Recurring themes of the Legion of Super-Heroes part 3: Yeah, that’s gonna be a “No” from me, dawg!

This is the third installment of my look at recurring plots, imagery and character-types in the Legion of Super-Heroes stories published by DC Comics during the Silver Age… and beyond.

This time we are looking at homages to one of the most iconic Legion images, the cover to the team’s first appearance in Adventure Comics #247.

Initially these homages were quite infrequent. By the 1990s, though, fandom had, for better or for worse, become a decades-spawning passion with a significant awareness of the medium’s past. This has resulted in the proliferation of homages to and parodies of Golden and Silver Age imagery, among these the cover to Adventure Comics #247.

The first Legion of Super-Heroes story in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) was written by Otto Binder, drawn by Al Plastino and edited by Mort Weisinger. The now-legendary cover was drawn by penciler Curt Swan & inker Stan Kaye, who regularly contributed the cover artwork to the Superman family of comics in the late 1950s.

“The Legion of Super-Heroes” saw a group of super-powered teens from 1000 years in the future offer Superboy the chance to join their club. Originally intended as a one-off tale, within a few years it would become a beloved, long-running series. Likewise, the cover image to Adventure Comics #247, with a shocked Superboy being rejected for membership in the team, would go on to be  a recurring motif over the series’ history, as well as inspiring numerous parodies throughout the medium.

The earliest homage to the Adventure Comics #247 cover that I’ve located is Superman #147 (August 1961) also drawn by Curt Swan & Stan Kaye. Here we see the now-adult Man of Steel being threatened not with rejection but with death by the Legion of Super-Villains.

It’s interesting to note that this issue was published just a little over three years later, in an era when overt nods to past were rare in the comic book biz. Audience turnover was fairly rapid in the 1950s and 60s, and it would normally not be expected that current readers would be familiar with material published several years earlier. The fact that Swan & Kaye drew this cover, presumably at the direction of editor Weisinger, appears to confirm awareness by DC that the Legion was already developing an avid, long-term readership.

The cover to Adventure Comics #322 (July 1964) is again penciled by Curt Swan, now paired with inker George Klein. Although not a straight-up homage of #247, it nevertheless evokes the former’s audition format, but with the Legion of Super-Pets taking the place of Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad & Saturn Girl, and the shape-changing Proty II standing in for Superboy.

L.E.G.I.O.N. was a semi-prequel to Legion of Super-Heroes. It featured an interplanetary law-enforcement team organized by the original Brainiac’s son, the Machiavellian genius Vril Dox, in the present day. The tone of L.E.G.I.O.N. was often bleakly humorous (as any series co-starring the ultra-violent Lobo would inevitably be) but the comedic tone reached ridiculous proportions in L.E.G.I.O.N. ’94 Annual #5 (September 1994). This “Elseworlds” tie-in had the team appearing in various pop culture parodies, including this segment lampooning the Silver Age Legion.

One can only guess what Curt Swan was thinking when he was asked to draw this bizarre send-up of his earlier work! He is paired here with inker Josef Rubinstein. The script is by Tom Peyer, with letters by John Costanza and colors by Gene D’Angelo.

The cover to Legion of Super-Heroes #88 (January 1997) has Impulse, the super-fast grandson of the Flash / Barry Allen and Iris West Allen auditioning to join the Legion. Of course the hyperactive, mischievous Impulse tries to rig things in his favor! Cover pencils are by Alan Davis, inks by Mark Farmer, letters by Todd Klein and colors by Patrick Martin.

Acclaimed painter Alex Ross has done numerous reimaginings of classic comic book covers. Here is his take on Adventure Comics #247. This painting was used for one of the two covers for the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, 29th Edition (May 1999) from Gemstone Publishing. This is actually a scan of the original artwork, courtesy of Heritage Auctions. The painting was unfortunately too dark & blurry when published.

Legion of Super Heroes was an animated series that ran on WB for two seasons from September 2006 to April 2008. DC published a comic book that tied in with the animated series’ continuity. Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century lasted for 20 issues. The cover to issue #16 (September 2008) has infamous Legion reject Arm-Fall-Off-Boy attempting to join the animated incarnation of the team, with equally unsuccessful results. Cover artwork is by Alexander Serra.

When DC briefly revived Adventure Comics starring the Legion of Super-Heroes in 2009, they published a zero issue that reprinted the team’s first story. The brand new cover to issue #0 (April 2009) is drawn by Aaron Lopresti and colored by Brian Miller.

Looks like somebody took one heck of a wrong turn at Albuquerque! The very much tongue-in-cheek Legion of Super-Heroes / Bugs Bunny Special (August 2017) was part of a series of crossovers between DC Comics and Looney Tunes. “The Imposter Superboy” sees Bugs accidentally transported to the 31st Century, where he finds himself in the cross hairs (or should that be cross hares?) of the very angst-ridden Legion. Cover pencils are by Tom Grimmett, inks by Karl Kesel, and colors by Steve Buccellato.

The cover of Adventure Comics #247 is such an iconic part of Legion lore that comic con cosplayers have even taken to recreating it! I have no idea when or where this was taken, or who this clever quartet are in real life, but they definitely deserve a round of applause.

Recurring themes of the Legion of Super-Heroes part 2: Super-Babies and Mystery Legionnaires

This is the second installment of my look at recurring plots, imagery and character-types in the Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes stories published by DC Comics during the Silver Age.

As I explained in the first part, Mort Weisinger, the editor of the Superman family of titles throughout the 1950s and 60s, often encouraged his writers & artists to reuse old elements.  This was due to the fairly regular turnover in the young readership during those two decades. Looking back at these stories it’s interesting to see these patterns.

This time around we are looking at super-babies and mystery Legionnaires!

As acclaimed comic book writer Roger Stern observed in his introduction to Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Volume 6:

“stories in which heroes are turned into infants were one of [editor Mort] Weisinger’s strange fascinations.”

These three issues of Adventure Comics are only just the “heroes transformed to babies” stories featuring the Legion. Quite a few others appeared periodically throughout the other Superman-related series during Weisinger’s editorial tenure.

Each of these covers was penciled by Curt Swan, inked by George Klein & lettered by Ira Schnapp.

Adventure Comics #317 (February 1964) written by Edmund Hamilton and drawn by John Forte. This is the introduction of the prophetic Dream Girl, who is seemingly plotting to destroy the Legion from within, although of course there’s a twist ending revealing her true motive. Among Dream Girl’s methods of sabotaging the Legion, she transforms several of the team into infants.

Adventure Comics #338 (November 1965) written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by John Forte. The villainous Time Trapper attempt to de-age the Legion members into nothingness. When they instead get stuck as infants, the Trapper tricks them into committing various crimes.

Adventure Comics #356 (May 1967) written by E. Nelson Bridwell and drawn by Curt Swan & George Klein. The five members of the Legion who are orphans regressed to toddlers. It’s all part of a screwy scheme by the inhabitants of a planet whose own children were wiped out by a plague.

Another plot device that editor Mort Weisinger directed his writers to utilize on several occasions was having mysterious or disguised individuals joining the Legion under suspicious circumstances.

Adventure Comics #307 (April 1963) cover by Curt Swan & George Klein, written by Edmund Hamilton and drawn by John Forte. Mystery Lad is soon revealed to be Element Lad, who goes on to become a longtime member of the team.

Adventure Comics #330 (March 1965) written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Jim Mooney. The Mystery Legionnaire, aka Dynamo Boy, is actually Vorn, a member of a gang of space pirates who infiltrates the team in order to destroy it; unlike Dream Girl from a year earlier, Dynamo Boy really intends to go through with this dastardly plan.

Adventure Comics #334 (July 1965) cover by Curt Swan & George Klein, written by Edmund Hamilton and drawn by John Forte & Sheldon Moldoff. Who is the Unknown Legionnaire? Who? WHO??? Okay, okay, I’ll tell you… it’s Supergirl, who after exposure to Red Kryptonite loses her memory and assumes a new masked identity.

Adventure Comics #350 (Nov 1966) written by E. Nelson Bridwell and drawn by Curt Swan & George Klein. When a cloud of Green Kryptonite encircles the Earth in the 30th Century, both Superboy and Supergirl are forced to resign from the Legion and return to the present day. But before leaving they chose their own replacements: the masked, armored Sir Prize and Miss Terious! The next issue reveals them to be former members Star Boy and Dream Girl, who rejoin the team.

Adventure Comics #355 (April 1967) written by Jim Shooter and drawn by Curt Swan & George Klein. When the adult members of the Legion face off against their opposite numbers in the Legion of Super-Villains, two masked, armored figures leap into the fray. But whose side are they on? It turns out they’re the 30th Century descendants of Lex Luthor and Mr. Mxyzptlk, who have become heroes to atone for the crimes of their ancestors.

There are also at least a couple of other Legion stories utilizing the Mysterious Unknown Masked Legionnaire trope in the Bronze Age. It seems to be a popular idea to return to again and again.

Next time I’ll be looking at one of the most iconic images in the history of the Legion, and some of the numerous homages, swipes & parodies of it that have appeared throughout the decades. I really hope you’ll vote “Yes” to checking out our next installment!

Recurring themes of the Legion of Super-Heroes part one: Welcome to the 30th Century

In the last couple months I’ve been reading the Legion of Super-Heroes stories of the Silver Age from the very beginning, via the reprints in the hardcover Legion of Super-Heroes Archives from DC Comics. I recently hit a speed bump, namely Legion Archives Volume 8, which is out of print and typically goes for $150 and up on Ebay! Hopefully I’ll find an affordable copy soon.

In any case, while reading all of the Legion stories from the first decade of the team’s existence, I noticed quite a few recurring images, plots and types of characters. Mort Weisinger, the original editor of the feature in Adventure Comics and the other Superman titles of the Silver Age, often encouraged his writers & artists to reuse old elements.  This was due to the fairly regular turnover in the young readership during the 1950s and 60s. (Fans continuously reading superhero comic books for decades into adulthood is something that was not yet a phenomenon.) Looking at these stories in the present day it’s interesting to see these patterns. I thought it would be both fun and informative to examine some of these.

First up: the Legion of Super-Heroes sitting around the table in their clubhouse with signs identifying their names & powers while Cosmic Boy is running the meeting. Several artists utilized this same layout throughout the late 1950s and early 60s. It is a useful way to introduce your various characters without having to work all of that information into the dialogue…

The first time this was drawn was by Al Plastino in the Superboy story in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) which was the first appearance of the Legion of Super-Heroes.

This same layout was then used by Jim Mooney in the Supergirl story in Action Comics #267 (August 1960) which has the Maid of Might attempting to join the Legion.

George Papp then utilizes this layout in Adventure Comics #282 (March 1961) when Star Boy joins the Legion.

Jim Mooney again utilizes this set-up in Action Comics #276 (May 1961) as Supergirl auditions a second time to join the Legion.

Finally, John Forte, the first artist to draw the Legion of Super-Heroes regularly, uses this setup in Adventure Comics #300 (September 1962) when the team became an ongoing feature in that series.

There are a number of other parallels to be found in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) written by Otto Binder & drawn by Al Plastino and Action Comics #267 (August 1960) written by Jerry Siegel & drawn by Jim Mooney.

Adventure Comics #247 shows the Legion founders Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad bringing Superboy 1000 years into the future where he is shown a sprawling super-advanced hi-tech version of Smallville.

Action Comics #267 shows the Legion founders bringing Supergirl 1000 years into the future, with a very similar shot being used to represent a sprawling super-advanced hi-tech version of Metropolis.

Also, in both stories Superboy and Supergirl respectively go with the Legion members to futuristic ice cream parlors and have some Martian Ice Cream, with nearly-identical narration & dialogue. The only difference in the later one is that instead of a human behind the counter serving ice cream there’s a robot. (Darn dirty robots are stealing our jobs!)

I initially posted these on Facebook. Occasionally this would engender comments that reusing the same layouts over and over again was “unimaginative.”

It should be observed that in the 1950s and 60s comic books were not regarded as a prestigious field in which to work. The majority of writers and artists toiled in anonymity, working under tight deadlines for low pay. Comic books were seen as disposable entertainment. Between that and the aforementioned frequent turnover of readers, it made sense to reuse plots and artwork from time to time as a way of saving time. No one involved in the creation of these comic books could possibly conceive that decades later their work would be reprinted and enjoyed by succeeding generations. It was genuinely a different industry.

I will soon be taking a look at some other popular recurring stories, artwork and themes from the Legion’s early years.

The Art of Steve Lightle

Yesterday I wrote a short retrospective on comic book creator Steve Lightle, who passed away at 61 years old on January 8th.  Lightle was a very talented artist who worked on numerous series during a career that lasted three and a half decades. I am going to spotlight some more examples of his artwork.  Here are ten of my favorite Steve Lightle covers and pin-ups.

1) Bolt Special (Spring 1984) – Steve Lightle’s earliest published work was for Bill Black and AC Comics. He drew several covers for AC, including this one. In addition to the title character, this features Tara the Jungle Girl, who would soon co-star in AC’s flagship title Femforce.  This cover really shows that Steve hit the ground running.

2) Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes #342 (Dec 1986) – This is definitely a fantastic showcase of Lightle’s work on the Legion, fitting the entire mid-1980s lineup onto a single cover. He really captured the individual personalities of the various characters. The coloring is by Anthony Tollin.

3) Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #23 (Jan 1987) – Lightle co-created Legion member Tellus with writer Paul Levitz. Lightle revealed in interviews that in designing Tellus he wanted to come up with a completely alien, non-humanoid being, and he put a lot of thought into developing the character. This pin-up really illustrates what a unique character Tellus is.

4) Who’s Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (Apr 1988) – Lightle contributed wrap-around covers to the first two issues of this seven part spin-off from the main Who’s Who project. On this first one Lightle draws several members of the then-current line-up alongside a flashback to the team’s first tragic battle with Computo, a story originally recounted during the Silver Age.

5) Classic X-Men #36 (Aug 1989) – Lightle drew a number of incredible covers during his three year run as cover artist on Classic X-Men. The assignment gave him the opportunity to revisit, and reexamine, many of the already-iconic moments from the classic Claremont & Byrne run. Lightle seemed to be especially inspired on his covers for the reprints of “The Darth Phoenix Saga,” with this image of the X-Men and Phoenix being especially stunning.

6) Who’s Who in the DC Universe #14 (Nov 1991) – Lady Quark is a somewhat atypical female superhero, possessing a more athletic physique, harder features and short cropped hair (apparently her look was based on Scottish singer Annie Lennox). Lightle does a fine job illustrating Lady Quark in this profile pic, showcasing her as a powerful, formidable being. The coloring is by Tom McCraw.

7) Marvel Comics Presents #127 (Apr 1993) – This cover with Ghost Rider and Typhoid Mary works well to visualize the duality of the later character, with the Spirit of Vengeance caught between her two personalities . The coloring on this is also very effective, and is probably by Steve himself or his wife Marianne.

8) Wonder Woman Gallery (Sept 1996) – Lightle certainly did a very beautiful pin-up of Princess Diana for this special. It’s unfortunate that he did not have too many opportunities to draw Wonder Woman. The coloring is by Tom McCraw.

9)  The Flash #161 (June 2000) – Lightle drew a lot of great pieces during his three year run as cover artist on The Flash, but many people (myself included) nevertheless consider this to be one of the best. This issue features a flashback to the honeymoon of the first Flash, Jay Garrick, and his wife Joan in Las Vegas in 1947, with Jay’s teammates in the Justice Society crashing the party. Lightle successfully evokes the feel of the Golden Age art styles from the original JSA stories. The lettering is by Todd Klein.

10) The Mighty Titan #3 (October 2014) – When writer Joe Martino was running the Kickstarter campaigns to fund The Mighty Titan he asked several established artists to contribute covers. Among them was Lightle, who drew the cover for issue #3. Lightle was a good person, and it was just like him to help an up-and-coming creator. I think it was Lightle posting this cover on social media that made me aware of The Mighty Titan in the first place, which led me to back the Kickstarter. The coloring is by Ross Hughes.

This list could easily have been twice as long. Steve Lightle drew so many amazing pieces of artwork during his lifetime. He will certainly be missed.

Steve Lightle: 1959 to 2021

I was very sorry to hear that comic book artist Steve Lightle had passed away on January 8th. I have been a fan of his work for many years.

Legion of Super-Heroes vol 3 #37 (Aug 1987) cover drawn by Steve Lightle and colored by Anthony Tollin

Steve Lightle was born on November 19, 1959 in the state of Kansas. Growing up he was a huge fan of DC Comics, especially Legion of Super-Heroes. As he recounted in a 2003 interview published in the excellent book The Legion Companion by Glen Cadigan from TwoMorrows Publishing:

“One of the oldest drawings that I’ve got was done in second grade, and it was a massive Legion fight scene that I probably did sitting at my desk when I should’ve been doing my work.”

In the early 1980s Lightle was in DC’s new talent program. His first published work was actually for Bill Black’s Americomics / AC Comics line in 1984, where he drew a handful of covers. Right from the start on these early pieces Lightle was already doing impressive work.

Lightle’s work soon after appeared in DC’s New Talent Showcase anthology, and in fill-in issues of Batman and the Outsiders and World’s Finest.

Less than a year into his professional career Lightle was asked by editor Karen Berger to take over as penciler on Legion of Super-Heroes from the outgoing co-plotter & penciler Keith Giffen, who after a stellar run felt burned out drawing the title, with its cast of thousands and myriad futuristic alien worlds. A surprised Lightle was happy to accept the assignment. His first issue was Legion of Super-Heroes volume 3 #3, cover-dated October 1984, which was co-plotted by Paul Levitz & Keith Giffen and scripted by Levitz. Lightle was inked by Larry Mahlstedt, who he would be paired with on most of his mid-1980s run.

Legion of Super-Heroes vol 3 #8 (March 1985) cover pencils by Steve Lightle, inks by Larry Mahlstedt and colors by Anthony Tollin

In only his second issue Lightle has to draw the death of Karate Kid, one of his favorite members of the team. He did a superb job rendering this tragic event, as well as in the next issue where Princess Projecta executed Nemesis Kid for the murder of her husband. The storytelling on these sequences was stunning, really bringing to life the tragedy of Levitz & Giffen’s plots.

Lightle only penciled Legion for about a year, from #3 to #16, with a couple of other artists providing fill-ins during that time. Lightle, with his highly-detailed art style, was not an especially fast penciler, and that played a role in his departure.

As he explained in The Legion Companion:

“[T]he fact is, I took myself off the Legion…  I had convinced myself that my inability to do everything I wanted in every issue was somehow meaning that I was delivering less than a hundred percent, and therefore I shouldn’t be on the book…. So the funny thing is, looking back, I can’t even understand my thinking on this.”

Legion of Super-Heroes vol 3 #14 (Sept 1985) written by Paul Levitz, penciled by Steve Lightle, inked by Larry Mahlstedt, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Carl Gafford

Although his run on Legion was relatively short, Lightle nevertheless had a huge influence on the series. He created the Legion’s first two totally non-humanoid members, Tellus and Quislet, and designed new costumes for several established characters.

Lightle also remained on as the cover-artist for Legion, drawing nearly every cover for volume 3 until it ended in 1989 with issue #63, as well as several covers of the reprint series Tales of the Legion and for the four issue Legion spin-off Cosmic Boy. Lightle also co-plotted and penciled “Back Home in Hell” in issue #23, a story which saw a traumatized Mon-El forced to return to the Phantom Zone when the serum that protects his Daxamite physiology from lead poisoning wears off.

Lightle is regarded by many Legion fans, myself included as one of the series’ definitive artists.

Legion of Super-Heroes vol 3 #23 (June 1986) written by Paul Levitz, co-plotted & penciled by Steve Lightle, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Carl Gafford

Following his departure from Legion of Super-Heroes, Lightle penciled the first five issues of the Doom Patrol reboot in 1987 and covers for various DC titles, plus several entries in their Who’s Who series.

In 1988 Lightle also began working for Marvel Comics, drawing a fill-in issue of X-Factor and becoming the cover artist for the reprint series Classic X-Men, an assignment that lasted from #30 (Feb 1989) to #56 (Feb 1991).

Yesterday I was attempting to recall when I first saw Steve’s work. I *think* it was when I bought Classic X-Men #39 in the Fall of 1989. Classic X-Men was in the middle of reprinting the epic “The Dark Phoenix Saga” by Claremont, Byrne & Austin from a decade earlier. I was 13 years old, and the dynamic Wolverine cover by Lightle immediately grabbed me. I missed the next issue, but a couple months later my parents got me #41, which had another amazing Lightle cover. I immediately became a fan of his work.

Classic X-Men (Nov 1989) cover by Steve Lightle

Soon after I saw Lightle’s cover artwork on Avengers Spotlight and Excalibur.  He also drew a number of Marvel Universe trading cards.

In the early 1990s I was beginning to get into DC Comics, and one of the invaluable sources of information on the oft-confusing post-Crisis universe was the 16 issue loose leaf edition of Who’s Who in the DC Universe edited by Michael Eury.

Lightle illustrated several profile pics for Who’s Who, including a dramatic rendition of Ayla Ranzz, the former Lightning Lass, in the “Five Years Later” era of the Legion. I don’t know if Lightle ever drew any other Legion-related artwork set during this period, but now I wish he had. It’s a very striking image. He rendered Ayla as a beautiful, athletic figure in dynamic motion.

Who’s Who in the DC Universe #6 (Jan 1991) Ayla Ranzz profile drawn by Steve Lightle and colored by Tom McCraw

In 1992 Lightle’s work began appearing regularly in the bi-weekly anthology series Marvel Comics Presents. He drew an eight part Wolverine and Typhoid Mary serial written by Ann Nocenti, which was followed by a Ghost Rider and Typhoid Mary serial by the same team. The storyline culminated in the intriguing and thought-provoking “Bloody Mary: A Battle of the Sexes” by Nocenti, Lightle and co-artist Fred Harper in MCP #150-151 (March 1994).

Lightle’s artwork, with his innovative and unconventional layouts, and its sense of atmosphere, was incredibly well suited to depicting the ongoing story of Typhoid Mary and her fractured psyche. On several chapters coloring was provided by Steve’s wife Marianne Lightle.

Marvel Comics Presents #123 (Feb 1993) written by Ann Nocenti, drawn & colored Steve Lightle and lettered by Janice Chiang

Lightle was also the regular cover artist on Flash for DC between 1997 and 2000. He produced a series of very dramatic images during that three year run.

In the late 1990s I *finally* discovered, via back issues, Lightle’s work on Legion of Super-Heroes from the mid 1980s. I immediately recognized he was one of the all-time great artists on that series. Around this time I was fortunate enough to get to know both Steve and Marianne on social media.

I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes looks the Lightles gave of their incredible work for the all too short-lived Cross Plains Comics, which adapted and was inspired by the works of writer Robert E. Howard.

Red Sonja: A Death in Scarlet (Dec 1999) written by Roy Thomas, co-written & drawn by Steve Lightle, lettered by Dave Sharpe and colored by Marianne Lightle

Among the projects Steve and Marianne worked on for Cross Plains was Red Sonja: A Death in Scarlet. Steve co-wrote the story with veteran Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja writer Roy Thomas, and penciled & inked the issue. Marianne Lightle colored it under the pen name Tayreza.

Red Sonja: A Death In Scarlet was intended to be a three issue miniseries, but unfortunately only the first issue ever came out. Nevertheless, it worked well as a stand-alone story.  The artwork by Lightle was magnificent. I definitely wish he had been given more opportunities to draw Red Sonja.

It’s been observed by Legion of Super-Heroes fans that a number of the creators associated with the series have found themselves repeatedly drawn back to working on it throughout the years. At one point someone might have even jokingly referred to it as “Legionnaire’s Disease.”

Legion of Super-Heroes #8 (June 2012) written by Paul Levitz, drawn by Steve Lightle, lettered by Pat Brosseau and colored by Javier Mena

Whatever the case, Lightle was one of those creators who found himself often returning to the teen heroes from 1000 years in the future. He drew the covers for the four issue miniseries Legends of the Legion in 1998, an Umbra solo story in The Legion #24 (Nov 2003), a cover for the Star Trek / Legion crossover (Nov 2011) and several covers for the New 52 reboot of Legion of Super-Heroes, along with an Invisible Kid solo story in issue #8 (June 2012), plus a few other Legion-related items.

Over the last two decades Lightle was working on several creator-owned web comic book series, issued under the umbrella of Lunatik Press. Among the series Lightle created was the space opera Justin Zane, the martial arts adventure Peking Tom, and the sexy funny animal series Catrina Fellina.

Steve Lightle’s Lunatik Press

Steve and Marianne Lightle lived in the Kansas City region most of their lives, where they raised their children, and where their grandchildren now live. Throughout my interactions with Steve and Marianna on various social media platforms over the past two decades they always impressed me as genuinely good people.  Steve’s death at the age of 61 from cardiac arrest brought on by Covid-19 is a tragedy. My thoughts go out to Marianne and her family in this difficult time.

There is currently a fundraiser on Go Fund Me to help the Lightle family with Steve’s medical bills and other expenses. If you are able, please contribute. Thank you.

Earth Shattering Disasters: the perfect comic book for 2020

I went over to JHU Comic Books in Manhattan on Tuesday to buy the latest issue of Alter Ego magazine from TwoMorrows Publishing, and to look for a few other things. Due to Covid-19, this was only the fourth time since March that I’ve set foot in a comic book store, so I decided to spend some time browsing. Skimming though the back issue bins, I came across this:

Yes, I could not think of a more appropriate comic book to read in the year 2020 than one entitled Earth Shattering Disasters! Sadly there were no pandemics, economic meltdowns or murder hornets within these pages, but still plenty of interest to the comic book aficionado.

DC Special was an anthology series published by DC Comics from 1968 to 1971 and then from 1975 to 1977, running for 29 issues. Most issues of DC Special were reprints that centered around themes such as Wanted! The World’s Most Dangerous Villains, Strangest Sports Stories Ever Told or Super-Heroes Battle Super-Gorillas, or that spotlighted the work of specific creators, namely Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert.

The final three issues of DC Special contained brand-new material. DC Special #28 (cover dated June-July 1977) seems to be a thematic sequel to the all-reprint issue #18, which was sub-titled Earth Shaking Stories. This time, though, Earth Shattering Disasters contained three brand new stories.

The dynamic cover to DC Special #18 is drawn by Al Milgrom, then only 27 years old, who at the time was working as an editor and artist for DC Comics. Having grown up seeing Milgrom’s work for Marvel in the 1980s, it’s interesting to now see an earlier example of his work featuring DC mainstays Batman and Aquaman. If you squint, you can also make out a trio of Legion of Super-Heroes members in the background.

Opening this issue, we come to a table of contents page drawn by the great Jim Aparo. It took me a bit of time when I was younger to develop an appreciation for Aparo, but since then I’ve come to regard him as one of the very best artists DC had in their employ during the Bronze Age.

By 1977 Aparo was already well-regarded for his depictions of both Batman and Aquaman, having drawn numerous stories featuring those two characters over the previous decade. This is, however, one of the very few times Aparo drew anything involving the Legion of Super-Heroes. It’s nice to see his depictions of Timber Wolf, Phantom Girl and Brainiac-5, even if it’s only a single image.

The first story, “And the Town Came Tumbling Down,” has Batman facing Quakemaster, a disgruntled architect who threatens to destroy Gotham City with man-made earthquakes. This tale is interesting in hindsight since a little over two decades later in 1998 DC Comics would do a massive year-long storyline involving Gotham City being devastated by an earthquake. Of course, back in 1977 comic book stories were much more self-contained, and this is very much a one-off tale. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see Batman face off against a brand new villain rather than encountering one of his regular foes like the Joker or Penguin for the umpteenth time.

“And the Town Came Tumbling Down” is written by Bob Rozakis, who did a fair amount of writing for DC between 1975 and 1989, although nowadays he better known for his nearly two decade stint running DC’s production department.

Pencils are by John Calnan, an artist who is probably not too well known nowadays. Most of his work for DC was on their anthology titles, but he also drew a number of Batman issues in the late 1970s.

Calnan is inked by Tex Blaisdell, an artist who spent most of his career working on syndicated comic strips. Blaisdell was often paired with penciler Curt Swan on the Superman titles during the Bronze Age, which was unfortunate, as I really don’t think their styles meshed well. Blaisdell’s inking definitely feels like a much better fit over Calnan’s pencils. The two of them turn in a good, solid job on this story.

“A Creature of Death and Darkness” opens with Aquaman facing off against modern day pirates, but the action soon shifts to a battle with a humongous blob-like creature that threatens to consume the Hawaiian Islands.  The story is written by Gerry Conway, a prolific creator at both Marvel and DC during the 1970s and 80s.

This story is notable for being the very first DC Comics work by Don Newton. As with a number of his Bronze Age contemporaries, Newton got his start at Charlton Comics.  Having honed his craft on Charlton’s horror anthologies and The Phantom, Newton then moved into the “big leagues,” so to speak, becoming a regular artistic presence at DC Comics until his untimely death at the age of 49 in August 1984.

Newton is inked here by his friend and neighbor Dan Adkins. Starting out as an assistant to Wallace Wood in the mid 1960s, Adkins went on to do some superb inking over a variety of pencilers such as Gil Kane, Paul Gulacy, P. Craig Russell, Curt Swan and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. Adkins also occasional did full artwork, both in comic books and on magazine covers & illustrations. The collaboration of Newton and Adkins certainly works well on this story.

The final entry in this issue, “The City That Stopped Dead,” is the primary reason I picked this up. I’m a huge fan of the pre-Crisis Legion of Super-Heroes.

I’d never read this story before. The only time it’s been reprinted was in Legion Archives Volume 13, which had a low print run and currently goes for between $300 and $600 from various online retailers! Um, no thank you! It’s much cheaper to just search out the original issues, which is exactly what I did.

This is an early Legion story by Paul Levitz, who would later go on to write some of the team’s all-time greatest adventures in the 1980s. Levitz is often upfront about the fact that his later Legion of Super-Heroes work was better. Nevertheless, considering he was only 21 years old when he wrote “The City That Stopped Dead,” it’s a pretty good effort.  The Legion’s five on-call members leap into action to save 30th Century Metropolis when the city’s Fusion Powersphere is sabotaged, causing a catastrophic blackout.

Penciling this one is Arvell Jones, one of the members of Detroit comic book fandom who entered the comic book biz in the 1970s. Jones drew a number of series for DC and Marvel, most notably a two and a half year run penciling All-Star Squadron in the mid 1980s and the first six issues of Kobalt from Milestone / DC in 1994.  He did a nice job on this, so it’s a shame that he only drew a couple of other Legion issues after this.

Inks are by future Iron Man and Valiant Comics superstar Bob Layton. At the time Layton was only 24 and, as with several of the other creators on DC Special #28, early in his career. Nevertheless, Layton’s inking here is already polished, displaying the artistic flair that he has consistently demonstrated in the decades since.

DC Special #28: Earth Shattering Disasters is the sort of comic book that if I had been old enough to buy it when it had come out I would have enjoyed it. It has some of DC’s best characters in a trio of exciting stories written & drawn by a line-up of talented creators. Plus you got 34 pages for 60 cents! Adjusted for inflation, that’s $2.58 in 2020 money. That’s a great value, considering nowadays you can’t find a 20 page comic book for less than four bucks!

So, yeah, if I had been ten years old when this was released in the Spring of 1977 (as opposed to ten months old, which is how old I actually was back then) I’m sure I would have eagerly snatched this off the newsstand. As a 44 year old reading it in 20202, I can still enjoy it. It’s a product of a slightly less complicated era, a time when comic books already featured a high degree of craft, yet were still more accessible.

I realize the industry has changed a great deal in the last 40 plus years and that the market now usually requires stories that are decompressed and “written for the trade,” as the saying goes. Nevertheless, I miss these types of “one and done” tales.

Of course, that’s the great thing about back issues (and, consequently, collected editions of vintage comic books): there are literally decades of older material out there for us to enjoy.

Remembering comic book artist George Klein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Venus 2 pg 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventure Comics 352 pg 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantastic Four 1 pg 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avengers 55 pg 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action Comics 300 cover small

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

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

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

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

Legion of Super-Heroes: The Doomed Legionnaires

Among the myriad characters to have appeared in the adventures of the Legion of Super-Heroes over the decades, there exists a quartet that seem tied together by tragedy, almost as if fate itself meant for them to meet with terrible destinies.  I speak of Karate Kid, Princess Projecta, Ferro Lad, and Nemesis Kid, who were conceived by Jim Shooter, making their first appearances in Adventure Comics #346 (July 1966), published by DC Comics.

Adventure Comics 346 cover

Jim Shooter was all of 13 years old when he became the Legion’s new writer.  He came from an impoverished background, and entered the field to help supplement his family’s meager income.  One of the strengths that Shooter brought with him, in addition to his fertile imagination, was that he knew how real teenagers think and act.  He helped bring a certain authenticity to the super-powered teens of the 30th Century.  His first published story, for which he also supplied the rough pencil layouts, was in fact the two-part tale that ran in Adventure Comics #s 346-347, which saw the four young heroes he created inducted into the Legion.  The finished artwork was courtesy of Sheldon Moldoff, Curt Swan & George Klein.

Karate Kid, although he had no actual superhuman abilities, was a highly trained martial artist who had mastered a form of “super karate” which enabled him to go toe-to-toe with much more powerful opponents.  Princess Projecta had the ability to create incredibly realistic illusions.  Ferro Lad was a mutant who could turn his body into a form of living steel, gaining super strength & invulnerability.  Nemesis Kid possessed the talent to instantly develop the ability to combat any foe or danger.

Just as Karate Kid, Princess Projecta, Ferro Lad, and Nemesis Kid had finished being admitted into the Legion, the militaristic alien Khunds (also a Shooter creation) made clear their intention to invade Earth.  The team, including the four newcomers, was dispatched across the globe to guard the planet’s defenses.  However, one by one the “electro-towers” protecting Earth were destroyed by sabotage.  It quickly became apparent that one of the new Legionnaires was in fact a traitor working with the Khunds… but which one?  At first the evidence seemed to point to Karate Kid.  But as Superboy stepped forward to accurse Karate Kid, the true double agent was revealed to be Nemesis Kid.

Adventure Comics 347 pg 13

The Khund invasion was thwarted, but Nemesis Kid used his adaptability power to teleport away, evading capture.  He would go on to become a long-time foe of the team, both as a solo menace and a member of the Legion of Super-Villains.  And out of that first encounter would grow a long-running enmity between Karate Kid and Nemesis Kid.

Soon after, tragedy once again struck the Legion.  Editor Mort Weisinger had directed Shooter to more or less rip off the then-current movie The Dirty Dozen.  To his credit, Shooter conceived a two part story that was quite original & dramatic.  In the pages of Adventure #s 352-353, the cosmic entity known as the Sun Eater was detected approaching the United Planets.  Capable of consuming entire galaxies, the Sun Eater was too formidable a menace for even the Legion to defeat.  They were forced to enlist the aid of five of the galaxy’s most dangerous criminals, offering them amnesty in exchange for their services.

Superboy, Cosmic Boy, Princess Projecta, Sun Boy and Ferro Lad set out to confront the Sun Eater, accompanied by the newly-formed Fatal Five.  One member of that quintet of criminals, the cyborg Tharok, conceived a strategy to combat the inhuman menace.  Although this battle plan failed, the attack by the Legion and the Fatal Five managed to weaken the Sun Eater, as well as provide Tharok with the data needed to construct an Absorbatron Bomb.  If detonated at the core of the Sun Eater it would destroy the entity.  Unfortunately whoever delivered the bomb would almost certainly die in the act.  Superboy was ready to sacrifice himself, but Ferro Lad punched the Boy of Steel, grabbed the bomb, and flew into the heart of the Sun Eater.  The bomb did indeed succeed in destroying it, but at the cost of Ferro Lad’s life.

Advenure Comics 353 pg 20

In real life, Shooter hadn’t initially planned to kill off his creation.  In fact, he wanted to reveal Ferro Lad to be the first black Legionnaire.  However the conservative Weisinger forbid him doing this, supposedly fearing it would affect their sales in the South.  As a result, when conceiving the Sun-Eater two-parter, Shooter realized the ending necessitated someone dying, and so he chose Ferro Lad.  In any case, despite a very brief tenure on the team, Ferro Lad became something of a fan favorite due to his brave, heroic sacrifice.

Time passed, and Shooter left the Legion.  During the intervening years, under other writers, Karate Kid and Princess Projecta went on to become well-established members of the team.  The two characters also fell in love.  Then, nearly a decade later, in 1975, Shooter made a brief return to the series.  It was at this point that he was able to delve into the background of his futuristic master of the martial arts.

In the pages of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #210, Shooter, paired with artist Mike Grell, revealed the origin of Karate Kid, aka Val Armorr.  In “The Lair of the Black Dragon” Karate Kid learned he was the son of the infamous Japanese criminal Kiraku Nezumi, aka the Black Dragon, and an American woman named Valenina Armorr, who died shortly after giving birth to him.  Karate Kid’s mentor, known only as the Sensei, had in his youth himself been a super-hero.  He and the Black Dragon were arch-enemies.  After many years, the Sensei finally killed the Black Dragon in combat, only to learn of the existence of his foe’s infant child.  The Sensei raised Karate Kid as his own son.  Now a teenager, Karate Kid was approached by the Black Dragon’s followers, hoping the truth of his parentage would turn him against the Sensei.  Instead, Val fought to protect the Sensei.  He explained “The Black Dragon gave me life… but you gave me more: ideals and moral values!”  As far as Val was concerned, the Sensei was his true father.

Superboy Legion 210 pg 18

More time passed.  Paul Levitz became the writer on Legion of Super-Heroes, embarking on a multi-year run during which he penned a number of now-classic stories.  One of his long-running subplots was the complicated relationship between Karate Kid and Princess Projecta.  After a tumultuous courtship, Val and Jeckie at last married.  Unfortunately, their happiness would be short-lived.

During Levitz’s partnership with penciler & co-plotter Keith Giffen, Legion became an especially popular title.  It received a brand new series in 1984.  To start it off, in the first five issues Levitz and Giffen brought back the Legion of Super-Villains, expanded in ranks and headed by Nemesis Kid.  The one-time traitorous LSH member embarked on a dual quest to lead his fellow criminals in the invasion of Princess Projecta’s home planet of Orando and to kill as many Legionnaires as possible.

The Super-Villains attacked Orando, shunting the entire planet into another dimension, in the process capturing several members of the LSH.  This included the newly-married Karate Kid and Princess Projecta.  In Legion #4, Val managed to free himself and his teammates, but then told them “Hold it – you guys go on ahead – I have a personal score to settle.”  With that he headed off to face his long-time rival Nemesis Kid.

In a brutal fight, Nemesis Kid used his adaptability to match Val’s martial arts, delivering a bloody beating.  But the hero refused to give up, continually getting up again and again to face his foe.  Despite his willpower, Val ended up sustaining severe injuries.  Realizing he was mortally wounded, Karate Kid grabbed his flight ring, bid farewell to Jeckie, and flew up into the sky, using the last minutes of his life to damage the orbiting technology that had snatched Orando into limbo.

Legion v3 4 pg 22

Giffen, who was absolutely not a fan of Karate Kid, was the one who had originally suggested killing Val.  Levitz, in contrast, really liked Karate Kid, but he decided that dramatically it was a good idea because the character was popular and so his death would be unexpected as well as possess an emotional punch.

In the letters page of issue #4, Levitz addressed Val’s death: “A long-time favorite character of this writer (who even scripted Karate Kid #1 as his first LSH-related assignment over eight years ago), we’d like to think his death in battle against Nemesis Kid was foreshadowed from the day they both joined the Legion in Adventure Comics #346.”

By this time Giffen had actually gotten burned out drawing Legion.  Up-and-coming artist Steve Lightle took over as penciler with issue #3, working from Giffen’s thumbnail pencil breakdowns on his first couple of issues before taking full creative control of the storytelling.  Unlike Giffen, Lightle was a big fan of Karate Kid, and he was hardly thrilled that in only his second issue on the book he would have to draw the character’s demise.  Nevertheless, given how much he cared for Val, Lightle set out to make his death as dramatic as possible.  He certainly did amazing work penciling Karate Kid’s last stand.

The final confrontation between the Legion and their evil counterparts took place in issue #5, as Princess Projecta sought to avenge Karate Kid’s death.  At first Jeckie hurled all manner of horrific hallucinations at her husband’s killer, but Nemesis Kid immediately adapted immunity to her illusions.  Unfortunately for him, while he was busy doing that, he could not adapt to fight a normal human woman physically.  A vengeful, driven Projecta reached out and in a moment of cold fury broke Nemesis Kid’s neck, slaying him.

Once again, Lightle does amazing work penciling this sequence.  The panels where he zooms in on Projecta’s icy eye, and then cuts to Nemesis Kid’s horrified expression, really drive home that this is a woman who will not be stopped.  On the next page, as Projecta grabs Nemesis Kid by the neck, the “camera” pans down to Karate Kid’s fallen form, leaving the execution to occur off-panel.  Sometimes what takes place out of sight has much more of an impact.  (Click on the scan below for a close-up look at these two pages.)

Legion v3 5 pg 14 & 15

With her husband avenged and the LSV defeated, the widowed, mournful Projecta resigns from the Legion, and assumes her place as Orando’s ruler.  In a later interview, Levitz stated that he eventually would have brought her back somewhere down the road.  But it was clear that, at the time, this would have been the last we saw of Jeckie, at least for the immediate future.

Of course, to quote poet Robert Burns, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.”  A year later, in Legion #14 (September 1985), Levitz & Lightle introduced the mysterious Sensor Girl.  Levitz originally intended Sensor Girl to be a post-Crisis incarnation of Supergirl, placing her incognito to work around the editorial mandate that she was dead / retconned out of existence.  However, the powers-that-be at DC soon told Levitz that his idea was a no-go.  Forced to change course mid-stream, Levitz eventually revealed Sensor Girl to be Princess Projecta.  But that’s a story for another time.

Getting back to where we started, the four “doomed” Legionnaires introduced way back in Adventure Comics #346 exemplify what makes the Legion so great.  From that one story, Shooter, Levitz and other writers took those characters on engaging, moving, epic story arcs that resonated with readers.  As I’ve written before, the amazing thing about the Legion is that you become so invested in these characters, their lives, their loves, and their tragedies.

(I have to offer an acknowledgement to the excellent book The Legion Companion, written by Glen Cadigan and published by TwoMorrows in 2003, as the source for much of the background info contained in this blog post.  It is currently out of print, but if you can find a copy it is well worth picking up.)

Diving into the back issue bins

After weeks of cold and snow, we finally got some rather pleasant weather here in New York City yesterday, with temperatures actually climbing to around 55 degrees.  Michele and I were happy to be able to get out of the apartment.  We spent most of the afternoon in Manhattan, walking around the West Village after having lunch in a nice Greek place.

Earlier this week, when I was on the M Train heading into work, I was reading a trade paperback, namely Mister Miracle by Jack Kirby.  A guy sitting next to me asked “Are you a Jack Kirby fan?”  I answered that I was, and we ended up talking about comic books for a few minutes.  Right before the guy got off the train, he asked me which comic shops I went to in the city.  I mentioned the usual places: Midtown Comics, Forbidden Planet, and Jim Hanley’s Universe.  He commented that he liked Roger’s Time Machine.  I replied that I hadn’t been there in over five years, and I hadn’t even been sure they were still in business.

So, there I was on Saturday with Michele in the West Village, walking uptown.  She asked me if I wanted to go anywhere in particular.  I remembered my conversation on the subway a few days before, and I mentioned Roger’s Time Machine.  By now we were only a few blocks south of West 14th Street, which is where they were located, so we decided to head over.

It turned out that Roger’s Time Machine is now known as Mysterious Island.  But they still have the same incredible selection of back issues that I remembered from my last visit.  It’s a good thing that I was on a budget and that Michele was there because, wow, I probably could have spent a couple of hours browsing.  As it was, I did end up picking up several cool back issues.

back issues

My first selections were Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #s 226 to 229.  Those comics feature (37 year old spoiler alert) the first appearance of Dawnstar (designed by artist Mike Grell) and the death of Chemical King.  I’ve wanted to read these stories for quite some time, so I’m glad I’m finally going to have the opportunity.

I then took a look through the section of Bronze Age back issues for smaller companies, with an eye to finding some Charlton horror comics.  The store had quite a few, and I selected Ghostly Haunts #39 and Haunted Love #s 4 & 10.  I also came across several books published by the short-lived Atlas Comics in the mid-1970s.  One of these was the first (and only) issue of Demon Hunter, which was plotted & illustrated by Rich Buckler, with a script by David Anthony Kraft.  Demon Hunter’s career may have been cut unceremoniously short, but a year and a half later Buckler & Kraft introduced the very similar Devil-Slayer within the pages of the Deathlok story in Marvel Spotlight #33.

Finally, from the 99 cent long boxes, I picked out a couple other things.  I found Secret Origins #26, featuring a Black Lightning story by his creator Tony Isabella.  I wasn’t even aware of this issue previously, so it was a pleasant surprise.  And for Michele, I bought Howard the Duck #8, the issue where Steve Gerber’s cigar-chomping misanthropic mallard ran for President.

All in all, I came away with a nice haul, as well as an affordable one.  I’m looking forward to reading this selection of Bronze Age goodness.

Mysterious Island is located at 207 West 14th Street, 2nd Floor, right by Seventh Avenue.  I highly recommend stopping by there.  They’ve got a lot of really great stuff.

Remembering Dave Cockrum

I wanted to take a moment to remember one of my all time favorite comic book artists, Dave Cockrum, who was born on November 11, 1943 and passed away on November 26, 2006 at the too young age of 63.  Today would have been his 70th birthday.

A few days ago I wrote about how I became a huge fan of Legion of Super-Heroes, and how Dave Cockrum’s significant contributions to that series played a major role in that.  In addition to successfully redesigning the majority of the team’s costumes, Dave created new team member Wildfire, villain Tyr, and occasional allies Infectious Lass and Devil-Fish.  Dave had ideas for quite a number of other new Legion members, including a certain blue-skinned, pointy-tailed fellow named Nightcrawler, but his editor Murray Boltinoff feared that the character was too strange-looking.

A beautiful 1976 painting of Nightcrawler by his creator, Dave Cockrum.
A beautiful 1976 painting of Nightcrawler by his creator, Dave Cockrum

After Dave left Legion over a dispute concerning the return of his original artwork, he took the unused Nightcrawler with him to Marvel in 1975.  There, the character became one of the members of the mega-successful revamp of X-Men by himself and writer Len Wein.  Dave co-created Storm, Colossus, and Thunderbird with Wein.  Although he was not involved in the initial development of Wolverine, Dave was the first artist to draw him unmasked, giving Logan his now-iconic hair & facial features.

The overworked Wein departed from X-Men after only three issues, and Chris Claremont became the series’ new writer.  Chris and Dave collaborated very well together, and they were responsible for revamping Jean Grey into Phoenix, as well as introducing Black Tom Cassidy, Lilandra, the Shi’ar Empire, the Imperial Guard (who were sort of a parody of the Legion), and the Starjammers.  Dave also helped Chris out on his other ongoing assignment, Ms. Marvel, penciling two issues wherein he designed a fantastic new costume for Carol Danvers.  Although he did not draw their first appearances in the pages of Ms. Marvel, Dave was the designer of both Deathbird and Mystique.  In the case of the later, Dave explained in 2003:

“This drawing was done for fun and hung in my office until my partner Chris Claremont wandered in one day, saw her, and started to drool. ‘I want her!’ he said. He named her Mystique, gave her powers and added her to the Uncanny X-Men rogues gallery.”

Dave Cockrum's stunning drawing of the character who would become Mystique.
Dave Cockrum’s stunning drawing of the character who would become Mystique

Due to X-Men going to a monthly status, Dave left the series in 1977, and John Byrne became the new penciler & co-plotter.  Byrne & Claremont had a great, memorable run, producing many classic stories, but the two eventually parted ways in 1981.  Dave came back for a second run penciling Uncanny X-Men, paired with inkers Josef Rubinstein and Bob Wiacek.  During this time, Chris and Dave collaborated on several great stories, including “I, Magneto” in Uncanny X-Men #150, which first revealed Magneto’s history as a survivor of the Holocaust, “Kitty’s Fairy Tale” in #153, and a flashback to Xavier and Magneto’s first encounter in #161.  Chris and Dave also introduced the insidiously evil alien monstrosities known as the Brood.

Dave once again departed Uncanny X-Men in 1983 to create his Futurians graphic novel.  He also wrote & drew an enjoyable four issue Nightcrawler miniseries that saw the swashbuckling Kurt Wagner bouncing from one strange dimension to another.  On more than one occasion, Dave had said that Nightcrawler was a sort of romanticized version of himself, so he must have enjoyed working on these issues.

Futurians #0
Futurians #0

Around this time, Dave took the creator-owned Futurians over to a small company called Lodestone Comics.  Unfortunately, they folded after publishing only three issues, leaving Dave’s fourth issue unreleased.  However, on a couple of subsequent occasions it was finally published, first in a trade paperback by Eternity in 1987 and then as a black & white issue by Clifford Meth’s Aardwolf Publishing in 1995.  That later edition also included a brand new five page story by written by Meth & drawn by Dave.

Dave remained a fan of Legion of Super-Heroes, and over the years he would return to the series to draw the occasional cover or short sequence, plus some profile images for Who’s Who in the Legion.  It was always a delight to see his work on the characters.

In the 1990s, Dave unfortunately had some trouble finding regular work.  He did get the occasional job from Marvel, DC, Valiant and Defiant.  One of my favorite stories that he drew was “Depth Charges” in Green Lantern Corps Quarterly #3, written by Michael Jan Friedman, which features an aquatic alien member of the GL Corps.  Dave did fantastic work on that.  He was briefly reunited with Chris Claremont when he penciled a series of back-up stories for Sovereign Seven.  Dave also became the penciler of the really fun supernatural comedy Soulsearchers and Company which was co-written by Peter David & Richard Howell, and published by Claypool Comics.  Again, he did really great work on those issues.

Dave Cockrum's super-sexy splash page of Bridget and Baraka in a bubble bath, from Soulsearchers and Company #37
Dave Cockrum’s super-sexy splash page of Bridget and Baraka in a bubble bath,
from Soulsearchers and Company #37

For a number of years Dave and his wife, artist & colorist Paty, lived in upstate New York.  I would often see them at local comic book conventions & store signings.  They were both really nice, fun, intelligent people, and I’m glad I had so many opportunities to meet them.  During this time, I was fortunate enough to acquire a few pages of artwork that Dave had worked on, as well as a few sketches.  I’ve posted scans of those on the Comic Art Fans website.  Here’s a link:

http://www.comicartfans.com/galleryroom.asp?gsub=2441

During the last few years of his life, Dave was sadly plagued by ill health.  Clifford Meth helped raise money to assist in paying his medical bills, publishing The Uncanny Dave Cockrum…A Tribute through Aardwolf.  Numerous artists contributed drawings of Dave’s numerous creations, with the originals subsequently being auctioned off to raise further funds.

Recently on his Facebook page, Meth announced the following: “In 2014, Aardwolf Publishing will release the final, never-before-published Dave Cockrum FUTURIANS comic, pencilled and written by Dave himself. We have a terrific assembly of comics’ stars participating, but we want EVERYONE to help us make this a HUGE success. Want to help? Artists are invited to contribute pin-ups of Dave’s Futurians’ characters, which we’ll include in the printed and/or digital book, and also use as Kickstarter perks. You’ll be in star-studded company–we promise. Please join us!”  I’m definitely looking forward to this, and I wish Meth great success in bringing this to print.  I’ll keep everyone updated once I learn more information about the upcoming Kickstarter campaign.

Dave Cockrum was undoubtedly a superbly talented artist, as well as an incredible designer, who left an indelible mark on the comic book biz.  He left behind a rich legacy of wonderful artwork and colorful creations for us to enjoy.