Monday, October 3, 2022

2019 The Osprey color commission by Adrian Nelson

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Twenty-two years ago, I had the opportunity to attend San Diego Comic Con, which spoiled me for not only conventions, but for life as a comic shop retailer. I had such a blast on my meager personal funds and through the generosity of others that I realized that I didn't want to commit to continued impoverishment. It took a couple years to come out of a depressive state, make that realization, and fully act upon it. I still struggled in the aughts, and certainly had my lows, but I never truly regretted that decision. It was the right call.

In 2010, while visiting a comic shop during a work break on a job where I was making something like twice what I had at the comic shop, I saw a flier for a local convention called Comicpalooza. I wasn't exactly flush, and we only managed to make it to one day of the show, but I picked up several of my first ever art commissions that day. I was so excited by the prospect, and thoroughly hooked. The following year, I giddily pounced on the second full scale Comicpalooza (the very first show in 2009 was a piddly thing outside a mall movie theater, so I don't count it.) I had carefully vetted all the artists announced for the show, and shopped for new art accordingly. Adrian Nelson was not among those who had been advertised, merely sitting at the table of one who was, but I liked his samples and took a shot. The result was my first Bloodwynd piece.

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The following year worked out much the same, with my stumbling upon Nelson as he sat with the Austin collective CCP Comics at the ill-fated Space City Con. This show yielded Malefic, and I felt bad by messing him over by showing up a day early to pick up his intended color sample of Ma'alefa'ak. Sorry, Adrian.

I think Nelson dropped out of shows for a couple years to work on some commercial art projects and try to develop his own comic for publication. When he turned up at Amazing Houston Comic Con in 2015, I made sure to include him in a friends of Martian Manhunter jam featuring Glenn Gammeron. That turned out swell, and when I needed someone to pull together the J'Onzz Family Portrait Artist Jam, he came through for me again on the Martian deity H'ronmeer. The next year, I was singularly focused on gathering pieces for the Aliens 30th Anniversary reunion at Comicpalooza. I had intentionally avoided artists from whom I'd previously acquired commissions for this project, but with the deadline looming, a reached out to Nelson on Twitter as someone I knew I could rely on to deliver a home run Private Ricco Frost. We met up at a McDonald's parking lot, and chatted for a bit. He wasn't doing shows that year either, as I recall working on something of a vanity project for a well-heeled foreign patron. Not sure if anything substantial ever came of that, but I sincerely wished him the best.

Work In Progress Sketch


In 2017, I reached out to him again for a project via Twitter, this time a banner for the Rolled Spine Podcasts blog. I don't recall if Mac had designed our logo yet after a couple of misses soliciting letterers, including one I still bear ill will toward when I see him credited. I had a complicated idea for the banner, and I think it may have overwhelmed Nelson, but he also had a lot going on in life. I don't know which con we met at in 2018, but I finally decided to get a piece of the super-obscure Martian Manhunter villain The Osprey. Like the Ricco Ross piece, this was a take-home, something I generally avoid. I knew Nelson would make it worthwhile though, and I really liked his initial sketch.

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Nelson disagreed though, and halted work partway through. He said "Sorry, man. I've been making sure I give each commission a bit more because I feel like I'm turning a corner in my style and the pressure of wanting to "wow" people is really in my head." He started again, and sent me the work in progress. "I want to change what I originally put down. I sat with it and then it stopped working for me. Also, I finished the second issue and that was another reason. I'll scan it once I have it at a stage I think you can really see what I'm doing."


I didn't hear from Nelson again that year, but I saw him for the last time in 2019 at Fandemic. That year, I had begun work on a series of piece related to George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead, with the intent to have the pieces signed by the actors that portrayed the characters. There were also a variety of technical people available, so I thought I might do a jam piece of actors that were no longer with us and include them there. David Early had portrayed the talk show host Sidney Berman in 1977, and appeared in many other genre favorites before his death in 2013. Nelson offered him a memorial rendition. Later that year, Nelson reached out to me on Twitter with another work in progress...

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"I decided to do a new one again since I didn't like what came before. I've gotten a bit more comfortable with my traditional stuff now. it's almost done, I just wanted to update you and find out when you want to meet up to get it." Unfortunately, my car was totaled in a flood, so I wasn't meeting anyone for the immediate future. Once I had that sorted, he was without a car while his wife was helping her mom recover from surgery. Early the following year, we went on vacation to the U.K., and then I was busy attending my final convention of 2020 in February. That was the same month as Nelson's final tweet, related to a Paypal plea. "I've recently fell ill and could use help paying for some of the now weekly trips for treatment. Any amount will help. Thank you!" I think we all remember how things went that March, and I was pretty disconnected from everyone but my most immediate circle for quite some time. I never considered Nelson's absence, even though we occasionally liked and retweeted one another. I was doing research for a podcast today when I stumbled upon a tweet from Antarctic Press in 2021. "We published 1 issue of B.A.D.A.S.S. by writer/artist Adrian Nelson who died after the first issue went to print. He was an amazingly talented creator and a good friend to all who knew him. R.I.P." That was actually a reprint of his original small press edition, which I bought a copy of at Bedrock City. I don't remember if I ever told him that. Adrian Nelson was obviously one of my favorite and most frequently engaged local artists, and I always hoped that I'd get to be that wealthy patron having him draw a comic for me someday. Click To Enlarge


Thursday, September 29, 2022

JLA: Scary Monsters (2003)


In the Dakota Badlands of 1877, U.S. Calvary soldier Abel Carmody rescued the granddaughter of an American Indian shaman who gave his life to contain a demoniac hoard. Carmody eventually married the girl, become a great industrialist, and constructed the fortress "Carmody’s Folly" in preparation for another terrifying assault.

In the present, the Martian Manhunter ripped the back door of a suburban Denver home off its hinges with his bare hands. “As his name implies, he’s not from around here. But on his adopted homeworld, as on his planet of birth, J’Onn J’Onzz is a policeman. He swore an oath to protect the innocent. Moments like this, there’s nothing he’d rather do.” As he entered a den surrounded by police, the Manhunter began to assume a form more suited to the setting. He stepped over a young man unconscious on the floor to scoop up a frightened schoolgirl into his arms. “Hi, Ellie. I’m Detective Jones. You’re safe now. Everything’s going to be okay.” At that moment, a SWAT team burst onto the scene.



“Jones! What the hell are you doing here?!”
“What does it look like, Gene?”
“Watch the mouth, pal. You got no badge anymore, you got no right to be here!”
“Just doing my duty as a citizen, Lieutenant.”
“We had the situation under control--!”
“No—you were ready to start a war. In that kind of a cross-fire, what chance do you think the girl would have had? You got the bad guys, Gene. You saved the girl. You get to take the public bows. How ‘bout we leave it at that?”

Meanwhile, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, his girlfriend Jade, the Flash, and his wife Linda had taken to the Spirit Lake Resort for a vacation. Also at the resort were Kishana Lewis and three fellow forest service fire fighters, who were called out by resort manager William Hume to insure that there would be no sparks lit under the hot summer sun. Within hours, Lewis had made a fire, and left her men to burn in it. Smoke over the south ridge had alerted Flash and Green Lantern, where they found Lewis in shock and rambling. Clearing the flames, the heroes were attacked by the possessed bodies of the firemen, whose supernatural abilities allowed them to circumvent the Leaguers’ powers. The firemen spontaneously combusted just as the dual titans were ready to collapse. Additional Leaguers Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Plastic Man, and the Martian Manhunter were likely called to the western Badlands by Jade, who joined them in discovering Flash and Green Lantern unconscious.


“The Martian Manhunter can fly. He can bend steel in his bare hands and change the course of mighty rivers. In fact, he can pretty much do anything Superman can do. With two significant additions. He’s a shape-changer. And more important right now, he’s a telepath. Something attacked and critically injured two of his Justice League colleagues... J’Onn J’Onzz is going inside their minds... the forest around them bursts once more into flame. The Manhunter bares his teeth in a reflex of defiance... writhing in the heart of those flames is something far worse, so great and terrible that [GL & Flash’s] minds deny its existence, for their own survival.”

“That’s when we arrived.” Rayner and West were carried back to the lodge and put under observation, while Kishana Lewis was given her own room. There she was visited by John Jones. The narration read, "This is a challenge the Manhunter's faced many times before in his career as a detective. His Martian telepathy makes the human mind transparent. Knowledge comes easily to him. Proof is hard."

Introductions were in order. “Ms. Lewis? I'm John Jones. I’m a detective. I used to be with homicide. I’ve been asked to help... Is something wrong... you’re staring.”
“I’m sorry... it’s just your skin-- looks green.”

Manhunter was stunned, thinking to himself, “Incredible. Impossible. My replication of the human form is perfect, yet somehow she sees through it! I can deny it, but this might prove the way to get her to trust me.” J’Onzz revealed his alter ego to Lewis, who was unafraid of his form. “I mean, you’re a hero—one of the Justice League. Why should it matter what you look like?” Given permission to peer into Lewis’ mind, J’Onzz found her astral self to be a being of flame. “A very rare woman indeed-- by the twin moons!” Lewis' fiery astral form created a wall of fire to protect the lodge from demonic entry, then urged the Martian Detective to evacuate, before it was too late. The flames were too intense for J'Onn, forcing his mind to leave the astral plane, only to find Kishana was consciously aware of none of this.

Back in the valley, Superman and Batman found that the forest had special regenerative properties that allowed it to redevelop at an astronomical rate. “I think I can tell you why this forest burns so easily. The wood is super-saturated with a kind of resin. Once it ignites, the fire would burn as intensely as white phosphorus. And the shape of the valley, like a bowl, makes this a natural blast furnace… From the looks of the subsoil and organic residue, about one hundred-plus years ago the valley was burned down to its bedrock. Evidence suggests another fire, equally devastating, better than a thousand years previously. And yet another, even further in the past. But this is old-growth timber… the kind of trees you’d expect to find in an eco-neighborhood that’s been untouched for centuries. No way should this have grown in just a hundred years. Or even two. “ Then, as Superman himself felt the cold and a blizzard set in, the Man of Steel tossed the Dark Knight to safety just before a creature attacked. The magical monstrosity assaulted with a wealth of speed outdistanced only by its mass. “These punches hurt! The creature’s claws are drawing blood! So much for being invulnerable!” Superman managed to defeat the one abomination, but he felt the presence of a legion. Batman noted, “His uniform’s badly torn. There’s blood all over. I’ve never seen him take this kind of punishment before.”

Wonder Woman fared worse than Superman against the sinister entities. Diana was infected with a disorder that caused her to slowly turn into a demonic version of herself, then frozen inside a lake. It required most of the League's powers combined to release the Amazing Amazon from her trap, as everyone returned to the resort built around Carmody’s Folly to regroup.

During this quiet before the storm, Linda Park expressed discomfort around J’Onzz to her husband, Wally West...
“I know he’s your friend...”
“Tell me about it. Sometimes he spooks me, too.”
“It’s the telepathy. Intellectually, I know he doesn’t pry, but every time J’Onn is around... I feel like I’m naked. Transparent clear down to the soul.”
“But think about him. All those years living among us... and no matter how much he blends, he’s still an alien.”

J’Onzz made a second attempt at learning about the demons through Kishana Lewis’ mind, and was pleasantly surprised she still had no problem with his appearance. J'Onzz found her to be “Intuitive and brave. I like that.” Kishana responded, “Don’t be fooled, it’s mostly an act.” J’Onzz insisted, “I’m not. And it isn’t.” The Manhunter found a “memory” of the aftermath of the 1877 incident imprinted on Kishana’s genome, as she heard “Medicine drums, on the wind. A song of power.” Martian Manhunter also determined that though Lewis’ physiognomy was mainly African, her heritage was still definitely mixed. "Does the name Abel Carmody mean anything to you?"

The Alien Atlas and Kishana Lewis were attacked by a tentacle monster, but it was the progressively worse Wonder Woman's claws that tore open Manhunter’s face, as she swung wildly in the pair's defense. Kishana was concerned. “C’mon Manhunter, let’s get you—“
“My fate doesn’t matter! It is you they want!” Armed with an M-16, Lewis held her own, and vowed, “Those monsters slaughtered my team... Whatever you want of me, you got.”

Manhunter grimly warned, “Have a care Kishana. Before this struggle ends, we may well hold you to that pledge. And it will likely cost you more dearly than you can possibly imagine.”

“Superman is not invulnerable to our adversaries. That suggests their nature derives from magic. However, they appear to be extremely vulnerable to heat, making fire our most effective weapon.” The Manhunter from Mars surmised this as he helped his fellows fended off the creatures’ latest assault. “Perhaps I can use my intangibility to get past these outer limbs... to the main body of the creatures!” Or perhaps not, as unearthly talons “...gaffed him like a fish... J’Onn’s in no condition to fight,” at least in the Dark Knight’s estimation. A shotgun-wielding Kishana Lewis fought to protect them both, earning the heroes’ respect, while remaining in their eyes a liability. Though Kishana's skilled use of firearms and evasive maneuvers made her seem at least as effective as the super-heroes, she tearfully fell back to look after the wounded J’Onn, as both were led back to safety by Plastic Man. On their way out, Superman couldn't help noticing what had drawn Kishana into the fray to begin with. "Interesting that J'Onn used his telepathy to reach out to Kishana."

With study, the Dark Knight Detective concluded of the Scary Monsters, “Their native environment must be absolute zero… They come from a dimension of primal cold. But each time they appear here, they’re stronger, smarter, more resilient.” Given a respite, Superman learned from the Carmody library that knowledge of the texts would not be enough to use the occult against the creatures. “Shamanic lore requires a spiritual aptitude, much like the metagene that conveys super powers, in those who seek enlightenment. You not only have to be born to the role, you also have to earn it by undertaking a series of ordeals.” On other matters, given Superman’s assertion about the creature’s natural habitat, Batman surmised, “On their side of the ‘door’ they’re static. Here, they evolve.”

Manhunter himself was evolving, as his shape-shifting abilities merely amplified the speed at which his septic wounds allowed their poison to turn him into a monster. J’Onzz envisioned the volcano we know as the Olympus Mons. “According to legend, it was created during a great and terrible battle for the soul, not only of the Martian race, but of our very world. Against a malevolence too awful to even name. The closest word we applied to them was-- Winter.” J’Onn drew Kishana into his mind, within which the monsters attacked the pair telepathically. “My heart is racing. It sounds like… drums… The pattern… it sounds African… It sounds Indian… Just like me… My blood-- feels like it’s setting me on fire!!” Kishana began to radiate heat, vaporizing the ice in their thoughts and cauterizing the Manhunter’s wounds clean. “The patterns of his life… are as clear to me as a trail of fire. The poison in him creates patches of darkness and cold. All I have to do is reignite the flames of creation… and I can make him whole.” J’Onzz felt reborn, and apparently aroused, as he kissed Kishana passionately...

"J'Onn, I--!"
"Hush. I'm a telepath, remember..? I know."

J'Onn J'Onzz and Kishana Lewis shared a bed, and a dream, beginning with the events that led to the death of Lewis’ fellows, Gerry, Rudy, and Simeon. With a tear rolling down her cheek, Kishana said, "They deserved so much better."
"Sometimes, Kishana, we choose the battle. Sometimes the battle chooses us. Fate is not fair."
"Part of me wishes I'd died with them."
"As I wish I had on Mars, with my own wife and family. But I was chosen for another purpose. And so, it seems, were you."

Kishana gasped at the sight of a white buffalo, until she was distracted by a white bird overhead, which landed on the shoulder of the newly revealed White Buffalo Woman. "She brought the awareness of life to the people of the plains. In a way, without her, we wouldn’t even be human. And that bird on her shoulder, that can only be--! With a clap that sent Kishana and J'Onn reeling, Thunderbird created sonic force waves with its wings. These visions, including the return of her possessed friends, were intended to help Lewis come to terms with her mission as the descendant of Abel Carmody and the shaman's granddaughter.

William Hume, the resort manager and longtime possessed pawn, opened the doors of the fortress to allow his masters entry. Diana, still struggling with her condition, was the first on defensive. Superman, Batman, and the Martian Manhunter were called next, just after J'Onn had presented the World's Finest pair with his lover's true nature. "I am not of this world, Kishana. I play at being human, but I am not. By nature and by choice, I have stood apart from your passions. I have observed the emotion you call love... but rarely experienced its passion! It is hard for me to leave you. Yet to save you, I must." Lewis replied, “Come back quick, J’Onn. Come back safe. I’ll be waiting.”

While the Kryptonian and the Martian flew off, the Batman tried to drag Kishana down to the catacombs. "I'm staying! ...I saved J'Onn, doesn't that count for something? The monsters believe I'm important, even if you don't! Can you really afford to throw away any potential asset?" Batman appreciated the American Indian lore regarding the demons and a fabled guardian, though going too deep into metaphysics bothered him. Kishana agreed to the Caped Crusader's tutelage in accessing her abilities. "Twice now, with J'Onn on the astral plane, I transformed into an avatar of pure flame. He said it was like looking at the spark of creation that brought the universe to life. If there were beings who existed before that moment... maybe they want revenge for being evicted."

Just after Jade arrived to support the Amazing Amazon on defense, Wonder Woman’s adulteration was completed, and she downed the emerald heroine. Seeking a final resolution, Superman and the Martian Manhunter decided to attempt to activate a dormant volcano under Black Spirit Lake with their heat vision. "This will trigger an eruption on a scale that hasn't been seen since this world was born. The ecological consequences will be devastating, Superman." It would be Green Lantern's job to contain their scope. "If he fails, my friend, our actions will leave this world as barren as its moon." Much ado about nothing, as the Scary Monsters immediately froze the site and relaunched hostilities against the heroes.

With the other heroes attentions elsewhere, Batman was convinced that Lewis’ powers needed a means of ignition, and departed the fortress with Kishana and Plastic Man in tow. While Lewis wore Plastic Man as a suit for protection in her trek to the lake, Batman stayed behind to stall the now entirely possessed Wonder Woman. In the forest, Kishana and P.M. came across a white elk, “…in a valley where as far back as anyone can recall... no animal, not even an insect, has ever been seen… The white buffalo is a spirit totem. It imparts wisdom. The great elk is a warrior totem. It imparts the strength to use the wisdom. We’ll make way better time with a ride!” The elk was slain by a spear tossed by Diana, who had overcome the Batman.

As the extraterrestrial duo fought off flying demons, Manhunter analyzed the situation. "Batman is down, Superman. And Wonder Woman has been turned! She's one of them now!" Plastic Man and Kishana are on their own. We have to help." Superman acknowledged that regardless of the cost to her and the probable loss of the Leaguers’ lives, the salvation of Earth was in Kishana Lewis' hands, much to J’Onn’s chagrin. “You don’t understand. I-- care for her! More than you know. More than I ever imagined possible! I know you’re right-- but in my heart the price is too high!”

Kishana’s powers began to surface in conflict with "Dark Diana," and as she grew nearer to a tower in the middle of Black Spirit Lake. Once the reanimated elk preoccupied Plastic Man, Lewis recognized, “It’s all on me now! It’s up to me to succeed where the Justice League failed! The world is so screwed! NO! I won’t accept that! Those heroes had faith in me!” Lewis was then lynched by Plastic Man’s twisted form, as Diana noted that while Kishana’s touch was anathema to her, Plas’ fallen form allowed Wonder Woman to end Lewis' threat.

Kishana was given a breather by the kamikaze flight of the Manhunter from Mars, in a form similar to the prophetic Thunderbird, but was then gutted by Diana. “Why, J’Onn, what a surprise! Whatever could have possessed you?! To take an action so passionate, so utterly uncharacteristically human! And so ultimately futile!! Has Cupid’s arrow found your alien heart?”

“She is the hope of the world, Diana! ...Your kind are in my memory as well. From a battle so fierce it laid waste to the souls of my entire race. You are one of the reasons we cannot abide fire. Not because of what it may do to us—but because of the monsters we used it to destroy! After all, why would a species who live in mortal fear of fire... breed its generation into our very genome?”

With that J’Onn J’Onzz fired his laser vision into Kishana’s eyes, and she was converted into an energy being. The explosion that followed eradicated all trace of the demons from the valley, as well as washing over J'Onzz himself. "My life for Earth? A nothing sacrifice."

Fallen heroes were restored to grace, though the inferno eradicated all plant life in the area. Kishana Lewis resuscitated J’Onzz with a kiss, while appearing to briefly become a Martian herself. “”This is but an illusion, painted by a merging or your power with my telepathy. It’s not meant to last.” Truer words... as energy shot between the lovers, painfully tearing them apart. Batman explained, “Apparently, you’ve become an avatar of fire, channeling the molten heart of not only the earth, but the sun as well. You may still look human, but the change is total and irrevocable. Given the Manhunter’s inherent Martian vulnerability to flame, even the most casual physical contact will be painful. Anything prolonged is guaranteed fatal.” Kishana couldn't believe the unfairness of it all.

Green Lantern was almost converted to a demon just before the cleansing, and while he didn’t see his attacker was William Hume, he knew a human was in league with the scary monsters. Kishana concluded, “If the demons have an agent loose among us, and there are other gates--! Then this isn’t over. We’ve won a battle… but the war has only just begun. Fine. If this is the job I was born to do, I’m game. But that doesn’t let you off the hook, Mister! We’re not done.”

Lewis and J'Onzz stared into one another's eyes... “Kishana--!” “Hush! I’m a romantic. I believe in true love. In the end, against all odds, it will triumph.” “In the face of such passion, who am I to argue? I speak for the League. You have done well this day, Kishana. Your grandfather and grandmother would be proud. And should the need arise for us to fight once more by your side, it will be our privilege.”

By Chris Claremont, Joshua Hood and Sean Parsons.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

2000 Warner Bros. Studio Store Exclusive JLA Mug

Photo by Pekita Trotamundos
This embossed coffee mug was bought for me as a present from the late, great WB Store. It has stored loose change and/or pens ever since. For the record, only the figures are raised, not the JLA logo, but this is some of the most pronounced embossing I've ever felt. Very lumpy, at various degrees, that could almost be measured to a centimeter at the most extreme points. Photo by Pekita Trotamundos
Art appears to be by Eduardo Barreto, who was pretty much the Martian Manhunter artist of the '90s when it came to any type of merchandising. Pictured left-to-right, top-to-bottom: Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, Wonder Woman, the Flash (presumably Wally West,) Batman, Superman and Golden Mullet Aquaman. Photo by Pekita Trotamundos

Monday, September 26, 2022

Model and Toy Collector #24 (Spring 1993)

Click For More I hate models. I used to have a customer who would spend hours telling me about his process in crafting model kits, and I would spend those hours fighting back the tears and anger at time I'd never get back. I also hate "B. Clarke," who painted a JLofA cover for this issue involving the team playing their '60s Hasbro Flash board game. Those all featured J'onn J'onzz, but Clarke bypassed authenticity and screwed Manhunter alone by turning him into the Atom. Of course, that helped lead Damian Maffei of the late The Atom: Tiny Titan blog to cover this magazine back on January 6, 2008. Inside was a shoddy photo of a custom model of "Jonah Jones" by David E. Dennis built from an Aurora Superman kit. This was based on concept art by Jerry Somethingorother, or the fake concept art drawn around the model. I don't really care all that much. Visit the link to see this travesty in rather large scans, including other custom models for the Atom, Green Lantern and Aquaman. Click For More

Thursday, September 22, 2022

2013 Zook Comicpalooza Commission by Amanda Lafrenais

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Amanda Lafrenais is the creator of the free webcomic Love Me Nice, which I'll happily link to, and a contributor to the subscription-only adult erotic anthology Slipshine, which you'll have to get to on your own (keeping it PG, y'all.) Love Me Nice is about the behind-the-scenes antics of actors from a TV show in a universe where cartoons characters and average folk interact, and looks like fun.

One of the themes of the strip is that the 'toons and the more humanoid/anime characters are the same species, but the former was treated as lesser beings until recent times. Zook is a character that artists sometimes struggle with, treating him as purely an animal or an alien, when his other-dimensional nature is more like a cartoon made flesh in a straightforward super-hero strip. Lafrenais is uniquely suited to interpret Zook's conflicted nature, juxtaposing the animated aesthetic with a more realistic infantile body, both cute and slightly unnerving. It's like an unintentional inversion of Mark Ryden; a completely innocent and sweet drawing of a creature the mind perceives as ever so slightly "wrong" because of too much lifelike reality mingled into its DNA.



Zook is a polarizing character among Martian Manhunter fans, with his pidgin English/baby talk and his representing a period where the strip shifted toward odd monster of the month fare ever more divorced from the pseudo-reality of the original sci-fi crime strip. I personally found Zook a bright spot during a creatively dire period, and I find it interesting how Lafrenais' interpretation confronts "the haters" with the inherent, blameless naiveté of the creature. How can you be disdainful of something so defenseless and pure, the manifestation of editor Jack Schiff's attempt to allow a comic strip to remain wholly owned by the children that once read it? Instead, the already increasingly sophomoric and demanding man-children that would consume the comic medium were soon given Marco Xavier, Vulture, and a grimness ahead of its time.

I thoroughly enjoy Amanda Lafrenais' piece, both for the craft demonstrated in the caricature/anatomy/coloring and for the recontextualization of the character it inspires. Lafrenais is also one of the friendliest and most enthusiastic artists I have ever met, speaking openly and giddily with fans as friends. A passing mention of her work's resemblance to Ross Cambell launches an anecdote about the mutual admiration society they ended up forming. She laughs unreservedly, and seems fully immersed in the joy that can come from this medium, too often drowned out by age and cynicism. Both her art and her persona are a reminder of why so many of us are devoted to comics, and I recommend visiting her at a convention if you get the opportunity as a four color homeopathic alternative to SSRIs.

Amanda Lafrenais' web site is a nice place to visit, but please remember that many links there are VERY NOT SAFE FOR WORK!

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The Comic Reader

The Comic Reader Number 159 (August, 1978)

OUR COVERS: Manhunter From Mars by Al Milgrom, back again and probably slated to appear in DETECTIVE, and two new additions to ADVENTURE, Power Girl and The Huntress by Rick Taylor. ©1978 DC Comics Inc.
DC NEWS What happened on June 22, 1978 may possibly be the most significant events of the year. This is undoubtedly the most complicated story we've ever had to report, and the ramifications from it will be felt for the foreseeable future if not beyond. It started ten years ago when Warner Brothers took over Kinney National Service, which owned DC Comics.

The corporate heads of Warner Communications had stayed pretty much out of the picture as far as creative decisions go, the significant actions being the instatements of Carmine Infantino and Jenette Kahn as publishers and the budget and price increase okays over the years. Recently, however, the people upstairs began to take long looks at the downward trend sales have taken since they inherited their branch of the comics industry and a decision was made to attempt to halt the plummet by some drastic means. The first of these we mentioned last issue, which involves massive overhaul of the distribution process. Basically, this involves getting a much greater percentage of the copies that are printed displayed on the nation's newsstands, working more closely with local distributors and wholesalers. We will only be able to see the results of this step since few of us are wholesalers. The second step they have taken will hit much more closely to home and we will all feel its impact.

DC has eliminated their shortlived 50¢, 40 page line, after only three months' trial. Obviously, the reason has nothing to do with sales. The people at Warner feel that the new system of distribution should be given a chance with DCs looking like the rest of the industry's books, since there will be some risk of alienating wholesalers without the more expensive books. So, beginning in September (books cover dated December), all DCs that are not dollar books will be 32 pages with 17 pages of story again, but now for 40¢. And that's not all.

All non-dollar-sized bi-monthly books have either been cancelled or upgraded to monthly status. Hereafter, only monthly titles will be published in the regular size.
The article went on to list the cancellation points of seventeen then-ongoing comics, in what would later be dubbed the "DC Implosion." For example, "FIRESTORM with #5... STEEL with #5," and so on. An additional five issues of other titles previously announced were not to be published, as well as two reprint books. "...THE DESERTER, the dollar-sized STRANGE ADVENTURES, SWAMP THING and THE VIXEN have been indefinitely postponed... DC published an office-only comic book entitled CANCELLED COMICS CAVALCADE which features 35 completed comic books we'll never see." A variety of supporting features were left looking for a home, "though the new characters that have yet to be introduced (NEVERWHERE, the VIXEN back-up to feature Matt Treadway, etc.) may not. Some of the writers have inquired about buying back their characters, and DC is not entirely adverse to the idea."

DC's Mike Gold feels that the delay of the SUPERMAN film had nothing whatsoever to do with the decision. His opinion is that the decision came as a result of fifteen years of declining comic sales, possibly spurred on by the low winter sales (figures seriously out of wack because of the blizzard), and the new size would not have been saved even if a phenomenal sales push had been garnered from the film.
THE COMIC READER was published monthly by and © Street Enterprises. It was begun as a fanzine in 1971 by Paul Kupperberg and Paul Levitz, both later of DC Comics. It ended in 1983, a couple years after dutifully reporting on the debut of the magazine that would succeed it, Fantagraphics' Amazing Heroes.

The Comic Reader #183 (September, 1980)

It should be evident to anyone who has read my blogs or listened to my podcasts that I'm a big comic reader. However, I'm not big on The Comic Reader, one of if not the longest lived fanzines of the medium (unlike the much earlier Alter Ego, which became a prozine and then a proper magazine.) The publication was always slight on editorial content, likely due to a lack of access to the big companies and their talent, as well as its dependence on their good graces for the book's main service to the community, solicitation art & copy. For instance, the specific issue being covered today ran 60 pages and change, 13 of which were paid advertisements, 18 were newspaper strip reprints, 3 well drawn but unfunny animal strips, and 1 a photo comic featuring the guys who did those strips that actually is kind of funny. Pretty near everything else looks like an early Previews catalog.

Click To Enlarge


That said, the magazine pioneered the use of original full color professional cover art, and has shown much love to J'onn J'onzz in that regard, including issues 159, #197, #219 and this number right here, described inside as "The original JLA as portrayed by new DC inker Dennis Jensen, and Supergirl and Batgirl by TCR cover artist Bob Staszak." This was actually around the time the Manhunter from Mars saw a sharp uptick in usage, including appearances in Justice League of America and DC Comics Presents, with black and white cover art from the second part of Mongul arc (featuring Supergirl) displayed inside. Detective Comics #500 is also discussed, including "Paul Levitz and Joe Kubert do a HAWKMAN story which investigates the 'Strange Death of Dr. Erdel,' the man who brought J'onn J'onzz to Earth." There's also the brief mention that "Polygram Films has announced that BATMAN is on their release schedule for 1982. Michael Uslan and Ben Melnicker are the producers named."

Over at Marvel, their graphic novel line was meant to begin with an X-Men story by Claremont, Byrne & Austin, while Frank Miller was set to both draw AND write an issue of DAREDEVIL "featuring a new villain called Electra." Their spelling. Did that Daredevil back-up strip "The Ninja" by Hama and Simonson ever happen? Or the Howard the Duck radio show?

Wooo-- there's a fan letter that references an episode of Tomorrow with Tom Snyder that featured a co-interview of Stan Lee and Carmine Infantino! Wait-- I just did a bit of research, and apparently only audio of the episode still exists, and includes Julie Schwartz! Why has no one leaked this to YouTube?

1981 The Comic Reader #197 Back Cover by Fred Hembeck

Click To Enormify Hey, remember when comic conventions only had one guest? There's a show in here with just Walt Simonson and the dude who played Twiki, and I should have asked Howard Chaykin how his gig in Indiana went when I talked to him this weekend (all three have done Houston shows in the past year.) Say, the top 100 comics are listed her! Okay, forget what I said earlier-- these later issues of the magazine are actually neat. I bought a few issues for a few bucks at Amazing Houston, and if anything Alien Atlas appears, I'll pass it along...

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Detective Comics #273 (November, 1959)

"Gasps of astonishment go up," as city citizens gazed upon an unearthly missile overhead. "The strange craft lands in a nearby park," from which a jaundiced extraterrestrial exited. A crowd gathered nearby, taking cover behind a statue. "Is he friendly-- or dangerous? Approach him carefully!" Caution proved the better part of valor, as the yellow-skinned Martian drew a ray gun that vaporized the statue with one shot. "Out of my way, Earth people!" As the humans evacuated the scene, B'rett thought to himself, "Ha, ha... Look at them flee! With my Martian powers, I'll become the most powerful man on Earth!"

"Immediately, the alien newcomer begins his reign of crime..." Recognizing Earth people stored their money in banks, B'rett used "one of my Martian talents" to pass immaterially through a vault wall to help himself. Confronted by armed guards, he chided, "Guns? You think you can stop me with your puny guns? Come to think of it, who needs money? I can take anything I want from you helpless Earthlings!"

Minutes later, Captain Harding summoned ace Detective John Jones to his office. "Jones... Hundreds of calls are pouring in about an alien on Earth!" Jones promised to look into it, while wondering "what the chief would say if he knew that I'm an alien... Still, I doubt there's actually another outer-spaceman on Earth!" However, Detective Jones soon found himself in a crowd watching B'rett plow through heavy traffic with his super-breath. "Great Suns-- It's true!" The super-sleuth noticed B'rett was warning people not to follow him, rather than simply turning invisible, "as any Martian can do." Only through his Martian Eyesight could Jones follow the evil alien's sudden burst of speed, leading to an abandoned warehouse. Jones followed B'rett into the warehouse before undergoing his "startling change" into J'onn J'onzz, the Manhunter from Mars. B'rett exclaimed "Thundering Meteors-- another Martian! How did you get here?" J'onzz played it tough, demanding "Suppose you first tell me who you are-- and how you got here?"

"My name is B'rett! I-- er-- had to leave Mars in a hurry... so I hid myself in an experimental missile that overshot its mark-- and accidentally landed on Earth!" The Martian Manhunter wasn't buying it. "A criminal, eh? Well-- I'm returning you to your missile!" B'rett was no more interested in J'onn's line, and drew his Martian ray gun. "I may be invulnerable to Earth weapons-- but that gadget can finish me for good!" The Alien Atlas turned himself invisible as the Martian Criminal used up his gun's battery firing blind. B'rett had "plenty more" batteries at the missile. "Meanwhile, I've got another weapon I can use against you!" The Martian Marvel was shocked at the sight of "A pellet of Formula Z6-- the chemical given to Martian criminals to rob them of their super-powers while invisible! No wonder you never vanish!" J'onn J'onzz collapsed from exposure to the gas, though he remained obscured. "Exactly... and from now on, you will never be able to use your Martian powers while invisible, either!"

B'rett had escaped to his missile by the time J'onzz regained consciousness and resumed the chase. As B'rett exited the craft with his re-charged ray gun, he was met by three police officers in over their heads. "I can't use my powers to save them, unless I become visible-- and give away my presence on Earth! ...I have no choice..." The police were rattled by the sudden appearance of two Martians, but the Sleuth from Outer Space assured, "...have no fear of me! I am on Earth to fight crime!" B'rett dismissed, "BAH! ...Take one more step, Manhunter, and I'll start blasting!" J'onzz knew "he means it," and used his Martian Distance Vision to detect a man burning leaves miles away. The Manhunter filled his Martian lungs, then let loose a mighty blast that drew in the burning leaves and encircled B'rett. "Fire-- the one Martian weakness! I-- I'm losing all my strength! Oh-h-h!" J'onzz announced, "Now's your chance, officers... Grab him! I don't dare come any closer to that fire!"

"Helpless, the evil Martian is placed back in his missile-- and soon after, at a nearby rocket launching base," he was shot into orbit around Mars at the Manhunter's request, "So the Martians will then be able to send up a ship and bring it down." Just after liftoff, the familiar voice of Captain Harding greeted the once-Secret Visitor from Mars. As he shook J'onzz's hand, Harding considered, "Imagine... a Martian Manhunter, here on Earth! Would I love to have you on the force!" Though he was intent on continuing to keep his Earth identity secret from even the chief, J'onzz promised "I will always be available for emergencies." Later at headquarters, Harding continued to brag to "Jones-- until today, you were the top detective in town... but from now on, you'll have to take second place to the Manhunter from Mars!"

“The Unmasking of J'onn J'onzz” by Jack Miller and Joe Certa.

Monday, September 19, 2022

1997 Fleer/Skybox Justice League (JLA) Overpower CCG Box & Cards

I'm sure most folks into comics remember the big collectible card game boom of the '90s. Combining aspects of role-playing with standard card games, CCGs went over big, from Magic: The Gathering to Pokémon and beyond. As a comic book guy, I hated dealing with those people when I started retailing, though not nearly as much as the sports card types. Still, you have to know what you're selling, so I learned the basics of Magic, and even spent too much of my time and money on the first few Star Wars sets.

When I switched from helping manage one comic shop for another, one of my favorite crossover customers talked me into joining him in sampling the new digs' DC Comics Overpower cards. Even though DC was my preferred company, I had and maintain a dislike of Superman and Batman in that period, whose casts were the sole feature of the inaugural set. Still, I had a good time playing with my guy, and though he started to drift out of comics, a whole gaggle of kids had gotten interested in our wake. Before long, my shop was home to the only Overpower players circle in that town, and traveling to competitions elsewhere. I'm still close friends with one of those guys twenty-six years later.

Meanwhile, I'd begun buying cards from the Marvel sets, since DC's was weak sauce. The emphasis on the Batman family, filled with non-powered acrobatic detectives, necessitated the creation of an IQ ability. This prompted Marvel to update all their previously released character cards with vastly superior stats. DC responded with this JLA set, offering a more diverse selection of characters, plus expansions on their first set to dilute its suckage. I was delighted to finally have access to decent playable characters, especially Wonder Woman, who joined Captain America in a briefly unbeatable deck that combined overwhelming fighting ability with excellent defense. Orion, Wolverine, Sabretooth, Nick Fury, Ra's al Ghul and Azrael all offered support at various times with results favoring Marvel.

Alright, to explain the Overpower Collectible Card Game, we begin with Characters. Every player puts together a team of four Character Cards. Depending on an optional rule, all these characters may have to be either heroes or villains. J'Onn here is a Hero, as indicated by the "H" symbol at the bottom left of the card. Every character has a Power Grid of either 3 or 4 Power types, depending on what version of Overpower you are playing. All DC Characters have four Power types: Energy, Fighting, Strength and Intellect. They are then assigned a Rating in each Power type, roughly based on their abilities in the comics, and ranked from 1-8. As you can see, Manhunter is a versatile Character, with solid Ratings across the Power Grid, and the penultimate limit on Strength.

Martian Manhunter also has an Inherent Ability, a special power he can use just by being present on a team. His is "Teammates Training card bonus' are an additional +1." Training cards allow characters with a Rating of less than 5 to increase the impact of an attack in a Power type they're normally weaker in. As you can see, J'Onn can not only get the most out of his own Training cards based on his Power Grid, but also enhance his fellows'. You can best use Martian Manhunter in decks emphasizing Strength and/or the full spectrum of Powers. However, especially in tournaments, the total point value for all the characters' Ratings on your team matter. Since J'Onn is a 20 point character, you have to bring in a much lower point character for, say, a 60 point team. Your team will be disqualified if they run over an allotted point value. Also, if you play Manhunter against an 80+ point team, they will most likely have characters with 8 Ratings, where the Martian's highest Rating is a 7, limiting his offensive and defensive abilities against them.

While there are no artist credits on the cards, it's obvious Sal Velluto drew this one. Because of a uniform flatness in the coloring of the DC character cards, the rare instances of more vibrant tones like those found here really stand out. The combination of detailed rendering and hue makes this one of the best looking cards in Overpower, as far as I'm concerned.

"Power cards are the basic unit of attack and defense in Overpower" As Poker has suits, Overpower has Power types. Instead of hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs, it has Energy, Fighting, Strength and Intellect. If you look at the Martian Manhunter Character card, you can see he has a Rating in each of these suits. Power cards have values of 1-8, but since Martian Manhunter only has a Rating of 4 in Energy, he can only use Energy Power cards with values of 1-4 to attack or defend himself.

You might wonder why anyone would bother with Power cards of low Value. Well you see, unlike Poker, you build your own deck of cards to play with, and pit it against your opponents' deck. At the start of the game, each of you draws an eight card hand. Any duplications must be discarded immediately, and you can't keep more than one Power card of the same Value. That means if you draw an Energy Power card and an Intellect Power card with a Value of 4 each, you can only keep one. Martian Manhunter can use either, so you have to determine which will be most useful to his teammates or your strategy, and keep that one.

Each player takes a turn performing an action, which may include using a Power card to attack their opponent. Your opponent will usually have to target one of your characters, in this case Martian Manhunter. If your opponent attacks J'Onn with a Power card valued at 7, Martian Manhunter can use a Strength Power card with a Value of 7 to defend himself. If you decided to hold a 7 Intellect Power card for one of J'Onn's teammates (since he can't use an Intellect Power card over 5,) and have no other means to defend the Martian Manhunter, our hero will be hit by the attack. Since most characters can only take 20 points of damage, that leaves J'Onn with only 13 points of injury he can sustain before being knocked out. Also, if J'Onn takes hits from two other Power card suits, regardless of their point value, he will become the victim of a Spectrum KO. That's where even low Value Power cards are useful. Once a character is knocked out, they are removed from the game. You start out with four characters, three active, and one safely in reserve. If Martian Manhunter is knocked out, the reserve character takes his place. One way to end the game is if all four of a player's characters are knocked out.

There are two types of Power cards that are not part of the four basic suits. MultiPower cards are wild, and can assume the properties of any Power card type. Any-Power cards, like the one spotlighted here, have no Power type. Since this one has a Value of 6, any character with a Ranking of 6 or more in any Power type can use it to attack or defend. While its Value of 6 and versatility can be useful, it's useless in effecting a Spectrum KO. You'll also note this card is limited to one per deck.

Though the card has no art credit, this one was obviously drawn by Howard Porter, likely with John Dell inking. The same image was used on the display box and in advertising.

Each Overpower player must have a set of 7 Mission cards. These cards tell a short story involving a set of heroes and villains. They blessedly need not be the same Characters you're playing, since there was only one Mission set produced for the JLA expansion, and then there's mixing Marvel Characters in to consider.

Mission cards serve two purposes. The first is to determine which Event cards can be played. Events are optional cards that can be placed in a deck. If an Event card is drawn, it immediately effects both players, rather than being played as part of a hand. Events are directly tied to Missions, and can only appear once per deck. It should be noted that Event cards are printed like most any other, on pliable matte stock with rounded corners. Mission cards are separate from the deck, and are printed on more rigid glossy stock with square corners.

Another way to win a game of Overpower is through Venture, the second and primary purpose of Mission cards. At the start of each Battle, meaning one turn for each player, one or more Mission cards are "bet" on the outcome of the battle. It's up to each player to decide how many Mission cards they choose to Venture per battle, and they need not Venture the same number. One card minimum must be Ventured, and for every card over two Ventured, your opponent gets to draw a card from their deck. The first player with all their Mission cards "Completed," as in accumulated winning bets, takes the game. The first player with all their Mission cards "Defeated," accumulated lost bets, is out of the game. The victor of each battle is determined by who deals the highest number of Value points of damage to their opponent(s.)

"The Brave And The Bold" Mission's story involves Darkseid trying to take over the Earth after the destruction of his home planet, Apokolips. The New Gods Orion and Mr. Miracle warn the Justice League, who battle Darkseid's forces on our moon. "--Having beaten the Female Furies, the League now clashes with a squadron of Parademons, led by the brutal Kalibak. With strength like Superman's and an unquenchable lust for battle, Kalibak is a terrifying enemy... Yet the heroic Martian Manhunter battles him alone and unaided, buying time for the other heroes to smash Darkseid's forces and invade his fortress!" There were 5 Event cards tied to this Mission, but none mentioned Martian Manhunter, so we won't bother with them.

As usual, there are no art credits on this card. I strongly suspect it was drawn by Mike Collins, based almost entirely on how much it looks like his work on Martian Manhunter Special #1. Do note the Ray, one of J'Onn's charges from the Justice League Task Force, in the background.

After my lengthy tutorial on the basics of the Overpower collectible card game, this number should be fairly self explanatory. You would use this card if one of the Characters on your team had a Fighting Power Grid Rating of 6 or higher, while a Teammate had a Strength Rating of 6 or higher. For instance, if you were using the pictured duo of Batman and Martian Manhunter, it would work with the Dark Knight's 7 Fighting Rating and the Alien Atlas' 7 Strength Rating. So the Caped Crusader could use this as a 4 Value Fighting attack or defense, which the Martian Marvel would have to elevate higher by combining it with a Intellect Power card. Since J'Onn J'Onzz is one of the smartest strong men in Overpower, his Intellect Rating of 5 could boost the action to as high a Value as 8. Pretty awesome.

Tactic cards emphasized team work, but in order to be effective required careful consideration of which characters were to be used. For instance, if Martian Manhunter were to be KO'd, and no one else on your team had at least a 6 Rating in Strength, the card would be rendered worthless. On the other hand, someone like Orion with a Strength Power Grid Rating of 7 could use the card, but his low Intellect Rating of 2 maxed the action's Value at a milder 6. Better to have the evil Neron on the team, whose Strength Rating of 6 could do the heavy lifting, and Intellect Rating of 8 offered the potential for a more devastating action. Of course, you're now breaking the optional rule against mixing good and evil on a team, and it will already be at 61 combined Rating points before the addition of a fourth Character.

Besides Power Grid Ratings, another reason to choose a Character for an Overpower game team is their Special cards. Only the specific character identified on a Special card can use that card, and only so long as they are active in the game. Another good thing about Special cards is that they are so specific, unless you overload your deck with one single card, the odds favor your not having to discard duplicates. You can hold as many Special cards as you like, so long as they are not the exact same card. Also, you can place a Special open face on the table for later use to free up your hand.

"Malleable Form" is not so great. You have to waste an action to preemptively insure nothing happens with the Martian Manhunter for the rest of the battle. I guess if he's the endangered lynch pin of your team or something, it could be useful.

Though uncredited, the art on all the Martian Manhunter Special cards is clearly by Sal Velluto, making his among the best looking in the set. Back when I had my "Martian Manhunter: The Rock of the JLA" site, I cropped most of these Specials for use in a section devoted to the super powers of the Alien Atlas. Also, secret identities rarely came into play on Overpower cards, so it was a nice surprise for Detective John Jones to make an appearance.

Unlike "Malleable Form," this Overpower Special card is extremely useful in the game. Not only is it a get-out-of-jail-free card for any single attack against the Martian Marvel, but it protects him for the rest of the battle, regardless of whether the Alien Atlas does some attacking of his own. Since Martian Manhunter has quality offensive Specials, having this card in play can win a game. Say J'Onn is the last Character standing on your team and "Alien Physique" is available to you. Venture as many cards as you can, and regardless of how many additional cards your opponent may draw, you have potentially neutralized them for the entire battle. Either they Concede beforehand and you secure a slew of Mission cards, or you need only score damage to win them outright. Of course, J'Onn has to be directly attacked first, the Special could be neutralized by another Special, and a stalemate likely leaves your opponent stronger for the next battle. Still, "Alien Physique" is boss, and limited to one per deck because of it.

Artist Sal Velluto seemed to like bringing out the "alienness" of the Martian with awkward body language, and helped get the big upturned collar look going before JLA blew up. His abuse of the Banana Hammock From Mars endeared him to few Overpower players, though.

Here's another Overpower Special Card, this one acting as a 5 Value Energy attack. Since Martian Manhunter's Energy Rating was only a 4, this made for a nice attack in pursuit of a Spectrum KO. As with "Alien Physique" and "Malleable Form," the card also has a unique defensive aspect tied into it that could protect the Martian Marvel from any future attacks that battle should it prove successful. Personal defense was a defining attribute of the Character in the game, though his intangibility was never referenced, and he wasn't much use in protecting others. Odd choices, I think. As you can see, this is an excellent Sal Velluto profile shot, and another image I cropped and blew up to display the Alien Atlas' super powers on my old "Martian Manhunter: The Rock of the JLA" web site.

Clearly not Silver Age fans, the Overpower game makers bypassed "Alien Atlas" for the more generic "Martian Strength." This card acts as a level 4 Any-Power attack, which would be lame in and of itself, but could be combined with a Power card. Given Martian Manhunter's Power Grid, that could mean an 8 Value Energy or Fighting attack, 9 Intellect, or 11 Strength. That meant a successful Strength hit could halve its target's life and offer serious points toward a Venture win. It also potentially meant a damaging assault in a Power type J'Onn was weaker in, enabling an easier Spectrum KO. Finally, since this Special was unlimited, the Martian Marvel could routinely ramp-up any given attack throughout his time in the game, of just offer an additional attack unhindered by a Power type, a major asset. The Character doesn't draw attention to himself with any 8 Ratings, has a bunch of defensive cards, delivers massive attack points, and helps his entire team score Spectrum attacks. The only drawback is those humongous thigh muscles Sal Velluto drew so provocatively. At least that Silver Age male eroticism remained intact.

Here is the final Sal Velluto-drawn Overpower Special card, and it's a One Per Deck doozy. Successful hits against a character go on the Permanent Record until they are somehow removed, or else the Character is knocked out of the game. This happens when the total Value of hits on record reach 20, or if three Power types strike them. Let's say Martian Manhunter hit someone with the Any-Power "Martian Strength" combined with an Intellect Power card. Let's also say the Alien Atlas struck with a Fighting attack, unlikely given his modest 4 Ranking in that Power type, but maybe one of his teammates scored it instead. Point being, the opponent's character has taken damage from two Power types. Now hit them with "Martian Vision," and "Martian Strength" becomes an Energy card, scoring a Spectrum KO.

The great thing about this card is that it works for the remainder of the game. People will often take an Any-Power hit, especially one of low point Value, because they're not afraid of a Spectrum KO. If your team is otherwise lacking in Energy, no one will see this coming until it's too late. You can lay the card on an opponent's character in battle, and that new found Energy hit will just sit there until you can finish the Character off with other Power types. Lethal!

As for Sal Velluto and the arm hair-- I don't know. That's how Sal drew him throughout his JLTF run. I don't want to think about why J'Onn has no hair anywhere else on his body, and I especially don't want to consider his "bikini area," that other Velluto quirk...

As I recall, tactic cards were created for the first DC set, and appeared in every one thereafter. This here was an "Ally," which offered the opportunity to have a lesser-known super-person make a "cameo" appearance in your deck to help out you four member team. This one required you to have a Character with at least a 7 in Strength active to launch a 2 point Strength attack. If Martian Manhunter were to call in Metamorpho, another of his teammates would then have to play one of their Special cards. It couldn't be one of J'Onn's Specials (unless another 7 Strength Character on the team had called for Metamorpho,) and the Ally card couldn't be played without the follow-up. There were also 6/2 and 8/3 Ally cards, which saw the attack value increase with the risk of not having a high Rated Character left in the game to use it. I was never big on Ally cards, but I knew others who wielded them well.

The art is by Chuck Wojtkiewicz, an underrated artist that used to work on Justice League America and Europe/International. I met him years back at San Diego, and he was a nice guy. Shame he's pretty much left the industry behind.

Here's another Ally card. Where Marvel produced so many sets of Overpower that Characters no one has ever heard of were playable, powerhouse DC fixtures like Black Adam, Cheetah, Firestorm, Gorilla Grodd, Guy Gardner, Ocean Master, Lady Shiva, Mr. Mxyzptlk and more were relegated to these lousy nuisance cards. Seriously, Marvel used Ally cards for supporting characters like Mary Jane Watson-Parker, and gave Character cards with Specials to Crux, Grey King, Landslide, Mercury, Rapture, and Xaos. Who, who, and who again? Further, the lion's share of Marvel cards looked like they were drawn by interns on their lunch break, possibly reproduced directly from a cocktail napkin. This one is by Howard Porter, the talent who turned JLA into a hit title. Maybe there's something to be said for quality over quantity?

Also note that even though Zauriel has allied himself with Martian Manhunter on this card, J'Onn J'Onzz's Energy Rating of 4 on his Power Grid prohibits his using it. Guess other then-current JLA members like Superman, Green Lantern, or Flash* would have to join them. Tricky to pull off, and not worth the trouble when you figure I never had a use for Zauriel, in or outside the game.

(* ...though none of Wally's stats are above a 6, his selection of specials makes him one of the best DC characters to play in Overpower.)

Sadly, I only occasionally got use out of the Martian Manhunter, a decent enough DC-only character, but underwhelming when pitted against Marvel. You see, while DC only ever released two sets, Marvel offered seven, providing much expansion and improvement for old and new characters. Four sets followed JLA, including one for Image Comics, leaving DC even more in the dust. Also, I had to keep buying black backed card sleeves, because unless you were fool enough to go all DC, you had to insure no cheating through variances between DC and Marvel's designs. That gets expensive, and tough to shuffle. Mac built a decent deck for me pairing J'Onn with the X-Man Rogue, of all people.

To be honest, competition brings out the worst in me, and I got sick of how irate I'd get when I lost. Since my interest was more in enjoying specific characters and their fisticuffs, losing became routine. Younger men than I were living for this stuff, and focused solely on strategic gaming. It wasn't fun for me anymore, but I continued to host games at my shop and enjoy folks' company. It even led to a brief fling with RPG GMing. *Shudder*.

Friday, September 16, 2022

JLA: Riddle of the Beast (2001)

The basis to every issue of “What If...?”: Ray Bradbury’s short story “A Sound of Thunder.” For the kids that Ashton Kutcher movie “The Butterfly Effect.” One little alteration of history sets a new course for all that follows, usually involving someone who died living and a whole bunch of the living picked off in violent fashion.

The basis for every DC Elseworlds: The time the “Facts of Life” girls went to Paris. Also, the episode where the Brady Bunch work a dude ranch. Also, the “Moonlighting” with David and Maddie recast in “The Taming of the Shrew.”

See, I hate Elseworlds. More often than not, they just retell the same tired origin and “first meeting” stories in slightly different dress or under a mild variation on the typical circumstances. To me, it’s a hackneyed cash grab based on name value and artistic bankruptcy. The only thing worse are stories like Alan Grant’s here, joined by no less than sixteen artists to insure no consistency, personal investment, or difficulty in churning out a painted hardcover on the quick. What we have here is a Tolkien fantasy story that couldn’t get published on its own slim merit, so vague allusions are made to DC characters in order to sell it to an editor. The boy adventurer is called Robin. His blond girlfriend, swiftly the victim of rampaging monsters without ever showing any exceptional abilities or a distinct personality, is “Dinah.” His other girlfriend is “Zatanna.” A callous but ultimately noble queen is “Diana.” A feline bounty hunter is “Green Arrow,” and so on. It’s dreck, and as such the details are irrelevant beyond a name-only appearance by J’Onn J’Onzz. After the main antagonist of the piece was initially defeated a decade or so before this story began (it’s Grant, so of course the demon is Etrigan, with Lobo popping up elsewhere,) he wandered into a hidden cave.

“Within its shade a mystery the master did behold. An unknown form crouched, quivering, as if from fear, or cold. ‘How came you here? The Beast would know. ‘Why is it you’re not dead?’ A voice replied, in alien words, inside the Demon’s head--“
“Greetings. I am...J’onzz. I... fell from... the sky, a thousand suns... ago.”
“You lie! How could you survive..?”

J’onzz’s slimy tentacle “ate” and then restored to life a rat whole. Hoping for aid from the Beast, J’onzz was instead scorched to ooze that the Demon used to raise an army of the undead... for over a decade, I suppose, before employing them. That cave must have gotten awful stinky. I suddenly long to see the Manhunter perish in another Superman-themed Elseworlds, at least if that’s the other choice to reading this flotsam.

Above piece by Michael Wm. Kaluta