Saturday, October 10, 2015

1966

Batman '66 Volume 1: written by Jeff Parker; illustrated by Jonathan Case, Mike Allred, Ty Templeton, Joe Quinones, Sandy Jarrell, and others (2013-2014/Collected 2014): One of DC's first forays into Digital-first original comics is a jolly romp set in the universe of the 1960's live-action Batman series starring Adam West, Burt Ward, and several thousand 'Bams' and 'Pows.' It's fun and cheeky and campy. The art tends more to the cartoonish than the photo-representational, which was probably a good idea. And the cartoonists, like writer Jeff Parker, keep things light. Recommended.


Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD: written by Jim Steranko, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Roy Thomas; illustrated by Jim Steranko, Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Frank Giacoia, Joe Sinnott, and others (1966-68/ Collected 2000): Why Marvel didn't just complete the Jim Steranko Nick Fury run in this 2000 collection with the last 80 pages or so of Steranko's fun and innovative 1960's work on the company's master spy is a good question. They rectified that error 13 years later with a all-in-one volume, the one you should probably buy. But this was a remainder and cheap.

Writer-artist Jim Steranko managed to make the S.H.I.E.L.D. series into a groovy blast of science fiction, fantasy, and suspenseful super-heroics. He got traction as a comics artist and writer remarkably quickly, and his art background from beyond comics seemed to help motivate him to try innovative lay-outs and visual effects and combinations of photographic and drawn material. Many of the subsequent 'young turks' of comic-book art would follow in Steranko's footsteps, leading to the 1970's and its pantheon of young and exciting comic-book artists.

As Steranko gained more experience and confidence, the stories got wilder and weirder. A two-page spread that reveals the mastermind behind parodically stereotypical Asian super-criminal the Yellow Claw causes everything that comes before it to make a totally new, weird type of sense. It's as if Philip K. Dick had decided to write a superhero comic book -- and Steranko's ESP SHIELD Unit suggests, in its goals and its three-person composition, that Steranko was familiar with the Dick novella "The Minority Report." 

So too Dick's concerns with the nature of reality. There were already an awful lot of human-like robots running around the SHIELD series when Steranko came on board. That problem just multiplies, along with hidden bosses, mysterious traitors, and the occasional spot of interstellar travel and alien invasion. SHIELD's 1966 technology, and that of their evil counterparts AIM and Hydra, far surpasses that on the current TV show. So too the zippiness and the awesome weirdness of the scenarios.

It's the art and all its experiments that still sings, however, Steranko's occasional flatness when to came to the human form notwithstanding. Whether it's the photo-collage techniques he picked up from Kirby and refined on his own or the audacious four-page spread that required one to buy two copies of a SHIELD comic to see it in its entirety, the artwork showed a variety of ways that mainstream comics could be their own peculiar form of avant-garde Pop Art without a Lichtenstein to appropriate the images for the art world. Highly recommended.

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