The Bear Necessities

Materioptikon Extra!  I started the two-week Tattie Holidays with an ebay purchase of another DC 100-page Super-Spectacular: Detective Comics 440,  May 1974. This issue was published at the same time as the Deadman/Thomas Wayne issue of World’s Finest. Iron Fist made his debut at marvel while Thongor was ending…

Ghost Mountain Midnight: Goodwin and Sal Amendola produce a moody tale of redneck cultists and a badly-burned bear.The villain, Scooby-Doo-style, turns out to be the local sheriff all along. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if not for that pesky Darknight Detective!

Cobras of the Deep : a rare 1942 adventure (from Adventure Comics) of the Simon and Kirby Manhunter. Presumably to cash in on the success of the Simonson/Goodwin version of Paul Kirk, here we find the crimson-clad battler on a Nazi U-boat. It looks so much like early Marvel: the wiry hero is certainly dynamic and the villains are typical Kirby grotesques. I haven’t enjoyed a Manhunter story as much since his first appearance.

The Fear that Haunted Hawkman: a stately but tame Fox/Anderson 1964 adventure for the Pinioned Pair as an ancient Egyptian statue instils feelings of, er, fear in Katar Hol. The Pogo -Jet Bandits are archetypal polite DC science-villains. Read this one previously in the DC Showcase Hawkman “phonebook”.

A Million Dollar Corpse: having read this 1948 story described as “morbid” and “bad taste” in a subsequent lettercol,  I had high hopes for Doll Man’s duel with the Undertaker. It’s a prettily-cartooned tale for the flamboyant Mighty Mite and the necrophile villain is delightfully creepy.

Too Many Suspects: a  gorgeous Kanigher/Toth 1949 Green Lantern story that I had previously read in the facsimile Giant GL Annual in 1998. Interestingly,  in this crime noir,  Big Gay Alan Scott demonstrates no  super-powers other than flight.

Inside Story of the Outsider: a Fox/Moldoff/ Giella outing from  Detective Comics in 1966, this primitive example of campy Batman reveals that a mutated Alfred is the mysterious Outsider. In the hands of Infantino, we might have had an atmospheric, stylish and morbid adventure. But this is feeble stuff and the magical sci-fi powers of the Outsider reach their ridiculous nadir with ” Robin–changing into a coffin?!” Again, read this one in the b/w DC Showcase Batman.

Rebellion: another stylish chapter in Paul Kirk’s conflict with the Council. There’s an impressive splash of the web-like Council Chamber; a chart of Manhunter’s armaments and a battle with five clones. This is truly a rival for Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu and is some of DC’s strongest material of the period.

Another collection of intriguing and pleasing art – aside from the stiff, childish Outsider tale.

Coming soon: the Thomas/Buscema Avengers

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners.

Advertisements

The Book of Vishanti

Today’s post concerns the sixth Marvel Treasury Edition, from 1975.  Again, this is a recent addition to my collection. I was never a great fan of  Doctor Strange as a kid. In fact, despite some Counter Culture fashionability,  Strange has never been the most successful property for Marvel. He hasn’t held his own regular title since the Nineties and in more recent years has been a rather ineffectual Avenger.

This Treasury signals that it’s not the kiddie fare of last issue’s Hulk with its Eastern mysticism meets-Art Nouveau cover. If the Sixties Strange represented psychedelia and Raga-Rock,  Frank Brunner’s cover is Prog. We’ve moved from the Byrds to Yes.

It’s worth noting that there’s no scholarly introduction here – ironic given the trippy themes of the material.

The End–At Last: this 100-page collection begins with Ditko’s cosmos-shattering clash between the flame-faced Dormammu and Eternity, the personification of the universe. This Daliesque combat is just so much more abstract than Kirby’s super-gods. We also discover that the platinum blonde mystery girl is named Clea.

The Origin of the Ancient One: I first read this Bill Everett tale in the b/w Terrific comic of the mid-60s. The rivalry with  Kaluu and the ravaging of the idyllic land of Kamar-Taj is a typical Marvel Cain and Abel story. The fact that I found a yellowing scrap of Terrific in my dad’s garage in the early 70s gives it the potency of a Hyborian scroll.

Barry Takes a Trip!

The End of the Ancient One: this is another tale I first read in a 60s Power Comic- Fantastic, this time. Here, Marie Severin depicts another unforgettable cosmic entity, the freaky Lovin’  Spoonful- sorry, Living Tribunal. Not for the first time in this tabloid, the Ancient One passes the torch to his disciple.

To Dream–Perchance to Die: Dan Adkins supplies a workaday attempt at psychedelia.  This clash with the dream-demon Nightmare is very close to everyday superheroics and isn’t really deserving of a place in this edition.

Face to Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo:  surely this short from the dawn of Strange’s career should have been  the first feature in this tabloid?  Ditko draws on the culture of the Theosophists and and Beatniks for a colourful tale featuring the brutish European villain Mordo.

Pulse-Pounding Pin-up: a two-page spread by Brunner that belongs next to Che  and Eric Clapton on the bedroom wall.

The Cult and the Curse: some of Colan’s magnificent work from the late Sixties as Strange undergoes the transformation that made him resemble the Golden Age Vision.

I have to admit that this is my favourite look for Strange although it was short lived. Interestingly, he was now the Master of Black Magic, as he had been in his earliest days. Presumably,  that was more potent in the morbid Dark Shadows era.

Finally, Shuma-Gorath! We end as we began with Frank Brunner and the climax of a story arc folding overtly Lovecraftain elements into the series. Shuma-Gorath,” the Cosmic Obscenity” is clearly Cthulhu, the alien Elder God who once ruled the Earth. Interestingly, Shuma was created by Robert E. Howard and is mentioned in one of his Kull stories. Thus the cosmology of the Howard adaptations is subtly tied into the Marvel Universe.

Here, the entity has occupied the mind of the Ancient One. Doc Strange has to destroy his mentor’s ego so the Ancient One can become one with the Universe. Heavy.

It’s a typical Bronze Age trope: a metaphor for acid trips, meditation and self-help. It’s the same journey that Englehart’s Mantis undertakes  and one that backfires on  Len Wein’s JLA villain Libra.

I would have skipped the Adkins story to feature some of the gorgeous Barry Smith art that kicked off the storyline in Marvel Premiere. By the way, the haunted streets of Starkesboro remind me of Nairn’s seafront Fishertown!

I might also have been inclined to include more of the Stephen Sanders stories or more Ditko done-in-ones.  However, this is a surreal and potent compendium of comic art, redolent of incense cones and Roger Dean album covers burned by “bombers”.

Unlike DC’s Super-Specs ,which tended to be showcases for Golden Age characters, Marvel appeared to be using this format as a showcase for art as we’ll see with the next Treasury.

Coming soon: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

Every Man’s Darkest Dream

Today’s post spotlights Marvel’s fifth 100-page Collectors Special: The Hulk on the Rampage. Like the first Treasury, The Spectacular Spider-Man, this was not a comic that I bought in the Bronze Age.  I only added it to my collection last year.

Like Spider-Man and Captain America,  I only got about five US copies of the Incredible Hulk  in my first comic-reading years ( i.e. between 1968-1971). I read twice that many issues of The Avengers and three times as many Fantastic Four comics, by way of contrast. Ole Jade-Jaws obviously just never struck a chord with me.

The cartoony Romita cover is an explosion of  rich reds and blue-greens, like a kid’s colouring book. Inside is a pseudo-scholarly introduction by neo-scripter and creator of Swamp Thing,  Len Wein.

The Origin of the Hulk: this capsule retelling of Dr. Banner’s accident from Hulk #3 is a moody piece rich with Cold war paranoia. However, an entire Kirby reprint from the Hulk’s early career would have been preferable- maybe the Ringmaster story?

The Titan and the Torment: A Bill Everett story over Kirby layouts, it begins with the accidental death of a science-villain called Zaxon and segues into a brief fight with Hercules. This conflict appears to happen during Herc’s train ride (reprinted in the Thor Treasury) but it’s pretty forgettable stuff. Again, I would have preferred a Ditko story here but the continued-serial nature of that era probably vetoed that idea.

Let There Be Battle: a Marie Severin story guest-starring the Sub-Mariner. The Puppet Master, who looked like an eerie living doll in his first appearances, resembles a bloated Lex Luthor here and wears a ludicrous Renaissance-era outfit with a stylised P on his chest.  Again, a forgettable throwaway. Ms. Severin draws a commanding Namor however.

Project: Greenskin: a cutaway illustration of Hulkbuster Base. Nerdy boys would like this.

Pulse-Pounding Pin-up: Herb Trimpe produces a dream-like double-page spread of Banner’s friends and foes including obscurities like Xeron the Star-Slayer, the Glob (a swamp-monster who prefigured the Man-Thing ) and the Inheritor (who was a mutated cockroach).

Many Foes Has the Hulk: Oddly, given that the next two reprints refer to it,  the Sandman story that saw Betty Ross transmuted into glass is not included. However, this entry is a cinematic story that sees Trimpe at his peak. It also features cameos by five foes- including Namor again. The Hulk’s cerebral arch-enemy the Leader has swirly little Ls on his collar and belt. Aww!  Sweet! Tricky Dicky Nixon also appears.

His Name is- Samson!:  Betty Ross is cured in the next reprint, which  sees Roy Thomas’ style moving away from melodrama and allusion towards a more self-consciously literary tone. There’s also a touch of camp and satire with the introduction of Doc Samson, a parody of Doc Savage. The self-aware and ironic tone is leavened by the tragedy of the Hulk’s quest for Jarella- but again, since we haven’t seen the sword-and sorcery world she inhabits in this edition, the significance is lost on the casual reader. Trimpe and John Severin mesh together appealingly to create a gritty photo-realism however.

Cry: Monster!: Probably my favourite tale in the collection. Wein, Starlin and Sinnott team up to produce a ghost-town slugfest between the Hulk and the Thing. It’s a rare chance to see Starlin pencil a story that doesn’t feature Thanos. It also revisits the origin of the FF although the panels are printed out-of-order. Arch-nostalgist Len Wein revived an obscure Marvel villain here- as he had done with the Justice League’s Felix Faust, Amazo and the Key. However, for those of us who’d read the legendary Marvel Annual of 1972, Kurrgo the Master of Planet X wasn’t quite so obscure.

Although this is the Hulk’s Treasury, a few words about the Thing here: this story was reprinted from Marvel Feature. However, Marvel Two -in- One was one of the most inspired team-up books in the Bronze Age. Unlike Spidey, Ben Grimm can travel to literally anywhere in time and space , thanks to Doomsy’s time machine platform, a Skrull saucer or what-have-you.

Greenskin’s Artist Roster: the many pencillers of the hulk are represented with mini-portraits (including my favourite Hulk-artist, Gil Kane). Only their initials are printed, however, which is irritating.

Jade-Jaws’ Greatest Covers: unlike the 100=page Super-Spectaculars in their heyday, we only get b/w cover reprints

All in all, the weakest Treasury so far. Not one I have any great nostalgia for and not really a great showcase for the Hulk either.

One thing I did recall while writing this post was that, around the time of the Hulk tv show ( possibly Xmas 78)  my brother got one of the Mego Hulk dolls- with an obligatory kimono.

It was interesting to see that the Hulk’s propensity for childish tantrums of epic destruction made him the break-out star of Avengers Assemble this year, after two lacklustre movies.

Coming soon: The Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners.

Barbarians of Blackpool

This morning’s post focuses on the fourth of Marvel’s oversized Treasury Editions from the 1970s. I’ll deal with The Xmas Treasuries in about eight weeks time, when we all feel more festive.

In the last week of July 1980, my family had a second holiday in  Morecambe, the Lancashire seaside town. I had recently sat my Highers, the most important exams of one’s school career, and was gloomily awaiting the results. I felt isolated and unhappy at my new school, Hamilton Grammar and truanted regularly. (By the way, those results were mediocre at best, except for Geography) Cheeky, chirpy “Tom Hark” by the Piranhas on constant rotation on Radio One seemed quite inappropriate.

My reading habits were exclusively fantasy – Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight on the train down and on a bus trip to Blackpool, Lin Carter’s zany, interplanetary take on the Arabian Nights, The Wizard of Zao.

After visiting both the Doctor Who and the Gerry Anderson exhibitions- neither of which I can remember with enough clarity to evoke for you- I bought Conan the Barbarian from a seafront bookstall. I also saw the Avengers Treasury but didn’t buy it. In those days, it was remarkable to stumble upon a five-year-old rarity – much less two of them.

This was a happy accident: as a Sword and Sorcery nerd, I’d read all the Sphere paperbacks  by 1980, including the recently- published Conan the Liberator. On that holiday I also sampled one of the softcore Richard Blade paperbacks but realised they were ghastly. I still own that tardy Treasury, however, thirty-two years later.

The cover image is a cropped version of the back cover. Barry Smith echoes Frazetta as Conan fights on a mound of rain-lashed corpses, thrusting his crotch at us. A severed head is mounted on a pole in the background. It’s a provocative and grisly image for a Seventies comic book.

An Informal History of the Thomas/Smith Conan: Roy Thomas brings a scholarly tone to this two-page essay in the inside covers. He writes about the success of Marvel’s Conan in the early 70s and sounds justifiably proud of this collection.

Rogues in the House: Misspelled “Rouges” in the Table of Contents. Conan is hired by a nobleman to assassinate a blackmailing priest.  However, Nabonidus has been experimenting, Fu Manchu-style,  on a giant ape. Having boosted the ape’s intelligence, the Red Priest finds it is eager to take his place.

This is  one of the better, original Robert E. Howard stories. I had previously read it in the SSOC weekly comic where the betrayal by recurring character Jenna ( essentially a gold-digging prostitute) was quite a shock. Thomas injects some quirky humour with a domestic servant called Sivraj ( Jarvis spelled backwards). Smith’s Kirby influences are strong thanks to the superheroic inks of Sal Buscema but there are sinuous Art Nouveau flourishes.

The Road to Aquilonia: a giant colour two-page map of the Hyborian world. This version actually traces the route of Conan’s wanderings through the colour comic up to issue 22.

Red Nails: this was the very first original REH Conan story I ever read, around 77 or 78. I bought this paperback in John Menzies in Glasgow’s Buchanan Street, having seen the Sphere editions on sale in bookshops  since about 1975.

The first thing that struck me was that it wasn’t narrated in Thomas’s faux-antique style. It was very direct and modern. It’s also an incredibly violent and grisly story: a lost city in the desert is home to two warring clans (with Meso-American names) who have exterminated each other by the story’s end. There are titillating elements of bondage and lesbianism, involving Valeria, the story’s pirate heroine.

Red Nails is a revamped version of Howard’s own Xuthal of the Dusk aka The Slithering Shadow. It was also the last of his  Conan stories. Thomas and Smith had adapted it for the legendary b/w magazine Savage Tales and this was its first colour reprint.

Smith is less of the superhero imitator here: his pencils are lush and ornate, especially the logos;  sometimes hallucinatory and grotesque (particularly the Xotalancas’ collection of severed heads under glass).

This epic-length adventure is very heady stuff for 50p. I imagine many solicitous parents today would be alarmed by the frank content. Just the climax alone is a headline-grabber: a human sacrifice with Sapphic imagery, Conan with his foot in a beartrap, a half-naked inferred cannibal wielding a  sceptre/laser…Nonetheless, it makes me wonder how Smith would have illustrated other lurid Howard tales like The Scarlet Citadel.

Conan Unconquered :  A one-page poster, dedicated to REH’s memory. Against a vivid red sky, Conan fends off a flaming arrow while his shield is a splintered circlet.

This is a classy collection of comic book wizardry but not for the squeamish and an example of what was getting under the radar in the glory days of Marvel UK. However, in the five years between 75 and 80, Glam had been superceded by Punk and then by the Hallowe’en imagery of Heavy Metal. Hammer House of Horror would begin in September 1980, so maybe the Conan Treasury chose the right moment to emerge from obscurity in the Vegas of the North.

Coming soon: You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

The Biggest Threat that Television Has Ever Had to Face

Maddeningly, I lost the first draft of this post at 5am this morning so this is the second attempt.

The third Marvel Treasury Edition of the Bronze Age was not one I bought until recent months. I don’t recall seeing it on sale but maybe I had somehow found out the contents had been reprinted in Spider-Man Comics Weekly. The cover is a brash, gaudy Romita confection with a monolithic new logo.

I am still surprised that Thor received this treatment so early in the series; I would have thought that Dracula or the Avengers would have been more popular. Nonetheless, the God of Thunder is a childhood favourite and the collection opens with one of my most vivid memories of  the UK Power Comic Fantastic.

When Meet the Immortals! The saga opens with Thor’s Asian conflict against the witch doctor who calls himself the Demon. Although the story is understandably coy about being set in Viet Nam. the Demon’s design has Polynesian and African elements. Meanwhile, Hercules is visiting Earth and has been befriended by a Hollywood publicist.

Whom the Gods Would Destroy! The rambunctious Hercules shows an interest in Jane Foster; Thor has already undergone the Ritual of Steel having revealed his Don Blake identity to her ( and this was cleverly counterpointed with Hercules’ hedonistic journey). So the rivals enter into city-wide combat using construction machinery as weapons. This is one part of the story I find a bit tedious but Kirby will revisit the explosive potential of Gods walking amongst men many times in the future.

The Hammer and the Holocaust! Thor is humiliated in battle and the public jeer him. However, this is because the All-Wise Odin has given a fraction of his power to a councillor called Seidring the Merciless. Seidring, perhaps unsurprisingly, attempts to usurp Odin and Thor, returning home to renounce his godhood, finds himself in a cosmic battle. Seidring uses planetoids and a vortex of liquefied Wolfbane as weapons but he’s a poor stand-in for Loki and is ultimately defeated.

The Power of Pluto!: Seidring receives an ironic punishement: kingship in exile of the savage Rock Trolls.  Thor recuperates by hunting armoured beast-fish in the frozen sea of Marmora. Hercules is tricked into signing a Hollywood contract by Pluto, a squat powerful figure with a jazz tonsure like Dr. Bedlam. Despite the Disney connotations of his name, Pluto is no film director but a plotting god who, with the aid of the spurned Amazon Queen, has revenged himself against Hercules and Zeus. Kirby delivers a surreal vision of an infinite staircase to hell.

Special Pin-Up Poster: Big John Buscema’s Asgard is less technological than Kirby’s but it has a savage, nay Hyborian splendour. Aside from Odin, Loki, Sif, Balder and the Warriors Three (with a glowering Hogun), this full-cast pin-up also features Nurse Foster, Kirby’s lovelorn sorceress, Karnilla and the regal Hela. Conway’s Brunhilda, an earnest, strapping young Valkyrie was a popular character who seemed to be overshadowed by the Defenders’ woman warrior.

The Verdict of Zeus: Thor returns to Earth and has a philosophical conversation with a cabbie war veteran. This delightful and absurdist vignette is juxtaposed cleverly with Hercules’ futile attempt to find a champion to free him from his contract. Kirby’s Greek Gods are an effete, pleasure-loving lot aside from ugly, hostile Ares (who will go on to join the Mighty Avengers many, many years hence.)

Map of Mighty Asgard: I think I first saw this double-page spread as a b/w reprint in the legendary Eagle comic which reprinted Tales of Asgard episodes in the Sixties. Kenneth Branagh’s Thor movie was very faithful to this “panoramic picto-map”. I would love to see inside the prosaically-named Shopping Center.

Thunder in the Netherworld!: as the title implies, Thor ventures into the Netherworld to restore Hercules in the saga’s greatest irony. In this sci-fi retelling of the Orpheus myth, Thor has to face Cosmic Cannon Shells, Pluto’s Turbulence Trap and Cerebrus’ Ray of Destruction.  The story ends with a new accord between the godlings.

There’s plenty to enjoy in this saga: widescreen Marvel-style brawling; the cosmic warfare and weapons that Kirby would return to in New Gods; affectionate satire of  Steve Reeves movies counterpointed by allusions to Classical myths.

The only note of regret is the excised material about Tana Nile, Jane Foster’s imperious new roommate. This subplot introduced the next story-arc- the Colonizers of Rigel- and wasn’t relevant to Herc’s story. However, the character design ( a reworking of the Ovoids from “The Return of Dr. Doom”?) was so striking and this collection is robbed of some of its sci-fi flavour.

Kirby in Seventy-Five

Hercules is a great foil for Thor: their relationship is echoed by that of Batman and Aquaman in the tv version of Brave and the Bold. Attempts to spin Herc off as a superhero in The Champions and in his own one-off adventure seemed to miss the comic pomposity of the hero. These 100 pages  prove Thor rivalled the Fantastic Four in the mid-Sixties as a cosmic soap opera vibrant with invention and humour.

Next: Barbarism in Blackpool

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners.

The Mystery Men of October part 4!!

This morning’s post focuses on DC heroes who made their first appearance in October. I’m afraid it’s not a very inspiring assemblage:

Starman (Will Payton): DC’s fourth Starman was a Roger Stern creation of the late Eighties- but I think the mullet rather gives that away. This Starman was another vanilla hero with a variety of derivative powers and a bland Everyman personality. While he may have been DC’s answer to Nova, Payton also shared many of the qualities of Stern’s Monica Rambeau. JLA membership would have been inevitable had the Satellite Era continued.

As it was,  Payton turned down the Bwahaha League. The comic had a reasonable lifespan even after Stern moved on. I prefer Starman’s garish original costume to the more dramatic one he wore latterly.

 

Azrael: DC’s answer to Moon Knight, an assassin and religious fanatic.  Azrael became the Extreme!!! version of the Batman in the interminable Knightfall story arc (which also introduced a panting public to eeeevil luchador Bane) . Azrael  is the quintessential Nineties antihero. Not my taste at all.

 

This Azrael was no relation to the angelic, winged alien of the mid-80s New Teen Titans. That Silver Surfer rip-off with his tears and Pre-Raphaelite hair has to be one of the biggest sissies in comics.

 

Connor Hawke: a spiritual zen archer and the mixed-race son of Oliver Queen. There seems to have been a lot of speculation that the 90s Green Arrow was gay. Alan Scott and Kate Kane didn’t cause the world to end but it might have been a rather predictable revelation, given his father’s characterisation. I quite liked this legacy hero but the New 52 made him redundant.

Teen Titans 1996:  Dan Jurgens (inked by George Perez) was tasked with the revival of the Titans franchise with an all-new line-up. This group were the scions of an alien race and the comic was filled with the silly utilitarian names that were popular then: Risk, Fringe, Prysm,  Omen, Pylon, Pencil, Velour, Object. (Only some of these are fake.) The comic ran for two years; a de-aged Atom and Captain Marvel Jr. became Titans. It was pretty but pretty dull.

One  Titan, the pampered senator’s daughter Argent survived to the next iteration of the group. Interestingly, the black kid originally called Slagger had to change his name to Hotspot since his interim i.d. Joto is a homophobic Spanish insult.

Harley Quinn:  originally developed for tv animation- the ground-breaking Dini/Timm Batman series-  this obsessive and disturbed consort to the Joker is a remarkably dark creation.  An Arkham psychiatrist who was seduced by the Crown Prince of Crime, there is a startling juxtaposition of her jester image and the themes of manipulation and insanity. Unusually for such a quirky tv character, Harley was folded into the Bat-mythos, probably on the strength of her playful if often violent demeanour. She is a more sinister version of Green Lantern‘s “loving enemy” from the Forties.

Not gratuitous in ANY way

Manhunter:  I know only a little about this heroine but I am aware she survived cancellation for a long time , thanks to a faithful fan-following and gay-friendly characters.   Kate Spencer  was a single mother and a District Attorney using weapons confiscated from various other heroes and villains – a gimmick originally used by minor 90s X-foe, the X-Cutioner.  She sounds like a grim and fun-free heroine but oddly enough, one very suited to the sombre New 52.

There was another female Manhunter in the  Secret Six, one of the Tangent titles of 1997. She was a typical 90s masked assassin with a robotic dog, which made her considerably less “Extreme!!!”

That’s it for October. Coming soon: more Treasury Editions.

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners.

The Mystery Men of October part 3!

This afternoon’s post ranges from the Bronze Age to the post-Crisis DC Universe:

The Shadow: the legendary Master of Men from the Pulp Era was folded into Batman’s mythos by Denny O’Neil. But only for a while, since it awkwardly linked Bruce Wayne to the Thirties.  DC’s short-lived series by Mike Kaluta was ahead of its time; auteur and provocateur Howard Chaykin unleashed a cynical and violent modern take on the character in the exploitative Eighties.

 

The Warlord: Mike Grell’s mashed-up version of  Conan and John Carter, set in his own take on the inner world of Pellucidar. With elements of The Hobbit thrown in! Travis Morgan was used to explore several fantasy genres- barbarians, sci-fi, interplanetary romance and Tolkinesque whimsy.  Not a superhero or a crimebuster of course but thanks to  Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and the Teen Titans, tied to the mainstream DC universe. This was the sole Sword and Sorcery book published by DC that could rival Conan the Barbarian for popularity and longevity.

Hercules Unbound: DC’s post-apocalyptic version of the demigod linked the alternate futures of the Atomic Knights and Kamandi. The setting was the most interesting aspect of this short-lived series; the hero himself was a pallid protagonist compared to Marvel’s roisterer.

Isis:  tv goddess and superheroine with various mystical powers, Isis was a spin-off from the Shazam show.  When I discovered her in 1976, I was mad about this distaff version of Thor. She had her own short-lived series in the mid-to-late 70s but was divorced from the main continuity. Perhaps just as well, since the comic was unsophisticated and derivative. Another version of Isis was the consort of DC’s over-exposed Namor-analogue Black Adam, prior to the New 52.

New Teen Titans/Cyborg, Raven and Starfire IV: Wolfman and Perez’s torrid teen soap fused elements of Nova and Tomb of Dracula to enormous success in the early Eighties. The series probably peaked with The Judas Contract, the serial that depicted the betrayal of teen sociopath Terra. Without Perez, the series died a long, undignified death.

The three new heroes introduced by the pair have survived for three decades, however. Cyborg is of course a founding member of the current Justice League: not bad for a cliché Angry Kid from the Ghetto. The fourth version of Starfire was a blend of Princess Leia and Red Sonja; a short-lived member of the JLA, she is unfortunately better known as a cheesecake character these days. The best-designed Titan, the empath Raven, anticipated the Goth and Emo movements. Teamed with Changeling/Beast Boy ( a desperately unfunny, needy kid when written by Wolfman) these Titans were an animation hit. Why DC doesn’t use them instead of the dreadful Image knock-offs in the New 52 is a mystery.

 

 

JLA Detroit/ Gypsy, Vibe and Steel: the success of the New Teen Titans (and of course their inspiration, the X-Men)  led to the infamous mid-80s revamp of the JLA. Despite resounding unpopularity, I was quite fond of this iteration of the team. Gerry Conway revived his late-70s creation, the Vixen  (I wonder if she was rumoured Ms. Marvel villain, the Fox originally). Conway also retooled his WWII creation Steel as a teenager.

Two brand-new teens also joined: elusive sneak-thief Gypsy and breakdancing Hispanic mascot Vibe. Gypsy had a long association with the JLA in the Taskforce title of the 90s while the reviled Vibe is to be revived in the new Justice League of America. I think it’s amusing that fan-fave writer James Robinson assembled an equally C-list JLA without achieving the notoriety of JLA Detroit.

John Byrne’s Superman: the Canadian writer artist revolutionised the Man of Steel in the Reagan Era, modernising the flagship hero by stripping away much of the Silver Age Kryptonian mythos. Unfortunately, he replaced it with rather reductive sci-fi, including the psionic powers he had long championed in magazine articles. The biggest loss must have been the retcon of the adventures of Superboy which hampered the Legion for decades.

 

 

Doom Patrol/Karma, Lodestone and Scott Fischer: DC briefly revived the Silver Age hard-luck heroes in the mid-70s, probably as a response to the All-New X-Men. As the Merry Mutants’ star continued to rise a decade later, the New DP was re-launched, this time with a youthful trainee sub-team.

Karma was an obnoxious No wave punk, who had an obscure influence over probability. Lodestone was a perky circus freak with magnetic powers and Scott Fischer ( allegedly codenamed Blaze) was a naive, sweet farmboy who had an incendiary touch.The trio were written out when Grant Morrison’s  surreal Situationist take on the Doom Patrol began at the end of the Eighties. Karma was drafted into the Suicide Squad;  Lodestone transformed into an abstract, alien being and Scott was killed in the Invasion! alongside Celsius.

Coming soon: DC Mystery Men of the Dark Age

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners