2020 Visions: Machine Man and Iron Man

Happy New Year!  To celebrate the occasion, today I am taking a quick look at the comic book adventures of Machine Man and Iron Man in the distant, far-off future year of, um, uh, 2020 AD… Okay, yeah, I can’t believe it’s 2020 already, either!

Machine Man mini 2 pg 22

Machine Man was created by none other than the legendary Jack Kirby himself, debuting in, of all places, the 2001: A Space Odyssey comic book series, which had been inspired by the film / novel by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke.  First known as Mister Machine, aka X-51, he appeared in 2001: A Space Odyssey #s 8-10 published in mid 1977.

Mister Machine was a robot who gained sentience, with one of the mysterious alien Monoliths from the movie playing a role in his evolution towards becoming almost human.  Following the cancellation of the 2001: A Space Odyssey comic book, the character, renamed Machine Man, received his own ongoing series in early 1978.  Kirby wrote & penciled Machine Man for nine issues, with Mike Royer providing inks.

Machine Man mini 1 cover smallBy late 1978 Kirby had become disenchanted with mainstream comic books, and he left Marvel Comics to go into the animation field.  The storyline begun by Kirby in Machine Man was concluded by writer Roger Stern and penciler Sal Buscema a few months later in Incredible Hulk #s 234-237.  This was followed by a revival of the Machine Man ongoing series, picking up from the original numbering, with another Silver Age legend, Stave Ditko, as the artist.  Issue #s 10-14 were written by Marv Wolfman, with Tom DeFalco then writing #s 15-19.

In the early 1980s Machine Man made the occasional guest appearance here and there.  He was once again given the spotlight in 1984 with the Machine Man four issue limited series, set three and a half decades in the future, in the year 2020.  Tom DeFalco returned to wrote X-51’s future adventures.  The first three issues had pencils / breakdowns by Herb Trimpe, with finished art & colors by Barry Windsor-Smith, an unusual pairing that nevertheless worked very well.  BWS took over the full art chores for Machine Man #4, also co-plotting that final issue.  Michael, Higgins, Diana Albers, Janice Chiang and Jim Novak lettered an issue apiece, and the whole thing was edited by Larry Hama.

DeFalco’s story is set in a dark industrialized dystopia where corrupt corporations have seized political power (so, yeah, not too different from our actual real-world 2020, amiright?) and bands of anarchist scavengers hope to find a free, independent existence under the radar.  One of these groups of Midnight Wreckers, searching through a dumping ground belonging to Baintronics Inc, discovers a box containing the dismantled Machine Man.  Evading the Baintronics security forces, the Wreckers return to their base and re-assemble Machine Man.

Machine Man mini 1 pg 12

Baintronics is run by Sunset Bain, an industrialist & socialite who moonlighted as the masked arms dealer Madame Menace, clashing with Machine Man on more than one occasion back in the day.  Now in 2020 she is allied with Miles Brinkman, a former US Senator who is another old foe of X-51.  Brinkman had previously waged a McCarthy-esque campaign of fear-mongering against Machine Man, hoping to ride a wave of robotphobia to greater political power.

DeFalco has an interesting approach to the future incarnations of Bain and Brinkman.  At this point they have basically won, having amassed tremendous political & financial power, yet they are seemingly unable to enjoy their spoils, having grown old & tired, reduced to worn-out shadows of their former selves.  And once they learn that Machine Man has been reactivated they are consumed by uncontrollable paranoia that this former adversary will seek to destroy them.  The pair are defeated as much by their own failings as they are by Machine Man and the Midnight Wreckers.

Machine Man mini 3 pg 12

DeFalco shows that Machine Man is actually more human than either Sunset Bain or Miles Brinkman, who in their fear and panic project upon him their own ugly motivations of hatred and vengeance.  Machine Man, as well as his onetime love, the silver robot Jocasta (rebuilt by Bain to be her aide, but ultimately serving as her conscience), are more capable of feeling compassion and expressing forgiveness than their human foes.

The miniseries introduced Arno Stark, descendant of Tony Stark, the Iron Man of the year 2020.  Arno is an amoral mercenary, and he is more than happy to accept an assignment from Sunset Bain to hunt down & destroy Machine Man.  Iron Man clashes twice with Machine Man, and in both encounters he is defeated by his robot opponent.

Machine Man mini 4 pg 11

This leads into the events of the Iron Man 2020 special, which was published a decade later, in 1994.  It was co-plotted, by Bob Wiacek & Walter Simonson, scripted by Simonson, penciled & inked by Wiacek, with Will Rosado penciling the second half of the book over Wiacek’s layouts.  This was one of the all-too-infrequent penciling jobs by Wiacek, who is best known for his work as an inker / embellisher.  Rosado, who was early in his comic book career, also did good work here. The special was lettered by John Costanza and colored by Christie Scheele.Iron Man 2020 cover small

As a tie-in, Marvel re-issued the Machine Man miniseries as a two double-sized issues.  That was certainly helpful to me, as I hadn’t been reading comics regularly in 1984, and so missed the original release.

The Iron Man 2020 special opens very soon after the events of the miniseries.  Much like Bain and Brinkman before him, Arno Stark is a haunted man: haunted by his defeat at Machine Man’s hands, haunted by the burden of keeping the financially weakened Stark Enterprises afloat, and haunted by the seeming impossibility of living up to the legend of his ancestor, Tony Stark, the original Iron Man.  As the old saying goes, heavy hangs the head that wears the crown.

Desperate to save his company, Arno accepts an offer from Marcus Wellington, one of his biggest competitors.  Arno is hired to rescue Wellington’s daughter Melodi, who has been kidnapped by terrorists and is being held for ransom.  Arno dons his Iron Man suit and sets course for the terrorists’ island stronghold.  Of course, as is often the case with corporate machinations, the situation is much more complicated than it initially appears, and Arno soon finds himself in the middle of more than one double cross.

The end result of these events are that they push Arno Stark towards, well, not necessary becoming a hero, by any means, but at least to start walking a slightly less avaricious, brutal path.

Iron Man 2020 pg 35

Hey, everyone loves a good redemption story.  Certainly Wiacek & Simonson make this one more believable than most by showing that it’s only just the beginning of Arno Stark’s path away from villainy.

I’ve met Bob Wiacek on a few occasions at comic book conventions.  A decade ago at a February 2010 show he did a drawing of Iron Man 2020 in my villains sketchbook.  It is a distinctive costume, a sort of retro future look, almost steampunk with those big gears, and he renders it well.

Iron Man 2020 by Bob Wiacek

I didn’t want to get into too many specific details about either the Machine Man miniseries or the Iron Man 2020 special, because I think they are both worth tracking down and reading.  Marvel published an Iron Man 2020 trade paperback in 2013 collecting both, along with several other stories.

Also, for those interested in Machine Man’s various Bronze Age incarnations (the original Kirby stories, the Ditko-drawn revival, and the 1984 miniseries) I recommend checking out Back Issue #25 from TwoMorrows Publishing.  “Call Me Mister… Mister Machine!” written by Allan Harvey is offers a wealth of behind-the-scenes info concerning Machine Man’s adventures in the 1970s and 80s.

And of course, since it’s now 2020 in the real world, Marvel Comics is bringing back Arno Stark.  It seems that Tony Stark is going to die (what, again?!?) and Arno, who in “mainstream” Marvel continuity is Tony’s long lost twin brother (yes really!), will become the new Iron Man… at least until the inevitable resurrection.  Still, with writing by Dan Slott & Christos Gage, it sounds like it could be a fun ride.

Once again, happy new year to all of you.  Let’s hope 2020 is a good one. Or, as the Midnight Wreckers might have put it, “YAH-ZOO!”

Herb Trimpe: 1939 to 2015

Longtime comic book artist Herb Trimpe passed away unexpectedly on April 13th at the age of 75.  I was a big fan of Trimpe’s work and I’ve written about him a few times previously on this blog.

Trimpe may not have been the most flashy, dynamic artist.  But he was definitely a great storyteller, drawing effective interior layouts and striking covers that grabbed your attention.  Like many others of his generation, Trimpe had an amazing work ethic, keeping a monthly schedule on numerous titles during his career.

In his early 20s Trimpe briefly worked as an inker for Dell and Gold Key.  After a four year stint in the Air Force from 1962 to 1966, he began to get work at Marvel Comics.  Among his earliest assignments at Marvel were such Western characters such as Kid Colt and Rawhide Kid.  He also inked Marie Severin’s pencils on the Hulk feature in Tales to Astonish in 1967.

Incredible Hulk 140 cover

In 1968 Tales to Astonish was retitled The Incredible Hulk beginning with issue #102.  Four months later Trimpe became the book’s penciler with issue #106.  This was a start of a mammoth run on the series that would last until issue #193 in late 1975.  During that seven and a half year run, Trimpe missed a mere two issues.  His work on Incredible Hulk resulted in his depiction of the Jade Giant becoming one of the most identifiable, iconic renditions of the character.

While on Incredible Hulk, Trimpe sometimes inked his own pencils, and he was also paired with inkers John Severin, Dan Adkins, Sal Buscema, Sam Grainger, Sal Trapani, Jack Abel and Joe Staton.  He illustrated stories written by some of Marvel’s most talented writers, namely Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart and Len Wein.

One of the most memorable Hulk stories that Trimpe penciled was “The Brute That Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom” from issue #140.  Plotted by science fiction author Harlan Ellison, scripted by Thomas, and inked by Grainger, this was the introduction of Jarella, the green-skinned princess of a sub-atomic world.  Jarella is undoubtedly one of the Hulk’s true loves.  All these decades later this bittersweet tale is fondly remembered.  Trimpe’s layouts on the final few pages are extremely impactful, driving home the tragedy of the ending.

Back Issue 70 cover

Trimpe also became the very first artist to draw the now-popular mutant Wolverine in print.  Wolverine’s look was actually designed by John Romita.  But it was Trimpe who penciled his first three published appearances in Incredible Hulk #s 180-182, which were written by Wein, with inking by Abel.

In later years Trimpe would be commissioned on numerous occasions to draw re-creations and re-interpretations of that first historic battle between the Hulk and Wolverine.  One of those pieces, with a background illustration by Gerhard, was used last year as the cover for Back Issue #70 from TwoMorrows Publishing, the theme of which was “Incredible Hulk in the Bronze Age.”

During his lengthy stint at Marvel Trimpe drew many of the company’s characters.  His credits include Iron Man, Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Captain Britain, Ant-Man in Marvel Feature, Killraven in Amazing Adventures, Captain America, Avengers, Son of Satan in Marvel Spotlight, Defenders, Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up, Machine Man, and several stories in What If.

Marvel Super-Heroes 16 cover signed

Trimpe and writer Gary Friedrich created the World War I flying ace Phantom Eagle, who made his debut in Marvel Super-Heroes #16 (Sept 1968).  The character obviously tapped into Trimpe’s longtime love for airplanes, and his artwork for this story was very dynamic.  Although the character of the Phantom Eagle never really took off (so to speak) he did make a few subsequent appearances over the years, including in Incredible Hulk #135 once again drawn by Trimpe.

Beginning in the late 1970s Trimpe drew a number of Marvel titles featuring licensed characters.  He penciled nearly the entire two year run of Godzilla.  This was a wacky and offbeat series written by Doug Moench that integrated Toho’s famous monster into the Marvel universe.  Trimpe illustrated Godzilla’s encounters with Dum Dum Dugan and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Champions, Devil Dinosaur, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers.  In issue #17 Moench, Trimpe and inker Dan Green even showed Godzilla getting shrunk down in size by Hank Pym, a condition that persisted for the next few issues!

Godzilla 17 pg 15

Trimpe also drew Shogun Warriors, Transformers, and The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones.  He was the first artist on the successful G.I. Joe comic launched in 1982.  He penciled the first several issues, and also plotted a few of them, with G.I. Joe writer Larry Hama scripting.  On issue #8 Trimpe even flew solo, plotting, penciling, inking and scripting “Code Name: Sea-Strike!”

Interviewed in 2001 for issue #53 of the Godzilla magazine G-Fan, Trimpe reflected upon his work on these various licensed titles:

“It’s funny, because you have a point about that. I never realized it before, but I have worked on a lot of licensed projects… I believe that it was probably because all of those titles involved the military, big vehicles and machines. [Marvel] knew I enjoyed drawing that stuff. Even the Hulk fought the army a lot. So, that’s no coincidence. I’m a big airplane freak. That’s really the connection there. I loved airplanes as a kid. I used to build models. I eventually got my pilot’s license, and even owned my own airplane for a number of years.”

Trimpe soon departed from G.I. Joe as he was not fond of drawing its (literal) army of characters.   Five years later he returned to work on the spin-off series G.I. Joe Special Missions which was also written by Hama.  With its smaller casts and self-contained stories, the book was more appealing to Trimpe.  “I actually liked doing the Special Missions better than the regular one,” he stated in Back Issue #16.

Plus, within the pages of Special Missions, Trimpe got to draw airplanes… lots of them!  On his Facebook page Hama fondly reminisced “Fave way to make Herbie happy was to give him a script with lots of airplanes in it.”  Trimpe drew nearly the entirety of the 28 issue run of Special Missions.

GI Joe 8 pg 14

The 1990s was a major decade of transition for Trimpe.  He began drawing in a manner reminiscent of the then super-popular Image Comics founders, particularly Rob Liefeld.  This new style was most notably on display within the pages of the giant-sized quarterly title Fantastic Four Unlimited which was written by longtime Marvel scribe, and Trimpe’s former Incredible Hulk collaborator, Roy Thomas.  Mike DeCarlo and Steve Montano inked the first few issues, with Trimpe himself embellishing his pencils on the later stories.

Many people thought that Trimpe was being pressured into altering his style to conform to the flavor of the month.  However, as he explained to Brian Cronin on Comic Book Resources in 2009, this was not the case:

“Truth was, it was a lark–but a lark with a purpose, all devised by myself. No one at Marvel suggested I change the way I draw or ink. I looked at the new guys’ stuff, and thought, hey, this is great. Very exciting. You can always learn from somebody else, no matter how long you’ve been doing a thing.

“I did, however, think the style might lead to new work at a time when Marvel was already in trouble, and it did. FF Unlimited was my last series at Marvel, and contrary to what a lot of fans think, I think it was the best work I’d done–and, I had a whole lot of fun doing it. Very expressive. I think the newer influences in comic book art brought out a better me. Like I said, most of the fans of the earlier stuff would not agree. On one occasion, I inked a whole story with a brush, which is what I was raised on, and the editor objected asking me not to do that anymore. But in general, no one pressured me into a change.”

Looking over Trimpe’s artwork on FF Unlimited, it is undoubtedly offbeat.  The anatomy of his figures is wonky.  Trimpe may have enjoyed this particular stylistic experiment, but as a reader I do not think it was entirely successful.  Having said that, his layouts and storytelling on those issues are dramatic and imaginative.  Despite the odder aspects of Trimpe’s early 1990s art, I enjoyed the stories he and Thomas told in FF Unlimited.

Fantastic Four Unlimited 2 pg 19

Unfortunately, with the comic book industry experiencing a huge downturn due to the collapse of the speculator market in the mid-1990s and Marvel declaring bankruptcy, Trimpe found himself out of work.  It was an extremely difficult period of time for him.  Trimpe would document his feelings on being unemployed in a journal.  His writings would later be published as “Old Superheroes Never Die, They Join the Real World” by the New York Times in 2000.  They can be read on Jim Keefe’s website.

Reading Trimpe’s journal entries, I have some identification.  I was laid off in late 2009, and since then have worked a series of temp positions, with periods of unemployment in-between.  I have yet to find a new permanent job.  If this is stressful for someone in their 30s, I can only imagine how much more so it was for Trimpe, who was two decades older, and who had been at the same job for over a quarter of a century.  Eventually he was able to make the difficult transition into a new career, working as a high school art teacher.

I regard Trimpe’s experiences in the 1990s as yet another reminder that, for all its excitement, a career in the comic book industry is also one that is fraught with uncertainty.  Trimpe’s story is sadly not unique.  Many others older creators have had similar experiences.  I am just glad that eventually, after much hard work, he was able to land on his feet.

In 1992 Trimpe had been ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.  A decade later, in the months following the September 11th terrorist attacks, he performed volunteer work as a chaplain in lower Manhattan.

Within the last several years Trimpe began working in comic books again.  A number of creators who were fans of his work when they were growing up started to hire him to draw various covers, fill-in issues and short stories.   In 2008 Trimpe drew the first issue of the BPRD: War on Frogs miniseries published by Dark Horse and a back-up story in the King-Sized Hulk special.

GI Joe 166 cover

In 2010 IDW began publishing G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero which continued the continuity, as well as the numbering, of the original Marvel series.  Larry Hama was once again writing the series.  A few issues into this revival Trimpe began contributing covers for the series based on layout sketches from Hama.  Trimpe’s covers were featured on the series for nearly two years.  He was also one of the pencilers on the 2012 annual.

Savage Dragon creator and Image Comics co-founder Erik Larsen is a longtime fan of Trimpe’s work.  As he recently explained, “The first comic book I ever bought with my own money was The Incredible Hulk #156.”  In 2010, when Savage Dragon was approaching its own 156th issue, Larsen approached Trimpe to draw a variant cover paying homage to that Incredible Hulk issue.  Working from Larsen’s rough layout, Trimpe illustrated a great cover featuring two versions of the Dragon facing off against one another.

Four years later, for Savage Dragon #200, Larsen asked Trimpe to contribute to two of the back-up stories.  On the first one Larsen inked Trimpe’s pencils; on the second Trimpe inked Larsen.  I really enjoyed how those came out.

Savage Dragon 156 Herp Trimpe variant cover

Within the last decade Trimpe became a regular guest at comic book conventions, especially in the Tri-State area.  This was when he started to realize just how much his work, which he had always been somewhat critical of, meant to people.  In his 2008 foreword to Marvel Masterworks: The Incredible Hulk Vol. 5, Trimpe wrote:

“…what finally sunk into my thick skull, was that hundreds, if not thousands, of comic book fans loved the stories I drew. And worse than that, they loved the style I had grown to dislike (I won’t use the word hate). Many a dear comic-book folk described emotionally to me how meaningful those stories had been to them. I’m sure many artists and writers in this crazy business have heard these same sentiments, but when you experience it for yourself, it is mind-blowing. One fellow described to me how a particular issue I had drawn had saved his life! How does a guy who worked to make deadlines and get the paychecks respond to that? I was flabbergasted, and I continue to be flabbergasted by the many thanks I have received for the work that I have done.”

I was fortunate enough to meet Trimpe at several conventions over the years.  He always impressed me as a genuinely nice person.  It was always a pleasure to see him.  I was able to obtain a few pieces of artwork by him over the years, and they are a much-treasured part of my collection.  They can be viewed at Comic Art Fans…

http://www.comicartfans.com/gallerydetailsearch.asp?artist=Herb+Trimpe&GCat=60

Given the tremendous, widespread responses to Herb Trimpe’s passing that have been seen on the Internet within the past week, both from fans and former colleagues, it is readily apparent that he was both a talented creator and a good person.  He will certainly be missed by me and by many others.

Herb Trimpe Sketchbook Odds and Ends Vol 1

Here are some previous pieces where I’ve written about Trimpe:

Thank you for taking a look.  This post is dedicated to the memory of Herb Trimpe.

Savage Dragon hits the big 200

The much-anticipated 200th issue of Savage Dragon came out this past Wednesday, published by Image Comics.  Written & drawn by Erik Larsen, along with regular collaborators Gary Carlson & Frank Fosco, plus a number of talented guest creators, this 100 page extravaganza features several tales of Malcolm Dragon, his step-sister Angel, their father the original Dragon, and their wacky & weird supporting cast.

Savage Dragon 200 front cover

The main story opens with Malcolm’s girlfriend Maxine moving in with him.  Several issues back it appeared that Malcolm and Maxine were going to break up, as her parents wanted her to settle down with a nice Chinese-American boy.  After being set up on innumerable blind dates, Maxine finally reached the breaking point and left home to be with Malcolm.

I’m happy that Maxine remains a part of the regular cast.  She is an interesting, fun, assertive character.  On his Facebook page, Larsen has commented that he really enjoys writing Maxine.  It certainly shows in his stories, as he chronicles the offbeat relationship between Maxine and Malcolm.  Larsen gives the two characters good chemistry.

Savage Dragon 200 pg 1

After the two of them hop into bed for some fun between the sheets, things took a turn for the bizarre.  Angel shows up to announce that the original Dragon has been kidnapped from jail by the Vicious Circle crime cartel in order to ransom him for their imprisoned leader Dart, who Malcolm captured a few issues ago.  Despite the fact that she is the one who originally set them up, Angel is surprised to find her step-brother and her best friend getting it on.  And then Maxine tosses a curveball and suggests that they try a threesome.

Um, okay… I did not see that coming.  It is more than a bit unusual.  Yes, I do realize that Malcolm and Angel are not actually related, and it’s been very strongly implied in the past that there was some attraction between the two.  But to actually see Larsen go there and throw Maxine into the mix is, um, sort of strange.  Okay, yeah, all three of them are in their late teens, so it makes sense they’d be horny and willing to experiment.  At least Larsen does it semi-tastefully, and we do not actually see anything taking place, just an exterior shot of the building with some suggestive word balloons placed in the picture.

Okay, boys and girls, just use your imaginations here!
Okay, boys and girls, just use your imaginations here!

After their romp in the sack, Malcolm and Angel head out to rescue Dragon.  They pretty much deliver a major beat-down to the Vicious Circle.  No wonder the Circle wants Dart back so badly; without her leadership they’re pretty damn useless nowadays.  In fact, even though Dragon was recently de-powered, he manages to defeat the goons who were holding him hostage, since he still retains all of his fighting skills from his years as a police officer, bounty hunter, and government agent.  Malcolm and Angel catch up with him at a local watering hole, where he’s having a cold one before turning himself back in to the authorities.  When the police get there, though, they have some bad news: somehow Dart has managed to stage a jail-break all on her own, and is once again on the loose.

This was pretty good, although I do wonder if the whole threesome thing is going to cause some problems between the characters in the future.  After all, Angel is currently involved with the Golden Age Daredevil, her teammate on the Special Operations Strikeforce.

The coloring by Nikos Koutsis was nicely done.  My only complaint is that Malcolm’s coloring was off in several places.  Instead of his usual dark green, he was colored as grey on several pages.  I hate to nit-pick.  Other than that, good work.

Savage Dragon 200 back cover Vanguard

Gary Carlson & Frank Fosco contribute the latest chapter of their ongoing Vanguard serial.  Van, Wally, Roxanne and friends explore the now-desolate Kalyptan home world.  A couple of years ago it was revealed that the decades-long war between the Kalyptans and the Tyranneans had finally ended.  The Kalyptans’ robot servants betrayed them to the Tyrrus Combine, resulting in the almost total decimation of Vanguard’s people.  Now we finally find out exactly why the Servitors switched sides: they were convinced to do so by an old enemy of Vanguard’s first seen quite a number of years ago in another story by Carlson & Fosco.  Truthfully, I barely remembered who this guy was… it’s been years since I’ve looked at those issues.  At least Carlson includes enough expository dialogue, plus a footnote referencing those comics, to enable someone like myself with foggy recollection to fill in the blanks.  Whatever the case, the Vanguard back-ups continue to entertain, and I hope that they will remain a feature in Savage Dragon for a while longer.

Among the guest creators who contributed to Savage Dragon #200, the most notable is industry legend Herb Trimpe.  On more than one occasion Larsen has stated that he is a fan of Trimpe’s work.  Trimpe drew the very first comic book that Larsen ever bought as a kid, Incredible Hulk #156.  As Larsen himself stated on Twitter, it was “a dream come true” to collaborate with Trimpe.

Savage Dragon 200 pg 25 Trimpe pencils

Larsen and Trimpe actually work together on two stories in issue #200.  The first one, “Out of Time,” has Trimpe penciling a plot by Larsen, who then inked & dialogued the story.  This flashback tale has cyborg scientist Rex Dexter sending the still-powered Dragon and the then-young Malcolm back in time to World War II in order to retrieve future technology which has been stolen by the Nazis.

It seems like Larsen plotted this out at least partially as an homage to Trimpe’s work on Incredible Hulk.  Aside from the fact that they are both big and green, the Dragon and the Hulk are actually very different characters.  That said, Larsen obviously could not resist plotting out a tale for Trimpe to draw that has Dragon tossing around tanks and smashing up an army, much as Marvel’s jade giant used to do when Trimpe was illustrating his adventures back in the Bronze Age.  It’s definitely a fun story, and I enjoyed seeing Trimpe inked by Larsen.

The second collaboration between Larsen and Trimpe, “The Contest,” has them swap roles.  Larsen’s pencils are inked by Trimpe.  This story, set in the present day, sees Mister Glum, the diminutive dictator from Dimension X, attacking Dragon in prison.  Glum believes he finally has an opportunity to crush Dragon now that his old foe is de-powered.  Of course things certainly do not go well for Glum, who is basically the size of a stuffed animal.

Savage Dragon 200 pg 62 Trimpe inks

This is a pretty wacky story, truthfully.  But it does provide a nice example of how important an inker is to the final look of the artwork.  Larsen’s work inked by Trimpe is rather different than when Larsen inks himself.  Larsen did something similar exactly one hundred issues ago, when he had several different inkers such as Terry Austin, Tim Townsend, Mike Royer and John Beatty contribute the embellishments to each chapter of #100.  The results were certainly interesting and fun.

It is odd to see that Glum and the alternate reality version of Angel are still together during the events of this issue.  It’s weird that Angel is still completely devoted to Glum, who despite his comedic appearance and bumbling nature is quite insane.  I wonder if there’s some form of Stockholm syndrome at work here.  It’s no wonder that Dragon wants to get this other incarnation of his step-daughter away from the tiny tyrant and try to restore her to her right mind.  I hope that’s something Larsen will follow up on in the future.

Among the other back-ups, “Taken” featuring the Special Operations Strikeforce was another favorite.  Ever since all of these heroes moved from Chicago to Washington DC to work for the government I’ve missed seeing them show up.  It was cool when Larsen utilized them as the cavalry in Savage Dragon #199.  So I’m happy that they got a story of their own in #200.  This one is written by Larsen, with series colorists Nikos Koutsis and Mike Toris contributing the pencils and inks.  Their style is an interesting mix of cartoony and detailed.

Savage Dragon 200 pg 49

I really wish this one had been longer than eight pages!  I wanted to see more of SuperPatriot, who is one of my favorite supporting characters.  He has such an awesome design, although I bet those highly detailed shape-shifting giant gun arms of his can be a real chore to illustrate!  Likewise, after several years of will-they-or-won’t-they, we finally have Angel and Daredevil becoming a couple, which I wish could have been given more space.

I realize that Savage Dragon already has that great Vanguard back-up feature.  But it would be nice if that slot could occasionally rotate, and we could have stories featuring SuperPatriot, Angel, Daredevil, and some of the other members of the SOS.  Larsen has a veritable army of cool characters.  He’s admitted on a few occasions that it can be difficult to find the space to fit them all in.  I really wish that Savage Dragon was a gigantic best-seller, so that it would be economically feasible for Larsen to once again publish a few spin-off miniseries, as he was able to back in the mid-1990s.

Savage Dragon 200 pg 69

Speaking of those innumerable characters, a pretty obscure one, Lightning Bug, also has a back-up tale in #200.  Written by Savage Dragon editor Gavin Higginbotham, with layouts by Ron Frenz and finished art by Scott James, “Bad Hair Day” sees one-time criminal Lighting Bug re-considering her ways as she tangles with the magenta-tressed Wildhair.  Higginbotham has previously written a few humorous, fun back-up stories, so it was nice to see another one by him.  James’ artwork is very nice, another example of a style that is sort of oddball but meticulous.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Frenz’s name in these pages.  I’m a long-time fan of his work, and I’d certainly enjoy having him contribute to this series again.

Congratulations to Erik Larsen on reaching this milestone issue.  I look forward to many more from him.

New York Comic Fest 2014 Convention Report

As I mentioned in my previous post, Michele and I went to the New York Comic Fest last Saturday, which was held at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.  It’s interesting that there was a three-way duel of sorts between comic cons in the NY metro area that weekend.  In addition to the Comic Fest, there was also a mini-version of the NY Comic Con at the Javits Center, as well as a decent-sized show out on Long Island.

Michele and I hadn’t been out of the City since last year, so we chose to go to the White Plains show.  I actually grew up in different parts of Westchester, and it was nice to be back for a day.  Michele and I took the Metro North train up.  The County Center was about a 15 minute walk from the train station.  It was a nice day, sunny but not too hot, the perfect weather to walk around.

Fred and Lynn Hembeck New York Comic Fest

The first guest whose table I went up to at the show was Fred Hembeck.  I’ve been a fan of Hembeck’s work for many years.  I’ve corresponded with him by e-mail and Facebook, and I got a cool re-interpretation of the cover to Captain America #291 done by him a few years ago.  But except for one time years back when I ran into him for about 30 seconds walking around a comic show in Upstate New York, I’ve never really met him.  It was great talking with Fred and his wife Lynn, who are both nice people.  Fred autographed my Spectacular Spider-Ham trade paperback, and he drew a cool piece in my Beautiful Dreamer sketchbook.

While I was at Fred’s table, Michele was nearby chatting with underground artist John Holmstrom.  The founding editor of Punk Magazine in 1975, Holmstrom’s has also worked on The Village Voice, Heavy Metal, High Times and a number of album covers.  Michele is a big fan of Holmstrom’s art, so she was thrilled to meet him.  He was nice enough to do a sketch for her.  Michele surprised me by buying me a vintage issue of Punk Magazine as a present.  It was issue #17, which featured the Singing Pimple comic strip.

Rudy Nebres New York Comic Fest

Also at the show was Filipino-born artist Rudy Nebres.  I am a huge fan of his amazingly detailed, superbly rendered art, especially his work on Vampirella over the years.  I brought along several books to get signed, including the two issue horror miniseries Maura that was published by Berserker Comics in 2009.  Nebres’ pencils for it were exquisite, some of the best work of his entire career.  I was really happy to get those autographed.  I wish I’d had the funds to get one of his amazing sketches.  Fortunately I’ve obtained a couple of pieces by him in the past.

I was thrilled to see Steve Mannion and Una McGurk again at the convention.  The two of them recently tied the knot.  It was nice to be able to congratulate them in person.  I finally picked up a copy of Steve’s Fearless Dawn: Jurassic Jungle Boogie Nights special, which I missed finding in the stores when it came out last December.  I just wished I’d remembered to bring him a bag of Pirate’s Booty Popcorn as a present!

Steve Mannion and Una McGurk New York Comic Fest

Another creator at the show who I’d never met before was Paul Kupperberg.  Michele has really been enjoying the Life With Archie series that Kupperberg has been writing for the last three years.  That’s the great magazine-sized publication from Archie Comics that has the two possible futures where Archie marries Veronica and Betty, and we see what happens to the inhabitants of Riverdale as a result of each of those choices.  I’ve also read Life With Archie from time to time, and it is really well written.  Michele had Kupperberg autograph some of those for her.   He also signed my copy of the first issue of The Charlton Arrow, as well as Action Comics #598, the first appearance of Checkmate, the covert ops organization he co-created at DC Comics in the late 1980s.

Paul Kupperberg New York Comic Fest

I also had the opportunity to meet Peter Gillis, who wrote some great stories in the late 1970s and throughout the 80s.  I’m a fan of his work and so, once again, it was cool to get a few things autographed.  I also saw Don McGregor and, as I mentioned before, bought a copy of the Sable 30th Anniversary Edition from him.  Other creators at the show were Josh Neufeld, David Gallaher, Steve Ellis, Bill Sienkiewicz, Basil Gogos and Joe Martino.  I got to see Bronze Age legend Herb Trimpe once again.  It’s odd, in that I’ve met him at a number of conventions in the past, but I didn’t have a single issue of Incredible Hulk signed by him, even though that’s the character he is most identified with.  So this time I remembered to bring my copy of Marvel Masterworks Incredible Hulk Volume 5, which Trimpe autographed for me.

Longtime Batman writer and editor Denny O’Neil was at Comic Fest.  For most of the day he was on different panel discussion.  I did manage to catch him after the “Batman at 75: Then and Now” panel, when he was signing at his table for a little while.  There was a looooong line, and the person waiting in front of me looked and acted almost exactly like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.  Yeah, just the sort who gives comic book fans a bad name!  But I finally got to the front of the line and had a couple of Batman trade paperbacks signed by O’Neil.  I really wanted to ask him some questions, but I didn’t want to hold up the line.  At least I got a photo with him.

Ben and Denny O'Neil New York Comic Fest

All in all, New York Comic Fest was a nice convention.  Michele and I both had fun there.  It was very casual and laid-back, with some great guests and panel discussions.  It did appear that attendance was a bit low, probably due to those other competing two shows in the tri-state area.  I hope that the organizers had a successful convention, because I would certainly like to see New York Comic Fest return in 2015.

My only original art acquisition that day was the cool Beautiful Dreamer sketch by Fred Hembeck.  Well, I was on a budget, and also shooting for quality over quantity.  I was certainly happy to have obtained it and, as I said, to have finally met Fred.

Beautiful Dreamer Fred Hembeck

Mid-afternoon Michele and I left the County Center.  We took a walk down Central Avenue, and went to visit my grandparents, who live in White Plains.  Again, the weather was pleasant, so even though it was a bit of a long walk, it was good to get some fresh air.  I’m happy that I was able to see my grandparents, since they’re up there in years nowadays.

And then it was back to the train station to catch the train home.  We didn’t want to stay too late in White Plains.  After all, we had to get home to feed the cats.  Nettie and Squeaky can be quite demanding when it comes to food, you know.  Never keep a cat waiting if you can avoid it!

All photos courtesy of Michele Witchipoo.  Thanks, hon.

Copyright Calamity: Marvel’s Bronze Age Licensed Titles

Nowadays there are literally hundreds of volumes reprinting much of the extensive library of Marvel Comics material from the past seven decades.  However, even with the proliferation of trade paperbacks within the last 15 years, there are still several titles that remain elusively out of print.  That is because during the 1970s and early 80s Marvel published a number of series featuring characters licensed from other companies.  These titles were set firmly in Marvel continuity, and introduced numerous characters that are still being used.  But due to the presence of those licensed properties, reprinting the original stories from the Bronze Age remains an elusive goal.

Master of Kung Fu 33 pg 1

The Bronze Age title that readers would probably most like to see collected is Master of Kung Fu, which ran from 1973 to 1983.  The series featured the philosophical martial artist hero Shang Chi, who was created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin.  Shang Chi made his debut in Special Marvel Edition #15, and proved popular enough that the book was re-titled Master of Kung Fu with issue #17.

Shang Chi is the son of the centuries-old criminal mastermind Fu Manchu, the pulp novel arch-villain created by author Sax Rohmer.  Shang was raised in isolation, educated & indoctrinated to become the perfect assassin, a living weapon to be aimed at those who sought to thwart Fu Manchu’s goal of “purifying” the so-called “corruptions” of human civilization and rebuilding the world in his own image.  Soon after completing his first assignment, Shang encountered his father’s longtime adversary, Sir Denis Nayland Smith of British Intelligence, who managed to convince the martial artist of his father’s evil intentions.  Shang subsequently turned against Fu Manchu, and his father vowed to eliminate him.

Although Shang Chi was initially devised by Englehart & Starlin, both of them departed from Master of Kung Fu rather early on.  Succeeding them were writer Doug Moench and penciler Paul Gulacy, who collaborated very closely.  Their acclaimed run features a very successful blending of martial arts and espionage, equal parts Bruce Lee and Ian Fleming.  Shang Chi became a reluctant agent of British Intelligence, combating both his father’s schemes and other terrorist plots, working alongside allies Clive Reston, Leiko Wu, and Black Jack Tarr.  After Gulacy’s eventual departure, Moench continued on scripting the book until almost the end, working with several artists including Mike Zeck and Gene Day.

Master of Kung Fu developed quite a cult following.  The characters of Shang Chi, Clive Reston, Leiko Wu, and Black Jack Tarr, as well as several villains who made their debut in the series, continue to appear regularly throughout the Marvel universe.  Unfortunately, though, the original decade-long run of Master of Kung Fu remains uncollected.  Fu Manchu, Sir Denis Nayland Smith and a handful of other characters who showed up periodically in the series are still owned by the estate of Sax Rohmer, which makes publishing trade paperbacks problematic.

Rom Spaceknight 65 pg 17

Running a very close second for most demanded reprint still caught up in contractual complications is Rom Spaceknight, which Marvel published from 1979 to 1985.  Rom actually began life as a rather clunky toy produced by Parker Brothers.  In order to generate interest in their odd action figure, Parker Brothers approached Marvel to publish a comic book featuring him.  Practically a blank slate, the character’s entire back-story was devised from the ground up by Marvel writer Bill Mantlo.  Rom was a reluctant cyborg warrior who had sacrificed his humanity as one of hundreds of volunteers from the planet Galador, which was under siege by the malevolent, shape-shifting Dire Wraiths.  After driving off the Wraiths, the Spaceknights pursued their foes across outer space for the next two centuries, with Rom eventually finding his way to Earth.

Arriving in West Virginia, Rom discovered that the Dire Wraiths, utilizing their sophisticated science and dark sorcery, had begun a covert invasion of the planet.  He launched a one-man war against the Wraiths, a task made all the more imposing by his difficulty in convincing humanity that they had been infiltrated.  To most humans, Rom appeared a hostile monster who was attacking innocent people.  But gradually, as time progressed, the Spaceknight was able to prove his good intentions to various members of humanity, including a number of Earth’s superheroes and the forces of SHIELD.

Working with Mantlo on Rom Spaceknight for four and a half years was his frequent artistic collaborator Sal Buscema, who turned in some very solid, impressive, atmospheric work.  Beginning with issue #59 and continuing thru to the series finale in #75, Silver Age legend Steve Ditko assumed penciling duties, paired up with an all-star line-up of inkers / finishers that included P. Craig Russell, Bob Layton, John Byrne, Tom Palmer and Butch Guice.

The Rom toy was not a success, and it would probably not even be remembered today were it not for the work Mantlo, Buscema and Ditko did on the Marvel book.  Nevertheless, Rom is still a licensed character, now owned by Mattel.  So even though Marvel can use the Dire Wraiths and the Spaceknights, as well as the half-Wraith, half-human mutant monstrosity Hybrid, who were all devised by Mantlo, Rom himself is off-limits.  And that includes reprinting the entirety of the Rom Spaceknight series, as well as any appearances the character made in other Marvel titles.

Micronauts 8 cover

Bill Mantlo was also the writer of another series based around a toy, namely Micronauts, which ran from 1979 to 1986.  Once again, Mantlo conceived a rich back-story for the characters, giving them histories & personalities, creating several brand new characters, and tying their origins in with Marvel’s own previously established sub-atomic dimension the Microverse.  He set up a massive conflict between the Micronauts and the tyrannical Baron Karza, a cybernetic dictator who repeatedly returned from the dead to beguile them via his macabre body-snatching science.  Along the way, Mantlo introduced the Enigma Force, a non-corporeal sentience that merged with various people to become Captain Universe.

The early issues of Micronauts were penciled by a young Michael Golden, who did some stunning work.  Later issues featured art by Pat Broderick, Gil Kane, Steve Ditko, and Butch Guice.

And, yet again, Micronauts is another series with Marvel does not have the rights to reprint.  There was even a four issue X-Men and the Micronauts miniseries in 1984 which remains off-limits.  However, three members of the team that Mantlo devised independent of the toy line, namely Arcturus Rann, Mari, and Bug, continue to pop up in Marvel books from time to time.  The Captain Universe entity is also a Marvel mainstay.

Essential Godzilla cover

There is, however, one significant exception to this Bronze Age licensing limbo.  Between 1977 and 1979, Marvel published a Godzilla series set firmly within Marvel continuity.  Written by Doug Moench, with the majority of the 24 issue run penciled by Herb Trimpe, the book saw Japan’s most famous radioactive reptile pursued across North America by Dum Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones and their fellow Agents of SHIELD.  Along the way the Big G encountered the Champions, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers.  Devil Dinosaur and Moon-Boy even popped up in their very first post-Kirby appearances.

The Godzilla comic book introduced a handful of characters who went on to show up now and again in subsequent Marvel stories.  The titanic robot Red Ronin and Yetrigar the giant yeti both made their debuts facing off against Godzilla.  And in issue #s 4-5, Moench and guest penciler Tom Sutton introduced the demented geneticist Doctor Demonicus, who later became an occasional foe of Iron Man and the Avengers.

While it may lack the sophistication of his work on Master of Kung Fu, Moench’s writing for Godzilla was obviously targeted towards a younger audience.  His stories on this book are odd, if not downright silly (at one point Godzilla is shrunk down to the size of a mouse by Hank Pym, and spends the next few issues gradually growing back to normal size, in the process getting into all sorts of bizarre situations) but they definitely have a fun charm.  The artwork by Trimpe, Sutton, and their various inkers is also very good and dynamic.

Keeping all of this in mind, I was certainly glad that Marvel did have an opportunity to reprint the Godzilla comic book.  Somehow or another, they came to some sort of arrangement with Toho Studios which enabled them to publish a single printing of the black & white Essential Godzilla volume in 2006.  Of course I bought a copy!  Obviously that collection is now out-of-print, but it’s still easy enough to find, with a number of used copies of the book for sale at close to cover price on Amazon.

Shogun Warriors 5 cover

However, Moench & Trimpe’s unofficial follow-up to Godzilla, the 20 issue Shogun Warriors series that ran between 1979 and 1980, is another one of those uncollected toy tie-ins.  I’ve never read it, but it sounds like fun, with its trio of giant robots tussling with an assortment of rampaging monsters.  So, yeah, that’s one more you’re going to have to dive into the back issue bins to find.

On the one hand, it is frustrating that Marvel and the owners of these various properties cannot come to a financial arrangement that enables these series to be reprinted.  On the other, I can certainly understand that there is logic to those owners holding out for more money.  Marvel is, after all, a corporation with tremendous financial assets, especially now that they are owned by Disney.  Despite this, from various accounts I’ve heard, Marvel’s management has apparently often been on the penny-pinching side, unwilling to offer other, smaller companies or creators a reasonable amount of compensation for the publishing rights to their properties.

While I only have a handful of issues from both Master of Kung Fu and Micronauts in my collection, I do possess an entire run of Rom Spaceknight.  I bought most of the later issues as a kid when they came out in the mid-1980s.  A decade or so later, when I was in college, I finally decided to track down the rest of the series.  It took some time and patience, but I was able to find most of them for pretty reasonable prices.

I expect that the other out of print material Marvel published in the 1970s and 80s can also be found by the same means.  If you take the time to search for affordable copies on eBay and at comic conventions, eventually you’ll be able to pick up the majority of those comic books without breaking the bank.  Yeah, it’s not as convenient as just grabbing a trade paperback off the shelf at the comic shop.  But these are some quality, entertaining books with good writing & artwork, and I do think it’s worth a little extra effort to find them.

Fred Kida: 1920 – 2014

Comic book artist Fred Kida, who was born on December 12, 1920, recently passed away on April 3th at the age of 93. Kida’s career as a professional artist was a long one, stretching from the Golden Age of comic books in 1941 until his retirement in 1987. One of his artistic influences was legendary Terry and the Pirates creator Milton Caniff, who also inspired John Romita, Frank Robbins, and Lee Elias, among others.

Early in his career Kida worked at Hillman Periodicals, working on several of its regular features, including Airboy, a teenage aviator who piloting his experimental aircraft Birdie fought both the Axis powers and a variety of criminals within the pages of Air Fighters Comics. During his time on the Airboy feature, Kida designed the iconic Valkyrie, who made her debut in Air Fighters Comics volume 2 #2 (November 1943). One of comic books’ first femme fatales, she was a sexy Nazi agent whose flying skills rivaled Airboy. Valkyrie ended up quickly switching sides, joining the Allied cause at the conclusion of her debut story, as well as beginning a romance with Airboy.

Airboy Comics v3 6 cover

The Elias-illustrated Airboy stories co-starring Valkyrie were collected in a black & white volume in 1982 by Ken Pierce. In the book’s introduction, the legendary Alex Toth wrote:

“Kida demonstrated a rich sense of drama in his underlying black and white art – he produced powerful blacks, mixed with myriad textures to contrast his open whites which, assisted by sharp coloring, reproduced very well – with clarity and strength.”

(Well, he put it better than I ever could have!)

Catherine Yronwode provided several insightful text pieces introducing the stories, as well as offering a few of Kida’s own thoughts on his work. Although Fred Kida’s Yalkyrie is long out of print, I was fortunate enough to locate a copy several years ago. It can also be easily found on Amazon.

During the 1950s, Kida spent several years at Atlas Comics, the 1950s incarnation of Marvel Comics. He worked in a myriad of genres, illustrating mystery, war, romance and Western stories. The subsequent decade saw Kida absent from comic books, although he assisted Dan Barry on the Flash Gordon comic strip, first in the early 1960s, and again in the late 60s.

Captain Britain 17 pg 2

Kida returned to Marvel in the 1970s. His major assignment during that time was on Captain Britain, the first original Marvel UK title, inking both Herb Trimpe and Ron Wilson’s pencils. After spending years unsuccessfully searching out back issues of that series here in the States, I finally picked up a number of them in 1999 during my short time over in London, specifically #s 15 to 27, a lengthy story by written by Gary Friedrich that teamed up Brian Braddock with Captain America and Nick Fury against the Red Skull. Trimpe was also nicely inked by Kida in several issues of Marvel’s Godzilla series.

Although working mostly as an inker during the 1970s, Kida did also occasionally pencil for Marvel, notably a two part story that ran in Captain America #238-239. Written by Peter Gillis, with inking by Don Perlin, this action-packed story gave Kida the opportunity to draw Cap in action against a barrage of high tech mercenaries, giant hawks, prehistoric diatrymas, and psychic warfare. Gillis, commenting on Facebook about working with Kida, stated:

“I was so jazzed to do the two-parter with him – one of his very few book jobs at Marvel. I knew this was his first time drawing Cap and (the old) Nick Fury, but there was none of the oddness you might get with somebody’s first time: it was as if he’d been doing these guys for years.”

(If you would like to read those issues, they are collected in Essential Captain America Volume 7, along with plenty of other great stories.)

Captain America 238 pg 23

Kida also penciled the now-classic What If #22, which posed the intriguing question “What if Doctor Doom had become a hero?” Don Glutt penned a thought-provoking alternate reality examination of Victor Von Doom that insightfully revealed much about the “real” Doom. Kida, inked by Dave Simons, turned in very good work.

Kida’s last regular professional assignment was as the artist on the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip. Paired with Spider-Man’s co-creator Stan Lee, Kida worked on the strip from 1981 to 1986.

A few years ago I was able to locate Fred Kida’s mailing address. I sent him a letter telling him how much I enjoyed his work on Airboy and Captain America, and his inking over Herb Trimpe’s pencils. Regrettably he never wrote back to me. Nevertheless, I hope that I was able to convey to Kida that his work is still appreciated.

(Credit where credit is due: I obtained the scan of the cover to Airboy Comics volume 3 #6 from Comic Book Plus. Thank you to Peter Gillis for bringing that website to my attention. Fans of Golden Age comic books will undoubtedly find it a veritable treasure trove.)

Comic book reviews: Marvel Masterworks Incredible Hulk Vol 5

I have to admit to being an old-school Marvel Zombie, and that often extends to my opinions of which artists drew the definitive versions of certain characters.  When it comes to the Hulk, the two names that immediately come to mind are Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema.  If I had to pick a third artist, I’d go with Dale Keown, who penciled some astonishing issues of Incredible Hulk in the early 1990s.  But “Happy Herby” and “Our Pal Sal,” as they were referred to back in the day, are tied for first place, at least in my mind.  I’ve written about Buscema’s work on Incredible Hulk before.  So here are a few thoughts on Trimpe, who I have always felt is a very talented, underrated artist.

Herb Trimpe had a seven year run penciling Incredible Hulk, from #106 in 1968 to #193 in 1975.  During that period, he missed a mere two issues.  Strange as it is to say, though, I haven’t actually read a large number of the issues that Trimpe worked on.  But there have been certain covers and pin-ups of the character drawn by him that have been repeatedly reprinted over the years.  And, of course, Incredible Hulk #s 180-181, the first Wolverine story, periodically gets the reprint treatment.  So it really seems like I’ve seen a whole lot more of Herb’s Hulk than I actually have.

I set out to rectify that.  I think most of his issues have been collected in black & white Essential volumes.  But I found a copy of Marvel Masterworks: Incredible Hulk Volume 5, which reprints #s 111-121, for sale at half price.  I’d much rather read some of his stories in color.  After all, the Hulk just isn’t the same if he is not colored green.

Incredible Hulk 111 pg 13

The majority of the writing on this volume is by Stan Lee, with Roy Thomas coming in to script #120 before taking over fully with #121.  My favorite story had to be the two-part tale that opens this volume, which sees the Hulk snatched off into outer space, pitted against the menace of the cosmic-powered Galaxy Master and his army of alien pawns.  And once those servants see the Hulk resisting their tyrannical master, they decide to throw of the shackles of slavery, resulting in a huge battle between the Galaxy Master and a fleet of space rockets.  Trimpe must have been really inspired by Lee’s plots, because the artist does phenomenal work.  Trimpe’s layouts & storytelling are absolutely dynamic in these two issues.  This really shows that, even this early in his career, he knew how to draw a riveting story.

Once the Hulk returns to Earth, I think the stories become rather more mundane, with the Hulk settling into a pattern of fighting the military over some misunderstanding, or being tricked into a partnership with various supervillains.  Perhaps Trimpe was somewhat less inspired by the plots on these issues, because his work, while solid and professional, doesn’t really display the dynamic energy of the Galaxy Master story.

In the midst of this is a three-part story featuring the Hulk’s arch-foe, the Leader, who pretends to want to turn over a new leaf and seemingly proves himself by helping General Thunderbolt Ross imprison the Hulk.  Of course the Leader is really just doing this to get his adversary out of the way while simultaneously gaining the trust of the military, enabling him to enact a plan for global domination right out of a James Bond movie.  He’s going to seize control of General Ross’ base and launch a nuclear missile at the Soviet Union, starting World War III, with the intent of ruling over all the survivors.  Of course the Hulk, with an assist from Betty Ross, breaks free and smashes the Leader’s plans.

Incredible Hulk 115 pg 4

I think that before these issues, the Leader had been drawn as having a large but round skull to correspond to his gamma radiation-enlarged brain.  Trimpe seems to be the artist who tweaked the design, giving us the Leader with the now-famous head that shoots straight up, a version that would endure for the next two decades.  While I do wonder how this guy walks around without bumping his head in doorways or on the ceiling, it is an instantly recognizable look.

After splashing down into an aquatic scuffle with Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Hulk encounters Maximus the Mad and his renegade faction of Inhumans.  Maximus manages to manipulate the Hulk into fighting the U.S. armed forces, and we get some more excellent action sequences from Trimpe.  Certainly the stand-out piece is the cover to issue #120, a truly iconic image of the Hulk fighting the military.

Incredible Hulk 120 cover

With the shift to Roy Thomas as writer in #121, we get an interesting, unusual tale, “Within the Swamp, There Stirs… a Glob!”  Amidst the Florida wilderness, the Hulk encounters an eerie muck monster, a dead man resurrected as a shambling monstrosity by radioactive material and, it is implied, some mystical element of the swamp itself.  The Glob, prodded on by the memory of a long-lost love, kidnaps Betty Ross.  Of course the Hulk pursues the creature, intent on rescuing the one human being who has expressed sympathy & understanding for him.

Years later, in the pages of his magazine Alter Ego, Thomas freely admitted that he conceived the Glob in homage to the Golden Age character the Heap.  A self-proclaimed fan of the Heap, Thomas also later was involved in creating the similar Man-Thing.  Thomas even worked in a one-panel cameo by the Heap into an issue of Avengers during the famous “Kree-Skrull War” storyline.  And a few months ago a hardcover volume reprinting some of that character’s earliest appearances, Roy Thomas Presents The Heap, was released.  I wish I’d had a chance to pick that up when it came out.

In any case, Trimpe’s art on #121 is very good.  He does some rather moody, atmospheric work.  The Glob is quite effectively rendered by the artist.  I enjoyed this one so much that I wish it could have been a two part story.

Incredible Hulk 121 pg 17

If you pick up Marvel Masterworks: Incredible Hulk Volume 5, you’ll certainly find some nice art by Herb Trimpe.  In his introduction to this volume, Trimpe is somewhat dismissive of his work on these issues.  They do say artists are their own harshest critics.  Admittedly this was early in his career.  Throughout the 1970s and 80s he would certainly grow & develop as an artist, seeing much improvement.  But there is definite potential in this early work.  Undoubtedly the strongest aspect of his work here is his superb storytelling.  Trimpe really knows how to lay out a page and tell a story.

So, yeah, I’d recommend checking out Trimpe’s amazing run on Incredible Hulk.  If you don’t want to pick up the expensive Marvel Masterworks volumes, the Essential collections are perfect for the reader on a budget.

Strange Comic Books: Captain America #291

As I mentioned in the past, I really do not buy too many new comic books nowadays.  It’s a combination of lack of disposable income and less interest in most of the material currently being published.  So, I thought to myself, what other comic book subjects could I write about on this blog?  Then I came up with an idea for an occasional feature: Strange Comic Books.  Over the years, there have been all number of comic book issues & stories that have seen print which are, for one reason or another, odd or unusual.  Why not have some fun and spotlight some of my favorites?

Captain America #291 autographed by Herb Trimpe
Captain America #291 autographed by Herb Trimpe

The first entry in Strange Comic Books is Captain America #291, published by Marvel Comics with a cover date of March 1984.  It’s a fill-in issue, perhaps to give regular writer J.M. DeMatteis some breathing room before he plowed ahead full steam on his epic Red Skull arc.  The story in #291, “To Tame a Tumbler,” is written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by long-time Incredible Hulk artist Herb Trimpe, and inked by Jack Abel.  Topping off the issue is a dramatic cover by John Byrne.

A little background info: the original Tumbler was a very minor foe of Cap’s who appeared in Tales of Suspense #83 and Captain America #169.  At the end of his second story, he was murdered by another super-villain, Moonstone, and Cap was framed for the crime.  (This, incidentally, kicked off the classic “Secret Empire” storyline by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema).

Well, it turns out that before his death the Tumbler took out a one million dollar life insurance policy through the Guardian Life Insurance Company.  After the Tumbler was murdered, his brother, decorated army veteran Michael Keane, attempted to collect on the policy so that he could pay his mother’s enormous medical bills.  However, Guardian Life, represented by a smarmy, balding, gold-toothed sleaze named Matthews, refused to pay out, stating that the claim was invalid because the Tumbler had died in the commission of a felony.  Michael’s mother soon passed away due to inadequate medical care.  Furious at having been robbed by Guardian Life, he decided to assume his brother’s costumed identity, becoming the second Tumbler.

Cap "tumbles" on a crime in progress
Cap “tumbles” on a crime in progress

The new Tumbler’s first act is to break into Guardian Life’s offices and steal his brother’s file so that he can expose the insurance company.  However, the robbery is interrupted by Captain America.  The two spar, and the Tumbler flees.  Cap tracks him back to his apartment where, after another brief fight, the Tumbler is subdued.  Defeated, Michael explains what happened with his brother’s insurance policy.  Cap agrees to help Michael investigate Guardian Life, and the two return to the insurance company’s offices.  There, searching through the file room, the pair discover that Guardian Life has in fact issued policies to a large number of costumed criminals, with the intention of not paying out on any of them.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, Captain America #291 does not sound all that strange.  A bit unconventional, perhaps, having the villain turn out to be a life insurance company, but not especially odd.  And I would agree, except for one fact: Guardian Life Insurance is a real life company.

Yes, writer Bill Mantlo decided not to create a fictional corporate entity, but to utilize a real world organization.  And, it turns out, my father worked at Guardian for a couple of decades as an actuary.  He was hired by them about a year before Captain America #291 came out.  Guardian Life, that is to say, the real Guardian, not their evil fictitious counterpart, somehow quickly learned about the contents of “To Tame a Tumbler.”  I believe that words were exchanged between Guardian and Marvel’s lawyers, with the later promising that they would never use Guardian’s name ever again.

A Mighty Marvel Insurance Scam, courtesy of Mantlo, Trimpe & Abel
A Mighty Marvel Insurance Scam, courtesy of Mantlo, Trimpe & Abel

Now, even back then, at the young age of seven, I was already getting into comic books.  So of course my father had to explain this whole story to me, and he even let me read a copy of the issue that he had bought for his amusement.  This actually became only the second issue of Captain America I ever read (the first was #278) and, who knows, credit for my becoming a huge fan of the character may be at least partially due to this whole affair.

Many years later, I ended up working for a time at another health insurance company that was closely affiliated with Guardian.  I was in fairly regular correspondence with a number of people who worked over at Guardian.  And between my experiences and what my father tells me, I can assure you that in real life Guardian does not and has never insured any super-villains with the intent of defrauding their beneficiaries.  Swear to God!

But returning to the fictional Marvel Universe, this story has subsequently caused me to wonder exactly how life insurance would work in a world where people routinely come back from the dead.  For instance, Doctor Octopus is one of those criminals named as having an insurance policy, and the character has died & returned to life at least once (resurrected by the mystical ninja cult The Hand, of all things).  If you were a beneficiary on old Otto’s policy, once he came back from the grave, would you then have to give back the money?

Anyway, in addition to becoming a huge comic book fan, and reading the Captain America series for over two decades, I also began collecting original artwork.  I obtained a number of pages of published art, including several from issues of Captain America.  So of course I had to see if I could find any of the art by Herb Trimpe & Jack Abel from issue #291.  I actually did locate a couple, and had them in my collection for a number of years before I had to eventually sell them to pay the bills.

I knew that the possibility of ever finding the original artwork to the cover of #291 was extremely remote.  Even if I did come across it, I’m sure it would be very expensive, seeing as it is a vintage cover drawn by the super-popular John Byrne.  I decided to commission Fred Hembeck, who does incredibly funny work, to draw one of his famous cover re-interpretations of the piece.

Captain America #291 cover reinterpreted by Fred Hembeck
Captain America #291 cover reinterpreted by Fred Hembeck

Hembeck is a fantastic artist, and a really nice guy.  I recommend checking out his website (he’s also on Facebook) and contacting him about getting a commission.

But let’s get back to Captain America #291.  Yeah, this is one of my favorite issues.  It has an interesting story by Mantlo.  Trimpe turns in some nice penciling, so much so that I really wish he had drawn Cap more often over the years.  And, yeah, it has that unusual personal connection to my father and me.

Even though it was a fill-in issue, #291 was included in the Death of the Red Skull trade paperback, which collects Captain America #s 290 to 301.  Yep, a benefit of it seeing print in-between chapters of that lengthy arc means that all these years later “To Tame a Tumbler” is back in print.  So, if you want to read this rather unique issue from the pens of Mantlo, Trimpe & Abel, and you’re also in the mood to check out one of the all time classic Red Skull storylines, courtesy of J.M. DeMatteis, I suggest picking up a copy of the book.

By the way, I believe that this was the sole published appearance by the second Tumbler.  Having brought to justice the people who swindled his family, Michael Keane quickly retired his costumed identity.  Rumor has it he later found much greater success when he founded a popular social networking website 🙂

A marvelous G.I. Joe reunion at IDW

I’ve been enjoying the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero series that IDW has been publishing for the past couple of years.  The main drawing point has, of course, been the return of writer Larry Hama to the characters he made such a phenomenon in the 1980s.

(I previously did a review of the first two IDW trade paperback collections on Yahoo Contributor Network, but that’s no longer online.  One of these days I should re-post it on this blog.)

GI Joe Annual 2012 cover

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero has continued to be enjoyable.  The recently-released 2012 annual was definitely a highlight.  Hama took a break from the monthly storylines to present a stand-alone tale focusing on a rogue Cobra Crimson Guard unit attempting to carry out a terrorist plot, with both the Joe team and Zartan’s outlaw Dreadnoks racing to thwart them.  The writing may not have been nearly as strong as Hama’s work on the monthly book, but it contained an abundance of his trademark dry wit & deadpan humor.

(I don’t think Hama likes the term “deadpan humor” but I’m not quite sure how else to describe it.  Well, whatever you want to call it, it works very well.)

The main selling point for me was the line-up of artists.  Ron Frenz, Ron Wagner, and Herb Trimpe shared penciling duties, with Sal Buscema inking the entire story.  In service of the multiple artists, Hama cleverly structured his storytelling to shift focus between the three groups.  The Guardsmen pages were penciled by Frenz, the Cobra and Dreadnoks pages by Wagner, and the G.I. Joe pages by Trimpe.  Buscema’s inking gave the overall book a certain uniform feel, so that the transitions back and forth between the trio of pencilers were not jarring.

GI Joe Annual 2012 pg 18

The annual was something of a mini-Marvel Comics reunion, both in terms of the G.I. Joe title and in a broader sense.  Each of the four artists produced a large body of work at Marvel in the past.  In regards to G.I. Joe, Trimpe was the book’s original artist in the early 1980s.  Even though he has drawn numerous covers for the IDW series, this annual features his first interior work for the revival.  Wagner also worked on G.I. Joe, penciling the book in the late 1980s.

Additionally, both Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema had momentous, nearly-uninterrupted runs penciling Marvel’s Incredible Hulk series.   Trimpe was the artist on the Hulk from 1968 to 1975, while Buscema drew the Hulk between 1976 and 1985.  So you have two men who are almost universally regarded as the definitive illustrators of one of Marvel’s most recognizable characters.  And, as far as I am aware, they have only worked together on a handful of occasions in the past (I believe Trimpe was inked by Buscema on a few issues of Incredible Hulk way back in 1971).  So, for a long-time Marvel fan such as myself, it was a thrill to see the two collaborating on this annual.

GI Joe Annual 2012 pg 19

Of course, I would be even happier to see Trimpe & Buscema together again on a Hulk story.  I don’t know if Marvel would even be interested in such a project.  But occasionally they do publish a “retro” special or flashback sequence, so it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility.   Until that happens, this G.I. Joe annual serves as a nice reunion between the two comic book legends.

In any case, considering the very unfortunate tendency of Marvel (as well as DC) to offer less and less work to older artists such as Trimpe and Buscema, or even to such talents as Frenz or Wagner, who both had regular monthly gigs as recently as the 1990s, I certainly appreciate them being given the opportunity to produce new work.  For that reason alone, the 2012 G.I. Joe annual is well worth picking up.