Wednesday 22 September 2010

Phoenix, The Protector #4. Nurses in bikinis.

Atlas Comics, Phoenix the Protector #4, the CyclopsDeath by friction. It’s not a suicide method you see every day. But then Ed Tyler’s not the sort of man you see every day. He’s the Phoenix and, unlike most Atlas Comics heroes, he actually had everything he needed to be a success.

What he didn’t have was two firm hands on the editorial steering wheel. And so, by issue #4, he was Phoenix no longer.

He was…

…The Protector!

He wasn’t the only one to have an abrupt transformation. Larry Lieber’s last page editorial’s full of chirruping about how great it is that changes are happening across the board at Atlas and how the company’s going to power on from strength-to-strength.

It’s a strange editorial. It has all the bluff and bluster he learned from his brother Stan Lee, when it comes to promoting a company, while at the same time implicitly conceding that maybe the comics haven’t been any good so far and no one’s actually liked them. When he wrote it he must have known the end was coming but was still determined to keep talking things up. Reading it, I do feel quite sorry for him.

As for the Phoenix. To my eyes, all they really had to do was dump the, “He’s like Jesus,” stuff, stop having him fight the same bunch of aliens every issue and give him a proper variety of super-villains.

Well, not only does Larry Lieber not see it that way but Phoenix doesn’t either. At the tale’s start, he’s decided to set fire to himself for having messed up every time he’s tried to be a hero.

You do wonder about his sanity. One, he’s actually succeeded every time he’s tried to play the hero, and two, if he thinks he’s failed as a super-hero, why doesn’t he just quit being a super-hero? Suicide is so attention-seeking.

You also have to question his marbles when it comes to methodology. He decides to do it by flying so fast he burns up in the atmosphere. I suppose, given that he’s an astronaut used to the idea of the heat of re-entry and he’s called the Phoenix, it has an aptness but would anyone really try to kill themselves by friction? Wouldn’t he just choose to fly straight into a rock instead?

Either way, it doesn’t matter because, before he can die, our hero’s taken aboard an alien spaceship where he’s told he’s got to protect the Earth.

Who does he have to protect if from?

Why, the aliens who rescued him. They’re called the Protectors and it seems that, like the Deiei before them - who they employed - they’re not impressed with Earth or its people and if Tyler doesn’t come up with the goods as a hero, they’ll destroy it. So basically, they’ve employed him to protect the Earth from themselves. Clearly aliens have a different sense of logic from the rest of us.

Despite the fact they’ve provided no tuition in how to use the new gadgets they’ve given him, Tyler passes his advanced super-hero test by killing a monster for them and is duly appointed the Earth’s protector.

It has to be said the thing’s not helped by Ric Estrada’s artwork. It’s OK without ever being impressive but he seems to have learned everything he knows about drawing aliens and spaceships from watching old 1920s and 1930s Saturday morning serials. His strangest and most dated foible is to dress what seem to be Ed Tyler’s nurses in old-style bikinis and bathing caps.

On the strength of this issue, the reinvention was always going to fail because Tyler’s now working for the sort of aliens he spent the first three issues trying to stop. It makes Tyler a puppet, and one willing to go along with what’re basically homicidal maniacs. His costume’s fine, although not as distinctive as his old one. His powers are nothing original but should do the job. But would future stories really have worked?

There’s one potential clue in the box that advertises the next issue that never happened. It says, “The Protectors are watching as the new Protector..” Argh! No! We don’t want to see the Protectors ever again! Not just because they look stupid but because their presence would inevitably belittle the book’s protagonist. We want them to clear off and leave the Protector to get on with fighting super-villains.

So, how should the comic have gone? Well, in both incarnations there are parallels to both Warlock and Marvel’s Captain Marvel, a hero working against aliens who're out to destroy the Earth, Jesus Complexes, periodic reinvention, wristbands, existential angst. So, maybe all Atlas really needed was to stop trying to make him work as a conventional super-hero, and get Cosmic with it.

Sadly, however, you get the feeling “Cosmic” was something Atlas were never going to have the creative ambition for.


Andrew Wahl said...


My review for this one went up today. Finally, an Atlas book we agree on: I thought this one was a stinker, too! You make a great point about how the presence of the Protectors undermine the hero. I was too stunned by the bikini nurses and the cyclops to think of that : ) FYI, I included a quote and a link to your review in the "Second opinions" section of my review.

Keep 'em coming!


Steve said...

Thanks for the quote and the link. I've just read your review of the all-new Protector. It's amazing how you always manage to say in about two paragraphs what it takes me about six hundred words to say. One day I'll master the art of succinctness.

Anonymous said...

Hey, they're not just nurses in bikinis, Steve - they're alien space nurses in bikinis!
And yet somehow that doesn't make the comic any better...

I think it's very likely Ric Estrada was purposefully going for a retro feel with his artwork. Not that I know much (or indeed anything) about him, but he drew the run of Wonder Woman comics that came after the 'relevant' era - like the one you included in the last 50 Years Ago post, #210 - so it seems that was his thing.
Only at least on WW Vince Coletta's inks added a bit of stylish polish. Without that, Estrada's work just looks dull.

Completely agree with the review. I actually preferred Phoenix #3 - the one with the alien Satan in it - thats how bad this issue was.


Steve W. said...

Thanks, Sean. :)