Tuesday, May 21, 2013
I mean, there are the obvious nostalgic ads, like the ones for Grit magazine, or, of course Hostess snacks, the mail-order junk, and, on the house ad side, the covers and interiors of upcoming comics. Like seeing an ad for the first issue of The New Teen Titans, for example.
Beyond the nostalgic value, however, there are also the unanswered questions, like “What did those ‘x-ray specs’ actually do?”
With my recent purchase of the book Mail-Order Mysteries, I received an answer to that particular question, and others like it, but there are still some remaining mysteries in those old ads, particularly when it comes to things like contests.
For example, in an old issue of Superman, I recently saw an ad for an essay contest related to the Wonder Woman TV series.
The contest involved writing a mini-essay – under 50 words – with this, as the starting point: “The daring rescue I would like to see Wonder Woman perform is…”
One grand prize winner would win an all-expenses paid “Wonder Woman Weekend” in New York, which would culminate in the winner appearing as a character in the Wonder Woman comic.
Who won the contest? What was the winning “daring rescue” suggestion? I haven’t been able to find anything online.
It would be neat if there were someone out there reading this who knew the answer, but that seems pretty unlikely.
So it seems that it will remain a mystery to me, but even if it didn’t, there were so many other similar contests and sweepstakes over the years that I would be left to wonder about.
Still, I suppose that in this case being left to “wonder” is only appropriate.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
On the occasion of the company’s 50th anniversary in 1985, DC Comics decided that it was time to start all over again.
The continuity of the shared universe – or rather, universes – of the comic books the company had published in the past half-
We’re not going to delve into either of those titles here, but we do need to devote a little bit of time to Crisis before proceeding.
As originally envisioned by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, Crisis would have been titled The History of the DC Universe – indeed, it was referred to as such in some of the house ads that preceded the first issue – and in the course of twelve issues it would have provided the complete in-universe histories of the various characters and concepts that DC had created or acquired over the past half-century. The twelfth issue would have ended with the whole thing blowing up.
One month later, every comic would be relaunched as a first issue, and an entirely new history would begin.
That didn’t quite happen – not until 2011, at least, when DC launched “The New 52” – but Crisis did lead to the formation of an entirely new DC Universe, one with a new history (that still retained some elements of the old).
For a period of a bit less than a year, the old comics continued on, wrapping up storylines, and allowing the creative teams time to chart their new course.
One could argue that it was much more of a confusing mess than the mess it was supposed to clean up.
In any case, at around that same time, fan-favorite writer and artist John Byrne had come to the end of his contract with Marvel Comics. While he had worked for Marvel for years, there was one thing that Byrne wanted that Marvel couldn’t offer: Superman.
And so it was announced that in the summer of 1986 DC would publish its final issues of the two monthly comics featuring Superman, Action Comics and Superman, at which point they would publish a mini-series entitled The Man of Steel, which would serve as the launching point for the post-Crisis John Byrne interpretation of the Action Ace.
Which leads us to the subject of this Nostalgia review, a story that ran in the final issues of Superman and Action respectively.
The story would serve as a fond farewell to the Superman of old, tying up years of continuity and, some would argue, bringing an official end to what most comic book fans and professionals refer to as the Silver Age of Comics.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look as the first part of the story in Superman #423, which has a cover date of September, 1986.
|Classic Silver Age-style cover.|
Superman, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Curt Swan and George Perez
Cover by “Swanderson” (Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson)
Edited by Julius Schwartz
This is an imaginary story (Which may never happen, but then again may) about a perfect man who came from the sky and did only good. It tells of his twilight, when the great battles were over and the great miracles long since performed; of how his enemies conspired against him and of that final war in the snowblind wastes beneath the Northern Lights; of the women he loved and of the choice he made between them; of how he broke his most sacred oath, and how finally all the things he had were taken from him save for one. It ends with a wink. It begins in a quiet Midwestern town, one summer afternoon in the quiet Midwestern future. Away in the big city, people still sometimes glance up hopefully from the sidewalks, glimpsing a distant speck in the sky... but no: it's only a bird, only a plane. Superman died ten years ago. This is an Imaginary Story... Aren't they all?
Those are the words that we’re greeted with upon opening the cover and looking at the first page of our story, along with an image of busy Metropolitans going about their day in a park, most of them not even looking at the large statue of Superman, which is marked with the words “In Memoriam.”
We move on to find a man named Tim Crane, a reporter for The Daily Planet, who is visiting Lois Elliot (nee Lane) at her suburban home. We learn a lot on this one page – the year is 1997, Lois has retired from her life as a reporter and has settled into life as a wife and mother, and the Planet is publishing a tenth anniversary special memorial on “The Last Days of Superman,” for which young Mr. Crane is interviewing Lois. We also find that he’s rather intimidated to be interviewing someone who is herself something of a legendary figure.
Lois informs him that at what was later known to be the beginning of the end, things were mostly quiet. Luthor was lying low, Brainiac had been destroyed – though his head had never been recovered – and most of Superman’s other enemies had been largely out of the picture. As a result, Superman spent most of his time doing research in space for the government.
The first sign of the dark days to come is waiting for Superman when he returns from one such mission to find Metropolis has been turned into a scene of devastation. It seems that Bizarro, the imperfect duplicate of Superman, had come to town and gone on an uncharacteristically brutal rampage. After getting the lowdown from Lois and Jimmy, Superman enters the department store in which Bizarro has been holed up.
In his idiosyncratic way, Bizarro informs Superman that he has decided that he is not quite the perfect imperfect duplicate of Superman that he could be, and so he has decided to embark on a self-improvement plan. The plan included the following:
Superman came to Earth as a baby, after his home planet was accidentally destroyed, therefore, Bizarro decided to destroy his own planet – Bizarro World – on purpose and come to Earth as an adult.
Superman doesn’t kill, therefore Bizarro decided to kill lots of people.
Finally, because Superman was alive, Bizarro decided that he needed to be dead, and so, with a piece of Blue Kryptonite – which is deadly to Bizarros – he ended his own life. “Hello, Superman,” he said, as he died, in the customary backwards way of Bizarro. “Hello.”
The next major event happened at the news headquarters of Galaxy Broadcasting, where national news anchors Clark Kent and Lana Lang were preparing for their six o’clock broadcast.
Just before the broadcast can start, Clark gets two parcels delivered, one large and one small. Curious, Clark opens the smaller package to find that it contains several Superman action figures.
As Lana examines one, deadly lasers shoot forth from its eyes, and all of the figures begin moving as if alive, each one equipped with similar lasers. The figures all converge on Clark, presumably cutting him to ribbons, but when the smoke clears, Clark stands revealed to all assembled as Superman.
Once he’s unmasked, voices come forth from two of the action figures, voices belonging to the Toyman and the Prankster, and they advise him to open the larger, lead-lined box. Cautiously, he opens it, only to find that it’s an obscene Jack-in-the-Box containing the corpse of his childhood friend from Smallville, Pete Ross. It seems that Toyman and Prankster had decided to discover Superman’s secret identity by kidnapping and brainwashing his friends. They lucked out the first time, as Pete – unbeknownst to Superman – was the only one of his friends who actually knew his secret.
In response, Superman asks them a question:
|Love that bit.|
Once apprehended, neither villain can explain why they had decided to undertake such a deadly plan.
At Pete’s funeral, Superman admits to his friends that he can’t help but think that this is only the beginning, and that his worst nightmare – his enemies striking at him through his friends – has come to pass. When asked what there is to be concerned about, given that most of his enemies are out of the game, he says, “Well, if the nuisances from my past are coming back as killers…what happens when the killers come back?”
In answer to that question, we turn to a frozen landscape where Lex Luthor has found the inert head of Brainiac. Planning to study the alien technology to use it for his own purposes, Luthor assumes the “alas, poor Yorick” pose, only to find that the head is not quite so inert as he thought. Disassembling itself and then reassembling itself atop Luthor’s head, Brainiac seizes control of Luthor’s body. Stating that he will no longer tolerate Superman’s existence after this most recent indignity, he welcomes Lex to “The New Brainiac-Luthor Team.”
Back in Metropolis, the Daily Planet building is assaulted by an army of Metallos. While Superman is able to deal with the threat quickly – through the time-honored Silver Age practice of rubbing things, as friction=science! – Superman decides that Metropolis is no longer a safe place for his loved ones, and so he brings them all to the Fortress of Solitude to keep them safe.
While Superman’s friends are gathered in one place, yet another old friend makes an appearance, as Krypto returns from his romping in space. “Why,” Lois asks in her narration, “unless he’d sensed what the rest of us had? Despite our welcoming hugs, his arrival struck an ominous note…”
Back in Metropolis, the Kryptonite Man rampages through the city in a fruitless search for Superman. In Brainiac’s newly-constructed ship – which, while suitable, is inferior to his old, now-destroyed ship – Brainiac-Luthor concludes that Superman must have retreated to the Fortress, and they decide that the Kryptonite Man would be a useful asset for their assault on the Fortress.
Things are just as chilly inside the Fortress as they are outside, as least for Perry White and his wife Alice, who are estranged, and are led to separate rooms by Superman.
Lois, meanwhile, is unable to sleep, and so she goes off to visit her frenemy, Lana. United, in the end, by their mutual love for Superman, they spend the night talking, crying, and holding each other, and no doubt doing a whole host of other things in pieces of fan fiction the world over.
As for Superman, he spends some quality time with his dog, sharing his sense of foreboding, just before receiving some surprise guests.
I’m not going to lie; this next bit gets me right in the feels. Every. Damn. Time.
His surprise company turns out to be members of the Legion of Super-Heroes, the team of teenaged heroes from the future which Superman was a member of in his days as Superboy.
Among the members of the team visiting him is…is…*sniff*
|"You...you grew up beautiful, Kara!" *Sniff* Moore, you utter bastard.|
Brainiac 5 states that Supergirl – who, while being from the past relative to this point in Superman’s life, was visiting the Legion in the future – had insisted on coming along, and that for his part, Superman has traveled far enough into the future to know what happens to members of the Legion, and he is just as callous, for want of a better term, about their fates being a matter of record as they are about his. (Indeed; one of the Legionnaires present – Invisible Kid – died many years earlier from Superman’s perspective.)
Brainiac 5 then presents Superman with the gift of a statue of the Man of Steel holding a Phantom Zone projector. When Superman asks why they chose this moment to give him this gift, Brainy gives some lame excuse about this date being of particular historic significance.
”Therefore,” Brainy says, “we came here to meet with you again, and salute you…and….”
”And pay your last respects? Is that it?”
Before Brainy can answer, Supergirl approaches, as a thought just occurred to her. According to the rules of time travel – in the Silver Age, at least – time travelers cannot materialize in a point in time in which they already exist, existing only as an immaterial phantom, unable to interact with the world. Given that she’s physically there, this Supergirl concludes that the present-day Supergirl must be off in some other era.
”Uh, yes. Yes, you’re right…” Superman says. “Right now, Supergirl…Supergirl is in the past.”
With tears in their eyes, the Legionnaires step into their time bubble and return to the 30th Century.
In her narration, Lois states that she doesn’t know what happened that night, but that clearly something had upset him, as in the morning he looked “funny.”
”He looked as if he’d been crying.”
Next time: The conclusion of this two-part imaginary story.
Every. Damn. Time.
I’m not kidding.
That is one of the most heart wrenching sequences ever committed to the comic page, overshadowed only by Kara’s actual death in the pages of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7.
Aside from that, the sequence is emblematic of some of the issues that popped up in that weird in-between time after Crisis but before the formal relaunch.
After all, all of history had changed as a result of the events of the Crisis, and eventually we learned that one of the alterations was that Supergirl had never existed in first place.
(Also, Superman had never been Superboy, and as a result had never been a member of the Legion.)
So there was this weird, squishy period in which it was unclear what still existed as canon and what didn’t, and overall the relaunch was not handled well. It took DC years to get things even somewhat sorted out, though they never really managed it completely. Even the 2011 full-on relaunch has left some lingering questions about what still counts and what doesn’t.
In any case, while some of his greatest successes in the field were still ahead of him, this still ranks as some of Alan Moore’s finest work. Ask any comic book fan, and this story – along with his also excellent "For the Man Who Has Everything” – is bound to turn up as a contender for the title of greatest Superman story ever told. Certainly it’s in pretty much everyone’s top ten.
It just hits every note so perfectly. Even the, "Hello, Superman. Hello." from Bizarro as he dies is strangely poignant and moving.
While some would argue that Moore’s real strength is in subverting, deconstructing, and reinventing the form, I think this serves as a perfect example of his mastery of more mainstream comic book storytelling. While containing all of the depth and intricacy of a Moore story, it still adheres to the conventions of the time and can be read superficially as just a really good comic by readers of all ages and levels of sophistication.
Of course, given that it’s tying up nearly fifty years’ worth of stories, it would be daunting to someone unfamiliar with the Superman mythos, but, again, I think that it’s written in such a way that this wouldn’t be much of a barrier to entry. Sure, you’d have some questions, and you’d miss some of the more significant subtleties – such as the nice touch of having a doomed Legionnaire come to visit Superman as a means of driving home the point raised by Brainiac 5 – but you’d certainly be able to follow the narrative and the action.
Speaking of action, the “Because I do!” moment is so goddamn awesome. I love that bit pretty hard.
While this was an “imaginary” story – meaning that it wasn’t part of continuity, though again, continuity at this point was pretty fluid – it also served to tie up some of the loose threads of storylines that were current at the time, such as the estrangement of the Whites, and the status of Superman’s relationship with Lois and Lana.
More than pretty much any artist, including co-creator Joe Schuster, there isn’t really anyone who could be considered as quintessential a Superman artist as Curt Swan. Most Super-fans have their favorites, but in terms of defining the look of the Man of Steel, no one can really compare to Swan, given that he drew Superman for decades.
If I’m picturing Superman in my mind, I’m picturing Swan’s version.
That being said, while I have tremendous respect for his work…I’m not really a fan, and I never have been.
Even at the time, his style – while certainly distinctive, clean, and competent – seemed dated. When we see the futuristic world of 1997 – setting aside the fact that, reading this now, 1997 is a quarter of a century in the past – it looked like a futuristic vision of the 1980s that someone might have had in the 1950s.
Further, the strength of the Perez inks only exacerbates the weakness of Swan’s pencils.
Even so, I can’t imagine anyone else providing the art for this story, so as much as I don’t particularly enjoy his style, I’m glad that he was the one who drew this.
Me: You're a liar. Why would you even tell a lie that's so easily proven to be a lie?
|You're such a liar that you don't even exist, Hypothetical Person.|
Saturday, May 11, 2013
|Oh, Jinal - he should be kneeling at your feet.|
Conqueror of the Barren Earth, “The Conqueror!”
Written by Gay Cohn
Art and Cover by Ron Randall
Edited by Ross Andru
I have to admit that I’ve been waiting to write this one up for a while. In fact, this issue is the primary reason I wanted to do a write up on this mini-series at all.
When it was still actively maintained, Dave’s Long Box, the blog of one Dave Campbell, had a feature called “The F*@% YEAH FILES,” which focused on those moments in comics that make you burst out with such an exclamation of profane excitement.
If I had such a feature on this blog, this issue would be in it, as it contains one of the single greatest panels in the history of comics.
(Also, if I had such a feature I would just straight-up type out the word “fuck,” because that’s how I fucking roll.)
But before we get to that, we have to get started, and in this case we start around a campfire, where Zhengla is explaining that it’s time for his mate and her two most trusted retainers to share in his vision. Towards that end, he has some magic mushrooms from the Mulge, and he, Jinal, Barasha, and Yisrah are about to do some tripping. Yisrah would prefer to decline, but Barasha tells him that they have no choice in the matter.
Renna and Skinner, meanwhile, are feeling uncomfortable. Renna is ill-at-ease with all of the Mulge about, and Skinner’s nose is bent out of shape because Jinal apparently cherishes Barasha and Yisrah more than she does him. Poor Skinner.
Those assembled about the fire indulge in the magic mushrooms and soon reality begins to swirl around them, at which point Jinal reveals that she and Zhengla are aware that there is a traitor in their midst, and that she suspects both Barasha and Yisrah, and this ritual is intended to determine which of them it is, as the mushrooms will reveal the true essence of each of them.
For his part, Zhengla appears to be a bronze giant wielding a flaming sword, while Barasha is revealed to be an enormous, noble serpent. Jinal, meanwhile, is suffused with an incandescent glow, blazing like a star and burning even brighter than she had in Zhengla’s first vision of her.
Zhengla seems to see something more to Jinal, but before he can determine what it is, Yisrah is revealed to be an Old One.
Zhengla had suspected Barasha, given that in his youth he had studied at the feet of the Old Ones, and never imagined that there was an actual Old One among them. He moves to strike Yisrah down, despite Jinal’s protests.
Once the blow is struck, reality is restored and Zhengla demands to see the body. Skinner informs him that there is no body – at the last second Yisrah pulled out some sort of device and simply vanished. Jinal is amazed that the Old Ones have access to teleportation, as it’s a technology her own people never developed.
As a result of their shared vision, Zhengla, Jinal, and Barasha are bound together in mind, body, and spirit, which is a thought that fills Skinner and the others with misgivings. (And jealousy, I should think.)
The war council assembles and discusses their plan for invading D’Roz, unconcerned about whatever intelligence Yisrah managed to bring back to the Old Ones. Barasha notes that defenses of D’Roz are too great for even an army to overcome, which leads Jinal to suggest that a smaller contingent might succeed where an army would fail.
With only a force of one hundred, they ride out in search of D’Roz.
Several weeks later they come upon D’Roz, which is surrounded by pilgrims who have come to appeal to the Old Ones, and who are providing their limited technology to aid in the defense of the floating city.
Said defense, which is demonstrated when sand pirates attempt to attack the city, consist of giant robots and a force field that can quickly appear about the ramp that leads up to the city gates.
Watching the failed attack provides Jinal with a strategy for getting inside the city.
For weeks Zhengla’s forces spend their time practicing cavalry drills, before finally attempting an assault on the city. They are, of course, driven away by the robots and the force field, but every day they keep trying, veering away from the assault at the last second.
Eventually, as per JInal’s strategy, the Old Ones begin to view this as less of a threat and as something of a game, and finally the day comes when the assault does not veer away at the last second, and the Old Ones are too slow in bringing up the force field, allowing Zhengla, Jinal, and a dozen others to make their way up the ramp while the remainder of Zhengla’s forces attend to the robots with the blasters recovered from the Qlov ship.
Inside the city walls they rely on Barasha to lead the way, as he knows the city from the time he spent there. He calls out to the Old Ones, stating the nature of their grievances against them, and in response the wall in front of them dissolves. Zhengla, Jinal, and the others make their way through a treacherous labyrinth that claims two of their number – just red shirts, not anyone important – and they eventually find themselves in the antechamber to the Great Hall, where they receive an unexpected blast from the past: the reanimated corpse of Chairman Mangle who is now in service to the Old Ones.
The strange energy field that sustains him makes him too strong for Zhengla and impervious to Jinal’s energy sword. Renna determines that the weird pack on his back must be his power source. She blasts it, and he is weakened, but doesn’t fall until Renna finally drives her sword through him.
With that last heart wrenching obstacle out of the way, they are free to make their way into the Great Hall.
And man, is it ever great.
Just…just see for yourself:
|Wait for it...|
Skinner states that just blasting him like that hardly seems fair, but Jinal points out that it’s stupid to consider fairness when it comes to a man who can kill a Qlov with his bare hands.
Though he isn’t long for this world, Zhengla is still alive, and he calls out to Jinal. He states that his vision showed him he’d conquer the world, but it didn’t show him anything about actually ruling it.
He asks Jinal to promise to take his vision as he took it from the woman in the Mulge cavern. Jinal takes his hand and says, “I promise…my lord.”
When next we see Jinal, she is eating Zhengla’s forehead fungus (Note: Ew.), and is presented with a vision of herself fully unifying the people of the Barren Earth, causing the desert to bloom, and ultimately leading her people back into space, with the city of D’Roz itself serving as her flagship, and out in the reaches of space she…
The vision fades, only to be replaced by the image of Yisrah, who has come to answer her questions.
He reveals that the Old Ones were responsible for the creation of the Mulge and the Harahashan in an effort to create a race suited to life on the hostile planet that Earth had become, and in between these two experiments they had created another race: the Qlov.
The Qlov had been enormously successful, progressing from simple hives to space travel in under a thousand years. This had led to strained relations between the Old Ones and the humans who had departed Earth, who viewed the Qlov as monsters. The expatriate humans swore that it would mean war if the Qlov ever entered their sector, and that was exactly what happened.
Yisrah tells Jinal that it’s not her destiny to defeat the Qlov, but rather to reveal the truth.
Jinal wakes from her dream and is summoned outside by Barasha, who, in his Yoda-y way, tells her, “Changed is everything!”
From the highest tower of D’Roz, Jinal looks up to the sky and sees The Conqueror, the starcruiser commanded by Admiral Rizek, which has finally completed its long journey to the Barren Earth.
As stated above, I completely misjudged Jinal, but I have to say that it was fantastic to have my faith in her restored.
Looking back at it now, there were plenty of clues in the story that pointed to this turn of events, but I completely missed them back when I was twelve.
Which, honestly, is probably just as well, as it only served to increase my enjoyment of the story.
Overall, the storyline – from the backup feature through the mini-series – was admittedly derivative of a lot of other stories, but that’s really a minor quibble when you consider the fantastic character arc followed by Jinal, and the complexity of the resolution of the story of Zhengla is something to behold. After all, there were multiple layers to that moment when she blasts him, as she achieves revenge and manages to remove the final obstacle to ultimate goal, and at the same time, it’s clear that despite everything she did legitimately love Zhengla.
It would be interesting to see this story presented as a modern comic, one that’s not limited by the necessities of compressed storytelling or the censorship of the Comics Code Authority, the latter of which prevented any real exploration of the complicated relationship between Jinal, Skinner, Renna, and, if the story had progressed beyond that end point, with Admiral Rizek.
Even so, while clearly colored by nostalgia – and with good reason, I think – the story still holds up even if it does require making certain contextual allowances.
I don’t really have anything more to say about the art, as everything said about it in earlier issues still applies, so with that we’ve reached the end of this particular Nostalgia Review.
Next up, I think, is the Alan Moore coda to the Silver Age, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? which will then be followed by the new beginning that came from that ending, John Byrne’s The Man of Steel.
Saturday, May 04, 2013
Conqueror of the Barren Earth, “The Warrior!”
Written by Gay Cohn
Art and Cover by Ron Randall
Edited by Ross Andru
Before diving into this issue I want to mention something about exclamation points. In the scanned pages, and in my quotations of dialogue, you’ll notice that pretty much every sentence that isn’t a question ends with an exclamation point.
There are two reasons for this:
1. Due to the limitations of the printing technology of the day, periods could easily get lost in the jumble of lettering.
2. It added excitement!
I just thought that was worth mentioning.
In any case, when we left off, Jinal and Zhengla found that their camp was surrounded by a massive assemblage of Harahashan hordes, presumably brought together by Barasha.
As Zhengla, Jinal, and Zhengla’s forces stare out across the desert at the Harahashan, Jinal comments on the fact that it feels good to have her weapons restored to her. Zhengla notes that as his consort she’s earned the right to wield them once again, and she pledges that she will wield them in his service.
Yisrah informs JInal that he’s thrilled that she has seen reason, and he begins to suggest that the two of them can steer Zhengla to serve their ends, but Jinal cuts him off, unwilling to listen to such mutinous speculation.
*Sigh* Oh, Jinal.
The leaders of the Harahashan ride out to parlay with Zhengla, who, along with Jinal, Yisrah, and his captains, rides out to greet them.
Jinal sees that Renna and Skinner are at Barasha’s side as they approach. Zhengla states that he has no quarrel with the Harahashan, as his interest is in conquering the civilized world.
Barasha, however, states that he and his hordes have many quarrels with Zhengla, such as the theft of the waterworks, the slaughter of their allies in Arq, and last – but certainly not least – the kidnapping of Jinal.
Barasha is shocked and appalled when Jinal states that she is with Zhengla willingly, referring to him as her “lord and love.” He determines that Jinal is simply trying to prevent the battle, and insists that blood must be spilled for the many offenses committed by Zhengla.
Yisrah suggests that as the quarrel is primarily between Barasha and Zhengla the matter might be resolved in single combat.
Barasha and Zhengla agree.
While Zhengla’s attention is focused on Barasha, Skinner considers making his move, not feeling bound by the same code of honor that the two leaders adhere to.
Then this happens:
|I'm with you, Skinner: ಠ_ಠ|
Barasha insists that he would never serve Zhengla, but Jinal points out that he had previously sworn to serve her, and given that Zhengla’s cause is now hers…
Ultimately, Barasha decide that this is the honorable path and he swears to serve Zhengla “so long as does the Little One.”
A bit like Yoda Barasha talks.
The other Harahashan leaders declare that Barasha doesn’t speak for them, and they prepare to leave, but Jinal makes an appeal to them to ride with Zhengla, one which resonates with the assembled lizard men, and they agree to join the cause.
Renna and Skinner also agree to join with them, and Jinal prepares to have a joyous reunion, but then she seems to shut down, and while acknowledging that she’s pleased to see them, goes off to attend to Zhengla’s wounds.
As she walks away, Yisrah informs them that they will find that Jinal has changed a great deal, and advises them to be patient.
Meanwhile, in the floating city of D’Roz, the Old Ones have received word from their “agent” that Jinal has united the Harahashan hordes under the banner of Zhengla, and they decide that they must take action lest Jinal and Zhengla forge an empire that can challenge them.
We then cut to the ship being manned – insected? – by the Qlov who crashed to Earth back when Jinal did. After their encounter with the Old Ones (in the backup stories), they lost contact with their people in space, and since that time they have been roving the globe in search of a signal, a signal that they find at last, though it seems to be coming from Earth itself.
Back at Zhengla’s camp, Renna and Skinner inform Jinal that they’ve been made Zhengla’s retainers. Jinal is pleased, but when her friends ask her what her angle is, she informs them that she doesn’t have one. Everything is as it appears to be, and she is with Zhengla all the way.
In answer to Renna’s, “What happened to you, blondie?” Jinal replies, ”I’ve learned how this world works and my proper role here! It’s a lesson you tow would be well-advised to learn!”
She leaves them behind to check on Barasha, who tells her of the struggles that he and the others went through just to rescue her. For her part, Jinal has this to say:
|Don't try making me feel bad for you, Jin: I'm still mad at you.|
All except Jinal question the wisdom of challenging the Old Ones, but Zhengla’s mind is made up, and in the morning they ride for S’Keen. Along the way they encounter an airship, which broadcasts a message from the Old Ones, inviting him to follow the ship to D’Roz where they may confer. Though Jinal believes it to be a trap, Zhengla chooses to follow.
The ship leads them through territory dotted with pyramid-like structures, structures which seem eerily to familiar to Jinal. As she realizes that they resemble primitive versions of Qlov structures, the ship speeds away, and suddently Zhengla’s forces are beset by hundreds of Qlov, albeit smaller, more primitive versions than the ones JInal knows.
However, the more familiar Qlov in their ship are leading their pygmy cousins.
Jinal manages to take down the Qlov ship, and she and Zhengla bring the battle to the crew, where Zhengla soon learns that his sword is no match against the thick hides of the Qlov.
However, amazing everyone present, especially Jinal, the Qlov prove no match against Zhengla:
|Zhengla goes all Granch on the Qlov.|
From there they march on S’Keen, with Jinal piloting the Qlov ship, which she uses to take down the embassy suspended above the city by setting the ship on a collision course with the pillar of energy that kept the embassy aloft.
Once the battle is over, Renna presents Jinal with a device she found in the ruins of the embassy, which Jinal realizes is a homing device that will allow them to locate D’Roz.
They don’t have much time to enjoy their victory, however, as the Old Ones send ships to attack the assembled forces, but the ships from D’Roz are no match against the weapons that Zhengla’s forces salvaged from the Qlov ship, and so the forces of the Old Ones retreat.
With that victory won, and the realization that even the Old Ones fear Zhengla, the would-be conqueror, with Jinal at his side, declares that D’Roz itself will be the next city to fall.
Up next: The Conqueror!
If I was mad at Jinal before, I was furious with her in this issue.
Threatening to shoot Skinner?
Dismissing the ordeals that her friends suffered in trying to rescue her?
The hell, Jinal?
That said, even it if has been in service of Zhengla’s dream, she has managed to accomplish nearly all of her goals, uniting all of the scattered cities of the Barren Earth, and even bringing together the humans, the Harahashan, and the Mulge, and she now stands on the cusp of achieving her ultimate goal of overthrowing the Old Ones.
Of course, I had wanted to see her do this on her own – albeit with the help of her friends – and not as a mere “consort” to a sweaty, be-mushroomed barbarian.
Still, there’s no way that Zhengla could have gotten this far without Jinal, mushroom visions or no mushroom visions, and she remains the key player in all of this.
We also see more of the toll that her life on the Barren Earth has taken on her, as she nearly breaks down in front of Barasha and keeps her distance from Renna and Skinner.
(It’s worth noting that Renna is seen inwardly gagging at the sight of Jinal cozying up to Zhengla, and it's clear that the loyalty of her friends is directed towards her, not Zhengla.)
The other significant event in this is the revelation that the Old Ones have an “agent” in Zhengla’s camp. Is it anyone we know? Barasha actually seems like a likely candidate given that – as we’ll see in greater detail next issue – in his youth he actually spent some time in D’Roz itself as a student of the Old Ones. He was also eager to speak with the leader of S’Keen before Zhengla rode forth in conquest.
However, virtually everyone – save Jinal herself – seems to be opposed to attempting to challenge the Old Ones, so it could be almost anyone.
Also, what’s the deal with the tiny, primitive Qlov? Are they descendants of some Qlov who crashed at an earlier time, as Jinal speculates, or are they something else? In one of the backup stories, Yisrah spontaneously whipped up a potion that managed to render a Qlov unconscious, and it was noted that one of the ingredients of said potion only affects humans…
And finally, holy shit is Zhengla terrifying! He killed a Qlov with his bare hands! And this, right after that same Qlov snapped Zhengla's sword like it was a twig.
Maybe I can’t really be mad at Jinal for joining up with him…
Noting much new to add here, as the same praise and criticism applies. I did like the way he managed to show Jinal’s conflicting emotions upon seeing her friends, and the way he presented the near-breakdown in Barasha’s presence.
It’s worth noting that in the “Meanwhile…” column Conqueror was listed as one of the titles that were being printed with the new FLEXOGRAPHIC press, which, supposedly, provided more vibrant colors than the standard press, even without higher quality paper, and without having to resort to the more expensive offset printing technique.
Honestly, I didn’t see any improvement in quality over the then-standard process, though in the column Dick Giordano does note that there were some “bugs” that needed to be worked out.
Thursday, May 02, 2013
Me: Wanna break in the new Five Guys tonight?
Me: …by which I mean that I have five guys imprisoned in my house and I’m suggesting that we sodomize them.
Me: Not that.
Me: The other thing.
Yes, they’ve opened a Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Leesburg, which is something that I’ve simultaneously hoped for and feared.
Hoped for because the burgers and fries are so good, feared because the burgers and fries are so good.
All I can say is that it’s a damn good thing they don’t deliver, because otherwise I would rapidly turn into something like Jabba the Hut.
And instead of having Princess Leia in a leather and metal bikini I’d have severe neuropathy and renal failure.
In any case, with a name like “Five Guys,” talking about getting food from there makes conversations like the one nearly impossible to avoid.
It's a shame you don't have a donate button! I'd definitely donate to this brilliant blog!
You're a fucking liar, spambot. Nothing more than a filthy lying whorebot.
How do I know? Because I do have a donate button.
(Also, calling this a "brilliant blog" is just piling lie on top of lie.)
Monday, April 29, 2013
Saturday, April 27, 2013
(I don’t normally do Trigger Warnings, but there will be some discussion of rape, so be advised.)
|But Jinal will escape! Right? ...right?|
Conqueror of the Barren Earth, “The Captive!”
Written by Gay Cohn
Art and Cover by Ron Randall
Edited by Ross Andru
We open with Jinal learning that a gilded cage is indeed still a cage as she waits in the luxurious chambers of a cavern overlooking the vast underground ocean, the ocean that was to serve as a vital component in her plans of conquest.
Now Jinal has to set aside those plans for the time being as she must first find a way to get out of this situation alive. So she waits, thinking back on the lessons in meditation she had received as a cadet years before her ill-fated mission to Earth.
Finally, after hours spent sitting alone she’s greeted by a familiar face: the shaman, Yisrah, who had been captured by Zhengla’s forces with her.
Yisrah informs her that he’s been spending time with Zhengla himself, having long-ago learned to recognize the inevitable, and as a result, pledging his services to the conqueror.
He further informs Jinal that Zhengla fully intends to make Jinal his queen. (And really, who can blame him?)
Jinal doesn’t take either piece of news very well, and informs Yisrah that she views him as a traitor, and that he can tell Zhengla that if he tries any funny business she will straight-up murder him.
For his part, Zhengla takes the news well, and through the heavy door Jinal hears the sound of his laughter.
As she hears him approaching, she searches the room for anything she can use as a weapon, ultimately finding leather straps that she binds around her fists to add some extra oomph to her blows.
Zhengla enters the room tells her that she will not succeed in killing him and explains that he has had a vision in which she is at his side as he conquers the world:
|Jinal is a certified Hander of Asses.|
Despite her best efforts, which leave Zhengla bloodied and bruised, ultimately she’s no match for his strength and speed, and the fight ends with Zhengla’s declaration, “It’s over, Goldenhair! By right of conquest, you are mine!”
On that note, we find ourselves off in deep space where the vessel known, fittingly enough, as The Conqueror, prepares for its eight-month journey to Earth, under the command of Admiral Rizek, who spends a little more time wistfully thinking about Jinal and remembering her attempt at talking Jinal out of going on the risky mission to Earth.
On Earth, Jinal wakes to find herself being tended to by Yisrah, learning that she’s been unconscious for several days as a result of her altercation with him.
He informs Jinal that she must rise and prepare, as Zhengla, being restless and ambitious, is riding out on another raid. Yisrah comments that he has no doubt that Zhengla is fully-capable of conquering the world, and advise JInal to work with – and through – Zhengla to achieve her goals, given that his goals run largely parallel with her own,
She greets this advice with a sneer, and says that once Barasha returns with the Harahashan the tables will turn and Zhengla, being a savage who “deserves a savage’s fate,” will be her prisoner.
While neither JInal nor Yisrah knows how Zhengla learned of the existence of the waterworks, Yisrah notes that his people have mastered their use and are, perhaps, more than mere savages.
Zhengla informs Jinal that she will achieve her goal of uniting the world, but she’ll do so as his consort. Jinal remains unimpressed:
|Shorter Jinal: "Go fuck yourself."|
Even so, as they ride off Jinal does have to admit that his army is pretty impressive, and she has her doubts that even Barasha’s people could beat him.
Their departure does not go unobserved, as Renna and Skinner escaped from the assault on the waterworks, and Skinner spots the unarmed Jinal, correctly reasoning that she’s a prisoner. Once Zhengla’s forces have departed, the two plan to move on to find Barasha, but before they can they notice a ship – which must come from D’Roz, given the technology involved – briefly descending on area where Chairman Mangle made his last stand and then speeding off. Deciding that there’s no way for them to understand the motivations of the Old Ones, they head off in search of Barasha.
Meanwhile, as Zhengla’s army approaches its target, Jinal asks if she’s supposed to ride into battle unarmed. Zhengla provides her with an axe, which Jinal attempts to plant firmly in his back as soon as it’s turned to her during the battle. Once again he proves to fast for her, and upon catching it, throws it into the neck of her Slizek, killing it and sending her crashing to the desert floor.
Zhengla doesn’t respond well to the latest attempt on his life, and declares that if she won’t be his queen she will be his slave.
With the battle won, Zhengla surprises Jinal by being considerably less savage and barbarous than she expected, though he also is as good as his word and relegates her to the status of slave:
|Burn! Both figuratively and literally, given that it's the desert.|
We then get a montage of the next several months as Jinal is forced to cosplay as Slave Leia, while Zhengla continues his conquest of the world. Still, Jinal’s spirit occasionally flares up, though it’s quickly beaten down.
One significant moment arises after the conquest of a particular city as Zhengla meets with the King of the Mulge, stating that he has offered the King any reward he desires in exchange for his assistance. The fungus man makes his choice:
|What does any man - or woman, for that matter - want with you, Jinal?|
As she spends more and more time in his presence, she realizes that it may just be the Stockholm Syndrome talking, but maybe Zhengla isn’t as bad as she initially thought. He makes decisions that are tough but fair, and even wise, and it’s clear that he really is attempting to build a new, unified civilization.
Finally, as the two of them are alone in Zhengla’s throne room one night, he makes one last appeal, reaching out to gently touch her cheek. While she no longer has the strength to fight, Jinal still recoils from his touch.
Saddened, Zhengla confesses that this is not what he wanted. He wants the woman from his dream, the fierce, glorious warrior he first encountered in battle, and he wants her to willingly be at his side as he fulfills his destiny.
Further, if he can’t have that, he doesn’t want to go on at all. He hands Jinal a gun and bares his chest to her.
With the gun in her hand, Jinal’s spirit returns, and the righteous fury building inside of her washes away all of the pain and humiliation. This is what she wants.
But then Jinal went ahead and broke young Jon’s heart:
|Jin, I am disappoint.|
He explains that once he was the simple barbarian that Jinal assumed him to be, off in search of nothing more than mere treasure until one day he stumbled upon a Mulge pit and followed it down into the depths of the Earth, where he found a strange garden with a giant Smurf house in its center. He went inside and killed the Mulge who were busy hovering over something – or someone – moaning and twitching on the floor.
It was a woman who had been infected with the Mulge spores – a generally fatal, but painful condition that we encountered in the pages of the backup stories – with mushrooms growing out of her eye sockets.
Though they had never met, the woman addressed him by name and commanded him to kill her. She stated that she knew much, and would share it with him in exchange for his mercy.
”Kill me, Zhengla Koraz, and I will give you the most beautiful and terrible thing a man can have! I will give you…a dream!”
Following her instructions, Zhengla killed her and took the mushrooms from her eyes, then made his way to the surface, where he was attacked by a wild Slizek. He killed the lizard, then dipped the mushrooms in its blood and ate them and was given his dream.
He had a vision of conquest, in which a golden-haired woman with a flaming sword rode at his side, and in which even the great city of D’Roz fell beneath his heel. Upon waking, he set out to make the dream a reality.
Once his story is finished Jinal tells him that from this day on his dream is also hers. Their moment of tenderness is interrupted by call from outside, and the two rush out to see what all the fuss is about:
|Is Zhengla wearing a terrycloth robe?|
This one made me angry.
First, there were all of the indignities that Jinal suffered, so I was angry on her behalf, and then, then there was the betrayal of the readers faith in her, which made me angry at Jinal.
Granted, I understand that she had been beaten down, and that as satisfying as it might have been to see her kill Zhengla, what was her next move going to be? She never would have made it out alive.
And sure, his goals align with her goals, and ultimately it was the most sensible move to make but…well, did she have to do it so enthusiastically?
I mean, okay, Fu Manchu mustache, questionable fashion sense, and forehead fungus aside, Zhengla is a pretty impressive specimen, but seriously, Jinal, I expected better of you. What would the Admiral say?
(Whatever she would say, I’m sure it would start out with an, “Oh, Jinal…” that was heavy with suppressed longing.)
The especially annoying thing is that it only gets worse in the next issue.
Of course the most troubling aspect of this all is that while we don’t see it, there’s the clear implication of Jinal getting raped by Zhengla. And not just raped, raped into a coma.
Given that what we actually see is pretty horrific, what we don’t see, those implied privations and moments of torture that Jinal suffered, must be that much worse.
His shrewdness, his “fairness,” and his noble intentions aside, Zhengla is a monster, so it’s extremely frustrating, to say the least, to see JInal give herself to him in this fashion.
Of course, all of this speaks to how well the character of Jinal had been developed up to this point, and that we, as readers, feel so invested in her that we are stung by her betrayal of our confidence in her strength and intelligence.
So I’m angry, but I suppose that, in a way, it’s a good kind of angry. It’s demonstrative of how invested I am in the story of Jinal.
Hell, even seeing her in her sexy little slave outfit was annoying, because it’s just so not Jinal. She has no business being submissive, or being objectified.
I mentioned “Slave Leia,” and there is a lengthy tangent I could go off on here about the iconic appeal of that particular scene and outfit, but that’s not really the focus here. I will say that while for some there is the appeal of the “slave” aspect, for me it’s never been about that. In fact, until I started encountering the term in the wider popular culture, I never referred to her as “Slave Leia,” but instead thought of her as “sexy leather and metal bikini Leia.” For me, it was just that Carrie Fisher looked amazing.
Besides, she ultimately murdered Jabba, and if there was any layer of sexiness to those scenes for me beyond the outfit, it was that, not the slave aspect.
Unfortunately, we don’t get that kind of satisfying scene with Jinal.
All that aside, monster though he may be, Zhengla is an interesting character, and in terms of the story it was interesting to learn about the origin of his dream and his vision of Jinal…and how he got the mushrooms on his head.
Of course, in terms of his presentation, he is something of a racial caricature, with his cartoonishly Asian features and the odd hue of his skin. I suspect that was intended to be evocative of Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun, and while not cutting them too much slack, it was very much in line with the way any sort of non-white character was presented at the time, and it’s at least an improvement over some of the truly awful presentations of minority characters in the history of comics.
Also, the quality of color reproduction in offset printing at the time – at least in the printing used for comics – didn’t really allow for more natural hues, though, again, that’s not really a justification.
Even so, I have to admit that back when this came out I was so angry that I was tempted to not read the next issue, but I had to see what Barasha would have to say about it all, as, after Jinal, he was my second-favorite character.
We see some more of the distorted anatomy and the odd perspective in this one. However, shorn of the context, Jinal’s outfit actually would be kind of sexy, so I’ll give him props on that.
The real strength of the art in this issue, though, lies in the brutal conflict between Jinal and Zhengla. It’s clear that while she’s outmatched, Jinal delivers some truly vicious damage to Zhengla, which helps to underline just how dangerous an opponent he is, and the whole sequence feels really raw and real.
Still, I think Randal would have benefited from having someone else ink his work, as he seems to be the kind of penciller who really needs to have an inker who can complement his work, as his ink work tends to be a little thin.
I’m not sure who that inker should have been, as some of the best inkers would have likely overpowered his pencils. Jerry Ordway, for example, would have left no trace of Ron Randall on the page. Terry Austin, who was the perfect match for John Byrne back in the X-Men years, seems like someone who is able to adapt to any penciller’s style, so maybe he would have been a good match. Regardless, they should have brought someone in to handle the inking chores.
Again, I think that printing this in the “new format” would have been a better choice on DC’s part, as it really would have benefited from the higher-quality paper and printing process, which might have helped address some of the problems with Zhengla’s skin tone.
In this issue there was a house ad for the launch of the Amethyst ongoing series. I just thought that was worth mentioning.
And apparently I really read things wrong – in the ad there’s text saying “And who is friend and who is foe are no longer simple questions!” Said text is placed below an image of Prince Topaz and Lady Turquoise sharing a romantic embrace. Oh, Turquoise – you disappoint me almost as much as Jinal. I thought you had better taste than that.
Also worth noting is something from the “Meanwhile…” column written by the late Dick Giordano – who, come to think of it, would have been an excellent choice to handle the inking duties on this – who was at that time the Executive Editor at DC.
In “Meanwhile…” which ran in every DC comic, Dick would share behind-the-scenes information about what was happening at DC, and provide previews of and hints about upcoming comics and events.
This particular column had a segment talking about a proposal from Swamp Thing writer Alan Moore for a special maxi-series utilizing characters that DC had recently acquired from Charlton Comics. Dick mentioned that the proposal would render the Charlton characters unusable in the wider DC Universe and conflicted with plans that were already in place for using them, so he had asked Alan to devise some new characters in their place and to proceed with his plan, a request with which Alan had agreed, and, as of that writing, Alan was busy at work on developing the idea with artist Dave Gibbons. The maxi-series, the “wonderful concept” for which Dick referred to as being “gutsy,” and “grittily realistic,” was tentatively titled Watchmen.
There’s also a reference to another upcoming comic, the title and subject of which Dick was not at liberty to divulge, which was being worked on by a hot young writer-artist named Frank Miller.
It’s clear from the description that the comic in question was most likely The Dark Knight Returns.
Motherfucking comic book history all up in here!