Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"The End" Week: the All-New Batman: the Brave and the Bold #16!

I wasn't expecting to get ten Batman figures this year, nor was I expecting six Batman last issues. Like this one! From 2012, the All-New Batman: the Brave and the Bold #16, "Love at First Mite" Written by Sholly Fisch, pencils by Rick Burchett, inks by Dan Davis. This was the second tie-in series for the 2008-2011 animated series, although I don't know why the previous series ended. Except maybe to get another #1, I suppose.

This issue opens with Batman fighting the Mad Mod (of Teen Titans occasional fame, having appeared in the cartoon) and his men, who try to steal some of Batman's specialized uniforms from a display. Batman of course had fail-safes in place for that, but Bat-Mite calls that a "Cheat!" He disables Batman's remote, so he'll have to beat the bad guys up the old-fashioned way; but the extra-dimensional imp is surprised--and smitten--by the sudden entrance of Batgirl.

Batgirl is amused, but not sold on a "team-up," or whatever. Bat-Mite points out, as a super-heroine, Batgirl would probably end up "marrying an alien monster or being Lex Luthor's gun moll or something." He also keeps bringing in super-villains, like the Music Meister and Mister Polka-Dot, as "everything's better with super-villains." Batgirl lets him down gently, though; suggesting there may be another girl out there for him, someone smiley and magical...

The issue ends with a page of Bat-Mite lamenting the end of the series, but Batman points out he still has his old issues, and can read them whenever he wants. Good advice. Of course, this was another cancellation because the tie-in animated series was ending; the current Batman cartoon and tie-in comic is Beware the Batman, which I haven't seen or read yet...

Tomorrow: a blistering hangover The Eighth Annual Year in Toys! It's a big one!
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"The End" Week: Exiles #4!

The rumor always was that Marvel bought up Malibu's Ultraverse for their coloring department; I wonder if maybe it wasn't to get an X-name they somehow missed: from 1993, Exiles #4, "Fatal Flaws" Written by Steve Gerber, pencils by R.R. Phipps, inks by Dave Simons.

This is the only issue of this series I've read, but it was a fairly standard teenagers get powers, evil corporation wants to exploit them, benevolent scientist and Cable-like tough guy serve as their mentors. Except for two things: Gerber, in an editorial, mentions the characters "carried the seeds of their own destruction." The scientist didn't realize what she was getting into; the kids were unready, unstable, unsuited for super-powered war; even the evil corporation seems to have bitten off more than it could chew. In particular, there was Amber Hunt--a selfish, bitchy popular girl told she was going to die unless she got the super-powers treatment.

The second thing? Exiles was born to die. The goal was for the series' ending to be a complete shock. There were even solicits for future issues, but most of the characters are killed off here when Amber tries to use complex machinery to cure herself, and sets off a massive explosion. She would survive to set up the Ultraverse crossover Break-Thru (and received the Phoenix Force in a later crossover!) and the zombie-like Ghoul would resurface for Ultraforce, but the rest? Axed.

It's an interesting experiment, one that would be tough to repeat. But still just a footnote. Marvel would try to rebrand, using some characters from their own universe like the Juggernaut, but would have far more success with the Exiles name later...

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"The End" Week: Batman Adventures #17!

OK, let's see if I've got this: DC's adaptation of the cartoon Batman: the Animated Series began with the Batman Adventures, for 36 issues. Then the Batman and Robin Adventures for 25. Then the Lost Years five issue miniseries as Robin transitions into Nightwing. Then sixty issues of Batman: Gotham Adventures, before ending with seventeen issues of Batman Adventures in 2003-2004, finishing with the Batman Adventures #17, "Fear Itself" Written by Ty Templeton, pencils by Rick Burchett, inks by Terry Beatty.

The story opens with the familiar nightmare of the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, but the twist is it's not Bruce's nightmare, it's Joe Chill's. Even after all those years, Chill still worries that Bruce could identify him and send him to the chair; a fear that manifests as Chill seeing Bruce's face everywhere.

Meanwhile, Detective Giella is on the talk-show circuit, after apprehending Killer Croc. Giella, an older man, admits it was by accident more than anything: a wild shot dropped an engine block on Croc's head. But Giella's first case still gnaws at him: the Waynes' murder. Giella explains that to that day, he still carries a button he found at the crime scene, that may or may not be related, but serves him as a reminder. At home, Chill freaks out over the notion that he may have left a button from a piece of clothing he probably got rid of decades ago; and he buys a gun in the street.

Batman visits Giella with another complication: Killer Croc broke out of the hospital, and is probably on his way there. Giella refuses to leave for a safe house, not wanting to make the GCPD look weak. But Chill shows up instead, to kill Giella, but is stopped by Batman, who had planted a bug there. Chill doesn't go easy, though: he can tell Batman was favoring his left, having recently broken some ribs, and manages to shoot him as well. Batman tells Giella to "call for an ambulance! This man is about to need one!" Chill manages to unmask Batman, but is terrified to see the face of Bruce Wayne! Convinced he's cracked, Chill backs away and falls over a railing, then refuses to take Batman's hand as he falls. "You're not real!!! Go away! Make it go away!"

Two days later, Batman and Giella review the incident with Commissioner Gordon: the shooter was id'd as Joseph Chiblonski, a.k.a. Joe Chill. A name that means nothing to either Batman or Giella. As Killer Croc resurfaces, Batman tells Gordon to give him ten minutes, and the series closes with Gordon turning off the Bat-Signal.

This was the last issue in the last series done in the style of Bruce Timm and Batman: the Animated Series, which also carried over into Superman and JLA adaptations. I don't think this series was cancelled for sales or anything, but it may have been wrapped up to avoid competing with the newer Batman cartoon adaptation, the Batman Strikes. That was based on the 2004-2008 the Batman and ran concurrently, for a respectable 50 issues.
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"The End" Week: Avengers West Coast #102!

You may remember where this one goes if you've read old "The End" posts, but figured I should get a non-Batman one in: from 1994, Avengers West Coast #102, "The Avengers West Coast are Finished!" Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, pencils by Dave Ross, inks by Tim Dzon.

The Vision shouts out the title on the splash page, since he's called a review of the branch, which the East Coast team seems to view as somewhat of an embarrassment of late. Although Hawkeye was out after the recent death of a Skrull Mockingbird; Wonder Man and Iron Man haven't shown up yet, leaving Spider-Woman, Scarlet Witch, USAgent, and War Machine to be chewed out. Vision suggests placing them all on reservist status, but Hank Pym--a former WCA member--wonders if maybe they couldn't compromise, perhaps with "a committee of long-serving members to administrate both teams." A perfectly workable answer that won't work in a superhero book, yeah: Scarlet Witch immediately protests that she's served longer than the Vision, when Iron Man arrives. Before Hercules and USAgent can come to blows, Jarvis announces lunch is served.

Jarvis is torn between his loyalties to Tony, and the team; and Tony assures him his place is there with the mansion. Rhodey, however, has had enough of Tony and "endless spandex politics!" and flies off in a huff. Although Tony tells Cap it was personal, Cap tries to tell him to talk it out with him. Before Tony can protest he did, USAgent gets in Cap's face, and Tony has to keep things from becoming physical. Tony asks for a vote, and gets it, with Cap, the Black Widow, Black Knight, Hercules, the Vision...and Iron Man voting for disbanding the Avengers West Coast! Tony tells Cap the team couldn't function with their "resentment and lack of support." Cap suggests absorbing the members on a reservist basis, but the Scarlet Witch immediately quits. Iron Man follows suit: his vote to disband was to create a clean break between them. USAgent follows, as does Spider-Woman, who notes if they won't have the Witch or Iron Man, there's probably no room for her there. Hank is left to lament that really went well...

Outside the mansion, Iron Man asks Spider-Woman and the Scarlet Witch to meet him later, in regards to creating their own team. USAgent, on the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, heaves his shield and uniform into the drink. Later, Wonder Man shows up at the Avengers West Coast compound, only to be told by Iron Man that team doesn't exist anymore...setting up the new book Force Works, which as we saw before, wouldn't quite last two years.

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"The End" Week: The Batman Adventures #36!

Another Batman cancellation? Unbelievable...this one's a sad one, but not for why you think: from 1995, the Batman Adventures #36, "The Last Batman Adventure" Written by Ty Templeton (with thanks by Kelley Puckett) art by Mike Parobeck and Rick Burchett.

This was the conclusion of a three-parter: previously, plagued by headaches and a pervading sense of dread, Hugo Strange is working on a new invention. Or so he thinks...meanwhile, Catwoman makes one of her attempts to win Batman over, who won't bend on his stance against her crimes. Strange's invention was a memory-removing machine, which he actually wanted to use on himself, to take away his memory of his son David's murder. Instead, Strange gets trapped in that memory--seeing everyone's face as his son's--and Batman's memory is wiped, back to when he was six. Catwoman takes the opportunity, dressing Batman as Catman, and telling him he's had an accident but is part of the best cat-burglar team in Gotham.

While Robin and Gordon work the case and set up a diamond-baited trap, "Catman" is torn between his loyalty to his "partner" and his gut feeling that stealing isn't right. Robin is able to convince Bruce to go back to the Batcave and Alfred, whom he recognizes. (Stalling, Alfred tells Bruce his parents are out right then...) Bruce also knows of Batman, and is thrilled to be told he is Batman.

As Batman, the six-year-old mind of Bruce has all of his physical skills but none of his discipline. Robin enlists the help of Karl Rossum (from the episodes "Heart of Steel" and "His Silicon Soul") who uses Strange's notebooks to piece together what happened. Rossum explains that Strange kept removing chunks of his memory, not realizing he'd already taken out the one he wanted. (I think Strange may have invented his machine more than once, too.) The memories would be stored on a diamond, but there isn't one big enough to save Batman's memories...except the one he knows Catwoman has stolen and squirreled away.

As Hugo Strange decides Rupert Thorne should pay for his son's murder, and Alfred laments that Batman will have to relive his parents' murder; Batman asks Catwoman for the diamond. She offers a deal: the diamond, in exchange for Batman "looking the other way" for her. She thinks maybe then they could be friends, but Batman, hurt as only a child can be, tells her otherwise:

Feeling he's not a good enough Batman as is, he voluntarily takes his memories back; while Strange attacks Thorne, viciously defending his dead son. When one of Thorne's goons enters to help his boss, he recognizes Strange as "the little twerp that punched out my tooth last New Year's," David's murderer. Berserk, Strange snaps his neck.

Before Thorne can have the now-confused Strange shot, Batman and Robin show up; but Thorne is able to point out Strange was the criminal this time, and presumably he's taken off to Arkham. Finally, Catwoman summons Batman, with a Bat-signal painted onto the side of a building with water-soluble paint. She returns the ring she and "Catman" had stolen, trying to assuage her conscience. Still, Batman doesn't remember the deal they had made, nor does he imagine he would make such a deal; and Catwoman is thrilled to hear she's getting no special treatment from him.

This was the last issue of The Batman Adventures, but it would really continue with the Batman and Robin Adventures. Which I think I have the last issue of around here somewhere! But sadly, this would be one of the last issues for artist Mike Parobeck, who died of complications with diabetes at the age of 30.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

"The End" Week: The Creeper #1,000,000!

He's had two reboots since--three if you count the Vertigo version--but this was my favorite, and a last issue I love: from 1998, the Creeper #1,000,000, "Insanitation"
Written by Len Kaminski, pencils by Shawn Martinbrough, inks by Sal Buscema.

Previously, Jack Ryder had become so frustrated with his insane alter ego/split personality the Creeper, that Jack self-medicated with a "new wonder drug." Jack may have thought it was just going to be like super-Prozac, but instead it has the unfortunate side effect of splitting him and the Creeper into separate bodies. Worse, different fragments of the Creeper's madness keep splitting off as well, leaving the original "a bag of bones, empty as a campaign promise after election day and as useless as complaining about it." In case that wasn't weird enough, since this was a tie-in to DC's One Million event, the Creeper of the 853rd century has traveled back as well, emerging out of the present Creeper's mouth.

Future-Creeper tells Jack, "for all to survive, one of you must be destroyed." He adds that he gets to pick which one, but Jack maces him and gets out of there with the Creeper. Laughing it off, the Future-Creeper starts rounding up, and consuming, the offshoot Creepers. Although he may be done for, Jack won't abandon the Creeper; finally accepting him as a part of him.

Which is apparently what the Future-Creeper wanted: putting the offshoots back in the main one, he also then puts Jack and the Creeper back together, reconciled. Finally in sync, Jack no longer feels that he has to fear or control the Creeper: "He's not my enemy," he narrates before switching to go into action. "He's my partner."

Meanwhile, back in the 853rd century, the Future-Creeper has a secret: when he put the offshoots back, he excised the self-loathing aspect; and he was the cause and solution of the time paradox. Sadly, the issue ends with the final caption "999,988 more such tales remain untold."

But the Creeper is pretty adept at coming back: Steve Niles did a reboot-update in 2006, which I don't remember loving; but had to be better than the New 52 version, that is some kind of demon that lives in Katana's sword or something. That one's especially disappointing, since I like the creators on it, but not the idea. (Nocenti had an awesome run on Daredevil, while Juan Jose Ryp did a batch of books for Avatar.) Maybe a more recognizable Creeper will emerge eventually.

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"The End" Week: the Brave and the Bold #200!

Sometimes, a comic is cancelled less because of sales, than the feeling that it's perhaps going out of fashion, or to clear the schedule for something new. Like this issue, another cancelled Batman book! How is that guy still around...Brave and the Bold #200, "Smell of Brimstone, Stench of Death!" Written by Mike W. Barr, art by Dave Gibbons, inks by Gary Martin.

Although this was a team-up book, the heroes don't meet this time: the Batman of Earth-2 in 1955, and Earth-1's Batman in the present 1983. The villain, a hood using the nom de plume Brimstone, uses hell-themed gimmicks like white phosphorous capsules; but is no match for Batman and Robin. Batman escapes from Brimstone's death-pit, but Brimstone is clonked on the head and put into a coma for 28 years. Revived by an experimental treatment, Brimstone is furious over his aged, decrepit body; but a grinning senior citizen Joker gives him the bad news: Batman was already dead.

But Brimstone had an ace up his sleeve: as a child, he was aware of another Nicholas Lucien, his counterpart on Earth-1, who was as good as Brimstone was evil. Transferring his consciousness to the Earth-1 version, Brimstone begins a new crime spree, starting with random bombings. As Batman works the case, he doesn't realize Brimstone's whole goal is a rematch for revenge, since they've never met. After a trap with goons and "hellebore flower," Brimstone puts Batman in a updated version of his death-pit, which Batman escapes again; and after another clonk on the head Brimstone is forced back into his own body, to live out his days as a vegetable.

The rest of this issue was a preview for Brave and the Bold's replacement, Batman and the Outsiders. Enh.

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"The End" Week: Teen Titans #100!

This issue was next to my desk at work, and hey, it's the last one! From 2011 and pre-New 52, it's Teen Titans #100, "Family Reunion" Written by J.T. Krul, pencils by Nicola Scott, and inks by Doug Hazlewood, Jack Purcell, and Greg Adams.

Well, I guess if they're one thing I'm thankful to the New 52 for, it's that they appear to have gotten rid of Superboy-Prime. Originally intended as an innocent goodbye to the classic, S-P was brought back as a selfish, whiny, entitled brat who never took responsibility for his actions and always blamed everyone else. (Being the sole survivor of his universe, he was probably also seriously mentally ill, but rarely if ever was portrayed in a sympathetic light.) This time around, he's put together a "Legion of Doom" of Titans villains and Superboy-clones, intent on wiping out what he sees as "inferior versions."

The Titans clear the benches for this brawl, bringing in reams of characters. Kid Flash gets a brief (or rather, quick) moment of victory over Inertia, the villain that killed him in his brief and ill-fated 2006 series as the Flash. Superboy has Ravager get his Kryptonite shard, so she and Damian can stab some clones with it. And the Titans pummel Superboy-Prime down--somewhat unsatisfyingly, over only a couple of pages, and into unconsciousness, rather than beating him until he cries like the little toadie he is. The good, Conner Superboy and Supergirl leave S-P imprisoned in the Source Wall, which I'm sure is exactly what Jack Kirby intended it used for. Then a couple pages intended for closure, a bunch of pin-ups, a preview for the far-superior looking Marv Wolfman/George Perez Teen Titans graphic novel Games, and the start of the New 52 hype. The latter includes an ad for six books under the heading "Young Justice," all of which have been cancelled except for the rebooted Teen Titans book.

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"The End" Week: Two for the kids.

DC catches a lot of flak for some of their publishing decisions, but two things they usually give a try or two are adaptations of their animated series and kid-friendly books. So, here's the last issues of two of those: Young Justice #25, "Rolling Doubles" Written by Greg Weisman, art by Christopher Jones; and Superman Family Adventures #12, story by Franco and story and art by Art Baltazar.

The final episode of Young Justice aired March 16, 2013; after being pulled on and off of Cartoon Network's schedule. The toy line, which wasn't awful, but was a bit spendier than the standard figures at the time since they came with larger bases. With those two on the way out, the comic adaptation was on borrowed time.

This was the last of six parts, and alternated between the present of "Team Year Five" and the past of "Team Year Zero." "Year Zero" was actually between the televised "Young Justice" and the second part of the series, "Young Justice: Invasion," filling in some backstory like the death of Beast Boy's mom at the hands of Queen Bee or Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon playing spin the bottle. The present storyline concludes two separate alien invasions, Kylstar and Brainiac, who are both turned away but not exactly defeated.

While a few jokes carried over from Tiny Titans, I don't think Superman Family Adventures was quite as popular as its predecessor. But, this issue features the Justice League, Jor-El and Lara, the Kents, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, the Super-Pets, and more versus Darkseid. Oh, and Superman too.

Just like the recent Itty Bitty Hellboy, I'm probably not the target audience here; but there's still a few fun bits. Although like Hellboy, I don't think Superman (and his mythos) is as ripe for comedy as the Teen Titans, either. And they might be returning maybe? Still, Baltazar and Franco have other stuff going too.
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"The End" Week: Hawkman #17!

I don't know how many times Hawkman's been cancelled, but here's one: from 1987, Hawkman #17, "Day of Wrath" Written by Dan Mishkin, pencils by Ed Hannigan, inks by Don Heck.

Believing Hawkwoman to be dead--she's not, she was just sucked into a mystic realm with the Gentleman Ghost and the spirit of their murdered friend Lorraine--Hawkman is beyond enraged, and fights a hurricane with the berserker rage seen more often in later versions of the character. Hawkman saves a number of people, in a really angry manner; and takes a moment to rant at a priest, since as an alien, he doesn't believe in our god. Taking a moment to reclaim his headgear--a symbol of Thanagarian honor, even if he knows his homeworld is full of totalitarian thugs--Hawkman nearly kills himself fighting a burning, and already evacuated, building.

Finally calm for a moment, he realizes his wife has been trying to contact him somehow, and uses a piece of alien equipment to reconstitute Shayera, and the Gentleman Ghost and Lorraine. The latter two have to go back to the Land of the Dead, but the Hawks are reunited in the end. The letters page points out they would be seen next in Justice League International, but they weren't a great fit there. Well, Carter wasn't, anyway...
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Friday, December 27, 2013

"The End" Week: Unknown Soldier #268!

We checked out the end of the more recent Vertigo version some years back; now let's look at the classic: from 1982, Unknown Soldier #268, "A Farewell to War." Written by Bob Haney, pencils by Dick Ayers, inks by Gerry Talaoc.

The Unknown Soldier was part of DC's stable of war comics heroes, like Sgt. Rock. His adventures were a little more bombastic, though: an ordinary soldier, horribly burned, but still believing one man in the right place at the right time can make a difference. The Soldier was a master of disguise (wearing Mission: Impossible-style latex masks over the bandaged remains of his face) and fought dozens of missions behind enemy lines and all over the war, culminating in his final battle, parachuting into Berlin April 28, 1945.

Disguised as a doctor, the Soldier joins with Inge, the young assistant of his contact, Sparrow. Sparrow had vital information of a dangerous secret, but is shot by a firing squad before they can reach him. Offering to make sure the "traitor" was dead, the Soldier gets close enough to get Sparrow's dying word: "Nos...fer...atu!"

The SS commandant, Kessler, sees the doctor go off with Inge, a known friend of Sparrow; and suspects. I do believe Kessler had crossed paths with the Unknown Soldier more than once, which I imagine would make a guy super-paranoid. Inge and the Soldier try to run down another lead at the Berlin Zoo, but their source is killed in a riot for food, as the zoo animals are eaten! Then, Inge throws herself on an unexploded bomb, in an attempt to throw suspicion off of the Soldier when Kessler finds them. Her sacrifice is for naught, though, when Kessler tricks the "doctor" with a question about trepanning.

Facing a firing squad, the Soldier manages to open "a gas pipe left exposed by the bombing." The ensuing explosion saves him but destroys his mask, and Kessler realizes it's "the verdammt Unknown Soldier!" On fire, the Soldier escapes into the sewers, where he faces sewer-dwelling thugs and is chased by SS Hellhound troops! Barely escaping to a subway station-turned-makeshift shelter, he is then only saved by the sacrifice of another of his supporting cast, Chat Noir. (Being black, he was in disguise as a clown!) Furious, the Soldier fights Kessler hand-to-hand, killing him by knocking him into the electrified third rail of the subway; then the Soldier disguises himself as der Fuhrer's "favorite S.S. hero!" But then he has to outrace the flooding subway, as the Nazis try to stop the Russians from attacking through it; and this is only the second part of three in this issue, and more has happened than in most comic books' entire year.

Escaping the subway, the Soldier is nearly shot by the Russians, since he almost forgot he was dressed as a Nazi. Still, he makes his way to Hitler's bunker, where he gets a face-to-face with Hitler and his new bride, and a briefing on "Nosferatu." An accidental success in biological warfare using "vampire-bat blood and certain sea octopi" may be the last-ditch secret weapon that could turn the tide for the Nazis, Hitler has a TV camera set up to give the order to drop them on the invading Allies, and the Unknown Soldier has heard plenty. Pulling his gun, he inadvertently surprises Eva Braun into biting into her cyanide capsule, then has to wrestle Hitler, finally forcing Hitler to shoot himself with his own gun.

The TV set-up is important, since the Soldier is then able to disguise himself as Hitler, and give the order to destroy the Nosferatu as unnecessary. Leaving their bodies as suicides, he leaves the bunker, but sacrifices himself to save a child from bombing. Or does he...? As a passing soldier scratches his neck, as the Unknown Soldier occasionally did at his masks, Haney leaves it a little open.

Even if you weren't a fan of the Unknown Soldier, war comics, or fun...there is so much in this issue! Well worth flipping through.

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"The End" Week: Batman: Gotham Adventures #60!

Batman has had more than a few last issues that we've seen here, and I know there's been several in the animated style like this one: from 2003, Batman: Gotham Adventures #60, "Leaves" Written by Scott Peterson, pencils by Tim Levins, inks by Terry Beatty.

Although at this point in the series, Batman has a solid support team in Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, and Alfred; but he cuts them out to go alone this time. Commissioner Gordon has been captured by the Joker, who tells him to come alone. He doesn't specify where, but Batman finds them at a carnival, where the Joker also has like fifty guys. Batman cuffs Batgirl, but she gets free to let herself be captured, to protect her dad.

Perhaps because this is the animated version, the fifty guys don't have guns; but that almost sounds harder. If they had been armed, Batman would've been able to out-position them, or they would've opened fire and hit each other. This way, Batman has to fight his way through all of them, tooth and nail.

Exhausted, Batman asks the Joker why, and his explanation is to the effect of this is as good as it's going to get, so he may as well end it now, by stabbing Batman to death. Batman knocks out the Joker, and drags his beat-down ass home, where the others are surprised by the news reports they see! Still, Nightwing points out that while Batman may have lost a family once, he has another one now, and Batman agrees. He offers, after maybe taping up his wounds, that maybe they could make pancakes. He's never made them before, but no time like the present, and as we all know, pancakes are magical.

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"The End" Week: The Demon #16!

I was going to say it was weird that John Byrne's Blood of the Demon ran longer than Jack Kirby's original series. But Alan Grant and Garth Ennis both had longer runs with the character (39 and 18 issues respectively, or thereabouts.) and since there was a zero issue, Paul Cornell tied Kirby on the recently departed Demon Knights. And I don't think Kirby had that many long runs on his DC characters anyway, unless you count all the New Gods stuff as one long series. He only stayed on Mister Miracle until #18...

But, back to the book at hand: the Demon #16, "Immortal Enemy!" Edited, written and drawn by Jack Kirby, with letters and inks by Mike Royer. While fighting the lower-case demon Kafir in Gotham City, Etrigan is gassed and captured by Morgaine Le Fey. She puts the "ritual mark" on the Demon's head, making him her slave. Meanwhile, Jason Blood's love interest Glenda has discovered the power of the mysterious Philosopher's Stone, and is brought to Morgaine by her old henchman Warly. Morgaine is having Etrigan beaten, to soften him up for her control, and turns him back into Jason Blood, revealing his secret to Glenda at last.

Although Morgaine's wary of the Stone, she tries to extort it away from Glenda; but it's grabbed by Warly. Instead of passing it to his mistress, he turns on Morgaine, using the Stone to turn her into a mummy. (Complete with sarcophagus!) Morgaine had spells in place for such a betrayal, though; and as a tentacled monster grabs Warly, he tries to use "nether-flame" to stop it. Jason, released from the power of the mark with Morgaine's mummification, saves himself and Glenda from the fire, and now has to explain the Demon to her...

Even though he's been cancelled many times--it looks worse if you count the miniseries he's had, too--the Demon always turns up again like the proverbial bad penny. Good. He's my favorite of Kirby's DC creations, and I suspect he's a lot of other people's favorite as well.
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Thursday, December 26, 2013

"The End" Week: Ka-Zar the Savage #34!

Another Marvel hero that has stared down the barrel of cancellation more than once; but this one does it with far more aplomb than Nova did. From 1984, Ka-Zar the Savage #34, "Savage in a Strange Land" Written by Mike Carlin, pencils by Paul Neary, inks by Carlos Garzon. And Neary's cover is a Steranko tribute!

The main story features Ka-Zar and Zabu trying to rescue Shanna, who had been teleported away from them by a tribal relic that originally appeared to be an oddly shaped bone. The alien Nuwali appear to occasionally abduct people to harvest adrenalin from them, which they use as a poison in trying to extract payment from their employers, who hired them to set up nature preserves. (Like the Savage Land, the only surviving one, although the Nuwali didn't know why it was still going.) The other humans from the Savage Land are apathetic and weak after having their adrenalin yanked out of them too often, but they figure they can get a good batch out of Ka-Zar after convincing him Shanna was being hurt. Still, Shanna is able to rescue him, and has another good bit of news: she's pregnant! After a dogfight in space, Ka-Zar and Shanna and the other humans manage to get back to the Savage Land, where Ka-Zar assures his wife and friend that they will lead a full happy life there.

In the second feature, "Savage in a Stranger Land!" Ka-Zar is taken back to a familiar place, and faces some familiar foes, in the Land of Cancelled Heroes! That's a fun bit, as Ka-Zar explains being ahead of their time, being visionary, sometimes leads to being cancelled; and it's not necessarily a stigma. And it's not, since Ka-Zar has been back multiple times since this one.

And the "Land of Cancelled Heroes," with Ka-Zar, would make an appearance in Deadpool #34, which is also damn fun. It's a trailer park in that one, and all the cancelled heroes appearing had been written before by the new series writer Christopher Priest!

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"The End" Week: Nova #25!

He's had three or four last issues since, but let's look at his first! From 1979, The Man Called Nova #25, "Invasion of the Body Changers!" Script and edits by Marv Wolfman, pencils by Carmine Infantino, inks by Klaus Janson.

The cover says "In Final Battle!" That is a damn lie. With some Xandarian heroes, plus the villainous Diamondhead, the mysterious Sphinx and the brain-in-a-robot Dr. Sun in tow, the young hero from earth called Nova is on his way to Xandar, home of the Nova Corps. Rich Rider has been gone for about two weeks, and apparently told no one he was going to be gone, since his family is pretty worried. Worse, before getting to their destination, they run afoul of a Skrull armada. With the Sphinx's aid, they manage to fight through, but worry the Skrulls could get reinforcements before they could reach Xandar...

The letters page cops to this being the last issue, due to "slow (though not necessarily poor) sales." It also mentions his upcoming What If? issue, and Nova's story would continue in Fantastic Four #206. It looked like maybe Richard's story was going to end, but he would return in New Warriors over a decade later, renamed "Kid Nova" briefly, which sounds like a cowboy name.
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"The End" Week: Detective Comics #881!

I've mentioned before that I got a bunch of DC's "last" pre-New 52 issues out of the quarter bins. Here's one I never thought I'd live to see: the last issue of Detective Comics, Detective Comics #881, "The Face in the Mirror" Written by Scott Snyder, art by Jock (Mark Simpson) and Franceso Francavilla.

Featuring one of the final stories with Dick Grayson as Batman, this issue also featured James Gordon Junior as the villain. Prior to that, JGJr was best known for being the child thrown off a bridge and saved by Batman in Year One, and here he's a young man. (Probably too old?) And a calculating, clinical, cold psychopath; who tortures his sister Barbara (aka Batgirl or Oracle, depending on when you ask, and I'm not sure they were blood-related.) for always knowing what he was. JGJr also recognizes Dick as the current Batman, since he sees a televised report of him grinning before going into action. (This has some precedent, since Tim Drake recognized Dick's acrobatics as Robin; they really should avoid TV!)

Already a murderer, James had volunteered for a clinical trial for a new medication, and briefly does feel empathy; which he then rejects as weakness. Coupled with the TV report, he sees Batman--who cares far more deeply than he ever could--as "the weakest man in Gotham." His plan was to drug infant formula, to bring about a new generation like him, without weakness or empathy. Batman stopped him--maybe. It's left open if maybe James couldn't have already succeeded in tampering with a future generation, something we've seen before. Now, James intends to finish murdering Barbara, who isn't going to make it easy for him, and holds out until a tracer Dick had planted on James kicks in. While Dick tends to Barb's injuries, James makes a break for it, only to be shot in the legs by his dad, who refuses to let him fall again.

Later, Commissioner Gordon visits Dick, to thank him; he pretty obviously knows his secret. Together, they wonder what more Gotham can throw at them...and if James Jr. was lying or not. This was a dark, dark issue; but the timeline doesn't quite line up for me. If James Jr. was maybe six in Year One, he seems somewhere between 18 and 26 here? Which kind of fits with Dick being Batman, but would make Bruce kind of old. I know James Jr. has turned up in Gail Simone's Batgirl now, but I couldn't say how much of his history remains.

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"The End" Week: Cloak and Dagger #11!

I've been running behind a bit, and not writing enough, so I wanted to get back on track this week; with our annual "The End" Week, where we go through a big ol' pile of last issues. Usually, when I start reading a book, it's the kiss of death, but I believe I only lost one title this year: Demon Knights #23, the last of the New 52 books I was reading. But we're going to start with a book I had never read, until finding it last month! From 1987, Cloak and Dagger #11, featuring "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" and "the Golden Triangle." Written by Bill Mantlo, with art by June Brigman and Terry Austin and Larry Stroman and Randy Emberlin.

Although their original origin involved a pair of runaways dosed with an experimental drug, later revelations would posit the pair were actually mutants. Or maybe not. It depends when you ask. I'm also rarely certain if they're just friends, or a couple; but usually if one of them (usually Dagger) is involved with someone, they turn out to be a total jerk with ulterior motives. And that's the case with Bill Clayton, who's keeping them one step behind his smuggling operation, but sacrifices himself to save Dagger. Later, Cloak and Dagger try to make a dent in the drug trade by hitting the supply side in the Golden Triangle, where they find an opium cult headed up by an American who has gone all "Heart of Darkness" and a local warlord trying to take over.

It's not Mantlo's best, but the art and the layouts are nice; and Cloak and Dagger would return in Strange Tales with Dr. Strange, and other places after that.
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