Retro Trade Review: Quantum & Woody Vol. 1: Klang By Priest & Bright For Acclaim / Valiant Comics

Columns, Reviews, Top Story

Contains Quantum and Woody Vol. 1 #0-7 (June to December 1997)

Written by Christopher Priest 

Co-plotted by MD Bright

Pencilled by MD Bright

Inked by Greg Adams (#1-6, 0), Romeo Tanghal (#7)

Coloured by Atomic Paintbrush

Spoilers from twenty-four years ago

If you’ve read my work on this site for long, you know that I rank Christopher Priest among my favourite superhero comics writers.  He first caught my attention when I was still a kid, and he was still named Jim Owsley, with the excellent Spider-Man and Wolverine one-shot, but it was his Black Panther run (which I wrote about starting here) that really solidified his place in my collection and my esteem.  More recently, his Deathstroke was the best comic DC published during the Rebirth era, and he is currently killing it on Vampirella at Dynamite.

Since I’ve started writing these Retro Reviews, I’ve used it as an excuse to track down his other titles, many of which I missed or ignored in the 1990s, when I (and, honestly, the industry) didn’t always make good comics choices.

I never read Quantum & Woody when it first came out, because it was a period when I was not able to devote much time or money to comics, and having watched many properties collapse at the end of the 90s, I wasn’t all that interested in giving new books a shot.  Valiant has become Acclaim, and they basically just lost me.

When Valiant was restored in the last decade, I gave their Quantum & Woody a shot after receiving some good word of mouth, and I was intrigued.  Not that long ago, I found all four trades of the original series (well, the fourth trade is more contemporary, featuring Priest and Bright’s return to the characters), I figured it was time to see what I’d missed.  I feel like I have a good idea of what this book is going to be like, but I’ve learned to never feel too sure where Priest is headed…

This book features the following characters:

Villains:

  • Dr. David Warrant (#1, 6-7)
  • Frank Marshal (#2-3)
  • Terrence Magnum (#3, 0)

Supporting Characters:

  • Amy Fishbein (#1-2, 0)
  • Joe Tomorrow (#1-6)
  • The Goat (#3-4)
  • Willie Maye (#4)
  • Taylor 88 (aka “Bat” Man; #5-7)
  • Eloise Warrant (#6-7)
  • Holly (#6-7)

Let’s see what happened in the comics, with some commentary as I go:

  • As expected, this is not going to be an easy book to recap, as Priest has the story jumping all over the place, leaving the reader to piece things together slowly.  We meet Eric and Woody as kids, looking to be about middle school age, trying to carry a dead dog out of Eric’s father’s basement.  They argue a lot, and it becomes clear that Woody is responsible for the dog’s death, and that Eric is afraid of his father finding out about this, and that he kissed Amy Fishbein.  When Eric hears his dad call him, he runs off, leaving Woody with the dog, who is not actually dead.  Looking a little older, Eric holds Woody on his shoulders so he can watch Amy Fishbein get undressed through a window.  When Eric swaps places, he learns that it’s not Amy but her mother he’s spying on, just as Amy and her father discover them.  A slightly older Eric is upset to see that Woody is no longer at the private school they attended together, and that he’s moved away without telling him.  As adults, Eric (dressed in military blues) and Woody (dressed in 90s hair, cowboy boots, and long jacket) meet for the first time, at their fathers’ joint funeral.  We see them dressed in their superhero costumes, “klanging” their armbands together.  It seems that Woody feels foolish dressed this way, and they argue some more, with it becoming clear that they hold resentments towards one another.  They are talking to a cop, Joe Tomorrow, who is trying to figure out their story; apparently he found them both passed out on a lawn outside a science lab, having carved a trail in the dirt from the exploded building.  When Eric and Woody open up old arguments, Tomorrow has them back up to the funeral, where he met them.  Tomorrow was there to ask them about the fact that their fathers, who were scientists that worked together, were killed in a helicopter crash that he feels wasn’t an accident.  After the funeral, Woody finds Eric wearing the arm bands that his father designed and hid, even though neither of them know what they are for.  Eric believes that his dad’s assistant, David Warrant, might have killed them.  The two start staking him out, and while sitting in the car, Woody insists that Eric give him one of the arm bands to wear.  They tail Warrant but lose him, and decide to stake out their dads’ lab, where they see him arrive.  They tell Tomorrow that they can’t take the arm bands off.  In the lab, Woody goofs around and Eric loses his temper.  He accuses Woody of having always been a racist who didn’t care about his problems, so he left without saying goodbye.  Woody, also getting angry, explains that he didn’t have Eric’s phone number, and that after he left, he was very poor.  They are about to fight when Ransom discovers them, locks them in the lab they’re in, and turns on field modulators that starts to disassemble them.  Woody angers Eric, and they end up hitting each other.  When their armbands come in contact with each other, the explosion that dumped them on the lawn happens.  Tomorrow asks them about the costumes, which Woody claims is another story.  There are two “deleted scenes” pages that show how Eric and Woody first met, as toddlers, and how their friendship was always full of conflict.
  • As with most Priest books, the structure starts to sort itself out, and he uses a similar thing in his Black Panther run, and currently in Vampirella.  Most of the main narrative is being told by Quantum and Woody to Joe Tomorrow in the police station, and we slowly realize that it’s much later than we originally thought.  First, we go back to high school, where Woody and Eric prepare to meet Amy Fishbein at a fast food restaurant in their part of Connecticut, but when the workers’ shift ends, and they have to take their bus back to the Bronx (because none of the rich local kids will work there), Eric gets dragged along, because he’s Black.  In the “present”, or at least the part of the story they are telling Tomorrow, Eric and Woody are scaling the side of a building.  We learn they are climbing the building to try to get to an apartment at the top, where they want to conduct a murder investigation.  Quantum thinks that Frank Marshal, an arms dealer, has killed a woman based on the fact that he called the woman’s husband twenty minutes before the murder.  Some kids shoot water guns at them from the roof, almost making them fall, but Eric has a grappling gun in his cape, but he hooks it to an air conditioner window unit that falls.  Luckily, Woody grabs him.  A crowd and some cops gather on the street, thinking they are suicidal, and perhaps a couple, and definitely bringing a lot of attention to them.  Tomorrow interrupts the narrative to recap, and then we join our heroes a few days earlier, as they realize that if they don’t “klang” their armbands every day, they will dematerialize.  At the reading of Woody’s dad’s will, he learns that his father, bitter that Woody chose his mother over him in their divorce, has tied up his inheritance until Woody is in his forties, and that Eric is the executor, taking the role from his own dead father.  This brings up the simmering issues between the two friends, based on when Woody left back in high school.  Tomorrow asks about the costumes, and we learn that was Woody’s idea, suggesting that they use their new abilities to do good, but of course, Eric took it further than he would have liked.  We also learn that they responded to the apparent murder of the woman, and while all the cops suspected that her husband killed her, Eric wanted to make much more of the whole thing, hence the wall climb to Frank Marshal’s apartment.  In the “director’s cut” pages, we see a scene of Woody arguing about having to climb the wall.  In the other one, we see Eric and Woody trying on a number of costumes based on heroes in other books that Priest had written at that point.  
  • Issue three opens with a flashback to Eric, stuck in the Bronx and trying to get back to Greenwich.  When some guys try to corner him, he fights them off, and then when he gets in a cab, offends the driver by talking about how “those black guys” ripped his blazer; the cabbie dumps him in the street.  In the present-ish, Eric is in costume, and looking at a bunch of weapons.  He and Woody are in Frank Marshal’s apartment, and while Quantum examines the weapons, finding proof of phosphorus dye on some guns, Woody watches TV.  When Eric tries to trace the material, which he believes to come from textile manufacturing, Woody tastes it and declares it Kool-Aid.  Eric tries to convince him that Marshal is responsible for the death of the woman last issue, and as they talk, Marshal comes home.  They pin him to a wall, and while he maintains that he only called that woman’s house by accident, Eric doesn’t believe him.  Woody confirms that Marshal has Kool-Aid in his kitchen.  Eric threatens Marshal, and they leave, with Quantum swinging out the window and dropping to his car, where he waits for Woody to come via elevator.  We are back in Tomorrow’s office, where he recaps things a bit, and then learn there’s a goat in the story.  It seems Quantum & Woody traveled to Malaysia, looking into the textile dye connection, where Woody makes Eric buy a goat.  Since their whole mission hinges on getting some monks who have taken a vow of silence to talk, Woody figured threatening to shoot a goat would change their mind.  This leads to the two heroes climbing a mountain in Switzerland while getting shot at by some guys in a helicopter who work for one of Marshal’s customers, Terrence Magnum.  Quantum takes out one helicopter and takes over the other, but Woody starts shooting at him.  They get into the compound they were headed for, finding it empty except for an old dagger.  Eric uses his “cheat book” to translate the hieroglyphics on the dagger.  Next they go to Egypt, looking for this Magnum guy.  After they can’t find him there, Woody notices that the dagger was made in Taiwan, so they go there to get into a fight with some ninjas.  They finally find Magnum, who confesses to some crimes, only not the ones they were after him for.  Woody finds a circuit board that would help him decrypt US military code.  Now back in Tomorrow’s office, they learn that the dead woman’s husband was found, and was guilty of her murder.  A director’s cut scene shows them being attacked by Magnum in Taiwan.  
  • Issue four opens with Eric and Woody talking about how R-rated used to mean nipples in movies, and from there they start talking about how the comic got in trouble for using the N-word, and so now, they are going to use the word “noogie”, but it means the same thing (this doesn’t work so great from the vantage of 2021, I have to say, but I guess it might have been a bit progressive at the time?).  That decided, the story actually begins.  Eric and Woody are driving to a hostage situation, and Woody crashes the car right into a mall.  He aims his gun at the wrong people, and then tries to chat up a nice looking woman.  Eric tries to deal with the hostage taker, but the guy is turned off by his face mask.  Woody threatens to shoot the guy, and then fires on the woman who is his hostage.  Quantum knocks the guy out, and Woody reveals that he was firing blood capsule blanks.  When the police arrive, our heroes run off, but first Woody stops to laugh at someone dressed like a Rob Liefeld character outside an arcade.  Later, at home (whose home?) Eric tries to do some work, but Woody is playing guitar really loudly.  Eric dreams of shooting him.  Some neighbours knock on the door, and Eric hopes they are there to complain, but instead they start playing with Woody.  Eric struggles with the knowledge that he’s going to be stuck with Woody for life now, because of their arm bands.  Eric goes to see Joe Tomorrow, because he doesn’t know who else to turn to.  He heads into a rough neighbourhood, where he broods on a fire escape, Batman style, and chases a man with a TV in a shopping cart.  As the man talks to Quantum, the modified N-word flies around, and the man is surprised when Eric tells him that he’s black.  When Woody pulls up, in a cop car no less, he knows the guy.  Woody lets the guy, Willie Maye, leave.  When Eric questions Woody’s use of the modified n-word, Woody claims he uses it with affection.  Eric tells Woody he needs some space, and when Woody hits his arm band against a chimney, Eric disappears.  A director’s cut scene shows Eric and Woody as old men, still arguing.  Woody gets his arm-band off just as Eric dies.
  • Issue five opens with an elaborate scene involving Quantum and Woody going undercover at a big diplomatic function, and being on hand to save the day, perhaps.  As Quantum fights the big bad guy, he hears Woody yelling his name; in actuality, he’s unconscious and lying in an alley after being knocked off the roof the issue before.  Woody revives him by pouring milk on his head, which he got from his friend “Bat” Man.  Woody explains that he’s figured out how to fire energy from his control band.  When he demonstrates it, he ends up pushing the shopping cart that “Bat” Man, who is named this way because he carries a baseball bat, keeps all his possessions in.  When Eric pushes the same button on his control band, he melts the cart.  Joe Tomorrow shows up and asks Woody if he’ll help with an emergency and they leave together.  Eric stays because his cape is caught on a fire escape.  When “Bat” Man calls Eric by his superhero name, it inspires him.  Tomorrow explains to Woody that a “crack mom” has taken her newborn infant from the hospital, even though it needs an incubator to survive; Woody doesn’t think he can help much.  Eric calls him to tell him that he’s figured out a way to track the woman (which seems scientifically impossible, but whatever).  Eric finds the woman in a movie theatre where she threatens to kill them.  Eric approaches and takes the child from her just as Woody and the cops arrive.  They put the kid in a portable warmer, and Eric points out that Woody finally called him Quantum. 
  • I don’t know what the deal is with issue 0, which is only a few pages long, and is slotted between numbers 5 and 6, seemingly at random.  It opens on the teenage Eric and Woody, who are at some kind of Boy Scouts function.  Woody has a plan to pose as a blind Scout and walk into a girls’ change room. The girls are upset until they see he’s blind, but then Eric opens the door and tosses a ball at him, revealing that he’s lying.  The main story takes place on an airplane where Quantum and Woody are fighting Magnum’s people.  When they learn that Magnum bailed out of the plane, they decide to blow the door off and jump.  As they fall, they argue, and learn that a miscommunication resulted in Eric not grabbing a parachute for Woody, having figured that he had one.  Eric gives the parachute to Woody, but the ripcord catches on his costume, deploying the chute that flies out of their hands.  As they fall, they fire their armbands together, slowing their fall enough that they are able to land safely.
  • We see a montage showing Eric and Woody’s morning routines.  Eric rises early to work out, run, talk to himself about justice and law, and put on a fine suit while Woody sleeps, eats a sandwich in bed, and finally joins Eric in the kitchen, where they klang their arm bands.  The next day, Woody hasn’t shown up as Eric finishes breakfast.  Eric goes to his room but can’t find him.  When Eric’s at his office later in the day, he assumes he hears Woody buzzing at his door, but it’s actually Taylor, the former “Bat” Man (there’s a reference to copyright concerns).  He’s there because he’s homeless and lacking possessions thanks to Eric.  He wants a job, but Eric offers him a cheque instead.  When he learns that Woody’s not around, he suggests he might be in trouble.  Eric takes him through his elaborate portal into his “Quantum-cave”.  With four hours remaining before the clock runs out on their latest “klanging”, Eric finds Joe Tomorrow digging through a dumpster.  He explains the situation with Woody, and how he has only five hours remaining (this issue has a digital clock showing up all over the place that makes no sense – at first I thought it was the time, but it has Eric watching the “news at noon” at 7:48, which made me think it’s how long there is left until Eric disintegrates, but the time doesn’t match what he tells Joe Tomorrow – lazy 90s editing strikes again).  We see that before he came to Joe, he and Taylor searched hospital records (which seems a little premature), and Woody’s “office” (it seems they’ve taken over their fathers’ company).  Eric now believes that David Warrant is alive and took Woody.  He wants Joe to show him the records of the explosion that gave them their powers.  Looking through the records, Eric sees no proof that Warrant was killed.  He goes to Warrant’s mother’s house, where she confuses him for her son and tries to get him to help her cook.  He says something about David being dead, which makes her scream.  A woman named Holly enters the room, and Eric tries to explain things.  The mother, Eloise, hits him with a baking pan and knocks him out.  He wakes up with minutes to spare, and frees himself from the rope the woman tied around his wrists.  As his feet start to fade out, he looks through boxes of Warrant’s belongings, and finds a pair of control bands.  He klangs one to his, and a man appears in a surge of pink energy.
  • A man in a squirrel suit gives out balloons in front of a toy store, until he hears gunfire, pulls out his own gun, and chases a robber down, stopping him and his getaway driver (we all know this is Woody, right?).  Warrant is back, with pink energy still coming off his hair, and Eric blasts him out of his house.  Eloise attacks Eric, while Holly tries to take some clothes to Warrant, who is nude.  Warrant keeps asking for help, but Eric is very angry with him, and not prepared to listen.  Warrant asks Holly to find his control bands, which she does, while he tries to explain to Eric that he doesn’t know what’s going on.  Once he gets the bands, he klangs them together, and sends Eric flying back into the house.  Warrant picks up his injured mother and flies off.  Holly punches Eric, knocking him out.  A little later, he wakes up in the bathtub, with Holly tending to his wounds.  He thinks she’s hoping that the water will short out his control band, but she explains that using it will boil him alive.  We learn that she was Warrant’s physics instructor in university (despite the fact that she looks younger than him).  Eric explains how he believes Warrant killed his father, tried to kill him, and took Woody.  Holly was Warrant’s lover, and she explains that she believes that when Eric touched the second set of control bands, she brought Warrant back from wherever he was.  Taylor 88 shows up with a bat, and he and Eric leave.  As Taylor drives, Eric puts on his Quantum gear.  The car is attacked by Warrant, who tries to explain that he was trying to save Eric and Woody in the lab.  He hands Eric a brick of a cell phone.  Eric returns home, to find Woody, still in his big squirrel suit, playing guitar.  He explains that he has a part time job as security at the toy store, and that he’d been trying to get ahold of Eric through his costume’s comlink, but since Eric wasn’t wearing the costume, he didn’t know that.  We find out that when Eric fixed himself with Warrant’s band, the energy also fixed Woody.  

I liked this first trade a lot.  Sure, like with most Priest titles, the first issue is a little confusing, as he jumps all over the place to tell the story.

This is by no means a perfect comic.  There are lots of inconsistencies (where does this goat keep going?), and a lot of things that get left out of the narrative (so did Eric apologize to Warrant or just leave?), but this book must have felt very fresh when it debuted.  

Eric and Woody themselves are compelling and fun characters.  I like the idea of Eric being a Batman figure, with an endlessly-stocked selection of handy items, while Woody just floats along, not ever entirely understanding a situation.  The odd-couple antics are what make this a compelling read.

Some of what Priest was doing with this book didn’t age all that well.  His exploration of race works really well in some places, like Eric’s lingering fear that Woody ended their teenage friendship because he was Black, or the scene where it was assumed that Eric worked at a fast food shop because he was the only Black customer.  In other places, like the entire n-word issue, felt very awkward, and not all that funny.

The humor in this book makes it clear why he ultimately ended up writing Deadpool for a little while.  My complaint is that, after seven issues, the duo of Quantum and Woody don’t really seem to have a purpose.  Also, why is there someone named Joe Tomorrow in this comic?  Where would a name like that have come from?

MD Bright is a classic artist who manages to indulge the 90s-ness of this title, especially with the characters’ looks, without going too far into the terrible excesses of that era.  His work is solid; it doesn’t really stand out, but it tells the story clearly.

I’m glad I finally got around to introducing myself to this series, and started reading this source material.  I’ll be diving into the second trade real soon, and I’m excited about that.

You can check out my Retro Review archives here.

If you’d like to read this trade, follow this link:

Quantum and Woody by Priest & Bright Volume 1: Klang (Priest & Brights Quantum & Woody Tp)

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