Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Southern Knights: The Graphic Novel by Henry Vogel and Butch Guice

The Southern Knights are a Superhero team based in Atlanta, Georgia. This graphic novel collects the first two stories involving them and introduces the members of the team.

It's dark and raining in Atlanta, and a car carrying nervous men with guns is being followed by an actual, honest to God Dragon. They are trying to elude it, but thanks to the Dragon's being able to fly, and the car having to navigate the roads, they aren't having any luck at all in that endeavor.

Not only can the Dragon fly, but breathe fire as well. However, its passage is attracting attention. A slender, dark-haired woman sees the Dragon following the car and wonders if she should help. As she does, a sword grows out of her hands, flaring with an almost electrical aura.

The Dragon traps the car in a dead-end alley, but he's attracted other attention as well- a young blonde woman named Kristin, and a flying Superhero named Electrode. They descend upon the Dragon, attempting to beat it into submission, and tell the men in the car to go away. The men in the car drive off, and the three continue to fight the Dragon. Until the Dragon turns into a man, and tells them that the men in the car were kidnappers he was trying to prevent from getting away. The "heroes" feel guilty for assuming that the Dragon was the bad guy and regroup at the apartment of the woman with the sword and introduce themselves.

The Dragon is a real dragon who lives in human society under the name Mark Dagon. He can switch between human and dragon form, and as a Dragon, he's strong, fast, can fly and breathe fire. Electrode's real name is David Schenk. He's a big fan of comic books who figured out how to give himself Electrical Powers. With them, he can fly, fire electrical bolts, and he has a limited form of Electromagnetism, and he's stronger, too. The swordswoman's name is Connie. Her power is to make a form of spirit sword that hurts people as if they were hit with an actual sword, but it leaves no wounds behind. As for Kristin, she's just very, very strong.

Mark says they must team up to find the kidnappers, who have kidnapped a rich man named Barl, because "that's what they do in the comics". As for a name, after a short argument, Mark decides they should call themselves the Crusaders- because they are on a crusade against crime. Together, they set about looking for the kidnappers.

A few days later, Kristin is running when the car used by the kidnappers passes her on the road and one of them calls out to her in a flirtacious way. Recognizing them from the earlier attack, she follows them to a gas station, where they make a call for the ransom. Hiding in the bushes, she overhears them, and passes on the sighting to Electrode through a walkie-talkie. He follows the car, with Dragon's claw marks still on the trunk, to a house where they are keeping Barl.

That night, the Crusaders fly (literally) into action. In storming the house, Kristin is hit by a Gunshot and goes down- only to rise again like an Avenging Angel. The others express surprise that she is invulnerable- and learn that no one is more surprised than Kristin is! But can they bring the kidnappers to justice and free Barl?

Next, Barl throws the Crusaders a party. They agree to come, but tell him that he must let them know if any crime happens in the city while they are there- they don't want to miss capturing criminals just because they are doing a meet and greet. But Electrode gets some bad news- the name "The Crusaders" is already trademarked by a comic company. So, at the party, Kristin introduces them as the Southern Knights, a name she came up with all by herself.

But while they are at the party, a man named Dread robs a bank, and exhibits the power to pull out one's deepest fear and inflict it on his victims. Barl's Butler overhears the police report, but Barl refuses to let the crime interfere with his party. Dragon, coming in his human form "Mark Dagon" is not usually seen to be a part of the group. He chats with a woman who asks him what he does for the group, and he claims to be their fight coordinator.

However, sitting in a secluded part of the pool area with her, Mark overhears another report about Dread, and the fact that he earlier robbed a bank. Now, he's terrorizing the police officers that caught him in the act, and Dragon is stunned to hear this. He warns Electrode, and the four of them fly off to try and deal with Dread, making a mess of Barl's party. Barl isn't happy, but neither are the Southern Knights- Barl neglected to inform them of the earlier crime, making him a liar.

The Southern Knights take on Dread, but they soon fall to his power of fear- all except Dragon. And that triggers Dread's fear- that some day he would run into a big, deadly adversary that was immune to his powers. Dread flees, but Dragon's teammates, acting on their fears, attack him. Dragon must hold himself back as he struggles to keep them from hurting him and keep from hurting them as well.

Luckily, when Dread gets far enough away, the fear fades, and they apologize for attacking Dragon. He tells them to stay behind and goes after Dread, who is gloating that his powers were able to take care of the Dragon after all. The other three are brooding when they hear a terrible scream that is suddenly cut off. What has Dragon done to Dread? And why was the scream so suddenly cut off? Did Dragon... eat him? And how will they deal with their teammate if he has? And what will they do to and about, Barl?

Yes, this is a very old series. It was published in the early 80's, and it definitely shows. Mark Dagon has a porn 'stache, and big 80's hair rules the day. Even Electrode's hair wouldn't look out of place in a band. But the story has a direct sort of honesty and manages to be adorably geeky. (Come on, Electrode is a comics nerd, and it shows!) I also love the humor of Mark Dagon claiming to be the team's fight co-ordinator. When the woman he's talking to says that Superhero teams don't have fight co-ordinators, he says, "Oh well, back to the employment agency!"

So, while the art is definitely of its times, the humor is first-rate and still funny. Though these are only the first two stories of the comic, you feel that the characters are still getting the hang of being heroes. There were other issues and other stories- eventually, they were joined by Artemis Merrow, a mage from Colonial times, but there is an undeniable energy in the pages that is still fun to read.

Their main enemy, Dread, is suitably spooky and outlandish looking, although it does lead you to wonder how he got away with being unnoticed for so long. His character design would definitely raise looks, and I don't recall ever finding out where he came from, exactly. His ending is well-done, and the scene with Barl at the end, where the entire party realizes that he rated his party higher than stopping crimes, made me chuckle.

This is an old book and hard to find, but it tells a funny story that is bound to entertain and amuse you. Seeing the characters find each other, come together and learn to work together was very good. We rarely get to see hero teams come together any more, and this one, while awkward, is fun to read, and the characters are all something different. Recommended

1 comment:

Matt Celis said...

I used to have 6 or 7 issues of this series! No idea what happened to them. I enjoyed them at the time, plus the novelty of a team in the South. Wish they had these in reprints!