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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 #511

90srevisited_zerohour

batman_0511The Night Before Zero

Writer: Doug Moench
Artist: Mike Manley
Inker: Josef Rubinstein
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Letterer: Ken Bruzenak
Assistant Editor: Jordan B. Gorfinkel
Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.50

I definitely remember this issue’s Batgirl. I remember the fact OF her showing up, I remember her appearance in the main Zero Hour book, and I especially remember the impact she had toward the end of that book. But it’s quite likely, having re-read this issue, that this is the first time in nearly 22 years THAT I’ve read it…because I sure did not remember the DETAILS.

We’re only JUST past the Knightfall/Knightquest/Knightsend stuff…like, I think that wrapped with the previous issue, and then we’re dumped straight into Zero Hour. We open with the same scene that we got in Zero Hour #4–of the Joker “discovering” he’s being chased by Batgirl and wondering if it’s a joke. Even though Batman and Robin quickly arrive on the scene, the Joker escapes, leaving the heroes to try to figure out exactly what’s going on. Also on the trail of the Joker, the GCPD arrive, and their presence elicits a surprising reaction from Batgirl–fear. Then they open fire, surprising Batman and Robin (as ANOTHER Robin watches from somewhere out of their sight). Eluding the police, Batman demands answers, and things begin to come together. That horrible night years earlier saw Jim Gordon shot instead of Barbara, though he died. When the new PC–Harvey Dent–took office, he issued a shoot-to-kill-on-sight order against the masked vigilantes. Of course, though this is “normal” for Batgirl, it’s NOT the way Batman and Robin remember events unfolding. Meanwhile, the Joker decides to dispatch PC Harvey Dent, and digs up Gordon’s grave for extra theatrics, but Batman intervenes. Time continues to go wibbly-wobbly, and elements shift–reality returns to normal, though the “other” Batgirl remains…and Batman must seek answers outside of Gotham City.

As may become frequent in these posts, I’ll touch on the art first…because that’s quicker and simpler. Namely…this IS “my” Batman. This is the visual style I recall from when I was a kid…because this is an issue that was published and originally read when I was a kid. The familiarity raises more than a little nostalgia, which contributes hugely to the momentary enjoyment of rereading this quasi-isolated issue. It just fits, and IS the art I remember. It also conveys events of the story itself quite well, performing to my expectation, with the added bonus of just looking really darned good. I would not have been able to cite a name and tell you that it was Mike Manley’s art I loved, but loving the art in this issue and seeing his name…well, there you go.

Story-wise, this is jam-packed, and kinda jumps around a bit. I’m certainly bringing extra baggage to the reading experience, and using some of that to plug any holes in plot or depth or explanation–I know time is wibbly-wobbly here. I know that anomalies are popping up all over the DC universe, and that this is just the start of it. I know that there was confusion at the start of all this, and that things get put right “in the end.” But there are multiple Bat-books, each partaking in Zero Hour, so there are that many more incidents for Batman to encounter in this single month, as the main event unfolds. While I’ve been “conditioned” to a harsher modern Batman, this one can still make mistakes–such as getting distracted enough by the presence of a healthy, non-crippled Barbara Gordon that the Joker can get away. Similarly, this Batman is willing to leave the Joker for later, while other events take precedence…where nowadays, half the country could fall into the sea and Bruce would leave that for “others,” while HE continues tracking down the Joker.

batman_0511_comparison

This is also firmly rooted in continuity, and whether it was the writers coordinating, or (far more likely) Editors doing the editorial thing and coordinating stories between numerous writers), we see stuff in this issue that’s touched on elsewhere, giving us slightly different perspectives (we have Jurgens/Ordway on art for the opening scene where it touches in Zero Hour #4…and then Manley and Rubinstein giving us the exact same scene in this issue). It’s a bit repetitive in the sense of having several pages of the exact same action playing out in two issues read back-to-back…but it’s also quite welcome, because you do not HAVE TO have read Zero Hour #4 already to enjoy this issue, and you get what you need of this for the core Zero Hour story in that issue. This issue simply expands on the situation, playing out the larger situation and filling gaps.

The significance of Batgirl here would probably be lost for modern readers…this was 1994, just a few years (but enough for it to be firmly rooted in continuity) after Barbara was shot, paralyzed, and Batgirl was no more. Of course, with the coming of the New 52, a quarter-century of continuity was wiped out (and a couple “legacy”/successor Batgirls) in order to put Barbara back in action.

Opening on action, seeing characters’ reactions, resolving some of that and setting up other bits makes this at once an issue that can stand on its own (as much as any one issue of an ongoing series can/will) but plays extremely well in the shared sandbox of continuity and the universe-spanning Event series.

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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