The Bronze Age Cometh! The Amazing Adventures of Killraven

Amazing Adventures #18-39

Marvel Comics, 20-30 cents, 1973-76

#18-20

Hot on the heels of a fury of fantasy heroes such as Tarzan and Conan the Barbarian, Roy Thomas looked for further ways to expand this non-powered concept of heroes. Taking H.G. Wells’s noted novel War of the Worlds and morphing it into a post apocalyptic action series based on the Martians second visit to earth, they’ve totally subjugated mankind, made them slaves, as well as use humans in genetic experimentation to further their goals of dominance.

In the introduction, he creates Killraven, a spectacularly successful arena fighter who’s a rebel with a secret even he doesn’t know. He gives the adventure proceedings a new coat of paint as it were, unique from its fellow fantasy comics brethren.

The first issue, written by Thomas, has some good establishing art by Neal Adams. Good with depicting action and distinct likenesses, Adams immediately gives the series an oomph that would have been difficult for a lesser artist. He makes the first story very successful, establishing the cast and world in a visually exciting manner. Sadly, Adams isn’t available afterwards, but Howie Chaykin steps in admirably. While he isn’t the draftsman Adams is, his forte with fantasy based themes, as well as exotic costuming make this a still interesting read. Continuing in this schizophrenic creative vein, Gerry Conway and Marv Wolfman step in for scripting chores on the next two issues, keeping the action going from what I assume is Thomas skeleton for the series. Regardless, the proceedings are still on track, probably saying more about the method of Marvel comics production and its in-house talent pool at the time than anything else. Don McGregor takes over as the series regular writer next issue.

#21-24

The next four issues feature new regular artist Herb Trimpe. While McGregor’s prose displays an inspired attack, the strip goes more into irony and commentary on the human condition. Whether it’s deadlines, or budget(?), Trimpe’s art gets more and more rushed from the first issue, and by the last two, story content is reduced to 15 pages per issue, with golden age monster reprints filling the book(ugh!). While he’s not able to get past flat, stereotypical characters, the divorce from Marvel reality helps enormously, and the series becomes more a treatise on mankind according to McGregor’s philosophy. The mere 20 cent cover price makes it a bargain compared to the majority of Marvel’s output of super schmucks. Hope the new to comics Rich Buckler’s art next issue can elevate it…ooh, Klaus Jansen inks, too!

#25-28

Well, after the totally underwhelming run of Herb Trimpe on art, newcomer Rich Buckler does a fill in on issue 25, and the possibilities of the book begin to show a bit as it starts to evolve. While Buckler’s figure work is a bit wonky, his emulation of both Kirby and Neal Adams add an excitement to the proceedings that wasn’t there before. The next issue is another fill in by Gene Colan, of all people; he gives this episode a dark melancholy that helps demonstrate McGregor’s story emphasis. This schizophrenic approach to visuals,-(hey, who’s got time to do a Killraven issue?), and the continued use of a mere 15 pages to tell a one off, really hurt McGregor’s strengths in trying to make his point. On one hand, he’s got bigger fish to fry, but can’t do it in 15 pages AND perform the dynamics that Marvel comics demand (editorially, I assume).

Then in issue 27, Craig Russell arrives. Two things happen that make this story work so much better than than the entire previous run. One, Russell’s art is fully ensconced in the romantic and social depths that McGregor’s writing has desperately needed a visual partner for, and Russell’s chops are up to the task. Second, he is able to turn this into a two parter, utilizing 30 pages to tell the entire story, and give it the space and length it needs to be convincing. Killraven’s band here is also given the room necessary to develop their one dimensional depiction so far, and begins turning them into genuine people. The best story of the bunch thus far, both in writing and in physical depiction.

#29-34

McGregor and Russell totally fooled me here. While last issue provided a satisfactory end to the Death Birth Citadel story, this next issue picks up mere minutes from the end of the last, making this project not one of several short stories, but evolving into a continuing narrative, really without a concrete end from issue to issue. I notice as well that Russell not only does pencils and inks, but has been doing the coloring for the last two issues as well. If creators were trying to transform this into quite possibly the most ambitious workload as possible, this comic is able demonstration of it.

Russell’s art complements McGregor’s prose perfectly. While it can be argued McGregor bites off more than he can chew in his socially conscientious narrative, Russell’s art is equal to the task, providing the needed checks and balances, elevating a mere post apocalyptic tale into what can be said is as close to a work of art as Marvel could ever publish.

But commercial publication schedules will have their way, and this one provides more casualties than just McGregor and Russell, as issue 30 provides a frickin reprint of the Herb Trimpe story we just read a few issues ago, Killraven not an old enough property to have enough history of reprints to choose from, so this one is bookended by some character pages by Russell along with a couple of pages of the main villain reiterating what we pretty much knew. Whoop, wait, the character pages provide a couple of tidbits fleshing out some facts hereto unknown about the characters. But otherwise, ugh, pass.

Issues 31 and 32 get things going again, solidifying the continuous narrative McGregor is pursuing, with little advancement in plot, but it doesn’t seem to matter. At this point, Killraven’s story with his crew isn’t about the quest, but more about McGregor’s disillusionment with humanity and its self destructive path. One that the Martians have not only finished, but provide a inevitable exclamation point for. #32 emphasizes this, putting Killraven and his buds into a prewar amusement park that caters to the dreams of the freemen, showing in its conclusion the futility of man’s selfish goals in the first place. These nihilistic threads are balanced by Russell’s exquisite art, giving hope in the form of beautiful fantasies for the freemen. By this issue, he has mercifully given up coloring and handed over inks to the excellent Dan Adkins.

Of course, after two mere issues of overwhelming craft, we fall victim to another fill in. This one written not by McGregor, but Bill Mantlo and drawn by the ever present Herb Trimpe. This issue stands out as a sore thumb scheduled as a fill in, the editor knowing by now this will be the norm. However, astute readers will notice this one should have appeared after next issue. The story itself? Well, let’s just say this. While it was originally published in ‘75, it lands with a thud as perhaps the most graceless way to offer a sliver of continuity with a writer that had little idea of the narrative McGregor is working toward here. Also, even in 1975, this had to come off as fairly racist in its idea and execution. Now it seems little more than a horrible embarrassment in the annals of comic publishing history.

While #33 is pretty jarring in its near complete train wrecking of the series flow, with #34, our intrepid duo manage to right the ship again with perhaps the end(?) of the current storyline, and their ultimate battle with the toughest villain of the series. McGregor provides dramatic sacrifice for his characters, and Russell gives the proceedings a convincing display of an epic finish. War of the Worlds comes full circle here, transforming its narrative of basic action comic into something mainstream comics hadn’t seen before.

#35-39

And here you have it. The final five issues of Amazing Adventures featuring Killraven complete his saga, in a more or less satisfactory manner. The deadlines for the book have at this point convinced McGregor and Russell to limit themselves to more modest, single issue stories, or perhaps McGregor has decided that format suits his needs better. The aim of each issue seems better off for it, primarily since this was a bimonthly comic.

#35 features Jack Abel inks, perhaps the best work I’ve seen by him, no doubt guided by the tight pencil work of Russell. Sonny Trinidad embellishes #36, and #37 has Abel back again, all to satisfactory ends. Each issue’s themes work very well in the 18 page chunks, suggesting McGregor has a bit more of a handle on how to approach his stories. There’s also a nice balance between attempting to tell a story, with the metaphorical flourishes still there, just reigned in somewhat by conventional story standards, and perhaps the better for it. At last, the series, while not as ambitious now, has started to gel somewhat.

#38, being one of those shoehorned in fill ins, features for some strange reason another script by Bill Mantlo, I guess because he did the first fill in. While not as offensive as the first, retreads a theme McGregor has already covered, and is clunkily drawn by Keith Giffen (in his first published work?), whose Kirby influences only hurt his cause, both in terms of the utterly graceless figure drawing, and some pretty insufferable page layouts. Once again, you can pass on this one.

#39, the final issue, has McGregor and Russell depicting what they seem to know would be their last; they made sure they got it done in time for publication, with Russell inking his own work, but in a more simple, flowing style, showcasing what would later become his signature traits. McGregor, for his part, realizes there’s absolutely no way to tie up or finish his plot threads, and avoids them entirely. While visually looking a bit rushed, it’s nice they were at least able to go out on their own terms.

In hindsight, it seems inevitable this series wouldn’t make it commercially, as I can’t imagine the young male audience (for the most part, I presume), having the patience for the all over the place storytelling, and the artistic level set up by the creators here far too labor intensive and prose heavy to keep it them entertained, as well as on schedule. While Killraven never quite grabs you on a personal level (its characters being pretty much vehicles for McGregor’s main interests), the series remains a piece of Marvel Comics history that shows an experiment, that while never standing a chance under the systems it inhabited, at least a demonstration of what could be in commercial comic books.

A smoother read of this series would be pretty much the first couple of issues for set up (#18 & #19), skipping to #25 & #26, the semi successful fill ins, #27 is where Russell comes on board, skip 30 with the reprint, read #31 & #32, skipping the abominable issue #33 fill in, picking it up again at #34-37, skipping the sad issue #38 fill in, and end with the somber finish of #39. This order of experience will give you an uninterrupted, more pleasing read of the series, unencumbered by the commercial necessities of deadlines and interruption of mainstream hack work.

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The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 49 (July 1986)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #49

It’s sort of a goofy issue, with Firestorm’s lawsuit ending in the first scene, then the rest of the issue is the Moonbow story. Conway continues the Marvel vibe–maybe it’s because Moonbow (a female college student who moonlights as a vigilante) looks like a Marvel character, but also because there’s no other vibe to the comic.

Conway doesn’t give his protagonists anything to do. Martin has a date, which Ronnie interrupts for a Firestorm outing, and Conway uses the interruption so as not to make any decisions for Martin. It’s more treading water.

There are art problems too–Pablo Marcos and Rodin Rodriguez join Machlan on inks and the issue never has a consistent look to it. Brozowski again does all right with his page composition and the comic moves at a good pace.

Even the ending, with Firestorm and Moonbow finally crossing paths, moves well.

It’s passable enough.

B- 

CREDITS

Justice: Lost and Found; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Joe Brozowski; inkers, Mike Machlan, Pablo Marcos and Rodin Rodriguez; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Carrie Spiegle; editor, Janice Race; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 48 (June 1986)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #48

Firestorm hasn’t cratered or anything so severe, but Conway does seem to have found a new level for the book. It’s a little low, sure, but he’s hitting it consistently.

And even though Brozowski and Machlan leave a lot to be desired in the art–creativity–the book does look okay. It doesn’t look much like a DC comic this issue, however; it looks a lot like an eighties Spider-Man, which is fine.

Conway doesn’t do anything fresh or inventive. Firestorm is getting sued by Ronnie’s stepmother-to-be and she’s real impressed with his speech in court. Of course she’s impressed, otherwise the story might do something unexpected. Ditto the introduction of another girl in Ronnie’s life. Could she be the bow-wielding vigilante plaguing Pittsburgh’s mob?

Conway doesn’t even make that one a surprise.

It reads okay in parts, not okay in others. It’s bland superhero stuff.

B- 

CREDITS

Moonbow; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Joe Brozowski; inker, Mike Machlan; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Carrie Spiegle; editor, Janice Race; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 47 (May 1986)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #47

It’s not a bad special guest star issue, just another pointless one. Blue Devil and Firestorm are now teamed up–after a couple issues of mistaken fighting–against all of Firestorm’s villains.

Brozowski continues to do a very clean, obvious approach with the composition; he and inker Mike Machlan don’t have a single outstanding panel in the comic, but there also aren’t any lemons. It’s straightforward superhero stuff and, given there’s a hallucination sequence with demons, the art works out okay. Never anything more… but okay isn’t terrible.

As for Conway’s script… he tries a little character development (Ronnie’s dad and stepmother-to-be are hostages of all his villains, along with a mention of one of the villain’s failed rehabilitations), but it’s mostly action. It’s not great action; the giant-size computer showroom is goofy.

Like I said, it’s not too bad. It’s a guest star issue, big whoop.

B- 

CREDITS

Dead Devils Don’t Wear Blue!; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Joe Brozowski; inker, Mike Machlan; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Janice Race; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 46 (April 1986)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #46

Joe Brozowski appears to be taking over as regular penciller. He does okay; he tries real hard with expressions, which don’t tend to work out with the regular people but it’s fine with the action scenes. He’s stuck with plotting out an action scene in an arena–a bunch of giant computers on loan from the Batcave.

Conway plots some really odd action scenes in this series, really odd locations. It might be a natural side effect of having a flying superhero in stories more in the web-slinging superhero level.

For instance, this issue has lots of character development for Ronnie and his father. They finally hash it out about a number of things, like Ronnie’s problems with his bully and the father’s fiancée. Though Conway still hasn’t made her likable and he does reduce Ronnie’s girlfriend to a non-speaking prop.

It’s simultaneously too late while still ambitious.

B- 

CREDITS

Deadly Prelude; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Joe Brozowski; inker, Mike Gustovich; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Carrie Spiegle; editor, Janice Race; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 45 (March 1986)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #45

It's funny, but George Tuska really brings the book around. He's just filling in, but Conway's got Multiplex (Firestorm's foe since the second issue of the original series) getting all the villains together–although Firestorm's rogues gallery doesn't have a clubhouse–to attack him. Or something.

But it's a very Flash, very Spider-Man story and Tuska just brings that fun, Silver Age vibe to the book. The art isn't great–some of he and Mike Gustovich's faces are atrocious–but it's got a lot of energy to it. They bring the same energy to the civilian storyline, with Ronnie and Martin both having problems at school. Ronnie because his stepmother-to-be is suing Firestorm and Martin because his sexy dean has the hots for him.

Conway's prudish portrayal of Martin–along with a chaste one of Ronnie and his girlfriend's relationship–is peculiar. He teases character development then doesn't deliver.

Still, the Tuska energy gets it through.

B- 

CREDITS

A Gathering of Hate!; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, George Tuska; inker, Mike Gustovich; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Carrie Spiegle; editor, Janice Race; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man Annual 3 (November 1985)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man Annual #3

Akin and Garvey’s inks are a little better this issue. Not much, but a little. There are a lot of action sequences and most of them come off well, as does Firestorm’s trip to the sun. Martin has some theories about their powers and wants to investigate; for a moment, Firestorm feels like sci-fi and it works better for it. Conway’s engaged and imaginative.

The main story of the issue, however, just gives Kayanan an excuse to draw elaborate fight sequences in Miami. They’re fine, they’re just pointless. Ronnie and Martin get involved because they see it on TV. And Conway wastes a lot of time setting up the characters for this pointless excursion.

Well, it’s an annual so I guess it’s the special element to the issue.

The rest–Martin’s going away party at work, Ronnie’s father’s awful girlfriend–is the regular series stuff; sadly, Conway short-changes them on page time.

B- 

CREDITS

Sparx; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inkers, Ian Akin and Brian Garvey; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Duncan Andrews; editor, Janice Race; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 44 (February 1986)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #44

It’s Conway’s most ambitious issue in a long time. The first third of the issue is Firestorm versus a natural disaster–a freak tornado in Pittsburgh. Of course, Typhoon is creating the tornado to draw Firestorm out, but Firestorm doesn’t know it. Conway does a lot with the narration and the trying to use it to pace the scenes.

It doesn’t work, but it’s ambitious. Maybe if the art were better. Machlan’s inks are a mess this issue. They’re better in the superhero part, but still a mess.

The second part of the issue is Ronnie and Martin’s adventures at school. It’s just a regular day–they’re worried they can’t turn back into Firestorm but it’s barely a plot point. It’s all character development; if it weren’t for the dumb high school nemesis, it might work out.

Meanwhile, there’s the villain storyline, which Conway also handles ambitiously.

It’s decent enough.

B- 

CREDITS

An East Wind Blowing; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inker, Mike Machlan; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Carrie Spiegle; editor, Janice Race; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 43 (January 1986)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #43

What is it about Kayanan? Why does he never gets the right inker on Firestorm? Mike Machlan is better than the last couple guys, but still not great. For a lot of the pages, Kayanan seems to avoid a lot of close-ups because Machlan butchers the faces.

The story has Ronnie and Martin at college, with Ronnie adjusting to college freshman life and Martin's thought balloons covering his unease as a new professor. He doesn't really get a story, however. And Conway gives Ronnie too much. Between football tryouts, which Kayanan doesn't break out well, his girlfriend and his high school nemesis plotting his downfall… it's too much. What's really bad is how ineffectual the girlfriend is as a character; Conway basically reinvents her every seven issues.

The other plot–villain Typhoon's return–as awkward. Conway wants him to be both dangerous and sympathetic, but goes to far in the first direction.

B- 

CREDITS

Night of Tears, Sky of Sorrow; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inker, Mike Machlan; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Carrie Spiegle; editor, Janice Race; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 42 (November 1985)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #42

It’s a thoroughly decent Crisis crossover. Firehawk and Wonder Girl are trying to find loved ones in New York and they run into all sorts of problems since New York City is split between different eras.

Akin and Garvey don’t do great on the inks but they do better than they ever have before. The people’s faces don’t look two dimensional anymore. The action stuff is good and Kayanan breaks out a very nice flying sequence.

Eventually there’s a Tomahawk guest appearance when they find themselves in colonial America Manhattan. There’s some adventure with Firehawk and Wonder Girl helping the troops against the British. Conway presents both time periods well; when they go to colonial time, it feels like they’re guesting in a Tomahawk story.

There’s a big narration thing from Firehawk about her embracing life as a superhero. It’s not great, but it’s serviceable. It’s a crossover after all.

B- 

CREDITS

A Long Night’s Journey Into Day; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inkers, Ian Akin and Brian Garvey; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Carrie Spiegle; editor, Janice Race; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 41 (November 1985)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #41

The issue is simultaneously likable and shallow. The first half has Firestorm moving the Pittsburgh and Conway introducing the new supporting cast on the book. Conway gives Martin a whole new supporting cast of colleagues and teaching assistants, while Ronnie has his cast held over. His high school girlfriend, his high school rival. The former works out but the latter feels way too forced.

Speaking of forced, the second half of the issue is the Crisis tie-in and Conway is rapidly cycling in place. Firestorm goes a little kooky because of Psycho Pirate and Harbinger has to calm him down. So what? And it’s the finish of the issue too. There’s not just no more character stuff with the supporting cast, there’s no character stuff with Firestorm.

Ah, tie-ins.

Akin and Garvey’s inks are a little better than usual. Some of the panels are excellent; Kayanan’s composition shines.

B- 

CREDITS

Storm Warning; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inkers, Ian Akin and Brian Garvey; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Duncan Andrews; editor, Janice Race; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 40 (October 1985)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #40

For the first time in a while–maybe ever–Conway dedicates over half the issue to Ronnie. He’s in trouble at school because he did too well on his final exams. He and Martin figure out it’s leakage from Martin, when they’re fused as Firestorm.

There’s also a lot of stuff with his high school classmates–an argument with his girlfriend (the teenage one, Firehawk has been absent for a while) and then a fight with his adversary. Conway seems to have forgotten he’s already done the fight with the high school antagonist, but it lets him “mature” Ronnie in a matter of scenes than to do actual character development.

Conway’s narrative construction is fine and if the art were better the issue would be a whole lot more successful. But the art’s weak. Mike Clark guest pencils; his lethargic composition gets no help from the inkers either.

Too bad.

C+ 

CREDITS

Graduation Day; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Mike Clark; inkers, Ian Akin and Brian Garvey; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Duncan Andrews; editor, Janice Race; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 39 (September 1985)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #39

Even though Conway tries a few things, the issue doesn't work out well. He's got both Martin and Ronnie playing detective, with a transformation into Firestorm a way for them to get out of trouble. It's lazy though–turning into a superhero when the detecting gets too dangerous.

And then there's Martin's love interest for the issue. Just when she starts to make an impression, Conway exits her from the issue and returns to the lame villain, the Weasel. The reveal on him is underdone, maybe because of space, maybe because not even Conway is interested.

There's a lot of Pittsburgh landmark minutiae, which makes little sense since it's New Yorker Martin identifying it all.

The worst part is when Ronnie is talking about how his dad isn't a particularly big part of his life anymore–not that the father has ever had a significant role in the comic.

Weak art too.

C- 

CREDITS

Publish or Perish or the Academic Life is Killing Me!; writer, Gerry Conway; pencillers, Rafael Kayanan and Mike Chen; inkers, Ian Akin and Brian Garvey; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Duncan Andrews; editor, Janice Race; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 38 (August 1985)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #38

If it weren’t for the lousy inks from Akin and Garvey, this issue would be rather strong. It’s not wholly successful, but it does have Conway trying new things with the series. Martin gets his own adventure, far away from Ronnie; Conway isn’t entirely successful with Martin as lead–there are missteps, like an awkward pop culture reference–but he’s trying.

Conway’s also trying with Ronnie. He sends Ronnie out with his high school girlfriend (never mentioning Firehawk) and it’s nice to see an attempt at a regular scene. Sadly, the art runs a lot of the sequence.

Then there’s Ronnie’s dad and his romance. Again, bad art hurts, but so does Conway’s writing of the dad’s girlfriend. She’s a shallow witch.

Plus there’s a dumb villain called the Weasel menacing Martin. It leads to what should be great action scenes, but are instead atrocious due to the inkers’ ineptness.

B- 

CREDITS

Night of the Weasel; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inkers, Ian Akin and Brian Garvey; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Duncan Andrews; editor, Janice Race; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 37 (July 1985)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #37

Not a good issue. Joey Cavalieri fills in on writing the main story, which has Ronnie’s nightmares informing his Firestorm adventure. It never gets explained how his nightmares could be so important to a Firestorm adventure, but it involves alien life forms so it shouldn’t be hard.

Cavalieri tries too hard to give the story gravity and weight but there’s a framing sequence informing the reader it’s a flashback. So who cares?

Alex Niño pencils the story, with Duncan Andrews inking, and it’s a vaguely psychedelic experience. Niño and Andrews go crazy with the details but there’s no sense of composition, not to mention a complete lack of natural transitions between panels.

The framing sequence isn’t much better, with Kayanan getting two inkers to replace Alan Kupperberg. Only all new inkers Ian Akin and Brian Garvey bring are flat, awkward faces and strange body parts.

It’d work with better art.

C 

CREDITS

Not In Our Stars But In Ourselves!; writers, Gerry Conway and Joey Cavalieri; pencillers, Rafael Kayanan and Alex Nino; inkers, Ian Akin, Brian Garvey and Nino; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Duncan Andrews; editor, Julius Schwartz; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 36 (June 1985)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #36

Whatever magic Kupperberg had been working on the inks is over now. All of a sudden, he’s doing a bad job. The faces in particular. The features aren’t in the right places on faces. It’s an ugly comic, which is a shame because it’s got some great settings and should look amazing.

Worse are the talking heads moments, when Kayanan and Kupperberg are doing the civilian side of things. The figures look tacked on to the backgrounds, then the faces look tacked on too.

It’s a peculiar issue. Conway shows how Ronnie can handle the world on his own–the villains have Firestorm knocked out and they escape, leaving him to recover (why wouldn’t they kill him?). When he does come to, Martin isn’t part of the Firestorm matrix, Ronnie’s flying solo.

Sadly, Conway immediately invalidates the personal growth while apparently dismissing other subplots too.

It’s ugly, messy, but okay.

B- 

CREDITS

Slowly I Turned… Niagara Falls!; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inker, Alan Kupperberg; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Helen Vesik; editors, Janice Race and Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 35 (May 1985)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #35

Conway doesn’t just address Ronnie and Martin’s partnership as Martin has to move for work, he also makes time to give Ronnie’s father both a personality (or hints of one) and a girlfriend. There’s also intrigue at Martin’s new job. Lots of subplots this issue, including two villains.

The opening cliffhanger resolution, with Firestorm having to escape the new Killer Frost’s trap even figures into the later talking heads scene between Ronnie and Martin. Conway seems to be taking a new look at his characters, a fresh one without as much baggage.

It’s a strange approach, given he’s over thirty issues into the series, but it does work.

Kayanan and Kupperberg’s art has its moments–like the action scenes or the date scene for Ronnie’s dad–but the talking heads sequence doesn’t work out. With too many faces to ink, Kupperberg gets a little lazy.

It’s a thoroughly solid issue.

B 

CREDITS

Winter Frost; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inker, Alan Kupperberg; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Ben Oda; editors, Janice Race and Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 34 (April 1985)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #34

The Kupperberg inks continue to give Firestorm all the emotion Conway’s scripts have been lacking. Only this issue has some emotion in the script–Ronnie having a talk with ex-girlfriend Doreen (who he jilted for Firehawk)–and the result, even though Conway cops out for a conclusion, is fantastic. Kayanan’s panel composition and Kupperberg’s details make for a great talking heads scene.

There’s a lot of movement with the subplots too, more than with the action plots. At least for this issue, Conway’s doing something of a shift–the action is spectacular but finite, while the character moments get a lot of space, whether it’s Martin, Ronnie or just the supporting cast.

The art also has a lot of fluidity, whether it’s how the characters talk or how Firestorm handles threats in the action sequences. Kayanan seems to be composing for his inker too, which makes the work better.

B+ 

CREDITS

The Big Freeze!; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inker, Alan Kupperberg; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Phil Felix; editors, Janice Race and Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 33 (March 1985)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #33

Kupperberg sticks around this issue to ink Rafael Kayanan and it’s an interesting result. The figures and composition are still Kayanan’s, but–with a couple exceptions–Kupperberg’s really bringing the personality to the faces. While Conway does do a little character development on Ronnie and Martin, the newly expressive faces are what sell the scenes.

Though, they’re very likable scenes–Ronnie falling asleep studying, bonding with his dad, bonding with Martin–it’s like Conway finally realized giving Ronnie endlessly negative scenes wasn’t helping endear the character.

Conway also establishes a new A plot, B plot, C plot structure; hopefully he’ll keep with it. The A plot has Québécois terrorists threatening New York City. The B plot is the return of Killer Frost, then the regular cast gets a couple C plots. The visual disconnect–the playful inks from Kupperberg–gives Firestorm a much-needed boost of energy. It seems to have reinvigorated Conway as well. For now.

B 

CREDITS

“Burn, Manhattan, Burn!”; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inker, Alan Kupperberg; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Phil Felix; editors, Janice Race and Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 31 (January 1985)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #31

George Tuska seems an unlikely guest penciller for Firestorm. He makes the whole thing look like a New Gods comic. But it works. Between Tuska's action-based take on the characters and events and Conway's willingness to cut around through the story, it's an exceptional issue.

In many ways, with Conway shedding the high school stuff and a lot of Martin's science stuff (but this issue does resolve the ex-wife subplot), Firestorm is a lot tighter. Sure, he's basically a supporting cast member in Firehawk's story (Conway really loves tying subplots together), but it works for the comic. It lets Conway do good superhero action without promising actual character development.

There's also the villain, Mindboggler, who gets a nice story arc this issue. Tuska doesn't do a lot of detail on faces, but somehow he and inker Alex Nino get the subtle emotions across.

It's an outstanding, rather unexpectedly produced issue.

A- 

CREDITS

A Mind of Her Own…; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, George Tuska; inker, Alex Nino; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Bob Lappan; editors, Janice Race and Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 28 (October 1984)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #28

And now it's Joey Cavalieri scripting from a Conway plot. The most visible change in the scripting is the personality Cavalieri gives Firestorm's two sides. Martin is dismissive of how Ronnie does things and Ronnie is irresponsible.

There's a great line with Martin mocking Ronnie and Firestorm's romance with Firehawk.

The issue eventually has some great action art, but the opening has lots of problems. Someone–either Pablo Marcos or Rodriguez–doesn't do well finishing faces for Kayanan. All the civilian scenes are plagued with characters with awkward, too static expressions.

The issue's villain is goofy but just a mercenary and the action plays out rather well.

There are some hints of character development at the beginning for Ronnie and his high school problems but Cavalieri doesn't follow through. He's getting to be unlikable, mostly because he's barely present.

Ditto the turgid conspiracy subplot–it desperately needs its resolution. The sooner the better.

B- 

CREDITS

The End of His Rope; writers, Gerry Conway and Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inkers, Pablo Marcos and Rodin Rodriguez; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Janice Race and Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 27 (September 1984)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #27

Paul Kupperberg fills in writing the last arc of the Black Bison and Silver Deer arc–which I affectionately call “the attack of the Native American super-terrorists.” Silver Deer proves so evil she even horrifies the Soviets with her behavior.

There’s an awkward sequence with the superheroes in their civilian identities going to a political reception. Kupperberg skips the scene where Lorraine explains how she’s met Firestorm’s two halves. The senator father inexplicably goes along with it.

But the Kayanan and Rodriguez art is often great and always above average. Even with the odd action finale–flying characters in closed spaces never plays well on the page; it all works out reasonably well.

Until the last page, when Kupperberg rips off the end of Superman III–Firestorm returning the Statue of Liberty to its proper form. The rip-off is vaguely okay but then Firestorm goofily salutes the statue.

B- 

CREDITS

Spell Dance; writers, Carla Conway, Gerry Conway and Paul Kupperberg; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inker, Rodin Rodriguez; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Duncan Andrews; editor, Gerry Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 26 (August 1984)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #26

Not much happens this issue past cliffhanger resolution, the villains teaming up with the Soviets and Lorraine and her father doing their every issue recap of his career problems. In some ways, it’s impressive how little gets done but how well the Conways and Kayanan do the issue.

There’s a chase sequence where Firestorm has to fight the Statue of Liberty. It should be cooler than it turns out and then the repercussions of Firestorm destroying it should probably be dealt with too.

The political stuff with the Soviets is goofy and doesn’t get handled well. The Conways’ villains this issue are Native American activists–admittedly, they’re super-powered terrorists–but it’s still a little odd to see them portrayed with so little sympathy.

As for character development, there’s zip. It’s a bridging issue and not an interesting one. It’s a good looking one, thanks to Kayanan and Rodriguez, sometimes really good looking.

B- 

CREDITS

Give Me Liberty–Give Me Death; writers, Carla Conway and Gerry Conway; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inker, Rodin Rodriguez; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, Adam Kubert; editors, Janice Race and Gerry Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 25 (July 1984)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #25

Twenty-five issues into the series and Conway still hasn’t figured out a balance between the superhero stuff and the regular people stuff.

Ronnie and Martin get no more time this issue developing their civilian characters than the supporting cast cops get. One of the Conways–presumably Gerry because Carla is just credited with plotting–is so out of it he or she forgets Ronnie’s best friend at high school’s name. The high school scene reveals a glaring problem–the book’s a lot better when it doesn’t have any high school in it. Lorraine (and Firehawk) works better as a supporting cast member than the high schoolers. At least the way Conway’s been treating them.

The issue’s pretty good, though Romeo Tanghal’s inks take the perspective out of Kayanan’s pencils. They’re reductive, which gives it a distinct look; the result’s not entirely unsuccessful but it’s too static for action.

It’s simultaneously distracted and competent.

B 

CREDITS

Black Bison Rides Again!; writers, Carla Conway and Gerry Conway; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inker, Romeo Tanghal; colorist, Carl Gafford; letterer, Adam Kubert; editors, Janice Race and Gerry Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 24 (June 1984)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #24

Even with some very questionable character design, a big action finale without any setting and a way too cramped issue in terms of panels, the issue is a considerable success. Conway takes some time to develop Ronnie–pairing him up with Firehawk’s alter ego, Lorraine–but also some time to work out their civilian relationship. It’s incomplete but it’s a good start.

And as problematic as the villains look this issue, Conway comes up with a good story for them and an even better resolution. Over half the issue is Ronnie trying to figure out the situation he’s in, which gives it a fresh feel.

Oh, I even forgot about the silly action sequence to setup Firehawk’s subplot. Even it can’t distract from the issue’s strengths. The Kayanan pencils make it look great, regardless of Conway forcing it into the comic.

The new Firestorm–with Kayanan and Firehawk–is excelling.

B+ 

CREDITS

Terminal Velocity; writers, Carla Conway and Gerry Conway; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inker, Romeo Tanghal; colorist, Carl Gafford; letterer, Adam Kubert; editors, Janice Race and Gerry Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 23 (May 1984)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #23

Conway edits himself on Firestorm, which might by why no one told him having the female businessperson use “she” instead of “one” (referring to a hypothetical lawyer) sounds both sexist and dumb. Evil feminists out to get Firestorm, what can our hero do to stop them!

Otherwise, the issue’s somewhat indistinct. Conway has another conspiracy going against Firehawk. It’s too bad because he actually writes her well and giving her repeat story lines doesn’t help.

Ronnie has high school trouble again–with he and his girlfriend apparently back together (I thought she got mad at him big time a few issues ago) and his problems with the class jerk going again. It doesn’t feel particularly original, but the scenes are amusing enough.

There’s a big finish at a computer convention with Firestorm fighting an electricity monster. Conway’s pacing is too rushed but the Kayanan pencils help it move right along.

B 

CREDITS

Byte; writers, Carla Conway and Gerry Conway; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inker, Rodin Rodriguez; colorist, Carl Gafford; letterer, Adam Kubert; editor, Gerry Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 22 (April 1984)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #22

Sal Trapani inking Pat Broderick. I don’t even know where to start with the result… somehow the people look better than the superheroes, which isn’t how Broderick pencils usually work. Trapani inks them almost like comic strip characters, Ronnie and Martin in particular. It has to be seen to be understood.

The issue itself is a retelling of Firestorm’s origin, with Gerry and Carla Conway adapting the first issue of the 1978 Firestorm series. The context is Firestorm telling Firehawk his origin after she’s nursed him back to health–though the off-page scenes where she’s in her civilian identity hiding the superhero from her dad would have been a lot more amusing.

Maybe the art is supposed to be retro, because the retelling reads very dated. Six years in comics is a long time and the Conways didn’t update the original dialogue or pacing.

Clearly, no one tried with this one.

B- 

CREDITS

The Secret Origin of Firestorm; writers, Gerry Conway and Carla Conway; penciller, Pat Broderick; inker, Sal Trapani; colorist, Carl Gafford; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Janice Race and Gerry Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 21 (March 1984)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #21

There’s some more Killer Frost misandry goofiness. But not enough to impair the issue–what’s strangest about Killer Frost as the issue opens is how Conway sets her against another female scientist. He writes the human one fine; it’s just Killer Frost who he can’t seem to write with any sincere, empathetic depth. It’s odd.

Once Killer Frost escapes and goes on a rampage, the issue gets great. Kayanan’s disaster scenes are fantastic and the big fight between Firestorm and Killer Frost is even better; it survives Conway’s odd narration, where he overuses the word “fury,” presumably for branding purposes.

Throw in some real character development for Firestorm–who has a scene with the cops who don’t know what to do with his help–as he (and Martin) come to terms with how unprepared they are for Killer Frost. And her arc is good too, just poorly characterized at the start.

It’s excellent.

B+ 

CREDITS

Cold Snap!; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inker, Rodin Rodriguez; colorist, Carl Gafford; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Nicola Cuti and Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 20 (February 1984)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #20

Conway gets through most of the issue before the problem becomes clear–he doesn’t have much of a story. He hints at future stories, with Ronnie having girlfriend troubles, Lorraine Reilly (Firehawk has joined the series as a regular) having family issues, Martin’s ex-wife stalking him again and so on and so forth, but there’s nothing going on here.

Oh, wait, Killer Frost escapes from prison. It’s a lengthy escape sequence and relatively well-done, but it’s just a prison break. Maybe if the character weren’t so shallow–and the way Conway writes her monologues about being rejected by men so painful–it’d go over better.

Conway’s definitely trying with his regular cast and now even developing Firestorm separate from Ronnie and Martin, and there’s Kayanan’s pencils. Firestorm has never looked better. Kayanan handles everything–locations, civilians, superheroes–beautifully. Kayanan is even able to make Killer Frost a welcome guest star, he illustrates her so well.

B 

CREDITS

Frost Bite!; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Rafael Kayanan; inker, Rodin Rodriguez; colorist, Carl Gafford; letterer, Adam Kubert; editors, Nicola Cuti and Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 19 (January 1984)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #19

Gene Colan pencilling Firestorm (Rick Magyar inks).

It's strange and utterly awesome, with Conway–this issue assisted by wife Carla–sending Ronnie and Martin on more of a detective outing than superhero action. They stumble upon a strange crime and investigate, having a very intense conversation about the nature of their adventuring as they do.

The issue fits perfectly in with the series's current events–Ronnie's thinking about Firehawk, for example, and all the hard choices they have to make as Firestorm–but it feels like a step aside too. Like the Conways are looking at the series and reflecting on it through their protagonist.

And the art from Colan and Magyar? It's gorgeous. Colan's composition captures the excitement of the superhero stuff, but also the hard realities of the world around Firestorm.

It's a fantastic comic book. Whether it’s Colan’s or Carla Conway’s influence, it’s a lyrical superhero outing, which is rather ambitious.

A 

CREDITS

Golden Boy!; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Rick Magyar; colorist, Carl Gafford; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Nicola Cuti and Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

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