Friday, April 28, 2006

Journey to the dark side

I began last week's Comic Art Friday by listing five things that made me happy about comics. This week, let's consider five things about comics that really make me grumpy...
  1. Iconic covers. Back in the day, the purpose of a comic book cover was to give the potential buyer some idea of what was going on inside. You could pick up a comic, look at the cover, and get a pretty fair sense of what the story would be about. Today, many covers present a generic pinup of the main hero or heroes that conveys nothing about the story. A few months ago, Marvel Comics published an issue of New Avengers with an eye-catching, splashy image of several characters posing together... and not one of those characters actually appeared in the story. What's up with that?
  2. Variant covers. Comics companies these days are fond of publishing the same issue with several different covers. The idea is that a real collector will pick up one of each variation, even though the story inside is identical in each. But for someone like me, who just wants to read the book, variant covers only create confusion: I don't recognize that cover. Have I already read this? (The current Red Sonja series by Dynamite Entertainment — an excellent read, by the way — does this to me every month.) The day I accidentally buy two copies of a book because of a variant cover, some editor will be receiving a scathing e-mail from yours truly.
  3. Senseless graphic violence. I'm not opposed to violent behavior in superhero comics — after all, these are stories about powerful beings walloping the tar out of each other. But unnecessary gore irks me. DC's Infinite Crisis, which I am otherwise enjoying a great deal, is a chronic offender. So far, we've been treated to seeing a female character named Pantha getting whacked in the head so hard that her skull exploded, and a villain known as the Psycho-Pirate having his mask and eyeballs punched through the back of his head via the eye sockets. I could have lived very comfortably without either of those images, thank you very much.
  4. Books that can't maintain a schedule. The time was that you knew exactly when the next issue of a particular series would appear on your local store's rack. Today, so many books run behind schedule — usually due to an artist who can't meet deadlines — that a series that's supposed to be monthly might go for seven or eight weeks without a new issue. Get it together, people. Time's a'wastin'.
  5. Great artists on the sidelines. Every week, when I open a new comic filled with embarrassingly lackluster artwork, I'm angered that so many fantastic artists aren't working on regular series right now. That such talents as Geof Isherwood, Darryl Banks, Al Rio, Keith Pollard, Arvell Jones, and Ron Wilson (just to pick half a dozen names) aren't penciling a new comic every month, or that Bob McLeod and Bob Almond aren't inking a new book every month, makes your Uncle Swan cry.
Since we're clearly in a bit of a dark mood today, let's look at a couple of artworks that make tremendous use of shadows. Here's a striking portrait of Supergirl, drawn and inked by the Brazilian artist Renato Italo.

In my opinion, Italo is still feeling his way as an artist — his design sense is sometimes a little awkward, as you can see even in this outstanding effort — but I love the power and heft of his inks. This piece is unusual, in that we rarely see Supergirl portrayed in this way — she's one of the sunnier characters in the DC Comics pantheon, even despite her tragic death in Crisis on Infinite Earths 20 years ago. (She's back now, and doing well, thanks.) It's refreshing to see a moodier, more reflective take on her.

Now, let's view the work of a master. Dan Adkins is probably one of the 15 or 20 best inkers who ever worked in comics, and this dramatic pinup of Dynamo, one of the heroes from the classic 1960s series T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (on which Adkins was both an artist and writer) proves that he still has the touch.

By the way, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is a property in desperate need of resurrection. Created by the legendary Wally Wood, along with Adkins and others, for Tower Comics in the mid-'60s, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents remains a fond memory for those of us who were reading comics way back when. Although T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and its related series lasted only about a year and a half, they set the standard for exciting art and fun superhero stories that didn't take themselves too seriously. I'd love to see Dynamo and his cohorts cavorting through the pages of a monthly comic again.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


3 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous Tom Galloway offered these pearls of wisdom...

THUNDER Agents revival's almost certain to never happen. DC got the rights to do a revival and even solicited a first issue, but the rights holder decided that he didn't like it. I've got the impression that unless a revival is almost exactly like the 60s version, it won't get approval.

5:53 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

I've heard the same thing, Tom. Too bad, really. The Agents are wonderful characters, and still have some great stories in them, I think.

I can see both sides of the issue. I understand Mr. Carbonaro's desire to keep the characters in the style and tone of the original books. (For the benefit of those who have no idea of what we're talking about, the rights to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents were purchased in the early 1980s by a gentleman named John Carbonaro, who has made several ill-fated attempts to resurrect the series over the past 20-plus years.) I also understand that we aren't living in the '60s anymore.

I'm just disappointed that there doesn't appear to be a middle ground where the rest of us could enjoy seeing the Agents in action in new stories with new art.

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous offered these pearls of wisdom...

Every single artist you mentioned as not currently getting monthly comic work is right on the money. Bad for all the fans, good for those like me who know they can be available for awesome commissions, of which Geof, Al and Bob have all done for me.

3:52 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home