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A new era of Justice League, a not-quite-godlike being, and a first trip to Man's world
The Spectre #1; Fury of Firestorm #59; Justice League #1; Outsiders #19; Wonder Woman #4
Welcome to the first week of DC: A New Dawn! We will cover a plethora of comics, focused on a week of release from DC starting in the aftermath of the Legends crossover and heading into Millennium and beyond. The point of this project is to chronicle the formative moments of the post-Crisis “current” DC Universe, issue-by-issue.
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The Spectre #1 by Doug Moench and Jim Aparo
Doug Moench had a rather strange place in DC Comics in the 1980s. While he would have his last major work in the comics field a few years later with his run on Batman, in the eighties his focus was mostly on oddball out-of-continuity titles. He created books that most people have completely forgotten like Slash Maraud, Lords of the Ultra-Realm, and The Electric Warrior. Gene Colan was nearing the end of his regular monthly comics work. They don’t seem like the obvious team to debut the post-Crisis relaunch of the character.
The story kicks off with two separate plot threads. The Spectre is being chastised by disembodied figures for his recent failures both during the Crisis and the recent events of Swamp Thing. Meanwhile, a young woman named Kim Liang suddenly quits the job she’s been highly effective at for some time. A literal object falls out of the sky to force her down an alley… and into the shop of Madame Xanadu.
This disembodied voice declares a need for The Spectre on Earth, but his as punishment takes away his powers and alters his relationship with his host Jim Corrigan. Meanwhile, Xanadu compels Kim to retrieve an ancient vase. From it, they free the dead Corrigan’s body just in time for the Spectre to whisk back to Earth and enter his form. But now the Spectre is truly a ghost that Corrigan releases from his body rather than a direct alter ego.
The Spectre and Xanadu pronounce Kim Liang as “the keeper of his mortal form” and essentially hire her as Corrigan’s assistant.
In the wake of his resurrection, the Cult of the Blood Red Moon takes notice… even as something evil has taken control of Corrigan’s old police friend Louis.
And that’s it.
While many other titles had already tried to take a more modern decompressed storytelling method by this point in DC’s history, this first issue feels padded out to an extreme. Over the course of twenty-five pages, the title only serves to revive its lead without any real stakes beyond a few teases. Kim Liang is clearly meant to be the bold new player introduced here, but she seems to be little more than a controlled pawn.
The weaknesses of the script are buoyed by the quality of the art by Gene Colan and Steve Mitchell. Colan was already a grandmaster of comics art by this point and Mitchell knows how to accentuate his lights without burying them.
By book’s end, I’m left curious by the future of the title, but disappointed in just how little this first issue gave me to actually pull me back. This Spectre series is barely remembered due to the far superior Ostrander and Mandrake series that would come just a few years after its cancellation, but I’m hoping it can prove to at least be worthy of that gorgeous Kaluta cover.
Fury of Firestorm #59 by John Ostrander and Brozowski
Fury of Firestorm was written by Legends plotter John Ostrander at this point. He took over the title just as the crossover started, so the series in his hand so far had been focused almost solely on dealing with those events, first in battle with Brimstone and now in a battle with Parasite (still in his pre-Crisis version here.) As you can see below, the issue didn’t even bother putting its title hero on the cover.
This issue still deals with the fallout of Legends, actually taking part concurrently with the final issue. The two halves of Firestorm, Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein, have been separated after a power drain. Parasite plans to keep them around so he can continually feed off their atomic power.
Firehawk arrives to even the odds, allowing the two men to fuse once again into the Nuclear Man. Angry at all the perils Parasite put them through, Ronnie is ready to kill the villain but holds back at the last possible second.
Everything in the fight is complicated by the revelation that Martin Stein has terminal cancer and won’t live through the year. He’d kept that secret from Ronnie for a while, continuing to put a strain on the two men’s relationship, all while spelling a major change for the character to play out in the months ahead.
This issue was very much a drop-in in the middle of another story and suffered for it. Brozowski is easily the weakest artist to draw this run of Firestorm, though his talents would improve by the time he changed his name to J. J. Birch and drew Xombi for Milestone.
Firestorm remains a personal favorite character of this writer. I first came across him on the Super Powers tie-in series of Super Friends. A year or two after this issue’s release, it would also be one of the first DC Comics I would ever attempt to buy regularly, so I do know Ostrander’s run would get better. But this issue does not show the same strength that Suicide Squad will just a few short weeks later.
Justice League #1 by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire
After years of Gerry Conway emulating the New Teen Titans in the Justice League of America book, it’s hard to argue that the title might have been at its all-time low in prestige. While the quality of that era of JLA isn’t the purview of DC: A New Dawn, the mid-eighties DC fandom pretty much hated the book. As Legends dawned, J.M. DeMatteis took over the book and systematically dismantled the team at the hands of Despero, leaving members dead, crippled, or retired.
The events of Legends lead to a new team, one cobbled together from previous JLA members and a group of heroes that were rising in prominence in the current DCU.
Returning members on the team include Batman, Black Canary, and Martian Manhunter (who is still recovering from the shocking death of his teammates in the previous volume.) While later coverage of the era discusses the team being chosen to avoid outside interference by other editorial teams, that’s not really true for the new team. While Mister Miracle only had a recent special in the rearview, Guy Gardner had been a regular in Green Lantern Corps until just recently. Blue Beetle owned his own series, while Doctor Fate and Captain Marvel would both have limited series within the next few months. Doctor Light was the only new member to have no real connections to the team or a current title.
It’s been decades since I first read this book and I forgot just how little a role Maxwell Lord plays in this issue. He’s barely more than a figure quietly working behind the scenes while the team is still gathering in the team’s old headquarters. Batman is the clear team leader, presented as the only one with enough personality to keep the disparate personalities in place.
The humor the book becomes known for hasn’t quite arrived either. This issue focuses a great deal on how poorly much of the team is getting along, especially the ever-obnoxious Guy Gardner.
The plot revolves around a terrorist attack at the United Nations, one which the heroes contain and stop with relative ease. With such ease in fact, that Batman becomes suspicious immediately.
It’s astounding that this is effectively Kevin Maguire’s first comic work of any kind. Outside a few illustrations in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and Who’s Who, Maguire was completely new to comics. While he has Giffen’s layouts to work from, his mastery of expressions is already present. He’s clearly a top-tier talent at even this point in his career, and his ability to play comedy for these characters will become a key factor to the series moving forward.
Overall, this is a fun first issue that sets up the team and hints at what is to come. But it also feels like a book that even the creators were unsure of what they were planning. Thankfully, it also has earned a distinction as one of the best comics of this era, so there’s a lot to look forward to over the next several months of books.
Outsiders #19 by Mike W. Barr, Jim Aparo, and Dan Spiegle
Just a few short years before this month, Batman and the Outsiders was one of the best-selling titles published by DC. Created by the same creatives as this issue years later, Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo, the team was a new unit built around Batman’s need to do things the rest of the Justice League wouldn’t agree to do.
An initiative a few years later caused Outsiders to be rebooted as a new title on better paper and with Batman suddenly out of the fold. Over the year between, it quickly became clear that the other members of the team weren’t nearly as popular as he was. In a pre-1989 film era is definitely a knock on the rest of the team. Batman was anything but a bestseller at this point and he wouldn’t become one until the Michael Keaton / Jack Nicholson film.
Sales were struggling enough to bring Batman back into the fold of the team just prior to this issue, but it feels like a strange bit of a continuity headache as he also just re-joined the Justice League.
While the previous issues in this publication showed a leveling up of DC’s storytelling, The Outsiders #19 feels practically regressive in comparison. The team is moving into a new headquarters called “The Batcave West.” Metamorpho throws a temper tantrum because he doesn’t think he can get his wife Sapphire pregnant. Halo’s arc is built almost totally around feeling ugly because of her braces. It’s more than clear Barr was running out of ideas for his own creations.
Worse, Jim Aparo’s pencils have too. The strong line of his Brave and the Bold days is long gone. Everything has a certain generic feel to the design and the storytelling has lost a step. His inks almost feel sloppy in places. While this was far from the end of his comic art career, it is nearly the end of his time inking himself, and the art — even on the cover above — makes it obvious why.
The story inside is basic. The Masters of Disaster escape their holding cells in Geo-Force’s home of Markovia. The team fights a random group of Muslim (sigh) terrorists. Windfall — the Masters of Disaster’s former junior member and the only one allowed to go free — returns to save the city from the poison gas the Outsiders failed to stop. She says she wants to join the team to help them when the Masters of Disaster return. They let her without any resistance despite her literally being the sister of the Masters’ leader New Wave.
Thankfully in this post-Terra period of comics, Barr almost immediately reveals to the fans what should be obvious: she’s working with her sister and the Masters of Disaster.
If the throwback feel of the book wasn’t hammered home by the initial story, the backup with art by Dan Spiegle is literally a dream story where Halo is an adult and Katana is a teenager. The entire adventure is a pastiche of 60s-era Batman. It hammered home quite well why this book feels so out of place in this era.
It saddens me to be this critical as I quite enjoyed the first couple of years of the Outsiders’ existence when I read them during the pandemic. But they’re a shadow of themselves here. That being said, if you want to check out probably the best take on the Outsiders that ever has existed or will exist, I point you no farther than Young Justice season three. Turns out that with some tweaks and clever forethought, this team can truly be great.
Wonder Woman #4 by George Perez with Len Wein
We lost George Perez in 2022, one of several earth-shaking deaths in comics that year. He spent years as a legendary penciler, famed for runs on New Teen Titans, Avengers and Justice League among many others. But he also developed into a superb writer in the nineties. Wonder Woman would be the book he did so on.
At this point however, he was still just plotting the book with scripts by Len Wein. Like Justice League this book was being made with another variation of the “Marvel style” — quite rare at DC. Perez would write a plot, draw the book, and then turn it over to Wein to produce the final script. Though we’re four issues in, Wein is already the second scripter on the title. The first couple issues were done by Greg Potter, most famously the co-creator of Jemm, Son of Saturn. Potter and Perez didn’t exactly gel which led to Blue Beetle writer Wein pulling double duty here for the next few months, until Perez ultimately takes over on his own.
This era reboots Wonder Woman as a character new to the DCU (and in doing so creates some continuity headaches over the years ahead.) Meeting Steve Trevor does lead to her leaving Themyscira but does not lead to the strange codependent bond she had in her previous incarnation. Instead, she’s found Julia Kapatelis and her daughter Vanessa. Julia is a history professor who can speak the same ancient Greek as Diana. (Diana still has only started to learn basic English at this point.) As we kick off this issue, Vanessa has been aged by Decay and the monstrous child of Medusa destroys the Kapatelis house around them.
Diana saves the mother and daughter and then rushes off to stop Decay. The battle between the two turns into the first major public outing for Diana as they rip apart large chunks of Boston in their conflict. Decay nearly overcomes Diana, starting to suck the life out of her. Ultimately, Diana feeds the gorgon the energy of the Lasso of Truth. As an ultimate font of life, the Lasso is simply too much for Decay and the villain crumbles to dust.
A local paper realizes they have a hero on their hands and sets out to make her the hero of the city in the same way Superman is in Metropolis. Without a superhero name, they focus on the pattern on her chest and its resemblance to a letter W on top of another W. They extrapolate the name Wonder Woman from those letters, and a modern hero is born.
Throughout this first year, Diana serves as something of a pawn to the gods as they are in a power struggle with Ares. Their machinations remain active in the background here, but this issue is really about the action. Few artists do that as well as George Perez and it looks glorious in the process. Wein seems to have a better handle on what Perez is looking to accomplish than Potter did, which helps carry the narrative along better across the battle.
For nearly fifty years before these issues, Wonder Woman was always something of an also-ran, scripted and drawn by artists who almost always seemed like they would rather be doing something else. While Diana wasn’t yet part of the “trinity” DC would create in another decade or so, her importance in the DCU seemed far clearer here than it had for many years before.
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