Wednesday, December 19, 2018

MB37: Blue Devil Annual #1

Blue Devil Annual #1 (1985)
cover: Paris Cullins
title: "The Day All Hell Broke Loose!"
writers: Gary Cohn & Dan Mishkin
penciller: Paris Cullins
inkers: Gary Martin & Bill Collins
letterer: Bob Lappan
colorist: Shelley Eiber
editor: Alan Gold
Blue Devil created by Gary Cohn & Dan Mishkin

In Greenwich Village in New York City, Man-Bat is chasing down a man who we soon learn is TV journalist Jack Ryder. He jumps into Madame Xanadu's Tarot Reading shop, and Man-Bat flies on.
Madame Xanadu is not surprised to see him, or the Phantom Stranger, who appears a moment later. Madame Xanadu tries to escort the Phantom Stranger out, but he mysteriously (?) re-appears inside. As the two occult masters begin to argue about the impending doom, Etrigan the Demon arrives, too!
Out in Hollywood,  Dan Cassidy aka Blue Devil is running through some final choreography with animatron robots that will be used in their next film. Felix Faust is looking for something he feels is in Cassidy's workshop, so he uses Atwill's Artivice of Awesome Animation to make the animatron robots come "alive" and attack.
While Blue Devil tries desperately to keep the million dollar special effects from destroying each other (and him!) Faust searches for a mystic object. The Phantom Stranger confronts Faust, who has found the globe that he was looking for. Etrigan joins the fray against the robots, utterly destroying them (much to Blue Devil's chagrin).
Blue Devil's workshop explodes, so he and Etrigan join the Phantom Stranger in fighting Felix Faust. Etrigan succeeds in acquiring the mystic globe, causing Faust to retreat. When he is gone, Etrigan reveals to the other two that "the netherpod" is actually an egg!
Meanwhile, back in New York City, Madame Xanadu and Jack Ryder review what must have happened to him. As the Creeper he had been under someone's mental control, but when Man-Bat swooped down and picked him up to take him to "the museum," the up-rush of fresh air cleared his mind long enough for him to switch back to Jack Ryder, which cleared his mind completely. Madame Xanadu prepares a potion for him to keep his free will, and they arrive at the Museum of Natural History to confront Man-Bat.
Man-Bat is trying to steal a second mystic globe, so the Creeper and Madame Xanadu attempt to prevent him from doing that. The Creeper manages to hold him down long enough to force him to drink Madame Xanadu's free-will potion.
Somewhere in the desert north-eastern of Los Angeles, Felix Faust realizes that Durwood's Dictum of Digital Domination has failed; Man-Bat has been freed. He remembers the joy of seeing the Blue Devil film and realizing that the "villain" of it, Nebiros, was a real demon. From that moment, he had planned to free Nebiros in order to command him. He begins to conjure two spells to manipulate the netherpod eggs from hatch!
In both Hollywood and New York City, the mystic globes decompose, freeing numerous baby demons. Madame Xanadu and the Phantom Stranger confer mystically and conjure up magical butterfly nets, which can scoop up the little monsters and transport them back to their home dimension. Etrigan, meanwhile, decides to eat as many as he can catch.
In New York City, the mysterious heroine known as Black Orchid arrives to help them out. Madame Xanadu tells us her super-secret origin story as she flies off mysteriously.
Felix Faust realizes that the demon puppies are too far from their birthing pit to return to it, so he opens Portnoy's Penultimate Portal to transport them; the Creeper, Madame Xanadu, and Man-Bat follow them.
In Hollywood, Blue Devil meets up with his friend Wayne, who tells him that *he* was the one who put the netherpod in Blue Devil's workshop. Wayne had brought it back from the Isle du Diable as a souvenir, but when it started glowing he left it in Blue Devil's workshop for him to look at. That means that the demon hatchlings are from the same dimension as Nebiros, the demon Blue Devil fought when he first gained his super-powers.
The Demon eats the last demon kitten, so the Phantom Stranger teleports them all to the birthing pit, where Felix Faust is already in battle with the others. Faust decides to use Durwood's Dictum of Digital Domination to control Blue Devil, causing him to fight his companions. While they are battling, the last demon guppy gets to the birthing pit and begins to transform.
Black Orchid has also arrived; she flies up to Felix Faust and unceremoniously drops him off of a cliff. Blue Devil doesn't recognize Black Orchid, so the Phantom Stranger tells him her mysterious secret origin....which happens to be different from the story that Madame Xanadu told earlier!
Suddenly, Nebiros has returned! (Well, actually, the Phantom Stranger explains that this is really Nebiros' off-spring, with the demon's powers and memories, and not the actual demon itself.) Blue Devil has been freed from Faust's control, but none of them are able to defeat this new Nebiros at all.
Etrigan decides to take a bite off the demon's leg, and then they all realize that they can use the same mystical butterfly nets that they had been using before to dispose of this demon, too. So Etrigan goes around biting the demon into pieces and the others butterfly-net it to pieces, then catch it and return it to its home dimension. 

 As they believe the danger is finally behind them, Felix Faust uses Baxter's Bending Bolts of Bafflement to attack the heroes. None of them can launch a counter-attack until the Phantom Stranger simply walks up to him and knocks him out.
Before the heroes can go their separate ways, the Creeper suggests that they join forces on a more permanent basis, becoming a team that he suggests they call "The Creeper and his Spirit Squad." The rest of them think that's a stupid idea, and they rush off in a rage. 

This is just a fun, fun story. I remember buying it the summer of 1985 right before I went to Japan for an academic year abroad. It was one of the last comics I bought for more than a year. At the time I had no idea that it would be Man-Bat's last Bronze Age appearance, but the CRISIS mini-series ended a few months after this and re-booted the entire DC Universe. When Man-Bat reappeared in the DCU, he was a different character.

As final appearances go, Man-Bat could have done a lot worse. Although it is not explicitly stated in this story, the assumption is that Kirk Langstrom has mastered his serum again and is back to living in New York City. Hopefully that means that he is back to working with Jason Bard as a private investigator. He certainly doesn't appear to be the menace that he was in his last two appearances. He is level-headed and an important member of the "Spirit Squad."

We don't get any particular memorable Man-Bat moments in this story, but as one of the two flying characters (Black Orchid is the other) his figure is clearly discernible in every group shot. Because this is a Man-Bat blog post, I tried to reprint every page that he appeared on. I did skip some of the pages where he is shown but had no dialogue; the vast majority of his appearances are reprinted above.

Here are a few special panels I wanted make special note of. This panel is the first time that Man-Bat has met anyone in the DCU outside of the Batman Family....with the exception of having met Etrigan the Demon, back in Batman Family #17. I'm sorry that writers Cohn and Mishkin couldn't have found the space to have them greet each other. One other thing about this panel: Man-Bat and the Creeper share an artist. Steve Ditko created the Creeper in Showcase #73, then later drew Man-Bat in Man-Bat #1. 

I just love this panel of Felix Faust trying to get his finger (i.e. Man-Bat) under control.

This is the only panel we get of Man-Bat's extra-large feet. In all of his flying poses his feet appear to match the proportions of his body. In this panel, they look like they're as large as Blue Devil's arms!

Here's the only real "close-up" of Man-Bat in the issue. He appears to be all furry with no "skin" showing. And his eyes are large and dark. Artist Paris Cullins did a good job overall on Man-Bat, and all of the characters. I think my favorite was his Etrigan, though. 

I like this panel as a "heroes rush into action" pose. I don't know of any other trio as odd as Man-Bat, the Creeper, and Black Orchid, though. Plus their colors clash, haha!

I like this pose of the whole group, with Man-Bat so tired that he has his tongue hanging out of his mouth. Bats are rodents, not canines, but this is still a fun image. 

Before all six of the others call the Creeper an idiot for suggesting that they form a group, Man-Bat actually seems to be considering it. I bet he was thinking, "How much would it pay?" 

One more interesting thing I noticed about this story when I re-read it: Blue Devil's t-shirt says "Blue Devil" in Japanese! Check it out if you don't believe me. I can't believe I never noticed that before.

The last thing I want to say about this story is the characterization of Blue Devil. Like I said, I bought this book solely because of Man-Bat on the cover, and then I promptly left the country. I couldn't have started buying Blue Devil even if I had wanted to, which, to be honest, I'm not sure I would have wanted to. Blue Devil seemed like a fun idea, but I have always preferred my comics a bit more on the serious side. So although I do admit that the following interaction between the Phantom Stranger and the Blue Devil is amusing, it isn't entertainment that I want for the entire story. 

Lastly, I brought this issue with me to Baltimore Comic Con last year and asked Paris Cullins to sign it for me. I mentioned that I was a  huge Man-Bat fan, so he did a quick sketch of Man-Bat for me right there on the cover. Awesome!

Although this is Man-Bat's last pre-Crisis appearance in a story, please join me next month to talk about Man-Bat's LAST pre-Crisis appearance in a DC book. 

Man-Bat Trivia Notes:  
  • Neither Francine nor Rebecca are mentioned in this story. 
This story has not been reprinted. 
Man-Bat was created by Frank Robbins and Neal Adams

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