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Steve Ditko (1927 – 2018).

§ July 9th, 2018 § Filed under obituary § 1 Comment


Sometime in the late ’70s, my grandmother gave me a bag of comic books she picked up at a swap meet or thrift store, which included a number of oddball comics I hadn’t seen before. I remember specifically a Classics Illustrated adaptation of Frankenstein (my first exposure to this series), but there were also a handful of first issues from Atlas Comics, which I’d never heard of. Grim Ghost was one, and still remains a favorite to this day…and there was also Destructor #1, the splash page for which was pictured above. I don’t know how much Steve Ditko work I’d been exposed to at that point…I know I had a few Charltons from the period Ditko was working for them, so I probably saw some of his stories there. But I always thought that splash page was a pretty cool drawing. “Hey, this Steve Ditko guy isn’t bad, he should draw more comics.”

I’m a wee bit more knowledgeable about his output now, and about his personal beliefs and artistic standards. He definitely stuck to his guns all the way to the end…I just wish fewer people felt compelled to knock on his door and bother the man in recent years. I mean, he pretty famously wanted to be left alone to work on his comics, right, so, I mean, what were people expecting? “Oh, sure, yes, YOU’RE the one who’s got through to me! You will now be my best friend and I shall reveal to you all my secrets!”

Sheesh. I mean, okay, I admit that deep down I kept a tiny flame alive for Stan Lee and Ditko reuniting for one more Spider-Man story, or that Ditko would finally decide to give one tell-all interview, both of which would surely occur now that flying pig technology has been perfected and Hell finally installed those air conditioners.

Anyway…Steve Ditko. There’s no mistaking his work for anyone else’s, and, especially in his later years, he did it the way he wanted to, beholden to no one’s editorial edict. It was low-hanging fruit to poke fun at some of his odder moments, I admit, but sometimes genius takes you in strange directions, and few geniuses were stranger, or more amazing, than Steve Ditko.

So long, Steve.
 
 

image from Destructor #1 (February 1975) by Archie Goodwin, Steve Ditko and Wally Wood

Harlan Ellison (1934 – 2018).

§ June 29th, 2018 § Filed under obituary § 3 Comments

A contentious figure, certainly, but very much a talented one, whose writing has loomed large in my life for many, many years. There’s a whole lot one could say about him, good and ill, and no matter your opinion on him, I’m sure it’s entirely justified. Still, it’s going to be weird thinking he’s no longer out there, being angry about something, pissing somebody off, or writing something amazing, or doing all three at once.

So long, Harlan.
 
 

image from Adventure Comics #479 (March 1981) by Marv Wolfman, Carmine Infantino and Dennis Jensen

49 (and change).

§ March 16th, 2018 § Filed under jack kirby, obituary, old, smallville, superman, television § 13 Comments

So one of the victims of my part-week blogging break was no birthday post. Yes, that’s right, your pal Mike just began his last year of his forties this past Tuesday…the warranty’s long expired, the creaking frame continues to bow, and the decay continues apace. I did mention the occasion on the Twitters, however, and received some very kind response there (as well as wishing birthday-and-blogging-brother Andrew a happy day).

The Bullest with the Mostest, Bully the Little Birthday Bull, worked up a bit of magic:


You can find the original image he used on this page of nightmare fuel. Oh, and by the way, now that I can make GIFs I may need to revisit that last pic.

Oh, and Tom Spurgeon over at Ye Olde Comics Reporter also noted the occasion, as he does every year. Thanks, Tom!

Another reason I kinda skipped out on the birthday post this time around is that I had my heart set on a particular panel, but could not find the thing, which has me wondering if I’m remembering the right comic, or if my age-addled brain has it confused with another comic, or if I didn’t just make up the whole thing out of thin air. Anyway, I’ll mention it here in case it rings a bell with any of you fine folks:

What I’m remembering is a panel from a Star Trek comic, maybe in the first DC series, or possibly the second run, where mention is made of Captain Kirk’s 49th birthday. However, and the reason this has stuck with me all this time (assuming I’m remembering it correctly at all) is that the “49th” in the comic had very obviously been relettered just prior to going to print, and almost certainly read “50th” originally. I mean, that was my presumption, in that they probably wouldn’t be making any kind of big deal out of a 49th birthday for story purposes. I remember guessing they were likely saving a 50th birthday story for some bigger event, or someone at the main Trek headquarters decided that they didn’t want Kirk to be that old, or some darned thing.

I hunted through my Trek comics for the scene, and couldn’t find it…I still have full runs of both series (didn’t give ’em up to my store!) plus all the specials and minis and whatnot, so if it actually exists, it’s in there somewhere. But, like I said, at this point I’m even sure it was in a Trek comic and involving Kirk. If you know, please share your knowledge!

• • •

So this week, DC released a freebie funnybook tying into the imminent Superman-prequel Krypton series appearing on the SyFy cable channel:


My immediate reaction to seeing that cover is “…Tom? Tom Welling?” but that’s likely because I watched all ten seasons of Smallville and I’m still recovering. But it didn’t help when I looked inside the comic at the “meet the characters” section and Superman’s grandfather is dressed like this:


…which all the world looks like the get-up Clark was wearing in the latter seasons of Smallville:


I mean, that has to be deliberate, right? Aside from all that…despite my initial skepticism regarding the show (“It’s about Superman’s grandpa?”) I’m actually intrigued, particularly now that I know about the time travel element and the inclusion of DC’s classic space hero Adam Strange. I may be one of those “wait to binge it on streaming” guys, since I’m way behind on everything as it is, but I’ll at least try to catch the first episode. …There better be at least one Thought-Beast on the show, that’s all I’m saying.

This tweet from Twitter pal Joe sort of got me thinking about that Smallville-esque comparison, though Joe’s point of contention/admiration was more for the “Fight Like El” tagline, which is admittedly both amazing and appalling. And if you’re wondering, yes, the entry for the Zod family character has a reference to kneeling, because that’s just a Zod thing now and you better be used to it. (“Fight Like El” reminded me of these somewhat confrontational DC bookmarks from a while back.)

Oh, that World of Krypton comic, by the way, is a reprint of the first issue of the mini-series of the same name from the mid-ish 1980s by John Byrne and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. If you’ve never read it, it’s not bad…and if you like it, the entire series has been very conveniently reprinted in a World of Krypton trade paperback released just a week or two ago (along with other Krypton-based stories).

• • •

Oh, and there’s going to be a live-action New Gods movie…you know, no big deal. That of course means…LIVE ACTION SLEEZ:


Well, okay, maybe not. But the director of A Wrinkle in Time, Ava DuVernay, is signed on to direct, and given what I’ve seen of the visuals for that film (which I haven’t had a chance to see yet, despite really, really wanting to) gives me a good feeling about her take on Kirby’s Fourth World. Also, to quote my hopes for this film from Twitter, only with the stupid typo in the original corrected:

“I want this New Gods movie to be the Kirby-est thing that’s ever Kirbied. I want to SEE the quotation marks around assorted words in actors’ dialogue.”

I mean…right? Yes, yes, I know Thor: Ragnarok was very Kirby-ish, but New Gods was straight out of Kirby’s head, no Stan Lee required. I want everyone in their original costumes (yes, even…especially…Black Racer), I want dialogue quoted from the comics, I want that opening bit preserved in its entirety (“THERE CAME A TIME WHEN THE OLD GODS DIED!”), everything. I don’t care if movie audiences are ready for it. Let the studio paraphrase Jack himself on the movie posters: “DON’T ASK, JUST WATCH IT!”

Alas, it comes too late for the Don Rickles cameo:


…though it was suggested having one of his old movies/TV appearances on a television screen might be a good reference for those in the know.

But…c’mon, a New Gods movie. I can’t wait.

• • •

Mark Evanier reports that comics writer Michael Fleisher passed away last month at the age of 75. He was probably most famous for his Spectre and his Jonah Hex (and, ’round these here parts, the amazing Hex), but this is what I’ll remember him for the most:


I wrote a bit about that book a couple of years back…man, I spent I don’t know how many hours perusing that tome. And there it still sits on my bookshelf today, nearly forty years after I first acquired it. Thanks, Michael, for all that entertaining information you provided a young me, just beginning to learn about Superman’s history.

Len Wein (1948 – 2017).

§ September 11th, 2017 § Filed under obituary § 2 Comments


And so soon after losing Bernie. And like his most famous artistic partner, I am sure Mr. Wein still had so many great stories left to tell that we’ll never get to see. I believe I even saw a recent interview or ‘nother where he was talking about still writing even more Swamp Thing after his recent return(s) to the character. I know I had my criticisms of the last mini-series, but dangit, this was still new Swamp Thing written by the co-creator and I would have welcomed more.

And yes, I know he did much more than Swamp Thing, though, if you’ve been hanging around my site long, you know that’s my favorite of his work. He had a…comfortable narrative style in those early Swamp Things, one that pushed along the plots while simultaneously evoking the necessary dark moodiness of the stories’ settings and events and digging into the psyches of the characters and paying heed to the necessities of (semi-)monthly serialization. It’s a difficult balance to maintain while still making it all so accessible and fresh and seemingly effortless, and one I’m beginning to re-appreciate as I plow through those comics in detail in my ongoing project to reread and examine each issue.

Wein has left behind an enormous body of stories and creations, the most famous of which being Wolverine, introduced as an antagonist in some mid-1970s issues of Incredible Hulk…and of course Wein wrote the reintroduction of the X-Men shortly thereafter, bringing in Wolverine and cocreating new additions to the team (such as Storm and Colossus). Wein also wrote what seemed like every other DC comic I read as a kid, which is an exaggeration I’m sure, but not much of one. I can still feel how blindsided I was after reading “Whatever Happened to the Crimson Avenger?” in DC Comics Presents #38, which I thought would be just another in that “Whatever Happened to…” series of entertaining but not terribly significant back-up stories in that title, only to get hit with a serious emotional whammy regarding a character I previously hadn’t thought much about.

It was Wein who got Alan Moore to write Swamp Thing, which likely saved that title from cancellation (everything I’d heard at the time from the shops I frequented was that the newly-revived series was probably on the chopping block, or close to). And of course Moore went on to do Watchmen with Dave Gibbons, with Wein as editor. (Wein would later write the Ozymandias title for DC’s much-maligned Before Watchmen event…I know we’re supposed to not like those comics, but Wein’s effort, with artist Jae Lee, was actually pretty good.)

One of Wein’s later works was the mini-series DC Universe: Legacies, which was a fun ride through (and sort of a last hurrah for, with the New 52 looming ahead) the extensive history of DC’s superheroes. That just sort of let Wein do what he did best: play with DC’s army of characters and put ’em through some entertaining paces.

And that’s what Len Wein did: he wrote stories for pretty much every character DC and Marvel had, and always came through with something fun to read. Didn’t even scratch the surface of everything he’s done (well, okay, Wolverine, X-Men, and Swamp Thing are pretty deep scratches) but he was one of the primary building blocks of what made comics Comics for pretty much my entire life, and I’m going to miss seeing new work from him. But thankfully, he left plenty of work behind that we can continue to enjoy.

So long, Len. And thanks for being a sport and autographing my Swamp Thing chalk:


Still makes me smile every time I see it.

Adam West (1928 – 2017).

§ June 12th, 2017 § Filed under adam west, obituary § 2 Comments


I know Adam West did more than just Batman, but it’s Batman he’s going to be remembered for…and not just any Batman, but Best Batman. It’s been pointed out by many others how great it was that the ’60s Batman TV show was “rediscovered,” and that Mr. West, in his later years, got a whole new rush of appreciation for his landmark role…and a whole lot more work, too! By all accounts he was a good guy with a sense of humor about his relationship with the Caped Crusader, and I’m glad he got to hear from an enormous amount of people how much he meant to them.

That image above is a screenshot from an 11-year-old post of mine…I posted it to my Twitter, but wanted to repost here as well. That’s from the 1966 Batman theatrical film…it’s a great line, and the perfect statement of purpose for West’s Batman. Sometimes people just remember the silliness and the POWs and BAMs, but there was this occasional moment of truth as well.

I’ve written a bit about the Batman TV show in the past: here’s a defense of the show in the context of differing approaches to Batman; I look at one of its tie-in products; Batman sets a young man on the straight-and-narrow; and the role Adam West was born to play…Batman in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.

Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mr. West’s hosting of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon…which included a certain film, Zombie Nightmare, featuring…Adam West.

Adam West, you were an absolute treasure, and you’ll be missed. So long, Adam.

Rich Buckler (1949 – 2017).

§ May 21st, 2017 § Filed under obituary § 7 Comments

I’ll always have a soft spot for Rich Buckler, because he drew these two Roy Thomas-scripted issues of DC Comics Presents teaming Superman with the Marvel Family and I must have read ’em a million times:


In fact, Buckler drew a lot of comics around that time that made quite the impression on a Young Mike still trying to figure out this whole funnybook thing. I particularly enjoyed All-Star Squadron, another book he worked on.

My condolences to his family, friends, and fans. So long, Rich.

Bernie Wrightson (1948 – 2017).

§ March 20th, 2017 § Filed under obituary, swamp thing § 4 Comments

There are a lot of fantastic illustrations by Bernie Wrightson in those early Swamp Things, but this is the one I keep coming back to:


The strange perspective, the incredible detail, the full page reveal coming late in the story after we’d already seen the werewolf a couple of times…all combining to make this an image that impressed itself into my brain for all time. Funny that it’s a pic from this series that doesn’t even feature the title character, but this splash from #1 does take a close second in the “Bernie Wrightson Drawings I Think of When I Think of Swamp Thing” category.

But flip through pretty much any issue of Wrightson’s Swamp Thing and you’ll see no end of intricately-detailed illustrations, their impact diminished not at all by the cheap printing and yellowing paper. If anything, the impact is enhanced, the drawings made even more moody and mysterious by the decaying pulp on which they are presented.

Wrighton’s covers from the period are eye-grabbers as well, looking like nothing else on the shelves. This Lovecraftian critter on this House of Mystery clearly represents something that should be unnatural and repellent, but Wrightson’s linework makes it endlessly fascinating. You want to pick this comic off the rack and see just what’s going on here:


…And this cover here…where do you even begin? This was 1971, and Wrightson, in his early 20s, had only been in the comics business for a couple of years. And here he is, already creating images as perfect as this:


And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the man’s work. These drawings are all from the early years of his career…his impossibly-detailed Frankenstein work was still ahead of him. His “Captain Sternn” stories, both the short in Heavy Metal and the later mini-series (plus the related back-ups in Dreadstar. The Weird. Batman: The Cult. National Lampoon strips and illustrations. Tons of horror shorts for Warren magazines. The Hulk/Thing graphic novel. Batman/Aliens. The “Howard the Duck for President” button. The Spider-Man: Hooky graphic novel. The comics adaptation of Stephen King’s Creepshow, plus all the other illustrations he provided for King’s novels. Even Punisher comics…and much more, besides.

Saying “he was a great talent and he will be missed” doesn’t seem like enough. He embodied a particular aesthetic that took inspiration from horror comic artists and fantasy illustrators that preceded him, and formed it into something unique, something so his own that the term “Wrightson-esque” easily conveys its meaning. He didn’t just redefine the horror genre. He was his own genre.

So long, Bernie. Thanks for letting us see, for so many years, what your wonderful imagination created.

And you didn’t think I was going to let this go without at least one picture of Swamp Thing, did you?


 
 

images from Swamp Thing #4 (April-May 1973); House of Mystery #204 (July 1972); House of Mystery #195 (October 1971); Swamp Thing #6 (September-October 1973)

Dan and Bernie.

§ February 1st, 2017 § Filed under obituary § 3 Comments

Longtime comics artist Dan Spiegle has passed away, and his frequent creative partner Mark Evanier has an extended remembrance of the man and his work.

I met Dan Spiegle once. He had come into my previous place of employment a couple of decades back, trying (if I recall correctly) to find out if an art job of his that he’d completed for another publisher (which had gone under) had been published by someone else. I don’t remember the exact thing he was looking for, now, all these years later. My vague memory is that he had done something for Classics Illustrated, maybe, just prior to CI’s then-publisher First Comics going under, and was trying to see if someone else put it out. Not this issue, which was published, but, like, something much later in the run. Ah well, whatever it was, I don’t recall, but I did enjoy that brief time I got to speak with him and at least try to help him out.

What helped me recognize him right away was a couple of things: one, I’m pretty sure I’d seen a self-caricature or two of him around by that time, though trying to Google one up now didn’t turn up the picture I remember. Two, there was the then-recent “Famous Comic Creators” trading card set which featured the card pictured above. Those cards were handy mugshots for funnybook stars back in those pre-widespread common-use-of-the-Internet days.

Also, I should mention that Mr. Spiegle had a big, friendly smile. I can still picture just how happy a guy he seemed to be.

Anyway, I enjoyed Mr. Spiegle’s work over the years, as I’m sure many of you did as well. I think I first ran into his art in the back-up “Nemesis” stories from Brave and the Bold in the early 1980s, though I’m sure I’d seen it before. There was a strange one-shot story in the Omega Men run that still sticks with me after all this time. And should Mr. Evanier happen to read this, he can add me to the list of people who read Hollywood Superstars. The one series he worked on that I did not read extensively is his collaboration with Evanier on Blackhawk, which is one of those runs I always meant to get around to gathering and reading but never had the opportunity, unfortunately. I still intend to…the one or two stories I have read were great, and I certainly want to see more. I may have to wait for a reprinting, or a digital version, or for a full run to fall into my lap in a collection I purchase. Maybe someday!

So long, Dan…thanks for all the great comics, and I look forward to finally getting around to that work of yours I haven’t read.

• • •

In other comic creator news, as I’m sure you’ve heard, Swamp Thing cocreator Bernie Wrightson as retired due to health reasons, leaving him essentially unable to draw. You can read the announcement at his official site. That really is a shame that someone so talented is left unable to do what he does so well, and I very much hope that someday there’ll be improvement enough to let him back back to it. Best wishes to Mr. Wrightson and his family.

Carrie Fisher (1956 – 2016).

§ December 28th, 2016 § Filed under obituary § 2 Comments


I know Carrie Fisher was more than just Princess/General Leia. She was a gifted writer, a funny person, a mental health advocate, a dog lover, a heralded script doctor, a talented actor in roles beyond That Big One which made her famous, a survivor, and someone who just had no time at all for anyone’s horseshit.

She was something else, and I’m sure going to miss her.

So long, Carrie.

Asuncion.

§ December 12th, 2016 § Filed under obituary § 10 Comments

The morning of Saturday, December 10th, my girlfriend Nora’s mother, Asuncion, passed away at the age of 79 after an extended struggle with pulmonary fibrosis. She was surrounded by family at the time, chatting and joking up with them up until the end, when she simply closed her eyes, took a couple of final breaths, and departed.

She was the much-beloved matriarch of the family, and spent a lifetime raising, caring for, and sharing her love with her many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She will be greatly missed. If you can, please spare a brief thought for both her and those who grieve her loss.

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