Actually going to spend two weeks on this one, because it’s a sort of circular story. It all started with Steve Englehart having a dispute with DC Comics over payment on a story for DC Comics Presents. Englehart took the work he had done for DC and walked. A planned Madame Xanadu storyline was later published by Eclipse under the title Scorpio Rose (which I discussed over on the other blog a few years ago). But first, Englehart’s Superman/Creeper story, “Slab,” was adapted by Marshall Rogers (with new characters) in 1981 for the black-and-white Eclipse Magazine (or as the cover stated–Eclipse: The Magazine).
I don’t have any issues of that old black-and-white, but I do have a reprint of the story in The Foozle #3 with colors by Tim Smith. While it was nice to finally be able to read the story about which I’d heard so much, the reprint’s format is doubly bad. Marshall Rogers used lots of gray tones for the black-and-white art, which ended up making muddy moire patterns when colored. This problem is exacerbated by the very small panels, designed to be reproduced in an 8.5 x 11″ magazine. When shrunk down to standard comic book size, some of the page layouts become very hard to read, and doubly so with muddy colors killing the contrast.
But let’s muddle through, shall we?
The story opens in the futuristic city of Great Megalopolis, where tabloid reporter G2W384-38-8742, known colloqiually as Sweeney, meets big-name television reporter K2T732-43-3929, aka Hanna. If you are at all familiar with the DC characters in question, then you will know that Sweeney is a stand-in for tabloid reporter Jack Ryder, alter ego of the Creeper, while Hanna is obviously a female translieteration of Clark Kent. One interesting thing they do with the colors here is to color the reporters’ respective clothing similar to the DC characters’ costumes; Sweeney is wearing Creeper yellow, while Hanna wears Superman blue (as well as Clark Kent’s trademark glasses).Sweeney has come looking for tabloid dirt on Storbor, whom she calls “the Big Blue Boss.” Apparently some people seem to regard such a powerful man with some suspicion of his motives. Hanna ushers Sweeney out and then receives a mental summons, which prompts her to change into S-329, Agent of Storbor. She is not, in fact, the Big Blue Boss, but a preteen girl who acts as his muscle or something. Englehart and Rogers do an interesting mix-up here, combining elements of Superman, Captain Marvel (in reverse), and Green Lantern, as Hanna recites a mystic oath then changes from normal adult to super-powered child. Agent S-329 flies around on a high-tech bed; I’m not sure where the inspiration for that comes from. Is it a variation on the Silver Surfer idea of a character riding a flying version of a random everyday object, or was it perhaps inspired by the little girl from Superboy #176?
Anyway, the agent attacks a chop-shop for stolen vehicles, and in the process, a fire is started which results in a huge explosion. One of the innocent bystanders caught in the explosion is E4D917-02-5516, aka Jacson, a friend of Sweeney’s who now works as a TV photojournalist. The explosion covers Jacson with a number of toxic substances which transforms his body into a steel-like substance, and also gives him an unnatural hunger for the minerals contained in the human body. Agent S-329 attempts to apprehend Jacson, but he escapes and runs to his friend Sweeney for help. She, not knowing about his murderous urges, agrees to help him clear his name and transforms into the infamous Foozle, a bird-like creature feared by civilians and criminals alike.
The Foozle tracks down Skrum, one of the men running the chop shop, and convinces him to tell the authorities that the giant Slab of a man was not part of their operation. Apparently, the Foozle’s main power is just to sit on people’s heads and scare them or something, because we never really see the Foozle do anything. In fact, the Foozle’s terrifying reputation may be based entirely on bluff and intimidation; we don’t know. Doesn’t matter, because before Skrum can do anything, Agent S-329 shows up.
The Foozle changes back to Sweeney and tries to convince the agent that Jacson was not involved, but the agent arrogantly shoves her out of the way and flies off (after comparing her to a yapping dog). So now, since the Big Blue Boss will apparently never be convinced of Jacson’s innocence, Sweeney decides to smuggle Jacson out of the city by train.
Unfortunately, Jacson’s insatiable hunger for minerals flares up again, and he attacks bystanders on the train platform. The Agent shows up to stop him, after which the Foozle shows up to stop her. But during the fight, Jacson stuns the agent with a mighty punch, after which his unsated hunger causes a chemical reaction which transforms him into explosive anti-matter. With the woozy Agent S-329 unable to help, The Foozle barely manages to get the bystanders out of the way before Jacson explodes.
Afterward, the Foozle expresses surprise that the agent saved him while his friend Jacson ended up nearly killing him. “What did you expect?” the agent asks, confused, which sends the Foozle into raucous Creeper-like laughter.
All in all, an odd story. The thing that really gets me is the way the Superman stand-in is depicted as a sort-of totalitarian bully, distrusted and hated by the Foozle. And I wonder if this was the characterization Englehart would have given the real Superman/Creeper pairing, or if he made the Agent more overbearing as some sort of editorial comment on DC.
But here’s the thing: the story was basically a one-off curiosity piece, Englehart burning off some unsold inventory with help from his friend Rogers. And that’s the way things stood for about two years, until Rogers decided to bring the Foozle back.
Which we’ll talk about next time.