The Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part 11

Welcome to the 11th edition of Comic Book Coffee. I’ve been posting these daily in the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The challenge was to see how many different pencilers I could find artwork by featuring coffee.

51) Wilson Tortosa

Exposure: Second Coming #2, penciled by Wilson Tortosa, written by David Campiti, lettered by Matt Thompson, and colored by Mickey Clausen, published by Avatar Press in October 2000.

I know some of you are probably saying “Coffee? What coffee?!?”  Look, it’s right there.  Those two lingerie-clad ladies are having their morning coffee.  See, I told you so.

Exposure, created by David Campiti and Al Rio, featured the adventures of Lisa Shannon and Shawna Diaz, who investigate cases involving demons, vampires, aliens and other weird phenomena.  Of course Lisa and Shawna deal with all of these unusual menaces while wearing skimpy outfits and stiletto heels.  And in their free time they occasionally work as pin-up models.  I guess you can consider it “The XXX-Files” or something like that.

Exposure was originally published by Image Comics in 1999 as a four issue series.  It returned a year later with the two issue Exposure: Second Coming released through Bad Girl comic book publisher Avatar Press.

This back-up story in Exposure: Second Coming #2 was the first published work of Filipino artist Wilson Tortosa.  He went on to draw Battle of the Planets, City of Heroes and Tomb Raider for Top Cow / Image Comics.

52) Casey Jones & Tom Simmons

Excalibur #99, penciled by Casey Jones, inked by Tom Simmons, written by Warren Ellis, lettered by Richard Starkings, and colored by Ariane Lenshoek, published by Marvel Comics with a July 1996 cover date.

Okay, since the last entry was heavy on the T&A, here’s one for the ladies.  We have the very buff Brian Braddock clad in his boxers drinking his morning coffee.  He’s deep in contemplation, preparing himself for an upcoming encounter with the London Branch of the Hellfire Club.  Brian has redesigned his Captain Britain armor in anticipation of the conflict, and has mixed feelings about assuming his costumed alter ego again.

I definitely felt the best issues of Excalibur were the ones by Chris Claremont & Alan Davis, and the ones where Davis both wrote & penciled the series.  Following Davis’ departure the book took a definite dip in quality.  Warren Ellis’ run was a post-Davis highpoint, and he wrote some stories that I enjoyed.

Casey Jones was brought in to alternate with Carlos Pacheco on penciling duties.  Pachecho was ostensibly the series’ main artist, but in practice Jones ended up penciling twice as many issues.  I really liked Jones’ work.  He’s a talented artist.  This page definitely demonstrates his storytelling abilities.  Jones has also worked on Outsiders, Birds of Prey, Fantastic Four and New Warriors.

53) Jack Kamen & Johnny Craig

“Hear No Evil” is penciled by Jack Kamen, inked by Johnny Craig, written by Al Feldstein, and colored by Marie Severin, from Crime SuspenStories #13, published by EC Comics with an Oct-Nov 1952 cover date.

Beautiful, ambitious Rita has married Frank Reardon for one reason: he’s incredibly wealthy.  Frank is also completely deaf, having lost his hearing in the military.  While Rita acts the role of dutiful, loving wife she mockingly tells him things like “From here on in, your my meal ticket” and “If it wasn’t for your dough I’d walk out on you tonight” knowing he can’t hear a single word she says.

Rita begins an affair with Vance Tobin, a business associate of Frank.  The lovers try to figure out a way be together without Rita losing Frank’s money.  Then one day Frank stumbles into the house, dazed & disheveled, having nearly died in a car accident outside.  Inspiration strikes Rita, and in front of the deaf Frank she suggests to Vance a plan to poison her husband and forge a suicide note.

Rita retrieves some potassium cyanide from the garden shed.  Serving coffee to the two men, Rita tells Vance not to drink the cup on the right s it contains the poison.  A few minutes later, though, it is not Frank but Vance who abruptly drops dead on the spot, much to Rita’s horror.  Wrong coffee cup, Vance!  You can probably guess the twist ending, but I won’t spoil it.

“Hear No Evil” is a EC rarity, one of the few stories not drawn solely by a single artist.  Instead, we have two EC mainstays collaborating, Jack Kamen on pencils and Johnny Craig on inks.  They work well together, effectively illustrating Feldstein’s tale of infidelity and homicide.

Following the demise of EC Comics in 1955, Kamen went into the advertising field, where he had a successful career.  He briefly returned to comic books in the early 1980s to draw the cover of the graphic novel adaptation of Stephen King’s EC Comics-inspired Creepshow, as well as the artwork featured in the actual movie.  Kamen passed away in 2008.

Johnny Craig remained in comic books, but he found only limited success at both Marvel and DC, due to his style not aligning with the dynamics needed for superhero stories, as well as to his meticulous approach to drawing leading to difficulty in meeting deadlines.  By the 1980s he had moved into a creative field where he was much more comfortable, drawing private commissions for fans of his now-classic EC Comics work.  Craig passed away in 2001.

54) Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney

Defenders #62, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Jim Mooney, written by David Anthony Kraft, lettered by John Costanza, and colored by Bob Sharen, published by Marvel Comics with an August 1978 cover date.

Today’s entry is from the famous (infamous?) “Defenders for a Day” storyline.  Would-be documentarian Aaron “Dollar Bill” English has put together a television special about the Defenders.  In it, touting the Defenders’ “non-team” status, Dollar Bill enthusiastically states “Anyone with super-powers who wants to declare himself a Defender is automatically a member!  It’s a snap… Don’t delay, join today!”

To the Defenders consternation, several dozen superheroes arrive on their doorstep ready to join the team.  Valkyrie, attempting to be courteous, suggests they make coffee for all the guests, and attempts to enlist Hellcat’s aid, but Patsy Walker refuses, stating “No way, Val — this tabby’s through messing around with that cockamamie coffee pot!”  Valkyrie is left with no one to assist her in making coffee but the Hulk… oh, gee, what could possibly go wrong?!?

Soon enough Val and the Hulk are serving up cups of what is apparently the strongest, most pungent black coffee ever brewed in the entire history of existence, leading Captain Marv-Vell to disgustedly exclaim “Not even Thanos could down this bitter beverage!”

Sal Buscema is one of my all-time favorite comic book artists.  He is an accomplished storyteller, and as we see here he does an absolutely superb job illustrating David Kraft’s comedic story.  Buscema’s pencils combined with Kraft’s script results in a laugh-out-loud issue.

Jim Mooney, another very talented artist, effective embellishes Buscema here.  I love their scowling Hulk who orders the Paladin to “Drink it black!” The disgusted expression on Hercules’ face is also priceless.

55) John Byrne

John Byrne’s Next Men #30, written & drawn by John Byrne and colored by Matt Webb, published by Dark Horse with a December 1994 cover date.

Next Men was John Byrne’s first creator-owned series.  A bleak sci-fi political suspense thriller, Next Men dealt with the survivors of a top secret genetic engineering project masterminded by Senator Aldus Hilltop.

By this point in the series the corrupt, ruthless Hilltop has ascended to the Presidency itself.  Bethany, Nathan and Danny, three of the surviving Next Men, have learned that Hilltop is Danny’s biological father, and have traveled to Washington DC hoping to confront him.  They are intercepted by Thomas Kirkland, a time traveler from the 22nd Century.

Over coffee at an all-night diner, Kirkland reveals to the Next Men that Hilltop is destined to become the vampiric cyborg despot Sathanas, who nearly conquered the world in the year 2112.  Defeated, Sathanas traveled back in time to 1955 and met up with the young, ambitious Hilltop, advising him, giving him knowledge of the future, directing him to establish the Next Men project, all of this to ultimately insure his own creation.  Kirkland has traveled back to the end of the 20th Century in an attempt to break this predestination paradox by assassinating Hilltop before he transforms into Sathanas.

Next Men was an intriguing and ambitious series.  I consider it to be one of John Byrne’s best works from his lengthy career.  The series went on hiatus with issue #30, ending on an explosive cliffhanger.  Byrne initially planned to return to Next Men just a few months later, but the implosion of the comic book biz in 1995 delayed this indefinitely.

Byrne at long last concluded the Next Men saga in 2011 with a 14 issue series published by IDW. Hopefully I will have a chance to take a look at those issues in an upcoming blog post.

Frank McLaughlin: 1935 to 2020

I am sorry to report that another comic book creator whose work I enjoyed has passed on.  Frank McLaughlin was a talented artist whose career in comic books and comic strips lasted for nearly five decades, from the 1961 to 2008.   He passed away on March 4th at the age of 84.

McLaughlin, like a number of other comic book creators, got his foot in the door via Charlton Comics.  He was hired on to do a variety of production work for the Derby, Connecticut publisher.  In a 2016 interview McLaughlin recounted how he came to work for Charlton:

“All through my career, I have been blessed with the greatest of friends, beginning with a classmate at art school; Larry Conti. Larry hooked me up with his brother, Dan Conti, who was a department head at Charlton Press. Dan, in turn, introduced me to Charlton’s Pat Masulli, editor in chief of comics. Timing was perfect, because his assistant, Sal Gentile, was about to leave for Florida, in two weeks. I was hired on the spot, and Sal gave me an immediate ‘cook’s tour’ of the plant. It took me a few days for all this to sink in, but Sal was a terrific guy, and this made it easy for me to understand the job.”

Judomaster 93 coverDuring his time at Charlton, McLaughlin worked closely with fellow artist Dick Giordano.  If you look at McLaughlin’s work, especially his inking, you can see that Giordano was a definite influence.  Considering Giordano was an incredibly talented artist himself, one could certainly do worse than to draw inspiration from him.

McLaughlin had studied judo since he was 18 years old, and he drew on his martial arts experience to create the character Judomaster for Charlton.  Judomaster made his debut in Special War Series #4, cover-dated November 1965.  The next year an ongoing Judomaster series was launched, which lasted for ten issues. (Confusingly the issue numbers for Judomaster were #89 to #98, carrying on the numbering from the cancelled series Gunmaster. This was a common practice at Charlton.)  McLaughlin wrote, penciled & inked the entire ten issue run.

Unfortunately I am not especially familiar with McLaughlin’s work on Judomaster or the other Charlton “Action Heroes” titles from the 1960s, but judging by the artwork I’ve seen from it online he clearly did good work on it.  The cover for #93 (“Meet the Tiger!”) is especially striking.  I did recently locate copies of Judomaster #96 and #98 at Mysterious Time Machine in Manhattan, and I found them to be enjoyable, well-drawn comic books.

McLaughlin left Charlton in 1969 to freelance, and by the early 1970s he was regularly receiving work from both Marvel and DC Comics.  The majority of his assignments for the Big Two were inking the pencils of other artists.  It was actually via his work as an inker that I first became aware of McLaughlin, and developed a real appreciation for his art.

As a teenager in the 1990s I spent a lot of time attempting to acquire copies of every issue of Captain America published during the 1970s and 80s.  One of my favorite artists on Captain America was Sal Buscema, who penciled the series from 1972 to 1975.  Buscema was paired with several inkers during this four year run.  Reading those back issues during my high school & college years, I very quickly noticed there was something different, something special, about the work of one particular inker, namely Frank McLaughlin.

Captain America 160 pg 1 signed

To my eyes, McLaughlin’s inks over Buscema’s pencils were really striking.  McLaughlin gave Buscema’s pencils kind of a slick polish.  I guess that’s how I would describe it.  As a non-artist, sometimes it’s difficult for me to articulate these things clearly.  Whatever the case, it looked great.

McLaughlin only inked Buscema’s pencils on six issues of Captain America, specifically #155-156, 160, 165-166 and 169.  I really wish he’d had a longer run on the title.  McLaughlin’s final issue, #169, was the first chapter of the epic “Secret Empire” storyline written by Steve Englehart.  The remaining chapters of that saga were inked by Vince Colletta.

I realize Colletta is a divisive inker, so I am going to put this in purely personal, subjective terms.  Speaking only for myself, I just do not think Colletta’s inks were a good fit for Buscema’s pencils.  As incredible as the “Secret Empire” saga was, I feel it would have been even better if McLaughlin had been the inker for the entire storyline.

Now that I think about it, when I was reading those Captain America back issues in the mid 1990s, and comparing Buscema inked by McLaughlin to Buscema inked by Colletta, and in turn comparing both to the other inkers who worked on that series the early 1970s, it was probably one of the earliest instances of me realizing just how significant a role the inker has in the finished look of comic book artwork.

McLaughin also inked Buscema on a few of the early issues of The Defenders, specifically #4-6 and 8-9.  Again, I wish it had been a longer run, because they went so well together.  In these issues the Asgardian warrior Valkyrie joined the team, and the combination of Buscema’s pencils and McLaughlin’s inks resulted in a stunningly beautiful depiction of the character.

I definitely regard Frank McLaughlin as one of the best inkers Sal Buscema had during the Bronze Age.

Defenders 4 pg 15

McLaughlin actually did much more work as an inker at DC Comics.  One of his regular assignments at DC was Justice League of America.  He inked issues #117-189, a six and a half year run between 1975 and 1981.

During most of McLaughlin’s time on Justice League of America he was paired with the series’ longtime penciler Dick Dillin.  Although I would not say that I am a huge fan of Dillin, I nevertheless consider him to be sort of DC’s equivalent of Sal Buscema.  In other words, much like Our Pal Sal, Dillin was a good, solid, often-underrated artist with strong storytelling skills who could be counted on to turn in a professional job on time.  I like quality that McLaughlin’s inking brought to Dillin’s pencils.  They made an effective art team.

Tragically, after completing Justice League of America #183, in March 1980 Dillin died unexpectedly at the much too young age of 51 (reportedly he passed away at the drawing board working on the next issue).  McLaughlin remained on for the next several issues, effectively providing finishes for a young George Perez’s pencil breakdowns, as well as inking over Don Heck and Rich Buckler. Nevertheless, as he recounted in a 2008 interview, he made the decision to leave the series:

“I did one or two issues, and then I said to Julie [Schwartz] “you know, I think I’d like to move on.” I was so used to what Dillin and I were doing together. I moved on and did a lot more other stuff.

“It was a good change of speed at the time, inking groups was fast becoming not a favorite–there’s too many people in there!”

Justice League 140 pg 1

Among his other work for DC Comics, McLaughlin inked Irv Novick on both Batman and The Flash, Ernie Chan on Detective Comics, Joe Staton on Green Lantern, and Carmine Infantino on the Red Tornado miniseries and the last two years of The Flash during the “Trial of the Flash” storyline.  He also assisted Giordano on several DC jobs during the mid-to-late 1980s.

McLaughlin’s last regular assignment in comic books was for Broadway Comics in 1996.  There he inked a young J.G. Jones on Fatale.

Between 2001 and 2008 he drew the Gil Thorpe comic strip.  In 2008 McLaughlin collaborated with his daughter Erin Holroyd and his long-time colleague Dick Giordano on The White Viper, a web comic serialized on ComicMix that was subsequently collected in a graphic novel in 2011 by IDW.White Viper cover

McLaughlin taught at both Paier College of Art in Hamden CT and Guy Gilchrist’s Cartoonist’s Academy in Simsbury CT, and he worked with Mike Gold on the instructional books How to Draw Those Bodacious Bad Babes of Comics and How to Draw Monsters for Comics.

In his later years McLaughlin did commissions for fans.  One of the characters he was often asked to draw was Judomaster, which all those decades later still had devoted fans.

Writer & editor Robert Greenberger, who worked at DC Comics from 1984 to 2000, wrote a brief tribute to McLaughlin on Facebook:

“I grew up on Frank’s work, first at Charlton then DC and Marvel. When I joined DC, he quickly welcomed me and was a font of stories.

“Frank was a gracious man, friendly, and willing to talk shop with eager newcomers, share tips with rising new talent, and lend a hand wherever needed.

“He was a workhorse of an artist, adaptable and reliable — two of the qualities desperate editors always welcomed. Even after I left staff, we’d run into one another at cons and it was picking up where we left off.

“I will miss him.”

I fortunately had an opportunity to meet McLaughlin once at a convention in the early 2000s.  At the time I was regrettably unaware of his work for Charlton, but I did have him autograph one of the Captain America issues that he had so wonderfully inked.  I only spoke with him briefly, but he came across as a nice, polite person.

Summertime with the Amazing Heroes swimsuit special

It’s the end of August and summer is winding down.  Yes, technically it doesn’t actually end until September 23rd.  However, the unofficial end of the summer season here in the States is Labor Day, which is only a week away.  Most people regard these as the closing days of summer.

So before all the kiddies return to school I wanted to end the summer with an appropriate post.  Let’s cast our eyes back to 1988 and the pages of Amazing Heroes #138, their second annual swimsuit issue.

For younger readers, Amazing Heroes was published by Fantagraphics between 1981 and 1992.  It featured in-depth articles and interviews on both mainstream comic books and the ever-growing independent scene.  For most of its existence Amazing Heroes was edited by Kim Thompson.

Amazing Heroes had a few swimsuit editions in the late 1980s and early 90s.  Unlike many of the comic book swimsuit specials that would follow from other publishers that were tacky T&A fests, Amazing Heroes approached theirs with tongue planted firmly in cheek.  A diverse selection of artists contributed to their specials.

Amazing Heroes 138 cover signed

The cover to Amazing Heroes #138 is penciled by the legendary Neal Adams and inked by Art Nichols.  It features four lovely ladies from Adams’ creator-owned Continuity Studios books.  I’m not familiar with the gals in the middle.  But on the left is Ms. Mystic and on the right is Samuree.  I always chuckle at this one.  In the Ms. Mystic series the title character’s costume is always rendered by Adams with zip-a-tone.  So the joke here is that, in lieu of a swimsuit, Ms. Mystic is wearing an actual sheet of zip-a-tone to the beach.

I got this autographed by Adams recently.  It’s a lovely piece by him, a playfully sexy pin-up illustration.  I hope one of these days Adams collects his creator-owned material into trade paperbacks.  I feel that is an often-overlooked aspect of his career.

Here’s a look at just a few of my favorites from the many great pin-ups featured in Amazing Heroes #138…

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 31 John Workman Big Barda

John Workman renders Big Barda of Jack Kirby’s New Gods in a bikini.  Workman is best known for his extensive work as a letterer, frequently working with Walter Simonson.  But Workman is also a talented artist.  As can be seen from this, he also possesses a great sense of humor.  This is a cute send-up of good girl art, simultaneously sexy and self-deprecating.  That “tapioca pudding” line totally cracks me up.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 38 Hernandez Bros

If you are Fantagraphics and you’re going to do a swimsuit special, certainly you’re going to ask two of your best artists, Love and Rockets co-creators Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez, to contribute a piece.  After all, both brothers are well-regarded for their depictions of the female form.  Of course, Beto and Jaime draw some good looking guys, too.  Here’s a jam piece by Los Bros Hernandez.  On the left is Israel by Gilbert.  On the right is Danita by Jaime.

This pin-up and a great deal of other material that had originally appeared in a variety of places was reprinted in the Hernandez Satyricon trade paperback.  As much as I love Gilbert & Jaime for their very compelling characters & intricate plotting it was also nice to have many of their beautiful pin-ups gathered together in one volume.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 39 Fred Hembeck Ditko Zone

I really enjoy Fred Hembeck’s fun, cartoony artwork.  He is a huge fan of Silver Age comic books, especially the Marvel Comics work of Steve Ditko.  Hembeck has done quite a few loving Ditko homages over the years, including this one, “Surfing in The Ditko Zone.”  It brings a smile to my face seeing Doctor Strange, Clea and the dread Dormammu in swimsuits riding the waves in one of Ditko’s psychedelic alternate dimensions.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 45 Reed Waller Omaha

As I’ve mentioned before, my girlfriend Michele is a fan of Omaha the Cat Dancer by writer Kate Worley and artist Reed Waller.  I’ve never read the series, but Michele has all of the collected editions, so one of these days I’ll sit down and immerse myself in it.  Omaha is an exotic dancer / stripper, and the book is definitely for mature readers.  The series was partly created as a protest against censorship.  It perfect makes sense that Waller would draw Omaha as “Ms. First Amendment” here.  It’s a beautiful illustration.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 72 Bo Hampton

In the late 1980s Eclipse Comics was publishing their revival of the Golden Age aviator hero Airboy written by Chuck Dixon.  The talented Bo Hampton was one of the artists who worked on it.  For this swimsuit issue Hampton renders Airboy / Davy Nelson III, the near-mindless swamp monster known as the Heap, and the femme fatale Valkyrie at the beach.  I always chuckle at the sight of the Heap in a pair of swim trunks!

IDW is currently reprinting Eclipse’s Airboy in a series of trade paperbacks.  I recommend getting them.  They contain excellent writing and artwork.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 84 Evan Dorkin

Here’s a great pin-up of the whole crew from Evan Dorkin’s irreverent creator-owned series Pirate Corp$ / Hectic Planet jamming at the beach.  It always amazes me at the insane amount of detail, as well as the just plain insanity, Dorkin always manages to pack into his artwork.  He draws a huge crowd of characters and successfully invests each one with an individual personality.  Dorkin is definitely one of the most talented and underrated comic book creators around.

In the late 1990s Slave Labor Graphics released three trade paperback collections of Hectic Planet.  You can find them on Amazon at affordable prices.  Again, I recommend them.  Dorkin did good work in those stories.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 81 Bruce Patterson original

Bringing things to a close, here is a scan of the original art for a pin-up of Purity Brown and Nemesis the Warlock from the pages of 2000 AD drawn by Bruce Patterson.  As an inker, Patterson has worked with a diverse number of pencilers.  This piece demonstrates Patterson is also able to do extremely good work on his own.  Purity Brown of course looks damn sexy in her black bikini.  As for Nemesis, there’s comedy gold in seeing the alien chaos lord clad in a black Speedo holding a beach ball.

I won this on Ebay in the late 1990s.  Only a couple other people bid on it, so I got it for an amazingly low price.  I owned it for almost 20 years before eventually selling it to another collector when I had some bills I had to pay.  The art board Patterson drew on had warped a bit by the time it made its way into my hands, but it still looked great.  This is a piece that I feel, due to the subtle shading Patterson utilized, did not reproduce especially well on black & white newsprint.

Older fans often look back at the demise Amazing Heroes in 1992 as an unfortunate setback to serious journalism on the industry.  I think that’s a valid argument.  Even more so when you consider that following in Amazing Heroes’ footsteps was Wizard Magazine.  If Amazing Heroes was the New York Times of comic book reporting then Wizard was definitely the NY Post!

Many of the old Amazing Heroes issues can be found on Ebay for low prices.  They’re well worth picking up for the interviews and the in-the-moment examination of the dramatic changes the comic book industry underwent throughout the 1980s.  And, of course, you also had fun features like their swimsuit specials.

Comic book reviews: Valkyrie “Prisoner of the Past”

“We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us.” − Bergen Evans

In my recent blog post about the career of Fred Kida, I mentioned his work for Hillman Periodicals in the 1940s, including how he was the co-creator of the femme fatale aviatrix Valkyrie, who made her debut in the Airboy story in Air Fighters Comics vol 2 #2 (November 1943).  Hillman folded up shop in 1953 and its various characters fell into limbo until 1986 when Eclipse Comics began publishing a new Airboy ongoing series.  Written by Chuck Dixon, it featured Davy Nelson III, the son of the original Airboy who assumed the mantle after his father was murdered.  Eclipse also brought Valkyrie back into print in the book, although in her case she was the original, having spent four decades in a mystic suspended animation.

Valkyrie 1 cover

Val proved popular enough that Eclipse published a three issue Valkyrie miniseries in 1987, written by Dixon, with art by Paul Gulacy & Will Blyberg, and edited by Catherine Yronwode.  It was quickly collected into a trade paperback, “Prisoner of the Past.”

One of the aspects of most Golden Age comic books was that any sort of gradual or sophisticated character development was practically non-existent.  This is particularly true of Valkyrie.  If you read her 1943 debut story “Airboy Meets Valkyrie,” you find that she is not the most subtle of characters, to say the least.  She starts out as an icy, sadistic killer who is unquestionably devoted to the Nazi cause.  Yet within the space of a mere 12 pages Valkyrie falls in love with Airboy, suddenly comes to realize that she is fighting for the wrong side, shoots her commanding officer in the back, and defects to the Allies.  By modern standards it is perhaps not the most convincing of redemptions!  (You can view scans of the entire story on Comic Book Plus.)

Valkyrie 1 pg 21

Dixon must have perceived the problematic nature of Valkyrie’s background, and he tackled it headlong in “Prisoner of the Past.”  In the opening issue, Val is caught on camera by the eleven o’clock new beating the ever living crap out of a gang of muggers.  She becomes a “media superstar” and receives an offer to work for the world’s top modeling agency.  Unfortunately all of this publicity eventually brings her to the attention of the KGB, who recognize her as the same Valkyrie who fought in World War II over four decades before.  The Russian agent Steelfox is dispatched to capture her and bring her back to the Soviet Union to stand trial for war crimes.

The Soviets accuse Valkyrie of leading her squad of Air Maidens in a brutal attack against the village of Lubon in February 1944, murdering two thousand orphaned refugee children.  Val insists over and over that she never flew any missions against civilian targets, only military ones.  Moreover, she tells her captors that she defected to the Allies months earlier, and was in England at the time of her supposed involvement in this atrocity.  But her protests fall on the deaf ears of the Soviets, who are eager to try & execute her as an enemy of the state.

Dixon does excellent work scripting Val in “Prisoner of the Past.”  As the story opens, she is already something of a haunted figure, struggling to adjust to having slept through the past forty years, and keenly feeling the loss of her beloved, the original Airboy, who married, grew old, and died while she was missing.  Captured and brought behind the Iron Curtain, tortured by Steelfox, her past allegiance to the Third Reich thrown into her face, Val’s conscience begins to eat away at her.  “It wasn’t me,” she repeats over and over, and it is obvious that she is trying as desperately to convince the Soviets as she is herself.

In the opening pages of issue three, Val, who is already in anguish from her ordeal, is seemingly visited in her dreams by Misery, a Grim Reaper-esque supernatural entity who collects the souls of aviators.  He was the one who was responsible for Val’s decades-long slumber, and now he seeks to claim her.  Dixon leaves it a bit ambiguous whether it truly is Misery haunting her, or if it is Val’s guilt and torment that is creating this nightmare.  Either way, it is an effectively unsettling sequence.

Valkyrie 3 pg 3

Dixon has always been good at writing female characters that are sexy and strong, yet also well-rounded.  His Valkyrie is a multi-faceted individual who is tough as nails and confident yet at the same time still a very human individual.

Likewise, Dixon does interesting work with Steelfox.  When we first see the Soviet operative, he is gleefully slaughtering resistance fighters in Afghanistan with a poison gas attack; he hardly seems like the sort who has any right to be judging Valkyrie for her actions.  As the story progresses, though, we learn that Steelfox has a very personal stake in matters.  He was one of the few surviving children from the Lubon massacre, although the attack left him crippled.  It is conceivable to see this as the defining moment of his life that set him on the path to becoming a monster.  And once Steelfox learns of Valkyrie’s existence, he is obsessed with exacting vengeance against the woman who he believes destroyed his childhood.  In his own way, Steelfox is as much imprisoned by the past as Val.  If she is haunted by grief & guilt, then he is consumed by hatred.

Although there are several action sequences, Dixon chooses to conclude “Prisoners of the Past” in a more unconventional manner.  The climax of the story is Valkyrie’s trial, via an intense, emotional revelation.  It is a very effective ending.

The artwork by Paul Gulacy and Will Blyberg is definitely top-notch.  I’ve always enjoyed Gulacy’s work.  When he was first starting out, Gulacy worked as an assistant to the late, great Dan Adkins, and he was also influenced by Jim Steranko.  You can definitely see both of their influences in Gulacy’s art, although he is certainly much more than an imitator.

Gulacy is especially well known for his renderings of super-sexy women, but there is much more to his work than that.  There are quite a few artists who can draw a hot girl, but who cannot tell a story to save their life.  Gulacy, in contrast, does amazing layouts.  He has a very cinematic style to his work that is well suited to depicting dynamic action sequences.  At the same time, he is also very good at rendering quieter character moments.

Gulacy’s diverse skills are all at the fore in “Prisoner of the Past.”  His Valkyrie is stunningly beautiful and strong, yet still human and capable of vulnerability.  The action is well choreographed.  And the character moments are moving, full of real emotion.

Valkyrie 1 pg 8

In the first issue there is moment when Valkyrie, laying in her bed, sadly reflects on what she lost over the decades she was in suspended animation.  The collaboration here between Dixon’s scripting and Gulacy’s pencils creates a very melancholy, memorable sequence.

I found an inexpensive used copy of the “Prisoner of the Past” collection on Ebay a week or so ago.  So that’s one way to go if you want to pick up this great story.  However, the miniseries is being reissued by IDW, along with the remainder of the Airboy material from Eclipse.  Airboy Archives Volume One came out in March.  Volume Two, which includes the Valkyrie miniseries, is scheduled for a July release.  I’m planning to pick up both books.  In addition to the writing by Chuck Dixon, there are several talented artists who worked on the Airboy series, among them Tim Truman, Stan Woch, Tom Lyle and Ron Randall.  It’s always nice when quality out-of-print material such as this finally has the opportunity to find a new audience.

Fred Kida: 1920 – 2014

Comic book artist Fred Kida, who was born on December 12, 1920, recently passed away on April 3th at the age of 93. Kida’s career as a professional artist was a long one, stretching from the Golden Age of comic books in 1941 until his retirement in 1987. One of his artistic influences was legendary Terry and the Pirates creator Milton Caniff, who also inspired John Romita, Frank Robbins, and Lee Elias, among others.

Early in his career Kida worked at Hillman Periodicals, working on several of its regular features, including Airboy, a teenage aviator who piloting his experimental aircraft Birdie fought both the Axis powers and a variety of criminals within the pages of Air Fighters Comics. During his time on the Airboy feature, Kida designed the iconic Valkyrie, who made her debut in Air Fighters Comics volume 2 #2 (November 1943). One of comic books’ first femme fatales, she was a sexy Nazi agent whose flying skills rivaled Airboy. Valkyrie ended up quickly switching sides, joining the Allied cause at the conclusion of her debut story, as well as beginning a romance with Airboy.

Airboy Comics v3 6 cover

The Elias-illustrated Airboy stories co-starring Valkyrie were collected in a black & white volume in 1982 by Ken Pierce. In the book’s introduction, the legendary Alex Toth wrote:

“Kida demonstrated a rich sense of drama in his underlying black and white art – he produced powerful blacks, mixed with myriad textures to contrast his open whites which, assisted by sharp coloring, reproduced very well – with clarity and strength.”

(Well, he put it better than I ever could have!)

Catherine Yronwode provided several insightful text pieces introducing the stories, as well as offering a few of Kida’s own thoughts on his work. Although Fred Kida’s Yalkyrie is long out of print, I was fortunate enough to locate a copy several years ago. It can also be easily found on Amazon.

During the 1950s, Kida spent several years at Atlas Comics, the 1950s incarnation of Marvel Comics. He worked in a myriad of genres, illustrating mystery, war, romance and Western stories. The subsequent decade saw Kida absent from comic books, although he assisted Dan Barry on the Flash Gordon comic strip, first in the early 1960s, and again in the late 60s.

Captain Britain 17 pg 2

Kida returned to Marvel in the 1970s. His major assignment during that time was on Captain Britain, the first original Marvel UK title, inking both Herb Trimpe and Ron Wilson’s pencils. After spending years unsuccessfully searching out back issues of that series here in the States, I finally picked up a number of them in 1999 during my short time over in London, specifically #s 15 to 27, a lengthy story by written by Gary Friedrich that teamed up Brian Braddock with Captain America and Nick Fury against the Red Skull. Trimpe was also nicely inked by Kida in several issues of Marvel’s Godzilla series.

Although working mostly as an inker during the 1970s, Kida did also occasionally pencil for Marvel, notably a two part story that ran in Captain America #238-239. Written by Peter Gillis, with inking by Don Perlin, this action-packed story gave Kida the opportunity to draw Cap in action against a barrage of high tech mercenaries, giant hawks, prehistoric diatrymas, and psychic warfare. Gillis, commenting on Facebook about working with Kida, stated:

“I was so jazzed to do the two-parter with him – one of his very few book jobs at Marvel. I knew this was his first time drawing Cap and (the old) Nick Fury, but there was none of the oddness you might get with somebody’s first time: it was as if he’d been doing these guys for years.”

(If you would like to read those issues, they are collected in Essential Captain America Volume 7, along with plenty of other great stories.)

Captain America 238 pg 23

Kida also penciled the now-classic What If #22, which posed the intriguing question “What if Doctor Doom had become a hero?” Don Glutt penned a thought-provoking alternate reality examination of Victor Von Doom that insightfully revealed much about the “real” Doom. Kida, inked by Dave Simons, turned in very good work.

Kida’s last regular professional assignment was as the artist on the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip. Paired with Spider-Man’s co-creator Stan Lee, Kida worked on the strip from 1981 to 1986.

A few years ago I was able to locate Fred Kida’s mailing address. I sent him a letter telling him how much I enjoyed his work on Airboy and Captain America, and his inking over Herb Trimpe’s pencils. Regrettably he never wrote back to me. Nevertheless, I hope that I was able to convey to Kida that his work is still appreciated.

(Credit where credit is due: I obtained the scan of the cover to Airboy Comics volume 3 #6 from Comic Book Plus. Thank you to Peter Gillis for bringing that website to my attention. Fans of Golden Age comic books will undoubtedly find it a veritable treasure trove.)