DOING COMICS THE STAINLESS STEVE ENGLEHART WAY:
The Rising and Advancing of A Silver Age Titan
by "John Jones, the Manhunter from Marathon, IL"
& Jeff Clem
with additional comments and annotation by "Stainless" Steve Englehart !!!
(that’s right! The Man Himself! So there!)
All email sent to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org will be read by Yr. Humble Author, and probably even responded to fairly quickly, unless, of course, you're rude, snotty, or just plain stupid, and trust me, I get those emails a lot, especially from Bradford Wright. Truly devoted fans of this column, demented though they inarguably are (not to mention non-existent) can web surf right on over to:
for some... er... weird stuff, and brilliant, comics oriented artwork, respectively.
Those who want yet another extended dose of Martian Vision-style bibble-babble, however, should strap themselves in, as we embark on a bold cruise through:
**STEVE ENGLEHART'S COMICS WORK as of 10/22/01**
- Prologue -
A funny thing happened as I was finishing this article. Not ha-ha funny, nor even bizarre funny, but... well, okay, it was kind of bizarre. But good bizarre. Very good bizarre, given the conventional context of the overflowing idiocy I normally produce under the guise of a Martian Vision article.
Basically, as this article is all about my personal hero and comics writing role model/deity Steve Englehart, and as I have Steve E.'s email address (for reasons I'll detail below) and as I'd already made the email acquaintance of Jeff Clem, arguably the greatest living fan authority on Steve E.'s work (and Steve's acknowledged sidekick on at least one occasion, during at least one con, which I suppose would make him Kid Stainless, or Steveboy, or something), I decided to send them a copy of this article to look over and get back to me regarding, if they so chose. No biggie; I've done it in the past with a few other pros I knew, all of whom had, previous to this, either not replied or tossed off a terse 'sorry, I don't have time to read this, I'm sure it's fine' response.
A week or so later, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but responses from Jeff, and Steve E., without peer! (Okay, I forced a rhyme there. Sue me.)
So, naturally, having gotten responses back from not only Steveboy, The Fan Authority on Stainless Steve, but... >gulp< The Man Himself... well, I had little choice but to prepare a whole new draft, with those comments and annotations added appropriately, along with my own rambling, addle-witted comments as are inspired by those comments and annotations (as with their notes on Valkyrie, which I totally disagree with, and which we'll get to).
All of which means that this article is no longer merely a typical exercise in comics related bullshit by Your Humble Author, as the five or six of you who regularly read this column have come to expect. No, it had become, as Rob Reiner put it at the start of THIS IS SPINAL TAP, "...more. Much more." It had become... well, by God, it had become more or less a collaboration. All of which is why the additional names appear in the credit line, up above, and why this article will probably be the only Martian Vision article ever produced that has any real worth as an actual scholarly or historical document.
So now, a note on the annotation:
***STEVE E. SEZ:
My comments are in red. ***
That was the opening to Steve E.'s response to me, in which he thoughtfully shot back the entire article, with his comments interspersed throughout, as he sagely notes, in red. Unfortunately, by the time this goes through endless redrafting and emailing and web posting, there's no telling how a color-coding will convert itself, so what I've done is, I've set off Steve's comments on the article with, as you can see above, the title "STEVE E. SEZ". I’m also putting them in bold right NOW, but as I say, I have no idea if that will survive eventual reformatting and web-posting. Similarly, I've set off Jeff Clem's work, in a burst of startling originality, with the title "JEFF CLEM SEZ", as well as putting his stuff in italics, at least, at this moment. I will also, as seen above, set off their annotation passages with three asterisks (***) just to keep anyone from confusing their concise, incisive commentary from my long winded, often daffy, and clearly over-caffeinated bibble-babble.
Now, this wasn't as easy as you think, but what the hell, YOU don't care. You just get to read the thing.
All right! If we're all clear on the above stuff, then let's Face Front, True Believer! Martian Vision Marches On!
As Steve E. himself once said: "End Prologue, beginning of Logue"...
(Or maybe it was Steve Gerber.)
- Continuation of Prologue, or perhaps, Prologue 2 -
Whether it was Steve E. or Steve G., in this case, it's a damned lie. Why a lie, you cry, my my? Well, because:
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
Anyway, damn good article in that it makes me want to
read more of what you might have to say about those
items you don't have... I'm tempted to send you an Englehart care
package so that we can get some more stuff from you.***
And the saintly fellow did it, too; said care package arriving on my humble doorstep (okay, it actually got stuffed into the lockers in the apartment complex lobby where the mail-person puts packages, but that doesn't sound as good) on Christmas Eve, and while Jeff didn't intend it as a Christmas present, it was quite the nicest one I got this year or last. A list of the Totally Cool Englehart stuff Jeff sent me in the package would be counterproductive, because then I'd have to note each of the spots in the ensuing article where I'm now about to go in and take out 'duh, Darren not know about this Steve Englehart story, Darren am stooooopid, just kill Darren now' comments, and put in my usual amazingly incisive and utterly obnoxious commentary instead, because Jeff Clem sent me this huge package of stuff! Awesome stuff. Cool stuff. Amazing stuff. Stuff that demonstrates a remarkably generous nature on Jeff Clem's part, for which, if there is any justice in the universe whatsoever, he will have another 2.7 houris assigned to the facilitation of his eternal pleasure in paradise, at least 1.4 of whom will look just like Katie Holmes, or some other WB hottie of his choice (although if he doesn't pick Katie Holmes I honestly see no hope for the guy).
So, I thank you, Jeff, you're a gentleman and a scholar and a really cool human being. Whether anyone else will thank you for allowing me to rattle off at the keyboard even more than I could before, only history can safely judge.
Okay, NOW we're getting into the damned article, I faithfully promise. This is the end of the frickin' Prologues!
- Prologue 3, for those who are keeping track -
Did I say I was done writing prologues? I lied.
(Hey, Stainless Steve uses nearly exactly that same caption at the end of an issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA; I can steal it here.)
The thing of it is, is, it's Jeff Clem's fault, because he sent me ANOTHER box of Englehart stuff, and this one contains a stack about three inches thick of Xeroxed Englehart interview material, as well as a whole bunch of Englehart's other obscure stuff I hadn't read previously, like some short monster stories for Marvel horror mags, and... well, just a buncha new stuff, which, now that I've read, I'll have to add commentary on to this article, and after I do that, I'll have to send the new draft out to Jeff and Stainless Steve, to see if they want to add anything. Which, you never know, they might, and then what they add might occasion more commentary from me... but let's not look down that road right now.
As things stand now, this article is becoming... interestingly layered... to say the least. And who knows, maybe someday it will actually be something approximating finished... but that time, as Steve E. also noted in a different place, is not this time.
**STEVE ENGLEHART'S COMICS WORK as of 10/22/01**
(actual passages from the original bibliography supplied by Mr. Englehart will be set off, as above, by **, mostly because if I just use * this idiotic WPing program puts the intervening text in bold, which won't survive ASCII reformatting on its way into HTML... and the Cistercians never had these problems with illuminated manuscripts, I bet. I’m also bolding the bibliography stuff and putting it in another font – Eurostar – but have no idea what you’ll be seeing by the time you read this.)
One of the few real pleasures and rewards of writing this nonsense, along with the continuing friendship of fine folks like this column's publisher and most ardent supporter, Steve Tice, is that every once in a while I hear from some professional whose work I've commented on, who has actually read my exasperating drivel regarding his work and been moved to respond to me in some way. This is always a thrill for me even when the response is obnoxiously arrogant and mind bogglingly stupid, as with Bradford Wright, or seems to be motivated primarily from a desire to 'correct' some 'mistake' I've made, as when a comics pro who will remain nameless wrote me to assure me that he had never never NEVER said anything bad about a particular big name comics artist he had been forced to work with, that this particular big name artist's execrable non-artwork had NOT been the reason he had withdrawn from a long term writing assignment on one of his all time favorite superheroes, and I had obviously simply imagined the letter I'd seen from him to another comics pro whom I was friends with at the time, stating all of this quite explicitly.
However, probably the greatest thrill I've had in this infrequent catalogue of feedback from real, actual comics pros was hearing from the man whose comic book writing I admire most, namely, Stainless Steve Englehart. Mr. Englehart first wrote me more than a year ago, and his notes, although they're always understandably brief, are also always cordial, gentlemanly, and pleasant, which is a lot more than I can say for some big name pros whom, again, I won't name, although one of them writes ASTRO CITY and absolutely cannot take the slightest little bit of criticism from Yours Truly at all without going completely ballistic.
Anyway, Mr. Englehart's contacts have been sporadic, but always at the very least polite, and hell, he could actually heap idiotic, mindlessly arrogant, utterly wit-free Bradford Wright-like abuse on me if he liked and I'd still be thrilled to get occasional email from a guy I regard as being quite simply the best characterization writer in the history of superhero funny books, and the premiere writing talent of the entire Silver Age. For that matter, I'd put Englehart's work on DR. STRANGE, just as one example, up against the very best the Modern Age has ever produced (by which I mean, a lot of Alan Moore's work and Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN) and I think it would comport itself quite creditably, while leaving nearly every other slacker-at-the-keyboard who has written comics since, oh, 1978 or so, coughing in the dust. And so it was that I was thoroughly delighted a while back to have Mr. Englehart send me what I consider to be an utterly priceless document: an extensively annotated bibliography, compiled by he himself, of all his published work in comics to date.
Said bibliography is the document I plan to use as the framework and skeleton for this article, as I work my way through it and graffiti it thoroughly with my own muddle-headed ravings as to What It All Means To Me.
First, let's take a look at:
VAMPIRELLA #10 (Mar 71): The Soft Sweet Lips of Hell! [art assistant to Neal Adams]
DETECTIVE #413 (July 71): Freak-Out at Phantom Hollow [backgrounds to Dick Giordano]
FALLING IN LOVE #125 (Aug 71): Do's and Don't's of Dating [art]
YOUNG ROMANCE #174, 177 (Sept 71, Dec 71): Do's and Don't's of Dating [art]
EERIE #35 (Sept 71): Retribution [art by me, story by Gardner Fox and me]
ADVENTURE #411-415, 417-419 (Oct 71-May 72): Supergirl stories [backgrounds to Bob Oksner]
JIMMY OLSEN #149 (May 72): The Unseen Enemy [backgrounds to Oksner]
GREEN LANTERN #86 (Nov 71): The Icicle Goes South [color (with Adams)]
DETECTIVE #417 (Nov 71): Edgar Allan Poe [color]
FLASH #211 (Dec 71): The Rival Flash, Is This Poison Legal? [color]
SGT. FURY #94, 97 (Jan 72, Apr 72) [uncredited co-author with Gary Friedrich]
THE INCREDIBLE HULK #148 (Feb 72) [colored the cover]
MOD WHEELS #5 (Feb 72): The Midas Run [backgrounds to Sal Trapani]
OUR LOVE STORY #15 (Feb 72): One Fleeting Moment [pencils and color; inked by Jack Abel]
MY LOVE #16 (Mar 72): Puppet on a String [pencils and color; inked by Johnny Romita]**
It wasn't until I read this bibliography that I realized that apparently, one way for a writer... well, in this case, THE Writer, Da Man Himself... to break into work in comics was as a technical art assistant and infrequent penciller. While most of Englehart's artistic credits are as an 'art assistant', or doing 'backgounds' or the coloring chores, there are enough places above where Englehart lists himself as artist or penciller to make me realize, with a start, that apparently, the man can draw, at least, at some basic level considered adequate by a number of professional comics editors and publishers over the years. While I've never seen any of Steve E.'s art, and wouldn't hesitate (sight unseen) to assume he must be a MUCH better writer than he is an artist (or, you know, he'd have become more well known as a penciller than as the Greatest Superhero Comics Writer Of All Time) nonetheless, it's something of an education to me to see that the great Steve E. took this avenue into comics. I wonder if this was a common road to the scripter's chair during the Golden and Silver Ages, or if Steve E.'s experience was a relatively rare one? I've never heard of any other Silver Age writers of repute, such as Steve Gerber or Roy Thomas, for example, who drew, also, although now that I think of it, I can vaguely recall hearing that Stan Lee was not above doing his own pencils on desperate occasion, and I do recollect a particularly awful issue of MARVEL TEAM UP that was drawn by Jim Shooter. Or was it PETER PARKER? Whatever the case, if I'd known a good writer could break into comics doing lousy pencils, I'd have drawn up a shitty portfolio of my own long ago. Well, you live and learn...
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
Shooter laid out most or all of his Legion tales in the 60s, he was also the artist on an issue or two of Peter Parker, Spectacular Spider-Man (#56 and/or 57?) and, believe it or don't, the Bill Mantlo-scripted Super Villain Team-Up #9. Shooter also did some art for Valiant, under the name Paul Creddick.***
I reproduce Jeff's comments, above, not because they say anything much about Steve Englehart's work, but simply to show how casual and complete his mastery of behind the scenes comics industry minutia is. Personally, I had no idea 'Paul Creddick' was actually Shooter. Jeff's contributions to this article that are actually about Steve E's work are invaluable, as you'll see a bit further down.
***STEVE E. SEZ:
I was considered adequate to a great extent because I was young, enthusiastic, vouched for by Neal Adams, at a time when there was lots of second- and third-level work to be had. And in fact I had a good sense of layout, which is to say, story-telling. But doing good artwork was still out ahead of me, and who knows if I would ever have reached it. In any event, when I got the chance to write, that worked better, and was better received by those editors, so I gave up on art. The sense of layout continues to serve me, in that I can imagine how I'd draw any story I write, so I don't ask for stuff that can't be done. Since I always work with artists in comics, I think it's a good thing to know what an artist has to face. But I wouldn't claim to be a capital-A Artist.
I know Marv Wolfman and Len Wein wanted to be artists, but I don't know how far they got. And Shooter did do some jobs. Otherwise, I'd say it's a rare route.***
To which Your Humble author will only dryly note that, yeah, being vouched for by Neal Adams was probably something of a door opener back in 1971. <grin>
All right, I'm going to break my above assertion in Prologue #2 about not detailing which things Jeff sent me and which he didn't. In the package, Jeff included a couple of romance comics, one with a story drawn by Steve E., and one with an "Anne Spencer" scripted stories in it. The artwork by Steve E. was... well, let's be kind and call it very very basic. The storytelling techniques seemed solid, but the grasp on anatomy was a little shaky, the layouts were wooden, and there wasn't even a vestigial attempt made to draw backgrounds, or really anything except to male and female figures exchanging dialogue, in the vast majority of the panels. It was better than I'd do, but, well... on the other hand, neither Steve E. nor I call ourselves artists, primarily, and let's leave it at that before I jam my foot further down my throat, hey?
The Anne Spencer story, which Steve E. won't note until I get back to his bibliography waaaaaay further on in this article, after an extensive discussion of the values of Don Heck and Bob Brown as artists (all you Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee fans take note and just skip on down), is called "I Can't Love Anyone!" and it's very nicely written... crisp dialogue, deft character work, it works quickly to an emotional climax and an interesting resolution, and best of all (from a pompous pedant's point of view, which is to say, mine, and no, a pedant is not someone who is aroused by children or feet, now pipe down and look it up, buddy) it's a story that, in its own minor way, is all about self actualization, enlightenment, and the rising and advancing of yet another grubby, shallow spirit to a slightly higher level of maturity. It's doubtless really pretentious to say this throwaway story foreshadows some of Englehart's greatest work in later classic arcs such as his DR. STRANGE, CAPTAIN AMERICA, and AVENGERS runs, but I'm not shy about being pretentious in an article only eight or nine people will ever actually read, so, it does, darn it!
**Loyalty...or Love! [uncredited co-author with Holli Resnicoff]
IRON MAN #45 (Mar 72) [uncredited co-author with Gary]
TWO-GUN KID #103 (Mar 72) [uncredited co-author with Ogden Whitney]
KID COLT OUTLAW #158 (Mar 72) [color]
OUR LOVE STORY #16 (Apr 72): As Good As Any Man! [uncredited co-author with Holli]
CAPTAIN AMERICA #148 (Apr 72) [wrote all the letters on the letters page]
THE HULK #152 (June 72) [uncredited co-author with Gary]**
Here we start getting into some areas I have a little more personal familiarity with. While my own comics work resume is, naturally, remarkably short and highly apocryphal (in that the well known comics pro I have some uncredited co-author credits with would deny our collaborations absolutely and unequivocally, were he asked) nonetheless, I have enough similar experiences here to understand that, indeed, collaborating even without credit can be a valid way to work one's way into the biz. Of course, this assumes that even if you don't get an official credit, you still become known to and acknowledged as a contributor by the pros you're working with, which unfortunately never happened to me, mostly due to my spectacularly poor choice in authorial partners. Still, I can see where this would be a good way to get into the biz, and in fact, even leaving aside my own experiences, I'm aware that, for example, Tom Peyer bootstrapped his way into a pro writing career (and has done some of the Modern Age's finest, if most largely unacknowledged, superhero work on titles like POWER OF THE ATOM and HOURMAN) by apprenticing himself early on to another Modern Age writing stalwart, Roger Stern. So, the notion that Englehart got a start giving uncredited, perhaps even unpaid, apprentice level help to various others a few rungs further up on the ladder doesn't surprise me at all, and doubtless, the whole time he was providing this assistance, he was busily acquiring invaluable tools of the trade he would later so commandingly demonstrate absolute mastery over.
However, the early career as an artistic assistant was probably of equal value to the development of the Silver Age's single finest writing talent. Englehart's artistic experience, heretofore unknown to me, would doubtless have been priceless to him in helping him to collaborate most successfully with the vast and varied legions of artists he has worked with over the course of his career, since, while it's a truism that the comics artist can draw anything, there are some things that no artist can draw well, and at least a few things that any artist will not be strong at.
Examples of this abound - Don Heck is one of the greatest visual storytellers in the history of sequential graphic melodrama, but he does not draw visual fantasy elements well, which has always handicapped his particular renderings in the particularly fantastic field of superhero comics. In the WATCHMEN universe where there are no superhero comics, I have little doubt that Don Heck is a legendary superstar of the pirate, cowboy, and private eye comics subgenres, but here in our particular timeline, ignorant boobs from, well, YOU, probably, right up through famous yet often idiotically opinionated folks like Harlan Ellison and Gary Groth, continue to trumpet Heck as 'the worst artist in the history of comic books' or some such rot... mostly because he does not Draw Comics The Jack Kirby Way, in a particular subgenre that, admittedly, Jack Kirby near singlehandedly created the entire visual vocabulary of.
**STEVE E. SEZ:
I love Don Heck. He was handed an incredibly difficult plot, double-sized, at the last minute--the final chapter of the Celestial Madonna epic--and it was a let-down after what had led up to it. But it was actually quite good in many ways, and far better than most people would have been able to turn in. This was in an era when pros *did* turn the job in, whatever they had to sacrifice to get there. And meanwhile, he had done beautiful work for me in earlier AVENGERS, and even better in even earlier AVENGERS and TALES TO ASTONISH and...***
Your Humble Author can only note here that first, Don Heck's work on, I believe, GS AVENGERS #4, the conclusion to the Celestial Madonna tale, was an amazing art job, especially given all the profoundly weird stuff going on in the issue. Englehart gets off some of his most existentially bizarre dialogue in this issue, such as the immortal line of a Priest of Pama to a rather bewildered Mantis "Do you not see you are meant to marry that tree?" I mean, you gotta love stuff like that, and Heck captured the utterly baffled 'exactly what hallucinogens have you ingested, buster' expression on Mantis' face beautifully, in a way that more fan favored artists like either of the Buscemas, or even Dave Cockrum, might not have handled so well.
Second, Don Heck had done some tremendous work with Steve E. prior to that; one stand out issue that immediately leaps to mind is an early one... I want to say #109, but I'm not sure... [NOTE: I originally had it wrong, Jeff Clem corrected me, so I corrected my notation; #109 is now accurate] where Englehart first introduces the character of Imus Champion, the ten foot tall glandular freak who drove himself physically to survive despite having a body too large for human habitation, and whose overwhelming will to mastery of himself and his environment led him to becoming one of the world's richest and most influential men... and, eventually, a supervillain, if not a very skillful one. This is one of my favorite AVENGERS stories ever, mostly because it showcases Hawkeye, gets him out of that awful 'air conditioned Steve Reeves' outfit he'd been running around in for far too long and back into the original Heck-designed togs where he belongs (in a sequence that showcases the mastery of naturalistic movement and motion that Heck is famous for; Heck didn't do fantasy elements well, but when it came to a normal person going through normal movements like changing their clothes, he was unparalleled in the field), and in the end gives us perhaps the most dazzling definition of Hawkeye's mastery of a bow ever put onto a comics page... when to keep Champion from triggering a nuclear bomb, Hawkeye strings his bow, takes aim, and fires in less than a second, and manages to hit Champion's bowstring, from a hundred yards away, WHILE IT IS IN MOTION, to louse up Champion's detonator-arrow. I mean... WHOA! Oliver Queen eat your heart out!
The Heck art on this single issue is nothing short of astonishing, displaying not only his unmatched capacities for drawing a vast range of normal human movement and for doing expressive facial features and body language, but also for doing weird architectural and mechanical device design, as well. While the issue does pretty much necessarily short change the rest of the Avengers, it's still one of my faves.
In point of fact, an artist who can actually draw nearly anything well, which is to say, recognizably and in an aesthetically pleasing and graphically exciting fashion, is relatively rare, and even more rarely popular. Dan Spiegle is acknowledged by many old school professionals as an absolute master of his craft, but to the modern comics fan, his artwork is 'too cartoony' to be taken seriously, and nowhere near slick enough. Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby are masters of nearly every genre of sequential graphic melodrama, but they invented their own individual and unique visual styles for the particular form of superhero comics, and even so, Ditko was only commercially successful in a relatively few places and with a relatively few characters. Will Eisner is acknowledged by anyone with a lick of sense as being able to draw damn near anything beautifully, as are (or were) other graphics masters like Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenburger, Mike Sekowsky, Carmine Infantino, Frank Robbins, Al Williamson, Wally Wood, and Gene Colan, and yet, while all these are figures who knew professional success and acclaim, none of them achieved the broad commercial and popular appeal of a Kirby, or, these days, a far more creatively limited and even stunted artist like, say, Jim Lee or Rob Liefeld. And, in fact, to the extent that any of these names are known today, half the list would be openly derided and reviled by the average, somewhat knowledgeable Modern Age fanboy, who would dismiss Swan as 'boring', Schaffenburger as 'cutesie', Sekowski as 'ugly', Infantino as 'jerky', Robbins with a simple, incredulous, jeering horselaugh, while most likely scratching his head in puzzlement as to the work of Williamson, Wood, or Colan.
Of course, more and more, the Modern Age of Superhero Comics has come to exemplify style over substance, with the most popular and commercially successful artists not only deriding and denying that scripters and writers had any valid place in sequential graphic storytelling, but by equally denying the validity of the actual substance of comic book artwork, namely, the capacity to reproduce elements of real or fantasy life consistently and recognizably, to simulate motion and sound, to create atmosphere, to establish a coherent visual setting, to control and present time and space in an effective manner, to demonstrate individual characterization and emotion with visual elements, and most of all, to actually tell a coherent, involving, entertaining, and above all else, CLEAR, story through artwork by directing the reader's eye from one distilled, stop-motion scene to another without the reader realizing its happening. Neither Jim Valentino nor Rob Liefeld could tell a coherent story through graphic sequences if their lives depended on it (and would that they did). Jim Lee can, but rarely does, because it's far more commercial for him to throw a bunch of lightboxed figures swiped from the work of the most popular artists of the 1980s together onto a page, without bothering to try to create any sense of flow between the panels. (While I'm lambasting Image artists, I try never to fail to mention that Todd McFarlane is actually an astonishingly gifted artist who CAN tell a story, and Erik Larsen is one of the few popular modern artists who is an absolute master of the basic visual storytelling vocabulary that Jack Kirby invented for superhero comics. Unfortunately, both of them also seem to think they're writers as well, and they're spectacularly bad at that. Also, Larsen's finished rendering is, perhaps deliberately, amazingly ugly.)
In point of fact, however, both writing and the skill of visual storytelling not only have a valid place in comics, they are actually at the heart of comics, and one has only to compare the work of Steve Englehart, a man obviously firmly grounded in both the techniques of writing a script and producing an acceptable page of sequential comic artwork, with anything produced under the scripting byline of an Image writer/artist, to see the huge difference that storytelling skills make. A few specific examples should make this clear.
Englehart, even when saddled with less than stellar artists during the Silver Age, almost always got the best from them, and he understood the value of an artist whom, while the fans might not like his artwork as much as someone 'slicker', could still draw what the writer asked for. There is a notorious story of Englehart's praise of Sal Buscema, saying he preferred working with Sal to someone like George Tuska, because Sal would actually draw what Englehart asked him to draw in the script, while George drew whatever he took it into his head to draw... something that explains why, in some Tuska illustrated issues of Stainless Steve scripted AVENGERS, some of the characters' dialogue has to be continued in captions over inexplicably inserted panels showing trucks driving on a highway. Tuska had learned by rote that a professional artist always breaks up 'talking heads' pages with something visually interesting, without apparently grasping that a GOOD artist, with actual talent as well as technical skill, can find a way to make a talking heads page visually interesting without suddenly cutting away, for no good reason whatsoever, to a nearby Interstate. Yet still, Englehart forced good work even through the morass of Tuska's often clueless layouts, plastering the completely unhelpful artwork with text-laden captions to convey the necessary emotion, atmosphere, and even the actual action that Tuska often utterly failed to in any way illustrate or convey. While the Tuska illustrated issues of AVENGERS may well be the artistic low point for Englehart's run on the book (even Englehart's long time collaborator, the often mediocre Bob Brown, was a comparative master of clarity, characterization, atmosphere, and panel to panel storytelling compared to Tuska), Englehart's script work is as strong on those issues as it is anywhere else, which is strong indeed.
***STEVE E. SEZ:
Sorry--I love Bob Brown, too. He did a little 8-pager for TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED (don't ask me to dig it out) that I thought was one of the best comics I had ever seen at the time, and his CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN was great, even in the light of his following Kirby. Plus it got better over time; he was one of those guys who didn't lock into a style and stay there forever after--meaning, he was involved in what he was doing. ***
Your Humble Author hastens to amend his above reporting and state that I should have found a better way to sum up Bob Brown's artistic skills than 'often mediocre'. Brown was a master craftsman whose acquired skills and experience no doubt outshone his somewhat lesser natural talents, but he was a solid, competent, and always professional visual storyteller who consistently demonstrated an easy, fluid capacity with the basic visual vocabulary of sequential graphic melodrama. I myself enjoyed Brown's artwork hugely on titles like DAREDEVIL and SUPERBOY, and will note that often Brown's inker made a large difference in the finished quality of the published work. I don't think Brown was at his best on AVENGERS, because he was called on to draw far too many really weirdly dressed characters doing really odd things all the time (especially in the Zodiac stories), and I think Don Heck's inks over Bob Brown's pencils was a rather bizarre visual mismatch. (Equally oddly, Vince Colletta over Brown on DAREDEVIL looked good, and I normally despise Colletta's greasy shortcutting approach to inking.) Nonetheless, I rate Brown highly as a personal favorite artist and an accomplished visual master, albeit one who had a somewhat limited range and who is generally badly underestimated by fandom at large, along with other similar masters of basic storytelling and detail rendering, like Sal Buscema, Don Heck, Dan Spiegle, and Herb Trimpe.
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
I'm in on Heck, and even Dillin and Novick, but honestly, Bob Brown has never done it for me.***
Well, boo on you, Jeffster. <grin>
Englehart's experience as an artist and an artistic assistant stood him in excellent stead in knowing what to ask of competent artists, and how to get the best work out of the truly good ones he worked with. It seems difficult to believe, but in point of fact my own experience shows me its lamentably true: there are people out there who simply do not understand that while, in fact, a comics artist can certainly attempt to draw anything, there are certain things that a competent writer would never ask them to draw and expect a remotely competent result. While the best comics artists can consistently find ways to surprise even the most insanely demanding writer or artist if given the freedom and flexibility to set up a page in a certain way... in fact, "Marvel style", in which a writer provides a plot without specific visual instructions to an artist, has allowed artists over the years like Kirby, Ditko, John Buscema, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Byrne, George Perez, Frank Miller, and a host of others to come up with a lot of startling, useful, and inventive visual storytelling techniques that, once they're shown to be effective, are quickly imitated by other artists and thus, quickly pass into the established visual vocabulary of superhero comics... any writer who works 'full script' has to almost from sheer necessity have a sense of what can and can't be accomplished skillfully and well on a comics page. As a specific example of this, I once saw a fairly standard six panel full script page intended to do a fairly straightforward introduction of a five person superhero team get transformed, by a well meaning but inexperienced co-scripter, into a 10 panel one page sequence which would have given any pro penciller it was handed to either nightmares for weeks or simply a bout of utter hysterics. In the original six panel page, five panels had each focused on separate individual members of the superhero team, as they battled a large, inhuman monster, asking for the artist to show each character in such a way as to visually define their powers and, of course, their actual appearance. One character had the ability to fly as well as superhuman levels of agility, another could create unusual effects with her singing voice, a third had superhuman levels of perception (a tricky thing for an artist to display, granted), a fourth had a specifically visual sort of energy power, and the fifth was a ten foot tall giant... all of which would lead into a large splash sixth panel, showing the team together for the first time confronting the monster, which would be mostly off panel or in the background. When that particular page of script left the hands of the original writer's collaborator, a guy with extensive experience reading superhero comics but who had never given more than thirty seconds thought to the demands of actually writing them prior to that moment, it had 'evolved'... for lack of a better word... into a 10 panel sequence of alternating long shots showing the entire team battling the gigantic monster together, interspersed with various close ups of the individual team member's heads and faces, and each panel was loaded down with 40 to 50 words of narration and dialogue, guaranteeing that even if someone of Steve Ditko's skill were to do the layout, pencils and inks for the page, no one would see the finished artwork underneath the captions and text balloons.
Now, this wasn’t going to happen with Englehart, because, through his experiences as a comics artist himself, would already know precisely what an artist could do in general for a writer, and assuming he paid attention and regarded the artwork of the professional artists in the business at the time with an analytical eye... something I'm willing to bet, based on the excellence of the finished product he and his collaborators nearly always produced, that he did... he would also be aware of the individual limitations, strengths and weaknesses of nearly any artist he would work with, and could thus tailor his creative approaches to those particular needs and capacities. This is also important; a writer who creates a character and a script specifically for, say, Steve Ditko, may be astonished and chagrined if that script, along with the task of basic character design, winds up in the hands of, say, Curt Swan... who, although he is certainly a talented artist, probably an equally talented one to Ditko, nonetheless has a very different visual approach than Ditko does. And that's a fairly mild example compared to one where, say, an artist might well be expecting a pencilling job of the quality of, say, a Wally Wood or Gene Colan or Frank Miller effort, and be absolutely appalled to see results come back from someone like Klaus Janson or Denys Cowan instead. Such things can, at worst, send writers reeling away from an agreed on assignment in horror, and even falling short of that extreme, can certainly see a writer simply shrug and decide there's no point in doing his best work on a certain assignment, since it's going to be buried under inept pencilling anyway.
Specific examples of how Englehart's early artistic experience stood him in good stead abound throughout his creative career in comics.
Many others have commented on the remarkable fusion of Englehart's writing talents with Marshall Rogers' visual storytelling brilliance on the indisputably outstanding DETECTIVE arc they collaborated on, (the team did similarly excellent work on four issues of the generally forgotten MR. MIRACLE revival in 1977 and 1978) and certainly, Marshall Rogers has never looked so good again with anyone other than Englehart, and rarely has Englehart been able to so tightly and tersely dole out dialogue, thought balloons, and captions with such utter confidence in his collaborator's ability to effortlessly carry his own storytelling duties.
At times, Englehart even had to take a firmer hand with artists who simply would not give him what he felt the story needed. At a mini-Con I attended in Syracuse, N.Y. in 1982 (I believe, it could have been any time up to 1984, though; I'm old and my memory of specific dates is fuzzy), I spent a couple of hours talking to one of my artistic idols, Dave Cockrum, mostly because everyone else at the Con was grouped around George Perez's table badgering him for naked sketches of Wonder Girl kissing Starfire. (I would have been, too, but it seemed kind of nekulturny.) Dave, like most of the idols of mine I've actually spent any face time with, was somewhat personally disappointing (although I'm well aware I'm no prize, either) and when I could manage to get him off the subject of how unfair it was that NEW TEEN TITANS was a bestseller while the fans were largely ignoring his FUTURIANS strip, when he himself had pioneered the whole visually exciting youthful superteam dynamic in LEGION and NEW X-MEN, I did ask him a few questions about his past projects, specifically the places I'd loved his work best on, namely, LEGION OF SUPERHEROES and GIANT SIZE AVENGERS #2. It was at that point that Dave mentioned something I found extraordinary: that Steve Englehart had been so displeased with the artwork Dave had turned in on GSA #2 that in at least one place, he had "taken an actual scissors to the original artwork" to get the panels in the order he wanted.
Of course, I have only Dave Cockrum's word for this, although, having said that, I should ruefully acknowledge that a direct quote from one of the creators directly involved in something I'm writing about is a rather distinctive and oddly legitimate source for THIS column. And given that even folks who tend not to like Cockrum's artwork generally agree that GSA #2 contains some of his all time best, it would seem that if Steve E. indeed felt moved to cut up and rearrange Cockrum's original art to get the final effect he wanted, he was certainly vindicated in doing so by history.
***STEVE E. SEZ:
Okay, now I have Dave C. and Steve E.'s word for it. Hey, I published something truthful in a Martian Vision article! My former publisher at CBEM is whirling in his grave. (Okay, he's probably not dead yet, but allow me a moment of personal wish fulfillment.)
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
Steve doesn't talk much about the Cockrum-GSA #2 incident (witness his terse reply) and he says even less about his experience with David Singer and WALLY WOOD'S THUNDER AGENTS #1... because there's really nothing interesting to say, or... ***
Or? OR? Darn you, you know far more than me about this stuff, Jeff, finish your sentences!
In contrast to Engelehart, we have writers like Roy Thomas, who, in the words of the Late Great Jeff Webb, 'makes good artists draw bad', as can be seen if one contrasts, say, the early work of Todd McFarlane on INFINITY INC., where he generally looks amateurish, rushed, and muddled, with work from the same time period he did for Englehart in various back up features presented in COYOTE and SCORPIO ROSE, where he created artwork that was far clearer and more pleasant to look at. Of course, a supporter of INF-INC might cogently point out that that particular superhero team had around a dozen members at any given point, nearly all of whom were visually freakish in some particular or another, and Roy tended to create plots in which large numbers of them would be present at any given time in any given panel, often doing little more than exchanging banter regarding obscure continuity of Golden Age superheroes and superheroines who had been published by forgotten houses back in the 40s and 50s, and who were generally talking about stuff that had never actually happened, anyway. It would be difficult, said hypothetical Inf-Inc fans might well opine, for even Jack Kirby or Will Eisner to draw that well, especially when you toss in Solomon Grundy and all those whackoes from Evil, Inc., or whoever it was that Inf-Inc always used to fight, with the exploding baby and the poisonous skeleton guy and the dog-person and what have you. However, to such a person, I would merely reply that a writer who has even a vestigial grasp on what goes into good comics artwork would never design such a wild assed pack of visually deranged characters and then cram them all into issue after issue after issue, often doing nothing but standing around talking to each other for pages on end. Even the best artists (and Todd McFarlane is one of the best artists in comics) can only do so much; a competent writer will give his penciller something worth working with.
Englehart's ability to work with George Perez is another specific example of how his early artistic training stood him in good stead. Perez was right at the beginning of his career when he started drawing AVENGERS under Englehart, and while anyone, even the sturdy and always reliable Sal Buscema, or the probably by then deceased (but equally professional) Bob Brown, would have been a welcome relief to George Tuska's spastic and heavily impaired stylistic interpretations, Perez was more than just a breath of fresh air, he was a whole jet stream of amazing and innovative visual talent. Like Rogers and McFarlane would somewhat later, Perez seemed to feel free to stretch himself and tell stories in his own inimitable fashion under Englehart, and while I have no idea what, if anything, Steve E. has ever said about George, or vice versa, nonetheless, it seems to me that Englehart was able to concentrate on his strengths (dialogue and characterization) under Perez, while trusting Perez to handle the visual storytelling quite ably on his own, without heavy captions festooning everything to inform an otherwise puzzled reader of exactly what was going on in any particular panel. Contrast this a few years later to how muddled, crowded, and generally inept Perez looked under Jim Shooter's writing on the same title. I've made this point previously and drawn the wrath of George Perez in so doing, who shot me an email telling me in no uncertain terms that he'd enjoyed working with Shooter and if his artwork was discernibly worse in that run on AVENGERS than it had been under Englehart, it was doubtless his fault, but honestly, I think that's just George being nice, to his co-worker Shooter if not to the idiotic fanboy mouthing off about things he obviously has no clue regarding. Still, even in the face of that, I'm going to stick by my guns and say that looking back over both Shooter and Englehart's extensive bodies of work in the comics field, it seems fairly obvious to me that Englehart has far more consistently gotten good art jobs than Shooter has, often out of the same artists, and I seriously doubt this can be a coincidence... although I'll admit, it could merely be a perceptual glitch on my part.
***STEVE E. SEZ:
You're right about how I worked with George--I always encourage my artists to kick ass, and the happier they are the happier I am. But I have no knowledge of how Jim worked with him.***
I merely include the above comment for the egotistical reason that it's Steve E. saying I'm right about something. <grin> Having said that, I will also say that all the evidence I have says that I'm simply wrong about the difference in quality between Perez's two stints on AVENGERS, the one under Englehart, and the other under Shooter. I have Perez's own email (well, I don't have it any more, or I'd cut and paste it here) to tell me I'm crazy. Also:
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
I'm sorry, I do not see the decline in quality of Perez's art from Englehart to Shooter. I do, however, think that Perez was better then than he is now. I absolutely love Avengers # 160 and 161 by Perez and Shooter.***
Jeff echoes a few other fans who disagree with me fervently about the drop I see in Perez's artistic quality under Shooter. I've admitted above it could all be subjective. Nonetheless, in my own defense, I will continue to hold forth that I see a very real decline in the overall quality, not only of Perez's finished rendering under Shooter (which could admittedly be blamed on the inker) but of his basic storytelling skills. Glancing at Perez's work under Shooter, as compared to his work under Englehart, or under his own direction in WONDER WOMAN, Wolfman's in TITANS, or Busiek's in his modern run on the rebooted AVENGERS, it still seems to me to be simply the worst work he's ever done, and the major difference I see is the number of panels crammed onto each page, and the number of characters Perez is forced to draw into each panel. Of course, under Englehart Perez had to draw a sizeable squad of Avengers battling an even larger group of Squadron Supremors, but Englehart gave him far more room to stretch out in. Busiek also loaded up the boat quite frequently in his run on AVENGERS with Perez, but I have some knowledge of Kurt Busiek's method of working with artists, and I know he's extremely intelligent and knowledgeable in how he chooses to interact with them... those who need extra guidance he works full script with, those who don't he happily goes 'Marvel style' with. I strongly suspect he collaborated fully with Perez, giving him only light plots and then joyfully scripting the amazingly drawn pages Perez gave back to him. (I don't know for sure, because Kurt thinks I'm a big jerk these days and his head would explode if I asked him to comment. Which would be a great personal gain for me but a loss for AVENGERS, so I'll just leave it alone, as I love the Avengers more than life itself... well, Kurt's life, anyway.)
Perez's email note to CBEM on my assertions in re: his work under Shooter mentioned that Jim had given him very detailed plots written out on yellow legal sized paper, and I'm simply thinking that given that Shooter is, himself, someone who thinks of himself as an artist, and is pretty obviously a 'do it my way' kinda guy anyway, (that's me being polite and not using the term 'control freak') those very detailed plots may well have dictated panel flow and page structure... not something a really perspicacious writer would burden a George Perez with. And, again, given the generally lousy artwork Shooter has gotten out of many of his regular artists, I'm going to continue to stick to my guns and say Perez looked worse under Shooter than under anyone else he worked with on AVENGERS, and it was probably due to Jim S.' notorious penchant for exercising way more control than a truly talented collaborator needed.
I also have to regretfully disagree with Jeff's other notation. Perez's modern artwork under Busiek on AVENGERS simply blows his earlier stuff away, not simply in the big, broad fight scenes and explosions that all us fanboys adore, but more specifically, in the more subtle areas of visual storytelling, like giving individual characters individual facial structures and body languages. In his early days on AVENGERS, Perez once did a sequence in which Hank Pym, Clint Barton, and Steve Rogers all sat around in a room at Avengers Mansion talking to each other with their masks off, and from the neck up, you couldn't tell them apart. Contrast that with his work under Busiek, in which Hawkeye clearly looks like a big chinned corn fed Midwestern boy, Steve Rogers has a far narrower, more fine boned and almost aristocratic face, Thor is so Norse looking it's almost painful, the Wasp has an impish, wistful, snub nosed, almost urchin's face much of the time, and Hank Pym actually looks studious and intent, with the thin, bookish features of a British Harvard don.
Nonetheless, I feel safe in saying that Englehart's background as a comics artist and art assistant has stood him in good stead during his decades of writing some of the finest superhero comics ever published.
**PSYCHO #7 (July 72): I - Am Demona [art (Demona inked by Vince Colletta)]
THE WITCHING HOUR #21 (July 72): The Unbeliever [art]
WESTERN GUNFIGHTERS #9 (July 72) [color]
MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #5 (Aug 72) co-creator of Ghost Rider**
This is a point where I have to stop and note my astonished double-take. In all my decades as a somewhat wired-in fanboy, I have never even remotely heard the slightest hint that Englehart had anything to do with the creation of the Ghost Rider. However, at the same time, it hardly seems like something you'd lie about, and in fact, I've yet to catch Steve E. in any sort of lie, so I have to assume that there's something valid behind this. I wish Steve had gone into more details here, as I'm sure there has to be a fascinating story behind this annotation.
***STEVE E. SEZ:
Fascinating? From a fan-boy perspective, maybe.***
Ouch! I think that one drew blood. <grin> Nah, not really. I'm a fanboy, I admit it.
***STEVE E. continues:
No, I meant that *I* was still basically a fan-boy at the time, so it
was fascinating to me because it was one of my earliest times of
contributing to Marvel.
Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog (I think; am I right? I haven't thought about this since 1972)***
I have no idea. GHOST RIDER wasn't one of my faves. I do dimly recall Mike Ploog being associated with the book early on.
***STEVE E. continues:
and Roy were in the Bullpen's one office (it had been Stan's, and probably still was, but it might have been Roy's by then). They were trying to make the new character work, but there were problems. I was either called in for a fresh perspective or wandered in on my own, and joined the discussion. We ran things up, down, and backwards, and I was able to contribute--which is why, since I was still new, I see it more as a fan-boy's dream date than anything else, and why it's part of the Beginnings section, on a par with that early art and co-scripting.
Let me add that the events happened like this, but I can't swear that it was Gary and Mike and Roy in the room. Mike's the dimmest in my mind, and it could have been Stan instead of Roy, though I don't think so.***
I have a lot of similar memories of brainstorming with Kurt Busiek early in his career, and of course, I creatively kibitzed extensively with Kurt, Scott McCloud, and the Late Great Jeff Webb back when we were all in college and no one had broken in to comics yet, so I know how muddled up such memories can be, and how difficult it can be to get details straight of stuff that happened so long ago. I say all this to state that Steve E.'s lack of reliable recall on who was in the meeting at the time adds more verisimilitude to his anecdote, not less. And yeah, as a fanboy I find the account fascinating! Sue me. <grin>
**COMBAT KELLY #3 (Oct 72) [inked the cover]
MONSTERS ON THE PROWL #15 (Feb 72): Terror of the Pterodactyl [plotted by Al Hewitson]
OUR LOVE STORY #18 (Aug 72): I Failed at Love! [as "Anne Spencer"]
MY LOVE #19 (Sept 72): I Can't Love Anyone! [as "Anne Spencer"]
JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #1 [second series] (Oct 72): House!
All this vastly weird and entirely obscure Englehart material was, to say the least, news to me. Beyond that, I have little comment, other than to say that I'd like to read all this stuff, just to see how recognizable (if at all) Englehart's dialogue and narrative style was in such material, especially as "Anne Spencer".
***STEVE E. SEZ:
My sister's name is Anne, and she married a guy from Spencer IN.***
To which I can only say, okay, then. Good characterization detail there, Stainless One. ;)
**The Phantom of the Third World (Apr-Aug 72) [story and art]
• monthly satirical strip for Newsday, New York; in rotation with strips by Barry Smith,
Herb Trimpe, Gary Viskupic.Steve Englehart's Comics Work : (c) 10/22/01 : 2**
I've managed to see a few photostats of these recently (thanks, Jeff). These are sort of Steve E. version of THIS MODERN WORLD by Tom Tomorrow, twenty years beforehand. Crisp dialogue, deft wordplay, and usually a cogent political point made, all in generally six or seven panels or less. Not precisely what I look for from Englehart, but certainly not at all to his discredit. His artwork is much more workable in these, as well, and I myself think I see a distinct Sal Buscema influence. (There are many in my hypothetical audience - I wouldn't make that same claim of 'many' for an actual audience of these things, mind - who will now feel I've insulted Steve's art. Those hypothetical Sal-bashers can go soak their heads. I can think of no one better suited to study or emulation of than Sal Buscema for improving basic comics drawing techniques.)
** AMAZING ADVENTURES featuring THE BEAST #12-17 (May
• #12 colored by me
• #16 co-plotted with THOR #207 and JLA #103**
All this stuff is familiar to me, although the AMAZING ADVENTURES "Beast" run is one whose generally low circulation numbers have made very hard to find in back issues, so I don't own any, and have only ever read the series once (on the floor of Kurt Busiek's dorm room in 1980, very carefully taking them out of their protective snugs and putting them back again, one at a time, before moving on to the next issue, under the understandably zealous eye of 'Sieur Busiek himself). I remember the artist's name was something... Tom Sutton?... something like that, and I disliked his art intensely, and I also remember thinking that the whole weird effect which occurred when Unus and the Blob slammed themselves together was... er... kind of a stretch... but still, overall, I enjoyed the series, and wish I could pick up some copies now. Pretty clearly, Marvel is never going to reprint it.
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
Tom Sutton may not be your cup of tea, artistically, but I theorize that he was giving them
"dead-o-night/Lovecraftian" stuff and they felt the urge to cover that up with heavy inkers like Giacoia, Ploog and Frank McLaughlin. I do like the issue Ploog inked, which looks like Ploog drew it.***
I don't remember the issues well enough to actually detail inkers, since I've only ever read them once, under the circumstances detailed above. And Tom Sutton is definitely not my cup of tea, artistically. However, at least I like Bob Brown. Nyaaah. <grin>
Okay. Jeff C. astounded me by including copies of these in his CARE package to me, and I've reread them recently, so I can now comment more cogently. First, Tom Sutton's art is much better to my present day perceptions than it was to the 18 year old snot who first read these on Kurt Busiek's dorm room floor back in 1980. It's still not entirely to my liking in many places, but he did a pretty excellent job capturing the mood and atmosphere necessary to a bizarre little strip like this.
The strip was bizarre. A close examination of the letters page indicates that Gerry Conway had written the premiere issue of the arc, in which scientist Hank McCoy drank a serum of his own devising to enhance his own mutations, and became the hunched over, grey furred, somewhat monstrous Beast that he basically remained for the next several years of comics continuity (although he later turned black, for a few issues, and then, throughout his run in AVENGERS, blue). I've never read that issue (Kurt did not bring that issue with him to college, as at the time he had a fine disdain for Conway's work, which I certainly shared then and still have now, although Kurt may have reconsidered, given his own professional success... pros can rarely afford to hold the same opinions as mere obnoxious fanboys, at least, publicly), so I don't know for sure, but from comments in later letters pages, it sounds like Conway simply wanted to give Marvel yet another monster mag, and pretty much had McCoy transform himself for no good reason at all. (Englehart's dialogue in AA #12 seems to subtly underscore this point, as he has the Beast wail that he has no idea why he drank that serum in the first place, and repeat that bemoaning at least twice.) Englehart also seems to have been stuck with an editorial mandate to make the Beast monstrous, as he seems to have had to contrive plots in which the Beast is more or less forced to behave that way (Mastermind using illusions to bring out a hallucinatory 'berserker rage' in the first Englehart issue, for example). Yet if Englehart was given such a directive, he rose above it well, and managed to give us a lot of interesting characterization on poor Hank in the midst of what quite clearly, in the hands of a lesser writer like Conway, would have been nothing but a cheap, shallow knock off of HULK or WEREWOLF BY NIGHT.
[Since writing the above, Jeff C. has sent me more interview material of Englehart's, and I'm aware that apparently, Roy Thomas initiated the idea of giving The Beast his own title, based on seeing a novel of that name and deciding it was a good name for a series. How much Roy contributed to the idea to turn Hank McCoy into a lame combination of Hulk and Werewolf By Night I don't know, though.]
It's worth noting that this sort of market driven, commercially minded, fad conscious distortion of an established character into something that might make a few more short term shekels for that character's corporate masters is something I hate the most in modern comics, and had Conway continued to maladroitly direct the character, the 'beastilization' of Hank McCoy would probably be seen as one of the blackest marks he and Roy Thomas' resumes. Since Englehart took over AMAZING ADVENTURES, and later set the tone for the Beast in his run on AVENGERS, this forced, utterly contrived and truly awfully conceived metamorphosis became a valid, and even much treasured development in what later became a fan favorite character. But I sincerely doubt that ever would have happened, had Conway kept handling the series.
Englehart did some fun things in this brief arc, although as with most writers who have handled the character, he seemed to have a rather shaky grasp on Mastermind's powers, treating them as completely convincing mental illusions in some instances (the Beast, even though he knows its an illusion, nonetheless is forced to leap down from a high wire when it seems to burst into flames) and as little more than visual tricks in others (the Beast dives straight through an illusory Mastermind in one early panel, and in another, Mastermind explains that he needs the Beast to steal a diamond, even though he's perfectly capable of projecting a flawless illusion of said jewel, because prospective buyers will want to examine the jewel, although in they will, in the end, keep only an illusion, while Mastermind and his crew keep the original gem to be sold over and over again... something that would only matter if Mastermind were, in fact, not capable of projecting a completely convincing mental illusion). Since in the first issue, Mastermind does indeed project a completely convincing mental illusion to the Beast that he has flown into a rage and killed Iron Man... well... anyway, it's inconsistent. Of course, as I mentioned, most writers who handle Mastermind seem similarly clueless as to how his powers really work (or simply change how they work from one part of the story to the next, to suit specific plot requirements), but all of that is simply a good reason to avoid using the character, to my mind... or if one is going to use him, to get a good idea in one's own head of just what he can and can't do before setting out to write him.
Englehart also seemed fuzzy on the Juggernaut, apparently laboring under the misperception that if Juggy's helmet was ripped off, he would lose his mystic powers. This is, of course, untrue; the helmet merely conveys protection from mental attacks to Marko, which is why, in his first appearance in X-MEN, it being ripped off led to his defeat at the hands (well, lobes) of Professor X. For the Beast to rip off Juggie's helmet, with no handy telepathic ally nearby, is pretty much useless. Still, the story was set in Rutland, Vermont on Halloween, and that's always kinda fun. Even more enjoyable for me was recognizing the various supporting characters in the story, which when I first read it as a kid of around 11, I didn't... Stainless Steve writes himself into the comic, along with Len Wein and his wife Glynis (who, as drawn by Bob Brown, looks fetching in a 70s Supergirl outfit) and a milk drinking Gerry Conway, and even manages to get in a dig at his new employers by having Glynis Wein wonder, when Steve's car breaks down, "Doesn't Marvel pay Steve ANYthing?"
[Oddly, this issue, which Steve notes is co-plotted with a JLA issue, is sort of a precursor; later on, in Steve's first JLA script, he also writes himself in, as Esteben Corazon, dictator of a small, fictional South American country.]
JLA #103 is sort of the DC Universe flip side of this story, although there is actually no connection between the two. In it, DC-Universe versions of Len & Glyn Wein, Gerry Conway, and Steve Englehart do all travel to Rutland VT, and Gly Wein is wearing a Supergirl costume (over in the Marvel Universe, it's referred to as a 'Powergirl' costume, strangely presaging a whole different character not yet conceived), and Glyn does wander off and go through some weird stuff... but it's different weird stuff than she goes through in the MU.
The only element in common between the JLA story and the Beast story (as well as the truly wretchedly abysmally awful THOR story by Gerry Conway they were all co plotted with) is that poor Steve Englehart's car keeps getting abused by the villains, and in the end, gets stolen.
As long as I’m talking about this, I’ll mention that Jeff C. also sent me a copy of THOR #207, which I’d read once long ago and quickly forgotten. Rereading it now, I see the fast lapse in memory was most likely a defense mechanism; it’s a truly ghastly, appallingly badly written story in which so much mindbogglingly stupid shit happens it would take an entire article to list it all. Suffice to say, the sequence where Loki turns a couple of dogs into magically powered wolves and sics them on Thor, and Thor doesn’t want to hurt them because they’re ‘innocents’, made me long for death… Conway’s, at least, hopefully retroactive to just before he turned this awful thing in. Going beyond just bad writing, there’s another sequence in this story where Thor manages to summon a distant Mjolnir to his hand by… well, here, let me quote it, you’d just never believe it otherwise:
"Then, turning his thoughts to other matters, Thor cries a single word – the true name of the mallet called Mjolnir -- ! Only by their true name may the things of the Earth be summoned – and the true names are known only to a few – a very blessed few."
Now, excuse me while my head simply explodes under this torrential downpour of utterly unprecedented bullshit, but I swear to God, if Thor had ever before in his publishing history at Marvel (or at any point in actual Norse mythology) managed to summon Mjolnir to him from a distance before he turned back into Don Blake by invoking Mjolnir’s ‘true name’ (wouldn’t that be, you know, Mjolnir?), I have never heard the merest breath of a whisper of it, and I’m pretty frickin’ sure he never did it again, either. This is writing so colossally, brain numbingly godawful that it truly belongs in a Jerry Siegel MIGHTY CRUSADERS story, right alongside the bit where the Shield teleports the entire team out of the heart of an inescapable nuclear death trap using a super power he had never mentioned having before, and could only use once, and therefore would never bring up again.
And I’m not even going to mention the shrieking stupidity embodied in the fact that Loki’s dog/wolves are named Satan and Diablo. I mean, what the FUGG. When did Loki become a Roman Catholic?
And who wrote this lovely, lovely gem of pulse pounding superhero comics storytelling? Why, none other than Very Merry Gerry Conway… the man who turned Hank McCoy, for no good reason, into a grey furry monster, and a guy we’ll be getting back to in rather more detail a bit further on, trust me.
**• Storyline concluded in THE HULK #161**
I'm not entirely certain, but Englehart may have been the writer who pioneered the technique of tying up loose ends from one prematurely cancelled series in another ongoing assignment. I know it was a technique Englehart used a few more times, as when he brought the Roxxon storyline from CAPTAIN AMERICA over into AVENGERS, and at the same time, used that same story arc in AVENGERS to tie up a few more Beast loose ends from AMAZING ADVENTURES!
**Killed Iron Man in my first story
- co-plotted with THOR and JLA
in my first series - Patsy Walker
(in a negligé)**
You can see why the man is my role model; few others would note with such pride putting Patsy Walker in lingerie in a mainstream Marvel comic book. I can only note ruefully that I wish Gene Colan or Wally Wood had drawn it.
***STEVE E. SEZ:
Sales were not good and, if I may say, I've always been a little less constricted about sex than most people in comics. Not that I expected great cheesecake, because it was Tom Sutton, who did not draw the most realistic human forms around, but I wanted the sexiest opening we could get, and we got it.***
'Less constricted about sex' indeed, Stainless... who else would cultivate a taste for artificial phallus in the cold, cold heart and previously untouched orifi of the Scarlet Witch? Or give us history's first real sexually driven soap opera with the Mantis-Swordsman-Vision-Witch tangle? Or, rather later on, show us comics' first case of marital infidelity, when Marvel's hottest babe, Crystal, decided to get it on with an insurance salesman who bore an alarming resemblance to Richard Howell, the guy drawing the series the affair took place in? (Note to Rich: that's not a criticism, big guy, that's a 'hubba hubba'. Working in comics has weird perks; having your visual alter ego ball The Most Delectable Super Babe of the Marvel Universe has to be a major one. You go, dude.) And all that's just early on, and doesn't even touch on the cruelty of Star Sapphire with poor paralyzed Hector Hammond...
Back to the Patsy Walker in a negligee thing: my recollections are that no, no, it certainly wasn't Gene Colan drawing the Black Widow getting out of a shower and toweling herself down in loving detail (a very fondly recalled adolescent memory of an otherwise blah BLACK WIDOW solo story by, I think, Gary Friedrich, but it might have been Roy Thomas). However, it was pretty hot, given the limitations of the artist.
And, having just reread the sequence, I can say that it looked better than I remembered. It's not bad stuff at all, given, you know, that it was Tom Sutton.
**THE DEFENDERS #1-11 (Aug 72-Dec 73)
• #7 second half scripted by Len Wein
• #8-11 interlaced with AVENGERS #115-118
First "bi-weekly" series: The
Englehart doesn't note it, so perhaps it's not true, but I've always regarded "The Avengers-Defenders War" as being the seminal superhero crossover event. The JLA and JSA had, by this time, established a yearly team up adventure as a tradition, but the JSA did not have their own title, and their associative adventures took place within a single yearly issue of JLA in which the JSA effectively acted as guest stars (later in the tradition, DC started throwing in a third super team each year, as well, starting with the rather obscure Seven Soldiers of Victory and later using the Legion of Superheroes, the All Star Squadron, and in what may stand as the all time worst, and last, JLA/JSA team up, a one shot family superhero team called the Champions -- !!! -- whose basic characterizations, along with the essential plot for the story, were directly swiped from Madeline L'Engle's various children's fantasy series, especially A WRINKLE IN TIME). What Englehart did in weaving a continued storyline between two ongoing team titles was, I think, unprecedented, and obviously set the stage for the proliferation of crossover stories that erupted across both major comics companies in the 1980s and spread to the competing companies throughout the 1990s.
In addition to being astonishingly prescient (if not actually trend-setting in its own right, which I suspect it actually was), "The Avengers/Defenders War" was something nearly every following crossover story distinctly was not... well plotted and beautifully executed. Englehart interwove obscure pieces of Marvel's Silver Age continuity with minor bits of then current characterization into a richly detailed narrative arc which accomplished the singular feat of individually showcasing 15 different wildly iconoclastic superheroes in a steadily evolving and always interesting plot that not only grabbed and held the attention, but made sense throughout, and which built up to a thoroughly satisfying climax and resolution. "The Avengers-Defenders War" has, to my knowledge, never been reprinted, probably due to the fact that the artists involved (Bob Brown and Sal Buscema) have never been fan favorites, and Englehart's work is currently out of fashion, but it's a pity, as this is not only a piece of superhero comics history, but also a damned good story in its own right. Maybe if we can get Carlos Pacheco or George Perez to re-do the artwork...
***STEVE E. SEZ:
It is being reprinted very shortly, along with part of the Celestial Quest and some chunk of Captain America. I was kept totally out of the loop on the reprints, of course. What could I have possibly added to the package?***
Ah, irony. What indeed? Still, while Englehart's treatment by modern comics publishers has been fairly disgraceful, it's good to know that this stuff is going to be reissued.
** - the
As Steve E. notes, he did indeed create the character of the Valkyrie, who went on to become a staple for the Defenders' often (post Gerber, anyway) tediously long first run, and who has since been revived in a new form by Busiek and Larsen for the Defenders' current series (reportedly not long for this world, since Joe Quesada is said to really dislike the series' 'retro' feel. Now, if Busiek and Larsen had pitched him an ULTIMATE DEFENDERS, and gotten Mark Millar to write it...) Steve also did quite an excellent Norrin Radd, although Gerber hastily tossed the Surfer into exile in order to focus on the more human level DEFENDERS throughout his own long, singular, and brilliantly iconoclastic run on the book.
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
Steve did not create Valkyrie - that was Roy Thomas in Avengers #83, which took place in Rutland, VT.***
***STEVE E. SEZ
Sorry. Wrong. Roy created her. I just used her.***
While I could wax rhapsodic for hours on the fascinating images conjured up by the phrase "I just used her" in relation to the Valkyrie (hey, I'm overly libidinous, deal with it), I won't, for two reasons: (a) it would be unprofessional and off the subject of this article, and (b) if Valkyrie were real and I tried to use her, she'd beat me up. So let me just say, for one of the few times in this article:
I absolutely disagree with Jeff and Steve E. in this particular regard.
Well, you're thinking, YOU'RE a moron, I mean, for God's sake, the guy you say created the character just said he didn't create the character. Is idiocy congenital in your family or simply one of your acquired characteristics?
Okay, I see your point, you hypothetical heckler, but, nonetheless, I DO disagree with both Jeff and Steve. Yes, Roy Thomas created an entity that called herself 'the Valkyrie' briefly in the laughably pretentious AVENGERS #83, who briefly led a mind controlled pack of female superhumans into battle against the forlorn male Avengers under the truly obnoxious, desperately striving for hipness name of 'the Lady Liberators'. (I mean, GROAN!) And I won't deny that John Buscema, in fact, created the visual appearance, in that issue, of the Valkyrie. Nonetheless, what Roy created in that issue was a magical disguise for the Enchantress (whose mind control spells, by the way, don't work well on women, something Roy himself established in other issues and ignored in this one). It was Steve Englehart, in a later issue of THE DEFENDERS, who had the Enchantress conjure up an actual individual character called 'the Valkyrie', infusing the deranged body of Barbara Norris with the spirit of an actual (if memory impaired) Valkyrie from Valhalla. (That last little fillip is, as far as I know, a much later embellishment to the character by J.M. deMatteis; Englehart, and later Gerber, never paid much attention to the supernatural origins of 'the Valkyrie'.) It was Englehart who created the actual character and Englehart who established her actual behavior, speech pattern, and personality. It was Englehart who gave her the Black Knight's sword, and later on, Englehart who took it away again (I think... it might have been Gerber).
The sword bit is an important point; 'the Valkyrie' in AVENGERS #83, perhaps cognizant of her role as the leader of a 'liberated' superwomen's team, employed a halberd (for you non-D&D guys out there, a big goddam polearm), which is to say, the biggest frickin' phallus-surrogate weapon she could get her hands on. It was Englehart who established the Valkyrie as the only other sword wielding woman in comics besides Red Sonja.
So, to my mind, Englehart created the Valkyrie. A walking talking visual illusion that looked like the Valkyrie appeared before her, using that false name, under Roy Thomas, but Englehart created the actual character who endured for twenty years in her original form, and who has since been reborn in another version in the current run of DEFENDERS.
And, yes, I actually did know all that before Jeff and Steve pointed it out, I just didn't go into detail in my original draft of this article.
**first non-Stan series for Silver Surfer**
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
Englehart is incorrect; he did not write the first non-Stan Silver Surfer...that was Roy Thomas in Sub-Mariner #34 and 35, which was, oddly enough, the "template" for Defenders. Marv Wolfman also thinks he was the first one to write the Surfer (Tomb of Dracula #50)after Stan's late 60s/early 70s series and he, too, is wrong. I had to inform them both of this when they were guests here at a con in October.***
I sez: I'm not gonna argue, since I have no clue, and Jeff sure sounds authoritative, don't he? <grin> However, I will point out that Englehart says 'the first non-Stan SERIES', and Jeff sites a two issue story, so I suspect Steve E. could make a good argument for Jeff being kinda silly on this point. But I don't get paid to referee.
**CAPTAIN AMERICA #153-167, 169-186 (Sept 72-June 75)
• #157 second half scripted by Steve Gerber
• #164 co-plotted with Al Weiss
• #169 second half scripted by Mike Friedrich
• #170 scripted by Mike from my plot
• #171 scripted by Mike from my idea
• #186 framing sequences scripted by John Warner
The two Captain America TV movies at this time existed
because of the comic's success but had nothing to do
with my stories.
Became what turned out to be
the last lead writer for the Marvel
Age of Comics - series moved
from candidate for cancellation to
top-selling Marvel in six months
- the '50's Captain America -
Dave, comics' first conscientious
objector - Sharon and Peggy -
Nightshade - the suicide in the
White House - eight months
without Cap - Nomad - Roscoe
- the Red Skull - the true
origin of the Falcon**
In addition to Stainless Steve's extensive annotations, I would add to the list that he created the Serpent Squad, in both its original, three person incarnation (in the same issue that introduced Dave Cox, one of my personal single issue story favorites), and its later renovation under Madame Hydra, another Steve E. creation, who in that story murdered the original Viper (created by Steve Gerber) and took his nom de guerre as her own. The Madame Hydra/Viper character later went on to become something of an obsessive recurring favorite villain of Chris Claremont's, but we can't blame Steve E. for that.
More importantly, it was during the first appearance of the Nomad that Steve Englehart basically invented something that has since become a cottage industry for Alan Moore, and his legion of lesser imitators: the deconstruction of the superheroic mythos. Yes, all that sly, jeering "Damn you, Liz, you’re laughing at my life!" stuff that Moore later made an endless chomping supper out of, and continues to do so even now (brilliantly) in TOP 10 and other titles, got its start in one beautifully conceived, brilliantly scripted sequence where Steve Rogers, upon designing the costume he will wear as The Nomad, decides on impulse to give himself a cape, simply because he’s always liked them… and then later, he rips the damned thing off and drops it on the floor, never to be used again, after he trips over it while pursuing the Serpent Squad. "He tripped over his cape!" exults a fleeing Eel, hilariously. "I always knew I’d see someone do that someday!" A great, great moment, echoed a few years later when Professor Hugo Strange, managing to get his masked nemesis the Batman into a helpless position, also transcended standard genre limitations and quite intelligently lifted Batman’s mask, learning, for what must have been the first time in comics history, the secret identity of a defenseless hero.
Yep. All that great Marvelman and Top 10 satire stuff, as well as all its endless, perpetually mediocre imitations by Moore’s unblushing legion of slavish imitators, all the deconstruction of the standard superheroic mythology that fueled so much of the entire Modern Age… it all started here, with a guy in a blue and gold Sal Buscema costume falling flat on his face because he stepped on his great big flapping goddam stupid and useless blue cape. Heh. You gotta love it.
***STEVE E. SEZ:
I didn't create Madame Hydra, either. I think Gary Friedrich did, in the CAP just before I started.***
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
The original Madame Hydra was created by Jim Steranko.
I think Steve is incorrect about Madame Hydra being created by Gary Friedrich in Captain America previous to Steve's own run. Conway was the writer on that title right before Englehart, I think, and Friedrich had done it for awhile before that, and I certainly do not remember any Madame Hydra, but I could be wrong. I'm writing this at work and I really do not relish digging through that extremely bad period of Cap's title, so please don't make me. I still think that the original Madame Hydra was created by Steranko in Cap #110,111 and 113. Later characters may have adopted the guise of Madame Hydra, but the original was from Steranko-ville, hepcat.***
I'm not gonna argue at all with any of this. When I said Steve E. had created Madame Hydra, I was going on my memories of Madame Hydra appearing in Cap's weird, green tinted memory flashbacks that occurred early in AVENGERS, when it turned out the Space Phantom had been screwing with his head. I don't remember that issue number, but I'm pretty sure it was written by Englehart, and I also dimly recall reading somewhere, in some interview with someone, that the issue had actually been pastiched together using previously unpublished artwork from another story to account for how Cap got his secret identity back after revealing it to the world years before in his own title. However, this is yet another example of how I write these things by the seat of my pants from my own muddled recollections, since my comics collection is in storage somewhere outside Syracuse, NY, and probably will be forever due to financial restraints. (And they may no longer be there at all; the buddy who offered to store them for me, at the last minute, as I was beating my way out of Syracuse barely ahead of a pack of creditors, has since dropped off the face of the Earth as far as I can discover, and God knows what's happened to those comics.)
That issue was the earliest memory I had of Madame Hydra, but if Jeff sez Steranko came up with her, I'll lay back and let it roll all over me. She certainly has the Steranko look.
I'd also point out that Steve's work here really begins to showcase not only his scripting ability, but his capacity for writing comedy, as well. The various 'alternate Captain Americas' who show up briefly during each issue when Cap is sojourning as Nomad all go through short lived but hilariously funny stints as self appointed 'replacement Caps', each of them discovering that it's easy to wear a costume, but impossible to actually fill the boots of the one and only Captain America. Of course, for all the hilarity of watching a retired baseball superstar break his arm trying to swing down from a rooftop on a bunch of fur store robbers, or a glory-seeking biker getting beaten senseless by six members of a rival bike gang ("Six of 'em - and I ain't even brung my crowbar!!"), Englehart was, as always, pointing us towards a very somber resolution of this theme, as in the end, the one 'substitute Cap' who might have actually eventually proved worthy to take the place of the original gets ambushed and killed by the Red Skull on his first real mission... and it's that, more than anything else, that brings it home to Steve Rogers that he can't simply walk away from a job he's made too dangerous for anyone else to do, and which America clearly needs to have done.
This story arc may well be the only time in Marvel's entire Silver Age in which a character actually, substantially changed and grew, and it showcases Englehart's subtlety, as well as his absolute, unchallenged monarchy in the realm of superhero comics characterization. In a fictional universe built on the much vaunted 'illusion of change', Steve E. was the only writer (at least, that I'm aware of) who managed to work profound changes... in actual fact, a significant 'rising and advancing of the spirit'... on a major superhero character, and yet do it in such a subtle way that, to all surface appearances, the character had actually only gone through a temporary departure from his conventional, established continuity and eventually returned to 'normalcy'. The extraordinary irony of this nearly existential storyline is, to my mind, unparalleled elsewhere in the Silver Age at any company or on any title. Englehart had a brilliance for making funnybook characters three dimensional that set the stage for later writers who would specialize in that sort of solid, evocative, character driven writing (a list of which is far too long to go into, but the best writers of the Modern Age are all on it, along with many of the more mediocre ones), yet in this particular arc on CAPTAIN AMERICA, he not only transcended genre limitations (something he did often enough to make it seem casual if not easy) but he also transcended his own astonishingly high standards as a writer. All Englehart's characters live and breathe almost palpably on the page, and that's why so many still read his stuff a quarter of a century later, but during the 'Nomad' sequence, Steve Rogers not only lived and breathed, he actually grew and matured as a person, too. It was unprecedented, and is even today nearly unequaled and entirely unsurpassed.
**RINGO KID inventory (1973; unpublished by Marvel)
• pencils by Dick Ayers
DOC SAVAGE #1-5 (Oct 72-June 73)
• #1 plotted by Roy Thomas
• #5 plotted by me and scripted by Gardner Fox**
Englehart's work on DOC SAVAGE, I'll note in passing, is one of his obscure, more throwaway credits, and yet, to those of us who have managed to actually find and read these issues, absolutely typical of his almost universally laudable Silver Age work. Hampered by the restrictions of adaptive fiction (this particular DOC SAVAGE series was one in which actual Savage stories, as published in the pulp mags back in the 30s and 40s, were adapted to comics form, leaving Englehart very little to do but write dialogue), Englehart's flair for speech pattern and characterization still comes clearly through, and in point of fact, these few issues stand out to my mind as being the best of all the comic book versions of DOC SAVAGE I've read... and there have been a lot of them, over the years.
**THE AVENGERS #105-144, 147-152 (Nov 72-Oct 76)
GIANT-SIZE AVENGERS #2-4 (Nov 74-June 75)
• #115-118 interlaced with DEFENDERS #8-11
• #127 leads into Gerry Conway's FANTASTIC FOUR
• #127 & 128 colored by me
• #132 & GSA #3 scripted by Thomas from my plot**
To my mind, there is no greater or more dramatic presentation of the differences in talent and writing ability of Englehart and Thomas than reading these issues of AVENGERS and GIANT SIZE AVENGERS and juxtaposing them against the Englehart scripted stuff all around them. Englehart plotted the issues and they are heavily continuity driven by the plots going on at the time, and yet, where Englehart dialogue would simmer, shimmer, and zing, what Thomas gives us is leaden, clunky, and at times outright awful... awful enough, indeed, to make fans of good dialogue put their heads in their hands and groan. One need only remember that it was Roy Thomas who had Henry Pym nickname his favorite three ants 'Crosby', 'Stills', and 'Nash' in what even a sixth grader would immediately see as a pathetic, straining attempt at relevance to realize just how big a poseur Roy always was... and to wish wistfully for a universe in which Englehart had scripted as well as plotted these two issues. (Not to mention one where he had stayed on AVENGERS, DR. STRANGE, and CAPTAIN MARVEL for fifty or a hundred issues longer...)
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
Yes, the scripting on Avengers really took a dive when Roy pitched in to help Steve with deadlines around GSA #3.***
I only reprint this comment here because I found it so reassuring to find a fellow Silver Age comics fan who was willing to agree with my assessment of those issues in this regard. Most Silver Age comics fans seem to observe some unstated taboo about criticizing Roy "The Boy" Thomas; it's as if, because the man had the astonishing good luck to be present at a crucial creative crossroads in the development of the Marvel Universe, and thus, got the sceptre of Stan Lee's heir thrust into his hands (most likely because he was closest to the door when Stan was carried out on a stretcher one night after collapsing from overwork-related exhaustion), we all have to agree that he could actually WRITE, too. I've never liked Thomas' scripting more than a little bit, at its best, and often times, I simply can't read his stuff for more than a page without wanting an Advil. His so called 'classic' material, like the Kree-Skrull War, is decently plotted and just packed to the gills with the most godawful turgid silly melodramatic dialogue ever scripted in the Silver Age, and I knowingly include Arnold Drake's X-MEN in that assessment. (And even the Kree-Skrull War ends with what has to be the most momentously stupid plot device in the history of superhero comics; even more so than Jim Starlin having Matter Eater Lad eat the otherwise indestructible Miracle Machine.)
Anyway, thanks, Jeff, for finally giving me reason to think that at least in this one particular area, I'm not entirely deranged.
**• GSA #4 fits between DR. STRANGE #7 & 8**
A continuing affirmation of how continuity conscious Englehart always was, and yet, how he always firmly understood that continuity is there to serve characterization, and characterization is the primary tool in producing good melodramatic fiction.
**• #150 & 151 were scripted as one issue, but Conway
grabbed the book at that point and forced #150 to be
half reprint. Pages were then added to what remained
of my story to make up #151, but my story is complete
on pages 3, 7, 10, 14, 15, 17, 22, 23, 26, 27, 30, 31
• #152 scripted by Conway over my plot**
A moment, if you will:
This particular piece of text is something I’m writing very nearly at the close of the final draft of this article. The article has gone back and forth between Jeff Clem, Steve Englehart, and I several times at this point, and I believe I have all the commentary they want to add, and I’ve added everything I think they’re likely to respond to. This is not so much anything further, per se, on the actual Silver Age work of Steve Englehart, as it is simply a note, at this point, on the following section of text:
This part was hard to write. And it’s the most troublesome part of the entire article, and many would doubtless say it should be left out. Steve E. himself has noted to me in private email that he has long since patched things up with everyone else involved in this imbroglio and moved on, and bears no one any further ill will. He also noted, however, that if I really felt strongly about this and wanted to state my analysis of and opinions on it, then of course, I was welcome to. So I’m going to, and while I go into some detail a bit further down as to why I’m going to, there’s one fairly simple and overwhelming reason why I'm going to do this that I didn’t note there, so I’ll note it here:
This is important.
When AVENGERS #150 rolled around and was 2/3s reprint, with the third of it that was new being perhaps some of the most brilliant characterization and continuity driven superhero scripting I’d ever seen… it was important, because the loss of the rest of that story, which clearly would have been amazing and awesome, was a punch in the stomach to me, as a 14 year old comics fan. I took a deep loss when Englehart did not turn in a complete script for that book. The loss was further exacerbated when lesser scripters, under Conway’s editorship, turned in a hopelessly contrived patchwork script for AVENGERS #151. The loss was probably felt worst of all over on DR. STRANGE, where Englehart vanished in the middle of what may well be the most subtly brilliant storyline ever done in DR. STRANGE… perhaps in Silver Age superhero comics… and was replaced by the distinctly lesser voice of Marv Wolfman. It was also felt with Steve Gerber suddenly vanishing from DEFENDERS at exactly this moment, Jim Starlin vanishing from WARLOCK, and Steve Englehart, again, dropping out of CAPTAIN MARVEL, once more in the middle of a storyline.
This is IMPORTANT.
Those things HURT.
They didn’t just hurt a 14 year old who loved comic books and had no clue what had gone wrong, but knew it had to be something simply awful. (Although, honestly, if some big name pro got up in front of the fan press right now and wept righteously about the horribly emotional scarring some similar act had done to some poor fourteen year old, I’ll bet the fan press would think it was an outrage.) It hurt the entire Marvel Universe, and all its fans, because, well, despite the fact that I, for reasons of convenience and thematic appropriateness peg the end of Marvel’s Silver Age at the publication of GIANT SIZE X-MEN #1 a bit earlier than this, this was really where the Silver Age ended for the world’s first Three Dimensional Superhero Continuum. And that’s no small thing, for a comics fan. Oh, I grant you, it’s nothing to the vast majority of the world, and means about the same to perhaps the vast majority of comics fans these days, but honestly, the feelings and opinions and viewpoints of Modern Age comics fans mean every bit as much to me as those of Silver Age fans mean to them. To me, and to every kid and young adult buying Marvel Comics in 1976, this was HUGE. And to me, at least, it remains huge.
Ultimately, this massively bollixed clusterfuck ended up helping DC enormously, and don’t get me wrong, I love Englehart’s DETECTIVES and MR. MIRACLEs and some other stuff he did over there with an insane passion, as we’ll eventually see. But I’d trade it all back again in a heartbeat for another couple of years of Englehart on AVENGERS and DR. STRANGE, and Gerber on DEFENDERS, and Starlin on WARLOCK, and who knows what all else that we missed out on, due to the little debacle I’m going to be talking about in the paragraphs to come.
This is important. This HURT.
So I’m going to deal with it, at some length.
If you prefer not to read any of that, there’s a scroll bar to your right, or a Back button on your browser, for that matter.
We return you now to your regularly scheduled ravings, already in progress:
This is one of those pivotal points in superhero comics history where, if I could, I would love to put Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, and Gerry Conway in separate interrogation rooms and keep them there until I got every detail of their particular versions of exactly what went on behind the scenes at Marvel Comics at this particular nexus point in space/time. Englehart left AVENGERS, DR. STRANGE, and CAPTAIN MARVEL in mid-story, and Gerber left DEFENDERS and HOWARD THE DUCK almost simultaneously, and recurrent scuttlebutt has always fixed the blame for both events firmly on Gerry Conway taking over the editing of both AVENGERS and DEFENDERS at that point (certainly, he took over both books as scripter, and the qualitative downturns in writing on both titles was as abrupt as it was depressing). It's worth noting that a very coherent argument can be made that this moment is the actual end of Marvel's Silver Age, since in point of fact, nearly all the creative air seemed to go right out of the universe with the departure of the two Steves.
Under Conway, DEFENDERS and AVENGERS quickly became clueless mishmashes, while under Marv Wolfman, the brilliant "Occult History of America" storyline Englehart had been doing in DR. STRANGE immediately sank to the depths of utter banality. Last and almost certainly least, a rookie Chris Claremont took Englehart's intriguing storyline on CAPTAIN MARVEL and rendered it utterly incoherent.
CAPTAIN MARVEL was cancelled soon afterward, and the character's only later highpoint was dying of cancer at the hands of Jim Starlin. THE DEFENDERS descended with greater and greater velocity into an utter qualitative abyss under such non-creative guiding spirits as Gerry Conway, Dave Kraft, Keith Giffen, and eventually, J.M. deMatteis and Don Perlin. Currently, DEFENDERS is enjoying a revival under Kurt Busiek and Erik Larsen, both of whom are self professed 'Englehart & Gerber fanatics', and the stuff is pretty decent, but at best, a pallid watery reflection of the Silver Age greatness that went before under the two Steves on the title. THE AVENGERS went up and down; the ups (under writers like Jim Shooter and, much later, Roger Stern and Bob Harras) were moderate foothills compared to the mountains previously scaled by Stan Lee and Steve Englehart, the downs, in the hands of folks like Dave Michelinie and Chris Claremont, led to excesses still loathed&reviled by large vocal contingents of fans as being among the worst stories in the history of comics. Only in the late 1990s, after a horrendous marketing gimmick called HEROES REBORN, did THE AVENGERS return to even a pale, shadowy vestige of the Englehart glories, under my one time buddy and self proclaimed Englehart fanatic (and slavish imitator) Kurt Busiek. DR. STRANGE I can't even remotely keep track of any more, but as I've noted in another article, Englehart's work on that title was seminal to Alan Moore's and Neil Gaiman's later work on further occult superhero titles in the same occult thematic/continuity stream, SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING, SANDMAN, and PROMETHEA.
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
Gerber did not leave Marvel as a result of Gerry Conway in 1976, alongside Englehart. Gerber was supposedly removed from Defenders in 1976 by Archie Goodwin, before Gerry got to Marvel (for a whole 3 weeks!). Gerber either left or got fired from Marvel in 1979 by Jim Shooter. Claremont took over Captain Marvel, after Englehart left, for only one issue, and, supposedly, since the artist was still Steve's co-plotter Al Milgrom, the plot of the final chapter of Steve's and Al's storyline was left intact, although grossly over-written by the then-fledgling Claremont. Captain Marvel was also published clear until May 1979 (#62) and then for four more consecutive issues of Marvel Spotlight vol. 2.***
In a subsequent email, Jeff offered further clarification:
***Conway was Editor in Chief for only about 3 weeks, but he might have had to finish his contractual obligations for Marvel over the next few months, or I think he might've needed the extra dough and somebody (Roy? Stan? Archie?) ok'd the deal. In a Gerry Conway interview printed in Comics Journal #68, Conway bitched about Jim Shooter (then Associate Editor) convincing the higher-ups at Marvel that it might not have been a good idea for Marvel to be paying Conway, who had only stuck with the Editor in Chief job for 3 weeks and was soon going back over to DC. Shooter apparently convinced someone that Conway wouldn't be doing his best for the company since he was going over to DC after fulfilling his contractual obligations (so many scripted pages a month for such and such money). That's why you'll see a few "Gerry Conway-plot, Jim Shooter-script" credits here and there. So, essentially, Shooter screwed Conway out of some decent money by only using and paying him for the plots. At least, that's the way "crybaby Conway" calls it. And it wasn't a year's worth of comics...it was about 6 months or less, but some of them might've been held in inventory. Think about it: Avengers #156 has the Conway-plot, Shooter-script credit and then #157 has a total (totally bad) Conway writing job. Conway was involved with Avengers #151-157, Defenders # 42-46 (remember, it was a monthly too) and about the same number of Ghost Rider and whatever the hell else he was applying his "magic" to. Then Conway's shoes were filled by guys like Shooter, Kraft, etc...
In my previous response to your article, I should have clarified that Englehart "came over" to DC (or left Marvel) in Spring/Summer of 1976, and his DC stuff started appearing in Fall/Winter of '76 (Weird War Tales #50 on sale sometime in late October or early November). Conway had left Marvel back in '75 sometime, returned to Marvel for 3 weeks or so in '76, and then went back to DC, and, honestly, he couldn't be considered a "big gun" or "big catch" for DC, in a creative sense anyway. Although his comics must have sold, since DC gave him a lot of work for a lot of years.....***
I'll merely note here that (a) this is what I love about having Jeff read my articles for me, since he just KNOWS all this stuff that I only vaguely, dimly, and foggily recall, and (b) I wish I could get him to do this for all my articles, but then I'd probably have to pay him, and (c) his generally derisive air regarding Gerry Conway is firmly echoed here. But this isn't an article about all the damage Conway and his awful, awful writing have done to superhero comics in general, so I'll leave it at that.
Well, no, I won't. I'll also state here that I accept Jeff's account over my own woozy recollections as being authoritative; if he says Conway didn't fire Gerber, and Gerber didn't leave Marvel at the same time as Englehart, I'll accept it... although for most of my adult life, I've thought both Steves did leave Marvel at the same time, and I'm sure both of them left AVENGERS and DEFENDERS at roughly the same time, which is where I got the notion from.
Okay. And now, having gotten a big helping of material in my Jeff Clem Christmas CARE package on the whole Conway mess, I'll elaborate on all this further, as seen twenty five years later by one muddle headed fanboy:
It's foolish, and I admit it from the outset, for me to wade into the mess that surrounds Steve Englehart's now near mythical exit from Marvel Comics demarking the end of the Marvel Silver Age. My involving myself and my narrative here in any way in this tangled morass is rash, and possibly stupid, and perhaps even deranged, because, for God's sake, I wasn't there, and for some other God's sake, who the hell am I, anyway? In the context of professional comics, I'm a nothing, a desperate aching wannabe, a somewhat networked, vestigially hooked up, badly aging fanboy, whose only claims to even obscure, grubby, illegible fame lie in an electronic column read by maybe ten people, a few published letters over the course of twenty or so years of letter hacking, and the fact that I went to college with Scott McCloud and another big names comics pro, the former of whom would have to be prompted to recall exactly who I am were someone to mention my name to him, the latter of whom most likely has to forcibly repress the urge to spit vituperatively on the floor in the same circumstances.
Yet there's a curious freedom in being a nobody, because if I were a big name pro, or even someone with anything remotely like a career in comics, I couldn't voice my honest opinions on this mess, or anything else related to the field... or, at least, I couldn't without worrying about repercussions to my livelihood and career. So that's one reason for me to go sloshing around and render an opinion and a viewpoint, I suppose, because, for better or for worse, it will be an honest opinion, without worrying about whether or not rendering it is going to get me fired off X-MEN or DETECTIVE as soon as it sees print.
Another, perhaps better reason to mess with this is that this is the sort of thing I do well, and am generally reviled for: render honest, analytical opinions, based on my observations of human behavior and especially my own interpretations and analyses of things that people have written regarding said human behavior. It's a gift and a talent I seem to have, to catch nuances, perceive patterns, intuit connections, and just generally, get a good bead on precisely what is, or at least, what was most likely, to have been actually happening, in amidst all the smoke and mirrors and vastly heaped piles of strenuously shoveled bullshit. People hate me when I do it to them, for the most part, yet I've been told by enough people over the years, when I'm doing it to someone else, that I seem to do it well, and... well. I could be kidding myself. God knows I've never made a dime off this so called 'talent', and certainly it's true that voicing well reasoned, intensely analyzed, lucidly supported opinions has never in my life made me any friends. Perhaps I'll come through to the other side of this and discover I've managed to alienate yet another group of people, although, honestly, given that hardly anyone reads these damn things, it doesn't seem likely that it will be a very BIG group.
And a third reason is that I want to voice my opinions, and this is my column and I'll cry if I wanna.
Having said all that, the Fanboy Nobody Wannabe squares off:
I have now read probably in excess of 20,000 words of interviews with Englehart in which he addresses the events surrounding his sudden departure from Marvel in the mid 1970s, as well as two lengthy, separate (but largely similar) letters of response from Gerry Conway, and one lengthy response from Roy Thomas. There may be other material out there expressing authoritative (or less than authoritative) views on these events, there may even be other eyewitness accounts. However, I have to date read a whole lotta words on both sides by the two principles, and a long letter by a non-principle passing along his own particular opinions regarding what seems to be essentially a professional conflict between two people he claims to know well. And I'm going to now state what I think of this mess (bearing in mind that my opinion is worth exactly what you paid to read it, or perhaps even less, and 1976 was a loooooooong time ago anyway).
However, before I get to my opinions, at least, stated discretely in a separate paragraph, I'm going to list the various factors that I used to make up the equation that I eventually reasoned through to arrive at those opinions. To wit:
* I am a huge fan of Steve Englehart's Silver Age work. I am not even remotely an admirer of any of Gerry Conway's work, and I honestly don't have all that much more respect for the vast majority of Roy Thomas' work that I've read. As Steve E. and Gerry C. are the principles of this conflict, and Roy T. wrote a lengthy letter supporting Gerry and disparaging Steve's accounts, I tried to bear in mind, as I attempted to evaluate all this and reach some sort of conclusion of my own, exactly how I feel about each of their work, and NOT let it influence me in this particular matter. Their WORK, mind you, because my second point is:
* I've never met any of these folks. Roy Thomas once called me fairly nasty names in a lettercol because he didn't like a letter I wrote him about his professional work, without actually printing the letter for other people to evaluate, and honestly, I think that's a pretty petty thing to do, and Gerry Conway is in my opinion a fairly blatant swipe artist without even enough decency to be gracious to the man whose ideas he steals most often, and I don't think either of those things reflect well on the personalities or behaviors of either of those men. Steve Englehart, as far as I can tell from reading these interviews, is a rather arrogant and not overwhelmingly affable man, yet in our infrequent email contacts he's always been perfectly courteous to me, a mere nobody and one of doubtless thousands of admirers he's had contact with over the years. Yet, nonetheless, I have never met any of these guys, have only had even the slightest long distance contact with one of them, and therefore, it behooves me to try very hard, when sorting through this pile of manure, to keep my feelings for their WORK separate from any judgement I might ultimately make about their truthfulness, or other personal behavior. I note this mostly to show you that I noted it, and so you can note it as well.
* In comparing Steve's spoken statements in the interviews I've read, with Conway and Thomas' written responses to those spoken statements, I think it's important to keep in mind the difference between those two different types of expression. A spoken statement, especially one given well into an interview in which a certain level of rapport has been established and people are clearly relaxed and communicating well, is a far more off the cuff thing, than a keyed in statement that someone sits down and composes at a typewriter or word processor or even with pen and paper. One is far more spontaneous than the other; beyond that, one is a VERBAL statement that is going to be transcribed, which is an entirely different thing from a written statement that is composed to be published and read as text. When one speaks out loud, especially in a relaxed environment, one uses tone and inflection and various vocal mannerisms to register nuance and communicate various things that quite often will simply not show up in cold print. On the other hand, when you sit down to write a letter to the editor, you know you can't rely on a funny voice to communicate 'hey, I'm only kidding', and you choose your words more carefully... something that people tend to do more simply through the act of written composition, than they do when they're speaking out loud, anyway. One need only compare the following two sentences to see what I mean:
"Yes, I killed both of them, total strangers I didn't know a thing about, that's what I do, I love killing people for no reason," I snapped at the detective sarcastically.
SUSPECT: Yes, I killed both of them, total strangers I didn't know a thing about. That's what I do, I love killing people for no reason.
So, Englehart was talking out loud, and his words were transcribed later. Conway and Thomas were writing the whole time.
* Gerry Conway claims to have witnesses to all this, and does have the support of another big name comics pro, Roy Thomas, who although he was not actually there for any of this, has nonetheless written a long letter giving what can best be described as second hand confirmation (in that "the Boy" tells us that he heard specifically from someone who WAS there that it all happened pretty much as Conway states) and character testimony (in that Thomas states he knows Conway, and he knows Englehart, and he finds Conway's account far more convincing, and compatible with what he knows of both men, than Englehart's). Steve Englehart, on the other hand, claims no corroborating witnesses and doesn't seem to have anyone's published support.
Those are general factors. As to the specifics of Englehart's account, vs. Conway's, and to a much lesser extent, Thomas':
* Steve Englehart, at least to me, comes off as rather arrogant in his interviews. I wouldn't even begin to try to deny that. In fact, I'd have to say that in those interviews from long ago, he comes across as being, well, less than affable, in many ways. Having said all that, his descriptions of what went on between himself and Conway, which led to his quitting Marvel, are always descriptions of his and Conway's professional behavior. He does not call Conway names. The closest he comes to a personal attack on Conway is stating that Conway learned his large vocabulary from watching TV, and does not spell well (the last part of which being something Thomas later corroborates). I'll admit, stating that a man who makes his living writing doesn't spell well certainly seems like a cheap shot (our culture pays a lot of lip service to valuing literacy, so saying that someone can't spell always seems like a personal insult) but in point of fact, it's actually simply a statement of a professional limitation, when one is speaking of a professional writer and editor. (Forgive me, I tend to think an editor, much less the Editor In Chief for Marvel Comics, probably should have a good grasp of spelling.) Furthermore, since Thomas corroborates that Conway does not, in fact, spell very well, Englehart's statement can only SEEM like a cheap shot, because in fact, it's not: it's a legitimate statement of a pertinent professional limitation that apparently (as verified by Conway's friend and supporter, Roy Thomas) happens to be accurate. Englehart was asked specifically about Conway's qualifications to be Editor in Chief, he replied with an apparently undisputed remark that Conway doesn't spell well. It's not very mature, perhaps, but, on the other hand, at least Steve E. didn't garnish his comment liberally with obscenity and commentary on Gerry Conway's drug usage.
All of which is to say, Englehart never gets personal when he discusses what happened between Conway and him. Mind you, I'm simply stating this as a factor I took into account; I'm not in any way at the end of the equation yet, and voicing any opinions on which of the two men is being more truthful in their accounts. Right now I'm talking about presentation. Presentation wise, Steve E. talks about his and Conway's professional disagreements, their professional behavior, and their professional abilities.
Conway, on the other hand... well, to my mind, if we didn't live in a world with Harlan Ellison in it, I'd say Conway's two separate yet equal responses set a whole new standard of unprofessionalism. Vulgarity, obscenity, utterly low and truly reprehensibly vile personal insults... these aren't just isolated lapses in Conway's narrative flow, nor are they even a moderate seasoning; they are very nearly the warp and weave of Conway's entire, lengthy text. Englehart, according to Conway, is a lying fuck, a piece of shit, and he's never been the same sweet, affable fellow since he first discovered acid, and all this is simply a sampling of the vitriolic abuse Conway heaps on Englehart's head throughout the several thousand words of his rants... and I use that phrase precisely, because it is an absolutely accurate phrase to describe Conway's lengthy responses.
And, again, Englehart is talking out loud, and having his spoken words transcribed into cold print. Conway is writing cold print from the outset, and knows it, and still seems completely unable to exercise the slightest emotional discipline. Yet Englehart never swears, spits, drools, hisses, or calls Conway anything even remotely negative or vulgar. Conway, on the other hand, does everything except issue a clarion call for comics fans from coast to coast to rise up in arms and hang Steve Englehart from the nearest yew tree, although I imagine it's only because he didn't think to do it (and if he had, he'd have said 'fucking yew tree').
* Englehart tells the same story every time: Conway wanted AVENGERS, he had the power to take it away from Steve, he did so, Englehart quit. Conway contradicts himself from one letter to the next: in one he states clearly that Jim Starlin quit Marvel because Gerry would not agree to make him editor of WARLOCK, in the second, he says Jim quit because of production problems that occurred under the previous EIC, and possibly because Gerry refused to immediately kneel and kiss his ass. While this doesn't have directly to do with the Englehart mess, it reeks to me of Gerry Conway realizing that the first story he'd told wasn't going to reflect well on him (and it doesn't; why NOT make Starlin editor of WARLOCK, if it would keep a popular, best selling writer/artist working on a popular, best selling title that obviously didn't need editorial interference?), so he's not going to make the mistake of telling the truth when it comes up again.
* Conway and Thomas both claim that Englehart is more believable to the fans, because he presents himself well... he's affable, his work is more popular, and he plays himself off as a martyr, whereas Conway 'doesn't pander'.
* Conway was EIC of Marvel for three weeks, and in that time period, virtually ALL of Marvel's best talent quit, and despite the fact that Conway claims he didn't want to write either DEFENDERS or AVENGERS, he wound up taking over both books from Steve Gerber and Steve Englehart respectively. But leave aside the last part of that sentence and simply take the first: once again, Gerry Conway was EIC of Marvel for three weeks, and the Silver Age of Marvel Comics died a horrible death. Conway himself perhaps states it best when he insists, repeatedly, from one letter to the next, that 'these are the plain, undeniable, public domain facts'. Editor in Chief for THREE WEEKS... and an entire era blows up real good.
These are the various factors I tried to keep in mind and weigh carefully, when considering the actual substance of the differing accounts told by both men. I was, admittedly, inclined to want to believe Englehart over Conway, because Englehart is a brilliant, godlike writer and Conway's writing blows hunchbacked midgets. Englehart is a remarkably original visionary, Conway steals everything that isn't nailed down, and has especially made a career from quickly recycling Englehart's more original ideas, while at the same time making references to Englehart being an acid fiend. Englehart defined the quality apex of the Silver Age; Conway blew it up. Englehart's story is consistent, Conway's varies. Englehart was talking out loud in a relaxed, colloquial fashion for transcription; Conway was typing. Englehart, even while relaxed and colloquial, remained professional; Conway, while sitting at a keyboard typing, was venomous, hostile, insulting, absurdly unprofessional, and frankly, appallingly childish. Conway is a literary rip off artist, Englehart isn't. Conway has a corroborator, of sorts (at the very least, he has a character witness); Englehart apparently has none. Englehart is reported to be affable and likable and work the fan press well; Conway is reportedly not as well liked because he 'doesn't pander'.
All this stuff, every bit of it, I tried to keep in mind as I evaluated the actual probably veracity of Englehart and Conway's vastly differing accounts of exactly why Steve E. had so summarily quit Marvel.
Now, as to the substance of what both said:
Steve E. says, in essence, in two separate interviews, that Conway called him up, said he'd written Justice League at National and he wanted to write Avengers for Marvel, he had the power, and he was taking the book. In response, Englehart quit all his assignments at Marvel.
Gerry C. says, in essence, that he'd heard that Englehart was notoriously bad at keeping deadlines, and since George Perez needed two plots from Steve in one month - the regular monthly AVENGERS, and the plot for that summer's AVENGERS ANNUAL - he called Steve and had Steve give him a firm commitment on a deadline when... either both plots, or one of them (it's not clear in Conway's narrative, despite the fact that he tells the story twice in two different, long letters that certainly contain enough details where Conway wants to supply them elsewhere) would be turned in. He then waited until a full day after the deadline, and when the ANNUAL plot still hadn't shown up, he called Steve and was informed that Steve was 'just sitting down' to finish it. He then informed Steve that George Perez needed the plot right then, and therefore he was going to take the ANNUAL away from Steve. Steve informed him that if he did that, Steve would quit Marvel. Gerry tried to talk him out of it; Steve insisted, and Steve walked.
In addition, both Conway and Roy Thomas claim that Englehart has since claimed that he and Gerry never agreed on a solid deadline. Steve hasn't mentioned that, but then, Steve E. has never mentioned anything specific about deadlines, just that Conway wanted AVENGERS and said he was taking the book, and Englehart quit Marvel because of it.
Factoring in everything, here's what I think probably happened:
First, I suspect that when Englehart gives interviews on this subject, he's doing what we pretty much all do when we're telling anecdotes... he truncates, and he interprets. I'm not in any way saying he's lying, but I know that virtually everyone I've ever spoken with has a tendency, when they're recounting a confrontation between themselves and someone else - especially their boss - to state, not what actually happened, but their opinion of what was really going on. So I doubt very much that Conway ever actually said "I wrote JLA, I want AVENGERS, I'm the EIC, I'm taking the book", in so many words... but furthermore, I doubt that Englehart ever meant anyone to think he was actually saying that Conway every actually said that, in so many words. Englehart was talking, not writing; in vocal speech, there are no quotation marks. When you transcribe, however, you put in quotation marks around things that sound like quotations. So did Conway ever say "I want the AVENGERS and I'm taking them and up yours, Stainless"? I really doubt it. The level of honest, straightforward, un-self conscious bastardliness necessary to simply openly admitting to one's naked self interest like that seems beyond Gerry Conway, as it's beyond most people. However, I also doubt very much that Englehart thinks Conway ever actually said it. I suspect what Steve E. was saying was, "This is the gist, this is what I think was going on... regardless of the actual events, what was happening was, Gerry wanted AVENGERS, Gerry had decided to take it, this was the excuse Gerry used".
Did all the deadline stuff Conway details actually happen? I suspect it probably did, if not in precisely the manner he states, then at least, in a manner close enough, since he claims there were other people in the room who heard, at least, his end of the phone call. Also, Steve had admittedly had some trouble meeting deadlines at one prior point to this in his history on AVENGERS, when GIANT SIZE AVENGERS first came on line, necessitating Roy Thomas lending him a hand as a fill in scripter over several of Steve’s plots. Roy Thomas also claims that he had the story confirmed by John Verpoorten, which in a legal court of law is what we call hearsay, but hell, I'm not that much of a hardass. So in my opinion, yes: the deadline was probably agreed to, and yes, Englehart probably didn't make it. However, Conway's account, to me, still reeks, and reeks badly, for the following reasons:
(a) If Perez needed the plot that damned badly, right that minute, right that second, why did Conway give Steve E. an extra 24 hours 'grace' before he called him to check up? Given that, according to Gerry, John Verpoorten had told him Englehart was already "incredibly late" before Gerry even made the call and established the deadline, wasn't that 'generosity' kind of unprofessional, not to mention, given the fact that Perez needed the plot RIGHT THEN, just plain stupid?
(b) If Perez needed the plot that damned badly, etc, etc, how was it that Conway served such an immediate deadline by taking the assignment away from a writer who was just about finished with the plot, in order to come up with a plot himself, which one would assume would most likely take longer?
(c) How could Perez need the plot that badly, right that second, right that minute, when it was a plot for an ANNUAL, and therefore, did not need to be done on a specific monthly deadline?
As a sidenote, I also want to say here that I don't know John Verpoorten even remotely, or have any idea what Marvel's production policies in 1976 might have been. However, I do want to relate an anecdote from around 1984, when I was still close friends (and frequent technical assistant, sometime creative collaborator) with Kurt Busiek. (Okay, okay... 'frequent technical assistant' means I typed several of Kurt's scripts for him because he wasn't a great typist, and dropped stuff off at the post office for him when he was busy. 'Sometime creative collaborator' means that I, along with Jeff Webb and Brent Burford, often kibitzed with him on POWER MAN & IRON FIST plot and dialogue details, by which I mean, we'd all sit around bullshitting and throwing out smart ass remarks, some of which Kurt would go "wow, that would work" and put into a plot or a script. In addition, when Mike Gold asked Kurt for precis' for Justice League member mini-series, I suggested several, convinced him that Red Tornado might have a story worth telling in him after all if Kurt brought back the Construct, and then co plotted that mini with him. I also wrote about four pages of MARVEL UNIVERSE for Kurt because he didn't want to and didn't have time, and while I've never actually seen those issues of MARVEL UNIVERSE, if Sabre-tooth was ever listed as being color-blind, like all cats are, that idea was mine, and is my only contribution to date to Marvel continuity. Sawright?) Anyway, during this year or so, despite the fact that Kurt nearly always got his scripts in at least two weeks early (Kurt, whatever flaws he may have, is a very professional worker), he was also always running under the deadline whip, because Marvel, at that time, kept shifting deadlines up. I mean, constantly. Kurt would get in one plot or script and on at least two occasions, despite the fact that that plot or script had been, as far as he knew, two weeks early, and he'd get a frantic phone call from Linda Grant telling him his NEXT plot or script had been due the day before, and where was it? This happened all through that year, and it also seemed to be typical when Kurt started doing some assignments for DC.
All of which I bring up to say that, in my limited but real experience, just because the production manager says someone is 'incredibly late', doesn't mean that they are actually 'incredibly late' at all by, you know, SANE standards. It could just mean nebulous higher ups have been screwing around with production deadlines.
While we're on that subject, when, when, WHEN did Conway sit down and come up with this substitute, last minute ANNUAL plot that had to go out to Perez RIGHT THEN?
Conway goes into a lot of detail about books he would rather have written than AVENGERS, noting how they're books he'd written before and enjoyed and if he was going to abuse his powers as EIC to steal a title, he would have done it on SPIDER-MAN, instead of AVENGERS. Roy Thomas, however, while supporting Conway's story, notes puzzlingly that this desire on Conway's part to write Spider-Man led to the creation of PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN... which would indicate to me he didn't have to steal Wein's title, since he'd created another one.
Last but not least, there's Steve E.'s claim that for his entire year long duration at DC, he never got a script in late, and in fact, got them in so consistently early that he was given a bonus at the end of his year for meeting his commitments so well. I don't know if this is true, but it seems like the sort of thing that would be easily refuted, especially by someone who worked at DC as long as Conway did, and Conway didn't, so in the absence of that, I'm going to assume it's true.
I'm a big Englehart fan, and to my memory (which I admit, could be spotty), Englehart never once, in any of his lengthy runs on any of his series, needed to have an actual fill in issue. Um. Wait. Okay, there was an early MARVEL PREMIERE issue of DR. STRANGE that was mostly fill in, and I don't know whose fault that was. One of the first 50's Cap issues was about a third reprint, but I think that was a necessary flashback. And there was an inexplicable Don Heck/Tony Isabella two part fill in right in the middle of the Brand/Squadron Supreme storyline, but I've always been told that that wasn't Englehart's fault, the editor simply decided to use that story at that point for no known sane reason.
However, As I’ve mentioned, when GSA first came online, Steve E. did apparently need a little help from Roy Thomas to make his deadlines, and of course, this whole Conway/Englehart mess apparently came about from pretty much the same sort of confluence of titles… a monthly and an Annual… falling due within the same time period.
All that being said, I suspect, as previously stated, that Englehart probably did blow that deadline by a day or so. I also suspect that up until that point, blowing a deadline by a day or so hadn't been any big deal, especially when the title concerned was an ANNUAL that didn't have to be done on a tight monthly schedule. (I imagine that prolific Silver Age comics writer Gerry Conway had probably blown a deadline by a day or so himself on occasion by then, and not had the assignment pulled for it. I don't know, of course, but I'd kinda figure.) And even Conway notes, repeatedly, that Englehart was 'just sitting down to finish' the ANNUAL plot at the time Conway called.
Now, it seems to me that, given the givens, it would simply make more sense and be more professional to let Steve E. take another day to finish up that plot, rather than pull the assignment and give it to another writer, who would have to start from scratch, and who wasn't the regular writer on the series and wouldn't know the continuity, and who, by the way, wasn't the guy who'd been given the assignment in the first place and happened to be an old professional acquaintance and perhaps even personal friend. And given all that, I simply don't believe Conway would have done what he did if he hadn't already had a plot ready to be sent off for the ANNUAL, and been looking for any excuse at all to use it.
That Englehart quit entirely over it... well, that strikes me as something Conway probably hadn't counted on having happen. However, Englehart is volatile (both Conway and Thomas make reference to it being general knowledge at the time that Englehart had an ego, and a short fuse) and Conway may have felt fairly confident that, once he found a way to pull an assignment from Englehart, Englehart would pop back with something that would give Conway a further excuse to pull the whole title. Englehart walking away from Marvel Conway most likely didn't expect; Englehart himself has noted how out of character it was, and for that matter, difficult it was, for him to do.
Bottom line: I think Conway figured Englehart would blow a deadline if he gave him a chance, he prepared a plot in advance on that assumption, and planned to use that occurrence as an excuse to hijack AVENGERS for himself. I think he had no idea in the world Englehart would walk away from Marvel over it; most likely he expected Englehart to eat shit and call it creamed corn, the way every good writer had up until that point when dealing with similar circumstances. I think once Englehart left, the wheels came off Marvel's wagon spectacularly, leading to Conway resigning from his new post almost immediately, finishing out his writing contract for Marvel as soon as he could, and retreating in routed embarrassment back to DC, where he proceeded to screw up JLA for years and inflict the colossal creative carcinoma that was FIRESTORM, THE NUCLEAR MAN on comics in general, apparently for all eternity.
Now, I could certainly be wrong about all this; I wasn't there and have no real way of knowing. But weighing everything as best I can, this is how it seems to me. Conway's unprofessionalism lends him very little credibility, to my mind, nor does the plain, public domain fact, as he puts it, that he was EIC for three weeks and the Silver Age of the Marvel Universe imploded. Thomas' letter of support would carry a great deal of weight with me if not for two factors: first, he didn't actually see any of it, and is only offering character testimony and hearsay, and second, as Englehart points out, at the time he wrote the letter, he and Conway were creative collaborators, and he doesn't note that anywhere in the lengthy text of his response.
Beyond this, I'll note that both Conway and Thomas strike me as being remarkably inconsistent in yet other ways in their letters. Conway castigates various pros like Englehart and Starlin for their 'unprofessionalism' in simply quitting Marvel peremptorily like that, and yet, here's a guy who took the EIC post and quit after four weeks, because people wouldn't do what he wanted. Gee. Thomas spends several thousand words bitching at Steve Englehart for having a difference of opinion about how he was treated by his EIC, while mentioning in passing that he himself thinks he was treated badly by Jim Shooter on CONAN. Thomas seems to feel he's holier than Stainless because he doesn't talk about his disputes with EICs in the fan press; personally, I don't subscribe to the opinion that keeping quiet so you can keep getting work from someone you despise makes you a great person.
And yet, I'll take things one step further: even assuming that every word Conway says is holy scripture, and every word Englehart says is a viciously calculated and malicious canard (hey, how'd that duck get in here), what we'd still be left with is the plain, public domain facts that Gerry Conway was EIC of Marvel Comics for four weeks... FOUR WEEKS!!... and he managed to singlehandedly bring to an end the greatest period of quality writing that superhero comics had ever to that time, or has ever since, (or, in my opinion, most likely ever will) seen. Even if Englehart is, to quote Conway, "a lying fuck", even if "the syphilis did get to his brain", even if he has "never been the same sweet guy since he first discovered LSD"... who frickin cares? Englehart wrote superhero comics during the Silver Age like angels singing, while Conway as Editor in Chief blew up the entire Marvel Universe.
Anyway... I've stated my opinion on what I believe, at this point, really happened, and I've also stated how I would feel even if I could be convinced that every raving, frothing, foaming, vitriolic syllable of Conway's vile spew was true. So I'm done here, and aren't you glad?
And having said all this, we now return you to your regularly scheduled analysis of Steve Englehart's actual writing, as opposed to twenty five year old behind the scenes maneuverings at Marvel Comics.
**First "bi-weekly" series: The
Avengers/Defenders Clash -
second "bi-weekly" series: first
continuing continuity through
regular and giant-size books -
created Mantis, and her 19-part
origin as The Celestial Madonna
- told of Wanda & the Vision, his
origin as the Human Torch and
their marriage - Kang & Rama-Tut,
and the death of the
Swordsman (GS AVENGERS #2
an all-time favorite)**
Steve E. has good taste; GS AVENGERS #2 is one of my personal favorites, as well. And Kurt Busiek has gone on record as stating it's his all time favorite AVENGERS story, which makes it odd that he chose, in AVENGERS FOREVER, to invalidate its central characterization arc by establishing that the Kang and Rama-Tut depicted in GSA #2 were not, in fact, different temporal phases of the same individual, but were actually just alternate timeline doppelgangers of same. Of course, Busiek has since claimed that it was actually other writers who did this in subsequent AVENGERS stories and he merely reiterated it in AVENGERS FOREVER, but given that Busiek undid a whole lot of other objectionable continuity in AF, you'd think that if GSA #2 was really his favorite AVENGERS story ever... or if he actually had a clue as to what solid characterization and good plotting was... he'd have chosen to get rid of that nonsense, as well, and restore the original Englehart story to its full, necessary, and righteous brilliance. Since he didn't, I regard AVENGERS FOREVER as a nicely illustrated mistake waiting for someone better to come along and ret-con (although, I admit, that has as much to do with the amazingly stupid Space Phantoms continuity implant Busiek and Stern inflicted on the Marvel Universe as with Busiek's baffling unwillingness to re-validate what he insists is his all time favorite AVENGERS story).
One has to wonder, though, what Steve E. makes of all this. Personally, I think it simply means that in fact, when Steve E. seemingly killed Kang in (I think) AVENGERS #143, [NOTE: Again, I had this wrong; Jeff C. corrected me, and now it’s right, praise him!] that was the real, actual death of the real, actual Kang, and every appearance of the Temporal Conqueror we've seen since then, as well as his various other selves, have all been robots or clones or Space Phantoms or something. Which would actually be kind of appropriate, if the man who exploited Kang's temporal mobility to its fullest should turn out to be the last writer who ever 'really' wrote him. (Certainly, the blue-faced goop running around with a son called Marcus in the current AVENGERS storyline is a vague semblance of the real, essential Kang as created by Lee and fully developed by Englehart.)
** - Kang and Immortus - Kang and the Two-Gun
Kid - the Beast - the
Hellcat - Moondragon - the
Serpent Crown and the
Squadron Supreme - the
retirement of Thor and rebirth of
Wonder Man.Steve Englehart's Comics Work : (c) 10/22/01 : 3**
It's worth noting that while Englehart generally conserves continuity, he's not above tweaking it here and there, as well. With the debut of the Hellcat, Englehart 'massaged' Marvel history somewhat, in that he established that the costume worn by the short lived superheroine known as the Cat had actually had microcircuitry inside it that had somehow boosted her natural strength and agility to near superhuman levels. In the original CLAWS OF THE CAT, Greer Larsen had been a near Olympic level athlete and martial artist who had been given special chemical treatments as part of an experiment in creating superhuman female warriors and no mention was ever made of movement enhancing microcircuitry in her costume; however, Englehart wanted to turn Patsy Walker into at least a simulacrum of a superheroine, so he invented a high tech leotard, and then, in perhaps one of his most glaringly difficult to swallow plot contrivances, simply had the Avengers stumble across the empty suit tossed casually across some packing crates while they were wandering around loose in the confines of the Brand Corporation compound. (Steve E. does the best characterization in the history of superhero comics, but his plotting gets a little flaky sometimes, as, for example, when he had Taurus, leader of the criminal cartel known as Zodiac, lure some rebellious Zodiac members into a warehouse for a meeting, just so he could shoot them into space, because the warehouse was in actuality a disguised space ship. No, really! Some lunatic just happened to build a spaceship disguised as a warehouse in some industrial park somewhere in New Jersey, and Taurus just happened to find out about it somehow and just happened to decide to use it to get rid of some annoying fellow supervillains. I swear, I really want to see the City Council meeting minutes where they approved the variances for building THAT warehouse. "Say... what's all this liquid oxygen for, anyway...?") (Anyway, admittedly, compared to the warehouse that just happens to be a spaceship thing, the Avengers stumbling across a Cat costume that did stuff that it never had before lying in plain sight in a villainous corporation's warehouse is actually pretty plausible.)
***STEVE E. SEZ:
I'm reluctant to cut any of Steve E.'s commentary, since I fuggin' worship his work and you can just lump it if you don't like it, buddy, but I'm also leaving that brief comment in there because I like knowing that I made the Stainless One laugh out loud with something funny I wrote. Like Ronnie Cox in ROBOCOP, I say good business is where you find it.
The Moondragon character Steve E. mentions is kind of notable in her own right. Created originally as a throwaway character in DAREDEVIL by Steve Gerber (whose run on DAREDEVIL was... weird to the point of being hallucinatory, sometimes), she actually derived from the Thanos continuity originally created by Jim Starlin, in CAPTAIN MARVEL. Englehart later took the character and built on her, using her as a springboard for his Celestial Madonna/"Secret Origin of Mantis" story arc... all of which just goes to show you how well collaborative continuity CAN work, when you have good writers working within it.
***STEVE E. SEZ:
We all felt we were part of a Universe, or a Bullpen, depending on how you look at it. Everybody's work counted.***
What Steve E. pointedly doesn't mention here is how much of a contrast this must be in today's comics environment at both DC and Marvel, where continuity means little, since next month Mark Millar will come along and reboot the title into an Ultimate edition, or present us with a new, horrible version of a Silver Age JLA story that will do little but sicken and aggravate real fans who remember the real Silver Age, where few villains even tried to actually kill anyone and no one ever succeeded, much less succeeded to the tune of several hundred dead Green Lanterns and a few billion horribly slaughtered bottle city inhabitants. In an era where the President and EIC of Marvel is more interested in forcing their writers to construct horribly labored 'wordless' editions of each monthly title as a gimmick, to prove once more the old Image propaganda about how much more important the art is in comics than the script, one has to grasp that non-visual elements of comics storytelling, like, oh, continuity, are hardly considered essential or even particular desirable.
Personally, I think someone should lock Quesada, Millar, and Jemel in a room and then brick up the only exit before they can hurt themselves or others more than they already have, but that's just me. (If we can shove Grant Morrison in there before we seal up the door, all the better.)
End of that rant, back to our original narrative:
Steve E. did pretty much establish what became the definitive, 'haughty' Moondragon, as she declared herself a 'goddess of the mind' (much to the other Avengers' groans and barely restrained snickers) and generally embarked on a career of being utterly insufferable that has continued through the modern day.
**VAMPIRELLA #21-24 (Dec 72-June 73)
• script for #24, "Into the Inferno!", lost by editor Bill DuBay and never published
THE HULK #159-172 (Jan 73-Feb 74)
• all with creative input from Herb Trimpe
• #161 concludes THE BEAST storyline
• #170 scripted by Chris Claremont from my plot
• #171 scripted by Conway from my plot
• #172 scripted by Tony Isabella from my plot (which
was credited to Thomas)
Simultaneous Gremlins -
Captain Omen - ZZZAX - Betty
as the Harpy**
The Englehart-Trimpe run on HULK is one of my favorite character arcs in superhero comics. Few have ever managed to handle the particularly bizarre concept of The Hulk well, and no one has ever managed to do it as well as, much less better, than Englehart. When Steve E. took over the book it had been going nowhere for years; he single-handedly reinvented it, creating out of whole cloth an entire new cast of supporting characters and their attendant conflicts so vital, complex, and interesting, that lesser writers continued to mine their personalities, backgrounds, and interrelationships for two decades afterward. Englehart, as he annotates, turned Betty Ross into the Harpy, which may or may not have been a truly great idea, but the story where it happened gave Herb Trimpe a lot of lovely opportunities to draw Betty naked with strategic shadows covering her naughty bits, and staring with avid admiration at that particular sequence is one of my fondest memories from early adolescence. In addition to all that, Englehart may be the only scripter in history who has ever written the Mobile Organism Designed Only for Killing well. He also brought back Tiger Shark, shipped the Hulk off to Canada, and introduced the Wendigo in a story that Len Wein would later springboard the origin of Wolverine off of. Directly and indirectly, this all too brief run on HULK had echoes and reverberations for decades to come in the Marvel Universe and, if you credit Steve E. with even a partial assist on Wolverine, across the landscape of modern entertainment pop culture.
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
I may not like Goodwin's run on Hulk as much as Englehart, but I certainly do not dislike it as much as you appear to....***
***STEVE E. SEZ:
Whoa, dude! I did create a whole new arc when I took over, but I cannot go along with "going nowhere for years." Archie Goodwin had been writing it and that stuff was great!***
::sigh:: Once again, as with the 'often mediocre' description of Bob Brown's art, I seem to have phrased myself poorly. Archie Goodwin's work on HULK, as it was nearly everywhere Archie worked at this point or for years after, was fun, deft, competent, and interesting. However, it didn't push any boundaries and honestly, at this late remove, it isn't particularly memorable. Goodwin often did work much like Roger Stern did somewhat later in the Modern Age, when Stern wasn't emotionally involved in the character he was writing - always fun, always interesting, generally forgettable. Archie also turned out some astonishingly good work (need I say MANHUNTER? I thought not), but his HULK was just... good... as good as anyone else's, better than some. Englehart's HULK, on the other hand, was seminal, groundbreaking, and brilliant, and none of that is hype or fannish exaggeration. If I say that Hulk was 'going nowhere', I meant, under everyone up to Steve E., and frequently after Steve E., as well, in direct comparison to Steve E.
Roger Stern, I hasten to add, has also done some of my all time favorite work, from his awe-inspiring (and far too brief) run with John Byrne on CAPTAIN AMERICA, to his early work on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (the origin of the Hobgoblin is chillingly brilliant, and his Tarantula/Will O'The Wisp/Roxxon story arc is just great comics storytelling at its best) to his wonderful work on STARMAN and POWER OF THE ATOM. Stern actually had an excellent run on HULK, also.
To sum up: I love Archie Goodwin's work. Really, really, I do! He Wuz Kewl. I miss him. Okay?
Back to our muttons (or at least, mutterings):
In addition, Englehart meted out a slow, painful, and undignified death to the Mimic in his run on HULK, something I'm grateful to him for since I never liked that guy.
(Neither Steve E. nor Jeff C. commented on this, so maybe they hated the Mimic too.)
**HERO FOR HIRE #5-16, 26 (Jan-Dec 73, Aug 75)
• #6 second half scripted by Conway
• #14 co-scripted by Billy Graham
• #15 co-scripted by Graham and Isabella from my plot
• #16 scripted by Isabella from my uncredited plot
Only series I ever did that didn't
improve in sales - Cage vs.
Doom - "Retribution" in three
I always enjoyed Steve E.'s work on HERO FOR HIRE, and will note that one of the major reasons was that Steve was the only writer to ever characterize Luke Cage as being a reasonably well read and intelligent man, in addition to simply being a street smart, jive-talking urban brawler. Cage's dry observation that one particularly whacked out opponent was 'playing Christmases Past, Present and Future' in a story that went on to become something of a holiday classic for Marvel is the sort of insightful comment only Englehart ever attributed to the character, who under the myriad other writers who have written him over the years has never seemed particularly bright, articulate, or analytical.
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
I have to admit that I've given Englehart's Luke Cage short shrift before reading your article and I think I'm going to have to re-read it soon and try to see what you're talking about. ***
That's me, spreading enlightenment wherever I go. <grin>
**EERIE #46 (Mar 73): Dax the Warrior: The Giant
• Warren had bad translations of Esteban Maroto's Spanish, which were given to various
writers to polish, uncredited. This is mine.
I have little to add here, except to wryly note that this seems like a precursor of the Aragones/Evanier GROO THE WANDERER, from Steve E.'s description.
**MARVEL PREMIERE featuring DR. STRANGE #9-14 (July
• all co-plotted with Frank Brunner
• #12 second half scripted by Mike Friedrich
DR. STRANGE #1-18 (June 74-Sept 76)
• #1-5 co-plotted with Brunner
• #7 intersects GIANT-SIZE AVENGERS #4
• #14 leads out of DRACULA #44
The Universal Studios TV movie, DR. STRANGE, is adapted from
my stories (78)
First use of real magick - large
cult following - series went
monthly, falling to bi-monthly
once I left - Death of the
Ancient One -
"Sise-neg genesiS" - Silver
Dagger, the Caterpillar, and Death
Itself - Clea's emancipation,
Umar, and Gaia - Eternity and
the End of the World - Hell -
Occult America and Ben Franklin
- "This Dream No More!"**
There is little I can say about these extraordinary stories that I haven't said before in other articles. As with most of the characters Englehart handled at any length, he took Dr. Strange to unprecedented heights as a three dimensional character that no writer since has even begun to reach again. Work of this quality would be the brilliant, shimmering high point for most other resumes, yet for Englehart of the Silver Age it's typical... an astonishing accolade in its own right. Dr. Strange merely joins a long list of superhero characters whose potential Englehart explored to the utmost during his tenure as scripter, including Captain America, Captain Mar Vell, Kang, the Hulk, Mr. Miracle, and perhaps most famously, the Batman.
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
I felt I had been alone for years in my observation that Moore and Gaiman owe a lot to Englehart's Dr. Strange stories.***
Actually, I wrote a two part article pointing out that Englehart's DR. STRANGE seems to originate a single, almost seamless 'occult superhero' continuity that runs from that title through Moore's SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING, Gaiman's SANDMAN, and Moore's present day PROMETHEA. That article can be found on the Calliope Martian Vision website at Geo Cities at www.geocities.com/calliopecomics/martian-vision.html. And I'm glad to validate Jeff Clem's very intelligent perceptions in some small way. ;)
**CRAZY MAGAZINE #1, 3 (Oct 73, Mar 74): [co-star of Foto Funkies]
SPECIAL MARVEL EDITION featuring SHANG-CHI, MASTER
OF KUNG FU #15-19 (Dec 73-Aug 74)
• #15-17 co-plotted with Jim Starlin
• #15 colored by me
THE DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU #1-2 (Apr-June 74):
• #1 co-plotted with Starlin
• #2 co-plotted with Al Weiss
Co-created with Jim Starlin -
Shang-Chi ("The Rising and
Advancing of the Spirit") became
Marvel's most popular character
in the 70s - first use of stream-of-
consciousness narration - Fu
Manchu - M'Nai**
While Englehart's work as co-creator and original writer on Shang Chi should be noted and discussed, it will have to be by someone else, as this is a large gap in my own Englehart collection. I'm mostly aware of MOKF from the lengthy tenure of Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy on the title.
But... no more! Jeff C. also sent me #15 (Shang Chi's debut) and #18 of the Englehart issues, so now I can actually lucidly comment on just how amazingly brilliant these comics are. And they are! Go buy them now!
Beyond that, I can add little to the millions of words already written by better analysts than I on the character of Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu. While any reasonable reader would look at this title today and sneer something about fads and pandering to the latest popular thing, they'd be missing the whole point of the exercise. Sure, in the hands of a Tony Isabella or a Gerry Conway, this book would simply have been an empty exercise in getting a few hundred thousand of the teenagers then boogying the night away to "Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting" to shell out some hard begged coinage, but under Englehart and Starlin, this was without a doubt one of the most three dimensional and challenging characterizations ever attempted at any comics company. Englehart's deftness with continuity was as beautifully displayed working within the voluminous fictional realm of Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu milieu as it ever was in the mainstream Marvel Universe, and of course, the dialogue was simply astonishing... crisp, clear, and concise, with each word carrying an enormous freight of character establishment and development. Beyond that, these two issues are some of Englehart's most tightly and intelligently plotted, with no ridiculous story excesses or plot devices (perhaps because Shang Chi wasn't a superhero, something Englehart deftly conveys to us by having Shang kill someone in the very first issue, on a mission for his evil father... remember, this was the Silver Age, when killing was simply a line no superhero ever crossed, as opposed to the Modern Age, where many 'superheroes' kill four or five people before breakfast, and have another six or seven scheduled to be slaughtered on the way to lunch).
**KULL THE DESTROYER #12-15 (Feb-Aug 74)
SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #2 (Oct 74): Beast from the
Abyss [Kull story]
Chaykin art.Steve Englehart's Comics Work : (c) 10/22/01 : 4**
Given that, as with his brief tenure on DOC SAVAGE, Englehart was working adaptively from text stories written by other folks, these KULL stories really work well. The color comics all feature pretty decent art by Mike Ploog, while the b&w has some of Howard Chaykin's stiffest, lamest stuff ever, but still, the character of Kull comes through clearly in all the stories, and if you're into brawny sword-wielding barbarian types hacking up the decadent, the effete, and the gargantuan-ophidian, this is some top of the line stuff. Englehart's flair for crisp dialogue is present, but what I find I really enjoy on the color KULL stuff at least is his pulpish, purple prose captions, like:
"Miles spin out behind her, like the spark-flecked pebbles hurled by her horse's hooves - until she breathlessly reaches Valusia's northern peaks."
"Suddenly, from the stone-gray shadows - - "
I love that stuff, I really do. And we get lots of it in KULL, perhaps because of the original text's purple-pulpy feel, or maybe just because sword & sorcery brings that out in Steve E. Whatever the case, while the character and scope of action is necessarily limited, I enjoy reading the actual text, and the artwork is pretty good, too.
**CAPTAIN MARVEL #33-45 (July 74-July 76)
• #33 & 34 plotted by Starlin
• #35 plotted by me, scripted by Mike Friedrich
• #37-45 co-plotted with Al Milgrom
First realistic use of drugs -
"The Trial of the Watcher"**
Another of my all time favorite 'minor' Silver Age Englehart runs, and yet another showcase of Englehart's capacity to get the best work out of an otherwise mediocre artist. I know fans to this day who won't read this stuff because they can't believe Al Milgrom could ever have looked good, but in point of fact, Milgrom seems to have had a real interest in turning in the best work he could under Englehart on this book and Gerber on GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. His artwork is weird and often inconsistent, but has an energy he apparently lost somewhere in the mid to late 70s, as everything he did for Marvel from the 80s onward is sterile, flat, and utterly boring.
Englehart also pioneered a writing technique here I've only rarely seen used in comics since, as he introduced the "Origin of the Blue Area of the Moon" in an issue of CAPTAIN MARVEL, and later re-told that origin, from an entirely different point of view, in AVENGERS. Reading both stories as an adolescent, it was my first real experience with exactly what the difference between subjective and objective truth is, and just how vast a gulf can exist between differing perspectives and viewpoints. To say the least, it was one of my first real experiences with the kind of insight, if not outright enlightenment, a well told story can bring, even in superhero funnybooks. But then, Englehart and Gerber consistently elevated superhero comics to an entirely unprecedented and, since then, almost unequaled, level.
Since Englehart's first use of it, this 'differing viewpoints' of the same events or historical accounts has been used to good effect by other writers, including Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Frank Miller, among many, many others, and it has, in fact, like first person narrative captions replacing thought balloons, become an almost standard technique for young wannabes, all of whom most likely think they're imitating Miller or Moore. In point of fact, they're all imitating Englehart, and doing it badly, but then, that's how most Englehart imitators do it. (Kurt Busiek does it pretty well, when he wants to. J.M. deMatteis and Mark Waid are awful at it.)
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
... not enough good can be said about Englehart's seemless, perfect telling and re-telling from different perspectives of the "origin of the blue area on the moon." This is also one of those comic literary feats that have been taken for granted, as well as others you talk about.***
See? I'm NOT crazy. <grin> Well, about this, anyway.
**"Viva!", short prose story in WEIRD HEROES (Pyramid Communications, New York) (Jan 75)
I got a copy of WEIRD HEROES as part of the Jeff Clem package, but haven't read it yet. This line will doubtless disappear within a few days, though. <grin>
Actually, I just realized that I had that copy of WEIRD HEROES in my backpack, and as today (December 26, 2001) is the day after Christmas, neither of my annoying supervisors are here. (Days like this in the conventional American worker bee hierarchy are rare, and to be treasured.) So I hauled out the book, read the story, and now can comment on it.
Englehart, in his afterword, comments that he 'pulled out all the stops' for his heroine, Viva, a New York Puerto Rican woman turned LA prostitute turned South American jungle heroine. He also says he had a lot of fun writing the story, and it shows. If I had to characterize the story with a single phrase, that phrase would be 'reveling in freedom from artistic restrictions'. It seems Englehart positively rejoiced to be writing something for an audience considered to be more adult than that of the average superhero comics fan, which, even in 1974, was assumed to primarily be very young (despite the fact that Englehart's audience, from DR. STRANGE on, came to be more and more largely comprised of adults, especially college students, proving that illustrated serial melodrama could indeed be written to appeal to grown ups, even when it was all about guys wearing their underwear on the outside of their pants and firing particle beams out of their wazoos). One can see from the very opening sentences of "Viva!", a story which begins with an explicit sexual sequence (a mobster getting it on with a prostitute, said ho who happens to be our heroine, no less), segues immediately into a graphic, murderous shoot out, heads from there into a fairly gruesome action sequence in which our heroine escapes from certain death by sliding naked down a steel cable (Englehart lovingly describes the damage she does to her feet, hands and thighs in the process), and eventually finishes up with one of the most grotesquely visualized villains in pulp melodrama history attempting to rape our poor, paralyzed protagonist (protagonista? Protagonette?), that Steve E. just positively relished writing something, ANYthing, that wasn't going to be edited by Gerry Conway or Len Wein, with an eye towards not exceeding a soft 'PG' rating, at worst.
The story is beautifully evocative, gives us an intriguing and formidable central character, and a truly extraordinary villain figure in Hugo St. Ives, the medical genius who has surgically attached his withered, grotesquely atrophied head and spine to a beautiful, golden android body, which is apparently perfect enough to allow him to ram his optimal golden phallus deeply inside a newly captured heroine (or at least, want to, since we never actually see him get to do it). It's a pity Englehart never used St. Ives anywhere else, as he may be the best original villain Stainless ever came up with. The sequence where Viva escapes his clutches into the daylight, and he calmly tells her that he won't pursue her until nightfall, because his android flesh can't take prolonged exposure to the sun, is remarkably chilling, as well as brilliantly effective at setting up a short term but enormously compelling conflict between the two characters. Trapped on a small, tropical island with an evil, unstoppable wannabe rapist, our heroine must find a way, in the limited hours of daylight, to prepare to defeat an overwhelmingly powerful foe.. and my only disappointment was that in the end, it just came down to a fist fight, with Viva managing to exploit St. Ives' structural weakness to beat him, rather than actually outwitting him, which I would have found more enjoyable. Still and all, an excellent story, and thanks again, Jeff, for sending it along to me.
IRON MAN #73-75, 77, 80-81 (Mar-Dec 75)
• uncredited co-plotter with Mike Friedrich**
I had no idea Englehart had done anything on IRON MAN, but the last line explains why.
***STEVE E. SEZ:
Mike was working out a big arc with big villains and asked me to chip in a little. No biggie.***
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
Alright all you Englehart completists out there - only, and I mean ONLY seek out those Mike Friedrich Iron Man's if it's a matter of life or death, because they WILL hurt your brain, eyes, 'nads,....***
I shall take both your words for it, big guys.
**SKULL THE SLAYER #4 (Mar 76) God, I hated this job!
This makes me want to read it just on G.P. <grin>
And now I have (thanks, Jeff) and can see why Steve E. hated it so much. I hate it myself just for being one of Sal Buscema's all time worst art jobs, although in all honesty, Mike Esposito's inking never helped anyone look good. But Englehart here, while trying to do yeoman's work within what is apparently a grotesquely idiotic series premise, still can't lift this stinker of a character out of its own conceptual mire. Robotic slavedrivers in Ancient Egypt, timelost modern day folks (including Our Hero) being forced to help build the Pyramids, a protagonist who doesn't think twice about leaving an injured woman behind to die (apparently, this kind of ruthless pragmatism, learned by Skull in Vietnam, is a major character point; yay, I want to read more about THIS guy), and the only good thing about the issue being Steve E.'s decision (or an editorial mandate, I don't know which) to kill off an astonishingly obnoxious supporting cast one by one and finish up by hurling Skull out of this godawfully horrible prehistoric alien serpent race/tower reaching through time/robotic Egyptians scenario into an equally stupid Arthurian one featuring Merlin, Morgan Le Fey, and the Black Knight... in all honesty, it was a simple exercise in masochism making myself finish the damned thing, and I can only imagine the excruciating agony Steve E. must have gone through plotting and scripting it.
**SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP #5-8 (Apr-Oct 76) Created The Shroud**
Not only did Englehart create The Shroud in his all too brief run on SVTU, he also gave the Marvel Universe what may well be the definitive characterization for Dr. Doom. Doom has been handled and mishandled by so many different authors over the years, though, including a well intentioned attempt by Englehart himself to straighten Doom's convoluted personal continuity out in a much later run on FF, that the Mad Monarch of Latveria is virtually impossible to grasp in any coherent sense. Still, for four brief issues of SVTU, Victor Von was actually a three dimensional person.
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
I LOVED Englehart's treatment of Dr. Doom during his run of SVTU; in fact I loved the whole damn run, especially Henry Kissinger! The final Keith Giffen issue (with mis-matched coloring from page to page) is the worst of the bunch, but I dug the Shroud as well (Kwai Chang Caine meets Bruce Wayne!)***
Yeah, Henry the K showing up to tell the FF to fugg off, since Victor Von had just signed a non-aggression pact with the U.S., was a classically brilliant Englehart touch. One wonders how Henry felt when it turned out his boss was running the Secret Empire...
**THOR THE MIGHTY #1 (1976)
• scheduled to be a black and white magazine, this was
published as a color comic, THOR ANNUAL #5
First use of real mythology**
I never read this one, but it sounds interesting.
**MARVEL PREVIEW presents STAR-LORD #4 (Jan 76)**
I have read this one, but only once, long ago, and after I'd read the Claremont/Byrne STAR-LORD, which doubtless prejudiced me against it. (It's embarrassing to admit these days, but I was a Claremont fan back in my teens. However, where the Englehart, Gerber, Shooter, and Bates stuff I read and enjoyed back then is still eminently re-readable and continually enjoyable, I can't get through three pages of anything by Claremont these days. Forgive me the indiscretions of my youth.) I don't remember being impressed by Englehart's version, but I'd like to give it another shot from a more mature perspective.
Since typing the above paragraph, I've had a beat up copy of this sent to me by Jeff C., so I can say that, yes, Englehart's first take on this character isn't overwhelmingly impressive... the guy's an obnoxious dork, for the most part, and while I'm not going to sneer at astrology (I've never checked it out to a point where I feel entitled to an opinion) I am going to say that I'm not wild about seeing it used as a major plot element in a futuristic science fiction story. However, I would have liked to see where Englehart was going to take this character, and certainly, Claremont's version of STAR-LORD has absolutely nothing in common with Englehart's besides their name, costume, and powers.
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
I have been fairly negative in my criticism of Star Lord under creator-Englehart in the past; but, keep in mind that is was only chapter one of twelve, involving ANOTHER rising and advancing of the spirit.***
***STEVE E. SEZ:
That *is* the point. He was supposed to be an incredibly obnoxious
person, so that as he opened himself to the universe we could see him
progress. If there had been a chapter 2, he would have gotten better;
if there'd been a chapter 12 he'd have been a glorious being--the
polar opposite of what he was in #1. But there wasn't.***
And, again, I will take both your words for it, and happily.
**SUNDANCER #1 (1981; unpublished by Eclipse)
Created Star-Lord - first use of
real astrology -
SUNDANCER #1 = STAR-LORD
THE PRISONER #1 (1976; unpublished by Marvel)
• Joe Staton layouts, Gil Kane pencils
First Prisoner comic**
All this unpublished stuff; honestly, wouldn't any Englehart fan just give up a kidney to have a chance to read any of it?
**CREEPY #84 (Nov 76): Till Hell Freezes Over
An interesting little story, if you like 'gimmick' stuff. This one follows the typical EC formula; we introduce a bad person, we see them do something bad, we put them in an interesting situation, and in the end, we see them get their just desserts. Englehart adds some very deft little touches in this tale (when the hockey players all flee off the rink ice into their locker rooms to avoid a murderous mob, Englehart focuses attention, in a few very concise words, on how suddenly, the tables are turned... out on the ice, the fans without skates are clumsy, but in the locker room, the hockey players with skates strapped to their feet can now barely move without breaking an ankle). I myself enjoy more characterization than these kind of gimmick/formula stories allow, but this is a well written entry into its genre.
**STAR*REACH #7: Skywalker (Jan 77)
• dialogue for Mike Vosburg's story
WEIRD WAR TALES #50, 60, 73 (Feb 77, Feb 78, Mar 79) **
I've now read these last three, again, thanks to Jeff Clem. The first two are just typically interesting stories for WEIRD WAR. The third, which concerns the war between Sparta and Athens in Classical times, is actually quite a decent story, although the artwork, by someone with a Spanish name I'd never heard of before, is really problematic.
** Joined DC when it had been
completely decimated by Marvel,
and so put it back on the map**
However much I want to agree with this annotated self-assessment of Englehart's impact on DC's late 70s creative output, I'm forced to note that of all his work there, only the DETECTIVE stuff got noticed at the time or is at all remembered now by anyone but me, Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, or Jeff Clem. Englehart was, in fact, only one of a group of Marvel writers who slid over to DC around this time period. Gerry Conway also flipped to National, doing a whole buncha crap for them, most notably JLA and FIRESTORM THE NUCLEAR MAN; Marv Wolfman came over to do NIGHT FORCE and NEW TEEN TITANS in this period, and Roy Thomas, of course, shifted companies to create ALL STAR SQUADRON, some dismal historical character whose name I can't recall (later note: ARAK, SON OF THUNDER) and a bit later, INFINITY INC. Englehart's work on DETECTIVE, and for that matter, MR. MIRACLE, was an order of magnitude better than the rest of that other crap combined, but still, he wasn't the only Marvel writer to head over to DC and 'put it back on the map'... nor would I even say that any of their efforts actually DID put DC 'back on the map'. Of all these books, only NEW TEEN TITANS showed much success, and it wasn't until CRISIS, and Frank Miller's subsequent DARK KNIGHT, that DC really became a player again.
***STEVE E. SEZ:
The other guys all came later. For a while I was the only one there, and the JLA and DETECTIVE made people pay attention, which is what Jenette hired me to do. All attention was on Marvel until that point.***
I'll merely note here that Steve E's account of Conway claiming to have written JLA for National, and thus wanting AVENGERS, doesn't jibe, in terms of time reconciliation, with this claim that 'the other guys came later'. However, I get mixed up on stuff that happened this far back, too. Just ask Kurt Busiek; he'll tell you. <grin>
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
Wolfman came to DC after being chased from Marvel by Shooter in 1980, and Roy Thomas left Marvel in '81 or so. Conversely, Dennis O'Neil left DC in 1980 and went to Marvel until '86. Fair trade? You decide. Anyway, Steve may slightly overstate his importance in things at this point, and people DID start paying attention to DC at this time; whether or not it was because of Jenette Kahn's making changes, Neal Adams doing some covers again, or Steve's move over to DC, or a combination of all those is another debate. **
All of which seems to pretty clearly underscore that once again, I don't know what I'm talking about, and I sincerely thank Steve E. and Jeff C. for helping my spirit rise and advance in this particular manner. The dirty rats. <grin>
In all seriousness, I was actually aware (no, really!) that Englehart was the first 'Marvel' writer (not counting Kirby) to jump ship to DC and score in a big way there, and certainly, he was the first writer to make any major DC character three dimensional (as he did so beautifully with Batman, and so... er... inappropriately, in my opinion, with the JLA). I did know that the others followed him later. However, I still think that Englehart was just the start of a movement that very sloooooowly started to put DC back on the map by bringing Marvel's three dimensional approach to DC's two dimensional universe... a struggling, half assed movement that has never fully succeeded, and this is still ongoing at DC even as we speak. Batman, however, has been made fully three dimensional, and Englehart was the guy who got there first and chipped the modern day Bat-mold.... Although having said that, I hasten to add that Englehart's Batman was far more heroic, admirable, and, well, sane, than the current, Miller-ized version.
**JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #139-146, 149-150 (Feb
• #139: mine is the second story in the book, written
• all the rest are 34 pages
Ç Resurrected the DC
Superman, Wonder Woman, the
Hawks - first monthly giant-size
series - Esteban Corazón
changes his mind - The
Manhunters - Willow - The
Construct and Cannon - true
origin of the JLA - the Privateer
- a death of Superman - the
Star-Tsar and Snapper Carr.Steve Englehart's Comics Work : (c) 10/22/01 : 5**
Englehart's work on JLA is notable and memorable, if not particularly well remembered by anyone but Englehart and JLA scholars, and not very well liked, at least, by me. It's one of the few occasions where I feel Englehart's brilliantly three dimensional approach to characterization was simply inappropriate. It's one thing to take the Darknight Detective, as isolated in his own little sub-world of Gotham City, and make him suddenly more palpably, credibly real than he's ever been prior to this, and certainly few noticed and fewer cared when Englehart bestowed similar actualization on Mr. Miracle (any more than it was noticed when Conway utterly bitched up a by now all but completely forgotten revival of the New Gods from this time period). But for all of DC's A-list superheroes to suddenly develop completely unprecedented three dimensional personalities, complete with bizarre if utterly plausible quirks and behavior details, which they not only had never showed before but did not show anywhere outside Englehart's JLA... well, it was just way too much too fast. Englehart's work on the book was a lot of fun, but it simply strained credulity to the breaking point for the Atom to suddenly become sullen and insecure, Aquaman to become regal and weird, Wonder Woman to turn into a haughty, high maintenance power princess, Superman to become the big brother for the entire superhero community, the Flash to marvel at space spanning adventures, etc, etc. It was well intentioned and, on a character for character basis, entertaining, but en masse and as a whole, simply too bulky to swallow. Or at least, that's how I found it.
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
I understand your reaction to Englehart's JLA and I even "see" some of it (especially in #139, which was written AFTER #140, thus it has a "shoe-horn" feel to it, characterization-wise, that is); but I have no problem with Englehart giving characterization to characters who SEEMINGLY had none before (nature abhors a vacuum and all that). Actually, that characterization was always sort of there under Gardner Fox; it just took a writer of Englehart's talent to show it to us! ***
A typically insightful, cogent, and smart statement by Jeff, but one I disagree with utterly. Neither Fox nor any other Silver Age DC writer had ever established anything like the personalities for most of the JLA that Englehart did... Superman's paternal air towards all superheroes, Flash's 'gosh wow' sensibility for the League's cosmic adventures, the Atom's insecurity, Aquaman's utter goofiness... it was all, to an extent, sensible (well... given the adventures Flash had had up to that point in his own book and others, no, his continuing sense of wonder at the amazing stuff he encountered in JLA wasn't sensible, but it was a way to give the character depth, and one far to be preferred to Wolfman's later bizarre assignment of rabidly right wing tendencies to Wally West).
Anyway, Jeff is smart and his opinions on this subject, as they are on all subjects, are lucidly put, and, alas, I do not agree with them.
This was also one of the few books where Englehart didn't seem to galvanize an otherwise mediocre artist; Dick Dillin's astonishingly boring artwork remained astonishingly boring, with Dillin being apparently utterly immune to the enthusiasm that Englehart generally managed to infect all his other artists with. All told, Englehart on JLA seemed very much to be a case of misplaced talents.
***STEVE E. SEZ:
I won't say I *loved* Dick Dillin, but he's another of those pros I very much enjoyed working with. Double-sized book (another thing I think very highly of, which nobody has done since), with lots of new approaches to characters he'd been drawing for years, and every month he turned in a solid, fun piece of work.***
I can't recant. I have no doubt Dick Dillin was a consummate and well liked professional among his community of peers, but I found his artwork to be mediocre at best and often dismal. Sorry, Dick. I'm sure you were a swell guy, but you just didn't draw very well in my opinion. And, frankly, his near-unique method of drawing the Elongated Man's eyes stretching out of his head to look at something he found to be of great interest made me want to hurl every time I looked at it.
Englehart did do some fun things on the book, though, such as writing himself into his first published JLA script as a dictator who, upon having his small country rescued by the JLA from a strange, inexplicable cold snap, declared that he had seen the JLA as something to poke fun at previous to this, but now he believed in them, and apologized. This was Englehart's way of acknowledging that he'd given the JLA some rough usage in their Squadron Supreme guises back in his AVENGERS "Roxxon" story, poking fun at them pretty relentlessly, but now, he was sorry about it. Englehart's additions to DC's Manhunter and Green Lantern continuities were also fun and well thought out, if, unfortunately, poorly drawn by Dick Dillin. And, well, the less said about the Star-Tsar the better, obviously.
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
And speaking of Gardner Fox, Englehart's 2-part Star Tsar story was clearly his tribute to the Fox days and it really succeeded in that respect, effectively utilizing Snapper's betrayal from Denny O'Neil's run as well.***
I can't blame Englehart for how awful the Star-Tsar looked, with that ghastly cut out off center star on his face mask, although I think that costume is a big arrow in my 'Dick Dillin blew as an artist' quiver. However, the name just... well, it just bit, licked, and chewed, even as a bad pun. Sorry, Steve, but it did. I also wasn't and still am not wild about a story in which Snapper Carr actually betrays the JLA instead of simply being talked into doing something unwise by a disguised, fast talking, remarkably well disciplined Joker. It's the difference between being a patsy and being an actual rogue; I could respect Snapper as one, but not much as the other. Snapper's reasons for doing it seemed like so much whining to me, and honestly, I neither liked any of it nor found any of it particularly convincing. Had it simply been a story about a renegade Manhunter trying to infiltrate the JLA and defeat them at the same time using two different identities, I could have gotten behind that despite the dismal artwork (I did enjoy Englehart's addition to both the Manhunter and Green Lantern continuity in a previous issue that this story grew out of) but the addition of a treacherous Snapper was simply too much for the plot to take, in my opinion. I admit, though, it was nice to see Red Tornado catch the villain, because 'sleight of hand cannot fool a machine!', and Englehart's Key was pretty cool.
However, Englehart also indulged himself, as he was wont to do throughout his career, by bringing in one of many, many surrogate 'Mantis' characters in a later JLA story. If Englehart had any consistent weakness or failing as a writer in his post-Marvel period, it was this tendency to shoehorn yet another guest appearance by a thinly disguised Mantis into whatever he happened to be working on at the time. While not quite as obnoxious as J.M. DeMatteis' later pitiful attempts to force feed his Turner D. Century character into Marvel continuity by sheer unrelenting repetition, Steve E.'s obsession with 'this one' was still an annoying failing in an otherwise exemplary writer... which is probably the best summation of Englehart's tenure on JLA, also.
***STEVE E. SEZ:
There was only Willow in one JLA and Lorelei in one or two SCORPIO
ROSEs; that ain't "many, many." And the Willow story happened because
fans at San Diego were bemoaning the fact that they wouldn't see any
more Mantis, and I thought "Well, why not?" Lorelei was me an
extension of that concept, but that adds up to 2.***
Okay. But it SEEMED like more. <grin>
For what it’s worth, I’m enjoying Mantis’ current return in CELESTIAL QUEST enormously, no little because Stainless Steve showed the great good sense to pretty much ret-con out of existence all those awful appearances she made in WEST COAST AVENGERS and FANTASTIC FOUR back in the 1980s. I’m not wild about anyone else ret-conning Englehart’s stuff (especially when they substitute a lot of stupid garbage about Space Phantoms and alternate timeline Kangs in its place) but if Steve E. wants to do it to get rid of a lot of problematic earlier appearances of ‘This One’, I can only huzzah. I especially hope that this means that all that stuff about Mantis and the Cotati-Swordsman’s dead bodies staying on Earth and being buried by the Priests of Pama wasn’t true. Frankly, that stuff just kinda freaked me out.
Beyond the intelligent ret-conning, CELESTIAL QUEST is simply a beautifully written AVENGERS story, and there’s never anything wrong with that.
Although… Haywire? Wha’FUGG…?
**DETECTIVE COMICS #439 (Mar 74)
• idea by Neal Adams, plot by Vin and Sal Amendola,
good editing by Archie Goodwin**
I've read this one. Not one of the 'classic' Englehart DETECTIVES, this was a fairly forgettable fill in story published during the era when DETECTIVE was in monthly 100 page Super Spectacular format. The art stunk, the plot was tedious; if the editing by Archie Goodwin was indeed good, it wouldn't surprise me, but it didn't show much, either.
***STEVE E. SEZ:
You're just a Marvel zombie. :-) ***
Oddly, whenever my long time correspondent Mike Norton catches me praising Silver Age DC stories, writers, or artists, he accuses me of simply being a DC junkie. You pays your money and you takes your choice. <grin>
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
Detective #439's Batman story is a decent little story and I really can't see that art truly stinks (unless it bugs you that the artist were trying to be Neal Adams), nor can I admit that the plot is tedious (slight, perhaps, but it is a short story).***
Again, as Stephen Stills might put it, we just disagree. I don't hate the story, but I don't find it to be particularly good, either, especially for a Silver Age Steve Englehart Batman tale, for which I set the bar understandably high. As to the artist, I enjoyed Sal Amendola's work greatly on the otherwise awful PHOENIX series published by Atlas, but I don't think he did a great job here.
**DETECTIVE COMICS #469-476 (May 77-Apr 78)
Reprinted in THE BEST OF DC (July 81)
Reprinted as SHADOW OF THE BATMAN #1-4 (Dec 85-Mar 86)
Reprinted in THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD
Reprinted in THE GREATEST JOKER STORIES EVER TOLD
The Warner Brothers movie, BATMAN, is adapted from my
stories and two treatments (89)**
This seems like an odd statement, since Frank Miller generally takes credit for inspiring the movie Batman. Since I hate the movie Batman, I'm personally inclined to let Miller have the 'credit'. However, if Steve E. says he did story treatments for a film version that were eventually used in some way, I'll believe him.
***STEVE E. ASKS:
Does he take credit? I know a lot of people give it to him, confusing art direction with story, but I didn't know he claimed it himself.***
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
I've never heard that Miller took credit for inspiring the movie; it's possible that he said that the success of his work on Batman inspired the Batman movie to finally be made. Perhaps his Batman work inspired the dark look of the movie, but then what about the German impressionist film makers of the 20s, film noir, Terry Gilliam and the rest?***
Okay, okay... my statement that Frank Miller 'generally takes credit' for the movie version comes from one hazy memory of a videotaped interview I once saw in a bad documentary on modern comics that mostly focused on RONIN. My recollection is that the fawning moron interviewing Miller from off camera asked "Everybody says the movie version of Batman is based on your DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, which pretty much entirely remade the character and got rid of all that campy 1960s image. Would you agree?" to which Miller said something vague, like "Well, if everyone says so, I suppose..." And then they went back to more gushing about goddam RONIN.
I've seen Miller generally GIVEN credit for the movie Batman, and the flat out statement by many commentators that Miller's DARK KNIGHT is the direct inspiration for Burton's first BATMAN film, but I admit, other than that one interview, I've never seen nor read nor heard that Miller actually took credit, and I don't doubt at all that Steve E. wrote treatments for the film. As I say, I hate the movie version of Batman with a passion (although Val Kilmer did a decent job with it), so I'd rather dump it on Miller, but if Steve E. says it's all down to him, I merely shrug and acquiesce.
**Reprinted in BATMAN: VOW FROM THE GRAVE (Aug 89)
Reprinted in STACKED DECK: THE GREATEST JOKER
STORIES EVER TOLD EXPANDED EDITION (90)
Reprinted in THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD
VOLUME 2 (92)
Reprinted as BATMAN: GOTHAMIN VARJOT (Finland) (99)
Reprinted as BATMAN: STRANGE APPARITIONS (99)
É #469-476 the "definitive
Batman," which resurrected the
character - basis for the first
movie and the modern Batman
franchise - Boss Thorne -
Silver St. Cloud - Hugo Strange
- total madness of the definitive
Joker: "The Laughing Fish"**
What can I say that hasn't already been said? Not only the definitive Batman and Joker, but pretty much the definitive versions of everyone appearing in Batman as a regular character at the time, including Gotham City itself, and to my mind, Englehart created the definitive Batman girlfriend in Silver St.Cloud, as well. I can't recall if Englehart created Arkham Asylum during this run, but I think it's very possible, and he also fails to note that he created Dr. Phosphorus, one of the few post-Finger Batman villains that I found worthwhile. (In fact, Steve E. isn't well known for creating memorable original villains, so Dr. Phosphorus and Boss Thorne, who is still part of Batman continuity, are all the more singular for that.)
***STEVE E. SEZ:
I didn't create Arkham Asylum.***
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
I don't believe that Englehart created Arkham Asylum; perhaps Denny O'Neil?***
Gonged again. Okay, Steve E. didn't create Arkham Asylum. Maybe Jim Steranko or Mike Friedrich did. <grin>
Englehart is also, I believe, the first writer who ever had a villain be smart enough to simply take the opportunity of a superhero's helplessness to unmask him. Professor Hugo Strange capitalized on his good fortune by taking the place of Bruce Wayne and financially gutting Wayne Enterprises, after which, as a final coup, he attempted to auction off the secret of Batman's civilian identity to the highest bidder. Although Hugo's greed is eventually his downfall (he perishes under strenuous interrogation when Boss Thorne tries to torture the secret out of him rather than outbid his auction competitors, the Penguin and the Joker), he is without a doubt the first supervillain to ever so substantively defeat his heroic opponent, and Englehart deserves kudos for breaking that new thematic ground. This is, as noted prior under CAPTAIN AMERICA, the sort of deconstructive approach to the conventions of the established superhero mythos that Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman were both to light up the Modern Age of Comics with, (while a lot of other lesser lighters ground the Modern Age into the dirt with it) and Steve E. started the whole thing in the 1970s, with Nomad tripping over his cape and Hugo Strange unmasking Batman.
(Nobody yelled at me for this statement, so I'll assume neither Steve E. nor Jeff C. can think of any examples of this sort of thing that happened prior to these two examples.)
**KAMANDI #51 (July 77)
STARFIRE #6-7 (July-Sept 77)
MISTER MIRACLE #19-22 (Sept 77-Feb 78)
• #22 written overnight; first use of "John Harkness" pseudonym in comics**
This stuff I've all read. The KAMANDI and STARFIRE issues are interesting, nothing more. The MR. MIRACLE stuff is astonishing... among Englehart's best writing ever, even the "Harkness" issue, and a far better exemplification of the character's central conceptual essence than the more well known Gerber/Golden issues that followed... but is not particularly well known to most comics fans or scholars. Marshall Rogers does as good a job on the Englehart MR. MIRACLE issues as he did on DETECTIVE, and far better than he did later on COYOTE or SCORPIO ROSE.
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
The Mister Miracle stuff IS astonishing, due to both Englehart and Rogers (despite Vince Colletta's inking, which wasn't so bad in #20, but nearly ruined #21). Englehart himself is puzzled by my near-idolization of his Mr. Miracle run - to him it was just a job. He didn't crank it out without trying, but it was really no big deal to him. I loved playing "guess the inker" in #19.***
**- END CHAPTER ONE -
CREEPY #104 (Jan 79): Holo-cost
• from a concept by Terry Austin**
As with "When Hell Freezes Over", this is another deftly written little story around the typical EC comics horror formula... in this one, we get a twist ending, which is, in fact, truly a surprise. I enjoy this one because Englehart needed to make the emotions of his male character very real to the reader in order for the twist ending to really have impact, and he succeeds at that beautifully. I also enjoyed it because while I was reading it, I was thinking "this is wrong, the male warriors are using magic, while the females are using advanced technology, it should be the other way around..." but when we see what's REALLY going on, not only are our hearts broken vicariously for the poor single survivor, but suddenly, that all makes perfect sense.
**DC COMICS PRESENTS #8 [Superman/Swamp Thing] (Apr 79)
#12 [Superman/Mister Miracle] (Aug 79)
#88 [Superman/Creeper] (Dec 85)**
I've read all these; they aren't that good, which is a pity. The Superman/Creeper story is, I believe, drawn by Keith Giffen in his stuck up Moebius period, which sure as shit doesn't help it excel any. The Superman/Swamp Thing story is interesting, but has to have the worst Murphy Anderson art I've ever seen, and honestly, I love Murphy Anderson's art. The Superman/Mr. Miracle story... well, honestly, I really dislike this story, and the reason is, Englehart is letting the requirements of his plot not only drive characterization, but contort it into a pretzel. Neither Scott Free nor Kal El have ever, in any other comic, by Englehart or anyone else, behaved anything like how they behave here. Mr. Miracle starts out jealous of Superman's popularity (riiiiight), then ends up making Superman jealous of HIS popularity (again... riiiiiight) and the two of them resolve matters with a big fist fight in the desert... I mean... holy geez, is this a Gerry Conway Things vs. Hulk story or what?
There are also just way too many truly stupid plot devices, from Mr. Miracle just happening to be flying by when a very recognizable Intergang member who has just escaped from prison happens to be walking down the street (without a disguise! Dressed provocatively!), to the final bit where he uses dyno-mite bombs to SINK A MOUNTAIN RANGE, and Superman DOESN'T NOTICE!!! Plus, I'm personally boggled by the idea that Mr. Miracle can trade haymakers with an angry Superman and, you know, not require a team of assistant medical examiners working day and night with sponges and trowels for the next three days simply to recover the majority of his remains.
Last but not least, the Rich Buckler art is, well, Rich Buckler art, and that's never gonna help.
**WORLD'S FINEST #256 (May 79): Hawkman
BATMAN #311 (May 79) DC said neither Marshall nor I
was right for the Batman -
strictly for cash on my part**
I'm not sure what the Hawkman story is, but I don't think I've read it. The BATMAN story might be one where Batgirl fought Dr. Phosphorus, or maybe not. I know there was one in there somewhere that was written by Englehart (quite well) and drawn by Irv Novick (looking just like it was drawn by Irv Novick, unfortunately).
***STEVE E. SEZ:
That's the one. And I like Irv Novick, too.***
I liked Irv Novick's art a little more than I liked Dick Dillin's, but I think he often got better inkers. Also, he was better on some characters (Batman) than on others (The Flash). For the most part, while I'm sure he was, again, very professional and well liked, I'll take the brilliant artwork of the troubled, obnoxious, surly, often drunk, and deeply embittered Wally Wood any time. I'm told by nearly everyone who knew him that Wally was no fun at all to hang out with (unless you were really really into porn and hard drinking) but damn, that man could draw. Being nice doesn't make you talented, unfortunately. (Even worse, being immensely talented doesn't always buy you enlightenment or personal success.)
**VAMPIRELLA #78 (May 79): Passion! A favorite story**
And, alas, one I've never read.
I lie! Thanks to Jeff Clem, I now have read it. But first, a word from our Jeffster:
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
For example, I too enjoy a non-series story Steve wrote for Vampirella called "Passion", but it does have a polarizing effect on readers. Actually, that's a lie: most people I've exposed to it hate it with a, well, "passion," and nobody I know seems to like it except for Steve and myself.***
Ha! Well, I've read it and... er... I like it. In fact, I think it's a damned good story, with some of Englehart's best dialogue and clearest, most three dimensional characterizations. The French Foreign Legion background is beautifully evoked and the story itself is fascinating and intriguing from the opening panel to the closing word balloon.
However (there's nearly always a 'however' with me), this is one of those stories that is structured around a sudden, shocking, climactic surprise revelation of a mystery that Englehart skillfully builds up suspense over for the entire story up to that point. And Englehart doesn't disappoint; the climactic revelation is absolutely a stunner, and completely unexpected.
And yet... and yet...
To say that the climactic plot twist comes out of left field is to redefine 'left field' so that it includes several billion multi-dimensional universes, a large proportion of which would have to be patterned after the ether-derived hallucinations of Ambrose Bierce. Yes, the story is completely unpredictable, but that's honestly only because no reader with even a vestigial grasp on socially conventional sanity could possibly foresee anything remotely resembling such a plot development coming, and once you see it, in all honesty, you have to kinda keep flipping back to that big one page spread to really reinforce on yourself that yes, yes, a goddam big... well... something... just showed up out of nowhere and did... something... really unlikely with the main character. (I'm not spoiling it for anyone who hasn't read it yet, no matter how much anyone begs.)
I mean, sorry, Steve and Jeff, but much though I love and admire the story written all around the crucial climactic plot point, I have to say, it's kind of CHEATING to build up to a big surprise and then deliver one that no one who was not at the time tripping on LSD could possibly have anticipated. Perhaps Coyote would have seen this one coming, if he read the story while wasted on peyote buttons, but I myself was simply brain-boggled. So, yeah, it surprised me, but no, it didn't, in a word, SATISFY.
Still, I have to admit, it's a pretty cool story, aside from all that.
**The Cloud Patrol (May-July 79)
• three-part monthly strip for The Enlisted Times, San Francisco; Steve Leialoha, art.Steve Englehart's Comics Work : (c) 10/22/01 : 6**
Gee, this one sounds like fun, and I love Steve Leialoha's collaborations with Englehart. Wish I could read it.
Okay, I've read it, or at least, a few pages of it, and have to say, I didn't like it much. This is apparently a sort of parody/comedy treatment of old adventure serials and classic science fiction themes, and I've never been wild about parodies like that... which is most likely my bad. It seems like a pretty forgettable effort on both Steve E. and Steve L.'s parts. But I appreciate Jeff Clem sending me the Xeroxes.
**MADAME XANADU #1 (1981)
• originally written as a DOORWAY TO NIGHTMARE fill-in, 1980
ECLIPSE #1 (May 81): Slab
• originally written for DC COMICS PRESENTS [@
#40], with Superman and the Creeper; revisions in plot
by Marshall Rogers
When DC tried to renege on my
page rate, I took my scripts and
walked (an unheard-of event) -
then sold them to Eclipse,
launching that company**
Jeff sent me a copy of ECLIPSE MAGAZINE #1, with the Slab story in it, and I realized I had read it before, long, long ago (probably around 1982) and hated it. I like it better now, since I'm more tolerant of really really stupid stuff like 'the Foozle!' and the Agent of Storbor (who appears to be a little girl in pajamas flying around on a king sized bed that has all sorts of weaponry programmed into it), and could better appreciate the thoughtfulness and detail Englehart put into the futuristic backdrop of this story, as well as the contracting characterizations of the Jack Ryder/Clark Kent analogue characters. The manifestations of both secret identities were pretty cool, too. Nonetheless, I'll live just as long and die just as happy if I don't have to read any more comics stories about superheroes who look this relentlessly idiotic (which, yes, I'm aware, is a point Marshall Rogers was probably trying to make about the intrinsic nature of heroism, but I don't care; I'm shallow and I want my heroes and villains to look COOL, not stupid, okay?)
I think I've read all the rest of this stuff, too. I'll point out that my recollections of Eclipse's launch include some Mike Grell and Dave Stevens stuff, too.
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
I also think you're confusing Eclipse with Pacific comics when you mention their launch including work by Grell and Dave Stevens.***
And I suspect he is right. Hey, I'm not perfect but I admit it when I'm wrong. ;)
**COYOTE(tm) #0: I AM COYOTE
• graphic album; color reprint from ECLIPSE #2-8
(July 81-Jan 83)
COYOTE #1-16 (Apr 83-Jan 86)**
I did not much like the "I Am Coyote" graphic album... for one thing, I've always suspected that a plutonium Oscar would weigh a LOT more than a gold alloy one, and plutonium is supposedly one of the most chemically toxic substances in the world, so it's unlikely people wouldn't notice the contact burns they'd get just from handling the things in fairly short order. Still, I could be wrong, since all I know about plutonium comes from Robert A. Heinlein's short stories, and the writers of the TV show ALIAS seem to think that their heroine can pick up a sphere of plutonium the size of a softball with her bare hands, hold it for a while, and then carry it around in her pocket for several hours, with no ill effects.
I vastly enjoyed and still enjoy the first two issues of the Epic COYOTE series, as drawn by Steve L., and found the third issue by Butch Guice pretty good, too. Then some truly horrible artist named Charles Truog took over and it all went straight into the dumper... from what I could see, even Steve E. gave up on trying to write it well and just got drunk on first seeing Truog's non-artwork and stayed that way for the remainder of the run. Perhaps Steve E. managed to work his usual magic and get the absolute best out of Truog's artistic capacities, but if he did, I shudder to think what a normal or bad Truog art job would look like. Englehart did a lot of interesting stuff in COYOTE, including a team up with The Badger, but after the first three issues it all just looked godawful and I could barely read it once and have never been able to reread it. I don't demand Steve Rude level artwork for me to enjoy a comic, but Charles Truog doing pencils could make me pass up a new Mark Evanier CROSSFIRE story with full frontal nude appearances by Rainbow, I swear.
***STEVE E. SEZ:
Many people did not like Chas. I did, because it had the primal energy that a totem figure needs. And I worked my butt off on Coyote; you should just read it sometime and let the art pass you by.***
On the other hand:
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
I think that reading the Coyote issues while ignoring the art by Truog would be difficult; Steve may have lost his objectivity here.***
Sorry, Stainless, I'm goin' with the Jeffmeister here. ;)
**"Somebody's Baby" ("How Coyote Dissed the Sky"), short
prose story for proposed (but unpublished) anthology
edited by Kurt Busiek (Jun 89)**
One wonders if Kurt got paid, or Steve E. did. It's a pity this never appeared, since more prose by Steve E. would have to be a good thing. I really enjoy his one novel to date, THE POINT MAN.
And thanks to Jeff C., I've now read this short story, and it's really quite excellent. Englehart does have a few rather labored and contrived sentences (one about Coyote hurtling somewhere like a cat out of a hot tin pult I had to reread several times; I can see what he was going for, but it just doesn't work and would probably have been dropped in a re-draft... or at least, Kurt would have made ME rework it, back when he was mentoring me in college, but maybe he wouldn't have made Steve E. do so), but the story itself is still vastly entertaining. And having read it just last night, I'm made forcibly re-aware of what I liked least about the whole character of Coyote, namely, his whimsical nature and often really juvenile sense of humor. But that's, again, probably just me; I like my heroes to be fairly serious about the whole hero thing, although a little levity from time to time is fine. And I'd leave it at that, except I must note ruefully that if I like my heroes a bit grimmer than Coyote, it's primarily from reading Englehart's DR. STRANGE, and CAPTAIN AMERICA, and AVENGERS, and DETECTIVE, which were fairly serious treatments of the superhero continuum and protagonist in and of themselves. I'm not saying Steve E. can't decide to write a raving, drug indulgent loon in his later years if he wants to, but I am saying that I like it better when heroes act a little more sensibly and rationally.
Still, this is an immensely fun story, it hits all the write emotional chords, and the ending is both satisfying (as Coyote outwits the evil aliens because he is, after all, most sly) and tragic (as his actions cause the death of the person he has spent the entire story trying to save, through no fault of his own).
Best of all, of course, there was no Charles Truog art, so I could imagine this one quite nicely as being drawn by Steve Leialoha.
ROULETTE(tm) #1 (1981; unpublished by New Media Irjax)
• Don Heck pencils
• character concept evolved into -
• in COYOTE #11 (Mar 85)
• Todd McFarlane's first story
THE DJINN(tm) #1
• in FANTASY ILLUSTRATED #1 (Spring 82)
THE DJINN #1-4
• in COYOTE #7-10 (July 84-Jan 85);
part 1 reprinted from FANTASY ILLUSTRATED
An homage to and for Steve
One of the rare ways in which my convoluted fanboy life has benefited me is that I've actually seen photostats of some of these pencilled pages. In 1980, Jeff Webb and I had two proposals accepted by NMI for their "New Talent" title, as did my college mentors Kurt Busiek and Scott McCloud, and it was through that association that we all occasionally got to see cool stuff like this. It was some extraordinary work from Heck, and Roulette, in her original form, could have been one of Englehart's most astonishing creative concepts, in much the same way the Djinn was under Ditko. Unfortunately, both suffered dreadfully at the visually inept hands of Truog.
***STEVE E. SEZ:
Again--great Heck. ***
** SCORPIO ROSE(tm) #1-3 (Jan 83- 8)
• originally written as MADAME XANADU #2-3 (1980)
• SCORPIO #3 plotted; Mike Hernández laid it out for
Marshall Rogers but it was never completed
SCORPIO ROSE #4-6
• in COYOTE #12-14 (May-Sept 85)
Real magick (Tarot) returns -
large cult following - #1 a
personal favorite - Lorelei -
the famous Lost Third Issue**
Lorelei, like Willow in JLA, was yet another annoying Mantis doppelganger. Beyond that deponent sayeth not.
**AMAZING HIGH ADVENTURE #1 (Aug 84): The Pike
#2 (Sept 84): Too Long Lost
#3 (Oct 84): Monkey See,
Too Long Lost: a favorite story**
I've read "The Pike"; it was a tightly written story nicely drawn by John Severin. I haven't seen the other two.
Actually, it turns out I lied. I had read "Too Long Lost" when it first came out, and had just forgotten it. It's one of Englehart's best unique stories; both the narrative and the dialogue are amazingly crisp and clear, the atmosphere is beautifully evoked, and the characterizations are all deftly and concisely established and developed. "Too Long Lost" may well be the only story that ever appeared in AMAZING HIGH ADVENTURE that had an element of the supernatural in it (one of the reasons I generally found AHA really boring), and I'm sure it benefits from great Paul Smith artwork. Nonetheless, this is a finely polished little gem of a story, with a deftly tuned plot and an absolutely perfect resolution. Englehart at his finest, long after a point I would have considered his prime. And again, my deep appreciation to Jeff Clem for sending me the issue of AHA that this was in, so I could re-experience it.
"Monkey See, Monkey Die!" I hadn't previously read. Napoleon Bonaparte and his pet monkey fight evil in British controlled Egypt at the end of the 18th Century... I mean, how can you NOT dig a story like that? Good dialogue, excellent evocation of a distant time and place, three dimensional characterization, and a dead monkey... who could ask for anything more?
**T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #1-2 (Nov 84-Jan 85): T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents stories
• #2 scripted by Dave Singer from my plot.Steve Englehart's Comics Work : (c) 10/22/01 : 7**
I've seen the first issue of this two parter and I loved it; Cockrum did some outstanding work on the pencils for the part that I saw, and Englehart's interpretations of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was nothing short of amazing. I've never managed to locate a copy of the second part, although as Englehart's dialogue is one of his main strengths, I'm not certain it would be worth it to do so, since he didn't actually script it. Still, that particular story is one of my favorite 'post Marvel' pieces by Englehart.
***JEFF CLEM SEZ:
I also LOVED Englehart's scripting on Thunder Agents #1 and you are most definitely not missing out on much in #2 - Singer's scripting over Englehart's plot is bland and safe "Superhero writing 101", although the Murphy Anderson inking over Cockrum is o.k. despite some bad coloring on the final page.***
***STEVE E. SEZ:
Now *there's* one that's usually forgotten. ***
Well, not by I or Jeff Clem, sir. Nice job.
**GREEN LANTERN / GREEN LANTERN CORPS #187-223 (Apr
• #187 written by Paul Kupperberg to my order
TALES OF THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS ANNUAL #2
SECRET ORIGINS #7 (Oct 86): Guy Gardner
GREEN LANTERN QUARTERLY # (): Scared of His Shadow!
• art by Craig Hamilton - as yet unpublished
Resurrected the series, doubling
sales - created the new Guy
Gardner, most popular DC hero
of the 80s, and Kilowog and
Rocket Red - generated John &
Katma - the Predator, Star
Sapphire, and Carol Ferris - "5-
4-3-2-1" (the "better crisis") -
the Guardians & the Zamarons
depart - the Corps on Earth -
Ch'p and Salakk, and Dr. Ub'x -
Hal & Arisia: "In Deep" - 3600,
the Insane Sector - "Red
Lantern" - "Pink Elephants" -
Star Sapphire and Hector
Hammond - Salakk as Pol
Manning - Driq, Flodo Span,
and Olapet: "Inside Summer
Skies," "Inside Some Other
Skies," "Inside Somatic Psyches"
- the death of Sinestro
...all leading to ACTION
WEEKLY, GUY GARDNER, and
the rest of the GL boom**
Englehart's extensive annotation says a great deal more than I would about his impressive impact on the Green Lantern continuity at DC, although it's all since been largely either undone or is simply being ignored with the use of the new, moronic Kyle Ranier GL character. I'll simply note, as I have often in the past, that Englehart's run on GL up through CRISIS was simply the absolute quality and characterization apex of the Hal Jordan GREEN LANTERN concept, and even after Crisis and the conversion to GREEN LANTERN CORPS, when the concept was in my opinion cursed with horrible character miscues like Ch'p and a forcibly matured Arisia, Englehart still did some breathtaking sequences on the series, such as Star Sapphire's stunning sexual cruelty to Hector Hammond, the amazingly moving faux death speeches of Barry Allen and Tomar Re, and the brilliantly effective 'Shootout at the Galactic Corral' sequence featuring Arisia, Ch'p, and Salakk battling Goldface (a sequence that to this day stands as the only stretch of work in which I could really manage to actually believe, rather than suspend disbelief, in the Green Lantern Corps as an established part of a credible, comprehensive interstellar continuity). Hell, I'll even admit that the flashback issue dealing with Ch'p's career as a Silver Age crimefighter on his native planet was a lot of fun; I just didn't want to see the obnoxious little furball made into a permanent member of the cast. It's also worth noting that that sort of pastiche of the funny animal subgenre crossed with early Silver Age superhero conventions was to become extensively used by Alan Moore later on in the Modern Age.
This, to my mind, closes down Englehart's Silver Age work, both at Marvel and DC, and thus, is a logical place to close this article, which has gone on long enough as it is. The annotated bibliography supplied to me by Steve E. goes on, quite fascinatingly, through another fifteen or so years of his comics work, but unfortunately, a great deal of it is stuff that for various tedious and perhaps even incorrect reasons, I don't enjoy all that much, (although I loved the Vision/Scarlet Witch mini he did with Rich Howell, so I'll take a moment to notate that right now) and I just don't feel like beating up on my idol at the moment, so I'll leave all that for another day, and perhaps even, another author. My focus has always been the Silver Age, anyway...
...and in the Silver Age, Steve Englehart is an undisputed Titan, in the sense of the most classic mythological titans, which is to say, he's a member of the race that gave birth to the gods themselves (and a lot of annoying little demi-gods, as well, which is an accurate, if far grander than they deserve, description of nearly every Modern Age writer who has ever worked in comics, one way or another).
* * * * * *
John Jones, the Manhunter from Marathon, IL, admits it frankly... he loves Steve Englehart's Silver Age work, and if you were expecting anything like an objective, dispassionate analysis of said body of work in a Martian Vision column, clearly you haven't read any other Martian Vision columns. Nonetheless, he thinks anyone who doesn't love Steve E. Silver Age superhero writing is a clueless dolt who has no business calling themselves as superhero comics fan, and anyone currently working as a professional in the Modern Age of Comics who does not acknowledge and revere Englehart's Silver Age work as masterful if not out and out godlike should, in John's humble opinion, be immediately defenestrated before they can do any more damage than has already been done. And if that statement seems to cry out silently with the name 'Quesada', well, what a remarkably perceptive person you must be. And you can tell me how much you agree, or alternatively would like to kill me, at email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.