by Michael Vance & Jon Suter
September 11, 1998
Reviews in this issue:
Masque - Elseworld Batman
Magic: The Gathering #s 1 & 2
Wonder Woman's Growing Popularity
John Byrne & Rewriting History Better
Masque - Elseworld Batman
In 1911, one of the durable villains in popular culture made his first appearance, Gaston Leroux's "Phantom" of the Opera. The murderous yet tragic Eric has been a staple of stage and screen ever since the novel was published. Actor Lon Chaney's silent film is probably the best known interpretation of the character.
Now the Phantom has entered the comic book realm in one of DC Comics' better Elseworld stories, "Masque".
Much of the strength of this story rests on the art of Mike Grell. He has merged Leroux's plot into a Batman story rich with Gothic atmosphere. Grell has always been a superb draughtsman. His brooding atmosphere is enhanced by Andre Khromov's subdued colors.
The story takes place in the nineteenth century. Since Edgar Allan Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" first appeared in 1842, the story can not be set earlier. The Batman mythos fits this turbulent era easily.
The title "Masque" has multiple meanings. It could refer to Poe's story, to a ballet based on that story, and to the masks work by Bruce Wayne and others.
Leroux's Eric is replaced by Harvey Dent. Here, Dent is no attorney but a star dancer who is badly scarred when his mask ignites. This version of Twoface becomes obsessed with a ballerina who is courted by Bruce Wayne.
The only flaw in Grell's script is truncation of time. Dent's transformation into Twoface seems abrupt; however, the compression of time does heighten tension.
Re-readings of "Masque" revealed allusions to Bram Stoker's Dracula, particularly Batman's horse-drawn, hearse-like carriage which resembles one in several Dracula films.
For $6.95, this is a good example of Grell's art. If you like heavy Gothic atmosphere, you'll give this a high A. If not. an A-.
If you don't have some issues of my favorite, Grell's Jon Sable, Freelance, prices are very reasonable. His Warlord and Green Arrow (both From DC) were also excellent.
Magic: The Gathering 1 & 2
A 4-part series, 24 pgs. each. Priced at $2.95 each from Dark Horse Comics. Story by: Mike Grell; Pencils: Pop Mhan. Sold in comics shops or by mail.
I know nothing about Magic: The Gathering, the card game. After having read two issues of Magic: The Gathering, the comic book, I know nothing about it either.
Why, you ask?
Granted, the pictures are pretty. The artist has a dynamic, angular style that is enhanced by excellent color work.
It is a shame that it is almost impossible to tell what is happening from panel to panel.
Granted, the story is written in a dynamic style that is enhanced by excellent (except for visual storytelling) art.
It is a shame that it is almost impossible to tell one character from another, or what is happening from panel to panel, or that an experienced comics writer who knows how to write failed here.
It isn't because Magic: The Gathering was written and drawn by amateurs, however. It is partially because it was edited by amateurs.
Oh? How do I know this?
Only an amateur editor would let a creative team try in introduce dozens of characters in the first issue, and at least a half dozen additional ones in the second.
Sisay, Kondo, Multani, Gerrard, Crovax, and Squee are introduced on the first page!
Only an amateur would heap on dozens and dozens of new, alien names for lots of animal-headed aliens, places, things and the handful of humans in this title.
Dominaria, Rath, Volrath, Starke, Hanna, Orin, Tahngarth, Urborg, Selenia and Jolav do not round out the first issue.
Let's not forget the plot and subplots...
This isn't a comic book.
It's an encylopedia.
If vou like much ado about nothing and lots of sparkle, you'll love this mess of confetti.
I recently saw- an interesting sign in a bookstore that carries large stocks of old comics. Because of overstock, the store was purchasing very few titles. Of the titles listed, only one was "mainstream": DC's Wonder Woman. No Marvel, Dark Horse, or other DC titles.
Since then, I have gathered that other dealers consider Wonder Woman a "hot" title even though the 1998 Overstreet price guide does not indicate any rise in prices. This might be a good time to look for bargains.
The surge in interest has to stem from John Byrne's work on the title. The earlier versions of the characters were rarely interesting. (But I knew several rabid fans in the 1960s and 1970s.) Few wept when the first two Wonder Women characters were wiped out in DC's "Crisis on Multiple Earths."
George Perez recreated the character and emphasized her roots in Greco-Roman mythology. After Perez, William Messner-Loebs had some interesting plots, but it is Byrne who has had the largest impact on the basic premises of the series.
Messner-Loebs had Diana, the "true" Wonder Woman, lose her role briefly to another Amazon named Artemis. Byrne topped this by killing Diana. To prove that she was dead and not subject to resurrection ala Superman, we were treated to a grisly autopsy.
The late Diana now lives with the Olympian deities. The role of Wonder Woman has been taken by her mother Hippolyta.
Byrne has tied Wonder Woman to plots in his "Jack Kirby's Fourth World" and to characters from Kirby's Demon. It pays to keep up with what he is doing.
Byrne is also tinkering with Wonder Girl. Donna Troy, the original Wonder Girl, is changing rapidly while a new Wonder Girl has appeared. At this point, we don't know if Diana, Hippolyta, or Donna Troy will become permanent, but this title is certainly more interesting than Superman.
Forty-eight hours after I mailed a column on John Byrne's work on Wonder Woman, I learned that he would be leaving the title.
Actually, this is no great shock. Many notable artists stay with a title for a short time although their impact is significant for years.
Jim Steranko's work on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D was brief, but it changed comics radically.
Long runs, such as Jack Kirby's 100 issues of Fantastic Four now seem an exception.
One good thing about Byrne's later issues of Wonder Woman is his wrapping up of subplots. The rapid convergence of those subplots has been logical and shows little evidence of haste. At the same time, new writers and artists will have ample ideas for future development.
Particularly impressive is the resolution of Etrigan the Demon's plotline.
I never cared much for this character when Jack Kirby created him in the 1970's. His human identity, Jason Blood, has survived and we have to assume that Etrigan will reappear somewhere in the DC universe.
Another fertile seedbed is Byrne's rewriting of the World War II era. In his version, Hippolyta, mother of the original Wonder Woman, went back in time for eight years and served with the Justice Society. This is a drastic revision of the post-Crisis history of the DC universe.
Rewriting comic history is nothing new; DC recently reprinted (for $4.95) its 1963 special Secret Origins. That anthology was an early acknowledgment that a new audience for superheroes was emerging and interested in the origins of newly popular heroes such as Adam Strange, Green Lantern, etc.
One story therein is an origin of Wonder Woman. It contradicts the idea that Diana was created from clay, and seems to be the origin for an early version of Wonder Girl. That fits somewhat Byrne's reworking of Donna Troy's origin.
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