Comic book artist Mike Machlan passed away earlier this month. Machlan’s career in comic books lasted from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s. He worked primarily as an inker, although he did do the occasional penciling job. His art had a fun quality to it.
Machlan was a longtime friend of fellow artist Jerry Ordway. They were both from Wisconsin, and the two had met in the mid 1970s when they were working on fanzines and self-published comic books. Ordway broke into professional comic books first, and one of his earliest regular assignments was doing inks / finishes on All-Star Squadron. Written by Roy Thomas, All-Star Squadron featured the Justice Society and their numerous costumed allies fighting against the Axis powers during World War II.
Ordway assumed the penciling chores on All-Star Squadron with issue #19, and two months later on issue #21 (cover-dated May 1983) Machlan had joined him as the series’ inker. The two worked very well together, as can be seen by this superb splash of Batman page from All-Star Squadron #24 which evokes the character’s Golden Age origins.
Roy Thomas and his wife Dann devised a spin-off for All-Star Squadron. Set in the then-present of the early 1980s, Infinity Inc. would feature the sons, daughters & other successors of the JSA on Earth-Two. Other than the already-existing Power Girl and Huntress, the members of Infinity Inc. were new characters devised by Roy & Dann Thomas, Mike Machlan & Jerry Ordway. Machlan and Ordway worked closely together to design the visuals of the team members.
As Ordway recounted in Modern Masters Volume 13: Jerry Ordway, published by TwoMorrows Publishing in 2007:
“I think Jade and Obsidian were the two characters that were closest to me and to Mike, because we really had the most input on them. And there was some stuff that Mike did on his own. I don’t think I went over every one of those things, and he turned out a lot of sketches. He turned out Mr. Bones, a new Hourman, and a male version of Harlequin.”
Above is the double page promo piece by Machlan & Ordway that ran in All-Star Squadron #28 to promote the upcoming series.
The initial plan was for Machlan to pencil Infinity Inc. with Ordway inking him. However, at the last minute the two artists switched roles, with Ordway penciling and Machlan inking.
Machlan did still get to pencil a few of the Infinity Inc. covers, which Ordway inked. Machlan also did the full artwork for a number of profile images of the various team members, which were published throughout the series’ run.
Continuing his account of Infinity Inc’s origins, Ordway explained:
“But then you had Fury, and then finally Silver Scarab. And I think Fury and Silver Scarab are pure Mike Machlan-channeling-Kirby kind of designs.”
Above is Machlan’s profile pic of Silver Scarab, one of the characters on which he was primary designer, which appeared in Infinity Inc. #9.
Ordway and Machlan both departed from Infinity Inc. after the series’ first year. Machlan went on to ink Chuck Patton and George Tuska on Justice League of America, and Rafael Kayanan on The Fury of Firestorm, as well as doing a few inking jobs for First Comics.
Machlan began working for Marvel Comics in 1987, providing finishes over Al Milgrom’s layouts on West Coast Avengers beginning with issue #24. I felt Milgrom & Machlan made a solid team. One of the best examples of their collaboration was West Coast Avengers #29. “Death Run” features Moon Knight on a single-minded pursuit of Taurus, head of the Zodiac crime cartel. Machlan’s finishes really helped to enhance the intense, moody tone of writer Steve Englehart’s story.
The anthology series Marvel Fanfare that Milgrom edited frequently featured pin-up galleries that spotlighted the work of different artists. Milgrom especially enjoyed giving artists who were best known as inkers the opportunity to contribute pin-ups, enabling them to demonstrate their penciling abilities.
Marvel Fanfare #41 had a gallery of Mike Machlan pin-ups which featured various characters & events from the Silver Age. A different artist inked each piece. In an interesting reversal of their roles on West Coast Avengers, Machlan was inked by Milgrom on the pin-up of Captain America and his rogues gallery.
In 1989 John Byrne became the writer / artist on West Coast Avengers, and the series was soon re-titled Avengers West Coast in a move to make sure the book would be stocked on the shelves right next to the main Avengers series, hopefully increasing sales.
Machlan remained on Avengers West Coast for several issues, inking Byrne’s pencils. Once again, I felt Machlan did a good job, complementing Byrne’s work. Above is a page from Avengers West Coast #50 featuring the continuity-shattering meeting of the Vision and the original android Human Torch.
Machlan hopped over to Amazing Spider-Man in 1990, where he was paired with penciler Erik Larsen. I’m a huge fan of Larsen’s work, and I like the quality that Machlan brought to the finished art in those days before Larsen did his own inking. Machlan remained on Amazing Spider-Man for about a year.
Following this, Machlan worked on another Spider-Man project. Once again paired with Al Milgrom, he inked the four issue Deadly Foes of Spider-Man series in 1991.
Machlan also began working for DC Comics again in the early 1990s. His main assignment saw him return to the heroes of the Golden Age with the all-too short-lived Justice Society of America series that ran for 10 issues between August 1992 and May 1993. I recently blogged about this great, underrated series. Machlan was a good match for series penciler Mike Parobeck.
The mid-1990s saw a major downturn when the inflated speculator bubble finally burst. Machlan, like a number of other comic book professionals, departed the industry to find work elsewhere.
While no longer working for any of the major publishers, in recent years Machlan did commission work for private collectors. He did several great pieces for fans Michael Dunne and “Marvel Two-in-One Guy” which can be seen on Comic Art Fans.
Although Machlan’s career in comic books only lasted about a decade and a half, he did really good, quality work during that time. Many fans, myself included, fondly recall his art, and were saddened by the news of his death.
Normally I blog about interesting or unusual comic books from the 1990s. Today’s entry actually concerns comics from the previous decade, the 1980s… but all of this will eventually lead to another “It Came from the 1990s” piece. So bear with me and enjoy the ride.
Back in the early 1980s Marvel Comics partnered with Scott Adams – no, not the cartoonist who eventually went full right-wing crazy, but the computer programmer & game designer – to create a series of text adventure computer games featuring Marvel characters. Adams, working with acclaimed writer & artist John Byrne, developed the concepts for the Questprobe series. In conjunction, Marvel Comics began publishing a Questprobe comic book series that was projected to run for approximately 12 issues, with a new issue coming out each time Adams released a new installment of the computer games.
Keep in mind that in the early 1980s personal computers were still very much in their infancy. The options available to programmers were extremely limited. I think this is very well illustrated by the letters column from Questprobe #3. Danny Bertinato of Gloucester, Ontario writes in to ask if the Questprobe games will be available for Commodore Vic-20. Adams responds with some bad news:
“QUESTPROBE requires a computer with a minimum of 16k of memory to run. The standard Vic-20 has only 5k of memory. Since very few people ever get the memory expansion to 16k for the Vic-20, I doubt we will ever put QUESTPROBE on the Vic-20. Sorry.”
Yeah, let that sink in. There used to be PCs with only 5 kilobytes of memory. And I make that observation while writing this on a brand-new laptop I purchased last month which has 8 gigabytes, a laptop that will, give it a decade or so, undoubtedly one day be just as much of an antiquated dinosaur as a Commodore Vic-20. It’s simultaneously amazing and frightening the lightning speed at which technology can develop.
Speaking of antiquated dinosaurs, my father’s first PC was an Apple 2E. Back in the mid 1980s I was 9 years old and just starting to get into comic books on a semi-regular basis. I saw the ads for the Questprobe games in Marvel books and I asked my father to buy it for me. I ran Questprobe featuring the Hulk on that Apple 2E… and I found it almost impossible to play. I just ended up going around in circles for hours, barely getting anywhere. It was definitely a frustrating experience.
I recently found a Walkthrough for Questprobe featuring the Hulk and looking at it there’s no possible way nine-year-old me would have been able to figure out the majority of this 38 years ago. Perhaps I was too young… but I also think the game was hampered by the sheer primitive nature of the PCs at the time.
But enough about the computer games; I’m sure you came here for the comic books.
The Questprobe comic from Marvel only ran for three issues and was canceled when Adams’ company Adventure International went bankrupt in 1986. Each of the three issues corresponded to a released game, with the first issue featuring the Hulk, the second Spider-Man, and the third the Human Torch and the Thing. Adams was working on a fourth Questprobe game featuring the X-Men when Adventure folded; a corresponding fourth Questprobe comic book story starring the X-Men was completed and saw print in the anthology series Marvel Fanfare a year later.
The concept behind the Questprobe comics actually has a certain potential. In a far-distant region of the universe the mysterious alien Black Fleet is ravaging through space, destroying world after world. A utopian planet of scientists sees the Black Fleet inexorably approaching and wonders what, if anything, they can do. This civilization long ago abandoned violence, and most of its members have resigned themselves to destruction by the Black Fleet. But one of their number, Durgan the Philosopher, is determined to fight back, a stance that causes him to be labeled a mad heretic.
Undaunted, Durgan resolves to find a way to save his planet. Having studied the far-distant Earth, he has observed the numerous super-powered beings who populate the planet. Durgan creates the Chief Examiner, a dome-headed, cloaked construct that he dispatches to Earth to locate the most powerful super-beings, study them, and replicate their powers by getting them to pass through a black portal. (John Byrne apparently designed the Chief Examiner.)
There’s also some stuff going on with these mysterious, cosmic-powered “Bio-Gems” that are apparently parts of a larger entity, one that’s even more evil than the Black Fleet, but it’s fairly confusing how all of this was supposed to tie together. Perhaps if the games & comic books had lasted longer it would have become clearer.
The first issue of Questprobe, featuring the Hulk, was released with an August 1984 cover-date. It was written by Bill Mantlo, definitely an appropriate choice. Mantlo had previously done a stellar job taking licensed properties such as the Micronauts and Rom Spaceknight and developing them into highly intriguing ongoing comic book series for Marvel. He had also been writing The Incredible Hulk series since 1980, so was intimately familiar with the character.
Questprobe #1 has pencil layouts by Mark Gruenwald. Although he was much better known for his writing & editing at Marvel, Gruenwald did occasionally also draw, and he had a solid grasp of storytelling. The inking / finished artwork on issue #1 was by the legendary John Romita, who at this point was synonymous with the Marvel house style. Letters were by Joe Rosen and colors by George Roussos. The series editor was Bob Budiansky.
The first issue is a fairly basic story, one that is competently done and which establishes the premise in economical fashion. I’m sure that if I had bought it when it first came out in the Summer of 1984 it would have been perfectly geared to my eight-year-old sensibilities and I would have enjoyed it.
By the way, having seen on Wikipedia a photo of Adams taken in 1982, putting it side-by-side with Gruenwald & Romita’s art from this issue, it’s very obvious that Durgan’s appearance was modeled on the computer programmer.
And, yes, white guys really did used to wear their hair like that.
One last noteworthy item: The cover of the first issue features the blurb “by Bill Mantlo, Mark Gruenwald and John Romita” which was practically unheard of in mainstream comics at the time.
Moving on to Questprobe #2 (January 1985) featuring Spider-Man, this one is written & penciled by Al Milgrom. That’s another apt choice, as Milgrom was the writer & artist on the Spectacular Spider-Man series at this time. I’ve always found Milgrom to be a good, solid, underrated artist, and I think he did quality work on the Spider-Man character. Looking at some of his layouts & storytelling for Questprobe #2, some of it is reminiscent of Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko’s work.
Inking this issue was Jim Mooney, another talented artist who, among his numerous credits, had a lengthy association with Spider-Man during the Bronze Age. Milgrom & Mooney make a good art team. One of my all-time favorite letterers, Janice Chiang, worked on this issue, and George Roussos is back on colors.
Milgrom has always had a very offbeat sense of humor, which no doubt suited him to writing an irreverent character like Spider-Man. In this story he gets a lot of mileage out of the fact that the Chief Examiner has a remarkable resemblance to Spider-Man’s old enemy Mysterio. Hijinks ensue.
By the way, this story also gave me a newfound appreciation for Mysterio. I used to think he was a pretty stupid character, a special effects artist who wears a fishbowl on his head. But reading this issue Milgrom really sells the idea that Mysterio is highly intelligent and a master planner, and that he very effectively uses psychology & trickery to keep much more powerful adversaries like Spider-Man off-balance.
Questprobe #3 (November 1985) features the Human Torch and the Thing from the Fantastic Four. David Michelinie is perhaps an odd choice for the writer on this one, as he was already much more associated with Iron Man and the Avengers, and I don’t think he’s ever worked on a single issue of the Fantastic Four series. Nevertheless, Michelinie has always demonstrated himself to be a talented writer, and he ably steps in to handle the characters. He does a fair job, especially since he has to work around the inconvenient fact that the Torch and and the Thing never actually meet since at the time Ben Grimm had quit the FF and was hanging out on the Beyonder’s planet from the Secret Wars miniseries.
The artwork, on the other hand, is quintessential FF, with penciling by Ron Wilson, the regular artist on The Thing solo series, and inking by the legendary Joe Sinnot, the man who inked / embellished the Fantastic Four series for a decade and a half, from 1965 to 1981. I guess you could say that Sinnott as much as Romita helped define the look of Marvel Comics during the Bronze Age. Rick Parker lettered the issue and Julianna Ferriter did the coloring.
That brings us to the X-Men story that was originally intended for Questprobe #4 and which saw print in Marvel Fanfare #33 (July 1987). It’s written by longtime, groundbreaking X-Men writer Chris Claremont. “Shadows on the Soul” takes place during the time when the X-Men’s arch-nemesis Magneto was attempting to embrace Professor Xavier’s dream of peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants, and the master of magnetism was reluctantly tasked with leading his former foes, much to the X-Men’s understandable skepticism.
Pencils are by one of my favorite artists, Power Pack co-creator June Brigman, and inking is by Terry Austin, who famously embellished John Byrne’s now-classic run penciling X-Men. Brigman and Austin have worked together a few times over the years, and they’ve always made a superb art team. Letters are by Rick Parker and colors by Glynis Oliver.
I’m wondering how far along this story was when the Questprobe series was canceled. “Shadows on the Soul” runs a few pages longer than the typical Marvel comic, so it seems possible that Claremont, having learned that his story would now be appearing in the advertisement-free Marvel Fanfare, expanded it slightly. Certainly the gorgeous wraparound cover by Brigman & Austin must have been commissioned specifically for Fanfare.
At times Marvel Fanfare was dismissed as a dumping ground for inventory stories. Perhaps it was, but it did enable work that otherwise might never have been printed to see the light of day. Besides the fact that Fanfare editor Al Milgrom had previously written & penciled Questprobe #2, giving him a personal interest in seeing the fourth issue finally get completed, it would have been a no-brainer to run this story. Uncanny X-Men was an absolutely red-hot series in the late 1980s, so running an X-Men story, especially one written by Claremont, the writer who helped propel the character to super-stardom, must have been an obvious choice for Milgrom.
And “Shadows on the Soul” is really good, probably the best of the four Questprobe stories, so I’m glad Milgrom got it printed. Claremont does fantastic work with Magneto and the Chief Examiner. In the previous three stories it was pretty much taken for granted that Durgan is doing the right thing trying to save his world, and the rest of his race are fools for wanting to adhere to their pacifism. Magneto, however, has a tremendous amount of skepticism for Durgan’s actions.
Magneto points out that in attempting to save his world by stealing the powers of other beings Durgan is in danger of becoming just as evil as the Black Fleet, and that there is also a nobility to his people being willing to die for their beliefs. And it makes complete sense for Magneto to be saying this because he’s walked the exact same path as the Chief Examiner. Again and again Magneto has done the wrong thing for ostensibly the right reasons, and in the end was left pondering if he actually did make things any better for mutantkind.
The whole Questprobe storyline did eventually, and quite unexpectedly, get picked up again several years later. Mark Gruenwald always enjoyed utilizing obscure continuity, and he was the layout artist for Questprobe #1 so of course he would have been familiar with the series.
In 1992 Gruenwald brought back the Chief Examiner and the Black Fleet in the pages of his series Quasar. Gruenwald even names the Chief Examiner’s world “Scadam” after Scott Adams. It was perhaps a perfunctory wrap-up, one in which Quasar himself plays no direct role, with the girlfriend Kayla Ballentine, the unwitting recipient of the awesome cosmic power of the Star Brand, being the one to finally destroy the Black Fleet.
I’m continuing my retrospective of The Power of Shazam published by DC Comics from 1995 to 1999. This time I’m looking at issues #25-37, roughly the third year of the series. (You can find the first part here and the second part here.)
As always, the writer & cover artist on The Power of Shazam is the amazingly talented Jerry Ordway. Peter Krause and Mike Manley return as penciler and inker, respectively. John Costanza and Glenn Whitmore are the letter and colorist. Mike Carlin is the editor, with Chris Duffy providing assistant edits on #25 and #26, and Frank Berrios coming on beginning with #27.
Issues #25-27 are a key turning point in this series, because … History has been changed!
As we witnessed at the end of the previous story, somehow, impossibly, CC & Marilyn Batson are once again alive, and they, rather than their children Billy & Mary, possess the power of the Wizard Shazam, enabling them to become Captains Marvel! And only the Wizard realizes that things are not as they should be, that the timestream has been altered!
The Wizard discovers that the evil Professor Sivana, following the defeat of Mister Mind’s alien invasion, accidentally ended up on the Rock of Eternity, Shazam’s home at the center of all time. Sivana, realizing that all his misfortunes began when Theo Adam murdered CC & Marilyn in Egypt, utilized the Rock to go back in time to warn his past self about what he should and should not do.
So now, in the altered present, things appear idyllic for the Batson family. And having witnessed CC & Marilyn’s deaths in the graphic novel, and the effects of this tragedy on their children, it’s genuinely moving to see them all together in this new timeline.
We also get to see the normal, unpowered Billy & Mary using their courage & intelligence to outwit their father’s arch-enemy Ibic, which really demonstrates why in the “real” timeline they were so worthy to be given the power of Shazam.
Unfortunately, Sivana is still Sivana, and in this altered timeline he still cannot help being evil & self-destructive, with tragic results for the Batsons. Meanwhile the fanatical time-monitoring Linear Men are warning the Wizard that if he doesn’t correct this alteration of time then they will.
CC learns what has happened and reluctantly agrees to go back in time and fix things, even though it will mean he and his wife will no longer exist. However, CC at first tries to go back in time even farther, to before Sivana became a criminal, to try to scare him straight. Waverider of the Linear Men intercedes, showing him that Sivana is a necessary part of the timestream, and without him all sorts of weirdness could occur. Sadly admitting Waverider is correct, CC stops Sivana from changing history, CC and Marilyn fade from existence, and Billy & Mary are once again orphans.
However, in the now-restored timeline, Waverider ensures that CC’s long-lost will, which was hidden by his greedy half-brother Ebenezer, at long last resurfaces. The will grants custody of the children to Nick & Nora Bromfield. Nick & Nora had already adopted Mary years before, and now they are able to take in Billy, officially reuniting the siblings, much to the Wizard’s joy.
Ordway’s story and the art by Krause & Manley really sell the powerful emotions of this storyline.
Issue #28 finds Billy feeling ambivalent about this adoption by the Bromfields; he is happy that he and his sister are once again living together, but he’s uncomfortable about once again having parents. Billy literally had to survive on his own since their parents’ deaths, and now he has to once again get used to having structure & parental authority in his life. He also misses his old home in Fawcett City, finding the suburban town of Fairfield very different.
I feel that Ordway shifting the status quo was a great move, because he gets a lot of interesting, poignant drama out of Billy, Mary and the Bronfields all having to adjust to this new situation. One of the things that really appealed to me about this series was that it was as much about Billy & Mary’s personal lives as it was about superheroics, and this continues that direction.
Issue #28 is also a spotlight on Mary as Captain Marvel, debuting a brand-new white costume. We’re never explicitly told why Mary made the change, but the implication is that she has some sort of subconscious memory of the alternate timeline in which her mother wore one like it. Whatever the case, it looks great on her, and it makes her stand out from Billy. This issue also introduces Professor Bibbowski, the intellectual brother of salty tavern owner “Bibbo” Bibbowski from the Superman titles. Guest artwork on this story is by the legendary Dick Giordano.
Next is #29, one of my favorite issues of POS, featuring Hoppy the Marvel Bunny. Peter Krause demonstrates his versatility as an artist in this fun story that sees Billy transported to a “funny animal” universe via a magician’s top hat… said magician being the Great Carlini, a nod to editor Mike Carlin.
At the end of the story we’re left wondering whether it was all an hallucination Billy had… but since just a couple issues back Waverider showed CC Batson that Hoppy was a possible incarnation of Captain Marvel, I’m going to say this really did happen. Besides, it’s too much of a great story to write off as a dream.
Giordano becomes the regular inker on with this issue. It’s interesting to compare his work over Krause to Manley’s previous inking. Manley enhanced the cartoony aspects of Krause’s pencils, whereas Giordano brings a slicker ink line. Definitely a good demonstration of how two inkers can have very different effects on the same penciler.
I haven’t previously mentioned Dudley, the middle aged janitor from Billy’s old school in Fawcett. Dudley was one of the few people who knew that Billy was living on his own, and that he was also Captain Marvel, and the kind-hearted maintenance man often covered for him. Dudley is a decent-enough guy, although he is definitely irresponsible and drinks too much. He was previously kept in line first by Billy and then by Tawky Tawny, but now that Billy is in Fairfield and Tawny is off making a movie, Dudley has a serious string of bad luck and gets fired.
Drowning his sorrows in alcohol, Dudley is visited by Mister Finish, a demon who looks like a werewolf. Finish tells Dudley that he’s going to die in three days… unless he comes up with seven other people to take his place! Dudley doesn’t actually accept the deal, but he understandably cannot stop from thinking about it, and Finish plucks the seven names from his mind. The inebriated Dudley rushes off to Fairfield to get Billy and Mary’s help, and they need to prevent Finish from claiming the seven victims. This is another one I liked a lot.
Issue #31 is a crossover with the Genesis event that John Byrne was spearheading. Ordway had a good working relationship with Byrne going back years, so it’s not surprising that POS has a significant tie-in with Genesis. Ordway used the preceding two issues to build up to it, and the actual crossover in #31 is anything by a throw-away story.
Due to the power losses caused by the events in Genesis, and by the Wizard traveling to New Genesis, Billy and Mary have become stuck in their Captain Marvel forms. Nick & Nora are convinced that Billy & Mary have been kidnapped by Dudley, who was the last person they were seen with before they went missing. In order to get Dudley released from jail, and to assuage the Bromfields’ fears, Billy & Mary find that they must reveal their secret identities to their adopted parents. So once again Ordway shifts the status quo, and from here on one of the major themes of this series is Nick & Nora trying their best to be parents to two kids who have superpowers.
After this there were a trio of stand-alone issues that featured some really great writing & character-development by Ordway.
Issue #32 introduces U.S. Air Force text pilot Deanna Barr, daughter of retired World War II costumed hero Jim “Bulletman” Barr. We also see Billy & Mary now using Mother Boxes given them by the New Gods to transform into the Captains Marvel as, following the events of the Genesis crossover, the Wizard has chosen to remain on their world of New Genesis. We also see Nick & Nora still adjusting to finding out their kids are superheroes. All things considered, they handle it pretty well.
Issue #33 is regarded by many as one of the best issues of the series. Billy and Mary are trying to find a way to help their friend & classmate Victor, who several years earlier was left horribly disfigured by their old enemy he superhuman pyromanic the Arson Fiend. This story has been reprinted twice, first in Shazam! The Greatest Stories Ever Told in 2008 and then in Shazam! A Celebration of 75 Years in 2015.
Issue #34 co-stars Jose Delgado, the vigilante Gangbuster, who has been on the run from the law for some time now. For the past few issues Jose has been working as a substitute teacher at Billy & Mary’s school in Fairfield. But when Billy is kidnapped, and unable to change into Captain Marvel, Jose is forced reveal his true identity to save the teen. Ordway utilizes this story to continue the Gangbuster story arc he wrote in a couple of recent issues of the Showcase revival, as well as to set up events for the upcoming crossover between POS and James Robinson’s Starman.
Krause & Giordano do a fine job with some very intelligent, emotional material in these three issues. Krause also once again does great with the comedic material. I love that scene of Deanna Barr giving Captain Marvel a smooch, and the panel of Billy & Mary sampling their stepmother’s attempt at baking cookies speaks for itself. The expressions on their faces!
That brings us to the crossover with Starman written by James Robinson. “Lightning and Stars” runs through Starman #33-40 and POS #35-36.
Jim Barr, has been framed for treason by neo-Nazis! Utilizing decades-old propaganda footage created by the Third Reich, these modern-day fascists have convinced the world that back in 1942 Barr was actually a Nazi double agent responsible for sinking the luxury liner The Normandie in New York Harbor on February 9, 1942.
Barr, in fact, was actually in Alaska on that very day, accompanying Ted Knight, the original Starman, on a top secret mission to prevent the Nazis from acquiring… something. Unfortunately all these decades later the mission is *still* classified, and Jim feels that he cannot reveal the details to the public, even if it’s the only way to clear his name.
Back during that mission Bulletman saved Starman’s life during a fierce battle above the Alaskan tundra, and so Ted now seeks to repay Jim by offering him sanctuary. Government bigwig Sarge Steel is more concerned with making sure the events of February 9th stay a secret than he is in clearing Jim’s name, though. Steel manipulates Captain Marvel into going after the retired Bulletman. This puts Billy Batson into conflict with Ted’s son Jack, the current Starman, in Opal City.
Meanwhile, Mary Bromfield, rather than rushing in blind, actually uses her head. Investigating, she figures out the footage of Bulletman’s treason is a fake. Turning into Captain Marvel, she stops her brother from getting into another fight with Jack Knight. The three of them return to Nick & Nora Bromfield’s home in Fairfield, where Jim and Ted are trying to figure out how to clear Jim’s name, a well-drawn scene I previously spotlighted in one of my Comic Book Coffee entries.
I liked the scene Ordway wrote between Billy and Jack at the end of the crossover. Jack and his father have an often-contentious relationship, But as the orphaned Billy points out to him:
“You — you’re really lucky, y’know — that your dad’s still around for you. And you for him.”
Krause appears to have drawn a great deal of inspiration from primary Starman artist Tony Harris. Krause’s work on these two issues really evokes the layouts & storytelling seen in the other series. As always, Krause does a great job with all of the character-driven sequences.
Ordway’s painted covers for these two issues are very nicely done, forming a single, larger image with scenes both past & present. And, yes, that is Green Lantern Abin Sur on the cover! The revelation of what exactly Bulletmen and Starman found in Alaska in 1942 was definitely an effective surprise. I really did not see it coming.
Finally we get to issue #37, which is a Captain Marvel Junior spotlight. Freddy Freeman hasn’t been seen in this series for quite a while, having joined the Teen Titans in New York City, and thus been busy appearing in that series. Freddy returns to these pages just in time to accidentally be exposed to the psychic mists of the evil Doctor Morpheus… no relation to the brooding goth fellow who hangs out with Neil Gaiman! As far as I can tell this is the Doctor’s only appearance. Freddy fights his way through the nightmares that Morpheus creates out of Freddy’s own fears & insecurities.
At the end of the story Captain Marvel Junior, who’s magic word is not “Shazam” but “Captain Marvel,” renames himself CM3, because he finally figures out that having a superhero name that he can’t even say without turning back to his non-powered self is not such a great thing. I don’t know if CM3 is much of an improvement, but what can you do?
This issue is interesting in that we see former inker Manley returning to pencil the story, with current inker Giordano providing embellishments. They do a nice job with the weird, creepy story by Ordway.
And with that we bring this installment of this retrospective to a close. Next time Ordway will once again be shaking things up in The Power of Shazam in a major way!
Today is the 80th birthday of Wonder Woman, who was created by writer William Moulton Marston & artist H.G. Peter . The character made her debut on October 21, 1941 in the pages of All-Star Comics #8, published by DC Comics with a Dec 1941 / Jan 1942 cover date. The next month Sensation Comics #1 was published with Wonder Woman as the starring cover feature. Six months later, in the summer of 1942, Wonder Woman gained her own solo comic book series.
I imagine that, as with many who were born in the mid 1970s, my first exposure to the character of Wonder Woman was the Super Friends animated series and the live action Wonder Woman television series starring Lynda Carter that originally aired from 1975 to 1979.
To this day I agree with the sentiment that Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman / Diana Prince remains one of the most brilliant casting decisions in any live action adaptation of a comic book property. About a decade ago I bought the entire series on DVD, and it definitely still holds up, in large part due to Carter’s warm, empathetic, strong performance.
The first time I ever read the actual Wonder Woman comic book series was in 1991, towards the tail end of George Perez’s groundbreaking run. In retrospect this was probably not an ideal time to get into the series, as this was right at the start of the convoluted War of the Gods crossover. However, several months later, in early 1992, there came a perfect jumping-on point, when William Messner-Loebs took over as writer on Wonder Woman. I know some fans feel there was a decline in quality under Loebs. Nevertheless, it was the ideal entry for a brand-new reader such as myself who was unfamiliar with the character. Plus the stunningly beautiful cover artwork by Brian Bolland made Wonder Woman a must-buy each month.
In the early 1990s I did pick up a number of the earlier Perez issues at comic conventions, and I agree that they were extremely good. To this day Perez’s work on the character remains among the strongest in her 80 year history.
I followed the Wonder Woman series for the next seven years, for the entirety of Loebs’ run, and then for writer-artist John Byrne’s stint on the series. Although I stopped picking up the book regularly in late 1998, in the years since I’ve periodically returned to Wonder Woman on several different occasions.
I especially enjoyed the short six issue run by Walter Simonson & Jerry Ordway in 2003, the New 52 Wonder Woman by writer Brian Azzarello & artist Cliff Chiang that began in 2011, and the 17 issue revival of Sensation Comics featuring a variety of creative teams bringing their different approaches to the character that ran from 2014 to 2016. Most recently I’ve been enjoying the Sensational Wonder Woman series, which also features different creative line-ups each issue.
Without a doubt I can say that Princess Diana of Themyscira remains one of my favorite comic book characters.
William Moulton Marston was an outspoken feminist, and he created Wonder Woman to be a symbol of female strength & empowerment. Over the last eight decades the character has certainly served as a source of inspiration to many female readers, and to female audiences who have seen her adapted to television, animation and motion pictures.
When I first got into comic books in the second half of the 1980s, and continued reading them as a teenager in the 1990s, one of the names I would frequently see in the credits was Keith Williams. He worked on numerous series: Alpha Flight, Transformers, Action Comics, Web of Spider-Man, Quasar, Robocop, Sensational She-Hulk, U.S.Agent, Ravage 2099, The Mask, Star Wars, and so on.
Keith is one of the various comic book creators who I have been fortunate enough to get to know on social media. He has always come across as a genuinely good person. Given Keith’s lengthy career, I felt it would be interesting to speak with him about his work in the medium.
This interview was conducted by e-mail between April and May 2021.
BH: Hello, Mr. Williams. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Let’s start with the basics. When and where were you born? When you were growing up did you read comic books? What other interests did you have when you were young?
Keith Williams: Thank you for asking, Ben. I was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 16, 1957. My grandma gave me my first comic. It was Batman issue 184. I must have been 9 years old at the time. I always loved comics after that. I enjoyed watching astronauts fly into space, and for a while I wanted to be one.
BH: You attended the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan from 1976 to 1980. How did you find that educational experience?
Keith Williams: It was wonderful! The main reason I went SVA was because Will Eisner, the creator of The Spirit, was teaching there. My major was in Cartooning and Will brought fun and a lot of knowledge about the art and business sides of comic books. The other classes were fine and rounded out my art experience. I still have great friends that I talk to from my time there.
BH: I understand you entered the comic book field as a background inker in the early 1980s. How did that come about, and which artists did you assist?
Keith Williams: I knew Howard Perlin from high school, working on school shows together. He introduced me to his father Don Perlin. At the time he was the artist on Ghost Rider. I had shown him my inking samples. He saw that I had potential and took me under his wing. He mentioned my name up at Marvel when they were looking for a background inker for Mike Esposito. I was hired and have been working in comics ever since. Besides Mike Esposito there was Joe Sinnott, Bob Wiacek, Andy Mushinsky, Al Milgrom, Terry Austin, Vince Colletta, John Byrne, Bob Hall and a few more.
BH: Why did you decide to focus on inking?
Keith Williams: I focused on inking because I learned that I was better at it. I had great people to learn the skills of inking from. Inking became my foot in the door.
BH: At Marvel Comics, you were also the first person to join Romita’s Raiders, the art apprentice program initiated by editor-in-chief Jim Shooter and run by art director John Romita. What specific sort of work did you find yourself doing as one of the Raiders? How do you feel it helped you in terms of honing your skills and preparing you for a career as an artist in the comic book industry?
Keith Williams: As a Romita Raider, I, and the other Raiders were art correctors. We would fix storytelling if the panels didn’t flow correctly. If a character was wearing the wrong costume we would correct it. Assist John sometimes in cover design. John Romita was the Art Director at Marvel [and] everything would go through him meaning pages of art and he would assign us to fix things that needed fixing. While we were there as Raiders, we received a master class on how to create a comic.
BH: What was your first credited work in comic books, and how did you get assigned that job?
Keith Williams: My first credited work [was] Sectaurs for Marvel, 1985. I inked over Steve Geiger, another Raider. I think I started on issue 4. Mark Texeira moved on and they needed a new art team. It was a mini-series which ended on issue 7. I got the job because I was lucky enough to be in the office at the time.
BH: In late 1984 you became John Byrne’s background inker beginning with Alpha Flight #19. You provided background inks on several issues of Alpha Flight, and when Byrne moved to Incredible Hulk for his all-too-short run you accompanied him. After Byrne left Marvel for DC Comics where he oversaw the successful post-Crisis revamp of Superman, you were his background inker on Action Comics in 1987. How did you come to do background inking for Byrne? What was the experience like?
Keith Williams: Mark Gruenwald, one of the editors at Marvel, came up to me and asked if I was interested in working with John Byrne on Alpha Flight as a background artist. Of course, I said yes. It was a great experience.
BH: It’s noteworthy that Byrne saw that you were credited on all of those stories as the background inker, something that at the time was not expected, much less required. Do you find that this helped your career? Certainly as a young reader it was probably the first time I noticed your name.
Keith Williams: John put my name on the cover of the books and my name was right beside his in the credits. I would also get pages from the books we did. No other inker had ever done that for a background artist or would expect that to be done for them. I will always be grateful to him for doing it. He helped my career because of it.
BH: Later on you had the opportunity to do full inking over Byrne’s pencils on Avengers West Coast #53 in late 1989 and on several issues of Sensational She-Hulk in 1991. How did you like that experience? As a reader, I felt you did a good job. Looking at that Avengers West Coast, in particular I was very impressed by the detailed, intricate inking you did on the sequence with Immortus in an alternate timeline where Queen Elizabeth I was executed instead of Mary, Queen of Scots. The storyline in She-Hulk where she ends up in the Mole Man’s subterranean kingdom and fights Spragg the Living Hill also had a lot of interesting, detailed work by Byrne. You did a fine job embellishing all those caves and rocky textures.
Keith Williams: Actually, working fully on John’s pencils, scared the daylights out of me. As an artist, you always feel there is still so much to learn. Am I ready? I guess I was. All of the background inking got me ready to do full inks with John and I loved making his lines come to life.
BH: Jumping back a bit, you and penciler Alex Saviuk became the regular art team on Web of Spider-Man with issue #35, cover-dated March 1988. How did you get that assignment, and how did you find it working with Saviuk? You stayed on Web of Spider-Man through issue #85 in early 1992, so I’m guessing it was a good experience. Of course, as you were a freelancer, I’m sure you were also grateful to have a regular monthly assignment.
Keith Williams: Jim Salicrup was the editor on the Spider-Man books at the time. He must have seen my work here and there in the office and tried me out. I worked over Steve Gieger on an issue of Web of Spider-Man and then worked with Alex. I guess he saw something in us working together and we stay together for almost five years.
BH: Speaking for myself, I find Saviuk very underrated. I feel he was overshadowed by Todd McFarlane on Amazing Spider-Man, which at the time was in the spotlight. I think that was a shame, because you and Saviuk were doing good, solid work month after month on Web.
Keith Williams: Alex is a great artist. I feel he’s up there with Romita in style. It was very enjoyable working with him.
BH: You worked on a wide variety of titles throughout the 1990s, inking a diverse selection of pencilers. I wanted to briefly touch upon the work you did for Dark Horse. You inked Doug Mahnke on The Mask Strikes Back and Bill Hughes on Star Wars: Droids, both of those coming out in 1995. Any particular thoughts on those two jobs? Mannke and Hughes both seem to have detailed penciling styles, so I wondered how you approached inking them.
Keith Williams: Doug Mahnke’s style on The Mask was different than any I‘ve encountered. It was zaniness stuffed into reality. Bill Hughes had more of a cartoon style which fit into the loony situation the Droids were put in. I try to go with the flow of the penciller. With Doug it would be more of a hard edge, using crow quill Hunt 102 pen point nibs. With Bill it more of a softer look. I used a Winsor Newton Series 7 No. 3 brush and a Gillotte 290 flexible pen nib.
BH: In 1994 you became the regular inker of The Phantom newspaper strip written by Lee Falk, inking George Olesen’s pencils. You were on the strip until 2005, when Olesen retired. Had you previously been a fan of The Phantom? Although it isn’t especially popular here in the States, it has an absolutely huge following in other parts of the world such as Sweden and Australia.
Keith Williams: I wasn’t really a fan of The Phantom. That was because it wasn’t in any of the newspapers in New York. I did learn to like it. The Phantom has a great cast of characters.
BH: I’ve heard working on a daily newspaper strip described as a grueling, endless treadmill run. What did you think of the work? How was it different from monthly comic books?
Keith Williams: I really had no idea what it was like to put out a six day strip every week. There was no time for a real vacation. So, even when I would go away on a trip, the Phantom would be with me. I’m not really complaining, because it was always better to have work than not. It was different than a comic book because, working on dailies, you only had as much as three panels to work on for a strip.
BH: Finally, what have you been working on in the last decade and a half? Do you have any new projects coming out soon?
Keith Williams: Actually, I got to work for Marvel again with the help of Ron Frenz in 2019. It was a 10 page story in Thor the Worthy. Other than that, it’s been conventions and commissions for me.
BH: If people are interested in hiring you for commissions, what is the best way to get in touch with you?
Keith Williams: You can DM me on Instagram or Facebook: keithwilliamscomicbookart. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to the 11th edition of Comic Book Coffee. I’ve been posting 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.
51) Wilson Tortosa
Exposure: Second Coming #2, penciled by Wilson Tortosa, written by David Campiti, lettered by Matt Thompson, and colored by Mickey Clausen, published by Avatar Press in October 2000.
I know some of you are probably saying “Coffee? What coffee?!?” Look, it’s right there. Those two lingerie-clad ladies are having their morning coffee. See, I told you so.
Exposure, created by David Campiti and Al Rio, featured the adventures of Lisa Shannon and Shawna Diaz, who investigate cases involving demons, vampires, aliens and other weird phenomena. Of course Lisa and Shawna deal with all of these unusual menaces while wearing skimpy outfits and stiletto heels. And in their free time they occasionally work as pin-up models. I guess you can consider it “The XXX-Files” or something like that.
Exposure was originally published by Image Comics in 1999 as a four issue series. It returned a year later with the two issue Exposure: Second Coming released through Bad Girl comic book publisher Avatar Press.
This back-up story in Exposure: Second Coming #2 was the first published work of Filipino artist Wilson Tortosa. He went on to draw Battle of the Planets, City of Heroes and Tomb Raider for Top Cow / Image Comics.
52) Casey Jones & Tom Simmons
Excalibur #99, penciled by Casey Jones, inked by Tom Simmons, written by Warren Ellis, lettered by Richard Starkings, and colored by Ariane Lenshoek, published by Marvel Comics with a July 1996 cover date.
Okay, since the last entry was heavy on the T&A, here’s one for the ladies. We have the very buff Brian Braddock clad in his boxers drinking his morning coffee. He’s deep in contemplation, preparing himself for an upcoming encounter with the London Branch of the Hellfire Club. Brian has redesigned his Captain Britain armor in anticipation of the conflict, and has mixed feelings about assuming his costumed alter ego again.
I definitely felt the best issues of Excalibur were the ones by Chris Claremont & Alan Davis, and the ones where Davis both wrote & penciled the series. Following Davis’ departure the book took a definite dip in quality. Warren Ellis’ run was a post-Davis highpoint, and he wrote some stories that I enjoyed.
Casey Jones was brought in to alternate with Carlos Pacheco on penciling duties. Pachecho was ostensibly the series’ main artist, but in practice Jones ended up penciling twice as many issues. I really liked Jones’ work. He’s a talented artist. This page definitely demonstrates his storytelling abilities. Jones has also worked on Outsiders, Birds of Prey, Fantastic Four and New Warriors.
53) Jack Kamen & Johnny Craig
“Hear No Evil” is penciled by Jack Kamen, inked by Johnny Craig, written by Al Feldstein, and colored by Marie Severin, from Crime SuspenStories #13, published by EC Comics with an Oct-Nov 1952 cover date.
Beautiful, ambitious Rita has married Frank Reardon for one reason: he’s incredibly wealthy. Frank is also completely deaf, having lost his hearing in the military. While Rita acts the role of dutiful, loving wife she mockingly tells him things like “From here on in, your my meal ticket” and “If it wasn’t for your dough I’d walk out on you tonight” knowing he can’t hear a single word she says.
Rita begins an affair with Vance Tobin, a business associate of Frank. The lovers try to figure out a way be together without Rita losing Frank’s money. Then one day Frank stumbles into the house, dazed & disheveled, having nearly died in a car accident outside. Inspiration strikes Rita, and in front of the deaf Frank she suggests to Vance a plan to poison her husband and forge a suicide note.
Rita retrieves some potassium cyanide from the garden shed. Serving coffee to the two men, Rita tells Vance not to drink the cup on the right s it contains the poison. A few minutes later, though, it is not Frank but Vance who abruptly drops dead on the spot, much to Rita’s horror. Wrong coffee cup, Vance! You can probably guess the twist ending, but I won’t spoil it.
“Hear No Evil” is a EC rarity, one of the few stories not drawn solely by a single artist. Instead, we have two EC mainstays collaborating, Jack Kamen on pencils and Johnny Craig on inks. They work well together, effectively illustrating Feldstein’s tale of infidelity and homicide.
Following the demise of EC Comics in 1955, Kamen went into the advertising field, where he had a successful career. He briefly returned to comic books in the early 1980s to draw the cover of the graphic novel adaptation of Stephen King’s EC Comics-inspired Creepshow, as well as the artwork featured in the actual movie. Kamen passed away in 2008.
Johnny Craig remained in comic books, but he found only limited success at both Marvel and DC, due to his style not aligning with the dynamics needed for superhero stories, as well as to his meticulous approach to drawing leading to difficulty in meeting deadlines. By the 1980s he had moved into a creative field where he was much more comfortable, drawing private commissions for fans of his now-classic EC Comics work. Craig passed away in 2001.
54) Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney
Defenders #62, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Jim Mooney, written by David Anthony Kraft, lettered by John Costanza, and colored by Bob Sharen, published by Marvel Comics with an August 1978 cover date.
Today’s entry is from the famous (infamous?) “Defenders for a Day” storyline. Would-be documentarian Aaron “Dollar Bill” English has put together a television special about the Defenders. In it, touting the Defenders’ “non-team” status, Dollar Bill enthusiastically states “Anyone with super-powers who wants to declare himself a Defender is automatically a member! It’s a snap… Don’t delay, join today!”
To the Defenders consternation, several dozen superheroes arrive on their doorstep ready to join the team. Valkyrie, attempting to be courteous, suggests they make coffee for all the guests, and attempts to enlist Hellcat’s aid, but Patsy Walker refuses, stating “No way, Val — this tabby’s through messing around with that cockamamie coffee pot!” Valkyrie is left with no one to assist her in making coffee but the Hulk… oh, gee, what could possibly go wrong?!?
Soon enough Val and the Hulk are serving up cups of what is apparently the strongest, most pungent black coffee ever brewed in the entire history of existence, leading Captain Marv-Vell to disgustedly exclaim “Not even Thanos could down this bitter beverage!”
Sal Buscema is one of my all-time favorite comic book artists. He is an accomplished storyteller, and as we see here he does an absolutely superb job illustrating David Kraft’s comedic story. Buscema’s pencils combined with Kraft’s script results in a laugh-out-loud issue.
Jim Mooney, another very talented artist, effective embellishes Buscema here. I love their scowling Hulk who orders the Paladin to “Drink it black!” The disgusted expression on Hercules’ face is also priceless.
55) John Byrne
John Byrne’s Next Men #30, written & drawn by John Byrne and colored by Matt Webb, published by Dark Horse with a December 1994 cover date.
Next Men was John Byrne’s first creator-owned series. A bleak sci-fi political suspense thriller, Next Men dealt with the survivors of a top secret genetic engineering project masterminded by Senator Aldus Hilltop.
By this point in the series the corrupt, ruthless Hilltop has ascended to the Presidency itself. Bethany, Nathan and Danny, three of the surviving Next Men, have learned that Hilltop is Danny’s biological father, and have traveled to Washington DC hoping to confront him. They are intercepted by Thomas Kirkland, a time traveler from the 22nd Century.
Over coffee at an all-night diner, Kirkland reveals to the Next Men that Hilltop is destined to become the vampiric cyborg despot Sathanas, who nearly conquered the world in the year 2112. Defeated, Sathanas traveled back in time to 1955 and met up with the young, ambitious Hilltop, advising him, giving him knowledge of the future, directing him to establish the Next Men project, all of this to ultimately insure his own creation. Kirkland has traveled back to the end of the 20th Century in an attempt to break this predestination paradox by assassinating Hilltop before he transforms into Sathanas.
Next Men was an intriguing and ambitious series. I consider it to be one of John Byrne’s best works from his lengthy career. The series went on hiatus with issue #30, ending on an explosive cliffhanger. Byrne initially planned to return to Next Men just a few months later, but the implosion of the comic book biz in 1995 delayed this indefinitely.
Byrne at long last concluded the Next Men saga in 2011 with a 14 issue series published by IDW. Hopefully I will have a chance to take a look at those issues in an upcoming blog post.
Four and a half decades ago, at the small Derby, Connecticut-based Charlton Comics, the company’s main writer teamed up with a young up-and-coming artist to create a striking post-apocalyptic sci-fi series that, though short-lived, is remembered to the present day. The writer was Joe Gill, the artist was future superstar creator John Byrne, and the series was Doomsday + 1.
In the opening issue of Doomsday + 1 the end of the world is touched off on April 7, 1996 by power-mad Latin American dictator General Rykos. On the verge of being overthrown, Rykos is determined to take everyone down with him. He launches a pair of nuclear missiles, one at New York City, the other at Moscow. The United States and Russia each believe they have been attacked by the other, and before anyone can figure out who is actually to blame, both nations have launched their atomic arsenals at each other, wiping out human civilization.
Hours before Rykos starts World War III, NASA launches a small spacecraft into Earth’s orbit on a scientific mission. The three –person crew of the capsule is U.S. Air Force Captain Boyd Ellis, his fiancée, radiation specialist Jill Malden, and Japanese physicist Ikei Yahsida. As a result this trio are saved from the apocalypse, but are nevertheless forced to watch helplessly from Earth’s orbit as the human race is destroyed.
The capsule remains in orbit for over a month, the three astronauts waiting for the radioactivity on Earth to drop. Finally running out of food, they bring the capsule in for a landing on the uninhabited Greenland, which has been mostly spared from fallout. However the heat of the nuclear weapons has melted the Greenland ice cap, releasing from suspended animation several prehistoric mammals. Also freed from an icy slumber is Kuno, a Goth warrior from the Third Century. Jill, a linguist, is able to communicate with the man out of time, and soon the hulking hairy figure has become a valuable ally.
Over the course of the six issue series, the quartet explores the devastated Earth, hoping to find other survivors. Along the way they have a series of strange adventures, encountering a mad Russian cyborg & his mechanical army, alien peacekeepers, an underwater civilization, human criminals, and visitors from a parallel universe.
There’s also a bit of what you might call a love triangle, or maybe a love quadrangle. Boyd and Jill start out as a couple, prompting some jealousy from Ikei, who is also attracted to Boyd. Kuno, upon meeting the group, is immediately attracted to Jill, and the two of them soon become involved, leaving Boyd and Ikei to then hook up, as well.
Joe Gill was an incredibly prolific writer who produced hundreds of stories for Charlton Comics. He and John Byrne seemed to have a good creative rapport on this series, with Gill allowing Byrne a free hand to make changes to the scripts.
Looking at the art on Doomsday + 1, it’s apparent that Byrne, in some of his first professional work, was already showing a great deal of potential. Obviously he would get much, much better over the next few years, but already you can see his aptitude for dramatic layouts & storytelling, his ability to render both action & characterization.
On the last three issues the artwork is credited to “Byrne Robotics.” Many years later Byrne would re-use the name for his official website & message board. I posted there to inquire about the “Byrne Robotics” credits on Doomsday + 1. Byrne explained:
“I used Byrne Robotics when a friend helped me ink backgrounds. (She’d lost her job so I gave her a temp job.)”
I also informed Byrne that I would be writing this blog post, and I asked if he had any thoughts about Doomsday + 1 that he would be willing to share. He kindly responded:
“Thems were some old time comic books! If they’d been published in the Fifties, they’d not have stood out much from the crowd.
“And they were fun. Joe Gill, the writer, gave me permission to change anything I wanted to, if I felt it improved the story. A real learning experience—like pretty much everything I did at Charlton.”
That is a common theme you hear from comic book artists who began their careers at Charlton Comics, that it was a really good training ground where they were given an opportunity to hone their skills, helping them gain the experience that later enabled them to obtain more high-profile, better paying work at other companies such as Marvel and DC Comics.
Issue #4, the one with the underwater civilization, has some lovely artwork by Byrne & his assistants. The look of the beautiful, graceful Amphibian woman Meri almost seems like a composite of Snowbird and Marrina, two of the characters Byrne would introduce in Alpha Flight a decade later.
There is one aspect of issue #4 which I feel has perhaps not aged well. We are told that the Amphibians, due to their inability to live in the depths of the oceans, created a second race, the Gill-Men. Over centuries the Gill-Men became more vicious & belligerent, eventually turning on the Amphibians. Unlike the Amphibians, the Gill-Men are large, monstrous-looking beings. If you read between the lines, you might come away thinking the Gill-Men were created to be servants or slaves, and that they rebelled against their masters. If that is the case, having them as very clear-cut villains, and making them grotesque compared to the elegant, humanoid Amphibians, feels sort of, well, racist.
Then again, it could be I’m just reading too much into this! After all, in issue #6, our heroes meet the inhabitants of an alternate reality Earth, a civilization of “Beautiful People” who have created a highly advanced utopia. However we quickly learn that this apparent paradise only exists because these Beautiful People have raided other parallel Earths, abducting their inhabitants to serve as slaves. So in this case the supposedly more advanced, attractive culture is very much the villain.
Looking at issue #5, our heroes are captured by a group of military prisoners who have seized control of an abandoned Air Force base. Boyd and Kuno are tied up by the criminals, who intend to have their way with Jill and Ikei, the first women they’ve seen since the nuclear war. Hoping to catch their captors off-guard, Jill and Ikei pretend to be compliant, going so far as to get dolled up in a couple of sexy outfits. I noticed that the dress Byrne has Jill in resembles a couple of the outfits he would draw Colleen Wing wearing just a few years later in the pages of Iron Fist. (Yes, I do notice things like this!)
Doomsday + 1 was apparently cancelled on very short notice by Charlton, as there was a completed seventh issue ready to go when the ax fell in 1976. Fortunately the story “There Will Be Time” did see print soon after, in black & white, in the 4th and 5th issues of the semi-professional fanzine The Charlton Bullseye.
At this point it appears Byrne was intended to take over as the full writer of the feature. In “There Will Be Time” he lays the groundwork for a new direction, as the survivors encounter Stinson Tempest, a time traveler for the 40th Century who becomes stranded in the post-apocalyptic present. It feels like there was a lot of potential to where Byrne planned to take the series, so it’s a shame it was cut short so abruptly.
Plus, y’know, it had dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are always fun.
There is actually one other Doomsday + 1 story, although for many years it was believed lost. Charlton Comics revived Doomsday +1 in 1978 as a six issue reprint title, picking up from the original numbering. At first sales on the revival were good, and Charlton considered running new material. Regular Charlton contributor Tom Sutton was commissioned to write & draw a story to appear in issue #13. Unfortunately sales soon dropped, and the decision was made to once again cancel the book, with Sutton’s story never seeing print.
Years later the original unlettered artwork resurfaced, although Sutton’s script for it had gone missing. Sutton passed away in 2002. Eventually another Charlton veteran, the great Nicola “Nick” Cuti, working from Sutton’s art, wrote an entirely new script. It speaks to both the clarity of the storytelling in Sutton’s artwork and to the immense talent of Cuti’s writing that this new script meshes almost seamlessly with pages drawn over three decades earlier. “The Secret City” was then lettered by Bill Pearson and colored by Donnie Pitchford. At long last it saw print in 2013 in issue #8 of Michael Ambrose’s excellent magazine Charlton Spotlight, published by Argo Press.
Looking at the artwork for “The Secret City,” it appears that Sutton’s original intention was to pick up after the events of Doomsday + 1 #6. Cuti managed to work in references to the events of “There Will Be Time” in his script, definitely placing it after the survivors began working with Stinson Tempest.
As I’ve previously observed from my past looks at Cuti’s excellent writing on E-Man, he is really good at developing realistic characters & relationships. We have no way of knowing how Sutton would have dialogued the series’ quartet, but Cuti takes the opportunity to add some realistic tension to the relationship between Boyd and Ikei.
Reading the original stories, Boyd is definitely a belligerent, trigger-happy individual, ready to start a fight at the drop of a hat (in fact Kuno the supposed “barbarian” often comes across as more careful & strategic-minded than Boyd). In his script for “The Secret City,” Cuti has Ikei expressing disapproval for Boyd’s aggressive attitude, perceiving it as a perpetuation of the warlike mindset that recently led to humanity all but wiping itself out. It definitely gives a certain subtlety & nuance to Sutton’s story, a pulpy affair that sees the quartet fighting against an army of Roman Legionnaire lizard men zipping around in flying saucers!
So, for those of you who are interested in reading Doomsday + 1, where can you find these comic books? Since this was some of John Byrne’s earliest work, near-mint copies of the first six issues tend to be expensive. However, if you don’t mind your comics being a bit dog-eared, you can find less pristine copies for lower prices. Issues #7-12 are reprints, so they’re probably not as much in demand, meaning that may be another way to get these stories without forking over a lot of money.
There is also the seven issue miniseries The Doomsday Squad, published by Fantagraphics in 1986, which reprints the original six issues, as well as “There Will Be Time” in color for the first time. Several of the issues feature brand new cover artwork by legendary artist Gil Kane, who provides his own unique interpretation of the characters.
As for “The Secret City” by Sutton & Cuti, head over to the Argo Press website and order a copy of Charlton Spotlight #8. The issue also features a 2012 interview with Cuti about his Charlton work.
Also, since Doomsday +1might be the public domain (no one seems to know for certain who, if anyone, currently owns the rights to it) sometimes you can find full issues of the original series posted on blogs & websites. The complete first issue can be read on The Bronze Age of Blogs, if you are so inclined.
“I’ve been thinking for some time that I would like to revisit a post-apocalypse kind of scenario, such as was seen in my very first ‘dramatic’ work in comics, but this time without the more obvious fantasy elements of that original series (mermaids, alien robots, frozen mammoths, etc.),” said Byrne. “When bits and pieces of this new series first started to percolate around in my head, I knew almost at once the shape that ‘revisit’ would take; something in the ‘All-New, All-Different’ vein. And the first time I doodled some images of my ‘crew,’ I knew I was there!”
Doomsday.1 sees the Earth ravaged not by nuclear war but by a devastating solar flare. The crew of the International Space Station watches helplessly as nearly the entire surface of the planet is devastated, with billions dying. Following the disaster, the Space Station crew makes their way back to Earth, to the small area within the Western Hemisphere which was spared the worst of the solar storm. Their search for other survivors soon brings them into conflict with the worst of human predators.
This miniseries is extremely grim and downbeat. I also think it’s one of the best things that Byrne has done in a number of years. The somber subject matter very much suits the direction that Byrne’s artwork has developed in over the last couple of decades. It also is a good fit for the darker sensibilities that he has shown in his writing since the early 1990s. I’ve often felt that such material was not a good fit for mainstream super-hero series (I definitely was not fond of what he did to Donna Troy during his run on Wonder Woman) but it feels much more at home in his creator-owned projects such as this and Next Men.
I also appreciated the fact that Byrne writes the characters in Doomsday.1 as fairly intelligent & genre-savvy. In other words, he doesn’t have them acting like idiots solely in order to advance the plot.
So in spite of the similar premises, Doomsday.1 is a very different book from its predecessor. Nevertheless, I definitely recommend it. It’s a genuinely riveting story. It’s also an excellent way in which to see how Byrne has grown & developed as a creator, to look at how he depicted the apocalypse in 1975, and how he approached a similar scenario 38 years later in 2013.
This year Marvel Comics is celebrating their 80th anniversary with the release of Marvel Comics #1000 and a number of specials reuniting older creative teams. The occasion prompted me to take a look back at 1986 in general, and at Fantastic Four #296 in particular, when Marvel celebrated their 25th anniversary.
I’m sure at least a few people are wondering “How in the name of Irving Forbush could Marvel have celebrated their 25th anniversary in 1986 and then only 33 years later be celebrating their 80th?!?”
The fact is Marvel Comics actually has two anniversaries. The first is for late August 1939 when Timely Comics, the company that would one day be known as Marvel, released their very first comic book, Marvel Comics #1 (with an October cover date). The second is for early August 1961 when the first issue of Fantastic Four was published (with a November cover date) ushering in what is now known as the “Marvel era” or the “modern Marvel universe” that has been in continuous publication to the present day.
This, of course, is very convenient for Marvel Comics, as it gives them not one but two historic anniversaries to celebrate every few years with high-profile specials and reprints, as well as the accompanying publicity.
In any case, back in 1986 it was the 25th anniversary of the debut of Fantastic Four #1 by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby. Marvel made a fairly big deal of it, with Marvel Saga and The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition offering in-depth explorations of the characters’ histories (in the days before trade paperbacks and the internet both of these titles were invaluable resources to young fans such as myself). Marvel’s then editor-in-chief Jim Shooter also launched the New Universe with much fanfare, but due to various behind-the-scenes events that line ultimately did not last long.
Another part of the celebration was that all of Marvel’s comics released in August 1986 featured cover portraits of their lead characters, surrounded by a border of character illustrations, the latter of which were drawn by longtime Marvel artist John Romita. A gallery of these covers can be viewed on Sean Kleefeld’s blog.
This finally brings us to the main subject of this post, namely Fantastic Four #296, the big 25th anniversary issue commemorating the birth of the Marvel era. This 64 page story was plotted by Jim Shooter, scripted by Stan Lee, lettered by John Workman, colored by Glynis Oliver, and edited by Mike Carlin. It was drawn by a very impressive roster of artists: Barry Windsor-Smith, Kerry Gammill, Vince Colletta, Ron Frenz, Bob Wiacek, Al Milgrom, Klaus Janson, John Buscema, Steve Leialoha, Marc Silvestri, Josef Rubinstein, Jerry Ordway & Joe Sinnott.
The set-up for “Homecoming” is a bit on the convoluted side. A couple of years earlier, during the lengthy run by John Byrne that immediately preceded it, Ben Grimm aka the Thing had been written out of the book, and She-Hulk had come onboard the fill his spot. In recent issues the Thing had been lurking at the periphery, as Byrne was setting the stage for him to finally return to the team in their 25th anniversary story. But then Byrne abruptly departed Marvel, going over to DC Comics to do a high-profile reboot of Superman. This left Shooter and Lee sort of scrambling to pick up the pieces, to tell a story that makes sense with what Byrne had recently been doing.
As FF #296 opens, the Thing is despondent. His ex-girlfriend Alicia Masters is now dating Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. The Thing, who resembles a large pile of orange rocks, feels more disconnected from humanity than ever. After brooding in the rain at the site where Reed Richards’ rocket ship crashed years before, and the team all first gained their powers, Ben decides to exile himself to Monster Isle, home to the FF’s very first foe, the Mole Man, who himself has been ostracized by humanity.
Days later the rest of the team learn from pilot Hopper Hertnecky where their friend & teammate has gotten off to. Hopper reiterates to them the Thing’s longtime frustration that while Reed, Sue and Johnny all gained amazing powers from the cosmic rays that bombarded their spaceflight, Ben was horrifically mutated. Reed once again begins to beat himself up over his role in his best friend Ben becoming a monster. However this time Sue bluntly states that this time Ben is unfairly taking out his frustrations on Reed, that whatever Reed did or did not do, he has attempted on numerous occasions over the years to help Ben, to find a permanent cure for him.
Motivated by Sue’s words, Reed decides he needs to see Ben one last time, to settle their argument once and for all. Sue and Johnny insist on accompanying him. She-Hulk and Wyatt Wingfoot, however, choose to remain behind, realizing that this is a family matter, and as close to the team as both of them are, they haven’t been there since the very beginning.
Mister Fantastic, the Invisible Woman and the Human Torch journey to Monster Isle. They are quickly attacked by the Mole Man’s army of strange monsters. They are brought before the Thing, who has taken to dressing like the Mole Man. Ben tells the others they shouldn’t have come, this is his home now. He tells them that he is going to help the Mole Man create a safe haven for outcasts of society.
Ben is convinced of the Mole Man’s altruism, but he begins to experience doubts when Alicia unexpectedly arrives. The blind woman coerced Hopper into flying her to Monster Isle, so that she can make her peace with Ben. Learning that Alicia has broken up with Ben, and that Ben has been showing the rest of the team around the subterranean domain, the Mole Man’s bitterness & paranoia inflame. He has his servants kidnap & disfigure the Human Torch as punishment for Johnny “stealing” Alicia from Ben.
As upset as Ben is about Alicia being with Johnny, this nevertheless shocks & disturbs the Thing’s confidence in the Mole Man. Ben’s faith is further shaken when Reed explains that the earth-moving device the Mole Man intends to use to create an island refuge for humanity’s freaks & outsiders will cause devastation to the mainland.
At long last Ben realizes that no matter how noble Mole Man’s motives might be, he is nevertheless a disturbed, dangerous fanatic. The Thing joins with the others to wreck the Mole Man’s machines, and to restore Johnny to normal. As the subterranean headquarters beneath Monster Isle crumble, they make a break for it. The issue ends as they are rescued by Hopper in a rubber raft. A grumbling Ben reluctantly admits that his place is with the team, and at long last the Fantastic Four are reunited.
The plot by Jim Shooter is a solid one, in that it achieves two primary goals: It commemorates the anniversary & history of the Fantastic Four, and it gets the original line-up back together for the first time in two and a half years. Perhaps it’s not the best FF issue I’ve ever read, or the most imaginative, but it’s entertaining.
The script by Fantastic Four co-creator Stan Lee is also good. In later decades Lee sometimes became almost a parody of himself, with his whole “Face front, true believers!” bombastic, tongue-in-cheek style of prose and promotion. Some of that is certainly on display here. However, as the editor and the main writer / scripter at Marvel throughout the 1960s, Lee was largely responsible for giving most of the company’s characters their distinctive voices & personalities. Looking at this story it is apparent that he had remained capable of poignant, dramatic writing, especially if paired up with a talented artist / collaborator. Lee’s opening narration and dialogue for FF #296 is very effective and combined with the art by Barry Windsor-Smith results in a genuinely moody, atmospheric scene.
Speaking of the artists, there are some distinctive choices on display in FF #296. The aforementioned work by Windsor-Smith immediately set the tone. On several pages the story cuts back & forth between his art and a flashback of the FF’s origin drawn by Kerry Gammill & Vince Colletta. It definitely offers an interesting contrast.
In general I am not overly fond of Colletta’s inking. Nevertheless, back in the mid 1960s he did ink several of the Lee & Kirby FF issues, and his work on this story in conjunction with Gammill’s pencils evokes a Silver Age feel that is very well suited to a retelling of the events of the team’s first story.
There are several pages by the team of Ron Frenz & Bob Wiacek. Frenz is a very solid, effective storyteller, so he is certainly well-suited to dramatically render scenes that feature a significant amount of exposition and character moments. Wiacek is one of the best inkers in the biz, and his finishes complement Frenz’s pencils.
I also enjoyed the pages by Al Milgrom & Klaus Janson. They are two artists with very different styles, yet the combination works very well. Milgrom’s super-hero oriented penciling is very effective for rendering the team fighting the Mole Man’s weird, wacky monsters, and Janson’s inking gives it a darker, gritty feel.
The next pairing, John Buscema inked by Steve Leialoha, is a bit odd. Both are incredibly talented artists, to be certain. In addition, Buscema was the first regular penciler on FF after Kirby left the title, doing really good work during the early 1970s, so he’s an appropriate choice to contribute to this issue. Nevertheless, I do feel Leialoha’s inks sort of subsume Buscema’s characteristic style. Of course, it is possible that Big John was only contributing layouts, something that became more prevalent for him in the 1980s, leaving it up to Leialoha to do the lion’s share, and resulting in more of his style coming through.
I think that under any other circumstances the team of Buscema & Leialoha would have been very effective. It’s just that here, on this particular story, a somewhat more traditional inker might have been a better fit for Big John. But that’s purely an emotional, sentimental judgment on my part. At the very least, this does demonstrate once again just how significant an impact the inker can have on the finished artwork.
The next segment is by then up-and-coming penciler Marc Silvestri and established inker Josef Rubinstein. This was a year before Silvestri would begin his well-received run on Uncanny X-Men, but there’s definitely a lot of potential on display, with solid action & effective storytelling, and it’s apparent why he soon became a hot artist. Rubinstein’s inking ably supports the young penciler.
Rounding out the issue is Jerry Ordway on pencils and Bob Wiacek & Joe Sinnott on inks. It was certainly very appropriate to have Sinnott involved in this issue. He had a long, acclaimed association with the Fantastic Four series. Sinnott inked the second half of Lee & Kirby’s long FF run, and is generally regarded as one of the best inkers ever paired with Kirby. After Kirby left Marvel, Sinnott continued as the book’s inker for over a decade, working over John Buscema and several other pencilers, right up until the beginning of Byrne’s run.
That said, in my mind Ordway inked by Sinnott was another unusual choice. Sinnott is an inker whose work is almost always recognizable, no matter who he inks. Ordway, however, is one of those pencilers whose style is so strong & distinctive that, no matter who inks his pencils, the finished artwork basically looks the same. To my untrained eyes Ordway inked by Sinnott does not look much different that Ordway inking himself, or Ordway inked by Wiacek or Al Gordon or Dennis Janke or anyone else.
Oh, well… I’m probably quibbling. The pages by Ordway, Wiacek & Sinnott look great, and that’s the important thing. Ordway has stated that growing up in the 1960s he was a huge Marvel fan, so it must have been a thrill for him to work on several issues of Fantastic Four around this time, especially this anniversary story.
In any case, the back cover artwork is by John Buscema & Joe Sinnott. It’s a really nice image that showcases both artists’ styles, and really evokes the early Bronze Age era of the title. So that gives us a really good example of “traditional” FF artwork.
However, there are two individuals who were not involved with Fantastic Four #296. The first is Jack Kirby. The second is John Byrne.
Kirby is, of course, the co-creator of Fantastic Four. He co-plotted & penciled the first 102 regular issues of the series, as well as the first six annuals. Kirby’s role in the creation & development of the Marvel universe cannot possible be overstated.
As for Byrne, he is often credited with the revitalization of the Fantastic Four title. The writing on FF throughout the 1970s is generally regarded as uneven. Byrne came onboard as writer & artist with issue #232 in 1981, and very quickly made the FF into an exciting, popular series. His time on the book is frequently compared to the original Lee & Kirby run.
However, once again real-world events intruded. By 1986 Byrne and Shooter were not on good terms and, as previously mentioned, this led to Byrne abruptly leaving Fantastic Four. His last full issue was #293, released just three months earlier.
I doubt that back in late 1986 any of this impacted on my reading of Fantastic Four #296 in the slightest way. As I said before, this was pre-internet, so I had no way of easily finding out about all of these events.
Nowadays, though, I have a much greater knowledge of the history of the Fantastic Four series, and an awareness of what was going on at Marvel in the mid 1980s. So when I re-read this issue a couple of weeks ago, the absences of Jack Kirby, who co-created the first decade of the book, and John Byrne, who had just come off a five year run that saw a creative renaissance, felt especially conspicuous, as well as exceedingly unfortunate.
Not to jump on an anti-Marvel bandwagon, but I certainly understand why over the past three decades so many artists & writers have chosen to go the creator-owned route. After all, if Marvel can screw over Kirby, the guy who created many of their characters, well, they’re certainly not going to hesitate to kick anyone else to the curb, either. Far better to retain ownership of your characters and benefit fully from their success, no matter how modest, than to create a runaway hit for Marvel (or DC Comics, for that matter) and see other people make millions of dollars off your creativity.
Having said all that, I do still enjoy a few Marvel and DC books, such as Fantastic Four (the current run written by Dan Slott is the best the book has been in a long time). I just believe that it’s absolutely crucial for anyone who wants to work for the Big Two to go in with their eyes open, to know exactly what their rights are, and to be fully aware of the history of the industry, so that they do not find themselves in the same position that Kirby and so many others unfortunately did.
One other note: Back in 1986, I was 10 years old, and the idea that Marvel was celebrating its 25th anniversary was a little difficult to comprehend. To me 1961 seemed so incredibly far in the past.
Contrast this to a couple of years ago, when Image Comics celebrated their 25th anniversary. My first reaction was that there was absolutely no way Image could be 25 years old, and it was impossible for 1992 to have been a quarter of a century ago.
I guess it’s just one of those matters of personal perspective. Anything that happened before you were born is automatically ancient history, and anything that happened during your lifetime, even if it was decades ago, still feels like the recent past because you were there and experienced it firsthand.
Writer James D. Hudnall passed away on April 9th. His earliest professional work was Espers for Eclipse Comics in 1986. Hudnall had numerous comic book credits, but I was most familiar with his nearly two year run on Alpha Flight from early 1989 to late 1990. He wrote issues #63 and #67-86.
Alpha Flight is a series that even its creator John Byrne admitted he didn’t really know quite what to do with it. He has been quite vocal about the fact that he only created the Canadian super-hero team to be able to survive a fight with the X-Men. Byrne was genuinely surprised when Alpha Flight became popular enough to receive their own series, and he took on the assignment with a certain reluctance.
Byrne wrote & penciled the first 28 issues of Alpha Flight. He did good work, but by the end he felt he had literally run out on things to do with the characters. After he left, the series somehow managed to last nearly another decade, experiencing a lot of ups & downs.
Byrne’s successor on Alpha Flight was writer Bill Mantlo, who worked with several artists during his three year stint on the series. Mantlo’s run started off showing potential, and a number of the issues from his first couple years were enjoyable. However towards the end things had definitely petered out. At the time, when Hudnall came on in early 1989, it really was a breath of fresh air. Although somewhat uneven, I regard Hudnall’s stint on Alpha Flight as one of the better post-Byrne periods. (Of course, as I always like to say, your mileage may vary.)
Hudnall’s first few issues of Alpha Flight had him wrapping up a some dangling subplots from Bill Mantlo’s run, including bringing to a close the team’s conflict with the Dreamqueen. With that out of the way, with issue #71 Hudnall embarked on a lengthy story arc involving an incredibly powerful, seemingly-unstoppable mystical villain, Llan the Sorcerer.
According to Hudnall the Sorcerer storyline was initially planned to run all the way to issue #100, with Llan as an overarching behind-the-scenes adversary dispatching such villains as the Master of the World and Zeitgeist against the team to distract them while his ambitious master plan came together. However, a lukewarm reception and conflicts with editorial resulted in Hudnall being replaced as writer on the book. This necessitated him giving his story a somewhat quick wrap-up in issue #86, with Doctor Strange being brought in to aid Talisman in defeating Llan.
Hudnall was probably overly ambitious with his plans for Alpha Flight. I don’t know if the Sorcerer storyline really would have had enough substance to it to continue running for another year in order to make it to issue #100. However, I cannot fault Hudnall for attempting to at least try to do something spectacular and long-ranging in a book that had recently been lacking in a solid, interesting direction.
Hudnall explained his plans an interview conducted in the early 2000s by the website AlphaFlight.net:
“I wanted to make the book more in line with Byrne’s vision, which I felt was generally a good one. I liked Byrne’s run except he was kind of unfocused direction-wise. Probably because he was bored. So one of the things I did was try to give Alpha Flight more of a purpose. And try to make them unique in the Marvel Universe, not just by virtue of their nationality. I also wanted to show off Canada, so I did tons of research.”
It had been a number of years since I have read those issues, but from glancing over them again this week I did like how Hudnall worked to develop the character of Talisman. It had been one of Talisman’s predecessors who had fought Llan the Sorcerer when he had last attacked Earth’s dimension 10,000 years earlier. It now fell to the current Talisman, who was fairly young & inexperienced, to lead the battle against this incredibly formidable, cunning foe.
I am not certain exactly how successful Hudnall was in his execution of Talisman’s character development. At times she came across less as focused & determined, and more as bossy & arrogant. But I do appreciate that Hudnall at least attempted to make her the focus of his overall storyline. I think Byrne came up with a fantastic design for the character, and it was nice to see her in the spotlight here.
Another highlight of Hudnall’s run was having former Alpha Flight foe Diamond Lil join the team. Lil had been involved in the events that had led to the death of Alpha’s original leader James Hudson, aka Guardian, which put her at odds with the team’s current leader, the widowed Heather Hudson, aka Vindicator. Complicating matters even further, Lil was the ex-girlfriend of Madison Jeffries, aka Box, who was now engaged to Heather. It was apparent that there was still an attraction between Lil and Madison, and the resulting love triangle was present throughout the background of the Sorcerer storyline.
I also think having Lil join the cast offered an outsider’s perspective on some of the events. It was interesting to see her gradual development from a one-time enemy who was regarded with suspicion to a trusted member of the team. Plus, during the “Acts of Vengeance” crossover we got to see go toe-to-toe with longtime Spider-Man villain the Scorpion, which was cool.
With the benefit of hindsight, Hudnall was doing on Alpha Flight what is now referred to as “writing for the trades,” i.e. writing a lengthy, complex storyline serialized in a monthly series that would later work as a complete novel when collected together in trade paperbacks. I think that if I was to go back and read Hudnall’s entire Alpha Flight run in one go, rather than broken up into monthly installments, it would work much better now.
For the majority of Hudnall’s time on Alpha Flight he was paired with penciler John Calimee. I personally think Calimee was a fairly good, solid artist, albeit one who was not particularly flashy or dynamic. In other words, he got the job done, but perhaps that was not seen as sufficient enough at that point in time, when several red-hot artists were exploding in other Marvel titles. Most of the issues Calimee penciled were inked by Mike Manley, a very talented artist whose work I have always enjoyed.
Other artists who worked on Alpha Flight during this time were Hugh Haynes, the great Filipino illustrator Gerry Talaoc and a fairly young up-and-coming Mark Bagley. The incredibly talented James Sherman turned in one of his all-too-rare rare comic book jobs, providing full artwork for Alpha Flight #73. That issue flashed back to the conflict between the original Talisman and the Sorcerer in prehistoric times.
John Byrne himself unexpectedly returned to the series to draw a couple of covers. Jim Lee, who did some of his earliest work on Alpha Flight, also contributed to a few covers during Hudnall’s run.
Regrettably, except for Haynes, there did not exist a good rapport between the writer and the various artists. Subsequently Hudnall would express his opinion that Calimee in particular had been unable to effectively execute the visuals contained in the plots. Hudnall also experienced a number of disagreements with his editors. Whether all of this was due to Hudnall wanting to remain faithful to his ambitious vision, or an indication that he was a difficult person to collaborate with, is up to the individual to decide.
Whatever the difficulties between Hudnall and his colleagues, as I said before, at the end of the day I personally do think that his run on Alpha Flight was pretty good. Possibly it is my teenage nostalgia talking, but all these years later it remains memorable for me.
As for the artwork by Calimee & Manley, looking at it in 2019 with a fresh perspective, I find that I still like it. Calimee is, as I said, a solid artist who knows how to lay out a page and tell a story. Manley’s inking here provided a polished finish to the pencils. One of his artistic influences was the legendary Al Williamson, and that shows in the inking on these issues.
The lettering on all of these issues was by Janice Chiang. I’ve always liked her work. Looking at these issues for the first time in years, I can immediately identify that it’s her lettering. She’s one of the best letterers in the biz.
In addition to Alpha Flight, Hudnall worked on Strikeforce: Morituri and the graphic novel The Agent for Marvel. Over at DC Comics he wrote the very dark graphic novel Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography. In the 1990s Hudnall worked on Malibu Comics’ well-regarded Ultraverse imprint, writing the series Hardcase and The Solution. With artist Andrew Paquette he created Harsh Realm, a six issue miniseries published by Harris Comics that was later loosely adapted into a short-lived TV series.
About a decade ago Hudnall began writing for the ultra-conservative website Breitbart, and espousing views I found very disagreeable. Nevertheless, despite how I felt about his politics, I was sorry to hear that in the last few years he was experiencing serious health problems. It’s unfortunate that he died at a relatively young age, a day before his 62nd birthday. He leaves behind a small but interesting and imaginative body of work.
Well-regarded British actor Peter Wyngarde, whose career spanned half a century, passed away on January 15th. He was 90 years old.
There is some dispute regarding early details of Wyngarde’s life. It is known that his father was a British diplomat stationed in Asia before World War II. When Shanghai was invaded by the Japanese in 1941, the fourteen year old Wyngarde was sent to an internment camp along with hundreds of other British citizens. The next four years were brutal ones. Wyngarde suffered from malnutrition, and at one point his feet were broken by his Japanese captors. One of the few concessions the Japanese accorded their prisoners was allowing them to stage plays in the canteen. This was the beginning of Wyngarde’s lifelong love of acting.
When the war ended Wyngarde was able to return to Britain. It took him some time to recuperate from his harsh ordeal, but afterwards he was determined to make a living as an actor. He began appearing in theatrical roles in 1946, starting with bit parts and as an understudy, gradually working his way up to more significant roles over the next decade. Beginning in the mid-1950s he also worked in television. His breakthrough role was playing Sidney Carton in the BBC’s 1957 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
Continuing his theater work, and occasionally acting in movies, Wyngarde also made several noteworthy guest appearances on British television. He twice played villains on The Avengers starring Patrick Macnee & Diana Rigg. In the memorable 1966 episode entitled “A Touch of Brimstone,” Wyngarde portrayed the sadistic Sir John Cartney, the head of the kinky, hedonistic Hellfire Club, who were plotting an overthrow of the British government. A year later he returned to the series in the episode “Epic.” This time he played Stewart Kirby, a washed-up Hollywood star involved in an audacious plot to film the murder of Emma Peel. The role involved numerous costume & make-up changes for Wyngarde, and he approached it with over-the-top gusto.
In 1967 Wyngarde guest starred on The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan’s cult classic psychological spy drama. He assumed the role of the Village’s sinister Number Two in the episode “Checkmate.”
Wyngarde best-known role was the suave, womanizing Interpol investigator turned novelist Jason King. He originated the part in the ITV series Department S, which ran for 28 episodes between 1969 and 1970. The character of Jason King proved very popular with viewers, and was spun off into his own series, which aired from 1971 to 1972.
Wyngarde was gifted with a deep, smooth voice and a striking presence. Portraying the sophisticated, charismatic Jason King, he was often clad in fashionable, impeccably-tailored suits. All together this resulted in Wyngarde becoming both a sex symbol and a style icon in the early 1970s.
“I decided Jason King was going to be an extension of me. I was not going to have a superimposed personality. I was inclined to be a bit of a dandy, used to go to the tailor with my designs. And my hair was long because I had been in this Chekhov play, The Duel, at the Duke of York’s.
“Jason King had champagne and strawberries for breakfast, just as I did myself. I drank myself to a standstill. When I think about it now, I am amazed I’m still here.”
Although Department S and Jason King had made Wyngarde famous, he subsequently chose to return to his first love, the theater. In 1973 he co-starred with Sally Ann Howes in a production of The King and I that ran for 260 performances. This was followed by a number of other stage roles.
In 1980, in the campy Dino De Laurentiis-produced Flash Gordon movie, Wyngarde played Klytus, the gold-masked henchman to Ming the Merciless. Wyngarde also appeared in the Doctor Who serial “Planet of Fire” in 1984, turning in a subtle, memorable performance. The late 1980s and the 90s saw further work on the stage, as well as occasional television guest roles.
It is a testament to how iconic a figure Wyngarde was that his likeness was immortalized in print in the early 1980s in the pages of the X-Men comic book series by the creative team of Chris Claremont, John Byrne & Terry Austin. The Avengers television episode “A Touch of Brimstone” inspired Claremont & Byrne to introduce their own version of the Hellfire Club, a cabal of ruthless mutant industrialists manipulating politics and the economy to their benefit, in the now-classic X-Men storyline “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” One of the members of this Hellfire Club was the X-Men’s old adversary Mastermind, now in the guise of the evil, seductive “Jason Wyngarde,” modeled, off course, on Peter Wyngarde’s performance as Jason King.
As a younger viewer I was passing familiar with Wyngarde from Flash Gordon and Doctor Who. However, it was in the 1990s via the internet that I first learned of how Claremont & Byrne had paid homage to the actor in their X-Men run. The full Jason King series was finally released on DVD in 2007 here in the States, and I enjoyed it tremendously. I subsequently viewed episodes of Department S, which was also an enjoyable show.
I was definitely a fan of Wyngarde’s work; he had such a wonderful presence on screen, and a rich, memorable voice.