Monday, November 10, 2008

LEGENDS OF THE DARK CLAW #1 – April 1996

Through A Glass Darkly
Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Jim Balent (penciler), Ray McCarthy (inker), Pat Garrahy (colorist), Bill Oakley (letterer)

Summary: Dark Claw confronts the Hyena at the offices of the Gotham Gazette. When Hyena’s armed reinforcements appear, Dark Claw’s sidekick Sparrow has to rescue him. Meanwhile, the Huntress breaks into the penthouse apartment of Logan Wayne and discovers his closet is filled with Dark Claw costumes. Dark Claw enters and questions Huntress. She’s a former government operative who used her connections to research the Hyena. Realizing that his past always connects to Logan, she began investigating him. Dark Claw reveals that both he and the Hyena were part of a secret project designed to create the ultimate killing machine. Hyena was a success, but Dark Claw was deemed a failure because he retained his conscious. Dark Claw takes Huntress down to the Barrow, his secret cave, where Sparrow is hacking into the Gotham Gazette’s computers. The trio learns that the Hyena set the next headline to announce his plans to kill the President on Air Force One. Soon, Dark Claw invades Air Force One and faces the Hyena. The Hyena sets off a poison gas, which forces Dark Claw to rip open the doors and free the gas. Dark Claw and Hyena fall out of the plane, but Hyena brags that he has a parachute. Sparrow rescues Dark Claw in their helicopter, as Dark Claws orders her to circle back and give him another shot at the Hyena.

Continuity Notes: Dark Claw is supposed to be combination of Wolverine and Batman. The Huntress is an amalgam of Carol Danvers and DC’s Huntress character. Sparrow is a combination of Jubilee and Robin. The Hyena is an amalgam of Sabretooth and the Joker. All of these characters are really the Marvel versions with altered names and backstories, rather than two characters truly merged into one.

Miscellaneous Note: The title of this issue is a reference to the New Testament that’s been used in several novels and movies. Hama’s penchant for literary references is parodied in the fabricated letters page.

Review: This was Wolverine’s replacement title during the Amalgam event. Amalgam was the stunt that had Marvel and DC working together to produce a line of comics that featured fusions of their existing properties. The actual production of the books was split between the two companies, and even though I was a diehard X-completist at this time, somehow the only two Amalgam comics I ended up with were produced by DC. Part of the gimmick was to pretend as if these properties had existed for years, so even the letters pages are filled with fabricated letters discussing earlier issues and imaginary titles the creators previously worked on (in the Amalgam world, Larry Hama had an extensive run on Sgt. Fury and the Combat-Happy Joes of Easy Company instead of G. I. Joe.)

Fan response to the Amalgam announcement was mixed, mainly due to the increasingly poor quality of most mainstream comics at the time. There wasn’t a lot of faith in Marvel and DC’s ability to pull this off, frankly (even Wizard magazine was cynical about the stunt). I only read a few of the comics, but most fans seemed to be pleasantly surprised by the time the event ended. The goal was really just to have fun, and that spirit is conveyed pretty effectively in this issue. I seemed to recall this comic as an issue-long fight scene, but rereading it, I can see that it has more going for it, as new backstories and personalities for most of the cast are introduced in just twenty-two pages. Combining Jubilee and Robin is an obvious choice, especially if you know that Jim Lee gave Jubilee her color scheme specifically to imitate Robin’s, but it still works. Sparrow has some funny lines and plays off the other characters well. Merging Joker and Sabretooth seems odd at first (and the Hyena’s design is pretty ugly), but the story emphasizes the sheer joy both of them experience from murder, so I can see the logic there. I’m not quite sure why Carol Danvers shows up, and it’s interesting that Hama chose to use her in two alternate reality stories in a row. Amalgam-ing Wolverine and Batman doesn’t seem to have any justification outside of commercial reasons (or maybe someone just realized that both their color schemes involved black and yellow at the time). Hama essentially writes Dark Claw as a more sophisticated Wolverine, throwing in a few knowing references to Batman’s origin. It’s pretty silly, but that’s a part of the charm of the entire event, and Hama is able to make Dark Claw appealing in his own right. Jim Balent’s art looks a little awkward on some of the pages, but for the most part he gets the job done. One of the fabricated letters in the letters page is a parody of a stereotypical comic fan’s boob-obsession, which is amusing considering Balent’s future work (and his then-current run on Catwoman¸ I suppose). The letters page seems to be Hama’s work also, as it’s filled with parodies of the type of letters he says he received while writing Wolverine. One fan complains that there aren’t any pretentious narrative captions, that the stories shouldn’t have clear endings, and that Hama shouldn’t be writing flagship superhero titles because his only experience is writing military comics. The fake letters page and hype page add to the sense of fun, and they’re actually more amusing than most of the one-liners in the story.

1 comment:

Fnord Serious said...

When these books came out, I was reading only Vertigo books and didn't give the Amalgam stuff a second thought. Since then I have enjoyed picking up other alternative universe events like the Tangent books from DC and the Marvels Comics (Comics FROM the Marvel Universe!) issues. Because there is no long term continuity to worry about or a need to sell next month's issue, a lot of them are just mindless fun. Good to see that some of the Amalgam stuff works on the same level.

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