I can’t help but feel that a villain who makes time in his nefarious schedule for taking his, er, pooch for regular walks can’t be *all* bad. Likewise for a rogue who appreciates the cleverness and joie de vivre of a raven.
In the mid-70s, The Clown Prince of Crime held his own book for ten issues (nine of which appeared at the time… the tenth only seeing print in… 2019!), and its stories chiefly (and rather winningly) focussed on his squabbles with other members of The Batman’s rogues’ gallery (certainly the finest in comics). I haven’t followed the dodgy shenanigans of the back issue marketplace in decades, but I was amused and bemused by the lofty prices that this otherwise-innocuous little series commands. Overflow from his cinematic popularity, perhaps?
« Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people. » — David Sarnoff
The other day, my partner was trying out a video game whose soundscape seemed exceptionally judicious and well-integrated to the action. At one point, she noticed that the optimal way to play was by matching one’s pace and movements to the musical rhythm. I said, “Oh, it’s just like that Star Rovers story!”
And now for a bit of context: The Star Rovers was a short-lived series that sporadically appeared in the back of DC’s Julius Schwartz-edited titles, mainly Mystery in Space, backing main feature Adam Strange.
As Michael Uslan beautifully puts it, in his introduction to Mysteries in Space: The Best of DC Science-fiction Comics (Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1980):
« The Star Rovers were a whole other category of space heroes, typical of the kind of originality demanded by Julius Schwartz. A transgalactic trio of playboy, glamor-girl and novelist-thrill-seeker, they rarely agreed about anything and were rarely right about anything even when they did agree. »
Much of the appeal of the Star Rovers is that they’re not a team: they’re friendly rivals, ‘frienemies’, as we’d call them these days. Aside from matching wits and theories, they never directly compete, as differences in their fields of endeavour would make the exercice pointless. There’s a light, jovial tone to these mysteries, yet they can still be taken seriously as intriguing puzzles.
All nine episodes were edited by Schwartz, scripted by Gardner Fox, and illustrated by Sid Greene (1906-72). The latter, a veteran of the comics industry with published work going back to 1940, arguably turned in the finest work of his busy career, and likely would have kept on doing so had it not been for… Batman’s troubles.
To make a long story short, as the Batman titles were shedding readers like there was no tomorrow (making it possible that there would, indeed, be no tomorrow), DC bigwigs opted to switch things around a bit, pulling editor (and Jack Kirby blackballer) Jack Schiff off Batman and Detective Comics and handing him the reins of Schwartz’s SF titles Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space. He ran those into the ground, but in goofily entertaining fashion, at least. Unlike the bat-books, there were expendable to DC.
As the ultimate Star Rovers tale appeared in the final issue of the Schwartz-edited Strange Adventures before the changeover, it seems likely that the series would have carried on under a Schwartz régime. But the Rovers weren’t at all in Schiff’s wheelhouse: the delicate premise called for deft, intricate plotting and wit, qualities not to be found within Schiff’s stable of writers. Gardner Fox and Greene were among Schwartz’s trusted confederates, and talent poaching was rarely allowed within DC’s editorial enclaves.
After this editorial switch, Greene was, with few exceptions, put to work inking the pencils of Schwartz’s big three: Carmine Infantino on Batman and The Elongated Man, Gil Kane on Green Lantern and The Atom, and Mike Sekowsky on Justice League of America. The problem, at least as I see it: Greene’s inks didn’t mesh well with any of these pencillers’ styles. Oh well — it’s a living. At least Greene was able to return to full pencil and ink duties on a handful of short stories for editor Murray Boltinoff, mostly in the pages of The Unexpected. Better late than never.
Finally, for your edification and amusement, here’s a Star Rovers checklist:
Who Caught the Loborilla? (Mystery in Space no. 66, Mar. 1961) What Happened on Sirius-4? (Mystery in Space no. 69, Aug. 1961) Where Is the Paradise of Space? (Mystery in Space no. 74, Mar. 1962) Where Was I Born– Venus? Mars? Jupiter? (Mystery in Space no. 77, Aug. 1962) Who Saved the Earth? (Mystery in Space no. 80, Dec. 1962) Who Went Where– and Why? (Mystery in Space no. 83, May 1963) When Did Earth Vanish? (Mystery in Space no. 86, Sept. 1963) Will the Star Rovers Abandon Earth? (Strange Adventures no. 159, Dec. 1963) How Can Time Be Stopped? (Strange Adventures no. 163, Apr. 1964).
« Jerry Grandenetti started out ghosting The Spirit, and nobody… NOBODY… captured the spirit of The Spirit better. Not content to stay in Will Eisner’s shadow forever, he forged his own unique style leading to a highly successful comics career lasting decades. » — Michael T. Gilbert
Since my very first encounter with his work, Jerry Grandenetti (1926-2010; born ninety-five years ago today, another Thursday April 15th) has endured as one of my true artistic heroes. But he’s not celebrated much at all.
Though he’s worked extensively on The Spirit, he’s treated as a bit of a footnote in the Eisner hagiography. His DC war work is well-regarded, but he’s inevitably overshadowed by the Joe Kubert – Russ Heath – John Severin trinity. Besides, by and large, the war comics audience doesn’t overlap much with the spandex long johns crowd. Grandenetti has only very occasionally and timidly dipped a toe into the super-heroics fray, and he was far too unusual for overwhelming mainstream acclaim.
In fact, aside from the couple of converts I’ve made over the years, I can only think of three fellow torch-bearing aficionados: Michael T. Gilbert (who digs best the early, Eisner-employed Jerry); Stephen R. Bissette (who favours the spooky 60s and 70s work); and Don Mangus, who’s most into the DC war stuff. I daresay I enjoy it all, but my taste is most closely aligned with Mr. Bissette’s on this particular point. Let’s sample a bit of everything, insofar as it’s feasible to sum up a career spread out over five decades… in a dozen-or-so images.
In 1954, the powers-that-be at National Periodical Publications (you know, DC) gave Grandenetti some latitude to experiment with their War covers. Grandenetti produced an arresting hybrid of painted and line art. The process involved a grey wash painting that was photostatted, with flat colour laid over the resulting image. The first few attempts yielded striking, but nearly monochromatic results. A bit farther down the pike, the production department got more assured in its technical exploration.
DC was generally hesitant to entrust its more established properties to the more “out there” artists. In the cases of Grandenetti and Carmine Infantino, the solution was to match them with the weirdness-dampening inks of straight-arrow artist Murphy Anderson. And you know what? It did wonders for both pencillers and inker.
This is The Spectre no. 6, October, 1968. A tale told by Gardner Fox (and likely heavily revised by hands-on editor Julius Schwartz, a man who loved alliterative titling) and superbly illustrated by the Grandenetti-Anderson team. Steve Ditko aside, Jerry Grandenetti had no peer in the obscure art of depicting eldritch dimensions (you’ll see!)
So there you are. Just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Happy birthday, Mr. Grandenetti!
« It was exactly an assembly line. You could look into infinity down these rows of drawing tables. » — Gil Kane
Some of our more sensitive readers may have noticed that we’ve been none too gentle with Gil Kane (1926-2000) in the past, dealing him some rather rough lumps at times. But that’s not the whole story: in taking stock of such a protracted and prolific (dare I say profligate?) career as his, much of it inevitably spent on autopilot, one must be discerning. In other words, I like some of Kane’s work, but there’s plenty of it I don’t care for. Still, WOT’s rule of thumb is that if we altogether loathe an artist and/or his work, we’ll just turn a blind eye.
And speaking of the sense of sight, what makes a great comic book cover? Must be my art school training and subsequent work in advertising tipping the scales, but to me, design and layout reign primordial as ingredients… as values. I’m often dismayed at many a would-be critic’s apparent method of assessing an image’s artistic worth, namely: how many popular characters does it feature? Is it action-packed? Is the issue sought-after and expensive? Does it feature a famous character’s début? Is it drawn by a fan-favourite artist who unquestionably do no wrong… because he’s a fan-favourite artist who unquestionably do no wrong? (and how dare you claim otherwise!)
Gil Kane reportedly generated around eight hundred covers for Marvel in the 1970s… of all levels of craft and quality. With that kind of frenzied output, it’s impressive that most were perfectly serviceable, given that there certainly was no time for meticulous, sober planning. They were generally over-captioned (not Kane’s fault!) and crassly sensationalistic, but that’s what Marvel sought and settled for.
It’s a shame that Kane and his former classmate at the School of Industrial Art (back in the early 40s!), DC lynchpin Carmine Infantino didn’t get on too well, because their Silver Age collaborations had a special spark… must have been the animosity. It had been noted by the DC brass, as early as the late 50s, that Carmine’s covers reliably caught prospective buyers’ attention and dimes. And so, by 1967, he was unofficially designing most of the publisher’s covers, and certainly the covers of all titles edited by Julius Schwartz. Green Lantern was among these.
So we turn today’s spotlight on a hot streak of seven. Kane gets his name in the title, but it would be more accurate to say they were Infantino-designed, Gaspar Saladino-lettered, Jack Adler-coloured, Gil Kane-pencilled and Murphy Anderson and Sid Greene-inked covers. The streak begins after Green Lantern no. 54’s downright poor cover, and ends with the interruption of Kane’s impressively long run of consecutive issues.