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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 353: Terminal City #1

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. As it’s now December, I will be examining the LAST pages of random comics, so watch out for SPOILERS! Today’s page is from Terminal City #1, which was published by DC/Vertigo and is cover dated July 1996. Enjoy!

Dang, Cosmo gets bashed on the head a lot

Dean Motter’s Terminal City was an interesting series (or set of two series, I suppose) which seems to be scratching Motter’s itch to do more Mister X stories without having Mister X in them. Was Mister X tied up in copyright issues in 1996? I don’t know, but maybe it’s just that Motter loves his “archaic future” stories, in which cities are both super-modern and slightly old-fashioned, and so he wrote this just for fun, dagnabit!

At the end of the first issue, Cosmo Quinn gets bashed on the head. Cosmo is a former “human fly” who once climbed several of the world’s landmarks but, as we discover over the course of this issue, lost his career and fortune through a variety of factors. Now he cleans windows, because he’s well suited for the position. His ex-girlfriend, Charity, runs a bar in Terminal City’s biggest hotel, and earlier in this issue, Cosmo had an opportunity to see her when he was cleaning the windows above the bar and suddenly a dude crashed through them and landed in the middle of Charity’s bar (and didn’t die, because he fell into a giant cake). The man had a steel briefcase chained to his wrist, but he couldn’t remember what it is or even who he was. He was being chased by two gangsters, who obviously couldn’t follow him into the bar. Cosmo remembers his last job, climbing the head of the Colossus of Roads, a giant statue in the process of being built, where he saw a severed hand also chained to a briefcase. Before he could do anything about it, he was clonked on the head and the crime covered up, which helped end his career (people thought he was lying about the hand). So that’s what Motter is writing about when he has Cosmo narrate about the “valise” and how he can finally solve the mystery that ended his career.

Michael Lark sure can draw a nice page, can’t he? This is relatively early in his career, but he already has a great style, especially for certain kinds of stories, and he brings Motter’s strange Art Deco vision to wonderful life in these series. In Panel 1, he places Cosmo in the middle ground, but he’s still dwarfed by the Colossus’ head (the statue was never completed), which overshadows his entire life because of what happened when he tried to climb it. As we move through the top row, Lark zooms in on the Colossus, showing us the dark figures descending from the nostril. This is called foreshadowing, kids! Panel 4 is your standard approach shot, as the hero in the background is smaller than the men in the foreground who are about the attack him, but Lark lays the page out well so our eyes move from Cosmo to the bad guys, and we’re supposed to think “Oh no!” The final panel is exactly the same as when Cosmo got bonked on the head years earlier, except that he’s older now. Lark probably used the exact same drawing and altered the clothing and took Cosmo’s mask/helmet off (he was in his Human Fly costume in the earlier panel), but otherwise, it’s the same. Of course, Lark is smart enough to make sure the panel flows to the right, which is where the issue ends. Rick Taylor, whose colors are quite good in this series, doesn’t have too much to do, but he gives the Colossus a nice, eerie sheen, as it’s lit from below, causing great swaths of blackness on its face and hiding the secrets within. And while this is Willie Schubert’s lettering, because the narration is Cosmo typing out his memoirs, the lettering is different from Schubert’s usual style, which means I don’t have an issue with it. On other pages in the book – sure. But not this one!

Terminal City was a pretty keen comic book. It was complex and clever and featured beautiful artwork. This page is just a small example!

Next: It’s the very first writer I pissed off on the Internet! Well, I’m not sure if “pissed off” is the correct term, but I did somehow get his attention. But it’s all good now, because I always stop by and talk with him at Comic-Con, and he’s an awesome dude! You won’t, however, find him yet in the archives!

4 Comments

real great read.. i recommend it

Nice pick, Greg. Loved Motter’s Mister X and wondered the same thing about copyright.

Lark’s work is perfectly suited for this story.

I’m flattered as are, I’m sure, Mssrs Lark, Taylor and Schuber, as well. It was as enjoyable to do as it looked. To answer the question- yes Mister X copyrights were still tied up in 1996– and I still had more work to do in my retro-future. But it was Vertigo’s Shelly Bond nee Roeberg that simply suggested I visit another town. Terminal City was as much her doing as any of us. Dark Horse issued both Terminal City series as a collected edition last year, so the stories can still be found. Dark Horse also issued a collection of Electopolis, the intended third Terminal City tale And, now that copyright issues are happily-long settled all-new Mister X stories are scheduled for this year. Hope to live up to all the praise.

Thanks, Dean. Very cool of you to stop by. I saw that the Dark Horse Presents story was offered in Previews this month, and I was hoping that meant we’d get more Mister X stories!

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