Thursday, April 11, 2019

035. Tasty Excalibur! (Legion of Super-Heroes 290)

This cover is cool, but it's a shame this creature doesn't
look more like the actual villains inside. 
With this issue, the Great Darkness Saga really kicks into gear. Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen and Larry Mahlstedt kick things off with the "And the servant shall be a sign..."

Our story kicks off with a team heading to the Museum of the Mystic Arts to investigate a break-in. Superboy, Wildfire, Phantom Girl, Cosmic Boy and the new Invisible Kid. The head of the museum (who looks exactly like Doctor Strange would if he stuck his finger in a light socket) shows off the object that was offsite when the attack happened, a wand made of "mentachem" which possesses the ability to control elements in their natural state. But the curator doesn't finish detailing the item as the sky grows dark and a rock-like monster smashes through the wall.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

034. Evil rising! (Legion of Super-Heroes 289)

In the last installment I talked about the Great Darkness Saga not really being written as if it was a multi-part storyline planned well ahead of time. It's just another event that overcomes the lives of the Legion. This can be clearly seen in Legion of Super-Heroes 288 which did not pick up at all the plot threads from the previous issue. This issue, again by Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen and now inker Bruce Patterson, only features the barest appearance of our not-so-mysterious villain.

In fact, it's all covered in less than one page, the one you see below.

Click for a larger look.
It's little more than a call to action from our villain, a summoning of servant creatures that will soon play the foil for our team. Yet it is a call of action that will bring the deadliest threat the Legion ever faced at this point.

But that's a subject for future installments! Enjoy this look at early Giffen art and enjoy the foreboding presented by our lurking villain. We'll see everyone back here in a week for a slightly meatier next installment.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

033. A great darkness looms! (Legion of Super-Heroes 287)

After the events of the inter-company crossover, it seemed as if the New Gods would return to hibernation once more. With Darkseid defeated and part of the Source Wall, little seemed left to be said. Yet as it turned out, only a few months would pass before the characters returned. And they would return a thousand years in the future!

Even the cover has little to do with the looming events. 
It's strange to look at The Great Darkness Saga now and see it as part of its time. It seems like the conclusion of a grand epic, yet it actually kicked off the run of Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen as a team on the book that made both famous (or infamous depending on your viewpoint.) At this point, the Legion rarely interacted with the regular DCU outside Superboy appearances, so this level of connectivity with DC history was decidedly out of the ordinary. And it wasn't really that much of a saga either. Levitz came into the series with his Levitz Paradigm already at least in development. So even as the bigger threat loomed, the Legion still had plenty of other stories revolving around them.

The events of the story actually kick off in Legion of Super-Heroes 287, four issues into Levitz's run and the first full issue to be drawn by Keith Giffen, here with inks by Larry Mahlstedt. (Fun fact: Adam Kubert was serving as a DC letterer at this time, years before he would breakout as an artist in his own right.)

Our story is actually the back-up, billed as the first solo adventure of Mon-El and Shadow Lass. The two have been assigned to investigate a derelict, drifting world. Probes have failed to arrive at the world and almost as soon as the heroes arrive, they come under attack by a series of defenses. The tanks and weapons are powerful enough to give Mon-El a run for his money. Ultimately, it's Shadow Lass' darkness field that stops the ongoing attack drones.

But the pair don't get more of a chance to investigate as their Legion signal devices summon them.  Somewhere deep inside the world something awakens from hundreds of years of slumber, a figure frame d all in black. He is ready to conquer once more.

Mon-El and Shadow Lass fly off to answer a call from Karate Kid and Princess Projectra. The pair are thankful to leave the dark world, but already plan to return with a greater number of allies, even if the fact that only the shadows stopped the defenses in their tracks.

Back on the world, the newly awakened shadowy form of Darkseid watches and listens. He simply has one line as the heroes leave: "Worship the darkness fools, until the day it comes to you!"

If this sounds like a simple and fairly generic Legion of Super-Heroes tale, you shouldn't be surprised. It's pretty much just a simple and generic LOSH tale. But like so many Levitz tales, the greater threat starts out as little more than a quiet whisper in the first few pages of their tale.

Apokolips looms for the Legion now, as a great universal villain will soon threaten all of reality. But that is a tale for another issue and another installment of Newer Gods! See you then!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Art of War 07: Darkseid by Tyler Crook

Tyler Crook has worked all over comics, most notably on BPRD. His art is often moody and evocative but it wasn't until earlier this year I saw him turn his attention to the New Gods. His Darkseid is all kinds of epic. For more like this, definitely check out his website filled with amazing works.

Next week, it's back to regular updates as a great darkness spreads across the universe!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

032. The end of everything never looked so good! (Uncanny X-Men / New Teen Titans)

The second half of Uncanny X-Men / New Teen Titans by Chris Claremont, Walter Simonson and Terry Austin kicks off with the arrival of both Ravok and Deathstroke at Darkseid's headquarters. Darkseid admonishes Ravok for bringing the Teen Titans (whom Ravok still thinks are the X-Men) instead of his assigned target. Deathstroke returns with the actual X-Men, and a few mocking words aimed at Ravok.

When Darkseid sees a fully green Parademon among the pack, Deathstroke knows the score and blasts Changeling with his staff. This proves the last straw for Darkseid. Ravok's incompetence has brought him the wrong team and a spy. Ravok tries to escape, but there is no escape from the Omega Effect!

We flash forward in time as the X-Men and Teen Titans all awake tied to a strange structure. This is the Psychon-Wave that Darkseid took from Metron at the issue's start. It blasts across every member of both teams and pulls the energy from their memories of the Phoenix. Combined with the psychic emissions they took from the Earth and the power leaking through the source wall, the Psychon-Wave caused them all to coalesce... into the form of Dark Phoenix.

She awakens with a simple "Who dares?" The next exchange deserves the splash of its own.

All images in this article owned by DC and Marvel. 
Darkseid's words are enough for the Phoenix to understand her place at his side. Cyclops pleads with Jean, but she shows no sign of hearing or understanding. Darkseid reveals to the heroes his plan: with Phoenix's aid, he will reshape the Earth into a second Apokolips from which to wage his war on New Genesis.

Darkseid and Phoenix disappear with their camp through another Boom Tube. As soon as they're gone, the Titans and the X-Men are freed. The two teams quickly agree to work together as it seems to be the only hope to stop the combined threats they face. But we also get a few great character moments when Kitty finds Changeling attractive and Raven worries about Wolverine's fury overwhelming her.

The heroes find the Mobius Chair (left behind by Metron earlier in the book) and start to work on finding their way home. Changeling turns into a giant version of Lockheed, who at this point is still just a fun aside created by Kitty and not yet a cool dragon sidekick. This makes Colossus jealous and he exclaims in Russian. This attracts Starfire's attention. She kisses him in order to absorb the knowledge of his language, which makes Kitty jealous in return.

In all of this, Cyclops broods as his lost love has been returned to life by the monstrous evil of Darkseid.

The Mobius Chair takes the heroes home where they detect Darkseid's presence in caves deep beneath Central Park. The teams teleport inside and are immediately attacked by Darkseid's horde. Storm's claustrophobia threatens to get the best of her but she has no time under the assault lead by Deathstroke.

Slade blasts Wolverine first in reciprocation for the attack earlier. But while Darkseid's forces did well against the individual teams, combined they are an army of vast power. The enemy army is vast though. Cyclops digs them a tunnel to the lower chambers. Once the heroes escape, Storm uses her powers to collapse the cave. Yet the surviving Deathstroke marvels that despite the cave-in she only seemed to have trapped the evil army, not kill them.

The combined teams make their way into Darkseid's layer, a vast vertical cavern with the device meant to ravage the Earth to create the new Apokolips. (It of course also features Darkseid's visage.)

Wolverine engages Deathstroke in combat again while almost everyone else battles the Phoenix to little avail. They are unable to stop Phoenix's blast into the machine. The machine will funnel the blast down into the core of the planet and tear it apart in the reshaping.

Kitty and Changeling work to break the machine before the blast can strike. Professor X, still in the Mobius Chair, recruits Raven into a last ditch attack on Phoenix, whose power is flawed without the final energies the X-Men prevented. They strike her with a pure blast of love which seriously wounds the dark creature. Robin convinces her the only way she can regain her strength is to pull the energy she shot towards the core back to her.

Deathstroke is blindsided by Cyclops as he spars with Wolverine. Flash does the same to Darkseid, which sets up the combined strengths of Wonder Girl, Cyborg and Colossus to hold him down. Starfire hits the deciding blow though, as she unleashes a full starburst into each of Darkseid's eyes!

The Phoenix is fading. Darkseid tells the entity its only chance of survival is to bond with another mortal. It chooses Cyclops, but the raw emotions he feels towards Cyclops overtakes the Phoenix. Her anger at her own rebirth grows inside Cyclops. In a fury, the Phoenix lashes out at Darkseid and both vanish from view!

Phoenix and Darkseid streak across the universe as the Phoenix crumbles. Both smash into the surface of the Source Wall and disappear.

In the epilogue, Metron returns to the Source Wall once again in his Mobius Chair. He bids Darkseid a thanks and a farewell, even as he flies past the dark god's visage now embedded as part of the Source Wall.

Claremont spent far more time giving us a greatest hits of both teams to really delve into the New Gods mythos with any real depth. He essentially wrote an X-Men story guest starring the Titans and featuring DC villains. But even with a limited appeal as a crossover, the tale works simply because its rendered so well by Walt Simonson. While I'm not sure this team ever worked in comics before or since this issue, they make a perfect team right here. And while this tale might not be as consequential as some in the New Gods lexicon, it's hard to argue with a superstar creative team hard at work on these characters.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

031. By our universes combined! (Uncanny X-Men / New Teen Titans)

Following his defeat at the end of the Justice League of America crossover, Darkseid and the New Gods once again fell into limbo. The character stated out of publication for nearly two years. They might have stayed away even longer if Chris Claremont, Walter Simonson and Terry Austin didn't need a DC Comics villain with power levels to match that of Marvel's Phoenix.

Proof Walter Simonson needs to draw Darkseid way more often.
All images in this article owned by DC Comics and Marvel Comics. 
Because now we've entered the territory of inter-company crossovers with Marvel and DC Present the Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans. This crossover comes at an interesting time for both brands. The X-Men have finally reached the peak of comic publishing frequently being the best selling comic on the market month in and month out. But its top competitor was a DC comic that came out of nowhere to dwarf anything else from the publisher: Wolfman and Perez's New Teen Titans. In this early age of comic book crossovers, this was one of the most impressive, as both DC and Marvel took their best-selling books and mashed them into one over-sized mega-story! In fact, the story is so big it will take both this column and next week's to cover it all!

Let's get to one of the numerous New Gods stories with the title "Apokolips Now!"

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Art of War 06: Forager vs. Ulik(?) by Mike Rooth

The Art of War features unique art pieces starring the characters of Jack Kirby's Fourth World by a variety of artists.

One of my favorite things about these fan art pages when I post them is finding weird crossovers that would never actually happen between comic companies. Take in account this awesome battle illustrated by the amazing Mike Rooth. It pits the always awesome Bug hero Forager against a regular thorn in the side of Marvel's Thor, Ulik the Rock Troll. While both characters are Kirby's creations, this is an inter-company crossover we would never see anywhere but here!

Be sure to visit Rooth's website for more great work by him!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

030. One big brouhaha on Apokolips! (Justice League of America 185)

This is the only issue in the saga with Darkseid at normal size, and is the only
appearance of Lightray in this saga. All images in this article owned by DC.
The Jim Starlin cover to our final installment in Justice League of America promises a shattering end to an epic. And while I'm not sure if this saga has quite been an epic, Gerry Conway, George Perez and Frank McLaughlin have a tall order in front of them as they bring the disparate points of our story together in this issue.

Our story opens with Metron floating within a Boom Tube as he observes the events transpiring and conveniently recaps them for anyone not around for the last two issues. Perez draws the heck out of this in a two page spread. He swears himself away from the fight, for his predictions show that his interference could bring about the very destruction they seek to stop.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

029. The (first) return of Darkseid! (Justice League of America 184)

Before we get things rolling, I just wanted to mention that as this blog debuts, the trade collection of Tom King and Mitch Gerads' Mister Miracle is now available at comics shops and it will hit bookstores next Tuesday. In addition, the new Female Furies limited series just released its first issue as well. It sure looks like DC is slowly working to revive the New Gods as a franchise, so be sure to support them in their endeavors.

Darkseid and George Perez feel like they were destined to meet.
All images in this article owned by DC Comics.
From the cover onward, Justice League of America 184 makes no secret that its focus is making Darkseid the biggest bad in the DCU. Check that copy on the Perez / Giordano cover: "It's the greatest heroes of three worlds against history's greatest villain!"

Our new story kicks off with a new member of the creative team. Writer Gerry Conway and inker Frank McLaughlin are joined by the recently retired George Perez in what I believe is Perez's first JLA work. Sadly, the reason is one I didn't even realize as I wrote about the previous issue. Dick Dillin passed away shortly after the production of JLA 183 from a heart attack. He was only 51. Dillin's idiocrantic art style had been the norm for the Justice League for over a hundred issues, so Perez here was quite a change from that previous era. And as much as I love Perez's work, a major era of Justice League ended all too randomly with the previous issue.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

028. When a crisis comes to New Genesis! (Justice League of America 183)

Though it's been only a few weeks since our last installment, comic fans waited almost two full years from the New Gods last appearance in Adventure Comics until their return (of a sort) in Justice League of America 183. What hasn't changed in that time is the writer responsible for their chronicle. Gerry Conway is at the helm for this issue with the regular JLA art team of Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin in tow.

A powerful cover image by Jim Starlin even with a terribly placed Comics Code seal.
All images in this article are copyright DC Comics.
Cover dated October 1980, our story kicks off with the planned annual meeting between the Justice League of Earth-1 and the Justice Society of America of Earth-2. (This is the modern era version of that team after All-Star Comics with Huntress and Power Girl in key roles.) Why these teams ever bother to get together at this point is anyone's guess. Every single one inevitably ends up in a Crisis, and this one is no exception!

The two teams are supposed to make an exchange of members between their realities for a new theme of get-together, but neither team transports to the other dimension. Instead, all the heroes end up on New Genesis. We are left with an eight member unit with four members from each team. The JLA are represented by Superman, Batman, Firestorm and Green Lantern. The JSA contingent are Doctor Fate, the Earth-2 Wonder Woman, Power Girl and Huntress.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

027. An ending at the door to eternity (Adventure Comics 460)

The ending of the epic by Gerry Conway and Don Newton, again inked here by Augie Scotto, gets no cover presence on Adventure Comics 460 other than a brief bit of text. It's an ignominious end for a grand saga unlike pretty much anything else coming from DC at the time.

The art on this final installment feels rushed, much like the 8 page story itself.
The story begins with Darkseid on his way towards the Final Barrier, flying through the field of the Promethean Giants that Conway seems to have a love to show. Yet where those Giants failed, Darkseid plans to succeed. He posits that his Omega Force coupled with the Anti-Life Equation will be enough to breach the barrier.

He makes short work of the rock trolls and time storm we were presented with as threats back in Super-Team Family. He thinks to himself as he flies towards the barrier that, "when it falls, the cosmic secret will be mine!"

Orion follows him from a distance, but our action quickly returns to the other events. On Earth, Metron realizes the recently arrived humans carry a Mother Box and a possible chance at victory. On Apokolips, Desaad prepares a cannon to destroy New Genesis once and for all. And on New Genesis, Highfather flies off after deciding his time of peace must come to an end for him to finish the battle once and for all.

But Highfather doesn't fly off to confront Desaad and his cannon. Instead he faces off with Darkseid even as Darkseid seeks to breach the Final Barrier. The fight is brutal but swift and Darkseid stands victorious. He flies off to pierce the barrier.

Darkseid vs. Highfather, the (not quite) final battle!
Orion arrives to find Highfather down and injured. But even in his state, Highfather declares victory. For when Darkseid struck him down, he used a significant piece of his power. It would have destroyed any other New God but Highfather. And with his powers drained, Darkseid won't be able to break the Final Barrier.

As Forager, Lightray and Jezebelle look on, Metron gathers the six humans that hold the Anti-Life Equation. With his guidance, they join their minds around the Mother Box and in doing so use their own hidden power to destroy the Antagonist once and for all.

Orion flies off and confronts the weakened Darkseid. They trade blows, Omega Force versus Astro Force. In his weakened state, the Omega Force fails and strikes Darkseid. He's sent hurling into the Final Barrier without his protective powers, declaring as he falls that it means his annihilation.

The Final Barrier spits him back out as a Promethean Giant himself, large and immobile. He collides with Desaad's cannon-ship, destroying it instantly and seemingly Darkseid with it.

Darkseid and Desaad's super-weapon both meet their fate. 
The people of New Genesis celebrate their victory and the many subplots of the series remain forever unanswered. Unlike Kirby's initial work on this series, these issues are rarely used as reference outside a few bits Conway added to the mythology of the Source. It's a sad state of affairs because though uneven, these issues had some truly amazing art and story.

During this revival, the writing talents like Conway, Englehart and Gerber showed different ideas than came before and since. The artwork of Don Newton, Marshall Rogers and Michael Golden all deserves a high gloss reprint on far superior paper. But alas, this era of the New Gods seems destined to the ether, never to be revived or thought of again. It's a sad fate, but I hope these last twenty-seven installments have at least made you consider seeking out a few of these stories for yourself.

Thus ends the first phase of this site and the second phase of the New Gods. We will take a break for a couple weeks before we head into the 1980s and into an era of guest appearances, reprints and the return of the legendary Jack Kirby to his creations.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

026. The penultimate power-play! (Adventure Comics 459)

The story from Return of the New Gods immediately picks up with the beginning of Adventure Comics 459, with Gerry Conway and Don Newton back in place as writer and penciler with Augie Scotto now on inks.

Don Newton still isn't taking short cuts with his amazing art as can be seen in this double page spread. 

The story opens with Orion attacking Apokolips and the very machine which imprisoned the humans that held the Anti-Life Equation. He frees them. None are too happy about their imprisonment and they all threaten Desaad. The sniveling coward quickly gives the characters (and conveniently, the readers) the lowdown on Infinity Man's death and passing the Anti-Life Equation to the humans.

Orion sends the humans back to Earth, but continues on his own path. We briefly check in with Highfather who feels guilt about Orion's course towards Darkseid.

On Earth, Lightray, Jezebelle, Forager and Metron consider their next move against the Antagonist, but before they can come up with a plan, they are attacked by a horde of humans driven to frenzy by the Anti-Life creature.

The Antagonist takes his assault to the White House where the heroes rush in to rescue a caricature of Jimmy Carter. Though they stop the assault on the President, they cannot beat the Antagonist.

I get the distinct impression Newton wasn't a huge fan of our 39th President.
Metron admits to himself that they may have no chance at all of stopping a creature so powerful, only its creator could do so. And almost as if in answer, the humans return to Earth amidst the battle...

Orion flies out into the abyss of space where he finds Darkseid standing atop a single meteor in space. His father offers Orion a simple deal: join him and they can rule the universe together. This isn't an offer Orion is now or ever willing to accept.

Darkseid tells Orion that the device threatening Earth should he die is now gone. "You realize then we must have an ending to this struggle," he says. "A death, either yours or mine."

Darkseid delivers the first strike, one powerful to send Orion reeling. he flies off into space as our issue ends, an epic battle in our future!

With two pages less than a normal issue of Return of the New Gods, this is effectively another full issue of the series. Though the conflict grows deeper, little changes between this issue and the last however as the creative team seeks to let the new readers in on what they missed in the cancelled series. Still, Conway never insults the readers' intelligence and Newton provides more of the amazing visuals he's shown off in previous stories.

Next up, we reach the conclusion of this epic, so be here next time for as the next issue plug here simply says: "THE END!"