Monday, January 11, 2010

BAB Two-In-One: Failure is Good and Cybernetic Circuses

Doug: OK, so admittedly we've had a mixed bag with our DC reviews. Karen liked a Justice League story she read, and I told you how great Detective Comics #400 was. However, then I had to punish you (and me... whoo-boy!) with that super-lame Brave and the Bold yarn. I'm going to take another stab at it with an 8-pager that ran in Superman #257 from September 1972. I'm pulling this one out of the hardcover The Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told (c. 1989) and can honestly say I've never read this story. Let's see how we feel about "The Greatest Green Lantern of All!" by Elliot S! Maggin (off a Neal Adams plot) and Dicks Dillin and Giordano.

Here we go -- Green Lantern Corps member Tomar-Re is nearing retirement and is summoned before the Guardians to be told a secret about a planet of his sector, the only time Tomar-Re failed to save a world: the doomed planet Krypton! The title of the story, then, refers not to any of the Green Lanterns we know, but to what might have been had the offspring of Jor-el and Lara been enlisted in the Corps!

Flashing back, we see a meeting of the inner council of the Guardians where debate rages over making the Corps independent. The major discussion centers on whether or not there is a ringbearer in the universe qualified to lead such a transition to independence. In a few panels that evoke Marvel's Watchers, the Guardians look to the future of potential offspring of the just-married Jor-el and Lara of Krypton. Allegedly genetically perfect, they would produce a child "of an incomparable nature". The Guardians are aware that Krypton will soon explode, and so dispatch Tomar-Re to slow the process until Jor-el (like an alien Noah) can ferry all Kryptonians to safety.

We are reminded that Jor-el created not only a Space Ark, but the technology to shrink Kryptonian cities. We also see that Brainiac hijacked the Bottle City of Kandor. Little Kal-el is born in this sequence, and we see Jor-el pleading without results to the Science Council. In the meantime, Tomar-Re is in a race against time to pack the guts of Krypton with a stabilizing element called Stellarium. However, in his haste to gather the mineral, he neglects to sense a nova and is temporarily blinded by the yellow radiation of the exploding star.

The next two pages are quite exciting, as Tomar-Re uses the ring to guide him to Krypton with his next payload of Stellarium. We see interspersed panels of Jor-el and Lara with the rocket that can carry Lara and Kal-el to safety; Lara of course elects to stay with her husband. Tomar-Re's vision begins to come back to him and as he says "I think I can almost see... Krypton!" the planet explodes. He is nursed back to health by the Guardians and they discuss whether or not saving the planet would have been worth more than the outcome -- Superman's life on Earth and his maturation into the universe's greatest champion.

Hot dog! We got a winner here! This was a really interesting story, easily compared to a Marvel of the same time. The art was great – very polished. Giordano’s inks easily swung Dillin’s pencils toward Neal Adams – definitely evoked Adams’ Superman work of the era. And Maggin’s script was nice – not dopey like so many DC’s of the Bronze Age.

Karen: Hey kids, I'm back with the next issue of the original Deathlok run, Ast
onishing Tales #27 (circa December 1974). This time around Rich Buckler and Doug Moench are credited as co-plotters, but Buckler is credited with art and story, so I guess he actually scripted it. The last time we saw our zombie-cyborg pal Deathlok, he was trying to find his war buddy Mike Travers. He tracks him to the Statue of Liberty, fights his way through a bunch of goons, and then opens a door to reveal his nemesis Ryker, along with a bizarre cyborg werewolf that Ryker calls the War Wolf. Ryker says that the War Wolf is actually Mike Travers, and this creates a dilemma for Deathlok: he can't kill his best friend. However, as Deathlok appears to be on the ropes, Ryker, for some reason, decides to tell him that the War Wolf isn't Travers after all; Travers died on the operating table. Why do villains always seem compelled to do stupid things like this? This of course gives old D-lok a big boost and he battles back, defeating the War Wolf, in particularly brutal fashion.

Deathlok, now leaking 'life fluids', decides to get the heck out of Dodge and then makes a rather poorly thought out decision to go see his wife, Janice. She freaks out when she sees him - it's not really clear that she recognizes him as her former husband - and right before he's about to enter his son's room, Deathlok realizes what a terrible idea this was. He runs outside and in his despair tries to shoot himself in the neck, but his computer makes suicide impossible. He realizes that he can't escape the life he's in, and he can never return to the life he had.

This is a pretty good issue, although I get the feeling reading this (and other issues as well) that Buckler was so bursting at the seams with ideas for Deathlok that sometimes concepts and terms are thrown into the book willy-nilly, without much thought. There's a whole page of Deathlok symbolically hanging on a cross, where we discover that the third voice he had been hearing (the one neither Luther Manning's nor the computer's) was actually an implant Ryker had been using to track the cyborg. Then there's some talk about him feeling persecuting and Ryker trying to make a god machine - honestly, it seems sort of crammed in there. I know what Buckler is going for here but it seems a bit ham-fisted.

Ryker is also a difficult character to take seriously, as he is so over the top and manic in every scene. H
is motivations are vague; at one point he says, "I use people to create the future. My ultimate goal is to gain mastery over life...and finally, death." Well, that's a fairly vague statement that probably would work for some villains, but in a more realistic series like this one it just comes across as almost lazy. It doesn't help that he just seems (and looks) like a crazy cybernetically obsessed Thunderbolt Ross!

The last negative I'll mention, and this is an odd one, is the lettering. I almost never even notice lettering in a book, but the job done in this issue is very poor. Desmond Jones is credited as the letterer and I do
n't recall his name at all. In any case, it's very light and inconsistent.

On the good side, the fig
ht pages are pretty well done, although much more violent than most of the comics of that time. But the best part of the book is towards the end. The sequence with Deathlok returning to his former home is just gut-wrenching. The loss that Manning feels is palpable and really helps to make him more sympathetic to the reader. An interesting aside: Manning was a Caucasian, and his wife Janice is black. There are so few inter-racial couple in comics, and this was certainly the first time I can recall seeing one.

The attempted suicide is also moving. To see him, our protagonist (I can't quite call him
a hero) turn his laser gun on himself is still shocking today.


Andrew Wahl said...


I'm enjoying your Deathlok reviews. I really need to get around to rereading these myself. I thought about picking up the recent Masterworks edition, but find that format a little too spendy. Guess I'll need to dive into the originals.


Karen said...

I'm glad you've enjoyed my trip so far through one of Marvel's alternate futures. I did purchase the masterworks edition off of ebay as a Christmas gift to myself; it was cheaper than list so not too painful. In retrospect, these stories were far from perfect, yet there is a vitality and creativity to them that I still find very appealing. I really wish they'd never brought Deathlok into the Marvel mainstream. The masterworks also reprints the Captain America stories that featured Deathlok; I've never read these, so I'm really looking forward to that!

As an aside, I'll try to look at another Marvel future, that of Killraven and War of the Worlds, soon. I am still missing a bunch of books in that series, however.

Andrew Wahl said...

I enjoyed Killraven quite a bit, too (though not as much as Deathlok). I'm still missing an issue or two of Amazing Adventures, but have most of them. If you don't mind your Bronze in B&W, Essential Killraven is a handy way to get your hands on the whole Killraven story, including the graphic novel.


MOCK! said...

Spot on with the Superman review. For the longest time it was one of those Holy Grails for my collection. I feared the build up would mean a let down when I finally got it (especially after buying Superman 275 by mistake once) but I was happily proven wrong!

Good job.

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I find strange no notices that the Original Deathlok/Colonel Luthor Manning-a name sounding like a black person and partially derived from the last of the guy Glen Manning,who bares some resembalence to Deathlok,in the old 1950's movie Colossal Man,was married a black woman and may have a black man,until somebody drew Manning as a white guy.Nothing wrong with mixed marrages,but all other Deathloks are black guys and initial drawings of Deathlok,especially in first issue look more like a black man,that the white guy Rick Buckler drew later on.And also DC Comics goes and creates their own Cyborg character-who looks similar to Deathlok and he's black.Could it somebody at Marvel couldn't a black cyborg or another black character and had Buckler draw a ''White Guy'' instead ?I know there is Luke Cage and Black Panther out there,but did Marvel consider either,at the time good comics or just flops ?
Just wondering...

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Karen said...

From every interview I've read with Rich Buckler on the subject, it seems that he always intended Deathlok to be a white guy, although I can see why you might question that. And yes, the name Luther Manning has always reminded me of poor Col. Glenn Manning!

Matthew Bradley said...

That was my first Deathlok comic, and even though--as an 11-year-old newbie--I found the narrative a bit confusing, I could still sense that there was something special, something, y'know, MARVEL going on here. I filled the holes in my collection with back issues in later years, and to this day I remain disappointed not only that the strip didn't make it, but also that the character was so (further) abused during the lengthy tying-up of his plotlines. Good to see I'm not alone in my Deathlok-love.

spencer said...

I truly believe that deathlok was the inspiration for RoboCop. A good example of a brilliant concept that didn't know where to go.

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