Sunday, July 31, 2011

Crisis Part 26 - Rockin' In Eternity!

By the time of the 1976 JSofA and JLofA crossover, a lot had happened in the broader DC universe, namely the Justice Society had at long last gotten their own series again in the revived All-Star Comics. It's a wonderful run, but it did take the special bloom off the annual crossover event since seeing these Earth-2 legends was much more commonplace now. So the special sauce in these annual events needed to be something else and in 1976, the added spice was the revival of the Fawcett heroes.

DC had long ago sued Fawcett Comics out of business claiming that Captain Marvel was a rip-off of Superman. The famous case resulted in the Marvel Family disappearing from the shelves and becoming a misty part of comics history. When I first encountered Captain Marvel it was in Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes and Feiffer was only allowed at that time to show one page of the Big Red Cheese's origin for historical purposes.

So it's obviously ironic when DC bought the defunct Fawcett heroes and revived the Marvel Family at last in the pages of Shazam!. Now in this crossover trilogy we'd get a glimpse of other Fawcett heroes not seen for many decades.

"Crisis In Eternity!" was plotted by E. Nelson Bridwell, scripted by Marty Pasko and featured artwork by the stalwart team of Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin. Ernie Chua/Chan supplied the covers for all three issues in this trilogy. The story begins with King Kull, the last of the Beast-Men from Earth-S (the Earth where the Fawcett cheroes lived, the "S" standing for "Shazam"). He wanted revenge and started that revenge by using a torpor ray to stop the gods on the Rock of Eternity, the same gods who gave power to the Marvel Family. Only Mercury escaped with a plan he got telepathically from Shazam the wizard.

Chapter 1 "Gather Ye Heroes While Ye May!" shows Mercury collecting his superheroes from three Earths. He gets Green Arrow, Superman, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl from Earth-1. He gets Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Johnny Thunder, Robin and Batman (his first crossover appearance)from Earth-2. And from Earth-S the representatives are Ibis the Invincible, Spy Smasher, Bulletman, Bulletgirl, Mr.Scarlet and Pinky the Whiz Kid. The heroes gather and divide into to teams to meet the threats.

Chapter 2 "Crisis On A Lost Continent" has Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, and Spy Smasher take on Queen Clea of the Amazons, Blockbuster, Penguin, and IBAC to save Earth-2 on the risen island of Atlantis. Superman and Wonder Woman dispatch Clea and her enslaved Blockbuster. Arrow defeats the Penguin, and Spy Smasher beats IBAC by getting him to say his name turning him into his inoffensive other self. But the true threat to the is a cloud which uses gravity fields to crush surface features into the Earth itself. Superman is able to compress this offending cloud using his super-breath and send it into space.

"Crisis On Earth-S!" is by the same creative team of Bridwell, Pasko, Dillin, and McLaughlin.

Chapter 3 "The Volcano Connection" shows the heroes Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Bulletman, and Bulletgirl battling an erupting volcano which spews material which transforms people into stone. Hawkman is affected slightly. The scene shifts to Billy Batson (the boy who would be Captain Marvel) and he reports about the weird events on Earth-S including a walking skyscraper.

Chapter 4 "The Sting of Laughter...The Splash of Tears..." showcases the heroes Batman, Robin, Mr.Scarlet and Pinky. They battle the Earth-2 Joker and an Earth-S villain named Weeper. These two commit jewel robberies by animating the jewels which walk out of the store behind them. Batman himself has been afflicted though by a jaw partially transformed into steel. The combined sleuths defeat the villains, but changes continue to happen as Pinky's hair acquires a diamond consistency. The heroes learn that the true threat is posed by Dr.Light and The Shade and a world which is now torn between unchanging sides of perpetual day and night.

Chapter 5 "Chaos in Chiarscuro!" has Bulletman and Hawkman battling the Shade and his darkness but are concerned when the Shade's cane seems not to be in control of the dark. Meanwhile Bulletgirl and Hawkgirl battle Dr.Light and discover that he too doesn't seem to have complete control of the sunshine. It's discovered that two satellites are the offending devices and using the Shade's cane and Dr.Light's gun the two satellites are smashed into one another cancelling the threat to Earth-S. The transformations of all kind immediately vanish.

"Crisis In Tomorrow!" is again by the creative team of Bridwell, Pasko, Dillin, and McLaughlin.

Chapter 6 "The Odds Against Tomorrow!" begins in the futuristic domed city on Earth-1 which comes under attack by Mr.Atom the giant robot from Earth-S. That threat is confronted by the combined forces of the Green Lanterns and Ibis the Invincible. But they are stymied by Mr.Atoms black aura. Meanwhile the two Flashes and Mercury rush around the domed city saving the people and doing what can be done to forestall property damage.

Chapter 7 "Death Is A Green-Skinned Computer" reveals that Mr.Atom is assisted by a flying saucer. Green Lantern of Earth-1 investigates and finds longtime Superman foe Brainiac behind the threat of Mr.Atom's black protective aura and further he is using the energy of the Flashes to power his ultimate scheme.

Chapter 8 "When Titans Clash!" has the heroes face off again Mr.Atom who gets hold of the Ibis stick and commands it to send Ibis into the heart of sun. But a protective spell on the wand reverses the effect and Mr.Atom himself is sent hurtling into space out of sight. The city saved, the heroes plan to reassemble for the final assault on the Rock of Eternity where King Kull is encamped. But Kull uses Red Kryptonite from Earth-2 to transform the Man of Steel into a mad killer and sets him to assault his comrades. On Earth-S though Johnny Thunder has arrived to visit the Marvel Family trapped in their mortal forms and uses his Thunderbolt to substitute for the lightning normally sent by Shazam. The Marvel Family now unleashed they race to the Rock of Eternity to defeat King Kull. Then Captain Marvel flies to confront the berserker Superman and just as the two titans are about the crash into one another Marvel calls down Shazam's lightning, changing himself into Billy Batson and driving out Superman's rage. Superman saves Batson and the threat ended the assembled heroes of the three Earths fly off to their respective homes.

(The Marvel Family)

This three-part crossover is a hectic race of a story with a pace that never slackens at all. That frankly is a bit of a problem as we are confronted with so many different heroes and villains that scorecards are absolutely required to make sense of the action. The stories seem frankly to lack a focus, a central figure through which the furious action can be processed. In previous crossovers the Red Tornado provided that filter. In the previous year the visiting writers Bates and Maggin played the role. But in this story there seems to be no true center. Shazam might've been a good candidate for it, likewise Billy Batson who does report on the action from time to time.

I personally would've loved to have seen more done with the Earth-2 Batman who shows up in this one almost by accident and gets no mention at all from the Earth-1 heroes who I'd imagine might be eager to meet him after all this time. He does get some good cover time on the second issue of the crossover I'll have to admit. It was nice to see him and Robin teaming up, given what will happen to him soon in the regular Justice Society storyline.

The offbeat villains are fun for sure. There seemed to be a real desire to dig out some curious combos this time out. Putting the Weeper with the Earth-2 Joker was funny, and it was cool to see the robots Brainiac and Mr.Atom join forces. But overall, it was quite difficult to get a grip on why the baddies were doing what they were doing. Their crimes seemed random to the overall plot as the villains themselves seemed not to be plugged into the true nature of the plot. This added to the chaos.

(The Fawcett Heroes by Dillin & McLaughlin)

I liked this crossover for its novelty, and I have to give Dick Dillin an award for maintaining as much clarity as he does with the armada of characters he's presented with.

(Little Richard Buckler & Dickie Giordano)

And despite the cover of the third issue in the crossover, Captain Marvel and Superman do not actually clash in any real sense. That would have to wait for a few years when they duked it out in a special tabloid comic dedicated to that very purpose.

In the last analysis this storyline is more of a fun but incomplete stunt than a true involving story. That's a pity, because there's a ton of potential in these pages.

Rip Off

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Justice League Of America Retroactive!

Since I'm a veteran (read "old") fan, the current DC "Retroactive" comics have gotten my attention. But alas there's nothing retro about the price of the comics, a hefty five bucks! So the only one I've gotten is the Justice League of America entry written by Cary Bates and drawn by a blend of Adam Smith, Gordon Purcell and Jose Marzan Jr.

The story is set primarily on Earth Prime (our Earth supposedly back in the day) and features a misplaced Adam Strange who has to convince the authorities that he's a bonafide space-traveling superhero and not a run-of-the-mill raving lunatic. The League gets wind of Adam's dilemma from Rann and seek him out, not only for his sake but to help them fight off Kanjar Ro who it seems is at the root of Strange's displacement.

All in all it's not a terrible story, but I have to confess it is a rather boring one. The script and art attempt to evoke the classic feel, but fail to do so. Julie Schwartz is in evidence, reprising his role as seen in the classicThe Flash #179 (see this link for more on that). And despite the cool factor of seeing some vintage comics covers reproduced throughout the comic (see the Neal Adams effort below for the best example), the whole enterprise just never seems to rise above a simmer.

Alas, this story is never able to abandon the wretched ironic self-awareness that makes stories like this today bland bits of kitsch and not the just plain old-fashioned straight-up storytelling they were in a simpler time, and are meant to be. There's too much knowing winking going on in this story.

And I've commented on this already, but the reprint in the back of this one is pretty good visually but it's the first half of a two-part JLofA-JSofA crossover with the second half missing. Poor planning for a one-shot.

This comic is disappointing. The cover below is exciting though.

Rip Off

Crisis Part 25 - Masters Of The Universes!

When I was a new fan my comic book tastes were broad and inclusive, limited only by my meager cash resources. I read Marvel, Charlton, Harvey, Gold Key, Archie, and of course DC. The first DC character I latched onto was the Flash and the very first Flash story I read had him go to Earth Prime, and not only was I not confused by this parallel Earth story, I was fascinated and it remains one of my all-time favorite DC stories.

"The Flash--Fact or Fiction?" is not strictly a crossover tale, but this 1968 classic does introduce the world of Earth Prime, our world where comic book heroes are just that, the stuff of comics. The Flash ends up here after clashing with an alien creature named the "Nok" which has escaped from a space zoo transport. The Nok attacks the Flash propelling him into another dimension and another Earth on which he discovers he's just a comic book hero like Jay Garrick is on Earth-1. Flash needs his Cosmic Treadmill to return home but has no resources so he visits the DC Comics offices and meets up with Julie Schwartz. Schwartz is soon convinced of the fantastic situation and helps Flash, who quickly puts together a treadmill and rushes back to Earth-1 to defeat the Nok.

I've not mentioned Schwartz in these reports, since his role as editor is largely an invisible one, but as it turns out none of the crossover stories would have happened without him. All of the stories I've taken a look at happened in books he edited and he had a hand in plotting all of them I'd reckon. So it's fitting that he actually turns up in one of the crossovers, and it all started so to speak with this Flash story.

Later in the Flash series, Cary Bates, the book's writer ends up on Earth-1 also, where he helps out the Flash too. This 1974 story sets up in a manner of speaking the big crossover which would happen only a few months later in 1975.

"Where On Earth Am I?" was written by Cary Bates and Elliot S! Maggin and drawn by the ever reliable Dick Dillin who is joined by his longtime inker Frank McLaughlin. The cover is by Ernie Chua/Chan. The story begins in the office of Julie Schwartz where Bates and Maggin are hashing out the latest Justice League plot. They are stuck but Bates remembers the Cosmic Treadmill that Schwartz has and soon enough has used it and has disappeared. He turns up on Earth-2 and he is changed, having villainous thoughts and superpowers as well. He uses his new powers to help some robbers escape Johnny Thunder and Robin. Back on Earth Prime Schwartz and Maggin decide to send Maggin to get Bates, but Maggin ends up in the ocean on Earth-1 where he is saved by Aquaman. Quickly Aquaman gets him to the League satellite headquarters where Maggin convinces the League members Batman, Hawkman, Green Arrow and Black Canary of the truth of his story by revealing their secret identities. His story is confirmed by the Flash who turns up. On Earth-2 the Justice Society (Hourman, Wonder Woman, Dr.Mid-Nite, Johnny Thunder, and Robin) are battling some out of control plants and defeated by same controlled by the evil Bates. The League meanwhile decides to go to Earth-2 after it is determined Bates has gone there and they immediately encounter six villains (Icicle, Sportsmaster, Huntress, Gambler, Shade, and Wizard) stealing some aircraft from a Navy carrier. They quickly subdue the villains only to discover that the baddies are the Justice Society members in disguise and further that the defeated heroes are dead. Cary Bates takes credit for the scheme in the final panel.

"Avenging Ghosts of the Justice Society!" is again by the Bates, Maggin, Dillin, and McLauglin team. Ernie Chua/Chan supplies one of his best ever covers for the series. The story picks up with the League members memorializing the fallen JSofA members. Cary Bates is still in the middle of his crime spree and we discover that he works for the six villains seen in part one. A mysterious misty presence though makes itself known and plans vengeance for the fallen Society. The League is filling in for the dead Society members until they can figure something else out. Elliot S! Maggin is captured by Bates and imprisoned in a gigantic bubble gum bubble. The League is attracted to a black portal which takes them to the villains while the Spectre makes his presence known. A battle rages between the heroes and the villains with the heroes losing because they are haunted by the guilt of the fallen Society members who they killed while in the guise of the very villains they now fight. The Spectre implores the highest powers to allow him to revive the fallen JSofA members while Maggin tries to undermine the powers of Bates by insulting his writing skills. The combined efforts weaken the effects of the guilt on the Leaguers and the Society members suddenly appear hale and hearty. Quickly the villains are beaten and even more quickly Bates and Maggin are sent back to Earth Prime where Julius Schwartz is waiting anxious to get the next story out.

(Flash--Fact or Fiction? contained in this collection.)

This is not the greatest story ever told by any means. The writers seem a bit too intrigued with showing off their wit and not clearly hammering out the plot details such as they are. Perhaps they considered the story just so absurd that there was no need to sweat the small stuff, but it hurts. The motivations of the characters are poorly examined. It is the Wizard who is controlling Bates, but that is not at all really clear and is supposed more than stated.

Further the League and the Society don't come off in these stories looking all that competent. The Spectre's role is very offbeat, with him essentially performing a deus ex machina ending which solve the whole mess. Maybe the writers were playing with the cliches of the storytelling and making these elements explicit, but the whole story is a jumble.

Ironically the first half of this story was reprinted just this past week in the Retro Justice League of America book. The first story deals with Earth Prime, so they included half of this crossover to fill the book out. It's a shame they didn't both halves in, since if I was a reader with no other resources I'd have been quite miffed to find a cliffhanger in this one-shot offering.

Rip Off

Friday, July 29, 2011

Turok - Son Of Frazetta!

Here is an exciting image of Turok Son of Stone from a Mexican version of the comic. The cover art is very dynamic and very very reminiscent of a classic Frank Frazetta image used as the cover for a Thongor novel.

Further the flying "honkers" behind Turok seem to be Mahars lifted from Frazetta's cover art for the novel Pelucidar.

As always, it's best to swipe from the very best.

This Turok cover while less a direct swipe, seems clearly inspired by another Frazetta piece used for the cover in Ace's Pellucidar series.

Rip Off

Crisis Part 24 - The Return Of The Golden Boy!

The 1974 JLofA-JSofA crossover is unique in all the series in that it is one issue in length. When these summer special started they were always two issues in length, significant in a time when nearly all comics from DC were just single issues if that in length. To contribute two issues to a single story was unheard of, and frankly against policy a bit since DC didn't want readers to miss part of a story and thus be unsatisfied. But they'd done it from the beginning and it had been part of the tradition. But with this installment, the Justice League book was a 100-page bi-monthly book and they couldn't justify using two issues for a single story. So we get a gem of a story, something quite different.

"The Creature in the Velvet Cage!" was written by Len Wein with art by Dick Dillin and Dick Giordano. This is the last story by this team. The cover is again by Nick Cardy. The action begins on Earth-2 where the visting League members (Superman, Green Lantern, Batman, and Elongated Man) help the Society (Sandman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Hourman) wrap up the Horned Owl Gang. Afterwards a loud alarm panics the Sandman and he rushes off leaving the combined teams to follow. They discover a disconsolate Wesley Dodds at his home in a secret lair where a glass cage appears to be broken. He tell the assembled heroes of his time with Sandy the Golden Boy who joined him when he was wearing his gold and purple outfit. They fought crime together for quite a time. But one of Dodd's inventions, the Silicoid Gun went awry and Sandy was transformed into a giant golden rocky monster who attacked Sandman. Sandman put him to sleep and placed him into a comfortable but confining glass cage, where he had resided for years and years. Now he's escaped. The heroes agree to help Sandman find Sandy and they break into teams to do so. Elongated Man, Superman, and Hourman find Sandy interrupting a wedding. They attack but his mutated powers give him control of the earth and his own form and he fends them off. Later Wonder Woman, Batman, and Flash find Sandy scaring some baseball players and they try to capture the roaring creature, but again he escapes by transforming himself into a sandstorm. Later still on a beach Sandy reappears and this time Green Lantern and Sandman find him. Sandman seems almost able to communicate with the creature when the other heroes appear and subdue Sandy. Then an earthquake hits the city and Superman detects a vast fault line. He makes use of Wonder Woman's lasso to knit the fault back together, saving the city. At this point the creature named Sandy rises and speaks, indicating his voice had been stilled before because of his long containment in sleeping gas. He says that he'd detected the dangerous fault and had been tracking it across the city helping to calm the tremors with his earth-based powers. He reveals that he'd come to his sense hours after Sandman had made him a prisoner, but he had been unable to say anything. The Sandman begs for Sandy's forgiveness, but cannot forgive himself as the story ends.

This has always been one of those stories that was a bit hard for me to swallow. Not that I think the story itself was any less exotic than most JLofA stories, but the heroes in this story seem to have all manner of sympathy for Wesley Dodds for what he'd done to Sandy. There's no outrage and frankly it seems odd. At this time in comics such anti-heroic notions were out and about, and that someone doesn't directly confront Dodds is surprising to me. He basically hid what he considered a mistake for years, and denied Sandy the chance for proper care and assistance. It's pretty outrageous stuff, but none of the heroes call him out. It struck me odd then, and does so even more now.

There's no doubt this is one of the more impressive crossovers, simply for the emotional content of the tale. For the very first time, some character in the series other than Red Tornado seems to have feet of clay (pun intended).

Rip Off

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Profits Of Kong!

This is a fun Richie Rich spoof of the classic King Kong situation. I'd love to read this story someday.

It reminds me of a classic Frazetta cover I've featured here a few times.

Rip Off

Crisis Part 23 - That Special Quality Of Freedom!

The general template of the Justice League and Justice Society crossovers had been set. The two teams would meet and the added value from year to year would be new heroes. This time the heroes of Earths One and Two would meet the Quality heroes on Earth-X. DC had control of these heroes since they had bought out Quality Comics some many years before. Len Wein had wanted the name to be Earth-Swastika, but editor Julie Schwartz kiboshed that idea.

The story really began with the previous two issues of Justice League in which both Elongated Man and Red Tornado were inducted into the League. The Tornado had survived the end of the last JLofA-JSofA adventure and been stranded on Earth-1 where he was found by his creator T.O.Morrow who promptly gave the android hero a new face and tried to use him to destroy the League which had welcomed the android hero into their ranks. Morrow's plan failed, but the Red Tornado now had the distinction along with Black Canary of being a member of both the League and the Society.

"Crisis On Earth-X" was written by Len Wein and drawn by Dick Dillin and Dick Giordano. The comic featured another outstanding Nick Cardy cover. The action begins with both the Justice League and the Justice Society trying to synchonize two transporter devices with which they hope to be able travel between the Earths at any time of the year. Despite Red Tornado's pleading to be allowed to return to his Earth, the League sends Green Arrow, Elongated Man, and Batman into the machine. Likewise the Society sends Sandman, Dr.Fate, and Superman into their device. But Red Tornado stows away in the device causing the transporters to malfunction and the seven heroes to vanish. They end up on another Earth entirely, one that seems to have Nazis in control. They battle the Nazis who have super-scientific devices and are saved from defeat by the intervention of Uncle Sam, the Human Bomb, Phantom Lady, the Ray, the Black Condor, and Doll Man. Uncle Sam reveals that on this Earth World War II lasted far longer due to the untimely death of the President, and that eventually the Nazis won taking control of the globe. They maintain power with mind control devices to which Uncle Sam and his freedom fighters are immune. Dr.Fate uses his magic to detect the locations of the hidden mind control devices and the heroes divide into teams and Uncle Sam sends the teams away to destroy the devices. Red Tornado is left behind.

Batman, Dr.Fate, Ray, and Human Bomb are sent to Paris where the mind control device seems to be in the Eiffel Tower. The quartet battle their way to the top and find the machine which is sentient and defends itself with specially constructed foes for each of the heroes. The heroes prevail but then are taken over directly by the machine. They are able to destroy the machine though by combining their powers and relying on their reflexes.

Meanwhile the heroes of Earths One and Two search for their disappeared comrades.

"Thirteen Against the Earth!" under another great Cardy cover is again by the Wein, Dillin and Giordano team. Uncle Sam breaks the fourth wall and brings the reader up to date on the events of the last issue.

Superman, Doll Man, Green Arrow, and Phantom Lady arrive in Japan, the former Axis power which was also defeated by the Nazis, to find the second mind-control machine. It is hidden in plain sight and Superman detects it and reveals it. The machine threatens to destroy Japan if the heroes attack it, but Superman is undeterred landing a ferocious punch. Immediately Japan suffers a massive earthquake and Superman flies off to alleviate the problem. Meanwhile the other heroes work together to get Doll Man inside the machine where he disables it.

Elongated Man, Sandman, Black Condor, and Uncle Sam arrive at Mount Rushmore where Hitler's face has been added to the monument. The heroes fight their way to another machine only to discover that it's an illusion. They deduce the machine must be inside the Hitler head and Uncle Sam aided by Elongated Man delivers a massive punch to Hitler's stony ediface destroying the machine.

The heroes are them reassembled but discover that the mind control has not diminished despite the destruction of the three machines. In fact the heroes of Earths One and Two are taken over by the mind control and attack the heroes of Earth-X. Red Tornado detects the source of the mind control and follows the trail into orbit where he finds a huge Nazi satellite "manned" by an android Hitler. It turns out the Nazis had actually been defeated by their own mind control machines some years before and that the machines have ruled Earth-X since. Red Tornado attacks and succeeds in causing the satellite to fall out of orbit and crash into the ocean. He rescues a bit of equipment the machines used to communicate and the heroes are able to contact Earths One and Two to arrange rescue. The leave Earth-X free of its oppressors and they leave behind some truly quality freedom fighters.

The Freedom Fighters proved to be pretty popular and even got their own series several years later. It was a quirky series and brought the heroes to Earth-1 and made them fugitives, an attempt I guess to recreate their underground guerrilla warrior role from the crossover. I enjoyed it, but after a few years the series was cancelled.

This crossover itself is one of my absolute faves. The artwork by Dillin and Giordano is outstanding, with Giordano giving Dillin's storytelling some real drama. In the years before internet and archives and whatnot, getting to see these vintage heroes was an awesome treat. While I adore the modern era with access to old comics easy to get hold of, part of me yearns for those sweet days when such glimpses were exceedingly precious because they were so rare.

As I said the template for the crossovers had been reinvented a bit by Len Wein, but the next installment is something very different indeed.

To close here's a cover gallery of the Freedom Fighter run.

Rip Off