Secret Origins Special (1989)

Secret Origins Special

I always forget how much Neil Gaiman threw himself into the DC Universe when he’d write in it. This Secret Origins Special is all about Batman’s villains; a TV investigative journalist has come to Gotham to do a special. Gaiman seems to enjoy writing those scenes–the ones with the behind the scenes, the Batman cameo, the anecdotes about living in Gotham City and the DC Universe in general. He doesn’t do well with the characters though, not the TV reporter and his crew. These framing scenes have art by Mike Hoffman and Kevin Nowlan. They do better at the start than they do the finish. By the finish, they’re getting tired and the detail from the opening isn’t there anymore.

Alan Grant writes the Penguin’s origin story, which isn’t a straight origin. There’s something modern to all of the Secret Origins here. Penguin’s grabbed a childhood nemesis–who just happened to grow up to be a gangster too–and Batman’s trying to find the guy while the Penguin’s torturing him. It’s an okay script, not great, but the Sam Kieth artwork is gorgeous. Kieth does action, he does Batman, he does Penguin, he does gangsters–he does kids. The best part of it is the tenderness Kieth shows when he’s doing the kids. I always forget Kieth really does know what he’s doing.

A self-reflected Riddler. Art by Bernie Mireault and Matt Wagner.
A self-reflected Riddler. Art by Bernie Mireault and Matt Wagner.

Gaiman handles the Riddler’s origin, which ties in a lot to the framing plot. The TV crew goes to interview him. Bernie Mireault on pencils, Matt Wagner on inks. Gaiman’s enthusiastic but misguided. Lots of monologue from the Riddler, but never particularly interesting. The details about the giant objects used in Gotham’s advertising in the past is more interesting than the Riddler teasing the TV crew with the truth. The art’s solid though and gets it over the bumps.

Then there’s the Two-Face story. Mark Verheiden writing it, Pat Broderick and Dick Giordano on the art. Broderick’s pencils are full of energy and light on restraint. It’s a messy story and a fairly cool one, focusing on Grace Dent (Harvey’s wife) and her side of the story. Verheiden doesn’t write the TV crew well and Grace Dent’s a little too slight, but it’s a solid enough story. The art is brutally violent and full of anger. Everyone looks miserable and angry about it.

Harvey Two-Face and Batman graphically wail on each other. Art by Pat Broderick and Dick Giordano.
Harvey Two-Face and Batman graphically wail on each other. Art by Pat Broderick and Dick Giordano.

The issue would’ve been better with stronger art throughout from Hoffman and Nowlan and either more or less from Gaiman. The TV crew ceases to be characters after the introduction, like one of the stories came in a page or two short and Gaiman was padding it out. But the Penguin story is good, the Riddler story could be a lot worse and is technically strong, the Two-Face story is super-solid mainstream DC eighties stuff. It’s good stuff.

CREDITS

Writer, Neil Gaiman, Alan Grant and Mark Verheiden; pencillers, Mike Hoffman, Bernie Mireault and Pat Broderick; inkers, Kevin Nowlan, Matt Wagner and Dick Giordano; artist, Sam Kieth; colorists, Tom McCraw and Joe Matt; letterers, Todd Klein, Albert DeGuzman, Mireault and Agustin Mas; editor, Mark Waid; publisher, DC Comics.

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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 17 (October 1983)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #17

As many problems as Broderick has been having on the art lately, it’s nothing compared to George Tuska, who does the first half of the issue. Maybe it’s Rodriguez’s who’s lazy because there’s no excuse for Tuska’s part of the issue. Inept is the word for it.

The issue, however, is something of a return to form for Conway. Terrible art and all, it has great plotting and action. There’s the human stuff with Ronnie and his family problems, which sends him off as Firestorm to mull it over with Martin. Unfortunately, the bad guys have turned one of Firestorm’s love interests into Firehawk, sort of a female version.

There’s a really well-paced fight sequence, something Broderick and Rodriguez should have nailed, but don’t. Conway’s progression of the scene–with Firestorm saving civilians and finally having enough and overreacting to get the job done–it’s wonderful comics writing.

Shame about the art.

B 

CREDITS

On Wings of Fire!; writer, Gerry Conway; pencillers, Pat Broderick and George Tuska; inker, Rodin Rodriguez; colorist, Carl Gafford; letterer, Adam Kubert; editors, Nicola Cuti and Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 16 (September 1983)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #16

Conway tries for something new to the series–Ronnie and Martin interacting face to face when Martin’s in his Firestorm mode (when Professor Stein is the floating head advising Firestorm, it’s his subconscious, not his conscious)–but he’s also trying a mystery. Ronnie has forgotten something and Martin is trying to talk him into remembering.

It’s an action-packed memory too, with Ronnie having a high school incident, Firestorm flying to Washington, D.C. and then back to New York and so on. There’s lots of activity as Conway tries to keep the reader guessing at what’s going on.

The problem isn’t Conway or the confounding nature of the narrative. The issue features exceptionally weak art from Broderick and Rodriguez. It’s across the board–usually they keep it together for the superhero stuff, not here. Instead, everything is a problem. Broderick and Rodriguez can’t even draw an arm okay.

The art problems blight everything else.

B- 

CREDITS

Black-Out!; writer, Gerry Conway; pencillers, Pat Broderick and Rodin Rodriguez; inker, Rodriguez; colorist, Gene D’Angelo; letterer, Adam Kubert; editors, Nicola Cuti and Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 15 (August 1983)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #15

Conway and Broderick do exceedingly well on the action part of the issue. The first half has Firestorm having to get free from Multiplex and then fight him and Enforcer. It’s a great action scene, both in terms of pacing and art. It really seems like Broderick is going to turn in an excellent issue.

Until the second half of the comic, when Broderick has to draw the civilians and immediately it’s strange body proportions and hair helmets. It’s like he and Rodriguez entirely check out when it’s not superhero stuff and it doesn’t work.

The second half of the issue is also messy because Conway splits it between boring, connected conspiracies–one against Martin and Ronnie and one involving c-level supporting cast member Senator Walter Reilly. Plus, Conway brings back a stale story line he never watered enough.

The strong start only can make up for so much.

B- 

CREDITS

Breakout; writer, Gerry Conway; pencillers, Pat Broderick and Rodin Rodriguez; inker, Rodriguez; colorist, Gene D’Angelo; letterer, Adam Kubert; editors, Nicola Cuti and Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 14 (July 1983)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #14

Until the silly eighties toys show up at the end–the villain rides around in absurd tank–it’s a decent enough issue. Well, the villain–Enforcer (Conway remembering his old Spider-Man days perhaps)–is lame, but some of it might be the art. Broderick starts the issue strong and then loses his grip by halfway through. This time it’s worse than bad faces, it’s goofy bodies and so on.

But the issue itself isn’t bad, Conway’s initial plot–Ronnie and Martin getting the newly unemployed scientist a job at Ronnie’s burger joint–works. He just keeps adding on to the plot until the issue is bloated. He doesn’t give anything enough time and keeps throwing in hints at future subplots.

The action finish–that tank–is silly and poorly conceived. All this action in a confined space cuts down on action possibilities for Broderick.

It’s a rather problematic issue.

B- 

CREDITS

Enforcer; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Pat Broderick; inker, Rodin Rodriguez; colorist, Gene D’Angelo; letterer, Adam Kubert; editors, Nicola Cuti and Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 13 (June 1983)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #13

Firestorm is turning into a were-hyena and his plan is to go to Africa to find the cure. Why doesn’t he call the Justice League and have the many scientist super heroes help him? Because Conway wants to do a story about corrupt African nations? Because DC was docks writers pay if they used too many guest stars? Some third option?

Suffice to say, the plot of this issue doesn’t make sense. It removes Firestorm from being the active character in his own comic for quite a few pages–he’s delirious or he’s a hostage or just an enraged jerk. He is turning into a were-hyena after all. Good thing it’s really cute. Broderick and Rodriguez make the transformed Firestorm adorable. It’s weird.

Conway throws in a couple scenes developing the civilian subplots, but it’s not enough. This issue drags an unsuccessful plot out one issue too far.

C+ 

CREDITS

Split!; writer, Gerry Conway; pencillers, Pat Broderick and Rodin Rodriguez; inker, Rodriguez; colorist, Gene D’Angelo; letterers, Andy Kubert and Adam Kubert; editors, Nicola Cuti and Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 12 (May 1983)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #12

Broderick and Rodriguez continue to have problems with Ronnie’s civilian adventures. For whatever reason, they’re fine with Martin and his supporting cast, it’s just the teenagers who have awkward, flat expressions.

The story has a slowly transforming Firestorm trying to stop the double Hyena threat. Conway spends more time coming up with witty exposition–and some of it’s quite good–than he does on the characters. Ronnie has a scene at his part-time job, one with his friends, but none have any resonance. It’s especially bad with the girlfriend.

Martin, on the other hand, gets fired and then possibly gets blackmailed. Conway’s building that story slowly, with one exaggerated setup scene but otherwise it’s moving well.

As for Firestorm versus the Hyena? The opening fight has some good visuals but the final one is a little confused. Broderick just doesn’t plot out the action well.

Still, it’s reasonably compelling.

B 

CREDITS

Howl; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Pat Broderick; inker, Rodin Rodriguez; colorist, Gene D’Angelo; letterer, Ben Oda; editors, Nicola Cuti and Conway; publisher, DC Comics.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 11 (April 1983)

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #11

It’s a mess of an issue. Conway makes the Hyena’s return a really complicated story with curses and multiple were-hyenas–including Firestorm turning into one too. But there’s also Professor Stein’s ex-wife, who Conway avoids really defining and just makes her ominous instead. Ronnie’s tired at school, which turns out to be okay with his basketball coach–even though it shouldn’t be–and then there’s some nonsense with his girlfriend changing her hairstyle.

Conway’s doing a whole bunch of stuff and not spending enough time on any of it. He makes Professor Stein’s contributions to the Firestorm scenes even worse. No longer satisfied doing wordy, obvious exposition, Conway uses Stein to tell the reader why things are bad for the characters. It’s beyond lazy.

The issue finishes with the big action scene finale flopping. The Hyena doesn’t work on a large scale and Conway inexplicably stages a fight at the World Trade Center?

C 

CREDITS

Waking Darkness; writer and editor, Gerry Conway; penciller, Pat Broderick; inker, Rodin Rodriguez; colorist, Gene D’Angelo; letterer, Adam Kubert; publisher, DC Comics.

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