A brief look back at comic book artist Ernie Colon

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

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

Damage Control 1 cover

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

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

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

Magnus Robot Fighter 14 pg 18

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

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

Dreadstar miniseries 3 pg 4

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

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

Dreadstar miniseries 5 cover

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

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

 

 

Santa Gone Bad: Saint Nick the supervillain

Having written a serious political piece just last week, I am now veering 180 degrees in the opposite direction, and barreling straight into the ridiculous. Nothing like a complete lack of consistency to really confuse anyone following this blog!

Today is Christmas Eve.  Perhaps it’s because I’m Jewish, but I find aspects of the Christmas holiday to be baffling.  It is intended to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who preached the virtues of humility, kindness, and a humble existence.  Somehow two thousand years later this is commemorated by, um, a fat guy in a red suit giving expensive gifts to all the good children of the world.  Wait, I thought good works were their own reward?  And didn’t Jesus warn about the dangers of wealth & materialism?  Hmmph, no wonder I am so skeptical of organized religions!

Obviously I am not the only one to find Santa Claus a ridiculous figure, since there are innumerable examples of people parodying Old Saint Nick.  One especially prevalent trend is to have Santa as the bad guy, the jolly old fellow turned villainous.  That’s especially the case in comic books.  The image of Santa as a supervillain, or at least as a violent anti-hero, seems irresistible to comic book creators.

Here are ten comic book covers featuring Santa Claus gone bad.  Forget jingle bells… this is more like hell’s bells.

Iron Man 254 cover

Iron Man #254 (March 1990) from Marvel Comics features Shellhead under attack from a pistol-packing Santa, courtesy of one of the Armored Avenger’s all time greatest artists, the legendary Bob Layton.  Of course, considering all of the naughty behavior that Tony Stark has gotten up to over the years, it’s quite possible that Kris Kringle actually has very good reason to be gunning for him.

Creepy 68 cover

As oversized black & white magazines, the horror comic books of Warren Publishing were free from the stifling standards of the Comics Code Authority, which frequently meant that they piled on the blood & guts with enthusiastic gusto.  Witness this cover to Creepy #68 (Jan 1975), featuring early work from now-renowned fantasy artist Ken Kelly.  Obviously this is one of those occasions when Saint Nick felt that a simple lump of coal wasn’t nearly punishment enough.

Santa Claws 1 cover

Speaking of early work, the very first job future superstar artist Mike Deodato Jr. had in American comic books was the one-shot Santa Claws published by Malibu / Eternity in December 1991. Well, everyone has to start somewhere!  Only three years later Deodato was red-hot, in demand across the entire industry, so it’s not surprising that this debut effort eventually got the reprint treatment, seeing a re-release in 1998.

The Last Christmas 2 cover

I tell you, nobody is safe from those seemingly-ubiquitous zombie apocalypses, not even Santa Claus!  The five issue miniseries The Last Christmas, published by Image Comics in 2006, sees the once-jolly one pitted against an army of the undead amidst the ruins of civilization.  It was written by Gerry Duggan & Brian Posehn, penciled by Rick Remender, and inked by Hilary Barta.  The cover to issue #2, penciled by Remender’s good pal Kieron Dwyer and inked by Barta, features zombie fighting, drunk driving Santa.

Witching Hour 28 cover

The Bronze Age horror anthologies published by DC Comics often featured incredibly striking, macabre covers.  One of the most prolific artists to contribute to those titles was the late, great Nick Cardy.  Here’s his ho-ho-horrifying cover to The Witching Hour #28 (February 1973).  I think the main reason why Santa is in such a bad mood here is because even as a skeleton he’s still fat!

Heavy Metal Dec 1977 cover

The December 1977 edition of sci-fi comic book anthology Heavy Metal must be one of the very few in the magazine’s entire history not to feature a sexy half-naked babe on the cover. But, um, I’ll give them a pass on this one.  It’s probably safer to do that than to argue with the very angry Santa Claus who’s glaring right at me.  French artist Jean Solé is the one who has brought us this heavily-armed Pere Noel.

Daredevil 229 cover

Has Daredevil ever had a Christmas that didn’t suck?  It seems like every time December 25th approaches Matt Murdock’s life goes right into the crapper.  That was never more the case than in the now-classic “Born Again” storyline by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli.  His life destroyed by the ruthless Kingpin, the disgraced and destitute Matt finds himself wandering the streets of Manhattan.  To add insult to industry, Matt is mugged by Hell’s Kitchen lowlife thug Turk in a Santa Claus suit.  Mazzucchelli’s vivid cover for Daredevil #229 (April 1986) is just one of the many iconic images he crafted for the “Born Again” arc.

Sleigher 1 cover

Action Lab Entertainment has published some really fun comic books, as well as some really weird ones.  I will let you make up your own minds which category Sleigher: The Heavy Metal Santa Claus falls under.  The cover to issue #1 (July 2016) is credited to artist Axur Eneas, who has also contributed to Action Lab’s The Adventures of Aero-Girl.

Flash 87 cover

Can even the Fastest Man Alive defeat Evil Santa times three?  That’s the question you’ll be asking yourself when you see the cover to Flash #87 (Feb 1994) by the team of Alan Davis & Mark Farmer.  Well, either that, or you’ll be wondering why exactly this trio of Kris Kringles are clan in tee-shirts, shorts, and sneakers.  Hmmmm… maybe they’re from Australia?  After all, Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere takes place at the beginning of Summer.  I’m sure even Santa wants to dress appropriately for warm weather.

Incredible Hulk 378 cover

Peter David’s lengthy run on Incredible Hulk was characterized by equal parts heartbreaking drama and irreverent humor.  That was certainly the case with issue #378 (Feb 1991) which sees the Grey Hulk, aka Joe Fixit, slugging it out with none other than Father Christmas… okay, 28 year old spoilers, that’s actually the Rhino in the Santa outfit.  This cover is penciled by Bill Jaaska, a talented artist who passed away at the much too young age of 48 in 2009.  Inks are courtesy of Bob McLeod, one of the best embellishers in the biz.

Lobo Christmas Special pg 43

An honorable mention goes to the infamous Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special released by DC Comics in late 1990.  Keith Giffen, Alan Grant, Simon Bisley, Lovern Kindzierski & Gaspar Saladino reveal what happens when the Easter Bunny hires the Main Man to kill Santa Claus.  The brutal mercenary succeeds in offing Saint Nick… don’t worry, he had it coming.  This exceedingly violent story  comes to a close when Lobo decides to use the late Kris Kringle’s flying reindeer & sleigh to nuke the hell out of the entire planet.

Credit where credit is due department: This was inspired by Steve Bunche, who shared a few of these on Facebook.  Steve has probably the most absolutely NSFW Facebook feed you could possible imagine, so if you want to say “hello” to him wait until you’re in the privacy of your own home.  You’ve been warned.

Happy holidays to one and all.  Remember to be good for goodness sake… because, as these covers demonstrate, you really do not want to piss off that Santa guy!

Miguel Ferrer: 1955 to 2017

I was sorry to hear that actor Miguel Ferrer passed away on January 19th at the much too young age of 61.

Born on February 7, 1955, Miguel Ferrer was the son of actor / director Jose Ferrer and singer Rosemary Clooney.  Ferrer’s original aspiration was to work as a musician, but in 1975 his friend Bill Mumy offered him a part in an episode of the TV series Sunshine.  Ferrer caught the acting bug, and remained in the profession for the rest of his life.

One of Ferrer’s early roles was a 1981 episode of Magnum P.I.  Ferrer played, in a flashback, a young Navy ensign stationed in Hawaii shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, with his father Jose Ferrer then playing the same character in the present day. I always thought that was such a wonderful casting decision.

The role that really put Ferrer on the map was playing sleazy corporate executive Bob Morton in the dystopian sci-fi movie Robocop (1987).  In interviews, Ferrer always acknowledged that he was grateful to that movie for really getting him noticed, enabling him to subsequently have a successful career as an actor.

miguel-ferrer

Ferrer was often cast as villainous or quirky characters.  He was seldom seen in starring roles, but he worked regularly, a ubiquitous presence in both movies and television for three decades.  Notably, in the early 1990s Ferrer portrayed cynical FBI agent Albert Rosenfeld in David Lynch’s cult classic TV series Twin Peaks, and he also appeared in the 1994 TV miniseries adapting the Stephen King novel The Stand.

From 2001 to 2007 Ferrer appeared on Crossing Jordan, playing Dr. Garret Macy, the mentor and boss to loose cannon Medical Examiner Jordan Cavanaugh, portrayed by Jill Hennessey.  Crossing Jordan was a series that I watched regularly, and I loved the chemistry between Ferrer and Hennessy.  Macy was something of a brooding, low-key figure who had the unenviable task of reigning in and covering for the headstrong, anti-authoritarian Jordan.   Macy, a divorcee and recovering alcoholic with a teenage daughter, had a lot of baggage, and Ferrer brought the character to life in a very affecting performance.

Interviewed in 2009 by the A.V. Club, Ferrer had positive memories of working on Crossing Jordan:

“It was great. I loved that. Six years on the same show, working on the same lot. Got to go home and see my kids every night. They weren’t always awake, but I saw them. I loved that there were no out-of-control egos on the set. I loved working with the same people for six years. You develop a sure hand, and you learn how one works and likes to work. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We had a ball.”

comet-man-1-cover

Ferrer, along with longtime friend Bill Mumy, was a science fiction and superhero fan.  The two of them collaborated on a few comic book projects in the late 1980s.  They co-wrote the six issue miniseries Comet Man, published by Marvel Comics in 1987.  A dark, bizarre blending of superheroes, sci-fi, and horror, Comet Man was eerily illustrated by future superstar Batman artist Kelley Jones, inked by Gerry Talaoc, and featured striking covers by Bill Sienkiewicz.  Ferrer, Mumy and Jones re-teamed in 1990 to wrap up the Comet Man storyline in a four part serial that ran in Marvel Comics Presents.  A decade later writer Peter David, who was friends with Ferrer and Mumy, used Comet Man during his acclaimed run on Captain Marvel.

Paired with talented artist Steve Leialoha, Ferrer and Mumy created the very odd superhero parody Trypto the Acid Dog, which debuted in a 1988 comic published by Renegade Press.  Additional Trypto stories by Ferrer, Mumy & Leialoha came out in the 1990s via Atomeka Press and Dark Horse.  Recently commenting on their collaboration, Leialoha revealed that the visual for Trypto was based on Ferrer’s own dog Davey.

Given how wonderfully bizarre Ferrer’s comic book work was, I’ve always thought it was a bit of a shame that he didn’t write more.  Of course, this was around the time  his acting career was really taking off, so I certainly understand why he chose to focus on that.

trypto-the-acid-dog

Some of Ferrer’s roles were actually comic book related.  He played Vice President Rodriguez in Iron Man 3 (2013).  Miguel did a great deal of voiceover work, much of it for animated series based on comic books.  Among the shows he voice-acted on were Superman: The Animated Series, The Batman, The Spectacular Spider-Man, and Young Justice, the latter of which had him in the recurring role of immortal conqueror Vandal Savage.  One of Ferrer’s last roles was voicing Deathstroke in the direct-to-DVD animated adaptation of Teen Titans: The Judas Contract.

In addition to being a talented actor and writer, Ferrer had a reputation for being a genuinely nice guy.  In interviews he always came across as down-to-earth and laid back.  In recent days Bill Mumy, Kelly Jones, Steve Leialoha and Peter David have all reflected on his passing; each of them described him as a good friend possessed of a wonderful sense of humor.  It sounds like Ferrer will be very much missed by those who were fortunate enough to know him.

Glen Orbik: 1963 to 2015

Last week on his Facebook page, artist Joe Jusko announced the sad news that painter Glen Orbik had passed away at the much too young age of 51 years.  Orbik had been suffering from cancer, and on May 11th he succumbed to his illness.

While I was not especially familiar with Glen Orbik’s work, I immediately recognized his name.  For about a decade, beginning in the mid 1990s, Orbik painted a number of beautiful comic book covers.  Many of these were done for DC Comics.

Orbik’s first comic book cover was for Aquaman #25.  He painted a striking portrait of the king of the seas, giving him a noble, contemplative look.  Orbik’s style was very well suited to capturing the roughly-hewn majesty of Peter David’s revamp of Aquaman, with his long hair, beard, bare chest and harpoon in place of his lost left hand.

Legends of the DC Universe 1 cover

Also for DC Comics, Orbik illustrated the cover to the graphic novel The Life Story of the Flash.  He contributed covers to the Batman story arcs “Cataclysm,” “Aftershock,” and “No Man’s Land.”  Orbik also painted covers for the anthology title Legends of the DC Universe, including the three issue debut arc starring Superman.  For these Orbik rendered a vision of the Man of Steel that was both bursting with power and endowed with humanity.

During his career Orbik illustrated numerous book covers.  His work was well suited to science fiction, fantasy and especially mystery & noir.  Orbik’s moody, atmospheric work in that genre made him an absolutely ideal choice to contribute several covers to DC Comics’ 1997 annuals, which had the loose overarching theme of “Pulp Heroes.”

Among Orbik’s covers for the “Pulp Heroes” annuals was the incredibly striking painted artwork for Aquaman Annual #3.  His depiction of Aquaman was once again both savage and noble, gracefully gliding through the ocean to discover a beautiful murder victim, an image that was a superb amalgamation of fantasy and hard-boiled crime imagery.

Aquaman Annual 3 cover

Orbik also did work for other comic book companies.  He painted several covers and trading cards for Marvel Comics.  Most notably, Orbik’s dynamic cover for Thor #41 (November 2001) was later re-used in the character’s profile for The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Avengers 2004.  He painted several covers for The Victorian and Anne Steelyard: The Garden of Emptiness, both from Penny-Farthing Productions. He also contributed a variant cover to The Oz / Wonderland Chronicles #3 in 2008 (the main cover for which, incidentally, was illustrated by Jusko).

Orbik’s wife Laurel Blechman was an artist, as well.  She collaborated with him on various covers, including his DC Comics work.

A large selection of Glen Orbik’s paintings, including those he did with Blechman, is on display at his official website.  I definitely recommend visiting it.  There is some incredibly beautiful art to be seen.

It is unfortunate that Orbik passed away at such a young age.  He was a very talented artist.

Strange Comic Books: Captain America “The Drug Wars”

In previous editions of Strange Comic Books, I’ve looked at certain comics that had varying degrees of oddness.  However, this latest entry really is an especially bizarre item.  Published by Marvel Comics, the Captain America: The Drug Wars special is mind-bogglingly weird.

Captain America Drug Wars cover

A little background first: if you went to school in the 1980s and early 90s, you might remember that Marvel and DC used to work with various government agencies and private companies to publish what were the comic book equivalent of Public Service Announcements or After School Specials.  These were distributed to schools around the country, and featured popular superheroes in stories educating students about drug addiction, teen pregnancy, child abuse, asthma and, um,  tooth decay… yeah, what can I say, not all childhood dangers are created equal.  As you can imagine, none of these comic book PSAs offered what could be regarded as particularly subtle or nuanced examinations of complex societal problems.

Captain America was one of the characters to appear in these.  There were not one but two specials entitled Captain America Goes To War Against Drugs that were created by Marvel in the early 1990s.  I was reminded of these recently when someone mentioned them as part of a discussion on Comic Book Resources about the “Streets of Poison” story arc.  Cap is perhaps not the most judicious of choices to use as a spokesperson to convince kids not to use drugs, considering he gained all his physical abilities via the Super Soldier Serum.  Though, to be fair, Steve Rogers volunteered for Operation Rebirth because he selflessly wanted to help protect the world from Fascism rather than, say, break the record for most home runs in a season of baseball.  I’m sure you can see the difference between Cap and Barry Bonds.

Captain America Goes To War On Drugs 1 cover

Oddly enough, the first of these specials was sponsored by Guardian Life Insurance, who less than a decade before had been depicted in Captain America #291 as an evil corporation scheming to rip off supervillains in a massive life insurance scam.  I guess Guardian wasn’t one to hold a grudge.

According to both the Grand Comics Database and the Unofficial Handbook of Marvel Comics Creators, the cover for the first special, seen above, was penciled by industry legend John Romita and inked by Jose Marzan Jr.  Yep, that certainly looks like Romita’s work.

These two specials were, unsurprisingly, about as heavy-handed as you can get in terms of depicting drug use in a negative light, and in hammering home, over and over, the “just say no” message.  But obviously that was their point.  In the end they were well-intentioned propaganda devices that clumsily but earnestly were hoping to protect teenagers from turning into dope fiends, or something like that.

No, where things get odd is when Marvel decided to reprint the  two Captain America Goes To War Against Drugs stories as Captain America: The Drug Wars in 1994 and sell it in comic book shops.  They even had a brand-new cover for it, courtesy of S. Clarke Hawbaker.  (Whatever happened to S. Clarke Hawbaker, anyway?  I always enjoyed his work.)

Captain America Drug Wars pg 5

And then we get to the actual material within Captain America: The Drug Wars.  The first story is more or less straightforward, with Cap trying to help out a teenage athlete named Mitch who has become addicted to drugs.  Yes, straightforward, except for the fact that Mitch gets his supply from an alien drug dealer.  Really!

However, these extraterrestrial narcotics smugglers are more or less a side issue in this tale.  As Cap astutely points out to Mitch, it doesn’t really matter who he got the drugs from, but rather what the drugs are doing to him, like, say, causing him to accidentally knock out people with his fastball during high school baseball games.  Oops!

Captain America Drug Wars pg 9

To be fair, veteran comic book writer Peter David does a good job scripting a story that has a Very Important Message without it becoming too cringe-worthy.  And there’s some pretty good artwork courtesy of Sal Velluto & Keith Williams.

It’s only in the second installment that the proceedings become insanely anvilicious.  Cap, still working on tracking down the drug ring seen in the prior chapter, has joined forces with the teenage superhero group the New Warriors.  Following the criminals to their lair, Cap and the New Warriors find it defended by a quartet of super-powered teenage criminals with the names Weed, Crack, Ice and Ms. Fix, collectively known as the Drug Lords… no, I am not making this up!  And then Silhouette of the New Warriors unmasks the hooded mastermind lurking in the shadows.  Yep, it’s those pesky alien drug pushers, the Tzin, once again.

The Tzin leader and the Drug Lords escape by teleporting to an orbiting spaceship.  We soon see that the Drug Lords may have gained their powers through the use of narcotic substances, but (of course) this has also turned them into addicts.

Captain America Drug Wars pg 18-19

Back on Earth, Silhouette pays a visit on her friend Dorreen, only to discover the teen dance prodigy is using drugs to relieve the pressure she’s under.  This is all observed by Ms. Fix, who has been trailing Silhouette.  Ms. Fix realizes that Silhouette, who uses crutches, wants to regain full mobility, and tries to tempt her into joining the Drug Lords.  Silhouette surreptitiously summons Cap and tricks Ms. Fix into teleporting them all to the Tzin spaceship.  During the fight the ship gets trashed, and the Drug Lords’ supply goes up in flames, causing them to turn on their alien masters.  Cap, Silhouette, and Dorreen (who somehow also managed to end up on the ship) teleport back to Earth before everything goes boom.  Wrapping things up, Silhouette offers to help Dorreen overcome her addiction.

The writer on this half of the book is George Caragonne, who penned a handful of stories for Marvel in the early 1990s.  What makes Caragonne’s association with this anti-drug comic especially odd is that soon after he became the editor of Penthouse Comix.  And then a year after that he committed suicide.  Yeah, all joking aside, that was a really awful end for him.

Captain America Drug Wars pg 34

Having the story focus on Silhouette was a good decision on Caragonne’s part.  As so effectively established by writer Fabian Nicieza in the ongoing New Warriors series, Silhouette was a former athlete who became partially paralyzed, but who continued to actively fight crime, not letting her disability hold her back.  So she was an ideal character to utilize in attempting to show that you do not need to fall back on mind-altering substances when adversity strikes.

This second part is penciled by A Distant Soil creator Colleen Doran, with inking by Greg Adams.  I have to say it looks very beautiful.  Doran and Adams probably could have phoned it in if they wanted to, given the somewhat hokey, throw-away nature of the story.  Instead they turned in some real quality artwork.

It’s worth nothing that, by collecting those two PSAs as Captain America: The Drug Wars, those stories became an official part of Marvel canon.  I kid you not.  The Tzin even received a profile page in the Captain America: America’s Avenger handbook-style special in 2011, with a profile image illustrated by Gus Vasquez.

tzin-profile-pic.jpg

I’m still waiting for someone to bring the Tzin back.  Because when you think about it, they actually had a somewhat more plausible scheme for conquering the Earth than most other alien invaders.  If you really are that hell-bent on attempting to take over the Earth, which has several thousand superheroes living on it and has successful driven off the Skrulls, Kree and Galactus on multiple occasions, then there are certainly worse schemes to hatch than getting the teenage population of the planet addicted to drugs.  Sounds like Marvel’s next big crossover if you ask me!

Happy birthday to Richard Howell

I want to wish a very happy birthday to comic book creator Richard Howell, who was born on November 16th.  Not only is Richard a fantastic artist and a talented writer, but he is also a genuinely nice guy who I have had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions.

Looking back, I probably discovered Howell’s work when he was penciling Tony Isabella’s great Hawkman stories.  The two of them collaborated on the four issue Shadow War of Hawkman miniseries in 1985, which was followed the next year by a special and then an ongoing series.

Hawkman Special cover

Isabella had a great conceit for his storyline: Hawkman and Hawkwoman discovered that their fellow Thanagarians were covertly invading Earth. Unfortunately, Carter and Shiera Hall were forced to combat this infiltration completely on their own.  The Thanagarians possessed a device called the Absorbacon which enabled them to read the minds of anyone on Earth (the Hawks were immune because they were also from Thanagar).  So there was no going to Superman or the Justice League or anybody else for help.  Their only ally came in the unlikely form of their old enemy the Gentleman Ghost, who took it as a challenge worthy of his larcenous talents to “steal back” Earth from the Thanagarians (being dead, presumably they were unable to read his mind).  As a ten year old kid, I found this set-up majorly chilling & spooky, the idea that Carter and Shiera were seemingly all on their own, everyone else on Earth was compromised, and their one source of assistance was an untrustworthy villain.

Unfortunately, Isabella departed the ongoing Hawkman title with issue #7 due to disagreements with editorial, and his successor wrapped up the invasion storyline in a rushed, unsatisfactory manner.  Nevertheless, the work that Isabella & Howell did do together was really great.  Howell really showed his versatility, rendering the Kubert-designed Hawks with their combination of high-tech & primitive weaponry, the science fiction designs for the Thanagarian invaders, and the supernatural aspects of the series.

Vision Scarlet Witch 1 cover

Around this time, Howell was also over at Marvel, penciling the twelve issue Vision and the Scarlet Witch series written by Steve Englehart.   This took place in real time, which meant that we saw Wanda get pregnant and, in the last issue, give birth to twin baby boys.  Unlike some, I was never terribly bothered by the notion that Wanda used magic to conceive children with an android.  (I was quite annoyed when a few years later John Byrne did a major retcon, wiping the twins out of existence, but fortunately Allan Heinberg eventually reversed this and brought them back into being as super-powered teenagers in the pages of Young Avengers.)

Howell did some really great work on this series.  The wide range of guest stars that popped up enabled him to render a significant portion of the Marvel universe.  A few years later, Howell again had the opportunity to draw the Scarlet Witch in the four chapter serial “Separate Lives” which ran in Marvel Comics Presents #60-63.  He also wrote, lettered, and colored the entire story, demonstrating he was a man of many talents.  Between that story and his work a few years earlier, I thought that Howell drew one of the most all-time beautiful, sexy depictions of the Scarlet Witch.  Years later, when I told him that, he modestly responded “It’s not difficult drawing a beautiful woman who was visually created by Jack Kirby and then developed into a star by Don Heck.”

Another group of characters who Howell drew really well were the Inhumans.  In addition to drawing their appearance in Vision and the Scarlet Witch, Howell penciled a “Tales of the Inhumans” short story written by Peter Gillis and inked by Sam De La Rosa which saw print in the back of Thor Annual #12, of all places.  I just found a copy of that comic about a year ago.  The splash page by Howell & De La Rosa is gorgeous.  Howell also penciled & colored a double-sized Inhumans Special written by Lou Mougin published in 1990 that delved into the history of the Royal Family immediately prior to their first appearances in the pages of Fantastic Four.  Vince Colletta inked that one and despite his tendency to do rush jobs, especially in his later years, Howell said he was generally satisfied with how the art turned out.  If you want to check it out, that Inhumans Special was just reprinted by Marvel in a trade paperback along with their 1988 graphic novel written by Ann Nocenti.

Inhumans backup Richard Howell

In the 1980s, Howell also drew All-Star Squadron, the Green Lantern feature in Action Comics Weekly, various profile pics for Who’s Who, DNAgents, and his creator-owned Portiz Prinz of the Glamazons.  That last one first originated as a self-published project in the late 1970s.

Howell did some work on Vampirella for Harris Comics in the early 1990s.  He then co-founded Claypool Comics with Ed Via in 1993.  I first found out about Claypool several years later.  As I’ve mentioned before, I used to see artist Dave Cockrum quite often at conventions & store signings.  When I asked him what he was currently working on, he told me he was penciling Soulsearchers and Company for Claypool.  Since I loved Dave’s artwork, I had my comic shop order the current issue, which was #30.  I read it, and thought it was awesome.  The series was a supernatural comedy written by Peter David, with co-plots & edits by Howell.  I was soon following Soulsearchers and Company on a regular basis.

Claypool also published three other series.  There was the twelve issue Phantom of Fear City, written by Howell’s old collaborator Steve Englehart, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, an anthology featuring the campy, vampy horror hostess, and Deadbeats, a dark vampire soap opera written & penciled by Howell, with rich embellishments by Argentine illustrator Ricardo Villagran.  Howell acknowledges that Dark Shadows had an influence on Deadbeats, and series actresses Kathryn Leigh Scott, Nancy Barrett & Lara Parker have each written introductions for the three trade paperbacks.

Deadbeats Learning the Game cover

It took me a while to get into Deadbeats, simply because I’ve never been a huge fan of vampires.  This was around the time that Interview With A Vampire and Vampire: The Masquerade were really popular, and I just thought the whole notion of the undead as these refined, romantic, aristocratic beings was so annoying & pretentious (you can just imagine what I think of all that Twilight nonsense nowadays).  And so I unfortunately assumed that Deadbeats was more of the same.

However, corresponding with Howell via e-mail, he wore down my resistance, and I finally picked up the first two TPB collections, “New In Town” and “Learning The Game.”  And I have to confess I loved them.  Yes, the vampires in Deadbeats were super-sexy (both the women and the men, got to give Howell points for fairness) but most of them were unabashedly evil, committing brutally violent killings in their quest for fresh blood.  There were also a few morally conflicted members of the undead, as well as some who had relatively benevolent agendas, such as the vampire king Hermano (no relation).  There was also a really interesting cast of humans who were batting against the vampires of Mystic Grove, led by teenage couple Kirby Collier and Jo Isles.  Anyway, once I was done with those two TPBs, I started following Deadbeats with issue #50.

One of my favorite covers from Deadbeats is #53, penciled by Howell, with lush inking by Steve Leialoha.  I don’t know who did the coloring, but it looks fantastic.  One of the subplots in Deadbeats concerned Kirby’s long-lost father Adam arriving in Mystic Grove and recruiting vampire hunter Dakota Kane in an attempt to track down the mysterious bat cult that had kidnapped his wife years before.  It turned out that sultry lounge singer Countess DiMiera, currently performing at Mystic Grove’s popular social spot the Bat Club, was a member of that secret society, as well as a conduit for their dark deity, Murcielago the Bat-God.

Deadbeats 53 cover

I really loved Howell & Leialoha’s depiction of the sinister songstress on that cover (in hindsight, she might have reminded me of a more wicked version of Howell’s Scarlet Witch).  I asked Howell to let me know if he ever wanted to sell the original artwork.  He responded that he typically held on to all of his originals.  But a few years later he was kind enough to do a really nice sketch of the Countess and her disciples for me.  You can view that, and a few other beautiful pieces he has drawn for me, on Comic Art Fans:

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

Unfortunately, due to low sales, in 2007 Diamond Distributors decided they would no longer carry any of Claypool’s titles (this is the kind of thing that happens when you are stuck doing business with a monopoly).  Deadbeats, Soulsearchers, and Elvira were all canceled.  Since 2007, Howell has continued the Deadbeats story as an online comic at the Claypool website.  I’m glad he’s been able to do that, but I really hope that one of these days he has the opportunity to collect those installments together in print editions.

As you can see, Richard Howell has had a very diverse career, during which he has written and drawn some amazing comic books.  I really enjoy his art, and I hope to see more from him in the future.  Happy birthday, Richard.  Keep up the great work.

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.

Strange Comic Books: Aquaman #42

In the latest edition of Strange Comic Books, I’m taking a look at the very eerie Aquaman #42, published by DC Comics in March 1998.  This issue came out towards the end of writer Peter David’s superb four year stint penning the adventures of the King of the Seven Seas.

Prior to David’s work on Aquaman, I really had very little interest in the character.  I was a fan of David’s work, though, having very much enjoyed his writing on Incredible Hulk and X-Factor at Marvel, as well as his Star Trek novels.  Even so, when he began writing Aquaman for DC, I was only mildly interested.  True, having Arthur Curry, aka Orin, grow a beard & adopt a cool new costume made a nice change of pace.  An even more dramatic change was having his left hand eaten by a swarm of piranha and replaced by a honking big harpoon!

But despite all that, it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I started picking up Aquaman on a monthly basis.  That’s when Jim Calafiore became the regular penciler.  I had loved Calafiore’s artwork on Magnus Robot Fighter for Valiant Comics.  So the combination of David’s writing and Calafiore’s art was irresistible.

Aquaman 42 cover

Aquaman #42, “Necessary Poisons,” is co-plotted by Peter David & Jim Calafiore, with a script by David.  Calafiore’s interior pencils are inked by Peter Palmiotti, with Mark McKenna doing the brushwork for the cover.  David spends a good portion of this issue advancing his major subplots.  Triton, son of the Greek sea god Poseidon, is still dealing with a humiliating defeat handed him by Orin, one made even more bitter by his divine father’s criticism.  Over in the undersea city of Poseidonis, Aquaman’s chief advisor Vulko, after years of urging Orin to be a more assertive ruler, is now upset that the King of the Seas has done just that,  regarding his actions as heavy-handed & imperious (i.e. Orin is no longer consulting with Vulko when making decisions).  Tempest is wondering what role he ought to play in guiding the city’s political future.

While all this is going on, a brutal assassin for hire named Lawrence Huff, aka the Sea Wolf, has just committed his latest contract killing at sea, slaying a man named Albert Munson.  One of Aquaman’s dolphin friends comes across the corpse in the water and summons him.  Arriving at the murderer’s boat, Orin pulls the killer overboard.  Upon contact with the water, the Sea Wolf violently transforms into a ferocious aquatic werewolf.  During their struggle, Aquaman gazes into the gaping hole where the Sea Wolf’s left eye ought to be, and is horrified to behold the faces of hundreds of trapped souls, screaming out in agony.  (Click to enlarge.)

Aquaman 42 pg 15 & 16

Realizing that the Sea Wolf isn’t anything even close to a living being, Orin impales the monster with his harpoon, destroying him, and setting free all of the souls who were trapped.  Orin departs, leaving the Sea Wolf’s corpse to be recovered by the authorities.  However, a short time later, unseen by anyone, the Sea Wolf revives.  In a chilling final twist, the Sea Wolf is now guided by the soul of its last victim, Albert Munson, who, like Lawrence Huff before him, is cursed to hunger for the souls of other human beings.

Brrrr!  That was seriously creepy.  David and Calafiore came up with a very strange, original variation on the werewolf concept.  As I understand it, the Sea Wolf had previously appeared in the series Young All-Stars, working for the Axis Powers during World War II.  I haven’t seen any of those issues, but from what I gather, he was simply an amphibious lycanthrope.  It was David and Calafiore, in the pages of Aquaman #42, who revamped him as a soul-devouring supernatural entity.

The artwork in this issue by Calafiore & Palmiotti is just amazing.  They really make the Sea Wolf a horrific, scary figure.  And that scene when we view all the souls of his victims is just so eerily rendered, a very striking, dramatic moment.

Interestingly enough, that last aspect of “Necessary Poisons” very much reminded me of a completely different story.  “Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity” written by David Morrell, originally saw print in the 1988 horror anthology Prime Evil edited by Douglas E. Winter.  It was later collected in Morrell’s short story collection Black Evening.  “Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity” is definitely one of the scariest, most unnerving stories I’ve ever read, and it has stuck with me all these years.  So it is no surprise that Aquaman #42, which (no doubt coincidentally) contains a very visually similar sequence, also looms large in my memory.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the four issue Time and Tide miniseries, none of Peter David’s Aquaman issues have yet to receive the trade paperback treatment.  So if you want to read this issue, you’ll have to search out a copy in the back issue bins.  Keeping that in mind, David’s entire 46 issue run of the series is well worth seeing out.

New York Comic Book Marketplace 2013: a convention report

I made a last-minute decision to attend this year’s New York Comic Book Marketplace show organized by Mike Carbonaro & Allen Rosenberg.  I wish I had decided a few days earlier when I could have bought an advance ticket cheaper, but what are you going to do?  I also wish I’d been able to take photos while I was there, but my camera went kaput a few months ago.

In any case, my main reason for going was that George Perez was the guest of honor.  I have an Avengers theme sketchbook that I’ve had going since 2007, and I’ve always hoped I’d be able to get a piece by Perez in it.  Well, I got to the show at a little after 10:00 AM, and already the line was really long.  It was also moving very slowly, because everyone else was also getting sketches from Perez.  I decided I’d try and get something from him some other time, because I really did not want to spend a couple of hours waiting.

Uncanny X-Men 204 signed

The other guest I really wanted to see was Chris Claremont, one of my all time favorite writers.  I’ve met Claremont a few times before, but it’s always nice to see him again, because he has written so many great stories over the years.  In addition to having him autograph a few X-Men trade paperbacks, I asked him to sign a pair of issues of Uncanny X-Men, specifically #s 204 & 205, which are favorites of mine.  They came out in early 1986, when I was nine years old, and were some of the first issues of that series I ever read.  Uncanny X-Men #204 features Nightcrawler, one of my favorite X-Men, and it was penciled by Power Pack co-creator June Brigman, whose artwork I love.  Issue #205 is a spotlight on Wolverine in a dark story illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith.  What I really like about this one is that Claremont tells this very gritty, violent story from the point of view of five year old Katie Power, aka Energizer from Power Pack (yep, them again) and he really makes it work.  It enables Claremont to so effectively explore the very disparate aspects of Wolverine, how he is this extremely nasty berserker warrior, yet also have the capacity to be a kind, paternal figure to Katie.

It is a real shame that Marvel does not want to give Claremont any work nowadays.  I mean, he wrote Uncanny X-Men and most of its spin-off titles for a period of 17 years, playing a significant role in building a gigantic franchise (and I certainly don’t mean to overlook the parts that Len Wein, Dave Cockrum or John Byrne also played).  When Claremont returned to Marvel a decade ago, he did very solid, entertaining work on X-Treme X-Men and X-Men Forever (the later was my favorite Marvel title during the time it was being published).  Marvel is very happy to endlessly reprint Claremont’s old stories and to have their newer writers base their stories on the classic arcs he co-created.  But the company seems uninterested in giving him any new writing gigs.

Anyway, Claremont is currently working on prose fiction, and I definitely wish him the very best of luck with his new efforts.  I’m looking forward to picking up his novels.

Spider-Man Death of Jean DeWolff

Getting back to the show, I did not buy too many comic books, because I already have so much stuff.  In fact, I’m looking to get rid of a lot of comic books in the near future.  One of the few books I did pick up was the hardcover collection of Spider-Man: The Death of Jean DeWolff.  That’s one of Peter David’s early works.  I’ve wanted to read that one for a while now.  Also, Rich Buckler, who penciled that storyline, was a guest at the show.  I went over to his table, and he remembered me from our e-mail correspondence.  When I gave Buckler the book to autograph, he was genuinely surprised to see it, because he had no idea it had been published.  Which means that, yep, Marvel did not bother to send him a copy.  Again with the lack of respect by Marvel!  In any case, it was a good read, with nice artwork by both Bucker and another favorite of mine, Sal Buscema.

One artist I was very surprised to see at the show was Paris Cullins.  I’ve wanted to meet him for years.  I like his work a lot.  Back in 1988, Cullins penciled a six issue Forever People miniseries written by J.M. DeMatteis and inked by Karl Kesel.  He did really nice art for it, and so for some time I had been hoping to get a drawing by him in my Beautiful Dreamer theme sketchbook.  I even corresponded with him about it on Facebook in the recent past.  So there he was, and this was his first appearance at a NYC show in quite a number of years.  Only one problem: his coming was a last minute decision, so I had no idea he was going to be there, and I hadn’t brought along the Beautiful Dreamer book.  I was mentally kicking myself.  Cullins really wanted to do a piece for me, and suggested that he could draw it on a loose piece of paper to paste into my book.  But I felt it just would not have been the same.  So I left the show feeling pretty disappointed.  No Avengers sketch by Perez, and no Beautiful Dreamer drawing by Cullins.

Forever People by Paris Cullins

About an hour later I got back it Queens, and I told Michele what happened.  Her suggestion was that I should take my sketchbook and go back to the convention.  At first I thought that was a crazy idea, but then I realized I had nothing to do all day, so I shrugged and rushed back into Manhattan.  As soon as I got there, I went directly to Cullins’ table and half out of breath said something like “Good, you’re still here. If you had left, I’d be feeling very silly right about now.”  Cullins ended up working on my sketch right away, which was good for me but probably didn’t especially thrill everyone else waiting for a sketch!  I think he could tell from my Beautiful Dreamer tattoo that I was a huge fan of the character, and that I’d really appreciate what he was drawing.

In addition to the piece by Paris Cullins, I also got some very nice sketches from Dave Fox, Jim Salicrup, and Billy Tucci in my Avengers book.  I’ve posted scans on Comic Art Fans:

http://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryDetail.asp?GCat=60

It was a pretty good show but, between this and Mocca Fest, I’m pretty worn out when it comes to comic book conventions.  Think I’ll wait until the New York Comic Con rolls around in October before I go to another one.