Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 5

5: Remaining Sample PC

One last sample PC before we move on.

Sample PC 4: Phoenix

Our last sample PC is the youngest of the bunch, a female super hero who was a child of the Conflagration. The character first appeared in the Conflagration crossover with the idea being that the new shared universe needed a powerful super-heroine to balance out the team. The top UC creative people (Corey Lawson and Keith Wilson, team behind the popular Psi-Men book) were working the crossover and designed the following:

Amanda Halle was a session guitarist and singer in Lexington, Kentucky with a powerful businessman father whose personality dominated his family. That family was at ground zero for the initial Conflagration event, a powerful dimensional cross rip. Amanda vanished, reappearing several days later with minimal memory of the event but with the ability to channel the light, heat and velocity of a distant star. She could also manifest wings from her back. Taking the name Phoenix she immediately pitched in during the world saving events that followed, and was written as a strong, capable, self-assured character. There was immediate favorable fan response and she was rapidly spun off into her own book.

That book was written by Sam Kozynski, an old UC workhorse by newcomer Dexter Klockner. The mismatch was incredible and jarring. Kozynski had experience with the 50’s and 60’s romance comics and, figuring it was what the female audience would want, filled the book with romance plots where an indecisive female was having problems choosing between her various (and varying) suitors – be they other super heroes, other musicians or just normal folks – while she argued with her dad for the freedom to live her own life and move to New York. Klockner, coming out of the fan fantasy art tradition, drew all the women in tight clothes and Vallejo builds. The book was a train wreck.

Her rogues gallery through these issues were unremarkable- Treble the Triplicate Man, Slash Bladehands, Element, every female villain that had ever graced another heroes’ book and an old Aeaea villain in the form of a talking monkeys-paw style wish granting hellhound named Wishbone, who was the only returning villain as the conflagration seemed to make it capable of granting people dimensional/demonic super-powers, allowing for a steady stream of villains in Lexington, KY. Again it was an interesting idea but didn’t really fit the tone of the character.

Buck Carlson didn’t want to lose hope in Kozynski and there was some favorable fan response to Klockner’s handling of the books action scenes which, to be fair, he did very well. From issues 12-22 there were some legendary rows where when it came to the fight Klockner would abandon Kozynski’s script altogether and draw Phoenix against the enemy of the month in huge, property destroying, high-power brawls, forcing Kozynski to rewrite the dialogue to account for it. Sometimes Kozynski refused to do so and the dialogue went in as writ, giving it all a surreal flair where Phoenix’ waffling internal monologue is completely out of step with her decisive actions. Eventually Carlson bowed to the inevitable and took Kozynski off the book.

Carlson made a stab at bringing Darcy Mercer, former writer on the 1960’s Glenda Fairy Princess book, but was rebuffed, so he handed the job to one of his female staffers – Connie Lindke had pitched stories since she’d got there and wrote some fill in issues of other books. Seeing this as her big chance Lindke knuckled down with Klocker to plot out the next few issues leading up to #25. This was a moderate ‘relaunch’ of the book, a double sized anniversary issue. Lindke knew the ins and outs of the UC studio and massaged things to get Klocker to accept an inker, Kent Palus, to meet the tighter deadlines that necessitated, and Kent displayed his skill in making it look like the women were wearing clothes when they were supposed to be. Suddenly the ‘normal life’ segments no longer looked stupid. She built three issues to a big finish that had Amanda defeat a small team of post-Wishbone villains to end that story thread and then break with her father and move to New York.

Freed of the prior plot issues Amanda developed a new supporting cast of musicians and art types in New York and her two to three twined romance plot threads settled into more of a Peter Parker-esque existence of meeting bills and commitments while having a struggling love life. In her case the struggles were trying to find someone ‘real’ in the city she was often hampered by her natural beauty where men didn’t care to see past that and who wanted everything permanently casual (as opposed to the men in the Kentucky part of the book, who had all wanted her to settle down immediately). The book kept some of the power struggles with her family but it was clear that her life as Phoenix as well as her professional career were best served in New York. Lexington, when visited, became another world, the home she couldn’t really go back to. Her supporting cast included Freddie (no last name) the bassist who kept crashing on her couch and who figured out her secret ID without her knowing it and started assisting in Amanda’s alibis (again, without her knowing it, sometimes with comic effect), ‘Mad’ Manda Myers her kvetch partner and a struggling actress and Jessie Jones, originally a rival who eventually becomes one of Amanda’s advocates.

During the book’s New York Phoenix’s rogues gallery tended to the monster-themed villain. There was Manticore, Basilisk, Roc and so on. While each had a different origin/motivation the broad stroke was that they had stolen or located post-Conflagration extra-dimensional tech that had been repurposed to give them a poison-spined extendable tail, or a goggles that fired petrification rays, or giant wings or what have you. Each had a grudge against some powerful person, government agency or corporation and Phoenix kept inserting herself into their revenge stories, getting them to hate her. Lindke apparently learned from her predecessor as her plots to Klocker had things like “Page 18-23: Phoenix and Basilisk fight – how about he temporarily catches her inside a petrified news helicopter?” and let Klocker run wild, providing the script to his explosive pencils afterwards. This left both happy with their respective parts of the book and developed a decent fanbase. Klocker was a big proponent of her flame powers, hitting things with her wings and her gravity-based lifting as that let him toss around or blow up parts of the landscape.

When Lindke felt she had done all she could with the struggling artist plots she had Amanda hit it big as the new guitarist in the band Red Sky Diary , giving her a couple of years of fighting bad guys during a world tour, a new supporting cast in the band and asides showing what was happening in NYC and Lexington.

The team happily worked on the book 7 years before Klocker moved on to ‘the Guardians’, the Universal Comics team book of which Phoenix was a member, where he helped move her more to the forefront with his desire to make her blow things up with her flame powers and gravity-lift. History repeated itself when Lindke was saddled with a new artist straight out of the “who needs to understand perspective and anatomy I’m an ARTIST” school of new pencillers. While she had found ways to work with Klocker’s Vallejo inspired style this new, Leif Redfield, was drawing Phoenix in nothing but T&A fashion, and lacked any of Klocker’s creative ability when it came to blocking out fight scenes. There was a six month horror show before Redfield quit and was replaced at the last minute by one of the UC studies workhorse pencilers, Dave Sergeant.

Sergeant wasn’t great with fight scenes either, and Lindke admitted that she as staring to burn out after so long on the book. She started partnering on plotting with a new plotter and inker, Cameron West. Cameron was a big SF fan and took the book in new directions: there was a very memorable gender reversed Stepford Wives where Amanda learned the reason there were no real men in New York, a story where she had to temporarily plug a black hole that had been opened in the sun and in so doing encountered a race of stellar life forms, and an impressive crossover with Doc Toltec dealing with a squid-alien invasion. As this was going on, Amanda continued to straddle between her current life as a singer/super hero and her family back in Kentucky. This part of the book took on a darker tenor during this time, with Amanda’s mother dying of cancer and that leading to a growing rift wither father. Lindke wanted to move the book back to Lexington for a while but no one in the UC offices thought that was a good idea, so she left the series.

(But not the character, she wrote a trilogy of novels under UC’s aegis that were a strange romance novel/super hero fusion about Phoenix returning to her hometown and eventually marrying one of her boyfriends from the first 25 issues of the book, who had also moved off to a big city and returned home to the country. They were decent sellers and produced a ripple effect of several other Super-Hero Romance Novel lines that make up a strange continuity space in the UC universe)

Left to write the comic book solo West indulged his SF tendencies and took Phoenix into space – first as in fighting off an alien invasion, the being trapped in a different spiral arm of the galaxy and having to make her way home and finally as the hero of Tycho City, the moon-community that had been established as existing in the Doc Toltec books. In his run we see Phoenix operate at the power level she often revealed in the Guardians: as she is outside of Earth’s atmosphere and has little chance of collateral damage she can really let loose with things like solar flares style blasts the width of the moon and other astounding feats. Eventually she finishes training a team of local heroes, the Silvers, and returns to Earth where, having broken her contract with Red Sky Diary, she is back as a solo musician eking out a comeback in New York. That takes us up to date in her adventures.

Phoenix clearly got her powers through the Conflagration event, which was a dimensional crossrip in which she was merged with a distant star by Earth’s dimensional enemies. Her powers are like being nostalgia because having them prevents her from returning home either physically (she’s needed elsewhere) or metaphorically to her old, comfortable family ties. 

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