Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Mantlo and Golden’s MICRONAUTS
July 6, 2005

Issues 1-12

Now that the bloom’s off the rose a bit on this summer’s final outing of Star Wars and it can all be looked at with a bit of retrospect, there’s a need for a new fix. To me, it’s worth going back to that initial boom to scoop up stuff that’s been buried by over 25 years of imitators and johnny-come-latelys. In 1978, due almost solely to the success of Star Wars, science fiction experienced a renaissance in popular culture. It stuck after that to the point where we scarcely think twice about how prevalent it is. If you begin to take the current crop of science fiction for granted, though, there’s nothing so humbling than to look back at just how much came out in a three-year period after Star Wars in film, on TV, and in the comics: Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon (the movie and the cartoon)… and The Micronauts. Mantlo and Golden’s twelve issues together on Micronauts are some of the most fun space opera that you could hope for. Sadly, due to licensing issues, it seems pretty unlikely that these issues will ever see print again, but they should be easy enough to track down. All the issues in question were also reprinted in the four issues of Micronauts Special Edition in the mid-80s, which are convenient because there are fewer issues to collect. They’ll be worth your while if this sort of swashbuckling space action gives you a bit of a buzz.

How it All Began

Before the comic book, The Micronauts were a line of toys produced in the US by Mego, who also made Barbie-sized dolls of Star Trek, Planet of the Apes and the DC and Marvel superheroes in the ’70s. The Micronauts line began in 1976 — just prior to Star Wars — and were unique for their variant color schemes and interchangibility. Some of the toys (such as Baron Karza and Force Commander) had magnetized ball-and-socket joints, so their limbs could be switched around. The toys were very successful.*

A MEGO Micronauts ad, from the Mego Museum

A MEGO Micronauts ad, from the Mego Museum

According to an article he wrote for Comics Journal #40 in 1978, comics writer Bill Mantlo first found out about the toys when his son Adam received them for the previous Christmas. Mantlo was intrigued by the toys’ names and lack of background, and approached new Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter about the possibility of a Micronauts comic book. After some confusion about who would draw the book — Jack Kirby, George Perez and Bob Hall were all considered, but unavailable — relative newcomer Michael Golden (whose previous work included some back-up strips of Batman and The Demon, and a brief run on Mr. Miracle, all at DC) took the job. In a contemporary interview with British fanzine BEM, Mantlo explained: “[Golden], I, and [then-]editor Bob Hall began plotting the first twelve issues (yes, we plotted the entire epic, from Karza’s triumph to his downfall) at the start, so the Karza epic would be finite.”

*As with many things, this is only part of the story. Since this is about the Micronauts comic, I don’t feel the need (nor the qualification) to explain the Japanese origins of the toys, or their various incarnations. There’re sites around that will happily oblige, though…


DETECTIVE COMICS by Grant/Breyfogle: Part 1
May 23, 2005

Issues 583-594; 596-597; 601-603

By Alan Grant & John Wagner and Norm Breyfogle

1988 was a strange year for Batman.

The franchise-reinvigorating Frank Miller Dark Knight series, which made Batman much more no-nonsense and grim was two years old (summer of 1986).

The grand commercial explosion of the Michael Keaton Batman movie wouldn’t arrive for another year.

By late 1986, everyone’s perception of Batman (or at least, the perception of the editors and most of the people that were reading new comics) was that he had taken a dramatic step back into the shadows from his slightly more cheery mid-1980s incarnation. Julie Schwartz, Batman’s editor since the mid-’60s, had just stepped down and was replaced by Denny O’Neil, the writer often credited as giving Batman his shadowy mystique back in the late 1960s.

The wide holes left by DC’s Crisis series (also 1986) allowed O’Neil a great deal of editorial freedom: his first act as editor of the Batman titles was to allow Miller to write Batman: Year One (serialized in O’Neil’s first four issues as editor) which canonized Miller’s darker vision of Batman. Perhaps as a way of offsetting this, the companion Batman title Detective Comics approached the affair from a lighter and more classic angle, written by Mike Barr.* History has shown which has won out: Year One was collected into a single book almost twenty years ago, and has stayed in print since. There has been no collection of the fun-loving Barr Batman strip.

*The subject of a future column.

Barr’s successors on Detective were British writers Alan Grant and John Wagner, longtime writers of the “Judge Dredd” strip in the English comic 2000 AD. In an interview with the 2000 AD Review website, Alan Grant explained how they got the job: “John and I were working on Dredd one day when the phone went. It was Denny O’Neil to say that sales of their flagship title were the lowest ever, they were thinking of closing down ‘Detective Comics‘, but he’d been reading Dredd and wondered if we could impart any of that weirdness to Batman. We said yes, of course. He gave us a 2-issue contract, extended to a year after he read the [first] story.” The artist assigned to work with them (and who, in truth, had drawn some of the last few Barr issues as well) was a relative newcomer, an American named Norm Breyfogle.

Their work on Batman, though well-praised in its moment, has since fallen off the radar – undeservedly, since it remains some of the finest Batman material published to date. Nearly twenty years later, and with the appearance of a new Batman movie, their work on the character deserves a second look.

While I hope to discuss in depth the whole of the Grant/Breyfogle tenure on the character over time (Wagner leaves the strip relatively early on), here I’ll only be discussing the first 17 issues (the 75-cent cover-priced issues), to whet your appetite for more.