Hello there again. Getting back into the swing of things here. I usually have a very strict comic analysis format. It has a lot to do with how I read through the panels and my intense desire to share the comic with you in the same fashion that I absorb its panels.
I like to stop and focus on the art, the shifts in color, the finesse of the letters, the way they work seamlessly with the story to convey their perfect intentions. To pull your mind around a racetrack of stimuli, to deliver something that the art world and the written world could never accomplish by themselves. The ultimate team up of art and personal stories of triumph, growth, defeat, and things larger than ourselves comic books serves as a gateway to our courage, the unforgiving ways we feel about humanity, and the things outside of our daily concerns.
For these reasons, it has been a very difficult and different experience writing these next few articles. See that intense desire expanded to share not just a single book with you, but an entire adventure. It has been a process for me to try and pull my attentions further than I am used to. I hope it pays off.
So without further ado, let us venture forth, my dear friends.
ANIMAL MAN 1988-1990
I couldn’t tell you exactly what first attracted me to the Animal Man comics. At the time I was picking up tons of story arcs and a lot of obscure comics I had missed in my youth. I grabbed them up and have never looked at comics the same way.
……I honestly think I have something for the orange and blue contrasting color combination.
Animal Man wins the nonchalant hero award repeatedly while having a much much deeper undertone. I mean his name is Buddy, for goodness sake.
Movie stuntman, family man, Superhero – all these titles apply to Buddy.
Animal Man was one of those heroes with a good concept and a mostly forgotten execution. The idea of a superhero who can have any ability of any animal is not unheard of. The idea that he absorbs it from the life energy of earth is both super weird but really awesome.
A concept that FFVII completes beautifully with a bad haircut. And no noses.
Like so many other forgotten or overlooked heroes, Animal Man was resurrected in the late 80’s pushing into the 90’s and represented the shifts in perspectives from one decade to the next perfectly.
Bright colors and dark line work are the rules for most of the first few issues of Animal Man, looking much like early to mid 90’s American animation.
We begin with Buddy having an afternoon with his family in the suburbs. His family seems to be rather normal. A general discussion of the future between himself and his wife Ellen commences. Only it’s about his career…and how he’d like to get back in the superhero game. With JLA making headlines, etc., he wants to use his powers to provide for his family and find a place for himself in the process.
I swear that the World’s Greatest Mom shirt is the only reason embroidery stores exist.
This is the beginning of what seems to be a nice, if odd, homebody of a superhero story. The next 26 issues that follow both amaze and push the idea of what I thought you were allowed to do with comics. The schizophrenic nature of the comic actually helps me focus on what I think is more important in the overarching story. To lead the reader without holding hands. To push your eyes to follow the paths that you love and to rediscover new points as you gloss back over.
Reading Animal Man truly is an adventure that is unique. Every page goes quickly. Then your mind demands you repeat it. Until the block colors bleed over and the lettering stacks against the panel boxes. Until Buddy’s humanity makes you smile.
Back to what is at hand.
A beast hears the cries of the forgotten. Moving with haste through a concrete wilderness, we see his despair. We feel the isolation in the dark shadows and cool themed colors. All the major action done with gray chromatics, the rest of the city in the bright block colors we’ve grown accustom to.
As this drama unfolds, we jump back towards Buddy who is now serious enough to get a manager for his superhero career. I mean, nothing says a great future ahead like getting a friend and neighbor to be your manager. And then have a canned non-descriptive beer to celebrate.
Animal man appears on terrible television like we would all probably do if we were superheroes. After the usual “THAT’S SKIN TIGHT” costume joke from what appears to be Richard Dawson in comic book form we move on to a heart to heart with husband and wife. I love to see this dynamic in a comic book, where the more normal of the two has no real problems helping the super with their ambitions but still maintains their own existence and personality. I also love that weird model-style cocked hip panel of Animal Man. Because Orange and Blue is fabulous.
And with that he is off to investigate the odd happenings in town. Buddy is called in by S.T.A.R. Labs.
After being told he was the D-List in superhero choices, his powers are then questioned, and I can’t help but imagine that Dr. Myers says, “How fascinating” with all the enthusiasm of a older generation carnival worker. We find out good ol’ S.T.A.R. Labs is having research issues with primates. Animal Man finds lots of damage the likes of which he can’t imagine a normal person could have caused.
Much more distressing than that is what they left behind.
Just look at the horrifying state of it: faces of confusion, despair, fear, pain, and anguish dominate the being and this entire page. The melding of vibrant colors and textures create a frenzy of mercurial reasoning. No beginning or end to be found. The fear alone trapped within this panel is enough to give me nightmares. The movement suggested by the being before us is almost nauseating.
What has Buddy gotten himself into?
Thanks for bearing with me on this first foray into our Animal Man adventure. I cannot wait to continue it with you. Expect plenty more parts and more often than usual!
Sorry for the delay everyone. I was at my best friend’s college graduation and sadly the internet was scarce at best.
Onto the show!!!
Starman #0 Sins of the Father Pt 1 1994
There is something to be said of feeling like an outsider. The desperate longing on others, but always just beyond their notice. The feeling like you are the disappointment, or that there is no longer a reason to try and fit in. We have all felt this one at one time or another. We’ve all felt just like Jack Knight.
Nothing says 90’s cool like a bad leather jacket
Starman revels in beautiful colors. A gradient of blues on blues on blues. A grungy blur of shadows. The bright red sigil bursts behind Jack. Breaking up the blues in the most forceful way possible. The only illumination being the sigil and the cosmic rod. Providing illumination in the dark gloomy world we see. Starman’s covers are forever inspiring to me. I see something new into them each time I pursue. The shadow line of a brick, something hidden in the light of the cosmic rod, a extra dark shadow that breaks through the others. The covers are memorizing.
The artwork continues to be lovely and different with just a tad of despair. The grimey bits remind us of a old neighborhood’s side streets. Slight disrepair, but lovely in spite of all the damage, age, and wear.
It’s like a neon Japanese Empire
Enter our backdrop, Opal City. Much like the Opal itself, the city is colorful in spades. Bright colors and lines for the sky a glorious beautiful sunset to behold. The layering of the cityscape giving an amazing texture of crowding and growth like a true urban jungle would.
He’s like caped Captain Morgan on that statue
David Knight surveys the overgrowth of man known as Opal City. It is his paradise to protect. He revels in his role. The panels here are stunning with heavy vector style propaganda shadows
. We see him as a man however he demands we see him as more. As Starman a savior, a unique entity in the universe. Master of his fate, protector of ours.
The first panel show his connection to man the shadow of himself in the statue. The last panels’ golden background meant to show this saviour as an illuminating figure. The dynamic movement and shadow of his boot preparing for flight makes us gasp as though the wind from the rooftop is in our face as well.
And like a flash of lightning……
and the crash of thunder afterwards.
The savior we have just seen is struck down. The entity known to protect and serve us as citizens is taken in the smallest amount of time we can fathom.
The hard vertical lines and bright block colors of opal city only serve to accentuate the speed at which this disaster takes place. The statue of man behind him reminding us once more that he is just as mortal as you or I.
David Knight, Starman, is no more.
The sins of the father carry unto us much like heraldry on a shield in the 12th century. The opening splash page is of David Knight lifeless form looking tarnished and desecrated. Nothing at all like the illuminated savior from the former page. Death is universal and sadly for Starman his light has gone out.
Let us take a moment and travel back to happier times.
A family moment. Ted Knight, David, and Jack all at home and like most families arguing about siblings taking each others things. This is first glimpse we see of Jack Knight and really….Well….He looks like a higher cheek boned Robert Smith of the cure. A little grungey, a little unwholesome, and obviously the shut out one. Ted sides with David pretty easily over the harmless acts of Jack buying old things off of David.
Best way to end an argument Ever.
After Ted sides with David in the argument, Jack does what most younger siblings tend to do…which is say how everything you love is stupid. He immediately has a put foot in mouth moment. But not taking the mantle of Starman from Ted and obviously being mostly disinterested in the idea has caused tension. Like not only not wanting to take on the family farm but not caring if it’s turned into an amusement park either. Jack has found his own identity through his love of antiques. He has no problem not being the superhero.
He is a goth kid on Easter Sunday. Why go to church anyway? They don’t want him.
There’s some really alienating artwork here. With Ted and David illuminated in opposite negative to positive colors to Jack also the facial portraits of Ted and David panel to panel showing the same hard shadow lines the same small chin and angular cheeks. Father to Song always. Jack’s portraits are always from the side or 3/4 view here. Never directly like his family. He is a glimpse of humanity in a family who is a savior to it.
After this fallout we follow Jack into Opal city. His Mundane day of picking up dry cleaning and talking to his roommate with the gorgeous backdrop of the bright almost deco style design of the city is beautiful. The old styling the continual pattern of disrepair but full of charm seeps through. Like a hometown that kept growing, but when you return for a visit you cannot stand anything that was not there before.
At the end of his day he finds an antique shop to visit.
The only labeled antique is from Penn State…What?
Jack is a nostalgic soul. I can relate. The smell of old books, the weathered but strong feeling of a handmade blanket, that pictures of long lost families where now the frame is worth more than the memory; the melancholy of a thrift store knows no bounds. Jack finds peace amongst the relics. They are kind of expatriate to the world around them. From it, but never in sync with it. Similar to how he fits in at home.
The color shift from the first to the second page is brought to you with no extra charge by hallucinogens.
The reality of what happened before returns. David Knight is dead. Ted calls Jack and tells him the details that he knows suspicious all the while. The portraits change to show Ted and Jack in a similar light due to the grief they currently share.
The color saturation disperses in the last panel as Jack is left alone. The grief washes out all the light in his world.
Meanwhile, Ted’s colors go to focus the negative to positive ratio switch like earlier when they were aside from Jack. The focusing neon makes for a tense feeling. We watch the color recede and flood his viewpoint from tense to sad to regret. The feeling of dread that happens after they all mix.
Must have been a Pinto.
The colors from the former page swirl magnificently with danger on the wind. The explosion pulls all the neurosis from the form page into one large shadowy act. We can see that the explosion wasn’t enough and Ted is also shot. The onlooker confirming the action. Her face covered shadows.
We are then drawn back into Jack’s orbit. He’s lamenting on his emotions involving his brother. Wondering if that fact that he doesn’t feel terrible about his brother’s passing makes him horrible.
A strange man enters his shop dressed like a perfect middle ground between a matrix and a blade villain. He asks Jack about various antiques he might sell, but when Jack begins to tell him where to find these things the man cuts him off repeatedly.
Something is wrong. The man begins to ask about weapons. Then declares he killed Starman earlier that evening.
Why does his gun sometimes shoot fire? PKOW!
The color of violence floods the page. When the shooting stops via Jack hitting the man with a body blow the red fades and the panel turns blue. It is neutralized for now.
Jack manages to run but not before taking a hit to the leg. He is searching desperately for the package his father left years ago containing a belt and a Star Rod. Knowing the one thing he has denied is currently the only salvation he can find.
Like a slap to the face his attacker makes it to the belt first. The gods of fate do smile somewhat for Jack Knight however. The attacker throws a grenade after Jack disappears into the fire. Little did he know Jack was looking for his salvation in this baptism of fire.
AVENGE THE SNOW DOMES
Jack finds the Star rod. He greieves for the relics of the past. The ones whom shared in his loneliness. Their existence always a comfort letting him know it’s not just people who are ostracized. These valuable relics showing him that he himself is valuable just maybe not to everyone. He refuses to die not knowing why all these events are happening.
Why now? Why to him. Can’t die not knowing.
Cut to the bad guys like it’s a Thundercats episode.
We see the onlooker of Ted’s car explosion and the Blade villian wannabe. Looking like a goth high school reunion. A currently unseen instructor asking if their assigned tasks are complete. They confirm that the sons of Ted Knight have perished, and Ted Knight himself is in the hospital. He shows himself excited at the prospect of Ted Knight’s life being living torment rather than just death.
This is what it looks like when the Crypt Keeper has a drink.
Cut to our dearest disabled Jack Knight. He shambles through the street trying to make sense of the days events in his mind. His body battered. His mental strength strained. He pulls himself onward.
Wondering what happened. Where should he go? He’s not Starman. What can he do?
I really really want a Munsters View Master now.
To his father’s side, the forgotten son forges on.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this journey with me.
Starman meant a lot to me when I was young. I used to go and take the issues from my brother’s room when he was out. Rereading them and letting the colors soak in. I had never seen anything like them. I still don’t feel like I have. Jack’s desire to get along with his family, but knowing he’s fundamentally different from them struck a chord with me as well. I just wanted him to find something to believe in. Something we could both believe in. Find our place no matter where it might be.
Well, I figured if I could believe in Jack maybe he could believe in me too. To find that moral compass, that sanctuary to be yourself, that salvation…the understanding that I could save myself.
To enjoy the Justice Society of America as much as I did at the time I did is to be almost as big an anomalous anachronism as they are. I suppose on the surface, a WWII team that was still active in the 1990’s seems silly, but somewhere in that silliness lay magic. Even beyond that silliness, within the JSA was sternness beyond reproach. I respected and revered the JSA for reasons that I did not and still do not fully understand.
Part of my adoration has to be their connection to WWII. I recently wrote a guest blog for www.longboxgraveyard.com about the All-Star Squadron, another title I love that features the JSA. In that article, I talked about my reverence for WWII, both as a young man obsessed with the maps in the encyclopedia that told the story of WWII, and I am also an ardent antifascist (to the point where you can find me on twitter as @theantifascist), which enables me to identify with the brave men and women who stood up against blatant oppression and repression so that the world might be a slightly freer place.
Another reason for my reverence is my unrelenting passion for things I get interested in. As was noted in the first entry here at The Unspoken Decade, I must learn everything I possibly can about anything I am into. I must know the history, and I must know it fast. When it comes to superhero comic books, they really do not get much more historic than the Justice Society of America!
Of course, no amount of obsession with history could have made me more interested in the JSA than, say, A FUCKING FANTASTIC COMIC! Which is what the Justice Society of America comic released in the 1990’s totally is in every possible way. Don’t believe me? Choke on this, hater.
I recall vividly the very first time I laid eyes on a copy of this series. I was in Springfield, MO. My Dad had just killed himself. (BUZZKILL,) We were in town for the funeral, and needless to say, I was quite distraught. I did my best to keep it together, and all things considered I did a good job. I was about a year into collecting comics at this time, and to make a shitty situation better, my parents (Mom and Stepfather) had promised to take me to a “big time” comic book store. Despite the pallor of the trip, I could not help but be excited for this. Our town had a great comic book store, and in hindsight I love it even more than I loved it then, but I was enchanted by a bigger store with more back issues. My local store was also a used bookstore, and most of the space was dedicated to the books. While my 13-year old self occasionally wandered into that section to snicker at the double entendre titles adorning the romance books, I hungered for what I believed a “real” comic book store to be like. Now that I think about it, what the hell could that even mean? Did I think Goddamn Stan Lee and Frank Miller were gonna be playing catch with an NFL Superpro football or something? I haven’t the slightest.
We would not get to that comic book store until the very end of the trip, in what was a hilarious horrorshow that I will save for another article, but during our sojourn, we stopped at several convenience stores in Springfield. These stores were like magic to me because unlike the backwoods gas stations we had down south, these stores had COMIC BOOKS! Of course, I was mesmerized at every stop, and I always found some excuse to go in and gaze at the comics. That’s where I was first introduced to the greatness that is Mike Parobeck’s art.
(We finally get the answer to the question of who would win a fight between a balding guy and a guy with bad haircut.)
I was, and still am, a giant Guy Gardner fan. He’s still one of my favorite Green Lanterns, mostly because he is the only character in superhero history that got super powers who isn’t all the way good or bad. He’s an asshole, but he isn’t evil. He’s like a cop who actually plays by the book, but that same cop likes letting everyone know just how good he is, how bad they are, how lucky they are to know him, and you get the joke by now. Of course, that cop-stache ain’t going to go well with that do.
Speaking of Guy’s haircut, I find it sort of spectacular he had that haircut because it is the sort of bad haircut most assholes had, but just two years later, this haircut was all the rage. Even I had one, although all pictures of said haircut have been destroyed…
But the point is that the cover with Guy drew me in, and then I couldn’t really stop staring at it. I actually got in trouble for looking at it when we stopped at a gas station at night under a street light for the few seconds we would be there. I just could not stop looking at it. Then, I read it. Then, my life changed.
I just loved it. I loved the art, but I also loved how much I cared about folks much older than me. I had heard of the Justice Society prior, both through comic book cards and through the issues of All-Star Squadron I had thumbed through at the flea market. I was interested, but this was the first time I was captivated.
Len Strazewski does a tremendous job of getting Green Lantern over immediately as not just a formidable ringslinger, but he also makes him cool. Like, he is cooler than the cool grandpa you wish you had.
The dialogue is also spot on. Some folks have denigrated it as “old-fashioned,” but imagine that, some guys who fought in WWII talk differently than other folks in the 1990’s. I don’t find it to be “old-fashioned” at all, though. I think it is straight-forward, as people of that era often were. These are folks who just do not mince words, and that happens to be a massive part of their appeal to me. The JSA came to me during what was a rather tumultuous time in my life, as referenced earlier. Their strength and matter-of-fact attitude helped me feel and stay safe in a world that for me was changing fast.
I loved that comic so much, that the comic book part of the trip was grand. I had found a treasure in a bad part of my life in a place I never thought I’d find it. Of course, that just meant that the next day I would find another issue of Justice Society of America in a different gas station!
I felt like some sort of Texas oil man who had struck two gushers in as many days! My good fortune was much needed at this time, and again, I just read it over and over again. I loved the introduction of Jesse Quick. The idea that these identities would be mantles to be passed in legacy was sacrosanct to me. I wanted to believe in such a thing, especially at this time. I wanted to believe in legacy; even if I hadn’t, the Justice Society of America would have convinced me otherwise anyhow. There isn’t a damn thing this series gets wrong. For Christ’s sake, look how it starts!
The JSA has returned in all of their glory! This is from Issue #1, and the splash page is beautiful. Mike Parobeck did such an amazing job with all of these guys, and really on everything he touched. I also don’t want to underestimate the coloring in this book. The colors pop in a way that matches the never-say-die attitude of these members of The Greatest Generation. Many times over the course of this title, the JSA triumphs seemingly with just their grit and determination! Strazewski and Parobeck do a great job of making almost everything they do inspiring. Even a subplot about Wildcat and The Golden Age Atom wondering if they are too old or too depowered to help, they inspire. When Hourman struggles with addiction to Miraclo, the drug that gives him his power, his struggle inspires. This title never loses sight of the fact that the JSA were a beacon of hope to many in the DC Universe, starting with Superman practically worshipping them in issue #1; the guest appearance that really hammers home the relationship of hope and legacy, though, is the appearance of The Flash in #5.
Despite having been overwhelmed by the Ultra-Humanite, and despite being seemingly outclassed, the JSA tackles and defeats Ultra-Humanite en masse, with a joviality and determination that could be reserved only for the best of friends!
I love how their camaraderie may be their best weapon. Their ability to fervently believe in each other and always have each other’s backs makes saving the world not just cool to see, but it comes across as cool for them to do. Basically, they are the most effective and fun-having extended family since Full House.
For real though, no matter how dire the situation, and no matter how serious the threat, the JSA never loses their swashbuckler attitude, and why should they? No matter what the threat was, if I was the fastest man alive or if I wielded the magicks of the Lords of Order then I would also constantly be having the time of my life as well, although I’d be slightly more selfish than these guys. I’d totally use those magicks to make a giant pie that I would then shove into the “face” of a planet. I’d also do the world saving stuff, but I am just too much of a scamp to never indulge the great interstellar pranks I could do with, say, a power ring.
Unfortunately, the fun and adventure in this title would not last long. Despite good sales, the brass at DC decided that the JSA didn’t fit into their plans. Len Strazewski (who I am interviewing on my radio show, Compton After Dark on 5/4 at www.vocnation.com) thinks that Mike Carlin is the man primarily responsible, but whoever it was very short-sighted, as the JSA still had lots to offer. I find it very telling that unlike other titles that were canceled at this time (many of them canceled for much worse sales than JSA had) got twelve issues to fill out their stories. This instance of Justice Society of America only got ten. Black Condor got 12! Primal Force got 12! Black Canary got 12! All of them, and I like all of them and plan on bringing y’all articles on each one of them in the future, had worse sales than JSA. Why cut this title two issues earlier than was the standard paradigm at the time? I have no idea other than what Len says, which is that there was enmity against the title within the front office.
Enmity or not though, the Justice Society of America goes out with a bang!
Since issue #1, we have been dealing with a sub-plot involving everyone’s favorite ornithological archaeologist couple, Hawkman and Hawkgirl. They’ve been in Egypt, unearthing some sort of bizarre GIANT MUMMY. Caps are there just to let you know how giant it is.
Unfortunately for the Hawks and the rest of the JSA, this mummy is actually Kulak, a little-used Spectre villain who showed up here to plague the JSA! The fact that Kulak, former high priest on the planet Brztal, had hardly been used since the Golden Age prior to this is some sort of insult to everything great about comic books. He uses magic, has a GIANT EYE as his symbol, and went toe-to-toe with The Spectre! Naturally, he has everything it takes to essentially enslave the Hawks and have Carter Hall turn the entire world against the rest of the JSA! He also had the ability to be super creepy as he intimates doing the nasty with Hawkgirl.
Sadly, for the last time, we see the JSA’s indomitable spirit enable them to rise to the occasion and defeat a foe who had them badly on the ropes, and once again some of the members who possess the least powers are the ones that rally the team and remind them all that no matter what the odds are, they can prevail; at least, they can prevail provided they are fighting Wotan or the Ultra-Humanite, but against the powers of a DC Comics editorial mandate they are helpless. Of course, they really didn’t get to fight too fairly. Can you imagine a DC Editor telling Dr. Mid-Nite no?
The Hawks get freed, and the JSA finds a way to save the day. Everything feels really rushed, and I wonder if it is because the cancellation came on quickly. I will definitely be asking Len on my show May 4th about that!
This series came to me at a time in my life when I really needed something like this, and I could not be more thankful. That having been said, this book would be wonderful to me no matter when I would have discovered it. Good story, great art, and a sense of spirit that few comic books ever have. This book is inspiring without being preachy about it; there’s a sense of pride and determination that I took away from it. I think many others do too.
I am going to leave you with the last shot of the book and the comments Len made in the last LetterCol in JSA. Even in their last moment, the JSA seems so regal, as though even though they know that this book is going away, nothing will ever really dampen the legacy they built. No matter what the company that owns them does with their name and with the characters, the Justice Society of America will always persevere, and no enemy will ever hold them down for long, unless that enemy is the Golden Age Green Lantern arch-enemy Sportsmaster.
Don’t forget to listen to my radio show, Compton After Dark, Sunday, May 4th, 2014, as we will be interviewing the writer of this book, Len Strazewski! It’s at 11:30 PM EDT on http://www.vocnation.com! Enjoy the pinup and Len’s thoughts below, and join us here at The Unspoken Decade next week when we tackle Darkhawk! Not literally.