Comic book reviews: Dark Crisis: The Dark Army / War Zone / Big Bang

I didn’t get the recent Dark Crisis miniseries from DC Comics because, seriously, ANOTHER cosmic mega-crossover with the fate of all existence at stake? However, I did end up picking up a few of the specials that tied in with Dark Crisis because I liked several of the creators who worked on them.

Dark Crisis: The Dark Army is written by Mark Waid, Delilah S. Dawson & Dennis Culver, drawn by Freddie E. Williams II & Jack Herbert, colored by Adriano Lucas, lettered by Troy Peteri and edited by Chris Rosa. I got the variant cover by Werther Dell’Edera.

A massive battle is taking place between Earth’s heroes and the supervillain army under the domination of Pariah. Damian Wayne / Robin devises a desperate plan to sever Pariah’s control of the Dark Army. Unfortunately he can only afford to take a few heroes away from the battle, choosing Sideways, Power Girl and Dr. Light, with newcomer Red Canary tagging along, much to Robin’s annoyance. The quintet begin a jaunt across the multiverse via Sideways’ dimensional portals.

I thought The Dark Army did a fair job with the characters. Robin is arrogant, bossy, headstrong & condescending, just like his father Batman, but we get glimpses that Damian does admire the other heroes for their convictions, and that he does genuinely value his friendship with Jon Kent / Superboy. Probably the highlight of The Dark Army is the back & forth snark between Robin and the equally headstrong, much more experienced Power Girl, who you just know is not going to have much patience for Damian’s know-it-all attitude.

It was also cool to have Dr. Light play a significant role in the story’s resolution. I’ve always though she was an underutilized character. And given that she was first introduced in Crisis on Infinite Earths, it makes sense to have her as a central figure in a story with several callbacks to that classic miniseries.

During the grand tour of the multiverse, it was nice to see, however briefly, versions of Captain Carrot and Mary Marvel… or Mary Shazam, or whatever DC is calling her nowadays. I appreciated that Mary was wearing the white uniform Jerry Ordway gave her in The Power of Shazam, since I feel that always helped give her an identity somewhat distinct from her brother.

I’m not too enthusiastic about DC continuing to use Dino-Cop, though. The character is obviously intended as a cute nod to Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon, but I feel he’s just too similar to Larsen’s creation to be showing up on a regular basis.

Freddie E. Williams II and Jack Herbert both do very solid work on The Dark Army. I’m a fan of Williams, so it’s always good to see his work. He draws a few really dynamic double-page spreads for this story. I’m unfamiliar with Herbert, but he has both a nice, slick polish to his work and a sort of atmospheric inking reminiscent of Mike Deodato.

The two artists have extremely different styles, but it’s not especially jarring going from Williams to Herbert and then back to Williams. The only exception to that is Herbert draws Robin as much taller & older-looking than Williams, to the point where Williams’ Damian almost feels like a different character from Herbert’s version.

The next special was Dark Crisis: War Zone. As with The Dark Army, it was a very character-driven issue, featuring several short vignettes spotlighting different heroes amidst the ginormous battle with Pariah’s army. Rafael Sarmento turns in a very striking cover.

“On Time” co-stars Iris West and Linda Park, and it was definitely a stroke of genius by Jeremy Adams to team up the wives of the second and third Flashes. The artwork by penciler Fernando Pasarin and inker Matt Ryan was solid. I would have enjoyed this one a lot more if it was longer than eight pages, though.

And that’s the weakness in all the segments in War Zone: none of them are really long enough to really give more than a cursory glimpse of the characters. There are five stories in this special, each of them eight pages, and I feel it would have benefited the book greatly to have cut out one of them and given two extra pages to each of the other four features.

The Green Lantern Corps story written by Matthew Rosenberg was another highlight. The interaction between gruff Corps veteran Guy Gardner and newcomer Sojourner “Jo” Mullein was well done. Rosenberg writes one of the better versions of Guy Gardner I’ve ever seen. Yeah, Guy is a gruff, arrogant hothead, but he also has the guts & conviction to back up his attitude, and when he sees that Jo can pull her own weight in a crisis he acknowledges that she has what it takes. Oh, yeah… leave it to Guy to use his ring to conjure up a chainsaw!

The offbeat artwork by George Kambadais and colors by Matt Herms was enjoyable. And I especially liked the distinctive, organic lettering by Troy Peteri.

“Birds of a Feather” follows on from Red Canary’s appearance in The Dark Army. Returning to the massive super-brawl on Earth, Red Canary meets her inspiration, Dinah Lance aka Black Canary. Delilah S. Dawson’s script gets some mileage out of the ever-revolving door of life & death in superhero comic books. Red Canary adopted her identity as a tribute to Black Canary after the later died… and here’s Dinah returned to life already, offering the following pithy explanation:

“Superhero stuff. Long story. But I can assure you it’s me, I’m not an evil twin, and I’m not secretly a zombie.”

Tom Derenick illustrates this meeting of the Canaries. I really enjoy Derenick’s work; he was the primary reason why I bought War Zone. He definitely does a good job on this story. I believe Derenick’s most recent ongoing assignment was the recently-cancelled Teen Titans Academy, and I hope DC gives him another series to draw soon. “Birds of a Feather” was another story that I really wish had been longer.

Rounding out my Dark Crisis purchases is Big Bang, which was far and away my favorite of the three specials. Big Bang is the epilogue to the whole event, establishing that the multiverse has at long last been restored to an infinite number of alternate realities for the first time since the first Crisis series back in 1986.

Well, honestly, I thought the whole “Hypertime” thing already did that in the late 199s, but that never seemed to stick, and for the last decade or so DC’s had the whole “52 alternate Earths” going. So it’s nice for them to (again) remove that limit and give us a literally unlimited number of parallel Earths. Let’s just hope this time they keep it that way and don’t flush it down the toilet again two or three crossovers down the road!

Anyway, Big Bang opens with Barry Allen, the Flash of the Silver Age, declaring “I’m looking for the man who murdered me.” With the multiverse restored, Barry is concerned that the cosmic menace known as the Anti-Monitor, the entity who caused his death back during Crisis on Infinite Earths, is out there, somewhere amidst the myriad alternate realities. Accompanied by Wallace West, the new Kid Flash, Barry begins exploring the multiverse, searching for any sign of the Anti-Monitor.

I got into DC Comics in the early 1990s, so for me Wally West is MY Flash. I didn’t see the point of bringing back Barry because writers such as Mark Waid did a fantastic job establishing Wally as a worthy hero who at long last stepped out from his predecessor’s shadow. Having said that, I feel Waid did a good job on Big Bang writing Barry. I guess no matter who the Flash happens to be, Waid has a really affinity for writing the Fastest Man Alive.

I got Big Bang because it was penciled by Dan Jurgens, whose work I have really enjoyed since he was one of the primary creative forces on the Superman books in the early 1990s. Waid’s story, with Flash and Kid Flash exploring the multiverse, provides Jurgens with the opportunity to draw numerous alternate Earths and their superpowered occupants. That includes Earth-27, with its dinosaur Jurassic League.

Barry and Wallace eventually do locate the Anti-Monitor, who unfortunately attacks them before they can retreat. Barry is left in a desperate struggle to keep off-balance the awesomely-powered being who once took his life. Wallace uses the opportunity to recruit some of the multiverse’s greatest heroes against the Anti-Monitor. Of course Jurgens does a fantastic job illustrating this epic struggle.

It was cool to see the Victorian-era Wonder Woman from the Elseworlds graphic novel Amazonia and the future Superman from the Batman Beyond reality among this gathering of heroes. And even though I’m not especially thrilled with DC continuing the America’s Best Comics characters without Alan Moore, I still liked the cameo by Tesla Strong.

What I really liked about Big Bang is that it demonstrated you can have this sort of monumental cosmic conflict without padding it out across innumerable issues. Waid’s story is one-and-done and is therefore much the stronger for it.

Jurgens is inked on Big Bang by Norm Rapmund. I would have preferred Brett Breeding, Jurgens’ old inking partner from Superman, but Rapmund still does a fair job. (At least we got to see Jurgens and Breeding reunited on the recent The Death of Superman 30th Anniversary Special.) Coloring is by Federico Blee, lettering by Troy Peteri, and editing is by Paul Kaminski, Brittany Holzherr & Dave Wielgosz.

Big Bang ends with a two-page text listing of many of the Earths in the restored multiverse. Waid is an absolute master of continuity, so if anyone was going to be able to put this one together it would be him. I had a fun time perusing it, and I was glad to see the Atomic Knights returned to continuity on Earth-17.

The one thing that I did not like about Dark Crisis: Big Bang was the cover. As with every DC release nowadays, Big Bang had several covers. The main one is by Mikel Janín showing Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman from Earth-118 getting smooshed together, or something. You have a story featuring the multiverse’s greatest heroes in an epic battle against the Anti-Monitor and THAT is the cover you come up with? Three editors on this book and none of them thought to have Jurgens, or any artist who specializes in big superhero action scenes, draw the story’s big set piece for the cover?

I feel that’s one of the drawbacks of EVERY issue having variant covers. There’s such a focus on coming up with all the different covers that there isn’t that effort to create that one single dramatic image that’s going to sell the book.

I ended up instead getting the Big Bang variant cover by Ariel Colon. It’s still not all that dramatic, but with the characters from various different realities being featured on it at least it brings across the whole “restored multiverse” theme of the story. Plus it has Dinosaur batman on it. How can you say “no” to Dinosaur Batman?

There was at least another Dark Crisis tie-in, The Deadly Green, that I missed, which I’ll probably try to find, since it features some Justice Society related characters.

For the most part I enjoyed these three specials. Yes, there was room for improvement on each of them, but for tie-ins to a big, overblown crossover they were certainly enjoyable. I just hope that some of the new heroes and alternate realities seen in them get the spotlight in the future.

Kevin O’Neill: 1953 to 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m continuing my retrospective of The Power of Shazam published by DC Comics from 1995 to 1999.  This time I’m looking at issues #25-37, roughly the third year of the series. (You can find the first part here and the second part here.)

As always, the writer & cover artist on The Power of Shazam is the amazingly talented Jerry Ordway. Peter Krause and Mike Manley return as penciler and inker, respectively. John Costanza and Glenn Whitmore are the letter and colorist. Mike Carlin is the editor, with Chris Duffy providing assistant edits on #25 and #26, and Frank Berrios coming on beginning with #27.

Issues #25-27 are a key turning point in this series, because … History has been changed!

As we witnessed at the end of the previous story, somehow, impossibly, CC & Marilyn Batson are once again alive, and they, rather than their children Billy & Mary, possess the power of the Wizard Shazam, enabling them to become Captains Marvel! And only the Wizard realizes that things are not as they should be, that the timestream has been altered!

The Wizard discovers that the evil Professor Sivana, following the defeat of Mister Mind’s alien invasion, accidentally ended up on the Rock of Eternity, Shazam’s home at the center of all time. Sivana, realizing that all his misfortunes began when Theo Adam murdered CC & Marilyn in Egypt, utilized the Rock to go back in time to warn his past self about what he should and should not do.

So now, in the altered present, things appear idyllic for the Batson family. And having witnessed CC & Marilyn’s deaths in the graphic novel, and the effects of this tragedy on their children, it’s genuinely moving to see them all together in this new timeline.

We also get to see the normal, unpowered Billy & Mary using their courage & intelligence to outwit their father’s arch-enemy Ibic, which really demonstrates why in the “real” timeline they were so worthy to be given the power of Shazam.

Unfortunately, Sivana is still Sivana, and in this altered timeline he still cannot help being evil & self-destructive, with tragic results for the Batsons. Meanwhile the fanatical time-monitoring Linear Men are warning the Wizard that if he doesn’t correct this alteration of time then they will.

CC learns what has happened and reluctantly agrees to go back in time and fix things, even though it will mean he and his wife will no longer exist. However, CC at first tries to go back in time even farther, to before Sivana became a criminal, to try to scare him straight. Waverider of the Linear Men intercedes, showing him that Sivana is a necessary part of the timestream, and without him all sorts of weirdness could occur. Sadly admitting Waverider is correct, CC stops Sivana from changing history, CC and Marilyn fade from existence, and Billy & Mary are once again orphans.

However, in the now-restored timeline, Waverider ensures that CC’s long-lost will, which was hidden by his greedy half-brother Ebenezer, at long last resurfaces. The will grants custody of the children to Nick & Nora Bromfield. Nick & Nora had already adopted Mary years before, and now they are able to take in Billy, officially reuniting the siblings, much to the Wizard’s joy.

Ordway’s story and the art by Krause & Manley really sell the powerful emotions of this storyline.

Plus you have got to love that page where Waverider shows CC some of the possible Captain Marvels that might occur if history is further changed. The scene is a fun nod to the Kree Captain Mar-Vell & Rick Jones, the Monica Rambeau Captain Marvel, the Captain Marvel from the Shazam: The New Beginning miniseries by Roy Thomas & Tom Mandrake, the wacky android Captain Marvel created by Carl Burgos whose arms, legs & head would split off, the expy Captain Thunder from Superman #276, and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny!

Issue #28 finds Billy feeling ambivalent about this adoption by the Bromfields; he is happy that he and his sister are once again living together, but he’s uncomfortable about once again having parents. Billy literally had to survive on his own since their parents’ deaths, and now he has to once again get used to having structure & parental authority in his life. He also misses his old home in Fawcett City, finding the suburban town of Fairfield very different.

I feel that Ordway shifting the status quo was a great move, because he gets a lot of interesting, poignant drama out of Billy, Mary and the Bronfields all having to adjust to this new situation. One of the things that really appealed to me about this series was that it was as much about Billy & Mary’s personal lives as it was about superheroics, and this continues that direction.

Issue #28 is also a spotlight on Mary as Captain Marvel, debuting a brand-new white costume. We’re never explicitly told why Mary made the change, but the implication is that she has some sort of subconscious memory of the alternate timeline in which her mother wore one like it. Whatever the case, it looks great on her, and it makes her stand out from Billy. This issue also introduces Professor Bibbowski, the intellectual brother of salty tavern owner “Bibbo” Bibbowski from the Superman titles. Guest artwork on this story is by the legendary Dick Giordano.

Next is #29, one of my favorite issues of POS, featuring Hoppy the Marvel Bunny. Peter Krause demonstrates his versatility as an artist in this fun story that sees Billy transported to a “funny animal” universe via a magician’s top hat… said magician being the Great Carlini, a nod to editor Mike Carlin.

At the end of the story we’re left wondering whether it was all an hallucination Billy had… but since just a couple issues back Waverider showed CC Batson that Hoppy was a possible incarnation of Captain Marvel, I’m going to say this really did happen. Besides, it’s too much of a great story to write off as a dream.

Giordano becomes the regular inker on with this issue. It’s interesting to compare his work over Krause to Manley’s previous inking. Manley enhanced the cartoony aspects of Krause’s pencils, whereas Giordano brings a slicker ink line. Definitely a good demonstration of how two inkers can have very different effects on the same penciler.

I haven’t previously mentioned Dudley, the middle aged janitor from Billy’s old school in Fawcett. Dudley was one of the few people who knew that Billy was living on his own, and that he was also Captain Marvel, and the kind-hearted maintenance man often covered for him. Dudley is a decent-enough guy, although he is definitely irresponsible and drinks too much. He was previously kept in line first by Billy and then by Tawky Tawny, but now that Billy is in Fairfield and Tawny is off making a movie, Dudley has a serious string of bad luck and gets fired.

Drowning his sorrows in alcohol, Dudley is visited by Mister Finish, a demon who looks like a werewolf. Finish tells Dudley that he’s going to die in three days… unless he comes up with seven other people to take his place! Dudley doesn’t actually accept the deal, but he understandably cannot stop from thinking about it, and Finish plucks the seven names from his mind. The inebriated Dudley rushes off to Fairfield to get Billy and Mary’s help, and they need to prevent Finish from claiming the seven victims. This is another one I liked a lot.

Issue #31 is a crossover with the Genesis event that John Byrne was spearheading. Ordway had a good working relationship with Byrne going back years, so it’s not surprising that POS has a significant tie-in with Genesis. Ordway used the preceding two issues to build up to it, and the actual crossover in #31 is anything by a throw-away story.

Due to the power losses caused by the events in Genesis, and by the Wizard traveling to New Genesis, Billy and Mary have become stuck in their Captain Marvel forms. Nick & Nora are convinced that Billy & Mary have been kidnapped by Dudley, who was the last person they were seen with before they went missing. In order to get Dudley released from jail, and to assuage the Bromfields’ fears, Billy & Mary find that they must reveal their secret identities to their adopted parents. So once again Ordway shifts the status quo, and from here on one of the major themes of this series is Nick & Nora trying their best to be parents to two kids who have superpowers.

After this there were a trio of stand-alone issues that featured some really great writing & character-development by Ordway.

Issue #32 introduces U.S. Air Force text pilot Deanna Barr, daughter of retired World War II costumed hero Jim “Bulletman” Barr. We also see Billy & Mary now using Mother Boxes given them by the New Gods to transform into the Captains Marvel as, following the events of the Genesis crossover, the Wizard has chosen to remain on their world of New Genesis. We also see Nick & Nora still adjusting to finding out their kids are superheroes. All things considered, they handle it pretty well.

Issue #33 is regarded by many as one of the best issues of the series. Billy and Mary are trying to find a way to help their friend & classmate Victor, who several years earlier was left horribly disfigured by their old enemy he superhuman pyromanic the Arson Fiend. This story has been reprinted twice, first in Shazam! The Greatest Stories Ever Told in 2008 and then in Shazam! A Celebration of 75 Years in 2015.

Issue #34 co-stars Jose Delgado, the vigilante Gangbuster, who has been on the run from the law for some time now. For the past few issues Jose has been working as a substitute teacher at Billy & Mary’s school in Fairfield. But when Billy is kidnapped, and unable to change into Captain Marvel, Jose is forced reveal his true identity to save the teen. Ordway utilizes this story to continue the Gangbuster story arc he wrote in a couple of recent issues of the Showcase revival, as well as to set up events for the upcoming crossover between POS and James Robinson’s Starman.

Krause & Giordano do a fine job with some very intelligent, emotional material in these three issues. Krause also once again does great with the comedic material. I love that scene of Deanna Barr giving Captain Marvel a smooch, and the panel of Billy & Mary sampling their stepmother’s attempt at baking cookies speaks for itself. The expressions on their faces!

That brings us to the crossover with Starman written by James Robinson. “Lightning and Stars” runs through Starman #33-40 and POS #35-36.

Jim Barr, has been framed for treason by neo-Nazis! Utilizing decades-old propaganda footage created by the Third Reich, these modern-day fascists have convinced the world that back in 1942 Barr was actually a Nazi double agent responsible for sinking the luxury liner The Normandie in New York Harbor on February 9, 1942.

Barr, in fact, was actually in Alaska on that very day, accompanying Ted Knight, the original Starman, on a top secret mission to prevent the Nazis from acquiring… something. Unfortunately all these decades later the mission is *still* classified, and Jim feels that he cannot reveal the details to the public, even if it’s the only way to clear his name.

Back during that mission Bulletman saved Starman’s life during a fierce battle above the Alaskan tundra, and so Ted now seeks to repay Jim by offering him sanctuary. Government bigwig Sarge Steel is more concerned with making sure the events of February 9th stay a secret than he is in clearing Jim’s name, though. Steel manipulates Captain Marvel into going after the retired Bulletman. This puts Billy Batson into conflict with Ted’s son Jack, the current Starman, in Opal City.

Meanwhile, Mary Bromfield, rather than rushing in blind, actually uses her head. Investigating, she figures out the footage of Bulletman’s treason is a fake. Turning into Captain Marvel, she stops her brother from getting into another fight with Jack Knight. The three of them return to Nick & Nora Bromfield’s home in Fairfield, where Jim and Ted are trying to figure out how to clear Jim’s name, a well-drawn scene I previously spotlighted in one of my Comic Book Coffee entries.

I liked the scene Ordway wrote between Billy and Jack at the end of the crossover. Jack and his father have an often-contentious relationship, But as the orphaned Billy points out to him:

“You — you’re really lucky, y’know — that your dad’s still around for you. And you for him.”

Krause appears to have drawn a great deal of inspiration from primary Starman artist Tony Harris. Krause’s work on these two issues really evokes the layouts & storytelling seen in the other series. As always, Krause does a great job with all of the character-driven sequences.

Ordway’s painted covers for these two issues are very nicely done, forming a single, larger image with scenes both past & present. And, yes, that is Green Lantern Abin Sur on the cover! The revelation of what exactly Bulletmen and Starman found in Alaska in 1942 was definitely an effective surprise. I really did not see it coming.

Finally we get to issue #37, which is a Captain Marvel Junior spotlight. Freddy Freeman hasn’t been seen in this series for quite a while, having joined the Teen Titans in New York City, and thus been busy appearing in that series. Freddy returns to these pages just in time to accidentally be exposed to the psychic mists of the evil Doctor Morpheus… no relation to the brooding goth fellow who hangs out with Neil Gaiman! As far as I can tell this is the Doctor’s only appearance. Freddy fights his way through the nightmares that Morpheus creates out of Freddy’s own fears & insecurities.

At the end of the story Captain Marvel Junior, who’s magic word is not “Shazam” but “Captain Marvel,” renames himself CM3, because he finally figures out that having a superhero name that he can’t even say without turning back to his non-powered self is not such a great thing. I don’t know if CM3 is much of an improvement, but what can you do?

This issue is interesting in that we see former inker Manley returning to pencil the story, with current inker Giordano providing embellishments. They do a nice job with the weird, creepy story by Ordway.

And with that we bring this installment of this retrospective to a close. Next time Ordway will once again be shaking things up in The Power of Shazam in a major way!

Happy birthday to Alex Saviuk

Wishing a very happy birthday to comic book artist Alex Saviuk, who turns 70 years old today.

Saviuk’s career in comic books began in late 1977 when he started working DC Comics. Among his early assignments were Green Lantern / Green Arrow, The Flash, Superman Family and back-up stories in Action Comics and DC Comics Presents.

The first time I recall seeing Saviuk’s work was in Action Comics #571, which came out in early June 1985, shortly before my ninth birthday. Behind a shocking, attention-grabbing cover by Brian Bolland was “Mission to Earth,” a rather offbeat, humorous story written by Bronze Age Superman scribe Elliot S! Maggin, penciled by Saviuk, inked by Dave Hunt, lettered by David Weiss and colored by Gene D’Angelo.

“Mission to Earth” sees the alien robot Thresher222 teleport to Earth in search of a cure for the nova radiation that is destroying his fellow living machines. Thresher222 materializes in the Arctic near Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Unfortunately the journey leaves the robot with amnesia. Before Superman can solve the robot visitor’s identity problem, he has another emergency to tackle: In his other identity of Clark Kent, he’s supposed to interview Superman on television. For whatever reason Batman isn’t available to do one of the impersonations he usually does when Superman and Clark need to appear together, so the Man of Steel asks Thresher222 to don a rubber mask and assume Clark’s identity on live television.

Unfortunately the guest that “Clark” has to interview before Superman is Metropolis Councilman Gregg, who is running for Mayor. Gregg proceeds to spew a torrent of political nonsense, overwhelming the already-unbalanced robot, resulting in his head exploding on live television. Saviuk does an amazing job of depicting the left- side of “Clark’s” head going kablooey, an image superbly complemented by Maggin’s sardonic narration. Even now, almost four decades later, I still look at that page and start giggling uncontrollably.

In 1986 Saviuk made the move over to Marvel Comics. After working on a number of fill-ins for Marvel, including three issues of Amazing Spider-Man, at the end of 1987 Saviuk became the regular penciler on Web of Spider-Man beginning with issue #35. Editor Jim Salicrup also brought onboard writer Gerry Conway and inker Keith Williams with that issue.

Other than very short runs by Greg LaRocque and Marc Silvestri, Web of Spider-Man really didn’t have a regular artist for its first three years, and was frequently plagued by fill-in issues. This changed with Saviuk’s arrival. He remained on Web of Spider-Man thru issue #116 in 1994, and during his nearly seven year long run only missed a handful of issues. For most of his run Saviuk was inked by Williams, with later issues embellished by Sam de la Rosa, Don Hudson and Stephen Baskerville.

I’ve previously commented that I felt that Saviuk was overshadowed by Todd McFarlane high-profile runs on first Amazing Spider-Man and then the adjectiveless Spider-Man series. That’s unfortunate, because Saviuk was doing quality work month after month on Web of Spider-Man. Saviuk’s association with the web-slinger would extend well beyond Web.

In 1989 Saviuk penciled the graphic novel Amazing Spider-Man: Parallel Lives, in which writer Gerry Conway explored the complicated intertwined histories of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. Accompanying Conway and Saviuk were inker Andy Mushynsky, letterer Rick Parker and colorist Bob Sharen.

Parallel Lives allowed Saviuk the opportunity to do his own interpretation of many classic Spider-Man moments, among them the iconic “Face it, tiger… you just hit the jackpot!” scene originally depicted by John Romita in Amazing Spider-Man #42.

From 1994 to 1997 Saviuk penciled Spider-Man Adventures / Adventures of Spider-Man, which was based on the animated series that was airing at the time. After that, from 1997 to 2019 Saviuk was the penciler on the Sunday edition of The Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip.

So, yeah, Saviuk drew Spider-Man continuously for over 30 years. I definitely consider him to be among the all-time great artists to have worked on the character.

In addition to his DC and Marvel work, Saviuk has drawn for several other publishers. In the late 1990s he penciled several issues of the comic book adaptation of The X-Files published by Topps Comics. In the 21st Century he’s drawn a number of stories for Fantomet, the Swedish edition of Lee Falk’s costumed hero The Phantom published by Egmont, as well working on a few issues of The Phantom comic books published in the United States by Moonstone and Hermes Press. Saviuk also drew several covers for Big City Comics in 2006.

I met Saviuk a couple of times at comic cons, and he came across to me as a good person. He did a really nice Spider-Man sketch for me. I also got several issues of Web of Spider-Man autographed by him, among them the infamous “Spider-Hulk” story from issue #70 plotted by Gerry Conway and scripted by David Michelinie.

Having been exposed to gamma radiation leeched out of the Incredible Hulk in the previous issue, Spider-Man himself became big, green & angry. Of course by the end of the issue Spider-Man was restored to normal. Nowadays if Marvel did this they’d probably give Spider-Hulk his own series, or team him up with all of the other Hulk knock-offs, or something. In any case, Saviuk pulled of the task of rendering “Spider-Hulk” without the character looking too ridiculous.

More recently Saviuk has drawn several variant covers for Marvel, among them on the five issue miniseries Symbiote Spider-Man, continuing his lengthy association with the web-slinger. He is also a frequent guest at comic book conventions, where he draws amazing sketches & commissions, many of which can be viewed on his Instagram account.

Happy birthday, Alex Saviuk. Thank you for all the amazing artwork throughout the years. I hope there’s many more to come.

Happy birthday to Jamal Igle

Wishing a very happy birthday to comic book artist Jamal Igle, who was born 50 years ago today on July 19, 1972 in New York City.

Igle got his start in comic books in 1994 doing fill-in art on Green Lantern #52 from DC Comics. Soon after he penciled Kobalt #7 from DC / Milestone. Two years later Igle was doing work for Billy Tucci’s Crusade Comics, penciling Shi: The Way of the Warrior #8, Tomoe / Witchblade: Fire Sermon and Daredevil / Shi. Right from the start he was producing good, solid work, and I was definitely a fan. Every time new work of his appeared you could see definite growth & improvement.

Tomoe / Witchblade: Fire Sermon written by Peter Gutierrez, penciled by Jamal Igle, inked by Ravil, colored by Dean White & Top Cow Color, lettered by Dennis Heisler, published by Crusade Comics in Sept 1996

Igle finally got an ongoing book to draw in 2000 when he became the regular penciler on the revival of New Warriors from Marvel Comics written by Jay Faeber… only for the book to be cancelled a mere four issues later. Fortunately Igle was immediately given a four issue Iron Fist / Wolverine miniseries, also written by Faeber.

The next few years saw Igle draw several more fill-ins, among these various Green Lantern issues. I’ve always felt that Igle pitched in on the series so often, always doing such good work, that DC should have just made him the regular penciler. Igle also penciled the four issue creator-owned series Venture published by Image Comics, which once again paired him with Jay Faeber.

Firestorm #23 written by Stuart Moore, penciled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne, colored by David Baron, lettered by Travis Lanham, published by DC Comics in May 2006

In 2005 Igle at long last got another regular assignment when he began penciling the revamp of Firestorm from DC Comics, beginning with issue #8. I really wasn’t interested in the series, but because Igle was penciling it I started picking it up. Between his artwork and the writing, first from Dan Jolly and then Stuart Moore, I definitely became a fan of the Jason Rusch incarnation of the character. Igle stayed on Firestorm thru issue #32, doing incredible work. I was genuinely disappointed when first Igle left and then the series was cancelled three issues later.

Following a short run on Nightwing in 2007, plus issues of 52 and Countdown, in late 2008 Igle became the penciler on Supergirl, paired up with writer Sterling Gates. The work by Gates & Igle on the character was a breath of fresh air. When she was first reintroduced to the post-Crisis DCU in 2004 and given a new series, Kara Zor-El unfortunately looked like an anorexic porn star… at least that’s how I feel Michael Turner and Ian Churchill depicted her. When Igle became the penciler he actually drew Supergirl to look like a real teenager. I did feel there were too many editorially-mandated crossovers imposed on Gates & Igle during their time on the series. Nevertheless, they did very good work Supergirl. Their run wrapped up with issue #59 in early 2011.

Supergirl #53 cover drawn by Jamal Igle, colored by David Baron, published by DC Comics in August 2010

Igle’s next book was Zatanna, written by Paul Dini, followed by the four issue miniseries The Ray written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, which revamped the character for the New 52 continuity. That was another one I really enjoyed, and I wish more had been done with the character.

Beginning in 2013 Igle decided to focus on creator-owned and independent projects. The first of these was the Molly Danger graphic novel, which he wrote & drew. The book was published by Action Lab Entertainment. Molly Danger is a super-powered teenager who, alongside Vito Delsante’s The Stray and several other costumed crimefighters, occupies Action Lab’s “Actionverse” with the various characters crossing over in the six issue Actionverse miniseries in 2015. Molly Danger was a fun, engaging story, and I really hope one of these days Igle has an opportunity to finish the promised sequel.

Actionverse #2 written & drawn by Jamal Igle, colored by Ross Hughes, lettered by Full Court Press, published by Action Lab Entertainment in March 2015

Most recently Igle has been working on The Wrong Earth with writer Tom Peyer from Ahoy Comics, featuring the upbeat, cheery costumed crimefighter Dragonflyman and the brutal, grim & gritty vigilante Dragonfly. The premise of the series has been described thus: What if the campy Adam West television Batman and the Frank Miller Batman from The Dark Knight Returns somehow swapped places, finding themselves in each other’s world? The initial six issue The Wrong Earth was published in 2018, and has been followed by several sequels.

As I said before, I’m a fan of Igle’s work. I’ve met him on several occasions, and he’s always come across as a good person. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next. He’s an incredible talent.

An interview with comic book artist Mike DeCarlo

Mike DeCarlo has been drawing comic books for 40 years, both as an inker / finisher over a diverse selection of pencilers and doing full artwork. He has worked for a number of publishers, among them DC, Marvel, Valiant, Archie, Bongo, Boom! Studios and IDW. Mike graciously agreed to be interviewed about his lengthy career.

This interview was conducted by e-mail in December 2021.

BH: Hello, Mr. DeCarlo. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Let’s start out with your background. When and where were you born? When you were growing up did you read comic books? What other interests did you have?

Mike DeCarlo: Born in New Haven, Connecticut, March 1957. Loved cartoons, Newspaper Strips and Comics since I was 4 or 5. Sports of any kind also.

BH: What was your educational background? Did you major in an art-related field?  Was the comic book industry something that you actively hoped to enter?

Mike DeCarlo: Went Southern Connecticut State University in CT in 1975 and 1976 for Art. Found it boring. Began work as a Sports Cartoonist and Political cartoonist in 1977 to 1979. Took the Dick Giordano Art School Course in May, 1979 and after 2 months he hired me as his assistant.

The Brave and the Bold #179 (Oct 1981) written by Martin Pasko, penciled by Ernie Colon, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Ben Oda and colored by Carl Gafford

BH: How did you first find work in comic books? According to the Grand Comics Database, your first published work was inking Ernie Colon’s pencils on a team-up of Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes in The Brave and the Bold #179 from DC Comics in 1981. How did you receive that assignment?

Mike DeCarlo: By the end of 1980, Giordano told me to go to DC and show my portfolio to Joe Orlando, the Art Director, and he hired me as an inker on the spot. Yes, the Colon job was my first along with “Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk” [DC Special Series #27, Sept. 1981] which I inked with Giordano around the same time.

Green Lantern #150 (March 1982) written by Marv Wolfman, penciled by Joe Staton, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Ben Oda and colored by Anthony Tollin

BH: One of your earliest regular art assignments was inking Joe Staton pencils on Green Lantern, beginning with issue #147 in late 1981. How did that come about? Did you enjoy working with Joe Staton? He’s one of my all-time favorite comic book artists, and I feel the two of you went well together.

Mike DeCarlo: Joe was always a great guy to talk to and incredibly easy to ink. I only remembered it being offered to me at this point.

BH: In recent years you’ve expressed that you wish that you’d been able to focus on penciling and on doing full artwork rather than working almost exclusively as an inker. As a matter of fact, you did have  a few penciling jobs at DC early in your career, namely the Green Lantern Corps back-up story in Green Lantern #155 (Aug 1982) and three installments of the Huntress back-up feature that ran in Wonder Woman #302-304 (April to June 1983). What did you think of your work on these stories? How come you did not do more penciling during this period?

Mike DeCarlo: My penciling was very mediocre then. I had much to still learn. I was not shocked that more penciling was not offered to me.

The Huntress back-up in Wonder Woman #303 (May 1983) written by Joey Cavalieri, penciled by Mike DeCarlo, inked by Tony DeZuñiga, lettered by Duncan Andres and colored by Anthony Tollin

BH: Among the numerous pencilers you’ve worked with over the years has been George Perez, who is known for his hyper-detailed art style and his fondness for drawing huge crowds of characters. You first inked Perez first on Tales of the Teen Titans in 1984 beginning with the now-famous storyline “The Judas Contract” and were on the series for a year. How did you find working with Perez?

Mike DeCarlo: George was exacting and very complex. It was tedious but rewarding when finished.

Crisis on Infinite Earths #4 (July 1985) written by Marv Wolfman, layouts by George Perez, finishes by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Anthony Tollin

BH: You then inked Perez in 1985 on issues #3 and #4 of the Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries, which literally had a cast of thousands of characters. What were your thoughts on that assignment? In particular, I was struck by the fact that #4 was the only issue of Crisis on which Perez was credited with only providing layouts, meaning you provided the finished artwork. That must have been a great deal of work. That opening splash page alone, with Supergirl flying above Gotham City, is insanely detailed. [Note to readers: Check out the image above to see exactly what I’m talking about!]

Mike DeCarlo: Giordano told me about Crisis well before it started and that DC would use me and a few others to ink George. It was a landmark series for them. I did what they asked of me but it was very draining to do. I was not totally disappointed when [Jerry] Ordway took over.

Batman #428 (Dec 1988) written by Jim Starlin, penciled by Jim Aparo, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Adrienne Roy

BH: You were first paired up with longtime Batman artist Jim Aparo in late 1987, becoming his regular inker for the next four years. During that period you worked with Aparo on several high-profile Batman storylines such as as “Ten Nights of the Beast” and “A Death in the Family.” How did you receive that assignment? What were Aparo’s thoughts on your work? I felt you made an effective art team.

Mike DeCarlo: Again, it was just offered to me and I happily accepted. Jim was pretty easy to ink and he and I got along well. Jim said I did a wonderful job with his pencils. Quite a compliment.

Thor #475 (June 1994) written by Roy Thomas, penciled by M.C. Wyman, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Phil Felix and colored by Ovi Hondru

BH: In the early 1990s you began doing work for Marvel Comics. How did that come about? Eventually in 1993 you became the regular inker on Thor, paired up first with Bruce Zick and then M.C. Wyman. The two of them had very different art styles. How did you approach working over each of their pencils?

Mike DeCarlo: I went to see [Jim] Shooter and a few editors and lined up some work. Marvel was a fairly unfriendly place for me–maybe because I was known as a DC guy? I had issues with both Thor pencilers. I was happy to be on Thor, but those two were not pleasant to work with for me.

Fantastic Four Annual #22 (Summer 1989) written by Mark Gruenwald, penciled by Tom Morgan, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Bill Oakley and colored by George Roussos

BH: You’ve said on Facebook that Fantastic Four by Jack Kirby was one of your favorite comic books when you were a kid. You did have a chance to work on a few issues of Fantastic Four in the early 1990s. How did you find the experience? Would you have liked to have done more work with the characters?

Mike DeCarlo: I wish I could have done the FF every month!

BH: What was it like working with Mike Zeck on Bloodshot: Last Stand for Valiant Comics? That was another great collaboration, in my opinion.

Mike DeCarlo: We were the best of friends anyway and I found it a pleasure.

Bloodshot: Last Stand (March 1996) written by Mark Moretti, penciled by Mike Zeck, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Joe Albelo and colored by Frank Lopez

BH: For more than a decade, beginning in 1996, you worked on a variety of series featuring animated characters such as Looney Tunes, Pinky and the Brain, Animaniacs, and Cartoon Network Block Party for DC Comics. How did you approach working in a style that is very different from so-called traditional superheroes? Some of those animated stories also gave you the opportunity to do full artwork, which I image you enjoyed.

Mike DeCarlo: Animation came easy to me because I was skillful with a brush and enjoyed a highly graphic approach to Art.

Johnny Bravo in Cartoon Network Block Party #21 (July 2006) written by Jim Alexander, drawn by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Travis Lanham and colored by Heroic Age

BH: You’ve inked a diverse selection of pencilers during your career. Do you have any favorites?

Mike DeCarlo: Gil Kane, Michael Golden, Mike Zeck, Joe Staton and Jim Aparo and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez.

BH: What was your general approach to inking?  One thing I’ve noticed about books that you’ve worked on is that your inking style is fairly apparent at a casual glance, yet you also are successful at not subsuming the style of the pencilers you worked with. It seems like it must be a delicate balancing act, one that you accomplish very well.

Mike DeCarlo: I tried to “get into the head” of the penciler and use my art training judiciously.

“The 60’s” montage commission illustrated by Mike DeCarlo

BH: Please let us know what you have been working on in recent years.

Mike DeCarlo: I do tons of commissions, The Black Swan Man as an ongoing Internet Financial Strip and am working on Trinity, a Graphic Novel for European Investors. I don’t ink anymore, unless it’s my own work. I happily take on any commission a client has in mind. I’m also mostly done with a Patreon site for my work patreon.com/MikeDeCarloArt or website mikedecarloart.com

BH: Thank you very much for your time, Mike!

Comic Art Sale and Exhibit at the Society of Illustrators

Last month Michele and I went to the Society of Illustrators to see the Comic Art Sale and Exhibit. It was a great opportunity to see a very impressive & diverse selection of original artwork from comic books was on display, both from mainstream and alternative creators.

Here are just a few highlights from the Comic Art Sale and Exhibit, which ran from July 15th to October 23rd…

The unpublished cover artwork originally intended for Avengers #37 (Feb 1967) drawn by Don Heck for Marvel Comics that was eventually used as a cover by editor Roy Thomas for his comic book history magazine Alter Ego #118 (July 2013) from TwoMorrows Publishing.

A page from the Doctor Strange story “The Many Traps of Baron Mordo” drawn by Steve Ditko from Strange Tales #117 (Feb 1964) published by Marvel Comics.

The cover artwork for Green Lantern #56 (Oct 1967) penciled by Gil Kane and inked by Murphy Anderson, published by DC Comics.

The cover artwork for Hawkman #8 (June-July 1965) drawn by Murphy Anderson, published by DC Comics.

Two pages from Fantastic Four #116 (Nov 1971) penciled by John Busema and inked by Joe Sinnott, published by Marvel Comics.

A page from Incredible Hulk #196 (Feb 1976) pencil breakdowns by Sal Buscema and finishes by Joe Staton, published by Marvel Comics.

Two pages from the underground comix series The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers created by Gilbert Shelton.

The cover artwork for Laugh Comics #182 (May 1966) drawn by Dan DeCarlo, published by Archie Comics.

A daily installment of the newspaper comic strip Sky Masters penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Wallace Wood that ran from September 1958 to December 1961.

“Aqua Nut” illustration drawn by Rat Fink creator Ed “Big Daddy” Roth in 1963.

The cover artwork for Not Brand Echh #9 (Aug 1968) drawn by Marie Severin, published by Marvel Comics.

A page from Red Sonja #6 (Nov 1977) drawn by Frank Thorne, published by Marvel Comics.

While I definitely enjoyed this exhibit, it was slightly sobering to realize that in many cases the artists sold their original artwork many years ago for a fraction of the current asking prices. In some cases some of this artwork was given away by the publishers as gifts to fans, or flat-out stolen. It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances. So I can certainly understand why in recent decades comic book artists have chosen to sell their original work at much higher prices.

Denny O’Neil: 1939 to 2020

Longtime, influential comic book writer and editor Denny O’Neil passed away on June 11th at the age of 81.

A journalism major, O’Neil got started in the comic book filed in the mid 1960s.  After brief stints at Marvel and Charlton, O’Neil came to DC Comics, where he made a significant impact.

O’Neil was a very socially conscious individual, and he brought his concerns about inequality and injustice to his work.  He was assigned the Green Lantern series, which at the time was struggling in sales.  Working with artist Neal Adams, another young talented newcomer interested in shaking thing up, O’Neil had GL Hal Jordan team up with the archer Green Arrow, aka Oliver Queen, in a series of stories that addressed head-on issues of racism, pollution, overpopulation, drug abuse, and political corruption.

The above page from Green Lantern / Green Arrow #76 (April 1970), the first issue by O’Neil & Adams, is probably one of the most famous scenes in comic book history.

I read these stories in the 1990s, a quarter century after they were published.  At the time I found them underwhelming.  I felt O’Neil’s writing was unsubtle, that he threw Hal Jordan under the bus to make a point, and that Oliver Queen was just the sort of smug, condescending left-winger who gives the rest of us liberals a really bad name.  As with a number of other people, I always though Hal Jordan’s response to the old black man should have been “Hey, I saved the entire planet Earth, and everyone on it, on multiple occasions!”

When I voiced these criticisms, older readers typically responded “You really needed to read these stories when they were first published to understand their impact and significance.”  I never really understood this until I started reading Alan Stewart’s blog Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books.  Alan writes about the comic books that he read as a kid half a century ago.  When I came to Alan’s posts about O’Neil’s early work on Justice League of America for DC Comics in the late 1960s, I finally began to understand exactly what sort of an impression O’Neil’s stories, with their commentary on critical real-world issues, made upon so many young readers of that era.

So, upon further consideration, while I still find O’Neil’s writing on Green Lantern / Green Arrow to be anvilicious, I recognize that he was attempting to address serious social & political crises for which he felt genuine concern, and in a medium that for a long time was regarded solely as the purview of children.  However imperfect the execution may have been, I admire O’Neil’s passion and convictions.

In any case, O’Neil & Adams’ work on Green Lantern / Green Arrow is yet more evidence that comic books have addressed political issues in the past, and anyone attempting to argue otherwise is flat-out ignoring reality.

UPDATE: For an insightful alternate perspective on the Green Lantern / Green Arrow stories I recommend reading J.R. LeMar’s blog post on Denny O’Neil.

O’Neil & Adams were also among the creators in the late 1960s and early 1970s who helped to bring the character of Batman back to his darker Golden Age roots as a grim costumed vigilante operating in the darkness of Gotham City.  O’Neil & Adams collaborated on a number of Batman stories that are now rightfully regarded as classics.

I really enjoy O’Neil’s approach to Batman.  His version of the Dark Knight was serious and somber, but still very human, and often fallible.  I wish that more recent writers would follow O’Neil’s example on how to write Batman, rather than depicting him as some brooding, manipulative monomaniac.  O’Neil really knew how to balance out the different aspects of Batman’s personality so that he was intense but still likable.

O’Neil & Adams, following the directive of editor Julius Schwartz, created the immortal ecoterrorist Ra’s al Ghul and his beautiful daughter Talia.  Ra’s al Ghul debuted in Batman #232 (June 1971) by O’Neil, Adams and inker Dick Giordano.

Ra’s al Ghul was certainly an interesting villain in that he possessed shades of grey.  He admired Batman, and easily deduced that the Dark Knight was actually Bruce Wayne.  Ra’s wanted Batman to become his successor and marry Talia.  Ra’s was genuinely passionate about saving the environment; unfortunately his solution was to wipe out 90% of the Earth’s population and rule over the survivors.  While Batman had feelings for Talia and sympathized with Ra’s end goals, he was understandably repulsed by the ruthless, brutal means Ra’s pursued, and so the two men repeatedly came into conflict.

Throughout the 1970s O’Neil, working with artists Adams & Giordano, as well as Bob Brown, Irv Novick, Michael Golden, Don Newton & Dan Adkins developed the globe-spanning conflict between Batman and Ra’s al Ghul, with Talia often caught in the middle of their immense struggle of wills.  These epic stories were later reprinted in the trade paperback Batman: Tales of the Demon.  It is some of O’Neil’s best writing, and I definitely recommend it.

O’Neil of course wrote a number of other great Batman stories during the 1970s outside of those involving Ra’s al Ghul and Talia. Among those stories by O’Neil that are now considered classics is “There Is No Hope In Crime Alley” illustrated by Dick Giordano, from Detective Comics #457 (March 1976).

“There Is No Hope In Crime Alley” expanded upon Batman’s origin and introduced Leslie Thompkins, the doctor and social worker who cared for young Bruce Wayne after his parents were murdered in Crime Alley. The story was later included in the 1988 collection The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, which is where I first read it. It was actually one of four stories from the 1970s written by O’Neil to be included in that volume, a fact that speaks to how well-regarded his work on the character was.

In the early 1980s O’Neil went to work at Marvel Comics.  In addition to editing several titles, he wrote Iron Man and Daredevil.  On Iron Man he decided to follow up on Tony Stark’s alcoholism, which had been established a few years earlier by Bob Layton & David Michelinie. O’Neil had struggled with alcoholism in real life, and he wanted to address that in the comic book Stark was apparently white-knuckling it, trying to stay sober without a support system or a program of recovery.

O’Neil, working with penciler Luke McDonnell & inker Steve Mitchell, wrote a three year long story arc around Stark’s alcoholism.  Corporate raider Obidiah Stane, a literal chess master, ruthlessly manipulated events so that Tony fell off the wagon hard, then swooped in and bought out Stark International from under him.  Stark became destitute and homeless, and was forced to make a long, difficult climb back to sobriety, rebuilding both his life and his company from the ground up.

It’s worth noting another development in O’Neil’s Iron Man run.  Previously in Green Lantern / Green Arrow, O’Neil & Adams had introduced African American architect John Stewart, who they had become a new Green Lantern.  Twelve years later on Iron Man O’Neil had African-American pilot & ex-soldier James Rhodes, a longtime supporting character, become the new Iron Man after Stark succumbed to alcoholism.  Rhodey would remain in the Iron Man role for over two years, until Tony was finally well enough to resume it.

So, once again, the next time you hear some troll grousing about SJWs replacing long-running white superheroes with minorities, or some such nonsense, remember that O’Neil did this twice, telling some really interesting, insightful stories in the process.

This is another instance where the argument comes up that you had to be reading these comic books when they were coming out to understand that impact.  In this case I can vouch for it personally.  It was early 1985, I was eight years old, and the very first issue of Iron Man I ever read was in the middle of this storyline. So right from the start I just accepted that there could be different people in the Iron Man armor, and one of them just happened to be black.

In the late 1980s O’Neil returned to DC Comics, where he became the editor of the various Batman titles.  He also continued to write.  Among the noteworthy stories he penned was “Venom” in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #16-20 (March to July 1991), with layouts by Trevor Von Eeden, pencils by Russ Braun, and inks & covers by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.

“Venom” is set early in Batman’s career.  After the Dark Knight fails to save a young girl from drowning, he begins to take an experimental drug to heighten his strength.  Unfortunately he very quickly becomes addicted to the Venom, and is almost manipulated into becoming a murderer by the military conspiracy that developed the drug.  Locking himself in the Batcave for a month, Batman suffers a horrific withdrawal.  Finally clean, he emerges to pursue the creators of the Venom drug.

It is likely that “Venom” was another story informed by O’Neil’s own struggles with addiction.  It is certainly a riveting, intense story.  Venom was reintroduced a few years later in the sprawling Batman crossover “Knightfall” that O’Neil edited, which saw the criminal mastermind Bane using the drug as the source of his superhuman strength.

In 1992 O’Neil, working with up-and-coming penciler Joe Quesada and inker Kevin Nolan, introduced a new character to the Bat-verse.  Azrael was the latest in a line of warriors tasked with serving the secretive religious sect The Order of St. Dumas.  Programmed subliminally from birth, Jean-Paul Valley assumed the Azrael identity after his father’s murder.

Azrael soon after became a significant figure in the “Knightfall” crossover.  After Batman is defeated by Bane, his back broken, Azrael becomes the new Dark Knight.  Unfortunately the brainwashing by the Order led Azrael / Batman to become increasingly violent and unstable.  After a long, difficult recovery Bruce Wayne resumed the identity of Batman and defeated Azrael.  O’Neil appears to have had a fondness for the character, as he then went on the write the Azrael ongoing series that lasted for 100 issues.

Another of O’Neil’s projects from the 1990s that I enjoyed was the bookshelf special Batman / Green Arrow: The Poison Tomorrow, released in 1992.  Written by O’Neil, penciled by Michael Netzer, and inked by Josef Rubinstein, The Poison Tomorrow had the Dark Knight and the Emerald Archer working together to prevent a ruthless corporation from using the femme fatale Poison Ivy to create a virulent plague.

O’Neil’s liberalism definitely shines through with his clear distrust of Corporate America.  In one scene that evokes “the banality of evil” multi-millionaire CEO Fenn casually discusses with Poison Ivy his plan to poison jars of baby food, killing hundreds of infants, and then to sell the antidote to millions of terrified parents across the nation.  Reading this story again in 2020, it is not at all far-fetched, as in recent months we have repeatedly seen various corporations publically musing on the various ways in which they can turn a profit on the COVID-19 pandemic.

I also like how O’Neil wrote the team-up of Batman and Green Arrow.  Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen can both be very stubborn, inflexible individuals.  Each of them has a tendency to browbeat others into submission, so having them forced to work together is basically a case of unstoppable force meets unmovable object.  O’Neil got a lot of mileage out of the tense, almost adversarial chemistry that existed between these two reluctant allies.

The Poison Tomorrow is a grim, unsettling tale.  The moody artwork by Netzer & Rubinstein and the coloring by Lovern Kindzierski effectively compliment O’Neil’s story.  There were such a deluge of Batman-related projects published by DC Comics in the early 1990s that I think The Poison Tomorrow sort of flew under a lot of people’s radar.  I definitely recommend seeking out a copy.

O’Neil had such a long, diverse career that I have really only touched on a few highlights in this piece.  I am certain other fans, as well as the colleagues who actually worked with & knew him, will be penning their own tributes in which O’Neil’s many other important contributions will be discussed.

For example, I’m sure some of you are asking “How can you not discuss O’Neil’s fantastic run on The Question with artist Denys Cowan?!?”  Regretfully I have to admit that I have never read it.  However, if you are a fan of The Question then I recommend that you read Brian Cronin’s excellent tribute to O’Neil’s work on that series.

I was very fortunate to meet O’Neil at a few comic book conventions over the years.  Briefly talking with him while he was autographing some comic books for me, and hearing him speak on panel discussions, it was immediately obvious that he was an intelligent and passionate individual.  Those qualities definitely came through in his work.

The Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part Six

The challenge: Pick a subject and find a different artist every day for that subject.  I chose “coffee.” From the work of how many comic book artists can I find examples of people drinking coffee?  I post these daily on Facebook, and collect them together here.

26) Robert Walker & Bill Black

Femforce #6, penciled by Robert Walker, written & inked by Bill Black, lettered by Walter Paisley, and colored by Rebekah Black, published by AC Comics, released December 1986.

I previously featured art from the AC Comics title Americomics.  Here we have another piece of coffee-drinking artwork from AC, this time from the company’s flagship title, Femforce.  Overseen by editor Bill Black, Femforce has been in continuous publication since 1985.  As the title indicates, it features the adventures of an all-female superhero team.  I discovered Femforce two decades ago, and fortunately was able to obtain a number of the earlier issues, including this one, which enabled me to get caught up very quickly.

The team is made up of a combination of public domain heroines who date back to the Golden Age of comic books and newer characters created by Black in the 1970s and 80s.  Black and his various collaborators have done a great job developing an exciting and intriguing fictional world, giving the large cast of characters interesting personalities and rich backstories.

Of course, there is also a fair amount of T&A in Femforce.  It firmly falls into the category of “good girl art.”  Robert Walker, who penciled a handful of stories for AC in the mid 1980s, was definitely one of the artists who emphasized the more, um, curvaceous aspects of the characters’ physiques.  I haven’t been able to find much info on Walker, but after his time at AC he did sporadic work for Marvel, Milestone, Dark Horse and Valiant.

Black has inked a diverse selection of pencilers during Femforce’s 35 year run, as well as producing full artwork from time to time.  I’ve always enjoyed his inking on the AC titles.  He has a very polished ink line.

This page, which has Femforce’s newest member Tara the Jungle Girl brewing some coffee, encapsulates the qualities of the series.  We have the team’s founder Ms. Victory touching upon her personal history and family life.  We also have these two female characters drawn in a sexy manner.  I suppose you could say the two hallmarks of Femforce are characterization and cheesecake.

Femforce 6 pf 4

27) Jamal Igle & Dan Davis

Let’s make a return trip to Radu’s Coffee Shop in New York City.  “Hard-Loving Heroes” is penciled by Jamal Igle, inked by Dan Davis, written by Ben Raab, lettered by Kurt Hathaway, and colored by Tom McCraw, from Green Lantern Secret Files #3, published by DC Comics with a July 2002 cover date.

By this point in time Green Lantern Kyle Rayner was now dating Jade, the daughter of the original GL, Alan Scott.  While Kyle is off fighting some nut in a giant knock-off Gundam suit, Jade is meeting with her alien friend Merayn for a cup of coffee at Radu’s.  Jade is sharing her concerns with Meryan about dating Kyle who, while a basically decent guy, is still a little on the immature and unfocused side.  Jade finds herself wondering if she might be nothing more than a replacement for Kyle’s dead girlfriend Alex.

This page is penciled by the incredible Jamal Igle, who really shows off his storytelling chops in this scene.  He makes the conversation between Jade, Merayn and Radu interesting and animated.

Igle’s earliest professional work was eight years earlier, penciling several pages of Green Lantern #52 in 1994, followed by a fill-in issue of Kobalt for Milestone.  Looking back, his work on those first couple jobs was pretty good, showing potential.  You can then see continuous growth as he did pencils for various titles over the next several years.  By the time we get to this story, Igle was doing really high-quality work.  Igle subsequently had well-regarded runs on Firestorm and Supergirl at DC.  He then made the decision to focus on creator-owned and independent projects.  I’m looking forward to future installments of his series Molly Danger, the first volume of which was released by Action Lab Comics.

Green Lantern Secret Files 3 pg 15

28) Dave Johnson with Keith Giffen

Superpatriot #4, penciled & inked by Dave Johnson, plotted by Keith Giffen, scripted by Erik Larsen, lettered by Chris Eliopolis, and colored by Digital Chameleon, published by Image Comics with a December 1993 cover date.

Today’s entry is from another part of Erik Larsen’s corner of Image Comics, what fans refer to as the “Dragonverse.”  Superpatriot was introduced by Larsen in the original Savage Dragon miniseries.

Johnny Armstrong was an American soldier in World War II.  Captured by the Nazis, he was used as a guinea pig for scientific experiments.  Johnny gained superhuman abilities and escaped.  Assuming the guise of Superpatriot, he spent decades fighting crime.  By the early 1990s age was finally catching up to him, and he was brutally crippled by members of Chicago’s super-powered mob the Vicious Circle.

Superpatriot was rebuilt as a cyborg by the corrupt Cyberdata.  He was then captured by the high tech terrorist organization the Covenant of the Sword, who brainwashed him and sent him to attack the Pentagon.  Youngblood agent Die-Hard confronted him and was able to break through this mind control, and for the first time in months Superpatriot was in control of his own will.

In the final two page scene of the miniseries we see a brooding, contemplative Johnny having a cup of coffee at a Chicago diner.  The current incarnation of his old teammate Mighty Man arrives to provide a sympathetic shoulder, and to offer him a spot on the newly-formed Freak Force team.

Superpatriot 4 pg 23

I was a fan of Superpatriot from the moment Larsen introduced him in Savage Dragon.  I thought the design of the character was really striking and dynamic.  I was definitely thrilled that the character received his own miniseries and then joined Freak Force.

Dave Johnson is one of the top cover artists in the comic book biz.  He’s drawn covers for numerous series, among them 100 Bullets, Deadpool, Detective Comics, James Bond, Punisher Max and Unknown Soldier.  Early on in his career he did do some interior work, including the first two Superpatriot miniseries.  Johnson’s work on these was incredible, containing a tremendous amount of detail.  Apparently he decided he wasn’t fast enough to draw monthly comic books, and so transitioned to working as a cover artist in the mid 1990s.

Keith Giffen’s is credited on Superpatriot as both plotter and storyteller.  He probably provided some kind of layouts for Johnson to work from, although I have no idea how detailed they were.  Whatever the case, the storytelling on the miniseries was well done.

I like how this quiet epilogue is laid out, with the first page dialogue-free until the final panel.  Then on the next page the perspective shifts from one panel to the next, including a shot of Superpatriot’s face reflected in the coffee cup.  I don’t know who was responsible for planning out this scene, Giffen or Johnson, but it’s very effective.

Superpatriot 4 pg 24

29) Mike Dringenberg & Malcolm Jones III

Today’s coffee-drinking artwork is from what Entertainment Weekly referred to as “the scariest horror comic of all time.” Sandman #6 is penciled by Mike Dringenberg, inked by Malcolm Jones III, written by Neil Gaiman, lettered by Todd Klein, and colored by Robbie Busch, published by DC Comics with a June 1989 cover date.

Sandman was the story of Dream, aka Morpheus, and his siblings, the immortal Endless.  The first story arc Preludes and Nocturnes sees Dream, who has spent 70 years as the prisoner of an occult society, finally breaking free.  Dream must then search out his various lost objects of power.

Among these artifacts is a mystical ruby, which has fallen into the hands of John Dee, the super-villain Doctor Destiny.  “24 Hours” sees Dee using the ruby’s powers to slowly drive insane the patrons of a diner, torture them, and finally force them to murder each other.  It is definitely one of the most disturbing comic book stories I have ever read.

The story grew out of Gaiman’s idea of doing a 24 hour long story within 24 pages.  As he explained to EW in 2017:

“Suddenly I went, ‘Hang on. I’ll stay in one location, and awful things are going to happen in this one location over 24 hours.’ And it came into focus suddenly and beautifully. I knew roughly what had to happen in each hour and just brought a bunch of people onto the stage and destroyed them. And it was an awful thing. It was like, ‘Okay, where does my imagination go? What would I do to these people?’ And then going, ‘This needs to be relentless. It needs to be horrible. And it can never be torture porn. You can never enjoy what is happening to these people.’”

Dringenberg & Jones superbly illustrate Gaiman’s unsettling tale, suffusing it with menace.  Both the plot and the artwork begin very low key, with the diner patrons having their morning coffee, unaware that John Dee is crouched in a corner booth, waiting.  As the issue progresses the tension and horror of Gaiman’s writing and Dringenberg’s storytelling gradually escalate, eventually becoming almost unbearable.

The lettering by Klein and the coloring by Busch also play key roles in generating the mood of the story.  Especially the coloring. Busch’s color work is definitely a vital part of creating the unnerving atmosphere of “24 Hours.”

Sandman 6 pg 6

30) Arn Saba

The previous entry was from a very dark story, so this time I’m going with much lighter fare.  “Neil the Horse Meets Mr Coffee Nerves” is written & drawn by Arn Saba, from Neil the Horse Comics and Stories #3, published by Aardvark-Vanaheim with a June 1983 cover date.

Here is another series and artist that I was previously unaware of that I was introduced to by Comic Book Historians group moderator Jim Thompson.  I guess this is our second 1000 Horses / Comic Book Coffee crossover.  Regular contributor Cheryl Spoehr is a fan of Neil the Horse, as well.

What is Neil the Horse about?  As described by Quill and Quire:

“Saba spent more than 15 years combining his love of cartooning with his love of music to produce the adventures of Neil and his friends: Soapy, a feline grifter, and Mam’selle Poupée, a living doll in search of true love.”

Saba wrote & illustrated the adventures of Neil and friends from 1975 to 1989, first in a newspaper strip and then in comic books.  Saba also wrote a Neil the Horse musical comedy, Neil the Horse and the Big Banana, broadcast in 1982 on CBC Radio in Canada.  In 1993 Saba began transitioning into a woman, and is now known as Katherine Collins.

Conundrum Press published The Collected Neil the Horse in April 2017.  I may add this to my already-lengthy list of books to buy.  It looks like fun.

Neil the Horse 3 pg 1 coffee

“Neil the Horse Meets Mr Coffee Nerves” sees Neil, curious about everyone’s love for coffee, discovering both the joys and the dangers of hot caffeinated beverages.  I would undoubtedly be one of the people in that crowd enthusiastically declaring “Coffee time!”  Hopefully not that guy crawling on the sidewalk desperately searching for coffee!