.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Thursday, August 18, 2005

 

1975


That was the year I discovered comics. First with Harveys--Richie Rich, Hot Stuff, Stumbo the Giant--but within a few months, I was on to the superheroes I had seen on afternoon TV reruns. My tastes in capes were catholic, and my parents indulgent, so I pretty much cleaned out the spinner rack every week. Mainstream comics in 1975 were at something of a creative nadir, exhausted after Marvel's innovations of the 1960s and DC's experiments with "relevance" just a few years earlier. Luckily, I was four years old, and my critical faculties hadn't formed. (Thanks to the comics, of course, they were probably permanently damaged.) I thought these comics were uniformly awesome. Even today, seeing the covers of those first few books I got makes me want to write horribly self-indulgent posts like this. One of the best is this Nick Cardy cover for Action #444. There's a super-hero guest-star, a shocking dilemma, word baloons, caption boxes, back-up features, a satisfyingly fat logo strip, and a company logo promising an entire line of "Super-Stars" beyond the pages of this one magazine. In short, it blew my fucking mind. And the color palatte is akin to early 1970s rock and roll production--things are a lot slicker today, but all the computers in the world can't duplicate the feel of Rod Stewart's "Gasoline Alley", Elton John's "Tumbleweed Connection" or the colors of a 1975 DC comic book cover. In short order I had discovered Jim Aparo's Batman, Ross Andru's Spider-Man and that was it. I was in for life.

Comments:
AUGH! AUGH! AUGH! 1974? A nadir for superheroes? I say thee nay, True Believer!

Superhero comics were entering their best era EVER in 1974, or already there. Why? Two words -- Steve Englehart. This is also the era where Steve Gerber started warming up, and Jim Starlin was getting his tools sharpened up, too. Or maybe th ey'd already started. I do know that the early 70s gave us the BEST superhero stories ever at Marvel, and then, in 1976, we got the best superhero stories ever at DC, when Englehart and Gerber briefly moved over there.

Were the 60s good? Sure. But the 70s, up through around 1977, were much, much better. They've never been equalled, at least, not for superheroes as three dimensional icons. Now, Moore and his imitators have done some very good work in the Modern Age, but their best is all taking 3D or 2D heroes and making them 4D... and when you do that, you lose some of the essential childish goofiness of the superhero, which seems to me to be a problem with the approach.
 
I'll concede the point. I didn't have Englehart, Starlin or the wonderful Gerber on my mind back when I wrote this. I was thinking more of comics like Irv Novick's Flash, Ernie Chua's Batman, etc. No question funy little series like Warlock, Defenders, Howard the Duck and Tomb of Dracula are some of the most entertaining super-hero comics ever.
 
Erm. Well, Irv Novick's Flash looked terrible, I grant you, but I think of those days as being 'Cary Bates' Flash. Mr. Bates was a wonderful writer, saddled with a lot of gimmicky 2D characters whose powers made them impossible to plot realistically or even intelligently. Yet at the same time, Bates was a master of the convoluted plot device story, and he managed to churn out entirely original, completely whacked out stories in which basically omnipotent characters like Superman and the Flash were actually challenged by something, and had to solve it in an interesting way, every month for years and years and years and years. And he did it with some pretty stellar dialogue and a wonderful talent for economically writing concise expository captions, too.

It was by no means 4D storytelling, or even 3D, and Modern Age fans, or even fans of Marvel's Silver Age 3D Universe, will for obvious reasons sneer at this stuff, and I can't really blame them... fans of that stuff expect certain elements in their comic book stories, and 2D superheroics just isn't going to satisfy. However, Bates' work in this era is a fantastic tutorial to the wannabe comics writer on plot construction and providing the reader seamlessly with really huge amounts of complex data. Those are writing techniques that never go out of style, and nobody ever did it better than Cary Bates.

The real stars of the 1970s, though, were Englehart's runs on AVENGERS, DR. STRANGE, HULK, and CAPTAIN MARVEL, and, later, on DETECTIVE and MR. MIRACLE. If you haven't read that stuff, I strongly recommend you try to find it, especially the DR. STRANGE stuff.
 
Erm. Well, Irv Novick's Flash looked terrible, I grant you, but I think of those days as being 'Cary Bates' Flash. Mr. Bates was a wonderful writer, saddled with a lot of gimmicky 2D characters whose powers made them impossible to plot realistically or even intelligently. Yet at the same time, Bates was a master of the convoluted plot device story, and he managed to churn out entirely original, completely whacked out stories in which basically omnipotent characters like Superman and the Flash were actually challenged by something, and had to solve it in an interesting way, every month for years and years and years and years. And he did it with some pretty stellar dialogue and a wonderful talent for economically writing concise expository captions, too.

It was by no means 4D storytelling, or even 3D, and Modern Age fans, or even fans of Marvel's Silver Age 3D Universe, will for obvious reasons sneer at this stuff, and I can't really blame them... fans of that stuff expect certain elements in their comic book stories, and 2D superheroics just isn't going to satisfy. However, Bates' work in this era is a fantastic tutorial to the wannabe comics writer on plot construction and providing the reader seamlessly with really huge amounts of complex data. Those are writing techniques that never go out of style, and nobody ever did it better than Cary Bates.

The real stars of the 1970s, though, were Englehart's runs on AVENGERS, DR. STRANGE, HULK, and CAPTAIN MARVEL, and, later, on DETECTIVE and MR. MIRACLE. If you haven't read that stuff, I strongly recommend you try to find it, especially the DR. STRANGE stuff. It will entirely blow your mind.
 
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?