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Issue #5
Hour of the Dragon

By Eddie MountainGoat

The comic opens where the previous issue left off:  On the outskirts of the central prison, immediately after the battle with the dragon.  While the beast never actually made it inside, we are told that “… during the melee, the walls … came tumbling down.”  So of course, a whole heap of prisoners is trying to escape.

Billy, Jimmy Marian and – much to the twins’ surprise – Stan beat the living snot out of the would-be-escapees.  Only once that’s done do the police show up to clean up the mess.

Later, at the Dragon House Headquarters, it’s story time with Stan Lee (we even have the image of Stan sitting on a couch, reading from a large book to the three younger heroes!).  An eight-page flashback follows giving the series’ back-story and answering a few questions raised by the last 4 issues.

Long ago, there came a time of great discord.  Civilization was ruled by chaos.  A warrior named Yan embarked on a quest for a means to restore the balance between order and chaos.  During this quest, he met the guardian of a great power – a dragon.  The dragon attacked Yan but was defeated.  Despite his victory, Yan would not kill the dragon.  Through this act of compassion, he proved himself worthy of the dragon’s power – the Dragon Force.

With the Dragon Force, Yan led his followers in driving back the evil besetting their homeland.  However, Yan knew that chaos can only be banished for a time and never truly destroyed.  Thus, he began the tradition of handing down his teachings and the Dragon Force.

Eventually, the Dragon Force was passed to a young woman named Miranda – the woman who would become the mother of Billy and Jimmy Lee.  Soon afterwards, Miranda’s father, a martial arts master named Ch’ien Kuai, began training two new students: Stan and his friend Shinichi.  In time, the four of them – Stan, Shinichi, Ch’ien Kuai and Miranda – forged a bond that made them more than family.

Both Stan and Shinichi fell in love with Miranda.  But her love was for Stan.  That was when the Counterforce – the negative, chaotic equivalent of the Dragon Force – appealed to Shinichi, offering him great power.  He learned many arcane secrets from the Counterforce which he had hoped to use to make Miranda love him.  However, neither Force nor Counterforce holds sway over the human heart.  Stan and Miranda were married.  On that day, Shinichi turned forever toward evil.

Over the following year, Shinichi nurtured his growing power.  He planned to steal the Dragon Force from Miranda when she was most vulnerable – during childbirth.  When the time came, he sent tentacles of evil energy to tear the power – and her life, and those of her unborn babies – from her body.  “Realizing that [her] end was near, Miranda protected [the twins] with a small portion of the Dragon Force, binding [them] to it – and to each other – forever.”  She then passed the rest of the Dragon Force to her father.  Billy and Jimmy were born healthy and Miranda died in Stan’s arms.

Stan and Ch’ien Kuai went to get some payback.  Using the Dragon Force, Ch’ien Kuai located the source of the mystic attack on Miranda.  Stan was shocked to discover it was Shinichi, who proceeded to thoroughly bash his old friend.  Shinichi then faced Ch’ien Kuai, who took his revenge, slaying his daughter’s killer.

[Side-note: There’s a clever little detail, on page 15, panel 4.  When Stan bursts in on Shinichi, the villain had been focused on some sort of globe.  Remember that.]

Days later, Ch’ien Kuai and Stan met at Miranda’s grave. Having failed to act with the compassion of Yan, Ch’ien Kuai believed himself unworthy of the Dragon Force, and offered it to Stan.  However, after everything that Stan had lost, he wanted nothing more to do with the Dragon Force.  Ch’ien Kuai, ashamed of his actions, then renounced his name and noble lineage, and would thereafter only be known as “Sensei.”  Using the Dragon Force, he raised from the ground a vessel to hold its power – the Dragon Statue.  Lastly, he transferred the Dragon Force into the statue.  Stan left his sons in Sensei’s care and just drifted from place to place.

As Stan concludes his story, we see that Nightfall has been observing the heroes through a crystal ball.  He refers to Stan as his “Once and former friend” and continues the flashback for a further page.

When Stan and Ch’ien Kuai left Shinichi’s lifeless body, they didn’t realize that once the Counterforce claims a soul, it doesn’t simply relinquish it.  Dark energies continued to course through Shinichi’s form, permeating the essence of his being.  He was not exactly revived, but twisted into something else – Nightfall!

Back at the Dragon House Headquarters, Stan tells Billy and Jimmy that he knows that Nightfall is somehow connected to the Counterforce, as the dark aura in Oligopolis is palpable.  Seconds later, Nightfall’s Shadow Warriors break in (they’re redesigned from their appearance in Issues #1 and #2, and now look even more like ninjas) and attack, led by his henchmen Undertaker and Overthrow (these two have appeared before, only briefly, in Issue #1 during the villains’ groupshot [page 2, panel 4].  But they haven’t been seen since, and we didn’t even know their names until now.  It’s nice to have that loose end finally tied up.).

Billy and Jimmy transform into Double Dragon, and the heroes kick some villain butt.  Just then, the floor begins to rumble.  Stan orders everybody out of the Dragon House immediately.  As the four heroes get clear, the building explodes.  Worse still, who should be gloating amidst the ruins but Nightfall himself!  Stan instantly recognizes Shinichi despite the huge physical and mystical changes that have warped him into Nightfall.

As the comic concludes, Nightfall has one last surprise:  Although the Counterforce holds no sway over the human heart, the soul is another matter.  He reveals his mysterious globe, which holds a recognizable prisoner:  Miranda’s soul has been trapped all these years!

Eddie MountainGoat’s review: This was the first comic in the series to be written by the duo of Tom Brevoort and Mike Kanterovich, and you’ve gotta give them credit; They come in, four issues into a lot of plot holes, and are given only two issues to fill in the gaps, tie up loose ends and bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.  They do a pretty good job.

Since the final showdown needs to be reserved for the final issue, this comic had to both set that up and lay out the back-story to EVERYTHING that had already happened (penned by another writer, no less).  That’s a lot to do in just one issue.  But this comic does it.  In fact, Issue #5 has more plot (but no more pages) than any other in the series.

The focus is mostly on the back-story.  But there’s still enough action in the comic’s “present-time” to keep it from getting bogged down.  At the outset, there’s the prison riot.  Toward the end, there’s the battle with the Shadow Warriors, not to mention the final twist tying the back-story and the present-time together.

As for the back-story itself, it starts off pretty uncomfortably – I wasn’t interested at all in Yan.  But from the moment it got to Miranda, and therefore, actually got relevant to the characters we’ve met, I quite enjoyed it.

My favorite part of this comic is actually something you probably wouldn’t expect:  Finally seeing Undertaker and Overthrow take part in the plot.  I thought they would just end up as some artwork that the writers forgot about.  Until I read this issue, I had to assume that Undertaker was Stelth in a hat, and resign myself to never knowing what Overthrow’s deal was.