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Year of the Artist, Day 21: Jim Aparo, Part 1 – The Brave and the Bold #98

11-09-2013 02;45;09PM (2)

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:

11-09-2013 02;38;14PM

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.

11-09-2013 02;39;38PM

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.

11-09-2013 02;41;17PM

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.

11-09-2013 02;43;13PM

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.

11-09-2013 02;45;09PM

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!

11-09-2013 02;47;16PM

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:

11-09-2013 02;49;03PM

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!

29 Comments

tom fitzpatrick

January 21, 2014 at 2:20 pm

I remember Jim Aparo best on his BATMAN and the OUTSIDERS, and The OUTSIDERS (deluxe series).

APARO! I am officially excited. I love that guy. I don’t think of him as someone who changed a whole lot, but I guess we’ll see!

tom: I’ll get to that! :)

buttler: He really didn’t change too much, except with inking, whether it was him doing the inking or someone else inking him. That’s kind of what I’ll be tracking, even though I’ll note some of his drawing style changes as we go along.

The best Batman artist.

Yeah, ditto the Aparo love. That’s MY Batman!

I can’t remember where I read this now, but I read that Aparo was brought in to do this issue specifically because he was the popular artist of the Phantom Stranger series. However, the editor and Haney were so impressed with his work that Aparo was made the regular artist of B&TB with issue #100, and the rest is history…

I love Aparo’s Batman. I became a hard core collector during the
time he and Norm Breyfogle were the Batman artists. Ten nights
of the Beast, A Death in the Family and The Mud pack arc with Breyfogle on art. Great stuff. Mud pack and The KGBeast arcs need to
be reprinted in some trades. There was also a sequel to the KGBeast story with this villain named the Demon which would be cool to include a KGBEAST trade paperback.

Despite the fact they’re frequently insane and liable to give a continuity pedant a heart attack, I’ll say Haney/Aparo B&B is flat-out one of the most enjoyable comics you can read.

On colouring, no credits were given to ANYONE (with rare exceptions?) up to the early 70s. I know Aparo pencilled, inked & lettered at the time, but I wasn’t sure about colouring. His best work was when he did as much as possible in the artistic process, not just pencils.

By the late 80s he was the equivalent of, I dunno, Al Milgrom. Dependable, solid storytelling but not flashy or necessarily exciting art. Maybe DC should have taken a gamble and paired him with a flashier/experimental inker?

It’s too bad a talent like Aparo had to draw for Haney.

@ Greg Burgas
Like you I was not a huge fan of 80s Aparo. I will wait until you get there but he had some stock Batman shots that had some bad anatomy and perspective.

His 70s stuff however was perfect. He had the rendering power of Neil Adams with enough exaggeration to get Kirby and Buscema like dynamism. His work looks especially good on newsprint, I think.

Pete: I did check for a colorist, and I know they weren’t often credited, and now I can’t remember if I definitely know Aparo colored this or not – I’m a bit wishy-washy in the actual post, and I apologize for that (I should edit it, but I won’t).

kdu2814: It’s been a couple of months since I wrote these; I know I wrote about the inking, but I don’t think the comics I chose had too terrible anatomical stuff going on. I do agree that some of his action scenes in the late 1980s/early 1990s seemed a bit stiffer than his earlier work, though. I don’t know if he was just getting old.

Hey Greg. Been a long while since I visited Comics Should Be Good, but you’ve officially lured me back to regular reading with this series. Loved the Seth Fisher posts in particular, and I’m looking forward to your Aparo stuff. Might you, perchance, have Dick Dillin on your list? With nearly a full year to go, I can hope.

Aparo is god…

I never noticed the similarity in Breyfogle’s work to Aparo until just now.

I so prefer that type of Batman to the hulking bodybuilder monstrosity we have today. He actually looks like the type of person who could do acrobatics.

Rebis: I hate to disappoint you, but with the combination of me not buying a lot of back issues from before the mid-1980s and DC’s weird refusal to plunder their back catalog for trade paperback material, I can say with about 99% certainty that I do not own one issue that Dick Dillin drew. I could be wrong, but if I do own one, it’s probably by accident and not because I went out and looked for it. So I probably won’t do Dillin, but if I have some extra money this year and I feel like back issue searching, I’ll keep him in mind. Sorry!

T.: But current Batman is so X-TREEEEEEMMMMM!!!!! :)

I never noticed the similarity in Breyfogle’s work to Aparo until just now.

So funny, this entry had me thinking the EXACT same thing. Back in the late 80s and early 90s when they were both on Batman comics at the same time their styles seemed so different, but in this entry I can totally see the similarities.

@T. and Greg

Umm, really? I think the only current guy who draws Batman ridiculously buff right now that I know of is Jason Fabok, and I like his artwork; he’s sorta like a much better David Finch with hints of Ethan Van Sciver. Plus, no matter how reminiscent of the 90s his style may be, he’s been the guy putting Batman in all of those fun specialty costumes in Detective (y’know, like old school Dick Sprang Batman). Capullo’s Batman might be kinda buff, but I think that comes from the JR Jr influence (and the book looks good, so I won’t fault him). In JL, Reis’ version of him has been pretty lithe, and I’ll have to see the first issue of Manapaul’s Detective before I come up with an opinion on him.

I get it’s in vogue to trash everything Nu52 and say it’s the 90s all over again (I’d say those claims are quite a bit exaggerated by bitter fanboys…), but for the most part, DC has gotten Batman right. Detective and Batman have both been really good (Batman from the beginning, Detective since Layman took over), plus Detective’s new creative team looks like they’ll be awesome. Nightwing and Batgirl have, at the worst of times, been no worse than mediocre. Red Hood and the Outlaws did have a rocky start, but I’d say most of the problems people had with the book when it started out are gone now, and Tynion is doing a solid job right now. Dark Knight has been kinda superfluous but decent under Hurwitz. I’ll admit the books could be better, but they could be a hell of a lot worse.

Saul: Knowing T. a little bit, I think he’s talking about the characterization of Batman for the past 20-25 years or so rather than the one we have right at this moment. At any moment you can point out a Batman that an artist draws a bit less muscular, but the general trend of Bats over the past few decades has been toward more bulkiness. T. can chime in if he wants, but I think that’s what he’s talking about.

@ Greg

Well, I can agree that there is a bit of a trend of him getting bigger over the past decade (I blame Jim Lee), but I’d still say there’s just as many guys who draw him pretty lithe. Even into the late-90s, I’d say he wasn’t all that much bigger, if it all (which may have something to do with the fact that solid draftsmen like Aparo, Breyfogle, Nolan, and Manley were drawing the two core books from the late 80s into the late 90s; Kelley Jones’ rendition was just wonderfully weird more than buff). After No Man’s Land, I’d still say Batman didn’t get buffer… until Hush, when Jim Lee started the trend of making Batman near-DKR levels of big (and guys like Mahnke and Kubert followed in this vein on the books).

But once the New 52 started, I’d say David Finch on DK and Jim Lee on JL were the only people drawing him all jacked out, and then Chris Burnham once DC relaunched Batman, Inc. Tony Daniels’ Batman seemed a bit more streamlined and lithe than those guys (at least to me), and while Capullo’s does look a little bulky,that’s really just the quirk of his style – nearly everyone he draws looks not so much bulky, but solid (it’s like a mix between Miller, BtAS, and JR Jr, and I love it).

I guess what I’m saying is that while Batman, in some books, has gotten kinda bulky, there are still artists out there providing a slimmer alternative.

Finch’s Batman has limbs like tree stumps, but that’s just how Finch draws heroes.

Umm, really? I think the only current guy who draws Batman ridiculously buff right now that I know of is Jason Fabok,

David Finch Batman:

http://imgs.abduzeedo.com/files/articles/david_finch/13.jpeg

http://www.firstcomicsnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Batman_Sketch_-Finch_Comic_Expo_2007_-V2-615×836.jpg

Jim Lee Batman:

http://comicartcommunity.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/12-Lee-Batman.jpg

Tony Daniel Batman:

http://geek-news.mtv.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/tumblr_lr2dibaok21qao7jyo1_500.jpg

Greg Capullo Batman:

http://geekdraw.com/img/2012/02/greg-capullo-batman4-pg17-pencils-dec2011.jpg

Ed McGuinness Batman:

http://comicartcommunity.com/gallery/data/media/131/Batman__Superman.jpg

All considerably huger than a Jim Aparo, Neal Adams, or Norm Breyfogle Batman. Modern Batman looks like he could barely do a somersault.

Aparo is one of the definitive Batman artists, no doubt about it. I, too, first came across his art when I was a kid in the late ’80s, and wasn’t particularly impressed by it. A few years later I started getting reprints from the l;ate ’60s and the ’70s, and as this post shows, that’s where his art really shines. His stuff from the mid-’80s forward was still good, but nowhere near on the same level as the work he did at his peak. His Batman, Phantom Stranger, and Spectre work are towering achievements that really don’t get the love they deserve.

As far as his later work goes, I found it looked its best the few times he was inked by Sienkiewicz. It was an odd pairing that made for some very interesting visuals.

I first came across Aparo in Knightfall, when I started reading Batman more regularly. My only problem with his Knightfall work is that Lt. Kitch and Jean-Paul Valley are identical. Other than that, it’s great art.

@ T.
McGuinness hasn’t drawn Batman since like 2004 (and even then, it was like 12 issues of Batman/Superman).

Tony Daniel hasn’t drawn him in over a year, and I still say that, for the most part, his New 52 Batman was slimmed down a bit from pre-New 52

And Capullo’s Batman just looks good…. Not sure what else to say about him.

I’d agree that for a while in the mid-to-late-2000s Batman got kinda bulky, and some of that has lingered, but for the most part no one is currently drawing him any bigger than Aparo did except Fabok maybe Capullo (but as I said, everyone he draws looks a bit bulkier, yet at the same time doesn’t have the ridiculous rippling muscles, while guys like Jim Lee have shown they can draw a variety of body types and continue to make Batman jacked anyways). But to counterpoint that, these are both guys who have solid storytelling skills and badass looking versions of Batman, so I’m ok with this.

Also, Finch hasn’t drawn Batman in over a year as well (and minor appearances in Forever Evil don’t count).

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How many of Bruce Wayne’s best friends from childhood have we met so far? Five? Ten? Twenty?

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