It’s a rule of comics: Life or death struggles for the fate of the entire world have to fall in favor of the valiant heroes.  Of course, rules are made to be broken…  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Protectors #20 awaits!

PROTECTORS #20

Writer: R.A. Jones
Penciler: Willie Peppers
Inker: Scott Reed
Colorist: Barry Gregory
Letterer: Tim Eldred
Editor: Roland Mann
Publisher: Malibu Comics
Cover Price: $2.50
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $2.50

Previously in Protectors: Dating back to the very dawn of the Golden Age of comics, Centaur Comics began publishing in March of 1938.  (For comparison, Superman’s first appearance would hit until a couple of months later.  Though short-lived, folding in 1942, Centaur was the home to influential prototype characters of comics, including the original Amazing-Man, The Eye (who was a big ol’ floating eye) and a number of characters who knocked off or presaged others, like Air-Man, The Shark and Man Of War.  Centaur’s line fell into public domain, leading to it being revived in 1992 by Malibu Comics.  Those wacky Golden Age characters were updated with angst, gritted teeth and a full spectrum of neuroses and personal peccadilloes, in keeping with the trends that created the 90s comics boom.  As this issue opens, the villain known as Great Question has mounted an offensive to amass personal power and wipe out all opposition, leaving him in control of the world.  Things are looking grim for the Protectors…

Far away, in Washington, DC, the President (formerly the vigilante known as The Clock) grimly realizes that the portals that Question is opening threaten the cities over which they hover, including his own.  Retreating to the home of his old friend, Zardi The Eternal Man, President The Clock prepares for the end with two of his oldest comrades-in-arms.  When Zardi’s lady-friend arrives in a panic, she demands to know why he doesn’t teleport away and save himself, only to find that his power is drained and then…

The entire city dies screaming.  That’s…  pretty hardcore, albeit not in a way that makes for satisfying drama.  Seeing Zardi arbitrarily depowered so that he can be burned to death feels random and demoralizing, rather than making for the shocking inversion of heroic tropes that I suspect was intended.  Back in the Himalayas, The Protectors, augmented by The Ex-Mutants and all the costumed heroes of their publishing line, decide to split up and attack Great Question from multiple vantage points, only to run into one of their own…

Amazing-Man, aka John Aman, was mind-controlled into betraying his partners previously, but his phenomenal willpower has allowed him to hold fast and also reveal the weaknesses of the art team.  As Man Of War prepares to order his team into battle, the inappropriately cleavaged hero know as Nightmask gets her own freaky facial expression, revealing…

…The Eye!  J. Daniel Atlas and Merrick McKinney were unavailable for comment.  Disappointingly, he’s no longer a floating eye with a flair for melodrama matched only by Stardust The Super Wizard, he’s just a dude with massive sideburns.  But his power can turn the die for our heroes, and he prepares to address the Great Question directly, mano-a-ojo!  In so doing, he reveals NIghtmask’s secret origin, which is worrisome for readers who know the signs of a story that had to hurriedly wrap up.  Elsewhere on the battlefield, the villainous Mr. Monday (who has killed two Protectors already, including one that notoriously left a bullet hole through the entire comic) ups his kill count to three…

Arc dies in The Ferret’s arms, but the dialogue makes it painfully clear that Ferret’s whole deal is “totally a proto-Wolverine, you guys”, which blunts any positive effects of the drama for me.  Before he can unsheath his claws, though, Ferret is interrupted by Amazing-Man, who also has the power to turn the tide!  Things are lookin’ up for our Protectors, guys…

Mr. Monday unleashes the proverbial “all he’s got” on his oldest enemy, but it just… isn’t… enough.

Mr. Monday is dashed to bits on the rocks below, and A-Man’s bloodthirst causes his army to retreat, leaving the battlefield to the victorious Protectors!  Yaaay!  Heroes win and everything’s gonna be…

…okay?

Unfortunately, Great Question’s portals still threaten the world, but that issue is handled by The Eye, right?  I mean, he has incredible cosmic powers and is taking the battle right to the villain!  ‘Course, it’s a 90s comic, and his suite of personality peccadilloes includes hiding in the shadows and acting indirectly, because he is a really old dude with heart problems and that can’t…

Oh…

Crap.

Millions of people are dead, with more falling every second, but The Eye’s heart goes belly-up, leaving him on his last legs and giving Great Question the upper hand…

Um….  Something about knees?

Regardless of body part puns, The Eye dies, and Great Question takes the final step, creating the biggest portal of them all, right above the mountain range, at the highest point he could find, preparing for the end.  It’s so bad that the newest member of the cast gets a moment of dialogue, and if you know 90s comics, you know that’s bad.

Nowhere Man’s fears become painfully concrete as the competing forces not only begin tearing the planet apart, but threaten to consume the man who set them in motion…

The Great Question is vaporized in a puff of irony, leaving the assembled heroes to breathe a sign of relief.  The crisis is over, right?

Right?

We all knew the answer was wrong.  The most powerful magic-users have all fallen, and even the power of the Ex-Mutants (which is swords, by the way) won’t save the Protectors’ world from the cataclysm.  An issue that has been full of closure for various plots accelerates for the finish line, as Cal Denton, The Ferret, gets one last chance to play Feral Philosopher, while the Witch shows off her impossibly revealing costume…

And the central figure of the team, Man Of War, the Protectors’ leader and Captain America stand-in, finally realizes that war is hell, but love is strange, finally confessing his love for Nightmask and her impressive disco collar and push-up costume…

As our heroes are all consumed by the mystic flames, the last page pulls out to a wide shot like so many we’ve seen before.  Unlike ‘Crisis On Infinite Earths’ or ‘The Infinity Gauntlet’, however?  This comic book has been cancelled…

Interestingly, Malibu Comics is the same company that, just a few months before, spent three issues playing with the usual tropes of team-building before revealing that The Exiles’ dysfunctions WERE too big to overcome, they were all idiots and thus their team was doomed, ending with a similar “Kill ‘Em All” climax.  That series, was part of their other shared universe, The Ultraverse, part of a spasm of connected universe building by various companies in the early 1990s.  The lessons of those universes was that you COULD tell the same big stories that Marvel and DC had owned for so long and make it work, and as such, this comic was part of the new wave of comics that led us to modern storytelling.  What it all boils down to is that Protectors #20 tries really hard to give us something that we’ve never seen before, but ends up doing so in a way that feels nihilistic and a little cynical, with art that ranges from pretty intense to really sketchy and an unforgettable finale, earning 2 out of 5 stars overall.  I can say that, as someone who read this book off the stands, they succeeded in showing us something no one had ever done in comics, but in so doing made it clear why it hadn’t been:  It’s just depressing.

It's a rule of comics: Life or death struggles for the fate of the entire world have to fall in favor of the valiant heroes.  Of course, rules are made to be broken...  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Protectors #20 awaits! PROTECTORS #20 Writer: R.A. Jones Penciler: Willie Peppers Inker: Scott Reed Colorist: Barry Gregory Letterer: Tim Eldred Editor: Roland Mann Publisher: Malibu Comics Cover Price: $2.50 Current Near-Mint Pricing: $2.50 Previously in Protectors: Dating back to the very dawn of the Golden Age of comics, Centaur Comics began publishing in March of 1938.  (For comparison, Superman's first appearance…
Bonus points for going through with the plot that few other stories ever pulled off, but demerits for making it all feel pretty pointless...

PROTECTORS #20

Writing
Art
Coloring

Bonus points for going through with the plot that few other stories ever pulled off, but demerits for making it all feel pretty pointless...

User Rating: 3 ( 1 votes)

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.