Friday, January 19, 2018

Doomsday +1 #5

Doomsday +1 #5

On this edition of “before they were famous…”

"Rule of Fear”
Writer – Joe Gill
Art – Byrne Robotics with technical assistance from Patterson-75
Editor – George Wildman
April 1999

Jumping back into the post-apocalyptic future has been a lonely task. So for today’s little jaunt in the Crapbox’s time machine, I thought I’d ask a couple of friends to join me. And since the Crapbox was nice enough to spit out a reprint that is some of the first work of John Byrne, I thought I’d ask my pals over at 3rd Degree Byrne, a podcast about all things Byrne, to pile into the flux-capacitor bearing DeLorean for a little jaunt into the future as I take a look at Doomsday+1, issue number 5 from ACG.

Brian Hughes had this to say about the series:

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Doomsday +1.  Now, when I first discovered it, I found it as a reprint titled “The Doomsday Squad”.  But because of it, I was able to track down a lot of the early Byrne work at Charlton, which opened new vistas for me as a collector back in the day when there was no comprehensive list of John Byrne’s work.  The original books, having been printed by a machine that was used to print cereal boxes, had a very different feel to them than your books that came from the big two.  So this era of Byrne’s career had an almost “guerilla-independent” feel to it.

The issue in question, Doomsday +1, Issue #5 is unmistakably early Byrne, who had not quite refined his anatomy, but did great line work on his machines.  The story gives us a simple post-apocalyptic encounter with an explosive ending that demonstrated a lot of what we would see from other Sci-fi series coving this type of story.  The writing is simple, and the characters that Byrne drew were more caricature-like than his later work.  Many of the enemies in this book looked like anime characters from the same time period (think Speed Racer bad guys).

The back issues are not hard to find yet, but are starting to rise in price.  The reprints from Fantagraphics do Byrne’s art better justice though and the better coloring corrects a multitude of sins from the originals.  Also, they are only going for about 3 bucks a piece.

One last note:  I never could understand how the caveman, Kuno, could never pronounce “Jill”, but had no trouble pronouncing “Kill”.

Brian makes a lot of fair points in all of that. But I should probably give a little background into what we are looking at with this title.

The issue I hold in my hand was originally printed in March 1976 by Charlton comics. The Doomsday +1 series had an extremely short life, lasting only six issues. Charlton was some of Byrne’s first freelance work and soon after starting with them, he was sought out by Marvel. By 1977 Byrne’s star had begun to rise at the House of Ideas and he joined Chris Claremont on the X-Men at the end of that year. Charlton, seeing him become a hot artist much beloved by comic book fans, took the Doomsday +1 books and reprinted issues 1-6 as issues 7-12, some with new covers that were blow-ups of interior art panels. Anything for a buck at that point in Charlton’s history, I suppose.

But that’s not all. As Brian mentions, it was reprinted AGAIN by Fantagraphics as The Doomsday Squad in 1987. Oddly enough, one of the backups in that run was a Strnad and Fujikae’s “Dalgoda” story. And that third reprint brings us around to where we find this issue appearing. After acquiring copies of massive amounts of artwork from defunct publishers American Comics Group and Charlton Comics, Avalon Communications published reprints under a number of company names from 1990 through 2003. Despite announcing plans to restart a line of new material under a revamped Charlton brand, the publisher suddenly ceased operations in 2003. So, this issue is a reprint of issue number 5 published sometime in 1999, which had already seen reprintings in 1979 and 1987.

That makes an astonishing fourth time this book has seen print. Sounds like they must be dynamite in a bottle.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

The book opens with a full page prologue that introduces the setting and characters, a handy if a bit expository way to open. A madman caused the total annihilation of all the nations on the Earth by attacking both New York and Moscow setting off nuclear armageddon. Mere weeks later, three scientists return from a space mission that took off before the destruction and hook up with a 3rd Century Goth warrior (not the black wearing kind) unfrozen from an icy sleep. They join forces against an insane cyborg and his robot legions in the prior issues which…I’m just saying it was weeks that they were gone – not years. Suddenly cyborgs and robots and prehistoric frozen people and other wackiness.

I’m going to put forth that the Joe Gill story featured here is very on the half-baked side. Gill was known for his speed, often finishing a full-length comic script in a day while writing an estimated 100 to 125 comic pages a week across every kind of genre imaginable. He is known as the most prolific comic book writer ever, with good cause.

However, I don’t necessarily think that volume leads to quality. There is something to be said about spending more time with a story to craft it. Doomday+1 #5 feels very “manufactured.” I’d rather it be odd, strange, and disappointing rather than a by-the-numbers book that is so on a rail that it becomes stale.

But the art is something else. I mean look at this opening shot from Byrne. He’s doing his own word balloons here and lettering too and I LOVE the way that big panel with the plane has all the spikey, jabby things poking out all over showing “danger.” Even the word balloons echo it with their sharp spikes.

The inset panel alludes to Kuno and Ikei being up to some kind of hanky-panky, perhaps of the romantic kind, however as we rejoin the group on the next page it is like that didn’t happen. There is no warning text box saying time has passed, we just pick right up with Kuno still in the cockpit talking with Boyd. That’s…odd.

As the plane passes over a military bunker they are picked up by a radar station, which is something that causes Dr. Ikei “not in the navigator’s compartment with Kuno” Yashida some concern.

Boyd, however, jumps at the chance to stretch his legs and look for survivors, so he turns the plane about.

Meanwhile in the bunker, an insane military commander..yadda, yadda, yadda…sends men to bring back the plane OR ELSE! Just once I’d like a military installation to be filled with normal human beings and not cogs following a gear with most of its teeth missing. You know, one staffed with people not driven crazy with power.

Our flunky for the big, bad bald guy hops his little butt in a jet and fires one under the bow of our heroes, forcing them to land their plane on his airstrip. He does so in a very disrespectful way though, so don’t get attached to him.

Kuno catches the right vibe, that these guys are assholes. Jill tries to put lipstick on a pig, but Kuno just isn’t having it. There’s something about these early Byrne panels that reminds me a bit of Walt Simonson. I think it is the unfinished, unpolished quality the Bryne uses on them and the various angles he uses to tell the story. It’s a departure from his later professional work and I have to say that I’m liking in more and more the further into this we go.

Back to the story at hand: the baldy sergeant arrives at our hero’s plane in a four-star general’s car, clearly showing somethings amiss. Boyd catches on quick, asking for the sergeant’s commander. 

But the commander isn’t having any of that, and gives Boyd a rifle-butt to the face. Of course this doesn’t sit so well with Kuno. Love this five panel progression going on here.

Anyway, the gang ends up captured, but surprisingly someone unexpected hands the sergeant his own head on a platter.

Nice one, Jill.

Unfortunately, Baldy gets the upper hand and Boyd has to intercede. He tries to reason with the sergeant, but all that gets them is captured. Jill states the obvious, this guy shouldn’t be in charge. There are other officers present. She’s more right than she knows, as Baldy here has executed several commanding officers after the nukes hit and assumed command of the facility by force.

Sergeant grouchy finishes his story of taking over the base and then listens as the group tells of what they’ve experienced since returning to Earth, not offering much in the way of details. When Boyd again tries to reason with him, Baldy tells him that he’s as good as dead. Kuno, too. 

Appears that our Sergeant doesn’t want more troublemakers and decides to tie them up. At first I’m not sure if that is to keep Jill and Ikei in line or if they plan on torturing more intel out of them later. I do like the Goth warrior guy a bit more, even if his background is contrived as all get out.

While the guys get stuffed into a back office, the girls hatch a plan to appear complicit to the Sergeant’s wants and catch the men off guard.

And drawn the way Byrne draws them that won’t be very difficult to do.

The ploy works, the girls get away with a few weapons including one hand grenade. Unfortunately, with the ruse uncovered, Sergeant Baldy decides the kid gloves are off. He prepares to execute Kuno and Boyd.

The girls toss their grenade into the room and things get crazy. Kuno and Boyd are somehow mysteriously freed and Baldy is about to find out how Kuno’s fists feel as they smash his face several times.

In fact, after Kuno’s thrashing, the Sergeant’s true colors start to show and he’s made out to be a coward with a glass-jaw ego who, when the going gets tough, crumples like a tissue.

And while the ladies warm up their aircraft for a quick escape, Boyd tosses back the grenade, sans pin this time, to cover their escape until they can get airborne.

But getting away isn’t all that easy. While Boyd puts the thrusters on maximum…

…Sergeant No-Hair is gathering his crew to take a nuclear pot-shot at them.

Which includes this hippy guy who in no way could have grow that giant Sam Elliot mustache and long locks in the month or two it is supposed to have been since the nuclear attack. But whatever. Sergeant fires the missile…

…and promptly blows himself and everyone on the base to kingdom come. I’m not going to say the book states this, but I’m willing to bet it was because he forgot to open the doors to the missile silo before launching it. 

Whatever the cause, our villains are all dead and our heroes escape…

…for one more issue, it seems.

I’m not really impressed by this, on the whole. The early Byrne art and inking is grand and the only parts of the book I find that I like. It’s neat to see how polished he was even just starting out. And even so, there is a much cruder feel to the panels The guy has an amazing talent.

What doesn’t impress me is the story. To me, this is uninteresting and overly simplistic. The heroes get captured, the heroes get free, the villains destroy themselves…the end. There isn’t any character growth, especially on team bad guy. There is little motivation shown for any of the followers of the Sergeant to act as they do. If we had some conflicted soldiers it would have elevated the tale quite a bit. Then the heroes might have had some internal conflict over staying to fight the bald bad guy or leaving them to sort things out on their own.

I might recommend issues of Doomsday +1 on art alone, but if the story was like this one, I’d say don’t pay a premium for them. Pretty pictures is about all you’ll be getting.

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