INTERVIEW: "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" Hunt Rebirth's Oracle
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jim Aparo, and the issue is The Brave and the Bold #98, which was published by DC and is cover dated October/November 1971. This scan is from the trade Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo volume 1, which was published in 2012. Enjoy!
As you might recall, the first comic book I ever bought with my own money featured Jim Aparo’s artwork, and while I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it, either. Soon after that I started buying Norm Breyfogle’s Detective, and the difference between that dynamic art and Aparo’s somewhat old-fashioned pencil work was astonishing. I kept buying Batman (he remains my favorite “superhero”) and looking at Aparo’s art, but I never warmed up to it. I bought back issues of Batman and the Outsiders and didn’t love his art. People kept writing about how good his art in the 1970s was, but I didn’t own those comics, did I? Recently, though, DC has begun collecting more of his 1970s work, and I’ve been getting it, and I do appreciate Aparo’s artwork a lot more. I still don’t think his late 1980s/early 1990s work is as good, but for this section of Year of the Artist, I want to track his work. Let’s begin in the early 1970s, in the year I was born! I don’t own any of Aparo’s 1960s work, and this issue is the oldest one of his I have access to. Aparo had been kicking around for several years before he began his long run on The Brave and the Bold, and he was already 39 when he drew this. But that’s what I have, so let’s check it out!
Bob Haney wrote most of Aparo’s B & B stories, so you know they’re going to be a bit nuts. In issue #98, Bats wanders up a driveway (where’s the Batmobile?) toward the spooky Gothic mansion where his friend Roger Birnam lives. He also happens to be the godfather of Enoch, Roger’s son, which is awfully weird, if you ask me. Birnam calls him his “oldest and best of friends,” but why would Batman be such good friends with him? Why not Bruce Wayne? It’s Bob Haney, fools – don’t ask questions! So Batman visits Roger Birnam’s deathbed:
There doesn’t seem to be a reason for the doctor to be named “Malthus” – there’s nothing about overpopulation in this issue. Maybe Haney just dug the name. And yes, Roger’s wife is named “Clorinda.” Yeesh. Anyway, this isn’t quite the Aparo Batman as he would evolve over the years – he’s a bit skinnier and his face isn’t quite as square as it would later become. He’s still a tough dude, though. Aparo does a nice job with the blocking in Panel 1, as Batman provides a frame for Roger, and Aparo’s coloring keeps our attention away from Bats and on Roger. Aparo is inking himself, which is part of why I think his art in the 1970s was so much better than in the later decades. He etches Roger’s face with blacks, making him look sickly and tragic. In Panel 3, Batman’s sad face matches Roger’s, which is pretty keen.
Here’s the “fabulous female,” Clorinda. Aparo, as I noted, wasn’t 40 years old yet, but the generation gap in 1971 was greater than it is today, so he might as well have been 60. Having grown up in the 1950s and 1960s, I imagine he considered this hairdo the height of beauty. Clorinda is gorgeous, make no mistake about it, and Aparo draws her with the right touch of tragedy so we don’t suspect her of anything. (Of course, we all know Pop Culture Rule #1 – never trust the woman! – but I think in 1971 it probably wasn’t as well-known a rule as it is today.) But if we consider that she has a very young son, I can’t believe she’s supposed to be more than 30 or 35 at the outside. She looks hopelessly unhip for being that young. She’s still pretty fabulous, though.
This is a tremendous page. Aparo, as I noted, colored this himself (well, at least I think he did; the credits don’t list any colorist), and he does a wonderful job with the stained glass. He implies the thickness of the glass, as Batman can’t see the scene clearly, but he also makes sure we know that Clorinda and Enoch are up to something weird. He uses much lighter inks for most of the scene so that it seems more dreamy, and cloaks everything in smoke so it’s more unclear. Tilting it makes it seem even more unreal, which is what, I assume, Aparo is going for. He also uses very wide gutters to separate the scene even more from reality (it’s a stained glass window, which is the ostensible reason for the wide gutters, but it’s still a nice touch). We can still see, however, the cruelty on Clorinda’s face, so that when she appears in Panel 3, it’s a jarring change. Batman hasn’t quite figured it out yet, but maybe he’s thinking about how fabulous Clorinda is. We know that Batman often thinks with Little Bruce, after all.
Aparo is a good artist for melodrama, because he’s fairly good at dramatic facial expressions, and the shift in Enoch’s expression here is quite well done. In Panel 1, he’s an innocent little boy, and in Panel 2, he’s an evil creature. Aparo shades his face in Panel 2 just in case we don’t get the implication. Come on, Bats – you should never trust a boy who wears a tie, shorts, and knee socks. I mean, really.
Because this is the early 1970s, Batman has stumbled upon a cult that worships Satan and Enoch, who we find out soon enough is “pure evil” (at least he’s not concentrated evil, because then Batman might turn into a hermit crab). They’re about to sacrifice Bats, but he ain’t having none of that, so he “battles against overwhelming odds” to get free. We see again in this panel how well Aparo inks a page. He blackens the heavy smoke but leaves enough so that it can be tinged with orange and red, and he roughs up the bad guy in the foreground so that his face reflects his inner badness. I imagine that the way Lucifer’s arms and legs bleed away into the yellow from which he rises is a modern recoloring, because I don’t believe that was available in the early 1970s. That’s what happens when you don’t have the original issues!
If you’re wondering who Batman teamed up with in this issue, here we see that it’s the Phantom Stranger, whose adventures Aparo drew before moving over to this title. He helps Batman escape the coven and the two of them return to stop the bad guys once and for all! Aparo, again, does a nice job with the melodrama – Enoch looks crazed in Panel 3, and notice how he changes Clorinda’s face just enough – raises her eyebrows, makes her mascara just a bit thicker – so that she’s still the beautiful woman from earlier, but now she’s hot AND evil. The way Aparo inks the page is nice, too. He shades Panel 2 so that it gets blacker as we get farther away from the candelabra, which sets up Panel 5. Panel 5 is nicely done, too, as Clorinda leads our eyes upward to Roger, her dead husband, who stands at the top of the stairs. Aparo’s understanding of how light works helps make this a spooky panel, as the stairs and banister are shaded just enough so that we know they’re there but they don’t intrude on the central image. As Clorinda moves to the left in Panel 6, Aparo lights the banister more so that we know where she’s going, and although she’s falling to the left, he is able to move our eye to the right because we follow the flow of her body to the Phantom Stranger, who leads us off the page to this:
Yeah, things don’t end well for Clorinda and Enoch. Not for the first time, the fact that the Comics Code wouldn’t allow to show a gruesome death like a woman and child falling and snapping their necks means we get a spookier drawing that lets us use our imaginations. Now get off my lawn!!!!
It turns out that Enoch had a “good” twin brother, who becomes Batman’s godson to replace the evil one who died. If Roger Jr. doesn’t show up in Scott Snyder’s Batman soon, I might have to punch him in the head. Come on, Snyder!!!!
So that’s Jim Aparo in 1971. Next time, we’ll move ahead a few years and see him do some more excellent artwork. Won’t that be fun? You know what else is fun? Checking out the archives!
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