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The ’90s Revisited – The Demon Annual #1

90s_revisited

demon_annual_001Ex-Nihilo…Death!

Script: Alan Grant
Pencils: Joe Phillips & David Johnson
Inks: John Dell
Colors: Robbie Busch
Letters: Todd Klein
Editor: Dan Raspler
Cover Art: Joe Phillips
Cover Date: 1992
Cover Price: $3.00
Published by: DC Comics

Jason Blood and his pal Harry (some sort of human pillow?) arrive in San Francisco. Not long after, they’re attacked by some large creature and Jason is forced to call forth Etrigan to fight it. Meanwhile, some kid and his cat are on the scene stirring up some trouble of their own. Etrigan’s adversary is eventually recalled–apparently this was just a test for Etrigan by some old guy. The old guy is Nihilo, and he’s confronted by Jason and the kid–apparently his nephew–also known as Klarion (the witch boy). Nihilo regales his "guests" with his story, which comes down to his having been cursed with immortality by the cruelty of Eclipso. And with Eclipso apparently being back, Nihilo seeks death before Eclipso’s attention returns to exacerbate his suffering.

Klarion, however, attempts to invoke Eclipso to kill the Demon Etrigan. He winds up "eclipsed," along with Teekl (his cat), and we get another lengthy fight scene. Along the way, Eclipsed Klarion seems to burn out Nihilo’s eyes as punishment, and ultimately, Eclipso seems to have the Demon beat…but Harry intervenes, creating an illusion of sunrise, which spurs Eclipso to move Klarion and Teekl underground, abandoning the fight in favor of preserving his control over their magical bodies. Etrigan lives, and rides off with Harry and a large "The End" closing out the story.

I went into this issue "blind." Other than some very loose basics, I’m almost wholly unfamiliar with The Demon and Etrigan outside of an episode or two of Justice League Unlimited, his appearance in 1999’s Judgement Day, possibly Final Night, and a few issues of Demon Knights (being The New 52, though, could be vastly different!). Ditto with Klarion. I didn’t even know who the kid was til the name was put out there, and then I only know whatever I read (and have presently forgotten) from the Grant Morrison mini whenever that 7 Soldiers stuff was out. I vaguely knew of Etrigan being a "rhyming" demon and definitely appreciated some of the rhymes in the issue (outside of the story itself, a writer being able to make mostly-sensible rhymes work is fairly impressive to me for whatever reason).

I’m not all that clear on the actual relationship between Jason Blood and Etrigan outside of there being at least a bit of an adversarial thing. Is Etrigan related to Merlin? Or is that someone else? There’s not much "background" here as far as Blood and the Demon. Despite that, this was a fairly self-contained issue…which gives it more credit with me for being a $3 issue–a 20% increase on the prior chapters of Eclipso: The Darkness Within being $2.50. This is also the first non-squarebound issue of the event. This is one I’m highly confident I did NOT ever read before, though it was an interesting enough read as a first-time thing in 2022. Even though I didn’t know the characters, I feel like I got to know or recognize the "essential" bits.

Visually, this had a certain "darker" style to it that put me in mind of early issues of Batman: Shadow of the Bat (though PART of that may be Alan Grant’s name with this issue). Something to the visuals also put me in mind of older Hellblazer issues and perhaps Vertigo stuff as well.

Readers are directed to this issue from Justice League America Annual #6…but other than that, there’s really nothing here that seems to truly tie in to the event. Having read previous chapters, I have a bit more context for Eclipso…but I don’t think it’s really needed in reading this…we get filled in contextually with what we "need" to know. If there was no "meta" context of having read prior chapters, this would seem a standalone story to me, and not a bad one at that. There’s also no direction to the "next" chapter of Eclipso: The Darkness Within…and with Eclipso seemingly "defeated" for the purposes of this issue–"driven off," at least–we get a conclusion of sorts that doesn’t push us into another chapter.

As I do not recall reading any other issues of the title from the ’90s–except perhaps the Bloodlines Annual–this was a decent introduction of it to me; the extra length to the issue giving more room for things to play out beyond what "just" a normal single issue would have. It doesn’t obligate me to check recent issues, nor to dive into subsequent issues. Even within the event itself, this seems more like a one-shot/special that happens to feature the characters. As "a" #1, this is additionally worthwhile if fished out of a cheapo-bin. #1, extra-sized, dark, contained…and yet ties into the overall event by virtue of referencing a black diamond and having Eclipso.

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The ’90s Revisited – Detective Comics Annual #5

90s_revisited

detectivecomics_annual005Acts of Madness!

Writers: Alan Grant & John Wagner
Penciller: Tom Mandrake
Inkers: Tom Mandrake, Jan Duursema, Rick Magyar
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Asst. Ed.: Scott Peterson
Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Cover: Sam Keith
Cover Date: 1992
Cover Price: $2.50
Published by: DC Comics

The issue opens on The Ventriloquist’s Club and some sorta Scarface invitation-only event. We see various invitees of the Gotham Underworld milling about and mixing; and Scarface announces that he’s going straight, and insults some folks in the crowd. Meanwhile, Batman’s out ‘n about as usual for an evening, and ponders the event…that he obviously was NOT invited to. There’s a brief scene between Jim Gordon talking to his daughter on the phone, as we see that things are still raw–especially for him–regarding what the Joker did to Barbara. Back where Batman’s captured the thieves, he finds a black diamond and slips it into his utility belt to examine later before handing over. At the Ventriloquist’s club, we see that part of the event was to get all sorts of criminals in one place and listen in on "bugged" tables to find a heist to hijack. They decide on one involving some cash The Joker should be able to point ’em toward. In the Batcave, Batman examines the diamond, while Jim Gordon continues to struggle with his hate for the Joker. Ventriloquist/Scarface and goons break Joker out of Arkham; while Batman finds there’s something evil in the diamond; but is alerted to the Bat-Signal, where once with Gordon he learns that 1. The Joker’s out again and 2. meets another Gordon–Bruce Gordon…who fills Batman in on the black diamonds and Eclipso.

Elsewhere, Joker’s led Ventriloquist & Co. to one of his old HQs where he shows off HIS "wonderful toys." Back at the police station, Jim’s checked for more black diamonds, but after learning that Joker’s location has been discovered, insists on leading…but instead accidentally unleashes "an Eclipso," a manifestation that is fueled by Jim’s dark thoughts and feelings and makes its way to try to kill the Joker. Batman trails the creature and eventually engages it in battle; showing that he prefers no hand whatsoever in anyone’s death…even The Joker’s. (Jim) Gordon is horrified when he comes to and realizes what he’s unleashed and that it’s led to police injuries. He races to the scene, where Batman’s fight continues and smashes his car into the creature, allowing Batman the coup de grace. Though it looks like the Joker’s about to be back in custody, he uses some chemicals to create a smoke cloud and gets away. We close the issue with a note that this is "to be continued" in Robin Annual #1…but that "next week" Eclipso: The Darkness Within continues in Superman Annual #4.

I’m not a fan of Scarface/The Ventriloquist. Easily one of my least-favorite Gat-villains. Er…BAT…villains. That said, it’s been ages since reading a story with ’em, so there’s that going for it; and as an extended-length story without being stuck in a mini-series or such. I think I’m also put off by the cover having nothing about ’em and just featuring Eclipso and Joker, and yet, this is definitely much more a SF/V story than Joker story (he just happens to BE there). But that’s probably part of the selling factor…Joker sells (sold?) while SF/V doesn’t (didn’t?).

Though the issue kinda dragged on…at the same time, it seemed to FIT as a Batman story. It wasn’t some drawn-out 6-issue decompressed thing or mini-series…but it lasted much longer than "just" a typical "single issue" would have. It gave us a chance to see the parts moving around the board so to speak; spend time with multiple parties, and all that. To my 2022 eyes, it felt like the Babs/Jim Gordon stuff was “shoehorned in” arbitrarily…but it was still SOMEWHAT “fresh” at the time.

I don’t remember exactly what year it was that Killing Joke came out–I’m thinking ’88?–so this is a mere 4 years removed from that…still a pretty fresh story at the time. (Compared to my reading THIS 30 years after publication with Killing Joke now 34 years removed…and it’s been almost 11 that Babs has been back up and about with New 52-to-present). So in 1992, maybe written earlier than published, it makes sense that it’d be a topic still mine-able for the characters.

The art is also pretty good…though this is definitely a case where I prefer the interior to the cover. Sam Keith’s style is very distinctive and recognizable (at least to me), but definitely a bit "weirder" than I usually picture it here, and though it has a moon ("eclipse") and the Joker. The interior art feels very "classic" to me for late-’80s/early-’90s stuff; there’s some distinctive style stuff that screams "’90s Batman!" to me. Mandrake’s art seems very fitting, and reminds me a bit of Norm Breyfogle’s work somehow.

All in all, this issue seems rather generic and forgettable as a Batman story. But it still feels like a Batman story, that happens to have some Eclipso elements to it that it wouldn’t have if not part of this event. It packs a lotta story between its covers, and feels far more "meaty" than modern Annuals; not to mention my ongoing enjoyment of the fact that this is part of a large event that did not eat up the main titles and yet was contained TO the titles by their annuals.

Taken alone, it’s a decent read as a one-off; there’s a bit to "know" about Eclipso, but the reader can pretty much figure stuff out from Bruce Gordon’s words; and though this "continues" into the Robin Annual, it’s like a lotta formulaic Bat-stuff; where the villain gets away and Batman’s gotta continue on.

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The ’80s Revisited: Detective Comics #604

80s_revisited

detective_comics_0604The Mud Pack Part One: Men of Clay

Writer: Alan Grant
Penciller: Norm Breyfogle
Inker: Steve Mitchell
Letterer: Todd Klein
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Assoc. Editor: Dan Raspler
Editor: Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $1.00
Published by: DC Comics

This cover is another iconic one for me at least…with a mud/clay version of Batman and someone holding a glinting knife over it. There’s no cover credit in the issue…because this almost certainly was when covers were done by the main artist of the issue. And they actually reflected something from the issue itself…either thematically or literally. In this case…literally.

The issue opens with someone holding a mud statue of Batman, and then we jump to a few pages of some clay guy (Preston Payne, Clayface III) in Arkham, talking to a mannequin he’d been in love with but had to tell he wanted to break up. When she didn’t answer, he smacked her and freaks out when her head flies off. He winds up breaking down his door and killing/maiming guards…escaping. Elsewhere, Batman takes down some generic criminals in an alley before responding to a call about the escape. Meanwhile, a cloaked figure stalks through the movie theater district reminiscing about old times and when films were good, talking to someone named Matthew. When he’s approached by some would-be muggers, they get more than they bargained for as he shows them true horror as a slasher, killing them. While Arkham guards hunt Payne, they meet up with a woman in a costume who has mind-powers; Payne had passed out from tranquillizer darts, and she makes the guards shoot each other before she leaves with Payne in tow. In an abandoned theater/now-HQ, the cloaked figure speaks to Matthew again and we learn that Matthew had been Clayface, perished during a crisis, and whoever this is is trying to bring him back. He fails. Batman confers with Commissioner Gordon and they realize Looker of the Outsiders is involved…or so they think. It turns out we have another Clay-person in this Sondra Fuller or "Lady Clayface" or "Clayface Four." She’s like Hagen apparently was–a shape shifter…but it seems she can actually mimic others’ powers! She’s working with the cloaked guy who turns out to be Basil Karlo, apparently the "original" Clayface. While Matthew’s nothing but slopped mud now, this unites the original Clayface with successors Clayface Three and Clayface Four…a unique group sure to now be able to as one, claim fame, fortune, power…and kill the Batman! (And for effect, he stabs the mud statue of Batman he had, fulfilling the cover’s image).

While there’s the name Batman on the cover and he’s kinda in the background, the cover to Batman #439 is more Nightwing than Batman. Which makes this one all the more striking, being a large closeup of Batman, someone holding a knife…is it a statue? Is it Batman himself trapped in a covering of mud? It also feels like a fairly unique cover, all the more for the colors…so much muddy brown on a black background…it’s hardly a bright, cheery colorful thing to leap off and grab someone’s attention. For me, though, it was part of my first exposure to then-current Batman in 1989, and has remained a striking cover to me that always seems to grab my attention if I see it anywhere! And something like this story would be an excellent candidate for a Batman: Clayface or whatever those villain-spotlight TPBs are; or of a massive reprint issue for this arc, etc. Yet other than a Norm Breyfogle-specific collection, I don’t think this Mud Pack story has ever actually been collected as its own thing! Which is a darned shame, really.

41-year-old me in 2022 here thinks he knows that Clayface III (Preston Payne) is an Alan Moore character from an Annual. But this issue seems to give us what we need to know about him, what he is and does to appreciate the character. Same for Karlo…though we get less on Lady Clayface. We see her in action, but not much else. We also get the Hagen bits/references…bringing this group of villainous/antagonist characters together (for the first time?) as a unified threat, setting up whatever comes next. The issue is almost cinematic in some ways with an intro image, then prologue, introducing the characters and bringing them together, the Karlo "reveal" as the mastermind, and so on…leaving off on a (perhaps melo) dramatic cliffhanger/threat.

Visually, this has a definite difference from the Batman over in that title. Breyfogle‘s Batman is rather distinctive to me and rather prone to shadows and for lack of a better phrasing, a sort of "flow" with the action. I also really like his Bat-Signal…it’s recognizable, but its "wavy" effect seems much more authentic than a clean circle on clouds as it’s often depicted. As some of my earliest, regular Batman art, this set the standard for me, along with the likes of Byrne and Aparo as "my" Batman, and a style I very much enjoy.

There’s another thing to this issue that struck me as a kid: the cover proclaims "Free Full-Color Batman Mini-Poster Inside!" Bound into the center of this issue is an actual poster that can be removed (carefully)…a double-page sized image of Batman, and seems to be the same paper as a cover…something higher quality than the basic "newsprint" the bulk of the issue was printed on. This poster is single-sided; and does not even have ads or other promo stuff on its back; removing it in no way decreases (and actually, INcreases) the readability of the issue…no story/panels are lost, it’s truly an actual bonus for the issue! Some comics in the late-’80s/early-’90s would feature "pin-up pages" of art by creators either not as associated with a character or not holding the "main" art gig for the character/team; filler space, etc. This poster is its own thing, an original image not just lifted from a panel…and certainly "worthy" of a cover itself…but, no "variants" here!

I’ve snagged multiple copies of this issue over the years. My original in 1989; as well as copies from bargain bins; at least one copy was solely for that poster, which I have framed on a wall; and a copy I got to get signed by Breyfogle himself some years back when I was unable to locate my actual original copy in time; and now this copy I got for this reading project at present.

I’d definitely recommend this issue if only for the poster, should you happen across it in a bargain bin. The Mud Pack seems a totally forgotten, high-quality story (albeit perhaps from rose-colored glasses of nostalgia) that I’d definitely recommend getting if you’re able to get all 4 chapters; and ideally copies for less than whatever modern comics cost. To me, this is certainly a 25-cent book; but decently worthwhile going up to $3/$4 (maybe $16 at most for all 4 chapters) just because it’s such a quality Batman/Clayface(s) story and strikes me as having a lot more…SOMEthing…than modern $5 and $6 single-issues.

I did a bit of "internet research" because neither this issue nor Batman #439 had cover dates on them…but I know I had to have gotten them at the same time as Adventures of Superman #453 (April 1989) and Superman #31 (May 1989). Apparently somewhere in this timeframe DC and Marvel had some shenanigans on adjusting cover dates, and from what I can figure out, it seems likely that the correlation here–what put these 4 together for me–was that the Superman issues probably were "left over" and had not been pulled; while the Batman issues were very new. Or something to that effect.

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Zero Hour Revisited – Showcase ’94 #10

90srevisited_zerohour

showcase_94_0010Aftermath

Script: Alan Grant
Penciller: Mike Vosburg
Inker: Ron McCain
Colorist: Dave Hornung
Letterer: Ken Bruzenak
Consulting Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Editor: Neal Pozner
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.95

This particular story basically sees a despondent, defeated Jean-Paul Valley momentarily existing as a homeless man on the streets. He’s been stripped of his role as Batman, having abdicated his role as Azrael for that, and now hasn’t a clue what to do with himself. He contemplates himself, his life, where he is, what he’s been through, how his life has changed in a year (basically saying that from Sword of Azrael to Zero Hour has been about a year in the Bat-side of things–further backed by the Superman: The Man of Steel issue where Batman mentions to Superman both having quite a year). Valley intrudes on a group of homeless, "hogging the fire," and eventually one is brave enough to approach him and engage him (albeit one-sidedly…or so it seems). When he up and leaves, the remaining homeless crowd around the fire and then are threatened by another group. Valley returns and drives them off, and continues to mope about, though now accepting that he IS a person, like any of these others.

Story-wise, this seems both a sort of quasi-epilogue to KnightsEnd, partly following up on that and bridging that story and the start of the ongoing Azrael series that started sometime later in 1994, I believe. This is definitely where a title like this–Showcase ‘__–excels. You don’t have to have an entire issue of some other title dedicated to a story, but you can have a standard-issue-length story presented once without having to be entirely its own one-shot or Special Issue or whatever. There’s room for this Azrael (Jean-Paul Valley) story, prior to/without an Azrael title (yet), but without hijacking another issue of Batman or Detective or Robin or Catwoman or whatever.

Given that, I like this story, and somehow was kinda surprised that it DID run the "full length" of a standard-sized issue. Then, for only 45 cents more (1994 pricing) we get another issue-or-so’s worth of content spotlighting other stuff.

And the cover–featuring Azrael–is a nice Quesada/Kesel piece with the destroyed Az-Bats helmet on the Az-Bats-period Bat-symbol. Iconic, simple, and applicable to the story.

The Tempting part 1: The Beating of Wings

Writer/Creator: Brian Augustyn
Penciller: Anthony Chun
Inker: Matt Banning
Letterer: Steve Haynie
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Editor: Neal Pozner

I’d swear I’ve read stuff with Black Condor before–specifically in Justice League America–but this did not feel like that at all. I think it’s safe to say this is the first "solo outing" I’ve read of the character, and it felt like a bit of a first-issue thing, introducing the main character, a supporting character, and a conflict. Of course, the hero starts to seem victorious, before being presented with a greater challenge, and we’re left with a cliffhanger (I ought to see if I have the next issue of this, but honestly I doubt I’ll get to it anytime soon…I’m interested, but not necessarily enough to hunt it down for an immediate read. Chances are if I ever get around to assembling the several years of these Showcase Years I’ll read it someday).

The story and art are both good, and as mentioned above for the Azrael story, this is a solid outing that seems like it could lead into an ongoing series; but barring that/prior to that, serves in that stead, being allowed to be put out there as part of an anthology ongoing even where any singular character/story would not support its own thing.

No real complaints, and I do feel I’ve a bit more insight into the character, or at least the context, than I would have had without having read this.

Deja Views

Story: Mike McAvennie
Pencils: Jason Armstrong
Inks: Stan Woch
Colors: Stuart Chaifetz
Letters: Willie Schubert
Consulting Editor: KC Carlson
Editor: Neal Pozner

This story was all over the place, but essentially focuses on a group of Time-themed villains including Clock-King (I believe) and Calendar Man (I think–and not at all like the revamped Rebirth version!). The group is trying to steal some helmet or armor, and stuck in a time-loop, and they got confused in-story right after I got confused reading and jumping to the conclusion that there was some significant editorial error before realizing that was part of the story. And before things are completely sorted out, the story fades to white, signifying the "join" to Zero Hour.

Visually, no great issue on this story for me…it’s not bad, not wonderful. I’m not overly familiar with the characters, don’t really care about them, and this story doesn’t seem to directly come out of anything…it’s just "a story set during _______" (here, Zero Hour). This tie is enough to "justify" including this in reading Zero Hour stuff, but the issue does not sport the official Zero Hour banner or trade dress. Of course, that’s in keeping to the title‘s trade dress of generic fonts for "logos" rather than some bold solo-title logo.

At least it’s more tie-in than a number of tie-ins had, so it’s worth reading for the sake of completeness, though does not ultimately "matter."

OVERALL THOUGHTS

While this title itself–Showcase ’94–may not in and of itself matter all that much, I’m more convinced than ever at its greatness for its time. That’s not to say I could see following such a book long-term in the present, in 2016…but going back 22 years and the three issues I’ve now read for their having a segment each tied to Zero Hour, I recognize what the book’s existence allowed to be published without hijacking other books’ pages or the stories just not getting told. Add to that my not recognizing many of the creators and a slight memory suggesting this: the book was the sort for giving "new talent" a chance without being otherwise committed to a book. Try a writer out, give an artist a story to do, without compromising a "regular" or "ongoing" title, but still get their work out there, see how they do with various characters and creative team lineups.

This issue as a whole is not worth it in terms of Zero Hour, really…but it’s a strong issue, with a distinctive cover, and for the quasi-self-contained Azrael story, it’s well worth a bargain-bin buy (just not worth some collector’s premium or markup despite the issue’s age or cover).

Zero Hour Revisited – Batman: Shadow of the Bat #31

90srevisited_zerohour

batman_shadow_of_the_bat_0031The Battling Butler!

Writer: Alan Grant
Artist: Bret Blevins
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Letterer: Todd Klein
Cover Painter: Brian Stelfreeze
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.95

This issue is another “old favorite,” one that–by the cover at least–I clearly remember from reading its week of release back in 1994. However, reading this in 2016, I’m not sure if I’d actually re-read this issue since then or not…and I’m leaning toward not.

I’d forgotten that  the earlier issues of this series had these painted covers, and a different style with the interiors that set it off from the main titles. There’s something to the issue other than the price that sets it off. And then there’s that price…this was a $1.95 book amidst $1.50 books…back when there was a bit more variance in price that didn’t seem QUITE so drastic as $2.99 vs $3.99.

Playing nicely with the Zero Hour theme of randomish Time anomalies relevant to the given title, this Batman book sees the appearance of an older version of Alfred. This one is a bit larger and more of a bumbling butler and wanna-be PI than the cool, collected, tall, skinny actor/former soldier that’s become such a norm present day. While Batman and Robin deal with some guy who’s gotten access to a hypnotic potion that allows him to get rich guys to “rob themselves” and give him the loot, we also get this story of a butler out of time, trying to fit in…whose appearance’s timing hits close to the heart as “our” Alfred has just recently resigned from being on Bruce Wayne’s payroll in protest for of Bruce’s unwillingness to stop so drastically recklessly endangering his own life. By the time things are resolved, this alternate Alfred fades away, closing out this one-off issue that closes with a simple THE END, rather than some To Be Continued or other cliffhanger.

I don’t recall when Alan Grant left the title, and didn’t remember he was still on the title at this point, though I believe this title was essentially created “for” him when there was a shuffling on Detective and Batman. That’s really not here nor there for Zero Hour, though, except to point out that his name on this and what he brought to this story is a real treat…particularly for being essentially a self-contained issue that plays nicely in the Zero Hour sandbox without really raising any problematic questions nor confusing someone who read this issue solely for being a Zero Hour tie-in rather than the next issue of whatever other story could be going on at the time.

Visually, I quite enjoyed the art, and the early pages really strongly put me in mind of the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series, which was a welcome touch. That was a stylistic thing, something with the linework and especially the colors…and yet the character designs are definitely NOT that style associated with the animated series, and really fit the comics as-is for the time this was published.

I remember knowing just enough Batman history to realize even at the time that this was an earlier version of Alfred; though as of this typing I fail to recall if it was Golden Age or (more likely) Silver Age. Other than the actual fact of this Alfred’s presence and a reference TO wonky stuff going on with Time, this issue doesn’t do anything with Zero Hour in itself–no particular plot point is picked up or driven forward or scene expanded and elaborated on…this is just a great one-off issue that takes advantage of the notion that anyone from anyWHEN can show up and it makes sense without needing to set things up within the issue nor wrap it up by the end.

This was a real treat to (re)read, and really a truly great single issue…offhand probably the most self-contained thus far and as such extremely worthy of acquiring–whether from a bargain bin, dollar bin, or up to $4 (cover price $1.95, but this equals and/or vastly surpasses many contemporary $3.99 books of 2016)!

Zero Hour Revisited – Showcase ’94 #9

90srevisited_zerohour

showcase_94_0009The Secret Origin of Scarface part Two – Call Me Scarface

Script: Alan Grant & John Wagner
Art & Colors: Teddy Kristiansen
Lettering: Ken Bruzenak
Consulting Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Editor: Neal Pozner
Cover: Shawn McManus
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: August 1994
Cover Price: $1.95

Much as with the first chapter of this Scarface story, the art’s rather simplistic…but expecting it this time and looking past it not being ‘great’ and just taking it as it is, it works very well here getting everything across that needs to be, at least in not taking me out of the story AS I read, and leaving me satisfied with the story at the end.

Wesker and Woody make good on their escape–though it involves a brick-to-the-face and then hanging of Donnegan, and the murder of a couple of guards. We see Wesker falling prey to whatever madness Donnegan had–as the dummy seems to be the lead and the Ventriloquist following. We also get a sort of explanation for Scarface’s speech thing–his “B” having a “G” sound–as Wesker isn’t that great a ventriloquist.

The story is fitting, and I’m definitely quite satisfied with this “origin” of Wesker as The Ventriloquist, and Scarface, how they came together and all that. I can certainly visualize this being summarized in a one or two page origin–perhaps that’s been done elsewhere already (in Countdown, perhaps?) but that’s mostly irrelevant for now. As a lead feature in an anthology title, it works, was an enjoyable read, and after the first chapter in the previous issue I was actually looking forward to this and trusting that it was to be a 2-part story and nothing longer.

A Story

Writer: Terrance Griep, Jr.
Penciller: Kyle Hotz
Inker: Pav Kovacic
Colorist: Mike Danza
Letterer: Albert DeGuzman
Editor: Neal Pozner

This “middle story” is a brief one, but interesting. Like the Wildcat piece in the previous issue, it’s singular and self-contained; a slice of life sorta thing. We meet Pax, a man bent on revenge against the alien parasites that slaughtered his people–the entire population of his world except he himself. As he narrates his story, it comes to light that the parasites can look like anyone, and we see him take on a group of them, killing them…and moving on. When he’s picked up by a group of “police,” he begins his narration again as we see that his hunt-and-kill mission continues.

I had absolutely no idea what to think of this story at first. At the first page, I thought MAYBE this was Vandal Savage or someone of that nature, given the name “Pax,” but obviously I was quickly proven wrong in my assumption. The parasites appear to be the sort that we saw in Bloodlines–the Annuals event from 1993, which would make sense given this story would have been out just a few months after the end of that event in Bloodbath. And for a one-off story, seeing someone hunting the parasites would kinda show them to be a bigger deal than just the few that made it to Earth and caused the trouble they did.

The lack of expectation going in, of even knowing what the segment was to be about, worked in its favor. The art fits, gets stuff across quite effectively; and has little to be compared to on this read-through. The story itself is ultimately forgettable, but still worth having read it. Reading this in 2016, though, it puts me in mind of 2014’s Armor Hunters from Valiant…as the lone survivor of a planet hunting down parasites like those that destroyed his planet, with singular vision and little regard for the consequences beyond killing the parasites.

Thinking of it as the likes of Armor Hunters actually makes me like it all the more. While I wouldn’t care for any sort of dedicated mini-series or ongoing series like this…as a “random” thing in an issue I’m reading anyway, it’s well worth the several minutes of reading and realization!

Sum: Zero part two

Story: Dan Jurgens
Pencils: Frank Fosco
Inks: Ken Branch
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Colors: Stuart Chaifetz
Editor: Neal Pozner

Once more, the final part of the issue is the selling point, the story I read the issue for.

We pick up on Monarch holding Waverider and Hunter in a stasis field. Though he’s able to get them into the timestream, he lacks the control to direct himself, and hopes to have Waverider use his power to do that–and in the doing he’ll learn it for himself. Things don’t go as planned, and Monarch–Hank Hall–learns a new “truth” of his past and what happened at the end of Armageddon 2001, and since he’s more powerful than he’d realized, and his future self had realized, as Time’s been altered, he decides instead of being Monarch, he’ll be Extant! And stealing Waverider’s Linear Men arm-control, disappears into the timestream. Hunter is suitably cheesed-off that the villain now has the ability to time-travel at will, and Waverider suggests that if this villain can uphold his potential, they stand at the edge of a true CRISIS.

Yep, 9-ish years after “THE” Crisis (on Infinite Earths), a new one is about to unfold.

As with the previous issue’s segment of this story, the art works well, if not being completely to my liking. The story also works, feeding us directly into Zero Hour, and revealing that this story was primarily about transforming Monarch (Hank Hall) into Extant, a sleeker and cooler-looking guy than the clunky Monarch was, but without having to “corrupt” any other characters. This also allows the character to come with built-in, already-established “street cred” AS a villain, extremely powerful and a true threat beyond any single hero’s ability to take him down.

Despite this, I originally read Zero Hour withOUT having read this prelude, and had no problem following along (that I recall), and it wasn’t until I read the collected edition that I got to read this…so Sum: Zero is not absolutely essential…but it’s satisfying as a piece of my completist mentality for this reading project.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

I’m glad I didn’t pay full price for this back in the day, as I would certainly NOT have appreciated the lead story nor the Pax segment…and probably, honestly, wouldn’t even have appreciated the Zero Hour piece. Reading it in 2016 having paid a dollar or less for both chapters, it’s a very satisfying read and well worth the expense and the time. And for reading the entire issue for both of these Showcase comics, I now have a better idea of the “origin” of the Bat-villain The Ventriloquist/Scarface.

It’s an anthology book, with a mix of creators both known and not, and characters that didn’t headline their own series, and all that, and it feels like one. This two-issue “taste” is much more satisfying than I recall the Batman segments of the two issues that tied into Knightfall, though that could be the more than two decades’ additional life lived and my ability to appreciate stuff as a mid-thirties adult than when I was just barely a teenager. I don’t know exactly when, but I look forward at least to the idea of binge-reading the several years’ worth of Showcase ’90s.

Zero Hour Revisited – Showcase ’94 #8

90srevisited_zerohour

showcase_94_0008The Secret Origin of Scarface part One – The Gallows Doll

Script: Alan Grant & John Wagner
Art & Colors: Teddy Kristiansen
Lettering: Ken Bruzenak
Consulting Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Editor: Neal Pozner
Cover: Ted McKeever
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: July 1994
Cover Price: $1.95

I know I’ve read the Zero Hour portion of this issue in the collected edition of the event…but until now, I’ve never actually read Showcase ’94 #8 itself as a standalone comic! I was surprised by it, and rather enjoyed the experience overall.

This first story focuses on a prisoner in Blackgate–Donnegan–and how he gets a book on ventriloquism as a “joke” but ends up taking it fairly seriously. He even makes himself a dummy–carved from the wooden remains of the prison’s gallows. He and the dummy form an interesting relationship over the years…which leads to some conflict when a new prisoner, Arnold Wesker is assigned to Donnegan as a cellmate. Wesker is interested in the dummy and appreciates the “show” of ventriloquism. However, Donnegan is quite non-plussed at the perceived intrusion on his space, and commands Wesker to leave his dummy–“Woody”–alone. Wesker’s fascination leads him to investigate, which earns him a beating. Not long after, he seems to be hearing the dummy…even though Donnegan’s sound asleep.

The visuals for this story are rather simplistic, and don’t really do much for me. I recognize the dummy, and Wesker, by prior knowledge of them, and the “iconic” look of the dummy, and Wesker’s glasses. Beyond that, the art’s rather generic and unappealing. Still, it works for the story overall, and doesn’t exactly disappoint me, as I had zero expectation going in. It’s certainly not a “selling point” for me, but since the point of my reading the issue isn’t even this “main feature,” it can have a pass.

Story-wise, I liked this. All these years later and I’ve never consciously known–or at least retained–the origin of “The Ventriloquist” and “Scarface” (Woody). And this being (in part) an Alan Grant story (I don’t recall if he created the character to begin with, but I recognize him as one of the major writers on Batman stuff in the late-’80s/early-’90s) so that predisposed me to enjoy the story, and not write it off as just some throw-away story of a lesser-known Bat-villain. This is part one, and the fact that Wesker isn’t the original “Ventriloquist” (or there’s something a bit more messed up going on) is interesting, and I actually look forward to reading the next chapter.

Wildcat – Brujas y Gatos

Writer: Eddie Berganza
Penciller: Nick Gnazzo
Inker: Ray Kryssing
Colorist: Suzanne Bourdages
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Editor: Neal Pozner

I’m not overly familiar with Wildcat. I know the name Ted Grant, and recognize the character from Geoff JohnsJSA stuff (assuming I’m not mixing THIS Wildcat with someone else). Since I’ve never read anything in particular focusing on the character, I have no real preconceived notions to bring into the reading experience.

This is a short piece that finds Wildcat infiltrating a resurrection ceremony that seems to be–purportedly–to raise someone from the dead. Contextually we learn that the body to be raised is that of Ted’s friend Yolanda–who had attempted to become a new Wildcat…but she was apparently killed by Eclipso recently. (I have yet to read but was aware OF the short-lived Eclipso series that spun out of the Eclipso: The Darkness Within and recall hearing about there being several character deaths in short order toward the latter part of the series–I always remembered The Creeper being killed, but apparently Yolanda/Wildcat was also one). Wildcat observes, and only intervenes when a “fake” Yolanda shows up. He busts the ceremony and the fake Wildcat, revealing the truth and bringing some closure (albeit uber-convenient and quick) to the family of the dead woman.

This is a throw-away story, but recognizing it as a bit of follow-up to what I presume to be a virtually un-noticed otherwise death in a minor, now-forgotten book from the early-’90s, I can definitely appreciate its existence and purpose. At the least, it reminded me that that Eclipso series is out there and I’ve not yet acquired it, though I’ve had an interest in it for a couple decades now.

The art’s slightly over the top in a way, but not bad. I don’t recognize the art team’s names, but it’s not a bad piece. That this short “slice of life” episode IS so short but actually ends without a cliffhanger suggests to me that it’s a one-off piece in this anthology series…so it’s not even long enough for me to develop much opinion one way or the other.

The primary drawback to the piece at all is that it stood between me and the Zero Hour story.

Sum: Zero

Story: Dan Jurgens
Pencils: Frank Fosco
Inks: Ken Branch
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Colors: Stuart Chaifetz
Consulting Editors: Mike Carlin & K.C. Carlson
Editor: Neal Pozner

Vanishing Point–a place beyond Time itself, headquarters of the Linear Men. Hunter finds Waverider reminiscing, and confronts him over the fact that he–Waverider–may have stopped Monarch, but himself wiped out an entire timeline in the doing, making him worse than Monarch ever was. Waverider, though, doesn’t share the sentiment–though he does realize perhaps he should check into things with Hank Hall a bit more…though what he sees disturbs him. When he (and tag-along Hunter) journey to the late 20th century to investigate an anomaly that could be Monarch’s doing, they find him waiting, and themselves quite unprepared for this.

This piece is the “selling point” of the issue for me; the entire reason I picked the issue up to read. I’m pretty familiar with it already from having read the Zero Hour collected volume at least a couple times over the years, but this might be the first time actually reading it as part of this Showcase issue, in this exact format.

Trying to evaluate the art as a standalone thing, I realize it feels just a bit “off” somehow…probably because of not being Jurgens‘ art, or some such. It’s not bad by any means–and both Waverider and Hunter are familiar and distinct, and the imagery we get of Monarch and other elements that ought to be familiar from Armageddon 2001 fit, and convey the story.

The writing is Jurgens, and as a prologue to the Zero Hour event, this fits perfectly into stuff, giving us a bit of story involving these characters just prior to their stepping into that event.

OVERALL THOUGHTS

I thought about “just” touching on the Zero Hour story and “ignoring” the rest of the issue, but figured why not just read the whole thing? And I was pleasantly surprised. I got a chapter of a story fleshing out the background of a Bat-villain that isn’t the bore I might’ve thought it’d be. The Wildcat story wasn’t bad and its primary drawback was that I finished the Scarface story and was a bit surprised to not turn right into the Zero Hour story.

While the issue’s page numbering INCLUDES ad pages, it goes to page 46…which is much longer than “just” 20-22 pages, so even with ads, it’s roughly a double-sized issue for not much more than a standard-length issue would have been at the time. Considering I paid fifty cents or less for the issue, the time it took to read vs. the amount spent makes it an excellent value; I enjoyed the reading experience, and when adding the time spent writing up this post, means that it’s by far one of the highest-value comics I’ve read in quite awhile, holding/being the focus of my attention for so long.

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