Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Dakota North #1 Cover Art (June 1986)

The minimalist and stylized art of Tony Salmons was very well suited to Dakota North as a comic title that bridged the very different worlds of detective work and fashion. While Marvel's coloring and print production process circa 1986 yielded somewhat inconsistent results on the interior pages, Tony's line art on the series is fantastic and the covers were a true pleasure to behold.

Source: The ComicArtFans Gallery of Harry Mendryk

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dakota North #1 (June 1986)

Title: Design for Dying
Cover: Tony Salmons
Script: Martha Thomases
Art: Tony Salmons
Colors: Christie Scheele
Letters: Jim Novak
Editor: Larry Hama
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
Cover Price: $0.75
Cover Date: June 1986
Release Date: February 1986
Synopsis: Dakota North was certainly a departure from Marvel’s standard lineup of titles when it hit the spinner rack in 1986. The eponymous series about former model turned detective was a bit of Charlie's Angels crossed with Mike Hammer in a brief run that was glamorous and globe-trotting in equal measure. Looking back it was also a bit silly and inconsistently executed, so it doesn't necessarily stand the test of time the way so many of Marvel’s gems do from the 1980s. Nonetheless, it was a really fun series for the fourteen year-old me at the time and it still holds a sentimental place in my heart.

The first issue introduces Dakota North and her supporting cast and immediately drops her into a complicated web of intrigue that involves a fashion designer in mortal danger, a very hostile corporate takeover and a mysterious woman seeking revenge on Dakota’s father. I actually had to re-read the issue three times to figure out the hostile takeover plot, which makes me wonder whether the writing was actually really clever or just really bad. In light of my nostalgic fondness for the title, I’ll give Martha Thomases the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was really clever writing.

For those of you who will never actually read the comic, here’s a brief summary: Dakota demonstrates her beauty and brass on a firing range before getting a call from a fashion designer Luke Jacobson whose life is being threatened. Dressed in her signature skintight leather pants, Dakota jumps onto her motorcycle and heads to his Seventh Avenue studio. Arriving during a fashion shoot, she is mistaken for a model and instructed by a photographer to change clothes. Dakota is then handed a makeup case, but surmises that it’s actually a bomb, hurling it through a window and saving the day just before it explodes.

The scene then cuts to a video arcade where we meet Dakota’s apparently estranged father and her 12 year-old brother Ricky. Her father tells Ricky that he needs to go live with his sister for a while he takes care of some personal business. The boy protests, but a bribe of $200 a week from his father convinces him to acquiesce. Meanwhile, Dakota and Luke compare notes while touring the Guggenheim Museum on the Upper East Side of New York City. Luke tells Dakota that he has had death threats and other trouble ever since he sold his fashion label to a conglomerate by the name of Rycom.

At Rycom, the mystery is revealed and further complicated in one fell swoop.  Rycom executive Cleo Vanderlip outlines her plan to bankrupt her own company by sabotaging Luke Jacobson’s fashion business with the goal of seizing control of the company while it is in a state of financial distress. Cleo says that the scheme will provide her and her assistant Anna with the money and power necessary to accomplish their true ends, which remain a mystery. Cleo also relishes the opportunity to seek revenge on Dakota and her father Samuel James North.  Dun Dun Dun…

Ricky arrives at Dakota's apartment, much to the surprise of his sister who is settling in for a potentially romantic evening with Detective Amos Culhane. Dakota launches her investigation into who might be responsible behind the threats to Luke Jacobson’s business and the next day Luke is kidnapped from Rycom’s offices by masked thugs. Dakota chases the criminals through the streets of New York on her motorcycle, ultimately driving through the front window Bloomingdale's and up the escalator to head off her quarry. She rescues Luke, who is enormously grateful. “Dakota, You were absolutely mythic.”

That evening, a silent alarm is tripped that Dakota placed in Luke’s showroom and she goes to investigate. She finds Luke’s assistant Anna, who we now know is a confederate of Cleo, who says that the showroom was robbed by a group led by a German man named Otto Shanks and that she overhead them plan a rendezvous at a warehouse at the corner of West and Christopher. Dakota goes to the scene with Luke in tow at his insistence where she surprises Otto Shanks and his henchmen shortly after Cleo departs the scene. A fight erupts and Dakota and Luke flee the building.

Ricky makes a surprise appearance and Otto is shot dead by Dakota while Cleo watches from a distance. “We’ll meet again, Ms. North. And you’ll pay for this.”  Chalk up a win for the good guys, but Cleo’s grand design is still a mystery and the danger to Dakota and her family seems to be worse than ever. Plus it turns out that she's married. The plot thickens. To be continued next issue in Pet Tricks.

Source: Kraalo  Archives, Marvel Comics

Friday, October 18, 2013

Wolverine #4 Cover Art (December 1982)

Wolverine #4 was my first encounter with the Wolverine limited series and I was absolutely captivated from the time I first saw the cover. Even without Frank Miller's trademark lighting from beneath that makes the final printed cover so seductive, the original art is incredibly powerful in its portrayal of Wolverine's strength and mystery.  Looking back to the 1980s, the crossbow was probably a very good call on Frank Miller's part since the weapon had entered the popular consciousness in a big way following the June 1981 release of James Bond's For Your Eyes Only.

Source: Kraalo Archives, Comic Link

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wolverine #4 (December 1982)

Title: Honor
Cover: Frank Miller, Josef Rubinstein
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Frank Miller
Inker: Josef Rubinstein
Colors: Lynn Varley
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
Cover Price: $0.60
Cover Date: December 1982
Release Date: August 1982
Synopsis: Wolverine #3 ends with ends with Logan searching his soul and coming to a critical conclusion: “I’m a man, Shingen! Not a beast. A man! And that mistake is going to cost you!”  And it does. In spades! Wolverine shows that he is the best there is at what he does as he tears through Shingen Yashida’s criminal organization, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.  What starts as a minor annoyance to the crime lord soon becomes and embarrassment of such magnitude that he dispatches the finest assassins of the hand to kill Wolverine.  To Shingen’s surprise, Wolverine sends back a box with the Ninja hoods and a note bearing only one word: Tonight.  The game is on!

Logan prepares for his assault on the ancestral stronghold of Clan Yashida, arming himself with the weapons that he took from the Ninjas that he defeated.  “I don’t normally use hardware – with my physical assets, who needs any – but for this caper, I figure every little bit’ll help!”  As Logan gets underway, Yukio sneaks into the Clan Yashida castle and is ambushed by the Hand who present her to Shingen for questioning.  She reveals that she sought to balance the scales with Logan by killing Shingen, who cuts her free of her bonds and engages her in combat.  Shingen makes quick work of Yukio and would likely have killed her if not for the timely intervention of Mariko.

At that moment, the radio sounds and Shingen realizes that Wolverine has launched his attack.  As the enraged crime lord demands a report and receives only silence in return, the scene cuts to outside the castle which is littered with the bodies of dead Ninjas riddled with arrows.  As Shingen prepares to fight Wolverine, Mariko’s husband grabs his wife and tries to escape to his helicopter.  When Wolverine blocks their path, he raises a gun to Mariko’s head and threatens to kill her.  Logan steps forward and Mariko’s husband shoots him, but Yukio appears and plants three blades in the coward’s back.  Gotcha!  With Mariko safe and Logan to face Shingen in single combat, Yukio takes her leave.

The duel between Logan and Shingen is easily one of the best choreographed and most memorable fight scenes in the history of comics.  Perfectly scripted.  Perfectly drawn. “We move as one…blades hissing through the we pass.  I cut deep. Shingen cuts deeper.  I’m hurt bad.  He knows it. But no quarter is asked…and none given."  Shingen is the superior swordsman and takes a terrible toll on his opponent, but Logan mutant healing abilities and stamina allow him to keep pace and the outcome of the fight is truly never in doubt.  Frank Miller is at his best in this scene. The drama, emotion, energy and pure physicality that he conveys with an economy of penstrokes is extraordinary.

Happy endings for the X-Men in general and Wolverine in particular were few and far between during Chris Claremont’s definitive run, but it’s a heartwarming moment to wrap up this incredible limited series with the X-Men’s reaction to an invitation to Mariko and Logan’s wedding.  From a personal perspective, this issue was my first encounter with the Wolverine limited series.  To put things in context, I had never heard of ninjas and certainly never seen a hero kill a villain in a bloody sword vs. adamantium claw battle.  This was pretty intense stuff in the mind and imagination of the 11 year-old me.  It’s great to see the story has stood the test of time and is as acclaimed and influential today as ever.

Source: Kraalo Archives, Marvel Comics
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