Monday, February 28, 2011

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Laws of Physics!

Avengers #122 (April 1974)
"Trapped in Outer Space!"

Steve Englehart-Bob Brown/Mike Esposito

Doug: Conclusion time, kiddie-winkies! This one's the big wrap-up to our Avengers/Zodiac slugfest. But I'll caution you... if you don't have a king-sized helping of the suspension of disbelief before we begin
(above and beyond what it takes to get through your normal longjohn brouhaha), you'll never make it!

Karen: Before we jump into the review, how about that groovy John Romita cover? I remember that one just jumping out of the spinner rack at me!
The Avengers bursting through the pages of the book was terribly exciting to this 9 year old!

Doug: Well, haven't you raised a fun little bit of controversy? Consulting the two databases we usually use to make us sound smart around here, there's some disagreement. I, too, see the Jazzy one on that cover -- specifically in the faces of Iron Man and Thor, and perhaps the inks on Thor. But something is amiss with the other three figures. The Comic Book DB lists the credited artists (in no particular order or assignment) as Bob Brown, Mike Esposito, Gil Kane, John Romita, and Gaspar Saladino. The Grand Comics Database lists Kane as the penciller with inks by Romita and letters by Saladino. No mention there of Brown or Esposito. So, while the Jazzy One is definitely present, I suppose it would depend on the eye of the beholder just how much of Romita one sees.
I have no problem seeing Kane in the Vision and Scarlet Witch, and in the way the Panther's ears are drawn. Others? What do you see?
Doug: If you recall from our last review, the Avengers had attacked a rogue faction of Zodiac in a warehouse belonging to Cornelius van Lunt. Little did the mutineers know that the man from whom they sought an alliance and financing was in reality Taurus -- the leader against whom they would rebel. And the warehouse was in reality a spaceship (suspension of disbelief #1). So we join our heroes and villains caught in some major g-force as the "ship" approaches escape velocity. Trouble is, this is after all a warehouse, no one is strapped in, and who can really say if the whole deal is pressurized (suspension of disbelief #2)? Part of the wall recesses so that all inside can see that they've reached orbit. Iron Man discerns that it's not a window, but a force field. Thor, figuring his enchanted mallet can conquer it, launches that bad boy right at it, never considering that if Mjolnir dissipates the field, the vacuum of space will make short work of all on board (suspension of disbelief #3).
The hammer does pierce the field, but by the time it returns, the ship isn't in the same place -- so does the hammer return to Thor, or where Thor is? Because I know I've seen it return to Thor no matter where he is (suspension of disbelief #4). So now there's no Thor -- only Don Blake! All right, this was in the opening scene -- it's gotta get better than this!

Karen: No kidding - I could probably let one, maybe even two of those slip by, but four? I know Thor sometimes acted like a bonehead, but this is too much. As you say Doug, why would he want to penetrate the force field and expose his fellows to the vacuum of space? And this whole thing with how Mjolnir functioned was a constant continuity issue: in some books, it always returned to Thor, in others, it returned to the point from where it was thrown. In any case, the rocket-warehouse idea is just goofy.

Doug: So I'm not alone here? I wondered how you'd perceive all of this. I was afraid I was just being grumpy, but apparently my middle-aged eyes are distancing themselves from my Bronze Age brain. Or something like that...

Doug: So anyway, the two sides continue to batter each other, until the Vision calls out that they'd better cooperate, or they're going to run out of oxygen eventually.
Cut away back to Earth, where Taurus has the remaining members of Zodiac in his presence. He basically tells them about the mutiny and informs them that he is the boss, without question. Libra honks him off by informing him that he knew of the revolt, but chose not to tell. That sends Taurus into a rage, and he "excuses" everyone from his presence. This gives Libra the chance to walk and talk with Gemini. Libra suddenly attacks Gemini, they scuffle, and Libra puts him down hard. Binding the bad twin, Libra locates the good twin and frees him from his trance. Libra tells Damian Link to distract Taurus, while Libra steals the Zodiac Starship. Oh, yeah -- and Libra is blind (suspension of disbelief #5).

Karen: Aw c'mon Doug -it's worked for Daredevil for years! Besides, we know so little about these Zodiac guys -maybe Libra has a radar sense too!

Doug: But of course. How silly of me.

Doug: Back on the orbiting warehouse, Wanda creates a hex sphere in the force field and Iron Man shoots through it. Um, haven't we seen instances in IM's own mag where he dons special armor for space? I mean, I'd think the pressure of space might have a bit of impact on the ol' Stark heart? And is the suit pressure-sealed (suspension of disbelief #6)? Shellhead locates Mjolnir, because the warehouse has returned to the spot where Thor had launched it -- so is the warehouse orbiting 100x faster than the moon? And how about finding a needle in a haystack (suspensions of disbelief #'s 6 & 7)??

Karen: Doug, you have to stop doing all that thinking! It's only getting in the way!

Doug: I know! That's what I meant earlier. I just feel like I'm complaining WAY too much -- I really liked this story as a kid, but man -- the warts are plentiful now, aren't they?

Karen: But yes, I have my questions too.
Like how exactly does Thor's hammer wind up on top of Iron Man's wrist? Seriously, think about how you handle a hammer. When you've set one down, has it ever wound up on top of your hand? No, it's always underneath. This seemed to be extra-drama for no real reason. I have to say though, that the page featuring Shellhead and the warehouse burning in re-entry was pretty exciting. Although I am skeptical about his armor's ability to survive such a thing.
Doug: The warehouse begins to fall, and is about to burn up on re-entry when it's suddenly halted by Libra, who is in space in the Star-Cruiser. He is going to take them down safely in an even larger force field.
But, back at Avengers Mansion the Swordsman is keeping vigil over the still healing Mantis. She suddenly bursts from her bed, shouting about the Vision being in trouble and sprints past her suitor.

Karen: Poor Swordsman! Losing his lady to an android...let's crank that inferiority complex up to 11!

Doug: Cut back to Taurus, who figures out that the Gemini in his presence is not the one he thinks he is. As he's about to mete out some justice, the Star-Cruiser returns and the Avengers and the rogue houses emerge. Taurus challenges them, and they revert to his cause. You guessed it -- another free-for-all ensues! In the midst of battle, Taurus is flipped into a swimming pool, and begs the Vision to save him. But, as had happened in Avengers #118, the Vision freezes up, paralyzed with fear! Suddenly it's Mantis who enters the scene (suspension of disbelief #8) and saves van Lunt from drowning.
Thor gives the Vision a pretty good chewing-out, and then Libra drops the bombshell of the issue -- the only reason he risked it all to save the warehouse-in-orbit was because he thought Mantis was on board... Mantis, his daughter!

Karen: I know I'm beating a dead horse, but again, I just can't see these guys posing a real challenge to this team of Avengers. Maybe to the Kooky Quartet, but these guys? No, uh uh, not gonna happen.

Doug: OK, admittedly I've been pretty hard on my boy Steve Englehart. I'm generally an Englehart apologist -- the guy's got a Midas touch with most things he's done. But this one... this one is just crazy! Yeah, it's got a ton of action, yeah, it's got a ton of colorful characters, yeah, it's got some pretty good characterization for Thor and the Swordsman... But this ending chapter was just over-the-top. Seriously, when Karen and I agreed that this would be an arc we'd like to look at, I was skeptical about the art teams. When I loaded up the top part of the posts (we usually do that first whenever we lock a post into the queue) and saw Bob Brown and Don Heck would have the bulk of the picture chores over the three issues I figured to take a negative bent toward that aspect of the story. But as I've said earlier, Brown was really solid in the two issues he penciled and Don Heck's inks weren't a total distraction. There are just too many silly goings-on in this one to give it my undivided stamp of approval for the writer's chair! It was fun -- if you didn't think about it too much. Obviously I did...

Karen: Well pal, don't kick yourself, we both thought this would be a good arc to review, but man! It just had a lot of problems. Too many unbelievable things -and we're talking about a comic book! But it's fun in a really goofy way. It reminds me of the last "Die Hard" film -it was so over the top, so ridiculous, that on one level I hated it. Yet if you put your brain in neutral, it was kind of fun. Same here. Not Englehart's best work by any means, but the guy has hit so many homers you gotta give him this one.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Collecting Comments

Doug: Greetings, everyone, and thanks for stopping by. I'm not sure Karen and I say that often enough -- we appreciate the Bronze Age babies who share our love of this era we call "home". Nothing new for you today, but I thought we could do a little history lesson/contest. Looking at our output over the past 20 months, we have run just a smidgen less than 400 posts. I'm sure there are things you've missed, or that we posted before you became a regular reader. Today I'd encourage you to put on your Action Team gear and go exploring. On the left sidebar are links to all of our "Open Forum" discussions, the almost-200 comic books we've reviewed (the links to all of Karen's FOOM posts are in there as well), and near the bottom is our tag cloud with all of the topics listed.

So go where you've not gone before, and let's see how much activity we can generate: just for kicks, since today is the 27th, let's set a goal of 27 total comments for the day; even if you go by an old post and give it a "yea" or "nay", drop us a quick line. I'll come back Monday morning and edit this, telling how much action we got. Should be fun!

By the way, the "school record" for comments on a single post around here is 33 (as I write this).

Enjoy your day, and thanks again!

Doug (and Karen)

Doug: Wow! We actually received 28 comments on well over a dozen different posts on Sunday, 2/27/11. Thanks to all who participated, and we hope you enjoyed your tour of our blog's history.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

That's a Killer Smile...

Detective Comics #476 (March/April 1978)
"Sign of the Joker!"
Steve Englehart-Marshall Rogers/Terry Austin

Doug: Today is the conclusion of my 3-part look at the love given to the Dark Knight Detective by the creative team of Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, and Terry Austin. This is the last issue in Englehart's wonderful run with Rogers, as Len Wein would take over the scripting chores with 'tec #477. As such, several loose ends are tied up. This particular issue was a favorite of mine as a kid.

Marshall Rogers art is really moody in this story. The backdrop for the story is a blinding thunderstorm -- a cold, December rain. Rogers and Austin fit this perfectly with their scenes, and the crescendo to the story is masterfully done once the action moves outside. Englehart's script is really solid, although I'd still argue that Batman would have moved the Joker's potential victims to a safer place of hiding than at their own addresses. But the pay-off to this one is strong enough that I'll forgive those rather glaring plot holes last issue and again this time.

We begin where we left off: the Joker has threatened another member of the Gotham copyright office, as he continues to want to patent the fish that now bear his image. As stated last week, he figures to get a percentage of every fish product sold up and down the Atlantic coast of the United States of America. The target this time is Thomas Jackson, and Batman, Commissioner Gordon and (of all people -- Englehart paid homage throughout his run to the history of the Dark Knight) Chief O'Hara have assembled with a force of Gotham's finest in hopes of keeping Jackson alive. Suddenly Jackson's cat enters through the pet door, right as the clock chimes 3 o'clock -- the hour the Joker pledged to make his kill. Jackson rushes to shoo the cat out -- it's brought a Joker fish in with it! But as the cat whirls, everyone sees that it, too, has a Joker face; it leaps past Jackson, right into the Batman. Batman recoils, then drops to the floor, dead. A gaping grin stretches across his cowled face. But we immediately learn that Jackson and the Batman had switched places. Somehow the cat had sensed that, and had gone for his master.

Batman changes back into costume and bolts from the house. The Joker's been broadcasting his threats on television, and Batman thinks he may be close. As he runs through the rain, he catches a fleeting image of what appears to be the ghost of Hugo Strange. Not knowing that Strange is dead, Batman brushes it off. But he is surprised to see a device at his feet -- a Vapor Analysis Meter (in another nod to the television show, the thing is labeled). Batman decides to keep it. We then get three pages of Silver St. Cloud and Rupert Thorne, oddly paired as driver and hitchhiker, on their way to Akron. They keep silent, each lost in thought. Silver worries that she does indeed know that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and that she should be with him. Thorne is worrying about the ghost of Hugo Strange, and thinking that his female passenger is his protection from harm. And then the news comes on the radio -- a report of the Joker running wild in Gotham. Thorne takes exception to the Batman, and Silver takes exception to his exception. They argue, and Thorne ends up kicking Silver out of the car. She walks a short distance and, as fate would have it (keep in mind that it's 4:00 am) she finds a guy working on a small airplane. She tells him she'd like to charter it. As Thorne drives away, he's suddenly assaulted by Strange's ghost! Guess he shoudn't have gotten rid of the dame!

Back in Gotham, Batman is with Gordon and several members of the GCPD. Suddenly Batman leaps toward an officer and pushes him back against the wall. The "Vapor Analysis Meter" revealed a gas that the Joker had been coated with during the Hugo Strange auctioning of the Batman's identity, back in 'tec #473. The Joker quickly reveals himself and launches an acid attack from his badge. Batman easily ducks it, and the Clown Prince of Crime speedily exits the premises. The fight then takes to the streets. The Joker begins to climb a fire escape with the Dark Knight in pursuit. It's at this point that Silver St. Cloud returns to Gotham. The two combatants continue to scale the fire escape, the Joker pausing momentarily to stomp on Batman's hands. The rain is sheeting. Batman swings up under the landing where the Joker has perched, and jars the villain. Regaining his balance, the Joker then launches himself at a girder suspended on a crane, high above a construction site. Batman again pursues, and as he lands the Joker deals another acid attack. Again, Batman leaps away safely, but as he does lightning splits the sky and strikes the girder. The Joker plummets into the river below.

Batman drops to the surface and surveys the water, but finds no sign of his nemesis. At that moment Silver arrives, and begins a soliloquy whereby she tells Batman that she knows he is Bruce Wayne. She says that after seeing him in danger, knowing that it easily could have been him struck by the lightning, she can have nothing to do with him. Although she confesses her love, she tells Batman to not call her -- ever. She leaves. Gordon arrives to tell Batman that Rupert Thorne was apprehended in Ohio, and was in such bad shape mentally that he rambled off a confession of crimes dating back decades. So much for the President of the Gotham City Council.

Again, a fun story from DC's Bronze Age. And I think that as we've gone on with our different reviews, we'd all agree that there's a difference between DC and Marvel in this era. But the art was outstanding, and the story was passable. I was able to get through it and just enjoy it without dwelling too much on some of the parts that might have been better dealt with. Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that two important Bronze Age treasuries were advertised in this issue: Superman vs. Muhammad Ali and Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes -- the wedding of Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl!

Friday, February 25, 2011

FOOM Fridays: FOOM #8

FOOM #8 (December 1974)

Karen: This issue of FOOM marks yet another change in the editor title, as Tony Isabella gives way to Scott Edelman. I know, I had the same question: Scott Edelman? With contributing editors Jim Salicrup and Duffy Vohland, apparently all active in comics fandom but not really names in the industry, it seemed like FOOM was being run more as a fanzine than a professional mag. There a numerous typos, and the layout and reviews in this issue were a real step down from previous ones, in my opinion.

The subject for this particular issue is the star-spangled Avenger, Captain America. Cap and Bucky are featured on the cover in an illustration by John Romita Sr. and Mike Esposito. I know some might choose Kirby as their Cap artist, or even Sal Buscema, and they're both great picks. But Romita was drawing the book when I was first reading it, and I've always thought he did a great job on Cap.

Roger Stern contributes an article on Cap that reads as if Cap were a real person, discussing his background and history as if it were common knowledge. He manages to discuss not only Steve Rogers' days prior to becoming a Super Soldier, but retells his origin, manages to get in some references to the 50s Cap that had recently appeared in Captain America, Cap's revival by the Avengers, his time as Nomad, and his return to the red, white, and blue uniform. It's nicely done.

There are one page articles on both Bucky and the Falcon, neither of which includes the author's name. Neither article really has much to say, although the Falcon one suggests that the hero needed to get away from Cap to establish himself.

Another article looks at the 1944 Captain America serial. It's rather enlightening to read about all the changes that wer
e made to Cap in light of the new movie coming out this year. This version featured a Cap without a Bucky, a change in secret identity to district attorney Grant Gardner, and to top it off, this sentinel of liberty does not have a shield! What the heck? I've complained about the uniform in the new film, and what I perceive as a desire to avoid mentioning Nazis, but at least they still have the shield! Some day I would like to see this serial though; I've seen a few clips but that's all. There are some decent photos included with the article.

The fin
al Cap feature is an essay by Jack Kirby, although it is stated that it is from his autobiography, "first printed eight years ago, never printed again or seen by any but a select few." Anyone have any idea what this is in reference to? In any case, Kirby recounts his early comics work, including Captain America, and the fact that he was drafted into the army after Pearl Harbor. The whole thing definitely feels like it was lifted from somewhere else, with no real beginning and no end. Somewhat informative but it reads oddly.

Also in this issue are some cover reproductions showing how covers were altered to different purposes. The cover of Iron Man #45, for instance, was redrawn with the IM figure replaced by Spider-Man for an issue of the Spidey British comic. We're also shown how the original cover to Giant-Size Avengers #2 featured not only Kang and Rama Tut, but Dr. Doom as well!

A photo shows a bunch of comics fans with Roy Thomas at a comic convention. These were "The Marvel 100 Club" members -fans who had collected all 100 Marvel Value Stamps! It doesn't say what they received -if anything -for their efforts, other than mangled comics!

The Department of Infoomation fea
tures eeny weeny little blue text that is incredibly difficult to read. At least it is for me now, in my middle years. While the previous issue featured the previews arranged alphabetically, this one meanders all over the place and tries far too hard to be funny. There are baby pictures of the bullpen all over the place. I'm sure the bullpen found this amusing, but it just feels self-indulgent.

Don McGregor discusses Killraven, primarily the fact that the book has been cut from 18 to 15 pages, and how that has affected his ability to tell stories. You can really tell how peeved he was. Marv Wolfman discusses how he is slowly building up the sub-plots in Tomb of Dracula to a big event around issue 32. It's fascinating hearing how much thought W
olfman was putting into the title, but it shows.

Steve Gerber shows how he earned his oddball reputation as he discusses the audience for Son of Satan: "That book seems to appeal to the lunatic fringe. Both fringes. Both ends
of the cloth. And both clothes. We get lots of letters from religious people who really like it. Now by religious people I don't mean to say clergymen, but people who are strict religionists. There are religious people who really can't stand it. I've been called a tool of the devil, lately. I just want to confirm all those suspicions. I am a tool of the devil. I'm a screwdriver."

George Perez and Dave Kraft describe how they are trying to differentiate Man-Wolf from Werewolf by Night. Perez talks about how he gave Man-Wolf more of a full wolf's head,
and Kraft discusses the effort to make John Jameson less one-dimensional.

There's a tiny paragraph with Len Wein talking about the new X-men. He mentions that Cyclops is the only returning X-Men. Th
e rest will be Colossus from Russia, Nightcrawler from Germany, Storm from Africa, The Wolverine from Canada, and Thunderbird from Arizona. No mention of Banshee oddly enough. He says the first giant-size issue will be by himself and Dave Cockrum, and the second one will bring back the Sentinels.

A lot of the previews are just too dumb to even comment on. Obviously the bullpen was having fun, but at the expense of the FOOM readers, who were not getting a whole heck of a lot of information.

The back cover features a John Byrne-D
uffy Vohland Cap illustration, but it's not particularly memorable.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why I Am Being Driven Away From Comics

Karen: In last week's FOOM review, I commented about how I felt that too many of today's comics were driven more by marketing trends than by creative thought. This article at Newsarama seems to confirm my belief.

Karen: So some guy in Sales at Marvel has declared that they will kill off a major character every quarter to make more money. Is this really what comics have devolved to? I know it's a business, and they have a right to make money. But is there no one with any artistic integrity there? Isn't anyone willing to argue for an organic growth of stories, rather than following the sales figures and forcing storylines on books?

Karen: It's the same reason we have been plagued with company-wide 'events' for so long: the desire to get as much money out of the consumer as possible, regardless of whether the story made sense or needed to run over into every single title. I find it absolutely appalling.

Karen: I'm so close to just cutting new comics out of my budget. I find myself enjoying them less and less. There's the occasional nugget of gold, but for the most part, I'm beginning to find them so artificial and contrived that I can't enjoy them.

Doug: Karen asked me to toss in some comments from my perspective,
and I think I've made this known in the past. I'll approach this from when new comics ceased to be fun, -- that is, as a recovering completist (I'm sure there's a therapy out there somewhere for that!), when did it become easy to just pile up the new books, with no real timetable for reading them? For me that began to occur in the 1990's, probably toward the middle of the decade. When I got back into comics in 1985 I really enjoyed a solid 5-6 year run of not only catching up on the stuff I'd missed during high school, but the new books were pretty well done, too. But I think it all began to go downhill around the time of the creation of Image Comics. Comic books now became exceedingly art-driven (and bad art at times) with less pay-off issue to issue. If you think that sounds funny coming from me, who is always commenting on our Bronze Age graphics, you might be right. But there became less bang for the escalating buck, hence the lack of interest in reading them right off the shelf.

Doug: Like Karen, the multi-part crossovers were becoming increasingly annoying, and truly pointless. Is there a memorable story in all that mess? Not for me. The repeated re-numbering of issues, the gimmick covers, and the ratcheting up of sex and violence destroyed what had been a childhood love. A few books held my attention: the Busiek/Perez Avengers (although I may not like it as much as other Avengers fans), the Legion reboot that alternated between Legionnaires and Legion of Super-Heroes, Bone, and the Ultimates (a guilty passion in the first 12-issue arc; the second 12-issue series really pushed the envelope for me). Oh, and a mini-series here and there, like Marvels and Kingdom Come, and Superman: Secret Identity. Other than that, much of what I bought should probably be recycled, as it will never be resold for even cover price.

Doug: A last remark -- economics kept me from buying a huge assortment of comics each month. As the price went past $2 and headed to $3 (and on up), I bought less and less. So I may not have as wide a background in modern comics as some of our readers. Given that, I'm sure there are many among you who might say that I was reading the wrong stuff. I've been out of the new-buys for over six years now, thanks in large part to what Karen has posited, as well as one Brian Michael Bendis and his destruction of my favorite characters. The "necessity" of the gimmick, see-through as they all are, to sell comics is deplorable. If the companies who make your household products marketed this way or made their consumers feel like some of us do, we'd take the same action we're taking here -- either go to a competitor or stop buying altogether. I'm smarter than to have my intelligence insulted by these underhanded (and lame) tactics like the "monthly death" that will "forever change the universe" and "shake the heroes to their very core!"

Karen: OK, we've vented long enough. What do you think about this plan of Marvel's?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1973

Doug: Political issues dominated the media in 1973 as a cease-fire was called in the long standing Vietnam War. President Richard Nixon was linked to the Watergate break-in from 1972, and a worldwide oil shortage began. The second tower of the World Trade Center opened, making it (temporarily) the world's tallest building at 110 stories. In pop culture, Pink Floyd released The Dark Side of the Moon and Elvis Presley's concert from Hawaii was viewed by more people worldwide than the Apollo moon landing. In the land of comics, both Marvel and DC continued to introduce new characters and push the envelope as far as what hit the newsstands. And perhaps the watershed event of the Bronze Age would shake the comics world as school let out in 1973.

Doug: I think it's really amazing as we've gotten some ground behind us now how these two publishing powerhouses often matched each other blow for blow. I've read, as I'm certain many of you have, that creators and even editors from both companies would have lunch or drinks from time to time. I don't know how close to the vest everyone played it, but I keep seeing these months or even quarters where there's just bombshell after bombshell. The year 1973 started off that way as well.

Doug: The House of Ideas introduced Moondragon (
Iron Man #54), the Frankenstein Monster (The Monster of Frankenstein #1), the Valkyrie we all know and love (Defenders #4), FOOM, Red Sonja (Conan the Barbarian #23), and Thanos and the Gods of Titan (Iron Man #55), and Medusa joined the FF to replace Sue Richards (Fantastic Four #132). That was all in the first three months! Oh, and who was responsible for all of that, you ask? How about creators like Jim Starlin, Mike Friedrich, Gary Friedrich, Mike Ploog, Jim Steranko, Sal Buscema, Barry Smith, Roy Thomas, and John Buscema? Man, if that isn't a hall of fame from the decade, I don't know what is!

Karen: That's what I'm talking about! Look at the explosion of creativity right there. That's a whole lot of characters, most of whom are still around today. And that list of talent - well, it works for me.

Doug: DC countered in the same period with a revival of the traditional Wonder Woman -- after five years as an Emma Peel clone, Diana once again regained her powers and her familiar costume (Wonder Woman #204). A longstanding lawsuit was finally put to bed and in its wake came the publication of Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family in Shazam! #1, by Denny O'Neil and original Captain Marvel artist C.C. Beck. Not bad...

Karen: I picked up issue #1 of Shazam at a swap meet pretty cheap (along with a whole bunch of other books). It's interesting that DC brought C.C. Beck back to work on the title. I'm assuming this was done more to help the guy out than out of the idea that it would sell more issues. I say this because of his dated style. I'm really surprised they didn't try to bring in Neal Adams or some other 'name', modern guy.

Doug: That being said, I am one who always thinks the Captain looks a bit odd when drawn without the puffy musculature and Fred MacMurray face!

Doug: Marvel headed into spring with more of what we'd come to love about the '70's. In April, Dracula joined the ranks of Marvel's B&W mags in Dracula Lives #1. May saw the debut of the character with perhaps the ugliest outfit this side of the Legion's Cosmic Boy -- I'm speaking of course of Killraven, designed by no less than Neal Adams! Killraven's first appearance was in Amazing Adventures #18. And then came June. There were two major events in that month -- one that resonates with Avengers fans, the other that resonates with comic book fans. Mantis, who some would say was a pet character of writer Steve Englehart, was introduced in issue #112. But Amazing Spider-Man #121 produced perhaps the biggest event of the Bronze Age when Peter Parker's love Gwen Stacy was killed by the Green Goblin. Much has been written about this issue, and we'd certainly refer you to our fave history resource Back Issue! magazine for lots and lots of details. But what a development, and one of the few that has never been reversed (at least not completely, although they've certainly messed around with it). What about DC, you say? Well, I guess nothing of note took place, because DC Comics: Year by Year doesn't say anything about publications between March and August!

Karen: Obviously the death of Gwen Stacy is the headliner for this year. But there really was so much going on at the same time. I missed the early issues of Killraven so I was spared that horrific bikini outfit until years later, when I got the back issues. But it was an exciting concept, another case of Roy Thomas spinning off an idea for someone else to write. Over in Avengers, I'd say Englehart was still finding his way but starting to pick up some steam, as the Avengers-Defenders war was right around the corner.

Doug: Summer belonged to Marvel, which was seemingly dominating DC this year. In July Blade the Vampire Hunter, created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, debuted in The Tomb of Dracula #10. In Amazing Spider-Man #122 Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin, met his fate (and should have stayed dead!!). Marvel continued to stay ahead in the B&W magazine genre with Monsters Unleashed #1 and Tales of the Zombie #1. And in September, the Black Panther received a solo book when he took over Jungle Action #6. DC offered up the Black Orchid in Adventure Comics #428, but I'd argue that she wasn't popular before Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean got ahold of her in their 1988 mini-series. Prez #1 hit the stands, and Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams brought us the first maniacal Joker (Batman #251) -- a homicidal killing machine who recognized that the Batman was his antithesis, and thus necessary for his very existence.

Doug: Ending the year and sliding toward 1974, the annual JLA/JSA crossover included the Freedom Fighters in an adventure set on Earth-X, where the Nazis had won World War II (Justice League of America #107). Plop! #1 was on the spinner racks, containing some very strange humor -- it lasted for 24 issues! That's a full year longer than I'd have ever guessed. Walter Simonson's Manhunter first showed up in Detective Comics #437, co-created with Archie Goodwin. And to close it out, DC licensed the Shadow and offered him up in The Shadow #1, by Denny O'Neil and Michael Kaluta. October saw Marvel counter DC's Plop! with a magazine of silliness called Crazy -- it would last a decade! But much as the year began, it ended for Marvel -- significant character after significant character came to the fore. Again, when you think of Marvel in the '70's, you think of Son of Satan (Marvel Spotlight #12), the Man-Wolf (Amazing Spider-Man #125), Howard the Duck (Adventure Into Fear #19), and Shang-chi (Special Marvel Edition #15. And one more thing... how about the Avengers/Defenders War in the double-barreled release of Avengers #116 and Defenders #9 in October?

Karen: This was a great year to be a comics reader. I recall well that JLA/JSA crossover with the Freedom Fighters -probably my earliest JLA (although I only had the first issue of the story). I came across those Goodwin/Simonson Detectives about 5 years later and really dug them. I'd say those stories were on par with the kind of work coming out of Marvel at the time. More new character intros from Marvel, and as I mentioned earlier, the big A/D was an exciting time to be getting comics! I recall trading a kid at school for the Hulk vs. Thor issue, and being so excited about it that I kept peeking into my desk at the comic! Thankfully I was not caught. I wish I could conjure up that enthusiasm today.

Doug: Had you been caught, then you'd be one to tell the story of how your funnybooks were ripped from your little hands by a mean old mom/grandma/nun/schoolteacher!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rest in Peace Dwayne McDuffie

Karen: Just a note to say we are saddened to hear of the death of comics and animation writer Dwayne McDuffie. Truly a wonderful talent, and his absence will be felt in both these fields.

It's a Fine Line: Batman in the Bronze Age

Doug: You may have noticed a bit more Batman around these parts lately, and Neal Adams' work is always a welcome topic on this blog. So what say we just combine 'em, throw in some Marshall Rogers and a little Jim Aparo and see what we get? All of the picture references for today's post come from the wonderful World Wide Web, as my Batman collection over the years has dwindled.

Bob Brown --

Doug: We're currently looking at Bob Brown's work on the Avengers/Zodiac story, and some time ago we checked in on his Daredevil and the Black Widow. Brown actually drew quite a few issues of Batman and Detective Comics, and as I've said, he was always pretty solid if not spectacular. I know he's not for everyone's taste, however.

Karen: I don't think I've ever seen a Bob Brown Batman comic. But then my Batman collection is limited. This looks serviceable but that's about all.

Dick Dillin --

Doug: Dillin is of course best known for his long tenure on Justice League of America, but he, like Brown, showed up from time to time on Batman's solo adventures. I think one thing that most everyone will notice is the style of the cowl and the bat insignia. This panel definitely comes from the very early Bronze Age, when the comics still mimicked the 1966 television show. The ears were short, man!

Karen: I've always liked Dillin. But you're right, this has a heavy TV influence. I'm just waiting for Aunt Harriet to pop up.

Doug: Ha! We laugh about that, but let's face it -- how many Bronze Agers owe their entry into this hobby/interest to that TV show?

Dick Giordano --

Doug: Giordano's spot in Bronze Age history is, for most folks, as the sidekick to Neal Adams on Batman and the Green Lantern/Green Arrow run. However, his was a varied career, and every now and then he did his own pencilling. Many criticize (or laud, depending on your point of view, I guess) him for aping Adams when he pencilled. There are worse sins than aping Neal Adams.

Karen: No kidding, very much looks like Adams.

Don Newton --

Doug: I know Newton has many fans, and I am certainly no detractor. However, I don't think I know enough about his body of work to even foster an intelligent comment here.

Karen: Newton's another one of those guys that I've thought was serviceable but never got me excited about the art.

Ernie Chan --

Doug: I like this panel, because it's just through-and-through Ernie Chan. Many of you will recognize his work on Conan the Barbarian, either on his own or for his extensive run as the inker for John Buscema. But in the mid- to late-'70's he was the lead artist on the Dark Knight, in both magazines.

Karen: Chan is just not my cup of tea, regardless of who he's drawing.

Doug: I thought he was OK on the Batman books that I owned. I always resented him, however, for exerting too much influence over Buscema's pencils on the Conan run.

Frank Robbins --

Doug: We've never covered the Invaders on this blog, and I suppose at some point we need to. But one look to the left will tell you why I would not be partial to such a strategy. Robbins did quite a bit of writing on the Bat-books, but only a few times was he called on to pencil. Thank goodness...

Karen: I'm not going to say anything. I'm trying to keep my reputation as a nice person.

Doug: Mom always said...

Irv Novick --

Doug: Novick's one of the '70's artists readily recognized as one of Batman's prominent artists. As I commented above, you can tell which part of the decade this panel hails from. But that's OK -- it's still pretty powerful. There's quite a bit of action and emotion in this single panel. But it's kind of funny (not Hahaha) to me that it just seems like a panel from a DC and not from a Marvel. Thoughts?

Karen: It has me intrigued. I'd like to see more of his work.

Jim Aparo --

Doug: If anyone out there doesn't like Jim Aparo, I would like to know why. This guy wrapped the best of a whole bunch of artists, Adams and Novick included, into his own style. One of the stalwarts of the Caped Crusader's stable of pencillers, Aparo lasted well into the 1980's and illustrated several important stories.

Karen: This is 'Mr. Batman' to me. Aparo was drawing Batman when I first started reading it. I've always loved the tall, lean look he gave the Dark Knight. He had a very strong style, good story teller, and very dynamic too. He's the guy to whom I compare all other Batman artists.

Doug: I agree with you. While not an Aquaman fan (lordy, the King of the Seven Seas has surfaced (ha!) on this blog twice now in the past week!), Aparo's work on that title was great as well.

John Calnan --

Doug: You know, this isn't a name I ever would have come up with. When doing research and art collection for this post, I noticed that he pencilled many of the issues that I actually had at one time. Wow -- seriously, never would have named this guy. The panel at left is good -- no problems. But I had a hard time finding anything significant in color to pass along. So I guess I'll just have to plead "no memory" on this fellow.

Karen: No idea who he is, but the art reminds me of the old Hostess Cupcakes/Twinkies/Pies ads. That's not really a good thing.

Doug: Another slice of Bronze Age life, those ads were...

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez --

Doug: You'll all identify this as a model sheet, which it most certainly is. And if you run across some of the others that Garcia-Lopez drew, they are all just as beautiful. Garcia-Lopez was the "house artist" for many of DC's mass marketed items, like licensed items that became toy packaging, etc. While I didn't find a good sequential example of his work, I'm sure you've run across his stuff on New Teen Titans, etc. Solid, solid artist.

Karen: Always liked Garcia-Lopez. Very distinctive look, clean, and as you say, solid artist all the way around. His stuff worked with pretty much any character you could think of. His Batman looks great.

Marshall Rogers --

Doug: We're also in the midst of a little 3-Saturday series from the Englehart/Rogers collaboration from Detective Comics, and I don't know about you, but I'm really enjoying it. I've seen it said elsewhere on the 'net that no one drew Batman's cape like Rogers, and I'm not so sure that I wouldn't echo that. I think his "real people" are finely rendered, and his fight scenes are well-choreographed. And then there's Silver St. Cloud...

Karen: Great stuff. He and Terry Austin made a terrific team. Of course, I think Austin is one of those inkers that makes anyone look better. But Rogers was an excellent penciller.

Mike Grell --

Doug: I was surprised to see Grell's name on several of the credits in these books. When I think of Mike Grell, like you, I'm probably seeing his work on the Legion and on Green Lantern/Green Arrow. But this is a nice sample at left. I know some of our readers were detractors of Grell when Karen ran the Grell-Cockrum Face-Off a couple of weeks ago. But for me he's always been a fine draftsman. Not without his faults, mind you -- but you could do a heckuva lot worse.

Karen: I don't see anything wrong with the sample. But then, I do like Mike Grell's work. He reminds me a bit of Aparo here, with that lean look to the Batman which I favor.

Neal Adams --

Doug: I have no further comment. None needed.

Karen: I have one comment: beautiful.

Rich Buckler --

Doug: We've discussed Rich Buckler around these parts many times. I'll stand by former comments that he's just a well-rounded artist. The panel at left looks like his style -- not flashy, but strongly straightforward. And I appreciate the backgrounds in the first panel. Not all artists take the time to fill in the mood of a scene, but this first panel is nice.

Karen: I have no complaints about Buckler's work here or pretty much anywhere else. He's a very solid artist.

Doug: There were a few other artists worth mentioning for their body of work in the 1970's, but I didn't notice that they did much in the way of interiors. The two most prolific artists I'm thinking of would be Michael Kaluta and Nick Cardy -- both did extensive cover work on both Batman and Detective Comics.
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