My upcoming articles in Alter Ego and Back Issue

I am happy to announce I have two articles being published within the next couple of months. The first is in Alter Ego #179 and the second is in Back Issue #141, both of which are from TwoMorrows Publishing. I’ve written for AE and BI before, and it’s great to once again be contributing to these two fine publications.

Alter Ego #179 is scheduled for release on December 21st. The article I wrote on artist George Klein will be appearing in this issue. The main theme of AE #179 is “Celebrating the 61st Anniversary of Fantastic Four #1—’cause we kinda blew right past its 60th.” Klein is generally believed to be the uncredited inker on the first two issues of Fantastic Four for Marvel Comics in 1961, and so AE editor Roy Thomas saw this edition of his magazine as an ideal opportunity to publish my piece on the artist.

George Klein worked in comic books from the early 1940s to the late 1960s. He was very talented, but sadly he passed away in 1969 at the much too young age of 49. As a result Klein is nowhere near as well-known as he might have become if he had lived longer. There was very little information out there about him. I’m grateful that Roy Thomas provided me with the opportunity to write this article, which enabled me to research Klein’s life and to speak with his surviving family & colleagues about the man and his work. Hopefully I’ve been able to present a more detailed portrait of this often-overlooked creator than has previously been available.

Back Issue #141 is scheduled for release a month later, on January 18th. The theme of this issue is “Spies and P.I.s” and I was afforded the opportunity by BI editor Michael Eury to write an article on sloppy, diminutive private detective Michael Mauser.

Followers of this blog will perhaps recall that I previously did a few pieces looking at the career of Mauser co-creator artist Joe Staton and his incredible work on the cult classic comic book series E-Man with writer Nicola Cuti, first at at Charlton Comics and subsequently at other publishers. Mauser was introduced in the pages of E-Man and over the past half century he has both been a regular fixture in that series through its various revivals and been periodically spun out into his own solo adventures. I feel that Staton did some of the very best work of his career on the E-Man and Michael Mauser stories, and it was a pleasure to be able to interview his about the character of Mauser.

I also had the opportunity to speak with artist Rick Burchett about his work on the E-Man series published by First Comics from 1983 to 1985, during which time he also contributed to the comedic hardboiled adventures of Mauser.

Alter Ego #179 and Back Issue #141 are available for pre-order from the TwoMorrows Publishing website, both in physical and digital editions. Alter Ego and Back Issue can also be ordered through Previews World.

I hope everyone will pick up copies. Thank you all for your time & interest.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Wonder Woman #204

Yesterday I bought a copy of the Wonder Woman #204 Facsimile Edition from DC Comics. “The Second Life of the Original Wonder Woman” was written & edited by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Don Heck, with possible inking by Dick Giordano. It was originally released 50 years ago this month, on November 7, 1972.

I had previously seen excerpts of Wonder Woman #204 online and read some commentary about it. I featured a couple of panels from it in my review of the recent Nubia: Queen of the Amazons miniseries. But this was the first time I’ve had the opportunity to read this story in it’s entirety. And I have to say, this is one of the most insane comic books I have ever read.

I wish Alan Stewart had bought this issue when it had come out, because it would have made one heck of an installment of his blog Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books! (Alan did do a write-up on Wonder Woman #202 a few months ago, so you can read that.) Therefore I figured I might as well offer up my own commentary here on this blog.

Wonder Woman #204 sees the title character reacquire her iconic costume & superpowers after the four year “Diana Prince” direction overseen by Denny O’Neil & Mike Sekowsky that had begun back in issue #178, cover-dated Sept-Oct 1968. And, as changes in creative directions can go, “The Second Life of the Original Wonder Woman” is about as sudden & drastic as you can possibly get.

Robert Kanigher is a creator who has simultaneously been praised and reviled. His work on DC’s war titles is frequently lauded as classic, as is his collaboration with the incredible Joe Kubert on the Ragman character. In contrast, Kanigher’s two decade long run writing & editing Wonder Woman from 1947 to 1967 is often regarded as at best mediocre, at worst downright awful. Kanigher himself apparently was not a pleasant individual to know.

The opening sequence to Wonder Woman #204 really demonstrates Kanigher at his most cruel & petty, as he has a very thinly veiled stand-in for fellow DC editor Dorothy Woolfolk murdered as part of a horrific shooting spree by a deranged sniper. This bloodbath also results in the sudden, brutal death Diana’s mentor I Ching and causes her to suffer complete amnesia, resulting in the erstwhile Amazon instinctively returning to Paradise Island, thereby managing to completely sweep aside the status quo from the previous four years in just a few short pages.

Around this time journalist and feminist Gloria Steinem had been advocating DC to restore Wonder Woman’s costume & powers. It’s been suggested that DC editorial & management regarded Steinem as a convenient excuse to hit the reset button as they were apparently becoming apprehensive with the increasingly political direction of the series, with the new writer, acclaimed science fiction novelist Samuel R. Delaney, planning to address the abortion controversy in an upcoming story. Whatever the actual case, Delaney only got to write two issues of Wonder Woman, #202 and #203, before Kanigher returned to the series.

Like, seriously, WTF DC Comics?!?

Mind you, even if Delaney had been able to remain on Wonder Woman and take the book in the direction he wanted, for all we know the actual results might have been cringeworthy. One need only look at #203 with its “Special! Women’s Lib Issue” blurb splashed atop a cover drawn by Dick Giordano of a bound & gagged young woman with her breasts thrust out provocatively to realize that even the more progressive voices at DC in the early 1970s could still be horrifically tone deaf.

That said, bringing Kanigher back to Wonder Woman after a four year absence is a head-scratcher. I really have to puzzle at what resulted in him becoming writer & editor again. The entire reason why the whole non-powered, white jumpsuit Diana Prince direction had come about in the first place was to try to save the series from cancellation after 20 years of increasingly mediocre stories by Kanigher.

I myself read a number of the Silver Age Wonder Woman stories Kanigher did with the art team of Ross Andru & Mike Esposito when they were reprinted in the first Showcase Presents: Wonder Woman collection published in 2007, and I found them to be utterly bland & instantly forgettable. (Say what you will about utterly dysfunctional Superman stories edited by Mort Weisinger during the same two-decade period, at least those were memorably bizarre.) So why give the book back to the guy who nearly tanked it in the first place?

Reportedly Dorothy Woolfolk, one of the very few female professionals working in mainstream comic books half a century ago, was supposed to be the new, permanent editor of the Wonder Woman series, a decision that would have undoubtedly pleased Steinem. But whatever happened at DC resulted in Woolfolk only editing issues #197 and #198. Which makes the opening page of #204 even more egregious, as it really comes across like a huge middle finger by Kanigher to Woolfolk at his having snatched away her job.

Okay, Kanigher had been previously been harshly mocked in the pages of Wonder Woman #188 as the cross-dressing pickpocket “Creepy Caniguh” but that was all on Mike Seknowsky, who wrote, penciled & edited that issue. So it feels like Kanigher was taking out his ire on the only woman in the room when he had “Dottie Cottonman” murdered in #204.

Of course, all these decades later, with nearly everyone involved having subsequently passed on, there’s no way to know what actually occurred behind the scenes.

Thankfully Kanigher’s second stint as writer & editor on Wonder Woman was much shorter than his first, coming to an end after a mere eight issues with #211.

Putting all of this aside, the reason for the publication of this Facsimile Edition is that it’s the first appearance of Diana’s long lost sister Nubia. But despite her appearance on the cover she almost feels like an afterthought in Kanigher’s brutal deck-clearing exercise. Nubia did feature more prominently in the next two issues, though, so I guess it was a decent set-up for the character’s story.

On the plus side, artist Don Heck did very solid work on this story. Heck is, without a doubt, an incredibly underrated artist. Superheroes really were not his forte, and so the more that genre dominated the medium the more he unfortunately found himself having to work on material that did not suit his artistic strengths.

Having said that, Wonder Woman was probably a better fit for Heck than almost any other ongoing series published by either DC or Marvel in the 1970s. Heck always did draw very attractive women (he did incredible work on romance comics) so Wonder Woman was definitely a good book to assign to him.

Heck’s cover for issue is #204 is very dramatic. He especially outdid himself in Diana’s underwater battle with the shark, the flashback sequence in this story featuring the origins of the Amazons and Diana, and with the brief duel between Diana and Nubia. All the classical Greek and mythological material was such a great fit for his artwork.

Heck’s art was the main reason why I purchased this Facsimile Edition. His work on this issue almost sort of manages to redeem the story, because no matter how tacky Kanigher’s writing gets, Heck consistently delivers a professional job.

Heck had already drawn Wonder Woman #199 a few months earlier, and he then drew the next two issues after this one. He did the occasional fill-in issue for the series during the late 1970s and early 1980s before becoming the regular Wonder Woman penciler from 1983 to 1985, paired with writer Dan Mishkin. During that three year period Heck produced, if not especially dynamic art, then at least good, solid work that effectively told the story. The work by Mishkin & Heck immediately before the justly acclaimed post-Crisis revamp of Wonder Woman by George Perez is, I think, underrated, and I hope one of these days it gets reprinted.

I find the circumstances in which Wonder Woman #204 was produced to be far more intriguing than the actual issue. It’s certainly a good reminder that the American comic book industry has often been beset by clashing egos, unprofessional behavior and contradictory agendas. I love the medium of comic books, but the business of it can be cutthroat as all hell!

Comic book reviews: Black Adam – The Justice Society Files

I’ve been so busy I haven’t had an opportunity to do too much blogging. I finally have a chance to take a brief look at Black Adam – The Justice Society Files, a series of four double-sized comic book specials released by DC Comics as prequels to the live action Black Adam movie.

I’m probably not going to have the opportunity to do a full-length review of Black Adam itself, so I’m also going to include some thoughts on the movie itself.

Black Adam – The Justice Society Files: Hawkman cover by Kaare Andrews

The Justice Society Files specials spotlight Hawkman, Cyclone, Atom Smasher, and Dr. Fate, the members of the Justice Society of America who appear in the Black Adam movie. A fifth story is the serial “Lost & Found” running through the back of all four issues. That story alternates between Teth-Adam & his family in ancient Khandaq when it was under the oppressive rule of King Ahk-Ton, and Professor Adrianna Tomaz & her teenage son Amon in present-day Khandaq as they seek to prevent the high-tech crime syndicate Intergang from acquiring specimens of the mystic metal eternium.

I already touched upon Black Adam – The Justice Society Files a couple of months ago in my blog post “Hawkman is now black… and that’s okay” but here are some further thoughts.

The writing on the four specials is not especially complex or in-depth. Co-writers Cavan Scott & Bryan Q. Miller admirably achieve the task of introducing the characters, situations & concepts that are then developed in-depth within the actual Black Adam movie. It’s perfectly acceptable work, fun & entertaining, and it achieves its goal of generating interest in the movie. That was certainly the case with me. Prior to reading these specials I really didn’t have much interest in seeing Black Adam in the theater. But afterwards I was definitely looking forward to seeing the live action version of the Justice Society previewed in these comics.

I feel the major draw on these specials is the high-quality artwork. Kaare Andrews certainly does an outstanding job on all four covers. His drawing of of Dwayne Johnson as Teth-Adam on the Hawkman cover is absolutely dead-on in capturing the actor’s distinctive likeness.

Black Adam – The Justice Society Files: Hawkman written by Cavan Scott, penciled by Scot Eaton, inked by Norm Rapmund, colored by Andrew Dalhouse and lettered by Rob Leigh

Hawkman is penciled by Scot Eaton & inked by Norm Rapmund. Cyclone is drawn by Maria Laura Sanapo. Atom Smasher is drawn by Travis Mercer. The credits are unfortunately missing from the Dr. Fate special, but according to the official DC Comics website the artist is Jesús Merino. The “Lost & Found” back-up story is drawn by Marco Santucci.

The work by Sanapo on Cyclone is my favorite. That was actually the first issue I bought, and I got it for her art. I enjoyed the comic, and I also saw that Sanapo’s husband, the equally-talented Santucci, was drawing the back-up serial, so I decided to purchase the other three specials. Eaton & Rapmund, Merino also do quality work. Merino certainly drew a good depiction of actors Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Mercer’s work on the Atom Smasher special, though. It was a bit too loose and manga-inspired for my tastes. Although I suppose that sort of suited the more comical tone of this particular story. However Mercer did utilize some effective layouts & storytelling.

My only other major complaint was that I thought Dr. Fate’s helmet looked ridiculous without eyeholes! But that’s totally down to the costume & visual effects designers of the movie itself. The artists on The Justice Society Files had to work with what they were given.

Black Adam – The Justice Society Files: Cyclone written by Canan Scott, drawn by Maria Laura Sanapo, colored by Arif Prianto and lettered by Becca Carey

Editing all four books was Michael McAlister, with Katie Kubert as senior editor. I have to say, it brought a smile to my face to see Kubert, the granddaughter of legendary artist Joe Kubert, editing a book featuring Hawkman, a character her grandfather drew so memorably over the decades.

Moving on to the actual Black Adam movie, I enjoyed it. Honestly, I do not get the hate I’ve heard from some people. It was a fun movie with a good balance of action, drama & comedy. As a long-time Justice Society fan it was great to see Dr. Fate and Hawkman in live action. Absolutely, positively a huge improvement over Batman V Superman. If the people in charge of the DC superhero movies keep making enjoyable flicks like this I will definitely be happy.

Yes, the whole “heroes fight each other over a misunderstanding / overinflated egos before teaming up against a common foe” thing has been done on numerous occasions, but at least it’s fairly well executed here.

Black Adam – The Justice Society Files: Atom Smasher written by Canan Scott, drawn by Travis Mercer, colored by John Kalisz and lettered by Rob Leigh

Dwayne Johnson is an actor not exactly known for his vast range, but he was perfectly cast as Teth-Adam. Given that he spent years working to get the Black Adam movie made, he obviously has an affinity for the character. And he certainly looks a great deal like him. Johnson definitely brought to life the ruthless anti-hero developed by Jerry Ordway, David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns in the pages of The Power of Shazam, JSA and 52.

As with a lot of others, I feel that Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate pretty much stole almost every scene he was in. I love how he brought a combination of somber gravitas and wry humor to the role. Subsequently reading an interview with Brosnan about his work on the movie, I was really struck by what he had to say:

“Well, Kent Nelson had a wife. Inza was his wife. In my books, he is a widower. And so, my wife Keely (Shaye Smith) – I love watches, and she gave me a beautiful Blancpain 15 or 20 years ago. And the inscription is, ‘Time flies on love’s wings.’ And so I thought it was very fitting to wear it as a time piece for this character. And the wedding ring is my wedding ring. And there’s a silver amulet on my right wrist that is Heidr art, which is the (Nordic) mythology of the whales. You know, those three objects became Talismen for me. I don’t normally wear them in movies.”

Considering Black Adam is a slam bang popcorn flick, I was impressed that Brosnan took the time to research the character of Dr. Fate and then invested such subtle, personal touches towards informing his performance. It really demonstrates that he took the role seriously.

Black Adam – The Justice Society Files: Dr. Fate written by Cavan Scott, drawn by Jesús Merino, colored by Ulisses Arreola and lettered by Rob Leigh

I’m going once again address on the live action version of Hawkman being black, since actor Aldis Hodge himself discussed it in an interview last year:

“I think about the representation aspect of that, because I didn’t grow up watching superheroes that look like me. I remember in my early-teens maybe we came into Spawn and Blade, and that was awesome. So, to know that young kids are going to be able to see that and see opportunity, and have an awareness that I didn’t have at a young age about what they can accomplish, that really is fantastic.”

As I’ve said before, representation matters. Black Adam has a fairly diverse cast, both in terms of the ethnic backgrounds of the characters and the actors who are portraying them, and the majority of the movie is set in the Middle East.

I found it interesting that Black Adam actually presented a very direct criticism of American foreign policy. Intergang has been occupying Khandaq for two decades when the story begins, oppressing its people, looting its wealth. Yet it is only after Teth-Adam returns and begins violently fighting Intergang that the Justice Society is sent to Khandaq to intercede, because the United States is suddenly worried that this incredibly powerful, brutal superhuman will upset the global status quo. A furious Adrianna Tomaz (played by actress Sarah Shahi) angrily points out that hypocrisy to the team of superheroes.

I feel that the conflict between Hawkman’s “heroes don’t kill” stance and Black Adam killing, well, pretty much everyone in sight works because the story took the time to show there’s a certain validity to both their points of view. I like that the movie acknowledged there are certain moral ambiguities without cynically, depressingly attempting to deconstruct superheroes for the umpteenth time.

Black Adam – The Justice Society Files: Hawkman “Lost & Found” Chapter 1 written by Bryan Q. Miller, drawn by Marco Santucci, colored by Michael Atiyeh and lettered by Rob Leigh

To a certain degree the movie also subverts the whole “superhero as savior” trope. Towards the end it’s stated that the people of Khandaq do not need a hero; what they actually need is freedom. No single individual, no matter how powerful, can save a country or a world. What is necessary is for all the people to stand up and fight alongside one another for life & liberty.

So, yes, I found Black Adam to have a surprising degree of depth, while also being a slam-bang action flick.

Now if only they’d given Dr. Fate’s helmet some eyeholes! Oh, well, maybe next time. So bring on the Justice Society movie, please.

Kevin O’Neill: 1953 to 2022

In the last several months a number of very talented comic book creators have passed away. To my regret I have unfortunately not had enough time to eulogize all of these losses. But I really wanted to take some time to put together some thoughts about British artist Kevin O’Neill, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 69.

Words like “unique” and “distinctive” get tossed about a great deal when discussing artists. But I truly believe those adjectives apply to Kevin O’Neill. He was a creator with an incredibly bizarre, hyper-detailed style who composed some genuinely dynamic & offbeat compositions in his work.

Probably the first time I saw O’Neill’s work was on “Legend of the Dark Mite” which appeared in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #38, published by DC Comics in 1992. The insanely surreal “Legend of the Dark Mite” was written by Alan Grant, another singular talent who sadly also passed away this year.

I did a blog post about “Legend of the Dark Mite” about a decade ago. It was one of those stories that really lodged itself in my subconscious. And I immediately recognized that O’Neill was a striking, offbeat artist with a distinctive sense of humor.

I subsequently learned about the Green Lantern Corps story “Tygers” written by Alan Moore that O’Neill illustrated in the mid-1980s. “Tygers” was rejected by the Comics Code Authority, and when DC Comics requested clarification about what precisely the CCA was objecting to in the story, the response from the Code was that O’Neill’s entire style was objectionable. DC published “Tygers” without the CCA seal of approval in Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual #2 in 1986, a definite rarity in mainstream comics at the time.

The point at which I really became a fan of O’Neill’s work was in the late 1990s. Three things occurred in quick succession.

The first of these was the two issue Savage Dragon / Marshall Law miniseries published by Image Comics in 1997. I bought this one because I was a huge fan of Erik Larsen’s character. I hadn’t previously been familiar with the brutal superhero satire Marshall Law which O’Neil had co-created a decade earlier with Pat Mills, and this was certainly one hell of an introduction!

I feel that Savage Dragon, as another violent, bleakly comical creator-owned series, is far enough removed from mainstream superheroes that Mills & O’Neill were able to make the crossover with their character work quite well. I certainly enjoyed O’Neil’s absolutely insane artwork on Savage Dragon / Marshall Law.

The second event was that I spent six months in London, England, where I was able to purchase a number of back issues and collected editions of the weekly science fiction anthology series 2000 AD.

Among the 2000 AD material I discovered was Nemesis the Warlock, a sci-fi / dark fantasy series created by O’Neill with writer Pat Mills in 1980. Nemesis the Warlock revolved around the bizarre alien agent of chaos Nemesis and his struggle against the genocidal xenophobic tyrant Torquemada, who sought to “purify” the universe of all non-human lifeforms.

O’Neill designed the incredibly weird-looking Nemesis, the brutal Torquemada, Nemesis’ associate the beautiful freedom fighter Purity Brown, and the entire look of the world & technology of the series. Earlier today I took a glance though the first Nemesis the Warlock collected edition for the first time in a number of years, and the artwork & designs by O’Neill are even more strikingly dynamic & unsettling that I remembered.

O’Neill was the primary artist on the first and third “books” of the Nemesis the Warlock saga. Unfortunately, after drawing the first two chapters of Book Four for 2000 AD in 1984, O’Neill was forced to seek better-paying work in the American comics market. The equally-talented but stylistically very different Bryan Talbot took over as the artist on the feature.

A decade and a half later the tenth & final installment of Nemesis the Warlock, was serialized in 2000 AD, and O’Neill returned to the feature to illustrate the last chapter, which featured the long-awaited final confrontation between Nemesis and Torquemada.

At the time it was really great to be able to read the collections of the early Nemesis the Warlock “books” and to then get to follow “The Final Conflict” weekly in the pages of 2000 AD. O’Neill was in fine form as he reunited with Mills to bring the saga to its epic conclusion.

The third & final event in the late 1990s that cemented my interest in O’Neill was that the first The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen miniseries. Written by Alan Moore and drawn by O’Neill, it was published by the DC Comics imprint America’s Best Comics in 1999. So soon after thrilling to O’Neill’s work on Nemesis the Warlock, I also got to see his art on Moore’s mash-up of disparate Victorian literary works.

I have to confess that I’ve never been a huge fan of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. A significant part of that is due to the fact that the majority of the frequent literary, historical, musical & cultural references and allusions Moore made throughout the varies LoEG series went completely over my head. And I was actually a Literature & Communications major with a minor in History in college!

Nevertheless, I thought O’Neill always did absolutely stunning, and frequently unsettling, work on LoEG. And whatever my feelings about the often-oblique quality of Moore’s writing on the series, I was nevertheless glad that, after his disputes with DC Comics reached a final tipping point, he & O’Neill were able to take the series to Top Shelf Productions in 2009, where the two of them subsequently produced several more gorgeous volumes over the next decade. I bought the Century trilogy specifically for O’Neill’s artwork, with the intention of taking my time reading each of them in order to more fully parse the content & context of Moore’s scripts.

I consider myself very fortunate to have met O’Neill on a couple of occasions.

The first time was in November 2007 at Jim Hanley’s Universe in Manhattan. O’Neill was doing a signing to promote the release of the graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier. He was drawing sketches inside the book for everyone who bought a copy, and I requested Mina Murray.

While I was waiting on line to meet O’Neil I skimmed through the first chapter of Black Dossier. One of the things I was struck by was Mina’s characterization in that segment.

In the first LoEG series, Mina sought to be independent, but ended up finding herself in situations where she had to be rescued by her male teammates. One particular instance was in chapter six. Cornered on an airship by Professor Moriarty, an unsettled Mina attempts to reason with him as one intellectual to another. Moriarty’s response is to contemptuously sneer to his underlings “Throw this smelly little lesbian over the side.” It falls to Allan Quartermain to distract Moriarty and his men, at which point Mina is finally able to sabotage the airship.

In contrast, in the opening segment of Black Dossier, a macho, swaggering British secret agent named “Jimmy” (obviously an ultra-obnoxious extrapolation of James Bond) attempts to sexually assault Mina… at which point she proceeds to give him a serious @$$-kicking.

I was struck by how much more assertive Mina was and so I asked O’Neill to sketch her. I even pointed this out to O’Neill, and he agreed that she had grown & developed as the various series had progressed. He did a great job sketching Mina holding the eponymous Black Dossier.

I met O’Neill again in June 2009 when he was a surprise guest at Big Apple Comic Con. I had just started a “villains” theme sketchbook. I really wanted to get a diverse selection of characters, not just the usual Marvel and DC baddies. So I asked O’Neill to draw Torquemada from the Nemesis the Warlock serials. Pretty much everyone else at the show was asking O’Neill to draw characters from LoEG, and I got the impression that he was pleasantly surprised that I requested one of his other characters. I asked O’Neill if he remembered how to draw Torquemada. He proceeded to quickly knock out a great sketch, leading me to observe, “Well, I guess you still do know how to draw him.”

Both times I met O’Neill he came across as a good person who made time for his fans. He was an amazing artist with a genuinely distinctive style, and he will definitely be missed.

I recommend reading the tributes assembled by 2000 AD and Down the Tubes for a comprehensive look back at Kevin O’Neill’s life & career, with a large selection of his incredible artwork.

It’s another Halloween spotlight on Charlton Comics horror

Happy Halloween!

Over the past two decades I’ve picked up a bunch of issues from the various horror anthologies published by Charlton Comics during the 1970s. Although regarded as a third-tier publisher, with low page rates and cheap printing, half a century ago Charlton was one of the best places for young, up-and-coming artists to hone their abilities. Some of the most talented creators of the Bronze Age of comic books got their start at Charlton.

For Halloween back in 2013 and 2014 I spotlighted a few of my favorite Charlton horror covers and the Charlton horror work of artist Tom Sutton. This year I’m looking at some more great spooky covers from the fearsome folks at Charlton.

Before he gained critical recognition at DC Comics as one of the all-time greatest Batman artists, Jim Aparo contributed to a wide selection of genres in titles published by Charlton, including action, romance, costumed crimefighters… and, of course, horror. Aparo’s cover to Ghostly Tales #79 (April 1970) provides a preview of the atmospheric work the artist would regularly thrill readers with on his Batman stories in just a few short years. That’s the host of Ghostly Tales, Mr. L. Dedd (later known as I. M. Dedd) in the lower left-hand corner.

Wallace Wood protégé Wayne Howard’s career in comic books did not really extend beyond Charlton… which was a great pity, because Howard was undeniably talented. His covers for the anthology series Midnight Tales, for which Howard received a practically unprecedented “created by” credit, showcase both a deft skill at rendering highly-detailed work and a humorously bizarre sensibility. Midnight Tales ran for 18 issues between 1972 and 1976. The series starred Professor Coffin aka the Midnight Philosopher and his coquettish niece Arachne, who each issue presented a different-themed selection of horror & fantasy tales. The cover to #6 (November 1973) offers a good example of the duo’s macabre misadventures.

Acclaimed horror artist Tom Sutton drew a number of hyper-detailed blood-curdling covers for Charlton throughout the 1970s. For Ghostly Haunts #38 (May 1974) he rendered this unsettling depiction of early 20th Century “cosmic horror” innovator H.P. Lovecraft accompanied by his mythic tome of unearthly lore, the Necronomicon.

As I’ve blogged about in the past, one of my favorite creators, who happened to get his start at Charlton, is the great Joe Staton. In addition to co-creating cult classic heroes E-Man and Nova Kane with writer Nick Cuti, Staton was a regular contributor to Charlton’s horror anthologies. For the anthology series Scary Tales Staton designed the book’s hostess, the sexy vampire Countess R.H. Von Bludd. Staton rendered a painted cover for Scary Tales #1 (August 1975) which, even with the rather lackluster printing, still stands out as a testament to his impressive early abilities.

Steve Ditko was obviously not a newcomer to comic books in the 1970s, but he found Charlton, with it’s almost complete lack of editorial oversight, to be a welcome home. Ditko also had a very good working relationship with Charlton’s main writer Joe Gill. Here is one of Ditko’s numerous eerie Charlton covers, for Ghostly Tales #122 (August 1976).

Mike Zeck, who in the 1980s found acclaim at Marvel Comics for such titles as Captain America, Secret Wars, and The Punisher, also got his start at Charlton. Among this various jobs of the Derby, CT based publisher were several striking stories & covers for Monster Hunters. Zeck’s cover for issue #9 (January 1977), which he also colored, sees professional monster hunter Colonel Whiteshroud stalking a werewolf. Or is that the other way around?

If you browse around at comic conventions and on eBay you can often find relatively affordable copies of the Charlton comic books from the 1970s. They’re worth seeking out for some entertaining stories and quality artwork.

Super-Blog Team-Up: Savage Dragon Goes To Hell

Welcome another round of Super-Blog Team-Up, in which a group of bloggers writing about comic books tackles a shared topic. This time we have a very devilish theme, as Super-Blog Team-Up goes to Hell.

For my own entry, I’m looking at the original crossover of Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon and Todd McFarlane’s Spawn published by Image Comics in 1996, which sees both characters exiled to the nether regions.

The infernal action begins in Savage Dragon #29, written & penciled by Erik Larsen, lettered by Chris Eliopoulos, and colored by I.H.O.C. Officer Dragon, the green-skinned, super-strong member of the Chicago Police Department, is attacked & kidnapped by his demonic enemy the Fiend, who has enlisted a sorcerer to send the Dragon’s soul straight to Hell itself.

Who is the Fiend, and why does she have such a huge axe to grind with Dragon? This helpful bit of exposition by Larsen provides all the information you’ll need to get caught up…

Dragon’s soul ends up in the Fifth Circle of Hell where, according to Dante Alighieri’s epic poem Inferno, the wrathful and sullen are punished for their sins. Dragon is soon joined by Spawn, aka deceased government assassin Al Simmons, who himself has been returned to Hell after using up all of his demonically-imbued energies to save the life of his ex-wife Wanda’s second husband Terry Fitzgerald.

Dragon and Spawn first encounter each other in Spawn #52, written by Todd McFarlane, penciled by Greg Capullo, inked by McFarlane & Danny Miki, lettered by Tom Ozrechowski and colored by Brian Haberlin, Dan Kemp & Matt Milla.

The inhabitants of Hell’s Fifth Level are divided over which of these two arrivals is their long-promised “messiah” leading Dragon and Spawn having to fight against each other. Spawn is victorious, but when the inmates of the Fifth Circle prepare to execute Dragon, an appalled Al Simmons tells them “Free him now. You must learn to turn the other cheek.” Which is, unfortunately, the last thing to tell an army of eternally-damned sinners, who quickly turn on Al. Now both Dragon and Spawn are about to be stoned to death… well, stoned to be more dead when they already are. What can I say? Metaphysics isn’t my strong point.

Before sentence can be carried out, the pair are transported to the next level of Hell, as seen in Savage Dragon #30. If there’s a particular characteristic of this plane, it appears to be the torment of eternal boredom, as Spawn and Dragon are left to spend hours waiting for something to happen. Al rages at his inability to advance further and finally confront Malebolgia, the Hell Lord responsible for his transformation into Spawn.

Dragon, on the other hand, has become convinced that this is either a dream or a hallucination, and he responds to their imprisonment in the fiery pits with a stream of sarcastic banter…

“Heaven and Hell are a load of crap! There’s no such thing as… Oh man —  you’re right! This MUST be Hell – that piped in music sounds like Michael Bolton and Yoko Ono singing a duet. Ha! Oh looky —  it’s George Burns! I knew he was going to get Hell for those God awful Oh, God movies! Maybe I can get his autograph!”

The Fiend, furious that Dragon is not only not suffering but is in fact refusing to take his predicament at all seriously, travels to Hell to force him to fight Spawn or remain trapped forever. Dragon, though, still believes none of this is happening and blatantly throws the fight, telling Al to continue on his quest. Spawn finally is able to teleport onwards to the next realm of Hell, his journey continuing in the pages of his own series.

As Savage Dragon #31 opens, Dragon is still trapped in the abyss. The Fiend begins sending an army of the Dragon’s deceased enemies against him, only for all of them to receive a thorough ass-kicking by him. In a sudden moment of epiphany the Dragon figures out the Fiend’s secret origin, although he still can’t quite bring himself to believe that any of this is actually happening.

Poop-pooing the thought that the Fiend made a deal with the Devil, Dragon finds himself face-to-face with none other than Satan, who’s now ready to claim Dragon’s soul himself. Before that can happens, though, God Himself arrives in Hell to fight the Devil for the fate of the Dragon. What follows is a bare-knuckle brawl of literally Biblical proportions as God and the Devil trade punches across the landscape of perdition. (Click to the below image to embiggen!)

Let’s take a moment to appreciate just how incredible Larsen’s artwork is here. Even if you were doing a “God vs The Devil” movie with a $100 million special effects budget it probably still would not look anywhere near as amazing as it does here on the printed page. That’s the thing about comic books: they can accomplish with artwork, with penciling & inking & coloring the depiction of characters & events that are just impossible to depict believably in live action, no matter how much money you might have.

Let’s also recognize the superb lettering by Eliopoulos. He really does a fantastic job with the different fonts. I’ve often observed that lettering is very-underrated skill, and this is a great demonstration of how important & effective it can be.

God finally cleans the Devil’s clock and sends him packing. Dragon then attempts to have a conversation with the Almighty about life, the universe & everything. Asking what is actually the one true faith, and what really happens to someone when they die, God informs him that each individual’s personal version of God is different, and so too each person’s beliefs defines what their afterlife will be. This leads Dragon to ask:

“You mean – if I firmly believed that I’d spend the rest of eternity making mad, passionate love to a bevy of leggy super-models – I’d get that?”

And he’s sufficiently intrigued when God answers in the affirmative.

God, finally growing tired of the extended Q&A session, sends Dragon’s soul back to his body on Earth.

In the next issue, discovered by his friend & fellow police officer Frank Darling, Dragon recounts his fantastical experiences in Hell. He admits it all sounds absolutely crazy. However, Dragon adds that “just to be safe” he’s thinking of abandoning his atheism for a belief in an afterlife filled with leggy supermodels.

The payoff for all of this is that 21 years later, when Dragon finally dies permanently in the pages of Savage Dragon #225, his soul arrives Heaven to find this waiting for him…

I really enjoyed most of the Savage Dragon / Spawn crossover because it was it was such an unconventional story. The two characters don’t really team up, with Dragon instead basically just getting on Spawn’s nerves most of the time. It really sums up Larsen’s unconventional, offbeat approach to creating comic books.

Y’know, I haven’t actually looked at the chapter that ran in Spawn #52 since it was first published. All these years later, McFarlane’s turgid prose really comes across as overwrought. I can’t believe I actually followed Spawn for 64 issues before finally losing interest. I doubt I’d have lasted anywhere near as long nowadays.

That said, the artwork by Capullo, McFarlane & Miki is very hyper-detailed, exaggerated and dynamic. The major selling point of Spawn has probably always been the art, so in that respect it succeeds.

That’s that’s why I’ve always preferred Savage Dragon. Larsen started off as a good, talented artist, but he’s also always had an offbeat, humorous, imaginative style to his writing. The quality of both his art and his writing has improved consistently over the past three decades, which is why to this day Savage Dragon remains one of my all-time favorite series.

Larsen’s fight between God and the Devil here was outstanding. Typically in comic books there are two approaches to the whole “Heaven vs Hell” conflict. The first is that, out of a desire to avoid controversy, God is a completely absent presence, and the Devil’s forces are shown to be running rampant totally unimpeded. That happens frequently in both Marvel and DC storylines. The second is that Heaven is a corrupt, squabbling, ineffectual bureaucracy, no better than Hell. That is definitely the approach McFarlane utilized in his Spawn series. You also would see that a lot in the Vertigo titles DC used to publish back in the 1990s.

So, in contrast, I found it a breath of fresh air for Larsen to have God show up and kick the Devil’s ass, for good to actually triumph over evil. Just because human beings are constantly messing up organized religion and abusing faith shouldn’t negate the possibility that there might just be an actual Higher Power that is unencumbered by mortal failings, and that on the cosmic scale maybe it’s conceivable for decency & morality to ultimately succeed.

Thanks for checking out my contribution to Super Blog Team-Up. You can find links to the other entries below.

Between The Pages Blog – Hostess Comic Book Ads Were Hot Stuff

Magazines and Monsters: Bonus Episode! – Marvel Spotlight 12 & 13 (Damon Hellstrom) – with Charlton Hero! 

The Telltale Mind – Patsy Walker: To Hell and Back (and Back and Back…)

Source Material Comics Podcast – Batman/Punisher “Lake of Fire”

Mark Radulich – Alternative Commentary on Hell Comes to Frogtown

Ed Moore – News Print Commando Rex Zombie Killler from Bad Dog Ink / Panda Dog Press 2013

Dave’s Comics Blog – Superman: The Blaze/ Satanus War

Asterisk 51 Blog – Sunday School with Hellboy

Comics Comics Comics Blog – The Son of Satan and the Preacher’s Kids 

Superhero Satellite – Spider-Ham in the world of Licensing Hell!

Relatively Geeky Presents #43 – Afterlife with Archie, issues 1 – 6

Star Trek autographs and New York Comic Con swag

There were so many comic book creators, publishers, vendors and other guests at New York Comic Con this year. Michele and I tried not to spend too much money, or buy too many things, because we’re on a budget, plus there’s only so much you can fit into a one bedroom apartment.

One of the major highlights of NYCC for me this year was meeting actors Anson Mount and Melissa Navia from Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

I’ve been a Star Trek fan since I first watched the original series in reruns on Saturday evenings at 6 PM on WPIX Channel 11 when I was a kid in the early 1980s. As a long-time Trekkie, I really enjoyed the first season of Strange New Worlds. It was very cool to meet Anson Mount and Melissa Navia, who both did great work on the show. Mount and Navia really made the time to greet all the fans such as myself. I’m definitely looking forward to season two.

I purchased the first Quad trade paperback from publisher Sumerian Comics, formerly known as Behemoth Comics. Quad is a very well done post-apocalyptic dystopian anthology series by South American creators Aluisio C. Santos, Diego Sanches, Eduardo Ferigato and Eduardo Schaal.

I also purchased the John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction: Twitch graphic novel from Storm King Comics. This one is written by Duane Swierczynski, drawn by Richard P. Clark and lettered by Janice Chiang. It was cool seeing both Clark and Chiang at NYCC again.

Last year at NYCC we met creator Sara Richard in Artist Alley. Michele really enjoyed her artwork, so this year she purchased Richard’s book The Dead Hand Book: Stories from Gravesend Cemetery.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I bought a copy of Empty Graves: 31 Horror Portraits by Dave Fox at NYCC. Fox really knocked it out of the park with these spooky illustrations.

I also got the Forbidden Planet variant cover for Sweetie Candy Vigilante #1 published by Dynamite Entertainment. Artist Jeff Zornow, writer Suzanne Cafiero and editor & art director John Cafiero were doing a signing at Forbidden Planet NYC on Thursday evening after the show.

Michele bought a copy of Highball #2, published by Ahoy Comics, from artist Fred Harper. She also got the NYCC convention exclusive cover to Godzilla vs. Mighty Morphin Powers rangers from the IDW Publishing booth as a gift for me.

Finally, I bought Michele one of the absolutely adorable Purritos from Uncute. I was tempted to also get one of those eerily cute Tentacle Kitty stuffed animals. Maybe next year.

Michele and I both had a lot of fun at New York Comic Con, and as you can see we picked up some cool stuff at the show.

New York Comic Con 2022 Artists Alley spotlight

New York Comic Con 2022 was held on October 6th to 9th at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. It was an exhausting but fun experience. One of my favorite parts of the convention was once again Artists Alley, which featured a large, diverse selection of comic book creators.

Here are some of my favorite creators who I met at New York Comic Con this year. I have included links to their work, so you can check them out for yourself.

One of the great things about NYCC is it gives you the opportunity to meet creators who are visiting from outside of United States. I’ve been enjoying the work of Italian artists Marco Santucci and Maria Laura Sanapo over the past few years for DC Comics and other publishers. I’ve been interacting with them on social media, so it was definitely nice to actually get to meet them.

In my mind Dan Jurgens is one of the definitive, all-time great Superman artists. I loved his work on the character in the late 1980s thru the mid 1990s. He also did very good work on Captain America for Marvel Comics and the Image Comics series Common Grounds. It was a pleasure to finally meet him and be able to let him know how much I have enjoyed his work.

It was good to see The Hero Business creator Bill Walko at NYCC again. He’s got a really fun art style. The Hero Business is such an enjoyable series. If you haven’t read it yet then I highly recommend ordering the upcoming The Hero Business Compendium to be published by New Friday Comics, the creator-owned division of Lev Gleason Publishing.  The Compendium will be a 472 page book in oversized graphic novel format collecting the complete ten year The Hero Business saga and is scheduled for release next month.

It’s also always good to see artist Russ Braun at comic cons. He’s a genuinely good guy and a talented artist, having drawn the classic Batman storyline “Venom,” War of the Gods and Fables for DC Comics, as well as regularly collaborating with writer Garth Ennis on a number of projects, among them Battlefields, The Boys and Jimmy’s Bastards.

Not to sound like a broken record, but it was also great to see Andrew Pepoy again at NYCC, back for the first time since before the pandemic. He’s an amazing artist and a good person. Andrew has a few advanced copies of this long-awaited new The Adventures of Simone & Ajax book Lemmings and Tigers and Bears! Oh, My! at the show. I’m looking forward to receiving my copy in the mail soon.

Alex Saviuk and Keith Williams were the art team on Web of Spider-Man from Marvel Comics when I was in high school in the early 1990s. I really enjoyed their work on the series. I don’t know if it was coincidence or design, but they ended up sitting next to each other in Artists Alley, so I wanted to get a photo of the two of them together.

Lynne Yoshii has a beautiful art style. I first discovered her work on the great Gotham City Garage series. She since drawn stories for several DC Comics anthology specials. I’m looking forward to reading the recently released Nuclear Power graphic novel from Fan Base Press that she illustrated.

Bought a copy of Empty Graves: 31 Horror Portraits by Dave Fox which contains some incredible, creepy artwork. Dave Fox has been working on a series of horror portraits over the past few years, and it’s nice to have them all collected together. He really knocked these out of the park, capturing the spooky, eerie essence of some of horror cinema’s most iconic villains & monsters.

These were just a few of the talented creators at New York Comic Con. It was an enjoyable show, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to attend it.

Comic book reviews: Nubia Queen of the Amazons

In my blog post yesterday I mentioned the recent Nubia: Queen of the Amazons four issue miniseries from DC Comics. I really wanted to take a closer look at it.

Nubia: Queen of the Amazons is written by Stephanie Williams, penciled by Alitha Martinez, inked by Mark Morales, John Livesay & Martinez, colored by Alex Guimarães and lettered by Becca Carey, with cover artwork penciled & inked by Khary Randolph and colored by Emilio Lopez.

It’s been a while since I’ve followed the Wonder Woman series regularly. I decided to get Nubia: Queen of the Amazons because it was penciled by Alitha Martinez, an artist whose work I really enjoy. Martinez has been working in comic books for over 20 years, and I really think she’s tremendously talented.

This is actually the second Nubia series Martinez has worked on with writer Stephanie Williams. The six issue Nubia & the Amazons came out last year… and I managed to completely miss it. Hopefully I’ll be able to find the collected edition soon.

Nubia is a character who has been around for nearly half a century, having been created by writer & editor Robert Kanigher and artist Don Heck in Wonder Woman #204, which was released in late 1972. In pre-Crisis continuity Nubia was Princess Diana’s long-lost fraternal twin sister. Kanigher’s writing is not what anyone would ever consider to be subtle & nuanced, to say the least. I mean, issue #204 infamously opened with Kanigher killing off a very thinly-disguised stand-in for his editorial predecessor Dorothy Woolfolk. But his introduction of Nubia did set up the idea of there being Amazons of other ethnicities. I guess that helped lay the groundwork for George Perez to introduce characters such as Philippus during his groundbreaking post-Crisis revamp of the Wonder Woman series.

Nubia only appeared a handful of times during the Bronze Age.  The character was reintroduced to the DC Universe only a short time ago. In the current continuity she is the reincarnation of a warrior princess from the African island of Madagascar. While no longer Diana’s twin, the two women are close friends, and following the death of Diana’s mother Hippolyta, Nubia assumed the throne of Themyscira.

Williams does a good job with her writing, balancing the fact that her script features a large cast of characters & alludes to numerous past events while still making it accessible to readers such as myself who have not picked up the past installments.

The newly-crowned head of Themyscira travels to Brazil with her entourage to show support for environmental activists who are fighting against the destruction of the rainforests. Unfortunately this places Nubia squarely into the sights of a mysterious figure who wants her dead. At first I thought this woman, clad in armor & wearing a full metal mask, was going to turn out to be a new incarnation of old Wonder Woman adversary Doctor Cyber. But, no, this woman is actually Neser, a new character who is revealed to have ties to Nubia.

One of the distinctive aspects of Nubia: Queen of the Amazons is not only are nearly all the characters women, but the majority of them are non-white. Even longtime Justice Society member Hawkgirl is now shown to be Latina. I really appreciated that the cast was so diverse, as well as incredibly well-written. Williams does a fine job developing their different personalities.

Definitely the stand-out aspect of this miniseries was the incredible penciling by Martinez. Her layouts & storytelling on the various action sequences are genuinely animated & dynamic. She also does a very good job rendering the quieter, character-driven moments and dialogue scenes. Martinez’s depiction of Nubia is stunningly beautiful & regal.

Martinez’s line art works very well with Alex Guimarães’ rich, vivid coloring. The final page of issue #3 seen below is especially striking.

I also enjoyed Khary Randolph’s work on the covers for this miniseries. Randolph is another artist whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past. Several years ago I purchased a copy of his hardcover The Black Book which featured some very beautiful, sexy, hyper-detailed pin-up illustrations by him. I really appreciated how he was able to render women with different shapes & sizes. It definitely spoke to his versatility that, unlike some other artists, he enjoyed rendering women outside of the standard “tall, thin & big-boobed” body type you typically see in mainstream superhero comic books.

As with quite a few other DC Comics miniseries, the events of Nubia: Queen of the Amazons lead into another storyline. Unlike some other recent instances where the “endings” of various miniseries were literal cliffhangers  — I’m looking at you, Justice League Incarnate #5 — here Williams manages to make Nubia: Queen of the Amazons relatively self-contained. Yes, the final issue sets the stage for upcoming events, but it still feels like a complete enough whole, as well. That was another quality of her writing I really appreciated, and it actually makes me more likely to get upcoming issues of Wonder Woman to find out what happens next.

It Came from the 1990s: The Power of Shazam part four

My reread of The Power of Shazam by Jerry Ordway and friends enters the fourth year. This is, regrettably, the home stretch. This has been such an enjoyable series to revisit, and I really with it had lasted longer.

We begin with a storyline that literally had my jaw hitting the floor the first time I read it.

Ordway did a very good job of balancing the serious and the whimsical on this series, but with issue #38 the $#^+ totally hit the fan. Mister Mind, the sole surviving member of the telepathic caterpillars from Venus that tried to invade Earth, manages to take control of Sarge Steel, director of Metahuman Affairs. Previously the government had taken custody of the nuclear-powered robot Mister Atom, and now Mister Mind dispatches it to destroy Bill Batson & Mary Bromfield by having it home in on Billy’s Justice League. communicator. Landing in the town of Fairfield, right outside the Bromfields’ house, Mister Atom self-destructs, obliterating the entire town, killing thousands of innocent people!

Billy and Mary in their Captain Marvel forms are in Fawcett City when they see the mushroom cloud on the horizon. They are understandably horrified, especially as they believe their adopted parents Nick & Nora Bronfield are among the dead. The sorcerer Ibis manages to neutralize the radioactive fallout, but he can do nothing for all those who have already perished.

The two Captains fail to prove Sarge Steel is being controlled by Mister Mind. Mary heads over to the laboratory of Professor Bibbowski (the genius brother of tough guy tavern owner Bibbo Bibbowski from the Superman books) and asks him to try to find a way of detecting & neutralizing Mister Mind.

Billy and Mary return to Fawcett, where they are relieved to learn that Nick & Nora managed to survive by pure dumb luck; they were heading out of Fairfield by car to try to find Billy and Mary when the bomb went off.

Mary uses the device invented by the Professor to drive Mister Mind out of Sarge Steel’s head, and to prevent the worm from taking over the President. Mind has already dispatched thousands of clones of himself to take over innocent people, sending them to nuclear facilities across the world, planning to destroy the Earth as revenge for his own species’ destruction. Mind also found out from possessing Sarge Steel that the government had custody of a massive alien exoskeleton another of his species used 50 years earlier, which we saw in the flashback during the Starman crossover.

Mind rampages across Washington DC in the exoskeleton. Jim Barr, aka Bulletman, watches this on TV, and it causes him to at long last remember his encounter with the alien armor during World War II, and to recall that the Green Lantern Abin Sur defeated the alien menace all those years before. Bulletman calls former GL Alan Scott, who in turn contacts current GL Kyle Rayner. Kyle flies to Washington accompanied by a time-displaced Hal Jordan (looooong story). Billy, Mary, and the two GLs have to figure out what is real and what is an illusion caused by Mind, but at last they crack open the armor. Sarge Steel then kills the murderous alien worm, which in turn causes Mind’s clones to die, saving the Earth from nuclear destruction. Whew!

“The Monster Society of Evil” (so named by Ordway after the original Mister Mind storyline from the 1940s) was an emotional rollercoaster. The series had only shifted its setting to Fairfield about a dozen issues earlier, so there really wasn’t too much time for the readers to get to know the new supporting cast, but it’s still a gut-punch to see the entire town destroyed, especially when it appears that Nick & Nora are among the dead.

I was genuinely relieved that the Bromfields had survived. Billy & Mary had already lost their real parents, and the idea that they might be made orphans a second time was horrifying. Plus I like how Nick & Nora, even if they were on the staid, conservative side, nevertheless very quickly adjusted to learning Billy & Mary were the Marvels, and tried their best to be there for the siblings.

POS #38-41 were Peter Krause’s final issues, and he really does a great job on this storyline, conveying the intense emotions and choreographing the dramatic, action-filled scenes. Inker Dick Gordano, letterer John Costanza and colorist Glenn Whitmore fill out the creative team. Whitmore’s coloring definitely plays a major role in setting the mood of these issues. Mike Carlin edited the whole shebang.

With issue #42 writer & cover artist Ordway also assumes penciling duties, with Giordano providing inks / finishes. Ordway is such a great artist, and I was glad to see him now both writing & drawing. Whitmore and Costanza continue as colorist and letterer.

Following the destruction of Fairfield, the President dedicates a memorial to all those who have died. Billy, Mary and Freddy are all there in their superhuman forms. This is the first time we see all three of them together since Mary changed to her new costume, and so this was the moment when it finally occurred to me that Ordway had now given them red, white and blue uniforms. What can I say? Sometimes I’m not the quickest on the uptake.

Billy, Mary, Nick & Nora move to Fawcett City, where they are joined by Freddy, who has returned to settle his grandfather’s estate. Freddy shows Billy and Mary the classic car he inherited, and the three go for a spin. Unfortunately the metahuman Chain Lightning who suffers from multiple personality disorder is obsessed with Freddy, and she attacks the three teens while they’re driving, causing the car to go off the cliff. The teens try to summon the magic lightning to transform into the two Captains Marvel and CM3, but Chain Lightning somehow intercepts it. Billy, Mary and Freddy all end up in the hospital in critical condition. The magic somehow gives separate physical forms to each of Chain Lightning’s personalities, who go on a rampage in Fawcett City.

Ordway has said that one of his favorite comic books when he was growing up was Avengers by Roy Thomas & John Buscema. The form that Chain Lightning’s personality Amber takes looks like a cross between Arkon the Magnificent and Thundra the Femizon, both of whom were created by Thomas & Buscema.

With the Marvel Family out of action Deanna Barr dons the costume of her late mother Bulletgirl to protect Fawcett, although she uses her Air Force codename Windshear. Her father Jim comes out of retirement to help her, but the two of them can barely hold their own against Amber. Only the intervention of Amy, the “good” Chain Lightning personality, saves them.

Uncle Dudley and Tawky Tawny travel to the Rock of Eternity, hoping they can find some way to heal Billy, Mary and Freddy. The sorcerer Ibis tells Dudley and Tawny that they need to find the Mother Boxes that enable the teens to summon the magic lightning while the Wizard Shazam is on New Genesis.

Issue #42 and #43 are certainly compelling and suspenseful, although I wonder if Ordway would have embarked on this storyline, putting the main characters in the hospital, if he had known cancellation was just around the corner. Fortunately there are still a few more issues to go. Whatever the case, the artwork by Ordway & Giordano is top-notch.

We are now at the editorially-mandated DC One Million crossover issue. This one is a bit painful to read, not because it’s bad, but because the series would be cancelled in just a few short months, and it’s sad that Ordway was forced to cut away from his ongoing storylines to do a totally-unrelated issue set in the far-off 853rd Century.

Nevertheless, Ordway turns in sold work here. We previously saw an ancient Billy Batson having assumed the Wizard Shazam’s role in The Power of Shazam Annual #1. Now, even farther into the distant future, Billy still keeps vigil at the Rock of Eternity, only to have his home overrun by thrill-seeking rich kids from the planet Mercury.

Man oh man, the people in this story are awful. They’re behaving exactly like modern-day humans. Humanity is never going to survive to the 22nd Century, much less the 853rd, if people keep acting like this!

I think Tanist, the new champion of Shazam introduced in this story, popped up in a couple of other DC One Million stories, but hasn’t been seen since. It’s sort of disappointing that Ordway took the time to create this new character and no one else has bothered to use him, because that might have helped save this story from being completely inconsequential.

Anyway, returning to the year 1998, issue #44 resumes the plot of the teens being hospitalized, their powers having been stolen by the multiple personalities of Chain Lightening. Freddy and Mary are attacked by Lightning’s “inner child” and “id” personas. Nick & Nora risk their lives to save her, and the severely injured Mary shows she’s also willing to sacrifice herself for them, all of which surprises Lightning, a survivor of parental abuse. Inner Child and Id make off with Freddy, but he manages to convince them not to kill him, that he isn’t to blame for Lightning’s problems.

Meanwhile, Dudley and Tawky Tawny travel to the Rock of Eternity again, still looking for a way to help the hospitalized teens. Ibis, still suffering from the immense exertion needed to dissipate the radiation from the destruction of Fairfield, is wrapped up as a mummy by his immortal wife Taia so that he can enter suspended animation.

Oh, yeah, I love Tawny’s line… “Dud! Save me! It’s a talking dog!” Dudley and Tawny really did make a great double act.

Taia, working with Dudley, catapults Tawny into the timestream surrounding the Rock, so that the tiger can search for a future incarnation of Captain Marvel to help the teens. Tawny locates CeCe Beck, aka Thunder, previously seen in Annual #1, and is attempting to bring her back to the present when a force knocks them apart. Thunder disappears into the timestream… but don’t worry, she ends up materializing in the 30th Century in Legion of Super-Heroes #110, where she joins the team.

Tawny gets pulled back to the Rock, but he’s not alone. He’s accompanied by the former champion of Shazam turned villain, the infamous Black Adam. Uh oh!

Issue #45 sees Black Adm back on Earth. Surprisingly, rather than acting in his usual villainous manner, Adam is filling in for the still-hospitalized Billy, Mary & Freddy. Understandably skeptical, the Justice League is keeping a close eye on the so-called “Mighty Adam” as he performs heroic deeds across the globe.

Throughout his run Ordway has been peppering this series with nods to Jack Kirby’s New Gods, with the Marvel Family using Mother Boxes and Boom Tubes, the events of the Genesis crossover being referenced, and the Wizard Shazam relocating to New Genesis. Now we finally get an appearance by one of the New Gods as Orion stops by the hospital to look after Billy and give him advice. And when Black Adam shows up, Orion is more than ready to mix it up with him. Sadly we only get to see them trade blows for a few panels, so who knows how that fight might have gone?

Black Adam insists to the JLA that he is not Theo Adam, the criminal who murdered Billy & Mary’s parents, but an entirely different person, and demands his day in court to argue his case.

If there is a weakness to these last several issues it’s that the story feels somewhat disjointed. First there was DC One Million interrupting things for a month, and now, when #46 opens, events have suddenly leaped forward an unspecified amount of time, with Black Adam having been declared not guilty. The first time I read this I really thought I had missed an issue. Obviously this is Ordway doing the best job he can to fit his storyline into the remaining issues he had left.

For the first time since the accident caused by Chain Lightning, Billy calls on the Wizard’s power, transforming into Captain Marvel, ready to pound Black Adam into the pavement. Superman reluctantly intervenes, as in the eyes of the law Black Adam is not guilty… although it isn’t at all clear as to the specifics of how that works, and how he convinced the courts that he’s not Theo Adam, other than them having different fingerprints. Presumably this is something that Ordway would have explained in more detail if he’d had more issues.

Captain Marvel and Superman trade blows for several pages, until Mary and Freddy also transform, causing Billy’s own powers to weaken enough for Superman to beat him. The Man of Steel departs, and Mary and Freddy finally get Billy to calm down.

Meanwhile, Adam has made his way to the Rock of Eternity where, in an effort to settle accounts, he intends to free his former mistress, the demonic Blaze, from her imprisonment there. Adam recruits the evil Doctor Sivana to help him, and they manage to release Blaze… only to find that they’ve been manipulated into also freeing the Wizard’s ancient adversary the Three Faces of Evil, aka King Ghidorah’s even uglier cousin.

As #47 opens, Mother Box calls up a Boom Tube and transports Billy to the Rock, also bringing the Wizard back from New Genesis. Billy, the Wizard and Adam join forces against the Three Faces of Evil. In a great example of Chekov’s Gun — or more precisely Chekov’s Mystic Raygun — Billy retrieves the mystical Scorpion weapon introduced two years earlier in issue #24 and uses it to seal the Three Faces of Evil back inside the Rock.

The Wizard transports Captain Marvel and Adam to the River of the Dead to settle their differences once and for all. Adan continues to insist that he is a different person than Theo Adam… but if he has to kill Billy to escape the River, he’ll do just that. At the last minute Billy transforms back to his human self, and Adam realizes that he cannot bring himself to kill a child, even if it’s the only way he’ll be free. This convinces both Billy and the Wizard that Adam is sincere, and they let him go on his own way.

The Wizard, having attained godhood on New Genesis, returns to his home on the Rock of Eternity. Billy and Mary’s stepparents Nick and Nora, overjoyed their children are once again healthy & whole, throw a party, inviting over many of the characters we’ve seen over the past four years, and everyone gets a happy ending.

It’s unfortunate the series got cancelled. Ordway revealed in interviews that he had the book plotted out thru to issue #50, and was really looking forward to reaching that milestone, so it’s regrettable that he wasn’t allowed to get there. Still, if you count the graphic novel, the annual, and DC One Million, that is 50 issues. Whatever the official count, POS was a great series.

By the way, looking at these last several issues, it’s now apparent they were a major influence on writers Geoff Johns & David S. Goyer, who just a couple years later made violent antihero Black Adam a central character in their JSA run.

On #45 and #46 Ordway is once again inked by Giordano, resulting in some nice work. Costanza letters #45, with Albert T. Guzman filling in on #46. Whitmore colors both issues.

The finale in #47 has Da Ordster doing full artwork and coloring, with Costanza’s letters. The issue looks great, closing out the series in style.

Ordway’s painted covers for all three issues stand out. Issue #45 has Black Adam fighting the JLA. Captain Marvel and Superman face off on the cover to #46, a homage to Nick Cardy’s cover for Superman #276. And finally #47 has Cap in a fight to the death with the Three Faces of Evil.

If you haven’t read this series then I highly recommend picking up the hardcover collection that reprints the graphic novel & the first 12 issues, and then seek out copies of the other issues. It’s definitely worth the search.

Thank you, Jerry Ordway, for a great read. More than two decades later The Power of Shazam is still incredible.