Comics Prehistory

Comics Prehistory: G.I. Joe #48

G.I._Joe_A_Real_American_Hero_Vol_1_48While I don’t think that I can ascribe great personal significance to any of the comics I’ve covered in this series, I’d have to say that G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #48 is probably one of the most important because this was the series that would become the most read and collected of my brief foray into comics in 1987.  This was also a book that when I would read through the back and current issues that I had collected (and by the time my collecting fell off, there were quite a few) would have a cracked cover and rolled spine, showing the beating it had taken since I first got my hand on it at my friend Chris’s birthday party.

I’ll admit that when I got the book as a party favor, I wasn’t as excited as some of the other kids at the party because some of them got issue #47 (I assume that this issue was part of a Marvel Comics three-pack), and that comic book had an incredible Mike Zeck color of Wet Suit, Beachhead, and Hawk on the Devilfish (full disclosure: I had to look that up) firing weapons and yelling.  Plus, issue #47 conclues with The Baroness shooting and killing Storm Shadown on a beach.  Issue #48, on the other hand, features another Mike Zeck cover–one that is no less great–of Zartan holding Gung Ho in a choke hold with a sign behind them saying “G.I. Joe Headquarters: Level 3.”

That’s basically the main plot of the book, as it’s very much a “bottle episode” of a television show because it takes place mostly at The Pit, which was the nickname for the Joes’ HQ.  Back in issue #46, Ripcord had infiltrated Cobra Island in search of his girlfriend Candy and was knocked out cold.  Zartan decided that this was a great opportunity for him to infiltrate the Joe headquarters, so he disguised Ripcord as himself and then took Ripcord’s form using his morphing powers.  While Ripcord wakes up in a hospital Springfield (a town in the United States that Cobra completely controls) and then proceeds to continue to search for Candy while fighting his way through Cobra operatives, Zartan is “treated” in The Pit’s infirmary, but his cover is quickly blown.

Ripcord’s story continues in the following issue (whose main focus is Destro aiding Dr. Mindbender in the creation of Serpentor), which means that the main focus here is Zartan, who is chased around The Pit and tries to elude capture by changing form several times and nearly gets away with it but is ultimately brought down by a brand new Joe, Sgt. Slaughter, who was a character I always had mixed feelings about because I knew him from the WWF (although in an interesting bit of trivia, Slaughter’s role in G.I. Joe is what led to him leaving the WWF in the mid-1980s, as Vince McMahon did not want to allow him to license himself to Hasbro; Slaughter would return in the early 1990s as an Iraqi-sympathizing heel), and therefore he was more like an “imported” character than one of the more “home grown” characters.  And yes, I felt like this when I was nine years old.  Plus, his solving the problem, while it definitely was meant to be slightly comedic (two Gung Hos come at Sarge and he punches one.  When asked how he knew which one was Zartan, Sarge basically says, “I didn’t.”), also seems a little forced in that “look at how awesome this new character is” sort of way that didn’t always work on television shows, cartoons, or comic books.  I haven’t read much beyond this issue recently, so I can’t really say how much of a role Sgt. Slaughter plays in future storylines, and I know that Larry Hama focused more on the ninja-type characters anyway (as we’ll see when I get into the actual “Origin Story” podcast).

The end of the issue is a meeting between Hawk and several of the U.S. military’s top brass, which carries on one of the running subplots of the time–Cobra has its own island and has managed to get “sovereign nation” status from the United Nations and the U.S. is hamstrung as to what to do.  Cobra is a terrorist organization, so attacking Cobra Island would be considered an actual act of war, so the brass tell Hawk that the island is off-limits.  This sets up what will be a huge story in issue #50, which is where the Joes invade Springfield and ultimately find nothing, something that leads to the team’s downfall (which includes Cobra invading The Pit around issue #53).

It’s a testament to Larry Hama’s writing that he could create such a continuity for an audience whose primary desire in picking up the comic was to see their action figures have adventures, although that’s not something I realized at the time, even though it would be soon enough.

And that’s it for my “Comics Prehistory.”  Tune in on September 30, 2016 for the first episode of “Origin Story,” where I will cover G.I. Joe and The Transformers #1.

Comics Prehistory: Secret Wars II #6

Secret_Wars_II_Vol_1_6You know, the phrase “It was all a big blur” is one that most people probably associate with a drunken night (or several, perhaps) in college, not to reading a comic book when you are eight years old.  Then again, I may not be the only person who will say this about Secret Wars II.

Published in 1985 and 1986, Secret Wars II as the direct sequel to the blockbuster Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars event that had come out in 1984.  In that original series, an omnipotent being named The Beyonder swipes all of Earth’s heroes and villains and transports them to Battleworld, where they do an enormous amount of fighting (and Spider-Man gets the infamous alien costume).  In the sequel, The Beyonder comes to Earth in human form and learns about being human.

I think?

I have to be honest–I only ever owned issue #6 and even then didn’t buy it voluntarily because it was another birthday party favor.  And I don’t know if I read it thirty years ago when I first got it.  Even if I did, I probably didn’t understand what was going on.  I remember looking at the cover and thinking that the issue was probably important because it said that it was “#6 in a nine-issue limited series” (that and DC’s “miniseries,” “maxi-series,” or “Anniversary” banners were catnip to me back in the day … and still kind of are) and the cover showed this guy busting past a group of Earth’s mightiest heroes, saying, “Move over heroes, The Beyonder’s here!”

But really, up until I read this comic for this very blog post, I didn’t know what the comic was about.  And quite frankly, I still have no idea what is going on.  It seems that The Beyonder has come to Earth, closed on some property, built a huge house/headquarters, filled it with a ton of stuff like cars and planes, and then decides to help out Power Pack (which I assume plays out in greater detail in Power Pack #18, which is an official crossover issue).  Meanwhile, Dave, a reporter from a local newspaper interviews him and The Beyonder tells the reporter all about who he is and how he came to be.  But then he basically hires the guy as his PR man, they set up and organization, and The Beyonder decides he will “fight for life.”  he doesn’t know what his role is or should be, and The Watcher along with superheroes think he might be dangerous.  He then decides to eliminate Death and despite the objections every celestial being, succeeds.  Then Molecule Man and Dave plead for him to bring Death back because it has completely upset the balance of the universe and then he makes Dave into Death and disassembles his new house.

And that’s the most succinct summary I could come up with.

Because honestly, the issue is almost what it would be like if a kid were given super powers and had free right.  Think of Tom Hanks in Big.  Plus, The Beyonder does kind of look like and eight-year-old dressed him.  I don’tknow if that many grown men wore a curly mullet and that appears to be a vinyl jumpsuit (seriously, it’s like the guy saw a windbreaker and said, “No.  I want the whole outfit to be that”), but then again, I have seen grown me in cropped muscle tees and acid-wash jeans.  God, the Eighties were blindingly awful.

Anyway, if I am going to pick something positive out of the story that Jim Shooter wrote, it’s that it is kind of like a kid trying to “act bigger” than he is–like it’s his first day of high school or something–and the art by Al Milgrom is workmak-like.  Otherwise, I can see why Secret Wars II was something I forgot as soon as I acquired it and why it’s more of a punchline than a fondly remembered story.

Next Up:  We finish “Comics Prehistory” with G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #48

Comics Prehistory: Superman #410

Superman 410As I make my way through these very early days of buying comics, I see more and more how my purchases were influenced by other media.  The two issues of Transformers that I just looked at are prime examples.  Superheroes are another, as much of my early knowledge of the spandex set came from seeing them on television shows such as Super-Friends or Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.  Another source was, occasionally, my dad, who liked Superman and was a fan of the Christopher Reeve films (at least Superman and Superman II).  That, of course, led to my purchasing all four issues of Superman: The Secret Years, and it led to my buying Superman #410.

This was another trip to Amazing Comics, sometime around my birthday in 1985 because while this issue came out that May, I remember seeing this and Superman #411 on the shelves at the same time, so it must have been right before Bob took the comic off of the main shelves and put it on the spinner rack near the door, which is what he did for all of “last month’s comics.”  It was a practice that he held onto for years and while I do have fond memories of comic book spinner racks and would love to own one someday, they do have an odd associate in my mind with comic book leftovers.

Okay, tangent over–or at least point of tangent, which is that my dad took me to the local comic store and said that he thought the cover to Superman #410 looked cool, so I decided to buy it.  Drawn by Klaus Janson, who at that point was known for his work with Frank Miller, the cover is certainly a dramatic one–Clark Kent is walking away from a screen where Superman is saying “I categorically deny the story Clark Kent wrote about in the Daily Planet–it is nothing but a pack of lies!”  If I may criticize it briefly, I will say that Superman does have a bit of a fat face and Clark’s suit looks two sizes too big, but the drama of Superman’s pronouncement and then the cover of the paper saying “CLARK KENT FIRED” was enough to pull me in and still makes me want to read the issue.

Superman Satellite

Superman saves a satellite.  Or does he?

What’s inside is the first of a really great three-part story arc that is one of those excellent late Bronze Age/pre-Crisis Superman stories.  We open with Superman saving a nuclear-powered satellite from falling to earth and blowing up, and then cut to Clark writing about it for the paper.  But the thing is, that satellite resuce never actually happened and once that is discovered, Superman finds himself being forced to deny the story, which gets Clark fired.  Superman, of course, is confused because he knows what he saw and knows what he did, yet when he flies to the place where the satellite fell from orbit, it’s still there.

Is he going nuts?  No.  This is all the machinations of Lex Luthor, who is messing with Superman’s mind from the confines of his lair, and he will just copntinue to do so until the end of issue #413, where he gets away because Brainiac recruits him to join a team of villains in Crisis on Infinite Earths #6 (Superman #413, by the way, is an issue I bought years later because it was an unofficial Crisis crossover).

It is, essentially, everything I wanted a Superman story to be when I was a kid, and exactly what i expect out of this time in the Man of Steel’s career.  Lex has an underground lair with henchmen and is planning supervillainy?  Check.  There’s romantic subplots with Lana and Lois?  Check.  Clark is secondary to Superman?  Check.  Granted, I would come to really love the FCTC-era Superman and I do consider that version to be my favorite iteration of the characters, but the “Oh, this would only happen on pre-Crisis Earth-1” feel of this particular issue is part of its charm.  Plus, it’s just a great setup and doesn’t feel like Cary Bates or Julius Schwartz were burning off stories prior to Alan Moore and then John Byrne.

Even the Curt Swan artwork, which I will admit I am hot and cold on at times, works well here.  Swan is inked by Al Williamson, whom I am most familiar with from Star Wars comics of the era, and his links, though pretty loose at times(although this may be due to the reproduction on the digital comic, which makes some of these old newsprint comics look like they are on baxter paper and it doesn’t always work), give Swan’s artwork more grace and fluidity than I’m used to seeing.  Then again, I’m not the most accurate judge of Swan’s art, considering I don’t have a lot of issues he actually drew.

But honestly, this is one of thosecomics that makes me with I had started collecting earlier than 1987, and that i had been experiencing the ed of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Modern Age as it happened.  This was still a time when a little kid could pick up books and follow them even if he had little to no sense of continuity.  Although even a sense of continuity could not have helped my next book.

Next up:  Secret Wars II #6

Comics Prehistory: Transformers #5

Transformers 5Okay, so I cheated a bit with my last post and simply reblogged a very old post about Superman: The Secret Years, but in rereading that old post, I saw the very roots of this series as well as “Origin Story” itself–three of those four issues came from Amazing Comics, and that started me on the road to eventually becoming a collector because I knew exactly where I could get any comic at any time.  Not only that, but I had followed an entire series from beginning to end, which was a big deal when I was seven.

On the day in March 1985 when I bought Superman: The Secret Years #4, which was a few weeks after the issue had hit the stands, I also bought Transformers #5.  My friend Christ had come over to my house and for some reason, my dad decided to take us to the comic book store.  I grabbed the Superman book while he grad a comic that he said had “Superman’s dad” in it that I think was Crisis on Infinite Earths #3; we both, however, saw Shockwave on the cover of Transformers #5 standing in front of the phrase “Are All Dead,” which he had carved into a wall and almost immediately grabbed a copy.  In fact, I think I remember being slightly scared of that cover and even to this day I think there is something ominous about it.

Plus, Shockwave was one of the toys that had recently been introduced along with the autobot Jetfire, which was and still is my favorite-looking Transformers toy (mainly because it was modeled after the Valkyrie fighter from Robotech).  They had shared a commercial and in our minds, that made them big.

Unknown to us at the time, in terms of The Transformers comic book, Shockwave was big–at the end of issue #4 (the last issue of what was then a four-issue miniseries), with the Autobots on the verge of a major victory, Shockwave shows up on Earth and just blasts everyone who is left standing completely to hell.  When issue #5 opens, he is watching The Honeymooners (and the opening of Ed asking “What’sa matter, Ralphie Boy?” and Ralph saying “Homina homina homina” cracked the two of us up) among other shows, including a news broadcast about an offshore oil rig, and he decides that Earth will be easy to conquer.  And by the way, the opening splash page, which is drawn by Alan Kupperberg, is incredible.

Then, we get an image scarier than the cover–a two-page splash of Shockwave walking under the seemingly dead bodies of the Autobots.  Moreover, we see him reviving and repairing his fellow Decepticons and telling Megatron–who is also under repair–that he is going to lead the group now, especially since Megatron’s rather incompetent excuse for leadership is what got them all there to begin with.

It’s a dynamic that I was unfamiliar with, to be honest.  I had been watching the cartoon every day after school and if you had asked me to name the Decepticon most likely to pose a threat to Megatron, I would say that probably would have been Starscream and not Shockwave.  But the comic and the cartoon had a lot of difference in continuities, which is something I would discover years later when I collected the comics.

There isn’t much else to this issue.  Spike and Buster find the one surviving Autobot, Ratchet, and begin to work toward helping the good guys get back to life, and the next issue’s main event, which is a fight between Megatron and Shockwave in one of those classic, “AND ONLY ONE SHALL LEAD!” Marvel cover moments.  But I think it is probably one of the most important issues of the series.  This was the first issue of the ongoing comic book (and if this were today, it would have been a new issue #1), so this storyline was going to be the big test of whether or not The Transformers could sustain a following.  Bob Budianscky provides a transition piece that is full of tension and leaves you wanting action, but also complicates the world even further.  It was only because of my sporadic comics buying habits, however, that I wouldn’t get issue #6, or any other Transformers comic book until 1987.

Next Time:  Superman #410

Comics Prehistory: Transformers #1

Transformers 1According to Mike’s Amazing World of Marvel Comics, Transformers #1 hit the stands on May 29, 1984.  This would have been around the time that I was finishing up the first grade, and while I can’t exactly recall everything I got for my seventh birthday, I’m pretty sure that in the very least by the time I hit the beginning of second grade, I owned at least one Transformer–and it was probably Huffer.  I was still pretty much unaware of anything related to comic books or comic stores, aside from what I saw in my local stationary stores, so the idea of a Transformers comic book would have completely passed me by.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that it passed by a number of people my age at that point, even if the toys and television show didn’t.

What I do know about acquiring it is that I got this at the same place I got a few comic books in those days of single-digit ages, a birthday party.  At some point in the early 1980s, a parent or two figured out that if you had a dozen kids, mostly boys, at a birthday party and you had to give something away for a goody bag and didn’t want to ply them with candy, spending about $10 on a few Marvel three-packs was a great idea.  And indeed it was.  I walked away from a few birthday parties at the time with a comic book that I read cover to cover several times over, eventually rolling the spines or nearly completely taking the covers off until they eventually disappeared down whatever memory hole your childhood belongings eventually go.  And while the strategy of putting a comic from a three-pack was nearly perfect (a not-so-perfect example will be the penultimate entry in this series of posts), I wasn’t thinking much about the quality of the comics I was getting in 1984.  I was excited to get something better than a ball on a paddle.

Transformers #1 is, as the cover by Bill Sienkewitz tells us, #1 in a four-issue limited series.  I used to love seeing the “… in a four-issue limited series” label on the top of a Marvel comic book in the same way that I loved the colored bar with “4 part mini series” or “12 part maxi series” running along the top of DC’s comics at the same time.  To me, it seemed like there was something special about the comic that I was going to read–plus, it meant that convincing my parents that further comics needed to be purchased was a good idea because a limited series meant it had an end and therefore less of a commitment.

Then again, it’s not like I ever owned any other part of the original limited series that featured the Transformers.  A friend at one point had a copy of issue #4 and let me read it, and I know that issue #3 was one of the more expensive back issues to get a few years later because the black-suited Spider-Man made an appearance (and I believe this has also caused some issue when it comes to the reprints of the series), but I wouldn’t pick up the adventures of my favorite metamorphing toys until the first issue of the ongoing series, which was #5.  And while they will be a big part of the “Origin Story” podcast miniseries, the Transformers comics never had the impact on me the way that G.I. Joe eventually would.

The plot to the issue (which has no story title and was written by Bill Mantlo and Ralph Macchio with art by Frank Springer and Kim DeMulder) is everything you’d expect from a first issue of the era, especially one that is the first chapter of a miniseries–it’s mostly exposition and setup.  We start out on Cybertron, learn the history behind the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, a war that lasted 1,000 years and whose devastation and power sent the planet hurtling off course and its path took it directly toward an asteroid field.  Seeing the danger, Optimus Prime and his Autobots board a spaceship called The Ark and flee the planet.  The Decepticons, who have been spying on their opponents, follow suit, attack The Ark, and Prime steers The Ark toward Earth.  They land and are buried for millennia and eventually the ship’s computer wakes up to find themselves in 20th Century America.  Not distinguishing between opponents, it equips them with the ability to transform into vehicles of that world.

The Decepticons flee the ark and we get a few pages of character identification and Prime summing up how they got their and restating what their mission is.  Meanwhile, in Oregon, Buster and Spike Whitwicky work in their repair shop and Buster eventually comes across Bumblebee and some other Autobots who are doing some recon and exploring the world.  Suddenly, the Decepticons attack and Buster manages to hop into Bumblebee and escape to the garage, where they first hear the car speak, “Help me, please!  I’m dying!”

I suppose I never bought the next issue because by the time I got it, it was already a back issue and Transformers were on the rise, so the price would have been too much.  I suppose I could have asked my parents to purchase the very three-pack that my copy of the book was taken from, but i was interested in getting them to buy me action figures.  It would would take a couple of years for that to change.

Coming Next Month: Superman: The Secret Years


Comics Prehistory: Star Wars #81

Star Wars 81 CoverIn writing this series of blog posts about the comics I picked up before the period I’ll be covering in the “Origin Story” podcast miniseries later this year, I’ve been deliberately writing about them in publication order because with the exception of a few books, I barely, if ever, remember the exact circumstances of their purchase.  So that means while I’m covering things in order chronologically, I’m out of order autobiographically.  I have very little reason as to why I’m clarifying that except to be anal retentive or something.  Oh, and to say that while Star Wars #81 is to be read after Return of the Jedi, I’m fairly certain I got my copy before the Return of the Jedi adaptation miniseries I covered in the last entry.

While I’m not sure of the date, I vividly remember standing in Unique stationery, which would later become Sayville Card and Gift and looking through the magazine and comic book rack, probably on a night where we had ordered Chinese food and were killing time while the cooks at the Wai Wah Kitchen a few doors down cooked it.  Unique had the kids magazines and comics on the bottom racks where we could all reach them and the more adult (and truly adult) magazines were on shelves for much taller people.  Anyway, I flipped through all of the comics on the rack and when I saw the cover for Star Wars #81, immediately stopped and grabbed it, then asked for it.  The comic was 60 cents, so as was usually the case it didn’t take much convincing.

Besides, looking at the cover, how could you not want to buy it?  I’d seen Star Wars comics before, but for the most part was never interested in them, probably because at six years old, I was still too young to start being a full-fledged comics reader.  Plus, while I saw Return of the Jedi in the theater that summer and Star Wars #81 came out in December, I hadn’t seen The Empire Strikes Back yet, so the pre-Jedi adventures didn’t necessarily pique my interest.  But seeing this cover by Tom Palmer, where Han Solo and Princess Leia look exactly like they did on the screen, I thought to myself, “Wow, it’s really Star Wars! and once we had purchased it, I tore into it.

Star Wars 810001

Chewbacca snuggles with some Ewoks.

Like other comics of the time, this one would be lost among all of the other ephemera of my youth–coloring books, comic books, and magazines that would be thrown in my desk and then thrown away as part of a spring cleaning purge.  Also, like other comics of the time, I wouldn’t remember much about the story and would focus on the art–I could read very well at six years old, but there’s being able to understand the words and reading comprehension and my reading comprehension skills were not as fully developed as they would be down the line–and I remember moments like Chewbacca snuggling with some Ewoks and Han finding the dice he used to win the Falcon from Lando in a long-ago, still-untold story.  And it wasn’t until 30 years later, when I bought a copy of the “A Long Time Ago …” Volume 4 omnibus from Dark Horse that I was able to reread and fully appreciate “Jawas of Doom.”

Written by Jo Duffy, who would write the series all the way to its end (save for a few fill-in issues) and illustrated by Ron Frenz, Tom Palmer, and Tom Mandrake, the story is the first in the Star Wars series that takes place after the Battle of Endor.  The rebels are still on the planet, although it’s implied that this takes place just after Return of the Jedi, perhaps even the day after the big “Yub Nub” party.  Han needs money and he tries to borrow some from a rebel pilot, who not only refuses him but insults him in the process.  Leia suggests that she can loan him some money because she does come from a wealthy family, and that angers him even more, causing Han to stomp off with his pride hurt.  The rest of the main characters are wondering what’s wrong and Leia explains that everything has happened so quickly since they freed him from the carbonite that Han really hasn’t had the chance to process everything and probably needs time to adjust.

Star Wars 810002

Chewie gives Han a comforting hug aboard the Millennium Falcon.

Aboard the Millennium Falcon, which is shown having the radar dish that Lando knocked off while racing through the Death Star (something that I found awesome because my Millennium Falcon toy had lost its radar dish at one point, so I could just pretend it was post-Return of the Jedi), Han thinks about what his life is now life, especially since he spent so many years being a loner.  He finds the dice that he used to win the ship from Lando and then Chewie comes in to give him a comforting hug.

Han then takes off with Leia and Chewie to Tattooine where he had stashed money years before, and on Tattooine, we see Boba Fett escape the sarlaac pit and get picked up by Jawas who mistake him for a droid.  Han lands at Mos Eisley, Han has problems landing and then can’t get his money out of the bank because according to the bank the assets are frozen due to the customer being frozen.  We also hear that the death of Jabba the Hutt has thrown the planet into a bit of chaos with various factions vying for the power left behind by the former gangster.  Leia remembers that Artoo can probably talk with the bank computers to change the glitch in the system.  They return to the Falcon to find Artoo gone and figure out that he’s been snatched by some jawas.  Han and Leia borrow a couple of landspeeders and head after the sandcrawler, which has both Boba Fett and Artoo on board.

Star Wars 810003The Jawas begin attacking the landspeeders and we have a fight where our heroes attempt to get into the sandcrawler while Artoo tries to escape.  At one point, Han comes face to face with Boba Fett and Fett has no idea who Han Solo is.  Fett helps Han out of the sandcrawler with Artoo and Han decides that he is going to help the bounty hunter as well.  It’s only when Leia yells for Han that Fett gets his memory back and starts to shoot at Han, only to be foiled  when Han and Artoo jump off of the sandcrawler just as it crashes into the sarlaac.

Now, my judgment and memory here may be off, but I think this is one of the more well-known, and perhaps one of the more well-regarded issues of Star Wars from the Return of the Jedi era.  I’d say that its proximity to the film as well as its cover definitely have something to do with that; however, this isn’t a case where it’s just that because this is a great single-issue story.  Han Solo was woefully underused in Return of the Jedi and while there is an end to the story overall at the end of that film, something that could be a sort of question regarding Han would be what he is going to do with his old life.  Yes, the debt to Jabba has been “paid” (in that Jabba is dead so there’s probably no debt), but does that mean he settles down and doesn’t have adventures anymore or stays in the military?  Or does he return to his old life as a smuggler?

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After a big fight, Boba Fett and the sandcrawler head into the mouth of the sarlaac.

The Force Awakens has shown that both actually happen and examines how they are wrapped up in particular consequences of the post-Jedi galaxy.  “Jawas of Doom” is more of a hangover story–what happens when the party is over and you have to go back to work on Monday morning, in a manner of speaking.  And it’s a good character piece that manages to be both fun and serious while furthering those involved without needing to shout THIS HAS IMPORTANT RAMIFICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE.  And I know that one of the other notable features of the issue is the “return” of Boba Fett, or at least having Boba Fett “come back” and then be put right back where we found him, but to me that’s secondary to having Han go back to the exact place where he left off, which is Tattooine–the world he was on when he decided to take Ben Kenobi and Luke Skywalker to Alderaan.

There are a number of Star Wars stories that I go back to whenever I want to flip through the old Marvel series and this is one of them.  Not, mind you, because of the personal nostalgia of remembering how I picked this one out, but because it’s actually a great read.

Coming Next Month:  The Transformers #1.



Comics Prehistory: Return of the Jedi

ROTJ1In my previous post, I wrote about the first comic I technically owned, although I only remember finding it years after I actually had “bought” it as a kid and it wound up feeling way more important later on, especially when I became an avid Batman collector and a fan of DC continuity, especially the continuity that centered around or was associated with Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Here, looking at the second set of comics, is something that was purchased because it was associated with the most important thing in my life when I was six years old and that was Star Wars.

To this day, Return of the Jedi remains the Star Wars film I saw the most in theaters and is the only film from the original trilogy that I saw upon its original release.  My father took me and my friend Chris to see the film at the Patchogue Indoor/Outdoor drive-in theater (the one that eventually became the UA Patchogue 13, which I wrote about in 2010: “Let’s Go to the Movies”) in 1983, would take me again to see it at the Sayville triplex when it was rereleased in 1985, and Amanda and I would go and see the special edition during spring break in 1997.  I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the film because of it being the one I saw in the theater (as opposed to Star Wars, which was on television and video and I had watched numerous times before seeing Jedi; or The Empire Strikes Back, which I saw via bootleg copy before it finally came out on video in 1984), and also because of how its merchandising shaped that part of my childhood.

Return of the Jedi StorybookYou could not escape Return of the Jedi in 1983 and 1984.  You may have not gone and seen the film (although I don’t know that many people my age who hadn’t seen it), but that didn’t matter because no matter what store you walked into, it seemed that there was something with a return of the Jedi logo on it.  Lucasfilm licensed Jedi to the hilt and when I was a the height of my kid fandom, I had a ton of merchandise that went beyond the toys:  sheets; cookies;  Dixie cups; a calendar; and my most prized non-toy possessions, which were the records, tapes and books that told the story of the film.  For myself and a number of other kids my age, owning these pieces of merchandise allowed me to relive the movie for at least a few years before I saw it again or owned my own copy on VHS (a copy I still actually have).

Star Wars merchandise

A two-page spread of Star Wars merchandise, most of it from Jedi, as featured in “George Lucas: The Creative Impulse” by Charles Champlin

The comics, however, I have to admit, were not really a part of that.  My comic book buying as a little kid was incredibly sporadic–if I saw something I liked and my dad had enough pocket change, I would buy it, but there were rarely return trips to the store to get the next issue or anything like that.  But I did own the entire Marvel Comics film adaptation and that is because of something that is an integral part of the 1980s childhood nostalgia, which is the comic book multipack.

Return of the Jedi ComicsIf you’re unfamiliar with comic book multipacks, these were polybagged packs of three or four comic books that were stocked on the shelves of K-Mart, Toys R Us, and similar stores (for those local to Long Island, you’ll recognize the name TSS).  Sometimes they were entire collections of limited series, such as this, but other times they were three comics featuring the same character or characters.  I remember a number of times where  I would pick one of the multipacks off the shelf and try to see what the middle book was because you only could see the full covers of two of them.  Most of the comics multipacks were from Marvel, although DC produced them as well, and at some point in late 1983 or early 1984, the company bagged the entire four-issue series and put it on the shelves for the low, low price of $2.29, which was an 11-cent discount.

I really don’t need to get that much into the plot of the series because if you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with the events of Return of the Jedi, and unlike, say, Marvel’s adaptation of Star Wars back in 1977, there aren’t major discrepancies between the comic and the movie such as deleted scenes left in or lines of dialogue significantly changed.  In fact, the thing that does make the Return of the Jedi adaptation unique is that it’s a separate miniseries from the then-ongoing Star Wars title that Marvel was publishing and it is only four issues long instead of the six that were given to tell the stories of Star Wars and Empire.  The creative team was the same as Empire‘s six-issue story arc, with Archie Goodwin handling the writing and Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon doing the art (the team on Star Wars back in 1977 had been Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin).

ROTJ2In trying to remember how I got these comics, I seem to recall getting them from Toys R Us in Bay Shore, and it was one of those rare times when my parents took Nancy and I to the store and allowed us to pick something out because we didn’t get toys or anything like that at random very often–they were usually saved for Christmas or our birthdays.  Why we were at Toys R Us to begin with is beyond me, but I’m going to assume that either one of us was there to spend Christmas or birthday money or we were there to buy a gift for someone else, perhaps someone whose birthday party we were attending.  The comics and coloring books were all located on a newsstand rack that was at the end of the board games aisle at the back of the store (and honestly, the old-school Toys R Us layout is probably worth its own blog post, especially if I can find pictures), and what probably happened is that I saw the comics multipack, asked my parents to buy it for me, and since it was roughly the same price as an action figure (my usual go-to “can you buy me this” item because it was cheap and they knew it wouldn’t go to waste), they said yes.

I’d like to say that I read the covers off of the series, but quite honestly, I only remember one time where I read it in the car on the way to my grandmother’s house and what probably happened after that was that I shoved the comics in the desk where I kept all of my coloring books.  The storybook, which had bonafide photographs from the film was more important to me anyway.  And what that means was that I had vague memories of it beyond the covers–which, to be honest, are different characters striking simple poses in a way that can best be described as “serviceable” and nowhere near as dynamic as the adaptations of the other two films–so when I read the adaptation as part of the “A Long Time Ago …” Volume 4 omnibus that Dark Horse Comics released, I didn’t have any serious emotional attachment.

ROTJ3Still, I have to say that it is quite a disappointment.  Having to condense the entire movie into four issues means that Goodwin and Williamson are almost doing a retread of the photographic storybook, as it’s heavy on narration boxes and the panels look more like stills than dynamic depictions of action.  Granted, I know the story and knew the story when I first read it, so I didn’t and don’t need that feeling of “What’s going to happen next,” but this during an era of the Marvel Star Wars comics where David Micheline and Jo Duffy were writing some excellent stories and the work by artists such as Walt Simonson, Ron Frenz, and Tom Palmer was top-notch.  That’s not saying that Goodwin and Williamson were bad at their jobs, but reading Jedi as part of that omnibus package had me wondering what the series would have been like if those creators had taken on the task of adapting the film.

Instead, what we have is probably the very definition of a “disposable” comic book.  I mean, there are quite a number of comics out there that are ephemeral, but for something that had such a big impact on popular culture and the comics industry (especially Marvel) as Star Wars, the adaptation of Jedi reads as if it were to be consumed in the moment and then tossed aside to be put on a pile of coloring books, storybooks, and other things that would eventually make their way into a trash can at some point during a huge spring cleaning a few years later.

Coming next month:  Star Wars #81

Comics Prehistory: The Brave and the Bold #182

Scan0001I suppose it’s kind of funny to say that comic #1 in your collection (read: the first comic you purchased and still have) is only #1 on a technicality.  I own a copy of The Brave and the Bold #182 and have owned this comic since 1981; however, I honestly do not remember buying it.

My hometown’s local comic shop, Amazing Comics, opened in 1984 and the first comic book I ever bought there was an issue of Superman: The Secret Years.  But a few years later, probably around 1988 or 1989, my parents were cleaning out the attic and my friend Tom and I were helping them clean off some old stuff that they were going to give to a local church.  Most of these items were pretty typical–clothes and old toys, for instance.  In fact, several of the old toys were Fisher-Price Little People sets that nowadays would fetch about $40-$50 on eBay if my parents had the foresight to put those back in the attic.

Anyway, among those old toys was an American Tourister luggage set that my parents probably had owned since they were married in 1971, a pea-green hard-cased set that was actually pretty cumbersome to store and had been replaced with the type of suitcases that can be placed inside one another.  Tom and I were asked to open each of them up, dust them, vacuum them, and leave them on the back deck to air out before we put them in the car.  We did so, taking a break from actually playing with the Little People (because even though we were 11 or 12, it was toys we hadn’t seen and that’s what you do whenever you see toys), and when I opened up what used to be the toiletries and cosmetics suitcase, which is what I used to pack when I was very little and would spend nights at my grandmother’s, I found The Brave and the Bold #182.


In the splash page, Batman gets a frightening surprise and Jim Aparo gives us some great cape.

It was obviously my comic book and I had obviously brought it with me when staying at my grandmother’s one night, but I cannot say when I actually bought it.  The cover date was January 1982 and the publication date, according to Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, was October 22, 1981, so the comic predated the opening of the comic book store and that meant that my father probably bought it for me when he took me to Greaves Stationary on Main Street because he was buying cigarettes and while he chatted up the people behind the counter, I perused the comics and picked this one out.  The fact that I hadn’t lost it–I remember owning at least one issue of The New Adventures of Superboy as well as one or two issues of The Amazing Spider-Man but what issues they were and when I got them is lost to time–is only by the grace of my forgetting it in a suitcase.


Robin reminds Batman that he’s all grown up.

The Brave and the Bold, most comics fans will remember, started as an adventure anthology book and then became a superhero team-up book, eventually evolving into a Batman team-up book that ended with issue #200 and was “replaced” by Batman and the Outsiders.  The team-up in this issue is with “Robin, The Ex-Boy Wonder” and is called “Interlude on Earth-Two.”  Written by Alan Brennert with art by Jim Aparo, the story begins on Earth-2 with the adult Dick Grayson, aka Robin, teaming up with Starman Ted Kord to figure out how Hugo Strange, a man long thought to be dead, is creating crazy storms around Gotham City.  Meanwhile, back on Earth-1, Batman finds himself in a graveyard in a similar storm and after dodging a lighting strike sees is own grave.  Only it’s not his own grave; it’s the grave of the Batman of Earth-2, who had died a few years earlier in an issue of Adventure Comics.

Batman, after scaring a random couple who think they’re seeing a ghost, heads to the headquarters of  the JSA where he’s accosted by Robin, who thinks he’s breaking in before he realizes who he’s looking at.  The two recap who Hugo Strange is and then find themselves being attacked by relics from the Batcave:  Catwoman’s Pantherjet, and an old Batmobile, for instance.  Someone else joins their team as the old Batmobile attacks them and that is Kathy Kane, aka Batwoman, who Bruce remembers died years ago on his earth but is semi-retired on Earth-2.

Realizing that the artifacts that are attacking them are real, the Bat-team deduces that the only possible place that Hugo Strange could be attacking them from is the Batcave and they head there, which is where they have to fight the T-Rex that’s so famous as well as a Batman android.  Eventually an old and decrepit Hugo Strange shows himself, holding Starman’s cosmic rod (it had disappeared at the beginning of the issue), which he’d been using to control everything he’d been throwing at the heroes.   He tells Batman, Robin, and Batwoman how he had survived the fall that everyone thought had killed him back in Detective Comics #46 (and thanks to The Original Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes Vol 1 for that info) and then Batman attacks him, telling Strange that it’s not that he wants to destroy Gotham, it’s that he wants to die.  Batman tells him that he doesn’t have the guts to kill himself and eventually Strange admits it and uses the cosmic rod to turn himself to ash.  The story ends with Starman, who is nursing a broken arm, using the cosmic rod to send Batman back to his earth.


Hugo Strange sends a Batman robot after our heroes and Robin has to “kill” his mentor.

By the way, there’s a Nemesis story in this comic but: a) I never read that as a kid, and b) I covered it back on episode 3 of 80 Years of DC Comics: Action-Adventure, so you can learn all about it there.

Alan Brennert is one of Rob Kelly’s favorite comic book writers and it wasn’t until recently that I realized that he wrote three of my all-time favorite Batman stories, including this one.  I’ve heard this covered on a couple of podcasts before and the two things that always come up are that the version of the Earth-2 Robin costume with the yellow pants and the green mask that covers most of his face are not everyone’s favorite and that through most of the story, Robin is resentful that the Earth-1 Batman is there and acts like kind of a prick.


At the end of the story, Hugo Strange meets his end. Batman is kind of responsible, but we’re going to gloss over that.

When I was a kid reading this story, Robin’s resentment didn’t necessarily register with me and re-reading it now, I actually like the resentment.  Batman of Earth-2 died in Adventure Comics #462, which only came out three years prior to this, so in comic book time it’s very possible that not much time had passed between the death of the Earth-2 Batman and this particular adventure, although there were two JLA/JSA crossovers between now and then, so this is not the first time that the Dick Grayson of Earth-2 is encountering the Bruce Wayne of Earth-1.  However, while I don’t know if I’m being entirely accurate, this is probably the first time in a long time that the Robin of Earth-2 has been part of a Batman and Robin team.  Furthermore, Batman does boss him around quite a bit like a junior partner, and it actually is a nice bit of foretelling of how the Dynamic Duo of Earth-1 will have their tension boil over in the pages of The New Teen Titans and Batman of the Outsiders just prior to Dick becoming Nightwing.  Plus, I’ve always liked this version of the Earth-2 Robin’s costume.  I can’t explain why, because it would never really work if it were used in a movie or anything.  Maybe it’s the way it’s drawn by Jim Aparo because his artwork is amazing throughout the story and a reminder of why for years his Batman was “my” Batman.

As for the story, I love it because Brennert’s writing is really tight and he makes several callbacks to storylines way in the past (as evidenced by my having to use a comic book encyclopedia for reference) but doesn’t overwhelm things with contrivance or continuity.  In fact, he gives what could be a very heavy story about dealing with one’s grief, or having to unexpectedly confront feelings that you thought you’d worked through.  Plus, he plays the angle of the old, decrepit villain trying for one last victory very well, even if Batman kind of goads Hugo Strange into offing himself (it’s kind of “suicide by cop” if you break it down.

I would spend much of the early part of my comic collecting career loving alternate earths stories like Crisis on Infinite Earths. and I think this comic book is responsible.  I’m also happy at how well it holds up, especially when I’m pretty sure that a number of comics I’ll be reviewing for this series won’t.

Coming Next Month:  The Marvel Comics adaptation of Return of the Jedi