Monday, July 24, 2017

The Eradicators #1

The Crapbox uncovers early work from an artist I greatly admire

Writer – Kristoffer A. Silver
Artist – Ron Lim
May 1986

I've said before how much respect I have for artists from the Silver and Bronze Age that met monthly deadlines while handling other obligations. When we get to the Bronze Age, the independents (looks Image's way) tended to promise and promote big while delivering very, very late.

There is a special place at the top of the heap for an artist who respects the medium enough to turn in consistently good-to-great work in a timely manner.

And a rung or two above that there sits Ron Lim.

I'm not really sure where I first encountered Ron Lim. It was most likely Silver Surfer, volume 3, a title Lim provided art for from 1988 to 1994, beginning with issue number 15 and continuing on for an unimaginable stretch with very few breaks. I know that his art was enough to get noticed by itself, but beyond that there was the proliferation of it via covers and work he did on other books while still meeting Silver Surfer’s deadlines.

One month he was doing fill in work for a Daredevil issue, next he would show up on Conan the Barbarian, then popping into Marvel's New Universe books or an issue of What If?. Basically, he appeared all over the place at Marvel while maintaining an astounding pace on Silver Surfer. He even doubled up for a month when the title went bi-monthly for a short time in December-January 1989 (the mid-January issue was Ron Frenz). And this doesn't count his later work for independent publishers on books like Image's Stormwatch.

To spot Ron Lim's work takes little effort. His distinctive style of creating the impression of polished mirrored metal surfaces and cleanly defined anatomy made Lim's art stand out in ways that other artists don't. Often times it was in a book I had on my pull list (in the 1980’s I was buying new books at my LCS, unlike my present state of “bin diving”) and I would come home to be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes I would go out of my way to pick his stuff up, even in anthology or character books I never read. His images are just that dynamic.

You instantly want to see more of them.

Silver Surfer was his big breakthrough book and it led him to work with Jim Starlin on Thanos Quest and The Infinity Gauntlet, two works that will cap off the Avengers movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I honestly can't wait to see them given that given how I enjoyed the books so much. And a lot of the credit for my enjoyment goes to Lim.

With so much Lim out there, no surprise that some of it would end up in the Crapbox. But there is something a bit special about this issue from Silver Wolf Comics.

No one jumps up to talk about it.

First a bit of background on the publisher. Silver Wolf Comics was the brainchild of Kristoffer A. Silver back in 1986. I can speculate that it probably looked like every business started in someone's garage at the time. Silver created a large amount of product by himself, acting not only as publisher but also as writer. The company however, didn't make it long.

Silver seems an ambitious little fellow, having pumped out comics, novels, RPG segments and customizable card games since then. So many pies made from so few fingers.
Silver Wolf the publisher had a somewhat rocky life. Starting in Sacramento, California, it appears the company was able to produce a steady stream of books. However, they got involved with several comic book distributors whom I would term as “shady” and they never actually paid for the books Silver Wolf delivered. Add to that the crushing volume of works produced (Silver Wolf's Facebook page mentioned 40 issues of various series were printed) and Mr. Silvers' stated policy of printing way more books than were ordered by distributors and you can see the writing on the wall for the company's future.

What you couldn't see and what remains very unclear was what happened between Lim and Silver. The letters page at the back end of the book has this to say about Lim's continued involvement beyond issue 1:

Likely it was money troubles for the startup creating issues in paying their talent what was promised. The stage is kinda set for that being the case. I’m speculating here, of course. I don’t know what caused the rift.

Three things: First, artists deserve to get paid for their work, so if this scuffle is over non-payment of Silver to Lim, I don't blame him for walking off the project and not giving any of his unpaid art back to Silver. Secondly, publicly shaming a professional in print is something you seldom want to do no matter who is at fault. Silver makes this look like Lim is the bad guy in this, but mentions none of the reasons for this falling out between the two men. And if Lim found another book to work on with a bigger publisher and jumped ship? Still shouldn’t air that dirty laundry in public.

I reached out to both men through various social media and met with cold, stony silence. With that, no further venturing from me on what happened. I will state that Lim seems an agreeable type in interviews and Silver looks to be the kind of guy that throws himself completely into his love of the genre. Neither seems the bad guy in this scenario but if it came down to earning a paycheck or not, I can see how tempers could easily get involved.

Whatever the case for future issues, we do have this one-of-a-kind preview of Lim's style before he hit the majors. Possibly before his work on Ex-Mutants too, as the cover date shows this to be around the same year as Lim's work on that book. This style certainly seems more primitive than other Lim artwork with muted tones on the reflective surfaces. It certainly has all the touches of his art, but clearly not yet refined.

And all of those visual clues tie in with what we personally know about Lim. He has publically stated that he is something of a perfectionist, someone not quite satisfied with his work product and invests lots of  time in honing his drawing skill. Passionate about space and the Silver Surfer character, Lim hails from California State University, Sacramento where he earned a BA in Graphic Arts. He worked on comics on the side citing Jim Starlin and John Byrne as two of his big influences. He also belts out a mean version of “Just a Gigolo.”

I’m pretty sure many of us care about Ron Lim a great deal.

So how is this thick volume that appears to be his first comic work? I admit that it is definitely page heavy. If anything, Silver and Lim pack Too much between that glossy wrap around cover.

We begin in a park in Sacramento. Lim and Silver were both from Sacramento at the time. At first, this seems a good thing, allowing newbie writer Silver a chance to write what he knows.

But then we add in that this particular group meeting in the park have a gang of ninja stalkers intent on killing them. Pretty sure that part of Silver’s life never happened.

Silver starts the battle with this two-page spread which gives Lim a chance to shine. The heroes appear to have some superpowers and the ninjas kind of suck at this. 

And here is where I run into my major gripes about the way this story unfolds. The story structure for the entire first two-thirds of the book will be

A. Show a character in the midst of battle for one full page 

     a. Use a standard square box text balloon to show their thoughts
     b. The thoughts will be a basic exposition dump
     c. The thoughts will be about how they feel about killing and being on the run
B. The next page or pages show how the character ended up on the team
    a. Lots more exposition square text boxes

My main issue with this sequencing concerns how it breaks up the pacing of the first part of this book. The initial fight allows Lim to let loose in a very dramatic fashion. He gives us fight panels like the ones here with the leader of the group Rhan, an alien, and we quickly invest in the outcome of the battle.

Then Silver stops the action, skips back into the past, and shows us a page or two of history. We feel no sense of jeopardy in these flashbacks since the person in question lives to get embroiled in the battle starting on page two. The initial battle loses any sense of urgency or danger. Also we find ourselves wanting to get back to the action, so if there were nuances in the flashbacks, (spoiler, their aren’t) we miss them.

Speaking of origins, Rhan begins his in captivity, held by some space Empress for some hidden power he harbors. Rebels break him out and the Empress sends a guy called “The Master Eradicator” after him. For some reason, the group of people Rhan leads decide to call themselves Eradicators too. Because every group needs a name? I’m still puzzling this one out.

Anyway, Rhan flees the empire’s reach in a space ship, which means space battles and Lim gets to do some Kirby krakle. Note also his beginnings of showing metallic sheen in the Empress’s tiara. Rhan’s ship damaged, and the Dutch angle suggests we are crashing, suggests this a natural point to…

...Abruptly switch back to the initial battle and change perspective to another character without any visual cues to the reader that we have done so.

C’mon Silver. This is what causes whiplash in readers.

Meet Stech, the robot, everyone. Stech’s sentience never gets explored, so don’t even ask. Silver imbues him what can laughably called a sense of humor, given the ham-fisted and odd dialogue shown here. The line “In short, I’m Fun.” feels very “tell” instead of show. I realize this is possible one of Silver’s first works, but there is no excuse for that level of shortcutting to a character summary by any writer. If Stech is “fun” then make him do something we the audience would decide is fun.

Worse yet is how Silver creates this rag-tag group.

Next page is back to the crashing Rhan, who materializes on Stech’s ship because Stech plucked him off his ship via teleportation because he thought Rhan was just like himself. This is a level of convenience that we see over and over again in Silver’s plotting. He doesn’t have a smooth transition for something, so he crams a round peg into a square hole until it fits.

Already I’ve gotten a handful of infractions for the book and we barely made it to our first two teammates. Now that you understand my thoughts on this bouncy-back-‘n-forth crap, I can disperse with telling you and just let the rest of these pages play out. The story isn’t the interesting thing here, anyway. The interesting bit is Lim’s art, which you can tell isn’t quite polished (ha, because of the metal shine effects) but shows his amazing promise. The book was lucky to have him.

Stech’s ship dispatches two others but a third appears and a being teleports aboard…

Those upper panels are really well balanced and the third panel being a series of smaller panes is kind of genius. Lim had chops even back then.

Enter Lance, shown here beating up the ninjas from the first fight in a violent and bloody way. He’s supposed to be one of the top ten assassins in the realm, but he’ll let you know that he’s actually in the top three. Seems a bit arrogant, but we can allow that if the person lives up to the hype. For examples of this see Wolverine, Deathstroke, Electra, etc., etc…

Lance joins because he was hired to assist Rhan by an unknown someone or someones. This causes Rhan to think. Think-think-think, Rhan! Oh, how I wish the story did the art justice. Even Lim in learing mode deserves better than this. Rhan says yes, because reasons and we are off to meet our next team member as he beats up ninjas.

Or so we think! Surprise! We get instead a page of the Empress’s ship appearing and damaging our three-some’s vessel.

Then on with our next teammate kicking Ninja butt.

Meet Alex, a ninja-guy in training with some kind of unexplained force power. Note also that there is a bu-u-u-u-unch of killing going on so far. Kill, kill, kill! That’s all these Eradicators seem to do.

You’d think is was in their name or something?

Anyway, Alex and Diana share the same origin. They were both outside when Rhan’s ship crashed. Being near the site they rushed to investigate.

But enough of that, Diana needs a chance to Karate chop some guys and then zap them with her heat power. Kill Diana, Kill!

Then back to the origin for Diana to tell of Alex finding a round glowing marble which shrinks as he holds it. 

Would serve him right if it was the Loc Nar from Heavy Metal. He tosses it Diana’s way.

Where it promptly shrinks out of existence, leaving both of them with some sort of force blasts, Diana’s of heat and Alex’s of “the writer doesn’t really describe it so we’ll possibly find out next issue after he’s put some more thought into it.”

Oh, and they rescue the aliens and their robot companion in the past. That’s our quintet’s origin in a nutshell. Now we can wrap this battle up and head home.

Which is precisely what they do, leading us to wonder what the heroes were doing in the park in the first place? I mean were they on a picnic or something? It seems contrived.

And speaking of contrived, they head home to pack up and leave town. Will they make it out before someone shows up to stop them?

Of course not, but that comes in a minute. 

The finer point of all this is how directionless the group is. Silver has the audience now with an understanding of who these characters are and enough backstory to know the threat they are facing. What are their long-term goals? Just having them pack up and move digs doesn’t build an expectation in the mind of the audience of where this story will go next. If it is just one senseless battle after the next, with no clear plan of deposing the Empress or luring out the Master Eradicator or getting rid of Alex/Diana’s powers or WHATEVER, then we are left with a bunch of mindless action set pieces, that if it ends up resolving something, does so by accident. There’s no real payoff in that. Silver again drops the ball, this time by not making the goals of the team known. And here is the perfect opportunity to do so.

But we don’t get that. We just move quickly to the next attack, this time in the group’s home.

Diana is force to fight a guy before finishing her shower (‘natch).

And the she and Alex…is that side boob there?...never mind! She and Alex use their force blasts on their two guys. There is an inset after of the Master Eradicator looking all mad and coal-like, complaining as his minions are taken out. How he knows isn’t really explained. 

Then we are back to getting ready to leave. Stech gathers up the bodies and takes them outside to “get rid of them.” Lance does his best to load up his comic book collection. Because it makes him relatable.

Alex realizes she doesn’t have clothes on while Stech incinerates the slain ninjas.

And then we get that moment I was begging for up above. Maybe it isn’t such a horrible book, but it needs a bit of re-arraigning to feel natural to me. The story doesn’t flow, which is sad given how good the art is.

Then we get the Master Eradicator, predating Thanos’s cut scene by a several decades. 

Which oddly enough happens IMMEDIATELY before he takes out a surprised Lance who is still thinking his comic book collection will net him a great return someday. Two things: it’s the 80’s and those books certainly won’t net you near what you think they will and secondly, what the heck does an alien assassin want with Earth money in the first place?

We end with a face-off against the Master Eradicator, a showdown that seems unearned and will likely end with the heroes limping away to lick wounds. Or at least it would, if Silver follows his plan of building up the menace of the M.E. to being the major villain of this arc and not just a disposable bad guy. 

Who knows, as The Eradicators number two doesn’t appear to be in my Crapbox, and even if it was, the art wouldn’t be Lim. And since Lim is for me the big draw… reading any follow-ups doesn't really excite me.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Trinity Angels #1

It's Maguire, so it has to be good

"Trinity Angels"
Writing and pencils – Kevin Maguire
Inks – Dan Panosian
Letters – Comicraft's Dave Lanphear
Colors – Atomic Paintbrush
Assistant Editor – Alex Glass
Editor – Fabian Nicieza
July 1997

Ask me why I love Justice League #1 (1986) and I will have a hard time picking just one thing. Everything about those first twelve issues seems so perfect. I say that with the hindsight of the last thirty years of comics history. Plot, dialogue, character mix, editing...all of those pieces meshed in a sublime cenergy of storytelling. But somewhere around issue two I would have said it was the art.

It was Kevin Maguire's pencils.

Of course he was just one of many elements, but there was something special about what he brought to the craft. A proper description of his character's facial expressions would have to note that they capture every emotive tick and squint. He's great with human forms, fantastical backgrounds, and details too. I'm not cutting him short there. But no one brings their character's faces to life like Kevin Maguire.

You need look no further than the wrap-around cover of Justice League: A New Beginning collected edition to see what I mean. Astonishing isn't it?

Maguire is one of my favorite artists.

When he left that title, I and a huge fanbase wept bitter tears of sadness. He's returned to Justice League at various point while gaining a list of working credits in single issues as long as my arm.

He's even done that thing that artists sometimes do that makes old SoC very nervous: writing.

That's right, Maguire has put pen in hand at least a couple of times now that I can attest to. He created the excellent fun series Strikeback! which the Crapbox will get around to reviewing one day soon. The other series is the one I hold in my sweaty palms: Trinity Angels.

Is it any good? Well, Maguire gives us both words AND pictures so fans of his should find something to love, even if that isn't the writing. I liked both fine, although I had many doubts upon starting. Let's just say the book begins looking like many first writing efforts I see in other, less well drawn works in the Crapbox.

Let's jump right in, shall we?

We find trouble from the start as we are introduced to the first of the Trinity Angels and she seems bewildered.

I don't feel like we are getting off on a strong opening here. Beginning with a character slightly disoriented about how they got wherever they are is fine, but follow along as we meet the other two Angels. See if you don't pick out how this story could go horribly wrong in the hands of another writer.

We will call our first awakened beauty "Blue". She appears to have major short-term memory loss, not know how she got here, where she got these clothes and this appears to NOT be her body. I'm okay with most of this. It's okay to start your reader and your character out on the same footing, which is not knowing what is going on and teasing out the mystery as you go. It's hard though. And to make it even harder…

…you take any characters who might could tell the main character what is going on, such as Green here….

…and you make them just a clueless.

Kevin had me worried with this beginning. I've seen less talented writers paint themselves into a corner using this technique. Especially given that all three of our trio appear to be affected.

Red appears to wake up on the wrong side of the bed as well as the wrong side of the forest. Three beautifully drawn ladies with amnesia. How could this go wrong, you ask? Well, for starters we have very little clue as to the stakes of their predicament. Nor do we have knowledge of their individual backgrounds to make them interesting or to differentiate them from each other.

This is something very difficult Maguire is attempting to pull off. He runs the risk of the audience losing patience with the solution or with the characters becoming interchangeable. I've seen other books do this and ended up getting bored by page six. Maguire has more chops than I give him credit for, however.

Bear with us a moment while we deepen the mystery and also make Maguire's job even harder.

First a little bit of conflict …because, yah know, comics. This confrontation sets up a few interpersonal quirks that I hope deepen in upcoming issues. And those interpersonal quirks become all important in just a bit.

And then a chapter out of the "if things are getting boring" guide to writing. That chapter being entitled "Adding A Dead Body."

Which causes a round of the blame game and ends with Red taking off through the forest warning the other two to "BACK OFF."

All well and good, but what we are missing is the same thing the characters are missing – "backstory!" It's an important thing, so important that Maguire knows it and knows what he is doing. He teases us with just a bit and then uses some action to distract us from getting too much, too fast. We get a first name and, more importantly, a last name: Barbella.

And then a truck.

Really keeping from us unraveling the mystery of how these girls came to be wearing superhero bodies in the middle of the forest with no memory of how the last several hours went down.

This is the thing that worried me: I've seen so many first attempts at stories from young, aspiring comic book writers that leave off character backgrounds or use the amnesia ploy to cover things they haven't thought of yet, that I got concerned. It makes for really amateurish results. Little should I worry, as Maguire picked up quite a bit on how to expertly craft a good tale in his time working with Giffen and DeMatteis. Either that or he came by it naturally, neither being anything to sneeze at. Can't tell you how happy that makes me.

And knowing YOU have nothing to worry about, that all this crazy lost memory stuff DOES have a very understandable source, means you can sit back and enjoy the scenery. By that I mean Maguire's art and humor.

Green gets interrupted in chasing Red by that pickup by three "normal people wearing normal clothes" as she later puts it.

Blue arrives and one of the guys makes a remark that sparks a memory for her.

The meaning of the word is lost on Green, even after Blue tries to politely (and un-politely) to get away her to move away from the men. Which means Green is totally unprepared when this happens.

Whoa! Never go full Jar-Jar, there guy.

The three gentlemen mutate into horrifying creatures, each different from the other and attempt to restrain the two girls. Green is quite literally "tongue-tied."

Blue is little better, given she has two monsters to contend with by her lonesome. She decides to run off for help.

Even that might not save her, as one of the beasts can extend his neck like some kind of spring-loaded kid's toy.

You have to stop for a moment and admire all of Maguire's work on this title. It was something I loved about Strikeback! too. Even without the familiar trappings of characters we know, Maguire is able to bridge an emotional connection using is art. He EXCELS at conveying a sympathetic resonance with his audience. It isn't always facial expressions either. Maguire just "gets it."

Every time I see his work in a book, even just a few panels, I pick that sucker up, no matter if it is a character I like, dislike, or never heard of, because I know his art is worth VIEWING. I say that about very few artists.

Out of my musing and back to the story at hand…

And just in time too, because old long-neck is in for a surprise as Blue tags him with a wrist mounted ball bearing on a string. That konks him out for a bit, and while she sneaks into a drainage ditch, Rubberneck and Trenchmouth pass by in their search.

While Blue starts thinking this is all a dream and half-remembering these other two girls as her sisters, Green still finds herself in a very "licky" situation.

Until Red shows up and uses that blade to cut through her problem. Also, Red remembers her name. Is it any surprise that it ends up being Gianna Barbella…note the last name is the same as Green's, er…Angelina's.

And Blue makes the same discovery while hiding in the drainage ditch, remembering she's Maria Barbella. Maria's still trying to play this off as some kind of nightmare that Freud and Jung are co-writing for her. She applies that logic as Trenchmouth finds her, although she's forgotten his name.

He gives her a reminder that is likely to stick with her for awhile.

His acid spit may be gross, but poses her cape little danger. She runs off as more misshapen help arrives for him, ending up trapped on the center of a railroad bridge.

The flying head-bird startles her so badly that she falls over, her wrist bola-thing saving her from plummeting to her doom. 

While Trenchmouth lends the situation a bit of spit'n polish, we learn an important fact: the girls "disturbed" something called the Trinity Gems. Which if you notice that each of them is wearing a gem embedded between their…um, breasts. I noticed that on page one. I mean, you know casually noticed. Not like I was staring or anything.

So perhaps these gems somehow caused their current predicament. Maybe even put them in these super heroine style outfits and bodies. Who knows?  

But with a bit of our mystery perhaps solved, we can rest easier. Except it might be a bit too late as that acid in his spittle eats through the railing and we watch Maria begin a deadly decent.

Good issue! I had some worries it would end up going the way of many in the Crapbox that are meaningless drivel, but Maguire has the chops to do this and pull it all off. I've only found one other issue of this in the bins, but it was during his run on the book, so even though it is two issue later, I'll count myself lucky.

As for you, Maguire-fans? Get out there and start looking.