Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 2

« Every scarecrow has a secret ambition to terrorize. » — Stanisław Jerzy Lec

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.

This is The Joker no. 8 (July-August 1976), featuring The Scarecrow’s Fearsome Face-Off!, which was edited by Julius Schwartz (in case the alliterative title hadn’t tipped you off), scripted by Elliot S! Maggin, pencilled by the always-solid Irv Novick and inked by Tex Blaisdell. Cover by Ernie Chan (as Ernie Chua).

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?

I like the way Professor Crane works. Over these past couple of years, this last two panel sequence has probably come to pass in real life more often than one would care to count.
The Joker adopting a hyena as a companion was but a cruel cover dodge, but The Scarecrow‘s pet raven, Nightmare, is present and accounted for, superbly crafty and most efficient, just like the genuine article!
The same page, from the original printing. In closing, a slight editorial note: It’s easy to forget that, unless you kept close tabs on the printer’s work, most mainstream comics were quite badly printed… it’s especially easy to forget since much of the more popular work has since been reprinted from the original art or photostats, and digitally coloured-and-printed. Conversely, when it comes to the work of defunct publishers, and if the original artwork, or quality photostats of same, is no longer in existence or otherwise unavailable, reprinters have to make do with a flawed, not to mention secondary, sources — at best. For instance, the printing of my original edition of this Joker issue is dreadfully out of register. In the wings, things were quickly shifting at DC: as of late ’75, Carmine Infantino (publisher, etc.) and Nick Cardy (art director, etc.) were out, and an absolutely crucial production technician, Jack Adler, was being sidelined. He would retire a few years later. Long story short, Sturgeon’s Law in action, and why I went with the digital colour job. After toning down the contrast a bit. A guy’s got to have standards.

– RG

Treasured Stories: “Where Is the Paradise of Space?” (1962)

« 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. »

This is the third Star Rovers episode, Where Is the Paradise of Space?, from Mystery in Space no. 74,Mar. 1962, DC).
This is the sequence that brought this story to my mind.
One of the most charming aspects of the Star Rovers is the protagonists’ equal footing. In this case, Karel is a bit more than the fellows’ equal, but the series is mostly exempt of the sexism you’d expect from the period of its creation.

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).

-RG

Into the Inky Shadows With Jerry Grandenetti

« 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 KubertRuss HeathJohn 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.

Opening splash from The Secret Files of Dr. Drew: Sabina the Sorceress, written by Marilyn Mercer and lettered by Abe Kanegson, from Rangers Comics no. 56 (Dec. 1950, Fiction House); this version hails from a reprint (Mr. Monster’s Super Duper Special no. 2, Aug. 1986, Eclipse) using the surviving original art; it was recoloured by Steve Oliff.
Page 3 from The Secret Files of Dr. Drew: Curse of the Mandibles!, written by Marilyn Mercer and lettered by Abe Kanegson, from Rangers Comics no. 55 (Oct. 1950, Fiction House); this version hails from a reprint (Doc Stearn… Mr. Monster no. 4, Dec. 1985, Eclipse) using the surviving original art; it was most tastefully recoloured by Steve Oliff.

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.

This is G.I. Combat no. 77 (Oct. 1959, DC); wash tones and colouring by Jack Adler, who recalled, in a 1970s interview: « It was suggested that we start doing washes for covers, and we were talking about doing it for so damned long, but nobody attempted it. I think Grandenetti did the first one, an army cover with someone floating in the water. I think that was the first wash cover that was done. That one ended up looking like a full color painting. »
This is G.I. Combat no. 83 (Aug.- Sept. 1960, DC); wash tones and colouring by Jack Adler. In 1995, Robert Kanigher, Grandenetti’s editor on the DC war books and a frequent collaborator, recalled: « Jerry liked to experiment and I had to sit on him to get him to stop it. Especially in his covers, which were outstanding, when I forced him to draw as realistically as possible. »
Original art from The Wrath of Warlord Krang!, smothered in dialogue and exposition by Stan Lee, from Tales to Astonish no. 86 (Dec. 1966, Marvel); inks by Bill Everett. Namor‘s constant random shouts of ‘Imperius Rex!‘ make him sound like a sitcom character with Tourette’s. As far as I’m concerned, it’s possibly been the most annoyingly asinine slogan in comics since Stan stole ‘Excelsior!‘ from Jean Shepherd.
The opening splash from Cry Fear, Cry Phantom, written by Archie Goodwin, from Eerie no. 7 (Jan. 1967, Warren). In the mid-60s, presumably tiring of being pigeonholed as a war artist at DC, Grandenetti made the publishers’ rounds, doing a bit of work for Tower, Gold Key, Charlton, Marvel, Cracked (check it out here) and most memorably Warren where, after ghosting a few stories for Joe Orlando, he unleashed his innovative expressionistic style.

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!)

Page 13 from Pilgrims of Peril! written by Gardner Fox, from The Spectre no. 6 (Sept.- Oct. 1968, DC); inked by Murphy Anderson. Dig the salute to a trio of real-life spooky writers, all of whom editor Julius Schwartz knew well, having even served as Lovecraft’s literary agent late in his life. By the tail end of the 1960s, Lovecraft’s work was finally making some commercial inroads, thanks largely to Arkham House co-publisher Derleth‘s unflagging diligence.
Page 22 from Pilgrims of Peril! written by Gardner Fox, from The Spectre no. 6 (Sept.- Oct. 1968, DC); inked by Murphy Anderson.
Page 2 from Men Call Me the Phantom Stranger, written by Mike Friedrich, from Showcase no. 80 (Feb. 1969, DC); inks by Bill Draut. This story reintroduced an obscure character from the early 50s, which Grandenetti had drawn a couple of times during his six-issue run. The Phantom Stranger has remained active ever since, but most writers (save Alan Moore, wouldn’t you know it?) don’t really know what to do with him. This, however, is my very favourite PS appearance. Draut, a slightly old-fashioned penciller by this time was, as a slick inker, a wonderful fit for Grandenetti’s confidently loopy layouts.
Page 3 from The Haunting!, written by Jack Oleck, from House of Mystery no. 183 ((Nov.-Dec. 1969, DC). Grandenetti pencils and inks: undiluted!
Page 2 from Eyes of the Cat, written by Robert Kanigher, from House of Mystery no. 189 (Nov.-Dec. 1970, DC); inks by Jerry’s fellow Will Eisner ghost Wallace Wood. The inspired combination of Grandenetti’s adventurous layouts and the velvety unctuousness of Wood’s finishes are a match made in heaven, but one Woody wasn’t fond of. Oh well.

So there you are. Just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Happy birthday, Mr. Grandenetti!

-RG

Hot Streak: Gil Kane’s Green Lantern

« 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.

We begin with Green Lantern no. 55 (Sept. 1967, DC). Harmonious, easy-to-parse arrangement of numerous elements and exemplary integration of text. Design by Infantino, pencils by Kane, inks by Murphy Anderson, lettering by Gaspar Saladino, colours by Jack Adler. Oh, and lest we forget: logo designed by Ira Shnapp (circa 1964), classic Green Lantern uniform designed by Kane (circa 1959).
This is Green Lantern no. 56 (Oct. 1967, DC). Kane was never much for varying his monsters (see below). Pencils by Kane, inks by Anderson.
For a bit of comparison on how things were done from company to company, this is Tales to Astonish no. 91 (May, 1967, Marvel). This is what happens when there’s no planning or attention to detail: in an already-crowded cover, did we really need that ugly box advising us of the presence of The Abomination? He’s right there! (maybe the abomination refers to the cover itself). And the foreshortening nightmare that is the baddie’s left arm was so dire that, when a fan commissioned Arthur Adams to produce a recreation of this cover (which, things being as they are, many surely consider ‘iconic’)… he wisely corrected the anatomy and tweaked the poor composition. Interesting how Marvel’s heavy-fingered yes-man, art director John Romita Sr., was always game to “fix” Ditko and Kirby art, but saw nothing wrong with this one.
This is Green Lantern no. 57 (Dec. 1967, DC), featuring Catastrophic Weapons of Major Disaster!, written by Gardner Fox, pencilled and inked by Kane. Cover by Kane and Greene… love the placement of the signatures!
This is Green Lantern no. 58 (Jan. 1968, DC), featuring Peril of the Powerless Green Lantern! (a Julius Schwartz title if there ever was one), written by Gardner Fox, pencilled by Kane and inked by Greene. I’m not overly fond of the Kane-Greene mix, but Sid Greene, as a penciller-inker did some splendid work on the Star Rovers series (1961-64), co-created and scripted by Gardner Fox.
An issue whose price few can afford unless they bought it off the racks, this is Green Lantern no. 59 (March 1968, DC); pencils by Gil Kane, inks by Murphy Anderson. Featuring the introduction of GL alternate Guy Gardner, who was to be dubiously re(jack)-booted in the 1980s, by Steve Englehart and Joe Staton, as a jackass with an ugly uniform and a worse haircut. Notwithstanding the fact that the Green Lantern Corps would never bestow power and stewardship on such an immature and pompous loose cannon.
This is Green Lantern no. 60 (April 1968, DC); an evident Infantino design, with pencils by Kane and inks by Anderson… which interestingly ends up producing a prototype of Brian Bolland‘s distinctive style… a decade early.
This is Green Lantern no. 61 (June 1968, DC); pencils by Kane, inks by Greene, and featuring (groan) Thoroughly Modern Mayhem!, scripted by Mike Friedrich, pencilled by Kane and inked by Greene. Co-starring Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern.

-RG