The summer journey through the Amalgam Universe continues today with a review of “Speed Demon”, one of the stranger Marvel/DC combos.
Here’s the process I believe was behind this Amalgam:
“Hmm. Flash is popular. Obviously, we should mix him with Marvel’s speedster, Quicksilver. We can put them in the Judgment League Avengers or JLX.”
“Nah, Quicksilver’s part of “Magento and the Magnetic Men.” Does anyone else from Marvel go fast?”
“Uh… Ghost Rider has a motorcycle.”
“Ooh! That’s good. Let’s do that. It’ll be Flash possessed by a demon.”
“The Demon? You want to mix Etrigan in there, too? It’d be a good visual I guess.”
“No, that’s not what I-”
“It’s cool. We can make that work.”
This was a real team effort, with two writers (Howard Mackie and James Felder) and two artists (Salvador Larroca and Al Milgrom). “Speed Demon” is a Marvel publication.
Since this is the first issue of “Speed Demon”, obviously the story opens with Hal Jordan of the Starbrand Corps locked in battle with Uatu the evil Guardian. Just as Uatu’s about to kill Jordan, Speed Demon shows up and burns the traitorous alien. Jordan tries to say thanks, but Speed Demon has heard Jordan murdered his teammates and, because of a hilarious misunderstanding, Speed Demon kills Jordan too.
Cut to a circus, where Wally West is worried about his uncle Blaze. The circus freaks/performers want Wally to leave because they’re worried Blaze’s obsession with the occult will corrupt his nephew.
As he leaves, Wally learns his uncle, Blaze Allen, is really the Speed Demon. Blaze explains that his wife’s soul was stolen by Night Spectre (Nightmare + Spectre), who plans to gather enough souls to enter Hell (??). To save his wife, Blaze had the wizard Merlin bond him with Etrigan. Now he kills people before Night Spectre can take their souls (??).
Meanwhile, Harvey Osborne (Green Goblin + Two Face) is being attacked by his allies Scarecrow and Siliconman (Sandman + Plastic Man). They’re both possessed by Night Spectre, who needs Osborne’s soul. Just as Night Spectre’s about to get it, Speed Demon runs by and rescues Osborne. Spectre and Demon briefly battle to see who gets to kill Osborne.
Spectre gets him and the two travel to Spectre’s dark dimension. Speed Demon follows. Meanwhile, Merlin visits Wally, whose last name is now Allen.
Knowing that his uncle is in trouble, Wally asks Merlin to make him a Speed Demon also.
In Night Spectre’s sanctum, Etrigan and Blaze have been separated because Merlin’s spells have no power there. Among Spectre’s collection of souls, Etrigan finds the soul of Jay Garrick, the man he used to be. Spectre has captured Blaze, and they talk a bunch. Then the new Speed Demon crashes through a window and beats Spectre. The two return to Earth and decide to team up as heroes.
What “Wizard” thought then
Not much. In their advance coverage, “Speed Demon” editor Bobbie Chase promised it would include a lot of Amalgam characters not seen in other books. She recommended it to fans of the collection of memorabilia from dead heroes seen in “Hulk: Future Imperfect”. This oddly specific subset of fans must not be large, as orders for “Speed Demon” put it in the bottom third of Amalgam sales.
What I think now
The first time I read this, I was not impressed. The second time I read it, I was even less impressed. The third time, I decided it was trying to be funny and now I’m questioning how many of the bad parts were done that way on purpose.
The answer is: not enough of them. The book has more minor production flaws than Wally’s changing surname. There’s at least two places where word balloons point to the wrong character, which is really distracting.
There’s also Speed Demon’s “poetry”. Maybe the writers did it on purpose, but it’s terrible. I don’t mean Ludacris rhyming “bro/bruh” with “Africa” terrible, either. Luda might change a pronunciation to get the needed sound, but at least he nails the rhythm. Speed Demon spouts lines like “There is no trick / for I am most quick” and “Before you cast upon me incrimination / think twice if you believe I was always this abomination.” The first is a four syllable / five syllable combo which might work if you read it fast enough, I guess. The second is a 12 – 16 combo. TWELVE AND SIXTEEN! That’s not rhyming, that’s… that’s not anything. It comes off lazy at best, pretentious posing at worst. And it took two guys to write this?Continued below
The plot itself is fine, I guess. There’s certainly a lot happening. Some of it’s contrived to force characters into their assigned roles, and some of it’s nonsense to provide motivation, but most of it is entertaining. I suspect people who enjoyed the Danny Ketch Ghost Rider would probably have enjoyed this more than I did.
The artwork is nice and moody, but it’s not at all like the Larroca I’m familiar with. He and Milgrom are co-credited with “art” and there’s no inker listed. The work is very consistent, so I’m wondering if maybe Larroca did layouts and Milgrom did finishes? I don’t know why they wouldn’t credit them that way, but maybe it was a pay rate thing.
Regardless of who did what, they did packed in the action. The average page had six panels, and some had as many as twelve without using a standard grid. Sometimes it worked well, sometimes not so well. Take this layout, for example. I’ve added a diagram showing the reading order.
I was able to make sense of the page, but it took effort. The first time through, I wanted to read it in a 1-4-5-6-2-3-8-9-10 fashion. Notice how I skipped panel 7 the first time through? I’ve been reading comics for about 30 years and I think I’m pretty good at it, so if I have trouble making sense of a page I usually blame the artist before I blame myself. Am I wrong here? Is this layout intuitive for everyone else?
If this were a real ongoing series, I wouldn’t bother flipping through a second issue. In addition to the weaknesses in the writing and art, this kind of supernatural isn’t my favorite thing to read. I tell you what, though, I’d track down that Hal Jordan / Starbrand Corps / Uatu the Guardian story if I could.