Wednesday, September 08, 2004

From Starstruck by Elaine Lee and Mike Kaluta

The mighty mighty Alan David Doane has thrown down the gauntlet to all of comics bloggerkind, challenging us all to come up with our own "Brilliant, But Cancelled" lists. I feel like I'm up to the task, and here goes nuttin. Many of these I went into detail about in my long-ago and by-now-legendary "12 Comics Series Everyone Should Read" post, by the way.

Bat Lash(1968)
Witty, clever and fun Maverick-inspired Western comic (remember those?) with a nicely adult tone in scripts by Dennis O'Neil and Sergio Aragones, amazing art by the great Nick Cardy, and wonder of wonders, it was published by DC! In the 60s!

Beowulf: Dragon Slayer (1975)
The legendary hero and his conflict with the equally legendary adversary Grendel, wittily written by Michael Uslan (of all people) in a somewhat anachronistic but always imaginative style with gritty art provided by one Ricardo Villamonte, of whom I've heard nothing since. DC introduced a ton of new books, trying to ride the coattails of Marvel's Conan success, but none of them took. This one should have- it was light years better than Thomas & Buscema's heavy handed take on Howard's barbarian.

Weird Worlds featuring Ironwolf (1972?-1974)
After featuring adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs characters like Carson of Venus for its first seven issues, DC gave up trying to make ERB's lesser lights saleable and decided to let a young buck named Howard Chaykin have a go at a character he dreamed up- one of the first of many scowling, long-haired cynical but heroic-in-spite-of-himself heroes, by the name of Lord Ironwolf. Dennis O'Neil did the dialogue, and Chaykin hadn't quite gotten his feet under him yet stylistically, but the concepts were fresh and this lasted three issues before DC pulled the plug. The Ironwolf concept was revisited years later (after Chaykin had made his name and rep elsewhere) with Mike Mignola and Craig Russell doing the art and Howard getting a dialogue assist from John Francis Moore, 1992's Ironwolf: Fires of the Revolution turned out to be one of the absolute best one-shots of the 1990's. In my opinion.

Sword of Sorcery (1973-74)
Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, two of my all-time favorite fantasy characters, in illustrated adventures scripted by O'Neil (he was everywhere then) and illustrated by a bunch of no-names like Simonson, Kaluta, Chaykin, and Wrightson. How in the hell DC didn't have a hit with this I'll never know...but they couldn't get out of their own way in the 70s.

Hellstorm (1993-94)
Warren Ellis' lean, mean and cynical take on Marvel's Son of Satan in issues 11-21 are really the only ones you need to worry about in this run; already gasping for air when Ellis came aboard with artist Leo Manco, positive word of mouth didn't help and it was abruptly canned just as WE was gearing up for what would have been a gloriously wild storyline. In typically Spider Jerusalem-ish fashion, he tied up everything in one issue, in cold, ruthless fashion. Oh, if only there had a comics blogosphere when this was being published...

Timespirits (1985-86)
I've written several times about this warm, imaginative and intelligent series, surely one of the best treatments of Native Americans in comics history and a fine epic fantasy to boot.

Starstruck (1982-1985)
Originally serialized in Heavy Metal, then republished in graphic novel format by Marvel, then continued as a short-lived series by Marvel under the 80's Epic imprint, this is one of the artistic high points of the distinguished career of the great Mike Kaluta. A collaboration (originally an off-off Broadway play) with playwright/author Elaine Lee, who went on to write several other comics series including Vamps for Vertigo, this is one incredibly intricate, dizzying, complicated world, full of well-imagined characters, written in an witty Altmanesque style and allowing Kaluta to go nuts with elaborate costuming, panel layouts complete with sound effects, dialogue and computer readouts and symbols all over the place. To be honest, it's a challenging read, and I can see why it wasn't a big success and only lasted 6 issues...but it rewards the discerning reader who isn't afraid to work a little. Lee and Kaluta have both stated in the past that they hope to complete Starstruck (in fact, Kaluta told me just that when I met him in 2000), but so far, not a peep from Galatia 9, Brucilla the Muscle, Erotica Ann, and the Galactic Girl Guides. There was a early 90's series of four expanded issues from Dark Horse titled, aptly enough, Starstruck: The Expanded Universe, which restored several pages that had been omitted for the Epic run...but there was no conclusion, plus it was in black and white, which was fine but if ever there was a series that deserves to be in color, this be it.

Amazing Adventures featuring War of the Worlds (Killraven, Warrior of the Worlds issues 29-32) (1973-1976)
Roy Thomas and Neal Adams came up with doing a sci-fi/sword-and-sandal/superhero continuation of H.G. Wells' classic novel, establishing that the Martians learned their lesson the first time out, figured out a way to become immune to Earth's diseases, came back in 2010 and kicked ass. The main character was a gladiator, trained to fight for the Martian rulers' amusement, named Killraven. He escaped, picked up a band of followers named "Freemen", and vowed to reclaim Earth from its conquerors. Thomas and Adams moved on, Gerry Conway and Howie Chaykin did an issue, then Don McGregor came on board with his florid writing style...and this book clicked. First with servicable-if-uninspiring art by Herb Trimpe, then with a young Craig Russell, McGregor let us get into the heads of this band of renegades, and gave them real relationships and problems...and also provided a Wagnerian (maybe it's Russell's presence, heh) brew of overwrought, grandiose, but gripping sci-fi adventure before low sales finally did what the Martians couldn't do. You can go back and read these now, and they've dated quite a bit, which will cause natural cynics and smart-asses like Warren Ellis to dismiss this series as corny and ridiculous...but there's a depth of feeling among these characters, and for these characters, on McGregor's part that made this book special. Killraven was briefly revived as a 80's Marvel Graphic Novel, and the idea was to let McGregor and Russell finish the series once and for all, but that plan fell by the wayside, a pity. And don't get me started about the wretched Alan Davis revival of a couple of years ago.

Jungle Action feat. the Black Panther (1972-75)
More McGregor, this time with Stan Lee & Jack Kirby's Wakandan prince. In issues 7-24, McGregor, usually with the underrated Billy Graham on art, did a skillful job of giving the Panther a real rogue's gallery, and involving him in epic adventures. But as with Killraven, he also took pains to develop characterization, not only with T'Challa but also his friends and loved ones, and the people he ruled. He even got the Panther into some relevant adventures late in the run as he took on the Ku Klux Klan (renamed "The Clan"- Marvel wasn't THAT ballsy then). Again, low sales in the pre-Shooter period did the Panther, at least in Jungle Action, although McGregor did get another shot at the character in the 80s via a couple of prestige-format mini-series.

Thriller (1983-84)
Liked this one so much I devoted a whole website to it. Looking back, it's a wonder this ever saw print in the first place. The odds of a DC staffer/proofreader submitting his own concept for a comics series for the first time, getting it approved by Dick Giordano, and also getting to write it as a Baxter paper, direct-sales only, brand-spankin' new format series were tall ones indeed. Of course, if then-next-big-thing artist Trevor Von Eeden hadn't been willing to attach himself to the project, it probably wouldn't have gotten done anyway...but fortunately for the few of us who read the thing, it did. These adventures of a world-saving Italian family were simply ahead of the curve in 1983, and its unconventional narrative wedded to experimental-artwork approach absolutely threw people for a loop. The first 8 issues are the only ones worth your time; the last four (and #8, the finale of a story Robert Fleming began before leaving) were written by Bill DuBay and illustrated by Alex Nino, and neither seemed to be able to care less.

Gemini Blood (1998?)
There's been a lot of attention paid lately to artist Tommy Lee Edwards, on the eve of his upcoming Question series' release, and it's entirely justified- Edwards is a hell of an artist, and this was one of his first efforts. Sci-fi writer Christopher Hinz was enlisted to do a spinoff for DC's new Helix SF imprint of his series of prose novels about the Paratwa, genetically created beings in a distant dystopian future, who shared a psychic link with one other of their kind. These dualistic beings were called "tways", were highly intelligent and consummate fighters thanks to their ability to see their opponent from all angles, and they were divided into castes- warrior castes, ruling castes, scientists, and so on. Their covert and overt goal was to conquer the inferior humans who gave them birth on a ecologically spoiled future Earth. Of course, the humans weren't going to just lie down and let them, so they trained soldiers to combat them, one of the most adept being a person of small stature named Nick and his right hand man Gillian, who are called into action by the global authority E-tech to recuit a band of mercenaries and investigate sabotage aimed at a wealthy businessman named Chime Flikker-Wixon. Of course, there is more than meets the eye to the savagely dysfunctional Flikker-Wixon family. Gemini Blood, in my opinion, was a heady and complex mix of action-adventure and sheer imagination; I went out and read Hinz' novels, of which GB was a prequel, after I had read a few issues of this and they're every bit as good. We were just beginning to scratch the surface of Hinz's imaginative world when the plug was pulled; seems the rest of the lackluster Helix line had cast a pall over all its titles, and caused people to overlook this book. I have a feeling back issues are quite plentiful in quarter boxes everywhere; do yourself a favor and scare up a set- you'll be rewarded with a smart, well illustrated series.

That's all I got for now, although I'll bet I could think of others. This was first suggested, I should add, by Casey over at The Only Blog That Matters. He also mentioned Major Bummer, a great, great series which definitely belongs on a list like this. Alan David Doane, for his part, mentions Chase, and you just know that would have been on my list too.

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