Retro Review: Primal Force By Seagle, Hooper, Choles & Others For DC Comics

Primal Force #0 – 14 (October 1994 – December 1995)

Written by Steven T. Seagle

Layouts by Christopher Schenck (#3)

Pencils by Ken Hooper (#0-3, 5-6), Nick Choles (#4, 7-14), Gabriel Morrissette (#6), Greg Larocque (#7), David Ammerman (#12), Paul Guinan (#12), Jim Hall (#14)

Inks by Barbara Kaalberg (#0-14), Wade Von Grawbadger (#5), Jordi Ensign (#9), Ron Boyd (#12), Paul Guinan (#12), Don Hillsman (#14)

Coloured by Phil Allen (#0-6, 8-11, 13-14), Tom Zuiko (#7, 14), Lee Loughridge (#12)

Spoilers (from twenty-four to twenty-five years ago)

DC launched four new titles after its Zero Hour event (I don’t count REBELS ’94, since it was a continuation of LEGION ‘93).  Starman was the only one that lasted and entered into comics lore. The 90s takes on Doctor Fate (in Fate) and Manhunter both looked terrible and didn’t last too long.  And then there was Primal Force, written by the great, and greatly misunderstood, Steven T. Seagle. I remember getting and liking the zero issue enough to get the first issue of the comic.  I vaguely remember being intrigued by it, but this was just when I was starting university, and was culling my comics buying down to only the most essential (i.e., Vertigo) books.

Recently, I started reading some of Seagle’s graphic novels, and it got me thinking about this comic, which I remember as having nice art and featuring Red Tornado, a character I often liked.  Looking at covers online, I realized that later issues featured Black Condor, a character I loved from his short-lived series (which I’ve already reviewed, here).  I tracked down the rest of this short run, and am going to be looking at them with new eyes here.  Let’s see if I really missed out back in the day, or if it was best that I didn’t bother.

Let’s look at who turned up in the title:

The Leymen/Primal Force

  • Jack O’Lantern (Liam McHugh; #0-14)
  • Claw (John Chan; #0-14)
  • Tornado (apparently no longer called Red Tornado; #0-14)
  • Golem (Paul; #0-12, 14)
  • Meridian (#0-14)
  • Willpower (William Twotrees; #7-14)
  • Black Condor (Ryan Kendall; #7-14)
  • Noir (#12)

Villains

  • Cataclysm (#0-2, 12-14)
  • Silver Dragon (#0, 3-4)
  • Master Chu (#3-4)
  • Minotaur (#3)
  • Garkain (#5-6)
  • Myndie (#5-6)
  • Irrinja (#5-6)
  • Whowie (#5-6)
  • Cyborg Superman (#7)
  • The Strix (#7)
  • The August (#8-12)
  • Camille (The August; #8-12)
  • Donovan (#0, 8-11)
  • Effie the Corn Baby (#8)
  • Prince Inferno (#9)
  • Fossil (#9)
  • Alger (The August; #10, 12)
  • Corseau (The August; #10, 12)
  • Mind Eater (The August; #10-12)
  • Modrus (The August; #12)
  • The Tornado Tyrant (#12-14)
  • Lord Satanus (#12-14)

Guest Stars

  • Superman (#7)
  • Wonder Woman (#7)
  • Artemis (#7)
  • Hawkman (#7)
  • Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner; #7)
  • Arsenal (#7)
  • Donna Troy (#7)
  • Batman (Jean-Paul Valley; #7)
  • Nightmaster (Jim Rook; #8, 11-12)
  • Zatanna (#12)
  • Johnny Thunder (#12)
  • Thunderbolt (#12)
  • Martian Manhunter (#13)

Supporting Characters

  • The Woman in the Water (#0, 4-5, 7)
  • Doctor Mist (Maltis; #0-2, 4, 7-9, 12)
  • Christine (Doctor Mist’s daughter/oracle; #0-2, 8-9, 13-14
  • Mrs. Nightingale (Christine’s governess; #0-1, 4, 8-9, 13)
  • Justin Bartlow (#1, 3)
  • Paige Bartlow (#1-3)
  • Will Twotrees (becomes Willpower; #2-3, 6)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • In Northern Ireland, Liam McHugh, the new Jack O’Lantern arrives at the scene of a bus accident.  There’s a young girl still trapped in the burning bus, and when Jack breaks through the window to rescue her, she gets cut by some glass.  He feels bad about this, and worries that he’ll never become a proper hero. An old lady tells him he did well, and suggests he go “to the water” before disappearing.  In New York, a young woman named Christine tells Doctor Mist of visions she is seeing while he hypnotizes her. She sees darkness, and the coming of a man named The Cataclysm.  A man named Harold Ross cimbs a sheer cliff in Peru, looking for a hidden village. He finds the place and, being told what to do by a voice, starts shooting at the villagers before falling into a well.  At the bottom of the well, he is taken over by a being called Cataclysm, who speaks to the villagers and then leaves, searching for the man who imprisoned him there. In Hong Kong, a man named Claw tries to flee from someone called the Silver Dragon (who looks a lot like the Silver Samurai).  We figure out that Claw is trying to rescue some girls that the Dragon has trafficked. The same old woman we saw before tells Claw to go to the water, and when he jumps into a fountain, he disappears. A couple of kids go through the Grand Canyon to the place where one of them saw the Red Tornado.  The android is in rough shape, lying in a heap. The kids try to lift him, which appears to wake him up, as he stands and flies off, making weird noises. The Golem runs from police in a swamp in Louisiana. They are going to shoot him from a helicopter, but the old woman shows up and tells him to let the water take him away.  As he is shot, he falls into the swamp. In New York, in the Chamber of the Leymen, three men, Donovan, Bandaras, and Du Leaum argue with Doctor Mist. It becomes clear that they are members of the Leymen, a secret order that protects the world. These four are the last survivors, after six of their brothers were killed during the Zero Hour event.  Mist tells them that the “Celt of Cataclysm” has emerged (I assume he means cult), and while the others agree that’s bad, they feel that their time is up, and that they should be replaced by superheroes to match the new age. They take off their necklaces, which they call ties, and drop them into a reflecting pool in the chamber, which means they’ve retired, and they leave.  Mist, who is immortal and apparently always part of this group, starts a ritual to call ten heroes to come join the order, but he is interrupted by Cataclysm, who drowns him in the pool. A woman named Meridian finishes teaching a self defense class at a gym in Manhattan, and decides to go for a swim. The same old lady points her towards the pool, and she jumps in. We see a splash page showing all of these characters and the reflecting pool, making it clear that the invocation Mist made summoned them.  Jack shows up first, and finds Mist face down in the water. He calls for help, and just then Red Tornado falls through the skylight, landing unresponsive, on Jack’s leg. The Golem lifts him off, and Jack freaks out a bit. Merdian also shows up, and Jack feels very confused. Meridian suggests they help Mist before figuring anything else out. Claw comes running out of the pool and immediately attacks Golem. Mist is surprised to see him, but the issue ends abruptly there.
  • Claw attacks Jack, and through Mist’s narration, we learn that he knows Claw, who is named after his demonic hand, but hasn’t seen him in eight centuries.  The Red Tornado blocks Claw’s attack, and Jack blasts him into Golem. Meridian’s presence bothers Mist, even when she is able to subdue Claw. Mist calms him using his amulet, and begins to explain what’s going on when he realizes that Cataclysm had been there, and runs to check on Christine.  Christine is gone, and Mrs. Nightingale lies on the ground unconscious. Mist is still recovering from almost drowning, so Meridian goes to help Nightingale, who confirms that Christine was taken. Mist runs back to his reflecting pool, followed by Jack and Red Tornado. When everyone gathers, Meridian asks for an explanation.  Mist explains that Cataclysm is an ancient creature with a new host – Harold Ross, a man who was upset with the Earth when his wife and daughter were killed in natural disasters. We also get clarification the the use of the word celt in the zero issue wasn’t a mistake – a celt is a power stone that regulates energy. Mist continues to explain that Christine, being an oracle, can see power points and ley lines, and so he needs her help to access the power he’s looking for.  Mist then explains that for two thousand years, he’s worked with the Leymen, a group of ten men who protect the Earth, restoring balance to it. He claims that all the men there were called on, which Claw disagrees with. Mist tells Meridian to leave, since the Leymen are always men, and he’s a bit sexist. Meridian wants to stay and help find Christine, but Mist uses magic to force her out of the building. On an island in the Central Pacific, a man, Justin Bartloon, and Paige, whis wife or something, have been stranded.  There’s a Greek style building on the island, and when Paige heads there, she hears Justin scream, but then can’t find him. Mist explains to the remaining men in the group that he was once cast out into the desert, and while approaching death, found a talking puddle that promised him power and immortality, in return for protecting the Earth. Diving into the puddle, he found the amulet, which is really a pendulum, and a silver circle, which isn’t exactly round. He went on to form the Leymen, and worked to correct balance ever since, including in the fight against Extant in Zero Hour.  He then has the new Leymen take their oath, and pull their own pendulums (pendula?) out of the water. Meridian, angry, walks into Central Park and finds Cataclysm there, holding Christine in one hand. Meridian uses some sort of teleportation power to return to Mist’s chamber to let the others know she found the girl. They rush out. Christine reveals a power point to Cataclysm, just as the heroes arrive. Claw attacks first, but then chastises Golem for attacking on his own. Cataclysm shoots water out of his hands and pushes the heroes away, and then jumps into the power point, which makes him grow larger.  The letters page to this issue breaks down a little information about the main characters, and it is there that the editor explains that Red Tornado is now just called Tornado.
  • Cataclysm stands over the power point, absorbing its power while the Leymen, except for Tornado, lie unconscious.  Cataclysm chats with Harold Ross, whose severed head he is holding (I thought he was using his body as a host). Claw recovers and throws his sword at him, which doesn’t much hurt Cataclysm.  Meridian tells Tornado to distract Cataclysm so she can grab Christine. Tornado gets trapped in rock, while Meridian teleports away with the girl. Mist attacks Cataclysm, Golem frees Tornado, Jack gets knocked to the ground, and Golem and Mist get blasted.  Meridian teleports into her friend Marsha’s apartment and leaves Christine in her care before returning to the battle in the middle of a hail of molten rock coming out of Cataclysm. She teleports onto the villain and then teleports him to the bay. The others gather to go help her.  In New Mexico, a young man named Will talks about his childhood fear of storms, and belief that a large one is calling to him. His mother tries to keep him away, saying that the storm took her father too, and Will is hit by lightning and disappears. On Dolos Island, Paige continues looking for Justin, seeing two sets of footprints leading away from the place she last saw him.  She heads into a cave where she sees something that makes her scream. Meridian and Cataclysm fall into the water off Liberty Island. Jack arrives to pull her out of the water. Cataclysm gets really angry and brings up a bunch of little volcanoes from the Earth. Mist explains that because he wasn’t able to deplete the power point, Cataclysm’s powers are failing him. Cataclysm wants Christine to help him find more power, so he attacks the heroes again, and they fight again.  The only one with any ability to hurt him is Mist, who keeps blasting him and calling him Ross. Meridian works with Mist to keep the attack up, Cataclysm talks trash about the Brotherhood, which Ross had apparently wanted to join, and Ross is seen as a severed head again. As Mist continues his attack, he appears to have a heart attack. Cataclysm tosses him into the river, but he is saved by Tornado, who had fallen in before that. Claw gets angry and while preparing to toss his sword again, accidentally stabs Jack in the arm.  Jack feels power within himself, and presses the attack on Cataclysm, who recognizes that Jack has discovered new power. Jack believes this comes from the medallions the men all wear, and all the Leymen tap into it (obviously Meridian can’t). They use their combined abilities, including Meridian’s flying kick, to send Cataclysm flying. Meridian explains that Cataclysm’s power is being spread around the Earth through the lines she feels. They notice that Mist is lying still, but when Meridian tries to touch Claw’s medallion, something happens, and either the two of them, or all the Leymen, disappear (it’s unclear) except for the unconscious Mist.
  • It looks like it was the whole team (excluding Mist) who were teleported by Meridian’s powers, and now they are on the same deserted island that Paige and Justin have been seen on.  Jack is complaining about his arm hurting, and Claw is generally putting everyone down. Meridian can’t teleport so many people without rest. Golem spots the Grecian building, and he and Claw go to investigate.  Meridian and Jack watch Tornado try to right himself, and Jack fills Meridian in on the fact that the men are on a team she was excluded from. Golem and Claw don’t find much in the temple, but Golem spots a photo of, presumably, Paige and Justin.  As night falls, the group gathers around a fire on the beach. Jack takes off his mask and explains that he found out that his deceased cousin was the Jack O’Lantern when he finds his lantern at his funeral; at the cousin’s girlfriend’s suggestion, he decided to become a hero but doesn’t feel good about his skills.  Golem explains that after some adventures with Ragman, he lived with a woman named Jean Lizotte in Louisiana, until he found her killed and he was blamed by the police. Claw was a Chinese graduate student studying history in America when he was offered the chance to buy some ancient armor and a sword. When he bought it, the claw hand was in the box, and it cut off John’s hand and grafted itself onto his body (he is portrayed as bitter and angry).  Tornado tries to communicate by drawing symbols in the sand, but it’s not clear what he is trying to say. Claw storms off, cutting story time short so we don’t hear Meridian’s backstory. The next morning, they spot Paige and Justin’s wrecked ship, and go to investigate. Meridian has them split up to search for survivors. In Hong Kong, Silver Claw goes to speak to Master Chu, who wants him to provide him with more girls. Jack and Tornado scour the beach from the air, and when Tornado spots the cave, he grabs Jack and flies away.  Golem walks through the water and talks to himself about how he finds Meridian pretty. Claw and Meridian also spot the cave, and Claw is attacked. Jack, Tornado, and Golem meet up and hear the others calling to them. It turns out that there’s a giant Minotaur living on the island, and while he fights Jack, Claw, and Golem, Tornado gets Meridian to come with him to check out the cave. They find Paige and Justin (who might be dead) and free them from a cage. The others work together to get the Minotaur down, but when Claw goes to kill him, Meridian stops him.  Meridian teleports Paige and Justin to Hawai’i, and returns having finally changed out of her bathing suit. She teleports Claw next, and the remaining three are surprised to see sentient lightning appear asking for help.
  • Meridian and Claw have ended up in Hong Kong, not Hawai’i as she expected, because Meridian felt like her teleportation powers were being hijacked in transit.  She leaves to get the others, and Claw rushes into the city, eager to pick up his earlier mission of stopping Silver Dragon and rescuing the girls he was trafficking.  Claw takes someone’s motorcycle. Meridian returns with Jack, who is telling her about the talking lightning they saw, to find Claw missing. Meridian returns for Golem, and is annoyed to find that Tornado has taken off too, but when she gets to Hong Kong, she discovers that Tornado is already there, waiting with Jack.  Claw sneaks his way into Silver Dragon’s property, and questions a guard who explains that the Dragon has gone to get more girls for Chu. Next Claw heads to Hong Kong’s seedy red light district, and stakes out a bar expecting to find Silver Dragon there. Instead, he finds one of his goons, and follows him. Tornado spits up his medallion, and gestures for Jack to give it to Meridian.  Jack takes Meridian to a fountain, and tells her a brief version of Maltis’s story, and then tries to recreate the ritual that led to their getting their medallions. Claw sneaks onto an old boat belonging to Chu. He sees Silver Dragon bringing in two women, and insisting on being paid. Claw gets caught by a guard, who he kicks over the side of the boat, bringing more guards. Claw begins to fight his way through the goons, until Silver Claw gets the drop on him and knocks him out.  Jack gets a vision of the old lady again, and Tornado figures out where Claw is somehow, trying to drag Jack there. One of Chu’s people leads one of the women to a maze on the boat, telling her he will pay her extra money if she gets out without meeting Chu, who it turns out, is a tiger-man creature who likes to hunt and eat women. The Leymen arrive at the boat, and Golem drops from Tornado’s arms, busting through many floors. Jack attacks the goons. Silver Dragon goes to investigate the new noises on the boat, while Claw, revived, frees the second woman.  The team fights goons, while Claw finds Chu in the maze and stabs him through the neck. Silver Dragon gives Jack and Tornado a fight, Meridian finds the woman Claw saved, and Golem helps Claw behead Chu. Meridian gets the drop on Silver Dragon, and Claw is ready to kill him, but when the team sees police helicopters approaching, they teleport away. In Australia, a white guy named Alec breaks up with his girlfriend, an Aboriginal woman named Nella, because of something that happened with her uncle. Someone above him calls him, and he screams. In Manhattan, Meridian’s friend opens the door to find Maltis and Mrs. Nightingale looking for Christine.
  • In Alice Springs, Australia, four teenagers, three boys and one girl, are heading out to experience something.  Paul is scared, but the others, Lee, Kimmy, and Dom, force him along. They walk into an area of vertical stones, where an older Aboriginal man tries to scare them away, claiming that it’s a place of dark power, but they lay their hands on a rock, and it looks like the man is killed or knocked out somehow.  The Leymen find themselves on a large flat rock, despite the fact that Meridian was supposed to be teleporting them to New York. Tornado has trouble staying in the air, and when he falls, he rolls down the side of a gigantic cliff. It turns out the team is on Uluru, and when Meridian goes to check on Tornado, she ends up taking his head off, revealing that his body is hollow.  An Aboriginal man turns up, telling them that they aren’t supposed to be there, and that the “wind man” will return. When Meridian replaces Tornado’s head, he is better again. The Aboriginal man tells them where they are, and an older white guy argues with him, insisting that the place is called Ayers Rock. Claw is not happy to be in Australia, but Meridian claims that it’s Cataclysm’s evil that is dragging her around the Earth’s ley lines.  The white man, Abe, wants the heroes to help him investigate the circumstances around the death of his son Alec, who had been dating the niece of the local chief. Abe doesn’t believe that Alec smothered himself, and offers the team a place to stay (he owns a hotel) if they come with him. He flies them back to town on his plane, and drops them off at his hotel. In the outskirts of town, some teens are having a campfire when they are attacked by three transformed humans – the teenagers we saw before.  Paul, the timid one, is now a lizard boy, and is so far reluctant to eat any people. The others tell him that he has to, or they’ll kill him. Meridian calls home and learns from Marsha, who is her sister, that Maltis has taken Christine. Claw is rude to Golem, while Jack does some modifications to his costume and decides to take a bath. He has another vision of the old woman, who wants to tell him his destiny. Claw finds him sleeping in the tub, and brings him to dinner. At dinner, Abe explains that he thinks that the Aborigines killed his son, despite the fact that the police declared his death a suicide.  In the morning, Abe’s wife drives Meridian out to speak to Alec’s girlfriend, but they find her house destroyed. Paul, the lizard boy, attacks them.
  • Meridian tries to stop the lizard boy from attacking her, but he goes after Abe’s wife.  He ends up grabbing a mouse or something, and when he kills it, he turns back into human Paul.  In town, Tornado, Golem, and Jack seem to be canvassing for clues, while Claw hangs out in a bar arm wrestling locals.  The bartender tells him that Alec was killed by Garkain, a giant bat. He also talks about other characters from Australian folklore – Myndie, Irrinja, and Whowie, having become real and killing people.  A little girl leads Tornado and Jack to her brother Dom’s car, where they find bloody clothes. Meridian goes to meet Nella, Alec’s girlfriend, who tells him that the four beasts are around. Paul, who was waiting in the truck, runs off, having left Meridian a note telling her where to meet that night.  The team convenes at the hotel, and they decide to check things out at the place where Paul said he’d be in the note. The beasts are hanging out, and giving Paul/Whowie a hard time for being afraid to kill. Tornado drops out of the sky, and the rest of the Leymen rush in and begin to fight. Meridian is surprised that Paul/Whowie is aggressive, with the beast having taken over.  Myndie insults Golem by calling him a monster. Golem figures out that smashing her against the rocks that give them power turns them back to human. Garkain grabs Jack and wraps him in his wings. Tornado knocks Garkain out of the sky, and into some sort of pool or pond. Golem helps Claw, turning Irrinja back to human. Claw then decides to turn his attention to Garkain to try to help Jack, but when the bat creature opens his wings, there is nothing there.  We see Jack’s medallion fall into the water. Claw throws his sword, but the lightning being from before appears, and Garkain becomes human. Meridian tries to comfort Paul, who is freaking out and seeing Alec’s ghost. The lightning being shows up again briefly, and after Meridian leads Paul to the stone and he turns human again, he admits that he killed Alec because he was in love with his girl. Meridian and the others realize that Jack is gone, and Tornado flies into the air, punching the lightning being who shows up again, and then turns human.  It turns out he’s Will, the guy we saw a few issues back, and he claims he heard the call. The next day, Meridian speaks with Abe and his wife, explaining that they’re going to wait to see if Will “comes around”, and then fly back to New York with money that her sister is sending her. Nella tells Meridian, rather mysteriously, that she should keep looking, and Meridian and Claw head to the bar.
  • Jack, who we believed dead, finds himself in a river where the nameless old lady comes to speak to him.  She tells him that she wants him to learn to believe in himself, and gives him a choice of coming with her or returning to his life.  He follows her, and she tells him that one day he could become the head of the Brotherhood of the Leymen. They submerge into a pool, and she shows him, ghost of Christmas past style, the scenes of Superman’s death at the hands of Doomsday, his rebirth, and his fight with the Cyborg Superman.  The lesson she wants him to learn is how Superman inspires others by example, and the value of perseverance. Next they head to Themyscira, where they watch Wonder Woman accept a challenge from Artemis, so he can learn how to weather defeat. Next, she talks about how a winged creature called the Strix crossed into the world, and because the Leymen weren’t there, Hawkman ended up fighting the beast.  The problem is, he took it to a remote forest in Canada and left it, where the Leymen would have killed it and ended its threat. After that, they check in on Kyle Rayner, who is balancing his life as an artist, as Green Lantern, and as a member of the Titans. Finally, they look in on Batman, who at this glorious moment in the 90s is Jean-Paul Valley, and they watch the brutality with which he apprehends and injures some crooks.  The point there is that Liam should never allow himself to be like Valley. It turns out this ghostly journey took place over weeks. The old lady gives Liam the Pendulum of the Prime Ley, the item Maltis lost in his fight with Cataclysm. She tells him that Maltis is going to want this back, and she returns him to the Leymen’s building, where Jack sees that the team has undergone some changes – Meridian appears to be with Claw, Golem looks trimmer and more human, Maltis is in a wheelchair (Professor X/Niles Caulder style), and that guy Will and Black Condor appear to have joined the team.  Maltis demands to know what the woman told Jack.
  • Liam is trying to sleep and process all that has changed since he went into the water, but Tornado is banging into a giant bell in the belltower of Leymen Mansion (not its actual name, I hope).  Returning from the bell tower, Liam is attacked by Claw’s hand. John claims he’s not in control of it as it tries to choke Liam; they fight until Meridian comes out of her room. Her conversation with Claw shows that this has happened before, and she takes him “back to bed” despite the fact that he’s fully dressed.  Liam appears jealous. He heads down to the kitchen, where Will is preparing a poultice that smells pretty bad. Will and Liam talk a little about what’s happened, but no real details are given. As Liam heads back to bed, he is met by Black Condor, who tells him that Maltis wants to talk to him. Liam is not interested in this, and agrees when Will offers to take him through Greenwich Village the next day.  Liam passes Golem’s room (Will told us he wants to be called Paul now) where we see him sweeping and listening to talk radio. At the August Court Café, a woman named Camille talks to a man named Donovan. It sounds like she represents a group called the August, which has paid him to investigate the Leymen, but he’s reluctant to mess with them. Liam and Will walk through the city, and pass a Scientology-style storefront, before entering Oblivion Inc. Books.  The storekeeper is Jim Rook, who DC readers might recognize as Nightmaster. He doesn’t want to sell Will the book he’s chosen – Ancient Voices of Children – because he claims it’s dangerous, but Will insists. Meridian and her sister Marsha are taking Christine through a market. Christine wants a corn baby, a European straw effigy that the woman in the market explains in detail (they were used to bring luck and water to a harvest, and would scare off people trying to trample the corn by showing their worst fears) and Meridian buys it for her.  She decides to name it Effie, and we see it make an evil face as she carries it away. Maltis and Liam argue at length, as Maltis demands to know what the Woman in the Water (so I guess that’s her name) told him, and wants to know about the Pendulum of the Prime Ley. Will is tired of listening to them, so he goes to check on Christine. He agrees to read her a story from his book, and while he does that, Effie comes to life and attacks Christine, wrapping her in corn husks and scaring her with a vision of Cataclysm. Will touches his amulet and turns into his energy form just as Mrs. Nightingale comes in.  They are both subdued. Next Golem fights the creature, supported by Black Condor, but they are both tied up too. Maltis and Liam are still fighting when the creature comes into the room with the pool in it. Maltis says it can’t get to the pool, but Liam doesn’t have his jack o’lantern. Tornado shows up, but the corn husks don’t cause him fear. Liam is batted aside, as Effie uses the water in the pool to grow new corn stalks. Maltis tries to push the creature away with his wheelchair, and gets wrapped up. Tornado frees himself and punches Effie. Liam hits it with some candles, and Tornado feeds the flame with his wind, burning it.  Claw and Meridian return home to find their teammates tied up. When they enter the pool room, they find Liam holding Maltis, saying that he thinks he’s dead.
  • Most of issue nine centres around Red Tornado.  He watches from outside a window as Mrs. Nightingale argues with a doctor who wants to take Maltis to a hospital.  The doctor believes that another heart attack will kill him, but Nightingale insists that with her nursing skills, and the assistance of their old friend Mister Donovan (who we know is working with The August) he can be looked after.  Something attacks Tornado’s attention, and he heads to a place where a villain named Prince Inferno is setting things on fire. Tornado grabs him and flies him into the stratosphere, where he leaves him to die. He returns to the mansion, where he finds Christine in his bell tower.  He emits some sort of light/heat energy, which gives her a sunburn and sends her screaming. Meridian comforts her and scolds Tornado, who is again distracted. He finds two men in suits attacking Willpower in the garden. He helps fight them, until Camille comes out of the bushes and kicks Willpower.  Her kiss knocks him out just as Tornado collapses again. When he comes to, the others are all gone. Liam and Golem, I mean Paul, walk through Central Park, talking about Paul’s need to pass as human. Some of those Scientologist-like people offer them a test, and they ignore them. Tornado suddenly appears and Liam talks about how he always shadows him.  Black Condor comes to get them, because there is a problem in the park. One of the reporters who was there for the fight with Cataclysm is acting very strangely. He looks dead, and is acting like he’s on the air, despite the fact that his microphone wire is severed. He slowly starts to be covered by rock, which he bursts out of. Now he looks fossilized, and in his broadcast of what’s happening, refers to himself as Fossil.  When he touches people or things, he turns them to rock. The Leymen start to fight him and try to contain him, but he continues to turn things into rock as he moves into the city. When Golem grabs him, his arm turns to rock and falls off. Together, Condor, Jack, and Tornado tap into the powers of their medallions, and defeat him. Tornado, disturbed, flies off. Mrs. Nightingale leaves to spend time with Christine, while Donovan acts strangely.  Tornado blocks his path, and pushes him into the wall. Meridian finds him, and she and Tornado discover that Maltis has gone missing. The team convenes (Golem appears to have his arm back), and Claw points out that Will is missing too. Outside, Tornado shows them where Willpower was taken, and then he finally speaks, although what he says is kind of nonsense.
  • Camille and a man named Alger go to a psychiatric facility, where they claim a young man with a form of psychic powers is their nephew.  They are allowed to take the man home with them. At Leymen Mansion, Liam interrupts Meridian and John to get them to go check on Tornado with him.  Golem, who has painted himself to make him look more human, comes to get them. Tornado is able to speak now, although he’s a little cryptic. He is drawn as having human-looking eyes within his eye slits, which is not how he was portrayed before.  We learn that Meridian sent Black Condor out looking for Maltis and Will. The team is worried that the people who abducted their friends might return, as Donovan suggests, but Meridian wants to go to a march. At the August Court Café, we see that a man named Corseau has prepared the young man from before, giving him the name Mind Eater.  Camille has him take control of Will, who is chained to a nearby wall. Liam accompanies Meridian as she heads to her Take Back the Night march (John thought it was for lesbians and refused to go). We learn that a couple years before, Meridian was attacked by a man, and that the fear of that night has never left her. Condor returns to the mansion, and says that something is going on.  Claw agrees to go with him, but Donovan suggests that Golem stay to protect Mrs. Nightingale and Christine. Meridian and Liam pick up Marsha, who doesn’t react well to being offered a test by the Scientologist types again (this is their third appearance). At the march, Meridian thinks she sees her attacker on stage and freaks out a bit. Condor and Claw arrive at the Guggenheim, where Mind Eater has taken over a cop and is using him to terrorize people.  He gets control of Condor, then Tornado (who has eyes again), turning the teammates against one another. Meridian, Marsha, and Liam go to a coffee shop, where Meridian explains that her teleportation powers manifested the night she was attacked, and that she always associates her abilities with her attacker. Mind Eater takes control of Claw, and Condor has trouble keeping him from killing onlookers. Tornado tries to help, while Corseau calls Mind Eater away.  Tornado grabs Claw, newly freed, to give chase. Back at the march, Meridian thinks she sees her attacker again, and ends up attacking an innocent creep who was just watching all the women. Meridian lights a candle, and resolves her inner struggle. Returning to the mansion, Claw, Condor, and Tornado find another A painted on the carpet, Golem’s arm, and an unconscious Donovan. Donovan explains that it was the August who took their friends, and Claw threatens to kill him if he doesn’t explain everything.
  • Issue eleven, which hits an artistic highpoint, is framed by Black Condor narrating a story to Jim Rook at the Oblivion Bookstore.  He tells Rook about how he needs his help, and explains what happened before the issue began. Claw and Condor interrogated Donovan, and learned where the August operate from.  Meridian recognizes the building, having teleported there by mistake in the past. She decides to go reconnoiter the place, and Condor goes with her. Unexpectedly, they end up in the August’s dungeon, where Will and Golem are chained up.  Camille and Mind Eater are there, and as Meridian tries to teleport away, they manage to capture her. Condor is returned to the mansion alone, which upsets Jack and Claw. They argue, and Jack storms off, saying he’s headed to the bookstore to ask Rook about the August.  As he flies over the city, he is attacked by a group of flying August goons. They capture him, and drop his lantern off at the mansion. More of the flying guys enter the mansion, where now only Condor, Claw, and Tornado remain. Tornado breaks formation when he realizes some of them are in his bell tower.  He defeats them by tossing them out of the tower. Condor approaches the ones that fell, joined by Tornado. A high-tech helicopter shows up and fires a harpoon at Tornado, piercing his leg. It appears to bleed, which is weird. He is dragged off just as Claw arrives outside. He and Condor split up to track down the August goons that are in the mansion.  We follow Condor, who easily deals with these guys. He realizes that the goons caused them to split, and heads to help Claw, but is too late – he’s gone too. At that point, Condor realizes he needs help, and that catches us up to the present, where he has gone to Rook, the Nightmaster, for help. Rook draws his mystic sword, and we soon see them arriving at the August’s building, which Rook can feel evil emanating from.
  • Will narrates issue twelve, which has regular artist Nick Choles joined by Paul Guinan and David Ammerman for parts of the issue.  The Leymen are chained up in the August’s dungeon. Golem is taken down and thrown into a well full of water, which provides the August with the ability to reshape the world.  Alger, last seen collecting Mind Eater from the asylum, reshapes the world into one based on gluttony. The various members of the Leymen and the August are shown as very corpulent, and dining on human flesh.  Camille is not impressed, and neither is their leader, Modrus, who decides against this vision and restores the world. Black Condor and Nightmaster are entering the August’s mansion, and encounter some guards who no longer agree with the August’s goals.  Camille grabs another Leyman – an unknown hero named Noir who apparently answered the Leymen’s call and got snatched. Will tries to offer himself instead, but Noir goes into the well and we see Camille’s vision of the world – one where carnality rules. Modrus doesn’t like this one either, and things go back to normal.  Black Condor and Nightmaster have to fight their way through some guards. Modrus decides to move himself up in the proceedings, denying the other members of the August their chance at shaping the world. When a guard tries to unchain Meridian, she kicks him into Modrus. It is then that Nightmaster and Condor enter and start fighting.  Nightmaster frees Tornado, who begins to free the others. It turns out that Maltis has been wearing Tornado’s shell, which surprises everyone. The fighting, drawn by Ammerman I assume, takes a very 90s Liefeld-inspired turn. Jack feels useless because he doesn’t have his pumpkin, until Nightmaster tells him that the power is within him.  He blasts Will free, and Will powers up. Mind Eater tries to take over Claw, but the actual demon hand takes control and fights viciously. Modrus manages to knock Maltis/Tornado into the well, and things suddenly shift. The world looks like a wasteland, Zatanna is suddenly there, Meridian is in bondage gear, and Will is covered with war paint.  Instead of fighting, Will speaks to Modrus, who tells him that his father is present. It turns out that Will’s father is Johnny Thunder, the old JSA character, who was in love with Will’s mother but wasn’t prepared to face the prejudice that would have come with having a Native American family. Johnny is fighting with his Thunderbolt, who claims a different master.  Will tells his father he accepts his decision. Zatanna points out that Will’s calm is working against this world, so he starts convincing his comrades to stop fighting. In desperation to save his vision, Modrus summons two big threats – the Tornado Tyrant and Lord Satanus, but Will gives his verdict on this vision, the way Modrus did on his colleagues, and the world returns to normal.  The heroes talk about how they have lost some of their own, when the well spits out the Tornado’s body and head. Elsewhere, two young people agree to take the test at a Catalynics storefront, and are told they are exceptional. They are taken to the back to meet a “spiritual advisor”, a demonic looking guy who talks about the Church of the Cataclysm.
  • Liam feels fear that the world is out of balance, especially since his pendulum is floating.  While he prays, he mentions that Tornado has “taken another body” which is not explained. Meridian interrupts him to say she feels the same dread he does.  Tornado is visited by the Martian Manhunter, but is cryptic about having to fight for his freedom, and then flies off. Claw, refusing to give up control of his body to his demon hand, instead cuts it off.  Will hears his screaming in pain, and he gets Meridian to take him to get help. She suggests a surgeon that lives around the corner, thinking there is no time to go to the hospital. That surgeon is watching TV, where he sees on the news that a rich businessman named Collin Thornton was injured in an explosion at the World Trade Center.  The news broadcast explains that many hospital workers are on strike, as are transit workers. The surgeon is going to shoot Meridian through the door when she knocks, but after she decides he’s not home, he instead shoots himself in the head. The news mentions that the Church of the Holy Cataclysm has made an announcement. We see that Cataclysm is back, having made a deal with Neron (this issue has the Underworld Unleashed trade dress), and he leads his followers on a riot in Midtown.  Meridian and Will take John to a clinic, where they find everyone fighting. Meridian decides to use her teleportation powers to head to a hospital, but instead they find themselves at the docks, where Tornado is in battle with the Tornado Tyrant. Will powers up to join the fight, and tells Meridian to take John to a hospital. She gets in a cab, but the cabbie says he’s on strike too; a big wind blows the cab away. At the mansion, Mrs. Nightingale watches the news and calls Jack and the Condor.  They get ready to go fight Cataclysm, but Christine doesn’t want them to leave. Jack gives her his amulet to keep her safe. Christine goes outside and draws a picture of Golem in the dirt, even going so far as writing TRUTH on his forehead, and lays down on him. The Tornado Tyrant fights Tornado, and Willpower tries to join in. Meridian’s cab gets dropped off in front of a hospital, but everyone there is only interested in treating that Thornton guy. When Claw looks at him, he sees that he is really Lord Satanus and he attacks.  Jack and Condor attack Cataclysm, who is stronger now. Tornado has little luck against Tornado Tyrant, while Claw and Meridian’s fight with Satanus looks bad on the news, as everyone else sees them beating on a guy in a suit. It’s worth pointing out that the newscaster would look familiar to anyone who has read The Dark Knight Returns. Meridian teleports them away, where they continue their fight. Jack and Condor continue to fight Cataclysm. All of these battles converge on Times Square, so that the team is reunited, but now has three enemies to deal with.
  • Liam tries to motivate Claw (who we should remember has cut off his hand and is still bleeding) to get back into the fight, which is ripping up Times Square and the team.  The team is on the ropes against these three adversaries, until Cataclysm stops Lord Satanus from killing them, seeing that as his right. It looks like they are going to fight, but then Satanus promises to let Cataclysm kill them.  Meridian looks like she’s going to be the first to die when Cataclysm is stopped by Golem, who has a new, blocky body. When Jack tries to help Willpower get the Tornado Tyrant off of Tornado, he is attacked from behind by Satanus. Meridian grabs him and drops him in the river, but he uses his powers to teleport them back to the fight and knocks her out.  He’s about to kill her, so Claw puts the demon hand back on, and wades into the fight. Tornado ends up capturing Tornado Tyrant into his shell. Cataclysm grabs Jack, and is about to choke him to death. We see an overview of the scene, which shows the team down and out, and Jack’s narration makes it sound like this really is the end of everything. Next we cut to months later, and Jack is back in Ireland, helping a farmer clear a tree off his field.  From his narration, we learn that the team has split up until they are needed again. Meridian writes to Liam regularly (this isn’t before e-mail, but whatever) and we learn she is trying to adopt Christine (there is no mention of what became of Mrs. Nightingale or Donovan). He doesn’t really know what’s going on with Tornado, but knows that Golem stayed in the city, where we see him stealing clothing from a laundry line. Claw is probably in Hong Kong, and Willpower has gone touring with DC’s version of Lollapalooza, as a way of trying to find his father.  Black Condor has moved to Opal City (and there’s a snide remark about how that city has become so popular, clearly referencing the fact that Starman was the most successful of the new series to come out of Zero Hour). Liam finally feels good about himself as a hero, and in the prospects for tomorrow.

I really enjoyed this series, which is not a surprise.  Steven T. Seagle is a great comics writer, and knows how to work with obscure characters.  It is a shame that this series didn’t last longer than it did, because it feels like Seagle had an arc planned for each character, and none of them, aside from Liam’s issues with his confidence, reached any real resolution.

The mystery around the Red Tornado is the one that I most want to understand, especially the references to him having a new body.  I’m not even clear if it was him using Maltis’s body or if Maltis wore him like a suit. It’s not insignificant that Tornado didn’t talk until Maltis was inside him.  (I also want to know if it was intentional that I got a “Jim Rhodes in the Iron Man suit” vibe off the pictures that showed his eyes). I don’t think we saw the Tornado again until he was in Young Justice, which I never read, and therefore I don’t know if any of this stuff got picked up on there.  Is the Tornado still in existence in the Rebirth universe? I’d like to see him again.

Meridian was the most interesting character for a stretch of this series, but she kind of fell by the wayside.  She never gained any real mastery of her teleportation powers, always ending up somewhere other than where she intended, and come to mention it, the leylines that direct her abilities, and give the Leymen their names, never got mentioned much after the first arc.  Likewise, the misogyny that Maltis exhibited towards Meridian was never addressed – after Liam jumped forward in time, she was just on the team and it was all good.

Similarly, Black Condor just showed up on the team, and was never really developed.  He was Maltis’s right hand or enforcer at first, but then he was just kind of one of the guys.  I wanted to see more of him, as I loved his appearances in his own series, which also didn’t last all that long.

Willpower (stupid name, that) was on track to becoming the main character of this book, and I would have liked to know more about him.  I’m a sucker for WWII legacy characters, so the revelation that he was the son of Johnny Thunder (and that Johnny was ashamed of his son’s race) is fascinating to me.  I’d have liked to know more about that.

Claw and Golem were not all that interesting to me, but they did a good job of rounding out the cast.  I’d also like to have known more about Maltis and the history of the Leymen. I’d especially like to know more about the Woman in the Water, and how she fit into things.  

Seagle really did lay the groundwork for a series that could have run for years, and I’m not entirely sure why this book didn’t catch on much the way that James Robinson’s Starman did.  Part of the problem might be the confusing approach Seagle took to the first couple of issues, with the reader being left to figure out who these characters are and how they were coming together.  Had the book lived, I could see Seagle adopting something like Robinson’s Times Past issues to show older stories featuring earlier Leymen.

Ken Hopper and Nick Choles weren’t the most exciting of artists for the era, but they were very capable, and the look of the book improved with time.  The guest artists were pretty random (Paul Guinan’s pages were a welcome treat, the Rob Liefeld knockoff’s, not so much), but overall the book kept a consistent look for the most part.

I wish there was a place in the market today for another oddball book like this, gathering some pretty forgotten and overlooked characters to make a solid team.  It’s a formula that should work, but would probably need Batman in the Maltis role, and it still would only last about as long as this title did. I’d also like to see Seagle dip his toe into a shared universe again – his X-Men was excellent – although I’m happy to be checking out his graphic novels, like his recent one on social nudity.

Usually in this column, I like to look at entire runs of series, but for my next column, I want to look at a book that took a radically different direction for a while, and was easily one of the most oddball of oddball books for six months.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

Believe it or not, this book was never collected into a trade, so you’re going to have to do some longbox digging if you want to read it yourself on paper.  Digitally, check here: Primal Force (1994-1995).

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