Suspended Animation Suspended Animation
by Michael Vance & Dr. Jon Suter

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July 21, 1999

Reviews in this issue:

The World Below - Elseworld Revisited


The World Below

            Concrete is one of the finest comic books published today.

            The World Below is not one of the finest comic books published today.

            Both titles are written and drawn by one of the best writers and artists in comic books, Paul Chadwick, known for his rich and believable characterizations and dialog, intriguing plots and distinctive art.

            The World Below will not be known for four of these five Chadwick strengths.

            So, what's up down below?

            "Electronic magnate Charles Hoy has sent the Team of Six down a sinkhole in rural Washington State. From it came the strange mechanical flyer, years ago, which yielded the patents that made his fortune. Now he needs more technological magic...and so these six search The World Below."

            Holy SF, that sounds like Jules Verne's classic novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and that can't be all bad! And that Team of Six sounds like artist Jack Kirby's Challengers of the Unknown comics title where a team of men with special talents tackled supernatural creatures. That can't be all bad either!

            It isn't all bad. Chadwick's art remains distinctive, although the wild underworld creatures here are too heavily influenced by Jack Kirby's silly looking creatures from old monster comic books. Floating albino jellyfish? Flying lawnmower blades?

            That Team of Six is part of the problem. There are simply too many people in this shindig, and that means characterization, Chadwick's greatest strength, is almost non-existent.

            Plot and dialog are also part of the problem. Chadwick does an excellent job of recapturing the nuances of old '50's and '60's "B" movies and SF comic books -- stiff, pseudo-scientific phrases and creatures, plants and landscapes made of cardboard and plastic borrowed from Salvador Dali. With today's level of special effects sophistication, these nostalgic touches just seem silly.

            Regrettably, The World Below is not above reproach.

            The World Below #2 & 3/20 pgs. & $2.50 ea. From Dark Horse Comics/sold in comics shops and by mail.

            Reviewed by Michael Vance


 Elseworld Revisited

            I often review DC Comic's Elseworld series in which alternative versions of major characters or incidents are explored. In the 1950's and 1960's, these were known as imaginary stories", e.g. a story in which Lois Lane might marry Bruce "Batman" Wayne. I have usually been favorable to Elseworld.

            Most Elseworld stories have been based upon DC's most popular characters. A three issue series, Conjurers, is a definite change.

            The major characters are based on DC's mystical heroes and villains, but the resemblances are often in name only. Some are easily recognizable such as Boston "Deadman" Brand; others, such as Zatana, are very different from their better-known originals.

            It took me a while to grasp that this Deadman had a widow and that she was the daughter of Travis Morgan, the Warlord. Readers unfamiliar with this part of DC's lore could become frustrated.

Another character comes from an old DC humor series, Stanley and His Monster. This version is anything but humorous, but there are whiffs of the original concept. Chuck Dixon's script is complex and stands up nicely to multiple readings. Eduardo Barreto's art is good as is Lee Loughridge's coloring.

For those who need a super hero, there are appearances by Ted Kord, an inventor frustrated in a world where magic overrides the laws of physics and makes technology useless. Kord is, in DC's "normal" continuity, the Blue Beetle, a character rarely seen these days.

The conjurers are opposed to an other-dimensional race that reminds me of H.P. Lovecraft's "Great Old Ones" in his "Cthulhu Mythos". Dixon's use of Lovecraftian monsters is more restrained than that of most comic book writers and thus more effective.

Lovecraft's stories are probably familiar to comic book readers. Those who are intrigued by the idea of a Universe governed by magic rather than science might track down the Lord Darcy stories by Randall Garrett. At lease one anthology has been published and is currently available through the Science Fiction Book Club.

Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter


    Questions? Comments? A comic you wish reviewed? Write: 1427 S. Delaware Ave., Tulsa, OK, 74104. Or email c/o starland@starland.com.

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