I wanted to briefly note the death of fantasy writer Rachel Pollack, who passed away on April 7th aged 77 years old.
Pollack began publishing short fiction in 1971, and her first novel Golden Vanity was released in 1980. Her 1988 novel Unquenchable Fire brought her widespread recognition & acclaim and won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel a year later.
Unquenchable Fire is a very complex, sophisticated story that examines faith, spirituality and feminism. I don’t even know how to begin summarizing the plot to the novel here, so I’ll just quote the New York Times obituary for Pollack, which describes the book’s premise thus:
“the story of a divorced woman in New York State who becomes pregnant with the messiah in a United States where miracles are commonplace”
I definitely feel it’s worth searching out a copy of Unquenchable Fire, as I found it to be a thought-provoking read. It is one one the books I’ve made sure to hold on to throughout the multiple apartment moves I’ve made over the past quarter century.
As with many comic book readers, I first became aware of Pollack’s work when she was hired by editor Tom Peyer to succeed Grant Morrison on the DC Comics / Vertigo series Doom Patrol. Morrison’s incredibly bizarre, surreal revamp of Doom Patrol with artist Richard Case in 1989 had been justifiably acclaimed. As such, when Morrison departed the series at the end of 1992, the general consensus was that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to follow on from him.
Pollack wrote Doom Patrol beginning with issue #64, cover-dated March 1993. Initially working with Richard Case, Pollack was subsequently paired with artists Scot Eaton, Linda Medley and Ted McKeever, with striking cover artwork by Tom Taggart and Kyle Baker.
Among the themes Pollack addressed in her Doom Patrol run was transsexuality, a topic that in the mid-1990s was practically taboo in mainstream entertainment. Pollack herself was a transgender woman, and as such the subject was vitally important to her. She added the character of Kate Godwin aka Coagua, who in a 2103 interview she described as a “transsexual lesbian super-hero with alchemical powers,” to the series’ cast in issue #70.
Pollack remained on Doom Patrol thru issue #87 in early 1995, at which point the series was canceled. Perhaps that might be regarded as an indication that Morrison’s work on the title could not immediately be succeeded after all. Nevertheless, during Pollack’s two years writing Doom Patrol she crafted some incredibly distinctive stories.
Pollack’s work on the series has subsequently been classified by a number of people as underrated. Last year DC Comics finally released a Doom Patrol Omnibus collecting her entire run. Pollack’s issues can also be read digitally on DC Universe Infinite.
I was fortunate enough to meet Pollack in June 1994 when she did a store signing with her friend and fellow writer Elaine Lee. I got the then-current issue of Doom Patrol autographed by Pollack. I found her to be a very interesting individual. At the time I was only 18 years old, and so I had quite a few questions about the mature subjects she had been including in her stories, and she very patiently answered my inquiries. It was at this signing that I found out about Pollack’s work as a novelist, which led me to seek out Unquenchable Fire later that Summer.
Following the cancellation of Doom Patrol, Pollack and Peyer reunited to work on a reboot of Jack Kirby’s New Gods for DC Comics. The two co-wrote the first six issues of New Gods, with Pollack then writing issues #7 to #11 solo.
Although her New Gods was much more of a mainstream project than Doom Patrol, it was still on the unconventional side. It’s a series that I will hopefully have an opportunity to take a more in-depth look at in an upcoming blog post.
Pollack was also a recognized authority on tarot, and wrote extensively on the subject. Neil Gaiman had consulted with Pollack when he utilized the tarot-reading sorceress Madame Xanadu in his own work, the four-issue miniseries The Books of Magic published in 1990. Subsequently Pollack wrote the text for The Vertigo Tarot deck, which featured artwork by Gaiman’s frequent collaborator Dave McKean and an introduction by Gaiman.
Pollack continued writing both fiction and non-fiction in the 21st Century. She was also a longtime, vocal activist for transgender rights.
For further information on Rachel Pollack and her fascinating works I recommend going to her website, which remains online.
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.
I recently had the opportunity to pick up the trade paperback collection of the six issue Female Furies miniseries DC Comics published in 2019. Cecil Castellucci’s story re-imagines Jack Kirby’s New Gods characters from a feminist perspective, and reads very much as a response to the Trump administration. Sadly the main aspects of Castellucci’s story are still all-too-relevant, as the blatant sexism & misogyny that Trump helped to once again make socially acceptable still linger on strongly in conservative circles, and the GOP continues its war on women’s rights.
And, whether he specifically intended it or not, when Kirby introduced Big Barda in Mister Miracle #4 (cover date Sept 1971) he was making an advancement in the depiction of women in American superhero comic books. There had certainly been strong, powerful women in comics before, most notably Wonder Woman. Big Barda, however, was among the first occasions when a male superhero’s love interest was shown to be an equal partner, as well as his physical superior. There really had not been a relationship like Scott Free & Big Barda in superhero comics up to that point. And to then reveal there were numerous other powerful women on Apokolips who were Barda’s peers… that was certainly highly unconventional for the early 1970s.
Whatever the case, I think it speaks to the strength & flexibility of the characters & stories that Kirby created fifty years ago that Castellucci can so effectively utilize them to craft a feminist parable that is relevant to 21st century American society.
I would prefer not to describe the plot of Female Furies in detail, as I highly recommend picking up the collected edition, and I do not want to spoil the specifics. In short, the miniseries depicts how Barda and the other Female Furies struggle to gain acceptance by Darkseid and his male lieutenants, all of whom believe women to be naturally inferior to man. The Furies are subjected to discrimination & sexual harassment by the patriarchy of Apokolips in their struggle for equality.
An interesting aspect of the story is how Castellucci demonstrates that a patriarchy often turns women against one another, making them their own worst enemies. When their teammate Aurelie is selected for “special training” with Darkseid’s lieutenant Willik, the other Furies assume that Auralie is sleeping her way to the top. In actuality Willik wants to “train” Auralie so that he can get her alone with him to force her to have sex with him. When Auralie attempts to explain to her sisters what is happening, they accuse her of lying.
The brutal drill sergeant Granny Goodness, the Furies matron, is shown to be politically ambitious, craving to hold the same high rank as Darkseid’s other, male lieutenants. She will do anything to achieve this, including throw her charges to the wolves. When the Furies protest against their treatment by the men of Apokolips, Goodness basically tells them to grin & bear it. She pushes them to succeed in the field so that their successes will reflect well on her, enabling her to amass personal power.
In the end, Barda realizes that the women of Apokolips must work together if they are ever to overcome their oppression:
“Apart? We are held back from our true potential. United? We’re unstoppable.”
I do think the one area where Castellucci’s message falls short is with Heggra, the former Queen of Apokolips, and Darkseid’s mother. Heggra is one of those people who, regardless of gender, comes across at thoroughly rotten & irredeemable. Heggra was the one who ordered the murder of her son’s first wife, the sorceress Suli, solely because Heggra disapproved of their marriage and believed that Suli would make Darkseid too weak and empathetic. If Darkseid is a monster, then it is at least partially due to the machinations of his mother. When the emotionally hardened Darkseid later orders his own mother’s murder, it is difficult not to feel that Heggra has reaped what she has sewn.
I did appreciate that Castellucci gave Beautiful Dreamer from the Forever People a central role in the story. Beautiful Dreamer is a character who seldom receives any sort of spotlight or development. I liked how Castellucci showed Dreamer’s telepathic, hallucinogenic powers as playing a part in opening the Furies’ minds, and her faith & kindness demonstrates to them that there is another path for them to walk aside from the cold, totalitarian one of Apokolips.
Castellucci also presents an interesting characterization of Darkseid. Eschewing the terrifying cosmic menace that too many later writers have advanced, Castellucci returns to Kirby’s original conception of the lord of Apokolips. At heart, for all his incredible power, Darkseid is a coward, a miserable & unhappy being, and it is his own fears & insecurities that drive him to try to control & manipulate others.
At times Castellucci’s writing is bluntly unsubtle and her dialogue idiosyncratic. Perhaps on another project this might have been a defect. But the original Kirby stories were frequently operatic and allegorical, his scripting containing a particularly offbeat cadence. So Castellucci’s work here feels rather akin to Kirby’s own. Perhaps the plot of Female Furies does not hold together as strongly as it could, at time meandering, but it is nevertheless a very passionate story in delivering its message.
The artwork on Female Furies is by Adriana Melo. She is a very talented illustrator & storyteller. Her previous work includes Star Wars, Birds of Prey, Ms. Marvel and Doctor Who. I’ve always appreciated how Melo has rendered female characters. She draws them as beautiful & sexy without ever making them exploitative. As I have observed before, I feel that women often excel at drawing female characters, because they understand the anatomy from firsthand experience, and know how women should stand and move. Melo’s work on this miniseries is very expressive, emotional and dynamic.
I also imagine it is no accident that Willik, a character originally introduced by Kirby, is redesigned in this minsieries by Melo to have a more-than-passing resemblance to the Disgraced Former Occupant.
The lettering is by Sal Cipriano & Carlos M. Manhual, and the coloring by Hi-Fi. The extremely striking cover artwork to the collected edition, originally used for issue #6 of the miniseries, is by line artist Joelle Jones & colorist Laura Allred.
The trade paperback also reprints Mister Miracle #9 (August 1972) by Jack Kirby & Mike Royer. It’s one of Kirby’s strongest Mister Miracle stories, as well as one of the main inspiration for the Female Furies miniseries by Castellucci & Melo. Half a century later Kirby’s work still holds up absolutely, demonstrating what a brilliant & groundbreaking creator he truly was.
I was saddened to learn that comic book artist, publisher & historian Greg Theakston had passed away on April 22nd. He was 65 years old.
As a teenager Theakston was involved in the Detroit area comic book fandom in the late 1960s and early 70s. During this time period he was one of the organizers of the Detroit Triple Fan Fair comic book & sci-fi conventions.
Theakston, along with such fellow Detroit area fans as Jim Starlin, Rich Buckler, Terry Austin, and Keith Pollard, made the jump from fan to professional during the 1970s. From 1972 to 1979 Theakston worked at Neal Adams’ Continuity Studios, where he gained invaluable experience, learning the tools of the trade alongside his contemporaries. Theakston was one of the so-called “Crusty Bunkers,” a loose-knit group of Continuity-based artists organized by Adams. Throughout the 1970s the Crusty Bunkers would pitch in to help one another meet tight comic book deadlines. Theakston was interviewed about his time at Continuity by Bryan Stroud, revealing it to be a crazy, colorful experience.
Theakston worked for a number of publishers over the years, creating illustrations for National Lampoon, Playboy, Rolling Stone and TV Guide. His art appeared in a number of issues of MAD Magazine in the late 1980s and throughout the 90s.
Most of Theakston’s comic book work was for DC Comics. In the 1980s Theakston was often assigned the high-profile job of inking the legendary Jack Kirby’s pencils.
Theakston’s inking of Kirby proved to be divisive. Personally speaking, as a huge fan of Kirby, I like what Theakston brought to the table. I do recognize that Theakston was not the ideal fit for Kirby’s pencils in the way that Joe Sinnott and Mike Royer were, but I nevertheless felt he did a good job inking him.
One of the things to recognize about that collaboration is that during this time Kirby’s health unfortunately began to decline. As a result his penciling started becoming loser. Theakston was often called upon to do a fair amount of work to tighten up the finished art. This led to some creative choices on his part that were not appreciated by some. I think Theakston was in a less-than-ideal situation, having to make those choices over the work of a creator who was already regarded by fans as a legend and a genius. The result was a scrutiny of his inking / finishing more much more intense than if he had been working with almost any other penciler.
Theakston inked Kirby on the first two Super Powers miniseries, the Hunger Dogs graphic novel that concluded the saga of Orion and the New Gods, various entries for Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe, and the team-up of Superman and the Challengers of the Unknown in DC Comics Presents #84 written by Bob Rozakis.
I enjoyed Theakston’s work on these various titles. In my mind, the stunning cover painting for The Hunger Dogs featuring Darkseid that he did over Kirby’s pencils is one of the best pieces Theakston ever produced.
(Theakston’s inking on the Alex Toth pages in DC Comics Presents #84 was unfortunately much less impressive. In his defense I will say that when someone other than Toth himself inked his pencils, the majority of the time the results were underwhelming.)
Theakston also inked fellow Detroit native Arvell Jones’ pencils on Secret Origins #19 (Oct 1987). Roy Thomas’ story recounted, and expended upon, the origins of the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion, characters who had been created by Simon & Kirby in 1942. Given his fondness for the work of Simon & Kirby in the 1940s, it was entirely appropriate for Theakston to work on this story. His inking for it certainly evoked the feel of Golden Age comic book artwork.Theakston only worked for Marvel Comics on a couple of occasions. Early in his career he painted the cover for Planet of the Apes #9 (June 1975) in Marvel’s black & white magazine line. Almost a quarter century later Theakston painted a Kirby-inspired piece for the cover of the second Golden Age of Marvel Comics trade paperback (1999).
In 1975 Theakston founded the publishing company Pure Imagination. Under that imprint he issued collected editions featuring a variety of Golden Age stories & artwork by such creators as Kirby, Alex Toth, Lou Fine, Wallace Wood, and Basil Wolverton.
Theakston developed a process for reprinting comic books that DC editor Dick Giordano later referred to as “Theakstonizing.” As per What If Kirby, Theakstonizing “bleaches color from old comics pages, used in the restoration for reprinting.” Theakstonizing was used to publish a number of collections of Golden Age comic books in the 1980s and 90s, among these the early volumes of the DC Archives hardcovers. Unfortunately the Theakstonizing process resulted in the destruction of the original comic book itself. It’s a shame that so many old comics had to be destroyed to create the early DC Archives and other Golden Age reprints, but in those days before computer scanning that was the best way available to reproduce such old material. Additionally, as explained by Theakston’s ex-wife Nancy Danahy:
“Greg did everything to avoid destroying a valuable comic book for his Theakstonizing process. He would search for the ones with tattered, missing covers, or bent pages that devalued the book. It was only in a few instances that he used one in good condition, and only then if he knew the return on investment was worth it. He felt it would be better for the greater good to be able to share the work with more people than to let one book settle in a plastic bag on someone’s shelf.”
Beginning in 1987, Theakston also published the fan magazine The Betty Pages, dedicated to sexy pin-up model Bettie Page, of whom he was a huge fan. Theakston is considered to be one of the people who helped bring Page back into the public consciousness, resulting in her once again becoming an iconic figure of American pop culture. In the early 1990s Theakston conducted an extensive phone interview with Page that was published in The Betty Pages Annual Vol 2 in 1993.Theakston created several stunning, sexy paintings featuring Bettie Page. One of my favorites is a striking piece featuring Page in short leopard-skin dress, silhouetted against a giant blue moon in the sky behind her, with two leopards crouching at her feet. It saw print as the cover for The Betty Pages Annual Vol 2.
I thought Greg was a talented artist who created some very beautiful paintings and illustrations. All of my interactions with him were pleasant. I understand that over the years several others had much less amicable relations with him. Reportedly he was one of those people who could run very hot & cold, and that he was dealing with some personal issues.
Whatever the case, I do feel it’s unfortunate that Greg passed away. I know 65 is not young, but it’s not super-old either. Judging by the reactions I have seen over the past week, he will certainly be missed by quite a few people, myself included.
I am excited to announce that I have written an article that is being published in issue #104 of Back Issue magazine, which ships on May 9, 2018.
Edited by Michael Eury and published by TwoMorrows Publishing, Back Issue has been running since 2003. As per the TwoMorrows website, “Back Issue celebrates comic books of the 1970s, 1980s, and today through a variety of recurring (and rotating) departments.”
I have been reading Back Issue since it first debuted. Over the past 15 years Eury has assembled a talented line-up of writers to examine numerous interesting and diverse topics concerning the comic book medium. It is a genuine honor to now be counted among their number.
Supplementing its informative articles, Back Issue also features a wonderful selection of rare and previously-unpublished artwork by numerous talented creators.
Here are the specifics regarding this upcoming issue…
BACK ISSUE #104 (84 FULL-COLOR pages, $8.95) is the FOURTH WORLD AFTER KIRBY issue, exploring the enduring legacy of JACK KIRBY’s DC characters! The Return(s) of the New Gods, Why Can’t Mister Miracle Escape Cancellation?, the Forever People, MIKE MIGNOLA’s unrealized New Gods animated movie, the Fourth World in Hollywood, and more. With an all-star lineup, including the work of JOHN BYRNE, PARIS CULLINS, J. M. DeMATTEIS, MARK EVANIER, MICHAEL GOLDEN, RICK HOBERG, WALTER SIMONSON, and more! Cover by STEVE RUDE, re-presenting his variant cover for 2015’s Convergence #6. Edited by MICHAEL EURY.
The article I have written for Back Issue #104 is “Return To Forever: The Forever People Miniseries” which examines the six issue Forever People revival that DC Comics published in 1987. For this piece I have interviewed writer J.M. DeMatteis, penciler Paris Cullins, inker Karl Kesel, and editor Karen Berger.
I am a long-time fan of Jack Kirby groundbreaking work on the “Fourth World” titles in the early 1970s, as well as the various revivals that have been attempted over the subsequent decades. The return of the Forever People to print in the late 1980s is one that has not, as far as I am aware, been previously examined to any significant degree. I found it an enjoyable assignment to delve into the origins of this miniseries, and to offer an examination of the ways in which the changes in American society since the early 1970s were explored by DeMatteis through his writing in this series.
In addition to my article, within the pages of Back Issue #104 you will find “Forever Your Girl: A Beautiful Dreamer Art Gallery.” This will feature several of the wonderful pieces that I have obtained in my Beautiful Dreamer theme sketchbook from some of the top artists in the comic book biz.
Back Issue #104 can be previewed and ordered on the TwoMorrows website. The magazine is available in both print and digital editions.
One hundred years ago today, on August 28, 1917, Jacob Kurtzberg was born in the Lower East Side slums of New York City. Kurtzberg would grow up to become Jack Kirby, one of the most innovative, creative, prolific individuals to ever work within the comic book industry.
There is absolutely no way that I can do justice to the memory of Jack “King” Kirby, to the literal legion of amazing characters he created over the decades, in a single blog post. Entire books can, and have, been written about the man and his works. The Jack Kirby Collector, published by TwoMorrows, is a magazine devoted entirely to the life, work & legacy of Kirby, and it has been in continuous publication since 1994. If you do a Google search, you will find numerous other tributes to Kirby that have been prepared to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth.
If I had to pick one piece to which I would want to direct your attention, it would be “Kirby at 100” by Mark Evanier. A comic book writer & historian, Evanier worked as Kirby’s assistant in the early 1970s, and is one of the definitive authorities on the man.
It is very difficult to imagine what comic books would be like without Kirby, or even IF there would have been a comic book industry today without him. That is how incredibly important and influential he was.
Or, to put it another way, recently commenting on Facebook about Jack Kirby’s importance to the comic book biz, writer / artist Howard Chaykin bluntly stated “He’s why all of us have jobs, for fuck’s sake.”
To celebrate Kirby’s 100th birthday, I’ve begun re-reading (for the upteenth time) his astonishing “Fourth World” saga, beginning with New Gods. These stories were originally published by DC Comics in the early 1970s, and they are among my all-time favorite works by Kirby. Issue #7 of New Gods, “The Pact,” was once cited by Kirby himself as his favorite single issue that he ever created. It is indeed a magnum opus, at once both epic in scope and intimate in it’s tragedy, an examination of the terrible losses war inflicts, the corrupting influence of conflict upon even the best among us. The artwork by Kirby and inker Mike Royer is both breathtaking and heartbreaking.
Tonight I expect that I’ll dig out my copy of Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 3 and re-read the classic tale “This Man… This Monster!” Kirby, working with co-writer / editor Stan Lee and inker Joe Sinnott, produced Fantastic Four #51, one of the finest single issues of that series. One can endlessly debate “who did what” in the Lee/Kirby collaborations at Marvel Comics, but whatever the division of labor, there is no doubt that together the two men crafted some wonderful stories, including this one. That first page splash from FF #51 by Kirby & Sinnott of Ben Grimm, the Thing, standing forlornly in the pouring rain, is one of the most iconic images in the history of comic books.
Jack Kirby was a genius. As longtime comic book writer Roy Tomas observed today, “We’ll never see his like again. But then again why should we think we would? After all, we never saw his like BEFORE, either!”
As a lead-up to the direct-to-DVD animated feature Justice League: Gods and Monsters, DC Comics released a trio of prequels that delved into the origins of the alternate-reality versions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman who make up the team. Released as digital-first comics, print editions have subsequently come out over the past three weeks. These were co-plotted by Gods and Monsters producer Bruce Timm, co-plotted & scripted by longtime comic book writer J.M. DeMatteis, and illustrated by several talented artists.
I haven’t yet had an opportunity to pick up the DVD but I enjoyed these three prequels so I expect that I’ll be getting it in the near future. Here’s a quick look at them.
The Batman prequel reveals that in this reality the dark knight of Gotham is scientist Kurt Langstrom (who in the mainstream DCU is the shape-shifting Man-Bat). Langstrom was suffering from cancer and attempted to devise a cure. In a way he succeeded, although it resulted in him becoming a vampiric creature that needs to feed on blood to survive. In an attempt to alleviate his conscience Langstrom becomes a vigilante, draining the blood of criminals.
For a couple of reasons I was a bit underwhelmed with the Batman book. There were a lot of similarities between Langstrom and the Marvel character Morbius the Living Vampire. In addition, the concept of a vampire Batman was already done very successfully in the Elseworlds trilogy Red Rain. This feels a bit like a needless retread.
Nevertheless, despite the somewhat less-than-groundbreaking nature of this alternate Batman, DeMatteis does a good job examining Langstrom’s tortured psyche. The artwork by Matthew Dow Smith is effectively moody, although some of his storytelling is a little unclear, his characters a bit stiff. The cover by the super-talented Francesco Francavilla is very good.
I was definitely much more impressed with the Superman prequel. One of the qualities of Superman in his various incarnations is that although he was born on Krypton he was raised on Earth by the Kents, who instilled in him morality, responsibility and empathy. Whatever the circumstances of his birth, he became a hero because his human parents raised him to be a good person. Various alternate-reality versions of Superman have examined how, if the infant Superman had instead arrived somewhere else (such as the Soviet Union or Apokolips) he would end up a very different person.
The Superman in Gods and Monsters is not Kal-El, but rather the son of General Zod. Nevertheless, he is still a product of his upbringing. Found as a baby by a family of Mexican migrant workers, he is named Hernan Guerra. Young Hernan is raised by a loving family that tries to teach him to be responsible with his powers. Unfortunately he grows up seeing his family being exploited by farm owners who force their employees to work long, grueling hours for slave wages. He is also regularly subjected to racism and xenophobia, harassed by people who accuse him of taking jobs from “real” Americans. DeMatteis has the story narrated by Hernan’s sister Valentina, who explains the conflict that the young outsider must endure…
“All he knew was that he had the powers of Heaven – and yet his entire existence was of the Earth: The son of migrant workers whose lives were defined by unending work. Constant fear and suspicion.”
Despite his parents’ best efforts, Hernan grows up full of resentment. He wants to use his powers to make the world a better place, but his anger pushes him to extreme actions. He is a Superman who is balanced precipitously on a moral tightrope, a well-intentioned hero who is in danger of becoming a tyrant.
The art & coloring by Moritat effectively depict both the innocence of young Hernan and the bitter disenchantment he continually experiences as he grows older. Moritat superbly brings to live the complex characterization that DeMatteis & Timm have invested in their protagonist. The cover by Gabriel Hardman demonstrates the majestic yet stern & brooding nature of this Superman.
The last of the prequels, Wonder Woman, features Becca, a New God who flees to Earth in a Boom Tube in 1962. Living in exile among humanity, Becca is struck by the extreme dichotomy of humanity…
“And yet the very duality of this world calls to me… and I have no choice but to answer. So I travel from overcrowded cities to isolated mountains. From places of breathtaking natural beauty to war-ravaged wastelands. I observe the flow of life – with both wonder and horror — never interfering in the events unfolding around me.”
Becca eventually finds herself in New York in 1967. She is drawn to the hippie counter-cultural movement. Joining a group of teenagers known as the “Hairies” at an upstate commune, Becca admires their willingness to attempt to expand their consciousness, to discover the larger universe, but despairs at them relying on harmful drugs to do so. She attempts to help these young people achieve their enlightenment through more benign means, sharing with them the telepathic technology of her Mother Box.
It can be a difficult task to follow in the footsteps of Jack Kirby when revisiting his New Gods. The characters and stories were such a personal expression on his part, and very much rooted in the social & political climate of early 1970s America. Many a subsequent writer who has attempted to utilize the New Gods has either fallen into slavish imitation of Kirby, or has instead written material that feels very disconnected from the original stories.
DeMatteis has on occasion explored the New Gods. He wrote a Forever People miniseries and several issues of Mister Miracle in the late 1980s. Looking at those, as well as his work on this Wonder Woman special, I really feel that he is one of the more successful writers in revisiting Kirby’s concepts. Yes, DeMatteis takes a very different approach to the execution of the characters, but thematically his utilization of them is akin to Kirby himself.
Much of Kirby’s work on the Fourth World books was rooted in his dissatisfaction at the American landscape of the late 1960s and the early 70s. He was very troubled by the Vietnam War, by the Nixon presidency, and by the rise of the religious right. Kirby saw in the hippies and flower children of the time a possible hope for tomorrow: a group of young people who rejected violence and discrimination and who wanted to create a better, inclusive society.
DeMatteis very much taps into this in “The Dream.” Becca simultaneously regards the Hairies as both naïve and admirable. She very much agrees with their goals, but recognizes that it takes not just ideals but hard work to make dreams a reality. Nevertheless, she cannot help but think…
“Perhaps, I mused, naïveté is our best weapon against cynicism. Perhaps innocence is the only antidote to the soul-crushing disease of experience.”
Becca stays among the Hairies, hoping to assist them in working towards their goals. For all their flaws and moral blind spots, she recognizes that their ideals are noble and worth striving to achieve.
The special is very effectively illustrated by longtime artists Rick Leonardi & Dan Green. I have always found Leonardi’s style to be a bit sketchy & surreal, with a quality that can be either dreamlike or nightmarish. That very much suits the tone of DeMatteis & Timm’s plot. Green’s inking complements Leonardi’s pencils perfectly. They have previously worked together on several occasions, always to excellent results.
The cover for the Wonder Woman prequel is by Jae Lee, with coloring from June Chung. It is certainly a beautiful piece. Much like Leonardi, Lee possesses a quality to his work that is simultaneously hyper-detailed and illusory. His depiction of Becca is beautiful and striking.
Overall I was satisfied with the Gods and Monsters prequels. Timm & DeMatteis did a good job developing the back-stories of the characters. The scripting by DeMatteis is top-notch. He has always been really good at getting into the heads of his characters. The end result is that I am certainly interested in seeing them again in the animated movie.
When I found out that Sensation Comics #5 would feature Wonder Woman facing the dark New Gods of Apokolips, I was both anticipating it and feeling a bit apprehensive. Jack Kirby created a set of amazing characters in his “Fourth World” stories, but they were also very personal works. Subsequent stories featuring the New Gods have been very hit or miss. There have been certain creators who had a good grasp of the characters, such as Walter Simonson, John Ostrander, Paul Levitz and John Byrne. I definitely have to add Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman to that list based on their work in “Dig for Fire.”
In past issues of Sensation Comics it has been apparent that sometimes 10 pages just is not enough room for some creators to adequately tell a complete story. I’ve mostly been more satisfied with the tales that were 20 pages long. So I was hoping that eventually there would be a 30 page story entry that would comprise an entire issue. I finally got my wish with “Dig for Fire.”
Like most other stories to appear in this book, Bechko & Hardman’s tale is vague as to its place in continuity. It appears to be set roughly in the post-Crisis, pre-New 52 era. Hardman draws Darkseid with his original Kirby design. I prefer that to the New 52 look, which is much too busy & complicated for my tastes. As I’ve mentioned before, I enjoy the continuity-lite approach of the series, which enables creators to tell stories without having to worry about what is going on in other titles, and to utilize a variety of approaches to the character.
When two Amazons who have been sent to observe Apokolips go missing, and Parademons begin to pop up on Paradise Island, Hippolyta dispatches Wonder Woman to investigate. Knocking out a pair of arriving Parademons, Diana uses their Boom Tube to journey to Apokolips, where she disguises herself in their armor. She makes contact with Luftan, a merchant who had previously served as a contact for the Amazons. Luftan, however, informs the authorities of Diana’s arrival, and she is attached by the Female Furies. Diana finds herself outmatched by the Furies, who are incredibly formidable opponents.
Bechko & Hardman have a very good understanding of the world of Apokolips, and of its iron-fisted ruler Darkseid. Often writers will make the mistake of depicting Darkseid as a god of evil, which he is not. Darkseid as envisioned by Kirby is the god of fascism and totalitarianism.
Apokolips is a police state. Its inhabitants hate Darkseid, but they also believe that he is omnipotent, an all-knowing, all-seeing being who will instantly be aware of the slightest act of disobedience and punish it in the harshest manner possible. His rule is cemented as much by fear as it is by his actual power. When the Female Furies inform Darkseid that they have apparently killed Wonder Woman, he is actually enraged at them. He would much rather that they had captured Diana to be executed publicly; a spectacle to further enforce among his subjects the futility of resistance.
Wonder Woman is an excellent ideological opponent to Darkseid. Diana believes in liberty and justice and in the self-worth & dignity of the individual, in enabling each person to strive to achieve greatness. All of this is anathema to Darkseid.
Barely surviving her run-in with the Female Furies, Wonder Woman rescues her fellow Amazons from their own executions. Eluding pursuing Parademons and Dog Calvary, the three inhabitants of Paradise Island find a temporary refuge. There Diana is shocked to learn what her sisters have been up to: they have obtained an incredibly powerful bomb, a “planet killer,” from Lexcorp which they intend to use to obliterate Apokolips, thereby preventing Darkseid and his minions from ever threatening Paradise Island. Naturally enough, Diana is aghast at the thought of committing mass murder.
(I suppose that the closest real-world scenario would be if someone dropped a nuclear bomb on North Korea in order to take out Kim Jong-un and his inner circle. Yes, that would eliminate them, but it would also result in the deaths of millions of civilians who were unfortunate enough to be living in that horrible country.)
Wonder Woman and the Amazons are captured, but not before the planet killer is deployed. Diana manages to convince a skeptical Darkseid of the threat, and that she is the one to stop it. Plunging deep into the fiery heart of Apokolips atop a “scavenger-bot” with only a heat suit for protection, Diana manages to retrieve the bomb before it detonates. She returns with it back to the surface, where Darkseid uses his Omega Beams to destroy it, before turning them on the two rogue Amazons wiping them from existence. Acknowledging that they had an agreement, Darkseid reluctantly allows Wonder Woman to depart.
Bechko & Hardman do recognize that Darkseid, despite his tyrannical nature, also possesses pragmatism as well as a sort of code of honor, albeit a very individual one that he will readily bend to his convenience. Although he probably could have killed Wonder Woman if he really wanted to, Darkseid chooses to honor their deal because she did aid him. And perhaps he also would rather have Diana’s chaotic influence removed from his world as expediently as possible, without any more disruptions to his orderly rule.
By the disgusted, sulking look on Wonder Woman’s face on the last page, it certainly appears that Darkseid has come out completely unscathed, his rule totally unchallenged. But then Bechko & Hardman show us two of his lowly subjects who had previously been paralyzed by fear of their ruler. “An Amazon – an outsider – saved us. Even Darkseid knew it,” observes one of them, with the other responding “He did at that. And you know what? He’s not as tall as I thought he’d be.” Without even realizing it, Wonder Woman did achieve a minor victory, eroding ever so slightly the perception among the people of Apokolips that Darkseid is all-powerful.
The artwork by Hardman in “Dig for Fire” is perfect. He works very well in laying out pages that work in both the digital and print formats. It’s a very tricky thing, I imagine, designing pages so that will appear as two separate images on the computer screen and as one single page in the print edition. Hardman constructs several pages that work in such a way that the action is self-contained if seen in the digital format, but which also has the action flowing from top to bottom in the printed book.
His depiction of Wonder Woman is strong and beautiful, determined and defiant in the face of adversity. Hardman renders Apokolips as a sprawling industrial horror, replete with ragged, scavenging occupants, dank, dirty tunnels, and colossal machinery. It truly is a grotesque, nightmare world. Jordan Boyd’s subdued coloring works perfectly with the art in creating a grim, oppressive atmosphere.
My only major criticism of Sensation Comics #5 is the cover. On its own, yes, it is a nicely illustrated piece by artist Lawrence Reynolds. However the style of the piece is very polished and clean, which is the complete opposite of the interior work. Given that Bechko & Hardman story comprises the entire issue, it would have been better to have a cover that complemented the material.
Indeed, there’s really nothing on Reynolds’ cover that relates to the story within, except the image of Parademons that is reflected in one of Diana’s bracelets. And what is Superman doing on the cover? He is nowhere in this issue. It would have been a better choice to have Darkseid in his place, and place Apokolips instead of Earth in the background.
Well, it is said that you can’t judge a book by its cover. That’s certainly the case here. I was very satisfied with Bechko & Hardman’s story, and I would be happy to see them work on the character of Wonder Woman again.
This past week Wonder Woman #35 came out, bringing to a close the three year long story arc by Brain Azzarello, Cliff Chiang & friends. For those keeping track, that’s actually 38 installments: 35 regular issues, the flashback #0, the origin of the First Born in #23.2 during Forever Evil month, and a story in Secret Origins #6. It’s been quite a ride, and on the whole a successful one, at least in my estimation as a reader.
Speaking of Secret Origins #6, the twelve page tale contained within makes a nice prequel to this whole run. Written by Azzarello & Chiang, with artwork by Goran Sudzuka, it fills in a few blanks in the New 52 back story of Princess Diana. As in past continuities, Queen Hippolyta attempted to fashion a baby daughter out of clay; this time, however, the gods did not gift the clay with life. Instead the philandering Zeus made his presence known, and he seduced the Amazon matriarch, giving her the gift of a daughter. Hippolyta chose to perpetrate the lie about Diana being born of clay to protect her from Hera’s jealousy.
More significantly, we find out that Diana and Aleka, bitter rivals in the present, were once the closest of friends. There may even have been an unrequited love on Aleka’s part for the Princess. But Diana was restless, and wanted to explore the world beyond Paradise Island. Aleka felt betrayed & abandoned by Diana, which led to their current animosity.
Truthfully, the Wonder Woman tale in Secret Origins #6 could have used a few more pages. I think it’s a mistake to try to cram three different character origins into each issue. The histories of not just Wonder Woman, but also Deadman and Sinestro all needed more room to breathe. I think it would be better if Secret Origins became a double feature.
Moving along to Wonder Woman #30-35, the final six issues penned by Azzarello, the epic he has been weaving comes to an interesting, thoughtful, exciting conclusion. Truthfully, when I first read these issues, they did feel decompressed. However, sitting down and going through them again today in one sitting, I see that Azzarello took the time to bring closure to many of the subplots and themes that he had been developing over the previous two and a half years.
As Wonder Woman #30 opens, the First Born has seized control of Olympus, transforming it into a bloody charnel house that mirrors his twisted psyche. Consumed by millennia of rage at having been left to die by Zeus in ages past, he is ready to wipe out every single member of his family so that he will be the last god in existence. The surviving members of the Greek pantheon and their offspring, including Diana, have gathered on Paradise Island to mobilize the Amazon army to oppose the First Born’s nihilistic designs.
Before any move can be made against the mad god, though, certain affairs of state must be addressed. Hippolyta is still a lifeless statue, Hera inexplicably unable to restore her humanity. Instead Hera announces that Diana is the new Queen of the Amazons, a proclamation met with some disapproval, especially by Aleka. Thus Diana finds herself in the difficult position of having to assume yet another new identity. Already struggling to fill the role of the deity of War, now she must become a monarch. That involves not just leading her people into battle, but also into the future.
And a significant part of that future is the question of the role of men. A number of readers, perhaps understandably so, took issue with Azzarello writing the Amazons as man-haters who seduced males in order to breed before slaying them, and who exiled all of their male children to the realm of Hephaestus. Diana herself was unhappy when she learned of this. Now that she is Queen, she sets out to try and change the Amazons. She assigns to them the collective symbolic role of motherhood to Zeke, the infant boy who her friend Zola gave birth to after a one night stand with a disguised Zeus. Diana also has Hephaestus transport all of the sons of the Amazons back to Paradise Island, to fight alongside their mothers & sisters against the First Born.
As Diana explains…
“We need to evolve. We’ve isolated ourselves to the detriment of our society… and some of our children. The old ways… do they actually work anymore? Do we just cling to them because that’s the way our forebears intended? We need to look at ourselves and open the doors we’ve closed. And now is a good place to start.”
Azzarello also continues to examine how immortality is perhaps more of a curse than a blessing. If one is unable to die, at least from old age, then does one eventually begin taking life for granted? Without the ever-present certainty of death in the future, does one become aloof and disconnected from the rest of the world?
Previously the once-imperious Hera was turned mortal, requiring her to learn to deal with fear and loneliness and vulnerability. Azzarello showed the former queen of the gods gaining humility and an entirely different perspective on existence. She became friends with Zola, the woman who she once wished dead. But now restored to divinity, Hera once more begins to feel disconnected from humanity. When Zola tries to ask her what is going on, Hera coldly replies “I’m no longer mortal. I’m a god. Life, death… for me, it’s once again like one of those shows we would watch and laugh at together. It’s beneath my concern.” Listening to all of this, Zola angrily responds “You once said you were afraid of dying alone. Well, hope you like living alone… goddess.”
Strife also seems to epitomize the dangers of everlasting life. The goddess of discord seems utterly bored by existence, and the only way in which she can tolerate it is to create trouble. Strife is the ultimate shit-stirrer. She is like someone who hands a long, pointy stick to a group of children, encourages them to use it to poke at a hornet’s nest, and then sits back sipping a glass of wine, smiling in amusement as chaos & suffering unfolds before her. The carnage & devastation being wrought by the First Born is but one more diversion to entertain her.
Indeed, when the First Born and his army some come calling, Paradise Island is transformed into a war zone. The casualties on both sides are horrific, something that does not bother the First Born in the slightest. “There is no sentimentality in life” he harshly states to Diana. Having never felt love, having been rejected from the moment of his birth, the First Born wants nothing more than to share his pain with the whole of existence.
Diana, on the other hand, refuses to set aside her empathy and mercy. It is an integral part of who she is. As seen back in issue #0, years before when Diana was a teenager, the old god War, then her mentor, severely scolded her for her unwillingness to slay a fallen foe, and rejected her as his pupil. Now in the present, Diana is saved by that act of kindness. The Minotaur serving the First Born is revealed to be the very same one who Diana showed mercy to all those years ago, and it refuses to kill her. This act is enough to restore Diana’s faith in her abilities & beliefs, and to once again stand against the First Born.
Orion from the New Gods also pops up once more, playing a small but crucial role in the conflict. When last seen he is charging off into battle alongside the goddess Moon. That’s an appropriate pairing, since Moon is also known as Artemis, goddess of the hunt, and Orion is named after the mythical hunter. I think they would make a lovely couple, assuming they don’t kill each other first!
In my previous Wonder Woman review I wondered where, exactly, Zeus had gotten off to. The former ruler of Olympus was conspicuous in his absence throughout the entirety of Azzarello’s storyline. Well, as I predicted, we do indeed find out exactly where Zeus has been… although it was actually the last place I expected. Of course, the revelation makes perfect sense once you think about it. And, looking at some other blogs online, such as Martin Gray’s Too Dangerous For A Girl, it appears that a few people did actually see this coming. Well, I was surprised, okay?
In terms of artwork, these issues are all very strong. Sudzuka illustrates Wonder Woman #30 & #31 in full, and does the finishes for #32 over Chiang’s layouts. Issue #s 33 to #35 are illustrated by Chiang going solo for the big wrap-up. The coloring is, as always, courtesy of Matthew Wilson, who does superb work. Chiang’s covers for all six issues are fantastic, with very striking layouts & designs.
Both Chiang and Sudzuka do a fine job at demonstrating their versatility on the interior art. There are many great, dramatic pages, as well as some nice, effective character-driven sequences. It’s difficult to pick out a favorite. But one of the stand-out images is by Chiang in issue #34, as Hephaestus leads his troops into battle, headed up by a trio of giant mechanical war elephants. Now there’s something you don’t see every day.
As I mentioned before, the reactions to Azzarello & Chiang’s run on Wonder Woman have been mixed. I will admit that there were a few rough patches, especially early on. But I’m glad that I stuck with the book, because this was a really great run with a satisfying conclusion that tied everything together. At some point in the near future I look forward to sitting down and re-reading this storyline in its entirety, and finding out what I get out of it the second time around.
Infinity Man and the Forever People #4 sees the team of Keith Giffen & Scott Koblish once again on art duties. No offense to all of the fill-in artists, but a little stability is certainly appreciated. Giffen, with co-writer Dan DiDio, picks up right where the previous issue ended (not counting last month’s Futures End detour) with the Forever People’s Boom Tube going, um, boom. The quintet from New Genesis fall just a bit short of their home base of Venice Beach, crashing into a Wayne Enterprises dairy & agriculture center in Ventura CA. It is there that they encounter this issue’s extra special guest star, from the pages of Batman Incorporated, the one and only Bat-Cow.
I like how Giffen & DiDio script the Forever People. On the one hand, they are New Gods, deities from an ultra-advanced alien civilization. On the other, they are newcomers to Earth with little knowledge of the planet’s cultures. Thus they are depicted as possessing a distinctive blend of sophistication and naiveté. That certainly lends itself to comedy, such as Big Bear & Serafina asking Bat-Cow for advice.
There is a quality to Keith Giffen’s writing that I have often observed. His stories either are bizarrely farcical and ultra-comedic, or they are extremely dark and intensely somber. Well, there is also the third option, where Giffen chooses to work with both extremes simultaneously. That is clearly the case with Infinity Man and the Forever People.
So throughout issue #4 there are several allusions to the war Highfather and New Genesis have launched against the Lantern Corps in the current “Godhead” crossover, the quarrel between Infinity Man and Himon, and a dark winged woman stalking Mark Moonrider. Yet you also have Bat-Cow, and the Forever People being forced to take public transportation home, and Serafina’s encounter with the off-kilter Doctor Skuba, who proudly declares “While I am a pool cleaner by profession, I earned my doctorate in the hydrological sciences.”
It appears Giffen & DiDio have a definite destination in mind for this series, as hinted at in the Futures End special, with artwork by Philip Tan & Jason Paz. Half a decade in the future Beautiful Dreamer references such occurrences as “Lord Aagog’s assault on Earth, and Himon’s planetary quarantine.” We also get a glimpse of Infinity Man in battle with OMAC. I was wondering if these were events that Giffen & DiDio would actually be building up to once the series returned to the present. Considering the “Femme Fatale” who was spying on Mark Moonrider is apparently an agent of the aforementioned Lord Aagog, yes, it appears so.
I appreciate the fact that Giffen & DiDio have long-term plans, but that they are also leaving room for some humorous asides and oddball tangents. I wonder if they could manage to fit in an appearance by Giffen’s irreverent creation Ambush Bug.
The covers for both issue #4 and Futures End are illustrated by Howard Porter. His style has changed since his days on JLA. Porter unfortunately suffered a severe hand injury several years ago and had to re-train himself to draw. While I do find his current work a bit sketchy compared to his older art, he is still very good. And I am certainly happy that he was eventually able to resume his career as a professional artist. His two contributions to this series are well done. The Futures End piece is moody and ominous, while the cover for #4 is quite humorous. It appears that Porter is going to be the regular cover artist for this book going forward. I’ve seen images of a couple of his upcoming covers posted online, and they look good.
Anyway, it’s nice to find a New 52 series from DC Comics that doesn’t take itself so damn seriously. After all, it’s certainly possible to tell dramatic, emotionally riveting stories that are also fun. Hopefully Infinity Man and the Forever People is finding an audience, because I’d like to see this series continue on. It has quite a bit of potential.