Ten thoughts about Stranger Things 3

Last year Michele started watching the first season of the horror series Stranger Things on Netflix.  I was on my own laptop, doing something else, but from time to time I would turn to her and ask “What are you watching?” and “What’s it about?” and “What’s happening in it?” and “What’s happening now?”

Michele finally got fed up with this and shouted “Just come over here and watch the damn thing with me!!!”  Not wanting to argue, I did, jumping in as she was watching episode six.  I quickly caught up on what has taking place, and I really enjoyed the rest of it.  I nicknamed it “John Carpenter’s The Goonies,” and was not at all surprised to learn that both that director and that movie had been influences on the Duffer Brothers.

Immediately after that we watched Stranger Things 2, which we both liked.  So when season three came out on Netflix this month, we also watched it.

ST3 logo

Here are some thoughts on the latest installment of the Duffer Brothers weird magnum opus…

1) The 1980s Sucked

Nostalgia can be a very dangerous thing. I grew up in the 1980s. I was nine years old in 1985, which is when Stranger Things 3 is set, so I would have been a few years younger than most of the characters in the show.  Honestly, I hated the eighties.  I’m certainly not the only one.  All of the faux machismo of the Reagan years and the worship of unbridled greed was anathema to me.  I was a geek who read a lot of books and comics, and I had very few friends.  I guess I probably would have fit in with Mike and Dustin and the rest of those guys, except…

2) Puberty Strikes!

The younger characters are now in their early teens, and it shows.  Actors Finn Wolfhard and Noah Schnapp both experienced serious growth spurts between seasons!  Millie Bobby Brown also looks older.  Character-wise, all of the boys have discovered girls, except for Will, and he’s understandably frustrated that his pals are now off hanging out with their girlfriends instead of playing Dungeons & Dragons with him.

I can certainly relate.  I was definitely a late bloomer emotionally.  When most of my classmates in high school were dating and hanging out and socializing, I was usually at home with my nose buried in a comic book.  Now that I’m older, I certainly understand why Mike and Lucas are busy trying to mend things with Eleven and Max, and why Dustin is trying to get in touch with Suzie, but I also totally relate to Will’s frustrations at feeling left out.

ST3 Mike and Eleven

This is our “Attempting to look perfectly innocent and failing utterly at it” expression. How are we doing?

3) Slow the Plot Down

Strangers Things 3 had a lot of characters and plotlines.  I think it was a bit overloaded.  The plot concerning the Mind Flayer returning and turning the inhabitants of Hawkins, Indiana into a giant monster to kill Eleven never really intersected with the plot of the Russians building a secret base under the Starcourt Mall to re-open the gate to the Upside Down, other than the fact that the Russians’ experiments are what enabled the Mind Ripper to return in the first place.

There were also new characters being introduced, primarily Maya Hawke as Robin, adding to an already-large ensemble. All of the characters had their own subplots, especially the volatile romantic tension between Joyce and Hopper that lasted the entire season.

All of this resulted in the first three episodes of Stranger Things 3 moving at a glacial place as the Duffer Brothers had to take the time to introduce and position every element of the season.  I was getting bored, wondering when something was going to actually happen.  Each time something did occur, and it looked like things were finally picking up, there would then be a switch to another group of characters, accompanied by an almost-audible sound of someone slamming on the brakes.

Once episode four began events almost immediately rocketed into high gear, and didn’t let up for the rest of the series.  But those first three episodes were a drag.  I really think that all of that could have been condensed into two episodes.  There was so much padding that I started singing the song “Slow the Plot Down” from Mystery Science Theater 3000 to myself.

4) Assholes R Us

There are a lot of assholes in Hawkins.  The mayor, the entire staff of the town newspaper, the lifeguards at the town pool, random yuppie assholes who are passing through… so many assholes!  Even the stoic, curmudgeonly Sherriff Jim Hopper, portrayed so wonderfully by David Harbour in the first two seasons, descended into full asshole-dom.  The AV Club announced “Stranger Things season 3 ruined Hopper” although there is a lot of insightful back & forth in the comments section that does shed light on why Hopper’s actions are actually all-too-realistic.

Looking back from the perspective of 2019, if one re-examines the mindset of the Baby Boomer generation, it is definitely possible to perceive the deeply pervasive presence of toxic masculinity.  That was unfortunately the norm back then, the idea that men had to be tough and ambitious and in-charge and stoic, not showing any feelings except anger.  Even a basically decent person like Hopper falls into that trap, because that’s how he was raised.

Of course, there are two characters who illustrate this even more clearly…

ST3 Billy

Hide your kids, hide your wives…

5) Helloooo, Ladies!

Steve and Billy are opposite sides of the same coin.

Back in season one Steve was the arrogant school jock, the alpha male you loved to hate.  But along the way Steve actually began to grow up.  He helped Nancy and Jonathan fight the Mind Flayer at the end of season one.

In the second year of the show, Steve became like a big brother to the socially awkward Dustin.  When Nancy broke up with him, Steve was able to recognize that he hadn’t been a very good boyfriend to her.  Now in season three he tells Robin that he wishes he hadn’t spent so much time in high school worrying about unimportant things, with impressing other people, and that his priorities were messed up.  Steve is able to recognize his past mistakes, and is working to try to be a better, more mature person.

In contrast we have Billy, the current town asshole.  He is a bully and a womanizer.  In season two he was shown to be abusive to his stepsister Max, as well as racist.  He spends his summer days as a lifeguard at the town pool, strutting about, seducing bored, horny housewives.

We previously learned that the apple did not fall far from the tree.  In season two we briefly met Billy’s father, who was emotionally and physically abusive towards his son.  This is further explored in season three. When Eleven uses her psychic powers to delve into Billy’s mind in order to search for the Mind Flayer’s location, she sees from Billy’s memories that he used to be a really sweet kid, but that his father’s abuse, his attempts to “toughen up” Billy, drove away his loving mother and warped him into a monster.  It’s only at the end, when Eleven reminds Billy of his happier childhood days before his mother left, that he tries to be a better person, and he sacrifices himself to save Eleven from the Mind Flayer.

Joe Keery does good work playing Steve. As for Dacre Montgomery as Billy… wow, I was genuinely surprised to find out that in real life he’s an Australian who writes poetry. He does such a convincing job playing an American white trash douchebag. Now that is acting!

6) Russian Dressing

Michele and I both wondered if the plotline with the Russians was a commentary on contemporary American politics.  In Stranger Things 3 the Russians are able to infiltrate America, build a secret underground headquarters, and cause a catastrophic crisis in large part due to their collaborating with a greedy, arrogant, loud-mouthed politician with weird hair who sells them a bunch or real estate.   Yeah, that does sound more than a bit familiar.

7) Wait A Minute… That Was Who?!?

I don’t think I even noticed until at least a couple of episodes into the second season that Joyce Byers was played by Winona Ryder.  Yes, she’s quite a bit older than she used to be.  But Joyce is also the most un-Winona Ryder-ish part I have ever seen her play.  She does really good work portraying a working class single mother who has to cope with all sorts of tragedy and weirdness over the course of three seasons.  Ryder also has good chemistry with David Harbour, making the scenes between Joyce and Hopper both poignant and entertaining… well usually.  Occasionally the “will they or won’t they” antics do get a bit tiresome.

ST3 Joyce and Hopper

No, Jim, I am NOT going to start singing the theme song from Moonlighting!

8) Turn Around, Look At What You See

I’ve always liked the movie The NeverEnding Story, and I think the theme song by Limahl is cute and catchy.  So it was sort of fun to have Dustin and Suzie sing it… except the timing was oh so horribly wrong!

You see, Hopper wouldn’t have died if they hadn’t been singing that damn song! If Suzie had just given Dustin the number for Planck’s constant right away, Hopper and Joyce would have gotten the keys out of the safe two minutes sooner and been able to shut down the gate to the Upside Down before Grigori the Russian Terminator arrived.  Others also came to the same conclusion.  Thanks for nothing, Suzie!

9) R.I.P. Hopper???

A lot of people, Michele and myself included, are wondering if Hopper is really dead, and if David Harbour is going to return for Stranger Things 4.  We never actually see Hopper die on-screen.  No body usually means no actual death.

And then there is the mid-credits epilogue, where we find out that the Russians have an American prisoner looked up in a Siberian base.  That could be Hopper… but I’ve also heard it suggested that it might be Brenner.  Yes, he was attacked by the Demogorgon in the final episode of Season One, but again we never saw a body, and it was hinted in the second year that he might still be alive.

Even if that is not Hopper in the Russian prison, it’s been suggested that he might have jumped through the portal into the Upside Down before the gate exploded, hoping to find another way out.  That’s what happened to Eleven after the first season.  I guess we will have to wait and see.  When is Stranger Things 4 coming out, anyway?!?

ST3 Hopper

What do you mean, my character dies? Oh, well, at least I still have the Hellboy movie franchise to fall back on. Right?

10) To Be Continued

There is definitely going to be at least one more season of Stranger Things.  I am looking forward to it.  In addition to Hopper’s fate, I also what to see if Eleven and Mike stay together, and if Eleven ever regains her powers.  Plus it would be nice to see Sam Owens return.  At least Paul Reiser got a cameo in the final episode of this season.

Nevertheless, I really do hope the Duffer Brothers and Netflix will wrap up Stranger Things after the fourth installment.  While I definitely enjoyed the third season, it was not without its problems: too many characters, too many plotlines, three really slow opening episodes.  Also, each season the Duffer Brothers keep upping the threat levels.  They keep going too much longer and they are going to end up with some sort of giant monster trying to eat the entire planet.

Oh, well, we’re still at the point where the show’s strengths still outweigh its weaknesses.  Fingers crossed!

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Thor by Joe Sinnott: a birthday present

I never thought I would get a Joe Sinnott sketch. I had met the legendary and talented comic book artist on several occasions, but somehow the opportunity to get artwork from him just never came up. When he announced his retirement earlier this year I figured that was it, whatever chance there might have been had passed.

Earlier this month, on June 8th, my girlfriend Michele Witchipoo had a table at IncrediCon in Middletown NY. I would have gone with her, but our cat Squeaky wasn’t feeling well and we decided I should stay home to keep her company (sadly Squeaky would pass away a week later). Michele took along my Avengers Assemble theme sketchbook because a friend of hers who was going wanted to see it, and just in case she met anyone there who might want to do a drawing in it.

Joe Sinnott was going to be a guest at IncrediCon. Michele said she could ask if he was drawing, and if he was she would try to get me a sketch for my birthday. I shrugged and replied “He’s 92 years old and he retired a few months ago. I doubt he’s going to be sketching. But if you want you can ask him.” Michele asked me what character I wanted and I said something like “Thor or anyone from the Fantastic Four.”

A few hours later I get a text from Michele: “You’re getting a Thor sketch.” My jaw hit the floor. I honestly did not expect that Sinnott would be drawing. Then about 15 minutes later she sent me a photo of the sketch. Whoa!!!

Thor sketch by Joe Sinnott

I’m really thrilled to get this. Joe Sinnott inked Jack Kirby’s pencils on the very first Thor story in Journey Into Mystery #83 way back in 1962, and then drew the full art, pencils & inks, for a few more of the early Thor stories in Journey Into Mystery. For most of the 1970s Sinnott was the regular inker on the Thor book, usually over John Buscema’s pencils, but also working with Rich Buckler on several issues, and even on a couple penciled by Neal Adams. Sinnott returned to Thor from 1989 to 1991, this time paired with penciler Ron Frenz.

That was when I first began reading comic books regularly, in 1989. The Tom DeFalco / Ron Frenz run on Thor remains a favorite of mine, especially the issues that were inked / embellished by Sinnott.

The first time I met Sinnott was at a comic book convention at the Westchester County Center in White Plains NY in 1992.  I was in awe at meeting an artist who had worked on so many amazing comic book stories for Marvel Comics over the years.  Sinnott was a very nice, patient, down-to-Earth person who took the time to answer all the questions posed to him by a gushing teenage fan.  I’ve met Sinnott on subsequent occasions and gotten several books autographed by him. Nevertheless, I will always treasure that copy of Thor #414 he signed for me back in 1992.

Thor 414 pg 1

In any case, Sinnott possesses a long, historic association with the character of Thor.  So it’s wonderful to have obtained a sketch of the Norse god of thunder and founding member of the Avengers from him. And, as I said above, when I saw the piece he drew in my sketchbook I was seriously in awe. At 92 years old Sinnott is still an incredible artist. The detailed pencil work on this piece is amazing. Also, I like how Sinnott added birds (seagulls?) in the sky behind Thor in this sketch. Nice subtle bit that adds a little atmosphere to it.

Today is my actual birthday. So, once again, a very big “thank you” to Michele for this birthday present, to Joe Sinnott for the wonderful sketch, and to Joe’s son Mark Sinnott for all his help in making it happen.

In memory of Squeaky Squeakums

A week ago, on Sunday June 16th at 3:35 PM, our cat Squeaky Squeakums passed away.

Squeaky was a very sweet, affectionate, loving cat.  I have written about Squeaky before on this blog.  But, in short:

Ten years ago, in early June 2009, a friend (now ex-friend) of Michele who had too many pets asked us to take in one of his cats.  This cat, a black & white domestic shorthair named Kitten, was getting beat up by the other cats.  This person told us that if we were not able to take in Kitten, he would have to drop her off at a shelter.  We had only just adopted another cat, Nettie Netzach, a few months before, and we weren’t sure how she would react.  However, Michele really did not want Kitten, who she remembered from visits to this person’s apartment, being abandoned at a shelter, so we took her in.

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Squeaky on our bed in the old apartment

Kitten was incredibly shy.  She often hid in the closet.  Michele had to sit with her and talk with her gently while she ate.  When she was finally able to get close enough, Michele discovered that Kitten’s mouth was in really bad shape.  We immediately took her to the vet, who found that half of her teeth were rotten & infected.

We had Kitten’s bad teeth pulled.  When we took her home from the vet, Nettie watched over her, helping to nurse her back to health.  She quickly made a full recovery.  Before our eyes, Kitten became a brand new cat, full of energy and love.

By the way, “Kitten” is a terrible name for an adult cat.  We had been told that she was between six and eight years old, but for all we know she might have been older.  Calling her “Kitten” was lazy and unimaginative.  Michele decided she needed a proper name.  When this cat meowed it often sounded like a squeak, so we decided to call her Squeaky.

Oh yes… now it can be told.  The OTHER inspiration for Michele naming the cat Squeaky was infamous Manson Family member Lynette Alice “Squeaky” Fromme.  Yeah, sometimes Michele has a bizarre sense of humor.  Honestly, I was appalled, but the cat really appeared to take to the name, so Squeaky it was.  All these years I’ve always told people the “squeaky” meows was the inspiration for her name, but, yes, I’ll just go ahead and admit to it now, “Squeaky” Fromme was the second one.

In any case, for the past decade Squeaky has lived with us.  She was an awesome cat.  As I said before, she was incredibly affectionate.  She loved being petted and having her tummy rubbed.  Most nights she would sleep on the bed between me and Michele, purring contentedly.  We would call this a Squeaky Sandwich.

Squeaky stares at dinner

Squeaky staring up at me as I try to eat some chicken

Squeaky also loved to eat.  She had been incredibly thin when we took her in, basically starving, so she was always obsessed with food.  Michele thought Squeaky suffered from food panic.  She would gulp down all of her cat food, would then try to steal Nettie’s food, and would often try to take food from our plates.  Squeaky had big, round, greenish eyes, and she would stare at us longingly with them, pleading for food. She eventually because a very round & heavy cat, but she was happy, so usually we just let her eat as much as she wanted.

Squeaky was something of a quirky, misfit cat, but that just meant that she fit right in with us.  She was a constant presence in our lives.  She would often follow us around the apartment, meowing loudly.  Often she would grab Michele’s pens & pencils & paintbrushes in her mouth and hide them all over the apartment, under the bed or chairs or rug.

Like most cats, Squeaky loved cardboard boxes.  There was one cardboard box in particular, that a pair of Michele’s shoes had been shipped in, that Squeaky often contentedly occupied.

Squeaky in her cardboard box

Squeaky in her favorite cardboard box

Squeaky also liked sitting with us when we watched television.  Michele referred to Squeaky as my TV buddy.  Other times Michele would play music, and Squeaky would sit next to the speakers, listening and purring.  Squeaky seemed to especially enjoy music by the group Joy Division.

Squeaky and Nettie usually got along.  They became like sisters.  Occasionally they would get on each other’s nerves or fight, but most of the time they had a good relationship.  Sometimes they would cuddle together, or would groom each other.  If they realized we were looking at them they would then get embarrassed and quickly dart away from each other.

A little over two years ago we had to move to a new apartment.  Nettie had grown up and spent almost all her life in the old apartment, and she was very upset & scared in the new place.  I guess by now Squeaky had gotten more used to change.  She adjusted to the new surroundings very quickly, and for the first couple of weeks was often by Nettie’s side, trying to comfort her.  Eventually Nettie began to feel at home, and the two of them fell back into their old routine.

Squeaky and Nettie on bed

Squeaky and Nettie cuddling together on the bed

Last winter Squeaky had a cold, and over the past few months we noticed that she was beginning to lose weight.  Then last month she appeared to age overnight.  As I said before, we didn’t know exactly how old she was.  At a minimum she was 16 years old, and was very likely closer to 19 or 20.

Over the past few weeks Squeaky was having more difficulty eating.  We had to get her cat food that was in pate form; anything else she was unable to chew & swallow.  Most of the time Squeaky sat on the windowsill, looking out at the backyard.  We realized that she probably only had a short amount of time left.

We always celebrated Squeaky’s birthday on June 12th, the day we took her in.  Every year we would throw a “birthday / adoption day” party for her, giving her gourmet cat food and singing happy birthday to her.  This June 12th was Squeaky’s 10th “birthday” with us, and we brought her food to her at the window, and sang to her.  She ate some of if, and seemed happy.

Squeaky on the window sill

Squeaky sitting on the window sill on June 13th

Four days later, on Sunday afternoon, Squeaky stopped eating.  She wobbled into the living room, collapsed, and began to have uncontrollable spasms.  Michele and I both realized this was it.  We had really hoped that Squeaky was going to pass away peacefully in her sleep at home, but now that was not going to be.  Reluctantly we picked her up, placed her in her pet carrier, and took her to the veterinary office, the same place that a decade earlier had operated on Squeaky to remove her bad teeth.

The vet examined Squeaky, and told us her condition was critical.  They could try treating her, but at most she would only last a few more weeks, and would probably be in pain the whole time.  Reluctantly we made the decision to give her a quick, peaceful death.  We were there with Squeaky when she passed away.

A few months ago Michele began working on a comic book about Squeaky.  She finally finished it in early June and published it.  “The Temptation of Squeaky” by Michele Witchipoo features Squeaky meeting the demon Maximus, who offers her all the turkey she can eat. It’s a very cute, adorable, funny story. I’m happy that our quirky cat has been immortalized in print.

The Temptation of Squeaky cover

“The Temptation of Squeaky”

Copies of “The Temptation of Squeaky” can be purchased online. Michele will be writing & drawing further stories about Squeaky in her memory.  Michele has also written her own tribute to Squeaky on her blog.

Sometimes I like animals better than I do most people.  That was definitely the case with Squeaky.  She was more loving and loyal than a lot of human beings.

Michele and I both miss Squeaky.  She was a good friend and a part of our lives for ten years.  Pets really do become members of the family.

Remembering comic book artist George Klein

Recently I was reminded, thanks to the excellent blog Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books by Alan Stewart, of the very underrated work of comic book artist George Klein.

National Sportsman Dec 1939 cover smallOne of the main reasons why Klein is not much better known among comic book fandom is that he tragically passed away at a young age.  He died 50 years ago this month, on May 10, 1969.

Klein was born in 1915, although there is a bit of uncertainty over the exact date, as well as the location of his birth.  Klein’s earliest published work appears to be a painted cover for the December 1939 edition of National Sportsman.

Between 1941 and 1943 Klein was employed by Timely Comics, the precursor to Marvel.  Creator credits in the Golden Age were often missing or inaccurate, but it is generally believed he worked on such titles as All-Winners Comics, Captain America Comics, USA Comics and Young Allies Comics at Timely.

In 1943 Klein was drafted to serve in World War II, and served as a private in the Army Infantry.  Honorably discharged in 1946, Klein returned to his career as an artist, working in both comic books and as a magazine illustrator.Detective illustration George Klein

Several of the periodicals that Klein worked for, both before and after the war, were pulp magazines published by Timely’s owner Martin Goodman, specifically Best Love, Complete Sports, Complete War and Detective Short Stories.  Klein was also a regular contributor to Wyoming Wildlife, the award-winning magazine published by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.  His work in Wyoming Wildlife and other publications apparently gained Klein some renown as a landscape and wildlife artist.

Klein once again did work for Timely, or Atlas Comics as it came to be known in the 1950s.  Among the various titles Klein worked on at Timely / Atlas in the late 40s and early 50s were the romance series Girl Comics and the well-regarded fantasy / romance series Venus, although (again due to the lack of credits) the exact details of his involvement are a matter of deduction and guesswork.

 

Venus 2 pg 1

During this time Klein also branched out to work for other publishers such as ACG, Ace Comics and Prize Publications.  By the early 1950s much of Klein’s work was for National Periodical Publications, aka DC Comics.

Beginning in 1955 Klein, working as an inker, was regularly paired up with penciler Curt Swan on DC’s various Superman titles.  Looking at the Grand Comic Database, the first story drawn by the Swan & Klein team seems to be the Superboy story “The Wizard City” written by the legendary Bill Finger in Adventure Comics #216, cover-dated September 1955.Adventure Comics 332 cover small

Swan and Klein continued to work together for the next 12 years, with their art appearing in various issues of Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Superman, Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.

Truthfully, Swan is a penciler who at times leaves me a bit cold.  He’s one of those artists who I recognize as technically proficient, someone who is a good, solid storyteller.  However often his work just does not connect with me personally.  That said, there is something about the teaming of Swan and Klein that really appeals to me.

Having been born in 1976, obviously I did not read the stories they drew when they first came out. About 20 years ago I really got into the Legion of Super-Heroes and began picking up the various Legion Archives.  I was immediately taken with the work that Swan & Klein on those Superboy and the Legion stories from Adventure Comics in the 1960s.  I regard Klein as one of the best inkers Swan ever got during his lengthy career.

As per writer & editor Mark Waid’s bio of George Klein written for the Legion Archives:

“Klein set new standards for his craft with his razor-crisp brushline, which brought new dimensions to the art of Curt Swan, the penciler with whom Klein was most frequently paired. Together, Swan and Klein defined for years to come the look of Superman and his cast of characters; to this day , most Legion of Super-Heroes aficionados consider Swan and Klein to be the all-time finest Legion art team.”

Adventure Comics 352 pg 5

Klein’s work over Swan’s pencils is an excellent demonstration of just how significant a role the inker can have on the look of the finished artwork in comic books.

Adventure Comics 352 cover smallProbably the stand-out stories of this era were written by the then-teenage Jim Shooter, who introduced Karate Kid, Princess Projecta and Ferro Lad to the Legion, as well as the villainous Fatal Five.  Swan & Klein did a superb job illustrating these now-classic stories.

One cannot discuss Klein’s work in the Silver Age without mentioning Fantastic Four.  Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961, that title was the birth of what came to be known as the Marvel Universe.  For many decades the specific details concerning the creation of the early FF stories have been shrouded in mystery.

One of the most frequently-pondered questions was who exactly inked Kirby’s pencils on the first two issues.  After much debate & analysis, the conclusion reached by Dr. Michael  J. Vassallo, one of the foremost authorities on Timely / Atlas / early Marvel artwork, is that it was George Klein.  It is known that Klein worked on several stories for Atlas in the late 1950s and early 60s, which would put him in exactly the right place when the first two issues of FF were being created in 1961.

As to why Klein in particular was chosen to ink these two issues, longtime Marvel editor Tom Brevoort offers up this theory:

“I would also conjecture that perhaps the choice of George Klein to ink these early issues–if indeed he was the inker as is generally believed today–was to try to give them more of a super hero feel than Kirby’s monster or romance or western work. Klein at the time was inking Curt Swan on Superman, and you really can’t get a more classic super hero finish than that.”

Fantastic Four 1 pg 14

Absent the original artwork for those first two FF issues resurfacing, or some previous-unknown documentation being discovered, we will probably never be 100% certain; nevertheless, the general consensus is that Klein very likely inked those two issues, placing him right at the birth of the Marvel Age of Comics.

Klein’s work for DC on the Superman family of titles took place during the regime of editor Mort Weisinger.  The late 1960s saw an editorial shake-up at DC. Although Weisinger remained in control of the Superman books until 1970, this behind-the-scenes instability is reportedly what led to Klein departing the company.  He quickly found work at Marvel Comics which, eight years after the introduction of the Fantastic Four, was achieving both commercial success and critical acclaim.Avengers 57 cover small

Klein’s first assignment at Marvel was inking John Buscema’s pencils on Avengers.  After inking a couple of covers, Klein became the regular inker with issue #55, cover-dated August 1968.  Klein remained on Avengers for nearly a year.

The late 1960s is now considered one of the series’ most important and influential periods. Writer Roy Thomas, working with John Buscema, introduced the Avengers’ arch-nemesis Ultron, new member the Vision, and Hank Pym’s new costumed identity Yellowjacket, among other key developments.  Klein did a superb job inking Buscema on many of these key stories.  In 2001 Thomas spoke with Buscema about their work on Avengers, a conversation that saw print in Alter Ego #13.  In it they briefly touched upon Klein:

Roy Thomas: So how did you feel about George Klein’s inking compared to some of the others?

John Buscema: From what I’ve seen, a very credible job, not bad.

Considering that Buscema was notoriously critical of most of the artists who inked his work, I suppose by his exacting standards this was high praise indeed!

Avengers 55 pg 16

Klein also inked Gene Colan on Avengers #63-64, Sub-Mariner #11, and on several issues of Daredevil.  Klein was probably one of the best embellishers to ever work over Colan, who could often be a bit challenging to ink.

Daredevil 53 cover smallAdditionally, in early 1969 Klein inked two very early jobs by a very young Barry Windsor-Smith, in Daredevil #51 and Avengers #67.  Klein’s finishes gave some much-needed support to BWS who, although he was already showing quite a bit of promise, was still honing his craft.

Last, but certainly not least, Klein inked Jack Kirby on Thor #168-169, which were cover-dated Sept and Oct 1969.  It has been opined that Vince Colletta’s inking of Kirby was a good match on Thor, as the feathery line work provided a specific tone that was well-suited to the mythological characters & settings.  It was much less appropriate to Kirby’s sci-fi concepts, which is why Colletta was a poor fit on Fantastic Four.

Similarly, when Kirby took Thor in a more cosmic direction in the late 1960s, Colletta’s inking felt out of place.  So it was definitely nice to have Klein’s more polished inking on these two issues, which saw the god of thunder learning the origin of one of Kirby’s most cosmic creations, Galactus.  These Thor issues were very likely the last work that Klein did before his untimely death.
Thor 169 pg 2

According to the Field Guide To Wild American Pulp Artists, Klein was hospitalized for cirrhosis of the liver in May 1969, less than a month before he died.

I’m going to add a few words from Alan Stewart here summing up this unfortunate situation:

“It’s tragic that Klein passed away as young as he did — and the fact that he’d gotten married just a few months before makes it even more so. Unfortunately, his work over Curt Swan on the Superman books all those years was uncredited, and his subsequent stint at Marvel was too short for him to have made the impact of a Joe Sinnott or Tom Palmer. I agree he’s underrated.”

Action Comics 300 cover small

I really believe that Klein would probably be much better remembered as an artist if he had not died so young.  He did very well-regarded work on comic books in a career that lasted nearly three decades.

The reissuing of so much of DC and Marvel’s material from the Silver Age does mean that younger fans such as myself have now been able to rediscover Klein’s work.  Additionally, all these decades later Klein, as well as everyone else who worked on those early DC stories, are at long last receiving proper credit for their work in those reprint volumes.

There are so many creators from the Golden Age and early Silver Age who helped to make the comic book industry what it is today, creators who in the past were unfortunately uncredited and overlooked.  I hope this short profile on one of those creators, George Klein, will inspire readers to seek out some of these classic stories, and to develop more of an appreciation for the people who crafted those imaginative tales.

Thank you to all of the websites from which I gleamed information about and artwork by George Klein.  I believe I’ve included links to all of them, but if I did miss anyone please let me know!

Greg Theakston: 1953 to 2019

I was saddened to learn that comic book artist, publisher & historian Greg Theakston had passed away on April 22nd.  He was 65 years old.

As a teenager Theakston was involved in the Detroit area comic book fandom in the late 1960s and early 70s.  During this time period he was one of the organizers of the Detroit Triple Fan Fair comic book & sci-fi conventions.

Super Powers vol 2 1 cover smallTheakston, along with such fellow Detroit area fans as Jim Starlin, Rich Buckler, Terry Austin, and Keith Pollard, made the jump from fan to professional during the 1970s.  From 1972 to 1979 Theakston worked at Neal Adams’ Continuity Studios, where he gained invaluable experience, learning the tools of the trade alongside his contemporaries.  Theakston was one of the so-called “Crusty Bunkers,” a loose-knit group of Continuity-based artists organized by Adams.  Throughout the 1970s the Crusty Bunkers would pitch in to help one another meet tight comic book deadlines.  Theakston was interviewed about his time at Continuity by Bryan Stroud, revealing it to be a crazy, colorful experience.

Theakston worked for a number of publishers over the years, creating illustrations for National Lampoon, Playboy, Rolling Stone and TV Guide.  His art appeared in a number of issues of MAD Magazine in the late 1980s and throughout the 90s.

Most of Theakston’s comic book work was for DC Comics.  In the 1980s Theakston was often assigned the high-profile job of inking the legendary Jack Kirby’s pencils.

Theakston’s inking of Kirby proved to be divisive.  Personally speaking, as a huge fan of Kirby, I like what Theakston brought to the table.  I do recognize that Theakston was not the ideal fit for Kirby’s pencils in the way that Joe Sinnott and Mike Royer were, but I nevertheless felt he did a good job inking him.

The Hunger Dogs cover

One of the things to recognize about that collaboration is that during this time Kirby’s health unfortunately began to decline.  As a result his penciling started becoming loser.  Theakston was often called upon to do a fair amount of work to tighten up the finished art.  This led to some creative choices on his part that were not appreciated by some.  I think Theakston was in a less-than-ideal situation, having to make those choices over the work of a creator who was already regarded by fans as a legend and a genius.  The result was a scrutiny of his inking / finishing more much more intense than if he had been working with almost any other penciler.

Comic book creator Erik Larsen observed on the website What If Kirby that Theakston possessed a definite fondness for the earlier work Kirby did with Joe Simon in the Golden Age.  This translated into Theakston inking Kirby with a heavier, darker line that evoked the Simon & Kirby stories of the 1940s and 50s, rather than the much more slick, polished embellishment that Sinnott and Royer brought to it in the 1960s and 70s.Whos Who Orion

Theakston inked Kirby on the first two Super Powers miniseries, the Hunger Dogs graphic novel that concluded the saga of Orion and the New Gods, various entries for Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe, and the team-up of Superman and the Challengers of the Unknown in DC Comics Presents #84 written by Bob Rozakis.

I enjoyed Theakston’s work on these various titles.  In my mind, the stunning cover painting for The Hunger Dogs featuring Darkseid that he did over Kirby’s pencils is one of the best pieces Theakston ever produced.

(Theakston’s inking on the Alex Toth pages in DC Comics Presents #84 was unfortunately much less impressive.  In his defense I will say that when someone other than Toth himself inked his pencils, the majority of the time the results were underwhelming.)

Theakston also inked fellow Detroit native Arvell Jones’ pencils on Secret Origins #19 (Oct 1987).  Roy Thomas’ story recounted, and expended upon, the origins of the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion, characters who had been created by Simon & Kirby in 1942. Given his fondness for the work of Simon & Kirby in the 1940s, it was entirely appropriate for Theakston to work on this story. His inking for it certainly evoked the feel of Golden Age comic book artwork.Secret Origins 19 pg 19Theakston only worked for Marvel Comics on a couple of occasions.  Early in his career he painted the cover for Planet of the Apes #9 (June 1975) in Marvel’s black & white magazine line.  Almost a quarter century later Theakston painted a Kirby-inspired piece for the cover of the second Golden Age of Marvel Comics trade paperback (1999).

DC Comics Presents 84 cover smallIn 1975 Theakston founded the publishing company Pure Imagination.  Under that imprint he issued collected editions featuring a variety of Golden Age stories & artwork by such creators as Kirby, Alex Toth, Lou Fine, Wallace Wood, and Basil Wolverton.

Theakston developed a process for reprinting comic books that DC editor Dick Giordano later referred to as “Theakstonizing.”  As per What If Kirby, Theakstonizing “bleaches color from old comics pages, used in the restoration for reprinting.” Theakstonizing was used to publish a number of collections of Golden Age comic books in the 1980s and 90s, among these the early volumes of the DC Archives hardcovers.  Unfortunately the Theakstonizing process resulted in the destruction of the original comic book itself.  It’s a shame that so many old comics had to be destroyed to create the early DC Archives and other Golden Age reprints, but in those days before computer scanning that was the best way available to reproduce such old material. Additionally, as explained by Theakston’s ex-wife Nancy Danahy:

“Greg did everything to avoid destroying a valuable comic book for his Theakstonizing process. He would search for the ones with tattered, missing covers, or bent pages that devalued the book. It was only in a few instances that he used one in good condition, and only then if he knew the return on investment was worth it. He felt it would be better for the greater good to be able to share the work with more people than to let one book settle in a plastic bag on someone’s shelf.”

Beginning in 1987, Theakston also published the fan magazine The Betty Pages, dedicated to sexy pin-up model Bettie Page, of whom he was a huge fan.  Theakston is considered to be one of the people who helped bring Page back into the public consciousness, resulting in her once again becoming an iconic figure of American pop culture.  In the early 1990s Theakston conducted an extensive phone interview with Page that was published in The Betty Pages Annual Vol 2 in 1993.The Betty Pages Annual Vol 2 coverTheakston created several stunning, sexy paintings featuring Bettie Page.  One of my favorites is a striking piece featuring Page in short leopard-skin dress, silhouetted against a giant blue moon in the sky behind her, with two leopards crouching at her feet.  It saw print as the cover for The Betty Pages Annual Vol 2.Planet of the Apes 9 cover small

I can’t say I knew Greg Theakston very well. We met once in 2012, at the Comic Book Marketplace show in Manhattan, and we also corresponded by e-mail.  When I met him he certainly appeared flattered that I had gotten a tattoo of the Who’s Who pin-up of Beautiful Dreamer from the Forever People, which he had inked over Kirby’s pencils. He also appeared to appreciate my compliments concerning his work inking Kirby. Greg did a cute drawing of Bettie Page for me at that show in one of my convention sketchbooks.  He subsequently surprised me with a gift of his original inks for the Beautiful Dreamer piece, which I felt was a generous gesture.

I thought Greg was a talented artist who created some very beautiful paintings and illustrations.  All of my interactions with him were pleasant. I understand that over the years several others had much less amicable relations with him. Reportedly he was one of those people who could run very hot & cold, and that he was dealing with some personal issues.

Whatever the case, I do feel it’s unfortunate that Greg passed away. I know 65 is not young, but it’s not super-old either.  Judging by the reactions I have seen over the past week, he will certainly be missed by quite a few people, myself included.

 

Memories of Notre Dame Cathedral

I was saddened to hear about the fire that devastated Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France today. The Cathedral was an iconic structure in that city for centuries.  Construction of the Cathedral began in 1163 AD, and it was considered officially completed in 1345 AD.

In July 1996 I had the opportunity to attend a three week study abroad program in London, England, followed by a ten day trip across the European continent.  The major stops on the tour were Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam.

I was only in Paris for three days.  Our group attempted to see as much of that beautiful city in that short period as possible.  The tour guide made some, um, unusual choices, such as spending barely half an hour at the world famous Louvre Museum, but later that day going to a perfume factory for a two hour tour.  As one of the ladies in our group sarcastically muttered, “Where are the priorities?!?”

Nevertheless, despite the breakneck speed and a couple of questionable choices of stops, for the most part it was a memorable visit.  Fortunately one of the places we visited was Notre Dame Cathedral.

I am not a religious person, to say the least.  (I consider myself spiritual, and I believe faith is a matter best left up to the individual.) However, I readily acknowledge that Notre Dame Cathedral was an incredibly beautiful building, a stunning work of art and architecture.  The devastation of the building is a cultural, historical and artistic tragedy.  I hope France will be able to rebuild it.

Here are the photos I took of the Cathedral on that trip.  I was told this was the coldest summer in Europe in 20 years, which is why it looks like the middle of winter instead of in late July. Grey, overcast skies aside, I think the beauty of the Cathedral is apparent.  I’m grateful I had an opportunity to see it in person.

Notre Dame Cathedral 1996 photo 1

Notre Dame Cathedral 1996 photo 2

Notre Dame Cathedral 1996 photo 3

James D. Hudnall’s Alpha Flight: A Brief Retrospective

Writer James D. Hudnall passed away on April 9th.  His earliest professional work was Espers for Eclipse Comics in 1986.  Hudnall had numerous comic book credits, but I was most familiar with his nearly two year run on Alpha Flight from early 1989 to late 1990. He wrote issues #63 and #67-86.

Alpha Flight 67 cover smallAlpha Flight is a series that even its creator John Byrne admitted he didn’t really know quite what to do with it.  He has been quite vocal about the fact that he only created the Canadian super-hero team to be able to survive a fight with the X-Men.  Byrne was genuinely surprised when Alpha Flight became popular enough to receive their own series, and he took on the assignment with a certain reluctance.

Byrne wrote & penciled the first 28 issues of Alpha Flight.  He did good work, but by the end he felt he had literally run out on things to do with the characters.  After he left, the series somehow managed to last nearly another decade, experiencing a lot of ups & downs.

Byrne’s successor on Alpha Flight was writer Bill Mantlo, who worked with several artists during his three year stint on the series.  Mantlo’s run started off showing potential, and a number of the issues from his first couple years were enjoyable.  However towards the end things had definitely petered out.  At the time, when Hudnall came on in early 1989, it really was a breath of fresh air.  Although somewhat uneven, I regard Hudnall’s stint on Alpha Flight as one of the better post-Byrne periods. (Of course, as I always like to say, your mileage may vary.)

Hudnall’s first few issues of Alpha Flight had him wrapping up a some dangling subplots from Bill Mantlo’s run, including bringing to a close the team’s conflict with the Dreamqueen.  With that out of the way, with issue #71 Hudnall embarked on a lengthy story arc involving an incredibly powerful, seemingly-unstoppable mystical villain, Llan the Sorcerer.

Alpha Flight 72 pg 4

Alpha Flight 72 cover small

According to Hudnall the Sorcerer storyline was initially planned to run all the way to issue #100, with Llan as an overarching behind-the-scenes adversary dispatching such villains as the Master of the World and Zeitgeist against the team to distract them while his ambitious master plan came together.  However, a lukewarm reception and conflicts with editorial resulted in Hudnall being replaced as writer on the book.  This necessitated him giving his story a somewhat quick wrap-up in issue #86, with Doctor Strange being brought in to aid Talisman in defeating Llan.

Hudnall was probably overly ambitious with his plans for Alpha Flight.  I don’t know if the Sorcerer storyline really would have had enough substance to it to continue running for another year in order to make it to issue #100.  However, I cannot fault Hudnall for attempting to at least try to do something spectacular and long-ranging in a book that had recently been lacking in a solid, interesting direction.

Alpha Flight 73 pg 7

Hudnall explained his plans an interview conducted in the early 2000s by the website AlphaFlight.net:

“I wanted to make the book more in line with Byrne’s vision, which I felt was generally a good one. I liked Byrne’s run except he was kind of unfocused direction-wise. Probably because he was bored. So one of the things I did was try to give Alpha Flight more of a purpose. And try to make them unique in the Marvel Universe, not just by virtue of their nationality. I also wanted to show off Canada, so I did tons of research.”

It had been a number of years since I have read those issues, but from glancing over them again this week I did like how Hudnall worked to develop the character of Talisman.  It had been one of Talisman’s predecessors who had fought Llan the Sorcerer when he had last attacked Earth’s dimension 10,000 years earlier.  It now fell to the current Talisman, who was fairly young & inexperienced, to lead the battle against this incredibly formidable, cunning foe.

I am not certain exactly how successful Hudnall was in his execution of Talisman’s character development.  At times she came across less as focused & determined, and more as bossy & arrogant.  But I do appreciate that Hudnall at least attempted to make her the focus of his overall storyline.  I think Byrne came up with a fantastic design for the character, and it was nice to see her in the spotlight here.

Alpha Flight 78 pg 12

Another highlight of Hudnall’s run was having former Alpha Flight foe Diamond Lil join the team.  Lil had been involved in the events that had led to the death of Alpha’s original leader James Hudson, aka Guardian, which put her at odds with the team’s current leader, the widowed Heather Hudson, aka Vindicator. Complicating matters even further, Lil was the ex-girlfriend of Madison Jeffries, aka Box, who was now engaged to Heather.  It was apparent that there was still an attraction between Lil and Madison, and the resulting love triangle was present throughout the background of the Sorcerer storyline.

I also think having Lil join the cast offered an outsider’s perspective on some of the events.  It was interesting to see her gradual development from a one-time enemy who was regarded with suspicion to a trusted member of the team. Plus, during the “Acts of Vengeance” crossover we got to see go toe-to-toe with longtime Spider-Man villain the Scorpion, which was cool.Alpha Flight 80 pg 14

With the benefit of hindsight, Hudnall was doing on Alpha Flight what is now referred to as “writing for the trades,” i.e. writing a lengthy, complex storyline serialized in a monthly series that would later work as a complete novel when collected together in trade paperbacks.  I think that if I was to go back and read Hudnall’s entire Alpha Flight run in one go, rather than broken up into monthly installments, it would work much better now.

Alpha Flight 78 cover smallFor the majority of Hudnall’s time on Alpha Flight he was paired with penciler John Calimee.  I personally think Calimee was a fairly good, solid artist, albeit one who was not particularly flashy or dynamic. In other words, he got the job done, but perhaps that was not seen as sufficient enough at that point in time, when several red-hot artists were exploding in other Marvel titles.  Most of the issues Calimee penciled were inked by Mike Manley, a very talented artist whose work I have always enjoyed.

Other artists who worked on Alpha Flight during this time were Hugh Haynes, the great Filipino illustrator Gerry Talaoc and a fairly young up-and-coming Mark Bagley.  The incredibly talented James Sherman turned in one of his all-too-rare rare comic book jobs, providing full artwork for Alpha Flight #73.  That issue flashed back to the conflict between the original Talisman and the Sorcerer in prehistoric times.

Alpha Flight 83 pg 17

John Byrne himself unexpectedly returned to the series to draw a couple of covers.  Jim Lee, who did some of his earliest work on Alpha Flight, also contributed to a few covers during Hudnall’s run.

Regrettably, except for Haynes, there did not exist a good rapport between the writer and the various artists.  Subsequently Hudnall would express his opinion that Calimee in particular had been unable to effectively execute the visuals contained in the plots.  Hudnall also experienced a number of disagreements with his editors.  Whether all of this was due to Hudnall wanting to remain faithful to his ambitious vision, or an indication that he was a difficult person to collaborate with, is up to the individual to decide.Alpha Flight 81 cover small

Whatever the difficulties between Hudnall and his colleagues, as I said before, at the end of the day I personally do think that his run on Alpha Flight was pretty good.  Possibly it is my teenage nostalgia talking, but all these years later it remains memorable for me.

As for the artwork by Calimee & Manley, looking at it in 2019 with a fresh perspective, I find that I still like it. Calimee is, as I said, a solid artist who knows how to lay out a page and tell a story. Manley’s inking here provided a polished finish to the pencils. One of his artistic influences was the legendary Al Williamson, and that shows in the inking on these issues.

The lettering on all of these issues was by Janice Chiang. I’ve always liked her work. Looking at these issues for the first time in years, I can immediately identify that it’s her lettering. She’s one of the best letterers in the biz.

Alpha Flight 86 pg 21

In addition to Alpha Flight, Hudnall worked on Strikeforce: Morituri and the graphic novel The Agent for Marvel.  Over at DC Comics he wrote the very dark graphic novel Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography.  In the 1990s Hudnall worked on Malibu Comics’ well-regarded Ultraverse imprint, writing the series Hardcase and The Solution.  With artist Andrew Paquette he created Harsh Realm, a six issue miniseries published by Harris Comics that was later loosely adapted into a short-lived TV series.

About a decade ago Hudnall began writing for the ultra-conservative website Breitbart, and espousing views I found very disagreeable.  Nevertheless, despite how I felt about his politics, I was sorry to hear that in the last few years he was experiencing serious health problems.  It’s unfortunate that he died at a relatively young age, a day before his 62nd birthday.  He leaves behind a small but interesting and imaginative body of work.