Today is the 100th birthday of Golden Age comic book artist Lily Renée, who was born on May 12, 1921.
Lily Renée Wilheim was born in Vienna, Austria to an upper middle class Jewish family. Renée had an interest in art & illustration from an early age, drawing as a hobby and visiting art museums. As she recounted in an interview conducted by Jim Amash in 2008 for Alter Ego from TwoMorrows Publishing:
“I drew clowns, ballerinas, tigers, and scenes that depicted what you would see in theatres. My parents took me to the theatre, where I saw some ballets, and I also went to dance classes. When I was older, I went to the opera twice a year with my school.”
In 1939 the 14 year old Renée was forced to flee Austria a year after the Nazis occupied the country in the Anschluss. Renée was placed by her parents on a Kindertransport (Childern’s Transport) ship which was part of the movement that helped thousands of children escape from Nazi-controlled Europe ahead of World War II. She arrived in Leeds, England, and went to stay with a family in nearby Horseforth whose daughter she had previously been corresponding with. Unfortunately the family that took her in believed they were getting an unpaid servant. The next year and a half was a difficult period for Renée as she struggled to survive in a foreign country, not knowing if her parents were alive or dead.
Finally in 1941 Renée received a letter from her parents explaining that they had escaped to the United States. She hoped to join them, but her efforts were hindered by the British authorities. By now World War II had broken out, and Renée was suspected of being an “enemy alien” due to her possessing an expensive camera that had belonged to her family. She attempted to sneak out of the country, but was caught; however an anonymous stranger intervened and negotiated her release, and she was able to travel to New York City by ship.
Life in New York City in the early 1940s was a struggle for the Wilheim family, who had been left completely bereft. Crammed into a small alongside other refugees, they attempted to make ends meet. Renée took on various artistic odd jobs to help out, such as painting wooden boxes, illustrating catalogs for the Woolworth’s department store, and modeling:
“There was somebody named Jane Turner, a very well-known fashion illustrator, who liked the way I moved, so she asked me to model for her at home in a lovely townhouse. The clothes were sent from the department store, and I was dressed in all these elegant dresses while she would draw me. Then I would go home in my old, outmoded clothes, and that was weird.”
Renée’s mother saw an advertisement in the newspaper from comic book publisher Fiction House looking for artists. Renée had no knowledge of or interest in comic books, but she applied for the position in order to help her family. It was low-paying, unglamorous work, and Renée was uncomfortable working alongside the mostly male staff of Fiction House, many of whom would make crude comments to her, but she stuck with it out of necessity.
Despite the fact that Renée understandably saw comic book illustration as a means to an end, a way to pay the bills and put food on the table, she nevertheless produced exceptional, beautiful work during her short career in the field. Her pages were also distinctive for the highly unusual layouts and panel shapes she utilized.
After starting out erasing pencil lines on inked artwork and drawing backgrounds, she began regularly illustrating the adventures of aviatrix Jane Martin beginning with Wings Comics #31 (cover-dated March 1943) from Fiction House. Another of the features Renée worked on was The Werewolf Hunter beginning in Rangers Comics #16 (April 1944):
“Eventually, they tried me out on a feature, which was one that nobody wanted to do: “Werewolf Hunter.” I made it into something else because I didn’t want to draw wolves. I talked to the writer and convinced him it should be about magic, where people change into other creatures, not werewolves. So we did that, and it became quite popular.”
Starting with Planet Comics #32 (Sept 1944) Renée also began drawing the post-apocalyptic sci-fi / fantasy feature The Lost World.
The character Renée would become most associated with was Senorita Rio, a glamorous Hollywood actress & stuntwoman who, after her fiancé was killed during Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, faked her own death so that she could become a secret agent for the Allied Forces, fighting against the Axis Powers behind enemy lines.
Introduced in Fight Comics #19 (June 1942), Senorita Rio was created by artist Nick Cardy. Renée began drawing the feature with Fight Comics #35 (Dec 1944) and she quickly established herself as the definitive artist at depicting Senorita Rio’s thrilling, exotic adventures combating Nazi spies and fascist agents throughout South America. Renée was the regular artist on the Senorita Rio feature for the next three years.
“And I just wanted to say with all these comic strips and also this name Senorita Rio, it’s sort of like a fantasy. Senorita Rio got clothes that I couldn’t have, you know, she had a leopard coat and she wore these high-end shoes and all of this and had adventures and was very daring and beautiful and sexy and glamorous and all of that.”
It was also cathartic for Renée, a beautiful young woman whose existence had been upended by Nazi oppression, to draw the adventures of a character who looked much like herself fighting against the scourge of fascism:
“I could live out a fantasy, if only on paper. It was a form of revenge.”
Due to her signing her work for Fiction House as “L. Renée” or “L.R.” for a number of years it was not known that she was one of the early female artists in the comic book field.
In 1947 Renée married artist Eric Peters, another refugee from Vienna who had fled the country after his political cartoons earned the ire of the Nazis. In 1948 Fiction House relocated outside of New York. Finding work at St. John Publications, Renée and Peters worked together illustrating several issues of Abbott and Costello Comics. Renée and Peters proved very adept at drawing the comedic misadventures of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Regarding the division of labor between them, Renée explained:
“[Eric] drew the Abbott and Costello characters, and I drew the girls, and did all the inking.”
Renée also drew stories for the various romance titles published by St. John. It was at St. John that Renée began signing her work with her full name.
Renée left comic books in the early 1950s, moving into freelance illustration, textile design and jewelry design, all of which at the time were regarded as much more respectable fields. She wrote two children’s books. After her husband passed away in 1990, Renée began taking classes at Hunter College, which inspired her to write several plays.
Renée’s work in comic books was rediscovered in the early 2000s when one of her granddaughters contacted comic book creator & historian Trina Robbins. In 2007 Renée was a guest at the San Diego Comic Con and was nominated to the Friends of Lulu Hall of Fame. An illustrated biography, Lily Renée, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer, written by Robbins and drawn by Anne Timmons & Mo Oh, was published by Graphic Universe in November 2011.
Renée’s signature character Senorita Rio lives on, having been revived in 1985 by Bill Black of AC Comics to be one of the founding members of the all-female superhero team Femforce. AC has also reprinted a number of the Senorita Rio stories drawn by Renée. Fantagraphics reprinted several stories drawn by Renée in The Comics Journal #279 (Nov 2006).
The comic books published by Fiction House and St. John have entered the public domain and can be read on the Comic Book Plus website. The Grand Comics Database appears to have a fairly comprehensive listing of the stories Lily Renée drew. If you have not seen her beautiful, detailed artwork before then I definitely encourage you to view it online.
Lily Renée is a remarkable woman who showed great fortitude in surviving tremendous hardship during her teenage years. I am glad that she eventually was able to make a new life for herself here in the United States, and that she has lived long enough to see her beautiful comic book artwork be rediscovered to be appreciated by new generations of fans.
When I first got into comic books in the second half of the 1980s, and continued reading them as a teenager in the 1990s, one of the names I would frequently see in the credits was Keith Williams. He worked on numerous series: Alpha Flight, Transformers, Action Comics, Web of Spider-Man, Quasar, Robocop, Sensational She-Hulk, U.S.Agent, Ravage 2099, The Mask, Star Wars, and so on.
Keith is one of the various comic book creators who I have been fortunate enough to get to know on social media. He has always come across as a genuinely good person. Given Keith’s lengthy career, I felt it would be interesting to speak with him about his work in the medium.
This interview was conducted by e-mail between April and May 2021.
BH: Hello, Mr. Williams. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Let’s start with the basics. When and where were you born? When you were growing up did you read comic books? What other interests did you have when you were young?
Keith Williams: Thank you for asking, Ben. I was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 16, 1957. My grandma gave me my first comic. It was Batman issue 184. I must have been 9 years old at the time. I always loved comics after that. I enjoyed watching astronauts fly into space, and for a while I wanted to be one.
BH: You attended the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan from 1976 to 1980. How did you find that educational experience?
Keith Williams: It was wonderful! The main reason I went SVA was because Will Eisner, the creator of The Spirit, was teaching there. My major was in Cartooning and Will brought fun and a lot of knowledge about the art and business sides of comic books. The other classes were fine and rounded out my art experience. I still have great friends that I talk to from my time there.
BH: I understand you entered the comic book field as a background inker in the early 1980s. How did that come about, and which artists did you assist?
Keith Williams: I knew Howard Perlin from high school, working on school shows together. He introduced me to his father Don Perlin. At the time he was the artist on Ghost Rider. I had shown him my inking samples. He saw that I had potential and took me under his wing. He mentioned my name up at Marvel when they were looking for a background inker for Mike Esposito. I was hired and have been working in comics ever since. Besides Mike Esposito there was Joe Sinnott, Bob Wiacek, Andy Mushinsky, Al Milgrom, Terry Austin, Vince Colletta, John Byrne, Bob Hall and a few more.
BH: Why did you decide to focus on inking?
Keith Williams: I focused on inking because I learned that I was better at it. I had great people to learn the skills of inking from. Inking became my foot in the door.
BH: At Marvel Comics, you were also the first person to join Romita’s Raiders, the art apprentice program initiated by editor-in-chief Jim Shooter and run by art director John Romita. What specific sort of work did you find yourself doing as one of the Raiders? How do you feel it helped you in terms of honing your skills and preparing you for a career as an artist in the comic book industry?
Keith Williams: As a Romita Raider, I, and the other Raiders were art correctors. We would fix storytelling if the panels didn’t flow correctly. If a character was wearing the wrong costume we would correct it. Assist John sometimes in cover design. John Romita was the Art Director at Marvel [and] everything would go through him meaning pages of art and he would assign us to fix things that needed fixing. While we were there as Raiders, we received a master class on how to create a comic.
BH: What was your first credited work in comic books, and how did you get assigned that job?
Keith Williams: My first credited work [was] Sectaurs for Marvel, 1985. I inked over Steve Geiger, another Raider. I think I started on issue 4. Mark Texeira moved on and they needed a new art team. It was a mini-series which ended on issue 7. I got the job because I was lucky enough to be in the office at the time.
BH: In late 1984 you became John Byrne’s background inker beginning with Alpha Flight #19. You provided background inks on several issues of Alpha Flight, and when Byrne moved to Incredible Hulk for his all-too-short run you accompanied him. After Byrne left Marvel for DC Comics where he oversaw the successful post-Crisis revamp of Superman, you were his background inker on Action Comics in 1987. How did you come to do background inking for Byrne? What was the experience like?
Keith Williams: Mark Gruenwald, one of the editors at Marvel, came up to me and asked if I was interested in working with John Byrne on Alpha Flight as a background artist. Of course, I said yes. It was a great experience.
BH: It’s noteworthy that Byrne saw that you were credited on all of those stories as the background inker, something that at the time was not expected, much less required. Do you find that this helped your career? Certainly as a young reader it was probably the first time I noticed your name.
Keith Williams: John put my name on the cover of the books and my name was right beside his in the credits. I would also get pages from the books we did. No other inker had ever done that for a background artist or would expect that to be done for them. I will always be grateful to him for doing it. He helped my career because of it.
BH: Later on you had the opportunity to do full inking over Byrne’s pencils on Avengers West Coast #53 in late 1989 and on several issues of Sensational She-Hulk in 1991. How did you like that experience? As a reader, I felt you did a good job. Looking at that Avengers West Coast, in particular I was very impressed by the detailed, intricate inking you did on the sequence with Immortus in an alternate timeline where Queen Elizabeth I was executed instead of Mary, Queen of Scots. The storyline in She-Hulk where she ends up in the Mole Man’s subterranean kingdom and fights Spragg the Living Hill also had a lot of interesting, detailed work by Byrne. You did a fine job embellishing all those caves and rocky textures.
Keith Williams: Actually, working fully on John’s pencils, scared the daylights out of me. As an artist, you always feel there is still so much to learn. Am I ready? I guess I was. All of the background inking got me ready to do full inks with John and I loved making his lines come to life.
BH: Jumping back a bit, you and penciler Alex Saviuk became the regular art team on Web of Spider-Man with issue #35, cover-dated March 1988. How did you get that assignment, and how did you find it working with Saviuk? You stayed on Web of Spider-Man through issue #85 in early 1992, so I’m guessing it was a good experience. Of course, as you were a freelancer, I’m sure you were also grateful to have a regular monthly assignment.
Keith Williams: Jim Salicrup was the editor on the Spider-Man books at the time. He must have seen my work here and there in the office and tried me out. I worked over Steve Gieger on an issue of Web of Spider-Man and then worked with Alex. I guess he saw something in us working together and we stay together for almost five years.
BH: Speaking for myself, I find Saviuk very underrated. I feel he was overshadowed by Todd McFarlane on Amazing Spider-Man, which at the time was in the spotlight. I think that was a shame, because you and Saviuk were doing good, solid work month after month on Web.
Keith Williams: Alex is a great artist. I feel he’s up there with Romita in style. It was very enjoyable working with him.
BH: You worked on a wide variety of titles throughout the 1990s, inking a diverse selection of pencilers. I wanted to briefly touch upon the work you did for Dark Horse. You inked Doug Mahnke on The Mask Strikes Back and Bill Hughes on Star Wars: Droids, both of those coming out in 1995. Any particular thoughts on those two jobs? Mannke and Hughes both seem to have detailed penciling styles, so I wondered how you approached inking them.
Keith Williams: Doug Mahnke’s style on The Mask was different than any I‘ve encountered. It was zaniness stuffed into reality. Bill Hughes had more of a cartoon style which fit into the loony situation the Droids were put in. I try to go with the flow of the penciller. With Doug it would be more of a hard edge, using crow quill Hunt 102 pen point nibs. With Bill it more of a softer look. I used a Winsor Newton Series 7 No. 3 brush and a Gillotte 290 flexible pen nib.
BH: In 1994 you became the regular inker of The Phantom newspaper strip written by Lee Falk, inking George Olesen’s pencils. You were on the strip until 2005, when Olesen retired. Had you previously been a fan of The Phantom? Although it isn’t especially popular here in the States, it has an absolutely huge following in other parts of the world such as Sweden and Australia.
Keith Williams: I wasn’t really a fan of The Phantom. That was because it wasn’t in any of the newspapers in New York. I did learn to like it. The Phantom has a great cast of characters.
BH: I’ve heard working on a daily newspaper strip described as a grueling, endless treadmill run. What did you think of the work? How was it different from monthly comic books?
Keith Williams: I really had no idea what it was like to put out a six day strip every week. There was no time for a real vacation. So, even when I would go away on a trip, the Phantom would be with me. I’m not really complaining, because it was always better to have work than not. It was different than a comic book because, working on dailies, you only had as much as three panels to work on for a strip.
BH: Finally, what have you been working on in the last decade and a half? Do you have any new projects coming out soon?
Keith Williams: Actually, I got to work for Marvel again with the help of Ron Frenz in 2019. It was a 10 page story in Thor the Worthy. Other than that, it’s been conventions and commissions for me.
BH: If people are interested in hiring you for commissions, what is the best way to get in touch with you?
Keith Williams: You can DM me on Instagram or Facebook: keithwilliamscomicbookart. You can also email me at email@example.com.
This is the third installment of my look at recurring plots, imagery and character-types in the Legion of Super-Heroes stories published by DC Comics during the Silver Age… and beyond.
This time we are looking at homages to one of the most iconic Legion images, the cover to the team’s first appearance in Adventure Comics #247.
Initially these homages were quite infrequent. By the 1990s, though, fandom had, for better or for worse, become a decades-spawning passion with a significant awareness of the medium’s past. This has resulted in the proliferation of homages to and parodies of Golden and Silver Age imagery, among these the cover to Adventure Comics #247.
The first Legion of Super-Heroes story in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) was written by Otto Binder, drawn by Al Plastino and edited by Mort Weisinger. The now-legendary cover was drawn by penciler Curt Swan & inker Stan Kaye, who regularly contributed the cover artwork to the Superman family of comics in the late 1950s.
“The Legion of Super-Heroes” saw a group of super-powered teens from 1000 years in the future offer Superboy the chance to join their club. Originally intended as a one-off tale, within a few years it would become a beloved, long-running series. Likewise, the cover image to Adventure Comics #247, with a shocked Superboy being rejected for membership in the team, would go on to be a recurring motif over the series’ history, as well as inspiring numerous parodies throughout the medium.
The earliest homage to the Adventure Comics #247 cover that I’ve located is Superman #147 (August 1961) also drawn by Curt Swan & Stan Kaye. Here we see the now-adult Man of Steel being threatened not with rejection but with death by the Legion of Super-Villains.
It’s interesting to note that this issue was published just a little over three years later, in an era when overt nods to past were rare in the comic book biz. Audience turnover was fairly rapid in the 1950s and 60s, and it would normally not be expected that current readers would be familiar with material published several years earlier. The fact that Swan & Kaye drew this cover, presumably at the direction of editor Weisinger, appears to confirm awareness by DC that the Legion was already developing an avid, long-term readership.
The cover to Adventure Comics #322 (July 1964) is again penciled by Curt Swan, now paired with inker George Klein. Although not a straight-up homage of #247, it nevertheless evokes the former’s audition format, but with the Legion of Super-Pets taking the place of Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad & Saturn Girl, and the shape-changing Proty II standing in for Superboy.
L.E.G.I.O.N. was a semi-prequel to Legion of Super-Heroes. It featured an interplanetary law-enforcement team organized by the original Brainiac’s son, the Machiavellian genius Vril Dox, in the present day. The tone of L.E.G.I.O.N. was often bleakly humorous (as any series co-starring the ultra-violent Lobo would inevitably be) but the comedic tone reached ridiculous proportions in L.E.G.I.O.N. ’94 Annual #5 (September 1994). This “Elseworlds” tie-in had the team appearing in various pop culture parodies, including this segment lampooning the Silver Age Legion.
One can only guess what Curt Swan was thinking when he was asked to draw this bizarre send-up of his earlier work! He is paired here with inker Josef Rubinstein. The script is by Tom Peyer, with letters by John Costanza and colors by Gene D’Angelo.
The cover to Legion of Super-Heroes #88 (January 1997) has Impulse, the super-fast grandson of the Flash / Barry Allen and Iris West Allen auditioning to join the Legion. Of course the hyperactive, mischievous Impulse tries to rig things in his favor! Cover pencils are by Alan Davis, inks by Mark Farmer, letters by Todd Klein and colors by Patrick Martin.
Acclaimed painter Alex Ross has done numerous reimaginings of classic comic book covers. Here is his take on Adventure Comics #247. This painting was used for one of the two covers for the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, 29th Edition (May 1999) from Gemstone Publishing. This is actually a scan of the original artwork, courtesy of Heritage Auctions. The painting was unfortunately too dark & blurry when published.
Legion of Super Heroes was an animated series that ran on WB for two seasons from September 2006 to April 2008. DC published a comic book that tied in with the animated series’ continuity. Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century lasted for 20 issues. The cover to issue #16 (September 2008) has infamous Legion reject Arm-Fall-Off-Boy attempting to join the animated incarnation of the team, with equally unsuccessful results. Cover artwork is by Alexander Serra.
When DC briefly revived Adventure Comics starring the Legion of Super-Heroes in 2009, they published a zero issue that reprinted the team’s first story. The brand new cover to issue #0 (April 2009) is drawn by Aaron Lopresti and colored by Brian Miller.
Looks like somebody took one heck of a wrong turn at Albuquerque! The very much tongue-in-cheek Legion of Super-Heroes / Bugs Bunny Special (August 2017) was part of a series of crossovers between DC Comics and Looney Tunes. “The Imposter Superboy” sees Bugs accidentally transported to the 31st Century, where he finds himself in the cross hairs (or should that be cross hares?) of the very angst-ridden Legion. Cover pencils are by Tom Grimmett, inks by Karl Kesel, and colors by Steve Buccellato.
The cover of Adventure Comics #247 is such an iconic part of Legion lore that comic con cosplayers have even taken to recreating it! I have no idea when or where this was taken, or who this clever quartet are in real life, but they definitely deserve a round of applause.
This is the second installment of my look at recurring plots, imagery and character-types in the Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes stories published by DC Comics during the Silver Age.
As I explained in the first part, Mort Weisinger, the editor of the Superman family of titles throughout the 1950s and 60s, often encouraged his writers & artists to reuse old elements. This was due to the fairly regular turnover in the young readership during those two decades. Looking back at these stories it’s interesting to see these patterns.
This time around we are looking at super-babies and mystery Legionnaires!
As acclaimed comic book writer Roger Stern observed in his introduction to Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Volume 6:
“stories in which heroes are turned into infants were one of [editor Mort] Weisinger’s strange fascinations.”
These three issues of Adventure Comics are only just the “heroes transformed to babies” stories featuring the Legion. Quite a few others appeared periodically throughout the other Superman-related series during Weisinger’s editorial tenure.
Each of these covers was penciled by Curt Swan, inked by George Klein & lettered by Ira Schnapp.
Adventure Comics #317 (February 1964) written by Edmund Hamilton and drawn by John Forte. This is the introduction of the prophetic Dream Girl, who is seemingly plotting to destroy the Legion from within, although of course there’s a twist ending revealing her true motive. Among Dream Girl’s methods of sabotaging the Legion, she transforms several of the team into infants.
Adventure Comics #338 (November 1965) written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by John Forte. The villainous Time Trapper attempt to de-age the Legion members into nothingness. When they instead get stuck as infants, the Trapper tricks them into committing various crimes.
Adventure Comics #356 (May 1967) written by E. Nelson Bridwell and drawn by Curt Swan & George Klein. The five members of the Legion who are orphans regressed to toddlers. It’s all part of a screwy scheme by the inhabitants of a planet whose own children were wiped out by a plague.
Another plot device that editor Mort Weisinger directed his writers to utilize on several occasions was having mysterious or disguised individuals joining the Legion under suspicious circumstances.
Adventure Comics #307 (April 1963) cover by Curt Swan & George Klein, written by Edmund Hamilton and drawn by John Forte. Mystery Lad is soon revealed to be Element Lad, who goes on to become a longtime member of the team.
Adventure Comics #330 (March 1965) written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Jim Mooney. The Mystery Legionnaire, aka Dynamo Boy, is actually Vorn, a member of a gang of space pirates who infiltrates the team in order to destroy it; unlike Dream Girl from a year earlier, Dynamo Boy really intends to go through with this dastardly plan.
Adventure Comics #334 (July 1965) cover by Curt Swan & George Klein, written by Edmund Hamilton and drawn by John Forte & Sheldon Moldoff. Who is the Unknown Legionnaire? Who? WHO??? Okay, okay, I’ll tell you… it’s Supergirl, who after exposure to Red Kryptonite loses her memory and assumes a new masked identity.
Adventure Comics #350 (Nov 1966) written by E. Nelson Bridwell and drawn by Curt Swan & George Klein. When a cloud of Green Kryptonite encircles the Earth in the 30th Century, both Superboy and Supergirl are forced to resign from the Legion and return to the present day. But before leaving they chose their own replacements: the masked, armored Sir Prize and Miss Terious! The next issue reveals them to be former members Star Boy and Dream Girl, who rejoin the team.
Adventure Comics #355 (April 1967) written by Jim Shooter and drawn by Curt Swan & George Klein. When the adult members of the Legion face off against their opposite numbers in the Legion of Super-Villains, two masked, armored figures leap into the fray. But whose side are they on? It turns out they’re the 30th Century descendants of Lex Luthor and Mr. Mxyzptlk, who have become heroes to atone for the crimes of their ancestors.
There are also at least a couple of other Legion stories utilizing the Mysterious Unknown Masked Legionnaire trope in the Bronze Age. It seems to be a popular idea to return to again and again.
Next time I’ll be looking at one of the most iconic images in the history of the Legion, and some of the numerous homages, swipes & parodies of it that have appeared throughout the decades. I really hope you’ll vote “Yes” to checking out our next installment!
Longtime comic book & fantasy artist Frank Thorne passed away on the morning of March 7th at 90 years old. Marilyn Thorne, his wife of many years, later passed away that afternoon.
Thorne’s career in comic books actually began back in 1948. He was a regular contributor to Dell Comics throughout the 1950s and 60s. From 1968 to 1972 Thorne was the artist on the Western adventure series Tomahawk published by DC Comics. He drew several comics for the short-lived publisher Atlas / Seaboard in the mid 1970s.
Thorne’s career entered what could be regarded as a “second act” in late 1975. Red Sonja, the sexy female barbarian created by Roy Thomas & Barry-Windsor Smith (inspired by the Robert E. Howard character Red Sonya of Rogatino), was given her own solo series beginning with Marvel Feature volume 2 #1, cover-dated November 1975. The first issue was written by Thomas and drawn by Dick Giordano. Paired with writer Bruce Jones, Thorne took over drawing Red Sonja in Marvel Feature with issue #2 (January 1976).
Thorne remained on Marvel Feature thru #7, the final issue. It was immediately followed by an ongoing bimonthly Red Sonja series written by Roy Thomas & Clara Noto. Thorne penciled, inked, lettered and colored the first 11 issues (January 1977 to September 1978), producing stunning and exquisitely detailed work.
Due to his striking rendition of Red Sonja, Thorne became very well-regarded and much in-demand for his depictions of beautiful women. He subsequently created a number of erotic fantasy series. Thorne’s sexy stories & artwork were also published in Heavy Metal, National Lampoon and Playboy.
Thorne’s book Drawing Sexy Woman, published by Fantagraphics in 2000, was an informal autobiography of sorts, with his recollections complemented by several dozen illustrations of lovely ladies drawn specifically for the book. It’s an interesting an offbeat look back by Thorne at his life and career.
In the last couple months I’ve been reading the Legion of Super-Heroes stories of the Silver Age from the very beginning, via the reprints in the hardcover Legion of Super-Heroes Archives from DC Comics. I recently hit a speed bump, namely Legion Archives Volume 8, which is out of print and typically goes for $150 and up on Ebay! Hopefully I’ll find an affordable copy soon.
In any case, while reading all of the Legion stories from the first decade of the team’s existence, I noticed quite a few recurring images, plots and types of characters. Mort Weisinger, the original editor of the feature in Adventure Comics and the other Superman titles of the Silver Age, often encouraged his writers & artists to reuse old elements. This was due to the fairly regular turnover in the young readership during the 1950s and 60s. (Fans continuously reading superhero comic books for decades into adulthood is something that was not yet a phenomenon.) Looking at these stories in the present day it’s interesting to see these patterns. I thought it would be both fun and informative to examine some of these.
First up: the Legion of Super-Heroes sitting around the table in their clubhouse with signs identifying their names & powers while Cosmic Boy is running the meeting. Several artists utilized this same layout throughout the late 1950s and early 60s. It is a useful way to introduce your various characters without having to work all of that information into the dialogue…
The first time this was drawn was by Al Plastino in the Superboy story in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) which was the first appearance of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
This same layout was then used by Jim Mooney in the Supergirl story in Action Comics #267 (August 1960) which has the Maid of Might attempting to join the Legion.
George Papp then utilizes this layout in Adventure Comics #282 (March 1961) when Star Boy joins the Legion.
Jim Mooney again utilizes this set-up in Action Comics #276 (May 1961) as Supergirl auditions a second time to join the Legion.
Finally, John Forte, the first artist to draw the Legion of Super-Heroes regularly, uses this setup in Adventure Comics #300 (September 1962) when the team became an ongoing feature in that series.
There are a number of other parallels to be found in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) written by Otto Binder & drawn by Al Plastino and Action Comics #267 (August 1960) written by Jerry Siegel & drawn by Jim Mooney.
Adventure Comics #247 shows the Legion founders Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad bringing Superboy 1000 years into the future where he is shown a sprawling super-advanced hi-tech version of Smallville.
Action Comics #267 shows the Legion founders bringing Supergirl 1000 years into the future, with a very similar shot being used to represent a sprawling super-advanced hi-tech version of Metropolis.
Also, in both stories Superboy and Supergirl respectively go with the Legion members to futuristic ice cream parlors and have some Martian Ice Cream, with nearly-identical narration & dialogue. The only difference in the later one is that instead of a human behind the counter serving ice cream there’s a robot. (Darn dirty robots are stealing our jobs!)
I initially posted these on Facebook. Occasionally this would engender comments that reusing the same layouts over and over again was “unimaginative.”
It should be observed that in the 1950s and 60s comic books were not regarded as a prestigious field in which to work. The majority of writers and artists toiled in anonymity, working under tight deadlines for low pay. Comic books were seen as disposable entertainment. Between that and the aforementioned frequent turnover of readers, it made sense to reuse plots and artwork from time to time as a way of saving time. No one involved in the creation of these comic books could possibly conceive that decades later their work would be reprinted and enjoyed by succeeding generations. It was genuinely a different industry.
I will soon be taking a look at some other popular recurring stories, artwork and themes from the Legion’s early years.
Since July of last year I’ve been posting Comic Book Cats entries on the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The object is to see how many different pencilers I can find artwork by featuring cats. Here are 10 more highlights, taken from entries 101 to 150.
John Paul Leon
Midnighter #8, drawn by John Paul Leon, written by Christos Gage, lettered by Phil Balsman and colored by Randy Major, published by Wildstorm / DC Comics in August 2007.
“Why the hell are cyborgs stealing cats in suburbia?” That’s the question the Authority’s resident super-viollent Batman expy finds himself asking when teammate Jack Hawksmoor convinces him to get back in touch with ordinary people by searching for a missing girl’s cat. The trail soon leads to the doorstep of the local mad scientist, with Midnighter ultimately liberating the abducted animals and finding an alternative source of test subjects for the loony doctor, namely human criminals. Yeah, Christos Gage’s story is a bizarrely effective blending of heartwarming feel-good moments and incredibly dark, twisted humor.
John Paul Leon’s art has always been impressively atmospheric. His early work on Robocop for Dark Horse and Static for Milestone demonstrated an artist who hit the ground running, and who has consistently improved since then. Leon later worked on The Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix, Earth X and Black Widow for Marvel, The Winter Men for Wildstorm / DC, and the much-underrated revamp of Challengers of the Unknown written by Steven Grant.
Thumbs up to Richard Guion for letting me know about this one.
Captain Marvel #8, drawn by Marcio Takara, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, lettered by Joe Caramanga and colored by Lee Loughridge, published by Marvel Comics in December 2014.
“Release the Flerken” has Carol Danvers at long last discovering that her cat Chewie is actually an alien from outer space known as a Flerken. Chewie lays a whole bunch of eggs, which soon hatch, presenting us with an army of adorable-but-dangerous tentacle-spewing space cats. Carol unfortunately has to leave Chewie’s offspring in outer space as there is no way she could possibly fit 117 more cats, as well as the necessary litter boxes, into her apartment! Fortunately she finds an outer space animal rescue center to take in the adorable kittens, um, Flerkens. Soooo, anyone here looking to adopt?
Marcio Takara has been working in comic books since 2006. His work has also appeared in numerous titles, including All-New Wolverine and Daredevil for Marvel, Green Arrow and Nightwing for DC, Dynamo 5 for Image and Incorruptible for Boom! Studios. I think he’s a great artist, especially since, as seen here, he does a great job drawing cats.
Irv Novick & Joe Giella
Batman #210, penciled by Irv Novick, inked by Joe Giella and written by Frank Robbins, published by DC Comics in March 1969.
“The Case of the Purr-loined Pearl” sees Selina Kilye recruiting eight fellow felonious females to don Catwoman costumes as part of an elaborate heist. Here we see Selina and her cat Slinky mailing out invites to the future members of her Feline Furies.
Irv Novick is probably one of the most underrated Batman artists. He turned in good, solid, professional work on numerous stories throughout the Bronze Age. Here he is paired up with inker Joe Giella, another artist who has a lengthy association with the Dark Knight, including a four year stint drawing the Batman newspaper strip during the 1960s. The combo of Novick & Giella works very well on this story.
The writer on this issue is the great Frank Robbins, another regular creative presence on Batman and Detective Comics from the late 1960s thru to the mid 1970s. Robbins wrote some very clever and imaginative Batman stories, as well as occasionally illustrating them. His artwork was spotlighted in a previous Comic Book Cats entry.
The newspaper comic strip Krazy Kat ran from 1913 to 1944. The main characters were Krazy Kat, a playful, innocent black cat, and Ignatz Mouse, a mischievous rodent who frequently throws bricks at Krazy’s head. The naïve Krazy is hopelessly in love with Ignatz and thinks that the mouse’s brick-tossing is his way of returning that love. This Krazy-centric Sunday page is a good example of Herriman’s artwork, energy, humor and narrative style.
George Herriman was born in New Orleans on August 22, 1880 to mixed-race Creole parents. He began working professionally as an artist in 1901 when his illustrations were printed by the weekly satirical magazine Judge. Herriman’s work on Krazy Kat very quickly gained appreciation among critics and intellectual, and he has been cited as a major influence by numerous other artists throughout the decades. He passed away in April 1944 at the age of 63.
Catwoman / Tweety and Sylvester, drawn by Inaki Miranda, written by Gail Simone, lettered by Taylor Esposito and colored by Eva de la Cruz, published by DC Comics in October 2018.
I don’t want to give away too much about this fun crossover between the DCU and Looney Tunes. Suffice to say the story eventually culminates in nearly every single cat and bird themed character from DC coming together in a monumental clash. Before that, though, we have Selina Kyle encountering the very animated, so to speak, Sylvester the Cat.
Inaki Miranda broke into comic books in 2003, working on the Judge Dredd feature in 2000 AD. He then drew Fables for Vertigo / DC, which led to work on a number of mainstream DC series.
Miranda did a great job on this special. The requirements of the project meant that he had to render Sylvester as much closer to a real-world cat. He did so quite successfully, managing to still retain much of the puddy tat, um, I mean pussy cat’s personality.
Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle #5, drawn by Sam Glanzman, written by Don Segall and lettered by Charlotte Jetter, published by Dell Comics in January 1963.
A denizen of one of those mysterious lost islands in the South Pacific inhabited by cavemen, dinosaurs, giant animals and other fantastical menaces, the prehistoric Kona made his debut in Four Color #1256. Following that he starred in his own series which lasted for 20 issues (confusingly numbered from #2 to #21). The highlight of the short-lived Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle was definitely the stunning, detailed artwork by Sam Glanzman.
Issue #5 featured a gigantic cat. The titanic tabby is revealed to be Amsat, a previously-ordinary cat kept as a mouser on a U.S. Navy ship. Accidentally left behind on an island where the military was testing nuclear bombs, Amsat grew to giant size, eventually tussling with the sharks in the waters around his island home.
Amsat is obviously intended to be a dangerous animal, but Glanzman draws him just so cute and adorable that when “the Monster Cat” is finally defeated and killed I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.
Sam Glanzman is best known for the numerous war comic books he drew during the Silver and Bronze Ages. Among these were a series of autobiographical war stories about his service aboard the U.S.S. Stevens during World War II. Glanzman also worked in the horror and Western genres. Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle enabled him to try his hand at “lost world” adventure-type stories, and he did some good work on the title. The entire issue is archived on the Comic Book Plus website.
Val Semeiks & Denis Rodier
The Demon volume 3 #8, penciled by Val Semeiks, inked by Denis Rodier, written by Alan Grant, lettered by Todd Klein and colored by Robbie Busch, published by DC Comics in February 1991.
Having been introduced by Jack Kirby in the original run of The Demon, the next major appearances by Klarion the Witch Boy and his cat familiar Teekl were in Alan Grant’s revival. Grant invested The Demon with a blackly humorous tone, which was certainly a good fit for the diabolically mischievous Klarion and his shape-shifting kitty. This scene, with Teekl dancing to Mussorgsky, certainly encapsulated the grim, bizarre comedy of the series.
The artwork of Val Semeiks & Denis Rodier certainly enhanced the nightmarish hilarity of Grant’s story. Their depictions of the Demon Etrigan, Klarion, Teekl, and numerous other unearthly fiends were both chilling and comical. Semeiks’ inventive storytelling also effectively created a tangibly askew mood.
Semeiks’ first work in the comic book field was on Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan for Marvel between 1986 and 1989. Moving to DC, Semeiks had a three year run on The Demon, and following that penciled Lobo, which was also written by Alan Grant. Since then Semeik has worked on a variety of projects for the Big Two and several issues of Forgotten Realms for Devil’s Due Publishing.
The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves #4, drawn by Jim Aparo and written by Steve Skeates, published by Charlton Comics in November 1967.
Housewife Ruth Roland is an anal-retentive neat freak (seriously, she should have married Felix Unger; they would have made a perfect match) is more than a bit perturbed when her husband’s two friends from college drop off their cat uninvited en route to a two year stint in the Peace Corps. Ruth’s worst fears are soon confirmed, as the cat begins to run amok, destroying her domestic bliss. And, of course, since this IS a horror comic book, things soon take an even more bizarre turn.
Jim Aparo got his start at Charlton Comics during the second half of the 1960s. Aparo drew a variety of material for Charlton: The Phantom, romance, sci-fi, Westerns and, of course, stories for their horror anthologies.
Even here, at the start of his career, we see that Aparo was doing solid work. I definitely love the very effective “My cat is an asshole” montage in the bottom panel. I can so totally relate! Aparo’s editor at Charlton was Dick Giordano, who in the late 1960s went to work for DC Comics. Giordano was soon giving Aparo work at DC. Aparo was a prolific artist for the publisher over the next quarter century. He became one of the definitive Batman artists of the Bronze Age. Semi-retired by the mid 1990s, Aparo continued doing occasional work for DC up until 2001. He passed away in July 2005 at the age of 72.
It’s a political cartoon featuring a cat and a dog. I’m not going to say anything else, other than I found this one really funny. The angry expression on the cat’s face is hysterical.
Christopher Weyant is a regular contributor to The New Yorker. He has also illustrated several children’s books that were written by his wife Anna King.
Garfield by Jim Davis, published on June 19 and July 15, 1978
Here are two early Garfield comic strips, the very first one which introduced fat, lazy cat Garfield and his long-suffering human Jon Arbuckle, and the one that revealed Garfield’s love of lasagna for the first time. (Our late, much-missed cat Squaky, who was on the chubby side herself, attempted to snatch lasagna off our stove on at least a couple of occasions.)
Garfield initially started out looking very different from the form that we are all familiar with today, but his slothful, greedy behavior has basically been the same since day one.
Jim Davis has used several uncredited assistants for most of the history of the Garfield comic strip. So I figured I’d go right back to the very beginning, which is likely pure Davis, or close to it. Davis has been up front about the fact that one of his main reasons for creating Garfield was to “come up with a good, marketable character” so I suppose he can’t really be criticized for relying on assistants in order to focus on the licensing end of things. Whatever his specific level of involvement in the day-to-day work of drawing the Garfield comic strip, it’s undeniable that he created a genuinely iconic character.
Thanks for stopping by. Please check out First Comics News to see all of the Comic Book Cats entries, as well as for the Comic Book Coffee archives. Although I’m no longer doing these on a daily basis, I am posting new entries whenever I happen to come across something by an artist I haven’t previously spotlighted.
Octobriana, the Russian devil-woman who embodies the true spirit of the Communist Revolution and who fights against Soviet authoritarianism, made her debut 50 years ago. Octobriana was first introduced to the world in Octobriana and the Russian Underground by Petr Sadecký, published in the UK by Tom Stacey Ltd, 1971.
I previously discussed the character of Octobriana in my blog post The Octobriana Revolution which details both the highly unusual origins of the character and her publication history throughout the decades.
To celebrate fifty years of Octobriana, writer Stu Taylor, who wrote the character in the 1990s, is assembling Octobriana With Love, which he describes as “an all-new anthology that celebrates her 50th anniversary and features exciting takes on the character by some of the biggest names in comics today.” Among the creators who will be contributing to the anthology are Simon Fraser, Marc Laming, Stephanie Phillips and Marguerite Sauvage, with more to be announced.
I enjoyed the original black & white miniseries published by Artful Salamander in 1997. The first issue of the “remaster” looks great, and I’m looking forward to the next four issues, and to the publication of Octobriana With Love.
Sal Buscema, one of my favorite comic book artists, celebrates his 85th birthday on January 26th. I’m going to take a look back at how I discovered Buscema’s work as a young comic book fan. (Part of this retrospective is based on a couple of posts I did several years ago. I guess you can consider this a “director’s cut” or something like that.)
Appropriately enough, I first saw Sal Buscema’s artwork in two issues of The Incredible Hulk, one of the series with which he is most closely associated.
On several occasions Sal Buscema has stated that the Hulk was his favorite character to draw. As he related to Jim Amash in the book Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist, published by TwoMorrows in 2010:
“I identified with [the Hulk]. Do you know what I liked about the Hulk? … He’s totally unique. He’s monstrous, lumbering, huge, unbelievably strong, and he gets even stronger when he gets angry. He has the mentality of a child. It’s so completely different from anything that you’ve drawn before. Is there another character as unique? … He’s an anti-hero, and yet because of his unbelievable power… look at all the fantastic things he’s capable of doing and usually does. That’s the fun and the constant stimulation that I had with this character.”
Buscema was the penciler on The Incredible Hulk from issue #194 (Dec 1975) to #309 (July 1985), an astonishing nine and a half year run. During that time Buscema missed only seven issues. I believe his 109 issue run on the series has never been surpassed by any other artist.
The very first issue of The Incredible Hulk that I ever read was #285, cover-dated July 1983. It would have been on sale in early April 1983. I was six and a half years old and my parents bought it for me.
The Incredible Hulk #285 was topped off by a fantastic cover drawn by artists Ron Wilson & Joe Sinnott. As a kid, I thought it was an amazing image. The Hulk was fighting this giant orange figure seemingly made out of flames. I hadn’t seen anything like that before. And, oddly, instead of striding around in his usual torn-up pants, on this cover the Hulk was wearing a shirt, tie, jacket and shoes. That said, his pants were still purple, so not everything about him had changed!
Flipping open the comic, I came to the first page of “Today is the First Day of the Rest of My Life.” The creative team was writer Bill Mantlo, penciler Sal Buscema, inker Chic Stone, lettered Jim Novak, colorist Bob Sharen and editor Al Milgrom. This splash page once had the Hulk wearing a jacket & tie, his hair neatly combed. Rather than running around on a destructive rampage, he is seated at a desk, narrating his memoirs into a Dictaphone.
Over the course of the next several pages the Hulk recounts how Dr. Bruce Banner created the Gamma Bomb. While attempting to save the life of teenager Rock Jones, who had wandered onto the test site, Banner was caught in the explosion of the weapon he created. The radiation now caused Banner to transform into a savage monster whenever overwhelmed by stress or anger. I distinctly recall that my seven year old self was surprised that in this flashback Banner’s assistant Igor, who set off the Gamma Bomb in an attempt to kill the scientist, was a Soviet spy, rather than an alien robotic infiltrator as he had been depicted in the animated episode “Origin of the Hulk” the year before.
Buscema drew an absolutely savage depiction of the Hulk in this flashback, as Banner transformed into the jade giant for the very first time, on the striking splash page seen at the top of this blog post.
Following this was an amazing two page spread by Buscema & Stone that illustrated the chaotic life of the Hulk over the next several years, the long and winding road taken by a green goliath who was more often than not hunted by humanity. Among the numerous characters glimpsed in this flashback montage, my seven year old self recognized from the animated series the villainous Leader and his pink artificial servants, Betty Ross, her father the militant General Ross, and the equally belligerent Major Talbot. Of course I also knew who Captain America was.
I was surprised to find out that Bruce Banner’s identity as the Hulk was public knowledge, since in the cartoons it had only been known to Rick Jones. Years later I learned that the Hulk was probably the earliest major super-powered protagonist to have his secret identity revealed, way back in Tales to Astonish #77, which was cover-dated May 1966.
At the end of this montage, we come to the Hulk’s current status: At long last, after all this time, Bruce Banner has managed to gain control, to retain his human intelligence when transforming into the Hulk.
While the Hulk has been busy recounting his life, a crew of workers from Stark Industries headed up by Scott Lang, the new Ant-Man, has been constructing Northwind Observatory, a laboratory where Banner can resume his scientific studies. Turning back into his human form, Banner joins Lang to supervise the installation of the laboratory’s power core. At the last minute, Banner discovers that the power core was not designed by Stark Industries, but acquired from a company called Soulstar. Banner immediately recognizes the name, but before he can prevent it, the power core is hooked up, there is “a massive electromagnetic discharge,” and a strange being emerges.
This creature, we are informed, is Zzzax the Living Dynamo (aka the guy guaranteed to always get the very last entry in the Handbook of the Marvel Universe). Looking something like a humanoid lightning bolt, Zzzax is a creature that feeds on the human life force. Before the monster can consume the stunned construction crew, Banner transforms back into the Hulk and tackles this old enemy.
Unfortunately the Hulk comes to a realization: In his old savage, child-like persona, the angrier he got, the stronger he became, but now, guided by Banner’s rational intellect, the Hulk cannot easily become angry, meaning his strength is limited. And so the gamma-spawned giant realizes that, instead of relying on brute force to defeat Zzzax, he must now find a way to out-think his fiery foe.
As a kid, I thought The Incredible Hulk #285 was a fantastic issue with an amazing bad guy. Yep, the idea of an intelligent Hulk was unexpected, but I just shrugged and read on. Mantlo’s script was a really good introduction to the character of the Hulk, neatly surmised through the plot device of Bruce Banner penning his autobiography. The second half, with the Hulk fighting Zzzax, was really exciting.
On the art side of things, the work by Sal Buscema was high quality. To the best of my knowledge, this was the very first comic book I ever read that was penciled by him. As I mentioned above, Buscema would eventually become one of my all time favorite comic book artists. A number of years ago when Our Pal Sal appeared at a NYC comic book show I had him autograph this issue. It was actually my second copy, since I read the original one so many times as a kid that the cover eventually fell off.
In regards to Stone’s inking, it is pretty good. Having subsequently seen a great deal more of Buscema’s work, I have to admit that there were others who did a better job finishing his pencils, among them Joe Sinnott, Gerry Talaoc, and Buscema himself. In the aforementioned Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist he admits that he wasn’t overly enthusiastic about Stone’s inking. Looking back at it as an adult fan, yes, I tend to agree with him. That said, back when I was a little kid completely lacking in any knowledge of the subtleties of inking, I thought the artwork by Sal & Chic looked just fine. I guess that’s probably the more important thing.
Even though I really did enjoy The Incredible Hulk #285, because I was just a few months shy of seven years old I very seldom had a chance to go buy comic books on my own, so I ended up not reading another issue of the series for a couple of years. When I finally did, it was issue #309. And if I thought #285 was a bit odd, well, that next one was downright bizarre!
The Incredible Hulk #309 was cover-dated July 1985, exactly two years since the last issue I had read. And it was quickly obvious that a heck of a lot had changed in those two years!
The cover to issue #309 was by Mike Mignola. It’s a pretty early piece of work by the future creator of Hellboy. But you can certainly see his potential as an artist in this unusual cover image. This had to be the first time that I saw Mignola’s art. It certainly leaped out at me as a distinctive piece.
“The Triad” is written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Gerry Talaoc, lettered by John Workman, colored by Bob Sharon and edited by Carl Potts. The last time I had seen Bruce Banner he was in full control of his bestial alter-ego and had been accepted as a hero by the people of Earth. Now, though, the Hulk appears to be somewhere far, far from home, struggling to string together a simple coherent thought.
Within a few pages, Mantlo quickly brought readers up to speed. Buscema renders another of his dramatic flashback montages. I learned that the now-intelligent Hulk was haunted by Doctor Strange’s arch enemy Nightmare, who twisted Banner’s dreams to re-awaken the green goliath’s bestial alter ego. Nightmare hoped to use the Hulk as weapon against the Sorcerer Supreme. However, Strange was able to help the remaining spark of Banner’s consciousness strike back at the demon. Unfortunately the Hulk was left with no mitigating human influence, and became an uncontrollable monster. Rather than have to destroy his old friend, Strange exiled the Hulk to the extra-dimensional Crossroads, which linked up to a myriad of other realities.
And, wow, poor John Workman, a highly skilled letterer, had to try to squeeze all of this information onto a single page! I recall my eight year old self squinting as I read this recap, trying to make out all that tiny lettering.
Now, in the present, after some time wandering the Crossroads, traveling from one strange world to another, the Hulk’s sentience is very gradually awakening. And with this renewed awareness, the Hulk discovers he is now accompanied by a trio of unusual figures. The Triad is made up of a blue-skinned demon Goblin, a young orange-skinned girl Guardian, and a shining magenta star Glow. These mysterious figures were somehow linked to the Hulk, their purpose to help restore the Hulk’s psyche.
Walking through one of the Crossroads portals, the Hulk and the Triad are transported into the middle of a vast alien desert. Although the desolate sands stretch as far as the eye can see, and the harsh sun beats endlessly down, the Hulk refuses to activate the “fail-safe spell” cast by Doctor Strange that would return him to the Crossroads when he feels discontented. As a massive sandstorm sweeps in, the Triad attempt in vain to convince the Hulk to wish himself off this planet before they all perish.
Finally, having survived the brutal elements, the Hulk at last finds that which his inhuman senses had detected from far off: a lush oasis. The Triad realizes that the Hulk was not on a mission of suicide, but was driven by the will to find this oasis, meaning his mind is continuing to heal and come back together.
This was a really odd story to read as a kid. The Hulk was stranded on the other side of reality, fighting not some supervillain or the military, but the very elements, accompanied by an incredibly odd threesome. Mantlo really crafted an unusual story, having the Hulk’s struggle against nature juxtaposed against the Triad’s examination of and insights into his mental state. It is a very introspective tale.
At the time, I had no clue who the Triad was supposed to be. Within the next few issues, Mantlo would reveal that they were the splintered aspects of Bruce Banner’s subconscious mind given form and independent thought. Certainly this was a clever, innovative idea. Reading issue #309 with the benefit of hindsight, I can now see that Mantlo sprinkled the dialogue with a number of hints as to the true identity of the Triad.
Mantlo really broke a lot of ground with his run on Incredible Hulk. Having already given us an intelligent Hulk, he has now exiled the jade giant from Earth and begun to embark on an examination of Bruce Banner’s psychological background. A cursory glance at the Hulk stories that have been written in the decades since readily demonstrates just how much this influenced subsequent writers.
This issue’s artwork was absolutely incredible. The thing that really struck me was the depiction of the Hulk by Buscema & Talaoc. Obviously in other comic books and in cartoons the Hulk had always been a big, strong creature. But this was the first time I had ever seen him drawn as such a huge, bestial, imposing figure.
The depictions of the Crossroads and the desert planet that the Hulk and his strange companions visited were very vivid and detailed. Buscema did a great job on the pencils, crafting these alien environments. And the inking by Talaoc was absolutely superb. He created a tangible atmosphere of oddness for the Crossroads. On the desolate world, his embellishments bring to life a harsh landscape that alternates between cutting winds and a brutal sun.
Buscema stated in the Fast & Furious book that Gerry Talaoc was one of his favorite inkers to work with…
“Gerry Talaoc was a terrific draughtsman and… he drew better than I did. He probably still does. [laughs] And the look of the book was great. I loved what he did. To me the final product was what counted.”
I agree that Buscema and Talaoc went together exceptionally well. Talaoc really enhanced Buscema’s penciling without overpowering it.
Eight years ago I found out that Gerry Talaoc was retired and living in Alaska. I was able to mail a few comic books to him to get signed, and I made certain that The Incredible Hulk #309 was one of them.
On the letters page of The Incredible Hulk #309 editor Carl Potts revealed that this was Sal Buscema’s final regular issue penciling the series, ending his nearly decade-long run. I don’t recall if this meant anything to me back then, since I was just a kid and really wasn’t paying attention to the credits.
Years later, though, I would learn about the behind the scenes circumstances that led to Sal Buscema’s departure from The Incredible Hulk. Buscema and Bill Mantlo, who came on as writer with issue #245, had initially gotten along very well. Regrettably though, as Buscema recounted in Fast & Furious, after several years Mantlo started becoming much more hands-on and demanding in regards to the artwork & storytelling, requesting that Buscema draw pages in certain ways…
“What [Mantlo] was asking for was not good. I didn’t care for it at all, and I have to trust my judgment, because I’m the artist and he’s not. I hate to be this blunt about it, but the fact of the matter is that in many cases where Bill described what he wanted he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was not an artist, because he had no concept – and I do not mean that derogatorily, but simply as a statement of fact – of the relationship of one object to another in a given space. He would ask me to draw things that were impossible to draw.”
Buscema reluctantly asked Marvel Comics to take him off The Incredible Hulk. It’s an unfortunate end to his historic run. Nevertheless, looking at his penciling for issue #309, it is apparent, to me at least, that Buscema was doing high-quality work on the series right up until his departure.
By 1985 it had become a bit easier for me to buy comic books. So fortunately I was able to pick up most the next several issues of the series.
Mike Mignola came onboard as the new penciler. A few issues later the entire team of Mantlo, Mignola & Talaoc relocated to the pages of Alpha Flight. After brief stints by John Byrne and Al Milgrom, The Incredible Hulk gained a new writer, Peter David, who had a lengthy, brilliant run that has some of its roots in Mantlo’s work.
Looking back on Mantlo’s run on The Incredible Hulk, it was innovative and exciting. Despite the difficulties he had working with Mantlo towards the end, the artwork by Buscema was superb. In 2012 a good portion of the Mantlo & Buscema run, issues #269 to #313, was collected in, appropriately enough, a triad of trade paperbacks: Pardoned, Regression and Crossroads.
From my recollection, the point at which Sal Buscema’s artwork really began to stand out in my mind was when he became the regular artist on Spectacular Spider-Man in 1988. His work on that series was outstanding. And so, when I later ended up looking back at those two issues of The Incredible Hulk that I had picked up as a kid, I now realized they had been penciled by Our Pal Sal, which only increased my appreciation for them. It’s great to re-examine them and really absorb the incredible skill Buscema displays with his dynamic layouts & storytelling. Just check out the action, energy and drama on display above, on page 20 of The Incredible Hulk #285.
I definitely recommend purchasing Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist. It is still available from TwoMorrows Publishing.
Credit where credit is due: The format of this piece was partly inspired by Alan Stewart’s entertaining and informative blog Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books. Hey, as the saying goes, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best! You can read Alan’s entries on Sal Buscema, which so far look back at some of his work from the late 1960s and early 70s. And if Alan keeps blogging (and I certainly hope he does) perhaps in another six or so years he’ll be discussing Our Pal Sal’s work on The Incredible Hulk.
In conclusion, I want to wish a very happy 85th birthday to Sal Buscema, and thank him for the many great, enjoyable comic books he’s worked on over the decades.
Yesterday I wrote a short retrospective on comic book creator Steve Lightle, who passed away at 61 years old on January 8th. Lightle was a very talented artist who worked on numerous series during a career that lasted three and a half decades. I am going to spotlight some more examples of his artwork. Here are ten of my favorite Steve Lightle covers and pin-ups.
1) Bolt Special (Spring 1984) – Steve Lightle’s earliest published work was for Bill Black and AC Comics. He drew several covers for AC, including this one. In addition to the title character, this features Tara the Jungle Girl, who would soon co-star in AC’s flagship title Femforce. This cover really shows that Steve hit the ground running.
2) Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes #342 (Dec 1986) – This is definitely a fantastic showcase of Lightle’s work on the Legion, fitting the entire mid-1980s lineup onto a single cover. He really captured the individual personalities of the various characters. The coloring is by Anthony Tollin.
3) Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #23 (Jan 1987) – Lightle co-created Legion member Tellus with writer Paul Levitz. Lightle revealed in interviews that in designing Tellus he wanted to come up with a completely alien, non-humanoid being, and he put a lot of thought into developing the character. This pin-up really illustrates what a unique character Tellus is.
4) Who’s Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (Apr 1988) – Lightle contributed wrap-around covers to the first two issues of this seven part spin-off from the main Who’s Who project. On this first one Lightle draws several members of the then-current line-up alongside a flashback to the team’s first tragic battle with Computo, a story originally recounted during the Silver Age.
5) Classic X-Men #36 (Aug 1989) – Lightle drew a number of incredible covers during his three year run as cover artist on Classic X-Men. The assignment gave him the opportunity to revisit, and reexamine, many of the already-iconic moments from the classic Claremont & Byrne run. Lightle seemed to be especially inspired on his covers for the reprints of “The Darth Phoenix Saga,” with this image of the X-Men and Phoenix being especially stunning.
6) Who’s Who in the DC Universe #14 (Nov 1991) – Lady Quark is a somewhat atypical female superhero, possessing a more athletic physique, harder features and short cropped hair (apparently her look was based on Scottish singer Annie Lennox). Lightle does a fine job illustrating Lady Quark in this profile pic, showcasing her as a powerful, formidable being. The coloring is by Tom McCraw.
7) Marvel Comics Presents #127 (Apr 1993) – This cover with Ghost Rider and Typhoid Mary works well to visualize the duality of the later character, with the Spirit of Vengeance caught between her two personalities . The coloring on this is also very effective, and is probably by Steve himself or his wife Marianne.
8) Wonder Woman Gallery (Sept 1996) – Lightle certainly did a very beautiful pin-up of Princess Diana for this special. It’s unfortunate that he did not have too many opportunities to draw Wonder Woman. The coloring is by Tom McCraw.
9) The Flash #161 (June 2000) – Lightle drew a lot of great pieces during his three year run as cover artist on The Flash, but many people (myself included) nevertheless consider this to be one of the best. This issue features a flashback to the honeymoon of the first Flash, Jay Garrick, and his wife Joan in Las Vegas in 1947, with Jay’s teammates in the Justice Society crashing the party. Lightle successfully evokes the feel of the Golden Age art styles from the original JSA stories. The lettering is by Todd Klein.
10) The Mighty Titan #3 (October 2014) – When writer Joe Martino was running the Kickstarter campaigns to fund The Mighty Titan he asked several established artists to contribute covers. Among them was Lightle, who drew the cover for issue #3. Lightle was a good person, and it was just like him to help an up-and-coming creator. I think it was Lightle posting this cover on social media that made me aware of The Mighty Titan in the first place, which led me to back the Kickstarter. The coloring is by Ross Hughes.
This list could easily have been twice as long. Steve Lightle drew so many amazing pieces of artwork during his lifetime. He will certainly be missed.