Monday, September 19, 2016

Please Come to Boston - Strange Adventures 206

Strange Adventures #206 (November 1967)(cover by George Roussos and Mike Sekowsky)
"An Eye for an Eye!"
Arnold Drake-Neal Adams/George Roussos

Doug: Name a character who you know next to almost-nothing about, but that intrigues you. Got one (or two?). Deadman's mine. If memory serves, and that's shaky ground these days, two of the Brave & the Bolds (#79 and #104) I've reviewed are the only Deadman comics I've read. Well, aside from his appearance in Kingdom Come. The premise is interesting to me: a man murdered who is given the power to find his own killer. That power includes the ability to see and hear all that goes on around him -- but not touch, and no one else will feel his presence. The kicker is that he can possess anyone at any time -- their mind and body. They won't, however, remember a thing. From Deadman's intro/origin in the previous issue:
This is Deadman -- the spirit of one man in the bodies of others -- moving from life to life, to find the man who brought him... Death! Follow him in the Strangest Adventure series of them all!
Boston Brand was truly a Deadman as far as the world was concerned. Naturally that limited the potential for any interaction with DC's other heroes, but it didn't stop Brand's ability (and willingness) to be manipulative of the living who crossed his from making things interesting.

You know you want a 100-Word Review...
Circus aerialist (and part owner) Boston Brand, a brusque fellow in life, has been murdered. But the deity Rama Kushna has offered Brand a gift – the powers necessary to find his killer. The first suspect is Jeff Carling, the lowlife brother of Lorna, one of the circus girls who was sweet on Brand. Jeff’s come looking for money. But Deadman possesses Carling’s body, only to find out that the plot is thicker than imagined. In a whirlwind of biker gangs, mob hits, and payoffs, Deadman manages to find that a) Carling was not his killer and b) exonerate Carling of a murder rap.

The Good: I cannot complain about anything related to the execution of this story. Although only Boston Brand's second appearance, I felt like the creators got me up to speed on the origin story, the powers, the cast, etc. From the splash page, the art is light years ahead of what we saw in the previous issue. I don't necessarily want to denigrate the work of Carmine Infantino and George Roussos. Strange Adventures #205 is actually a nice-looking book! But c'mon... lay it next to the work of Neal Adams and... Yeah, I know Adams himself has detractors. I am not among that camp. While not possessing the pedigree of a career that began in the Golden Age, such as Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, et al., Adams now has around 50 years behind him so must certainly be a consideration in that "greatest of all time" conversation we had a few weeks ago. Here's a side-by-side of a portion of Deadman's origin for your own assessment:

Adams wanted to put his stamp on the book and character -- it's pretty obvious in that only 30 days after Deadman's first appearance readers were given a detailed origin recap complete with Deadman's "death", and a survey of his cast of characters and of his powers. Again, for me I thought this was excellent; I didn't read the first issue until after completing this one. Not sure how many other kids would have done that back in '67, but there had to be a few.

Arnold Drake's dialogue was fun. It was maybe a little on the Silver-Agey side, but that was what I expected. Marvelites should recognize Drake's name from his work on early issues of the X-Men, Captain Marvel, and as the creator of some group called the Guardians of the Galaxy (yeah, like that'll last...). Some of the characters in the story might have been predictable, but I think that was part of the hook in getting this new book off the ground. Let the readers go along for the ride with Boston Brand, discovering things even a second or two before our protagonist. Sort of like audience participation.

There was no baddie in the story (although there were a few unsavory types), outside of the knowledge that somewhere lurks the unseen assassin from the previous issue. That was fine, as this traveling mystery show had so much potential that Deadman didn't need a rogues gallery -- his rogue could be anyone! And that brings me back to the wonderful potential of the character -- this could be told as an all-ages story, or easily as an "adult" type of tale (face it -- Brand can inhabit any body he wants and make said occupy-ee do and say whatever Brand wants). With the god Rama Kushna ever present (though not ever seen other than as emanating from other sentient beings), a foray to the world of the occult was always possible as well.

Notice the fellow in the samples who looks like Guy Gardner! Of course that's not the way ol' Guy looked back in the day, but the resemblance to the character we'd come to loathe post-Crisis is uncanny!

The Bad: I can't decide what to say about the coloring here. More accurately it's re-coloring. Sometime on this space Karen and I discussed that this newer method sort of enhanced the Tales of Asgard trade, giving it a "storybook" look. We didn't, however, care for it as much in the Chronicles of Conan trades. Years ago, Neal Adams fell in love with computer coloring, and as many of you know (see some of the Batman reviews here) he has insisted on recoloring all of his material that gets reprinted. The entire Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams series of hardcovers (now available as trade paperbacks) is recolored, as is the trade I am reading/scanning from. Part of me wants to chuck this a rung lower into the "Ugly" category, but I suppose I can leave it here. It didn't prohibit me from enjoying the story. It may have inhibited that joy, but it didn't stop me in my tracks. Honestly, I'd like to see the four-color version for comparison's sake. And Adams has long been fascinated with color. For those of you who don't know, when he got to DC from Marvel he was influential in improving DC's color palette. Read a wonderful and recent explanation of this history here.

The Ugly: As usual, nothing much to say here, unless you find yourself particularly offended by the coloring. Then we could slide that from "bad" to "ugly".

I look forward to reading more from this trade in the future. It's stretched me a bit, but I've found this very appealing.


Martinex1 said...

Deadman is a very cool looking character and I've always found his simple design to be very appealing. He also has a set of powers and strict limitations that led to interesting stories. To my knowledge they never powered him up, which is a good thing because the strength of his character becomes more apparent through those restrictions.

Regarding the coloring and Neal Adams art - I like the original color so much better. Adams' art is always pseudo realistic in terms of the human form, but I find the old coloring gave a nice balance between "reality" and fantasy. It didn't make it too real. It's hard to explain, but when retouched, the art suddenly borders on the edge of parody for me, almost like one of those movie send-ups in MAD Magazine. It seems to exaggerate rather than accentuate.

But I do look forward to more Deadman reviews, he is an underappreciated character. He was one DC character that drew me from the Marvel side more than once.

Edo Bosnar said...

Great post, Doug! Loved the 100 word review in particular this time. Very meaty and substantial.
I really like Deadman, and every time you do one of these reviews, it reminds me that I really need to finally read the two Deadman tpbs I have that collect the Deadman material from the late '70s/early '80s (most of the art is by Garcia Lopez).

As for the coloring: *heavy sigh*. As I say pretty much every time the topic comes up, I really, really dislike this modern computerized recoloring. Martinex really sums up quite well why it looks a bit off; to my eye, most comic book art just looks better with the more traditional, "flat" coloring. All that said, in these examples you've posted here, the recoloring doesn't look as jarring as on some of those Batman stories I've seen elsewhere. What tends to bug me even more in the case of Adams in particular is that apparently he often also touches up the actual art itself (i.e., the line-work). This seems particularly true of the faces of the various characters, and again, it seems entirely unnecessary (kind of like George Lucas adding those CGI "enhancements" to the first three Star Wars movies).

Doug said...

Thanks for the enthusiasm, guys.

I wasn't sure I had the full flavor of the character from the two B&B reviews I'd done, so this issue served a good purpose for me. As I said in the review, I enjoyed it and can see that the ongoing story could take some really interesting turns.

Trouble is, and this may have happened - I have no idea - is that once Brand caught his killer he'd cease to exist at all. Makes for a finite character/story, which in itself is interesting.


Redartz said...

Great review, Doug; and good to see Boston Brand get some attention! Martinex covered most of my thoughts quite well; I too really like his appearance. Simple, yet dramatic- red suit and somewhat ghastly white head. Very cool...

Add my voice to the chorus regarding the coloring. That was the first thing I noticed upon seeing the scans. Perhaps the problem with it, for me anyway, is it seems to overpower the linework. Adams is known for his sharp lines and detail, and the old four-color coloring allowed more of that line to show. The heavy computer coloring, and modelling, seems to disguise and even gloss over that penwork. A shame...

Looking forward to more discussion of Deadman. You've got me "Hooked"...

Unknown said...

Neal Adams is definitely one of my favorite artists, but in my view the computerized recoloring of his work looks appalling. I would have purchased the Neal Adams Batman Omnibus if not for this egregious tainting of Adams' work.

Other than that, Deadman is an intriguing character with a compelling origin. I'll have to read more tales featuring Deadman to better familiarize myself with him.

I do have a copy of "The Brave and the Bold" #79, the pairing of Batman and Deadman, illustrated by Neal Adams. A terrific collectible that I'd heartily recommend.

Garett said...

Great to see a Deadman review Doug! Adams actually re-inked this issue for the hardcover reprint book that came out in 2001, so what we're seeing here is 1967 Adams pencils with 2000 Adams inks. The original #206 comic had George Roussos inks. Adams inked the rest of the series himself back in the '60s though, and it's a real treat!

As Edo said, Garcia Lopez drew Deadman later on, so some excellent artists have worked on this character. Adams also wrote and drew a few Deadman backup stories in the Aquaman comic in 1970. Hope to see more reviews--enjoy!

Russ said...

The original printing of this story had George Roussos inks, probably to maintain continuity with the earlier issue. Adams felt it was inconsistent with the following issues which he inked himself, prompting the re-do, which, if anything is even more inconsistent with the rest of his run. I wonder about the impact of these stories today; at the time they were very hard-boiled compared to other comics and Adams' work was a shock to fandom in its combination of hyper-realism and experimental story-telling. A generation of comics creators was inspired by this stuff and then it was put aside by the following generations and the work of Adams became diluted in the stew of various influences. There was a time when he was considered one of the most consequential creators in comics.

Martinex1 said...

DC actually had a nice little group of "weird" characters that fall into the mystical realm. Deadman is of course one. But I've also liked the weirdness of the Spectre and the Phantom Stranger. I'm not sure Marvel really has comparables. None jump to mind.

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