Friday, July 20, 2012

Pop culture roundup: 1950s sci-fi; new Bob Dylan!

Explore some of the best of 1950s science fiction at a special site created by the Library of America as a tie-in to it's new, two-volume collection "American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s," which includes works by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth, Theodore Sturgeon, Richard Matheson, Robert A. Heinlein, James Blish and Fritz Leiber.

The site includes short pieces by contemporary writers such as William Gibson, Neil Gaiman and Michael Dirda discussing some of these landmark works from sci-fi's golden era.


Bob Dylan has announced the release of his 35th studio album for Sept. 11. Titled Tempest, the LP is reported to contain a 14-minute song about the Titanic and song titled "Roll On, John" in tribute to John Lennon. This being Dylan, the results may be brilliant or terrifyingly bad. Not sure what's up with the Photoshop 101 cover art...


My favorite Batman artists: Neal Adams

Neal Adams was preceded by some great Batman artists: Jerry Robinson, Dick Sprang, Jack Burnley, Sheldon Moldoff, Carmine Infantino.

He had great contemporaries in Irv Novick and Jim Aparo.

And he was followed by other luminaries, such as Marshall Rogers and Don Newton.

But if you asked folks to name the best Batman artist ever, Adams would likely top the list. His  influence on the character is impossible to dismiss.

Adams' powerful, super-realistic art couldn't help but make an impact when he came on the comics scene in the late 1960s. He had a virtuosity and style all his own. And on Batman, especially, his presence was earthshaking.

The decision to hand Adams the reins to Batman was no mistake.

In the aftermath of the campy Batman TV series, and nearly 20 years of lightweight comics adventures that saw the Caped Crusader improbably visiting different planets, time periods and dimensions, editor Julie Schwartz wanted to make Batman a little more serious and real.

Writer Frank Robbins and artists Irv Novick and Bob Brown helped bring Batman a bit more down to earth, and then writer Denny O'Neil and Adams sealed the deal.

This pair stripped Batman to his essence. Gone were all the fancy vehicles and the bloated supporting cast. There was no more jetting off into space. Instead, this Batman was cast as an adventurer/detective facing earthbound challenges (with occasional ventures into the supernatural) armed with nothing but his wits.

Adams' art made it all work marvelously. His Batman was powerful and stealthy, driven, but also very human. He could express surprise, anger, sadness, humor. He could get hurt. He wasn't the grim, humorless, kevlar-armored, Bat Tank-driving Dark Knight of today, but an admirable, sympathetic figure crusading for justice (not vengeance).

The O'Neil-Adams team hit a peak with their multi-part Ra's Al Ghul "Daugher of the Demon" storyline, but also turned several wonderful single-issue stories during their run, too. In addition to their human take on Batman, I loved that O'Neil and Adams could turn out stories that weren't mired in or dependent on continuity or the wider DC audience.

 Here's a look at some of Adams spectacular Batman art:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

My favorite Batman artists: Jim Aparo

If I had to pick just one favorite Batman artist (and who would want to have to do that?) I'd likely go with Jim Aparo.

Aparo was the longtime artist on the Batman team-up book, The Brave and the Bold, which was a great bang-for-your-buck (or 25-cents) when I was a kid. Not only did you get Batman, but a guest star from the wider DC Universe. Along with fabulous Aparo art, you'd generally get a cool script from Zany Bob Haney, known for his sometimes wildly imaginative/loopy plots.

Aparo was an incredibly prolific and talented artist. He took the realistic Neal Adams-style Batman and made it his own, oftentimes doing his own inks and lettering to boot.

What captivates about his art, I think, is the intensity. The faces of Aparo's characters express so much emotion with their furrowed brows and anguished mouths and those little "emotion action" lines emitting from them (take a look at any Aparo-illustrated story and you'll get what I mean).

His story-telling and panel flow was so smooth -- a lost art today when many artists are great at drawing amazing pictures, but poor at portraying action and helping guide readers through the story.

Aparo was so prolific that he got taken for granted. He was one of the great artists of his era, but we all got so used to his frequent, excellent work that we didn't give him as much credit as some of less-productive peers.

That's changing as more and more of his work is reprinted and we can see his great art not only on stories featuring Batman, but also the Phantom, Aquaman, Phantom Stranger and the Spectre. DC published a hardcover collection of his Batman work, "Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo Vol. 1," earlier this year.

 Here are some samples of Aparo's Batman work:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My favorite Batman artists: Don Newton

Continuing are look at some of the best Bat-artists, Don Newton is an artist now getting some acclaim for his 1980s work on the Caped Crusader, but wasn't as celebrated as he should have been in his time.

I like the sense of power Newton brought to Batman. His version, much like Neal Adams', seems like a real -- really strong -- guy in a Batsuit, who is intense and committed to his one-man war against crime. More than Adams' though, Newton's work reminds me of Will Eisner. There's hunched, roundness and heft to his figures and a noirish quality to the lighting that reminds me of Eisner's celebrated post World War II work on The Spirit.

Newton drew many Batman stories for Batman and Detective Comics, for a wonderful period alternating on each of those titles with the great Gene Colan. He also made his mark as a great Captain Marvel artist in the pages of World's Finest. He also did quite a bit of work for Marvel and, before hitting the Big Two, did some excellent work on The Phantom for Charlton.

Despite turning out excellent, distinctive work for many years on many titles, it seemed like he never enjoyed celebrated status among fans during the height of his creativity. Tragically, like his fellow Bat-artist Marsall Rogers, he died too early, at age 49 in 1984.

It's good to see his work gaining more appreciation now. DC has collected a good share of his Batman work in DC's hardcover collection "Tales of the Batman: Don Newton," published last year.

Here's a look at some of Newton's Batman work: