Sunday, November 21, 2010

DP02-05 Beast Boy and Mal Duncan in Teen Titans Part 2

.....In Part 1 (the previous post, or DP02-04) the history of the Teen Titans during the 1960's, both as a group and as a title, was summarized against a background of changes at DC Comics. In the last three years of the decade ('67-'69) there were as many titles launched as in the first seven ('60-'66), yet when the 1970 cover dates began to ship, most of the titles that had been weeded out during the decade had originated during that decade. There was still a higher rate of retention of titles dating back to the precode era as of 1971than of titles from the previous five years. That's rate, not just absolute number. Teen Titans ranked among the lucky survivors and would be luckier still as even more '12-cent alumni' were cancelled during 1970 and 1971 but only four precode titles were lost, all non-continuity: Secret Hearts, The Adventures of Jerry Lewis, Binky and Girls' Romances . What was Teen Titans doing (or not doing) that kept it alive during this period? Was it as simple as the name recognition of the characters? As byzantine as office politics? I think that it may have been that while some other second string DC titles underwent radical changes to grasp at straws of relevancy, Teen Titans managed to at least remain relevant to its readership. We're all aware of what they say about 20/20 hindsight, of how easy it is to ridicule failed experiments from the vantage point of those who've learned better from the results. Yet so much of this period seems to come from a file stamped "What were they thinking?".

.....Turning the Blackhawks into super-heroes, the Metal Men into humans or the Challengers into ghost-hunters wasn't likely to appeal to their hard-core fan base, those reliable numbers who remained after the sales figures shrank. Obviously those changes were intended to bring in new readership. How that was supposed to happen and why anyone expected that hypothetical new audience in the bush to be larger than the bird DC had in its hand isn't nearly so obvious. What did work was the subtler alterations to Teen Titans, Green Lantern, and Justice League Of America. Rather than change the characters substantially these titles gave them topical situations. They seemed to be finally learning from Stan Lee what Arnold Drake had figured out long ago: ask what a real person would do when faced with these fantastical circumstances. Also, recognize that there are very real circumstances all around us that present formidable challenges to decent people everyday. These stories are at least as interesting as whatever Captain Cold wants to steal this month.

.....Thus was introduced Mal Duncan.
.....By the end of 1968 Marvel had introduced ensemble cast members such as Gabe Jones and Robbie Robertson, background characters like Bill Foster (who would become Black Goliath in the 1970's) and most importantly T'Challa, The Black Panther, a black super-hero and genuine African prince. The next year would see the debuts of The Falcon and The Prowler followed by Eddie March ( the original black Iron Man, before Jim Rhodes), Monica Lynne and Jim Wilson in 1970. But in late 1968 the very young Marv Wolfman and Len Wein submitted a script for Teen Titans to Dick Giordano in which a new super-hero enlists the Titans' help fighting a gang that had been recruiting disaffected black youth. A number of articles in both Comic Book Artist (TwoMorrows) Vol.1, #1(Spring/98) and Vol.1, #5(Summer/99) relate bits and pieces of the story behind the story from the key players. They were interviewed by different persons in different contexts and thirty years' distance has left some memories a bit hazy and inconsistent, but the approved script was pencilled in its entirety by Nick Cardy. In the surprise ending, after Jericho and the Titans have captured the gang's leaders and lectured their teenaged recruits, would-be recruit Mark is shocked to find that Jericho is actually his brother, Ben. What should be even more shocking to the readers is that both Mark and Ben, who spend this scene talking at length about what it means to be black men in a white man's world, are both clearly white themselves. The art is reproduced without color, and Cardy (or any other capable artist of this period) would no doubt take great pains to avoid drawing black characters as broad stereotypes. In fact, a year later we would see him drawing Mal as a handsome and unquestionably African-American young man. Yet Mark and Ben have thin lips, narrow noses and straight, straight hair showing obvious comb-strokes. Editorial Director Carmine Infantino didn't cite that glaring inconsistency when rejecting the story, though. His main concern was that the dialogue for a story purportedly endorsing racial harmony was written in such a ham-fisted manner that it would be offensive to both black and white readers.

.....So, to recap: Wein and Wolfman brought the script to editor Dick Giordano, who approved the story.
.....Nick Cardy drew the story and then dialogue was added.
.....Editorial Director Carmine Infantino nixed the final version (probably prior to coloring).
.....At this point the story was brought to Neal Adams by one of the five people above. An attempted rewrite was also rejected and Adams found himself scripting a new story almost from scratch with about a week to make the printer's date. This is the point at which the original story, "Titans Fit The Battle Of Jericho", becomes the story eventually published. With little time in which to work, Adams took Cardy's finished cover (with the story's title on it) and four or five additional pages to form the basis of a story with a similar plot. In the new story, Adams took the logical step of making the hero's name Joshua and have him oppose a vast organization called Operation Jericho (which eventually "comes tumbling down"). For reasons that are less clear, Joshua's real identity is not Ben but David, and his younger brother is not Mark but Chuck. The gang is now recruiting mostly white teenagers by pandering to generational tensions. This undermines the 'reveal' of Joshua's identity; in the rejected version of the story when Mark finds out that the mystery hero is his brother Ben, and their previously presumed racial differences don't exist. In the newer version, Chuck discovers that the mystery hero is his brother Dave, but that doesn't change the fact that they are different ages. As befitting its lesser impact, the scene is relocated from the end to about two-thirds into the story. The new finale is the revelation that while the teenagers were dupes of the gang, the gang were dupes of the aliens from Dimension X (seen in issue #16). What the teenagers were told would be a method of political demonstration turned out to be a disguised method of breaching the dimensional wall and unleashing a monster on Earth. Joshua, an electronics genius, uses a sonic weapon (a 'horn') to tear down the alien 'wall', fulfilling the biblical metaphor. In addition to the Cardy pages there were two pages by Sal Amendola showing an interlude with the aliens' human agent. The rest was pencilled by Adams and inked by Cardy.

.....Mal Duncan, of course, is not Joshua. But when the Titans were revived in the later 70's there was a push to give Mal some sort of super-power. Although there was a flirtation with the Kirby Guardian costume and exo-skeleton, the shtick that stuck was a magic horn provided by divine intervention. Of all the possible gimmicks in the world of super-heroes, what kind of a coincidence is it that DC's first black hero is retrofitted with a device that recalls the motif of what would have been DC's first black hero?

.....Mal's eventual debut came in Teen Titans #26 (03-04/70). Of all the Marvel characters named above, only Jim Wilson followed Mal. Sadly, he rarely appeared on the covers. In the original run he made it onto the front of #32(03-04/71), #38(03-04/72) and #42(11-12/72). By that time you were more likely to see an inset of Page Peterson, fictional advice expert of the romance titles, on the cover of, say, Young Romance. He was also beat out to the covers by Lois Lane, who spent "24 Hours As A Black Woman" in the notoriously silly story and cover "I Am Curious (Black)", written by Robert Kanigher (who also wrote the Titans arc that introduced Mal) and drawn by Werner Roth (who worked with Arnold Drake on X-Men).

.....In Part 3 I look at several stories from the 80's that attempt to fill in the holes in continuity from the 70's, including a chronology of Gar Logan. Then in Part 4 I shoot for a comprehensive list of all of Mal and Gar's appearances during the 1970's.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

DP02-04 Beast Boy and Mal Duncan in "Teen Titans" Part 1

.....While the Doom Patrol were experiencing a revival of sorts in Showcase in 1977, several other DC titles were experiencing more explicit revivals, not the least of which was the Showcase title itself. In the previous year, Blackhawk, Plastic Man, All-Star Comics, Metal Men, Green Lantern and Teen Titans all resumed publishing at the issue numbers following their respective points of prior cancellation. [The actual details are a bit more complicated than that; DC Super Special was also revived, but only for one issue, which was neither super nor particularly special, and All-Star Comics had previously run from #1(Summer/40) to #57(02-03/51) when it changed title (and motif) to All-Star Western #58(04-05/51) to #119(06-07/61). When it was brought back as All-Star Comics #58(04-05/76) to #74(09-10/78) as a vehicle for the Justice Society once again, instead of beginning with issue #120, it may have been to draw attention away from the fact that in a different era it published more issues in a shorter period as a western.]

.....Joining Showcase in 1977 at the 35 cent price point were Aquaman, New Gods, Mister Miracle and Challengers Of The Unknown. Today all those characters still persist in one form or another, although we know that by 1978 only Green Lantern survived the axe as an ongoing title. As befits revivals there was a streak of nostalgia running through most of these titles, using old villains, picking up unresolved plot threads and dusting off fellow M.I.A.'s as guest-stars: Green Arrow and Black Canary did double duty in the JLA and Green Lantern, Bruce Gordon/Eclipso shows up in Metal Men and Challengers Of The Unknown integrates Swamp Thing, Deadman and even Rip Hunter"... Time Master!". For its part, Teen Titans put together a West Coast version of the team from existing characters, some of whom had appeared in the original run of the series.

.....For those less familiar with Titans history, the first ten years were relatively simple. It only gets migraine inducing in the year leading up to Crisis On Infinite Earths and increases exponentially after that. The folks at (linked on the left) make it all... well, if not easy, at least sane and orderly. For graduate studies focusing on Wolfman/Perez and Geoff Johns stories, I've found posts on those (and every other thought provoking topic) at (while not DP-centric enough to necessitate a permanent link, its author ToB and I are mutual followers; as of this writing she maintains the Aeon Flux icon at left and if you think this blog does its research you owe it to yourself to check out her blog; it's the "Aquaman Shrine" of xenophilology). To follow the 1977 revival one only need to know that the feature launched in The Brave And The Bold #54(06-07/64) (with art by Bruno Premiani!) when the title had settled into pairing heroes (mostly JLA members) but not yet resigned to becoming "Batman and... ". The concept was simple, even obvious. So many of the JLA had teen-aged sidekicks who did not accompany them on JLA adventures that they could form a team themselves. That began with Kid Flash, Aqualad and Robin. A second B&B appearance one year later added Wonder Girl and a team name, followed by a Showcase issue and on-going series months later. During those first three years (#1-17) there were two guest appearances by Speedy (the pre-heroin Roy Harper) and one by Beast Boy [noted in the Original Period synopsis, post DP01-AA]. Ultimately it is decided that Beast Boy is too young for the team after Robin breaks the 'fourth wall' in the last panel and asks the comic's readers directly if they want Gar to join the team. He didn't at the time, so we would have to assume most voted no if at all. If that seems cruel, the terms 'Robin' and 'readers poll' in conjunction usually conjure much worse.
.....At the end of 1968 the famous turnover in personnel at DC affected Teen Titans and Aquaman pretty dramatically. Arnold Drake had already left the cancelled Doom Patrol and Stanley And His Monster for Marvel's X-Men and Captain Marvel and the Charlton creators who had just been hired at DC brought an objective eye to the titles that remained. There was a lot of imagination and some valiant efforts at change, but of the twenty titles cancelled during 1968 and 1969 they were disproportionately recent. Only four of them began publishing prior to Fantastic Four/Justice League Of America : the aforementioned Doom Patrol and Stanley titles (which actually began as different titles and changed during the "12-cent" period), Blackhawk (acquired from another company in the 1950's and not quite "family") and The Adventures Of Bob Hope (which was a licensed property, meaning that the cost of using Hope's name must have been cutting into the profits). DC only introduced about 40 new titles during the 1960's. According to my calculations only 14 left 1969 intact. Of the titles that started prior to 1960 cover dates, DC began the decade with 32 precode titles and 14 more silver age. It ended the decade with 32 combined, plus the 14 that were introduced during the 1960's. I would have to do a great deal more blurry-eyed research to break that down into frequencies (i.e., the number of issues each title publishes per year; just because DC was publishing the same number of titles after ten years doesn't mean they were publishing the same number of issues per title, or selling the same number of copies per issue). Suffice to say that the readership provided the sales and the sales determined further publication and at that time publication heavily favored established characters in established titles and features. In spite of this, Teen Titans survived.

.....Teen Titans in 1968 brought on Dick Giordano as editor and the changes began immediately. Inheriting the last three scripts from George Kashdan/Bob Haney, the cringe-worthy faux-teen slang was dialed back a bit and the covers began changing logos with every issue, from the last of the original standard logo on #14(03-04/68) and (on a smashed window, tellingly) #15(05-06/68) until the first use of what would be the second standard logo on #19(01-02/69). As soon as the last of the leftover scripts had been used Giordano began using a variety of new writers beginning with one of the earliest published scripts from Len Wein and Marv Wolfman in #18(11-12/68) which introduced a new teen hero, the male Russian Starfire (no relation to Koriand'r). #19 followed with a teen costumed villain, Punch. It also brought in Speedy as a full-time member and ended with Aqualad returning to the Aquaman title. #20 introduced another teen hero, Joshua. #21 had a guest appearance by Hawk and Dove shortly before their own series would end. Then in #22 they open the biggest can of worms in Titans history: they point out that Wonder Girl doesn't have a real name. The character was originally created to simply be Wonder Woman herself as a teenager, then appeared in 'impossible tales' (as they were called in the 1960's) in which Wonder Woman would fight alongside the younger versions of herself (Wonder Girl and... Wonder Tot...yeesh). It was only in the Titans stories that she existed as a sidekick/younger sister/niece/adopted ward/mascot/whatever of Wonder Woman. That existence then retroactively worked its way into the Wonder Woman title under editor Robert Kanigher. [NOTE: When Dick Giordano took over editing Teen Titans Jack Miller took over editing Wonder Woman with Denny O'Neil on scripts and Mike Sekowsky on art. This was the famous 'new look' version of Wonder Woman with no Amazons, no powers, no costumes and no Wonder Girl. The series became a martial arts/detective title. Within a year Sekowsky was not only drawing the book but writing and editing it, too. I mention this because the entire time Sekowsky was doing the art on the book, Giordano was inking his pencils while editing Teen Titans. As he watched Diana getting further and further away from super-hero conventions he oversaw his writers bringing Wonder Girl closer in line with them, giving her a secret identity, a more adult, form-fitting costume, and an origin story. The culmination of the overhaul coincided with Sekowsky's full take-over of the Wonder Woman title. Both would remain editors of their respective titles for about two more years and leave right before the 'Bigger and Better' format is instituted at DC. Curiously, although Sekowsky left Wonder Woman, Giordano did not. He remained in varying capacities, pencilling and/or inking interiors and/or covers under the editorship of Denny O'Neil until Robert Kanigher returned with issue #204(01-02/73) and brought the super-hero motif back with him.]

.....After a year of shake-ups there were two scripts by Bob Haney (the only Titans author prior to issue #18) in Teen Titans #23(09-10/69) and #24(11-12/69) that were single issue stories with few entanglements in continuity (characteristic of his pre-Giordano tenure). This was possibly the last time the phrase "few entanglements in continuity" could be used without sarcasm when discussing the Teen Titans. Bob Haney's 'done-in-one' approach, which would continue to serve him well during his years of writing The Brave And The Bold, would reassert itself when he returned a year and a half later and Giordano left the editorship. Haney would in fact finish the original run of the series. However, he would have to be doing it under greatly altered circumstances. The Teen Titans during the 1960's had only ever been five specific people. They were friends because they shared highly unusual experiences as young counterparts to famous super-heroes. Despite their occasional protestations that they were not simply a junior JLA but their own people, a junior JLA was precisely what they were... up to that point. Beginning with the 1970 cover dates they began to taken on new members for the first time in years instead of random guest stars and engaged in activities in civilian clothes instead of costumes. The two men responsible for these stories would be once-and-future Wonder Woman editor Robert Kanigher and Aquaman author Steve Skeates.

.....The next post will contain Part 2, which traces the background of Mal Duncan, who would go on to briefly join the Doom Patrol as Vox after Infinite Crisis. Part 3 will examine the return of Beast Boy.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Lost July Post Surfaces

.....The post reviewing Showcase #96(12/77-01/78) underwent re-editing (believe it or not, it's the shortened version; sections that strayed off topic were surgically excised to make separate posts). You can find it quickly by clicking on the July, 2010 link on the left side of this page.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Halloween Music Suggestions

.....One down, one to go. My other blog, "So, What Kind Of Music Do You Listen To?" has just posted part one of a two part Halloween special and should be doing daily posts this week. New DP posts are en route. (I got another hat, so to speak.)
.....In the meantime, it's not much of a stretch to suspect that comics fans, especially fans of a group of walking wounded like the Doom Patrol, might enjoy the suggested Halloween playlist on the other blog. If you have pre-teen kids, you know how hard it is to find background music for parties that isn't too babyish or too adult. I made this tape for my nephews when they were at that age and am listing the songs as two recommended 45-minute programs. Just click on "LGC: So, What Kind..." to the left of this post. The music posts will be found at October 10th and 11th, 2010. If you need help finding a compilation, some of the artists have websites linked on the right hand side of that page. Enjoy

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Link maintenance and you

.....At the risk of sounding like a military training film about hygiene, I've decided that before I return to regular posting that I take a serious look at the few regular features of the blog. The template is fine, and in fact I am reluctant to fiddle with it because my absences here that have resulted in long gaps during the summer have been enough of an interruption to continuity. So, the template stays.
.....My icon stays as well. I spent a great deal of time here as well as commenting on other blogs and sites using generic blank icons before adding the Sandman illustration by P. Craig Russell. If I could figure out how to make a more DP-specific icon for this blog alone and use the Sandman elsewhere I would. The DP's connection to the Sandman is tenuous at best (it would be easier to connect them to Kevin Bacon) and I am reasonably certain Russell has never drawn any of the Patrol characters, even as a pin-up or trading card, ever. (My Russell collection is about as extensive and complete as my DP collection and almost as well documented. I'm pretty confident that he never drew them.) My reason for using this is because the art comes from a commission by the American Library Association for a poster to promote reading in schools and is not generally available commercially. It's one of a handful of Russell works I haven't managed to acquire. Having found a virtual copy online and pasted it here, I can look at it everyday. I am able to use a different icon on and may rotate through other things in the future, but for now the picture stays in the kid.
.....I have just finished checking all of the links on the left under the heading "If You Don't Follow History..." and as of today they all successfully lead to pages that are up and running. Some may not have been updated in a while but that's a glass house at which I'm not prepared to throw stones. This blog should have marked its first birthday earlier this month with something more festive than silence but it seemed a little hypocritical given its (my) recent inactivity. If you're feeling nostalgic/masochistic you can click on the first link to read this blog's Mission Statement. After that you can wake yourself up by clicking on the link to D-D-D-D-Doom Podtrol!, the audio blog (podcasts) of fans' direct reactions to reading Doom Patrol stories. Unlike here, they jump around in chronology, reviewing both current and original series. In one podcast they eschew the format to do an overview of Cliff's career. They also offer a choice of formats for listening. Along with mygreatestadventure80 (aka Doom Patrol), Doompedia and this LGC: Doom Patrol blog, there is now a pretty well founded community for DP fans that didn't exist just two years ago. As long as we don't all get blown up simultaneously, things ought to be pretty good for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

News and Irresponsible Speculation for the New School Year

.....The good news is that the technological problems that interrupted my flow here and on the "So, What Kind Of..." music blog I had been cobbling together have (I think) been overcome or at least circumvented by upgrade. The bad news, if there is any, is that, obviously (a) in technology there are no permanent solutions, only current situations and (b) no amount of technology can make me less lazy. And before some smart aleck out there adds that no amount of anything could possibly make me any more lazy, I just want to say while researching DC's publishing history leading up to the 1978 "Implosion" I got distracted by a more ambitious project that I set aside years ago-- and still will not have finished once I get back to analyzing the Showcase arc. Since the two research projects involve a lot of overlap and much redundant handwriting, I decided to combine them, at least until I follow them past the period where they dovetail. When I want to return to the larger project, its notes will be waiting, half completed. Well, I'm assuming we all live that long. It's a more of perpetual hobby than something that could conceivably bear fruit.

.....I mentioned news in the post title. Here 'tis: as of yesterday (September 13, 2010) I noticed that Amazon is offering pre-orders for the trade paperback "DOOM PATROL: BROTHERHOOD", collecting the second helping of the current series. Elsewhere on this blog I have a history of DP trades entitled DP08- AT Trade Format Survey that should link when you click on the "D". (Cross your fingers.) This entry will have to be updated soon since the Black and White trades of the Original Period apparently don't include the Challengers portion of their crossover, nor the Flash team-up from Brave And The Bold. However inexpensive the Showcase Presents... format is, I think it is extremely unreasonable to ask readers to buy both the DP volumes as well as the yet-unreleased third Challengers volume, totalling over sixty issues, in order to read a three-issue arc. If anyone at DC is reading this, could I respectfully suggest collecting the two DP issues, the Challengers' chapter between them, the Flash team-up, Beast Boy's guest spot in Teen Titans #6 and the Niles Caulder appearance in Plastic Man, all tied up into a color paperback that could fit neatly between the two DP 'phonebooks'? That would account for absolutely every DP appearance outside of their own title during the 1960's. The details are on page DP01- AA.

.....If the Amazon entry for the upcoming trade is correct, it will ship (from them) on January 18, 2011 for a list price of $17.99. The direct market shipping will likely be the previous Wednesday, January 12. (For reasons lost on me, Amazon lists availability of books on Tuesdays, the day brick-and-mortar stores conventionally release new titles. Both the first Giffen trade, "WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO DIE...", and the second Showcase Presents... volume were listed at Diamond on the Wednesday prior to their respective Amazon dates in the past few months.) Two weeks from now you can expect to go to your local comic book store and find distributor catalogs soliciting DC comics for December and trades for January. Most stores will take advance orders if you want to reserve a copy, or at least give you more reliable stats than a non-specialist web-site. For instance, they say the volume will be 168 pages, but are vague about what issues that covers. Most likely it will be #'s 7-12.

.....Speaking of the new series, I haven't noticed many people making much of a familiar name being dropped into the conclusion of that arc. In issue #12 (09/10), page 4, a memo from MSE is signed "E. Garguax". Granted, if we have the daughter of Egg Fu/ Dr. Yes running around then it's not too far-fetched that Garguax left an heir. Or perhaps it's the original and the 'E' stands for "Emperor"? To the best of my knowledge, Garguax died in the aftermath of Invasion! when his space ship crashed into Arani's Kansas DP HQ. When I saw the signature on the memo I filed it away in my memory as a bit of foreshadowing for an eventual appearance by lime-green invader (or his successor) but the subsequent story arc, in which The Chief simulates Superman's powers, got me to thinking about the circumstances of Garguax' death. Because it occurred in both a mini-series and multiple monthly titles, the Invasion! storyline had multiple elements concurrently at work. There were a few main elements that determined the outcome however (not to disclose too much of the plot), including our own Cliff Steele trading on his non-human appearance to infiltrate an enemy base and the intervention of the Daxamites. Before all the recent foofarrah with the Kandorians, the Daxamites were the only post-Crisis folk who shared Superman's solar-based... talents. They were generally only seen in the Legion of Super-Heroes' 30th Century stories, but a story about several alien races coming to Earth seemed the perfect vehicle for explaining how they originally discovered the effects of our 'yellow' sun. It was very clever how the whole thing played out. It also hinted at how Earth might confront someone with Superman's powers should they become unstable. Who plotted that story, anyway? Wellllll..... whaddayaknow? It was Keith Giffen...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Technical difficulties, please stand by

.....I'd like to apologize to any regular readers about the delay in posting, although this (unlike some previous delays) can't be attributed to my personal lethargy or shifting priorities. My hard drive blew and I'm only able to write this due to public library access. It may be the end of August before repairs or replacement are possible. On the plus side I am hand writing a back log of material and re-editing it before I transcribe to the blog. I am also updating unconfirmed appearances for the period overview entries. Confirmed appearances will be listed in the comments section for now until there are sufficient revisions to warrant a revised entry.
.....Our library (wisely) limits computer time to meet the considerable demand. I have also been spending some of the allocated time to maintain personal correspondance. For now, if you're new to the blog, enjoy the backlog and take advantage of the links. I'll update when possible.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

DP02-03 Showcase #96(12/77-01/78)[a]

.....FYI: This is a critical review of a comic book published over thirty years earlier. It was the third issue of a three issue arc. This blog's internal search can be used to find reviews of the previous two issues as well as related essays on the period by typing in the codes 'DP02-01' and 'DP02-02'.

.....On June 16th, 1963 cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space, riding aboard Vostok-6. It turned out to be the last Vostok mission, a series that began with the first man in space to orbit the Earth, Yuri Gagarin, in April, 1961.

..... The details can be found here and here.

.....The week before Gagarin went up, Journey Into Mystery #69(06/61) and Patsy Walker #95(06/61) became the first comic books to carry the "MC" logo, signifying the first public expression of the new Marvel Comics identity that had been clawing its way out of Atlas' grave since 1957. That fall, Fantastic Four #1(11/61) used the space race as a premise for what would become Marvel's flagship title. For the next few years the leap-frogging accomplishments of the USA and USSR space programs were echoed by Marvel and DC feverishly introducing new characters to capitalize on the public's renewed interest in super-heroes. The significance of this point in comics history was not lost on Warren Ellis, who used the ripple effect of Fantastic Four on comics publishing as a premise for his Planetary series. Fans of the Doom Patrol would no doubt recognize the importance of Tereshkova's historic flight to their favorite series. Not only was it coincidently during the same month as the cover date of the DP's first appearance but provided the name of one of its later members: Lt. Col. Valentina Vostok.

.....To be honest, I've never read Paul Kupperberg (or Paul Levitz, for that matter) explaining the derivation of Val's name. One or other may have trawled their memory for reasonably Russian-sounding names and picked them for alliteration, not remembering where or in what context they heard them originally. If that's the case it's an astounding coincidence and we may have to take a strop to Occam's razor. The reason I mention it is because Val becomes the focus of issue #96 as Arani had been in #95 and Cliff had been in #94. Her defection provides the plot for this issue as both American agent Matt Cable and Soviet agent Igor Brunovich each seek to capture her for their respective governments. In fact, the story is entitled "Defection!". Bruce Patterson replaces Frank Chiarmonte on inks and Ben Oda replaces Bill Morse on lettering. Otherwise the script (Kupperberg), pencils (Staton), colors (Berube) and edits (Levitz) are the same credits as in the previous issues. That consistency can work in a feature's favor when there is a limited window in which it can create an identity for itself and also win acceptance from a substantial readership for that identity. For that reason, this issue seems like a lost opportunity. The same team that has brought us this far and put Val front and center leaves her unconscious for much of the issue and unable to reveal any substantive background about herself. We don't learn why the Negative Energy Being envelopes her body instead of projecting from it a la Larry Trainor. We don't even know if its abilities and limitations are the same as Larry's (although she was contained by lead in #94). We don't know how she acquired the NEB (or how it acquired her). We don't know what her life was like before her defection; we don't know how she came into contact with either Joshua or Arani following her defection; we don't even know the details of her motives for defection. Perhaps she longed for the freedom we Americans have to wear stretch leotards with cleavage split to the navel. (I'm reminded of Lily Tomlin, who wondered what the world be like if we all grew up to take the jobs we wanted as small children-- a national economy built on astronauts and ballerinas, firemen and nurses. Could you imagine a world where we all dressed in the costumes of our 1970's heroes? Spend a day comparing the physiques at your local shopping mall and you'd know that all those gravity-defying codpieces and bustiers would have their work cut out for them.)

.....The story picks up immediately after the previous issue's ending with the Doom Patrol returning to the old headquarters in Caulder's abandoned Midway City mansion. They are met by Lt. Matt Cable, who identifies himself as an agent of US intelligence but neglects to mention that he is with the covert DDI and not the CIA. When he tries to take Val into protective custody, Cliff and Josh stuff him into a closet. Val is no more willing to be interrogated by her team-mates than by Cable and she storms out. What happens in the next panel [page 5, panel 2] could be easily over looked, but for readers who would go on to try and reconstruct the chronology of this often mysterious group it became a source of many headaches. Blaming Cliff for the conflict with Val, Arani says, "Cliff husband told me you could be stubborn at times... but he never mentioned anything about stupidity!" Insults aside for a moment, for her husband, meaning Niles Caulder/The Chief, to tell her about Cliff's personality would require him to be in contact with her after the formation of the Doom Patrol, long after their brief relationship in India. From what we learned through the 'psychoprobe' in the last issue, Caulder had the use of his legs and was unaware that Immortus was financing his experiments when he gave Arani the immortality serum prototype. The probe doesn't reveal anything else after that (at least not to the readers), but Caulder's own account of his origin from Doom Patrol #88(06/64) recently reprinted in Super-Team Family (see DP01-AR3) shows him learning Immortus' identity and faking his own death to escape him, losing the use of his legs in the process. He operated on Cliff from a wheelchair according to the Robotman origin in the DP's first appearance, so he would only come to know Cliff after having left Arani behind in India. In post-Crisis appearances, Caulder claims to have never met Arani at all, that she was delusional and obsessed with him. He could easily be lying or the scene with the psychoprobe revealing her memories may have been wiped from history by Crisis and never happened at all or happened differently. In this pre-Crisis story we are only assuming that the probe accurately displays what Arani remembers as she remembers it and that it reconstructs what her physical senses saw and heard rather than merely what she believes happened. For what it's worth, Immortus says, "After his marriage, Caulder left Arani in India, unaware that I knew of her existence..." As much as Caulder no doubt strongly desired to learn the results of using the immortality serum on Arani, it would also be possible that he avoided contacting her hoping to keep her off Immortus' radar. Not that I give much credence to anything Immortus says, but he found her, and not vice versa. How either of them knew of the existence of the other is not disclosed here or, I believe, ever. Yet they clearly both did. If, as Arani contends, Caulder informed her of the Doom Patrol and his part in it and went so far as to provide her with the alarm codes (in Showcase #94) and profiles of the team members, we have to consider a disturbing possibility that would not have even been on the table for readers back in 1977.

.....Consider the possibility that Niles Caulder himself activated Arani as an agent to flush out Immortus after the 'death' of the Doom Patrol at the end of the original series.

.....Before forming the Doom Patrol, Caulder by his own account had been defeated by General Immortus three times. During the Doom Patrol's history they gained a number of other enemies, most of whom were dispatched in some way or other, but a few who recurred as Immortus would. Principally those were Garguax and The Brain with his Brotherhood Of Evil. A little more than half-way through the Original Period the Doom Patrol teamed with the Flash against all three factions in The Brave And The Bold #65(04-05/66). After that, Immortus seemed to disappear. The others (including Monsieur Mallah and Madame Rouge) attack the DP again around the time of Steve and Rita's wedding. This cooperation among villains continued for about a year until it was interrupted on two fronts. Madame Rouge began to realize that she was in love with Caulder and Garguax betrayed the others to side with a fellow, more powerful invading alien. The Patrol and Brotherhood temporarily joined to fight the aliens together, successfully driving them back into space. Garguax does not appear again pre-Crisis. Caulder eventually gains custody of Madame Rouge after learning her origin-- she was a mentally unstable woman whom The Brain was able to make coherent and rational by focusing her mind on being purely evil. Caulder didn't consider this to be the "cure" that The Brain seemed to think it was. His attempts to restore her sanity eventually resulted in her being split physically into two people, one good and one evil. The 'evil' one died, but the 'good' one gradually went insane again. Enlisting the assistance of an aging Nazi named Captain Zahl she 'killed' both the Patrol and the Brotherhood. [Of course we saw earlier in the Showcase arc that Cliff survived. We next see The Brain and Mallah in The New Teen Titans #13(11/81)- 15(01/82), but their escape was not explained until Teen Titans Spotlight #11(06/87). After that the others emerged gradually.]

.....HYPOTHESIS: After surviving the blast that appeared to kill the Doom Patrol (presumably using either a force field or transporter built into the chair whose remains were later retrieved by Cliff and Arani in Doom Patrol #1(10/87)), The Chief offered his services to the U.S. government for a three-fold purpose:(1) to exploit the one advantage he had over his remaining enemies, that they thought he was dead, so that he could amass funds, weapons and political influence to fight them later; (2) to continue cutting-edge research without interruption; and (3) to monitor Mento's progress tracking down Madame Rouge and Captain (later General) Zahl. Brain and Mallah would not reemerge until that Zandia episode in NTT and with Garguax still in space the only player not accounted for was Immortus. With access to government data in the "mere months" before Cliff's return, The Chief would have learned about AWOL soldier Joshua Clay and defecting Soviet officer Valentina Vostock as well as Doc Magnus being in the custody of the military, just the man capable of repairing Cliff's body so that The Chief could remain hidden. What he did not have was bait that would flush out Immortus but the one thing he knew would cause Immortus to lose all caution was the prospect of obtaining an immortality formula, the same desire that brought them together in the first place. Arani would become that bait.
.....If we were to believe that the psychoprobe used in the previous issue revealed actual events being remembered, then Arani had developed super powers through training by a secretive order and was given an immortality serum prototype by Caulder, who left and formed the Doom Patrol. After the DP 'died' at the end of the original series, Caulder found her, still young, transferred his property into her name and provided her with the information and means necessary to collect Josh and Val and to leave a trail that Immortus could follow. Her perpetual 'search' for The Chief was actually meant to dissuade anyone else from conducting a search of their own that might actually find him-- anyone truly inclined to find him would join her instead and she would lead them into some unrelated mission far from him, which she would then decry as an "interruption" of her search. She could not reveal The Chief's whereabouts or the fact that he was still alive until Immortus was captured or killed, either due to an oath or by psychological blocks imposed by The Chief. In fact, the very next adventure involving Immortus was the one near the end of the Kupperberg period in which The Chief revealed himself to be still alive. Shortly after that, Arani gave up her life fighting aliens in Invasion! before any satisfactory explanation could be wrested from either of them.
.....If we were to believe that the psychoprobe was merely revealing an implanted memory, however, it could be possible that Arani was found by Caulder after his apparent death with the team. She may have always been mentally ill and Caulder applied a modified version of the 'cure' he used on Madame Rouge, once again resulting in a physical dichotomy but instead of splitting the subject in two it caused some latent metahuman ability to manifest extremes of hot and cold. To hide Caulder's part in this should she be subjected to interrogation, he would have implanted a memory of this taking place years earlier when he had working legs and replacing his own treatments in the sequence of events with the training of a fictional religious sect. Later, when Immortus captured her and witnessed this fabricated memory through the probe, he claimed to have been searching for Arani for years in order to maintain a facade of omniscience rather than admit that he had been kept unaware of her for years. He is, after all, an egomaniac. This explanation of events would answer several other questions: Why did the psychoprobe not reveal the years of Arani's life while Caulder was with the Doom Patrol? Because there weren't any. If Immortus really had known of Arani's existence, as he claimed, why not invade the religious sect that trained her? Because he was lying and/or they didn't exist anyway. Why did The Chief have a romantic relationship with the reformed Madame Rouge near the end of the original series if he was married to Arani, who was in hiding? Because they weren't married.
.....Of course, both of the above speculations would answer some questions the same way. How did Arani know enough to locate Val when she had only recently defected, let alone (as we would learn in flashbacks published later) only recently bonded with the Negative Energy Being? Because Caulder contacted Arani after surviving the disaster that released the Negative Energy Being and when the new Negative Woman was first sighted, he could explain to Arani what that meant. Why would anyone trying to hide from Immortus in order to surprise him do so in the headquarters of his bitterest enemies? Because she was actually trying to lure him.
.....And the proof of these hypotheses? Well,... none. Absolutely none. But if gleaning back issues for some vague hint that corroborated either of the above proposed scenarios were difficult, finding any scrap of evidence that might disprove them isn't any easier. During this arc the four characters we are given are the old pro, the mysterious heiress, the fugitive and the angry young man. The pro (Cliff) we already know, but even if we didn't, he's a bit of an open book anyway. The heiress (Arani) we gradually learn not to trust, mostly because she doesn't trust anyone else. Of the other two we know nothing. The fugitive is an unconscious hostage when our attention is on her and the young man doesn't get any solo exposure at all.

.....The highlight that would most likely be included in encapsulated descriptions of this issue, such as in price guides or online comics data bases, would be the introduction (and dispatch) of this issue's villain. Accompanying Brunovitch on his mission to retrieve Val is the massive, period-costumed COSSACK. In the age of Sky-Lab, an antiquated Soviet stereotype might have seemed quaint, but the Cossack is not quite that. Actual cossacks were not one thing, but several things. Different versions appeared in different regions. They were often a home-grown (and largely self-appointed) force for law and order at the local level dating back centuries prior to the communist revolutions. Their various relationships to the czars would fluctuate over decades, alternately fighting on their behalf or rebelling against them. Many, if not most, were not Russian. Poring over this issue (the character's only appearance) I grasped at any straw I could to give him some kind of context. There, on page 9, panel 3, is the only instance of him speaking something other than English. After evading the team and with Val in tow he shouts, "Na zdrowie, fools!" "Na zdrowie" is a Polish toast, comparable to "To your health" in English. The Russian counterpart would be the similar "Za zdorovye". If an actual Russian cossack were taunting opponents with a sarcastic drinking toast, he might use the Ukranian "Budem", but probably not Polish.

.....Still, even knowing all of this isn't enough to make sense of the character, especially when it is revealed that the Cossack is a robot. There were some signs, such as his speed despite his size and the fact that his horse sprouted wings to fly away when necessary. Also, when Val discovers him in the mansion he is one man on horseback, standing in front of a similar sized hole in the wall of an upper floor with rubble strewn about but no obvious blast marks. The physical damage could be attributed to a mechanical horse alone, true, but he did manage to survive riding through the wall on the horse. The revelation that he is also mechanical is not so much of a shock, then. But it is confusing. While the team was on the moon (in Showcase #95), Cable spotted Brunovich casing the mansion, also looking for Val. It's implied that Brunovich is a capable operative, meant to smuggle the defecting officer back to the Soviets using stealth. Why then is Plan 'B' to employ a large robot in a century-old costume with a flying horse? If you can't get the stealth you want, if you are forced to deal in public, then why not a robot who might blend in until you need him? Hell, they had enough sense to make the horse's wings retractable, although not enough to understand that a horse might seem out of place in Midway City after hours. And why choose the motif of a cossack, of all things? The cossacks died out under the Soviets. And why does the Cossack repeatedly threaten to kill Val if this essentially a 'catch-and-retrieve' mission? We get "The defector shall not live to see another day!", "Valentina Vostok will die!", (to Val:)" may call me... your executioner!" and "My orders are to kill you... and the Cossack does not fail!" That's all within three consecutive pages (pp4-6). Despite that, when his sword impales Val while she is in Negative Woman form it merely renders her unconscious. While she is unconscious, he does nothing to harm her.

.....At best, the behavior of the Cossack adds up to a robot that is so sophisticated that it uses intimidation tactics, is programmed to use interjections in a language other than the one in which it's been conversing, can adapt to new threats and yet dresses in 19th century clothing. In the long tradition of suspending disbelief in comic book stories, that's far from the worst case scenario. What is harder to swallow than the fact of the robot is the fact that since he is a robot, the profile I've just presented is the result of someone else's (probably a Soviet committee's) deliberate, conscious design. And bear in mind that while this story ran at DC, readers of Marvel comics were familiar with Red Guardian (Defenders), Colossus (X-Men) and Darkstar (Champions), all of whom were active in 1977, as well as numerous Soviet villains left over from the 1960's. That is, working models exist for comparisons. But knowing that the Cossack character would never be reoccurring is not a reason to allow his appearance to become incoherent. Being a robot, the Cossack himself may no longer be a concern for the Doom Patrol after this story but the still unseen interests who built and sent him should certainly be and many of the operating parameters they gave him should be cause for confusion for the team.

.....The basic plot of the story is much sturdier than the details. At its core, we see a fractious element within the team exposed, then one team member is threatened and the others cooperate to come to their aid, strengthening their bond in the process. Although that basic plot plays out in its entirety in this issue, there are clear indications that future installments and possibly an ongoing series were presumed to follow. After Cable is locked in the closet, Val storms out and is ambushed on an upper floor by the Cossack. When the other DP members chase after the Cossack and the unconscious Val, Joshua's dialogue repeatedly reinforces the subplot that he is in love with Val. This would be a point of interest for ongoing readers because an intragroup romance can change team dynamics, but that can only be evident if there are ongoing adventures. It can't be a plot in itself, it can only be a plot element of a series. While the DP chase the Cossack, Cable escapes from the closet then finds and subdues Brunovich, taking him into custody. We could tell ourselves that bringing Brunovich to the proper authorities would take Cable out of the DP's lives for the moment, if not for the caption at the bottom of page11: "In the light of dawn, Matt Cable drags his prisoner back to Doom Patrol headquarters to wait once again for its occupants..." We never see that second confrontation. This issue ends with the Cossack in pieces and the four new teammates leaving the scene together. The fate of the robot horse is unclear. Overall the story suffers from an over-dependence on there being future issues. It is written with the presumption that (a) anything written further on will have to be foreshadowed here in the present and that this foreshadowing is so important that it is given precedence over providing backstory for the readers here and now and (b) that the readers here and now will bother following the series into future installments when so much is kept so cryptic.

.....Perhaps you should give your eyes a rest while I hose off my brain and gear up for a following installment in which I try to piece together a hypothetical proposal for an ongoing series that could have followed this Showcase arc. (Obviously, I can't give a critical review of something that didn't happen, so this would only deal with plotting rather than style or execution. It should be much shorter.) This post has under gone several rewrites, some of them weeks apart from one another, so if something doesn't seem quite coherent it could be that I wiped a sentence I hadn't intended to. Feel free to point out any shaky syntax in the comments section, as well as any points you feel I may have missed.

[Final draft posted October 25th, 2010]

Monday, June 7, 2010

DP02-02 Showcase #95(10-11/77)[b]

.....[This is a supplement to the review that appears in the previous post.]

.....I once worked in the periodicals department of a college library (which should come as no surprise to anybody who has read the earliest posts on this blog). This was in the days of card catalogues and ID's with photos rather than barcodes. In addition to the racks of current magazines and newspapers, we had an archive in the basement with microfilm and bound volumes. One night I was retrieving bound volumes of Life and other photo-oriented titles from the fifties for a faculty member from the drama department. Even then I considered myself a student of pop culture in addition to my 'legitimate' studies, so when he seemed frustrated after flipping through page after page of what must have been his fifth volume, I asked if there was anything I could help him find. He explained that he was staging a production of the musical "Grease" and wanted to find full-length body shots of the sort of clothing called for in the script. He was surprised that after searching through issue after issue of a magazine that is justifiably considered the leading visual document of America in that era he couldn't find a single example of a duck-tailed, leather-jacketed street tough. I knew immediately what the problem was, but explaining anything to a baby-boomer, especially their own history, is always a particularly delicate matter. I can't remember my exact words, of course, but I said something like, "Finding poodle skirts shouldn't be too hard, but I doubt you're going to find anything that looks like Fonzie in there. Things like 'Grease' and the band Sha-Na-Na are products of the 1960's. Just like 'Happy Days' is a product of the 1970's and 'Porky's' is a product of the 1980's. None of these things are historically accurate. Everything you see is how someone wishes things were. There were really guys running around in their older brother's or uncle's service gear back in the 1950's, but they weren't anybody's heroes. They would have been considered the nation's losers and criminals back then. Nobody looked up to them. Certainly not the editors of Life. They would have thought the magazine's space would be better devoted to something indicative of America. And at the time, those guys in the leather jackets were not considered to be a part of their own country."

.....Well, not surprisingly, he wasn't happy with my explanation. He kept looking through a few more volumes and eventually left empty-handed. He didn't really want authentic period costumes, after all. He wanted to reinforce his preconceived beliefs and passed over mountains of genuine research into the period because none of it did just that. The old magazines weren't the real cause of his frustrations; his own self-importance was. He should have been able to realize that if the things he was looking for weren't in the magazines then that did not necessarily prove that they hadn't existed, but it did necessarily prove that there was a reason for them not being there. He didn't want to hear that, so he kept wasting valuable time looking for something that wasn't there while his production's deadlines got closer. And just what does this have to do with the Doom Patrol? Glad you asked.

.....The popular narrative is that the 1960's was a time of political protest and civil rights activism, mostly because that's what shows up in the news film footage. Conveniently forgotten is the fact that 'news' is not a word used to describe everyday mundane events. Most people did not initially oppose the Viet Nam "police action", they became opposed to it when reality did not meet their expectations. When the conflicts started it was still squarely in the middle of the cold war and aggressive communist expansions had already occurred elsewhere; if authorities said there had been another one, most people didn't have a reason to doubt it. Opposition swelled as young men came home with dramatically different accounts of events (or not at all, for many families).

.....Likewise, the 1970's are remembered as freewheeling and frivolous, despite starting out with the Kent State shootings and ending with the Iranian hostage situation. In between we lost a congressman in Jonestown, saw athletes murdered at the Olympics, Manson Family members shooting at Ford, some guy trying to crash a plane into Nixon, gas lines, MOVE, the Baader-Meinhoff, Nazis in Skokie, the murders of Moscone and Milk, the Son of Sam, the Three Mile Island and Love Canal incidents and a much younger Donald Rumsfeld actually trying to start nuclear war with the USSR by telling some real whoppers about the capabilities of their subs.

.....Comics became commensurately political in their topics and perspectives. What was vague in the 1960's (J.J. Jameson hiring Joe Robertson, the Justice League dealing with pollution) becomes specific in the 1970's. There's the famous "Hard Travelin' Heroes" issues of Green Lantern/Green Arrow and the anti-drug issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Man-Thing battled an industrialist actually named "F.A. Schist", while Swamp Thing forever stumbled across monsters resulting from secret government experiments. The Nelson Rockefeller of Counter-Earth lusted after the Serpent Crown while back on Marvel Earth Howard the Duck ran for president. Killraven, Kamandi and OMAC all used the perspective of the future to satirize the present. Captain America confronted his 1950's counterpart and found the Secret Empire beneath the White House. And Henry Kissinger was everywhere, palling around with both Dr. Doom (in Super-Villain Team-Up) and the Challengers Of The Unknown (in Super-Team Family).

.....As mentioned in the previous post, Billboard's singles chart was getting extremely sluggish in terms of turnover. Titles hovered around, but for the most part you saw largely the same songs in a different order from week to week. And bear in mind that this was at a time when the music industry was releasing about ten times the product to retail locations that they release now. Considering what was available, there should have been a wide variety of material in the charts. Preventing that from happening was the business model adopted by the music industry since the mid-1960's. It was much simpler in the 1940's and 1950's. Then, if you wanted people to buy your record, you made sure that they heard it on the radio. You made sure they heard it on the radio by paying off the programmer or the disc jockey. Problems arose when racist power brokers and politicians engineered the persecution of rock disc jockey Alan Freed (who was responsible for many white teenagers listening and dancing to black musicians). Freed was repeatedly arrested on frivolous charges and eventually blackballed out of any lucrative market, the final damning accusation being that pay-offs in the radio business were all his idea and largely his practice alone. And the world became safe for Ray Conniff. The practice of 'payola' didn't stop, of course, just as it was never really as universal as its practitioners believed it to be. It changed names, became more clandestine. A large corporation would buy both a record label and a network. 'Payola' was now your paycheck. The smaller labels could no longer play after the rules (and the scale) were changed.

.....Predictably, with the entry by larger players into the market it was only a matter of time before IBM-style efficiency principles were applied. The two ways to make profit were to make more (which the consumer ultimately controls) or spend less (which you control). Since spending money is unavoidable, the IBM method was to minimize waste, or ideally to eliminate it completely. At smaller labels it had been historically difficult to quantify what was waste and what wasn't. You often wore many hats in a small company and didn't have time to sit down and parse numbers; by the time you did the information would no longer be relevant. Public tastes change, acts split up or move on, venues for promotion open and close... and having a fistful of numbers told you nothing about who your competition was this week. The new post-war, space race, best-and-brightest business models required stability and predictability. This was attempted through the consolidation of ownership of both manufacturers and venues (meaning retail, radio and live performance). It also meant simplification of formats, standardized price points and a cookie-cutter approach to radio programming. By the time the Doom Patrol were revived in Showcase #94 (08-09/77), it was already becoming accepted practice for radio stations to subscribe to satellite programming, hiring a modicum of local DJ's to prerecord local station I.D.'s, sponsorship and news to be inserted at the proper times during the feed, initially by anonymous engineers and eventually by full automation. Stations could operate this way for years without local listeners being aware that their local station was identical to 'local' stations in hundreds of towns across the country. Regional accents began homogenizing. The term 'regional hit' became an anachronism. The unintended side effect of this was that it became increasingly difficult to find new talent that had already proven themselves as commercially viable in a smaller market because the industry had worked so hard to absorb the smaller markets, destroying their identity in the process. "New" artists in the 1970's were usually old artists from established groups doing solo albums. The Beatles formed a label (Apple) and split up, becoming four acts releasing records instead of one. The Moody Blues form a label (Threshhold) and don't split up-- but they all issue solo albums anyway. Kiss doesn't form a label or split up-- but they release four solo albums simultaneously. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young all came from established groups in the 1960's, all did solo albums and recorded in varying combinations. We also saw a return of teen idols not seen since before the Beatles, with an unusual twist. Andy Gibb, Shaun Cassidy, and Jimmy Osmond were famous mostly for being the younger brothers of proven artists, just as Debbie Boone was the daughter of one. Whereas the appeal of their Kennedy-era counterparts (Fabian, Frankie Avalon, etc.) was to be something fresh and new that young girls could claim as their own while their aunts were listening to Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, the 1970's teen idols were the more easily digested versions of whatever their older sisters listened to last year. For the first time since World War II, American youth culture was becoming increasingly conservative. The most famous venue at the time was Studio 54, and that was unquestionably because of its policy of exclusivity, the polar opposite of the Woodstock era. Even the drugs were becoming less social: marijuana could be passed around and one was often advised never to take LSD without someone remaining sober to talk you through it; cocaine was commonly snorted from a mirror and generally made the users paranoid and egomaniacal. Finally, look at the popular magazines of the 20th century as we head towards the 1980's:
  • NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC- Founded in 1888
  • READER'S DIGEST- Founded in 1922
  • TIME- Founded in 1923
  • NEWSWEEK- Founded in 1933
  • LIFE- Reconfigured in 1936 (predecessor dates to 1800's), suspended in 1972
.....Notice how, before the war, America's favorite magazines were named for the biggest, broadest, most general topics. The first of this group to cease regular publication and lapse into occasional specials was LIFE. Look at what replaced LIFE:
  • PEOPLE- began in 1974; People are a part of life, sure, but only the part that we're already familiar with.
  • US WEEKLY- began in 1977; "Us" are also people, but that doesn't even include all people. It doesn't even include most people. How could we get any more narrow minded and provincial--
  • SELF- began in 1979; ...ah, yes.
.....You can blame the late 70's comics crash on many things: rising prices, shrinking page counts, video games gobbling quarters, the return of science fiction to the movie theaters, the Blizzard of '78 and more. However, even if there had been no such crash (or 'Implosion' to DC fans) The Doom Patrol would have had a hard time of it. Freaky and quirky were not good selling points. When Russia and China were assembling tanks on each other's borders, you couldn't even rely on cold-war stereotypes of communists conspiring to undo the West. (Doonesbury's infamous Uncle Duke, Gary Trudeau's stand-in for Hunter S. Thompson, had been appointed ambassador to China before that nerve-wracking event, making it a windfall of sorts for the comic. In one strip a panicky Duke calls the US State Department from his office in China, screaming "You idiots had better do something quick, or this country could be overrun with communists! Hello?") People were clamoring for comfort, familiarity and reliability. Yet, contrary to the popular myth that Hollywood is a bastion of liberalism trying to brainwash a generally conservative public, network television in the late 1970's was like a fountain of very right-wing shows that the public simply refused to watch: "Hizzoner", "Grandpa Goes To Washington", "Salvage 1" and others lost out in the ratings to increasingly creaky Norman Lear and MTM shows. Ironically, this demonstrates the distinction between 'conservative' and the political right that network news would spend the next decade aggressively blurring. People continued to turn to the familiar and the comfortable, i.e., they were conservative in the true, dictionary sense of the word. It was the instinct to exploit that tendency that led to the success of supermarkets, department stores and McDonald's, which necessarily led to the elimination of small family owned businesses, variety, inconsistency and individualism. A comic book like Doom Patrol that asks the readers to root for a group scarred by life and unsure of each other didn't really stand a chance in that atmosphere.

.....In the next post, I review the last issue of the arc. The post following that look at contemporary comics from that time just as this supplement post looked at other contemporary media. Hopefully that won't take a month to finish. Sorry for the wait.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

DP02-02 Showcase #95(10-11/77)[a]

.....[Happy Birthday Matthew Cable! (see below)]

.....FYI: This is a critical review of a comic book published over thirty years earlier. It was the second issue of a three issue arc. For the perspective of events leading up to the arc, use this blog's internal search to search the term DP02-01[a]; for the review of the previous issue, search DP02-01[b]; for trivia regarding all three issues, search DP02-01[c].

.....A couple of months ago while I was rereading this Showcase arc for review, it occurred to me to try and reconcile conflicting ideas about when exactly in continuity this story takes place. Aside from free standing graphic novels, which don't necessarily need to take place in continuity at all to make sense (even when they feature famous recurring characters), this is always a good first step in reviewing comics. It comes under the heading of an author establishing an environment. If "Wuthering Heights" had taken place in downtown Rio de Janeiro it would have been a very different story. In serialized stories, the other chapters add more than merely events and locations to the readers' understanding of what they are reading at hand. They can give you the frames of reference of the various characters in the story.

.....Choosing an existing character rather than creating one tailored to your story's needs is usually done to cash in on either a character's popular recognition quotient or their critical gravitas. When the character isn't known to have much of either, as was the case when Matt Cable was picked to be the government agent sent to retrieve errant cosmonaut Valentina Vostok, then the choice may be to tie-in further, related characters later (in his case, Swamp Thing). It could also reflect a decision to circumvent the need for exposition or flashbacks to fill out the back story of what will amount to a supporting character whose purpose is to advance the plot, especially when you have a finite number of issues to work with. Why go to the trouble of creating and fleshing out a character when you have one from a title cancelled just a year earlier?

.....For the past two decades comics readers have known Matthew as the raven sidekick to Morpheus in Sandman. He spent the preceding two decades as a human supporting character in Swamp Thing (in the 70's) and then Saga Of The Swamp Thing (in the 80's). He spent the later half of the 80's in a coma and died while dreaming, thus making him eligible to remain in Morpheus' kingdom as his subject. The details of their arrangement, if not his transformation into a raven, are in Swamp Thing #84(03/89), pages 15-21.

.....To get my bearings with regards to where in Cable's life he confronts the Doom Patrol I took some time to scrawl through the priceless chronology at Rich Handley's website "Roots Of The Swamp Thing" at because while there are plenty of data-rich comics-related sites out there, Handley cites his sources for each event, and in the case of ambiguities where order can't be conclusively determined he steps in to explain his reasons for placing events where they are. Some of what I found I already knew: that Cable was the bodyguard/liaison for the Hollands assigned by an agency called the D.D.I. When they were killed by an organization called the Conclave for refusing to hand over their valuable research for the Conclave's illicit purposes, Cable became personally driven to bring the killers to justice and tracked the Swamp Thing because he believed him connected to the deaths. The leader of the Conclave is paralyzed by a fall trying to escape Swamp Thing and Batman in Swamp Thing #7(11-12/73) and Cable learns the monster is really what's left of Alec in the last issue written by Len Wein, #13(11-12/74).
.....Since I don't own half of the remaining issues of the series Handley's website filled in the missing pieces (and more). The balance of the run is written by David Michelinie and Gerry Conway in turns. Michelinie leaves his first arc (#'s14-18) with a clean break with Alec in the Florida swamps so that Conway's story, intended for a giant sized special of some kind, can begin and end there. This would enable Michelinie to pick up his narrative where he left it in the ongoing series for regular readers who didn't get the special. In the Conway story, a duplicate Swamp Thing, which grew from a severed arm discarded back in the Wein/Wrightson days, wreaks misunderstood-monster havoc and Cable witnesses it being blown up, assuming it's Alec. The plans for the special were scrapped, so the Conway story ran in Swamp Thing #19(10-11/75) and 20(12/75-01/76), right after Alec's first (and for a while only) appearance outside his own title. Oh, and I also learned that Matthew Cable was born June 2, 1948.

.....Brave And The Bold #122 (10/75) is a single issue Bob Haney story in which a showman captures Alec in the swamp and displays him on a flat bed truck for money. While in Gotham, D.D.I. screws up the transport of a biological weapon, unleashing a weed that proceeds to overrun and strangle Gotham. Batman frees the Swamp Thing to attack its root (saving the city), then strong-arms his captor into returning him to the swamp where he belongs. The rest of the Swamp Thing's own series takes him away from the swamp and Matt Cable doesn't appear in it. It was therefore long presumed that the Doom Patrol story running in Showcase in 1977 would naturally take place after Swamp Thing was cancelled in 1976. Yet, on page 10 of Showcase #95, Matt is standing in Midway City across the street from Caulder's mansion and next to a newspaper display box with the headline, "SLIME MONSTER EATS GOTHAM!". Unless there's a Batman fan out there with uninterrupted runs of Batman, Detective, World's Finest and Brave And The Bold who could point to a 1977 story of a giant monster eating Gotham City, my guess is that's the Haney story. If not for this panel, possibly an inside joke on Joe Staton's part or even Paul Levitz (editor of Showcase and assistant editor of Swamp Thing), the Haney story could just as easily taken place before as after the Conway story. But as Rich Handley points out, before Martin Pasko left Saga Of The Swamp Thing in 1983 he described the fallout in the wake of the Swamp Thing's presumed death. Pasko (either forgetting or unaware of the DP connection) explains why readers hadn't seen Cable since the Conway story. He returns to the Fenwick Military Academy (where he was still working in Showcase #94) to close the Swamp Thing file. His superior sees the department's inability to secure the monster to be an embarrassment and considers eliminating anyone with knowledge of it, including Cable. Rather than lose an agent to sudden death, he tries to wipe Cable's memory with electro-shock therapy. It doesn't work, but Cable pretends that it did to avoid being murdered, then quits the service and surfaces later. If the Showcase arc had taken place after the Conway story, Cable would have seen the headline about Gotham, realized that Swamp Thing was still alive and reopened the file. This means that the order of the stories should be:
  1. The Michelinie story in Swamp Thing #18(09/75)
  2. The Haney Batman team-up in Brave And The Bold #122(10/75)
  3. The Doom Patrol arc in Showcase #94(08-09/77)- #96(12/77-01/78)
  4. The Conway story in Swamp Thing #19(10-11/75)- #20(12/75-01/76)
  5. Pasko's flashbacks in Saga Of The Swamp Thing #17(10/83)- #18(12/83)
  6. Michelinie returns in Swamp Thing #21(02-03/76)- #22(04-05/76)
  7. Conway finishes in Swamp Thing #23(06-07/76)- #24(08-09/76)
.....In light of the review of the previous issue, DP02-01[b], I've already established that the compression of time between the devastation of the original Doom Patrol in Doom Patrol #121(09-10/68) and Robotman's restoration in 1977 is a reasonable, possibly necessary conceit for the feature to go forward. (Cliff was the most likely survivor for the sake of maintaining team identity, but only given a narrow window of time to salvage him.) So, the mere fact of the Showcase arc taking place contemporaneously to comics published two years earlier is not a problem in itself. The problems arise when trying to reconcile Will Magnus' cameo in #94, since at the time of the previous issue of Brave And The Bold, #121(09/75) with Batman and the Metal Men, Magnus was still receiving psychological treatment. When their title was revived in Metal Men #45(04-05/76), Magnus was in the care of Dr. Rosen and therapist Isobel Sullivan. Sullivan disappeared without mention after issue #50(02-03/77) despite the fact that there were increasing indications that she was intended to grow into a love interest for Magnus. She's also absent from the Metal Men's guest spot in Brave And The Bold #135(07/77)- #136(09/77), which most databases place during the break between Metal Men #47(08-09/76) and #48(10-11/76). From #48 to #53 there's a continuous storyline ending with the robots walking out on their creator. They are reunited when the series ended with the robots gaining rights as World Citizens in #56(02-03/78).

.....So, the 1977 B&B story could not take place before Metal Men #45 because Magnus was still recovering from his mental condition then. It could not take place between #53 and #54 because it features Magnus and the robots together. Finally, it could not take place after the series ended because one of the key plot points of the B&B story is that robots don't have the same inalienable rights as humans, a problem they circumvented by becoming World Citizens. That leaves the break between #47 and #48. So where is Magnus' Showcase #94 cameo in all this? Ordinarily I would put it between Metal Men #53 and #54. That's when he wouldn't be with the robots and his therapist was already gone. He would be free to do a favor for Caulder (or himself) without anyone knowing. The problem is that the cameo takes place "weeks" before Matt Cable is standing next to a newspaper headline describing Brave And The Bold #122, but the break after Metal Men #53 takes place after Brave And The Bold #'s 135- 136. If it were generally acceptable for B&B #'s 135-136 to take place between #'s 121 and 122, we would have more options to placing the cameo. To the best of my reckoning, the least controversial sequence of events should be:
  1. Brave And The Bold #121(09/75) Batman teams with the Metal Men, w/o Magnus
  2. Metal Men #45(04-05/76)- #47(08-09/76) Magnus returns to activity (cured?)
  3. Showcase #94(08-09/77) pages 1-4 (or just page 4; Magnus rescues Cliff)
  4. Swamp Thing #15(03-04/75)- #18(09/75) Matt and Swamp Thing get separated in Florida
  5. Brave And The Bold #122(10/75) Batman teams with Swamp Thing
  6. (lots of intermediate Batman continuity)
  7. Brave And The Bold #135(07/77)- #136(09/77) Batman teams with the Metal Men and Magnus
  8. Metal Men #48(10-11/76)- #53(08-09/77) Metal Men fight Eclipso, etc. and leave Magnus
  9. Showcase #94(08-09/77) pages 5-17 Matt reports to Fenwick Military Academy and is assigned to find Val before the Russians do (specifically, page 9).
  10. Showcase #95(10-11/77) Matt stands next to terribly out of date newspaper headline
  11. Showcase #96(12/77-01/78) Matt's involvement with Doom Patrol ends (not resolved during story)
  12. Swamp Thing #19(10-11/75)- 20(12/75-01/76) Matt witnesses destruction of ersatz Swamp Thing and believes Alec is really dead.
  13. [flashbacks] in Saga Of The Swamp Thing #17(10/83)- #18(12/83) Matt ends the search for Alec
  14. [Note: In the letters' page of Saga Of The Swamp Thing #6(10/82) either Martin Pasko (writer) or Len Wein (editor) say, "As far as we're concerned, the stories published after #21 [in 1976] never happened, that is, Alec never became predominantly human, he never had a brother,... etc". It is a popular myth that Alan Moore's "Anatomy Lesson" story was the reason for them being 'retconned' out of DC history, but the truth is that such was the case before he even plotted the book. Moore's story famously asserts that Swamp Thing was never Holland but a plant creature born with Holland's memories and believing it was once human. However, these stories don't conflict with Moore's any more so than the first Wein/Wrightson Arcane story in which the Swamp Thing temporarily takes the shape of a human Alec Holland. In both cases artificial means were used to change the plant monster's body to conform to his self image. In both cases it was temporary and its plant nature inevitably reasserted itself. Fortunately, the sequence of events as I've spelled it out above should hold regardless of whether the last four issue of the first Swamp Thing series are in continuity or not.]
.....Well, now that that's settled...

.....Showcase #95 takes place almost entirely in General Immortus' headquarters except for three partial page scenes and an extended flashback. It opens with Robotman (Cliff), Negative Woman (Valentina) and Tempest (Josh) imprisoned and witnessing the villain subjecting Celsius (Arani) to a "psycho-probe". I'm going to stop right here for a moment not merely for 'spoiler' announcements (I consider this blog's banner to be a blanket spoiler announcement) but to reassure anyone who's had the patience to slog through the disambiguation above to get to this review that I am not stupid. I realize that this scene and much of what follows is a textbook "Scott Evil" moment. Scott was the son of Dr. Evil, the villain of the Austin Powers movies. While Powers and the Dr. were literally frozen in time since the 1960's and are content to be living cliches of that period's adventure fiction, the Dr.'s son has no patience for the conventions of the roles they feel so comfortable perpetuating. Why put your enemy in an elaborate, expensive trap with an opportunity to escape? If you have no moral qualms about the trap being potentially lethal, why not simply kill them? A savvy audience knows, or could guess, that the situation becomes a door for exposition as well as a chance to give the hero/protagonist a concrete, quantifiable accomplishment to achieve. But that's only the writer's motivation. What is the villain's?

.....Here we have a villain about whom we have known little for the fourteen years he had repeatedly resurfaced. He is presumed to be immortal (how?). He has had a part in major international military conflicts for thousands of years (why?) He seems always capable of raising armies at a moments notice (how?) If someone were as old as he claims to be and played decisive roles in landmark battles as he claims to have, then even if he were always on the winning side-- especially if he were on the winning side-- then he would know better than anyone the transitory nature of power. The Khan dynasty and Roman Empire were rarities. Most regimes come and go in mere decades. Why squander something as rare as immortality on that? A clue may come in the opening caption; a hint at why he would be so careless- or arrogant- that he would imprison the DP all in the same room so that they could communicate with each other as well as witness the valuable information he is trying to extract from Celsius. The caption reads, "What does a man do with immortality?" The name Fu Manchu comes to mind. I can't think of an earlier fictional villain who routinely led his enemies into a succession of lethal traps requiring not merely an expert grasp of advanced technologies to create but considerable advance planning just to spring. And again in his case there is the factor of immortality. He can afford to play and experiment; he expects to live long enough to try again. He really doesn't need to kill his enemies; he could choose to outlive them. Where Fu Manchu differs from Immortus is not only in personal style (cool and aloof vs. blustering martinet) but in motive. Fu Manchu believes in his innate superiority to others and that his control of the world could only improve it. With Immortus, one is never sure if his perpetual lust for warfare is a means to some unspoken end or an end in itself.

.....Immortus has always been a threat simply by his short term goals. In the case of this story (and the last) his short term goal is the pursuit of the formula for an immortality serum. On pages 6-9 the reader sees the result of the "psycho-probe", a flashback from Arani's memories of meeting Caulder while he was a young medical school graduate volunteering in India. That first half of the flashback takes place before the Caulder's own flashback revealing his own origins to the DP in Doom Patrol #88(06/64), which had been recently reprinted in Super-Team Family #9(02-03/77)- #10(04-05/77). Two pages into the Chief's origin story, Arani's flashback in Showcase resumes with her in the care of "a sect of holy men" to whom Caulder entrusted her. They develop her powers as Celsius and Caulder returns telling her of an anonymous benefactor (revealed as Immortus in the reprints) funding immortality research. He marries her and gives her the first (only?) dose of what he tells her is an immortality serum. Where Arani's flashback ends, Caulder's 1964 flashback continues for another six pages in which he explains discovering Immortus' plans to abuse his work and faking his own death to escape the situation.
.....Telling a story by having two flashbacks weave in and out of each other is a risky venture under the best of circumstances (see the Byrne Period synopsis, DP07-AA). Trying it with flashbacks in different issues compounds the difficulty. When the earlier flashback is an unheralded reprint, split across two issues and published six months earlier in a different title with a higher price point... This could be explained as poor planning, wishful thinking or deliberate obfuscation. I would prefer to believe that Kupperberg's relative inexperience and Levitz' excessive workload were more likely causes than a prior intention to craft a story so that it could be followed only by a small coterie of broad-based collectors. It's almost inevitable that longtime fans will get an enhanced experience reading stories with characters who have a large back story. But that perspective shouldn't be necessary with new characters.

.....Otherwise Showcase #95 is fairly pedestrian. Although Immortus was able to obtain a formula from Arani's memories, he didn't understand that it was customized for her biology and it only works long enough to make him look too young for his troops to recognize him. Unwilling to accept his much needed direction, the DP manages to overpower them and escape. That ending was more in the mold of Stan Lee or O. Henry than Gardner Fox. The question is how this, the new team's first real adventure, would compare to the style of Arnold Drake, the only relevant precedent. It's almost an apples and oranges comparison because of the absence of the Chief, who loomed large in much of Drake's plotting. Celsius may be the new group's leader but she does not function in a script as a 'Chief' character. One element of the older stories that could have transfered to the new group and didn't was the tendency for enemies to plan their strategies around the original DP being put into positions that would threaten their lives unless they complied with the villains' wishes. The DP members, faced with a losing proposition, would surprise their enemies by choosing to 'lose' and suffer injuries (or collateral damage in Cliff's case) to turn the tide. Here they are simply restrained and escape by escalating their efforts. There's no wit or poetry to it.
.....In fact, the issue has four real points of interest. One is Arani's flashback, which does add genuinely new information to the pot in that it provides an origin for one of the new members. It raises other questions, but at the time it was not written in stone that an ongoing series would not follow. The second point of interest are the handful of panels on the tenth, fifteenth and last pages featuring Matt Cable at the DP mansion waiting for the DP to return to arrest Val. Their purpose is obvious- to lay ground for the next issue and facilitate pacing in this one, and they succeed on both counts.
.....The third point of interest is an 'unexpected twist' moment in which the team discovers that Immortus' headquarters is on the moon by trying to bust through a wall and nearly being sucked out into the vacuum of space. It could have been a more dramatic moment if Staton had not been limited to 17 pages and could use a full page panel to emphasize that what the characters are experiencing is the sudden realization that they are operating on a different scale. Still, Jack Kirby only had 12 pages to work in the first S.H.I.E.L.D. story in Strange Tales #135(08/65) when Nick Fury throws a chair (with bomb attached) out a window and the readers see for the first time that the story has been taking place in their flying Headquarters. With Kirby's full page panel of the exterior and tiny chair to show scale the effect is immediate and lasting. The panel with the 'reveal' on page 13 is about the same dimensions as the panels on page 11 in which the team strain against their bonds. Containment and claustrophobia shouldn't be the same size or feeling as being dwarfed.
.....The fourth point is the O. Henry moment in which Immortus has temporarily (and unwittingly) traded his authority for youth, which alone is worthy of Drake. The next issue raises the action quotient and should be a fun read. The next post will be about popular music at the time the 1977 revival was on the racks.