The rise, fall, and return of Jim Starlin’s science fiction superhero.
My favorite comic books have always been a strange mixture of imagination and death.
The technical marvels of planet Krypton spark the imagination, but the Superman story doesn’t begin until his world explodes.
Batman’s cool crime fighting tools, including the Batmobile, are wonderfully inventive but are driven by a mission that began with the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents.
Hal Jordan’s ring — fueled by imagination and will power — came to him as a gift from a dying alien.
And Jim Corrigan and Boston Brand wouldn’t even have become superheroes if they weren’t dead.
Death and imagination are also the key elements of The Weird, which began as a four-issue mini-series in 1987. The title character disappeared for 20 years and returned in 2006 as a back-up feature in the recently concluded Mystery In Space eight-issue limited series.
The original The Weird series, written by Jim Starlin and illustrated by Bernie Wrightson and Dan Green, began with an evil mystic bringing an evil energy being to Earth from another dimension. The portal opened by the mystic, Jason Morgan, also brought along another energy being, whose arrival interested the Justice League.
Green Lantern (Guy Gardner) tries to analyze it with his ring, Dr. Fate tries a few ineffective incantations, and Superman and the Martian Manhunter track the energy being’s movements. The Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Batman, and Black Canary also show up but provide no assistance other than cluttering some really nice art with word balloons that say things like, “I think you’re right, Batman! Look!”
The energy being (we don’t learn until issue #2 they call themselves ‘Zarolatts‘) drops by a genetic research lab and stops at a funeral just long enough to hijack the dead body of Walter Langley. From this, it creates a “shell” to contain his energy. The Weird emerges from an crackling electrical sphere as a human being with a enlarged right eye, who dresses like a cross between a ninja and a pirate Blue Beetle — who flies around in an insect shaped aircraft and has no discernible superpowers but wears a costume anyway — decides to name this new life-form “The Weird.” Talk about a pot calling a kettle black…
Anyway, the Justice League determines The Weird is full of unstable energy and may blow up like a nuclear bomb and destroy the world. They want to move him off planet, but The Weird has other ideas. He has the power to change his density (much like Marvel’s android, hero The Vision) and is able to fight or elude any of the JLA members trying to capture him. He tracks down the evil energy being that has bonded to Jason Morgan, but Jason’s apartment is vacant. With time to kill, The Weird shows up at Walter Langley’s home and visits Walter’s son Billy.
Why is that when a corpse gets reanimated, the first thing they all want to do is see family members? I hope if any of my dead relatives get possessed by an extra-dimensional energy being and return deformed and wearing tights, they have the courtesy to call first and don’t just show up in the backyard wanting to have awkward conversations.
The second issue of The Weird spends several pages recapping the first issue and even more time having The Weird explain to Billy who he is, why he is there, and why he has to seek out and battle Jason. The Weird has a good old-fashioned brawl with Superman and fights him to standstill, then drops back in on Jason, who is home this time, but has partially transmuted into a kind of green crystal being.
During the remaining two issues of the original mini-series, some Macrolatts (the evil energy beings The Weird came to destroy) take control of Superman and Nuklon (of the old Infinity Inc. series), The Weird kills Jason, The Justice League fights the possessed Superman and Nuklon but only The Weird can beat them. The Weird has several pages of tearful farewells with Billy and then is taken to space where he explodes.
The story was alright and the art was great, but I couldn’t help wondering why this was a mini-series and not just a storyline in the monthly Justice League series. It seemed a waste to create a new superhero capable of defeating the combined Justice League and then kill him off at the end of the story.
But the real problem with the original The Weird mini-series was not that wrong things happen but that not much happens at all. A few fights, a little sentimentality and an inevitable conclusion. Hardly the stuff of comic book legend.
So I was very surprised to see The Weird revived as the backup feature for the eight-issue Mystery In Space relaunch last November.
Since the new storyline for The Weird was tied to the Captain Comet feature in the front of the book, explaining the plot would take longer than it would just to read the actual comics, but here are the highlights:
The first three pages of the latest The Weird story are disembodied word balloons floating in space.
By the third page, The Weird has formed some internal organs and after much more exposition, forms a skeleton around them. He recaps The Weird mini-series, stops talking to the reader and starts talking to himself, and discovers he’s on a city-sized satellite called Hardcore Station.
The Weird is co-opted into a religion called The Eternal Light Corporation, who manipulate him into being a holy hitman. If death and imagination are uneasy combination, it becomes even stranger when you add the element of religion.
The best thing about The Weird stories in Mystery In Space are how he is able to overcome the lies and shackles of organized religion, while still missing the comfort and sense of purpose that religion gave him. But it is a little odd (and who would expect less from a book called The Weird) that our hero become a martyr FIRST and THEN begins to question theology. Generally speaking, people do that the other way around.
While pondering all these great theological issues, The Weird gets knocked unconscious a few times, gets his memory wiped, gets his butt kicked repeatedly and discovers that his current body is a clone of Captain Comet.
The story ends with a battle between Captain Comet and The Weird. The Weird tells Comet that he is heading back to Earth, presumably to further traumatize Billy who has already seen his biological father die twice.
If The Weird actually returns as a major hero in the DC universe, it would not be surprising from a company that recently made Booster Gold interesting again and made readers actually feel bad for Black Adam.
The great thing about The Weird is that he spends so much time pondering the unanswerable questions — death, religion, and the nature of humanity.
The bad thing about The Weird is that he never seems to get any closer to the answers he seeks. Questions without answers are like plots without resolution — just a lot of echoes into a void.
Maybe in a universe full of death and imagination, that’s the best we get.