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?”

New York Comic Con 2015

I was originally not planning to go to New York Comic Con this year.  Then about a week before the show my old friend Mitchell Lampert contacted me to let me know he had two extra tickets for Sunday.  Thanks to Mitchell’s very kind and generous gift, my girlfriend Michele and I were able to attend the show.

As usual, I was on a limited budget, although I did manage to raise a little extra money at the last minute.  Even so, seeing all of the amazing creators who had tables in Artists Alley, I did wish that I could have afforded a few more sketches.  Well, there’s always the future.

Erik Larsen NYCC 2015

When we arrived at the Javits Center on Sunday morning, I immediately headed over to Erik Larsen’s table in Artists Alley.  Larsen is the creator of Savage Dragon from Image Comics.  I’ve been following it from the very beginning, over two decades ago, and for the last few years it has been my favorite ongoing series.  Larsen has been a guest at NYCC several times before, but somehow I’ve always missed him.  I did meet him quite a few years ago, but he had a long line then, so I really did not have the opportunity to talk with him.

Fortunately on Sunday, while there was steady traffic at Larsen’s table, it never got very crowded, and so I was able to spend a few minutes talking to him, asking him questions and telling him how much I enjoyed his work.  Larsen is definitely a friendly, cool guy.

I was able to obtain a couple of sketches by Larsen.  He did a quick free sketch of Malcolm Dragon, and then I paid for him to do a detailed Beautiful Dreamer in my theme sketchbook. Larsen is a huge fan of Jack Kirby, so for a while now I’d hoped to have him contribute to the sketchbook.  I’m happy I finally had the opportunity.

Russ Braun NYCC 2015

Next I headed over to see Russ Braun, a very talented artist who has worked on such series as Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Battlefields, The Boys and Where Monsters Dwell.  I met Russ at a signing at JHU Comic Books a few months ago, where he did a nice drawing of Beautiful Dreamer for me.  Since then we’ve corresponded on Facebook.  Russ is definitely a class act, one of the nicest comic book pros I’ve ever met.  It’s always a pleasure to see the new artwork he’s posting on FB.

I picked up a copy of Russ’ 2015 NYCC Sketchbook, which contains some amazing illustrations.  A lot of these are pieces he’s shared on Facebook in the last few months, and it was nice to see them complied together.  Russ drew a sketch for me in my Avengers Assemble book.  He drew a pretty obscure character named Masque, who you might recall if you were reading the Avengers comics in the mid-1990s.  I will be the first to admit that “The Crossing” storyline was a huge mess.  However, there were certain characters and elements to it that I thought had potential, and Masque was one of those.  Anyway, Russ did a great job sketching the character.

Sovereign Seven original artwork

I was pleasantly surprised to meet Christopher Ivy, an artist I know from Facebook.  He is an extremely prolific inker who has been working in comic books since 1988.  Ivy had some original pages for sale.  I was just browsing through them out of curiosity when I came across one of his pages from Sovereign Seven penciled by Dwayne Turner.  As I’ve written before, S7 was an interesting series.  This one leaped out at me because of the beautiful drawing of Lucy the cat by Turner & Ivy.

Yes, as regular readers of this blog will know, I am definitely a huge cat lover.  So I immediately knew that I had to buy this page.  Fortunately it fell within my budget.  Michele thought it was a nice page, as well.

Chris Claremont NYCC 2015

Chris Claremont, the writer of Sovereign Seven, had a table in Artists Alley.  I brought the page over to get his autograph.  Claremont was pleasantly surprised by this, and he appeared genuinely happy to see it.  I always thought the series had a great deal of potential.  Even though it was published by DC Comics, the characters were owned by Claremont.  I told him that I would enjoy seeing him write them again, if not in comic books then perhaps in a prose novel.  I get the feeling that given the opportunity Claremont would like to revisit his creations.

I spent most of the day in Artists Alley, mostly because it looked like the main floor was very crowded.  Around 3:00 Michele and I decided to give it a try.  And, yep, it was completely packed!  It was almost impossible to move in places.  I felt like we were on the NYC subway during rush hour.

After elbowing out way through the crowd and making our way from one end of the floor to another, we finally arrived at the Action Labs booth.  Unfortunately by that time the creators of the Hero Cats series had left for the day.  Well, maybe next year!

Paris Cullins NYCC 2015

Inching our way back the other was, Michele and I came to the Papercutz booth.  Paris Cullins was there to promote The Zodiac Legacy, the new series he’s working on with writer Stuart Moore.  Cullins asked if I would like a sketch.  He then proceeded to draw Michele and myself!  I think that I look sort of weird, but the drawing of Michele was of course beautiful.  It was a very nice gesture on Cullins’ part.

I met a number of other creators at NYCC.  Among them were Joe Staton, Bret Blevins, Jan Duursema, Tom Mandrake, Joyce Chin, Mike Lilly, Bob McLeod, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Joe Prado, Fernando Ruiz, Jamal Igle, Jim Chambers and Joe Martino.  I hope I’m not forgetting anyone.

There were, of course, some really amazing cosplayers at NYCC.  Michele took a whole bunch of pictures.  Here are a few of my favorites…

Sabine Wren from Star Wars: Rebels
Sabine Wren from Star Wars: Rebels

The Rocketeer
The Rocketeer

Hot Pepper
Hot Pepper

Doctor Strange and Zatanna
Doctor Strange and Zatanna

Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham
Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham

I really admire many of these cosplayers.  They obviously possess a great deal of talent to be able to create such amazing costumes, as well as the self-confidence to wear them at huge gatherings of fandom.

I’m happy that Michele and I were able to go to New York Comic Con this year.  It was fun.  At the same time, I’m glad that I only went one day.  Any more than that and I would have been completely worn out!

Sovereign Seven: “12th Night”

Chris Claremont is most prominently known for his extensive association with the X-Men franchise of comic books published by Marvel.  However, the prolific writer has worked on numerous characters and titles throughout the decades.  This was especially true in the 1990s.  After his 17 year run on Uncanny X-Men unfortunately came to an end due to disagreements with editor Bob Harras, in the succeeding decade Claremont was involved in a variety of projects.  Among these was Sovereign Seven, a title published by DC Comics that ran for 36 issues between 1995 and 1998.

Sovereign Seven 9 cover

Sovereign Seven was a bit of an odd specimen.  It was apparently set within the DC universe, and featured guest appearances by numerous established characters.  But the main cast who were co-created by Claremont & artist Dwayne Turner were copyrighted to Claremont.  In a way Sovereign Seven was off in its own sub-continuity, although occasionally some of the characters would pop up in books written by other creators, such as Mister Miracle and Genesis.  And the wrap-up in the final issue basically had Claremont ambiguously saying “Maybe all of this really did happen, and maybe it was all just a made-up story.”

Considering how notoriously mutable DC’s continuity has been over the past few decades, I’m content enough to regard Claremont’s Sovereign Seven stories as having been real events that took place in some corner or another of the vast multiverse.  Well, as “real” as fiction can get.  As Alan Moore famously observed, “This is an imaginary story… Aren’t they all?”

I’ve been meaning to do some sort of write-up on Sovereign Seven for some time now.  Despite its occasional uneven quality, as well as an abundance of Claremont’s dialogue ticks and favorite tropes (mind control, physical transformation, BDSM), it was on the whole an interesting, entertaining series.  I’d definitely love to pen an exploration of the complex, adversarial relationship between Rhian Douglas aka Cascade and her mother Maitresse.  But in the meantime, since it’s the holiday season, here is a look at Sovereign Seven #9, “12th Night” by Claremont, Turner & inker Chris Ivy.

Sovereign Seven 9 pg 2 & 3

One of the brilliant qualities of Claremont’s work on the X-Men titles was that he wrote characters from diverse cultures & societies, examining how they interacted with each another and strove to understand their differences while finding common ground.  He took that to the next level in Sovereign Seven, as his cast members each came from different worlds, different dimensions.

Thrust together in their flight from the mysterious, insidious threat of “The Rapture,” these seven rulers & aristocrats found refuge on Earth.  Their new home was the Crossroads Coffee Bar, an inn & restaurant located in rural New England run by the enigmatic sisters Violet and Pansy.  The seven exiles had to learn about one another, as well as their new home world.  They also had to adjust from being heads of state & monarchs to assisting the two sisters with the much more mundane tasks of the day-to-day running of the inn.

Another aspect of Claremont’s X-Men writing is that in between major story arcs he would take an issue or two to tell more personal tales, or show the team during “downtime.”  That is also a technique that Claremont utilized in Sovereign Seven.  “12th Night” has the team between crises, helping out at Crossroads in preparation for the holiday celebrations, and having fun engaging in a snowball fight.  Claremont also utilizes this issue to touch upon Reflex’s religion.  The world, the culture, he comes from had its own version of Christmas, and he takes this opportunity to observe his faith.

Sovereign Seven 9 pg 16

The most intense, isolated member of the team was undoubtedly Finale.  As the series unfolded, we learned of her tragic backstory, of the deep price the conflict with The Rapture enacted from her.  Claremont therefore uses “12th Night” to place her in more lighthearted circumstances.  Originating from a tropical water world, Fatale has never seen snow before.  Upon witnessing snowfall at Crossroads, an alarmed Fatale declares “The sky is falling!”  Claremont also allows her to briefly let down her guard.  Touched by a gift given to her by a new acquaintance, she allows herself to indulge in a movement of dance.  As Claremont describes it, “It is truly a sight of wonder and rare beauty to behold.”

As the holiday festivities unfold, Cascade cannot help but compare this to her past, the highly regimented existence she was forced to lead at the behest of Maitresse.  “We did nothing like this at home.”  Rhian, who is so used to living at the whim of her mother’s demands, is struggling find her own unique identity.  Also ever-present in her mind is the worry that her mother will find a way to follow her trail, escaping her other-dimensional prison.  Indeed, we see Maitresse attempting to enact just such a plan.

After an ominous encounter in the woods with an entity calling itself Triage, a being who promises to bring great strife to the Sovereigns, Cascade returns to Crossroads.  There she is pleasantly surprised to find a holiday party thrown in her honor.  At long last, however briefly, Rhian allows herself to relax and enjoy herself in the company of friends.

Sovereign Seven 9 pg 22

“12th Night” is a lovely tale.  Claremont very effectively utilizes the holiday season as a vehicle for exploring his large ensemble.  His florid prose is well-suited to generating a seasonal mood, and to delving into the inner workings of his creations. The artwork by Turner & Ivy very much captures the festive, spiritual atmosphere of the Crossroads community.  In particular, their two page spread at the beginning of the issue is beautifully rendered.

Sovereign Seven was an enjoyable title.  Claremont told some interesting stories working with several very talented artistic collaborators.  He did excellent work developing a unique cast of characters.  It has been at least a couple of years since I’ve read the series in its entirety.  I’m looking forward to revisiting it in the near future and offering up some commentary on this blog.