Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Legends from the Beginning

by Scott Frank

Revisiting "Year One" Stories from DC's 1995 Annuals

I am a sucker for "Year One" stories. Like "Secret Origins", the name carries a certain mystique that grabs my attention right away. When used in DC titles, the name "Year One" promises a fresh look at heroes that have captured my imagination since childhood. The annuals that were published in 1995 all carried the "Year One" title, but did they stand up to the promise it implied?

The first time that the "Year One" name was used was in the title of the now classic Batman story written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli. The story originally appeared in 1987 in Batman issues #404 through 407. It has been reprinted in several trade paperback editions. Together with Frank Miller's even more well known The Dark Knight Returns, the story would help change completely the way that Batman would be perceived by both the comics community and the public at large. I can personally testify to having purchased my trade paper-back edition of Batman: Year One as one of my four choices for a penny when I joined the Book of the Month Club. I was not "into" buying comics then, but the story I read enthralled me. Through the grim and dark landscapes, came two human sounding voices- those of Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon- both driven in their own ways and haunted by their own demons. The transformation that Bruce forces himsel! f through during the course of the story was the creation (or re-creation, as the case really is) of an American myth. It is a story that I had heard before, but nowhere as compellingly, and I have not yet tired of re-reading it.

The Batman: Year One story was so successful that it spawned many other projects. Eventually, Batman: Year Two and Batman: Year Three were written, but while moderately successful, they were no where near to being as critically acclaimed, as widely reprinted, or as satisfying for me to read as Year One had been. Of course, Batman: Year One inspired a new monthly comic titled, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight. This new publication would allow creators to explore other possibilities in the Batman mythos, including many stories set in the early years of his career. Additionally, the "Year One" concept was used for many other heroes. Sometimes the name "Year One" was not used specifically in the title, but I have seen several writers refer to stories like Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn and Green Arrow: The Wonder Year as the "Year One's" for Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen, respectively. Since the Batman: Year One story was the major inspiration for the modest comic collection that I have accumulated in adulthood, the boxes that carry it are heavy from both the LODK title and "Year One" type stories like those mentioned here.

More to the point, the "Year One" name was also used for one of DC's so-called "Annual Events." During 1995, the annual issues of each of their monthlies was to be a look at the early years of the career of the hero. The advertisements for these issues carried the phrase, "They were legends from the beginning." I missed these annuals when they first came out, and have been seeking them out as my collection has been growing. Since Fanzing's announcement of a "Year One" issue almost exactly coincided with my finally tracking down the last of these annuals, I thought I would take a look back at them and offer my two cents about each one. How well do these new "legends" establish the mythology of the particular hero, and how well do they carry on the legacy of the "Year One" name?

Spoiler Warning- I'll keep my comments brief, and try not to give away all the surprises, but there will certainly be spoilers in the following list if you haven't read these books before.

I will also use the following ratings:

*****=Lots of fun. Worth seeking out.
****= Pretty good. Certainly a good read.
***= OK.
**= Less than satisfying.
*= Ugh.

For each title, I have included a story summary and my comments, naturally. I have also included a category I call "Notable 'Firsts'", which point out important "first" times that events occur in the lives of these characters. I want to point out that these are almost always not the true "first appearance" of these characters or events, since "Year One" stories are often retellings of older stories. I have included a "theme" or main idea that can be found in the text of nearly all of these stories. I have also included a "best moment" from each- usually a few lines that gave me a chuckle, or a gasp, or a cheer.


Batman Titles

Since Batman: Year One began it all, it seems appropriate to consider the Bat-titles first. Of course, the Frank Miller story had become a classic by the time these were written, and other stories of his earliest years had been regularly told in LODK, so many of these titles chose to focus on particular villains in his Rogues Gallery. (The Joker's story would probably have been the first pick of many, but it seemed to have been explored as much as it could be in Alan Moore's richly written The Killing Joke.)

Batman Annual #19 ***
"Year One: Scarecrow- Masters of Fear"
Writer: Doug Moench; Artists: Bret Blevins and Mike Manley

The Scarecrow takes center stage in this issue. Batman tries to solve the mystery of the mysterious death of Gotham University regents who appear to have died from fear. The origin of the Scarecrow is told through flashbacks. The weakest part of the story is how Jonathan Crane's earliest memories parallel Washington Irving's story of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." When even the names of the supporting characters are similar to those in the book, the story ends up sounding too contrived. Jonathan Crane usually is drawn to look too "cartoony" in an otherwise realistically drawn book. Interestingly, though, the images of Washington Irving's Ichabod Crane bear a infringingly close resemblance to the Disney version.

Notable "firsts": Batman meets the Scarecrow, of course, and gets his first taste of the fear gas.

Theme: Batman: The single most important factor, and the defining difference to date, is the one element no one can touch, and the one thing they can never fight. Not even the mad ones. Fear. Fear and intimidation.

Best moment:

In spite of the fact that Gordon is on the roof waiting with the Batsignal on, Batman surprises Gordon. Reflexively, Gordon pulls out his gun as he whips around. Gordon: You really think it's necessary to jolt my heart? Or wise?
Batman: You'll have to get used to it, Captain. It's the way I AM.


Detective Comics Annual #8 ****
"Questions Multiply the Mystery"
Writer: Chuck Dixon; Artist: Kieron Dwyer

This issue tells the origin of the Riddler, no doubt because it was published the same summer that Jim Carrey's portrayal of that character would be seen in the theaters in Batman Forever. (Fortunately, this comic doesn't owe much else to that movie.) The appearance of both Batman and Gordon here look enough like Batman: Year One, but all of the narration comes from Edward Nygma. In an observation room at Arkham, he tells the story of how he grew from a troubled youth who cheated at puzzles to a criminal that perpetrated increasingly complex crimes with his trademark riddles. Edward Nygma- I had always liked to think that the name that Riddler used, E. Nygma, was simply another alias like Brian T. Zer, the name of the author of the book of riddles he wins in this story. Consequently, I prefer the story of the Riddler that was told (or not told, as the case may be) in the Secret Origins Special in 1989, in which his background and real name remain mys! teries, but I'll concede that revamping the old stories with new elements is what "Year One" stories are all about. At least the riddles in this annual are fun to solve and don't require many impossible leaps of logic. At least some of the crimes in this story come from earlier "classic" stories.

Notable "firsts": The Gotham police get their first list of clues to a Riddler crime. Riddler adopts both the green jumpsuit with question marks and the green suit and tie with question marks. Query and Echo join Riddler to become his "henchmen."

Theme: Riddler: Questions. Questions. QUESTIONS! I'm SICK of all your questions! Prying. Needling. Insinuating. So obvious and tactless. QUIT the senseless quizzing. I will explain in full what you in the DEPTHS of your ignorance struggle to WHEEDLE from me. The pathos. The violence. The genius. This is an EPIC of larceny and murder.

Best moment:

Batman: What are you supposed to be?
Riddler: Huh?
Batman: What are you dressed as? The Question Mark? The Quizmaster?
Riddler: I'm the Riddler!
Batman: The Riddler, hm? I've had it with you "theme" villains.


Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Annual #5 ****
"Wings"
Writer: Chuck Dixon Artist: Quique Alcatena

From the tradition of horror comics came the story of Kirk Langstrom's gruesome transformation into the Man-Bat. Fellow scientists jeered at both the urban legends of the Batman and Langstrom's attempts to understand the mysterious world of real bats. The intensity of his work nearly costs him his fiancee, Francine Lee, but he continues because he feels he is on the verge of a great breakthrough. He hopes to distill the genetic traits of one animal in order to transfer them to another. He has a personal stake in this venture, because he hopes it may cure him of his hearing impairment. Bruce Wayne is the only man in Gotham who may be more driven than Langstrom, and he is being stumped by a resourceful gang called the Ridgerunners. Wayne feels his transformation into the Batman may be nearing completion as he experiments with a set of glider-type wings. At the same time, Langstrom's research proposal is turned down, and he begins taking his own serum to prove his the! ories. He meets initial success, but finds his new super-sensitive hearing is actually a curse. His transformation doesn't end there, of course, and he slowly becomes more animal than man-- the Man-Bat. The Ridgerunners are thrown into sheer terror when they are confronted with this beast, believing it to be the Batman. Langstrom eventually follows his animal instincts to the Batcave, surprising Alfred. The Batman first must face the challenge of how to take down this creature, and secondly must face the question of what to do with it when he does.

The art and writing in this issue are up to the usual high standards of the Legends of the Dark Knight. Several of the scenes of Langstrom during his transformation are truly chilling. The issue is dedicated to Frank Robbins, the cartoonist who helped create the Man-Bat for Detective Comics #400 (June 1970). Robbins had passed away in 1994.

Notable "firsts": Kirk Langstrom becomes the Man-Bat.

Theme: Batman (in narration box): I feel an odd kinship to it. I sense a tragedy about the creature that mirrors my own.

Best moment:

Alfred: MASTER BRUCE!
Bruce: I'm all right, Alfred.
Alfred: You most certainly are not! You received a severe concussion in that fall with those idiotic birdwings.
Bruce: BATwings, Alfred.
Alfred: I am sorry, sir. We must be specific with the details of our neurosis.


Batman: Shadow of the Bat Annual #3 ****
"Year One: Poison Ivy"
Writer: Alan Grant; Penciller: Brian Apthorp; Inker: Stan Woch

Pamela Isely is shown in some of her earliest escapades as Poison Ivy (though her origin is only hinted at in passing here). Batman's interrogation of a perp is interrupted when the suspect explodes into a mushroom death. He sees Ivy but she manages to escape by kissing a man and convincing him, through her natural poisons, that he can fly. Later, Ivy stages a mushroom attack at a charity dinner attended by Bruce Wayne, and ends up giving Bruce Wayne an intoxicating toxin (if I might use that phrase). A warmly hallucinating Batman must capture her to get the antidote. The artists have made Batman look very young in many scenes and he is definitely "Year One-esque" in appearance. Meanwhile, Ivy is quite believably seductive and very sultry looking. The rendering of her appearance gave an extra "*" to my rating. (Adolescent of me? I suppose. But give me a break, I'm writing about comic books here ;-)

Notable "firsts": Batman experiences the deadly charms of Poison Ivy for the first time. He is also seen wishing for a car and developing the arsenal in his utility belt with a phosphor flare. When he speaks of his need for a spectroscope and a full computer facility, Alfred merely says, "I'll add them to 'car' on your Christmas list, sir."

Theme: Ivy: "He's only a man isn't he? When Poison Ivy gets you, the itch lasts forever!"

Best moment:

Bruce is showering in the Batcave, remembering his experience that night. "You know how some women are beautiful, but they just don't turn you on? Well, Poison Ivy is both-- beautiful and sexy! It's almost as if she walks around in a mist of pheromones...!" Alfred proceeds to turn the shower water from "Warm" to "Cold."


Catwoman Annual #2 **
"Catwoman: Year One"
Story: Jordan B. Gorfinkel Breakdowns: Jim Balent Finishes: James A. Hodgkins

After falling out of a window during an attempted heist, Selina Kyle hides from the cops by working in the lawless East End as a prostitute. Her hair is trimmed to a crew cut and we see her (more or less) as she appeared in Frank Miller's Batman: Year One. From one of her tricks, she comes across a way to steal ancient Egyptian (cat-related) artifacts, but in doing so, she angers a ninja named Kai who swears to kill her for defiling his "totem." She follows him to a den of ninjas where instead of getting killed, she joins them by claiming that she is looking for "what is rightfully mine- knowledge." (Huh? Even Selina admits that she doesn't understand why she said that.) At this point the believability of the plot is stretched too thin, and it snaps when she becomes a student with the man who had sworn to kill her. I was interested in the later scenes of this story when we witness scenes that "intersect" with the ones that readers originally saw in Batman: ! Year One, but even these fail to save this story. They were told well enough the first time around. Selina goes on to become Catwoman, and Kai, her sworn enemy, becomes Hellhound. All in all, this story had too many jerky twists to be satisfying. It seems to have been attempting to combine too many different elements of the Catwoman story. Anyway, I suppose the recent revamping of the Catwoman character has made everything in this story moot.

Notable "firsts": Selina receives the name "Cat-woman" from Kai (who hates her passionately). Later she is inspired by the Batman to adopt her cat costume, as she did in Batman: Year One. Her opponent, Kai, becomes Hellhound.

Theme: Selina : "I did what I had to do in order to survive. I've got more lives than a cat you know."

Best moment:

Selina: That's it? I walk in off the street, you don't know me from Black Canary and- badda bing- I'm your student? [Reviewer's note: I was thinking the same thing myself.]
The Sensei: Yes. Your body is well conditioned but you lack the skills to properly command it. Your mind is sharp, but you lack focus.
Selina (thinking to herself): He can tell all that from watching me breathe?


Robin Annual #4 *****
"The Flying Graysons"
Writer: Chuck Dixon Penciller: Jason Armstrong Inker: Robert Campanella

Dick Grayson stars in a straight-forward retelling of the origin of the original Robin, based largely on the story from his very first appearance in Detective Comics #38. The story opens with the death of Robin's parents, the Flying Graysons at Haly's Circus. Dick is taken away to Gotham City's Youth Center, and after getting into fights there, he tries to run away one night. He encounters the Batman, who has been watching Dick like "a guardian angel- a dark angel," and learns that the Batman believes that the death of the Graysons was no accident. Soon, Bruce Wayne sends for Dick and takes him into his foster care. Dick is understandably awed at the grandeur of Wayne Manor and the starlets that Bruce has as companions, but in such a big place, Dick soon comes to feel "like a Christmas puppy." Dick decides to go investigating the death of his parents himself, and hears Boss Zucco's men strong-arming Haly for protection money. Haly is killed by the thugs, and! jumping in, Dick almost gets killed too, but his dark angel is there to protect him. Batman takes him back to the cave and reveals that he is, in fact, Bruce Wayne. Dick becomes Robin because Batman believes that someone inside the circus is involved, though whether or not he would continue in that role after this case was left to be decided. Together they set out to track down Zucco, his accomplice in the circus, and many other of Gotham's "share of criminal psychotics." In the end, Batman says the job is Dick's, "if you want it."

I am trying hard not to compare each and every "Year One" story with origin stories that have come before, but the recent publication of a separate story titled Robin: Year One (first published in 2000 and 2001 in prestige format), begs for a comparison of the two tales. Although the art in the more recent story is much more stylized than the more traditional looking Batman art in this story, both were written by Chuck Dixon (the second with the help of Scott Beatty). Consequently, they do not really contradict each other in any big way. The former shows Robin battling Joker and Two-Face; the latter says he didn't yet. The former implies that Zucco did not die, but his accomplice in the circus did; the latter says that Zucco died (as he does in some versions, including the one in Legends of the Dark Knight #100). Still, the separate stories can be read together, and the second one more or less picks up the story of Robin's first year where the first one ! left off. The latter story tells of Robin's meeting with more famous Batman villains- most notably Two-Face, but also the Mad Hatter, Killer Moth, Blockbuster, Mr. Freeze. More importantly, while the more recent story shows how Dick was developing in his role as Robin, it also tells of how Bruce, Alfred, and Jim Gordon were wrestling with the problems of endangering a child in a vigilante's mission. I recommend both stories.

Notable "firsts": Dick Grayson's parents are killed. He becomes the first Robin. We hear that his mother called him Robin, "because you came to us on the first day of spring."

Theme: Robin: And so I found a new family. A circus that never leaves town.

Best moment:

Dick: You're the Batman. I mean, you're Bruce Wayne.
Bruce: I'm both Dick, but never at the same time.
Alfred: Master Bruce, I've prepared your usual breakfast, and -- GOOD GOD!
Bruce: Alfred, I've never seen you this emotional.
Alfred: And haven't I the RIGHT? All the labor we've put in keeping your distasteful nocturnal forays a secret, and you--
Bruce: I think we can trust Dick, Alfred. He's helping me with an important investigation. Aren't you Dick?
Dick: Well... yeah!


Azrael Annual #1 ***
"Requiem"
Writer: Dennis O'Neil Pencillers: Barry Kitson, David Ammerman Inkers: James Pascoe, Ken Branch, Marrio Morais, Pam Eklund, Rob Leigh

The story tells not really about Jean Paul Valley's first year as Azrael, since that story was already told elsewhere. Instead, it tells of the last year of the life of his father, who of course passed the role of Azrael on to his son as he died. Really, this story is not so much a "Year One" story as it is a "Year Last" story, or a "Year Minus One", if you will. This story "intersects" with the original story of Azrael told in the Sword of Azrael miniseries. The story opens with Ludovic Valley crawling, wounded and dying, to his son Jean Paul. Flashbacks tell us of the father's attempts to kill LeHah, first in the mountains of Europe, and then in a penthouse in America. Patricia Partridge, Ludovic's guide and potential love interest (were it not for his monastic vows), has accompanied him to America. She used to work for LeHah, and Ludovic hopes to use her to find him. However, after she learns that he is Azrael, the order to kill the innocent woman is give! n to Ludovic by no less than the spirit of St. Dumas himself. How he manages to resist and not kill her is tied to the scene that opens the Sword of Azrael mini-series, repeated here with different details. Suffice it to say that she never knew more about him or the sacrifice he made before he crawled to his son's place to die, passing on the mantle of Azrael.

Notable "firsts": Jean Paul is given the role of Azrael, though it would seem that his father hoped that his son would be able to break free of the System.

Theme: Jean Paul: "I would no longer be Jean Paul Valley... I would become as he had been. An assassin. Azrael. But, now, I allowed myself to wonder who he was, this man I knew as my father, where he had come from, how he died such an ugly death..."

Best moment:

Ludovic demonstrates his utter inability to relate with people that has resulted from the System, his training to be Azrael.
Patricia: What kind of a gift did you get him [your son] in Europe?
Ludovic: Why would I get him a gift?
Patricia: Because you haven't seen him for a long time, of course. You have to give him something.
Ludovic: What would you suggest?
Patricia: Does he like baseball? Give him a ball and glove.
Ludovic: You can purchase those things in stores?
Patricia: You ARE funny.
The real moment comes later. "He tries to think but he can not. He has been trained not to think, only to obey, and all there is for him to obey now is an impulse he does not understand." He rings the bell of Jean Paul's place, hands him a sack with a baseball in it, and walks away without any other word of explanation.


Superman Titles

The Adventures of Superman Annual #7 ****
"Truth and Justice"
Writer: Karl Kesel Penciller: Ron Wagner Inker: Joseph Rubinstein

As Lois Lane tries to snag an interview with the newly arrived Superman, he begins helping the police on a number of cases. Because he is making it so-difficult for the old fashioned kind of criminal, a new one evolves to take its place. Ugly Mannheim arrives in town and, with Kalibak, tries to pull a job with the forces of Apokolips at his disposal. Superman, with the help of police like Dan Turpin, manages to put them down, of course. I've never gotten into the Jack Kirby New Gods characters, and I'm not really excited about their appearance here. Large parts of this story (such as the robbery/hostage situation he defuses in the opening, the rival newspapers that beat Lois to Superman stories, the trick that Lois uses to get Superman's attention and the subsequent conversation that they have) retell portions of John Byrne's Man of Steel mini-series from 1986 that retold the origin story of Superman and set the stage for his post-Crisis story.

Notable "firsts": Clark gets a job interview at the Daily Planet, and manages to secure a job because of the Superman interview that he writes (beating Lois to the punch). Clark and Lois meet. Superman and the New Gods characters (Ugly Mannheim and Kalibak) meet for the first time. Intergang is founded. Maggie Sawyer and Dan Turpin and several other supporting characters meet. The Special Crimes Unit is founded.

Theme: Dan Turpin: "The world's a different place than it was a few weeks back. An' I think things're pickin' up speed. It's a whole new ballgame- a whole new era, just like he said! The era of Superman- Year One."

Best moment:

Superman- "Don't my actions say enough? Major crime has become nearly non-existent in just a matter of days thanks to me."
Captain- "Yes, but crime is like a virus that survives by adapting. You're scaring off the usual perps, and what we're wondering - what we're scared of - is what will take their place!"


Action Comics Annual #7 ****
"Loss and Space"
Writers: David Michelinie Penciller: Darick Robertson Inker: Brad Vancata

As the story opens, Superman foils an attempted high-tech truck highjacking, and shows that he is becoming quite confident with his abilities in his new role. While in Smallville, he is contacted by a pacifist alien race to help stop a world destroying force, the H'tros. He is shunned by the very race he has come to save, and learns that different beings may have vastly different interpretations of how to reach the goal of peace. There is plenty of action in this issue of Action Comics, as Superman battles the H'tros, deals the perils of unaided space travel, and comes home to save the Earth as well. Through the course of the story, he also learns a lesson in humility, and examines why it is that he does what he does. This story is a well-executed one, though it is probably not as thought provoking as it hoped to be.

Notable "firsts": Superman flies into space and visits another planet for the first time. We hear what may be the first time someone mistakes him for a bird, then a plane.

Theme: Pa Kent: Because behind those hotshot powers, son, you're still Clark Kent. We taught you to do what's right, for the deed itself, not for what comes after. You feel like you do because we raised a good boy.

Best moment:

Pa Kent (After hearing Clark propose an attempted flight into space): Are you sure...?
Clark: Don't worry Pa. I'll be fine.
Pa: But this is so new, and dangerous! You could have limitations you don't even know about!
Clark: I appreciate your concern, Pa. I know it's because you love me. But there's a fairly big fact you seem to be forgetting: I'm Superman!


Superman: Man of Steel Annual #4 *****
"Hero"
Writer: Louise Simonson Penciller: John Paul Leon Inker: Dennis Janke

The main part of this story is set against the framework of Clark and Lois competing for the next Superman story. The story "intersects" stories from other comics as Superman meets many of his soon-to-be allies and fights a number of battles. Throughout the story, Superman confronts the mystery of where he and his powers have come from. This story is exactly what I want from a Year One story, with its main character examining his very reasons for being while forming relationships with characters that will be legendary themselves. The story's only problem is that it is patched together from other stories and the pieces don't always flow together very well. The episode with Batman, for example, is an abridged version of the story from John Byrne's 1986 mini-series The Man of Steel, issue # 3. His meeting with Aquaman comes from the Year One story in Aquaman Annual #1 (see below). His meeting with the JLA (Hal, Barry, J'onn, Aquaman, and Black Canary) is! at least based in part on a story that goes WAY back to Brave and Bold #29. [This last story would also be told in the JLA: Year One mini-series from 1998. I LOVED that one!] I do not know if there are other sources for his first meeting with Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), the Flash (Barry Allen), or the Martian Manhunter (J'onn J'onzz), but I'd be willing to bet that there are. Finally, Kal-El's meets with the holographic image of his father when he finally learns of his alien origin. (Again, John Byrne's Man of Steel miniseries, is the source for this material.) I can understand how others might see this issue as a big "clip show" without much of an original story, and I can see that the art doesn't stand up to that in many of the other versions of these stories. Still, I have to say, I liked seeing them brought together in a more or less continuous story.

Notable "firsts": The story includes Clark first being shown his spaceship and Kal-El's discovery that he is from Krypton via a holographic image of his father. The story also includes the first meeting of Superman and Batman (with the lame villain of the Magpie), of Superman and the Green Lantern (Hal Jordan, who demonstrates both his insecurities and the importance of Coast City to him), of Superman and the Flash (Barry Allen. This part of the story also allows Lois and Iris Allen to meet, and features a battle with the Weather Wizard), of Superman and Aquaman (along with the gods whom Arthur was battling at the time), of Superman and the Martian Manhunter (who is revealed to the world for the first time), and of Superman and the Year One Justice League of America (who, with Black Canary, are battling themselves as a result of a criminal from the future named Xotar. They extend an invitation for Superman to join but he declines.)

Theme: Superman: I may not know where I came from, but I know where I am. And where I'm going. And I have friends now willing to share the journey. That's what counts.

Best moment:

Batman: I know this city, and I've made myself good enough to face it on its own terms.
Superman: "Made" yourself...? You don't have any superpowers?
Clark (to Pa Kent, in next scene): He didn't answer, of course. Just grinned his wolfish grin and leapt into the darkness.


Superman Annual #7 ***
"Strange Visitor"
Writer: Roger Stern Penciller: Chris Gosset Inkers: Pascoe and Woch

Seven mystics watch as Krypton destroys itself and follow the ship that carries its sole survivor to earth. Years later, an adult Clark Kent is followed through the Daily Planet by a man in a trenchcoat who knows that Clark is Superman. The man is actually Dr. Occult, and he wants Superman's help to stop an evil force named Thahn who, years earlier, had killed his partner, Rose Psychic. (Rose, it turns out, "time-shares" with Dr. Occult.) Superman/Clark find that even Occult's office is not what it seems as the two of them plummet into a surreal realm. Fighting the demonic monsters with Occult, and a strangely returned-to-life Rose, Superman finds himself in New York City, where Thahn has been creating an army of monsters from homeless people. Superman is his next intended victim. After defeating Thahn, Superman is left wondering how much Occult knows about his life and origins, but Occult is not willing to enlighten the Man of Steel about Krypton until the time is ! right. This issue is an OK story, competently done.

Notable "firsts": Superman discovers his vulnerability to magic, though he is able to shake off a "whammy" from Dr. Occult, and ultimately defeats Thahn.

Theme: A mystic (speaking to Dr. Occult) : ...The man of steel is still so young and impetuous. He is perhaps the most powerful mortal on Earth, but he is mortal and he is hardly infallible. Today he has learned a most important lesson. He has learned that there are forces beyond his understanding, beyond his comprehension... forces more powerful than he. Today, he has journeyed far along the road to true wisdom... a road that can seem endless. May his travels take him even farther.

Best moment:

Clark: Working on a hot story?
Lois: Stupid filler feature. D'you know how long the Amu River is?
Clark: In miles? One thousand five hundred seventy-eight.
Lois: -?- That's right! How did you know?
Clark: Walked it once.


Steel Annual #1 ***
"Spilled Blood"
Writer: Louise Simonson Pencillers: Kevin Sharpe, Jesse Orozco, Tim Hamilton, and Joe St. Pierre Inkers: Dave Bednar, Rob Leigh, and Wayne Faucher

Wow, with all of the horrible things that have happened to John Henry Irons, it is a wonder that he isn't a much darker character, or even a villain. This story opens with a young John Henry running home to tell his family about the great game of baseball he pitched, but instead, he finds his grandparents have been brutally murdered in their home. He's inspired to follow a promising career in baseball. He hits a homerun, but he gets told that his parents died in a car crash even before he tags home. He experiences a strange, time-warp to see himself as Steel fighting in the skies over Washington, and meets his nephews to be. (Does this fight scene/time traveling come from Steel #8?) That vision wasn't depressing, but it certainly was weird. Then, as his more than promising college physics career is drawing to a close, and he is just handing his last final exam, he gets a phone call that his brother has been shot in a drug-related drive-by. It seems at the ver! y moments that this guy was supposed to be feeling any victory in his life, he was forced to face the death of someone near him. He goes to build super-weapons for the government, while designing his armor on his own time to follow the vision of "the flying man" (his future self) he had seen. During his first test-flight, he becomes involved in a fight between two drug lords and can not effect any result. Worse, he finds that his super-weapons have been sold to Qurac and are responsible for the deaths of many innocent non-combatants. Fearing that the company he used to work for may be out to get him, he goes into hiding as a steel worker in Metropolis. While there, he is first saved by Superman, and then he is a witness to the fight with Doomsday that killed him. This story ends, where 1993's Reign of the Supermen begins. I am probably supposed to think that his story is impressive because he puts family first in spite of all of his troubles, and these losses ar! e already part of Steel's story, but the timing of all of his great losses still makes this a somewhat depressing tale to read. Steel was still a young character, having only been around since the death of Superman in 1993. Maybe a less comprehensive look at the character would have served him better.

Notable "firsts": John Henry Irons becomes Steel. He also meets Guy Gardner on his college football team, and is saved by Superman in the moment that inspired him to become Steel. He also meets Angora Lapin and Cabral, who become future adversaries of his.

Theme: Sheriff: Black or white, the best way any man can keep his family safe is to get so rich and powerful nobody can touch 'em. (Said rather tactlessly at the scene of the murder of John Henry's grandparents.)

Best moment:

John Henry Irons: Superman! I owe you my life!
Superman: Than make sure it counts for something.
[It's a scene that has been shown elsewhere, like in Superman: The Man of Steel #22 and Steel #0, but its one of the few uplifting moments in an otherwise depressing book.]


Superboy Annual #2 ***
"The Lost Boys"
Writers: Karl and Barbara Kesel Penciller: David Brewer Inker: Ande Parks, Pam Eklund, Ken Branch, Wayne Faucher

Superboy returns from a charity benefit to find that Dubilex has been contacted by Cadmus. They are urgently requesting Superboy to return to the place where he was cloned. It turns out that Superboy is actually the thirteenth attempt at a clone that Cadmus made, and the previously unknown first twelve unsuccessful clones have been uncovered, still in their tubes. These clones all have a variety of odd-shaped heads and body forms, except for one. The one that looked normal actually had a "cellular instability" because of "an inherently flawed process", according to Dr. Packard who led the project's efforts. Predictably, this clone is the one who is accidentally revived and released. Aided by a strange cast of characters from Cadmus- the Guardian, the clones of the Newsboy Legion, Gilotina from Apokolips, Dubilex, and a huge strange beast called Angry Charlie- Superboy goes searching for the missing clone. When this assembly needs rescuing themselves, the clone reve! als itself and resembles a Bizarro Superboy in appearance and attitude. Later, Superboy learns whose DNA he was cloned from, and Superman himself makes a cameo appearance.

Like Steel, Superboy is a relatively new character from 1993's Reign of the Supermen storyline, so virtually everything done here can be considered "Year One" (or "Year One and a Half" at the very least), and his "first birthday" (the anniversary of his original escape from Cadmus) is marked in this issue. While Steel's annual was hurt by trying to have a comprehensive look at his past, Superboy's was helped by simply being an important episode in his first year. Really the worst thing about this book is how many weird characters are thrown at a reader from the bowels of Cadmus. Most take a page or two for introduction, and then do little to advance the plot, but that's Cadmus for you.

Notable "firsts": Part of the original cell culture that Superboy was cloned from is revealed and is used to determine the identity of the original donor- Paul Westfield, former director of Cadmus, and a person Superboy hates.

Theme:

Woman: You have such a good heart! Your parents must be so proud!
Superboy: Um... Sure they would be, Mrs. Tazuka, 'cept the problem with us clones is we don't really have any parents, y'know? Grown from a single cell... Jumped through so many DNA hoops there's no tellin' whose...

Best moment:

Bizarro Superboy: Don't ever call me Superman! [echoing some of the first words Superboy said in his first appearances in the Reign of the Supermen storyline, "Don't ever call me Superboy!" Adventures of Superman #500 and 501]


Doomsday Annual #1 ***
(Contains five short stories with separate writers and artists, noted below.)

Doomsday, of course, is best remembered as the monster that succeeded in killing Superman in the instantly classic Superman #75. By the time that this annual came out, it had been revealed that Doomsday was, in fact, quite old (around one quarter of a million years old, to be specific), and the product of genetic research on Krypton in a search for the ultimate killing machine. This one-shot tells several stories of Doomsday's encounters with life on his long journey from Krypton to Earth.

In the first story, "Communion" (written by Jerry Ordway, art by Dennis Janke), survivors and victims of the Doomsday v. Superman fight that killed Superman are gathering at the hole from which Doomsday first emerged. The gathering includes many people that we met the first time around. They are seeking answers to the tragedy they faced, and Superman himself arrives to give them what he could. This story provides the framing for three other stories about Doomsday's history. In "Showdown" (Story and layout by Dan Jurgens; Inks by Brett Breeding), Doomsday meets none other than Darkseid himself. On a planet where Darkseid is resentfully entering into an arranged marriage-- a planet that contains vast amounts of an explosive that the forces of Apokolips need-- a ship crashes with a creature of immense power. In spite of the fact that Darkseid "experiences the very first twinge of fear in his life," he prepares to go hand to hand with Doomsday. In "...Some Say in Fire" (! Story by Louise Simonson; Pencils by Chris Batista; Inks by John Nyberg), Doomsday arrives at his next stop, the planet Khundia. The Khundians are a very war-like race and are in the midst of deadly ceremonial combat when the beast arrives. As the Khundians reel from the havoc he causes, they come to realize that he is not a weapon that belongs to any of them. "Until now, it has been right that no clan trust another," says one warrior, "but no clan alone has the power or knowledge to destroy this great enemy." Their cooperation may very well signal the beginnings of the Khundian Empire. Finally, in "In Blackest Night" (written by Roger Stern; art by Gil Kane and Jerry Ordway), Doomsday faces the Green Lantern known as Zharan Pel. The Green Lantern finds ships full of refugees fleeing from a planet being ravaged by Doomsday. After a hard-fought battle, the unthinkable happens as Doomsday takes the ring from the Green Lantern and uses is to transport himself to Oa to b! attle the Guardians and the rest of the Green Lantern Corps. The issues ends with the story "Requiem" (Story by Jerry Ordway; Art by Dennis Janke). People of the planet Calaton remember a being called the Radiant who died in battle with Doomsday (and who looks a bit too much like the Silver Surfer). This epilogue bridges to the Superman/Doomsday trade paperback that was going on sale at that time. This Year One issue is a series of slugfests in the wake of Doomsday's destructive rampages- very reminiscent of the original Doomsday story, but in much smaller, more manageable doses.

Notable "firsts": Doomsday encounters the New Gods of Apokolips, the Green Lantern Corps, and the Khundians. The seeds for the Khundian Empire (from Legion books) are sown.

Theme: Superman: "We share a bond in fear. I used mine to motivate me to face Doomsday again, and you folks overcame yours to come here. There's no shame in it... Even beings who call themselves gods learned to fear the name Doomsday."

Best moment: [I've mentioned several above, so I won't write more here.]


ShadowDragon Annual #1 ***
"Dawn of the Dragon"
Created by (plot and finished art): Brett Breeding Co-developed by (plot and script): David Michelinie Layout Artist: Dick Guidano

ShadowDragon, basically a very high-tech ninja, is seen fighting security robots with an impressive combination of skill and gadgetry. It is seen that he is Prince Savitar Bandu of the nation of Bhutran, and that he has stolen technology to benefit his developing country. Flashbacks show that he is a prince that is very concerned about his people and is willing to use his martial arts skills to defend them in the streets. He was suspicious of the nation of Chi-Lann, who were negotiating with his father, King Khuran, but honor demanded that he risk his life to defend their ambassador. On his own, he investigated a "hospital" that the Chi-Lannese called Kan-Tang. He found that it was actually a military installation where they were developing high-tech armor, battle suits called the X-10 that included invisibility among their many functions. With the help of a covert force of Bhutranian rebels, he stole one of the X-10 suits, and had to figure out how to worked it in ! order to escape. Once out, he could not share news of the military developments of Chi-Lann for fear that a military buildup of their own would take still more money away from much needed social programs.

Really, this "Year One" issue is not the story of an established character, but is meant to help introduce the character that would be playing an important role in the Superman titles that year. [He first appeared in Superman #97 (Feb. 1995) and stole data from S.T.A.R. about Superman for Conduit. The information would lead Conduit's attacks on people close to Superman and the "Death of Clark Kent" storyline. Shadowdragon would later help Superman destroy Conduit's network, in Superman: Man of Steel #46 (July 1995).] This story ends promising an interesting future in Metropolis. The story is reasonably well told, but it now really seems like just a minor footnote in the history of the DC universe.

Notable "firsts": Savitar becomes Shadowdragon. On the last page, he sees Superman flying overhead for the first time.

Theme: Savitar (in narration): The battlesuit became something, new, different while I... became something more! The Shadowdragon had been a legendary figure, a larger-than-life protector in Bhutranian lore. Now, it became a modern myth, a whisper of fear in the halls of international corporations... a rumor that somehow spirited away precious secrets-- and left them in the hands where they would most benefit Bhutran.

Best moment:

Savitar (to his brother and martial arts sparring partner): Come on, Kin. Minimal duties or not, we'd best get back to them.
Kintaro: You take this martial arts stuff way to seriously, Sav. We've both been trained since childhood-- but to gain grace, to develop noble bearing.
Savitar: Bearing is necessary, brother. But in today's world, a spinning back-fist can be useful as well!


The Rest of the DC Universe

Green Lantern Annual #4 ****
"Shared Lives"
Plot: Ron Marz Dialogue: Kevin Ferrera Pencillers: Tom Grindberg and Joe Phillips Inkers: Bill Anderson, John Lowe, Dexter Vines

As the story opens, former Green Lantern Hal Jordan, known at this time as Parallax, is stealing power batteries from Alan Scott and Guy Gardner. He use these lanterns to charge his power ring at the same time that Kyle Rayner charges his. Due to a freak accident they change places with each other, "Freaky Friday" style. Kyle becomes the Hal of several years previous, and finds himself in the midst of a fight with The Invisible Destroyer to defend Coast City (which was supposedly already destroyed) from a nuclear explosion. [This story was originally told with Hal Jordan as the hero in Showcase #23, in 1959. It was the second appearance of the new Silver Age hero.] Hal, meanwhile, finds himself in the life of the Kyle of several months earlier, in a moment with Alex, his hot and horny (and supposedly dead) girlfriend. Kyle uses his ring to discover that Hal/he is a test pilot at Ferris aircraft, makes Carol Farris angry at him, and blows off a Guardian when h! e is ordered around. Hal finds Major Force attacking Alex, and manages to defeat him. (In the "real" world, Kyle did not find Major Force until after he had killed Alex. This story was originally told in Green Lantern #54.) Hoping that he might find a way back to his real life, Kyle tries charging his ring again. At the same time, Hal, convinced that he has been given a second chance to be a hero again, charges his ring too. They switch back, and both find themselves at Alexandra's grave.

This story doesn't fit the typical "Year One" formula, but it does attempt to give us insight about how earlier experiences helped to form the present characters. Using the "switching places" plot device is a editorial decision that makes sense given the fact that Kyle Rayner had only been around for a little more than a year in 1995. The plot twist is a novel one, and the story is an enjoyable read. Hal's quest for power comes in the wake of his attempts to restart time in Zero Hour in 1994.

Notable "firsts": None really, but we get some peeks at old favorites such as Carol Ferris, Tom Kalmaku, and Alexandra DeWitt. The Invisible Destroyer was the first super-villain that Hal Jordan had faced.

Theme:

Kyle: Well, you didn't save her, Hal. She's still, here [in her grave], isn't she?
Hal: Nothing is written in stone in this life.
Kyle: Epitaphs are. Now drop the subject, Okay? Things are what they are, and that's that.
Hal: No. Things change.

Best moment:

Alex: Well, looks like you're already up and about... which is good because you're going to need your strength.
[Well, ok, it isn't really what she says, but it's the way she says it. It has got to be the sexiest moment in these annuals.]


Flash Annual # 8 ****
"Growing Up Fast"
Writers: Mark Waid Penciller: Dave Brewer Inker: Mark Stegbauer

Wally and Linda are decorating their house. They come across his old Kid Flash costumes, and Wally begins reminiscing to her. He briefly tells her of how he got his powers, and then skips to the day he became the Flash, some months after Barry Allen died in the Crisis. Wally told of his visit to the Flash museum when he was in denial, believing that Barry would be coming back some day. Wally still insisted on filling in for him until he returned. He tells of his first battle in the Flash uniform, a rather embarrassing loss to Doctor Alchemy. Fortunately for him, he got an assist from the Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. Jordan and the first Flash, Jay Garrick, try to have a discussion with Wally about his recent failure and his inability to cope with Barry's death, but Wally got angry and raced out. The three superheroes met Dr. Alchemy again, and this time it took Wally to save the day. In a back up-story called, "Kid Flash, Day Two" (written by Tennessee Peyer, penci! led by Humberto Ramos, and inked by Wayne Faucher and Ken Branch), a younger Wally experiences his first days after that accident that bestowed him with speed powers, and learns some lessons from his Aunt Iris. Writers had an interesting choice to make in writing a "Year One" for Wally, since they could either choose from his first year of having powers or his first year of being the Flash. In this issue, they have chosen both, and have succeeded in giving us some meaningful looks at Wally's mind in the first days of his careers.

Notable "firsts":Wally dons the Flash costume (and abandons the Kid Flash persona) for the first time. Page 32 is an homage to the cover of Flash #1 from 1987, when Wally first officially appeared as the Flash. In the second story, Kid Flash beats his first Rogue, Mr. Element.

Theme: Wally: Sorry... really sorry ...I didn't get it together sooner. Jay was right. We each deal with grief in our own way. In my case, badly. I've been living in denial, and it's been holding me back. But it's time I accepted the truth. I may not be ready for Barry's job- but I owe it to ...to his memory ...to give it my best, to do it my own way- but the right way.

Best moment:

Wally: My original costume. I got it nine years ago... the day a lightening bolt burst through Barry Allen's window... covering me in a bath of electrified chemicals that made me every bit as fast as Barry himself! It was the thrill of a lifetime. He was the Flash, my hero... and I was his sidekick... Speedy!
Linda: I thought Speedy was Green Arrow's sidekick.
Wally: Just testing. No, your colleagues in the media stuck me with the less-than-impressive nom-de-velocity of 'Kid Flash.' I wanted to be Speedy.


Wonder Woman Annual #4 **
"Ancient Blood, Ancient Stone"
Writer: Kate Worley Penciller: Brent Anderson Inker: Ken Branch

Looters are raiding tombs in old Mayan temples, but someone (or something) is killing them in return. Diana decides to visit Mexico with her friend, archeology Professor Julia Kapetalis, and her daughter, Vanessa. Colonel Munoz, the man in charge, tries to assure her party that the destruction to the temples is only local vandals, not an organized looting ring. At the Mayan city, they see a magnificent statue of Balum, the half-human, half-jaguar god of the ancient Americans. The sight of this archeological discovery foreshadows the appearance of the Cheetah, a.k.a. Barbara Minerva (though oddly, this story does not tell of Cheetah's origin nor of her first meeting with Wonder Woman). The Cheetah is being paid to keep both the villagers and Diana away from the temples, but the relics are of interest to beings more powerful than either the Cheetah or Wonder Woman.

Although this story is set in Diana's past, this story does not seem to contain anything that, to my knowledge, is necessarily part of Wonder Woman's earliest history. It does not seem to contain any significant firsts, and Diana seems confident and capable in her role as Wonder Woman. By the time of this story, she is well-known worldwide, even to villagers in remote parts of Mexico. I'm really not sure why this story is considered a "Year One" story. If it is a retelling of an earlier story, I have not been able to locate it. It's not a terrible story on its own, but at times it does have a "Scooby-Doo" feel to its mystery. As a final note, I think this is the worst drawn of the many portrait-style covers for these annuals. Something about her face is all wrong.

Notable "firsts": (None that I spot.)

Theme: Native: I was reminding them that the old gods do not look kindly on the desecration of their temples, and that there is more to fear than the law.
Dr. Kapetalis: Well, sometimes superstition works where logic fails.
Native: Superstition, perhaps. But some of those who have gone to rob Tzchilan... have not come back.

Best moment:

Diana: How can these people be so blind to their own heritage? On Themyscira, we are brought up to have nothing but reverence for our past. Gilbert: Ah, Well, your island is a bountiful place, is it not? Unlike this land?
Diana: But isn't Quinero right? About the site being worth more if it's left as it is?
Gilbert: Poverty tends to shorten people's sight, Princess.
[I'm a history major and a social studies teacher. I liked Diana's point of view in this scene. It is also the only point in the story where Diana seems to be learning about the outside world.]


Green Arrow #7 ***
"From the Beginning"
Writer: Chuck Dixon Artists: Rick Burchett, Eduardo Barreto, Chris Renaud, and Gerry Fernandez

The story opens with Green Arrow being put on the spot by a "new" villain named Nicholas Kotero. "You choose or they die," says the villain. "You stick to your quaint little vow not to kill and the lady dies." A flashback then takes a reader to Oliver Queen's yacht in the days before he became Green Arrow. He is seen abusing some of the hired help, before drunkenly falling overboard. He swims to an almost deserted island. To survive, he fashions a bow and arrows for himself, but his first meat is stolen by a mysterious person. After setting a trap, Ollie catches the man, who claims to be a sailor named Steven Clothier. They begin building a makeshift vessel to get off the island, and Ollie finds useful items in a nearby shipwreck. In that same shipwreck, he also discovers that Clothier is not who he claims to be and finds his real name is Nicholas Kotero. When confronted with the information, Kotero becomes violent, and Ollie remembers that Kotero was t! he infamous "Love Boat Killer," a killer whose chosen prey were women on cruise ships. "I should kill you. But I think more of myself than that," says Ollie as he pushes off on the raft to leave Kotero behind. At the next island, Ollie captures a band of marijuana growers and forces them to return him to home. Oliver Queen has become the Green Arrow, and skipping forward in time, Kotero has found Ollie and puts him into the situation we found him in at the beginning of the story as revenge for leaving him behind. The insane Kotero is trying to put the blame for the people he has killed on Ollie, because Ollie did not kill him when he had the chance. Ollie finds a way to stop him, without compromising his integrity. This story adds a new element to the Green Arrow origin that is not necessarily an improvement. Like a young Bruce Wayne seeing his father going to a masquerade ball dressed as a Bat-man, this new addition of a killer to the island Ollie was stranded on m! akes the story seem less plausible, not more so.

Notable "firsts": The Green Arrow's origin is told once again. We see him get his first bow and arrow (a Christmas present) and see the first kill he made with it as a small boy.

Theme: Green Arrow: You know, this has all been a kick until now. I thought maybe I'd get bored with it after a while. But there's a lot of animals like you out there. Maybe there's a need for a swashbuckler in this world.

Best moment:

Ollie (discovering the marijuana growers on the second island, his bow drawn): Excuse me gentlemen. I want one of those frosty tallboys. I want any junk food you have on you. And a ride on your boat. In that order.


Aquaman Annual #1 ****
Untitled story
Writer: Peter David Colored by: Tom McCraw Framing sequence by: Martin Egeland and Howard M. Shum

Intruders find the "Aquacave" that serves as Aquaman's retreat. They begin looking through the book in which he has been writing. Actually, the book is part of the Atlantis Chronicles, and it is also seen in Aquaman: Time and Tide, a companion volume to this Year One issue in many ways. The intruders read three separate stories about Aquaman's life. In the first story (by Casey Jones and Craig Gilmore), a very young Arthur tries to stop the god Triton from taking Diana from Paradise Island as his unwilling bride. The woman who will become Wonder Woman does not realize that the man who is to become Aquaman is trying to save her, and she gives him a few mighty wallops too. Might their encounter be the blossoming of a romance? The second story (by Jake Jacobson and Craig Gilmore), takes place in Arthur's first year as the king of Atlantis. The gods Eryx and Eros (a.k.a. Cupid) get sparks going between Aquaman and Mera for the first time, thanks to some help fro! m Garth ("Aqualad"). The couple goes to a small island in the Pacific, "one of the most beautiful places on Earth" according to Aquaman, where the atmosphere, the wine, and the power of Eros do the trick. In the third story (by J. Califiore and Mark McKenna) an angry Poseidon is pursuing Aquaman, and Superman comes to try to give assistance. (This story is also told from Superman's point of view in Superman: Man of Steel Annual #4, mentioned above.) In the final story (by Phil Jimenez and John Stokes), Mera experiences a difficult breech birth with Aquaman's son, while the vengeful Poseidon wants Aquaman to feel the true burden of being "King of the Sea," and forces him to make an impossible choice. This volume has less than a coherent story from beginning to end, but the vignettes from Aquaman's early life are certainly important ones. The book is all the more enjoyable when taken together with Peter David's similarly written, Time and Tide.

Notable "firsts": Aquaman meets Wonder Woman and Superman for the first time. He makes love to Mera for the first time, and much later becomes a father. He also briefly confronts the vision of massive teeth grinding in a whirlpool, "an image that would haunt me in later years, and even presage the loss of my hand." (Referring to the character-altering events that occurred in the Aquaman series in 1994, also by Peter David.)

Theme: Aquaman (writing): Often people encounter misfortune and complain that God, or the gods, are out to get them. In my case, I know it to be true.

Best moment:

Aquaman (narrating): "There was no getting away. I was pinned... bleeding, battered, and helpless... and as I tried blinking blood out of my eye, I heard some idiot ask, 'You're Aquaman, aren't you.' I though, 'Great, he probably wants an autograph.'"
He is surprised to look up to see Superman.


Hawkman Annual #2 ***
"Wings Over Time"
Writer: William Messner-Loebs Art for chapters one and two: Ron Wagner Layouts for chapter three: Jackson Guice Finishes for chapter three: Ron Boyd

3,600 years ago, in ancient Egypt, a hero arose to fight the oppression of the hated Hyksos. He was said to be able to fly, and used the mythic symbol of Horus, the hawk-headed god, to inspire his followers. He was, in reality, Prince Khufu-Kha-Tar, and he was being aided by a Hyksos woman named Chay-ara. When Chay-ara was captured by Hath-Set for the pharaoh, she pretended to give him the secrets of the "night metal" which allowed Khufu to fly. When the greedy pharaoh tried to use it, he was killed. Khufu's followers made an airborne attack on the pharaoh's men, and were victorious, but Hath-Set cursed Khufu with his dying breath.

Jump ahead to 1940. A mad scientist named Anton Hastor is working for Nazi agents in New York, but is troubled by dreams of Ancient Egypt. Meanwhile, newspaper reporter Shiera Saunders keeps her new neighbor Carter Hall from sleepwalking off of a apartment building's patio. Hall is an archeologist and collector of Egyptian artifacts who is convinced that his dreams of a vision of the god Horus are memories of a past life. When the Nazis turn off the power in New York, Hall tries out his Hawkman regalia. He kills the scientist, who recognizes prince Khufu as his enemy from centuries before.

Finally, in the 1990s, a beautiful woman named Helene Astar of the Hyskos Foundation is "lobbying" in bed with Sen. Parker Chamberlain. She reveals to readers that she is the reincarnation of Hath-Set and Dr. Hastor. Katar Hol (who is now a Thanagarian who actually has wings and funky-looking hawkeyes) tells how he has memories of generations of hawk champions and is trouble by the fact that he has no female companion the way that they did. To correct this, he tries to make up with a certain Andrea Lencione, but he is drawn into a fight with an avatar, a monster that only he can see. Andrea is under the control of Helene Astar because of a chip in her head, and both she and Hawkman nearly die in this story. A future confrontation between Hawkman and Helene Astar is foreshadowed.

Hawkman has become the symbol for characters who have had their histories confused by to many rehashings of their origins. (And almost as if to taunt the reader with this fact, the last 8 pages of the book are pin-ups of the various versions of Hawkman). 1994's Zero Hour had done a great deal to further confuse Hawkman's history. I will not pretend to understand how this story fits into whatever there might be of a Hawkman continuity. One possible interpretation of this issue is that the first two chapters of this issue are just a dream of one of the characters, but I don't think that's a necessary part of this book. The story may have been negated by the recently restarted Hawkman title-- I'm not sure. Judged on its own merits, though, this story is a satisfying for its first half. Its second half is less so, mainly because it is tied to the ongoing storyline in the then-current Hawkman title, as well as Infinity, Inc..

Notable "firsts": Hawkman's ancient Egyptian origins are told, and the pattern of reincarnations begun.

Theme: Hath-Set: With my dying breath I curse you, Khufu-Kha-Tar... Avatar of Horus... Hawk Man! Though it be for a generation, or ten, or a thousand thousand generations, I will follow you! I will destroy you and make your power to defy gravity mine! We are bound together by death... forever...

Best moment:

Pharaoh: Ahhh, soon I shall be one with the air! And now, bring me my wiIIINNNNGGGGSSSS"
Hath-Set: He just... vanished.
Khufu-Kha-Tar: Yes. Soon he will be in the regions where the Sun-Daemons walk... where the blood and brains boil and the heart bursts! Unless he panics and removes the harness...
[The pharaoh comes smashing back to the ground with a scream and a thick "whaunk".]
Khufu-Kha-Tar (with a grin): He must have panicked.


Justice League America Annual #9 **
"In 30 Seconds"
Writer: Gerard Jones Penciller: Jeff Parker Inker: John Nyburg

This story takes place "within" Justice League International #12 published back in 1988. At that time, the roll call of the league was: Captain Atom, Mister Miracle, Batman, Guy (wimpy version) Gardner, Rocket Red, Blue Beetle, Black Canary, Martian Manhunter, Booster Gold, and Maxwell Lord. Lord is struggling against Kilg%re, the computer intelligence that has been controlling both him and the league since its reformation. While Lord faces Kilg%re, that same being is trying to stir up a fight between the League and Metron. Scott Free tries to keep the peace between Metron and the League. Kilg%re is frustrated that the League would talk with Metron instead of fighting him. Just then (and this is where things change) the entire League is "boom tubed" to New Genesis. There is fighting and confusion, but it is clear that New Genesis is in trouble when the motherboxes of the New Gods are taken over and the New Gods are boom tubed to somewhere else. Kilg%re has ! taken over the technology of New Genesis and is trying to tap into the power of the Source. When the League finally gets through to Highfather, he refuses to shut down the computers. Guy calls in support from former members Captain Marvel, Green Lantern (Hal), and Dr. Fate, but J'onn decides to try the only other option he can see- to plead to Darkseid for help from Apokolips. The result is a climatic three-sided battle (JLI and New Gods v. Darkseid v. Kilg%re) on two fronts (on New Genesis and in Max Lord's office). We find, however, that because Kilg%re was being defeated, he stopped the events on "that abortive event-line" and returned the League and Metron to the point in space and time where they had been boom tubed out from at the beginning of the story. From this point, Kilg%re goes into hiding and events continue as they had in the original JLI comics.

As noted, this is a story of the Justice League International, circa 1988, just after the Millennium crossover event. The book is certainly full of the snappy one-liners and humor that marked that era, and like those books it is fun to read. However, an appreciation of this story requires both an enthusiasm for the New Gods and a familiarity with the events in JLI #12 (and I had neither when I first read this story). The fact that the League was "reset" in time is an important plot point that I missed entirely until I had a lot more information about the story. Furthermore, while it is a story from the Justice League's past, and it is the end of the first year of the JLI, this story is by no means the first year of the Justice League. In this annual, we get what may be a blast from the past for hardcore JLA fans (or Kirby's New Gods fans), but it is certainly not a good example of what a "Year One" story should be. I much prefer 1998's JLA: Year One. In that mini-series, we got to see got to see relationships forming (and almost breaking) as the team gelled through its first adventures. In this magazine, the members of the League have been playing off each other for quite a while, and we're really picking up their story midstream. It's not a good place to jump on board.

Notable "firsts": It is the first time that Captain Atom sees Metron, Lightray, and Orion, and it is the first time that he visits New Genesis. In fact, it looks like it is the first time that most of the non-Fourth World/New Gods characters have been to New Genesis. However, since the League was returned in time, it seems questionable whether we can say that those events "happened." Lord breaks free of Kilg%re, but joins the Arcana.

Theme: Kilg%re: Thirty seconds. Only a moment for those locked in the wheel of time and space. For me, time enough to process all I experienced in that abortive event-line and devise a strategy.

Best moment:

J'onn (Trying to reach Highfather on New Genesis): We mean no harm! We bear a message of vital importance to your entire world!
Booster (being shot at): Somehow I don't think they're listening.
Beetle: C'mon, J'onn. You're a Martian. Just try, 'Take me to your leader!' (Later, on Apokolips) Desaad: This ... underling... will treat you to a painful death longer than most men's lives if you do not--
J'onn: No! Take me to your leader!
Desaad (after a one-panel pause): Very well! But I will see that the Lord Darkseid gives you to me once you've given your news.
J'onn (to Beetle): What do you know? It works!
Beetle: Told ya.


Legionnaires Annual #2 ****
"Four Horsemen"
Writers: Mark Waid, Tom McCraw, and Tom Peter Penciller: Jeffrey Moy Inker: W.C. Carani

At first glance, a person may not see why this story fits the "Year One" category. The fact is that the Legion titles had been rebooted with the "Zero Hour" crossover event in 1994, so that everything that was happening in this magazine was happening in "Year One" for these "new" legionnaires. Consequently, the blurb on the credits page correctly presents this story as "the climatic story of the Legion's first year."

A reader of this issue finds himself in the midst of a story that had been unfolding since Zero Hour a year before, although one can see that it must have been an exciting tale. Daxamites, coming from a world with a red sun and consequently possessing Superman-like powers under a yellow sun, are at the core of an organization known as the White Triangle. Their goal is basically an ethnic cleansing of the galaxy, and they are against the mixing of the races that the United Planets represent. The organization had previously destroyed the planet Trom, and as this magazine begins they are in the midst of destroying Earth. The various members of the Legion are in the middle of fights with the Daxamites in different places.

Notable "firsts": The Legion experiences its first three deaths (for this incarnation of its existence anyway. I might point out that at least one of them was only an "apparent" death.)

Theme:

Cosmic Boy, Live Wire, and Saturn Girl are awaiting the arrival of the Daxamites at the final, climatic moment of the story. Saturn Girl: We were the first three. We're going to be the last three, aren't we?
Cosmic Boy: Maybe. Probably. I'm sorry, guys.
Saturn Girl: For what? Giving us a chance to be heroes? Don't apologize.
Live Wire: What she said. Besides, I once heard a legion leader say something I'll never forget. "Are we still alive? Then there's hope."

Best moment:

The four Daxamites are rendezvousing in orbit around Earth.
1st: You destroyed this vast city yourself. What was it called?
2nd: Miami.
3rd: You missed a spot.
(The fourth proceeds to burn two individuals with heat vision. They're the bad guys, ya see.)


Legion of Super-heroes Annual #6 *****
"Deep Background"
Writers: Tom McCraw, Tom Peyer, and Mark Waid Artists: Many.

Good "Year One" stories should be stories that longtime fans of the characters will relish, but should certainly also work as introductions to the characters for new readers. In my opinion, this issue succeeds in doing both of these tasks well. Shvaughn Erin, a new member of the Science Police, is assigned to be the SP's liaison to the Legion. She resents the job, but begins to learn more about the Legion. As she reviews her files, readers view nice looking "pin-up" style pages about each member with information about their powers and vital statistics. The roll-call for the Legion at this point includes Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Triad, Apparition, XS, Invisible Kid, Chameleon, Brainiac 5, Live Wire, Spark, Kinetix, Shrinking Violet, Andromeda, and Leviathan. Shvaughn prefers to browse through her computerized files rather quickly, but asks for more information on three of the Legion members: Kinetix, Leviathan, and XS, allowing readers to learn more about them. When ! XS's story is told, readers learn of her origin. She is the granddaughter of Barry "Flash" Allen, but her speed power did not manifest itself until the events in this story. Readers learn how Leviathan defied his superiors in the Science Police in order to comply with his draft into the Legion and become a member. Kinetix's story is probably the most unsatisfying of the three because, while it shows how she gained mystically based powers to manipulate objects during archeological digs with her mother, it also shows her losing those same powers, and a reader is left without a real conclusion.

Notable "firsts": Shvaughn begins to learn about the Legion, and begins to appreciate their heroics. The Post-Zero Hour origins of three members are given.

Theme:
"Shvaughn Erin sifts through dossiers and case-files with interest, then fascination, then compulsion, cheering for these daughters and sons of far-flung planets-- children after all, who bound themselves together through daily acts of courage, large and small. Through a genuine concern for one another. Through a consciousness of what their union means. Through their shared struggle against the agents of hatred and greed. Through a stubborn refusal to be beaten. And through one final ingredient, as crucial to the young police woman's life as breathing- an unswerving belief in something more important than themselves."

Best moment:

First SP (Milking Erin for information): So spill, Shvaughn!
Shvaughn: Eat Nass--
Second SP: What'll you be doing--
Shvaughn: --And DIE--
Third SP: -- While the rest of US are cheating death in space?
Shvaughn: --And GO TO--
Fourth SP (entering): Hey, Liaison Lass! Hagbard says YOU'RE the poor sucker who's getting the Legion dossiers.
Fifth SP: "Liaison Lass" ?!
Second SP: Oh MAAAAN! Who'd you irritate enough to pull this duty?
Shvaughn (Head on table): --hell.


New Titans Annual #11 **
"After Year One"
Writers: Marv Wolfman Penciller: Greg Land Inker: Keith Champagne, Mike Sellers, and Will Blyberg

As the story opens, a holoprojector follows Miriam "Mirage" Delgado and Tara "Terra" Markov to Titans headquarters with a message from the Time Trapper about their personal histories. From this device, Miriam learns that she was taken from her home in Brazil and placed her in the future with new memories to protect her from Extant (from 1994's Zero Hour). Tara destroys the device before it can tell her origin. Donna "Darkstar" Troy tells of how she was attacked in divorce court. She had been trying to prove that if she were granted custody of her son, she would not be endangering her child simply because she was a superhero. During court her son was temporarily kidnapped by an agent of the "Crimelord," and she not only lost custody of him but was forbidden to see him. Bart "Impulse" Allen breaks away from VR video games long enough to run home to see a picture of the mom and dad he misses. The alien Jarras Minion is taken shopping by Kyle "Green Lantern" R! ayner and Donna to try to find ways for him to fit in on Earth. In addition to getting new clothes and a universal translator (from the Darkstars), Jarras is shown the Statue of Liberty who welcomes "strangers" like him. Kyle is late to the shopping spree because he was visiting the grave of Alexandra DeWitt (see the Green Lantern Annual's entry, above), while brooding about the new romantic feelings he is getting for Donna. Linda "Supergirl" Danvers is relaxing in the skies over Kansas, when she sees Bart, also thinking of his home. The two recall how Roy "Arsenal" Harper asked them to join the Titans. Roy helps with the story, by telling how Supergirl saved him when the codes for his LexCorps battlesuit were overridden (and he was caught with his pants down). Grant "Damage" Emerson gets yelled at by Roy for exercising his powers with no one around. Oh, and Tara finds an empty coffin at the old Terra's grave.

*WHEW* If the title didn't give it away ("After Year One"), then the editor's note to this issue should. It says that the story takes place "after Titans #122." A reader is basically being plopped down inside just another episode of a super-powered soap opera, and while something in the background of just about every character is told, a person like myself who is new to these people is left reeling. It's not in the spirit of "Year Ones". The Legion titles had a similarly sized cast but did a better job of telling a story and introducing characters to new readers than this book did.

Notable "firsts": The origin of Mirage is told. Impulse and Supergirl tell of how they joined the Titans.

Theme: Donna: My past is what made me what I am today. Don't ignore it or hide from it, Tara-- embrace it. Cherish even the memories that hurt.

Best moment:

Impulse: Hey! --You wanna race me back to the station?
Supergirl: Only if the loser buys the pizza.
BOOOOOM!
Supergirl (on the ground): Looks like I just bought a pizza.


The Ray Annual #1 ****
"Man and Superman"
Writers: Priest Penciller: Oscar Jimenez Inker: Chip Wallace

Raymond Terrill is the son the Golden Age Ray, and has inherited his powers over light and energy. His career as a super-hero began a few months before "Zero Hour" and consequently this story marks the end of his first year. (In reality, his first appearance was in The Ray miniseries in 1992, but his continuing series began in 1994.) Unfortunately, instead of celebrating, the story opens with a dismally depressed Ray contemplating drowning his sorrows in a bottle of Jack Daniels. A series of flashbacks show us that Ray was "unsuccessful" in saving a passenger jet from crashing-- unsuccessful in the sense that he "only" saved 112 lives. He lost 18 people. The grateful survivors thought he was actually Superman, but that only made him feel worse. One of the lives he thought he was saving was that of his childhood sweetheart, Jenny, and he proposed to her afterwards. She turned him down. To add to his troubles, the plane crash was caused by Death Masque, a co! mputerized creation of Ray's own meant to be simply a sparring partner, but now a super-criminal come to life. Ray's father and Superman are both there to help him through the funk he is in-- or are they?

If you're going to tell me a story about an angst ridden teen (or anyone for that matter) than make me feel something for them. Burying their story amongst those of fifteen others on their team doesn't give me a chance to know them, or to want to find out anything else. That's why this story worked and the New Titans one didn't. The art in this issue is rather good, effectively conveying the massiveness of the crashing airliner, the solidity of Superman's chest, and the up-close and personal turmoil of Ray.

Notable "firsts": Ray finsihes his first year of super-heroing.

Theme: Ray: I've been to eight funerals today! EIGHT! I was hoping being around all those crying people would make me feel something-- anything that would help me figure out if I'm torn up because eighteen people are dead-- or because my girl dumped me! It's like this dirty little secret -- can't even tell my dad -- or my dead uncle Thomas -- that I, Mister Save-the-Day-- the Super-man-- am more upset about losing Jenny than the freaking PLANE! What kind of.. monster am I? Why can't I feel anything?

Best moment:

Superman: I never imagined so many people would look up to me- count on me. Today I discovered a teenager with the power to level whole cities has a picture of me on the wall. There's a responsibility inherent in that situation that I'm not certain I'm ready for-- [holding Ray's bottle of Jack Daniels] and apparently neither are you. How do you know some kid doesn't have a poster of the Ray on his wall?
Ray: C'mon, Superman, don't put that on me. I can't be responsible for every goofy kid with a hero fix. I mean who can live up to that ---? All right. I get it. You're just a guy.


The Spectre #1 ****
"Lost in Memory"
Writers: John Ostrander Penciller: Pat Oliffe Inker: Phyliss Novin

Jim Corrigan is bearing his soul, if I may use that phrase, to Father Craemer at the same place where he had died. After gangsters sent the police detective to swim with the fishes in a barrel of wet cement, he returned, joined with the Spectre, the Wrath of God. He made the gangsters pay with their lives for the evil they had done, but almost lost the life of his love, Clarice Winston, in the process. He was disturbed by the bloodlust he felt while he was avenging the death of an innocent victim of a mugging, and he went seeking council, unsuccessfully, from a medium (Madam Xanadu). He painfully cut his ties with people that were close to him (because, after all, he was dead now), and went about his career of vengeance. To be "reminded what it was to be human," Corrigan/Spectre teamed with "Percival Popp, the Super Cop" (as he did originally in More Fun Comics #74 in 1941) who encouraged Corrigan to become one of the new "mystery men", with a costume and all.!

The real fun in the issue begins when the Spectre follows the smell of blood to the scene of a murder. There he meets Dr. Fate for the first time, and after a bit of a misunderstanding, they team up to investigate the death. (Not coincidentally, Dr. Fate's original Golden Age stories appeared in More Fun Comics, the same as the Spectre.) The crime's trail takes them to the newly built Pentagon, where the army was experimenting with military uses for the supernatural. The last half of this book is devoted to this team-up investigation, the supernatural battle that follows, and the family problems that Jim had been trying to come to terms with. This issue is certainly an entertaining introduction to the Spectre, and while the story is filled with chillingly violent moments and terrifying thoughts, it has its human moments as well. The story can help a reader appreciate both the personal and supernatural sides of this character.

Notable "firsts": The Spectre's origin with Jim Corrigan is completely recounted. The Spectre meets his first fellow "mystery man", Dr. Fate. Because of their first team-up, the Justice Society of America would eventually be formed.

Theme:

Father Craemer: Right along, you've earned yourself friends- people who have seen the good in you.
Jim Corrigan: I've betrayed a lot of them. Let them down a lot.
Craemer: It doesn't make you a monster. It just means you're human. If you want to be a friend to others, try being a better friend to yourself first. And trust to God for the rest...

Best moment:

Dr. Fate: Your ire is misdirected. I had no hand in the death of this unfortunate man.
Spectre: Then what are you doing with him?
Dr. Fate: Questioning him.
Spectre: Good luck getting answers from the dead.
Dr. Fate: I'm speaking with you aren't I?
(Later) Spectre: I take it that gibberish meant something to you?
Dr. Fate: You haven't studied the supernatural much, have you?
Spectre (eyes glowing): I AM the supernatural.


Lobo Annual #3 ****
"Year One: Lobo"
Script: Alan Grant Artist: Carl Critchlow

Lobo sees a wanted poster for an outlaw called Dragan, and the bounty hunter has a good reason to be anxious to go after this particular outlaw. As he tells his partner Jonas en route, "Dragan's th' ONLY creep that ever beat me in a fight an' escaped t' tell th' sorry tale." Lobo begins telling Jonas the story, because "It's a long, borin' journey t' Needles Rock-- so I might as fraggin' well." He tells of the time just after he killed everyone on his home planet, Czarnia. By the time he was done watching everyone rot, he was ready to move on to other jobs. He tried working as a police officer, as a barkeep, as a plumber, as a used auto exec, and as a shoe salesman, but nothing seemed to fit him. He finally found his true calling, taking a job as a bounty hunter for Bob Bastich's Bounty Agency and began pursuit of the much feared Dragan. After a long fight, Lobo seemed to defeat Dragan, but while the "Numero Uno Primo Bastich Del Mundo" was crowing over the body, D! ragan pulled a weapon that didn't exactly kill Lobo, but took him down none the less. When he came to, Lobo was unable to find Dragan. After telling this story, Lobo and Jonas arrive at Dragan's where several surprises are in store for them. Lobo takes advantage of Dragan's time traveling machine to settle some old scores, in spite of whatever paradoxes that may arise from doing so. This issue is filled with Lobo-esque violence, jokes, and innuendo, the kind that Lobo fans will love. I don't particularly like Lobo, but I must say that I enjoyed the plot twists of that finish this story.

Notable "firsts":Lobo tells how he took his first job as a bounty hunter. He uses the word "bastich" for the first time ("Guess I kinda liked th' sound o' it. It's stuck with me ever since.") When he burns his family photo album, we catch a glimpse of other firsts in his life too, like his first feed and his first counselor. Not pretty sites.

Theme: Narration: Once more into the timelines... past, present and future blending together in a seamless tapestry. He WAS the Main Man. He IS the Main Man. He will ALWAYS be the Main Man!

Best moment:

Dragan: I don't believe it! You've brought us back to our first meeting! Why? You can't fool around with time, Wolfie! Anything could happen!
Lobo: Ahhh, old wives' tales.
Dragan: You can't change time! You know what they say-- Kill a butterfly in the past, and in the future, whole galaxies might die!
Lobo: 'Way I see it, time has a tendency t' make good any ruptures ta its fabric. Even if ya killed every butterfly in existence, not a whole lot would change. More moths, probably.
[Who knew the Main Man was a philosopher too?]


Guy Gardner Warrior Annual #1 ***
"The Battle From Within"
Story: Beay Smith and Flint Henry Pencils: Flint Henry Inks: Flint Henry, Rod Ramos, Bob Dvorak, and Phil Jimenez

Around the time of Zero Hour, one year before these annuals, Guy Gardner's character went through a major transformation. He discovered his Vuldarian heritage and became Warrior with the power to morph his own body into weaponry. As this story opens, Guy is still being tormented by nightmares about his new powers. Through an artifact he found in the Nabba jungle (in his words, "a stone age game boy"), he meets Cardone of Vuldar. Cardone transports Guy to another place where Guy finds himself fighting alongside two other Vuldarians, Mandarr and Fellena. They are fighting Leechuns-- big gruesome fluid suckers who enjoy killing Vuldarians. After a small victory, the Vuldarians find a camp for the night. Guy frets that he cannot simply forget his Earth heritage as the Vuldarians seem to want him to. Fellena tells Guy, "You are as much a Vuldarian as you are of Earth. Being of two worlds, two cultures, you are able to feel what no one else can. You can feel the cool and pe! aceful darkness of night and the warmth and joy of the clear sunlight, all at the same time." They make strange alien love, I think. Meanwhile, the Leechuns have been joined by a Tormock, a particularly sadistic creature that enjoys feeling the pain of its victims through a special glove it wears. Guy is back in camp, fighting the morphing that his body is going through, afraid that he will become a monster. He goes through intense pain because of this. He eventually makes his way to the Tomrock and Leechuns, in time to see Fellena die a horrible death as the Tomrock drinks her pain. Guy sees evidence that Mandarr has just suffered a similar fate. Enraged, Guy makes the Tomrock pay for his crimes, and in doing so, embraces the powers that his Vuldarian heritage bestow on him.

The idea of this story was to market the new "Warrior" look I suppose, but really, I would have rather seen a Guy discovering his power as a Green Lantern. I never really liked the Green Lantern Guy Gardner's bi-polar personality thing. He was a jerk, but he was a good jerk. More than that, though, I don't like the whole new character DC was trying to develop here. I think it would have been better for all concerned if they had left Guy alone and started fresh with a new character. More specifically, though, this story is a bit confusing without knowing some of the backstory that proceeded it. GGW #0 is referred to quite a bit in the footnotes. The art is just bizarre. I suppose it's one thing to have the bad guys look ugly and gruesome, but the good guys look that way too.

Notable "firsts": Guy finally comes to terms with his new-found powers.

Theme: Cardone- "Your mind was taking too long to mesh with what your body had already accepted. ...I ...implanted [memories] of this battle in you so that it would trigger the emotions of urgency that would complete the mesh."

Best moment:

Cardone (appearing from the artifact): I am Cardone of Vuldar.
Guy: I kinda figured that. You're too little to be Jafar and too ugly to be Barbara Eden.


Sovereign Seven Annual #1 **
"The Queen of Outer Space"
By: Chris Claremont, Jeff Johnson, Will Blyberg, and Brian Garvey

Ideally a "Year One" story tells us the background of an established character, but DC used this Annual Event to help introduce new titles too. Only a small handful of issues of Sovereign Seven had come out when this book was released, and so its purpose is to help introduce a new superteam to the DC universe and attract new readers to the title. This story begins by showing us how the man code-named Cruiser was added to the team. Cruiser has telekinetic powers and is a member of the royal house of a planet that looks very much like modern or near-future Earth. As his story begins, Cruiser is fighting to escape some kidnappers. His world is apparently in the midst of a revolution, and he is a target because of his royal status. He very nearly escapes on his own after a dramatic fight in a flying helicopter, but he receives unsolicited help from two of his future team members, Cascade (who apparently can transport herself and others through space) and a woman n! amed Network (who appears to be the team member responsible for communication due to her abilities). Cruiser eventually finds his mother and father and the woman he loves, Alyx, but an as yet undefined movement called the "Rapture" has changed them. Cruiser's family and fiancee end up attacking him. Again, he is saved by a sudden appearance of his soon-to-be team members. He meets Rampart (whose main power is his ability to generate a force field), Reflex (an enormous man who is impossible to strike with anything), Indigo (whose power is less clear in this story) and Finale (another mysterious ninja-like character). Apparently, part of the writing style of this title was to hook readers by keeping a mystery around the characters. The answers to who was who on the team, what their relationships and backgrounds were, and even what powers they had would unfold in subsequent issues.

The team takes Cruiser to a huge space station far from the "Rapture" and finish their introductions. So far, so good, but here's where the story gets a little weird. Cascade visits her homeworld to reveal that her mother is a nearly omnipotent being that controls the very nature and appearance of the world they live on- changing architectural styles, clothing, and presumably deeper levels of existance as well. She can make these changes instantly and at her whim, just as scenery can abruptly change in your dreams. This surrealistic and potentially nightmarish element of Cascade's homeworld is certainly intriguing, but it is not explored further in this issue. Then Lobo (Yes, you read that right-- fraggin' Lobo) arrives at the enormous space station where the team is and reveals that he possesses a box that has been stolen from New Genesis. (Yes, you read that right, too-- the New Genesis of Jack Kirby's New Gods.) In the box is Barda, who, because of a device! called the Tantalus Web, now appears to each person as "the ultimate object of their heart's desires." As any red-blooded American comics fanboy knows, that means she looks like different scantily clad women to each of the different men present. Naturally, Lobo begins a fight with the Sovereign Seven.

This story is certainly uneven. The first half of this story is exciting, and does draw a reader in to want to learn more about these characters. The incongruous addition of both Lobo and Barda to the storyline seem like giving a fish a bicycle. Over the course of the 30+ issue run of Sovereign Seven, there were apparently many guests from the DC universe and from Jack Kirby's New Gods. I haven't read these, so I don't know if those stories were more successful in blending these disparate elements, but the addition of these two characters to this particular story destroyed its entire tone.

Notable "firsts": Since this is a new series, everything might be seen as a first, but the most significant thing here seems to be the introduction of Cruiser to the team.

Theme: Opening narrative boxes: "Their story opened on a dark and stormy night-- but of course, that wasn't the beginning. Neither is this. But it's a start."

Best moment:

Cruiser (Seeing Lobo destroying a robot bartender): Nice piece of work. Why hasn't anybody summoned the authorities?
Alien: Be real, that's Lobo.
Cruiser: Am I supposed to be impressed?
[My thoughts, exactly.]


Deathstroke Annual #4 **
"The Web of Eternal Vows"
Writer: Marv Wolfman Penciller: Octavio Cariello Inker: Ron McCain

Slade Wilson, otherwise known as Deathstroke: The Terminator, is first seen in this story on the roof of a building, insanely shouting at police who are, in turn, shooting up at him. He is not wearing his more familiar black and orange costume, but a simple black jumpsuit and an eye-patch. Slowly, the rage fades, and he recognizes where he is. "Ohh... Oh, my good god... What have I done?" he says to himself. "I- I must have died again. What happens to me when my body heals? Why am I always so crazy when I'm reborn?" He retreats back inside the building, where he is attacked first by a costumed woman named Vigilante (though not the original woman to be Vigilante), and then by the masked man known as Ravager (technically, the third Ravager). Over the course of the ensuing fights, the identities of both of these assailants are revealed, and flashbacks show us the relationship that each had with Slade. I should confess that I knew practically nothing about this char! acter before reading this story, but a "Year One" story should be able to serve as a good introduction to a character, right? In fact, though, it seems like you really need to know a heck of a lot of backstory to appreciate this one. The art on the cover is a key clue to the type of story inside. Instead of a pin-up style portrait of the main character in a heroic pose like almost all of these Year One annuals have, we find a nearly white cover. In the corner is a wedding picture, covering what appears to be a spatter of blood. The image hints strongly at the unusual amount of violence that occurs in this story, along with the fact that much of it is between family members. I found both of these facts disconcerting. More, the cover shows how the issue does not really fall into the same category of "Year One" stories that most of the other annuals do. It is really a climax in a story line that had been going on for quite some time.

This issue also contains a back-up story (written by Dale Hrebik, penciled by Octavio Cariello, and inked by Sergio Cariello) about Deathstroke's daughter, Rose Wilson. Sarge Steel wonders about what to do with the young woman. She has been put in the protection of the Teen Titans. Rose, meanwhile, sneaks out from the Titans' headquarters and ends up getting into a street fight with several punks.

Notable "firsts":Deathstroke learns the identities of this Vigilante and the Ravager, and also learns that his wife has gained his healing powers because of a transfusion of his blood.

Theme: Slade (to Ravager, after his identity has been revealed): You sick, twisted maniac! You destroyed everything I ever loved!

Best moment:

First cop: The gunshots came from here. They must have hidden inside. No wonder we couldn't find them.
Second cop: Any idea who they are?
First cop: I don't know... and I don't have to know. ...They're both crazy.
[Once again, the characters seem to have read my mind.]

If you've made it this far, you may have noticed that I liked more of these stories than I disliked. The average rating I gave was a 3.4 out of 5 stars, and I think that's probably an accurate rating for the entire set of annuals.

So, what makes a good "Year One" story? A story must grab my interest and make me believe in and care about a character. I should see that person grow and develop towards the hero (or villain, or team) that they will become. Whether it's an established icon with a long, intricate history, or a new creation looking for room on the racks, a "Year One" story should make me want more. A "Year One" story should have enough body to it to please long-time fans of a character who have memorized all the minutia of whatever complicated continuity may exist, but it should also be straight-forward enough to allow any first-time reader to understand the characterizations being explored and the myths being built. It's a tall order, but a satisfying one when it's met.

 
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DC characters are used here in fan art and fiction in accordance with their generous "fair use" policies.

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Fanzing site version 7.4
Updated 7/27/2010