You learn something new everyday – Skateman (registered TM)

Cover of Skateman #1 from Pacific Comics

I was originally going to do a long-form piece on Skateman #1 but after doing a little research on the interwebs I decided to change the focus of my discussion for this comic, but I’ll get to that in a bit. I found a copy of Skateman #1 from Pacific in a dollar bin at the Baltimore Comic-Con and pulled it because it was Pacific Comics. It was Neal Adams and the titular hero was wearing roller skates for crying out loud. I’d never heard of the comic and thought it looked like the kind of fun stuff that I love to find in cheapo bins. The fact that it was a Pacific comic and had Neal Adams name on it were added bonuses.

The title and cover alone are so silly that I was intrigued and eagerly showed off my find to my brother and friends that evening. We all got a kick out of it and it even came up in the Oddity Prodigy podcast we did discussing the convention, which can be found here. One of the most curious things is that Skateman is a registered trademark of Neil Adams and this is prominently displayed on the cover. Now it is widely known that the creators who published their stories with Pacific Comics owned their characters and stories, they do not usually have the trademark right on the cover. To me, this comic was a curious artifact.

This style of action imagery was a way Adams could do a fight sequence and quickly get back to the story.

After finally reading the comic I learned a couple of things. The first is that this comic is bat-sh*t crazy. The story involves a Vietnam war veteran driven to vigilantism on roller skates due to tragic events in his life. Something else I learned is that even Neil Adams can be a lazy writer when he punishes the main male character by having his girlfriend murdered, the event that drives him to become the hero Skateman. The final thing I learned, and the reason I changed the focus of this discussion, is that this comic is infamous as being considered one of the worst comics ever written.

One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about Neil Adams art is how he blends different images into one panel.

When I finished reading the story I did some poking around the internet and found this comic has been discussed time and time again on blogs, comic history sites, and even Reddit. The critical opinion of Skateman is that it is an awful comic. The Wikipedia entry alone contains several references to articles where it makes some all-time worst comics lists. I was blown away by how notorious the story was. This comic was all that I thought it would be and quite a bit more.

Skateman was silly and goofy but it was also more violent than I expected and there are a couple of racist phrases that wouldn’t feel out of place in a mature comic but come off as inappropriate in this screw-ball story. The use of the death of the main character’s girlfriend as the impetus for him to become a vigilante is a worn-out trope that wasn’t necessary, even in 1983. Finally the ending is very abrupt and there is no real closer to the story.

Once you get through all the negative aspects of the comic there are a couple of positive things to examine. The art is action-packed and energetic, signature aspects of Adams works when he was at his best. Skateman gives the reader a lot of story in nineteen pages including a detailed origin. Finally I love that the dude on skates takes out several bad guys with nunchucks, my favorite martial arts weapon. Overall I am very happy to own a comic that has such a place in comics history and even better I got it for a buck.

This is the opening splash page. It is the cover image duplicated with word balloons added. Kind of odd for a splash page to be duplicated in such a way.
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Sunday Fun-Day – The New Mutants #93

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Way back in October of 2019 I happened to be in the right place at the right time. I was at the Baltimore Comic-Con with my brother and friends for our annual pilgrimage. On Saturday morning I was bin diving and I happened to walk up to a dealer’s booth and while I was there he announced what he was calling Sunday Fun-Day pricing. He told the people at his booth that the boxes, I happened to be looking through, were now all one dollar, instead of the marked price. 

Most of the books were alternate covers of recent Marvel books that he obviously had quite a few of and was trying to move, mostly so he didn’t have to bring them home I suspect. There were also runs over older books, Batman, Spider-man, Deadpool, and such. What really made this worth my time though was that he had seeded the boxes with books from his other bins where the good, more expensive, comics were. It was just enough that a customer would look through all the boxes looking for gems and would probably pull out the stuff he was trying to get rid of as well. That was exactly what I did. I walked away with a huge pile of comics that I was very excited about owning and reading. 

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The copy of New Mutants #93 pictured here is one of the comics I bought that day. I’m not a fan of this era of the comic and will leave it there as far as negative comments go. I bought this comic because the cover is Liefeld and McFarlane, and I still enjoy McFarlane’s art. It is a pretty cool action shot and the green background is really brilliant. It was also in nice shape, which normally doesn’t matter to me, but it is nice to find good copies of comics, especially when they are one dollar. Even after reading the story I am very pleased to own such a good copy of this comic. Looking around online it looks like non-graded copies sell from anywhere between four and twenty dollars. Based on all that, this was a good pickup for Sunday Fun-Day on Saturday. 

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You learn something new everyday

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This evening I was going through more comics when I came across a very early Donald Duck comic from Gladstone. Now I don’t know about you but when I am sorting and bagging comics it is very hard to not stop and read. In my case it is especially difficult when I get to a Disney Duck book. I started looking through this issue and decided to read the editorial column. In my opinion Gladstone was one of the finest publishers of comics there ever was. They really cared about producing a excellent product and it was especially important for them that the creators were credited. Anyway the point of all this is that I learned something while reading the opening column. 

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This was written by Gladstone assistant editor and resident letterer Leonard (John) Clark. In the column he is discussing the process of buying Disney stories that were created in Europe. He mentions that the stories could be purchased from Disney or the foreign licensee. The really fascinating thing is that the stories were ordered by code number. This code number is in the left corner of the first panel, see below. 

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Speaking for myself I have always noticed the code but have never known what it meant. Thanks to Mr. Clark I learned something new thirty four years later.

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Awesome Covers

Creatures on the Loose #26

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I was born the same year this comic came out but if I was of comic reading age when it was released there would be no way I could resist buying this from the newsstand. The cover is amazing. Please allow me to elaborate. 

First up is the corner box and the logo. Back when comics were sold on a newsstand they were usually lined up in such a fashion that you could only see the corner box. For this reason Marvel comics would put the characters that appeared in the comic in the corner box. That was done so that some young Avengers fan only needed to search for Captain America and Iron Man’s faces to snag a copy of their favorite comic from the shelf. In this case the barbarian warrior brandishing a sword and shield would be enough for me to at least look at this comic. 

Now if I had pulled it from the shelf I would have been sucked in with that great logo. Thongor! Go ahead, say that out loud. The name alone makes one think of a muscle bound hero battling evil forces to save a kingdom or princess. 

Next there is some fantastic trade dress. “Doom of the Serpent Gods” “Sword vs Sorcery in the Land that Time forgot!!!” These phrases written in bold fonts are exciting and promise the reader some wonderful action, all for twenty cents. 

Finally there is the main image. There is a hideous beast about to devour a beautiful woman currently tied to a stake. The hero Thongor has sprung into action and appears ready to drive his massive sword though the creature’s skull. In the background a crowd appears to be cheering for the lizard beast and throwing spears at Thongor. It is electrifying. 

All the images, trade dress and logo  make this comic irresistible and if I were seven years old again, kneeling on the newspapers, I would have begged my mom for this sword and sorcery adventure.  

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I Am The Law!

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I’ve mentioned before on this blog that when my brother and I were kids my mother took us on several long camping trips during the summer. We drove to Alaska, across the country to California and back, to Newfoundland, and plenty of places in between. On all these trips we would seek out local comic shops that had been listed in the OverStreet Price Guide. Comics were a great way to keep my brother and I quite in the back seat as my mother drove eight hundred miles across the plains of South Dakota or route 95 in the woods of Maine. 

Visiting these comic shops introduced my brother and I to all sorts of new comics. I am pretty sure that one of the comics I discovered in some comic shop somewhere out there was Judge Dredd. I don’t even remember the first Dredd story that I read. Most likely it was an Eagle comic (US reprints of the British comic 2000 AD). I say that because I did not see a copy of 2000 AD until I was much older. 

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Judge Dredd just feels like one of those comics I have always liked, like Uncle Scrooge or Daredevil. Dredd is a gruff Lawman who sees everything in black and white, but in the hands of a talented writer like John Wagner (co-creator) or Alan Grant, the stories are not just authoritarian tales of the police punishing criminals. They can be excellent science fiction or horror stories. They can be pro-environment or anti-drug stories. They can run the full gamut of action and adventure.  

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The art in Judge Dredd is one of the things that kept me coming back time after time. The character was created by John Wagner, Pat Mills, and Carlos Ezquerra. Ezquerra’s designs are classic and simply amazing but for my money Brian Bolland’s art is my favorite. His art, whether in black and white or color is instantly recognizable and gorgeous. When someone mentions Brian Bolland the first thing that comes to mind, besides Judge Dredd, is his amazing work on Camelot 3000. If you have not read this series it is a must read comic. Mike Barr’s story and Bolland’s art make this story an amazing sci-fi version of the Arthurian Legend. 

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Over the years I read quite a few of the 2000 AD post-apocalyptic tales of law and order but some of the most memorable ones are the stories that featured the Dark Judges. In 2015 IDW published a series of reprints called Judge Dredd Classics featuring the Dark Judges. I probably have most of these stories buried somewhere in my collection, or mixed in with my brother’s comics, but I couldn’t resist being able to read these stories again all collected in one place. With that let’s jump right in with the first Judge Death story, originally published in 2000 AD #149 – 151. 

Judge Dredd Classics: Dark Judges #1

Judge Death part I – III

Creators

Script Robot – John Howard (John Wagner)
Art Robot – Brian Bolland
Lettering Robot – Tom Frame
Colors – Charlie Kirckoff
Editor (IDW) –  Denton J Tipton

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I should start off by mentioning that these stories are reprinted on the standard US comic paper size and in these comics the panels do not take up the full page (see above). I assume this is done to preserve the original aspect ratio. If there is actually a different reason please let me know in the comments. 

The story opens with a dark figure confronting  a small time criminal known as Tiny the Tap as he comes up the stairs. Tiny is bragging how the judges will never catch him when a skeletal figure emerges from the shadows. This “Judge” is horrifying wearing a badge with the name Death inscribed on it. The standard eagle and pauldrons are replaced with a bat and bones. Without uttering a word the Judge reaches directly into Tiny’s chest and kills him. Finally he introduces himself as Death and says that he has come to judge Tiny.

Dredd and several other judges find Tiny’s body but they cannot determine how he died, except for the look of terror on his face. They do find a tissue sample under his nails which gets sent off to the lab. Next we find Judge Death on the prowl, searching for “That Hated Sound” of life. He finds a local discotheque and slaughters everyone inside. Meanwhile the lab reports to Dredd that the tissue sample they found is decomposed and thousands of years old.

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As Dredd and the team of judges called to the disco enter they find Judge Death finishing his work and are overwhelmed by the smell of decay. An all-to-eager judge confronts Death and is killed instantly. Dredd and the other judges use their law-bringers and fire on the dark judge. He falls but almost as quickly rises and proclaims that they “cannot kill what does not live!”.

Chapter two begins with Judge Dredd trying to stop Death with incendiary rounds. This destroys the skeletal body that Judge Death has inhabited, but a ghostly form emerges from the corpse and flies off with Dredd and the others surrounded by bodies and not knowing how to confront their immortal enemy.

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They take the corpse left behind back to the lab and bring in one of the Psi-Divison judges, Judge Anderson to help with this case. Anderson touches the body and tries to communicate with Judge Death. She is successful, and speaking through her, Death tells Dredd that he is from a world where all crime was committed by the living and therefore life was made illegal. Now that they know what the creature wants they have to figure out how to stop him. Anderson theorizes that he needs something or someone to finish his mission since the body he originally had has been lost.

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Judge Anderson returns to her apartment after the ordeal of communicating with Judge Death. The ghostly form of the dark judge shows up outside and takes control of Anderson’s body forcing her to open the window and let him enter. He then possesses her body and forces her to go to the morgue where Death’s skeleton is kept. The doctors try to stop her but she pleads for them to back off, that she is not in control of her body. They do not listen and Death forces Anderson to kick one of the doctors through a window.

Judge Dredd finds the doctor in the street. He tells Dredd that Judge Anderson stole the skeleton and a meat wagon (ambulance). Dredd surmises that since Anderson is a telepath that Death must be controlling her. Meanwhile Anderson is fighting Death’s control over her body and she crashes the ambulance. Death then forces Anderson to carry the body through the streets to their destination, wherever that might be. While all that is going on Judge Dredd gathers a round table of Psi-Division telepaths together trying to reach out to Anderson to help her. One judge gets something from Anderson, just one word – “Boing”. Judge Dredd realizes that this might be important and thinks he knows what to do.

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The judges eventually get Anderson’s location and speed off to try and stop her and Death. In a nondescript lab somewhere Death has forced Anderson to put the skeleton into some kind of tank that then is being filled with fluids that will restore it to a usable corpse. Judge Dredd enters the lab and orders the other judges to seal him in with Anderson and Death. Dredd blows the tank containing the decayed corpse to smithereens. Death forces Anderson to attack Judge Dredd. Anderson has Dredd in her grasp when she tells Dredd to open the Boing tin!

Boing, it turns out, is a plastic gel that encapsulates Judge Anderson completely. Now Judge Death and Judge Anderson are trapped together in some kind of suspended state, unable to do anymore harm, but also neither alive or dead. The story ends with Judge Anderson being placed in a clear coffin preserving her as a hero and trapping the evil Judge Death. 

Wrap up

Well that was thrilling. Originally presented in chapters across three issues of 2000 AD weekly each part of the story builds up the fear and terror that Judge Death inflicts on Judge Anderson and his other victims. The story has a very bittersweet ending where Anderson sacrifices herself to prevent Judge Death from killing anyone else. Brian Bolland’s art really shines here. The character design for Judge Death is simple, really just a play on the existing judge uniforms, but has since become iconic. He is easily one of the most recognizable characters in the 2000 AD universe.

What also gets me are the facial expressions on Judge Anderson. You can really see the strain and anguish on her face when Judge Death first possesses her. When she tells Dredd to use the Boing the strength that it takes to communicate with Dredd is very evident. Across 15 pages we get a lot of action and emotion that leaps off the page.

This story really feels like it could be a TV show. In the first act we are introduced to a new villain. In the second act the villain commits an unspeakable act and then we meet the character who is hopefully going to save everyone. In the finale the good guys stop the bad guy, but at a price. It’s a story that has been done plenty of times before and since but in the hands of two very talented creators we end up with an awesome story that is a lot of fun to revisit again and again.

I hope you enjoyed this story as much as I did. I’ll close with a cover from an Eagle Comics issue that features Judge Anderson and all the Dark Judges!

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