We continue to look at Thriller, the out-of-continuity experimental comic that DC Comics produced in the early-mid 1980’s. Thriller #3 has a publishing date of January 1984, and is one of the issues I bought back when it first came out. It’s one of the more dense and oblique mainstream comics I have read, so this series is really me journaling my own attempts to understand it.
Read all about #2 here.
Daniel Grove is shown in close up, with a shadow of a sign over his face.
A panel on the first page tells us that we’re in “Down Time Part Three.”
The issue starts with SNN anchorman Ronald Morris looking back at the death of Gardner Grove, the father of Dan and Ken Grove.
His final report is shown, where he is in Latin America, in the line of fire of a battle between government militia and leftist forces. His picture goes dead so only audio is heard for a chunk of it, including a bit where he drives past some fleeing children, turns around, and attempts to pick up the kids. One child panics and runs away. Gardner attempts to catch up to him, but fuel tanks at a gas station are shot at and explode, killing him.
The report goes on to talk about Ken Grove’s death at the hands of Scabbard. It turns out that Dan Grove and Crackerjack are watching the show, and Dan turns it off. Just then White Satin brings a very injured Salvo in.
Salvo, they discover, was attacked by Scabbard, who is blackmailing him into killing the US President (William Martin) by kidnapping his mother, placing an explosive charge under her skin and grafting the detonator onto his own palm.
Scabbard appears on television, announcing he is holding a train from New York to LA hostage, unless President Martin surrenders himself. Scabbard insists that Daniel Grove join him on the train. Daniel freaks out and refuses, but Salvo insists that he do it.
Salvo’s bandages fall off of his hands, revealing that they are healed. The bandages animate and take the form of Angie Thriller’s face, floating in midair before them, demanding that he help. Daniel faints.
The credits announce the creative team for the issue, which has undergone one change: “Robert Loren Fleming, writer”, “Trevor Von Eeden Artist”, Tom Ziuko, Colorist”, “Phil Felix, Letterer”, and “Alan Gold, Editor” (replacing Dick Giordano.)
Dan wakes up in Data’s car, being driven extremely quickly and recklessly. Data gives Dan his ticket to LA, which he’d dropped. Dan finds out that Data is in fact President William Martin’s son. He is still reluctant to help, and Data drops him off in front of a church.
The church is Beaker Parrish’s church, who startles Dan and brings him inside. Dan admits to being a coward, saying he’s not like his father. Beaker invites Dan to make a confession, and Angie Thriller can be seen watching them, her face in the stained glass windows of the church.
In his confession, Dan admits to being angry at both his father and his brother, even though were murdered. His mother, we learn, died when Dan was three, and his father took it badly and destroyed all of the photographs of her. His brother wanted to be just like his father, but Dan didn’t feel he could. Beaker asks if Dan is sorry for his sins, and tells him his penance is simply to step outside the confessional. Dan is surprised that it is so simple, to which Beaker replies that they are in the church of St. Jude, patron saint of the impossible.
The rest of the Seven Seconds–Proxy, White Satin, Crackerjack, Salvo and Data–are seen preparing.
In this, Proxy disguises himself as a train conductor (with a hint that he will later have to imitate Dan), Salvo and White Satin share a romantic moment, and Crackerjack pickpockets a lollipop out of Data’s pocket (that he was planning on giving him anyway). The first indications of Data and Crackerjack’s special connection is brought up.
Proxy arrives at the train that Scabbard is holding hostage, entering at the engineer that Scabbard wants for his journey. The passengers seem more concerned about being late than anything. He sees Marietta (Salvo’s mother) who is unconscious, and recognizes Molly Lusk (Salvo’s babysitter) as Scabbard’s accomplice, although she doesn’t recognize him.
Strangely, Salvo refers to his sister as “Thriller”. Or maybe he’s talking about Edward. Either way, he says that Thriller has planned things to the last detail.
Dan leaves the confessional (Angeline is still manifesting in the stained glass) and is immediately transported, Twilight Zone-style, into a recreation of the situation where his father died. Beaker is there, acting like his cameraman, and Dan starts to take his father’s role, giving his father’s report.
Dan knows he’s playing a role in some sort of hallucination. He speaks of his father’s courage, who managed to get out of the battlezone but then turned around and came back in.
The re-creation continues. Deviating from his father’s actions, Dan attempts to pick the children up right away, rather than driving away first and then returning. He picks up the very child that his father died trying to save, and is nearly killed himself. To save him, Beaker rips off the door of a car and must drive madly into gunfire to grab him and the child before gas tanks explode.
Dan is left confused–his father saw the children but didn’t stop for them, not until he turned around. So why turn around at all? Beaker responds that Gardner Grove was a good man, but a cautious one, who did his best while obeying the laws and the rule. They come across a big sign in the middle of the road which simply says, “Go back.”
The scene then transitions in a strange way. As Dan contemplates the sign, we see Scabbard behind him, laughing. Then we see the train, as the laughter continues. From a story point of view, Scabbard is clearly not there with Dan, unless he’s there as a hallucination (but that doesn’t seem likely).
We’re now in a helicopter, which White Satin (“Jet”) is flying. Salvo jumps out, plummeting toward the moving train, laughing at Jet for being worried about him.
The series’ first text page (entitled “Filler”) is introduced by Alan Gold but written by Robert Loren Fleming, who describes some of the influences of the book, and gives some more background on the characters. For example, Angie and Salvo are actually twins, which I didn’t realize, and Salvo and Proxy were best friends as children. White Satin’s full name is Janet Valentine and she’s actually an airline pilot, not a stewardess (I plead guilty to gender stereotyping, I guess, although her outfit really looked to me like a stewardess outfit rather than a pilot’s uniform). Beaker Parrish, for some reason, is now the 6th Second, rather than the 4th. And the connection between Beaker and the Salvotini family is revealed to be pretty strong. Fleming waxes poetically about the series, it’s a shame we’re almost halfway through is tenure writing it.
The image of the “Go Back” sign that Daniel sees is one of the most enduring for me in my early experience with this series. The whole situation is nicely ambiguous, except for some odd dialogue of Beaker’s where he says that Gardner turned around because he was just trying to obey all the rules that he knew about. Ultimately, it’s not clear–did he turn around because he was trying to obey rules? Was it because the road was out and there was no other way? Or was it something that he took as a spiritual sign, telling him that he had made a mistake by not stopping and picking up the children in the first place? Either way, the result is that Dan comes to realize that his father was not so untouchably perfect as he thought, and that maybe, by being vulnerable and afraid, Dan understands his dad better than the gung-ho Ken ever could.
I’ve also just noticed that amongst the main characters, Dan, Salvo and Angeline are all twins.
Read on to #4 here