Saturday, January 31, 2015

BAB Firsts - Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1970

This post was originally published on February 2 2011


Doug: Welcome, everyone, to a 16-part (yep, the longest to date!) series that will take a year-by-year look at what the Big Two were doing throughout the Bronze Age. Using the books you see in the logo above (read our reviews of the Marvel Chronicle and DC Comics: Year-by-Year) Karen and I will not only be reporting on the various goings-on both in the publishing and four-color worlds, but you just know we'll be adding a two-cent comment here and there. So buckle in and enjoy the ride -- we're anticipating some revelations, epiphanies, and downright expose's along the way! And a note: all information used in this series will derive from the two books exclusively; however, images we post may be from other sources.

Doug: I don't think comics historians mark the year 1970 as the beginning of a new age of comics for no reason at all. I was surprised when I began to pen my portion of this first installment at just how many watershed or almost-watershed events took place as the '60's gave way to the '70's. For example, at the House of Ideas the X-Men received their cancellation notice and Captain Stacy lost his life at the tentacles of Dr. Octopus. The Distinguished Competition may have pulled the biggest coup, though, with the acquisition of the talents of the King of Comics, and as the critically-acclaimed series "Hard Traveling Heroes" debuted in the pages of Green Lantern #76. Let's take a closer look at the year 1970, when the Kent State shootings took place, cigarette ads were banned on American television, Elvis visited Tricky Dick in the White House, Jimi Hendrix died, and the north tower of the World Trade Center was completed.
Doug: The first quarter of 1970 was a bit of a ho-hum at Marvel. Outside of the aforementioned cancellation of our Merry Mutants, about the biggest things going were a balked wedding between Bruce Banner and Betty Ross (Incredible Hulk #124), and the introduction of Sunfire in X-Men #64 (which, by the way, features Don Heck pencils so heavily under the influence of Tom Palmer's Adamsian inks that I actually liked it!). DC Comics countered with a little relevancy in Teen Titans #25, as our heroes have a hand in a fatality that will eventually drive them out of their colorful costumes, and the acquisition of the license to produce comics based on the Hot Wheels line of toy cars.

Karen: I always wonder what might have been if X-Men had not been canceled -or consigned to reprint-land. The book had actually improved so much, with the Thomas-Adams era. Of course, if those two had stayed on and the title had continued, we might never have seen the all-new, all-different team!

Doug: I agree -- it's one of those wonderful "what if?" questions. Funny, isn't it, that you could probably argue that the Avengers was Marvel's premier team book in 1970; I say that only from the standpoint that the FF were in a state of decline (OK, maybe "in stasis" is better...) creatively. And if I believe all the publicity, solicitations, etc., the Avengers is again Marvel's premier team book. But what a ride the X-Men had in the intervening 30+ years!

Doug: Someone at Marvel must have been pacing us, because the period from April-June offered up only a brief return to publication of
Captain Marvel (2 issues, then kaput again for another two years), and the introductions of Richard Fisk (Amazing Spider-Man #83) and Arkon (Avengers #75). However, across the street DC dropped the bomb with the previously mentioned Green Lantern #76 by the all-star creative team of Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams. Launching a new era for DC, the elder company now worked very hard to emulate what Stan Lee had been doing for years at Marvel -- bring some real-life situations, causes, and politics to the four-color world. As an extension, in Teen Titans #26 the young heroes threw away their colorful costumes and entered a world of crime-fighting as civilians. And the second quarter didn't just fade into summer -- no, instead DC greeted the end of the school year with the introduction of Man-Bat in Detective Comics #400 (again by O'Neil and Adams).
Karen: Things were definitely starting to change at stodgy DC. The arrival of pros like Adams gave DC much needed fresh blood. Of course in a few years, we would see many of Marvel's young talents cross over to DC and bring their newer style with them. It was a necessary change for them; they had become seen as "the establishment" and had lost much of their appeal, at least to older readers.

Doug: I think DC's continued power in the hands of its editors, as opposed to its creators, only softened their status quo. While we did see some "Marvelizing", overall (at least in my opinion) DC still lagged waaaaay behind Marvel in terms of top art talent and dynamic writing.

Doug: July brought us the 100th anniversary issue of the
Fantastic Four, the first comic from the Marvel Age to reach that lofty plateau completely on its own. The end of the summer brought back the split books, as Amazing Adventures #1 (the Inhumans and the Black Widow) and Astonishing Tales #1 (Ka-Zar and Dr. Doom) hit the stands. But ominous clouds were brewing, as (gasp!) the final Jack Kirby-penciled FF and Thor (#101 and #179, respectively) stories went on sale. After that, it would be six years before the King returned to the House of Ideas. But Marvel's loss was DC's gain, as we'll see later. July saw DC introduce The Unknown Soldier in Star-Spangled War Stories #151 by the immortal Joe Kubert.
Karen: By this time much of Kirby's magic seemed to have dissipated. His frustrations with Marvel and Stan Lee are now well-known. I don't think it's any surprise to state that his work during this time period at Marvel was pretty uninspired. For that matter, much of Lee's writing -as we've discussed recently -also seemed to be slipping. It was time for a new generation of creative talents.

Doug: Quarter #3, otherwise known as autumn, is generally depressing to young comics readers, as the school desk beckons. Apparently neither Marvel or DC felt all that inspired, as Westerns brought about the only news -- the introduction of Red Wolf (created by Roy Thomas and John Buscema) in Avengers #80 and DC's return to the genre with All-Star Western #1.

Doug: As the temperatures dropped, the spinner racks must have been heating up. Talk about going out with a bang! Marvel staged perhaps one of the biggest marketing coups of the coming decade when it licensed Conan the Barbarian and introduced him to comics readers in October in the pages of Conan the Barbarian #1 by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith. The sword-and-sorcery genre continues to the present, and although Marvel no longer holds the license, Conan and his cast are alive and well 40 years later. November saw the death of Captain Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man #90. But it was DC that made perhaps the biggest noise in the comic book industry when Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #133 was published with Jack Kirby credited as the writer and artist. This was Kirby's entry point for his return to DC after decades at Marvel, and the launch pad for what would become his "Fourth World" saga. The next issue of Jimmy Olsen saw the introduction of Darkseid, and the wheels were set in motion for major changes at the Big Two!

Karen: I don't think Marvel knew what they had with Conan; from what I've read, the fans didn't quite know what to make of it either, and it took some time to become the mega-hit it was destined to be. But it's hard to think of Marvel in the 70s and not think of Conan. He was everywhere, particularly on the merchandise that was flowing out of the House of Ideas by the mid-70s. DC certainly didn't recognize what they had with Kirby's Fourth World. It would take another generation for that flower to blossom!

Friday, January 30, 2015

BAB Firsts - FOOM Fridays: FOOM #1

This post was originally published on November 26 2010

Karen: Life was good as a Marvel fanatic back in the seventies. It was a time of unparalleled creativity, when a new generation of writers and artists appeared to expand upon the Lee-Kirby universe. We had superheroes, barbarians, monsters, cowboys...anything you could want could be found in the pages of a Marvel comic -or magazine. It was a fun time.

Karen: One of the extra l
ittle joys for Marvel fans was the new Marvel fan club, inaugurated in 1973, called FOOM: Friends Of Ol' Marvel. When you joined FOOM, you got a package of cool goodies that included a gold membership card, a 22" x 28" Steranko poster of many of Marvel's finest, some stickers, and best of all, a subscription to the FOOM magazine. This quarterly magazine was chock full of news (remember, no internet in those days!), articles, games, art, and pictures. It was like being a real Marvel insider.

Karen: I'll be taking a look at a different issue of FOOM on these FOOM Fridays. We'll start with the first issue. My own
issues are in pretty bad shape -they were read and re-read, and since I was still a youngster, I also *gasp* colored some of the pictures! So please excuse the appearance of some images.

Karen: Issue #1 readers were greeted by a full page image of Smilin' Stan Lee on the cover. Lee saluted the reader in his typical flowery, over the top prose. He described the magazine as "an endless bounty of all that is best, all that is noblest, all that most truly symbolizes the soul and the spirit of we who follow FOOM!"

Karen: Inside, editor Steranko explained the concept of the magazine, and announ
ced a contest: design a hero or villain to appear in a new Marvel comic! (More on this in future reviews.)

Karen: Next followed pages with biograph
ies and photos of Lee, John Buscema, Roy Thomas, Joe Sinnott, and Gerry Conway. I love the photo of the 'hip' Stan Lee! WHile we have a ton of information on all of these men now, and it's easily accesible, back in the day, these bios were really very informative. Of course I was always interested in any information I could get about Marvel and the bullpen. The main article in the issue, written by one Ed Noonchester (?), was on the birth of the Fantastic Four. A detailed index of all FF issues to that point -which would only be issue 132! - followed.

Karen: Interspersed throughout the magazine are puzzles and games with Marvel themes. I dutifully scribbled away in every one of these, I'm afraid.

Karen: Perhaps
the most interesting section of the magazine, to me anyway, was the part on upcoming books, titled Far-Out Fanfare and Infoomation. The Marvel magazines were discussed first, announcing that Marvel was launching four black and white magazines: Dracula ( although the cover picture shows the title as Dracula Lives!), Monsters Unleashed, Tales of the Zombie, and Vampire Tales. Also discussed is Marvel's pulp digest book, The Haunt of Horror. Hard to believe but each of the magazines had a price of 75 cents! Marvel was going whole hog into the horror business with these titles, which were to be released one each month over a four month period.

Karen: Some staff changes are discussed, including that John Romita has been made art director, and will be laying out most of the covers. Marie Severin has been made Chief Colorist. Young Marv Wolfman has been made an Assistant Editor. It's funny to read some of the 'upcoming' news now. Some
never went anywhere, and some were portentious. Some of the news:
  • The Thing is going to star in his own team-up book in Marvel Features
  • Strange Tales will return with Len Wein and Gene Colan collaborating on a project "too secret to reveal at the moment...all we can reveal now is its name -Brother Voodoo"!!
  • Don Heck will take over Sub-Mariner until Bill Everett recovers from his heart attack. "You might want to drop Wild Bill a note wishing him a speedy recovery!"
  • The Spider-Man LP record was so successful, Gerry Conway is writing the script for a second one (Was this Rock Reflections of A Super-Hero? I had both albums, and I recall they were pretty terrible)
  • This was a tantalizing tidbit that never went anywhere as far as I can tell: "There has been some talk around the bullpen concerning a one hour, animated Christmas special that will feature all the Marvel characters. This show would not be a Saturday morning special, but a prime time show with nationwide distribution. Remember FOOM fans, you read it here first!" And last -never happened.
Karen: The back of our first issue features coupons to cut out and send in to buy Marvel T-shirts ( I did) and the Spider-Man record album (ditto). So about 1/4 of my back cover (featuring a Steranko-drawn Spidey) is missing! But dang...those t-shirts were only $2.50 a pop! Man, do I miss the seventies.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Readers' Choice: Spotlight On... Steve Ditko

Karen: Well today is the last reader DIY column while Doug and I are on our vacation, and I decided to make it a "Spotlight On..." one, to give you a chance to sing the praises of a particular comic artist, writer, inker or other comics luminary that you feel needs to be noted for their contributions. Please try to avoid anyone we've spoken about in the past. I've compiled a list of these folks to help you out:

Dave Cockrum
Steve Englehart 
Steve Gerber
Frank Robbins
Neal Adams
Chris Claremont
E. Nelson Bridwell
Rich Buckler
Barry Windsor Smith
John Byrne 
Joe Sinnott
Jim Steranko
Gil Kane
Mike Ploog 
Jim Aparo
Gene Colan
Walt Simonson
John Romita Jr.
Frank Miller

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Super Blog Team-Up: Things Are a Little Different Around Here...

Doug: Welcome to the 5th quarterly edition of the Super Blog Team-Up, a massive collaboration across the blogosphere and podcastosphere (say what?). We're glad you've dropped in, and if you're visiting from another site and are making your inaugural journey to the Bronze Age Babies then we say "Welcome!" Don't be a stranger -- come back often and get in on the conversations. Most importantly, leave us a comment!

Doug: This time around, the topics du jour are multiverses and alternate realities. As you may or may not know, this blog is pushing six years of publishing history, so we've dealt with these sorts of things on many occasions. As you may also know (a quick peek at our masthead should have been the first clue), we're taking our annual vacation from new material and are instead featuring some classic posts from our backlog. Wanting to stay true to ourselves, then, we're going to direct our readers to a "greatest hits" series of comic book reviews that should satisfy anyone's multiversal appetite. NOTE: Feel free to leave comments either on this post or on all of the posts linked below. We have a "recent comments" widget on our sidebar that will direct visitors to today's action. NOTE #2: We've only linked you to the first issue in each storyline. You should be able to navigate through the remainder of the series by using the "You might also like" feature at the end of each post.

Avengers vs. the Squadron Supreme for the Serpent Crown (Avengers 141-144, 147-149)

Memorable scene - Wanda being possessed by the Serpent Crown and flat-out talking nasty to the Vision. Vizh took out his frustrations by phasing through Hyperion's chest.

Key comment - Karen: Beast served as a mouthpiece for Englehart to make some social commentary. It would probably be considered heavy-handed now but considering where the national psyche was at in 1976, I think it fit in perfectly. "We commit the most outrageous acts...and you go right along, pretending not to notice!" Actually, much of that speech still resonates today.

The Fantastic Four Deal With Thing 1 and Thing 2... and Arkon! (Fantastic Four 160-163)

Memorable scene - Alicia relates her story and asks how it is that Ben is now with her -- he assures her that he'd been in the Great Refuge with the rest of the team. Alicia is very upset, and produces a scrap of the other Thing's shirt as evidence of what she'd gone through. Ben gets an idea, and calls up Crystal on the omni-viewer. Of course Quicksilver is right by her side, and abrasive as ever. Ben brushes him off and asks Crystal for Lockjaw's services. No sooner is the connection cut than the big pooch appears. Dimension-hopping time, friends!

Key comment - Karen: This illustrates again why I have never liked Reed Richards. Besides lobotomizing his son and treating his wife like crap, he rules the FF with an iron fist! "I own 51% and controlling interest -so what I say goes" -that's just typical of Mr. Big Brain. Oh sure, it may turn out he has something up his sleeve, but he's gonna put everyone through hell before he's done.

Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man

Memorable scene - Looking through the book with a discerning eye, trying to find all of the "corrections" done to Ross Andru's art.

Key comment - Doug: I guess, looking back on what must have gone on in those smoke-filled rooms at the meetings between Stan and Carmine (and all of their other assistants), Gerry Conway did a good job with what he had. I mean, there aren't any risks at all taken here -- everyone's in their firmly entrenched characterization, neither company's character really gets the upper hand over the other's (although I'd certainly argue that Ock got the short end of the stick in the bad guy dept. -- he comes off looking pretty inept), and even the supporting casts are pretty vanilla. But I keep coming back to -- what would I have expected?

The Last Superboy Story - The Greatest Hero of Them All (Legion 37-38, Superman 8, Action Comics 591)

Memorable scene - The Legion is invited to the Kents for dinner while they wait for Clark to return home. Ma stuffs them with a big country spread, and suddenly Clark walks in. The team is really excited to see him, as again -- they'd thought he never existed (in spite of their own memories). But Clark's reserved, and quickly invites the Legionnaires to the basement to talk while Ma cleans up the kitchen. Clark distracts them by directing their attention to a shelving unit with statuettes of the Legion members. But while their backs are turned, Clark pulls out a device that looks like the Phantom Zone projector; instead, it's a Time-Stasis ray and freezes the teen heroes in their tracks.

Key comment - Doug: For my money, this was all very poorly imagined, executed, and bordering on plain ol' stupid. As Superboy had never existed on Earth-2, and as the Legion was going to be kept around (although from the post-Crisis onward, endlessly rebooted), I failed then and do now to see the necessity of this "housecleaning". While DC through the years has had many corners of their universe supported by rabid fan support, the Legion seemed to hold an almost cult-like loyalty among its adherents. This seems to have been a kick in the teeth and a "We don't care" from editorial toward longtime Superman and Legion of Super-Heroes fans.

Deathlok the Demolisher (Astonishing Tales 25-28, 30-32)

Memorable scene -The Deathlok series (which ran from Astonishing Tales 25 to 36) was set in a dystopian future, ruled by corrupt military and corporate leaders. Colonel Luther Manning is killed in combat but brought back to life as a hideous cyborg (for some reason, his face always takes me back to that grade Z 50s horror flick, I Was A Teen-Age Frankenstein!) to do the dirty work of Major Simon Riker. Riker had Manning rebuilt with steel-re-inforced limbs and a computer brain. In fact, he had surgeons keep only a small portion of Manning's brain, supposedly the part that made him a brilliant tactician. However, Manning retains his personality and is able to assert dominance over the computer mind, and break free of Riker's control. In this issue, we see him working as a freelance mercenary, cutting down two men in cold-blood. The story of how he became such a ruthless killing machine is told in flashback. Deathlok was one of the first of that wave of anti-hero characters (including the Punisher, who also debuted in 1974) who would change the face of comics forever.

Key comment -This issue gives us the origin, but there would be so much more to follow. It just scratches the surface. Especially compelling was Manning's struggle to find his wife and kid - although with predictable results. The concept may not seem so novel now, but back in 1974, believe me, it was. Sure, we had The Six Million Dollar Man on TV, but Steve Austin was a pretty normal looking guy, leading an appealing life. Not so for Deathlok. I think Robocop probably owes its existence to Deathlok, and it surely has been an influence on other works.

The Spider-Man Newspaper Strip

Memorable scene -  JJJ and his paper have paid the way for Dr. Doom to address the United Nations at a world conference on terrorism.  Yep -- invite a totalitarian dictator and renowned terrorist himself to discuss how to bring that phenomenon to a close.

Key comment - Fred W. Hill: The Spidey strip was in the local paper my dad subscribed to, so I got to read the first few years worth of stories. Certainly fun but eventually I got bored with it, even when I was still gung ho on the montly comics. Spider-Man is much better suited for comic books than strips, IMO. Stan, however,is very wise in keeping the strip separate from what's going on in the comics -- I have a hunch that having Aunt May on the verge of death and Pete making a deal with the devil to save her at the cost of having his marriage to Mary Jane cease to have ever existed would strike most of that dying breed of regular newspaper readers as spectacularly stupid storytelling. The sort of idiocy Stan strove to avoid when he was mostly in charge of Marvel during the Silver Age.

The Brave & the Bold, and Super Sons Stories of Bob Haney (Earth-H?)

Memorable scene - And then... things turn zanier yet.  The Flash, realizing that the power of light and radiation caused a chink in Bork's armor, grabs the totem once again and begins towing it -- right into the sun!  No transuit, no protective aura, nothing.  Just running.  Into the sun.

Key comment - Inkstained Wretch: That Bob Haney plot ... wow... just, umm, wow ... running to and from the sun? ... I am speechless...

Jack Kirby's Last Boy on Earth - Kamandi (Kamandi Archives, volumes 1 & 2)

Memorable scene - Kamandi himself is a cipher. He leaves his underground bunker (Command D -get it?) where he lived with his grandfather, to explore the world above, a world he had only known through stories and microfilm records. When he returns to his home he finds his grandfather killed by invading wolf-men. He decides to continue his explorations, but there never seems to be any rhyme or reason to his travels. He never expresses a personality beyond being something of a hot-head. There's no emotional life to the character. I'm not saying every comic character has to be a Peter Parker and cry in his beer every issue, but there has to be some sort of inner life, something going on that drives the protagonist and makes the reader take an interest in them. There's just nothing there with Kamandi. He's a blank slate. He seems to exist only as a vehicle to move from one place to another, from one idea to the next, so that different concepts can get shown off. He has no stake in anything.

Key comment - Despite all of this, I do find Kamandi oddly compelling. I'm even considering buying the second Archives edition. Part of it is just this desire to see if anything really evolves out of  this beginning. There's so much potential for story-telling. But without a central character to care about, it's just so much fluff. Kamandi (the book) is like a fast food snack when it could be a great four-course meal. It's kind of fun but ultimately it doesn't satisfy. I'm hoping that later in the series it turns around and gains some substance.

Only Time Will Tell -- X-Men: Days of Future Past (X-Men 141-142)

Memorable scene - ...and as Wolverine sought to intervene, new team leader Storm swept him from the fray. Mad, claws drawn -- not gonna fight that way, said Ororo.

Key comment - Karen: It's interesting in this future sequence that Rachel says she's not certain that what Kate does in the past will definitely change their own time stream -it might just create a different timeline. Isn't this always the problem with time travel stories? Can you really change things?

Doug: Thanks again for coming by today. If you left a specific comment on one of our classic posts, we're grateful. But if you'd care to leave some general thoughts here on multiverses and alternate realities, we'd love to hear that as well. Come back soon, and be sure to patronize the other great blogs and podcasts in today's SBTU.

Amazing Spider-Talk/Chasing Amazing/Superior Spider-Talk: Spider-Man Reign
Superior Spider-Talk - The Case For Spider-Man Reign

Firestorm Fan:Firestorm on Infinite Earths -- Countdown Arena

The Idol-Head of Diabolu Podcast: Martian Manhunter Multiversity

In My Not So Humble Opinion: The Many Worlds of Tesla Strong

The Legion of Super-Bloggers: Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes

The Marvel Super Heroes Podcast (i.e. part of Rolled Spine Podcast): Epic Comics’ Doctor Zero

Ultraverse Network:Altered Reality: The Ultraverse Before and After Black September

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Readers Reflect: the Open Forum - Team Books and Arch-Villains!

Karen: If you missed your chance with our previous readers' Open Forum, here is your second chance. Remember, the Open Forum is a place for more involved, broader discussions. For example, we've covered things like the transitions from the Silver Age to the Bronze age (and recently the Bronze to the modern age),  comic book collecting and selling, the nature of comic book creator legends, and so on. So grab your bubble pipe and strike a pose, and give us some meaty topic(s)!

Monday, January 26, 2015

BAB Firsts - Face-Off: The Thomas/Adams X-Men vs. the Claremont/Cockrum X-Men

 This post was originally published on November 18 2010

Doug: New feature today, kiddies. Lately we've been discussing great arcs, the X-Men done-in-ones of the Claremont-Cockrum era, and tomorrow ol' Neal Adams will be part of our topic. So we thought -- what the heck -- why not give you another opportunity to sound off on the pros and cons of two of the most renowned runs of the late-Silver and Bronze Ages?

Doug: Today we're asking for feedback on the run that failed to save the X-franchise: issues 56-63 and 65 (May 1969-February 1970). Thomas' formula for character development, along with Adams' engergizing of the book with his dynamic panel lay-outs, realistic styling, and the creation of Havok all combined for a winning prescription in one of the most highly regarded runs of all time; alas all of that didn't save our Merry Mutants from reprint-purgatory.

Doug: However, Mssrs. Claremont and Cockrum also set the comics world on its collective ear with their interpretation of the All-New, All-Different X-Men in a run that covered
X-Men #'s 94-107 (August 1975-October 1977). Talk about characterization! Chris Claremont further cemented Cyclops' role as the brooding, sometimes self-deprecating leader and under his pen Wolverine would become a superstar. Dave Cockrum was able to transfer the energy he'd brought to DC's Legion of Super-Heroes, and introduced beloved characters of his own creation in Storm and Nightcrawler. One of the real blasts of this series was watching the new team confront the old enemies: Count Nefaria, the Sentinels, Juggernaut, and Magneto.

Doug: So, you're heading to the longbox for a little X-fix. For which run would you reach?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

BAB Firsts - It's a Fine Line: The Thing in the Bronze Age

Doug: Karen and I would like to start a new series where we look at some of our favorite characters as depicted by some of our favorite artists. Of course Karen has expressed her love recently for the Bashful One, so we thought we'd kick this off with a look at Benjamin J. Grimm, as seen throughout the Bronze Age of Comics.

Doug: To commence, we have to discuss the King himself, Jack Kirby.

Karen: I like how the Thing's look became more refined over time. He went from looking lumpy and almost soft to the more solid, rocky hero we all know and love. How much of this, I wonder, was also due to the inkers involved?

Doug: The image at left is indeed inked by the stalwart of the Fantastic Four strip, Joe Sinnott. I think it goes without saying that Sinnott's inks added polish and depth to Kirby, really texturing Jack's pencils. I mean, look at that picture -- it looks like Ben's skin is made of rocks!

Doug: Next up was the Jazzy One, John Romita.

Karen: He was on the strip for such a short time period, it's almost easy to forget he was there! Just 4 issues -103 to 106. Although Romita seems able to draw any character well, I don't think his style was especially suited to the Thing, although his take on Ben was certainly acceptable.

Doug: I think the fact that John Verpoorten inked Romita for most of his short tenure might lead to the less-than-memorable memories! I believe Sinnott only inked him on his last issue. I've read before that Romita was not satisfied with his work, and part of that was his insecurity from following Kirby's run.

Karen: I've read the same thing, and it certainly makes sense! That's a very tough act to follow.

Doug: After Romita's brief tenure on the Fantastic Four, Big John Buscema took the reins of the World's Greatest Comic Magazine.

Karen: Now we're talking! In my mind, John Buscema is the Thing King! It probably has to do with the fact that he was the artist on the FF when I started reading it.

Doug: I actually have the original art to the sample at left, and it's just beautiful. Buscema's facial expressions on this page really convey first Ben's irritation, then his determination during this battle against the Miracle Man. I also like that Buscema really gives Ben some bulk, but as I'd remarked during our Marvel Two-In-One posts, kept Ben within that six-feet tall range of height.

Karen: That's definitely how I think of Ben -as bulky, heavy, but not particularly tall. I agree with you, he is frequently drawn too tall nowadays -but then so is the Hulk. As always, Buscema is a master of facial expressions and body language, able to easily convey Ben's emotions, despite his monstrous appearance.

Doug: Following Buscema was the sometimes dubious run of Rich Buckler.

Karen: I feel badly for Buckler. I believe he was told to emulate Kirby early on in his career. It's unfortunate because I really like his own style. I'm not even going to get into the swipes issue here. But he did a good job on the Thing.

Doug: I've included parts of two pages from FF #159 that really show off Buckler's finer effort. You know, the larger panel on the far right brings up a point -- how do you like Ben's exterior to be drawn? Large rocks (like here), or small (as in the Buscema image above)?

Karen: Hmm, I haven't really considered it, but I can tell you this: I notice when I feel that the rocks are not drawn properly
. I think it's actually a fairly difficult drawing challenge -how do you get across the idea that he's composed of those crazy, interlocking rocks? How do you shadow them? Are they flat or do they project slightly? I think some artists and inkers can pull it off, and some just can't.

Doug: After Buckler, the FF were penciled by George Perez.

Karen: Can Perez draw anything bad? I don't think so! His runs on FF were beautiful, and he brings a lot of character to his version of Ben.

Doug: The sample I chose for George Perez comes from his earliest stint, and from a period I just loved -- the exoskeleton era that followed the Thing/Hulk two-parter. Perez seemed to have a way of making the Thing somewhat bulbous, which is not a bad thing. Funny -- if you've ever seen the book How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, I really think Perez actually draws Ben the very way Big John Buscema instructs! I'd also argue that, again early on, Perez echoed Buckler's later work (after he got away from his Kirby-ish phase).

Karen: Perez' Thing was maybe a little more streamlined than some of the others, but still had the expressiveness and mass that I like.

Doug: Keith Pollard was the successor to Perez. I'll say here that when I read these issues off the newsstand/spinner racks, I thought Pollard's art was quite good. Looking at these issues again after 30 years, he's certainly not bad -- quite serviceable in fact. But being sandwiched between George Perez and John Byrne? That would be tough for anyone! I did like the story that Pollard illustrated, when the FF were on the outs -- there were four solo issues followed by a good Doc Doom story that culminated with issue #200. Pollard really drew some dynamic scenes in the series.

Karen: Pollard is probably the most overlooked Thing artist. He had a very solid style, not especially flashy, but very good nonetheless.

Doug: John Byrne's first stint on the title extended from issue #209 to #221 and was initially dominated by Joe Sinnott's inks. However,
Byrne later changed the way he interpreted the Thing, bringing him back to his lumpy origins. We've provided two samples here -- the panels to the left were inked by Joe Sinnott, and the panels below to the right were inked by Byrne himself. In fact, our latter example is from the story when the Thing did indeed return to his original Kirby-style form.

Karen: Byrne 's run is of course highly regarded and I think his Thing always looked great, although I was not fond of the return to the lumpy version. However, I've always felt that Byrne was his own worst inker, and I prefer Sinnott's inks to Byrne's. But either way, his Thing is a big brute, which I like. Sometimes though, Byrne's Ben seems to be extremely round -have you ever noticed that?

Karen: Speaking of Sinnott, shouldn't we remark on the man who was with Ben the longest? His inking brought a certain continuity to Ben and the FF regardless of who the penciller was at the time. His version of t
he FF is indelibly marked in my brain, the same way Terry Austin's contribution to the X-Men has shaped how I see those characters forever.
Doug: There is no mistaking that, in spite of the heavy hitters who've put pencil to paper on the FF, Joe Sinnott is the magazine's most valuable player. He really provided a pretty seamless reading experience. I'd argue that the only time the art on the book seemed to lack were the issues when Sinnott was not present. I'd say that even for Byrne's highly-regarded second stint on the book. No doubt it's classic -- but could it have been even moreso with Sinnott on board?
Karen: How about
Ron Wilson? He drew Ben over in Marvel Two In One for many years. Perhaps his most memorable work was in Marvel Two In One Annual #7, when the Thing battled the Champion. He seemed to really 'get' the Thing, and did some very good work on the title.

Doug: Wilson's a solid guy, and perfect for the team-up style books. I
always felt like he gave a great effort on those books.
Karen: There's been a lot of other artists who have drawn the Thing as a guest star in other titles. A couple that come to mind are Neal Adams and Jim Starlin. It's hard to get a real impression of Adams' Thing, as I only recall seeing it in The Avengers during the Kree-Skrull War. I would say his version is OK, but there are a number of other artists that I feel do a better job. Surprising, as Adams is right up there in my personal favorites of comic book artists.

Doug: I wonder what a Neal Adams commissioned sketch of Ben would look like? I know Adams would give it his all...

Karen: I think regular readers know that Jim Starlin is a comics god to me, but...his Thing looks a little, I don't know, off to me. It's not bad, but for some reason it just doesn't quite look like the Thing to me.
The two panels here are taken from Marvel Two In One Annual # 2. The bulk is right...maybe it's the legs. I can't put my finger on it.

I'm with you, though on the image at left -- the arms and legs seem just a bit off.

Karen: OK Doug, I know this isn't Bronze Age, but what do you think of Al
ex Ross' Thing, shown here from Marvels? I have to say I like it. He looks thick and bulky, and his rocks/scales are all so defined. And look at those big ol' hands!

Doug: I'm sure by now our readers know that we collaborate on these posts by coming to Blogger at different times to make our posts/edits. So they might be surprised at the level of same-mind that we sometimes have -- I literally had thought of the very image you posted at right, and when I next logged in here to see what your last work had been about here it was! Ah, yes -- great minds... And no, Alex Ross doesn't draw anything poorly!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BAB Firsts - BAB Book Review: Sal Buscema, Comics' Fast and Furious Artist


This post was originally published on April 2 2010

Doug: Last December Karen and I showed some things on our Christmas wish lists. On March 19 I finally got one of my wants -- TwoMorrows' Sal Buscema: Comics' Fast and Furious Artist, by Jim Amash with Eric Nolen-Weathington. I received the standard trade paperback edition, which retails for $26.95. You can order it here (at a slightly discounted price). It was worth all of the publishing delays...

As I usually do with TwoMorrows' books and magazines, I took a quick thumb-through upon unpacking it. I'm not sure they could have crammed any more art into this volume! If you wanted samples of Sal's work, then you'll get it here (Disclaimer -- the illustrations I've included with this post are examples of original artwork that was for sale on eBay when I wrote this post; these art pages are not in the TwoMorrows book). In fact, the last 64 pages are a B&W and color art gallery featuring sketches, commissions, and tons of published covers and art pages. All of that is in addition to literally hundreds of exhibits from Sal's career shown throughout the book. The format of the text is one long interview between Jim Amash (best known as one of the major contributors to Roy Thomas' Alter Ego magazine) and Sal. To say it's an exhaustive interview might be an understatement. Amash covers all of the points of not only Sal's career, but his life. I had the one-time pleasure of visiting all-too-briefly with Sal at the Chicago Comicon (in the late 1990's), and his gentlemanly manner certainly shines through in Amash's interview.

Fans of Sal's big brother John (eight years Sal's senior) will be extremely excited to read all of the anecdotes about John's career, as well as the interaction between the two. I at first wondered at the directness of interviewer Amash's questions in regard to John -- in a book about Sal, it seemed as if Amash jumped right in about the impact of John's career on the family, on Sal, about the two being compared, etc. Sal's love for his brother just shone through, and any discomfort I had was quickly laid to rest. In a market that is all too thin on the life and work of John Buscema, this biography of Sal dovetails nicely with Vanguard's The John Buscema Sketchbook, Pearl Press's John Buscema: A Life in Sketches, and the out-of-print SQ Productions The Art of John Buscema. Whereas the first and last books feature interviews with John, this latest Buscema book features comments from Sal himself on John's career. Of particular note is Sal's clearing up once and for all the matter of John hating comics. Sal affirms that John didn't hate comics; John hated drawing buildings! John wanted to draw people, and particularly loved drawing Conan and Tarzan because there were no rules -- the fantasy settings allowed John's imagination to run wild and he could draw whatever he wanted!

One of the most interesting series of quotes in this book concerns Sal's remarks about inkers who have embellished his work over the course of his career. While he admits that he holds no one in disdain and would never deny a man his livlihood, he does have negative words for Mike Esposito, Joe Staton, and Ernie Chan.
He says that although he liked Joe Sinnott inking over his pencils, John strongly disliked Sinnott's inks -- not Sinnott the man, but the impact Sinnott had on John's pencils. Sal remarks that while Sinnott is certainly considered one of the best inkers in the business, when Joe inks a penciller, it's Joe you see. I'd argue that Sinnott is what gave the Fantastic Four its visual identity over 2+ decades, but I understand what is being said. Oh, one other nugget -- Sal reveals that John loved Dan Adkins inks on the Silver Surfer. What the...?! I have many a'time commented that I think Adkins was even heavier than Sinnott over Big John. I was shocked to read this!

Sal also discusses his collaborators through the years. Of all of the writers he has worked with, he praises Len Wein and Steve Englehart above all others. Wein was his longtime scribe on The Incredible Hulk (I did not realize that Sal handled the art chores on that title longer than Herb Trimpe), and Sal raves how they just clicked -- Sal knew exactly what Len wanted him to draw, and Len often couldn't believe how Sal returned pages with ideas drawn just as he'd envisioned them. Sal gives the reader further insight to the oft-discussed "Marvel method", and takes a shot at current writers and their too-constricting plot synopses. In Sal's opinion, artists of today are confined. As for Englehart, Sal places him just below Wein, yet raves about their tenure on Captain America. Sal does hold some reservation, though, for the climax of the Secret Empire storyline, and further questions Steve Rogers becoming Nomad. To Sal, Rogers and Captain America cannot exist apart. Sal also discusses his relationship with Jim Shooter. At first amicable, they parted under less-than-friendly circumstances due to Shooter's alleged micro-managing of Sal's art on Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21: the wedding issue. This was detailed in Back Issue #23
. It's those little stories that make this book a really fun, nostalgiac, insightful, and so much more-kind of read.

The table of contents is --

Introduction by Walter Simonson

1. Inspiration All Around
2. A Heroic Departure
3. How to Break In the Marvel Way
4. The Workhorse Hits His Stride
5. A New Start With a Different Company
6. The Craft of Creating Comic Book Art

Art Gallery
(pssst... an Index would have been a nice addition!)

You can find a chronological listing of Sal's work by clicking here.
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