Friday, March 28, 2014

Lost Legends: The Uncollected and Out of Print Works of Peter David

Yesterday, Marvel made a big announcement: A new series starring Miguel O'Hara, the Spider-Man of the year 2099, was being launched, and it was being written by the character's creator, Peter David. I've written about Peter David before, in regards to his run on X-Factor and his adaptations of Stephen King's The Dark Tower. But that's barely scratching the surface of his work. Peter David is one of my favorite writers in comics (and other media), and so today I thought I'd touch on some of his work that you might not have read and isn't readily available. This work in either completely uncollected, or has lapsed out of print in trades. I'm not going to talk about the original Spider-Man 2099, though, since I intend to do a full piece on that when the series gets closer. And now, without further ado, the lost legends of Peter David.

Atlantis Chronicles

Peter David does great small, personal stories that are character-centric, but is equally at home writing on a grand canvas. The grandest canvas he might have ever written on was in DC Comics' Atlantis Chronicles, a seven issue mini-series that traced the history of the lost continent of Atlantis, from shortly before it's sinking to the birth of Aquaman. There are three distinct arcs within the series. The first is the story of King Orin, the king at the time of the sinking, and his brother, Shalako. From them, we get the history of the two great cities of Atlantis, Poseidonis and Tritonis, and a blood feud between the two brothers and their children and grandchildren. Feuds between, and blood spilled by, brothers becomes a central theme of Peter David's run on Aquaman and related titles, and the second arc furthers it by investigating Atlan, a great sorcerer of Atlantean history, and his brothers, Haumond and Kraken, and Atlantis's invasion of the world above the waves in ancient times. The final arc, the shortest, deals with Queen Atlanna and her marriage to King Trevis. Atlanna is the mother of Aquaman, and Peter David made a serious retcon, changing Aquaman's birth father from a human lighthouse keeper to Atlan, the immortal wizard he had introduced in the previous arc. The series gave plenty of background to Atlantis, creating a story in perfect scope with it's timeline, set over millennia. It also gave a reason why the Atlanteans had a problem with blonde hair, the reason historically given to why Aquaman was cast out of the city as an infant. Estaban Maroto's art is gorgeous, done in the European style, and while each era of Atlantis is distinct, each has a continuity of design that follows the evolution of the undersea civilization. The mini-series was written as a lead in to a new Aquaman ongoing that wound up doing to a different writer, but some years later, DC came back to David, who got to write the story that he had planned.


The run on Aquaman lasted over forty issues, and built a new vision of Atlantis for the modern DC Universe. The run is best known for it being the series where Aquaman lost his hand and got a harpoon and hook in its place. But there's a whole lot more to it than that. The series built on the history set forth in the Atlantis Chronicles, with characters like Atlan and Kordax the Cruel, and with lost cities, magicians, and alien invasions. David took a lot of the other underwater and Atlantean characters of the DC Universe and brought them into one world, including the World War II era heroes Tsunami and Neptune Perkins, the ancient sorcerer Arion and his granddaughter, Power Girl (at least at the time she was thought to be his granddaughter. Power Girl's background has changed even more times than Hawkman's), and the former Global Guardian, Dolphin. Dolphin became a major part of the cast, becoming the love interest for Aquaman, and then the object of a love triangle between Aquaman and his sidekick, Garth. It was during this run as well that Garth went from being Aqualad to Tempest. David developed Garth's character, giving him a new set of powers that made him more distinct from Aquaman, and helped bring him out of Aquaman's shadow. The series also continued to play on the theme of brother versus brother that Atlantis Chronicles began, with Aquaman at war with his brother, Orm, or Ocean Master, and the war between Aquaman's sons Koryak, the illegitimate son Aquaman discovered he had early in the series, and Arthur Jr., the possibly resurrected son of Aquaman and Mera, or possibly the son of Thanatos, a dark version of Aquaman. Unfortunately, these plot threads were left unresolved when David left the series unexpectedly, but the series did a great job of making Atlantis a viable part of the DC Universe and both Aquaman and Tempest more a part of that universe. Nearly all of the developments have been retconned out by the New 52, but that doesn't take away from the underwater adventures David crafted.


When Peter David started writing Supergirl, it was during the period when DC Comics wanted Superman to be the last son of Krypton, so there were supposed to be no other Kryptonians in the DC Universe. So the Supergirl he was given was a telekinetic shapeshifter plasma being called Matrix. At the beginning of the series, Matrix is bonded with a human girl, Linda Danvers, and the series explores their bonding. But more than that, it becomes one of the earlier times where Peter David explores the theme of faith and religion, one that will become central to a work I'll be discussing shortly. The series moves from what might be a traditional superhero book into a mix of the supernatural and horror, with Supergirl becoming and Earth Born Angel, one of three who work the will of the almighty on Earth. Not only is Linda tested, but we see her mother, Sylvia, who is an ordinary woman with strong faith, dealing with the calamities that come from a superhero in a small town. One of the regular supporting characters/antagonists of the book is Buzz, a demon who tells a story in an early issue that does something DC Comics of the era rarely did, which is tie Vertigo into DC by referencing the events of the Sandman story, "Season of Mists." As the series progressed, the mythology David built around heaven and angels in the DCU takes on an interesting life, and he builds a whole new supernatural corner of the Universe that has really not been explored, including Wally, a young boy who may or may not have been an aspect of God. Over the course of the eighty issues, readers are treated to watching the Supergirl aspect of the character grow more human, and Linda grow up. The final arc of the series, titled "Many Happy Returns," is particularly well regarded, as it saw the return of a pre-Crisis Supergirl. The end is a sad one, one I don't want to spoil any of, but it's a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Linda really didn't appear much after that, but the themes were furthered in another Peter David series.

Fallen Angel

Initially published by DC Comics, where it ran for twenty issues, Fallen Angel was a series that Peter David eventually took to IDW Publishing, where it ran for thirty-three issues and two mini-series. While initially seemingly a follow up to Supergirl, with the main character being that series title heroine after the ending of the series, it quickly became something very different. Lee, or Liandra, lives in the city of Bete Noire, which is the center of causality in the world; what happens in the city changes the world outside it. The Fallen Angel, as Lee is called, serves as a court of last appeal for those lost souls who have nowhere else to turn. The book exists in a world of perpetual moral grey; even Lee, our heroine, is not entirely a heroic character. The characters around her are even more grey, many of them downright evil, but are always painted with a human brush; they all have their good points as well as their bad, although some, like the Magistrate of Bete Noire Dr. Juris, have far fewer good ones than others. The first arc of the IDW run, "To Serve in Heaven," is one of my favorite Peter David stories, revealing Liandra's origin, which has a fascinating theological bent, one that would I'm sure offend anyone of a fundamentalist mentality, but taken as a literary device makes the senseless universe make a lot of sense, even if it's very dark sense. And for you Whedon fans out there, the -first mini-series published after the series proper ended, The Return, features an appearance by Illyria, elder god from Angel. The availability on these trades might be a bit better than the other books on this list, but is spotty enough I felt like I should include it, since I view it as one of the definitive works of Peter David.

The Incredible Hulk #397-467 & -1

When it comes to comics, Peter David is probably most famous for his extended run on The Incredible Hulk, a run that lasted for over one hundred issues, and is arguably the greatest run on that character. Certainly, none of the modern runs by the likes of Greg Pak and Jason Aaron would have been possible without the groundwork David laid. And while Marvel has collected the first half of the run in the Hulk Visionaries: Peter David trades, the second half remains uncollected, and this is some of the best work on the entire series. While those first trades include art by Image founder Todd MacFarlane and legendary Hulk artist Dale Keown, the rest of the run includes early work from Gary Frank, work from Liam Sharpe and Angel Medina, and the run was rounded out by Adam Kubert. While some of the issue sin the middle are clearly marred by the editorial interference that was rampant in Marvel comics at the time, there's still so much in those seventy plus issues, it's hard to plug it all in here. Peter David's writing is never decompressed, but with the narrative continuing for over ten years, he finds ways to cram more into each issue. Hulk and Betty's relationship develops, as does that of Hulk's best friend, Rick Jones, and his girlfriend/wife, Marlo. We see the conclusion of the saga of the Pantheon, the group of international trouble shooters with ties to Greek Myth that Hulk works with. We get an interesting inversion of the classic Hulk/Banner relationship. The Hulk spends time without Banner in him, and it's done in a way that's different than when it's been tried before. Hulk briefly becomes a Horseman of Apocalypse. Thunderbolt Ross returns. And that's just a handful of stories. Peter David does a ton with a character that any writers would write off as a character that just smashes things, and that vision is what has allowed other writers to do different and interesting things with Hulk since then. There are many issues of note within this part of the run, but I want to draw attention to a few. Issue 418 is the issue which cover I selected above, the wedding of Rick and Marlo, an issue that is both hilarious and heartfelt, and ends with a trademark Peter David pun. Issue 420, "Lest Darkness Come," deals with the very real issue of AIDS in a way that very few superhero comics could. "Grave Matters," part of a month where all Marvel comics were numbered -1, tells the story of the death of Bruce Banner's abusive father, Brian, and is narrated by a weird circus Stan Lee; it is probably the best of those -1 issues, and adds depth to the relationship that in many ways defined Bruce's life. And the final issue, 467, "The Lone and Level Sands," is narrated by a Rick Jones of the future who recalls what happened to Hulk for the decades after the events of the previous issue. It's a send off to a run that still stands as one of the greatest of the 90s, and shows David had plenty of further ideas for the Hulk without leaving the readers fuming about dangling plot threads. The final pages are some of the most emotionally draining and beautiful that I have ever seen in any comic.

There are a lot of other works by Peter David, including runs on Star Trek, the Young Justice comic that loosely inspired the animated series, his teen-spy series for Dark Horse Spyboy, and so many more. And that's not even touching his novels. I have a couple projects in the works involving Peter David, one that will dig more deeply into the Hulk, but that's for another day. For today, why don't you go out and pick up a book by everybody's favorite Writer of Stuff.

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