I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
By the time I started reading Marvel Comics offering in the early nineteen-eighties, there was a clear house style to the art. Looking at the issues from that era now, the figures, no matter who was drawing them or which artists they claimed as an influence, feel somewhere in the sweet spot between the clean clarity of John Romita, Sr. and the potent muscularity of John Buscema. The foundational works from the publisher were far more distinct, defined by the blocky authority of Jack Kirby and the lithe weirdness of Steve Ditko, but any time I encountered that sort of material, it seemed a little off to me. Now, of course, I find most of that stuff to be amazing, but then I needed some conduit to ease me into the notion that early Marvel was tinged with the vividly, wonderfully bizarre. My gateway artist was named Steranko.
It started when a kid I knew raiding his household comic book stash to bring in an issue that was about fifteen years old, the debut publication of a series called Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. From 1968, not too long after the point when Marvel toyed with branding their comics “Pop Art Productions.” Nick Fury lived up to that association with the wild nineteen-sixties art scene, beginning with an atypically abstract cover that sets the characters crawling and sprawling across blocks with optically dynamic designs and cryptic symbols. Already this was unlike anything I’d seen before, certainly divergent from the far more direct fare I was picking up at the local grocery store. Then I flipped open the cover to find a story beginning with a expertly constructed, moody, silent bit of stealth action.
No breathless captions setting the scene, no blaring sound effects, no cavalcade of dense dialogue. All of that would yet come in the issue, but the beginning announces itself with a icy sense of style that set it apart.
Jim Steranko provided the art, and, in a bit of a rarity at the time, also wrote the issue. Besides his striking sense of design, he also approached the storytelling with a bruising verbal toughness that had more to do with drugstore detective novels than the verbose melodrama favored by primary Marvel scribe Stan Lee. Nick Fury was a spy series, somewhat beholden for its very existence to the blockbuster James Bond films, but Steranko gave it a soul transfusion from straight from Sam Spade and his kindred spirits, which the writer-artist openly acknowledged.
These elements are only the start of what Steranko has in mind. The plot barely registered with me. It still barely registers with me when I reread it. Instead, I bob along, awash in the visuals, especially when Steranko uncorks something uncommonly dazzling for the comic book page.
I can barely wrap my brain around that now, much less back when my teenaged years were still ahead of me. That it was tethered to superhero comic images that were familiar enough to me (if often whipped up to absurdly inflated levels) made it feel a little safer, a little closer to what I felt I did know. If I didn’t get it, I believed that one day I would. And it was all dynamic enough that I also believed it was worth holding out there as a sort of ideal. This new realm of comics offered so much more than all that stuff that already enthralled me. The long discovery process, I was coming to learn, was going to be fantastic.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
The Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema
Fantastic Four by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
American Flagg by Howard Chaykin
Marvel and DC Present by Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson
Batman by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #5 by Alan Kupperberg and Pablo Marcos
Web of Spider-Man by Louise Simonson and Greg LaRocque
Super-Villain Team-Up #12 by Bill Mantlo and Bob Hall
What If? #31 by Rich Margopoulos and Bob Budiansky
Fantastic Four by Scott Lobdell and Alan Davis
Magik by Chris Claremont and John Buscema, Sal Buscema, and Ron Frenz
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7 by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell
Avengers #202 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie and George Pérez