Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Oh, I've Got to Set Myself Free

Doug: Today we'd like some lists, and some specifics attached to those ideas. As has been said, the main reason I moved away from the comics reviews and urged Karen to join me in our current "Arc of Triumph?" series was that the writing and art scanning just wasn't fitting in well with an increasingly busy personal life and professional schedule. So a few weeks ago I decided that I could use an hour or so of this new "free time" to just read some comics, sans the written summaries and opinions. I went downstairs and grabbed the Captain America and the Falcon: Nomad trade paperback off my shelf. I'd purchased it many moons ago, and had never taken the time to crack it open. As a kid, I had a buddy who had a few of the issues collected within, notably the Golden Archer issue that featured a wonderfully stupid rubber mask panel with Hawkeye. But I've long wanted to read the entire arc, so it seemed to be time.

Doug: The first several issues were a joy -- the Falcon solo, Steve Rogers wrestling with staying out of action after his retirement as Captain America, and some goofy villains like Lucifer and Aries from the Zodiac cartel. Author Steve Englehart was riding the crest of the wave he'd built up in the "Secret Empire" saga, and was keeping me entertained through the first half of the tpb. And then... and then it happened. Sal left. Gone. And in his place? Frank Robbins. Now I know there have been a few Robbins apologists among our readership through the years, and I'm not going to rain on anyone's parade by starting an argument. So I'll do what I do in my classroom when I have something of great personal import to bestow upon the young minds -- "Hear me: this is MY opinion!" and then I go on. I bought the Invaders mag for a long time, and never felt satisfied. Sure, the stories were OK, and I really liked the WWII settings. But that book never ever went all the way for me. And you get one guess as to why.

Doug: So here's my problem, and here's where you come in. That Cap/Falc trade has been sitting on the shelf of one of our end tables for a month now. It's half-read. And I am harboring serious doubts as to whether or not I'll pick it up to finish it! So what I want you to do today is reminisce on those books from the past where you had a little run going and then (either gradually or suddenly) said "I'm out!" List 'em, and tell what that impetus was for your departure. As is the case here, we're not doing any rip jobs because we're all mature and just flat-out nice in this corner. But we all have personal tastes, and it's just OK to not like something. I'm looking forward to some stories!

PS -- Doug: I wrote the body of this post on October 29. Later that evening I didn't have anything pressing to do, so I decided to pull the book out. Seriously -- I found that I could enjoy the first two Robbins-penciled issues if I did not look at the pictures. Seeing them only out of the corner of my eye I could allow Robbins to move me through Englehart's words and make sense of it all. But whenever I'd get to the bottom of a page I'd stop and give some time to the individual panels. And I'd miss Sal... I did see that there's a 2-issue break coming up where the art is by Herb Trimpe and it actually looks pretty good. Then it's back to Robbins for the conclusion. But if I'd been buying this off the rack way back when, I think I'd have dropped the book. It's just that jarring. 


david_b said...

Doug, that pretty much summed my experience up to a TEE.


While Sal still did some covers, the Robbins art resulted in a total 180-degree reversal of my CA&F devotion, which made me question exactly why I loved it.

For a moment.

The blinding flash of reality was Sal's art and pacing. Much like the Avengers/Defenders Clash the summer before, Steve once again had constructed a well-chaptered, engaging story arc.

Steve's story telling was still there under Robbins; in fact, if you pictured Sal's art in those issues, you'd quickly notice that Steve was still telling engaging, thought-provoking tales, and we would have had a much more fulfilling all-encompassing year of classic CA&F.

If there was a dictionary definition of 'great story, horrendous art'..., this would be it.

My devotion to CA&F as the flagship of my Zuvembie-like fanship quite-literally crashed. My wide-eyed, naive days of 'Ooooh, a Marvel comic, this HAS to be good..' were done.

A one-issue change-up, like the Alan Weiss issue (#164) would have been perhaps plausible (Weiss was FAR more imaginative..), but when Robbins was kept for several issues (and the letters pages were filled, FILLED with all those art complaints...), you just have to shake your head and wonder..


Rip Jagger said...

I'm feeling rather political today and after the election results I might find these stories just the tonic I need to cleanse the palette.

I'm a huge Sal fan, but I also liked the energetic Robbins material. The inking made it a bit wonky in places sometimes, but overall I like him generally.

Rip Off

Humanbelly said...

You've sort of introduced two topics for discussion here, then, haven't you Doug? Both of them nicely rich with water-cooler discussion potential, I might add (although why folks would ever stand around talking about water-coolers is beyond me, I must confess. . . ). The Frank Robbins art era on Cap-- esp. when directly compared to Sal. . . and the Why-I-Dropped-A-Run discussion.

I'll go ahead and quickly chime in on the latter, 'cause the first one that springs to mind is Conan the Barbarian. I acquired a few consecutive issues starting around #37, and started buying it regularly at about #48 or so. Conan was still "hot" at that point, although the stories had settled into kind of an enjoyably middle-of-the-road predictability. The art, of course, was almost always excellent. It was a fine, fine month-to-month vagabond barbarian hero fix.

And then. . .

He hooked up with this Queen of the Pirates named Belit (who, IIRC, is indeed part of Conan's pulp canon), and. . . something was lost. Like DD/Black Widow, she became a part of the book for what seemed quite awhile, but it simply didn't add to the book's appeal for me at all. She was definitely the shots-caller and the driving dramatic force, with Conan along for the ride (again, this is according to 30-year-old memories of books I've read exactly once), and in a book where depth of characters was never in the forefront, she seemed particularly flat and uninteresting. There was also a change in inkers to. . . Ernie Chua/Chan, was it? A very, very different intricate, "ornate" inking style than we'd been seeing in the book before-- less super-heroish. I seem to recall that John Buscema LOVED these inks on Conan, and I now belatedly recognize how good they were (geeze, and painstaking), but at the time I found them too visually fussy and messy and distracting. I did keep buying the book out of habit w/out reading it. . . aaaaand then there was another one of those practically-yearly price increases, and that was it! Done with Conan. Never returned to him again.


Anonymous said...

I lost interest in the X-Men after John Byrne left. That Hawkeye reveal has got to be the best ever rubber mask moment - a rubber mask over his Hawkeye mask, fantastic !!

david_b said...

Colin's totally correct..

One of the more impressively-silly rubber masks ever done.

In a practical sense, I'm assuming Clint's 'eye-wings' are made of a soft bendy material that would just wrap around his temples and both sides of his head.

But, goofy Marvel-ish nevertheless.

Doug said...

HB -- to the best of my memories of all of the Buscema biographies and interviews I've read, he only ever like two inkers on his work: A) himself, and B) Sal. End of conversation as far as Big John was concerned. And while I have only read a smattering of the Belit stories, I believe what was one REH short story was stretched into a 60-issue arc.

Rip, speaking of politics, those of us in education (as well as union members in general) have a very cautious eye on Springfield now after our governor's mansion changed hands. A cloud perhaps hovers...

To everyone -- did any of our readers watch the Marvel TV special last night on the ABC network? Toss in some comments on that today, too.


Edo Bosnar said...

Yep, like Colin, for me the magic left X-men when Byrne and Austin departed from the title. However, I didn't drop the title for some time afterward (that finally happened some time during JR Jr's tenure as artist).

Another title that similarly lost its shine for me was Avengers after issue #202. It was just a combination of things that made it a chore to read from month to month: the rotating art teams (no more Perez or Byrne!) handing in sub-par work and Shooter either scripting or exerting influence over whoever was scripting, with the stories getting quite bleak and depressing (most notably Hank Pym's breakdown and the infamous slap, but also Tigra's flighty and cowardly (?!) behavior). I dropped it somewhere before issue #220. I did come back and read Stern's stories in which Hank was sort of rehabilitated, but then dropped it again mainly because of Milgrom's art. It's too bad a better artist wasn't brought to the title at that point, because Stern was, as usual, writing some really good stories.

Karen said...

Sitting in the airport I want to quickly respond to Doug's comment about last night's Marvel TV show. I was stunned that there was no mention at all of Roy Thomas and that the successful era he oversaw was attributed to Jim Shooter! Why the shabby treatment for Roy?

Anonymous said...

I’ve always regarded the Buscema Bros as the high and low tide marks i.e. anything better than John is VERY good, anything worse than Sal is not great. I’d never be disappointed to see Sal as penciller, but never crush people underfoot to get home and read it either.

Robbins is dire and probably the greatest jolt you can ever see is all those Invaders with Kane covers and Robbins inside. What a bloody con. Seriously, he draws anatomy like we’re all bendy toys that have been chewed by the dog. If you met a person who actually looked like Frank Robbins draws people, you ‘d drive them immediately to a hospital.

The loss of Byrne/Austin was a blow to Xmen, but it was still great, just not stellar. I think Xmen more definitively fell over between the first 30 odd issues and #55.

Ref. the Avengers rollercoaster, there’s 199 issues of nearly non-stop magic, followed by 50 issues of treading water during which I wouldn’t blame anyone for dropping it, followed by a return to a near all time high under Stern/Buscema/Palmer. Vertiginous!

Iron man was mediocre for years and then hit a spectacular high under Michelinie / JRJR / Palmer. I wasn’t around after that, but I imagine it went back to mediocre?

For my vote, the ultimate fall off a cliff is the Defenders. 40 odd issues of Englehart & Gerber magic, with decent Sal art, followed by 100 issues of dross with occasional high spots.

And, because for reasons that surpass all understanding, Karen has not read Jim Starlin’s run on Captain Marvel ( say it isn’t so, Karen) I would have to say that that never regained its Starlinist heights after #34.


Doug said...

Richard --

I have to agree with most of those sentiments, as they reflect my experiences with those titles.

But just as a "creator cop", I did want to clarify that the glorious Iron Man run of which you speak was by Michelinie/JR JR/ and Bob Layton, not Tom Palmer.

Although as far as inkers go, having to choose between Palmer and Layton would be a tough call.


Anonymous said...

Ooops. I embarrassed myself there. I think Layton also did a lot of the plotting. And was, I think, much more responsible for the look of it than JRJR. Sorry, Bob.


Doug said...

He'd called, asking for a pound of flesh. I placated him.

You can send cash, Richard.


Edo Bosnar said...

Richard, I suppose the Palmer/Layton mix-up is forgivable (albeit just barely), but wherever did you get the idea that Karen has never read Starlin's run on CM?

Anonymous said...

If I have a handle on this correctly, and that's a whole nother quagmire that nobody's wants to get into......

I have an unbroken run of Fantastic Four 232-292, the John Byrne time. I have read almost all of them except the last year, or so, 10 months maybe. When I started following JB to other titles, Wonder Woman, Next Men, Babe, I started to see the same things, figures, faces, plots over and over. I have not wanted to go back and finish it from the start because I just don't to lose that magic I hold for the title. I just read his Namor run and I could not get past the same figures and layouts and blah blah blah. Then Namor got a pony tail and it went really downhill from there.

The last time I typed to much the internet told me I typed to much so I'll post as I go........

The Prowler (When I get lonely, and I'm sure I've had enough she sends her comfort, comin' in from above don't need no letter at all we've got a thing that's called radar love).

Anonymous said...

Okay, list thingie part deaux, I got into the Justice League reboot during the 80s. Giffen's art and the humor, Guy Gardner, the whole gang. I stayed with that title for quite awhile. I mean, JLA 8-61, JLE 1-67 (missing two issues), then I hit and miss up to 113. Every time I start reading them, something happens. I really want to read both titles, as they happened, start to finish. But something tells me that may be the only thing keeping me alive!

Guilty admissions time: I have all the Alt Marvel thingies from when the heroes disappeared. The four titles. Still have not read them all. I don't know, I just don't know.

Back to Fantastic Four, I also have them from 298-416. And it's just looking at me, taunting me, daring me to read ........ THEM!!!

The Prowler (I've been around for you been up and down for you but I just can't get any relief).

Garett said...

I caught the last half of the Marvel tv special. Love seeing guys like Starlin, Englehart, Wein, etc talk, and fun to see celebrity enthusiasts like Jimmy Kimmel. But it zipped by too fast! I'd like to see a longer cut for the comic fans.

I find Sal on the dull side, and I'm gravitating more to Robbins in the two pages Doug put up--although I can't enlarge the Robbins page. It's exaggerated but has more personality.

When Sienkiewicz left Moon Knight, I stayed on for a bit for Kevin Nowlan's art, but no one has stepped in since then to match Sienkiewicz and Moench. Doug Moench wrote a couple of my favorite Bronze Age books: Moon Knight and Master of Kung Fu.

Hey David, cool that you play the Kids in the Hall theme song on guitar!

Doug said...

Garett --

I fixed that link. See it in all its glory now!


david_b said...

Garett, it's actually quite easy. The ultimate-guitar site has the easy tabs, which is what I used as the basics, until you put some good crunchy-grit effects in there.

Youtube may have a 'how-to' video ~ That's how I learned the fast version of the Beatles' 'Revolution' (the distorted single version). Very easy to do, with some 'pinky finger dexterity.

I couldn't believe how much Lennon pinched from Chuck Berry on that until I started learning it.

Garett said...

Thanks Doug! Wow, I didn't know that Robbins was an accomplished painter with many shows! Here's a site with his fine art:
Frank Robbins Artist
He showed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and many others. He said, "My major interest, in terms of projected image, is to convey a feeling of aliveness..."

Garett said...

David, yes it's awesome how many guitar how-to videos are up. I recently checked out Play That Funky Music for the unusual chords. Excellent tutorial!

William said...

Doug, Now I know what you meant the other day in the Nova thread when you told me "Hold that thought until Wednesday." When I mentioned that I had dropped Nova after Carmine Infantino came aboard as the penciler.

As for today's topic, I actually owned this exact same TPB a few years ago and had the same experience as you. I read it up to the Robbins issues and then I just lost interest and never finished reading it. I think I ended up unloading it on eBay if I'm not mistaken.

I find that the art is the most important thing to me when considering what makes a good comic. Really good art can greatly improve my enjoyment of a story with mediocre writing, but even the best writing can't help to rescue terrible artwork.

Off the top of my head, here are some titles that I was reading on a monthly basis that I dropped after an artist I liked left the book and a lesser artist took over.

X-Men (after Byrne left)
Fantastic Four (after Byrne left)
Alpha Flight (after Byrne left)
Avengers West Coast (after Byrne left)
Namor (after Byrne left)
Supeman (after Byrne left)
Daredevil (after Miller left)
Teen Titans (after Perez left)

Just to name a few.

Karen said...

Between flights, so just quiclky: Richard of course I have read Starlin's Captain Marvel, even reviewed some here! You must be thinking of the Counter-earth Karen, who only reads Richie Rich....

Humanbelly said...

Yeah, Doug your comment on John B only liking himself or Sal as inker does have the ring of familiarity.
Maybe. . . maybe it was SAL who liked Ernie's inks on his pencils in the HULK? Ah, who knows. . .

As I'm looking at the Robbins page, there, I do think he was getting a LOT of help from the inker, too. But man, NOTHING can help the careless anatomy and poorly-executed foreshortening in those last couple of panels. Y'know, there's a lot of honest fun in his pencils. . . but I just don't think he belongs in superhero comics at all (or didn't, rather). Didn't he start out in newspaper comic strips? His style would be a much better fit there-- very eye-catching on a crowded page. I think my first experience with Robbins was in the LEGION OF MONSTERS issue of Marvel Premiere (#28)-- and the artwork was so poor that I was flat-out angry about it-- esp. 'cause I was a bit of a monster nut, and this was sooooo far below par.


Anonymous said...

And CLEARLY she would have been pals (or arch nemeses??) with Counter-Earth HB, who only reads Sad Sack. . .


Doug said...

I thought of an "almost".

Had the Serpent Crown storyline not picked back up in Avengers #147, I might have been GONE after reading Avengers #s 145-146 with the Don Heck Assassin story. Poor Don.

I'll say it again -- I love his work from the Kooky Quartet era and beyond. But it waned very shortly after that.


pfgavigan said...

Yes, I dropped Captain America shortly after Robbins arrival, but it was after Englehart's departure which soon, in relative terms, followed.

Back then it was relatively easy for me to pick up or drop off titles. I stopped with Captain America sometime right after the Colan era, I believe Romita/Sinnott was the artistic combo. Good art, but somehow lacking something I was looking for.

Came back for Englehart/Buscema. Came back for Kirby. Came back for Stern/Byrne.

Haven't been back for sometime now!

Wouldn't Stern Byrne make a great name for a character?


J.A. Morris said...

I had about 20 years worth of Amazing Spider-Man issues, and at least 10 years of other Spider-titles. Then the 1990s Clone Saga hit and chased me away from collecting.

I used to be a collector of everything Byrne until he drew the rebooted Spider-Man series in the late 90s. He drew Jill Stacy (Gwen's cousin, don't ask) so that she looked exactly like Mary Jane, except with black hair. And the stories (written by Byrne and Howard Mackie) were terrible.

david_b said...

Funny you should mention that, J.A....

The first Gwen clone saga in ASM chased me away.

Edo Bosnar said...

HB, re: Frank Robbins - yes, he did a newspaper strip called Johnny Hazard, and his art was really suited to that. Also, if you haven't already, you should check out the link Garett provided above. He was indeed a rather good painter as well. But yeah, his superhero work in the '70s was more miss than hit for me.

By the way, Garett, since you and David brought up guitars, over the past few days I found myself listening to your band's song that you linked here a while back (I bookmarked the YouTube page). Are you guys going to post any more stuff?

Doug said...

By the way, Richard...

I have been mulling your Buscema brothers comment over in my head all day (when I'm not thinking of stuff I'm supposed to be thinking of). I rather like that comment as parameters for comic book art.


Garett said...

Hey that's great Edo! Yes we have a few new songs ready to go, but haven't had the time to record yet. We're getting booked for shows pretty much every weekend, and the new songs are going over well with audiences. Thanks for the interest!

Here's our video in case anyone else would like a listen. We're called Sweet Vintage Rides:
Freaky Girl

Garett said...

That link didn't work. Oh well, here's the band video:

Graham said...

I'm always a day late and a dollar short posting on these comments because I can't read them at work, but here goes. It's somewhat appropriate that I do post on it in this manner

I am the King of Creative Team Changes. Anytime I ever got into a particular series, either the writer, artists, or both moved on to greener pastures. At one time in the early 80's, I began subscribing to the Clairmont/Byrne/Austin X-Men, Miller/Janson DD, Stern/Byrne Captain America, and Mary Jo Duffy/Kerry Gammill PM/IF.

Within six months or so, they ALL changed all or part of their creative teams. Talk about a day late and a dollar short. Not that they were all bad, they just weren't what drew me to each series.

RE: Frank Robbins....I actually liked the few issues of Detective Comics where he wrote and drew the Batman, but I absolutely HATED his issues of The Shadow. I had just started reading the C.A./Nomad series when Robbins showed up there and so, with those Shadow issues still on my mind, I stopped. Now, I actually didn't mind him that much on The Invaders for some odd reason. Go figure. When I go back and see his work now, I don't mind it quite as much, but I still HATE him drawing The Shadow.

pfgavigan said...


Did a bit more research and found the name of another person who didn't like Frank Robbins drawing superheroes.

Frank Robbins.

As far as I can tell he was being pushed out of DC as both a writer and an artist and went to Marvel looking for an check.

When Invaders came along Colletta did a pretty good job of matching his style to the subject, but wasn't around for too long and Frank Springer's inks were so close to Robbin's pencils that he might as well have done it himself.

By the by, a phrase that I kept reading awhile ago went like this; "We finally got Vinnie Colletta taken off the book. Sales went down but we got him off the book." This was definitely the case with the Invaders and Thor as, according to those yellow ownership things they used to include in books from time to time.


Martinex1 said...

What immediately came to mind was what Edo already mentioned ... Avengers 202 onward. Gene Colan who I love on DD and Dr Strange and in many other places just did not fit the Avengers. I don't know if it was the writing or the art or a combo. The team came off of a three year strong streak with Byrne and Perez and consistent writing and classic stories with Nefaria, and Ultron, and Korvac, and even good stories with the Absorbing Man and Gray Gargoyle and Wundagore. All of a sudden, writing was weak, the art didn't fit the mood in my opinion and the team fought oddballs like some roman soldier, the weatherman, some weird yellow creatures, and the Yellow Claw. I don't know what was going on but it was painful. I cannot even bring myself to look it up to get my notes right. I wonder if it was as weak as I remember or if it was just juxtaposed to such a strong era that it seemed horrible.

On the Marvel TV show last night I liked the early Timely info and photos but wish it did not gloss over the Bronze Age so much. The current era in the last 20 minutes lost my attention.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I tuned out of Conan when Roy Thomas and Big John left. Ditto with John Byrne leaving the X-men; it just wasn't the same without him. The success of that series really was the synergy between him and Chris Claremont.

- Mike 'Frank Robbins who?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Humanbelly said...

Frank Springer. Frank Springer.
I think I tend to get him & Robbins confused sometimes. What work was he known for? I do seem to remember their having very similar styles.

Hmm-- now I wonder if he was the Legion of Monsters guy. . .


pfgavigan said...

Hiya HB

If you mean the guy who penciled the one shot color comic, that was Robbins inked by Steve Gan.

Springer did a lot of work in comic strips and primarily inked for Marvel and DC but had a long run on the Dazzler comic book.


By the way, Springer was the living image of Blackhawk, the aviation hero.

Humanbelly said...

Oh. Wow.
There are worse curses to live under than being a professional artist with matinee-star good looks, I daresay!

Thanks for the dbl-check, pfg.


dbutler16 said...

In re-reading through all of my X-Men a couple of years ago (between back issues and reprints I've got #1-100) I finally had to stop at X-Men #205. My main issue was the John Romita jr. art. To say it was not to my liking is perhaps an understatement. In addition, I wasn't liking the writing very much, either. Whether Claremont had run out of good ideas, or his writing had taken on Romita's darker tone, I don't know, probably both, but I still haven't picked up from where I left off. Maybe I will some day, once I've made it through my other 4,000 back issues, or if I have a change of heart.

The same thing happened to me on X-Factor. I reasonably well enjoyed the first few issues with Bob Layton writing and Jackson Juice penciling (with Keith Pollard for one issue) but then the writer changed, then the artist changed a a series of artists I didn't care for. Between the distateful art (Mark Silvestri and Walt Simonson) and then the series taking a darker tone (Mutant Massacre, the Marauders, the Fall of the Mutants) just as in the Uncanny, I couldn't take it any more, and decided to move on to something more enjoyable than to read the rest of my back issues.

Redartz said...

Late to this party...

One title I collected religiously was Doctor Strange. From the first issues by Englehart and Brunner, through the Colan issues, and all the way up to the wonderful Stern/Rogers issues, I followed the good doctor. Yet after Rogers left, so did I; probably due more to the fact that I was dropping many monthlies at that time than to any flaw in the book itself. I may need to pick some of those issues up (always wondered whatever happened to Morgana Blessing).

Another title I dropped immediately after Marshall Rogers' departure was Detective. Again, I probably missed some good tales...

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