Howard Chaykin has enough history in the comic book industry to tell plenty of personal stories. But this series goes far beyond his experience, portraying the evolution of comic book publishing from its origins to the present day. The story begins in 1967, at the premier of a Broadway music based on the superhero Powerhouse (who is clearly modeled on Superman). A comic book company executive is on the red carpet on the way in, when he is greeted by one of the creators–who is not attending, and looks down on his luck.
Cut to 1945. Two comic book artists have been discharged from the armed services, and are starting to look for work. 1955, and the same artists are meeting to start a union…while others have left comics for other fields. 1965: “Same players…new chessboard.” 2001: everyone meets at a memorial service for a recently departed artist. One of the attendees is the latest young hipster hotshot (I’m guessing a composite of the Image Comics founders).
Each issue presents a series of vignettes from the different time periods. Significant real-life events are covered, such as the collapse of several smaller comic book companies in 1945 and the congressional hearings in 1955 (including a version of the testimony of EC Comic’s head William Gaines). 2015 finally gets a visit to show the failure of creator lawsuits attempting to regain ownership of their creations from the big comic book publishers. The final scene is set in 1938, showing the two young creators (artist and writer) pitching their new creation Powerhouse to a publisher, jubilant in their new jobs making comics for a living.
In his afterward “Who’s That Over There?” Chaykin admits a couple of obvious character derivations: Bob Rose (the smiling comic book ambassador Stan Lee) and Sid Mitchell (his opposite number, angry creator’s rights advocate Jack Kirby). He insists the rest are “combinations and conflations” that weren’t built for name-checking. But no doubt the professional jealousy and personal conflicts are real, as well as the constant hustle of the freelance life. I have to think Chaykin took particular delight in the violent accidental deaths of several of his characters, which I’m pretty sure were mostly fictional! It has been pointed out to me that artist Joe Maneely died in a commuter train accident, similar to a death by car in this series. There are also satirical looks at comics fan behavior, especially on the covers. Also, although this volume is labeled “Volume One” Chaykin does not say anything about sequels.
A fun dip into the magical side of the DC Universe. The story opens with the magicians fighting against an evil force known only as the Malevolence, and they are losing. As a desperation move they go for a seven year magical reset, sending teen aged Zatanna Zatara (who has just discovered she has magical powers) to the Mystik U, an academy designed to train young magicians how to properly use their abilities.
Dr. Rose Psychic (and her body-sharing husband, Dr. Occult) lead the faculty, with also includes the mysterious Mister E and Madame Xanadu, as well as Cain and Abel and the House of Secrets (which includes the Dean’s Residence). Her fellow students include Davit Sargon, June “Enchantress” Moone, brooding bad boy Sebastian Faust, and eventually an obscure DC non-human horror character named Plop (who is played for laughs).
If this is a “real” story–and DC has been cagey about this–it retcons the history of the DC magical characters by bringing them together as young adults. It would mean they have a shared history that did not exist previously. In the meantime, none of them remember the previous timeline, at least in detail. But magical signs point to one of the five new students turning into the Malevolence. So the question is, how to discover which one? Mr. E’s solution of killing all five is rejected.
The students get to know each other, pair off romantically, and learn magical powers in classes like Divination 101: all very Harry Potter. Speaking of which, it is notable that young mage Timothy Hunter of the various The Books of Magic series is not involved (that series has often been compared to Harry Potter, although writer Neil Gaiman has always waved off the similarities as just part of any magical coming of age story, from Merlin on). Despite the best efforts of the faculty, in the end it is the students who figure out the solution, in a dramatic episode that begins with a bargain made in Hell with a demon. The closing scene finds Zatanna and Sebastian Faust heading off for an adventure on his motorcycle.
Given the generally light tone of the series, it is especially important that the character designs have charm, and Mike Norton (Revival, Runaways) delivers, aided by Jordie Bellaire’s colors. At the same time, the appearance is true to the older versions–especially Zatanna, who has a central role. Same thing with the writing: as a former Vertigo editor, it should not be surprising that Alisa Kwitney has a good handle on these characters.
A decade ago 300,000 citizens of the city of Philadelphia (and the 30 square miles they occupied) were abruptly transported to an apocalyptic world that became known as Oblivion. It is a truly hellish place–desolate and occupied by deadly monsters–as we discover in the opening scene. Nathan (the main protagonist) is apparently hunting two humans on the run from a huge monster. We only learn later that the darts he is shooting at them transport them back to Earth, and the history of the Oblivion event itself is also revealed gradually.
There was once a government program that sent teams into Oblivion to rescue the humans. But that has been discontinued, so Nathan has been continuing on his own as a personal crusade. It clearly is very personal, not only because his brother Ed is still among the missing, but also due to a sense of responsibility for the cataclysmic event that is only fully revealed near the end of this arc.
There is also some question about whether the return process is a positive one. Nathan interviews returnees about this, and in the process he learns about a large, organized group of survivors led by a man named Ed. Could this be his lost brother? After a couple of attempts he manages to contact the group, and finds his brother (who is indeed the leader, a role that his past history did not suggest). Shockingly, the group is not interested in returning to Earth: they have built a life in the wilderness.
Nathan convinces Ed to come back to Earth with him so he can experience the changes since the event and report back to the group. But Nathan is arrested almost immediately. leaving Ed on his own. The series title “Oblivion Song” has a specific meaning. It is a haunting sound in the place that comes from the breeze, distant creature sounds, and insects…Nathan calls it the Oblivion Song.
Most of the flavor of the place comes down to the work of artist Lorenzo De Felici. His previous publications mainly include covers, for Image and Marvel (Spider-Man). His interior work is convincing: he’s good at character design and monsters. There is some visual confusion in the monster action scenes (hard to keep things straight with a monster you’ve never seen before). Colorist Annalisa Leoni does a good job helping to keep all of the settings straight. Definitely interested in seeing where this goes next.