Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Deadman's Adventure Comics!

About the time of the big DC Implosion of 1978, DC and Paul Levitz turned one of their oldest titles, Adventure Comics, into an anthology comic. It would feature some of DC’s more popular heroes like Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern and some fan favorites like the New Gods, The Justice Society of America and Deadman.

Adventure Comics #459, Oct 1978

This was Deadman’s first real home since he was taken off his original run in Strange Adventures in 1969. The Deadman feature in Strange Adventures was fondly remembered by fans and pros alike not only for the exotic and innovative character of Boston Brand, the Deadman, but also for Superstar Neal Adams ground breaking work on the title.

Strange Adventure #208, Jan 1968
Strange Adventures #212, May 1968

 Neal would move onto more popular titles like Batman and the legendary Green Lantern/Green Arrow but Deadman was bound for obscurity if not for people like Paul Levitz keeping him alive.

Rather than resurrecting him with just any writer and artist, Paul put two of his top talents on the feature. Len “Swamp Thing” Wein and the Adams-ish Jim Aparo. To call Aparo an Adams clone would be to diminish his artistic accomplishments but lets say that he grew from the Adams school of comic art having produced a decade of consistently top notch work on titles like Aquaman, Brave and the Bold and on Adventures revival of the Spectre. Being the great talent he was and having a style reminiscent of Adams makes his work on Deadman that much more exciting.

And Wein wisely brings Deadman back to his Hill’s Circus roots

He reintroduces the cast of carnie folk like Hill’s Circus manager and Boston’s old love interest Lorna, Strong Man Tiny, fortune teller Vashnu, and Boston’s brother Cleveland Brand who has taken over Boston’s old position as trapeze artist extraordinaire Deadman! In addition Wein introduces us to some new characters, Cleveland’s daughter, Lita and Russian wife, Inga.

Cleveland is beginning his net-less trapeze act while his friends and relatives look on nervously.

A shot rings out sending Cleveland falling to the ground. This is exactly how Boston had died thus bringing us to his origins. 

He reminisces how Goddess Rama Kushna made him wander the Earth as a shade with the added ability of being able to temporarily inhabit the body of other men so that he could bring his killer to justice.

Aparo uses some of Adams images to retell his origin. 

Of course Boston Brand eventually found his killer but instead of retiring to the after life, Boston decided to stay and help the meek and fight for justice.
Meanwhile Cleveland is falling to his death! Boston possesses Strong man Tiny and catches Cleveland thus saving his life.

Meanwhile the killer is escaping. Boston finds the fleeing killer. He possesses by standers and attacks the guy.

 When this doesn’t work he possesses the man himself. To his surprise, despite being possessed, the man is able to control his arms and fire a bullet into his head, effectively killing himself to Boston’s dismay.

As I said previously, Aparo’s art is spectacular here really, capturing the magic that Adams brought to the original incarnation. Wein’s story is another matter. It's good competent writing. The story has a solid structure. The thing is it's not great. There are some contrived bits that make the story a little disappointing. While reading it I found too many instances where I questioned Boston's (and Wein's) logic. Why didn't Boston just possess the assassin from the beginning instead of using all the innocent bystanders to assault him? (because it provides more action to keep the reader interested?) And too many cliches like Cleveland getting shot (Of coarse it's an assassin! It was before!) and the assassin being able to fight Boston's influence (Well what could be more unexpected than having Boston's powers fail? Da!). Rather than creating tension and mystery, it just creates disappointment. 

Not that Wein is a bad writer but rather that Deadman is a hard character to write for, I mean he is dead, so it’s not easy to find a foe that can threaten him. I really like that Wein brought him back to the circus because my favorite stories in the original run were those that revolved around the circus and it's cast of misfits. It's a fun little outing for Deadman and  was a pretty good effort on Wein’s part and a great effort on Aparo’s part.

The rest of the story goes on like this involving a businessman who wants to buy the circus at any cost, some hired thugs and a kidnapped Russian scientist. Aparo leaves after the third part and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez takes over art duties in a spectacular way but I'll save that for another post.

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