Sunday, May 11, 2014

They Shoot First Ladies, Don't They?

1988.  Action Comics #610.  The series was experimenting with a weekly format.  48 pages for just a buck fifty.  A bargain by today’s standards.  When the series was weekly it was a testing ground (or dumping ground, if you prefer) for second-string characters while the man who made the series famous (Superman) took a back seat.  In this issue he was relegated to a two page spread that did little more than tease the average fan.  Also filling its strange pages was a Black Canary story that made no sense unless you read the issues prior, a Secret Six story that ended with a man falling to his presumed doom while clinging to a butchered pig (I am not kidding), a Phantom Stranger piece with artist Kyle Baker that was just short of being utterly boring, a Green Lantern story that had its moments … and a chapter in an ongoing Deadman story written by none other than Mike Baron (Badger, ThePunisher).

Nancy Reagan's about to get blasted!
The Deadman chapter was called “Catfight,” and it featured the title hero possessing the body of Mikhail Gorbachev’s wife, Raisa.  It opened at a black tie political function, and in attendance was Raisa’s husband, as well as Ronald and Nancy Reagan, who was possessed by a devil claiming to be Satan.  Deadman, inhabiting the body of Raisa, wielded an alien gun that he was going to use against Nancy to kill the devil inside her, all while Ronnie was busy being his typical clueless self.  In addition to that insanity, there was also an appearance by someone who was mistaken for D.B. Cooper and a man who was turned into a Ken doll. 

I don’t think this was based on a true story.

I can’t say this chapter of Baron’s story was good storytelling.  It was, however, weird.  It was the high-end kind of weird that indie comics were known for, but this wasn’t an indie comic.  This was DC, the home of Batman.  This was Action Comics, the book that gave the world Superman and changed the comic book game completely.  The title was Americana at its finest, and here was First Lady Nancy Reagan possessed and being shot at with a gun obtained from an alien astronaut … a gun being used by the story’s hero.  The ‘80s were cynical, but they weren’t that cynical.

Baron has always been a solid writer.  I don’t enjoy all his work, but it contains a certain chaotic glee that I find missing from a lot of comic stories.  On the flip side of that, his work can sometimes feel a bit forced.  This chapter of the Deadman arc was neither of those things.  It was, if anything, probably influenced by some Hunter S. Thompson-like dream and liberal paranoia (often one in the same).  D.B. Cooper’s appearance felt right at home in it, and Nancy Reagan’s possession seemed proper.  It all made sense in its own strange way, and readers were better off for it.

The weekly experiment for the title didn’t last too long, which I found to be a relief.  It really wasn’t a good idea to begin with, as it gave readers an excuse to avoid buying the title.  If they hated the characters, there was no need to get it, and if they liked the characters, the stories weren’t long enough to satisfy.  It did, however, give artists and writers a chance to go a little nuts, and while that didn’t always work, they sometimes created something so bizarre that you can’t help but remember it decades later.  

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I bought this comic.  Clicking on a link may earn me some dough.

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