So whereas Grimjack had a few backup stories before a team-up with Starslayer and then his own title, the next backup feature, “The Black Flame”, ran for the remainder of Starslayer‘s run (except for the final issue) and had its own full-length feature in issue #27. So since I’ve reached that issue in my reviews, I thought I would take the time to look at it here.
This isn’t written by John Ostrander but is instead penned by Peter B. Gillis with Tom Sutton (who would go on to do DC’s Star Trek) pencilling and Don Lomax (writer of the latter part of the The ‘Nam) inking for most of the backup’s run, and it has no connection to the main book the way that Grimjack shared a setting. I think this works in its favor because it allows us to have a separate story that is skippable if you want it to be.
The premise is that three humans–Susie (a little girl), Judit, and Michael–have been saved by a mystical “Boogeyman” named The Black Flame and seeing that he is in trouble, Susie wants to enlist the adults’ help in rescuing him from the evil of the nightmare realm. The Black Flame is indeed in trouble as he is captured by Hellequin, who is sort of his female equivalent and then is tortured and reprogrammed to serve the nightmare lord.
What results is a trippy adventure not unlike what we’d see in other sci-fi/fantasy/horror comics of the decade. In fact, Vertigo would take this to all sorts of levels in the Nineties, as would some of the more salacious independent publishers. Hellequin, in fact, looks like a prototype for Lady Death or some other character, having a revealing costume that seems to disappear up her ass crack when the shot calls for it. The nightmare realm is especially creepy, as is the big bad nightmare lord, whom they have successfully revolted against by the end of #26 when Hellequin sees that Susie’s soul is completely unique from all the others (and is appropriately shaped like a snowflake) and she joins the team on a quest to the land of miracles.
That quest takes up all of Starslayer #27, which might have served as a backdoor pilot for The Black Flame’s series, but seeing that the book was canceled with issue #34, I think that it’s possible that the publisher allowed for this so that the backup could be concluded. I surmise that it’s even possible that most, if not all, of The Black Flame was ready to go before a number of the Starslayer issues and therefore they wanted to make sure that material saw print.
The story itself ends with issue #31 as Hellequin and The Black Flame walk off into paradise, but then picks up years later with a two-part epilogue where a teenage Susie is plagued with nightmares and is drawn back into the realm once more to finally defeat that nightmare lord with The Black Flame’s help.
This wouldn’t have been something I sought out on its own, and if it had spun off into its own title, I wouldn’t have gone looking for it. But as a backup feature, it worked pretty well and reading them all in sequence made for a solid story that while rushed in places (I would have personally liked to have seen Susie’s return be more than just a two-parter). I could imagine this being redone these days in graphic novel form and the advances in color and printing techniques would do wonders for it (Kieron Gillen’s Die