Fred Kida: 1920 – 2014

Comic book artist Fred Kida, who was born on December 12, 1920, recently passed away on April 3th at the age of 93. Kida’s career as a professional artist was a long one, stretching from the Golden Age of comic books in 1941 until his retirement in 1987. One of his artistic influences was legendary Terry and the Pirates creator Milton Caniff, who also inspired John Romita, Frank Robbins, and Lee Elias, among others.

Early in his career Kida worked at Hillman Periodicals, working on several of its regular features, including Airboy, a teenage aviator who piloting his experimental aircraft Birdie fought both the Axis powers and a variety of criminals within the pages of Air Fighters Comics. During his time on the Airboy feature, Kida designed the iconic Valkyrie, who made her debut in Air Fighters Comics volume 2 #2 (November 1943). One of comic books’ first femme fatales, she was a sexy Nazi agent whose flying skills rivaled Airboy. Valkyrie ended up quickly switching sides, joining the Allied cause at the conclusion of her debut story, as well as beginning a romance with Airboy.

Airboy Comics v3 6 cover

The Elias-illustrated Airboy stories co-starring Valkyrie were collected in a black & white volume in 1982 by Ken Pierce. In the book’s introduction, the legendary Alex Toth wrote “Kida demonstrated a rich sense of drama in his underlying black and white art – he produced powerful blacks, mixed with myriad textures to contrast his open whites which, assisted by sharp coloring, reproduced very well – with clarity and strength.” (Well, he put it better than I ever could have!) Catherine Yronwode provided several insightful text pieces introducing the stories, as well as offering a few of Kida’s own thoughts on his work. Although Fred Kida’s Yalkyrie is long out of print, I was fortunate enough to locate a copy several years ago. It can also be easily found on Amazon.

During the 1950s, Kida spent several years at Atlas Comics, the 1950s incarnation of Marvel Comics. He worked in a myriad of genres, illustrating mystery, war, romance and Western stories. The subsequent decade saw Kida absent from comic books, although he assisted Dan Barry on the Flash Gordon comic strip, first in the early 1960s, and again in the late 60s.

Captain Britain 17 pg 2

Kida returned to Marvel in the 1970s. His major assignment during that time was on Captain Britain, the first original Marvel UK title, inking both Herb Trimpe and Ron Wilson’s pencils. After spending years unsuccessfully searching out back issues of that series here in the States, I finally picked up a number of them in 1999 during my short time over in London, specifically #s 15 to 27, a lengthy story by written by Gary Friedrich that teamed up Brian Braddock with Captain America and Nick Fury against the Red Skull. Trimpe was also nicely inked by Kida in several issues of Marvel’s Godzilla series.

Although working mostly as an inker during the 1970s, Kida did also occasionally pencil for Marvel, notably a two part story that ran in Captain America #238-239. Written by Peter Gillis, with inking by Don Perlin, this action-packed story gave Kida the opportunity to draw Cap in action against a barrage of high tech mercenaries, giant hawks, prehistoric diatrymas, and psychic warfare. Gillis, commenting on Facebook about working with Kida, stated “I was so jazzed to do the two-parter with him – one of his very few book jobs at Marvel. I knew this was his first time drawing Cap and (the old) Nick Fury, but there was none of the oddness you might get with somebody’s first time: it was as if he’d been doing these guys for years.” (If you would like to read those issues, they are collected in Essential Captain America Volume 7, along with plenty of other great stories.)

Captain America 238 pg 23

Kida also penciled the now-classic What If #22, which posed the intriguing question “What if Doctor Doom had become a hero?” Don Glutt penned an intriguing alternate reality examination of Victor Von Doom that insightfully revealed much about the “real” Doom. Kida, inked by Dave Simons, turned in very good work.

Kida’s last regular professional assignment was as the artist on the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip. Paired with Spider-Man’s co-creator Stan Lee, Kida worked on the strip from 1981 to 1986.

A few years ago I was able to locate Fred Kida’s mailing address. I sent him a letter telling him how much I enjoyed his work on Airboy and Captain America, and his inking over Herb Trimpe’s pencils. Regrettably he never wrote back to me. Nevertheless, I hope that I was able to convey to Kida that his work is still appreciated.

(Credit where credit is due: I obtained the scan of the cover to Airboy Comics volume 3 #6 from Comic Book Plus. Thank you to Peter Gillis for bringing that website to my attention. Fans of Golden Age comic books will undoubtedly find it a veritable treasure trove.)

Comic book reviews: Battlestar Galactica Annual 2014

“There’s one thing, do you see, that’s terrifying in this world, and that is that every man has his reasons.” – Jean Renoir

When I was a kid in the early 1980s, one of my favorite television shows was Battlestar Galactica. Along with reruns of Star Trek and Doctor Who, Glen Larson’s saga of the last desperate survivors of humanity was a must see for my young self. Of course, re-watching the series a couple of decades later as an adult, I did come to realize that there was very little in the way of real character development over the course of the series. There was also some pretty dodgy plotting going on.

That seemed to be especially true of the show’s main human antagonist, Count Baltar. Although very memorably portrayed by the late, great John Colicos, from the standpoint of existing as a believable character, Baltar was quite lacking. He never seemed to really have any sufficient motivation for betraying humanity to the Cylons, other than the fact that he was evil with a capital “E.” Along those lines, he also appeared totally naïve in believing that the Cylons would hold up their end of their deal, spare his life, and install him as the ruler of his own world.

(This, of course, is one of the reasons why I really enjoyed Ronald D. Moore’s reimagining of Battlestar Galactica. As written, Dr. Gaius Baltar was an amazing character, a flawed, morally ambivalent individual who really grew over the course of the series. And he was so brilliantly played by James Callis.)

Battlestar Galactica Annual 2014 cover

Keeping this in mind, I was very much intrigued when I learned that the Battlestar Galactica Annual 2014, published by Dynamite Entertainment, would be an in-depth examination of the origins of Count Baltar. It also piqued my interest that the story was written by Robert Napton who also penned several enjoyable Battlestar Galactica miniseries published in the mid-1990s by Maximum Press (say what you will about Rob Liefeld, but he was probably the first person to generate new interest in the property in over a decade).

So, what makes Baltar tick? What leads a man to become the ultimate traitor, betraying the whole of humanity to a race of cold, ruthless machine beings? Not too surprisingly, he is a product of his environment & upbringing.

As revealed by Napton, we learn that Baltar was born on Cygnus, a harsh, lonely tylium mining asteroid. After his mother died, young Baltar was left to be raised by his father Sela, an angry, abusive, greedy alcoholic. Unfortunately, young Baltar inherited his father’s covetous nature and, dazzled by the wealth of the mine, attempted to make off with a piece of tylium. Quickly discovered, Baltar was brutally beaten by his father. The youth came to realize that Sela cared more for his tylium mine than his son.

Baltar’s destiny spiraled further into darkness when the Cylon Empire invaded Cygnus. Fearful of being dragged into a full-scale war, the human Colonies left the tylium miners to fend for themselves. Suffering under the brutal lash of Cylon occupation, Baltar’s existing contempt for and resentment against his father grew to encompass the whole of humanity, who he regarded as having turned its back on him.

Battlestar Galactica Annual 2014 pg 14

Thus Baltar set out on a lifelong course of collaboration and deception, of treachery and avarice, fueled by a burning desire for both self-preservation and power. Baltar can be regarded as a self-made man, climbing to great financial, social and political heights. And though these many accomplishments are built upon the bones of the innocents he used and discarded, from Baltar’s perspective his actions are perfectly justified and rational. As written by Napton, it makes perfect sense that this is an individual who ended up exactly as we see him at the beginning of the series’ debut episode.

And then Napton engages in a truly magnificent mind-frack (as the characters themselves might say). Inspired by the retconned ending of the series pilot, which famously undid Baltar’s apparent death earlier in the episode, Napton suggests a horrific revelation that leaves Baltar questioning both his sanity and his very existence. In the end, we might even be left feeling sorry for Baltar. And even if we cannot pity him, then at least we can understand him, and appreciate the tragedy of his existence, the squandered potential of his life.

The art on Battlestar Galactica Annual 2014 is by Kewber Baal. I am completely unfamiliar with him, but he does superb work on this story. Baal absolutely brings Baltar to life, not just rendering an amazing likeness of John Colicos, but imbuing the character with all the arrogance, contempt, desperation, and fear that the actor had brought to the screen in his performance.

Battlestar Galactica Annual 2014 pg 3

Via some very effective layouts & storytelling, Baal also renders the Cylons as genuinely menacing, frightening figures. These mechanical tyrants truly seem like they are capable of conquering the entire galaxy, grinding all resistance beneath their heel. As opposed to, y’know, a bunch of tin soldiers who get blown to bits by a group of kids riding around on freaking unicorns… talk about an appalling example of Villain Decay! But I digress.

In any case, this was quite a good read. I hope that Napton has the opportunity to write further Battlestar Galactica stories at Dynamite. Based on the Annual, as well as his past work, he has a really good grasp of the characters, as well as some interesting thoughts on what sort of directions they can be taken in the future.

Mocca Arts Festival 2014: a convention report

Since I’m now working again, I was able to put together some extra money and attend this year’s Mocca Arts Festival, once again organized by Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art and the Society of Illustrators. Michele and I were there on Saturday afternoon. There were a lot of great creators and publishers with some really interesting books for sale. I wish I had more money (and room in the apartment) so I could have picked up more stuff.

It was also very crowded. On the one hand, that’s a pain, since it gets hot & difficult to move. On the other hand, it is awesome to see so many younger people of diverse backgrounds interested in comic books & graphic novels. As I’ve said before, most of the really interesting, innovative material nowadays is definitely coming out through smaller companies or self-publishing.

Mocca Arts Fest 2014 banner

My one big purchase at the show was the new Dean Haspiel graphic novel Fear, My Dear: A Billy Dogma Experience featuring, naturally enough, Billy Dogma and Jane Legit. I’ve really enjoyed Dean’s Billy Dogma stories in the past. It’s been some time since he published a new installment of the endearingly bizarre misadventures of “the world’s last romantic antihero,” and so I’ve been looking forward to Fear, My Dear since it was first announced a few months back. Dean had done a drawing of Billy Dogma for me in my sketchbook a few years back, so when he offered to do a quick piece inside the graphic novel, this time I asked for Jane Legit.

Jane Legit Dean Haspiel

I stopped by the Dare2Draw table and said hello to Simon Fraser, who has done a great deal to help organize & promote that program. Simon is a really good guy, as well as an extremely talented artist. He was kind enough to do a lovely drawing of the First Doctor in my Doctor Who theme book. He really captured the personality of actor William Hartnell. Simon had drawn the First Doctor in the Prisoners of Time miniseries published by IDW last year. Now that the comic book license is in the hands of Titan Comics, Simon will be the regular artist on the upcoming Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor ongoing series. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing his work on it. I also picked up a copy of the Dare2Draw Sketchbook, which has several beautiful black & white pieces by Simon, as well as a number of other artists, including one by my friend Fred Harper.

First Doctor Simon Fraser

I also saw Charles Fetherolf and Justin Melkmann. I’m not sure if I’ve had the opportunity to go to any of Justin’s World War IX gigs in the past year, so this might be the first time I’ve seen him since the 2013 Mocca Fest. I know I hadn’t seen Charles in the last year, but we’d been in contact on Facebook. He really felt that he did not do that good a job on the Madame Vastra sketch at the show last year. In his defense, he was unfamiliar with the character, I had limited reference, and it was a quick drawing. But Charles insisted he wanted a second crack at the character, so I arranged a commission with him. He did an absolutely beautiful illustration of Vastra on the cover of his sketchbook, and I picked it up at the show. I definitely recommend contacting Charles Fetherolf for commission work. He’s an amazing artist.

Madame Vastra Charles Fetherolf

One other creator who I was looking forward to meeting was Rachel Dukes. She was profiled on Comic Book Resources only a few days ago. Her mini comic Frankie Comics about her cat looked absolutely adorable, a really cute look at quirky cat behavior. I saw that Rachel was going to be at Mocca Fest, so I definitely wanted to stop by her table and purchase a copy of her book. She showed me a photo of Frankie, who looks very much like one of my two cats, Nettie Netzach. Judging by the antics Rachel portrays in her comic, they also act alike. Michele suggested they could be long lost sisters. You never know.

Frankie Comics #1

I also picked up the latest issue of Copra, a series by Michel Fiffe, whose work I first discovered several years ago in the awesome “Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies” back-up stories in Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon. I stopped by Alisa Harris’ table and congratulated her on her successful Kickstarter campaign. I’m looking forward to receiving my copy of The Collected Counter Attack in the near future. I purchased one of animator & cartoonist Bill Plympton’s books as a gift for Michele. And, while we were walking around the show, Michele and I ran into Fred Harper, Jamal Igle and Steve Ellis. It was nice to catch up with them.

That’s about it. Here are a few photos I took at Mocca Fest with my crappy cell phone camera:

Dean Haspiel sketching in Fear, My Dear: A Billy Dogma Experience.

 

Rachel Dukes enthusiastically promotes Frankie Comics.

 

A giant Charlie Brown balloon hovered over the festivities

A giant Charlie Brown balloon hovered over the festivities

In conclusion, the 2014 Mocca Arts Festival was a lot of fun, as well as very well organized. As I said before, my only regret is that I wasn’t able to afford to purchase more of the cool books that I saw. But hopefully the large turnout of people meant that the numerous talented creators at the show did good business.

Kate O’Mara: 1939 – 2014

British actress Kate O’Mara passed away on March 30th at the age of 74. Because of her strikingly aristocratic good looks and air of cultivation, O’Mara was quite often cast as strong, ruthless, icy women. Her best known role is probably portraying Joan Collins’ sister on Dynasty in the mid-1980s. Now I’ve never really seen that series, outside of the odd episode,but from what little I know about it, with its hellaciously bitchy catfights, O’Mara was probably right at home on that show.

In the world of sci-fi, though, O’Mara is most famous for portraying the renegade Time Lord known as the Rani on Doctor Who. The creation of writers Pip & Jane Baker, unlike most of the Doctor’s foes, the Rani wasn’t out to conquer the world or anything like that; all she wanted was to be left in peace to conduct her scientific researches. The problem, though, was that the Rani was completely lacking in any kind of morality or empathy for other beings. She looked upon the universe as one vast laboratory, its inhabitants mere test subjects for her experiments. O’Mara played the part perfectly. She was a brilliant adversary for Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, with his crusading zeal against tyranny & injustice. “The Mark of the Rani,” broadcast in 1985, is one of the strongest stories from Baker’s all-too-short tenure as the Sixth Doctor on television. I think the only real drawback to the serial is that Pip & Jane Baker were told to incorporate the Doctor’s arch-nemesis the Master into their script. The result is that O’Mara ends up spending more of her screen time engaged in petty squabbling with Anthony Ainley than she does dramatically sparring with Colin Baker.

Kate O'Mara as The Rani, having glommed some fashion tips from Joan Collins... well, it was the 1980s!

Kate O’Mara as The Rani, having apparently glommed some fashion tips from Joan Collins… well, it was the 1980s!

Unfortunately the Rani’s next appearance two years later was in “Time and the Rani,” which usually ranks pretty damn low on fan polls. It’s a hastily thrown together production that literally tosses Sylvester McCoy into the role of the Seventh Doctor, giving him no time to find his feet. To be honest, it’s one of those rare examples of Doctor Who that you would probably never want to show to any non-fans, because it would leave them wondering what the hell was wrong with you for liking the series. To O’Mara’s credit, she is one of the few positive aspects of “Time and the Rani,” even if she’s forced to spend part of it masquerading as Bonnie Langford… no, just don’t ask.

O’Mara’s last televised appearance as the Rani was in 1993 in the infamous charity special “Dimensions in Time,” which was basically a case of cramming as many surviving Doctor Who actors as possible into the space of 15 minutes, filmed on a shoestring budget, while simultaneously tying in with popular British soap opera EastEnders. I’ve never actually seen “Dimensions in Time,” but its reputation precedes it.

I think is really says something about O’Mara’s abilities as an actress that even though two of the Rani’s three televised appearances are quite awful, the character nevertheless left an indelible impression on the series’ fans. Certainly it’s a regrettable that the Rani was never brought back in a better-written story, either on television or in the Big Finish audios. She did have one opportunity to reprise the role, in the audio drama The Rani Reaps the Whirlwind, released in 2000 by BBV.

Of course, Kate O’Mara’s career was certainly not limited to just Dynasty and Doctor Who. In 1970 she appeared in two of Hammer Studios’ horror films, The Horror of Frankenstein and The Vampire Lovers. In the later of those two, she famously fell under the erotic vampire seduction of Ingrid Pitt.

Kate O'Mara: Hammer Glamour

Kate O’Mara: Hammer Glamour

O’Mara was an incredibly prolific actress on British television from the mid-1960s onwards. She made three separate appearances in the Roger Moore series The Saint. In the Jason King episode “A Kiss for a Beautiful Killer,” O’Mara memorably played a fiery Latin American revolutionary who is inevitably attracted to Peter Wyngarde’s secret agent turned bon vivant novelist. In the mid-1970s O’Mara was a regular on The Brothers, portraying air freight manager Jane Maxwell, who crossed swords with corporate raider Paul Merroney, played by a young Colin Baker himself.

Among O’Mara’s most recent television roles, her most prominent was on Jennifer Saunders & Joanna Lumley’s hit comedy Absolutely Fabulous. O’Mara portrayed Patsy Stone’s even more unpleasant sister Jackie. I always thought that was absolutely brilliant casting.

It seems that, like many actors & actresses who are often cast as villains, in real life O’Mara was seemingly a pleasant individual.  In an interview last October, she commented “I’m actually quite a nice person. It’s to do with the way I look, an uncompromising sort of face, brusque delivery and voice, and I think the combination of all that.” O’Mara also expressed an interest in returning to the role of the Rani. “I’m a much older woman and there’s a huge population of older people who, if they’re watching television, they can’t watch Hollyoaks. If you put a much older woman in Doctor Who, they can identify with it. I think it’s quite an interesting concept and if you remember things like Grimm’s Fairytales, the older woman is often the villainess, often the terrifying figure – why I do not know, but often she is. I think it’s an idea to be exploited.”

It is unfortunate O’Mara never had the opportunity to once again portray the iconic character she brought to life. However, she definitely leaves behind a legacy of dramatic, larger-than-life performances.

E-Man: the First Comics years, part one

During another recent stop at Mysterious Island (aka Roger’s Time Machine) I discovered that they had in stock the entire 25 issue run of E-Man published by First Comics between 1983 and 1985. I was already a huge fan of the original E-Man series by Nicola Cuti & Joe Staton that Charlton had published a decade before, as well as the more recent specials released by Digital Webbing. So here was a good opportunity to pick up much of the material that I was missing. This is the first part of my look back at that First Comics run.

E-Man v2 1 cover

Okay, truth be told, I was a bit hesitant to read these issues. Erik Larsen, the super-talented creator of Savage Dragon, is a huge fan of E-Man. And he has commented in the past that he was not fond of the First Comics issues. During this time, Cuti was working on staff at DC Comics, which prevented him from returning to E-Man. Instead, the writing chores initially fell to Martin Pasko, whose work Larsen did not really like.

And, yeah, the first few issues of E-Man written by Pasko are a bit rough. Suddenly Alec Tronn and Nova Kane, who had previously started to become romantically involved, are now back to being platonic roommates, with Nova bringing home a different guy each night to sleep with. She is also suddenly upset about the fact that she has gained super-powers similar to Alec’s. Sloppy hardboiled PI Michael Mauser, instead of just being his usual rude, brusque self, is downright obnoxious, insulting Nova left & right. Oh, yes, and the ghost of Albert Einstein is narrating the book in a very thick accent.

Upon reflection, I did realize that Cuti and Pasko have very different styles of humor. Cuti’s work is undoubtedly on the subtler side. Pasko, on the other hand, is extremely blunt & heavy with his satire. I do think that Cuti’s approach works better for the characters, but Pasko, once you get used to him, does pen entertaining stories.

Pasko’s two-part tale in issue #s 2 & 3 is a heavy-handed parody of a certain popular group of mutants. Deranged scientist Ford Fairmont has been kidnapping teenagers and transforming them into real-life incarnations of his favorite comic book superheroes, the Unhappy F-Men. Mauser & E-Man are drawn into the case when they are hired to find one of those missing kids, Kitty, by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Porn… which makes their daughter Kitty Porn. Groan… insert rimshot! That said, Pasko does do a fair job satirizing Claremont’s purple prose. I’m a fan of those classic X-Men stories, but I still found this rather funny.  Anyway, things come to a head when Nova is also kidnapped and turned into Jean Beige, the Dark Albatross, before becoming completely depowered.

E-Man v2 5 pg 19

Probably the stand-out story of Pasko’s time on E-Man is issue #5, in which he takes his sledgehammer wit to the task of pummeling Scientology, and very effectively at that. “Getting Void” features the menace of the Psychobabbler, aka Elrod Flummox, head of the Church of Technolography.  And if you’re wondering what that “Pauline Blooper” bit on the page above is in reference to, be sure to do a Google search on Paulette Cooper or Operation Freakout.  It’s very disturbing stuff.

Paul Kupperberg scripts over the plots to Pasko’s last couple of issues, bringing with him perhaps a less heavy-handed touch, before Joe Staton himself takes over as writer. Staton’s first issue is #9, wherein E-Man and Mauser encounter the femme fatale Tyger Lili, who is in fact “Commander Zhong of the Grand Army of the Communo-Socialist Worker’s Party of Greater Macao.” Faster that you can say “better dead than red,” E-Man and Mauser are racing the prevent Tyger Lili from getting a hold of a miniaturized neutron bomb that’ll wipe out all life in the good old U.S. of A.

The next two issues are co-plotted by Pasko and Staton, with scripting by Kupperberg. This two part tale is an interesting look into Nova Kane’s previously unexplored origins. We witness the bumpy, unhappy journey she took from her younger years as Katrinka Kolcnzski of Barrentown PA to the geology student / burlesque dancer that we all know & love. It’s a rather poignant story which does good work developing Nova’s character.

Staton becomes the permanent writer on E-Man #12, which sees the return of Tyger Lili. The socialist seductress has joined forces with Big Al, a talking, cigar-smoking albino sewer alligator who dreams of conquering the world in the name of reptile-kind. Lili eventually realizes that Big Al has it in for all of humanity, and she quickly switches sides, freeing an entrapped E-Man so that the hero can stop the gigantic robot Gai-Tor from demolishing the city. It’s a very goofy story, but definitely a lot of fun.

E-Man v2 9 pg 6

Joe Staton’s artwork on these first dozen issues is very good. As I mentioned in my previous blog post about E-Man, the original Charlton issues were among some of his earliest professional work. A decade later, it is obvious that he has grown as an artist & storyteller, producing very strong, exciting, funny work on E-Man volume 2.

Perhaps because he was also busy as the Art Director at First, Staton did not do full artwork on E-Man after the initial five issues. Beginning with #6, Rich Burchett takes over the inking chores. I was already a fan of Burchett’s art from later at DC in the 1990s on various titles. Seeing his earlier work here was a pleasant surprise. He really complements Staton’s pencils, resulting in very nice artwork. Truthfully, even though I think Staton usually looks best when he inks his own pencils, after looking at these issues of E-Man I definitely have to put Burchett on the list of the top inkers to have worked with him.

The first ten issues each have a bonus page in the back, parodies of those old Hostess ads that used to run in comic books back in the 1970s. These spoofs are drawn by a number of talented artists, among them John Byrne, Bruce Patterson, and Fred Hembeck. One of my favorites was in issue #5, written & drawn by Reed Waller, featuring his erotic funny animal character Omaha the Cat Dancer. Michele is a fan of Waller’s work, and had previously seen this piece when it was reprinted in The Complete Omaha Volume 2. So she enjoyed getting to see it in color.

E-Man v2 5 pg 30

As E-Man #12 ends, Nova has received a job offer in Chicago, to work as a hostess on a monster movie television show. Despite Mauser’s protestations, Alec decides to join the woman he loves, and the couple is off to the Midwest, leaving behind a melancholy PI who is surprised to discover he is going to miss them.

In the next installment (hopefully coming soon, time permitting, cross your fingers) we shall see what sort of misadventures await Alec Tronn & Nova Kane in the Windy City. And we’ll also find out just what sort of trouble Michael Mauser gets up to without those two to keep an eye on him.

Steve Moore: 1949 – 2014

I was sorry to learn about the recent death of British comic book writer Steve Moore, who passed away at the age of 64 earlier this month.  Steve Moore was a longtime friend & associate of Alan Moore, so much so that they constantly had to remind people that they were not, in fact, related to each other.

Steve Moore was involved in the early days of the weekly sci-fi anthology series 2000 AD, penning several installments of “Tharg’s Future Shocks” in the late 1970s and early 80s.  In late 1979, he became one of the first writers for Doctor Who Weekly / Monthly for Marvel UK, penning a variety of back-up stories spotlighting the aliens & monsters of the television series.

With then up-and-coming artist Steve Dillon, Moore co-created two recurring characters in the comic book back-ups.  The first was Junior Cyberleader Kroton, introduced in “Throwback: The Soul of a Cyberman,” published in Doctor Who Weekly #s 5-7 (1980).  Unlike the rest of the Cybermen, when he was converted into a cyborg Kroton somehow retained his human emotions, his capacity for empathy.  Struggling with his unexpected feelings, Kroton eventually sided with the human resistance on the Cyberman-occupied world of Mondaran, helping them to escape to the unoccupied jungles of their planet.  However, realizing he was neither fully Cyberman nor human, Kroton elected to blast off into outer space, where he shut himself down.

Doctor Who 3 pg 19

The other character conceived by Moore and Dillon was Abslom Daak, the Dalek-Killer, originally featured in Doctor Who Weekly #s 17-20 (1980).  Although they shared a common enemy in the Daleks, Daak was the polar opposite of the Doctor.  Whereas the wandering Time Lord was eccentric, cultured, and sought to resolve conflicts with his intellect, Daak was a brutal career criminal, a cynic with a dark sense of humor and a death wish whose solution to any problem was violence.

On the opening page his debut Daak has been convicted of “23 charges of murder, pillage, piracy, massacre and other crimes too horrible to bring to the public attention.”  Given a capital sentence, Daak is offered a choice, “death by vaporization or Exile D-K.”  Dryly commenting that “vaporization doesn’t hurt,” Daak takes the second alternative.  Exile D-K involves sending an individual by matter transmitter into the heart of the Dalek Empire to wage a hopeless one-man guerilla war against the fascist mutants from Skaro.  This suits Daak just fine.  Armed to the teeth with an arsenal of weapons, including his beloved chain-sword, he is teleported a thousand light years across the galaxy to the planet Mazam, newly invaded by the Daleks.  There Daak plans to go out in a blaze of glory, violently taking as many Daleks with him as possible in an orgy of destruction.

Upon his arrival, however, Daak ends up saving the life of the stunningly beautiful Princess Taiyin.  Daak is all ready to do a reenactment of the ending to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but Taiyin realizes this brutish warrior might just be able to help her escape.  Knocking the Dalek-Killer out, she transports the two of them away from her palace via sky-sled.  Once again attacked by the Daleks, Daak reiterates his hopes of achieving a spectacularly violent demise.  Taiyin reluctantly points him in the direction of the Daleks’ command ship and, against impossible odds, the two manage to destroy it.  Taiyin, who has begun to fall for Daak, asks him to stay on and help rebuild Mazam.  Before Daak can answer, Taiyin is shot from behind by one of the surviving Daleks, and dies in the Dalek-Killer’s arms.

Doctor Who 8 pg 28

Moore did an interesting job of developing Daak.  He starts out as a thoroughly unpleasant individual who is looking to cash his chips in.  Along the course of the story, Daak reluctantly comes to realize that he likes Taiyin, and perhaps he could have a future with her, a reason to go on living.  And then all that is cruelly yanked away from him in an instant with Taiyin’s death.  From that point on, Daak vows to “kill every damned stinking Dalek in the galaxy.”  Revenge and the almost impossible hope of somehow finding a way to revive Taiyin are Daak’s only reasons to go on living.  That final page is powerfully illustrated by Dillon.

Moore continued Abslom Daak’s story in “Star Tigers,” which ran in Doctor Who Weekly #s 27-30 and 44-46.  The Dalek-Killer gains a battleship, the Kill Wagon, and a crew made up of exiled Draconian prince Salander, the Ice Warrior mercenary Harma, and the human criminal strategist Vol Mercurious.  The first few installments were again drawn by Dillon, with a young David Lloyd assuming art duties on the later chapters.

(There is an excellent interview with Steve Moore concerning his Dalek-Killer stories online at Altered Vistas.  Check it out.)

Moore intended to write additional installments of“Star Tigers.”  But he was then switched over to the main feature in Doctor Who Weekly / Monthly, scripting the adventures of the Fourth Doctor.  Here he was paired with regular artist Dave Gibbons.  In the mid-1980s, Moore’s Doctor Who work on the series was reprinted in color in the American comic book series, which is where I first had the opportunity to read his various stories.

Moore also contributed numerous stories to the short-lived anthology series Warrior in the mid-1980s.  Among these were the adventures of the psychotic cyborg Axel Pressbutton and his sometimes-partner, the beautiful & deadly Laser Eraser.

2000 AD 1194 pg 12

Throughout the 1990s Moore worked as a writer and editor at Fortean Times, the British magazine of strange & esoteric phenomena.  He returned to the comic book field in the late 1990s, when he began writing “Tales of Telguth,” a  horror / fantasy anthology feature in 2000 AD with dark twist endings.  This allowed Moore to collaborate with a number of very talented artists such as Simon Davis, Greg Staples, Carl Critchlow, Dean Ormston, and Siku.

In the mid-2000s, Moore once again became associated with Alan Moore, working on several stories for Tom Strong, Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales and Tomorrow Stories from the America’s Best Comics imprint.  These were illustrated by an all-star line up that included Paul Gulacy, Jimmy Palmiotti, Alan Weiss, Arthur Adams and Eric Shanower.  In 2008, Steve Moore wrote Hercules: The Thracian Wars and Hercules: The Knives of Kush for Radical Comics.

Tom Strong 34 pg 15

At the time of his death, Steve Moore was working with Alan Moore once again, this time on The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic, to be released by Top Shelf.  Hopefully Alan will be able to complete the tome and it will see publication.

Steve Moore leaves behind a very impressive, offbeat, original body of work.  His two original characters from the Doctor Who comics, Abslom Daak and Kroton, became fan favorites.  Daak later encountered the Seventh Doctor, both in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and in prose fiction.  Kroton, after many years absence from print, reappeared to travel for a time with the Eighth Doctor.  So please raise a glass (or a chainsword) in his memory.

Comic book reviews: The Fox by Dean Haspiel and friends

Given that I enjoyed the New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes miniseries Archie Comics / Red Circle published a year ago, I was probably going to get their next offering, the five issue miniseries The Fox.  Of course, as soon as I found out that Dean Haspiel would be plotting and illustrating the book, well, I was sold.

I’ve been a fan of Haspiel’s work since he collaborated with Josh Neufeld on the Keyhole anthology series in the late 1990s, and subsequently worked solo on his Billy Dogma stories.  Haspiel is one of those rare creators who successfully straddle the worlds of independent and mainstream comics. He is equally at home crafting bizarre, experimental projects and chronicling the adventures of popular Marvel & DC superheroes.  In fact, The Fox is very much a meeting ground between those two worlds, as Haspiel brings his innovative small press sensibilities with him in a clever revamping of a long-time Red Circle costumed crime-fighter.

The Fox 2 pg 1

Paul Patton Jr. is the son of the original Fox.  Unlike his father, Paul never set out to be a hero.  Rather, as a photojournalist, Paul felt that by becoming a masked vigilante he could attract news stories, create material to help his career.  Unfortunately Paul eventually realized that he had become, in Haspiel’s words, a “freak magnet,” attracting all sorts of bizarre individuals & strange events without meaning to.  Now all Paul desperately wants is a normal life with his wife and kids.  But fate just keeps conspiring against him, throwing a succession of oddities and curveballs his way with alarming regularity.

Scripting “Freak Magnet” is veteran writer Mark Waid.  I really enjoyed his work in the past on such series as The Flash, Captain America, The Brave and the Bold, and Kingdom Come.  Although the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Waid is old-school, traditional superhero tales (and I mean that as a compliment) he really is a diverse scribe, having also penned the extremely dark titles Empire and Irredeemable.  With The Fox, Waid shows yet another side of his talent, scripting some hysterically insane dialogue to accompany Haspiel’s bizarre, surreal plotting.  The two make a hell of a team.  And, yeah, you could say that Waid makes the Fox much more witty and eloquent than the original Golden Age version, who was introduced in 1940 by writer Joe Blair & artist Irwin Hasen:

The Fox Irwin Hasen

“Yah yah yah yah yaaahh!”  Indeed.

Beginning in issue #2 is a back-up story featuring the Shield.  Writer J.M. DeMatteis reunites with penciler Mike Cavallaro, who he previously collaborated with on The Life and Times of Savior 28.  Joining them is the insanely talented Terry Austin who, as I’ve mentioned on at least one occasion, is one of the best inkers / embellishers in the comic book biz. He does superb work over Cavallaro’s pencils here.

DeMatteis’ story is a flashback to World War II, as Joe Higgins, aka the Shield, heads to Antarctica to investigate a mysterious power source that the military suspect is being caused by an unknown Axis super-weapon.  At first tangling a horde of monsters, the Shield then encounters the German and Japanese agents Master Race and Hachiman.  Not stopping to ask questions, the Shield leaps at them, engaging the two Axis super-soldiers in battle.  But these three men soon discover that things are not as simple as they seem.

The Fox 2 pg 25

One of the aspects of DeMatteis’ writing that I have appreciated since I first encountered it way back in the pages of Captain America #278 was that he would demonstrate that not every problem can be solved with violence.  In a genre such as superhero comic books, which (truth be told) often involves costumed superhumans beating each other senseless, this is a somewhat unusual approach, one that has often set DeMatteis apart from his contemporaries.  But I appreciate that he scripts protagonists who utilize their intelligence & reasoning to arrive at a more constructive solution than punching the other guy in the face.

Not to get too political, but there is such a significant problem in the real world where non-violent strategies are frowned upon.  One need only look at reactions to the current crisis in the Ukraine.  Various politicians are decrying the tactics of negotiations with and economic sanctions against Russia because they make the United States look “weak.”  Of course, the people usually calling for military action either cannot or will not recognize that conflicts such as this one are not black & white affairs with “good guys” and “bad guys” that can be quickly & neatly solved by blowing up some “evil” enemy.  And you can be guaranteed that those saber-rattling politicos and armchair generals are not the types to lay their own lives on the line in the service of their country, instead leaving it to others to fight & die on the battlefield.

Very unexpectedly, the extremely different adventures of Paul Patton and Joe Higgins come crashing together at the end of issue #4, as the Fox, having helped rescue the other-dimensional Diamond Realm from the diabolical Druid, is transported back to Earth.  But instead of returning to the United States in 2014, an alarmed Fox materializes in Antarctica seven decades earlier, ending up smack dab in the middle of a four-way fight between the Shield, Master Race, Hachiman and an equally time-displaced Druid.

The Fox 5 pg 9

With DeMatteis taking over both the plotting & scripting for the final issue, I really wondered how this would work out.  DeMatteis has very different sensibilities from Waid.  Much of his work features psychoanalytical or spiritual tones.  That’s not to say that DeMatteis cannot do comedy, because he has written some very funny stories in the past.  But, yes, there is a somewhat abrupt shift in mood between #4 and #5.  Perhaps DeMatteis might have endeavored to maintain some of the Fox’s irreverent commentary in the concluding issue.  But, on the whole, it is a pretty effective conclusion.  The fact that the Fox is not your typical superhero, that he really just wants to have a nice, quiet life, makes him just the sort of individual to think outside the box.  He’s the one who is able to realize that the Shield, Master Race, and Hachiman have to stop thinking with their fists, set aside their distrust, and come up with a more intelligent strategy to stop the Druid.

Haspiel does a fine job illustrating the concluding issue.  After the wacky shenanigans of the preceding four chapters, he ably shifts gears, ably depicting both the gritty horrors of war and the mystic, esoteric final confrontation with the Druid.

I also have to give a tip of the hat to John Workman.  As always, his lettering is dynamic.  It’s an oft-overlooked art.

One other nice touch to The Fox was that there were a number of tie-ins with New Crusaders.  In addition to the Shield, there are also appearances by Dusty the Space Chimp and Bob Phantom.  And we learn that Paul Patton’s daughter is Fly-Girl.  For those who have also read New Crusaders, these are nice touches that will make you go “A-ha!”  But they are done in such a way that if you’ve never laid eyes on that other miniseries, you will still be able to appreciate The Fox as a stand-alone piece.  That is how continuity should work.

The Fox 1 Freak Magnet cover signed

I did think that having 17 covers for 5 issues was a bit much, though.  Yeah, there was some nice artwork on those variants.  I guess they’ll make for a really lovely gallery in the back of the upcoming trade paperback.  Okay, I did splurge a bit and pick up a couple of the alternate covers, namely Haspiel’s “Freak Magnet” issue #1 variant, and the cover for #5 showcasing a vintage rendering of the Fox by the late, great Alex Toth.

All in all, despite a couple of hiccups, The Fox was very well done.  I’m glad that Haspiel & Waid are already working on a second miniseries.  I’m definitely looking forward to the further misadventures of everyone’s favorite freak magnet.