uncomfortably muscular nightcrawler.
Adventure Comics #314
‘The Super-Villains of All Ages’
By Edmond Hamilton and John Forte
As has become common in this run of Adventure Comics, the story opens with a page of the Legion going about their routine tasks—in this instance, testing the automated defences of their clubhouse and interviewing new applicants.
A bit of a rash decision there, Saturn Girl. I can think of loads of ways that Ronn’s power could be useful. What if you were trapped in a cage of steel bars and didn’t have Superboy with you?
But, never mind. This page is really just and excuse for writer Edmond Hamilton to exercise his imagination in devising traps and powers. And it’s remarkable that his plotting is so tight that he can indulge himself like this. With only sixteen story pages to play with, he manages to tell a complete and satisfying story and still show incidental details like this. I wish today’s comic writers could manage this.
And so onto the story, which involves a villainous schemer and inventor, Alaktor, stealing a time bubble in order to travel back in time and recruit history’s most evil villains.
The choice of villains is interesting and fairly random. Hitler is there of course, and I imagine that in 1963 he would be the first to spring to mind when you think of the world’s most evil man.
But the other choices are odd. Alaktor visits Rome in AD 64 and recruits emperor Nero. Now I’m quite sure Nero wasn’t a very nice person, but from all of history to choose from is that who you’d go for?
The third villain is even more of a puzzle, as from the year 1934 Alaktor chooses John Dillinger, who he describes as ‘the most notorious outlaw in history’. Really? Maybe Dillinger was a much bigger figure in American folklore, as he probably wouldn’t even have made my long list.
But, choices aside, the real meat of the story comes in part two, where Alaktor executes his scheme. The splash page has already given it away, but it’s still a stroke of genius:
Because Hitler, no matter how evil, isn’t much of an asset when you’re trying to defeat the Legion of Super-Heroes in physical combat. But Hitler in Superboy’s body? That’s a completely different proposition. Similarly, Alaktor puts Nero’s mind in Mon-El’s body and Dillinger’s mind in Ultra Boy’s, and suddenly you have the three most powerful men in the 30th century, totally evil and completely unstoppable.
That’s the thing: they are completely unstoppable. Even though all the other Legionnaires are called in from other missions, you know they can’t win, such is the disparity in power between the strongest and weakest Legionnaires.
But beating the bad guys in fisticuffs isn’t the point of the story. The point of the story is to show us why evil can’t win, no matter how strong it appears.
So first Alaktor come to a bad end:
Well, what did he expect? He’s gathered the most evil men in history, and thinks they’ll keep their promises? Idiot.
So that’s the scheming Alaktor undone by his own schemes. And that’s much more dramatically satisfying than having the Legion punch him. But what of the three unstoppable villains?
It’s brilliant. I mean, seriously, it’s the best way to end a villainous threat that I’ve read in a long time:
There’s a moral here, and the moral is so obvious that I’m not even going to say it. But this is a beautiful piece of clever and elegant writing and one of my favourite Legion stories.
Legends of the DC Universe #6 - @Mark_Millar recommended this book a while back. Since then I’ve been keeping my eyes open for it. Last week, a nice copy showed up in LCS’s 25¢ bin. So I gave it a shot. It was a fun story of Superman and Robin’s first meeting. This isn’t a hero vs. hero first meeting but I like that there is some mystery between the two and some apprehension on Robin’s part due to what Batman has told him. Of course, the star of the show is Kevin Nowlan’s finishes. If you ever run across this issue, I highly recommend it or it’s available on ComiXology.
This is an issue from the Shooter era at Marvel, written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by Sal Buscema. It was the actually quite ugly cover by Frank Miller that convinced me to buy it.
The set up is that after the previous adventure (which I never read), the Hulk was left swimming across the Pacific Ocean. He comes to a deserted island (that is pretty much Easter Island without people) where the Absorbing Man has hidden out.
This was the interesting idea of the story. The Absorbing Man was recently defeated by the Avengers and had to turn into water to escape. He was so spread out that when he finally pulled himself back together, he was left shattered with paranoia believing that “they” (the Avengers) were this malevolent force coming to get him.
It was a striking idea that from a certain perspective, these villains actually were freaks being persecuted by heroes who really should’ve been a lot more sympathetic to the problems they face. Especially striking in The Hulk where the hero is often treated as a dangerous monster.
Also, naturally, it was interesting that the issue implied a mystery to the Absorbing Man that applies to a lot of shapeshifting characters. Exactly where is the Absorbing Man’s “mind” located? Or Sandman’s, for example.
The most dramatic part of the story though, were the caves that the absorbing man hid inside. Since he could simply merge with the cave walls, he had no trouble going through the tiniest openings or flowing as mud through them. But he drags Banner deep into the cave system and leaves him there. Banner is terrified of becoming the Hulk in such a tiny space because he doesn’t know how deep he is or if the Hulk could even get out before suffocating. Finally, he tries crawling out, but he gets stuck when the tunnel narrows too much. Then the Absorbing Man comes and Banner has no choice but to go green.
It’s hard to really build tension in a comic book but Sal Buscema, despite never being as good a draughtsman as his brother, really delivered in the panels and Mantlo knew how to pace the story to its best effect.
I always preferred picking up pretty contained issues that had little to do with the issue before or the issue after. This is a great example of that. I even like the kinda ridiculous tag line for the issue.
“Again The Absorbing Man”
“Not beware the Absorbing Man or fear the Absorbing Man.”
“Again, it’s just Again, The Absorbing Man!”
I’ve been reareading one of my favorites, Superman: Red Son. Better than I even remembered, Millar knocked it out of the park with that one. I hope he does again in his upcoming Superman project. The idea of another Superman story on that level excites me like you have no idea.
I just read the KINGDOM COME tpb this weekend. Hadn’t read the story since the original miniseries came out. Still a solid story, with gorgeous art and coloring.
Adventure Comics #315
‘The Legionnaires’ Super Contest’
By Edmond Hamilton and John Forte
A key story in the career of the 30th century’s greatest super team: the Legion of Substitute Heroes!
For several months now, the ‘Subs’, all rejected Legion of Super-Heroes applicants, have been secretly using their modest powers to help out the Legion of Super-Heroes. In this story, the Legion finally discover their existence. Will they force them to disband?
But I’m jumping the gun. The story opens with a look at the Legion’s ‘Universe-Monitor’, an elaborate machine that instantly warns the Legion of impending trouble anywhere in the universe. Trusting it to keep watch and transmit warnings to their wrist-monitors, the entire Legion goes off on a ‘jolly’ to attend the Galactic Law Enforcement Convention.
Now in the 21st century it’s immediately obvious what’s going to happen, but in 1963 when Edmond Hamilton wrote this the concept of hacking a security network must have been pretty novel:
Though it must be said that the aliens’ motive is pretty weird in any century:
This is what occasionally infuriates me about Hamilton’s Legion writing. His ideas are marvellously inventive, but sometimes he forgets that he’s a darn good SF writer, and he lets his wild ideas override his knowledge of science. I mean … looting glass because it doesn’t exist on their planet … ohhh … where do I even start???
Anyway, the Subs, with their inferior (i.e. hack-proof—there’s a moral for us there somewhere) monitoring technology aren’t fooled and leap into action, as always putting their limited powers to great use in stopping the aliens. All except for Stone Boy. Remember this panel, because I feel it’s foreshadowing the ending with all the subtlety of a brick:
Superboy spots the Subs and rushes to confront them, then the Legionnaires meet in what looks awfully like a tribunal to discuss this turn of events. Saturn Girl recaps what they know of each of the Subs: Polar Boy, Night Girl, Fire Lad, and Chlorophyll Kid. Er, hold on, isn’t there someone else?
So, with all that set-up out of the way, we’re into the main story: the Legionnaires are so touched with the Subs’ devotion that they want to offer membership to one of them! The catch is, they will have to compete against each other to win the place.
The Legionnaries devise individual tests that the Subs must complete. The twist is that each test is set up so that the contestant’s powers are useless, meaning they must rely on their brains to complete the test:
Polar Boy figures it out, of course, and passes the test, but he’s not told his score until the others complete theirs. Night Girl has to stop a despotic ruler on a planet which perpetually faces the sun (Night Girl’s power only works in darkness). Chlorophyll Kid’s test is almost too easy: he has to split open a mountain ,which he does by accelerating the growth of tree roots. Fire Lad also has an easy time of it: he has to make fire on a world of perpetual rain, but it’s easy once he figures out that there are underground oil deposits.
Then we come to Stone Boy. Remember him? He has to capture a dangerous monster. And let’s be honest, his power to turn to immobile stone is really hard to use effectively, so we can perhaps forgive Hamilton for making the solution to his challenge pretty lame: quite simply, he plans to lure the monster into a pit. And shockingly (or predictably?) he fails:
Well, I was fairly sure that all the references to his rubbish power were foreshadowing his surprise victory! But no, it turns out his power really is rubbish! Somewhat disappointing, to be honest, because the whole thing about the Subs is to show that power isn’t as important as ingenuity, bravery, and determination. And yet here Hamilton is evidently turning that upside down. It’s a far cry from how he (Hamilton) treated Stone Boy just a few months ago when the Subs were introduced. Remember this?
Despite his poor power, he was clearly the (in Night Girl’s words) ‘real hero’ of the team.
So now I’m feeling a bit depressed, and sorry for Stone Boy, but … wait! The story isn’t finished! Hamilton has another twist or two up his sleeve:
Awww, isn’t that just the most perfectly emotionally satisfying ending? Actually, no it isn’t. This is:
The Subs—all of them—are still the greatest heroes of the 30th century, Edmond Hamilton redeems his crown as one of the most effective writers of the Silver Age.
Not just that, but they’re providing fake news!
Or is it alternative facts?
Armageddon 2001 #1 & 2 - For those who don’t remember, this story ran through DC’s 1991 annuals and was bookended by the issues mentioned here. The premise was that a new hero, Waverider, travelled back in time to find which present day hero would become the malevolent despot of his time, Monarch. This book was coming out when I was first getting into comics through X-Men and X-Force. It’s always kind of intrigued me but I’ve never bit until I saw these two issues in the 25¢ bin at my LCS. I also didn’t bother with trying to track down all the annuals assuming that the bookends would give me enough of the story. It wasn’t horrible but also wasn’t great. The rumor I’ve always heard was that the mysterious villain was originally intended to be Captain Atom but too many people guessed. So DC rewrote it and made Hawk the villain. The story in issue #2 seems to lend credence to this story as it seems a bit disjointed like the first part is what was originally intended and the second was made up on the fly. It was OK but I’m glad I only paid 50¢.
Action Comics Annual (1991) #3 - This was one of the Superman tie-ins for the Armageddon 2001 crossover mentioned above and really the main reason I picked up those issues. The main conceit behind the annuals is that Waverider is able to inhabit the heroes bodies and see their future by touching them but it turns out that these are only possible futures. So these annuals all become pseudo Elseworlds stories. This one as you can see from the cover below is about Superman becoming President of the US and is what most intrigued me. There were some great ideas at play here like the fact that since this was the Post-Crisis Superman he was “born” on US soil because that is where he exited his birthing matrix. There are some moves reminiscent of Superman III where as POTUS Superman decides to move toward world disarmament and asks the Justice League to help him. This leads to a conflict with Guy Gardner which sees Superman acquire Guy’s Green Lantern read. The execution didn’t always equal the ideas but it was an interesting read especially in the political times as they are.
Marvel Spotlight on Captain Marvel #8
Sadly, this Marvel comic wasn’t worth $2500 to me.
But I’m still glad I read it, as the latest example of my efforts to track down some of Frank Miller’s early work from before he really made his name as a star (this issue dates from 1980). A good old-fashioned cosmic yarn written by Mike Barr, the story involves Captain Marvel stepping in to help discover what has happened to some missing scientists - and gives Miller the chance to draw some occasional high-powered action and to illustrate some unusual, alien concepts.
As you can see from that title panel, Barr’s wordy script is a fairly ‘purple’ affair, which doesn’t always play to the strengths of Miller’s art. Unlike the Claremont-scripted John Carter story drawn by Miller that I talked about upthread, this issue isn’t particularly heavy on action (in fact, it features a conceit based around various people being trapped and frozen in place on an alien planet!) which means that Miller has to draw quite a few ‘quiet’ moments. He does his best, but often struggles to make moments feel exciting, with some slightly clunky compositions, and fairly un-dynamic inks by Bruce Patterson that threaten to overwhelm Miller’s style a little.
That said, when he has the chance, Miller shows that he’s able to pull off some impressive, well-staged stuff, even at this relatively early point in his career.
(His love of high-contrast lighting evident even in this early work, as you can see from that bottom panel.)
It’s also nice to see Miller working on a story with a slightly more fantastical, cosmic vibe than I’m used to from him. Little transitions like this one show a good understanding of how to capture both Mar-vell’s power and his slightly detached cosmic awareness:
And there’s some quite cinematic stuff later in the issue, when Captain Marvel begins to get to the bottom of the mystery:
Overall it’s a diverting enough but fairly disposable story that is enhanced by Miller’s art, but doesn’t stick in the memory for very long afterwards.
The copy I managed to track down (which didn’t cost $2500, but was still a couple of quid more than I’d usually pay for a single issue) is pretty old and beat-up, but I quite like that with old comics - it’s still intact and readable, but the wear and tear give it a bit of charm and make me feel as though it’s been well-read and enjoyed over the years. I’d much rather that than have it stuck in a plastic box for eternity.
Adventure Comics #316
‘The Renegade Super-Hero’
By Edmond Hamilton and John Forte
This is a shocker! According to the cover and splash page, Ultra Boy has turned bad! Can it be true? Well, I guess I’ll have to keep reading and find out.
The story opens with Superboy flying to the future to attend an important ceremony (and saying ‘I’ll have to return quickly to … my own time’, which is ridiculous as he can time travel and so return whenever he wants; but I’ll not get into that rant again).
We get some images of the Legionnaires practicing their powers, and we learn that they’re making a gold statue to honour Proty, who sacrificed himself to save Lightning Lad. It’s nice that this is referenced—it gives a sense of continuity to the series, and reminds us that in this comic things can happen that have lasting repercussions (unlike, say, in Superman or Batman where they can’t change so everything has to be reset at the end of the story).
As Ultra Boy is the featured character, he recaps his origin for us. Actually, is this a recap? I can’t remember it being told before. Anyway, he got his powers when his space-speedster was swallowed whole by a giant ‘energy beast’, and the creature’s radiation changed him. The funny thing is that his real name is Jo Nah—and he was swallowed by a giant beast. Get it? It’s almost like he was predestined to suffer that fate!
Hmm, is it just me or is Phantom Girl a bit keen on Ultra Boy?
Nope, not just me, Saturn Girl has noticed it too!
But then, shock, while investigating the criminals, there’s a terrible discovery:
Oh dear, that’s going to upset Phantom Girl.
Yep, thought so.
So the Legion vote to expel Ultra Boy because he’s an escaped criminal and plan to turn him over to the police, and obviously he makes a run for it.
Sorry, I’m going to go back to talking about Phantom Girl here.
There has been so little romance in the comic before this (a hint of something between Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad, but that might just be me reading too much into things) that this is quite surprising. But they’re clearly more than team-mates.
That’s something else that makes this comic stand out. Super-heroes as soap opera! You can’t imagine that type of thing in Batman, can you?
So, back to Ultra Boy. I’m conflicted here, because he makes valid points about trying to do right for years, so he’s clearly a reformed character, but still he’s an escaped criminal, so he’s still got a sentence to serve. You can sympathise with him, but still you know that the Legion are in the right here.
And back to the continuity notes: there’s an interesting flashback to an earlier adventure on Puppet World, when Ultra Boy saved Sun Boy’s life. The Legion were on Puppet World in Adventure Comics #313, the Satan Girl story, but that scene never happened in the story! This is something that must have happened off-panel ,while we were focussing on Supergirl fighting Satan Girl. That’s a really neat piece of retroactive continuity (that’s a new term I just made up—do you think it will catch on?).
We now follow Ultra Boy as he hides from the Legion and has an encounter with some alien monsters, and again we see that he is truly is a reformed character, intent on doing good deeds even while on the run (you could probably make an entire TV series out of a premise like that).
There’s also an interesting reference back to a recent Supergirl story in Action Comics (published the month before this comic). And more consistency with facts established in earlier stories: Ultra Boy remember that Mon-El’s people are master biophysicists. This issue is really a marvel of continuity, making you feel as if you’re in one big, interconnected story.
I’m enjoying all this immensely, and then in the last couple of pages the story falls flat on its face, as in a rushed climax we learn that it’s all been a trick by Ultra Boy in order to capture some powerful aliens. It’s really not a good ending at all—oh, yes, I’m happy that Ultra Boy is exonerated, but it’s all wrapped up too quickly, his plan doesn’t really make a lot of sense, and it all feels like a bit of an anti-climax. It reminds me of the nonsensical, capricious plotting Jerry Siegel brought to the Legion a couple of years ago, and generally Edmond Hamilton has been much better than that.
But other than the disappointing ending, this has been a fantastic story, with great characterisation, plenty of Hamilton’s inventive SF ideas, and some moments of genuine drama. So on balance, another ‘hit’ from the Hamilton-Forte team!
Code Pru #1-2
I picked up these two backissues recently after enjoying the Code Pru strip in Avatar’s Cinema Purgatorio anthology. They’re lots of fun, and a good scene-setter for the stories in that book, even if they aren’t exactly essential reading.
There are only these two full-length issues of the series, and both of them split their attention between the fairly grounded adventures of Pru (and her housemates) as she prepares to become a New York paramedic, and a mysterious jailer of supernatural beasts at a location that’s never fully explained.
There’s a fun contrast between Pru’s housemates trying their hand at amateur witchcraft (despite Pru’s sceptical disdain) and the section of the book that deals with real supernatural beasties - but to be honest, beyond the flatshare comedy of Pru’s story (including quite a bit of fairly ribald comedy and some amusingly bitchy exchanges), there isn’t a huge amount going on there.
We never really get to see Pru engage with the horror of real-life monsters (that was held back for Cinema Purgatorio), so her story doesn’t really go anywhere, other than to cue up her entry into a secret world that she didn’t expect.
Where Garth Ennis really succeeds in entertaining, though, is with the other side of the story - especially with its main creature, a Lovecraftian beast that’s trapped behind bars and tries to play mind games with its jailer.
That gives you an idea of the kind of irreverent humour Ennis is playing with here, and I found these sections very amusing. Not only do they poke fun at the often po-faced use of these kinds of creatures in comics, but they also make for an oddly compelling two-hander drama in which the balance of power appears to shift throughout their conversation, with quite a few twists and turns (and some philosophising) woven into their story, despite it essentially boiling down to two characters speaking to each other through the bars of a cage.
It’s the absurd touches that really make it though - like the scene in which the creature and his captor end up playing Monopoly together.
As you can see from the above images, Raulo Caceres’ black-and-white art is detailed stuff, which bucks the frequent Avatar trend of mediocre art (and makes me wonder whether that problem is often as much an issue with their colourists as anything). As with the strips I had already read in Cinema Purgatorio, there are some great creature designs, and Caceres brings the world of the book to life in a suitably creepy way, even when it’s only dealing with relatively mundane day-to-day scenes.
Despite enjoying these two comics, I’d struggle to recommend these issues in their own right, because they really work best as a prologue to the short stories in Cinema Purgatorio, and don’t really go anywhere on their own. Still, for people who have been enjoying that anthology and want a bit more characterisation and world-building backstory of the type that isn’t necessarily easy to fit into a handful-of-pages short story, these are worth checking out.
The Ongoing New Comics Thread
Marvel Fanfare #40
I picked up this October 1988 issue for its cover story, which is by Ann Nocenti and David Mazzucchelli - largely on the strength of Mazz’s name, it has to be said. But Nocenti impressed me here too with her writing, taking a relatively limp spin-off story about Angel being knocked out of the sky by Mephisto (in Mephisto vs… #2, from more than a year earlier, May 1987) and turning it into an interesting, grounded (no pun intended) story about an old lady having a crisis of faith after being the victim of a theft by her own grandson, who has her belief and self-belief restored by her encounter with the mutant.
The Mazzucchelli of this issue isn’t quite the Mazz of Batman: Year One (published the previous year) - there’s a thickness to his line and a stronger sense of exaggeration to his characters here that makes this tale feel slightly more cartoonish in comparison. Combined with the slightly over-the-top nature of the protagonist’s dialogue (especially when interacting with Angel), it makes for a story that’s quite light in tone, even when dealing with some fairly weighty issues.
Even though there isn’t a huge amount of space to get stuck into deep characterisation, there’s a pleasing shape to the story, with the lady’s task - retrieving all of Angel’s feathers - serving to give her a sense of purpose and a renewed self-confidence.
Combined with her overcoming temptation - to take one of his feathers for herself as a keepsake - and the final interaction with Angel (below) that leaves her aglow, it’s a very positive story about the benefits that can be offered by religious faith.
It also features a nice payoff at the end of the issue that sees the lady regain control of her life, taking her car out for a spin after it had been left to rust in the garage for years. Yes, the metaphor is a bit on-the-nose, but it still works to give the story a nice uplifting ending.
Oh, and this issue also features a second story by Chris Claremont and Craig Hamilton about a meeting between Storm and Mystique that happened ‘between the panels’ of a story in Uncanny X-Men #185, four years earlier.
It seemed a bit inconsequential to me, but maybe means more to you if you’re interested in the original story. Nevertheless, it allows Claremont and Hamilton to offer us a dire warning about the costume horrors that were to come in the 1990s, just a few years hence.
I’m about 350 issues into my xmen reread (started at xmen 1 and uxm 281). Just finished the Morrison run and kind of flip flopped. Quitely was a big draw back in the day but I actually prefer the kordey issues now. Not really a fan of the way frank draws the xmen. Fantomex is the best part of the run but from a writing point of view I wasn’t really into the last two arcs. Over on uxm, surprisingly I thought austen’s first 10 or so issues were actually okay. Having said that, his stuff definitely goes downhill and is as bad as I remember it being. Truly awful (I still prefer reading it to Claremont’s run that preceded it though).
Interestingly, in Aug 04 marvel had 20 x-books on the stand.
I’d agree on the Code Pru stuff
The anthology stuff has been far better than I thought it might have been and I enjoyed those two issues prior to it.
Nice. Marvel Unlimited just uploaded a bunch of Marvel Fanfare issues (last night I read one by John Byrne, a Hulk story in which every page was a full page spread), so I’ll check this out.
DC Special Series #21: Super-Star Holiday Special
I was pleased to finally get hold of a copy of this issue recently, because I’ve been looking out for one for a while. Published at the tail end of the 1970s (cover-dated Spring 1980, so presumably it came out around Christmas 1979), it’s an anthology of short stories covering various characters that I was interested in for one reason: it marks the first time that Frank Miller worked on a Batman story. There are other stories in this issue, but this is the one I’m going to look at today.
Compared to the likes of DKR and Year: One it’s a relatively little-known entry in the Miller Batman canon - and wasn’t written by him but by Denny O’Neill. Still, it makes for an intriguing slice of comics history, as it marks Miller’s first attempt to get to grips with a character that he later redefined for generations to come - and he does so using techniques that bring to mind one of his other great successes of the era: his run on Marvel’s Daredevil.
A fairly straightforward street-level story about some goons trying to rob a department store at Christmas time, it offers Miller the chance to apply the same sorts of techniques to Batman as had been applied to Daredevil since he started working on that book a few months earlier. And not just in the way that the characters were drawn (like that above sequence of panels, which shows a very DD-esque approach to surprising unwitting criminals being taken by Batman), but also in the way the pages were laid out, with the vertical panels that Miller used to capture the skyscrapers, fire escapes, tenements and back alleys of New York also showing up in this Gotham-set story.
You can see from some of those faces on the right (especially that final panel) that Miller’s drawing style was already pretty established by this point, but it isn’t until towards the end of the story that it feels like he really puts his stamp on Batman. For the most part, he adopts a take on the character that feels quite similar to Neal Adams in style (perhaps consciously, as I know they were friends around that time) - but in one panel near the end, you get a little flash of something a bit more unique, a bit more distinctive: a bit more Frank Miller.
It’s a fairly insubstantial story, but it’s well told and it makes for an interesting historical record of Miller’s first attempt to engage with a character that he would later do such ground-breaking work with. Most of all though, it’s the clash of styles that interests me most about this story: it’s very much a Batman story told in the style of Miller’s Daredevil, and that makes it a real curiosity for me.
Reached Uncanny X-Men 453 in my big reread. Did Claremont invent this ability for Bishop during this issue or were his, ‘I never get lost’ skills shown before this.
Weird War Tales #64
It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago, and that DC Special Series #21 above was one of my little gifts to myself. This June 1978 book was the other: like the DC Special issue, I bought it because it contains some very early Frank Miller work that I’ve never read - in fact, his first published work for DC, and I believe his first credited work as a comic artist altogether. (He did some work on a couple of issues of Gold Key’s Twilight Zone book before this, but uncredited I believe.)
So, this is very early Miller we’re talking about, illustrating a story written by Wyatt Gwyon, and inked by Danny Bulanadi, about a soldier who makes a pact with a demonic entity to guarantee that he won’t die on D-Day, in return for which he’ll agree to sabotage an officer’s weapon before the big day. (These are weird war tales, remember?)
That opening page sets the tone for a story that gives Miller the chance to draw some creepy/spooky stuff and some big battle scenes, but which is honestly as rough and unrefined as you’d expect for very early work in an artist’s career, with some stiff poses and slightly wonky perspectives. But despite that, there’s still an obvious promise to Miller’s art here.
His faces are very expressive and engaging, and there’s already a sense of him being willing to experiment with exaggerations, distortions and panel-breaking moments to create the necessary effect (in this case, the spooky otherworldliness of the malevolent entity):
Despite only being a handful of pages long, this is a pretty good showcase for the young Miller’s talents. Even if he hasn’t got near to the distinctive kind of styles he would adopt later, he’s clearly got a knack for action and energetic compositions, and the final page shows his ability to tell a story tightly and clearly, with quite a lot happening in a single page to set up and pay off the tale’s closing twist.
He’s not helped though by the slightly murky colouring to this story, that maybe disguises some of his strengths. It’s interesting to compare the original art for this page with the issue as printed, as it shows how the samey green tones and slight muddiness (probably due to the production methods of the time as much as anything else) detract a little bit from some fairly strong linework in its original black-and-white form:
Either way though, this is another interesting glimpse back into the early days of Miller’s career, which offers some hints as to the strong work that he’d produce later, even if he’s not quite there yet.
Although amusingly, I just realised that the cover copy completely fails to match up with the story’s twist. The demon promises that he won’t die on D-Day, not that he’ll live through it.