E-Man: the First Comics years, part two

I finally was able to find copies of the rest of the First Comics run of E-Man.  So at last here is the second part of my retrospective on that cool series.  (And here is a link to Part One for those who missed it.)  When last we saw Alec Tronn, Nova Kane, and Teddy Q, they were driving west to Chicago, where Nova had received a job offer to host the basic cable TV show “Moppet Monster Matinee.”  As before, the creative team for these issues is Joe Staton as writer & penciler, and Rick Burchett as inker.

En route in E-Man #13, their truck suffers a broken axle, and the trio is stuck in a sleepy little Midwestern town waiting for the repairs to be made.  However, the residents are acting quite bizarre, and the next morning Nova arrives at the garage to find her truck has been totally dismantled.  Following after the somnambulistic mechanic who is driving off with most of the parts, Alec discovers the entire town has been not-too-successfully hypnotized by an individual named Chaos.  Via a handy flashback, we learn that Chaos is an antagonist from another First title, Warp (which was penciled by the amazing Frank Brunner, so I should pick up those back issues at some point, as well), and has become stranded on Earth.  Eventually ending up, via teleportation, in the multi-dimensional city of Cynosure (the setting of yet another great First series, Grimjack by John Ostrander & Tim Truman), E-Man and Chaos declare a truce, E-Man returns to Earth, and he & Nova are soon on the road again.

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After a short tussle with the dangerously incompetent Randarr the Inexplicable (who I keep hearing speak with comedian Rip Taylor’s voice when I read his dialogue), Nova assumes hosting duties on “Moppet Monster Matinee” to great success, vamping it up for the cameras.  Once again, Staton demonstrates his superb skill for drawing lovely ladies.

Back in New York City, private eye Michael Mauser, still smarting over Alec & Nova’s departure, takes on a new case.  Hired to investigate the mysterious death of a businessman named Delzell, Mauser discovers that E-Man’s old enemy Samuel Boar, the ruthless energy magnate, is involved (and every time I read his dialogue, I hear actor John Vernon).  Barely surviving a run-in with Boar’s deadly robot The Battery, Mauser travels out to Chicago to investigate Boar’s latest criminal undertaking.  Once again Mauser finds himself in over his head, and he is forced to enlist E-Man’s aid.  Nova is less than thrilled that the sloppy, rude PI has wormed his way back into her & Alec’s lives, but she cannot dissuade E-Man from offering his assistance in thwarting Boar’s schemes.

One of the stronger stories that Staton writes is “Rosemary and Time” in E-Man #18.  This is a split issue.  Alec ends up bouncing around the past in a broken time machine with Rosemary, a high school student from the 30th Century who is doing research for her term paper while attempting to collect the autographs of Chicago’s most famous historical figures.  Alec and Rosemary’s comic misadventures end up actually causing some of the Windy City’s worst disasters, although Staton writes & pencils these segments in such a way that you cannot help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.

In the second half, Nova and Teddy Q return home from work to find the apartment trashed, with a beat-up Mauser lying amidst the wreckage.  Mauser recounts to Nova how he got tangled up in a dangerous investigation of the Chicago Mob which involved his old girlfriend Angel, who he hasn’t seen since they were both teenagers.  It’s a heartbreaking account that reveals that underneath his gruff, unkempt exterior A) Mauser really is a sharp, clever detective and B) he possesses a sensitive, caring side.  As the issue ends, Alec returns home from his time jaunt to find Nova and Mauser having fallen asleep while hugging, the implication being that they have finally begun to put aside their differences.

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The next few issues of E-Man offer up some especially wacky shenanigans, namely a zombie jazz musician, loony vigilante Golden Gopher, a trigger-happy group of mercenaries known as the B-Team (yeah, you can probably figure out who they’re based on) and Teddy Q gaining superpowers in order to save Australia’s entire population of koala bears from being turned into fur coats by the nutty Marsupial Mama.  This all culminates in the ultra bizarre but awesomely entertaining E-Man #23, as many of the guest stars and villains from the past two years return for “The See-Thru Wars,” a comedic action extravaganza.

E-Man #24 is an especially great issue, as series co-creator Nicola “Nick” Cuti finally has the opportunity to once again write for the series.  “Mauser’s Story” has an amazing work by Cuti, Staton & Burchett, as readers are given the history of Michael Mauser.  Cuti does a superb job showing us the development of Mauser over the years, revealing the different, hidden sides of the character.  Staton’s penciling is fantastic.  He has often commented that he very much enjoys drawing mystery & detective stories.  This issue definitely provides him with the opportunity to work on that type of material, and he does a wonderful job.

Okay, truth be told, I am not certain you can fit Mauser’s history with his one-time girlfriend Angel that Staton revealed in #18 into the timeline that Cuti gives us in #24.  But as Sarah Jane Smith once chided the Fourth Doctor, “So pedantic at a time like this! Does it matter?”

E-Man v2 24 cover

In the next issue, Cuti, Staton & Burchett show us E-Man at his most anguished.  While using his powers to foil a robbery, Alec accidentally kills one of the hold-up men.  Distraught at taking a life, he rockets off to the South Pacific, hoping to find peace & solitude so he can decide it he truly has a place on Earth, or if he should leave the planet before he causes more harm.  Nova, finally realizing she loves Alec and does not want to be without him, heads after him with Teddy Q, although without the benefit of powers they are stuck island-hopping in a rundown boat right out of The African Queen.  Alec eventually realizes that no matter where he goes, he will always have his amazing powers, and so he might as well learn to deal with the consequences.  After saving the inhabitants of a tropical island from a group of grumpy Polynesian deities, Alec is reunited with Nova, although she is less than thrilled to discover that he’s been hanging out with a sexy island babe all this time.  Well, as the Bard once observed, the course of true love never did run smooth.

And that was it; E-Man #25 was the final issue of the series.  Just when Cuti & Staton had finally gotten back together, everything came to a screeching halt.  I guess #25 is a decent enough wrap-up to the series, although the subplot Staton had left percolating in the background of Nova gradually regaining her superpowers never did end up being resolved.  Fortunately over the subsequent years Cuti & Staton were able to reunite for the further adventures of Alec and Nova at publishers Comico, Alpha Productions, and Digital Webbing.  And there are plans to have an E-Man story by Cuti & Staton appear in a future issue of Mort Todd’s The Charlton Arrow.

Although the First Comics run of E-Man was admittedly somewhat uneven, at least in the writing department, on the whole it was still an entertaining read.  Of course, the always-wonderful penciling of Joe Staton offered consistent quality throughout.  I really enjoyed the amazing, inventive visual gags he threw in as Alec assumed all sorts of strange & funny shapes.  Staton also gave a more prominent role to Teddy Q, who was adorable and silly.

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And that goes right to the heart of why I enjoy E-Man in its various incarnations.  Staton and Cuti have always done such an effective job of balancing serious and silly, comedy and drama.  They are able to tell interesting, thoughtful stories with believable character development that also possess a real quality of fun & humor to them.  As I’ve observed on this blog before, I really wish that there were more comic books & graphic novels like that.  So hopefully Cuti and Staton really will have the opportunity to collaborate on E-Man again, and soon.  There really is nothing else like it out there.

Comic book reviews: Valkyrie “Prisoner of the Past”

“We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us.” − Bergen Evans

In my recent blog post about the career of Fred Kida, I mentioned his work for Hillman Periodicals in the 1940s, including how he was the co-creator of the femme fatale aviatrix Valkyrie, who made her debut in the Airboy story in Air Fighters Comics vol 2 #2 (November 1943).  Hillman folded up shop in 1953 and its various characters fell into limbo until 1986 when Eclipse Comics began publishing a new Airboy ongoing series.  Written by Chuck Dixon, it featured Davy Nelson III, the son of the original Airboy who assumed the mantle after his father was murdered.  Eclipse also brought Valkyrie back into print in the book, although in her case she was the original, having spent four decades in a mystic suspended animation.

Valkyrie 1 cover

Val proved popular enough that Eclipse published a three issue Valkyrie miniseries in 1987, written by Dixon, with art by Paul Gulacy & Will Blyberg, and edited by Catherine Yronwode.  It was quickly collected into a trade paperback, “Prisoner of the Past.”

One of the aspects of most Golden Age comic books was that any sort of gradual or sophisticated character development was practically non-existent.  This is particularly true of Valkyrie.  If you read her 1943 debut story “Airboy Meets Valkyrie,” you find that she is not the most subtle of characters, to say the least.  She starts out as an icy, sadistic killer who is unquestionably devoted to the Nazi cause.  Yet within the space of a mere 12 pages Valkyrie falls in love with Airboy, suddenly comes to realize that she is fighting for the wrong side, shoots her commanding officer in the back, and defects to the Allies.  By modern standards it is perhaps not the most convincing of redemptions!  (You can view scans of the entire story on Comic Book Plus.)

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Dixon must have perceived the problematic nature of Valkyrie’s background, and he tackled it headlong in “Prisoner of the Past.”  In the opening issue, Val is caught on camera by the eleven o’clock new beating the ever living crap out of a gang of muggers.  She becomes a “media superstar” and receives an offer to work for the world’s top modeling agency.  Unfortunately all of this publicity eventually brings her to the attention of the KGB, who recognize her as the same Valkyrie who fought in World War II over four decades before.  The Russian agent Steelfox is dispatched to capture her and bring her back to the Soviet Union to stand trial for war crimes.

The Soviets accuse Valkyrie of leading her squad of Air Maidens in a brutal attack against the village of Lubon in February 1944, murdering two thousand orphaned refugee children.  Val insists over and over that she never flew any missions against civilian targets, only military ones.  Moreover, she tells her captors that she defected to the Allies months earlier, and was in England at the time of her supposed involvement in this atrocity.  But her protests fall on the deaf ears of the Soviets, who are eager to try & execute her as an enemy of the state.

Dixon does excellent work scripting Val in “Prisoner of the Past.”  As the story opens, she is already something of a haunted figure, struggling to adjust to having slept through the past forty years, and keenly feeling the loss of her beloved, the original Airboy, who married, grew old, and died while she was missing.  Captured and brought behind the Iron Curtain, tortured by Steelfox, her past allegiance to the Third Reich thrown into her face, Val’s conscience begins to eat away at her.  “It wasn’t me,” she repeats over and over, and it is obvious that she is trying as desperately to convince the Soviets as she is herself.

In the opening pages of issue three, Val, who is already in anguish from her ordeal, is seemingly visited in her dreams by Misery, a Grim Reaper-esque supernatural entity who collects the souls of aviators.  He was the one who was responsible for Val’s decades-long slumber, and now he seeks to claim her.  Dixon leaves it a bit ambiguous whether it truly is Misery haunting her, or if it is Val’s guilt and torment that is creating this nightmare.  Either way, it is an effectively unsettling sequence.

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Dixon has always been good at writing female characters that are sexy and strong, yet also well-rounded.  His Valkyrie is a multi-faceted individual who is tough as nails and confident yet at the same time still a very human individual.

Likewise, Dixon does interesting work with Steelfox.  When we first see the Soviet operative, he is gleefully slaughtering resistance fighters in Afghanistan with a poison gas attack; he hardly seems like the sort who has any right to be judging Valkyrie for her actions.  As the story progresses, though, we learn that Steelfox has a very personal stake in matters.  He was one of the few surviving children from the Lubon massacre, although the attack left him crippled.  It is conceivable to see this as the defining moment of his life that set him on the path to becoming a monster.  And once Steelfox learns of Valkyrie’s existence, he is obsessed with exacting vengeance against the woman who he believes destroyed his childhood.  In his own way, Steelfox is as much imprisoned by the past as Val.  If she is haunted by grief & guilt, then he is consumed by hatred.

Although there are several action sequences, Dixon chooses to conclude “Prisoners of the Past” in a more unconventional manner.  The climax of the story is Valkyrie’s trial, via an intense, emotional revelation.  It is a very effective ending.

The artwork by Paul Gulacy and Will Blyberg is definitely top-notch.  I’ve always enjoyed Gulacy’s work.  When he was first starting out, Gulacy worked as an assistant to the late, great Dan Adkins, and he was also influenced by Jim Steranko.  You can definitely see both of their influences in Gulacy’s art, although he is certainly much more than an imitator.

Gulacy is especially well known for his renderings of super-sexy women, but there is much more to his work than that.  There are quite a few artists who can draw a hot girl, but who cannot tell a story to save their life.  Gulacy, in contrast, does amazing layouts.  He has a very cinematic style to his work that is well suited to depicting dynamic action sequences.  At the same time, he is also very good at rendering quieter character moments.

Gulacy’s diverse skills are all at the fore in “Prisoner of the Past.”  His Valkyrie is stunningly beautiful and strong, yet still human and capable of vulnerability.  The action is well choreographed.  And the character moments are moving, full of real emotion.

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In the first issue there is moment when Valkyrie, laying in her bed, sadly reflects on what she lost over the decades she was in suspended animation.  The collaboration here between Dixon’s scripting and Gulacy’s pencils creates a very melancholy, memorable sequence.

I found an inexpensive used copy of the “Prisoner of the Past” collection on Ebay a week or so ago.  So that’s one way to go if you want to pick up this great story.  However, the miniseries is being reissued by IDW, along with the remainder of the Airboy material from Eclipse.  Airboy Archives Volume One came out in March.  Volume Two, which includes the Valkyrie miniseries, is scheduled for a July release.  I’m planning to pick up both books.  In addition to the writing by Chuck Dixon, there are several talented artists who worked on the Airboy series, among them Tim Truman, Stan Woch, Tom Lyle and Ron Randall.  It’s always nice when quality out-of-print material such as this finally has the opportunity to find a new audience.

Comic book reviews: Fatima: The Blood Spinners

Love and Rockets co-creator Gilbert Hernandez has been quite prolific over the past several years, writing & illustrating a number of miniseries and graphic novels.  One of these was Fatima: The Blood Spinners.  Originally published by Dark Horse as a four issue miniseries in 2012, it was just re-issued as a collected hardcover edition earlier this month.  So this makes it an ideal time for me to take a brief look at it.

Fatima The Blood Spinners HC

On the surface, Fatima: The Blood Spinners is a zombie story.  However, utilizing the trappings of that now-ubiquitous genre, Hernandez incorporates an interesting and bizarre blend of science fiction, horror, action, and conspiracy fiction.  Set some time in the future, the backdrop of events is a plague of zombie-like creatures created by the use of an experimental drug known as Spin.  The eponymous Fatima is a member of “Operations,” the government agency that initially developed Spin.  Now that the drug has resulted in a zombie epidemic, the Operations agents have been given the dual tasks of shutting down drug dealers who are peddling Spin, and wiping out the monsters created by it.

Things turn out to be far from simple, though, as a web of intrigue becomes revealed.  Fatima begins to suspect some of her compatriots of hidden agendas, and eventually comes to question the plans of Operations itself.  Amidst the bloody violence & paranoia, Fatima struggles to survive against the combined menaces of an ever-growing horde of Spin addicts, violent drug runners, and treason in Operations ranks.

If that is a rather short summary of events, that’s probably down to the fact that Fatima: The Blood Spinners is not especially heavy on story.  Hernandez, as is his habit in recent years, is not so much concerned with conceiving a tightly plotted narrative.  Rather, he has concentrated on developing a character piece set against a palpable atmosphere.  The result is that instead of truly delving into the back story behind the Spin drug and Operations, Hernandez’s focus is on Fatima herself, a cynical, tired figure looking back on her past, and how she quickly progressed from an enthusiastic recruit of Operations to her current hardened self.

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Hernandez offers up something of a potpourri of tones within his story.  After the first two relatively straightforward chapters of bloody shootouts with mobsters and monsters, the third installment contains some freakish sci-fi body horror that would perhaps make even David Cronenberg blink.  In the concluding segment, Hernandez then veers somewhat into the surrealist territory seen in his “Fritz B-Movie Filmography” series of graphic novels, before ending on an introspective note.

On the whole, I enjoyed Fatima: The Blood Spinners.  Hernandez’s artwork is as strikingly beautiful & gruesome as ever.  In terms of his writing, he takes some of his previously well-trodden paths and then veers them into unfamiliar territory, creating an offbeat piece that has a genuine mood to it.  This may not be his most accessible work, but it is certainly an interesting experiment.  It’s good to see Hernandez stretch in different, versatile directions.  If you are a fan of his previous works, then Fatima: The Blood Spinners is certainly worth a read.

Comic book reviews: Wonder Woman #24-29

I’ve been meaning to do a post about Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang’s run on Wonder Woman for a while now.  I really enjoy it; currently it is the only DC Comics New 52 title I follow regularly.  I recently learned that Azzarello & Chiang will be departing from the series sometime in the near future.  So, no time like the present!

Azzarello has a really good handle on Wonder Woman.  He understands the contradictions in the character: she is a highly trained, skilled, dangerous warrior, yet she is also an envoy of peace.  Azzarello scripts Princess Diana as someone who recognizes that force must sometimes be utilized in the cause of protecting the innocent, but she tries to avoid doing so out of anger or malice.  She hopes to provide everyone with an opportunity to prove themselves before having to resorting to violence.

It’s interesting that Azzarello utilizes an aspect of the character from the original Golden Age stories by William Moulton Marston & H.G. Peter, that Diana wears her bracelets not just for defense, but to restrain her boundless strength & anger, lest she loses control.  In this way, Azzarello has Diana acknowledge her own incongruities: she must accept her own capacity for violence, and control it, before she can ask others to do the same.

This has become even more of a challenge for Diana in recent issues.  The long-exiled first son of Zeus, known only as the First Born, has escaped from his thousands of years exile at the Earth’s center, ready to kill everything in his path and seize control of Mount Olympus.  The First Born was prepared to slay Diana’s mentor the god War, which would have given him all of War’s powers.  This forced Diana to kill her former teacher first, a very painful choice.  It was one made even worse by the fact that it meant that now she is War, a role that she does not want to play, as it goes against all her beliefs.

Wonder Woman 29 cover

Another aspect of the Azzarello & Chiang run that I’ve enjoyed is their re-interpretation of the Greek deities.  Instead of a group of dignified-looking humanoids clad in white togas, these gods of Olympus are an assortment of bizarre, dysfunctional freaks.  Which, when you take even a moment to think about it, makes perfect sense.  If you ever read the original Greek myths, the gods are typically depicted as selfish, petty, vain, capricious, vengeful entities that squabble amongst themselves, abuse their powers, and typically create more harm than good.  Azzarello’s writing captures those qualities spot-on, scripting a group of scheming, preening politicos who switch allegiances at a mercurial speed.  The physical conception of these entities by Chiang perfectly encapsulates their twisted priorities & agendas.

The events of Azzarello & Chiang’s overall story arc are, naturally enough, caused by the machinations of the gods.  Zeus, the millennia-long monarch of Olympus, has vanished, leaving a power vacuum that his fellow deities wish to fill.  His long-ago actions to the First Born have also come to rear their ugly head.  When it was prophesized that his first child would kill him, Zeus attempted to kill the then-infant First Born, setting the later on a millennia-long path of resentment-filled carnage & violence.

At the same time, Zeus’ infamous serial philandering has had consequences. The disguised deity seduced & impregnated an ordinary mortal woman named Zola.  Zeus’ jealous wife Hera, once again unable to take out her anger on her all-powerful husband, set out to kill Zola.  This is where Diana came in, protecting & befriending the pregnant woman.  Along the way, Diana herself learned that she was the result of a tryst between her mother & Zeus.  Hera also found out, and transformed all of the Amazons on Paradise Island into snakes.

Eventually Zeus’ son Apollo rose to the throne of Olympus and stripped his mother Hera of her divinity, making her a mortal.  This presented Diana with a serious dilemma.  As much as she disliked Hera, she now had to protect the former Queen of Olympus, since she was probably the only being who might one day restore the Amazons to normal.

This led to a really interesting situation: Zola and Hera, who hated each other’s guts, found themselves looking after each other, often having to aid one another in their mutual quest to survive the many dangers they faced.  Out of that was eventually formed a grudging friendship.  Even more interesting, the now-mortal Hera painfully began to gain a measure of humility and humanity.  Along the way Hera made some hysterically inappropriate social faux pas as she learned about acting in a tactful, polite manner, as opposed to an imperious deity.  And so her development has been an interesting mix of drama and comedy.

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In the last several issues, we have seen Apollo attempting to bend the First Born to his will.  Instead, Apollo learns that hatred nurtured over millennia does indeed burn hotter than the Sun.  The First Born violently seizes Olympus, and is prepared to brutally obliterate all who oppose his will.  Diana, with a re-powered Hera and the once-more human army of Amazons at her side, must embrace the mantle of War in order to defeat the First Born.

By the way, Zeus has been conspicuous by his total absence from Wonder Woman so far.  Having caused this whole entire mess to begin with, no doubt he’s laying low for now, waiting for everyone else to do his dirty work.  I would not be at all surprised if Azzarello has Zeus finally show up just as the dust is clearing, ready to once again assume rule of the gods and carry on with business as usual.  I guess we shall see.

Cliff Chiang superbly illustrates Azzarello’s stories.  The art on these issues is simply amazing.  Chiang’s Diana is beautiful & strong.  The action sequences are dynamic & gritty.  The quiet character moments are full of personality & emotion.  This really is top-notch stuff.  I recently heard someone compare Chiang’s work to Jaime Hernandez.  I had not thought about that before, but yes, now I can see there are certain qualities to their art that are similar.  Certainly each of them are amazing at drawing interesting, expressive characters, utilizing strong storytelling, and imbuing their work with drama.

In addition to totally redesigning the Olympians, Chiang also did a make-over for Orion of the New Gods, who has been popping in and out the pages of Wonder Woman for the last year and a half.  Although I prefer the original Kirby design, I have to admit that Chiang’s interpretation of Orion is undoubtedly one of the better revamps that I’ve seen throughout the New 52 line.

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I guess that Chiang is not nearly fast enough to pencil & ink an ongoing monthly series, and so he has occasionally had other artists spot him.  Most recently Goran Sudzuka pitched in to help, drawing Wonder Woman #s 24-26, and contributing some layouts for Chiang on #28.  Jose Marzan Jr. came onboard with some nice inking over Sudzuka on #s 25-26.  They did very nice work, and it complements Chaing’s art quite well, not clashing at all.  The rich, lovely coloring by Matthew Wilson no doubt helps to maintain an overall tone to the series.

I haven’t yet seen a definitive final issue for Azzarello & Chiang’s Wonder Woman run announced yet.  It’ll probably be within the next six months.  I’ll certainly be sorry to see them leave.  But if they manage to maintain the quality that they’ve shown over the past two and a half years, then they will certainly be going out on a high point, in style.

Remembering Glyn Idris Jones

This past Monday morning, while checking my inbox, I received some unfortunate news. An e-mail from a familiar addressed opened with the following:

“Dear friends both near and far

“I have some sad news for you. As some of you will have already heard (and thank you for all your kind thoughts), at 3pm on Wednesday the 2nd of April, Glyn Idris Jones died peacefully here at home in Vamos, Crete. It was just 25 days before his 83rd birthday and 4 days before our 54th Anniversary.”

These words were written by Christopher Beeching, Glyn’s partner of more than a half a century. While I never had the good fortune to meet Glyn in person, I was fortunate enough to have regularly corresponded with him via e-mail for the past several years.

Glyn Idris Jones
I wrote a bit about Glyn’s life and career as an actor, writer & director in January last year in my blog post about his excellent autobiography No Official Umbrella. I highly recommend picking up a copy. It is a wonderful read.

As to how I got in touch with Glyn personally, well, not too surprisingly I discovered his work via his involvement in Doctor Who. Glyn held the rare distinction of having both written for and acted in that series, penning the 1965 serial “The Space Museum” and appearing a decade later in “The Sontaran Experiment.”

I have always liked “The Space Museum,” finding it an underappreciated gem. It was the very first Doctor Who story to really explore the idea that time travel is a lot more complicated and dangerous than simply bopping back and forth from one era to another in the TARDIS.

The Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions Ian, Barbara, and Vicki land on Xeros, a conquered world that has been transformed into a vast museum celebrating the history of the once-mighty Morok Empire. However, the TARDIS has “jumped a time track,” and the four travelers arrive out of sync with the time stream. The first episode ends as they see their own personal future: they have been turned into museum exhibits, freeze-dried and placed in glass display cases for the rest of eternity.

Then time re-aligns itself, and the Doctor and friends “arrive” in the present on Xeros. They spend the next three episodes desperately attempting to avert the dire future fate they have glimpsed. There is an interesting philosophical debate running through the story: Is the future set in stone, or can it be altered? By attempting to avert their horrible fate, are the Doctor and his companions actually initiating the events that will lead them to become museum exhibits?

The thing about “The Space Museum” is that, in addition to its high concept premise, Glyn Jones also conceived it as a tongue-in-cheek tale. However, script editor Dennis Spooner cut a great deal of the humor from the final scripts, and the episodes were directed in a very straightforward, static manner by Mervyn Pinfield.

Space Museum novelization
Offered the opportunity to novelize “The Space Museum” in 1987, Glyn restored much of the excised comedy. He also used the prose format as an opportunity to get into the heads of his characters and develop them. This was particularly the case with Governor Lobos, the villain of the story, who was quite a one-note figure on-screen, but rather more interestingly realized in print. All in all, the novelization was an entertaining read.

In any case, when “The Space Museum” was released on DVD, I did a write-up of the story on Associated Content in July 2010. Having come across Glyn’s website, I decided to e-mail him a link. After all these decades, I had no idea how he felt about his involvement in Doctor Who, but I figured, why not, he might be interested. Soon after, he wrote back:

“Thank you so much for your letter and for the article which I read with interest. No, it doesn’t bother me one jot that people after all these years are still talking about The Space Museum. It’s quite flattering and who objects to being flattered especially when sincerely meant?

“Since moving to Crete I have virtually given up with theatre and the media so, apart from a new musical, still waiting in the wings, one play set in Athens which I hope will shortly be produced there, I have turned to prose with the following results: an autobiography titled No Official Umbrella, four comedy thrillers with my very own detective Thornton King and his female sidekick Holly Day. These are Dead On Time, followed by Just In Case and then Dead On Target. The fourth The Cinelli Vases is due out later this year. Much fun if read in sequence as characters from number one go right through to four.”

Of course very soon I had purchased Dead On Time and No Official Umbrella, and found both of them to be very engaging, entertaining reads. I wrote back to Glyn with my thoughts, and soon enough I was corresponding with him pretty regularly.

On his own blog Glyn penned some intriguing, insightful, witty commentaries on theater, television, society, politics, religion and many other topics. We ended up talking about quite a few of these. On the subject of post-Apartheid South Africa, Glyn was happy to see the end of the systemic discrimination that had plagued the country of his birth for decades, but he was saddened to see it replaced by rampant corruption & crime. He concluded with an optimistic wish for the future: “However it is still the most beautiful country and hopefully the years will see a distinct improvement for everyone and not just for a few.”

I asked Glyn if it would be possible to mail him my copy of the novelization of “The Space Museum” for him to sign. He warned me that the mail in his region could be unreliable, but agreed. A few weeks later, when the book was mailed back, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that he had included an autographed copy of The Cinelli Vases, his fourth Thornton King novel.

Cinelli Vases
Glyn was kind enough to take a peek at my WordPress blog and offer feedback, either via comments here or by e-mail. I always took it as a compliment that he took the time to do so, and found his views to be interesting.

In the last year I ended up sort of dropping off our correspondence. I was pretty wrapped up with personal matters and searching for a new job. I really regret that I never took the opportunity to read the copy of his new play The Muses’ Darling which he e-mailed me, or order the DVD of Champagne Charlie, Christopher Beeching’s musical play about Victorian music hall entertainer George Leybourne which Glyn had written.

I want to offer my thoughts, sympathies and best wishes to Chris, and to Douglas Foote, who was their good friend of 27 years.

“The Play is over, tired, he sleeps.”
Glyn Idris Jones
27th April 1931 – 2nd April 2014

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 a thought-provoking 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.