A Tribute to the of

It bothered me more than I expected when I learned that on May 10th, we lost Marty Pasko.


I think part of it was just the shock. He was only 65, after all. In larger measure, while we weren’t in as much contact as some of the creators I got to know, he was unfailingly helpful, friendly and encouraging to me in my little endeavors. Some of you may recall the contribution he made to my DC office piece here at the Silver Age Sage and those of you who’ve been following my efforts in BACK ISSUE may have caught his helpful remembrances and commentary in my Man-Bat, Plastic Man and Aquaman pieces. Marty often did a lot of work for me as he tended to go into quite a bit of detail and when you’ve got a word count to meet, that’s a godsend.

My own daughter got to meet him at a convention and passed along my greetings and he was to be at one not far from here, but that didn’t work out, so I missed my own opportunity to thank him in person and to shake his hand. He’d also become a regular columnist in BACK ISSUE’s sorta sister publication, Retrofan. He was kind enough to consider us colleagues!

I spent some time digging through e-mail correspondence with Marty and here are a few of the generous notes he sent to me, beginning with his reply when I congratulated him on the new Retrofan gig:

Yeah. Really looking forward to it. And please know, my-dear-friend-I've-never-met-but-maybe-we-can-fix-that-at-a-convention-someday, I hope we can collaborate within the scope of their Editorial. I'm looking forward to anything I can do to be helpful to you to the extent of your being a fellow contributor, which I've no doubt you'll be. I think you're a fine writer, Bryan. All best, MP

This was a later comment:

I hope you know by now, Bryan, that you can always count on me for quotes for your articles...especially now that we're both on the TwoMorrows "writing team.” :)

And another:

And, again, that said: Seriously, I very much enjoy contributing to your articles. I'm rewarded by your skillful and judicious use of whatever I send your way. You never pull quotes out of context and make me look like an idiot, and for that, I'm very grateful.

In turn, *I benefit* from your "use" of me, as it can help remind people that I'm trying to get paying work from that I'm still alive. :)

And finally, this one, where he made me blush and also gave me some excellent counsel:

And no matter how experienced or skillful any of us may think he or she is, we all can always use a fresh pair of eyes on our stuff; IMHO, the difference between a pro and a "self-publisher" autodidact, in this Brave New World of Style And Form Are Whatever We Want Them To Be, is that the former understands that and the latter doesn't. I like to think of us as two pros. Best, Marty

And that is why I loved the man. Talk about generosity of spirit. That was Marty in spades.

With that, I dedicate this issue of the Silver Age Sage to Marty Pasko.

It wasn’t all that easy to decide on something, either. I’d seen his virtuosity, whether it was in the pages of Aquaman or Man-Bat or Plastic Man and of course he did scads of work on the flagship Superman stories, and any other number of titles and genres. It seems that there wasn’t anything Marty couldn’t write. Furthermore, the Grand Comics Database has over 800 entries for him!

What I ended up selecting was a mystery title and ironically the final one in the DC Super-Stars series. It was an interesting but logical pairing of Deadman and the Phanton Stranger in issue #18 from January/February of 1978 with an on-sale date of October 11, 1977 and interestingly the cover simply says “Winter.” Joe Orlando and Paul Levitz are credited as editors with a great Jim Aparo cover. The interiors for the stor(ies) are written by Marty, with one chapter by Gerry Conway, with art by Romeo Tanghal with Dick Giordano inks, except for “Wraiths in the Rain” where Bob Layton has inking detail. Tatjana Wood seemed to be the consistent colorist to include the cover and Milt Snappin provided lettering with an assist from Ben Oda on the “Hour of the Demon” segment. That’s a lotta credits, but I think I got ‘em all…

The setting is Rutland, Vermont at Halloween, much like a story we reviewed here before for Sage #261 and “Night of the Reaper.” This time, however, the supernatural is a lot more in evidence as our two heroes tackle a card-carrying demon.

After some introductory remarks from the Phantom Stranger in an appropriately eerie setting, complete with bats, fog and what appear to be a pile of green glowing eggs, things begin to get really weird in Rutland when a young boy, playing with his sister in the raked up autumn leaves is horrified when a pair of large talons grip and whisk away his sister.

We then segue to a segment called “The Gargoyles” where we discover the talons were attached to a pair of anthropomorphized Gargoyles, who have vaguely human bodies covered in scales, raptor-like heads complete with beaks and bat-like wings. Not the kind of thing you’d care to run across on a dark and spooky eve.

The male has brought the girl to their lair where the female is keeping watch over that enormous pile of eggs. The girl is to be a sacrifice to the demon Qabal who will go forth destroying all human life on Earth and presumably the Gargoyle’s, the unholy union of a woman and a demon will take over, under the watchful eyes of Lucifer. Ugly little plan, no?

Elsewhere in Rutland, the parents of the girl, Teresa Robertson, are frantic and their son, Timmy, is being ignored as to his explanation that she was taken by a flying monster. Meanwhile, at the bus depot, a hobo with a telltale aura visible only to we readers, emerges from a bus. He hears music and then the body collapses to the sidewalk while an ethereal wisp seems to leave toward the source of the music.

Yes, folks, it’s Boston Brand, better known as Deadman, the spirit who roams the Earth, under the tutelage of the goddess Rama Kushna, trying to balance the scales of good and evil in his travels.

He quickly discovers the source of the music and finds himself floating above the famous Rutland, Vermont Halloween parade, featuring people sporting superhero costumes aboard the rolling floats. This segment is entitled, “Hour of the Demon!

Speaking of Rama Kushna, she soon makes her presence known to Boston in flashback and was, in fact, the reason he was directed to come to Rutland, to confront a growing evil she has sensed. His specific charge is to find the lair of the Gargoyle’s and destroy the eggs before they can hatch and release this new plague upon the Earth.

Back at that lair, the preparations continue as the Gargoyle’s note that it is now the hour of 13. An evil incantation and banging of a gong usher in this time and it also stops all time pieces in the town of Rutland at the mid-point between midnight and 12:01. Thus, the 13th hour, when Qabal will be set free.

As Deadman continues his search, he spots some children atop a rickety balcony observing the parade and unaware that it’s supports are about to give way. He flies over to the old house and is surprised when he crashes through the roof instead of passing through it. He’s abruptly become tangible, but there’s no time to ponder this development and he uses that new corporeal element to invisibly scoot the kids off the dangerous balcony.

Brand then notes that the mother is beneath the collapsing structure. Thankfully, his ability to enter another body is still functional and he uses his acrobatic skills to somersault her body out of harm’s way.

Next up, Brand spots a search party looking for the Robertson girl, but the mob seems to be in a bit of an ugly mood. Since he’s now solid, it will take longer to explore the caves, but fortunately Deadman hits paydirt quickly when he discovers the glow of the egg cache. He begins to ruin them, but quickly realizes there are too many to just smash them individually, so he grabs a handy stalactite from the cave’s interior and is about to wield it like a Louisville Slugger when it’s snatched away by a Gargoyle. Brand ponders his options and realizes that while he is tangible, he is also still invisible, so he enters one of the Gargoyle bodies and uses it to overcome both the hell spawned creatures.

The search party, meanwhile, has come upon the ceremonial chamber and the battle is on between human and Gargoyle. Deadman races to the sound of the ruckus and when he tries to rescue Teresa, he finds he’s again a disembodied ghost. Switching tactics, he takes over the body of one of the search party members, but the man abruptly collapses from mortal wounds and Boston discovers he’s trapped in the corpse.

Using sheer force of will, our hero is able to roll the body straight into the jaws of the recently summoned Qabal who has come to feed, but when the corpse enters the gaping demonic maw, it shrieks that it cannot feed on something with no life force and withdraws. Luckily, when the lifeless body was disintegrated in the demon, Deadman was freed and he now springs into action, entering Teresa’s body and aiding in her escape from the altar.

Scooping up a lost torch, Deadman/Teresa rushes into the cave to leverage an odd smell he’d noted. Natural gas. By igniting it, and with a favorable wind, the cave explodes, destroying the contents of the cave.

A little later, while reporting back to Rama Kushna, some loose ends are tied up. She explains that the spell that created the 13th hour brought the nether world and real world into a conjunction, but that she and Deadman exist on a separate existential plane and the disturbed alignment caused him to exist in two different planes simultaneously during that hour, which caused his physical nature to temporarily change.

Things seem to be back to normal, but looks can be deceiving. Don’t breathe easy just yet, Deadman…

The next segment is called “Wraiths in the Rain” and also seems to be designated Chapter 2. Time for the Phantom Stranger to take the spotlight and he begins with the omniscient narrator role. It’s still Rutland, Vermont and things are still very bizarre in the dark and rainy backdrop, described as an oily ran with the smell of Sulphur.

Enter two new characters, Terrance and Marie Thirteen, or as he’s better known, Dr. Thirteen. Since this is the first time Terry Thirteen has shown up in the Silver Age Sage and since I’ve not read a single thing about him, the historian in me insists on a quick background:

Dr. Thirteen, sometimes known as the Ghost Breaker, is described as a parapsychologist and he first showed up in Star Spangled Comics #122 (Nov. 1951). The original writer and co-creator seem to be lost to the mists of time, while he was first illustrated by Leonard Starr. His mission seems to be to investigate supernatural activity and to debunk it as a hoax. So, he’s a healthy skeptic and if I were a betting man, I’d think he might have been inspired in part by the latter activities of Harry Houdini. Apparently, an origin story was done on Terry Thirteen in Showcase #80. I may just have to check that out in the near future.

So, now that we have a rudimentary introduction to Dr. Thirteen, let’s see what he and his wife are up to in Rutland.

When Thirteen spots the Phantom Stranger, he goes into a mini-tirade: “Good God, Stranger. Don’t you ever let up? I thought I’d seen the last of you and your charlatan tricks that time in Kentucky! Everywhere I go, I find you—with your supernatural bug-a-boo, your dime-store magic—and your well-planned “air of mystery”!

Marie apologizes, explaining that the Stranger seems to be the one ghost Terry cannot break and PS takes it in stride, explaining that he is no ghost, merely a stranger, but that he has some advice to offer. He warns her to leave this place, that there are demons abroad and that their lives could be forfeit. He then fades from her view and she heads into the Yankee Hotel, but a watchful Phantom Stranger continues to observe from the shadows, though the rain doesn’t seem to touch him.

In the next incredible moment. A female figure, strangely illuminated, confronts the Stranger. He recognizes her and she announces that she is controlling the events in Rutland, that Qabal is her tool and that she’s grown more powerful since last they met. She then uses some cosmic force to knock the Phantom Stranger unconscious.

We then find ourselves in the lobby of the Yankee Hotel where the Thirteen’s are greeted by none other than Tom Fagan himself, the host of the annual Rutland, Vermont Halloween/hero parade. Tom, by the way, is no longer with us, but this handy Wikipedia entry describes the parade and the multiple times it was depicted in the comics.

Tom immediately introduces the Thirteen’s to a few other guests including, Gerry and Carla Conway, Marty Pasko, Paul Levitz and Romeo Tanghal. It is further explained that “Len (Wein) and Denny (O’Neil) and Roy (Thomas) never showed up, and Steve was here (not sure who is being referred to) but he left early.

Terry Thirteen informs the assemblage that the Phantom Stranger is about and likely involved in the strange events in Rutland over the last seven years, just like he was once before (according to an editorial note, that was in Justice League of America #103) and he’s determined to root things out. He attempts to enlist the aid of the party, but Gerry and Paul promptly decline and then an armed Sheriff arrives, notifying Fagan that his old house, looking appropriately creepy in the storm, has turned into a lightning rod.

We then see the figure of the Stranger hanging seemingly in mid-air with his arms spread apart. Despite multiple strikes, the house seems to be impervious to the lightning and Fagan, the Sheriff and Thirteen depart to investigate further.

During the short drive, the Sheriff relates running across a hobo in town with a look in his eyes that made the lawman think twice about engaging with him and then he saw the figure headed toward the Fagan house on the hill.

Upon arrival, Thirteen addresses the Phantom Stranger, telling him he’s not impressed, but the Stranger merely warns him that things are not as they seem, and this is after a lightning strike appears to silhouette the Stranger on a cross.

Once the trio set foot inside, they’re greeted by a gentleman dressed for a formal dinner, which he promptly invites them to join. He calls himself Quinton Abel and pours the wine as the men are seated.

Before Terrance Thirteen can consume the glass’s contents, he realizes it’s not wine and yells to his companions not to drink it. Then he notices something even more bizarre, noting a mirror that is actually a portal into hell, where he can see the demon Qabal feeding on a man. Thirteen shouts that it defies logic and cannot be real, but the disembodied voice of the Phantom Stranger begs to differ.

Soon the Stranger appears and instructs Terrance Thirteen to use the mirror to strike a blow against Qabal. Removing it from the wall and raising it high, Thirteen smashes it down upon Quinton Abel and rather than shattering glass, the sound of an otherworldly shriek seems to emanate from the mirror.

Dr. Thirteen then sees the figure of Qabal, in death throes and his companions are freed from their strange trance and the house is seen in the cold light of reality, a shambles and ruin after the destructive lightning strikes. Terrance Thirteen, ever the slave of logic and rational thought, dismisses the events as a nightmare caused by the lightning flash. The Phantom Stranger merely gestures toward the three men as they stride away with a gloved hand that seems to have a wound in the palm.

The final chapter in this saga, chapter three, unites the Phantom Stranger with Deadman, who reminds the Stranger that the last time they crossed paths (in Phantom Stranger #41) Boston Brand warned him not to get in his way.

The Stranger assures the spectral visitor that he is not his enemy and that Rama Kushna will vouch for him. He then proceeds to explain that rather than Qabal, the danger they face is Tala, the Queen of Darkness. She’d been unwittingly released by Dr. Thirteen (back in Phantom Stranger #4) and she and the Stranger had battled to a stalemate on more than one occasion, but she has grown ever stronger. The Stranger then explains that he and Boston, the light bringer and the balancer, must join forces to defeat this enemy.

At dawn, that is just what they set out to do with the Phantom Stranger confronting Tala as she weaves her black magic to continue to torment Rutland, Vermont and the people who live there.

After a mystic battle, the Phantom Stranger ultimately triumphs, much to the surprise of Tala and encircles her with ethereal bands of energy before sending her form deep into the Earth.

Deadman then shows himself, commenting that she was one tough customer, but thanks to his merging with the Stranger and strengthening them, they were able to take care of business. As Boston Brand departs, the Phantom Stranger looks over the breaking dawn with a grim satisfaction, ending this lengthy tale.

But wait, there’s more. Editor Paul Levitz contributed a one-page prose piece titled, “The Story Behind the Story.” I’ll try to reproduce a few highlights here.

The concept of a Phantom Stranger-Deadman special came up several months back, in a conference ye editor had with Publisher Jenette Kahn and Managing Editor Joe Orlando.

Neither of the characters were deemed strong enough to support a .60 edition. But ever since ye editor wrote five issues of the Phantom Stranger back in the early days of his career, we’ve been fascinated by the character. So, the idea refused to die.

It resurfaced in the conference to decide the theme of this issue…but this time the sales on the Brave & Bold issue featuring Batman and Deadman were in, and it was enough to tip the balance in our favor. Additionally, the Halloween season release date made it a more appropriate feature for this, the last issue of DC Super Stars.

Then it came time to fulfill writer’s dreams. Marty Pasko has been pining to do a Deadman series for about three years now, ever since we discussed running Boston Brand’s quest in the back of Adventure Comics. While a one-shot appearance didn’t fully satisfy that desire, it was still the fulfillment of one his ambitions in comics. And by placing the story in Rutland, Vermont, Marty added this epic to the mythos of a town that has a unique fame in comics.

The Rutland super-hero parades don’t happen any more, but for many years fan Tom Fagan was host to fellow fans and professionals, and if the stories are to be believed, super-heroes as well. You see, writers would return from the fantastic Fagan parties and write down the imaginings the gothic New England town had inspired.

This is the last issue of DC Super-Stars. Obviously, since we have changed features constantly since the magazine’s inception two years ago, we can’t blame sales. Some of our features have done well, others poorly—you can tell which are which by seeing what has reappeared in other forms.

I think that’s all the pertinent details and since this review has gone way longer than usual, it’s time to wrap it up. It was a 34-page story, after all. I was pleased to see that this assignment gave Marty Pasko the opportunity to fulfill a long-held wish and his appearance in the story was further icing on the cake, at least for this reader. Godspeed, Marty. You were certainly one of the good guys and I’ll miss our correspondence and friendship a great deal.

Thanks for joining us, readers and on June 15th you can look forward to another review right here in this space.

In the interim, don’t forget to exercise your right to free speech. Your e-mails will be carefully reviewed and considered when you submit your queries or suggestions. Just use that familiar e-mail: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you in about two weeks and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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