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Friday, 15 December 2017

World of Krypton 3 - Jor-El ends

World of Krypton comes to an end with issue 3 (Sept 79). While Andru and Giordano stay on the cover, Frank Chiaramonte joins Kupperberg and Chaykin on the story itself.

That makes the art a bit weaker for the final chapter, which is a shame, as this is also the weakest of the three issues in terms of story. We are now treading very familiar ground, which is the problem. At the start, Jor-El's pronouncements about the forthcoming destruction of Krypton are dismissed by the Science Council, who forbid his space fight experiments.

Jor-El struggles to secretly build a rocket. Some drama is added to this by Phantom Zone villains General Zod, Jax-Ur, Faora and Kru-El taking control of Jor-El's exhausted mind, trying to get him to free them. Lara saves the day on that one.

As the explosion of Krypton grows closer, the story goes faster. We get a brief scene of Jor-El sending Beppo into space, although we don't see Krypto getting shot into space as well.

Lar Gand, better known as Mon-El, appears for a couple of panels, showing his brief time on Krypton before heading to Earth.

Then it's time for the big finale, the explosion of Krypton, as Jor-El and Lara perish along with the planet.

The miniseries closes with baby Kal-El found by Ma and Pa Kent, who name him Clark and take him in.

Not the greatest miniseries, and certainly not the most daring. But probably a wise idea to have tread familiar ground when testing out the idea of a miniseries. World of Krypton also set the format for DC's other early miniseries, which would explore, often largely with recaps, the biggest characters and teams in the line-up.

World of Krypton 2 - Jor-El get elected to the Science Council

Kupperberg, Chaykin and Anderson continue with Jor-El's life story in World of Krypton 2 (Aug 79), with a cover by Andru and Giordano.

The second issue begins by referencing the story in which Superman travelled back in time, winding up on Krypton. He became Jor-El's lab assistant, and fell in love with Lyla Lerrol. Lyla is mentioned, but not seen, as the story restrains itself to only dealing with events from Jor-El's perspective. Superman is still with Jor when he discovers Krypton's forthcoming destruction.

At this point the death of Jor-El's father gets worked into the tale, with art swiped from the death of Jonathan Kent. Jor-El and Superman construct a rocket in Kandor, because Superman apparently completely forgot about Brainiac stealing the city, which happens. Superman's departure from Krypton is simply alluded to, rather than shown, coming right before Lara gives birth to Kal-El.

Jor-El, while searching for another way off the planet, discovers the Phantom Zone. This becomes the new way of punishing Kryptonian criminals, and Jor wins a seat on the Science Council because of this. The comic briefly includes Jor-El's struggle against a rival scientist who tried to sabotage the Phantom Zone projector.

Jor-El then finds an alien ship, crashed long ago, deep inside a cave. It will function, and Jor-El and Lara send it on a test flight. But that happens at the same time that Jax-Ur is testing a rocket of his own. The two hit each other, and then Jax-Ur's rocket goes on to blow up Wegthor. The issue ends with Jax-Ur being sentenced to the Zone.

World of Krypton 1 - Jor-El begins

Perhaps a little gun shy following the drastic cancellations from the DC Implosion, the first new series launched following that debacle was also DC's first limited series. World of Krypton ran only three issues, beginning with the July 79 issue. Ross Andru and Dick Giordano provided the covers for the run, while the stories were by Paul Kupperberg, with art by Howard Chaykin and Murphy Anderson, an intriging combination.

Although given the title World of Krypton, this is not a miniseries about the history of the planet, as most World of Krypton tales were, but instead one that covers the life story of Jor-El. We follow him from childhood, alongside his brother Zor-El, growing up in Kryptonopolis. Pretty much this entire miniseries is made up of old stories, some dating back decades, that had been told about Jor-El in various Superman titles, all woven together. For me, reading this at 13, I recognized some of the classic tales referenced, but thought the rest of the stuff was new to the series. In fact, there is very very little that is not drawn from earlier tales.

Jor-El is shown to be a studious child, a bit of a stick in the mud, really. We get to see the Phantom Zone villain Kru-El in his youth, tormenting his cousin, Jor-El.

The story details how Jor-El creates an anti-gravity device, and then begins work on creating a rocket. Krypton is just branching into space travel at this point, and Jor-El meets, and quickly falls for, an astronaut in the program, Lara Lor-Van. She winds up test piloting a rocket Jor-El has created to utilize his anti-gravity device, nicknamed the Golden Folly.

The rocket winds up going off course and crashing, as no one took into account the effects of gravity from Krypton's moon, Wegthor. Jor-El gets to play the hero, using his anti-gravity belt to find and rescue Lara. 

The latter part of the tale blends two old stories, one in which Jor-El creates the gas to put criminals into suspended animation, while being shot into space in rockets. Jax-Ur is shown working with Jor-El on this project. A rival scientist tries to make it look like Jor-El failed, but he uncovers the sabotage.

Jor-El also has to deal with the marriage computer, which refuses to match him up with Lara, wanting her for itself. That was a silly tale, but merited inclusion for the drama of it. The first issue ends with the wedding of Jor-El and Lara, showing Superman in the audience, as well as Jax-Ur and General Zod. Superman is reading his father's diary throughout this miniseries, but there is a more literal reason he is shown at the wedding, revealed in the next issue.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

DC Comics Presents 97 - DC Comics Presents ends with a Phantom Zone story

DC Comics Presents comes to an end with a double sized issue 97 (Sept 86). Sort of billed as a team up on the cover, this is an unusually heavy story. It came out the same month as the two part Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, by Alan Moore. Since that was an Imaginary Story, it makes the Steve Gerber, Rick Veitch and Robert Smith tale from this issue the real finale for the career of the pre-Crisis Superman. Yes, we are post-Crisis already, but the "Crisis wave" was about to hit, and the following month would see the debut of the Man of Steel miniseries, which introduced the post-Crisis Superman.

This story delves back into the discovery of the Phantom Zone by Jor-El, as he tried to find a parallel dimension, in hopes of moving Kryptonians there to escape the destruction of their planet. Although Jor-El had little contact with it, there was a sentience already in the Zone, which will narrate much of the later part of the story.

Much of the narration of the first part of the tale comes from Krypton's executioner, the man who actually operates the machine that sends Krypton's worst villains into the Phantom Zone. We get brief clips of Kru-El, Faora, Jax-Ur, Dr Xadu and others, while many more occupants of the Phantom Zone are mentioned.

Most focus goes to General Zod, and even the executioner comments on how hard it was to send Zod to the Phantom Zone, as he had once been a soldier under Zod's command.

After Krypton's destruction, the central consciousness of the Phantom Zone, shown as a heart shaped diamond, takes on the bitterness and anger of the Zone residents.

Things become more complicated by a Kryptonian mystic who makes a connection with the entity in the Zone, and names it Aethyr. In a strange, somewhat puzzling sequence, it seems the mystic uses Aethyr to destroy Bizarro World.

The mystic also connects with Mr. Mxyzptlk, and merges the imp with Aethyr, massively upping the power level of Mxyzptlk, who was pretty darn powerful to start with. 

The latter part of the story gets very dark and heavy, starting as the severed head of Bizarro comes crashing through the roof of the Galaxy Communications Building, falling right onto the desk of Clark Kent and Lana Lang as they deliver the evening news.

Then Mxyzptlk dumps Argo City onto Metropolis, showering the city with the kryptonite corpses of the Kryptonians from there.

The various Phantom Zone villains get free as all this goes on, with Aethyr and the Zone now under the control of Mxyzptlk. But their attempts at vengeance on Superman are cut short as Aethyr pulls them all back into itself. While for so many years Aethyr had simply been affected by the emotions of the Phantom Zone villains, now it is active under Mr Mxyzptlk's guidance.

Superman does not in any way defeat this sentient, powerful, incarnation of the Zone. In a scene not unlike the concluding battle of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, Mr Mxyzptlk, merged with Aethyr and the Phantom Zone villains, announces that he is becoming something new, something greater than the sum of its parts. There is no victory to be had in this outing. Makes it a very dark ending for the pre-Crisis Superman saga.

DC Comics Presents 96 - Superman and Blue Devil vs Terra-Man

DC Comics Presents 96 (Aug 86) brings together Superman and Blue Devil, in a story by Mishkin, Cohn, Staton and Schaffenberger.

This story is a fun romp, successfully capturing the tone of the Blue Devil series. Despite that, it doesn't introduce the character terribly well, assuming the readers will know him. We hear that Blue Devil was stuntman Dan Cassidy, sealed into his high tech armour magically. But in this story, mostly we see him using his trident, instead of anything in his costume. This is also the last pre-Crisis appearance of Terra-Man, who has come back to Metropolis to get revenge on Superman. Both heroes come together to face Terra-Man, but when Superman spots an emergency in space, he leaves Blue Devil to handle Terra-Man on his own. I'm not sure how much time Superman had spent with Blue Devil before this issue, but he sure seems to have a lot of faith in him.

The emergency in space turns out to just be a trap, and Superman gets ambushed in sealed up in a plasma cocoon by one of Terra-Man's helpers.

The most enjoyable parts of the story have Terra-Man going hog wild with his pseudo-western, alien weaponry, which in this case includes a flying railroad train. Blue Devil is pushed to his limit dealing with Superman's enemy. He needs help, and throws his trident through a space warp.

Conveniently, this brings the trident right to Superman, who uses it to escape his plasma cocoon. Then, returning to Earth, Superman and Blue Devil defeat Terra-Man. Simple, but fun enough to be a good promo for Blue Devil's ongoing book.

DC Comics Presents 95 - Superman and Hawkman during the Shadow War

Tony Isabella, Alan Gold, Richard Howell and Murphy Anderson use DC Comics Presents 95 (July 1986) to launch Hawkman into his new series, following the events of the Shadow War of Hawkman miniseries, and the Hawkman Special that followed it up. An editors note also places this story during the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, although nothing in the story itself really pertains to that.

The villains in this story are Thanagarians, a brigade under the control of Kasta, who wears an ugly purple hoodie, the body of a kasta bird that he killed with his bare hands. The mission they have is to gather energies from a black hole, but Kasta decides to go after Superman.

The Gentleman Ghost gets a small scene, informing Hawkman of Kasta's mission and attack on Superman. Hawkwoman is sick in bed, so Hawkman heads out on his own. This part of the story briefly recaps the events of Shadow War, how the Thanagarians are plotting an invasion of the Earth, and have the Absrobacon, so that the Hawks have to act in secret, and do their best to keep away from their friends and allies.

So Hawkman joins forces with Superman to fight off Kasta, while at the same time trying to prevent his old friend from learning what is really going on. It's a good set up, and the art is very nice. 

While not a very complicated story, the whole point of it is to set up Hawkman's new book. Kasta is left dangling at the end, as if he will return in Hawkman's series as a major villain. I have never yet read any of that book, so I am unsure as to whether that actually plays out.

DC Comics Presents 94 - Superman, Harbinger, Pariah and Lady Quark

George Perez does the cover for DC Comics Present 94 (June 1986), which features three of the characters he helped create for Crisis on Infinite Earths, Harbinger, Pariah and Lady Quark. The story is by Barbara Kesel and Robert Greenberger, while the interior art is by the strange combination of Tom Mandrake and Don Heck.

Heck's inks all but crush Mandrake's pencils, sadly enough. The tale is set shortly after Crisis concludes. Harbinger, Pariah and Lady Quark have decided to stay on Earth, and in this story are setting up new lives for themselves. The villain of the tale is Volt Lord, a man who highly resembles the dead husband of Lady Quark, who was called Lord Volt. He robs STAR Labs at the top of the story. His powers are not innate, but due to tech that he is stealing. Superman tries, but fails, to stop him.

Later, Clark Kent does a live tv interview with Harbinger, Pariah and Quark. They explain that they have decided to hunt out and study paranormal phenomena, though there will never be another tale that references that. The show has a new producer, Eric Courtney, who just happens to also be the Volt Lord. He begins romancing Lady Quark.

Lady Quark finds herself falling for this doppleganger of her late husband, while Volt Lord lusts for the sheer power that Lady Quark controls. Pariah gets to sense some disaster when Volt Lord strikes, and Harbinger does a bit of fighting, but really this is Lady Quark's story.

Even after she learns that Courtney is Volt Lord, and that he is trying to kill Superman and then conquer the world, she briefly aligns with him. Only for a page or so, though, before she decides to help her new friends and take him down.

The three Crisis characters are all next seen in the History of the DC Universe, which Harbinger narrates. Pariah and Lady Quark do not get active roles in any stories until the 90s.