Sunday, June 30, 2013

It all started with the Big Bang! Part 7 (Issue #6)

This is the last color issue of the Image run; almost everything Big Bang self-published after leaving Image is in color. I'm not too happy about that, since obviously colors are way better than no color in Silver Age Superhero fare. Of course, no colors just makes it look that much more like a Showcase collection or something.

Also of note: this is one of the only Big Bang comics to feature just one story. If anything I'm reminded of the Metal Men, as this is an "amazing three-part novel" or "novel-length adventure" that would easily be a huge three-month, 20-title crossover today.

So, okay, this is technically a reprint of a story from the original Caliber Comics run, but whatever. Cover art by Curt Swan, though. I don't see why Golden Age Ultiman doesn't merit a credit on the Knights of Justice side of the cover, or where the Silver Age Knight Watchman is, though.

The Silver Age Beacon first appeared in this story, but the Human Sub had his origin story in Big Bang Vol. 1 #2. Basically, he's Dr. Noah Talbot, an aged scientist who designed a robotic full-body prosthesis that he was forced to transfer his own mind into as he suffered a heart attack. The robot body is powered by "hydro-glycerin" and needs to be submerged in water at least once an hour. His sidekicks are his granddaughter Mora, alias the Moray, and Bubbles, an amphibious chimp with hydro-glycerin for blood.

I'm guessing Swan's pencils for the cover were finished before they decided to change him to the Atomic Sub. Or even before they did the first Human Sub story; the first page has Swan's original art, with a totally different looking Human Sub. Cyclone's also an all-new character, but there's not a lot to say (or know) about him until the Whiz Kids get their own stories.

And see, look, Golden Age Knight Watchman isn't even in this, jeez. 

The story kicks off with the Blitz running late to an appointment at Round Table of America HQ. Apparently he lives in the Southwestern US, because that's where he's coming from. HQ is at "Capitol City" on the East Coast. So he really kicks it into high gear to make it in time, but once he gets through the door of the Hall of Heroes, he sees something so shocking he alerts the rest of the RTA for help. But when help arrives, the Blitz isn't there -- at least, not their Blitz!

As you can no doubt imagine, a fight breaks out, and oddly enough the Atomic Sub seems the most eager to teach the 'phony' Blitz a lesson. Yeesh, take it easy, old timer. Incidentally, the Beacon's powers appear to be similar to her Golden Age counterpart's; that thing in her hand gives off light in different colors, each with its own effect. Kudos for creativity, I think most people would have just given their ersatz Lantern regular construct powers.

The Blitz runs rings around the RTA members, but Ultiman manages to clock him one and knock him out. Almost immediately, Dr. Weird, the Spectre analogue, pops in to say he knows where the "real" Blitz is. From the other heroes' reactions, it looks like they've never met Weird before. 

Naturally, the Silver Age Blitz is at the Hall of Heroes on another Earth, where he's getting manhandled by the Knights of Justice. 

That blast knocks the Blitz right out, as well it should, but as before, Dr. Weird appears before the Knights of Justice. I'm referring to both groups as though they're the full team, but come on, these are abbreviated versions of the KoJ and RTA. 

It turns out Dr. Weird is talking to both groups at the same time, with each group not even knowing the other figures into it (except the Blitzes, I guess). The Beacon says that Dr. Weird is telling the truth, according to his power crystal; I guess he's the truth-detector because he's the only one with any super-equipment akin to WW's lasso. 

Dr. Weird exposits that there are two Earths, which split off from each other in the early 20th century: Earth-A, where it's 1965, and Earth-B, where it's 20 years earlier. He also makes note of the two Blitzes, two Beacons, etc., without really explaining what causes that. So it turns out someone opened a portal that the Blitzes accidentally traveled through, and if it isn't closed soon, both worlds are doomed. Weird has it stabilized for the moment, but can't keep it up much longer, and tells of machines on each Earth that are widening the portal. Both Ultimen independently decide to go give Weird a hand.

Meanwhile, apparently the other members of both teams (and the displaced Blitzes) know where to go to find their machine. I'm gonna go for the No-Prize and say Weird gave them the information telepathically. The KoJ arrive in Paris, where a huge robot gorilla and a crazy looking machine are on top of the Eiffel Tower. The Blitz rushes at the robo-ape, but disappears after it swats him away. While Venus and Thunder Girl distract the robot, the Beacon uses his red force beam to amplify his strength so as to destroy the machine. He does this by simply punching it, causing it to explode. When the dust settles, only Thunder Girl is conscious, and the Beacon is missing.

The RTA head for the Statue of Liberty's torch, which houses their world's portal machine thing. The Beacon is the first to notice it, and I'm having flashbacks to #4, when the Golden Age Beacon fought guys on Liberty's torch.

The Blitz runs afoul of another robot gorilla, identical to the one seen a second ago, and disappears after is blasts him with a ray. The Beacon tosses it into the water with her yellow levitation beam, and the Atomic Sub swims toward it to finish the job. Suddenly, the Beacon vanishes into thin air herself!

It turns out that the Blitzes and Beacons were simply pulled away by Dr. Weird, who needs more power to keep the rift stable. That this happened in conjunction with their fighting the robo-apes appears to be a simple coincidence. The Beacons join hands with their respective Blitzes, and discover that giving their energy to Dr. Weird hurts like crap. The Beacons are forced to sap power from distant stars in order to provide enough for Weird to go on. 

Meanwhile, a mysterious cloaked figure supercharges the Earth A robo-ape, which revives, knocks out the Atomic Sub, and grabs the machine before the Knight Watchman can take care of it. The Knight Watchman decides to call in reinforcements in the form of the Whiz Kids, who find the mystery baddie's lair on Ellis Island easily enough, but run into trouble fighting the robo-ape... until Bubbles starts messing around

After this odd scene, the robo-ape comes to its senses and knocks Bubbles into Kid Galahad, who accidentally crashes into the machine, sending both of them... somewhere when it explodes. That "somewhere" was Earth B, where they're met by Venus and Thunder Girl. Thunder Girl sees Bubbles' costume and realizes who's behind all this, and resolves to go to Earth A via the still-intact device in order to stop them.

Meanwhile, on Earth A, the big bad guy is holding both worlds hostage with the device, which is really more of a bomb and seems to be okay after colliding with Kid Galahad and Bubbles. At some point the Knight Watchman and Atomic Sub showed up.

Suddenly, Thunder Girl bursts through a small explosion, having traveled via the device as mentioned previously. She grabs the villain, revealing him to be her archenemy Dr. Binana, the talking chimp. Binana says he created the portal to plunder both worlds, but is willing to settle for destroying them both! After Binana activates the bomb, which is of course on a timer, the Atomic Sub grabs it, flies over the sea with his jetpack, and tries to bury it as far underwater as he can. Shortly after he leaves, the Knight Watchman gets word from Kid Galahad that they've disarmed the bomb on their end. This eliminates the threat to both worlds, as without the second bomb this is just any old bomb.

However, the Atomic Sub couldn't get far enough away from the explosion in time, and died trying to save two worlds. Everyone is automatically returned to their home Earth... except for Thunder Girl, who remains on Earth A. Dr. Weird says this has to do with her power source and origin, as she's a mystical being of two souls and whatever. We end on a somber note, with funeral proceedings dedicated to the Atomic Sub -- even on Earth B, which he'd never set foot on.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Creature Commandos! Part 6 (Weird War Tales #108)

 This is the big time -- both the Creature Commandos and G.I. Robot graduate to full headliner status starting with this issue. Also of note: CC stories start to have a continuing plotline.

And, I'm gonna be honest with you, the story that kicks off is somber as all get-out. The CCs are in a London war hospital, where Lucky is being treated. What happened to him? Oh, well he tried to kill himself with a razor blade. Personally I'm concerned about the hospital staff's ability to treat him, due to his size and unique physiology. As Lucky is wheeled away, Velcro assaults his CO, saying that if Lucky doesn't make it, neither will Shrieve.

 You know that I think is interesting? When not in wolf mode, Griffith takes Velcro's usual role of the voice of reason/everyman the reader relates to. Oh, and I was expecting a scene like this since the first appearance of the CCs; of the group, Velcro seems to bear the most resentment towards Shrieve, and the two are constantly at odds. Lucky's suicide attempt was the last straw, we're to assume, as Velcro has a flashback to a few weeks ago to fill us in with the details.

They were on a mission that took them to a concentration camp! I'm inclined to believe they're there to liberate it, but little is ever what it seems to be in these stories, I've learned. Incidentally, Griffith's unreliable transformation problem may be a thing of the past due to Army Intelligence scientists tweaking the formula that gave him his powers. Naturally, the transformation still carries with it a dramatic change in personality, from innocent farmboy to bloodthirsty lunatic.

As the CCs go at it, Velcro thinks about what got them there, and we get the obligatory origin recap that I'll spare you. Hey, every issue is somebody's first. They tear through guards as Velcro ponders why he and the other CCs even do this, before admitting he knows exactly why -- because of people who build and run camps like this one. Speak of the devil, a German officer pops out of the blue, armed with a large cross-tipped staff to cow the monsters before him.

Obviously, the CCs are playing along. Especially Velcro, since crosses are actually supposed to ward off vampires. None of these guys are "real" monsters (unless you count Lucky), just simulacra created through scientific means; Velcro drinks blood instead of eating regular food, but can probably stand a little garlic.

So the captured commandos are dealt with in different ways. Griffith is kept in a cage, where guards laugh at him and throw rocks; the caption calls this degradation worse than anything his twisted mind could come up with. Velcro is subject to endless scientific testing, Lucky is put to slave labor (complete with whippings),

Shrieve is simply interrogated, and admirably he refuses to divulge anything. I actually kind of respect the guy for that.

Lucky collapses from the strain of the tireless labor and is taken in by a kindly, elderly doctor, who seems to have some pull around the camp as the guards don't make anything out of it. She tends to him, saying that she saw in his eyes that there was a man inside the monster's body. Her name is Marie, and she's a French scientist, forced to defect else her family be killed. She designed an experimental nerve gas, which she's still working on. As she reveals this, it's clear she knows exactly what Lucky's going through -- what it's like to be turned into a monster.

Just as she and Lucky embrace tearily (for real), an officer and some guards burst in and take Lucky away, berating Marie for harboring him. Turns out they only let her do what she wants because she's not finished with her nerve gas, and she keeps nearly all of the information on it in her head.

A few days later, the CCs are tied to posts, ready to face a firing squad. The execution will be filmed, and is sure to become the biggest propaganda hit since Triumph of the Will! I have to admit, this is fairly clever -- what better way to demonize the Allied forces than to portray them as monsters, after all?

Shrieve whispers to Griffith, saying they learned what they needed to and can now escape, confirming my suspicion that their capture was intentional. Griffith concentrates, turning back into a human -- a scrawny human who slips right out of those chains. At the same time, Velcro frees himself with his own quick change act, turning into mist and thereafter a bat. Griffith refuses to change back, determined to prove himself as a human, and fights like a man possessed. Velcro manages to hurt people in bat form without biting or scratching them, and I'm just going to accept that. Anyway, Lucky breaks free of his own chains and frees Shrieve, and then things get CRAZY.

Naturally they fight off guards easily enough. Marie sees the display and cheers on Lucky, who comes towards her, grabs her head, and cracks it against the ground before silently wailing in despair. It turns out, that was the mission: Marie was actually the real Dr. Renee Frederique, whose impostor you might remember from WWT #97. They had to eliminate her before her deadly nerve gas was completed, and it was agreed before the mission that whomever identified her first would be the one to do her in. Lucky's suicide attempt was brought on by the guilt he felt for killing her.

Lucky turns out to be alright, though; owing to his, uh, condition, he can be "repaired" all but endlessly. The doctors have even fixed his vocal chords somewhat, though he still can't speak intelligibly. Velcro and (human) Griffith visit him, and for the first time I really get the sense that these three are friends -- they care about Lucky, and he cares about them.

In the end, Velcro says it takes more courage to live than to die, and that he knows Lucky has that courage. Shrieve commends Velcro on his inspirational speech, and I have to say, even Shrieve came out of this story looking alright, he didn't really do anything wrong for once. Anyway, on a shot of the sun coming up, Velcro remarks that if Shrieve's handing out compliments, there might be some hope for this world after all.

I think this was a great way to establish the CCs for their new headlining deal, and it brought a lot of new stuff to the table for once. We got to see the human side of Griffith, whose wolf form is pretty flat, we got to see the tragic side of Lucky in more detail than usual, and even the heroic side of Shrieve during the interrogation scene. If I had read this when it was coming out I like to think I'd be hungry for more.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Senses-Shattering Saga of the Metal Men, Part 6

The other day I found out about a Metal Men movie in development, with the director of Men in Black attached. The news was about a year old, but it's still something that I'm certainly interested in.

Jeez. I love a Silver Age cover because they never beat around the bush -- you're generally shown exactly what the stakes are and given a pretty good idea of what the story's gonna be like. 

Believe it or not, for the first time the first panel isn't a duplicate of the cover; I think I know why, and I'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Also, turns out "the Sun Brain", or maybe "Solar Brain", is basically exactly what it sounds like.

Maybe it's me, but didn't they just get back from space? And think about it, every time they went to space or another planet, something bad happened -- they brought back moon microbes, became stranded on a planet of giants, and Doc turned into an evil robot. I know it's a big place, but if I had a terrible experience every time I went to China, I'd probably stop going after a while.

This issue starts out quite a bit like #2 did -- the Metal Men and Doc are just kind of chilling. Platinum gets Doc some water when she thinks he's overworking himself, Lead shields Doc from the blazing sun at the beach, that sort of thing. The captions note that Doc might complain sometimes, but he really does appreciate how much his creations care about him. Doc also takes Platinum boating (on a boat constructed of Gold, Lead, and Iron, no less) in the park; Platinum can't help but feel this is a romantic gesture, and to be honest I'm kind of with her on this one, Doc is kidding himself if he thinks this is completely innocent.

A month later, however, Doc is about to shoot himself with the Metal Men in that gun form from the cover --  against his (and their) will! I think this is why the big first page panel wasn't the image from the cover, since it shows up just a few pages in, and again towards the end.

Yeah, this was all epilogue, or in media res or whatever. And we go from stuff we'll see again in a minute to stuff we saw before -- a flashback to the end of the Gas Gang debacle. As Doc recovers from the illness brought on by having his robot parts turned into steam, Platinum cares for him. Doc, naturally, is bellyaching the whole time and insulting her 'delusions of womanhood'. Later, Platinum bakes Doc a pie, but when she goes to give it to him sees he has a visitor - a model named Ava Woods, who wants Doc to get well soon so he can judge a beauty pageant. Ava makes a patronizing comment about Doc's unconvincing "suit of armor" robot girl, and as you can imagine gets that pie right in her face. Platinum vows to enter the pageant herself and beat Ava. 

Elsewhere, Gold, Lead, Iron, and Mercury are continuing Doc's research projects while he's ill. If Doc told them to do this, I have to say, he really should have known better. They're tracking solar prominences, eruptions from the surface of the sun, when one of them breaks free of the star and starts careening through space. It gets blasted with cosmic dust, hit by a meteor storm, and caught in a nova. Because this is a comic book, that "cosmic energy" turns it into the Solar Brain!

Iron mistakes the creature for a childlike, curious being, especially when he sees it put the rocket back together. However, it places the rocket on a collision course with another spacecraft, destroying both! Soon, Doc has recovered enough to return to his work, and the Metal Men tell him about the Solar Brain. They've come to the conclusion that the Solar Brain can force objects to do its bidding - which is why the manned rocket flew straight into the other spaceship after it put it back together. Mercury thinks it can easily control living beings as well.

Later, Platinum enters that beauty pageant, and manages to do quite well -- the judges and other contestants think she just went wild with body paint for a laugh, and are stunned by her radiance. She's a shoo-in to win -- until Doc, who is judging the event after all, reveals she's a robot, disqualifying her. Ava takes home the crown or sash or whatever, and Platinum is so incensed she wraps Ava and Doc up in wire and spins them like a top. Ever the drama queen, she says she never wants to see Doc again and is going somewhere he'll never find her. Before he can do anything, Doc gets news that the Metal Men have found the Solar Brain again, and rushes home. However, a building collapses as he drives by, which Gold attributes to the Solar Brain. Tin (who was with Platinum the whole time) dies protecting Doc from falling girders.

Calling Iron over to carry Tin's remains home, Doc heads home and leads the Metal Men to his new experimental rocket. He hopes to repair Tin in the rocket's Metal Recovery Room, of course. As they blast off, Platinum runs after the rocket, regretting what she said. She manages to tie herself around the rocket before it's too late, and is reeled in by Gold as soon as Doc notices.

The rocket is nearly flattened by a huge meteor, but Doc activates his new "chain reaction" defense mechanism, wherein two mechanical arms extend from the rocket and grab whatever's approaching, which completes the reaction and blows up. That's when they pick up the Solar Brain again, and see it tearing apart a space station.

Reports from Earth and readings from the rocket indicate that the Solar Brain is, for whatever reason, hoarding weapons, any it can get its hands on. They track the Solar Brain to a small planet, where they find the weapons all over the place, as if they were toys the Brain was done playing with. Soon the Solar Brain ambushes them, tearing apart their rocket before putting it back together with the power of its mind -- and when the Metal Men attack, it decides to turn them into its toys. Also, it's not really mentioned, but Tin seems to be up and running again. And it thinks of weapons as toys, and since you saw the cover I think you know where this is going.

I imagine everyone saw that coming, I just included the pic because I thought it was really cool. 

The Solar Brain's... plan? I don't really know how conscious it is. But its "plan" for is foiled when Lead, who is not just the chamber but the bullet himself, intentionally backfires rather than shoot Doc. However, this blows the Metal Men gun to pieces, incapacitating them all. Doc is forced to defeat the Solar Brain all by himself, and tries to accomplish this via the Chain Reaction

Obviously, that's the end of the Solar Brain, bless its demonic manchild heart. Doc repairs all the Metal Men in the Metal Recovery Room, but it's not mentioned whether the rocket's large pieces are fitted back together or if they're on the way back to Earth. Naturally, of the bunch, Platinum recovers first, and she and Doc basically do what they do: "Doc, I love you!" "Girl, you're a robot, shut up."

Friday, June 21, 2013

It all started with the Big Bang! Part 6 (Issue #5)

You know, I was reading Hero Hotline when I realized I have this thing with alliteration.

Is it significant that the Silver-Age Blitz looks sort of like Prof. Zoom? Probably not. I have to say I'm impressed that they came up with a lightning motif and logo that didn't look anything like the Flash's. Also, is it me or did they tone down the purple on the Knight Watchman's costume since the last time he was on a cover?

Anyway, this issue's all about origins -- the origin of the Blitz, of the Golden Age Ultiman, and of the Knight Watchman

At a Monte Carlo raceway, East German Formula-1 racer Helmut Schlechtmann, seen in the car above, curses the success of American driver Jimmy Travis. With Travis' latest victory, he's now headed for the championship race against Schlechtmann, who isn't sure he can win. Luckily, he thinks, he's left little to chance. 

During their race, Schlechtmann runs Travis off the road. Travis discovers his steering column's been tampered with as he careens towards a mountain, but manages to stop and crawl away unscathed. However, the car's in no shape to continue the race. Travis is upset, but realizes there's nothing he can do about it -- which is when he sees a door on the ground, uncovered and unlocked by his driving. Inside, he discovers some secret Nazi lab (in Monte Carlo?)

Meanwhile, American mobsters, hired by Schlechtmann to finish off Travis, arrive on the scene -- turns out he expected Travis to survive hurtling towards mountain rocks in a racecar. Back in the lab, Travis quickly deduces (based on the label on that costume case) that whatever scientists were working here, they were trying to create super-humans. He checks out those test tubes and sees that they're all busted and empty except one labeled "Blitz-Geschindigkeit".

Outside, one of the mobsters accidentally drops his gun, which goes off when it hits the ground. Travis is startled by the noise and accidentally spills the contents of the test tube on himself. It starts to burn through his racing suit, which he takes off in a panic. Deciding to investigate the gunshot he heard, he puts on the "ubermensch" costume. That's when the mobsters get the drop on him. As they take aim, Travis desperately rushes to stop them -- and sees that the formula gave him "Blitz-Geschindigkeit", lightning speed! He dispatches them quickly enough, and one of them mentions Schlechtmann. Travis, or the Blitz, realizes what's going on, and that he can still win the race.

He rushes to Schlechtmann's car and disassembles it at lightning speed, like in the first page, leaving him wrapped up in his own car's parts.

The Blitz then pushes his own car for most of the length of the race, before heading back to his hotel room for a new racing suit, pushing it across the finish line, and jumping into the driver's seat before anyone can see he wasn't driving. Cheating? Yeah, but you can't say Schlechtmann deserved to win it. The police take away the mobsters and Schlechtmann, and Travis is left with a new second career in mind...

Moving on to a short two-page Ultiman origin story, we see Chris Kelly driving home, rejected by the draft board for his poor eyesight, when his car is struck by a meteor! The meteor turns him into the Ultimate Human Being, who pledges his services to the government and armed forces.

I find it fairly interesting that Ultiman is a government agent, and it's hinted that his identity isn't secret here (strictly speaking; there might be a Golden Age Carl Kelly).

Anyway, is it me or is anyone else more interested in the Knight Watchman's origin? I've been reading about him in just about every issue so far, it's time I found out what his deal is, you know? All we really know about him is that his real name is Reid Randall and he lives with his mother and nephew.

Well, flash back to when Reid was an Olympic hopeful and college student living away from home. Called back to Midway City by news that his brother Ted had been hospitalized, Reid consoles his mother, who reveals that the family garment business is in peril. Ted had fallen in with a bad crowd and racked up gambling debts -- and now the mobsters he owes want to take over their business. The beating was a warning, and it only stands to get worse from here.

Across town, at the hospital, Ted is comforted by his wife Janet and son Jerry. Later that night, he's visited by a gangster, who starts leaning on him a little harder to hand over the family business. That is, until Reid shows up.

Reid and Ted reminisce about the old days, like when they were teased at school because their dad made women's clothes. He says this is just like that -- they faced off against bullies almost every day, and can do the same now. 

Later that week, Reid joins Ted's wife and son in seeing his brother home. Unbeknownst to them, however, henchmen working for mob boss "Gentleman" Mac Duggin are lying in wait, preparing to strike. Jerry decides to ride home with Reid; Ted remarks that Reid is Jerry's personal hero, with Janet adding that Ted is Reid's. Reid drives ahead, as he's stopping for ice cream on the way, but Ted's car explodes the second Janet starts it.

Man, is it me, or is this a lot more complicated than Batman's origin? Parents shot, layabout millionaire, superstitious lot, bat through window, BAM, Batman. Anyway, soon Reid visits the graves of his brother and sister-in-law, vowing to bring their killers to justice and to take care of Jerry just as Ted always took care of him. Meanwhile, "Gentleman" Duggin decides that if killing her son won't get the old lady to turn over the factory, he'll start arranging "accidents" around the factory and her home, and sends her a letter to that effect. 

Reid consoles his mother again, who says that her late husband, her knight in shining armor, would know what to do.

Ah, there's the "bat through window" moment. Reid sees gangsters staking out their house in shifts, and thinks he can make them act if he pretends to head back to school by packing his bags and getting in a cab. That night, he's proven right as the gangsters break into the factory and start wrecking it, until interrupted by a mysterious shadowy figure - the Knight Watchman! His costume's kind of different here, with a much darker blue (or black?) cowl-and-undies, no shield symbol, a gray bodysuit, and much like first appearance Batman, purple gloves. Using the physical prowess that made him a multiple sport star, he easily trounces Duggin and his goons. There's a really great exchange where Duggin tries to offer the Knight Watchman money or a job, but the Knight Watchman somberly states that Duggin owes him much more than he could ever pay.

This feels kind of Silver-Agey, despite being based on GA Bats (what with the different costume and all) -- if anything I'm reminded of Daredevil #1, where Daredevil finds and defeats his father's killer by the issue's end.

Finally, we're on to a short four-pager with Silver Age Ultiman, who shows a contest winner his Secret Citadel. There's a nice continuity nod to #3 by way of a shot of Robot #1's grave. Naturally there's a giant dollar bill and a rubber apatosaurus, because it's not like they did those Batcave things last issue. There's also a "City of Atlantis" that fits in an oversized fishbowl like Kandor. Oh, and a "Hall of Secret Identities" featuring statues of his Round Table of America teammates; I'm hoping he doesn't show the kid that one.

We also learn about SA Ultiman's origin (a little more, at least) -- Chris Kelly was an astronaut in whose space capsule was hit by a radioactive meteor. The other astronaut inside died, and Chris was very sick for a long time, but upon overcoming his illness he was the Ultimate Human Being! 

I probably mentioned this before, but that power source strikes me as a deliberate reference to Silver Age Ultraman, a human astronaut who got his powers from space rocks and becomes more powerful from further exposure. Also, take note of the costume differences between Golden and Silver Age Ultiman -- well, it's gloves mostly right here, but as we saw last issue Golden Age Ulti later added a belt to his ensemble. Also, the "no undies" look is obviously a little funny these days, since that's what Superman himself is wearing.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Creature Commandos! Part 5 (Weird War Tales #105)

This is the last CC story before they hit the big time as WWT's headliner in #108, if that's a fact anyone but me finds interesting.

The story opens with the CCs facing off against a tank -- unarmed and without any outside help. Even Shrieve is nowhere to be seen. The tank's markings indicate it as American, and, as revealed in the captions, this scene takes place on a Midwestern army base.

Everyone manages to contribute to toppling the tank, with Velcro seeping inside it in mist form and Griffith snapping its machine gun right off, but Lucky does all the work by simply pushing it on its side. Shrieve emerges from its hatch, barking at the CCs for taking too long to defeat the tank. Their time was 30 seconds longer than projected, and he'd make them do the drill again if they didn't have a mission to get to... stateside, in the tiny NY town of Freedom. There, they find what I'm guessing is its entire population of 67 gathered in the town hall, singing.

Yeah, Freedom's population is made up solely of Nazi sympathizers from around the country, out to subvert the war effort with a fascist newspaper (...uh, sure). Army Intelligence also thinks they're harboring German spies. The CCs have to take action against Freedom, a prospect Griffith is excited about, but their mission isn't killing -- it's terror. 

At first, this takes the form of having Griffith massacre the townspeople's livestock and even pets, but one night Shrieve cuts the town's power and has Velcro threaten them, calling himself an envoy of the devil.

As the terrified townsfolk run from him, Velcro laments the things he does for his country -- and his blood rations. As they run to the town hall, the people see Lucky standing between two of its pillars. Lucky decides to go for symbolism, snapping the pillars to bring the building down before smashing the giant swastika and Hitler portrait inside. I'm surprised the giant swastika on the cover was actually in the issue, I (funnily enough) thought that a symbolic thing.

Griffith leaps out at the people of Freedom from the rooftops, showing restraint and not harming anyone due to his respect for Shrieve's orders. That's a side of Griffith we rarely see, and I don't think it's out of character at all -- he's a giant attack dog, of course he obeys his master. Shrieve firebombs the fascist newspaper's press while the townspeople are busy being scared witless.

The fire spreads across the town rapidly, pretty much eradicating the whole town. However, a little girl is trapped on the second story of her home. Lucky, being a real stand-up guy, saves her. She leaves her doll with Lucky, seemingly so afraid or rattled she forgot about it. As the CCs watch the tiny town burn, Shrieve congratulates everyone on a job well done. Velcro, as usual, is disgusted by Shrieve's attitude, and Shrieve naturally has no idea what he means. Shrieve says Velcro must have manure for brains, and touts all the positives of the mission's success. Lucky hands him the doll and points him towards the little girl and her family, who weep as their home burns; Velcro says he thinks Lucky's trying to say "I think YOU're the one who's full of it, Shrieve."

Again, Shrieve is totally wrong; I don't see what threat Freedom could have possibly posed. Intelligence about spies looked to be false, that's the big one. And place that small, I mean, how much circulation could their paper have gotten in even the best case scenario? If Freedom had been left alone, then after the war it would just be a microscopic town full of racists -- unpleasant, but hardly unusual no matter where you are in the world.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Senses-Shattering Saga of the Metal Men, part 5

Are you ready for what I don't hesitate to call the most ridiculous Metal Men story yet?

Yes, it looks like this is the second time in 6 issues that we're doing the "evil Doc makes a team of bad guys" plot. And can I just say, it's always bugged me that only two members of the Gas Gang are pure elements; there's no Brass or Steel in the Metal Men, after all. The Gas Gang technically first appeared in last issue's "Fun Facts" page (which I don't bother with and you can't make me), although only Chloroform has the same appearance here.

Incidentally, you may have seen the Gas Gang on the "Clash of the Metal Men!" episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold; there were some changes to the roster (they added the bomb-shaped Hydrogen and changed Carbon Monoxide to Nitrogen), and they had the origin of the 90s version of the Metal Men -- friends of Doc's transformed by an accident. They're also voiced by the same actors as the Metal Men, and obviously with the addition of Hydrogen have the same number of members -- they really wanted to push the "evil counterpart" angle. I'll probably take a look at that episode after I'm through with the regular Metal Men feature.

Yikes, apparently it's the second time we're doing "evil robot Doc makes a team of bad guys". Although at least this time Robo-Doc looks like a robot. I don't know a lot about Chloroform, but the "fun facts" page says it sometimes induces laughter before it knocks you out.

The story opens with an unnecessary recap of the events of the previous issue, including a shot of its cover. Soon we're back where we were at the end of last issue; inside a rocket back to Earth, with Tin at the controls, Doc and Platinum doing whatever, and everyone else recovering from injuries. Platinum sleeps, something Doc doesn't care for because it's another manifestation of her faulty responsometer. She wakes up and talks of dreaming, and naturally Doc isn't pleased to hear about that either. Platinum gets grabby, but her display of affection is interrupted by a meteor shower.

A meteor is stuck in the ship's hull, and is so hot it can eat through it in minutes. Doc heads out to force it loose with a jackhammer, accompanied by Platinum, who is determined to protect him from the deadly meteors. Throughout the ordeal, Doc tries to get Platinum to go back inside where it's safe, showing real concern for her well-being (aaaawwww). Platinum pulls a patented Metal Man self-sacrifice to shield Doc from approaching meteors just as he's finished taking care of the embedded rock; Doc cradles her melting body, overcome by sadness.

Now, call me cynical, but it seems to me she'll be right as rain after some time in the Metal Recovery Room. I think the problem with killing and injuring the cast so frequently is that it loses its punch pretty quickly.

As Doc returns to the ship with Platinum in his arms, the rest of the Metal Men greet him. However, they're shocked at the sight of the "destroyed" Platinum -- even Mercury, who says he's willing to donate parts for her repair even at the cost of his own life. Aaaaawwww. Doc heads to the Metal Recovery Room to perform what is basically robot surgery, not even taking a moment to remove his space suit. Gold notices that Doc's suit has been soaked in "cosmic rays", probably from the meteor that hit the ship, but Doc doesn't think anything of it.

Some time later, the Metal Men try to get Doc to eat or sleep, as he's neglected to do either for some time. Doc rebuffs them, claiming to be neither tired nor hungry. Just then, before their eyes, Doc's skin begins to take on a metallic sheen

Platinum awakes from her comatose state and is overjoyed to see the new robot Doc. She fantasizes about their life together, culminating in a scene of their wedding. However, it's soon clear that like the last Robo-Doc, this one is a pretty big asshole; he treats the Metal Men even more harshly than he usually treats Platinum. For instance, he derides Tin as useless, threatening him with replacement if he doesn't shape up. He also rejects the idea of robots having any emotions at all, acting as if the Metal Men were simply talking power tools for him to order around. 

Doc has become even more cold and unfeeling than usual; when the Metal Men see a manned US space shuttle under attack by a comet-like monster, he refuses to come to its aid, concerned only with returning to Earth. Naturally, the Metal Men don't agree, and manage to save the shuttle anyway. Just as naturally, Doc is angry with them afterwards, saying that their disobedience has earned them a one-way trip to the scrap heap as soon as they get home. 

Doc doesn't get the chance to make good on this promise, as the Metal Men seal him in his lab in hopes he'll come to his senses. Meanwhile, they run experiments to see if there's a way to turn Doc back to normal.

Yes, that's what the Metal Men do when left to their own devices. Anyway, they go to check on Doc, when an explosion tears open the wall, revealing Doc and his new creations, the Gas Gang. I don't know about you, but I would have introduced the villains of the piece a little earlier. They look a little different than on the cover, with only Oxygen and Helium being labeled. Anyway, Doc orders Chloroform to gas the Metal Men.

Mercury is taken out of commission by the laughing fit. Chloroform looks on as the Metal Men succumb to his gas, saying that the Gas Gang can topple the world. I think it's more like "I, Chloroform, can topple the world" -- I mean, look at what he's accomplished so far. Gold tries to clear the gas by forcing Oxygen to spray them, but something that I call total bull happens when everyone starts to rust. Yeah, not just Iron. 

Everyone starts running, except for Lead, who forms a barrier and tries to hold the Gas Gang off. 

Sadly, he only seems to keep back Chloroform and Oxygen -- Carbon Dioxide and Monoxide attack the retreating Metal Men, icing them over and poisoning them. But, like, not enough to keep them from running. Eventually, they're cornered by Helium in a lab. Turns out Helium isn't as silly as he might sound, as he can inflate his body to massive proportions. The rest of the Gas Gang catches up as the giant Helium bears down on the Metal Men, when Platinum springs her trap: the heat conducting experiment from earlier! Plugging himself in and coiling around the Gas Gang, he evaporates them into steam. I admit, I'm surprised that came up later, I thought it was just Silver Age silliness or educational bull.

Doc was also caught in Gold's coil, and fell unconscious. Brought to the Metal Recovery Room, he eventually returns to normal

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

It all started with the Big Bang! Part 5 (Issue #4)

Back with more Big Bang! This issue is gonna be a real treat for me, because this issue is based on an early JSA story that I happen to have actually read.

Just over half of those are familiar faces to readers of the Image series - Ultiman, Thunder Girl, and the Knight Watchman. The rest (and you can figure out who is who pretty easily) are Venus, the Blitz, and the Beacon, ersatz Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern respectively. 

Dr Stellar, obviously the Starman of the KoJ, wonders how the team came to be. The Knight Watchman lays the background by saying it all started when scientists from around the country were headed to the Great Minds Summit in Washington, D.C. The Blitz takes over from there, and it becomes clear that this issue's gimmick is just like the earliest JSA stories -- the heroes don't really work together, but they tell of adventures that are connected in some way. Naturally, each segment is handled by a different writer and artist. I wish they had a Hawkman guy, since Golden Age Hawkman had unusually detailed art for its time and I'd love to see something in that style.

Now, if I'm remembering correctly, the Flash section of the JSA story I'm thinking of involved fighting a shark, so one can only hope it's something half as cool as that. 

Anyway, the Blitz is secretly newsreel reporter Mack Snelling, who was on his way to cover the summit via the powerful train Super-Chief. A freak landslide nearly causes a horrible crash, but Snelling clears the way with time to spare as the Blitz, and soon discovers it was a Nazi assassination attempt on one of the train's passengers, engineer and auto magnate Hank Fort.

An interrogation reveals that this was part of a larger plot to sabotage the Great Minds Summit. The Blitz heads back to Super-Chief, no doubt reasoning that if there's more trouble at the conference he should be there (and that arriving before the train he was on previously would probably blow his identity).

The Beacon takes the story from there. He'd read about the Great Minds Summit in the paper back in NYC, when he was on a ferry to Ellis Island. Due to some trouble at the Statue of Liberty, they had to turn back, but naturally this looked like a job for the Beacon. It turns out there's some kind of DEATH RAY coming out of Lady Liberty's torch, blasting boats as they pass. The Beacon does rescue work to ensure that nobody dies, using the light from his miner's cap to escort people to life rafts and seal holes in hulls. 

Golden Age Green Lantern's powers were so nebulously defined as to be nearly limitless; I remember a story in Batman Black and White where he mentioned he quit the superhero game because he felt too powerful, and Gotham needed a hero, not a god. The Beacon is more like Space Ghost, in that his light fires different beams for different occasions -- a tractor beam, a heat ray, that sort of thing.

After turning the culprits in, the Beacon meets with the captain of the ship he saved, as well as a notable passenger, famous inventor Tom Ettleson. The Beacon escorts Ettleson's car to Washington to make sure he arrives safely, and that's when his part of the story ends and the Badge's begins.

This seems as good a time as any to mention that Rookies, Bobbie and Trooper, are nowhere to be seen -- implicitly this takes place before their first appearance. 

This is all introduced in a clumsy enough way that I'd have trouble describing it succinctly, so the gist: the Badge, staking out a local slum, meets a man who falls unconscious and is taken away in an ambulance by a rude German medic. Various clues reveal the man's identity as Dr. Reinstein, a famous scientist bound for the Great Minds Summit, and that he had been drugged. The Badge also guesses that the German medic is evidence of a Nazi plot. He commandeers a police bike, catches up to the ambulance, and jumps onto its roof, forcing the driver to crash.

Citizen's arrest? So he's not really cop? Well, I guess the Knight Watchman isn't a real knight, either. The Badge frees Reinstein from the ambulance, but one of the Nazis steals Reinstein's briefcase, which contains a top-secret formula. The Badge does something I didn't really expect him to for some reason -- he throws his shield, nailing the Nazi thief in the back. The Badge then accompanies Reinstein to the summit to guarantee his safety.

On to Thunder Girl, who, like the Blitz, was already on her way to the summit in her secret identity. In this case, it was with her friend Dr. Eureka and his colleague Dr. Igorski, in their latest invention -- an electric gyrocopter. They're accosted by a massive Nazi zeppelin, housing soldiers open fire on them. Molly turns into Thunder Girl, who covers the scientists' escape and takes care of the blimp with a simple hairpin.

See, that was simple. These are three page stories, that Badge one was so dense and overwritten (although that might have been intentional for all I know, that's kind of the point of Big Bang). Anyway, she naturally follows the copter to Washington.

The Knight Watchman's story begins as his wrist-mounted "Watch-Alert", which is evidently like the Bat-Signal crossed with Jimmy Olsen's signal watch, goes off just after he's finished his nightly patrol. Dr. Igor Eisner, a friend of the Knight Watchman's who appeared in a previous story, reports a break-in at his lab -- by Nazis, as you can no doubt imagine.

After reaching the scene in the Watchwagon, the Knight Watchman fights his way through Eisner's home to discover the scientist isn't there. It turns out he's being transported to Germany. Thinking quickly, the Knight Watchman rifles through Eisner's inventions to find a rocket pack he'd tested just a week ago

He soon finds them, rowing out to a U-Boat. Attacking the U-Boat with a grenade, the Knight Watchman scares its crew into submerging, leaving Eisner's captors literally high and dry. Eisner is rescued, and naturally the Knight Watchman accompanies him to the summit in case there's any more trouble.

Venus takes over. It turns out she's literally the goddess Venus. So, she was in Philadelphia (which might be her normal stomping grounds), escorting the French chemist Madame Furie to the summit. Furie looks little like the real Marie Curie, who was kind of emaciated; instead she looks like Wonder Woman's Golden Age pseudo-sidekick Etta Candy.

Venus and Furie are visiting the Liberty Bell at the moment, where they're surprised by a Nazi spy known as the Temptress. Via a weirdo gun, the Temptress gets the Liberty Bell to ring, a sound so cacophonous it knock Venus and Furie right out. When Venus comes to, she sees Furie being taken away by the Temptress (and she was also chained to the bell and stuff, but frees herself pretty easily). Incapable of catching the Temptress' car, she instead summons Pegasus.

It's pretty lucky that Furie wasn't injured in the crash, huh? That's the second time our heroes have endangered an innocent by deliberately provoking a car crash. Venus and Furie head to the summit atop Pegasus afterwards. Dr. Stellar, clearly regretting that he ever asked, tries to be like "Oh wow so it was the Great Minds Summit, that's great, see you later", but Venus passes the story on to Ultiman.

I was kind of bored of the formula, so it's good to see Ultiman changing it up -- he was already in Washington at the President's request, to serve as bodyguard to Winston Churchill. Churchill takes the time to see the Washington monument shortly before the summit is to begin. However, once he's inside, a steel door slides shut! Ultiman tears through it easily, but then the Washington Monument shoots out of the ground, because it's been turned into a rocket!

Ultiman finds the culprit, who is remote-controlling the rocket and plans to crash it into the White House to demoralize the Allied Forces. Naturally, Ultiman easily overcomes him and smashes his equipment, but this leaves the rocket unguided and it starts flying into space. Ultiman manages to save Churchill by grounding the monument in a really silly way.

Okay, so the conference is finally set to begin. All's well, right? As if. Nah; at the Smithsonian, the evil Henry Hyde reveals himself as the mastermind behind the whole thing. Born in the UK, Hyde was a brilliant scientist whose work was ignored due to his physical deformities. He moved to the USA, and was crushed when he wasn't invited to the Great Minds Summit. He swore he'd sabotage it and force the Allies to recognize his genius once and for all. And he still thinks he can, using his Anti-Matter Raygun to give life to the Smithsonian's exhibits!

Though "pandemonium results", Hyde's anger causes him to overload the gun, which blows up in his face, killing him. With the gun destroyed everything reverts to normal. One of the attending scientists realizes there's been some mistake -- he was mailed Hyde's invitation as well as his own, meaning Hyde did all this for nothing.

Despite this tragic development, the heroes are lauded by those in attendance, including Churchill, who compares them to the knights of his country's past. The seven of them band together as a force for good -- the Knights of Justice!