22 May 2011

FWS:Forgotten Classics-Dynamo Joe

In 1986-1988, First Comics published one of the three great American Military Sci-Fi comics series (the others being Dark Horse's ALIENS and Epic's Alien Legion ), Dynamo Joe. During the mid-1980's, the Manga/Anime craze was hitting the comic shops hard, fueled by Robotech. This is a rare-American semi-Manga series that took themes of Starship Troopers and mixed them with hard-edged Military Sci-Fi and humor.The series was created and written by Doug Rice, who served in the US Air Force during the 60's and 70's, where,he most likely exposed to Anime/Magna. After leaving the USAF, he went to college for art, and got in the field of comics. In 1984, with series like Gundum in his mind, he began work on his own giant robot futuristic war story, which became Dynamo Joe.First Comics, that published Joe was known for printing the first computer-generated comic book, Shatter, Teenager Mutant Ninja Turtles (prior to the TV cartoon ruined it!), and the massive 17th century Samurai epic  Lone Wolf and Cub (one of the best comics ever written).  First Comics took a chance on Dynamo Joe by originally publishing it in short comics sections in the varity comic MARS, then a three-part limited series then onto a regular series. However, sadly, Joe only lasted fifteen issues, and First Comics folded in 1992. While ShatterTMNT, and Lone Wolf and Cub were sold off to other comic companies to live on, but Dynamo Joe was left to the bins of back-issue comic boxes of the world.

The Plot of Dynamo Joe
It is the year 3425, mankind as expanded out from Terra to form a vast network of colonial worlds, under the Terran Confederation. However, the government of the Terran Confederation as a gaping rift between the inner and outer colonies, coupling with the activities of rouge colonies, called the Blood Nations, and pirates. Besides, Terra, there are two other major races within our happy corner of the galaxy, the Tavitans and the Imperium. The Tavitans are also a colonizing spacefaring race of felines that have their society centered around their Queen Mother on their homeworld of Londree. Terrans and Tavitans have a trading relationship but mostly keep out of each other's business. The last race is the Imperium, which is centered around their leader Magna Khan who left Terra around 2100 with 400 women after discovering immortality. On his thorneworld, the Khan created a society built on the perfection of humanity via art, science, and some martial training. Like the Tavitans, the Imperium most kept to themselves...that all changed in 3415.An unknown alien race was attacking the galactic rim, and leaving a trail of empty worlds. Their obessive path was directly focused for Terra and Londree, leaving the Imperium out of the path of the sublight invasion.
Wanting to put an end to the threat, the Terrans mobilized their central fleet, and attacked the unknown race. It was a slaughter. More than half of the Terran fleet was destory, and the last serving fleet command staff officer, moved the remains of the fleet out of the kill-zone. This was called the Rim Battle Massacre. The Terran Confederation, the Imperium, and the Tavitans formed the Alliance to deal with the alien threat, who were now called the Mellanares. To win the so-called Orion War, the Alliance, created the 120 ton, 70 feet tall fusion-powered robo-suits manned by two, named the Dynamo. To stop the Mellanares invasion, the Alliance took a star system along the enemy's invasion path and transformed each of the eight worlds into fortress. It lasted for three years. As the comic book series of Dynamo Joe opens, the last fortress-world is falling, and the Orion War is told from the POV of one robo-suit: Dynamo Joe, crewed by pilot Sgt. Daro of the Imperium and technician Pomru of the Tavitan Empire. Daro and Pomru wage the Orion War, while being based out of an Alliance Asteroid armed station, Sigma Six, in robo-suit unit of Spectre Squadron. For fifteen issues, the crew of the Dynamo Joe try to win this war against the aliens, navigate the tense relationship between the members of the Alliance, and figure who the hell these aliens are and why they are coming. One of the most interesting elements of Dynamo Joe, is the alien and mysterious robo-suit, Wolf-1. The end of the series is also original and not typical of normal comic book long-term stories.  

The Dynamo suit
The footsoldiers of the Orion War is the Alliance battlesuit Dynamo that is 70 feet tall, and 120 tons, that powered by a fusion plant in the groin region of the suit. During the war, 70,000 suits were put in-field against the organic shape-shifting enemy, and these suits had limited operating range in space, causing the Alliance to have suit recovery ships. These suits operated in both star-side and dirt-side, with modifitions. Crewed by two, they occupy the chest region of the suit, and there were several levels inside the suit...this allowed a Dynamo suit to stay in the fight for days or weeks without the need for the crews to get out. There as been hinted that food and sleep facilities were onboard the giant robo-suit.Weapons are mostly plasma based and from the dialog in the comic, it seems that Dynamo suits have a slush hydogen tank that have the weapon hook into the ammunition supply. In addition, the suit mounted swords, a hetmet cannons, gaunlet bullet-firing cannons, and a one-shot wrist last-resort weapon.My favorite weapon system was the thermonuclear shoulder cannon. Wonder if the NRA will support me wanting to have one?

Historical Context of Dynamo Joe
Dynamo Joe came at interesting time in the history of Anime/Magna in North America, Robotech was the fuel that feed the fire of people like me to seek out and buy Japanese products. Seeing this trend, Matchbox created a line of so-so quality toys based on Robotech, and comic shops began stocks more imported mecha models.Things were not like today for Western fans of Anime/Manga, often it was expenive, not in English, and you had to go through dealers (normally in LA) to get porducts. The Reagan 80's were a good time for independent comic companies and for fans of non-mainstream comics. Companies like Dark Horse, Comico, Viz, and First were founded and putting out books that were not the tried old Superhero shit like the Big Two (DC and Marvel). However, these new publishers struggled for space on the rack of comic book stores, and if a comic didn't move, it was cut from ordering.

My Personal Dynamo Joe Experience
My older and only brother discovered this series at Starbase 21 in Tulsa, and bought the entire line. I used to borrow them with great fequrancy and even built Lego Dynamo suits. I was very lucky, that my brother had enough good taste to buy this series, and allowed me to explore a rich and well-written comic. At the time that Joe was released, I was obessed with Robotech and the rumored second sequel series, and spend ever bit of my allowance on Anime/Magna products. Dynamo Joe was never a forgotten series to me and over the years, I often thought of Joe. When the blog was started up last summer, I bought the entire series from Lone Star Comics for $15. That was lower than cover prices! Oddly enough, Joe was the first time I had ever heard of the term Armored Power Suits...which is what my first book is all about.

What happened to Dynamo Joe?
You may be asking yourself, if DJ was that good...than why did only last 15 issues, William? Readership was good enough for Dynamo Joe to move from a few stories in MARS to a limited series of three issues to a regular monthy run...but that only lasted fifteen issues. The reason behind the end of Joe was gave in #15, First Comics said that there were not enough readers to support the comic, which is cold economics, plus First Comics was a small press...and not able to have dead wood on their payrolls. The dropoff between the limited series to the end of the regular monthly series must have been sharp, or the numbers didn't grow like they thought. I can only theroize why comic readers of the 1980's did not respond to Dynamo Joe like they should have. I think that First Comics was unable to give Joe the advert it needed to reach the readers, this coupled with the limited shelf space on most local comic shops...would you kick off X-Men for Joe? Yeah...didn't think so. Then there was a cover-price issues...Dynmao Joe started off at buck twenty five then jumped to the unheard of $1.75! Yep, that doesn't seem like much today, but in the Reagan 80's most of the Big Two comics were $.75. We also have to look at Japanese Anime/Magna still only had small core of fans, and there simply wasn't the interest in a giant robot war series that forced readers to think rather than spoon up more recycled shit about Superheroes.  

Modern review of Dynamo Joe
Last summer, I bought all fiften issues of DJ, for about $15, and sat down and read all of them at once.  I hadn't read Joe since my high school day in the mid-90's, and revisiting one the building blocks of my own MSF allowed me to fall in love with the series all over again. I was not expecting Dynamo Joe to live up to the notosia that I had built up over the years, however after several read throughs, I can safely say that Joe was a brillent comic that died before its time...Dynamo Joe is an amazing story with original elements, that does not mimic Anime/Magna style or stories, but burrows the best elements of soldiers interacting with these massive armed robotic suits in deep space combat. Being much older now, since I last read it, some elements, like seeing massive robo-suits weilding swords for hand-to-hand combat is funny, and doesn't jive with my own MSF being harder science.
However, the originality of the races, especially the Imperium society, and the Mellenares aliens are unlike any seen in most MSF. This carries over to the Dynamo suits, which are similar to the suits for Gundum, but are not as cartoony and developed with eye to the realistic. The main problem with Dynamo Joe is with the overall series pacing. The series, according to Doug Rice was to fill a two-year span ran, First Comics allowed for Rice to finish up the Wolf-1 and Orion War storylines...this makes the series move too fast, and some story elements get dropped off. I would have liked to see more planet-side combat and more within the Tavitan Empire and Imperium. It really is a shame that a comic with as much to offer as DJ was canceled and nothing was developed after the end of First Comics with the idea of the Dynamo Joe universe. I would advise, if you like what you see here, and the story sounds interesting, than pick Joe at a comic shop and get into the Orion War!

Why is Dynamo Joe a MSF Classic?
Even the realm of comic books today, Dynamo Joe is an original take on piloted combat mecha facing an alien enemy, but why is DJ a classic of military science fiction? Unlike many of the giant robo-suit Anime or Magna, the crews of the Alliance battlesuits are not teenagers, but experienced, highly trained soldiers that operate within a military structure. Attention as been paid to tactics, technology, and politics, all making Joe well-rounded, especially for a comic book. The idea of a military alliance between three governments is also not seen in many comics, especially allies that do not like one another. Dynamo Joe was not aimed at kids, it was more an adult comic, which were coming about in the 1980's, which allowed the writers of DJ to show the effects of war. However, Joe knew when to inject humor, making the characters seem more three dimensional. Classic normally means something that is groundbreaking, well-done, and is enjoyable years after it was created. Dynamo Joe hits all three of those. This comic should not be a forgotten classic any longer.  


  1. Thanks for this review, William. I vaguely remember seeing Dynamo Joe at the time it came out, but for some reason (probably lack of cash), I never picked it up. Your review has me wanting to track it down now.

    Also, you might be interested to know that the crew and mecha of DJ made a guest appearance in GrimJack, another series from First Comics that was re-released as a set of trade paperbacks a few years ago.

  2. DJ was one of those forgotten classics that I wanted to bring to the light, there really wasn't anything like it at the time.
    I read a few of GrimJack, but had forgotten about the crossover...thanks for that!
    Another comic I will bring to light, is ALIEN LEGION..
    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. I loved this comic, so well drawn and great characters with believable motivations. Shame it was obscure then and practically forgotten now.

  4. Thanks for the comment bryce! This is one reason that we started FWS, to bring "forgotten classics" back from the grave....next in the series is Epic's ALIEN LEGION

  5. Excellent! I miss Jugger Grimrod.

    Do you remember Strikeforce Morituri? Or Marvels New Universe? Some good titles there, some not-so-much.

    As a Military Sci-fi aficionado you probably enjoyed Robotech Macross, but couldn't help but notice the horrible military strategies and huge (repeated) mistakes they made. But then looking back, Megatron did not have the best planned out attacks, and Cobra Commanders favorite word was "Retreat! Retreeeeat!".

  6. That is so odd, I was just writing an outline for Strikeforce Morituri! One of best and original Marvel comics! I hate superhero stories, but SFM was a great idea.
    I am a huge Robotech fan, and if I ever had the cash, I would fund Robotech II. I bought the boxset a few years ago...still enjoyed it, but I agree with horrible military tactics...

  7. I still have all the original comics tucked away and take them out for re-reading when I feel the need for some humongous mecha action. Thanks for the post, sorry the comment has come so late.

  8. No worries! I love this series and recently re-read them as well. I still think that Wolf-1 deserves a place on all-time badass mecha list.

  9. Hi! I just found this page by chance, and would like to say that Dynamo Joe was also released in Spain. I think it was translated to Spanish, but I'm not 100% sure.

    Dynamo Joe was a great comic indeed!


  10. I was just thinking of all the great comics Frist Comics produced and chose to Google one of my favorites, namely Dynamo Joe. But I can't help thinking of all the other great titles First put out. From the Nebula Award Winning Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude, Mike Grell's John Sable Freelance, John Ostrander and Tim Truman's Grim Jack, Howard Chaykin's American Flag! and of course Doug Rice's Dynamo Joe. In the mid to late 80's I purchased everything I could get my hands on from First Comics and I still have them all today. They used the highest quality paper and the best inks available while everyone else way still using newsprint. The quality and lower print runs made them more expensive than the mainstream books, but they were worth every penny. Thanks for making this blog, maybe someday, someone will resurrect this great book.

    Kind regards,