"Rowdy" Roddy Piper Reported Dead at 61
Without further ado (except the usual archive link), I present to you one of my favorite creators, a brilliant writer/artist of titanic talent, and possessor of the world’s greatest signature.
205. Walter Simonson
Walt Simonson, he of the dinosaur signature and the unending sound effects, has written and drawn some of the finest comics to ever grace my eyes. His art style might not be for everyone, but it’s for me– the raw power his art portrays punches its way off of the page to hit you right in the eyeballs. His writing style might not be for everyone, either– but he’s got the ability to tell these sprawling epics that evoke the mythic tales of old. He’s also the only worthy successor to Jack Kirby on the Fourth World, and one of the few creators with enough artistic presence to rival the explosive strength of Kirby’s drawings. Face it. “Uncle Walt” is mighty and fantastic.
His breakthrough work was on Manhunter, at DC, with Archie Goodwin. Sadly, I am a bad fan, because I have yet to track it down, but I know it is good, so you should buy it anyway.
The most popular thing he ever did, however, was his run on Thor, which I talked about yesterday. It’s the definitive Thor run, bringing the character back to his mythological roots whilst telling a massive story that continues throughout all forty-some issues of the run, from the abandonment of Don Blake and the excellent introduction of Beta Ray Bill to the evil of Malekith, the oncoming doom of Surtur, the plans of Hela, the death of Odin, the redemption of Skurge, the beard of Thor, the lovely characterization of Balder and Volstagg, the Frog of Thunder, the machinations of Loki, the fury of the Midgard Serpent, and the invasion of the Frost Giants. I’ve left a ton out– it’s a big series which keeps raising the stakes and getting bigger and bigger until every issue is rocking you to the core. I managed to get the whole run on eBay for an incredibly affordable price. A great deal of it is in trade, but they’re out-of-print. If you haven’t read it, seek it out. It’s the thrill of the hunt at its finest. Here, have more Thor love from Dave Campbell and Chris Sims. They know good comics.
He collaborated with his wife Louise on a nice X-Factor run during Marvel’s ’80s heyday as well. I’ve got a few issues of it, and it’s really fun, with Walt bringing the same energy and verve to his artwork as he did in Thor.
Then there was Fantastic Four, in which Walt gave us the best run since Lee and Kirby. Yeah, yeah, Byrne, whatever. Pffh. This was Simonson, baby! It starts with Reed Richards deftly destroying any hope of a Superhero Registration Act passing (ahh, if only…) and quickly broke into a crazed time travel extravaganza, where they saved the universe from Galactus and the Celestials, battled the greatest menace of all time (an evil Disney-built Robo-Stalin-mech from a parallel world, of course) in one of the best issues of FF ever, faced off against dinosaurs, and rematched with Dr. Doom, who was returned to his mighty badass status. It’s here, in #352, that Simonson shows us his genius again, and has an issue with a completely nonlinear subplot that involves a Reed/Doom battle where they hop through time (and through the comic’s pages) whilst a linear narrative is occurring at the same time. Oh, and his run also included the new Fantastic Four (Spidey, Hulk, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider!) and some more goodness. It was a short, but ridiculously fun run, filled with Walt’s usual whimsy and over-the-top sense of scale. If you don’t believe that it was awesome, then listen to Chris Sims, already. And read Greg Burgas’ Comics You Should Own piece on the new Fantastic Four.
The third and final great run Mr. Simonson produced was his work on Orion #1-25, from DC. He truly lives up to Kirby here, which is a monumental feat. It’s also one of my top five favorite comics ever made. When I had stopped buying comics for a while, I was still getting Orion, because it was so damn good. Walt kept me believing in the medium. Hurray!
Anyway, the story involved Orion finally fighting Darkseid to the death. He wins, becomes ruler of Apokalips, and systematically takes the place apart, ending with his defeat of Desaad, through which he is gifted with the one thing his father always wanted– the Anti-Life Equation. It leads him down a dark path, however, and he enslaves a good portion of the universe, against his own wishes. Darkseid turns out not to be dead, though, and it is Orion that the Black Racer comes for at last– but Orion manages to survive by a hair’s breadth, and finally purges the Anti-Life Equation by bestowing it upon the evil anti-Source, aptly named the Ecruos– thereby destroying it. He’s semi-redeemed, but must still meet the Green Lantern of Apokolips, the Jokerized version of one of the Deep Six. It is a human being named Arnicus Wolfram that finally brings him down, tortures him, and holds him captive, however. Orion breaks free, and, of course, has his revenge, in a magnificent sequence that proves Orion is the New God of War– and also has a moment that may out-Kirby Kirby. There was only one issue left after that, unfortunately, but it’s a great one involving Mister Miracle. This run is filled with new and interesting additions to the Fourth World mythos like Mortalla and Father Boxes and Orion’s hound Sirius and a lot more. It’s the story of the rise and fall, the corruption and redemption, of Red Orion, and it’s one of the best comics ever produced. There’s only one trade, and it’s probably out of print. Remember the thrill of the hunt? Live up to the memory of Orion the Hunter, and track down those back issues. You won’t regret it.
Walter Simonson has written and drawn some of the greatest comics of all time, and I offer my infinite thanks to him. His larger-than-life, rock-and-roll style of writing and drawing has kept me entertained for years, as he’s made some of the best comics ever. In fact, no– he doesn’t make comics; he makes experiences. The power and energy and strength he brings to all his projects has served him well, and I’m always following him to his next work, awaiting a new masterpiece. When he’s on, he’s on, and my brain explodes with wonder. He can be huge and dramatic and serious, and he can be wacky, wry, and just plain fun. I think I’ve hit the peak of my enthusiasm levels here with discussing his work, but dammit, it’s great stuff. He can dust off a concept and make it shine like new. He can play in the sandbox, but he also brings his own sand with him. He’s… wait for it… awesome!, in every sense of the word.
He’s also immensely gracious to his fans, contributing to the Thor and New Gods message boards on Comicboards, as well as a few other forums, and that’s great to see. He’ll be seen next writing a World of Warcraft comic for DC. I never played the games, but I’m interested in the comic based on Walt’s name alone. Because in my book, the name “Walter Simonson” means I have to read it.
(Also, there’s only one letterer for Simonson’s work, and that’s John Workman. Trust me, we’ll be seeing him one of these days.)
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