Friday, August 31, 2007

1970's Flashback: Omega the Unknown

Omega the Unknown was published by Marvel Comics starting in 1976 and ran for 10 issues before being cancelled due to low sales. The series, written by Steve Gerber; with Mary Skrenes and illustrated by Jim Mooney, has become something of a cult classic due to its intriguing characterizations and unusual storytelling. Later this year, the character will be revived in a new mini-series by novelist Jonathan Lethem. Omega's powers included: super-strength, flight and energy projection.

Unlike most superhero comics, the focus of Omega the Unknown isn't on the mysterious person in a costume & cape. In Omega the Unknown, the story deals with a highly mature 12 year old boy named James-Michael Starling. Through the series short run, it is intimated that there is a connection between the mute Omega and the detached & analytical James-Michael.

In Omega the Unknown #1, the character of Omega is shown to be the last survivor of an unnamed alien race. He escapes from mechanical beings, who have devastated his planet, in a ship bound for Earth. The story then shifts to young James-Michael waking up and having dreamed the events that just occurred with Omega.
In his waking world, James-Michael and his parents are moving to New York City from some remote mountain region so that he can learn socialization skills after years of home-schooling. En route to New York their car is driven off the road and both of his parents are killed, but not before he discovers that both of them were actually robots. James-Michael collapses into a coma and awakens a month later in a private hospital exhibiting an eerie lack of emotional response to his parents' deaths. The hospital is later attacked by similar mechanical beings that destroyed Omega's home world, and Omega himself appears to defend James-Michael. The superhero and the android fight, but the conflict ends when James-Michael himself destroys the alien mechanism with energy bursts from his hands (an effect used by Omega in James-Michael's dreams).

Following this exciting start, various supporting characters are introduced, Omega encounters a series of second-string villains and even faces off against the Incredible Hulk, all the while ever more tantalizing clues on the relationship between Omega & James-Michael are dropped from issue-to-issue, however in the last issue Omega himself is killed, leaving the mysteries of the story unresolved.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

1970's Flashback: Red Wolf

Red Wolf led a very storied existence after his introduction in Avengers #80 (Sept. 1970), the character as introduced, operated in modern times and initially opposed the Avengers (although he really wasn't a villain). William Talltrees was born in modern times, in Wolf Point, Montana. He was the son of Thomas Talltrees, a Cheyenne tribal leader, and grew up hearing tales of the legendary Red Wolf. William witnessed his father being intimidated into selling his property to corrupt businessman Cornelius van Lunt; that night, van Lunt's henchmen killed William's family. William swore vengeance, finding and donning the ceremonial garb of Red Wolf. Cheyenne god Owayodata visited him and imbued the young man with his spiritual legacy. This Red Wolf found a wolf cub whom he named Lobo and trained him to be his companion. Following van Lunt back to New York, he was able to gain vengeance on him with the aid of the Avengers. Red Wolf's single appearance in Avengers certainly got someone at the House of Ideas thinking about an expanded role for their Indian Avenger.
He was next seen briefly in the first issue of Marvel Spotlight, before being launched into his own self-titled comic which ran for nine issues in 1972. This version was set in the old west and detailed the adventures of Johnny Wakeley which was the adopted name of a Cheyenne man who was raised from childhood by a white couple in the late 19th century. His adoptive parents were killed by Native Americans in retaliation for the U.S. Army cavalry's massacre of their own people. Pursued by members of his own tribe, Wakeley stumbled into the burial place of a former chieftain known as Red Wolf and he was visited by the spirit of a Cheyenne god named Owayodata. Wakeley was given the ceremonial garb of the Red Wolf, and the coup stick, his totem of power, and became the first known recorded Red Wolf. Red Wolf used his new found skills and physical prowess to promote peace between the white and Native American peoples.

At least until the seventh issue, when once again the characters setting changed and Red Wolf's adventures returned to the modern world for its last three issues.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

1970's Flashback: Sandman

Industry legends Joe Simon and Jack Kirby who had created comic book icons Captain America, the Boy Commandos and the entire Romance Comics genre for an earlier generation of fans, were reunited one last time in 1974 to produce the DC Comics title, The Sandman.

Unlike their similarly named 1940's version, this Sandman operated from his Dream Dome headquarters where he visited the strange worlds created within the sleeping dreams of the people of the world and accessed through the Dream Stream. The otherwise unnamed Sandman was assisted by two monsters called Brute and Glob, who really appeared to have stepped out of someones nightmare. He sported a kitschy red & yellow costume that hearkened back to Kirby's earlier Fourth World/New Gods designs.

Intended as a one-shot issue, The Sandman #1 proved popular enough to return for five more issues beginning in May 1975, however only Kirby himself actually returned to the feature with its last three issues. The character was later, retroactively given the alter ego of Dr. Garret Sanford, who was a psychologist doing sleep research at UCLA, and who was called on to apply his knowledge to superhero work when the president of the U.S. went into a coma-like sleep state. Sanford subsequently became guardian of the Dream Dimension.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Review: Enemy Ace: War in Heaven

Enemy Ace: War in Heaven was originally a two-issue mini-series published in 2001, but it was later collected in a trade paperback edition in 2003. The series written by Garth Ennis takes DC Comics classic Silver Age "villain" Enemy Ace [who was created by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert] character forward from his WWI era setting into 1942, and follows Hans Von Hammer, now 46 years old and living on his Bavarian family estate, has long since retired from the work that earned him the moniker The Hammer of Hell; and who as a German fighter pilot terrorized the European skies during the first World War. In this tale, Russia is fighting Germany and Adolf Hitler, when an old friend convinces Von Hammer to become a pilot again in order to train Germany's new fighter aces. The Enemy Ace, however, learns all to soon what he already suspected, the Germany for which he now fights is not the Germany of his youth.

Much could be said about Ennis decision to inject too much British sentiment into the staunchly German (as previously written) character of "Enemy Ace", who is presented as being strongly anti-Nazi throughout the volume, but it is the artwork that is the really stunning feature of the book. Fellow Brit Chris Weston's pencils, although aided and abetted by Christian Alamy and legendary talent Russ Heath, hearken back to the classic silver age war comics days of Joe Kubert and others in this stand-alone tale. Weston puts his all into every panel, and every single line and brushstroke dazzles the eye . He truly creates the proper sense of atmosphere, setting and mood with imaginative interpretations of aerial dogfights, duels, and gritty drama.

1970's Flashback: Thundra

Thundra is a redheaded, female warrior from a matriarchal, technologically advanced future timeline where men have been subjugated by such women; who are known as Femizons. She was first introduced in Fantastic Four #129. Thundra's powers include: superhuman strength (she can lift approximately 60 tons) & durability, and all of her other physical attributes are heightened to the peak of human capability. During her lifetime she has received extensive combat training. Her weapon of choice is a length of chain, which is often attached to a bracelet on her left forearm.

Like previous flashback Doc Samson, Thundra has mostly been a semi-regular player in various Marvel comic books. Due to her radical feminist viewpoint, she typically takes the role of an aggressor in these rare appearances, but despite this, she has been shown to be a noble hero and simply a product of her 23rd century environment.

When Thundra first warped back in time, she temporarily joined the criminal team- The Frightful Four, but she did so for her own reasons and ultimately turned on them to assist the Fantastic Four, partly due to a romantic attraction to team member, Ben Grimm/The Thing.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

1970's Flashback: Doc Samson

Doc Samson is a terrific supporting character who first appeared in the Incredible Hulk #141 (July 1971). He was created by writer Roy Thomas and artist Herb Trimpe. After the Hulk had been temporarily cured of his gamma-irradiated condition, Leonard Samson exposed himself to the siphoned off radiation and turned into the green-tressed, super-powered hero known as Doc Samson. Like Bruce Banner's Hulk identity, Doc had super-human strength, speed, stamina and physical resistance; however unlike Banner he retained his genius-level intelligence after being transformed.

Doc Samson is a personal favorite of mine, and one who could have been a major headliner for Marvel. He has been featured in two separate mini-series, published in 1996 & 2006, but he largely remains in the background of the Marvel Universe ... until such time as someone chooses to incorporate him into one of the big team books. Then hopefully, he'll be able to break out of the pack and take his place alongside the other "big-wigs."

Friday, August 24, 2007

1970's Flashback: Black Goliath

Dr. Bill Foster was introduced by writer Roy Thomas & artist Don Heck in the pages of Avengers #32 (Sept. 1966) as a minor supporting character. Foster was originally a contemporary of founding Avenger Henry Pym, who had gone by the heroic names of Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath [when Bill Foster appeared] and later still, Yellowjacket. Each of Pym's identities took advantage of the size-changing abilities of his discovery - Pym particles to engage in super heroics.

In April 1975, writer Tony Isabella & artist George Tuska re-introduced Foster in a new role in Luke Cage, Power Man #24. Adopting his old friends Pym particles, Foster became the blaxploitation-inspired hero called Black Goliath (in homage to Hank Pym's earlier role). Foster's exposure to Pym particles gave him the ability to grow to a gigantic size while gaining mass and superhuman strength in proportion to his height. As Black Goliath he was able to routinely grow to 15 feet in height, and could lift approximately ten tons.

His solo, five issue series ran briefly in 1976, before being cancelled. Bill Foster made sporadic appearances over the years, and like Hank Pym, his own superhero name changed from time-to-time. He was variously known as Giant-Man and until recently, simply Goliath. Bill Foster was one of the heroes who sided with Captain America during this years hit crossover mini-series Civil War. Sadly, Goliath met his end at the hands of the enraged Thor-Clone that Henry Pym had misguidedly created to battle alongside Iron Man's forces, in that top-seller from Marvel Comics, becoming one of the most visible casualties in the book.

A new character, Fosters nephew, has been shown and indications are that a new Goliath may be forthcoming. Long live Black Goliath!

From the Dust Bin: Jill Trent, Science Sleuth

Most modern comics feature issue-length adventures of a single character or group, but back in the earliest days of comics publishing, most comic magazines were much larger and included several different characters, genres and themes in an anthology format. A reader could expect a veritable smorgasbord of masked men, western shoot-em-ups, weird horror thrills or science fiction spacemen, cops & detectives, even funny animal or other humor strips within the pages of a single comic.
It is no wonder that so many of these interior features, that never graduated to cover prominence, have become lost to the ages.

For example Nedor Comics had a plucky female adventurer known as Jill Trent, Science Sleuth who enjoyed a respectable thirteen issue run in Wonder Comics. She also made two additional appearances within the pages of Fighting Yank Comics. Jill Trent was both a female gumshoe, and a scientific whiz who could throw together convenient devices or gimmicks in to thwart crooks. She was aided by her gal pal Daisy.
Jill Trent's adventures can be found in Fighting Yank #'s 6 & 9 and Wonder Comics 8-20.
Question: Why did so many Nedor females sport "red" as their primary color scheme? Jill Trent, Miss Masque and the Woman in Red all pretty much wore solid red garments.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

1970's Flashback: Shazam!

Captain Marvel, a very popular staple of comics golden age, originally appeared in Whiz Comics # 2 (Feb. 1940), but after publisher Fawcett Comics was successfully sued by National Comics (which later became DC Comics; publisher of Superman) for copyright infringement, he disappeared from news stands in 1953.

It was with with some irony that DC comics licensed Captain Marvel and began publishing new adventures of "the big red cheese" and his eclectic supporting cast in February 1973. During the characters twenty year hiatus, rival publisher Marvel Comics had secured the trademark for his name, allowing them to introduce their own decidedly different Capt. Mar-Vell character. DC stepped around this technicality and called his new comic simply, Shazam!, after the famous magic word which young Billy Batson cried out to transform into the adult Captain Marvel.

Legendary artist C.C.Beck also returned to produce new stories for his classic hero for the first ten issues, but ultimately left after creative differences. He was succeeded by standout talents Kurt Schaffenberger and Bob Oksner. Dennis O'Neil, E. Nelson Bridwell and Elliot Maggin all wrote for the revived title, injecting just enough humor to remind readers that while having some similar powers as the Man of Steel, Captain Marvel was really all about light-hearted fantasy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

1970's Flashback: El Diablo

El Diablo (Lazarus Lane) first appeared in All-Star Western # 2 (Oct./Nov. 1970). Lazarus Lane the original El Diablo [a second version was introduced by DC in 1989]operated in the latter half of the 19th Century in the old American West, although the character could easily have been placed in a contemporary setting, with the bedridden & catatonic Lane being a modern hero and his ghostly alter ego being played just as it was in the first series.
As it was, Lazarus Lane was a bank teller who was nearly killed by a gang of thieves and then put in a coma after being hit by lightning. After being revived by a Native American shaman, Lane becomes a vigilante and called himself El Diablo. He is one of several Wild West DC characters, along with Jonah Hex, Bat Lash, Pow-Wow Smith, and the heroic Trigger Twins. The name El Diablo means "the devil" in Spanish.
Despite making only a few memorable appearances, several industry legends worked on or ilustrated the El Diablo feature including Gray Morrow, Neal Adams and writer/creator Robert Kanigher.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

1970's Flashback: Spider-Woman

Today I'm beginning a flashback series of profiles featuring some groovy characters from the late, lamented era of the 1970's. Many people consider the output of both DC Comics and Marvel Comics in somewhat of a less-than-favorable- light. I however have a fond regard for many of the heroes who appeared from the "big two" during those bronze age years. I'll alternate occasionally between the two top publishers, but first up is a hottie who is enjoying a popular revival at the moment.

Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew) first appeared in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977), and was soon launched into her own self-titled series. After it's cancellation (with issue #50) Spider-Woman fell into disuse, and was ultimately supplanted by a succession of other Spider-Women ( a common practice at Marvel has been to discard an established character that’s not currently in favor; only to turn out faux replicas, using the same name & powers, and based solely upon the whims of different creators).

In her youth, Jessica Drew was injected with an experimental serum based on irradiated spiders' blood by her father in an attempt to save her life from radiation poisoning. She was raised on Wundagore Mountain, lair of the High Evolutionary’s evolved beast-men, under the care of the cow-woman Bova. Still later, Jessica was brainwashed by evil Hydra agents, who convinced her that she was an evolved spider known as Arachne. While on a mission involving the secret American spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D., she learned the true nature of the criminal Hydra organization and turned on them. She subsequently moved to Los Angeles where she began her career as a costumed crime fighter.

Her powers include: Superhuman strength, speed, stamina, agility, reflexes, heightened senses and durability, flight, pheromone generation , the ability to adhere to walls through bio-electrical attraction, the ability to shoot beams of bio-electric energy from her hands, and an immunity to all poisons and radiations.
The original Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew has recently been revived to wide acclaim and is even a prominent member of the New Avengers.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Twelve ..... return! (Part 2)

Marvel Comics will pull some of their crustier heroes out of mothballs in a 12 issue mini-series [in early 2008] that revives a group of also-rans that hasn't been seen since the golden age of World War II, when the company was called Timely Comics. Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski and illustrator Chris Weston are the talented twosome behind this new book called simply "The Twelve."
The twelve forgotten heroes featured in the book were kidnapped by Nazis, for nefarious experimentation, during the closing days of the war and then placed in suspended animation following the fall of the Third Reich. Here again, courtesy of Newsarama, is a final sneak peek at the other ecclectic half of "The Twelve."
(Top, left-to-right) Elektro, Master Mind Excello, Laughing Mask, Mr. E
(Bottom, left-to-right) Phantom Reporter, Rockman

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

From the Dust Bin: The Scarab

I am a huge fan of the characters published during the golden age of comics (1940s) by Ned Pines under various company names such as Better, Standard, Nedor & Pines. These characters have received quite a bit of attention in the last few years, having been successfully incorporated into Alan Moore's Wildstorm series "Terra Obscura", after they first reappeared in Moore's other well written original series, Tom Strong.
Widely reported to be within the public domain, and thus available for free usage, it's no real surprise that other publishers have jumped on board the "revival" bandwagon. Currently, Dynamite Publishing, Image Comics and even Marvel Comics have series in development which will revive some of these very same characters (or in Marvels case, some of their own long-neglected Timely Comics relics). It's the golden age all over again!
Online scans can be easily located on the world wide web of Black Terror, Fighting Yank, Doc Strange, Grim Reaper, American Eagle, Miss Masque and many other Nedor greats. Bill Black's AC Comics has reprinted many of them in editions that are available for reasonable prices.
One character whose adventures are a bit harder to locate is the Scarab. He first appeared in Startling Comics # 34 in July 1945. Peter Ward was the reincarnation of an Egyptian priest. He would rub a magic ring and instantly be transformed into the powerful Scarab; with super-strength, flight and invulnerability while in this form.

Monday, August 13, 2007

In Memoriam: Mike Wieringo

DC & Marvel Comics artist Mike Wieringo passed away Sunday, August 12, 2007, the victim of a sudden heart attack. He was 44 years old.

If you were fortunate enough to have met Mike at any of the many comics conventions that he regularly attended, then you already know that he was a very generous man and you would be hard pressed to find a nicer guy working in the field.

After an acclaimed run on The Flash at DC Comics in the early 1990's, Mike produced his creator-owned fantasy collaboration Tellos (with Todd DeZago). Mike Wieringo's outstanding pencils were featured in titles such as Robin, The Adventures of Superman, Sensational Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and most recently on Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.
My thoughts & prayers go out to his family, friends and those industry pros with whom he often worked. He will be missed!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Twelve ..... return!

Marvel Comics is pulling some of their crustier heroes out of mothballs for a 12 issue series that revives a group not seen since the World War II years when the company was called Timely Comics. Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski is writing the comic book mini-series called simply "The Twelve" with art chores provided by engaging talent Chris Weston. Early indications are that the dozen characters featured in the book were kidnapped by Nazis during the closing days of the war and then placed in suspended animation following the fall of the Third Reich. Here, courtesy of Newsarama, is a sneak peek at half of "The Twelve."

(Top left-to-right) Capt. Wonder, Dynamic Man, Fiery Mask & the Witness
(Below left-to-right) Black Widow & Blue Blade

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

From the Dust Bin: Cosmo Cat

Cosmo Cat made his debut in All Top Comics #1 in 1945. Published by Fox Feature Syndicate, All Top Comics originally ran as a funny animal book for seven issues before converting over to classic jungle girl feature, Rulah. Cosmo then made the jump into his own title in August of 1946, as well as continuing in Wotalife Comics, where he'd been the star since it's third issue. His adventures lasted until about 1947. Cosmo was powered up by something that would kill most people — in this case, accidentally dropping (and thereby setting off) a bomb at the atomic plant where he worked. But like other funny animal superheroes (as well as a few human ones), he maintained his powers (strength, invulnerability and flight) by ingesting what would nowadays be considered a drug, his substance of choice being Cosmic Catnip Capsules. He lived in a laboratory on the Moon, and used a "tele-finder " to spot evil on Earth. When he detected any evil-doings he'd use his "cat-rocket", powered by "blaster beams", to zap on down and vanquish it.

Scattered reprints were issued by a handful of publishers in the late 1950's, but Cosmo Cat has pretty much been consigned to the dust bowl of comics golden age.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Review: The 13th Son # 1

I wasn't planning on running another review just yet, but this excellent issue [from Nov. 2005] was passed along to me recently by my brother (he also included the 2nd issue). Artist/creator Kelley Jones really knocks this one out of the park, folks. If you're one of us codgers who thinks that "fun" is sorely missing from standard comics fare these days, well you'll find boatloads of it in this superlative first issue (of a four issue mini-series).

Some reviews that I've read compare elements of the featured artwork to Jones previous work on Batman, even going so far as to suggest that this first adventure of the 13th Son was more superhero than horror.


Jones goes all out in his design work on both the titular character and the legion of monsters that he encounters (and slays for some hidden & mysterious agenda). The 13th Son may whack a few night creatures, but that doesn't mean he's one of the good guys. And that's part of the appeal.

I haven't seen Kelley's Batman work, but I could see drawing a favorable comparison to bronze age supernatural titles like Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Brother Voodoo, House of Mystery or Phantom Stranger ..... and that's fine company. No matter what your comics tastes run to, I would heartily recommend that you seek out this excellent mini-series from Dark Horse Comics.

Don't worry if you have any difficulty in locating it either. A trade paperback collecting the entire series is due out in September 2007.

Happy Birthday, David!

One common gripe that is a traditional part of comics is how certain artists/creators seem to perpetually run late. There are any number of reasons offered for why some creative types struggle to make deadlines or to get fresh product out there on the stands for a ravenous audience to appreciate, but after having grown up with an artistic sort - well, let's just say that my perspective sorta changed.

I'm nowhere near as harsh in my own criticism of such artists as I was when I was younger. And artists really are their own harshest critics. I don't doubt that any of them fail to beat themselves up harder over delays than the fans do anyway.

My brother David celebrates his 43rd birthday today. He, like his pal Burt, has labored in the world of advertising for the last couple of decades. In my opinion, he's one hell of an artist. Like many of us who were weaned on comics back in the good old days, David appreciates the humor - both direct and implied - that used to be routinely incorporated into most newsstand fare. I'm not talking about Mad or Cracked, although he was a huge fan of those titles, but simply the inherent tongue-in-cheek quality of fun that alot of us "got" without having it beaten over our heads. At best, comics were simply a fantasy after all!

I do understand that humorous banter and in jokes still prevail in lots of comic books, but the whole gloom and doom and "realism" thing has completely overshadowed what used to be a standard quality of fun - no matter which genre an individual title featured.

True story #1: One of David's icons was the late Will Eisner (creator of the Spirit & originator of the graphic novel). We met Will in the early 1990's in Atlanta, GA. David hadn't wanted to take any art samples to show editors at Dragoncon, but I stubbornly carried along a few pieces of his that I had, hoping to prod him into changing his mind. When I stated my intention to get a critique of the art samples from Mr. Eisner, David wisely decided to "present" his own work. It was a great decision, as the heralded comics master offered a few choice tips, but basically stated that my brother - yes, David Wells - was READY.

Talk about pressure. I'm not sure that David really recovered from hearing that; for at least a few months. Needless to say that he was thrilled with Mr. Eisner's words.

True story #2: A couple of years after that incident, and while Michael Eury (current editor of Back Issue magazine) was working as an editor at DC Comics, I found myself in the same position with David, taking samples (some of the very same pages) to Heroescon in Charlotte, NC. After showing them to Michael, he said to have David contact him and that - he might have some work for him. More pressure, and elation followed.

Time passed. The realities of starting a family and supporting them, took over. Comics dreams took a backseat to life. It's not the first time that has happened to someone, but David still had the creative outlet available to him in the world of advertising and there's the numerous freelance projects that he's done over the years for clients. Book covers, product label designs, a season catalogue for a minor league sports team, etc.

And you never know, one of these days he might just follow through and self-publish any one of the terrific (and funny) ideas that he has formulated over the years. And by the way, the three fabulous illustrations posted above were all quick draw contest winners - spanning three consecutive years - at Heroescon in Charlotte, NC.

So let me close by saying that, I love you David, and Happy birthday!