Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lost Universe: Defiant: Warriors of Plasm

Editor's Note: Today we are proud to feature an article by RKB, a friend of the Flashback Universe who has has proven himself a fan of comics old and new with some fantastic Golden Age articles on his Pigs In The Industry blog. In his own words, he says...

I first became a fan of comics with Green Hornet #2, but stopped reading them completely eventually due to my disappointment in the story and schedule of some of the Image titles. Ten years later on a lark I go into a comic book store looking for back issues of From Hell, and notice Jim Lee is drawing Batman. Catching up on what I missed left me with more of a appreciation for forgotten, ignored, or independent comics works, and even less appreciation for Marvel or DC company wide 'events'.

We would like to welcome RKB as a contributor on the FBU and hope you enjoy his look at another great Lost Universe. - Jim

In 1993 I was too young to appreciate the difference between a ’Shooter’ book vs. a lot of what was on the stands, but I knew it was there. First I read the rumors, then the reports, and finally the full page ads that Jim Shooter was returning to comics. Jim Shooter decided to start over from his exit at Valiant by creating a new company, and a new universe.

That company’s name was Defiant, and its universe was begun in the lynchpin first title Plasm.

Well actually the title was changed to Warriors of Plasm to avoid a lawsuit from Marvel, but Solicitors of Evil are Jim Shooter’s archenemies so he got sued anyway.

Terry Stewart (then Marvel president) said the suit was for trademark infringement over a planned title called Plasmer.

Plasmer was about a woman who distilled out her good and bad halves. The ‘good part’ going on to become a super-heroine combination of Plastic Man, Metamorpho, and Short Order from Tribe. Marvel representative Gary Guzzo said it was “not a big deal” and Marvel had agreed with Defiant to change the name to avoid a suit, but then they didn‘t like the new logo.

The ‘Warriors of’ part of the logo appears to be pasted on, since it is smaller than and colored differently from the rest of the emblem.

[p 20, Wizard #27]
As might be expected Jim Shooter remembers the fight over the font differently:

When their lawyers came after us, our lawyers said, we'll change the name, what do you want? They said, if you just add some words to the name, so that it doesn't seem like one character, that'd be OK. We offered them Warriors of Plasm. and they said, give us a couple of them and we'll pick from them. We offered them Warriors of Plasm and a couple others and they didn't reply. This is May. They didn't reply. Our lawyers said, we can't get them to reply, so here's what we'll do. We'll do the change unilaterally, because as far as we agreed, if we do the change, we'll be OK. Warriors of Plasm had worked for me. What they did was they waited for the day the book was shipping and they waited for a temporary restraining order. Well, we anticipated that. My publisher at Quebecor had arranged for our shipment to be interlaced with Marvel shipments. they couldn't stop [our] books unless they stopped theirs. So our books shipped. [Part 2, Comic Book Resources Interview]
Defiant won the lawsuit at a cost of $300,000 in legal fees. Defiant also lost a anticipated $9 Million dollars worth of licensing fees for their properties due to concerns over possible future lawsuits. With the drop in sales as the comic boom went bust, Defiant bleed out of cash/went out of business before they had the chance to do their company wide cross-over story Schism. Comic book cards were popular back in the 90s, so it was a innovative decision on Defiant’s part to bring out the #0 issue of Warriors of Plasm as a trading card set. It also included various character cards and limited chase cards to collect. Warriors of Plasm would run for 13 issues, along with a one-shot graphic novel, and every title Defiant published would either tie-in, or be a spin-off.

Warriors of Plasm took place on the living sentient world the Org of Plasm. Imagine the Gaia hypothesis twisted into a nightmare where everything on the planet (and the planet itself) is made out of living Plasm. The people, their houses, their weapons, are all alive. Most of the people/plasmoids have no concept of being a individual they just want to be one with (I.e. dead fodder for) the Org. Mix and mangle the mindsets of hardcore socialists with homicidal religious cultists, on a planet-wide scale. A few plasmoids rebel against those ideas and plot to overthrow their society, one of those is lead character Lorca. He falls in love with a ’heretic’ who believes in individualism named Laygen. She is killed by Lorca’s rival Ulnareah, so Lorca plots to take over the planet in revenge.

Turns out Earth is hidden ‘beyond the veil or reality’, but Lorca has discovered it. He brings 10,000 humans to Plasm to genetically reengineer as his rebel army, 9,995 die, but the other 5 receive their super powers:
Mrs. J./Glory -grandmother who received super strength/invincibility became one of the most powerful characters. She also had a lot of octogenarian sexual tension with fellow revolutionary Preach, and was slated to receive her own series before Defiant folded.

Preach -older man and church bishop who had the ability to absorb and manipulate light into energy.

Nudge - department store counter-girl who gained telepathic powers she struggled to control.

Shooter - named after the company founder, former military man who gained enhanced strength/speed and the ability to turn invisible. Shooter got his own spin-off series Dogs of War that lasted 5 issues.

Mouse/Caution in keeping with Shooter’s tradition of heroes sporting the ‘regular guy look’ an overweight one-armed contemplative auto-mechanic who gained super strength/invincibility -but not as powerful as Glory. He got his own series with a human woman/ass kicking warrior he met on Plasm called Prudence. Prudence and Caution lasted 2 issues.

Later in Warriors of Plasm it was revealed just what was really going on. All the dreams of humanity was expressed in energy that created a place called the Dreamtime. During the time of the Black Death on earth all the sorrow and suffering was wrecking havoc on that dream world. Two characters Arhq Tsolmec and his wife Zahnree Phla created a ritual to save their world. It went wrong and Arhq ended up as a symbol of death in his own Defiant title called War Dancer.

Zahnree was devoured by a serpent and became the soul of the Org of Plasm. The Dreamtime was cut off from earth and became it’s own separate world. Meanwhile, humankind still dreamed and that energy created the ‘quantum substratum’ a shadow reality populated by demons. Michael Alexander was the hero who fought them in his own title Dark Dominion for 10 issues.

Lorca’s lost love Laygen taught him each person is unique, they live once then never again. Over and over, Lorca clones Laygen because he is so desperate to see her again. Over and over, he has the clone destroyed, or does it himself, because he knows that betrays her memory by going against her beliefs. Finally Lorca is given a choice: be the ruler of Plasm, or have a non-clone, free-thinking, reborn Laygen returned to him.

Warriors of Plasm had a solid -if standard- fantasy/Sci-fi-/Super-hero set-up. What made it great was all the fantastic allegory and pathos. Lorca could be any would be revolutionary leader, willing to compromise his principles, betray his supporters, in pursuit of power. Until he found out how powerful the ‘Plasm 5’ were, Lorca wanted them killed to hide his involvement, and to feed the people of earth to the Org. Lorca started instituting his changes with their help, until they returned to earth and Lorca’s backsliding begin.

The series was a good example of how well Jim Shooter could wield the basic narrative principles and interweave them with finer elements of storytelling. Alongside the central story in Warriors of Plasm, one will fine more complex themes like: Ingénue idealism, self-serving noblesse, the burden of duty and self-mortification.

If you get a chance, dig through the back issue bins at your local comic shop, or check out ebay for a complete run of the series. At current market prices, you'll get a great bargin!



Caine said...

Welcome RKB, nice initial post here at the FBU and a great addition to the LU stuff.

RKB said...

Thanks for the welcome, I appreciate it.

Damien said...

I actually spent a lot of time, money, and heartache as a kid trying to collect the entire Plasm issue 0. I even had the little binder to collect the issue and went to a signing by Michael Witherby. I'm sure I still have it somewhere, but to no good use, as I'm missing literally three or four cards out of the entire set that I just could never find.

From what I remember, the storyline was pretty good, though. Interesting, at least. There was a sporting event I think that was called Spatterball (?) where the goal was to maim and kill your opponents, grab the living "ball" and spike it painfully on a steel spike to win the game. All the players were genetically modified for maximum infliction of pain. Totally made sense a world where the ultimate goal is to die and become one with the Org, who cares if you're painfully dismembered in a ball game?

Marvel killed one of the better creative minds of our generation simply out of spite, and is now churning out such garbage as "Thor".

Daniel said...

Damien, I am sorry but I have to take exception with your comment. Jim Shooter does have a creative mind, but only in how he sees the past. His rambling re-writes of history, both on his blog and in various other interviews, demonstrate a man who lost touch with reality long, long ago. Also, his strange fascination with continuing to take pointed jabs at the now permanently disabled Bill Mantlo is frightening to me. He has done this numerous times on his blog and also in an interview that was used for an insurance magazine (which used Mantlo as an example). A shame that the young man who gave us so many great "Legion of Superheroes" stories grew into the hateful, bitter mess that he currently is, but that, I suppose, is life. I can't help but think that the influence of Mort Weisinger played a part in the transition.


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