Saturday, July 22, 2017
The Black Racer is arguably the oddest part of the Fourth World. Sgt.Willie Walker becomes the alter ego of the Black Racer after the enigmatic figure finds the paralyzed Vietnam veteran and fuses with him.
The Racer appears to be the impending presence of death itself, appearing to chase those who are about to die and even takes after the beaming Lightray himself at one point. Ultimately the role of the Black Racer is left unclear as the sage comes to an abrupt halt.
I always assumed, for whatever reason, that the bright blue, red and gold armor the Racer wears was a mistake. He is the "Black Racer" after all and that leaves only the color of his skin and his grim mission to justify his name. Later incarnations have made the armor darker, which is probably a good choice.
Vyking, Radian, Adept, Blackthorn, Marathon and Snapdragon are the names. Strikeforce Morituri was one of the finest comic book series in the history of the medium. It seems a little obvious now, but in the 80's such realistic storytelling was an up and coming thing. Science fiction was notoriously a low-sales effort for comics, for whatever reason. Though science fiction concepts underlay nearly all superhero series to some degree, the pure stuff did not find purchase save for a few clear exceptions, usually linked to movie or TV franchises.
But Strikeforce Morituri pushed into all of that. Adult-themed stories set firmly in a science fiction setting and gave us a delightfully fresh take on superheroes. One of the failings of most superhero books is the limited motivation which makes the heroes take such risks. They are given altruistic attitudes which work well enough but don't really speak to the broad spectrum of human motivations. This book dives right into that and gives us a range of answers to the question of why risk your life for others. In fact it goes further and asks why one would willingly and knowingly lay down your life for others. The reasons are patriotism, self-aggrandizement, love of family, and more.
These stories by writer Peter B. Gillis and artist Brent Anderson are superb. The pacing is amazing as we meet and follow the "heroes" involved with the Morituri process. Inker Scott Williams adds some wonderful gloss and Whilce Portacio steps in on a few issues to help out. This first volume collects up the first year of the series, thirteen issues which give us the stories of of these young people who could die at any moment. Some of them do as we see in the very first issue which shows the "Black Watch", the first humans to undergo the process and attack the invaders.
More tomorrow as we look at the second volume.
Friday, July 21, 2017
Arguably the most awesome sidekick in the whole history of comics, Big Barda landed on Earth and the in the Mister Miracle series with a decided boom. Their history remains a big vague at first, but eventually we learn that Barda, another of the disaffected denizens of Apokolips had been instrumental in helping Scott Free to escape the clutches of Granny Goodness.
But when she doffed her armor and enjoyed some Kirby calisthenics in the front yard of the Miracle estate, she certainly awoke much in the fandom who came to the comic merely to see the latest doings of the their favorite escape artist. There was no escaping her charms.
An issue or two later, Mark Evanier wrote this single page, which by his own testimony moved the plot of the story along not a single bit. He was tasked to come up with a vignette to added a needed page for production's sake and Barda's bath was the result. Let me extend my personal thanks to Mr. Evanier and to the great Jack "King" Kirby and his inking ally Mike Royer for this page. It's one for the ages.
She's awesome! Big Barda hit the comic book landscape in the pages of Mister Miracle #4 and her presence immediately transformed the comic's direction and scope. Suddenly out quaint comic about a mysterious young man who adopts the role of a show biz escape artist becomes something larger, a mythic battle on the grandest landscapes and it a love story as well. The relationship between Scott Free and Barda is among my favorites in all of comics. I don't know its current state (and don't care) but their romance which quickly developed into a marriage felt like it was legit. We know Barda was a bombastic figure and also inspiration for many comic book artists to come over the years. Here is a gallery of some of their interpretations of the Female Fury from Apokolips.
(Cautionary note: The final image in this gallery is a little bit racy, so a NSFW label might be appropriate. Scroll with care.)
Mister Miracle appears to have been the most accessible of the Fourth World books since of all of them it survived a wee bit longer. When it began we meet the original Mister Miracle, the elder Thaddeus Brown and loyal assistant Oberon. The youthful Scott Free appears in time to accept the mantle of the "Super Escape Artist" and uses that role to confront the many varied menaces from Apokolips. We learn in time that Scott Free is the son of Izaya (who became Highfather) and Avia (killed in the beginning of the war) and that his exchange as a hostage with Darkseid's son Orion became the basis for a tenuous peace which has broken down as our stories here begin.
The Mister Miracle stories had a lighter feel than New Gods for certain and were more episodic than The Forever People. Maybe that made him feel more like a traditional hero, or maybe it's the mask. He looks like a superhero and so must he be. The addition of Big Barda is a tremendous event and adds much to the narrative. She's a bombastic and needless to say attractive character and seeing a woman of such bearing behaving with such bravado and confidence was a real strength of the series.
But in Mister Miracle, it's the villains. Of all the Fourth World books, no title can lay claim to a better rogues gallery. Granny Goodness, Doctor Bedlam, Doctor Virman Vundabar, Kanto the Assassin, and of course the master of Apokolips, Darkseid himself are a worthy gang of baddies. Each is at once a vital character and a parody of same and function on a symbolic level as well. That's a lot of depth for a mere comic book. Mister Miracle is in the final analysis a book about growing up, facing the demons of our youth, and as we'll see accepting the responsibilities of adulthood. That's the nature of the escape, the escape from the confines of childhood, the limitations of adolescence, and the rigor of adulthood. That's why Mister Miracle is an entertainer, he and his gang take us out of ourselves, they allow us all to escape the mundane.
Here are the early covers for the run.
The Fourth World comes to close next week.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
The Gorilla is super-strong.
The Baboon becomes a shape-shifter.
And the Orangutan gets the power to project magnetism.
Sadly the Super-Apes never get a cover appearance rendered by the great Kirby save as a part of the avalanche of villains who attack the Fab 4 in the third annual.