Brian Bolland’s Indomitable Animal Animus

« Even as a youngster reading 2000 AD from its first issue in 1977, it was clear that Brian’s artwork was special. It was the perfect mixture of American-inspired dynamism, a British sense of the absurd, and avant-garde European SF imagery, rendered in meticulous, almost inhumanly perfect linework. It was a deeply seductive style… » — David Roach

As far as I can tell, everyone loves Brian Bolland‘s (b. 1951) work. It’s sophisticated in design yet direct, highly detailed yet clean as a whistle *and* neat as a pin, technically adept, varied but unfailingly his. As a sequential cartoonist, he can be a bit stiff, but as a cover artist, he’s pretty untouchable. For about a second and a half, I was tempted to spotlight his work in our Hot Streak! category, but that would have been absurd, such is Bolland’s high level of consistency and volume of work. So I’ll “merely” feature an even dozen of his Animal Man covers (out of a total of 64, 1988-1993).

After Alan Moore made an unexpected splash with his work on Swamp Thing, the folks at DC scrambled, in ‘have you got a sister?‘ fashion, to strip-mine the UK’s writerly talent pool. In came Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Pete Milligan, Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, and so on…

For the cockiest of these writers, the typical bravura move was to prove their commercial acumen by revamping the most obscure existing character they could think of* (typically, characters DC’s then-editors had never heard of); in Gaiman’s case, it was Sheldon Mayer’s Black Orchid**, and in Morrison’s, Animal Man. As minor characters (a lesson learned from Alan Moore’s Watchmen), these heroes could be subjected to numberless and unceasing torments and humiliations at the writer’s whim.

Created by writer Dave Wood and illustrator Carmine Infantino, Animal Man was introduced, sans costume at first, presumably as he was intended as a one-off, in DC’s long-running SF anthology Strange Adventures no. 180 (Sept. 1965). First known as A-Man, he gained his superhero togs in his third appearance, Strange Adventures no. 190 (July 1966). After a mere five appearances in SA, he virtually vanished… until the second ‘British Invasion‘.

This is Animal Man no. 5 (Winter 1988, DC); logo by Todd Klein. In this celebrated issue, Grant Morrison mashes up the Bernie Krigstein segments of Harvey Kurtzman‘s Bringing Back Father! (Mad no. 17, Nov. 1954, EC) and Alan Moore and Don Simpson‘s In Pictopia! (Anything Goes! no. 6, Dec. 1986, Fantagraphics) then anoints the ointment onto a Wile E. Coyote/Jesus avatar.
This is Animal Man no. 7 (Jan. 1989, DC). Bolland’s tonal versatility is a tremendous boon, his superpower, if you will. He brings to this cover a deft comic touch intended, but sadly lacking from the inside story.
This is Animal Man no. 18 (Dec. 1989, DC), a clever reverse-emphasis homage to one of the great covers of the 1960s, Carmine Infantino (designer) and Neal Adams (penciller-inker)’s Strange Adventures no. 207 (Dec. 1967, DC), winner of the 1967 Alley Award for best cover of the year.
This is Animal Man no. 24 (June 1990, DC). Bolland has a ball redrawing classic Silver Age covers… including issues of Brother Power the Geek, The Inferior Five and Swing With Scooter! The central figure is an old Justice Society foe, the Psycho-Pirate (Mark II in this case), created in 1965 by Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson. The GCD notes: « Cover prominently features several of the key comics that established the concept of the multiverse (The Flash no. 123, Green Lantern no. 40, Justice League of America no. 21). » Oh, you thought *Marvel* had come up with the ‘Multiverse‘? It’s high time you met Hugh Everett. And while we’re on the subject, here’s a touching song his son wrote about him.
This is Animal Man no. 25 (July 1990, DC), a sharp illustration of that old favourite, the Infinite monkey theorem.
First writer switch! Morrison out, Milligan in. This is Animal Man no. 28 (Oct. 1990, DC). Back to front: the Notional Man (with the forceps), the Front Page, Animal Man, and Nowhere Man (as in…)
A bold change of pace, this is Animal Man no. 36 (June 1991, DC). Milligan out, Veitch in.
This is Animal Man no. 41 (Nov. 1991, DC).
This is Animal Man no. 48 (June 1992, DC). At the centre of the gloopy pink monster hovers snappy dresser and fellow animal-powered justicer B’wana Beast.
This is Animal Man no. 49 (July 1992, DC).
Veitch out, Delano in, and a layout change to boot. This is Animal Man no. 51 (Sept. 1992, DC). By now, it’s pretty much a straight horror title.
This is Animal Man no. 54 (Dec. 1992, DC), a striking homage to Henry Fuseli‘s immortal painting, The Nightmare.

-RG

*To be fair, their first eighty-five choices likely had proved unavailable.

**Mayer had asked that his 1970s creation, The Black Orchid, never be given an origin or have her mystery dispelled. Gaiman just aped what Mr. Moore had done (but brilliantly) with Swamp Thing… and made her a literal plant. Bah.

Why the Long face? The Lighter Side of Batman

« The best thing for rich people to do is become Batman. » — Karl Heinrich Marx*

So we’ve got another dour, dark, mumbly, violent, grim ‘n’ gritty Batman movie making the rounds. I’ll pass — I’m afraid that’s not my Batman of choice. But I’m certainly game to provide an alternative view.

This is World’s Finest no. 32 (Jan.-Feb. 1948, DC); cover art by Hamilton, Ontario’s Win Mortimer (1919-1998), just one in a long, memorable series of frequently goofy scenes featuring this heroic trio.
A cute one from John Gallagher (1926 – 2005), twice (1957, 1971) the winner of the National Cartoonists SocietyBest Gag Cartoonist‘ Award and elder brother of Heathcliff creator George Gately Gallagher. It was published in scouting monthly Boys’ Life‘s July, 1966 issue, smack dab in the heart of Batmania. We ran another bit of bat-drollery from John in an earlier post.
This is Mad Magazine no. 105 (Sept. 1966, EC); cover by Norman Mingo (1896-1980).
A pivotal page from ‘Alias the Bat-Hulk’ written by Bob Haney, pencilled by Mike Sekowsky and inked by Mike Esposito, from The Brave and the Bold no. 68 (Oct.-Nov. 1966, DC), edited by George Kashdan. We’re featured the issue’s fabulously batty cover in our earlier tribute to Mike Sekowsky. Bless you, gentlemen — you truly understood what fun meant and what comics should be.
Prolific Argentine cartoonist Vic Martin (in his homeland, he drew the strip “Salvador” for Medio Litro magazine) moved to the US in the early 1950s, crafting a respectable body of work in the comic book field, chiefly for Ziff-Davis, before migrating to men’s magazines and girlie digests. By the 1970, he’d found a home with Cracked Magazine (He handled the Hudd & Dini feature), while also freelancing for Sick and Crazy. Everything but Mad, really. This particular cartoon comes from the March, 1967 issue of Avant Publishing’s “Escapade”. As Pat Masulli is listed under “production” in the masthead, a Charlton connection is more than likely. And speaking of “Leapin’ lizards!“, Martin would later (1973-74) work on the Little Orphan Annie comic strip.
From Plop no. 9 (Jan.-Feb. 1975, DC); Writer unknown, art by Kurt Schaffenberger.
This one’s from Plop! no. 20 (Mar.-Apr. 1976), DC); idea by Don ‘Duck’ Edwing, art by Dave Manak.
Dan Piraro‘s May 21, 1995 Bizarro Sunday strip. Between Piraro and his canny accomplice, Wayno, there have been scores of excellent bat-japes over the years. I must confess that the term ‘bat-bat’ triggers other associations. « To the Man-Mobile! »
This is Pictures Within Pictures, a 1998 watercolour by Mitch O’Connell (not to be confused, of course, with this beloved, near-homonymous fella — yes, I can just hear Beavis and Butthead chortling). The piece is full of references to various Golden Age comics made infamous by Fredric Wertham‘s Seduction of the Innocent. For instance, er… Batman‘s speech balloon quotes from this particular comic book‘s opening splash. On a sobering note, let’s not forget that the 1950’s furore over comic books, as absurd as it may have seemed, still has relevance today.
In a more deadpan vein, here’s the opening splash of Chip Kidd and Tony Millionaire‘s madcap homage to the very earliest of Batman’s exploits, with nods a-plenty to the 1943 film serial. “The Bat-Man” originally appeared in Bizarro Comics (Aug. 2001, DC).
Another most decidedly dynamic duo, Eddie Campbell and Hunt Emerson, assembles to concoct an affectionate, thoughtful and yes, funny look at one of Batman’s most bizarre-yet-neglected members of the Bat’s rogues’ gallery, Lenny Fiasco, aka The Eraser, introduced in Batman no. 188 (Dec. 1966, DC) with The Eraser Who Tried to Rub Out Batman! This sequel, Who Erased the Eraser? also made its original appearance in Bizarro Comics (Aug. 2001, DC), edited by Joey Cavalieri.
Here’s one (June 12, 2014) from Pulitzer Prize-winning (1981) editorial cartoonist Mike Peters (b. 1943). It’s from his unevenly written but always gorgeous comic strip Mother Goose and Grimm (created in 1984 and still going strong in over 800 newspapers worldwide). Like his colleagues Piraro and Wayno, Mr. Peters can scarcely resist a good bat-gag, so this is just one in a crowd of many.
Everyone’s familiar with the famous playground song and staple of crooner Robert Goulet’s répertoire, right? The web is rife with visual adaptations, but this was my favourite, the work of Matthew S. Armstrong and available as a handsome t-shirt.

-RG

*the second-funniest Bat-related thing I encountered online this week is this attribution of a Batman (created in 1939) quote to Marx (1818-1883).

The funniest was the following deeply ironic quote from pathological liar and glory hog Bob Kane: « How can an article about me or the Batman be the true story when I am not consulted or interviewed? »

Haven’t You Heard? Santa Claus Is a Killer!

« Like everyone in his right mind, I feared Santa Claus. » — Annie Dillard

’twas 1982, and DC’s mystery anthology titles were dead or dying (the last one standing, The House of Mystery, had but a year or so left to go), and The Unexpected, published since 1956, was a mere two issues away from cancellation. Latter-day editor Dave Manak had done a fine job with the means at his disposal, wisely engaging Joe Kubert (1926-2012) to grace close to ten issues with his ever-elegant artwork.

This is perhaps the finest of the lot, a wistful, old-fashioned cover that dispenses with most of the clichéd Holiday iconography.

This is The Unexpected no. 220 (March 1982, DC). Pencils and inks by Joe Kubert with extra-fine lettering by Gaspar Saladino (1927-2016), truly a key element of the cover’s visual appeal.
Drive carefully, darling!” Is that woman worried about *everything*? Talk about fretful. Insurance agents must adore her. From the Fairhaven and Bon Marché allusions, one may presume that the events are set in the state of Washington.
To give credit where credit is due, the unexplained bit with Santa’s hand on the phone is the story’s subtlest touch. He’s the one who phoned in the tip — anonymously, one presumes. Santa does not abide off-brand competition.

The issue’s lead, Holiday-themed story, boasts gorgeous art by powerful and versatile Puerto Rican cartoonist Ernie Colón (1931-2019), and it’s unusually well-coloured for the era (not to be confused with well-printed!), in that the shadings convey projected light and ambiance, not merely the prevalent, simplistic colour-by-numbers approach.

The writing, on the other hand…

Santa Is a Killer! is an artless hodge-podge of tropes, a kiddie rehash of Johnny Craig’s timeless “… and All Through the House” (Vault of Horror no. 35, Feb. 1954, EC), dressed up with the done-to-death-and-then-some “That — wasn’t *you*? Then — it must have been the –*choke* — real ghost / Satan / Santa Claus / Carlos Santana / Tooth Fairy / Larry “Bud” Melman!) “twist”. Did I mention that I love the art?

Since we strive to avoid repetition, and as my partner-in-mischief ds has already featured this legendary cover in her How do you like *your* Christmas? post, here instead is the original 1954 Silverprint proof, a colour guide for the printer’s edification and coloured by hand, presumably by EC’s resident chromatic conjuress, Marie Severin (1929-2018). Cover art by Johnny Craig.
It’s a little-known fact that VoH35’s dear, doomed wife’s peignoir was later snapped up for a pittance at an estate sale by a young rake by the name of Danny Rand. Soon, with a few minor alterations, he had himself a nifty (and silky!) crime-fighting ensemble. Just don’t ask ‘is that a ladies’ nightgown you’re wearing?‘ if you don’t want your features rearranged. This is Iron Fist no. 8 (Oct. 1976, Marvel). Cover art by John ‘Booster Cogburn‘ Byrne and Dan Adkins. And though « The Canadian Government has apologized for Bryan Adams on several occasions » (and presumably for Céline Dion and Justin Bieber also), I say it’s high time Canuck honchos proffered their excuses as to cuddly Mr. Byrne.
To give you some idea of how prevalent the ‘Santa as homicidal maniac’ notion was by the 1970s, here’s another semi-famous instance: this is Creepy no. 59 (Jan. 1974, Warren); cover by Spain’s Manuel Sanjulián (b. 1941). A year later, writer-director Bob Clark (Porky’s, A Christmas Story) would unleash his influential Black Christmas.

Bonuses:
The film adaptation of Craig’s “… and All Through the House“, starring Joan Collins, from Tales From the Crypt (1972, Amicus), directed by Freddie Francis;

The television adaptation, from Tales From the Crypt (season one, episode two, 1989), directed by Robert Zemeckis.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: If You’ve Lived Through the Sixties, You’ll Recall… the Tentacles!

« Let’s just say you weren’t born to be an octopus… only a poor fish! »

Salutations on this most diverting day of the week, Tentacle Tuesday! Today, we take a little trip to the 60s… but perhaps not the 60s as you remember them, those who were around back then.

Rip Hunter… Time Master no. 3 (July-August 1961); pencils by Ross Andru, inks by Mike Esposito.

Rip Hunter was created by Jack Miller and Ruben Moreira – the “Time Master” part is explained by Hunter’s invention, the Time-Sphere, that allows him (obviously) to travel through time. Other characters in Rip’s world include his girlfriend, Bonnie Baxter, and Bonnie’s kid brother Corky (who’s being grabbed by a tentacle on this cover). Maybe Corky was spotted as an imposter because he’s wearing jeans instead of yellow pantaloons? Fashion can be quite goofy in some of these far-away, long-long-ago kingdoms…

Page from The Duke with the Creature Powers, scripted by Jack Miller, pencilled by Ross Andru and inked by Mike Esposito.

When The Jaguar gets into trouble with The Human Octopus, you know the Jag is going to come up trumps, mostly due to the fact that he has all powers of the animal kingdom at his disposal, whereas the Octopus has to make do with some unconvincing tentacles and an evil stare. The Jaguar (or zoologist Ralph Hardy, in his everyday life) was created by Robert Bernstein and John Rosenberger as part of Archie’s “Archie Adventure Series”.

This is the last issue of this series: Adventures of the Jaguar no. 15 (November 1963, Archie), with a cover by John Giunta.

Some fodder for your nightmares? Of course!

Who wouldn’t want to become a HUMAN OCTOPUS!…? The Jaguar versus the Human Octopus! was scripted by Robert Bernstein and illustrated by John Giunta.

I believe Hawkman needs no introduction (although I will mention that he was created by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville!), and we don’t have time for one, anyway, seeing as he’s currently stuck between a dragon and some tentacled nest-creature.

Hawkman no. 12 (Febuary-March 1966, DC), cover by Murphy Anderson with letters by Ira Schnapp.
The Million-Year-Long War! was scripted by Gardner Fox and illustrated by Murphy Anderson.

Speaking of Murphy Anderson, he’s a bit of a WOT favourite, so head over to Happy birthday to Mr. Murphy Anderson (though it’s quite far from July).

~ ds

Luis Domínguez (1923-2020): A Farewell in Twelve Covers

« Painting is the art of hollowing a surface. » — Georges Seurat

If you’ll forgive me the venial but gauche sin of quoting myself… three years ago, I posited:

« Luís Ángel Domínguez, reportedly born ninety-five years ago to the day… and still among the living… as far as we know. I like to envision him warmly surrounded by several generations of loved ones and well-wishers, an impish gleam in his eye. »

I found it sadly infuriating that such an important and accomplished artist’s latter-day whereabouts and circumstances were so shrouded in mystery… and largely, it would seem, indifference. The usual story: he didn’t really do superheroes.

Neither Lambiek nor the Grand Comics Database have anything to add on the subject, but a spot of digging turned up that he indeed was still alive until recently, though purportedly afflicted with Alzheimer’s in his waning years. Then I found what may well be his… very basic obituary, placing his date of birth exactly one month off (unsurprisingly, since accounts have long varied) and his date of death as July 1st, 2020, in Miami, FL. Unless something more definitive comes along, it’ll have to do.

I think we can all agree that ninety-six years is a pretty good run, even with the doleful decline near the end. Let’s look back on what’s surely his peak decade in comics, the 1970s. My picks have nothing to do with ‘key’ issues, character débuts or popular crossovers. I’ve judged these on artistic merit, keeping the pernicious influence of nostalgia at arm’s length.

First, a little biographical background! This helpful piece appeared in the pages of Eerie no. 44 (Dec. 1972, Warren), which also boasted a Domínguez cover… albeit reproduced too small.
The folks at Warren were apparently first in North America to recognise and call upon of señor Domínguez’s masterly painting skills. This is Famous Monsters no. 93 (Oct. 1972, Warren).
My personal favourite of his too-few Warren covers, this is Eerie no. 43 (Nov. 1972, Warren).
While Luís had been steadily working on the insides of Gold Key comics since 1967, it wasn’t until 1974 that they gave him a crack at a cover. That was either this one, Space Family Robinson no. 40 or Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 55, both cover-dated July, 1974… (incidentally, the GCD misattributes to him several of his colleague George Wilson‘s paintings).
DC hardly ever used painted covers, but they did keep Domínguez busy as a cover artist. I assure you, this ambitiously-muted cover must have been a printer’s nightmare. This is The Phantom Stranger no. 32 (Sept. 1974, DC), a great issue that features Arnold Drake and (returning to the Stranger after a 27-issue absence!) Bill Draut‘s It Takes a Witch! and a gorgeous Michael FleisherNestor Redondo Black Orchid backup.
This is House of Secrets no. 125 (Nov. 1974, DC). For once, Domínguez also illustrates the cover-featured story, E. Nelson Bridwell‘s Catch as Cats Can!
Then of course, Marvel soon after got in on the act. This is Dracula Lives no. 9 (Nov. 1974, Marvel). I would have picked the even better previous issue, but I’ve already featured it, so you get to enjoy both!
The printed version of this piece, featured as the cover of UFO Flying Saucers no. 5 (Feb. 1975, Gold Key) pales in comparison with the surviving original art, so that was an easy choice.
This issue’s original art also survived, and seeing both versions is most instructive as an insight into production manager Jack Adler’s methods. This is House of Mystery no. 235 (Sept. 1975, DC), and the original can be viewed here. As an aside, this issue’s The Spawn of the Devil, written by Maxene Fabe and drawn by Ramona Fradon, is the only DC horror story I ever found scary. Perhaps editor Joe Orlando should have hired women more often!
Another one whose printed version fails on the reproduction front, this is Mighty Samson no. 31 (Mar. 1976, Gold Key), the title’s final issue. Let’s again rejoice at the original art’s survival!
This is Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery no. 94 (Sept. 1979, Gold Key); I hold that Dominguez’ three finest consecutive covers came near the end of Gold Key’s Karloff anthology and, wouldn’t you know it? … we have already featured the other two. You’ll find issue 92 here, and issue 93 (and its original art) in one of ds’ posts, which also showcases another top-flight contender, which I couldn’t use for reason of… tentacles, Dagar the Invincible no. 11.
This is The Comics Journal no. 56 (Fantagraphics, May 1980). According to masthead notes, « Luís Dominguez’s painting was originally scheduled for the fourth issue of DC’s Digest Comic, “Jonah Hex and Other Western Tales“, but the title was cancelled with no. 3. » The magazine’s larger size certainly affords us a better view of this richly detailed scene.
And as bonus, this mysterious, undated, possibly unpublished cover painting to Edgar Allan Poe‘s famous tale. Acrylic on board, 36 x 50 cm (14″ x 20″). The corners confirm that Domínguez worked from dark to light (which largely accounts for his marvellously luminous colours) and faint lines (on this and other works) indicate that he used a grid to scale up his preliminary sketches accurately.

For more Domínguez delights, just click on this link and explore away! I daresay that I only managed to keep it to an even dozen (difficult!) choices because we’ve already spotlighted many of his finest covers.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Can of Worms

Today we play a game: yes, those long slithery things are wrapped around somebody’s ankle… but are they tentacles, or worms?

In real life, worms (even predatory) don’t really wind around their prey or suffocate them. A biologist could tell us whether they ever ‘hunt’ in huge numbers, but I think we can be fairly certain that the scenes depicted below have never happened in real life. If disbelief must be suspended, I’d rather string it up for a cephalopod invasion, rather than a worm onslaught (ick)… But the characters of this post have had to deal with both kinds of threat. Let’s get on to it!

Worm or tentacle? Well, these have eyes at the end of… of whatever it is… and they seem like individuals, so probably worm. Hey, those who have read this issue before, no spoilers, please!

The Saga of Swamp Thing no. 6 (October 1982, DC). Cover by Tom Yeates.

Let take a look inside this issue…

Page from Sins on the Water, scripted by Martin Pasko, pencilled by Tom Yeates and inked Tom Yeates.

What do you think? These seem to originate from the same source. Let’s peek at the next issue – cephalopod confirmed!

Page from I Have Seen the Splintered Timbers of a Hundred Shattered Hulls, scripted by Martin Pasko and pencilled by Tom Yeates. This story was published in The Saga of Swamp Thing no. 7 (November 1982, DC).

Moving on to our next puzzle! Those are surely tentacles, belonging to some cephalopod monstrosity with a thousand arms:

Hex no. 4 (December 1985, DC). Cover pencilled by Mark Texeira and inked by Klaus Janson.

And yet… the cover story is Worms, scripted by Michael Fleisher, pencilled by Ron Wagner and inked by Carlos Garzón. I stand corrected!

Worms. Grabby, slithering worms. Ugh, please.

Moving on! With a texture distinctly reminiscent of some sort of slug, the following whatchamacallits could be either… but the planet that hungers is using its tentacles, and not worms, to feed. Ping! Correct. This makes the following scene no less disquieting – oh, somebody bring me back to the normal, sea-faring octopus…

This is Battlestar Galactica no. 10 (December 1979, Marvel). Cover pencilled by Pat Broderick and inked by Terry Austin.

Let’s have one last go. This cover so clearly depicts Abby getting grabbed by some underwater tentacled monster, that it regularly appears in tentacle-related searches…

Swamp Thing no. 11 (July-August 1974, DC). Cover by Luis Dominguez (speaking of whom, co-admin RG has a treat for you later this week!)

And yet! The cover is the self-explanatory The Conqueror Worms!, scripted by Len Wein and illustrated by Nestor Redondo. The star creatures of this story are actually pretty adorable, especially their mini-trunks and moist, sensitive eyes:

When somebody killed one of those things, I was seriously peeved.

I hope some of these examples gave you pause, even if for just a little bit!

~ ds

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 27

Yet what had he to fear if this place were evil – was he not an upright and godly man who held no traffic with evil? If wicked spirits had power over such men as he, there would be no justice in it.

“That’s true,”said a voice behind him, “there isn’t.” — The Gibsons*

I must confess I had something else planned for today’s post, but I learned, at the last minute, of the existence of material that would vastly augment my intended post — and I wouldn’t want to drop the ball on that topic. One less piece to plan for the next Countdown, then!

I suppose I had thus far refrained from touching upon DC’s long-running Ghosts (1971-82) — too obvious? Well, here we are. Ghosts, like its presumed model, Ripley’s Believe It or Not: True Ghost Stories (1965-80, Gold Key), was always tame and rather formulaic, but frequently boasted wonderful artwork, and definitely great covers.

Ambiance, ambiance, ambiance. This is Ghosts no. 23 (Feb. 1974, DC); cover art by Nick Cardy.

Within its pages lurks this gorgeous three-pager written by Carl Wessler, pencilled by the mysterious (how appropriate!) J. Noriega, and embellished by the peerless Alfredo Alcala.

Find out more about this Captain Marryat character right here.
The next time you find yourself ’round Norfolk way, you can drop by and visit the actual Raynham Hall and see for yourself if it’s truly crawling with spectres.
This is the tabloid-sized Limited Collectors’ Edition C-32 (Dec. 1974-Jan. 1975, DC); edited by Murray Boltinoff, cover by Nick Cardy.

-RG

A couple called ‘The Gibsons’ won a New Statesman competition in Britain with a 200-worder about a man who grows increasingly nervous while walking down a winding moonlit road. » — From Dr. Van Helsing’s Handy Guide to Ghost Stories, Part III, by Kurt Van Helsing, in Twilight Zone Magazine vol. 1 no. 7 (Oct. 1981, TZ Publications).

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 24

« Strangely, I heard a stranger say, I am with you. » — Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve always had a soft spot for The Phantom Stranger, overwhelmingly in light of his brief original run (6 issues, 1952-53), some quite scarce books* full of first-rate art by, among others, Carmine Infantino, Jerry Grandenetti, Murphy Anderson and Gene Colan, with even a couple of scripts by Manly Wade Wellman thrown in!

A decade-and-a-half after his unceremonious cancellation, the Stranger was dusted off and given another shot in Showcase no. 80 (Feb. 1969), which was gorgeously illustrated by Messrs. Grandenetti and Bill Draut, and the Stranger, fedora, turtleneck and all, was soon spun off into his own title once more. It began well enough, but despite some often gorgeous covers, in no time descended into endless formulaic repetition: the PS makes vague, laughably pompous statements, his skeptic foil Dr. Thirteen fumes and rants, and my candidate for all-time most tedious arch-nemesis, Tala (introduced by Bob Kanigher and Neal Adams in issue 4) almost invariably turns out to be behind the issue’s menace.

It’s surely a minority opinion, but I only regain some interest in the series after its most celebrated creative team, Len Wein and Jim Aparo, have moved on. Scripters Arnold Drake, David Michelinie and Paul Levitz pick up the mantle, along with artists Gerry Talaoc and Fred Carrillo, and the book improves as its sales slowly tank. Near the end, editor Joe Orlando adds The Black Orchid as a back-up feature, and Deadman becomes a regular participant, both inspired decisions, but insufficient to stem the tide.

This is The Phantom Stranger no. 41 (Feb.-Mar. 1976, DC), the series’ final bow. Art by Jim Aparo. While I’m quite underwhelmed by Aparo’s work on the insides, just about every cover he provided, during and after his run, was outstanding.

A couple of years after the book’s cancellation, The Phantom Stranger and Deadman were teamed up again for a Halloween special. Beyond a decent cover, the results were rather… dire. I really, really wanted to like it, but it’s just a hodgepodge of overwritten mediocrity that can’t seem to decide what it wants to be or what its audience is: not scary in the least (even by Comics Code Standards), barely moody, a waste of trees.

This is DC Super Stars no. 18 (Jan.-Feb. 1978, DC)… also the final issue of that particular series. Cover art by Jim Aparo.
The first page, one of the better ones. Script by Martin Pasko and art by Romeo Tanghal and Dick Giordano (who’s actually in the plus column this time).
Sigh. Yet another self-indulgent reference to perhaps the Nerd-fest of the 1970s, the Rutland (VT) Halloween Parade, comes in to utterly derail the story.
Tala is behind it? You don’t say! And then the “creative” team shoehorns itself into the proceedings. How refreshingly outré. An excerpt from the second half of the, er, epic, written by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Tanghal, and inked by Bob Layton.
One of the earlier tributes to the Rutland parade, this is Batman no. 237 (Dec. 1971, DC); cover art by Neal Adams (with presumed design input by Infantino and Cardy). This has laughably been deemed The Greatest Halloween Comic Book Ever, which provides a view into the mindset of people who apparently deem only superhero comics worthy of their attention.

-RG

*helpfully reprinted, though in dribs and drabs and all over the place, through the 1970’s.

Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 2

« Every scarecrow has a secret ambition to terrorize. » — Stanisław Jerzy Lec

I can’t help but feel that a villain who makes time in his nefarious schedule for taking his, er, pooch for regular walks can’t be *all* bad. Likewise for a rogue who appreciates the cleverness and joie de vivre of a raven.

This is The Joker no. 8 (July-August 1976), featuring The Scarecrow’s Fearsome Face-Off!, which was edited by Julius Schwartz (in case the alliterative title hadn’t tipped you off), scripted by Elliot S! Maggin, pencilled by the always-solid Irv Novick and inked by Tex Blaisdell. Cover by Ernie Chan (as Ernie Chua).

In the mid-70s, The Clown Prince of Crime held his own book for ten issues (nine of which appeared at the time… the tenth only seeing print in… 2019!), and its stories chiefly (and rather winningly) focussed on his squabbles with other members of The Batman’s rogues’ gallery (certainly the finest in comics). I haven’t followed the dodgy shenanigans of the back issue marketplace in decades, but I was amused and bemused by the lofty prices that this otherwise-innocuous little series commands. Overflow from his cinematic popularity, perhaps?

I like the way Professor Crane works. Over these past couple of years, this last two panel sequence has probably come to pass in real life more often than one would care to count.
The Joker adopting a hyena as a companion was but a cruel cover dodge, but The Scarecrow‘s pet raven, Nightmare, is present and accounted for, superbly crafty and most efficient, just like the genuine article!
The same page, from the original printing. In closing, a slight editorial note: It’s easy to forget that, unless you kept close tabs on the printer’s work, most mainstream comics were quite badly printed… it’s especially easy to forget since much of the more popular work has since been reprinted from the original art or photostats, and digitally coloured-and-printed. Conversely, when it comes to the work of defunct publishers, and if the original artwork, or quality photostats of same, is no longer in existence or otherwise unavailable, reprinters have to make do with a flawed, not to mention secondary, sources — at best. For instance, the printing of my original edition of this Joker issue is dreadfully out of register. In the wings, things were quickly shifting at DC: as of late ’75, Carmine Infantino (publisher, etc.) and Nick Cardy (art director, etc.) were out, and an absolutely crucial production technician, Jack Adler, was being sidelined. He would retire a few years later. Long story short, Sturgeon’s Law in action, and why I went with the digital colour job. After toning down the contrast a bit. A guy’s got to have standards.

– RG

Hot Streak: Bob Oksner’s Leave It to Binky

« Like its politicians and its wars, society has the teenagers it deserves. » — J. B. Priestley

Here at WOT central, we’re both massive Bob Oksner (1916-2007) fans, and it’s not generally for the writing. For a long time, his multi-faceted talent was used to great effect all over the DC Comics line, but he rarely received the acclaim he so richly deserved.

Take for instance, a peek at this jaw-droppingly generous, downright encyclopedic overview of his lengthy career, and then just try to tell me Mr. Oksner wasn’t even more accomplished than you’d reckoned.

After DC sent up a trial balloon with Showcase no. 70 a year prior, Binky returns after a decade’s sabbatical (an eternity in the teen world!). This is Leave It to Binky no. 61 (June-July 1968, DC). The product was slightly updated (fashions and hairdos) dusty reprints with fabulous new covers.
This is Leave It to Binky no. 62 (Aug.-Sept. 1968, DC). For the record, Peggy is Binky’s blonde girlfriend. Let’s face it, she’s the true star of this book.
This is Leave It to Binky no. 63 (Oct.-Nov. 1968, DC). Lovely inks provided by fellow Golden Age veteran Tex Blaisdell (1920-1999).
This is Leave It to Binky no. 64 (Dec. 1968-Jan. 1969, DC).
This is Leave It to Binky no. 65 (Feb.-Mar. 1969, DC).
This is Leave It to Binky no. 66 (Apr.-May 1969, DC).
During last year’s Hallowe’en Countdown, I spotlighted Mr. Oksner’s fine work on DC’s long-running licenced Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis titles, but also featured his holiday-appropriate Binky cover. For thoroughness’ sake, here it is again: this is Leave It to Binky no. 67 (June-July 1969, DC).
And one more: this is DC Special no. 2 (Jan.-Mar. 1969, DC). Hard to fathom why this one came out at all, its great cover aside.

And then it was over, in this visual idiom anyway: with the following issue (LITB68), DC brought in well-traveled Henry Scarpelli to handle the covers and create the impression that Binky was just one more Archie clone. Over the subsequent four issues, a handful of (pretty good) new stories were mixed in with the reprints. Then came a change of title and a new logo. The book, now simply called Binky, was a full-on Archie ersatz, and lasted another ten issues into 1971… with one final special popping out of nowhere in the summer of ’77. For ol’ Binky, par for the course!

-RG