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Eclipso: For my next trick, Bruce–
Bruce Gordon: Yes, I’m sure it’s a “doozy”.
Eclipso: I’m sure it is.. if I knew what “doozy” meant.”
Eclipso: Syththunu was once feared on Earth. Revered, Why, even the mage Arion respected its dark power. Now he rests forgotten. Come Elder One, it’s time to be remembered.
Synopsis "Eclipso Rising Part One: Shadow Warriors"
Previously in “The Dark Things”: Billions of years ago the Guardians of the Universe gathered together the remaining wild magic in the Universe. They then used equal amounts of light and shadow to bind it into a relic called the Starheart. A fragment of the Starheart gave Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern, his powers and through him passed power over light and shadow to his children Jade and Obsidian. When the White Lantern resurrected Jade it jolted the Starheart and causing it to approach the Earth. Its chaotic and baneful presence caused all manner of magic and light/shadow superpowers to swing widely out of control. Jade was final able to subdue it by syphoning part its dark energy into herself.
Bruce Gordon, the host of the evil spirit Eclipso, has returned to Diablo Island, the place where their association began. He is searching for inspiration on how to defeat Eclipso again when news reaches the island of the chaos caused by JLA/JSA’s battle with the Starheart. The flux in chaotic energies causes Eclipso to manifest, but this time he can hear Bruce Gordon’s voice inside their head. They review their mutual history. Eclipso’s calls their association “You and I. As it was meant to be.” whilst Gordon just refers to Eclipso as an “infection.” Nevertheless, Eclipso is now planning something different and he is hunting for partners.
His first destination is Opal City, the home of the Shade just moments after it has been vacated by the JLA and JSA in their battle with the Starheart. The Shade is surprised to see him, but is immediately eclipsed as Eclipso’s willing slave. They then proceed on an international and interdimensional scavenger hunt to recruit any and every superhuman (hero or villain) with any claim to have power over shadows. Their recruits are Nightshade, Acrata, the Shadow Thief, Bete-Noire, Dark-Crow, and Syththunu. Eclipso assembles his eclipsed team on the Moon’s surface near the Emerald City of the Starheart and tells them that he now wants “the child of Alan Scott”. However, he doesn’t mean Obsidian. He means the JLA’s Jade and her connection to the darkness she absorbed from the Starheart.
This issue is start of the next JLA arc “Eclipso Rising” and is effectively an Eclipso one-shot. It also features the arrival of new artist Brett Booth to the main title after his warm-up on the Starman/Congorilla #1 (March 2011) oneshot. CBR’s Doug Zawisza says that “this issue feels like the brand new start”, Ironhawk22 on Comics Vine calls it the “best issue of Robinsons run”, and Mart Gray even tells advised lapsed readers to “giving the book another try”.
Having recently re-read pretty much every Eclipso appearance I could find I am very appreciative of Matthew Sturges (in Countdown to Mystery) and now of James Robinson for reverting back to the old Bruce Gordon/Eclipso pairing. It was the duality of their relationship that made them interesting. There was always something goofy about Eclipso, he did things like building satellites called “Murder Moons” and threatening cities with invasions of Pterosaurs. He was the ultimate stereotype of a nihilist super-villain and he didn’t really need a motivation or reason.
The main character of the old House of Secrets feature was actually Bruce Gordon. He’s the character that carried the adventures and they were – in my opinion – far more interesting when Eclipso was a virtually mute boogeyman. The version of Eclipso in this story is decidedly more chatty. The conversation between Eclipso and Gordon works well enough until somewhere around page 14 when the narration boxes start appearing – from the context they’re not Bruce’s speech, but the identical colouring makes it a little jarring.
As mentioned the big change for this issue is the arrival on the main JLA title of the new penciller Brett Booth. In some ways his art style is rather different to Mark Bagley (Bagley’s was more dynamic, Booth’s is more detailed), but at the same time it’s still quite stylised (Booth’s figures have extremely detailed musculature and quite small waists). However, it’s hard to judge how suited he is to the JLA as the JLA don’t actually appear in this issue. The one part of the art I didn’t like was the Eclipso redesign. Maybe its the glowing red-eyes, overly wide mouth, and greyskin, but he did look a little like Mumm-Ra (the old Thundercats villain) to me. And would somebody please get the supervillain a shirt.
It is very easy to see where the praise comes from for this issue as this is a very different comic than the previous story. It’s more focused on a single character and James Robinson has free reign to showcase mightily-obscure old-characters and invent entirely new ones. Pretty much all of Eclipso’s back-story flashes past in this issue and reminds the readers who may only know him from the JSA’s Alex Montez or the Jean Loring incarnation who he actually is. That much exposition could have torpedoed the story, but it works well enough in context. (I may be jaded – it took rather longer than I expected to annotate this amount of material).
The new characters feel so right that you’re not entirely sure whether they are actually new or whether you just haven’t heard them. Reviewers and forums have been left scratching their heads asking whether Syththunu, Bete-Noire, and Dark-Crow are new or not (I’ve not been able to find prior appearances for any of them). I rather like the idea of the Mounties having their own superheroes and the Shade is always a welcome guest appearance.
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Page 1 – The upper-panel shows the founders of the Justice League (l-to-r Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern) although they’re are stood in front of the Justice League’s present HQ (the Hall of Justice). The lower panel shows a selection of JLA characters from almost every incarnation of the team, but it isn’t in itself an actual roster that has ever existed – although it would be a damn fine one if it did. These character are, from l-to-r, the Elongated Man, Green Arrow, Black Lightning, Black Canary, Blue Beetle II, Hawkman, Atom, Zatanna, Firestorm, Red Arrow, Plastic Man, and Vibe.
Page 2 – This is flashback to the events of “The Dark Things” JLA/JSA crossover and shows the present roster of the Justice League.
Pages 3-10 – Flashbacks: This issue annotates itself and is pretty much one long exposition into Eclipso’s background and the other shadow casters in the DC Universe. As such I’ll try and keep my comments confined to matters that aren’t directly addressed in the text. Diablo Island, Bruce Gordon, and Eclipso all first appeared in House of Secrets (vol. 1) #61 (July-August 1963). The origin of Mophir scratching Gordon with the Black Diamond and passing on/creating the split personality of Eclipso doesn’t get much more space in that issue – if anything these flashback are almost verbatim.
Bruce Gordon was Eclipso’s host from House of Secrets (vol. 1) #61 (July-August 1963) until Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1 when it was revealed that Eclipso could possess hundreds of people at once. It was explained in the 1990s Eclipso comic that Eclipso was once imprisoned inside a giant black diamond called the Heart of Darkness. That Diamond was found in 1891 and split into a thousand smaller diamonds by a time traveller called Henry Gordon – Bruce’s son from the future. That splitting weakened the spell imprisoning Eclipso such that he could now leave his exile if a person possessing one of those Heart of Darkness shards gave into feelings of rage, anger, or vengeance. That let him overcome them and turn them into an extension of his conciousness – an avatar of the true Eclipso.
Bruce, as he alludes to in his monologue, was free of Eclipso whilst he was off possessing more interesting people, but eventually all those other Heart of Darkness shards were destroyed and the last remaining shard was stripped from its possessor. The Countdown to Mystery mini-series featured dual leads with a Doctor Fate story and an Eclipso/Spectre story. The Eclipso side of it has since been collected as the Eclipso: Music of the Spheres trade paperback. In it the Spectre becomes aware that Eclipso is becoming unplugged from his last host – Jean Loring – and pretty much forces Bruce Gordon to take Eclipso back again. The twist was that Bruce gained some measure of Eclipso’s powers – whether that retcon will be carried forward remains to be seen.
Page 3 - I’m not sure about the Shakespearian line “I jest so I do not weep”, but Abraham Lincoln did said “I laugh, because I must not cry.” Note that Bruce is wearing a t-shirt with the sun on it.
Page 4 - Bruce has returned to Diablo Island several times. The first time in House of Secret (vol. 1) #67 when he returns there vainly looking for some scientific explanation for Eclipso’s appearances and then again in Metal Men #48-49 for a great story pencilled by Walt Simonson. That Metal Men story is probably non-canon now, but it’s by far the best appearance of the character since the early days of House of Secrets.
Page 5 – Mona Gordon (nee Bennett) has been Bruce’s fiancée ever since House of Secrets (vol. 1) #61 (July-August 1963). She learnt about his dual identity a few issues later and they remained engaged until Bruce believed he was finally free from Eclipso. They were married off-screen somewhere between Eclipso #18 and Countdown to Mystery #1 by which time they’ve been separated for six months. That series not only restablishes the Bruce/Eclipso pairing, but also rekindles Bruce and Mona’s relationship. It would now appears they are over whatever problem they had. The events she is taking about are the events in “The Dark Things.”
Page 7 – Why Bruce Gordon? Before the 1990s Eclipso was presented as not much more than Bruce Gordon’s alter ego – some form of corrupt split personality/spirit created in him when Mophir cut his skin with the black diamond. The 1990s comics gave Eclipso a special reason for focusing on Gordon. Bruce Gordon is the world’s premier solar physicist and that naturally makes him dangerous to Eclipso (Eclipso’s great weakness is sunlight). However, there second more subtle reason was that Eclipso can’t kill Bruce until he and his wife conceive and give birth to Henry Gordon. Eclipso has to insure Henry is born in order to prevent a temporal paradox that would leave him stuck in the Heart of Darkness for all eternity.
Page 10 – Solar City featured in House of Secrets (vol. 1) #61 (July-August 1963). It was a collaboration between Bruce Gordon and Professor Simon Bennett (Mona’s father) to create a city entirely powered by solar energy. Eclipso trashes it in an act of vandalism, but Bruce’s lab beneath Solar City remains intact and serves as his base of operations during the course of his House of Secrets appearances.
Just a minor point, but Mona Gordon and the tribe’s people were presumable still down there on Diablo Island when Eclipso’s blew it up. I sternly hope that she got away in time.
Page 11 - Top panel: Eclipso playing Darkseid at chess was shown in a couple of issues of the 1990s Eclipso series. Eclipso was exiled in his Palace on the Moon and Darkseid was his only visitor. It was shown that they were too beings of immense power who used the game as a way of keeping a close eye on each other. Middle panel: Alex Montex first appeared in JSA #26. He was the cousin of Yolanda Montez, the female Wildcat who worked with Infinity Inc. She was killed in Eclipso #11-13 when Bruce Gordon led a disastrous mission against Parador, a Latin American country which Eclipso had take over. Bottom panel: Jean Loring was the wife of the second Atom (Ray Palmer) and was famously the murderer of Sue Dibny in Identity Crisis. She was thrown in Arkham Asylum, but was given Eclipso’s black diamond as part of Alexander Luthor’s plan to use the hostless Spectre to funnel the Earth’s collected magical energy to power his Multiverse machine.
Page 12 - That is Cripus Allen (the Spectre’s current host) Gordon is talking to in the first panel, it’s a flashback to Countdown to Mystery at the moment the Spectre forced Gordon to become Eclipso’s host once more. An eclipsed Superman (it sounds so much better than an Eclipsoed Superman) had fought Captain Marvel on two occasions. The first was during the 1992 The Darkness Within crossover and the second was in “Lightning Strikes” (Action Comics #826, Adventures of Superman #639, Superman #216). Eclipso mentions a “saturnalia” this was a pagan Greek festival in mid-December which featured gift-giving, feasting, and being nice to each other (one of those myriad of mid-winter festivals which gets Christianised as our later Christmas).
Page 13-14 – The Shade was originally an opponent of the Golden Age Flash (Jay Garrick), but was retconned into an immortal during James Robinson’s Starman series.
As documented in The Shade mini-series he was first found stumbling through the streets of London in 1838 with no memory of who he was. Whoever he was he already had his shadow powers – the ability to call forth shadow creatures and tendrils from another shadow dimension – and was apparently a friend of Charles Dickens. Little else has been revealed about his origin save that he was originally called Richard Swift and that a dwarf called Culp also received those powers and became his long running nemesis.
The Shade’s first, and possibly only love, is Opal City and he will defend it along with any other superhero, but outside of Opal he’s more mercurial and will play the “supervillain” if it amuses him. He became involved with the Justice League during Cry for Justice when he alerted Jay Garrick to Prometheus’s plans. It was also the Shade who gave Green Arrow access to Prometheus’s other-dimensional headquarters in Justice League of America (vol. 2) #42 (April 2010).
When the Starheart appeared the JSA thought it was wise to contact a specialist and went looking for the Shade. They found him unconscious with Obsidian and Doctor Fate (both under the Starheart’s control) standing over him. There was a brief battle and they all left through one of Obsidian’s shadow portals (that’s what Doctor Midnight dives into here). That scene ends in Justice Society of America (vol 2.) #42 (October 2010) just as the scene in this issue begins. Congorilla notes in Starman/Congorilla #1 (March 2011) that the Shade has been missing since the events of “The Dark Things”.
Page 15 – DC has more obscure high-concept characters than you can shake a stick at. Some of them, like Eclipso, eventually make it big others remain obscure. Many of those that follow are of the latter variety.
The Nightmaster is Jim Rook, a 1960s rock star who became involved with the extra-dimensional sword and sorcery world of Myrra. He first appeared in Showcase #82 (May 1969) and has of late been a member of the Shadowpact – a group of mystics first brought together by the Phantom Stranger to fight the rampaging Spectre and the Jean Lorining incarnation of Eclipso. He most recently appeared in the one-shot Nightmaster: Monsters of Rock #1. Rook has no powers other than his sword, armour, wits, and a classic back catalogue of pure 1960s rock.
Nighshade is Eve Eden, the last surviving member of the royal family of the Land of Nightshades. She was a character DC Comics inherited from Charlton Comics (along with Captain Atom and the Blue Beetle). She first appeared in Captain Atom #86 (Sept 1966). In the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DCU she was a US government operative working for Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad and has been involved with several battles with Eclipso. She was also a member of the Shadowpact. Eden has the ability to open portals through the Land of Nightshades allowing nearly instantaneous travel.
Nightmaster: Monsters of Rock #1 shows the Nightmaster, Nightshade, and the Shadowpact adventuring in Myrra. In Starman/Congorilla #1 (March 2011) Congorilla notes that Detective Chimp told him there was a stop of bother in Myrra and that his team-mate Nightshade had vanished.
Page 16 – Arcata first appeared in Superman Annual #12. It was one part of those themed Annual sets that DC use to do and the theme of this set was “Planet DC” – a well meaning attempt to add a slew of non-USA characters to the DC back catalogue. The other two heroes cited are Iman (Diego Irigoyen, astronomer in a battlesuit) and El Muerto (Pablo Valdez, an undead vigilantie who goes in for a hanged-man motif).
Page 17 – The Shadow Thief is an old Hawkman villain who stolen a Thanagarian shadow generator to use in his crimes. He had the ability to turn into a living shadow, a 2-dimensional man who could pass under doors and hide flat against walls. When last heard of the JLA/JSA team of Lightning and Mister America had been dispatched to Alcatraz in Justice Society of America (vol 2.) #41 (September 2010) to check on his condition.
Page 18 - Bete-Noire is French for “Black Beast” and this is, as far as I am aware, his first appearance. This could be a Monty Python reference from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
MAYNARD: It’s the legendary Black Beast of aaauuugh!
ARTHUR: Run away!
ALL: Run away! Run away!
NARRATOR: As the horrendous Black Beast lunged forward, escape
for Arthur and his knights seemed hopeless. When, suddenly, the
animator suffered a fatal heart attack. [ulk] The cartoon peril
was no more. The Quest for the Holy Grail could continue.
Page 18 -Dark-Crow alias Daniel Crow-Brings-Darkness, RCMP special agent, Meta Division. The RCMP is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (the Mounties). The villain is called Southside and is also new. The reference to “Crow Bring Darkness” could be an allusion to an Inuit myth which told how the Crow was responsible for bringing daylight to the far north.
Page 19 - Syththunu is inspired by Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, a nightmarish squid-headed thing from beyond the stars that was defeated long ago and now sleeps beneath the ocean. The Arion note makes one suspect that he an existing character, but my knowledge of that series is lacking.
Page 20-21 – The Emerald City was established in Justice Society of America (vol 2.) #43 (November 2010). It had originally been created by the Starheart in “The Dark Things”, but it survived it’s defeat and has become a Mecca for Earth’s magical inhabitants. You can see the Starheart shining from its top-most spire, but it’s existence isn’t passive and Alan Scott has been continually exerting his will to keep the Starheart under control.
That was all well and good until Justice Society of America (vol 2.) #44 when Alan’s neck was snapped by the super-villain Scythe. Normally Alan could have used his willpower to heal himself (he’s practically an energy entity nowadays), but his continued control of the Starheart makes that impossible. In Justice Society of America (vol 2) #47 Alan managed to teleport himself to the Emerald City: