Monday, August 29, 2016

Superman #405 (1985)


Superman #405 (March, 1985)
"The Mystery of the Super-Batman"
"Yes, Lowell, There is a Superman"
Writers - Craig Boldman & Bob Rozakis
Artists - Alex Saviuk, Kurt Schaffenberger, & Karl Kesel
Letterer - Ben Oda
Colorist - Gene D'Angelo
Editor - Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.75

Found another great pre-Crisis Craig Boldman Superman story... let's get right into it!

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We open with a thief hot-footin' from the Metropolis City Museum with a messenger-bag slung over his shoulder.  On the way he bumps into a poor unfortunate just sitting on the steps (he's important!)  He hops into his waiting ride and shows off the loot... a gilden pan flute!  Suddenly a batarang (?) slams into the hood of the car... wrecking it real good.  A batarang?  Wrong city pal... or is it?  We see that night Lana Lang is reporting on the strange amalgamated Super-Batman who made an appearance earlier that day.


Clark is watching Lana's report, and he thinks back to earlier that day.  He and Lana were preparing to run a story on a prized new acquisition at the Museum... and wouldn'tcha know it, it's a gilded pan flute!  Now Lana, being a goofball thinks it wouldn't be any problem to just give the pipes (which originated with a CULT that worshipped Pan) a toot!  This causes Clark to recoil in pain.


This is back in the time where Clark was very much a wimp when not in costume, so Lana just takes this as another account of his softness acting up.  Clark returns to his apartment and takes one peek in the mirror... only to find he's sprouted horns!  Next stop, the Fortress of Solitude!


While up north, Superman does some Pan-research.  He deduces that if he were to give the pipes another play, his hornyness will subside.  He uses his telescopic vision and sees that the magical instrument had been stolen... again... He's gotta go fetch it, but he can't with these damn horns!  What's a man to do?  Well, if that man has a Batman exhibit in the next room, you borrow it's cape and cowl!  He quickly nabs the no-goods, and keeps the pipe for good measure.  He takes it home and gives it a toot... and nothing!


Clark notices that the gold is flaking off of the flute... meaning he's got some bogus goods!  He decides to go out on patrol at Super-Batman... to maybe strike some fear into the hearts of the baddies.  This doesn't go quite as well as he'd hoped.  He gets laughs and scoffs rather than trembling.  He chases a pair of geeks who just held a young couple up... and he, get this... bursts a fire hydrant to soak the guys... then freezes the water... encasing these fools in ice!  Super-Batman does not mess around!


The next day, Clark shows up at the Galaxy Building for his live report... in which he's gotta jump out of a plane!  No big deal, right?  Well... right.  Clark (somehow) pops a helmet over his horns and hops from the plane.  Morgan Edge is absolutely shocked that his "jellyfish" Kent showed some real guts.


That night, Superman uses his "mind's eye" to play back what went down the other day.  He is able to see that the poor hobo (derelict is what Supes calls him) the crook bumped into during his escape pulled the ol' switcheroo.  Super-Bat's next stop is the jail cell of the baddies... nice of the police department to let these guys bunk together, right?  They're hesitant to spill the beans on their boss, but Super-Batman convinces them that they were patsies (see?) and the big boss left 'em hangin' out to dry (see?).


We learn that Wesley Wood is the middle-man between the thugs and a fella called Frederick Forrest.  Super-Batman enters through the window and... get this, uses his spooky voice to (unsuccessfully) try and strike some fear.  As he approaches, Wood plays the pipes and knocks Superman to the ground.  Luckily, he didn't just grab the cape and cowl... he's got some goodies from the world famous utility belt to boot!  He snags Wood and gets the goods on the real man behind the "Big Crime Wheel".  As Superman takes Wood to the clink, he hopes that he'll eventually be able to scare at least one person!


Well, when Superman pays Forrest a visit... be does so without the cowl.  It just so happens that Forrest is a pretty big fan of Pan... and wildly superstitious to boot!  He retrieves the Syrinx, and relieves himself of his heady dilemma.


Our second feature is a Christmas story!  You know how I love Christmas stories!  Well this one features an irritating little twit named Lowell.  Ya see, he doesn't believe in Santa Claus (which he proudly declares in front of his younger sister... the jerk) nor does he believe in Superman!  Like he's really reading Perry White the riot act here.  Pictorial evidence just isn't enough for this clown!


Clark Kent pops his head in to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, as he's set to return home to Smallville to spend the holiday with Lana's parents.  He leaves, and figures he'll do a quick patrol... then return to give ol' Lowell a shock.


It turns out that this is probably the worst day in Metropolis history... as everything that could go wrong, has!  The streets have changed to an ice skating rink, and traffic has turned into bumper cars... A pair of kids are having a snowball fight while standing next to a downed live power line... a woman accidently burns her Christmas tree down... and a senior citizen passes out while shoveling his driveway.  Man, this is taking longer than he thought!


Just as Lowell and family were getting ready to split... with Lowell giving some passive-aggressive barbs to Perry.  I mean, really... slap this little bastard!  Well, lucky for the Chief, Superman has finally arrived... and offers to give Lowell a lift.  Which he does... and sadly, it doesn't end with Lowell splattered all over the sidewalk!


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This was a silly but fun story... the kind that totally wouldn't work these days.  I mean, Superman gets enchanted by Pan's Pipes and sprouts horns... so he has to fight crime while wearing the Batman cowl he keeps on display at the Fortress... that's amazing!

The only problem with an issue like this is... outside of "I really enjoyed it", there just isn't a whole lot to say about it.  I did really dig Superman getting frustrated that his Bat-costume wasn't quite striking the same fear into the crooks as it does when Bruce wears it... that was pretty funny!  I will say, this Boldman fella... he hasn't let me down yet.  The pre-Crisis Superman is more or less a mystery to me, and I'm pleased to say I've enjoyed my education thus far... a lot of the thanks to that goes to Craig Boldman.  Definitely a name to keep an eye out for while trawling the bins!

The back-up story... man, that Lowell was a punk!  I was hoping Superman would bobble the twerp just to put the fear of God in him.  What a smug little brat... should've had his shoes heat-visioned for a few seconds.  How real does Superman feel to ya now, Lowell?  I will say that I enjoyed the art on both stories, however... I gotta say it tickles me that the streets of Metropolis literally turn into a ice-skating rink come Christmastime!

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Mister Miracle #1 (1971)


Mister Miracle #1 (April, 1971)
"Murder Missile Trap!"
Writer, Artist & Editor - Jack Kirby
Inker - Vince Colletta
Cover Price: $0.15

Well, how about that... today August 28th, would have been Jack Kirby's 99th (!) birthday!  I figure what better way to celebrate/commemorate than to talk about one of my very favorite Kirby Kreations... definitely my favorite of his time at DC Comics... Mister Miracle!  What better place to start than at the very beginning... wayyy back in 1971.

Happy Birthday to the King!

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We open up with Mister Miracle being shackled by his assistant Oberon as he practices escape from a flaming cabinet trick.  Miracle feels extra motivated to get this trick right as he's noticed there's a dark-haired young man watching the exhibition from a distance.  Oberon locks his man in the cabinet and then... unloads a flamethrower (!) at it.  The young man hops the fence and tries putting out the flames with his sport jacket.  Mister Miracle bursts through the wreckage... and laments the fact that his advanced age has seemingly dulled his escape-senses.  Ya see, Mister Miracle is not Scott Free here, but Thaddeus Brown!  Scott's the onlooker.


Scott, Thad, and Oberon share some pleasantries and as they are about to part company a group of thugs emerge from a car.  They're apparently from (the hyphenated) Inter-Gang and they've got some bid-ness with Thad-eus.  Scott gets involved, and starts... well, it looks like he's beating them with his purse.  The battle is short-lived, and the good guys come out on top.  Scott helps Thad to his feet, and the elder tells the story of the man called Steel Hand.


Speaking of Steel Hand... thankfully not Sarge Steel (Hand)... we shift to a scene with him bunkered in a sealed room where his artificial mitt is getting zapped with radiation.  He received an update from one of his underlings via a "TV" (quotes theirs).  He vows that he will take Mister Miracle out himself (or by using a sniper)... and karate chops a bar of solid titanium to punctuate his point.


Brown was so touched by Scott's altruistic act that he offered his spare room to him.  Scott, unable to leave the poor old man at the mercy of Inter-Gang, agrees.  Thaddeus enters and we get his "secret origin"... he used to be The Great Thaddeus, however his (late) son Ted thought it lacked flair... and so, Mister Miracle was born.  Thad displays a great amount of fatigue... he's been relentlessly training for something he called the "Big Trap".  Scott presses the subject, but Thad doesn't really want to expound... as it's upsetting to Oberon.


Scott won't let up... his curiosity is piqued about this "Big Trap".  He tries giving some hints about eliminating any and all confounding variables that may cause his trick to be unsuccessful.  Now Thad's curiosity is piqued... he wants to see how Scott would escape the chains.  Scott's down with it... but he's gotta get something from his bag first.  After that brief detour, he's wrapped in chains, and well...


He tells Thad and Obe that he's a modern man in the age of gadgets, and shows them his magnetic repulsor doohickey.  He continues by explaining that the contents of his bag were an inheritance from his time at the orphanage.  Oberon suggests that Thad use it for the "Big Trap", but the ol' man ain't havin' it.  He will "live or die" by his own methods.  Dude's got conviction... gotta give him that!


We rejoin our pals the following day.  Mister Miracle is bound to a tree, and Oberon is set to dislodge a one-ton metal sphere from the top of a hill and send it directly into Thad's path.  All that, and there's currently a sniper with Thad in his cross-hairs.


Scott hears a loud "coughing" sound, and runs in to stop the sphere from crushing his new buddy.  He does so by blasting it with a beam emanating from his hand.  By the time he gets to Mister Miracle, it's already too late.  He's been shot!


With his last words, Thaddeus tells Scott that the "Big Trap" was conceived by Steel Hand, and it's escape-proof reputation was due to it only ending in death.  Scott rolls up his sleeve and removes a strange box from the odd metal arm-brace apparatus he wears and holds it up to Thad's ear... it lulls him into the hereafter peacefully.  Once he passes, Oberon shares the complete story with Scott.  Steel Hand and Thad met in a hospital some years earlier.  While there, they made a $10,000 wager about the "escape-proof" trap.


We flash to a few days later in Steel Hand's office (?) where he is preparing to test the might of his magical mitt by arm-wrestling a robot that can "punch holes in a battleship".  Steel Hand handily (nyuk) beats the bot.  As he celebrates with a stogie, he is shocked to find see Mister Miracle climbing through his window.  He wants another chance to escape the "big trap".


It isn't long before the Inter-Gang thugs storm the room.  It's funny, they're all brandishing ridiculously powerful rifles, but only thump Mister Miracle with the "butt" of the gun.  With him kayoed, Steel Hand issues the command that he be bound to the nose of a rocket that is about to be launched into space.  Man, Inter-Gang's got connections!


Mister Miracle touches his two index fingers together, which causes a little electrical current to start to sizzle as the rocket takes off.  Steel Hand and Inter-Gang gleefully look on while it bursts into flames.  Job well done, Steel Hand returns to his office.  Only, he finds somebody's sitting behind the big desk... Mister Miracle!


What follows is a brief bru-ha-ha, that culminates in Mister Miracle blasting Steel Hand's... steel hand off, and tying the goon up with his compact cocoon spinner!  All that's left is the crying... the police come and haul Steel Hand's radioactive rump to the slammer.


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Ya know... it's been so long since I'd read this that I'd almost totally forgotten about ol' Thaddeus Brown.  Once I saw him, it all came flooding back to me, but gotta say, I was a bit thrown off for a moment there!  Love it when a comic can do that to me... doesn't happen nearly enough!

I came into Mister Miracle through the Justice League International run, so I think I've always kind of equated him with "bwa-ha-ha" antics.  Even his own mid/late-80's solo series was very lighthearted.  It's a bit strange seeing the character in a (relatively) serious story like we have here.

I also remember wondering how Mister Miracle would have worked in the Marvel Universe had the King not gone to DC during the 70's.  How weird would that have been... we might have had a Marvel Fourth World right now... that would likely be retconned into Inhumans by now, but that's neither here nor there.

I was chatting with a buddy about Kirby's post-Marvel work, and I was of the opinion that he might have lost a step in the transition.  I was looking at work like Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter and the Manhunter entry in 1st Issue Special... but, reconnecting with ol' Scott (two T's!) Free... I'd put this up with much of his Marvel stuff.

I enjoyed the story... I've always liked the way Oberon works off of other people.  During many of their later stories, I'd always gotten a bit of a Sam Beckett/Al from Quantum Leap vibe between Scott and Obe'... just really enjoy their chemistry.  I like how we learn here that "Scott Free" was a name given to him at the orphanage to give him "individuality"... it's such a simple explanation, but it really does explain away any questions of the corniness of being named after a pun.

Then we've got Steel Hand... who actually makes a few sparse appearances following this, if the DC Wikia is to be believed.  I was getting some Charlton flashbacks from the bubba... thought for a second he was going to say he was Sarge Steel Hand... and that gave me the heebie-jeebies to be sure.

Overall, a great introductory piece for a wonderful character.  The script is (surprisingly?) strong, and the art is top-level Kirby.  Definitely worth checking out.  I was happy to revisit this one to commemorate the life of the architect of so much of what I/we love.  Happy 99th, Jack!

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Angel Love #3 (1986)


Angel Love #3 (October, 1986)
by Barbara Slate
Cover Price: $0.75

Today was a lucky day... I finally finished my Angel Love collection.  For the past year, this very issue had alluded me.  I began thinking that it was somehow rare, or was under-printed.  Hell, I can count on one hand how many times I've seen any issues of this series in the wild... so, for all I know the entire run is rare... with issue #3 being exceptionally so.  I convinced myself it just had to be due to that incredibly wacky cover!

I've been checking in with all the comics and used bookstores in the area for this bugger... and, I gotta tell ya... you get some strange looks when you ask some hipster behind the counter who's barely out of his teens if they have any issues of Angel Love.  Oh well, all's well that ends well... Let's get right to it!

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We open and if I'm not mistaken this is the first time we're seeing Angel working on her art.  It's... well, something... perfectly fine for someone who draws in roller-skates.  I doubt she's a comic book artist, looks more like something that would be on a whimsical Hallmark card.  Nothing wrong with that, at all... funny thing is, these days you can get greeting cards that speak to you... back then, only Angel's speaks to her.  The Angel (drawing... not the girl) introduces herself as Halo, and asks that Angel (the girl... not the drawing) give her a cuter "Pat Benatar" nose.



Following the rhinoplasty, Halo tells Angel that she's her Guardian Angel, and that any time she's needed... all she's gotta do is draw her.  Angel's super-pleased, thinking that all her dreams will come true... Not so fast, Red... Halo didn't say nothin' about your dreams.  The surreal moment is interrupted by a ringing phone... it's Angel's friend Cindy... and if the cover hadn't spoiled you yet, she's knocked up!  This is a funny conversation... Angel's trying to interject about how her cartoon just started talking to her.  Hey Cindy, you sure this is the gal you wanna confide in?



Some time later, Angel meets with Cindy in the park.  We learn that Cindy hasn't the foggiest clue what birth control is... but she does know what abortion is!  Angel tries to reason with her... ya know, make sure she knows her options.  Why, she could carry the baby to term, and put it up for adoption.  Ya see, there's all sorts of new wave punks, hippies, and bag ladies who'd just love to have a child!



Angel even goes as far as telling Cindy that they could raise little Alice or Alex together.  Cindy looks reasonably off-put by the gesture... and reminds Angel that she's not the child's father... Jeff is!  Jeff, we learn, still doesn't know he's a dad-to-be.  Back to the abortion... Cindy's made up her mind, she's getting the procedure... this afternoon?  Yeesh, she doesn't screw... er, mess around!



Back at the pad, Wendy realizes she's missed her audition.  She's all atwitter, and runs into Everett... who, for some reason is camped out in their living room.  He plays armchair psychologist and posits that Wendy purposely missed her audition because she fears rejection.  I'll have you know sir, that Wendy doesn't know the definition of the word!  Seriously... she has to look it up... in the dictionary.



Well, hell... looks like she is afraid of rejection after all!  Angel enters the apartment and goes straight to Everett for advice about Cindy.  Wendy wonders why Angel didn't come to her... dammit, rejected again!  Wendy really is the best.



Angel spills the beans to Everett, and he's all... it ain't your decision to make Ang'.  On the sidelines, Wendy is trying to call Robert Redford... or Woody Allen.  It's great, her antics are far more interesting that Angel's problems... not just to me, but to Everett as well.  He walks away from Angel while she's still talking to see what Wendy's up to.  Turns out, she's trying to get over her fear of rejection by calling people who are sure to reject her!  The plan is inspired, and further proof that she is secretly a genius.



Later on that day, Angel accompanies Cindy to the abortion clinic.  While there, she tells her pal that she supports her decision... and she's sorry she made all those suggestions while they were in the park.  Well, now Cindy's sure she wants to keep the baby!  This is kinda funny too... while Angel's going on about how she supports the abortion and will be there for her friend... Cindy's already walked out!  She's going to tell Jeff and they'll raise this baby together!



That night, back at the apartment... Wendy is trying to call, get this... William Shakespeare.  Everett informs her that he's long dead (I didn't even know he was sick!).  Everett continues by saying he'll reject her himself if it will help her out.  Oh, don't be silly Everett... Wendy knows deep down you love her.  I mean, you're camped out in her apartment all the time... I think the jig is up, pal.  Your rappin' girlfriend knew there was smoke here.  He puts up a fight saying he doesn't love her... so, Wendy brings in Angel as a third-party.  She agrees with Everett (she must think he's always hangin' about to be with her)... Wendy (rightfully) laughs that off as well.



The jocularity is interrupted by Cindy.  She's told Jeff, and now he wants to... get this, marry her!  Well, Cindy's an 80's kinda gal... she's not gonna marry some dude just because he knocked her up!  Angel gives her all the reasons she should commit... ya know, they love each other and whatnot.  Nope, Cindy ain't hearing it.  They disconnect the call, and Angel just knows she'll be getting a wedding invitation before too long.



Angel heads into her studio... so we can start having fun again.  Wendy makes one last phone call... to Steven Spielberg... while Everett rolls his eyes.  Well, guess what... Steve answers, and has quite the pleasant chat with our Wendy!  Everett's buggin' out and Wendy retires to her bedroom, visions of ET's dancin' in her head.



We wrap up with Angel drawing Halo to fill her in on the goings on of this very busy day.  She's interrupted by Everett who won't shut up about Wendy... I'm tellin' ya, he's obsessed!  So, what does Angel do?  She starts goin' on about how she can talk to her cartoons... and they talk back.  Everett looks incredulous... and is likely thinkin' back to everything his ol' lady said about "white chicks".



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Oh Angel Wendy, how I've missed you!  I can't believe it's been so long since I read the first two issues of this run.  Still a silly, but good time!

Today we cover the heavy topic of abortion... in quite a light way.  I don't have any problem with that as Angel is only a POV character here, and not the one who has to "choose".  Her friend Cindy, is written as rather fickle and terminally unable to commit to a given decision.  As strange as it is to say that the scene in the abortion clinic is actually written as comedy... it is, and maybe it's not laugh-out-loud funny, but it's certainly got charm.  It's perhaps the first scene thus far where Angel is part of the comedy.  She's been kind of the stick in the mud up to this point.

Continuing the softer/funner side of Angel... she appears to be losing her mind.  She's talking to her cartoon angel, Halo... who (it appears) only shows up for her.  This is a cute addition to the series, and allows for some (relatively) organic expository dialogue.  I did think it was really cute how proud Angel was of this drawing too... I mean, really now...



Speaking of comedy... there's my Wendy.  No follow up on whether or not her baby bird ever recovered... I'll have to assume/hope it did... maybe we'll get some "follow up" in the subsequent chapters.  Here's hoping!  Anyhoo, she's looking for rejection... not rejection from her pals, but rejection from important people in her chosen field.  It's always so much fun when she's on panel... I mean, c'mon... she tried to call William Shakespeare for a rejection.  She's amazing!

Now Everett... what's this dude doing hanging around Angel and Wendy's apartment... is his air conditioner still out?  Is his girlfriend still ticked that he's hangin' round two white chicks?  There's a story thread I'm hoping is picked up on... his lady looks like one you wouldn't want to mess with.

Overall, another fun issue of Angel Love.  Certainly not for everyone, but for some light comedy with heart you could do way worse.  For its sheer novelty, this series is one of the highlights of my 2016 retro-reads.  This is one of those series I'd say I want to be revisited nowadays... but I gotta say I'm glad this one is stuck in the 1980's.  I don't think a series like this could occur today without losing its charm and getting mired way deep in social politics.

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