Thursday, April 7, 2016

Retro Reads: Black Lightning (1976)

Ya gotta love the 70's. DC & Marvel were pulling out all the stops. Licensed titles (i.e. Tarzan, Doc Savage, Conan). Expanded lines for established stars (i.e. Spider-Man, Batman). New ideas by the bucketful. They were cashing in on the social & pop culture trends du jour, like martial arts and inner-city issues. Meaningful stories were told.

In the midst of this era, DC introduced their first book to be headlined by an African-American lead.

Black Lightning burst onto the scene in 1976, the creation of prolific writer and fellow blogger Tony Isabella, who'd also written Black Goliath, The Living Mummy, and Luke Cage, Hero For Hire/Power Man, among his many Marvel credits. School teacher Jefferson Pierce had returned home to Metropolis, and found his old neighborhood, known as "Suicide Slum", was overridden with drugs and crime, under the thumb of The 100, a mob fronted by Tobias Whale. On his first day as a high school teacher, Pierce took down a drug pusher who was hustling a student in the hall. When another student is killed for helping Pierce run off one of the 100's enforcers, one Joey Toledo, Pierce turns to a father figure from his youth, tailor Peter Gambi, to help him create his electrifying alter ego.

Ah, but it isn't that simple. Isabella mixes in some tropes familiar to Marvel readers more than DC's to add to the drama, and among the 100's henchmen is a foe who might be familiar to fans of a certain CW show, even if his wardrobe isn't. Isabella and artist Trevor Von Eeden left the series after 10 issues, and Denny O'Neil took over, aided by artist Mike Nasser (Netzer). Unfortunately, their first issue was also the series' last, as it fell victim to the dreaded DC Implosion of '78. Issue 12's cover would be used for the just released trade paperback, but the interiors would find their way to World's Finest (1st series). Gone too soon? You bet. It would take nearly 20 years before Black Lightning merited his own series again.

Assuming the sales are sufficient, a second volume is planned.

Rating: A+.
Back in the 80's, the concept of a trade paperback was still in its infancy, and, as such, collecting a four issue story arc wouldn't break your wallet.

On the heels of killing off Robin II (Jason Todd), Batman editor Denny O'Neil enlisted writer Marv Wolfman to craft a follow-up that would ultimately introduce Robin III (Tim Drake). "A Lonely Place of Dying" appeared in 2 issues each of Batman (1st series) and New Teen Titans (2nd series), drawn by Jim Aparo & George Perez, respectively.

The plot is as simple as it gets. Drake is introduced as a fanboy who studiously followed Batman & Robin's careers, and even deduced their dual identities. And, so, after Todd's death, Drake, aware of the chasm between Bruce Wayne & Dick Grayson, sets out to reunite the classic Dynamic Duo. At the same time, Two-Face has returned to wreak havoc, egged on by what he thinks is an unseen voice, which turns out to be Todd's killer-The Joker, who would return in short order to menace Batman again. Grayson had, by this point in time, graduated from being Robin and adopted the guise of Nightwing, a role he'll soon be playing again, oh, by the way.

Of course, as you are probably aware, "Lonely Place" has long since been ret-conned due to Todd having been resurrected in recent years, but re-reading the story for the first time in more than 25 years took me back to a simpler time.

Rating: A.
Speaking of Batman, that brings us to fellow blogger Marc Tyler Nobleman's 2012 bio of the Dark Knight's co-creator, Bill Finger.

Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman is an expertly researched biography of Finger, who finally got the credit he richly deserved from Warner Bros. when they added his name to the creator's credit for Batman on Gotham earlier this season, and in recent animated DTV's and the current "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice", as well as in recent DC Bat-books. Finger developed much more of the Bat-legend than Bob Kane, and,  yet, for years, Kane took all the credit when he shouldn't have. Batman made both men's careers, and Kane cashed in by creating an animated funny-animal version, Courageous Cat, for television in 1960, following that up with the spy spoof, Cool McCool, who turns 50 this year. Finger had written one two part episode of Batman, but also had written several others for DC, and would be, in this writer's opinion, the most prolific Bat-writer in the more than 75 years of the Masked Manhunter's career.

Let us not ignore the contribution of artist Ty Templeton, who delivers the most realistic work of his career. Every page just feels so lifelike, it's just amazing.

And if ya don't believe me, friends, scope out Marc's blog, Noblemania. Just type in "Bill Finger" in the search box, and you'll see how much work Marc put in preparing the book. You'll be glad you did.

Rating: A+.
Dynamite Entertainment is putting a different spin on the Gold Key heroes they acquired, putting them all in the present day----we think----for a brand new miniseries, Gold Key Alliance.

For example, Turok, Son of Stone is now a park ranger and reality television star. He's actually more in line with the Dinosaur Hunter reboot from his Valiant run in the 90's, as his caveman days are far in his rear view mirror. Mighty Samson is a paranoid homeless man. Magnus, Robot Fighter and his girlfriend, Leeja Clane, are now secret agents. Apparently, keeping Samson & Magnus in their futuristic settings didn't take in past reboots, but would this be any different in terms of sales? Remember, Dynamite has similarly rebooted the King Features heroes, so their penchant for taking creative liberties with licensed characters has not been abated. Time will tell if this one will work.

Grade: Incomplete.
Finally, the Three Stooges return to comics after a lengthy absence, with American Mythology Press acquiring a license for the comedy icons. The first issue includes two brand new short stories, one of which has the Stooges (Moe, Larry, Curly) as more pro-active than they ever were back in the day. This tale has them as detectives hired by a hottie to dig up some dirt on her ex, and, as it happens, they're actually a butt-kicking distraction.

The issue closes with a reprint from Four Color Comics featuring Curly Joe DeRita, and written by future television writer-producer Jerry Belson. Like, who knew? Nyuk, nyuk.

Rating: A.

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