Have a Merry Comics Christmas!

Comicspectrum.com reviews it’s favorite Christmas comics of all time. Of course, a few DC comics from the 80s make the list…

ComicSpectrum - Bob's Blog

Vintage Santa Comics

Every year at Christmas time I pull out my box of Christmas-themed comics and decorate my large spinner-rack with holiday themed comics just to give a bit of seasonal flair to the room.  4 sides on the rack, so I do 1 side in DC, and 1 and a half in each of Indies & Marvels.  Since I have WAY more comics than can be displayed on the rack I make choices each year, so it’s always a little different, but there are favorites that make return appearances time after time.


I have many more Marvel Christmas themed comics, but the DC books have covers that represent the holiday better, in my opinion.  Here are some details:


Christmas with the Super-Heroes by John Byrne (in the lower left corner above) is probably my favorite cover, but the other 3 in this picture aren’t too shabby.


For classic covers, there’s no…

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Christmas Comic Cavalcade: DC Comics Presents #67

It’s December 22nd, may as well start rolling out some holiday content. Superman teams up with Santa Claus in DC Comics Presents #67 (1983).

Teachable Moments


In our final Christmas Comic Cavalcade of 2012, let’s look at DC Comics Presents #67, published in 1983. This yuletide comic was plotted by Len Wein and E. Nelson Bridwell, illustrated by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson.


That gorgeous cover is by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, by the way…

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House ad for Supergirl the movie

House ad for Supergirl the movie

When father-son production team Alexander and Ilya Salkind purchased the film rights to Superman in 1974, they also purchased the rights to Supergirl should the Superman film franchise become successful and need to branch out. Ultimately, the Superman movies enjoyed a tremendous amount of success (well… Superman I and Superman II did anyways) and a Supergirl film was released, but it absolutely tanked at the box office and was quickly dropped and swept under the rug by Warner Bros.

The Supergirl movie was filmed one year after Superman III went into production. At this time, the Superman film franchise was considered a hot property that brought in lots of revenue and could do no wrong, so a Supergirl film was just money in the bank. Superman III (1983) blew a hole in this theory by not performing very well at the box office (you can see box office revenues for Superman films here). Why did it do so badly? Was it because it paled in comparison to the action packed blockbuster that was Superman II (1980)? Was it because Richard Pryor played the main antagonist? That’s for discussion another time. Whatever the reason, it was obvious by Superman III that the Superman film franchise had peaked and this concerned Warner Bros, who decided to sit on the finished product for a while. Tri-Star Pictures eventually obtained the film from Warner Bros and released it in North America (it originally premiered in the UK). It had a strong opening week but performed poorly in overall box office sales (Supergirl box office numbers). Helen Slater (actress who played Supergirl) was signed to a 3 picture contract, but this was quickly scrapped. The poor reception of Superman III and Supergirl was too much for the Salkinds, and they sold the Superman films rights to Cannon Films (who later released Superman IV in 1987).

You can find numerous online Supergirl movie reviews that will discuss the nuances of the casting, plot, soundtrack, distribution and background politics of the film – and they are all entertaining to read – but in this article I will focus on the film’s impact on DC comics.

The greatest thing to come out of the Salkind Superman film franchise was the Olivia Newton-John Supergirl costume (y’know… the costume where she is wearing the headband?). This is my favorite Supergirl costume ever, and quite possibly my favorite DC comics related-thing from the 80s. The Salkinds requested that DC modernize the Supergirl costume to keep with 80s fashion (to be in sync with the film), so in Supergirl #17 (1984) DC readers were introduced to a Supergirl wearing a bright red headband. The real kicker is that midway through filming, it was decided that the headband looked too ridiculous and was never used in the movie (you can find test screenings on the DVD). Despite being scrapped by the film’s wardrobe department, the headband did remain as an iconic look for Supergirl until her death in Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (1985). Which leads us to our next item…

A popular rumour/speculation that has been floating around for decades is that Supergirl was killed in Crisis on Infinite Earths because her film did so poorly. This is in fact false and if you pay attention to the clues you will see that the death was pre-meditated. Clue #1: The Supergirl comic book series (1982 – 1984) was cancelled several months before her film was released to North American audiences. Clue #2: Crisis on Infinite Earths was planned/plotted by Marv Wolfman several years before the Supergirl film was released. In later interviews with Dick Giordano, it was revealed that there was some hesitation on DC’s part to kill off Supergirl if the movie was successful – but alas, that was not the case. Jeannette Kahn was the one who ultimately threw the kill switch. So to conclude, it was planned that Supergirl would die in a 1985 company-wide cross-over event, but she would have been spared had her movie been a box office smash.

As far as promotional efforts go, besides this house ad for the VHS release and a “soon to be a major motion picture!” blurb on Supergirl #17, DC didn’t try very hard to advertise this film (at least from what I can remember). It could be due to the fact that Warner Bros dropped this film like a hot potato after it received poor reviews in the UK and tried to distance itself from it as much as possible*. DC comics did, in fact, publish an official adaptation of the film in 1985. The Supergirl film was released as three different versions: the 105 minute North American version, the 124 minute UK/European version and the 138 minute Director’s cut. The Supergirl film comic book was an adaptation of the UK/European version, I believe.

The 1984 Supergirl film is actually quite enjoyable if you don’t take it too seriously or nitpick about all the things that don’t sync up with DC continuity. If you can remember that CGI didn’t exist back then, that they didn’t have a very big budget to work with and that Supergirl is being hoisted by a wire when she flies – then you will probably enjoy it for what it is – a film about a super-powered girl who just happens to be called ‘Supergirl’.

Check out the DC in the 80s facebook page for more links to articles/interviews pertaining to this subject.

*For some reason this film is never included in the Superman’s collectors set (contains Superman I, Superman II, Superman III and Superman IV).

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House ad for Jemm, Son of Saturn

House ad for Jemm, Son of Saturn

Jemm, Son of Saturn was a twelve issue maxi-series published from 1984 to 1985 that introduced an extraterrestrial of the same name to the DC universe. Jemm was created by Greg Potter and Gene Colan. This was Potter’s first major work for DC, previously his contributions to DC included submissions to horror/mystery comics such as House of Mystery and Secrets of Haunted House (some of which received a lot of recognition). Gene Colan is well-known for the shadowy, moody textures he applies to his illustrations (you can see what I’m talking about during the seventy issues he pencilled for Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula). This wasn’t Colan’s first time co-creating a character – he had also co-created Marvel’s Blade the Vampire Hunter with writer Marv Wolfman.

When Potter was tasked to write the Jemm maxi-series, he set out to do something different. Part of Potter’s manifesto, if you want to call it that, was to portray honest-to-God black people* in his series (as opposed to stereotypically typecast black people that were in other books, I’d imagine?). He was also intent on making sure that the aliens and humans didn’t speak the same language (because why would an alien be able to understand English?) to add to the realism of the story. So in short, Potter really did not want to lose reality in a story about an alien crash-landing in Harlem. I guess that would pretty much explain why I enjoyed this maxi-series, because it’s unconventional and doesn’t go the way you’d expect it to. Potter attributed Marvel’s Daredevil comic and Steven Spielberg’s E.T. (1982) as his inspirations for the “larger than life super-hero operating in the most stark, gritty environment of urban life” vibe he was going for. Potter ensured to include a lot of depth and characterization to the storyline, thus contributing to the overall theme of “growing up/wonderment of youth” that runs through the maxi-series. Potter did not stick to any conventional character stereotypes – just when you had a character figured out, you’re wrong.

One of the most interesting things about this maxi-series was that Jem (the main character) was originally intended to be the cousin of J’onn J’onzz the Martian Manhunter. At the time, J’onn J’onzz was in comic book limbo – he hadn’t appeared in the DC universe since Justice League of America #200 (1982) – and plans were set in motion when this maxi-series was proposed to have Jemm be a martian as well as the cousin of J’onn J’onzz. When Gene Colan first designed the character, he had the Jemm/J’onn J’onzz relationship in mind – which is why they both physically resemble each other (with the exception of one being red-skinned and the other being green-skinned). Actually, you’ll notice many similarities between Jemm and J’onn: they both have similar powers (ex: flight, super strength, some sort of mind reading ability, etc), they are both extremely vulnerable to fire, and they both come from a dead planet. After the first half of the maxi-series was written and the first issue was pencilled, it was discovered that J’onn J’onzz would be reappearing in Justice League America #228 (1984) and Jemm was quickly changed at the last minute from a martian to a saturnian and all traces of J’onn J’onzz were omitted from the story (Jemm’s cousin, Jogarr, who appears during several issues of the story was originally intended to be J’onn J’onzz).

Yes, Superman does appear in a few issues of this maxi-series. To the writer’s credit, Superman does not appear as a sales gimmick, but as a plot device to move the story forward. Interestingly enough, the creative team thought long and hard before adding Superman to the story (in contrast to creating their own Superman-like character) realizing that the addition of Superman would basically cement Jemm’s connection to the DC universe. In the end they opted to include Superman.

You cannot mention this maxi-series without commenting on the Gene Colan pencilling and the Klaus Johnson (and later Bob McLeod) inking. Colan’s illustrations were darker and more shadowy than the usual DC house style and brought a lot of mood and atmosphere to the series which really made it stand out. Potter’s writing is enjoyable and is unique in that the story is constantly changing and taking you to places you weren’t expecting.

Fan mail from Jemm was overwhelmingly positive and ideas were suggested to have an ongoing Jemm, Son of Saturn series. The thing about a maxi-series is that it tells a complete story – it includes a resolution and resolves all dangling plot lines (much like a graphic novel) – and there was some hesitance from the creative team to create an ongoing series so quickly. It was rumored that Jemm would appear in a 1986 DC Special – but that idea never materialized. Jemm would appear nearly 10 years later in the pages of Grant Morrisson’s JLA series. Several years later John Ostrander would expand upon the Jemm/J’onn J’onnz connection in his 1998 Martian Manhunter ongoing series.

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Sgt Rock 339: The Collector by Rick Veitch!

If you’ve never read Sgt Rock in the 80s, you’re missing out.

Mars Will Send No More

Before taking on Swamp Thing and moving on to careers producing their own works, artists Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch drew stories for DC’s Sgt. Rock. This week we’ll look at a few of their back-ups for DC’s once-popular war comic.

Collector’s Guide:
– From Sgt. Rock #339; DC Comics, 1980.

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House ad for Firestorm v2 #86

House ad for Firestorm v2 #86

Firestorm v2 #86 marked Firestorm’s first real adventure as the new fire elemental. In a sense, this is a whole new character and an excellent jump-on point for new readers.

This issue introduced Firestorm as an avenging elemental force, a drastic departure from the ‘bumbling college student coping with great powers’ Firestorm we’ve come to know from the late 70s/early 80s. Now we have a soulless environmental crusader with godlike powers. His origin even received a brand new retcon one issue prior (#85) explaining that he was meant to be Earth’s fire elemental all along but something went wrong during the explosion that created him.

Why did DC decide to go with such a radical restructuring of Firestorm?

In order to answer that, you’d have to step back a bit.

Firestorm was facing a decline in readership before John Ostrander picked up writing chores on this title in 1987, he was given 6 months to raise sales. This may have been what had encouraged so much experimentation and change in the title. A major theme in Ostrander’s Firestorm run is the evolution of the character of Firestorm, and if you had been reading since Fury of the Firestorm #58 you’d realize the only logical conclusion would be for Firestorm to become an elemental.

Another factor that contributed to Firestorm’s final evolution was the abundance of Elementals in DC comics at the time – so far, we had Swamp Thing (Earth) and Red Tornado (Wind) so another addition was logical. Elemental Firestorm’s final look was designed just because Ostrander felt it looked ‘cooler’. As part of a strong marketing campaign, DC sent out promotional copies of Firestorm #86 to select comic book shops across the country.

A lot of interesting things happened during the Elemental Firestorm run – the comic dealt with mature themes such as the quest for identity, the impact of pollution on the environment, the examination of humanity’s relationship with the Gods and the consequences of impulsive actions. Most notable was an appearance by Swamp Thing as they battled other Elementals. A personal favorite of mine: ‘Fire elemental’ Firestorm also made an appearance in Swamp Thing v2 Annual #5 (which was Brother Power the Geek’s first appearance since 1968).

Ultimately, this series was cancelled because readership was too low. It has been speculated that had Firestorm rebooted back to issue #1 when Ostrander took over, new readers may have picked up the title thus saving the book from cancellation. Regardless, Ostrander requested to leave the series after issue #100 because, in his own words, he had no more stories left to tell about Firestorm.

Coincidentally, this issue was also a Janus Directive cross-over.

I have a lot of love for Ostrander’s work at DC during the late 80’s, and really feel that he was one of the more underrated writers out there. Two things I really like about Ostrander’s writing is 1) he builds a sense of cohesion with his other DC titles (Suicide Squad and Captain Atom) and 2) he manages to keep all of his stories within continuity, yet you don’t have to know everything about DC continuity in order to enjoy the story.

My only gripe with Elemental Firestorm was his costume – all that wild flame didn’t appeal to me and looked more like fur. I felt he looked less like ‘Lord of the Fire Elements’ and more like ‘Lord of the Woodland Creatures’.

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House ad for Wonder Woman v1 #269, #270 and #271

House ad for Wonder Woman v1

The Wonder Woman comic book series was having a bit of trouble in the late 70s/early 80s. True, she had been receiving a lot of exposure in the 70s thanks to her combined appearances in Saturday morning cartoons (Super Friends) and her own prime-time television show (The New Original Wonder Woman), but the writers of the comic book series weren’t really sure what to do with her.

Case in point: much of the early 70s were spent trying to re-establish Wonder Woman’s character, as writers Dennis O’Neil and Mike Sekowsky de-powered her in an effort to have the character appeal to the Women’s Liberation Movement in 1968, and ironically received a negative backlash from fans and feminists alike. (Let’s not forget that Wonder Woman is an important feminist icon – she was actually on the cover of the first issue of Ms. Magazine in 1972.)

Re-establishing Wonder Woman’s place in comics involved a slew of different writers, numerous continuity retcons, resurrecting Steve Trevor and then killing him off again, team-ups with the JLA and the JSA, team ups with her Earth-Two counterpart, time jumps to World War 2, and more continuity complications.

Issues #269, #270 and #271 of the Wonder Woman comic book was DC’s attempt to fix everything for the new decade and give Wonder Woman a fresh start. In fact, issue #269 has a “The All-New” seal proudly displayed on it’s cover. Gerry Conway was tasked with writing this story arc (not sure if this was his original concept or not). To summarize the story-arc: Wonder Woman gets a new lease on life, a bunch of continuity issues from the previous decade are retconned and Steve Trevor is resurrected again.

Issue #271 is also the debut of the Earth-Two Huntress (Helena Wayne) back-up stories. The Huntress (daughter of Earth-Two Batman and Catwoman) debuted in DC Super-Stars #17 (1977) and acquired quite a fan following. These back-up stories ran until issue #321 and helped carry the sales of the Wonder Woman series (after issue #323 sales began to decline again). Huntress later found herself as a supporting character in Infinity Inc (1984).

The Wonder Woman series was put out of it’s misery by issue #329 (1986) thanks to the Crisis on Infinite Earths. As Wonder Woman is part of DC’s ‘big three’, it wasn’t long before she received a series relaunch in 1987 (written & penciled by George Perez) which did wonders for the character and ran until 2006.

Coincidentally, Helena Wayne ALSO bit the dust in the Crisis. Which is surprising, since the Huntress was a popular enough character to merit her own ongoing series. I’m going to guess that DC was taking this opportunity to prepare for the Batman reboot, and that meant cleaning up any continuity contradictions (*cough* Earth-Two *cough*). A new Huntress was introduced in 1989, but it’s a completely different character.

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