I’m bringing the turkey this Thanksgiving
Writer – Neal Adams
Penciller – Neal Adams
Inker – Neal Adams
Letterer – Uncredited
Colorist – Uncredited
Editor – Uncredited
My very first and still most favorite Batman story was “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” written by Dennis O’Neil and art by the incomparable Neal Adams.
I had the book as a kid and again, don’t ask where that book is now. Because the answer is “Not in my collection.” Likely it would be a Grade 0.5 given how many times I read the thing, pouring hours over Adams’ perfect Batman and Joker.
I was a lucky kid, now that I think about it.
Adams and Aparo were the team of Batman artist I grew up on. While I enjoy other people drawing Bruce’s alter-ego, for me those two artists will forever define what Batman should look like. Adams’ especially.
So, when I saw Neal Adams name on the cover of Skateman #1, I snatched it up. Hope blossomed in my breast that this would be a great read because it was Adams. And it was superhero, crimefighting stuff. On…on…on rollerskates?
Okay, W. T. to the F., man? What’s the deal with a guy on skates?
I shouldn’t pre-judge, I told myself. Skateman isn’t any more ludicrous a concept than a guy with a magic ring, a dude dressing up as a bat, or someone turning into a human rubber band. I kept thinking this over and over when approaching even the thought of popping the tape on Skateman’s mylar bag.
And then something happened to change all that. I actually read the book.
It is every bit as silly in execution as it is in premise. Bless his heart, Adams can draw well and he may have even gotten better at plotting, dialogue, and storytelling, but the Neal Adams that wrote surely needs some assist. A LOT of assist.
And it isn’t just him that gets some earned drubbing for this book. There are three stories in the issue and each is pretty horrible in one aspect or another. The first, which we will cover in detail, is the origin and first adventure of our title dude, SkateMan.
The second is FutureWorld, a story by Andy Kubert and Jack Arata about a post-Apocalyptic Earth. Kubert’s art is fine, but Arata’s story leaves a lot to be desired. A settlement of humans on a cliff in this awful landscape are menaced by long necked dinosaurs that seek to scale their perch and devour them. The elders send a lone guy to get a special item to defeat the dinosaurs from a “great machine.” Said machine turns out to be a nuclear fuel rod from a power plant (which the guy accidentally blows up in retrieving it). The next issue blurb hints that the guy is totally going to die of radiation poisoning and the audience is left wondering how these primitive screwheads plan on defeating hoards of long neck monstrosities with one highly radioactive weapon no one can handle safely.
Yeah, that story is going places and those places should have been the wastepaper basket.
As for story three: The tale is written and drawn by Paul S. Power, who I haven’t heard of before or since. It’s called Rock Warrior and is about a guy who is an interstellar superhero who flies through space via his magical flying-V guitar. The concept is waaaaaay cooler than the execution, because everything about that sentence I just wrote has me excited. The story in the book, not so much. Main problem I have with it: Rock Warrior isn’t in the story until the last two pages and adds nothing to the plot. A majority of it is about a guy trying to get teleporter away from his toddler until he meets up with Rock Warrior on page four, then his friend teleports in and saves both the guy and the kid. Rock Warrior doesn nothing.
But before we deal with those side items, we should carve up this big bird called Skateman. Let’s do this thing:
We begin on page one and already we are in trouble. Adams feels the need to recycle the cover with text added, which hints at a bit of laziness on his part. But hey, its his book, so we play it his way. Here Skateman acts as the tool of oppressive corporate interests by beating up a trio of activists painting “Workers Strike” in graffiti on the side of a building. Skateman introduces them to a new definition of union. By slamming his metal skate into one of the protestor’s face.
I thought from this opening the book would be some kind of right-wing, anti-union story, with Skateman protecting the interest of law-abiding corporations from the evils of paying a fair wage and providing a benefit package that treated individuals as people.
But no. The story here makes even less sense and goes skating all over the place.
First off, we are supposed to root for a man in skates beating up poor migrant workers who are old men looking to unionize, a right they have in most states. If you don’t believe me about what he is doing read the first text box below. (and try to decipher what Neal really meant when he used the word “Assailants”. There is only one assailant present and that’s Skateman.)
Luckily, a biker gang has been laying in wait to take on this threat to workers rights. GO BIKER GANG! HURRAY!
…wait…who am I supposed to be rooting for in this? Skateman? Really?
Adams so misses the mark with this opening. He could have had these guys tagging the wall with a gang symbol and all would have been well. No one likes gangs. But people do generally have a favorable view of unions. Maybe they don’t love them, or think they add more overhead than they provide benefit in some cases, but there isn’t a pressing need to stop their formation like some rollerblading Pinkerton’s strikebreaker.
Anyway, the book SAYS I’m supposed to be rooting for Skateman, so I do, in complete indifference to his actions. He has gone from rollerskating jerk beating up old men to guy on skates being menaced by bikers. At least he’s moved on to underdog status as far as the power department goes.
And about those skates for a moment. I was discussing this issue with my son before writing up my thoughts and, clever boy that he is, he said what if he was on gravel? I had to stop for moment and ponder that.
Skating is fine on a smooth surface, but uneven gravel or thick grass or even just a poorly paved street will net you a “slower than a person can walk” type of skating experience. Or having to ascend a steep incline from a full stop. Not to mention things like being tossed into a body of water. That turns those skates into lead weights attached to your feet. It appears that Skateman’s main super power has lots of weaknesses…
..like boards, apparently. Planks of lumber aimed at his head are his Kryptonite. Also being kicked and hit with a lead pipe while prone. These should be avoided at all cost by our skating strikebreaker.
Lucky for Skateman, his preteen sidekick Paco, the ethnic skateboarder is here to save him.
He loads a surprisingly skate-less Skateman up on his board and pushes him to love interest Jill and Skateman’s other accomplice, Signora Quintero. Quintero’s super power is having a first aid kit with a million miles of gauze and a Costco sized bottle of Bayer Aspirin.
And as Skateman, a/k/a Billy Moon drifts off to a quite coma, we travel back through his memories for a not-so-quick origin story.
Now I’ve been thinking a bit about origin stories due to the problems I find with this one. Technically I have a few opinions to share on the subject. Point One: All Hero Origins Must Begin in Tragedy. Don’t believe that? Just look at the DC heroes roster:
Batman – parents killed in an alley
Superman – home planet blows up, parents killed in explosion
Wonder Woman – finds out her people are isolationist jerks and she’ll never meet a boy if she stays with them (also, war and stuff)
Green Lantern – Meets dying alien and all he got was this lousy magic ring
Flash – had to clean up after chemicals splashed on him, ruining his favorite shirt/slacks combo
Okay, so that last one seemed a bit lame, right? Well, it is interesting that since the time of Flash’s lame origin, writers have went back to that story and added that Flash’s Father was framed for the murder of his Mother and sent to prison. How’s that for angsty-tragedy-retcon-overkill? Literally overkill here, too.
What I’m saying is that we have to make the hero have a NEED that transcends the average person’s to do good and thirst for justice. They must possess a burning desire to make things right for others.
Point Two: A Unique Gimmick. The hero in question has to come up with a unique gimmick to fight crime or right wrongs. Dress like an animal, put on a suit of techo gear, submit yourself to the odd experiment or two, be an alien…you get the picture.
There may be more to this list, but we are going to deal with just these two for now. Let’s look at Billy Moon:
He’s an angsty martial arts wielding Vietnam vet who works skating in a roller derby after being discharged from the service.
Then tragedy strikes when he accidentally kills a fried during a roller derby match. It is highly likely that the accident was no accident though, as an evil trainer character was possibly monkeying around with his pal Jack’s skates.
However, Billy is faulted as playing to rough and killing Jack. He loses his job and his home. He’s stuck being a hobo with his girlfriend Angel. So the hitchhike to Cali for a chance at a fresh start.
Angel is given a job as a gutsy newspaper reporter who will track down the big stories. Billy is given a job as a nervous wreck who needs psychological counseling. In wandering the neighborhood, he meets Paco who greets him with a customary “What the shit do you care, pigmeat?”
Of course, Billy takes the youth under his wing, teaching him how to skateboard and have atrocious table manners. Billy still lacks a job.
However, his sponging off Angel will soon end as she arrives that very night stabbed the stabbing of a million stabs.
As she succumbs to her many, many bleeding wounds, Billy notices a skull on the back of the motorcycle jacket of the man cycling away from the murder scene. Like about 80-90% of motorcycle jackets have. Because biker gangs like skulls.
But no matter! Because she’s dead now, and Billy is determined to beat up every biker he sees until he avenges her death. Even those hipster jerks on Vespas. To do that, he needs his favorite red cloth. Lucky for him he finds it IN A BOX NEAR THE KITCHEN TABLE.
Also, he’s kind of a dick to Paco and breaks the kids skateboard. Because: fuck that little beaner POS. (note: I’m paraphrasing the dialogue here, but not by that much.) Paco offers him some sensible advice too.
But no. Billy trains on using his skating ability to become a freakishly fast-wheeled engine of justice. He learns how to martial arts on wheels and punch heavy bags on wheels and sit naked for hours in the lotus position. All of that training adding up to his taking on the gang last night. Which ended when a biker was able to break through his many defenses to strike him with one of his many weaknesses: His vulnerability to being hit by heavy wooden objects that are forcefully traveling at high speed at his cranium.
And there is his origin story. It’s no…
…but it will have to do.
Also, there’s this Jill person who just suddenly appeared on the scene with no prior warning. She’s got the hots for Skateman, it’s clear although for the life of me I don’t know why you’d hook up with a guy with no career prospects who spends his time getting beat up by bikers that he provokes into fighting him. Also his last relationship didn’t really end all that well.
Billy does realize he’s been a huge jerk to little bean…er, Paco. So he makes him a new motorized skateboard as a token of goodwill.
Jill invites Billy to a street festival as a cover for finding Angel’s killers. He goes and acts like a goof, trying to throw off anyone thinking he’s Skateman…and for once the books art really goes all the way for me. Sigh! Neal Adams is a great penciler, but even pages like this will not redeem this story. Let’s wrap this one up tight so you can get back to another helping of stuffing…
The bad guys nab Jill after she finishes performing on stage. Billy tracks them backstage and changes into his “dew-rag is not a costume” Skateman attire. Then he prepares to kick wheels!
The pair escape on skates but are pursued by the biker gang, which is part of Skateman’s plan because…
…he has a whole part full of backup to get run over by the bikers while they get away. Or something. What’s his plan again?
Whatever it was, it goes wrong as one of the bikers gets away with Jill speading off in an awaiting Lincoln Continential. Everything is going to be alright, though. Skateman is in hot pursuit.
And by pursuit, I mean he’s Marty McFlying it on the car’s bumper. At least until the criminals call in a giant gas tanker truck to shoot at him.
But no truck can stop Skateman! Kboom!
How is Skateman going to take on all those bad guys alone though? The answer: give lethal explosives to children.
That’s right, Skateman gives Paco all these grenades he’s been saving up since ‘Nam or something. And while Paco causes a distraction, Skateman nunchuks rando guys playing pool. GO SKATEMAN!
Funny story: those guys weren’t even part of the gang. They were just in the bar at the time. Sorry, dudes!
This guy is just defending himself with his concealed carry, which he has a license for, and Skate man hits him in the face with a pool ball.
But all that is okay because all the guys in panel five on the preceding page are gone now, leaving Skateman to rescue Jill before that little beaner fire-bug Paco blows up the entire building.
Okay, so I’ve come around. Skateman is the BEST comic ever made. At no time did I believe I would endorse this, but those last pages of total “I’ve written myself into a corner and how do I get out now?” vibes from Adams have made it clear that I MUST give Skateman #1 a perfect Crapbox score. (For an alternative take, try Major Spoiler's review)
Now how long to we have to wait for issue number 2?
Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone! Check back with me as the Crapbox may have a few FORGOTTEN HEROES “leftovers” tomorrow to take the pain of Black Friday away.