• Everything But Imaginary #355: Who's Your Hero?

    Mark Evanier, Sergio AragonesOn my way back from Pittsburgh last weekend, I was reading one of legendary pundit Mark Evanierís tomes about the world of comics. In this case, it was his 2003 collection of columns from Comics Buyerís 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 ďWhoís Your Superman?Ē 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 thatís 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 Evanierís personal Superman was based on the rendition of Wayne Boring.

    Itís an interesting idea, but I donít 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 isnít necessarily the first. And these days, where (with a few rare workhorse exceptions) most artists donít stay on a title for more than six issues at a stretch, itís probably going to become increasingly rarer that a single artistic vision becomes permanently etched onto a readerís mind. Despite that, though, I thought it would be fun to put Evanierís 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 havenít looked at his list yet. What Iím going to do now is look at that list, one name at a time, and allow an image to come to my head. Then weíll see if we canít figure out why that version of the character, whoever it is, is the one that comes straight to mind.

    Dan JurgensItís no surprise that Superman tops Markís list. Heís a favorite character of both of us, heís the first comic book superhero, and heís 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 ďDeath of SupermanĒ event. Jurgensí Superman is a strong, squared-jawed hero, but has more expression and emotion than the more sterile Silver Age version. Heís 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 Jurgensí record is that he was also one of the artists of the character throughout the dreaded Super-Mullet era. I donít necessarily blame him, I donít know whose idea it was, but it makes some otherwise fantastic covers look kind of sad.

    Neal Adams, Dennis O'NeilNext on the list, again no surprise, is Batman. And when I close my eyes and think of the Caped Crusader, Iím a little surprised to see that the first image that comes to me is one from the great Neal Adams. Itís not surprising that Adamsí version is considered iconic, of course. Adams is the one who popularized the ďNew LookĒ 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. Itís surprising, though, because Adamsí time on the character was over long before I started reading comics, and in truth, Iíve only read a few of his Batman stories (relatively). So why is his image the first to pop up? I suppose because itís so well known, so iconic. Undoubtedly, he was a major influence on those bat-artists whose work I did read during my formative years.

    David Michelinie, Erik LarsenSpider-Man is next, and itís 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 McFarlaneís departure, then followed McFarlane again on the adjectiveless Spider-Man. But more people will probably point to McFarlane as ďtheirĒ Spider-Man artist, or Larsenís successor Mark Bagley. If I were to hazard a guess as to why my subconscious picked Larsen over either of these gentlemen, itís 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, yíknow, heís just really good at it.

    Gene ColanWhen I think of Iron Man I donít just think of a specific artist, I see a specific cover pop up, and itís the first Iron Man #1. A book that Iíve never read at all, to the best of my knowledge. This is a cover by the great Gene Colan, and Itís a classic cover at that. With Iron Man, I think fans tend to get even more specific with their images Ė we donít just think of particular artists, we think of particular armors. My favorite armor, actually, is the ďNeo-ClassicĒ 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 ďNeo-ClassicĒ for a reason. It evokes the classic armor, but itís 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 Colanís cover image ready to burst from the page.

    Peter David, Dale KeownFor the Hulk, Iím not surprised at all to see Dale Keownís version of the ďProfessor HulkĒ come to mind. I donít know if it has as much to do with Keownís artwork (as good as it is) as it does the fact that ďProfessor HulkĒ 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 Ė 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.

    John Byrne, George PerezNext on the list is my favorite Marvel character, Benjamin J. Grimm, the ever-loviní blue-eyed Thing. And oh, how many great artists have drawn the ThingÖ Jack Kirby, John Byrne, Mike Wieringo, George PerezÖ 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 Benís 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.

    Gerry Conway, Klaus JansonKlaus Janson didnít invent the Punisherís 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: heís a warrior in superhero drag. Heís 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 Kaneís Amazing Spider-Man #129, are all pretty iconic, but I always see Klaus Jansonís Punisher when I think about the character cold.

    Mark Waid, Ron GarneyHe wasnít 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 didnít have. Jack Kirbyís 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. Garneyís Captain America is a man that any true American would follow into the gates of Hell itself. And thatís what Captain America should always be. Joe Johnston and Chris Evans take note.

    George PerezIf youíre reading this, George Perez, be honored. Youíre the only artist to be the iconic visionary for two characters on my list. As much as I love your Ben Grimm, Iíve got even deeper love for your version of Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman hasnít 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 characterís origin, something that I personally really like. And he drew a great-looking woman Ė 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.

    Jim Starlin, Ron LimFinally, Mark closes off his list with the high-flying Silver Surfer, and thereís 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 Starlinís run and going through with Ron Marz, and he does cosmic like few others. Not only were Limís 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, youíd want to hop on the board with him. With all due respect to Denzel Washingtonís character in Crimson Tide (and to Jack Kirby himself), as far as Iím concerned, Ron Limís Silver Surfer is the real Silver Surfer.

    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 Ďem. And I am stunned to find myself unable to choose a single favorite. Thatís right, friends, itís the oh-so rare Favorite of the Week tie. So in alphabetical order, the two books last week that were so good I couldnít pick one over the other wereÖ

    Christos Gage, Mike McKoneAvengers Academy #1. Iíve 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 Ė six people who were recruited by Norman Osborn, but who nonetheless show great potentialÖ 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.

    Grant Morrison, Tony Daniel, David Finch, Andy Kubert, Frank QuitelyBut sharing space with the kids of the Academy is Grant Morrison and companyís Batman #700. In this issue, Morrison tells a story that focuses on three eras of Batman Ė 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. Itís 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. Heís 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. Petitís 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.
    Comments 10 Comments
    1. Terry Verticchio's Avatar
      Terry Verticchio -
      Those are all good choices, Blake.

      But for me...I picture the Punisher as drawn by Leandro Fernandez in the MAX book. He is a fantastic artist, who draws perhaps the best war scenes and gun play in all of comics.
    1. Magnus2k's Avatar
      Magnus2k -
      I have to strongly disagree with the list itself. Thing over Wolverine? You can thank the X-Men movies and the whole "anti-hero" deal for his popularity with the mainstream media, but I think he's well above the Thing.
    1. Blake Petit's Avatar
      Blake Petit -
      Not really the point, Magnus. We're not here to debate who's on the list, just who you think of as THE artist for this particular list of ten characters.
    1. Mark Blicharz's Avatar
      Mark Blicharz -
      In terms of recognizable characters for people who don't read comics? Yep, Thing beats him. Take the Wolverine from the movies and the Thing from the movies. Don't have Logan's claws extended. He looks generic. Take the Thing, you know who he is.

      For my list of artists that I picture them with it goes as follows:

      1. Frank. He draws one of the cleanest Supermen you'll ever see. The only thing you can say is he draws him to look like Reeve but it's a homage to the actor who made you believe a man could fly.
      2. I have to go with Adams for the reasons Blake said.
      3. Spider-man. John Romita Sr. I think that says about it all.
      4. When I think of Iron Man, I think of the amazing run Micheline and Layton had. I'm not a fan of his current work, but Romita Jr.'s art is what I think of when I picture Iron Man.
      5. Sal Buscema. My first Hulk memories are of Mantlo's run on Hulk(which is the best run regardless of what Peter David says) and Sal did the art.
      6. Thing. John Byrne. The FF has had some fantastic artists but I always go to that run and Byrne's art stands out for me
      7 and 8. What Blake said.
      9. See 7 and 8.
      10. See 7, 8, 9 and 10.
    1. Blake Petit's Avatar
      Blake Petit -
      Right, it's a question of recognizability, not popularity.

      I do love Byrne's Thing. I've never really been much of a Buscema fan, though. I don't hate him, but I've never found Sal as impressive as John.
    1. bluemonkey's Avatar
      bluemonkey -
      1. Superman. it's definitely Dan Jurgens as well, but I loved Byrne's version too.

      2. Batman. Neal Adams is hard to argue with but I really loved Jim Aparo's Batman.

      3. Spider-Man. John Romita Sr.

      4. Iron Man. Bob Layton.

      5. Hulk. I agree with Sal Buscema (as well as Bill Mantlo's run). Great call, Mark!

      6. For the Thing, it's not so much the penciller as it is the inker for me. I loved Joe Sinnott's inks on the Thing whether it was on the Fantastic Four, his brief appearances in West Coast Avengers, or his own book.

      7. Punisher. Mike Zeck only did the 80's mini-series but its how I always picture him.

      8. Captain America. I'm going to cheat here and say George Perez. I don't think he ever drew in the regular book but he drew an awesome Cap in Avengers. And to me, Cap is the Avengers.

      9. Wonder Woman. Phil Jimenez.

      10. Silver Surfer. It's John Buscema all the way for me.
    1. Mark Blicharz's Avatar
      Mark Blicharz -
      Yeah I'm not saying Buscema was as good as John but it was the run that I remember.
    1. Blake Petit's Avatar
      Blake Petit -
      Ooooh, good call on Sinnott. His inks fleshed out some great Things. Is that a pun? I'm not sure.
    1. Mark Blicharz's Avatar
      Mark Blicharz -
      You aren't sure? Aren't you the resident English teacher?
    1. Blake Petit's Avatar
      Blake Petit -
      Yes, but a quality pun transcends all boundaries of language and grammar.