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The ’70s Revisited: Planet of Vampires

70s_revisited

planet_of_vampires_0001The Long Road Home!

Script: Larry Hama
Pencils: Pat Broderick
Inks: Frank McLaughlin
Editor: Jeff Rovin
Published by: Atlas Comics (Seaboard Periodicals)
Cover Date: February 1975
Cover Price: 25 cents

I can’t remember where I got this issue. It’s most likely from a 25-cent bin, though also possible that I grabbed it from a dollar bin for the novelty of its age and all. Whatever the case, this thing is from 1975–42 years ago. It pre-dates Claremont on X-Men, and even pre-dates me existing.

I normally don’t care (much) for stuff before the 1980s as any kind of preferred choice in reading, comics-wise…and this issue doesn’t change my mind. That said, this is a #1, with an interesting logo suggesting an interesting concept, and I forced myself to read the thing all the way through!

Basically, we’re introduced to a group of 6 astronauts, part of some mission sent out a number of years ago to Mars, that’s just now returning to Earth. While they were "out there," they heard back about war breaking out, before losing contact with Earth. They stalled awhile, hoping for positive news, but when their resources got to a critical level–if they didn’t head back, they wouldn’t make it at all–they headed back, hoping for the best. After a "rough landing," they encounter a couple different groups of people and are ‘taken in’ by one group, apparently more civilized, after being attacked by "savages." Ushered into a dome, they learn that this is one of the last bastions of civilized society, and the dome is to protect them from incursions from the savage outsiders. War had indeed happened, and led to a huge division in the populace! Our protagonists–allowed to explore–walk in on something they weren’t supposed to see, which reveals a horrible truth, and suggests the "savages" are the population inside the dome, not outside. In righting the apparent wrong, the astronauts ally themselves with the so-called savages, and begin to make an escape from the "vampires" of the dome.

This title’s concept led me to expect/assume this would be about astronauts arriving on some foreign planet inhabited by your typical vampires–the bite-your-neck-and-suck-your-blood sort. Having that flipped–humans returning to Earth to find a group of people who mechanically harvest the blood they need to survive from another group–provides a different take on the notion of a ‘vampire’. There’s also something to the whole thing that puts me in mind of Planet of the Apes, if only loosely so.

This story’s set in 2010…at the issue’s time of publication, that was 35 years in the future. As I read this and as of this writing, 2010 is eight years in the past! To re-time it, it’d be like my now reading a new story set in 2053.

I find it interesting to read something like this–both for the alternate future notion rooted in its time, as well as being work by Larry Hama that predates GI Joe by the better part of a decade.

The art isn’t anything overly special…it conveys the story as needed, getting things across and moving the reader along. Nothing much really stands out, at least to me–this is a comic, and non-superhero at that. The work is consistent enough, but all the characters kinda blend together to a degree, at least on a single reading.

As a whole, this issue felt like something out of the 1970s, as it is. The issue, the concept, the story, etc. The issue makes for an interesting sorta time-capsule of sorts, for comics of the time, as well as concerns of the time in society in general (that fear of nuclear war wiping out most life on Earth).

I’d thought this Atlas Comics line to be an imprint of Marvel at the time, figuring it was just an imprint I wasn’t familiar with, given Marvel‘s history with the name. A bit of quick internet research turned up the fact that this is from a whole different entity…albeit an entity that did have some top names associated with it! None of the titles lasted very long, though, which likely explains my lack of familiarity with this.

I don’t think I care enough to try to hunt down the remaining several issues to see where this title started to go…but it was still an interesting read by itself for the present.

If you find this in a bargain bin, it’s worth a quarter, and maybe even going as high as $1 or so. If nothing else, even for more, you’ll get a lengthier reading experience out of this than you will most contemporary comics!

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I’m pretty sure this would fit right in with Sci-Fi January…check out The Crapbox of Son Of Cthulhu for a bunch of great stuff, currently with the Sci-Fi January theme!

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planet_of_vampires_0001_blogtrailer

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The ’80s Revisited: Captain Atom Annual #1

captain_atom_annual_0001The Dark Side of the Force

Writer: Cary Bates
Co-Plotter: Greg Weisman
Penciller: Pat Broderick
Inker: Bob Smith
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Letterer: Duncan Andrews
Editor: Denny O’Neil
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: 1988
Cover Price: $1.25

I’ve long been aware of Captain Atom, and have even read some issues here and there with the character. I believe he was in some Justice League (America) issues; I know he was in Armageddon 2001; I read at least most of the Captain Atom: Armageddon series he was in, blowing up the Wildstorm universe some time back; there’s the parallel with Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen…and of course, the character’s brief but pivotal role in Kingdom Come, to name a few offhand. I think I may even have read the first issue or two/few of his 1980s ongoing series at one point, though I don’t consciously remember much beyond the basic origin (so I probably read it around the time I read Watchmen back in the early 2000s).

Going through a stack of comics recently, I happened across this issue–certainly a quarter-bin find–and it struck me as interesting "in the moment" to read due to the cover proclamation: "Enter: Major Force!" I’m more familiar with Major Force as the character that killed Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend (stuffing her body in the refrigerator) back in the early days of the new direction for Green Lantern. Having briefly revisited that era recently in covering the Zero Hour crossover, I was all the more curious about how long the character had been around. This issue seems either a first appearance, or at least a post-Crisis on Infinite Earths (CoIE) first appearance. Given the character tying into Captain Atom’s origin and some guessing, I’m pretty sure this is the first appearance of the character.

The issue opens with a conspiracy-theorist radio show, the host talking about a corroborated incident of a UFO crashing in a quarry. We then move to Captain Atom arriving on the scene, and something emerges–an alien creature that the Captain winds up fighting. Meanwhile, an anonymous Major joins the scene, and we see that events are being manipulated to create an apparent origin of a new super-hero: that of a Major helping Captain Atom and being fused with an alien creature. When, in fact, this is the result of a later experiment like the one that created Captain Atom, but with different variables…and the "alien" is in fact another test subject. Due to his position and government involvement, Captain Atom goes along with things, introducing/endorsing this new guy to the public…as they get Major Force. Predictably (this comic is from 28 years ago!) Force doesn’t "work out" in the role of super-hero, as his methods are violent and don’t account for innocents/civilians. When CA tries to rein things in, the Major fights back. Captain Atom emerges from the battle victorious…though in its course he seems to have made a decision, delivering his message ("I quit!") along with the unconscious Major Force to his government handlers.

The issue has page numbers, with the story ending on a page numbered ’39’ so this is basically a double-length issue. As an Annual, it’s a ‘special’ issue, with a bigger story (but relatively self-contained) than just another issue of an ongoing series. Being from the late 1980s, and evaluating this (having read it), it seems to be an Annual from when such things "counted," and were truly a bonus or special issue along with the ongoing run, and having stuff important to the character’s ongoing status quo. In this case, the issue seems to be the point at which Captain Atom has had enough of just going with the flow and taking orders, and after seeing what the government/his handlers are up to, he can’t stick around simply accepting the status quo.

As an Annual (and a first one, at that), I figured this to be a decent sort of one-shot, though a lot of that comes from my own experience with comics, and DC history/continuity. We don’t get a lot of context/background on Captain Atom or a supporting cast in this issue, but we do get some slight references such that knowing what I do, it all fits.

I’m good with the art–it neither blows me away nor disappoints…it just "is." This looks and feels (visually and story-wise) like an ’80s comic, and something to it (such as the introduction of a character I know gets used more and in key ways years later) feels a lot LIKE the start of a new super-hero universe…which at this point, the then-current DC Universe essentially was. And I like that.

The story itself is decent, and seems to draw on existing continuity (at least from the Captain Atom series) and expects the reader to at least somewhat know what’s going on; introduces a new villain/antagonist or opposite version of the hero with an origin, background, some character/world-building, and ultimately resolution…while leaving things open for later use of the character as well as modifying the status quo (presumably, at least!) for the ongoing series. I notice that quite unrelatedly, this is the second issue in the last few days I’ve read written by Bates (the other was Action Comics #428) and am pretty sure the co-plotter (Greg Weisman) is the same who eventually did Gargoyles for Disney years after this.

For an issue that I only paid a quarter to purchase, this was definitely a good value for the time it took to read, and I enjoyed adding this piece to the puzzle–I’ve now read the introduction of Major Force and this also re-kindles a bit of my interest in the early Captain Atom series (I believe I have the first year or so of issues SOMEWHERE in my collection).

While this issue won’t hold the reader’s hand, it’s a solid piece with a nice length, and is definitely worth a read if you’re interested in the title character, villain, or this period in DC‘s history. If you find it in a bargain-bin–MAYBE up to $2ish–its well worthwhile. At a higher price, I’d say you’d have to really have a specific interest in this, rather than anything casual.

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