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Comic Book Alphabet of Cool – E

Today’s feature is about a creator who is one of the few (only?) writers to have classic runs on both the Avengers AND the Justice League.

Enjoy!

Steve Englehart

While he certainly had competition for the honor, Steve Englehart might be the most acclaimed comic writer working at DC and Marvel during the 1970s.

Englehart followed up a classic run on Captain America with Sal Buscema, which involved Cap giving up his identity (one of it, if not the first, heroes to be replaced by another character) and also fighting a group of bad guys headed up by none other than Richard Nixon, himself!

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Englehart followed his Cap run with a notable run on the Avengers, where he married off Scarlet Witch and the Vision and introduced his pet character, Mantis, to the book. His stories were clever and also sweeping in scope.

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He added Beast to the team (he had written the short run of the Beast as a solo character, after Gerry Conway made the Beast into his furry blue look) and, in a clever piece of meta-fiction that would not be out of place in an Alan Moore comic decades later, Englehart added Patsy Walker, Marvel’s answer to Archie during the 50s, to the Avengers as a superhero named Hellcat.

Englehart also did remarkable work with Doctor Strange during this time period, particularly the multi-part Sise-Neg storyline.

Englehart left Marvel for DC and did a notable run on the Justice League, also using a great deal of DC’s past history.

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He then did an extremely acclaimed run on Detective Comics with the late, great Marshall Rogers (and it is terribly tragic that I have to use the term “late” to describe him) and other artists (including a young Walt Simonson).

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Englehart did a number of independent works, like Coyote, as well as some acclaimed 80s comics, such as Green Lantern and West Coast Avengers.

He later created a number of Ultraverse characters, with the most prominent one being Night Man, who even had his own TV series at one point in the 90s.

So yeah, Steve Englehart – really great comic book writer.

I wish we could see more comic book work from him.

38 Comments

Yeah…..about time somebody stepped up and told everybody how great a writer Englehart is….before he all have to go over his incredible body of work after his death….which is the case more often than not!!!!

Englehart Avengers, Doctor Strange…..and even the early Silver Surfer stuff in the 80’s kicked much four colored…BUTT!

Don’t forget he’s also the guy that introduced the world to Shang-Chi….( in a monthly comic book series at least)

Met the man a few years ago…..he bleeds comic book history!!!!

Adding to his already impressive list of triumphs, Englehart also did nice work in the early issues of the Defenders title.

He truly is a giant, and everything he touched in the 70s turned to gold. I believe Stan Lee created the Marvel Style, Roy Thomas refined it, and Steve Englehart took it to the next stage.

(We probably shouldn’t mention his Fantastic Four and Millennium, though.)

He invented Shang-Chi. Only the supporting characters were from the Rohmer books.

As far as I’m concerned, “Silver Surfer” was his best work (if only because it was so much longer sustained that “Detective”).

I think he did a good job on Captain Marvel in the mid-70’s- he faced the unenviable task of following up Starlin’s run, and crafted a good-sized run of oddball cosmic adventure in his own style.

Random Stranger

March 28, 2008 at 11:41 pm

For me he did the definitive run on Dr. Strange. Strange is a tough character to get a grip on since his powers generally amount to “does whatever the writer needs him to do”. Shame he was run off the book after Clea had sex with a 70 year old (and identified as that age) Ben Franklin…

Englehart was one of the greats in the 70’s Marvel Universe – by coincidence I have just finished reading all of his runs on Doctor Strange, Captain America and The Avengers in the wonderful reissue Essentials series collections and his stories still captivate me as much as they did back then. Especially his Doctor Strange, always one of my favourite characters. I look forward to catching up with the Captain Marvel issues I don’t still own when that Essential comes out.

Englehart perfected a certain kind of third-person narrative voice in comics, that I believe can’t be duplicated in any other storytelling medium. He wasn’t the only one working on it, but he’s the one who zoomed off into the stratosphere with it…to call him the Raymond Chandler of comics would not be putting it too strongly. Except that by the time Coyote rolled around, Englehart was doing stuff Chandler never thought of, either.

He still stands alone, as far as his technique of Voice goes.

As I recall, Englehart introduced us to crazy Guy Gardner, and for that, I will always be grateful.

This one is a big Englehart fan. Though this one never liked Mantis.

Also, props to Steve for creating the definitive ‘modern’ homicidal Joker in the ’70s. Miller and Moore always get the credit for this (not that they ask for the credit), and while they took that ball and ran with it, the monster’s Dr. Frankenstein is Mr. Englehart.

There are a few writers and artists who have established themselves as the “definitive” creator on established creations- Claremont on X-Men, Miller on Daredevil, Layton on Iron Man, etc. What’s remarkable about Englehart, is that you can make the argument that he’s that guy for Batman, Captain America, JLA, Avengers, Dr. Strange, and Green Lantern. No small feat.

Haven’t read much of his eighties work, but I’m a huge fan of his Cap/Doc/Avengers trifecta.

I agree with Random Stranger that he’s THE Doctor Strange writer, and I’d call him THE Captain America writer as well.

And I really should read more of Coyote.

I think there were a few Cap writers that can give Englehart a run for his money as the “definitive” Cap writer. I’d say Brubacker, deMatteis, Gruenwald (first half of his run only), and perhaps Waid.

But Englehart wrote before all of those guys. So you can definitely say he was the first writer to elevate Cap to something great.

I’m of two minds on Englehart’s work. I think his Batman run is amazing but his Avengers work is awful (mostly, I’ll admit, I just can’t stand Mantis).

He wrote Green Lantern Corps, which was a lot of fun, but he also wrote some of the worst Fantastic Four issues ever (Fasaad? Seriously?)

Great writer when he’s good, but he’s not always good.

Actually, looking at what I’ve just typed, maybe he should stick with DC.

This one enjoyed Englehart’s Avengers and Captain America runs.

This one also likes Mantis. Come on… she’s the Celestial Madonna! You can’t get a bigger Mary Sue than that.

I thought Englehart/Buscema/Pollard/Sinnott did a terrific job on FF — one of my favourite FF runs ever. Yes, even counting Fasaud. Until they started screwing with Steve…but then even that produced some fun. The Harkness/Buckler run is so full of amazing, savage snark at Marvel that I’d really call it a must-read, actually.

And MarkAndrew, remember there’s Englehart/Ditko Djinn comics in the back of some of those Coyotes, too! Now that’s a must-read…

Roger Stern……don’t forget his incredible but much too breif run on Cap when reciting other greats like Englehart and company.

Rene
I think there were a few Cap writers that can give Englehart a run for his money as the “definitive” Cap writer. I’d say Brubacker, deMatteis, Gruenwald (first half of his run only), and perhaps Waid.

But Englehart wrote before all of those guys. So you can definitely say he was the first writer to elevate Cap to something great.

I think Cap has had the most quality writing of any of the major superheroes, the lucky guy.

Well, first after Steranko, I’d say. And I’d rate most of the Stan Lee issues as good, but not great.

And you could probably make a case for Roger Stern or Jack Kirby (with nods to Simon and Lee) as THE definitive writer, too.

But, like you said, Engelhart WAS first. At least the first guy to write Cap as a thinking, feeling human trying to live up to the ideals of the spirit of the country. And the first to give us a “Captain America quits” and “Captain America gets replaced” story, which have been the basis for a lot of great future stuff.

Anthony Strand
Actually, looking at what I’ve just typed, maybe he should stick with DC.

Wow. I am completely on the other side. I’ve never read GLC or past his first Fantastic Four issue…

But I’d rate his Avengers run as the most imaginative and thoughtful ever (if not actually the best, mostly due to the constant artist switch) and the rest of his major 70s output at least as highly.

Likewise, his JLA and Batman stuff never did much for me. Although Burgas’ piece a while back upped my appreciation for the latter.

And, OK, “Night of the Stalker” might be the best Batman story ever. But other than that, not my bag so much.

plok
And MarkAndrew, remember there’s Englehart/Ditko Djinn comics in the back of some of those Coyotes, too! Now that’s a must-read…

Oh shit! Engelhart/Ditko? I didn’t even know that existed! Ok. Coyote just went to the top of my want list.

Hey, Mark.

Steranko was amazing too, but I think his work was too brief. And count me as another one who wish Stern/Byrne had lasted a little longer too.

The only other major superhero to have so many good runs would be Daredevil, IMO. Even Bendis was good on DD, though he is a bad fit for the Avengers.

I liked Mantis in her original appearances. Englehart was very much in tune with the 1970s, because Mantis embodied everything that was that decade in comics: feminism, martial arts, cosmic storylines, Vietnam, ethinic heroes.

I do think he should have left Mantis alone, though, instead of bringing her back endlessly.

I hate Englehart’s Fantastic Four run, though. Fasaud, She-Thing, Secret Wars III, that endless travelogue in the Mole Man’s tunnels. God.

Oh, it’s pretty darn good, lemme tellya…

The fruits of creator ownership!

Uh, that was about The Djinn…

Although I’ll just say it again, I thought Englehart’s FF was a breath of fresh air.

Englehart’s WCA run came in at number 11 on my top 10 runs list. I liked his Avengers and Cap runs a lot too. Both he and Roger Stern are two guys that wrote the majority of my favorite comics growing up, but I didn’t really know who they were until the last 5 years or so. Who would have guessed my favorite Batman/Joker story was written by the guy that did Lost in Space-Time?

Engelhart’s recent JLA Classified arc was 100% crap. Mischaracterized characters with poorly understood powers and origins in service of an extremely weak, almost laughably so, plot.

By which I mean: what’s your point? That’s he’s overrated, or something?

I disagree.

Rene
Hey, Mark.

Steranko was amazing too, but I think his work was too brief. And count me as another one who wish Stern/Byrne had lasted a little longer too.

The only other major superhero to have so many good runs would be Daredevil, IMO. Even Bendis was good on DD, though he is a bad fit for the Avengers.

Yeah, Daredevil’s gotta be right up there. His best runs (Born Again, Man Without Fear, Devil in Cell Block D) were better than Cap’s best runs, and I’ve never read any Daredevil as flat-out awful as the Ney Reiber Cap. (And I like Daredevil a skosh more.)

But on my purely subjective scale: Daredevil had a lot of very good runs. Cap had a lot of great or nearly great runs, and beats out Daredevil, overall.

But I missed pretty much all of ’88-95, so that might throw my calculations off.

acespot
Engelhart’s recent JLA Classified arc was 100% crap. Mischaracterized characters with poorly understood powers and origins in service of an extremely weak, almost laughably so, plot.

Agreed, but for a JLA Detroit story it was above-average.

And he wrote possibly the worst company-wide crossover of all time as well.

Doesn’t de-value, or even come close to canceling out his best stuff.

And hey… Anyone got an opinion on Engelhart’s Malibu work? I keep seeing it for cheap, and I’m wondering if it’s more Coyote or Millennium, qualily-wise.

Englehart’s West Coast Avenger stuff was pretty good…I’ve got it all and my favorite stuff centers around the lost in space/time story line and the after math involving Hawkeye and Mockingbird.

Talked to Steve a few years ago and he was telling me that he had always planned to get Clint and Bobbi back together before he left the book…but things happened and he just didn’t get a chance to finish off the way he wanted. John Byrne started his run shortly afterward and a lot of people forget Steve’s run that came before…Byrne’s run is the run most people remember about that series…then Steve’s and Roy Thomas.

Steve also mentioned that once Roy Thomas killed Mockingbird off that he wanted to do a mini-series where Hawkeye would enlist the aid of Doctor Strange to rescue Mockingbird’s soul from Hell (it shouldn’t be there because Bobbi was a hero and died performing a heroic act to save her husband so Mephisto is keeping her soul in Hell for reasons all his own…..because he secretly pined over the fact that Hawkeye and Mockingbird had the perfect marriage and thought if he broke them up he would get extra evil points or something like that.)

Anyway….that story got shelved for some reason (would have of loved to have seen it)….but Steve did manage to save a few of those story ideas and used them in his Hellcat mini-series where it was hinted the Mockingbird had refused an earlier attempt at a rescue….(perhaps a refernce to the 2000 Thunderbolts Annual) becuase she had been contacted by the S.H.E.I.L.D. E.S.P. unit and was now working on a convert mission for Fury in Hell….interesting but never came about.

(all this from an interview with Steve at Mid-Ohio Con 2005)

I also just wanted to add that the Englehart/Rogers/Austin reunion on the Dark Detective limited series a few years back was AWESOME !! I think it’s my all-time favorite Joker story…..the part when he’s on fire and he stops to look at himself in the mirror as he burned was priceless as was the way Bruce and Silver ST.Cloud’s relationship ended for the second time. If you haven’t read this yet…you need to check it out. Regretably I think it was Marshall Rogers last work.

The only take on Hal I ever liked was Englehart’s.

I also like his Defenders work more than what came after him, weirdly enough.

And I think his Silver Surfer run was great.

In certain ways, Mantis really was a pretty blatant pet character. I mean, in her very first appearance, she defeats both Captain America and Thor? Riiiiiight!

But after that, she started to become more intriguing, once Englehart started to delve into her mysterious origins. By the time he got up to the material that’s reprinted in the Celestial Madonna trade paperback, he was going full steam ahead, and Mantis became a really interesting character who was involved in some very cool stories that explored the history of the Marvel universe.

If the Mantis stories in the 1980s were mediocre, I think at least part of the blame lies with the editorial assistance Englehart had to deal with. At least several years back he was given that eight issue Celestial Quest miniseries to bring some closure to Mantis’ story. It wasn’t as good as his earlier stuff, but I still enjoyed it, and it gave some much needed closure to the whole character arc that Englehart had begun so many years before.

Not everything Englehart has written has been great…. but he has definitely written some great stories.

Yay, Englehart love! Mr. Englehart, thank you for:

“The Laughing Fish” – STILL the best Joker story ever.

Your JLA run.

The perfect comics metaphor for Watergate.

The Beast in the Avengers.

Bringing back the Squadron Supreme.

Shang Chi – what a cool concept.

The irreverence that set the West Coast Avengers (the “Whackos”) apart.

The first Detective Comics run – The Wayne Foundation Batcave, Chief O’Hara’s cameo, Dr. Phosphorus, Boss Thorne, Silver St. Cloud, reviving & revamping Prof. Hugo Strange & Deadshot, and SO much more. If anyone here hasn’t read these — BUY THESE COMICS!

Guy Gardner – a great twist on the concept of a fearless Green Lantern & another wonderful example of Englehart building on the past.

The Carol Ferris/Star Sapphire history.

My favorite Hal Jordan moment ever – Star Sapphire throws him to the earth without a parachute. Hal never screams or panics. Instead he just keeps his cool and calmly looks for a solution to his problem. Truly a Man Without Fear.

“And hey… Anyone got an opinion on Engelhart’s Malibu work? I keep seeing it for cheap, and I’m wondering if it’s more Coyote or Millennium, qualily-wise.”

Somewhere in the middle, I’d say; definitely better than Millennium, but not earth-shattering. (As with many Ultraverse series, there’s also the problem of plotlines not getting to resolve properly due to the Marvel buyout.) I’d say it’s worth sampling, at least. If you try Strangers, try to get a complete run (or at least single issues from the first year only) so you can read it in order, because there’s a mystery that resolves over several issues and culminates in the first Giant-Sized issue, and it works better if you don’t hop around due to buying whatever issues you can find in the quarter box as I did.

Loved Coyote, which I bought because of Steve Engelhart’s DC work, which I truly enjoyed.

Also, props to Steve for creating the definitive ‘modern’ homicidal Joker in the ’70s. Miller and Moore always get the credit for this (not that they ask for the credit), and while they took that ball and ran with it, the monster’s Dr. Frankenstein is Mr. Englehart.

Technically, the ‘modern’ homicidal Joker was created by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams (or re-created, from the original by Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson). But the completely-bug-guano-crazy homicidal Joker was all Englehart.

And for me Englehart is still the guy who wrote my favourite version of Batman, ever. And I think it’s actually by fluke as much as anything: Englehart decided to move to Europe and, to get all his writing for Detective in on time before leaving switched from writing “Marvel style” (plot, get artwork, write scripts based on artwork) to writing full script not even knowing who would draw them. (Marshall Rogers got them and the rest is history.)

And I think that’s what makes it work: everything is written with such nuance (the characterization is sublime) and the dialogue and narration is so tight. I read the two Simonson issues of Detective (written Marvel style) and it’s not there– it’s more seat-of-your-pants, slapdash. But those six issues after that are just magic in terms of the writing– and that’s before Rogers got his pencil and created such gorgeous artwork to go along with it!

That Justice League cover is SO 1970’s DC. Who, while watching friends get shot would say, “Our JLA pals…”??

I prefer his West Coast Avengers work, to be honest. I’m mixed about his Avengers. Some good stuff there, and I liked how he brought the Beast in…but too much emphasis on his beloved Mantis. She was ok in small doses, but I got tired of all her ‘This one…” talk and her catfights with the Scarlet Witch over the Vision. There were times where I felt the title should’ve been changed to ‘Mantis & the Avengers’. And he really overdid it by shoehorning her into too many other titles. That’s what supposedly lead to him leaving/being let go from WCA – he wanted to bring in Mantis, but the then editor at the time HATED the character…so there you go.

“because he secretly pined over the fact that Hawkeye and Mockingbird had the perfect marriage and thought if he broke them up he would get extra evil points or something like that”

Did he share this idea with JQ and JMS? ;)

I’m glad to finaly learn that I’m not the only who thinks Englehart is one of the greatest writers ever! Why doesn’t he get more credit?
I haven’t read all that much of his seventies stuff. Most of the prices are a bit out of my range. (I only buy really cheap books, and the local comic book store doesn’t even have a bargain section. They have limited shelf-space and usually only sell fine or better books.) But his eighties Marvel stuff is great. That’s the only Silver Surfer stuff I ever liked, his West Coast Avengers is the best of all of them, and his Fantastic Four had it’s weak spots but was still pretty good when he wasn’t too rushed or interfered with (as during Inferno). And the Harkness stuff is pretty cool when he attacks the bosses at Marvel. Vision & the Scarlet Wtich was too juvenile and episodic overall, but still had some good ideas.
And this one feels Mantis is perhaps the greatest character ever, and certainly one of the most unique.

Did someone say Englehart did a Hellcat mini-series? When was that? The only one I ever heard of was the recent one by Kathryn Immonen (which started out weak, but got really good in the last two issues).

Englehart did a Hellcat mini-series in the early 2000s, with art by Norm Breyfogle.

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