The Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part 12

Welcome to the 12th edition of Comic Book Coffee. I posted these daily in the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The challenge was to see how many different pencilers I could find artwork by featuring coffee.

56) Judit Tondora

Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman #2, drawn by Judit Tondora, written by Andy Mangels, lettered by Tom Orzechowski & Lois Buhalis, and colored by Roland Pilcz, published by Dynamite Entertainment and DC Comics in January 2017.

This was a fun miniseries co-starring television’s top two heroines from the late 1970s.  Andy Mangels is probably the foremost expert on Wonder Woman, and he must have had a real blast writing a team-up of Princess Diana and Jamie Sommers.

Hungarian artist Judit Tondora did a great job rendering both the television version of Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman, along with both their supporting casts and their small screen rogues galleries.  Likenesses can be very tricky, but I feel that Tondora really captured most of them pretty accurately.  Her depictions of Diana and Jaime were certainly beautiful.  Tondora’s art for this miniseries was very lively.  I hope we see more of her work appearing in comic books in the near future.

In this scene Diana Price and Steve Trevor of the IADC are meeting with Jaime Sommers and Oscar Goldman of the OSI.  Over coffee the four agents are discussing the ongoing investigation into the terrorist cabal Castra, an alliance of the IADC and OSI’s deadliest adversaries that has hijacked a shipment of experimental nuclear missiles.

Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman was a really enjoyable read.  I definitely recommend it.

57) Brad Gorby & Mark Heike

Femforce #93, written & penciled by Brad Gorby, inked by Mark Heike, and lettered by Christie Churms, published by AC Comics in May 1996.

While Femforce is basically a serious title, it also has a sense of humor about itself.  The main storyline running though these issues involves Jennifer Burke, the daughter of the original Ms. Victory.  Due to the manipulations of the military and a series of personal tragedies Jen’s life has completely fallen apart.  Going rogue, Jen adopts the identity of Rad which her mother previously assumed.  The government, realizing that Rad possesses a wealth of top secret information from her time leading Femforce, dispatches a group of genetically engineered assassins to eliminate her.

While this very intense plotline is taking place, writer / penciler Brad Gorby takes a brief detour to a more lighthearted setting.  It is morning and the ladies of Femforce are having breakfast.  Ms. Victory is once again drinking coffee, obviously a favorite of hers.  The incredibly-powerful yet often-absentminded Synn is trying to find out who ate all her sprinkle donuts and pop tarts, prompting the sorceress Nightveil to conjure up some for her.

I enjoy these types of “downtime” scenes in Femforce that explore the personal lives of the characters, and which allow for somewhat more goofball sequences. 

Gorby did a good job penciling this scene, giving each of the characters their own personalities, making them stand out from one another.  The inking is by Mark Heike.  Gorby and Heike are both longtime AC Comics contributors, as well as very talented artists.  Grey tones are by Christie Churms, who also lettered this issue.

58) José Beá

“Recurrence” was drawn by José Beá and written by Steve Skeates.  It appeared in Vampirella #34, released by Warren Publishing in June 1974.

The beautiful young protagonist of “Recurrence” thought she had it made.  She had pushed her husband into an elevator shaft, collecting $10,000 from the insurance company for his “accidental” death.  But then came the dreams, night after night, of being pushed off a cliff and falling endlessly.  Was it a guilty conscience… or a premonition?  Now she drinks coffee in the middle of the night desperate not to fall asleep again.

Spanish artist José Beá illustrated a number of stories for Warren between 1971 and 1976.  These were published in Warren’s three main comic book magazine series, Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella.  Following his time at Warren, Beá did a great deal of work in the European comic book field.  Among these were a number of erotic stories, some of which at the time unfortunately garnered a great deal of controversy.  Beá also wrote several science fiction novels for young adults.

59) Peter Krause & Dick Giordano

The Power of Shazam #36, penciled by Peter Krause, inked by Dick Giordano, written by Jerry Ordway, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Glenn Whitmore, published by DC Comics in March 1998.

During a crossover with the Starman series, Billy and Mary Batson have to work with Jack Knight to help clear the name of World War II hero Jim Barr, aka Bulletman, who has been framed for treason by neo-Nazis.  In his Captain Marvel identity Billy initially clashes with Jack, until the more level-headed Mary Marvel convinces him to calm down.  The trio heads to the home of Nick & Nora Bromfield, who have adopted the orphaned Mary and Billy.  There they find the Bromfields having coffee with Jack’s father Ted, the original Starman, as well as Jim Barr himself, with everyone attempting to figure out what their next step should be.

The Power of Shazam was such an amazing, fun, underrated series.  I came into it a bit late, in the second year, but I immediately became hooked, and I soon got caught up on the Jerry Ordway graphic novel and back issues.  Ordway wrote some great stories.  He successfully achieving the very tricky feat of simultaneously updating Billy, Mary and the rest of the Marvel Family cast for the 1990s while retaining a great deal of the charm from the original Golden Age stories.

Peter Krause did really good work penciling the series.  Due to the prevailing styles in super-hero comic books at the time, I think his work here was unfortunately overlooked by many.  Krause deftly balanced the serious and cartoony elements of the characters.  On the later issues of the series Krause was inked by the legendary Dick Giordano.

60) Amy Reeder

Rocket Girl #2, drawn & colored by Amy Reeder and written by Brandon Montclare, published by Image Comics in November 2013.

DaYoung Johansson, a fifteen year old police officer from the high tech future year of 2013, has traveled back in time to 1986.  DaYoung is convinced that her miraculous world should not exist, that it was created when the monolithic corporate juggernaut Quintum Mechanics sent its own technology back in time 27 years to its founders to give them a vast advantage.  DaYoung, armed with her jetpack and her teenage zeal, is determined to thwart this crime against time, even if it means erasing the very future from which she came.

Montclare & Reeder’s ten issue Rocket Girl series is a wibbly wobbly, timey wimey tale of temporal paradoxes, corporate intrigue and youthful idealism.  I previously reviewed the first five issues. The ending to Montclare’s story ultimately left me feeling ambivalent, for a few different reasons.

What I was not ambivalent about was Reeder’s stunning artwork.  She did a superb job drawing both the sci-fi New York City of 2013 and the historically accurate Big Apple of 1986.  Her layouts for Rocket Girl were incredibly dynamic, and the amount of detail she put into her pages was astonishing.

As Reeder recounts in the text feature from issue #7…

“In Rocket Girl I am responsible for making two worlds; an 80s vision of the future, and actual 1980s New York.  At first I expected the futuristic world would give me the worst trouble — I thought coming up with a city out of thin air would be a bit overwhelming.  But I should have known better: I get carried away with accuracy, and the 1980s New York is heavily documented, often talked about, and well remembered by many.  So bar none — 80’s NYC is the harder of the two worlds to draw.  I just HAVE to get it right.  And, honestly, it’s pretty fun to get it right.  (Or close!)”

On this page from issue #2, the recently arrived DaYoung is bunking with Annie Mendez and Ryder Storm, two graduate students who work for Quintum Mechanics in 1986.  Annie and Ryder awaken to find the hyperactive DaYoung has whipped up a huge stack of pancakes and brewed a pot of coffee, all the while pondering how to change the course of history.

Martin Pasko: 1954 to 2020

Longtime comic book & animation writer Martin Pasko passed away on May 10th.  He was 65 years old.

DC Comics Presents 1 coverBetween 1973 and 1982 Pasko wrote a great many stories for the various Superman titles at DC Comics.  On quite a few of these he was paired with longtime Superman penciler Curt Swan.  In 1978 Pasko, working with artists Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Dan Adkins, launched the Superman team-up series DC Comics Presents with a well-regarded two-part story costarring the Flash.

In the mid 1970s Pasko also wrote Wonder Woman.  The first part of Pasko’s run had him wrapping up “The Twelve Labors of Wonder Woman” storyline.  Several issues later the series shifted focus to the Earth-Two’s Wonder Woman during World War II.  This was an effort to align the book with the first season of the live-action television show starring Lynda Carter.  Pasko’s final two issues, #231-232, were plotted by his friend Alan Brennert, his first work in comic books.  Brennert & Pasko’s story, which was drawn by Bob Brown, Michael Netzer & Vince Colletta, had Wonder Woman teaming up with the Justice Society.

All of this was slightly before my time as a reader, as I was born in 1976.  I have read some of those Superman and Wonder Woman stories in back issues or trade paperbacks.  However, the first work by Pasko that I vividly recall from my childhood was his early 1980s revival of the Swamp Thing with artist Tom Yeates.Swamp Thing 6 cover

Pasko wrote the first 19 issues of The Saga of the Swamp Thing.  He and Yeates created some genuinely weird, spooky, unnerving stories during this year and a half period.  I vividly recall the two-part story from issues #6-7, which had Swamp Thing encountering a bizarre aquatic creature with eyeball-tipped tentacles that could transform people into one-eyed monsters.  The shocking cliffhanger in issue #6 definitely seared itself onto my young mind and left me wondering “What happens next?”

I think Pasko’s work on Swamp Thing is often underrated, overshadowed by the groundbreaking Alan Moore run that immediately followed it.  I know that I’m not alone in this estimation.  A number of other fans also believe Pasko’s Swamp Thing stories are due for a reevaluation.

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During this time Pasko was also working in animation.  Among his numerous animation credits, he wrote several episodes of Thundaar the Barbarian, which had been created by fellow comic book writer Steve Gerber.  It was Pasko who devised the name Ookla for Thundaar’s massive leonine sidekick.  As he recounted years later, he and Gerber had been attempting to come up with a name for the character when…

“We passed one of the entrances to the UCLA campus and when I saw the acronym on signage, the phonetic pronunciation leapt to mind.”

I was a huge fan of Thundaar the Barbarian when I was a kid.  I doubt I paid any attention to the credits back in the early 1980s, but years later, after I got into comic books, when I watched reruns of the show, the names of the various comic book creators involved in it, including Pasko, leaped right out at me.

E-Man v2 5 coverPasko was the writer on the first several issues of the revival of E-Man from First Comics in 1983, working with artist Joe Staton, the character’s co-creator.  As I’ve previously written, I just don’t feel that Pasko was a good fit for E-Man.  It really is one of those series that was never quite the same unless Nicola Cuti was writing it.  Nevertheless, I’m sure Pasko gave it his best.  There is at least one issue of E-Man where I think Pasko did good work, though.  I enjoyed his script for “Going Void” in issue #5, which featured a brutally satirical send-up of Scientology.

Pasko got back into writing for DC Comics in late 1987, writing a “Secret Six” serial drawn by Dan Spiegel in Action Comics Weekly.  He soon picked up another ACW assignment, featuring the revamped version of the Blackhawks conceived by Howard Chaykin.

This past January on his Facebook page Pasko recounted how he came to write Blackhawk in ACW.  When asked to take over the feature from departing writer Mike Grell by editor Mike Gold, Pasko initially accepted it only because of the lengthy, ongoing strike by the Writers Guild…

“I took the assignment because I had no choice–I needed the money–but it turned out, in the end, to be the most fun I ever had writing comics. I haunted the UCLA Research Library, immersing myself in everything I could learn about the post-WWII era in which the series was set, making Xeroxes of visual reference for the artist and having the time of my life.

“But my greatest thanks are reserved for that artist, my fantastic collaborator, the impeccable storyteller, Rick Burchett. Which is why this stuff is tops among the work of which I’m most proud. That stuff was all YOURS, Rick.”

Pasko & Burchett returned to the characters with an ongoing Blackhawk comic book that launched in March 1989.  It was a really enjoyable series, and it’s definitely unfortunate that it only lasted a mere 16 issues, plus an Annual.

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In 1992 Pasko became a story editor on Batman: The Animated Series, working on 17 episodes of the acclaimed series.  He wrote the episode “See No Evil” and co-wrote the teleplay for the episode “Paging the Crime Doctor.”  Additionally, Pasko co-wrote the screenplay for the 1993 animated feature Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which was released theatrically.

DC Retroactive Superman 1970sIn the later part of his career Pasko contributed to several nonfiction books.  He also wrote the occasional comic book story for DC.  Among these was the special DC Retroactive: Superman – The 1970s penciled by Eduardo Barretto, which gave Pasko the opportunity to write the Man of Steel and his Bronze Age supporting cast one last time.

I never had an opportunity to meet Martin Pasko.  I narrowly missed him at Terrificon a few years ago.  Fortunately, Pasko was very active on Facebook, and I was one of the many fans who he enthusiastically interacted with there.  He wrote some really great stories in his time, and will definitely be missed.

David Hedison: 1927 to 2019

Prolific actor David Hedison passed away on July 18th at the age of 92. I always enjoyed seeing him appear on numerous television shows and movies throughout the years. He acted in several memorable productions.

David Hedison

Albert David Hedison Jr. was born on May 20, 1927 in Providence, RI.  Hedison first became involved in acting when he appeared in a school play in Junior High School.  He attended Brown University in Providence, where he majored in English.  Hedison subsequently studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse and the Actors Studio in New York City.

Under the name “Al Hedison” he appeared in various stage productions throughout the 1950s, including the 1956 Broadway production of A Month in the Country directed by Michael Redgrave.  This brought him to the attention of 20th Century Fox, who signed him to a contract.  His first job for the studio was a supporting role in the 1957 movie The War Below starring Robert Mitchum.

Hedison’s next role was in The Fly (1958).  Directed by Kurt Neumann, The Fly was adapted from the short story by George Langelaan.  Several actors passed on the role of scientist André Delambre, since the character would spend much of the movie with his face hidden beneath a mask.  Hendison, however, was very taken with the screenplay by James Clavell and enthusiastically signed up.  The Fly was an incredibly well produced movie, one of the classic sci-fi / horror films, and it featured a very moving & tragic performance by Hedison.  It would become one of the most memorable entries in his lengthy career.

In 1960 Hedison was cast in the Cold War adventure series Five Fingers on NBC.  Probably the most noteworthy aspect of this short-lived show was that NBC insisted Hedison change his name, as they apparently felt “Al” was not distinctive enough.  Hedison decided to go with his middle name, and for the rest of his career he was billed as “David Hedison.”

From 1964 to 1968 Hedison starred as Captain Lee Crane in the sci-fi / adventure TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  Despite repeated entreaties by series creator Irwin Allen, Hedison was initially uninterested, but he was finally won over when he learned Richard Basehart would be his co-star, portraying Admiral Harriman Nelson.  As Hedison recounted in a 2013 interview with Classic Film & TV Café:

“I had never met him, but I admired Richard’s work very much. I got his number from the studio. I called him up, and we agreed to meet at his house. He liked my enthusiasm, we hit it off and we worked really well together. We made the show work. Richard and I had real chemistry. He taught me so much about being camera ready when I needed to be. Television filming is so very fast, we always had to keep moving on. Voyage shot in six days–we filmed at a very fast pace.”

David Hedison and Richard Basehart

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was very much a product of its time, and of Allen’s production style.  It was totally story-driven, with stand-alone episodes and no real character development.  The first season, shot in black & white, was fairly serious, with a lot of gritty Cold War-type plotlines and a fair amount of location work. Once the show transitioned to color with season two, it started to become over-the-top and silly, with most of the episodes featuring a monster of the week, and pretty much everything being shot in the studio. The show also started reusing a lot of props from Lost in Space and other Allen productions.

Despite these drawbacks, Voyage is a fondly remembered series.  Hedison and Basehart’s performances definitely played a large part in that, and they often helped to carry some of the more far-out episodes.

Among Hedison’s other memorable roles were his two appearances in the James Bond movie franchise.  He played CIA agent Felix Leiter in Live and Let Die (1973) with Roger Moore as Bond.  Hedison becoming the first actor to play Leiter twice when he reprised the role 16 years later in License to Kill (1989), this time with Timothy Dalton as Bond.

I’ve always felt that having Hedison return as Leiter in License to Kill was a smart move.  In the original Ian Fleming novels Leiter was a close ally of Bond, but this never really carried across to the movies, because each time Leiter showed up he was played by a different actor.  The plot of License to Kill involves Bond going rogue and seeking vengeance against the South American drug lord who nearly kills Leiter.  This becomes much more believable if you have Leiter played by someone who has previously appeared in the role, someone who the audience has an existing connection to.  Even though Bond was now played by Dalton, having Hedison return as Leiter really helped sell the idea that these two men were longtime friends, and that Bond would go to hell & back to avenge him.

Hedison also found work in television soap operas.  Throughout the 1990s he was a regular on Another World, and in 2004 had a recurring role on the soap opera The Young and the Restless.

Although Hedison seldom received starring roles later in his career, he nevertheless worked regularly through the decades.  According to the New York Times, Hedison appeared in more than 100 movie and television roles during his lengthy career.

David Hedison Suzanne Lloyd and Roger Moore

Among Hedison’s noteworthy television guest roles, he appeared in a January 1964 episode of The Saint.  Also guest starring the lovely Suzanne Lloyd, “Luella” has Hedison playing a newly-married friend of Simon Templar’s whose wandering eye & overactive libido gets him ensnared in a blackmail scheme.  This was definitely one of the most humorous episodes of The Saint, and Hedison really threw himself into it with an energetic performance.  This was Hedison’s first time working with Roger Moore, and the two became good friends.

Another memorable turn for Hedison was “The Queen and the Thief,” an October 1977 episode of the Wonder Woman series starring Lynda Carter.  Hedison portrayed suave international jewel thief Evan Robley.  The episode guest starred Juliet Mills and John Colicos.  It’s certainly one of the more low-key episodes of Wonder Woman, but Hedison definitely sells it with his portrayal of the smooth, charismatic master criminal.

Interviewed in 1992, Hedison stated:

“I think I do comedy best. I think I’m very good at comedy. I’ve done a few comedy things in stock and whatever, and I’m very good at that. You wouldn’t know that from Another World because I’m so grim and serious, as I was as well in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, but I do like comedy. I would love to do a comedy, and I’m sure I will someday.”

David Hedison WW

Given his fondness for comedy, I’m sure Hedison appreciated his guest roles on The Saint and Wonder Woman, as they enabled him show a much more humorous side than usual.

Hedison also possessed a great love for theater.  He appeared in numerous stage productions throughout his career.  In the 1990s and early 2000s he was a regular presence in regional theater throughout the New England area.

Hedison was married Bridget Mori.  They met in Positano, Italy in 1967, and were married in London a year later.  They had two daughters, Alexandra and Serena Hedison.  David and Bridget were together until her death from breast cancer in 2016.  I’ve always thought that was very romantic & sweet, that they were married for nearly five decades.

I was fortunate enough to meet David Hedison once, at a comic book convention in New York City in September 2009.  I got an autographed photo of him as Felix Leiter from License to Kill.  He appeared to me to be a very warm, friendly individual.  At the time I also thought he looked much younger than 82 years old.

David Hedison LTK signed

Due to his appearances in so many popular movies & series, Hedison was a frequent interview subject.  In October 2007 he penned a humorous foreword to the informative non-fiction book The Fly at Fifty: The Creation and Legacy of a Classic Science Fiction Film by Diane Kachmar & David Goudsward.  Hedison always came across as lively and enthusiastic, possessing a wry sense of humor.  Even when he was in his 80s he still brought a lot of energy to his interviews & appearances.

David Hedison will certainly be missed by his many fans.  He had a good, long life, working in a career he loved.  We should all be so fortunate.

Comic book reviews: Gotham City Garage

It’s been a few years since I’ve regularly followed any DC Comics titles.  However, over the past several months I have bought a number of DC trade paperbacks.

I eventually noticed a general theme to these TPBs: They had stories that were set on Earth 2, or in the future, or in alternate realities. I’ve come to realize that while I like a lot of DC characters, I long ago got tired of monthly titles where there is a never-ending illusion of change. On the other hand, stories set on other Earths, or eras, or that fall under the “Elseworlds” umbrella provide creators with opportunities to present different takes on familiar characters, and tell stories that are more self-contained, with somewhat greater consequences.

(It’s funny… When I was a teenage comic book fan I was hung up on continuity, on whether or not stories were “real” and actually “counted.” Nowadays I just want to read an enjoyable, intelligent story, and it doesn’t matter to me if it takes place on Earth 67 or Earth B or whatever.)

Gotham City Garage Vol 1 cover

Gotham City Garage falls into that “alternate reality” category.  No, it is NOT a book about the guy who repairs the Batmobile (although that was actually a pretty good episode of Batman: The Animated Series).  Inspired by a line of collectible statues that re-imagined several of DC’s female character as tattooed chopper chicksGotham City Garage was a digital first series that was then published as a twelve issue miniseries that was later collected into two trade paperbacks.

This past June artist Lynne Yoshii was a guest at the Women in Comics convention at the Brooklyn Public Library.  I was not previously familiar with Yoshii, but the art she had on display looked incredible, so I purchased one of the issues of Gotham City Garage which contained her work.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it, and subsequently got the first TPB.  The second one finally came out last month.

Gotham City Garage is written by Collin Kelly & Jackson Lanzing.  After the majority of the Earth was devastated by an environmental catastrophe, Lex Luthor seized control of Gotham City, which he has rebuilt as a domed city called the Garden.  Aided by a fascist Batman and an army of robots known as “Gardeners,” Luthor implanted “Ridealongs” within the brains of the population.  These  implants pacify negative emotions and instill loyalty to Luthor.

Only a handful of individuals escaped becoming brainwashed zombies in Luthor’s dystopia.  They are now based out of the Gotham City Garage, a safe haven in the wastelands built by Natasha Irons.

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Kelly and Lanzing utilize the teenage Kara Gordon as the audience identification figure.  Seemingly a loyal member of Luthor’s staff, Kara has to hide the fact that her Ridealong does not work.  Outwardly she smiles brightly and chants “Lex loves you” but inwardly she is miserable, the only person with free will in a city of lobotomized slaves.

The first issue opens with the Gardeners finally rumbling to Kara’s secret.  She is only saved by the intervention of Jim Gordon, who tells her to flee the Garden.  He also informs the shocked teenager that she is not actually his daughter, that he adopted her when she was an infant to protect her from Luthor.  Escaping the city, exposed to yellow sunlight for the first time, Kara quickly realizes that she has superpowers, and is in fact an alien.

Fleeing the Gardeners, Kara encounters chopper-riding rebels from the Garage: Big Barda, Harley Quinn, Catwoman, and Silver Banshee.  Initially suspicious of her, the women nevertheless help Kara defeat the Gardeners and bring her to their headquarters.  Although naïve and inexperienced, Kara / Supergirl joins the rebels, quickly becoming an important ally in their struggle to stay free from Luthor’s control.

Gotham City Garage is a female-driven book.  The majority of the protagonists are women.  Kelly and Lanzing do excellent work writing Supergirl, Batgirl, Big Barda, Wonder Woman, Catwoman, and the other heroines.

I enjoyed the student & mentor relationship they set up between the young, idealistic Kara and the embittered Barda, who all these years later still suffers PTSD from her horrific upbringing on Apokolips.  The voices that Kelly & Lanzing give to both Kara and Barda feel authentic.

Gotham City Garage 1 double page spread

The series offers up interesting and visually striking re-imaginations of a number of DC’s iconic characters.  One of the most effective of these is Harley Quinn, not just visually, but also conceptually.  Although incredibly popular, Harley Quinn can nevertheless be a problematic figure.  She is a woman who was manipulated by, and is in an abusive relationship with, the psychotic Joker.  After she migrated from DC’s animated universe into its mainstream continuity and spun off into a solo title, Harley Quinn’s ties to the Joker were often downplayed.  Obviously the writers & editors at DC realized that it would be awkward to have a series starring a character who was a disciple to a mass murderer.  Nevertheless, you still had a character whose origins were rooted in emotional abuse and Stockholm Syndrome.

The way that Gotham City Garage improves upon Harley Quinn is by providing her with an agency lacking in her mainstream counterpart.  In this reality Dr. Harleen Quinzel was recruited by Luthor to develop the Ridealongs.  Agreeing to work with Luthor as much for self-preservation as to satisfy her scientific curiosity, Quinzel perfects the system that gives Luthor control of the city’s populace.  Too late realizing that she has enabled Luthor to turn the people into mindless drones, Quinzel rebels.  Attempting to both sabotage the Ridealongs and free herself from Luthor’s control, Quinzel deliberately scrambles her own brain patterns.  This results in a new, humorously irreverent, sarcastic personality with a penchant for extreme violence.

In what is an effective turn-around, it is Harley who creates the Joker.  She inspires Lloyd, one of her former patients who she liberated, to adopt her outrageous sense of fashion and her dedication to cartoonish acts of anarchy.

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The twelve issue series is a more or less complete arc that reaches a definite conclusion that nevertheless leaves open the possibility of future stories.  There was at least one dangling subplot, namely what happens to Zatanna and Silver Banshee, but perhaps Kelly & Lanzing were leaving that for another day.

The artistic line-up for Gotham City Garage is impressive.  Certainly I have to give much praise to Lynne Yoshii, who got me interested in this series in the first place.  Yoshii has a really fun, dynamic style.  She also does really good work with her storytelling, her layouts delivering both action and emotional character moments.  Yoshii’s pencils for issue #2, which are inked by Jose Marzan Jr, were both exciting and humorous.  I hope that we see more from her in the near future.

I also like the artwork by Brian Ching.  He has a style somewhat reminiscent of Kieron Dwyer and Dan Panosian.  Ching’s work has a gritty tone that is also slightly cartoony & exaggerated, which is perfect for the post-apocalyptic setting.

Another effective contributor to Gotham City Garage is Aneke, who illustrates “Bad Seeds” in issue #3, which spotlights Harley Quinn, and flashes back to reveal her origin.  Plus I love how Aneke draws Harley’s wacky pet hyenas.

As I observed in the past, it appears to take a particular skill set to work on these “digital first” titles.  A penciler needs to be able to lay out the pages so that the top and bottom halves work as separate pieces on the computer screen, but also work together as a single, uniform page in the print edition.  I feel that most of the pencilers who contributed to Gotham City Garage did a fairly good job at accomplishing this.

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The covers are mostly of the pin-up type.  I usually am not fond of these types of covers, since they reveal little about the actual contents inside the books.  Unfortunately that seems to be the default style for DC (and Marvel) cover art in the 21st Century.  At least most of them are well drawn.  Dan Panosian’s variant cover for issue #1 featuring Wonder Woman is certainly striking, and it was a good choice to re-use to for the first collected edition.

Also along for the motorcycle ride are colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick and letterer Wes Abbott, both of whom do good work.

Gotham City Garage is a fun series with good artwork, an enjoyable and thoughtful alternate take on the DC universe.

Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman

Andy Mangels is quite possibly the world’s biggest Wonder Woman fan.  He is also a prolific author, having written prose fiction, non-fiction articles & books, and comic books for numerous publishers, among them DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and Image.  However, until now Mangels has never actually written any Wonder Woman stories.  At long last he can finally cross that off his bucket list with the publication of Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman, a six issue miniseries co-published by Dynamite Entertainment and DC Comics.

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The second half of the 1970s was a bit of a watershed moment for women in telefantasy, with two high profile series featuring female leads airing.  Wonder Woman starring the amazing Lynda Carter is rightfully regarded as one of the all time best adaptations of a comic book series for television.  The Bionic Woman may have been a spin-off of The Six Million Dollar Man, but Jaime Sommers, portrayed by Lindsay Wagner, immediately established herself to be as brave and competent as her male counterpart.

Over the past two years DC has been publishing Wonder Woman ’77, which is set within the television continuity.  Dynamite, meanwhile, has released several Bionic Woman miniseries since 2012.  In retrospect, it was a natural fit to do a comic book series teaming up these two television heroines.

Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman, initially issued as a six issue miniseries, is now collected in trade paperback.  Joining writer Andy Mangels are interior artist Judit Tondora, colorist Roland Pilcz, letterers Tom Orzechowski, Lois Buhalis & Kathryn S. Renta, and cover artist Cat Staggs.  The collected edition features a painted cover by the ever-amazing Alex Ross.

Set in 1977, Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman opens with the government agencies the Inter-Agency Defense Command and the Office of Scientific Intelligence meeting to discuss a new terrorist threat, a sinister cabal known as Castra.  Of course, with the IADC and OSI working together, their two top agents, Diana Prince and Jaime Sommers, are soon paired up.  Jaime very quickly deduces Diana’s secret identity, and before long Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman are fighting side-by-side against the forces of Castra.

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It is eventually revealed that Castra is headed up by some of Diana and Jaime’s old enemies, who have pooled their resources to have another go at the world domination thing.  It’s been a few years since I watched the Wonder Woman show on DVD, and even longer since I saw reruns of The Bionic Woman on TV, so at first I was having some trouble recalling most of the rogues gallery making up Castra’s hierarchy.  Fortunately in issue #3 Mangels has the various ne’er-do-wells recounting their past exploits to one another, complete with footnotes referencing the original television episodes, which helped bring me up to speed.

Mangels clearly possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Wonder Woman.  He includes a great many references to the TV show, as well as working in nods to various characters & concepts from the rich mythology of the comic books.  He does the same for the Bionic Woman, somewhat obliquely referencing a number of episodes from the series.  You can pretty much understand the majority of Mangels’ story without needing to know what he’s specifically referencing.  Having said that, while I was reading went back & forth between Google and Wikipedia in an effort to figure out a number of them.  I later found out that Comic Book Resources had compiled a fairly comprehensive list of the miniseries’ Easter Eggs.

Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman is an enjoyable story.  I will admit, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the first two chapters, which felt overly heavy with exposition, and numerous different characters were introduced at a rapid succession.  Beginning with issue #3, though, Mangels seems to have found his groove, and the rest of the miniseries a really fun, exciting romp.

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One of the things to keep in mind about genre television 40 years ago is that the technology really didn’t exist to be able to bring super-powered villains to life with any believability.  Instead both Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman faced a succession of Nazis, mad scientists, killer robots, spies, terrorists and mobsters, along with the occasional low-rent alien invasion.

Mangels sticks with this relatively grounded ethos for the Castra conspiracy in Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman, albeit with the approach that he’s not bound by a television budget.  Instead of half a dozen thugs or a handful of android assassins, Mangels has Diana and Jaime teaming up with the Amazons of Paradise Island to fight an entire army of bad guys.

I also appreciated the quieter character moments in the miniseries.  Mangels did a nice job establishing the friendship between Diana and Jaime, as well as developing a number of the inhabitants of Paradise Island.  We seldom saw the Amazons on the TV series, so it was nice to have them get fleshed out here.  This is where I felt the callbacks to past episodes were most effective, because they helped to illustrate Diana’s passionate beliefs in both sisterhood and the possibility of redemption.

Additionally, I was happy that Max the Bionic Dog made an appearance.  I loved Max on TV.  He was adorable and funny.  I would always laugh when he would use his bionically-enhanced jaws to bite through chains and other stuff, complete with the iconic “Deeneeneeneenee” sound effect.  I tell ya, with that set of chompers, the OSI must have needed to give Max steel-plated bones to gnaw on!

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The artwork by Judit Tondora is, for the most part, very nicely rendered.  She does a good job laying out the action sequences, as well as depicting the quiet conversational moments.  There is a real beautiful quality to Tondora’s work on this miniseries.

I imagine one of the more difficult aspects of drawing Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman would have been the likenesses.  These can be tricky.  Sometimes when an artist is working on a licensed property, the trick is not to draw a point-on photorealistic rendering of the actors, but to instead capture the personalities of their characters.  Of course, depending upon the owner of the property, the artist may be required to draw as photorealistic a depiction as possible, which isn’t always the best way to go.  Tondora clearly had her work cut out for her, since practically every character in this miniseries previously appeared on television.

The quality of Tondora’s likenesses on this miniseries is of a somewhat variable quality.  The two best depictions she does are of Lynda Carter as Diana and Lindsay Wagner as Jaime, which is very fortunate, since they are the main characters.

I felt that perhaps some of Tondora’s efforts on the supporting characters and villains were a bit less effective.  While she does a fair enough job at capturing the likenesses of Lyle Waggoner, Richard Anderson, Martin E. Brooks, Fritz William Weaver and John Saxon, the amount of detailed required to render them and the others in panel after panel often causes them to stand out a bit awkwardly amidst the action.  I am of the opinion that photorealistic depictions are sometimes more suited to cover artwork than interior sequential illustration.  I suppose it really depends upon the specific artist.

Really, my only major criticism of the artwork is that it was printed from Tondora’s uninked pencils.  This is a regular issue I have with Dynamite, as well as a few other publishers.  Some artists, no matter how detailed & finished their pencils are, really do need to be inked.  Unfortunately publishers who are looking to cut costs have opted to jettison the inking stage, often to the detriment of their published books.  As good as Tondora’s work is on this miniseries, I feel it could have been even better if she or a compatible artist had been allowed to ink it.

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The cover artwork by Cat Staggs was quite good.  My two favorites were issue #1 and #6.  The others were nice, although I the coloring on them was somewhat overwhelming.  Sometimes I feel Staggs’ artwork is more suited to black & white or grey tones than full color.

Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman, like most other Dynamite series, was released with a number of variant covers.  The nice thing about “waiting for the trade” is that you get all of those variants collected together.  In addition to the Alex Ross variant which is used for the TPB cover, there are also some nice alterative cover images by Andrew Pepoy, J Bone, Aaron Lopresti, Bill Sienkiewicz and Phil Jimenez.

While I did have some criticisms concerning Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman, on the whole I found the miniseries to be an enjoyable read with good artwork.  Mangels does leave a couple of his subplots unresolved at the end, setting the stage for a possible sequel.  Hopefully he and Tondora will have the opportunity to reunite on a follow-up miniseries in the near future.

Comic book reviews: Justice League “Gods and Monsters” prequels

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.

Gods and Monsters Wonder Woman cover

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Comic book reviews: Sensation Comics #11

Although Sensation Comics #11 starring Wonder Woman came out over a month ago, I was only just able to pick up a copy of the issue last week.  It made an impression on me and I wanted to discuss it here.

“Vendetta” by writer Josh Elder and artists Jamal Igle & Juan Castro is an incredibly well-told story.  In the past I have commented on the fascinating dichotomy of the character of Wonder Woman, in that she is both a warrior and a diplomat.  Elder’s story addresses these seemingly disparate roles head-on.

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Diana has been asked to help negotiate a ceasefire in Itari, an African nation that is plagued by civil war.  The long-simmering conflict between Itari’s two major tribes, the Uwange and the Mbindi, has exploded into full-fledged violence.  Both sides are committing atrocities, and thousands are already dead.

Wonder Woman’s already-difficult task of bringing the two factions into peace talks are complicated by the war god Ares who wishes for the bloodshed to continue.  He raises an army of inhuman monsters to kill Diana, the UN representatives, and any members of the two tribes who are considering peace.

Despite the fantasy trappings, Elder sets up a scenario that is very much rooted in the real world.  There are no good guys or bad guys.  The Uwange and the Mbindi each have legitimate grievances against the other.  Both ethnic groups contain factions that have engaged in war crimes and acts of brutal persecution.  For decades each tribe has passed down their hatred & distrust of the other from one generation to the next, perpetuating the violence.

Elder depicts Wonder Woman as a warrior whose goal is to make herself obsolete by ending war.  He opens the story with an appropriate quote by General Douglas MacArthur:

“The soldier above all other people prays for peace, for the soldier must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

Diana knows that, as terrible as the past actions of the Uwange and the Mbindi against one other have been, if they continue to focus on them, on obtaining so-called “just” vengeance, the conflict will never end.  Yes, it is important not to forget the past.  But at the same time one must also learn from the past so as not to keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

Elder utilizes some of the ideology of Wonder Woman’s creator William Moulton Marston, his espousing of “loving submission” to bring an end to conflict, and insightfully applies them within this story.  Diana advises the leaders of Itari’s two tribes:

“We Amazons believe that war is a contest that may be won, but peace is a gift that must be freely given. If there is truth to our philosophy, then peace will only be achieved if both of you surrender – to each other.

“For all unions that endure – be they between two people or two peoples – are built upon a foundation of mutual submission and interdependence, a commitment to compromise, and a willingness to forgive.

“That is my counsel. The path will be difficult. The risk, great. But the alternative is certain death and despair for friend and foe alike.”

The story closes with the fate of Itari undecided; peace is a possibility, but so is continued conflict.  Elder recognizes that Diana, for all her powers & abilities, is not a messiah or miracle-worker.  It is the responsibility of the Uwange and the Mbindi peoples to decide for themselves if they will continue on the path of war or set aside their hatred and attempt to chart a new course for their nation.

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“Vendetta” is set within the post-Crisis revamp of Wonder Woman by George Perez.  It definitely demonstrates just how effective and influential Perez’s work on the character was, as all these years later many of the creators working on Sensation Comics have set their own stories within that now-classic era.

Like Perez before him, Elder draws heavily on Greek mythology.  In a dark sequence, Ares explains the origins of his I inhuman army:

“Take heed, oh soldier, to the tragic tale of Cadmus, he who slew a great dragon, then sowed the dragon’s teeth into the earth. The seeds bore fruit, and from the soil rose a poison crop: the Spartoi, red of hand and black of purpose.”

Obviously that was part of the inspiration for the now-iconic final battle in the 1963 movie Jason and the Argonauts, when the Hydra’s teeth are sown by King Aeetes to “grow” an army of seven skeleton warriors.  As a fan of Ray Harryhausen, I enjoyed seeing the mythological basis for this iconic sequence utilized by Elder in his story.

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The artwork by Jamal Igle & Juan Castro on “Vendetta” is absolutely amazing.  I’ve been looking forward to Sensation Comics #11 ever since it was announced several months ago that Igle would be penciling a story in it.  He is an incredibly talented artist, and I have been a fan of his work for a long time.

Igle does excellent work penciling this story.  He is great with both action sequences and quiet character moments.  As with all the great Wonder Woman artists, he draws her as a figure that is simultaneously beautiful and strong and determined and kind.  Some artists appear to struggle to successfully convey that broad range of characteristics & emotions within Diana.  But Igle very much succeeds.

I am not too familiar with Castro, but his inking appears to be well suited to Igle’s pencils.  I’ve seen Castro’s name in the credits of other DC Comics series, and those stories looked good.  There are some nice before & after examples on Castro’s Deviant Art page that demonstrate what his inks bring to the finished artwork.

After reading Sensation Comics #11, I found myself wishing that Elder, Igle & Castro were the creative team on the regular Wonder Woman series.  Yes, I do realize that Igle is busy on his creator-owned title Molly Danger, which is very much a labor of love.  He’s doing excellent work with it and I’m looking forward to the next installment.  Having said that, if Igle has any free time in the future and is asked to draw Wonder Woman again then I would be very happy.

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Sensation Comics #11 is topped off by a cover illustrated by Stephane Roux.  Due to the anthology nature of this book, most of the covers regrettably have very little to do with the material inside.  It would have been nice if the editors could have coordinated things so that Roux had drawn a cover that reflected the story.

Oh, well, even if it is more of a pin-up than a cover, the talented Roux does beautiful work on it.  And I guess you could say that Roux’s art does tie in with the story thematically, as we see Diana with a white dove, which can be regarded as a symbol of peace.

As is the case with nearly all anthology titles, Sensation Comics is inevitably an uneven series.  Nevertheless I have enjoyed most of the stories featured in it over the past year.  Issue #11 is definitely one of the highlights.

Irwin Hasen: 1918 to 2015

Irwin Hasen, one of the last of the artists of the Golden Age of comic books, passed away on March 13th.  He was 96 years old.

Hasen was born on July 8, 1918 into an upper middle class family in New York City.  In 1930, when he was 12 years old, his family lost their money in the Great Depression, and they had to move into a cramped two bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side.  This unfortunate turn of events would actually lead to Hasen’s career as an artist.  The apartment was right around the corner from the National Academy of Design.  When Hasen was 16 years old his mother enrolled him there, where he studied for the next three years.

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Hasen got his first job as a cartoonist at the boxing magazine Bang in 1938.  As he recounted decades later:

“I drew sports cartoons, and I had to compile out of town weekly boxing results, type them up, and draw each week’s top fighters for the covers.”

Shortly after, Hasen began working in the brand-new comic book industry.  One of his earliest assignments was the superhero The Fox, which he co-created with writer Joe Blair for MLJ / Archie Comics.  Although a rather obscure character for many years, recently The Fox has been the subject of a successful, offbeat revival by Dean Haspiel.

Most of Hasen’s work in comic books was at National Comics and All-American Publications, two of the entities that soon merged to form DC Comics.  At National, Hasen drew on his background as a sports artist to collaborate with writer Bill Finger in creating Wildcat, a prize fighter turned costumed crimefighter.  Wildcat’s first appearance was in Sensation Comics #1, cover-dated January 1942.  Hasen was also one of the earliest regular artists to draw the original Green Lantern, who Finger had co-created with Martin Nodell in 1940.

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After World War II broke out, Hasen was drafted.  Due to his 5 foot 2 inch height, he was stationed State-side, and his work was featured in the Army newspaper Fort Dix Post.  Hasen also found the time to keep working within the comic book biz:

“During my furloughs into New York City, I would sit in full uniform at a drawing board in M.C. Gaines’ Lafayette St. offices of AA Comics, creating Wonder Woman covers, those Valkyrian images possibly nurturing my fancy for the women to come.”

After the war ended Hasen returned to comic books full-time.  In the late 1940s he was one of the regular artists drawing the Justice Society of America feature in All Star Comics.  As future comic book writer, editor & historian Roy Thomas commented in his 2001 introduction to All Star Comics Archives Volume 7 “the next year and a half of JSA stories would be some of their best ever.”  According to Thomas, one crucial part of that was “the solid storytelling of Irwin Hasen.”  As would be seen in Thomas’ writing on All-Star Squadron in the 1980s, these stories would be a major influence upon him.

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Certainly during this time period Hasen illustrated some of the most iconic cover images to ever feature the JSA.  His striking cover art for All Star Comics #33 (Feb/March 1947) had the ominous form of the undead swamp monster Solomon Grundy looming over the imprisoned JSA.  All Star Comics #35 (June/July 1947) saw the debut of the time traveling fascist Per Degaton, who was devised by writer John Broome.  Hasen’s dramatic cover for that issue featured that villain warping the flow of history within an immense hourglass.  Hasen’s cover for #37 (Oct/Nov 1937) was also memorable, depicting the JSA’s greatest foes, joined together as the Injustice Society of the World, literally carving up a map of the United States.

Like most artists in the 1940s, Hasen regarded comic books as a job to pay the bills and put food on the table.  Certainly that is understandable, as the first few decades of the industry were far from glamorous, with most creators toiling anonymously in conditions that were almost akin to a sweatshop.  Hasen’s dream was to illustrate a newspaper comic strip, which in those days was regarded as a much more fashionable & lucrative position.

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Hasen finally achieved this goal in 1955 when he co-created Dondi with writer Gus Edson.  A five year old war orphan from Europe, the wide-eyed Dondi was adopted by an American soldier who brought him back to the United States.  The newspaper strip lasted until 1986.  It appears that Dondi was the project that Hasen was most proud of out of his entire career.

Later in life Hasen write & illustrated Loverboy, a semi-autobiographical graphic novel about his lifelong bachelorhood, and his romantic relationship with a woman named Eevie in the 1970s.  It was both a humorous and poignant story.  Loverboy was published by Vanguard Productions in 2009.  The final four chapters of the book were a brief text autobiography of Hasen’s life complemented with various photographs & illustrations.  I recommend picking up a copy.

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I was fortunate enough to have met Hasen several times throughout the years.  He was a regular at NYC-area comic book conventions.  It was always a pleasure to see Hasen at a show.  He was a real gentleman, full of life and energy, with a genuine sense of humor.

I acquired a couple a sketches from Hasen.  The first was a color illustration of his creation Wildcat.  The other was a black & white drawing of the Golden Age Flash, another of the characters he drew regularly throughout the 1940s, both in solo stories and in the adventures of the Justice Society.  You can view scans of them at Comic Art Fans.

Irwin Hasen sketching at the May 2010 Bronx Heroes Comic Con
Irwin Hasen sketching at the May 2010 Bronx Heroes Comic Con

Okay, this is a bit embarrassing… back in late 2010 I was unemployed.  I was having trouble finding work and had a lot of free time on my hands.  On a whim I looked up Hasen’s address & phone number and gave him a call.  I told him I was a fan and I asked if it would be okay to stop by for a visit.  He was surprised, but he graciously agreed.

I visited Hasen at his apartment on the Upper East Side, stopping by for about half an hour in the early afternoon.  He autographed my copies of All Star Comics Archives Volume 7 and 8, showed me some of the various interesting items he had acquired over the decades, and regaled me with a few stories.  I asked Hasen a couple of general questions about his career, and he humorously replied that I probably knew more about his work in comic books than he did!  Well, it had been a long time before for him.  Then I said goodbye and headed home, while Hasen went off to meet one of his friends at a local bar for a martini.  I gather that was a daily ritual for him.

That was the thing about Hasen: right up until the end he was full of life and energy.  I always thought that if anyone would live past 100 years old it would be him.  Well, he didn’t quite make it, but 96 years is a really good long run, especially as he appeared to have led a very rich, full life for most of that time.

Hasen certainly has left behind a memorable legacy, having worked on numerous classic comic book stories in the 1940s, and co-creating Dondi, a beloved comic strip that ran for three decades.

Comic book reviews: Sensation Comics #5

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

Sensation Comics 5 cover

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

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

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

Comic book reviews: Sensation Comics #3-4

I have definitely been enjoying Sensation Comics starring Wonder Woman.  Like many great fictional creations, Wonder Woman is a character who is open to different interpretations.  Throughout her 73 year history she has played the roles of warrior, hero, feminist, diplomat, peacemaker, and goddess.  Sensation Comics, with its diverse selection of creators presenting stories of Wonder Woman set throughout the different DC Comics continuities, or outside of continuity altogether, are able to examine Diana’s various aspects, and take numerous interesting & different approaches to the character.

The covers for Sensation Comics #3 and #4 really epitomize this.  Ivan Reis & Joe Prado’s intense image for issue #3 depicts a fierce Wonder Woman engaged in close combat with armored mythological beasts.  It very much captures Diana’s role as a warrior.  In contrast, issue #4 features a vibrant, beautifully serene image of Diana gracefully gliding through the clouds.  This one is by Adam Hughes, who was the regular cover artist on the Wonder Woman comic book from 1998 to 2003.  This piece certainly demonstrates that Hughes is much more than merely an artist who draws sexy women, that he is an accomplished illustrator who can create powerful, evocative images.

Sensation Comics 3 and 4 covers

The first story in Sensation Comics #3, “Bullets and Bracelets” written by Sean E. Williams and illustrated by Marguerite Sauvage, postulates a world where Wonder Woman is not just a superhero but also a rock star headlining a band.  There’s an interesting scene after her concert ends where Diana is approached by a man who shouts “Slut! You’re corrupting our children! Go back to where you came from!”  A second man then yells back “Shut up, man! Some of us like the way she dresses! She’s hot!”  Diana, clearly annoyed at both of them, responds “I hate to break it to you both, but I dress this way because I want to, not to provoke or impress you.”  Wonder Woman has a lot on her mind and, instead of accompanying everyone on the tour bus, decides to go for a walk.  She encounters two young girls who are huge fans of the band, and joins them for a bite to eat, learning about who they are.

Williams and Sauvage’s story is a nice one, well written and beautifully illustrated.  Sauvage’s Diana is very beautiful, dignified and human.  Williams’ script examines how Diana is a role model for many young women, a figure of female empowerment.  As I saw it, this story is examining the idea that women should not feel that they need to exist as an adjunct to men, fulfilling the roles expected by them.  And, really, that is true of all people, women and men.  We should primarily be happy with ourselves first, with who we are, before we set out to try to impress or please other people, be they our significant other, relatives, employers & co-workers, or society at large.

Sensation Comics 3 pg 5

The second tale in #3 is “Morning Coffee” by writer Ollie Masters and artist Amy Mebberson.  Early one morning in London, the larcenous Catwoman raids the vaults of the British Museum.  The police call in Wonder Woman, who is currently living in the city.  Diana, who hasn’t yet had a chance to grab her daily cup of joe, is mildly perturbed at having to deal with this.  Easily catching the cat-burglar, Diana is left to watch over Catwoman until the properly equipped authorities arrive to transport her back to the States.  Diana takes custody of Selena and brings her along to a local café, hoping to finally get her caffeine fix.  It is there that the second part of Catwoman’s scheme goes into effect, much to Diana’s consternation.

The story by Masters is charming and fun.  His tale fits perfectly into the 10 page long space allotted to it.  Mebberson’s artwork is very cute.  She gives the characters some really fun, comedic expressions and body language.    One thing I have noticed about the stories from Sensation Comics, as well as the other digital-first titles that DC publishes, is that the art is designed primarily to fit on a computer screen.  10 published pages equals 20 pages on the computer.  This limits the storytelling choices available to the artists.  Sometimes I think there are artists whose strengths are not nearly as well suited to strong layouts, and given the confines of the digital format they do not do work that is as strong.  Mebberson’s work, however, fits perfectly in with this format.  She clearly knows how to lay out a story, and the flow of action & narrative is unhindered by the requirements within which she is working.

Sensation Comics 3 pg 14

Split between Sensation Comics #3 and #4 is a humorously bizarre story written & illustrated by Gilbert Hernandez.  “No Chains Can Hold Her” has Wonder Woman battling the robot armies of the alien Sayyar, who has joined forces with the Justice League’s old foe Kanjar Ro.  The two extraterrestrial tyrants manage to take mental control of Diana and pit her against Supergirl.  Also drawn into the mix is Mary Marvel, who is accidentally yanked through an other-dimensional portal.

I am a huge fan of Gilbert Hernandez’s work with his brother Jaime on Love and Rockets.  It is fantastic that they have been able to sustain a successful three decade long career on a creator-owned title.  Having said that, I do enjoy when Gilbert or Jaime make the occasional foray over to Marvel and DC, because it is so much fun to see those mainstream superheroes filtered through their independent sensibilities.  I fondly recall Gilbert’s offbeat six issue stint writing Birds of Prey in 2003.  So I’m happy to see him on a Wonder Woman story.

Hernandez’s writing on “No Chains Can Hold Her” is rather minimal.  That is very much in line with his work over the last several years, where his main concern has been less with crafting complex plotlines than it has been in creating a particular mood or atmosphere.  Hernandez’s art on this story evokes both the work of Wonder Woman’s original Golden Age artist H.G. Peter and well as the Silver Age house style of DC, with Supergirl and Kanjar Ro drawn in their early 1960s incarnations.  Mary Marvel has a Bronze Age look that evokes a bit of Kurt Schaffenberger.   Much as they did in the 1970s, Mary and rest of the Marvel Family, along with their adversaries, even reside off in their own separate reality, Earth-S presumably.

Hernandez endows Diana with an exaggerated muscular physique reminiscent of his Love and Rockets character Petra.  Certainly it is miles away from some of the contemporary DC artists who unfortunately draw Wonder Woman with the body of a supermodel.  Hernandez’s approach is an interesting interpretation of the character that suits the tone of his story.

Sensation Comics 4 pg 5

Following on in issue #4 is “Attack of the 500-Foot Wonder Woman” by writer Rob Williams and artist Tom Lyle.  Diana is teamed up with the Atom, Hawkman and Hawkwoman against the shape-changing Thanagarian criminal Byth, who is wrecking Gateway City.  So that she can combat Byth, who has transformed into towering lizard creature, Diana temporarily grows giant-sized with the Atom’s assistance.

This story was a bit underwhelming.  It felt very rushed, and Williams would no doubt have benefitted from an additional 10 pages to give it room to unfold more naturally.  I have not seen new work from Lyle in quite some time, so his return to the comic book biz is welcome.  His art on this story did feel a bit cramped, though.  I think that he may have been constrained by the aforementioned digital-first format.  When you have a giant Wonder Woman fighting a Godzilla-like monster, BIG is the way to go.  But between the short length of the story and the half-page format, Lyle isn’t allowed to go too large with his layouts or do any splash pages.  Given the constraints I think he did the best work he could.  This story wasn’t bad.  It certainly had potential.  But it could have been stronger, both in terms of writing and art, if it had been longer.

Sensation Comics 4 pg 21

Rounding out Sensation Comics #4 is “Ghosts and Gods,” written by Neil Kleid and illustrated by Dean Haspiel.  As with the Hernandez story, “Ghosts and Gods” is an insanely entertaining mash-up of a number of different eras and styles.  The Golden Age incarnations of Wonder Woman and Etta Candy team up with Silver Age character Deadman to retrieve the Purple Healing Ray that has been stolen from Paradise Island by Bronze Age villain Ra’s al Ghul.  Yes, really!  All that was missing was Etta enthusiastically shouting “Woo Woo!”

Kleid’s story is a fun, exciting romp.  The art by Haspiel is fantastic.  As I’ve observed in the past, Dino has always been great at evoking different artistic eras in his work, and he successfully renders these various characters interacting with each other.  Haspiel is also a superb storyteller who very much knows how to lay out a page.  He clearly had no problems working within the digital-first format, and the action flows very smoothly.  I guess my only complaint (if you can call it that) is that this story wasn’t longer.  It was so enjoyable I would have been thrilled if had gone on for another 10 pages.

Sensation Comics 4 pg 26Despite a few minor hiccups, Sensation Comics #3 and #4 were very good.  If you are one of those readers who is dissatisfied with the current approach DC has towards the character of Wonder Woman then Sensation Comics is certainly a recommended alternative.  There really is something for everyone is this series.