It’s definitely time for a change of pace. I’ve penned too many obituaries in the last several months. I need to make more of an effort to write about the people whose work I enjoy while they are still among the living. In the past I’ve done the occasional birthday tribute to a few of my favorite comic book creators; I’m going to try to make that more of a regular feature on this blog.
I wanted to wish a very happy birthday to comic book artist Joyce Chin, who was born on July 31st. Some of Chin’s earliest work was for DC Comics in 1995, penciling Guy Gardner: Warrior, a fun, underrated series written by Beau Smith. A couple of years later Smith and Chin were reunited, with Chin becoming the first artist to pencil the adventures of Smith’s creator-owned character Wynonna Earp, the beautiful federal marshal who battles supernatural criminals.
I think the first time Chin’s work really stood out to me was on a short story she penciled for the Dark Horse Presents Annual 1999. It featured an adventure of Xena: Warrior Princess during her teenage years.
Chen and inker Walden Wong did a good job rendering a younger incarnation of Lucy Lawless’ iconic heroine. I think the black & white format of DHP, as well as the fantasy setting, enabled me to really notice and appreciate all of the intricate detail that Chin put into her artwork.
The point at which I really became a fan of Chin was in early 2015 when I saw the three covers she had drawn for Dynamite Entertainment’s female-driven crossover Swords of Sorrow. I was especially impressed by Chin’s cover for the prologue issue Swords of Sorrow: Chaos! Prequel which featured Purgatori, Chastity, Bad Kitty and Mistress Hel in an homage to mid 20th Century pulp magazine cover artwork.
I think I’ve observed in the past that women often make the best pin-up artists. It’s probably to do with the fact that they understand how women’s bodies actually work in the real world, which enables them to give their drawings of female characters a certain weight or verisimilitude, so to speak, that is sometimes absent when male artists try to draw sexy females. Whatever the case, I’ve always enjoyed how Chin renders female characters.
Chin is married to Arthur Adams, another artist who specializes in artwork containing an insane amount of detail with a genuine gift for rendering lovely ladies. Chin and Adams have collaborated on a handful of occasions, always to good effect. Here is one of those times, the cover to Action Comics #820 (December 2004) which is penciled by Chin and inked by Adams. It features the supernatural villainous Silver Banshee, who Chin has drawn a few times over the years.
Another of Chin’s passions is dogs, specifically Silken Windhounds. Chin has several of these majestic, beautiful dogs. I always enjoy seeing the photos of them she posts on Facebook. Naturally enough the Silken Windhounds have found their way into some of Chin’s artwork. Here’s an example of her depiction of these stunning animals, which was published in her 2018 convention art book. Chin’s work has been likened to Art Nouveau pioneer Alphonse Mucha, and that quality is certainly apparent in this piece.
I was fortune enough to meet Chin a few times at New York Comic Con. I had been hoping to get a convention sketch from her for several years. I finally asked her to draw a piece in my Mantis theme sketchbook when she was at NYCC 2019. Chin did a beautiful color drawing, as seen in the photo below. She really invested the character with personality, a feature of her work. Hopefully once this pandemic is finally over and comic conventions start being held again I will have an opportunity to obtain another sketch from her.
I hope we will be seeing more artwork from Joyce Chin in the near future. She’s a very talented artist. Also, having conversed with her on Facebook and met her at NYCC, she really comes across as a good person.
Longtime, prolific actor John Saxon passed away on July 25th at the age of 83.
Born as Carmine Orrico in Brooklyn NY on August 5, 1936, Saxon was one of those actors who, if you watched enough movies or television, sooner or later you would almost inevitably see him in something, if not multiple somethings. Saxon worked on nearly 200 projects in a career that spanned 60 years, from 1954 to 2015.
Due to his Italian American heritage and his rugged good looks, Saxon was often called upon to play characters of various different ethnicities early in his career. From the 1970s onwards he slipped into the niche of character actor, portraying a variety of cops and criminals.
One of Saxon’s most high-profile roles was in Enter the Dragon (1973). Saxon played Roper, a seemingly-untrustworthy gambler who surprisingly ends up fighting alongside Bruce Lee’s heroic martial artist against the forces of brutal Hong Kong crime lord Han.
Two years later Saxon played corrupt trade union lawyer Walter Deaney in the action movie Mitchell starring Joe Don Baker. The critically panned movie was rescued from obscurity two decades later when it was brutally eviscerated by Joel, Tom Servo and Crow on a 1993 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Another noteworthy role in Saxon’s career was playing the evil mutant warlord Sador in Battle Beyond the Stars (1980). Written by John Sayles, produced by Roger Corman and directed by Jimmy T. Murakami, Battle Beyond the Stars was a space opera re-imagining of The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. Although a low-budget movie with an initially modest box office, Battle Beyond the Stars has gone on to become a well-regarded cult classic.
Saxon portrayed police lieutenant Donald Thompson in Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and reprised the role in the sequel A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987). Saxon’s character was killed off in that later entry, although he was able to return to the horror franchise with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) playing himself in a story that saw the fictional Freddy Kreuger invading the “real” world.
One of Saxon’s later roles was Walter Gideon on the two-part CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode “Grave Danger.” Directed by Quentin Tanantino, “Grave Danger” was one of the most disturbing, horrific installments of CSI ever made. Saxon’s brief but memorably sinister appearance in the story was the icing on the nightmare fuel cake.
I was fortunate enough to meet Saxon when he was a guest at a horror convention in New Jersey about a dozen years ago. It’s definitely not an ideal situation to meet anyone when they’re answering questions about movies they made decades ago and signing photos for a succession of enthusiastic fans, but nevertheless you can often get a general impression of what sort of a person someone is at these types of events. Saxon certainly came across as a polite and professional individual at that show.
I imagine that was one of the reasons why Saxon had such a lengthy career: he was a reliable and easy to work with professional who could always be counted on to turn in a good, solid performance. That seems borne out by director Joe Dante, who yesterday tweeted:
“RIP John Saxon. I had the privilege of working with him once in 2006. Very good actor, very nice guy.”
That feels like an appropriate epitaph for John Saxon: concise and effective.
Welcome to the 12th edition of Comic Book Coffee. I posted these daily in the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The challenge was to see how many different pencilers I could find artwork by featuring coffee.
56) Judit Tondora
Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman #2, drawn by Judit Tondora, written by Andy Mangels, lettered by Tom Orzechowski & Lois Buhalis, and colored by Roland Pilcz, published by Dynamite Entertainment and DC Comics in January 2017.
This was a fun miniseries co-starring television’s top two heroines from the late 1970s. Andy Mangels is probably the foremost expert on Wonder Woman, and he must have had a real blast writing a team-up of Princess Diana and Jamie Sommers.
Hungarian artist Judit Tondora did a great job rendering both the television version of Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman, along with both their supporting casts and their small screen rogues galleries. Likenesses can be very tricky, but I feel that Tondora really captured most of them pretty accurately. Her depictions of Diana and Jaime were certainly beautiful. Tondora’s art for this miniseries was very lively. I hope we see more of her work appearing in comic books in the near future.
In this scene Diana Price and Steve Trevor of the IADC are meeting with Jaime Sommers and Oscar Goldman of the OSI. Over coffee the four agents are discussing the ongoing investigation into the terrorist cabal Castra, an alliance of the IADC and OSI’s deadliest adversaries that has hijacked a shipment of experimental nuclear missiles.
Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman was a really enjoyable read. I definitely recommend it.
57) Brad Gorby & Mark Heike
Femforce #93, written & penciled by Brad Gorby, inked by Mark Heike, and lettered by Christie Churms, published by AC Comics in May 1996.
While Femforce is basically a serious title, it also has a sense of humor about itself. The main storyline running though these issues involves Jennifer Burke, the daughter of the original Ms. Victory. Due to the manipulations of the military and a series of personal tragedies Jen’s life has completely fallen apart. Going rogue, Jen adopts the identity of Rad which her mother previously assumed. The government, realizing that Rad possesses a wealth of top secret information from her time leading Femforce, dispatches a group of genetically engineered assassins to eliminate her.
While this very intense plotline is taking place, writer / penciler Brad Gorby takes a brief detour to a more lighthearted setting. It is morning and the ladies of Femforce are having breakfast. Ms. Victory is once again drinking coffee, obviously a favorite of hers. The incredibly-powerful yet often-absentminded Synn is trying to find out who ate all her sprinkle donuts and pop tarts, prompting the sorceress Nightveil to conjure up some for her.
I enjoy these types of “downtime” scenes in Femforce that explore the personal lives of the characters, and which allow for somewhat more goofball sequences.
Gorby did a good job penciling this scene, giving each of the characters their own personalities, making them stand out from one another. The inking is by Mark Heike. Gorby and Heike are both longtime AC Comics contributors, as well as very talented artists. Grey tones are by Christie Churms, who also lettered this issue.
58) José Beá
“Recurrence” was drawn by José Beá and written by Steve Skeates. It appeared in Vampirella #34, released by Warren Publishing in June 1974.
The beautiful young protagonist of “Recurrence” thought she had it made. She had pushed her husband into an elevator shaft, collecting $10,000 from the insurance company for his “accidental” death. But then came the dreams, night after night, of being pushed off a cliff and falling endlessly. Was it a guilty conscience… or a premonition? Now she drinks coffee in the middle of the night desperate not to fall asleep again.
Spanish artist José Beá illustrated a number of stories for Warren between 1971 and 1976. These were published in Warren’s three main comic book magazine series, Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. Following his time at Warren, Beá did a great deal of work in the European comic book field. Among these were a number of erotic stories, some of which at the time unfortunately garnered a great deal of controversy. Beá also wrote several science fiction novels for young adults.
59) Peter Krause & Dick Giordano
The Power of Shazam #36, penciled by Peter Krause, inked by Dick Giordano, written by Jerry Ordway, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Glenn Whitmore, published by DC Comics in March 1998.
During a crossover with the Starman series, Billy and Mary Batson have to work with Jack Knight to help clear the name of World War II hero Jim Barr, aka Bulletman, who has been framed for treason by neo-Nazis. In his Captain Marvel identity Billy initially clashes with Jack, until the more level-headed Mary Marvel convinces him to calm down. The trio heads to the home of Nick & Nora Bromfield, who have adopted the orphaned Mary and Billy. There they find the Bromfields having coffee with Jack’s father Ted, the original Starman, as well as Jim Barr himself, with everyone attempting to figure out what their next step should be.
The Power of Shazam was such an amazing, fun, underrated series. I came into it a bit late, in the second year, but I immediately became hooked, and I soon got caught up on the Jerry Ordway graphic novel and back issues. Ordway wrote some great stories. He successfully achieving the very tricky feat of simultaneously updating Billy, Mary and the rest of the Marvel Family cast for the 1990s while retaining a great deal of the charm from the original Golden Age stories.
Peter Krause did really good work penciling the series. Due to the prevailing styles in super-hero comic books at the time, I think his work here was unfortunately overlooked by many. Krause deftly balanced the serious and cartoony elements of the characters. On the later issues of the series Krause was inked by the legendary Dick Giordano.
DaYoung Johansson, a fifteen year old police officer from the high tech future year of 2013, has traveled back in time to 1986. DaYoung is convinced that her miraculous world should not exist, that it was created when the monolithic corporate juggernaut Quintum Mechanics sent its own technology back in time 27 years to its founders to give them a vast advantage. DaYoung, armed with her jetpack and her teenage zeal, is determined to thwart this crime against time, even if it means erasing the very future from which she came.
Montclare & Reeder’s ten issue Rocket Girl series is a wibbly wobbly, timey wimey tale of temporal paradoxes, corporate intrigue and youthful idealism. I previously reviewed the first five issues. The ending to Montclare’s story ultimately left me feeling ambivalent, for a few different reasons.
What I was not ambivalent about was Reeder’s stunning artwork. She did a superb job drawing both the sci-fi New York City of 2013 and the historically accurate Big Apple of 1986. Her layouts for Rocket Girl were incredibly dynamic, and the amount of detail she put into her pages was astonishing.
As Reeder recounts in the text feature from issue #7…
“In Rocket Girl I am responsible for making two worlds; an 80s vision of the future, and actual 1980s New York. At first I expected the futuristic world would give me the worst trouble — I thought coming up with a city out of thin air would be a bit overwhelming. But I should have known better: I get carried away with accuracy, and the 1980s New York is heavily documented, often talked about, and well remembered by many. So bar none — 80’s NYC is the harder of the two worlds to draw. I just HAVE to get it right. And, honestly, it’s pretty fun to get it right. (Or close!)”
On this page from issue #2, the recently arrived DaYoung is bunking with Annie Mendez and Ryder Storm, two graduate students who work for Quintum Mechanics in 1986. Annie and Ryder awaken to find the hyperactive DaYoung has whipped up a huge stack of pancakes and brewed a pot of coffee, all the while pondering how to change the course of history.
Presenting a really late entry in the latest round of Super Blog Team-Up, looking at Expanded Universes. Everyone else got their contributions up around June 24th. Oh, well, maybe that’s actually appropriate, since I’m looking at the much-delayed conclusion to The Clone Wars.
The long-awaited seventh and final season of the Star Wars animated series The Clone Wars was released earlier this year thru the online streaming service Disney+.
My initial experience with The Clone Wars was underwhelming. In the three year period between Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) there had already been numerous stories set during the Clone Wars presented in Dark Horse’s Star Wars comic books, in various novels, and the original Genndy Tartakovsky animated series. So when the computer animated movie The Clone Wars was released in 2008, followed by the ongoing series on Cartoon Network, my initial reaction was basically “Why do we need more of this?”
There were a couple of other reasons. I actually read Karen Traviss’ excellent novelization of The Clone Wars before I saw the movie. Traviss gave the characters some very complex, subtle motivations, and explored the ambiguity of the conflict. None of that was present in the actual movie, leaving me disappointed.
And then there was the character of Ahsoka Tano, the teenage Jedi padawan introduced as Anakin Skywalker’s student in The Clone Wars movie, created by George Lucas & Dave Filoni and voiced by Ashley Eckstein. I’m going to quote Wikipedia here…
“Although initially disliked by both fans and critics, Ahsoka developed into a well-rounded, complex character who received positive reactions from both groups. Serving as a foil for Anakin Skywalker, she has been highlighted as a strong female character of the franchise.”
Yes, that sounds very accurate, and it was basically my experience with Ahsoka Tano. At first I did not like her, and I thought she was a pointless addition to the Star Wars mythos. I never followed the ongoing television series, only catching an episode here or there, so this impression lingered for a while.
However, over the next several years The Clone Wars developed a huge following of younger viewers. For these new fans, this was theirStar Wars, and Ahsoka Tano was their Jedi hero, just as Luke Skywalker had been mine growing up in the early 1980s. I did catch a few of the later episodes, and read some summaries of the others. I realized that the overall writing on the series had improved tremendously, and Ahsoka had developed into an interesting, three-dimensional character.
Season Six came out in 2014, meaning there’s been a six year wait for the series’ conclusion. In that time another animated series, Star Wars: Rebels came out, in which we learned Ahsoka Tano and clone trooper Captain Rex both survived the war. I’m sure this must have left a lot of regular viewers with plenty of burning questions about what had actually happened. So now we finally have the conclusion, and the answers.
Season Seven is 12 episodes long, divided into a trio of four-episode storylines:
The first four sees Captain Rex (Dee Bradley Baker) working with a misfit group of clone troopers known as the “Bad Batch” to go behind enemy lines in order to discover how the Separatist armies are seemingly anticipating all of the Republic’s battlefield plans, and to find out if Rex’s comrade, the missing and presumed dead clone trooper Echo, is actually still alive. (A spin-off animated series featuring the Bad Batch was just announced by Lucasfilm.)
The second storyline features Ahsoka, who has left the Jedi Order due to the hypocrisy and politics she saw the Jedi Council practicing. Ahsoka’s speeder bike breaks down in the undercity of Coruscant, and she meets teenage sisters Trace and Rafa Martez (Brigitte Kali and Elizabeth Rodriguez). Trace is a brilliant, idealistic mechanic, and Rafa is a more cynical figure who believes that breaking the law only way the two of them will ever escape poverty. Ahsoka initially sympathizes with Trace, but she comes to realize that Rafa has a legitimate point, that the sisters’ socioeconomic circumstances have left them with very few paths. When the sisters’ involvement in a spice-smuggling operation goes pear-shaped, Ahsoka helps them escape from the ruthless Pyke Syndicate.
I did think this four part segment was a bit padded out. It reminded me of a Doctor Who serial from the Jon Pertwee era, with Ahsoka and the Martez Sisters getting captured, locked up, escaping, running around, getting recaptured, locked up again, escaping again, running around again… you get the idea. Nevertheless, it was still a fun and thoughtful story. It also leads into the next segment, as Ahsoka learns that Darth Maul (Sam Witwer) is working with the Pykes.
The final four-parter chronicles the Siege of Mandalore. Ahsoka has joined forces with a group of Mandalorians led by Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) who want to liberate their planet from Maul’s control. Realizing they don’t have the numbers to stage an assault, Ahsoka goes to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Sywalker, who she has not seen since she left the Jedi.
Unfortunately the Separatists have launched an attack on Coruscant and kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine, and Obi-Wan (James Arnold Taylor) has orders to return there immediately. Ahsoka accuses the Jedi of once again playing politics, of prioritizing the Chancellor over the people of Mandalore. Anakin (Matt Lanter) agrees to split up his clone forces, giving Ahsoka and Rex half of them to take to Mandalore. Ahsoka, Rex, Bo-Katan and the clone army arrive, and there is a huge, stunning battle against the Mandalorian commandos allied with Maul.
Ever since the introduction of Boba Fett waaaay back in the animated sequence from the Star Wars Holiday Special and The Empire Strikes Back, there has been a lot of speculation about Fett and the other occupants of Mandalore. Due to the technical limitations of the early 1980s, as well as Fett actually being a fairly minor character in the original trilogy, very little of this was ever explored on-screen.
I think part of the appeal of this storyline is that we finally get to see the mythical Mandalorians in combat. The same goes for the live-action series The Mandalorian, also on Disney+.
Initially I thought bringing Darth Maul back from the dead was a bit ridiculous, but it is another area that worked out well in the long run. Maul is a lot like Boba Fett, a visually interesting character who was ultimately underused in the movies. Maul in The Phantom Menace was basically Darth Sidious’ attack dog, nothing more. Maul, resurrected in The Clone Wars, and then later seen in Rebels, is a cunning, dangerous agent of chaos who seeks to carve out his own power base and undermine the plans of Sidious.
There are definite parallels to Ahsoka and Maul at this point. Both of them have become disenchanted with their previous beliefs. Ahsoka has lost faith in the Jedi Order, and Maul wants revenge on Sidious for casting him aside. Maul makes a pitch to Ahsoka to join forces with him, and we can see that she is definitely tempted. In the end, though, she rejects the offer, and the two come to blows. Ahsoka, with the aid of Bo-Katan and Rex, eventually defeats the former Sith.
And then everything goes to Hell. Anyone who has seen Revenge of the Sith knew this moment was coming, but it nevertheless remains a wrenching experience.
I really thought The Clone Wars would end before the events of Revenge of the Sith, because I just could not imagine the series actually showing Order 66. But they went full-in. Palpatine / Sidious orders the elimination of the Jedi. Ahsoka, just like all of her former comrades, finds the clone troopers turning against her.
A good development introduced in The Clone Wars was the idea that the clone troopers had control chips implanted in their brains, chips that when activated would make them follow Sidious’ commands without question. This enabled the clones to be loyal, courageous, honorable soldiers throughout the series, and explain why they so quickly turned on the Jedi. In the end the clones were also victims of Sidious, robbed of their free will, reduced to mindless assassins, forced to murder their own generals.
Ahsoka discovers the existence of the chips and is able to extract the one in Rex, freeing him from Sidious’ control, but she is unable to save the rest of her troops. The final scene of Ahsoka and Rex standing before the graves of the clone troopers is genuinely haunting.
Someone on Twitter recently commented “The last four episodes of Clone Wars was some of the best written, acted and directed Star Wars ever created.” That’s a sentiment with which I definitely agree. Those final four episodes are exciting and moving and heartbreaking. Dave Filoni’s scripts were incredible. The voice acting by Eckstein, Baker, Witwer and everyone else was superb.
The animation on this final season was absolutely stunning. There were moments when I forgot that this wasn’t live action, that’s how good it was. I realize that there is a large group of people involved in creating the animation for this project, and the majority of them unfortunately do not get the recognition they deserve. My compliments to everyone involved in literally bringing all of these characters and all of these action sequences to life. Job well done!
I recognize that some of the Star Wars movies released under Disney have been underwhelming. This final season of The Clone Wars, as well as the first season of The Mandalorian, are refreshing reminders that there is still a tremendous amount of potential to the franchise, that there are many more fun, exciting, interesting stories that can be told within this fictional universe.
Here are links to all of the other #SBTU contributors. We had a lot on entries this time. Please check them all out. Thank you.
Welcome to the 11th edition of Comic Book Coffee. I’ve been posting these daily in the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The challenge was to see how many different pencilers I could find artwork by featuring coffee.
51) Wilson Tortosa
Exposure: Second Coming #2, penciled by Wilson Tortosa, written by David Campiti, lettered by Matt Thompson, and colored by Mickey Clausen, published by Avatar Press in October 2000.
I know some of you are probably saying “Coffee? What coffee?!?” Look, it’s right there. Those two lingerie-clad ladies are having their morning coffee. See, I told you so.
Exposure, created by David Campiti and Al Rio, featured the adventures of Lisa Shannon and Shawna Diaz, who investigate cases involving demons, vampires, aliens and other weird phenomena. Of course Lisa and Shawna deal with all of these unusual menaces while wearing skimpy outfits and stiletto heels. And in their free time they occasionally work as pin-up models. I guess you can consider it “The XXX-Files” or something like that.
Exposure was originally published by Image Comics in 1999 as a four issue series. It returned a year later with the two issue Exposure: Second Coming released through Bad Girl comic book publisher Avatar Press.
This back-up story in Exposure: Second Coming #2 was the first published work of Filipino artist Wilson Tortosa. He went on to draw Battle of the Planets, City of Heroes and Tomb Raider for Top Cow / Image Comics.
52) Casey Jones & Tom Simmons
Excalibur #99, penciled by Casey Jones, inked by Tom Simmons, written by Warren Ellis, lettered by Richard Starkings, and colored by Ariane Lenshoek, published by Marvel Comics with a July 1996 cover date.
Okay, since the last entry was heavy on the T&A, here’s one for the ladies. We have the very buff Brian Braddock clad in his boxers drinking his morning coffee. He’s deep in contemplation, preparing himself for an upcoming encounter with the London Branch of the Hellfire Club. Brian has redesigned his Captain Britain armor in anticipation of the conflict, and has mixed feelings about assuming his costumed alter ego again.
I definitely felt the best issues of Excalibur were the ones by Chris Claremont & Alan Davis, and the ones where Davis both wrote & penciled the series. Following Davis’ departure the book took a definite dip in quality. Warren Ellis’ run was a post-Davis highpoint, and he wrote some stories that I enjoyed.
Casey Jones was brought in to alternate with Carlos Pacheco on penciling duties. Pachecho was ostensibly the series’ main artist, but in practice Jones ended up penciling twice as many issues. I really liked Jones’ work. He’s a talented artist. This page definitely demonstrates his storytelling abilities. Jones has also worked on Outsiders, Birds of Prey, Fantastic Four and New Warriors.
53) Jack Kamen & Johnny Craig
“Hear No Evil” is penciled by Jack Kamen, inked by Johnny Craig, written by Al Feldstein, and colored by Marie Severin, from Crime SuspenStories #13, published by EC Comics with an Oct-Nov 1952 cover date.
Beautiful, ambitious Rita has married Frank Reardon for one reason: he’s incredibly wealthy. Frank is also completely deaf, having lost his hearing in the military. While Rita acts the role of dutiful, loving wife she mockingly tells him things like “From here on in, your my meal ticket” and “If it wasn’t for your dough I’d walk out on you tonight” knowing he can’t hear a single word she says.
Rita begins an affair with Vance Tobin, a business associate of Frank. The lovers try to figure out a way be together without Rita losing Frank’s money. Then one day Frank stumbles into the house, dazed & disheveled, having nearly died in a car accident outside. Inspiration strikes Rita, and in front of the deaf Frank she suggests to Vance a plan to poison her husband and forge a suicide note.
Rita retrieves some potassium cyanide from the garden shed. Serving coffee to the two men, Rita tells Vance not to drink the cup on the right s it contains the poison. A few minutes later, though, it is not Frank but Vance who abruptly drops dead on the spot, much to Rita’s horror. Wrong coffee cup, Vance! You can probably guess the twist ending, but I won’t spoil it.
“Hear No Evil” is a EC rarity, one of the few stories not drawn solely by a single artist. Instead, we have two EC mainstays collaborating, Jack Kamen on pencils and Johnny Craig on inks. They work well together, effectively illustrating Feldstein’s tale of infidelity and homicide.
Following the demise of EC Comics in 1955, Kamen went into the advertising field, where he had a successful career. He briefly returned to comic books in the early 1980s to draw the cover of the graphic novel adaptation of Stephen King’s EC Comics-inspired Creepshow, as well as the artwork featured in the actual movie. Kamen passed away in 2008.
Johnny Craig remained in comic books, but he found only limited success at both Marvel and DC, due to his style not aligning with the dynamics needed for superhero stories, as well as to his meticulous approach to drawing leading to difficulty in meeting deadlines. By the 1980s he had moved into a creative field where he was much more comfortable, drawing private commissions for fans of his now-classic EC Comics work. Craig passed away in 2001.
54) Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney
Defenders #62, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Jim Mooney, written by David Anthony Kraft, lettered by John Costanza, and colored by Bob Sharen, published by Marvel Comics with an August 1978 cover date.
Today’s entry is from the famous (infamous?) “Defenders for a Day” storyline. Would-be documentarian Aaron “Dollar Bill” English has put together a television special about the Defenders. In it, touting the Defenders’ “non-team” status, Dollar Bill enthusiastically states “Anyone with super-powers who wants to declare himself a Defender is automatically a member! It’s a snap… Don’t delay, join today!”
To the Defenders consternation, several dozen superheroes arrive on their doorstep ready to join the team. Valkyrie, attempting to be courteous, suggests they make coffee for all the guests, and attempts to enlist Hellcat’s aid, but Patsy Walker refuses, stating “No way, Val — this tabby’s through messing around with that cockamamie coffee pot!” Valkyrie is left with no one to assist her in making coffee but the Hulk… oh, gee, what could possibly go wrong?!?
Soon enough Val and the Hulk are serving up cups of what is apparently the strongest, most pungent black coffee ever brewed in the entire history of existence, leading Captain Marv-Vell to disgustedly exclaim “Not even Thanos could down this bitter beverage!”
Sal Buscema is one of my all-time favorite comic book artists. He is an accomplished storyteller, and as we see here he does an absolutely superb job illustrating David Kraft’s comedic story. Buscema’s pencils combined with Kraft’s script results in a laugh-out-loud issue.
Jim Mooney, another very talented artist, effective embellishes Buscema here. I love their scowling Hulk who orders the Paladin to “Drink it black!” The disgusted expression on Hercules’ face is also priceless.
55) John Byrne
John Byrne’s Next Men #30, written & drawn by John Byrne and colored by Matt Webb, published by Dark Horse with a December 1994 cover date.
Next Men was John Byrne’s first creator-owned series. A bleak sci-fi political suspense thriller, Next Men dealt with the survivors of a top secret genetic engineering project masterminded by Senator Aldus Hilltop.
By this point in the series the corrupt, ruthless Hilltop has ascended to the Presidency itself. Bethany, Nathan and Danny, three of the surviving Next Men, have learned that Hilltop is Danny’s biological father, and have traveled to Washington DC hoping to confront him. They are intercepted by Thomas Kirkland, a time traveler from the 22nd Century.
Over coffee at an all-night diner, Kirkland reveals to the Next Men that Hilltop is destined to become the vampiric cyborg despot Sathanas, who nearly conquered the world in the year 2112. Defeated, Sathanas traveled back in time to 1955 and met up with the young, ambitious Hilltop, advising him, giving him knowledge of the future, directing him to establish the Next Men project, all of this to ultimately insure his own creation. Kirkland has traveled back to the end of the 20th Century in an attempt to break this predestination paradox by assassinating Hilltop before he transforms into Sathanas.
Next Men was an intriguing and ambitious series. I consider it to be one of John Byrne’s best works from his lengthy career. The series went on hiatus with issue #30, ending on an explosive cliffhanger. Byrne initially planned to return to Next Men just a few months later, but the implosion of the comic book biz in 1995 delayed this indefinitely.
Byrne at long last concluded the Next Men saga in 2011 with a 14 issue series published by IDW. Hopefully I will have a chance to take a look at those issues in an upcoming blog post.
Last week I wrote a short tribute to Joe Sinnott, who passed away at 93 years old on June 25th. Sinnott’s career stretched across seven decades. He worked on so many different comic books during his lifetime that I wanted to spotlight some more examples of his work, both doing full art, and as an inker / embellisher. Here are twelve highlights from his career.
1) “Drink Deep, Vampire” is one of Joe Sinnott’s earliest stories. It appeared in Strange Tales #9, published by Atlas Comics with an August 1952 cover date. Decades later Sinnott would cite it as a favorite.
2) Sinnott drew many Western stories for Atlas during the 1950s. Here is a good example of his work in the genre. “The End of the Dakota Kid” appeared in Gunsmoke Western #46 (May 1958).
3) One of the earliest jobs on which Sinnott inked Jack Kirby was the monster story “I Was Trapped By Titano the Monster That Time Forgot!” in Tales to Astonish #10 (July 1960). Right from the start they were doing great work together. They certainly did a superb job depicting Titano, an immense crab.
4) Sinnott did a great deal of work for Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact published by George A. Pflaum. One of his most noteworthy assignments for that educational comic book was “The Story of Pope John XXIII, Who Won Our Hearts,” a 65 page biography serialized over nine issues. Here is the beautifully detailed opening page of the first chapter, published in Treasure Chest vol 18 #1 (September 13, 1962).
5) Journey Into Mystery #91 (April 1963) featuring Thor was one of the very few Marvel Comics superhero stories for which Sinnott did the full art. He did nice work on this one. I especially like the first panel on this page, with the beautiful Valkyries in flowing gowns descending from Asgard to give an imprisoned Thor his belt of strength.
6) Ask who was Jack Kirby’s best inker, and many fans will respond that it was Joe Sinnott. Sinnott did superb work over Kirby at Marvel, especially on Fantastic Four. Issue #72 (March 1968) has one of the most iconic covers from their run, and it doesn’t even feature the FF. Instead we have the Silver Surfer soaring through outer space, with the Watcher in the background, surrounded by a bundle of “Kirby crackle.”
7) Tender Love Stories was a short-lived romance series from Skywald Publications, who were in operation for the first half of the 1970s. The cover of the first issue (February 1971) has the interesting pairing of Don Heck and Joe Sinnott. I’m one of those people who believe Heck was underrated. His style was well-suited to the romance genre. Sinnott’s inking complements Heck’s pencils on this piece.
8) Sinnott remained on Fantastic Four for a decade after Kirby departed. In the early 1970s he was paired with John Buscema. This splash page from FF #137 (August 1973) beautifully showcases Sinnott’s detailed, polished inking. The textures on the castle walls, the forest surrounding it, and the Moon in the sky above are incredibly rendered.
9) Although from the early 1960s on nearly all of Sinnott’s work for Marvel was as an inker / finisher, from time to time he did full art for covers and licensing art. Here is one of his occasional covers, for The Invaders #30 (July 1978) featuring Captain America, Namor the Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch in battle with a Nazi flying saucer.
10) Sinnott stated a number of times that his favorite character to draw was Ben Grimm, the Thing. In addition to inking the Thing in innumerable issues of the Fantastic Four, Sinnott also did inks / finishes for the character in his solo series published in the 1980s. Sinnott was paired with penciler Ron Wilson, and they made an effective team. Here’s a page from The Thing #24 (June 1985) that has Ben tussling with the Rhino. Just look at the detailed, textured manner in which Sinnott inks the Rhino’s costume.
11) Sinnott did very little work for DC Comics. One of the few jobs he did appeared in the pin-up book Superman: The Man of Steel Gallery (December 1995). Sinnott inked longtime Superman artist Curt Swan, and it was a beautiful collaboration. Looking at this, I really wish Swan & Sinnott could have worked on a few Superman stories together. I got this autographed by Joe at a comic book convention several years ago.
12) Deadbeats is a vampire soap opera written & penciled by Richard Howell and inked by Ricardo Villagran published by Claypool Comics. It ran for 82 issues, and has continued as a web comic. Howell asked a number of different artists to ink the covers throughout the run. The cover to the penultimate installment, Deadbeats #81 (December 2006), was inked by Sinnott, who had previously inked Howell a few times at Marvel. The coloring is by John Heebink.
Originally I was going to show 10 examples of Joe Sinnott’s artwork, but I just could not narrow it down, which is why we have 12…. or 13, if you count Joe’s self-portrait at the top. Even with that I still had to leave out a few examples I really liked! As I said before, Sinnott did so much great artwork over the decades. Please feel free to mention your own favorites in the comments below.
Legendary comic book artist Joe Sinnott passed away on June 25th at the age of 93. Sinnott had such a long and distinguished career as an artist that I really could not do him justice in a short blog post. I will touch upon a few highlights, but for a much more detailed examination of his career I strongly urge everyone to get a copy of Brush Strokes With Greatness: The Life & Art of Joe Sinnott written by Tim Lasiuta from TwoMorrows Publishing.
Joe Sinnott was born in Saugerties, NY on October 16, 1926, and he lived in that area for almost his entire life. Following service in the U.S Navy during World War II, Sinnott attended the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (now known as the School of Visual Arts).
One of his instructors was artist Tom Gill, who asked Sinnott to work as his assistant. Sinnott assisted Gil for nine months in 1949.
In 1950 Sinnott decided to find work on his own, and he was soon receiving regular assignments from Atlas Comics, the precursor to Marvel. Atlas editor Stan Lee assigned numerous stories for Sinnott to illustrate which saw print in the company’s war, horror, science fiction and Western anthologies.
In 1957 Atlas experienced a severe contraction due to its distributor American News Company being shut down by the federal government in an anti-trust case. Sinnott was one of the many freelancers let go by Atlas, and so he had to find work elsewhere. He worked for a number of clients, including Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact, an educational, Catholic-oriented comic book published by George A. Pflaum that was distributed to parochial schools in North America.
Stan Lee asked Sinnott to return to Atlas in 1959. Within two years the company had transformed into Marvel and begun its successful superhero revival. During this period Lee first had Sinnott work as an inker over Jack Kirby, initially on stories for Atlas war and monster anthologies, and then on some of the early Marvel superhero books, such as Fantastic Four #5 (July 1962) the first appearance of Doctor Doom, and Journey Into Mystery #83 (Aug 1962) the first appearance of Thor. Sinnott also contributed the full artwork for some of the early Thor stories that appeared in Journey Into Mystery in 1963.
Lee had actually wanted Sinnott to become the regular inker over Kirby on Fantastic Four following issue #5. However at this time Treasure Chest assigned Sinnott to draw the 65 page biography “The Story Of Pope John XXIII, Who Won Our Hearts,” which was serialized in nine issues between September 1962 and January 1963.
Soon another ambitious project was assigned to Sinnott, a biography of the British rock band the Beatles published by Dell Comics in 1964. Sinnott was given a mere month within which to illustrate the entire 64 page book. It speaks highly of both his talent and professionalism that he turned in the job on time while doing quality work. And, as I’ve observed before, drawing likenesses can be very tricky. All things considered, I think Sinnott did a fair job capturing the appearances of the Fab Four.
Following the completion of these two biographies, Sinnott began to work for Marvel almost exclusively. He also continued to illustrate stories and covers for Treasure Chest up until the title came to an end in 1972.
Sinnott did finally became the regular inker over Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four beginning with issue #44 (Nov 1965). The art team of Kirby & Sinnott on FF in the second half of the 1960s is highly acclaimed. As historian Mark Alexander stated in his book Lee & Kirby: The Wonder Years (TwoMorrows, 2011)…
“In an uncanny stroke of luck and perfect timing, just when Kirby gained the time to improve his artwork, Joe Sinnott became the FF’s regular inker. Sinnott was a master craftsman, fiercely proud of the effort and meticulous detail he put into his work. … That slick, stylized layer of India ink that Sinnott painted over Kirby’s pencils finished Jack’s work in a way that no other inker ever would. Comic fans had never witnessed art this strange and powerful in its scope and strength.”
Following a falling-out with Marvel, Kirby departed Fantastic Four with issue #102 (Sept 1970). Sinnott, however, remained on as the FF inker / finisher for 15 years, until issue #231 (June 1981). In the post-Kirby decade Sinnott inked pencilers John Buscema, Rich Buckler, George Perez, Keith Pollard, Bill Sienkiewicz and John Byrne on Fantastic Four. It’s generally regarded that Sinnott helped maintain artistic consistency on the title during the Bronze Age.
Sinnott became a much in-demand inker / finisher at Marvel from the mid 1960s thru the early 1990s. He was paired with numerous pencilers during this 27 year period. As longtime Marvel editor Tom Brevoort explained on his blog:
“Joe Sinnott defined the look of the Marvel art style as much as anybody this side of John Romita, and more than any other inker in the business. His smooth linework and clean finish gave a pristine, sleek, modernistic flavor to any assignment he worked his brush over, regardless of the penciler. He’s absolutely my favorite inker of all time, a guy who improved the quality of any series he was working on. Additionally, Joe is an absolute professional, and a hell of a nice guy.”
Sinnott’s last regular assignment for Marvel was Thor, paired with penciler Ron Frenz from 1989 to 1991, another wonderful collaboration. In 1991 Sinnott made the decision to retire from monthly comic books, although over the next 28 years he continued to contribute to various miniseries, special editions, pin-ups and other projects, and to ink the Sunday installment of the Spider-Man newspaper strip. In March 2019, at the age of 92, he FINALLY made the decision to completely retire as a professional artist, although he continued to draw for pleasure until nearly the end of his life.
The news of Sinnott’s passing this week was met with sadness. This was not only because he was an incredibly talented artist who worked on hundreds of great comic book stories, but because he was also a genuinely good person, beloved by friends, colleagues and fans alike. As comic book writer & historian Mark Evanier opined on his blog this week:
“If you were in a crowd of folks who worked in the comic book industry and announced, “Joe Sinnott was the best inker who ever worked in comics,” you wouldn’t get a lot of argument. If you said, “Joe Sinnott was the nicest guy who ever worked in comics,” you’d get even less.”
I was one of the many fans who was fortunate enough to meet Joe Sinnott when he was a guest at comic book conventions. He always came across to me as friendly, warm and down to Earth.
Sinnott was one of those people whose work I enjoyed before I met him, but afterwards I became even more of a fan by virtue of the fact that he was such a good guy.
Joe Sinnott leaves behind a rich, creative legacy, and he will definitely be missed. I wish to offer my condolences to his family and friends for their loss.
Welcome to the tenth Comic Book Coffee collection. I’ve been posting these daily in the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The challenge was to see how many different pencilers I could find artwork by featuring coffee. I’m hoping to do 100 of these entries on FB, which means we’re halfway there.
46) Frank Miller & Klaus Janson
Here’s a coffee-drinking cover, courtesy of penciler Frank Miller and inker Klaus Janson. This is for Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15, written by Denny O’Neil, lettered by Jim Novak, and colored by Bob Sharon, published by Marvel Comics in September 1981.
I know sometimes covers are designed by people other than the credited penciler, although I cannot find any info to that effect for this one. Regardless, whether it was Frank Miller himself or someone else, this is an incredibly striking image. The reader is seeing through the eyes of Doctor Octopus as he drinks his morning coffee and reads the Daily Bugle’s account of the latest battle between Spider-Man and the Punisher.
In the last couple of decades, what with the proliferation of ninjas, prostitutes, racism and Goddamn Batmen in his stories, it is easy to forget what made Miller such a well-regarded creator in the first place. Looking through this Annual recently, I was reminded what an absolutely incredible storyteller he can be. Miller’s layouts for this story are astonishing. He does a hell of a job showing Doctor Octopus making full, creative, deadly use of his mechanical tentacles.
The inks / finishes by Klaus Janson in this Annual are very effective. Janson’s inking has always been wonderfully well-suited to creating moody atmospheres. His artistic collaborations with Miller, here and on the ongoing Daredevil series, are certainly well-regarded.
47) Michele Witchipoo
Here’s a page from the Psycho Bunny story “Summer of COVID19” written & drawn by Michele Witchipoo, which is currently on Webtoon.
Psycho Bunny is a misanthropic, foul-mouthed, alcoholic rabbit who lives in Queens, NYC. He been featured in a series of self-published comic books created by Witchipoo over the past 15 years. This latest story sees Psycho Bunny dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic, and the accompanying insanity, in his own rage-filled way.
On this page Psycho Bunny is at his job at Any Company Inc, stuck listening to his annoying co-worker Bill the Badger, who thinks COVID-19 is a hoax. Glancing around to make sure the coast is clear, Psycho Bunny slips out an airplane bottle…
“The manager isn’t around. Gonna sneak some booze into this shitty coffee.”
Yes, Michele is my girlfriend. I may be biased, but I think she is a very talented artist. She has self-published a number of comic books, and her work has been included in several small press anthologies. Michele’s illustrations were first published in 2010 by MTV Press.
“Psycho Bunny: Summer of COVID19” can be viewed at the link below. Stay tuned for future installments.
Avengers #246, penciled by Al Milgrom, inked by Joe Sinnott, written by Roger Stern, lettered by Jim Novak, and colored by Christie Scheele, published by Marvel Comics with an August 1984 cover date.
Al Milgrom shows off his strong storytelling chops on this page featuring the Vision and the Scarlet Witch. Inking is by Joe Sinnott, his third appearance in this Comic Book Coffee series. For many years Sinnott was a much in-demand embellisher at Marvel. I enjoyed the work Milgrom and Sinnott did together. They were a solid art team.
During a meeting at the White House, the Vision attempts to convince the President that the Avengers should report directly to the Oval Office. This is all part of the Vision’s plan for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to gain more power & responsibility, with the final secret goal of the Vision himself assuming control of the world.
The Vision now seeks to establish himself as a “man of the people” with whom the public is comfortable. In order to make his profile more public, he and the Scarlet Witch are returning to New York not by Avengers Quinjet but by commercial airliner.
To the Scarlet Witch’s surprise, the Vision orders drinks from the stewardess. “My wife will have tea with lemon, and I’ll take coffee… cream, no sugar!” This prompts another passenger to remark, “’Ey, how about that? The Vizh takes his coffee the same way I do!” A satisfied Vision thinks to himself “Perfect! Just the reaction I wanted!” Yep, the Vision certainly understands him human psychology!
All of this leaves the Scarlet Witch bewildered. “He never drinks coffee! What is going on?” I don’t know if Roger Stern intended this to be a deliberate reference, but this scene always reminds me of the 1980 disaster parody movie Airplane!
49) Frank Turner & Bill Black
Femforce #44, penciled & inked by Frank Turner, written by Bill Black, and lettered by Tim Twonky, published by AC Comics in December 1991.
Let’s take another look at Femforce. Having been exposed to a flawed version of the chemical compound that originally gave Ms. Victory her powers, the Femforce team leader was transformed into the anti-social bad girl Rad. Breaking away from Femforce, Rad led a wild, hedonistic lifestyle.
Rad recently lost a bundle in Atlantic City, and so reluctantly agrees to create a youth formula for a wealthy woman who promises to pay her a fortune. What Rad does not realize is that the elderly lady and her assistant are actually Lady Luger and Fritz Von Voltzman, who she fought as Ms. Victory back during World War II. The Nazi war criminals are plotting to duplicate the chemical, and they slip Rad a drugged cup of coffee to incapacitate her.
Frank Turner got his start in the mid 1980s working for black & white independent companies Graphik Publikations, Eternity and Malibu. In the early 1990s he drew a number of stories for AC Comics, as well as a few jobs for Millenium Publications, doing some very nice work at both companies. I certainly liked the art he did for Femforce. Turner then worked for Marvel between 1992 and 1994 as an inker on several different titles.
New Mutants volume 2 #13 penciled by Khary Randolph, inked by Rich Perotta, written by Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir, lettered by Dave Sharpe, and colored by Ian Hannin & Rob Ro, published by Marvel Comics with a June 2004 cover date.
The second New Mutants series saw the original team becoming teachers and Xavier’s School, instructing a new generation of young mutants in the use of their powers & abilities. This final issue of volume two served as a bookend to the debut of the New Mutants in Marvel Graphic Novel #4 two decades earlier.
Donald Pierce, the cyborg terrorist who was the original team’s very first adversary way back when, has returned. Pierce and his new team of mutant-hating Reavers arrive in Salem Center NY planning to eliminate Josh Foley, a teenager who worked with them before he learned he was a mutant, along with any other students at Xavier’s School that they can set their sights on.
Encountering Cannonball, Mirage, Karma, Wolfbane and Sunspot, the original line-up, a bloodthirsty Pierce gloats that the last time they met he nearly killed them. However, this time the former students handily defeat Pierce and the Reavers, showing just how much they’ve grown in the years since.
DeFilippis & Weir do a good job with the downtime scenes that were a hallmark of the original series. Prior to Pierce’s attack, the reunited original class head to The Grind Stone coffee shop to touch base and catch up. Sunspot, the incurable ladies man Roberto DaCosta, just cannot help flirting with Luna, an attractive barista at The Grind Stone, leading Karma to playfully slap him upside the head. Randolph & Perotta do a wonderful job illustrating the fun, comedic moments of this scene.
This morning, over on the Facebook group Comic Book Historians, I posted images from a couple of issues of Azrael: Agent of the Bat for today’s Comic Book Coffee entry. Denny O’Neil, who passed away last week, wrote the entire 100 issue run of Azrael.
Thinking it over, I feel that O’Neil’s work on the Azrael series was underrated. He co-created the character and played a major role in Jean-Paul Valley’s development.
Azrael was initially conceived solely to serve the role of an insane, violent substitute to Batman during the “Knightfall” storyline, to demonstrate why it was important that the real Batman not become a ruthless killer. But following the conclusion of “Knightfall” O’Neil appears to have put a great deal of effort into developing Jean-Paul Valley into a three-dimensional character, to remake him as an actual hero.
Another character that O’Neil created, Dr. Leslie Thompkins, became an important presence in the Azrael series, beginning during the “No Man’s Land” crossover in Azrael: Agent of the Bat #55 (August 1999), penciled by Roger Robinson and inked by James Pascoe.
Over the years I’ve come to realize that Leslie was a character who embodied much of O’Neil’s own beliefs. Leslie dedicated her life to fighting against injustice & inequality, to helping the poor & downtrodden, and she sought to find constructive ways in which to make real, lasting changes to society.
This two page scene below is from Azrael: Agent of the Bat #92 (September 2002), written by O’Neil, penciled & inked by Sergio Cariello, lettered by Jack Morelli, and colored by Rob Ro & Alex Bleyaert, with a cover by Mike Zeck & Jerry Ordway. It encapsulates Leslie’s beliefs, and in turn offers an insight into O’Neil’s own worldview.
Azrael is missing and presumed dead (that happens a lot in superhero comic books). Leslie, who has been attempting to help the psychologically damaged Jean-Paul Valley for some time, is angry, and she call Batman out on the role he played in this tragedy. She accurately points out to the Dark Knight all of the other ways in which Jean-Paul could have fought against injustice, and she castigates Batman for instead influencing the young man to follow in his vigilante footsteps.
“Batman had a bad day when he was eight. His reaction is this: instead of investing his inherited billions in addressing crime where it starts, or getting in politics to become a force for good, he dresses up like a bondage freak and beats the living shit out of people he doesn’t know but identifies them as bad on the basis of the way they look. This is a fifteen year-old’s idea of how the world works.”
O’Neil was obviously a very intelligent & insightful person. He wrote and edited the Batman titles for many years, so I am certain he perceived this juvenile fantasy element of the character. As one of the primary caretakers of the Dark Knight’s world he probably felt he could not critique this too directly. However, right from the early days of his career O’Neil actively sought to address social & political issues in his stories. Leslie was one way in which he did so throughout the years, presenting her as a counterpoint to Batman’s ideology & methods.
O’Neil often had Leslie voicing a great deal of criticism towards Batman. Leslie believes that Batman, in his identity as billionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne, has the resources & influence to help peacefully shape the world into a better place, and that it is there where he ought to be focusing his time & energies.
Leslie Thompkins is one of those characters that I never quite understood when I was younger. However, as I have gotten older and (hopefully) more mature, I have come to appreciate the character, and to recognize that O’Neil utilized her to attempt to get readers to think. It makes sense that O’Neil would use Leslie as a central figure in the Azrael series. Just as within the stories Leslie worked to help Jean-Paul become a better person, in his writing O’Neil attempted to make Azrael a better character.
Several years ago O’Neil was a guest at a small comic book convention in Brooklyn. One of the books I got autographed by him was an issue of Azrael. I do not recall his exact words, but after looking that book over he said something along the lines of “We really tried to make the character work.”
O’Neil could be critical of his own writing, and he reflected that perhaps he could have done a better job on the Azrael series. Nevertheless, in spite of the flaws, I appreciate the work he did with Jean-Paul Valley and Leslie Thompkins, to have the Azrael series be something more than just another Batman spin-off or superhero slugfest. As he did on a number of other occasions, O’Neil sought to stretch the boundaries of the genre in an intelligent, mature manner.
Welcome to the ninth Comic Book Coffee collection. I’ve been posting these daily in the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The challenge was to see how many different pencilers I could find artwork by featuring coffee.
41) Ramona Fradon & Mike Royer
We have selected panels from Plastic Man #14, penciled by Ramona Fradon, inked by Mike Royer, and written by Elliot S! Maggin, published by DC Comics with an Aug-Sept 1976 cover date.
It’s a late night at the headquarters of the National Bureau of Investigation, and the Chief tells his secretary Sundae to put on some coffee while he briefs his agents about a dangerous new threat to national security. The Chief details to Plastic Man, Woozy Winks and Gully Foyle the gruesome origins of the oozing menace known as “Meat By-Product… The Dump That Walks!” By the time the Chief is finished describing this monstrosity in excruciating detail, Plas and Co are so completely grossed out that when Sundae attempts to serve them coffee, donuts and cream-filled Danishes, they’re ready to toss their cookies.
I love Ramona Fradon’s artwork. She has such a distinctive, unconventional, cartoony style. She brought a very offbeat, fun, comedic sensibility to Metamorpho the Element Man, the character she co-created with writer Bob Haney and editor George Kashdan in 1965. That definitely made her very well-suited to draw Plastic Man a decade later. Fradon stated in interviews that he was one of her favorite characters to have worked on.
Fradon is inked here by Mike Royer. Fradon loved Royer’s inking of her pencils on this story, and has said she wishes they’d had other opportunities to work together. It’s certainly a great collaboration.
In the November 10, 2017 strip, Iris is having late night coffee with her boyfriend Zak. Iris and Zak had previously dated, but she wasn’t certain if they should be together, since she was several years older than Zak. However, following her break-up with Wilbur she decided to give her relationship with Zak another shot.
Paralleling this, in the December 5, 2017 strip, Wilbur has returned home from his travels abroad. Over morning coffee (complete with a Hello Kitty coffee mug) he is catching up with his daughter Dawn. Wilbur had a disastrous time in Bogota, where a woman attempted to scam him out of his money. This has left him wondering if he should try to get back together with Iris, not knowing she is now involved with Zak.
Jumping forward a year to the November 26, 2018 strip, Mary agrees to foster Libby, a one-eyed tabby cat. Libby is definitely a mischievous kitty, and when Mary tries to have her morning coffee the tabby knocks over her milk. Mary ultimately cannot keep Libby, because her boyfriend Jeff is allergic to cats. Fortunately Mary’s neighbor Estelle agrees to adopt Libby.
I liked the Libby storyline. Libby reminds me of Champ, one of my girlfriend Michele’s old cats. Champ was a one-eyed cat as well, the runt of the litter. She was a sweet & affectionate kitty, and we were sad when she passed away from old age.
I’ve been a fan of June Brigman’s work ever since she co-created Power Pack with Louise Simonson at Marvel Comics in 1984. Brigman has often worked with her husband Roy Richardson, an accomplished inker. June and Roy have been drawing Mary Worth since 2016. They both love cats, so I’m sure they enjoyed introducing Libby to the strip. Please check out their awesome cat-centric sci-fi series Captain Ginger written by Stuart Moore from Ahoy Comics.
43) Mark Bright & Bob Layton
Iron Man #228, layouts by Mark Bright, finishes & co-plot by Bob Layton, script & co-plot by David Michelinie, letters by Janice Chiang, and colors by Bob Sharen, published by Marvel Comics in March 1988.
One of the qualities of David Michelinie & Bob Layton’s runs on Iron Man that I have always appreciated has been their ability to write Tony Stark as a flawed, sometimes unsympathetic person while keeping his actions completely in character and believable. Unlike some of the writers who followed them, they never had Stark acting in a wildly implausible manner simply to advance the plot.
Witness the now-classic storyline “Armor Wars” which saw Stark desperately attempting to destroy the technology he developed that was now in the hands of others. As the story progressed, Stark became more and more obsessed, manipulative and ruthless, but the execution of this made it feel this progression was genuine.
Iron Man #228 sees Stark planning to attack the Vault, the federal penitentiary for incarcerating super-powered criminals, in order to destroy the Guardsmen armor that was developed from his technology. While planning their assault, Stark and his close friend Jim Rhodes stop at a nearby greasy spoon for some coffee. This scene by Layton, Michelinie and Mark Bright allows for a momentary pause in the action, enabling us to see the friendship and rapport that exists between Stark and Rhodes.
There’s very nice lettering by Janice Chiang on display here. I love her work, and can usually spot it in an instant.
I’m not quite sure what to make of Stark’s anecdote, though…
“Took me three weeks to get rid of the blueberry stain. Had to tell the guys at the gym it was a tattoo.”
Sounds like it could be the punchline to a dirty story. Whatever the set-up might have been, I doubt the Comics Code Authority would have approved!
44) Bob Oksner & Vince Colletta
This page is from the Lois Lane story “A Deadly Day in the Life” penciled by Bob Oksner, inked by Vince Colletta, written by Paul Levitz, lettered by John Costanza, and colored by Jerry Serpe. It appeared in Superman Family #212, published by DC Comics with a November 1981 cover date.
The relationship between Lois Lane and Superman in the Bronze Age was certainly somewhat of an improvement from how it was handled in the 1950s and 60s. Lois was at least somewhat less catty and scheming and manipulative than she had been previously depicted, and Superman appeared to genuinely care for her.
At the same time, looking at in from a 21st Century perspective, it becomes much more obvious that Lois is in a relationship with a man who is actively hiding a major part of his personal life from her, and who regularly gaslights her whenever she comes close to uncovering the truth.
Nevertheless, given that the Bronze Age writers were required to maintain the Lois Lane-Clark Kent-Superman love triangle, they did fairly good work. Paul Levitz writes Lois and Superman as two people who are comfortable with each other. Bob Oksner’s background drawing romance and humor stories made him well-suited to penciling scenes like this. Likewise, Vince Colletta’s own work in the romance genre results in an effective inking job.
Plus, I love the novelty of Superman using his heat vision to brew a cup of coffee for Lois. Jim Thompson sent this page my way. Yes, this IS from the same story he spotlighted where someone hurls a grenade into Lois’ bathroom while she’s taking a shower, and she tosses it back out the window before it explodes. Good thing she had that cup of coffee beforehand!
45) Stuart Immonen & Jose Marzan Jr
As a follow-up to our last entry, these pages are from Adventures of Superman #525, penciled by Stuart Immonen, inked by Jose Marzan Jr, written by Karl Kesel, lettered by Albert DeGuzman, and colored by Glenn Whitmore, published by DC Comics in July 1995.
Prior issues of the Superman titles had introduced to Clark Kent’s old high school rival Kenny Braverman, who gained superpowers and joined a covert government agency… you know, like pretty much everyone else in comic books eventually does. Braverman, who adopted the identity Conduit, learned that Clark was Superman and attempted to murder all of Clark’s friends and family. In a final battle with Superman, the hate-filled Conduit’s powers consumed his body, killing him.
In this issue Clark is reunited with Lois Lane, who he believed had been killed by Conduit. Clark explains to Lois that he is seriously considering giving up his secret identity to be Superman full-time, to prevent anyone else from being in danger due to their association with him.
Lois tells Clark she wants to go get a cup of coffee in the nearby town, but with one proviso: Clark needs to do it a Superman. Changing into the Man of Steel, he goes to a nearby diner to order a cup of coffee, only to discover that everyone is ill-at-ease around him. Some people are expecting a super-villain to attack any minute; others simply don’t know how to act around him.
Meeting up with Superman outside of town, Lois explains to him:
“You NEED a secret identity. It’s what protects you from people… and it’s what connects you to people. Under that costume you’re Clark Kent — you’ll always be Clark Kent. You can’t live without him… and neither can I!”
I feel that the post-Crisis continuity improved Lois Lane’s character a great deal. As I explained before, I was never overly fond of Lois. I couldn’t understand why Clark / Superman wanted to be with her. Even the efforts to make her less of a caricature in the 1970s were hampered by the need to maintain the Lois Lane-Superman-Clark Kent love triangle. I think a clean break was needed for Lois, and Crisis provided John Byrne with that opportunity.
Of course, having subsequently read some of the original Siegel & Shuster stories, I now realize Byrne was actually returning Lois to her original conception, the intelligent, assertive, tough-as-nails investigative reporter of the early Golden Age, and away from the catty, scheming version that existed in the 1950s.
I also like that Byrne had Clark wanting to win Lois as himself, not as Superman, because Clark Kent was his real self, and “Superman” was the secret identity.
Byrne’s work with Lois and Clark definitely set the stage for Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern, Dan Jurgens and others to write the characters in an interesting, adult relationship, and for Lois to finally learn that Clark was Superman.
In this issue Karl Kesel does really good work with the couple. The artwork by Stuart Immonen & Jose Marzan Jr expertly tells the story. And, wow, that coloring by Glenn Whitmore on page 19, with the sun setting in a dusky star-filled sky, is beautiful.
I know there are fans that are older than me who grew up on the Silver Age or Bronze Age comic books and did not like the changes made to these characters. I can understand that. I can only say that I read these stories when I was a teenager. So for me this will always be MY version of Lois and Clark.