Kevin O’Neill: 1953 to 2022

In the last several months a number of very talented comic book creators have passed away. To my regret I have unfortunately not had enough time to eulogize all of these losses. But I really wanted to take some time to put together some thoughts about British artist Kevin O’Neill, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 69.

Words like “unique” and “distinctive” get tossed about a great deal when discussing artists. But I truly believe those adjectives apply to Kevin O’Neill. He was a creator with an incredibly bizarre, hyper-detailed style who composed some genuinely dynamic & offbeat compositions in his work.

Probably the first time I saw O’Neill’s work was on “Legend of the Dark Mite” which appeared in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #38, published by DC Comics in 1992. The insanely surreal “Legend of the Dark Mite” was written by Alan Grant, another singular talent who sadly also passed away this year.

I did a blog post about “Legend of the Dark Mite” about a decade ago. It was one of those stories that really lodged itself in my subconscious. And I immediately recognized that O’Neill was a striking, offbeat artist with a distinctive sense of humor.

I subsequently learned about the Green Lantern Corps story “Tygers” written by Alan Moore that O’Neill illustrated in the mid-1980s. “Tygers” was rejected by the Comics Code Authority, and when DC Comics requested clarification about what precisely the CCA was objecting to in the story, the response from the Code was that O’Neill’s entire style was objectionable. DC published “Tygers” without the CCA seal of approval in Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual #2 in 1986, a definite rarity in mainstream comics at the time.

The point at which I really became a fan of O’Neill’s work was in the late 1990s. Three things occurred in quick succession.

The first of these was the two issue Savage Dragon / Marshall Law miniseries published by Image Comics in 1997. I bought this one because I was a huge fan of Erik Larsen’s character. I hadn’t previously been familiar with the brutal superhero satire Marshall Law which O’Neil had co-created a decade earlier with Pat Mills, and this was certainly one hell of an introduction!

I feel that Savage Dragon, as another violent, bleakly comical creator-owned series, is far enough removed from mainstream superheroes that Mills & O’Neill were able to make the crossover with their character work quite well. I certainly enjoyed O’Neil’s absolutely insane artwork on Savage Dragon / Marshall Law.

The second event was that I spent six months in London, England, where I was able to purchase a number of back issues and collected editions of the weekly science fiction anthology series 2000 AD.

Among the 2000 AD material I discovered was Nemesis the Warlock, a sci-fi / dark fantasy series created by O’Neill with writer Pat Mills in 1980. Nemesis the Warlock revolved around the bizarre alien agent of chaos Nemesis and his struggle against the genocidal xenophobic tyrant Torquemada, who sought to “purify” the universe of all non-human lifeforms.

O’Neill designed the incredibly weird-looking Nemesis, the brutal Torquemada, Nemesis’ associate the beautiful freedom fighter Purity Brown, and the entire look of the world & technology of the series. Earlier today I took a glance though the first Nemesis the Warlock collected edition for the first time in a number of years, and the artwork & designs by O’Neill are even more strikingly dynamic & unsettling that I remembered.

O’Neill was the primary artist on the first and third “books” of the Nemesis the Warlock saga. Unfortunately, after drawing the first two chapters of Book Four for 2000 AD in 1984, O’Neill was forced to seek better-paying work in the American comics market. The equally-talented but stylistically very different Bryan Talbot took over as the artist on the feature.

A decade and a half later the tenth & final installment of Nemesis the Warlock, was serialized in 2000 AD, and O’Neill returned to the feature to illustrate the last chapter, which featured the long-awaited final confrontation between Nemesis and Torquemada.

At the time it was really great to be able to read the collections of the early Nemesis the Warlock “books” and to then get to follow “The Final Conflict” weekly in the pages of 2000 AD. O’Neill was in fine form as he reunited with Mills to bring the saga to its epic conclusion.

The third & final event in the late 1990s that cemented my interest in O’Neill was that the first The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen miniseries. Written by Alan Moore and drawn by O’Neill, it was published by the DC Comics imprint America’s Best Comics in 1999. So soon after thrilling to O’Neill’s work on Nemesis the Warlock, I also got to see his art on Moore’s mash-up of disparate Victorian literary works.

I have to confess that I’ve never been a huge fan of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. A significant part of that is due to the fact that the majority of the frequent literary, historical, musical & cultural references and allusions Moore made throughout the varies LoEG series went completely over my head. And I was actually a Literature & Communications major with a minor in History in college!

Nevertheless, I thought O’Neill always did absolutely stunning, and frequently unsettling, work on LoEG. And whatever my feelings about the often-oblique quality of Moore’s writing on the series, I was nevertheless glad that, after his disputes with DC Comics reached a final tipping point, he & O’Neill were able to take the series to Top Shelf Productions in 2009, where the two of them subsequently produced several more gorgeous volumes over the next decade. I bought the Century trilogy specifically for O’Neill’s artwork, with the intention of taking my time reading each of them in order to more fully parse the content & context of Moore’s scripts.

I consider myself very fortunate to have met O’Neill on a couple of occasions.

The first time was in November 2007 at Jim Hanley’s Universe in Manhattan. O’Neill was doing a signing to promote the release of the graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier. He was drawing sketches inside the book for everyone who bought a copy, and I requested Mina Murray.

While I was waiting on line to meet O’Neil I skimmed through the first chapter of Black Dossier. One of the things I was struck by was Mina’s characterization in that segment.

In the first LoEG series, Mina sought to be independent, but ended up finding herself in situations where she had to be rescued by her male teammates. One particular instance was in chapter six. Cornered on an airship by Professor Moriarty, an unsettled Mina attempts to reason with him as one intellectual to another. Moriarty’s response is to contemptuously sneer to his underlings “Throw this smelly little lesbian over the side.” It falls to Allan Quartermain to distract Moriarty and his men, at which point Mina is finally able to sabotage the airship.

In contrast, in the opening segment of Black Dossier, a macho, swaggering British secret agent named “Jimmy” (obviously an ultra-obnoxious extrapolation of James Bond) attempts to sexually assault Mina… at which point she proceeds to give him a serious @$$-kicking.

I was struck by how much more assertive Mina was and so I asked O’Neill to sketch her. I even pointed this out to O’Neill, and he agreed that she had grown & developed as the various series had progressed. He did a great job sketching Mina holding the eponymous Black Dossier.

I met O’Neill again in June 2009 when he was a surprise guest at Big Apple Comic Con. I had just started a “villains” theme sketchbook. I really wanted to get a diverse selection of characters, not just the usual Marvel and DC baddies. So I asked O’Neill to draw Torquemada from the Nemesis the Warlock serials. Pretty much everyone else at the show was asking O’Neill to draw characters from LoEG, and I got the impression that he was pleasantly surprised that I requested one of his other characters. I asked O’Neill if he remembered how to draw Torquemada. He proceeded to quickly knock out a great sketch, leading me to observe, “Well, I guess you still do know how to draw him.”

Both times I met O’Neill he came across as a good person who made time for his fans. He was an amazing artist with a genuinely distinctive style, and he will definitely be missed.

I recommend reading the tributes assembled by 2000 AD and Down the Tubes for a comprehensive look back at Kevin O’Neill’s life & career, with a large selection of his incredible artwork.

Super-Blog Team-Up: Savage Dragon Goes To Hell

Welcome another round of Super-Blog Team-Up, in which a group of bloggers writing about comic books tackles a shared topic. This time we have a very devilish theme, as Super-Blog Team-Up goes to Hell.

For my own entry, I’m looking at the original crossover of Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon and Todd McFarlane’s Spawn published by Image Comics in 1996, which sees both characters exiled to the nether regions.

The infernal action begins in Savage Dragon #29, written & penciled by Erik Larsen, lettered by Chris Eliopoulos, and colored by I.H.O.C. Officer Dragon, the green-skinned, super-strong member of the Chicago Police Department, is attacked & kidnapped by his demonic enemy the Fiend, who has enlisted a sorcerer to send the Dragon’s soul straight to Hell itself.

Who is the Fiend, and why does she have such a huge axe to grind with Dragon? This helpful bit of exposition by Larsen provides all the information you’ll need to get caught up…

Dragon’s soul ends up in the Fifth Circle of Hell where, according to Dante Alighieri’s epic poem Inferno, the wrathful and sullen are punished for their sins. Dragon is soon joined by Spawn, aka deceased government assassin Al Simmons, who himself has been returned to Hell after using up all of his demonically-imbued energies to save the life of his ex-wife Wanda’s second husband Terry Fitzgerald.

Dragon and Spawn first encounter each other in Spawn #52, written by Todd McFarlane, penciled by Greg Capullo, inked by McFarlane & Danny Miki, lettered by Tom Ozrechowski and colored by Brian Haberlin, Dan Kemp & Matt Milla.

The inhabitants of Hell’s Fifth Level are divided over which of these two arrivals is their long-promised “messiah” leading Dragon and Spawn having to fight against each other. Spawn is victorious, but when the inmates of the Fifth Circle prepare to execute Dragon, an appalled Al Simmons tells them “Free him now. You must learn to turn the other cheek.” Which is, unfortunately, the last thing to tell an army of eternally-damned sinners, who quickly turn on Al. Now both Dragon and Spawn are about to be stoned to death… well, stoned to be more dead when they already are. What can I say? Metaphysics isn’t my strong point.

Before sentence can be carried out, the pair are transported to the next level of Hell, as seen in Savage Dragon #30. If there’s a particular characteristic of this plane, it appears to be the torment of eternal boredom, as Spawn and Dragon are left to spend hours waiting for something to happen. Al rages at his inability to advance further and finally confront Malebolgia, the Hell Lord responsible for his transformation into Spawn.

Dragon, on the other hand, has become convinced that this is either a dream or a hallucination, and he responds to their imprisonment in the fiery pits with a stream of sarcastic banter…

“Heaven and Hell are a load of crap! There’s no such thing as… Oh man —  you’re right! This MUST be Hell – that piped in music sounds like Michael Bolton and Yoko Ono singing a duet. Ha! Oh looky —  it’s George Burns! I knew he was going to get Hell for those God awful Oh, God movies! Maybe I can get his autograph!”

The Fiend, furious that Dragon is not only not suffering but is in fact refusing to take his predicament at all seriously, travels to Hell to force him to fight Spawn or remain trapped forever. Dragon, though, still believes none of this is happening and blatantly throws the fight, telling Al to continue on his quest. Spawn finally is able to teleport onwards to the next realm of Hell, his journey continuing in the pages of his own series.

As Savage Dragon #31 opens, Dragon is still trapped in the abyss. The Fiend begins sending an army of the Dragon’s deceased enemies against him, only for all of them to receive a thorough ass-kicking by him. In a sudden moment of epiphany the Dragon figures out the Fiend’s secret origin, although he still can’t quite bring himself to believe that any of this is actually happening.

Poop-pooing the thought that the Fiend made a deal with the Devil, Dragon finds himself face-to-face with none other than Satan, who’s now ready to claim Dragon’s soul himself. Before that can happens, though, God Himself arrives in Hell to fight the Devil for the fate of the Dragon. What follows is a bare-knuckle brawl of literally Biblical proportions as God and the Devil trade punches across the landscape of perdition. (Click to the below image to embiggen!)

Let’s take a moment to appreciate just how incredible Larsen’s artwork is here. Even if you were doing a “God vs The Devil” movie with a $100 million special effects budget it probably still would not look anywhere near as amazing as it does here on the printed page. That’s the thing about comic books: they can accomplish with artwork, with penciling & inking & coloring the depiction of characters & events that are just impossible to depict believably in live action, no matter how much money you might have.

Let’s also recognize the superb lettering by Eliopoulos. He really does a fantastic job with the different fonts. I’ve often observed that lettering is very-underrated skill, and this is a great demonstration of how important & effective it can be.

God finally cleans the Devil’s clock and sends him packing. Dragon then attempts to have a conversation with the Almighty about life, the universe & everything. Asking what is actually the one true faith, and what really happens to someone when they die, God informs him that each individual’s personal version of God is different, and so too each person’s beliefs defines what their afterlife will be. This leads Dragon to ask:

“You mean – if I firmly believed that I’d spend the rest of eternity making mad, passionate love to a bevy of leggy super-models – I’d get that?”

And he’s sufficiently intrigued when God answers in the affirmative.

God, finally growing tired of the extended Q&A session, sends Dragon’s soul back to his body on Earth.

In the next issue, discovered by his friend & fellow police officer Frank Darling, Dragon recounts his fantastical experiences in Hell. He admits it all sounds absolutely crazy. However, Dragon adds that “just to be safe” he’s thinking of abandoning his atheism for a belief in an afterlife filled with leggy supermodels.

The payoff for all of this is that 21 years later, when Dragon finally dies permanently in the pages of Savage Dragon #225, his soul arrives Heaven to find this waiting for him…

I really enjoyed most of the Savage Dragon / Spawn crossover because it was it was such an unconventional story. The two characters don’t really team up, with Dragon instead basically just getting on Spawn’s nerves most of the time. It really sums up Larsen’s unconventional, offbeat approach to creating comic books.

Y’know, I haven’t actually looked at the chapter that ran in Spawn #52 since it was first published. All these years later, McFarlane’s turgid prose really comes across as overwrought. I can’t believe I actually followed Spawn for 64 issues before finally losing interest. I doubt I’d have lasted anywhere near as long nowadays.

That said, the artwork by Capullo, McFarlane & Miki is very hyper-detailed, exaggerated and dynamic. The major selling point of Spawn has probably always been the art, so in that respect it succeeds.

That’s that’s why I’ve always preferred Savage Dragon. Larsen started off as a good, talented artist, but he’s also always had an offbeat, humorous, imaginative style to his writing. The quality of both his art and his writing has improved consistently over the past three decades, which is why to this day Savage Dragon remains one of my all-time favorite series.

Larsen’s fight between God and the Devil here was outstanding. Typically in comic books there are two approaches to the whole “Heaven vs Hell” conflict. The first is that, out of a desire to avoid controversy, God is a completely absent presence, and the Devil’s forces are shown to be running rampant totally unimpeded. That happens frequently in both Marvel and DC storylines. The second is that Heaven is a corrupt, squabbling, ineffectual bureaucracy, no better than Hell. That is definitely the approach McFarlane utilized in his Spawn series. You also would see that a lot in the Vertigo titles DC used to publish back in the 1990s.

So, in contrast, I found it a breath of fresh air for Larsen to have God show up and kick the Devil’s ass, for good to actually triumph over evil. Just because human beings are constantly messing up organized religion and abusing faith shouldn’t negate the possibility that there might just be an actual Higher Power that is unencumbered by mortal failings, and that on the cosmic scale maybe it’s conceivable for decency & morality to ultimately succeed.

Thanks for checking out my contribution to Super Blog Team-Up. You can find links to the other entries below.

Between The Pages Blog – Hostess Comic Book Ads Were Hot Stuff

Magazines and Monsters: Bonus Episode! – Marvel Spotlight 12 & 13 (Damon Hellstrom) – with Charlton Hero! 

The Telltale Mind – Patsy Walker: To Hell and Back (and Back and Back…)

Source Material Comics Podcast – Batman/Punisher “Lake of Fire”

Mark Radulich – Alternative Commentary on Hell Comes to Frogtown

Ed Moore – News Print Commando Rex Zombie Killler from Bad Dog Ink / Panda Dog Press 2013

Dave’s Comics Blog – Superman: The Blaze/ Satanus War

Asterisk 51 Blog – Sunday School with Hellboy

Comics Comics Comics Blog – The Son of Satan and the Preacher’s Kids 

Superhero Satellite – Spider-Ham in the world of Licensing Hell!

Relatively Geeky Presents #43 – Afterlife with Archie, issues 1 – 6

Happy birthday to Jamal Igle

Wishing a very happy birthday to comic book artist Jamal Igle, who was born 50 years ago today on July 19, 1972 in New York City.

Igle got his start in comic books in 1994 doing fill-in art on Green Lantern #52 from DC Comics. Soon after he penciled Kobalt #7 from DC / Milestone. Two years later Igle was doing work for Billy Tucci’s Crusade Comics, penciling Shi: The Way of the Warrior #8, Tomoe / Witchblade: Fire Sermon and Daredevil / Shi. Right from the start he was producing good, solid work, and I was definitely a fan. Every time new work of his appeared you could see definite growth & improvement.

Tomoe / Witchblade: Fire Sermon written by Peter Gutierrez, penciled by Jamal Igle, inked by Ravil, colored by Dean White & Top Cow Color, lettered by Dennis Heisler, published by Crusade Comics in Sept 1996

Igle finally got an ongoing book to draw in 2000 when he became the regular penciler on the revival of New Warriors from Marvel Comics written by Jay Faeber… only for the book to be cancelled a mere four issues later. Fortunately Igle was immediately given a four issue Iron Fist / Wolverine miniseries, also written by Faeber.

The next few years saw Igle draw several more fill-ins, among these various Green Lantern issues. I’ve always felt that Igle pitched in on the series so often, always doing such good work, that DC should have just made him the regular penciler. Igle also penciled the four issue creator-owned series Venture published by Image Comics, which once again paired him with Jay Faeber.

Firestorm #23 written by Stuart Moore, penciled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne, colored by David Baron, lettered by Travis Lanham, published by DC Comics in May 2006

In 2005 Igle at long last got another regular assignment when he began penciling the revamp of Firestorm from DC Comics, beginning with issue #8. I really wasn’t interested in the series, but because Igle was penciling it I started picking it up. Between his artwork and the writing, first from Dan Jolly and then Stuart Moore, I definitely became a fan of the Jason Rusch incarnation of the character. Igle stayed on Firestorm thru issue #32, doing incredible work. I was genuinely disappointed when first Igle left and then the series was cancelled three issues later.

Following a short run on Nightwing in 2007, plus issues of 52 and Countdown, in late 2008 Igle became the penciler on Supergirl, paired up with writer Sterling Gates. The work by Gates & Igle on the character was a breath of fresh air. When she was first reintroduced to the post-Crisis DCU in 2004 and given a new series, Kara Zor-El unfortunately looked like an anorexic porn star… at least that’s how I feel Michael Turner and Ian Churchill depicted her. When Igle became the penciler he actually drew Supergirl to look like a real teenager. I did feel there were too many editorially-mandated crossovers imposed on Gates & Igle during their time on the series. Nevertheless, they did very good work Supergirl. Their run wrapped up with issue #59 in early 2011.

Supergirl #53 cover drawn by Jamal Igle, colored by David Baron, published by DC Comics in August 2010

Igle’s next book was Zatanna, written by Paul Dini, followed by the four issue miniseries The Ray written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, which revamped the character for the New 52 continuity. That was another one I really enjoyed, and I wish more had been done with the character.

Beginning in 2013 Igle decided to focus on creator-owned and independent projects. The first of these was the Molly Danger graphic novel, which he wrote & drew. The book was published by Action Lab Entertainment. Molly Danger is a super-powered teenager who, alongside Vito Delsante’s The Stray and several other costumed crimefighters, occupies Action Lab’s “Actionverse” with the various characters crossing over in the six issue Actionverse miniseries in 2015. Molly Danger was a fun, engaging story, and I really hope one of these days Igle has an opportunity to finish the promised sequel.

Actionverse #2 written & drawn by Jamal Igle, colored by Ross Hughes, lettered by Full Court Press, published by Action Lab Entertainment in March 2015

Most recently Igle has been working on The Wrong Earth with writer Tom Peyer from Ahoy Comics, featuring the upbeat, cheery costumed crimefighter Dragonflyman and the brutal, grim & gritty vigilante Dragonfly. The premise of the series has been described thus: What if the campy Adam West television Batman and the Frank Miller Batman from The Dark Knight Returns somehow swapped places, finding themselves in each other’s world? The initial six issue The Wrong Earth was published in 2018, and has been followed by several sequels.

As I said before, I’m a fan of Igle’s work. I’ve met him on several occasions, and he’s always come across as a good person. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next. He’s an incredible talent.

Astro City returns to Image Comics with That Was Then…

Super Blog Team-Up celebrates the 30th anniversary of Image Comics. In 1992 a group of red-hot artists decided to quit their extremely lucrative gigs drawing for Marvel Comics and found a brand-new company dedicated to publishing creator-owned series.

Image Comics may have gotten off to a rough start, but no major comic book company ever emerged fully formed, and within just a few years Image had already become an important force for creators’ rights in an industry that had a long history of exploiting talent.

Over the past three decades Image has published hundreds of great creator-owned projects. Among these is Astro City by the team of writer Kurt Busiek, interior artist Brent Anderson, and cover artist & character designer Alex Ross.

Astro City was first published by Image as a six issue miniseries in 1995. It was followed a year later by an ongoing series published under the Homage Comics imprint of Image co-founder Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Productions.  In 1998 Lee sold Wildstorm to DC Comics, and with that sale Astro City moved over to the home of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

I have absolutely no idea what the specifics were of the arrangement between Busiek and Wildstorm. But apparently Busiek retained ownership of Astro City even after Wildstorm was bought by DC. After 20 years of Astro City being published by DC under various imprints, Busiek finally made the decision to bring the series back to its original home, Image Comics.

Astro City: That Was Then… by Busiek, Anderson, Ross, colorist Alex Sinclair, letterers Tyler Smith & Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft, and editor Kel Symons is the first new Astro City book released since the series’ return to Image.

From his afterword in this issue, it sounds like for the most part Busiek had a good working relationship with DC Comics. Nevertheless, I am genuinely glad that Astro City has returned to Image. DC and Marvel, the so-called “Big Two,” have ownership of more than enough characters. Certainly both DC and Marvel have also bought up more than their share of properties throughout the decades, so it would have been a pity to see the denizens of Astro City also get permanently absorbed by one of the Big Two.

UPDATE: To clarify matters, I did hear back from Kurt Busiek himself on this subject…

“DC never owned ASTRO CITY, nor did Wildstorm. It’s always been owned by Brent, Alex and me.”

Thank you, Mr. Busiek.

To date there have been over 100 issues of Astro City published. I have probably only read around 15 to 20 of those comics. Nevertheless Busiek makes the That Was Then… special very accessible to new & casual readers such as myself.

That Was Then… is set during the summer of 1969. The teen superhero group the Jayhawks have shockingly died, having lost their lives fighting the eldritch abomination The Master who was powered by the virulent hatred of the white supremacist group the White Knights.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, several other teenage heroes have gone “on the road” to figure out what to do next. Adulthood is right around the corner for these five troubled youths, and they need to decide: should they keep fighting crime, or move on with their lives?

Bugleboy, Majorette, Sunshrike, Rivets the Robot Kid and Rally can feel that change is coming, an end to the initial bright optimism of the 1960s. Both the script by Busiek and the art & coloring by Anderson & Sinclair are suffused with a contemplative, melancholy mood. There is a very tangible feeling of loss and uncertainty.

Honestly, it amazes me that Anderson is not a much more popular artist. Way back in 1982 he did a superb job on the critically acclaimed X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills graphic novel for Marvel, and for a quarter century he’s been doing incredible work on Astro City. Anderson is, in my mind, a very underrated artist & storyteller.

Busiek has always been incredibly adept at writing character-driven stories. Astro City is a series that definitely plays to that strength, enabling him to tell very personal, intimate stories set against a tapestry of vast, epic events, at examining the human aspects of superhumans. That is yet again on display in the That Was Then… special.

The present-day epilogue to That Was Then… featuring Astro City’s flagship hero Samaritan effectively parallels the main story. Just like the five teens from 1969, the Samaritan feels worn down & purposeless, haunted by the ominous feeling that “something’s coming, something dark.”

This reminds me of something that Alan Moore wrote in Watchmen. “Nothing ends… nothing ever ends.” Just as the progressive idealism of the 1960s was wiped away by assassinations, the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon and finally Ronald Reagan, so to were the hopes & dreams of Barack Obama’s election eclipsed by the resurgence of American racism, the rise of Donald Trump, and the radicalization of the Republican Party. Unfortunately so long as there are human beings there will very likely always be these struggles between the light and the darkness… and the good men & women the Samaritan represents will understandably feel beaten down by the unending fight to preserve liberty & justice.

I am looking forward to seeing what Busiek, Anderson & Ross have planned for Astro City in the future at Image Comics. And I’ll also be taking the opportunity to check out their earlier stories, which Image is re-issuing as oversized MetroBook collections.

By the way, I very rarely ever purchase more than one copy of any comic books to get different variant covers. But I made an exception with Astro City: That Was Then… picking up both the main beautiful painted cover by Alex Ross and the variant cover drawn by Image co-founder & Savage Dragon creator Erik Larsen featuring Malcolm Dragon alongside the Samaritan.

Larsen is one of my all-time favorite comic book creators. He and Busiek had a good working relationship in the past, having collaborated on Defenders and Fantastic Four: The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine at Marvel in the early 2000s. I’d love to see them work together again, this time on something at Image.

Asterisk 51: Better Late Than Never: Spawn #1

Between The Pages Blog: Killer Walking Dead Cakes

Chris is on Infinite Earths: Cable Eats a Bagel

Comic Stripped: Term Life Comic and Movie Comparison

Comics, Comics, Comics: Image Comics: Remembering My Early Days

Dave’s Comics Blog: Image’s Big Bang Comics!

Source Material: Darker Image #1

Superhero Satellite Podcast Episode 3: Image Comics: The Road To Revolution

It Came From the 1990s: Masada of Youngblood

Masada is one of the dozens of characters created by Rob Liefeld who populated the various comic books put out by his Extreme Studios imprint of Image Comics in the 1990s. If you were not someone who followed Youngblood and the other Extreme titles regularly, you can be forgiven for not knowing offhand who Masada was. However, the character always stood out for me because she was Jewish.

Masada’s first published appearance was a pin-up drawn by penciler Chap Yaep and inker Norm Rapmund in Supreme #4 (July 1993). Her first actual in-story appearance came just a few months later in Team Youngblood #1 (Sept 1993) which was plotted by Liefeld, penciled by Yaep, inked by Rapmund, scripted by Eric Stephenson, lettered by Kurt Hathaway and colored by Bryan Talman. The terrorist Geiger and his cyborg army invade the space station Liberty II, giving them control over the Earth’s satellite network. Israeli crimefighter Masada is recruited to join the government-run super-team Youngblood to help them liberate the orbiting facility.

In his text piece for Team Youngblood #1 Liefeld explained how the latest addition to Youngblood came about:

“Masada was a character that had been collecting dust in my files for years until she was pulled out for new assignment alongside the Away Team. For the record, Masada means ‘fortress’ and is the name of the historic site in Israel where the Israelites found refuge from the Roman empire before electing to commit suicide rather than die at the hands of the Romans, an event which plays a large part in Masada’s origin.”

Historians are divided over whether or not the Siege of Masada in 74 AD, and the mass suicide of the 960 Jewish Zealots who fought the Roman army at Masada, actually occurred. Nevertheless, the story of a band of freedom fighters who chose death over slavery is often revered by modern Israelis as “a symbol of Jewish heroism.”

Deborah Konigsberg’s power is to grow to giant size. The source of her fantastic abilities is elaborated upon in Team Youngblood #2 (Oct 1993):

“Masada — Israeli super-woman empowered by the souls of her countrymen who died in the battle from which she took her name!”

Masada and her new Youngblood teammates eventually succeed in defeating Geiger’s forces. Returning to Earth and a heroes’ welcome, issue #4 (Dec 1993) is a “day in the life” issue following the various team members in the aftermath of the battle. Masada is moving into her new apartment in the Washington DC area when we first learn that her powers are as much a curse as they are a blessing. Overwhelmed by countless disembodied voices calling her name, Masada reflects on her difficult charge:

“Oy gevalt! All those voices… all that pain. I can never forget the burden I carry… the souls of all those who gave their lives in the name of Judaism…

“…but sometimes I wish… just for the slightest moment… I wish I could be alone.”

I found Yaep & Rapmund to be an effective art team, and this sequence demonstrates the more subtle side of their work. Their art, as well as the coloring by Byron Talman & Karen Jaikowski, in that bottom panel really brings across Deborah’s anguish.

All things considered, I think Liefeld & Stephenson did a fairly decent job developing Masada within the crowded confines of the Team Youngblood series. One of the subplots they set up was the friendship that developed between Deborah and the Away Team’s other female member, the water-manipulating Riptide, real name Leanna Creel. It was an interesting idea to pair up the reserved, conservative Masada with the wild, outgoing Riptide.

Riptide is fired from Youngblood after she poses for a nude pictorial in Pussycat Magazine. Despite disagreeing with Riptide’s decision, Masada nevertheless remains her close friend. Later on, when Riptode is framed for murder, Masada is one of the people to stand by her, ultimately helping her friend to clear her name.

As with many of the characters that Liefeld created for his Extreme titles, Masada unfortunately often ends up getting lost in the crowd. However, she did finally get the spotlight in Youngblood Strikefile #6 (Aug 1994). That series was conceived to spotlight the solo adventures of the numerous members of Youngblood, and it often featured writers & artists of a high caliber. That was certainly the case with “From the Same Cloth” which was written by Tom & Mary Bierbaum, penciled by Chris Sprouse, inked by John Beatty, lettered by Kurt Hathaway and colored by Linda Medley.

Deborah is approached by Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency. She is informed that her old colleague Rimon Sibechai has set out to assassinate the African American militant Hassim, who in his fiery sermons denounces Jews as the enemy of the black community. Sibechai believes Hassan is dangerous, telling Deborah “We will not be led meekly to the slaughter by racist demagogues. And if you’re still a Jew, you won’t try to stop me.”  Masada finds herself reluctantly having to stop her old friend, for as much as she dislikes Hassan and what he stands for, she cannot allow a cold-blooded murder to take place.  Masada’s dilemma is made all the more torturous by the voices of the spirits who empower her, as they are violently split between letting Hassan die and saving him.

Tom & Mary Bierbaum’s story was undoubtedly inspired by the rhetoric of controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has frequently made anti-Semitic comments throughout the years. Farrakhan and his anti-Jewish sentiments were very much in the spotlight in the early to mid 1990s.

The artwork on “From the Same Cloth” is definitely well-rendered by the team of Chris Sprouse & John Beatty. Sprouse had previously worked on Legion of Super-Heroes with the Bierbaums, and a few years later would do stunning work on Alan Moore’s Tom Strong series. Beatty previously provided effective inking for Mike Zeck and Kelley Jones.

I thought Youngblood Strikefile was a good idea, as it presented some good, interesting stories such as this one. It’s unfortunate that it only ran for 11 issues.

“Slow Emotion Replay” in Team Youngblood #16 (Dec 1994) is written by Eric Stephenson, penciled by John Stinsman, inked by Jaime Mendoza, lettered by Kurt Hathaway and colored by Laura Rhoade.  The story is told from the perspective of Youngblood Away Team field leader Sentinel, aka Marcus Langston, after he is “kicked upstairs” to an administrative position. Sentinel reflects on the recent events that led to his unwanted promotion, as well as on his colleagues & teammates, among them Masada, who he regards in a very positive light.

Masada also plasd a role in the bizarre gender-bending crossover “Babewatch” that ran through the Extreme titles in late 1995. Masada joins up with Riptide, Vogue and Glory to fight against the members of Youngblood who had been transformed into women by the evil sorceress Diabolique.

One other occasion when Masada had some time in the spotlight was in the Youngblood Super Special (Winter 1997) published by Maximum Press. “Good Enough” was written by Eric Stephenson, penciled by Chris Sprouse, inked by Al Gordon & Danny Miki, lettered by Kurt Hathaway & Steve Dutro and colored by Laura Penton & Christian Lichtmer.

Borrowing from one of Star Trek’s favorite tropes, “Good Enough” sees a group of godlike alien beings putting humanity on trial by testing the members of Youngblood’s worthiness to possess their powers & abilities. In Masada’s case she is subjected to a vision of the souls of Judaism accusing her of squandering her power to “play superhero” rather than defending her religion. Masada overcomes her doubts, arguing that she is indeed worthy of the gifts the spirits have endowed her with:

“You gave me this power to further the cause of good over evil! How can I restrict my deeds to simply upholding the Jewish faith?”

One highlight of the Super Special was seeing Masada penciled again by Chris Sprouse. He definitely did a good rendition of the character. Sprouse also penciled Masada’s profile pic in Youngblood Battlezone #2 (July 1994) making him, along with Yaep, the definitive artist of the character.

Since the late 1990s Youngblood has only been published sporadically. As a result the majority of the characters, Masada among them, have been limited to a handful of cameos & crowd scenes over the past two decades. Still, despite Masada’s absence from the spotlight, I look back fondly on the character’s appearances.

So why exactly did Masada become significant to me as a reader? Back in the early 1990s there were relatively few Jewish characters in mainstream comic books. Offhand I think the only noteworthy ones were Shadowcat, Doc Samson, Sabra and Vance Astrovik. At that point in time Magneto had been retconned to be a gypsy (a change not explicitly undone until 2009), Moon Knight’s Jewish heritage was something that no one talked about, The Thing / Ben Grimm,  Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Harley Quinn had all yet to be revealed to be Jewish, Wiccan and the Kate Kane version of Batwoman were both over a decade away from being introduced, and I hadn’t yet discovered American Flagg! by Howard Chaykin.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: representation matters. It was important for me as a teenage Jewish reader to see characters who had similar backgrounds to me, to whom I could identify. Masada helped fulfill that crucial role.

And that is why I will always argue in favor of representation, because I know full well how much it meant to me as a young fan when there where characters with whom I could identify.

It’s the Jewish holiday of Chanukah this week, so I felt this was a good time to look back on Masada, and to explain her personal significance.

The Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part 14

Welcome to the 14th edition of Comic Book Coffee. I previously posted these daily in the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The challenge posed by group moderator Jim Thompson was to pick a subject and find a different artist every day for that subject.  The subject I chose was Coffee.

66) Ramón Torrents

“Good to the Last Drop” was drawn by Ramón Torrents and written by Martin Pasko.  It appeared in Vampirella #36, released by Warren Publishing in September 1974.

Christina Kavanaugh, heiress to the Miller Foods fortune, has been having an affair with Bill Wright, VP of Product Improvement.  Unfortunately her husband Jim, current President of Miller Foods, has just found out.  As we see, Jim reacts badly to the news, brutally slapping Christina while she is having her morning coffee.  Jim slaps his wife so hard that she hits her head against the grandfather clock, causing her death.  This leads the grieving, still-jealous Jim to embark on a very twisted plot to gain revenge on Bill Wright, a scheme that centers on Miller Foods’ production of freeze dried coffee.  Fortunately by the end of this grim little tale karma has boomeranged back on Jim, leading him to a fitting end.

“Good to the Last Drop” appears to have afforded Martin Pasko an opportunity to let his very skewed, offbeat sense of humor go extremely wild.  The story is effectively illustrated by Ramón Torrents, a Spanish artist who had previously worked for British publishers Fleetway and D.C. Thompson on several romance titles in the 1960s, followed by short horror stories for American publisher Skywald in the early 1970s.  Torrents drew a number of stories for Warren that saw print in Vampirella, Creepy and Eerie and between 1973 and 1979.  Reportedly he left the comic book field at the end of that decade.

67) Dan DeCarlo & Rudy Lapick

“Power Shortage” from Sabrina the Teenage Witch #60, penciled by Dan DeCarlo, inked by Rudy Lapick, written by Frank Doyle, lettered by Bill Yashida, and colored by Barry Grossman, published by Archie Comics in June 1980.

Sabrina and her boyfriend Harvey are walking home from school when they see a flying carpet whiz by carrying groceries.  Sabrina rushes home and demands to know why her Aunt Hilda is using a flying carpet during the middle of the day.  Hilda explains that she forgot her weekly magical recharge again.  She doesn’t have the power to just “zap” some groceries home like she usually does, and needs to rely on the carpet.  To demonstrate her weakened power, Hilda attempts to levitate her coffee cup over, and it crashes to the floor.  Sabrina tells her Aunt she had better get a recharge soon.  Hilda then realizes that she forgot to pick up lemons at the market, and she sends the flying carpet out again.  Naturally enough, hilarity ensues.

Dan DeCarlo was definitely adept at drawing comedy.  His style was very well suited to Archie Comics, where he did great work for nearly half a century, from the early 1950s to the late 1990s.  For many years DeCarlo’s art served as the basis for the company’s house style.  Sabrina the Teenage Witch was one of the characters he had a hand in creating.

68) Mike Zeck & Denis Rodier

Damned #3, penciled by Mike Zeck, inked by Denis Rodier, written by Steven Grant, and colored by Kurt Goldzung, published by Image Comics in August 1997.

Damned features the recently-paroled Mick Thorne, who is attempting to deliver a message to the sister of his deceased cellmate Doug Orton.  Unfortunately, New Covenant crime boss Silver believes that Mick knows the location of the fortune that Doug stole from the mob before going to prison.  Mick has to avoid Silver’s thugs while trying to locate Doug’s elusive sister.

In this scene Charlotte Dahl of the State Parole Office is working late, attempting to track down Mick, as well as figure out who murdered Mick’s parole officer.  Drinking coffee to keep awake, Charlotte and her assistant begin looking through the files of other ex-cons who are now in New Covenant, searching for any kind of link to Mick.

Damned was a four issue crime noir miniseries that reunited Steven Grant and Mike Zeck, the creative team that had successfully launched the Punisher into super-stardom a decade earlier.  Damned was collected together by Cybrosia Publishing in 2003 with a new epilogue by Grant & Zeck and behind-the-scenes material.  The collected edition was reissued in 2013 by BOOM! Studios.

I’m a huge fan of Zeck, and I really enjoyed his work on this miniseries.  Rodier’s inking was a good fit for the tone of the story.  I definitely recommend picking up the trade paperback.

69) Art Saaf & Vince Colletta

“Never a Bride to Be” from Falling In Love #117, penciled by Art Saaf and inked by Vince Colletta, published by DC Comics in August 1970.

Another coffee page from a romance story?  What is it with people drinking coffee in romance comics?  Maybe that’s why everyone is so emotional and melodramatic; too much caffeine!

Lisa, the boss’ daughter, has invited young, handsome British engineer Derek over to dinner with her family.  It’s all part of a plan to try to get Derek interested in Lisa’s shy sister Dottie.  Derek and Dottie are soon dating, but Dottie is worried that Lisa is going to try to steal him away.  Indeed, Lisa soon realizes that she is attracted to Derek after all.  What’s a girl to do?

Art Saaf’s career stretched back to the Golden Age.  He did a great deal of work for Fiction House throughout the 1940s, and then for Standard Comics in the late 1940s and early 50s.  In the mid 1950s Saaf began working in television; among his jobs was creating storyboards for The Jackie Gleason Show.  He did feelance advertising work throughout the 1960s, and returned to comic books at the end of the decade.  Between 1969 and 1974 he drew a number of romance stories for DC Comics, several issues of Supergirl, and a handful of war and horror tales.

Saaf is paired here with Vince Colletta, one of his regular inkers at DC.  Colletta’s inking is fairly heavy, but you can still perceive Saaf’s expert storytelling and use of facial expressions & body language to establish the personalities of the characters.  He certainly does an excellent job differentiating between the outgoing Lisa and introverted Dottie here.  I like the awkward humor of those bottom two panels and Lisa and her parents none-too-subtly leave Dottie and Derek to have coffee alone together.

Saaf and Colletta both excelled at drawing beautiful women, so pairing them up was perhaps an inspired choice, after all.  Romance comics historian Jacque Nodell expressed a fondness for their collaborations on her blog Sequential Crush.

70) Sergio Cariello & James Pascoe

Here are two coffee-drinking pages from Azrael: Agent of the Bat penciled by Denny O’Neil, penciled by Sergio Cariello, and colored by Rob Ro & Alex Bleyaert, from DC Comics.  Issue #83 was inked by James Pascoe and lettered by Ken Bruzenak, published December 2001.  Issue #99 was inked by Cariello and lettered by Jack Morelli, published April 2003.

On the first page Lilhy, a member of the sinister Order of St. Dumas, seeks to understand the nature of evil.  She visits the Joker, currently incarcerated at the maximum security prison the Slab, to see if the insane super-villain can offer any insights.  Unfortunately she arrives just as the Joker releases a modified form of his “Joker venom” that transforms everyone in the Slab into doppelgangers of the Clown Prince of Crime.

The now-Jokerized Lilhy returns to Gotham City, where she meets with the psychiatrist Bryan.  Over coffee Bryan attempts to explain to Lilhy that humanity has struggled to understand the nature of evil throughout its entire existence.

On the second page Azrael, aka Jean-Paul Valley, is meeting with Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who has recently been treating him.  Due to the genetic manipulation and brainwashing inflicted upon Jean-Paul in his childhood by the Order, he has been experiencing serious health issues, as well as another bout of mental instability.  It appears that at long last Jean-Paul has finally stabilized, both physically and psychologically.  Over coffee with Leslie, the directionless Jean-Paul wonders what to do next.  She urges him to try to live his own life, and find happiness.

“The Evil Men Do” and “Last Respects” are written by the legendary Denny O’Neil, who passed away in June at the age of 81.  O’Neil co-created Azrael and wrote the entirety of the character’s solo series, which ran for 100 issues.  He appeared to have a fondness for the character.  Interviewed about Azrael in 2009, O’Neil had this to say…

“I wish I’d done one or two things differently, and I think the series kind of lost its way for a while in the middle of the run.  But all that aside…I don’t think there’s ever been a character exactly like Az before or since and I generally enjoyed working on him.  I wish the 100th issue could have been stronger, but it was wonderful of Mike [Carlin] to let me write it; I was only weeks past major surgery at the time and maybe a ways from my best.”

O’Neil was an intelligent and contemplative individual, qualities that were frequently present in his writing.  Although the “Joker: Last Laugh” crossover was a ridiculous event, O’Neil appears to have used this tie-in issue to briefly touch upon the subjective nature of human morality, and our struggles to understand if our actions are ethical.

Likewise, as I recently discussed on this blog, O’Neil utilized Leslie Thompins, another character he created, as a counterpoint to Batman and Azrael.  Leslie is passionately dedicated to fighting for social justice, but she is an avowed pacifist.  In the last storyline of this series O’Neil had Leslie calling out Batman for dragging the emotionally damaged Azrael further into a life of endless violence, and she works closely with Jean-Paul hoping that she will get him to see that he can walk his own path.

Brazilian-born Sergio Cariello penciled Azrael from issue #69 to the finale in issue #100.  He was initially paired with James Pasco, who inked the series for seven years.  On the last nine issues Cariello inked his own work.

Cariello was a student at the Joe Kubert School, and he later taught there.  Thinking about it, I suppose you could describe Cariello’s work as a cartoony version of Kubert’s style.  The Kubert influence certainly became more apparent in the issues where Cariello did full artwork.  It’s another good demonstration of how different inkers affect the look of the finished art.

I actually did another 30 of these Daily Comic Book Coffee entries on the Comic Book Historians group for a grand total of 100. At some point I may re-post the rest of them here on my blog. However, all of the entries have already been archived by Rik Offenberger at First Comics News. Rik is also responsible for the nifty Daily Comic Book Coffee banner seen at the top of this blog post. Thanks again, Rik.

First Comics News is currently presenting my Comic Book Cats posts, as well. I hope you will check them out.

The Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part 12

Welcome to the 12th edition of Comic Book Coffee. I 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.

56) Judit Tondora

Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman #2, drawn by Judit Tondora, written by Andy Mangels, lettered by Tom Orzechowski & Lois Buhalis, and colored by Roland Pilcz, published by Dynamite Entertainment and DC Comics in January 2017.

This was a fun miniseries co-starring television’s top two heroines from the late 1970s.  Andy Mangels is probably the foremost expert on Wonder Woman, and he must have had a real blast writing a team-up of Princess Diana and Jamie Sommers.

Hungarian artist Judit Tondora did a great job rendering both the television version of Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman, along with both their supporting casts and their small screen rogues galleries.  Likenesses can be very tricky, but I feel that Tondora really captured most of them pretty accurately.  Her depictions of Diana and Jaime were certainly beautiful.  Tondora’s art for this miniseries was very lively.  I hope we see more of her work appearing in comic books in the near future.

In this scene Diana Price and Steve Trevor of the IADC are meeting with Jaime Sommers and Oscar Goldman of the OSI.  Over coffee the four agents are discussing the ongoing investigation into the terrorist cabal Castra, an alliance of the IADC and OSI’s deadliest adversaries that has hijacked a shipment of experimental nuclear missiles.

Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman was a really enjoyable read.  I definitely recommend it.

57) Brad Gorby & Mark Heike

Femforce #93, written & penciled by Brad Gorby, inked by Mark Heike, and lettered by Christie Churms, published by AC Comics in May 1996.

While Femforce is basically a serious title, it also has a sense of humor about itself.  The main storyline running though these issues involves Jennifer Burke, the daughter of the original Ms. Victory.  Due to the manipulations of the military and a series of personal tragedies Jen’s life has completely fallen apart.  Going rogue, Jen adopts the identity of Rad which her mother previously assumed.  The government, realizing that Rad possesses a wealth of top secret information from her time leading Femforce, dispatches a group of genetically engineered assassins to eliminate her.

While this very intense plotline is taking place, writer / penciler Brad Gorby takes a brief detour to a more lighthearted setting.  It is morning and the ladies of Femforce are having breakfast.  Ms. Victory is once again drinking coffee, obviously a favorite of hers.  The incredibly-powerful yet often-absentminded Synn is trying to find out who ate all her sprinkle donuts and pop tarts, prompting the sorceress Nightveil to conjure up some for her.

I enjoy these types of “downtime” scenes in Femforce that explore the personal lives of the characters, and which allow for somewhat more goofball sequences. 

Gorby did a good job penciling this scene, giving each of the characters their own personalities, making them stand out from one another.  The inking is by Mark Heike.  Gorby and Heike are both longtime AC Comics contributors, as well as very talented artists.  Grey tones are by Christie Churms, who also lettered this issue.

58) José Beá

“Recurrence” was drawn by José Beá and written by Steve Skeates.  It appeared in Vampirella #34, released by Warren Publishing in June 1974.

The beautiful young protagonist of “Recurrence” thought she had it made.  She had pushed her husband into an elevator shaft, collecting $10,000 from the insurance company for his “accidental” death.  But then came the dreams, night after night, of being pushed off a cliff and falling endlessly.  Was it a guilty conscience… or a premonition?  Now she drinks coffee in the middle of the night desperate not to fall asleep again.

Spanish artist José Beá illustrated a number of stories for Warren between 1971 and 1976.  These were published in Warren’s three main comic book magazine series, Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella.  Following his time at Warren, Beá did a great deal of work in the European comic book field.  Among these were a number of erotic stories, some of which at the time unfortunately garnered a great deal of controversy.  Beá also wrote several science fiction novels for young adults.

59) Peter Krause & Dick Giordano

The Power of Shazam #36, penciled by Peter Krause, inked by Dick Giordano, written by Jerry Ordway, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Glenn Whitmore, published by DC Comics in March 1998.

During a crossover with the Starman series, Billy and Mary Batson have to work with Jack Knight to help clear the name of World War II hero Jim Barr, aka Bulletman, who has been framed for treason by neo-Nazis.  In his Captain Marvel identity Billy initially clashes with Jack, until the more level-headed Mary Marvel convinces him to calm down.  The trio heads to the home of Nick & Nora Bromfield, who have adopted the orphaned Mary and Billy.  There they find the Bromfields having coffee with Jack’s father Ted, the original Starman, as well as Jim Barr himself, with everyone attempting to figure out what their next step should be.

The Power of Shazam was such an amazing, fun, underrated series.  I came into it a bit late, in the second year, but I immediately became hooked, and I soon got caught up on the Jerry Ordway graphic novel and back issues.  Ordway wrote some great stories.  He successfully achieving the very tricky feat of simultaneously updating Billy, Mary and the rest of the Marvel Family cast for the 1990s while retaining a great deal of the charm from the original Golden Age stories.

Peter Krause did really good work penciling the series.  Due to the prevailing styles in super-hero comic books at the time, I think his work here was unfortunately overlooked by many.  Krause deftly balanced the serious and cartoony elements of the characters.  On the later issues of the series Krause was inked by the legendary Dick Giordano.

60) Amy Reeder

Rocket Girl #2, drawn & colored by Amy Reeder and written by Brandon Montclare, published by Image Comics in November 2013.

DaYoung Johansson, a fifteen year old police officer from the high tech future year of 2013, has traveled back in time to 1986.  DaYoung is convinced that her miraculous world should not exist, that it was created when the monolithic corporate juggernaut Quintum Mechanics sent its own technology back in time 27 years to its founders to give them a vast advantage.  DaYoung, armed with her jetpack and her teenage zeal, is determined to thwart this crime against time, even if it means erasing the very future from which she came.

Montclare & Reeder’s ten issue Rocket Girl series is a wibbly wobbly, timey wimey tale of temporal paradoxes, corporate intrigue and youthful idealism.  I previously reviewed the first five issues. The ending to Montclare’s story ultimately left me feeling ambivalent, for a few different reasons.

What I was not ambivalent about was Reeder’s stunning artwork.  She did a superb job drawing both the sci-fi New York City of 2013 and the historically accurate Big Apple of 1986.  Her layouts for Rocket Girl were incredibly dynamic, and the amount of detail she put into her pages was astonishing.

As Reeder recounts in the text feature from issue #7…

“In Rocket Girl I am responsible for making two worlds; an 80s vision of the future, and actual 1980s New York.  At first I expected the futuristic world would give me the worst trouble — I thought coming up with a city out of thin air would be a bit overwhelming.  But I should have known better: I get carried away with accuracy, and the 1980s New York is heavily documented, often talked about, and well remembered by many.  So bar none — 80’s NYC is the harder of the two worlds to draw.  I just HAVE to get it right.  And, honestly, it’s pretty fun to get it right.  (Or close!)”

On this page from issue #2, the recently arrived DaYoung is bunking with Annie Mendez and Ryder Storm, two graduate students who work for Quintum Mechanics in 1986.  Annie and Ryder awaken to find the hyperactive DaYoung has whipped up a huge stack of pancakes and brewed a pot of coffee, all the while pondering how to change the course of history.

The Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part Six

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

26) Robert Walker & Bill Black

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

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

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

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

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

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

Femforce 6 pf 4

27) Jamal Igle & Dan Davis

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

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

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

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

Green Lantern Secret Files 3 pg 15

28) Dave Johnson with Keith Giffen

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

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

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

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

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

Superpatriot 4 pg 23

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

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

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

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

Superpatriot 4 pg 24

29) Mike Dringenberg & Malcolm Jones III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandman 6 pg 6

30) Arn Saba

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neil the Horse 3 pg 1 coffee

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

The Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part Four

The challenge by Comic Book Historians group moderator Jim Thompson: Pick a subject and find a different artist every day for that subject.

I chose “coffee” for my subject.  From the work of how many different artists can I find examples of people drinking coffee?  I guess we will just have to see.  I posted these daily on Facebook, and now I’m collecting them together here.  (Please click on the “coffee” tag to read the previous parts of the series.)

16) Kerry Gammill, Ricardo Villamonte & Vince Colletta

April 26th was the birthday of artist Kerry Gammill.  On that day I showcased two pages Gammill penciled from his well-regarded run on Power Man and Iron Fist for Marvel Comics in the early 1980s, where he was paired with writer Jo Duffy.

The first page is from Power Man and Iron Fist #63, cover-dated June 1980.  Gammill is inked here by Ricardo Villamonte.  Gammill and Villamonte made a great art team, and did an excellent job rendering Duffy’s stories.  Here we see Luke Cage, woken up by renovations at the Gem Theater, a second-run movie house in pre-gentrification Times Square, gratefully accepting a cup of coffee from the Gem’s manager, film student D.W. Griffith.

Power Man and Iron Fist 63 pg 16

The second page is from Power Man and Iron Fist #71, cover-dated July 1981.  The inking credits for this issue are “D.Hands” which is short for Diverse Hands.  Presumably this issue fell victim to the Dreaded Deadline Doom, and several different people inked it.  The Grand Comics Database credits Vince Colletta for several pages, including this one.  It certainly looks like his work.

Following a disastrous date with Harmony Young, a brooding Luke Cage finds himself having an early morning cup of joe at Eddy’s, “an all-night diner, where the service is poor and the coffee more bitter than his own angry thoughts.”  A scowling Cage considers his coffee and thinks “Man, no one should have to pay for anything this bad.”  Reminds me of all the times I got coffee at some local bodega where the pot must have been sitting on the burner for at least a couple of hours!

Gammill does excellent work on both these pages.  He effectively renders Cage going through very mundane tasks: drinking coffee, shaving, getting dressed, paying a bill.  Gammill’s layouts, as well as the body language he gives to Cage, provide valuable elements of characterization that work effectively in conjunction with Duffy’s script.

Seeing these two pages side-by-side is an excellent illustration of the important role the inker plays in the look of the finished artwork.  Villamonte gives Gammill’s pencils a rich, illustrative look that is very different from what Colletta’s feathery ink-line brings to it.

I was too young to read these issues when they first came out.  I sort of regret that, because it must have been a real pleasure to get these comic books in real time, and each month read the latest adventure of Luke Cage, Danny Rand, Misty Knight & Colleen Wing, which Duffy, Gammill, Villamonte and friends chronicled with a wonderful mixture of action and humor.  Having said that, I do appreciate that I’ve been able to pick up some of these as back issues, and that most of the run has been collected into trade paperbacks.

Power Man and Iron Fist 71 pg 5

17) Erik Larsen

Today’s tale of crossed continuums and caffeine is from Savage Dragon #101, written & drawn by Erik Larsen, lettered by Chris Eliopoulos, and colored by Reuben Rude, published by Image Comics, cover-dated July 2002.

Savage Dragon is a labor of love on the part of Erik Larsen.  The Dragon was originally created by Larsen in his teenage years, and was the star of his earliest self-published comic books in 1982.  A decade later when Larsen co-founded Image Comics the Dragon was his flagship character.  Savage Dragon made its debut as a three issue miniseries, followed by an ongoing title in 1993.

Larsen has Savage Dragon take place in real time, meaning all the characters age.  He has also regularly changed the status quo.  Dragon started out as a Chicago police officer.  He then became a government agent, and following that was a bounty hunter.  A huge change took place in #75.  Dragon attempted to alter history by killing his time traveling adversary Darklord.  As a result Dragon was shunted onto a parallel world, one where his enemies had taken over the world.  Twenty-five issues later Dragon finally defeated them, and located this reality’s version of his wife Jennifer Murphy and her young daughter Angel.

“Shattered Planets, Shattered Lives” sees Dragon, Jennifer and Angel at the diner, with attempting to explain exactly what has transpired:

“I’m the real guy! I’m really Dragon — I’m just not the SAME Dragon. YOUR Dragon was killed by a villain named Darklord and our minds were swapped. I’m from a different dimension.”

Not surprisingly, both Jennifer and Angel have no idea what to make of this crazy story.  Given how headache-inducing this whole conversation must be, it’s no wonder Dragon is having coffee which, as we see here, he takes with cream “and enough sugar to fill a bathtub.”

I’ve been a HUGE fan of Savage Dragon since the first issue of the miniseries came out in 1992, and I’ve been following in regularly for 28 years.  Larsen has written & drawn some really exciting, weird, and funny stories in his series.

In 1996 Dragon’s son Malcolm was born.  Over the next 24 years Malcolm grew into a child, a teenager, and finally an adult.  Three years ago the original Dragon was killed off permanently by Larsen, and Malcolm Dragon became the new series’ star going forward.

Savage Dragon 101 pg 14

18) Morris (Maurice de Bevere)

Two thumbs up to Jim “1000 Horses” Thompson for suggesting this one.  “Des barbelés sur la prairie” drawn by Morris, real name Maurice de Bevere, and written by René Goscinny, originally saw print in Spirou, a weekly comic book anthology published in Belgium.  This is from the first chapter of the serial, which ran in Spirou #1411, cover-dated 29 April 1965.

The serial was collected in Lucky Luke #29: Des barbelés sur la prairie, published in 1967 by Dupuis.  It finally appeared in English in 2007, released by British publisher Cinebook as A Lucky Luke Adventure #7: Barbed Wire on the Prairie.

This is where I acknowledge my appalling lack of knowledge about non-English language comic books.  I had not previously heard of Lucky Luke.  After it was pointed out to me by Jim, an online search revealed it to be a long-running comedic Western starring gunslinger Lucky Luke and his horse Jolly Jumper, the smartest horse in the world.  Barbed Wire on the Prairie sees Lucky Luke aiding a group of farmers against ruthless rancher Cass Casey, who tries to steal their land for his cattle herds.

On this opening page Goscinny and Morris discuss the lifestyle of the cowboys, including their dining habits:

Narrator: The cowboys fed themselves along the trail thanks to mobile kitchens called “chuck wagons” whose chefs had a strange understanding of gastronomy…

Chef: To make good coffee, you put a pound of wet coffee in the coffeepot and boil it for half an hour. Then you throw in a horseshoe. If the horseshoe doesn’t float, you add some more coffee.

I enjoy the Comic Book Historians group because it can be incredibly informative. I’ve definitely learned about quite a few creators and series here, such as Morris and his creation Lucky Luke.

That and I also learned a new way to prepare coffee! Anyone here got a horseshoe I can borrow?

Lucky Luke 7 coffee

19) Dave Gibbons

Watchmen #6 illustrated & lettered by Dave Gibbons, written by Alan Moore, and colored by John Higgins, published by DC Comics, cover-dated February 1987.

A great many words have been written over the past three decades concerning Watchmen, the 12 issue deconstruction of the superhero genre by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons.  It is indeed an incredibly rich text.  Watchmen is, for better or worse, one of the most influential comic books ever created.

So instead of reiterating what has been said before, I’m going to focus solely on this page, which features Dr. Malcolm Long, the psychiatrist who has been assigned to the incarcerated Rorschach.  At first Long is enthusiastic about the case, believing that he has an opportunity to make his name by successfully treating the notorious vigilante.  Long soon comes to realize just how disturbed and intractable Rorschach genuinely is, and the psychiatrist finds himself being pulled into the abyss of insanity and darkness that has transformed Walter Kovaks into a faceless fanatic.

Here we see an already-consumed Long burning the midnight oil, fueled by caffeine, futilely attempting to solve the mad, jumbled puzzle that is Rorschach’s psyche.  This is nine panels of a man sitting at a desk drinking coffee, writing in his journal and arguing with his wife, and Dave Gibbons draws the heck out of it.  Via his layouts, the angles and positioning of the compositions within the nine panel grid, Gibbons renders what could be an otherwise-mundane scene with genuine mood and drama.

I have found in re-reading Watchmen I have discovered not just previously-unnoticed layers to Moore’s writing, but a much greater appreciation for Gibbons’ superb artwork & storytelling.

Watchmen 6 pg 13

20) Jim Aparo

The work of Bronze Age legend Jim Aparo is showcased in today’s entry.  “Scars” is drawn by Aparo, written by Gerry Conway, colored by Adrienne Roy, and edited by Al Milgrom, from The Batman Family #17, published by DC Comics with an April-May 1978 cover date.

Jim Aparo is considered by many to be one of the all-time great Batman artists.  So it was entirely appropriate for Aparo to draw this first meeting between the Batman of Earth-One and the Huntress, who is the daughter of the Batman and Catwoman of Earth-Two.

Helena Wayne has crossed the dimensional barrier to meet this counterpart Dark Knight.  Over coffee with Batman and Robin she explains that she is seeking advice on pursuing a career as a costumed crimefighter.  She does not feel she can confide in her father, so she has come to the Bruce Wayne of Earth-One, who is literally the next best thing.

This story and the second one in this issue, a team-up of Batgirl and the Huntress against Poison Ivy and Catwoman written by Bob Rozakis and drawn by Don Heck, make use of the idea that it really would be weird and unnerving to find out there was a parallel world that was almost the same as yours.  Imagine meeting the counterparts of your loved ones, identical in some respects, yet very different in others.  Conway and Rozakis both do a good job with the concept.  That’s especially the case when Helena, the memories of her mother’s recent tragic death still fresh, encounters the Catwoman of Earth-One.

Batman Family 17 pg 9

Aparo was a very talented artist, and this page showcases his diversity of skill.  The top third is a dramatic image of the Huntress with the rest of the Justice Society charging into action.  The rest of the page has Helena conversing with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, a good demonstration of Aparo’s sequential storytelling, as well as his ability to depict the human, vulnerable sides of these colorful costumed figures.

The Hopefully Almost Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part Three

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

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

Java 1 pg 10 top panel

11) Kensuke Okabayashi & Peter Palmiotti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Java 1 pg 14

12) Curt Swan & George Klein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worlds Finest 173 pg 13

13) David Mazzucchelli

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asterios Polyp coffee

 

14) Howard Chaykin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midnight of the Soul 3 pg 2

15) Rik Levins & Kevin Dzuban

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Americomics 4 pg 14

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