Grim, Great & Gimmicky Post-Modern Comics Our heartfelt thanks to Howard Bender, whose love for comics is so fervent, he practically is a comic book; to John Morrow, our publisher; and to the creators who graciously submitted to my interrogation and/or posed for Kathy: Laura Allred, Mike Allred, Brett Breeding, Greg Capullo, Mike Carlin, Alice Cooper, Howard Cruse, Dan DiDio, Will Eisner, Danny Fingeroth, Dave Gibbons, Mark Hamill, Jack C. Harris, Steven Hughes, Manon Kelley, Joe Kubert, David Lapham, Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Scott McCloud, Todd McFarlane, Mike Mignola, Doug Murray, Leonard Nimoy, J. O’Barr, Michael Avon Oeming, Dennis O’Neil, Brian Pulido, Joe Quesada, Trina Robbins, Alex Ross, Jim Salicrup, Julius Schwartz, Howard Simpson, Kevin Smith, Louis Small Jr., Mickey Spillane, Dave Stevens and Michael Uslan. We thank those who provided information, materials and/or support: Michael Benson, Alex Brewer, Peggy Burns, Eric Deggans, Fred Greenberg, David Hyde, Ray Kuckelsberg, Pete Maher, Eric Nolen-Weathington, Rich Rankin, Gail Stanley, Martha Thomases, Maggie Thompson, Tony Timpone and Megan the X-Chick. We also thank our wonderful families; my colleagues at the Asbury Park Press; the gang at Big Apple Con (especially Allan Rosenberg, Karen Hollingsworth and Mike Carbonaro); The Comics Buyer’s Guide; The Comic Shop News; The Comics Journal; Comics Scene; Comics Plus in Ocean Township, N.J., and Comic Relief in Toms River, N.J. (support your local comic shop!); and some who lit the darkness: Brian Voglesong, Beverly Squillante, Wallace Stroby, Jeff and Max Colson, Teddy Karropoulos, Aimee Kristi and Keith Roth, Art Scott, Mike and Sue Frankel, Toni Misthos and Adriana Libreros-Purcell, Dorothy Schaffenberger, Bruce Friend, Richard Ponton and mis hermanos siempre, The Burners.
All rights reserved under international copyright conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from Mark Voger, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review. Inquiries should be addressed to Mark Voger c/o: TwoMorrows Publishing. Photos credited to Kathy Voglesong © the estate of Kathy Voglesong.
Published by: TwoMorrows Publishing 10407 Bedfordtown Drive Raleigh, North Carolina 27614
Written and designed by: Mark Voger With photos by: Kathy Voglesong Publisher: John Morrow Front cover art: Todd McFarlane; Frank Miller; Mark Bagley and Art Thibert; Rob Liefeld; Steven Hughes; Dale Keown Frontispiece art: Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti Back cover art: Ron Frenz and Joe Rubinstein; Jim Balent; Dave Gibbons; Frank Miller, Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley; Val Semieks and John Dell
Foreword by Jack C. Harris ——————————————————4 Introduction ———————————————————————————— 6 Harbingers of the Dark Age —————————————————— 8 Crisis on Infinite Earths ———————————————————— 14 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns ————————————— 20 Dave Gibbons —————————————————————————— 24 Watchmen Character Design ———————————————— 28 Doug Murray ——————————————————————————— 30 Batman Dominates ——————————————————————— 33 Dennis O’Neil —————————————————————————— 34 Lone Wolf and Cub ——————————————————————— 40 Sandman ————————————————————————————— 41 Michael Uslan —————————————————————————— 42 J. O’Barr ————————————————————————————— 50 Early 1990s ——————————————————————————— 55 Todd McFarlane ————————————————————————— 56 Jim Salicrup ——————————————————————————— 60 Spider-Man Cover Gallery —————————————————— 63 Jim Lee —————————————————————————————— 64 David Lapham —————————————————————————— 70 Valiant Cover Gallery ————————————————————— 73 Brian Pulido ——————————————————————————— 74 Image Comics —————————————————————————— 78 CONTENTS
The Genesis ——————————————————————————— 81 Revamps ————————————————————————————— 82 Rockwellian Vision ——————————————————————— 83 Rebels ——————————————————————————————— 84 Big Guns ————————————————————————————— 85 Cheesecake ——————————————————————————— 86 R.I.P. ———————————————————————————————— 88 The Death of Superman ——————————————————— 89 Mike Carlin ———————————————————————————— 90 Erik Larsen ———————————————————————————— 94 Howard Simpson ———————————————————————— 98 Defiant, Ultraverse —————————————————————— 101 Mike Allred ——————————————————————————— 102 Scott McCloud ————————————————————————— 106 Diversity in Comics —————————————————————— 111 Alex Ross ———————————————————————————— 112 Mike Mignola —————————————————————————— 120 Dark Age Cliche #1: Makeovers —————————————— 124 Dark Age Cliche #2: Crossovers —————————————— 126 Dark Age Cliche #3: Cover Enhancements ——————— 128 Danny Fingeroth ———————————————————————— 129 Dark Age Cliche #4: Polybagged Editions ———————— 130 Superman #75 Dissected —————————————————— 131 Dark Age Cliche #5: Milestones —————————————— 132 Dark Age Cliche #6: Death of . . . ————————————— 134 Dark Age Cliche #7: Celebrity Creators ————————— 136 Mark Hamill ——————————————————————————— 138 Alice Cooper —————————————————————————— 139 Dark Age Cliche #8: Cheesecake ————————————— 140 Dark Age Cliche #9: ‘‘Spoofs’’ ——————————————— 142 #0 Issue Cover Gallery ———————————————————— 144 Dark Age Cliche #10: #1 and #0 Issues ————————— 145 Joe Quesada —————————————————————————— 146 Kevin Smith ——————————————————————————— 150 Frank Miller’s Sin City ———————————————————— 158 Maus: A Survivor’s Tale ——————————————————— 159 10 Most Important Books of the Dark Age ——————— 160 10 Most Ludicrous Books of the Dark Age ——————— 161 Epilogue ————————————————————————————— 162 Index ——————————————————————————————— 166 CONTENTS
‘‘THE DARK AGE: Grim, Great & Gimmicky Post-Modern Comics’’ © 2006 Mark Voger ISBN 1-893905-53-5 First Printing, January 2006 Printed in Canada
‘‘O Theos na anapafsi tin psihi tis’’
BOOKS ABOUT COMICS can be as much fun to read as the comics themselves. We did our best to acknowledge any and all sources up front in our text, but certainly there are books that have helped to shape our thinking over the years (as we hope to do with this humble offering). Robert M. Overstreet’s The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide has crept in many places that won’t be hard to spot for comic book geeks. Inspiration was also found in the books of Les Daniels (particularly DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World’s Favorite Comic Book Heroes and Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics ), Jim Steranko, Ron Goulart and Chip Kidd; Mark Cotta Vaz’s Tales of the Dark Knight: Batman’s First Fifty Years; Mike Conroy’s 500 Great Comic Book Action Heroes; Roger Sabin’s Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels; Maurice Horn’s The World Encyclopedia of Comics and many others that line my shelves and yours.
MY NAME IS BENEATH THE TITLE, but I think of The Dark Age as a collaboration among four people: myself; my wife, the photographer Kathy Voglesong; my fellow writer/designer Steve Muoio; and my nephew, Ian Voger, who as a high school kid was already an aspiring filmmaker and novelist with some impressive achievements in those areas. Alas, by the completion of The Dark Age, only Ian and I were left standing. Steve died in a traffic accident in 1997 at age 29. Kathy died at home in 2005 at age 42. The world lost two gifted, funny, caring people, both of them tragically young. When Kathy and I started this book, it was as something of a tribute to Steve, who for years was my comic-shopping, conventionattending compadre. When The Dark Age was born as a three-part newspaper series in early ’97, Steve consulted on it via telephone, and it was the last time I would speak with him. Ian was just turning 9 at the time of Steve’s death. In the intervening years, Ian became such a voracious, knowledgeable reader of comic books and graphic novels that I found myself turning to him with those questions and theories I would have bounced off of Steve. It was as if a torch had been passed. As this book was weeks from completion, I lost Kathy, and finishing the project through bouts of tears became, again, a form of tribute, a sacred mission to preserve, protect and present an artist’s final work. So this is a happy occasion. The Dark Age is meant to be a ‘‘living’’ history, in the sense that we watched this period unfold before our eyes; we bought and read the comics as they first graced (or sometimes cluttered) the comic shop shelves; we discussed them and dissected them; we interrogated and photographed the creators. We were there. We’re not all here anymore, but we were there. And we’ve done our very best to bring you there, too. Please join us. — MV
The good, the badass and the ugly “I remember the day Superman died, back in ’92,” you may tell your grandkids one day. “It was in Superman #75. What a beauty! It was polybagged with a poster and a trading card and an obituary and an arm-band and stickers — all for $2.50! Those were the days.” To which your grandkids will look up at you with undisguised annoyance and say, “Polybagged? What the hell is that?”
Yep — it’s been a long, strange trip for comics. Clearly, something significant was triggered in the mid-1980s with the seminal series Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen — something that made things begin to happen again in comics. And happen, they did: The 900-line vote for Robin’s death . . . the blockbuster 1989 movie Batman . . . the recordsetting Spider-Man #1, X-Force #1 and X-Men #1 . . . the rise of independents such as Valiant and Image Comics . . . and, of course, gimmicks, gimmicks, gimmicks. It was clearly an era unto itself, right up there with what we comic book geeks call the “Golden Age” and “Silver Age” of comics. In 1996, as The Dark Knight Returns turned 10, I figured the time was right to look back on this modern era, identify its aspects — and name it. The good: Maus: But what to call it? The A Survivor’s Tale by “Copper Age?” The Art Spiegelman. [ © “Cubic Zirconia Age?” 2006 Art Spiegelman ] No. Just as the modern Below: ‘‘The Dark era shattered many of Age’’ is heralded comicdom’s old-fashin the pages of ioned rules, there was Comics Buyer’s no need to slavishly Guide. [ © 2006 adhere to the tradition Krause Publications ] of naming it after a precious metal. The most appropriate monicker borrowed from Frank Miller’s title as it captured the era’s essence: The Dark Age. In January of 1997, I wrote a three-part newspaper series about the era titled “The Dark Age.” Later that year, the Comics Buyer’s Guide published my article (also titled “The Dark Age”) in CBG #1252. Screamed the CBG headline: “Enough, already! It’s time to finally name this era of unkinder, ungentler comic-book heroes . . .”
WE HAD A NAME. BUT WHAT WAS THE DARK AGE? How would you describe it to someone who wasn’t there? Someone for whom this period really is history? Graphically, comics never looked better, thanks to fantastic strides in printing technology. But lurid form often superseded literate content; the industry may have
reached financial zeniths, but not always artistic ones. With conscience-deprived heroes indistinguishable from their adversaries, the Dark Age was typified by implausible, steroid-inspired physiques, outsized weapons (guns, knives, claws), generous bloodletting and vigilante justice. While heroes of the Golden and Silver Ages depended solely on their wits and powers to vanquish their adversaries, heroes of the Dark Age were not above flaunting a weapons advantage. Their guns got bigger and bigger. It seemed the bigger the guns, the smaller the heroes’ heads. The quality of comic books may have been debatable, but the medium’s growing popularity was beyond debate. Blockbuster movies based on comic book characters offered further proof. Beginning with Tim Burton’s film Batman (1989), comics and movies began to enjoy a glorious period of cross-promotion. Comic book movies were a huge part of the fun and excitement of the Dark Age. After seeing a comic book movie, geeks couldn’t wait to run back to their local comic shop and compare notes on Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, Batman Begins, Steel, Catwoman, X-Men, X2: X-Men United, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Blade, Daredevil, Elektra, The Punisher, Sin City, Spawn, Hellboy, The Crow, Barb Wire, etc. Just about every comic book movie was, in turn, adapted to the comics again — a spinoff industry! Get this: DC’s Batman: Mask of the Phantasm adaptation (1993) was a comic book based on a feature film based on an animated series
The darkest book in the history of comics will never be topped. No amount of blood, entrails, spent hookers, grizzled gumshoes, jittery drug dealers, semi-automatic weaponfire or black ink will ever trump Detective Comics #27.
Because in 1939, no one had seen its like. As opposed to the Dark Age of Comics, when one “grim” and “gritty” psychodrama after another was met by a jaded audience who demanded increasing levels of depravity. (Need reminding? How about a naked Commissioner Gordon tied to a funhouse ride and forced to view giant photos of his likewise naked daughter crippled from gunfire in 1988’s Batman: The Killing Joke? Or a thug raping the dead body of Eric’s fiance in 1989’s The Crow? Or the naked Yellow Bastard binding and whipping a topless dancer in 1996’s Sin City: That Yellow Bastard?) Of course, the Batman’s debut in ’Tec #27 is tame by comparison, but it still Opposite: The wins the “darkness” prize talons-down eternally dark for its bleak tone, its stark, urban settings and mysterious and especially, its influence on so many Batman’s debut in comic books to follow. Detective Comics We call it one of the most important #27 (1939). Art: “Harbingers of the Dark Age” — those Bob Kane. moments in the history of the medium [ © 2006 DC Comics ] that signaled, usually unknowingly, what it all would lead to. Just as Beethoven somehow begat Anthrax; just as Charlie Chaplin somehow begat Paulie Shore; just as Michelangelo somehow begat Mark Kostabi; we can argue that the Yellow Kid (R.F. Outcault’s seminal 19th-century comic-strip creation) somehow begat the Yellow Bastard. Before we shine a light on the Dark Age — which was irrevocably ignited by three groundbreaking series in 1985 and ’86: Crisis on Infinite Earths, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen — we’ll attempt to connect the dots that led to it (and soak in a little history in the process). Following are the Top 35 Harbingers of the Dark Age. ■ HARBINGER #1: FIRST CHARACTER In or around 1896, Outcault’s Yellow Kid — a dopey looking slum urchin in a nightshirt emblazoned with smart alecky sayings — began to appear in the Sunday New York World, at a time when newspapers were just beginning to use color cartoon sections to build circulation. The Yellow Kid is recognized as the first major, regularly appearing character of the comics, making him the spiritual descendant of every comic-book character from Azrael to Zen.
■ HARBINGER #2: FIRST CREATORS’ RIGHTS FACEOFF When Outcault moved over to William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal, World publisher Joseph Pulitzer sued, according to Richard Marschall in America’s Great Comic-Strip Artists. This triggered the comics’ first-ever squabble over creators’ rights (a perennial issue that would be revisited with a vengeance during the Dark Age). The resulting — and puzzling — legal decision allowed both newspapers to publish Yellow Kid cartoons.
■ HARBINGER #3: FIRST COMIC BOOK The Sunday funnies led to the first comic books, which were reprint compilations of strips. The first was Funnies on Parade in 1933, followed by Famous Funnies #1 in 1934 (both published by Eastern Color and edited by Max C. Gaines, father of Tales From the Crypt publisher William M. Gaines). Famous Funnies was the first regularly published comic book, lasting 218 issues until 1955.
■ HARBINGER #4: FIRST SUPERHERO Action Comics #1 in 1938 introduced Superman, the comics’ first costumed superhero. The sci-fi pulps-inspired Superman was created by two eager and unknown boys from Cleveland, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, and published by National Periodical Publications (later known as DC Comics) under the editorship of Vin Sullivan. ■ HARBINGER #5: FIRST BATMAN Batman debuted in the aforementioned Detective Comics #27 in a story titled “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” written by Bill Finger, illustrated by Bob Kane and edited by Sullivan. Kane is credited as Batman’s sole creator, though many believe Finger’s indelible contributions merit co-creator credit.
■ HARBINGER #6: REVENGE MOTIF Perhaps there were revenge-themed origins prior to that of Batman in Detective Comics #33 (1939). But this one — in which young Bruce Wayne witnesses his parents’ murder in the street at the hands of a gunman — forcefully established the revenge motif which was a cornerstone, if not an outright cliche, of many Dark Age superhero origins.
■ HARBINGERS #7-8: FIRST X-RATED AND UNAUTHORIZED COMICS “Cheesecake” and pornographic comics were readily available during the Dark Age, but this was hardly new. The “two-backed beast”
■ HARBINGER #9: FIRST DEAD SUPERHERO The ghostly, greenhooded Spectre debuted in DC’s More Fun Comics #52 in 1940, paving the way for the Crow, Death (sister of the Sandman), Evil Ernie, Lady Death and other Dark Age deadies. ■ HARBINGER #10: FIRST TRUE CRIME COMICS Comic books and trading cards depicting the “careers” of serial killers and gangsters proliferated during the Dark Age, thanks in part to the media outrage they garnered for small-time publishers who were otherwise at a loss to promote their product. In other words, any publicity is good publicity. The granddaddy of all true crime comics was Comic House’s Crime Does Not Pay #22 (1942).
■ HARBINGER #11: FIRST ‘‘SPOOF’’ BOOK The so-called “spoof” and “parody” books that littered comic-shop racks during the Dark Age were the illegitimate grandchildren of E.C.’s Mad #1 (1952), created by writer/artist Harvey Kurtzman and published by William M. Gaines. The early, pre-magazine-format Mad parodied familiar comic-book characters such as Superman and Archie. ■ HARBINGER #12: SUPERHERO MAKEOVER Yes, DC’s Showcase #4 (1956) is credited for reinvigorating the then-flaccid superhero genre and kicking off the socalled Silver Age of Comics. But editor Julius Schwartz, writer Robert Kanigher and artists Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert accomplished something else nearly as profound. They introduced
a new costume, origin and secret identity for an established character (in this case, the Flash) — something which seemed to happen every other month during the Dark Age. ■ HARBINGER #13: AN EARLIER ‘‘DEATH OF SUPERMAN’’ Action Comics #255 (1959) trumpeted “The Death of Superman.” No, Supes didn’t really die in this issue, but does he ever? Action #255 failed to attract the media attention and speculator fury that the identically titled Superman #75 would in 1992, but give it points for being published 33 years earlier.
■ HARBINGER #14: FIRST ALTERNATE UNIVERSE In The Flash #123 (1961), the Barry Allen Flash is entertaining orphans when he accidentally zaps himself onto a parallel Earth where his boyhood idol, original Flash Jay Garrick, can easily be located in the White Pages. Jay, older now than in his Golden Age days, wears gray temples (a condition the Hal Jordan Green Lantern would inherit during the Dark Age). “The way I see it,” Barry tells Jay, “I vibrated so fast, I tore a gap in the vibratory shields separating our worlds! As you know, two objects can occupy the same space and time — if they vibrate at different speeds! My theory is, both Earths were created at the same time in two quite similar universes!” Little did Schwartz, Infantino and writer Gardner Fox realize what a Pandora’s Box they were opening.
■ HARBINGER #15: FIRST “CRISIS” Before Crisis on Infinite Earths, there was “Crisis on Earth-One!” (in Justice League of America #21) and “Crisis on Earth-Two!” (in JLA #22) in 1963.
Somehow, R.F. Outcault’s seminal 19th-century comic-strip character, the Yellow Kid, begat Frank Miller’s Yellow Bastard.
[ © 2006 Frank Miller ]
[ © 2006 current copyright holder ]
had been depicted in comics since the dawn of the medium. Beginning in the 1930s, the so-called “Tijuana bibles” — crudely printed, illegally sold bootleg comic books — depicted the private peccadilloes of such popular characters as Dick Tracy, Olive Oyl, Flash Gordon and Betty Boop, and such reallife celebrities as Mae West, Cary Grant, Clara Bow and W.C. Fields. The celebrity smearing also anticipated the unauthorized celebrity bio trend in comics during the Dark Age.
Solving crises with Crisis on Infinite Earths
IF THE ADAGE “LESS IS MORE” IS WRONG — if, indeed, more is more — then DC Comics’ 1985 “maxi-series” Crisis on Infinite Earths was a lot more. More character crossovers. More character deaths. More new characters. A story that spans from the dawn of time to the 30th century, with visits to King Arthur’s day, the Old West and World War II. And a hot blonde in a peek-a-boo costume. Crisis on Infinite Earths was the opening salvo for the Dark Age of Comics for many reasons — for its obsession with crossover continuity; for its hit list of superhero deaths (notably those of Supergirl and the Flash); for the intense buzz it created; and especially, for its aftershocks, Opposite: Heroes which are still being felt. flail helplessly The creators of the series in the cosmos in — writer/editor Marv George Pérez’s art Wolfman; plotters Wolfman, for the back cover Robert Greenberger, Len of Crisis on Infinite Wein and George Pérez; penEarths #1 (1985). ciler Pérez; and inkers Dick Right: Another one Giordano (then a DC vice bites the dust in president), Mike DeCarlo and Crisis #7. Jerry Ordway — didn’t con[ © 2006 DC Comics ] ceal the fact that Crisis was a goal-oriented enterprise. The mission: Clean up the messy DC Universe, and do it in time for DC’s 50th anniversary. Dennis O’Neil was one DC editor who welcomed the streamlining. “Crisis on Infinite Earths was going on about the time that I came back to DC to take over the Batman franchise,” O’Neil told me in 2005. “That was a case of the thing just having gotten so unwieldy. There were so many different versions of all of the main characters. It was bad storytelling, because one of the things that makes superheroes good is that they’re unique. And if you have six Supermen running around the universe, then if this one gets in trouble, so what? There are five others. “That’s a storytelling problem which is unique to comics. No other medium has ever had to face that.” Wolfman explained the goals of Crisis in an essay he wrote which appeared in Crisis on Infinite Earths #1. “Change, real, permanent change, is on the way,” Wolfman promised readers. “Changes that will affect our top line of heroes. If you think even Superman is immune, you’re in for a big surprise. That’s a promise!” According to Wolfman, the idea for Crisis was born when reader Gary Thompson of Michigan pointed out a continuity gaffe in a letter in Green Lantern #143 (1981).
Born-again Batman Character, and industry, revitalized by series
Above: Panels of Bruce Wayne, Robin, Commissioner Gordon and Clark Kent from Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986). Opposite: A Dark Knight Returns page. Below: A member of the vigilante group ‘‘Sons of the Batman.’’ [ © 2006 DC Comics ] IT’S A BIT IRONIC THAT WITHIN A YEAR OF Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC Comics released two superhero series that proved to be the most memorable of the era — both of which wantonly brushed aside the freshstart continuity so painstakingly established by Crisis. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was set in a vague future in which Batman has been AWOL for 10 years. (Or was it a future? Ronald Reagan is president, after all.) Watchmen was set in an alternate present-day which introduced yet another set of superheroes (and, presumably, yet another Earth) with no connection to the pre- or post-Crisis DC universe. The best laid plans of mice and comic-book editors . . .
IT’S EASY TO UNDERESTIMATE or forget the impact that Batman: The Dark Knight Returns had on the medium of comics. Yes, by 1986, the industry was already well into an upswing in readership and quality. But writer/artist Miller’s powerful four-issue series (inked by Miller and Klaus Janson, colored by Lynn Varley) seduced former readers into trying comics again, and attracted new ones. For the first time — to a lot of these readers, at least — comics reflected the real world. The story of a bitter, alcoholic, directionless Bruce Wayne coaxed back into his old costume became a metaphor for old readers coaxed back into comics. Batman, and Batman fans, were born again.
THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
BEGINNING IN 1979, MILLER’S BRIEF RUN penciling Spectacular Spider-Man won the attention of thenMarvel head Jim Shooter, which led to Miller winning the assignment to pencil Daredevil. Before long, Miller was plotting and then outright scripting the exploits of the blind, red-clad “Man Without Fear.” With Daredevil, Miller first exhibited his penchant for reinventing a superhero by basing him in a no-nonsense reality. Under Miller’s aegis, liberties were taken. One of the most memorable was the introduction of DD’s Irene Adler, foxy ninja Elektra. This approach reached its apex in The Dark Knight Returns, which teamed a gleefully uncompromising Batman with a wide-eyed female Robin and pitted them against a vicious street gang, the Joker and even Batman’s old buddy, Superman. “Batman is as good and pure a superhero as you can find,” Miller told Kim Thompson in The Comics Journal #101 (1985). “He’s actually a good character, as compromised as the idea has become, as corrupted by shifting political attitudes and 50 years of monthly publication. . . . What I’m trying to demonstrate in the Dark Knight series is that superheroes do come from a good idea, by portraying the city in somewhat more realistic terms and showing . . . the way I think things actually happen in society and why they happen.”
‘‘Accessibility and complexity’’
Artist Dave Gibbons on creating Watchmen JUST AS THE CONTRIBUTION WATCHMEN MADE TO the superhero comic book cannot be understated, neither can the contribution made to the series by British artist Dave Gibbons. DC Comics’ 12-issue “maxi-series” of 1986 and ’87, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Gibbons, challenged the way many creators and readers thought about the relationships among superheroes, their loved ones and adversaries — and exactly what goes on behind the masks. In clean, straightforward artwork, Gibbons brought alive the world envisioned by Moore — a world set in what was then the present day, but with cogent differences. Gibbons’ heroes were believable people with complicated emotions rather than the onedimensional costumed characters often associated with the genre. “It might sound immodest,” the artist told me during a 2005 conversation, “but looking back, even I am amazed at what I put into some of those pictures.”
Opposite: Things go terribly wrong in Watchmen #12 (1987). Right: A soonto-be-disturbed statue graces the cover of Watchmen #8 (1986). Art: Dave Gibbons. [ © 2006 DC Comics ]
Q: As the artist of Watchmen, you obviously took your role very seriously. There is so much going on in your artwork, so many little touches — the locales, the set decoration, what the characters are smoking, etc. Were you responding to Alan Moore’s script?
GIBBONS: Oh, yes. It was very much, probably, the best script that I’d ever worked on in my career. I mean, I knew that from the beginning. We obviously had no inkling of what sort of impact it would have, but I knew that it was an extremely well written script. There’s something about working with a writer like Alan. He puts so much of himself into it and visualizes it so clearly, essentially giving the artist a range of things to draw — or not draw. It actually raises the artist’s game.
Q: We take it you’ve worked with writers who weren’t so, let’s say, conscientious?
GIBBONS: (laughs) I mean, there’s nothing worse, as an artist, than being given a script where the writer hasn’t clearly thought out the visuals and hasn’t really taken much time in the writing of the script. It makes it a very hard job to actually rise, yourself, and do something worthwhile. But when you’re given a well written script, really, the pressure’s on you to put the same amount of effort into the artwork.
Q: But Watchmen is obviously not a case of “writer writes, artist draws.” There’s a lot of you in the story as well.
GIBBONS: I did have involvement, even before scripts were written out. Alan and I talked over the whole thing. I designed characters. I had a very clear idea of the kind of graphic look of the thing, the
way that it would be done on the grid. While Alan was thinking a lot about the characters, I spent a lot of time thinking about how the world would be different — you know, different “fast foods,” different fashions, different comic book genres, stuff like that. So, yes, the combination of a wonderful script and a personal involvement from the ground up meant a great deal. It was hard, but there was nothing I ever would rather be doing at the time, you know?
Q: The legend goes that Watchmen began as a vehicle starring Charlton Comics characters. But since you were taking them in such a radical direction, it was decided that you would create new characters that were sort of inspired by the Charltons. GIBBONS: I think DC realized that having possibly paid a fair
THE ORIGINAL NITE OWL
■ COSTUME: Right out of a ’40s issue of Union Suit Monthly.
■ SAID GIBBONS: “One thing that gave me a bit of pleasure was that, when we were casting around for what would become the Nite Owl character, I said to Alan, ‘I made up this character when I was 12 called Nite Owl, spelled N-I-T-E.’ He went, ‘That’s perfect, Dave! That’s the name of the character!’ I still had a sketch of this slightly dopey kind of Golden Age character. We actually used the costume I designed then as the costume of the older Nite Owl (Hollis Mason).”
■ COSTUME: Not so laughable. The Comedian’s Minutemen-era look is Golden Age corny, but by the time he gets to Vietnam, he is a fierce vision in black leather, weaponry and mock-Captain America stars and stripes.
■ SAID GIBBONS: “When it came to the Comedian, all I really had was the name and that he was some kind of military operative in the sense of (author) Graham Greene’s The Comedians – somebody who was a one-man dirty tricks department. I thought, ‘OK. Comedian. Well, he can’t look like the Joker. What other comedian could he look like? I know! Groucho Marx. A tougher version of him. He could have that mustache, which kind of has the Nick Fury vibe to it as well.’ Then we tried him in an olivedrab, army kind of camouflage suit. That really didn’t look very special. And then we thought, ‘Ah! Black leather. That’s what to go for.’ So I drew this character dressed completely in black. And I thought, ‘That’s scary enough, but it doesn’t really look like a comedian.’ And just for fun, I drew this little, yellow, smiley badge on it. Alan liked that.”
From Vietnam to Doug Murray’s journey
THERE’S A REASON MARVEL COMICS’ THE ’NAM — a serious and compelling series about the Vietnam War and a classic of the Dark Age of Comics — rang with such authenticity. The founding and longtime writer of the series was Doug Murray, a veteran of the Vietnam War. With a stronghold of readers made up of Vietnam vets as well as teenagers too young to remember the war, The ’Nam was a surprise hit for Marvel when it debuted in 1986. (The series ended in 1992 with issue #84.) “The only way I can really judge who is reading it is from the letters,” Murray told me in 1989. “The letters seem to indicate that our breakdown is 50/50. About half our readership is composed of vets, active duty Army, people of that nature who are between 25 and 45 years of age. The other half seems to be fairly young, maybe 12 and 14 years Opposite: An old. Kids who knew nothing about the assortment of Vietnam War, became interested due to covers from films like Platoon (1986) and TV shows Marvel Comics’ like Tour of Duty (1987-90), picked up The ’Nam conveys the comic because they’d see them at a the series’ deadly comic book store, and read it and related serious tone. to it because of that. [ © 2006 Marvel “And then we have a small percentage Comics ] of people who are maybe in their late teens now who have parents who were at Vietnam but won’t talk about it. In some cases, they will get their fathers talking by showing them a comic and rattling some old memories loose.” The vet half of The ’Nam’s readership demanded — and appreciated — the attention to authentic detail that Murray and his artists brought to the comic book. “Most of the time, they’re very positive about the authenticity because we try very hard to be authentic,” Murray said. “They like that. If I get a weapon wrong or a patch wrong, I hear about it. It doesn’t happen all that often, because we research it pretty carefully. Most of the response we get is: ‘Yeah, I was there at such-andsuch a time period and it was just like this.’ You know, or ‘Did you hear the story about what happened at suchand-such a place at such-and-such a time?’ Things like that. “There was an issue, #30, in which I used a story that was Writer Doug given to me by a vet who’s also Murray used a filmmaker, Tom Savini. He’s his real-life a makeup man. He was a experiences in medic in Vietnam. He was Vietnam as a there about two years after I springboard for was, and he told me a story a comic book about a duck which I used for series. [ Photo: the whole story in #30.” Kathy Voglesong ] (Savini is responsible for the special effects and makeup
Shakeup in Gotham City
Editor Dennis O’Neil left mark on franchise
BY THE LATE 1980s, YOU COULD ALMOST HAVE considered writer/editor Dennis O’Neil to be one of comics’ “old guard.” After all, O’Neil entered the field in the 1960s, during the so-called Silver Age of Comics. But O’Neil — with his quietly intellectual approach and hippie-ish sensibilities — soon established a stance as a “thinking man’s” writer for the superhero genre. With artist Neal Adams, O’Neil was responsible for one of the most powerful Harbingers of the Dark Age of Comics: the famous Green Lantern/Green Arrow series of the 1970s, which brought gritty realism to comics 16 years before The Dark Knight Returns. As an editor for DC Comics’ Batman line during the Dark Age, O’Neil helmed two of the era’s most talked-about events: “A Death in the Family,” during which readers voted in favor of Robin’s death via a 900-line poll, and “Knightfall,” during which Batman’s back was broken by the implausibly bulky Bane, and his duties taken over by the hissably merciless Azrael. The erudite, articulate O’Neil reflected on the sometimes formidable consequences of messing around with long-standing characters during a 2005 conversation. Q: Let’s talk about the events of 1988. “A Death in the Family” was your brainchild, and it’s something you have struggled with since. First of all, why did this particular Robin — Jason Todd — become a target?
Opposite: You asked for it. Bruce Wayne tenderly removes the body of Jason Todd from wreckage in Batman #428 (1988). Art: Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo.
O’NEIL: It was a classic case of what you hear about in creative writing classes: a character taking on a life of his own. That Robin was created by (writer) Gerry Conway. Certainly, Gerry did not intend him to be a “snot,” but that was kind of what he had evolved into. So we were going to have to write that character out of the continuity.
Q: One aspect of “A Death in the Family” that seemed to capture the public’s imagination was the concept of a vote-in. Robin’s fate was in the readers’ hands. How did this rather perverse idea pop into your head? [ © 2006 DC Comics ]
O’NEIL: Well, we were on a retreat in upstate New York — Mount Mohonk, I believe it was. It was toward the end of the retreat when a bunch of us sort of gathered in a room, staring out the window at the mountains. We had talked about the Robin problem. What are we going to do with this character that was not what we wanted? I came up with the idea of
Batman line editor/writer Dennis O’Neil. [ Photo: Kathy Voglesong ]
Robin, a ‘‘snot?’’ ‘‘That was kind of what he had evolved into,’’ says Dennis O’Neil. Above: Jason Todd demonstrates same in a series of panels from Batman #426 (1988). Art: Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano. Opposite: A powerful Aparo scene. [ © 2006 DC Comics ] giving the readers a vote. I mean, it just seemed like kind of a cool thing to do at the time. I certainly did not expect to be accused of running a Roman circus. Q: So the response surprised you?
O’NEIL: That was probably the biggest surprise for me, because of how seriously people took it. I thought it was a way to have the readers participate in the storyline — not unlike what happens in improvisational theater, for example. And, hey, you know, no real kid died. This is paper and ink, and it’s stuff that people make up at 3 o’clock in the morning in front of computers. But, wow, the backlash was enormous. Q: Not just the backlash, but the media attention.
O’NEIL: Yeah. For three days, I did nothing but talk on the phone to radio guys. The woman who was in charge of public relations (for DC Comics) at the time felt it was part of her job to minimize it. So, I mean, it’s not that we went out and sought that attention. We dodged a lot of it. They, for example, did not let me go on television. I was later grateful for that (laughs). I didn’t want this face to be attached to that stunt — this face that was riding the subways 20 times a week.
Q: Didn’t this episode lead to a bit of professional introspection on your part?
O’NEIL: It changed my mind about what I did for a living. Groucho
Marx once said, “I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member.” I just thought I was a writer and an editor working in an interesting field, a form of storytelling that I found very congenial. But after that (“A Death in the Family”), I realized that, no, I am in charge of post-modern folklore. These characters have been around so long and so ubiquitously that they are our modern equivalent of Paul Bunyan and mythic figures of earlier ages. Which could have been intimidating if I’d let it.
Q: Sure. You could lay awake nights contemplating the responsibility of it all. O’NEIL: Yeah. It’s a job. The advice I always give to people is: Respect it as an art form, but regard it as a job. You’ve chosen to do this for a living. It’s something that you have to get done.
Q: A few years later, the “Knightfall” series opened up more “Pandora’s boxes” in Gotham City. You had to know that sidelining Bruce Wayne would stir up more media inquiry. Were you now intentionally courting publicity?
O’NEIL: No. It was our way to face what had been the elephant in the corner: the idea of a hero who refuses to take life. I mean, James Bond — from Dr. No onward — kills people and makes lame jokes about it. We wondered if our notion of hero was way old-fashioned. We sort of danced around it for a few years, and then finally decided that we would confront it by creating a hero who was a Batman who did not have those scruples.
From Gotham to Hollywood
Michael Uslan never gave up on Batman
“When I was a kid growing up, Batman was it for me. The greatest superhero that ever was. Looking back, it was probably because he was human and I could identify with him a lot more than Superman or Spider-Man. He also had the greatest villains in the history of comic-bookdom. He just had the best.”
— Batman executive producer Michael Uslan
BACK WHEN MICHAEL USLAN WAS THRILLING TO the adventures of Batman, little did he know that one day, he would set in motion a Batman renaissance. With longtime partner Benjamin Opposite: Jack Melniker, Uslan executive-produced Nicholson, Michael Batman (1989), Batman Returns Keaton, Kim Basinger, (1992), Batman Forever (1995), Michael Gough and Batman and Robin (1997) and other Batman cast Batman Begins (2005). The team members are captured was also responsible for the comicsin Jerry Ordway art themed films Catwoman (2004) and from 1989’s Batman: Constantine (2005). the Official Comic It all started with Uslan’s youthful Adaptation of the ambition to contribute to the Batman Warner Bros. Motion mythos. Picture. “I’ve wanted to write Batman [ © 2006 DC Comics ] comics since I was a kid, probably since I was 8 years old,” Uslan said. “Finally, I had the opportunity to do that. That was in 1975; it was a dream come true for me. I had been teaching the world’s first accredited course on comic books at Indiana University. DC and Marvel had heard about it. I was contacted by Stan Lee, and the powers-that-be at DC. It eventually led to me working for DC in a number of different capacities.” Uslan began writing Batman and The Shadow for DC. That dream realized, Uslan developed a new one: “To bring the definitive Batman to the screen. A serious Batman. A dark Batman. The way he was originally intended by (Batman co-creators) Bob Kane and Bill Finger.” After completing law school, Uslan landed a position as a motion picture production attorney for United Artists. “I learned the business,” Uslan said. “I learned how you finance and produce films. I met a lot of the power brokers in the business.” After three-and-a-half years at United Artists, Uslan raised funds and formed a partnership with Melniker, who put together the deals for Ben Hur, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr. Zhivago. The pair entered a six-month negotiation with DC. “I’d worked with these guys (at DC),” Uslan said. “They knew me.” Uslan said then-DC president Sol Harrison told him: “I trust you. I know in your hands you will never let it become a campy Batman, like it was in the mid-’60s” — a reference to the 1966-68 action comedy series Batman starring Adam West.
Comic-book fan turned movie producer Michael Uslan. [ Photo: Kathy Voglesong ]
How The Crow creator J. O’Barr mixed theater, religion – and despair
COMIC BOOKS DON’T COME MUCH DARKER THAN The Crow. The story of Eric — a dark-haired urbanite who returns from the dead to avenge his own murder, as well as the rape and murder of his fiance — The Crow debuted from Caliber Press in 1989 (later to be published by Tundra and Dark Horse). Writer/ artist J. O’Barr imbued the grim, surreal series with an unblinking intensity. The black-and-white comic books became a cult hit — so much so that in 1992, Carolco Studios began production on a film adaptation starring Brandon Lee (son of the late martialarts superstar Bruce Lee, who died in 1973) as Eric. But the following March, tragedy struck on the North Carolina set of The Crow; Lee was killed in a freak accident when a projectile was emitted from a stunt gun. He was 28. The majority of Lee’s scenes had been shot, though, and the film was completed. The Crow became the nation’s #1 film in its first week of release, grossing nearly $12 million. The Crow’s creator, Detroit native J. (for James) O’Barr, got to know Lee during the filming of The Crow. O’Barr reminisced about Lee and the creation of the Crow during a 1994 conversation. Q: The first Crow book came out in ’89, just prior the comic-book awareness bounce triggered by Tim Burton’s first Batman film.
O’BARR: The Batman movie caused me all kinds of trouble. All the printers were doing Batman material, and I couldn’t even get black ink for my covers for a while. They had to use “Midnight Blue” (ink) on them. Everything was geared only for Batman merchandise. Black ink was at a premium then. Now, I hope I’m doing the same thing to Batman. Q: How did the Crow character of Eric come to you?
O’BARR: Basically, I was just playing around with the makeup on the face. I was in England. On the side of a building was painted the three faces of the English theater, which were Pain, Irony and Despair. The smiling face was Irony. So that’s basically where the makeup came from. Physically, Eric is kind of a mixture of Iggy Pop and Peter Murphy.
Q: There is religious imagery, and some quasi-religious verse, in the pages of The Crow.
O’BARR: I tried to use a lot of Catholic symbolism in it.
Writer/ artist J. O’Barr in 1994.
[ Photo: Kathy Voglesong ]
He spawned a movement Meet the new boss: Todd McFarlane THE MOON WAS IN THE SEVENTH HOUSE FOR TODD MCFARLANE IN 1990. No one at Marvel Comics — not McFarlane, not Spider-Man editor Jim Salicrup and certainly not Marvel’s “suits” — could have guessed that Spider-Man #1 would break sales records, ignite speculation fever and place McFarlane at the top of the industry. But McFarlane had to fight tooth-and-nail for this opportunity to write and illustrate the adventures of Spider-Man — and he would not soon forget that often frustrating struggle. Two years later, unhappy with Marvel’s treatment of what he calls the “creative community,” McFarlane organized an exodus of key Marvel artists. These renegades — seven of them, including McFarlane, Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld — formed Image Comics, an act that was meant to be both a swipe at practitioners of corporate oppression and a rallying cry for creators’ rights. For Image, McFarlane produced Spawn #1 (1992), the first appearance of what became his flagship character — a dark superhero with a chain fetish and the comics’ most unwieldy cape. McFarlane discussed his career from Spider-Man to Spawn during a 2005 conversation. Q: With Spider-Man #1, you made that transition from being — quote, unquote — “merely” an illustrator to a writer/illustrator. Why was that was important to you?
McFARLANE: You know, the itch, the creative itch, of writing at that point wasn’t so much that I wanted to be a writer. Because to me, I just wanted to draw. It was being in Opposite: Spidey webcontrol of what I was drawslings in the best-selling ing. The only way I was going Spider-Man #1 (1990). to get there was to go, “Well, I [ © 2006 Marvel Comics] have to make up the story.” Right: Todd McFarlane’s Because every time someflagship character, body gave me a Spider-Man story, Spawn. Art: McFarlane. they were basically writing, I assume, what they wished they could [ © 2006 Todd McFarlane] draw. They were putting their favorite characters in it and their favorite settings and doing their favorite tricks. At some point, I was going, “I don’t wanna do your tricks and your characters and your favorite heroes and villains. I wanna do the guys that I get off on.” And unless I could convince the writer to do it — which I was never able to do — then I thought, “Okay, I guess I have to be the writer, so I can convince myself. I’m gonna have to figure out how to write.” So that I could then go, “I wanna do this guy and I wanna do this scenario and I wanna do this scene and I wanna do this situation.” That’s basically the impetus of all of it. As time goes by, you actually come to understand just how big of a weapon that thing called writing is that you hold in your hand.
The uncanny Jim Lee At home with original and classic heroes
WHEN JIM LEE’S EDGY X-MEN ARTWORK BURST onto comic book racks in the ’80s, fans had not seen anything like it. But within a few years, that’s all they saw. “I assume a lot of the artists who started adapting my style or incorporating elements of my style into their work were doing so because they liked it,” Lee said. “But I think also, because X-Men had become so big and so successful, maybe editors were asking for or seeking out talent that drew in a similar style. That was very flattering.” As well as exasperating. “On one hand,” Lee said, “there were people who were literally tracing drawings I had done, which wasn’t so kosher. “It kind of died out after three or four years, which was good. I think it was too much. It was everywhere. It kind of watered down what I was doing — made it less special, less unique.” A founder of Image Comics, Lee remained one of the industry’s most influential artists. His original creations include WildC.A.T.s and Gen13, but Lee also put his mark on mainstays such as Fantastic Four and Batman. His X-Men #1 in 1991 was one of the best-sellers of the Dark Age. Lee spoke during a 2003 interview. Q: You first came to the attention of the comic book world when you began drawing X-Men. Was that an exciting time for you?
Opposite: The W.I.L.D.Cats gang is all here. Any similarity to the X-Men is thanks to artist Jim Lee. [ © 2006 Jim Lee ]
LEE: That was a very exciting time. I was a huge X-Men fan as a kid. That was my favorite comic book. If I had a lifelong dream, it would have been to work on that title. When the opportunity came to do a fill-in issue, I leapt at it and gave it my all, and it turned out I got the final assignment. Q: Getting that gig must have flipped you out.
LEE: That was a very heady experience. I was still fairly young. It wasn’t that long ago that — I could still remember reading the comics and sitting around drawing the characters on the floor, you know, hanging out with my friends and talking about the characters, making up stories, whatever.
Oft-imitated artist Jim Lee. [ Photo: Kathy Voglesong ]
And here you are, drawing the stories and working with (writer) Chris Claremont.
Q: Your style was pretty unique from the beginning. Was this a conscious effort? LEE: There wasn’t a lot of thinking going on. A lot of it just kind of came from the gut. I was just drawing. I’d drawn these characters so much as a kid. It wasn’t hard or intimidating to draw the characters, because I’d drawn them so much. It was just hard to try to keep up with the monthly pace. But I was still young and I had a lot of enthusiasm for it that just pushed me through on sheer momentum. Q: At the time, did you feel your fame beginning to grow?
X-Men characters Cyclops and Wolverine unleash their fury in Jim Lee art. [ © 2006 Marvel Comics]
LEE: Things started heating up for my career. People started to notice what I was
doing. That was very gratifying. I just didn’t want to get kicked off the book (laughs). So, you know, I wanted to make my deadlines and do the best work possible. It was a funny time in comics. X-Men had always been popular, but when I got on the book, the book’s sales doubled within a year, and tripled or quadrupled in another half-year. Then X-Men #1 sold, like, 8 million copies. Q: By this time, your style defined the era. As you’ve said, some comic book artists seemed to be tracing drawings you’d done.
LEE: But others were definitely taking cues and being inspired by the work I’d done. That was a real trip. That wasn’t really part of the game plan. It just came about because X-Men had gotten so big. Q: What was going on in your life at the time?
LEE: It was a crazy time. I was just married, no kids, and all I did was draw late into the night. And then once or twice a week, my wife and I would go see a movie (laughs). That was it. That was all I needed, honestly. Our studio — me, Scott Williams, who inked me, and then Whilce Portacio, who was working on another “X” book — we worked together in a two-bedroom apartment that we rented out and used as office space. So we were cooking ramen noodles for lunch, whatever. Meanwhile, you know, we’re getting very well paid to do what we were doing, but we literally lived like we were still in college, eating threeminute noodles and ordering pizza late at night and working all night. We’d do the book in two or three weeks, and then it would take a week to recuperate, and then, boom, we’re back in the saddle working the next issue. So it’s really a blur. I don’t remember too many of the details, honestly, because it just seemed that I was just always drawing.
Q: Can you still work that kind of pace, or are those “frat boy” days over?
LEE: I can, but I have better food (laughs). It’s impossible for me to do that. I can do it in concentrated spurts, but I sort of have to get permission from my wife. Like, “Honey, you’re not going to see a lot of me for the next five
Bulletproof career cachet How David Lapham survived being ‘hot’
BACK WHEN THE ADJECTIVE “HOT” WAS BEING increasingly applied to comic book artists in the early ’90s, David Lapham was on fire. It seemed that every book the artist drew for Valiant Comics — Harbinger, Shadowman, Rai — was being speculated on for resale value by dealers and collectors. You’d see Lapham’s books at conventions and on comic-shop racks with wildly marked-up price tags (especially the #1 issues), and on the hot lists (there’s that word again) of trade gospels such as Wizard and Comics Buyer’s Guide. Then, lightning struck twice when Lapham switched publishers and scored newsstand gold for Defiant with Warriors of PLASM. Opposite: Attractive Lapham was officially at the top of young superheroes the field. and righteous wheels, But by 1995, the comics from 1992’s Harbinger industry had taken a #1. Art: David Lapham. dip (evidenced by [ © 2006 Voyager the dissolution of Communications ] many independent Right: Lapham’s publishers and gloppy PLASM art. Marvel’s cancela[ © 2006 Defiant ] tion of at least 20 titles). And so David Lapham was, as the cliche goes, poised for a comeback. At 24 years old. Lapham’s return would be his defining project: Stray Bullets, a “mature readers” series he wrote, illustrated and published through his own company, El Capitan Books. “Being with Valiant at the beginning, and then being involved in the Defiant startup, I learned a lot,” Lapham told me in 1995, on the eve of the release of Stray Bullets #1. “It (starting a comic-book company) is work, but it’s not complicated.” Lapham began his career at Valiant, which was the brainchild of ex-Marvel head Jim Shooter, who acted as Lapham’s mentor. “I came in at the right time, just as they were starting from the ground floor up,” Lapham recalled. For Valiant, Lapham became the founding penciler for Harbinger, Shadowman, Rai and H.A.R.D.
Above: Batman relishes the sting of battle in Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986). From top right: Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Silk Spectre and Nite Owl from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen (1986). [© 2006 DC Comics]
A swishy Supes. Superman #123 (1997). Art: Ron Frenz, Joe Rubinstein.
Thor + leather jacket + ponytail = Thunderstrike #1 (1993). Art: Ron Frenz. [© 2006 Marvel Comics]
[© 2006 DC Comics]
Would-be Batman Azrael shows no mercy. Batman #500 (1993). Art: Kelley Jones. [© 2006 DC Comics]
Future shock. Spider-Man 2099 #25 (1994). Art: Rick Leonardi, Al Williamson. [© 2006 Marvel Comics]
Death be not proud
Mike Carlin didn’t mean to kill Superman Superman #75 editor Mike Carlin in 1993. [ Photo: Kathy Voglesong ]
WHAT LEX LUTHOR, BRAINIAC AND MR. MXYZPTLK couldn’t accomplish with weapons and powers, Mike Carlin did from behind his desk. In 1992, Carlin made comic book history by editing Superman #75, which presented the brutal death of the Man of Steel at the hands of beefy, spikey baddie Doomsday. The heavily hyped, extravagantly packaged book attracted millions of non-traditional readers and necessitated four printings. Carlin and his creative teams on the four Superman books then published by DC Comics — Superman, The Adventures of Superman, Action Comics and Opposite: DoomsSuperman: The Man of Steel — followed up day is just about Superman’s death with an inspired idea. Four done punching Supermen materialized to take the real Superman’s lights Superman’s place: a black man, a teenager, a out in Superman cyborg and a fellow Kryptonian. #75 (1992). Art: In a conversation conducted in 1993 — in Dan Jurgens and the midst of the Superman ballyhoo — Carlin Bret Breeding. spoke about the death of Superman and its aftermath. [ © 2006 DC Comics ] Q: For the record, who came up with the idea to kill Superman?
CARLIN: There are guys who claimed they said it first, but my experience is that since I became the editor of Superman (in 1986), I’ve been pitched a death-of-Superman idea every six months. So it really doesn’t matter. That was the right time to do it. Q: Was the hype calculated, or did it take off by itself?
CARLIN: It totally took on a life of its own. I mean, we wrote it, so I won’t say it had nothing to do with us or our marketing people here. We definitely rose to the occasion when it got large. But there’s no way anybody on Earth can guarantee that kind of interest. (The television program) Entertainment Tonight decides if they feel like bothering with us — we don’t command their
attention. If there had been an earthquake or anything serious in the news, we wouldn’t have had half the success we had. And we know that. Q: At what point did you develop the packaging — the poster, the obit, the stamps, the arm-band and so forth? Was it after you saw how much interest there was in Superman’s death? CARLIN: That was all part of our plan. We wanted to make a big deal of it and give away some stuff. We made that a collector’s set, literally. We did try to keep the option open for those people who just wanted to read the book, by printing a regular edition as well. On Adventures # 500, we added the card toward the end once we saw how many were ordered, because we were concerned, frankly, that stores would not be able to sell them. They ordered so many of them. So we wanted to give a free bonus there. And when you put a card in with a comic book, you have to put a bag on it. Otherwise, it falls out. Q: Did you always know you were going to bring Superman back?
CARLIN: Oh, yeah. Yep. We knew it right from the start. We would have been what everybody said we were if we left Superman dead. Q: Which is?
Q: That day in November, everybody seemed to know that Superman would be back. One DC freelancer told us: “DC isn’t going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”
CARLIN: The biggest surprise for me, personally, was just Face to face with Doomsday how seriously everybody took it. (1992). Art: Jon Bogdanove and Dennis Janke. [ © 2006 DC Comics ] I mean, this is not the first time Superman died. If I thought we were doing it for the first time, I would have been nervous about doing it. It had been done so many times, and we just felt we were going to do a little more in-depth version of it. It became a lot more in-depth when we added the four-Supermen idea.
Q: The four-Supermen concept gave us a black Superman, a teenage Superman, etc. Was that an attempt to appeal to wider segments of the comic book-reading public?
CARLIN: It was a couple of things. It was mostly an attempt to make our story bigger, because once the world got a load of Superman’s death and it became huge, we really felt we had to have a big payoff. We didn’t want to simply have Superman sit up in his coffin and say, “Hi — I’m back!” We wanted to make the story larger.
MEAN&GREEN Image founder Erik Larsen on his alter-ego
AS ONE OF THE SEVEN FOUNDERS OF IMAGE Comics, Erik Larsen’s status as an influential participant in the Dark Age is sealed. But while some of the founders of Image eventually drifted away from the company — or diverted their attention to ventures outside of comic-book publishing itself — Larsen’s unblinking focus on one character emerged as something heartfelt and organic in a frequently plastic time: the fin-headed, greenskinned, no-nonsense cop Savage Dragon. Larsen — who eventually attained the rank of publisher for Image Comics — spoke about creating Savage Dragon and the historic founding of Image during a 2005 conversation. Q: How did Savage Dragon come to you?
LARSEN: It’s something that I set out to do very early on, this character that I created when I was a little kid. So really, to not do it is — I can’t conceive of such a thing (laughs). I’ve gotta do the book. I’m all about that.
Opposite: Savage Dragon packs a wallop in the longevity department. Art: Erik Larsen.
Q: Savage Dragon’s look is a bit more “classic” than his Image contemporaries. Just his green skin alone is kind of Brainiac 5. Who were Savage Dragon’s spiritual parents?
LARSEN: Captain Marvel. You know, Shazam! (laughs) — not Marvel’s Captain Marvel but DC’s Captain Marvel or at that point, Fawcett’s Captain Marvel. My dad bought comics when he was a kid, so we sort of grew up with all these wonderful old Golden Age comics, all this great old stuff. That was it. That was the stuff I wanted to be. Dragon started out as an amalgam of Captain Marvel and Batman and (the animated character) Speed Racer. And then over the years, I sort of lost every part of all of those guys, and it became something else entirely. But you can picture the Batman aspect of it, with the fin being my 10-year-old equivalent of the bat-ears. It used to be a mask, rather than something that is part of his actual head. [ © 2006 Erik Larsen ]
Q: You’ve been doing Savage Dragon for so long, he’s almost like an alter ego for you, isn’t he?
Image Comics co-founder Erik Larsen.
[ Photo by Kathy Voglesong ]
LARSEN: Pretty much. I mean, it’s always easy to just base a character on yourself. It just makes your job that much simpler. You can keep track of stuff a little better if you just go, “Yeah, pretty much, he’s just me.” Q: When Image was formed in 1992, it was you seven guys. Did you all have a very firm mission in mind? LARSEN: Well, the thing is, I think if you ask any one of us, we would all have a different mission than the other (laughs). Because while we were all in it together, we all had our own things that interested us and things that we wanted to do, and our own personal goals. My personal goal was just to do this book for the rest of my life. But not everybody, obviously, had that same goal to do whatever they’re doing forever. So that was my part of it. Q: What were the other guys’ motivations? LARSEN: I think Todd (McFarlane) was more wanting to make his creation (Spawn) more of an icon, something that would endure for generations to
If Savage Dragon’s brawn ever fails him, there’s always his huge gun. From Savage Dragon #4 (1993). Art: Erik Larsen. [ © 2006 Erik Larsen ]
come. He wanted to sort of become the next Bob Kane or Stan Lee or whatever that might be. And then others just wanted to fill the racks with as much stuff as they could create as possible. And others probably were in it for the cash. It was just a combination of things. But the group of us could stand each other long enough that we got together and did this comicbook company. It worked out rather well, I thought. Q: When you were discussing forming the company, one imagines there was a lot of potential for disagreement. The
Good, clean, fun Art of Mike Allred a bright spot in the dark
NO BLOOD-LETTING. NO GARGANTUAN WEAPONS. No Schwarzeneggerian one-liners. No transparent self-promotion. Mike Allred became a fan favorite during the Dark Age of Comics without stooping to any of the above. He did it the oldfashioned way: by telling good stories with good, clean art. Not surprisingly, Allred’s titles Madman Comics, The Atomics and Red Rocket 7 amounted to good, clean fun. His love for oldschool comics — particularly Marvel’s earliest Avengers — shines through in his work. (Could Metal Man of the Atomics be any more early Iron Man-like? Could his buddy Zapman be any more Antman-like?) During a 2004 conversation, Allred was asked what statement he was making with Madman and company. “First and foremost, the statement would be to throw up a big flag, a symbol of my affection for comic books,” Allred said. “As a kid, not for a second did I think that the comic books that we read and enjoyed were for kids. I didn’t feel like it was only ‘kid’ material that I was reading. It just opened me up to all kinds of possibilities. It fed my imagination. And it was so tangible, too — you could hold it and stare at it and smell it. “That’s what is always at the forefront of my drive to be involved in comic books — just this intense affection for it.
Opposite: Madman and cohorts experience interdimensional turmoil in The Atomics #12 (2000). Right: Mike Allred’s flagship hero. Art: Mike Allred. [ © 2006 Mike Allred ]
And Madman is the ultimate figurehead for that, the icon for my affection for comics. He’s the perfect vehicle to pretty much tell any kind of story.” Said Allred of Madman’s fellow wonky costumed do-gooders such as It Girl (meow!), Metal Man, Zapman, Lava Lass, the Slug, Mr. Gum and the Black Crystal: “It’s everything that my career has built towards — just having this very fluid series, to just have the ultimate playground. And to do material which would be appropriate for any kid to pick up and enjoy, which I think is sadly lacking in comics today. There’s very little material that you could give to a kid and have them enjoy or that would even be appropriate for them. “At the same time, it has the same themes and hopefully, thought-provoking ideas and concepts which I’ve always tried to include in my work — accessible, but hopefully, sophisticated at that same time. I feel like I’ve taken
The whole thing explained Understanding writer/artist Scott McCloud
com-ics (kom’iks) n. plural in form, used with a singular verb. Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and-or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.
THAT DEFINITION MAY SOUND A LITTLE DRY, SOMEwhat didactic. But although much of the text in writer/artist Scott McCloud’s 1993 book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (Tundra) — from which the definition was culled — occasionally tumbles into dry-and-didactic territory, the book comes across as anything but. In 215 pages, all in Opposite: comics form, McCloud Great Scott! takes us on a graphic Writer/ artist odyssey that identiScott McCloud fies, defines and as he saw himexplains previously self, hosting unwritten theories Understanding about how the Comics. medium of [ © 2006 Scott comics works. McCloud ] He accomplishes this with an easy-on-the-eyes, cartoony style (“hosted” by a self-caricature) which lends the book an undeniable accessibility. McCloud deciphers primitive cave paintings, Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Bayeaux Tapestry and pre-Columbian manuscripts, making the case that these are early forms of comics. He explains how time flows through comics, how motion is depicted, the use of iconography, color theory and the relationship between panels. The Boston native worked in the production department of DC Comics (“Essentially a day job, but it was great preparation”) before kicking off his own comic book Zot! for Eclipse in 1984. In a 1993 interview, McCloud explained that Understanding Comics took about 15 months to write and draw. Q: What does the word “invisible” in the title refer to?
McCLOUD: Actually, it has a few meanings. I called the book The Invisible Art partially because comics themselves, as an art form, have been virtually invisible in popular culture. I also called it that because I think that the heart of comics is that invisible world between the panels, where audience’s imaginations have to complete a scene.
Right: Writer/artist Scott McCloud in 1993. [ Photo by Kathy Voglesong ]
Q: In your book, you use the word “closure” to describe the process of perceiving a whole by viewing the parts. One can’t quite find a dictionary definition for “closure” that agrees with your usage. Is that an art-school term of which Webster’s isn’t aware?
McCLOUD: That’s an invented definition I appropriated from (media critic) Marshall McLuhan. I’m not even sure McLuhan used it in quite the same way. But because I was entering forbidden, unexplored territory, I actually had to take some liberties and invent a few definitions of my own, including my definition for comics. “Closure” comes as close as any word to describing the phenomenon that I saw in comics.
histories or how-to books. I really admired Will’s example, and wanted to continue that work. When Will’s book came out, people generally accepted it and congratulated him on a job well done, but there wasn’t debate. I think he would have liked there to be more. So I’m hoping to spark some more debate with this book, because both Eisner and I would really like to see an ongoing dialogue about the nature of comics, not just a lot of congratulations and back-patting. Q: Some of what you present in Understanding Comics are hardand-fast facts about the medium, but you also mix in personally held theories. Were you trying to push some personal ideals with the book, perhaps subconsciously?
McCLOUD: Oh, sure. Even though the book is ostensibly neutral — I don’t devote a lot of time talking about how to tell good comics from bad comics — I think it’s inevitable in 215 pages that certain biases and prejudices are going to show through. In the end, it is a bit of a personal statement of where I think comics can go. I choose to see comics in the way I do because that presents the most exciting possibilities. But one could certainly lay an entirely different theoretical framework on comics, and produce very different results. It is a very personal book in a lot of ways. Q: You bring up manga — Japanese comics — frequently in your book. Magna storytelling is vastly different from that of American comics. What are inherent differences between the Eastern and Western cultures that the comics storytelling styles are so different?
Q: You frequently refer to Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art (1992), the first book to take on this tricky subject matter. How did his book influence yours?
McCLOUD: A lot of the ideas for Understanding Comics were already brewing when I came across Will’s book. But Will definitely opened the debate, in a public way, on the nature of the art form. All books before Comics and Sequential Art had been primarily
McCLOUD: Although there are many varied differences between Japanese comics and American comics, probably the one word which sums them all up is “involvement.” The Japanese are masters at involving the reader in the role-playing aspect of comics, rather than telling a linear story in a very detached way. This does, I think, have resonances in the differences between Eastern and Western culture, although I wouldn’t want to generalize too much. There are always exceptions. But for that reason — because Japanese comics are so involving, because you are sucked right into those comics and become a part of the story — Japan has an enormous comics industry. Comics are read by people of all ages, sexes and backgrounds. For that reason, the Japanese comics industry sell probably four or five times as
Above and opposite: More ruminations.
[ 2006 Scott McCloud ]
Capes on canvas
Heroes live and breath in Alex Ross art
WHILE OTHER ARTISTS WERE REINTERPRETING classic superheroes during the Dark Age by adding armor, robotics, prosthetics, high-tech weaponry, goatees, ponytails and — invariably — unflagging scowls, Alex Ross had a different idea. With painstakingly rendered watercolor-and-gouache paintings, and utilizing live models, Ross presented the classic heroes as they would look in real life. In art that evoked Norman Rockwell, Ross faked nothing; every face, locale, “camera angle” and light source rang true. The artist captured the comicsOpposite: Galactus shows reading public’s attention in 1994 no mercy to puny Earthwith Marvel Comics’ four-issue lings in 1994’s Marvels. miniseries Marvels, in which he [ © 2006 Marvel Comics ] and writer Kurt Busiek retold key Left: Ross’s Superman events in the formation of the stands proud in 1998’s Marvel Universe from the point Superman: Peace on of view of the man in the street. Earth. [ © 2006 DC Comics ] Ever since, Ross has steered the superhero genre in a direction all his own with Kingdom Come (DC heroes reconvene in the 21st century, written by Mark Waid), U.S. (a mentally ill homeless man may or may not be Uncle Sam, written by Steve Darnall) and a series of large-format graphic novels spotlighting Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman and the Justice League of America (all written by Paul Dini). Ross subscribed to the wisdom that illustrating a comic book is akin to working in a vacuum, owing to the delayed response to the work. “It’s a very solitary type of pursuit,” Ross told me in 1994. “Not so much the craft of painting that I do — it’s more the intensity of doing the number of paintings it would take to produce a periodical of a comic. “To exist in
The nation (even J. Jonah Jameson) is caught in the grip of FF-mania in Alex Ross art from 1994’s Marvels.
the medium that I do, they (readers) really need to have that kind of material published from you as regularly as possible. The fans don’t have a very long memory. They need to keep seeing you. So you can’t disappear for years on end just to complete one 60-page work. I’d better be able to turn around something once a year. That can very well kill me sometimes, but it’s what I have to do to maintain a certain amount of market presence.” In Marvels, Ross showed recognizable celebrities (such as Patrick Stewart, Russell Johnson, Timothy Dalton and Bea Arthur) “playing” characters in the story. After defecting to DC, Ross apparently abandoned the practice. “Obviously,” the artist said, “I could get away with a little bit more of that stuff then, since Marvel pays less attention than DC does to that kind of thing. But I also reached a saturation point of putting a lot of the hidden guffaws in the background in both Marvels and Kingdom Come. I wanted to wean people off of that in my work. They got to like that almost a little too much. Basically, it’s only distracting.” 1998’s Superman: Peace on Earth opened with a tree-lighting
[ 2006 Marvel Comics ]
ceremony in Metropolis, during which Superman spots a starving girl in the crowd of thousands. After flying her to a homeless shelter, Superman attends the Daily Planet’s office Christmas party in his guise as reporter Clark Kent. But Superman/Kent steals away from the party to the Planet’s “morgue” — newspaper-ese for clipping library — where he takes a crash course on world hunger. Thus begins a journey that takes Superman around the globe. At the time, Ross was asked if world hunger was a big cause for him. “Geez,” the artist said, “I don’t want anybody to be hungry. The greater ambition of the book might be that what he (Superman) accomplishes, what he learns, what he does in the story, is the same as what the book does, which is to shed light on the issue itself. There are millions, if not billions, of people who are hungry. It’s something the average kid, the average adult, is really ignorant of in our modern Western culture. It’s a big thing just to accomplish that feat alone, to put that thought in people’s minds: that you should want the world to be saved from hunger. That you should want to do as Superman does, which is to try to find some solution.” On the 60th anniversary of Batman in 1999, when it came time
Mike Mignola talks about summoning the demonic character
IT’S NOT HARD TO TRACE THE ORIGINS OF the pop-culture smorgasbord that is Hellboy. The red-skinned, stone-faced, trenchcoat-wearing avenger borrows from Captain America (he has World War II origins), The X-Files (he’s a paranormal investigator), the Fantastic Four’s orange-skinned Thing (he has a stone arm) and The Demon (Jack Kirby homages abound), among other sources. Opposite and right: Hellboy was summoned, er, created Mike Mignola’s by writer-artist Mike Mignola at a time flagship character when the creator-owned revolution was from The Art of hitting its stride. Hellboy debuted from Hellboy. [ © 2006 Dark Horse Comics in 1994. A demon Mike Mignola ] conjured for Nazi use but adopted by the U.S. Army, Hellboy (alter ego: Anung Un Rama) grew up to become an agent for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. Mignola discussed Hellboy and another memorable career moment — his quartet of covers for the 1988 “A Death in the Family” series, which presented the reader-approved death of Robin — during a 2005 conversation. Q: In the ’90s, there was a revolution in the realm of creatorowned characters. But yours seems to have caught on without the big hype. Hellboy kind of overtook a lot of his contemporaries among the creator-owned characters that sprung out of that early-to-mid-’90s period.
MIGNOLA: I mean, so much of the stuff that came out of Image — not to say anything bad about those guys as a whole — but there was so much hype and there was so much fanfare around that stuff. Hellboy came out small and certainly, for at least 10 years there, it was relatively steady. I didn’t expand it all over the place. I tried not to wear out my welcome. I just kind of kept my head down and did what I wanted to do. Nobody was more surprised than me when that worked.
Q: Let’s talk about all of the elements you brought into the character. I see some of the Captain America legend in Hellboy’s World War II origins. One of his arms reminds me of the Thing. I sometimes recog-
Writerartist J. O’Barr.
[ Photo by Kathy Voglesong ]
nize B-movie stuff. There can be a lot of humor in the stories.
MIGNOLA: It was always in my mind that Hellboy would be the only thing like this that I ever create. So it really is my dumping ground for everything I’ve ever liked. And everything I like, I want to put in there. It’s like I want to let the audience know that, yeah, I grew up reading old Marvel comics so, yeah, I wanted a little touch of Captain America and that kind of stuff in there. I like certain old movies. I like certain books. I’ll read a certain kind of book and go, “Oh, I’d like to do a Victorian ghost story kind of thing, because I love that kind of stuff.” Or I read some old pulp magazine stuff and go, “Oh, I kind of want to do a story like that.” Fortunately, Hellboy was created to embrace all of that stuff. I didn’t create him just to do a certain type of story. I can literally do anything with that guy. If I want to put him in space, I’m pretty sure I can find a way to put him in space. Q: Hey — Eisner put the Spirit in space. MIGNOLA: That’s right.
Q: With superhero movies, it seems that comic-book fans either love them or hate them on a case-by-case basis. We
have so many expectations of how we think a comic book should be translated onto the screen. What did you think of the 2004 Hellboy movie (starring Ron Perlman)?
MIGNOLA: I was real happy. It hit a really good note. I knew it would. I knew the director (Guillermo del Toro) knew what he was doing. It’s the movie I thought he was going to make. It’s the movie he told me he was going to make, the very first time I met him. Q: What did you hear from fans of Hellboy the comic?
MIGNOLA: I was happy that the Hellboy audience embraced the movie, because it was a little different from the comic. But I figured we’d get that audience — kind of preaching to the converted. The big surprise was that the general public embraced it as much as they did, that it got the really good reviews from the regular media. So, yeah, I think I kind of really got away with something there.
Hellboy battles a beastie reminiscent of Jack Kirby’s Fin Fang Foom phase. From The Art of Hellboy. [ © 2006 Mike Mignola ]
“We’re going to raise the stakes for them a bit,” Carlin told me at the time. “In the old days, if the Metal Men got destroyed, they’d get revived. Why should anybody care about these characters? How can you kill a robot? They’re not mortal. That’s one thing we are going to address. It was too easy to bring them back if they did die. That’s kind of what the story’s about.” Other characters who came and went during the Dark Age included Phoenix, Psylocke, Magneto, Colossus, Elektra, Warlock, Thunderstrike, Nick Fury and the Hal Jordan Green Lantern. Even the death of an ostensibly minor character such as Aunt May was given special consideration. This happened in Amazing Spider-Man #400 (1994), which was edited by Danny Fingeroth. “We wanted to really bring some changes to Peter’s life,” Fingeroth told me in 2005. “This was in the middle of the dreaded ‘Clone Saga’ (a controversial continuity), which has been unjustly maligned in some circles. But it was a part of a symbolic way of showing that things could change in comics and that things really did have consequences. It certainly was not done gratuitously or without thought. Aunt May had been ill many times over the years. It seemed like it worked dramatically and it worked as a part of the growth of the character and of the whole Spider-Man universe that she would go with dignity.’’ Added Fingeroth with a laugh: “I guess it’s no surprise that it was eventually ‘reconned’ (reversed). But it just seemed like a very organic and natural thing to happen to the character, who we believed in and do believe in as a living, breathing part of our lives.” For some characters, it would seem impossible to be “reconned.” DC’s Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1 (2005) ended with the Ted Kord Blue Beetle getting his brains blown out. I asked the man who spearheaded Infinite Crisis, DC’s then-executive editor Dan DiDio, a simple question: Will Blue Beetle’s brains ever be reassembled and put back into his head? “You know what? It’s funny,” DiDio said with a laugh. “If you want to compare, you can
compare superhero storytelling against soap opera storytelling on television. We put so many ills and problems and adventures with this small group of characters, because these are the ones that the fan base identifies with most. So you want to put them through all the ills, because you know the people want to see story with them. “I like to think that in certain cases, the relevance of the death of a character really has a direct impact on the prolonged effect of that death. But you won’t be seeing Blue Beetle or Ted Kord return at any point during my tenure with DC Comics. It’s not the story I want to tell. There’s no need for that. We told a very strong, powerful story about his life. Unfortunately, that story ends with his death. As long as I feel that story was told well and properly, I see no reason to undo it.” Not even corporate clout can perpetuate the death of Hal Jordan. “We laugh over here when we have characters like Hal Jordan,” DiDio said. “Everyone says, ‘Well, Hal Jordan has been dead for 10 years.’ The funny thing is that he’s never really been dead in the DC Universe. If you go through all the stories that DC has told over the last 10 years, you can’t go six months without seeing Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern. That one never stuck, so it only made sense for him to return in some sort of strong fashion. “Everything is about story and character. If you have a good story to tell about how a character dies, then you should tell it. If you have a great story to tell about how that character returns, it better be really good. It’s gotta be better than the initial story that was told.” Come to think of it, when Sherlock Holmes was killed off by his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in 1893, public outcry forced Doyle to revive the great detective. So one could argue that the resurrection of Sherlock Holmes paved the way for that of Hal Jordan — not to mention good old Aunt May. “You’re absolutely correct,” DiDio said, laughing again. “I always say (the ’80s television series) Magnum P.I., too. When Magnum was canceled, he was shot and you saw him walking up cloudy steps, disappearing. Then the network decided to renew it for one more season, and they had to bring him back to life!”
From the cover of Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (1985). Art: George Pérez. [ © 2006 DC Comics ]
Is that a superheroine — or a surgically enhanced exotic dancer?
Comic book geeks are more concerned with checklists than bedpost notches, so it’s no wonder that a cover showing an implausibly busty heroine has never hurt sales. It can get awfully lonely when your best pickup line is: “Wanna see my mint-condition Spider-Man #1?” For fans of the female form, there was DC’s Black Canary and Catwoman; Marvel’s Shanna the She-Devil, Silver Sable and Marvel Swimsuit Issue; Image’s Gen13 and Rapture and Ricochet; Dark Horse’s Barb Wire, Ghost and Dirty Pair; AC’s Femforce; Harris’ Vampirella; Chaos!’s Lady Death; Topps’s Lady Rawhide; Brainstorm’s Vampfire (for which FrenchCanadian beauty Manon Kelley modeled) and Vampress Luxura; Blackout’s Hari Kari; and Broadway’s Fatale. The great practitioners of Dark Age “cheesecake” comics include Jim Balent, Ed Benes, Brian Bolland, J. Scott Campbell, Frank Cho, Amanda Conner, Darwyn Cooke, Holly Golightly (herself a looker), Greg Horn, Adam Hughes, Greg Land, Phil Noto, Gordon Purcell, Louis Small Jr., Dave Stevens, Bruce Timm and Adam Warren. Stevens — who helped trigger renewed interest in ’50s pinup queen Bettie Page by “casting” her in his Dark Horse series The Rocketeer — believes women are more difficult to draw than men. “The female figure is fleshier and softer,” Stevens told me in 1993, “so the forms underneath the skin, the muscle groups and everything, are much harder to get ahold of. You spend all your time noodling with the pencil, trying to find what makes figures work. I think I keep doing it because I want to get it right.” Not everyone applauded the trend. As artist Trina Robbins — an underground comics pioneer and author of A Century of Women Cartoonists — told me in 1993: “If you look at today’s superheroines and the way they’re drawn, they are very insulting to women. The latest Catwoman is a classic example. They’re pushing it like it’s some kind of feminist thing, with this strong woman. But then the art, the way she’s drawn, is unbelievably insulting. The thing that is stressed the most about her are these huge, improbable breasts. It’s terribly insulting to women.”
Vampfire model Manon Kelley. [ Photo: Kathy Voglesong]
Above: Rapture crackles in Savage Dragon #4 (1993). Art: Adam Hughes.
[ © 2006 Erik Larsen]
Right: Jim Balent’s Catwoman (1993).
[ © 2006 DC Comics ]
How times have changed.
In 1959, when DC Comics decided to again regularly publish The Flash following the superhero’s successful revival in Showcase, editor Julius Schwartz was faced with a decision. ‘‘I got the issue ready, and I went in to whoever was the editorial director at the time— possibly Irwin Donenfeld,’’ Schwartz told me in 2000. ‘‘I said, ‘What are we gonna call The Flash? You have a choice of calling it issue #1 or issue #105.’ Because the last Flash — the ‘Golden Age’ Flash — had died at #104. The editorial director said, ‘No, we’re going to put it out as #105.’ ‘‘When I asked him why, he pointed out that there were so many comic magazines on the newsstand that if a prospective buyer came to the rack and saw two magazines next to each other — one which was called issue #1 and one which was called issue #105 — he would reach for #105 because, ‘Hey, man, that magazine’s been going for 105 issues! It must be pretty good. Who knows anything about issue #1? I’m not spending a dime on a magazine I never heard of.’’’ Reverse that theory, and you’ve hit on some of the infernally illogical logic of the Dark Age of Comics. It went something like this: “Since Action Comics #1 (1938) is worth tens of thousands of dollars, then I should buy lots of copies of Pitt #1 (1993) and wait until the year 2048, at which time I’ll become a millionaire!” The feeding frenzy over Spider-Man #1 (1990) solidified the trend. It got the point where just about any #1 issue was selling like ice cubes in hell — regardless of whether it was ever followed by a #2. A startup company like Image Comics reaped the benefits of the trend, since the first six issues it released were, understandably, #1 issues (Spawn #1, Youngblood #1, WildC.A.T.s #1, Shadowhawk #1, CyberForce #1 and Savage Dragon #1). To get on the gravy train, the “majors” had to develop new titles or release miniseries based on established characters — whatever it took to get #1 issues out there. That is, until someone hit on the idea of the #0 issue. Presumably, the logic here was: “#0 issues are one better than #1 issues!” When it came to #0 issues, Valiant had zero restraint. Valiant published #0 issues of Archer and Armstrong, Armorines, Bloodshot, Destroyer, Harbinger, Magnus Robot Fighter, Ninjak, Rai, Timewalker, Unity and X-O Manowar. In 1993, Dark Horse and Gaijin Studios announced Ground Zero, an 11-issue series which would count down from issue #10 to issue #0. The following year, DC Comics rolled out a post-Crisis company-wide crossover, Zero Hour. The five issues of the Zero Hour kickoff miniseries began with issue #4 and counted backward to #0. Wanna hear something sad? In 1994, DC actually published a Detective Comics #0. So even the longest-running regularly published comic book in history was not immune to the trend. But take comfort in the following thought: In 2004, Detective Comics surpassed the 800-issue mark. Yes, there was a Detective Comics #0, but there will never be an Armorines #800.
Sign of the ‘Q’
From indie to Marvel honcho: Joe Quesada
THE CLICHE ‘‘HE’S DONE IT ALL’’ IN THE COMICS FIELD is a bit broad to be applied to many, but Joe Quesada is certainly a candidate. Just consider all that Quesada has accomplished since his humble ‘‘indie’’ beginnings. There is Quesada’s rise as an in-demand penciler (often teamed with erstwhile inker Jimmy Palmiotti); his tenure on DC Comics’ Sword of Azrael; his tenure as a Valiant Comics cover artist (on such titles as X-O Manowar, Solar: Man of the Atom, Ninjak and Bloodshot); his founding of Event Comics (publishers of Ash, 22 Brides and The Legend of Kid Death and Fluffy); his on- and off-screen association with filmmaker Kevin Smith; and his assumption of the throne of Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Jim Shooter, et al., as editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics in 2000. But narrowing all of that down to one career highlight is easy: Daredevil. Despite Quesada’s formidable predecessors — Gene Colan, John Romita Jr., Bill Sienkiewicz, Frank Miller, to name a few — the artist has somehow made the blind, red-clad ‘‘Man Without Fear’’ his own. Essential Quesada Daredevil is the Marvel Knights series he, Smith and Palmiotti produced beginning in 1998, which was compiled into the trade paperback Daredevil: Visionaries (and which apparently influenced the 2003 Ben Affleck film Daredevil). In 2002 and 2005 conversations, the artist whose trademark is his distinctive ‘‘Q’’ signature spoke about Valiant, Daredevil and the state of comics. Q: When you started out in comics, you couldn’t have guessed that one day you’d be editor-inchief of Marvel Comics. What were your career dreams when you first put pencil to paper?
QUESADA: Well, I got into comics later on in life, actually. I didn’t even aspire to be a comic book artist early on. I wanted to be an illustrator and then a musician and all sorts of other things. When I got back into comics at the age of 28 or 29, my major goal was really just to put out great comic stories — to be known for the type of stories that I gravitated to and decided to tell.
Q: For a time, all eyes were on Valiant Comics. Valiant utilized you largely as a cover artist.
QUESADA: I did do some interiors. I did X-O Manowar #0 for them and a book called Ninjak,
Opposite: Daredevil’s life flashes before his eyes, courtesy of Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti art. Above: DD broods. [ © 2006 Marvel Comics ]
Kevin Smith is a comic book guy at heart
MOST PEOPLE WOULD DO IT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. The idea is to become a comic book pro first, and then become a filmmaker. (Hey, it worked for Michael Uslan and Frank Miller.) Because once you join the exalted rank of movie folk, who needs to be slumming at comic shops and conventions? But if you love comics, you love comics, and Kevin Smith loves comics. Smith is the writer/director behind Clerks (1994), Mallrats (1995), Chasing Amy (1997), Dogma (1999), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), Jersey Girl (2004) and others. Many of his films have comic book themes. Opposite: Jay and Despite Smith’s movie success, he estabSilent Bob in their lished himself as an important voice in comics natural habitat, in during the Dark Age, bringing dialogue to a front of the Quick medium that seemed to favor violence and Stop convenience Schwarzeneggerian one-liners. store, from Chasing Smith scripted the exploits of two of his Dogma. Art: favorite superheros: Daredevil and Green Duncan Fegredo. Arrow. Beginning in 1998, Smith wrote Marvel [ © 2006 View Askew Knights: Daredevil for Marvel Comics, which Productions ] was illustrated by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti (and since collected in the trade paperback Daredevil: Visionaries). Beginning in 2001, he wrote Green Arrow for DC Comics, which was illustrated by Phil Hester and Ande Parks (and since collected in the trade paperbacks Green Arrow: Quiver and Green Arrow: Sounds of Violence). Smith also wrote comics based on his own creations, clueless stoners Jay and Silent Bob — characters from his films played by Jason Mewes and himself, respectively (and since collected in the trade paperback Chasing Dogma ). Smith’s superhero books are reverent and reference-packed; his Jay and Silent Bob comics are raunchy and hilarious. In a half-dozen interviews conducted between 1997 and 2005, Smith spoke about the rebirth of comics, the speculation craze and his own history as a comics fan. What comic books did Smith read while growing up? “As a kid, I remember, it was just all Marvel,” Smith recalled. “Everything. Of course, X-Men, Spider-Man. Then I fell out of it for a long, long time, from the time I was about 11 or 12 up to about 17.
Filmmaker and comic-book writer Kevin Smith. [ Photo: Kathy Voglesong ]
“Comics is a medium, not a genre,” writer Evan Dorkin once groused.
Dorkin was expressing frustration at the notion that comics are all about superheroes, and the undeniable prevalence of the superhero genre within the medium. Because after all, some of the best comic books have nothing to do with masked avengers. The old master, Will Eisner, was a proponent of this theory. Though Eisner’s most us character, the Spirit, wore a mask, d be hard-pressed to call him a superWhen you think of Eisner’s Spirit, the thing that comes to mind is the dyed-innk film noir atmosphere of his pages. wo of the greatest practitioners of comics ng the Dark Age both cited Eisner as an ence, and the best works of both ter / artists fell outside of the superhero alm: Frank Miller ’s Sin City and Art iegelman’s Maus: A Survivor ’s Tale. Dark Horse Books published seven voles of Frank Miller ’s Sin City between 1 and 2000: The Hard Goodbye; A Dame Kill For; The Big Fat Kill; That Yellow stard; Family Values; Booze, Broads and ullets; and Hell and Back. Miller’s Sin City is a nightmarish and l lent urban wasteland of scarred cops, zy hookers, exotic dancers, on-the-take cians, crooked clergy, drunks, punks, es, thugs and anti-heroes. Bullets fly, ows shatter, derrieres undulate, blood is IF YOU ENJOYED THIS PREVIEW, CLICK THE LINK d. Let’ s put it this way: If a priest in Sin BELOW TO ORDER THIS BOOK! deserves instant judge, jury and justice, get it, even in the confessional. e gritty tone is not altogether original; r is clearly chewing up and spitting out Documents the ’80s and ’90s era of comics, from most beloved pulp-fiction influences. But THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and WATCHMEN to the “polybagged premium” craze, the DEATH OF r hooks the reader with his stark blackSUPERMAN, renegade superheroes SPAWN, PITT, white artwork. You can’t look away from BLOODSHOT, CYBERFORCE, & more! Interviews r’s high-contrast light-and-shade scenes with TODD McFARLANE, DAVE GIBBONS, JIM LEE, KEVIN SMITH, ALEX ROSS, MIKE MIGNOLA, icularly when he depicts rain); his action ERIK LARSEN, JAMES O’BARR, DAVID LAPHAM, ences are riveting. The cream of every JOE QUESADA, MIKE ALLRED and others, plus a l form Miller has studied — from film color section! Written by MARK VOGER, with photos by KATHY VOGLESONG. to Eisner to manga — is on display. e 2005 film Sin City, co-directed by (168-page Digital Edition) $8.95 r and Robert Rodriguez, was called the http://twomorrows.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=343t adaptation of a graphic novel up to that . Miller certainly laid the groundwork his Sin City pages, which read very much movie storyboards. e best comics always do.
THE DARK AGE
Do you remember The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen? The “polybagged premium” craze? The death of Superman? Renegade superheroes Spawn, Pit...
Published on Apr 10, 2017
Do you remember The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen? The “polybagged premium” craze? The death of Superman? Renegade superheroes Spawn, Pit...