No need to dig out the old Hanna-Barbera VHS tapes – there is no “Jadex” among the Herculoids, at least anywhere outside of the Deitrick household. My Star Pupil and I spent last Saturday morning doing what Saturdays were made for: watching cartoons. We spent a lot of time with the old H/B action shows like “Herculoids”, “Jonny Quest” and “Space Ghost” and once I was able to muzzle the internal critic complaining about the absence of all three Laws of Thermodynamics we had a good time
We were at most seven minutes into our session when it became evident the team needed an extra member bearing a strong resemblance to my Star Pupil.
Things were looking pretty grim for the Caped Crusader in the fall of 1963. The familiar Caped Boy Scout image that had seen him through the Superhero purge of the Fifties1 had started working against him driving sales so low that all of the Bat-titles were facing cancellation. Fortunately Batman was given a last-minute reprieve in the form of new editor Julius Schwartz – the same fellow who had successfully relaunched the Flash and Green Lantern into Silver Age versions.
Julie made some changes – after learning that a simple bat shape was too generic for a trademark he added yellow oval to make it a more complete – and more marketable – logo. Most importantly he instituted a “New Look” for the bat-books by bringing on board comics superstar Carmine Infantino as the penciller for Detective Comics starting with issue 327 “Mystery of the Menacing Mask”. ‘
There were other changes and improvements:
- Bat-themes associates (Bat-mite/Batwoman, Ace the Bat-Hound) were shown the door.
- Costumed super-criminals were conspicuously close to a year ”
- Aunt Harriet replaced Alfred the Butler
- The bubble-top Bat-Cadillac was replaced with a convertible sports car model
- The Bat-signal was replaced by a telephone hotline similar to the one connecting the White House with the Kremlin in real-life.
….but the biggest change was in the stories themselves. Instead of Gotham City serving as the crossroads for every itinerant alien in a saucer or stories featuring bat-uniforms constantly changing colors, shapes or themes Detective Comics now featured (wait for it!) DETECTIVE STORIES! Plot-drived who-dunnits that challenged your intellect and bore up under repeated readings, all of which pulled me into the superhero comics world in major way.
At approximately eighteen months in duration the New Look was a very short phase and was sadly replaced by a camp version reflecting the ABC Batman series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Oddly enough the television show was based on the 1950’s “goofy” Batman image that Schwartz had worked so hard to purge. At we got through eighteen months of a more realistic version and who knows – would Neal Adams have gotten permission for his darker more realistic version of Batman in 1970 if the New Look had never happened? Who knows?
This sketchbook image happened yesterday after I spent an hour or so reading a hardbound collection of Carmine Infantino’s New Look pencils. I have so many favorites when it comes to Batman artists: Dick Sprang, Neal Adams, Marshall Rogers….but in the end Mr. Infantino is my favorite.
1: See upcoming post: “Seduction of the Stupid”
Another page from my sketchbook: Nightshade, a back-up character from Charlton Comic’s Captain Atom book. Sketchbooks are good place to experiment and my books end up with a lot of drawings from unexpected POV’s,
It’s always a challenge to update old characters – I mean how much do you change before they start to lose identity? Added to the challenge is the shallow depth of detail in most Silver Age heroes: comic work doesn’t pay very well now and paid even less fifty years ago. The emphasis was on speed so the fewer wrinkles, seams, belts, tools and such the better and it wasn’t unusual for pencillers to see their work gutted by inkers who omitted detail and resorted to heavy shadow area just to increase daily page rates.
In some ways superhero costuming has hit a baroque – almost Rococo level of excess detail. I think Michael Keaton’s original bat-suit/armor as designed by Jim Ringo for 1989 version of Batman had the ideal degree of detail.
Comics fans tend to divide the market into two monolithic superpowers – DC and Marvel – especially when talking about the Silver Age of the 1960s. However there was a smaller third contender known as Charlton Comics that would weekly duke it out with the Big Two for space on those spinning comic racks. Charlton started out doing television and movie tie-in books but for a short time they had an Action Hero line that gave the big boys a run for their money.
…and the title Action Heroes was a deliberate move to distance the Charlton books from the rest of the market. Editor Dick Giordano had always favored the Batman-model for heroes – regular human beings righting wrongs and facing danger armed with just hard work and imagination rather through the benefit of superhuman origins or equipment. During Giordano’s tenure all the Charlton super-powered heroes were either changed into non-super versions (like Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle) or substantially reduced in power as was the case with Captain Atom.
DC bought out Charlton in the Eighties, so you can still find versions of Blue Beetle and The Question in print, but some of their comrades weren’t so lucky as was the case with The Peacemaker. Billed as “The man who loved peace so much he was willing to fight for it” Peacemaker always struggled to find a home in DC and was finally written out in a recent reboot event. His methods of operation didn’t translate well into contemporary books, but I also think he suffered aesthetically ; there was a logical explanation for his outsized helmet (it housed long range communications and sensor equipment) but I imagine his foes weren’t able to look for long at that particular piece of headgear without starting to snicker…and I personally wonder about the effect a good stiff crosswind would have on that thing.
It’s also hard to draw. I’ve tried my usual update-magic on Peacemaker’s entire outfit, but that helmet is proving to be troublesome….
Tesla Strong, daughter of science-hero Tom Strong and a rugged science-hero in her own right. Tom Strong is a creation of Alan Moore/ Chris Sprouse and appeared in America’s Best Comics, part of DC’s Wildstorm imprint. The books ran through most of the 2000s and are among the best comics of the new millennium.
Additional references can be found at:
Life seems to be dominated by friction between factions:
- North Vs. South
- Republican Vs. Democrat
- Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones
- Marvel vs DC
In that last line up I’ve traditionally lined up with DC, but there was a time (1967-68) when I was a devoted Marvel fan – I joined M.M.M.S. (Merry Marvel Marching Society) not just once, but twice, thought I have to admit the second time around was mostly to get the full-color membership button.
(In retrospect I should have saved my buck as all the button got me was a lunch-time beat down.)
I went through a period of renewed Marvelmania in the mid-2000s, so it should be no surprise that my trip to Manhattan in 2006 would include visiting the site of the Avengers mansion…or at least as close as I could get to that mythical address.
(yep, that’s me in trimmer times)
Enjoying a motion picture at age 9 entailed a lot more than just sitting in the theater – as soon as I got home I’d want to “play” the movie and act out scenes as a way of prolonging the excitement. Reading my Legion of Superheroes books has punched some of the same buttons a movie does but at 65 jumping off the deck while clad in Spandex just isn’t going to happen. At this stage of my life maintaining a link with the excitement entails some sort of creative work and this time around it will mean a cut-paper sculpt.
In addition to the actual construction of the figures themselves I use a lot of paper in preparatory work. I carefully draw each figure/component , then make a dozen copies of each drawing. Then I cut each drawing into pieces I will then use as templates in making individual parts…and those parts will then be assembled into major figures. The drawings you see here depict Phantom Girl, Bouncing Boy and Ultra Boy; I may be adding another figure (Shrinking Violet) to the composition later on if the design can accommodate her.
Despite their common use of visual communication comic books and television shows are not always a good mix. While it is true comic adaptations can work well enough, the product of mixed genres can quickly become as corny and contrived as the classic 70’s SNL skit What If : “What if the pioneers crossing the plains had to fight dinosaurs but the Man from U.N.C.L.E. went back through time to help them out”?
Luckily the DC/IDW Star Trek /Legion of Super-Heroes cross-over book avoids that trap. Jeffrey and Philip Moy have succeeded admirably in blending the intense color and dramatic styling of a superhero book with the late 1960’s visual splash of the original Star Trek series. More importantly Chris Roberson’s plotting and dialog fits neatly into either books’ universe and he includes just enough fan-favorite Easter Eggs from both properties to treat the reader without being patronizing.
…and I will die a happy man after seeing Brainiac 5 and Mr. Spock quibble.
All in all it was a very readable book. I’d planned on stretching it by reading just once chapter at a time, but I had so much fun I got through it all in one night and was left wishing there were at least four more volumes in a series after this one.
The Star Trek/LSH book makes a pretty nifty addition to any graphic novel library and I highly recommend it. If pressed to make a complaint it would be that I didn’t get to work on the project myself (I painted the dealer-incentive covers for IDW’s Wrath of Khan adaptation) As both a Trek and Legion fan I would have settled for $67 and an old hockey trophy for a chance at working on some as cool as this book.
I started reading comics at age eleven and have continued reading since that time – but I don’t necessarily read everything. When I find a good combination of story and art I’ll read a book until the situation changes so when the industry made the big “gritty” change in 1985 I came close to leaving the genre behind.
The Legion of Super-heroes is a two-time favorite. It was one of the first titles I regularly collected and I collected the spin-off Legionnaires in the mid-90s when Chris Sprouse was handling the art. Some fans dismiss that 1994-96 run as lightweight, referring to it as “The Archie Legion” but I am quite vocal about liking it.
…and after a late-night text-duel on the matter with my good friend Mark Angell I came up with today’s sketch.
It was another one of those nights where I felt like I was breathing through a soda straw so at 2:00 AM I finally surrendered and left bed for the studio where I spent an hour or so reading a trade paperback collection of THE LEGION OF SUPERHEROES. Reprints of comics I’d read in the mid-1960s, the Legion stories are set in the 30th century and feature the wonderfully clunky art of John Forte. In my youthful estimation the Legion ran a close second to Batman because:
- The stories drew in both the superhero and science fiction genre
- The stories were about kids that I could readily identify with
- There was such a wide variety of both good and evil characters
However, in some respects that large number of characters could be a liability as well as an asset. Not only could it be difficult for an eleven-year old mind to keep up with all of the interweaving plot lines, I think that in the beginning the rush to pad out the roster gave us some fairly one-dimensional characters.
A prime example is Star Boy, born Thom Kallor to parents living on an orbital platform about the planet Xanthu. While the character was eventually fleshed out and linked to several other notable DC heroes, in the earlier Legion stories his sole super power was the ability to make things heavy, and I’m not talking mother-in-law poundage: Heavy as in up to the weight of a planet.
Hmmm. A superhero that can make things heavy, as in:
- Helping construction workers by making foundation blocks sink into the ground
- Hiding valuable objects by making them so heavy they’d sink into the ground
- Stop fleeing villains by making them so heavy they’d sink into the ground
…and at this point I run out of ideas…Other than the “sinking into the ground” bit the main benefit to Star Boy’s power would be helping Kate Moss to get across the street on a windy day. Even as a kid I couldn’t figure out how he’s managed to stay on the Legion roster with such limitations, but as I drove past a city maintenance crew the other day I finally figured it all out.
It was the stereotypical nine-guys-standing-around-one-guy-with-a-shovel scenario, but that mob was not what caught my interest. It was the older guy sitting sideways out of the passenger seat in the truck, doing absolutely nothing but drinking coffee. That’s when it hit me: The Legion of Super Heroes is a union shop! Star Boy was hired early on and has so much seniority he can’t be “downsized” no matter how limited his powers may be.