George Perez: 1954 to 2022

I was very sorry to hear about the passing of legendary comic book creator George Perez on May 6th. Perez had announced back in December that he was suffering from with inoperable pancreatic cancer, and that he had approximately six months to a year left to live. We all knew this day was coming soon, but it doesn’t make it any less sad.

Perez had an incredibly lengthy, diverse career. As I did a week ago to mark the passing of fellow legend Neal Adams, I am going to refrain from even trying to put together any sort of comprehensive retrospective of Perez’s career, and instead just focus on my own impressions of his work as a fan.

Batman #439 cover drawn by George Perez and collored by Anthony Tollin, published by DC Comics in Sept 1989

I first started following comic books regularly in 1989 when I was 13 years old, so I missed Perez’s early work on Fantastic Four and Avengers for Marvel Comics in the late 1970s, as well as his wildly popular collaboration with writer Marv Wolfman on The New Teen Titans at DC Comics beginning in the early 1980s.

While I can’t be 100% certain, I think the first work by Perez that I ever saw were his covers for the “Batman: Year Three” and “A Lonely Place of Dying” story arcs that ran through Batman #436-442 in the summer and fall of 1989. I was immediately struck by Perez’s intricately detailed work and his complex compositions. His cover to #439 featuring Nightwing hanging on for deal life from the bell tower of a church in the midst of a fierce rainstorm, highlighted by the Bat-signal, especially stood out in my mind. Perez and colorist Anthony Tollin did absolutely stunning work in rendering that atmospheric image.

Within a couple of years I was following quite a few DC titles. War of the Gods was a major crossover that DC published in the summer & fall of 1991, and it tied in with Perez’s run on Wonder Woman. So I picked up Wonder Woman #58 which was written & cover-illustrated by Perez and the four issue War of the Gods miniseries for which Perez was writing, doing interior pencil layouts and drawing full covers. As I’ve mentioned before, this was an absolutely insane time for me to try to dive into Wonder Woman, because this was the culmination of a number of plotlines & character arcs that Perez had been developing over the past five years.

War of the Gods #4 cover drawn by George Perez, published by DC Comics in Dec 1991

Three decades later I only remember three things about War of the Gods: 1) the evil sorceress Circe was the main villain, 2) I didn’t understand even half of what was going on, and 3) DC promoted the fact that for the cover of the final issue of the miniseries Perez set out to draw a cover featuring ONE HUNDRED different characters. That must have been my first exposure to Perez’s fondness for drawing literal armies.

At the exact same time Perez was also penciling another crossover, this time at Marvel. The Infinity Gauntlet was another “cast of thousands” cosmic extravaganza that ran for six double-sized issues. Truthfully, I wasn’t especially into writer Jim Starlin’s story for The Infinity Gauntlet, either, since it very predictably followed the arc of Thanos becoming a god and wiping the floor with everyone else in the Marvel Universe for half a dozen issues before finally losing the titular Infinity Gauntlet.

Nevertheless, Perez, paired with inker Josef Rubinstein, did a fantastic job drawing the cosmic spectacle… at least until working on two mega-crossovers simultaneously became too much for even someone of Perez’s talent & speed, and he had to bow out partway through issue #4, with Ron Lim taking up penciling duties for the remainder of the miniseries. To show support for Lim stepping into this high-profile assignment, and having the unenviable job of following in his footsteps, Perez inked Lim’s pencils on the covers for the final two issues of The Infinity Gauntlet.

The Infinity Gauntlet #1 cover drawn by George Perez and colored by John Stracuzzi, published by Marvel Comics in July 1991

So, while I haven’t revisited The Infinity Gauntlet in the last 30 years, either, I definitely was impressed by the work Perez did on the first half of the miniseries. Certainly his intricate cover for the first issue, colored by John Stracuzzi, is one of the all-time greatest depictions of Thanos in the character’s half-century history. Heck, even Jim Starlin, the writer / artist who created Thanos, has used Perez’s cover artwork for The Infinity Gauntlet #1 for his own convention banner. Now that is respect.

Anyway, throughout the 1990s, when I was in high school & college, I went to a lot of comic book conventions, and bought a lot of back issues from the 1970s and 80s. Amongst these were several books that Perez worked on: Avengers, Justice League of America, The New Teen Titans, Marvel Fanfare, Crisis on Infinite Earths and Action Comics. I also had the opportunity to pick up a lot more issues of Perez’s epic, groundbreaking five year run on Wonder Woman, at last getting in on the earlier parts of his incredible, highly influential revamp of Princess Diana of Themyscira.

Straight from the back issue bin… Crisis on Infinite Earths #10, written by Marv Wolfman, penciled by George Perez, inked by Jerry Ordway, lettered by John Costanze and colored by Anthony Tollin, published by DC Comcis in january 1986

In the mid 1990s Perez penciled the first six issues of Isaac Asimov’s I-BOTS, written by Steven Grant, published by Tekno Comics / Big Entertainment.  I took a look at Perez’s work on that series a few months ago as part of the most recent round of Super Blog Team-Up, in which the various contributors examined different parts of Perez’s amazing career.

In 1998 Perez had another opportunity to pencil Avengers, this time paired with writer Kurt Busiek. Perez remained on the series for three years. After the meandering, confusing events of “The Crossing” and the controversial Heroes Reborn that saw Rob Liefeld take over the book, Busiek & Perez’s run was warmly received by long-time Avengers readers.

Now here’s another one of those occasions when I am going to go against conventional fan wisdom. The truth is I wasn’t especially enthusiastic about Busiek’s writing on Avengers; I feel Busiek is an amazing writer on smaller, intimate, character-driven stories set against the epic backdrops of superhero universes, something he’s demonstrated again and again with his incredible work on Astro City. Same thing for Thunderbolts from Marvel, which was a very character-centric series. In contract, Avengers was the epic superhero event book, and I just didn’t feel that Busiek quite had the faculty to pull off those sorts of stories. (Just my personal opinion, so feel free to disagree.)

The Scarlet Witch tears up the dance floor! Avengers vol 3 #19 written by Kurt Busiek, penciled by George Perez, inked by Al Very, colored by Tom Smith and lettered by Richard Starkings, published by Marvel Comics in August 1999

That said, Busiek did really solid work on the character-driven subplots in Avengers involving the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, Wonder Man, and Carol Danvers / Warbird, as well as his own creations Silverclaw and Triathalon. And of course Perez did an incredible job illustrating Busiek’s stories, both the action scenes and the quieter character moments. I certainly appreciated the stunning costume Perez designed for the Scarlet Witch. And that bellydance sequence featuring Wanda from Avengers vol 3 #19 (Aug 1999) seen above was absolutely gorgeous, a superb example of Perez’s storytelling abilities.

In the early 2000s Perez signed an exclusive contract with startup publisher CrossGen Comics. Perez penciled the quarterly double-sized CrossGen Chronicles, followed by the monthly series Solus. I only read a handful of the CrossGen titles, but I picked up a couple of issues of CrossGen Chronicles specifically for Perez’s artwork.

One of the things I appreciated about the CrossGen books was that it was not a superhero-centric universe. CrossGen enabled Perez to stretch his boundaries and work in the genres of fantasy and sci-fi / space opera. He did some incredible work for them. Regrettably CrossGen only lasted a few years, going bankrupt in 2003.

CrossGen Chronicles #4, written by Mark Waid, penciled by George Perez, inked by Mike Perkins & Rick Magyar, colored by Laura DePuy, Chris Garcia & Mike Garcia, and lettered by Dave Lanphear & Troy Peteri, published by CrossGen Comics in Sept 2001

Back in 1981 Perez had begun penciling a Justice League / Avengers crossover, but the project was left uncompleted due to editorial conflicts between DC and Marvel Comics. Two decades later, in 2002, the Big Two at last came to an agreement to work together and publish a crossover between their two superstar teams. Even though Perez was signed to CrossGen, he’d included a clause in his contract with them that if Justice League / Avengers ever happened he would be allowed to draw it. And so he was reunited with Kurt Busiek and colorist Tom Smith to produce the long-awaited meeting of the Justice League and Avengers in four double-sized bookshelf issues.

JLA / Avengers once again gave Perez the opportunity to draw his casts of thousands. The absolute highlight of the event was the wraparound cover to the third issue, on which Perez depicted every single member of both teams up to that point in time. Tom Smith recently recounted that it took him two whole weeks just to color that cover.

Where’s Waldo?!? JLA/Avengers #3 cover drawn by George Perez and colored by Tom Smith, published by DC and Marvel Comics in December 2003

It seems like everyone has a George Perez story, so here’s mine: I met writer Marv Wolfman at a comic con in White Plains NY in June 2000 and had him autograph my copy of Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, the historic (and at the time absolutely permanent) death of Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash. A few months later, at a store signing in Connecticut, I met artist Jerry Ordway, who had inked that issue,and I had him autograph it, too. He smiled and said “I’d better leave room for George Perez to sign it.” I responded that he didn’t have to do that, since I didn’t expect to ever meet Perez (and, really, I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity, because he was such an incredibly popular artist).  Ordway just smiled again and autographed the book, leaving several inches space between his and Wolfman’s signatures.

Fast forward a few years, and low & behold none other than George Perez was a guest at a comic con in Manhattan. Of course I brought along my copy of Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, and Perez autographed it in between Wolfman & Ordway’s signatures. So, a big “thank you” to Jerry Ordway for his foresight.

Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 signed by Marv Wolfman, George Perez and Jerry Ordway!

I wish I could regale you with some fascinating anecdotes about my meeting George Perez. The simple fact is, in the couple of minutes I spoke with him he came across as a good person, and that’s it. From everything I’ve heard Perez was always like that; he always made an effort to be friendly to all of his fans, to greet them with a warm smile.

About a decade later Michele and I were at New York Comic Con. We ran into Perez when he was between panel discussions or something; I don’t recall the specifics. I just remember that Michele had had a copy of Wonder Woman vol 2 #19 with her, and she went up to Perez and asked him to sign it. I think he was talking with someone, or maybe he was on his way out of the room, but whatever it was he was doing he paused, turned to Michele, smiled, pulled out a sharpie, and autographed her comic. That’s the type of person Perez was, always making time for his fans.

George Perez was an incredible artist and a genuinely decent person. He will definitely be missed. I wish to offer my condolences to his family, friends and colleagues for their loss.

Neal Adams: 1941 to 2022

Legendary comic book artist and forceful advocate for creators’ rights Neal Adams passed away on April 28th at the age of 80 years old. During a career that spanned six decades, Adams had groundbreaking runs illustrating Batman, Deadman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Superman for DC, and Avengers and X-Men for Marvel, as well as working in the horror, sword & sorcery and humor genres.

Batman #227 cover drawn by Neal Adams, published by DC Comics in Dec 1970

I was born in 1976 and didn’t start reading comic books regularly until the late 1980, so I was not around when Adams made an absolutely seismic impact on comic books, both as an industry and as an art form.

For a very insightful look at Adams’ work from the perspective of someone who was reading comic books in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I highly recommend reading my friend Alan Stewart’s blog post on The Brave and the Bold #79, published by DC Comics with an Aug-Sept 1968 cover date, an issue Alan refers to as “one of the most historically significant comics of Neal Adams’ career.”

Even though I wasn’t there when Neal Adams shook American comic books to their core, I nevertheless want to pay tribute to the man and his work. So here is my own personal experience at discovering his incredible artwork.

Ms. Mystic #1 cover drawn by Neal Adams, published by Pacific Comics in Oct 1982

By the 1980s Adams had mostly removed himself from mainstream comic books, having found the fields of storyboarding, advertising, and graphic design to be much better paying ones. He was releasing some creator-owned projects, first through Pacific Comics and then through his own Continuity Studios.  Unfortunately for me they got lost in the glut of the early 1990s comic book explosion, because I simply did not know to look for them.

With the benefit of hindsight, I wish that I had picked up those comics, and that Adams had been able to do more with those characters, especially Ms. Mystic, who I’ve always felt has a wonderful design. (I did later pick up a few of these as back issues.)

So… three and a half decades ago there were no trade paperback collections reprinting older comic books or digital editions readily available to read. There was no Wikipedia or social media. All that I had as a 13 year old comic book fan in 1989 was letter columns and editorial pages in current comic books. From time to time Neal Adams’ name would be mentioned… and I really had no way of knowing who he was.

Batman #234, written by Denny O’Neil, penciled by Neal Adams, inked by Dick Giordano, lettered by John Costanza and edited by Julius Schwartz, published by DC Comics in August 1971

The first occasion when I ever saw Adams’ work must have been in the collection The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told which DC Comics released in November 1988 ahead of Batman’s 50th anniversary. I bought that book in 1990, and I read it religiously.

Neal Adams penciled two of the stories in that collection, “Ghost of the Killer Skies” from Detective Comics #404 (Oct 1970) and “Half an Evil” from Batman #234 (Aug 1971), both of those in collaboration with writer Denny O’Neil and inker Dick Giordano. The book also had smaller reproductions of a few of Adams’ covers, among them his evocative artwork for Batman #227 (Dec 1970), a stunningly atmospheric piece that when I finally saw it full-sized years later took my breath away.

While I certainly liked Adams artwork in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told well enough, I had no way of putting it within its proper context. His penciling was nice, but it didn’t seem all that different from what I was used to seeing in comic books. I liken it to someone completely ignorant of cinematic history seeing Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and having the reaction of “What’s the big deal?” Because just as the innovations Welles has pioneered in his filmmaking eventually became commonplace in filmmaking, the storytelling & stylistic choices pioneered by Adams had become thoroughly suffused in American comic books by the early 1990s.

Batman #244 written by Denny O’Neil, penciled by Neal Adams, inked by Dick Giordano and lettered by jean Simek, published by DC Comics in Sept 1972

I think that I FINALLY began to understand just how important Neal Adams was when in the late 1990s and the early 2000s DC at long last began reissuing his work. I was finally able to read Green Lantern / Green Arrow and the Batman: Tales of the Demon featuring the Dark Knights first encounters with the diabolical Ra’s al Ghul, both of which Adams did with writer Denny O’Neil.

Likewise, the epic Avengers storyline “The Kree / Skrull War” and the late 1960s X-Men run that Adams penciled with writer Roy Thomas and inker Tom Palmer (with Adams serving as an uncredited co-plotter) were both collected together by Marvel Comics in the year 2000.

Adams’ artwork on all of these was absolutely breathtaking. I also discovered that he drew some astonishingly great covers for DC throughout the 1970s. The more I saw of Adams’ work, the more I grew to appreciate it.

X-Men #59, co-plotted & penciled by Roy Thomas, co-plotted, penciled & colored by Neal Adams, inked by Tom Palmer and lettered by Sam Rosen, published by Marvel Comics in Aug 1969

On Facebook comic artist Scott Williams shared the below two images, along with the following commentary:

“Someone on Twitter posted these two images side by side. One, a page from X-Men #54 by Don Heck, and the other from X-Men #56 by Neal Adams, both from 1969. Same characters and storyline. My point is not to in any way disparage Don Heck, but to demonstrate what a tectonic impact Neal had in comics. Couldn’t be a more stark and clear example (garish reprint coloring aside here) of how Neal changed the game forever.”

For the record, the full credits for X-Men #54 are apparently breakdowns by Don Heck, finished pencils by Werner Roth, and inks by Vince Colletta. Heck and Roth are both good, solid, underrated artists who seldom receive their due. Pencilers such as Heck and Roth were the vital foundation of the American comic book industry, guys who could tell a clear story and hit deadlines month after month.

But, yeah, when you place Adams side-by-side with them, basically drawing the same scene as Heck & Roth , it totally enables you to see exactly what Adams brought to comic books in the late 1960s, and why it was so Earth-shaking.

Compare & contrast: X-Men #54 (March 1969) drawn by Don Heck, Werner Roth & Vince Colletta, and two issues later X-Men #56 (May 1969) drawn by Neal Adams & Tom Palmer

Just as important, perhaps even more important, as Adams’ artistic legacy was his continual fight for creators’ rights in the comic book industry, which has for all-too-long regarded talent as interchangeable, disposable cogs in the machine. Among the creators Adams helped out where Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers and Russ Heath. Over on 13th Dimension former DC Comics writer /editor / publisher Paul Levitz discussed this aspect of Adams’ career…

“What I didn’t know is that as Neal began shaking up the look of comics, he began devoting much of his energy to shaking up the processes. Creative people were treated very poorly in the field in those years, and most of the leaders in the community were afraid to champion the cause because of the likely consequences. The disparity of power between the owners of the comics companies and the creators was an immeasurable gap, and at its base waited carnivores ready to devour agitators. But a modern Don Quixote had no fear…

“Of the many fights won or ignored, the one that was most visible was being part of the team (with Jerry Robinson and Ed Preiss) that labored to restore Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s credit to Superman, and economic dignity to their lives. Jerry was probably the more suave negotiator, Ed the wise lawyer… but Neal roared the loudest. And they won.”

Adams was also a teacher to young up-and-coming artists who hoped to enter the comic book biz. Among the many creators he mentored over the years were Frank Brunner, Howard Chaykin, Larry Hama, Bob McLeod, Frank Miller, Bill Sienkiewicz, Buzz , Henry Martinez and his own son Josh Adams.

Superman #252 cover drawn by Neal Adams, published by DC Comics in June 1972

Living in the New York City area most of my life, I was very fortunate to have met Neal Adams on several occasions at comic cons and store signing. In spite of the fact that he was a hugely popular creator who was frequently mobbed by fans, Adams always came across as polite and patient to everyone who came up to his table. He always had a smile on his face.

There was one time he was at Big Apple Comic Con about a decade ago when his table wasn’t busy and I had the opportunity to chat with him for a few minutes, and I asked him about something I had been curious about for a while. In the pages of X-Men #62 (Nov 1969) Adams had been the first artist to draw Magneto without his helmet. The features & hair he gave Magneto were very close to those of Quicksilver… so much so that a decade later this became the basis for establishing that Magneto was the father of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

I asked Adams if in giving Magneto that particular visual he had intended for the character to be Quicksilver’s father. Adams gave me one of his smiles and explained that he liked to plant “seeds” in his storylines that he or other creators could then use to develop future storylines if they so choose.

X-Men #62, co-plotted & scripted by Roy Thomas, co-plotted, penciled & colored by Neal Adams, inked by Tom Palmer and lettered by Sam Rosen, published by Marvel Comics in Nov 1969

Adams then smiled again, leaned in conspiratorially, and told me he had something to tell me, but I had to promise not to tell anyone else about it, and I agreed. (Since he’s now passed away I feel comfortable recounting this.) Adams said he had an idea for another X-Men story that he hoped to do one day. Adams observed that the Beast in his furry blue form had the same distinctive hairstyle as Wolverine… so he wanted to reveal that Wolverine was Hank McCoy’s father.

Honestly, it sounded completely bonkers to me! But I am sure that if Adams had ever gotten around to actually doing it then it would certainly have been a memorable story.

Another time I saw Adams at a convention he was penciling a page for the Batman: Odyssey project at his table while talking to fans. Observing him up close laying down this detailed pencil work and these intricate, dramatic layouts while simultaneously carrying on conversations just left me in awe.

Neal Adams always looked a decade or so younger to me than he actually was. For example, when he was in early 70s he didn’t look much older than 60. I guess that’s why I expected him to live, well, not forever, but certainly much, much longer. Still, 80 years is a good, long run, especially as he was still creating quality work right up until almost the end, capping it off with the Fantastic Four: Antithesis miniseries written by Mark Waid that was published in 2020.

Fantastic Four: Antithesis written by Mark Waid, penciled by Neal Adams, inked by Mark Farmer, lettered by Joe Caramagna and colored by Laura Martin, published by Marvel Comics in Nov 2020

So much more could be said about Adams; you could literally write books about him. I’ve blogged about him a few times in the past; the links are below.

My sincere condolences to Neal Adams’ family, friends, and colleagues for their loss.

Nehemiah Persoff: 1919 to 2022

On April 5th prolific character actor Nehemiah Persoff passed away at the age of 102. Given his lengthy career and his long life, I wanted to share a few highlights about the man and his work.

Persoff, who was Jewish, was born on August 2, 1919 in Jerusalem, in what was then known as the British Mandate of Palestine. When he was 10 years old Persoff immigrated to the United States with the rest of his family.

Persoff initially trained as an electrician at the Hebrew Technical Institute in New York City, from which he graduated in 1937. However he was possessed of a love of acting, and when drafted into the United States Army during World War II he was part of an acting company that entertained soldiers overseas.  In 1947 Persoff was accepted into the Actors Studio in Manhattan, and a year later he began his professional career.

Nehemiah Persoff in The Twilight Zone episode “Judgment Night” (1959)

As with many foreign-born actors in the American movie and television industry in the mid 20th Century, Persoff was cast as a wide variety of ethnicities & nationalities, and frequently portrayed villainous roles.  Most notably, between 1959 and 1962 Persoff guest starred in six episodes of the Prohibition era crime drama The Untouchables, three of those featuring him as Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik, financial advisor and bagman to Chicago mob boss Al Capone.

Another of Persoff’s memorable television appearances was The Twilight Zone episode “Judgment Night” written by Rod Serling and broadcast in December 1959. He played Carl Lanser, a ruthless Nazi U-boat captain who is now doomed to spend all of eternity trapped on the British cargo liner he ordered destroyed in 1942.

Among the other genre roles Persoff was cast in were brilliant South American scientist Professor Moreno in the Wonder Woman episode “Formula 407” (1977), the supreme leader of the totalitarian Eastern Alliance in the Battlestar Galactica episode “Experiment in Terra” (1979) and Palor Toff, a very odd-looking alien merchant & collector of rare items in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Most Toys” (1990).

Nehemiah Persoff in the Wonder Woman episode “Formula 407” (1977)

As he grew older, Persoff was afforded more opportunities to portray sympathetic roles, and was often cast as characters who shared his own real-life Jewish heritage, something that was of great personal importance to him. He played a Jewish refugee fleeing from Nazi oppression in the 1976 historical drama Voyage of the Damned and portrayed Rebbe Mendel, the father to Barbara Streisand’s character in the 1983 musical Yentl. Persoff later gave voice to another Jewish patriarch, Papa Mousekewitz, in the 1986 animated movie An American Tail and its three sequels.

Persoff’s acting career lasted thru 1999. After suffering from a stroke he retired, but he then took up watercolor painting, on which he spent the next two decades. He also wrote an autobiography, The Many Faces of Nehemiah, which was published in 2021.

Persoff met his future wife Thia during a visit to Israel in 1951. They married later that year and remained together until her own passing in 2021.

Interviewed in 2008 by James Rosin for Films of the Golden Age, Persoff reflected on his lengthy acting career and his continued creative endeavors as a painter:

“It was a wonderful sixty years, but at this time in my life, I love solving problems on the canvas; trying to find the beauty and essence of a subject. It’s a fascinating, challenging, yet calming and most fulfilling process, finding colors that like each other, not only the basic colors, but the infiinite variations, starting with a fresh canvas and suddenly seeing it come alive. That gives one a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. I feel very fortunate in being able to continue my creative life; but this time without the tension, frustration and conflicts of an acting career.”

In memory of my grandmother

My grandmother Ann Zeidberg passed away on Sunday morning. The funeral was this afternoon. Ann was 101 years old, so she led a full, long life. The last several years she was in poor health, so I feel it’s actually a relief that she is no longer suffering.

Ann could be very gruff (no doubt the result of both her being the daughter of working class immigrants from Eastern Europe and her growing up during the very difficult days of the Great Depression) but she was also caring in her own way, and I know she loved me. She always referred to me as “a handsome young man” which inevitably made me blush.

Due to the pandemic and her poor health, I didn’t have any opportunities to visit my grandmother over the past couple years. In a way that was a blessing, because I really hated to see her slowly fading away like she was.

Below is a photo of me with Ann from happier times, eight years ago. Michele and I had gone to a comic book convention at the Westchester County Center in June 2014, and afterwards we walked over to my grandparents’ house in White Plains to say “Hello.” Thank you to Michele for taking this photo of me with my grandmother.

For more about Ann Zeidberg here is a link to her obituary.

Peter Bowles: 1936 to 2022

British actor Peter Bowles passed away today at the age of 85. A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Bowles had a career that spanned from 1956 to 2019, during which he appeared in a diverse selection of television shows, movies, and theatrical productions.

Danger Man “Fish on the Hook” (1964)

Depending upon your own particular interests, you may recall Bowles from one thing or another. To the general public in Britain he is probably best-known for his starring roles in the sitcoms To The Manor Born on BBC1 from 1979 to 1981 and Only When I Laugh on ITV from 1979 to 1982. Offhand I don’t recall having ever watched either of those shows. However I was very familiar with Bowles from his numerous appearances in British genre television over the years.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Bowles guest starred on such shows as Danger Man, The Saint, The Prisoner, Department S, The Avengers, The Protectors and Special Branch, often playing villains. In 1975 Bowles appeared in “The Fourth Horseman,” the first episode of the post-apocalyptic drama Survivors created by Terry Nation. Bowles played David Grant, the husband of lead character Abby Grant, portrayed by Carolyn Seymour; by episode’s end David, along with 99% of the human race, had been wiped out by a virulent pandemic, setting the stage for the rest of series.

Space 1999 “End of Eternity” (1975)

Another of Bowles notable genre roles was in the Space 1999 episode “End of Eternity,” written by Johnny Byrne and directed by Ray Austin, broadcast in November 1975. Space 1999 was an ambitious sci-fi / space opera which often transcended its low budget and primitive special effects via an effective combination of quality writing & acting, resulting in a number of memorably disturbing episodes. “End of Eternity” is definitely among those. Bowles played Baylor, an immortal alien who the actor subsequently described as “the most evil man in the universe.” The combination of an absolutely chilling performance by Bowles and effective direction & staging from Austin succeeds in making Baylor a genuinely terrifying presence.

It absolutely speaks to Bowles’ skills as an actor and to his versatility that throughout his career he was able to so very successfully transition back & forth between drama and comedy, between playing the sinister villain and the normal, likable everyman.

Tom Veitch: 1941 to 2022

I was sorry to hear that writer Tom Veitch had passed away on February 18th at the age of 80 from COVID-19. Tom Veitch had a career that spanned over four decades. He was a contributor to the underground comix movement of the early 1970s, as well as a novelist & a poet. Veitch was the older brother of acclaimed comic book creator Rick Veitch.

I am most familiar with the work Tom Veitch did in mainstream comic books from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. During this time he did work published by Marvel, DC and Dark Horse.

Animal Man #41 cover art by Brian Bolland, published by DC Comics in Dec 1991

Veitch became the writer on Animal Man from DC Comics with issue #33, cover-dated March 1991. He had the unenviable task of following after the acclaimed work of Grant Morrison and Peter Milligan on that series. Veitch’s run lasted through issue #50, August 1992.

I was in high school when Veitch was writing Animal Man and, truth be told, my tastes were, well, less than refined, so to speak.  To be brutally honest, I was a Marvel Zombie, a superhero junkie. I bought several issues of Animal Man for the stunning covers by Brian Bolland. I was definitely caught off-guard by the decidedly unconventional work inside by Veitch, who for most of his run was paired up with interior artist Steve Dillon. David Klein & Mark Badger, Brett Ewins & Jim McCarthy and Steve Pugh also contributed artwork during Veitch’s year and a half run.

Looking back on those issues of Animal Man, and my reactions to them, at the time I was probably lacking in the maturity & knowledge of political & social topics such as environmentalism, animal rights and faith & spirituality, to truly appreciate the work of Veitch and his artistic collaborators.  Nevertheless, I did have a certain appreciation for the stories they were telling. Veitch did a superb job of writing Animal Man / Buddy Baker’s relationship with his wife Ellen and daughter Maxine. I have no doubt that if I were to revisit those comics in the present day that I would enjoy them a great deal, as well as have a much greater appreciation for the themes & subjects which Veitch was addressing in his stories.

Animal Man #41 written by Tom Veitch, drawn by Steve Dillon, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Tatjana Wood, published by DC Comics in Dec 1991

In 1988 Veitch and artist Cam Kennedy had collaborated on the six issue creator-owned war / fantasy series The Light and Darkness War published by the Epic imprint of Marvel Comics. As he later recounted in Back Issue #55 from TwoMorrows Publishing, Veitch subsequently sent copies of The Light and Darkness War to George Lucas with a proposal for a new Star Wars comic book series. It’s perhaps difficult to understand now, but in 1989 Star Wars was considered a moribund property, and Veitch & Kennedy were among the few people genuinely interested in taking it forward. Lucas was impressed by their work and gave them the green light.

Star Wars: Dark Empire #1 cover art by Dave Dorman, published by Dark Horse Comics in Dec 1991

Veitch & Kennedy initially pitched this new Star Wars project to Marvel, who had published the ongoing SW comic book from 1977 to 1986. Marvel, however, got cold feet, believing SW was no longer commercially viable.  Veitch convinced Lucasfilm to speak with independent publisher Dark Horse Comics, who had recently done a successful comic book continuation of the Aliens franchise. The project was moved over to Dark Horse, and the six issue Star Wars: Dark Empire by Veitch & Kennedy, with painted covers by Dave Dorman, was published bimonthly from December 1991 to October 1992. The epic, ambitious, galaxy-spanning Dark Empire was a huge success, and Dark Horse retained the Star Wars license until 2014, when Disney bought the entire property up and returned it to Marvel.

Dark Empire was followed in 1994 by a six issue sequel, Dark Empire II, also by Veitch & Kennedy. Veitch’s storyline concluded in the two issue Empire’s End in 1995, this time with artwork by Jim Baike. I’ve always gotten the impression that Empire’s End was originally planned as another six issue miniseries and was chopped town to a third that length. Nevertheless, despite its seemingly rushed nature, it did provide a decent ending to the Dark Empire trilogy.

Veitch also wrote several Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi miniseries . Set thousands of years before the movie trilogy, Tales of the Jedi chronicled the early years of the Jedi and their battles with the ancient Sith.

Veitch is generally considered to be one of the key figures in revitalizing interest in the Star Wars franchise during the 1990s, helping to lay the groundwork for Lucas himself to eventually return to the a galaxy far, far away with the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars animated series.

Star Wars: Dark Empire #4 written by Tom Veitch, drawn & colored by Cam Kennedy and lettered by Todd Klein, published by Dark Horse Comics in June 1992

Some of the ideas & concepts in Veitch’s Star Wars stories have inspired more recent material. Most notably, it was Veitch & Kennedy who first resurrected Emperor Palpatine in a cloned body in their Dark Empire trilogy, a development that was made canonical in the 2019 movie The Rise of Skywalker. Dark Empire also saw Boba Fett return from his seeming demise in the maw of the Saarlac to become a prominent figure, again something that has been adopted by the live action SW universe in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.

Animal Man and Star Wars were but two facets of Veitch’s rich, lengthy writing career. He was an unconventional, imaginative creator who will definitely be missed.

Doctor Who writer Bob Baker: 1939 to 2021

Longtime British television & film scriptwriter Bob Baker passed away on November 3rd. He was 82 years old.

Baker, often paired up with creative partner Dave Martin, wrote for a number British television series throughout the 1970s, including the long-running science fiction series Doctor Who.

Baker & Martin’s first contribution to Doctor Who was the four-part serial “The Claws of Axos,” broadcast in 1971. A memorable story featuring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor, it saw the shape-shifting vampiric entity Axos attempt to drain the Earth dry of its life energy. Their second contribution to the series was the six-part “The Mutants” broadcast in 1972. Containing strong anti-imperialist and anti-apartheid sentiments, it is one of the Doctor Who’s most overtly political stories.

Baker & Martin co-wrote a total of eight serials for Doctor Who between 1971 and 1979, with Baker working solo on a ninth story, “Nightmare of Eden,” which was broadcast in late 1979.

Among Baker & Martin’s contributions to the Doctor Who universe, they created the beloved robot dog K-9, who was introduced in their 1977 serial “The Invisible Enemy” during Tom Baker’s tenure as the Doctor. At the end of the story K-9 joined the Doctor on his travels, and the mechanical dog was a regular presence in the TARDIS for the next several seasons.

Although K-9 was written out of Doctor Who in 1981, the mechanical mutt has periodically returned over the years, and was paired up with fan-favorite companion Sarah Jane Smith, played by actress Elisabeth Sladen. Baker himself contributed to the K-9 spin-off series that ran for 26 episodes between October 2009 and November 2010 on Network Ten in Australia and on Channel 5 in the UK.

Among the other television series Baker contributed to was the police procedural Z-Cars (1974), the police action series Target (1977-8), the crime drama Bergerac (1981, 1983), and the children’s dark fantasy series King of the Castle (1977) and Into the Labyrinth (1981-2).

Beginning in 1993 Baker became associated with another iconic British dog. Created by Nick Park, the stop motion animation series Wallace & Gromit features the absent-minded inventor Wallace and his silent yet intelligent anthropomorphic beagle Gromit. Baker began co-writing the Wallace & Gromit series with the second animated short The Wrong Trousers in 1993. This was followed by A Close Shave in 1995, the feature-length animated film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit in 2005, and the short A Matter of Loaf and Death in 2008. Baker also worked on the six episode television series Wallace and Gromit’s World of Invention broadcast on BBC One in November 2010.

Notably, A Matter of Loaf and Death saw Baker, in a bit of dark humor, write in his own death via the demise of “Baker Bob,” one of the victims of a serial killer who is murdering British bakers.

Baker wrote an autobiography entitled K-9 Stole My Trousers! which was published in 2013. He co-wrote with Paul M. Tam the 2015 anthology The Essential Book of K-9. Another short story collection, K-9: Megabytes, was released in 2020.

Baker’s contributions to Doctor Who and Wallace & Gromit made him a beloved figure of genre fandom. He will certainly be missed.

Stuart Damon: 1937 to 2021

Actor Stuart Damon passed away on June 29th at the age of 84. I was surprised that not much mention had been made of his death as he was well-known by both fans of British telefantasy and American soap operas. So I thought it worth putting together a short remembrance.

The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Stuart Damon was born in Brooklyn NY on February 5, 1937. He attended Brandeis University, from which he graduated in 1958. Damon’s career began in 1962 as a theater actor on Broadway, and this led to him being cast in the 1965 television production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella alongside Lesley Ann Warren. Broadcast on CBS on February 22, 1965, Cinderella was for several decades the highest-rated non-sports special to air on that network, and it provided Damon with a huge career boost.

Damon moved to Britain later that year, and over the next decade he appeared in a number of television and theater productions in the UK. Most notably, Damon co-starred with Alexandra Bastedo and William Gaunt on the spy-fi series The Champions that aired for 30 episodes on ITV between September 1968 and April 1969.

In the pilot episode of The Champions secret agents Craig Stirling (Damon), Sharon Macready (Bastedo) and Richard Barrett (Gaunt) infiltrate a bioweapons laboratory in Communist China. Fleeing by airplane, they crash in the Himalayas, and nearly die, but are rescued by an advanced hidden civilization. The super-science that is used to save the three agents also endows them with a variety of paranormal abilities such as enhanced strength, ultra-fast reflexes and ESP. Returning to Geneva, the three agents use these abilities protect the world from a variety of fascist and terrorist menaces, all the while striving to keep those powers hidden from their superiors.

Although it was filmed on a shoestring budget, The Champions was well-written, and the three leads did a good job carrying the fantastical premise. All these years later it is still well-regarded.

Interviewed in 2011 about his time on the series, Damon stated:

“My character grew because I grew as an actor. I’ve always taken my work very, very seriously. In all the years I’ve been an actor I’ve never worked one day on anything without being excited to be there and determined to do the best job I could. So I was just always trying to improve and to be creative and as imaginative as possible when playing Craig Stirling. Like anything else, the more time you spend acting the better you get at it.”

During his time in the UK Damon also guest-starred twice on the science fiction series Space 1999. In the November 1975 episode “Matter of Life and Death” Damon brielfly appeared as Eagle pilot Parks. Then, in the two-part story “The Bringers of Wonder” broadcast in April 1977 Damon plays Guido Verdeschi, the brother of Moonbase Alpha’s security chief Tony Verdeschi (Tony Anholt)… although Guido, along with all of the other members of the supposed rescue expedition from Earth, turn out to be blobby one-eyed telepathic radiation-consuming aliens!

After returning to the States in 1977 Damon was cast as Dr. Alan Quartermaine on the soap opera General Hospital. Damon would play the role for 31 years. The morally ambiguous Quatermaine, a kindly, benevolent doctor who in his off-time attempted to murder his wife on several occasions and who did actually succeed in bumping off a couple of other characters, as well as committing sundry other crimes, was very popular with viewers.

Damon finally departed General Hospital in February 2007 when his character was killed off. Damon would later reprise Quartermaine in several episodes, alternately, in a dream sequence, as a ghost, and as a hallucination. (Soap operas are, I think, only slightly less ridiculous than superhero comic books!)

Damon was nominated for a Daytime Emmy on several occasions for his performance as Alan Quartermaine. He finally won the award for Best Supporting Actor in 1999 due to a storyline in which Quartermaine, following surgery, became addicted to painkillers.

I have to confess, offhand I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single episode of General Hospital from start to finish. That said, it strikes me that appearing as a regular on a television series for three decades straight is one heck of an achievement.

Damon himself seemed very fond of the role. In a 2010 interview he explained his approach to playing Quartermaine:

“What I tried to do as an actor is I tried to make the character as complete as possible. I wanted to make sure that this character had an edge, that he wasn’t Mr. Good Guy or Mr. Bad Guy — he wasn’t back or white, he was gray. I wanted to make him someone you didn’t mess with.”

Jim Steinman: 1947 to 2021

“I’ve been called over the top. How silly. If you don’t go over the top, you can’t see what’s on the other side.” – Jim Steinman

Acclaimed composer, lyricist, record producer, and playwright Jim Steinman passed away on April 19th. He was 73 years old.

Steinman was known for his epic musical compositions. Some might call them operatic, while others would probably prefer to describe them as melodramatic. Myself, being someone with a fondness for the epic, grand soundscapes, really enjoyed his work.

Steinman’s career began in the late 1960s, but he first gained widespread recognition when he composed Bat Out of Hell, the 1977 debut album of Meat Loaf. Bat Out of Hell became one of the best-selling albums of all time. I have to confess, Bat Out of Hell initially escaped my attention for one very good reason: I was all of one year old when it came out, so I was obviously a bit too young to be able to appreciate Steinman’s lyrics & compositions and Meat Loaf’s vocals.

However, by the time their long-awaited follow-up, Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell was released in September 1993, I was absolutely the perfect age to listen. This was right at the beginning of my senior year in high school, and “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” was being blasted across the airwaves. Meat Loaf belted out these incredible, soulful vocals. The duet at the end between Meat Loaf and Lorraine Crosby aka “Mrs. Loud” topped off the dramatic, atmospheric ballad.

The epic music video for “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” directed by Michael Bay, with its eerie, Gothic romance imagery, was in heavy rotation on MTV in late 1993. Yes, kids, this was back in the bygone days when MTV actually played music videos!

I bought Bat Out of Hell II soon after it came out, and I totally played that album to death! Seriously, it was one of those albums I would listen to from start to finish, not skipping any tracks. Steinman and Meat Loaf really seemed to catch lightning in a bottle with this one, with nary a dud on the track list. Even track 7, “Wasted Youth,” a bizarre monologue spoken by Steinman himself, was weirdly entertaining.

Steinman also worked with Air Supply, Barry Manilow, Bonnie Tyler, Celine Dion, and The Sisters of Mercy, writing some incredibly stirring songs for those artists. Many of those songs became huge hits.

Growing up in the 1980s, the Bonnie Tyler song “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (1983) was a regular presence on “light FM” radio stations. I always liked it, although it wasn’t until a decade later that I learned Steinman had written & produced it. Of course, as soon as I found out, I could immediately see his lyrical and acoustical signatures all over it. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was later covered as an electronic dance track by Nicki French in 1995, again becoming a hit.

The power ballad “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” was written by Steinman in 1986. Inspired by the Gothic romance novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” was first recorded in 1989 by Pandora’s Box, a female group assembled by Steinman in the late 1980s. Elaine Caswell provided the lead vocals.

The video for “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Ken Russell.  Steinman wrote the script for the video, and he drew inspiration from Russell’s own recent work on the “Nessun Dorma” segment from the 1987 compilation opera movie Aria. Russell’s video for “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” could be described as an apocalyptic S&M orgy, with leather-clad demons and angels fighting over the soul of a woman (portrayed by Caswell) who hovers between life and death after a fiery motorcycle crash in a graveyard.

“It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” was covered by Celine Dion on her 1996 album Falling Into You, with Steinman once again producing the track. Dion’s version became a worldwide hit. Andrew Lloyd Weber reportedly told Steinman that he thought it was “the greatest love song ever written.”

The video for Dion’s cover of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” was directed by Nigel Dick. It was much more in the line of traditional Gothic romance than the Pandora’s Box version had been, but it was certainly no less grandiose. Set in a sprawling mansion, the music video was shot on location in the 200 year old Ploskovice summer palace of the Austrian Emperors, and at Barandov Studios in Prague, Czech Republic.

“It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” was later covered again in 2006. This time it was performed as a duet by Meat Loaf and Marion Raven. The producer on this version was Desmond Child rather than Steinman.

Steinman later wrote Bat Out of Hell: The Musical, which featured a number of his iconic compositions. The show opened in February 2017 at the Manchester Opera House. It subsequently was staged in London, Toronto and New York City. Tours in the United States, Australia and the UK were planned, but postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jim Steinman career has been described as “wholly unique” by Rolling Stone. He leaves behind a rich musical legacy of incredibly dramatic, iconic songs.

Frank Thorne: 1930 to 2021

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.

Red Sonja #9 (May 1978)

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.