Grimjack and Dreadstar and Nexus, oh my.

§ March 10th, 2023 § Filed under indies § 15 Comments

MixMat swirls things around with

“Dont forget Jon Sable Freelance and American Flagg! though i’d stop when Grell and Chaykin stop drawing, their stories arent the draw-its when their creative juices are flowing and inspiring them to draw that both series are at their best. Sadly, Flagg only had 12 Chaykin drawn issues. Jon Sable Freelance had 30 or so beautifully drawn issues by Grell, with compelling superior stories too. Imnsho.”

Howard Chaykin was on American Flagg! much longer than that, though in general I think people hold those initial twelve issues as the peak of the series. Chaykin wrote and drew through issue #26, with guest-artists on #13 (James Sherman/Rick Burchett) and #14 (Pat Broderick/Burchett).

Issue #27 was the full-length conclusion to the Alan Moore/Don Lomax back-up stories that had run through the previous few issues. (And talk about your forgotten Moore work — not highly regarded at the time, if I recall, but I thought it was amusing.)

Then after that it’s Chaykin on scripts only (though still doing the covers), with Joe Staton and Hilary Barta on art chores for #28-30 (Burchett and Barta on inks for the last issue). Honestly, I liked Staton’s work on the book, but I typically like anything Staton draws anyway.

The next storyline is when Chaykin drops off the book entirely. Mark Badger and Randy Emberlin are on art, Chaykin scripts issue #31, with the script for #32 credited to both Chaykin and Steven Grant. #33 is by Grant and Badger, which remains the creative team through #37. Chaykin’s last cover was #30, with Badger doing cover illos for that run.

Chaykin comes back to covers with #38, with a story by J.M. DeMatteis, and Badger and Emberlin still doing the art. And than that remains the creative team (though Badger starts inking himself with #41) through #45.

Issue #46 is the return of Chaykin to the interiors, as he starts to wrest the book back into shape, along with DeMatteis, Mindy Newell, Mike Vosburg, and Paul Smith. #47-8 features a Chaykin plot, with Newell scripting and Paul Smith drawing. #49 replaces Smith with Vosburg. Then the last issue of this series, #50, is Chaykin on script, Vosburg on art.

When then leads into the 12-issue Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!, which I had remembered as being just all Chaykin, all the time, but issue #1 is Chaykin with Newell scripting, and Vosburg on art. #2 is Chaykin with John Moore scripting, Vosburg still on art with Richard Ory inks. That’s how it stays through issue #8. #9 is Moore as the sole script credit, same art team, and that’s how it goes through the end of the run. Chaykin and Vosburg collaborate on the covers in various combinations. I think this second run, while not being all Chaykin, was likely closer to his vision than the “in-between issues” on the previous series, hence the new title.

I have to admit, I checked out of the series myself during that first run after Chaykin left the book entirely, though I am tempted to go back and read those DeMatteis issues. I seem to recall it was specifically the direction the book took at that point that Chaykin sorta openly mocked once he was back on the title, but still, you know, I was the one guy who liked the Moore/Lomax thing, I suspect I can survive DeMatteis Flagg!

Now as to Jon Sable, Freelance…no, no, don’t run away, I’m not going to do the same cataloguing like I did above. But I will agree with Mixmaster Mat that the series was at its best when 1) Grell was writing and drawing it, and 2) Grell was interested in drawing it, as there were a few issues near the end there where even Grell’s art was a little on the…flimsy side, shall we say. I think I dropped the book before Grell left, as I believe the art began to decline around the same time the cover price jumped up, so, you know, that was that. Those earlier issues still hold up, though, but I do have a fondness for this later issue.

“There was also Crossroads that kinda, sorta was First’s major miniseries Crisis type crossover, though i thought the art was dreadful.”

I enjoyed this series quite a bit, myself, though I was less interested in the first issue (teaming Whisper with Jon Sable) and more enthralled with the Grimjack/Nexus/Dreadstar final issue (by Mike Baron, Luke McDonnell and Val Mayerik) which was just about everything I hoped it would be. I do admit a fondness for the fourth issue (Grimjack and Nexus‘ Judah Maccabee) as it was drawn by longtime favorite Shawn McManus. Joe Staton drew an issue, Cynthia Martin drew that first one…I think overall these had pretty good art teams, but it has been a while since I’ve looked at them, so maybe I’m remembering them through a nostalgic filter. But, hey, everyone likes what they like, so who am I to judge. I stand by that last issue, however…it’s, as the kids say, a banger.

15 Responses to “Grimjack and Dreadstar and Nexus, oh my.”

  • Thom H. says:

    First of all, I want to thank Mike and everyone for the in-depth discussion of these indie superheroes from the ’80s. I appreciate all the information. I’m leaning toward starting with Nexus because I’d like to see some early Steve Rude art.

    Also, I love that you always know what you’re getting with a Howard Chaykin project. That cover is something else. Is she holding the logo against her butt?

  • Tom W says:

    There was in fact a further issue of Flagg written and drawn by Chaykin – the American Flagg Special, which saw Reuben transported to Time2 to introduce characters and concepts for that series of graphic novels. Most of the characters and concepts introduced never appeared in Time2. It came out about a year after Chaykin had abandoned Flagg, like salt in a wound.

    He’s talked about how exhausting the first year on Flagg was, doing 28 pages a month, and after the fill-in issues of 13 and 14 it became a much less ambitious comics – from 15 onwards it was still three-issue storylines but there was no overarching arc and stories were 20 pages rather than 28, with back-ups which ranged from Who’s Who-style pages to a Mark Thrust story to the Moore stuff. Moore’s on record somewhere as saying he was only meant to be doing two or three back-ups before the whole issue and that became six, so he was desperately filling in time. I haven’t read it since learning that, wonder how obvious it is?

    Oddly, at least one of the things Chaykin was doing during this whole overworked period was adding extra pages to the Hard Times graphic novel collecting Flagg 1 to 3. About nine pages, detailing how the protagonist arrived at Mars by showing his literal flight in and the chat the pilots had. It’s the most pointless addition to a collection I’ve ever seen and feels like the work of a man high on success but running on empty.

  • Wayne Allen Sallee says:

    I will say that AMERICAN FLAGG! was the most advertised book here, though I don’t recall specific reference to Chicago on the posters. After that, WARP. I’d be curious as to what posters from First your LCSs received.

  • Sean Mageean says:

    If anyone cares to read it, I did an interview with Howard Chaykin back in 2018, when his latest comic The Divided States of Hysteria was being published–but we also touched upon Star Wars, American Flagg! and other titles Chaykin has worked on; as well as his takes on Gil Kane, Wally Wood, and more classic creators. I believe at the time Chaykin was in negotiations with a European producer to try to get an American Flagg! film up and running. Obviously, all opinions expressed in the interview are those of Howard Chaykin.

  • Sean Mageean says:


    Yes. I think Don McGregor is one of the top writers of the Bronze Age of Comics. He was always humanistic and forward-thinking. His Black Panther stories were really engaging, and in Sabre and Detectives, Inc. he was inclusive in terms of having supporting characters of diverse backgrounds and orientations.

    “Cry Mullet!” would have to be about the late ’80s and ’90s comics…I’m not a mullet fan in general, especially not on superheroes like Superman, The Question, or Nightwing…but I suppose Keith Richards, Rod Stewart, and Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie successfully rocked their mullets back in the ’70s.

    Re: Ernie Pook’s Co-meek, I get the importance of Lynda Barry’s comic strip, but personally I could never get into it as the drawing was so crudely done that it didn’t appeal to me. You might be on to something regarding Comico’s pronunciation being influenced by manga, I guess Comico’s founders Gerry Giovinco and Bill Cucinotta would be the ones who could confirm or deny that. But Comic did have the licenses to Robotech and Star Blazers, as I recall.


    Tangent time: I came across an interesting factoid the other day, which was International Women’s Day: Olive Byrne–the inspiration for William Moulton Marston’s Wonder Woman– also happened to be the niece of Margaret Sanger–who was a champion of reproductive rights and opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. And Willian Moulton Marston wrote Golden Age Wonder Woman’s origin story in which she was “born” out of sculpted clay…make of that what you will…anyway, happy belated International Women’s Day! You are Wonders–Wonder Women!

    And, since ’80s independent comics have been the main thread of late, I stumbled upon a pretty interesting article on the rise and fall of good old Pacific Comics:

  • Mikester says:

    Tom W. – yeah, should have probably mentioned the special, but it’s so peripheral to the main series. I think I own it, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never read it.

  • Wayne Allen Sallee says:

    Sean: I bookmarked the articles. Thanks. You misunderstand, though. “Cry Mullet!” is something I shout down the empty streets of Burbank. Another call to arms is “From Out of the Chaos…A Mullet!” It works with just about everything.

    Ernie Pook, to me, was like Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. I could laugh at both, but it was always as if the jokes were meant for a specific crowd.

  • Hal Shipman says:

    I still clearly remember, back in the late 80s, well before the uber-rise of cosplay, seeing a woman at a small con in Houston wearing a Flagg! outfit. The leather jacket (really, the whole outfit) was absolutely dead-on perfectly executed.

    That was also where I met Scott McCloud for the first time and he gave me a copy of Zot #4 that I had somehow missed.

  • Mike Loughlin says:

    I wasn’t old enough to be reading American Flagg! or Jon Sable: Freelance as they came out, but those two series had strong enough reputations in the ‘90s that I sought them out in back issue bins. They were both good reads. I bought the first 12 issues of AF!, but stopped because I was warned that the series dipped in quality after that. The series was known for its satire and “mature readers” elements, but it was the art that stood out to me. Chaykin’s layouts and textures rendered in ink were unlike a lot of what was being published in the mid ‘90s. Meanwhile, I liked Grell’s art fine, but the straightforward adventures and likable characters kept me buying JS:F into the 30s. Eventually, I tracked down most of the rest of the series. There is a dip in quality, but it stayed entertaining enough.

    Grimnack, Nexus, & Badger were harder to find in the pre-eBay, pre-trade days. I’be seen smatterings of Nexus in the wild, but very little of the other two. I bought and enjoyed the first Grimjack omnibus and a trade of the first few Nexus issues. I might read Badger someday, but that series doesn’t have a Steve Rude or Tim Truman to spark my interest.

  • Sean Mageean says:


    Re: those Avengers and Thor covers Tweets–I was never really a fan of Al Milgrom’s clunky art, but that “IT’S RAINING ETERNALS!” cover is kinda funny. I suppose the Weather Girls are to blame. I dunno about that “Thorminator”cover though…how many years after Frank Miller ‘s “No More Mister Nice Guy” Daredevil cover did this come out? I guess Alice Cooper is ultimately to blame for both the DD and “Thorminator” covers.

    Re: We are living only eight years away from the setting of American Flagg! –well, Chaykin pretty much got it right about the Plex — Fox News and Elon Musk are proof enough of that!

    And while we are on the subject of future shock:

    When Deathlok debuted in 1974, his story was set in the “post-apocalyptic future of 1990.”
    And Killraven’s story arc was set in the bleak future (from the publication date of 1973) of a Martian-dominated Earth in 2018-2020.
    And what about Sabre–published in 1978, but set in the 2020s, after environmental degradation, energy crises, and a plague based on a leaked bio-weapon have made Earth a mess–it seems that Don McGregor pretty much nailed it!
    So,in essence, Bronze Age Marvel and Independent Comics were mostly all about futures of gloom and doom –no clean-cut Legion of Super-Heroes to be found!

  • Wayne Allen Sallee says:

    I used the Google machine to find out the year, and even tried HEX but it only mentioned early 21st century. I had my fingers crossed for 2023, though I’d swear a year is mentioned by some (most likely) bald guy who talks about radiation and the start of it all.

    We did survive SOYLENT GREEN in 2022, though.

    Remember that long MARVEL TEAM-UP where it stars with somebody and then it is the Salem Witch trials, then Deathlok, then Killraven? And it ends with Moondragon.

  • Snark Shark says:

    Mark Badger’s art always looked like a rushed mess to me.

    “I might read Badger someday, but that series doesn’t have a Steve Rude or Tim Truman to spark my interest”

    True. The art was usually good, though.

    “I guess Alice Cooper is ultimately to blame for both the DD and “Thorminator” covers.”

    Alice was ahead of his time.
    ALL Roger Stern Avengers are GREAT, BTW.


    LOVE DEATHLOK!!! I have the hardcover reprint book.


    Just bought a few of those last year. Not the best series, but I LOVE that character. It might have even introduced me to Jonah, bu tI’m not sure.

    “MARVEL TEAM-UP… Salem Witch Trials”


  • Jack says:

    Oh man, there was a discussion of First Comics books and I’m this late to the party?

    My love of First Comics was so immense that when they went under-well, this was when they were telling us that they were shifting to three issue Baxter minis, but even then I knew they were doomed-my pull list was basically murdered. While Grimjack was my main jam-good lord I loved that book, and the fact that forward momentum on the story died with First-Nexus, Badger, American Flagg, Dynamo Joe, Dreadstar (though in fairness I still sort of considered that an Epic book since I’d been following that story since Epic Illustrated), the Moorcock adaptations, Lone Wolf and Cub and books that I sometimes wonder if I imagined them. (Am I the only person who remembers Squalor? Stefan Petrucha and Tom Sutton, weird time travel shenanigans, felt like a Vertigo book showing up five years early, which was fitting.)The painted Mazinger graphic novel by Go Nagai, man, I could go on all day-for the back half of the 80s, First Comics could do no wrong for me, and really, I can’t say I’ve ever been more fond of a comics company than First.

  • Snark Shark says:

    “Grimjack was my main jam-good lord I loved that book”

    Me too!


    I remember the title, not sure if I read it.

    “Mazinger graphic novel”

    Saw the ads, thought it looked cool, never saw the book.

  • Sean Mageean says:

    Snark Shark and Jack:

    For First Comics, I always thought Warp was very interesting and different–and I really dug the Frank Brunner art, plus the Ditko art in some back up stories.
    Also, The Beowulf graphic novel adapted by Jerry Bingham, Shatter–the first comic drawn entirely on computer, and the Michael Moorcock’s Hawkmoon stories adapted by Gerry Conway with art by Rafael Kayanan.