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The ’90s Revisited: Batman #525 – Underworld Unleashed!

90s_revisited

batman_0525Frozen Assets

Writer: Doug Moench
Artists: Kelley Jones, John Beatty
Colorist: Greg Wright
Letterer: Todd Klein
Separations: Android Images
Associate Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel
Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Cover Date: December 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

This month, a number of blogs and podcasts have joined together to present #BestEventEver 2018, covering the 1995 event Underworld Unleashed! Beyond my own posts, please check out these other blogs and podcasts for in-depth coverage of the various issues that were part of the event…and join in on further peeks at and discussions of the event on Twitter by joining at hashtags #BestEventEver and #UnderworldReUnleashed!

ITG  |  Resurrections: An Adam Warlock/Thanos Podcast  |  Relatively Geeky Podcast Network  |  The Retroist  |  Chris is on Infinite Earths  |  Cosmic Treadmill  |  The Pop Culture Palace  |  Rolled Spine’s Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Podcast  |  The Idol-Head of Diabolu  |  Justice’s First Dawn  |  Justice Trek: The Podcast


Based generally on the premise of Underworld Unleashed–a bunch of villains revamped and powered-up after deals with Neron–I was expecting something big with Mr. Freeze. Instead, other than what amounts to me to be a shoehorned-in reference via dialogue, in terms of what I expected, this is just a random one-off issue involving Freeze.

We open on Batman crouched on a water reservoir surveying the city, reflecting over no one that he knows of from Arkham–or Hell–being loose. The scene then transitions to Mr. Freeze, meeting with a group of rich, elderly individuals, showing off his newest cryo-tech. Seems he’s working to scam them out of their fortunes…and his present "henchmen" are a duo who finish each other’s sentences in rhymes. There’s a subplot with James Gordon and Sarah (Essen, I believe); I’d forgotten about her character and where these two were at the time! Jim’s not Commissioner at present, and is actually looking at running for mayor. By the next night, Freeze has been rejected by his would-be customers…but he decides he’ll put ’em on ice anyway…why let a pesky detail like consent delay him? We have another subplot involving Harvey Bullock who’s had a date recently. As Freeze begins his freezing-spree, Batman realizes that yep–there’s one from Arkham that he missed! A bit of time in the Batcave with Robin and Alfred gets things rolling, and Batman’s back out into the hellish night to deal with this master of cryonics. Batman makes short work of the henchfolks, discovers he’s too late to save Freeze’s victims, and finally takes on the man himself, breaking through ice barriers and then the helmet of the cryo-suit. Ultimately, Batman leaves Freeze and his henchfolks for the police–Freeze sitting in an open refrigerator to offset his compromised cold-suit, awaiting his return to Hell (Arkham).

I wanted to like this issue. It’s an issue of Batman. It’s from the ’90s–and I quite enjoy ’90s comics! I thought I remembered liking Kelley Jones‘ art, despite its exaggerated style. It’s an Underworld Unleashed tie-in and includes Mr. Freeze in a souped-up, upgraded-looking suit…surely a deal with Neron! It was supposed to be a cool issue! (Pardon the punnage).

Perhaps I’m too used to modern Batman art, perhaps I expected too much from my nostalgia…but on this read through, I really did NOT like the art at all. It seemed wildly inconsistent–one panel, the bat-cowl’s "ears" are curved backward, another they’re sticking straight up, the exaggeration just didn’t work well for me here. A lot of bodily anatomy seemed "off" and too angular or (and I keep using that word) over-exaggerated, much like I’d think of for a political cartoon. Even the coloring–that I don’t often notice in itself–seems a bit "too" contrasty (whether that’s my particular copy of the issue or not, I’m not absolutely certain). I’m not gonna pick apart every detail that bugged me in this issue, but there were plenty throughout. There’s some potential, to me, to this design of Freeze’s suit and the way he’s drawn–kinda like a light from within the suit is obscuring the lower part of his face, giving him more of a floating-skull-in-a-tank appearance…which at first glance speaks to my expectation of new/revised villains in light of deals with Neron, their powers amped-up but at a cost.

The story really does not see that point out, though–we have references to Freeze’s cryonics/cryo technology, and by the end of the issue, confirmation that he NEEDS this suit to survive, and that it IS his suit; it doesn’t pose a threat to Batman as a Neron-provided suit ought to! In and of itself–Batman vs. Mr. Freeze–this isn’t a bad story. I have a hard time divorcing the story completely from the art…but structurally, I like the story. It’s in a comfort zone of expectation for Batman, and it’s basically a done-in-one issue that includes some subplotty stuff to loosely progress an overall Batman-comics-narrative. Batman’s watching over Gotham; he knows he can’t save everyone/stop every last criminal, but he can handle the bigger ones the cops can’t handle; but he doesn’t know initially that Freeze is out. Once he does, he heads out to stop him, though he’s too late to save the latest victims, but he manages to stop Freeze himself. The issue doesn’t feel like we’re doing anything but tuning into the latest episode of a series. Other than a brief reference to Neron in dialogue, there doesn’t feel like there’s any tie to Underworld Unleashed. Take the textual reference out, and take the event logo off the cover, and reading this, I’d have no idea it was supposed to be a tie-in!

While Moench‘s story is good in itself, the art bugs me, and I’m annoyed at my expectations not being met for this being an event tie-in for Underworld Unleashed. Additionally, after Mr. Freeze’s upgrade to seeming like he was practically an ice-elemental or such, biologically-generating/controlling coldness over in the previous month’s Green Lantern #68, which this in no way references, it’s like two different characters and a huge continuity-hole…itself particularly egregious due to being cover-dated only a single month after the Green Lantern issue!

Because it has the event’s logo on the cover, if you’re seeking out "the entire event," this issue’s worth getting for that much; and if you’re a fan of Moench or Kelley (writing or art) not really anything to say not to get this issue (especially if you come across it in a bargain bin!). But otherwise…this feels like an entirely forgettable, skippable issue, not worth specifically seeking out. As it’s basically done-in-one, though, it’s functionally one of the better values you’ll get if you find it for 25-50 cents or such, since that price gets you an "entire" story without it being a middle-numbered chapter of a contemporary 6-issue arc, nor does it send you chasing after another issue to find out what happens off a "To Be Continued…" cliffhanger.

Taken alone, this issue does not do much for me, does not "inspire" me to want to read more of this Batman, nor to seek out more Underworld Unleashed, and so it really feels to me like a failure as an event chapter. Hopefully other issue I cover of this event give me a better feeling!


Again, please check out these other sites for additional, more in-depth coverage of the various other issues–including the main event mini itself–for Underworld Unleashed!

batman_0525_blogtrailer

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The ’90s Revisited: Batman #497

90s_revisited

batman_0497Broken Bat

Writer: Doug Moench
Artist: Jim Aparo
Inker: Dick Giordano
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Asst. Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel
Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: Late July, 1993
Cover Price: $1.25

This is one of the most iconic, “key” comics in my life. The writing is straight-forward, the art is superb, and when I picture Bruce Wayne, this is the version I see. Not necessarily the worn-down, beaten man the issue opens with, but the face, the body structure, the human trying to be more-than-human.

With a lead like that, what did I REALLY think?

This issue is only slightly past the midpoint of the Knightfall story. It’s 3 issues before the big 500th issue, and yet is more of a crucial, impactful issue than that, in terms of its effect on the series for a time. The cover spoils the issue, even though really, we already knew it was coming…such was the nature of the beast, even at that time before the internet as we have it now. The cover–at least for the edition(s) I’m used to–feature a half-cover overlay as a sort of “enhancement” or such; just a black-and-white thing mimicking the upper-left corner copy and first part of the title logo…but then has the partially-eclipsed Bat-logo with the text

“You thought it could never happen…

THE BREAKING OF THE BATMAN”

Flip that up, and you have the actual cover itself, the iconic image of a ridiculously-huge and disproportionate Bane pressing Batman backwards over his knee. While the image is NOT lifted from the interior, it certainly conveys its point, and the issue is thus blatantly, fully marked as “the” issue where Batman gets his back broken…even as this “middle chapter” within a larger 19-issue story.

The issue opens with Bruce Wayne just into the manor, surprised at the presence of Bane. The two actually talk, having a semi-civil-ish exchange, basically discussing recent events very matter-of-factly, before the “final battle” between these two is joined. Batman is virtually non-existent, as Bane essentially tosses Bruce Wayne in a Batman costume around, pummeling him nearly to death, the man’s feeble attempts at fighting back doing nothing to slow the villain. As Alfred escapes and seeks out Tim for help, Bane decides on a different course of action than he’d apparently originally intended.

“I am Bane, and I could kill you…but death would only end your agony and silence your shame! Instead, I will simply… BREAK YOU!”

Slamming the battered body down over his knee, Bane then drops him.

“Broken… and done.”

The visuals in this issue are brutal…and it’s almost painful to look at, and just really take in just HOW MUCH of a beating Bane dishes out…yet how resilient Bruce/Batman is, simply to actually SURVIVE the experience. There are subtleties that even just on this read-through I picked up that I hadn’t before (and this is one of the most repeatedly-read comics in my own life) which says a lot! Even a number of years’ worth of issues later, this is the same Bruce Wayne seen in A Death in the Family and during the New Adventures run of the title and others between. This is simply the iconic–to me–visual rendition of the character and by far my favorite.

Story-wise, on the surface there’s really not much. Bane is here, beats up Batman, in essentially an issue-log fight sequence ending with Bruce broken on the ground. It’s something that in the present I would be inclined to strongly dislike–after all, isn’t this just “padding” and “decompression,” having an ENTIRE ISSUE as a fight sequence?!? Yet rather than being a full 1/6th of a graphic novel or such, this is “merely” 1/19th of the Knightfall story itself; the ending of the first TPB of the original collected version, and appropriately-placed within the huger contemporary edition. This truly is just a small piece of a larger story, and so the fight being such a major thing, it does not FEEL padded-out. There are touches that I really liked, especially on this read-through, such as panel “flashbacks” to “recent events,” that I do recall from times I’ve read them, and jog my memory on stuff throughout the Knightfall arc thus far and stuff leading up to it. I could almost hear the somber music swelling as we see these interspersed with “now” and know we’re heading to The Fall, a defining moment for the character of Batman…the guy who can never be defeated, who is always fully prepared with contingencies for everything…but here, he’s gone, worn down as Bane intended, softened TO the point of defeat.

I know I got this copy that I read this time out of a quarter-bin, it’s an issue I’ve seen “hold its price” in terms of what dealers will ask for it…so it’s certainly worthwhile if you find it IN a bargain-bin! Given the full Knightfall story is available in multiple formats and collections, unless you sincerely want to own/read/experience this as a single issue, I would not say it’s actually worth anything more than $1 or so for print or (grudgingly for immediacy) $1.99 for digital.

However, if you’re grabbing this in-print…you MIGHT want to lift that overlay and check which printing you’re buying. I was rather surprised on this copy to realize I’m holding a 2nd print…perhaps that’s part of why it was “only” 25 cents. The only difference I can see outside of the Roman Numeral “II” is that the color of the bat behind the word “Batman” on the cover is yellow for this printing, but white on the first.

Zero Hour Revisited – Showcase ’94 #10

90srevisited_zerohour

showcase_94_0010Aftermath

Script: Alan Grant
Penciller: Mike Vosburg
Inker: Ron McCain
Colorist: Dave Hornung
Letterer: Ken Bruzenak
Consulting Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Editor: Neal Pozner
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.95

This particular story basically sees a despondent, defeated Jean-Paul Valley momentarily existing as a homeless man on the streets. He’s been stripped of his role as Batman, having abdicated his role as Azrael for that, and now hasn’t a clue what to do with himself. He contemplates himself, his life, where he is, what he’s been through, how his life has changed in a year (basically saying that from Sword of Azrael to Zero Hour has been about a year in the Bat-side of things–further backed by the Superman: The Man of Steel issue where Batman mentions to Superman both having quite a year). Valley intrudes on a group of homeless, "hogging the fire," and eventually one is brave enough to approach him and engage him (albeit one-sidedly…or so it seems). When he up and leaves, the remaining homeless crowd around the fire and then are threatened by another group. Valley returns and drives them off, and continues to mope about, though now accepting that he IS a person, like any of these others.

Story-wise, this seems both a sort of quasi-epilogue to KnightsEnd, partly following up on that and bridging that story and the start of the ongoing Azrael series that started sometime later in 1994, I believe. This is definitely where a title like this–Showcase ‘__–excels. You don’t have to have an entire issue of some other title dedicated to a story, but you can have a standard-issue-length story presented once without having to be entirely its own one-shot or Special Issue or whatever. There’s room for this Azrael (Jean-Paul Valley) story, prior to/without an Azrael title (yet), but without hijacking another issue of Batman or Detective or Robin or Catwoman or whatever.

Given that, I like this story, and somehow was kinda surprised that it DID run the "full length" of a standard-sized issue. Then, for only 45 cents more (1994 pricing) we get another issue-or-so’s worth of content spotlighting other stuff.

And the cover–featuring Azrael–is a nice Quesada/Kesel piece with the destroyed Az-Bats helmet on the Az-Bats-period Bat-symbol. Iconic, simple, and applicable to the story.

The Tempting part 1: The Beating of Wings

Writer/Creator: Brian Augustyn
Penciller: Anthony Chun
Inker: Matt Banning
Letterer: Steve Haynie
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Editor: Neal Pozner

I’d swear I’ve read stuff with Black Condor before–specifically in Justice League America–but this did not feel like that at all. I think it’s safe to say this is the first "solo outing" I’ve read of the character, and it felt like a bit of a first-issue thing, introducing the main character, a supporting character, and a conflict. Of course, the hero starts to seem victorious, before being presented with a greater challenge, and we’re left with a cliffhanger (I ought to see if I have the next issue of this, but honestly I doubt I’ll get to it anytime soon…I’m interested, but not necessarily enough to hunt it down for an immediate read. Chances are if I ever get around to assembling the several years of these Showcase Years I’ll read it someday).

The story and art are both good, and as mentioned above for the Azrael story, this is a solid outing that seems like it could lead into an ongoing series; but barring that/prior to that, serves in that stead, being allowed to be put out there as part of an anthology ongoing even where any singular character/story would not support its own thing.

No real complaints, and I do feel I’ve a bit more insight into the character, or at least the context, than I would have had without having read this.

Deja Views

Story: Mike McAvennie
Pencils: Jason Armstrong
Inks: Stan Woch
Colors: Stuart Chaifetz
Letters: Willie Schubert
Consulting Editor: KC Carlson
Editor: Neal Pozner

This story was all over the place, but essentially focuses on a group of Time-themed villains including Clock-King (I believe) and Calendar Man (I think–and not at all like the revamped Rebirth version!). The group is trying to steal some helmet or armor, and stuck in a time-loop, and they got confused in-story right after I got confused reading and jumping to the conclusion that there was some significant editorial error before realizing that was part of the story. And before things are completely sorted out, the story fades to white, signifying the "join" to Zero Hour.

Visually, no great issue on this story for me…it’s not bad, not wonderful. I’m not overly familiar with the characters, don’t really care about them, and this story doesn’t seem to directly come out of anything…it’s just "a story set during _______" (here, Zero Hour). This tie is enough to "justify" including this in reading Zero Hour stuff, but the issue does not sport the official Zero Hour banner or trade dress. Of course, that’s in keeping to the title‘s trade dress of generic fonts for "logos" rather than some bold solo-title logo.

At least it’s more tie-in than a number of tie-ins had, so it’s worth reading for the sake of completeness, though does not ultimately "matter."

OVERALL THOUGHTS

While this title itself–Showcase ’94–may not in and of itself matter all that much, I’m more convinced than ever at its greatness for its time. That’s not to say I could see following such a book long-term in the present, in 2016…but going back 22 years and the three issues I’ve now read for their having a segment each tied to Zero Hour, I recognize what the book’s existence allowed to be published without hijacking other books’ pages or the stories just not getting told. Add to that my not recognizing many of the creators and a slight memory suggesting this: the book was the sort for giving "new talent" a chance without being otherwise committed to a book. Try a writer out, give an artist a story to do, without compromising a "regular" or "ongoing" title, but still get their work out there, see how they do with various characters and creative team lineups.

This issue as a whole is not worth it in terms of Zero Hour, really…but it’s a strong issue, with a distinctive cover, and for the quasi-self-contained Azrael story, it’s well worth a bargain-bin buy (just not worth some collector’s premium or markup despite the issue’s age or cover).

Zero Hour Revisited – Catwoman #14

90srevisited_zerohour

catwoman_0014Broken Mirrors

Writer: Jo Duffy
Penciller: Jim Balent
Inker: Bob Smith
Colorist: Buzz Setzer
Letterer: Bobpin
Consulting Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.50

I was looking forward to getting to this issue, as I only vaguely recall owning (and presumably reading) the first issue, and the two KnightsEnd tie-in issues. This would be the first issue of this iteration of Catwoman that I’ve read in years, and after not caring for New 52 stuff, I figured it’d be interesting and a bit refreshing to see the "classic" ’90s costume, etc.

But then very shortly into the issue, I got sidetracked at catching a couple errors that I feel should have been caught in editing, that put me off a bit and dropped this a few notches in my esteem. The story itself is ok, but by the end of the issue, I felt like I’d missed something somewhere, as even being unfamiliar with this version of Catwoman, stuff still seemed a bit outta-nowhere to me.

Catwoman completes a new heist–stealing some sort of ornamental/antique bed dedicated to Bast, a cat goddess. She sleeps, and when she wakes, she’s in the middle of Zero Hour (though those words are not used and there’s no telling she has any hint of that story going on). The city’s gone feral–or prehistoric–and instead of her tame house-cats, she’s got a sabre-toothed tiger as a pet; instead of a butler she’s got a barbarian in her place, and…yeah. Making the best of the situation–and the excuse to don her outfit indoors–Catwoman leaps into action. She and her new barbarian friend find themselves trying to save the prehistoric cat from a hunting party, and then out of nowhere, Selina grabs the guy for a kiss, and the world goes white.

I can appreciate the adventurous hijinks of having Catwoman team up with time-displaced stand-ins for Marvel‘s Ka-Zar and Zabu, and definitely like that–by way of acknowledging this title’s place in the event–we see Selina viewing multiple versions of herself in a multi-panel mirror and all. And in a way, this having virtually zero context for me–it does not seem continued FROM the previous issue, and other than the fade-to-white signifying the end of Zero Hour #1, this doesn’t seem likely to necessarily CONTINUE to the next issue (but what do I know, having never read the #0 or #15-onward?). So on one hand it’s a "fun" sort of stand-alone/one-off story. Establish Selina/Catwoman. Change the environment, introduce shirtless-guy and ancient kitty, move into cliché story of pet wild animal being hunted. Sure. Then the kiss and…that’s it. So despite "fun" randomness, I’m just NOT *impressed* by this issue.

Visually, the art is good…though I may be biased (particularly recalling back to my 13-year-old self)…this is a book that I’d simultaneously say we wouldn’t get "today" and yet in some ways, I think we WOULD with a certain on-page sexiness and suggestion being more acceptable nowadays than 20-some years ago. And at least in retrospect, I realize that where I’ve often prided myself on having AVOIDED the "bad girl comics" until last year’s Aliens/Vampirella…I think I had a brush with them in this ’90s Catwoman title.

That said, this issue is certainly no necessity for the reading of Zero Hour itself…but it’s a fun-ish one-off. It does somewhat walk a thin line of being somehow gratuitous with that skin-tight costume leaving nothing to the imagination and yet being fairly acceptable for what it is (hey, at least she’s covered and not showing bare skin all over–it’s a Code-approved comic, after all!). I don’t recommend the issue in and of itself–it’s not something to track down. But as with so many of these tie-in issues…if you’re working on a run of the series, or this event, etc. it’s not necessarily something to AVOID.

The issue’d be worth 25-50 cents or so, but not something I’d pay cover price for, and maybe not even something I’d pay $1 for. Still, having read it, it has me curious about the series itself and thinking if I found a run of the series in the cheap-bins, I’d be inclined to snag ’em.

Zero Hour Revisited – Batman #511

90srevisited_zerohour

batman_0511The Night Before Zero

Writer: Doug Moench
Artist: Mike Manley
Inker: Josef Rubinstein
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Letterer: Ken Bruzenak
Assistant Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel
Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.50

I definitely remember this issue’s Batgirl. I remember the fact OF her showing up, I remember her appearance in the main Zero Hour book, and I especially remember the impact she had toward the end of that book. But it’s quite likely, having re-read this issue, that this is the first time in nearly 22 years THAT I’ve read it…because I sure did not remember the DETAILS.

We’re only JUST past the Knightfall/Knightquest/Knightsend stuff…like, I think that wrapped with the previous issue, and then we’re dumped straight into Zero Hour. We open with the same scene that we got in Zero Hour #4–of the Joker “discovering” he’s being chased by Batgirl and wondering if it’s a joke. Even though Batman and Robin quickly arrive on the scene, the Joker escapes, leaving the heroes to try to figure out exactly what’s going on. Also on the trail of the Joker, the GCPD arrive, and their presence elicits a surprising reaction from Batgirl–fear. Then they open fire, surprising Batman and Robin (as ANOTHER Robin watches from somewhere out of their sight). Eluding the police, Batman demands answers, and things begin to come together. That horrible night years earlier saw Jim Gordon shot instead of Barbara, though he died. When the new PC–Harvey Dent–took office, he issued a shoot-to-kill-on-sight order against the masked vigilantes. Of course, though this is “normal” for Batgirl, it’s NOT the way Batman and Robin remember events unfolding. Meanwhile, the Joker decides to dispatch PC Harvey Dent, and digs up Gordon’s grave for extra theatrics, but Batman intervenes. Time continues to go wibbly-wobbly, and elements shift–reality returns to normal, though the “other” Batgirl remains…and Batman must seek answers outside of Gotham City.

As may become frequent in these posts, I’ll touch on the art first…because that’s quicker and simpler. Namely…this IS “my” Batman. This is the visual style I recall from when I was a kid…because this is an issue that was published and originally read when I was a kid. The familiarity raises more than a little nostalgia, which contributes hugely to the momentary enjoyment of rereading this quasi-isolated issue. It just fits, and IS the art I remember. It also conveys events of the story itself quite well, performing to my expectation, with the added bonus of just looking really darned good. I would not have been able to cite a name and tell you that it was Mike Manley’s art I loved, but loving the art in this issue and seeing his name…well, there you go.

Story-wise, this is jam-packed, and kinda jumps around a bit. I’m certainly bringing extra baggage to the reading experience, and using some of that to plug any holes in plot or depth or explanation–I know time is wibbly-wobbly here. I know that anomalies are popping up all over the DC universe, and that this is just the start of it. I know that there was confusion at the start of all this, and that things get put right “in the end.” But there are multiple Bat-books, each partaking in Zero Hour, so there are that many more incidents for Batman to encounter in this single month, as the main event unfolds. While I’ve been “conditioned” to a harsher modern Batman, this one can still make mistakes–such as getting distracted enough by the presence of a healthy, non-crippled Barbara Gordon that the Joker can get away. Similarly, this Batman is willing to leave the Joker for later, while other events take precedence…where nowadays, half the country could fall into the sea and Bruce would leave that for “others,” while HE continues tracking down the Joker.

batman_0511_comparison

This is also firmly rooted in continuity, and whether it was the writers coordinating, or (far more likely) Editors doing the editorial thing and coordinating stories between numerous writers), we see stuff in this issue that’s touched on elsewhere, giving us slightly different perspectives (we have Jurgens/Ordway on art for the opening scene where it touches in Zero Hour #4…and then Manley and Rubinstein giving us the exact same scene in this issue). It’s a bit repetitive in the sense of having several pages of the exact same action playing out in two issues read back-to-back…but it’s also quite welcome, because you do not HAVE TO have read Zero Hour #4 already to enjoy this issue, and you get what you need of this for the core Zero Hour story in that issue. This issue simply expands on the situation, playing out the larger situation and filling gaps.

The significance of Batgirl here would probably be lost for modern readers…this was 1994, just a few years (but enough for it to be firmly rooted in continuity) after Barbara was shot, paralyzed, and Batgirl was no more. Of course, with the coming of the New 52, a quarter-century of continuity was wiped out (and a couple “legacy”/successor Batgirls) in order to put Barbara back in action.

Opening on action, seeing characters’ reactions, resolving some of that and setting up other bits makes this at once an issue that can stand on its own (as much as any one issue of an ongoing series can/will) but plays extremely well in the shared sandbox of continuity and the universe-spanning Event series.

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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