Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A "safe for work" post featuring Jim Balent art? That's like finding a unicorn or something...

These days, the only Atom-sized things Jim gets to draw are thongs.
Before he did more issues of Catwoman than just about anybody, and definitely waaaaaaay before he made "haunted vagina" a household term, Jim Balent got a leg up from appearing in DC's Bonus Book program. A "16 Page Second Feature," these appeared in several DC books in late 1988; and in Power of the Atom #4, Balent does the art for "Skulduggery" Written by Joe Calchi, inks by Dan Schaefer.

Even though this is only the fourth issue of the Atom's new book, the Bonus Book story fits right in with the current status quo: Ray Palmer has returned from his barbarian days with a miniature alien race living in the Amazon--I love you, comics--and is having a hard time getting reassimilated to society. Not only is he having post-traumatic stress nightmares, and rage issues; but his friend Norman Brawler wrote a best-selling biography of the Atom that spilled his secret identity, since it didn't look like Ray was ever coming back.

So, not only is it common knowledge that his wife cheated on him, but Ray's face and address are as well. And this time, a Skul-Rider from Sword of the Atom, only full-sized, crashes his house and attacks Brawler.
Those Enzyte ads didn't say anything about this!
Later, a bar hook-up goes suddenly awry, when a tall, confident man shrinks a good foot and change in height. When his date makes a shrimp crack, he kills her and leaves the body for maid cleanup. The man goes to a lab and berates a scientist employee, who tries to explain there is no permanent way to raise his height. Which gets him shot.

The killer, Cal Thornton, has a little (please, no jokes) flashback as he uses the equipment to grow again: a spoiled but short rich kid, in college he was dumped by Jean Loring for being ambitious and cruel. Hmm. Too crazy for Jean Loring. That's pretty crazy...anyway, still holding a grudge from getting decked by Ray, Cal enlarges his pet falcon, then goes and kills his father and his pickup, apparently with his bare hands. (Four deaths in sixteen pages! And they say comics are violent now!)

Grease-painting himself yellow, Cal then attacks Ray, who foolishly tried to teach archeology at Ivy University under the alias Jones. Great plan, Ray: I'm sure no one will recognize you there. Since Cal can also change size now (somehow...) he and Ray duke it out in a miniature Mayan city display. The fight goes on longer than it needs to: Ray's way smarter than this, usually, and could switch size and weight much faster. Instead, Cal challenges him to a duel; perhaps not realizing Ray had got really good at swordfighting. Maybe not technically proficient, but good in a kill-or-be-killed sense. The Atom breaks Cal's arm, but stops short of disemboweling him, and is proud to see he's still a "civilized" man. Turning in him to the cops, Ray leaves to visit Brawler in the hospital, noting he'll deal with Cal's "four inch hawk with a bad temper" later. Too bad, that might have been fun.

This wasn't a bad little story, and I always liked the barbarian angle that had been added to the Atom: a college professor turned super-hero that went all Conan in the wild. (I have most of the Sword of the Atom issues, and I'm trying to remember if Ray dropped the Wolverine-style berserker barrage there, as I thought they were a little more swashbuckling than that.) That is a helluva story arc. Of course, the arc spirals downward with "turned into a teen in Zero Hour" and "wife went crazy, killed Sue Dibney in Identity Crisis."

On the art front, this is pretty early work from Balent, and this story doesn't spotlight any of the attributes he would later become known for, i.e. boobs. And even though Tarot may not be to your personal taste, you do have to give Balent credit for his success with it in a tough marketplace.

Personally on the Bonus Book front, I remember a Batman one from Detective Comics, but that one was more memorable to me for being included in the first Grant/Breyfogle Batman story I read. There's a fairly amusing JLA one where Max Lord is kidnapped and Booster Gold and Blue Beetle...really don't help him out. Like, to the point of this is where Max goes bad, right there. And Rob Liefeld did the art for a Jennifer Morgan story in Warlord. It's not bad--I don't think Rob's flaws had hardened into "style," and it doesn't have the lazy, halfassed feel of some of his later work. Plus, I love Jennifer, so...

That was a lot of write-up for a 16-pager, but later we'll take a look at the main story in this one, guest-starring...some guest-stars that are on the cover but spoil a surprise on the inside, so I'm not going to say until tomorrow!

EDIT: Newsarama had a piece today on Balent's Broadsword Comics. They've had a pretty good track record, so check it out if you're so inclined.


SallyP said...

"...that's like finding a unicorn or something...!"

Oh Googum...you had me at the title.

Too crazy for Jean Loring is seriously crazy. I can't help but think that there is a tiny hawk flying around, waiting to be pulled back into continuity.

The kidnapping story with Max, and Booster and Beetle was actually pretty funny, although the art was horrendous. In the end, the kidnappers end up paying THEM to take Max back!

Ace said...

I just read ISB for my Tarot fill. A horrible, horrible comic. I'm afraid to research it more thoroughly - does he self-publish? Own the company? Or does he get paid? Like, to do Tarot and nothing else.

googum said...

I haven't read it yet, but Newsarama just had a piece on Balent's Broadsword comics, and I think he's done OK for himself...I'll dig up the link, maybe.

And Sally; Was there another JLA Bonus Book, or is that my imagination? They wreck Barda's house, maybe?

SallyP said...

Well, there was Justice League Quarterly, that usually had three to four stories in it, and for the most part, they were fabulous. Rather the same idea as the JLI Classified issues. I rather wish they'd bring that and Green Lantern Quarterly back, because it was a chance for different writers and artists to come up with something new,and to play in the sandbox with the regular writer and artist.