Monday, February 20, 2017

"This Is A Double-Zero Priority--Code: Blue!"

The concept of Code: Blue is one that could easily have sprung from the mind of Jack Kirby: A collection of crusty men and women thrust into extraordinary circumstances by their line of work and relying on their grit, determination, and overall cockiness to see them through--a diverse group of unsung heroes who came in and did the job, no questions asked, having no powers or advantages in battle other than their quick thinking and fighting heart. Code: Blue was conceived and created by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz, but you could almost swear it was Kirby's words coming from the characters' mouths, so closely do the wisecracks and general back-and-forth of the dialog mirror his style of writing. DeFalco, in perhaps a tip of the hat to Kirby, even at times places emphasis on the wrong words in their speech, presumably in an attempt to inject a sense of personality into the character(s)--a scripting quirk which drove me absolutely nuts when reading one of Kirby's stories and which DeFalco brings to Code: Blue to a certain degree.

Code: Blue is led by Lt. Marc Stone, who had already made his mark in carrying out his duty for the N.Y.P.D. and, from his experiences in the field, has seen the need for a special SWAT unit to be established for dealing with super-villains. To what end isn't really clear--even Stone was unsure at the time that such a unit would be able to cope with the level of threat that a super-powered villain posed. Code: Blue seems to function best by taking the heat off of the super-hero(es) already on the scene; but also working in their favor is that whatever villain they're facing is usually in the habit of underestimating them, which gives the unit a small window to play on that disbelief and accomplish their mission. If nothing else, you have to give Stone and his team props for suiting up and bringing both confidence and skills to whatever situation they're ordered to deal with, whatever the odds against them.

And what Code: Blue brings to the table isn't insubstantial by any means, just as is the case with any SWAT team; it's just difficult at times to see what sets them apart. From their early encounters, they would appear to have no special training outside of that received by their peers; they have no Stark-designed weaponry; they've studied no dossiers of known, at-large villains; nor are they specially prepared to encounter super-powers. Rather, they seem to simply go in and adjust their tactics on the fly, depending on the details they get when the zero-zero call (alleged super-criminal activity) comes in. So what makes standard SWAT teams fall below the par of Code: Blue? Whatever distinguishes Stone's unit will have to be seen on the job.

And so as they're presented to us, Code: Blue might remind you of a line from the 1965 film In Harm's Way, when Adm. Tory asks Col. Gregory if his para-marines are in shape for a parachute drop: "Maybe they're a little bit rusty, sir, but they're eager as hell!" It's an impression that Stone will have to take to heart, since their baptism of fire is at hand.

Come on, this team just reeks of Kirby!

You've already seen their pin-up above, but Code: Blue breaks down as:
  • Lt. Marc Stone, unit leader--hard-nosed and no-nonsense, his operations go by-the-numbers and the rest of the team fall in line behind him unquestionably.
  • Sam "Mother" Majowski, communications/intelligence gathering--monitors and networks with the team from a central hub, advising in real-time as needed. Seasoned and straightforward, also seems to be an unofficial father figure and trainer to the unit, and not the kind of man to go easy on you.
  • "Rigger" Ruiz, weapons specialist (and, needless to say, avid bodybuilder)--conceives and supplies custom weaponry, the closest thing to Stark that the team has. Usually works closely with:
  • "Fireworks" Fielstein, demolitions expert--if you need an explosive device tailored to a specific task, he's your specialist.
  • "Jock" Jackson, combat specialist (and gymnast)--we often see Jackson in the thick of things, though presumably he's able to be a second set of eyes for Stone on tactics.
  • "Mad Dog" Rassitano, sharpshooter--no SWAT team would be complete without a sniper, though why someone so young is nicknamed "Mad Dog" when his profession demands a calm, steady hand is anyone's guess.

Obviously a lot of thought has gone into this group of people, too much time and effort simply to be part of Mighty Thor's cast of supporting characters. There's every indication to believe that Code: Blue was meant to eventually spin off in their own series, a development which never came about--not even in a limited series, which would have been ideal during the time they were being given such a generous spotlight in Thor. If you think about the fact that lesser concepts such as Damage Control or, heaven help us, Night Nurse merited their own series, Code: Blue would seem a good choice for their own title--especially in the '90s, when budda-budda mags like X-Force and The Punisher were capitalizing on readers who preferred more gun hardware in their comics.

Nevertheless, Code: Blue did well in future appearances in Thor as well as other titles, providing readers with a sort of anchor in those who fought super-criminals at street level with only courage and city ordnance to back them up. Equally interesting was in how Code: Blue often pulled rank when dealing not only with their law-abiding allies in the super-community, but also with the super-criminals they were out to collar--respect for the job that this team wore on its sleeve and couldn't help but rub off on those they interacted with.

As we can see, Code: Blue has drawn quite the assignment their first time out of the gate--taking on the Wrecking Crew while rescuing a hostage in the process. Currently, the Wrecking Crew are distracted with their search for the rock troll, Ulik--but their arrogance has drawn the attention of the police, and they're met by a specialized, by-the-numbers response team that impressively carries out its assignment.

As Bulldozer mentions, SWAT team procedures and tactics don't amount to much in the long run where super-villains are concerned, since their powers can upend whatever careful preparations are made to take them by surprise. So as disdainful as the circumstances of the Crew's departure might be to the best efforts of Code: Blue, it could have been much worse had the Wrecker added his might to the fray. Regardless, Stone's unit has succeeded for all intents and purposes, and that can't help but raise morale.

Though leave it to Lt. Stone not to let his unit rest on its laurels.

And a good thing, too, because the unit gets its rematch with the Crew in the next issue. But the battle is complicated with a number of variables. Thor (who Code: Blue refers to as "the big guy" and fights alongside) joins the struggle--but due to an illusion enchantment cast by the Wrecker, the visiting team of Excalibur is deceived into believing that Thor is the Juggernaut and attacks him on sight, while Code: Blue, whose members aren't subject to the Juggernaut illusion, is forced to both engage the Crew and fend off Excalibur while protecting Thor. Inciting the battle further for their own purposes are the Enchantress and Ulik, present but invisible to all involved but still manipulating events in order to eventually gain the upper hand against the Wrecker.

Thor eventually (and dramatically) frees himself from Shadowcat's improvised and agonizing prison, and from that point on focuses on facing the attacks of Excalibur, who divide their efforts between Thor and the Wrecking Crew. But Code: Blue operates like clockwork, and actually keeps the Crew on the defensive.

Eventually, the hand of the Enchantress is revealed, and she flees with Ulik--and with Ulik gone, the Wrecking Crew withdraws as well, leaving Bulldozer (felled by Thor) behind. And with the Wrecker's departure, the Juggernaut illusion fades and Excalibur stands down. Once again, Code: Blue has cause for celebration, only this time they made a more solid contribution to dealing with the Wrecking Crew, and their engagements doubtless prevented the Crew from taking advantage of Thor during the melee with Excalibur.

Code: Blue faces its toughest challenge yet, when Thor battles Loki--TO THE DEATH!

Do you wonder if Thor gets the feeling he might have already fought this battle?


libraryguy said...

Wow thanks I never knew this mini-series existed. I sort of quit reading Marvels regularly by that time but thanks to your blog I can catch up on "the good stuff". Excellent blog, BTW. Where is the tip jar?

Comicsfan said...

Thanks very much for the nice words, libraryguy. Alas, Code: Blue never migrated to their own series (that I know of)--though you might check out their four-issue appearance in the 1994-95 Marvel Double Feature book they shared with Thunderstrike.

-R said...

Ron Frenz has a habit of taking fight scenes from other comics and reusing them. He took an almost complete page from Uncanny X-Men by Joe Mad to reuse as a page in Spider-Girl.

Even a screenshot of Baby-Tarzan from the Disney movie stood in for baby Ben Parker in that same series!

Comicsfan said...

R, you'll find a number of such examples of Mr. Frenz's *ahem* tributes to other artists at the PPoC. This fun one featuring issue covers should get you started.