Last week I talked a little bit about that moment of discovery, when you become a fan of something, rather than just a casually-interested member of the general audience, and gave a few specific examples. This week, we do it again with a different list.
Jim Aparo: I was a Bat guy from the moment I encountered the character on TV in the days of Adam West, but it was the coolness upgrade Batman got from Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams after the television show was canceled that sealed the deal. (I wrote about that particular tipping point here, a couple of years ago.)
So I was all about this new, darker, scarier version of THE Batman. (It was very important to all of us back then to be sure and say "The" Batman, because no one wanted our new, cool "comics are serious!" version to be confused with the mocking BIFF BAM POW! television one.)
Occasionally I'd see a question from a reader in a Batman or Detective letter column about getting Jim Aparo to draw a story. I had no idea who Jim Aparo was, but the way the letter-writers carried on, it sure made me curious.
When I did finally see the work I was blown out of my chair. That was in one of my favorite issues ever of The Brave and the Bold, #112, teaming Batman and... the Joker??
[caption id="attachment_105040" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="This cover sold me the book, but it was the Aparo art inside that made me a fan."]
It was heresy at the time but I thought Aparo's Batman was even better than the Adams verison. The emotions felt more visceral, the action scenes looked more heated somehow; and I especially dug his use of light and shadow. It probably didn't hurt that the story itself, a clever and suspenseful mystery from Bob Haney, was my first exposure to the scary homicidal 1970s Joker after years of Cesar Romero's bubbly television version.
[caption id="attachment_105278" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="I know I say this kind of thing a lot, but it's true-- for those of you who only know modern-era comics, you have NO IDEA what a revelation 'The' Batman was to us Bronze Age kids. Scary Joker was a big part of that; a murderous psycho Bat-villain really was a novel idea back then, instead of a monthly routine. "]
It also didn't hurt that DC immediately thereafter embarked on their experiment of turning many of their books into 100-page Super-Spectaculars, and that Brave and the Bold was among the best of those.
[caption id="attachment_105278" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="I loved that whole 100-page era at DC, but among the brightest stars of that time were Jim Aparo and the amazing run he was having on B&B. Really hitting his stride. These were GREAT stories, and Aparo drew them with an incredible sense of kinetic urgency."]
But Aparo's art, itself, was a delight all its own. I stared at it for hours trying to figure out how he was doing it. It seemed so much more authentic than anything else from DC at the time... especially when he was drawing something dark and spooky.
Years later I realized that the reason it was all so seamless was because Aparo was doing everything himself. Pencils, inks, even the lettering -- every page was the result of a a singular artistic vision. I think Jim Aparo was the only guy at either Marvel or DC at the time that was that kind of one-man band, other than maybe Joe Kubert.
As much as I loved Aparo's Brave and Bold stuff, though, my feeling is that his finest hour was when he got to do solo Batman stories. In particular, the first two chapters of "Bat-Murderer!"
It was a seven-issue serial-- really an epic event, back then, especially from DC that was usually the company that was all about the done-in-one. I'm annoyed to this day that Jim Aparo didn't get to draw (and ink, and letter) the entire thing. Ernie Chan did a perfectly acceptable job on the concluding chapters, but his work just didn't have the power Jim Aparo's did.
[caption id="attachment_105040" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="Check out the use of a continuous background, and the great staging and positioning of all the characters in the scene. I could go on about Aparo's storytelling and page design for hours, but it boils down to, BEST ANGLE, EVERY PANEL, EVERY TIME."]
DC did reprint the whole of "Bat-Murderer" once, as one of its digests, back in 1981. (Best of DC #9, for those who were wondering.)
[caption id="attachment_105288" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="I don't know why this particular epic doesn't get more love.... no one ever mentions it when they talk about Ra's Al Ghul stories, even."]
A digest is better than nothing, I suppose. But that story really deserves its own trade collection, even if the art's not quite up to snuff in the back half. Anyway, it was all the amazing work Aparo did in the 100-Page books that really made me a fan, and those are still some of my favorite Bat-stories today.
Doc Savage: I've mentioned them here many times, so you'd think that the Bantam paperback reprints of the original Doc pulp stories would have been where I first fell in love with Doc Savage. Not so!
Of course I was interested in the Bantam books. The covers were amazing, and the back cover copy teased what sounded like an incredible adventure series: To the world at large, Doc Savage is a strange mysterious figure of glistening bronze skin and golden eyes. To his amazing co-adventurers – the five greatest brains ever assembled in one group – he is a man of superhuman strength and protean genius, whose life is dedicated to the destruction of evil-doers. To his fans he is one of the greatest adventure heroes of all time, whose fantastic exploits are unequaled for hair-raising thrills, breathtaking escapes, and bloodcurdling excitement.
When I was in eighth grade a kid at school loaned me two of his Doc books: The Green Death and The Crimson Serpent. I liked them okay, but that was all; they didn't send me scurrying to the bookstore looking for more.
[caption id="attachment_105288" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="Part of the problem was that the covers were way too cool for the books themselves, the stories inside didn't match the promise on the front."]
But, a few months later, the first issue of Marvel's Doc Savage black-and-white magazine appeared at the local Sentry Market. It was the only Marvel magazine that ever showed up there, although they did install an actual comics rack a couple of weeks after that.
Anyway, I bought the Doc magazine on a whim, and the balls-out adventure story by Doug Moench, John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga really sold me, it genuinely had the kind of action and adrenaline rush the Bantam novels' back covers had promised. From that point on I was on board.
[caption id="attachment_105288" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="Maybe it was just the right time for me to give Doc another chance-- a boy of fourteen is probably the ideal Doc Savage reader-- but for me it was that Moench and DeZuniga actually brought the big adventure and the coolness that it felt like the novels should have given me when I had tried them."]
So the next day I was back at the market looking for more Doc paperbacks on the spinner rack. What I found was The Devil Genghis, the only Doc Savage novel to feature a villain (the sinister John Sunlight) coming back for a second try at world domination; and Philip Jose Farmer's biography of Doc Savage, just out in paperback.
[caption id="attachment_105288" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="These two sealed the deal."]
The Devil Genghis I liked a lot more than the other two I'd read; I liked the idea of an actual recurring Doc supervillain, it felt very comic-booky. And Farmer's biography of Doc Savage fascinated me... especially his explanations and theories about the Wold Newton Universe.
It hit me right where I lived, since I was getting into the Marvel universe pretty seriously for the first time that year, as well-- so the idea of all these heroes from pulp magazines and classic adventure stories ALSO living in a shared universe sounded awesome to me. From there I branched out into other paperback pulp reprints-- the Avenger, the Shadow. I made it a point to seek out their comics incarnations as well. But none of them hit it out of the park with me the way Doug Moench and Tony DeZuniga did with those black-and-white Doc Savage magazines. There were only eight of them, and it took me quite a few years of hunting through back-issue bins throughout Washington and Oregon to find them all (in those pre-internet days, that's how you had to do it) but it was worth the hunt. I loved every one.
[caption id="attachment_105288" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="One of the most valued comics in my collection is #5 from that series, signed by both Tony DeZuniga and also the late Marshall Rogers; I'm not normally that big on signed books but I really treasured both of those experiences GETTING the signatures. Spent a fair amount of time geeking with each of them (at different shows) over art and designing for black and white and even a little about Doc himself."]
Well, this is getting rather lengthy, and honestly I have a long weekend of work ahead of me as the Emerald City Comic-Con is bearing down on our household like a runaway freight train. So I think we'll save the rest of the list for next week's column.
Do come and see us, if you are at the show-- we are at table B-12 and B-13 in Artist's Alley, and this year we're bringing both Cartooning and Young Authors. It's shaping up to be an amazing show for us and I hope to see you there.
Otherwise, feel free once again to share your similar experiences of fan discovery below in the comments, and I'll be back here with the last of my list of reminiscences about these tipping points... next week. See you then.