Last month Michele and I went to the Society of Illustrators to see the Comic Art Sale and Exhibit. It was a great opportunity to see a very impressive & diverse selection of original artwork from comic books was on display, both from mainstream and alternative creators.
Here are just a few highlights from the Comic Art Sale and Exhibit, which ran from July 15th to October 23rd…
The unpublished cover artwork originally intended for Avengers #37 (Feb 1967) drawn by Don Heck for Marvel Comics that was eventually used as a cover by editor Roy Thomas for his comic book history magazine Alter Ego #118 (July 2013) from TwoMorrows Publishing.
A page from the Doctor Strange story “The Many Traps of Baron Mordo” drawn by Steve Ditko from Strange Tales #117 (Feb 1964) published by Marvel Comics.
The cover artwork for Green Lantern #56 (Oct 1967) penciled by Gil Kane and inked by Murphy Anderson, published by DC Comics.
The cover artwork for Hawkman #8 (June-July 1965) drawn by Murphy Anderson, published by DC Comics.
Two pages from Fantastic Four #116 (Nov 1971) penciled by John Busema and inked by Joe Sinnott, published by Marvel Comics.
A page from Incredible Hulk #196 (Feb 1976) pencil breakdowns by Sal Buscema and finishes by Joe Staton, published by Marvel Comics.
Two pages from the underground comix series The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers created by Gilbert Shelton.
The cover artwork for Laugh Comics #182 (May 1966) drawn by Dan DeCarlo, published by Archie Comics.
A daily installment of the newspaper comic strip Sky Masters penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Wallace Wood that ran from September 1958 to December 1961.
The cover artwork for Not Brand Echh #9 (Aug 1968) drawn by Marie Severin, published by Marvel Comics.
A page from Red Sonja #6 (Nov 1977) drawn by Frank Thorne, published by Marvel Comics.
While I definitely enjoyed this exhibit, it was slightly sobering to realize that in many cases the artists sold their original artwork many years ago for a fraction of the current asking prices. In some cases some of this artwork was given away by the publishers as gifts to fans, or flat-out stolen. It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances. So I can certainly understand why in recent decades comic book artists have chosen to sell their original work at much higher prices.
Sal Buscema, one of my favorite comic book artists, celebrates his 85th birthday on January 26th. I’m going to take a look back at how I discovered Buscema’s work as a young comic book fan. (Part of this retrospective is based on a couple of posts I did several years ago. I guess you can consider this a “director’s cut” or something like that.)
Appropriately enough, I first saw Sal Buscema’s artwork in two issues of The Incredible Hulk, one of the series with which he is most closely associated.
On several occasions Sal Buscema has stated that the Hulk was his favorite character to draw. As he related to Jim Amash in the book Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist, published by TwoMorrows in 2010:
“I identified with [the Hulk]. Do you know what I liked about the Hulk? … He’s totally unique. He’s monstrous, lumbering, huge, unbelievably strong, and he gets even stronger when he gets angry. He has the mentality of a child. It’s so completely different from anything that you’ve drawn before. Is there another character as unique? … He’s an anti-hero, and yet because of his unbelievable power… look at all the fantastic things he’s capable of doing and usually does. That’s the fun and the constant stimulation that I had with this character.”
Buscema was the penciler on The Incredible Hulk from issue #194 (Dec 1975) to #309 (July 1985), an astonishing nine and a half year run. During that time Buscema missed only seven issues. I believe his 109 issue run on the series has never been surpassed by any other artist.
The very first issue of The Incredible Hulk that I ever read was #285, cover-dated July 1983. It would have been on sale in early April 1983. I was six and a half years old and my parents bought it for me.
The Incredible Hulk #285 was topped off by a fantastic cover drawn by artists Ron Wilson & Joe Sinnott. As a kid, I thought it was an amazing image. The Hulk was fighting this giant orange figure seemingly made out of flames. I hadn’t seen anything like that before. And, oddly, instead of striding around in his usual torn-up pants, on this cover the Hulk was wearing a shirt, tie, jacket and shoes. That said, his pants were still purple, so not everything about him had changed!
Flipping open the comic, I came to the first page of “Today is the First Day of the Rest of My Life.” The creative team was writer Bill Mantlo, penciler Sal Buscema, inker Chic Stone, lettered Jim Novak, colorist Bob Sharen and editor Al Milgrom. This splash page again had the Hulk wearing a jacket & tie, his hair neatly combed. Rather than running around on a destructive rampage, he is seated at a desk, narrating his memoirs into a Dictaphone.
Over the course of the next several pages the Hulk recounts how Dr. Bruce Banner created the Gamma Bomb. While attempting to save the life of teenager Rock Jones who had wandered onto the test site, Banner was caught in the explosion of the weapon he created. The radiation now caused Banner to transform into a savage monster whenever overwhelmed by stress or anger. I distinctly recall that my seven year old self was surprised that in this flashback Banner’s assistant Igor, who set off the Gamma Bomb in an attempt to kill the scientist, was a Soviet spy, rather than an alien robotic infiltrator as he had been depicted in the animated episode “Origin of the Hulk” the year before.
Buscema drew an absolutely savage depiction of the Hulk in this flashback, as Banner transformed into the jade giant for the very first time, on the striking splash page seen at the top of this blog post.
Following this was an amazing two page spread by Buscema & Stone that illustrated the chaotic life of the Hulk over the next several years, the long and winding road taken by a green goliath who was more often than not hunted by humanity. Among the numerous characters glimpsed in this flashback montage, my seven year old self recognized from the animated series the villainous Leader and his pink artificial servants, Betty Ross, her father the militant General Ross, and the equally belligerent Major Talbot. Of course I also knew who Captain America was.
I was surprised to find out that Bruce Banner’s identity as the Hulk was public knowledge, since in the cartoons it had only been known to Rick Jones. Years later I learned that the Hulk was probably the earliest major super-powered protagonist to have his secret identity revealed, way back in Tales to Astonish #77, which was cover-dated May 1966.
At the end of this montage, we come to the Hulk’s current status: At long last, after all this time, Bruce Banner has managed to gain control, to retain his human intelligence when transforming into the Hulk.
While the Hulk has been busy recounting his life, a crew of workers from Stark Industries headed up by Scott Lang, the new Ant-Man, has been constructing Northwind Observatory, a laboratory where Banner can resume his scientific studies. Turning back into his human form, Banner joins Lang to supervise the installation of the laboratory’s power core. At the last minute, Banner discovers that the power core was not designed by Stark Industries, but acquired from a company called Soulstar. Banner immediately recognizes the name, but before he can prevent it, the power core is hooked up, there is “a massive electromagnetic discharge,” and a strange being emerges.
This creature, we are informed, is Zzzax the Living Dynamo (aka the guy guaranteed to always get the very last entry in the Handbook of the Marvel Universe). Looking something like a humanoid lightning bolt, Zzzax is a creature that feeds on the human life force. Before the monster can consume the stunned construction crew, Banner transforms back into the Hulk and tackles this old enemy.
Unfortunately the Hulk comes to a realization: In his old savage, child-like persona, the angrier he got, the stronger he became, but now, guided by Banner’s rational intellect, the Hulk cannot easily become angry, meaning his strength is limited. And so the gamma-spawned giant realizes that, instead of relying on brute force to defeat Zzzax, he must now find a way to out-think his fiery foe.
As a kid, I thought The Incredible Hulk #285 was a fantastic issue with an amazing bad guy. Yep, the idea of an intelligent Hulk was unexpected, but I just shrugged and read on. Mantlo’s script was a really good introduction to the character of the Hulk, neatly surmised through the plot device of Bruce Banner penning his autobiography. The second half, with the Hulk fighting Zzzax, was really exciting.
On the art side of things, the work by Sal Buscema was high quality. To the best of my knowledge, this was the very first comic book I ever read that was penciled by him. As I mentioned above, Buscema would eventually become one of my all time favorite comic book artists. A number of years ago when Our Pal Sal appeared at a NYC comic book show I had him autograph this issue. It was actually my second copy, since I read the original one so many times as a kid that the cover eventually fell off.
In regards to Stone’s inking, it is pretty good. Having subsequently seen a great deal more of Buscema’s work, I have to admit that there were others who did a better job finishing his pencils, among them Joe Sinnott, Gerry Talaoc, and Buscema himself. In the aforementioned Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist he admits that he wasn’t overly enthusiastic about Stone’s inking. Looking back at it as an adult fan, yes, I tend to agree with him. That said, back when I was a little kid completely lacking in any knowledge of the subtleties of inking, I thought the artwork by Sal & Chic looked just fine. I guess that’s probably the more important thing.
Even though I really did enjoy The Incredible Hulk #285, because I was just a few months shy of seven years old I very seldom had a chance to go buy comic books on my own, so I ended up not reading another issue of the series for a couple of years. When I finally did, it was issue #309. And if I thought #285 was a bit odd, well, that next one was downright bizarre!
The Incredible Hulk #309 was cover-dated July 1985, exactly two years since the last issue I had read. And it was quickly obvious that a heck of a lot had changed in those two years!
The cover to issue #309 was by Mike Mignola. It’s a pretty early piece of work by the future creator of Hellboy. But you can certainly see his potential as an artist in this unusual cover image. This had to be the first time that I saw Mignola’s art. It certainly leaped out at me as a distinctive piece.
“The Triad” is written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Gerry Talaoc, lettered by John Workman, colored by Bob Sharon and edited by Carl Potts. The last time I had seen Bruce Banner he was in full control of his bestial alter-ego and had been accepted as a hero by the people of Earth. Now, though, the Hulk appears to be somewhere far, far from home, struggling to string together a simple coherent thought.
Within a few pages, Mantlo quickly brought readers up to speed. Buscema renders another of his dramatic flashback montages. I learned that the now-intelligent Hulk was haunted by Doctor Strange’s arch enemy Nightmare, who twisted Banner’s dreams to re-awaken the green goliath’s bestial alter ego. Nightmare hoped to use the Hulk as weapon against the Sorcerer Supreme. However, Strange was able to help the remaining spark of Banner’s consciousness strike back at the demon. Unfortunately the Hulk was left with no mitigating human influence, and became an uncontrollable monster. Rather than have to destroy his old friend, Strange exiled the Hulk to the extra-dimensional Crossroads, which linked up to a myriad of other realities.
And, wow, poor John Workman, a highly skilled letterer, had to try to squeeze all of this information onto a single page! I recall my eight year old self squinting as I read this recap, trying to make out all that tiny lettering.
Now, in the present, after some time wandering the Crossroads, traveling from one strange world to another, the Hulk’s sentience is very gradually awakening. And with this renewed awareness, the Hulk discovers he is now accompanied by a trio of unusual figures. The Triad is made up of a blue-skinned demon Goblin, a young orange-skinned girl Guardian, and a shining magenta star Glow. These mysterious figures were somehow linked to the Hulk, their purpose to help restore the Hulk’s psyche.
Walking through one of the Crossroads portals, the Hulk and the Triad are transported into the middle of a vast alien desert. Although the desolate sands stretch as far as the eye can see, and the harsh sun beats endlessly down, the Hulk refuses to activate the “fail-safe spell” cast by Doctor Strange that would return him to the Crossroads when he feels discontented. As a massive sandstorm sweeps in, the Triad attempt in vain to convince the Hulk to wish himself off this planet before they all perish.
Finally, having survived the brutal elements, the Hulk at last finds that which his inhuman senses had detected from far off: a lush oasis. The Triad realizes that the Hulk was not on a mission of suicide, but was driven by the will to find this oasis, meaning his mind is continuing to heal and come back together.
This was a really odd story to read as a kid. The Hulk was stranded on the other side of reality, fighting not some supervillain or the military, but the very elements, accompanied by an incredibly odd threesome. Mantlo really crafted an unusual story, having the Hulk’s struggle against nature juxtaposed against the Triad’s examination of and insights into his mental state. It is a very introspective tale.
At the time, I had no clue who the Triad was supposed to be. Within the next few issues, Mantlo would reveal that they were the splintered aspects of Bruce Banner’s subconscious mind given form and independent thought. Certainly this was a clever, innovative idea. Reading issue #309 with the benefit of hindsight, I can now see that Mantlo sprinkled the dialogue with a number of hints as to the true identity of the Triad.
Mantlo really broke a lot of ground with his run on Incredible Hulk. Having already given us an intelligent Hulk, he has now exiled the jade giant from Earth and begun to embark on an examination of Bruce Banner’s psychological background. A cursory glance at the Hulk stories that have been written in the decades since readily demonstrates just how much this influenced subsequent writers.
This issue’s artwork was absolutely incredible. The thing that really struck me was the depiction of the Hulk by Buscema & Talaoc. Obviously in other comic books and in cartoons the Hulk had always been a big, strong creature. But this was the first time I had ever seen him drawn as such a huge, bestial, imposing figure.
The depictions of the Crossroads and the desert planet that the Hulk and his strange companions visited were very vivid and detailed. Buscema did a great job on the pencils, crafting these alien environments. And the inking by Talaoc was absolutely superb. He created a tangible atmosphere of oddness for the Crossroads. On the desolate world, his embellishments bring to life a harsh landscape that alternates between cutting winds and a brutal sun.
Buscema stated in the Fast & Furious book that Gerry Talaoc was one of his favorite inkers to work with…
“Gerry Talaoc was a terrific draughtsman and… he drew better than I did. He probably still does. [laughs] And the look of the book was great. I loved what he did. To me the final product was what counted.”
I agree that Buscema and Talaoc went together exceptionally well. Talaoc really enhanced Buscema’s penciling without overpowering it.
Eight years ago I found out that Gerry Talaoc was retired and living in Alaska. I was able to mail a few comic books to him to get signed, and I made certain that The Incredible Hulk #309 was one of them.
On the letters page of The Incredible Hulk #309 editor Carl Potts revealed that this was Sal Buscema’s final regular issue penciling the series, ending his nearly decade-long run. I don’t recall if this meant anything to me back then, since I was just a kid and really wasn’t paying attention to the credits.
Years later, though, I would learn about the behind the scenes circumstances that led to Sal Buscema’s departure from The Incredible Hulk. Buscema and Bill Mantlo, who came on as writer with issue #245, had initially gotten along very well. Regrettably though, as Buscema recounted in Fast & Furious, after several years Mantlo started becoming much more hands-on and demanding in regards to the artwork & storytelling, requesting that Buscema draw pages in certain ways…
“What [Mantlo] was asking for was not good. I didn’t care for it at all, and I have to trust my judgment, because I’m the artist and he’s not. I hate to be this blunt about it, but the fact of the matter is that in many cases where Bill described what he wanted he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was not an artist, because he had no concept – and I do not mean that derogatorily, but simply as a statement of fact – of the relationship of one object to another in a given space. He would ask me to draw things that were impossible to draw.”
Buscema reluctantly asked Marvel Comics to take him off The Incredible Hulk. It’s an unfortunate end to his historic run. Nevertheless, looking at his penciling for issue #309, it is apparent, to me at least, that Buscema was doing high-quality work on the series right up until his departure.
By 1985 it had become a bit easier for me to buy comic books. So fortunately I was able to pick up most the next several issues of the series.
Mike Mignola came onboard as the new penciler. A few issues later the entire team of Mantlo, Mignola & Talaoc relocated to the pages of Alpha Flight. After brief stints by John Byrne and Al Milgrom, The Incredible Hulk gained a new writer, Peter David, who had a lengthy, brilliant run that has some of its roots in Mantlo’s work.
Looking back on Mantlo’s run on The Incredible Hulk, it was innovative and exciting. Despite the difficulties he had working with Mantlo towards the end, the artwork by Buscema was superb. In 2012 a good portion of the Mantlo & Buscema run, issues #269 to #313, was collected in, appropriately enough, a triad of trade paperbacks: Pardoned, Regression and Crossroads.
From my recollection, the point at which Sal Buscema’s artwork really began to stand out in my mind was when he became the regular artist on Spectacular Spider-Man in 1988. His work on that series was outstanding. And so, when I later ended up looking back at those two issues of The Incredible Hulk that I had picked up as a kid, I now realized they had been penciled by Our Pal Sal, which only increased my appreciation for them. It’s great to re-examine them and really absorb the incredible skill Buscema displays with his dynamic layouts & storytelling. Just check out the action, energy and drama on display above, on page 20 of The Incredible Hulk #285.
I definitely recommend purchasing Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist. It is still available from TwoMorrows Publishing.
Credit where credit is due: The format of this piece was partly inspired by Alan Stewart’s entertaining and informative blog Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books. Hey, as the saying goes, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best! You can read Alan’s entries on Sal Buscema, which so far look back at some of his work from the late 1960s and early 70s. And if Alan keeps blogging (and I certainly hope he does) perhaps in another six or so years he’ll be discussing Our Pal Sal’s work on The Incredible Hulk.
In conclusion, I want to wish a very happy 85th birthday to Sal Buscema, and thank him for the many great, enjoyable comic books he’s worked on over the decades.
Writer James D. Hudnall passed away on April 9th. His earliest professional work was Espers for Eclipse Comics in 1986. Hudnall had numerous comic book credits, but I was most familiar with his nearly two year run on Alpha Flight from early 1989 to late 1990. He wrote issues #63 and #67-86.
Alpha Flight is a series that even its creator John Byrne admitted he didn’t really know quite what to do with it. He has been quite vocal about the fact that he only created the Canadian super-hero team to be able to survive a fight with the X-Men. Byrne was genuinely surprised when Alpha Flight became popular enough to receive their own series, and he took on the assignment with a certain reluctance.
Byrne wrote & penciled the first 28 issues of Alpha Flight. He did good work, but by the end he felt he had literally run out on things to do with the characters. After he left, the series somehow managed to last nearly another decade, experiencing a lot of ups & downs.
Byrne’s successor on Alpha Flight was writer Bill Mantlo, who worked with several artists during his three year stint on the series. Mantlo’s run started off showing potential, and a number of the issues from his first couple years were enjoyable. However towards the end things had definitely petered out. At the time, when Hudnall came on in early 1989, it really was a breath of fresh air. Although somewhat uneven, I regard Hudnall’s stint on Alpha Flight as one of the better post-Byrne periods. (Of course, as I always like to say, your mileage may vary.)
Hudnall’s first few issues of Alpha Flight had him wrapping up a some dangling subplots from Bill Mantlo’s run, including bringing to a close the team’s conflict with the Dreamqueen. With that out of the way, with issue #71 Hudnall embarked on a lengthy story arc involving an incredibly powerful, seemingly-unstoppable mystical villain, Llan the Sorcerer.
According to Hudnall the Sorcerer storyline was initially planned to run all the way to issue #100, with Llan as an overarching behind-the-scenes adversary dispatching such villains as the Master of the World and Zeitgeist against the team to distract them while his ambitious master plan came together. However, a lukewarm reception and conflicts with editorial resulted in Hudnall being replaced as writer on the book. This necessitated him giving his story a somewhat quick wrap-up in issue #86, with Doctor Strange being brought in to aid Talisman in defeating Llan.
Hudnall was probably overly ambitious with his plans for Alpha Flight. I don’t know if the Sorcerer storyline really would have had enough substance to it to continue running for another year in order to make it to issue #100. However, I cannot fault Hudnall for attempting to at least try to do something spectacular and long-ranging in a book that had recently been lacking in a solid, interesting direction.
Hudnall explained his plans an interview conducted in the early 2000s by the website AlphaFlight.net:
“I wanted to make the book more in line with Byrne’s vision, which I felt was generally a good one. I liked Byrne’s run except he was kind of unfocused direction-wise. Probably because he was bored. So one of the things I did was try to give Alpha Flight more of a purpose. And try to make them unique in the Marvel Universe, not just by virtue of their nationality. I also wanted to show off Canada, so I did tons of research.”
It had been a number of years since I have read those issues, but from glancing over them again this week I did like how Hudnall worked to develop the character of Talisman. It had been one of Talisman’s predecessors who had fought Llan the Sorcerer when he had last attacked Earth’s dimension 10,000 years earlier. It now fell to the current Talisman, who was fairly young & inexperienced, to lead the battle against this incredibly formidable, cunning foe.
I am not certain exactly how successful Hudnall was in his execution of Talisman’s character development. At times she came across less as focused & determined, and more as bossy & arrogant. But I do appreciate that Hudnall at least attempted to make her the focus of his overall storyline. I think Byrne came up with a fantastic design for the character, and it was nice to see her in the spotlight here.
Another highlight of Hudnall’s run was having former Alpha Flight foe Diamond Lil join the team. Lil had been involved in the events that had led to the death of Alpha’s original leader James Hudson, aka Guardian, which put her at odds with the team’s current leader, the widowed Heather Hudson, aka Vindicator. Complicating matters even further, Lil was the ex-girlfriend of Madison Jeffries, aka Box, who was now engaged to Heather. It was apparent that there was still an attraction between Lil and Madison, and the resulting love triangle was present throughout the background of the Sorcerer storyline.
I also think having Lil join the cast offered an outsider’s perspective on some of the events. It was interesting to see her gradual development from a one-time enemy who was regarded with suspicion to a trusted member of the team. Plus, during the “Acts of Vengeance” crossover we got to see go toe-to-toe with longtime Spider-Man villain the Scorpion, which was cool.
With the benefit of hindsight, Hudnall was doing on Alpha Flight what is now referred to as “writing for the trades,” i.e. writing a lengthy, complex storyline serialized in a monthly series that would later work as a complete novel when collected together in trade paperbacks. I think that if I was to go back and read Hudnall’s entire Alpha Flight run in one go, rather than broken up into monthly installments, it would work much better now.
For the majority of Hudnall’s time on Alpha Flight he was paired with penciler John Calimee. I personally think Calimee was a fairly good, solid artist, albeit one who was not particularly flashy or dynamic. In other words, he got the job done, but perhaps that was not seen as sufficient enough at that point in time, when several red-hot artists were exploding in other Marvel titles. Most of the issues Calimee penciled were inked by Mike Manley, a very talented artist whose work I have always enjoyed.
Other artists who worked on Alpha Flight during this time were Hugh Haynes, the great Filipino illustrator Gerry Talaoc and a fairly young up-and-coming Mark Bagley. The incredibly talented James Sherman turned in one of his all-too-rare rare comic book jobs, providing full artwork for Alpha Flight #73. That issue flashed back to the conflict between the original Talisman and the Sorcerer in prehistoric times.
John Byrne himself unexpectedly returned to the series to draw a couple of covers. Jim Lee, who did some of his earliest work on Alpha Flight, also contributed to a few covers during Hudnall’s run.
Regrettably, except for Haynes, there did not exist a good rapport between the writer and the various artists. Subsequently Hudnall would express his opinion that Calimee in particular had been unable to effectively execute the visuals contained in the plots. Hudnall also experienced a number of disagreements with his editors. Whether all of this was due to Hudnall wanting to remain faithful to his ambitious vision, or an indication that he was a difficult person to collaborate with, is up to the individual to decide.
Whatever the difficulties between Hudnall and his colleagues, as I said before, at the end of the day I personally do think that his run on Alpha Flight was pretty good. Possibly it is my teenage nostalgia talking, but all these years later it remains memorable for me.
As for the artwork by Calimee & Manley, looking at it in 2019 with a fresh perspective, I find that I still like it. Calimee is, as I said, a solid artist who knows how to lay out a page and tell a story. Manley’s inking here provided a polished finish to the pencils. One of his artistic influences was the legendary Al Williamson, and that shows in the inking on these issues.
The lettering on all of these issues was by Janice Chiang. I’ve always liked her work. Looking at these issues for the first time in years, I can immediately identify that it’s her lettering. She’s one of the best letterers in the biz.
In addition to Alpha Flight, Hudnall worked on Strikeforce: Morituri and the graphic novel The Agent for Marvel. Over at DC Comics he wrote the very dark graphic novel Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography. In the 1990s Hudnall worked on Malibu Comics’ well-regarded Ultraverse imprint, writing the series Hardcase and The Solution. With artist Andrew Paquette he created Harsh Realm, a six issue miniseries published by Harris Comics that was later loosely adapted into a short-lived TV series.
About a decade ago Hudnall began writing for the ultra-conservative website Breitbart, and espousing views I found very disagreeable. Nevertheless, despite how I felt about his politics, I was sorry to hear that in the last few years he was experiencing serious health problems. It’s unfortunate that he died at a relatively young age, a day before his 62nd birthday. He leaves behind a small but interesting and imaginative body of work.
Longtime comic book artist Marie Severin passed away on August 30 at the age of 89. Severin, a very talented artist who was possessed of a wonderful sense of humor, was one of the few women to work in the comic book industry in the 1950s and 60s.
Severin got her start in the 1950s as a colorist at EC Comics, where her brother, John Severin, was working as an artist. Following that, Severin began working at Marvel in the late 1950s. Initially working as a colorist and in the production department, in the mid 1960s she also began drawing for the House of Ideas.
Severin had a decidedly unconventional, often wacky style to her artwork. She also acknowledged that she really did not care all that much for super-heroes. That made her the perfect fit for Marvel’s outlier characters. She became only the third artist on the Doctor Strange feature in Strange Tales beginning with issue #153, cover-dated Feb 1967. Soon afterwards, Severin began drawing the adventures of Marvel’s two moody, violent anti-heroes, Namor the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk.
In the early 1970s Severin penciled several stories written by Roy Thomas featuring Robert E. Howard’s introspective warrior king Kull the Conqueror. On the Kull stories Severin was inked by her brother John, and it was a beautiful collaboration.
However, it was in the humor field that Severin really found her calling. Her style was perfectly suited for comedy, and for sending up the characters at Marvel and their competitors. Severin’s work appeared in all but one issue of Not Brand Echh, which ran for 13 issues in the late 1960s. All these years later the wacky, satirical stories from Not Brand Echh are well-remembered, in major part because of Severin’s distinctively crazy artwork.
I was born in 1976, so I only discovered Not Brand Echh years later via reprints. I think once I reached my 30s and started taking super-heroes a lot less seriously was when I finally began to really appreciate the parodies of the genre that Severin & her colleagues had done.
However, for the thoughts of someone who did read Not Brand Echh when it was being published, I recommend reading Alan Stewart’s blog Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books. Earlier this year Alan did a blog post looking back at Not Brand Echh #9. Severin’s drew the cover artwork for on Not Brand Echh #9 and penciled “Bet They’ll Be Battle!” featuring the Inedible Bulk and Prince No-More the Skunk-Mariner, a parody of the Hulk vs. Sub-Mariner story published in Tales to Astonish #100 a year and a half earlier, which Severin had also penciled.
Nevertheless, of the Not Brand Echh material I have seen via reprints, one of my favorite pieces is the satirical two page “How to Be a Comic Book Artist” vignette which Severin drew, and which she apparently also wrote and colored. It was originally published in Not Brand Echh #11 (Dec 1968). Here it is…
“How to Be a Comic Book Artist” always leaves me chuckling, especially the second panel on the first page. “Work in pleasant, inspiring surroundings – to keep your thoughts alive and creative!” Yes, yes… of course! 😛
I showed this two-pager to my girlfriend Michele, who is an artist. She shook her head and muttered, “Yeah, that sounds like everybody I know.”
Severin continued her humor work at Marvel in the 1970s, contributing to the short-lived color comics Spoof and Arrgh! and the long-running black & white Crazy Magazine. In the early 1990s she also drew a few stories for Marvel’s later-day humor comic What The–?!
Much of Severin’s work for Marvel in the 1980s and early 90s was on titles geared towards younger readers. Her artwork appeared in the Muppet Babies, Fraggle Rock and Alf comic books. Once again, her style was very well-suited to that material.
On occasion Severin did return to straightforward super-heroes. In the mid 1990s she worked on a few stories during David Quinn’s memorable run writing Doctor Strange, doing nice work. I especially enjoyed her artwork on the Doctor Strange & Clea story that appeared in Midnight Sons Unlimited #6 (July 1994) which, although it was a mostly-serious tale, was drawn in a semi-cartoony style, and which had a fair amount of comedic background details, such as the depictions of late 1960s counter-culture elements.
I only met Severin once, briefly, at a comic book convention in June 2000. At the time the only book I had on hand which contained her work was the graphic novel Dignifying Science. Written by Jim Ottaviani and illustrated by a talented line-up of female artists, Dignifying Science spotlighted several important female scientists. Severin drew the book’s prologue & epilogue, which touched upon the life of Marie Curie. I got my copy autographed by Severin. I wish I’d had some of the other books she worked on to also get signed, but at least I did get to meet her that one time.
Marie Severin had a very lengthy career in comic books as an artist and colorist, and I’ve only briefly touched upon a few highlights in this blog. For an in-depth examination of her career, I highly recommend the book Marie Severin: The Mirthful Mistress of Comics written by Dewey Cassell with Aaron Sultan from TwoMorrows Publishing. In addition, Severin was recently interviewed by Jon B. Cooke in Comic Book Creator #16 (Winter 2018) also from TwoMorrows. Please check them out.
There has been certain skepticism regarding my cat Squeaky’s presidential campaign, with some wondering if a feline can actually even run for President. Well, let me assure you, Squeaky is hardly the first non-human to seek election to the highest office in the land. Let us cast our gaze back four decades to the year 1976, when that foul-mouthed fowl Howard the Duck ran for President.
Marvel Comics in the mid-1970s was a madhouse, and the lunatics were running the asylum. The company was in chaos, with little editorial oversight, deadlines being missed left & right, and sales on numerous books hovering at precipitously low levels. On the one hand, this meant that for a time Marvel was teetering on the brink of collapse; on the other, this chaos enabled creators to experiment, to try all sorts of crazy ideas. Howard the Duck was definitely one of those far-out concepts. For a time the character was a tremendous success.
Howard the Duck was created by writer Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik. In many ways Howard was Gerber’s baby (no pun intended). Gerber possessed an extremely offbeat and farcical sense of humor. He utilized the character of Howard, an anthropomorphic duck from another dimension stranded on Earth, to brutally skewer a variety of topics, among them politics, religion and popular culture. So it was natural enough that Gerber would utilize Howard to mock the 1976 presidential race. It’s the sort of storyline that even a few years later he simply could not have gotten away with at Marvel.
The main narrative of Howard’s quest for the Oval Office took place in issue #s 7-9 of his monthly title and in the oversized Marvel Treasury Edition #12. Artwork on the Howard the Duck series was by the team of Gene Colan & Steve Leialoha, while the Treasury was illustrated by Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson.
In issue #7, Howard and his human companion, the lovely redheaded Beverly Switzler, are hitchhiking through rural Pennsylvania. After their run-ins with the loony Reverend Joon Moon Yuc and the Incredible Cookie Creature, the pair catch a ride with country singer Dreyfus Gulch. The rhinestone cowboy is scheduled to sing the Star Spangled Banner at the national convention for the All-Night Party at Madison Square Garden. Arriving in NYC, Gulch arranges jobs for Howard and Beverly at the convention. Howard work security, which mostly entails breaking up fights between delegates, while Beverly is a Hospitality Girl, which mostly entails her getting pinched in the ass by those same delegates. (As far as I know, Bill Clinton was not on the premises.)
Howard ends up foiling a plot to blow up the convention. The delegates, impressed by both his bravery and his extremely blunt honesty, decide to make him the All-Night Party’s presidential candidate. This immediately puts a target on Howard’s feathered backside.
In the pages of Marvel Treasury Edition #7, the first assassination attempt on Howard is made by a quintet of lame wannabe super-villains led by Dr. Angst, Master of Mundane Mysticism, who convinces his fellow losers that fame & fortune awaits them once they kill Howard.
Meanwhile, the still-broke Howard and Beverly are in Greenwich Village searching for a place to crash. Mistaking Doctor Strange’s sanctum sanctorum for the home of Beverly’s old high school friends, the pair instead comes face-to-face with the Defenders. At this point the legion of losers attacks. Strange is knocked out by a mystic barrage of baseballs and the unconscious mage temporarily transfers his powers to Howard.
Yes, that’s right. Only one day after receiving the All-Night Party’s nomination, our plumed politician assumes the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme. If that’s not Commander in Chief material, I don’t know what is. True, Howard’s turn as a veritable Ducktor Strange, Mallard of the Mystic Arts is short-lived, but he acquits himself well, playing a key role in helping the Defenders to defeat the despicable dimwits who have attacked them.
Also in the pages of the Treasury is an interview with Howard conducted by Steve Gerber himself. Queried about his qualifications and political experience, Howard articulates his reasons for running…
“I never kept one job more than three an’ a half weeks. Which is another advantage of the presidency. They can only fire ya for high crimes an’ misdemeanors. That stuff, I don’t pull. I just mouth off a lot.”
Perhaps you may be thinking to yourself that this is a terrible attitude for a Presidential candidate to have. But just look at it this way… ask any old human why they want to be elected to the White House, and they’ll give you some song & dance about “serving the public” and “patriotic duty” and “making America great again.” But, truthfully, that’s all a load of horse pucky. What they are really after is power and adoration and wealth.
In contrast, Howard comes right out and admits he wants to be President because he’s looking to (appropriately enough) feather his nest. How often do you come across a politician with that kind of honesty?
Moving on to Howard the Duck #8, having defeated their attackers, Howard and Beverly depart from Doctor Strange’s house. Within mere seconds they are attacked by a succession of would-be assassins hoping to earn the $10 million bounty that’s been placed on the duck’s head. Fortunately Dreyfus Gulch zooms to the rescue in his armored limo.
Howard and Beverly are ferried to the offices of G.Q. Studley Associates, whose image consultants want to make Howard into the perfect pre-packaged candidate. Howard, of course, violently rebels at this. Hiring Mad Genius Associates to manage his campaign, Howard embarks on a series of nation-wide appearances where he bluntly dishes out the unvarnished truth. The misanthropic duck feels perfectly free to do so because he really doesn’t care if he wins or not, and he’s totally thrilled to finally have a soapbox from which to mouth off and tell everyone how stupid they are.
You might say that Howard the Duck as a presidential candidate possesses the ideology of Bernie Sanders and the personality of Donald Trump. As one person in this issue comments, “My god, he’s telling the truth! He’ll be dead in a week!”
Much to his surprise, Howard makes significant gains in the polls, and as Election Day approaches it actually appears that he might have a shot at winning. This all comes crashing down when a doctored photo that appears to show Howard and Beverly having a bath together is published by the Daily Bugle. Yep, there’s nothing like the whiff of extramarital hanky-panky to send a promising political career into a tailspin.
As issue #9 opens the election is over and Howard has lost. Truthfully he really doesn’t care, but Beverly is horrified at having been humiliated, “branded nation-wide as a shameless hussy.” Dreyfus Gulch taps his CIA contacts, and they discover the forged photo originated in Canada. Beverly insists to Howard that they head north to clear their names, explaining “My meticulously fabricated rep is at stake!”
Howard and Beverly journey to Canada, joining forces with Sgt. Preston Dudley of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Dudley leads them to the most likely suspect, “the infamous Pierre Dentifris, Canada’s only super-patriot!” Dentifris has a burning hatred of America, regarding it as an arrogant bully that is constantly encroaching on Canada. The attempts on Howard’s life and the forged photo were parts of an insanely convoluted (and just plain insane) plot to destroy America. Further casting doubt on his sanity, Dentifris dons a suit of armor shaped like a giant beaver and challenges Howard to a fight to the death on a tightrope strung across Niagara Falls. Howard, of course, perseveres, although the entire experience leaves him completely opposed to ever again entering the political arena.
Howard the Duck, as well as Steve Gerber’s other works, are something of an acquired taste for me. When I was younger I didn’t really appreciate his writing. Quite a bit of his material went over my head. As I got older, and my horizons broadened, Gerber was one of those creators who I grew to appreciate. Looking at his work now, it’s apparent that Gerber was not the type to write down to his audience. He certainly enjoyed pushing the boundaries. Gerber was also very on-the-nose with his withering satire.
In regards to the blurb on the cover to issue #9, “When Bites the Beaver,” I’m curious if Gerber was sneaking in a crude sexual innuendo. Then again, sometimes a beaver is just a beaver. After all, a few months after this storyline Gerber introduced the villainous Dr. Bong, whose head was a giant bell. Despite much speculation over the years, Gerber always insisted that, no, the name Dr. Bong was not a drug reference.
These issues have some really nice artwork. Gene Colan’s unconventional pencils are a nice fit for this series. Colan specialized in rendering the genres of horror and mystery. As can be seen by his work on Howard the Duck, he was a versatile artist who was also adept at humor.
Steve Leialoha is a great artist in his own right. He had only been working professionally for about a year when he inked these issues. As has often been observed, it could be a difficult task to ink Colan’s pencils as he utilized very subtle shading. Leialoha certainly acquits himself very well. He possesses a rather abstract, flowing quality to his work, and his inking gives Colan’s pencils a slightly more cartoony quality that suits the tone of these stories.
I asked Leialoha on his Facebook page if he had any thoughts to share concerning his collaboration with Colan, and he was kind enough to respond…
“I like to think I took to inking Gene’s pencils like a duck to water! But, seriously, out of all the pencilers I’ve had the pleasure to work with he was my favorite. Beautiful stuff! Doing a little math: I figure I’d inked about 250 pages up at Marvel before Howard the Duck # 7 rolled around with about 70 of them over Gene’s pencils, so I was ready for it! I look back at it now and see things I would do differently but I’m grateful for the opportunity, all those years ago.”
I’ve previously written about my great fondness for Sal Buscema’s art. He does a very nice job penciling the oversized Treasury. It’s interesting to see him render the more oddball, cartoony elements of the story, such as Howard himself.
Klaus Janson, even this early in his career, was doing great work. As he has a distinctively gritty style, it’s noteworthy that he’s working on a humorous story like this one. He and Buscema do make a good art team.
These issues are among the material contained within the Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection Volume 1 trade paperback. I highly recommend picking it up. Trust me: in this insane election year, we can use all the humor that we can find!
It’s the end of August and summer is winding down. Yes, technically it doesn’t actually end until September 23rd. However, the unofficial end of the summer season here in the States is Labor Day, which is only a week away. Most people regard these as the closing days of summer.
So before all the kiddies return to school I wanted to end the summer with an appropriate post. Let’s cast our eyes back to 1988 and the pages of Amazing Heroes #138, their second annual swimsuit issue.
For younger readers, Amazing Heroes was published by Fantagraphics between 1981 and 1992. It featured in-depth articles and interviews on both mainstream comic books and the ever-growing independent scene. For most of its existence Amazing Heroes was edited by Kim Thompson.
Amazing Heroes had a few swimsuit editions in the late 1980s and early 90s. Unlike many of the comic book swimsuit specials that would follow from other publishers that were tacky T&A fests, Amazing Heroes approached theirs with tongue planted firmly in cheek. A diverse selection of artists contributed to their specials.
The cover to Amazing Heroes #138 is penciled by the legendary Neal Adams and inked by Art Nichols. It features four lovely ladies from Adams’ creator-owned Continuity Studios books. I’m not familiar with the gals in the middle. But on the left is Ms. Mystic and on the right is Samuree. I always chuckle at this one. In the Ms. Mystic series the title character’s costume is always rendered by Adams with zip-a-tone. So the joke here is that, in lieu of a swimsuit, Ms. Mystic is wearing an actual sheet of zip-a-tone to the beach.
I got this autographed by Adams recently. It’s a lovely piece by him, a playfully sexy pin-up illustration. I hope one of these days Adams collects his creator-owned material into trade paperbacks. I feel that is an often-overlooked aspect of his career.
Here’s a look at just a few of my favorites from the many great pin-ups featured in Amazing Heroes #138…
John Workman renders Big Barda of Jack Kirby’s New Gods in a bikini. Workman is best known for his extensive work as a letterer, frequently working with Walter Simonson. But Workman is also a talented artist. As can be seen from this, he also possesses a great sense of humor. This is a cute send-up of good girl art, simultaneously sexy and self-deprecating. That “tapioca pudding” line totally cracks me up.
If you are Fantagraphics and you’re going to do a swimsuit special, certainly you’re going to ask two of your best artists, Love and Rockets co-creators Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez, to contribute a piece. After all, both brothers are well-regarded for their depictions of the female form. Of course, Beto and Jaime draw some good looking guys, too. Here’s a jam piece by Los Bros Hernandez. On the left is Israel by Gilbert. On the right is Danita by Jaime.
This pin-up and a great deal of other material that had originally appeared in a variety of places was reprinted in the Hernandez Satyricon trade paperback. As much as I love Gilbert & Jaime for their very compelling characters & intricate plotting it was also nice to have many of their beautiful pin-ups gathered together in one volume.
I really enjoy Fred Hembeck’s fun, cartoony artwork. He is a huge fan of Silver Age comic books, especially the Marvel Comics work of Steve Ditko. Hembeck has done quite a few loving Ditko homages over the years, including this one, “Surfing in The Ditko Zone.” It brings a smile to my face seeing Doctor Strange, Clea and the dread Dormammu in swimsuits riding the waves in one of Ditko’s psychedelic alternate dimensions.
As I’ve mentioned before, my girlfriend Michele is a fan of Omaha the Cat Dancer by writer Kate Worley and artist Reed Waller. I’ve never read the series, but Michele has all of the collected editions, so one of these days I’ll sit down and immerse myself in it. Omaha is an exotic dancer / stripper, and the book is definitely for mature readers. The series was partly created as a protest against censorship. It perfect makes sense that Waller would draw Omaha as “Ms. First Amendment” here. It’s a beautiful illustration.
In the late 1980s Eclipse Comics was publishing their revival of the Golden Age aviator hero Airboy written by Chuck Dixon. The talented Bo Hampton was one of the artists who worked on it. For this swimsuit issue Hampton renders Airboy / Davy Nelson III, the near-mindless swamp monster known as the Heap, and the femme fatale Valkyrie at the beach. I always chuckle at the sight of the Heap in a pair of swim trunks!
IDW is currently reprinting Eclipse’s Airboy in a series of trade paperbacks. I recommend getting them. They contain excellent writing and artwork.
Here’s a great pin-up of the whole crew from Evan Dorkin’s irreverent creator-owned series Pirate Corp$ / Hectic Planet jamming at the beach. It always amazes me at the insane amount of detail, as well as the just plain insanity, Dorkin always manages to pack into his artwork. He draws a huge crowd of characters and successfully invests each one with an individual personality. Dorkin is definitely one of the most talented and underrated comic book creators around.
In the late 1990s Slave Labor Graphics released three trade paperback collections of Hectic Planet. You can find them on Amazon at affordable prices. Again, I recommend them. Dorkin did good work in those stories.
Bringing things to a close, here is a scan of the original art for a pin-up of Purity Brown and Nemesis the Warlock from the pages of 2000 AD drawn by Bruce Patterson. As an inker, Patterson has worked with a diverse number of pencilers. This piece demonstrates Patterson is also able to do extremely good work on his own. Purity Brown of course looks damn sexy in her black bikini. As for Nemesis, there’s comedy gold in seeing the alien chaos lord clad in a black Speedo holding a beach ball.
I won this on Ebay in the late 1990s. Only a couple other people bid on it, so I got it for an amazingly low price. I owned it for almost 20 years before eventually selling it to another collector when I had some bills I had to pay. The art board Patterson drew on had warped a bit by the time it made its way into my hands, but it still looked great. This is a piece that I feel, due to the subtle shading Patterson utilized, did not reproduce especially well on black & white newsprint.
Older fans often look back at the demise Amazing Heroes in 1992 as an unfortunate setback to serious journalism on the industry. I think that’s a valid argument. Even more so when you consider that following in Amazing Heroes’ footsteps was Wizard Magazine. If Amazing Heroes was the New York Times of comic book reporting then Wizard was definitely the NY Post!
Many of the old Amazing Heroes issues can be found on Ebay for low prices. They’re well worth picking up for the interviews and the in-the-moment examination of the dramatic changes the comic book industry underwent throughout the 1980s. And, of course, you also had fun features like their swimsuit specials.
Here is the third and final installment of my look back at the bizarre, experimental, amazing run on Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme by writer David Quinn. Many of the major subplots of Quinn’s arc come to an epic conclusion in issue #s 72-75, the four part “Last Rites.”
Previously Doctor Strange had assembled the mystic artifacts he had collected into a Forge, and had used it to tap into the “Gaian Aura” of the Earth itself to gain access to a new source of magickal energy. As “Last Rites” opens, Strange believes he is finally ready to confront his usurper, the ancient Salome, who has assumed the title of Sorceress Supreme. After a year shielding himself in his null space Sanctum Sanctorum beneath Trinity Church, Strange opens up the gateway to it, expecting Salome will take the bait and come charging in, ready to do battle. However, this doesn’t happen. Instead, the mystic entity Agamotto materializes, warning that he and the other beings comprising the Vishanti have granted Salome their benediction. Strange is horrified, believing that now Salome will be even more difficult to defeat, and despairs that his months of preparations have been in vain.
Obsessed over both stopping Salome and traveling to the Dark Dimension to assist his former lover Clea, Doctor Strange decides he must reclaim the energy he invested in the creation of the artificial beings “Vincent Stevens” and “Strange.” He uses the Gaian Aura to create an aetheric sword & suit of armor which will protect him from the corrupting energies of Salome’s Dance still within him. Doctor Strange then head off to confront the Strangers. Arriving at the Tempo Building, he finds the pair preparing to finally merge together to ensure their continued existence. Neither of the Strangers is ready to simply hand over his life energies to their “father,” and so a battle quickly erupts.
Elsewhere, in the Dark Dimension, a despondent Clea is preparing to enter into an alliance with her uncle, the dread Dormammu, deposed ruler of the realm. Clea is reluctant to side with her evil relative, but she feels that she has no choice, given that Doctor Strange was unable to aid her in restoring order to her war-ravaged home. Entering the magick dampening field of the Sanctuary, Clea and Dormammu prepare to sign a peace accord. However, even stripped of his mystical energies, Dormammu is not powerless. Treacherously, he brutally, bare-handedly rips the spine from one of his own soldiers and hurls it at his niece. The only thing that saves Clea is her advisor Nobel, who throws himself between the two, receiving a mortal wound. Clea’s ragtag army quickly flees, with Dormammu and his forces giving pursuit.
Back on Earth, Doctor Strange is attempting to convince “Strange” that Vincent Stevens intends to betray his would-be ally. Indeed, Stevens plans to use his techno-magick not to merge with “Strange” but to take possession of his form. Stevens’ own technology is eventually turned against him, and the doppelganger is destroyed.
With just “Strange” left, the Doctor tries to induce the entity to willingly give up his existence, so that both Earth and the Dark Dimension can be saved. However, the aetheric entity refuses, hollering to his creator “If you want to amend your errors, give me a REAL life!” He argues that Doctor Strange is acting just as selfish and manipulative as Vincent Stevens was before, proving himself a monumental hypocrite. And despite all that is at stake, the Doctor finally realizes that his creation is right, that sacrificing “Strange” with an ends-justify-the-means rationalization will make him just a bad as the entity who harbored all his darker, buried impulses.
The Doctor is forced to acknowledge that “Strange” is sentient, that he has a soul, a right to exist. The magician tells his creation “I am willing to sacrifice what I most desire… in order to give you life!” The two pool their energies, and the master of the mystic arts transports “Strange” to the Dark Dimension. There, “Strange” merges with the dying Noble, becoming a new, composite entity known as Paradox, who embodies the personalities & qualities of both beings. Paradox saves Clea from Dormammu and his Mindless Ones, transporting her to safety, ready to fight by her side in the future.
Doctor Strange, knowing that Clea is safe, returns to his Sanctum to confront Salome, who has at last arrived. Strange realizes that, for all his plots & planning, in the end he is nowhere near powerful enough to defeat Salome. His only hope is to utilize strategy and try to bluff the Sorceress Supreme. Indeed, although Salome probably could have defeated Strange easily, she has become so utterly obsessed, so insane with the thought of humiliating him that he is, just barely, able to outmaneuver & trick her into defeating herself. An unexpected ally is also presented in the form of Sister Nil. The Lilin has come to care deeply for Strange and is ready to sacrifice herself for him.
Salome is banished once more from Earth’s dimension. The corrupting energy of Salome’s Dance finally removed from his body, Doctor Strange completely rejuvenates himself, physically becoming a much younger man. Donning a pair of mystic spectacles, he safely emerges from his Sanctum to finally walk the streets of New York, ready to restart his life.
The near-total revamp of Doc’s physical appearance is odd and unexpected. As others have commented, this new form, as drawn by Peter Gross, bears a more than passing resemblance to John Lennon. I was rather surprised by this. I e-mailed Quinn to see if he would share his memories of this redesign. Here’s his response:
“I think that was the powers that be’s guidance. I reached out to Evan, but he was on vacation, so we’re going on my hazy memory of an uncomfortable time. That’s an important context to capture − Marvel’s ownership was decimating the system of distributors and stores and sales were plummeting across the line. (All we could claim with Doc was that our sales were slipping more slowly than the rapid freefall of other titles — not enough.) Editors were losing jobs every week and desperate to grab attention for their books. So with hindsight, I think Evan’s bosses saw our new empowered Doc and steered it toward a more youthful look. Ironically, he ended up looking like a 25 year old Harry Potter. Look at other books at the time and you might detect other desperate measures to temporarily pump up sales to keep editorial employed.”
As a reader who witnessed the tumultuous upheavals of Marvel in the mid-1990s, I have to agree that Quinn’s memory of where the directive to de-age Doctor Strange came from sounds plausible. I can certainly imagine how editorial and/or management might say “Hey, if we make Doc young & hip, more teenagers will read him!” After all, these are the same people who just a year later gave over Captain America and Avengers to Rob Liefeld.
Regarding the other aspects of “Last Rites,” I was initially surprised that Quinn had spent three and a half issues focusing on Doctor Strange’s confrontation with the Strangers, and only the last half of the double-sized #75 was devoted to his final battle with Salome. This pacing seemed an unusual choice. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the Doctor’s most important conflict was not with Salome, but with himself.
Even before Quinn’s run, Strange had always been a rather distant, aloof figure, often detaching himself from the world he had pledged to protect. After he was stripped of his position as Sorcerer Supreme, depowered, and afflicted with Salome’s Dance, he then began to act in a ruthless, manipulative manner. Strange kept his allies at arm’s length and in the dark concerning his intentions. He created, used, and then discarded his aetheric agents the Strangers with a disturbing casualness. In his obsession to overcome Salome, he had allowed himself to become alienated from his own humanity. It was more important for the Doctor to confront the consequences of his actions, and for him to acknowledge that much of the Strangers’ ruthlessness & brutality came from his own long-buried flaws. Finally, the Doctor had to be willing to sacrifice his happiness, and perhaps even his life, to both enable “Strange” to exist and to save Clea, even if it meant that he might not be powerful enough to survive his own confrontation with Salome. Much as he had to do many years before studying under his mentor the Ancient One, Doctor Strange had to re-discover humility and serenity. It was by rising above his obsessions, as well as by his past decision to try and care for & redeem Sister Nil rather than punish her for her crimes, that Strange was finally able to banish Salome.
There was, I admit, one aspect of Quinn’s overall storyline that I felt was underdeveloped: who, exactly, is Salome? According to her own words, she was the Sorceress Supreme of Earth thousands of years ago. From this we can infer that in the past, in some manner or another, she did act in the role of Earth’s protector. But obviously something must have occurred at some point to change this. Perhaps she became arrogant, corrupted by the power & authority she wielded. This could have been what led to her original banishment to another dimension. I really would have liked to have seen Quinn explore who Salome was. In his work with Tim Vigil on Faust: Love of the Damned, he has scripted the vile characters of M and Claire in such a brilliant way that, for all their depraved acts, the reader can, if not sympathize with them, at least understand their points of view and what it is that drives them. I wish he had done something similar, gotten into Salome’s head to show us what makes her tick.
The final final four issues in Quinn’s run, #s 76-79, are written with the assistance of editor Evan Skolnick, who co-writes #77 and scripts #s 78 & 79 from Quinn’s plots. Several new plotlines are set up. Doctor Strange assumes the identity of Vincent Stevens and takes charge of his corporation in an effort to clean up the corruption and destruction caused by the Strangers. The Doctor also begins a slow, painful reconciliation with his former aide Wong, who still harbors bitterness over the death of his fiancée Imei. There are further developments with Clea and Paradox. Modred the Mystic and Wildpride briefly resurface, the later revealed to be Strange’s disgruntled short-lived apprentice Kyllian. Most ominously, the elder god Chthon’s impending rebirth is on the horizon. No doubt Quinn would have developed all of these over future issues. But he was replaced as the series’ writer before he had the opportunity.
Quinn shared a few brief comments on where he had hoped to take both the character and the series…
“My focus at the end of Last Rites was to give a reunited Dr. Stephen Strange earth magick based powers of his own acquisition, versus tricks borrowed from the Vishanti. He would stand on his own for the first time, be much more powerful and confident — and future adventures planned some aggressive earth magick around the MU of the day. I thought it was about time he grew up, and stop just being the MU’s cosmic babysitter / plot device. (Sound familiar?) Since we had also gradually empowered Clea, I thought a more adult relationship would be interesting to explore − if Strange could stand up on his own, he better be okay with a woman who does, too!”
Quinn was unfortunately not able to enact these plans…
“Evan was laid off. His replacement was swamped and kind of let the last issues run on autopilot while preparing yet another new direction in a year… and the good Doctor has never sustained a successful run since, in terms of sales.”
The strongest of Quinn’s last four issues is his final one, #79. In “Farewell, Nightmare Music” Sister Nil is restless, wanting her complete freedom, to explore the world of human beings. But Strange is wary of this, as she still has no control over her cancerous death kiss. Taking advantage of this potential schism is Strange’s old foe Nightmare, who offers Nil the chance to assume a crucial role in his dream realm. Quinn & Skolnick write Nightmare as his usual mocking, arrogant self, yet they also imbue him with a sympathetic, tragic quality. It is a nuanced depiction. As I said before, Quinn excels at portraying his antagonists in a multi-faceted manner that explores their inner workings.
The artwork on these eight issues is certainly of a high quality. Regular artist Peter Gross works on most of these, doing really amazing visuals. On the first two chapters of “Last Rites,” Gross is inked by Lee Sullivan, who I remember very well from his cool art on the comic strips in Doctor Who Magazine. They work well together. There is this one page in #73 that especially jumped out at me, when Salome first penetrates the Sanctum Sanctorum. Gross gives her the most expressive body language as she angrily grasps at Doctor Strange’s cloak of levitation, believing him to be in it. Realizing it is empty, this transforms to triumphant luxuriating as she indulgently wraps herself in her prize.
Chapter three is a nice fill-in job by another very talented artist, Steve Yeowell, who manages to retain his own style while fitting in well with the previous two issues done by Gross & Sullivan. The final chapter of “Last Rites” in issue #75 has Mark Buckingham contributing pencil breakdowns, with Gross doing the finishes. And, wow, does the collaboration between the two of them look amazing!
Also present during David Quinn’s final issues is veteran Marvel artist Marie Severin, who previously worked with the writer on one of the segments in Midnight Sons Unlimited #6. Severin provides breakdowns to Doctor Strange #78, with Gross drawing the finishes. On the next issue, #79, she does full pencils, and consequently much more of her style comes through. I really enjoyed Severin’s work on “Farewell, Nightmare Music.” She did such a fantastic job illustrating this emotional, surreal story, closing out Quinn’s run with class & style.
I have one last note, concerning the coloring by “Heroic Age,” which appeared throughout Quinn’s entire run. This was some of the earliest computer coloring in a Marvel title. Consequently, I think it got off to a pretty rough start, looking very garish in the first few issues. I guess the folks at Heroic Age must have worked on reefing their techniques, though, because over time the coloring improved. There was a real noticeable difference in quality in Doctor Strange Annual #4. From then on, they did increasingly good work. In these last eight issues, I was quite impressed by the coloring.
Okay, now that I’ve come to the end of this three-part look back at the period when David Quinn wrote Doctor Strange, you might well be wondering “Why?” Why devote three lengthy posts to some little-known comic book stories written in the mid-1990s, a period that is, often deservedly, looked upon as a nadir in quality for the entire comic book industry? Well, simply put, it is exactly because of that perception that I felt these comic books deserved an analysis.
In the last several years I have become a fan of the work David Quinn has done with Tim Vigil on Faust: Love of the Damned. This motivated me to take a second look at Quinn’s run on Doctor Strange. I discovered I really enjoyed it. His writing is filled with energy and insane ideas and off-the-wall mystical concepts and the sort of dark lunacy typically associated with Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison’s work for DC / Vertigo. I was very curious to see what other people thought of Quinn’s stint on the series, so I did a few searches on the Internet. And I discovered that there was almost nothing there, aside from the occasional brief write-up or reference in someone’s blog, certainly nothing in-depth. So, I thought, why not do it myself? Why not perform that detailed retrospective of Quinn’s Doctor Strange material?
Truthfully, in certain respects, I barely scratched the surface. I could probably have written twice as much as I did about these stories. But I didn’t, and part of that is I hope people will take a look at them for themselves, and discover just how cool and interesting these overlooked stories are. Fortunately, all of these comics can be purchased relative inexpensively on Ebay or from online retailers. So do yourself a favor, and check them out.
David Quinn’s Doctor Strange, a suggested reading order:
In the second part of my look back at writer David Quinn’s run on Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme, we pick up from the events of Annual #4. As “Strangers Among Us” concluded, both Vincent Stevens and “Strange” had discovered that they were not true living beings, but mystical creations of Doctor Stephen Strange based upon aspects of his own personality. Now both of them were slowly beginning to discorporate, and each was desperate to maintain his existence. Stevens thought the solution lay in technology, whereas “Strange” believed that he and Stevens needed to merge together into one being. Meanwhile, in the Dark Dimension, Clea was attempting to travel to Earth and reach Doctor Strange, in the hopes that he could aid her in quelling the mystic civil war engulfing her home. She was unaware that her former lover had been infected with the energies of Salome, forcing him to take refuge in his new null space Sanctum Sanctorum.
In Midnight Sons Unlimited #6, we find Doctor Strange in the midst of assembling the “Forge” out of the numerous mystical items previously collected by “Strange” on his behalf. Perhaps subconsciously sensing that Clea is making her way to Earth, Stephen Strange finds his thoughts drifting to his one-time student & paramour. He relates to Sister Nil, his Lilin prisoner/ward, some of his past history with Clea. The Doctor recounts three occasions when he and Clea encountered Verdelet, a scorned would-be lord of vampires who was passed over by his sire Varnae in favor of Dracula. Their various encounters with this undead fiend through the years highlight the progression of their relationship. Quinn does excellent work examining the couple’s shifting, developing roles over time. In the first segment, Clea is very much the wide-eyed novice discovering a new world, in need of Doctor Strange’s guidance & protection. In the second, they are teacher and pupil, with Clea honing her abilities by aiding Strange in his war against mystic menaces. And in the third, we see them as equals, confidently working alongside one another.
Each of the flashback segments is illustrated by a different artist. The first one, set early in Strange & Clea’s association, is drawn by Marie Severin, one of the artists to work on the post-Ditko issues of Strange Tales in the late 1960s. Appropriately enough, this tale seems to be set in that exact era. Severin, who is probably best known for her work on Marvel’s self-parody title Not Brand Echh, adds a humorous touch to this tale of the undead via her colorful, off-the-wall depictions of the hippy counter-culture.
The second part also features work by a former Doctor Strange artist. The super-talented Gene Colan drew the series throughout the 1970s. He is inked here by Dave Simons, who previously embellished Colan’s pencils on Howard the Duck. Making an appearance is Colan’s vampire-hunting co-creation Blade, who crosses paths with Strange and Clea as they engage in their second match with Verdelet.
Quinn returns to present-day events in Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #67. Clea arrives on Earth and is shocked to discover that Stephen Strange’s Bleecker Street home is now a vacant lot. Looking for clues to the Doctor’s whereabouts, she explores Greenwich Village disguised as a punk rock chick. Finally, Clea realizes that her long association with and intimate connection to Strange allows her to reach out with her mystic senses to locate his new Sanctum. The two are reunited, and each learns of the tragic circumstances that has befallen the other of late. Clea understands that Strange is, at the moment, unable to help her. As the spell that transported Clea to Earth fades and she returns to the Dark Dimension, each of them comes to terms with the need to go on alone in their respective quests.
Issue #68 is a fill-in written by Dan Abnett focusing on the two Strangers. He does a nice job of getting into Vincent Stevens’ head, exploring his desire to continue to live. Stevens may be immoral and unscrupulous, but he has still developed into a living, sentient being. You can feel his anguish at his slow disintegration. Abnett’s issue ties in very well with Quinn’s ongoing story. It seems that editor Evan Skolnick did a good job coordinating the scripts of the two writers so that events would smoothly flow from one point to another.
Quinn returns with Doctor Strange #69 and, honestly, I think it is one of the strongest issues of his entire run. Having been rejected once and for all by Stevens, a disoriented “Strange” is wandering about, desperately searching for another being to merge with. “Strange” crosses paths with Polaris and Forge from X-Factor, en-route back to Washington after a conference on human/mutant affairs. They are in the midst of arguing about the role of mutants in society. Forge thinks it crucial that mutant-kind band together in a unified front to ensure their security. Polaris, however, believes that different views ought to be expressed, and debate encouraged among mutants about what role they should play in the world.
“Strange” is drawn to Polaris as he senses that due to her status as a mutant she is an “outcast” much like him. He wants to merge with her, making them both, in his mind, complete. While they are fighting, Polaris slowly begins to comprehend that “Strange” is a being who wants to be accepted & understood. Forge, however, perceives “Strange” as a threat, and attempts to destroy him. Polaris’ first instinct is to chastise her teammate for rash action. But when “Strange” abruptly reforms, she reacts with fear. A disenchanted “Strange” flies off, telling Polaris to “remember your hypocrisy.” And perhaps she comprehends for the first time the perspective of ordinary humans who fear and attack those that are different from themselves.
The guest art team of David Brewer & Pam Eklund do excellent work illustrating Quinn’s extremely compelling, thought-provoking plot. And the issue is topped off by an absolutely amazing cover by Mark Buckingham.
The quests by both Vincent Stevens and “Strange” to perpetuate their existences continues in issue #s 70-71, the two part “Half Lives.” Stevens believes that he has finally found the solution via “techno-magick.” He intends to use this to take over the form of the most powerful being on Earth, the Hulk. He summons the green goliath to his Tempo skyscraper by masquerading as the real Doctor Strange… an appropriate enough thing to do, I suppose, since for the past several months people have kept mistaking Stevens for the Master of the Mystic Arts.
“Strange,” on the other hand, is drawn to the Hulk’s oldest friend Rick Jones, who also once shared his form with Captain Mar-Vell. “Strange” believes this makes Rick uniquely suited to merge with him. Rick, on the other hand, has only just married his true love Marlo Chandler. Looking forward to embarking on a new life with her, he certainly has no desire to go back to being one half of a composite entity.
The debate between Rick and “Strange” is abruptly interrupted when the Stevens-possessed Hulk crashes in, ready to destroy his aetheric “brother” as payback for weeks of harassment. It seems Stevens is on track to do just that until Rick, who knows the Hulk all too well, uses psychology to make the gamma-spawned giant’s true personality angry, giving him the strength to reassert control. Stevens’ consciousness is banished. Desperate, Stevens claims that he has changed his mind and wishes to merge with “Strange.” The two flee back to the Tempo, leaving the Hulk and Rick to try and sort things out.
While all this has been taking place, Doctor Strange has been in his Sanctum. He has completed his Forge, and is now attempting to utilize it to channel the magick influence of the Earth itself, thereby gaining a new supply of power. This, he hopes, will allow him to leave null space and take back the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme from Salome.
At the same time, the Doctor is ready to just casually stand back and allow “Strange” and Vincent Stevens to “dissolve naturally.” He seems unaware, or unwilling to admit, that the two Strangers have become independent entities, clinging tenaciously to life. So, despite his vow to no longer treat “those who trusted me like mere chess pawns,” Doctor Strange is as yet unwilling to accept the consequences of his creating the Strangers. Quinn ably demonstrates this glaring moral blind spot in the Doctor’s philosophy. It is one the writer will examine in-depth in his next four issues.
Closing out #71, we finally catch a glimpse of Salome, who has been absent the past several issues. Still searching for Doctor Strange, the mad sorceress contacts the Vishanti. Salome offers up her services to these cosmic beings in exchange for the power to destroy Strange, the man who previously rejected them. Thus is the stage set for the final confrontation between the two.
“Half Lives” features the debut of the new regular artist on Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme. Peter Gross had worked on Dr. Fate and Books of Magic for DC Comics / Vertigo, as well as Hellstorm for Marvel itself. That made him well suited to draw another mystical-themed title such as this. I do think the more traditional superhero action elements in these two issues with the Hulk do perhaps come out a bit awkward. However, Gross does amazing work on the much more bizarre and esoteric sequences featuring Doctor Strange and Salome. The scenes of Strange in the Forge Canal are really eerie, containing a surreal quality. As we will see, Quinn’s upcoming “Last Rites” arc will definitely play to Gross’ strengths as an artist.
In part three, we will be taking a look at the final portion of David Quinn’s work on Doctor Strange, as featured in issue #s 72-79.
In my June 6th blog post, I talked about how I was tracking down David Quinn’s run on Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme. Having finally done that, I’m going to take an in-depth look at Quinn’s innovative, offbeat, and downright bizarre run.
Unlike many creators who come in to take a series in a brand-new direction, David Quinn did not simply sweep under the rug everything that came before him. Rather, he built upon what had gone before. To wit, in the months preceding, in stories by Len Kaminski, Roy Thomas & Geof Isherwood, Doctor Strange’s mystic patrons the Vishanti had called upon him to fight on their behalf in the War of the Seven Spheres. Believing this conflict would last for several millennia, and not wanting to leave Earth unprotected from other supernatural threats, Strange refused. As a result, the Vishanti stripped him of the title of Sorcerer Supreme.
So, when Quinn came onboard, his protagonist was vastly reduced in power & ability. And Quinn totally ran with that, showing just what drastic measures the Master of the Mystic Arts would take to continue in his role of protector of the Earth.
Y’know, in certain respects, I have to think that Quinn didn’t have the most ideal of circumstances under which to begin his stint on Doctor Strange. Here he is, ready to kick off a brand-new storyline with sweeping changes in issue #60 and, by the way, it just so happens that that issue is going to be part 7 of a multi-title Midnight Sons crossover titled “Siege of Darkness.” Indeed, Quinn does get off to a bit of a bumpy start. I mean, Doctor Strange is competing for page space with Ghost Rider, John Blaze, Vengeance, Morbius, the Nightstalkers, and the Darkhold Redeemers, all fighting off an assault on Strange’s Bleecker Street home by the demon sorceress Lilith, and her children the Lilin.
(Having said that, I’m sure that being part of a huge crossover centered on Ghost Rider was a really great way to hook new readers!)
Quinn manages to squeeze in a couple of key plot points in #60. First, Doctor Strange has a brief premonition of the future. Second, one of the Lilin, Sister Nil, penetrates Strange’s house and attacks the Midnight Sons. The de-powered Strange is unable to fight Nil himself, and is forced to make a terrible choice. He uses his remaining power to summon Morbius to save them, but as a result is unable to prevent Nil from using her cancerous touch to murder Imei, the fiancé of his longtime ally Wong. And, as the issue concludes, the Doctor’s house is destroyed in a mystic explosion.
Anyway, long story short, the Lilin get banished, but their ally Zarathos is still hanging around. And he immediately finds another group of supernatural baddies, the Fallen, who take up the battle against the Midnight Sons.
Quinn actually introduces a major player in his own overarching storyline in between Doctor Strange #s 60 and 61. Marvel Comics Presents #146 was part 14 of “Siege of Darkness,” and in an eight page tale illustrated by Isherwood, Strange finds himself in a bizarre dream along with his ancient foe Nightmare. However, this time the lord of the dream dimension isn’t Strange’s true enemy. Rather, he comes face to face with the mysterious and lethal Salome, a vampire-like being who feeds on dark emotions.
This leads right into part 15 of “Siege” in Doctor Strange #61. Salome, who is one of the Fallen, finally returns to Earth after thousands of years of exile in another dimension. This is an altogether more focused issue, as Quinn has the other Fallen, uncertain of how Salome is going to affect their plans, decide that they are better off waiting things out on the sidelines. That enables Quinn to focus on the conflict between Doctor Strange and Salome, the latter of whom makes a beeline to the Midnight Sons, who are gathered at the ruins of Strange’s house.
(For the nitty-gritty, click on the above images to enlarge!)
Engaging Doctor Strange and his allies in battle, Salome declares that she was “Sorceress Supreme” of Earth millennia before, and that she is now ready to reclaim her title. Strange, already depowered and weakened from the battles with the Lilith and the Fallen, is obviously in no shape to fight off this lethal contender. Ceding the title to her, he vanishes in a vortex of mystic energy, all his arcane possessions disappearing along with him. The furious Salome is ready to vent her anger on the remaining Midnight Sons, when suddenly a bizarre figure appears. His face covered in a mask, his costume superficially resembling that of the Master of the Mystic Arts, this being known only as “Strange” drives off Salome with a berserker fury.
It is in issue #s 62 and 63, freed from dealing with the whole “Siege” crossover, Quinn really begins to advance his story arc. Skipping forward four months, we see that the masked being “Strange” has been crisscrossing the globe, collecting various mystic artifacts with a ruthless efficiency. Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, a man named Vincent Stevens, who bears a striking resemblance to a somewhat younger Doctor Strange, has been using his powers of hypnosis to both manipulate the financial market and establish ties with organized crime. Constructing a towering skyscraper known as the Tempo, Stevens leads a hedonistic lifestyle, throwing lavish erotic parties for the wealthy.
Neither of these individuals is the genuine article, though. The true, original Doctor Stephen Strange is dwelling in his new Sanctum Sanctorum located in a “null space” in a vast cavern a mile beneath Trinity Church on Wall Street. Gaunt, haggard, and decidedly short of temper, the former Sorcerer Supreme is clearly in trouble.
Quinn takes a detour in Midnight Sons Unlimited #5, bringing the sixth century sorcerer Modred the Mystic into the proceedings. Modred’s philosophy can be summed up with the saying “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” He firmly believes that the key to protecting the Earth from the forces of darkness is to master those very forces to use against his foes. In past stories this has predictably backfired, and on at least one occasion he ended up a pawn of the elder god Chthon. Obviously not having learned from his mistakes, Modred, along with his new disciple Wildpride, manipulate several members of the Midnight Sons into attacking Salome. The whole affair is merely a ruse, an attempt to make Salome his servant so she can aid him in killing Doctor Strange, enabling Modred to become the new Sorcerer Supreme. Of course this spectacularly blows up in Modred’s face, and as the story closes we see the sullen, humiliated Mystic being mocked by Wildpride. (Not to worry, though, those two will pop up again soon!)
Obviously Quinn set up a lot of mysteries in these first several stories. Once again, unlike many of his contemporaries on other 1990s Marvel titles, having set up these subplots, Quinn quickly followed through, delivering a number of unusual answers in the four part “Strangers Among Us” arc that ran in Doctor Strange #s 64-66 and Annual #4. As editor Evan Skolnick quite reasonable explained in the letters page of #66…
“When a writer presents his readers with a mystery, it behooves him or her to eventually reveal the previously-hidden facts. We’ve been leaking them slowly over the past six months, giving you enough hints for you to guess… but it’s a fatal error to raise a question and then wait too long to answer it.”
Quinn reveals that the mystic treasure hunt by “Strange” has been conducted on behalf of the real Doctor Strange. The sorcerer is amassing these objects in his new Sanctum. There, he is also keeping Sister Nil as a prisoner, a constant reminder to himself of Imei’s death so that he will not fail again. After the Doctor is unable to convince his one-time ally Namor the Sub-Mariner to give up an ancient Atlantean artifact, the Coral Crab, “Strange” takes it upon himself to retrieve the object from the ocean floor. This brings him into conflict with not only Namor, but also a mystic sea serpent and, upon returning to New York City, former ally Vengeance.
All of this attracts the attention of Salome. A necromancer, the Sorceress Supreme divines events by peering into mystic skins literally made from the flesh of her followers. She observes “Strange” referring to “the Other,” and learns this is Vincent Stevens, who she mistakes for Stephen Strange. Salome has brought the disenchanted Wong into her service by convincing him that she has resurrected Imei, although in fact it is actually a winged skeletal demon named Xaos. Wong and Xaos abduct Stevens and transport him to Salome’s sanctuary in Iraq. Salome quickly realizes that Stevens is not Doctor Strange. And then “Strange” appears, ready to once again battle Salome. It is at this point that the Sorceress Supreme finally deduces what has been going on. In an effort to convince both “Strange” and Stevens to ally with her, Salome offers up explanations.
During the events of issue #61, in the midst of Doctor Strange’s explosive disappearance, he created a “stasis spiral,” stopping time. In that frozen moment, he literally created “Strange” and Vincent Stevens via “aetheric discharges.” Because Doctor Strange could not generate life from nothing, he derived their personalities from aspects of his own. “Strange” was the savagery and violence he had long repressed. Vincent Stevens embodied the selfishness and materialism of his former life as a wealthy surgeon which he overcame many years before when he studied under the Ancient One. Doctor Strange had to create these twin beings to act as his agents in the outside world. Because he had been infected by the energies of “Salome’s Dance,” if he left the null space of his new Sanctum, he would instantly disintegrate.
From within his Sanctum, the Doctor manages to take psychic control of Vincent Stevens and, through his form, engages Salome in battle. But even with the help of “Strange,” the Doctor cannot best Salome. He is forced to channel the energy of Salome’s Dance in his body and use it against her. This finally drives her off, but the Doctor knows that it is only a temporary victory. And he wonders if his use of her dark powers has corrupted him.
There is also a back-up story in Annual #4 written by Tom Brevoort & Mike Kanterovich. “Desperate Needs” brings us up to date with Clea, the lover and student of Doctor Strange. The War of the Seven Spheres has touched upon her native Dark Dimension, causing horrific carnage. Clea, unaware of her former partner’s own dire circumstances, sets out to journey back to Earth’s dimension and recruit Doctor Strange’s assistance in saving her world. Brevoort & Kanterovich’s story works as both a nice stand-alone character piece and as a lead-in to issue #67. But I’ll be looking at that in the next installment.
Sooooooo, what do I think of David Quinn’s work on Doctor Strange? In this first arc he does very good work. After an understandably rocky start during “Siege of Darkness,” the writing really takes off. I realize, reading through the letters pages of these issues, that at the time these drastic changes were met with very mixed reactions. But, in hindsight, I think that the series did need shaking up. Roy Thomas did some decent writing, and he worked well with both Jackson Guice and Geof Isherwood. But after more than four years, Doctor Strange was due for a change.
In his editorial in issue #60, Skolnick stated that he was trying to recapture “the original, defining aspects” of the Steve Ditko & Stan Lee stories from Strange Tales. If you look at those original Ditko & Lee tales (go out and get Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1) you will see that it did take several issues for them to really hit their groove. I think the exact moment when that occurred can be pinned down: Strange Tales #126, the introduction of the dread Dormammu. This kicked off a more or less uninterrupted storyline that lasted until #146, Ditko’s final issue. And during this 21 issue arc, there really was no status quo. Doctor Strange spent most of the time on the run from Baron Mordo and his myriad disciples who had been empowered by Dormammu, searching across the Earth and through various dimensions for the means to overcome his awesomely powerful adversaries.
David Quinn’s writing on Doctor Strange definitely contains the same sort of tension and unpredictability as that classic storyline, the suspense and mystery inherent in waiting to see how the Master of the Mystic Arts would outwit his enemies. Quinn puts his own unique spin on it, via the moral ambiguity of the Stephen Strange’s actions, the mystery of the two “Strangers,” the alienation of his allies, and the introduction of a brand-new arch-villainess, Salome.
As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, I really did enjoy the work of Mel Rubi and Fred Harper, who were the art team on the first several issues of Quinn’s run. I believe that this was Rubi’s very first published work. He starts off a bit shaky, but you can see him grow from issue to issue. As for Fred Harper, I’m probably biased since I’m friends with him, but his inking is great. It really gives the art a tangible mood and atmosphere. He is another artist who has really grown, consistently getting better & better. If you look at his current painting & illustration work, it is absolutely fantastic.
The artwork on the Annual was courtesy of Kyle Hotz. He reminds me a bit of Kelly Jones. There is this sort of twisted, intricate detail to Hotz’s art that really suits the final chapter of “Strangers Among Us.” And his layouts & storytelling are extremely dramatic. He really gives the battle between the Strangers and Salome a hell of a punch.
And, of course, Mark Buckingham contributes several excellent covers for the “Strangers Among Us” arc. We’ll be seeing more from him in upcoming issues.
One last thing: the lettering on the Annual is courtesy of Janice Chiang. She has always been one of my favorite comic book letterers. Every time I see her work, I can spot it almost instantly. There is an element of calligraphy incorporated into Chiang’s fonts. It works wonderfully well, and feels very organic. The role of letterers is usually overlooked, so I wanted to make sure to highlight her efforts here.
Okay, this post went on much longer than I intended. In part two, when I cover Doctor Strange #s 67-71 and Midnight Sons Unlimited #6, I promise I won’t ramble on so much!
I got a package in the mail today containing some inexpensive comic book back issues that I purchased on Ebay last week. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m trying to get rid of stuff, not accumulate more of it. But when I was over at my parents’ house a few weeks ago to get some boxes of comics that I was planning to either sell or give away, I also made sure to take home a handful of issues that I wanted to hold on to. Among those were Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #s 60-62 and 69.
Let’s cast a glance back at far-off 1993… twenty years ago, believe it or not! After several years of Roy Thomas writing Doctor Strange, the book underwent a radical shift. The series moved under the “Midnight Sons” umbrella of titles, just in time for a massive and (admittedly) rambling crossover titled “Siege of Darkness.” And as this change-over was taking place, brand new Doctor Strange editor Evan Skolnick came up with the mad genius idea to set Faust: Love of the Damned co-creator David Quinn loose on Marvel’s master of the mystic arts.
I was in high school when all this was going on, so I seriously doubt I had ever even heard of Faust at that point. I don’t think I would actually even read an issue of David Quinn & Tim Vigil’s erotic horror magnum opus until I was in my twenties, and it would be several years more before I became a hugely passionate fan of the book. So when Quinn came aboard Doctor Strange in the autumn of 1993, I had no idea who he was. I certainly did not know what to expect. Those few issues of Doctor Strange written by Quinn that I did pick up back then seemed majorly bizarre, as well as somewhat confusing.
Looking back on it, a couple of things occur to me. First, I believe that if Quinn’s Doctor Strange run had been published even a few years later, I would have had a much greater appreciation for it. By that time, I was well on my way out of the Marvel/DC/Image superhero niche, exploring a number of independent and small press titles. Second, keeping in mind just how homogenized so much of Marvel’s output was in the mid-1990s, as the company attempted in myriad ways to somehow duplicate the titanic success of some of the early Image Comics titles, it really was a gutsy move on Skolnick’s part to recruit an edgy independent creator like Quinn to helm a long-term property such as Doctor Strange.
Fast forward back to 2013. A couple of months ago I came across a very well written blog post by a Gary M. Miller wherein he detailed his picks for the top ten greatest Doctor Strange stories. Among his choices was Quinn’s run on the series. And soon after that, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I re-read my copy of Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1, which collected the original Strange Tales stories by Steve Ditko & Stan Lee. So once I had the chance to dig through all those comics in my parents’ basement I thought to myself, “Hey, why not take another look at those David Quinn issues?” Reading Doctor Strange #s 60-62 last week, I really enjoyed them, and I immediately decided I wanted to pick up the rest of the run. I was able to order copies of issues #s 63-68 and Annual #4 pretty much for cover price. Hopefully I’ll get the rest of Quinn’s issues at a later date.
Once I am able to read the entirety of Quinn’s run, perhaps I’ll have an opportunity to write up another post detailing the specifics of his issues. For now, though, it is worth pointing out that not only is the writing on these comics top-notch, so is the artwork. The first several issues are penciled by Mel Rubi and inked by Fred Harper. Rubi would go on to work on a variety of titles, refining his style along the way. Several years back he had a lengthy run illustrating Red Sonja for Dynamite Entertainment.
At the time he was inking Doctor Strange, Harper was also doing some great work drawing the Ghost Rider and Vengeance features in the bi-weekly Marvel Comics Presents anthology series. A couple of years later, I met him at a convention, and we soon became friends. Fred has such a unique, atmospheric style, and I love his inking over Rubi on these issues.
Another artistic contributor well worth mentioning is Mark Buckingham, who contributes several extremely striking covers. Soon after, Buckingham would go on to become the series’ regular interior artist, as well, working on the book for the next few years until its cancellation in 1996.
That’s the nitty-gritty. I’m definitely looking forward to digging in to these issues. Should be quite interesting. I’ll be sure to let you all know.