Friday, March 27, 2015

Steve Savage, The Balloon Buster: The Unknown Soldier #264 (June 1982)

The 1st time Steve Savage's face has graced a cover in over 15 years
Written by Robert Kanigher & drawn by Dan Spiegle, this final chapter in the 3-part 'Balloon Buster' serial in The Unknown Soldier #264 (June 1982) is light on plot, but heavy on action: Savage awaits word on the fate of his young friend, Rene, who'd previously been taken behind German lines by Hans Von Hammer, The Enemy Ace.  Rene was to meet with a doctor who, it was hoped, would restore the boy's sight.

Waiting for the news, Savage blows a bunch of stuff up.

Attacked by a couple of German planes in the cliffhanger of last issue, Savage and his Spad make short work of his assailants.  In between taking down enemy aircraft and exploding German observation balloons, Savage kills even more time with a couple of animals: a stallion, which allowed him to relive his youth in the Old West, and a lone eagle with whom he identifies with much more than with his Air Service comrades.

Savage finds it much easier to bond with members of the animal kingdom
Savage returns from a balloon bustin' mission, to find American anti-aircraft fire taking shots at Von Hammer's unique tri-plane, which is looking for a safe place to land.  Eager to hear the news, Savage escorts his uneasy ally to the ground, just as Rene hops out of Von Hammer's plane - the procedure was a success!

Special delivery - courtesy of The Enemy Ace
The maverick ace fires on his own American comrades to provide Von Hammer the opportunity to drop, run & live to duel another day.  Witnessing this, frankly, treasonous altercation, commanding officer Major Michaels threatens to watch Savage hang for the stunt - but Savage can only smile, as his patron general rolls up behind the Major.  Though we won't see the results of the proceeding discussion, with the general's intervention, The Balloon Buster will most likely avoid the gallows and continue his role as the Allies' top killing machine.

Firing on his own men to cover Von Hammer's escape - at the risk of the gallows
Taken together, I can't help but think the 24 pages of this story, which is essentially a Balloon Buster/Enemy Ace team-up, would've made a heckuvan issue of The Brave & The Bold back before that Bat-Guy took it over.

Though Steve Savage, The Balloon Buster would go on to guest in a handful more stories, this serial finale would be his very last appearance in a feature of his own.

Friday, March 20, 2015

My Favorite Coluan: Superman #213 (Jan. 1969)

The 1st in an occasional series of looks at interesting moments and adventures in the print life of the Legion of Super-Heroes' resident super-genius: Brainiac 5.

(As with all posts on this blog, there's nothing but spoilers, so . . . )

The lead story in Superman #213 from January 1969 is titled by writer Cary Bates 'The Most Dangerous Door in the World,' but I'd like to re-name it 'Superman and His Friends are Dicks - The Entrapment of Lex Luthor.'  It's an unusual story in the Superman canon, in that Superman is really just a guest star in his own book, with much of the action being carried out by a surprise imposter -  it's Brainiac 5 under a spit-curl wig and S-shield.

The story, illustrated by Superman artist extraordinaire, Curt Swan along with Jack Abel (a fantastic art team that did a bunch of Adventure Comics Legion stories together around this time) begins with a public announcement by 'Superman' that the valuable contents of a mysterious vault in his possession will pass on to all mankind in the event of his own death.  Until the day that Superman draws his last breath, the vault will be sealed away underground and heavily guarded.  Watching all of this on television is a sad and bitter Lex Luthor.  Superman's greatest enemy rejects the notion of seizing the vault, perhaps beginning to accept the fact that he's destined to fail against the Man of Steel.

What follows is the blatant provocation of Lex Luthor in the form of a very public display of sudden power-loss in the Man of Steel (an inability to cleave a diamond with his bare hand) and an antagonistic editorial arranged by 'Clark Kent' & friends called "Superman Remembers . . .  the Many Times He's Beaten Luthor."  Luthor erupts with anger at the public humiliation & interprets these signs as an opportunity to 'take it to the 'Man' concocting an overly complicated plan to steal the vault and and obtain its secrets.

'Clark Kent' (& conspirators) provoke Lex, while Superman 5, er . . ., I mean 'Superman' has trouble cutting a diamond
Having been pushed into successful theft of the giant safe, Luthor's coup de grace is the the public execution of the The Man of Tomorrow - to be carried out by 3 giant Kryptonite robots.  With the tell-tale sign of fatal Kryptonite poison setting in (green skin - hmmmm), Superman's lifeless body is teleported into the arms of his friends Jimmy Olsen and Supergirl.  The two Super-friends mysteriously revive the deceased hero with some sort of unexplained antidote spray, and the suddenly spry and smiling 'Superman' asks if everything is going according to plan (according to plan? hmmmmm).

NSFW? Luthor's large unit penetrates the mysteries of the vault
Back at the lab, Luthor and a couple of his goons are finally able to break open the vault, whose secret content is revealed to be -- Superman?!  The true Man of Steel promptly does his best Moe impersonation and slaps out the stooges, just as Jimmy, Supergirl and the other green-skinned Superman arrive on the scene.  Another abject defeat sends Lex into a swoon, and all is explained: Superman discovered the mysterious vault in orbit around the Earth; the vault was a trap by old Legion of Super-Heroes villain, Mordru; Superman figured Lex Luthor was his best bet in cracking open the Super-Safe, so using his 'power' of super-ventroliquism contacts Supergirl, who contacts Brainiac 5 in the far future; it was their plan for Brainiac to masquerade as Superman (his green skin making it easier to feign Kryptonite poisoning, I guess) and to trick (a reluctant, remember) Luthor into 'killing' the imposter and in doing so, freeing the true S-man from his imprisonment.

A curiously green-skinned 'Superman' is revived by his Super-Friends, while a newly-freed Superman gives a big ol' Stooges slap to Larry, Curly & Shemp
All of this ends up being an overly complicated and very circuitous way to deposit Luthor back behind bars.  Entrapment is a crime, people.

Supergirl's boyfriend from the future, Brainiac 5 drops his ultra-acting role while Lex Luthor stews - cue sad trombone
It wasn't common for a member of the LSH to be a single guest-star in another book, so this story is something of an oddball.  In a great DC-Silver Age-y kind of way, it really made no sense for Brainiac 5 to show up from 1000 years in the future, when maybe the Martian Manhunter was available (if all the plan required was green skin), but it was a fun way to incorporate a few disparate elements of the Superman mythos (The Legion, Luthor, Supergirl, etc.) in one 15-page story.

note: I could be wrong, so please correct me, but this might be Cary Bates' first work on a Legion character.  Bates would go on to script many, many Legion stories throughout the 70s.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Steve Savage, The Balloon Buster: The Unknown Soldier #263 (May 1982)

Writer Robert Kanigher and artist Dan Spiegle continue the 3-part 'Balloon Buster' serial in issue #263 of The Unknown Soldier, picking up right where they left off . . . but first . . .

At the time this story was published, Spiegle had been drawing comics for over 30 years.  He specialized in adventure strips, but worked in just about every comics genre.  His work was versatile and could oscillate between realism and a looser, more cartoony drawing style.  If Alex Toth's and Joe Staton's style had a love child, I think it would be the work of Dan Spiegle.  Spiegle sandwiched this 'Balloon Buster' serial in between a long-running 'Nemesis' back-up feature in The Brave and the Bold, and a re-defining run, with writer Mark Evanier, on Blackhawk (at which I'd like to take a close look soon on this blog).

The Enemy Ace's I.O.U.
The pressure from last issue's stand-off is relieved by the sudden appearance in skies by Hans Von Hammer, the Enemy Ace.  Just as it appears that Steve Savage will be forcibly taken prisoner to face court martial, The Enemy Ace pilots his plane through heavy ground fire to drop a message to The Balloon Buster - basically, 'thanks for saving my life - I owe you one.'  The bubble of tension burst, the pause allows Savage's patron, Gen. Talbot to swoop in & again explain the benefits of having a killer such as Savage available to fly missions, much to the dismay of Major Michaels.

On his very next mission, Savage comes close to meeting his end: caught in the explosion of a German bomber, Savage just manages to pull his plane up before crashing, but not before contemplating suicide with a bullet as alternative to burning to death.

Gruesome thought before pulling up
Visiting his young, blind friend Rene the next day, Savage is informed by the boy's sister Marie that there is a doctor capable of restoring Rene's sight.  The catch is that the doctor operates only in Berlin - behind enemy lines!  Thinking he might be able to call in his marker from Von Hammer in this situation, Savage agrees to help the family.

Dropping a note for Von Hammer over the German airfield, Savage and Rene wait in a field miles away from the front.  Von Hammer rolls up in a Mercedes (strange seeing The Enemy Ace operating any vehicle besides his distinctive red triplane) and honorably, characteristically, agrees to take the boy to Berlin for the sight-saving medical procedure.

Heading back to his own airfield, Savage is attacked by a couple of Fokkers from Von Hammer's squadron.  This battle and the first and last Balloon Buster/Enemy Ace TEAM-UP will conclude - next issue!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Super-(Revolutionary War)-Heroes Battle Super-Gorilla: Tomahawk #107 (Dec. 1966)

What's the old comics editorial trope?  Increase sales by putting a gorilla on the cover.  This piece of advice was followed by every editor at DC comics in the 60s, including, strangely, Murray Boltinoff, the editor of DC's Revolutionary War title, Tomahawk.

I'm so glad Boltinoff did follow that advice, because I've been chomping at the bit to take a look at another of the strange Tomahawk's Rangers v. any assortment of monster/alien/prehistoric beast issues that I stubbornly chose to ignore for too long a period of time.  Tomahawk #107 (Dec. 1966) is a great example of one these issues, and it's actually a bit of a 'silliness two-fer,' as Tomahawk's team of frontier patriots don't only tangle with a giant gorilla raised by Native Americans, but also with a honest-to-goodness costumed super villain!  Who comes up with this stuff?

Well in this case, it's writer Ed Herron (a long time DC scribe dating back to the dawn of the Golden Age and no stranger to Tomahawk) and artist Fred Ray (who also had had a long history with Tomahawk at this point) who are the team asking its readers to suspend disbelief even beyond what is customary of a typical comics reader.  The 1st of 2 stories in the issue, 'Double-Cross of the Gorilla-Ranger' begins with some fast action as Tomahawk's band are blind-sided by the attack of a strange creature - a feather-wearing, bow & quiver-carrying giant ape!

No build-up, this story starts out with all-out ape action!
After tangling with Big Anvil, the biggest & strongest Ranger, the ape is stopped by a native warrior, who explains that the ape was merely spooked and is in fact, friendly to the Rangers' cause.  Seems Mikora, as the ape is called, was brought to the New World by a 'paleface' who had visited Africa.  When his benefactor died, Mikora, a member of a mysterious gorilla species which grows to great size, fell into the care of a tribe of Native Americans under the leadership of Chief Tanka - it was amongst this tribe that the gorilla gained his great archery skill.

Turns out Chief Tanka has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom by a band of British deserters under the command of a mysterious figure named Thunder-Man.  As this was the mission Tomahawk's men were en route to complete when they were interrupted by the giant gorilla, they agree to take the beast along.

Thunder-Man, a surprisingly menacing villain
After easily handling an advance guard, the Rangers and their new member are attacked by Thunder-Man, himself.  Thunder-Man cuts a strangely menacing figure, as drawn by Fred Ray.  Contorted features and wildly radiating electrical force, the costume design is actually not bad for a Silver Age villain (this really could have been, sans lightning bolts, a much better original look for JLA foe, Owl Man).  The Rangers and Mikora all succumb to the might of Thunder-Man, who takes the giant gorilla prisoner.  Rather than simply hold him for ransom (honestly, who'd pay?), along with Chief Tanka, Thunder-Man plans to (weird science moment) use his electrical power to alter the beast's mind and sway him to Thunder-Man's side.

T-Man's plan seems to have been a great one, as when the recovered Rangers storm the stronghold, a therapy-shocked Mikora tears into them.  Things look mighty bleak for Tomahawk & his crew, until Big Anvil manages to get his hands on Thunder-Man, revealing a battery-powered back-pack as the source of his electric power.  Big Anvil shakes the device free, and uses it himself to give Mikora an additional jolt of juice which settles the ape's mind, making him once again friendly.

With Thunder-Man and his crew in cuffs, Tanka is freed, and the Rangers & their new friend part ways, but not before Big Anvil and Mikora get a chance to hug it out.

Hugging it out
A rather silly, but fun story - I'm glad I opened my mind up a little bit and allowed myself to enjoy it. It's never been reprinted but it's also not impossible to find, low-grade for a couple of bucks - recommended!