The Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part Ten

Welcome to the tenth Comic Book Coffee collection. I’ve been posting these daily in the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The challenge was to see how many different pencilers I could find artwork by featuring coffee. I’m hoping to do 100 of these entries on FB, which means we’re halfway there.

46) Frank Miller & Klaus Janson

Here’s a coffee-drinking cover, courtesy of penciler Frank Miller and inker Klaus Janson.  This is for Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15, written by Denny O’Neil, lettered by Jim Novak, and colored by Bob Sharon, published by Marvel Comics in September 1981.

I know sometimes covers are designed by people other than the credited penciler, although I cannot find any info to that effect for this one.  Regardless, whether it was Frank Miller himself or someone else, this is an incredibly striking image.  The reader is seeing through the eyes of Doctor Octopus as he drinks his morning coffee and reads the Daily Bugle’s account of the latest battle between Spider-Man and the Punisher.

In the last couple of decades, what with the proliferation of ninjas, prostitutes, racism and Goddamn Batmen in his stories, it is easy to forget what made Miller such a well-regarded creator in the first place.  Looking through this Annual recently, I was reminded what an absolutely incredible storyteller he can be.  Miller’s layouts for this story are astonishing.  He does a hell of a job showing Doctor Octopus making full, creative, deadly use of his mechanical tentacles.

The inks / finishes by Klaus Janson in this Annual are very effective.  Janson’s inking has always been wonderfully well-suited to creating moody atmospheres.  His artistic collaborations with Miller, here and on the ongoing Daredevil series, are certainly well-regarded.

47) Michele Witchipoo

Here’s a page from the Psycho Bunny story “Summer of COVID19” written & drawn by Michele Witchipoo, which is currently on Webtoon.

Psycho Bunny is a misanthropic, foul-mouthed, alcoholic rabbit who lives in Queens, NYC.  He been featured in a series of self-published comic books created by Witchipoo over the past 15 years.  This latest story sees Psycho Bunny dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic, and the accompanying insanity, in his own rage-filled way.

On this page Psycho Bunny is at his job at Any Company Inc, stuck listening to his annoying co-worker Bill the Badger, who thinks COVID-19 is a hoax.  Glancing around to make sure the coast is clear, Psycho Bunny slips out an airplane bottle…

“The manager isn’t around. Gonna sneak some booze into this shitty coffee.”

Yes, Michele is my girlfriend.  I may be biased, but I think she is a very talented artist.  She has self-published a number of comic books, and her work has been included in several small press anthologies.  Michele’s illustrations were first published in 2010 by MTV Press.

“Psycho Bunny: Summer of COVID19” can be viewed at the link below.  Stay tuned for future installments.

https://www.webtoons.com/en/challenge/psycho-bunny-summer-of-covid19-/list?title_no=446519

48) Al Milgrom & Joe Sinnott

Avengers #246, penciled by Al Milgrom, inked by Joe Sinnott, written by Roger Stern, lettered by Jim Novak, and colored by Christie Scheele, published by Marvel Comics with an August 1984 cover date.

Al Milgrom shows off his strong storytelling chops on this page featuring the Vision and the Scarlet Witch.  Inking is by Joe Sinnott, his third appearance in this Comic Book Coffee series.  For many years Sinnott was a much in-demand embellisher at Marvel.  I enjoyed the work Milgrom and Sinnott did together.  They were a solid art team.

During a meeting at the White House, the Vision attempts to convince the President that the Avengers should report directly to the Oval Office.  This is all part of the Vision’s plan for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to gain more power & responsibility, with the final secret goal of the Vision himself assuming control of the world.

The Vision now seeks to establish himself as a “man of the people” with whom the public is comfortable.  In order to make his profile more public, he and the Scarlet Witch are returning to New York not by Avengers Quinjet but by commercial airliner.

To the Scarlet Witch’s surprise, the Vision orders drinks from the stewardess.  “My wife will have tea with lemon, and I’ll take coffee… cream, no sugar!”  This prompts another passenger to remark, “’Ey, how about that? The Vizh takes his coffee the same way I do!”  A satisfied Vision thinks to himself “Perfect! Just the reaction I wanted!”  Yep, the Vision certainly understands him human psychology!

All of this leaves the Scarlet Witch bewildered. “He never drinks coffee! What is going on?”  I don’t know if Roger Stern intended this to be a deliberate reference, but this scene always reminds me of the 1980 disaster parody movie Airplane!

49) Frank Turner & Bill Black

Femforce #44, penciled & inked by Frank Turner, written by Bill Black, and lettered by Tim Twonky, published by AC Comics in December 1991.

Let’s take another look at Femforce.  Having been exposed to a flawed version of the chemical compound that originally gave Ms. Victory her powers, the Femforce team leader was transformed into the anti-social bad girl Rad.  Breaking away from Femforce, Rad led a wild, hedonistic lifestyle.

Rad recently lost a bundle in Atlantic City, and so reluctantly agrees to create a youth formula for a wealthy woman who promises to pay her a fortune.  What Rad does not realize is that the elderly lady and her assistant are actually Lady Luger and Fritz Von Voltzman, who she fought as Ms. Victory back during World War II.  The Nazi war criminals are plotting to duplicate the chemical, and they slip Rad a drugged cup of coffee to incapacitate her.

Frank Turner got his start in the mid 1980s working for black & white independent companies Graphik Publikations, Eternity and Malibu.  In the early 1990s he drew a number of stories for AC Comics, as well as a few jobs for Millenium Publications, doing some very nice work at both companies.  I certainly liked the art he did for Femforce.  Turner then worked for Marvel between 1992 and 1994 as an inker on several different titles.

Following the mid-1990s implosion in comic books Turner reportedly worked for Sony Animation in California for a period of times, after which he moved back to his native Birmingham, AL.  Unfortunately he passed away in 2008 at the much too young age of 47.

50) Khary Randolph & Rich Perotta

New Mutants volume 2 #13 penciled by Khary Randolph, inked by Rich Perotta, written by Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir, lettered by Dave Sharpe, and colored by Ian Hannin & Rob Ro, published by Marvel Comics with a June 2004 cover date.

The second New Mutants series saw the original team becoming teachers and Xavier’s School, instructing a new generation of young mutants in the use of their powers & abilities.  This final issue of volume two served as a bookend to the debut of the New Mutants in Marvel Graphic Novel #4 two decades earlier.

Donald Pierce, the cyborg terrorist who was the original team’s very first adversary way back when, has returned.  Pierce and his new team of mutant-hating Reavers arrive in Salem Center NY planning to eliminate Josh Foley, a teenager who worked with them before he learned he was a mutant, along with any other students at Xavier’s School that they can set their sights on.

Encountering Cannonball, Mirage, Karma, Wolfbane and Sunspot, the original line-up, a bloodthirsty Pierce gloats that the last time they met he nearly killed them.  However, this time the former students handily defeat Pierce and the Reavers, showing just how much they’ve grown in the years since.

DeFilippis & Weir do a good job with the downtime scenes that were a hallmark of the original series.  Prior to Pierce’s attack, the reunited original class head to The Grind Stone coffee shop to touch base and catch up.  Sunspot, the incurable ladies man Roberto DaCosta, just cannot help flirting with Luna, an attractive barista at The Grind Stone, leading Karma to playfully slap him upside the head.  Randolph & Perotta do a wonderful job illustrating the fun, comedic moments of this scene.

The Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part Six

The challenge: Pick a subject and find a different artist every day for that subject.  I chose “coffee.” From the work of how many comic book artists can I find examples of people drinking coffee?  I post these daily on Facebook, and collect them together here.

26) Robert Walker & Bill Black

Femforce #6, penciled by Robert Walker, written & inked by Bill Black, lettered by Walter Paisley, and colored by Rebekah Black, published by AC Comics, released December 1986.

I previously featured art from the AC Comics title Americomics.  Here we have another piece of coffee-drinking artwork from AC, this time from the company’s flagship title, Femforce.  Overseen by editor Bill Black, Femforce has been in continuous publication since 1985.  As the title indicates, it features the adventures of an all-female superhero team.  I discovered Femforce two decades ago, and fortunately was able to obtain a number of the earlier issues, including this one, which enabled me to get caught up very quickly.

The team is made up of a combination of public domain heroines who date back to the Golden Age of comic books and newer characters created by Black in the 1970s and 80s.  Black and his various collaborators have done a great job developing an exciting and intriguing fictional world, giving the large cast of characters interesting personalities and rich backstories.

Of course, there is also a fair amount of T&A in Femforce.  It firmly falls into the category of “good girl art.”  Robert Walker, who penciled a handful of stories for AC in the mid 1980s, was definitely one of the artists who emphasized the more, um, curvaceous aspects of the characters’ physiques.  I haven’t been able to find much info on Walker, but after his time at AC he did sporadic work for Marvel, Milestone, Dark Horse and Valiant.

Black has inked a diverse selection of pencilers during Femforce’s 35 year run, as well as producing full artwork from time to time.  I’ve always enjoyed his inking on the AC titles.  He has a very polished ink line.

This page, which has Femforce’s newest member Tara the Jungle Girl brewing some coffee, encapsulates the qualities of the series.  We have the team’s founder Ms. Victory touching upon her personal history and family life.  We also have these two female characters drawn in a sexy manner.  I suppose you could say the two hallmarks of Femforce are characterization and cheesecake.

Femforce 6 pf 4

27) Jamal Igle & Dan Davis

Let’s make a return trip to Radu’s Coffee Shop in New York City.  “Hard-Loving Heroes” is penciled by Jamal Igle, inked by Dan Davis, written by Ben Raab, lettered by Kurt Hathaway, and colored by Tom McCraw, from Green Lantern Secret Files #3, published by DC Comics with a July 2002 cover date.

By this point in time Green Lantern Kyle Rayner was now dating Jade, the daughter of the original GL, Alan Scott.  While Kyle is off fighting some nut in a giant knock-off Gundam suit, Jade is meeting with her alien friend Merayn for a cup of coffee at Radu’s.  Jade is sharing her concerns with Meryan about dating Kyle who, while a basically decent guy, is still a little on the immature and unfocused side.  Jade finds herself wondering if she might be nothing more than a replacement for Kyle’s dead girlfriend Alex.

This page is penciled by the incredible Jamal Igle, who really shows off his storytelling chops in this scene.  He makes the conversation between Jade, Merayn and Radu interesting and animated.

Igle’s earliest professional work was eight years earlier, penciling several pages of Green Lantern #52 in 1994, followed by a fill-in issue of Kobalt for Milestone.  Looking back, his work on those first couple jobs was pretty good, showing potential.  You can then see continuous growth as he did pencils for various titles over the next several years.  By the time we get to this story, Igle was doing really high-quality work.  Igle subsequently had well-regarded runs on Firestorm and Supergirl at DC.  He then made the decision to focus on creator-owned and independent projects.  I’m looking forward to future installments of his series Molly Danger, the first volume of which was released by Action Lab Comics.

Green Lantern Secret Files 3 pg 15

28) Dave Johnson with Keith Giffen

Superpatriot #4, penciled & inked by Dave Johnson, plotted by Keith Giffen, scripted by Erik Larsen, lettered by Chris Eliopolis, and colored by Digital Chameleon, published by Image Comics with a December 1993 cover date.

Today’s entry is from another part of Erik Larsen’s corner of Image Comics, what fans refer to as the “Dragonverse.”  Superpatriot was introduced by Larsen in the original Savage Dragon miniseries.

Johnny Armstrong was an American soldier in World War II.  Captured by the Nazis, he was used as a guinea pig for scientific experiments.  Johnny gained superhuman abilities and escaped.  Assuming the guise of Superpatriot, he spent decades fighting crime.  By the early 1990s age was finally catching up to him, and he was brutally crippled by members of Chicago’s super-powered mob the Vicious Circle.

Superpatriot was rebuilt as a cyborg by the corrupt Cyberdata.  He was then captured by the high tech terrorist organization the Covenant of the Sword, who brainwashed him and sent him to attack the Pentagon.  Youngblood agent Die-Hard confronted him and was able to break through this mind control, and for the first time in months Superpatriot was in control of his own will.

In the final two page scene of the miniseries we see a brooding, contemplative Johnny having a cup of coffee at a Chicago diner.  The current incarnation of his old teammate Mighty Man arrives to provide a sympathetic shoulder, and to offer him a spot on the newly-formed Freak Force team.

Superpatriot 4 pg 23

I was a fan of Superpatriot from the moment Larsen introduced him in Savage Dragon.  I thought the design of the character was really striking and dynamic.  I was definitely thrilled that the character received his own miniseries and then joined Freak Force.

Dave Johnson is one of the top cover artists in the comic book biz.  He’s drawn covers for numerous series, among them 100 Bullets, Deadpool, Detective Comics, James Bond, Punisher Max and Unknown Soldier.  Early on in his career he did do some interior work, including the first two Superpatriot miniseries.  Johnson’s work on these was incredible, containing a tremendous amount of detail.  Apparently he decided he wasn’t fast enough to draw monthly comic books, and so transitioned to working as a cover artist in the mid 1990s.

Keith Giffen’s is credited on Superpatriot as both plotter and storyteller.  He probably provided some kind of layouts for Johnson to work from, although I have no idea how detailed they were.  Whatever the case, the storytelling on the miniseries was well done.

I like how this quiet epilogue is laid out, with the first page dialogue-free until the final panel.  Then on the next page the perspective shifts from one panel to the next, including a shot of Superpatriot’s face reflected in the coffee cup.  I don’t know who was responsible for planning out this scene, Giffen or Johnson, but it’s very effective.

Superpatriot 4 pg 24

29) Mike Dringenberg & Malcolm Jones III

Today’s coffee-drinking artwork is from what Entertainment Weekly referred to as “the scariest horror comic of all time.” Sandman #6 is penciled by Mike Dringenberg, inked by Malcolm Jones III, written by Neil Gaiman, lettered by Todd Klein, and colored by Robbie Busch, published by DC Comics with a June 1989 cover date.

Sandman was the story of Dream, aka Morpheus, and his siblings, the immortal Endless.  The first story arc Preludes and Nocturnes sees Dream, who has spent 70 years as the prisoner of an occult society, finally breaking free.  Dream must then search out his various lost objects of power.

Among these artifacts is a mystical ruby, which has fallen into the hands of John Dee, the super-villain Doctor Destiny.  “24 Hours” sees Dee using the ruby’s powers to slowly drive insane the patrons of a diner, torture them, and finally force them to murder each other.  It is definitely one of the most disturbing comic book stories I have ever read.

The story grew out of Gaiman’s idea of doing a 24 hour long story within 24 pages.  As he explained to EW in 2017:

“Suddenly I went, ‘Hang on. I’ll stay in one location, and awful things are going to happen in this one location over 24 hours.’ And it came into focus suddenly and beautifully. I knew roughly what had to happen in each hour and just brought a bunch of people onto the stage and destroyed them. And it was an awful thing. It was like, ‘Okay, where does my imagination go? What would I do to these people?’ And then going, ‘This needs to be relentless. It needs to be horrible. And it can never be torture porn. You can never enjoy what is happening to these people.’”

Dringenberg & Jones superbly illustrate Gaiman’s unsettling tale, suffusing it with menace.  Both the plot and the artwork begin very low key, with the diner patrons having their morning coffee, unaware that John Dee is crouched in a corner booth, waiting.  As the issue progresses the tension and horror of Gaiman’s writing and Dringenberg’s storytelling gradually escalate, eventually becoming almost unbearable.

The lettering by Klein and the coloring by Busch also play key roles in generating the mood of the story.  Especially the coloring. Busch’s color work is definitely a vital part of creating the unnerving atmosphere of “24 Hours.”

Sandman 6 pg 6

30) Arn Saba

The previous entry was from a very dark story, so this time I’m going with much lighter fare.  “Neil the Horse Meets Mr Coffee Nerves” is written & drawn by Arn Saba, from Neil the Horse Comics and Stories #3, published by Aardvark-Vanaheim with a June 1983 cover date.

Here is another series and artist that I was previously unaware of that I was introduced to by Comic Book Historians group moderator Jim Thompson.  I guess this is our second 1000 Horses / Comic Book Coffee crossover.  Regular contributor Cheryl Spoehr is a fan of Neil the Horse, as well.

What is Neil the Horse about?  As described by Quill and Quire:

“Saba spent more than 15 years combining his love of cartooning with his love of music to produce the adventures of Neil and his friends: Soapy, a feline grifter, and Mam’selle Poupée, a living doll in search of true love.”

Saba wrote & illustrated the adventures of Neil and friends from 1975 to 1989, first in a newspaper strip and then in comic books.  Saba also wrote a Neil the Horse musical comedy, Neil the Horse and the Big Banana, broadcast in 1982 on CBC Radio in Canada.  In 1993 Saba began transitioning into a woman, and is now known as Katherine Collins.

Conundrum Press published The Collected Neil the Horse in April 2017.  I may add this to my already-lengthy list of books to buy.  It looks like fun.

Neil the Horse 3 pg 1 coffee

“Neil the Horse Meets Mr Coffee Nerves” sees Neil, curious about everyone’s love for coffee, discovering both the joys and the dangers of hot caffeinated beverages.  I would undoubtedly be one of the people in that crowd enthusiastically declaring “Coffee time!”  Hopefully not that guy crawling on the sidewalk desperately searching for coffee!

The Hopefully Almost Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part Three

The challenge by Comic Book Historians group moderator Jim Thompson: Pick a subject and find a different artist every day for that subject until May 1st (if not longer).

I chose “coffee” for my subject.  From the work of how many different artists can I find examples of people drinking coffee?  I guess we will just have to see.  I posted these daily on Facebook, and I’m now collecting them together here on my blog.  Click here to read Part One and Part Two.

Java 1 pg 10 top panel

11) Kensuke Okabayashi & Peter Palmiotti

Java! is a post-apocalyptic satire written & penciled by Kensuke Okabayashi, inked by Peter Palmiotti and colored by Lee Stacy.  The three issue miniseries was published by Committed Comics in 2004.

The year is 2073, and humanity has found itself faced with a devastating new emergency: a worldwide coffee shortage!  As the first issue explains:

“A mysterious plague has contaminated the caffeine structure of found in coffee by increasing its strength to lethal levels. Infected victims must now be consumed by their fatal addiction or face a painful death. The Supreme Justice has ordered the destruction of the contaminated resources, which has left the citizens with less than four percent of ‘pure’ beans.

“With limited resources, citizens are now restricted to a meager two cups per day.”

The price of uncontaminated coffee skyrockets.  Coffee-producing nations have now become global super-powers.  Convoys delivering precious coffee beans become prime targets for caffeine-addicted raiders looking to horde this now-precious commodity.

To combat the Bean Bandits and make sure the coffee supply is not cut off, the city of Neo Seattle assembles B.E.A.N. Force, “a new coffee law enforcement division.” The five-member B.E.A.N. Force’s top operative is the hyperactive, trigger-happy Java who takes her coffee intravenously.  Team strategist and close friend La-Te often finds herself having to reign in the unpredictable blonde firecracker.  The remaining three members of B.E.A.N. Force are “coffee expert” Doctor D, team mechanic Modean, and team leader Kinkaid.

Kensuke Okabayashi’s writing on Java! was ridiculously fun and off-the-wall, an entertaining blend of sci-fi, action and comedy.  Okabayashi, paired with inker Peter Palmiotti, created some dynamic artwork for the miniseries.

In 2010 Okabayashi followed up the miniseries with the one-shot special Java! Recaffinated released through Piggyback Studios.  In the last several years he has been working on the fantasy graphic novel The Foreigner, the first volume of which was published in 2018.

Java 1 pg 14

12) Curt Swan & George Klein

Thank you to Michael Powell for suggesting this one on the Why I Love Comics group.  “The Jekyll-Hyde Heroes!” from World’s Finest #173 was penciled by Curt Swan and inked by George Klein.  The writer was a young Jim Shooter.  This issue was released by DC Comics with a February 1968 cover date.

This one is a real doozy… but you could say that about many of the stories published under the auspices of editor Mort Weisinger during the Silver Age.  Mad scientist Dr. Aaron seeks revenge on Superman and Batman, who recently put a stop to his illegal experiments.  Aaron manages to secretly drug both of them, via bottles of soda pop no less, with “Psyche-Distorter chemicals” that he has developed.  This chemical causes both heroes to take on the evil identities & personalities of the enemies they fear the most.

In the case of Batman that is Two-Face, aka former District Attorney Harvey Dent, who the Dark Knight fears because “I can never predict whether he’ll act good or evil… because he always lets a flip of a coin decide!”  For Superman, the enemy he fears more than any other is Kralik the Conqueror, a powerful, ruthless alien criminal who nearly defeated the Man of Steel in hand to hand combat.

Wait a second… Kralik the Conqueror?  Who the hell is that?!?  According to the Grand Comics Database and other sources, it turns out that Superman’s “most dangerous foe” never appeared before this issue, and hasn’t been seen since.  Yeah, they just pulled this Kralik the Conqueror guy out of thin air… or maybe somewhere else I won’t mention!

To ensure maximum mayhem, Dr. Aaron drugs the heroes a second time.  This he accomplishes by… discovering the location of the Batcave and spiking its water supply.  Yes, really.  This time Batman and Superman unwittingly ingest the drug via the coffee that Alfred brewed for them in the Batcave.

This story somehow even manages to get even more ridiculous after this, ending in a genuine WTF moment that left me totally boggled.  I recommend reading World’s Finest #173 simply for the sheer nuttiness of this story.

So, what about the art?  Curt Swan worked regularly on various Superman-related titles for three and a half decades, from the early 1950s to the mid 1980s.  I’ve always found Swan to be a solid, reliable penciler.  My appreciation for his work has often varied greatly depending on who happened to be inking him, though.  At certain points in his career I feel Swan was paired with inkers who were not a good fit for him, and I disliked the finished artwork.

On the other hand, I have stated before that I regard George Klein as one of the absolute best inkers to have ever worked with Swan.  Klein inked Swan’s pencils regularly in the 1950s and 60s, always to wonderful effect.  The art by the Swan & Klein team in World’s Finest #173 is definitely high quality, and that plays a major part in this crazy story working as well as it does.

Worlds Finest 173 pg 13

13) David Mazzucchelli

This entry is from the graphic novel Asterios Polyp, written & drawn by David Mazzucchelli, published in 2009 by Pantheon Books.

Asterios Polyp is a brilliant yet arrogant and flawed architect.  When his Manhattan apartment building is struck by lightning and burns to the ground in the middle of the night, Asterios sets out on a journey of discovery, both physical and emotional.  Hopping a bus to the middle of nowhere, the architect begins a new career as an auto mechanic in a small Southwestern town, a life very different from the one he has left behind.  Intercutting through Asterios’ present-day experiences are flashbacks to his troubled past.

Having collaborated with Frank Miller on two of the most iconic super-hero stories of the 1980s, Daredevil: Born Again and Batman: Year One, David Mazzucchelli subsequently made the decision to focus on more personal and experimental works.  In stories for the Drawn & Quarterly anthology, his own self-published magazine-sized anthology Rubber Blanket, and his adaptation of the Paul Auster novel City of Glass, Mazzucchelli sought to grow as both a writer and artist.

Clocking in at 344 pages, Asterios Polyp appears to see Mazzucchelli pulling together all of his narrative & artistic techniques to craft a very philosophical & introspective work.

The diversity of style & storytelling can be witnessed on this page from early on in the graphic novel.  The top third is drawn in a straightforward fashion, flashing back to the various young female students who Asterios slept with during his time as a college professor bringing him his morning cup of coffee.  In the middle are Asterios and his wife Hanna in their apartment.  On the left Hannah, an emotional and passionate individual, is rendered in rich detail with thin, naturalistic red lines.  On the right, the logical, cerebral Asterios is drawn with sparse blue lines, a precise, minimalist geometric figure.  The bottom third of the page is an otherwise blank white space with just one short sentence, “Wouldn’t that be nice?” a response to the question that had been posed at the very beginning of this sequence several pages earlier: “What if reality (as perceived) were simply an extension of the self?”

Asterios Polyp is a very complex & dense story.  I read it soon after it came out, and I could immediately tell it would benefit from re-readings.  Having skimmed through it again earlier this week, a number of things stood out for me that I had not previously noticed, things that became clearer now that I knew where Mazzucchelli’s narrative was heading.  I look forward to sitting down with the book again and taking my time to explore it.

Asterios Polyp coffee

 

14) Howard Chaykin

Midnight of the Soul #3 written & drawn by Howard Chaykin, lettered by Ken Bruzenak, and colored by Jesus Aburtov, published by Image Comics, cover-dated August 2016.

Howard Chaykin possesses a great love for mid-20th century American music, fashion & culture, and has set a number of his stories in the post-World War II era.  At the same time, Chaykin will be the first to acknowledge that this was a period plagued by racism, sexism, homophobia and anti-Communist paranoia, a time when clean-cut white conservative middle class values & prosperity often served to hide dark secrets.  The five issue noir miniseries Midnight of the Soul is set in this post-War society, one seemingly on top of the world, yet containing numerous tensions and corruptions simmering just below the surface.

Five years after the War, army veteran Joel Breakstone suffers from both post traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism.  Shutting himself up in his Long Island home, Joel unsuccessfully attempts to launch a career as a fiction writer.  Things have reached the breaking point between Joel and his wife Patricia, who is disgusted at both his inebriation and his failure to make a single sale.

One night, alone while Patricia is at work, Joel is rummaging through the house, desperately hoping to find a bottle he might have stashed away.  Instead he discovers evidence that Patricia, rather than working as a night court stenographer, is actually a prostitute.  An apoplectic Joel grabs his pistol and hops on his motorcycle, riding into New York City, determined to locate and confront his wife.  Patricia is already on the run, though, having fled from her Greenwich Village apartment after her client for the night was murdered in front of her.  Joel makes his way up and down Manhattan Island, searching for his wife, running into various unsavory figures who are also seeking her out.  Throughout the night Joel finds himself repeatedly crossing paths with the lovely Dierdre O’Shaughnessy, a stripper who is acquainted with Patricia.

In this scene Joel’s search has taken him to Times Square, where he encounters Dierdre on her way to work stopping for a cup of coffee at the Chock full’o Nuts.  The strung-out Joel joins her for a badly needed caffeine fix, although Deirdre is quick to warn him “that doughnut’ll punch through you like all-bran never could.”

For additional thoughts on Midnight of the Soul, I blogged about it in early 2017.

Midnight of the Soul 3 pg 2

15) Rik Levins & Kevin Dzuban

Americomics #4 written & penciled by Rik Levins, inked by Kevin Dzuban, lettered by Bob Pinaha, colored by Rebekah Black, and edited by Bill Black, published by AC Comics, cover-dated October 1983.

Ken Burton was obsessed with the dead super-hero Dragonfly, an obsession that led him to neglect both his engineering company and his fiancée Nancy Arazello.  Ken was convinced he could summon supernatural forces to gain the Dragonfly’s powers, and his quest left Nancy running Burton Engineering on her own.  Inevitably this led to a huge fight between the couple.  That night Ken was conducting the mystic ritual to become the new Dragonfly when Nancy, hoping to work out their problems, walked into the room.  The inadvertent result was that Nancy became Dragonfly instead.

Rebuffed by a bitter Ken (who, truthfully, came across as a selfish jerk even before this), a broken-hearted Nancy is left wondering what she should do with these powers she never even wanted.  When a ruthless drug dealer uses an experimental drug to create a giant warrior and unleashes it on the city as a test run, Nancy transforms into Dragonfly to save innocent bystanders.  At first seemingly outmatched, Nancy soon defeats the goliath, angrily pounding him to a pulp.  Police Detective Richard Trent pulls Nancy aside, taking her to a nearby diner for a cup of coffee to discuss what just happened.  Trent appears to be reassured by Nancy’s earnest manner, but she is secretly frightened that she was taking out her frustrations at Ken on her immense opponent.

Dragonfly was created by Rik Levins.  Following this debut story, Levins went out to write & pencil an ongoing Dragonfly series that lasted eight issues.  Dragonfly also became an occasional member of Femforce, the female superhero team created by AC publisher Bill Black.

I got into Femforce about 20 years ago.  Fortunately a local comic book store had a number of back issues from the 1980s and 90s available, as well as several other AC books, among them the first five issues of the Americomics anthology series.

Americomics #3 was one of the issues from that haul that really stood out.  A young, up-and-coming Jerry Ordway drew a stunning cover featuring Dragonfly.  The interior work by Levins & Kevin Dzuban was also impressive.  Levins’ design for the character was certainly distinctive.

I had known of Levins’ work from his early 1990s stint drawing Captain America, and I believe he actually holds the record for penciling the most consecutive issues of that title, 36 to be exact.  I actually enjoyed Levins’ art for the various AC titles more than I did his run on Captain America.  Levins wrote many of the stories he drew AC, so perhaps he felt more personally invested in the material?

Americomics 4 pg 14

Rik Levins regrettably passed away on June 12, 2010 at the age of 59.  Due to the fact that he was working in comic books during a time when flashy, dynamic artists were very much in the spotlight, Levins’ work is often overlooked.  While I would not say that I was a huge fan I did find him to be a solid, consistent artist.  Thinking about it now, I find Levins’ style somewhat reminiscent of Curt Swan, another penciler who could be counted on to turn in professional work on schedule.  That’s a frequently underappreciated ability.

Comic book reviews: Femforce #188 and Superbabes #2

I’ve written about Femforce, the comic book series published by AC Comics, a couple of times in the past. It’s a fun, entertaining series that doesn’t often get the attention it deserves, so I’m happy to put in a good word for Bill Black, Mark Heike and their various collaborators.  Now that AC is once again publishing Femforce in color for the first time since 1995, as well as having launched the spin-off title Superbabes, well, I couldn’t think of a better time to revisit the series.

Superbabes 2 coverFemforce features a team of female superheroes.  The series has been in continuous publication since 1985, a good 35 years.  The Femforce line-up is made up of a combination of heroines who were originally published in the Golden Age of Comics and newer characters developed by Bill Black.  Leading the team is the now-immortal Ms. Victory, aka Joan Wayne, a scientist who developed a serum for super-powers during World War II.  At her side is former socialite Laura Wright, who initially fought crime as the masked vigilante Blue Bulleteer, and who later was recruited by the extra-dimensional sorcerer Azagoth to be his disciple, becoming the sorceress Nightveil.

Among the other longtime Femforce members are the hot-headed She-Cat, who gained her powers from the malevolent cat deity Sekhmet, the alien scientist Stardust from the planet Rur, the ditsy Synn, a former hippy and go-go dancer who possesses incredible mental powers but whose intellect was damaged due to long-term drug use, and Tara, an ardent environmentalist who has the power to grow giant-sized.

The most recent releases from AC Comics featuring the characters are Superbabes #2 and Femforce #188.  I enjoyed both issues.  They have a tone to them that is very reminiscent of the 1970s and 80s superhero comic books from Marvel.

Superbabes #2 is written & drawn by Mark & Stephanie Heike, with letters by Alex De Luca, and a cover by Johannes Vick & the Heikes.  “Heads I Win, Tails You Ooze” sees Gorgana and Wampyr, two old foes of Femforce, escaping from the government-run Colorado Complex.  Femforce is called in to try to recapture their adversaries, who have fled to a nearby ski resort.  It’s a bit of a goofy story, but nevertheless fun.

Superbabes 2 pg 8

The main story in Femforce #188 is “Crimson Prologue.”  It is written by Bill Black, penciled by Eric Coile, and inked / colored / lettered by Black.  The focus falls on one of the team’s deadliest enemies, the evil sorceress Alizarin Crimson, who is planning yet another attempt to destroy Femforce and conquer the Earth.  We learn that it was Alizarin who was responsible for the disappearance of Nightveil’s incredibly powerful Cloak of Darkness several years earlier.  Alazarin launches her first strike against Femforce and their allies, leading to a cliffhanger ending.

Femforce 188 coverThe back-up feature in #188 is the final chapter of a flashback story set during the 1980s featuring a team-up of Nightveil and the Sentinels of Justice.  It is written & drawn by Black.

There’s always been a lot of overlap between these two teams.  A few Femforce members also having been on the Sentinels roster, and several of the Sentinels are long-time supporting characters.  Although the Sentinels of Justice only had their own title for a short time in the mid 1980s, Black is obviously very fond of the characters.  It’s nice that he’s able to work on back-up stories featuring the team, keeping them in the spotlight.

One quality I really enjoy about the Femforce and Superbabes titles is that here is a whole lot of continuity and ongoing subplots.  Both the Heikes and Black frequently tie in current events to a lot of the older storylines from the past 35 years.  However, they always do this in such a way that there is ample exposition with which to bring readers up to speed.  Even though I don’t own copies of every single AC comic book ever published, I’ve never felt lost, because there is always enough information given when older events are alluded to.  Plus these books have footnotes!  I really miss having those in Marvel and DC’s comics.  They’re really helpful if you want to seek out the issues where those old stories took place because they tell you exactly which ones to seek out.

Considering that nearly all of the characters in Femforce and Superbabes are women, many of them revealing skimpy, skintight costumes, inevitably there is a fair amount of T&A.  For the most part I find this is tastefully done, at least compared to quite a few other comic books out there.  The characters are also drawn with somewhat more realistic anatomy and physiques than you often find in female-centric superhero comic books.
Femforce 188 pg 1

I guess my only major quibble with Femforce is that the team line-up is very WASPy.  Nearly all of the characters are white.  I think a major factor in this is due to the fact that, as previously mentioned, these characters either originated back in the 1940s, or were developed by Bill Black beginning in the late 1960s.  Unfortunately back then there was much less of an interest in diversifying the casts of comic books.

That’s not to say that there have never been any non-white characters in Femforce.  One of the team’s members in stories set during World War II was Rita Farrar, aka Rio Rita, a Latina adventurer & secret agent.  In present day stories Rita’s granddaughter has worked with Femforce on a number of occasions.  The team’s longtime government liaison was General Roberta Strock, an African American woman.  And I’m sure there are a few other characters who I can’t recall offhand.

That said, in the future it would be nice to see a bit more diversity within the regular Femforce line-up.

Femforce 188 pg 19

One last note: I’m glad that Femforce is back in color for the first time in a quarter century.  I understand that the economics of a small company publishing in a difficult market necessitated this.  However, I often thought the blacks printed much too dark in the B & W artwork, and that there weren’t enough grey tones, at times making it a bit difficult to make out some of the details or the flow of action.  I hope that going forward the book sells well enough that it car remain in full color.

I encourage anyone who is a fan of Bronze Age comic books to give Femforce a try.  I think issue #188 is a really good jumping-on point.  If you can’t locate it at your local comic shop then check out the AC Comics website, where current issues, as well as a lot of older ones, are available for purchase.

Remembering comic book artist Paul Ryan

Comic book artist Paul Ryan passed away on March 6, 2016 at the much too young age of 66. Ryan was a prolific artist whose career spanned from 1984 until the time of his death.

Fantastic Four 358 cover

A lifelong comic book fan, Ryan did not made his professional debut until the age of 35. He submitted a story to Charlton Comics which was originally scheduled to see print in the anthology title Charlton Bullseye, but the company folded before it could be published.  Much of Charlton’s unused inventory was acquired by AC Comics head honcho Bill Black, and Ryan’s debut finally saw print in the AC title Starmasters #1.

Shortly after Ryan met professional artist Bob Layton at a comic book convention. Layton had recently moved to the Boston area and was looking for an assistant.  Layton recounted on his Facebook page

“I trained him as my apprentice, inking backgrounds for my various Marvel projects. All that time working together, Paul worked on his penciling samples for Marvel.”

Eventually accompanying Layton on a trip to the Marvel Comics offices in Manhattan, Ryan was introduced to the editorial staff. This led to Ryan receiving assignments from the company.  His first job was inking Ron Wilson’s pencils on The Thing #27 (Sept 1985).

Shortly afterwards Ryan was tapped to take over as penciler on the 12 issue Squadron Supreme miniseries written by Mark Gruenwald.  Ryan penciled issue #6 (Feb 1986) and then issues #9-12.  Ryan was paired with inker Sam De La Rosa, and also had the opportunity to work with his mentor Layton, who inked four of his five covers.

After completing Squadron Supreme, Ryan again worked with Gruenwald, co-creating D.P. 7 which debuted in November 1986. D.P.7 was considered one of the high points in Marvel’s very uneven New Universe imprint.  Ryan was the penciler for the entire 32 issue run of D.P.7.  It was on D.P.7 that Ryan was first paired with Filipino artist Danny Bulanadi as his inker. I really appreciated the rich, illustrative quality that Bulanadi’s inking gave Ryan’s pencils.  They made a great team.

During this time, in 1987, Ryan penciled Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21, the historic marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson.

Avengers 330 cover signed

After D.P.7 came to an end, Ryan became the penciler of Avengers with issue #305 (July 1989). He was teamed with writer John Byrne and longtime Avengers inker / embellisher Tom Palmer.  After Byrne departed, Ryan worked with succeeding writers Fabian Nicieza and Larry Hama.  Ryan and Hama introduced the African American teenage hero Rage who, after a short stint as an Avenger, joined the New Warriors.

In late 1989 Ryan also penciled the first six issues of the ongoing Quasar series written by Gruenwald. Ryan was inked by Bulanadi on these.

Ryan was an incredibly fast artist, and in 1990 at the same time he was penciling Avengers he was also working on the Avengers West Coast spin-off series. Ryan inked Byrne’s pencils on issues #54 -57.  He then penciled issues #60 – 69, working with writers Roy & Dann Thomas, with Bulanadi once again inking him.

After departing AWC in early 1991, Ryan was once more paired with Byrne, this time on Iron Man. Bob Wiacek inked Ryan on these issues.

Later that year Ryan & Bulanadi joined writer Tom DeFalco to become the new creative team on Fantastic Four. Their first issue was #356 (Sept 1991).  Two months later, in the giant-sized FF #358, the series celebrated its 30th anniversary.  Among the numerous features contained in that issue, Ryan & Bulanadi illustrated an amazing double-page pin-up featuring many of the heroes and villains of the Marvel universe.

In an 1997 interview Ryan stated that FF was his favorite Marvel title.  He had bought the very first issue when it came out back in 1961 when he was 11 years old, and was “very excited ”to be working on the series 30 years later.

Fantastic Four 358 Marvel characters

Ryan began co-plotting Fantastic Four with DeFalco beginning with issue #260. He remained on the series until issue #414 (July 1996). He penciled 59 consecutive issues, one month short of a full five years.  Ryan would undoubtedly have stayed on FF even longer if he and DeFalco had not been given the boot to make way for “Heroes Reborn.”

Reader reaction to DeFalco & Ryan’s time on Fantastic Four was decidedly mixed. I personally enjoyed it, but I understand why others were less enthusiastic.  Looking back, it is obvious that DeFalco & Ryan wanted to emulate the classic Lee & Kirby era, but they were also attempting to make the book competitive at a time when X-Men was Marvel’s hottest property, and everything else was falling by the wayside.  They wanted to give FF a retro Silver Age feel and make it appealing to teenage readers, i.e. sexing up the Invisible Woman and making her more ruthless, giving the rest of the team a more gritty look, generating numerous long-running subplots & mysteries, introducing a younger “next generation” of FF-related heroes, and tossing in lots of stuff involving time travel & alternate realities.  At times perhaps those styles did not mesh well, but DeFalco & Ryan were clearly giving it their all.

Understandably annoyed at being tossed off Fantastic Four, Ryan left Marvel and went to DC Comics. He worked there from 1996 to 2000.  His main assignments at DC were the quarterly Superman: Man of Tomorrow and the monthly Flash series.  He also penciled issues of Superboy, Aquaman and Batman: Gotham Knights, as well as a four issue Legion: Science Police miniseries.

Superman Man of Tomorrow 9 pg 6

One of my favorite DC issues that Ryan penciled was Superman: Man of Tomorrow #9 (Fall 1997), written by Roger Stern and inked by Brett Breeding. As Superman is busy adjusting to his new energy powers, Jonathan & Martha Kent recollect on their son’s life.  This provided Ryan & Breeding with the opportunity to illustrate many of the key moments in Superman’s post-Crisis history up to that point in time.

Notably, Ryan was one of a number of artists to work on the Superman: The Wedding Album in 1997, penciling 11 pages of this giant-sized special. By his involvement in this, he had worked on both the wedding of Clark Kent & Lois Lane and the wedding of Peter & Mary Jane.

I was glad to see Ryan receive work at DC.  I was a regular letterhack back then, and I wrote in to the Superman editors with the following…

“Paul Ryan is a superb penciler, and I’m glad you guys got him to work on this book. It’s nice to see that you guys can appreciate true talent.”

Yes, that was something of a swipe by me at Marvel for their treatment of Ryan the year before.

After his time at DC concluded, Ryan penciled a handful of fill-ins for CrossGen.  He worked on several issues of Crux and Ruse.

Phantom newspaper strip 04 13 2007

In 2001 Ryan began working on The Phantom comic books published by the Swedish company Egmont. This was the start of an association with Lee Falk’s legendary comic strip hero that would last for the next decade and a half.  Ryan was tapped to take over The Phantom weekly comic strip in 2005, working with writer Tony De Paul.  Two years later Ryan also assumed the art duties on the Sunday comic strip.

Ryan was a longtime fan of The Phantom.  He produced quality artwork on both the comic books and the newspaper strip.  He was still working as the artist on the daily strip at the time of his passing.

(For fans of The Phantom, the comic strip is archived online going back to 1996 on The Phantom Comics website.)

I really feel that Ryan was an underrated talent who was too often eclipsed by the “hot” artists of the 1990s.  Unlike many of those guys, Ryan was a very good penciler with strong sequential illustration skills, an artist who turned in quality work while consistently meeting deadlines; in other words, a true professional.

Paul Ryan 2000 photo

I was a fan of Ryan’s work ever since I first saw it in the late 1980s. Over the years I corresponded with him by e-mail on Facebook.  I was fortunate enough to meet Ryan once, back in 2000.  He was a guest at a major comic convention held at Madison Square Garden that was organized by Spencer Beck.  Ryan drew an amazing color sketch of Beautiful Dreamer for me at that show.  I had always hoped to one day meet Ryan again so that I could obtain another sketch from him.  Sadly that is no longer possible.  But I am grateful that I had that one opportunity to meet him all those years ago.

Dick Ayers: 1924 to 2014

This is one blog post that I really wish I did not have to write.  I just found out that longtime comic book artist Dick Ayers passed away on May 4th at the age of 90.

Ayers was born on April 28, 1924 in Ossining, NY.  He spent the first twelve years of his childhood in White Plains.  At age 13, his family moved to a farming community in Upstate New York.  He returned to Westchester in his late teens, just in time to graduate from high school.  Years later, Ayers would say that his teenage years spent living in that rural area, with its lack of electricity & plumbing and multitude of horses, was the perfect training to become an artist who specialized in drawing Westerns.

Serving in World War II, Ayers was stationed in England & France.  Shortly after returning home, he attempted to pitch a comic book series he had devised, Chic ‘N’ Chu.  Although unsuccessful, in the process Ayers met Tarzan newspaper strip artist Burne Hogarth and studied under him.  In the late 1940s, Ayers began drawing comic books for Vin Sullivan’s Magazine Enterprises, and in 1950 created the Western masked vigilante known as the Ghost Rider for them.  Around this time he also began dating Lindy Walter.  They soon fell in love, and married in 1951.

In the 1950s, Ayers began working for writer / editor Stan Lee at Atlas Comics, the 1950s incarnation of Marvel.  He illustrated a significant number of Western, war, and horror stories, as well as drawing several stories for the short-lived revival of the original Human Torch and Toro in 1954.  One of his Human Torch stories was left unseen for 14 years, until editor Roy Thomas had “The Un-Human!” published in the pages of Marvel Super-Heroes #16 (September 1968).  I’ve always enjoyed the crazy splash page for that tale, with its titanic eight-headed, six-limbed monster parachuting down from the sky!

Marvel Super-Heroes 16 Human Torch splash

In the late 1950s Ayers first began inking Jack Kirby, an association that continued into the 1960s, as Atlas officially became Marvel Comics.  I have always felt that Ayers was a really good match to ink Kirby on Western, war, and monster stories.  Among those was Strange Tales #89 (cover dated October 1961) which featured the debut of the now-iconic Chinese dragon Fin Fang Foom.  Ayers was also a good choice to ink Kirby on the early Fantastic Four issues, which still had one foot firmly in the territory of the recent Atlas monster & sci-fi tales.

Ayers had this sort of “earthy” quality that really suited the war and Western genres both as a penciler, and as an inker to Kirby.  In contrast, you had the slick, polished embellishments of Joe Sinnott, which were a much better fit for the high-tech science fiction adventures that Kirby was penciling in his later Fantastic Four stories.  That just goes to show the importance not just of finding the right pairing of penciler & inker, but also making sure that their finished work fits the atmosphere of the stories they are illustrating.

One of the best fits at Marvel for Ayers, first as an inker and then a penciler, was the retro World War II series Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, which began publication in 1963.  After inking Kirby on the first few issues (plus the Captain America team-up in #13) Ayers took over as the regular penciler with #8, staying on the series for the next decade.  Ayers collaborated with writers Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich on Sgt. Fury.  He was paired with such embellishers as John Severin, John Tartaglione, and Frank Giacoia, the latter of whom Ayers stated was his favorite inker to work with.

Sgt Fury 23 pg 4

Ayers was the un-credited co-plotter on a number of these stories.  In his Introduction to the Sgt. Fury Marvel Masterworks Volume 2, Ayers detailed the genesis of one of his favorites, issue #23, “The Man Who Failed,” which was based on a suggestion from his wife Lindy: “Have the Howlers assigned to rescue a nun who was trying to save children from behind Japanese lines.”  The adventures of Nick Fury during World War II were always more slapstick than Saving Private Ryan, and there is a great deal of tongue-in-cheek humor to the scripting of the series.  Ayers explained that he regarded the Howlers’ exploits as “Baron Munchausen” stories, the types of colorful exaggerations that he and his fellow soldiers might indulge in after returning from the battlefield.

That said, Sgt. Fury could occasionally be gritty or poignant.  “The Man Who Failed” had Stan Lee showing British Howler Percy Pinkerton making peace with his youthful indiscretions & mend fences with his older brother.  “Killed In Action” in issue #18 ended with the tragic death of Pamela Hawley, Nick Fury’s first true love.  And issue #s 28-29 had Stan Lee & Roy Thomas scripting an apocalyptic confrontation between Fury and his arch-foe Baron Strucker.  Ayers did superb work penciling all of these dramatic stories.

Capt Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders 2 cover

With writer Gary Friedrich, Ayers also worked on the Sgt. Fury spin-off title Capt. Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders.  That short-lived series’ most memorable story arc is probably the one that ran in issue #s 2-4, wherein Friedrich & Ayers revealed the super-secret origin of Baron Strucker and the terrorist organization Hydra.

In the early 1970s, Ayers was receiving less work from Marvel.  They also began reprinting his earlier stories without paying him.  For a time Ayers had to work as a security guard to make ends meet.  Eventually Ayers had the opportunity to explain his situation to Neal Adams.  An early, forceful advocate of creators’ rights, Adams got in touch with DC Comics editor Joe Orlando on Ayers’ behalf.  Orlando assigned Ayers to a number of titles including Kamandi, Jonah Hex, Freedom Fighters, Scalphunter in Weird Western Tales, G.I. Combat, and The Unknown Soldier.  On that last title Ayers’ pencils were embellished by talented Filipino artist Gerry Talaoc.  As I’ve written before, I very much enjoyed their collaboration.

Unknown Soldier 255 pg 1

Ayers worked at DC through the mid-1980s.  He also did work for the Archie Comics / Red Circle line of books, drawing a revival of The Original Shield.  Starting in 1991, Ayers began working on Femforce, the fun superhero title published by Bill Black’s AC Comics.  Ayers demonstrated a real mastery of the female form in those comics, illustrating some playfully sexy good girl art.

AC has also brought back into print a variety of public domain Golden Age comic book stories.  Ayers’ classic Ghost Rider stories were among the material reprinted in AC’s Best of the West, with the character re-named the Haunted Horseman.  Ayers would occasionally contribute new artwork to the book, such as Best of the West #43, which had Ayers collaborating with artist Ed Coutts on a beautiful cover spotlighting the Haunted Horseman and the time-traveling Femforce gunslinger Buckaroo Betty.

Best of the West 43 cover

In 2005 Mecca Comics Group published Ayers’ three volume graphic novel autobiography The Dick Ayers Story, which was in-depth look at both his personal life and long career as an artist.  This was a project that Ayers had spent several years working on, a labor of love on his part.

Dick and Lindy Ayers lived in White Plains for several decades, and so would often make appearances at NY-area comic book conventions.  The first time I met them was at a show held at the Westchester County Center in the mid-1990s.  I remember asking Dick what he thought about current comic book artists.  He told me that he felt many of the more recent artists in the biz were not good storytellers.  He explained that a good comic book artist is someone who, if you removed all of the dialogue and narration, a reader would still be able to tell what the story was about just by looking at the artwork, how the action moves from one panel to the next.  That was probably the first time I ever heard comic book artwork explained to me in that way, and it helped me to develop an appreciation for the importance of layouts & storytelling.

Dick and Lindy Ayers at the All Time Classic New York Comic Book Convention in June 2000
Dick and Lindy Ayers at the All Time Classic New York Comic Book Convention in June 2000

I would often see Dick and Lindy at comic shows.  They were always such friendly people.  When I still lived near White Plains, they invited me over to their house on a few occasions.  It was a really enjoyable to see Dick’s studio, and to take a look at his original artwork that he had framed.  Another time, on a pleasant spring afternoon, we were in their back yard having lemonade & cookies.  I also saw them when Dick gave a lecture at the White Plains Public Library.

The last time I saw Dick and Lindy was at a small NYC comic show around 2011.  I recall that Dick was walking with a cane, and looking a bit unwell.  It seemed like age was finally starting to catch up to him.  However, I was recently happy to learn that he was scheduled to be a guest at the New York Comic Fest which is going to be held on June 14th at the Westchester County Center.  I was really looking forward to seeing Dick and Lindy again.  Unfortunately, that is now not to be.

I’m sad that Dick Ayers is no longer with us.  However, I am happy he lived a good, long life.  He leaves behind both a large family and an impressive body of work.

Comic book reviews: Femforce #162

Femforce #162 is the 30th anniversary issue of AC Comics.  I cannot say that I’ve been following the company since the beginning.  But I have been a Femforce fan for a dozen years now, and I’ve bought a whole bunch of back issues from before 2001, so, yeah, I guess I qualify as a long-time fan.

In any case, it’s great to see an independent publisher last this long, especially when so many other small press publications have been forced to fold up their tents.  So, my hat is off to AC publisher Bill Black, his long-time collaborator Mark Heike, and the line-up of talented creators who have been working with them.

Femforce #162 cover by Brad Gorby
Femforce #162 cover by Brad Gorby

Issue #162 is topped off with a beautiful, trippy cover by Brad Gorby featuring Synn, Nightveil, and She-Cat.  As Black acknowledges inside, it really doesn’t have much to do with any of the actual stories in this issue.  But it is certainly a very beautiful piece of art by Gorby, who I have always felt was a super-talented artist.

The main story in #162 is the two-chapter “The Commandos Are Coming,” penciled by Eric Coile, and written, inked & lettered by Black.  The Black Commando, paramour to Femforce stalwart Nightveil, has returned to Earth and, once more seemingly insane, has apparently attacked the woman he loves.  As Ms Victory and Synn pursue the fleeing Commando, the rest of the team attempts to revive their fallen comrade.  However, all of them soon learn that one of Nightveil’s most bitter enemies is actually behind these events.

“Golden Years,” the issue’s second story, takes place concurrent to the main tale.  It is written by Heike, with pencils by Rock Baker, Heike & Black, and inks / finishes from Jeff Austin.  While Femforce is off attempting to solve the mystery of the returned Black Commando, Ms Victory’s husband Paragon is in a face-off with the angry, violent Rad.  Ms Victory’s daughter Jen is furious at her house having been destroyed last issue, and she’s more than willing to take it out on her step-father, who she has never had a good relationship with.  But the fight between Rad and Paragon is interrupted by a startling revelation.

Femforce 162 pg 8
Ms Victory confronts Black Commando

Both “The Commandos Are Coming” and “Golden Years” will be very rewarding reads for long-time Femforce fans.  In the first story, a lot of old angers held by Ms Victory come bursting forth while she is facing the Black Commando.  We learn that, all these years later, Joan Wayne still blames the Commando for causing her to go insane & become the first Rad, an event that knocked over a whole row of tragic dominoes.  In Joan’s absence, the government forced her daughter Jen to assume the mantle of Ms Victory, which led to the disintegration of her marriage and the death of her son, and culminated in Jen becoming the second Rad.

Likewise, in the Rad / Paragon story, once again Jen is casting the blame for her tragic existence solely on her mother’s shoulders.  But when Paragon reveals previously-untold facts about Ms Victory’s past to Rad, it forces Jen to admit that her mother never had a perfect existence, and that she might have been unfairly targeting her as the cause of all her ills.  Considering how long Rad’s resentments against her mother and step-father have been simmering, it was refreshing to see her begin to come to an understanding about Ms Victory, and to reconcile with Paragon.

Femforce 162 pg 20
Rad and Paragon engage in family therapy… superhero style

This is why I’m such a fan of Femforce.  Black & Heike have given the characters rich back stories, creating an engaging continuity.  And they’ve invested their cast with very real personalities, causing you to care about them.  At the same time, I think Black & Heike do a good job at making the series accessible to newer readers.  There were certain past events referenced in #162 that I was unaware of, but the scripts presented them in such a way that I was quickly brought up to speed.  I love that the book still has the editor’s notes pointing you to specific back issues, something that unfortunately has fallen out of style at Marvel and DC.

There were several back-up stories in Femforce #162.  My two favorites were illustrated by Andre St. Amour.  He works in a really cool animated style.  Of the two stories, the one I enjoyed more was “The Evil That Time Forgot.”  It’s an unconventional team-up story, as it sees Laura Wright, the sorcerer Nightveil, travel back in time to 1942 and team up with her earlier non-magical self, the pistol-packing vigilante Blue Bulleteer, to battle a Lovecraftian horror.  The story had a real sense of fun about it.

Femforce 162 pg 38
Laura Wright is beside herself: Blue Bulleteer meets Nightveil

The second story drawn by St. Amour is “Nosey,” written by Mark Holmes.  She-Cat is assigned to the Middle East to help battle a pair of super-powered terrorists.  Holmes’ tale was also rather enjoyable.  I found it just a bit odd that She-Cat would be fighting a couple of female super-human extremists, as most Islamic fanatics are very misogynistic.  So even in a comic book it seems a bit odd that terrorists would work alongside a pair of women.  That detail aside, I did like the story, and I hope that Holmes does some more writing for AC.  Certainly the artwork by St. Amour was, once again, fantastic.

All in all, Femforce #162 is a really good issue, with some entertaining stories.  I’m certainly looking forward to seeing in future issues how Black and Heike develop the plotlines that they’ve set up here.

One last thing: perhaps the $9.95 price tag on Femforce seems a bit expensive.  Keep in mind that AC Comics is an independent publisher struggling to succeed in a difficult market.  And, as far as value goes, I would much rather pay $9.95 for a 76 page issue of Femforce than three or four bucks for a 22 page comic from Marvel or DC that takes less than 15 minutes to read.  So, yeah, I definitely see Femforce as being well worth the price of admission, and I encourage others to check it out.

Strange Comic Books: The Invaders #31

Welcome to the latest installment of Strange Comic Books.  This entry features an issue I had intended to write up at some point in the near future.  But I moved it up to today as February 19th is the birthday of its writer, Donald F. Glut.

(If the name Don Glut sounds familiar to any sci-fi fans out there, it is probably because, among his numerous credits, he wrote the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back.)

Today’s comic book is The Invaders #31, written by Don Glut, penciled by Chic Stone, inked by Bill Black, and edited by Roy Thomas, with a cover by Joe Sinnott.  The cover date for this one is August 1978.  Set during World War II, issue #31 of The Invaders sees Captain America, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and the original Human Torch facing off against a most macabre foe: Frankenstein’s Monster!

Invaders 31 cover

The Invaders was Roy Thomas’ love letter to the Marvel Comics superhero comic books of the Golden Age.  Thomas often wondered why, unlike DC Comics with their Justice Society stories, the major heroes of Timely Comics (Marvel’s precursor) had never teamed up.  When he was writing at Marvel in the 1970s, Thomas co-created The Invaders title, which he set in the early 1940s, and which featured Cap, Namor, the Torch, teenage sidekicks Bucky and Toro, plus a number of other heroes, join forces to fight against the Axis Powers and their superhuman agents.  The team was called “The Invaders” because they were “invading” Hitler’s Fortress Europa.  The series ran a respectable 41 issues, plus its inaugural Giant-Size special and an Annual.

During most of the final year of The Invaders, Thomas handed over the writing duties to his friend Don Glut, although he remained on as the series’ editor.  One of Glut’s first issues was #31, “Heil Frankenstein!”  As we know, the Nazis, among their myriad crimes, conducted terrible medical experiments on their prisoners.  This has resulted in innumerable subsequent stories in genre fiction that have depicted the Third Reich as churning out a legion of zombies, mutants, and cyborgs to bedevil the Free World.  In his story, Glut takes this trend to its logical conclusion, having the Nazis recruit a descendent of the original mad scientist himself, Doctor Frankenstein.

“Heil Frankenstein” opens with Cap, Bucky, and Namor arriving in the Swiss Alps.  The Human Torch and Toro had previously gone ahead to investigate rumors of Nazi activity in the neutral country, but have since gone missing.  Arriving in a small town, the three superheroes are greeted by a horde of pitchfork-wielding villagers, who inform them that a monster from nearby Castle Frankenstein has been stalking the countryside.  The skeptical Cap and Bucky think the villagers have been watching too many movies, and the pair go on ahead to investigate the castle, leaving Sub-Mariner behind.

Invaders 31 pg 7The patriotic duo is quickly discovered by a horde of goose-steppers who unleash Frankenstein’s Monster, clad in a Nazi uniform, on the disbelieving pair.  The Creature subdues Cap and Bucky.  Imprisoned in a dungeon with Toro, they are introduced to Basil Frankenstein who, with the assistance of Kitty Kitagowa, Imperial Japan’s top surgeon, has recreated his ancestor’s work.  In addition to his plans to build an army of undead patchwork soldiers for the Nazis, the clearly nutty Basil now wants to transplant his brain out of his crippled body into Cap’s physically perfect form.  First, though, he uses the android energies of the Human Torch to super-charge his Monster.

By now, the impatient Namor has come to investigate the castle, and he frees his captive teammates.  During a battle with the Creature, its head smashes against a bank of electrical equipment.  This shorts out the implant that Frankenstein had placed in its brain.  Now free to think and act, the Monster, outraged at its unholy existence, grabs Frankenstein and Kitagowa and leaps from the castle tower, killing them all.

The Invaders #31 is a pretty crazy issue.  Yes, it’s a bit on the silly side, but it is still fun.  I did like how Glut drew parallels between the android Human Torch and the Monster, causing the former to once again realize that, despite his name, he is an artificial being.  Long-time Thor inker Chic Stone draws one of his rare penciling jobs, and turns in solid work.  So, too, does Bill Black, who a few years later would go on to create the long-running Femforce series at AC Comics.  Veteran artist Joe Sinnott does an amazing job illustrating the cover.

Invaders 31 pg 28

I am quite a fan of The Invaders.  It took me several years, but eventually I was able to assemble a complete collection of the entire series run.  Roy Thomas and Don Glut both did some nice work with an interesting, colorful cast of heroes and villains.  Over three decades later, current Marvel writers are still building new stories on the comic books that Thomas and Glut penned.  As for the artwork by regular pencilers Frank Robbins and Alan Kupperberg, plus such talented fill-in artists as Stone & Black, it was all very impressive.  In the last few years, Marvel finally collected the entire run of the series into four trade paperback collections, Invaders Classic, which I highly recommend picking up.

Comic book reviews: Femforce #160

I have to be honest: about 13 years ago, when I first heard of the comic book series Femforce, published by AC Comics, I initially wrote it off as yet another “bad girl” comic book, sight unseen.  Of course, I soon after learned three significant facts about the series.  One, it had begun publication in 1985, several years before the whole bad girl anti-hero movement had kicked off.  Two, many of the characters in Femforce actually dated back to the 1940s, and had been revived by publisher Bill Black.  Three, in the early 1990s a number of issues of Femforce had been penciled by Silver Age artist Dick Ayers.

That last item that really caught my attention.  I’m very fond of Ayers’ artwork.  In addition, I’ve met him and his wife Lindy at a number of conventions over the years.  I figured that if Ayers was involved with Femforce, it had to be worth checking out.

A local comic shop happened to have a box full of early Femforce issues, along with a few other AC Comics titles, such as Nightveil and Sentinels of Justice, which I was able to buy up pretty inexpensively.  I quickly got caught up on the series, and I found it was a fun title with interesting, well-developed characters.  Yes, the female protagonists were all sexy women, but they were drawn in a retro “good girl” style that wasn’t exploitative.  More importantly, Bill Black and frequent collaborator Mark Heike developed personalities and rich back stories for their cast of lovely ladies.

femforce 160 cover

In the last few years, due to the difficulties in distributing & selling independent titles, Black and Heike have altered the format of Femforce somewhat.  It is now a quarterly 80-page title priced at $9.95 with shorter stories by an assortment of creators.  I have to admit, I do miss the days when the series had full-length stories featuring the entire team, with Black and Heike themselves as the driving forces behind the series.  But I can understand why changes needed to be made, and I’m glad that the book continues to exist in some format.

The latest issue, Femforce #160, is topped off by a cover by the very talented Eduardo Barreto, whose work I’ve always enjoyed.  Tragically, Barreto passed away at the much too young age of 57 in December of last year.  This must have been one of the last pieces he drew before his untimely death.  It really is a lovely cover, featuring images of team members She-Cat, Stardust, and Ms. Victory.

Inside, what really impressed me, as always, was the artwork.  I’ve gotten so tired of much of the material at the “Big Two,” Marvel and DC.  You either have over-rendered work with ridiculous amounts of crosshatching, or you get Manga-inspired styles with poor storytelling.  These have pervaded through much of Marvel and DC’s products.  What I like about the artwork on Femforce is that it’s clean-cut.  The penciling reminds me of such 1970s & 80s artists as Ron Wilson, Alex Saviuk, and Alan Kupperberg, who have clear, solid storytelling abilities.  The inking is reminiscent of the Filipino school of illustration, with its rich embellishments.  I’m a huge fan of that style, as well, so I like the combination of the two.

My only real criticism of the art is that at times the blacks do print somewhat dark.  It would be lovely to see some gray tones & shading.

femforce 160 pg 34

The stories in Femforce #160 are all on the short side, each a solo tale of one of the team members.  I guess the problem I had with these is that none of them really felt like the events in them had any significance to them.  The two exceptions were the Synn and Nightveil stories, but each of those had this real dream-like quality, and at the end you weren’t entirely certain what did and did not occur.  Having said that, the Nightveil episode appears to be a set-up for future events, and so I have to wait and see what that leads to.

There was also a Stardust solo story in #160 that was good.  The story by Eric Johnson, although a bit on the slight side, was fun.  I was certainly impressed by the dynamic artwork by Chris Allen and Scott Shriver.

As I mentioned earlier, I am more of a fan of the longer tales featuring several of the ladies of Femforce working together on a big case.  I’m thinking specifically of “Full Circle” a 42-page story written by Mark Heike that ran ten issues ago.  That was divided up into shorter chapters, with a different art team illustrating each segment.   I felt that worked extremely well.

femforce 160 pg 11

One definite improvement to Femforce is that the Gargantarama flip book has been dropped.  I never understood the appeal of all those giant women.  Yeah, I don’t mind if Tara the Jungle Girl would sometimes develop the power to grow to be 50 feet tall, or that Femforce would occasionally fight a six story tall female menace.  But devoting almost a third of the book’s page count to a flip book featuring stories of giant women was excessive, in my opinion.  In #160 we do get one giant woman tale, and that’s just enough for me.

Anyway, putting humongous females aside, Femforce is a fun comic with cool characters and fantastic art.  I’m happy that Bill Black and Mark Heike have been able to continue to publish this series.

I definitely recommend taking a look at the AC Comics website, where there is a huge selection of Femforce back issues & trade paperbacks available.  AC has also released a number of old sci-fi and horror movies & serials onto DVD and has them for sale.  There’s some interesting, rare material being offered.  AC has even produced several low-budget direct-to-DVD movies based on the Femforce characters.  You can really see the fondness that Bill Black has for his characters & stories, devoting all that time & creative energy into bringing them to life.