of his grandsons receives facial burns.

Wow, how messed up is that previous paragraph?

First we've got an old man heading home to China by way of Mount Fuji. So, he began his journey to the west - by walking east? I mean, there totally is access to the sea nearby, as the story claims, but he'll have to sail halfway around Japan before he can continue to China. Next, although the bomb is not expressly dubbed an atomic bomb, what else could it be? It generates radiation, deliver burns - and, as I noted, is referred to as such on the cover - totally an atomic bomb. So, uh, I guess that clumsy US Air Force dropped a third atomic bomb we didn't hear about 'cause it went off late?

Anyway, the grandfather finds his strength has increased, something the narrator attributes to the radiation. So, okay, if we're obeying comic book science where radiation is magical (and makes you stronger rather than weaker) perhaps I should stop asking these questions? Yet the old man sails to China in a mere fishing boat. That's not an easy voyage at the best of times! Not only did he choose the long around to China, he had to travel through a sea notorious for smashing ships! Heck, the Japanese revered the stormy weather surrounding the Sea of Japan precisely because it discouraged more than one attempted invasion from China. Yet this old man improbably sails clear through!

Oh, but it gets better. Here's the kicker: not content to journey into China during a time of serious unrest, he then walks to the Himalayas. Well, why not? Also, he fights a polar bear barehanded. Sure, let's go with it. Perhaps this entire story up to now is just the greatest put-on since Baron Munchausen (more like Baron Mun-Chow-San, amiright? forgive me).

Grandpa Munchausen brings his grandsons to a monastery and reunites there with old friends. We finally learn grandpa's name is Teh Chang. He lost his family in the war as is determined to protect his remaining grandsons. He fears for the one deformed by the radiation burns, though a monk remarks "As long as his spirit is pure, it is of no importance." Yeah, I mean, c'mom, what do you think this is? Some simplistic story where people become evil just because they lack conventional good looks?

Years go by; the grandson with conventional good looks - Wu Teh - grows to become a strong, disciplined, pure-hearted fellow. However, the scarred grandson - Ling - has grown ruthless and Teh Chang is bothered that Ling often goes to meet with Dr. Nhu. There's no explanation as to what it is about Dr. Nhu which upsets grandpa so. Supposedly Ling's outer scars have led to an inner corruption but I'm hard-pressed to even identify Ling's physical scars - the art's not selling it here. As a demonstration of Ling's ruthlessness, we see him roughing up someone else in the monastery. When Wu Teh intervenes, Ling attacks him with a spear, vowing to disfigure his brother. They clash and when Ling throws the spear, Teh Chang shoves his grandson out of the way, resulting in a fatal wound to his chest. Ling flees the monastery. Wu Teh vows revenge but, dying, Teh Chang insists his grandson not seek revenge on Ling.

Several more years go by; using the gold of the Himalayas, Wu Teh evidently becomes the Count of Monte Cristo and funds his journalism studies in southern California, never ceasing to search for his brother. Yet more time passes and Wu Teh becomes a TV anchorman, hoping the news may lead him to Ling. Much like Clark Kent, our hero relies on the news media to find trouble - or, in this instance, his missing brother. Given that his brother is the focus of his life, maybe instead of spending years in school to become a journalist he might have spent his time more proftiably by pursuing a career as a private detective or government agent? It's a pretty big gamble to think Ling is going to turn up in the news reports of a southern California TV station, isn't it?

The narrator claims when Wu Teh finds Ling it will "launch him toward the fulfillment of the vow he made to his dying grandfather!" The vow his grandfather expressly pleaded he not pursue? Great job honouring your dying grandfather, hero.

One day, Wu Teh is interrupted from his daily chore of convincing spellcheck his surname isn't a typo when his beautiful co-worker Nicky happens to show him photographs of Japan's prime minister and he recognizes a tattooed hand which can only belong to Dr. Nhu, whom, despite being a major character, has thus far only appeared on the splash page. Still, we know he's associated with Ling, whom Wu Teh is suddenly calling "the Cobra" as though this had always been his alias. Leaving the newsroom, Wu Teh dons his masked costume and sets off as the Dragon, realizing Dr. Nhu must be scouting the prime minister's movements with an intent to strike at the minister's public address at the university, where he'll be speaking on the subject of an international police force, something Dr. Nhu would be against.

So the Dragon sneaks into the university theatre. Yup, a public address definitely requires the use of stealth. As the prime minister tries to begin his speech, he's interrupted by a hippie who complains about Japan's whaling industry, much to the annoyance of the crowd. However, the Dragon admits "The boy's got some good ideas" (said "boy" has silvery white hair). You see, counter-culture? Atlas is on your side!

Dr. Nhu emerges from the crowd, having disguised his features beneath a caucasian mask. He pulls out a machine gun as the Dragon attacks him, attempting to save the prime minister (at this point one notes Dr. Nhu's tattoos change shape and colours between panels). However, while the Dragon beats Dr. Nhu, the Cobra walks up and shoots the prime minister. Somehow, he does through the crosshairs of a scope on his pistol, even though there's no scope visible on the gun, which is, after all, a pistol, not a rifle. The Dragon tries to pursue Ling, but the minister's security guards attack him and one shoots him in the back. The Dragon crawls away.

The hippie proves to be a med student and intervenes in time to stabilize the prime minister. He goes to a hospital and survives surgery, but is weakened; to ensure his survival, the Dragon breaks into the minister's hospital room and opens the medallion from around his chest (he inherited it from his grandfather), which releases some kind of formula which saves the minister's life. The Dragon exits the hospital; Dr. Nhu and the Cobra are both on the loose and somehow he'll have to pick up their trails again.

Thoughts:

Hands of the Dragon opens with an origin story which is, as covered above, ludicrous. From the lousy geography, comic book science and tired tropes about scars turning people evil, it's handled very amateurishly. Once the real story begins in contemporary times, it's an inoffensive, typical 70s adventure hero story. What's missing from this comic?

  1. Some sense of the bond between Wu Teh and Ling, who are only ever shown as rivals; unlike, say, the origin of Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe, which told a similar story about friends falling out over a relative's death, but first went to the trouble of establishing the relationship!
  2. Some idea of who Dr. Nhu is, what his philosophies are and why they win Ling over to his side.
  3. At least a glimmer of an idea as to why Wu Teh decides to dress up in a mask whlie chasing Ling.

There would have been more space to flesh out Wu Teh & Ling's relationship, sketch out who Dr. Nhu is and give Wu Teh a compelling reason to be a super hero if only the preposterous travels of Grandpa Munchausen had been omitted. Heck, the story could have begun with the setup to the attack on the prime minister and covered the backstory in a brief flashback if need be.

Look again to Master of Kung Fu - Steve Englehart & Jim Starlin's initial story established the character of Shang-Chi, his devotion to his father, the fracturing of that trust when he learns how cruel his father truly is, Shang turning against his father, fending off his father's men, then declaring from then on, they would be enemies. If you aspire to ape the success of Marvel, you might at least pay attention to how their stories are structured and characters developed.

However, not every comic started out fully-formed; Martin Goodman himself might recall how Marvel's Incredible Hulk failed to find an audience on the first attempt. Now that the Dragon has been embellished, his storytelling engine developed, we can simply move on to the next story in the series.

Next time: "Dragonkill!" in Hands of the Dragon#... wait a minute, that's it? They cancelled Hands of the Dragon after the first issue?

There you have a recurring problem with Atlas - the follow-up. So many titles ended after one issue, or changed into a radically different series by the 2nd issue. Hands of the Dragon falls into the former category. There is no more of it. So next time... next time I'll look at a different Atlas title and see if it isn't a little more palatable.