George Perez: 1954 to 2022

I was very sorry to hear about the passing of legendary comic book creator George Perez on May 6th. Perez had announced back in December that he was suffering from with inoperable pancreatic cancer, and that he had approximately six months to a year left to live. We all knew this day was coming soon, but it doesn’t make it any less sad.

Perez had an incredibly lengthy, diverse career. As I did a week ago to mark the passing of fellow legend Neal Adams, I am going to refrain from even trying to put together any sort of comprehensive retrospective of Perez’s career, and instead just focus on my own impressions of his work as a fan.

Batman #439 cover drawn by George Perez and collored by Anthony Tollin, published by DC Comics in Sept 1989

I first started following comic books regularly in 1989 when I was 13 years old, so I missed Perez’s early work on Fantastic Four and Avengers for Marvel Comics in the late 1970s, as well as his wildly popular collaboration with writer Marv Wolfman on The New Teen Titans at DC Comics beginning in the early 1980s.

While I can’t be 100% certain, I think the first work by Perez that I ever saw were his covers for the “Batman: Year Three” and “A Lonely Place of Dying” story arcs that ran through Batman #436-442 in the summer and fall of 1989. I was immediately struck by Perez’s intricately detailed work and his complex compositions. His cover to #439 featuring Nightwing hanging on for dear life from the bell tower of a church in the midst of a fierce rainstorm, highlighted by the Bat-signal, especially stood out in my mind. Perez and colorist Anthony Tollin did absolutely stunning work in rendering that atmospheric image.

Within a couple of years I was following quite a few DC titles. War of the Gods was a major crossover that DC published in the summer & fall of 1991, and it tied in with Perez’s run on Wonder Woman. So I picked up Wonder Woman #58 which was written & cover-illustrated by Perez and the four issue War of the Gods miniseries for which Perez was writing, doing interior pencil layouts and drawing full covers. As I’ve mentioned before, this was an absolutely insane time for me to try to dive into Wonder Woman, because this was the culmination of a number of plotlines & character arcs that Perez had been developing over the past five years.

War of the Gods #4 cover drawn by George Perez, published by DC Comics in Dec 1991

Three decades later I only remember three things about War of the Gods: 1) the evil sorceress Circe was the main villain, 2) I didn’t understand even half of what was going on, and 3) DC promoted the fact that for the cover of the final issue of the miniseries Perez set out to draw a cover featuring ONE HUNDRED different characters. That must have been my first exposure to Perez’s fondness for drawing literal armies.

At the exact same time Perez was also penciling another crossover, this time at Marvel. The Infinity Gauntlet was another “cast of thousands” cosmic extravaganza that ran for six double-sized issues. Truthfully, I wasn’t especially into writer Jim Starlin’s story for The Infinity Gauntlet, either, since it very predictably followed the arc of Thanos becoming a god and wiping the floor with everyone else in the Marvel Universe for half a dozen issues before finally losing the titular Infinity Gauntlet.

Nevertheless, Perez, paired with inker Josef Rubinstein, did a fantastic job drawing the cosmic spectacle… at least until working on two mega-crossovers simultaneously became too much for even someone of Perez’s talent & speed, and he had to bow out partway through issue #4, with Ron Lim taking up penciling duties for the remainder of the miniseries. To show support for Lim stepping into this high-profile assignment and having the unenviable job of following in his footsteps, Perez inked Lim’s pencils on the covers for the final two issues of The Infinity Gauntlet.

The Infinity Gauntlet #1 cover drawn by George Perez and colored by John Stracuzzi, published by Marvel Comics in July 1991

So, while I haven’t revisited The Infinity Gauntlet in the last 30 years, either, I definitely was impressed by the work Perez did on the first half of the miniseries. Certainly his intricate cover for the first issue, colored by John Stracuzzi, is one of the all-time greatest depictions of Thanos in the character’s half-century history. Heck, even Jim Starlin, the writer / artist who created Thanos, has used Perez’s cover artwork for The Infinity Gauntlet #1 for his own convention banner. Now that is respect.

Anyway, throughout the 1990s, when I was in high school & college, I went to a lot of comic book conventions, and bought a lot of back issues from the 1970s and 80s. Amongst these were several books that Perez worked on: Avengers, Justice League of America, The New Teen Titans, Marvel Fanfare, Crisis on Infinite Earths and Action Comics. I also had the opportunity to pick up a lot more issues of Perez’s epic, groundbreaking five year run on Wonder Woman, at last getting in on the earlier parts of his incredible, highly influential revamp of Princess Diana of Themyscira.

Straight from the back issue bin… Crisis on Infinite Earths #10, written by Marv Wolfman, penciled by George Perez, inked by Jerry Ordway, lettered by John Costanze and colored by Anthony Tollin, published by DC Comcis in january 1986

In the mid 1990s Perez penciled the first six issues of Isaac Asimov’s I-BOTS, written by Steven Grant, published by Tekno Comics / Big Entertainment.  I took a look at Perez’s work on that series a few months ago as part of the most recent round of Super Blog Team-Up, in which the various contributors examined different parts of Perez’s amazing career.

In 1998 Perez had another opportunity to pencil Avengers, this time paired with writer Kurt Busiek. Perez remained on the series for three years. After the meandering, confusing events of “The Crossing” and the controversial Heroes Reborn that saw Rob Liefeld take over the book, Busiek & Perez’s run was warmly received by long-time Avengers readers.

Now here’s another one of those occasions when I am going to go against conventional fan wisdom. The truth is I wasn’t especially enthusiastic about Busiek’s writing on Avengers; I feel Busiek is an amazing writer on smaller, intimate, character-driven stories set against the epic backdrops of superhero universes, something he’s demonstrated again and again with his incredible work on Astro City. Same thing for Thunderbolts from Marvel, which was a very character-centric series. In contract, Avengers was the epic superhero event book, and I just didn’t feel that Busiek quite had the faculty to pull off those sorts of stories. (Just my personal opinion, so feel free to disagree.)

The Scarlet Witch tears up the dance floor! Avengers vol 3 #19 written by Kurt Busiek, penciled by George Perez, inked by Al Very, colored by Tom Smith and lettered by Richard Starkings, published by Marvel Comics in August 1999

That said, Busiek did really solid work on the character-driven subplots in Avengers involving the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, Wonder Man, and Carol Danvers / Warbird, as well as his own creations Silverclaw and Triathalon. And of course Perez did an incredible job illustrating Busiek’s stories, both the action scenes and the quieter character moments. I certainly appreciated the stunning costume Perez designed for the Scarlet Witch. And that bellydance sequence featuring Wanda from Avengers vol 3 #19 (Aug 1999) seen above was absolutely gorgeous, a superb example of Perez’s storytelling abilities.

In the early 2000s Perez signed an exclusive contract with startup publisher CrossGen Comics. Perez penciled the quarterly double-sized CrossGen Chronicles, followed by the monthly series Solus. I only read a handful of the CrossGen titles, but I picked up a couple of issues of CrossGen Chronicles specifically for Perez’s artwork.

One of the things I appreciated about the CrossGen books was that it was not a superhero-centric universe. CrossGen enabled Perez to stretch his boundaries and work in the genres of fantasy and sci-fi / space opera. He did some incredible work for them. Regrettably CrossGen only lasted a few years, going bankrupt in 2003.

CrossGen Chronicles #4, written by Mark Waid, penciled by George Perez, inked by Mike Perkins & Rick Magyar, colored by Laura DePuy, Chris Garcia & Mike Garcia, and lettered by Dave Lanphear & Troy Peteri, published by CrossGen Comics in Sept 2001

Back in 1981 Perez had begun penciling a Justice League / Avengers crossover, but the project was left uncompleted due to editorial conflicts between DC and Marvel Comics. Two decades later, in 2002, the Big Two at last came to an agreement to work together and publish a crossover between their two superstar teams. Even though Perez was signed to CrossGen, he’d included a clause in his contract with them that if Justice League / Avengers ever happened he would be allowed to draw it. And so he was reunited with Kurt Busiek and colorist Tom Smith to produce the long-awaited meeting of the Justice League and Avengers in four double-sized bookshelf issues.

JLA / Avengers once again gave Perez the opportunity to draw his casts of thousands. The absolute highlight of the event was the wraparound cover to the third issue, on which Perez depicted every single member of both teams up to that point in time. Tom Smith recently recounted that it took him two whole weeks just to color that cover.

Where’s Waldo?!? JLA/Avengers #3 cover drawn by George Perez and colored by Tom Smith, published by DC and Marvel Comics in December 2003

It seems like everyone has a George Perez story, so here’s mine: I met writer Marv Wolfman at a comic con in White Plains NY in June 2000 and had him autograph my copy of Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, the historic (and at the time absolutely permanent) death of Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash. A few months later, at a store signing in Connecticut, I met artist Jerry Ordway, who had inked that issue,and I had him autograph it, too. He smiled and said “I’d better leave room for George Perez to sign it.” I responded that he didn’t have to do that, since I didn’t expect to ever meet Perez (and, really, I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity, because he was such an incredibly popular artist).  Ordway just smiled again and autographed the book, leaving several inches space between his and Wolfman’s signatures.

Fast forward a few years, and low & behold none other than George Perez was a guest at a comic con in Manhattan. Of course I brought along my copy of Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, and Perez autographed it in between Wolfman & Ordway’s signatures. So, a big “thank you” to Jerry Ordway for his foresight.

Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 signed by Marv Wolfman, George Perez and Jerry Ordway!

I wish I could regale you with some fascinating anecdotes about my meeting George Perez. The simple fact is, in the couple of minutes I spoke with him he came across as a good person, and that’s it. From everything I’ve heard Perez was always like that; he always made an effort to be friendly to all of his fans, to greet them with a warm smile.

About a decade later Michele and I were at New York Comic Con. We ran into Perez when he was between panel discussions or something; I don’t recall the specifics. I just remember that Michele had had a copy of Wonder Woman vol 2 #19 with her, and she went up to Perez and asked him to sign it. I think he was talking with someone, or maybe he was on his way out of the room, but whatever it was he was doing he paused, turned to Michele, smiled, pulled out a sharpie, and autographed her comic. That’s the type of person Perez was, always making time for his fans.

George Perez was an incredible artist and a genuinely decent person. He will definitely be missed. I wish to offer my condolences to his family, friends and colleagues for their loss.

An interview with comic book artist Mike DeCarlo

Mike DeCarlo has been drawing comic books for 40 years, both as an inker / finisher over a diverse selection of pencilers and doing full artwork. He has worked for a number of publishers, among them DC, Marvel, Valiant, Archie, Bongo, Boom! Studios and IDW. Mike graciously agreed to be interviewed about his lengthy career.

This interview was conducted by e-mail in December 2021.

BH: Hello, Mr. DeCarlo. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Let’s start out with your background. When and where were you born? When you were growing up did you read comic books? What other interests did you have?

Mike DeCarlo: Born in New Haven, Connecticut, March 1957. Loved cartoons, Newspaper Strips and Comics since I was 4 or 5. Sports of any kind also.

BH: What was your educational background? Did you major in an art-related field?  Was the comic book industry something that you actively hoped to enter?

Mike DeCarlo: Went Southern Connecticut State University in CT in 1975 and 1976 for Art. Found it boring. Began work as a Sports Cartoonist and Political cartoonist in 1977 to 1979. Took the Dick Giordano Art School Course in May, 1979 and after 2 months he hired me as his assistant.

The Brave and the Bold #179 (Oct 1981) written by Martin Pasko, penciled by Ernie Colon, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Ben Oda and colored by Carl Gafford

BH: How did you first find work in comic books? According to the Grand Comics Database, your first published work was inking Ernie Colon’s pencils on a team-up of Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes in The Brave and the Bold #179 from DC Comics in 1981. How did you receive that assignment?

Mike DeCarlo: By the end of 1980, Giordano told me to go to DC and show my portfolio to Joe Orlando, the Art Director, and he hired me as an inker on the spot. Yes, the Colon job was my first along with “Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk” [DC Special Series #27, Sept. 1981] which I inked with Giordano around the same time.

Green Lantern #150 (March 1982) written by Marv Wolfman, penciled by Joe Staton, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Ben Oda and colored by Anthony Tollin

BH: One of your earliest regular art assignments was inking Joe Staton pencils on Green Lantern, beginning with issue #147 in late 1981. How did that come about? Did you enjoy working with Joe Staton? He’s one of my all-time favorite comic book artists, and I feel the two of you went well together.

Mike DeCarlo: Joe was always a great guy to talk to and incredibly easy to ink. I only remembered it being offered to me at this point.

BH: In recent years you’ve expressed that you wish that you’d been able to focus on penciling and on doing full artwork rather than working almost exclusively as an inker. As a matter of fact, you did have  a few penciling jobs at DC early in your career, namely the Green Lantern Corps back-up story in Green Lantern #155 (Aug 1982) and three installments of the Huntress back-up feature that ran in Wonder Woman #302-304 (April to June 1983). What did you think of your work on these stories? How come you did not do more penciling during this period?

Mike DeCarlo: My penciling was very mediocre then. I had much to still learn. I was not shocked that more penciling was not offered to me.

The Huntress back-up in Wonder Woman #303 (May 1983) written by Joey Cavalieri, penciled by Mike DeCarlo, inked by Tony DeZuñiga, lettered by Duncan Andres and colored by Anthony Tollin

BH: Among the numerous pencilers you’ve worked with over the years has been George Perez, who is known for his hyper-detailed art style and his fondness for drawing huge crowds of characters. You first inked Perez first on Tales of the Teen Titans in 1984 beginning with the now-famous storyline “The Judas Contract” and were on the series for a year. How did you find working with Perez?

Mike DeCarlo: George was exacting and very complex. It was tedious but rewarding when finished.

Crisis on Infinite Earths #4 (July 1985) written by Marv Wolfman, layouts by George Perez, finishes by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Anthony Tollin

BH: You then inked Perez in 1985 on issues #3 and #4 of the Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries, which literally had a cast of thousands of characters. What were your thoughts on that assignment? In particular, I was struck by the fact that #4 was the only issue of Crisis on which Perez was credited with only providing layouts, meaning you provided the finished artwork. That must have been a great deal of work. That opening splash page alone, with Supergirl flying above Gotham City, is insanely detailed. [Note to readers: Check out the image above to see exactly what I’m talking about!]

Mike DeCarlo: Giordano told me about Crisis well before it started and that DC would use me and a few others to ink George. It was a landmark series for them. I did what they asked of me but it was very draining to do. I was not totally disappointed when [Jerry] Ordway took over.

Batman #428 (Dec 1988) written by Jim Starlin, penciled by Jim Aparo, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Adrienne Roy

BH: You were first paired up with longtime Batman artist Jim Aparo in late 1987, becoming his regular inker for the next four years. During that period you worked with Aparo on several high-profile Batman storylines such as as “Ten Nights of the Beast” and “A Death in the Family.” How did you receive that assignment? What were Aparo’s thoughts on your work? I felt you made an effective art team.

Mike DeCarlo: Again, it was just offered to me and I happily accepted. Jim was pretty easy to ink and he and I got along well. Jim said I did a wonderful job with his pencils. Quite a compliment.

Thor #475 (June 1994) written by Roy Thomas, penciled by M.C. Wyman, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Phil Felix and colored by Ovi Hondru

BH: In the early 1990s you began doing work for Marvel Comics. How did that come about? Eventually in 1993 you became the regular inker on Thor, paired up first with Bruce Zick and then M.C. Wyman. The two of them had very different art styles. How did you approach working over each of their pencils?

Mike DeCarlo: I went to see [Jim] Shooter and a few editors and lined up some work. Marvel was a fairly unfriendly place for me–maybe because I was known as a DC guy? I had issues with both Thor pencilers. I was happy to be on Thor, but those two were not pleasant to work with for me.

Fantastic Four Annual #22 (Summer 1989) written by Mark Gruenwald, penciled by Tom Morgan, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Bill Oakley and colored by George Roussos

BH: You’ve said on Facebook that Fantastic Four by Jack Kirby was one of your favorite comic books when you were a kid. You did have a chance to work on a few issues of Fantastic Four in the early 1990s. How did you find the experience? Would you have liked to have done more work with the characters?

Mike DeCarlo: I wish I could have done the FF every month!

BH: What was it like working with Mike Zeck on Bloodshot: Last Stand for Valiant Comics? That was another great collaboration, in my opinion.

Mike DeCarlo: We were the best of friends anyway and I found it a pleasure.

Bloodshot: Last Stand (March 1996) written by Mark Moretti, penciled by Mike Zeck, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Joe Albelo and colored by Frank Lopez

BH: For more than a decade, beginning in 1996, you worked on a variety of series featuring animated characters such as Looney Tunes, Pinky and the Brain, Animaniacs, and Cartoon Network Block Party for DC Comics. How did you approach working in a style that is very different from so-called traditional superheroes? Some of those animated stories also gave you the opportunity to do full artwork, which I image you enjoyed.

Mike DeCarlo: Animation came easy to me because I was skillful with a brush and enjoyed a highly graphic approach to Art.

Johnny Bravo in Cartoon Network Block Party #21 (July 2006) written by Jim Alexander, drawn by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Travis Lanham and colored by Heroic Age

BH: You’ve inked a diverse selection of pencilers during your career. Do you have any favorites?

Mike DeCarlo: Gil Kane, Michael Golden, Mike Zeck, Joe Staton and Jim Aparo and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez.

BH: What was your general approach to inking?  One thing I’ve noticed about books that you’ve worked on is that your inking style is fairly apparent at a casual glance, yet you also are successful at not subsuming the style of the pencilers you worked with. It seems like it must be a delicate balancing act, one that you accomplish very well.

Mike DeCarlo: I tried to “get into the head” of the penciler and use my art training judiciously.

“The 60’s” montage commission illustrated by Mike DeCarlo

BH: Please let us know what you have been working on in recent years.

Mike DeCarlo: I do tons of commissions, The Black Swan Man as an ongoing Internet Financial Strip and am working on Trinity, a Graphic Novel for European Investors. I don’t ink anymore, unless it’s my own work. I happily take on any commission a client has in mind. I’m also mostly done with a Patreon site for my work patreon.com/MikeDeCarloArt or website mikedecarloart.com

BH: Thank you very much for your time, Mike!

A brief look back at comic book artist Ernie Colon

Comic book artist Ernie Colon passed away on August 8th.  Colon was a versatile artist.  Among the numerous projects he worked on over the decades were Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich for Harvey Comics, the fantasy series Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld with writers Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn at DC Comics, and in collaboration with Sid Jacobson a graphic novel version of the 9/11 Commission Report titled The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation.  I cannot imagine a more diverse range of projects than that!

While I certainly cannot say that I was a huge fan of Colon’s work, I certainly enjoyed it whenever I saw it.  I have fond memories of several projects that he illustrated on, so I felt it would be nice to offer a brief look at his work on those books.

Damage Control 1 cover

Colon and writer Dwayne McDuffie co-created the superhero comedy book Damage Control for Marvel Comics.  Damage Control offered a humorous look at a construction company that specialized in repairing the buildings that have gotten wrecked in superhero battles.  The very odd & colorful staff of the Damage Control organization made their debut in Marvel Comics Presents #19, and soon after were featured in a trio of 4 issue miniseries published between 1989 and 1991.  Colon worked on all but one of the issues.

At a time when superhero comic books were very steadily heading into “grim & gritty” territory, Damage Control was certainly a breath of fresh air.  McDuffie’s scripts were clever & humorous, and the offbeat artwork by Colon was a perfect fit.

For a number of years I owned a page of original artwork from the first miniseries, which had Bob Wiacek’s inking over Colon’s pencils.  Regrettably I had to sell it a while back, but fortunately it went to a good home.

Magnus Robot Fighter 14 pg 18

In the early 1990s Colon worked on several issues of Magnus Robot Fighter for Valiant Comics.  In addition to penciling & inking, Colon also provided the coloring on several issues, resulting in some very striking and unusual artwork.  This definitely gave Jim Shooter’s stories an unsettling feeling, bringing to life a world that was more than slightly askew.

The work by Colon really suited the 41st Century setting of the series, a seeming hi-tech utopia of gleaming steel possessed of a dark underbelly.  The two part “Asylum” story by Shooter & Colon that ran in Magnus Robot Fighter #13-14 certainly contained a very palpable atmosphere.

Dreadstar miniseries 3 pg 4

In 1994 Colon teamed with writer Peter David on a revival of Jim Starlin’s incredible space opera Dreadstar.  Published under the Bravura imprint of Malibu Comics, this six issue miniseries leaped forward a number of years from the end of the previous series.  It featured Vanth Dreadstar’s teenage daughter Kalla, who has been raised from infancy by none other than her father’s arch-enemy, the genocidal Lord Papal.

The Dreadstar miniseries was very dark & serious… except when it was not.  David has always proven adept at deftly blending drama and comedy in his scripts, and his work on Dreadstar was no exception.  Colon adaptability as an artist was very well suited to illustrate such material.  He powerfully rendered scenes of grim violence.  He also ably illustrated some genuinely wacky characters and ridiculous laugh-out-loud moments.

Dreadstar miniseries 5 cover

Looking over the artwork from just these three series amply demonstrates the versatility of which I previously spoke.  Colon was a very talented artist who was at home in a variety of genres.

Colon was 88 years old when he passed away.  I had no idea he was that old, and that he’d actually begun working in comic books back in the late 1950s.  Colon certainly had a long and prolific career.  He leaves behind an impressive body or work featuring some stunningly beautiful art.

 

 

Bernie Wrightson: 1948 to 2017

Comic book, horror and fantasy artist Bernie Wrightson passed away on March 18th at the age of 68. Wrightson received well-deserved acclaim for his atmospheric artwork in a career that spanned four and a half decades.

Swamp Thing 9 cover

Wrightson is probably best-known as the co-creator of the Swamp Thing character with writer Len Wein. The initial incarnation of the character debuted in a stand-alone story in the DC Comics horror anthology House of Secrets #92 (June/July 1971).  The “Swamp Thing” story was an unexpected hit, and it led to Wein & Wrightson introducing a revamped incarnation of the character a year later.  This ongoing Swamp Thing series was set in the DC universe.  Wrightson drew the first ten issues.  Issue #7 featured a guest appearance by Batman, and Wrightson rendered a stunning, moody depiction of the Caped Crusader.  He would have several more opportunities to draw Batman over the course of his career.

Wrightson was friends with fellow artist Michael Kaluta. In 1974 the two of them had an opportunity to work together on the third and fourth issues of The Shadow, which adapted the pulp vigilante created by Walter Gibson.  A year later Wrightson and Kaluta, along with Jeffrey Jones and Barry Windsor-Smith, began sharing studio space in Lower Manhattan loft, an arrangement that lasted until 1979.  Known as “The Studio,” the four artists influenced one another, each of them creating some of the best works of their careers.

Bernie Wrightson Frankenstein

One of Wrightson most stunning efforts was his illustrated edition of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. Wrightson worked on this project for seven years years, and it was finally published in 1983.  The breathtaking, intricately detailed artwork Wrightson created for Frankenstein is considered to be one of the greatest achievements of his career.

(Honestly, I don’t think you can overdo the superlatives when it comes to describing Wrightson’s Frankenstein illustrations.)

Wrightson collaborated with horror novelist Stephen King on several occasions. In 1983 Wrightson drew the graphic novel adaptation of the movie Creepshow and provided illustrations for King’s novella Cycle of the Werewolf. The extended edition of King’s mammoth novel The Stand released in 1990 featured illustrations by Wrightson.  He also provided illustrations for Wolves of the Calla, the fifth book in King’s Dark Tower series, published in 2003.

Wrightson remained involved in the comic book biz over the years, drawing numerous covers, pin-ups, miniseries, graphic novels and short stories in anthologies. In the second half of the 1970s he illustrated a number of stories for Warren Publishing’s line of black & white horror magazines.  Wrightson also worked on a handful of projects for Marvel Comics, among them the graphic novels Spider-Man: Hooky (1986) and The Hulk and The Thing: The Big Change (1987), and the four issue miniseries Punisher P.O.V. (1991).  The Big Change and P.O.V. were both written by Jim Starlin.  The two of them also collaborated on the DC Comics miniseries Batman: The Cult (1988).

Batman Aliens 1 pg 41

Among the later comic book work that Wrightson did, I especially enjoyed the two issue Batman/Aliens miniseries published in 1997. Written by Ron Marz, this was one of the more effective of the crossovers released by DC and Dark Horse in the 1990s.  Batman is a superhero who is grounded enough in reality that the Xenomorphs posed a legitimate threat to him without having to ridiculously amp up their powers.  Wrightson’s artwork provided the story with a genuinely moody, intense tone.  As always he drew a striking Batman, and his Xenomorphs were effectively menacing.

I also enjoyed the beautifully grotesque painted covers that Wrightson created for the four issue horror anthology Nightmare Theater published by Chaos! Comics in 1997. They were an excellent showcase for his talents and sensibilities.  Wrightson also penciled a werewolf story for the first issue, which was inked by Jimmy Palmiotti.

Wrightson’s last major project was Frankenstein Alive, Alive! published by IDW between 2012 and 2014.  Written by Steve Niles, the three issue series served as a sequel to Wrightson’s illustrated edition of the Mary Shelley novel.

Nightmare Theater 1 cover signed

I was fortunate enough to meet Wrightson on a few occasions, at a couple of comic book conventions and at a store signing in White Plains NY. He struck me as a very friendly individual.  Others had similar experiences meeting him.  When the news broke that he has died, it was clear that not only had we lost an immensely talented artist but also a genuinely nice person.  Wrightson will definitely be missed by friends, colleagues, and fans.

The return of the Forever People

I was a bit surprised when DC Comics announced that one of their latest New 52 titles would be Infinity Man and the Forever People, a revival / revamp of the characters created by Jack Kirby.  Although I think the Forever People are cool, I will be the first to admit that they are probably among the lesser-known “Fourth World” characters devised by Kirby.  After their initial eleven issue run in the early 1970s, they were not seen again until a six issue miniseries published in 1988.  Subsequently they have not been featured in any other starring roles, only making guest appearances here and there.

However it is not entirely unexpected for the Forever People to receive a revival.  It is true that DC has actually attempted to launch a number of offbeat and experimental titles in the last three years.  The problem faced by many of those fringe books has been that DC put them out there with little in the way of promotion.  Most of them ended up falling below the radar, drowning in a sea of Batman related titles.  Based on that pattern, I honestly did not know how long Infinity Man and the Forever People would last.  But I figured I had might as well give the book a try while it was here.  After all, I am a fan of the characters, as witnessed by the Beautiful Dreamer tattoo on my left leg.

Infinity Man and the Forever People 1 cover

Co-writing Infinity Man and the Forever People are Dan DiDio & Keith Giffen.  They’ve made revisions to the original set-up by Kirby, altering some of the characters.  I generally am not too keen on that, and was underwhelmed by the New 52 re-conception of both Darkseid and Highfather’s origins in Justice League #23.1 last year.  That said, I have to acknowledge that the Forever People were never developed in too much detail by Kirby during their all-too-short original series, and their sporadic appearances since then has left them somewhat blank slates.  So it is not as if DiDio & Giffen are upending decades of storylines & characterizations.

Mark Moonrider and Beautiful Dreamer so far appear to be pretty close to their original incarnations.  Vykin the Black has been renamed Vykin Baldaur and made into a more cynical figure (as much as I love Kirby, I really thought it was unfortunate that the only two non-Caucasian members of the Fourth World mythos were named Vykin the Black and the Black Racer).  Serifan has been given a change in gender & ethnicity, becoming Serafina, the younger sister of Vykin.  Big Bear is now the oldest member of the Forever People, as well as secretly from Apokolips, apparently having been given elements of Orion’s backstory.

Mark, Dreamer and Serafina are shown to be students on New Genesis who are about to embark on a study abroad type of assignment on the planet Earth, but they are unable to activate their Mother Box.  Vykin, who dislikes Mark and doesn’t want his sister going off-world with him, arrives to object, only to find that he is the only one Mother Box will respond to.  Reluctantly he accompanies the other three to Earth.  They are greeted by Big Bear, who has been on Earth for some time, working with human scientists in an attempt to advance the planet’s technology and bring about greater prosperity.

DiDio & Giffen appear to be focusing on the “rebellious youth” aspect of the Forever People.  Back in 1970, when he devised the characters, Kirby was inspired by the hippy / flower children counterculture.  Truthfully I do not know how much of that came through in his stories, though.  After their devastating cosmic war with Apokolips, the people of New Genesis mostly turned their backs on conflict, and the planet became close to a spiritual paradise.  Because of this, I never really understood precisely what the Forever People were rebelling against.  They merely seemed to be more impulsive and hotheaded, rushing off to Earth to fight the forces of Darkseid.

In contrast, in the New 52 (both in this title and in the pages of Wonder Woman by Azzarello & Chiang) it is shown that New Genesis is a highly organized, regimented society.  Highfather is now a more militant figure, closer to his Izaya the Inheritor days from the Kirby continuity.  The Forever People generally, and Mark Moonrider in particular, are rebelling against their world’s “control.”

Infinity Man and the Forever People 3 pg 4

When the Infinity Man finally makes himself known to the Forever People, he positions himself as an agent of chaos.  “The universe relies on chaos. It needs to expand, to grow, to learn. There is a corruption, a corruption brought on by a need for order that prevents the natural course of non-prescribed evolution. Both New Genesis and Apokolips are guilty of imposing their forms of order on the universe. This must stop. That is why I chose you.”

One can discern a state of affairs set up by DiDio & Giffen inspired by Cold War geopolitics.  Apokolips, with Darkseid at its helm, is a force of totalitarian order akin to the Soviet Union.  It brutally oppresses its citizens, forcing blind obedience & uniformity from them, and it seeks to expand its empire via conquest.  New Genesis is cast in the role of the United States, ostensibly working to preserve freedom & democracy.  But in the name of preserving its security and opposing Darkseid’s machinations, New Genesis interferes in the affairs of lesser worlds, resulting in unfortunate side effects for those planets and their inhabitants.  And while not an identity-crushing police state like Apokolips, the government of New Genesis encourages conformity and obedience lest individuality and the questioning of authority weaken the planet’s strength & resolve.

While I am a bit hesitant to embrace a version of New Genesis that appears to have such common ground with Apokolips, I have to acknowledge that this actually provides the Forever People a very clear-cut political system to rebel against, an ideology to oppose.  They are rejecting both Highfather and Darkseid’s paths.  They are seeking the freedom to guide their own destinies, and to enable other beings to do the same thing.

Infinity Man and the Forever People 1 pg 15

In addition to co-writing Infinity Man and the Forever People, Giffen is also penciling the series, paired with the talented Scott Koblish on inking.  I very much enjoyed their work on the first issue.  Giffen has often had a rather Kirby-esque element to his art, and that very much suits this series.  This especially comes into play in a scene where Big Bear reveals his technology and explains “Kirby is my communal reconstruction bio engine. He’s responsible for building and maintaining this environment. Without him, none of this would be possible.”  That was a nice tip of the hat to the King of Comics.

Regrettably Giffen involvement in DC’s big Futures End crossover prevented him from penciling the next two issues of Infinity Man and the Forever People.  So, yep, we already have fill-in art teams on this book.  I hope that does not kill any sales momentum or reader interest.  At least the guest artists were mostly good.

On issue #2, the art is courtesy of penciler Tom Grummett and inker Scott Hanna.  I’m certainly a fan of both gentlemen.  Grummett has always been good at rendering Kirby’s characters, including the New Gods.  For instance, Grummett penciled an appearance by the Forever People in the pages of Adventures of Superman about twenty or so years ago.  I enjoyed seeing him now having an opportunity to depict the New 52 versions of the characters.  Offhand I don’t recall if Hanna has ever inked Grummett before.  They definitely go together very well here, creating some lovely art.  I was especially taken by their rendition of Beautiful Dreamer.

Infinity Man and the Forever People 2 pg 5

Everyone’s favorite cosmic comic book creator Jim Starlin is the guest penciler on Infinity Man and the Forever People #3.  He is paired with inker Rob Hunter.  Truthfully, I was not especially fond of their collaboration.  Hunter’s inking is in the vein of the house style of Top Cow, with flourishes reminiscent of Silvestri and Turner.  I did not feel this fit Starlin’s penciling.   I would rather have seen him inking himself, or by longtime inking partner Al Milgrom, who always does a good job finishing Starlin’s pencils.

That said, the sequence towards the end of the issue, when Dreamer is inside her subconscious, conversing with Anti-Life, is very well done.  Perhaps for this surreal tableau Hunter’s inks were somewhat better suited, as they give Starlin’s nightmarish imagery an extra punch.  (It appears that DiDio & Giffen are drawing inspiration from the long-ago declaration by Kirby in the pages of Forever People #1 that Dreamer “is one of the few whose mind can fathom the Anti-Life Equation.”)

Nice coloring work on these issues by the gang at Hi-Fi.  I’ve always found it to be a good sign when that name pops up in the credits.  They are definitely one of the better groups of computer colorists in the biz.

Infinity Man and the Forever People 3 pg 12

On the whole I did enjoy the first three issues of Infinity Man and the Forever People.  DiDio & Giffen did a good job introducing the characters and establishing the premise.  I just wish that the comics were a little bit longer.  Twenty pages just did not seem like sufficient space.  The book really needs an extra two or three pages to enable the story to breath a bit.

I am very interested in seeing what happens with the Forever People next.  I know that this month’s installment is a special crossover with the aforementioned Futures End storyline.  And then there are going to be a couple of issues tying in with the “Godhead” storyline running through the various Green Lantern titles.  Perhaps that will inspire some GL fans to check out this series.  Oh, yes, from the pages of Batman Incorporated, there’s going to be an appearance by Bat-Cow!  That sounds like just the sort of delightfully offbeat, bizarre humor the Giffen specializes in, and I’m looking forward to it.

Copyright Calamity: Marvel’s Bronze Age Licensed Titles

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

Master of Kung Fu 33 pg 1

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

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

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

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

Rom Spaceknight 65 pg 17

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

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

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

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

Micronauts 8 cover

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

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

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

Essential Godzilla cover

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

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

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

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

Shogun Warriors 5 cover

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

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

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

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