In this episode we’ll take a look back at the first issue of Marvel Comics Micronauts that hit the spinner racks on September 19, 1978.
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When Marvel Comics launched its Epic Comics creator-owned line of titles in 1982, I had a tough time trying to decide which of the new titles would be included in my monthly comic book budget. Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar and Steve Englehart’s Coyote were occasional purchases, but there was one Epic title that stood out the most for me starting with issue #1 and would be my top purchase with each new issue: 1984’s Alien Legion by the creative team of Carl Potts, Alan Zelenetz, Frank Cirocco and Terry Austin.
Frank Cirocco’s painted cover for Alien Legion #1 drew me in from the first moment I saw it on the spinner rack of my local comic shop. The $2.00 cover price was a bit steep for me back then considering the going rate for most Marvel and DC titles on my purchase list was $.60. But at 48 pages on higher quality paper (I wish today’s comics were printed on Baxter paper!), it was worth sacrificing the two additional titles I could have bought. Though a recent look back at my purchases shows I still had a decent comics haul that month.
The inside cover’s “state of the galaxy” does a great job setting up the first story by describing the roles of the governing body, the TOPHAN Galactic Union (TGU), and the Alien Legion, mercenaries comprised of different races from throughout the Union. The TGU is made up of elected officials from the Thermor, Ophides and Auron galaxies (hence TOPHAN) with established treaties, trade agreements and peacekeeping responsibilities throughout the galaxy. The Alien Legion are the grunts sent in for the dirty work. Page one of issue #1 sums them up best: “Footsloggers and soldiers of fortune, priests and poets, killers and cads – they fight for a future Galarchy, for cash, a cause, for the thrill of adventure. Legionnaires live rough and they die hard, tough as tungsten and loyal to the dirty end.” How could I not buy this issue off the rack?
The “dossiers” of six of the main legionnaires give each of their backgrounds: Torie Montroc, the human university graduate forced to join by his wealthy father in order to earn a trust fund; Sarigar, the serpentine alien leader of the unit featured in the title; Jugger Grimrod, the anti-social weapons expert; Durge, the former wrestler known for his bravery; Meico, the kind-hearted former refugee; and Torqa Dun, the former bureaucrat who’s in it for the money more than the honor of service.
The story begins in space when a Legion ship, en route to disrupt an illegal mining operation on the nearby moon Wedifact IV, is sneak attacked by a squadron of enemy Harkilons. The Legion ship, badly damaged, fights back just long enough for two shuttles (Vector and Nomad) to escape to their destination. But despite the destruction of the main ship and the loss of half of their colleagues, the surviving 28 legionnaires still have a job to do.
Lieutenant Montroc, piloting Nomad, and Vector’s Lieutenant Birkh confirm their orders from Captain Sarigar: observe the operation from the air, then rendezvous with Captains Sarigar and Phyte to plan further action. Birkh’s team spots the illegal mining operation, but what looks to be a routine plan is thrown off when the mine’s defense battery knocks out Vector shuttle, crash landing it to the surface.
Before Birkh’s team can even assess their surroundings, they’re ambushed by rogue miners led by Prinn, who waste no time shooting to kill. Birkh curses the fact the legionnaires can’t properly fight back as their regulation weapons were replaced by eco-friendly dart guns in order not to environmentally impact the planet. Prinn, hardly sympathetic to the ecological impact of his mining operation, kills Birkh. The 28 are now down to 14.
Back at Tophan Galactic Union headquarters, Legion representatives are given little support by the committee members, who are more concerned with the ecological preservation of Wedifact IV and its species of rathosaurs over the military implications of the Harkilon empire breaking an already fragile peace. The representatives, ambivalent to the military in general, simply want the legionnaires to fulfill their mission of knocking out the pirate mining outpost with as little environmental consequences as possible, regardless of the Legion’s losses.
Back on Wedifact IV Montroc leads his seven man squad through the jungle and finds Birkh’s team dead in a clearing. As the remaining legionnaires bury and collect the dogtags of the fallen, Badj sneaks off on his own to observe the rathosaurs. Only they are not living uninterrupted in their natural habitat, they’ve been trained by the pirates to do their manual labor. Montroc’s job isn’t made any easier by infighting among the men, but a crack of Sarigar’s serpentine tail quickly restores order.
The remaining legionnaires move in on Prinn’s mining operation with a nighttime raid. The idealistic Montroc asks Sarigar if it’s worth the risk, but Sarigar quickly reminds him that as legionnaires it’s about following the orders. When their stealth attempt to breach the mine fails, it’s the legionnaires versus the entire camp. With the odds against them and nothing more than dart guns, the legionnaires ignore their disadvantage and give it everything they’ve got. Prinn uses his lackeys to save his own skin, which leads to a surprise reveal.
No spoilers here. Potts and Zelenetz crafted a fantastic story that does a great job introducing the major characters. Penciller Frank Cirocco and inker Terry Austin complemented each other perfectly on their Alien Legion run. Austin is one of a handful of inkers who’s lines worked amazingly with many pencillers: Howard Chaykin, Paul Smith and of course, John Byrne to name a few. But his all too brief work with Frank Cirocco on the pages of Alien Legion is my favorite of his penciller/inker collaborations. I’m the proud owner of three original Terry Austin inked pages, but it’s my Cirocco/Austin page from Alien Legion #4 that is my favorite of my original comic art collection. The crisp lines make me wish they worked on more Alien Legion issues and a broader range of stories together.
After reading Alien Legion #1, it was a tough wait until the next issue. But great writing, great characters, and top notch art always made subsequent issues worth the wait. Even thirty five years later, these footsloggers are well worth revisiting. Long live the Legion!
Alien Legion #1 can be found in the Alien Legion Omnibus Volume 1 on Amazon and Comixology. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you for your support!
My first introduction to Will Eisner’s work was sometime in the mid-80s with reprints of his later Spirit stories, but my true appreciation for his art and stories developed late in my comic book reading years. I had been out of reading and collecting comics for about ten years when I began to seek out his work in the mid 2000s, first with his 1940s Spirit strips, then his graphic novels A Contract with God, The Dreamer and Last Day In Vietnam. Eisner quickly became one of my favorite comic artists, primarily for his groundbreaking splash pages, film noir inspired use of light and dark, and beautifully inked lines. By that point I wanted to learn as much as I could about his art and career and quickly began to catch up with his books Comics and Sequential Art, Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative, and Shop Talk. Just as I was making up for lost time, looking forward to his next graphic novel and hoping to one day meet him at a local comic con, he passed away in January 2005.
This year would have been Eisner’s 100th, and the Society of Illustrators in New York marked the occasion with their latest exhibit Will Eisner: The Centennial Celebration 1917-2017, an exhibition of Eisner’s original artwork that spans from his Eisner & Iger Studio stories, 1940s Spirit strips, and his later graphic novels to his final work The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
I had seen several of Eisner’s original pages at The Jewish Museum’s Masters of American Comics exhibition in 2006, and while it was an incredible exhibit of comic book art, I remember thinking (in my humble opinion) that Eisner was under represented in that show. So when the Society of Illustrators announced they would be honoring Will Eisner with this exhibition, I knew this would be one of the best opportunities for me to see a wider range of his work including some original 1940s Spirit pages. It didn’t disappoint.
The exhibition takes up two floors of the Society’s building, with the main floor showcasing Spirit pages from the 40’s to the 70’s. The boldly colored print of Spirit character P’Gell grabbed my attention as soon as I walked in (pictured above), but it was the original art I was there to see and I quickly made my way to the April 27, 1941 Spirit strip drawn by Eisner. It’s amazing to see the progression from his early drawing style to the classic The Spirit art of the late 40s as you work your way across the first wall of the exhibit. Eisner’s line work is bolder and more fluid in the 1947 original Spirit pages on display, which include several splash pages that showcase The Spirit’s logo.
It’s one thing to appreciate the final colored and lettered art of The Spirit comic strips, but seeing Eisner’s original hand drawn artwork (even the early pages browned from the paper’s acidity and splashed with white correction fluid) takes it to another level of appreciation. The Spirit pages on display tell a deeper story with the unerased pencil lines, blueline notes and white opaque paint that show elements of Eisner’s artistic process. I was so drawn to the original art on display when I first walked into the exhibit that I completely missed several of Eisner’s personal items that were displayed in the room. Eisner’s drawing board, as it was left at the time of his 2005 passing, as well as several of his used brushes, inking nibs and pages of a Jules Feiffer unpublished script for The Spirit.
The exhibit continues in the basement with original art, including rough layouts, mostly of his later works. But two Smash Comics pages from the Eisner and Iger Studio (#6 from 1939 and #8 from 1940) and a 1936 oil painting from his teenage years were a nice surprise. The layouts of the Smash Comics pages were straightforward and simple compared to Eisner’s later works, but each page had one panel that was drawn with a more dramatic angle than the others that foreshadowed the cinematic style that he would be known for with The Spirit. His later works on display include pages from A Contract With God, Dropsie Avenue and Last Day in Vietnam.
From beginning to end, the Society of Illustrator’s Will Eisner: The Centennial Celebration 1917-2017 is a strong representation of Eisner’s work. But my afternoon at the Society of Illustrators didn’t end there. Other works of art by the greats (a Steve Canyon strip by Milton Caniff and paintings by Leyendecker) lead to the second floor exhibit Heroes of the Comics by Drew Friedman.
Will Eisner: The Centennial Celebration 1917-2017 ends on Saturday June 3rd and I highly recommend it for fans of Eisner’s work and anyone who appreciates the medium of graphic novels. This exhibition will be followed by The Art of Spider-Man beginning on June 6th.
Sunday March 30th marked the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27. National Periodicals (later to be DC Comics) introduced Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation to the world on that day in 1939, and eight decades later the Dark Knight is as popular as ever in comic books, film and television.
Batman was the first comic book hero that I was introduced to thanks to reruns of the 60’s television series starring Adam West. This was several years before I bought my first comic book, and despite its campiness I still have a soft spot for the original series to this day.
In honor of The Dark Knight’s 75th birthday, here’s a list of my all time favorite representations of Batman:
Favorite Batman Artist: Neal Adams
Choosing my favorite Batman artist was a tough task for me considering how many incredible artists have drawn the Batman books over the years (Jerry Robinson, Sheldon Moldoff, Dick Sprang, Carmine Infantino and Jim Aparo, just to name a few). But it was Neal Adams’ Batman that was my first introduction to the Dark Knight on the comic book page, and it’s his artwork that comes to mind when I think of the character.
Favorite Issue: Batman Special #1 (1984)
This story of Batman vs. The Wrath is one that stuck with me over the years. Batman’s nemesis in this special issue was his complete antithesis even down to the death of his parents. Great story by Mike W. Barr and art by Michael Golden and Mike DeCarlo.
Favorite Run: Batman: Year One
Favorite Cover: Detective Comics #69
Jerry Robinson’s cover for Detective Comics #69 just barely edges out Neal Adams’ cover for Detective Comics #400 as my favorite of all time.
Favorite Batman Film: The Dark Knight
Favorite Televised Version of Batman: Batman: The Animated Series
I was 20 and out of comics collecting when Batman: The Animated Series premiered on Fox in 1992. I was expecting more of the campiness of the 1966 series, but was blown away by the noir tone and I was hooked. (My favorite episode of the series: Beware the Gray Ghost, guest starring Adam West).
Here’s to another 75 years of Batman.