On my way back from Pittsburgh last weekend, I was reading one of legendary pundit Mark Evanier
’s tomes about the world of comics. In this case, it was his 2003 collection of columns from Comics Buyer’s Guide
entitled Wertham Was Right
. Very smart, funny book about the world of comics, comics history, and his views on the comics of the time the columns were written. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
One of the columns contained in the book was entitled “Who’s Your Superman?” In this piece, Evanier puts forth the theory that for many fans the first version of a superhero, the artistic rendition that we grew up with, is the one that’s most permanently etched into your mind. In the case of Superman, for instance, he collected anecdotes from people who grew up with the Curt Swan
rendition of the man of steel, or Swan specifically inked by Murphy Anderson
, and that many people were stunned that Evanier’s personal Superman was based on the rendition of Wayne Boring
It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t know if I agree with it 100 percent. To be certain, the version of a hero that you cling to is probably among
the first versions you see, but it isn’t necessarily the
first. And these days, where (with a few rare workhorse exceptions) most artists don’t stay on a title for more than six issues at a stretch, it’s probably going to become increasingly rarer that a single artistic vision becomes permanently etched onto a reader’s mind. Despite that, though, I thought it would be fun to put Evanier’s theory to the test.
I needed a little help, however, so I recruited our own Mark Blicharz
to aid me in this experiment. Without telling him why, I asked him to compile a list of, in his opinion, the ten comic book heroes that are most recognizable to the general public, the ten characters that any Joe on the street would most likely recognize. As I type this, I haven’t looked at his list yet. What I’m going to do now is look at that list, one name at a time, and allow an image to come to my head. Then we’ll see if we can’t figure out why that
version of the character, whoever it is, is the one that comes straight to mind.
It’s no surprise that Superman
tops Mark’s list. He’s a favorite character of both of us, he’s the first comic book superhero, and he’s the one that has the most name- and symbol-recognition around the world. And when I think of Superman, the image that comes first to mind is one composed by Dan Jurgens
. Jurgens was by no means the first Superman artist I ever saw. He was, however, the artist on Adventures of Superman
at the time that I began reading the character in earnest, and he would later move over to writer and artist of the main Superman
title, orchestrating the “Death of Superman” event. Jurgens’ Superman is a strong, squared-jawed hero, but has more expression and emotion than the more sterile Silver Age version. He’s got the much larger S-Shield that is a hallmark of the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths
Superman, which I also prefer to the small shield the old versions of the character wore. Visually, the only black mark on Jurgens’ record is that he was also one of the artists of the character throughout the dreaded Super-Mullet era. I don’t necessarily blame him, I don’t know whose idea it was, but it makes some otherwise fantastic covers look kind of sad.
Next on the list, again no surprise, is Batman
. And when I close my eyes and think of the Caped Crusader, I’m a little surprised to see that the first image that comes to me is one from the great Neal Adams
. It’s not surprising that Adams’ version is considered iconic, of course. Adams is the one who popularized the “New Look” Batman and helped pull the character out of a quagmire of goofy Silver Age stories and back to being the Dark Knight that he truly is. It’s surprising, though, because Adams’ time on the character was over long before I started reading comics, and in truth, I’ve only read a few of his Batman stories (relatively). So why is his image the first to pop up? I suppose because it’s so
well known, so
iconic. Undoubtedly, he was a major influence on those bat-artists whose work I did
read during my formative years.
is next, and it’s another surprise to me to find that the first image I saw was a Spider-Man by Erik Larsen
. Larsen is a great Spider-Man artist, and drew the character for a really long time. He took over Amazing Spider-Man
after Todd McFarlane
’s departure, then followed McFarlane again on the adjectiveless Spider-Man
. But more people will probably point to McFarlane as “their” Spider-Man artist, or Larsen’s successor Mark Bagley
. If I were to hazard a guess as to why my subconscious picked Larsen over either of these gentlemen, it’s probably because I was starting to read Spider-Man just as McFarlane was on his way out and Larsen was on his way in, and he was the first artist I enjoyed seeing draw an extended run on the webslinger. Plus, y’know, he’s just really good at it.
When I think of Iron Man
I don’t just think of a specific artist
, I see a specific cover
pop up, and it’s the first Iron Man #1
. A book that I’ve never read at all, to the best of my knowledge. This is a cover by the great Gene Colan
, and It’s a classic cover at that. With Iron Man, I think fans tend to get even more specific with their images – we don’t just think of particular artists, we think of particular armors. My favorite armor, actually, is the “Neo-Classic” armor that made its debut in Iron Man #231
, drawn by M.D. Bright
. (I have no idea if Bright actually designed the armor, but if he did, kudos, sir!) But that suit is called the “Neo-Classic” for a reason. It evokes
the classic armor, but it’s not
the classic armor. When kids these days think of Iron Man, they see the armor Robert Downy Jr.
wears in the movies. When I think of him, I see Gene Colan’s cover image ready to burst from the page.
For the Hulk
, I’m not surprised at all to see Dale Keown
’s version of the “Professor Hulk” come to mind. I don’t know if it has as much to do with Keown’s artwork (as good as it is) as it does the fact that “Professor Hulk” is unabashedly my favorite incarnation of the character. There have been many great stories told with many different Hulks, of course, but none as good as the Peter David
tale where Doc Samson helps Bruce Banner finally reconcile his multiple personality disorder. Professor Hulk was the best of all worlds – the power of the green Hulk, the attitude of the gray Hulk, and the intellect of Banner. It was, at the time, a wonderfully new, innovative idea, and it really informed my impressions of the Hulk to this day.
Next on the list is my favorite Marvel character, Benjamin J. Grimm, the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing
. And oh, how many great artists have drawn the Thing… Jack Kirby, John Byrne, Mike Wieringo, George Perez
… oh yes, Perez. His name may not pop up immediately, because the run of the Fantastic Four
comic that featured his artwork is sadly a little forgettable, story-wise. But like Iron Man, the name of the Thing pops up a specific cover, Marvel Two-In-One #50
, in which Reed Richards invents a cure for Ben’s condition that would have worked on the early
Thing, but not on the character as he existed at the time. So Ben travels back in time to give himself the cure when he was still a Thing that looked like orange oatmeal. It was a great story, and this great Perez cover is what comes to mind when I see this character.
didn’t invent the Punisher
’s distinctive look, but his cover for the first ongoing Punisher #1
is the image of the character that is tattooed on my brain. The bazooka is a bit over the top, perhaps, but this image to me really shows just what the Punisher is: he’s a warrior in superhero drag. He’s someone who is seriously unbalanced but tough as hell and perfectly willing to butcher anybody he thinks needs killing. Mike Zeck
, Steve Dillon
, and of course the first ever Punisher cover, Gil Kane
’s Amazing Spider-Man #129
, are all pretty iconic, but I always see Klaus Janson’s Punisher when I think about the character cold.
He wasn’t the first Captain America
artist I ever saw, but Ron Garney
may be the greatest. Garney not only came on with Mark Waid
to save the character from a period of terrible mediocrity, but he also had a realism that other versions didn’t have. Jack Kirby
’s version was larger-than-life, of course, and Ron Lim
had a very underrated run on the character, but Garney has an uncanny ability to make the character look very human, but at the same time, still incredibly proud and heroic. Garney’s Captain America is a man that any true American would follow into the gates of Hell itself. And that’s what Captain America should always be. Joe Johnston
and Chris Evans
If you’re reading this, George Perez
, be honored. You’re the only artist to be the iconic visionary for two
characters on my list. As much as I love your Ben Grimm, I’ve got even deeper love for your version of Wonder Woman
. Wonder Woman hasn’t had a lot of really great runs over the years, but Perez had one of the greatest. He reinvigorated the character, brought her into the 80s and established a female heroine that would be strong throughout the 90s and beyond. He re-emphasized the Greek Mythology that underlies the character’s origin, something that I personally really like. And he drew a great-looking woman – strong, but feminine, powerful and beautiful without being a standard T&A version of a female superhero. Really, Perez could draw any character on this list and do an incredible version of them. The man is one of the giants.
closes off his list with the high-flying Silver Surfer,
and there’s no contest here. When I think of him, I see the work of Ron Lim
. Lim drew the character for a really long time, beginning on Jim Starlin
’s run and going through with Ron Marz
, and he does cosmic like few others. Not only were Lim’s versions of outer space, the aliens, and the monstrous Thanos really strong, but his Silver Surfer was someone you could not only imagine soaring the spaceways, you’d want to hop on the board with him. With all due respect to Denzel Washington’s character in Crimson Tide
(and to Jack Kirby
himself), as far as I’m concerned, Ron Lim’s Silver Surfer is the real
So how about it, guys? When you think of these characters, which artists are the ones that pop in your minds? I must say, this was fun. I may have to get someone to draw up another list of characters so I can do this again some time.
Favorite of the Week: June 9, 2010
I was away in Pittsburgh last week, so I got my comics late, but I still got ‘em. And I am stunned to find myself unable to choose a single favorite. That’s right, friends, it’s the oh-so rare Favorite of the Week tie
. So in alphabetical order, the two books last week that were so good I couldn’t pick one over the other were…
Avengers Academy #1
. I’ve been a fan of Christos Gage
for some time, and his Avengers: The Initiative
was one of the bright spots of the whole Siege
crossover, so I was willing to give him a chance on a new title populated with new characters. At the dawn of the Heroic Age, a group of Avengers is given the task of taking six young heroes under their wing to train – six people who were recruited by Norman Osborn, but who nonetheless show great potential… six people with a heck of a secret. The end of this issue gave me a vibe very much like Thunderbolts #1
, which was one of the all-time great twists in comics. I hope Gage
and artist Mike McKone
keep it up.
But sharing space with the kids of the Academy is Grant Morrison
and company’s Batman #700
. In this issue, Morrison tells a story that focuses on three eras of Batman – Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Damian Wayne (going back to something Morrison established back in Batman #666
). The story is about one case that stretches over three eras, with a nice little coda about what Batman will mean tomorrow, and beyond. It’s a very strong, done-in-one tale of three Batmen and what the legacy really means. We also get a nice gallery of art by several great Batman artists and a detailed section on the Batcave (with an interesting comment about level seven that makes me wonder if this is going to tie into an upcoming storyline). A great anniversary issue.
Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People's Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at Blake@comixtreme.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.