The Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part Eight

Welcome to another collection of the Daily Comic Book Coffee. I have been posting these daily in the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The challenge by group moderator Jim Thompson was to see how many different pencilers you can find artwork by featuring a specific subject. I chose coffee.

36) Murphy Anderson

Today’s artwork is from the Atomic Knights story “Danger in Detroit” drawn by Murphy Anderson and written by John Broome, from Strange Adventures #153, published by DC Comics with a June 1963 cover date.

The Atomic Knights was a wonderfully weird post-apocalyptic sci-fi feature created by Broome & Anderson.  It appeared in every third issue of Strange Adventures from #117 to #156, with a final chapter appearing in issue #160.  DC issued a hardcover collection in 2010. 

Set in the far-off future year of, um, 1986, the Atomic Knights were a team of adventurers who sought to restore civilization to North America after World War III left the planet devastated.  The six Atomic Knights all wore suits of medieval armor that, through some fluke, had become resistant to radioactivity.  From their base in the town of Durvale, the Knights fought a variety of offbeat monsters and menaces that plagued the devastated world.

In the previous installment in Strange Adventures #150, “The Plant That Hated Humans,” the Knights encountered an army of giant ambulatory plants created by the botanist Henderson.  The Trefoils turned against humanity, but the Knights defeated them by cutting them off from their water source.

As this story opens, we see two of the Knights, Douglas and Marene, having some after-dinner coffee in the Durvale Community Hall.  They are being served by “an unusual-looking waiter,” namely a Trefoil.  Henderson managed to create a new strain of Trefoils, “one without a trace of the vicious hatred of humanity that the old crop seemed to grow with.”  Nevertheless, Marene bluntly states “That creature Mr. Henderson sent us gives me the jim-jams!”

Looking at this from a 21st Century perspective, you have to wonder at Henderson’s decision to resume his experiments after they almost ended in disaster the first time around, as well as the ethical issues of creating a new life form designed to be servants.

Marene’s thought balloon in the final panel, complete with “and yet I’m just a woman,” hasn’t aged well, either.

All that aside, I still enjoyed the Atomic Knights.  Broom’s stories are imaginative, quirky and fun.  The artwork by Anderson is absolutely gorgeous.  Broom and Anderson both considered the Atomic Knights to be among their favorite work from their lengthy careers.

37) Dave Cockrum & Gonzalo Mayo

Harbinger Files #1, penciled by Dave Cockrum, inked by Gonzalo Mayo, written by Fred Pierce & Bob Layton, lettered by Rob Johnson & Santiago Vázquez, and colored by Mike McGuire, published by Valiant with an August 1994 cover date.

Toyo Harada is one of the major antagonists in the Valiant universe.  An incredibly powerful telepath & telekinetic, Harada established the Harbinger Foundation to recruit & train those with similar psionic abilities.  Harbinger Files #1 reveals his previously-untold origin, as well as explaining how he survived his encounter with Solar, Man of the Atom.

After his private jet crashes on a desolate mountain, the badly-injured Harada is rescued by hermit Dusty Berman.  Recuperating in Berman’s cabin, Harada details his history & motivations.  Seeking to convince the skeptical recluse, Harada uses his powers to levitate Dusty’s cup of coffee.

Harada is an interesting figure.  A charitable view of him would be that he is a well-intentioned extremist, someone who feels compelled to make difficult choices to save the world from itself.  He could be viewed as an embodiment of the expression “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”  A much more skeptical analysis of Harada would be that he is engaged in a massive self-deception, that he is in fact an incredibly selfish, avaricious, tyrannical individual who has managed to convince himself that he is working towards noble goals.

Dave Cockrum was one of the preeminent artists of the Bronze Age.  He played a major role in the successful revamps of both the Legion of Super-Heroes and the X-Men.  Unfortunately by the early 1990s Cockrum, like a number of his contemporaries, was having difficulty finding work, his style regarded by certain editors as “old-fashioned.”  I am a huge fan of Cockrum’s art, so I was glad when he got a couple of jobs penciling for Valiant in 1994.

“Redemption and Reward” is a story that mostly consists of Harada and Dusty conversing, with flashbacks to Harada’s early years.  You need a penciler who is really strong at storytelling & characterization, which is just what Cockrum was.  He does an excellent job with what is mostly a “talking heads” story.

Inking is by Gonzalo Mayo, who worked regularly at Valiant.  The Peruvian-born artist has a very lush style to his inks.  He worked really well over a number of different pencilers at Valiant, giving the art a very nice illustrative look.  I got my copy of this comic autographed by Cockrum a couple of years after it came out, and he told me he liked Mayo’s inking over his pencils.

38) Steve Ditko

I’m glad I located a coffee-drinking page drawn by the legendary Steve Ditko.  This is from the story “Partners” written by the prolific Joe Gill from Ghostly Haunts #29, published by Charlton Comics with a January 1973 cover date.

“Partners” is the tale of prospectors Max Aarens and Henry Farr.  As the story opens Max and Henry are in the Northern Canadian wilderness, sitting by the camp fire drinking coffee as they celebrate having struck gold.  Unfortunately greed & paranoia soon descend, and each man makes plans to betray the other.

Ditko utilizes some extremely effective layouts on this story, superbly illustrating both the brutal blizzard and the psychological trauma that strikes the characters.  The facial expressions & body language of his characters is incredibly evocative.  Even here, on the relatively quiet first page, Ditko deftly establishes the mood of harshly cold isolation, and foreshadows the treacherous nature of the protagonists.

By the way, the lady in green & red on the left side of the opening splash panel is Winnie the Witch, the lovely host of Ghostly Haunts.  As he often did on the Ghostly Haunts stories he drew, Ditko has Winnie lurking in-between panels and on the borders of pages of “Partners,” knowingly observing the unfolding events.

I originally read this in black & white in Steve Ditko’s 160-Page Package published by Robin Synder in 1999, which collected 20 of the Ditko-illustrated stories from the various Charlton horror anthologies.  It looks really crisp & effective in black & white.  There are scans of the full story in color from Ghostly Haunts #29 on the blog Destination Nightmare.

39) Dwayne Turner & Jerome K. Moore

Sovereign Seven, created by writer Chris Claremont and penciler Dwayne Turner, was the result of an interesting arrangement: It was published by DC Comics, and set within the DC Universe, but all of the original characters introduced in it were owned by Claremont. These two pages are from S7 #1, cover-dated July 1995, and issue #6, cover-dated December 1995. Turner inked issue #1, and Jerome K. Moore inked #6. Letters are by Tom Orzechowski & Clem Robbins, and colors are by Gloria Vasquez.

The Sovereigns were a group of aristocratic refugees from different parallel Earths whose worlds had all been conquered by the mysterious Rapture. They were gathered together by Rhian Douglas, aka Cascade, who was fleeing from her seemingly-tyrannical mother Maitresse, although eventually we discover there is much more going on there than either we the readers or Rhian herself suspect.

The main setting of S7 is the Crossroads Coffee Bar, situated at the intersection of three state borders (implied to be Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts) and which contains portals to other dimensions. Crossroads is run by sisters Violet Smith and Pansy Jones, who were based on folk musicians Emma Bull and Lorraine Garland. It is here that the fleeing Sovereigns find sanctuary. As a result, there were a lot of characters drinking a lot of coffee in a lot of issues.

To earn their keep the Sovereigns end up working at the Crossroads. It’s somewhat odd to see a group of what are basically One Percenters sliding into the thankless service industry with a bare minimum of complaints, although it is implied that the societies they came from all possessed systems of noblesse oblige, and that the conquest of those worlds by the Rapture brought these seven down to Earth, both symbolically and literally.

Darkseid shows up at Crossroads in the first issue, and it is suggested that he has frequented the establishment in the past. Sipping an espresso, he satisfactorily comments…

“An excellent brew, Violet, as always. I can’t get anything quite like it at home.”

Perhaps someone ought to explain to Darkseid that if he hadn’t transformed Apokolips into an industrialized fascist hellhole it might be much easier to come by quality caffeinated beverages?

Jumping forward to issue #6, it’s Halloween at Crossroads. Italian mercenary Marcello Veronese has come to town, and he is instantly taken with the fully-armored Fatale, who he spots serving coffee.

Marcello: That waitress in black, she is one striking woman!

Pansy: Say that to her face, you’ll see just how striking.

Marcello: The reward, I’ll wager, would be well worth the risk.

Pansy: You want risk, chum, I’ll introduce you to my sister.

I found S7 an interesting & enjoyable series. That said it probably was overly ambitious. Launching a book with seven lead characters, an expanded supporting cast, and a complex backstory right when the comic book market was experiencing a glut might have been a mistake. I think S7 ended up getting lost in the crowd. It did ultimately last for 36 issues, plus two annuals and one special, which is a fairly respectable run.

We will return to S7 and the coffee-drinking crowd of Crossroads in a future entry, when we look at the work of the series’ second regular penciler.

40) Terry Moore

My girlfriend Michele is a huge fan of Strangers in Paradise, which was written & drawn by Terry Moore.  SiP is a semi-comedic soap opera that eventually ventured into mystery and crime noir.  I figured there would probably be at least a few coffee-drinking scenes in SiP.  Flipping through the first “pocket book” trade paperback from Abstract Studio, I found one from the very first issue of volume one, which was originally published by Antarctic Press in November 1993.

I asked Michele if she could briefly explain what SiP was about.  She started telling me how it was about two women, Katrina, aka Katchoo, and Francine, who are best friends.  Katchoo is bisexual and is attracted to Francine, but Francine is straight and wants to one day have children.  Making things even more complicated is David, an artist who falls in love with Katchoo.  After attempting to summarize the various plotlines that Moore had running through SiP over the years, Michele finally shrugged and said “It’s complicated.”  She then suggested I look it up on Wikipedia.

Michele also had this to say about Strangers in Paradise

“My issue with SiP is that it borrowed from Love and Rockets in regards to the (that word again) “complicated” relationship between Maggie and Hopey. SiP does manage to steer into its own plots. Just that similarity. Terry Moore is a great artist.”

In this scene from the very first issue, Katchoo and David have met for the first time at an art gallery, and David has convinced the very reluctant Katchoo to have a cup of coffee with him.  They walk over to the coffee shop in a rainstorm, and when David suggests to the sneezing Katchoo that she take off her wet clothes, she goes ballistic.

It’s a funny scene that establishes right off the bat that Katchoo is assertive, but also very melodramatic.  The page ends perfectly with a waitress who deadpans “How about that de-caff now, honey?”

Greg Theakston: 1953 to 2019

I was saddened to learn that comic book artist, publisher & historian Greg Theakston had passed away on April 22nd.  He was 65 years old.

As a teenager Theakston was involved in the Detroit area comic book fandom in the late 1960s and early 70s.  During this time period he was one of the organizers of the Detroit Triple Fan Fair comic book & sci-fi conventions.

Super Powers vol 2 1 cover smallTheakston, along with such fellow Detroit area fans as Jim Starlin, Rich Buckler, Terry Austin, and Keith Pollard, made the jump from fan to professional during the 1970s.  From 1972 to 1979 Theakston worked at Neal Adams’ Continuity Studios, where he gained invaluable experience, learning the tools of the trade alongside his contemporaries.  Theakston was one of the so-called “Crusty Bunkers,” a loose-knit group of Continuity-based artists organized by Adams.  Throughout the 1970s the Crusty Bunkers would pitch in to help one another meet tight comic book deadlines.  Theakston was interviewed about his time at Continuity by Bryan Stroud, revealing it to be a crazy, colorful experience.

Theakston worked for a number of publishers over the years, creating illustrations for National Lampoon, Playboy, Rolling Stone and TV Guide.  His art appeared in a number of issues of MAD Magazine in the late 1980s and throughout the 90s.

Most of Theakston’s comic book work was for DC Comics.  In the 1980s Theakston was often assigned the high-profile job of inking the legendary Jack Kirby’s pencils.

Theakston’s inking of Kirby proved to be divisive.  Personally speaking, as a huge fan of Kirby, I like what Theakston brought to the table.  I do recognize that Theakston was not the ideal fit for Kirby’s pencils in the way that Joe Sinnott and Mike Royer were, but I nevertheless felt he did a good job inking him.

The Hunger Dogs cover

One of the things to recognize about that collaboration is that during this time Kirby’s health unfortunately began to decline.  As a result his penciling started becoming loser.  Theakston was often called upon to do a fair amount of work to tighten up the finished art.  This led to some creative choices on his part that were not appreciated by some.  I think Theakston was in a less-than-ideal situation, having to make those choices over the work of a creator who was already regarded by fans as a legend and a genius.  The result was a scrutiny of his inking / finishing more much more intense than if he had been working with almost any other penciler.

Comic book creator Erik Larsen observed on the website What If Kirby that Theakston possessed a definite fondness for the earlier work Kirby did with Joe Simon in the Golden Age.  This translated into Theakston inking Kirby with a heavier, darker line that evoked the Simon & Kirby stories of the 1940s and 50s, rather than the much more slick, polished embellishment that Sinnott and Royer brought to it in the 1960s and 70s.Whos Who Orion

Theakston inked Kirby on the first two Super Powers miniseries, the Hunger Dogs graphic novel that concluded the saga of Orion and the New Gods, various entries for Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe, and the team-up of Superman and the Challengers of the Unknown in DC Comics Presents #84 written by Bob Rozakis.

I enjoyed Theakston’s work on these various titles.  In my mind, the stunning cover painting for The Hunger Dogs featuring Darkseid that he did over Kirby’s pencils is one of the best pieces Theakston ever produced.

(Theakston’s inking on the Alex Toth pages in DC Comics Presents #84 was unfortunately much less impressive.  In his defense I will say that when someone other than Toth himself inked his pencils, the majority of the time the results were underwhelming.)

Theakston also inked fellow Detroit native Arvell Jones’ pencils on Secret Origins #19 (Oct 1987).  Roy Thomas’ story recounted, and expended upon, the origins of the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion, characters who had been created by Simon & Kirby in 1942. Given his fondness for the work of Simon & Kirby in the 1940s, it was entirely appropriate for Theakston to work on this story. His inking for it certainly evoked the feel of Golden Age comic book artwork.Secret Origins 19 pg 19Theakston only worked for Marvel Comics on a couple of occasions.  Early in his career he painted the cover for Planet of the Apes #9 (June 1975) in Marvel’s black & white magazine line.  Almost a quarter century later Theakston painted a Kirby-inspired piece for the cover of the second Golden Age of Marvel Comics trade paperback (1999).

DC Comics Presents 84 cover smallIn 1975 Theakston founded the publishing company Pure Imagination.  Under that imprint he issued collected editions featuring a variety of Golden Age stories & artwork by such creators as Kirby, Alex Toth, Lou Fine, Wallace Wood, and Basil Wolverton.

Theakston developed a process for reprinting comic books that DC editor Dick Giordano later referred to as “Theakstonizing.”  As per What If Kirby, Theakstonizing “bleaches color from old comics pages, used in the restoration for reprinting.” Theakstonizing was used to publish a number of collections of Golden Age comic books in the 1980s and 90s, among these the early volumes of the DC Archives hardcovers.  Unfortunately the Theakstonizing process resulted in the destruction of the original comic book itself.  It’s a shame that so many old comics had to be destroyed to create the early DC Archives and other Golden Age reprints, but in those days before computer scanning that was the best way available to reproduce such old material. Additionally, as explained by Theakston’s ex-wife Nancy Danahy:

“Greg did everything to avoid destroying a valuable comic book for his Theakstonizing process. He would search for the ones with tattered, missing covers, or bent pages that devalued the book. It was only in a few instances that he used one in good condition, and only then if he knew the return on investment was worth it. He felt it would be better for the greater good to be able to share the work with more people than to let one book settle in a plastic bag on someone’s shelf.”

Beginning in 1987, Theakston also published the fan magazine The Betty Pages, dedicated to sexy pin-up model Bettie Page, of whom he was a huge fan.  Theakston is considered to be one of the people who helped bring Page back into the public consciousness, resulting in her once again becoming an iconic figure of American pop culture.  In the early 1990s Theakston conducted an extensive phone interview with Page that was published in The Betty Pages Annual Vol 2 in 1993.The Betty Pages Annual Vol 2 coverTheakston created several stunning, sexy paintings featuring Bettie Page.  One of my favorites is a striking piece featuring Page in short leopard-skin dress, silhouetted against a giant blue moon in the sky behind her, with two leopards crouching at her feet.  It saw print as the cover for The Betty Pages Annual Vol 2.Planet of the Apes 9 cover small

I can’t say I knew Greg Theakston very well. We met once in 2012, at the Comic Book Marketplace show in Manhattan, and we also corresponded by e-mail.  When I met him he certainly appeared flattered that I had gotten a tattoo of the Who’s Who pin-up of Beautiful Dreamer from the Forever People, which he had inked over Kirby’s pencils. He also appeared to appreciate my compliments concerning his work inking Kirby. Greg did a cute drawing of Bettie Page for me at that show in one of my convention sketchbooks.  He subsequently surprised me with a gift of his original inks for the Beautiful Dreamer piece, which I felt was a generous gesture.

I thought Greg was a talented artist who created some very beautiful paintings and illustrations.  All of my interactions with him were pleasant. I understand that over the years several others had much less amicable relations with him. Reportedly he was one of those people who could run very hot & cold, and that he was dealing with some personal issues.

Whatever the case, I do feel it’s unfortunate that Greg passed away. I know 65 is not young, but it’s not super-old either.  Judging by the reactions I have seen over the past week, he will certainly be missed by quite a few people, myself included.

 

Comic book reviews: Sensation Comics #5

When I found out that Sensation Comics #5 would feature Wonder Woman facing the dark New Gods of Apokolips, I was both anticipating it and feeling a bit apprehensive.  Jack Kirby created a set of amazing characters in his “Fourth World” stories, but they were also very personal works.  Subsequent stories featuring the New Gods have been very hit or miss.  There have been certain creators who had a good grasp of the characters, such as Walter Simonson, John Ostrander, Paul Levitz and John Byrne.  I definitely have to add Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman to that list based on their work in “Dig for Fire.”

Sensation Comics 5 pg 1

In past issues of Sensation Comics it has been apparent that sometimes 10 pages just is not enough room for some creators to adequately tell a complete story.  I’ve mostly been more satisfied with the tales that were 20 pages long.  So I was hoping that eventually there would be a 30 page story entry that would comprise an entire issue.  I finally got my wish with “Dig for Fire.”

Like most other stories to appear in this book, Bechko & Hardman’s tale is vague as to its place in continuity.  It appears to be set roughly in the post-Crisis, pre-New 52 era.  Hardman draws Darkseid with his original Kirby design.  I prefer that to the New 52 look, which is much too busy & complicated for my tastes.  As I’ve mentioned before, I enjoy the continuity-lite approach of the series, which enables creators to tell stories without having to worry about what is going on in other titles, and to utilize a variety of approaches to the character.

When two Amazons who have been sent to observe Apokolips go missing, and Parademons begin to pop up on Paradise Island, Hippolyta dispatches Wonder Woman to investigate.  Knocking out a pair of arriving Parademons, Diana uses their Boom Tube to journey to Apokolips, where she disguises herself in their armor.  She makes contact with Luftan, a merchant who had previously served as a contact for the Amazons.  Luftan, however, informs the authorities of Diana’s arrival, and she is attached by the Female Furies.  Diana finds herself outmatched by the Furies, who are incredibly formidable opponents.

Sensation Comics 5 pg 6

Bechko & Hardman have a very good understanding of the world of Apokolips, and of its iron-fisted ruler Darkseid.  Often writers will make the mistake of depicting Darkseid as a god of evil, which he is not.  Darkseid as envisioned by Kirby is the god of fascism and totalitarianism.

Apokolips is a police state.  Its inhabitants hate Darkseid, but they also believe that he is omnipotent, an all-knowing, all-seeing being who will instantly be aware of the slightest act of disobedience and punish it in the harshest manner possible.  His rule is cemented as much by fear as it is by his actual power.  When the Female Furies inform Darkseid that they have apparently killed Wonder Woman, he is actually enraged at them.  He would much rather that they had captured Diana to be executed publicly; a spectacle to further enforce among his subjects the futility of resistance.

Wonder Woman is an excellent ideological opponent to Darkseid.  Diana believes in liberty and justice and in the self-worth & dignity of the individual, in enabling each person to strive to achieve greatness.  All of this is anathema to Darkseid.

Sensation Comics 5 pg 14

Barely surviving her run-in with the Female Furies, Wonder Woman rescues her fellow Amazons from their own executions.  Eluding pursuing Parademons and Dog Calvary, the three inhabitants of Paradise Island find a temporary refuge.  There Diana is shocked to learn what her sisters have been up to: they have obtained an incredibly powerful bomb, a “planet killer,” from Lexcorp which they intend to use to obliterate Apokolips, thereby preventing Darkseid and his minions from ever threatening Paradise Island.  Naturally enough, Diana is aghast at the thought of committing mass murder.

(I suppose that the closest real-world scenario would be if someone dropped a nuclear bomb on North Korea in order to take out Kim Jong-un and his inner circle.  Yes, that would eliminate them, but it would also result in the deaths of millions of civilians who were unfortunate enough to be living in that horrible country.)

Wonder Woman and the Amazons are captured, but not before the planet killer is deployed.  Diana manages to convince a skeptical Darkseid of the threat, and that she is the one to stop it.  Plunging deep into the fiery heart of Apokolips atop a “scavenger-bot” with only a heat suit for protection, Diana manages to retrieve the bomb before it detonates.  She returns with it back to the surface, where Darkseid uses his Omega Beams to destroy it, before turning them on the two rogue Amazons wiping them from existence.  Acknowledging that they had an agreement, Darkseid reluctantly allows Wonder Woman to depart.

Sensation Comics 5 pg 27

Bechko & Hardman do recognize that Darkseid, despite his tyrannical nature, also possesses pragmatism as well as a sort of code of honor, albeit a very individual one that he will readily bend to his convenience.  Although he probably could have killed Wonder Woman if he really wanted to, Darkseid chooses to honor their deal because she did aid him.  And perhaps he also would rather have Diana’s chaotic influence removed from his world as expediently as possible, without any more disruptions to his orderly rule.

By the disgusted, sulking look on Wonder Woman’s face on the last page, it certainly appears that Darkseid has come out completely unscathed, his rule totally unchallenged.  But then Bechko & Hardman show us two of his lowly subjects who had previously been paralyzed by fear of their ruler.  “An Amazon – an outsider – saved us. Even Darkseid knew it,” observes one of them, with the other responding “He did at that. And you know what? He’s not as tall as I thought he’d be.”  Without even realizing it, Wonder Woman did achieve a minor victory, eroding ever so slightly the perception among the people of Apokolips that Darkseid is all-powerful.

The artwork by Hardman in “Dig for Fire” is perfect.  He works very well in laying out pages that work in both the digital and print formats.  It’s a very tricky thing, I imagine, designing pages so that will appear as two separate images on the computer screen and as one single page in the print edition.  Hardman constructs several pages that work in such a way that the action is self-contained if seen in the digital format, but which also has the action flowing from top to bottom in the printed book.

His depiction of Wonder Woman is strong and beautiful, determined and defiant in the face of adversity.  Hardman renders Apokolips as a sprawling industrial horror, replete with ragged, scavenging occupants, dank, dirty tunnels, and colossal machinery.  It truly is a grotesque, nightmare world.  Jordan Boyd’s subdued coloring works perfectly with the art in creating a grim, oppressive atmosphere.

Sensation Comics 5 cover

My only major criticism of Sensation Comics #5 is the cover.  On its own, yes, it is a nicely illustrated piece by artist Lawrence Reynolds.  However the style of the piece is very polished and clean, which is the complete opposite of the interior work.  Given that Bechko & Hardman story comprises the entire issue, it would have been better to have a cover that complemented the material.

Indeed, there’s really nothing on Reynolds’ cover that relates to the story within, except the image of Parademons that is reflected in one of Diana’s bracelets.  And what is Superman doing on the cover?  He is nowhere in this issue.  It would have been a better choice to have Darkseid in his place, and place Apokolips instead of Earth in the background.

Well, it is said that you can’t judge a book by its cover.  That’s certainly the case here.  I was very satisfied with Bechko & Hardman’s story, and I would be happy to see them work on the character of Wonder Woman again.

Spotlight on Streaky the Supercat

It’s a bird!  No, it’s a plane!  No, it’s… Supercat?!?

Sometimes the Silver Age of superhero comic books, specifically the various series published by DC Comics, is considered by contemporary readers to be too silly.  Of course, in the last quarter century the pendulum has swung much too far in the opposite direction, with both DC and Marvel taking everything way too seriously.  They’re often afraid to have any sense of fun about their stories.  I really think you need to have a balance between those two extremes.  Anyone who follows my blog has no doubt noticed that I have very diverse interests, and my tastes run, as the saying goes, from the ridiculous to the sublime.

And so, even though there was a great deal of nonsense to DC’s books in the 1950s and 60s, I think there is quite a bit that’s fun & charming about those comics.  That includes Streaky the Supercat.

Making his debut in Action Comics #261 (Feb 1960), Streaky was designed by artist Jim Mooney, who in later years would say the character was one of his favorites.  Streaky was one of the only non-Kryptonian members of the “Superman Family” (there was also Comet the Super-Horse, but he’s much too weird to get into right now).  An ordinary Earth cat, Streaky was the pet of Supergirl in her civilian guise as Linda Lee.  In a failed attempt to find a cure for Kyrptonite, Supergirl accidentally created “X-Kryptonite.”  She carelessly tossed it away, but when Streaky later came across it, the substance imbued him with Superman-like powers.

Action Comics 373 pg 7

Here’s a page from “The Battle of the Super-Pets,” which originally appeared in Action Comics #277 (June 1961).  Streaky, jealous of the attention that Supergirl is giving to Krypto the Superdog, begins a rivalry with the Kryptonian canine.  To avoid the inevitable property damage, Supergirl takes them off-world to resume their contest on a small planetoid.  You can see from the artwork that Mooney really invested Streaky with a great deal of personality.  As someone who loved cats, he must have known all about feline “cattitude.”

(I scanned this from a reprint of the story that ran in the somewhat more affordable and easy to locate Action Comics #373, a giant-sized special which collected together several earlier Supergirl tales).

Although Streaky was never a major fixture of the “mainstream” DC titles, he eventually went on to make appearances in stories that were, appropriately enough, geared towards a younger audience.  Streaky was one of the main characters in the Krypto the Superdog animated series which ran from March 2005 to December 2006.  Streaky has also popped up in the Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures comics by Art Baltazar & Franco Aureliani.

It was probably inevitable after Michele and I adopted our two cats Nettie and Squeaky that I would become a fan of fictional felines.  And that includes Streaky the Supercat.  Although not a major theme for me like Beautiful Dreamer, I have obtained a few sketches of the heroic housecat.

streakycohn

Scott Cohn is a versatile artist who has worked on such comic books as Army of Darkness, Ben 10, Justice League Unlimited and Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  He has also done licensing artwork for various properties, including the Krypto the Superdog series.  So I asked him to do a sketch of the animated version of Streaky.  Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to get some other sketches by Cohn. He does nice work.

streakyharris

Independent creator Alisa Harris has self-published several comic books.  One of these, Counter Attack, is a whimsical look at the antics of her cats Fidget and Moe.  Harris recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the hardcover publication of The Collected Counter Attack!  I’m looking forward to receiving a copy in the mail later this year.  Harris has drawn a couple of cat sketches for me, including this cute Streaky.

darkseid vs streaky franco

When I met Franco Aureliani at the 2013 New York Comic Con, of course I had to ask for a drawing of Streaky.  I requested that he draw “Streaky vs. Darkseid,” because the lord of Apokolips is a frequent fixture of Tiny Titans as the evil lunch lady.  Franco knows his cats very well, because faced by Darkseid’s menace Streaky simply can’t be bothered and decides to take a nap.

Last but certainly not least is my girlfriend, the beautiful and talented Michele Witchipoo.  I was friends with Michele for several years before we started dating.  During that time, she began self-publishing two comic book series: Psycho Bunny features the misadventures of an antisocial alcoholic rabbit living in Astoria, Queens, and Babalon Babes is a collection of sexy pin-up girl illustrations.  Over the past decade Michele has really developed as an artist.  She is constantly creating better and better work.

Streaky Silver Age Witchipoo

Michele has loved cats since she was a little girl, and grew up with them.  When I first told her about Streaky the Supercat in 2009, she did this charming drawing of the Silver Age version of the character for herself.

streaky animated witchipoo

A couple of days ago, I mentioned to Michele that I was going to do a blog post about Streaky.  She insisted that she wanted to do a brand new illustration of him in my convention sketchbook.  Michele decided to draw the animated version of Streaky this time.  And here he is, attempting very much to look like the Cat of Steel.  Michele definitely captured Streaky’s personality in this piece.  The “super tuna” was certainly a cute touch.

Perhaps I’ll get other Supercat sketches in the future.  I have to see which artists I run into at conventions.  I just hope that Nettie and Squeaky don’t mind.  They tend to get jealous, but that’s cats for you!

Legion of Super-Heroes: The Curse of Validus

Paul Levitz is an evil genius.

Having read many of Levitz’s amazing Legion of Super-Heroes stories, this appears to be an inescapable conclusion.  He is a genius because he comes up with these absolutely amazing stories, and he also invests the members of the team with real personalities, making them three-dimensional individuals that you genuinely care about.  And he is evil because, having done such amazing work developing his cast, he then proceeds to put them through the wringer, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Legion annual 2 1986 signed

Of course, it is through this that Levitz has so successfully made the members of the team so beloved.  As I wrote in yesterday’s post, we readers, having seen our heroes struggle through myriad trials & tribulations, very often emerging not-quite-unscathed, occasionally much for the worse, grew even more attached to them.  Levitz, as with other, earlier writers, showed that the teenagers of the Legion may have had fantastic powers, but they still had to struggle with hardships & setbacks, and that made them relatable & realistic.  That’s the winning formula that Stan Lee utilized at Marvel in the 1960s, and the various Legion scribes often managed to channel that same appeal.

(It’s probably no accident that some of my favorite DC Comics characters from the Silver and Bronze Ages are the more offbeat, flawed ones, such as the Legion, the Doom Patrol, Metamorpho, and the Unknown Soldier.)

One of my favorite of Levitz’s storylines from Legion of Super-Heroes is one that had a rather slow burn.  It involved the mysterious being known as Validus.  Introduced in Adventure Comics #352 (January 1967) by Jim Shooter & Curt Swan, Validus was a towering monster, a semi-intelligent child-like menace who projected mental lightning from his exposed brain.  He was one of the five villains the Legion reluctantly recruited to help them battle the Sun-Eater, a cosmic entity that threatened to destroy the entire galaxy.  In the end, they were successful, although Ferro Lad sacrificed his life, and the quintet of criminals banded together as the Fatal Five, becoming deadly enemies of the Legion.

Adventure Comics 252 pg 6

Fast-forward fifteen years.  Levitz and Keith Giffen have just finished their five-part epic “The Great Darkness Saga” which pitted the Legion against Darkseid.  After finally being defeated in Legion of Super-Heroes #294 (December 1982), the lord of Apokolips offered a parting taunt:

“I leave you my curse, Legionnaires… the curse of darkness growing within you, destroying you from within… and that which is purest of you shall be the first to go!”

About a decade and a half ago, when I picked up the back issues comprising “The Great Darkness Saga,” I had no idea what Darkseid’s curse as supposed to be or if Levitz (or any other writer) had ever followed up on it.  But then a few years later DC reissued the trade paperback collection, which also included Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #3 (1984), which was titled “The Curse.”

Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl are preparing for the birth of their child.  Meanwhile, on Sorcerers World, a group of Legionnaires are attempting to prevent followers of the evil sorcerer Mordru from reviving their master.  During the ritual, a shroud of darkness spreads all across the United Planets, including Medicus One, where Saturn Girl is going into labor.  Back on Sorcerers World, the Legion defeats Mordru’s servants, and the darkness dissipates.

Saturn Girl gives birth to a healthy baby boy.  However, she is a bit puzzled.  She was expecting two children, because on Lightning Lad’s home world of Winath, something like 99.999% of pregnancies result in twins.  And although Saturn Girl comments that twins are very rare on Titan, where she comes from, she then adds:

“It’s funny, though, when he was still inside me, I felt sure my telepathy was picking up baby thoughts sometimes, and I could have sworn I felt two separate babies’ thought patterns.”

And then we get to the final two pages of the Annual.  We discover that Saturn Girl did give birth to twins but, during the fall of darkness, Darkseid secretly transported away one of the newborns.

“They’ll never know that I have taken you… and if they had, they could not dream of what I shall do to you. You shall change, oh, change so much that they shall never recognize you. You will be mighty… but always in the cause of the darkness in which you were born. I consign you to the past, back through the years so that you shall meet them full grown before you have even been born. They shall never know you, child, or you them. And who knows, my little Validus, perhaps some day your own parents may even kill you? Thus is my curse fulfilled!”

Legion annual 2 pg 3

Yes, that’s right: Darkseid stole away one of the twin sons of Lightning Lad & Saturn Girl at the moment of his birth, so that they had no idea he existed.  The dark god then transported him back in time, in the process also mutating him into the tortured monstrosity Validus, who would become one of the Legion’s greatest enemies.  And he did so hoping that one day Validus would be slain in battle by his own parents, without their ever knowing who they had actually killed.

As I said, Paul Levitz is an evil genius.

I later found out that, in the years before all of this had been written, amongst early Legion fandom, there had been some speculation about just who or what Validus really was.  His unusual power of mental lightning had given at least one reader the idea that somehow perhaps it could be the son of Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, who had been a couple in the series for a long time, and who a lot of readers hoped would eventually marry & have children.  Levitz decided to run with this theory, giving it the horrifying twist of all being caused by Darkseid.

After I read “The Curse” I was in shock.  Once again, I had no damn clue if this was ever resolved anywhere.  It wasn’t until a few years ago that I came across a copy of Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 3 Annual #2 (1986).  The dynamic cover by Steve Lightle featured Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, and Validus, with the dramatic blurb “Darkseid’s Curse Fulfilled?”  This had to be it!

legion-annual-2-pg-4

“Child of Darkness, Child of Light” is written by Levitz, with artwork by veteran Legion artist Curt Swan (who drew Validus’ debut two decades earlier), as well as a prologue & epilogue penciled by Keith Giffen.  The issue opens with a flashback to Validus’ shocking origin, his transformation at the hands of Darkseid.  It then leaps forward two years.  Validus has inexplicably reappeared.  He is seemingly attacking planets at random, moving freely through space via Boom Tubes generated by the mad Daxamite teenager Ol-Vir, who worships Darkseid.

It turns out that Validus is following the telepathic trail of his twin brother Graym, without consciously realizing who he is searching for.  This eventually leads Validus and Ol-Vir to Winath, where Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad are vacationing with Graym.  The titanic Validus seizes the tiny infant.  Lightning Lad believes his son is about to be killed by this terrifying being, and is ready to use lethal force to prevent this.  For a moment, it really does look like Darkseid’s hope of manipulating Lightning Lad into unwitting infanticide is really going to succeed.  However, Saturn Girl, who had tried to use her telepathy to make contact with Validus and calm him down, finally realizes that he is her lost son.

With the shadow of Darkseid towering over the landscape, Saturn Girl demands, and then pleads, with the lord of Apokolips to restore her son to normal.  And Darkseid, who is a god and wishes to be worshiped, actually agrees, and shows mercy.  Validus is transformed back into a healthy, human baby boy.  As Levitz’s narration explains:

“One jest has failed, yet another may serve. Let the children live, if the mother is wise enough to acknowledge the power of the darkness.”

Legion annual 2 pg 37

I have to admit, Swan draws the hell out of this sequence.  I’ve never been a huge fan of his style, although I definitely recognize that he was a very solid artist who did good, dependable work  at DC for decades.  But his storytelling here is just amazing.  The sight of Saturn Girl, at first defiantly standing up to Darkseid, and then giving in to her grief and falling to her knees, with his shadow looming over her, is extremely well “directed,” driving home the dramatic impact of Levitz’s scripting.

Legion Annual #2 is, I think, among the high points of Levitz’s mammoth eight year run on the series in the 1980s.  As with so much of his other great writing, it contains both awesome spectacles and moments of genuine, moving characterization & emotion.  It also demonstrates what sets Levitz apart from many of his peers.  After running Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, and their children through an emotional gauntlet, he shows that there can be a happy ending.  Yes, there is great darkness (no pun intended) but there is also light and life.  It is a quality to his writing on Legion of Super-Heroes that has been consistent throughout the many incarnations of the team he has chronicled, that has made his work so poignant and enjoyable.

How I learned to love the Legion

Back Issue #68, the most recent edition of the excellent magazine edited by Michael Eury and published by TwoMorrows, took an in-depth look at the history of the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 1970s and 80s, topped with vintage 1973 art by the late, great Dave Cockrum.  I really enjoyed it, and was inspired to write about how I myself became a fan of these champions of justice from a thousand years in the future.  In comparison to some readers who have been fans of the Legion for many decades, I’m a relative newcomer.  And it was a rather long, convoluted road that led me to becoming a devotee.

The Legion of Super-Heroes, as illustrated by Dave Cockrum in 1973.
The Legion of Super-Heroes, as illustrated by Dave Cockrum in 1973.

When I first began reading comic books in the 1980s, I was almost exclusively into Marvel.  I’d pick up an issue published by DC here or there but, really, Marvel was my thing.  Then, in 1989, the Tim Burton Batman movie came out and, with the massive accompanying hype, I began picking up a few of the actual comics.  I enjoyed those Batman stories, and quickly moved on to the Superman books, buying the then-current issues by such talents as Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway, as well as catching up on the recent John Byrne stories via back issues.  Those, in turn, led me to several other DC books including Legion of Super-Heroes.

Let me be honest: 1990 was probably not an ideal time for a virtual newcomer to the DCU to pick up the Legion cold.  The title was still experiencing the aftershocks of Crisis of Infinite Earths (you can see my blog post “Should Superman Kill?” for a rundown on the entire Pocket Universe retcon of Superboy and the Legion’s history).  In addition, a new Legion ongoing had recently started.  Helmed by Tom & Mary Bierbaum, Keith Giffen and Al Gordon, this book had leaped forward half a decade into the future from the end of the previous volume.  During that gap the Legion had disbanded & scattered across the galaxy, the United Planets had been plunged into a massive economic depression, and EarthGov had been covertly taken over by the alien Dominators.  So even though I did rather enjoy the handful of Legion issues that I picked up around that time, I had a lot of difficulty figuring out who was who and what was what.

As I would find out years later, it also did not help that there were behind-the-scenes creative conflicts, with the editors of Superman laying down edicts that Superboy could not be referred to any longer, and neither could Supergirl, and a bunch of other stuff.  Editors Mark Waid & Michael Eury (yep, him again), Giffen, Gordon and the Bierbaums did their best to come up with ways to work around all this, such as substituting Mon-El for Superboy and creating the character of Laurel Gand to take Supergirl’s place in the Legion’s history (for a detailed rundown on all of this, check out the excellent article “Too Much Time On My Hands: The History of the Time Trapper” by Jim Ford in Back Issue #68).

Legion of Super-Heroes vol 4 #9, featuring Laurel Gand, who bears absolutely no resemblance to Supergirl, we swear to Grodd!
Legion of Super-Heroes vol 4 #9, featuring Laurel Gand, who bears absolutely no resemblance to Supergirl, we swear to Grodd!

One source of information that assisted me immensely was the latest edition of Who’s Who in the DC Universe which was edited by a certain Mr. Eury.  There were a large number of entries for Legion characters in that 16 issue incarnation of Who’s Who, and it really helped me figure out up from down.

Anyway, all the various tortured retcons eventually caused the entire Legion history to be totally rebooted from scratch.  And then several years later it got rebooted again.  None of this did anything to motivate me to follow the series regularly.

So what finally did make me a fan of Legion of Super-Heroes?  It was two gentlemen by the names of Dave Cockrum and Jack Kirby.

Dave Cockrum is nowadays best known for co-creating the “All-New All-Different X-Men” with Len Wein in 1975, and then going on to pencil two runs on the series, paired with writer Chris Claremont.  Back in the 1990s, Dave and his wife Paty lived in upstate New York, and so I often would see them at local conventions & store signings.  I became a huge fan of Cockrum’s work and, in the process, I learned that right before he came over to Marvel to revamp X-Men, he had had a short but extremely influential stint on Superboy, a title which in the early 1970s was the home of the Legion as a back-up feature.

In 2000, DC published Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Volume 10, which reprinted the majority of Cockrum’s work on the series.  I picked it up, and I instantly fell in love.  It was immediately apparent that Cockrum had really played a crucial role in reviving the Legion.  If you look at the first few stories in that Archives volume, the ones written by E. Nelson Bridwell & Cary Bates and drawn by George Tuska, they’re decent and entertaining, but nothing especially memorable.

Then Cockrum comes along, paired with Bates, and over the next few stories you can see a real shift.  Cockrum started to draw the Legion members as slightly older, so that they were in their late teens, and he designed new uniforms for them, ones that were more fashionable & risqué.  You could almost say he sexed up the Legion, although by today’s standards what he did is quite mild & innocent.  (My favorite was Cockrum’s costume design for Phantom Girl, and I’m happy I had the opportunity to get a nice sketch of Tinya by him.)  Cockrum revamped the technology, the look of the future, drawing a lot of inspiration from Star Trek.  Cockrum’s art also contained this energy and dynamic quality.  He really knew how to tell a compelling story, to draw exciting layouts and detailed sequences featuring multiple characters.

Superboy #200, featuring the wedding of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel, beautifully illustrated by Dave Cockrum.
Superboy #200, featuring the wedding of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel, beautifully illustrated by Dave Cockrum. (Click to enlarge!)

Cockrum may have got me to pick up that hardcover collection, but it was Bates’ writing that really hooked me.  He did an amazing job scripting the numerous members of the Legion, making them seem like real people who were teammates and friends and occasionally romantic partners.  I really got invested in this group of super-powered pals.

Cockrum’s stay wasn’t very long, lasting from 1972 to 1974, but by the time he left, the team had taken over the covers of Superboy, and the book was unofficially titled “Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes.”  Cockrum’s replacement was newcomer Mike Grell.  I enjoyed Volume 10 of the Archives so much, I picked up the next one, which has the beginning of Grell’s run, paired with both Bates and Jim Shooter on writing duties.  Obviously Grell has grown by immense leaps & bounds since the mid-1970s, but even back then you could see a great deal of talent & potential in his wonderful Legion art.

I also mentioned Jack Kirby.  As far as I know, the King of Comics never drew the Legion.  However, one of his most significant creations would play a major role in the annals of the team’s lore, courtesy of Paul Levitz & Keith Giffen.

“The Great Darkness Saga” originally ran in Legion of Super-Heroes #290-294, published in 1982.  A mysterious, shadowy “Master” and his “Servants” are ravaging the United Planets, stealing various objects & sources of mystical power, in the process even taking down longtime Legion foes Mordru and the Time Trapper.  After four issues in which the Legion has been beaten back by these mysterious beings, the identity of the “Master” is finally revealed: Darkseid, lord of Apokolips.  Using the immense magical energies he has stolen, Darkseid teleports the planet Daxam to a yellow star and seizes mental control of its now-superhuman occupants, giving him an army of a billion beings with the strength & abilities of Superman.  What follows is a titanic battle across the whole of the galaxy, as the Legion calls in practically every single one of their reserve members & allies to try and halt Darkseid & his enslaved pawns.

Darkseid’s identity was well-hidden back when “The Great Darkness Saga” was first published.  In hindsight, you can see that Levitz & Giffen sprinkled in several clues for those who were really paying attention.  Of course nowadays Darkseid’s role is very well known.  So, as a huge fan of Kirby’s New Gods, I was absolutely interested in reading this now-classic story in which Darkseid was the villain.  “The Great Darkness Saga” was definitely an epic adventure.  At the same time, Levitz invested his script with a number of personal, quiet moments and pieces of characterization.  Once again, I really got interested in these people, in finding out more about them.

Legion of Super-Heroes #294: Darkseid revealed!
Legion of Super-Heroes #294: Darkseid revealed!

“The Great Darkness Saga” had not one, but two, epilogues, which appeared in Legion Annual #3 (1984) and Annual #2 (1986)… the series restarted with a new #1 in-between these two, which explains that odd numbering!  Having failed in his quest for universal domination, Darkseid sought to achieve a more personal, hurtful victory.  And what he did was genuinely horrifying.  But more on that (hopefully) in a future installment!

In any case, between the work of Cockrum, Grell & Bates in the 1970s and “The Great Darkness Saga” by Levitz & Giffen in the early 1980s, I really became interested in Legion.  I picked up several of the previous Archive editions, which contained the work of Edmond Hamilton, John Forte, Curt Swan, and a very young Jim Shooter.  I also searched out many of the Legion issues that Levitz wrote in the 1980s working with artists Steve Lightle and Greg LaRocque.  It was all really good stuff.  And when the pre-Crisis continuity of the Legion was more or less restored several years back, I picked up the new stories by Levitz and Geoff Johns.  But, again, I’ll talk about that another time.

Silver Age artist Nick Cardy, who recently passed away, had a brief connection to the Legion.  In addition to his runs illustrating Aquaman, Bat Lash, and Teen Titans, Cardy created stunning, dramatic covers for numerous DC titles throughout the 1960s and 70s, including Superboy.  This meant that once the Legion took over as the regular cover feature in 1973, Cardy had the opportunity to draw the heroes of the 30th Century.  And he did so beautifully, composing a number of striking images for the title, until Grell took over the cover chores two years later.  Probably my favorite Legion cover by Cardy is Superboy #203.  He does a superb job, depicting the menacing Validus looming over the unsuspecting Legionnaires.

Superboy #203 cover art by Nick Cardy.
Superboy #203 cover art by Nick Cardy.

Within that comic, behind Cardy’s fantastic cover, was “Massacre by Remote Control.”  This featured the tragic death of Invisible Kid, who sacrificed himself to save his teammates from the near-mindless monstrosity Validus.  It’s a very moving, emotional story by Bates & Grell.

And that, in turn, goes back to why I’ve come to be such a fan of the Legion.  Writers such as Bates and Shooter and Levitz really had the ability to get readers to care for the characters in the series.  Over the decades, those characters have grown and developed, been in and out of relationships, seen great triumphs and terrible failures.  And sometimes, sadly, members of the Legion would fall in battle, such as what happened to Invisible Kid, or when Shooter & Swan showed us Ferro Lad bravely giving his life to stop the apocalyptic menace of the Sun-Eater.  When incidents like this happened, it really did affect the reader.  It’s no wonder that the Legion has such an amazingly dedicated fanbase.

Comic book reviews: Darkseid #1 (Justice League #23.1)

As I may have mentioned before, I really have not been much of a fan of DC Comics’ much hyped New 52.  There were a few series that I liked, but all of them ended up getting canceled.  The only exception is Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang, which continues to be an excellent read (I really should do a full length post on that soon).  Other than that, though, nothing else has really caught my attention.  But I may pick up Ann Nocenti’s work on Catwoman and Katana when it receives the trade paperback treatment.

So when DC’s whole month-long line-wide Forever Evil crossover rolled around, I had no interest in it.  I did end up picking up four or five of the tie-in issues due to the specific characters or creators involved, and even then nothing especially stood out.  And among those few there was one major disappointment: Justice League #23.1, aka Darkseid #1.

Those who follow this blog will remember that I am a huge fan of Jack Kirby, especially his amazing work on the “Fourth World” titles.  While I do not think any subsequent creators have been nearly as successful in their handling of the New Gods as the man who created them, there have nevertheless been some very good stories featuring them written by such individuals as Walter Simonson, John Ostrander, John Byrne, Paul Levitz and Jim Starlin.  And in the New 52, Azzarello & Chiang have come up with interesting takes on Orion and Highfather in the pages of Wonder Woman.  So I was curious to read Darkseid #1, which presents the New 52 origin of the lord of Apokolips.

Justice League 23 point 1 cover

There was actually some potential to “Apotheosis,” which is written by Grek Pak.  It starts off quite well.  We see that ages ago in another dimension, Darkseid was once a humble farmer named Uxas.  He lived on a world where a pantheon of titanic deities regularly wrecked havoc, brawling across the landscape with seemingly no regard for the tiny mortals at their feet.  Unlike his sister Avia and brother-in-law Izaya, Uxas recognized that these gods were oblivious to the plight of their subjects, and they cared not who was killed during their battles.  Uxas is clearly a man who feels wronged, who resents these gods, and who wishes to gain the power to control his destiny.  It’s an intriguing stepping-on point to understanding what drives Darkseid.

Unfortunately things then get confusing.  We see Uxas climbing the mountain of the gods and, while they are asleep, whispering in their ears that they should go to war.  Then he sits back and watches them nearly destroy one another and, once they are helpless, Uxas comes up to them and slays them all, stealing their power, in the process transforming into Darkseid.

At this point it really felt like this issue had skipped by a whole bunch of stuff.  Everything flies by so quickly.  Uxas’ manipulation and slaying of the gods seems to take place much too easily.  I know I often criticize modern comic books for their decompressed nature.  But this issue is the opposite problem: it felt like a three or four issue story crammed into 20 pages.

In any case, Izaya and Avia approach the last of the gods, praying for his help.  And even though these cosmic beings previously seemed to be completely unaware of their worshipers, suddenly the fallen “lord of the sky” rewards the dying Avia for still having faith by transforming her husband into Highfather.  The empowered Izaya futilely tries to reason with Darkseid.  They fight, and their world is destroyed.

Justice League 23 point 1 pg 11

The story abruptly fast forwards to Darkseid in place as the iron-fisted ruler of Apokolips, planning his conquest of other dimensions.  And some other stuff happens that I think ties in with past issues of Justice League and Earth 2, but I’m not completely certain.  Again, this sudden lurch in time really feels jarring.

I’ve read other comic books written by Pak, and he is usually much better than this.  I cannot help wondering if the bare bones of Darkseid’s story were handed to him by someone like Dan DiDio or Geoff Johns and he was given this single issue to try and flesh them out.  Whatever the case, the results are frustrating and disappointing, as we get snapshots, glimpses of what could have been a memorable story.

I’m sorry, but I just cannot help comparing this to Jack Kirby’s own work.  Maybe I am being unfair.  But just take a look at New Gods #7, “The Pact,” which he wrote & penciled back in 1971.  In the space of a mere 24 pages, Kirby recounted the origins of the longstanding war between Apokolips and New Genesis, in a tale that contained both epic cosmic conflicts and deeply personal moments.

New Gods 7 cover

In contrast, we have the just published Justice League #23.1, which, despite being given nearly the same page count as New Gods #7, just barely manages to begin exploring the origins and motivations of Darkseid and Highfather.  I really do not want to sound like a grumpy old man (I’m only 37 years old) but they really do not make comic books like they used to.

Oh, well, at least the artwork on Justice League #23.1 is quite good.  I am completely unfamiliar with Paulo Siqueira and Netho Diaz.  But they do a very nice job capturing the awesome, cosmic nature of events.  The coloring by Hi-Fi is vibrant.  As for the cover, the super-talented Ivan Reis draws an extremely striking portrait of Darkseid.

As I said before, I actually feel like “Apotheosis” could have been much better.  But it feels like someone dropped the ball along the way.  I don’t know, maybe most of the criticisms I’ve leveled at this issue are indicative of the larger problems plaguing DC as a whole over the last few years.  This is probably why I read so little that is published by them nowadays (or by Marvel, either, for that matter).

Yes, there are many very good comic books being published nowadays.  You just have to look beyond DC and Marvel to find the majority of them.  Yeah, it’s definitely disappointing to see Kirby’s characters & concepts handled in such a sloppy manner by DC.  But, whatever, rather than dwell on that, I’m just going to look for the interesting, original work being done by other creators elsewhere.

Beautiful Dreamer sketchbook

I began collecting convention sketches and commissions in the mid-1990s, when I was in college.  At first, I would get them on loose pieces of paper.  But after several years, I had seen a number of other comic book fans who had these really incredible sketchbooks full of artwork that they had obtained over the years.  Many of these had the theme of a particular character or group of characters.  So in May 2000 I decided that it would be nice to start a theme sketchbook of my own.

Before I began it, though, I wanted to come up with a really unique theme, something that I liked and that artists would also enjoy drawing.  While I was a big fan of Captain America, I already had a bunch of loose sketches of the character and his supporting cast.  I wanted to start fresh.  Also, it occurred to me that if I picked a sexy female character, artists would be more interested in drawing her.

Then, in a bolt of inspiration, it occurred to me.  I was a huge fan of Jack Kirby’s “Fourth World” titles that he had created in the early 1970s for DC Comics.  In one of these, Forever People, there was a curvy gal named Beautiful Dreamer, a sort of hippy chick who could cause psychedelic hallucinations.  Why not start a theme sketchbook around her?  Certainly the odds were exceedingly slim that, unlike a character such as Batman or Wolverine, anyone else would have a book of drawings featuring Beautiful Dreamer.

Beautiful Dreamer and Darkseid by Jack Kirby
Beautiful Dreamer and Darkseid by Jack Kirby

I wanted to get someone really special to draw an outstanding piece to start off the book.  Obviously asking Jack Kirby himself was impossible, as he had sadly passed away in 1994.  Then, once again, inspiration struck.  Over the last several years, at various New York-area conventions, I had met Silver Age comic book artist Dick Ayers and his lovely, charming wife Lindy.  I had struck up an e-mail correspondence with Dick, and obtained a few pieces of artwork by him.  At the time, I lived about ten minutes from their house, and they’d invited me over for a visit.

As part of his long, diverse career, Ayers inked / embellished Jack Kirby’s pencils on numerous stories in the 1950s and 60s.  Among these were a variety of monster, war, and Western titles published by Marvel Comics, plus early issues of Fantastic Four and Avengers.  Ayers had never worked with Kirby at DC.  By the time Ayers had moved over to DC in the mid-1970s, Kirby was back at Marvel, so I guess you could say they passed each other by like two ships in the night.  But one of Ayers’ assignments at DC was penciling post-Kirby issues of Kamandi.

So, in addition to being a very talented artist in his own right, Dick Ayers had that connection to Kirby.  Plus, from his recent work on the Femforce series published by AC Comics, I knew Ayers could definitely draw lovely ladies.  Why not ask him to draw the first Beautiful Dreamer piece in my sketchbook?  He agreed, and the resulting commission can be seen below.

Beautiful Dreamer by Dick Ayers
Beautiful Dreamer by Dick Ayers

I must also give credit to Dick & Lindy Ayers for helping me to obtain one of the other early pieces in my sketchbook.  They were friends & neighbors with Dan & Josie DeCarlo.  Dan was, of course, a long-time artist at Archie Comics.  In the early 1960s, he had come up with what is now the “house style” at Archie.  In addition to that, he had created both Josie and the Pussycats (inspired by his wife) and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.  Before working for Archie, DeCarlo had done a number of playfully risqué Humorama pin-up illustrations.  He definitely knew how to draw cute, sexy gals.  I thought it would be great to have a Beautiful Dreamer illustration drawn by DeCarlo.  But I doubted that he would want to sketch a character he was totally unfamiliar with.

I ended up mentioning this to Dick Ayers shortly before a Big Apple Comic Con that was going to be held in late 2000.  Dick thought my idea was a good one, and he promised me he would put in a good word for me with Dan DeCarlo.  Well, about a week later, I’m at the convention.  Dick & Lindy had a table right next to Dan & Josie.  When I came over to say hello to the Ayers, Dan took me to the DeCarlo’s table, and said something along the lines of “Hi, Dan. This is my friend Ben Herman. He would like to get a sketch done by you.”  Yeah, that was seriously cool!  So I handed my book over to Dan, showing him the piece that Dick had drawn in it half a year earlier, and I gave him an issue of Forever People as reference, and asked him if he would like to draw the character.  DeCarlo seemed a bit bemused by my request, but he agreed.  This is the piece that he drew.

Beautiful Dreamer by Dan DeCarlo
Beautiful Dreamer by Dan DeCarlo

Sadly, Dan DeCarlo passed away about a year later, on December 18, 2001.  I am really grateful that I had the opportunity to meet him and get a sketch done by him.  I am also thankful to Dick Ayers for making that possible by introducing me, as well as for starting off the whole sketchbook with class & style.

Fast forward a dozen years, and I’ve almost completely filled up the Beautiful Dreamer book with sketches and commissions by a diverse selection of artists.  I think there are less than 20 blank pages left in the back of the book.  You can view scans of them in my gallery on Comic Art Fans.  As you will see, the majority of these turned out very well.  And the two by Dick Ayers and Dan DeCarlo are, for obvious reasons, among my favorites.

My girlfriend grew up reading Archie Comics, and she thinks it’s amazing that I was able to get a sketch by DeCarlo.  She was the one who suggested I do a blog post about it.  Michele is also the one who came up with the cool idea that I get a Beautiful Dreamer tattoo… but that is a subject for a future post!