Tag Archives: Comics

Cloak and Dagger #1 (1983)

Cloak and Dagger #1 (October 1983)Cover by Rick Leonardi and Terry Austin

Cloak and Dagger #1 (October 1983)
Cover by Rick Leonardi and Terry Austin

Recently I opened up the old box o’comic books and rediscovered an old favorite of mine from the early 80’s: Cloak and Dagger #1 from the 1983 mini-series written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by Rick Leonardi and Terry Austin.

Cloak and Dagger, introduced in Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #64 (March 1982), were created by Bill Mantlo and artist Ed Hannigan.  Runaways Tyrone Johnson (Cloak) and Tandy Bowen (Dagger) meet in New York City and are tricked by an offer of shelter from strangers that prey on runaways.  Tyrone and Tandy are forced to take a synthetic version of heroin, and the side effects of the drug provide them with their superpowers: Cloak creates a dimension of darkness in which he can consume people’s energy to feed his “hunger,” Dagger creates and shoots daggers of light that drain the energy of her enemies and are also used to feed Cloak’s constant hunger.

The first  of the four issue Cloak and Dagger mini-series opens with a splash page of the New York Port Authority on the corner of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue.  It’s July 20, 1983 and the neighborhood in the opening pages bears little resemblance to the Hell’s Kitchen/Times Square of today.  Father Francis Xavier Delgado, a priest born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen, walks among the pimps, prostitutes and lowlifes of the neighborhood in an effort to save them.  That night’s attempt proves fruitless and he returns to the Holy Ghost Church on 42nd street.  He kneels at the altar of the empty church  praying for God’s guidance when Cloak and Dagger appear seeking sanctuary.

Several blocks away at the 21st Precinct, Detective Brigid O’Reilly observes a group of “chickenhawks,” lowlifes that victimize newly arrived runaways at the Port Authority, as they shiver in a jail cell.  Doctors and cops have seen others in their condition and chalk it up to bad drugs, but when questioned by O’Reilly, one of the thugs tells her about  the “angel” of light and “devil” of darkness that put them in their condition.  O’Reilly connects their story to reports of vigilantes attacking criminals and drug pushers, then takes to the streets of Hell’s Kitchen.

After a debate with Father Delgado over the ethics of their “mission” to punish the criminals that prey on runaways, Cloak and Dagger attempt to save a pair of brother-sister teen runaways from a group of chickenhawks.  Gunfire leads Detective O’Reilly to their lair, but before she can act, a stray bullet strikes and kills the brother.  Dagger’s light makes quick work of the lowlifes, but O’Reilly refuses to accept their methods.  To her, Cloak and Dagger’s methods make them no better than the criminals.  She attempts to arrest them, but Cloak teleports them back to the Holy Ghost Church.  Later that night, Father Delgado sees Dagger in tears as he takes a phone call from the 21st Precinct requesting last rights for the dead runaway.

It was usually the art that would draw me to a particular comic book, and this was no exception when Cloak and Dagger #1 hit the stands in 1983.  Seeing Terry Austin’s name on the cover was all I needed to plunk my 60 cents on the counter to buy this issue.  His inks were a great match for Rick Leonardi’s pencils, and an original page from this mini-series has always been on my want list.

But it was Bill Mantlo’s writing, particularly his use of 1983 New York City as a backdrop, that got me to buy the subsequent three issues of this mini-series.  Combined with Leonardi’s pencils and Austin’s inks, Cloak and Dagger brought the seediness of early 80’s Hell’s Kitchen to the comic book page.  Looking back, I’m surprised at how much of that atmosphere they were able to include in their stories.  This was a comic book with a significant readership under the age of 18 that showed pimps, hookers and drugs.  These were dark stories for the time, years before “dark and gritty” would become overused in comic book stories.

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The Captain America Project #14: George Perez

The Captain America Project: 20 artists, 20 drawings of Captain America on one page.

#14: George Perez (The Avengers, The New Teen Titans, Crisis On Infinite Earths)

Next up in the Captain America project is this sketch by the great George Perez.  I obtained this sketch at Megacon in Orlando back in 2011.  George was raffling off sketches for donations to the Hero Initiative and I was fortunate enough to win this addition to my Captain America jam page.   I’ve been a fan of his since his work on The Avengers and he was on my “must have” list when I started The Captain America Project in 2010.  This sketch is a classic version of the Captain America I was introduced to back in the 70’s.

Captain America - George Perez

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The Amazing Spider-Man #700 (Spoilers)

Amazing Spider-Man 700 Cover

The Amazing Spider-Man #700
Copyright Marvel Comics

Peter Parker is dead.

Well, for now at least.

The Amazing Spider-Man #700 hit comic shops on Wednesday December 26th.  Normally I look forward to a milestone issue with a sense of celebration as a comic book withstands the test of time and reaches another multiple of 100.  But the internet was buzzing in the weeks prior with rumors of Peter Parker’s death in this final issue of Marvel Comics’ flagship title, and I approached Wednesday December 26th with a sense of dread.

I bought a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #700 from my local comic shop that morning (autographed by writer Dan Slott), but I needed to prepare myself  before reading this final issue because regardless of the quality of the story, by the last page Peter Parker would be dead (for now at least) and there would not be an Amazing Spider-Man #701 next month.

One of the first comic books I ever owned was The Amazing Spider-Man #175 (read the About section of this website).  Of all of the characters in the Marvel Universe, I could empathize with Peter Parker the most.  That sense of empathy only increased back in 2010 when I had the opportunity to see Steve Ditko’s original pencil and inked splash page to the first Spider-Man story in Amazing Fantasy #15 at the Library of Congress.  This page was our introduction to Peter Parker, the young man who would become Spider-Man and carry the responsibilities and burdens of his powers for the next 50 years of his comic book life.

Part of my emotional investment was from nostalgia, but most of it was respect for the character and the creators that worked on the Spider-Man titles over the last 50 years.  Leading up to Wednesday December 26th, I was fully prepared for the outcome of Dan Slott’s story.  I didn’t agree with it, but I had to accept it as reality.   If The Amazing Spider-Man was going to end its run, I could only hope the final issue would be worthy of its history.

For me, issue #700 doesn’t measure up.

Leading up to issue #700, Doctor Octopus pulled a mind/body switch with Peter Parker and is now fully entrenched in Parker’s body while Parker is trapped in Octavius’ dying body, each man with access to the other’s memories. Parker/Octopus, with hours to live, breaks out of prison with the memory of an Octavius escape plan and the help of Scorpion, Hydro-Man and The Trapster.  A showdown ensues and Octavius/Spider-Man is victorious.  But as Parker/Dr. Octopus lays dying, he forces his memories onto Octavius/Spider-Man though a link their minds still share.  Parker’s key memories as Spider-Man (the death of Uncle Ben, the death of Gwen Stacy, etc.) are too much for Octavius/Spider-Man to handle and he is overcome with emotion and the realization that “with great power, comes great responsibility.”  Octavius finally understands, and with his dying breath Parker declares him Spider-Man and makes him promise to keep his loved ones safe.  At that moment of Peter Parker’s death, Octavius/Spider-Man promises to use his “unparalleled genius” and “boundless ambition” to be an even greater version of Spider-Man.  From that moment on, he will be THE SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN!!!

Which reminds me, The Superior Spider-Man #1 comes out Wednesday January 9th.

But back to Amazing Spider-Man #700…

The Freaky Friday-esque plot was disappointing enough, but the ending was the true disappointment for me.  I find it hard to believe that Dr. Otto Octavius, one of Spider-Man’s greatest nemeses, could suddenly feel sympathy for Peter Parker to the point where he becomes overcome with emotion and converts from evil to good.  Even with full access to Peter’s memories, he is still first and foremost Dr. Otto Octavius.  After an intense fight sequence, this resolution is a letdown.

I hope the death of Peter Parker is just a sales gimmick that will be reversed down the line.  But regardless of whether or not this happens, the damage has been done: The Amazing Spider-Man has ended.

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Mike Grell’s Jon Sable, Freelance

Recently I opened up a box of  old comics from my youth and revisited a few titles that I enjoyed back in the 80’s.  One of the comic books that caught my eye was one of my favorite independent titles of that decade: Mike Grell’s Jon Sable, Freelance published by First Comics.  It instantly brought me back to my prime years of comic book collecting.

Jon Sable Freelance by Mike GrellFirst Comics

Jon Sable Freelance by Mike Grell
First Comics

My brother and I started collecting comics around 1977, and our collection is still intact.  Very few issues are mint or near mint condition, with 90% falling into the category of “well read.”  When comic book values increased during the 80’s we bagged and boarded them in an effort to keep them in good enough condition to fund our retirement, but that wasn’t realistic since we read them enough to crease the spines and wear out the covers.  There was a time when I would buy near mint copies of some of the comics that were worn out, particularly some Claremont/Byrne/Austin issues of The Uncanny X-Men, but I stopped several years back when I opened up our box o’comics, looked at the wear on the covers, and was transported back to a days when I read them the first time around.  Each worn cover was a reminder of the fun I had reading them, and I wouldn’t trade any of them for a mint copy.

We were strictly Marvel and DC readers in the early years of our comic book reading, buying most of our comics at the local convenience store.  But on our first trip to the Galleria Mall in White Plains, New York around 1982, we discovered something that we only could have imagined in our dreams, a store devoted entirely to comic books: Heroes World.  Our corner store probably had about 10 Marvel and DC titles, mostly for the well known characters (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, Marvel Team Up, Action Comics), but Heroes World had dozens of titles (and back issues!!!).  It was our first exposure to independent comics.

Jon Sable: Freelance #1 hit the stands with a cover date of June 1983.  The cover shows Sable dressed completely in black with his signature battlemask with a skyline in the background.  We were familiar with Mike Grell from his work on Warlord with DC, and his art and writing got us instantly hooked on Sable.

Jon Sable is a New York based gun for hire in with a secret identity as successful children’s book author B.B. Flemm.  Issue #1 begins on the eve of President Ronald Reagan’s visit to New York City for a speech at the United Nations.  Sable is established as a thorn in the NYPD’s side as the press questions Police Captain Winters’ ability to control security for the President’s visit.  Sable returns home from a TV interview as B.B. Flemm and gets in his target practice at his home shooting range until his alarm signals an intrusion.  Sable makes quick work of the three intruders and calmly walks to the car of the man who sent them into his home.

Sitting in the back seat of the chauffeured car is President Reagan.  Sable passed his test by taking out the president’s three best men and is offered a job to add an extra layer of protection for his speech the following night at the U.N.  Reagan has received information that there will be an assassination attempt, but when Sable attempts to politely decline, the Gipper subtly encourages him by informing Sable that he is fully aware of his children’s author alter ego, and his multi-million dollar career would take a hit if his secret is revealed.  Reagan seals the deal by informing Sable that the assassin is Milo Jackson, a former teammate of Sable’s on the 1972 Olympic shooting team and fellow mercenary in Rhodesia several years later until  Jackson disappeared after selling out his fellow mercenaries in an enemy ambush.  Sable accepts the job.

No spoilers here.  Grell puts together 28 pages of tight storytelling and fantastic art that made me count the days until the next issue arrived.  Sable’s flashback sequence of his days as an Olympic athlete and mercenary in Rhodesia are just a small taste of his origin story that would be told over four issue arc from #3 to #7 that still ranks as one of my favorites.  When I dug into the box o’comics again and saw the cover for issue #3, I remembered the first time I saw it on the rack at Heroes World and how it stood out among the other comics with the sable horns added to the B and L of the title font.

Fast forward to November 1987 and the premiere of the TV series Sable.  I had grown up on The Incredible Hulk TV series with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno and the TV adaptations of The Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America and Dr. Strange but after Hulk ended in 1982 it was difficult to find a comic character on TV with the exception of three subsequent made-for-TV Hulk movies.  When I found out about the pilot for Sable, I was happily surprised that this independent comic book character was getting mainstream attention.  But my enthusiasm quickly faded as I realized the show bore little resemblance to Grell’s comic book.  Twenty five years later I’m still wondering why they felt the need to completely change Sable’s battlemask. 

Jon Sable, Freelance was a title that made me count the days to our next trip to the comic shop.  Looking back on this comic book thirty years later, I’m reminded of what I enjoyed about it the first time around.  It was sharp, cool, and had a great lead character.  Hopefully one day someone that truly respects the property will bring Jon Sable back as a TV series or feature film and keep it true to the Grell’s original comic book.

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2012 New York Comic Con

The New York Comic Con was held October 11-14 at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center in New York City.  This was my sixth time attending the show in the last seven years and I’m amazed at how much the convention has grown since the first NYCC in 2006.  If I remember correctly, that first NYCC was in a space no bigger than this year’s Artist Alley and was relegated to the lower level of the Javitz Center.   Now it takes up the entire convention center and it’s still barely enough space for the thousands of comic fans and cosplayers that attend.

NYCC started on Thursday but I had a three day pass beginning on Friday.  I left work early Friday afternoon and cabbed it to the Javitz Center.  There was a good crowd at the Javitz Friday afternoon, but despite the number of people on line the wait time to get in was minimal (on all of the three days I attended) thanks to the fantastic planning by the event organizers Reed Exhibition Companies.

First stop: Artist Alley!

For me NYCC has always been about meeting the comic book writers and artists in attendance, particularly the men and women whose work I read from 1977-1989, and this show didn’t disappoint.  I had spent the week prior to NYCC looking over the list of comic creators that would be in attendance and putting together a list of who I would try to get sketches from.  My list ran down an entire page and would have cost me about a month’s salary if I was able to get all of the proposed sketches, so  I scaled it down to my “must haves.”

The first artist I met was Rick Leonardi, penciller of many Marvel titles including Cloak & Dagger, The Uncanny X-Men, and Spider-Man 2099 just to name a few.  I’ve been a big fan of his over the years, and at last year’s show I had commissioned a sketch of Cloak and Dagger from him that is one of my favorite pieces of art in my personal collection.  Lucky for me Rick’s sketch list wasn’t filled up yet when I arrived.  I asked for a Dr. Strange and he hit this one out of the park.  This sketch is definitely one of the highlights of my book.  He even added Kirby crackle!

Dr. Strange sketch by Rick Leonardi.
2012 New York Comic Con

Next up was one of my favorite inkers, Bob Wiacek.  His run on The Uncanny X-Men with penciller Paul Smith in the early 80’s is one of my all time favorites.  I decided to get a Wolverine sketch on 11″x17″ comic art board based on Paul Smith’s amazing cover from Uncanny X-Men #173.  I initially asked Bob to draw Wolverine only with the intention of having another artist draw Rogue, but I quickly changed my mind and asked him to include Rogue as well for a full cover recreation.  He showed me the pencils on Saturday, which were AMAZING, and the commission will be fully inked and FedExed to me this week.  Needless to say, this will be the signature piece of my comic art collection.

Going into the show I had a Tony Daniel sketch on my wish list, and I was able to get not one, but TWO sketches from Tony on Saturday and Sunday.  First up was a sketch card of Poison Ivy, followed by a sketch of Harley Quinn in my sketch book.  Not only is Tony an amazing artist, he is one of the nicest people I have met in my years of attending comic conventions.

Poison Ivy
Drawn by Tony Daniel

Tony Daniel shows off a Harley Quinn sketch

I was also fortunate enough to get this great Savage Dragon sketch from Erik Larsen.  The hits just keep on coming!

One of the highlights of the weekend was chatting with several of the creators in attendance about their work.  I have a copy of Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics by Les Daniels and decided to get the Marvel alumni in attendance to autograph the inside cover.  I walked up to Louise Simonson’s table for an autograph and was surprised to see former artist/editor Carl Potts.  I had a great conversation with both of them and mentioned to Carl that I’m proud the owner of a page he drew from Alien Legion #4 (inked by Terry Austin).  Bob McLeod was very generous with his time discussing the creation of The New Mutants (post to follow!).

I walked the exhibit hall floor a few times, mainly to check out the original comic art for sale.  I fully expected the number of attendees to peak on Saturday, but the show floor was also crowded on Friday and Sunday.  After awhile I decided to stick with Artist Alley.

I did buy one piece of published original comic art over the weekend, a religious themed page drawn by Rick Leonardi and inked by Joe Rubinstein from a story they collaborated on back in the 90’s.  I won’t give too much information on the piece because I’m hoping to write a blog post on it for the Holidays.  But I will say it was a page that I wanted to buy when I first saw it online, but never thought I would have the chance to purchase it.  Now it’s officially part of my “not for sale” collection.

I had a fantastic time at NYCC over the weekend and overall I thought the show was an amazing success.  This picture pretty much sums up for me:

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My Amazing (Fantasy #15) Visit to the Library of Congress

In honor the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man’s first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962, I wanted to write a post about my trip to see the Holy Grail of the Silver Age of comic books.

In November 2010 I took a weekend trip to Washington D.C. with my girlfriend.  It was my first time in D.C. and the long weekend was packed with seeing the sights along the mall.  I enjoyed every monument, memorial and museum we visited, but by Sunday I was slightly preoccupied with the thought of our plans for Monday morning’s visit to the Library of Congress.  I wasn’t there to admire the architecture or take a tour, I had some research to do.  About a month earlier I had contacted curator Sara Duke of the Prints and Photographs Division in order to schedule our appointment, and from that moment I was counting the days.

If there’s one thing I’m passionate about it’s comic book art, as both an admirer and collector.  Each published page of original art is a piece of history, with a select few pages fitting into the category of monumental.  When I think of the most culturally significant comic book stories, the first few that come to mind are the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27, Fantastic Four #1 ushering in the Marvel Age of comic books, and of course the first appearance of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15.

In 2008 an anonymous donor had donated all of the original pages of art from Amazing Fantasy #15 to the Library of Congress.  How this anonymous donor had originally acquired these pages has not been made public.  Considering how much artwork from the Golden and Silver Ages has been destroyed, lost, or stolen, it’s a miracle that every page from this issue was saved.  My mission, with my trusty (and extremely patient) sidekick, was to schedule time to see the complete Spider-Man origin story in its original drawn form.

I woke up at 7:00 AM that Monday morning.  Anyone who knows me knows that I never get up at 7:00 AM.  Ever.  But that morning was different.  We had a short window of time that began at 9:30 AM sharp and we had to make the most of it.  After all, this is the first appearance of Spider-Man and there’s probably a list of folks lined up after us to see it, so I was going to make the most of every minute.

We arrived a little early, checked our backpacks with the security desk and signed up for our research cards.  By the time we made it up to the research room, my spider-sense was tingling.  Sara met us when we arrived and wheeled out a cart with several large folders.  Not only did she pull the original Spider-Man pages from Amazing Fantasy #15 for us to view, she was also kind enough to pull the original comic art to the other three stories that comprised the issue, twenty six pages in all.

I opened the first folder, and there was the opening splash page of Peter Parker standing in the background, ostracized by Flash Thompson and the cool kids.  One thing that struck me right away was how much detail there was in Steve Ditko’s inks.  Every reprint I had seen growing up was a copy of a copy and lost a lot of the detail in Ditko’s brush work.  Seeing the original art allowed me to actually feel the disappointment and angst in the expression on Peter Parker’s face.

At the top of the page is a paste up of the Spider-Man logo that covers Ditko’s original hand drawn logo.  I wish I could have been in the room in 1962 to hear the reason for changing it.  And if you look in the margins, Stan Lee’s original hand written notes “direct” some of the scenes in Ditko’s panels.

I took a lot of pictures, but unfortunately rights restrictions keep me from posting them.  Thumbnails are available here at the Library’s website and you can order scans, but if you’re a fan of comic art I highly recommend seeing them in person.

We had a good hour to see all twenty six pages and were never rushed.  Sarah sat with us the entire time and pointed out details that I never would have noticed.  I thanked Sarah for her time, and mentioned that I would love to come back to see the pages again one day.  I chuckled when I realized my tax dollars made me a part owner of them.  By my calculations, which I won’t bore you with, I estimate that my personal portion of these 26 pages of original art is .000035 square inches of a page.  Hey, I’ll take it!

This was a Bucket List moment for me, ranked up there with seeing Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and statue of David (next up is Leonardo DaVinci’s The Last Supper).  Prior to reading that article in 2008 about the LOC’s acquisition of the Amazing Fantasy #15 pages, I didn’t think they even existed.  And now I saw them.

God Bless America.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Prior to our bus ride back to New York, my faithful (and patient) sidekick surprised me with a copy of Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1, complete with scans of the original Spider-Man pages we had just seen that morning.  She never ceases to amaze me.

These original pages to Amazing Fantasy #15 were featured on the History Channel back in 2009.  That clip can be found here.

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The Captain America Project #9: David Finch

The Captain America Project: 20 artists, 20 drawings of Captain America on one page.

This week: David Finch (Ultimate X-Men, New Avengers, Moon Knight, Batman: The Dark Knight)

David Finch has been one of my favorite artists since his run on New Avengers.  The first page of original art I bought was from New Avengers #13.  In subsequent years I picked up a couple of pages from his Moon Knight run, and a few sketches at the New York conventions.

One week after the 2010 Wizard World New York show, he was appearing at the New York Comic Con at the Jacob Javitz center.  He was the first artist I commissioned for the Captain America Project at that show.  I had commissioned a few sketches from David in the previous three New York Comic Cons, and I have always been in awe of his artistic ability.  Check out his series of DVDs for the Gnomon Workshop and you’ll see what I mean.  But he took it to a whole new level with this Captain America head sketch.  Take a close look at the picture below.  It was drawn with a ball point pen.  No pencil sketch underneath.  He just flat out drew it straight from his mind’s eye.  In ballpoint pen.  Amazing.

Captain America by David Finch

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