Throughout my fifty-four years of reading comic books, it’s hard for me to think of another cover that was as much of a pleasant surprise on first sight than Neal Adams’ cover for The Brave and the Bold #85. This goateed, grimacing tough guy, aiming an arrow out in the general direction of the viewer that didn’t look the least bit “tricky”, but rather looked quite deadly — this was Green Arrow?
The thing is, I actually already liked Green Arrow. Not that he was one of my very favorite characters, or anything like that; in fact, I’m fairly certain I’d never even read a solo tale featuring DC Comics’ Emerald Archer at this point, though that may have been mainly because I’d never really had the chance. (GA had lost his regular backup slot in World’s Finest in early 1964, a full year-and-a-half before I began buying comics; and though there’d been a few of his tales reprinted here and there since then, I’d missed them.) But I enjoyed seeing him in Justice League of America, perhaps at least in part because of his underdog status. While I generally favored JLA tales that focused on the team’s heavy hitters — Superman, Batman, etc. — I also appreciated those stories that allowed the “lesser” heroes their time in the spotlight, the way that Justice League of America #57 did for Green Arrow. I didn’t even mind all that much when the storytellers (writer Gardner Fox and artists Mike Sekowsky and Sid Greene, in this case) subjected the Battling Bowman to such silliness as the scene below, where GA, facing four armed criminals, takes the time to set up a trick shot because… it’s just more fun, I guess? Read More
As I’ve written in several previous posts, I was something of a wuss as a kid, at least when it came to my choices in entertainment. (Oh, who do I think I’m kidding? I was an all-around, all-purpose wuss.) To put it plainly, I was scared of being scared.
So I pretty much eschewed all forms of scary media: horror movies, eerie TV shows, spooky comic books… you get the idea.* That is, until a friend took me gently by the hand (metaphorically speaking) and showed me that a walk through the cemetery at midnight could actually be kind of fun. Read More
I feel pretty confident in making the statement that Neal Adams’ cover for X-Men #58, featuring the debut of Scott “Cyclops” Summers’ younger brother Alex in the costumed hero identity of Havok, is one of the most iconic of the late Silver Age at Marvel Comics. But apparently, not everyone associated with that cover was, or is, completely happy with how it turned out — at least, not in the published version.
…Neal turned in a real beauty for X-Men #58, with a color-held overlay of Havok as the focal point. Alas, Neal’s suggested color scheme wasn’t followed. Instead of the blue that would have been the closest equivalent of the black in his costume inside, it was decided (by whom I dunno, but it wasn’t me, babe) that the Havok figure should be color-held in orange and yellow. Bad idea.
Well, maybe. I gotta say, though, that that orange-and-yellow has always worked for me. I mean, those colors really popped against the cover’s dark blue-gray background; and besides, blue ain’t black, after all. Too bad we don’t have a “blue” version to compare the published version with… wait, what did you say? We do, kind of? Courtesy of the cover to the trade paperback edition of Marvel Masterworks – The X-Men, Vol. 6, featuring Adams’ art newly recolored by Richard Isanove? Oh, okay then. Read More
I first made the acquaintance of Marvel Comics’ X-Men in April, 1968 — one year prior to the publication of the subject of today’s post. — when they made a guest appearance in Avengers #53. That particular issue turned out to be the last chapter of a crossover story that had begun in the mutant team’s own book; and even though I now knew how everything would turn out, I was still curious enough about the characters and situations to go back and pick up the preceding chapter in that same month’s issue of X-Men (and even to buy the issue before that, when the opportunity presented itself). But though I enjoyed those two comics well enough, I wasn’t taken enough with either of them to keep following the series. As I wrote in my X-Men #45 post last year, that may have been partly due to the somewhat atypical circumstances surrounding the book at the time I sampled it. Marvel had then just recently decided to start downplaying the team concept in the series’ cover designs, in favor of spotlighting the individual members (or, in a few cases, major story events); a decision that was soon mirrored in the stories themselves, as the team actually broke up in the issue immediately following the Avengers crossover, #46. In addition, I was almost certainly influenced in my decision to pass on X-Men (at least for the time being), by my lack of enthusiasm for the competent but underwhelming art that then filled the title’s pages, by the likes of Don Heck and Werner Roth.
Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my general attitude of indifference to Marvel’s Merry Mutants, as, by virtually all accounts, the title was the publisher’s worst selling at the time — if not yet right on the edge of cancellation, then still uncomfortably close to it. Which is why, when Neal Adams — the hottest young artist at Marvel’s main competitor, DC Comics — came to Marvel expressing an interest in doing some work for them, and editor-in-chief Stan Lee gave him his choice of assignments… Adams chose to work on X-Men. Read More
As I’ve mentioned n a number of previous posts, my young comics-reading self of a half century or more ago had rather conservative tastes. All these years later, that’s my best explanation for why and how I missed out on virtually all the new DC comic book titles that came out in the years 1967 and 1968, in what comics historians Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs would later call “The DC Experiment”. This sudden onrush of new series, most but not all of which launched with try-outs in DC’s Showcase title, roughly coincided with the ascent of former freelance artist Carmine Infantino to an executive role at the publisher. The push was an effort on Infantino’s part to recover market share DC had lost to the ascendancy of upstart rival Marvel on one hand, and the ebbing of “Batmania”-fueled sales on the other, by coming up with something new — preferably, a lot of somethings. Read More
As of January, 1969, The Spectre was one of only two DC Comics titles I was still buying regularly (the other one was Justice League of America) — or maybe I should say I was trying to buy them regularly. Somehow, I managed to miss Spectre #8 on the stands — and since the book only came out bi-monthly, that meant that I hadn’t spent any real quality time with the Ghostly Guardian since the previous September. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem in terms of picking up where I’d left off, storywise (though it was always irksome to miss an issue, of course), because Spectre — like most other DC titles of this era — had very little in the way of issue-to-issue continuity. That wasn’t entirely the case with this issue, however, as we’ll see in a bit. Read More
December, 1968, saw the publication of the fourth issue of Neal Adams and Bob Haney’s run on Brave and the Bold — a partnership that had begun with the duo’s “The Track of the Hook” some six months earlier, and which was gradually evolving the image of Batman towards a darker, more mysterious vision, one closer to how he’d originally been concerned by Bob Kane and Bill Finger thirty years before. That vision was slowly becoming established as the proper take on the Caped Crusader in the minds of comics pros as well as fans (though there was as yet little evidence of its influence in the other series in which Batman regularly appeared). And while this emerging new direction for Batman was inarguably driven almost entirely by the artistic efforts of Adams, Haney’s scripts — more grounded and serious than most of his earlier work with the character in BatB, which he’d produced during the TV show-inspired “camp” era — were consistent with the visual tone set by Adams’ drawings, and usually managed to carry their share of the weight in the ongoing enterprise of re-imagining DC Comics’ Darknight Detective. That was true even in the context of a story like “The Sleepwalker from the Sea!”, which brought one of the publisher’s more fanciful heroes into the increasingly gritty urban milieu of Gotham City. Read More
By September, 1968, when the subject of today’s post came out, I was buying The Avengers semi-regularly. Of course, “semi” literally means “half” (at least in the original Latin) — which is my way of saying that though I’d bought issues #53, #56, and the 1968 Annual, I’d skipped, or at least missed, issues #54, #55, and #57. So, not only did my eleven-year-old self miss out on the debut of the Vision (in #57), but I was also completely in the dark about the malevolent robot who’d allegedly created him, Ultron-5, introduced in issues #54 and #55 as the mysterious leader of the “new” Masters of Evil.
Thus, when I came across Avengers #58 in the spinner rack, I may have been momentarily daunted. Even if I had no obvious way of knowing that this issue tied into the Masters of Evil storyline from several months back, it was clear from the cover that the story was a direct follow-up to the previous issue’s Vision tale.
But the cover also made it crystal clear that the book featured appearances by Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor — the Avengers’ “Big Three”, whom series writer Roy Thomas wasn’t allowed to use as regular team members by the fiat of editor Stan Lee, but whom he nevertheless shoehorned into the book every chance he got — and I had been conditioned by now to recognize this as being something of a special event (if not necessarily a rare one). And, in the end, that must have sold me. I’d buy the book, and trust that the creative team — which included penciler John Buscema and inker George Klein, in addition to Thomas — would catch me up. Read More
1968 was a watershed year for my first favorite comic book, Justice League of America, though I don’t think that my then eleven-year-old self fully realized that at the time. Sure, artist Mike Sekowsky — who’d drawn every single issue since I’d started buying the series three years before, as well as every earlier JLA story I’d seen reprinted in DC Comics’ “80-Page Giants” — had left the book with issue #63, with Dick Dillin coming in as penciler starting with the following issue. And Gardner Fox, who’d written every League story I’d ever read, was gone as well, just two issues later. But Sid Greene was still inking the book (for now), so it still looked very much the same* (to my young and unsophisticated eye, at least). But, even with both Greene and (more importantly) editor Julius Schwartz still in place, there had most definitely been a changing of the guard; and JLA #66 represented the beginning of a new era — whether I knew it or not. Read More
The topic of today’s post is, I believe, one of the most important single comic books in the evolution of Batman to appear during the character’s nearly eighty-year history — probably ranking in the top five or so such comics. Chronologically speaking, it’s certainly the most important Batman comic that DC Comics had published since 1964’s Detective Comics #327, the issue in which editor Julius Schwartz and artist Carmine Infantino debuted a “New Look” for the Caped Crusader — and I think that a strong case can be made that there wouldn’t be another single Bat-book quite so significant until the publication of the first installment of Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight, in 1986.
That’s because “The Track of the Hook”, written by Bob Haney and illustrated by Neal Adams, serves as the clearest point of origin for the most thorough overhaul ever of one of comics’ most iconic heroes — an overhaul that has often been called a return to the character’s original 1939 roots, but is probably more accurately viewed as an approach based on what comics writer Denny O’Neil once described as “remembering how we thought it should have been” [emphasis mine]. It was an approach which returned an air of mystery, a touch of noir, to Batman and his milieu — one which did indeed recover visual and thematic elements that had been present, or at least implicit, in the character’s earliest published adventures, but which explored and elaborated on those elements in a more sophisticated fashion than readers had ever seen before. And it all started with Brave and the Bold #79, and the art of Neal Adams. Read More