From Turkmenistan to Eclipso (with a 'Festering Romance' in between)

By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service

Oct. 27, 2009 -- Most of us have never wanted to go to Turkmenistan, nor could we find it on a map. But the graphic novel Joe and Azat ($10.95, NBM/ComicsLit) depicts it as an awfully interesting place.

The Joe of the title is a Peace Corps volunteer, and Azat is the Turkmen who befriends the American during his two-year hitch. Joe is based on writer/artist Jesse Lonergan (Flower & Fade), who did serve in the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan, and the book is largely true.

So one almost wants to meet Azat, the eternally optimistic and enthusiastic Turkmen with an idealized view of America, plus grandiose dreams of business success and romantic love. Joe knows that Azat’s ambitions are preposterous, but Azat’s enthusiasms are infectious and, more importantly, he proves to be a true friend.
Which is probably a necessity in Turkmenistan. As described in the book, it’s a barely civilized autocracy buried in Central Asia with customs and a lifestyle that few Westerners could understand or navigate. Azat proves to be a lifeline to Joe more than once.

Which means that, in addition to the personal narrative, Joe and Azat serves as something of a travelogue, which has a growing tradition in graphic novels. This book fits on the bookshelf well with Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China, The Burma Chronicles, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and other graphic novels that do double duty.

Lonergan’s art is cartoony but effective. Joe and Azat is a quick read, and a pleasant diversion. And who knows? Maybe by the end you’ll want to go to Turkmenistan.

Elsewhere:

* Festering Romance ($11.95, Oni Press) has a cute premise: Janet, a college girl with a ghost (of her childhood chum, who aged with her), meets Derek, a college boy with a ghost (his former girlfriend), on a blind date. Neither had met anyone else so afflicted, and both can see not only their own ghosts, but the other one as well. It’s a match made in … well, somewhere south of heaven, I suppose.

You’d think they would have so much in common that a romance would immediately ensue, but what kind of story is that? Miscommunications, jealousies and immature reactions amid this mismatched foursome conspire to keep the would-be lovers at odds.

Will the ghosts find happiness? Will Janet and Derek get together?

Well, of course. The end isn’t really the point of a “festering romance,” though -- the rocky path to the inevitable is where the fun lies. And writer/artist Renee Lott’s manga-influenced, cartoony style is sufficient to carry this breezy story, which ought to appeal to the target audience, rom-com-loving teens-and-up.

* I didn’t much collect DCs’ suspense anthology House of Secrets when it was in its costumed characters phase in the 1960s. Showcase Presents: Eclipso ($9.99, DC Comics), which collects all of Eclipso’s 1963-66 run in Secrets, tells me I didn’t miss much.

Eclipso is now a Big Bad in DC Comics. But 40 years ago he was just a supervillain who split from handsome young scientist Dr. Bruce Gordon whenever there was an eclipse, due to some sort of implausible lab accident. Gordon, girlfriend Gail Bennett and mentor Dr. Bennett would chase about and try to contain Eclipso during his “escapes,” primarily by hitting him with – wait for it – very bright lights.

Ooh, scary. And what could Eclipso do? Well, I’d count as a super-power the ability to break the laws of physics by appearing out of nowhere. Plus, he always manages to find his (really ugly) costume every issue, which I consider a super-power, too. Also, Eclipso very quickly became world-infamous and feared on the order of Osama bin Laden, which is a pretty good trick when you only appear when there’s an eclipse, and not for very long, and your evil schemes are routinely thwarted on the QT by Gordon and the Bennetts (who really don’t want the whole “hero and villain in one man!” schtick to become common knowledge, because Bruce would immediately be locked up forever, the end).

Eclipso’s real power? He could shoot dark light and power blasts through a black diamond he held to his eye. And the hideous costume was pretty evil.

What saves this collection is occasional art by Alex Toth and Lee Elias. Toth, the designer of Space Ghost, is so good he even makes Eclipso interesting.

Hmmm. That might be a super-power, too.

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.

Views: 224

Comment by Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) on October 30, 2009 at 4:36pm
My first exposure to Eclipso was probably the Wolfman/Staton issues of Green Lantern where he showed up. And there, from what I recall, he felt like a major player (for what might have been the first time, I guess). One more reason for me to dig out that run and reread it.
Comment by Captain Comics on October 30, 2009 at 5:03pm
I don't recall which came first, but there was some series where Eclipso murdered a host of third-tier heroes to prove how baaaaad he was. The dead included the female Dr. Midnight, the female Wildcat and, if memory serves, The Creeper. (He got better.)

Now Eclipso is, IIRC, the first Spectre, fired for over-zealousness. And The Creeper has been upgraded to some sort of demigod or something, too.
Comment by Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) on October 30, 2009 at 5:41pm
I'm pretty sure that was the Eclipso ongoing series, launched out of DC's Eclipso crossover event in the 90s. (I don't remember the name; I just remember the plastic gem on the cover of issue 1.) The Green Lantern story I'm thinking of preceded it (and most of the characters he killed) by a number of years.
Comment by Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) on October 30, 2009 at 5:45pm
Looking it up on GCD, it looks like the Eclipso story ran in 1981, from GL 136-139, right after the Dr. Polaris/Snowblind story I love so much.
Comment by Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) on October 30, 2009 at 5:46pm
By the way, Festering Romance and Joe & Azat both sound like good reads, too! I like a nice comic travelogue.
Comment by KSwolf on October 30, 2009 at 7:31pm
The Eclipso mini-series with the plastic gem on the cover was called Eclipso: The Darkness Within. It was DC's big crossover event that year, and after it ended, they gave him his own ongoing series. The massacre of the third-tier heroes took place in issue #13 of the ongoing title, and as the Captain mentioned, the Yolanda Montez Wildcat, Dr. Midnight and the Creeper were all killed -- along with the Mark Shaw Manhunter, Peacemaker, Major Victory and Commander Steel.

The Creeper managed to regrow his body a couple of years later in his own ongoing series, after it was revealed that his powers were supernatural/ demonic in nature. If I remember correctly, the book was canceled before the writer could really elaborate on that new revelation.
Comment by Doctor Hmmm? on November 2, 2009 at 4:33pm
Really, though, even if you never cared for Eclipso ... points to DC for putting together a collection like this (which, incidentally, I intend to buy).

The Showcase Presents format is ideal for putting together "complete" collections of offbeat and/or 2nd tier (or 3rd or 4th or ...) characters whose adventures it might be fun to have, but not be worth your time (or money) to patch together by scouring the back-issue bins. I'm sure I'd like to read more Silver Age Eclipso stories -- I think my first exposure to the character was in some 100-Page Super-Spectacular or other -- but I'm equally sure I wouldn't be willing to shell out the shekels for even a "reading copy" of most of the books those stories originally appeared in.

Now ... bring on SP: Congorilla and SP: Detective Chimp!
Comment by Captain Comics on November 2, 2009 at 4:51pm
I quite agree, Doc! I'm really enjoying this, the Golden Age of Reprints. I DO want to read all of those Eclipso stories, lousy as they are, for the same reason I want to read all those lousy Golden Age stories: I just Want To Know. I want to know the "real" history of the characters. I want a view into the sociology of the times. I want to have a comprehensive idea of comics in any given period. I want to know which creators were doing what when. I just Want To Know.

So, as much as I snicker at Bob Haney's hokey stories and shudder at Jack Sparling's awful art, Showcase Presents: Eclipso is on my shelf. So are three volumes of SP: House of Mystery, two volumes of SP: House of Secrets, SP: Elongated Man, SP: Bat Lash, you name it. I would never shell out big bucks for the back issues of these stories/titles, but a $15 B&W paperback with 500 pages in it works just fine! That's about all the entire run of "War That Time Forgot" is worth anyway, no matter what Overstreet says ... and, yes, I have Showcase Present: War That Time Forgot as well.

And I second the motion for Congorilla and Detective Chimp. And Space Cabbie! And Tommy Tomorrow! And Atomic Knights! And Tomahawk! And Silent Knight! And Space Ranger! And Viking Prince! And Anthro! And Ultra, the Multi-Alien! And ...

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