Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Wallace Wood, and the story is "Me-262!" in Blazing Combat #4, which was published by Warren and is cover dated July 1966. These scans are from the hardcover collection, which was published by Fantagraphics in 2009. Enjoy!
What better way to celebrate Christmas than with a war story? I know, TBS should just show war movies all day instead of Ralphie and his damned rifle. It's just logical!
I've shown scans from Blazing Combat before (back when I did Gray Morrow), and I'll repeat myself - you really ought to get the collection. It's terrific. Wood contributed two stories, and this is the second one. Let's see what's what! (Michael Catron stopped by to mention that all the artwork is © 2014 J. Michael Catron. My bad!)
"Me-262!" is a short story about the history of the plane, so Archie Goodwin (who wrote almost all the stories in Blazing Combat) simply takes us through its development, while Wood gets to have fun drawing airplanes. This is, of course, not long after Wood drew Daredevil, and we can see that he didn't lose any skill on that comic, he just didn't use every tool in his arsenal. "Me-262!" makes heavy use of Zip-A-Tone, as we'll see throughout this post, and Wood uses a delicate touch in the background to make the trees' leaves stand out. Wood drew this on Craftint/Duotone paper, and it makes me wonder what paper he was using on Daredevil - if it was just Bristol board, that would account for the lack of shading in the comic, and why Wood's work on it isn't quite as textured. Craftint was, as far as I've been able to determine, more expensive than Bristol board, so maybe that's what was going on. Anyway, even with the benefit of the paper, Wood's work is better here, as he uses thick blacks and white ink in Panel 2 to get a very nice explosion, for instance. Just that panel is more interesting than a lot of what he did on Daredevil.
The use of spot blacks and heavy inks makes Hitler and his generals look a bit more evil, which is probably the point. Hitler's mustache, for instance, is less crisp than we usually see in photographs - Wood makes it more of a heavy splotch. The thick folds in the uniforms in Panel 4 add texture to the clothing, which we saw yesterday when Wood wasn't drawing superhero outfits. Wood obviously used photographs to get Hitler right, but he still gives us good examples of Hitler's anger, paranoia, and megalomania - his eyes, especially in the final panel, look haunted, as if he knows he's about to be found out and he's just waiting for a knife in the back. I assume Goodwin's history is right, even if I have no idea if Hitler was an obtuse as he's portrayed here - from what we hear about him, it seems he might have been - but whether or not the sentiment he expresses is accurate, Wood does a nice job showing how petty he was.
Wood uses the Zip-A-Tone to get some really nice cross-hatching on the plane, making it shine without having to use a lot of white. He also does a nice job with the final two panels - he uses white ink in Panel 4 to create bullet holes, spidering them outward to create the cracks. In Panel 5, we once again get the thick blacks of airplane fuel burning - Wood does good work with that and the shadows on the American plane, while he also simply erases a thin line to create the spinning propeller on the front of the fighter. It's a cool way to add effects to the page.
Once Hitler allowed the Messerschmitts to be used as fighters, Wood and Goodwin show how effective they were. In Panel 2, Wood does a great job with the shadows on the turret, as the black obscures the face of the gunner, perhaps because this story is about the Germans and not showing an Allied soldier might have been the way Wood and Goodwin decided to go. Or it could have just been a neat effect. Wood again is using a lot of white ink to show the flight of the rockets and bullets, which makes them stand out against the background hatching really well, and of course, his explosions are fantastic. The jubilation on the face of the German pilot is ironic, as the Me-262's success came far too late in the war to help turn its course, as we'll see on the next page.
Goodwin was writing short stories (this is seven pages), so a long history of the Messerschmitt wasn't in the cards, but the story still ends fairly abruptly, as the oberleutnant lands, elated that the plane can win them the war, and a few panels later, he walks away as the other soldiers torch it so the Allies won't get it. Dang, that's a turnaround! Wood, of course, does great work, especially with the pilot in Panel 4, downcast because the Nazis are going to lose. Suck it, Nazis! Wood's use of blacks on his eyes is nice, as it's both logical (his head is down) and metaphorical, while his inking on the pilot's hair is, as usual, tremendous. He uses more blacks on this page than any other in the story, which isn't surprising, as it's a dark day for the Germans. Just using more blacks on innocuous drawings like the plane in Panel 2 helps create a funereal mood, which of course leads to the plane's Viking funeral in Panel 6. Suck it, Nazis!!!!
As the 1960s turned to the 1970s, Wood seemed to be happy doing more inking than straight-up penciling. I guess it paid the bills and perhaps allowed him to work faster. He also did a lot of commercial art and animation, which I'm sure was more lucrative than comics. But he still drew some amazing comics, and tomorrow I'll finish up with some early 1970s work. I don't have any full work from after about 1974, so I'll have to skip those final few years of his life. But what we'll see tomorrow is pretty great. Find more great comics in the archives!