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Bronze Age Classics

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PLANET OF VAMPIRES # 1 – 3 (1975). Atlas Comics. Various writers and artists. Although probably inspired a bit by Richard Matheson's I am Legend, this is an interesting variation that gives us a whole world populated by vampires -- of a kind. The members of a five year Mars space mission listen in horror as nuclear war breaks out on Earth, then return to New York to discover that part of the population has descended into savagery, while the other part lives in a domed city whose inhabitants capture the “savages” in order to drain their blood. A serum is extracted from the blood to ward off a deadly plague that the savages are immune to. The astronauts eventually ally themselves with the savages and storm the domed city, but there are costs on all sides. Although a Dracula-like character appears on the cover of the second issue the “domies” don't actually grow fangs [due to the effects of the “blood plague”] until issue # 3, in which it is also revealed that insects and presumably other lifeforms have become huge and vampiric. The action moves away from New York in the third issue, in which the major female characters are inexplicably killed off. The fourth issue, which never materialized, would apparently have had the two surviving male astronauts fighting back against the vampires in a global battle. Jeff Rovin edited the first two issues, while Larry Lieber took over the editorial duties for number three. The scripter for the first issue was Larry Hama, while John Albano took over for the next two issues. Pat Broderick did the pencils for the first and second issues, with Russ Heath taking over for issue three. Obviously some original concepts were shuttled in an effort to increase sales, but the stories were interesting and reasonably compelling, and the art wasn't bad. This series had real possibilities but it just didn't last.

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NAMOR THE SUB-MARINER # 8 – 9. Marvel 1990. John Byrne wrote and drew this interesting if short-lived series in which a presumed-dead Sub-Mariner comes back into the picture and becomes embroiled in corporate intrigue. Namorita is part of the cast, as well as an African-American scientist and his daughter, and the Marrs Twins, a filhty rich brother and sister team who are intrigued by Namor – and the possibilities of using him to their advantage. In this two-part story Namor comes afoul of the Headhunter, a bizarre villainess who apparently collects heads for real after she does a favor for someone. In this case, that someone is Desmond Marrs, who winds up a trophy on Headhunter's wall, much to his sister Pheobe's horror. Interceding on the woman's behalf, Namor tries to find out what's up and soon has his own head adorning Headhunter's wall as well! What's going on here? Have all these people really been beheaded? And if so, how can they appear to be alive? Namor discovers the truth in the following issue. The back story concerns the reunification of Germany and the re-apppearance of certain deadly Nazi foes who take center stage in later issues. Fun stories with some nice Byrne artwork.

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JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA # 183 – 185. DC Comics. 1980. This three part “crisis” team-up between the Justice League and the Justice Society features the New Gods and Darkseid and his cronies as guest-stars, with the Injustice Society [just Fiddler, Icicle, and The Shade] as villains aiding the ruler of Apocalypse -- as the Third World of Jack Kirby meets the JLA. The heroes discover that every single inhabitant of New Genesis has disappeared, and they trace the mass disappearance to Apocalypse. It seems the presumed-dead Darkseid influenced the Injustice Society members to use their powers to force the inhabitants of New Genesis to go to Apocalypse and build a machine to draw the evil ruler back into the universe. Once returned, Darkseid then plans to draw Apocalypse into the Earth 2 universe – where there will be no “New Gods” to thwart him – and Earth 2 will be annihilated. Issue # 183 is pencilled by Dick Dillin in the usual uneven, unsatisfactory style he employed in his later issues of Justice League [Frank McLaughlin's inks can do little to help], although there is the occasional nice panel. George Perez takes over as penciller for the next two issues [McLaughlin returns as inker] and there is a noticeable improvement, although this is hardly Perez' best work. The idea that Fiddler, Icicle and The Shade would have the power to enslave and transfer every inhabitant of New Genesis – even if their powers were enhanced by Darkseid – is a bit ludicrous, and their presence almost trivializes these issues. Darkseid himself is defeated much too easily and abruptly. Granny Goodness' child guerilla fighters are an interesting touch, but the horrors of child abuse and the desperate, despairing atmosphere of her fire pits aren't given the proper intensity [or the situations are simply too intense for this story]. Chamber 13, a death-trap prison in a pool of acid, provides a nice challenge for the team of Batman and Mr. Miracle. Despite some good scenes and nice art, all told this is a big disappointment given the talents and characters involved. Written by Gerry Conway.

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MORLOCK 2001. Atlas Comics 1975. Issue 1 – 2. In a future totalitarian society, an oppressive government forces anyone interested in truth, beauty and freedom to either die or hide. One professor secretly creates the first in what he hopes will be a series of plant-men who will become freedom fighters against the government. After the professor's murder, the plant-man is incubated in a large pod in a laboratory. Humanoid in appearance, he is named Morlock after the workers in Wells' “decadent novel” Time Machine, and is forced to become an assassin, using his lethal touch to rapidly turn victims into lifeless vegetation. Morlock eventually learns of his true mission and goes on the run. He also learns that in moments of stress he will mutate into a large, squiggly tentacled tree-type monster that devours human beings. The dead professor developed a serum that will prevent this deadly change, but there isn't much of it left.

In the second issue of the series, Morlock is befriended by another scientist whose blind daughter he saves from monsters. This scientist, however, is no freedom fighter and wants to turn Morlock into the government for the reward money, which he will use for an operation to give his little girl sight. Unfortunately, to his horror a stressed out Morlock eats the child and goes on the run again as the distraught father vows vengeance on the plant-man ...

Morlock 2001 was certainly an interesting concept, with a lot of good ideas; unfortunately the introductory issue was written on the superficial level of Magnus Robot Fighter, which it resembles in some ways. Issue number two was an improvement, taking advantage of the series' darker edge [which occasionally bordered on black comedy].Curiously, the art in the second issue is a definite improvement over the artwork in issue one. Both issues were written by Michael Fleischer, and drawn by Allen Milgrom [pencils] and Jack Abel [inks], whose work is always satisfactory and on occasion quite smooth and striking. Morlock 2001, unfortunately, was cancelled just as it was becoming a gripping read. [NOTE: The third and final issue of the series was retitled Morlock 2001 and the Midnight Men.]

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THE NEW TEEN TITANS # 26 – 31 BAXTER EDITION. (1986 – 1987). This is an exciting, memorable NTTS versus Brother Blood epic that also incorporates the ever-delightful Brain and his Brotherhood of Evil, as well as [in the later issues] a whole slew of super-hero guest-stars including Superman and two Green Lanterns. Robin/Jason Todd also takes part in the adventure and is an appealing [and, of course, tragic] addition. Robotman of the Doom Patrol is also a guest-star. The NTTs travel to Zandia to try to rescue Nightwing and Raven from the clutches of Brother Blood, but discover that his former enemies, the aforementioned Brotherhood, are now his allies. The Brotherhood has a new member, Twister, a deformed young lady with vertigo-reality bending powers who was transformed by Brother Blood. The Brotherhood captures Jericho, who must be rescued by Wonder Girl as the others take on the Brain's allies. In the meantime, the Brain, who is dying, has the French ape Monsieur Mallah dip him into Brother Blood's pool of blood to be cured and reinvigorated. [Too bad it was never revealed who the Brain was, or even if “he” was male or female.]

The rest of the story deals with the so-called “resurrection” of Brother Blood, who was supposedly killed after his last run-in with the Titans. Setting up in headquarters in New York, Brother Blood's army, headed by Mother Mayhem [you'd think that name alone would give the game away], send out messages of faith and hope and renewal even as they plan how to ultimately destroy the Titans and take over the world. Brother Blood has used his forceful personality to turn winged Azrael to his side and presents him to the fascinated, awed public as a literal angel. Raven's mother, Arella, has been imprisoned by Blood's forces, but she is rescued – almost – by the Titans. With the mentally ensnared Nightwing and Raven at his side, Blood appears in a burst of radiance and mesmerizes the crowd, feeding off the power of their emotions and belief in him.
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NEW TEEN TITANS # 29
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pencils: Eduardo Barreto / Inks: Romeo Tanghal

After Brother Blood defeats the Titans, Frances Kane, who has magnetic powers, feels guilty that she didn't join them in their assault, so she gathers together several heroes to help her rescue them. Ironically, Brother Blood's machines, which absorb and amplify the feelings of his fanatical followers to enhance his power, are causing havoc around the world, which Superman and the others must attend to – leaving Frances alone again naturally. She storms the HQ by herself, and helps turn the tide, leading into the final battle in issue # 31. But whose side is the ever powerful Raven, daughter of Trigon, going to be on? Everything is resolved in the final battle, which ends a little too abruptly considering the big five issue build-up that went before it. Still, this is a story arc that is packed with action and colorful excitement in spades.

NEW TEEN TITANS # 26
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pencils: Kerry Gammill / inks: Romeo Tanghal

 
 
The story is by Marv Wolfman, with a scripting assist by Paul Levitz. The penciling chores are shared by Eduardo Barreto and Kerry Gammill, both of whom offer some very effective work, even if George Perez is missed. Romeo Tanghal inks all the issues, although he may not be the best inker for Barreto's pencils. There is a two page spread in issue 29 by Barreto as the Titans and Robotman attack Blood that is quite stunning, as well as a full page panel showing Blood striking back in the same issue that is as good as anything Perez ever did. [Ditto for Gammill's superb Twister meets the Brotherhood full page panel in issue 26.] The covers are hit or miss, with the cover to issue 29 – showing Blood, Raven, Nightwing and Blood's hordes advancing on a fallen Kid Flash -- being a definite knock-em-out-of-the-ballpark! Adrienne Roy's colors add the final touch. These issues are classics. If only the various Teen Titans series that came after this one had anything even remotely approaching their quality!

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FANTASTIC FOUR # 234 – 235 (1981). The Man with the Power and Four Against Ego. Written and drawn by John Byrne. Not every story told by Byrne during his run on the FF was memorable, but these two issues are among the best he ever did. In The Man with the Power Byrne introduces us to Skip Collins, an ordinary middle-class family man who is completely unaware that he has the ability to alter time and space due to his being subjected to nuclear experiments during his Army days. In New York he wishes to see the Fantastic Four in action and before you know it the foursome are dealing with an attack on the city that causes skyscrapers to crumble and all manner of death and havoc. Collins is not the cause of the disaster, but he unconsciously uses his power to set everything right (thereby losing his power) even as the FF take off into space to meet head-on the cause of the destructive waves. In # 235 for the first time the FF meet the mad living planet, Ego, who was originally introduced in The Mighty Thor, and who is out to destroy not only his enemy Galactus but any place he's been, including Earth. The FF descends into the core of the planet to knock out his brain in a harrowing sequence, but Ego winds up destroying himself. Byrne's pencils, also inked by Byrne, have a certain crudity but are also undeniably effective, and these stories are compelling, suspenseful, and first-rate.

MORE REVIEWS OF PLATINUM AGE CLASSICS WILL BE POSTED SHORTLY.

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