by Jonathan Bogart
Blue Devil Summer Fun Annual #1, "The Day All Hell Broke Loose"
I won't say it. It's too much of a cliche. And besides, it's not entirely true, anyway. There are current comics out there that maintain that delicate balance of humor, emotional realism, and superheroic hijinks. Why, just the other day I was reading um no, that doesn't really count well uh okay, okay, I'll say it.
They just don't make comics like this anymore.
How could they? Comics that actually live up to the name of comic, i.e. funny, are (except for whatever Sergio Aragones is working on this month), by and large, a dead industry. The few laugh-out-loud comics that are being published by mainstream presses are either going to be canceled or perilously close to it: Major Bummer, The Creeper (although it's a humor comic like Watchmen was a superhero comic), and Lobo are the only current DC books that come to mind.
Oh, well. That just means we can treasure gems like the one before us all the more. A comic that opens with Jack Ryder being chased by Man-Bat and running into Madame Xanadu's shop, where the Phantom Stranger and the Demon show up (all in the first three pages!), deserves some recognition, if only for sheer audacity. And only then does the title hero, Blue Devil, show up, in an entirely unconnected scene.
Some background for those of you not familiar with the Blue Devil:
Dan Cassidy, Hollywood stuntman and techno-wizard, was working on Verner Bros.' next monster film, "Blue Devil." He built a state-of-the-art costume for the lead monster, complete with cooling system, AM/FM stereo in the horns, and light shows implanted in the wrists. Then, one day, while he was wearing it, a bolt of mystical energy fused the costume to his skin, making him in effect a living Blue Devil, super-strong and resilient.
The plot of this annual centers around a long-time mystical villain and Justice League bad-guy Felix Faust, who gets his hands on a magical egg from Ile du Diable that happens to be in Dan Cassidy's workshop, thanks to his friend Wayne. The fun starts when the mystical heroes get involved, completely ruining Dan's life (at least for the time being) in the process.
This comic isn't just about Dan, though. It's about magic, teamwork, life, death, and the usefulness of a good right hook. It's also about having as much fun as possible in thirty-six pages. This comic_and I really do believe this_was the forerunner of the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League in that it presented the old, hallowed DC characters and poked fun at them, taking them out of their usual context and seeing what they're like when the camera's off and no one's looking.
Paris Cullins, the penciller for this issue, was considered a rising young star at DC in the mid-80s. He co-created Blue Devil with Mishkin and Cohn, and pencilled every issue until the workload became too much. When George Perez was unable to continue drawing the covers for the original Who's Who series, it was Cullins who took over, giving his unique, rather cartoony spin on the DC Universe. I personally am not a big fan of Cullins' style. It seems too bland, too often. But there are exceptions to every rule, and this comic is one of them. The sheer orchestration of every page, the range he demonstrates_from Faust's laughable evilness to the Phantom Stranger's heroic poise and the Creeper's incurable goofiness_the superb action sequences and his trademark, the multiple shots of one hero in a panel, all come together in an unforgettable style that has punch, drama, and, well, humor.
Mishkin and Cohn also deserve their share of the credit for this wonderful issue. Although their plotting is tight as ever, and their characterization some of the best in the business, the strength of the Mishkin/Cohn team has always been dialogue. Here are some samples of that dialogue that (hopefully) won't spoil a thirteen-year-old comic:
"aw, what the heck--send me in, coach! And later on, you can tell me what sport this is!"_Blue Devil
"Who are you to tell me to keep calm, for Pete's sake?"
"You look thirsty, Bats! Try some of this! It's what I always drink when spells of subjugation have me down!"_the Creeper
"aaagh! The spell is broken! It is most disconcerting to be so summarily rejected! And my finger hurts!"_Felix Faust
"In all my travels--through worlds undreamed of by mankind as I have witnessed glory turned to folly by unreasoning fate, I-- Hey! Cut it out, you two ! The Phantom Stranger is talking!"_the Phantom Stranger
"I'll grant you have a style, Stranger,
"Think, Jack Ryder! Orchids have no thorns!"
"You'd just love to see me hauled before the council of evil mages again! But that bombastic butterball Mordru won't laugh so loudly when he learns--that Felix Faust has slain you all!"_Felix Faust
*Spluzz*_Blue Devil and the Demon (trust me, it's hilarious)
"Gee--maybe they didn't like the name, huh?"_the Creeper
If you've read the comic, you're already chuckling. If you haven't, I hope this spurs you to seek it out in those god-sent instutions called back-issue bins. With a little luck and some archaelogical skill, you'll be able to find it in the cheap sections, where most Blue Devil comics can be found these days.
And now, just because we can, let's play catch-up with these characters .
The Phantom Stranger is alive and well, and you never know just where he'll pop up. He was last seen, I believe, in Spectre #62.
Unless you count cameos in Fate and Book of Fate, Felix Faust was last seen battling his son Faust in The Outsiders, canceled some time back.
The Creeper has an ongoing series (soon to be canceled_write DC and complain!), and has an upcoming appearance in Adventures in the DC Universe.
The Demon is currently appearing in a back-up story in Wonder Woman, although he hasn't yet actually done anything. He last appeared effectively in Batman.
I believe that Man-Bat last appeared in Batman just after the Final Night crossover.
The original Black Orchid died in Black Orchid #1 by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. However, the current Black Orchid is, in a sense, the first one's clone. Her series was canceled not too long ago.
Madame Xanadu last appeared in The Spectre.
And Blue Devil was last seen in Starman #38, where he died. James Robinson, writer of Starman, has since suggested that the death was not meant to be permanent. Where else but comic books can you get away with saying that?