Monday, January 4, 2010

BAB Two In One: 'Borg Fiction' and Tonka Troubles!

Karen: Time for another two-in-one review. I'll be starting with Astonishing Tales #26 from October 1974. This is the second issue of the Deathlok series, scripted by Doug Moench, drawn by Rich Buckler, and plotted by both of them. As much as I love Deathlok, I have to admit this issue is something of a mess. There's an attempt here to do a story in a non-linear fashion, ala the film Pulp Fiction, but unlike that film, this comic is just confusing and even a bit frustrating to read. The gist of it is that after Deathlok escaped from Colonel Ryker -as mentioned in the review of the previous issue - he grabbed his ex-army buddy Mike Travers and flew off in a helicopter with him. They encounter cannibals and then Mike is grabbed by Ryker's men. Deathlok then chases after him, having an exciting fight in a meat locker. Eventually he winds up at the Statue of Liberty, only to discover that Ryker has turned Mike into a new cyborg creature that he creatively calls the War Wolf.

Karen: What's good about this issue? Well, the art is pretty nice. Buckler is inked by Pablo Marcos and although I don't think it's a great combination, it works well enough. Buckler was clearly more inspired working on his own creation than on most of his other super-hero assignments. He moves the story along really well, with an almost cinematic verve.

Karen: I also found the continuing development of Deathlok's three personalities (Luther Manning, computer, and a hybrid of the two) to be intriguing. Many writers would have just gone with the two chief personalities- having the third one is a nice twist. Neither of the the main personalities seem to know what to make of it - when Manning asks the computer which of them "contributes the sick streak to our third personality?", the computer replies, "Both."

Karen: We also get just a little bit more of this future world as we see more of a devastated New York. Food must be scarce, as there are apparently roving bands of cannibals in the streets. What, they didn't have any soylent green crackers?

Karen: While I think this was a failed experiment in terms of story structure, it still has its moments.
It's also good to keep in mind that this book was produced in 1974 - as I mentioned in the first Deathlok review, this truly was a novel idea for comics. The struggle of Manning to assert his humanity over his condition would only become more important as the series went on.

Doug: Today's fare gets ya another look at a Bronze Age DC -- sometimes a scary proposition! The Brave and the Bold #136 from September 1977 brings us a Bob Haney-Jim Aparo not-so-masterpiece featuring Batman, Green Arrow, and the Metal Men.

What can I say about this one, except what Karen and I have said over and over -- when you're comparing Marvel and DC in the Bronze Age, there really is no comparison. I know I've complained at times about DC's mid-80's revamps of all of their characters, the descent into darkness, et al. BUT, given the characterization that came forward from that as opposed to what got left behind... I'll take it!

B&B #136 features a quarter-issue flashback that rehashes Batman's and the Metal Men's battle against a scheming redhead named Ruby Red and her hulking consort Jason Morgan. Seems Morgan's ancestor Thaddeus Morgan had a building on the site of Wayne Enterprises. Due to some legal wrangling, Ruby was able to evict Bruce Wayne from his own building. And here's my complaint about the 1977 Batman -- he's a milksop! There is not a Frank Miller Dark Knight in sight in this story!! Wayne just gives in to this dame -- oh, sure, he tries to sneak back into his offices to see if there's a legal way out of the mess. But he's engaged in battle by this Jason Morgan (who resembles Blockbuster and is apparently making hanky panky with Ruby -- not a word picture I care to imagine!), and is thwarted.

The backstory to all of this is that allegedly Thaddeus Morgan had buried a time capsule under what is now the Wayne building. Ruby gets a court order to dig it up, and the capsule is found. However, bursting forth from it is this Jason dude, who is then attacked by another Jason Morgan. The first is revealed to be a robot, and Batman takes him to Doc Magnus. While the Doc and the Metal Men are assisting in the examination, the other Jason Morgan breaks in and steals "a certain parchment" (was I supposed to get that? 'Cause I didn't...). Tin is destroyed in the fracas, and later Batman is told by a judge that Jason Morgan is heir to the Morgan estate and that Batman is forbidden to harass him.

So we come back to the present to find Batman invading what used to be his own building. He takes an elevator, only to be attacked by a huge python. Now, one thing that we could always count on from DC villains was that they stick to their modus operandi. But I didn't see "snake" anywhere in Ruby's arsenal/background/costume (yeah, she wears a costume) -- nothing. So this was weird. Jason, however, doesn't like that Batman is going to be constricted to death, and lets him go! I told you this was strange, partner.

As Jason frees Batman from the snake's coils, the Caped Crusader tumbles out a window. All of a sudden (as fate would have it, you know) a green arrow shoots by, miraculously transforming into a hang glider. Batman clutches it and makes his way to the adjoining rooftop where he is greeted by the Emerald Archer himself. Nah, I couldn't make this up...

Long (bad) story short: Green Arrow, ticked off because Batman wants to quit fighting Ruby and Jason to get his building back, assumes his Oliver Queen look and using the name "J. Jacob Archer" approaches Ruby to tell her that he believes there is a larger treasure buried beneath where the Morgan time capsule was found. Ruby bites at the opportunity to make some more cash and an excavation begins. Well, wouldn't you know it, but there is a large cavern. Ollie's surprised, too, as are Batman and the Metal Men who all show up in time to battle the guardian of Morgan's second hole-in-the-ground: a big front-end loader. No, an android or mythical monster wouldn't have been cool enough. Instead scribe Haney gives us a big Tonka truck!!
Needless to say, the tractor's dismantled, Jason Morgan's killed, Ruby's put behind bars, Bruce gets his building back, Tin is restored to half-life, and Doug had to take some Tylenol after reading this LAME story.

But isn't that what DC largely gave us in the Bronze Age?


Edo Bosnar said...

Full disclosure: my own preference in the Bronze Age was also Marvel by a long shot, because I think the storytelling in most series was consistently better, with more solidly plotted and scripted stories. That said, I think your assessment of DC's Bronze Age output is a bit harsh. It would take too long to list all of the good stuff produced by DC in the 70s, but I recall enjoying a title like B&B more often than not (in fact, it was pretty much the only Batman series I read at least semi-regularly - although I admit Aparo's art had quite a bit to do with that...)

Doug said...

Edo --

Of course I was being (to some extent) tongue-in-cheek with my DC bashing. I, too, bought several stories in the 1970's that I thoroughly enjoyed. But as you stated, if I were to pick up a random Marvel fromthat era and compare it to a random DC from that era, the Marvel has a much better chance of being a better book.

The other factor in all of this is the lens of time. Things I really liked when I was 10-12 years old look somewhat unsofisticated and even dopey to a middle-aged man. I would suggest in that light, though, that my chances of feeling that way lie more on the DC side -- but that's because they made no bones about their target audiences. Marvel was aiming higher with their demographics.

And Legion and Secret Society aside (Detective Comics, too), this B&B story was pretty dumb!



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