In Case You Missed It, back in December, I mentioned that I was moving “Quarterbin Follies” off site. I was offered a spot over at Gaming Rebellion, and it seemed like a great venue to rant about the hits and misses of the stacks of comics in my file cabinets.
Now, I am not going any where. You will still find me puttering about the Ideal Comics offices, muttering about continuity and symbolism; it is only that the GR guys offered me a hell of a soapbox. (Though I ought to climb on top more often.) Nevertheless, I didn't want to leave behind any folks that might watch this space; so without further ado, a live teaser for “Quarterbin Follies #32: It takes a Miracle”
Today's story begins at the end. The very end.Ragnorok.
Jack Kirby, when working with Stan the Man on The Mighty Thor, well, Kirby decided to go out with a bang. In a series of back-ups called “Tales of Asgard” Kirby laid out the end of Asgard and the House of Ideas' Aesir, as he adapted Ragnarok for the 616. This was “prophecy,” a fore-telling from the mind of the King, rather then the direction Marvel editorial would have one of their stars go.
Hello, Internet, and welcome back. This week, I am going to jump from a title that sounds spooky and was not (two weeks on The Spirit); and on to a book that is actually pretty spooky. If I'd had it all together, I'd have this for Hallowe'en. C'est la vie.
Well, this week's book begins at the end. That is to say, Madame Xanadu #1 is the first of nothing, but rather, it is the last installment of the '70's DC Comics 'mystery' strip Doorway to Nightmare. The strip was originally home in a book of the same name, but the title was canned in the infamous DC Implosion, and Xanadu was sent to a new home in The Unexpected. “Doorway to Nightmare” lasted until 1980, and in 1981 DC published Madame Xanadu #1 as their second ever direct market/comic shop exclusive. But that was the end of the “Door Into Nightmare.” Xanadu herself would return in a great many places, but I digress.
Madame Xanadu tales of the time fit a given pattern, and “A Dance for Two Demons” is no exception, here written by Steve Englehart and pencilled by Marshall Rogers. In the Madame's dark and creepy parlor, on a dark and creepy night, a lost soul has found his way there, looking for some kind of redemption or rescue. It is a down and out druggie named Joe. Hearing a rumor that Xanadu is a witchy-woman, Joe has come looking for a magic potion to help him kick the habit. Madame X tells him there is nothing she can do, that the magic he needs is the power of harnessing his free will through discipline. She sends the lost fellow down the way to a rehab center, instructing him to tell the folks Xanadu sent him.
A few hours later, Madame Xanadu is again visited, this time by a red-headed hayseed-- a young gal named Laura with a story to tell. I turns out that back home in the mid-West while visiting her aged aunt, the older woman confided that in her youth she had dabbled in witchcraft--even gotten a hold of an ancient spell-book! Laura had been horrified, but also intrigued, and she admits to sneaking away the leather bound tome to check out in secret. Not long after, Auntie's house caught fire, and the old gal died. This freaked out Laura, who booked to NYC to meet up with her late aunt's old friend, the seeming ageless Madame Xanadu. Laura claims she doesn't really believe in magic, but permits Madame X to do a tarot reading.
Madame Xanadu determines that Laura is on a dangerous path, and will meddle with dark powers she is no match for. This Laura mocks, because, remember, she doesn't really believe in magic; but when Xanadu asks for the spell-book, Laura spooks and gets up to leave.
On her way out, Laura runs into a returning Joseph. He has bailed from rehab after a few hours because it was just too hard. He is certain magic is the answer, and is more than dissatisfied with Madame Xanadu's rebuffing. It is just then that Joe and Laura take notice of each other. A deep and enduring notice of each other.
What emerges in the story really are two views of magic. Xanadu represents a passive view, using magic to gain knowledge and for defense only. Laura, who becomes enthralled by the spell-book and the power it offers, uses magic in an active way, willing to use even love and sex to control others and gather puissance to herself. Only when it is almost too late does she realize she has been used by forces greater and darker than she had comprehended.
The book closes out with a sci-fi back-up by J.M. DeMatteis and Brian Boland called “Falling Down to Heaven...” It is a sad and somber tale of war, survival, injustice, loss and forgiveness as an alien and his ailing wife find themselves facing the prospect of dealing with an injured human who has fallen from the sky.
All told, this was a fun, if spooky, read. Perfectly in tune with the DC's 1970's mystery fair. It seems odd to me that this was the first and last issue. I imagine that it's status as the second direct market DC book (including a full-color center-fold poster of Madame Xanadu by character creator Michael Kaluta) probably means it was published as an experiment that didn't go so well. But I suppose that is he way things go. For my sake, I'm glad I ran across it and could bring it here, to the “Quarterbin.”
It is another week and another “Quarterbin Follies,” the column where I myself write about whatever old comic books I read last week. I would like to start this column with a thanks and shout out to Zach, Levi, and all the folks at gamingrebellion.com, who have invited us at Ideal Comics into the Gaming Rebellion family (or club, or clique, or whatever it is), and offered to dual-post this column! We are excited to share our love of comics with a whole new audience!
Enough of that, let us begin!
It was a few years back, and my buddy Andrew Grant handed me a stack of comics. He picked them up for a song, he had said, and he thought of me. Why? Because it had the first three issues of the then-new Will Eisner's The Spirit from DC Comics; and he knows I like old, nostalgic things.
For the next few years books sat in the bottom of a box, and then a crate for a few years after that until last week when I pulled the things out to read. I tucked into the first issue on a Wednesday morning, and was less than impressed. Now here I really risk sounding like a horrid curmudgeon, partly because I have a lot to complain about here, and partly because I am in fact a horrid curmudgeon. All that being said, I think I will start with the highlights.
This 2010 effort was drawn by the mononymic Moritat the book is damned pretty. The first page is even a direct, and frankly 'wowing' homage to Eisner's unique design work. Within the book itself the style owes more than a little to Bruce Timm, with The Spirit's Great Lakes based Central City possessing a certain timelessness despite definitely not being set in the Forties or Fifties of the Eisner originals.
Like in the original comics, the Mark Schultz-penned script treats The Spirit as an indefatigable defender of the downtrodden and the afflicted, and Commissioner Dolan as the haggard last-clean-cop in Central City. Well, that is about the end of the good, frankly. Once you get past the senseless progressive speech-ified narration, the setting is nothing but the dismal and stereotypical 'grim-n-gritty' Gotham City clones that pervaded the comics of a decade-and-more ago. There is nothing interesting or distinct here, and even the previously lauded timelessness seems distracting. Schultz does a fine job making the villains seem villainous, but only slightly more so that the police.
Entirely divorced from the tale is Eisner's whimsy. For any who might not have read my last post, much of the beauty and genius of Eisner's stories was his ability to balance the graphic with the cartoon--the silly with the serious. The Spirit had the ability to transcend the detective genre, which was his home, and tackle ne'er-do-wells of any stripe, and often with a self-aware smile shared by hero and reader alike. But under Schultz's pen, there is no joy and no hope, and no cock-sure bluster; just a grim, grey impulse more suited to Frank Miller or Dashiell Hammett than Eisner-- more Chinatown than The Spirit.
I gotta say that I have no problem with dark tales. There is a place for the Red Harvests of the world, but I think Schultz is just missing the point. He was writing The Spirit, and the Spirit has a zeitgeist of his own. But is seems like maybe Schultz was trying to write Ms. Tree instead.
And before you go calling me a feeb who just doesn't get "it," let me point you to the "The Spirit: Black and White" back-up in that very issue, brought together by the formidable and legendary Denny O'Neil and Bill Sienkiewicz. It is a tale dark and serious, true, but with a delightfully ironic ending so sharp I almost started laughing. Now, THAT was a "Spirit " story, and well worth the price of admission (provided you can find it in the Quarterbin).
(Authors's note: I have been trying to get this thing done for the last two weeks. It is not my magnum opus, but it is starting to feel like it.)
If you were here last time, you might have noticed that I mentioned I was intending to review Will Eisner's The Spirit. Well, that guy, the me from the past, was just wrong. He was an idiot. This is largely due to the fact that he mislaid the Spirit comic.
I swear it is around here, someplace.
Anywhere, I have chosen to discuss Robin: Nature's Bride. This 80 page giant by Chuck Dixon and Diego Barreto runs directly into the midst of Dixon's monthly Robin epic. But more than that, it stands to itself as a delightful jewel. But before I get ahead of myself, I should spend some time talking about two the protagonists, and why they are the best.
Unless you have been living under a rock, or at least a different rock than me, you probably know Tim Drake, the third Robin. Tim was introduced in 1989's "Batman Year 3", the Batman opus by DC stalwart Marv Wolfman. That story was mostly intended to shed new, post-Crisis light onto Dick Grayson's past and future; and Tim was instantly and blatantly positioned to be the next Robin, and Dick's spiritual successor, after Jason Todd's untimely death.
Tim came into his own a few months later in the pages of thematic sequel "A Lonely Place of Dying." For my money, "A Lonely Place of Dying" maybe one of the best comic book stories ever written. It has action and mystery and intense human relationships are all going on together. And it was the perfect re-introduction for a now teenaged Tim Drake. From the onset, and for the next year and a half (real world time) as Tim was rigorously trained for the role of Robin, Tim stood out as distinct from every other youth to wear the red and green. Tim was the kid who figured out Batman's secret Identity. Tim was the kid who risked his life to save Batman. Tim was remarkable. He was serious, brilliant, and sober minded. He was of course, a hero; but also a giant nerd. Tim was the kid I wanted to be.
Stephanie Brown, created by Chuck Dixon, was something different altogether. Coming from the broken home of a third-rate-supervillain father (the Cluemaster) and a drugged-out mother, Stephanie Brown came into Tim's life as The Spoiler, a vigilante identity purposed to ruin her father's nefarious schemes. Steph was brash, headstrong, impulsive and sincere, all things that lead Batman to insist she not pursue a crime-fighters life. Nevertheless, Tim saw something in her, something that compelled him to invest in her, to train her. They were a dynamite couple, one somber, one brash—one devoted to a cause, one seeking meaning. These two stood as discordant, but still complementary souls.
And that is about where our story starts, well sorta. It actually begins 50 years ago as the Justice Society faces off with the witchy Raveena in far Eastern Rheelasia. Raveena boasts that her magic amulet guarantees her victory as Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Wildcat and the original Black Canary battle Raveena's Animal-Kingdom Army. However her gloating is premature, as Raveena falls victim to volcanic activity by falling into a suddenly open crevasse. The Canary jumps to save Raveena, but the latter swears vengeance. After muttering an arcane incantation, she plunges herself bodily into the crevasse taking her amulet with her into the depths. And all of this is witnessed by a strangely attentive turtle.
Flash- forward 50 years, and Jack Drake, the father of a certain Tim, is playing archaeologist in the very same Rheelasia. And what should he dig up there, but a certain amulet--the perfect gift for his soon-to-be wife. That's right kids, in case you hadn't noticed, Tim used to possess a rare trait unique amongst Robins--Tim had parents. Originally, Tim was the boarding-school son of a globe-trotting power couple, until Tim's Mom was murdered and his father immobilized in coma during 1991s “Rite of Passage" story. Well, in the pages of Robin, Jack made a recovery and began dating socialite Dana Winters, a relationship that was about to present Tim with another challenge as the Boy Wonder must again contend with two concerned parents and a secret identity.
Meanwhile, back in Gotham City, Robin is out crime-fighting with the Spoiler. But they get quickly into a row when Stephanie displays her in-born impulsivness (that has kept Stephanie out of Batman's good graces); and almost puts an undercover Black Canary (the second one!) to in danger. Canary dispatches the threat with her typical martial aplomb, and as the three heroes part company, Tim pleads with Steph to be more cautious while Steph makes no bones that she thinks Robin is holding her back.
Through out the story so far we have seen several interludes--a turtle spied Jack at excavation, and took to the sea. There, he locked eyes with a gull who flew from sea to shore. Now, finding a stray dog, the bird passes the "baton" again as the dog is on a search.
Later and elsewhere, Tim catches up with his family as wedding plans are discussed, and Jack presents his intended the recovered medallion he pulled out of a hole in Asia. Dana wears it proudly, and a dog looks in from the street before heading to the Zoo.
Meanwhile, Spoiler returns to The Canary's apartment to beg her for training. She drops by in the midst of a sparring match between the Canary and Wildcat, mistaking Wildcat for an attacker! Black Canary is less than down with Steph's request, but the conversation is ended abruptly when Wildcat spots a press photo of Jack and Dana with the amulet about her neck. The old boxer recognizes the medallion immediately, and calls for action!
Across town, the Drakes and Winters are at the zoo setting up for the wedding rehearsal, but the whole works is interrupted when animals attack! Tim drags his soon to be step-mother to the safety of his car, but they are pinned down by a panther. The panther stares at the amulet before locking eyes with Dana. Like a snap, Dana is overcome by the spirit of Raveena, who, attacking Tim, sends the car veering into the woods. After crashing, Tim sneaks away to change into his Robin get up. The Black Canary, Wildcat, and the Spoiler arrive as Robin emerges from the brush fully costumed; and the four heroes make a plan to engage the processed bride.
It's crazy man-versus-beast action as the seasoned heroes face Raveena's zoo-army of elephants, big cats, snakes, et al.; but they make no headway until the day is saved by the ingenuity and physical prowess of Stephanie Brown, the Spoiler. How? Well, you wouldn't want me to spoil it, would you? Suffice it to say, Tim gets to attend his parents wedding the next day knowing he owes it all to Steph.
I had never heard of this story with first came out, but I'm very glad to have found it now. It was very enjoyable to read Dixon's take on golden age characters, and he had already proven is skill with Black Canary in the pages of Birds of Prey. It was especially neat to see Stephanie as the final linchpin in their victory. Nature's Bride is also one of the better examples of Tim's worlds colliding. Tim is both a dutiful son and Batman's sidekick, and a part of both worlds and yet beyond them both he is Stephanie's boyfriend. We see Dixon set the foundations of something really great in both this book and in the greater Robin mythos. All in all, it was just a great story--a ton of classic comic book fun.
I am not one to put too much stock in what is new and popular -- give it a decade and see how it wears. This is probably obvious, since I write a column entitled "Quarterbin Follies." I mean, when was the last time you bought a comic for a quarter, fer Pete's sake? Nevertheless, I could not help but notice that Batgirl has been "in the buzz" recently. From Newsarama to Comic Book Resources, the "New 52" Batgirl series is making headlines, and frankly that breaks my heart a little. Now, I don't want to sit here and go on some sort of diatribe about what's wrong with America's comics. I don't want to lean back, prop my feet up start up a sonorous song of "back my day, blah blah blah." But I do think just maybe people are missing the point. Continue reading