Writer, Editor, Author

Tag: Walt Simonson

Off the shelf: Alien: The Illustrated Story (1979)

This is one of those books that I’ve really really wanted to read ever since I first heard about it a very long time ago. I mean, how could you not want to read this? It’s got Archie Goodwin, one of the all-time great writers and the guy who wrote the best Star Wars comics ever. And then its got art by Walter Simsonson. Yes, the same Walter Simonson who did Manhunter with Goodwin, made Marvel’s Battlestar Galactica into a surprisingly good comic and then did a definitive and long run on Thor.

But for whatever reason, I never picked this up until now. Part of that is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a copy in any of the dozens of comics shops I”ve frequented over the years. The other part being it just never came to mind as something to get on eBay, until now.

And despite the long wait and the high expectations, this really did live up to my expectations. First, Alien is a great movie, one of the best from that heady period between Star Wars and the mid-1980s, when almost every sci-fi/superhero movie coming out had at least something to recommend it. (Consider Superman: The Movie, the first couple of Star Trek movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Tron … and that’s without getting into secondary stuff like The Last Starfighter or Krull.)

What I love the most is this book works as both an adaptation that accurately conveys the story and the experience of the movie and as a damn fine comic book with smart scripting and excellent art.

I have no idea what the reaction to this book might have been. The indicia says it came out in 1979, same year as the movie, but its in a format where the dimensions are similar to a magazine yet the quality of the paper and the ad-free interior are like a book. It’s a bit like what Marvel and DC would try a few years down the road with their original graphic novel format. The pages are larger than the average comic, which lets Goodwin and Simonson put more panels on a page without having to make them too small. The coloring is excellent and the lettering is by John Workman, so you know it’s good. I imagine this must have sold on newsstands alongside things like Heavy Metal magazine (HM published this adapation by the way — and it looks like it could have been serialized in the magazine. I don’t know.) All this for the original cover price of $3.95 — not much less than what I just paid for it recently on eBay.

The only downside is there’s now one less lost gem to cross of my list … I’ll have to start looking for another.

Comic du jour: Detective Comics #437 (Nov. 1973)

I was visiting flea markets again this past weekend and came across a good deal on this classic issue of Detective Comics.

Was there ever a better time to be a Batman fan that the early 1970s? You had Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams doing their classic thing. And then there was this issue, the first edited and written by Archie Goodwin and featuring art by Jim Aparo and the first installment of “Manhunter” with art from then-newcomer Walt Simonson.

The lead story is a solid Batman detective story in which the Caped Crusader stumbles across and foils an elaborate criminal blackmail plan revolving around a mysterious artifact in a Gotham museum. (I’d like to know how often the Gotham museum cliche has been used in Batman stories over the years – I’d guess it’s in the top five.) But this is a solid, complete story told in a mere 12 pages. Aparo is one of those workman-like artists who never got the acclaim that guys like Adams or Simonson did, but he should have. Looking at the quality of both his storytelling and his illustrations, this is top-notch stuff. There’s even a stellar “silent” action sequence on page 2, in which Batman dispatches a group of rooftop thieves in an economical and compelling eight-panel layout. And Aparo still was a top-notch Batman artist more than 16 years later, when I first started reading his work on such seminal 1980s Batman stories as “10 Nights of the Beast,” “A Death in the Family” and “A Lonely Place of Dying.”

The backup story is known as a tried and true classic. I have a trade collecting the Goodwin-Simonson “Manhunter” stories, and they are definitive of the best comics of this era. Simonson remains one of my all-time favorite comics artists, mostly for his work on Thor, X-Factor, Star Wars and even Marvel’s old Battlestar Galactica series, (which I believe gave him his first credits as a writer). Seeing these stories from early in his career, it’s remarkable to see how consistent his distinctive art style has been, even as he improved his storytelling and drawing abilities in quite significant ways over the years.

Even more interesting is the letters page in this issue, in which Goodwin introduces himself as the successor to Julie Schwartz and outlines his plans for reviving Detective. (At the time, the book’s sales were slumping and the series was being published bimonthly! I don’t know how long this lasted, but I’m sure the quality of issues like this one helped turn that around.)

The weakest point of the whole package is, surprisingly, the cover. It looks like Aparo to me, but the illustration is poorly composed and completely overwhelmed by a design that overemphasizes the logo and trade dress. Even so, with regular comics today about to reach en masse the $3.99 price mark, this comic was a tremendously entertaining bargain, even at the princely sum (in 1973) of 20 cents.

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