Friday, July 18, 2014

Quasar #18

Quasar #18, "The Bearable Lightness of Being," Cover Date January 1991
Written by Mark Gruenwald, Penciled by Greg Capullo, Inked by Keith Williams

Quasar 18 Cover

One of the traps of writing about a decade of comics is to reduce a huge amount of work to a specific set of common tropes, and to make exceptions for "everything else" that doesn't fit into that narrative of what defines a decade. In reality, 10 years in most any media is a long time that sees more than one trend, and for comics in particular it was a time of rapid change. For Marvel in 1991, they were putting out more books than they ever had, but unlike their expansion later in the decade, there was such a huge new talent pool that Marvel was putting out some legitimately great books, and quite a few more that at the very least had a very talented artist working on them. In late 1990, you had Art Adams penciling Simonson scripts on a classic run of Fantastic Four, Jim Lee working with Claremont on X-Men, Todd McFarlane drawing long, flowing Hobgoblin capes on Spider-Man and Erik Larsen doing his best Steve Ditko impression on Amazing Spider-Man, while on Marvel's "second tier" of sellers you still had newcomer Mark Bagley working on New Warriors, JRJR penciling Iron Man (a natural fit since he didn't have to draw as many faces), Jim Valentino on Guardians of the Galaxy, a young Brian Hitch on Sensational She-Hulk, and Ron Frentz doing great work on Thor. In short, there was actually so much artistic talent that it didn't seem like such a bad idea to have 50 books a month being published. Unfortunately, within 2 years we'd see even more new titles as many of these artists abandoned Marvel to head for Image.

All of that is to say that Quasar, probably a third tier title in terms of sales, still managed to have talented artists working on the book. It was debuted with Paul Ryan, a solid hand who'd go on to have an extended run with Fantastic Four, but as he left the book, he was replaced by Greg Capullo, who'd go on to make a name for himself as a Spawn and then Batman artist. But enough preamble, let's review Quasar #18!

Quasar 18 Bad Trip
If you don't do drugs, how do you know what a bad trip feels like, smart guy?

Wendell Vaughn, wearing a tie, finds himself in his hometown without remembering exactly what he's doing there. He goes home and visits his mother and sister, who are excited to see him, but he's unnerved by not knowing what he's doing there or how he got there. He calls his secretary and finds his appointment book is blank for the day. A confused Wendell says he doesn't do drugs, so why does he feel like he's come off a "bad trip"? He has a dream of flying with his Quantum Bands, but his sister wakes him up. He goes down to have dinner, and his mom mentions that a certain 10 year old boy idolizes Wendell for making good and moving to the big city, where super heroes live. Whoah, slow down, comic, there's too much action!

Quasar 18 Great Lakes Avengers
"Some of my creations are a bit lame..."

The 10 year old, Billy, comes over, but immediately talks Wendell into following him back to his house, where he has a clubhouse in the garage. Wendell finds the place covered in drawings of superheroes and full of comics, as Billy confesses that he's not a 10 year old, but an ancient cosmic being locked in a struggle with another cosmic being. Wendell asks if he reads anything other than comic books, and tells Wendell that he's really Quasar. Wendell asks about Thor and cosmic characters, but the kid has answers, namely that he planted subconscious suggestions for cosmic characters to go to earth, so that they'd become super heroes later on. Billy tells Wendell how he got to Oshkosh: he received a fax telling him a cosmic menace was there, flew out as Quasar, and, following an energy trail to a nursing home, suddenly had himself erased from existence by the "Unbeing." Billy explains that the Unbeing lives in the midwest, and erases superheroes she comes across, although somehow she missed the GLA, who we see in a drawing. Billy says the only way to solve the problem is to kill the Unbeing's current form, an old lady. Wendell hesitates, but Billy insists that if he doesn't, she/it will wipe out all the heroes and villains. He gives Wendell a glimpse of his "true form," which is a very God-like image. Wendell walks home, after promising to help, and wonders why a creative force is asking him to kill somebody. He goes back home, where Billy's mother mentions that he gets his artistic ability from his grandmother, causing Wendell to wonder whether Billy's grandmother is the one in the nursing home.

The next day, Wendell picks up Billy and takes him to the nursing home. Everything appears to be on the up and up, but Billy "powers up" Quasar, who's now in costume and wearing his bands. He covers his grandmother's nose and mouth, and tells Quasar to "shoot her." Quasar thinks "please let this be the right thing" as he blasts... Billy?!?

Quasar 18 Unbeing revealed
Never trust anyone in bootleg Simpsons shirts.

Billy explodes into a weird pink creature and calls Quasar an "insipid traitor," then dissipates. The old lady explains that she's the real Origin, and he was the Unbeing, and Quasar says it was just a gut feeling that the kid was a bit too bloodthirsty that led to him shooting the kid. Origin says that Quasar's costume isn't as cool as she hoped when she'd designed it, so she gives him a new look that's more Captain Marvel-y. She also calls him "the most extraordinary hero she's ever created," which is just flattery, lady, we all know he isn't the best. As Quasar flies back to visit his family, vague cloud-like forms chide the Unbeing for failing, but he insists that he at least kept Quasar from sensing the arrival of a "great pawn," and that this could still result in "Death and Oblivion" taking things over.

Quasar 18 new costume
"Whoops you still look like a huge dork."


I'm not always a fan of these "meta" stories where some outside force creates superheroes or whatever, but at least in this story, the force is in their world, not outside of it, so there's a bit less looking through the fourth wall type stuff. The story's competently built around the big twist of Quasar blasting a 10 year old Twilight Zone kid, which I saw coming as an adult reader, but would probably be at least a bit surprising to a less cynical audience. I complained about Darkhawk not putting the hero in costume and introducing too much family drama, but even though this issue on its surface has those same issues, it's a lot more palatable because 1) Quasar's confusion echoes the reader's own, and 2) this book doesn't require a bunch of previous reading of the series to explain what's going on: all the information you need is given within this story. So while the actual story revolving around cosmic creator/destroyer figures that make super heroes is a bit divorced from what I like in superhero comics, at the very least it's a well told little one and done story.

Quasar 18 Origin lies
I know he just saved your life, lady, but that's objectively false.

Greg Capullo at the time was a pretty unknown, having only done a few What If stories and an Avengers Spotlight for Marvel, but he becomes the new regular penciler of Quasar as of this issue. His line work here is very clean and simple, and outside of a few slightly exaggerated shots of "Billy"'s head, I don't really see much of Todd McFarlane in his work at this point. He leaves out a few backgrounds, especially later in the issue, but all in all his work is way better than what I would expect for a book that Marvel never put any effort into promoting.

90's Fashion: Very little to see here. Quasar dresses like a Mormon out of costume, first wearing a suit, then wearing a high school t-shirt tucked into his jeans with penny loafers. Billy does wear a purple T-shirt with Bart Simpson on it, which is definitely a 90's relic. Both Quasar's old costume and new look are extremely retro, with nary a pouch in sight!

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