Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Showcase #82: DC Beats Marvel to Sword and Sorcery

As the 1960s drew to a close, DC found that the superhero genre was waning and began casting about for something to replace it. In fact, the last superhero comic launched by DC's Showcase title was the Hawk and the Dove in #75.

The timing for a sword and sorcery feature was excellent.  JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series, initially published in 1954-55, had grown in popularity and become phenomenally successful in the late 1960s.  In addition, the Conan tales of Robert E. Howard had been reprinted by Lancer/Ace Books in 1966-67, to strong sales.

Better still, DC assigned a pretty good creative team to the series, with Denny O'Neill, soon to be considered one of the best young writers in comics, teamed up with accomplished penciller Jerry Grandinetti and Hall of Fame inker Dick Giordano.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for starters, O'Neill or his editor (Murray Boltinoff) decided to make the lead character a rock star:
Yes, adolescents and teens were fascinated by rock stars.  But real rock stars, with real hits, not some make-believe guitarist.  Note that the band, despite being called The Electrics, appear to be an acoustic band; that stand-up bass would not work in an electric band.  Also note that the story is told in the second person.  Although this is supposed to be more immediate, I always found it distancing.  Sorry, guys, but that is not me.

After the obligatory fight with some audience members who appear to be fraternity fascists (very common in the hippie Greenwich Village scene where the story opens), Jim Rook and his girlfriend Janet decide to check out the new restaurant:
And before you can say "John Carter" they are transported to another world, another dimension.

Now that part, I don't mind at all.  It doesn't fit with the Lord of the Rings or Conan, both of which featured characters living in their normal reality, but it does give us a lead character (like Carter) who is as baffled with this new world as we are.
As you can see, Grandinetti just doesn't have the style for the fantasy genre, unlike, for example, Joe Kubert, who did the terrific cover for this issue.

Jim meets a gnome king who explains that he has been summoned to this world because he is a descendent of a warrior from that world known as "Nacht" (German for night).  Nacht and another warrior named Brom had been given weapons of incredible power by some earlier king.  But Brom betrayed the king and it was only through Nacht's great courage that an attempted coup d'etat by him and Farben the Wizard was foiled.  However, Farben had banished Nacht to Earth and the battle between the Wizards and the gnomes (who had originally been human-like, but shriveled under the magical onslaught) had raged ever since.  Only recently had the gnomes been able to open up the dimensional portal and bring Jim into their world.  Can he save them from the final battle?

Well, despite insisting that he doesn't know swordplay, he picks up the weapon of power and before you know it, he's smiting like the dickens:

But when the fight is over, he wants to return to his own world, with his fiancee.
So now he must fight his way to the fair maiden, which requires an initial stop at the Ice Witch, who has the password.  He, and his mildly insane guide, Boz, try to make it to the top of her castle:
And once there, they surprisingly find Jan:
As you can probably guess, Boz has the right read on Jan; she's the Ice Witch herself.  They obtain the password, and it's on to the Wizards' stronghold to free Jim's girlfriend.  To be continued....

Comments:  There are some elements that work here, and some that fail.  Although I am an admirer of Grandinetti's artwork on the war comics, here he flounders.  Ah, but in the next issue, guess who took up the reins? But that, my friends, is where this post leaves off, and the next one will begin.


Rip Jagger said...

Neat review. Looking forward to the next. I completed my Nightmaster set just a few years ago, aching to read this whole "saga" through.

I love Grandenetti, but I have to agree he's not at his best here.

Rip Off

Martin Gray said...

Ah, I wondered about the original, having read about Nightmaster Jr in Shadowpact. So that's where the Oblivion Bar comes from.

Those little blue people you can't trust - probably displaced Oans ...

Anonymous said...

Denny O'Neil struck me as having a tin ear for this kind of fantasy, both here and in Swords Against Sorcery a few years later. But that is one stunning cover.

Whalehead King said...

I'm in for chapter two.

Tom Badguy said...

Hmm, interesting stuff.