The first appearance of The ClanDestine is in an eight-page story in Marvel Comics Presents #158, in early July of 1994. We see a group of spandex-clad superheroes fighting a small army of robots, punching, kicking, slicing with swords – you know, the fun stuff. In the background is a Woody Allen lookalike with a remote control unit (from Acme).
Only it turns out to be the equivalent of a Danger Room session – in response to the kids desire to fight crime, they thought the training exercise might put them off. They were wrong.
The sense of acrobatic dynamism of Davis’ art is hypnotically beautiful, yet he also demonstrates his ability with expressions – the group obviously know each other very well and interact accordingly. Apart from the hairstyle that he gives Pandora, the team is a visually intriguing collection.
The next comic to appear is The ClanDestine Preview. It has a five-page preview of the first issue, but it is more than just that. It has mini-biogs for Davis and inker Mark Farmer; a double-page pin-up; a sketchbook of early ideas (see the sketch of an early visualisation of the main group below) and sketches of the main characters, including Adam, who we have yet to meet; and a checklist of Davis’ comics work until that date. The best part of the book is The ClanDestine Tapes, compiled by ‘Lana Vadis’ anagram fans, supposedly being interviews with Davis and Farmer about the creation of The ClanDestine. It is extremely funny back and forth between different views of the creation process, just another example of Davis’ wicked sense of humour.
Issue #1 – Apparently Unrelated Events – Family Reunion part 1
The prologue places the book firmly in the Marvel universe, as something escapes from Modok and an AIM laboratory, before we are introduced to the Crimson Crusader and Imp, who are stopping a robbery in a museum. Well, stopping it after they have an argument after the Crusader, aka Rory, calls Imp, aka Pandora, his ‘assistant’. They have strength, flights, a force field that can repel bullets, so obviously believe they are mutants who don’t want to worry their family with the knowledge.
Davis then introduces us to other members of the ClanDestine while kicking off the plot – Kay Cera, fashion designer, is attacked in Barcelona by non-human creatures looking for the Gryphon. Kay reacts with psychic powers but is killed in the ensuing fight. In Switzerland, Maurice Fortuit is attacked by similar creatures who kill him, an event observed by master monk in a monastery in Nepal, as well as in the dreams of Florence, an old woman in the small village of Ravenscroft. She is being helped by Walter when the same creatures attack – only for Rory and Pandora to return and enter the fray. When they are attacked, Walter ‘hulks out’ (but in a more demonic manner, turning blue, increased canine size and hair turning fiery) and destroys the attackers. Then the truth is revealed to Rory and Pandora – Walter is not their uncle, Florence is not their gran: they are all brothers and sisters, born of the same parents but of huge age differences, and the existence of the family has been discovered …
This is a confident first issue – set the scene, introduce an element of danger, include fight scenes to display super powers, and humour: the image of the sleek Silver Surfer discovering a blonde man in a camper van is a delight. And, as I think should be taken as fact for the rest of the story, the art is gorgeous: Alan Davis is one of the best superhero artists in the business and he makes it all look sublime. From setting the scene, telling the story, the dynamic fights, the expressive faces telling more than words, his art is the complete package.
Issue 2 – Relative Strangers: Family Reunion part 2
We meet Samantha in France, another member of the family, who is attacked by the same inhuman characters from the first issue. Meanwhile, Kay is still alive and moves her mind into the body of a recently killed junkie hooker (who said comics are for kids?).
Walt and the kids go to pick up Dominic, another sibling with superhuman senses and a ‘capacity for flawless deductive reasoning’, who is a hermit recluse on an island off the coast of England. Davis sets up more of the history in this scene, where Walter and Dominic argue over the murder of their brother Vincent by their father Adam (who is talking with the Silver Surfer in deep space, which is obviously impossible by the laws of physics, but suspension of disbelief and all that).
In Australia, Will Chance is an action film star who is attacked by the inhuman creatures. Dominic calls on Newton, another sibling, a ‘whiz at creating technological marvels’, who has been ‘Warlord of Etherea’ using a super body engineered on the planet Narcissus 4.
Issue 3 – Selfish Genes: Family Reunion part 3
We are introduced to Albert, another Destine sibling, who is brought to Barcelona in astral form to fix Cuckoo’s body, which is mortally wounded. He fixes her body, but leaves a warning that she will die next time.
Adam is assailed by images of his family dying, so the Silver Surfer fuels his suped-up VW van in order for him to get back to earth. Sam (Argent) is followed by the inhuman characters, Kay visits her in astral form, before going to Dom, Walt and the kids to help in their entry into Griffin tech.
In the middle of this, there is a fantastic little bit: Dom is intoxicated by chocolate due to the taste being hypersensitive to it. Just a small, insignificant piece in the middle of all the plot manoeuvring in this issue, but it highlights the thought that Davis has put into the characters and their abilities, and the sly humour he uses to show this.
Walt and kids have gone into the facility without the unconscious Dom and have been caught by a creature calling himself Alpha, who wants the Gryphon (basically the MacGuffin), which has been apprehended by the twins during a night patrol – Alpha shows CCTV footage of them obtaining the machine when stopping a robbery and Pandora losing her cloak as mentioned in the first issue, which shows the stage-setting that Davis has been doing – only for the Rory to be stolen away by teleportation, and the real villain revealed.
Issue 4 – Wait Till Your Father Gets Home: Family Reunion part 4
Walt and Pandora are rescued by Kay and Sam. Kay identifies the villain as Lenz – a ‘super-advanced prehistoric beast’. However, he is one of a kind, so he is only trying to reproduce himself, unsuccessfully. This is why he wants the Gryphon, which will help him in his quest.
(Again, Davis slips in what I call ‘Clone Wars comments’, to give a sense of history to the book in a short space of time – Dom: ‘Remember what happened in Bangkok in ’64?’ when talking about Walter hulking out. I love these little tasters and the sense that there is a grand framework of stories and the family’s past.)
We see Newton as Woody Allen again, as the family to return to Walt’s home, which is near the family home. (A nice Davis visual joke – in Pandora & Rory’s secret HQ, there are trophies of dinosaurs, a large coin and a Joker card). We see the siblings argue like real family, rather than the faux family stuff we usually see; it feels based on reality. Back at the plot, Newton teleports them to Lenz’s HQ, only for Lenz to take them out with ease and prevent them from teleporting out again. Fortunately Adam appears, invulnerable to physical harm, and saves the family from Lenz, only to let Lenz live. This leads to the family arguing again (as all families do) – Rory: ‘Are family reunions always like this?’
These first four issues set up the characters, the basis for continuing stories (I enjoy that they are a group of people bought together by fate that don’t feel the need to fight crime, the twins excepted), the interactions between members and a nice collection of super-powers set within the Marvel universe. When these comics came out, I was in my mid-20s, so I was able to appreciate a comic book with clean art that told an intelligent story about characters that I could believe in who acted in understandable ways. I can imagine that the bulk of the comic book fans of the time, hooked on ‘kewl’ artists and grim’n’gritty stories of violent heroes in armour shooting things, were probably completely bemused by all this. Coming from a large family and reading comic books, I particularly enjoyed the dynamic in the book of super siblings arguing in a manner I could easily relate to, so perhaps I was going to be inclined towards The ClanDestine, but I still assumed that everyone else would be wowed by the quality of the work. How little I knew.
Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the remaining four issues of the Davis-written ClanDestine issues (I know there are other ClanDestine issues out there that had nothing to do with him, but they do not exist for the purpose of this collection of posts, nor do they exist in my collection).