Wednesday, June 27, 2018

006. Power, pain and the San Francisco Bay (Secret Society of Super-Villains 4)

The future Ernie Chan pulled no punches with his cover!
We're back as we continue the saga of the first super-villain team in their own comic. The team of Kraft, Marcos and Colletta are back, but Ernie Chua is also here to draw one heck of a throwdown!

Secret Society of Super-Villains 6 starts out with the aftermath fo the villain fight, where the rest of the team ends up in a battle with Sinestro and Wizard, who have no interest in helping the team against Darkseid. This isn't their world, so why save it?

Star Sapphire lures her new recruit Green Lantern back to Mantis' base. Mantis attacks Hal from behind. He makes his intentions very clear, yelling "I am Mantis, Earthman - the Power Parasite - and the Agent of Your Destruction!"

Green Lantern unleashes his power against Mantis, but the villain just draws the power into himself. As GL weakens, Mantis declares "Never have I felt so might! I am bursting with power enough to rival great Darkseid himself! And soon I shall surpass even him!" He takes the wrong moment to deliver that line though. Just as he does Darkseid arrives on Earth!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

005. Even super-villains want an Earth to live on! (Secret Society of Super-Villains 2 & 3)

Secret Society of Super Villains 2 is all about the set up for the ongoing series, basically dropping much of the plot points from the first issue to reintroduce ideas from the thrown out first issue that appeared in Amazing World of DC Comics. Gerry Conway and Pablo Marcos are the creative team here, with David Anthony Kraft listed as co-writer.

The main focus of the issue is Captain Comet's return to Earth, where he's duped into helping the villains against Green Lantern. He joins them, thinking them a team of heroes. Manhunter clues him in on the fact that they aren't, something Comet already surmised. But they both come under attack by Mantis. After a short fight, Mantis retreats due to being "out of power." (Apparently his batteries were low.)

The next day, Manhunter takes the entire Society to their benefactor's lair. The benefactor is revealed to be Darkseid!

Mantis attacks again, quickly disabling Grodd and Comet. As the issue ends, he gives a simple ultimatum: "Surrender or die!"

This scene from the cover of Secret Society of Super-Villains 3 happens nowhere in the issue.
Art by Ernie Chua (Ernie Chan.)
David A. Kraft takes over full scripting duties on Secret Society of Super-Villains 3. It opens with Darkseid and a groveling Kalibak as he promises a "War for Earthdeath!"

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

004. Two escape artists, a communist plot and the evils of GiGi! (Brave & the Bold 128)

Before we can get to the larger adventures of the New Gods, we head back to the pages of Brave & The Bold. Bob Haney and Jim Aparo are back for another team-up between the universe's greatest escape artist and the dark knight detective.

This issue starts in a shockingly similar way to the previous team up between Batman and Mister Miracle. Batman is back on the call of Commissioner Gordon as a Shah is coming to town and in danger from communist elements. His patrol is derailed by Mister Miracle, Big Barda and Oberon as they practice a new death defying ecape.

Like the previous installment, Haney seems to gloss over the extraterrestrial orignis of Scott and Barda, instead focusing on the escape artistry of Mister Miracle.

Unfortunately, Batman's attempt to keep the Shah safe fails as he disappears from inside a moving van!

Friday, June 8, 2018

003. Lest night fall on terrible new costumes (1st Issue Special 13)

Plotter Gerry Conway, scripter Denny O'Neil and artist Mike Vosburg waste no time on the opening of 1st Issue Special #13, the final issue of that series and the "Return of the New Gods!" (It says so right on the cover.)

This will be Lightray's only appearance in this issue.
Art by Dick Giordano.

The book opens with Orion. He supports a new costume here (as seen on the cover) and it's a bit of a mess. It's far too superhero oriented for a space god, but it does little to change the character we know. He's still angry and violent. He immediately takes out his anger on a bunch of guards.

The first fun tidbit of this story comes on page two as Kalibak's death at the end of Kirby's New Gods is immediately retconned. He shows up here as the opening villain with only a claim that "the Black Racer did not take me then and he will not take me now!"

Kalibak's fashion sense has also left him as he's wearing little more than a leotard as he and Orion do battle. Their fight has all the dynamic action Mike Vosburg could create, but with dialogue stilted even by 70s DC standards.

A quick flashback shows Orion, Scott Free, Big Barda, Metron and Highfather come under attack on New Genesis from re-designed Parademons, a brief explanation for why Orion is now back on Earth.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

002. The Secret Society of Replaced Stories (Amazing World of DC Comics 11)

Cover art by Dick Dillin.
The Return of the New Gods is soon approaching this blog, but it turns out there's one other story from the period between Kirby's New Gods run and DC's first attempt to revive the characters. Secret Society of Super-Villains would soon add Darkseid to the mix, but the original version of the first issue would introduce him earlier in the run. The decision was made to do a different number one, and this issue was buried in the pages of the eleventh issue of the black and white fan magazine Amazing World of DC Comics.

Gerry Conway writes the tale with Ric Estrada penciling and Pablo Marcos inking.

The tale kicks off with Captain Cold as he's cornered by the combined Secret Society of Super-Villains, all mad because he hasn't yet joined them. The unit quickly meet the man that gathered them together, none other than Darkseid, "Prince of Apokolyps [sic]." He reveals himself as The Director, gatherer of the Society. He quickly informs the team (Cold, Gorilla Grodd, Star Sapphire, Manhunter and Clayface) that he's gathered them for a purpose and whisks them away on his sky-sled.

They attack a military installation and Darkseid reveals their goal: Wargas, the deadliest nerve gas ever made. The villains devolve into a petty squabble over who wins the gas, but Manhunter stops the entire team. He warns the other super-criminals that Darkseid is no petty criminal intent on money-making. He wants the Wargas to destroy the world and they cannot let him have it.

Grodd angrily attacks Darkseid, but Darkseid explodes at the first blow. It's revealed it is only an android simulation of the ruler of Apokolips. The Secret Society of Super-Villains decide to form a unit to continue their criminal ways while also battling Darkseid in his attempt to destroy the Earth.

Darkseid explodes in an attempt to get out of this
mess of a comic.
Frankly, this story is a bit of a mess. Darkseid in no way acts in character here at all. If it wasn't for Manhunter's reveal of his true plans, he wouldn't seem like the Kirby creation even a little. Fortunately, this story was treated as apocryphal. Darkseid would make his presence known in Secret Society of Super-Villains, but in a rather different light than this one. It's probably for the best for all characters involved here.

Be back here on Friday for the final installment in our opening week trifecta!

Monday, June 4, 2018

001. A great escape and little else (Brave & The Bold 112)

Cover art by Jim Aparo. 
When I first conceived this story, my mind was thinking about an issue of First Issue Special I hadn't yet read. That series ended with the re-debut of the New Gods, but it turns out it isn't the first appearance of any of the characters post-Kirby. It turns out that it was instead Bob Haney who dusted them off in the first place.

Braven and the Bold 112 featured a story by Haney with art by the always legendary Jim Aparo. Cover dated April-May 1974, it predates the next appearancdes by any Fourth World character by almost two years.

The tale actually takes place just before Kirby's final issue of Mister Miracle. It's mentioned right on the first page that it predates his wedding to Big Barda which happened in Mister Miracle 18. But this book was dated a good two months after that issue, so it clearly fits the bill as a starting point for us here.

The adventure kicks off at the Gotham Art Museum as Batman and Commissioner Gordon are in the middle of an intense shoot out. The attackers suicide when they can't find the statuette they sought. (The tomb is of course bat-themed because this is a Bob Haney Bat-comic.) Things grow more complicated when Inspector Sayid of the Egyptian National Police shows up with his own claim on the artifact. Sayid wants the artifact, but Batman agrees to accompany back to Egypt to uncover the secret of the hidden tomb it holds. The prize: the secret of immortality known only to the first Pharaoh of Egypt.

Meanwhile, Scott Free is in Paris with Barda and Oberon, in the middle of a death defying escape, a.k.a. the default position to always introduce Mister Miracle. He escapes from his chains on top of the Eiffel Tower as its struck by lightning. As he prepares to celebrate, he's stopped by Dr. Ingrid Borg who promises him his chance to make "the greatest escape of all time!"

We pick back up with Batman and Sayid in Egypt as Batman finds the man that sold the exhibit to the Gotham Museum dead. They peg his death as perpetrated by the same killers at the museum.

Always share the picture of Batman on the camel. 
Batman travels out into the desert on camelback, only to be stuck in a sandstorm. Meanwhile, Mister Miracle and Ingrid are flying in a helicopter, conveniently hit by the same sandstorm. The chopper crashes, but Miracle saves them both with his aero discs.

Batman escapes himself and continues on his path to the hidden tomb. A bat marks the way to the secret entrance beneath a desert oasis. As soon as he pushes the door open, it sucks him inside and closes hikm within.

Miracle and Ingrid find their own entrance, only to be trapped. Ingrid reads an etching from the same statuette whose message sent Batman on his way. It reveals the first Pharaoh Atun to be a figure descended from the heavens. He lived for decades without aging before disappearing in a flash of light. But upon continuing into the tomb, they are locked within an inner chamber. Mister Miracle's finger lasers cannot break through the door, but a strange light appears in teh chamber. Atun appears in his throne above them.

Atun questions their identities, but shows his ankh-headed staff as the source of his power. Ingrid quickly grabs it and sprints away, Mister Miracle on her tale. (Apparently there was another path away from the chamber.) The chamber quickly shifts upwards as it threatens to crush them both. Miracle's power beam breaks through the wall and allows their escape, only to find themselves on a moving stairwell that almost sends them plummeting to their death if not for Mister Miracle's aero discs.

Miracle finds an exit, only to have Ingrid betray him. She shoots, but only to have Miracle flash to the other side of the room. He flashes aroudn the room to avoid her bullets. The ricochets off the stone manage to hit Ingrid instead.

Mister Miracle reveals he lied about the escape path to expose Ingrid. He continues down it to find a tomb marked with Atun's likeness. He opens it to great shock.

Atun reveals himself and the two men attack one another with energy blasts. But their powers are equal; neither can overcome the other. Ultimately Atun collapses, his helmet falls off... to reveal the face of Bruce Wayne!

The tomb had contained Batman's costume and Mister Miracle realized the helmet had subsumed Batman's mind. With the helmet removed, he returned to himself. Batman puts his costume back on as the two men realize Ingrid must work for the same man that sent the terrorists to the museum. They continue through the labyrinth, magic staff in hand, seeking a route to escape. But an energy beam appears and threatens to strike them both down. They barely escape into another hidden chamber.

They find the steering ship inside the tomb, but unlike the ceremonial crafts of other Egyptian tombs, this is a fully functioning spaceship! They fly it from the tomb just as the strange beam escapes the tomb behind them and brings the cliff down upon it!

After our heroes crashland, the ship and the sceptre both mysteriously crumble to dust. The mystery man that wanted the sceptre dies in his tower and Atun stands before an alien counsel to be told he can never return to Earth.

Haney produced a grand adventure in his usual tradition here and it starts a sort of camaraderie between Scott Free and Batman that would come into play over the years. But this was a story filled with big ideas that Haney didn't seem interested in playing out. The sudden ending leaves no artifacts and wraps up all the loose ends in three quick panels, as though Haney didn't have an answer for the questions he posed through the course of the story.

Truly a product of its time, this issue just feels like it should have been the springboard for so much more. Haney ignored all of the Fourth World backdrop here, even if it would have served as a great answer to the secrets of Atun. Ultimately like so many issues of Brave & The Bold, this is simply a solid story with little payoff for the future. The packed nature of this story leaves little room for Aparo's art to breathe, which is truly the greatest shame of all.

That wraps up our first installment here, but stay tuned for a new one this Wednesday. But we're not quite ready for First Issue Special yet. It turns out there's one more apocryphal appearance to cover before we get to that monumental issue.