Here’s the next run that gets some love, but did not make the Top 100 Comic Runs List! Here is an archive of the other runs that we’ve featured already!
Steven Perry and Thomas Yeates’ Timespirits
He went so in-depth that there really is not much reason for me to do an introduction! So without any further ado, here is the great Johnny Bacardi on why Timespirits is such a cool comic book.
Timespirits was one of several new titles that Marvel released as part of its Epic line in the mid-1980’s, sharing this honor with such excellent series as Elaine Lee and Mike Kaluta’s Starstruck and J.M. DeMatteis and John Jay Muth’s Moonshadow. It was co-created by scripter Steven Perry (no, not that Steve Perry) and illustrated by Tom Yeates, fresh from his stint on Swamp Thing pre-Alan Moore. It was certainly one of the best and most sympathetic treatments of Native American characters in comics up to that point. Difficult to sum up in a nutshell, it was an imaginative, quirky, warm and winning blend of religion, Native American legend, science fiction and high fantasy which never took itself too seriously and is sorely missed, at least by me.
At its basic level, it’s about the time-traveling adventures of Cusick of the Tuscarora, an aged Native American “Time Spirit”, sporting a fedora, backpack, hiking boots and Sgt. Pepper jacket who functions like an extradimensional Monty Hall- he trades strange and powerful items for souls, which he collects in a turtle shell until he can release them into the afterlife. It is in the course of one of these transactions, in issue #1, that he meets teenage Doot of the Wawenoc tribe in the early days of the pre-Revolutionary War American colonies. Doot’s brother, Three Birds, wishes revenge on the white man for the slaughter of his village. Cusick, hearing this wish expressed aloud, appears to him and offers him a strange creature called a Bloodless Ghebe, which will enable the Chief to rout the white man from his land forever. The Ghebe, which resembles a walking stick insect with a big eyeball in place of a head, enter’s Three Birds’ brain, gives him incredible strength, and enables him to fire a destructive beam from his right eye, which has been replaced by the Ghebe. It also drives him quite insane. Three Birds goes on a murder spree, uniting the tribes against the white man. In the meantime, Cusick strikes up an acquaintance with Three Birds’ younger brother and recognizes him as a potential Timespirit of great power. Doot, who loved his brother and did not understand what had caused his formerly pacifistic sibling to change so, wishes to stop the rampage and kill the Ghebe, which eventually sheds Three Birds’ skin like a snake. It’s too late to save Three Birds’ physical self, but Doot is able to save his spirit and destroy the Ghebe using his nascent abilities, and takes his brothers’ soul into himself. Cusick offers to take the young brave under his wing and teach him to utilize his potential as a shaman. It’s a fine adventure yarn, in a time period that isn’t depicted all that often, especially in comics, with a very touching ending.
Issues 2 & 3, arguably the zenith of the entire run, has a plot which is almost too gnarly to describe succinctly. Titled “The Blacksack of King Ogam”, it involves dying magicians, unrequited love, spoiled princesses, bands of Norsemen, a spiteful talking fish which came closest of all the characters introduced to being the arch-enemy of the ‘Spirits, a massive octopus-like creature called the Spurtyn Duyvel which is summoned up by a rejected, hate-filled amateur prince/magician with the aid of the fish, a magic bag which is literally bottomless, Stonehenge, Noah from the Bible, and much more. It worked on a number of different levels- as heroic, pulp-type fantasy, as a romance, and as a cautionary fable. If you never read any other issues of TS, get these two.
Issue four was a Christmas-themed one, with Cusick facing an uber-vampire named Varnae, eventually delivering an object called the Crystal Skull to the Christ child. #’s 5 and 6 was another continued story, this one mixing a dystopian future and some commentary on the state of music vs. big business, co-starring no less than the ghost of Jimi Hendrix, and in #6 it was improbably continued as well as taken up a notch by mixing in some anti-US government involvement in Nicaragua (this was 1985, you know) statements, as the cast from the previous issue traveled to the present-day (well, 1985) to tie up some loose ends. Yeates took the opportunity to let his feelings be known in the matter. Mildly controversial at the time, as I recall, and both Yeates and Marvel took some shots, but these two issues were the weakest in the series because the message kinda got watered down via editorial (probably higher up than Epic EIC Archie Goodwin, I’d bet) interference, and the whole storyline became a bit incoherent as a result.
The final two issues, 7 & 8, got the series back on track as the original idea of what the ‘Spirits were and what they did was revisited, as Cusick took Doot to Tibet to meet the High Lama and to release the souls they had accumulated over the course of their recent adventuring. Problem is, the talking fish was back as well, and he a contrived to make a jealous and hate-filled Yeti on the mountain aware of what he needed to do to inhabit the body of the High Lama and become all-powerful. The enlightened yeti chopped off his hand, which became a totem that facilitated a body switch that transformed the former beast into a malevolent, spirit-eating monster, laying in wait for our pair as they climbed the mountain to the Lama’s home. The storyline ended with surprising and somewhat tragic results, and the final page of #8 is a literal curtain call of all the characters that have appeared in the previous issues, all coming out for a bow with one puzzling exception. It was a charming and clever way to end the series.
If Perry has done any other non-Star Wars comics series (and to my knowledge, he’s only done one) since Timespirits, I’m unaware of them. I do think he’s made a name for himself as a writer of not only Star Wars novels, but a couple of original series and a lot of televison/film work; at least I think it’s the same author because Timespirits is nowhere to be found on his online resume. Yeates has gone on on to illustrate a few issues of Zorro for Topps with Don McGregor, has done a lot of ERB-related work, and still does the occasional job for DC and Marvel. The Tomahawk Vertigo Visions one-shot he did in the mid-90s was especially nice, and reminded me a little of Timespirits. I did email Yeates a few years ago and asked him if he had any ‘Spirits pages for sale, but he said he didn’t want to let any of them go…obviously this book meant a lot to him.
A couple of years ago, I received an email from Perry, who had seen my original blog post championing the series, informing me that plans were afoot to collect and republish these eight issues in a trade collection; as of this writing, to my knowledge no such publication has come out. Of course, the nature of things in the publishing business being as they are, it may still be on track for eventual release, but no news has been forthcoming.
Given today’s hit-and-miss climate for quirky new series, especially from mainstream publishers, it’s difficult to say what kind of impression Timespirits would make if it came out in today’s comics market. I’d like to think there would be room for a series as unassuming yet intricate and full of high fantasy-adventure, as Timespirits, but I have my doubts. And that’s a shame…I think there were a lot more stories yet to tell about Doot and Cusick. And of course, I’d love to be proven wrong!
-Thanks to Brian for giving me the opportunity to rework this post (originally written in 2003) for CSBG.
No, thank you for the piece! And here, again, is a link to the super-cool The Johnny Bacardi Show! – BC