Friday, December 31, 2010

Fantastic Four Fridays: Surfer's Girl, My Little Surfer's Girl

Fantastic Four #155 (February 1975)
"Battle Royal!"
Len Wein-Rich Buckler/Joe Sinnott

Doug: In all the issues of the FF reviewed so far by the BAB, we've not covered one of the major artists who worked on that book in the Bronze Age. Mainly focusing on the work of John Buscema and George Perez, we've neglected the middle of that sandwich -- namely Rich Buckler.
Maligned by some for various reasons, Buckler was nonetheless the penciller on the title when I first discovered it. Because of that, he's for me to the FF what Ross Andru is for Spider-Man and Bob Brown is for Daredevil.

Karen: John Buscema will always be 'my' FF artist, but Buckler was the guy during a solid chunk of my years as a regular FF reader.

Doug: This one begins with a walk in the park... literally. A group of hoods are hanging out in Central Park, when they spy a presumably unsuspecting family out for a stroll. Making their move, the toughs draw their switchblades and close in. Grabbing the oldest-looking of the four, they are more than a bit dismayed when ol' boy's hat falls off, revealing the ever lovin' blue-eyed Thing! Ben initially begins to dispense a little justice, until Reed calls him to order. Nevertheless wanting to send a message, Ben uproots a lamp post and twists it into a pretzel.

Karen: I love how the thugs call Ben 'fatso' before he turns around and they see who he is.
Back in the day, the Thing always seemed of average height, say 6', but he was incredibly wide and massive. He didn't have the usual proportions of a super-hero. I like that.
Doug: However, the interrupted walk becomes all the more interrupted, as the Silver Surfer streaks onto the scene -- and he's not happy! Issuing a challenge to the Four, Norrin Radd immediately threatens and then attacks Ben. Of course, what follows is one of those "gee, don't you think this would work better if we cooperated with each other?" fights. To be fair, I'm sure none of our heroes expected their longtime ally to launch such a ferocious assault; and it certainly appeared that the Surfer would pull no punches. In fact, it's shortly into the fracas when he announced it was the death of the Fantastic Four that was his mission!

Karen: The FF are startled and certainly not entirely on their game, but let's face it: the Surfer is way too powerful for them to handle!
It seems like the Surfer can do almost anything with his power cosmic.
Doug: Let's take a halftime here to discuss the artwork. As I said at the top, this is pretty familiar stuff to me. I think the biggest thing about Buckler's art is that the reader never knows what to expect. That is not to say that he wasn't consistent month-to-month. But when you look at his work on a here-and-there basis, you might find him aping Neal Adams, or certainly Jack Kirby. I guess for me, I don't know what Rich Buckler is all about. I don't think there's any doubt that he had (has) talent, but I'm not sure that it was ever on display as fully "his work" until he did the Saga of the Sub-Mariner and Saga of the Original Human Torch mini-series in 1988-90 (by the way, I think he draws a great Torch, no matter what era). So while Buckler wouldn't be my first choice on the FF, he's not bad. I would complain that he seems to have one stock figure for every male he draws in this book -- every body shape is the same (or at least the same size). Of course, Sinnott continues to be the glue that holds the series together.

Karen: I always thought Buckler was a very solid artist - at times a great one. He was asked to mimic others and that may have hurt him early on in trying to establish an identity. But his work in this issue, for example, is quite dynamic. He takes some risks in panel composition and for the most part they work out fine. His work is clean and easy to follow. As you mentioned, Sinnott brings a continuity to the FF, regardless of who is penciling it.

Doug: Oh, one other thing -- this was the period when Johnny had donned the red suit. What did you think of that? I rather liked it as an homage to the Original Torch. Plus, with Medusa not surrendering her lavender-and-purple outfit, it gave the team another splash of color.
Although you could certainly argue that red, lavender, orange, purple and blue make for quite a garish display!

Karen: It was sort of like when the X-Men moved away from the school uniforms -they kept the belt but had their own styles. But overall I would prefer everyone in matching outfits, or at least the same color. She-Hulk also had her own variation, but as it was the same color, it looked fine with the rest of the team.

Doug: Once the FF are down, the Surfer relates a tale of how he came to attack them. After having left the Defenders, he went into a self-imposed meditative exile. In a most-spiritual narration, the Surfer claimed to have determined a way to burst the barrier set on him by Galactus lo those many years ago. Actually successful this time, he found that there was a failsafe enacted by the Devourer -- once in space, the Surfer's protective coating began to dissolve. Crashing back through the barrier and to Earth, his powers returned as he plummeted, saving him from splatting all over the landscape! However, could he have chosen a worse landing place?

Karen: How did you like the Surfer's method of escape -circling the Earth zillions of times, building up tremendous speed?
I was wondering if he was going to go back in time! And what are the odds of him landing where he did?
Doug: Yep -- Latveria is not a nice place to visit at any time of year.
But what was hanging on the walls was even more alarming than just being in that evil burg: a poster honoring the queen of Latveria, a maid bearing more than a striking resemblance to Shalla Bal, the love of Norrin Radd! Alarmed, and not a bit enraged, the Surfer took off for the castle she was supposedly in. On the way, however, he spied the Fantastic Four in combat with some shock troops. The FF made short work of the first wave, but were killed by the reinforcements! It was right then that the Surfer noted that this was a training operation against doppelganger robots. Alighting on the floor where the queen resided, the Surfer confronted an alarmed beauty. Knowing him not, she recoiled in fear. And it was then that the king entered the room -- Dr. Doom!

Karen: Doom's looking particularly maniacal here. He always did seem to enjoy messing with the oh-so-pure Surfer.

Doug: So here's the set-up for next issue's big doings: Doom promised the Surfer that he would release Shalla Bal from her vows of marriage, restore her memory, and return her to the Surfer...if he killed the Fantastic Four! And lest you think that by page 20 the Surfer and our heroes have cut a deal, formed an alliance, whatever -- nope. The Surfer begins to drain their lifeforce! To be continued!


The Groovy Agent said...

Not trying to solicit readers or anything, but if you want the facts behind Rich Buckler's 1970s work, you should read his "Swash" Buckler Saturdays column on my blog, as well as "From the Desk of Rich Buckler" on 20th Century Danny Boy. Rich is very open and honest about his "variety of styles"--his reasons will surprise most.

david_b said...

Groovy Agent, thanks for the plug..! Will have to check it out.

I had stopped collecting FF back with ish 151 due to family moves, etc. This was also the time I knew the FF best, having just started with ish 138. I never liked how Rich drew Ben or Reed ~ I had only known Romita, Buscema, and Kirby, with Buscema and Kirby being the best in their own ways.

Good point on how well Rich drew the Torch, it was always good. As for drawing the ensemble on the whole, I agree that all his body shapes all looked the same, and their posturing/posing seemed frankly unnaturally super-heroic, especially compared with how John B. drew 'em.

STILL, his art was way better than Romita's brief stint, and if you had to get an artist in to replace John B, Rich was it.

AND, SUPER-KUDO'S to Joe Sinnott's inking as always.. He was the underlying thread which made the artist change flow easier, much more than I suspect he gets credit for. He's the unsung hero.

david_b said...

Also, forgot to mention, being an excited eager new comic collector in the Bronze Age of Marvel, having the Kirby reprints were super (they were covering the issues just after the Galactus trilogy by that point..).

Loved the 'school blue' uniforms of old, but really dug Medusa and Johnny's outfits, which added a LOT of stylish dynamic to the stories, visually emphasising the change occurring to the team at that time.

Doug said...

Groove --

Thanks for encouraging all of us to take a look at Buckler's entries on your blog. I've long seen the "Swash" Buckler Saturdays posted, but to be embarassingly honest, have not made the time previously to check them out. They are very illuminating, and a welcome addition to comics history!



Anonymous said...

I always liked Buckler's work, and thanks a lot for the plug GA!

Edo Bosnar said...

Buckler's work on FF was a little before my time, so I've seen very little, but these panels you've posted here look pretty nice. And I loved his work in Deathlok and the Black Panther, as well as All-star Squadron.
By the way, Groove, I've been reading Buckler's contributions to both your blog and Danny Boy's. Absolutely fascinating stuff.

Doug said...

This is the post from Daniel Best's blog where Buckler discusses drawing in different styles.

I think we have opened a wonderful can of worms worth continued discussion!


Anonymous said...

My first exposure to Buckler was those Avengers issues he did (#101 - #107ish), and after those, the FF stories were disappointing - too derivative (or outright swiping) of Kirby for my taste.

That said, I'd missed the preceding couple of issues, and upon opening #155 was pleasantly surprised by the art - still stiff here and there, but much better than before.

This was Len Wein's first issue too, wasn't it? Just about his last too, as we were about to get a great big slab of Roy Thomas scripting, and what writing it was - the following issue up to #181 or thereabouts constitutes my favourite FF period.

B Smith

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