1983: The DNAgents

The DNAgents (1983) #1-24, The New DNAgents (1985) #1-17, Three Dimensional DNAgents (1986) #1, Surge (1984) #1-4 by Mark Evanier et al.

While Eclipse had dipped their toes into the colour floppy market a bit before this, DNAgents is the first super-hero book they published.

As such, it would have been nice to read something from the publishers about this change of heart, but all we’re getting is that the creators were represented by Star*Reach (i.e., Mike Friedrich), and that he had brought the project to Eclipse, and Eclipse had said yes. A year later, Eclipse was also to reprint some “best of” collections of material that Star*Reach had published in the 70s, so perhaps that had something to do with it.

Or perhaps the Mullaney brother just wanted to make some money. Or perhaps they had a sudden lapse in taste.

I don’t mean to imply that super-hero comics have to be awful, because there’s been several that are quite readable. I mean, several.

The DNAgents were created by Mike Evanier and Will Meugniot (geez, I just realised when I was typing his name right now that I’ve always imagined that it was “Meuginot”!).

Anyway, it’s pronounced like Sal Mineo, as Evanier explains repeatedly, and his male characters (as can be seen above) do not have belly-buttons or nipples, which his female characters have the former and it’s uncertain whether they have the latter.

Evanier is from the “super-heroes are fun” camp, so we get a lot of jokes, physical comedy and references to pop culture. I’d say that about half his jokes land, which isn’t a bad ratio. But they’re more amusing than hilarious, if you get my drift…

Evanier almost never goes meta with his humour. I think this is the only instance in the series.

Three of five of Meugniot’s character designs incorporates a bare belly. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s a thing.

This is a super-hero book, so there’s a lot of super-hero fights between the aforementioned DNAgents (artificial humans owned by a corporation in a world they never made yada yada) and a quite small range of super-villains that come back again and again. But I find these bits more interesting: Here we have the eeevil theatre critic rudely making the actors cry!

But it turns out that he’s a buffoon! Ha! Ha!

Now that’s humour.

“Stop Surge. Again!” Yes. The stories are very repetitive. Evanier has imbued each of the five DNAgents with very specific character traits, and they repeat their characteristics repeatedly. Did I mention that he repeats himself? Again and again? Repeatedly?

It’s from the “well, the only way that I can show that these are distinct characters is to have then behave like obsessive compulsives over that trait, right?”

So Surge goes off every other issue and the others have to stop him, and Sham whines constantly whenever any of the others leave the room.

Eclipse are pretty good about their production work. This is a rare oopsie.

A recurring theme in the letters pages is Meugniot’s penchant for cheesecake with strategically placed towels and conveniently placed locks of long hair. And also beefcake with strategically placed plants and tables, but not as… recurring. I think.

Oh, did I mention the pop culture references? I did? That’s a joke perhaps not a lot of people will pick up on today…

Can you imagine if movie studios tried to have their films take place in the same universe!? No, never.

I guess comicalisation has taken over the world of entertainment…

Dean Mullaney announces that Eclipse will be doubling their line of comics in 1984. I think DNAgents was pretty successful, and may be part of a larger cash flow that would enable Eclipse to do that expansion, but that’s just a guess on my part.

DNAgents is perhaps one of the three major pillars of the Eclipse publishing empire (the other two are the Airboy-verse and the Scout-verse) that together account for about 20% of the collected output of Eclipse. And is one of the things that made me almost not go through with this (re-)reading project, because I’m interested in neither project.

Although, to be fair, DNAgents was the only one of the three I had read anything from. I bought about half a dozen DNAgents comics as an early teen before deciding that I wasn’t interested. Reading these has not changed my mind, but I hope my prejudices towards Airboy and Scout were misplaced…

Anyway, I just wanted to mention that I find Meugniot’s artwork to be wildly variable. When he’s drawing closeups of girls he often does that admirably well, and his action scenes are often quite fun. But many pages are very clumsy, and his favourite action pose is for everybody to hold their arms up in the air and grinning towards the camera like they… don’t… care?

I dunno. It’s kinda weird.

*gasp* The long-haired one cut off her hair!

Oh, this one is kinda interesting. I guess. I mean, it’s one of the worst issues in the series, but as is explained a few issues later, Project Youngblood (wasn’t there an Image series by the same name a decade later?) is supposed to be the New Teen Titans. DCs published at the same time an issue of that comic that had a version of the DNAgents in it, so it was an unofficial crossover of sorts.

Although nobody told anybody, and the version here of the Teen Titans looks nothing like them, so people wondered whether DC were just ripping off The DNAgents. And were angry and stuff. According to Evanier’s little essay in that later issue.

I hope the DC part was better.

Oops! I bought these comics from somebody who sent med issues 15 and 16 of The New DNAgents (i.e., DNAgents Volume 2) instead of the ones I wanted. Boo. So I have no idea how this happened:

Her hair regenerated somehow!

Well, I guess when they have super-hero growing vats, that probably shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Meugniot leaves the book around this point, too, and we get a shifting cast of new pencillers, none of which are good. Some of them are better than Meugniot, but it’s mostly just standard bad super-hero artwork.

That is… Richard Howell? Yes.

cat yronwode announces that she’s now editor-in-chief after co-owner Jan Mullaney left the company, and that they’re taking over most of the books that Pacific Comics were publishing (after they went bankrupt). This further increased the lineup…

Issue 17 is pretty bizarre all around. They drop in this “poetry” on some pages without any explanation.

yronwode’s colum has been named! And they’ve instituted a recap box, which is handy for new readers.

Jerry Ordway drops by to pencil eight pages, and it’s a relief for those eight pages, but then we’re back to the rest of the crew again, so perhaps it would have been better if he hadn’t shown up and raised our hopes for competent artwork.

I do think it’s rather odd for a company like Eclipse to do the fill-in-artist game. Eclipse was set up to be a new kind of comic book company (they’ve said repeatedly), but then they just follow the practices from the majors anyway.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned that Evanier writes quite a lot of text on the pages that are ostensibly the letters pages. But I think everybody’s fine with that, because he has interesting things to write about. Here he’s writing about CBS optioning The DNAgents for a live-action TV show, and how that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be made (and it wasn’t, I think?).

The bad artwork continues with Richard Howell…

But it’s not like Mitch Shauer is any more inspiring.

Meugniot provides a cover that says “Bye bye! Will”? Does that mean that he left the property forever? The editorial doesn’t mention this at all…

Hey! That Joni Mitchell face (by Richard Howell) looks very Kirbyan, doesn’t it?

Eclipse announces that they’re starting a line of 75c comics (which was the price of Marvel/DC comics at the time, I think?). DNAgents is one of the books that will have its price slashed in half. What they don’t mention is that these books will also have cheaper printing and worse paper.

When moving to the cheaper price, they’re also moving to a new #1, so this is the final DNAgents issue of the first volume. And the reason I’m showing this cover is because it’s by Dave Stevens, and while you can buy all the other issues of DNAgents for prices well below $1 to this day, this issue will set you back $10-$30, depending on the state of the comic.

I wonder why!

And I’ll just close this part of this blog article on DNAgents with this willfully out-of-context crop of a page from #24.

To be continued! Right below here! But that’ll be tomorrow for me and a few mms for you…

I’m awake! I’m awake!

So… how about that New DNAgents? Well, it’s on thinner, slightly off-white paper, but it’s not bad. It’s not newsprint. They never quite name the paper they’ve used, but perhaps it’s… “mando”? I seem to remember that that was a thing back then.

The other changes are more disturbing. There’s ads sprinkled in-between the story pages, which is a first for Eclipse, but standard operating procedure over at Marvel and DC.

The other disturbing thing is that the colours (or the colour separations) are totally insane. That brown-haired woman is supposed to be African-American, not… Martian, for instance.

They’ve also taken the opportunity to slightly tweak the design of the characters, but nothing major. (And the Matrix corporation has apparently built exhibition booths to show off the Artificial Five.)

Mark Evanier explains at length the reasoning behind the format and price changes (cutting the price of the book in half). He also explains that the book was supposed to be printed in Europe, but that that didn’t work out, so at the time he’s writing this, he has no idea where this will be printed, which might explain the weird colours.

The second issue is coloured by Steve Oliff, apparently: At least “Oliff” is jotted down on the bottom of the first page. I kinda like it: It has a painterly feel, but it’s very different from how DNAgents has looked before.

Evanier gives up on calling the monumental-essay-with-a-letter-tacked-on pages for the “letters pages” (for a couple of issues).

He also lets Len Wein answer a letter.

Hey! Topical humour!

In issue three we finally get the explanation for the weird colouring in issue one, and apparently Evanier is tired of hearing complaints about it, and tries to avert any further criticism. The colouring of the first issue was done by a Spanish company, so it probably had something to do with the aborted attempt at getting the series printed in Europe?

I’ll be re-reading Crossfire in… about a week? I’m kinda looking forward to that. As opposed to DNAgents, which I gave up pretty early, I think I kept up with Crossfire until it was cancelled. Evanier thinks that it’s a better comic than DNAgents, too, apparently.

After a handful of issues, Eclipse manages to sell some ads. Until now, all the sprinkled-in-between ad pages had been internal, but now the ads from these people pop up now and then.

I’m guessing the ad rates were not huge.

Then catastrophe strikes: Northern California suffered a major flood, and the Eclipse offices were submerged. They lost all the back stock and film (so no more foreign reprints), which must have been a huge set-back and perhaps explains why Eclipse (the company) made so many… compromised… publishing decisions in the following years.

But we’ll get to that much later in this blog series when we reach the comic series that starts in 86/87.

Hey! That was a big deal in the mid-80s: The Jack Kirby Petition. (Kirby wanted his artwork back from Marvel, who were holding it hostage in an attempt to get him to sign retroactive work-for-hire contracts.) Nice to see Eclipse supporting it. (Well, I assume they did, and that this isn’t a paid ad from Fantagraphics.)

catherine ⊕ yronwode tells the harrowing tale of the flood. Click to embiggen.

New DNAgents (which I think were still one of the better-selling Eclipse comics at this time) carried previews for The New Wave and Airboy, two properties owned by Eclipse, but written and drawn by hired hands, if I understand correctly…

The artist merry-go-round continues, and Evanier says that Mike Sekowsky “is one of the ten-or-so most-admired artists” among comic book professionals.

Hm. Well… He’s better than most of the pencillers who worked on DNAgents, but… I think… perhaps… Evanier’s claim is overstated.

How’s that for diplomatic!

That’s a very “tee hee” concept, and it ends just as you would assume. But with well-placed body parts to hide other well-placed body parts.

By issue 15, Evanier drops the “New” from “New DNAgents”, which is how I ended up with two copies of The DNAgents vol 1 #15-16 instead of one each from vol. 1 and vol. 2. Thanks!!! Where’s my huff! I need to walk off in it!

… but hang on! That’s a Rick Geary drawing advertising a sci-fi anthology! Cancel that huff! I loves me some Geary objects.

The final new “regular” penciller for DNAgents is Erik Larsen, who only manages less than a handful before being cycled out again. He later became famous over at Marvel before co-founding Image in the 90s.

But here’s hes… er… not… very… good?

DIPLOMACY”R”US!

Evanier explains that Erik Larsen had published some awful crap before coming over to DNAgents. I like that “wheelbarrow” imagery.

Speaking of… I mean not speaking of wheelbarrows: Eclipse published posters of Dave Stevens pin-up art? Whodathunk.

Evanier announces that DNAgents will be cancelled as soon as they have published all the issues in the pipeline. He promises to explain why the next issue! EXCITEMENT!

Meanwhile, the back issue ads are back again. Did Eclipse discover a non-water-logged warehouse of Eclipse books somewhere? What happened? It seems like there’s a story here somewhere…

As opposed to in the DNAgents book proper. As usual, something that’s already happened happens once more.

And this ad for Evanier’s other book is very strange. “Stories about human beings”. Because DNAgents is pointedly about beings that are not considered to be human (by some people in the book). So it this Evanier’s way of saying “even if you hate DNAgents now, please please stay with me”?

Aaa! Instead of the promised explanation of the cancellation in the next issue, we get the previous issues’ letters column repeated.

But then in the very final issue we get a… non-explanation, but a promise that DNAgents may be back.

29

And this is the outside back cover of the last issue, which is either the weirdest ad for ESPers imaginable, or is another production snafu (i.e., this page was meant for an issue of the ESPers book).

I dunno.

DNAgents made a brief re-appearance in 1994 from Antarctic Press with Meugniot back on the artwork, but I haven’t read that.

Having DNAgents end in this slap-dash fashion is a bit of a downer, because it did seem to receive a burst of energy during the first half-dozen issues of New DNAgents, and that’s also probably the period where the artwork was most competent as Shauer/Blyberg got better. But then they left, and then things sort of … lost focus again.

But! While DNAgents is over, this blog post isn’t!

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Because we’re going to do some mop-up: First there’s the 3D special. Eclipse were saturating the market with 3D comics at the time, and DNAgents happily jumped into the fray.

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So it’s the normal two colour 3D thing…

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Hey, my camera didn’t like the red filter. I guess you’ll just have to imagine how 3D it is, and it really is. I mean, 3D. It’s a very nicely done book, with all the drawings very much made especially for 3D processing: Not retrofitted afterwards. Lots of explosive and fun effects, and they really work. Some of the scenes look a lot like cardboard cutouts placed in front of each other, but some scenes are really “wheee” to look at, if I may use a technical term.

33

After blinking my eyes a lot after the 3D special, we come to our final item here: The Surge mini-series.

It’s about that angry guy who’s angry. It’s not very interesting, but it’s better than most DNAgents storylines.

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Oh, and I just had to mention this bit: Evanier has a hang-up on how much honour hit-men has. I think this is the, like, three-hundred-and-seventh time he mentions that hit-men would never hurt anybody but their targets, and wouldn’t even, like, embarrass them in any way.

Sure! Must be true!

35

And, finally, one bright, shiny moment of actually exciting artwork: Steve Rude stops by to do a back-up feature.

See? I ended this article on an up note.

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