Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hammer Locke, Part Two.

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Before I begin, I suppose some character bios are in order, because there are plenty of players in this little opus- not as many as in a year's worth of X-Men, mind you, but plenty just the same.

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SIR ARCHER ("HAMMER") LOCKE. The man whose vison and engineering skills created the Starbridge, enabling the Olympus project. Lost his limbs in a mysterious accident as he was inspecting the Bridge- when he came to, his arms and legs had been replaced by cybernetic technology, making him super strong but robbing him of what he perceived as his humanity. Distraught over this development, and disillusioned with the project and his life, he abruptly vanished, leaving his wife Miranda in charge. As the events of #1 begin, he has decided to return for equally mysterious reasons, unaware of recent events which will affect his life in grave fashion.

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MIRANDA ALVAREZ-LOCKE- Head of the Olympus Project, and estranged wife of Archer Locke. A tough, no-nonsense Latina, she hates Archer for up and leaving like he did, without a fare-thee-well, and is not particularly happy to hear about his return; she thinks he's grandstanding, and coming back like the cavalry to save the day as the beleaguered Project fends off terrorist attacks by Hugo Tharn's Ecotechnic League. She also is a longtime friend of Webster Christie, how close the two may have been pre-Archer is only inferred.

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AMANDA LOCKE- Daughter of Archer and Miranda, and a unwitting pawn of Tharn's vendetta against her father and his creation.

WEBSTER CHRISTIE- Close friend of the Lockes...I think Joseph Cotten, and the type of roles he used to play, when I see him. Christie was head of the research team that created GALT, the supercomputer that runs the daily operations of not only the Starbridge, but the city that surrounds Olympus. He's quite British and fond of quoting Shakespeare and Byron at the drop of a hat. He is also beginning to suspect that GALT is developing an intelligence of its own...

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LIEUTENANT PATRICK NEKEMTE- Assigned by Peacegarda, the military arm of the Hammerlocke Earth, as a escort/liaison to Sir Archer upon his return. The two men strike up a lasting friendship, cemented by the events of this tale. Eventually he becomes an Admiral, and spends his later years overseeing a terraforming project on Mars, where he is interviewed by Felicity Von Starben, who's writing a story about the Starbridge crisis many years later. Lt. Nekemte is quite young when these events take place, and is a bit naive sometimes, but is no less capable. Plus, he has sweet Stevie Wonder cornrows.

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JACOB KINGMAN-RHEE- Not a Guardian of Oa, but head of UNICORN ("It was an age of acronyms", says Nekemte), which stands for United Nations International Covert Operations and Research Network, Rhee has his fingers in many not-so-nice pies. It was he who authorized Sir Archer's cybernetic augmentation, as well as overseeing the creation of a number of genetically enhanced operatives. Cool and calculating, and not someone to be trusted although his actions can be justified from an objective standpoint.

HUGO THARN- Mysterious leader of the Ecotechnic League, a group which seeks to stem mankind's advancement at the expense of Mother Earth by any means necessary. His base of operations is under Antarctica, and it is his special vendetta against Sir Archer which spurs the events of this series. He is also able to transfer his consciousness into the computers of his lair, as well as animate any number of robots of various sizes. At one point in the narrative, it is revealed that he used to be a fantasy fiction writer, whose work "Tales of Faraway" is a favorite of Sahara Skyhawk.

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CACTUS JAQ- one of Kingman-Rhee's special operatives, Jaq (short for "Jacqueline") is described (on the official Miscmayhemproductions Hammer Locke site, started by Tom Joyner but not updated since 2003...more on that later) as a "Psi-talented 'techno-savant' whose affinity for machines is augmented by cybernetically enhanced strength and reflexes and data-jack hardware for direct brain-to-computer linkups". She's also a crack shot, and likes to play cowgirl...making her seem like, among those who are inclined to make such comparisons, as a grown-up Sheriff Ida Red. She is Sahara Skyhawk's partner in more ways than one, and together they are one of UNICORN's most effective teams.

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SAHARA SKYHAWK- another genetic creation of Rhee and his scientists, Sahara is a childlike young lady who was endowed with metallic, razor-sharp wings in place of arms and hands. She's capable of flying at high speeds and is very dangerous when needs be. She's also devoted to her best friend with benefits Jaq, although she does have a brief flirtatious relationship with Lt. Nekemte.

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THE PHADE- Another of UNICORN's genetic experiments, the Phade, real name unknown, is a special operative in charge of security at the Olympus Project. His abilities are similar to those of the Vision- he can become intangible at will and phase through solid matter. Unlike the Vision, he's not an android. Plus, he's quite ruthless and efficient, as we'll find out later.

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KING HENRY IX- Hugo Tharn's other captive, and quite possibly the last King of England. His role in this isn't immediately apparent, nor is it clear how long he's been Tharn's prisoner.

OK, that's nearly all the major- and some not-so major- players. Shall we begin? And just in case you might want to go to the trouble of hunting these comics down in your quarter bins someday, let me sound a ***SPOILER ALERT***...I'm going to spoil the heck out of the next nine issues- but hopefully I won't spoil everything, so just be careful and keep that in mind. Go!

ISSUE 1 begins with a meeting between Felicity Von Starben, a freelance writer who is in the process of composing a holotext report on what she describes as "Hammerlocke and the Starbridge Crisis of 2033". Her interview subject, Admiral Nekemte, who is the last living witness who would consent to an interview. He begins with an account of the kidnapping of Archer Locke's daughter Amanda, a Broadway actress, by mercenary soldiers hired by Hugo Tharn, insane would-be "Avatar of Gaea" and leader of the Ecotechnic League, who is determined to stop the advancement of humanity to the stars by any means necessary. The soldiers set a trap for Amanda as she enters her apartment building after an evening out with boyfriend Geoff. Things look bleak for Miss Locke when suddenly agents of UNICORN, Cactus Jaq and Sahara Skyhawk, intervene.Apparently UNICORN had been warned about the impending kidnapping and dispatched their best team to prevent it. One of the mercs gets off a lucky shot, winging Sahara, and they escape with their target. Next up is an interlude that features Jacob Kingman-Rhee being debriefed on the kidnapping; apparently he intends to turn these events to his own end, and gain control of the Olympus Project for UNICORN. Flash forward to the future, or actually the "real time" that we're getting these events from Von Starben and Nekemte, and an explanation of the whys and wherefores of the Starbridge.

Next, we meet Webster Christie and Miranda Alvarez-Locke, as Christie breaks the news to her that her husband's returning, which sends her into a rage at how it all seems to be slipping through her fingers. Christie gives her a pep-talk, and renews Miranda's resolve to stay on top of things.

Hours later, Miranda's inspecting the "Yard", or the trains that are set to go up in the Starbridge to carry goods bound for various extraterrestrial destinations. The Phade flies in through the wall, scaring the heck out of everyone, and announces that all the munitions trains seem to be in order, but he's wary that the Ecotechnics are planning something...just as he notices marks on one of the trains' access doors, right on cue a large cargo-carrying robot goes on a destructive rampage nearby. The Phade and Miranda manage to blow the 'Bot up, but the train in question has already gone on its way.

Next scene, we see two men helping each other climb up a mountain outside the Olympus colony. We soon find out that it is none other than Sir Archer Locke and his escort, Lt. Nekemte. Locke wished to be dropped off close to the mountain so he could scale it and look once more upon his creation- it's just a brief glimpse of the title character, but there will be more. Moving on, Webster and the Phade greet Kingman-Rhee, Jaq, and Sahara as they arrive at Olympus. Rhee calls Christie aside and delivers the news about the kidnapping, and the latter, in turn, informs Miranda, who's feeling invigorated at being in danger and taking matters into her own hands earlier. As she asks "Where's Archer", we finally get to see a full-on shot of Hammerlocke himself, standing atop the mountain with Lt. Nekemte and reflecting. As this goes on, we go back to Miranda's apartment where the Phade is informing her that there's more to the day's events than meets the eye- someone used the rampaging robot as a diversion, using another man's security code, which is impossible unless one has access to GALT without the computer's knowledge, and that's not supposed to happen. As Nekemte, on the mountain, tells Locke what Peacegarda High Command wants for him to do- for him to help return Olympus to full operational status after the terrorist attacks, even offering him a commission. Locke doesn't want to get involved and tangle with Tharn and his League...he's got his own agenda and informs the Lieutenant in no uncertain terms. Back at Miranda's, the Phade goes on to inform her that the departed train was carrying munitions, and since other trains have left they can't recall it.

At this, we go back to Locke and Nekemte as they disbelievingly witness a huge explosion that wracks the side of the Starbridge!

And that's where issue 1 ends.

See? Like I said. A large cast, and lots going on- after only one issue! The first thing you'll notice when you crack open this issue is the extraordinary amount of text; in fact, this first issue is one big infodump. Ordinarily offputting, but in this case it's tolerable because most of it is written as dialogue, sharp and naturalistic as opposed to cookie-cutter standard comicbookish. There's an awful lot of worldbuilding that's already gone on before we come along, and Joyner & Wilson have to get us up to speed somehow. Throughout most of the nine issues, we are also given text pieces which provide background, and it's very thoroughly done- I get the strong feeling that Joyner & Wilson could have gone on for three times nine, they had that much cooked up. Back to the dialogue a second- two of the three pages I scanned and posted above I chose as an example of the refreshingly mature dialogue style employed by J&W. These characters didn't talk like imitation Chris Claremont or Marv Wolfman- this is non-mannered and natural, more like film dialogue. And the relationships eschew the typical comics relationships of the time- not a lot of bogus Roy Thomas hand-wringing, but shaded and nuanced.

Artwise, Sprouse and inker Wilson were just getting used to each other, I think. Considering this was the first time Sprouse had done a project of this magnitude, he can be forgiven the occasional stiff pose...and he gets much better as each issue goes on. Wilson is credited as the principal inker, and I've no doubt he did most of it...but several other artists are cited as helping out on finishes, not only backgrounds but elsewhere, in the last issue's letters page- and that's understandable, again given the length of this series. One surprising thing I noticed for the first time while rereading this to prepare to write: Issue #1 is a staggering 38 pages, not counting the text piece that finishes the book! Subsequent issues had a substantially smaller page count, but this was a heck of a way to get started. While there are times that the effect of the fledgling art team is to invoke the work Richard Case was doing over on Doom Patrol, we can easily see the Sprouse style we all have come to love gradually asserting itself, as it will more and more beginning in #2.

OK, that's all for #1. Since this was a nine-issue series, I figured I'd do one issue by itself to even it up so I can do two at a time in future posts. I'll probably try and sum it up after I've done #9, so bear with me on that point...but would I be wrong in saying that right off the bat we have nods to Ayn Rand (in the form of Sir Archer, engineer and self-made man who walks away rather than gives in to compromise) and Robert Heinlein? I think not. Here's the first post in the series; since I posted #1's cover there I decided to scan one of the B&W full-page ads for the book that appeared at the time, and that's what's at the beginning of the overview.

Stay tuned, #'s 2 and 3 coming next.

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