Monday, March 23, 2020

Unexpected #196

For those of you who don't know, in my other life I am an emergency room physician. We are in the midst of a global pandemic here in the real world and so my non-'Comic Box Commentary' life is a little stressful these days.

But I am also a lifelong comic reader and there are stories that struck me as a kid and stayed embedded in my brain. There was a parental purge of unbagged books at some point in my life and I have tried my best to find and purchase again these stories from my youth.

One such story is 'The Devil To Pay" from 1980's Unexpected #196. As a kid, I devoured DC's horror comics. Much of my own fictional writing is built on a life of Unexpected and House of Mystery, quick hits of horror and violence, often with a twist ending.

And given all the sides of me - lifelong comic reader, ER doc in a pandemic, and a blogger - I thought I would break mold and cover this story here on a Supergirl blog.

So settle in while we see if Satan is the answer to a plague!

'The Devil To Pay' was written by Mike W. Barr with art by Vic Catan Jr.

We get the customary opening by Abel, this time about how life on Earth will end with a whimper not a bang. A plague is killing humanity. The world looks in ruins. And there is Old Scratch laughing over it all.

I always found this image interesting as a kid. It looks as if the Devil is throwing the plague over the landscape ... as if he was responsible.

The year is 1987 and Haley's Comet has returned with a space germ, a plague which is rapidly killing all life on Earth.

We see the best scientists America has to offer hunkered down in the Plague Research Center. But news is dire. London's research center has fallen. Humanity as a whole will be extinct in 33 days.

With no where else to turn, Dr. Christina Raines summons Satan.

And the timing couldn't be better.

The plague gets into the American center. Even this sanctuary is now compromised.

This was the panel that struck me most as a kid. The plague basically eats the flesh of this scientist in scant seconds. That stumped hand covered in purple goo scarred me as a kid.  The balding man falling backwards also is burned in my brain.

Dr. Raines succeeds in summoning the Devil and asks for immunity to the plague and all medical knowledge past and future, and a month's time to save humanity. After all, everyone will be dead in 33 days. Time is of the essence.

The Devil accepts the terms.

And it's a verbal contract! Amazing!

And so Dr. Raines gets to work.

Task one: Find a cure.

She does.

Task two: Disperse the cure.

She does, ironically by using missiles as a delivery source.

With 4 days left, she has to finish task three, saving her soul.

I thought this was a nice montage of work. That panel of her working in the lab amid the decaying bodies of her colleagues is just fantastic! No wonder I am as nutty as I am!

With the month up, the Devil comes to get her soul, he is in for a bit of a surprise.

Two Dr. Raines walk up to him!

In those precious few days left to her, Raines cloned herself. So which Raines made the deal with Satan?

Unable to know which is the soul he has claim to, Satan disappears in a huff. That panel of him screaming at Raines is just fantastic, another image I remember vividly from my youth.

But even as a kid, I wondered if this was a cheat. Does a clone have a soul? Isn't the soul just a cloned soul, therefore giving Satan ownership over both? Or is one truly a new life and therefore imbued with a new, squeaky clean soul.

Regardless, the world was saved. The pandemic ended.

I can only hope we solve things on our Earth before the situation gets that dire.

Anyways, if I recall more plague/pandemic stories I'll try to review here. I have a Superman story in mind but I have to find it. And I don't know if comic stores are open right now to thumb!

Hope you enjoyed this mini-diversion!


Martin Gray said...

I vaguely remember this one, and have just read a copy online... yes, that’s naughty, but I do own the original! Anyway, it’s a good read. I agree that the soul business is odd. I’d have had Dapper Devil guess correctly and he leaves behind two soulless doctors, ready to commit untold acts of medical mayhem.

Can’t wait to see what you give us next! Hope work isn’t too terrible.

H said...

Plenty of Superman disease stories out there, most of them entertaining if not great. Doubt you're going to find an open comic book store but good luck. Stay safe out there.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

I was going to write that this post was totally unexpected in a Supergirl blog, but after reconsidering, I don't think I will.

Don't know which Superman story you have in mind, but one worth checking out-for Supergirl content-would be the first Virus X story, "The Last Days Of Superman!" in Superman #156 (October 1962). With Superman incapacitated, Supergirl takes charge and rallies the Superman Emergency Squad, The Legion of Superheroes, and others to come together and fulfill all the tasks on Superman's to-do list.

There's also "The Last Days Of Ma and Pa Kent!" in Superman #161 (May 1963).

And it's not a plague/virus story, but in "The Spectral Superman!" in Action Comics #188 (January 1954), Superman becomes radioactive when he prevents an out of control atomic pile from exploding. In order not to contaminate others, Superman isolates himself in a mountain cabin outside of Metropolis. If that sounds familiar, this story was made into a second season episode of the Superman TV show, "Superman in Exile!"