Concluding our series on the rebellious comics by the vastly underrated Mike Sekowsky (part one appeared here, part two appeared here and part three appeared here), we look at his radically strange run on Showcase.
Mike Sekowsky created two series around 1970. Both comics, "Jason's Quest" and "Manhunter 2070" ran as three-issue pilot serials in the pages of Showcase shortly before that legendary series was cancelled. Both "Jason's Quest" and "Manhunter 2070" are original storylines that provide interesting perspectives on the themes that Sekowsky was exploring during this time.
"Jason's Quest" opens in Showcase #88 with a man on his deathbed. "There isn't much time left for him," a doctor declares, "you'd better bring in his son, nurse!" Jason comes to the man's bedside only to be greeted by shocking news: "First, Jason – I'm not your father – I raised you from a child because your real father was murdered and I had made him a promise to do so – as I owed him much – your real father is Jason Grant!" It turns out that Jason Grant was killed when his children were very young by a criminal who appears in girth to be a cross between the Kingpin and Jabba the Hutt. The man who Jason had believed to be his father instead turns out to have been just a household servant of his real father.
Adding to the complexity of his story, Jason finds out that he was not an only child. He has a twin sister: "And so we ran before they found us – Bridget carrying your sister and I carrying you. Behind us as we ran – the burning house – Tuborg's way of destroying any evidence of his crime of murder…" Bridget took Jason's sister to London while Jason and his supposed father led a life on the run for years until Tuborg's men caught up to them: "Moving from town to town… changing our way of loving… anything I could think of to get away from them…" Finally, after four pages of speechmaking, the false father runs out of energy, but not before telling Jason of one last important fact: "Your sister… somehow your father secreted on her person evidence that will end Tuborg and his evil empire."
On his father's deathbed, Jason swears, "First, I'll find my sister – then, you, Tuborg." Unfortunately, Tuborg also has spies at the father's deathbed, so he knows the whole story – and has henchmen available to help capture the son of his old enemy.
From there, the story takes a classic sort of '60s TV action-adventure turn. Jason journeys to England in search of his sister, and quickly is able to find leads on her location. Jason also buys a motorcycle, which allows Sekowsky to present our hero as a classic post-Easy Rider rebel.
Jason gets to see a picture of the blonde-haired girl who he assumes his sister, but the revelation really only brings him a chase from Tuborg's men, all the way to the English Channel ferry. On the ferry, Jason and a dark-haired girl fight Tuborg's men, even throwing two of them over the side into the frigid Channel waters. But in the end the two people go their separate ways, as the woman thinks "Funny – I've never met him – and yet – it seems as if I know him –"
You guessed it; the girl is Jason's sister, wearing a wig for some undefined reason. Such is the ironic and surprising world of Mike Sekowsky comics.
The next two issues offer more light action-adventure. Showcase #89 brings Jason into friendship with Billie Jo Brock of the "Lo'siana Brocks", as she says, as Jason and Billie Joe run from Tuborg's minions. Jason and Billie Jo even end up in an abandoned mansion in the middle of rural France that's inhabited by a big-hearted woman who just happens to be related to Billy Jo. It's ironic that on a trip to Europe, Jason ends up meeting mostly Americans – but not the American that he really wants to meet.
Showcase #90 has Jason meeting his sister once again while playing guitar at a folk club called The Paris Thing. I love that name – how groovy can you get? Through circumstances too pointlessly complicated to explain, Jason and his sister end up getting arrested at a demonstration and end up once again on the run from Tuborg's forces. Jason is able to free his sister, but only at the price of almost sacrificing himself. The pair split by the end of the issue, and Jason was never able to tell his sister their secret. The pair were close, but irony on top of irony, he's never able to tell his sister of their secret. And there is the ironic ending to this three-issue saga.
If you've read my series of articles this far, you're probably seeing some interesting parallels with the other Sekowsky comics I've discussed. "Jason's Quest" features yet another protagonist whose world is shattered because he no longer is the person that he thinks he is. Like Diana Prince losing Paradise Island, the Metal Men no longer being metal, or Supergirl losing her powers, Jason has to confront a drastic change in his life. His world will never be the same again, and he must reach deep inside himself to become someone that he never expected he would have to be.
We see that shifting identity is a necessity for survival in Sekowsky's extremely arbitrary world, that living by one's wits is the ultimate substitute for super-powers. And yet for all that, the world of Mike Sekowsky is a pretty light and fun world. It's clear that his characters are mostly having the times of their lives as they live on the run, and it's that joie de vivre that makes them so compelling.
Manhunter 2070, which ran in Showcase #91-93, is the exception to the theme of Sekowsky heroes with identity crises, though it does continue the theme of joie de vivre
Try as I might, I just can't make Starker, the Manhunter of 100 years in the future, into a man who experienced existential crisis. Starker's adventures are just p
lain fun. We learn Starker's origin in Showcase #92, but despite the grim cover to that issue, the Manhunter's origin is more in "revenge" spirit of Batman's origin rather than the "existential crisis" of Jason of "Jason's Quest." Perhaps this was the last DC series that Sekowsky started after he became used to the depressing facts of his divorce, which helped the cartoonist to move on with his life.
Starker's dad is a space miner who is killed by space pirates who then enslave the boy. After years of service to the pirates, Starker makes himself stronger and tougher than his oppressors, and ends up taking his revenge by killing the evil-doers one by one. It's a classically simple, straightforward and effective origin, but it's also clear that Starker always had a very strong sense of self, even as a child. Therefore he faced his father's death more as a classic DC hero would – with fortitude and confidence – rather with a crisis, as we saw with some other Sekowsky comics.
Which doesn't mean that this series isn't worth reading. It's a lot of fun in many ways. I loved Sekowsky's depictions of all kinds of alien races- see the cover of Showcase #91 for an example of that playfulness. I found it amusing that all the alien creatures that Starker battles in Showcase #91 are based off of Earth creatures: spider rocks and blue space crocodiles and glider-cudas and piranha birds. My favorite bit in these issues is a gambling scene where Starker bets "black 13." See, the comic was lettered by John Costanza, and the secret for always telling a comic lettered by Costanza was that he inverted the page number for page 13 so the number was in white and the background black.
Showcase #93 ends in a cliffhanger, and that was the end of this white-haired macho spaceman. He would never appear again in comics. I ended up loving these three issues for their great sense of energy and fun, much more than I'd remembered liking them in the past.
So what explains Sekowsky's fascination with unexpected transformations? Maybe the best explanation comes from his ex-wife Pat Sekowsky, from a 2003 interview with Jim Amash:
You see, when I met Mike, it was after his wife left him and took their kids. That broke his heart; he loved those children. He'd had a beautiful house that he'd bought for them. … That was his good side, but he ruined everything with his drinking. But Michael could still draw, no matter what condition he was in. … [His daughters] used to write little notes back to him and that was the only contact he had with them the last fifteen, twenty years of his life.
It's easy to imagine a man with a horrific divorce in his recent past, who desperately missed his children, praying for immediate change in his life. And Sekowsky's alcoholism definitely helps explain his sometimes erratic and strange behavior, his unique art style, and his penchant for seeming not to care what others thought of his work.
Life After the Editor's Chair
Apparently there was a conflict between Sekowsky and publisher Carmine Infantino over "Jason's Quest" that resulted in Sekowsky leaving his editor's role. Pat Sekowsky directly alludes to this fact but unfortunately doesn't elaborate on it in her interview. Pat does state:
It was only when they got to 'Jason's Quest' that things got bad. He ended up owing DC money. Mike was paid a salary and was taking a lot of time doing his work after Wonder Woman, so he was getting paid and not producing work. That got him behind.
After "Manhunter 2070" concluded, Sekowsky did a little more work at DC on such comics as a back-up "Vigilante" story in Adventure Comics before moving over to Marvel to work on such series as "The Inhumans" and Super-Villain Team-Up. He eventually ended up having a long and successful tenure as a layout artist and occasional character designer at Hanna-Barbera and later at the Tom Carter Studios and Marvel Productions. At H-B Sekowsky worked alongside luminaries as Jack Kirby, Dave Stevens and Mark Evanier on shows such as Super Friends, Scooby Doo and Casper and the Space Angels. Sekowsky's coworkers loved working with the big man, for his friendly attitude and great sense of humor.
I love this story about Sekowsky at H-B, as recounted by Stevens:
I shared a cubicle with Mike for the better part of one year – I think it was the latter part of '78 or the beginning of '79 – I'd turn around and could watch these drawings happening, and he would give me a few of them. And the thing that I was just amazed by wasn't just the speed, but just the boldness. He would put the pencil down and never erase. He'd literally outline the figure, just a few little simple strokes, and then, before you knew it, he'd have all the intricate stuff there too. And it's like you said, he would work it out first in his head, and then never draw a false line until the thing was done. It just seemed like it was all thinking for him, and the drawing itself was almost effortless. There was no work to it at all. And then he'd be done and have coffee, and the rest of us would be drudging through the rest of the day.
Unfortunately, Sekowsky died from complications of alcoholism in 1989 at the youthful age of 66. Like so many great cartoonists, his legend has continued to live on even though he has passed from us.
Sekowsky's work on Wonder Woman has been collected in the first three four volumes of Diana Prince: Wonder Woman from DC (the fourth volume of the series contains the much less interesting post-Sekowsky material on the character) and his "New, Hunted Metal Men" stories have been collected in Showcase Presents the Metal Men volume two. Unfortunately, the rest of the stories referenced in this article are long out of print and unlikely to see print anytime soon. But they're available cheap on the internet or at any convention. I'm sure you'll have a great time exploring the imagination of the legendary Big Mike Sekowsky.