The Black Racer is undoubtedly one of the most enigmatic and ambivalent characters who ever appears within the pages of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics. Somewhat ironically, however, his creator appears not to have originally intended him to be part of the sprawling cosmic epic that ran through his DC titles in the early 1970s. According to Mark Evanier, who was working as an assistant to Kirby during that period:
At the time, it was intended as a stand-alone series, utterly unconnected to the NEW GODS, FOREVER PEOPLE or MISTER MIRACLE series, and what Jack wanted to do was to hold a big talent hunt to find a young black writer and a young black artist- or maybe one person who could do both under Jack’s supervision. He presented this all to Carmine Infantino, who was then the guy in charge at DC, and Infantino convinced Jack to launch the character himself…and to do so right away, in the pages of one of the above-mentioned three comics. (“The Soul of Willie Walker”, The Black Racer and Shilo Norman Special [Oct., 2017].)
Although writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams had begun their tenure on Green Lantern in 1970 with a run of grounded stories featuring more-or-less realistic antagonists, as they moved into their second year they appeared more willing to incorporate the sort of colorfully code-named and costumed supervillains that had been the series’ bread-and-butter prior to their own advent. Already in GL #82 they’d brought back Sinestro, the renegade ex-Green Lantern; and now, two issues later, they were drafting yet another veteran foe back into active service — although you couldn’t tell that from the cover, which (like #82’s before it) gave no hint of who the story’s main bad guy actually was. While O’Neil and Adams (and their editor, Julius Schwartz) may have decided that it was a good idea to include more old-school superhero genre elements in their storytelling, they evidently didn’t think putting a returning villain’s puss on the cover would have much if any impact on the book’s sales. Read More
Panel from Detective #411. Text by Denny O’Neil (and, presumably, Julius Schwartz), art by Bob Brown and Dick Giordano.
Last month we took a look at Detective Comics #411, featuring the first appearance of Talia al Ghul, and the first mention of her father, Ra’s. As we noted at the time, despite that story giving the appearance of being one chapter in an extended story arc dating back to the first appearance of the League of Assassins in Detective #405, with the next installment already lined up for the very next issue of Batman, #432 (per a blurb in the story’s final panel), that wasn’t writer Denny O’Neil’s original intention at all. Rather, as he’d later tell fellow Bat-writer Mike W. Barr in an interview for Amazing Heroes #50 (July 1, 1984), Talia was created specifically “to serve the needs of that plot and that story [i.e., Detective #411’s “Into the Den of the Death-Dealers”], with no thought that she would ever appear again, or that she would have a father, or any of that stuff.” But somewhere in between the writer’s original conception and the story’s final published form, someone — perhaps Detective and Batman editor Julius Schwartz — had another idea; and the League of Assassins story arc, rather than concluding tidily with its third installment (fourth, if you count Detective #408’s “The House That Haunted Batman!”), instead became just the prelude to what was ultimately a much more influential saga, that of Ra’s al Ghul, “the Demon’s Head”.
“Please –-” begs a kneeling Man of Steel on the cover of Superman #238, “You’re the only one on Earth who can help –”
“No!” replies the figure standing before him with arms impassively folded. “I am not human! I care nothing for you and your world!” The figure is Superman’s doppelgänger in every respect — save that it appears to be made completely out of yellow sand.
If all that you knew about early-’70s Superman comics was what you’d previously read on this blog, you’d still be able to tell that quite a bit had happened since the last issue I wrote about, back in November. In that heralded first installment of “The Amazing New Adventures of Superman”, a scientific experiment gone haywire resulted in an explosion that temporarily knocked our hero down and out, but then was revealed to have had the welcome, and apparently permanent, effect of turning all kryptonite on Earth into iron. The first indication that something rather less welcome had also resulted from the blast came thirteen pages into the story, when Superman experienced a moment of weakness as he flew over the spot in Death Valley where he’d fallen during the explosion. Two pages later, a figure slowly rose from the desert sands of that very spot, and while this “thing” had a marked resemblance to the Man of Tomorrow, it didn’t yet have a face — so you could hardly expect it to speak, as we now see it doing on Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson’s dramatic cover for issue #238 (which, incidentally, is the first Superman cover since #230 to be neither pencilled nor inked by Neal Adams. Now you know.)
So, yeah, a lot happened in the last four issues. Let’s see if we can get you caught up, shall we? Read More
Behind an attention-arresting cover, which — like most others Jack Kirby produced for DC Comics around this time — was built around an imaginative photo collage (and which also, like the cover of the issue of Jimmy Olsen that had immediately preceded it, featured Neal Adams’ inks over Kirby’s pencils), the comics readers of April, 1971 — including your humble blogger — were treated to the thrilling conclusion of the first multi-part storyline (indeed, the first storyline, period) of the massive Fourth World project written, drawn, and edited by Kirby. Read More
In October, 1970, I returned to Marvel Comics’ Avengers after a hiatus of one full year, during which time I hadn’t bought or read the title at all. Avengers had been one of my most reliable Marvel purchases for a year or so prior to that break, but, for reasons lost to time, I was a little tentative about committing to the series again; and after buying (and, as I recall, enjoying) both #83 and #84, I sat out the next three months, not picking up another adventure of the Assemblers until #88, in March. That one seemed to do the trick, however, because from that point on I wouldn’t miss another issue. (Well, not until 1980 or thereabouts, anyway — but that’s another story.)
Or maybe it wasn’t #88 that sealed the deal — that Harlan Ellison-plotted issue, enjoyable as it was, essentially functioned as a lead-in to the same month’s issue of Hulk, and didn’t spend much energy encouraging readers to come back for the next month’s Avengers. Avengers #89, on the other hand, kicked off a multi-issue storyline that just kept building and building, never offering anything like a reasonable jumping-off point. By the time that storyline — the Kree-Skrull War, as we’d all quickly come to call it — came to an end with #97, it was December, and buying Avengers had become an ingrained habit for your humble blogger. Read More
The third issue of Forever People leads off with a cover very much in the vein of several of the other covers of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics that immediately preceded it in publication date, including that of FP #2; it’s built around a drawn image, pencilled by Kirby and inked by Vince Colletta, which is then set against a photographic background, and, finally, framed by copy — a lot of it. Based simply on this visual cue, one might expect this issue’s content to be as similar to that of the second issue as are the two books’ covers — i.e., for it to follow #2’s precedent of setting our young heroes from New Genesis against a powerful servant of Darkseid, a foe that ultimately can only be vanquished by summoning the more powerful adult champion Infinity Man to take their place, with everything being set back to the status quo by the end of the issue.
But if that’s what you were expecting, you’d be wrong. Because with Forever People #3, Kirby abandons the formula he seemed to have settled into with the prior issue’s adventure, moving instead into the first chapter of a four-part narrative considerably darker and more disturbing than anything we’ve seen in a Fourth World comic to date. Ultimately, this storyline will prove to be the central arc of the entire Forever People series (which, as most of those reading this likely already know, is doomed to meet a premature end with its eleventh issue), and one of the key narratives of the entire Fourth World project. It’s where Kirby’s great theme of radical freedom versus absolute control — or, in his formulation, Life versus Anti-Life — comes to the fore more fully than it has in any previous chapter. Read More
As of March, 1971, my thirteen-year-old self was picking up Detective Comics on a fairly consistent basis — but it was a habit I’d acquired only recently (or perhaps I should say reacquired, as I’d been a regular reader of the title before, back in 1965-67). For that reason, I’d missed writer Denny O’Neil’s first two “League of Assassins” stories, which had run in issues #405 and #406, respectively. On the other hand, I had bought and read Detective #408, whose lead Batman story, though not scripted by O’Neil, had featured an attempt by the villainous Dr. Tzin-Tzin to eliminate the Darknight Detective at the League’s behest. So it wasn’t like I was completely unfamiliar with the sinister organization prior to my purchasing issue #411. Rather, I was intrigued by the little I knew — and though I realized I was coming in late, I was eager to catch up. Luckily, this third installment of O’Neil’s League saga didn’t depend very much on knowledge of the previous two at all — and what little I did need to know, I’d manage to pick up easily through the script’s unobtrusive exposition. Read More
In January I posed about Conan the Barbarian #4, the first issue I’d ever picked up of Marvel Comics’ series featuring Robert E. Howard’s pulp hero. As I wrote at the time, my thirteen-year-old self was quite favorably impressed by the efforts of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith in that comic — impressed enough that I feel fairly certain that I meant to buy the next issue when it came out. Somehow, though, I didn’t manage to do so. I suppose it’s possible that I never actually saw Conan #5 on the stands; but if that’s true, that was the last time that kind of thing ever happened. Because with #6, I was back on board, and would thenceforth faithfully acquire every issue through #118 (Jan., 1981), some 9 1/2 years later. (The occasion for my dropping the book then was Roy Thomas’ exit a few issues earlier; as far as I was concerned, Thomas was Conan’s official biographer, and without him at the series’ helm, it just wasn’t the same.) Read More
As discussed on this blog back in January, Teen Titans #32 ended with two of our young heroes, Kid Flash and Mal, trapped in a bizarre alternate reality following their inadvertently causing the death of a young caveman during a time-trip to the Stone Age. Having been coerced by this quasi-medieval world’s version of their adult mentor Mr. Jupiter — here a wizard called Jupiterius — into being tested to prove themselves worthy of his assistance, the final page of the story found Kid Flash attempting to match or best “Trueshot” — this world’s Speedy — in an archery contest: Read More