comic conway

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For the most part comic books provide an escape. But the really good ones merely spotlight the harshness of reality. Instead of leading us on, telling us everything’s gonna be all right, these comics tell us the truth about ourselves. That we’re hopeless beings looking for meaning in this unfair world, and we’ll probably never find it.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #122 (July 1973)
Art by Gil Kane (pencils), John Romita Sr. (inks) & Dave Hunt (colors)
Words by Gerry Conway

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Here’s a cool find I dug up while gathering pieces for this week’s Alex Toth theme: an entire 8-page unpublished story with art and lettering by Toth, apparently intended for one of DC’s horror anthologies circa 1969, with a trippy Ditko / Dr. Strange vibe.

You can see from the dated stamps at the top of the splash page this gem languished in the National Periodical inventory file for years.  No formal writer credits, but since ‘Conway’ is written at the top of the splash in pencil, Gerry Conway seems the likely author of this tale, as he started his comics career with a published House of Secrets story in '69. 

Boy, I loved ALL-STAR COMICS and the Justice Society, so it was always a great day when a new issue came into my possession. On this one, sadly, the profusion of logo and trade dress elements at the top really kill the cover art–Wildcat and Doctor Mid-Nite have to duck to avoid that banner, and poor Green Lantern is smacking his head on it. I assume this is due to Ernie Chua not knowing about the additional DC COMICS SALUTES THE BICENTENNIAL banner that would lower everything a bit. Still, it’s unfortunate. Also, Gerry Conway’s cover copy here reads like every Marvel cover in 1976.

As I mentioned previously, ALL-STAR COMICS was perhaps the most Marvel-style comic that DC was publishing at this point, ironically considering that it starred the firm’s oldest characters. This was due to the work of writer/editor Gerry Conway, who had spent the previous few years toiling for Marvel and who brought many of its sensibilities with him when he emigrated to DC.

The issue picks up where the last one left off, with Green lantern and Doctor Fate engaging the fiery astronaut-turned-super-villain Christopher Pike, a.k.a. Vulcan. Despite being two of the most powerful members of the JSA, Vulcan holds his own and escapes, but not before collapsing a building atop Doctor Fate.

Meanwhile, in the sort of subplot that would be at home over at Marvel, we cut to archaeologist Carter Hall, secretly Hawkman, as he sees to the newly-discovered remains of a figure reputedly from ancient Lemuria. Unbeknownst to Hall, the figure is still alive and begins to melt its way out of the amber cube that it is encased in. But that’ll be a problem resolved next issue.

Back at the ranch, outside of the still-smoldering JSA headquarters, the rest of the team ponders their next move against the mysterious Vulcan. That is, all except the Flash, whose wife Joan bolts in from the crowd to tell Jay Garrick that he’s too old to be running around and doing such dangerous things, and takes him home. Another blow to the team. Fortunately, the Star-Spangled Kid is able to contact Hawkman and Doctor Mid-Nite who turn up to bolster the JSA’s ranks.

Green Lantern sends an SOS to the JSA on behalf of himself and the still-entombed Doctor Fate, and they rush to his aid, eventually recovering his badly-injured form. Meanwhile, across Gotham City, Power Girl responds to reports of an unidentified flying object that has landed in the Park Slum Clearing Project. Power Girl drops to the attack but is rebuffed by the alien being. But as they struggle, Power Girl communes telepathically with the alien and discovers the real reason why it has made the journey to Earth.

Then it’s time for action again, as the JSA locates Vulcan at the New Jersey freight yards and leaps to the attack. But the team is woefully ineffective in being able to contain their red-hot foe. As the battle rages, Power Girl appears along with the alien she was combating, whom she introduces as Xlk-Jnn, an alien explorer.

In a plot point cribbed from the same Star Trek pilot as Christopher Pike’s name, Power Girl reveals that Xlk-Jnn discovered Pike’s spacecraft in peril and repaired him, but did so ineffectively, turning him into Vulcan. Learning the truth, Vulcan incinerates his rescuer before he can repair the fatal flaw–an allergy to sunlight. One blast from the Star-Spangled Kid’s Cosmic Rod finishes off Vulcan (somewhat brutally for a DC comic of this era, come to think of it.) But none of this is any succor to Doctor Fate, who lies dying from his injuries. And we are To Be Continued!

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“Do you still resent my protectiveness, Steve?”

“Yeah, I do – just a little. But I know now that it’s my problem, not yours. I love you, Angel. I never want to lose you. If that  means I have to change, then I guess I’ll change.”

This scene is utterly feminist and romantic and dreamy. Wonder Woman and her guy fit beautifully into her narrative. from Wonder Woman #285 (1981) written by Gerry Conway, art by Jose Delbo and Dave Hunt.