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From the Archives: Batman/The Spirit #1

batman_the_spirit_0001Crime Convention

Storytellers: Jeph Loeb & Darwyn Cooke
Inks: J. Bone
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Comicraft
Assoc. Editor: Tom Palmer, Jr.
Editor: Mark Chiarello
The Batman created by: Bob Kane
The Spirit created by: Will Eisner
Special thanks to: Denis Kitchen
Cover Art: Darwyn Cooke
Publisher: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

I don’t know where this story takes place in continuity exactly (or even whether or not it IS in-continuity). But thankfully, that doesn’t really seem to matter.

Essentially, we get a story opened by the meeting between Gordon and Dolan, and their discussion leads into us (as the readers) discovering the story of “How the Spirit met Batman…” The story itself doesn’t seem particularly deep, and actually evokes a classic Silver-age feel, when events were just taken at face-value, simplistic, silly, and new as they might be.

A bunch of Batman’s rogues and a bunch of the Spirit’s rogues get together; and it’s up to Batman and the Spirit to foil the baddies’ plans. While things are going on, the vigilantes’ confidantes are each ‘seduced,’ and play their own role in the story’s ending.

I know next to nothing about The Spirit as a character. I know that he was created by Will Eisner, and something about the creator adding the mask to please someone with a say over the character being published or not (someone correct me if I’m wrong). The character’s identity, supporting cast, rogues, adventures, and in-continuity history are a mystery to me. Batman, on the other hand, I do know.

One might expect that to detract from the story, but it doesn’t. I got the feeling that a lot of characters were almost analogues of one another, in the way that one could compare Green Arrow and Hawkeye, Aquaman and Namor, and so on. Given that, you need only really know one side or the other to “get” the most basic concept of characters, and have at least some idea of what they’re all about.
The art seems at points almost overly-simplistic at first glance, but that (like the story itself) lends beautifully to a “classic” feel. Additionally, upon slightly deeper examination, it reminds me of the “Animated DCU” visually, which lends further enjoyment and timelessness to this story.

Overall, the issue reads rather like an extra-length episode of Batman: The Animated Series…and for me, at least, that is far from a bad thing. Possibly the worst thing about this issue is the price. I looked past the price due to the novelty of these two characters being thrust together and wonder at how (or even if) this will have any play in the new The Spirit ongoing. Was it worth it? Yeah…I’d say so.

This is a fun read, not so completely hokey as to make one check the date in the indicia, but by no means as serious-toned as a lot of other recent stuff coming out of DC. I can’t speak to longtime/familiar fans of the Spirit, but just for knowing the Batman-side of things, this seems like quite the enjoyable, faithful sort of mushing together of two characters who’ve never (to my knowledge) met prior.

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General Mills Presents: Justice League (2017) #2 [Review]

general_mills_2017_justice_league_0002Dark Reflections

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciller: Rick Leonardi
Inkers: Bob Wiacek and Scott Hanna
Colorist: Rex Lokus
Letterer: Comicraft
Cover Artist: Scott Koblish
Cover Colorist: Val Staples
Assistant Editor: Brittany Holzherr
Editor: Steve Buccellato
Group Editor: Marie Javins
Design Director: Larry Berry

This is the "second" issue of four being made available to the public "blindly" via insertion into specially-marked boxes of General Mills cereal. Though the issues ARE numbered, the first issue and this one do not seem to draw on each other or lead into the other with any singular story, so the numbers are–I’m pretty confident in saying–there to stimulate collectors’ OCD to collect ’em all.

This issue focuses on Batman, though it guest-stars the rest of the Justice League.

Batman arrives home after a "typical" night out. After talking with Alfred and having a flashback to his youth where his parents were still around, Bruce catches a glimpse of a reflection in the mirror that is most certainly not him looking back! Turns out that Mirror Master (one of Flash’s Rogues) has expanded his reach (with the unintentional assistance of Flash himself) to vex the entire Justice League. Using mirrors as gateways, interdimensional counterparts of our heroes are brought through, and the heroes square off with them. While everyone tangles with their mirrored counterparts, Batman (through recalling an incident from his youth) develops a plan to deal with this threat and stop Mirror Master.

Nicieza and Leonardi are a couple more names that I’m definitely familiar with, though I’m far moreso with the former than latter. I’m honestly impressed at the way this issue–and this round of GM Justice League as a whole–has the talent and appearances of something much bigger and less generic than "just" cereal-box comics. At the same time, unfortunately (by seeming necessity) these ARE rather smaller and more generic than non-cereal counterparts.

The story itself is fairly basic, drawing on some basic tropes of comics in general…particularly the lead-in with Batman having just gotten back from a night out, talking about the off-panel adventure, remembering something from his childhood while his parents were alive, and that conveniently being relevant to the current story at hand. Yet, while that may come off as a negative…it fits perfectly into what these comics can and might be–someone’s first. These days, it’s not hard to imagine that there are countless staunch fans of even "obscure" comic book characters…yet said fans may never have actually experienced a comic book! So while these are overdone, overly-familiar things to me as a nearly-30-years comics reader, they may well be someone’s first exposure and be at least some small part of their journey into comics.

The story elements overall do not particularly contradict what I know of the characters, and particularly Batman in this case, though this definitely comes detached from the nuances of recent continuity that I’m familiar with. My biggest eye-opener is the notion of the characters nonchalantly hauling the moon out of its orbit with zero repercussions to the Earth. Perfect for a comic like this, maybe, but epic event-level stuff in general continuity.

Visually, if the pages were "regular" sized and I didn’t see a cover, I wouldn’t really know this was "just" some cereal-box comic…it has "established talent," and does not look like some generic thing. The art is quite good in and of itself, though as with a lot of comic book art, its primary drawback is simply in not being by one of a handful of my favorite comic artists. Once again, these characters look like they’re right out of early-2017 full-size DC comics, down to Batman’s current gold-outlined black bat symbol. Superman’s look is about to be out of date, but fits well into the past ten or so months’ worth of DC Rebirth.

As with the first issue, this was an ok read with good art. It’s a cereal comic and certainly worth reading, but it in no way affects continuity nor particularly draws from it. You might appreciate this more if you’re NOT up on current comics, as you may be less likely to do hard comparisons. I wouldn’t go out of the way to hunt this down, but if you like the cereal and it’s in the box, definitely give it a read-through!

general_mills_2017_justice_league_0002_blogtrailer

General Mills Presents: Justice League (2017) #1 [Review]

general_mills_2017_justice_league_0001Power Play

Writer: Tony Bedard
Penciller: Jerry Ordway
Inker: Juan Castro
Colorist: Guy Major
Letterer: Comicraft
Cover Artist: Ale Garza
Cover Colorist: Luis Guerrero
Assistant Editor: Brittany Holzherr
Editor: Steve Buccellato
Group Editor: Marie Javins
Design Director: Larry Berry

Once again, DC Comics and General Mills have teamed up to put comics in boxes of cereal. And, once again, I’m buying cereal specifically to get a copy of all four issues available as part of the promotion. This is the fourth such promotion I can recall in "modern" comics’ times–two prior Justice League runs, last year’s Batman v Superman, and now this. As with the previous ones, these LOOK like they fit in with contemporary issues, just that these are missing UPC boxes, and are atrociously TINY. But hey…they’re "free" with the purchase of a specially-marked box of cereal, and no hassling with coupons, mail-aways, shipping/handling, etc.

As with previous promotions, though these issues are numbered, I’m almost certain there’s no sequential "continuity" to them–this first issue is self-contained with no cliffhanger or anything "driving" one to the next issue. I’m pretty sure the PRIMARY purpose of the issue number is to help "legitimize" the thing as a miniature comic book (and not just some mini-magazine/"insert" or such) and to–as successfully accomplished with me–trigger the OCD to track them all down, because darnit, there are FOUR numbered issues, so I want all 4 issues, and won’t want to have a #4 withOUT 1-3 and so on.

Getting to the issue itself, as an issue…I’m quite impressed with the main creative team. Tony Bedard‘s name is definitely recognizable to me, and even topping that is artist Jerry Ordway, who is an old favorite from my earliest days in comics.

The story is rather prescient given its timing–at least for me as I read this. We open on the Justice League (current Rebirth incarnation, with everyone looking on-model for Rebirth year one) in Metropolis, being celebrated for all their work and constant saving of Earth. A large group statue is unveiled, and almost immediately comes to life, forcing the Leaguers to face off against their giant bronze counterparts. The mischievous antagonist is quickly revealed: Mr. Mxyzptlk! Muddying matters, the League must summon Bat-Mite–another 5th-Dimensional imp–to counter Mxy’s fun. Tricking Mxy yet again into saying his own name backwards, Bat-Mite extracts a promise from the League and then disappears himself…a small bronze addition left with the once-more-inanimate statue, celebrating Bat-Mite side-by-side with the rest of the League.

This story comes outta nowhere: no prologue, nothing setting it up. Just the "typical" generic "our heroes gather to be celebrated by the common people they’ve saved, however reluctant they may be with such adulation and then must save them yet again." Of course, this is NOT some issue partaking in any crossover or event, nor is it "merely" some reprint of just any random issue from within a run…and it’s not anything someone reading the regularly-published comics needs to track down to get a full story, so it’s rather necessary, then, for this to be its own thing in a relative "vacuum." Additionally, there is no cliffhanger, nothing left hanging to "force" or "coerce" someone (while many adults may track these down, I’d assume a large majority of readers are children whose parents had to provide the cereal for them to have the comic) to "have to" get the other issues.

Yet, while the story is pretty simplistic, and doesn’t necessarily play up individual character elements that’d be present in solo books, the characters are recognizable as who they are, and the lineup seems to fit in such that someone reading this and then walking into a comic shop would easily find current DC issues featuring these very characters. Bedard doesn’t really get room to shine as a writer, but he doesn’t play the characters as fools or overly talk down to the audience (though there’s a little bit of that "special lesson" to be imparted to kids: "don’t run from your problems, own up to them…and sometimes you will have to ask for help from others, and that’s ok."

The cover’s art is a bit "off" and generic to me….Superman’s costume (at least on my copy of this issue) seems a bit weirdly-colored and the whole image is basically generic poses of the characters on a yellowy-orange burst-effect…no background setting or situation (though also nothing to give away the antagonist from within). Ordway‘s art on the interior is a huge treat for me, and I really like the depiction of the characters. I don’t much care for Simon’s version of the Green Lantern costume–never have–but it looks as good as is possible here. And somehow most notable to me, Mxyzptlk looks really good in this issue–much like in my first conscious exposure to the character back in 1989 or so.

I imagine I’d have quite loved this as a kid. As an adult, it’s simplistic but pretty…and as something "free" in a box of cereal, it’s much better than it has any "right" to be. Even if you’re not a fan of the cereals, I’d recommend this as a quick-read novelty item…especially as I doubt this or any of the previous ones will ever warrant a full-size collection of their own, so this is likely the only way to read ’em!

general_mills_2017_justice_league_0001_blogtrailer

The ’00s Revisited: Superman: Lex 2000 #1

superman_lex_2000Triumph Over Tragedy; One or the Other; Where Were You?; He KNows; Lana’s Story

Written by: Jeph Loeb, Greg Rucka
Pencils by: Tony Harris, Dwayne Turner, Doug Mahnke, Ed McGuinness, Todd Nauck
Inks by: Ray Snyder, Danny Miki, Dwayne Turner, Walden Wong, Cam Smith, Klaus Janson
Colors by: Tanya Horie, Richard Horie, Rob Schwager
Lettering by: Comicraft
Cover by: Glen Orbik with assists by Laurel Blechman
Assistant Editor: Tom Palmer Jr.
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Executive Editor: Mike Carlin
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: January 2001
Cover Price: $3.50

This issue is split into several smaller stories, as a sort of "bridge" issue from one status quo into the next, and as something NOT just another issue of any of the then-current four ongoing Superman titles. We have a short piece as the WGBS special recounting Luthor’s life for the public, and get Luthor’s feedback on it. We get a scene between Luthor and Batman as Batman demands "the ring" or the Presidency, setting up some future conflict. Another story has Jimmy talking to Lois and Clark about where they were when they heard Luthor was running for president…and then, as the race is called, we get another short story seeing Superman venting his rage at the news. The issue closes with a short piece between Superman and Lana, acknowledging continuity back to Superman #2, reminding us of the long history between characters and some important dynamics between the characters. Sprinkled throughout, we have some in-universe ads.

When I read Superman #164, I intended that to be an isolated thing. And reading just that, just one single issue, it was what it was. Reading this rekindles something for me, as I’m exposed to multiple creative teams within the then-current overall Super-team of creators. I’m reminded of just how much the supporting cast played into the comics, with actual Lois, Clark, AND Jimmy getting page-time, along with Luthor, Cat Grant, Perry White, and so on. It’s also easy to forget both No Man’s Land as well as the fact that in the early 2000s, Luthor and Batman had quite a thing going, with Luthor starting to seem almost as much a Batman foe as Superman (to say nothing of the DC Universe as a whole, all the more becoming THE US President of the DC Universe continuity!).

This is functionally an "anthology" issue, in terms of having multiple shorter stories and multiple creative teams, and though the stories all play together, all form part of the continuity of the issue, and all advance the overall story, each giving us some progression, it’s still different from a standard single-story issue. But for what it is, I definitely like that! The writing all works together, and while not all the art is 100% to my liking (at least now in 2016), it all works well enough. The only jarring part to me is the initial piece with Superman punching an asteroid when we shift into flat-out, unapologetic Ed McGuinness art…a style that doesn’t work as well for me now, being used to contemporary stuff, but does an excellent job of bringing that feeling back of reading these comics and others of this time period as they came out.

I honestly did not remember what this issue held, what to expect of it: I’ve had the cover to go on for awhile, but until I actually sat down to read this, I couldn’t remember if this was in the style of the Newstime: The Death of Superman issue or not…I was quite glad to find this was not like that one, outside of the magazine-style opening page, and some of the "ads" throughout.

This was an extra-sized issue, and extra-priced, too…carrying a whopping $3.50 cover price (to the then-usual $2.25!). I am not sure if I have any duplicates of this issue…this being one of those in-continuity "specials" that kinda took the place of or rendered the Superman: The Man of Tomorrow title moot, I don’t feel like I see these in bargain bins as often as standard issues. Reading this after having just read the issue preceding it, I feel like one would certainly appreciate this a lot more with context of surrounding issue. Yet, ultimately, this does stand alone pretty well in that the stories are not continuing off some previous cliffhanger, nor do they end on a "to be continued" or such. They pick up on existing plot threads, and play with those, and move stuff forward.

I would have little problem recommending this issue up to a dollar bin purchase (beyond your standard 25 or 50 cent bin), though I’d recommend making sure you’re interested in READING it if you do.

Zero Hour Revisited – Superboy #8

90srevisited_zerohour

superboy_0008Big Trouble in Smallville!

Writer: Karl Kesel
Penciller: Tom Grummett
Inkers: Doug Hazlewood, Dan Davis
Colorist: Tom McCraw
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Editor: Frank Pittarese
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.50

Now THIS is more like it. This was an issue I had read when it was originally released, and I enjoyed it now, and I enjoyed it back then. Of course, whatever checklist I was working from that listed this issue before Valor #23 did me a disservice…this one had a footnote to see that issue. But I already had my mind set on reading this next…and hey…wibbly-wobbly and all that.

This is just the eighth issue of the 1990s Superboy series…focusing on the Superboy that appeared in the whole Return of Superman shindig. This is well before his Kon-El days, even before he had an inkling, really, who the Kents were (He doesn’t even have a bit of recognition of them in this issue!). After Crisis on Infinite Earths, there was no longer a Superboy, who was "Superman when he was a boy." Of course, when you have a Crisis (in Time) and have other-timelines’ characters popping up and such…why NOT a timeline where Superman WAS SuperBOY first?

So we pick up on Superboy accompanying a plane across Kansas. His travel-buddy Dubbilex needs the plane, and has rescued Krypto (Bibbo’s dog that was gonna be named Krypton but wound up Krypto cuz of a jerk tag-maker…see the Funeral for a Friend/World Without a Superman story for that, if I’m recalling correctly). Superboy and the dog aren’t getting along, and Superboy’s riding on the wing of the plane…whether it’s BECAUSE of the dog I’m not sure, but I guess it doesn’t matter TOO much. When the plane’s hit by lightning and about to crash, it’s rescued–by Superboy…and Superboy! The second Superboy, wearing the classic Superman costume appeared with the lightning, apparently after some adventure in the future. He guides the plane to Smallville, recognizing the sign stating it’s the home of Superboy, and then seeks out familiar territory. While "our" Superboy gets some attention in town, the time-displaced Superboy changes to his guise as a young Clark Kent…and finds some unsettling surprises. And of course, eventually the two Superboys meet up (how neither realized the other assisted with the plane can be chalked up to "It’s comics!") and fight…before realizing there’s no need for fighting, and that there are forces at work beyond even the two of them. As the displaced Superboy fades out, Superman/Green Lantern/Metron’s message arrives, and Superboy springs into action.

I’ll say it again: this is more like it! While "the message" does not come until the end of the issue…within this issue we HAVE a Time Anomaly, a character whose only way of being capable of even appearing IS the weirdness with Time, as a result of what’s going on with Zero Hour…making this a great tie-in! And at a time when "elements" of the pre-Crisis era were seeping back into the Superman mythos, albeit with "modern" twists rooted within the new continuity, this Superboy was an interesting contrast…a sort of having the cake and eating it, too. I suppose in most modern ways of comparing, it’d be like Kon-El showing up in the New 52 for just one issue and that’d be that.

In a way, I wasn’t even paying attention to the story as I read this…I just thoroughly enjoyed the issue! Grummett‘s art is fantastic, and Hazlewood/Davis/McCraw do an excellent job enhancing that with inks and colors. After reading some of the other tie-in issues, this one was a very welcome one in both art and sheer enjoyment.

While there’s not a lot of context for the ongoing series, as a one-off, this is a fun issue…basically showing the "real" Superboy encountering one from a different timeline, providing some comparison/contrast between the two, and then setting things back before ending. Other than allowing "our" Superboy to be able to say that he encountered a Time Anomaly already (and as readers, we were thus along for the ride having read this issue), there doesn’t seem to be anything here to really move the SUPERBOY story along…and yet it fits then-current continuity and ties into Zero Hour and is one of the better examples thus far of something tying into the event.

Well worth it if you find it in a bargain bin!

Zero Hour Revisited – Showcase ’94 #9

90srevisited_zerohour

showcase_94_0009The Secret Origin of Scarface part Two – Call Me Scarface

Script: Alan Grant & John Wagner
Art & Colors: Teddy Kristiansen
Lettering: Ken Bruzenak
Consulting Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Editor: Neal Pozner
Cover: Shawn McManus
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: August 1994
Cover Price: $1.95

Much as with the first chapter of this Scarface story, the art’s rather simplistic…but expecting it this time and looking past it not being ‘great’ and just taking it as it is, it works very well here getting everything across that needs to be, at least in not taking me out of the story AS I read, and leaving me satisfied with the story at the end.

Wesker and Woody make good on their escape–though it involves a brick-to-the-face and then hanging of Donnegan, and the murder of a couple of guards. We see Wesker falling prey to whatever madness Donnegan had–as the dummy seems to be the lead and the Ventriloquist following. We also get a sort of explanation for Scarface’s speech thing–his “B” having a “G” sound–as Wesker isn’t that great a ventriloquist.

The story is fitting, and I’m definitely quite satisfied with this “origin” of Wesker as The Ventriloquist, and Scarface, how they came together and all that. I can certainly visualize this being summarized in a one or two page origin–perhaps that’s been done elsewhere already (in Countdown, perhaps?) but that’s mostly irrelevant for now. As a lead feature in an anthology title, it works, was an enjoyable read, and after the first chapter in the previous issue I was actually looking forward to this and trusting that it was to be a 2-part story and nothing longer.

A Story

Writer: Terrance Griep, Jr.
Penciller: Kyle Hotz
Inker: Pav Kovacic
Colorist: Mike Danza
Letterer: Albert DeGuzman
Editor: Neal Pozner

This “middle story” is a brief one, but interesting. Like the Wildcat piece in the previous issue, it’s singular and self-contained; a slice of life sorta thing. We meet Pax, a man bent on revenge against the alien parasites that slaughtered his people–the entire population of his world except he himself. As he narrates his story, it comes to light that the parasites can look like anyone, and we see him take on a group of them, killing them…and moving on. When he’s picked up by a group of “police,” he begins his narration again as we see that his hunt-and-kill mission continues.

I had absolutely no idea what to think of this story at first. At the first page, I thought MAYBE this was Vandal Savage or someone of that nature, given the name “Pax,” but obviously I was quickly proven wrong in my assumption. The parasites appear to be the sort that we saw in Bloodlines–the Annuals event from 1993, which would make sense given this story would have been out just a few months after the end of that event in Bloodbath. And for a one-off story, seeing someone hunting the parasites would kinda show them to be a bigger deal than just the few that made it to Earth and caused the trouble they did.

The lack of expectation going in, of even knowing what the segment was to be about, worked in its favor. The art fits, gets stuff across quite effectively; and has little to be compared to on this read-through. The story itself is ultimately forgettable, but still worth having read it. Reading this in 2016, though, it puts me in mind of 2014’s Armor Hunters from Valiant…as the lone survivor of a planet hunting down parasites like those that destroyed his planet, with singular vision and little regard for the consequences beyond killing the parasites.

Thinking of it as the likes of Armor Hunters actually makes me like it all the more. While I wouldn’t care for any sort of dedicated mini-series or ongoing series like this…as a “random” thing in an issue I’m reading anyway, it’s well worth the several minutes of reading and realization!

Sum: Zero part two

Story: Dan Jurgens
Pencils: Frank Fosco
Inks: Ken Branch
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Colors: Stuart Chaifetz
Editor: Neal Pozner

Once more, the final part of the issue is the selling point, the story I read the issue for.

We pick up on Monarch holding Waverider and Hunter in a stasis field. Though he’s able to get them into the timestream, he lacks the control to direct himself, and hopes to have Waverider use his power to do that–and in the doing he’ll learn it for himself. Things don’t go as planned, and Monarch–Hank Hall–learns a new “truth” of his past and what happened at the end of Armageddon 2001, and since he’s more powerful than he’d realized, and his future self had realized, as Time’s been altered, he decides instead of being Monarch, he’ll be Extant! And stealing Waverider’s Linear Men arm-control, disappears into the timestream. Hunter is suitably cheesed-off that the villain now has the ability to time-travel at will, and Waverider suggests that if this villain can uphold his potential, they stand at the edge of a true CRISIS.

Yep, 9-ish years after “THE” Crisis (on Infinite Earths), a new one is about to unfold.

As with the previous issue’s segment of this story, the art works well, if not being completely to my liking. The story also works, feeding us directly into Zero Hour, and revealing that this story was primarily about transforming Monarch (Hank Hall) into Extant, a sleeker and cooler-looking guy than the clunky Monarch was, but without having to “corrupt” any other characters. This also allows the character to come with built-in, already-established “street cred” AS a villain, extremely powerful and a true threat beyond any single hero’s ability to take him down.

Despite this, I originally read Zero Hour withOUT having read this prelude, and had no problem following along (that I recall), and it wasn’t until I read the collected edition that I got to read this…so Sum: Zero is not absolutely essential…but it’s satisfying as a piece of my completist mentality for this reading project.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

I’m glad I didn’t pay full price for this back in the day, as I would certainly NOT have appreciated the lead story nor the Pax segment…and probably, honestly, wouldn’t even have appreciated the Zero Hour piece. Reading it in 2016 having paid a dollar or less for both chapters, it’s a very satisfying read and well worth the expense and the time. And for reading the entire issue for both of these Showcase comics, I now have a better idea of the “origin” of the Bat-villain The Ventriloquist/Scarface.

It’s an anthology book, with a mix of creators both known and not, and characters that didn’t headline their own series, and all that, and it feels like one. This two-issue “taste” is much more satisfying than I recall the Batman segments of the two issues that tied into Knightfall, though that could be the more than two decades’ additional life lived and my ability to appreciate stuff as a mid-thirties adult than when I was just barely a teenager. I don’t know exactly when, but I look forward at least to the idea of binge-reading the several years’ worth of Showcase ’90s.

Zero Hour Revisited – Showcase ’94 #8

90srevisited_zerohour

showcase_94_0008The Secret Origin of Scarface part One – The Gallows Doll

Script: Alan Grant & John Wagner
Art & Colors: Teddy Kristiansen
Lettering: Ken Bruzenak
Consulting Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Editor: Neal Pozner
Cover: Ted McKeever
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: July 1994
Cover Price: $1.95

I know I’ve read the Zero Hour portion of this issue in the collected edition of the event…but until now, I’ve never actually read Showcase ’94 #8 itself as a standalone comic! I was surprised by it, and rather enjoyed the experience overall.

This first story focuses on a prisoner in Blackgate–Donnegan–and how he gets a book on ventriloquism as a “joke” but ends up taking it fairly seriously. He even makes himself a dummy–carved from the wooden remains of the prison’s gallows. He and the dummy form an interesting relationship over the years…which leads to some conflict when a new prisoner, Arnold Wesker is assigned to Donnegan as a cellmate. Wesker is interested in the dummy and appreciates the “show” of ventriloquism. However, Donnegan is quite non-plussed at the perceived intrusion on his space, and commands Wesker to leave his dummy–“Woody”–alone. Wesker’s fascination leads him to investigate, which earns him a beating. Not long after, he seems to be hearing the dummy…even though Donnegan’s sound asleep.

The visuals for this story are rather simplistic, and don’t really do much for me. I recognize the dummy, and Wesker, by prior knowledge of them, and the “iconic” look of the dummy, and Wesker’s glasses. Beyond that, the art’s rather generic and unappealing. Still, it works for the story overall, and doesn’t exactly disappoint me, as I had zero expectation going in. It’s certainly not a “selling point” for me, but since the point of my reading the issue isn’t even this “main feature,” it can have a pass.

Story-wise, I liked this. All these years later and I’ve never consciously known–or at least retained–the origin of “The Ventriloquist” and “Scarface” (Woody). And this being (in part) an Alan Grant story (I don’t recall if he created the character to begin with, but I recognize him as one of the major writers on Batman stuff in the late-’80s/early-’90s) so that predisposed me to enjoy the story, and not write it off as just some throw-away story of a lesser-known Bat-villain. This is part one, and the fact that Wesker isn’t the original “Ventriloquist” (or there’s something a bit more messed up going on) is interesting, and I actually look forward to reading the next chapter.

Wildcat – Brujas y Gatos

Writer: Eddie Berganza
Penciller: Nick Gnazzo
Inker: Ray Kryssing
Colorist: Suzanne Bourdages
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Editor: Neal Pozner

I’m not overly familiar with Wildcat. I know the name Ted Grant, and recognize the character from Geoff JohnsJSA stuff (assuming I’m not mixing THIS Wildcat with someone else). Since I’ve never read anything in particular focusing on the character, I have no real preconceived notions to bring into the reading experience.

This is a short piece that finds Wildcat infiltrating a resurrection ceremony that seems to be–purportedly–to raise someone from the dead. Contextually we learn that the body to be raised is that of Ted’s friend Yolanda–who had attempted to become a new Wildcat…but she was apparently killed by Eclipso recently. (I have yet to read but was aware OF the short-lived Eclipso series that spun out of the Eclipso: The Darkness Within and recall hearing about there being several character deaths in short order toward the latter part of the series–I always remembered The Creeper being killed, but apparently Yolanda/Wildcat was also one). Wildcat observes, and only intervenes when a “fake” Yolanda shows up. He busts the ceremony and the fake Wildcat, revealing the truth and bringing some closure (albeit uber-convenient and quick) to the family of the dead woman.

This is a throw-away story, but recognizing it as a bit of follow-up to what I presume to be a virtually un-noticed otherwise death in a minor, now-forgotten book from the early-’90s, I can definitely appreciate its existence and purpose. At the least, it reminded me that that Eclipso series is out there and I’ve not yet acquired it, though I’ve had an interest in it for a couple decades now.

The art’s slightly over the top in a way, but not bad. I don’t recognize the art team’s names, but it’s not a bad piece. That this short “slice of life” episode IS so short but actually ends without a cliffhanger suggests to me that it’s a one-off piece in this anthology series…so it’s not even long enough for me to develop much opinion one way or the other.

The primary drawback to the piece at all is that it stood between me and the Zero Hour story.

Sum: Zero

Story: Dan Jurgens
Pencils: Frank Fosco
Inks: Ken Branch
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Colors: Stuart Chaifetz
Consulting Editors: Mike Carlin & K.C. Carlson
Editor: Neal Pozner

Vanishing Point–a place beyond Time itself, headquarters of the Linear Men. Hunter finds Waverider reminiscing, and confronts him over the fact that he–Waverider–may have stopped Monarch, but himself wiped out an entire timeline in the doing, making him worse than Monarch ever was. Waverider, though, doesn’t share the sentiment–though he does realize perhaps he should check into things with Hank Hall a bit more…though what he sees disturbs him. When he (and tag-along Hunter) journey to the late 20th century to investigate an anomaly that could be Monarch’s doing, they find him waiting, and themselves quite unprepared for this.

This piece is the “selling point” of the issue for me; the entire reason I picked the issue up to read. I’m pretty familiar with it already from having read the Zero Hour collected volume at least a couple times over the years, but this might be the first time actually reading it as part of this Showcase issue, in this exact format.

Trying to evaluate the art as a standalone thing, I realize it feels just a bit “off” somehow…probably because of not being Jurgens‘ art, or some such. It’s not bad by any means–and both Waverider and Hunter are familiar and distinct, and the imagery we get of Monarch and other elements that ought to be familiar from Armageddon 2001 fit, and convey the story.

The writing is Jurgens, and as a prologue to the Zero Hour event, this fits perfectly into stuff, giving us a bit of story involving these characters just prior to their stepping into that event.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

I thought about “just” touching on the Zero Hour story and “ignoring” the rest of the issue, but figured why not just read the whole thing? And I was pleasantly surprised. I got a chapter of a story fleshing out the background of a Bat-villain that isn’t the bore I might’ve thought it’d be. The Wildcat story wasn’t bad and its primary drawback was that I finished the Scarface story and was a bit surprised to not turn right into the Zero Hour story.

While the issue’s page numbering INCLUDES ad pages, it goes to page 46…which is much longer than “just” 20-22 pages, so even with ads, it’s roughly a double-sized issue for not much more than a standard-length issue would have been at the time. Considering I paid fifty cents or less for the issue, the time it took to read vs. the amount spent makes it an excellent value; I enjoyed the reading experience, and when adding the time spent writing up this post, means that it’s by far one of the highest-value comics I’ve read in quite awhile, holding/being the focus of my attention for so long.

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