Crisis on Multiple Earths volume 1


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & Sid Greene (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-895-2

As I’ve frequently mentioned before, I was one of the “Baby Boomer” crowd which grew up with Julie Schwartz, Gardner Fox and John Broome’s tantalisingly slow reintroduction of Golden Age superheroes during the halcyon, eternally summery days of the early 1960s. To me those fascinating counterpart crusaders from Earth-Two weren’t vague and distant memories rubber-stamped by parents or older brothers – they were cool, fascinating and enigmatically new.

…And for some reason the “proper” heroes of Earth-One held them in high regard and treated them with obvious deference…

The transcendent wonderment began, naturally enough, in The Flash; pioneering trendsetter of the Silver Age Revolution. After successfully ushering in the triumphant return of the superhero concept, the Scarlet Speedster – with Fox & Broome at the writing reins – set an unbelievably high standard for costumed adventure in sharp, witty tales of science and imagination, always illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

The epochal epic that literally changed the scope of American comics forever was Fox’s ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123 September 1961, and reprinted in loads of places, but not here): introducing the concept of alternate Earths to the continuity and by extension the multiversal structure of the future DCU as well as all the succeeding cosmos-shaking yearly “Crisis” sagas that grew from it.

Moreover, where DC led, others followed…

Received with tumultuous acclaim, the concept was revisited months later in Flash #129 which also teasingly reintroduced evergreen stalwarts – Wonder Woman, the Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary: venerable members of the fabled Justice Society of America. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…

That tale directly led into the veteran team’s first meeting with the Justice League of America and the start of an annual tradition. When ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ brought us the notion of Infinite Earths and multiple iterations of costumed crusaders, public pressure had begun almost instantly to agitate for the return of the Greats of the “Golden Age”. The Editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, fearing too many heroes would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet, put readers off. If they could see us now…

These innovative adventures generated an avalanche of popular and critical approval (big sales figures, too) so inevitably the trans-dimensional tests led to the ultimate team-up in the summer of 1963.

This gloriously enthralling volume – available in trade paperback and digital incarnations – is the first of a glorious sequence of collections celebrating Infinite Diversity in Infinite Costumes (extra fanboy kudos if you get where I filched that from!) and re-presents the first four JLA/JSA convocations: stunning superhero wonderments which never fail to astound and delight. It also comes with context-conveying Introduction ‘1 & 2 = Crisis’ from wonder-scribe Mark Waid detailing even more cool facts behind the phenomenon…

The comic book catharsis commences with the landmark ‘Crisis on Earth-One’ and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (from Justice League of America #21-22, August & September 1963) combining to form one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most crucial tales in American literature: at least the stuff with pictures in it.

Written by Fox and compellingly illustrated by Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs, the yarn finds a coalition of assorted villains from each Earth plundering at will, meeting and defeating the mighty Justice League before insufferably imprisoning them in their own secret mountain HQ…

Temporarily helpless, “our” heroes contrive a desperate plan to combine forces with the champions of another Earth to save the world – both of it – and the result is pure Fights ‘n’ Tights majesty.

It’s impossible for me to be totally objective about this saga. I was a drooling kid in short trousers when I first read it and the thrills haven’t diminished with this umpty-first re-reading.

This is what superhero comics are all about!

The buying public clearly agreed and one year later ‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ (Justice League of America #29-30) reprised the team-up of the Justice League and Justice Society, when the super-beings of a third alternate Earth discover the secret of trans-universal travel.

Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are villains on a world without heroes who see the costumed crime-busters of the JLA/JSA as living practise dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon.

With this cracking thriller the annual summer get-together became solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless entertainment for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been.

(A little note: although the comic cover-date in America was the month by which unsold copies had to be returned – the “off-sale” deadline – export copies to Britain travelled as ballast in freighters. Thus, they usually went on to those cool, spinning comic-racks in the actual month printed on the front. You can unglaze your eyes and return to the review proper now, and thank you for your patient indulgence of an old and misty-eyed man…)

The third annual event was a touch different; a largely forgotten and rather experimental tale wherein the educationally-challenged and extremely larcenous Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 wrests control of the genie-like Thunderbolt from his otherworld counterpart: employing its magical powers to change the events which created of all Earth-1’s superheroes.

With Earth-1 catastrophically altered in #37’s ‘Earth – Without a Justice League’, it’s suddenly up to the JSA to save the day in a gripping battle of wits and power before Reality is re-established in #38’s concluding chapter ‘Crisis on Earth-A!’.

Veteran inker Bernard Sachs retired before the fourth team-up, leaving the amazing Sid Greene to embellish the gloriously whacky saga that closes this tome: one springing out of the global “Batmania” craze engendered by the Batman television series…

A wise-cracking campy tone was fully in play, acknowledging the changing audience profile and this time the stakes are raised to encompass the destruction of both planets in ‘Crisis Between Earth-One and Earth-Two’ and ‘The Bridge Between Earths’ (Justice League of America #46-47, August & September 1966).

Here a bold – if rash – continuum warping experiment drags the twin sidereal worlds towards an inexorable hyper-space collision. Meanwhile, making matters worse, an awesome anti-matter being uses the opportunity to break into and explore our positive-matter universe whilst the heroes of both worlds are distracted by the destructive rampages of monster-men Blockbuster and Solomon Grundy.

Peppered with wisecracks and “hip” dialogue, it’s sometimes difficult to discern what a cracking yarn this actually is, but if you’re able to forgive or swallow the dated patter, this is one of the very best plotted and illustrated stories in the entire JLA/JSA canon. Furthermore, the vastly talented Greene’s expressive subtlety, beguiling textures and whimsical humour add unheard-of depth to Sekowsky’s pencils and the light and frothy comedic scripts of Fox.

These titanic tales won’t suit everybody and I’m as aware as any that in terms of the “super-powered” genre the work here can be boiled down to two bunches of heroes formulaically getting together to deal with extra-extraordinary problems. In mature hindsight, it’s obviously also about sales and the attempted revival of more sellable super characters during a period of intense commercial competition between DC Comics and Marvel.

But I don’t have to be mature in my off-hours and for those who love costumed dramas, who crave these cunningly constructed modern mythologies and actually care, this is simply a grand parade of straightforward action, great causes and momentous victories.

…And since I wouldn’t have it any other way, why should you?
© 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA Classified: New Maps of Hell


By Warren Ellis, Jackson Guice & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0944-5 (TPB)

It’s been quite a while since we covered a good old-fashioned straightforward and no-strings-attached superhero blockbuster: one which any old punter can pick up with no worry over continuity or identification and where good guys and bad guys are clearly defined.

That’s due in large part to the fact that nobody really does those anymore, but at least it gives me the opportunity to take another look at a tale I didn’t much like when it first came out in 2006, but which has definitely grown on me with every re-read.

Produced at a time when the Justice League of America was enjoying immense popularity and benefiting from a major reboot courtesy of Grant Morrison, this politically-barbed, end-of-the-world epic – starring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Oracle and Martian Manhunter – originally ran in issues #10-15 of spin-off title JLA Classified (cover-dated September 2005 to February 2006), with gritty futurist super-scribe Warren Ellis upping the angst-quotient on a hoary old plot whilst hyper-realist illustrator Jackson Guice adds a terrifying veracity to events.

The drama begins as Clark Kent and wife Lois Lane stumble onto a dirty little secret. Assorted, and one would assume unconnected, scientists and bean-counters at President Luthor’s Lexcorp conglomerate have been committing suicide in large numbers and now, the intrepid reporters suspect something very nasty is going on…

In Gotham City, Batman learns the police have been turned away from an extremely unconventional crime-scene by Feds and a private security company, and he too starts digging…

In the Bermuda triangle, a group of researchers are invited to the Amazon’s ancient library of knowledge only to die when the sky-floating island explodes in a horrendous detonation.

Legacy Flash Wally West has terrible dreams of his beloved predecessor Barry Allen which lead him to a similar catastrophic conflagration, whilst Green Lantern Kyle Rayner ruminates on a primordial legend of the Corps’ origins until a wave of explosions rouse him to action.

In the ruins of each disaster the scattered, hard-pressed heroes find an ancient parchment of alien hieroglyphs and, when Superman recovers another page of the same from the shredded remnants of a plummeting space station, the call goes out to activate the League…

Tasking cyber-savant Oracle and aged Martian sole survivor J’onn J’onzz with uncovering information, the team learn of an antediluvian scourge which wracked the red planet millions of years past. A God/Devil which tested a species right to survive and heralded its coming through a written code…

Moreover, Luthor’s scientists have found such writings in remnants of ancient Sumeria and begun deciphering the text…

Mobilising to stop the summoning, our heroes confront Luthor in the White House but are too late. In Las Vegas the bowels of Hell vomit horrors into the streets and as the frantic super squad rush to battle they are snatched up, separated by the malign entity which has spent eons traversing the universe testing the worth of intelligent races and individually putting them to their sorest tests.

However, the monstrous terror has never faced beings like the JLA before, or a mind like Batman’s, and soon the horror’s own darkest secret is exposed and its fatal weakness exploited to devastating effect…

With a painted cover gallery by Michael Stribling, this book – now also available in eBook formats – offers simple, solid Fights ‘n’ Tights fun gilded with a sly and cynical post-modern edge: a sound example of costumed action blockbuster comics at their best.
© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA Deluxe volume 7


By Joe Kelly, Rick Veitch, Dennis O’Neill, Doug Mankhe, Duncan Rouleau, Tang Eng Huat, ChrissCross, Darryl Banks & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1 4012 5528 2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Festive Fights ‘n’ Tights Fun… 8/10

When the Justice League of America – driving force and cornerstone of the Silver Age of Comics – were relaunched in 1997 the sheer bravura quality of the stories propelled the series back to the forefront of industry attention, making as many new fans as it recaptured old ones; but the intoxicating sheen of “fresh and new” never lasts and by the time of these tales there had been numerous changes of creative personnel – usually a bad omen…

However, Joe Kelly’s tenure proved to be a marvellous blend of steadying hand and iconoclastic antics through which the JLA happily maintained their tricky task of keeping excitement levels stoked for a fan-base cursed with a criminally short attention span.

Kelly’s run on the series has some notable highs (and lows) and this portmanteau collection (gathering issues #77-93 of the monthly comicbook, spanning March 2003 – April 2004) happily falls into the former category as the team readjust to modern life after their time-lost traumas experienced in the Obsidian Age (see the previous volume of this enthralling deluxe series).

However, the adventure actually kicks off with an impressive, clever and fast-paced fill-in tale from Rick Veitch, Darryl Banks & Wayne Faucher wherein the team – Superman, Batman, Atom, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern John Stewart and Firestorm – are attacked by a civilisation-crushing cosmic wanderer which achieves its goals by invading brains and stealing knowledge in ‘Stardust Memories’

That threat successfully circumvented, the World’s Greatest Superheroes learn of an interplanetary conflict that looks likely to divide the team forever in the eponymous two-parter ‘Rules of Engagement’ by Kelly, Doug Mankhe & Tom Nguyen.

With half the team travelling, uninvited, many light-years to stop a war, the remainder of the JLA stay back to police Earth, giving the opportunity to add some long-missed sub-plots to the usually straightforward storytelling; specifically, some unpleasant hints into new member Faith’s clouded past, a long-deferred romantic dinner for Bruce Wayne and Amazonian Princess Diana and the beginnings of a very hot time for the Martian Manhunter with fiery potential paramour Scorch

On the distant world of Kylaq, Leaguers Superman, Wonder Woman, Manitou Raven, Major Disaster, GL Stewart and mystery girl Faith act unilaterally to prevent the invasion of the Peacemaker Collective. The champions are keenly aware that once they succeed, they must leave the rescued world to the mercies of its own highly suspect government… especially Defense Minister Kanjar Ro, intergalactic slave-trader and one of their oldest, most despotic foes…

We then get some hints into Faith’s shady background as the reunited team are called to an Oregon cult compound where a new Messiah has created Safe Haven: a separatist enclave for metahuman children in the first chapter of socially-controversial thriller ‘The White Rage’.

Unfortunately, the Federal Authorities are not prepared to leave them alone and the resultant clash of ideologies leaves a thousand dead children on the crippled consciences of the devastated superheroes…

Yet something isn’t right: why does each JLA-er believe that they alone are responsible for the massacre? Moreover, what is the actual goal of master manipulator Manson and how does neo-Nazi taskforce Axis America fit into the scheme?

The action-packed mystery saga comes courtesy of Kelly, Duncan Rouleau & Aaron Sowd and is followed by a chilling change of pace in ‘American Nightmare’ by Joe Kelly, Chris Cross & Tom Nguyen.

Clean, clear-cut, high-concept tales here give way to more involved, even convoluted storyline and an increasing dependence on other series’ and characters’ continuity. After an alien telepathic presence puts American President Lex Luthor into a brain-dead coma before assaulting the entire League, investigations lead to an alien incursion more than twenty thousand years ago the in epic 6-part ‘Trial by Fire’ with Doug Mahnke pencilling the chilling proceedings.

During the ice age a monstrous presence was defeated at huge cost by a band of cavemen led by the League’s oldest foe, but it appears that the diabolical beast known as The Burning might not have died forever…

Ranging back even further in DC history it appears that the Guardians of the Universe, immortal taskmasters of the Green Lantern Corps, were involved in the creation of The Burning, and their dispassionate, implacable genetic meddling may have been instrumental in the origins, rise and potential fall of one of Earth’s greatest heroes…

Plagued by cruelly debilitating visions and psychic assaults, as are a sizable portion of humanity, the heroes are desperately struggling as one of their own is possessed by the malevolent entity Fernus who is only seconds away from turning the entire world into a radioactive cinder.

Can the JLA get their act together in time to prevent Armageddon? Of course they can, but not without paying a brutal, tragic price…

A palate-cleansing change of pace follows as ‘Perchance’ (Kelly, ChrissCross & Nguyen) resolves the Batman/Wonder Woman romantic entanglement in a most imaginative manner…

Wrapping up the team-tribulations is a return for veteran scribe Dennis O’Neill who reveals how a phenomenally powerful and benevolent alien returns to Earth after eons away.

Illustrated by Tang Eng Huat, ‘Extinction Part 1: The Coming’ relates how the voyager is checking in on the species he felt was destined to evolve into the planet’s dominant species. The JLA are quite perplexed and very nervous about how to tactfully explain that mankind have almost hunted the silver masked monkey into oblivion…

Things get even more tense in ‘Extinction Part 2: The Lesson’ as the unwilling ambassadors try to convince the troubled tourist of the better qualities on Earth’s actual masters before events come to a cataclysmic head in ‘Soul Survivor’

The JLA has – in all its incarnations – a long history of starting strong but losing focus, and particularly of coasting by on past glories for extended periods. Luckily the New/Old Dog still had a few more tricks and a little life in it before the inevitable demise and reboot for the next generation after Final Crisis.
© 2003, 2004, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 4


By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8061-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Wholesome, Wholehearted Super-Action… 8/10

The day the Justice League of America was published marks the moment when superheroes truly made comicbooks their own particular preserve. Even though the popularity of masked champions has waxed and waned many times since 1960 and other genres have re-won their places on published pages, in the minds of America and the world, Comics Means Superheroes.

The JLA signalled that men – and even a few women – in capes and masks were back for good…

When Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956, his Rubicon move came a few years later with the uniting of these reconfigured mystery men into a team…

The JLA debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28 (cover-dated March 1960) and cemented the growth and validity of the revived sub-genre, consequently triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comicbooks and spreading to the rest of the world as the decade progressed.

Spanning June 1963 to September 1964, this latest full-colour paperback compendium of classics (also available digitally) re-presents issues #31-41 of the epochal first series with scripter Gardner Fox and illustrators Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs seemingly able to do no wrong…

And while we’re showing our gratitude, lets also salute stalwart letterer Gaspar Saladino for his herculean but unsung efforts to make the uncanny clear to us all…

The adventures here focus on the collective exploits of Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars, Green Arrow, The Atom, hip and plucky mascot Snapper Carr and latest inductee Hawkman as the team consolidate their hold on young hearts and minds whilst further transforming the entire nature of the American comicbook experience…

JLA #31 finally saw the induction of the Winged Wonder into ‘The World’s Greatest Superheroes’ – and not before time. However, in this ancient world of Boy’s Clubs and willing segregation, his dutiful wife and partner Shayera would have to wait for more than a decade before she herself was invited to join as Hawkgirl. Hawkman would be the last successful inductee until Black Canary joined the team in #75.

‘Riddle of the Runaway Room’ sees an alien wish-granting machine fall into the hands of second-rate thug Joe Parry, who nonetheless makes life pretty tough for the team before their eventual victory over his bizarre amalgamized multi-powered villain Super-Duper (no, really!).

The visually impressive Hawkman must have been popular with the creators, if not the fans, as he was prominently featured in all but one of next half-dozen adventures. Issue #32’s ‘Attack of the Star-Bolt Warrior!’ introduces the uncanny villain Brain Storm who attacks the League to avenge his brother who had been “murdered” by one of their number!

The entire universe was once again at stake in time-travelling thriller ‘Enemy from the Timeless World’ as the team strive to counter a chronal monster dubbed the Endless One, after which a persistent old foe had yet another go in #34’s ‘The Deadly Dreams of Doctor Destiny!’: a thriller packed with an army of guest-villains.

The team are attacked by their own clothes in issue #35’s supernatural adventure ‘Battle Against the Bodiless Uniforms’, a devilish fall-back plan concocted by the antediluvian demons Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast, which had been slowly percolating since the end of JLA #11.

Issue #36’s ‘The Case of the Disabled Justice League’ sees the team raise the morale of despondent kids with disabilities by overcoming their own recently-inflicted physical handicaps to defeat the returning Brain Storm. This tale was in fact inspired by ‘A Place in the World’, a Justice Society of America adventure from 1945’s All Star Comics #27. That yarn was produced at a time when returning servicemen, maimed and disfigured in combat, were becoming an increasingly common sight on the streets of America…

The third annual JLA/JSA team-up follows, a largely forgotten and rather experimental tale wherein the Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 wrests control of the genie-like Thunderbolt from his Justice Society counterpart and uses its magic to alter the events that led to the creation of all Earth-1’s superheroes.

Then it’s JSA to the rescue in a gripping battle of wits in #37’s ‘Earth – Without a Justice League’ and the concluding ‘Crisis on Earth-A!’

Issue #39 was an Eighty-Page Giant reprinting Brave and the Bold #28 and #30 and Justice League of America #5 (represented here by its evocative cover), so we jump to #40 and the ‘Indestructible Creatures of Nightmare Island’: a challenging mystery wherein an astral scientist’s machine to suppress Man’s basest instincts almost causes the end of humanity. The result is an action-packed psycho-thriller stuffed with villainous guest-stars and oodles of action before this compendium concludes with JLA #41 which introduces a modern version of an old Justice Society villain.

The Earth-1 mastermind called The Key is a diabolical scientist who employs mild-altering psycho-chemicals to control the behaviour of our heroes in ‘The Key – Master of the World!’

With iconic covers by Sekowsky & Murphy Anderson, these tales are a perfect example of all that was best about the Silver Age of comics, combining optimism and ingenuity with bonhomie and adventure. This slice of better times also has the benefit of cherishing wonderment whilst actually being historically valid for any fan of our medium. And best of all the stories here are still captivating and enthralling transports of delight.

These classical compendia are a dedicated fan’s delight: an absolute gift for modern readers who desperately need to catch up without going bankrupt. They are also perfect to give to youngsters as an introduction into a fabulous world of adventure and magic…
© 1964, 1965, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA: Zatanna’s Search


By Gardner Fox & various (DC Comics/Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0188-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless and Magical… 8/10

With Julius Schwartz and John Broome, writer extraordinaire Gardner Fox built the Silver Age of comics and laid the foundations of the modern DC universe. He was also a canny innovator and one of the earliest proponents of extended storylines which have since become so familiar to us as “braided crossovers.”

A qualified lawyer, Fox began his comics career in the Golden Age on major and minor features, working in every genre and for most companies. One of the B-list strips he scripted was Zatara; a magician-hero in the Mandrake mould who had fought evil and astounded audiences in the pages of Action and World’s Finest Comics for over a decade, beginning with the very first issues (to be completely accurate the latter’s premiere performance was entitled World’s Best Comics #1, but whatever the book’s name, the top-hatted and suavely tailed and tailored trickster was there…)

Zatara fell from favour at the end of the 1940s, fading from memory like so many other outlandish crime-crushers. In 1956 Editor Schwartz reinvented the superhero genre and reintroduced costumed characters based on the company’s past pantheon. Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and The Atom were refitted for the sleek, scientific atomic age, and later their legendary predecessors were reincarnated and returned as denizens of an alternate Earth.

As the experiment became a trend and then inexorable policy, surviving heroes such as Superman, Batman, Green Arrow, Aquaman and Wonder Woman were retrofitted to match the new world order. The Superhero was back and the public appetite seemed inexhaustible.

For their next trick Fox & Schwartz turned to the magician and presumably found him wanting. Rather than condemn him to Earth-2 they created the first “legacy hero” by having Zatara vanish from sight and introduced his daughter, set on a far-reaching quest to find him. Zatanna debuted in Hawkman #4 (October-November 1964) illustrated by the great Murphy Anderson in a tale entitled ‘The Girl who Split in Two’.

Following a mystical trail and wearing a variation of Zatara’s garb the plucky but impatient lass had divided her body and travelled simultaneously to Ireland and China, but lapsed into paralysis until Hawkman and Hawkgirl answered her distress call.

Although nobody knew it at the time she appeared next as a villain in Detective Comics #336 (February 1965). ‘Batman’s Bewitched Nightmare’ found a broom-riding old crone attacking the Dynamic Duo at the command of mutant super-threat The Outsider in a stirring yarn drawn by Bob Kane and Joe Giella.

Current opinion is that this wasn’t originally intended as part of the epic, but when the quest was resolved in Justice League of America #51 at the height of TV inspired “Batmania”, a very slick piece of back-writing was necessary to bring the high-profile Caped Crusader into the storyline.

Gil Kane & Sid Greene illustrated the next two chapters in the saga; firstly in ‘World of the Magic Atom’ (Atom #19, June-July 1965), wherein Mystic Maid and Tiny Titan battle Zatara’s old nemesis the Druid in the microcosmic world of Catamoore, and then later with the Emerald Gladiator in an extra-dimensional realm on ‘The Other Side of the World!’ (Green Lantern #42, January 1966).

Here the malevolently marauding, potentially Earth-dominating Warlock of Ys is eventually overcome after a mighty struggle and compelled to reveal further clues in the trail.

The Elongated Man starred in a long-running back-up feature in Detective Comics, and from #355 (September 1966, pencilled and inked by Carmine Infantino) ‘The Tantalizing Trouble of the Tripod Thieves!’ revealed how the search for a stolen eldritch artefact brought the young sorceress closer to her goal, and the search concluded in spectacular and fabulously satisfying fashion with the aforementioned JLA tale ‘Z – As in Zatanna – and Zero Hour!’ (#51, February 1967).

With art from the incomparable team of Mike Sekowsky & Sid Greene, all the heroes who aided her are transported to another mystical plane to fight in a classic battle of good versus evil, with plenty of cunning surprises for all and a happy ending at the end.

Collected here is a triumphant early and long-running experiment in continuity that remains one of the very best adventures of the Silver Age, featuring some of the period’s greatest creators at the peak of their powers.

This slim volume also has an enticing encore in store: following the mandatory cover gallery is a never before reprinted 10-page tale. ‘The Secret Spell!’ – by Gerry Conway, Romeo Tanghal & Vince Colletta – was originally seen in DC Blue Ribbon Digest #5 (November-December 1980) which revealed ‘Secret Origins of Super-Heroes’ and explores the hidden history of both father and daughter in a snappy, informative and inclusive manner.

Although a little hard to find now – and a top candidate to be arcanely transmogrified into an eBook – this is a superlative volume for fans of costumed heroes and would also make a wonderful tome to introduce newcomers to the genre.

© 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1980, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Metamorpho, the Element Man


By Bob Haney, Gardner Fox, Ramona Fradon, Joe Orlando, Sal Trapani, Charles Paris & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0762-5

By the time Metamorpho, the Element Man was introduced to the costumed hero-obsessed world the first vestiges of a certifiable boom were just becoming apparent. As such the light-hearted, almost absurdist take struck a Right-time, Right-place chord, blending far out adventure with tongue-in-cheek comedy.

The bold, brash Man of a Thousand Elements debuted in The Brave and the Bold #57 (December 1964/January 1965) and, after a follow-up try-out in the next issue, catapulted right into his own title for an eclectic and oddly engaging 17-issue run. Sadly, this canny monochrome compendium – collecting all those eccentric adventures plus team-up tales from B&B #66 and 68 and Justice League of America #42) – is currently the only archival collection available. Until someone rectifies that situation, at least you can revel in some truly enchanting black-&-white illustration…

Unlike most of these splendid Showcase editions, the team-up stories here are not re-presented in original publication order but closeted together at the back, so if stringent continuity is important to you, the always informative old-school credit-pages will enable you to navigate the wonderment in the correct sequence…

Sans dreary preamble the action commences with ‘The Origin of Metamorpho’ written by Bob Haney (who created the character and wrote everything here except the JLA story). The captivating art is by Ramona Fradon & Charles Paris and introduces glamorous he-man Soldier of Fortune Rex Mason, currently working as a globe-trotting artefact procurer and agent for ruthlessly acquisitive scientific genius/business tycoon Simon Stagg.

Mason is obnoxious and insolent but his biggest fault as far as his boss is concerned is that the mercenary dares to love and be loved by the millionaire’s only daughter Sapphire

Determined to rid himself of the impudent Mason, Stagg dispatches his potential son-in-law to retrieve a fantastic artefact dubbed the Orb of Ra from the lost pyramid of Ahk-Ton in Egypt. The tomb raider is accompanied only by Java, a previously fossilised Neanderthal corpse Rex had discovered in a swamp and which (whom?) Stagg had subsequently restored to full life. Mason plans to take his final fabulous fee and whisk Sapphire away from her controlling father forever, but fate and his companion have other ideas…

Utterly faithful to the scientific wizard who was his saviour, Java sabotages the mission and leaves Mason to die in the tomb, victim of an ancient, glowing meteor. The man-brute rushes back to his master, carrying the Orb and fully expecting Stagg to honour his promise and give him Sapphire in marriage…

Trapped, knowing his time has come; Mason swallows a suicide pill as the scorching rays of the star-stone burn through him…

Instead of death relieving his torment Rex is mutated into a ghastly chemical freak capable of shape-shifting and transforming into any of the elements or compounds that comprised the human body: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, calcium, iron, cobalt and so many others…

Hungry for vengeance, Mason follows and confronts his betrayers only to be overcome by the alien energies of the Orb of Ra. An uneasy détente is declared as Mason accepts Stagg’s desperate offer to cure him …“if possible”.

The plutocrat is further horrified when Rex reveals his condition to Sapphire and finds she still loves him. Totally unaware of Stagg’s true depths of duplicity, Mason starts working for the tycoon as metahuman problem-solver Metamorpho, the Element Man.

Brave and the Bold #58 (February-March 1965) reveals more of Stagg’s closeted skeletons when old partner Maxwell Tremayne kidnaps the Element Man and later abducts Sapphire to his ‘The Junkyard of Doom!’ Apparently, the deranged armaments manufacturer was once intimately acquainted with the girl’s mother and never quite got over it…

The try-out comics were an unqualified success and Metamorpho promptly debuted in his own title, cover-dated July-August 1965, just as the wildly tongue-in-cheek “High Camp” craze was catching on in all areas of popular culture; blending ironic vaudevillian kitsch with classic movie premises as theatrical mad scientists and scurrilous spies began to appear everywhere.

‘Attack of the Atomic Avenger’ sees nuclear nut-job Kurt Vornak trying to crush Stagg Industries, only to be turned into a deadly, planet-busting radioactive super-atom, after which ‘Terror from the Telstar’ pits the charismatic cast against Nicholas Balkan, a ruthless criminal boss set on sabotaging America’s Space Program.

Mad multi-millionaire T.T. Trumbull then uses his own daughter Zelda to get to Simon Stagg through his heart, accidentally proving to everyone who knew him that the old goat actually has one. This was part of the maniac’s attempt to seize control of America in ‘Who Stole the U.S.A.?’, but the ambitious would-be despot backed up the scheme with an incredible robot specifically designed to destroy Metamorpho.

Happily, Rex Mason’s guts and ingenuity proved more effective than the Element Man’s astonishing powers…

America saved, the dysfunctional family head South of the Border, becoming embroiled in ‘The Awesome Escapades of the Abominable Playboy’ as Stagg tries to marry Sapphire off to Latino Lothario Cha Cha Chavez. The wilful girl is simply trying to make Mason jealous and had no idea of her dad’s true plans; Stagg senior has no conception of Chavez’s real intentions or connections to the local tin-pot dictator…

With this issue the gloriously stylish Ramona Fradon left the series, to be replaced by two artists who strove to emulate her unique, gently madcap manner of drawing with varying degrees of success. Luckily veteran inker Charles Paris stayed on to smooth out the rough edges…

First up was E.C. veteran Joe Orlando whose 2-issue tenure began with outrageous doppelganger drama ‘Will the Real Metamorpho Please Stand Up?’ wherein eccentric architect Edifice K. Bulwark tries to convince Mason to lend his abilities to his chemical skyscraper project. When Metamorpho declines Bulwark and Stagg attempt to create their own Element Man… with predictably disastrous consequences.

‘Never Bet Against an Element Man!’ (#6 May-June 1966) took the team to the French Riviera as gambling grandee Achille Le Heele snookers Stagg and wins “ownership” of Metamorpho. The Creepy Conchon’s ultimate goal necessitated stealing the world’s seven greatest wonders (such as the Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower) and, somehow, only the Element Man can make that happen…

Sal Trapani took over pencilling with #7’s ‘Terror from Fahrenheit 5,000!’ as the acronymic super-spy fad hits hard. Metamorpho is enlisted by the C.I.A. to stop suicidal maniac Otto Von Stuttgart destroying the entire planet by dropping a nuke into the Earth’s core, before costumed villain Doc Dread is countered by an undercover Metamorpho becoming ‘Element Man, Public Enemy!’ in a diabolical caper of doom and double-cross…

Metamorpho #9 shifted into the realm of classic fantasy when suave and sinister despot El Mantanzas maroons the cast in ‘The Valley That Time Forgot!’: battling cavemen and antediluvian alien automatons, after which a new catalysing element is added in ‘The Sinister Snares of Stingaree!’

This yarn introduces Urania Blackwell – a secret agent somehow transformed into an Element Girl and sharing all Metamorpho’s incredible abilities. Not only is she dedicated to eradicating evil such as criminal cabal Cyclops, but Urania is also the perfect paramour for Rex Mason…

He even cancels his wedding to Sapphire to go gang-busting with her…

With a new frisson of sexual chemistry sizzling beneath the surface, ‘They Came from Beyond?’ finds the conflicted Element Man confronting an apparent alien invasion whilst ‘The Trap of the Test-Tube Terrors!’ provides another attempt to cure Rex of his unwanted powers. This allows mad scientist Franz Zorb access to Stagg Industry labs long enough to build an army of chemical horrors…

The plot thickens with Zorb’s theft of a Nucleonic Moleculizer, prompting a continuation in #14 wherein Urania is abducted only to triumphantly experience ‘The Return from Limbo’

Events and stories grew increasingly outlandish and outrageous as the TV superhero craze intensified and ‘Enter the Thunderer!’ (#14, September/October 1967) depicted Rex pulled between Sapphire and Urania as marauding extraterrestrial Neutrog terrorises the planet in preparation for the awesome arrival of his mighty mutant master.

The next instalment heralded an ‘Hour of Armageddon!’ as the uniquely menacing Thunderer takes control of Earth until boy genius Billy Barton assists the Elemental defenders in defeating the mutant horror.

Trapani inked himself for Metamorpho #16; an homage to H. Rider Haggard’s She novels wherein ‘Jezeba, Queen of Fury!’ changes the Element Man’s life forever.

When Sapphire marries playboy Wally Bannister, the heartbroken Element Man undertakes a mission to find the lost city of Ma-Phoor. Here he encounters an undying beauty who wants to conquer the world and just happens to be Sapphire’s exact double.

Moreover, the immortal empress of a lost civilisation had once loved an Element Man of her own: a Roman soldier named Algon transformed into a chemical warrior two millennia previously.

Believing herself reunited with her lost love, Jezeba finally launches her long-delayed attack on the outside world with disastrous, tragic consequences…

The strangely appetising series came to a shuddering and unsatisfactory halt with the next issue as the superhero bubble burst and costumed comic characters suffered their second recession in fifteen years. Metamorpho was one of the first casualties, cancelled just as (or perhaps because) the series was emerging from its quirky comedic shell with the March-April 1968 issue.

Illustrated by Jack Sparling, ‘Last Mile for an Element Man!’ sees Mason tried and executed for the murder of Wally Bannister, resurrected by Urania Blackwell and set on the trail of true killer Algon. Along the way, Mason and Element Girl uncover a vast, incredible conspiracy and rededicate themselves to defending humanity at all costs.

The tale ends on a never-resolved cliffhanger: when Metamorpho was revived a few years later no mention was ever made of these last game-changing issues…

The elemental entertainment doesn’t end here though as this tome somewhat expiates the frustrating denouement with three terrific team-up tales beginning with The Brave and the Bold #66 (June/July 1966) and ‘Wreck the Renegade Robots’ where a mad scientist usurps control of the Metal Men just as their creator Will Magnus is preoccupied turning Metamorpho back into an ordinary mortal…

Two issues later (B& B #68 October/November 1966) the still Chemically Active Crime-buster battles Bat-Baddies Penguin, Joker and Riddler as well as a fearsomely mutated Caped Crusader in the thoroughly bizarre ‘Alias the Bat-Hulk!’ – both tales coming courtesy of Haney, Mike Sekowsky & Mike Esposito.

Sekowsky also drew the last story in this volume. Justice League of America #42 (February 1966) sees the hero joyfully join the World’s Greatest Superheroes to defeat a cosmic menace deemed The Unimaginable. The grateful champions instantly offer him membership but are astounded when – and why – ‘Metamorpho Says… No!’: a classic adventure written by Gardner Fox and inked by Bernard Sachs.

The wonderment finally concludes with a sterling pin-up of the Element Man and his core cast by Fradon & Paris.

Individually enticing, always exciting but oddly frustrating in total, this book will delight readers who aren’t too wedded to cloying continuity but simply seek a few moments of casual, fantastic escapism.
© 1965-1967, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Black Lightning volume two


By Dennis O’Neil, Gerry Conway, J.M. DeMatteis, Martin Pasko, Paul Kupperberg, Dick Dillin, George Tuska, Rick Buckler, Marshall Rogers, Mike Netzer/Nasser, Romeo Tanghal, Joe Staton, Pat Broderick, Dick Giordano, Gerald Forton & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7546-4

Black Lightning was DC’s first African American superhero to star in his own solo title, which launched in 1977…

When former Olympic decathlete Jefferson Pierce returned to the streets of Suicide Slum, Metropolis to teach at inner city Garfield High School, he was determined to make a real difference to the disadvantaged and often troubled kids he used to be numbered amongst. However, when he interrupted a drug buy on school grounds and sent the dealer packing, he opened everyone around him to mob vengeance and personal tragedy…

When the ruling racketeers – an organised syndicate dubbed The 100 – came seeking retaliation, one of Pierce’s students paid the ultimate price. The traumatised teacher realised he needed the shield of anonymity if he was to win justice and safety for his beleaguered home and charges…

Happily, tailor Peter Gambi – who had raised Jefferson and taken care of his mother after the elder Pierce was murdered – had a few useful ideas and inexplicable access to some pretty far-out technology…

Soon, equipped with a strength-&-speed-enhancing forcefield belt and costume, plus a mask and wig that completely changed his appearance, a fierce new vigilante stalked the streets of Metropolis…

Now with the urban avenger the star of his own television series, those early groundbreaking adventures have been gathered into a series of astoundingly accessible, no-nonsense trade paperback and eBook collections.

This second outing gathers a flurry of back-up and guest appearances from May 1979 to October 1980, gathered from various titles where the urban avenger prowled after his solo title folded. They cumulatively comprise World’s Finest Comics #256-259 and #261, DC Comics Presents #16, Justice League of America #173-174, Detective Comics #490-491 and #495-495 and The Brave and the Bold #163 plus pertinent material from Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #3 (1985) and Who’s Who in the DC Universe #16 (1992).

Following an informative Introduction by character originator Tony Isabella reprising Black Lightning: The In-Between Years, the (relatively) down-to-earth superhero antics commence with ‘Encounter with a Dark Avenger!’ (by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Frank Chiaramonte, taken from World’s Finest Comics #256).

Here the electric warrior is manipulated into a potentially fatal confrontation with equally fervent urban vigilante Green Arrow. As the heroes clash neither is aware that the 100’s ousted boss Tobias Whale is behind their mutual woes…

That short yarn saw Black Lightning as GA’s guest star and served as a prelude to ‘Death Ransom!’ in WF #257, the beginning of Pierce’s second (strictly backup) series. Crafted by O’Neil, George Tuska & Bob Smith, it sees a fateful, brutal clash with The Whale and results in a wary ceasefire for the archenemies as they unite to destroy the swiftly rebuilding 100 cartel…

Of course, a scorpion’s gotta sting and the alliance only lasts one issue before Whale betrays Lightning’s trust and another innocent dies in ‘The Blood of the Lamb!’ (O’Neil, Rich Buckler & Romeo Tanghal, World’s Finest #258)…

World’s Finest #259 provides a labyrinthine conundrum as the hero and a horde of gunman act on a deathbed tip-off and converge on a seedy welfare hotel that might be ‘The Last Hideout’ (O’Neil, Marshall Rogers, Michael Nasser/Netzer & Vince Colletta) of a legendary criminal and his ill-gotten gains. Sadly, only the masked hero cared about collateral casualties…

‘Return of the River Rat!’ (O’Neil, Tanghal & Colletta, World’s Finest #261) ended this back-up run on a mediocre note as school chaperone Jefferson Pierce is fortuitously on hand during a river cruise party just when an exiled mobster tries to sneak back into the USA by submarine…

A co-starring role in DC Comics Presents #16 (December 1979) then finds the street-smart urban avenger and Superman confronting a heartsick and violently despondent alien trapped on Earth for millennia in ‘The De-volver!’ (courtesy of O’Neil, Joe Staton & Frank Chiaramonte) after which the lone avenger gets a nod of approval from the Big Guns of Superheroing…

Justice League of America #173-174 (December 1979 and January 1980) offered a smart two-parter with a twist ending as the League try to induct the mysterious, unvetted vigilante.

After much fervent debate, they decide to set their still-unsuspecting candidate a little problem to prove his worth.

However, as a vermin-controlling maniac unleashes terror upon Metropolis, the ‘Testing of a Hero’ and ‘A Plague of Monsters’ (Gerry Conway, Dillin & Frank McLaughlin) takes the old recruitment drive into a very fresh direction and leads to disappointment all around…

Still Not Quite Popular Enough, the hero was found tenure in the more moody and grounded Detective Comics beginning with #490 (May 1980). Here Martin Pasko, Pat Broderick & McLaughlin reveal how ‘Lightning Strikes Twice Out!’ as a protracted clash with a ruthless Haitian gang led by Mama Mambu leads to his kidnap and the loss of his powers and gimmicks in concluding chapter ‘Short-Circuit’ (Detective #491).

A corrupt Senator stealing oil shipments to finance a private army and attempted takeover of America is brought down by separate-but-convergent investigations conducted by Black Lightning and Batman in ‘Oil, Oil… Nowhere’ (Paul Kupperberg & Dick Giordano; The Brave and The Bold #163, June 1980) after which J.M. DeMatteis & Gerald Forton assume creative control of the Lightning’s path in Detective Comics #494 Detective Comics #494.

‘Explosion of the Soul’ (September 1980) sees the streets haunted by a murderous junkie-killing vigilante, and all Pierce’s investigations seem to lead inexorably back to one of his students…

Ending on a dark note of tragedy, ‘Animals’ (DeMatteis & Forton, Detective #494) then sees the Suicide Slum School Olympics turned into a charnel house when a juvenile street gang seizes the girls’ hockey team and demands safe passage and new lives in Switzerland. When Black Lightning intercedes, not everybody gets out alive…

Supplemented with a cover gallery by Ross Andru, Giordano, Jim Aparo, Neal Adams & Dillin, and including fact-packed background and data pages about ‘Black Lightning’ from Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #3 (1985) and an updated entry from Who’s Who in the DC Universe #16 (1992) this potent package of fast-paced Fights ‘n’ Tights thrillers are so skilfully constructed that even the freshest neophyte will be able to settle in for the ride without any confusion and enjoy a self-contained rollicking rollercoaster of terrifically traditional superhero shenanigans.

So, what are you waiting for?
© 1979, 1980, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

JLA: A Midsummer’s Nightmare Deluxe edition


By Mark Waid, Fabian Nicieza, Jeff Johnson, Darick Robertson, John Holdredge, Hanibal Rodriguez & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7432-0 (HB)

There are many facets that contribute to the “perfect mix” in the creation of any continuing character in comics. How much more so then, when the idea is to build a superhero team that will stand out from the seething masses that already exist?

In the mid-1990s, the iconic squad which truly ushered in the return of superheroes to comics suffered one of its periodic plunges in quality and popularity and ignominiously folded.

Of course the Justice League of America is too hallowed, venerated and valuable to fester in oblivion for any length of time and was quickly reconvened in a fresh new interpretation which quickly became the breakout book of 1997, courtesy of Grant Morrison & Howard Porter.

However, the scene was set for them by a strikingly exuberant miniseries which acted as a reassessment and reintroduction of the World’s Greatest Superheroes. Since the Silver Age’s greatest team-book died a slow, painful, embarrassing death, not once but twice, DC were taking no chances with their next revival and tapped Big Ideas wunderkind Morrison to reconstruct the group and the franchise.

However, he was to a large extent riffing on groundwork laid by writers Mark Waid and Fabian Nicieza – as well as the impressive illustration of Jeff Johnson, Darick Robertson, John Holdredge & Hanibal Rodriguez – in a captivating no-nonsense miniseries which went a long way towards regenerating interest…

This slim sleek Deluxe celebration (collecting in both hardback and eBook editions, Justice League: Midsummer’s Nightmare #1-3 from September-November 1996) opens with an effusive Introduction from Morrison before a world of confusion is revealed in ‘True Lies’ wherein comicbook artist Kyle Rayner struggles to meet the deadline for his assignment. He can’t understand why anybody would want to read about whacky, fictitious masked mystery-men characters like Green Lantern when the entire planet is in the midst of a cosmic revolution.

All over earth humans are spontaneously developing super-powers as an inexplicable genetic “spark” triggers the next stage in evolution.

Millions of superhumans are manifesting with no rhyme or reason whilst others seem doomed to remain merely mundane. It’s like a comicbook plot come to life…

Amongst the ordinary mortals left behind are reporter Clark Kent, billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne, schoolteacher Diana Prince, college lecturer Wally West and corporate compliance officer Arthur Curry. Elsewhere, separated by immeasurable gulfs, scientist J’onn J’onzz leads an idyllic life under the skies of Mars with his wife and daughter…

The dreams of all these mortals are troubled. They have vague, impossible recollections of being colourful champions and indomitable heroes in a world filled with their like, not this savage situation where selfish “Sparkers”, intoxicated with newfound power, squabble and bicker like bullies and thugs in a primarily plebeian universe…

Meanwhile, in a hidden place, an immortal mastermind manipulates a super-villain the entire world has forgotten ever existed, using his potent power to reshape dreams to achieve an eons-long plan…

However, there’s far more to heroism than powers and each mentally diminished champion individually struggles to find the disturbing deeper truth they know has been somehow taken from them…

The spell of targeted amnesia starts to unravel when journalist Kent somehow survives being caught in a savage exchange between rival Sparker gangs. Shocked back to Kryptonian normality, he starts tracking down his vanished costumed contemporaries…

Elsewhere relative neophyte “Legacy Heroes” Wally and Kyle have their own epiphanic moments as the second chapter ‘To Know a Veil’ finds a restored Superman and Batman systematically unravelling the sinister plot.

In a hidden sanctum, Machiavellian Know Man further exploits the reality-warping gifts of his slave Doctor Destiny to manufacture a Sparker-squad specifically designed to eradicate the re-emergent heroes. During this time Aquaman and Wonder Woman have united with the World’s Finest team in time to be ambushed by an army of enhanced myrmidons. The battle is in no way certain until the fully-recovered and restored Flash and Green Lantern pile in…

After the inconclusive clash the reassembled heroes realise they need their old telepathic team-mate back and hunt for J’onzz, eventually dragging the Martian Manhunter from his perfect dream of paradise regained – in reality a seedy bunker at Roswell, New Mexico. Having lost his world and family a second time, J’onn is in no mind to be merciful with his anonymous abductors…

The saga kicks into terminal high gear with ‘Daze & Knights’ as Know Man’s tailor-made Sparker-squad attacks, only to fall as one before the brutal psychic assault of the furious and heartbroken Manhunter.

His mental capabilities then glean the whereabouts of their true foes from data buried by rebellious Dr. Destiny in Kyle’s subconscious and the fighting-mad team race off to a final confrontation with their hidden enemy…

Fast-paced, action-packed and breathtakingly bold, this galvanic tale pits the greatest champions in DC’s pantheon against an immortal enemy whose roots stem back to the earliest days of the universe is a gloriously baggage-free romp and a splendid jumping on point for readers new and old alike.

This fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights fable also includes a handy information section recapitulating and assessing the characters of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter, plus a gallery of covers from the original miniseries previous collections.
© 1996, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Legends – The 30th Anniversary Edition


By John Ostrander, Len Wein, John Byrne, Karl Kesel & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6316-4

With the success of Crisis on Infinite Earths and Marvel’s Secret Wars in the middle of the 1980s, comicbook publishers had grand dreams of regular and spectacular sales boosts, but a section of the cantankerous buying public muttered about gimmicks to make them spend more and voiced concerns about keeping the quality high.

At DC fan-interest was still fresh and keen as so many of their major properties – and indeed the entire continuity – was open for radical change, innovation and renewal. So, how best to follow the previous year’s cosmic catastrophe? Why not a much smaller and more personal Great Disaster, spotlighting those strangers wearing familiar costumes and a bunch of beginnings rather than the deaths and endings of Crisis?

Possibly the best and certainly the most cohesive of the numerous company-wide braided mega-series, Legends was a 6-issue miniseries cover-dated November 1986 through April 1987. Like its predecessor the major narrative thread spread out into other DC series, but unlike Crisis on Infinite Earths each tie-in was consecutively numbered and every pertinent cover was suitably badged. If you got ’em all you couldn’t help but read them in the right order!

The event crossed into 22 other comics and miniseries and premiered three new series, Justice League, Flash and the superb Suicide Squad. It even led to another new treatment for Billy Batson in a follow-up Shazam! miniseries whilst offering a tantalising sneak peek at the newly re-minted Wonder Woman

The drama opens in ‘Once Upon a Time…!’ as Evil New God Darkseid of Apokolips decides to attack humanity’s spirit by destroying the very concept of heroism and individuality. To this end he sends hyper-charismatic thrall Glorious Godfrey to America to lead a common man’s crusade against extraordinary heroes, whilst initiating individual plans intended to demoralize and destroy key champions of Earth. His first scalp is naïve, youthful Captain Marvel, who is deceived into believing his powers have accidentally killed an enemy after explosively confronting monstrous menace Macro-Man

As Darkseid’s flaming minion Brimstone ravages the nation – despite the best efforts of Firestorm, time-displaced Legionnaire Cosmic Boy and Justice League Detroit – the US government activates its own covert and illegal solution to the crisis.

Conceived and devised by civil servant Amanda Waller, a new Task Force X is brought into being: comprising volunteers such as Colonel Rick Flag and martial artist Bronze Tiger riding roughshod over convicted super-criminals all offered a pardon in return for secret services rendered…

As Godfrey’s influence spreads across America, inciting riots that hospitalise Boy Wonder Robin and drive Batman, Blue Beetle and Green Lantern Guy Gardner into hiding, ‘Breach of Faith!’ sees President Ronald Reagan respond to the rampant civil unrest by outlawing costumed crime-busters…

With heroes searching their consciences, unsure whether to comply or rebel, world-wide chaos ensues and Darkseid amps up the pressure. Sentient mountain of super-heated plasma Brimstone attempts to reduce national monument Mount Rushmore into molten slag only to be destroyed by America’s latest dirty secret in ‘Send for… the Suicide Squad!’

Meanwhile heartbroken Billy Batson – the juvenile alter ego of Captain Marvel – meets hero-worshipping Lisa. When her family take him in, he gains valuable insight and perspective on the ongoing calamity…

Things go from bad to worse in ‘Cry Havoc…!’ as the embargo emboldens numerous super-villains to go wild. This prompts many costumed heroes to ignore the Presidential Edict and go after them. As the Phantom Stranger faces Darkseid on Apokolips, immortal mystic Doctor Fate begins gathering select champions for the approaching final confrontation he foresees even as on Earth Godfrey makes a power grab using human-fuelled Apokoliptian Warhounds in ‘Let Slip the Dogs of War!’

All the disparate strands weave together in ‘Finale!’ as Fate’s new Justice League – aided by an enigmatic new hero calling herself Wonder Woman – stand fast against the destructive forces of anarchy: coming together to prevent the conquest of Mankind and erasure of its most vital beliefs…

The enthralling tale re-presented here can comfortably be read without the assorted spin-offs, crossovers and tie-ins, and it still feels like a magnificent mission statement for that new DC Universe: gritty, witty, cohesive and contemporary.

John Ostrander was new to DC, lured from Chicago’s First Comics with editor Mike Gold where their work on Starslayer, Munden’s Bar and especially Grimjack had made those independent minnows some of the most readable series of the decade.

Paired with veteran scripter Len Wein, whose familiarity with the DC stable ensured the scripts would have the right company flavour, they concocted a bold and controversial tale for super-star Superman re-creator John Byrne to draw and the immensely talented Karl Kesel to ink.

This 30th Anniversary edition (available in Trade paperback and eBook editions) comes with an informative Afterword from Mike Gold and full cover-gallery – including the original trade paperback collection cover – but regrettably neglects to retain the cover reproductions of each out-rider instalment of the greater story, as seen in the first edition. Should you feel like tracking down those missing components you’ll need to play comics detective on fan sites…

Who knows, maybe for the 40th Anniversary, DC will release a humongous, all-inclusive Absolute Omnibus Edition? Until then, why not simply kick back and enjoy an awesome slice of fabulous Fights ‘n’ Tights fun and fury?
© 1986, 1987, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Aquaman: A Celebration of 75 Years


By Mort Weisinger, Joe Samachson, Jack Miller, George Kashdan, Robert Bernstein, Steve Skeates, Gerry Conway, Paul Levitz, Peter David, David Michelinie, Rick Veitch, Geoff Johns, Cullen Bunn, Paul Norris, Louis Cazeneuve, Ramona Fradon, Nick Cardy, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Martin Egeland, Jim Calafiore, Yvel Guichet, Ivan Reis, Trevor McCarthy & others (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6446-8

Aquaman is that oddest of comicbook phenomena: a timeless survivor. One of the few superheroes to carry on in unbroken exploits since the Golden Age, the King of the Seas has endured endless cancellations, reboots and makeovers in the name of trendy relevance and fickle fashion but somehow has always rapidly recovered to come back fresher, stronger and more reinvigorated.

He’s also one of the earliest cartoon champions to make the jump to television…

Where many stronger features foundered – and although strictly a second stringer for most of his career – Aquaman nevertheless soldiered on long after the Golden Age ended: a rather nondescript and generally bland looking chap who solved maritime crimes, rescuing fish and people from sub-sea disaster.

This stunning compilation – part of a dedicated series introducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of veteran DC icons and concepts is available in hardback and digital formats, offering an all-too-brief but astoundingly enticing sequence of tantalising snapshots detailing how Aquaman has changed like the tides yet remains as constant as the endless seas.

Collecting material from More Fun Comics #73, 89, Adventure Comics #120, 174, 220, 260, 266, 269, 444, 452, 475, Aquaman volume 1 #1, 18, 40, Justice League of America Annual #2, Aquaman volume 2 #3, Aquaman volume 4 #2, 34, Aquaman volume 5 #4, 17, Aquaman volume 6 #1, 43, cumulatively covering April 1941 to October 2015.

These groundbreaking appearances are divided into specific eras, each preceded by brief critical analyses of the significant stages in his development, beginning with Part I 1941-1961: Making a Splash

As previously stated, Aquaman was one of the handful of costumed adventurers to survive the superhero collapse at the end of the Golden Age. He was created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris in the wake of and in response to Timely Comics’ Sub-Mariner, debuting in More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941) with an untitled tale latterly designated ‘The Submarine Strikes’ for this edition.

This salty sea saga sees survivors in lifeboats being rescued – and the brutal U-Boat commander responsible for their plight swiftly brought to justice – by a mysterious stranger who converses with porpoises. The golden saviour then reveals that he was made into a subsea superman by his scientist father; an explorer who had discovered all the secrets of lost, long-dead Atlantis…

Records are incomplete, sadly, so often we don’t know who wrote what, but for More Fun Comics #89 (March 1943), Louis Cazeneuve limns the marine marvel’s heated and ruthless battle against modern pirate Black Jack and ‘The Streamlined Buccaneers’, with Aquaman now commanding an army of varied sea creatures whilst ‘Aquaman Goes to College’ (Adventure Comics #120, September 1947 by Joe Samachson & Cazeneuve) sees the sea king sagaciously seeking to expand his knowledge of marine life only to become embroiled in collegiate sporting scandals…

By 1954 young Ramona Fradon (Metamorpho; Brenda Starr) had assumed the art chores, by which time Aquaman was settled like a barnacle in a regular Adventure Comics back-up slot offering slick, smart and extremely genteel aquatic action. She was to draw every single adventure until 1960, making the feature one of the best looking if only mildly thrilling hero strips of the era.

A fine example is ‘The Whale That Was Wanted for Murder’ (Adventure Comics #174, March 1952, and scripted by George Kashdan) wherein the hunt for a seemingly rogue cetacean leads our hero to a conniving smuggler…

Cover-dated January 1956, Adventure Comics #220, revealed how Aquaman saved the reputation of a disgraced naval aviator in ‘The Coward and the Hero’ (Jack Miller & Fradon) after which the Silver Age revival of superheroes caught up to the Sea King and led to a canny reboot in issue #260 (May 1959).

In 1956, Showcase #4 rekindled the public’s imagination and zest for costumed crime-fighters with a new iteration of the Flash. Enjoying a heated fan response, the editors sanctioned other re-imaginings of many departed Golden Age stalwarts, and also updated and remastered its isolated survivors, especially Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and Aquaman.

Thus, ‘How Aquaman Got His Powers’ by Robert Bernstein & Fradon, which retconned previous origins for a new tale of the offspring of a lighthouse keeper and exiled refugee from the undersea (and fully populated) city of Atlantis. Eventually all the trappings of the modern superhero followed: Themed hideout, sidekick, super-villains and even a civilian name – Arthur Curry!

Moreover, greater attention was paid to continuity and the concept of a shared universe…

In Adventure Comics #266, (November 1959) Bernstein & Fradon detailed how ‘Aquaman Meets Aquagirl!’: giving a little more information about fabled modern Atlantis whilst testing the waters (sorry!) for a possible sidekick – after all, the Sea King spent most of his time expositorially dialoguing with an octopus!

With #269, Adventure Comics #269, (February 1960) Bernstein & Fradon completed the formula by introducing permanent sidekick Aqualad. ‘The Kid from Atlantis!’ was a young, purple-eyed outcast from the mysterious city possessing the same powers as Aquaman but terrified of fish… at least until the Sea King applies a little firm but kindly psychology.

By the end of the tale the little guy has happily adapted and would help patrol the endless oceans – and add a child’s awestruck perspective to the mix – for nearly a decade thereafter.

The Sea King’s rise is charted in Part II 1962-19: The Sovereign of the Sea.

As the sixties unfolded, Aquaman was appearing as a back-up feature in Detective and World’s Finest Comics (until 1964); teamed up with Hawkman in Brave and the Bold # 51 and – following a try-out season in Showcase#30-33 – made the big jump. After two decades of continuous adventuring the marine marvel finally got his own comicbook.

Cover-dated January-February 1962, Aquaman #1 is a 25-page fantasy thriller introducing one of the most controversial supporting characters in comics lore. Pixie-like Water-Sprite Quisp was part of a strange trend for cute imps and elves that attached themselves to far too many heroes of the time, but his contributions in ‘The Invasion of the Fire-Trolls’ (by Miller & Nick Cardy) and succeeding issues were numerous and obviously calculated.

Now with his own title and soon a to be featured in the popular, groundbreaking cartoon show Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, the Finned Fury seemed destined for super-stardom. Moreover, the writers and editors were happy to embrace evolution and change…

Mere months after Aquaman met extradimensional princess Mera, she became ‘The Wife of Aquaman’ (by Miller & Cardy in Aquaman #18, December 1964): one of the first superhero weddings of the Silver Age and only possible after our hero defeats her obsessive, super-powered stalker Oceanus and frees Atlantis from his despotic grip. Talk about instant responsibilities…

A few years later scripter Steve Skeates and new illustrator Jim Aparo began an epic extended tale as the Sea Lord abandoned all kingly duties to hunt for Mera after she was abducted. The lengthy quest began with her being whisked away, leaving Aquaman and Aqualad to voyage to strange, distant undersea realms and here encountering ‘Sorcerers of the Sea’ (Aquaman #40, August 1968). The saga was a compelling one but frustratingly does not continue or conclude here…

As the decade closed superhero sales tanked in favour of other genres. The Sea King was again reduced to back-up duties in other titles, but the quality of his stories remained high.

‘And Death Before Dishonor’ by Paul Levitz, Gerry Conway & Aparo comes from Adventure Comics #444 (April 1976): the first chapter in another multi-part blockbuster with Aquaman forced to abdicate the rulership of Atlantis due to a conspiracy hatched by his half-brother Orm, the Ocean Master and a mysterious political player named Karshon who replaced him as King of Atlantis. The newcomer naturally had a horrific secret to conceal, but you won’t learn it here as we skip (following a brief feature on ‘The Aquafamily’) straight to Adventure Comics #452, (August 1977) where David Michelinie & Aparo orchestrate the darkest day in Aquaman’s life as ‘Dark Destiny, Deadly Dreams’ finds him fighting both his friends and greatest foe Black Manta. Tragically, despite his greatest efforts, he fails to save the one life that means most to him…

Time and tides passed before Adventure Comics #475 (September 1980) found J.M. DeMatteis & Dick Giordano detail how the newly-reconciled Aquaman and Mera forcibly separated yet again in ‘Scavenger Hunt!’ after a subsea tech and treasure hunter attacks…

Like many good superheroes, Aquaman always maintained a strong presence in a super-team throughout all his troubles, and when they went through their own sales and popularity crisis, stepped in to guide them to calmer waters…

‘…The End of the Justice League’ (Justice League of America Annual #2, October 1984; by Conway, Chuck Patton & Dave Hunt) reveals how an attack by Martian invaders almost wrecked the World because the big gun superheroes were all occupied elsewhere. Vowing never to let it happen again, Arthur disbands the old league and goes about recruiting a new, dedicated and ever-ready team.

With the king in command, established heroes J’onn J’onzz, Zatanna, Vixen and Elongated Man relocate to Detroit picking up trainee titans Steel, Vibe and Gypsy to fill out a street-level roster short on power but packed with potential…

Part III 1986-2010: The Return of the King covers a period of almost constant change and revision with the backstory of Atlantis and the Sea King regularly tweaked in search of a winning formula. In truth, the creators frequently succeeded but could never maintain the high sales each reboot started with, even after Crisis on Infinite Earths cleared away much of the five decades of accumulated backstory…

Aquaman volume 2 was a 4-issue miniseries redefining the relationship of Arthur and his half-brother Orm, as well as solidly embedding magic as a key component of previously super-rationalist Atlantis. Sporting a new costume, Aquaman endured a revised origin in #3, (April 1986 by Neal Pozner, Craig Hamilton & Steve Montana) whilst trying to stop Ocean Master subjugating Earth with lost Atlantean necromancy…

In Aquaman volume 4 #2, (September 1994) Peter David, Martin Egeland & Brad Vancata took drastic steps to make readers notice the Sea Lord and his new paramour Dolphin, as ‘Single Wet Female’ revealed the hero’s defeat of super-psychos Scylla and Charybdis and the awful cost… his left hand…

Soldiering on with a fancy multi-purpose prosthetic against ever-more incredible adversaries, Arthur faces next ‘One on One’ (by David, Jim Calafiore & Peter Palmiotti from Aquaman volume 4 #34, July 1997) jealous junior sea god Triton who learns not to take out his daddy issues against the superhero…

A new millennium and another spin as Rick Veitch, Yvel Guichet, Josh Hood, Mark Propst & Sean Parsons indulge the exiled Sea King’s mythical side as the legendary Lady of the Lake replaces that prosthetic hand with an appendage grown from magic water and tasks this King Arthur with protecting the life-sustaining Secret Sea from human exploitation and demonic contamination in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ (Aquaman volume 5 #4, May 2003).

Still looking for a solid subsea scenario for the unflinching hero, Will Pfeifer, Patrick Gleason & Christian Alamy then return to strict scientific methodology for Aquaman volume 5 #17 (June 2004) as ‘American Tidal Part Three’ finds Arthur helping the citizens of a Californian city suddenly turned into water-breathers by a mystery maniac who also explosively submerged their homes to create Sub Diego. Helping him solve the mystery whilst adapting to her own status as the newly-minted Aquagirl is feisty millennial teen Lorena

Wrapping up the superhero salvage voyage is Part IV 2011-2015: Twenty-First Century Aquaman concentrating on a back-to-basics Sea Sovereign and Atlantean Overlord created in the wake of the Flashpoint publishing event and DC’s company-wide reboot The New 52.

Crafted by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Joe Prado, Aquaman volume 6 #1 (November 2011) saw Aquaman and Mera attempting to reconcile their status as second-string heroes on the surface world and unwelcome rulers of a belligerent Atlantis eager to wipe out air-breathing humanity. However, those petty tensions were about to be sidelined as unknown deep-sea horrors attack above and below the waves; consuming everything in their path in ‘The Trench Part One’

As the New 52 reboot staggered to an ignominious early close, the fresh, amped-up Aquaman underwent another retrofit and re-imagining, emerging with a new costume to oppose an invasion from another reality even as his beloved Mera turned on him. Leading an army of fantastic monsters, the Sea King battled to thwart a ‘Gospel of Destruction’ (Aquaman volume 6 #43, October 2015 by Cullen Bunn, Trevor McCarthy & Jesus Merino) with the only certainty being another company wide root-&-branch retrenchment. DC Rebirth was in the offing…

Supplemented with a cover gallery by Cardy, Aparo, Brian Bolland, Craig Hamilton & P. Craig Russell, Martin Egeland & Brad Vancata, Jim Calafiore & Mark McKenna, Yvel Guichet & Mark Propst, Alan Davis & Mark Farmer, Ivan Reis & Joe Prado and Trevor McCarthy, this peek at the perpetually renewable Marine Monarch is a book of many flavours and textures.

DC has a long, comforting history of genteel, innocuous yarn-spinning delivered with quality artwork. The pre-Crisis Aquaman was a trusty champion and family friendly average guy, who became an earnest, unsure and strident wanderer in the latter part of the 20th century. In recent years he operated as a bombastic, bludgeoning brute with a chip on his shoulder and plenty to prove: proving that the Sea King is certainly a man for all generations, eras and seasons.

What is most clear however, is that his past adventures are all worthy of far more attention than they’ve received of late. It is a total pleasure to find just how readable they still are. With tumultuous sea-changes always in store for Aquaman, the comics industry and America itself, this monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a good bad-guy is a true delight for fans of all ages and vintage.
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