The Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part 13

Welcome to the 13th edition of Comic Book Coffee. I previously posted these daily in the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The challenge was to see how many different pencilers I could find artwork by featuring coffee.

(I has nasal surgery a couple of days ago, so if any typos creep into this I apologize. My head is pretty stuffed up right now!)

61) Gene Colan & Tom Palmer

Daredevil #90, penciled by Gene Colan, inked by Tom Palmer, written by Gerry Conway and lettered by Sam Rosen, published by Marvel Comics with an August 1972 cover date.

It’s not all that surprising that during his career Daredevil has encountered four different criminals who assumed the costumed identity of Mister Fear.  What would be more natural that for the self-proclaimed “Man Without Fear” to cross swords with a villain whose modus operandi was the creation of fear?

Here we see Daredevil, hit by Mister Fear’s powers, has crashed through the window of an office building, and is now cowering in terror at the little old lady who cleans the building.  The next panel finds DD a guest of the local precinct, with the cops offering the still-unsteady crimefighter a cup of coffee.

Gene Colan had a style that was generally not an especially good fit for superheroes, yet he is regarded as one of the all-time great Daredevil artists.  Perhaps that is because DD is a non-powered acrobatic character, as well as the fact that, no matter how weird and jokey the series sometimes got, it usually still had one foot planted in gritty noir.  Both these elements made Daredevil an ideal fit for Colan’s unconventional layouts and shadowy penciling.

Colan was reportedly a somewhat-challenging artist to ink.  Tom Palmer is usually classed as one of the best inkers of Colan’s pencils.  They definitely worked extremely well together on Daredevil, Doctor Strange and Tomb of Dracula.

62) John Rosenberger

“What’s Ambition, Anyway?” drawn by John Rosenberger, written by Richard Hughes, and lettered by Ed Hamilton, from Confessions of the Lovelorn #81, published by ACG in May 1957.

Beautiful, talented Jill Sanders dreams of becoming an actress.  She auditions with famed producer-director Carl Rogers, who agrees to see how she works out in rehearsals for his upcoming musical.  While having coffee with Rogers and the rest of the cast, Jill thinks to herself “He’s a real professional — and a swell guy!”  Unfortunately for Jill, her high school rival Marion Major has also joined the cast, and pretty soon the ambitious, arrogant blonde is sinking her claws into Rogers himself.  Due to budget cuts Jill is squeezed out of the chorus and finds herself back waiting tables, and the despairing young woman believes she has lost out on both show business and Carl Rogers.  However, when Carl’s investors back out on him, Jill convinces her restaurateur boss to help finance the show.  It’s a success, and Carl has fallen in love with Jill.

Artist John Rosenberger’s career stretched over 30 years, from 1946 to 1975.  He worked for several different companies, drawing stories in various genres.  His style was definitely well-suited for romance, as he had an aptitude for rendering beautiful, fashionable women.  Towards the end of his career he penciled Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane for DC Comics, where once again his knack for drawing lovely ladies was a definite asset.  Rosenberger became the regular artist on Wonder Woman in 1975, but sadly only completed two issues before taking ill.  He passed away in January 1977 at the age of 58.

The entire story “What’s Ambition, Anyway?” can be read on the Comic Book Plus website.

63) Ron Lim & Chris Ivy

Sovereign Seven #36, penciled by Ron Lim, inked by Chris Ivy, and written by Chris Claremont, published by DC Comics with a July 1998 cover date.

As the final issue of Chris Claremont’s Sovereign Seven comes to a close, the Sovereigns, after a long, hard-fought conflict, have finally emerged triumphant against the insidious Rapture.

And then we see that, apparently, the entire story of S7 has been nothing more than a comic book series created by Casey and Morgan, two young women who are customers at the Crossroads Coffee Bar that appeared so often throughout the series.

Sovereign Seven was a creator-owned series that nevertheless took place in the DC universe, with appearances by Darkseid, Superman, Power Girl and other mainstays.  Presumably this ending was conceived by Claremont to allow the series to end with a clean break, so that in the future he could have his characters return in an entirely different venue.  It’s certainly a metatextual scene, with Casey and Morgan standing in for Claremont himself to reflect on the series’ cancellation.

Of course, as Alan Moore once famously observed, “This is an Imaginary Story… Aren’t they all?”  And so I like to think that in some corner or another of the multiverse the events of Sovereign Seven “really” did happen.  Ah, well, real or not, it was a fun series.

Ron Lim was the second regular penciler on S7.  I have been a fan of Lim since he drew Captain America way back in the early 1990s.  I definitely regard him as underrated.  On most of his S7 issues Lim was inked by Chris Ivy.  They made a great art team, wonderfully illustrating Claremont’s stories.

So, anyone know where I can snag one of those big S7 coffee cups?

64) Frank Bolle

Golden and Silver Age artist Frank Bolle passed away on May 12th at the age of 95.  “Outlaw Gold” was penciled & inked by Bolle. It appeared in Tim Holt #29, published by Magazine Enterprises with an April-May 1952 cover date.

Tim Holt was a Western movie star during the 1940s and early 50s.  The comic book Tim Holt featured a fictionalized version of the actor who assumes the guise of the costumed vigilante Red Mask in the post-Civil War “Old West.”  Tim Holt ran for 54 issues, being re-titled Red Mask with issue #42.  Frank Bolle’s artwork appeared in every single issue of Tim Holt / Red Mask.  Bolle really excelled at drawing Westerns, and his work on this series was definitely impressive.

“Outlaw Gold” sees beautiful dancehall girl Della Martin enlisting the help of Red Mask to locate a treasure which she says her father hid out in the desert, west of Bald Rock.  Pursuing Della are members of Butch Cassidy’s “Wild Bunch” gang, who are all too ready to murder the lovely singer so that they may claim the buried fortune.

On this page, en route to Bald Rock, Red Mask and Della are pursued by a trio of Wild Bunch thugs.  Red Mask makes short work of them, knocking all three out.  He and Della then bunk down for the night, brewing up some hot coffee to keep warm.

Bolle does nice work on this page.  The action flows well.  I like how Bolle has Red Mask’s fist swinging out of that third panel, really highlighting the punch.   Della is beautifully drawn.  And since this is a Western, of course we have horses.  I guess this is another crossover with Jim Thompson’s 1000 Horses series!

The entire issue can be read on the Comic Book Plus website.

65) Jerry Ordway & George Perez

Here is a double dose of Da Ordster!  First up is Adventures of Superman #428, penciled & inked by Jerry Ordway, written by Marv Wolfman, lettered by John Costanza, and colored by Tom Ziuko, published by DC Comics in May 1987.

Here we see Clark Kent and Cat Grant at the offices of the Daily Planet, discussing Perry White’s ongoing investigation of organized crime in Metropolis.  Clark is having his morning coffee, and as we can see from his choice of mug he’s a fan of The Far Side.

This page is a good example of both Ordway’s storytelling and inking.  He does a good job laying out the conversation between Clark and Cat, presenting it from different angles, making it interesting.  I like how Ordway inks Cat on this page.  Panel four is especially beautiful.

I know that it’s undoubtedly a function of my having gotten into DC Comics in the late 1980s, but I definitely regard Ordway as one of the definitive Superman artists.

Jumping forward a dozen years we have Avengers volume 3 #18, written & penciled by Jerry Ordway, inked by George Perez, lettered by Richard Starkings, and colored by Tom Smith, published by Marvel Comics in July 1999.

Ordway wrote & drew a really fun three issue story arc on Avengers to give Kurt Busiek & George Perez a chance to catch their breaths.  This is the final page of Ordway’s last issue.

Hank Pym is in his lab late at night, studying the technology of the cyborg Doomsday Man, one of the threats the Avengers faced during Ordway’s storyline.  Hank has obviously been working for a while, because he disgustedly thinks to himself “*GAH* Coffee’s bitter! ‘Course that pot’s only been on all night…”

Before Hank has a chance to brew some fresh java he is interrupted by the violent arrival of several leering metal monstrosities, servants of his mechanical “son” Ultron.  And so Ordway segues back into Busiek & Perez’s own ongoing storylines, with Perez himself inking this last page as part of the transition.  Ordway must have been working closely with Busiek, Perez and editor Tom Brevoort to get everything to line up so smoothly.

Jerry Ordway is one of my favorite comic book creators, and I enjoyed his short stint on Avengers.  As much as I liked Busiek & Perez, I really wish Ordway could have done more work on this title.  He latter penciled the Domination Factor: Avengers and Maximum Security miniseries, on both of these once again doing excellent jobs depicting Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

I don’t think Ordway’s had any ongoing assignments in the last two decades, instead bouncing around between various short guest runs, fill-ins, miniseries and specials.  That’s a shame, because he’s a very talented artist.

Remembering comic book artist George Klein

Recently I was reminded, thanks to the excellent blog Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books by Alan Stewart, of the very underrated work of comic book artist George Klein.

National Sportsman Dec 1939 cover smallOne of the main reasons why Klein is not much better known among comic book fandom is that he tragically passed away at a young age.  He died 50 years ago this month, on May 10, 1969.

Klein was born in 1915, although there is a bit of uncertainty over the exact date, as well as the location of his birth.  Klein’s earliest published work appears to be a painted cover for the December 1939 edition of National Sportsman.

Between 1941 and 1943 Klein was employed by Timely Comics, the precursor to Marvel.  Creator credits in the Golden Age were often missing or inaccurate, but it is generally believed he worked on such titles as All-Winners Comics, Captain America Comics, USA Comics and Young Allies Comics at Timely.

In 1943 Klein was drafted to serve in World War II, and served as a private in the Army Infantry.  Honorably discharged in 1946, Klein returned to his career as an artist, working in both comic books and as a magazine illustrator.Detective illustration George Klein

Several of the periodicals that Klein worked for, both before and after the war, were pulp magazines published by Timely’s owner Martin Goodman, specifically Best Love, Complete Sports, Complete War and Detective Short Stories.  Klein was also a regular contributor to Wyoming Wildlife, the award-winning magazine published by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.  His work in Wyoming Wildlife and other publications apparently gained Klein some renown as a landscape and wildlife artist.

Klein once again did work for Timely, or Atlas Comics as it came to be known in the 1950s.  Among the various titles Klein worked on at Timely / Atlas in the late 40s and early 50s were the romance series Girl Comics and the well-regarded fantasy / romance series Venus, although (again due to the lack of credits) the exact details of his involvement are a matter of deduction and guesswork.

 

Venus 2 pg 1

During this time Klein also branched out to work for other publishers such as ACG, Ace Comics and Prize Publications.  By the early 1950s much of Klein’s work was for National Periodical Publications, aka DC Comics.

Beginning in 1955 Klein, working as an inker, was regularly paired up with penciler Curt Swan on DC’s various Superman titles.  Looking at the Grand Comic Database, the first story drawn by the Swan & Klein team seems to be the Superboy story “The Wizard City” written by the legendary Bill Finger in Adventure Comics #216, cover-dated September 1955.Adventure Comics 332 cover small

Swan and Klein continued to work together for the next 12 years, with their art appearing in various issues of Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Superman, Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.

Truthfully, Swan is a penciler who at times leaves me a bit cold.  He’s one of those artists who I recognize as technically proficient, someone who is a good, solid storyteller.  However often his work just does not connect with me personally.  That said, there is something about the teaming of Swan and Klein that really appeals to me.

Having been born in 1976, obviously I did not read the stories they drew when they first came out. About 20 years ago I really got into the Legion of Super-Heroes and began picking up the various Legion Archives.  I was immediately taken with the work that Swan & Klein on those Superboy and the Legion stories from Adventure Comics in the 1960s.  I regard Klein as one of the best inkers Swan ever got during his lengthy career.

As per writer & editor Mark Waid’s bio of George Klein written for the Legion Archives:

“Klein set new standards for his craft with his razor-crisp brushline, which brought new dimensions to the art of Curt Swan, the penciler with whom Klein was most frequently paired. Together, Swan and Klein defined for years to come the look of Superman and his cast of characters; to this day , most Legion of Super-Heroes aficionados consider Swan and Klein to be the all-time finest Legion art team.”

Adventure Comics 352 pg 5

Klein’s work over Swan’s pencils is an excellent demonstration of just how significant a role the inker can have on the look of the finished artwork in comic books.

Adventure Comics 352 cover smallProbably the stand-out stories of this era were written by the then-teenage Jim Shooter, who introduced Karate Kid, Princess Projecta and Ferro Lad to the Legion, as well as the villainous Fatal Five.  Swan & Klein did a superb job illustrating these now-classic stories.

One cannot discuss Klein’s work in the Silver Age without mentioning Fantastic Four.  Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961, that title was the birth of what came to be known as the Marvel Universe.  For many decades the specific details concerning the creation of the early FF stories have been shrouded in mystery.

One of the most frequently-pondered questions was who exactly inked Kirby’s pencils on the first two issues.  After much debate & analysis, the conclusion reached by Dr. Michael  J. Vassallo, one of the foremost authorities on Timely / Atlas / early Marvel artwork, is that it was George Klein.  It is known that Klein worked on several stories for Atlas in the late 1950s and early 60s, which would put him in exactly the right place when the first two issues of FF were being created in 1961.

As to why Klein in particular was chosen to ink these two issues, longtime Marvel editor Tom Brevoort offers up this theory:

“I would also conjecture that perhaps the choice of George Klein to ink these early issues–if indeed he was the inker as is generally believed today–was to try to give them more of a super hero feel than Kirby’s monster or romance or western work. Klein at the time was inking Curt Swan on Superman, and you really can’t get a more classic super hero finish than that.”

Fantastic Four 1 pg 14

Absent the original artwork for those first two FF issues resurfacing, or some previous-unknown documentation being discovered, we will probably never be 100% certain; nevertheless, the general consensus is that Klein very likely inked those two issues, placing him right at the birth of the Marvel Age of Comics.

Klein’s work for DC on the Superman family of titles took place during the regime of editor Mort Weisinger.  The late 1960s saw an editorial shake-up at DC. Although Weisinger remained in control of the Superman books until 1970, this behind-the-scenes instability is reportedly what led to Klein departing the company.  He quickly found work at Marvel Comics which, eight years after the introduction of the Fantastic Four, was achieving both commercial success and critical acclaim.Avengers 57 cover small

Klein’s first assignment at Marvel was inking John Buscema’s pencils on Avengers.  After inking a couple of covers, Klein became the regular inker with issue #55, cover-dated August 1968.  Klein remained on Avengers for nearly a year.

The late 1960s is now considered one of the series’ most important and influential periods. Writer Roy Thomas, working with John Buscema, introduced the Avengers’ arch-nemesis Ultron, new member the Vision, and Hank Pym’s new costumed identity Yellowjacket, among other key developments.  Klein did a superb job inking Buscema on many of these key stories.  In 2001 Thomas spoke with Buscema about their work on Avengers, a conversation that saw print in Alter Ego #13.  In it they briefly touched upon Klein:

Roy Thomas: So how did you feel about George Klein’s inking compared to some of the others?

John Buscema: From what I’ve seen, a very credible job, not bad.

Considering that Buscema was notoriously critical of most of the artists who inked his work, I suppose by his exacting standards this was high praise indeed!

Avengers 55 pg 16

Klein also inked Gene Colan on Avengers #63-64, Sub-Mariner #11, and on several issues of Daredevil.  Klein was probably one of the best embellishers to ever work over Colan, who could often be a bit challenging to ink.

Daredevil 53 cover smallAdditionally, in early 1969 Klein inked two very early jobs by a very young Barry Windsor-Smith, in Daredevil #51 and Avengers #67.  Klein’s finishes gave some much-needed support to BWS who, although he was already showing quite a bit of promise, was still honing his craft.

Last, but certainly not least, Klein inked Jack Kirby on Thor #168-169, which were cover-dated Sept and Oct 1969.  It has been opined that Vince Colletta’s inking of Kirby was a good match on Thor, as the feathery line work provided a specific tone that was well-suited to the mythological characters & settings.  It was much less appropriate to Kirby’s sci-fi concepts, which is why Colletta was a poor fit on Fantastic Four.

Similarly, when Kirby took Thor in a more cosmic direction in the late 1960s, Colletta’s inking felt out of place.  So it was definitely nice to have Klein’s more polished inking on these two issues, which saw the god of thunder learning the origin of one of Kirby’s most cosmic creations, Galactus.  These Thor issues were very likely the last work that Klein did before his untimely death.
Thor 169 pg 2

According to the Field Guide To Wild American Pulp Artists, Klein was hospitalized for cirrhosis of the liver in May 1969, less than a month before he died.

I’m going to add a few words from Alan Stewart here summing up this unfortunate situation:

“It’s tragic that Klein passed away as young as he did — and the fact that he’d gotten married just a few months before makes it even more so. Unfortunately, his work over Curt Swan on the Superman books all those years was uncredited, and his subsequent stint at Marvel was too short for him to have made the impact of a Joe Sinnott or Tom Palmer. I agree he’s underrated.”

Action Comics 300 cover small

I really believe that Klein would probably be much better remembered as an artist if he had not died so young.  He did very well-regarded work on comic books in a career that lasted nearly three decades.

The reissuing of so much of DC and Marvel’s material from the Silver Age does mean that younger fans such as myself have now been able to rediscover Klein’s work.  Additionally, all these decades later Klein, as well as everyone else who worked on those early DC stories, are at long last receiving proper credit for their work in those reprint volumes.

There are so many creators from the Golden Age and early Silver Age who helped to make the comic book industry what it is today, creators who in the past were unfortunately uncredited and overlooked.  I hope this short profile on one of those creators, George Klein, will inspire readers to seek out some of these classic stories, and to develop more of an appreciation for the people who crafted those imaginative tales.

Thank you to all of the websites from which I gleamed information about and artwork by George Klein.  I believe I’ve included links to all of them, but if I did miss anyone please let me know!

The Legacy of Stan Lee

I was saddened, but not surprised, to learn that Stan Lee had passed away.  He was 95 years old, and had been in poor health for some time now.

Stan Lee, born Stanley Lieber, was an incredibly important figure in American comic books.  Lee was the editor and main writer at Marvel Comics during the 1960s, when what is now known as the Marvel Universe came into being.  Lee co-created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange with Steve Ditko.  He co-created the Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Black Panther, Inhumans, and X-Men with Jack Kirby.  Other characters he had a hand in conceiving were Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil and Ant-Man.  It was apparently Lee who had the idea of creating superheroes who had flaws and who experienced everyday problems, just like normal people.

Lee also was an amazing publicist with an outsized public persona.  He enthustastically promoted the Marvel brand and characters with the zeal of a master showman.

Stan Lee photo 1968

In subsequent decades there has been a great deal of debate, often contentious, concerning the division of labor, of exactly who did what, in the conception of these various characters and series.  It is often difficult to parse these things in collaborative efforts.  One might as well try to precisely determine who did what in the Beatles.  I’ve heard Lee and Kirby likened to Paul MacCartney and John Lennon, and I think it is a valid comparison.  Both were talented musicians, but each in a very different way, and when they worked together something occurred, some creative magic that you cannot explain or break down in any sort of analytical manner.  So it was with Lee and Kirby, and with Lee and Ditko.

It is also worth mentioning that in the early 1960s no one – not Lee, not Ditko, not Kirby – no one had even the slightest idea that half a century later these characters would still be in print, much less become cultural icons worth millions of dollars.  No one was taking detailed notes regarding the creative process, because they were all too busy attempting to keep the nascent Marvel Comics afloat.

It is obvious, however, to even the most casual reader that Stan Lee had a central role in the creation, and success, of the Marvel comic books of the Silver Age.  Read any story by Ditko & Lee, or Kirby & Lee, and then read any story done by Ditko or Kirby working solo.  They are very different, especially in the dialogue and narration.

Fantastic Four 49 pg 1
Fantastic Four #48 page 1

One can argue that Lee could have made more effort to credit the precise contributions of Ditko, Kirby, and his other creative partners.  That is probably true.  But it is important to keep in mind that Lee made sure to credit to his collaborators, in a time when many comic books were published without any creator credits.  He demonstrated more consideration than most other editors, and his efforts in this area did later lead to more precise attribution in subsequent decades.

Stan Lee also addressed a number of political and social issues in the stories he co-wrote and edited.  I’ve heard Lee described as a “middle of the road” liberal by the standards of the 1960s, and nowadays he would probably be considered a moderate.  It has been said that Lee was too liberal for Ditko, and too conservative for Kirby.

Nevertheless, the fact that Lee was willing to discuss controversial topics, however tentatively, within what in those days was regarded as a children’s medium, is significant in and of itself.  Again, this laid the groundwork for subsequent creators who would more directly, and forcefully, tackle political issues within the comic book medium.

Silver Surfer 4 pg 10
Silver Surfer #4 page 10

In 2018, with Comicsgate trolls expressing hatred for politics in comic books and disparaging social justice warriors, it’s important to recognize that Stan Lee was extremely interested in social justice.  He co-created a number of black characters, and scripted numerous stories decrying humanity’s violent & intolerant nature.  This was most pronounced in the Silver Surfer series he worked on with penciler John Buscema in the late 1960s.  Although at times verging into the anvilicious, Lee’s pleas for peace & brotherhood were clearly genuine and heartfelt.

The above page from Silver Surfer #4, featuring beautiful artwork by John & Sal Buscema, provides an example of Lee’s progressive social commentary from that series.

Lee also promoted this message in Marvel’s Bullpen Bulletins editorial pages.  In one late 1960s edition of Stan’s Soapbox, he wrote:

“Racism and bigotry are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed supervillains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them – to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are.”

stanleesoapbox

I have written about Captain America #130 before, but I am going to touch upon that issue again here.  Published in 1970, it was written by Stan Lee and drawn by Gene Colan & Dick Ayers.  At one point Cap is asked by a group that claims to stand for “law & order” to make a speech on national television denouncing student protestors for their treasonous and un-American activities.  Cap supposedly agrees, but once he is on the air he makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, exactly how he feels…

“I’ve been asked to speak to you today – to warn America about those who try to change our institutions – but, in a pig’s eye I’ll warn you! This nation was founded by dissidents – by people who wanted something better! There’s nothing sacred about the status quo – and there never will be!”

This scene was written by Lee almost half a century ago, but it still remains incredibly relevant.

Captain America 130 speech

Whatever his flaws & shortcomings, Stan Lee played a crucial role in the shaping of the American comic book industry, in the growth of Marvel Comics into a major publisher, in the careers of the creators who he mentored and who followed him, and in the development of comic book fandom.  He will definitely be missed.  ‘Nuff said!

Howard the Duck for President

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.

Howard the Duck 8 cover

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.

Howard the Duck 7 pg 17

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.

Howard the Duck as Doctor Strange

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.

Howard the Duck 8 pg 10

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.

Howard the Duck 9 cover

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!

Captain America #130: a message for July 4th

A very happy Fourth of July to all of my fellow Americans.  Today I am going to take a look at a comic book story that I feel exemplifies the principles upon which this country was founded.  Yes, too often we have all fallen short of those lofty ideals, but they still remain as goals for us to continually strive towards.  And so, I am going to write about Captain America #130, published by Marvel Comics in 1970.

Captain America 130 cover

Right now those comic book fans out there with a more than passing knowledge of the Captain America series are probably saying to themselves “WTF?!?”  Yeah, it’s not really an obvious choice, but bear with me.

The issue is topped off by a cover which according to both the Grand Comics Database and the Unofficial Handbook of Marvel Comics Creators was drawn by Marie Severin & Joe Sinnott.  I will have to take their word for it.  That drawing of the Hulk’s face does look very much like Severin’s work, so the credits are probably accurate.

Opening up the book, we find ourselves in the midst of a ferocious battle between Cap and the Hulk, on a splash page that offers the following declaration via Artie Simek’s exciting engraving:

“This one has to be seen to be believed! Based on an original theme by Stan the Man, Genial Gene got so wound up in the artwork that he tossed in everything but the kitchen sink! Hence, what follows is like a wild and wacky build-up to the startling surprise that awaits you next ish! It may not make much sense – but we guarantee you won’t be bored! So, settle back, relax, and enjoy it, culture-lover – (and if you can figure it out – explain it to us!)”

Captain America 130 pg 1

After three pages of Cap versus Hulk action, it is revealed that this is actually a movie playing in a theater, with none other than Steve Rogers himself sitting in the audience.  It’s never made clear if this is supposed to be a documentary with actual newsreel footage of the two super-humans slugging it out, or a fictional production (perhaps starring Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo?) but whatever the case Steve isn’t too thrilled when a fellow cinemagoer declares “Who cares about that clown? He’s just not relevant in today’s world!”

This issue falls right in the middle of a period when the Captain America series was struggling somewhat with its identity.  It’s important to keep in mind the context of when this was published.  In 1970 the Vietnam War was raging, and the controversy over it was tearing America apart.  The Civil Rights movement was still being fought.  Distrust of the government was beginning to become widespread.  In this environment, the character of Cap, a super patriot who originated during World War II, must have been an awkward figure to write.  Stan Lee was trying to touch upon this with an Easy Rider-inspired arc, as Steve Rogers travels about the country on a motorcycle, attempting to figure out his place in modern American society.

Departing the movie theater, Steve rides his chopper into a “sleepy little college town” which is anything but.  The students are rioting, attempting to reach the Dean, who has barricaded himself in his office, and the police are attempting to quell the disturbance.  Steve changes into his uniform and, as Cap, swings into action, hoping to bring a halt to the violence before anyone is hurt.  The students, though, think that Cap is “in league with the fuzz” and attack him.  Cap leaps away from the crowd and climbs up the side of the administrative building to the Dean’s office, rescuing him before the students can batter down the door.

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I’m curious about the timeline to the production of this issue.  With a cover-date of October 1970, the issue would actually have been on sale sometime around July, which meant that it must have been written & drawn a few months before.  The Kent State Shootings took place on May 4th.  I wonder if “Up Against The Wall” was in production during that time, and if that tragic event might have been on Stan Lee & Gene Colan’s minds.  Even if it wasn’t, there was certainly was a great deal of unrest on college campuses throughout this time period.

A figure observes Cap’s rescue of the Dean and approaches him, stating “It’s a pleasure finding someone who still stands for law and order!”  The man, a television producer, asks Cap to make an appearance.  However, it turns out that this producer is actually in the employ of a mysterious hooded figure known as, um, The Hood.  In any case, the masked mastermind gives his servant explicit instructions:

“Write his speech most carefully! In standing for law and order, he must make Americans distrust their own younger generation! The more we can divide this country, and the more we stifle dissent – the better it will be – for The Hood!”

It’s interesting that Lee scripts the villain in this manner.  It brings to mind Sinclair Lewis’ warning “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”  Lee is addressing the idea that agents of oppression and injustice will assume the trappings of patriotism, throw about terms such as “law and order” to disguise their subversive efforts to undermine liberty & freedom.  What Lee was observing in this scene is undoubtedly just as true today as it was four decades ago, if not more so.

Captain America 130 pg 15

Cap later arrives at the television station.  Addressing the camera, he makes the following speech:

“I’ve been asked to speak to you today – to warn America about those who try to change our institutions – but, in a pig’s eye I’ll warn you! This nation was founded by dissidents – by people who wanted something better! There’s nothing sacred about the status quo – and there never will be! I don’t believe in using force – or violence – because they can be the weapons of those who would enslave us – but, nor do I believe in an establishment that remains so aloof – so distant – that the people are driven to desperate measures – as in the case of a college dean who isolates himself from his student body!”

This is obviously not what The Hood had planned, and he orders his lackey to silence Cap.  The producer telephones the mercenary Batroc the Leaper, who declares “Just give us sixty seconds!”  Batroc and his comrades, Whirlwind and The Porcupine, hop into a fancy roadster and literally one minute later arrive at the TV studio to attack Cap.  I guess that Batroc’s Brigade just conveniently happen to have their headquarters right down the block.  They probably could have saved on gas by just walking from there.

Captain America 130 pg 16

Cap fights Batroc, Whirlwind, and The Porcupine to a standstill.  Once the police arrive, the three costumed criminals flee, leaving Cap to wonder who hired them.  But that is a story for another time… okay, okay, I’ll tell you!  Next issue Cap unmasks The Hood, who turns out to be Baron Strucker, who attempts to kill Cap with the long-lost Bucky, who ends up being revealed as a robot duplicate.  And then a decade or so later we would find out that The Hood / Strucker himself was also a robot.  Yeah, it’s really weird, so don’t think too closely about it.  Aren’t you sorry you asked?

The somewhat choppy feel of this and other issues of Captain America from around this time is due to the working relationship between Lee and Colan.  Lee was phoning it in… and I mean that literally!  This is one of the subjects discussed in an excellent interview of Colan conducted by Roy Thomas published in Alter Ego #6:

Colan: Actually, the fun of working on comics with Stan was that, although he put in all the dialogue, he allowed the artists to take a very small plot he’d give them and build it into a 20-page story. There was nothing to the plot — it was maybe just a few sentences — but the beginning was there, and you could do anything you wanted.

Thomas: Did Stan write out plots then, or was it mostly just over the phone?

Colan: I recorded our phone conversations, and then I would go by the recording. Other times, he’d send me a letter of a few paragraphs.

So Colan would pencil an entire 20 page story from that brief description, in effect serving as a co-plotter, and Lee would write his script from the artwork.

Colan admitted that at times this method would have unintended results.  Sometimes his pacing of the story would be off, and he would then realize that he had very little space left to wrap the issue up, leading him to cram as much as possible into the final three or four pages.  On one particular occasion Lee had included a car chase in his plot, expecting that Colan would devote a page to it.  Lee was subsequently surprised to find that in Colan’s penciled art the car chase took up almost half of the issue!

Even under these circumstances we see that Lee, who is undoubtedly a great scripter, crafted some superb dialogue.  True, I’ve never been overly enamored with aspects of Lee’s approach to Cap, as he repeatedly showed him agonizing about Bucky’s death, moping over his relationship with Sharon Carter, and wringing his hands at his role as a man out of time.  But when Lee wasn’t busy having Steve Rogers doing his pity pot routine, he wrote the character very well.  The speech he gives Cap in this issue is, in my opinion, one of the quintessential moments in the character’s existence.  It sums up everything that Steve Rogers is about.  He is not an unquestioning patriot or a militant hawk who seeks out conflict.  Cap believes in the American Dream, the potential for greatness that this country and its people can be capable of if they are willing to embrace equality & diversity and attempt to strive for a better future.

Captain America 130 pg 18

The artwork by Colan on this issue is quite good.  It is a bit odd that many people have cited Colan as one of their favorite Captain America artists.  If you actually look at his run on the title from 1969 to 1971 on issue #s 116 to 137, the stories he drew are a mixed bag, uneven in quality, undoubtedly due to Lee’s minimal role in the plotting stages.  Nevertheless, Colan’s work during that two year run is of a high quality.  That said, I do think that he did rather better work on other titles where the writers gave him slightly more comprehensive plots to work from, which resulted in him doing a better job pacing out his art.  On a few occasions in later years Colan would return to draw stand-alone issues of Captain America.  I feel that those are stronger efforts by Colan, quite simply because he was given better stories to illustrate.

Dick Ayers inked Colan’s pencils on Captain America #s 128 to 134.  I’ve observed in the past that Colan was a difficult artist to ink, and that only a handful of embellishers did extremely well at finishing his art.  Ayers was definitely was a talented artist, but he was probably not the best fit to ink Colan.  But it certainly wasn’t a disaster, either.  Most of the issues that Ayers inked fell during the “Cap on the road” arc.  The combination of Colan and Ayers’ styles was actually appropriate, as the plots were slightly less of the conventional superhero type.  Colan’s pencils helped to put that mood across some, whereas a more Kirby-esque art style could have been too traditional.   Likewise Ayers’ style of inking, which was well suited to the many war and Western stories he illustrated over the years, was also a good match to these stories.

While at first glance Captain America #130 is an offbeat issue, it certainly has its strong points, and an important message.  As we all celebrate July 4th, let’s try to remember Cap’s words to the American people in this story.

Comic book reviews: Detectives Inc. “A Terror of Dying Dreams”

Michele and I took the Metro North train up to White Plains on Saturday for the New York Comic Fest at the Westchester County Center.  It was a fun convention with a line-up of talented creators as guests.

Among them was writer Don McGregor, who penned some very influential, groundbreaking stories in the 1970s and 80s.  I’ve met McGregor on a couple of occasions previously, but it was still good to see him again.  I purchased a copy of the Sabre 30th Anniversary Edition from him, which has been on my “want list” for a while now.  I mentioned to McGregor that several years back I had written an online review of another of his works, his Detectives Inc. graphic novel, “A Terror of Dying Dreams.”  McGregor responded that he’d be interested in reading that, and I told him that I’d try to re-post it on my current blog at some point in the near future.

After I got home, I suddenly realized, via Facebook, that the very next day, June 15th, was his birthday.  Well, obviously that called for me to speed things up a bit!  So please consider this review a birthday tribute to the talented Don McGregor.

detectives inc a terror of dying dreams cover

McGregor’s first Detectives Inc. book, “A Remembrance of Threatening Green,” was published by Eclipse Comics in 1980.  It was illustrated by Marshall Rogers.  “A Remembrance of Threatening Green” introduced McGregor’s private investigator team of Bob Rainier and Ted Denning.

Several years later Eclipse published McGregor’s second Detectives Inc. saga.  This time McGregor was paired with a past collaborator, the legendary Gene Colan (they had previously worked together on Ragamuffins and Nathaniel Dusk).  “A Terror of Dying Dreams” saw the return of Rainier and Denning, now working side-by-side with social worker Dierdre Sevens.  “A Terror of Dying Dreams” was reprinted as an oversized black & white book by Image Comics in 1999.  I purchased a copy of that from McGregor back in 2001 at one of the Big Apple Comic Cons, where I got it autographed by both him and Colan.  More recently, in 2009 the two Detectives Inc. graphic novels were collected together in a lavish hardcover volume by IDW.

“A Terror of Dying Dreams” opens simultaneously on our three protagonists: Bob Rainier, Ted Denning, and Dierdre Sevens.  Each is poised at a threshold.  For Rainier, it is the gaudy entrance to a Times Square strip club.  For Denning, it is an elevator in a hospital.  For Sevens, it is the front door of an old friend’s house.  By opening the story in this manner, McGregor does a marvelous job of juxtaposing these three people’s individual circumstances, at the same time setting the stage for an examination of each.

Rainier, divorced and gloomy, sulks along the alleyways of adult entertainment, vainly attempting to convince himself that he can easy his loneliness.  Denning rides the elevator to a waiting room, where he meets with his father, and the two discuss old times, all the while waiting for news of Denning’s ailing mother.  And Sevens comes to pay a visit on Leila, a friend who asks for her advice, but who is ultimately unwilling to leave her abusive husband.

detectives inc a terror of dying dreams pg 1

The paths of this trio soon intersect.  Rainier and Denning are, of course, partners in a private detective agency.  Sevens hires the pair to follow Leila’s brutal husband Doug, hoping they will uncover evidence of Doug in a compromising situation, something that she might use to finally convince Leila to leave him.  Rainier and Denning go to work, with Dierdre in tow, and they soon find evidence that Doug, in addition to abusing his wife, is also cheating on her.  Of course, as with the best of detective fiction, this apparently simple case ends up leading them into a much larger scandal.  And with that comes plenty of twists and danger.

(And if you expect me to reveal any more about the plot, forget it!  This is one graphic novel you really ought to read for yourself, so I certainly do not want to spoil it any further.)

McGregor is probably best known for his cutting edge work with the characters of Killraven and Black Panther at Marvel in the 1970s.  With the former, he took what started as a rather clichéd, uneven post-apocalyptic sequel to H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and transformed it into an epic, soul-searching saga.  His interpretation of the later character had a significant influence on subsequent writers’ depictions of T’Challa, the noble but troubled monarch of Wakanda.  I admit that when I was younger I did find McGregor’s scripting on those stories, as well as his later works, to be somewhat ponderous.  Looking back, I see that he was one of a handful of individuals in the comic book industry during the Bronze Age striving to craft dialogue and narration that possessed genuine sophistication and palpable atmosphere.

Certainly I did not have any problems with McGregor’s scripting on “A Terror of Dying Dreams.”  McGregor’s prose is very well suited to this genre.  Mystery and detective fiction has always relied on strong narration and description to establish a particular mood, as well as to delve into the characters, their backgrounds, and how they relate to each other and the world in which they exist.  As I noted earlier, this is exactly what McGregor does with Rainier, Denning, and Sevens at the story’s opening and again throughout the entirety of the story.  McGregor’s story is as much about these three individuals as it is about the solving of a mystery.  His introspective writing superbly brings these characters to life, and establishes the realities they live in.  While still occasionally heavy, for the most part McGregor’s narration is strikingly appropriate.

I’ve also found that this is one of those great stories with so many layers to it that you can re-read years later when you are at a different point in your own life and get something new out of it.  Looking at “A Terror of Dying Dreams” in 2014 as someone in his late 30s who has gone through a number of changes and life experiences in the past decade, I certainly have a different perspective on McGregor’s story and characters than I did when I first read it in my mid 20s back in 2001.

detectives inc a terror of dying dreams pg 21

Gene Colan’s work on “A Terror of Dying Dreams” is superb.  His art style, with its unconventional layouts and extensive use of shadows, is perfectly suited for a story such as this.  On occasion, I have found Colan’s work to be rather jarring, at least as far as some of the superhero stories he drew.  His style is perhaps a bit ill-suited to that genre, and is more appropriate for mystery, suspense, and horror.  The fact that Colan was so successful with Daredevil over the years was no doubt due to that character’s firm grounding in reality, set amidst the grim urban locales of Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan.  Likewise, Colan’s work on both Tomb of Dracula and Doctor Strange was memorable, with his haunting, eerie, disturbing depictions of unearthly, supernatural phenomena and macabre menaces.

It has often been noted that Colan, who passed away in 2011, was a somewhat difficult artist to ink, due to his very distinctive style, as well as his aforementioned use of shadows and darkness.  Of the numerous inkers who tackled Colan’s pencils over the years, I think there was only a handful that really did him justice.  Colan himself stated on more than one occasion that that Tom Palmer was the artist who did the best work inking his pencils, an opinion shared by many fans.  I certainly agree with that assessment, and I would also add George Klein, Frank Giacoia, Bill Everett and Al Williamson to my list of favorite Colan inkers.

More significantly, though, I think that the dark, shadowy nature of Colan’s pencils probably made his stories a challenge to color.  I suspect that some colorists unwittingly end up obliterating the fine detail of Colan’s work.  In the past decade, it has been something of a revelation seeing many of his stories reprinted in black & white within various Marvel Essential collections.

The art in “A Terror of Dying Dreams” was reproduced directly from Colan’s uninked pencils, and the book is black & white.  The result is crisp and stunning.  Colan’s work has never looked better.  Visible is the intricate detail of his work, the subtle gradations of shadow and lighting that he utilizes.  The emotions of McGregor’s characters are vividly brought to life by Colan’s illustration of their facial expressions and fluid body language.  The many and varied settings, from the time-faded boardwalks of Brighton Beach to the glitz of midtown Manhattan, the seedy trappings of Times Square, and the suburban gentility of Dobbs Ferry, are all brought to life by Colan’s talent.  The scenes of action and danger are dramatically rendered, all the while retaining a definite realism and believability.

detectives inc a terror of dying dreams pg 27

This was the type of genre that Colan excelled in.  It is a pity that during his career he did not have many opportunities to work on tales of noir-tinged mystery.  His collaboration with Don McGregor on “A Terror of Dying Dreams” and a handful of other projects enabled readers to view Colan’s skill and talent at work on different genres.  And the black and white, uninked format allows for the full impact and detail of his art to be experienced.

Sequential illustration is, ideally, the synthesis of words and images.  Within “A Terror of Dying Dreams” this is nearly flawless.  McGregor’s writing and Colan’s art complement each other.  The majority of McGregor’s script is dialogue.  Those narrative passages that he does write are usually at the beginning of each chapter, set alongside or between captionless establishing shots by Colan.  McGregor clearly had confidence in Colan, trusting that the art and the dialogue will work together to communicate what is taking place.  He does not clutter up the panels with captions that state what the reader can plainly see. “A Terror of Dying Dreams” is an outstanding example of what can occur when a talented writer and a skilled artist who are working together recognize each other’s strengths.  The result is a balance between story and art, with neither overwhelming the other.

And, simply put, Detectives Inc. “A Terror of Dying Dreams” is an enjoyable, intelligently written graphic novel with superb artwork.  As I said before, I certainly recommend it.  The book is one of the highlights of both Don McGregor’s and Gene Colan’s careers.

Remembering Doom Patrol creator Arnold Drake

Today would have been the 90th birthday of writer Arnold Drake, who was born on March 1, 1924.  Drake,  with co-writer Leslie Waller and artist Matt Baker, created It Rhymes With Lust, a noir “picture novel” released in 1950 by St. John Publications.  Some historians consider it to be the first American graphic novel.  Long out of print, It Rhymes With Lust was finally republished by Dark Horse in 2007.

Drake was a prolific writer in the comic book field, penning numerous scripts at DC Comics from the mid-1950s through the late-1960s.  Probably the most significant of Drake’s contributions to the DC universe was co-creating the bizarre, offbeat cult classic the Doom Patrol with Bob Haney and Bruno Premiani.  The Doom Patrol made their debut in My Greatest Adventure #80 (June 1963), a sci-fi anthology series.  Drake and Haney co-wrote the DP’s first two stories, after which Drake took over as the sole writer, paired with artist Premiani.  The characters became quite popular, and My Greatest Adventure was officially re-titled The Doom Patrol with issue #86.  The series lasted until issue #121, published in 1968.

My Greatest Adventure Doom Patrol 82 pg 1

Drake deliberately set out to make the members of the Doom Patrol the antithesis of the clean-cut, conventional superheroes DC was publishing.  Drake witnessed the early success that Marvel was already experiencing through the formula of “heroes with problems.”  With Haney and Premiani, he conceived a group of characters who were regarded by so-called normal society as “freaks.”

Cliff Steele, aka Robotman, had his human body completely destroyed in a race car accident, and his still living brain was transplanted into a clunky metal form.  Larry Trainor, aka Negative Man, had his form co-habited by a bizarre energy being which he could control, but which also resulted in him becoming highly radioactive, necessitating he be wrapped up in specially-treated bandages, looking much like a mummy.  Rita Farr, aka Elasti-Girl, was exposed to strange volcanic gasses, which enabled her to dramatically grow or shrink in size.  Although Rita remained an attractive woman, her new abilities also attracted considerable attention & publicity, and she was not happy with her notoriety.  Bringing the group together was Niles Calder, aka The Chief, a wheelchair-bound scientific genius.

(Keep in mind that The Doom Patrol predates X-Men by a few months, and to this day a hotly debated question is whether this was an amazing piece of synchronicity, or if Marvel “borrowed” the concept of Drake’s series.)

The Italian-born Premiani had an understandably European style to his artwork, which was definitely of a very high quality.  I think that this helped to further distinguish The Doom Patrol from much of DC’s other output at the time.  As Drake himself would comment to Premiani, “You draw with an Italian pen.”  Certainly Premiani did a wonderful job rendering the beautiful Elasti-Girl, giving her a look Drake described “as quite European-Mediterranean.”

Drake and Premiani also created a bizarre rogues gallery for the DP.  The centuries old General Immortus sought to maintain his longevity, regain his youth, and conquer the world.  The Brotherhood of Evil was made up of the disembodied Brain, the French-speaking machine gun wielding gorilla Monsieur Mallah, and the shape shifting Madame Rouge.  Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, as his name implies, could transform into weird, gigantic combinations of animals, plants, and rocks.

Doom Patrol 99 pg 4

Later on, in The Doom Patrol #99 (November 1965), the hotheaded green shape-changing teenager Beast Boy was introduced by Drake and artist Bob Brown.  Years later Beast Boy (sometimes also known as Changeling) would become a member of Wolfman & Perez’s ultra-popular New Teen Titans.  I actually acquired a rather beat-up copy of DP #99 at a comic show in Westchester back in the mid-1990s for a whopping nine bucks.  That was a cool find.  I still have that one floating around somewhere.

Also at DC, Drake co-created supernatural hero Deadman with artist Carmine Infantino, and the horror comedy feature Stanley and His Monster with Winslow Mortiner.

After a dispute with DC over better pay rates & benefits in 1968, Drake left that company and headed over to Marvel Comics.  During his brief time there, he worked on several series, including (ironically enough) X-Men, where he introduced Cyclops’ brother Alex Summers, who was shortly after turned into the superhero Havok by Roy Thomas & Neal Adams.  Drake, paired with artist Gene Colan, created the original Guardians of the Galaxy, who made their debut in Marvel Super-Heroes #18 (January 1969).

Marvel Super-Heroes 18 cover

Drake penned numerous stories while at Gold Key in the 1970s.  He was a regular contributor to mystery / horror titles such as Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery, The Twilight Zone, and Dark Shadows.  Having previously penned numerous humor comic books at DC, the versatile Drake also had a lengthy run writing Little Lulu for Gold Key.

One of Drake’s last comic book stories for many years was “G.I. Samurai,” which was published by DC in G.I. Combat #276 (April 1985).  I actually have vivid memories of reading this story when I was nine years old.  Drake told the story of Mike Mabuchi, a Japanese-American soldier struggling to find acceptance among his comrades while fighting in World War II on the European Front.  It was a very thoughtful piece of writing by Drake about the bigotry which was sometimes present on the American side of the conflict.

GI Samurai pg 1

After an 18 year absence from the biz, Drake collaborated with Argentine artist Luis Dominguez on “Tripping Out,” a 13 page story that appeared in the January 2003 edition of Heavy Metal.  Dominguez had previously created a number of beautiful cover paintings at Gold Key in the 1970s (I’m not sure if Drake and Dominguez worked together during this time, since Gold Key sometimes wasn’t good at supplying detailed credits).  Dominguez also painted a recreation of the cover artwork for My Greatest Adventure #80.  This fantastic piece was featured as the cover of Alter Ego #17, published by TwoMorrows in September 2002, which featured an in-depth interview with Drake conducted by Marc Svensson.

Arnold Drake passed away on March 12, 2007, at the age of 83.  I was very fortunate to have met him on a couple of occasions prior to this, at NYC conventions in the early 2000s.  He autographed my copies of The Doom Patrol Archives Volume 1 and Alter Ego #17.  The second time I met Drake, I was able to have a very pleasant chat with him that must have lasted at least 15 minutes.  He immediately impressed me as a sharp, intelligent, insightful man.

Alter Ego 17 cover signed

Drake really was one of those creators who saw the vast potentials of comic books, who wanted to see stories of a diverse selection of genres published in a variety of formats, such as graphic novels.  I definitely regard him as being ahead of his time.  He was involved in the creation of several wonderful, unusual series & concepts, and he helped to lay the groundwork for succeeding writers who sought to push the boundaries of the medium.

Don McGregor and Trevor Von Eeden are on Kickstarter

There is a Kickstarter fundraiser currently taking place that I really wanted to draw everyone’s attention to.  Writer Don McGregor and artist Trevor Von Eeden are attempting to raise the funding to publish their brand new graphic novel Sabre: The Early Future Years.  I’ve already written about how much I enjoy Von Eeden’s artwork in my July 24th blog post.  Because of my appreciation for his artwork, I’d really like to see this project get funded.  McGregor and Von Eeden’s target is $17,000 to me met by September 9, 2013.  As of this writing, they have only raised $6,631, approximately one third of their goal.  I did pledge a few dollars, but due to my current work and financial situation, I wasn’t able to offer too much.  So I’ve been promoting the hell out of this, really hoping that others can also pitch in.  Here is the link to their page on Kickstarter where you can pledge funds:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jsacks/sabre-graphic-novel-by-don-mcgregor-and-trevor-von

And below is a preview of Trevor Von Eeden’s artwork for Sabre: the Early Future Years.  It features coloring by George Freeman, who previously worked with Von Eeden on his two volume graphic novel The Original Johnson.

sabre early future years preview

In addition to being a fan of Trevor’s art, I also greatly enjoy Don McGregor’s writing.  He has a very distinctive style of prose, narration, and dialogue, a real sophistication to his plots and scripts.  In the past, McGregor has worked on a number of critically lauded, groundbreaking stories.

In the 1970s, while at Marvel Comics, McGregor did well regarded work with the character of Black Panther in the pages of Jungle Action.  He also had an exception run on Amazing Adventures, chronicling the saga of Killraven, a freedom fighter struggling to overthrow Martian invaders in an apocalyptic future.  Debuting in Amazing Adventures #18, the Killraven / War of the Worlds feature was initially conceived by Roy Thomas & Neal Adams, inspired by the H.G. Wells’ novel.  However, with the character’s fourth appearance in issue #21, McGregor took over as the series’ writer.  He worked with several different artists over the next few issues.  And then an up-and-coming P. Craig Russell became the regular illustrator with #27, producing stunningly vibrant, bizarre artwork.  The two collaborated on Killraven until Amazing Adventures was cancelled at issue #39 in 1976.  McGregor and Russell reunited to craft a coda to their run which saw print as the Killraven: Warrior of the Worlds graphic novel in 1983.

Amazing Adventures 28 cover

It was in 1978 that McGregor teamed with artist Paul Gulacy to create the first Sabre graphic novel, which was released by up-and-coming independent company Eclipse Comics.  In the early 1980s, an ongoing Sabre series was also published by Eclipse, lasting 14 issues.  Comics Bulletin is currently running a multi-part interview with McGregor looking at the origins of Sabre.  Here’s a link to the first installment:

http://comicsbulletin.com/columns/6013/the-great-sabre-interview-part-one-characters-that-are-alive-in-an-alternate-universe/

While at Eclipse, McGregor also wrote a pair of noir mysteries, Detectives Inc.  The first graphic novel, A Remembrance of Threatening Green, was drawn by the talented Marshall Rogers, with the equally amazing Gene Colan illustrating A Terror of Dying Dreams.  McGregor and Colan later re-teamed on a mammoth 25-chapter Black Panther serial “Panther’s Quest” which ran in Marvel Comics Presents.  I’d like to see that one collected in a trade paperback.

Detectives Inc 1 cover

Those original Sabre and Detectives Inc. stories have subsequently been reprinted by other publishers such as Image and IDW.  Those collected editions are well worth seeking out.

So, having gone into all this detail about McGregor’s amazing writing, I really hope that I’ve piqued some interest, and that people will show their support for his latest project.  Separately, McGregor and Von Eeden have each rafted truly exception work in the past; together I expect that they make an amazing team.  I definitely hope that one day soon Sabre: The Early Future Years will be published.  I’ll keep you all updated on their progress.

September 10, 2013 Update: Unfortunately, the Kickstarter fundraiser did not meet its goal, only reaching $11,618 of the needed $17,000.  I was really looking forward to seeing the new Sabre graphic novel.  I am going to keep in touch with Don McGregor on Facebook, and see if he decided to attempt another Kickstarter campaign in the future, or perhaps go another route. Hopefully, one way or another, the book will make it into print in the near future.

David Quinn’s Doctor Strange, part two

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.

Midnight Sons Unlimited 6 pg 22

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.

Doctor Strange 69 pg 11

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.

Doctor Strange 69 cover

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.

Doctor Strange 70 pg 14

“Half Lives” features the debut of the new regular artist on Doctor Strange: Sorcerer SupremePeter 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.