Joe Staton has drawn so many wonderful comic books, and yet you rarely see him listed in top 10, top 50 or even top 100 list of top artists. I’ve always found this to be a bit odd, as while he may not be a Kirby or Ditko, he definitely had a distinctive look and is an extremely effective storyteller. It can’t be mere coincidence that so many of my favorite books were drawn by Joe Staton.
Like so many great artist of the late 70s and 80s (Aparo, Byrne, and Zeck to name a few), Staton cut his teeth at Charlton Comics. Charlton was the perfect environment for many young artists as the work was plentiful and the minimal editorial interference really allowed them to find their own voice. Staton’s finest work at Charlton was on E-Man, collaborating with Nicol Cuti. I discussed E-Man a couple of weeks ago, so I won’t repeat myself here except to say that the mixture of action, sci-fi and satire was certainly ahead of its time and Staton was the perfect artist to mix up all of these elements.
Aside from E-Man, Staton worked on countless projects at Charlton – including art on licensed properties such as Six Million Dollar Man and Space: 1999. This was all solid work, if unspectacular. Where Staton really excelled, however, was in the world of horror. During the 70s, Charlton had a plethora of horror anthologies, so Staton’s work pops up all over the place. His more cartoony style really works in the horror genre, much as Jack Davis’ did for EC back in the 50s. ‘Film Freak’ from Haunted #20 is a great example of his fine horror work at Charlton.
Eventually, Staton began to do some work for DC and this is really where he made his mark. I believe that the first book I ever owned with Joe Staton artwork was All-Star Comics #70, which is a really fun little tale featuring Star Spangled Kid and Wildcat, with a little Huntress thrown in for good measure. I was probably 5 or 6 when I read this one, so perhaps Staton’s less detailed line work appealed to me, but it still looks great 30 years later. Staton works well in Earth-2 as he gives the characters a much more classic look – his Superman is a bit Wayne Boring and his Batman is a bit Dick Sprang.
Speaking of Batman, Joe Staton drew on of the finest Batman tales of ever produced (and the “Greatest Stories” folks at DC agree with me. Brave and the Bold #197, is an absolutely beautiful Earth-Two Batman story written by Alan Brennert. It’s a love story, as Bruce and Selina finally open up to each other and all of the walls they’ve built to protect themselves come tumbling down. It really is quite touching, and a comic that should be in everyone’s collection, in my less than humble opinion.
Lastly, let me mention Staton’s excellent work on the Huntress strip that ran as a back-up in Wonder Woman during the early 80s. This was the rare case where the back-up was far superior to the main strip, and the only reason it was worth picking up Wonder Woman back in the day. DC finally listen to the cries of fans and published a collection of these stories a couple of years ago. For my money, the Levitz/Staton Joker arc, is as good a Joker story as you’ll find.
Along with the stuff I’ve mentioned above, Staton also had a long, fine run on Green Lantern and was part of many key projects at DC during the 80s. He was heavily involved with First Comics, working as art directors for a number of years. These days, I believe he draws the Scooby Doo book, which seems to be a long way from the Dark Knight. I actually find it ironic that Staton has fallen out of favour when there has been shift towards a more ‘animated’ look in comics. If you look at Staton’s Batman, you’ll see that it bridges the generational gap from Dick Sprang to Bruce Timm. At least DC recognized that fact, and had Staton do some work with Paul Dini in the late 90s. Staton is a true master, who will likely always be seen as a journeyman by most fans and that’s a shame.
Joe Staton Essentials: E-Man, Brave & Bold #197, Tales of the Green Lantern Corps (1981), Huntress: Dark Knight Daughter
As I noted in the comments – I’m editing this to add this page from Blackhawk #271, the only Staton page in my collection.
For my random talk about classic comics, feel free to stop by my blog: Seduction of the Indifferent
Also, feel free to drop me a line at Scottshouldbegood@yahoo.ca