• magisterrex Retro Games


    I've been gaming since the days of Pong and still own a working Atari 2600. I tend to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games. Sometimes I digress. Decades after earning it, I'm finally putting the skills I learned while completing my history degree from the University of Victoria to good use. Or so I think. If you're into classic old school gaming, this blog is for you!

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Obsolete Comic Review: Justice League of America: Crisis on New Genesis

A few years ago I wrote a series of Obsolete Comic Reviews for a website that has since itself become obsolete. The good news is that nothing is truly ever lost on the Internet. Below is the recovered review from 2011.

Justice League of America 183-185: Crisis on New Genesis

With the excitement surrounding the new Justice League relaunch as part of the 52 lineup, sometimes it’s easy to forget about how many versions of the DC Comics superteam we’ve read over the years.  Everyone has a favorite: the Grant Morrison/Howard Porter JLA relaunch in 1997; the Keith Giffen/Kevin McGuire Justice League (later Justice League International) series in 1984; even the original Gardner Fox/Mike Sekowsky Silver Age years.  I’ve liked them all, and perhaps it’s just nostalgia, but when push comes to shove, it’s the Dick Dillin years that I remember most.

Dick Dillin started out in Fawcett Comics (the home of Captain Marvel, the Big Red Cheese), but eventually left for Quality Comics, where he penciled the popular Blackhawk comic, which chronicled the adventures of a team of “Ace” fighter pilots.  (Quality Comics was also the home of Plastic Man, Quicksilver -aka Max Mercury – and the Freedom Fighters…but I digress.)  In 1956, Quality Comics ceased operations, leaving Dick Dillin without work.  As DC Comics had already purchased the rights to most of Quality Comics’ characters and catalog, Dillin approached DC looking for work, and he was put right back on Blackhawk.  There he stayed, until the title was canceled, and after a bit of this and that, was given the Justice League of America assignment.

blackhawkdickdillinQuality Comics’ Blackhawk (Dick Dillin, artist)

Dillin stayed on the Justice League book from 1968 to 1980 for all but six issues (from #64 to #183).  He was a perfect fit for a comic based on the greatest heroes of the DC Universe.  Dillin-drawn heroes looked heroic.  When they were shown in action, Dillin drew them in such a way that the reader had a sense of speed and purpose.  Even a panel showing the heroes drinking tea at a social gathering looked like anything could happen (and frequently did).  Of course, Dillin also had the benefit of penciling great stories; during his tenure he worked with Gardner Fox (briefly), Martin Pasko, Gerry Conway, and Len Wein.  He drew the return of the Red Tornado, the reintroduction of the original Quality Comics’ Freedom Fighters (“Crisis on Earth X!“) and Fawcett Comics’ Marvel Family into the DC Universe (“Crisis in Eternity” featuring the title bout of Captain Marvel vs. Superman!), crossovers with the Justice Society of America of Earth 2, even the murder of the first Mr. Terrific (during one such JLA/JSA event).

Justice League of America #64 (1st Dick Dillin)Justice League of America #64 (1st Dick Dillin)

Those JSA/JLA meetings were usually memorable, with unique heroes such as Dr. Fate making appearances, as well as Golden Age versions of Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the Flash.  Usually the villains faced were dangerous enough to bring grief to the multiverse, requiring a combined effort to repel, such as Mordru (“Crisis in the 30th Century!“) or the Injustice League/Secret Society of Super Villains.   Dick Dillin penciled them all, but it was in his last issue that he was able to tackle the most dangerous villain of the DC Universe, the Lord of Apokolips, Darkseid.

Justice League of America #183Justice League of America #183 (Last Dick Dillin)

Darkseid was the creation of the great Jack Kirby, and had been originally introduced as part of Kirby’s Fourth World concept he brought to DC Comics in the early 1970s.  However, by the end of the decade, Darkseid’s essence had been scattered to the cosmic winds (in the classic 1978 Adventure Comics #460), and was presumed deceased.  Of course, in comics, no one is ever dead, and even if they are, death is merely a stopgap to the next big storyline.   Which brings us to the three issue arc, “Crisis on New Genesis” (issues 183-185).

Justice League of America #184Justice League of America #184

This story was epic in the traditional sense of the word.  The heroes of Earth One and Two gathered once again for their annual party, only to find themselves shanghai’d onto the strangely depopulated New Genesis.  Off to solve the mystery went Earth One’s Superman, Green Lantern, Firestorm, and Batman, as well as Earth Two’s Wonder Woman, Huntress, Power Girl, and Dr. Fate.  Along the way they found a most unhappy and unwilling-to-be-disturbed-without-consequence Orion, the ever-enigmatic Metron, the Granny Goodness Home For Orphaned Youth graduate Big Barda, and the God of Escape, Mister Miracle.  Eventually the investigation took the heroes to Apokolips, where they discovered that the Injustice Society of Earth Two (the Fiddler, the Shade, and the Icicle) had been subjugated by the spirit of Darkseid, and are were using their powers and technology to bring the dark lord to life.  Now the group had two objectives: find the missing New Gods and prevent the rebirth of the greatest villain in the DC Universe.  But it got worse!  It turned out that Darkseid’s plan included bringing Apokolips into the physical space of Earth Two, which would utterly destroy that Earth. Yikes!

Justice League of America #185Justice League of America #185

Could the combined efforts of the Justice League, the Justice Society, and the New Gods locate the missing inhabitants of New Genesis, prevent the destruction of Earth Two and prevent Darkseid from making his triumphant return from “death”?  Well, duh, of course they would, but it was the elegance of the process that made the issues so fun to read!  Unfortunately, Dick Dillin was only able to draw the first issue of this titanic struggle.  Dillin suffered a fatal heart attack after completing issue 183, and had to be replaced by George Perez (who turned out to be an able replacement, and one of the few artists capable of coherently drawing multiple villain and hero stories).  It was unfortunate that after penciling so many DC Comics heroes and villains, Dillin was never able to draw the arguably greatest DC villain of them all in more than just a quick flashback sequence.  Regardless, the three issues arc is among the best Justice League stories of all time, and well worth a read!

Obsolete Comic Reviews: Where Were You The Night Batman Died? (1977)

A few years ago I wrote a series of Obsolete Comic Reviews for a website that has since itself become obsolete. The good news is that nothing is truly ever lost on the Al Gore Superhighway. Below is the recovered review; hope it pleases!

Batman 291-294: Where Where You The Night The Batman Died?

The miniseries within an ongoing comic book series has been a comic book mainstay ever since publishers learned that invested readers were more likely to purchase subsequent issues. Having enjoyed tremendous popularity for so long, Batman has been a character that has seen many stories in many formats, including many variations on the miniseries within the series theme.  Sometimes these story arcs were designed to bring a new creative team on board for a short time to let them explore that particular comic book universe without a long-term commitment (such as Jim Lee’s run on the Hush storyline in Batman); sometimes the story arc introduces a new key character into the mythos (such as Jim Starlin’s Ten Nights of the Beast), and sometimes the story is just too good to tell in a single issue.

It can be argued that the very first Batman miniseries within a series came in 1977, with the “Where Were You The Night The Batman Died?” storyarc, which ran from issue #291 (September, 1977) to #294 (December, 1977). The premise was straightforward: the Batman was missing, and feared dead, and the entire Gotham City criminal element claimed that they were responsible. Having had enough of the claims from those clearly improbable to be the slayer of the Dark Knight, Gotham’s underworld gathers for a trial by jury to determine whose story story was false and who was really responsible.

The Testimony of Catwoman

Batman 291: The Testimony of Catwoman

Just a cautionary note: there are going to be spoilers throughout this article. However, these comics are now 40 years old, and if you haven’t read it before, it’s unlikely you were waiting for just the right time to pull out your back issues and spend some quality time with Batman. Consider this fair warning, regardless.

Batman 292: The Testimony of The Riddler

Batman 292: The Testimony of The Riddler

Each issue, a major villain pled his or her case to the court that he or she was responsible for the death of the Batman. The first three villains to present their case were Catwoman, the Riddler, and Lex Luthor. (Why Luthor was included rather than some other Bat-villain may have been influenced by the Superman movie hype that was just ramping up.) Upon the conclusion of their testimony, the prosecutor, Two-Face, finds a falsehood in each villain’s story and debunks their claim. Finally, the Joker takes the stand, and his outlandish tale of easily besting the Batman in hand-to-hand combat, upon which he accidentally killed him, and, as a joke, poured acid over the Dark Knight’s face and fingerprints to prevent identification of the body, turns out to be truthful. But there are more surprises yet, as the Joker is mistaken: the body was not the Batman’s, and somebody at the trial is not who he seems.

Batman 293: The Testimony of Lex Luthor

Batman 293: The Testimony of Lex Luthor

Where Were You The Night The Batman Died?” was written by David Levine, who used one of his pseudonyms, “David V. Reed,” with pencils by John Calnan and inks by Tex Blaisdell. Levine had recently returned to writing Batman, as he was a ghost writer for Bob Kane in the 1950’s (co-creating Deadshot along the way, and credited as the writer of some of the best stories of the era, including “The Joker’s Utility Belt”). The story is well-crafted – a genuine mystery – and riveting to the end. There are some very cute storytelling techniques in play, such as showing the Joker in the last panel of each of the three issues leading up to his testimony (the third issue shows only his chilling laughter), foreshadowing what is to come. As for the art, the pencils are quite serviceable, though not spectacular, perhaps owing more to the quality of paper than the actual artwork.

Batman 294: The Testimony of The Joker

Batman 294: The Testimony of The Joker

This miniseries featured cameos from virtually everyone in the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery active in the 1970s. The Mad Hatter, the Spook, Poison Ivy, the Scarecrow, Signalman, and Mr. Freeze filled the six-person jury. As already mentioned, Two-Face served as prosecutor, and the ancient Rās al Ghul sat as judge. In addition to the defendants (Catwoman, the Riddler, Lex Luthor, and the Joker), there were several cameos, some for only a single panel, which included the Cavalier, Killer Moth, the Cluemaster, Captain Stingaree, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and even the Getaway Genius. Two notable villains missing from this villainous assemblage were Deadshot and the Penguin, the former perhaps because he was booked for a run in Detective Comics #474 (December, 1977) by Marshal Rogers and Steve Englehart, and the latter because he had just had a run-in with the Dark Knight in issue #287 (March, 1977), and was serving his time. (An interesting cameo is that of Sean Connery, complete with beard, cap, and diamond-tipped staff. Is it homage to the actor’s iconic status in the 1970s? Or was it meant to be someone else, akin to the Julius Schwartz or Stan Lee cameos that would show up in certain comics?)

The bottom line is this: the DC Universe has rebooted and retrofitted itself many times since these issues were published, yet these stories can be slotted into whichever retcon the Batman mythos is subjected, as nothing that is presented is truly out of cannon (excepting, perhaps, the purple power-suited Lex Luthor). This is the mark of a classic story, and one which needs to be on any Batman fan’s “must read” list.

Obsolete Comic Reviews: The X-Men vs. The Avengers 1987

Back in 2012, wrote a series of Obsolete Comic Reviews for a website that has since itself become obsolete. The good news is that nothing is truly ever lost on the Al Gore Superhighway. Below is the recovered review; hope it pleases!

When I first heard about the upcoming Avengers Vs. X-Men twelve issue miniseries from Marvel Comics, my first thoughts were something along the line of, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”  Marvel being Marvel, the ad copy reads that this series “brings together the most powerful forces in comics for a super hero war like you’ve never seen before and will never see again“…but perhaps my memory is a bit sharper than those Marvel advertising hacks, as I can recall a miniseries that brought the X-Men and The Avengers into conflict, the 1987 four-issue limited series, The X-Men vs. The Avengers.

xmenavengers1

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #1

The limited series’ story revolved around Magneto and his past, and opened with the remains of his former space fortress, Asteroid M, falling down to Earth.  While out on a leisure time excursion with the X-Men, Magento hears a radio report of The Avengers in action as they attempt to dispose of those pieces that threatened populated areas.  So begins a four issue arc of Magneto’s pondering self-doubt of who he is: the villain of his past or the hero of his present.  Will he suffer a Dantesque fall from grace to match Asteroid M’s fate?  Or will he face his past and accept the judgment and consequences for his actions?

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #2

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #2

Interspersed between panels of his brooding are the reactions to the Master of Magnetism by the various heroes he encounters.  The Avengers seek to capture Magneto to bring him before the World Court to stand trial for crimes against humanity.  The X-Men consider a human court predisposed to judge against such a well-known mutant, and so protect their former foe (and current ally) from the Avengers.  And the Soviet Super Soldiers are a wild card that seek to capture Magneto and return him to the U.S.S.R. to stand trial for his crimes against the state (for destroying the city of Varykino and sinking a Soviet nuclear submarine).  As Magneto is a polarizing figure, everyone involved has an opinion of who and what he is and stands for, and it all played out during The X-Men vs. The Avengers.

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #3

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #3

The first three issues of the miniseries were written by Roger Stern, with art provided by Marc Silvestri.  However, the Marvel editorial board did not agree with the direction Stern wished to go in the final issue (which was to show Magneto as an unabashed villain), and changed the plot against his wishes.  Rather than staying on, Stern stepped aside and the final issue was written by Tom DeFalco.  Stern stated that DeFalco had nothing to do with the editorial decision, but did not name the editors involved.  Perhaps it’s not that difficult to generate a hypothesis on who was responsible, as the editors of the book were Mark Gruenwald and Ann Nocenti.  By this point Gruenwald was an Executive Editor and the man in charge of Marvel Continuity (the “Continuity Cop”).   It seems improbable that the “Continuity Cop” would permit such a departure from the accepted Marvel Canon for Magneto, and because of the respect his fellow editors had for Gruenwald, I doubt if anyone would have championed Stern’s story.  (It’s also interesting to note that Stern was fired by Gruenwald from writing the ongoing Avengers series shortly thereafter…but I digress.)  Regardless, Stern did not finish the series.

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #4

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #4

Stern’s absence was not the only one from the final issue: the talented Marc Silvestri, who would later go on to success as one of the seven founders of Image Comics in 1992 with the Top Cow imprint, only managed to pencil the first three issues.  Between the third and fourth issue, Silvestri was tapped to draw the Uncanny X-Men, and since that series was the engine that kept the Marvel money machine chugging along, Keith Pollard picked up the pencils for The X-Men vs. The Avengers.  It’s a bit of an odd situation when both the writer and the penciler of such a small limited miniseries move on before its completion!

There is a lot to recommend in The X-Men vs. The Avengers.  A good story, lots of action with believable conflict and motivations for those involved, and with only four issues, it does not feel artificially extended.   As part of the trilogy of VS. miniseries Marvel released at the time (Mephisto vs… and The Fantastic Four versus The X-Men were the other two), this is a recommended journey into late 1980s comic book storytelling.  Thumbs up!

Obsolete Comic Review: Elric 1-6 (Pacific Comics)

In the 1970s, DC Comics and Marvel Comics dominated the comic retail world through nationally distributed newsstand sales. I remember well the joy of walking into the corner store and perusing the comic rack. However, as the decade progressed, the direct market grew, as specialized comic book shop stores began to propagate across North America. Hand-in-hand with this growth came new publishers with new material, new formats and new deals for creators. One of the first of these new publishers actually began as a mail-order company, grew to become a distributor, and then made the leap into the unknown by becoming an actual comic book publisher. That company was Pacific Comics.

The owners of Pacific Comics, the brothers Schanes (Bill and Steve), used their extensive contacts to land some high-calibre comic book talent to help launch their publishing venture[i]. The first was arguably the biggest name in comics – Jack Kirby – who wrote and drew Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers and published it under the Pacific Comics label. Anyone who has read this series can attest that this was not some of King Kirby’s best work, though. Fortunately, other talent followed, including the creators of the comics this article is actually about: Elric.

Elric #1 (Pacific Comics)

Elric is the story of the last Emperor of Melniboné, an empire long in decline. Elric’s destiny is to be entangled within the plots and contrivances of the Lords of Chaos while fighting for his crown against the wicked ambitions of his cousin, and to ultimately search for the Black Sword, Stormbringer. It is a tale of epic fantasy whose protagonist is a drug user who is neither a force for good nor evil, driven by motives different from our own and bred into his character by his upbringing in an alien environment from our own. It is more than the standard Hero-With-A-Bigass-Sword fantasy fare, and I highly advise anyone who enjoys fantasy who has never before heard of this series to find Moorcock’s original books: they are classics!

Elric #2 (Pacific Comics)

Elric was published in 1983-1984 near the end of Pacific Comics’ run as an independent comic book publisher. It was based on Michael Moorcock’s 1972 story, Elric of Melniboné, adapted for comic book format by Roy Thomas and illustrated by P. Craig Russell and Michael T. Gilbert. The creative team of Thomas and Russell had collaborated on Elric projects before this one, with the 1982 Marvel Comics story The Dreaming City (found in Marvel Graphic Novel #2) and again with While Gods Laugh (in Epic Illustrated #14), and they were aptly suited for working on the larger six-issue Elric adaptation. Thomas’ ability to draw out the key elements of Moorcock’s work while preserving his overall linguistic style was an integral reason why the series was (and still is!) such a joy to read. Thomas himself explained his process as:

I’ve never been one of that school who believes an adapter is under some sort of pressure to “improve” an already splendid original, or to prove that he is the true genius and has made a saleable piece of work out of a pile of junk. I leave that to the moguls of TV and movies, omniscient in their insecurities.[ii]

Elric #3 (Pacific Comics)

Even more important to a comic book is its look, as it has always been a very visual creative medium.  Of course, the artistry of P. Craig Russell and Michael T. Gilbert did not disappoint. The dreamlike imagery breathed otherworldly life into the page, vividly portraying Elric’s decadent world and the strange entities that he interacted with.

As good as the art was, by issue three its quality seemed to improve, due to a change in the comic’s production. The previous two issues were done in “an accepted, fast, and relatively inexpensive way to color a story.[iii] The originals were copied, and then colored, but the black color was not reproduced exactly, causing the art of the copies to look less crisp than the originals. The new method was called the “Grey Line” method, which reproduced the black lines as faint grey lines during the copying process. This resulted in a much better quality artwork once colored. Even more interesting, Pacific Comics changed their production of Elric once more by issue four. The process was improved again by changing the copy method from the “reflective” method to a “laser scan” method, which in turn improved the white spaces in the artwork. [iv] It was unusual for a comic book publisher to incur more expense mid-stream of a series in the name of quality, and to do it twice within the space of two issues was exceptional.

Elric #4 (Pacific Comics)

So how did Elric fare within the comic book industry? There was quite a “buzz” at the time within comic shops and direct distributors for this comic series. I grabbed it as soon as I saw the art and was enthralled.  Others were too, according to Mike Friedrich, Elric’s editor:

The retailers and distributors report to us that Elric is one of the best-selling new titles released in the last year…”[v]

David Scroggy [Pacific Comics’ Editor in Chief] tells us that Elric garners the most mail of any PC title – and they’ve got some pretty good ones…[vi]

The comic was successful enough that plans were made to continue the comic through another story arc, with issue seven being announced, albeit coming two months later to give the team time to rest.  However, Pacific Comics did not publish another Elric story under their label after issue six. Why?

Elric #5 (Pacific Comics)

The answer was simple: by the time the creative team was ready to start up again, Pacific Comics was already going out of business. By September 1984, the Schanes signed over control of their company to a liquidation company, and Pacific Comics ceased to exist.[vii] The publication rights for Michael Moorcock’s’ Elric universe were picked up by First Comics, who kept the creative team of Roy Thomas and Michael T. Gilbert together for their June, 1985 to June, 1986 seven issue story arc, Sailor on the Sea of Fate.

Elric #6 (Pacific Comics)

Elric has continued to find a comic book audience over the years, with the most recent being BOOM! Studios’ Elric: The Balance Lost. Yet Pacific Comics’ Elric series remains my favourite comic book adaptation of Moorcock’s albino anti-hero. Perhaps it is because of Russell and Gilbert’s amazing art outclassed much of the standard super-hero fare I read at the time; perhaps it was because the series represented my first taste of what the direct market and indie publishing could offer. Regardless, the six issues have followed me wherever I’ve moved in the past 28 (!) years, and remain some of my favourite comics in my collection to this very day. If you have the opportunity to pick up this six issue run, do it! You won’t regret it!


[i] Elric #2, Mike Friedrich Editorial

[ii] Elric #2, “ET CETERA…” column by Roy Thomas

[iii] Elric #3, Mike Friedrich Editorial

[iv] Elric #4, note in the Letters column

[v] Elric #5, Mike Friedrich, Editorial

[vi] Elric #5, Mick Friedrich, Editorial