« The stranger’s face was entirely obscured by a broad-brimmed felt hat bent downward over his features; and the long, black coat looked almost like part of the thickening fog. » –Harry Vincent first encounters his future employer. (Shadow Magazine, April/June, 1931)
We note today the birth anniversary of Walter B. Gibson (September 12, 1897 – December 6, 1985), an extremely prolific writer and professional magician. Gibson is best known for developing the radio character of The Shadow, through nearly three hundred stories he wrote under the collective nom de plume of Maxwell Grant.
The Shadow’s had an interesting and varied career in comics, but Gibson’s novels (and the radio shows… Orson Welles!) are where it’s at. Still, let’s take a look around, shall we?
As a bonus, let’s slightly depart from comics proper and admire a couple of paperback reissues from the brush of noted fabulist James Steranko.
« In almost every picture, Batman looks as if he has spent the day greasing the Batmobile and didn’t bother to clean up afterwards. There is a difference between shadowing and what looks like globs of dirt and grime. » — letterhack Bob Rozakis (Detective 420, Feb. 1972), as astute an art critic as he would prove a writer
Think about it: from his initial appearance in 1939’s Detective no. 27, the Batman was always a bit of a shop product. While notorious deceiver and glory-hog Bob Kane (né Kahn, 1915-98) loved to slap his name on anything and everything, his principal talent was self-promotion. Kane’s Batman was mostly the work of far more talented ‘ghosts‘ such as Jerry Robinson, Dick Sprang, Bill Finger, George Roussos, Jack Burnley, Win Mortimer… and so on, for decades. It’s unlikely that anyone ever produced the artwork for a Batman story on their own (well, professionally), let alone wrote *and* drew one. In a nutshell, that’s the assembly-line style US funnybook industry.
As far as the caped crusader is concerned, that state of affairs would briefly change with Detective no. 416 (cover-dated October, 1971): under a particularly clumsy Neal Adamscover, the lead story, Man-Bat Madness!, was scripted, pencilled, inked *and* lettered by Frank Robbins. He would produce four more solo Batman adventures: Forecast for Tonight — Murder! (Detective Comics no. 420, Feb. 1972); Blind Justice — Blind Fear! (Detective Comics no. 421, March 1972), Killer’s Roulette! (Detective Comics no. 426, Aug. 1972) and Man-Bat Over Vegas! (Detective Comics no. 429, Nov. 1972).
Robbins had been scripting for DC since 1968 (starting right after the ignominious firing of many of their most seasoned writers… for presuming to ask for some social benefits after decades of loyal, and often forcibly exclusive, service*), but he didn’t get his brushes out until 1971, presumably wanting to draw his then-recent creation, Man-Bat* (Detective no. 400, June 1970).
After a final hurrah (script-only) with Batman 254‘s King of the Gotham Jungle! (Jan.-Feb. 1974), he was off to Marvel, where he did no writing, but illustrated tales of Morbius The Living Vampire, Dracula, Ghost Rider, The Legion of Monsters, Captain America, The Invaders, the Man From Atlantis, The Human Fly, Daredevil… generally while paired with inkers ranging from the decent (Frank Giacoia, D. Bruce Berry), to the inappropriate (Frank Springer) to the dismal (Frank Chiaramonte and… hello again, Vinnie) inkers. He walked away from the industry in the middle of a cliffhanger, after Daredevil no. 155‘s The Man Without Fear? (Nov. 1978). Beyond that, having endured far more than his share of fanboy sniping and editorial meddling, Robbins left comics forever, going off to paint in México. Wise man.
Robbins, as you may or may not know, was a truly polarizing figure in 1970s comics. He was the bane of house-style loving fanboys, and it seems that anyone savvy enough to appreciate him at a tender age later became a cartoonist. The ample evidence (meaning far too much) witnessed on FB comics groups has led me to shrugging acceptance that most fanboys’ aesthetic sensibilities haven’t shifted an iota from when they were twelve… and won’t now or ever.
Another dodgy character encountered in recent years is the annoyingly common “I hated Robbins then, but I totally get him now” git, which brings to mind a certain science-fiction cliché.
Back to our regularly scheduled train of thought…
How I wish he’d gotten to illustrate his moody script for The Spook’s Master Stroke! (Batman no. 252, Oct. 1973), introducing my favourite Bat-villain, seldom-seen The Spook. He was difficult to write, so they killed him off after a handful of appearances.
While Robbins wasn’t my very favourite Bat-writer, (that honour goes to… David V. Reed), he generally delivered a solid tale… but when he was in full command, he was pretty top-notch.
*« Even though Fox has worked for several comic book publishers, he remains most associated with DC Comics, for whom he worked more than three decades. That collaboration came to an abrupt end in 1968. Fox had joined other comics writers like Otto Binder, John Broome, Arnold Drake, Bill Finger and Bob Haney, signing a petition to ask DC for more financial benefits, particularly regarding health insurance. Since the company regarded writers as expandable people they were all fired without mercy and replaced by more obedient newcomers. » [ Source ] (incidentally, Haney wasn’t fired… at least permanently)
Mini-quiz answers: 1) Spores From Space (Mystery in Space no. 1, May 1951, DC); written by Gardner Fox and illustrated by… Frank Frazetta. 2) The Unknown Spaceman (Mystery in Space no. 11, Jan. 1953, DC); written by Gardner Fox and illustrated by Bob Oksner and Bernard Sachs; 3) I Created Sporr, the Thing That Could Not Die! (Tales of Suspense no. 11, Sept. 1960, Marvel); written by Stan Lee, art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers; 4) The Blip! (Tales to Astonish no. 15, Jan. 1961, Marvel); written by Stan Lee, art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers.
Mr. Lubbers (pronounced LEW-bers) , born January 10, 1922, left us last summer at the venerable age of ninety-five. As it happens, he also left us some fine, fine artwork.
My initial encounter with Bob Lubbers‘ work came in 1978, when he provided a handful of covers and a couple of issues to Marvel’s Human Fly, a book about masked Canadian stuntman Rick Rojatt, whose real-life, non-funnybook story is a gripping read**. Anyway, the series was usually pencilled either by Lee Elias*** or by the mighty Frank Robbins; by the time Lubbers came along, Robbins had rightly had his fill, given the comics industry the one-finger salute and decamped to México to retire and paint in peace. Wise man.
I then became aware of Mr. Lubbers as one of the Golden Age’s primo ‘good girl’ cover artists, with Fiction House, no less. That’s what I’ll chiefly focus on here. Can you honestly blame me? Unlike some of his peers (hello, Bill Ward), he wasn’t just good at, and interested in, the saucy depiction of lightly-clad sirens: he could draw anything with finesse and brio.
**speaking of which, check out this fine piece about The Human Fly’s rocket bike and the stunt that ended his career: http://kymichaelson.us/human-fly. You have to admit that jumping over 27 buses is a tad ambitious… and he was originally going to try for 36!
***likely picked for the job due to his fine work on another masked stuntperson character, Harvey’s The Black Cat.