Saturday, March 26, 2011

Make Mine Marvel: Iron Fist

With his first appearance in Marvel Premiere #15 from May 1974, "The House of Ideas" added a second martial arts hero, Daniel Rand, AKA Iron Fist to their impressive lineup. His parents murdered before his eyes by a double crossing business partner on a snow capped mountain in Tibet, nine year old orphan Rand was taken in by mysterious K'un L'un Monastery to study the ancient art of Kung-Fu. After years of intensive training, Rand honed his skills to become a living weapon, mastering the technique of focusing all his "chi" energy into an almost invincible smouldering iron fist. Returning to American to work as a bodyguard, Daniel, in his new identity of Iron Fist searches to avenge his parents murders, eventually finishing off the deadly villain who preformed the deed. Roy Thomas was chosen to craft the early scripts with Gil Kane doing the character design and artistic chores for the first few dynamic issues. But the hero's real popularity came when he got his own title in November 1975, written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by fan favorite, John Byrne, for its successful fifteen issue run. Later teaming up with Marvel's Powerman to find a wider audience, Iron Fist has survived many incarnations in new titles over the years.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Foreign Favorites: El Indigo

When the Spaniards were searching for the Indies they mistakenly called the Malayan they discovered "Indigos" or Indians, a name they used for all non-Spanish citizens of the Philippines. Written and illustrated by the father of Filipino comics, Francisco V. Coching, El Indigo was the first grand epic to grace the pages of a 1953 Pilipino Komiks, running for over thirty thrilling chapters of action and suspense. Our hero, Fernando, was a revolutionary who unknown to him, defied his father's rule, Kapitan Castillo, who towered over the Filipino people with an iron hand. Equally skilled with pistol or sword, Fernando used his shrewed tactics and superior horsemanship to wreak havoc on the domineering Spanish colonists. With a wonderful supporting cast including our star's beautiful girlfriend, Victoria, and his lovely mother Blanquita, who unfortunately was the lover of Castillo, the writing was always witty and engaging. Wonderful scripts coupled with excellent artwork made the feature an instant adventure classic, that could only have been produced by an individual of Coching's skill and mastery of the comic art form.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ric Estrada's "A Helping Hand"

Born in Cuba, Ric Estrada came to the United States in 1947, and was soon was working for publishers like Hillman, EC, Ziff-Davis, St. John, and other comic book companies. In the sixties and seventies the artist worked for DC Comics on their many romance titles, while also illustrating numerous war and superhero stories. Estrada also excelled in the animation field and was an influential instructor at the Famous Artist School and later, the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. Many of us fondly remember those thrilling back-up tales he produced containing some of his most dramatic storytelling in his long comic book career, including this ironic little 1975 tale from Our Army at War #278 called...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Buried Treasure: Dark Shadows

With its first appearance on March 14, 1971, Dark Shadows, had a daily and Sunday feature based on the popular Dan Curtis ABC television soap opera. Created by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, it was written by Elliot Caplin and drawn by artist Ken Bald, under the pen name K. Bruce due to conflict with other strips he illustrated at the same time. Unfortunately, the TV show ended just a few weeks after the feature saw print, but they finished out their one year contract over the next fifty weeks with six separate story lines lasting two months each. Not following the continuity of the show, it also didn't include all the main characters, but concentrated on Barnabas Collins and some of the lovely ladies of the story. Bald already being a fan of the show, was the perfect choice, producing his moody Gothic scenes filled with warlocks, werewolves, gods and goddesses, all rendered in his slick illustrative style. With a collection of Jonathan Frid stills, the artist always got a good likeness of America's favorite vampire, but rather used his wife as model for Elizabeth Stoddard and the other female characters. Superior to the stories and artwork of the Gold Key comic book published concurrently, the last Dark Shadows newspaper strip appeared on March 11, 1972.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Comic Art Legend: Bob Brown

William Robert Brown was born on August 22, 1915 and and received his formal artistic training from the Hartford Art School in Connecticut and the Rhode Island School of Design. He broke into comics drawing romance and Western yarns for Timely, Ziff-Davis, and various war and mystery titles for National Comics throughout the early 1940s. In 1951, Bob drew many of DC's second-tier heroes like Vigilante and Tomahawk, before moving over to Marvel Comics to illustrate their first issue of the Rawhide Kid in 1955, and other non-super hero genres for "The House of Ideas". Always looking for new opportunities, Brown once again returned to DC Comics in the late fifties working with Jack Schiff to illustrate National's space and mystery anthologies and create his well received, Space Ranger, which ran in Tales of the Unexpected for over five years, before transferring the character to Mystery in Space.

When Space Ranger was cancelled with all the other DC stellar related titles, Bob did some of my favorite work on many features including Action Comics, Batman, World's Finest Comics, House of Mystery, Detective Comics, Doom Patrol, Superboy, and Challengers of the Unknown, just to name a few. When Carmine Infantino took over as DC's editor-in chief in the late 60s, he wanted to establish a more illustrative "house style" for the company, base largely on Neal Adams approach, and that helped end the careers of numerous old time artists. Bob Brown's art was now considered "old fashion", though he lasted longer than many of his peers. Eventually even Brown could not grasp what the editors were wanting in the new samples they provided him, that just displayed examples of poor anatomy and perspective in Bob's opinion.

Bitter about this new direction DC was taking, Marvel Comics, who helped motivate the changes were only to happy to pick up these talented creators like Jim Mooney, Wayne Boring and Bob Brown. Bob was immediately given work drawing their flagship title, The Fantastic Four and he also illustrated a long successful stint on "The Man Without Fear", Daredevil. Numerous issues of The Rampaging Hulk, Luke Gage, Powerman, Warlock, and other fill-in stories kept the artist busy at Marvel, until he even considered returning to DC after they came calling, now offering Bob to be the new artist on Wonder Woman. But just when he agreed to signed with National Comics again, Brown finally lost his long battle with leukemia, and passed away on January 29, 1977 at the age of 61. Just ask any professionals in the comic field about Bob Brown and they will tell you of his generosity in fostering relations between American and European artists, his quick wit, sly sophistication, and how he will be missed by fan and pro alike.