A Tribute to the Silver Age of DC Comics







I don't usually do this, but I was awfully curious about the follow-on to the issue reviewed last time, so here is Challengers of the Unknown #82 from August/September of 1977 containing a Gerry Conway scripted story titled "The Lurker Below!Jack C. Harris is our editor par excellence and art details, both cover and interior are penciled by Mike Nasser and inked by Joe Rubinstein, a partnership, incidentally, that is ongoing today and is just as dynamic as it was over 30 years ago.  Interested in a commission?  Just let me know. 

As you may recall from last time, Prof Haley is in a bad way and his teammates are desperate to get him the help he needs, which apparently can only be provided by a man known as Heathcliff Monroe in Perdition, Massachusetts, though they discover it's actually Perdition, Pennsylvania, so it's off in the sophisticated Challenger aircraft where they are met by townspeople wielding farm implements and yes, Red dodges a pitchfork!  The battle is on, but the sheer weight of numbers begin to take down our heroes until Monroe himself arrives and intervenes, apologizing for the townspeople's "provincial" attitude.

Chapter 2, titled "Legacy of the Damned!" has Prof on an examining table and his torso is covered with a fungus.  Heathcliff Monroe then recounts the dark history of Perdition, when a man by the name of Abraham summoned a creature to try and help the town, but the demon was uncontrollable, and it consumed him and began a reign of terror, growing ever larger and more demanding with its appetites over a period of 70 years.

Then one day the Swamp Thing happened into town, battled the monstrosity inside a mine and emerged seemingly triumphant as it collapsed.  (Jack C. Harris lets us in on the fact that the panel showing Swampy's successful escape was inked by Berni Wrightson himself and that the story can be found in Swamp Thing #8.)

Monroe then asks the Challs to retrieve some necessary equipment in Borotavia, a dictatorship and the sole source.  As they leave, an eerie scene is taking place.  We can see a misshapen arm and a hapless victim who is pleading with his captors, explaining he'd only come to town to sell tractors.  Incidentally, he bears a remarkable resemblance to Richard Milhous Nixon.

Back in the doctor's library, Rocky and June are uncomfortable with all the books on the occult and then Rocky spies something even more unnerving.  A book by Malcolm Monroe to the court of Henry IV.  Then they hear the screams… Chapter 3, "The Soul Predator!," opens with the tractor salesman being fed to a large, tentacled creature by a mob of hooded, druid-like people.  They soon fall victim to them as well and Rocky Davis loses consciousness. 

Elsewhere, the rest of the team are embarking on the quest to gain the equipment in Borotavia.  Editor Harris refers the readers to Action Comics #467 for more about this mysterious dictatorship and we now follow our heroes to "…the inaccessible mountain laboratory of Borotavia's imprisoned genius, Josef Rabinovitch."  Hmmm.  Josef Rubinstein, Josef Rabinovitch.  Coincidence?

Red Ryan uses a jet pack and superb rappelling skills to reach the lab and Ace isn't far behind in the aircraft.

Chapter 4 is called "The Lurker Rises!," and Rocky has been securely bound to a post and stripped down to some briefs as the explanation for it all comes from Monroe, who describes the nightmare creature as M'Nagala, a "higher form of life" who survived the battle with Swamp Thing by clinging to Jason Monroe, his cousin, until he decided to allow it to merge with his own body.

After the madman leaves the chamber, Rocky frees himself after a truly Herculean effort and then rejoins his comrades, but they then find that June has been abducted by Monroe and is on the cusp of being offered up to M'Nagala, ending the story on yet another cliffhanger.

The Challenger Mountain Mail Room contains no letters as it was too early in the game what with this being the second issue of the resurrected title, so instead it contains an introduction to Mike Nasser.  It's an interesting read, but as you know, I was fortunate enough to hear Michael's story from the source, and speaking of such, time now to share the conclusion to that conversation:

Bryan D. Stroud:  Right.  It's all gone to photography.

MN:  Exactly.  On the other hand, there was a big world of fandom we belonged to which was a very interesting phenomenon.  We'd go to conventions like celebrities with expenses paid.  We did a lot of sketching and sold original art.  The reception from fandom was phenomenal!  Panel discussions with a few hundred people in the audience allowed us to air out a lot of issues and we could talk about anything we needed to and fandom was loving this contact with the creators.

This was an interesting phenomenon and to me it seemed to be more important than anything else that was happening around me. Not on the level of basking in the popularity but rather as a phenomenon of the people wanting to hear something from you. It was like this new wonderland of being lifted onto a stage where voice of fandom was the one actually directing the proceedings. There was a big audience growing and it looked to us for inspiration. To me this was the biggest virtue that I saw in my comics career. It was as if the intellectual breadth, natural curiosity and good spirit of the comics community were challenging the creators to come up with solutions to improving the industry and it was all heard openly by editors and publishers. It seemed then that one day, when the chips will be laid down, and this voice of the people begins to have its say, that fandom will come into its own as a mover of the most pertinent issues on the table. Looking at the growth of fandom since those early days, it's easy to see how inspiring that period must have been.

Now the thing about it is that the difficult situation of comics creators and the injustice inherent in the comics industry are not isolated within the medium only, they weren't just problems of the industry itself.  The industry is part of a larger socioeconomic construct that touches every corner of our world.  It wasn't just the comics industry but rather a symptom of society at large. It seemed then that the course our world was taking was not promising much relief for the long road ahead.  It seemed at the time pretty clear that things were going to get much worse and not any better.  From that short lived experience, those two first two years in NY, I could see that financially, for people like us, it was going to get harder and harder as we moved along.  Not just for us, it seemed, but for most everybody else as well.

The world was heading on a course where the strong were going to get a lot stronger and the weak a lot weaker.  It's just the nature of things given the present state humanity is in.  And certainly looking back on it today 35 years later, that feeling has borne out to be true.  You could say that life has become better for some few, but has become much harder for almost everyone else.  And if you are succeeding and are able to find your way, then you can count yourself among some of the lucky few, but that is not a majority situation.  It certainly isn't a situation where you could say that the general quality of life is improving for the majority.

It's like the myth of capitalism.  The myth of capitalism was that everybody has an opportunity.  Well, it's true that everybody has an opportunity but that is a grave distortion of the reality that the myth of a free economy boasts. Everyone has an opportunity but only a few can succeed. The majority cannot succeed socially and financially under a free economy of the type we have. So when they say that you can make it if you work hard, well that's a lie. You can try as hard as you like to make it but it takes a lot more than a shallow ideology to ensure the success of the majority. It takes, for example, the savvy of a good businessman to succeed as an artist, which sometimes means that you have to be pretty tough with people and take things by coercion or force in order to basically get something from someone that you couldn't get otherwise.  And what if you're not that materialistic sort of guy?  If you're an artist, sometimes you're just interested in the craft.  "I want to tell stories.  I want to draw well.  This is what I love doing."  Well, that's like a whole different reality from someone who is a good businessman with a better chance to succeed.

I mean, come on.  We're looking at a world where artists finish a career within a few years and have to look elsewhere because industry dynamics shut them out in favor of a younger generation that's barely learning the ropes of comics art. I wonder what Kaluta, Wrightson, Jones and Smith are doing today.  Where are they?  Why aren't they visible?  Why isn't their work placed proudly at the forefront of an art form they excel at and contributed to more than most others?  Why is that incredible experience gained by so many veterans over the years not visible in the comics anymore? Why does so much of the forefront of the industry look amateurish in comparison? Why is young developing talent doing mediocre work covering the majority of mainstream titles? Why is the popularity of a writer or artist dictated by the publishers and not by the readers? It's to the point where an incomparable talent like Jeffrey Catherine Jones, who is perhaps one of the most phenomenal painters of our time, is relegated to doing commissions like an unemployed artist in the back room of the medium. It's a really wild situation if you think about it.  The most experienced artists basically have no place to work in the medium anymore.  Where are the talents of artists like Bob McLeod and George Perez and everyone else who's gained valuable experience that the industry so needs? Why do so many talented creators have to struggle for every morsel while the young and inexperienced are abused by the publishers as they're wooed into submission with promises of fame and fortune that fade away within a few years as a new generation replaces them?

I believe that at the time I had a feeling that this is how things would go and it's going to take something very serious and big to be able to affect any kind of change for the better.  I think around the time of my second year up there that I sank into this state of needing to reposition myself.  And maybe in a search for myself; who I am, what am I going to do with my life; in order to come out of it in such a way that I can find a direction that would offer something a little better than the one that was being offered to us at the time.

I suppose you've heard stories about that particular period.  Basically what I've given you up to now is a bit of the important background to explain the necessity of stepping out of the industry for a while and acquiring a broader understanding of why it is that we're all sliding down a razorblade, as Neal used to so aptly put it back then.

So, it was the fall of 1977 and I was changing. I remember being out with Howard Chaykin, Alan Weiss and Gray Morrow one day, having a drink at a pub downstairs and Howard says to Alan, "Mike's become so quiet and serious, is he alright?", as if I wasn't even sitting with them…and I had nothing to say in response. I acted as if I hadn't even heard it. I had just finished penciling the first Ms Mystic issue and it was the tightest and best pencil work I had done by then. But my concerns were beginning to be directed elsewhere instead of this project that Neal and I sold to DC as their their first creator owned property.  I had a project coming up that Marv Wolfman offered me at Marvel, the John Carter series he was editing, but I was also losing interest in that too.

At that point it was clear to me that I had to do something. I just wasn't sure what.  But I did start asking myself, "What do you want to do?"  I think that from that position that I was in, instead of going in the direction of, "Well, why don't you take care of yourself, maybe find another career and see if you can go somewhere else, maybe leave New York and go back to Detroit and see if you can set up a home for your family."  Instead, I did another thing.  It made more sense to me to step aside from it so I could look for some way to contribute something that has a hope of making things better.  I know it's a big monster we're talking about – the economy, government, a world infrastructure to which our social construct is connected to and influenced by – all pitted against the common man embodied in the spirit of the people that to me was best gauged by the enthusiasm of comics fandom.  I know it's not an easy thing to consider, but really, what could be better?  Look at our world and behold the beast we'll eventually need to rein in – or die trying, if we want to get off of that razorblade.  What value is such a life of near slavery when we have the opportunity, creativity and courage to offer a little hope, I thought.  This is the world that you're dealing with and if you want to change something you have to deal with the whole package in order to influence the smallest thing in your local environment.  And unless you can have some kind of an effect on the whole package, you're not going to be able to change anything.

At that point, for me, it was like I had nothing to lose and I found myself asking, "What do you believe in?"  It brought me to a point of realizing that I look at history and where humanity is today and I look at all of the influences that have impacted our state and saw so many that need to be touched on in order to have an influence on the whole package.  Some being economic, some of them political, some cultural…there were a lot of things to consider.

I think that I took it upon myself to be someone who would at least step aside from this thing and see what I could do and at least find out who I am through it.  For me, at the time, when I think of it, of what drove me into this particular corner, I would say that I certainly had an idea of history.  I thought that historically, the kind of local world we live in was not necessarily in tune or in touch with the larger picture of how humanity has evolved to become what it is.

Let me give you an idea:  Here we are, a group of comic book creators, working in an industry as abused underdogs and being taken advantage of to an unfathomable degree.  We can't get our act together enough to form a union or a guild that has a hope of improving our state.  And yet, the same creators who are not able to take this one simple stand in solidarity, these are the same creators who are writing and drawing stories about  the greatest acts of heroism that humanity can imagine; the mythology of superheroes which is about courage and  sacrifice in striving for justice and the collective goodwill.  It's like we were able to write about it and draw it but we couldn't live it.  We were powerless.  It seemed like a big dichotomy, even a hypocrisy, I would say, to create these stories, while at the same time we're afraid to take the smallest step needed towards ensuring the collective goodwill of even a small community such as the comics creators of the 70's.

BDS:  Ah-h-h-h.

MN:  Ah-ha!  So I was starting to look at this situation and thinking to myself, "Guys, what are we doing here?"  All that hope and enthusiasm with which my comics career was launched was losing its meaning.  It seemed to me that the most right thing to do was at that point to look for a way to expose this big sham. That we needed that same measure of courage and heroism we're writing and drawing about in the comics.  We needed it because the world needs it and we cannot disengage ourselves from the world.  We needed it because our children will need it and if we don't do something it'll be too late for them. Because the way things are going, it's going to get worse and worse.  And there doesn't seem to be anyone or anything out there realizing this reality or doing something about it. Neal was becoming a lone soldier that could not really speak for the creator community anymore, which for the most part rejected the notion of rocking the boat in any way shape or form. It was clear to me that if the creators were able to come together to help create this guild, then we might have had a fighting chance.  But fear of repercussion prevented us from taking the simplest first step we needed to.  It prevented us from exemplifying the values we were putting into our work in the comics!  "We can create stories about it, but sorry, we can't live it. We can't do it. We don't want to jeopardize our income here. We are not who we seem to be. All the values we stood for in the comics are nothing but one big bluff that has no basis in our reality or consciousness."

BDS:  Quite the contrast.

MN:  So to me a lot of this took a rather…let me tell you this story.  As a kid, I remember being four years old in Lebanon.  There, just like in America and just like in every other culture, a kid growing up is easily impacted by the slightest notion that the adult world takes for granted.  Just imagine yourself as a kid when everything is new to you in the world, and one day you hear someone in the house saying, "The painter's coming to do the house today."  And then the first thing you think is, "What's a painter?"  So, when you see this guy coming into your house with paint buckets and brushes and you see him painting the walls and ceiling in your house, well, that's how you get the answer to that question. Or someone can try to explain it to you but it's never the same as seeing it at that age. And the next time you hear someone say "The painter is coming" you know what a painter is. That's how the simplest basic curiousity of ours is satisfied at that age. Children have a thirst to discover and understand everything the adult world takes for granted, whether the adult world understands it or not.

So back at the age of 4 in Lebanon I remember hearing all the time people saying things like, "God forbid" or "God willing," this thing where the word God is always coming out of people's mouths with incomparable reverence.  I remember asking an uncle one day at 4 years old, sitting on the steps of the house, "Where's God?"  I needed to have that curiosity satisfied just like the kid who wanted to know what a house painter is.  It seemed to me then that this God guy must be a big dude on campus if so many people had such a reverence for him. I really needed have this curiosity answered and I couldn't wait to see this guy.  "What are they talking about?  Who is this guy?"  But he never came around and I never did see him.  So when I finally got up the courage to ask my uncle where God was, he simply looked up and pointed at the sun saying, "You see that?  On the other side of the sun, that's where God is."

And it was bad enough that this childhood curiosity was never satisfied then, but more so, as the years went by, it was becoming clear that very few people had any idea about who or what God is or could be in a way that could satisfy such a childhood need.  By the time I became a teenager, I'd think back at what my uncle said, and about everything I'd heard about God, and I'd think to myself,  "Really?  Come on, are we that silly?  I know that you don't mean it, right?  You're talking about something that you believe in, and yet you have no idea whatsoever what it is."  I was really enamored with the subject.  And it was on the back burner throughout those early years at Continuity.  As a kid growing up, thinking about stories I could one day write or draw in comic books, especially in science-fiction where time bends and the world's locality takes on a cosmological scope, I remember trying to inject some notions of what God could be into them.  I loved science fiction tales and the superheroes, and it seemed like all of the stories I tried to put together and write, whether I was doing samples, or whether I was looking ahead at a time when I would become a comic book artist, a lot of them revolved around humanity being on the verge of satisfying its basic childhood curiosity about who and what God is.

I know I digress but you seem comfortable with it and there's one more thing about this that fascinates me, so I thank you for the patience. It seems that to the secular world the notion of God is derived only from religion, but we know this is wrong because by default the Creator of the universe must encompass everything in it, including everything in our local world which includes everything secular as well. So when someone says they're an atheist, what they mean is that they don't believe in a God of any particular religion. But they believe in something that creates and guides the universe. So, there can be no such thing as an atheist in the full sense of the word.  Let's take, for example, the most prominent secular atheist we know, Stephen Hawking.  His latest claim is that the universe doesn't need a God because all that was needed to create the universe are the laws of physics and a little gravity. But this is a little disingenuous because it means that the laws of physics and a little gravity are as God to Mr. Hawking.  So when he says he's an atheist, he really means that he believes that the laws of physics and a little gravity are God… or vice-versa. So, for all his scientific genius, Mr. Hawking is waging a battle against God while his animosity is actually intended towards religion. It's the same with Buddhism which claims to not espouse a God but believes in a balance of good and evil dictated by Karma. So for a Buddhist, Karma is God.  And when a Buddhist says, there's no God, they really mean that Karma is their God.

The bottom line is that religion has in some sense distorted our ability to understand ourselves and our universe. Everyone believes in God and it's only a matter of what each one of us believes God to be.  That's why it's written, "Love YOUR God with all your heart…" which is more than anything else a call for sincere introspection in goodwill, which is the only way to nurture the highest secular values of compassion, tolerance and the collective wellbeing.

The subject might be a natural curiosity for a child or teenager, but at this particular point in my life that we're talking about, my second year in comic books, I began to think, "Well you know, Mike, you could take it upon yourself to go out and try to change the world and the way things are, but you know this sounds like a really big something. It would be good to include this subject into the periphery of options that you're considering because there's such a collective social need to answer it.  And this holds true for whatever it is that you decide to do in the end."

It reached a point where I was sitting with a young girl in New York whom I'd met at the pub under Continuity and we talked about my ending this chapter as a comic book artist, and she asked me, "What are you going to do now?  You're not finding yourself in the comics."  I said, "I don't know.  I wish I could use my talent and position in the industry to say something."  She said, "But what would you say?"  I remember writing down on a napkin, "Love each other." And it struck her kind of odd.   To me, it wasn't a shallow spiritual message inspired by evangelical clichés. Rather, it seemed like the missing ingredient that the creator community needed in order to get off its duff and do something about the dismal conditions we worked under. Meaning that all we really needed was a little more collective concern for each other to overcome the fear which prevented us from acting to form a guild. This seemed to be one of the most important things to convey in anything I'd do in the future.  So she looks at me and asks "Okay, so what?  Where do you want to take this?"  That's when the connection came.

I'm not talking about religion yet, because I'd been through enough churches and other ideologies to know that religious institutions failed to instill this value into their communities because a religious community will more often nourish a disdain for anything outside of its ideological periphery. It was the nature of religion. Just look at history and it's easy to see that nothing's changed about religion for thousands of years. Instead of humility and collective concern, religion, more than anything else, has fermented foolish ignorant pride in false notions of self-righteousness.  But the source of religion… ohhh, that was an entirely different story.  The notion I'd had of the prophets who wrote the scriptures, for example, had little to do with what religion was advancing in the world today and I thought that I would want to try to understand why.  To see what it was that scriptures were talking about, as opposed to what their child religious institutes were actually doing with it.

So at some point I began preparing to put myself in a situation where I could spend some time studying the subject a little more and made a decision to leave New York and spend some time in the mountains and on the beaches of California.  Just to clear up my head a little and to disengage from the hustle and bustle of what was going on in New York.  It seemed there was something in all that that I could grab.  So that's exactly what I did.

On the 19th of November, '77, exactly two years after I landed at Continuity, and after two years of a very intense comic book career, I met Joe Brozowski early in the morning at Continuity and asked him to tell Neal and everyone that I'll be gone for a month or so and not to worry.  I had ten dollars in my pocket and walked out to the George Washington Bridge and began hitchhiking out to California.

BDS:  Wow!

MN:  I won't go into my experiences on that journey, but the bottom line is I arrived in San Francisco 7 days later.  It was Thanksgiving Eve.  I have nothing on me.  I'm living from day to day and moment to moment with whatever means available along the way.  I'm surviving, though the ten dollars was gone the first day.  I was having this experience where I was putting to test the notion of a God who has an eye on a small detail such as this insignificant comics artist.  I'd know if I found an answer on the road and I soon enough began to understand something.  I mean if you're going to hitchhike across the country with nothing on you, what are you going to eat?  Where are you going to sleep?  And yet everything along the way seemed to take care of itself.  I was never in need of anything.

It's as if a pre-programmed matrix had the whole situation worked out before I set out on the journey.

So, I arrived in San Francisco and I'm walking around the downtown area and someone invites me to Thanksgiving dinner being served to the homeless. After the meal, I walked out of the place and I see this ad posted on a glass window of a Laundromat advertising the services of comics inker Steve Leialoha.  Now interestingly enough, Mike Friedrich of Star*Reach had contacted me a couple of months earlier and wanted me to write and draw  the first 8-page color story he was preparing for the magazine, that he wanted Steve Leialoha to color.  I started working on it but never got around to develop it fully enough. So when I saw this ad for Steve, I remembered it and thought, "Oh, my God.  He needs that job in a few more weeks and I won't have it for him." So I called Steve and told him that I was in San Francisco but won't be able to do the job and asked him to let Mike know and that I'm sorry about it.  He said, "What are you doing in San Francisco?  Come on up here and we'll work it out.  Mike won't want to let you go."

I made my way to Steve's and he called Mike who came over and asked about what I'm going to do.  "Not comics anymore, not right now," I said. "Then what?" He wasn't letting up. I was in a frame of mind for setting things up for a larger situation. So I looked at him seriously and said that maybe I'll travel around the country for a while and talk to people about advancing world peace.  Now, Mike, bless his soul, was not the quitter and he thought about it for a moment and said, "Well, the story you were working on isn't really that special. But maybe you could write and at least lay out a story about what you're going through for the 8 pages that Steve can finish and we'd both come out of it winners."  It was the best offer I'd heard since Neal invited me to come to Continuity, actually, because it gave me an opportunity to try to put this whole scenario into perspective. I stayed with Steve for a couple of days and produced an 8-page vignette weaving a scriptural theme into humanity's aspiration to reach the stars.  Free from the style expectations for my work at DC and Marvel, along with the entirety of the experience of this trip, the art took on a new look and style that took me back to how I drew before getting into comics. That's the first 8-page color story that appeared in Star*Reach.  Here's a link to an uploaded version. 

And another link to the editorial text that Mike wrote about it. 

Not sure if you've seen it before.

BDS:  I have not.

MN:  It was about our spiritual history as a catapult to the future in a new chapter "The Final Testament", basically applied toward the survival of humanity and our inevitable colonization of another planet.  I specified Titan; the moon of Saturn which Mike mistakenly referred to as Jupiter in the editorial.  Since early astrology and astronomy, there's been a lot written and said about Titan being curiously Earth-like.  I needed to point to somewhere that we'd most likely shoot for, so I set that up as the target.

Interestingly enough, for anyone following the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan launched about 15 years ago and landed a probe on Saturn's moon in 2004, the data and photos brought back clearly show lakes and river beds flowing down from the mountains, a rich atmosphere and a lot of water and ice on the surface… along with lakes bearing a heavy concentration of nitrogen and methane. The surface temperature is about 200 degrees below zero.

Thinking ahead a little bit, I know that Mars is a little closer and more comfortable for a first colony but it's not that simple. There are some resources on Mars but not enough to build a colony of any type without transporting a huge amount of material from Earth. Titan, however, has so many natural resources, including the conditions for biological life that we could build a colony using the existing resources there. The high methane/nitrogen concentration in its liquid bodies can be easily converted to the fuel needed - while on Mars we'll have to transport it all from earth to begin with.  That's the main disadvantage of trying to start anything serious on Mars.

BDS:  That's an interesting point.

MN:  I sometimes wonder if that's not why Saturn is such a distinguished planet in our system.  It's as if Saturn is teasing us with its marvelous ring system, trying to get our attention because that's going to be the best next stop for us.

So, I finished the job for Mike and left it at that.  As strange as it was, Mike Friedrich thought that it was worth publishing and wrote a very supportive editorial about it.  The message of the story was a positive one and I'd let the chips fall where they may.

I left Steve and Mike and continued on south to San Clemente and spent a lot of time on the beaches and in the mountains and I met people here and there and borrowed a Bible from a local church and read it through about four times for the next few weeks.  I just wanted to know it.  I'd never read it through completely and I wanted to know that history.  I wanted to know what was in the book.  There certainly was an air of adventure and grandeur in the stories.  Not specifically as a religious creed but as good and moving stories about difficult choices made by the type of people whose name has outlived most any others of their time.  It was clear that the stories of the prophets and what they did exuded the type of spirit we needed a little more of in our world today to contend with what'd bringing humanity down. The primary need for it was to encourage and instill a hope for the goodness in humanity.  This is what it was all about, everything that was missing from the jargon of modern civilization.  Not at all in the sense of institutionalized worship but rather an issue of what we need to help strengthen the heart of the people in the face of growing despair we're in.

There are so many people that need help out there.  A few have a lot of power and a lot of money but so many more are starving and dying for lack of it and it seems that the powerful are only engaged in gaining more power and charting a path for our collective slavery as they distract us with political and ideological bickering about right and left, religious and secular, and everything in between. All this connected very strongly to me towards the end of this journey.

It took a long time to be able to put it all into perspective.  Maybe 20 or 30 years actually. But I really didn't have a choice at the time.  I was already into it and I found myself walking around the mountains of Southern California, living outside with whatever nature had out there and reading this book and absorbing it.  And what did I find in it?

Well, I found a lot of things, but very interestingly I found that both Testaments had a common subliminal thread that touched me very personally.  In the book of Daniel chapter 12, it mentions the name Michael in this very familiar context of the end times. "At that time shall Michael stand up…"  Looking at this verse and at the chapter that preceded it, I had no idea what to make of it.  There were stories about a king of the north and the king of the south, and the public execution of the lead character but it turns out to be a very important prophecy that went on to have a profound impact on, and shape Christian theology.  Then I continue reading through and get to Revelation in the same chapter 12 where there's a metaphorical story about the birth of a man-child destined to rule all nations with a rod of iron with the name Michael given to the newborn: "And Michael and his angels fought in heaven".

In light of everything I've told so far, you can imagine my first reaction to reading these two references in that context. "Wow!! Wadda setup!"  "I'll do it."

BDS:  Incredible!  Sounds like the type of setup a good writer can only dream of conjuring.

MN:  So I came back to New York, feeling invigorated on a new mission in life and I arrive at Continuity and everybody there was waiting in the front room because I'd called to say I'd arrive in the afternoon.  The Star*Reach story was already published and everyone had seen it.  Aside from some people looking at me kind of funny, Neal was smiley and bright saying, "Hey Mike, we have religion too!"  He was happy and laughing at first but I already had an idea where this was going and a very serious look on my face.  I wasn't a happy guy any more. So I just shut up, went back to the room I shared with Marshall Rogers as he drew more Batman pages, letting everyone know that I wasn't going to joke about anything right now. That night after most everyone had left the studio, I'm sitting with Joe Barney and it's 3 or 4 in the morning and we're listening to a radio talk show program about comics discussing Steve Ditko.  At some point Joe said, "So what happened?  What's going on with you?"  I still didn't know how to put it into words so I opened a pocket Bible I'd brought from California and showed him Revelation, chapter 12. Apparently he was familiar with it and once realizing why I showed it to him he said, "Mike, you know, that's talking about the second coming of Christ, right?  You're not saying you're the second coming of Christ are you?"  I said, "Joe, I'm just saying, I went out there looking for something to do and I found this in the book.  I don't know."  He said, "Well, if you really believe it, why don't you get on the radio and say it here?  I'll dial it."  So he dials the radio talk show and gives me the phone: "I'm Mike Nasser working at Continuity," and they move me right up to the next call.  The host comes on and suddenly I'm on the air and this guy says, "We have Mike Nasser, a comic book artist working with Neal Adams and Dick Giordano at Continuity Studios, and he has something to say about Steve Ditko.  Hello, Mike, how are you?  What's on your mind tonight?"  I said, "We're putting together at Continuity a political party for the 1980 elections."  Then there's a silence like, "Where did that come from?"  I mean, I'm supposed to be talking about Ditko and comics.  So the host gathers his breath together and says, "That's very interesting.  I have a feeling there's something else you wanted to say."  It was such a setup that without hesitation I blurted, "It was written that the second coming of Christ would be a man named Michael."  More silence and another few seconds of the host trying to maintain composure.  "Well, Mike, if you really believe it, then I wish you all the luck.  Thank you very much for calling."

Joe just seemed to flow with this whole incident as if he expected it. So at about 9 am, earlier than usual, Neal bursts into the studio, finds me with Joe, towers over me and says smiling, "Did you say you were the second coming of Christ on the radio?!!!" That scared me a little and I pulled back apologetically, "I just answered his questions."

I can't even begin to describe what was happening but certainly up until Joe Barney said that word I hadn't thought of a Christ context.  But there it was in black and white and I jumped into it with open arm.  It didn't take long to realize where this was going and that I'd started something that would make it impossible for me to stay at the studio. It was Continuity Studios that produces commercial art and comics. Not a place for founding a bizarre political party. I knew then that things would never be the same again there but truth to tell the situation wasn't so good to begin with and I was more than willing to take a chance and see where this could go.

So before you know it a lot of new people are coming into the studio to see up close what all the buzz and rumors were about.  Everyone has their own feelings about religion and most people just don't talk much about it and certainly not in the contexts I was suggesting.   I mean Continuity really isn't the kind of place for born-again discussions. It's not a church and that wasn't what I had in mind at all. But to most people it looked like a classic born-again religious type of thing gone a little berserk.   But all I could do about it then was just flow with the punches and see where it would go.

So I went to a convention a couple of days later and somebody took a photo of me, with my newly acquired long hair and beard and it was published in the Comic Buyer's Guide a couple of weeks later.  All it said under the photo was "Mike Nasser," without any other context or explanation on the page. The comics community was very tight back then and any rumors spread very quickly. So the purpose of publishing this photo was apparently to just satisfy the industry buzz without saying anything about it because it's not easy to report with any immediacy about a promising artist whom people are saying had gone off the deep end.

Neal was way ahead of me.  Now if you think of everything we talked about, it's very interesting that Neal, who might not often give away how he feels about religion, brought in a large Bible to the studio that stayed on his desk for a while, and spent serious time reading it. He either needed to brush up on it in order to get my drift a little better or just wanted me to know that's an avenue worth exploring. I say this because about five years ago he did an interview with Silver Bullet Comics (now Comics Bulletin) titled "Renaissance Man" about his career and science project. Towards the end he was asked about comparative religion and said: "Comparative religion is a lot of fun if you address the history or how we got to where we are today. And if there is a possibility for truth to cause us to be more free than we are, or whether all the lies will continue, and that we will be oppressed by the religion that we have to live through for as long as man exists on the Earth. The answer is that I know there is a lot of truth to the study of religion. People are too bored to talk about it. It is a hard thing to talk about. Maybe if I prove it is possible to show how the universe works, maybe people will be interested in the religion, or maybe they will stone me when I'm an old man."

BDS:  Wow.

MN:  That's just what I thought when I read it and I thought it was about time that Neal said something like this publically.

So a couple of days after returning to Continuity, Neal comes back to talk to me for the first time. "Mike, you can't just sit there, you have to do something with comic books.  Use them as your wheels." As if he was saying I'm with you on this and you have a lot of tools here to use so get back to drawing already. Then Sal Quartuccio came and asked me to do an 8-page thing about whatever I wanted for Hot Stuff #6.  He probably liked the Star*Reach story and wanted something similar. This was the only kind of offer I could accept then because I didn't think I could do anything I wanted with Batman or anything else for DC or Marvel.

Larry Hama's room was right next to mine. Now Larry seemed a little uncomfortable with all that was happening next to his room and it took me a long time to understand that he had a good reason to feel that way.  But upon hearing Neal telling me to use comics as wheels, in my peculiar situation, he came out of his room and in frustration asked Neal, why he was encouraging me like this.  Neal turned to him, kind of flabbergasted, and said, "You know what, Larry?  One day, Mike's trip to California is going to become the basis of a new religion," Now that was like an atom bomb for me because that was the last thing I had in my mind about all this. Seems like the most favorable thing I could think of religion then, is that it preserved the writings of far nobler men than anyone who's established an institutionalized faith since.  We don't see anything in the Bible calling to establish an institution for worship. Neither Moses nor Jesus called for such a thing in scriptures. It's full of marvelous stories and great wisdom on sacrifice, compassion, courage and justice, but not much really about institutionalized worship.

Let's just consider the story of Jesus for a moment.  He's outside of the system for a few years hitting the road and talking to people about the corruption of the priests in the temple and inciting the people against the religious aristocracy by expounding on the essences of scripture as opposed to supporting the hierarchy in place. And Jesus' biggest enemies are the priests and religious community.  That big crowd calling on Pilate to crucify Jesus was mostly the religious fanatics sent by the High Priest.  So this is how religions grow.  A prophet comes along, goes out on the street, raises the voice of the people against the corrupt establishment, writes the story down, and the writings later become the basis for a new religious institute that will eventually need a new prophet to come around and bring down the corrupt house of worship that it's become. That's the crux of religious history.  Religious institutions are not really about anything spiritual. The most valuable thing that the church has done or the synagogue or any other religious institute has basically been to preserve these writings because the fact that we still have them today allows us to review and study them in order to better understand their essence and our history, and also allows us to more clearly see how institutionalized religious creed deviated from them.  That's how we know that the thrust of the scriptures has never called for, nor supported the type of separatism, pride and self-righteousness that religious institutes promote.  Nor do they support the competitive animosity between faiths that we see today.

There's a little more insight into all this in the essay "Chosen and the Passion" from several years ago.

So the question is, why is all this important to a comic book artist working in New York at Continuity in the mid-70's?  (Mutual laughter.)   I don't know that I can answer that fully but…well, let's try to put it this way: More than any other cultural construct, the comics exemplify the essences of spirituality in the Bible and most other world faiths. The comics are the primary medium spreading the spirit of goodwill, sacrifice, compassion, justice and heroism in the world.  This suggests that comics creators, each according their own ability, are much like the modern prophets of our time. It has also been borne out in the way that comics have captured the hearts of the entertainment industry and world culture, much in the same way that the Bible has also risen to the forefront of literary works. In noting a scripture about the kingdom being taken away from the oppressors and given to others more worthy, one can only wonder whether we're not seeing the keys of spiritual inspiration being taken away from religious institutions that have oppressed the world, and passing them over to the comics industry which is proving to be more worthy of them.

This notion is even more clearly borne out in how the religious front in America is so obsessed with their animosity towards the comics culture.  As the comics come into their own and creators begin understanding this synergy, we can only imagine how much more the comics will flourish as creators take an increasingly active role of leadership and guidance on the world stage, as a collective inspiration for saving our world through the values exemplified in the comics mythology and spiritual history.

BDS: Quite the analogy and certainly seems appropriate.

MN:  It does seem that way. Now just to wrap up that chapter at Continuity, as I began realizing that this course necessitated acquiring an understanding and life experience that's also very far away from the comics industry, and that a commercial art studio is not the proper place for such an endeavor. I also realized at that young age that I needed to come to Israel, the source of what was driving me into all this, in order to better understand its history and culture – and began making plans to come to the Middle East in 1981.  So I first flew to Lebanon to visit my father but became caught up in the 1981 Israel/Lebanon war.  I was able to eventually escape the hostilities into Israel in 1983 where I settled down into a long haul of absorbing what the place was all about. I married and began raising a family but always kept an eye on what drove me to come here.  In 1991, I returned to Continuity and DC for about 3 years and drew a few Batman stories and other assorted projects. This was the period that Neal and I entered into the fallout over Ms. Mystic which I later explained in "Blood Which Flows from the Heart".   Continuity had moved and was already changing then and Neal would direct his efforts towards raising it as a business model in advertising art which meant that it would no longer be a hub of the comics community that it was.

BDS:  So an era came to an end.

MN:  Pretty Much so. Neal was already preparing himself for launching his science project which needed serious funding that he eventually raised through this new business environment. It's actually remarkable that a comics artist has risen to such economic success in the visual media arena today.  Neal was eventually able to apply these resources towards the finely produced Growing Earth videos that have become quite popular on YouTube, at the cost of more than $500,000 so far, with much more still in the works.

BDS:  Have you worked with Neal again since your reconciliation?

MN:  Not visibly or directly. I'd thought for a while that it might be better for us to join efforts but we both work in entirely different methods and directions and seem to do better apart.

I have to say that Neal, like everyone, has certain limitations, though he might not be willing to admit or accept them.  Aside from the fine scripting of Deadman and other stories earlier in his career, his biggest problem today seems to be a unique communicative skill that's excellent for the short intense discussions on YouTube but not so easily digestible to the wider readerships.

As an example, I pitched in for a while with the science project and produced the "Growing Earth Consortium" website and created a Wikipedia page for the theory.  There was a serious debate on it from the beginning and a big effort was made to delete it by science oriented editors.  But I eventually won the deletion debates and the page was approved.  However, the Wiki science police also eventually found a way to remove it by merging it with the Expanding Earth page and then removing most of its contents because it sounds too scientific and could be misleading by their standards.

Doesn't matter much right now but at any rate, when Neal first saw the page he contacted me and emailed new text he'd written for the physics aspect of the theory and asked me to insert it into the new Wiki page.  I told him that it wasn't written in encyclopedic form and would need to be revised in order to survive Wiki editors.  He then demanded that I insert it as is without revision.  I told him that he's wrong and that I was going to revise it anyway.  So I did just that and uploaded his original text to my Consortium site.  It's easy to see the difference between the two and how unaware Neal seems to be of this problem.

You can see the same thing with Batman: Odyssey.  While the overwhelming majority of comics readers and reviewers have chimed in that he may be writing a good story but it's impossible to read, Neal continues to insist that it's well written.  Well, it doesn't matter much that he thinks it's well written if most of the audience can't read it, does it?  That's the problem with the series and it's not working in Neal's favor.   But I think that his efforts lie elsewhere today and he doesn't feel he needs to change anything because the series will sell well enough by virtue of the art, and also help Continuity with eventual sales of originals to advance projects more important to him. It's just a little disconcerting to see fandom's reactions and it would be good for Neal to show some sign of understanding why.

BDS:  Are you still in touch?

MN:   Not really. I've basically withdrawn from his internet periphery over the last few years and pretty busy with other things right now.  His son Josh initiated a couple of discussions with me at Rich Johnston's Bleeding Cool forums last year and that was it.

But while at the Detroit Fanfare last month, Dennis Barger, the con organizer, told me that they had invited Neal but that he declined. When asked why, he said that he won't come to Detroit because my daughter in Detroit has been stalking him. Dennis said that it sounded like a joke.  It's a really funny story because my daughter is in California these days and has never had an inclination to contact him about anything.  So, I wonder what that little joke was about… but I think it's just Neal's way of sending a greeting or some such.  He's a little funny that way sometimes. (Chuckle)

BDS:  You were certainly a first-hand witness in the heyday, as you so aptly put it.  I thank you for taking the time to share.

MN:  Big pleasure and many thanks for the good ear.

Many thanks to Michael and to you, faithful readers, as we continue to explore those wonderful comics of yesteryear.  Another review and another interview will be in this space in about two weeks, as usual and as usual, you're invited to participate.  Send me a note with whatever may be on your mind: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you February 1st!

Long live the Silver Age!



© 2000-2011 by B.D.S.

Interview copy edited by Michael Netzer


This feature was created on 05/01/00 and is maintained by

B.D.S.

 





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