Comic Report: Batman: Digital Justice

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I went out for Free Comic Book Day on Saturday and grocery shopping earlier in the week. So I didn’t get a chance to do any clutter clearing. I do know what next week’s project will be, and it’s another revisit. It’s not one of the usual clutter magnets but it is one I need to work on again. In the meantime I get to swipe from my other website (it’s okay to steal from yourself, right?), and the Scanning My Collection series over at BW Media Spotlight, where I recently looked at a Batman graphic novel that gets little attention in the comics world. Enjoy.

Scanning My Collection logo

The world is an ever-changing place. Some are good and some are bad. Thus is the way of things. For example, I was a kid when video games became popular and we even had an arcade in walking distance (at a time when parents didn’t freak if their kid left the yard…if they’re even that “brave”). I was a kid when home video game consoles were first being sold in stores, from the Odyssey II to the Atari 2600. I was a kid when home computers were first marketed to homes. My cousin had a Commodore Vic 20, my friend had the same kind of TRS-80 that was in the corner of our homeroom in school, and my dad eventually bought an Atari 800 where my mom schooled us in Ms. Pac-Man.

This morning I took a walk since it’s good for my recovery and it’s unusually warm today. (It should be back to normal by the weekend.) In a case strapped to my belt was a device that was more powerful than all of those machines, can do everything those old machines can do and more, and was thinner than the manual for any of those devices. We are all now more connected than ever thanks to data plans, wi-fi, texting, and that rare moment someone actually makes a phone call. I still remember one day when I walked past someone talking to a friend on her cell phone in the days before smart phones, walked a little ways down and saw her friend as they were trying to find each other. (Of course I pointed her in the right direction. It still makes me laugh.) But in the days when the internet was just starting to exist and required a separate service that would tie up your telephone, people were still worried about what this brave new world would be like. Some people are afraid of it now as there are those who are more than willing to cause you harm in one form or another for their own benefit and amusement.

1990’s Batman: Digital Justice is a combination of Tron and Blade Runner, a predecessor or early contemporary of the rising “cyberpunk” movement of science fiction, where man and machine fought for control. And technology even played a part in its creation. While characters are drawn on the computer (long before programs were actually designed to make comics on the computer), 3D modelling was used for backgrounds and other imagery. It followed on the heels of Marvel’s gimmick of using a computer to create a comic, 1987’s Iron Man: Crash. While I have never read that comic, this one is more Tron that what I’ve read about it, while set in a computer-controlled Gotham City. But does Digital Justice go beyond the gimmick? Yes…until things get weird.

batman-digital-justice

“Darn static electricity. Why did I buy this carpet?”

Batman: Digital Justice

DC Comics (1990)

WRITER/ARTIST: Pepe Moreno

DIALOG: Doug Murray

ADDITIONAL DESIGN: Javier Romero

ART ASSISTANT: Bob Fingerman

PRE-PRESS: Anaya Systems

ANAYA PROGRAMMER: Vincete Sosa

The closest I could come to finding a computer drawing program called Anaya was a plug-in for Photoshop whose website hasn’t been updated since 2008. I know he made this on a Mac II. Computer geeks would find the full stats interesting, but there are better computer programs released for free now while most of the comic creators I know split between Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint (formerly under the more fitting name Manga Studio). But you’re here for a comic review, not a computer/art geek lesson.

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Comic Report: My First Batman Comic

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After two attempts to record the phone review I realized…I’m kind of boring. I think it’s because technology doesn’t interest me enough to review it, just to use it. So I dip into my other site for a “Scanning My Collection” review of the first Batman comic I ever had. So if a reference seems odd, it’s probably BW-related.


 

Scanning My Collection logo

I’ve mentioned this comic in the past. I even did a mini-review thanks to the reprint as part of DC Retroactive. However, I feel the need to give it a proper full review just as I did the other comic I reviewed from the three-pack of comics that were my first comics. At some point I should also do the issue of Peter Parker: The Amazing Spider-Man for the sake of completeness, but I didn’t know what was going on back then, thus it didn’t serve as the doorway that the two DC comics (further aided by all the DC live-action shows and cartoons airing around that time) did. At least Justice League Of America explained the Shark’s origins. Peter Parker went on and on about Gwen Stacy and Professor Miles Warren and back then I had zero idea who they were, or the villain Carrion (granted neither did Spidey) or White Tiger and Darter, so I was too confused to get into it. Maybe reading the previous issue or issues of the arc would have helped but I don’t know. Today I know enough that I’ll never know for sure.

I keep hearing that Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is the story that brought Batman out of the Adam West/Burt Ward series and into darker stories. This is incorrect. What it did is join Watchmen in the darkening of comics in general and DC specifically. Batman moving away from the West/Ward show (which mirrored the Silver Age comics of the time) happened during the Bronze Age of comics, which is where I first got into comics. The Bronze Age of comics (as opposed to the Bronze Age of history) had a good balance of darker and lighter tales, and this is when Batman became more serious, without getting into things like Professor Pyg turning kids into dolls or the Joker wearing his own face as a mask. (Seriously, what the hell, guys? Tell me Rebirth is undoing that bit of nightmare stupidity!)

In the story we’re looking at today, Batman moved out of the Batcave to get closer to Gotham after Dick left for college. He operates out of a penthouse apartment in his building at this point, with loyal Alfred still at his side. I’m not sure how this helped exactly but I need more issues from the period. It’s around this Age that the theme of Batman dealing with mentally unhinged criminals begins, although there are none of his regular rogues gallery in this issue. Mr. Freeze is teased for next issue but there’s no sign of anyone you expect here. These were days when Batman didn’t just battle supervillains but in this issue solved a serial killing of Gotham City’s homeless. I wish there were more Batman stories like this. Now it seems to be a huge war that sets Gotham ablaze, as if the Bat-Writers wants to ensure we don’t want to live in Gotham while in stories of this time crime was no worse than New York City, the biggest inspiration for Gotham City. It’s just sometimes the crooks wear costumes, life-saving suits, or acid-bleached skin with green hair.

My copy is missing the cover. It’s that heavily read.

Batman #307

DC Comics (January, 1979)

For the record, my copy was put out by Whitman.  THE JLA comic I mentioned also has the Whitman logo in place of the DC logo. I don’t know the history.

WRITER: Len Wein
ARTISTS: John Calnan & Dick Giordano
COLORST: Glynis Wein (Len’s wife at the time)
LETTERER: Ben Oda
EDITOR: Julius Schwartz

For this review I’m using that reprint from DC Retroactive: Batman – The 70s I mentioned earlier because as the caption says the comic I own is heavily read and a bit damaged for it.

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Comic Report: Atari Force

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I really hate to do this but this week was so hot upstairs that I got nothing done, and next week is more doctor visits. I’m going to try to get my clothing drawers organized again and that will be the project to report on. Otherwise, all I can off this week comes from my other site just a few days ago, as part of the “Free Comic Inside” series. Enjoy.


Free Comic Inside logo

I was trying to figure out what to do for the next Free Comic Inside. I know it’s been half a year since I’ve done one, but I’ve done so many Masters Of The Universe and Super Powers Collection minicomics that I wanted to try something different. Princess Of Power is one I should do again or Transformers Armada has two left before switching to Energon but I wanted to spotlight something I haven’t before. Basically my collection or what I’ve been able to find on the internet is way too limited because I don’t know what’s out there. Then for some reason it hit me: Atari Force!

Atari Force is a bit strange as it was a way to promote Atari video games. I never had the 2600 (I have the Atari 800 instead) but I had cousins who did and one of them let me have the first issue of the comic that he had, packaged with a 2600 game. (I don’t really know which one off-hand. I know Berzerk had the second issue and Star Raiders the third. I never owned these but thanks to the Atari Age website, named after Atari’s version of Nintendo Power, I can bring them all to you. My copy of the first issue is on the list of “read so often it’s falling part” comics in my collection. I want to get them all but right now this is the best I can do.

So how does Atari promote their video game library? By co-operating with DC Comics, who followed up these with an original series of full-size comics on store shelves. This is where it began, however, so how well did it come out? Let’s find out.

Atari Force #1

“Wait, where’s the ground?”

Atari Force #1

DC Comics (1982)

“The Origin” part 1
WRITERS/CREATORS: Gerry Conway & Roy Thomas
VISUAL CONCEPTS & ART: Ross Andru, Dick Giordano, & Mike DeCarlo
DESIGN: Neil Pozner
COLORIST: Adrienne Roy
LETTERER: John Costanza
SPECIAL PHOTOGRAPHIC EFFECTS: Jack Ryniec & George Kerrigan
EDITOR: Dick Giordano

You know, I’ve never heard of “visual concepts” or “special photographic effects” as credits in a comic before. This should be different.

Chapter 1: Intruder Alert

Remember the big break-up in 2005, when California was no longer part of the US and Atari was more than just a computer and video game company? Yeah, me neither, but that’s the setting for our tale. An Irish lady (which even the captions notes is a heavy Gaelic accent, despite her dialog dripping with it) is determined to break into the Northcal headquarters of the Atari Technology And Research Institute (the acronym of which is A.T.A.R.I.–seems pointless), which she does thanks to a sonic force field disrupting tuning fork and some rather unobservant guards. She’s packing a lot of gadgets that would make Batman jealous, actually. She also mentions something called the “Five Day War”, which factors into the backstories of our heroes. She also mentions why she’s here; to check out a secret project called “Project: Multiverse”, which will also be explored in the next issue.

It’s actually a good start. It mentions an important event, a woman who becomes important in the next issue, and even the guards have one of those character-building guard moments that only means something if you want to stay invested because you’ll probably never see them again. She doesn’t kill them, they’re just here to complain about the sonic field and miss the guard dogs who couldn’t stand them because dogs have sensitive hearing.

Now it’s time to start meeting the characters that matter. Cut to outer space and our main character for the series, Martin Champion. Yes, that is his name. This is the 1980’s people. He’s the commander and chief trouble-shooter of Atari Institute’s “Station One”. We also learn one more thing about this new world, that whatever happened during this war required the Golden Gate Bridge to be rebuilt. It’s these little world-building moments that draw you in, although when overdone it becomes the writer or writers showing off. Thankfully, it doesn’t get that bad.

When one of the station repair team accidentally knocks a panel towards a personnel area, Martin goes after it, saving the section of the station but damaging his arm. This introduces us to the station doctor, Lucas Orion. He’s the black guy on the cover and Martin’s friend. As Lucas fixes up Martin’s shoulder, they get a call from someone from Martin’s past, Atari Institute Assistant Director Lydia Perez, who is all business despite Martin’s attempts to not realize this isn’t a social call but an important business one. Martin and Lucas are called Earthside for Project: Multiverse and that’s the extent of the communication. We also learn that Martin used to be a football player. Again, it’s the little moments that inform character and world that are woven naturally into the story. It’s not a huge exposition dump.

Chapter 2: Deadly Orbit

On the way to Earth, Martin tells Lucas how he knows Perez. It was back on October 18th, 1998. Remember when “our enemies” attacked the moon? I keep missing out on these events. I feel like Donna Noble from Doctor Who right about now. This was back when NASA still existed, and considering the current state of the space program in our reality I’m surprised it’s still around now. We never got a moon colony, but this universe did (although their space program went off-line for a few years), and now it was in trouble. The survivors found a safe place but they needed oxygen fast. Martin, a pilot who had been to the moon four times since the program restarted, was sent to deliver air to the remaining dome, and Lydia was his co-pilot, in charge of the supplies.

Atari Force Martin meets Lydia

My favorite line from the comic.

Using a makeshift rocket ship that can carry the oxygen to the colonists in a hurry, Martin and Perez ran into all sorts of trouble and bond over the experience once she realized that Martin’s “reckless” actions are actually thought out, taking calculated risks due to the time crunch they’re under. However, once NASA figured out which of our enemies attacked, the war broke out and they lost track of each other, ending up at the Atari Institute like so many others. For some reason he stopped telling Lucas this story when we come back to him as he’s lost in thought rather than speaking out loud, wondering why Lydia was so cold to him.

Chapter 3: Final Approach

The shuttle lands and Lydia is waiting for the men. She is still cold to Martin, as if they had never met. In the jeep ride to the Institute, Lydia mentions only that Project: Multiverse may be the solution to the world’s food supply problem. Considering “multiverse” usually involves other dimensions, I’m guessing they hope to go to other Earth’s and ask to borrow some food. Considering the worlds they will go into are based on games created for or licences to Atari for their 2600 (these comics to my knowledge never came with the 5200 or Atari computer versions of the games) they’re in for a disappointment.

Then it’s Lucas’s turn to reminisce. as a couple of joggers suddenly flashes him back to the days of this war that has been popping up all story. Apparently this new world also lost the United Nations. Pardon my politics but I’m rather jealous, or would be if the “break-up” that followed the Five Day War wasn’t responsible and devastating. Lucas was a medic assigned to a peace-keeping force squad in Africa. The jeep he was in that time hit a landmine and blew up, killing the driver and leaving shrapnel near his heart. No, wait, that last part was Iron Man’s origin. Sorry. Rescuing a little girl from the immediate battlefield, Lucas snapped at one of the guards at the UN base, not trusting anyone and just wanting out of the war. He got his wish as the Atari Institute wanted him to join their ranks. But is that really what he wanted? He still doesn’t have the answer to that. He’s a doctor. Doctors save lives, but he was sending the soldiers out to die. Was he helping the civilians? Who knows, the flashback ends.

And already you can tell that there is a lot more to talk about than your average Free Comic Inside article. This is closer to Scanning My Collection, but this is rather unusual. There’s so much back story here, tales of hope and hopelessness that you don’t expect in a free comic meant to promote video games at a time when “story” was just giving the players an excuse to chase a barrel-flinging monkey, while the yellow circle with a mouth never even got that.

The jeep arrives at the Institute and Martin gets Lydia to explain one thing about the project; that it involves other dimensions, which should have been obvious from the name. Lucas finds that hard to believe, that it’s science fiction. Lydia points out that to people in the early 1980s, like the time this comic came out, their world would be science fiction. Considering here in 2016 we live in a world where computers can be worn on our wrists and make phone calls she has a point. However, our “slip of a girl” manages to get in as the door closes. What does she have planned?

Already a better Phantom costume remake than most of the ones we've gotten.

Already a better Phantom costume remake than most of the ones we’ve gotten.

Well, we won’t find out this issue and unless you want to buy Berzerk (and my cousins didn’t–I don’t know why; I played it in the arcades and it was fun) you won’t either. Or go to the Atari Age comics page and read all the issues. In addition to the five issues of this comic there are other minicomics there and future installments of Free Comic Inside will go over them all in due time. As for this issue, while I would have liked to have seen more about this Project: Multiverse, maybe spread out all five character’s backstories over the five issues (this “mini” comics was around 40 pages long, not counting covers and credits) to give us a better teaser to buy the game or find a friend who had a copy that came with the comic to see what happens next. Beyond that, it’s surprisingly good writing for a promo comics. Imagine if Gary Cohn had this many pages and this size book (more than double the size of the MOTU comics) to work with, or the Super Powers Collections comics, which really suffer for their lack of space at times. I applaud what’s going on here, but hopefully when we return to this someday we’ll get a better view of the series beyond world-building.

Comic Trade Report> Firestorm: The Nuclear Man

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Firestorm TPB

In the last two seasons of Super Friends/Super Powers Team, a new DC hero joined the team. His name was Firestorm, soon to become my second favorite DC hero (Superman being #1 and as much as I love Batman he’s #3–which may be heresy nowadays but so be it). When I picked up Fury Of Firestorm #16 it was locked. Suffice it to say the current “New 52” version took too long to get the formula right. The idea of a hero that could not only turn things into other things but had a mentor in his head was a cool idea to young me and gave older me a bit of inspiration in a character I’ve created.

Before Fury, however, was the original Firestorm, The Nuclear Man comic in 1978, co-created by writer Gerry Conway and artist Al Milgrom. I’ve already reviewed the individual issues that make up this trade and I will link to those reviews at the end of the article. For this review we will focus on the trade collection put together by DC and released in 2011, but first some catch-up for anyone new to the composite hero.

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Comic Report: JLA/Avengers

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JLA Avengers

One more comic collection to go over. Over on my other site this week I did a multi-article examination of Kurt Busiek and George Pérez’s four-part miniseries JLA/Avengers, or Avengers/JLA, depending on whether it was published by DC Comics or Marvel Comics. This is the last word I plan to say about the comic, a short review of the collection I own, seen above. There is more than one collection of the miniseries under either title, but as a DC fan on a budget I went with this one at the time. So how good is it?

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Book & Record Report: Superman book & record

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So I’m hopefully done with this latest kidney stone issue but I haven’t gotten back to action just yet. So here’s another crosspost from the other site…which I also didn’t get to work on this week.


Remember when Superman was fun? DC wants you to forget fun altogether unless killing heroes, dismemberment, and boobs all in your face is your idea of fun. They’re all for you then. But I want to look at a Superman story from my youth. Namely, this one.

Superman...smiling? When will you see that again?

Superman…smiling? When will you see that again?

This is from the Peter Pan Book & Record series. They made a lot of licensed book & record comics, including other DC characters, horror stories like Frankenstein and Dracula (possibly the Marvel Dracula and it was all kid-friendly stuff), and TV shows like Star Trek. I have one of the Star Trek stories and we’ll get to that someday.

There are two things in this review you don’t usually get in a “Scanning My Collection” article. One is what you’re not getting: credits. I can’t seem to find concrete proof of who worked on this comic or the accompanying audio so I can’t really comment on them. The other is audio actually showing you the story in a rather decent presentation combining the audio (minus the page change noises) and the comic panels. So watch for yourself…”City Under Siege”! Bing.

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Comic Report: Teen Titans PSA

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Well, this stinks. I was hoping to finally have another Video Game Clutter episode done, an actual review this time. However, I’ve hit another technical snag so I don’t know when that will be finished. In the meantime I found an old comic review.

PSA comics are something I tend to grade on a curve. On the one hand there might be a good story there, but you run the risk of being all preachy and boring. This round I’m looking at an anti-drug comic produced by DC Comics, in cooperation with Keebler and President Reagan’s anti-drug campaign.And somehow it works with me.

So let’s head back to the 80’s and check out the Teen Titans, their new friend, and the war on drugs.

New Teen Titans anti-drug PSA

Format: comic book

Title: The New Teen Titans (“Plague”)

Creators: Marv Wolfman and George Pérez

Staff: Marv Wolfman (writer), George Pérez (penciler), Dick Giordano (inker), Ben Oda (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist), Len Wein (consulting editor), and Dave Manak (editor) with special thanks to David Mishur and Stephen Jacobs (whoever they are)

Roll Call: The Changeling, Cyborg, Raven, Wonder Girl, Speedy, Starfire, and special guest star The Protector.

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Comic Report: My First Justice League Comic

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Haven’t done one of these in a while.

For my birthday one year I got one of those three-packs of older comics. This was a good way pre-comic store of getting back issues as there were leftovers from store shelves (in this case grocery stores or pharmacies) and being exposed to a random story. Now I’ve already reviewed one of those comics on my other site, Batman #307 reprinted as part of the “Retroactivity” specials, which helped defined how I view Batman, not as some vigilante fighting nut jobs (although the story does feature a psychologically disturbed villain) but as a detective who will help even come to the aid of the homeless. He can be spooky but also compassionate. It also features my favorite Batman moment of all time.

Hollywood has yet to capture the true awesomeness that is the Batcape!

Hollywood has yet to capture the true awesomeness that is the Batcape!

Which is immediately followed by the guy just going back to sleep. At some point I may go back to this comic and do a more thorough analysis over at the Spotlight. But my favorite DC hero has always been Superman. The second comic in the pack was not a Superman comic and the third was a Spider-Man comic that made no sense to me and proves that Snell’s (of Slay Monstrobot of the Deep) theory that any comic can be someone’s first has the occasional exception. (Although in its defense sometimes you have no choice for the sake of the story arc. It’s the risk you take.) Then again, I wasn’t as much into the Spider-Man cartoon as I was Super Friends.

The last one, and man this is a long intro for the front page, was an issue of Justice League of America. Like the Batman comic it was a Whitman comics reprinting and someday I need to look up why that happened. Still, it’s a story I enjoy.

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Comic Report: DC Universe Presents #50

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Superman01

This one comes from my other site so it’s a bit more relaxed than a usual Clutter Report review. I did get my computer desk cleaned off like I wanted to and now the battle with clutter on it begins anew. However, this week was devoted to some new video equipment and thus this transferred review which was actually quite recent.

Superman is my favorite DC superhero, possibly my favorite superhero period. It’s not just the amazing powers he has, but what he does with them. Despite what this cynical age (which sadly includes too many superhero writers) believes would or should happen, he helps people and then tries to lead a normal life. He’s someone who kids can admire and adults should try to be more like, and his adventures can be somewhat mundane or large and fantastic. Where Batman is versatile with how he can be portrayed, Superman is versatile with what kinds of stories he can be part of.

I grew up in a very Superman-friendly period. Adventures Of Superman was in syndicated reruns, as were the Filmation cartoons, we had a series of theatrical releases, and even Superboy had his own syndicated TV series for a while…which went into some weird ideas in the later seasons. As far as comics, I had the Justice League of America comic I’ve reviewed on my other site, a book & record where Superman fought a terrorist group, which is boring to review but a good read/listen, and DC Comics Presents #50, a comic I once lost but happily found a back-issue of so I can still enjoy. And it’s just as good a read now as it was then. This was Superman’s team-up book, and he teamed with many of the DC Universe’s best and newest and even traveled to Eternia to fight alongside He-Man. So who did he join forces with during the “50th Golden Jubilee Issue!”?

DC Comics Presents #50

Greatest team-up ever?

DC Comics Presents Vol. 5 #50

Featuring Superman and Clark Kent

DC Comics (October, 1982)

WRITERS: Dan Mishkin & Gary Cohn
ARTIST: Curt Swan & Kurt Shaffenberger
COLORIST: Gene D’Angelo
LETTERER: A. Kawecki
EDITOR: Julius Schwartz

That’s right, Superman teams with his own alter-ego. And to quote an old cliche, “not a hoax, not an imaginary story”. This team-up is actual DC canon pre-Crisis. So how did this happen?

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Mini-Comic report: MASK – “Flaiming Beginnings”

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I mentioned in this article how much I enjoy mini-comics. (By the way I still need a good storage method.) Not the kind some cartoonists make, although I love a good story of any format and size. If you’re a Masters of the Universe fan you know exactly which ones I mean. These mini-comics used to be the only way to sell the world of the toys until the FCC, pushed by Ronald Reagan, allowed for animated series, like He-Man & The Masters of the Universe or Transformers. Even after that, Masters of the Universe continued to add comics in their toys, which continued in the “He-Man” spin off line.

However, it isn’t just toys that contained these comics. Drake’s Snack Cakes had two different series of Marvel Comics and DC has partnered with General Mills cereals on more than one occasion. (They even have a cross-promotion now, but not in either of the cereals I eat. Donations welcome.) I even remember a pair of sneakers I had as a kid had a mini-comic strip that told you how cool the shoes you just bought were. That’s long since disappeared by the way.

Since I need a little time and I’ve started reviewing mini-comics on my site, I thought I’d transport one over here so I at least have something to post. You might think I’d be starting with Masters Of The Universe, arguably the king of the pack-in promo mini-comics. This is not the case, as I was prompted to officially start this series after listening to the first episode of MASKast, a podcast reviewing the 80’s animated series M.A.S.K. (short for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand–no wonder Johnny can’t read). In it they mentioned that one of the three mini-comics, produced for Kenner by DC Comics–who later produced a mini and ongoing series–told the origin of M.A.S.K. and V.E.N.O.M. (the Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem), but they didn’t seem to know a lot about it. Since this was later made canon for the cartoon during the “racing” series of the show (where the two groups dropped crimefighting and crimedoing to take part in cross-country races–yeah, I don’t get it either), I thought it was a good one to start with, even if most of the Clutter Reports readers may not have seen either.

This whole thing started over choosing pizza toppings.

MASK comic #1: Flaming Beginnings
PACKED WITH: Not sure. I do know that only the first series of MASK vehicles came with this. I’m thinking my copy came with either Switchblade or Thunderhawk, both of which I still own. Note that not every comic I’ll review in this section is one I own. Some will be downloaded from the internet because the odds of reprinting them are rather low. (That’s why this is part of Comic Spotlight and not a “Scanning My Collection” series.) When I do know which specific toys or products these comics came in I will list them.
PRODUCED BY: DC Comics. Granted I only know this because there’s an ad on the inside cover to subscribe to DC Comics titles and they worked on the sold-in-stores issues. Some mini-comics were produced by the company themselves but like this one and MOTU the toy company would outsource to regular comic producers.
CREDITS: For this comic there were no writer/artist credits. I just want to have a layout for the review.

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