Tagged: Deadman

John Ostrander: From This Nose… A Hero?

I’m pretty excited!

Recent doctor visits revealed that three spots on my otherwise remarkable countenance were basal cell carcinoma, a.k.a. skin cancer. Okay, that’s not exciting. It’s really a bit of a downer, although if you’re going to have cancer, this kind of skin cancer may be the one to have since it is (by all reports) the most curable.

The treatment strategy has been decided: high level bursts of radiation. Okay, that’s not exciting either. Also a bit of a bummer as the possible side effects include vomiting which is also a bit of a bummer.

However, it is a well-known fact of comic book physics (especially MU physics) that radiation in some form may be the greatest single cause of mutations that result in super-powers! Pretty spiffy, eh?

So I’m wondering what sort of super-powers I might get. I know that I speculated like this once before but that was just an injection for a heart catheterization or something. I don’t remember and I can’t be bothered to look it up. Besides, it was something small like a particle for tracking purposes.

Obviously, since I never got any superpowers it wasn’t enough to trigger a transformation… and boy-howdy I still feel gypped! But this time it’s going high level burst of radiation! High level bursts, ladies and gentlemen! (I think that’s what they said.) As Nietche once said, what radiation bursts that don’t kill me makes me super-powered. You can look it up!

I have long posited that the powers a character receives are based on aspects of his personality or character and if that isn’t true, it should be.

So, working from this principle, I’ve been trying to guess what might my powers be.

I’m a writer so the ability to become invisible and observe people might be really useful. I’d would say it would allow me to sneak into a women’s locker room unobserved but this is the era of Harvey Weinstein and that’s not funny.

Maybe my power would be to step into other people’s lives such as Deadman or Dr. Sam Beckett (and while we’re on the topic of Quantum Leap, why – in the era of reboots and relaunches – haven’t they brought that show back?). As a writer, I invent other people’s lives; this power could be pretty useful, no? At my age, I could become OldMan with the power to get those kids off my lawn!

However, none of these powers would get me into either The Avengers or the Justice League, let alone my own solo movie. That and action figures are where the real money is. Not that I’m in this for money but, you know, what could it hurt, hmm?

Which makes me think I shouldn’t just limit myself to super-heroes. If I’m going to be in it for the money, I should consider super-villains. I’m good at writing them; they’re usually a lot more fun and they get all the best lines. Yeah, they get put in prison a lot but they never seem to stay there.

I have a fraternal twin brother so maybe I could be my own evil twin (not that my brother Joe is my evil twin; it’s more like I’m his goofy twin). I could be a super-hero by day and a super-villain by night; I could be my own arch-enemy! And neither personality is aware that they share a body with their foe. That might be fun.

Of course, fate could be cruel and instead of giving me super-powers, the radiation makes my nose fall off. Still, even then, I could be Lee Marvin as Tim Strawn in the movie Cat Ballou and wear a silver nose tied to my face. Or Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera. Maybe my nose will become bright red and I’ll become JohnO the Red Nosed Writer.

Naw. Fate won’t be that cruel. We already have Donald Trump.


Ed Catto’s Convention Treasures!

I’m still reeling – in a good way – from Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con. It was a fantastic comic convention where I had way too much fun. And I’ve got some observations to share with you about it, but they’ll have to wait until next week.

This week I like to share some of the treasures I found at the show.

Let’s start with the “full disclosure” routine. I’m at the point where my comic collection is way too large, and I’ve been taking the steps to prune it back over the last few years. I’ve found this process difficult to adjust to, but my wife and I are in that downsizing mode. Surprisingly, I’m finding that maybe I am not that much of a hoarder after all. I actually feel better when I get rid of stuff.

But… I can’t help but wander a convention and stumble across a few treasures. And I was delighted with what I found at Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con.

In a 50-cent long box, I found this fantastic copy of Fantagraphics’ reprint title from 1987, Untamed Love, showcasing Frank Frazetta stories. Even though this reprint collection was published thirty years ago, the comic felt pretty new. The coloring is vibrant and the high-quality paper really holds up. The stories are a bit silly, but that Frazetta artwork is gorgeous!

Neal Adams was our guest of honor and, as he often does, told us few stories. Iwas especially intrigued when he revealed he’s working on a new Deadman series. I pressed him for details, and instead of offering just a few coy or cryptic teases, he outlined the whole first issue. And then he showed me the page he was working on. I was really impressed and think it will be his best work in years.
So… in anticipation that new series, I picked up a reading copy of Strange Adventures #209. It was a thrilling story with innovative storytelling and clever page layouts. The big climactic fight atop a Ferris wheel kicked my vertigo into high gear. I have trouble with heights these days, and that frenetic battle above the midway isn’t going to help matters.

Of note: there was a circulation statement in this issue. It turns out Strange Adventures was reported to be selling 146,600 issues each month. I find that so astounding, especially compared to today’s print runs.

I just loved the cover to Girls’ Romances #160 and couldn’t resist snagging it. The brilliant Jay Scott Pike is the artist. While the composition is solid and strong, the non-traditional sketchy, scratchy line work was what grabbed me.

It turns out this was the last issue of this long-running series. By this time, they must have decided it wasn’t worth it to create new stories. Inside are reprints of old John Romita stories – but the women’s hairstyles were retouched to give it a “modern” 1971 feel! These bizarre edits create a double layer of retro.

Most fans fondly remember those Antonio Banderas Zorro movies from a few of years ago. My dad was just watching it on cable, in fact. And comic fans all agree that Alex Toth’s Zorro comics were a pinnacle for that character. So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself buying Zorro – The Complete Dell Pre-Code Comics from the Hermes Press booth at the con. It’s a totally different version of Zorro.

Hermes Press was an energetic and committed exhibitor. I may be a bit biased, as I do like so many of their books. They created two convention exclusives and they were selling everything at a discount, so all attendees found a lot to like about their stuff.

In the forward of the Zorro collection, ace author Max Allan Collins provides a brief history lesson about the main artist of these stories – Everett Raymond Kinstler. I wasn’t familiar with this artist, but he is work is evocative and often confused with, Joe Kubert’s style from the 50s. “You had me at Kubert,” I thought when reading the forward.

It’s a tremendous book and after I read it, I think it deserves a spot on my coffee table. Then after a while, I’ll lend it to my dad. Another treasure from another comic-con.

Deadman: Lost Souls by Mike Baron and Kelley Jones

DC Comics thought it was riding a horror revival in the early ’90s, when it turned out they just had the good luck to hire Neil Gaiman to write Sandman. (Sure, the rest of the early Vertigo lineup, and the Vertigo precursors like the Alan Moore Swamp Thing, had a strong horror flavor in their superhero gumbo, but it was always a flavor rather than a main course, and it died out pretty much in parallel to Sandman wandering further and further away from horror.) But, along the way, they put out a bunch of comics with horror flavors — from vampire Batman to the creepiness of Shade the Changing Man — and revived a number of characters with horror in their DNA.

Deadman is one obvious example. He’s one of DC’s third-tier heroes, who’s had an ongoing series a few times but never long enough to really deserve that “ongoing” name. But he is dead, and his power is possessing people so he can use their bodies to do whatever he’s doing at the time, and he was definitely available, so he got scarified and sent off to see if he could attract that Sandman lightning. (Actually, given the timing, I suspect it was Swamp Thing lightning — the bigger bolt hadn’t hit DC yet.)

So the team of Mike Baron and Kelley Jones — Baron one of the more inventive and interesting mainstream comics writers of that generation, with excellent work from Badger and Nexus and a fine run on Punisher at roughly the same time; and Jones an impressionist of the comics page, a heir of Bernie Wrightson with a great eye for grotesques and extreme situations — relaunched a Deadman serial in Action Comics Weekly in the late ’80s, which eventually led to two short “Prestige Format” miniseries in 1989 and 1992.

Those two miniseries — each one was two 48-page issues long, under the titles Love After Death and Exorcism — were collected in Deadman: Lost Soulsin 1995, which stayed in print some time after that. (DC didn’t including printing numbers or dates during this era — in fact, I’m not sure if they do that now — so I can’t tell precisely how old my copy is. Comics publishers are about fifty years behind prose publishers in some very basic putting-books-together stuff.)

The two are discrete stories, but this book tries to disguise that by running them together without separation — it’s a bit jarring to go from the Love After Death “deadend” page immediately to two pages of Exorcism that quickly retell that story and the rest of the Deadman backstory — and they are related, since Love After Death basically breaks Deadman and Exorcism puts him back together. (Well, he actually breaks after the end of Love After Death, but that’s just quibbling.)

So we begin with Deadman sour and unhappy and frustrated — he’s been bodiless for however long its been since his first story in 1967, fighting to keep the cosmic balance for the vague goddess Rama Kushna, and his angst over that is rising. Deadman hears a rumor of a haunted house out in the Wisconsin woods, the abandoned home of a circus owner from decades before, supposedly haunted by the spirit of his aerialist wife. Deadman was a circus performer and aerialist in life, so he’s intrigued and goes to investigate. And he does find the ghost of the beautiful aerialist, who does have the power to touch living people at will — but she’s not the only ghost, and her dead husband is still around and powered by a nasty demonic spirit.

Does Deadman defeat the evil ringmaster and his demon overlord? Well, what do you think? Does he get the girl and (after)live happily ever after? You really haven’t read many mainstream comics, have you?

And so Exorcism begins with Deadman having gone crazy — comic-book style crazy, the kind that’s very demonstrative and can be snapped out of with a bit of help — and roaming around some other woods (in Vermont this time), where he runs into a heavy metal band and a pair of young lovers. The band is quickly possessed by three ancient, and very different, nasty spirits, and the young lovers are quickly in danger. Since Deadman is comic-book crazy, he basically caused that, and capers about gleefully. Meanwhile, Madame Waxahachie — a comics character who makes Amanda Waller look svelte and demure and non-stereotypical — finds the circus booking agent in Boston that Deadman has been possessing to beat up gay men — this part of the plot doesn’t entirely make sense — and drags that man and his regular therapist up to the abandoned church in Vermont where the possessed band is, in time for a guest appearance by the Phantom Stranger (who is as clear and helpful as he usually is).

And then things all go to hell, of course. But, in the end, Deadman is not-crazy again, and the evil spirits are banished back to wherever, and most of the good people are still alive. And, most importantly, Deadman is back to his standard status quo and available to show up in big crossovers and other superhero bumf for another couple of decades. As he did.

These two stories are more than slightly over-the-top; I suspect Baron was out of his usual comfort zone in this supernatural milieu, and he doesn’t deliver his best work here. The art is the real standout: Jones revels in the opportunities to draw cadaverous Deadman in tortured poses (often floating in mid-air) and all of the horribly fleshy monsters that Baron can think up. This is not a pretty comics story, but it’s full of excellent creepy art, and Jones’s inky blacks are well-supported by an equally spooky coloring job by Les Dorscheid.

I’ll be honest: this isn’t a lost masterpiece or anything. But it does collect two decent stories with great art from one of the quirkier characters in the DC Universe. If you have a fondness for DC’s supernatural characters — I know I do, and I don’t think I’m the only one — this could be a fun find.