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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 – Justice League America Annual #6

90s_revisited

justice_league_america_annual_006Maximum Eclipse

Dark Design: Dan Jurgens
Writer: Dan Mishkin
Penciler: Dave Cockrum
Inker: Jose Marza, Jr.
Letterer: Clem Robins
Colorist: Gene D’Angelo
Editor: Brian Augustyn
Cover Date: 1992
Cover Price: $2.50
Published by: DC Comics

This issue opens with an introduction to Eclipso and his plotting (aka "monologuing") before cutting to a bickering Justice League (in 2022, seems this one’s the "Bwa-Ha-Ha!" JL). Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Guy Gardner, Fire, Ice, Maxima, Bloodwynd…and loosely, apparently, Superman. The group (along with Bruce Gordon) awaits Superman’s arrival on his request, and is joined by Metamorpho. Superman attempts to recruit Wonder Woman, but she turns him down for reasons. Elsewhere, Eclipso takes control of a jewelry store security guard that leads to Wonder Woman deciding she cannot forego helping the League.

The League bickers some more, while Ice and Maxima each have reactions to Wonder Woman’s presence regarding Superman. Maxima and Metamorpho wind up storming off, leaving the rest of the group to deal with things. Maxima is quickly met by the Eclipsed Starman, who hands her a Black Diamond. The angry Leaguer is immediately possessed by Eclipso, and used to go on a super-powered rampage. This splits the League, with Blue Beetle left at HQ to work on a solar device with Gordon and the cooled-off/returned Metamorpho, while the rest set out to deal with the super-powered threat. There’s a prolonged confrontation with the Eclipsed Maxima, while Eclipso seems to show up "in person" at HQ to attempt to kill Beetle. Lots of fighting, Eclipso (via Maxima’s psychic abilities) gets temporary hold of Wonder Woman, while Beetle trashes HQ evading and fighting Eclipso. In the end, Wonder Woman is freed of Eclipso, but the villain maintains control of Maxima…and the League returns ‘home’ to find Blue Beetle missing.

In 2022, I feel like these annuals keep taking me off-guard in their length and density. Any one of these annuals has the "feel" of at least a couple–if not SEVERAL–modern comics’ issues. Broken record that I am, that seems fitting, as each title in the even had a single (annual) issue participating, where present-day these WOULD all be at least 2-3 issue miniseries!

This issue felt at once jam-packed and yet surfacey to me. While very AWARE OF this incarnation of JLA, I’m not nearly as familiar with it as I perhaps ought to be; and this is an issue I definitely had never read before. On the whole, I enjoyed reading through this and getting an action-packed adventure…it’s certainly plenty in one issue to "justify itself" to me.

The writing doesn’t blow me away, but definitely comes off as rather familiar (if not cliché) in the presentation of the characters. This almost feels trope-y to me, with the characters a slight step above caricatures or such. I recall Ice having a crush on Superman, and the Guy/Ice dynamic, but don’t think I’d recalled stuff being so blatant or melodramatic. At the same time, that’s also something to be said for "thought bubbles" still being a part of comics 30 years ago where they’re rarely present these days.

I liked the art overall in this issue, and was rather surprised when I actually took in the credits to write this post–Dave Cockrum. THE Dave Cockrum? I tend to think of him and the X-Men…not so much anything for DC. That’s another thing for being in 2022 and reading these, though: I’m looking back at comics from THIRTY. YEARS. AGO. Of course creators like Cockrum were still around THEN!

The opening scene of Eclipso reads like the start of any particular story to me, which works well here. It’s primarily introduction and context to set the issue up, but has expected vague references to place this as part of a continuing thing. Though we don’t get some definitive conclusion/ending, overall this seems to stand on its own. Having read other "Eclipso Annuals" recently, I have a fuller context here…but this reads more like picking up the start of a story amidst an ongoing series than picking up a middle chapter of some event series.

I can’t speak much to this issue’s place within the main title, but taken alone I’d say if you’re a fan of (or curious about) this era of JLA, this is another issue that’s likely at least worth grabbing from a bargain bin and reading.

I’m "curious" where the story goes from here in terms of the ‘event’ and have some vague recollections from reading other issues back in the ’90s, at least regarding Maxima.

The issue itself ends with a "To Be Continued" directing one to The Demon Annual #1, which was apparently on-sale the same week as this very issue…a change from the apparent "weekly" gaps between Annuals thus far.

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The ’90s Revisited – Superman Annual #4

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superman_annual004Enduring the Night!

Writer: Dan Vado
Penciller: Scott Benefiel
Inker: Trevor Scott
Letterer: Albert De Guzman
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Assitant Editor: Dan Thorsland
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover: Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti
Cover Date: 1992
Cover Price: $2.50
Published by: DC Comics

We open on Superman patrolling Metropolis, watchful for Eclipso-activity. He happens across an apparent mugging–some guy desperate to get off the planet before he’s possessed by an alien from the moon again. A police officer doesn’t take kindly to Superman’s intervention, nor the Man of Steel’s questioning of what part of the guy’s story he didn’t understand. Unfortunately, with a Black Diamond present, an Eclipso is unleashed. Fortunately, Bruce Gordon had just shown up, so is able to be part of the action…managing to save Superman by solar-blasting this particular manifestation.

Meanwhile, Lois Lane arrives in Crater Bay to investigate corruption (which just so happens to be where the "mugger" from earlier is from). She’s not exactly put at ease by her contact there, nor the hotel manager. And for good reason as it turns out the manager is a shape-shifted, Eclipsed Starman…and her contact is being blackmailed as part of Eclipso’s attempt to "get" Superman. Eclipso has also used this town to spread his Black Diamonds over the years. As Gordon and Mona near the town, an Eclipso creature ambushes them, and their solar trap is broken. Superman’s arrival saves the lives of the scientists, though not their car. As he flies them the rest of the way to Crater Bay, we cut to Lois, talking to her contact and being spurred to anger. It’s Superman arriving that tips her over the edge, and she’s possessed by Eclipso, thanks to the Black Diamond given to her by the hotel manager. Superman engages but is soon overwhelmed…not just by Eclipsed Lois but other Eclipsed individuals and manifestations. Mona sees the hero’s plight and as desperate times call for desperate measures, she grabs her Black Diamond and allows herself to be possessed, directing her rage at Eclipso and stalling things a bit. Ultimately, Superman is able to keep Eclipso busy til the sun rises, which releases the villain’s possession of Lois. Unfortunately, Mona is not so fortunate. As Superman, Lois, and Bruce debrief, Superman declares that he’s got to go back to save the rest of the town.

I’m definitely a bit mixed on this issue. I feel like I "understood" it better this time through than whatever previous time(s) I’d read it; though I definitely had a sense before that the Eclipso situation had been a bit more drawn out and dire by this point, where so far it seems and feels more like isolated incidents than a concerted event. While I don’t totally "buy" Lois losing her cool so easily, at the same time it works for this story…and hey, it gives us extended time WITH Lois, seeing her go about investigating and such rather than JUST being TOLD she does what she does. As she and Superman were engaged by this point and she knows he’s Clark, I don’t really see her getting angry at Superman as she’d surely "understand" his intent and not take his tone/words as patronizing or such.

There’s definitely a lotta brawling in this issue and some visuals and a Stephen King reference, but it’s not very deep. It does feel like the issue tries to take on a bit of "tone"–or play on "tropes"–of horror films/stories, I guess.

The visuals aren’t bad, but aren’t particularly memorable; the art gets things across but doesn’t really stand out. Which, really, means it does a good job as we get a story, that is a comic book, but the art isn’t trying to carry the entirety of the thing.

I do wonder a bit about Eclipso possessing Lois and her having all this strength to tear up trees, street signs, etc.–we’ve had the manifested "Eclipsos" show plenty of physicality, but it’s seemed til here that Eclipso’s possessing someone was just that–possession–and not bestowing of supernatural strength and such. If Lois gets all this power just by Eclipso possessing her, why does he need Superman’s body if he himself grants all this power?

I appreciated the general Lois story this time more than in the ’90s…but it’s still not exactly my favorite of these Annuals. That said, this is another that’s decently worth the one-off read if you can snag it from a bargain bin. Not entirely self-contained, but a pretty meaty chunk of story that can be decently appreciated as a "middle chapter" of a story in a way that standard-sized single-issues do not work on modern "decompression."

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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 ’90s Revisited – Green Lantern Annual #1

90s_revisited

greenlantern_annual001Diamond Rings

Writer: Gerard Jones
Penciller: Andy Smith
Inks: John Beatty
Letters: Bob Lappan
Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
Editor: Kevin Dooley
Cover Date: 1992
Cover Price: $2.50
Published by: DC Comics

This issue sits weirdly with me right from the cover! Just the cover image alone is rather disturbing. We have the text "…In Blackest Day!" and a large silhouette of a rather sinister/creepy Eclipso…while Hal Jordan delivers one heckuva brutal punch to Star Sapphire, with visible blood flying off her face! There’s also a stylized "G" saying "No More Mister Nice Guy!" One would think from the G that it refers to Guy Gardner…but he is nowhere to be found on the cover! And especially as neither Hal nor Star Sapphire appear to actually BE "eclipsed," it just looks like a total abusive situation that seems flat-out disgusting to me before so much as opening the issue.

We open on a brief scene of Kilowog, John Stewart, and several other Lanterns training/bantering, before they take in some sort of warning that something is hunting Green Lanterns. Turning the page, we get a generic shot of Eclipso on his throne stating "I want Green Lantern." Continuing on we see the dark god is rather Orange Lantern-y 15-16 years before we had Orange Lanterns…he wants all GL has, period. We then see the eclipsed Starman in Times Square pass a black diamond around to cause some Eclipso-y mischief. Ultimately a black diamond makes its way to Guy Gardner who is still incredibly ticked-off at Hal and the GLs. Scene cuts to a scream coming from a house, and then Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) slamming a door open to find a sweating, terrified Carol Ferris, just awoken from a nightmare. We spend a number of pages of Carol conveying the nightmare to Jordan, in the process picking up that there’s a pretty traumatic history involving Star Sapphire as a personality/entity controlling her, maybe still IN her. As Carol goes back to sleep, Jordan muses on his always being "giving" and not getting back, with women in his life…Carol or Arisia. As he looks out a window, we find an eclipsed Guy Gardner stalking the hero. We switch to see Bruce Gordon and his crew on the hunt for this latest black diamond, and then back to Gardner, who does not meet Eclipso’s expectations. No ring, no powers…the villain wants those, not whatever Gardner is now. So he flicks the diamond to be found when Jordan emerges from the dwelling…but he’s so preoccupied he misses it.

Instead, coming out later herself, Carol finds it…and the diamond along with her anger and whatever involving the Sapphire lends itself to Eclipso eclipsing another super-powered individual in the now-twice-possessed Carol/Star Sapphire! As with gaining Rampage’s body in Superman: The Man of Steel Annual #1, Eclipso has a fight on his hands DESPITE eclipsing Carol…he wants Jordan alive, Star Sapphire wants him dead! And Eclipso, while possessing the body is compelled to initially act on the anger that gave him control in the first place. Eclipso/Sapphire unleash some destruction to draw Hal out, and then they fight a bit. "Starman" shows up to "help," but of course "betrays" Jordan, leading to his defeat and Sapphire’s victory…as Bruce Gordon & Crew show up and use a solar generator on Sapphire. This distracts, but doesn’t release her…and then the GL Corps show up, just to be interrupted–seemingly welcomely–by Hal leaping into action. It soon stands clear that he’s been Eclipsed, too, and by the two bodies–Jordan and Ferris–have played out their "revenge fantasies," Eclipso has full control! The GL Corps members attempt to take them on, but to no avail. As the powers of the GL ring and the sapphire cause an explosion, the GLs are knocked out. When they come to, there’s no sign of Jordon or the Sapphire…so they fly off in search and to notify others. We then see that Eclipso got the better of them as the two fly out from under the rubble and the villain prepares to "store" the bodies for later.

I’m not particularly familiar with this era of GL/GLCorps stuff. I’m loosely aware OF some stuff, but while I’ve read both Emerald Dawn minis and possibly the first arc of this iteration of the GL series, I mostly didn’t come to the "modern" GL stuff until a good year or so after this annual, with the Reign of the Supermen tie-in issue (#46 I believe) and then Emerald Twilight in #s 48-50. Other than the fact OF Carol having been or been possessed BY (the?) Star Sapphire(s?), I don’t think I’d really actually READ anything with that as a present-day status quo/issue prior to Johns’ run in the late "aughts" leading up to and during the Blackest Night event.

Here in this issue, I feel like the Hal/Carol thing comes off as rather contentious and bitter, though I could be reading too much into it. Add to that that we see Hal’s frustrations with stuff with Arisia (who I surely knew nothing about at the time these Annuals were being published) and the whole thing feels a BIT forced. Relevant to the story–Hal’s anger–but like we’re being TOLD a lot more than we’re being SHOWN.

The art’s not bad, though it doesn’t blow me away. It’s good stuff for ’90s GL, and doesn’t feel "off" the way the art in the Man of Steel Annual did; and with Jones on the writing this seems to fit into or play with "continuity" pretty well, rather than just being some "in-name-only" thing mashed against an ongoing series.

Perhaps it’s that this is a 30-year-old story now, and thus I have 30 years of "experience" with comics since then, but with 2022 hindsight this comes off a fairly contrived and forgettable, and though once upon a time I was flabbergasted that Hal Jordan could be seen as stale or boring and need to be moved off the board for the likes of Kyle Rayner, this particular issue’s "vibe" with me is that yeah, I wouldn’t be "sold" on GL stuff from this and I’m a bit hard-pressed to dig much deeper into GL or the series’ mythology on just what I got from this issue.

There’s also the fact that I’ve "sat on" this issue for nearly two weeks…having read it, which was well enough in and of itself…but I just didn’t have any particular desire to synopsize or write ABOUT the issue. As a blogger like this, undertaking this "personal reading project" OF reading all these Eclipso Annuals and writing about each issue as I go along, that’s a bit disheartening and has almost stalled me out 3 "real" chapters in! I do look forward to things picking up, but all the more of the sense that SOME annuals are going to prove far more important than others, possibly with a "core" throughline in a few and some being more "red sky crossover" type than particularly important to the main narrative. At somewhere over double-size but slightly less than triple-size, each annual here represents enough content for at least two issues’ tie-in, perhaps 3-4 with 2022-era "decompression." We get this single issue of the event touching the GL corner of the DCU directly, where present-day this would certainly be at least a 3-issue tie-in mini-series instead of "just" an Annual.

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The ’90s Revisited – Superman: The Man of Steel Annual #1

90s_revisited

supermanthemanofsteel_annual0001The Gathering Darkness

Pencils by: Chris Wozniak
Dialogue by: Robert Loren Fleming
Inks by: Brad Vancata
Letters by: Albert De Guzman
Colors by: Matt Hollingsworth
Assists by: Dan Thorsland
Edits by: Mike Carlin
Cover Date: 1992
Cover Price: $2.50
Published by: DC Comics

We open in the offices of the Daily Planet, where someone vaguely Jimmy Olsen-ish suggests Clark (Kent) needs to see something–a monster tearing up the mall. Moments later–as Superman–he’s on his way and engages the creature. Eventually the situation is handled, as Superman meets Dr. Bruce Gordon and his friend Mona…who tell him about Eclipso. This is essentially a shared scene from Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1; but if you didn’t read THAT issue, it sets things up well for this one. If you did…well, it’s a few pages of deja vu. As Superman talks with Gordon and Mona, the (possessed-by-Eclipso) Creeper bursts in to antagonize the group and taunt Superman with a black diamond. While Eclipso fails to "get" Superman, it leaves the hero winded. In Eclipso’s moon citadel, the villain monologues a bit while we see the eclipsed Lar Gand (Valor) as Eclipso’s primary trophy so far. We then shift to a secret jungle mission where Phantom Lady has been captured and an undercover Starman has to reveal himself to the villainous scientist…who is an Eclipso "agent," and Starman is taken. Eclipso has another prize…this one with the ability to "hide" the fact that it’s "Eclipsed," giving the villain a way to spy on other heroes, beginning with "playing it normal" for an awakened Phantom Lady. Elsewhere, the boy that unleashed the "Eclipso" at the mall returns home and winds up unleashing another instance of the creature, resulting in a rematch between it and Superman. This is ultimately dispatched with heat vision from our hero–who gains his powers thanks to the sun, and thus Eclipso is vulnerable to it. Later, the Eclipsed Starman pays a visit to Kitty Faulkner and provokes her to bring out Rampage, leading to another Eclipsed hero. However…Eclipso’s found himself a conundrum as the focus of Rampage’s anger was "himself"–leading to a battle between Starman and Rampage, both as aspects of Eclipso. Superman eventually gets involved and is able to drive Eclipso out of Rampage (who reverts back to Kitty Faulkner)…but Eclipso escapes in Starman. While the rescued scientist is a ‘win,’ there’s no time to really rest. And we’re directed to Eclipso’s next appearance coming in Green Lantern Annual #1 in a week’s (real-world) time.

The writing for this issue is more or less on-par with Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1, lending a good bit of continuity to a second chapter of this ‘event’. Which makes sense as Robert Loren Fleming is a shared creator credit between the issues! The story is solid overall, albeit lacking the ‘depth’ I associate with the "main" Superman titles of the time. This is a separate work using the character, though, which explains its detachment from "proper" ongoing Superman stuff of 1992. While we DO get a footnote reference to the "recent adventure" Starman had involving Eclipso in Starman 42-45, it hardly seems to matter as it doesn’t really impact this story; neither Starman nor Eclipso particularly acknowledge anything from that story (Such as Eclipso himself being behind Starman getting his powers, and the villain long having had designs on utilizing Starman for his own nefarious purposes). The "reference" seems to have been shoehorned in to "justify" or "create" a sense of "continuity" with a then-very-recent story that involved the characters but apparently isn’t useful or relevant to this unfolding tale. There’s also no real indicator of anything particular going on between Starman and Kitty/Rampage…which seems to totally disregard their culmination from the 45-issue Starman series.

If this was a regular-sized issue, I’d have a huge problem with a 5-page re-tread of another issue. In 2022, that’d be 1/4 of an issue! However, this being an annual and more than double-length compared to a regular issue, it helps this one to stand alone…which is definitely a good thing! Other than the Starman/Rampage plot points ignoring/disregarding the characters’ developments in his solo series though, this wasn’t bad. And those continuity bits did not even phase me when I first read this issue in 1992…as I’d had no idea there WAS a Starman series and surely glazed over the footnote with zero knowledge of how recent that series was, etc. I believe I mentioned in my post on Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1 that it was my first exposure to The Creeper…but I think it may actually have been THIS issue; as I’m pretty sure I’d read this one prior to that one, first time through.

Visually this is not a bad issue, though it certainly steps a bit away from my preferences from the main Superman titles of the time. Superman himself comes off fairly generic here, almost seeming too large and such. That said, it’s definitely "’90s art" and fits the story pretty well…and while not uniquely memorable in and of itself, was very recognizable to me reading it this time through and recalling snippets of my reading it 30-ish years ago as a kid. There’s one panel in particular of Bruce Gordon as he is horrified to see Superman with a black diamond that reminds me very much, somehow, of Norm Breyfogle‘s art, and stood out to me in that way this time where it certainly never did before.

The cover may be the best visual of the issue, though, and is certainly one of THE "Eclipso images" I think of when I do think of this story…and while not one of my first few comics, it’s definitely a stand-out piece that takes me back to the earliest days of my getting BACK into comics in 1992. A friend had gotten the issue–it was a pretty big deal as it was a Superman comic, and it was a #1! (Back in 1992 it was still a rather novel thing for a comic to have a #1 on its cover, if you can believe it. Seems like there are several new #1s every single week now in 2022, and any given series gets a new #1 itself every couple years, pretty much). The cover is a Quesada piece, and while I see plenty of significance to his name (and Palmiotti!) now… in 1992 I didn’t know them from any other artist…it was just this cool image of Superman in space with an eclipse behind him ,and the stylized coloring of the S shield that wouldn’t otherwise be visible except…well, comics.

Eclipso: The Darkness Within was my first exposure to the villain, and by nature of this story–he’s actually a huge threat–he’s never been "just" a "joke" character/villain to me. Of course, it’s also the nostalgia of this being probably my earliest real "crossover" or "event" in comics–even though it was almost 20 years after the fact that I actually acquired the entirety of the thing.

I’m definitely eager to get into further chapters of the story, not to mention just getting to the whole of it. Re-reading Funeral for a Friend a few weeks ago had a deep, personal aspect to it so fresh off losing Dad…but it’s also reignited my interest in re-reading stuff…or in this hybrid case with Eclipso: The Darkness within, reading the event for the first time all the way through, including re-reading what issues I HAD previously read, this time in actual context of the whole.

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The ’90s Revisited – Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1

90s_revisited

eclipso_the_darkness_within_0001All Men Make Faults
Co-Plotters: Keith Giffin, Robert Loren Fleming
Breakdown Artist: Keith Giffen
Scripter: Robert Loren Fleming
Penciller: Bart Sears
Inkers: Randy Elliott, Mark Pennington
Letterer: Gaspar
Colorist: Tom McCraw
Editor: Michael Eury
Cover Date: July 1992
Cover Price: $2.50
Published by: DC Comics

Now this cover is iconic…at least for me. Full-cover close-up of Eclipso’s face, a sinister sneer as he declares "Let the revels begin…" while holding a black diamond to his eye, its purple/dark energy shining forth. The tagline at the top–"The Many Faces of Evil!" adding to the actual title Eclipso: The Darkness Within. We have the full DC bullet; the "corner box" that was typical of the time, and that this issue is a "Special" (as opposed to the Annuals that make up the bulk of the event). There IS a variant for this cover…or rather, an "enhanced edition" or "collector’s edition"…with an actual purple/black diamond-shaped hunk of plastic glued over the 2-D illustrated one. Otherwise, same paper, same cover image, same interior…same price. No action-figure cardstock trading-card Young connecting cover variants and such. The cover IS the cover, a single image that in and of itself essentially declares that it IS this very particular issue.

We open in a flashback to the 1800s as a couple of archeologists manage to find the fabled "Heart of Darkness." However, they turn on each other, the survivor eventually commissioning a jeweler to cut the large diamond into 1000 identical pieces. 100 years later–the present-day–we find Lar Gand coming across a citadel in the deepest crater on the dark side of the moon. As he explores the structure–swearing it wasn’t there before, he finds himself in a state of rising anger, and discovers the occupant of the structure: Eclipso! Eclipso manages to take control of the hero, and in doing realizes he must acquire MORE heroes and finally make his move on the Earth.

Shifting scenes TO Earth, we find Dr. Bruce Gordon frustrated in attempts to unlock secrets of a black diamond he has, while he reminisces on what brought him to the present, the diamond, and his past involvement with/as Eclipso. Finally he notices the diamond reacting as it would if Eclipso was nearby, and thus Gordon sets out to investigate…and comes across a grisly murder scene with the murderer still present…an "eclipsed" human Gordon immediately recognizes as Eclipso…manifested separately from himself. After a brief struggle he discovers the woman in possession of ANOTHER black diamond. Later he shares with research partner/girlfriend Mona and realizes Eclipso’s played him for a fool for years. Meanwhile, the Phantom Stranger manifests a psychic projection to tell Eclipso that he has pressing matters elsewhere, but that he knows the villain’s up to something and to behave. Eclipso’s having none of it and confidently obliterates the projection.

A week later we find an eclipsed survivalist shooting up a mall before The Creeper intervenes and has a lengthy fight scene with the villain’s puppet. Eclipso ultimately gets control of Creeper and disposes of the Survivalist while reveling in his ability to acquire heroes. Elsewhere, Gordon, Mona, and her father argue about how to proceed, deciding going to the authorities would be a waste of time…they must deal with Eclipso themselves. Gordon and Mona soon find their next black diamond in posession of a boy at a mall…where rather than the villain taking over the boy, an energy being–"an Eclipso"–is manifested, taking a form from the boy’s mind and sets out in focus on the boy’s anger. The scene brings Superman, though it’s ultimately Gordon’s solar beam device that takes out the creature. At his citadel, Eclipso realizes that he must take Superman next, or kill the hero.

As single issues go, this may be one of the longest that I’ve covered for this blog…usually sticking to standard-sized single-issues. This one was at least double-sized, closer to triple-sized! But it was interesting, engaging, and after looking forward so much to getting to it (and after my disappointment that the Starman story was NOT a direct lead-in), I definitely enjoyed the thing!

I’d forgotten about the Bart Sears art…which was definitely a treat, at least for this issue. It worked very well for the most part, though I’m not overly keen on the artist’s take on Superman. For everything else it was great and conveyed a realistic yet comic-booky gritty tone without being terribly dark…despite the nature of the story and the villain’s focus on "darkness." I also liked the random "doodles" on some of the pages that weren’t parts of the narrative but added something to the pages…maybe setting a bit of tone.

Story-wise I really liked how Eclipso comes across here. He’s definitely far more menacing than in the Star Shadows story in Starman 42-45. What’s especially disappointing is that that story was dating January through April 1992…this issue has a July 1992 date, meaning there was only a 3-4 month separation of the stories. Yet nothing in this references that. We come to Bruce Gordon cold with no reference to his having JUST dealt with Eclipso so very recently. Where my experience with the Starman story was influenced by partial memories of the segments of Eclipso: The Darkness Within that I’d read years ago, I realize that I’d mixed up Valor/Lar Gand and Starman as Eclipso’s first major conquest. I also realized that this issue likely was my original introduction to The Creeper.

As noted for the cover, the sole difference between "variants" is whether your copy is a flat squarebound comic…or if it’s a flat squarebound comic with a hunk of plastic glued onto it. I do like the squarebound format for thicker comics. It sets them apart somehow from "regular" comics, and even back in 1992 I noticed this. While those were the days before most TPBs and "graphic novels," it seemed to indicate something a bit more special than "just" a regular standard-sized/monthly chapter of an ongoing series, being more book-like.

This issue is part of a "bookend" mini-series like 1991 (the previous year)’s Armageddon 2001…that is, this first issue begins the event, which then takes place across a number of other titles’ 1992 Annuals…before returning to the 2nd issue as the other bookend to close out the event. Alternatively, one could read this issue, then read the 2nd issue, and presumably just "trust" that a lot went down between; but they are not directly connected sequential chapters despite the numbers on the covers. I really liked this issue…definitely a solid start to the event!

I also had a fair bit of nostalgia going through the issue and defffffinitely wish modern events were like this: infrequent/annual, contained to Annuals. That lets them touch a bunch of titles and characters, withOUT interfering with ongoing stories! They were also thus "contained" rather than fully infesting the publisher’s entire line of books for more months than not. 1991’s Armageddon 2001, 1992’s Eclipso, and 1993’s Bloodlines–none of these had "spine" mini-series with tie-in arcs AND tie-in mini-series and such. 1994’s Zero Hour had a "spine" weekly mini-series and maybe one issue of any given ongoing series tying in (a second issue in the case of the #0 Zero Month that immediately followed). (This format was repeated for the likes of The Final Night and Genesis.) You had the stand-alone-from-the-ongoing-series Annuals…or a single issue of a regular title, and that was that.

I do vaguely recall NOT being so impressed with all of the "Eclipso Annuals" that I’d read back in the day…but fondly recall the Superman: The Man of Steel Annual and the Adventures of Superman ones, as well as a Batman or Detective Annual with the Joker. We’ll see how my 2022-reading affects or holds up to memories, and what other gems or stinkers I find as I–30 years after the event–read the event in its entirety for the first time ever.

For sheer length of story and setup, I’d definitely recommend this issue if you find it in a bargain bin–particularly a 25-cent bargain-bin. As it was originally $2.50, even cover price would not be bad…and for time to read, this would still be quite the bargain at $3.99-$4.99 as a modern comic of this size and density would easily be a $7.99-$9.99+ affair.

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The ’90s Revisited: Starman #45

90s_revisited

starman_0045Star Shadows part four: Starlight, StarBRIGHT!

Writer: Len Strazewski
Penciller: John Calimee
Inker: Roy Richardson
Letterer: Bob Pinaha
Colorist: Tom McCraw
Editor: Paul Kupperberg
Cover Date: April 1992
Cover Price: $1.25
Published by: DC Comics

And here we are…final chapter of this 4-part Starman adventure!

The issue opens with the proclamation of the story title, as we look over Kitty Faulkner’s shoulder to see Bruce Gordon’s jet arriving. She sees Bruce but wonders where Will is? As she greets the disembarking Gordon, she’s horrified to find that it’s Eclipso…and even as Rampage, she’s no match for the villain. Will freefalls into the bay and crawls out to a phone booth to call the JLE, but gets a voice service instead. Meanwhile, Eclipso commandeers lab equipment to put a plan in motion: STORE excess energy he drains from Will to use at his convenience. While he torments Kitty for providing him the means to this end, Starman bursts in and the two fight. Will gets the worst of it until Power Girl shows up and joins the fight. Kitty also eventually joins in, having been freed…but unable to transform back into Rampage, she uses a tech gun to blast Eclipso. The heroes immobilize the villain and Starman pops a burst of solar energy, reverting the villain to Bruce Gordon. Day saved, they mill about…as Kitty realizes there’s no way she can compete with Power Girl for Will’s affection. Clueless of her anguish, Will has to chase after her to find out why she’s reacting as she does and the two talk things out…and we end with them clear on how they feel for each other, and Will making a crack about their age difference.

It’s definitely "interesting" seeing Mignola’s work on the cover…though at this point in 2022 and eager to get from this story to the "main event" and such, more than a bit is lost on me. The cover seems rather generic and Eclipso far too bulky, taking on Starman physically. There’s a loose/lack-of-detail Power Girl off to the side almost as an afterthought; and the sun in the background–presumably setting–hardly seems appropriate even symbolically for Eclipso to have such a physical advantage "already" (if the sun is SETTING and NOT rising). It also seems much too bright for the cover callout of "ECLIPSED!". Maybe it’s just MY interpretation/assumptions with this cover but at a glance I might almost think the villain to be sun-based in power rather than the darkness/eclipse.

Story-wise things aren’t all that deep on the whole…it seems like a lot of padded-out fighting and boasts/quips/threats. And Kitty’s jealousy/reaction/over assumption about Power Girl and Will seems sudden and rather shoehorned-in; arbitrary drawma for the sake of drama. (Not that jealousy and such feelings are rational…they’re totally understandable) If this were a masterpiece of superhero fiction I’d presumably be a lot more familiar with it, so "history" seems to support that. Despite this, it comes off as a fairly typical ’90s comic, and a series itself setting…as this turns out to be THE final issue of the series. 45 issues, not QUITE 50…but hey, it sure lasted longer than many modern series that seem to be lucky to crack double-digits at all!

The art team seems a bit more consistent–matching with the previous chapter and the first chapter. Which is a far cry from modern comics where there seems to be more insistence on "integrity of the art team" than on-time shipping of a book. Having an apparently "fill-in" team on an issue may’ve kept the series "on time," which used to be important but not so much in 2022.

With Strazewski’s name on this fueling my nostalgia–the WANT to like the story–I feel almost guilty that I didn’t really "enjoy" this issue. This entire arc has been "in the way" of getting to the Eclipso: The Darkness Within event itself, though, and not a story I remember from the ’90s–I don’t think I was even aware of this series itself until a few years ago, and this story in particular until shortly after. And this has been my first time reading it, so you could say that THIS story was "eclipsed by" the event story.

Nothing about the issue in itself particularly indicates that this is a final issue. No such callout on the cover, and no particular note on the final page of the story. It’s only in wording from the editor at the end of the letters page that one would realize this isn’t JUST the conclusion of a 4-part story but the conclusion of the series itself.

While I had thought this was a prologue/lead-in to The Darkness Within, it definitely does not seem to be the case. More like this story just happened to come about not long before a big event featuring the same villain. A quirk of timing more than any plan or "synergy" or whatever.

It remains to be seen if ANY of this story carries over into the event…but unless something specifically from this story plays a key role in that, I feel it’s pretty safe to say one would not need this story to get into The Darkness Within story.

I’m not sure my $2-3/issue was truly "worth it" for this story, but for "context" and knowing this was there, I’m glad to at least have read it so that whatever part it plays is a "known quantity" for me.

We’ll see how Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1 holds up to my now-heightened expectation and such!

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The ’90s Revisited: Starman #44

90s_revisited

starman_0044Star Shadows part three: Dark of the Moon!

Writer: Len Strazewski
Penciller: John Calimee
Inker: Roy Richardson
Letterer: Bob Pinaha
Colorist: Tom McCraw
Editor: Paul Kupperberg
Cover Date: March 1992
Cover Price: $1.25
Published by: DC Comics

We open with Lobo in our face (metaphorically-speaking) ready to throw a punch. The issue is basically one big fight scene, with Lobo vs. Eclipso, Eclipso vs. Starman, Lobo vs. Starman, Starman and Eclipso vs. Lobo…a bunch of posturing, tough-guy cracks, etc. Eventually Eclipso convinces Starman to help him…but after they manage to "fake" Eclipso/Bruce’s "death" and Lobo takes off to collect his bounty, Eclipso betrays Starman, uses some of his energy, and heads to Earth. As Starman realizes the danger to Kitty back on Earth–expecting Bruce and Will, not the evil Eclipso–he, too, heads back to Earth.

Well, we’re back to Calimee/Richardson on the art, as with #42, and this issue is decidedly less "cartoony" than the previous. And I’ll give credit to the page layouts–in general–for actually having multiple panels, clear gutters overall, etc. This is not a bad issue to look at visually. But it’s basically one big fight scene.

The story is ok-ish…we do glean a BIT of information, such as Eclipso specifically wanting Starman as a battery, to use the hero’s sun-energy and his own black diamond. Eclipso recognizes the hands of the Lords of Chaos in stuff, so it’s not some unknown quantity thing.

Even though it’s been years since I’ve read anything Eclipso-related, specifically anything from The Darkness Within, I feel like there’s something "off" to the character’s presentation here. Expecting this to be a set-up/prologue to that event certainly impacts my lens through which I’m seeing this Star Shadows story.

There’s not much, really, for me to say beyond that. Lobo (because ’90s and Lobo has to be everywhere); tail-end of an ongoing series, yadda yadda yadda. Despite Lobo being on the cover, this doesn’t really have much to offer the reader as a standalone issue…especially 30 years later; but as with previous issues, if you find the entire arc together and at bargain pricing, it might be worth the purchase/read.

I’m much more eager to get to the start of The Darkness Within, again assuming that this story leads into that. So far I’m not seeing any connection other than "Eclipso," so maybe that’ll be something the next/final issue of this story gets to?

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The ’90s Revisited: Starman #43

90s_revisited

starman_0043Star Shadows part two: Blue Moon

Writer: Len Strazewski
Artist: Vince Giarrano
Letterer: Bob Pinaha
Colorist: Tom McCraw
Editor: Paul Kupperberg
Cover Date: February 1992
Cover Price: $1.25
Published by: DC Comics

Well, then…this is a definite change from the modern way of "Delay Delay Delay" to "preserve artistic integrity" for an "inevitable" "graphic novel"–this issue’s artist is a Vince Giarrano, the previous issue’s team of John Calimee, Andrew Smith, Roy Richardson, and Alan Kupperberg. That said, I honestly didn’t immediately notice, I just took the issue’s contents at face value, figuring "oddness" was my lack of in-depth familiarity and fondness for the title and character(s).

This issue opens on a several-page flashback starring Lobo, giving us some random–possibly "typical"–but tame–Lobo "stuff". The character in a bar, being very uncouth, rough, and fairly caricatureish overall…with some then-timely pop-culturally references before being sent on his way to fight Eclipso for a bounty. We also see that the seemingly arbitrary character putting him on the path to Eclipso is actually an avatar of the Lords of Chaos. Lobo literally crosses paths with Starman and Dr. Bruce Gordon. Starman and Lobo fight for a bit, while we see a certain evil emerging with Dr. Gordon that–sixteen pages into our issue–pretty much catches us up to where the previous left off! Eclipso lets on that he definitely had a hand in Starman’s origin before stepping in with Will’s (losing) battle with Lobo. A blast of darkness pauses the battle, reveals Eclipso’s presence, and gives us another cliffhanger as Lobo goofily recognizes his target.

I had to have noticed SOMEthing was up with the art but it didn’t stand out to me until going back through the issue for this post–it got very generic and cartoony at points. It’s far superior than anything I myself could produce, but it’s a far cry from stand-out, impressive distinct work that I’d remember significantly down the road. It gets the job done, for what story there is.

The Lords of Chaos in this issue "should" mean more to me I’m sure, but mostly just ring a distant bell in my mind. I believe something involving a retcon on the nature of Eclipso, but I’m reading along for the experience and there are plenty of sites/blurbs out there to fill in gaps if one wants to go hunting for info. My "retcon sense" is definitely tingling, certainly helped along by the "meta" nature of my read-through for this story–knowing this is THE final arc for the series, possibly the last starring presence of Will Peyton, and kinda leading into the summer 1992 Eclipso: The Darkness Within "event" in DC’s annuals. Having previously only read the issue that crossed over with the Superman: Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite, I don’t have any great knowledge of this title, its tone, and all that sorta context. This has the feel of a hastily-ending series with a "new" villain shoehorned in as "the Big Bad All Along" or such.

Even saying that, though, it’s definitely an "older" and "’90s" comic…for better and worse. Two chapters in of four and I’m beginning to "regret" my idea to start with these issues rather than diving into Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1. I feel like part of me WANTS to like and enjoy this more than I am…but that’s certainly on rose-colored-glasses/memories of enjoying Strazewski’s stuff in the past and the nostalgia the name brings to mind for me.

This is definitely another single issue that I’m not gonna recommend AS an arbitrarily contextless single-issue purchase or quest. If you’re following this classic Starman series, or going after this Eclipso story for pre-The Darkness Within context, etc, it’s worth getting to have the arc; but I feel like I at least could definitely do just fine without it.

We’ll see what the next couple chapters hold!

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