Comic book reviews: Savage Dragon #193

After much anticipation, Savage Dragon #193 (“1st Issue in a Bold New Direction!”) is finally out from Image Comics, courtesy of writer / artist Erik Larsen.  Malcolm Dragon, son of the original Dragon, officially takes over as the series’ main character with this issue.

Larsen has been developing a number of subplots over the past couple of years, such as the majority of Chicago’s costumed crime-fighters leaving town and the psychotic Dart seizing control of the Vicious Circle crime cartel.  Wisely, he puts all of this on the back burner, and devotes the entirety of #193 to Malcolm’s story.

Savage Dragon 193 cover

The issue opens with a flashback to several years before, with a much younger Malcolm leaping into battle to help his father against a gang of monsters. At first Dragon thinks his son is in over his head, but Malcolm soon proves himself capable, leading his father to comment “Nicely done, kiddo. You did your old man proud.”  Larsen then jumps forward to the present, where Malcolm is transferring to a new high school.

Malcolm is an interesting variation on the concept of a teenage superhero.  Unlike Spider-Man or Nova or the original Captain Marvel, Malcolm has no secret identity; everyone knows exactly who he is.  Well, when you are big, muscular, with dark green skin and a fin on your head, it’s not exactly easy to be incognito!  The result is that Malcolm is something of an instant celebrity at his new school.  And, quite honestly, he is not particularly pleased with that.  His female classmates are throwing themselves at him because he’s famous and strange-looking, aggravating Malcolm all the more so because his long-time girlfriend Maxine, who he really cared for, just broke up with him because her parents didn’t want them dating.

Complicating Malcolm’s efforts to build a new life for himself, the Chicago Police Department keep calling him in to help out against super-powered criminals.  It’s not something Malcolm  especially enjoys, but working as a bounty hunter helps pay the rent, and he possesses the same sort of obligation his father also felt to help out people in need.

Malcolm’s battle with the monstrous Tantrum this issue is pretty brutal.  From day one, Larsen has made Savage Dragon a violent book.  Of course, one of the things that separated this series from so many “grim & gritty” comics is that it never glamorized the blood & gore.  Hell, half the time it was the title character, the first Dragon, who took a severe beating.  And he certainly never enjoyed killing his enemies, even though he was sometimes forced to do so by circumstances.  The same is definitely true of Malcolm, who is left in a downbeat mood in the aftermath of his fight with Tantrum.

The only really positive note in Malcolm’s day is a trip to prison to visit his now-unpowered father.  Even though he obviously wishes his father was a free man, it’s obvious that Malcolm is glad to see him.  The elder Dragon tells his son that he is “very proud” of him, nicely bringing things full circle to the opening of the story.

Savage Dragon 193 pg 7

There was a three month lag between this issue and the last.  I have to tell you, as a reader it was frustrating waiting for #193 to come out.  But considering Larsen writes, pencils, and inks Savage Dragon all on his own, and he also delves into the occasional side project, he just isn’t always able to release a new issue each and every month.  Additionally, Larsen’s father passed away during the creation of this issue.  Given those unfortunate circumstances, it is very understandable that issue #193 ran a little behind schedule.  In any case, I’ve always felt that this series was worth the wait.  I would rather see Larsen take the extra time to create a great story than churn out a new issue every 30 days like clockwork.  Besides, compared the some of the other artists in the comic book biz nowadays, he’s a veritable speed demon!

Oh, yes, we did also get some nice pin-ups courtesy of Skottie Young, Ruben Rojas, Angel Hernandez and Simon Williams.  My favorites were the ones by Hernandez and Rojas, which both featured great depictions of Malcolm and his sister Angel, but Young and Williams also did nice work.  I’d enjoy seeing any of these artists contribute to Savage Dragon again.  Perhaps they could draw some back-up stories.  I’ve always enjoyed those.  They’ve been a great way to spotlight both the members of the immense supporting cast and the various talented artists out there.

Speaking of which, I see from the advertisement on the back cover that former “Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies” contributor Michel Fiffe has a new book coming out entitled Copra.  I’ll have to check that one out.

Diving into the back issue bins

After weeks of cold and snow, we finally got some rather pleasant weather here in New York City yesterday, with temperatures actually climbing to around 55 degrees.  Michele and I were happy to be able to get out of the apartment.  We spent most of the afternoon in Manhattan, walking around the West Village after having lunch in a nice Greek place.

Earlier this week, when I was on the M Train heading into work, I was reading a trade paperback, namely Mister Miracle by Jack Kirby.  A guy sitting next to me asked “Are you a Jack Kirby fan?”  I answered that I was, and we ended up talking about comic books for a few minutes.  Right before the guy got off the train, he asked me which comic shops I went to in the city.  I mentioned the usual places: Midtown Comics, Forbidden Planet, and Jim Hanley’s Universe.  He commented that he liked Roger’s Time Machine.  I replied that I hadn’t been there in over five years, and I hadn’t even been sure they were still in business.

So, there I was on Saturday with Michele in the West Village, walking uptown.  She asked me if I wanted to go anywhere in particular.  I remembered my conversation on the subway a few days before, and I mentioned Roger’s Time Machine.  By now we were only a few blocks south of West 14th Street, which is where they were located, so we decided to head over.

It turned out that Roger’s Time Machine is now known as Mysterious Island.  But they still have the same incredible selection of back issues that I remembered from my last visit.  It’s a good thing that I was on a budget and that Michele was there because, wow, I probably could have spent a couple of hours browsing.  As it was, I did end up picking up several cool back issues.

back issues

My first selections were Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #s 226 to 229.  Those comics feature (37 year old spoiler alert) the first appearance of Dawnstar (designed by artist Mike Grell) and the death of Chemical King.  I’ve wanted to read these stories for quite some time, so I’m glad I’m finally going to have the opportunity.

I then took a look through the section of Bronze Age back issues for smaller companies, with an eye to finding some Charlton horror comics.  The store had quite a few, and I selected Ghostly Haunts #39 and Haunted Love #s 4 & 10.  I also came across several books published by the short-lived Atlas Comics in the mid-1970s.  One of these was the first (and only) issue of Demon Hunter, which was plotted & illustrated by Rich Buckler, with a script by David Anthony Kraft.  Demon Hunter’s career may have been cut unceremoniously short, but a year and a half later Buckler & Kraft introduced the very similar Devil-Slayer within the pages of the Deathlok story in Marvel Spotlight #33.

Finally, from the 99 cent long boxes, I picked out a couple other things.  I found Secret Origins #26, featuring a Black Lightning story by his creator Tony Isabella.  I wasn’t even aware of this issue previously, so it was a pleasant surprise.  And for Michele, I bought Howard the Duck #8, the issue where Steve Gerber’s cigar-chomping misanthropic mallard ran for President.

All in all, I came away with a nice haul, as well as an affordable one.  I’m looking forward to reading this selection of Bronze Age goodness.

Mysterious Island is located at 207 West 14th Street, 2nd Floor, right by Seventh Avenue.  I highly recommend stopping by there.  They’ve got a lot of really great stuff.

Christopher Barry: 1925 – 2014

Veteran British television director Christopher Barry passed away on February 7th at the age of 88.  Among his numerous credits was a long association with Doctor Who which began in 1963 and continued on and off until 1979.  This made him one of only three people to have directed William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker on the show.  Barry was interviewed at length in 2002 in Doctor Who Magazine #s 314 to 316, wherein he admitted “I didn’t like being stereotyped as a Doctor Who director.”  Nevertheless, he did very good work on the series, and is fondly remembered for his important contributions.

Barry was, with Richard Martin, the co-director of the second Doctor Who serial “The Daleks” in December 1963, which featured the debut of the Doctor’s instantly iconic arch foes.  Barry and Martin worked together closely in the planning of the seven-episode production, with Barry himself directing parts 1, 2, 4 and 5.  He conceived the famous first episode cliffhanger, shot from a Dalek’s viewpoint, with a plunger-like appendage gliding towards Barbara Wright, who screamed in terror, leaving audiences to wait an entire week to find out exactly what was menacing the schoolteacher.  Barry’s thinking was “Good thriller directors suggest terror rather than explicitly showing it.”  In episode two, Barry was responsible for the first full-shot reveal of the Daleks, as the camera rapidly pulled back from the Doctor, Ian Chesterton, and Susan to show them surrounded by Skaro’s strange, fearsome mutants.

Daleks episode two reveal

A historic reveal: the Daleks make their debut.

Barry directed three other Hartnell stories, “The Rescue,” “The Romans” and “The Savages.” His last contribution to the show’s first decade was directing “The Power of the Daleks” in 1966, which featured Patrick Trougton’s debut as the second incarnation of the Doctor.  Unfortunately this entire six part serial is currently missing from the BBC archives, bar a few short clips that give a tantalizing glimpse of the production.

Five years later Barry returned to Doctor Who.  Jon Pertwee was now playing the lead role, and Barry directed two of his stories, “The Daemons” (1971) and “The Mutants” (1972).  I have unfortunately not had an opportunity to view either of those stories in a number of years, and I have rather foggy memories.  Nevertheless, I do vaguely recall that “The Daemons” was a good story.  Many other fans of the series have cited it as one of their all time favorite stories.  I’ll have to pick it up on DVD one of these days.

In late 1974 Barry was brought in to direct Tom Baker’s debut as the Doctor in “Robot,” written by Terrance Dicks.  This one I have seen a number of times, and the direction is definitely dramatic and suspenseful.  Barry certainly used the eponymous Robot very effectively.  In real life it was probably a cumbersome prop / costume, but Barry makes it appear a menacing figure.  Aside from a few poorly realized special effects in the final episode, it’s a good, solid introduction for Baker.

Brain of Morbius Philip Madoc

Philip Madoc as Solon in “The Brain of Morbius.”

Barry would direct two more of Baker’s serials.  “The Brain of Morbius” (1976) is another of those stories considered a classic by many long-time fans.  It is an interesting, moody, Grand Guignol pastiche of Frankenstein, once again written by Terrance Dicks, albeit with heavy revisions by script editor Robert Holmes.  Barry once again did great work on this story.  He was responsible for the brilliant casting of actor Philip Madoc as the fanatical mad scientist Mehendri Solon.  As Barry explained, “I knew he had a strong presence, and was capable of almost manic intensity, which he indeed conveyed brilliantly.”

It is unfortunate that Barry’s final contribution to Doctor Who was the 1979 serial “The Creature from the Pit.”  This one is often regarded as a rather mediocre affair.  Aside from a somewhat shaky plot, the main point of contention is the alien Erato, a giant green glowing blob-like entity that was inexplicably given a phallic-looking appendage.  Tom Baker, never one to resist an opportunity for humor, infamously had the Doctor attempt to communicate with Erato by blowing into said appendage!  Quite understandably, this caused quite a commotion behind the cameras.

Creature from the Pit Erato

Move along now, nothing to see here.

Barry only accepted the job of directing “The Creature from the Pit” due to having an unexpected hole in his schedule right when it was offered to him, and needing the work.  He acknowledges that, in hindsight, it was not the best note on which to depart from the series, and he found the whole production, as well as the uproar over the poor conception of the Creature, to have been a trying experience.

Despite the fact that Barry would have preferred to have been recognized for the diverse range of productions that he directed on British television, in the end he acknowledged that he was satisfied with most of the work that he did on Doctor Who.  Certainly he was a talented, thoughtful director who played a key role in some of the series’ most significant moments, and who helped bring to life several of its most revered stories.

Valentine’s Day artwork: Captain America and Diamondback

I’ve been collecting original comic book artwork since I was in high school.  Obviously I’ve never had any especially prominent pages in my collection.  But I’ve obtained several nice pieces over the years, some of which have sentimental value due to the creators who worked on them or the storylines that they were from.  Although I’ve unfortunately had to sell off some pages that I liked in order to help pay the bills, I’ve fortunately been able to hold on to others that really mean a lot to me.

One of these pieces is the original artwork that the super-talented Kieron Dwyer drew for the cover corner box art that appeared on the covers of Captain America #s 357 to 365, during the bi-weekly story arc “The Bloodstone Hunt” and its epilogue.  It was also used as the front page image for the 2010 printing of the trade paperback.

(And it has suddenly occurred to me that “The Bloodstone Hunt” was originally published in the summer of 1989, nearly 25 years ago.  Wow, it really has been that long, hasn’t it?)

I have always liked that corner box image.  It perfectly summed up the unrequited love Diamondback, the bad girl from the wrong side of the tracks, had for the all-American icon that was Captain America.  I remember being 13 years old, seeing this on the covers of those issues, and thinking how striking & poignant an image it was.  Also, at that age, I had a crush on Diamondback.  What can I say… puberty, y’know?  So obtaining the original artwork for this was really amazing.  I’m grateful to Dwyer for his generosity.

Captain America Bloodstone Hunt corner box art

As today is Valentine’s Day, it’s the perfect time to spotlight this piece.  Cap and Diamondback were certainly an unusual pairing, but writer Mark Gruenwald did interesting work developing their relationship during his decade-long run on the series from 1985 to 1995.

Diamondback, real name Rachel Leighton, first appeared in Captain America #310.  At first she appeared to be the unlikeliest of women to become involved with Steve Rogers.  The product of a dysfunctional family and a traumatic childhood, Rachel turned to crime in her teenage years.  She eventually adopted her costumed identity after her brother introduced her to long-time supervillain the Trapster.  It’s implied that in exchange for the Trapster designing her weaponry, Rachel slept with him.

Diamondback joined the mercenary organization known as the Serpent Society, which brought her into conflict with Cap on several occasions.  Their first meeting was hardly auspicious, as DB attacked Cap with poison-tipped diamonds, only to hesitate because she wondered “Do I really want to do this to such a hunk?”  Shortly after, in another encounter, DB tried to force Cap into frisking her for the ignition key to her Serpent Saucer.  The sexually conservative Cap understandably refused her advances, prompting the rebuffed DB to angrily reply “You cold fish!”

That would seem to be the end of that.  But some time afterwards, when the nihilist subversive the Viper staged a violent take-over of the Serpent Society, DB realized the only person who she could rely on to help her out was Cap.  After calling him in, DB assisted Cap in thwarting the Viper’s plan to poison Washington DC.

This led up to “The Bloodstone Hunt” a year later.  While casing the Museum of Natural History, Diamondback comes across Baron Zemo and Batroc, who were seeking to assemble the scattered fragments of the mystical Bloodstone.  Once again Diamondback had to call in Cap for assistance.  The super solider reluctantly teamed up with her in pursuing Zemo and Batroc across the globe.  Along the way, they also crossed paths with the brutal, sadistic mercenary Crossbones (who was co-created by Gruenwald & Dwyer) working in the employ of Cap’s arch-enemy the Red Skull.

Captain America 362 cover

I really enjoyed “The Bloodstone Hunt.”  It was among Gruenwald’s strongest writing on the series.  At the time Dwyer was relatively new to the comic book biz, but he was already doing great work, teamed with veteran Filipino artist Danny Bulanadi on inks.  This arc established Diamondback as an ongoing member of the book’s supporting cast for the remainder of Gruenwald’s run.

I’ll readily admit that, in hindsight, the quality of Gruenwald’s work on Captain America was at times inconsistent.  That included his approach to the relationship between Steve and Rachel, which had a hell of a lot of ups & downs to it.  Nevertheless, on the whole I did like how he nurtured the character of Diamondback, over time transforming her from a one-dimensional flirty airhead to a nuanced, complex individual.  To this day she remains a favorite of mine.

After Gruenwald departed Captain America in 1995, he was succeeded by Mark Waid, who brought Steve Roger’s long-time paramour Sharon Carter back from the grave.  Within a few years, Steve and Sharon were back together as a couple.  Since then, Diamondback has bounced around the Marvel Comics universe, serving not just as an occasional ally of Cap but also as a mercenary, a member of the Avengers Initiative and an agent of SHIELD.  Although it seems unlikely that she and Cap are ever going to become romantically involved again, I still look back fondly on those old stories where the two of them were fighting crime side by side while trying to figure out their feelings for one another.

Comic book reviews: Wynonna Earp “The Yeti Wars”

So here we are, getting some more snow.  I guess this would be a perfect opportunity to take a look at a Winter-themed story.  Time to dig out my copy of Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars, an action / horror  extravaganza written by Beau Smith, with artwork by Enrique Villagran, published by IDW.

Wynonna Earp made her debut at Image Comics back in 1997.  She is the creation of Beau Smith, sometimes known as “the manliest man in comics.” I first discovered Beau’s work during his two year run writing Guy Gardner: Warrior. Before this, I’d never really liked the former Green Lantern.  I think that too many writers, in trying to make him as different as possible from Hal Jordan, made Guy a major jerk who acted like a moron with a short fuse.  Beau transformed Guy into a tough but likable hero, a gruff, no-nonsense figure who backed up his big talk with genuine guts & courage.  And I really enjoyed the supporting cast Beau gave Guy.

Back when the first Wynonna Earp series came out, it unfortunately slipped under my radar.  I was probably buying too much other stuff at the time.  The character finally came to my attention a decade later in late 2010, when IDW released The Yeti Wars as both a graphic novel and a miniseries.

Wynonna Earp Yeti Wars cover

Wynonna Earp is a supernatural action series about the beautiful, tough-as-nails descendent of Wyatt Earp.  As a member of the US Marshals Black Badge Division, Wynonna Earp ropes in all manner of supernatural criminals and horrific monsters, all while keeping a biting wit.

The Yeti Wars sees Earp and her associates in the US Marshalls tracking down Dr. Billy Joe Robidoux, a brilliant but twisted genetic engineer, a Frankenstein from south of the Mason-Dixon Line.  After the Black Badge Division raid Robidoux’s lab in California, the not-so-good doctor flees to the snowy wilderness of Alaska with the help of the supernatural crime cartel known as the Immortalis Consortium.  Bringing in the US Marshalls’ rough & tough ordinance specialist Smitty, the Black Badge Division head north in pursuit of their mad scientist quarry.  They soon discover that the immortal agents of the Consortium have a very special, savage line of defense: a pack of large, ferocious, hungry Yeti.  Wynonna calls in reinforcements, namely North America’s answer to the Abominable Snowmen, a tribe of Sasquatches in the Marshalls’ employ.  Soon it is all out war as Yeti versus Bigfoot, human versus immortal, and Wynonna slices & dices her way through the bad guys with an alien sword.

As you can no doubt discern from the above summary, Beau Smith writes Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars with a rather tongue-in-cheek manner.  That is not to say The Yeti Wars is silly; rather, Smith writes a serious story while effectively imbuing it with plenty of humor.  I think that is one of the major problems with both Marvel and DC nowadays, a lack of a real sense of fun.  Most of the editors at the Big Two seem to be under the impression that fun equals stupid, which is totally not the case.  Just look at the Indiana Jones and Star Wars movies.  Those are serious stories, but Lucas, Spielberg and their collaborators always infused the dialogue and situations with a fair amount of wit and comedy.  Likewise, Smith recognizes that you can write a serious comic book and still have a lot of fun with it.  That was one of the qualities he brought to Guy Gardner, and it is likewise a significant aspect of Wynonna Earp.

Beau Smith actually includes a very thinly veiled fictional version of himself via Smitty.  Ordinarily that might be a recipe for disaster.  But Smith brings quite a bit of self-deprecating humor to his comic book counterpart, making for a fun, engaging character who, like his creator, does not seem to take himself or anything else too seriously.  The chemistry between the relatively young Wynonna and the middle aged Smitty is fantastic, with a lot of smart-ass banter about sex, booze and guns.  But underneath it all is a clear mutual respect between two professionals who pride themselves on their work while recognizing the weird, ridiculous aspects of the situations in which they often find themselves.

Wynonna Earp Yeti Wars pg 67

Argentine artist Enrique Villagran does superb work on The Yeti Wars.  As I understand it, Villagran has had a lengthy career, although most of his work has been published outside of the United States.  He did some work in the late 1980s for independent publishers Now and Eclipse, as well a few jobs at DC and Marvel in the 1990s.  Villagran has a very European style to his work.  It reminds me a bit of Jordi Bernet.

One of the qualities I liked about Villagran’s art on The Yeti Wars is that he brought a very natural beauty to Wynonna Earp.  In some earlier appearances, I think that the character was perhaps drawn as a bit too much of a pin-up girl or a porn star.  Wynonna, as rendered by Villagran, is certainly a very attractive woman, but at the same time she is also a tough, athletic figure.  You can really see her having the strength & stamina to go toe-to-toe with all manner of supernatural, inhuman lawbreakers.

I’m also glad that Villagran actually drew Wynonna in sensible clothing.  Yeah, alright, if she’s tracking inhuman felons across the Southwestern US, maybe leather pants and a tank top aren’t too impractical.  But is you’re brawling with Yeti in the sub-zero backwoods of Alaska, something a little warmer is probably a good idea.

Wynonna Earp and Nettie

One other reason why I picked this one up: I have a yeti at home.  Well, okay, I actually have a cat named Nettie.  But she is a long-haired Himalayan who at times has a more than passing resemblance to an abominable snowman.  Michele and I are convinced that she must have one or more yeti in her family tree.  We sometimes refer to her as “Nettie the Yeti” or “The Abominable Snowkitten,” and believe me when I say that she often lives up to those nicknames!

IDW still has Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars available through their website.  They previously released The Complete Wynonna Earp in 2005, which collected the earlier material.  That one is out of print, but I am sure there are copies floating around somewhere.  It’s a fun series, and I recommend checking it out.  And I hope Beau has the opportunity to return to writing Wynonna and the Black Badge Division’s adventures in the near future.

Happy birthday to Rich Buckler

Yep, it’s time to celebrate another comic book birthday.  Today is the 65th birthday of prolific Bronze Age legend Rich Buckler, who was born on February 6, 1949.

Buckler, a native of Detroit, first broke into the biz in the late 1960s.  By 1971, he was already doing work for both DC and Marvel.  One of his earliest assignments at Marvel was a short stint penciling Avengers in 1972.  Paired with writer Roy Thomas, Buckler illustrated a memorable three part tale featuring the mutant-hunting Sentinels.  His cover art for issue #103 is definitely an iconic image.

Avengers 103 cover

In late 1973, Buckler was given the chance to draw Fantastic Four.  A huge fan of Jack Kirby’s work, Buckler jumped at the opportunity.  He became only the third regular penciler on the series, following in the footsteps of Kirby and John Buscema.  I know that subsequently certain readers were critical of Buckler of emulating Kirby too closely.  Yes, there is a tremendous amount of Kirby’s influence on display in Buckler’s work on the title.  However it is important to keep the historical backdrop in mind.  Kirby had been penciling Fantastic Four for a full decade.  He was followed by Buscema, another artist who helped to define the Marvel “house style” of the 1960s and 70s.  At the time, Fantastic Four was one of Marvel’s flagship titles.  So we can regard Buckler as following their lead in maintaining the visual constisency of the series.  In any case, Buckler has stated that his work on Fantastic Four was an affectionate homage to Kirby.

It is also crucial to recognize that Buckler was paired up with longtime series inker Joe Sinnott.  I think that some people underestimate the key role Sinnott had in contributing to the final look of the artwork on many of the classic Kirby-penciled stories.  So it is not all too surprising that when Buckler was subsequently inked by Sinnott on Fantastic Four, there were certain similarities.

Giant-Size Fantastic Four  3 double page spread

One needs only look at Giant-Size Fantastic Four #3, published in November 1973, to see Buckler’s skill as an artist.  “Where Lurks Death, Rides the Four Horsemen” was co-written by Marv Wolfman & Gerry Conway.  Buckler’s pencils for this tale are magnificent and awe-inspiring.  His richly detailed opening double-page spread of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse galloping through outer space is stunning and dynamic.

In 1974, Buckler created the groundbreaking cyborg anti-hero Deathlok in the pages of Astonishing Tales, collaborating with scripter Doug Moench (I did an in-depth blog post about that series last year, so click on this link to check it out).  Buckler’s versatility as an artist was certainly on display in these stories, featuring some of the first examples of surrealism in his work.

After working primarily at Marvel for most of the decade, in late 1976 Buckler shifted over to DC.  He contributed to a diverse selection of titles over the next several years, including Justice League of America and World’s Finest, as well as numerous covers.  In 1981 Buckler penciled the first several issues of Roy Thomas’ World War II superhero saga All-Star Squadron, with then-newcomer Jerry Ordway contributing inks.  A few years ago  Buckler and Ordway re-teamed to render a magnificent cover illustration for the 100th issue of Roy Thomas’ superb magazine Alter Ego published by TwoMorrows.

Alter Ego 100 cover

In 1983, Buckler served as the Managing Editor of Archie Comics’ superhero imprint Red Circle.  He was instrumental in bringing onboard such talented creators as Steve Ditko, Dick Ayers, Rudy Nebres, Alex Toth and Jim Steranko.  Buckler himself worked on Mighty Crusaders, The Shield, The Fly and various other books.  Although the 1980s Red Circle books only lasted a couple of years, they had some good writing and stories.

Buckler’s time at Archie actually provided him with his one and only opportunity to collaborate with his idol, Jack Kirby.  Buckler has observed that when he was at Marvel in the early 1970s, Kirby was at DC.  Then, when Buckler moved over the DC in the mid-1970s, Kirby returned to Marvel.  Somehow they kept missing each other.  Buckler at last had the chance to ink Kirby’s work when the King penciled the cover for Blue Ribbon Comics #5 featuring the Shield.

During the second half of the 1980s, Buckler was back at Marvel, once again working on a variety of projects.  He penciled Spectacular Spider-Man for a year, during which time one of Peter David’s earliest stories, “The Death of Jean DeWolff,” appeared.  Buckler also worked on Iron Man, a Havok serial in Marvel Comics Presents, and had a brief return to the pages of Fantastic Four.

Saga of the Sub-Mariner 4 cover

Buckler also once again collaborated with Roy Thomas on a pair of miniseries chronicling the histories of Marvel’s two earliest characters.  Roy Thomas and his wife Dann co-wrote the twelve-issue Saga of the Sub-Mariner, a detailed examination of the moody, tempestuous Prince Namor of Atlantis.  A year later, in 1990, Thomas penned the four part Saga of the Original Human Torch, a history of Jim Hammond, the android crimefighter from the 1940s and 50s who had recently been revived in the pages of Avengers West Coast.  These two miniseries provided Buckler with an opportunity to pencil decades of Marvel’s historical events and a variety of heroes & villains.

(Thomas skipped out on recounting the Torch’s battle with the grotesque, multi-headed Un-Human, which originally saw print in the pages of Marvel Super-Heroes #16.  Too bad, I would have enjoyed seeing Buckler render that peculiar monstrosity!)

Most of Bucker’s work in the 1990s was on independent and small press titles.  I think that, as with a number of other Bronze Age creators, his art style was unfortunately being regarded by short-sighted editors as “old fashioned.”  Which is a real shame, because if you look at Buckler’s current work, you will see that he is as good an artist as ever.

Rich Buckler self portrait

In the absence of new comic book projects, Buckler focused on his work as a painter.  He has created a number of very beautiful surrealist pieces.  This has brought him acclaim in Europe, where he has exhibited his paintings.

I’ve met Rich Buckler several times at comic conventions over the years.  He is definitely a very nice guy, as well as a talented artist.  I’ve obtained a few really lovely convention sketches from him.  He’s spoken of his continued interest in creating comic books, incorporating his love of surrealism.  I’d certainly like to see that happen, and I hope he has the opportunity to work on that project.

(A big “thank you” to Buckler for his e-mail response to this post, in which he corrected a few factual mistakes and incorrect assumptions on my part. I’ve attempted to revise this piece accordingly for more accuracy.)

Doctor Who reviews: Wirrn Dawn

I definitely have a fondness for Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor.  The 1996 Doctor Who television movie may have been a flawed production, but I felt McGann himself was amazing in it.  I also was a fan of McGann from the brilliant cult classic dark comedy Withnail and I.  So I’ve always thought it was a shame that he had only that one outing as the Doctor on TV.

Of course, McGann has reprised the role of the Doctor in numerous Big Finish audio plays over the past 13 years.  And then, to everyone’s great surprise, especially my own, he appeared in the mini episode “The Night of the Doctor,” which revealed how his incarnation came to an end, and he became the War Doctor.  Watching “The Night of the Doctor,” I was reminded of just how much I enjoyed McGann as the Doctor, and I set out to listen to some more of his Big Finish adventures.

“Wirrn Dawn,” written by Nicholas Briggs, was released in 2009.  It’s interesting to listen to it now, because in many ways it has similarities with “The Night of the Doctor.”  In his script, Briggs plops the Doctor and his companion Lucie Miller (Sheridan Smith) right in the middle of a horrific war zone.  The Doctor, especially at this point in his long life, does not want to be a warrior.  He looks upon the carnage taking place, as the human race and the Wirrn come into conflict, shakes his head sadly, but does not want to become involved.  He will not fight, and he believes the chances of bringing about a peaceful resolution are slim to none.  Yes, he tries to help out a little bit where he can, but his primary goal is to get Lucie and himself safely back to the TARDIS.

Wirrn Dawn

Briggs’ story is extremely morally ambiguous. He takes the brief explanatory dialogue from the serials “The Ark in Space” and “The Sontaran Experiment” and effectively extrapolates from it a detailed account of humanity’s expansion across the galaxy, and their war with the insectoid Wirrn.  From the Wirrin’s point of view, the Galsec settlers are not colonists but invaders of their ancestral worlds.  To the xenophobic humans who are attempting to find a new home, the Wirrn are savage, hideous bugs whose practice of laying their eggs in living beings is horrific.

The Doctor takes on a role here much as he has in stories featuring another species involved in a morally complicated conflict with humanity, namely the Silurians.  As a centuries-old alien, the Doctor has the wisdom and experience to recognize that both the Galsec settlers and the Wirrn have legitimate points of view.  Human beings are very capable of monstrous acts.  At the same time, he acknowledges that the idea of being used as living incubators for alien eggs that consume their hosts, both mind and body, is a repulsive concept.

“It isn’t a matter of right and wrong,” the Doctor tries to explain. “It’s to do with survival, nature’s way.”  Reflecting on whether he is correct in his assessment of the situation, he goes on to add “The older I get, the less sure I am about anything.”  McGann does an excellent job with the material.

This is the first story I’ve listened to featuring Sheridan Smith as Lucie.  She reminds me somewhat of a cross between Tegan Jovanka and Rose Tyler.  She definitely has an assertive attitude and won’t accept nonsense from the Doctor or anyone else.  But she also possesses a genuine fondness for the Time Lord.  Her empathy and caring plays a major part in the resolution of the story.

I quite enjoyed “Wirrn Dawn.”  It was an interesting, thought-provoking story with strong performances from both McGann and Smith.  It certainly caused me to have even more interest in picking up some more of the Eighth Doctor’s recent Big Finish adventures, time and budget willing.  Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity soon.