Saturday, January 03, 2009

Out of the Vault - Dynamo Joe #8

Dynamo Joe #8Since I've been on the Foglio kick, and was planning to revisit Dynamo Joe sooner or later anyway, I decided to just go ahead and do it this week.

Dynamo Joe was a giant-robo adventure inspired mainly by the Mobile Suit Gundam series. In the far future, the human race is part of a confederation with the alien Tavitans and the Imperium, a spin-off of humanity who are all descended from a single immortal ancestor. They battle the Mellenares, a race of telepathic alien microorganisms with a hive mind, who can link together to form monstrous creatures.

Joe's adventures, plotted and drawn by Doug Rice and scripted by John Ostrander, first appeared as a back-up feature in the series Mars by Mark Wheatley and Marc Hempel. The back-up was apparently popular enough that Joe was brought back as a feature in the First Adventures anthology series before getting his own four-issue limited series in 1986.

The next year, Joe became a regular series with issue 5 (continuing the numbering from the limited series). The one major change--Ostrander was no longer scripting the book. Phil Foglio was (Rice was credited with "Special Thanks" in one of Foglio's Buck Godot stories before he started writing Joe, so there was apparently a history there).

Taken as a whole, the series is pretty good space opera. The aliens are formidable. The stories range from small encounters to huge battles. The extended cast works pretty well together. It was a competent book all around, but it never jumped the spark gap from "This is fun," to "I gotta' have this book and tell all my friends about it!"

In issue 8, though, something unusual happened. Phil Foglio did some guest art. Here's the story.

Up in the air, Junior BirdmanPomru, Joe's Tavitan co-pilot, has been making some highly unauthorized changes to Joe, including an experimental "absolute zero super-cooled computer" (don't ask me how a computer can process data at absolute zero, m'kay? The tech is all standard manga-magic). He goes out for a test flight, but something goes wrong. There's an explosion that opens a hole in Joe's hull, allowing a cloud of Mellenares inside.

Once inside the Mellenares read Pomru's thoughts to determine what form they should take. As Pomru is thinking, "I'm my own worst enemy" at the time, the Mellenares form a green gremlin whose shape mimics Pomru's. And the battle is on.

Gotcha, ya varmint!

Let's try that again, shall we?

That's Foglio drawing the alien, finally getting to indulge in a little of his own cartoony style in an issue dedicated to Bob Clampett. In the end, after a series of slapstick encounters straight out of old cartoons, Pomru manages to defeat his telepathic enemy and succeeds in accomplishing what no one in the entire war has managed to do--take an enemy prisoner.

Ironically, although Joe's increasing popularity took him from back-up feature to anthology feature to limited series to regular series, he didn't last very long as a monthly book. The series was canceled after 15 issues (and as I discovered on New Year's Day, my run ends at issue 14--AAARRRGGGHHHH!!!). Part of it may have been due to Rice's difficulty in meeting a monthly schedule; Joe ran a back-up feature for several issues, cutting the lead story to 16 pages, and still needed Ben Dunn to do fill-in pencils for a couple of issues.

But for those of us who'd caught the anime bug and couldn't get our fill of the real thing (since anime and manga were still slow in coming here back in those days--kids today don't know how good they have it, consarn it!), Dynamo Joe was a fun jolt of giant robot action.

And now I've got to hunt through some back-issue bins for #15.

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