Blackhawk was created by Chuck Cuidera, Will Eisner, and Bob Powell for Quality Comics.
Blackhawk was a title originally published by Quality Comics back in 1944. Blackhawk would continue to be published by Quality until 1956 (issue #107) in which, opting to withdraw from the comic book publishing business, Quality leased the characters to DC comics (then called National Periodical Publications). DC comics picked up where the series left off (at issue #108) and after a rocky publishing history managed to get the series as far as issue #273 before being cancelled for good in 1984.
The 1987 Blackhawk prestige format mini-series was the third revival of the title (revived in 1976 after a seven year hiatus and again in 1982 after a four year hiatus). For all intents and purposes, we can consider this the ‘post-Crisis’ Blackhawk reboot.
The premise of Blackhawk is pretty simple: it’s about an international squadron of WWII-era fighter pilots (led by a man named Blackhawk) who battle whatever the tyrannic force of the day was - so during the 1940s they mainly fought Germans. Of course, you’d never know this reading Chaykin's Blackhawk revamp - as he pretty much expects the reader to already have some some of understanding of who or what Blackhawk is. My only knowledge of Blackhawk prior to this series were his few guest appearances in other DC titles during the late 70s/early 80s - so there was a bit of research needed to figure out what was going on.
The big deal about this mini-series was that it was written and illustrated by Howard Chaykin. Chaykin had always been a somewhat controversial writer - trying to push the envelope in regards to adult themes as far as the Comics Code Authority would allow him to go. Most reviewers who have written articles about this mini-series always make a point of comparing it to Chaykin's American Flagg! (published by First comics from 1983 to 1988). Keeping this in mind, I read the first 20 issues of American Flagg! just so I’d have some sort of context as to what reviewers were basing their comments on. I recognized quite a few similarities between these titles: both Reuben Flagg and Blackhawk are ‘men of uniform’, both Reuben Flagg and Blackhawk have vivacious sexual appetities, both titles feature a lot of Russian (‘Bojemoi’), both use frequent media interludes (news clippings, radio, tv, etc) to give the reader some background as to what’s going on, and both titles have lots of (implied) sex and political power struggles at play.
A major sub-plot in this mini-series is Blackhawk (a man of Polish decent) being under investigation by the United States for being a communist sympathizer. This was not a new change Chaykin had made: originally Blackhawk was introduced as a Polish citizen back in Military Comics #1 (1941). Since the invasion of Poland was still news, Blackhawk creator/artist Bob Powell suggested that Blackhawk should be a Pole (with the intention of making the story topical). During the course of the original ongoing series (I think by the time the title is picked up by DC comics), Blackhawk’s nationality is retconned to American and he becomes an All-American hero.
Reactions to this mini-series were mixed: many fans applauded Chaykin for his innovative visual style and fresh breath of life into the character, while others criticized that Chaykin's depiction of an 'all too human' Blackhawk was a huge departure from the selfless and stoic Blackhawk they grew up with. Nevertheless, Chaykin's Blackhawk mini-series was successful enough that Blackhawk received a weekly feature in 1988’s Action Comics. Later, Blackhawk would receive it’s own ongoing series in 1989.
On the surface, this seems to just be another World War II era adventure where the hero is racing against time to stop the atomic bomb from falling into the hands of the enemy. However, Brannon Costello's brilliant essay on sub-themes in the mini-series exploring Chaykin's views on Fascism and Mass Culture has encouraged me to go back and read over all of the subtleties I may have missed the first time. All in all, a very interesting book, but not the jumping on point I'd recommend for someone who wants to find out what Blackhawk's all about.
Exactly 1 year ago today dcinthe80s.tumblr.com posted it’s first blog entry. I’d like to thank all of the fans for getting us this far.
A little bit about us:
Like just about anything else created on the blogosphere after 2010, DCinthe80s is standing on the shoulders of giants: the DCinthe80s journey started several years ago upon the discovery of comingsuperattractions.blogspot.ca, who posted house ads from DC publications throughout the last 6+ decades. Unfortunately, they ceased updating their blog in February 2009.
Jason Shayer's Marvel Comics of the 1980s blog kept us enthralled for hours/days/weeks with his Marvel comics house ads, original art, and ‘anatomy of a cover’ features - but alas, why was there no ‘DC Comics of the 80s’ blog? And hence, this DCinthe80s was born. At the time of our first post, we weren’t the only DC blog at the time*, but we were the only ones to focus exclusively on DC comics of the 80s. Jason Shayer would later create a DC comics of the 80s blog which would contain original art, house ads and the ‘anatomy of a cover’ feature - totally worth checking out.
This blog simply started as posts of house ads that appeared in DC publications during the 1980s, but slowly began to evolve into mini-essays as we began to research the origin of the title, how readers enjoyed it, and whatever happened to it. It was also very interesting to note what kind of internal politics were occurring at the offices of DC comics at the time. Our mission was to uncover the “hidden story” behind the story - so to speak. You’ll notice that we put a lot of emphasis on the writers and editors of the titles, as we feel that they are the unsung heroes of the comic book industry (actually, that’s a lie - the real unsung heroes are the inkers, letterers and colorists - but we’ll cover that some other day).
That being said, we are a very small operation who submit articles to this blog on our free time. Our main sources for our info are various fanzines, back issues of comic journals, various internet sources (that we always reference on our facebook page), the letter columns of the issues we are reviewing (yes, we actually read the source material) and, sometimes, good ol’ fashion speculation and gumption. If you ever notice an error, please do not hesitate to correct us (preferably by e-mail or private message). We like to give credit where credit is due.
The goal of this blog is two-fold: 1) celebrate and 2) raise awareness about DC publications from the 1980s. DC comics is a business, and if enough people are enthusiastic about DC publications from the 1980s, we may be able to inspire a revival (wishful thinking) or at least reprints of previously uncollected material from the 1980s.
For the record, we are not anti-Marvel or anti-Eclipse or anti-anything. We are not so naive as to believe that nothing else good came of the 1980s (in terms of comic book publications). We are not a “Make Mine DC or Nothing” blog. Additionally, while Superman, Batman, Teen Titans and the Legion of Super-Heroes may have been the more popular characters/titles of the 1980s, we like to spotlight the lesser-known/obscure characters/titles of the 1980s. At DCinthe 80s, all the titles get fair exposure (providing we have the house ad for them).
So far we’ve piloted a DC in the 80s google+ community, but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, so it’s on hiatus at the moment. Same idea with the DC in the 80s wordpress site. (This might change if we suddenly get a huge influx of google+ or wordpress followers.) In the meanwhile, we are aiming to put more effort into bringing you quality articles. Our DC in the 80s twitter account is active and is often tweeting whatever new posts have been made to the facebook page.
We may be getting a new senior editor in March, so that’s something we are excited for. How long will this blog be going on for? Well, until we run out of house ads or until we’ve reviewed every publication DC has printed between 1979 to 1989 - whichever comes first. Hopefully we will have reminded/introduced you to a 1980s title you may have all but forgotten about.
How can you help?
We don’t want you money, we want your memories. Share these posts. Re-blog them back to us with your memories and/or opinions of the comic/house ad/title/article. We want to hear feedback. There is no such thing as a bad opinion (unless you are thrashing us, of course - we’re only doing this for the love of comics).
Thank you for a great year.
*Shout outs to:
Underworld was a 4-issue police procedural mini-series created/written by Robert Loren Fleming and illustrated by Ernie Colon. A police procedural is a genre of fiction that is different from crime/detective fiction, in which it focuses on a police force (or in this case, a select number in the police force) and the activites they partake in as they investigate/solve a crime. Popular examples of modern day police procedurals on television include CBS Television Studios' CSI: Crime Scene Investigation or NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Streets.
I’m going to make an amateur speculation and presume that in 1987, in order to compete with the flood of new independent comics appearing on the direct market, DC began to get more experimental in it’s publishing selections. DC was now publishing more than just their ‘conventional’ super-hero titles - they were testing the waters for the revival of dormant comic book genres that they could hold a monopoly on (ex: sci-fi, pulp, fantasy, horror and sword & sorcery). DC was also publishing graphic novels and using the “suggested for mature readers” label more liberally in an attempt to gain the attention of the ‘older comic buyer with money’ demographic that was so commonly found frequenting comic book shops. DC comics were not ‘just for kids’ anymore. Crime comics (the predecessor of police procedural comics) were really popular in the 1940s and early 1950. They were so popular, in fact, that they were blamed for corrupting the morals of youth in Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent published in 1954. This, of course, caused a media backlash which ultimately led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority (CCA) and saw the drastic decline of crime comics in newsstands across North America (western comics pretty much filled the void crime comics left).
Historically speaking, police procedurals make for great TV shows and have been quite popular for as long as TVs have been broadcasting. Popular North American police procedurals during the 1980s include NBC’s Hill Street Blues and Fox’s 21 Jump Street. It isn’t really a surprise to believe that DC would try experimenting with a new police procedural mini-series to see if there was a market for it.
Underworld really has nothing to do with the ‘underworld’ (the title was misleading - I was expecting something about cop-killing mobsters) and deals primarily with the intertwined lives of four cops from a single precinct. The stories are self-contained (one story per issue), the characters have no interaction with the rest of the DCU (not even sure if they are in the same universe), the series is based on reality (so no aliens, monsters, super villains or etc), and the dialogue/content is unusually light-hearted for something marketed as being grim and gritty. The CCA seemed to have gotten more lax between 1954 and 1987, case in point: despite the images of blood and murder on the covers of this comic, every single issue has the CCA stamp of approval. The books give a lot of backstory to the characters and there is a sub-plot about a mysterious ‘Knight Rider’-type fugitive car that runs through the mini-series that is never resolved, so I’m guessing Fleming left it open for the hope of an ongoing series. Unfortunately for Fleming, an ongoing series never materialized. Actually, this mini-series has pretty much been swept under the rug, as it was never collected as a reprint or trade paperback. DC would have much greater success with it’s Gotham Central police procedural ongoing series published in 2003.
Fun Fact: The longest-running police procedural comic strip/book to date is Dick Tracy.
Robert Loren Fleming had previously created/written the 1983 Thriller maxi-series and co-wrote an Ambush Bug mini-series with Keith Giffen before his published work on Underworld was released in 1987. He went on to work with Giffen again on Ambush Bug, Aquaman, Ragman and ultimately the Eclipso series where he would kill of a bunch of D-list superheroes in the early 90s.
The Manhunters (alien robots that served as antagonists to the Green Lantern Corps) originally appeared in 1977 and were created by Steve Englehart and Dick Dillin.
The ‘Manhunter’ concept actually pre-dates the Manhunters’ first appearance by three decades with Adventure Comics #72 (1942): a character named ‘Manhunter’, created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who appears similar in appearance to the Manhunters Englehart and Dillin introduced. Simon and Kirby's Manhunter (aka: 'Paul Kirk') fell into obscurity around 1944 when various factors, due to a direct result of World War 2, caused DC comics to shorten the length of it's publications.
The ‘Paul Kirk’ Manhunter was revived* by Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson in a 1973 back-up feature that ran in Detective Comics from issue #437 to #443 and was promptly killed off afterwards.
A new Manhunter (aka: ‘Mark Shaw’) was introduced in DC’s 1st Issue Special #5 (1975) by Jack Kirby - but fan reaction did not merit ‘Mark Shaw’ recieving his own ongoing series. Mark Shaw re-appeared in 1977’s Justice League of America #140 - #141 (in which Englehart and Dillin introduced the Manhunters) and tied Mark Shaw and Paul Kirk to the whole ‘Manhunters’ mythos that Englehart created - a nice example of Englehart incorporating some previous continuity to tie everything together. Mark Shaw appeared in a few issues of Justice League of America in various incarnations during 1977 and pretty much remained in comic book limbo until John Ostrander gave Shaw his big break in the 1987 Suicide Squad series.
Ostrander was drawn to Mark Shaw and the character’s quest to ‘uncover his identity’ and decided to include him in a Suicide Squad story arc dealing with the inter-company Millennium cross-over (Suicide Squad v1 #8 to #10). The issues were well-received by fans and generated renewed interest in the character. It should be noted that the Millennium cross-over event spotlighted the Manhunters across every DC title being published at the time. Also, by this point, Goodwin/Simonson's Manhunter back-up feature from 1973 had achieved cult-like status among fans (and was reprinted as a Baxter edition in 1984). Thus: a combination of the Millennium event, the demand for the Goodwin/Simonson Manhunter reprint and his appearance in Suicide Squad created the ‘perfect storm’ of interest to allow this character to receive his own ongoing series. It was originally planned as a 4 issue mini-series, but became an ongoing series thanks to fan response.
While the series *could* be considered an unofficial Millennium spin-off, I’m sure it’s creation had more to do with Ostrander’s treatment of the character in the pages of Suicide Squad rather then the cross-over event itself. This is relevant, since it’s Ostrander and (his wife) Kim Yale's scripting and writing of the Manhunter v1 series that makes it so enjoyable to read. At the time, Ostrander was writing 3 other DC titles (Suicide Squad, Deadshot, and Firestorm) and it wasn’t unusual to have supporting characters from one series featured in another. For example, the first issue of Manhunter has Mark Shaw apprehending Captain Cold (a Flash rogue) who ends up joining the Suicide Squad in the following month’s Suicide Squad (issue #16). It’s the tight cohesion of these four titles that made these series’ so enjoyable to read - almost like a mini-Ostrander universe (Ostraverse?) that only you are privy to. Another example: shortly after Count Vertigo appears in Manhunter v1 #7 does he become a member of the Suicide Squad in Suicide Squad #24.
The Manhuner series was brilliantly written as a detective/espionage thriller. The premise of the series is: Mark Shaw, in an effort to make money and clear the Manhunter name, decides to use his abilities and powers (a bionic face mask and a high-tech baton) to hunt down and capture escaped super-villains at large. Essentially, Mark Shaw is a soldier of fortune who only targets meta-criminals. This was a great excuse to feature a lot of super-villains from other titles - which Ostrander/Yale take full advantage of - we have appearances from the Penguin, Captain Cold, Catman, Dr Alchemy, Count Vertigo, Kobra, and a thug in a LexCorp battlesuit throughout the series. Mark Shaw *did* have his own personal antagonist named Dumas, but he was killed off at the end of the first four-issue story arc (much to the dismay of the fans). Ostrander/Yale ensured that there were lots of references to the current happenings of the DCU in the series, and the Invasion! inter-company cross-over event played a huge part in this series. This series also played a bit part in the Janus Directive cross-over that ran between a few DC titles in 1989.
For the most part Ostrander/Yale gave the fans exactly what they wanted: when fans requested an issue where the story is told from a villain’s point-of-view, they got it in Manhunter #16. When fans wrote in to request a Mark Shaw/Batman team-up, they received one in issue #17. Fans wanted more integration with Ostrander's Suicide Squad title, and they received a few cross-overs with the title.
One of the things that really stands out about this series is that it is written in such a way that you get a lot of insight into the thinking of Mark Shaw - which allows the reader to identify him as an ‘everyman’ and thus feel some sort of connection with him. My favorite story arcs from this series were issues #10 - #12 (which featured a big 6-way battle with guest stars galore that was laugh out loud funny) and issues #8 - #9 (which tied in with the Flash v2 #21 and #22 in a very unique and clever way).
All 24 issues of Manhunter v1 were written by John Ostrander and Kim Yale (and often Yale would write an issue on her own). Doug Rice was the regular penciller up until issue #15 when Grant Miehm took over regular pencilling chores. During Rice's run there were quite a few fill-in pencillers (Kelley Jones, Mary Mitchell, Pablo Marcos) because it took Rice longer than a month to pencil an issue. Back-up features were also included in order to get the issue to print because often the main feature wasn’t 100% completed before deadline. Sam Keith pencilled and inked a back-up feature in issue #12 which, upon closer examination, is probably the precursor to him developing his artistic style that he would end up using in his 1993 The Maxx series (from Image comics). Keith began inking the first few issues of Manhunter, but was quickly whisked away and assigned to work on Neil Gaiman's Sandman before the first four issue story arc was completed.
As previously mentioned, the Manhunter v1 series last 24 issues (no annuals and no specials) and, while being a hot concept with lots of fanfare at the beginning of the run, by the second year interest in the title had waned. As a matter of fact, Miehm became the new regular penciller (replacing Rice) completely aware that the series would be cancelled. Unlike most ongoing series’ that are cancelled abruptly, Ostrander/Yale had the luxury of ending Manhunter v1 with plenty of time to conclude the book at their own pace. Due to popular demand, Dumas made a return to the series and was the main antagonist in the 6-part “Saints and Sinners” story arc that was more or less the death rattle of the book. The last 7 issues of the series were spent taking Mark Shaw back to his ‘roots’, resolving his romantic life and basically providing a resolution to the series. Mark Shaw would appear a few more times in Ostrander's Suicide Squad before being killed off in Eclipso #13 (1993).
There are a few major themes running through this book, some obvious (ex: Mark Shaw’s search for identity/redemption) and some not so obvious (ex: Ostrander/Yales fixation with masks - allegorical or otherwise), but a theme most people seem to glaze over is the major undertones of Japanese culture predominant in this series. Just to further that last point: the entire series is more or less a ‘martial arts’ book, a few adventures take place in Japan, Mark Shaw’s costume/mask/baton appear to be a homage to the costumes Kabuki actors wore and the warrior code of the samurai is a recurring idea that keeps cropping up throughout the series. Most people aren’t aware of this, but Ostrander and Rice had collaborated prior to this project on a series called Dynamo Joe that was published by First Comics from 1986 to 1988. Dynamo Joe was a ‘giant robot’ series (akin to Voltron/Robotech) and it was no secret that Rice was a Japanese magna fan (Manhunter v1 #10 - 12 appear to be a throwback to the Dynamo Joe series, also the fusion of martial arts and high tech devices - bionic mask and high-tech baton - just screams ‘japanime’). Ninjas were very trendy in North American pop culture during the 1980s, so this would all tie together. Yale even goes so far as to list the book ‘Yakuza’ by David E Kaplan and Alec Dubro as a valuable reference for the series.
Great premise, great writer(s), great series. Highly recommended.
*Originally there wasn’t meant to be any connection between the Goodwin/Simonson Manhunter and the Simon/Kirby Manhunter. Apparently, it was a last minute addition made for continuity convenience.
The World of Krypton
When John Byrne was tasked with revamping Superman for the post-Crisis DCU, he had carte blanche to alter all of the Superman mythos - and that included Superman’s home world, Krypton. Krypton was always part of the Superman mythos from the get-go - first appearing as far back as Superman #1 (1939). Different writers gave different interpretations on Superman’s home planet, but we’re just going to skip all of that and talk about the changes Byrne made.
The first glimpse of the post-Crisis Krypton appeared in 1986’s Man of Steel mini-series (the story that re-introduced Superman’s origin to the post-Crisis DCU). If you’ve ever watched 1978’s Superman: the Movie from Warner Bros, you may have recognized that Byrne adapted a lot of that movie into his new post-Crisis Superman reboot - I mean, the new Superman does look a lot like Christopher Reeve, no? So it might not surprise you to learn that Byrne also borrowed elements of the Superman movie’s Krypton (which was depicted as a stark, barren landscape with crystalline structures) and it’s inhabitants (sterile, emotionless, scientifically-advanced race of beings). This is a large contrast to the pre-Crisis Krypton in which all the Kryptonians seemed pretty down-to-earth and lived in a lush, technological-superior utopian world. Amazing Heroes #96 (1986) has Byrne quoted as saying that he intended for the post-Crisis Krypton to be depicted as a world that ought to be blown up, in order to demonstrate that Superman was very lucky to have arrived on earth. He didn’t want Krypton to be a place Superman would be nostalgic for. By Superman’s parents jettisoning him to another planet they gave him the gift of humanity (i.e.: emotions and feelings). This is a very important aspect of Superman, as it answers the question why Superman (an alien) cares so much for mankind and hasn’t imprisoned and enslaved us all.
A big part of the post-Crisis Superman reboot was Superman being ‘the LAST Kryptonian’ - Byrne's destruction of Krypton effectively retconned the survival of Supergirl, Krypto, Beppo, Streaky or Comet the Super Horse.
The World of Krypton expanded on the post-Crisis Krypton origin and gave the reader some sort of context as to why Krypton was the way it was and what led to it’s untimely destruction (involving a baby Superman being rocketed to earth). Another detail that Byrne introduced (in regards to Kryptonian culture) was the bodysuit* that is common wardrobe amongst Kryptonians - it was explained to be a life-sustaining device that slowed down aging or something like that. The mini-series also introduced Kryptonian warsuits (that mechanical exo-skeleton that Superman first returns in after he was killed by Doomsday in the early 90s) and a few other elements that would be generally accepted and built upon by other writers when Krypton was forever mentioned in the DCU.
I really enjoyed this mini-series. You’d never actually know it had anything to do with Superman until issue #3 (and Superman appearing on the cover of the first issue). It’s a really well-written sci-fi story written by Byrne with pencils by Mike Mignola and inking by Byrne. If anyone ever tells me that Byrne isn’t a good writer I will triumphantly wave this mini-series this in their face as a counterargument.
This mini-series was part of a 3-part collection by Byrne meant to re-establish Superman’s origin. The other mini-series’ were: World of Smallville and World of Metropolis.
All three of these mini-series’ were published during the Millennium cross-over.
*see house ad: black unitards with white lace running up the arms
Arion, Lord Of Atlantis
Arion, Lord of Atlantis started as a back-up feature in the Warlord (issue #55 to be exact) back in 1982. Apparently, then-editor Laurie Sutton mentioned to Paul Kupperberg in passing that Dragonsword (the Warlord’s current back-up feature) wasn’t going to last forever and they were going to need a new back-up feature to run. The only requirement for something to be a back-up feature in the Warlord was that it had to be of the sword and sorcery/fantasy genre. Kupperberg suggested a story about a young mage and Sutton requested that it be set in Atlantis - and that, my friends, is the origin of Arion, Lord of Atlantis. The hardest part of the whole creation process was coming up with a name for Arion (which was finally decided at the last possible minute) - other potential names included Orion, Atlan and Tynan. Arion was ultimately created by Kupperberg (writer) and Jan Duursema (artist).
The Arion, Lord of Atlantis back-up feature ran from Warlord #55 to #62 (1982). The back-up feature was alright and focused heavily on myth and magic and cosmic blah blah blah, but I found the language was very ‘Old English’ (i.e.: ‘nay’, ‘ye’, ‘verily’,…) and that took away from my enjoyment of the series*. Nevertheless, it still set up the premise of a plot and some interesting story elements/characterization and it was enough to please fans. By the time the back-up feature ended, Arion had his own ongoing series the following month - which is relatively unheard of for a back-up feature. Although we shouldn’t dismiss the power of a back-up feature… Legion of Super-Heroes started as a back-up feature and look how they turned out. Conquerors of the Barren Earth then replaced Arion as the Warlord's back-up feature once Arion got his own
In the early 70s, the sword-and-sorcery genre was experiencing a revival. The most notable example of this was Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian published in 1970. In an attempt to cash in on this trend, DC comics rolled out a few sword and sorcery titles during the 70s: Sword of Sorcery, Tor, Claw the Unconquered, Kong the Untamed, Stalker, Beowulf and the Warlord. Of all the DC sword and sorcery titles released, only the Warlord managed to survive into the 80s. In 1982, the Conan the Barbarian film was released and it gave the sword and sorcery genre another surge of popularity. Keeping this in mind, in the early 80s, DC comics was publishing at least seven sword and sorcery titles: the Warlord, Arak, Amethyst, Masters of the Universe, Camelot 3000, Conquerors of the Barren Earth, and Arion, Lord of Atlantis.
Arion, Lord of Atlantis #1 picks up where the back-up feature from the Warlord dropped off, and the reader is thrown into the middle of a story. Kupperberg was continuing his previously established storyline and Jan Duursema resumed pencilling chores on the ongoing series. Fans were already accustomed to Duursema's pencils, as she had previously pencilled a few issues of the Warlord. I’d probably argue that Duursema's pencilling got better as the series progressed, but that just may be me getting used to the art as it seemed to be a nice fit for the atmosphere and mood of the story.
It needs to be noted that while the series was named after Arion, his three comrades-in-arms (the oriental Lady Chian, the Native American Wyynde and the teenaged Mara) were just as popular as Arion was. I’d probably argue that Lady Chian was MORE popular with the fans than Arion - eventually Lady Chian received her own back-up feature in the series. Kupperberg is known for writing strong, self-sufficient women (ex: Supergirl and Powergirl) and Lady Chian was no exception. It was later revealed the Lady Chian was loosely based on Mariko from the Shogun series, and I’m going the guess that Wyynde was inspired by Chief Bromden from 1975’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Mara was named after Kupperberg's wife and was mainly inserted as a comic relief character to contrast the other three stoic serious characters.
One of the strong points of this series is that Kupperberg inserts a lot of characterization into the storyline which results to a lot of characters/interpersonal relationships growing and constantly changing. Kupperberg intentionally set it up so that Arion was introduced as a snobbish, anxious, unlikable person with cosmic-like powers just so that Kupperberg had something to work with (ex: allow him to grow as a person and become more human and compassionate). One of the hurdles Kupperberg had to cross was that Arion began the series as an all-powerful mage, and the problem with all-powerful characters is that it’s pretty easy for them to battle any foe and solve any problem. If a character is never really in danger, then the element of excitement is never there. Kupperberg solves this by having Arion lose his magical powers sporadically throughout the series and Arion trying to regain his lost powers is a recurring theme of the book. Another recurring theme is Arion’s conflict with his evil brother (which fans got tired of halfway throughout the series). The series also deals with magic vs science, as science was slowly being introduced to Atlantis and this caused friction amongst the population.
The Arion, Lord of Atlantis series is notable for the creators (Kupperberg and Duursema) following through the series from beginning to end. There were a few exceptions of course: Kupperberg left for other projects and Doug Monech took over writing chores from issues #4 to #11, and Cara Sherman Tereno filled in for Duursema from issues #24 to #29. For anyone who didn’t know: Jan Duursema is married to artist Tom Mandrake (and I believe he was inking over her pencils for the first ~12 issues). Editors changed several times throughout the life of the series - it went from Ernie Colon (#1 to #8) to Joe Kubert and finally ended with Karen Berger (#27 - finale).
This series lasted 38 issues and a double-sized finale - not bad for what began as a back-up feature. In 1983, advanced sales of Arion led every other DC comic book with a November cover date - which gives you some indication that it was a popular title during the first year of it’s run. Arion’s sales began to decline as interest in the sword and sorcery genre began to decline - so I’m guessing somewhere around summer of 1984. Around this time, the series began to heavily borrow elements from science fiction… I’m just going to say it: at this point in this series his primary weapon is a flame sword (which acts very similar to a light saber) and in issue #22 he battles something that looks like the Sarlacc pit - these are two big nods to 1983’s Return of the Jedi (intentional or unintentional?). I’m not sure if Kupperberg was aware that the series was being cancelled as new supporting characters and storylines were being introduced right until the bitter end. In 1992, Kupperberg tried to revive a modern-day version of the series (Arion the Immortal), but it only lasted 6 issues. Kupperberg finally concluded the Arion story he set out to tell in his Two Tales of Atlantis e-book.
While Arion, Lord of Atlantis may have been cancelled in 1985, that did not prevent the series from having some sort of impact on the DCU. The Atlantis in pre-Crisis Arion universe was not the same Atlantis as seen in pre-Crisis Warlord universe (even though one title debuted in the other). I’m not even sure if it was the same Atlantis that Aquaman inhabited. The Crisis On Infinite Earths (in an effort to add cohesion to the DCU) retconned that. It was revealed that Arion’s Atlantis was the same as Aquaman’s Atlantis (as explained in the 1986 Aquaman mini-series), and that Arion was actually Power Girl’s grandfather and that Power Girl was not a Kryptonian (as previously believed) and was actually an Atlantean. Kupperberg was writing Power Girl at the time, so it all worked out (also: Kupperberg tends to run a tight ship in regards to characters he writes). The Dark World that appeared in Arion also played heavily into Amethyst's Gemworld mythos (edited by Karen Berger) and I think there’s some sort of connection whereas the inhabitants of Atlantis came from Gemworld or something. There’s a 1990 mini-series called Chronicles of Atlantis that deals with all of this.
Arion Lord of Atlantis was an enjoyable series with solid writing. The characters are well-written and they grow on you. The locale is set in 45,000 BC, so don’t expect any interaction with any other modern-day DC characters (exception: DC Comics Presents #75 where Arion teams up with Superman - written by Kupperbeg). It wasn’t a ground-breaking series, but it definitely filled the void for a sword and sorcery title and had it’s moment in the sun. Kupperberg did fun things like hold a reader-based costume submission contest in which Arion would wear one lucky reader’s costume for several issues. Kupperberg and Duursema were really cool about interacting with the readers.
*When Mara is introduced in Arion, Lord of Atlantis #1 she was a jive-talker using 80s slang (ex: “buster”, “old man”, etc.). Apparently Mara was cast as a street-tough Atlantean kid, and was written to speak like she was from Brooklyn. It was a mistake made before Ernie Colon started editing. Doug Monech phased it out.
Batman: The Caped Crusader video game
Released by Ocean Software Ltd in 1988, Batman: The Caped Crusader was the second computer/video game to utilize the Batman license Ocean Software acquired from DC comics in 1986.
Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986) revitalized the Batman franchise which suddenly turned Batman into a serious contender as a merchandising gold mine for DC comics. I don’t know if Ocean Software heard of the upcoming Batman film in the works and decided to pick up the license before it became a hot property, or if they were in the right place at the right time and the cards just fell in to place. The former would not surprise me.
As you have probably guessed from the ad, Batman’s main antagonists in this game are the Penguin and the Joker. Including the Joker was more or less a no-brainer since he is the pen-ultimate Batman villain (also: Moore’s Batman: the Killing Joke was published in 1988), but I’m kind of stumped as to why the Penguin was selected to be the second villain. I guess he was a popular character at the time?
The game itself was well-received by fans. It was pretty innovative in terms of game-play: the player had to solve the mission by finding items in-game and then make them interact with the correct in-game components - all while dodging villains and other obstacles. If you were old enough to remember owning this game, you probably also remember the interface was set up so that it looked like Batman was entering a new comic book panel every time he entered a new in-game area.
Another detail of the game that may resonate some nostalgia with old microprocessor owners is that Batman: The Caped Crusader was released on a magnetic tape for the 8-bit and 16-bit processors of the day. Side A of the magnetic tape had the game where you battled the Penguin, and side B contained the more difficult game where you had to battle the Joker.
The art for this ad came from Bob Wakelin. Wakelin was a UK artist who illustrated many covers for UK comic books in the 1980s. Coincidentally, Wakelin also created the famous ‘Ocean’ logo for Ocean Software Ltd (visible in this ad).
I don’t believe this ad appeared in any DC publications, just computer gaming/hobbyist magazines.
Batman: The Caped Crusader was available for Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, ZX Spectrum.
If you’d like to know more about the history of Ocean Software Ltd, check out http://www.oceanthehistory.co.uk/.
The Question v1
The Question was originally a Charlton Comics character created by Steve Ditko in 1967. DC Comics bought all of Charlton Comics’ Action Heroes characters (this included the Question) in 1983, 2 years before Charlton Comics decided to close down it’s comic book publishing division.
The Question’s first appearance in the mainstream DCU was during the Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series - according to the Crisis, all of the Charlton Action Heroes were inhabitants of Earth-4. After the Crisis, the Question appeared in a few issues of Blue Beetle v2 (Blue Beetle was another DC acquired Action Hero, by the way).
In 1987, the Question received his own self-titled ongoing series thanks to Dennis O’Neil (writer) and Denys Cowan (illustrator). Few people realize that O’Neil used to write for Charlton Comics in the mid-1960s. Actually, Dick Giordano (executive editor at Charlton Comics) brought O’Neil with him to DC when Giordano was offered a job at DC comics in 1968. That would probably explain why Giordano gave O’Neil the first pick at deciding whether to write a new series about Captain Atom or the Question when DC acquired the characters from Charlton in 1983. O’Neil chose the Question over Captain Atom since he enjoyed writing street-level stories (as opposed to stories about demigods).
For the new ongoing series, O’Neil didn’t stray too far from the original Charlton Comics source material: the Question is still the faceless vigilante alter-ego of Vic Sage (an investigative journalist for Hub City), and still has the assistance of Prof Aristotle Rodor (the inventor of the binary gas that gives the question his blank face). One thing O’Neil did alter, however, is the addition of Richard Dragon and Lady Shiva into the origin of the Question. Both Richard Dragon and Lady Shiva were characters co-created by O’Neil and they first appeared in DC’s Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter (1975 - 1977) - a series also (mostly) written by O’Neil. Lady Shiva would make regular appearances throughout The Question v1.
All of the stories in this series pretty much occur in their own self-contained universe of Hub City* as no other DC heroes (or villains) ever appear to help the Question with his war on crime. (Batman appears as a hallucination in the second issue and in the first annual, Mike Grell's Green Arrow appears in a few issues and an annual or two, and the Riddler appears in a single issue.) Actually, much like Mike Grell's Green Arrow v2 ongoing series (1988 - 1993) which was also being published during the same era, I’d consider The Question v1 as a pre-Vertigo title (The Question v1 started sporting a ‘Suggested For Mature Readers’ at issue #8).
I’m having a little bit of trouble describing this series, or rather, the GENIUS of this series**. It begins as a conventional film noire/pulp title but quickly evolves into something much more. There’s a lot of things going on in this series: the theme of redemption and atonement for one’s sins, a few dabs of zen philosophy, the exploration of a multitude of social issues, a tight continuity, the evolution of the main characters and supporting cast, and a sense of modern realism (ex: villain doesn’t always get captured, some questions have no answers). I’m tempted to tell you that this series is as much about the Question’s interpersonal relationship with a supporting character as it is about his battle against the city’s corruption. Let’s not forget the personal touches that O’Neil adds to the story (see if you can spot which character was a homage to Marvel Comics’ Wolverine). The great thing about this series is that things never conclude as you expect them to and the end of the issue always leaves you wanting more. Cowan's pencils are perfect to set the mood of the grim and gritty urban atmosphere. I actually forgot who how much I enjoyed this series or I was too young/immature to appreciate it the first time I read it all those years ago.
Anyone who has ever questioned why O’Neil is considered one of the best writers in the comics industry needs to read this series. There’s a reason why O’Neil has won numerous industry awards for his writing prowess (this is also the same writer responsible for the acclaimed early 1970s Green Lantern/Green Arrow run, among other things). The entire The Question v1 ongoing series had been reprinted numerous times and has acquired a cult following.
The Question v1 was cancelled in 1990, but continued in 1990’s The Question Quarterly.
*It was theorized that Hub City was based on East St. Louis, Illinois and/or Chicago, Illinois
**O’Neil would later claim that Paul Levitz (high in the DC publishing chain of command) advised him to go nuts and push the envelope as far as uncoventional story-telling was concerned. Levitz reassured O’Neil that The Question did not have to be a financial success and that he was free to take chances.
The Outsiders v1
In 1984, the Batman and the Outsiders ongoing series was considered to be successful/high profile enough to merit a Baxter version of itself. The new plan was simple; starting November 1985 the Outsiders would now have 2 books coming out per month: a direct edition (which would be in Baxter format, sold directly to comic book shops and contain no Comics Code Authority seal) and a newsstand edition. In order to keep the comic buying fans enticed, it was planned that the Baxter format (named the Outsiders v1) would be set 1 year ahead of the current Batman and the Outsiders storyline, meanwhile the newsstand edition (now renamed to Adventures of the Outsiders v1) would resume the current Batman and the Outsiders storyline and eventually lead into the new Outsiders v1 stories. Teen Titans also did something similar with it’s direct edition (The New Teen Titans v1) and it’s newsstand edition (Tales of the Teen Titans v1).
When a Batman and the Outsiders fan picked up a copy of the new Outsiders v1 #1 they were confronted with two surprises: 1) the introduction of a new female teammate called ‘Looker’ and 2) the sudden absence of Batman. There were a few minor alterations to the team (ex: Geo-Force gets a new yellow and green costume, Halo gets a new hair-do, team has been relocated from Gotham City to LA, etc) but for the most part writer/editor Mike W Barr scripted the new series in such a way that little clues were dropped but readers were encouraged to pick up the newsstand edition to get the full story of why things were the way they were. Mike W Barr had his work cut out for him as he was editing/scripting both Outsiders books and coordinated the story/plot lines to ensure they never crossed each other/unraveled anything continuity-wise (or spoiler-wise).
I mentioned a new character named ‘Looker’ who was, in fact, designed by Mike Barr and Jim Aparo for this series. When Batman’s absence left a void in the roster, Barr literally thought to himself “what powers don’t the Outsiders cover?” and realized none of them had psychic/mental powers - thus, Looker was born.
Batman being a part of the Outsiders was a huge ‘draw’ for readership. With Batman gone, Barr had his work cut out for him to keep readership high. It didn’t hurt that Jim Aparo migrated from Batman and the Outsiders to be the regular penciller on the new Outsiders book. A lot of fans stuck around for the new Batman-less team just for the Aparo artwork. Thankfully, Barr made up for the lack of Batman with some superb writing.
Calling a series a ‘definitive 80s comic’ is not a recognition I dispense out generously, but Barr really went out of his way to ensure that the Outsiders was a comic book intended for an 80s audience. During their entire 26 issue run, the Outsiders deal with: cold war paranoia, covert US government operations, white collar crime, materialism, nuclear scare, the US energy crisis, and charitable campaigns that raise money for starving Africa. A lot of 80s pop culture references are also littered throughout the series. This series was like an 80s time capsule.
Barr put a lot of effort into the characterization of the individual team members - most issues had a back-up tale that featured one or two Outsiders (sometimes it was a parody story, sometimes it was just to explain how a certain character’s powers worked). While the back-up tales were written by Barr, it wasn’t uncommon to find some of DC’s top talent (i.e.: Steve Lightle, John Byrne, Gerry Ordway) illustrating these stories. Barr would add two more characters (Windfall and the Atomic Knight) to the Outsider’s roster before the series ended.
While reading this series, it becomes a little obvious that not all Outsiders were created equally and a few team members get a bit more exposure than the rest. While Geo-Force (as the alpha-male heavy-hitter) and Halo (the one that younger readers can relate with) get a lot of attention, I’d say the real head-liner would be Looker (a character created specifically for the series). Actually, I’d go so far as to rename the series as ‘The Tale of Looker’ since she debuts in the first issue and her saga concludes in the series finale.
There are a few things about this series that may have flown under the radar for the casual comic book reader:
- Batman villain Firefly (Garfield Lynns) is re-introduced as a costumed super-villain who uses lights and illusions to battle his foes (in contrast to the pyrotechnics he is known for).
- the first appearance of Bad Samaritan. If I was one of those people who looked for deeper meaning in everything, I’d probably theorize that Bad Samaritan was meant to be a personification of the US governmentt’s clandestine covert operations.
- the first appearance of The People’s Heroes - Russia’s premiere super-team.
- the re-introduction of Batman villains Zebra-Man and Planet-Master as members of Kobra’s strike force.
Batman rejoined the Outsiders in issue #17 (1987), but that wasn’t enough to prevent the series from being cancelled. The Outsiders came to an end during a Millennium cross-over in issue #28 (1988). I’m assuming that the Outsiders were probably on the cancellation block due to low sales for about 5 months prior to the last issue, as Barr was slowly setting the scene for the inevitable conclusion of the team. Case in point, during the last 7 issues, the Outsiders: have their HQ destroyed, are hunted by US armed forces fro being enemies of the state, have a core member revealed to be a traitor, and lose three members (one becomes de-powered, one goes into a coma, and one is killed). Erik Larsen pencilled the last two Outsiders books. Mike Carlin replaced Mike Barr as editor of the series at issue #22, and then Andy Helfer became the regular editor by issue #24.
The Outsiders series was revived by Mike W Barr in The Outsiders v2 (1993).
House ad #1 was released as a promo poster in 1985.
Mike Barr was nominated as a favorite writer for the 1985 Comic Buyers Guide Fan Awards.
Shadow of the Batman
Reprinting older material was nothing new for DC comics (see: DC Blue Ribbon Digests), but in the early 80s the new Baxter paper format was all the rage and several acclaimed comic runs were being selected to be reprinted with the new upgraded paper stock. You have to remember that this was before reprint TPBs became “a thing”. I’m not 100% how they selected which comic runs to reprint - some are pretty obvious (I’m sure 1986’s Roots of the Swamp Thing was reprinted because Saga of the Swamp Thing was getting a lot of attention thanks to the Alan Moore treatment), but I’m going to guess that some were based on fan request (ex: Simonson and Goodwin's Manhunter) since I don’t think they had the commercial appeal to launch an ongoing series. Whether that was the case or not, in 1985, Batman fans were lucky enough to receive a deluxe reprint of Steve Englehart's Detective Comics run in their local comic book shops.
Shadow of the Batman reprints Detective Comics #469 - #479 (1977-1979), stories from House of Mystery issues #254 and #274 (1977 and 1979), a 2-part story from Weird War Tales issues #51 and #52 (1977) and a story from Mystery in Space #111 (1980). The common denominator in all of these stories is that Marshall Rogers had something to do with all of them (whether he was the colorist or illustrator), so this almost seems like a tribute to Marshall Rogers. It should also be noted that every wrap-around cover of this series was (beautifully) illustrated by Rogers.
Englehart had been writing for Marvel Comics in some shape or form since the early 1970s. By 1976, due to disagreements with new Marvel editor-in-chief Gerry Conway, Englehart quit Marvel with the intention of moving to Europe. Jenette Kahn (who had just became the new DC comics publisher) managed to get a hold of Englehart before he left. Kahn was insistent that Englehart work for DC comics to help ‘fix’ Justice League of America since all of DC’s big-name talent had recently migrated to Marvel comics. Englehart reluctantly agreed, but on the condition that he only worked with DC comics for a year and then would resume his travels to Europe. Part of the deal also included Englehart being able to write Batman since it was one of his favorite characters. Englehart wrote the scripts for the issues he was assigned to and then took off for Europe, never knowing who would be illustrating them or if they’d ever see print - just hoping for the best. Englehart's Detective Comics run was such a big hit with the DC editorial staff that he was asked to add an additional issue to the originally planned 7-issue run.
I know from experience that proclaiming something to be “the DEFINITIVE Batman” is a hot-button issue amongst Batman fans, but we can’t deny the impact Englehart's run has left on the Batman mythos:
- the re-introduction of the newly-costumed Deadshot (last seen in 1950’s Batman #59). Deadshot would go on to play a major role in John Ostrander's 1987 Suicide Squad series.
- the first appearance of Dr. Phosphorus. Yes, Englehart created Dr. Phosphorus.
- the re-introduction of Hugo Strange (last seen in 1940’s Detective Comics #46). You know that famous story where Hugo Strange discovers Batman’s secret identity? Yes, it’s in here - Englehart wrote it.
- the first appearance of Rupert Thorne (created by Englehart and Walt Simonson). Rupert Thorne would be a major recurring character in 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series.
- the Joker “Laughing Fish” story. An infamous Joker story that has been reprinted/re-adapted more times than I can list. It set the stage for the homicidal maniac Joker that we all know and love.
The problem here is that DC’s ad campaign didn’t do this reprint series any justice - this house ad only took up a third of a page and seemed like it was included as an afterthought. I guess readers were supposed to see Englehart's name and recognize that it was good? The art in this ad doesn't even begin to hint at the true artistic beauty of this series. It contained forty pages with no ads, featured higher quality paper stock/coloring, and was illustrated by Walt Simonson, Al Milgrom, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin (not all at once). From the point of view of a Batman fan, this is a very entertaining reprint series: Bruce Wayne/Batman was now operating out of a swingin’ downtown penthouse in Gotham City (as opposed to Wayne Manor), Dick Grayson Robin makes a few appearances, Silver St Cloud (a fan-favorite love interest for Batman) is introduced, and a terrific assortment of Batman rogues are featured (ex: Joker, Deadshot, Hugo Strange, Dr Phosphorus, Penguin and Clayface III).
Englehart has stated in the past that his aforementioned work on Detective Comics (which he has nicknamed ‘the Dark Detective’ run) was pivotal in the development of Tim Burton's 1989 Batman film. Englehart has always remained officially uncredited for his contribution to the 1989 Batman film. Englehart's run has also been collected in 1999's Batman: Strange Apparitions TPB.
On an interesting side note, I wanted to comment on DC’s decision to reprint the two stories from Weird War Tales #51 - #52 in this series. Upon first inspection, the stories have much ado about nothing - it’s a story about animorphic dogs living in a post-apocalyptic London, England. Upon further research I discovered that they’re a part of a Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth prequel storyline called Tales of the Great Disaster. Kamandi was an ongoing series (created by Jack Kirby) that was published by DC comics from 1972 to 1978. Crisis On Infinite Earths pretty much retconned this storyline out of existence, and Kamandi would end up becoming Tommy Tomorrow.
*Note: Detective Comics #478 - 479 were written by Len Wein.