Luke Cage History: From Hero for Hire to Hollywood
TV, Comic Books
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jim Aparo, and the story is “The Anguish of the Spectre” from Adventure Comics #432, which was published by DC and is cover dated March/April 1974. This scan is from the trade Wrath of the Spectre, which was published in 2005. Enjoy!
I had started to appreciate Aparo more through the 1990s and early 2000s, mainly because I had seen some (but not a lot) of his 1970s work and I had seen him inked by some very good inkers, so I knew he was talented. It’s only in the past few years, however, that I have begun to get large chunks of his 1970s work, beginning with this trade, which I got a few years ago. It’s very strong work from Aparo, and when I got it, I wondered about the paper stock. Aparo didn’t work long enough to see his pencils heavily digitally colored or printed on glossy paper, although some of it, naturally, was. But other artists who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s and still worked after the digital revolution and the paper stock revolution have seen their work suffer, and it’s too bad. This trade, unlike the Legends of the Dark Knight collection from yesterday, was printed on rougher paper, probably more like it was originally, and I think we can see how gritty Aparo’s work is, which makes it a perfect fit for the Spectre.
First we get a glorious splash page, with the text box at the top left balancing the Spectre on the top right. We read the spookily lettered title of the story, which leads us left to the Spectre, who curls downward to the bad guys, who cringe in fear. It’s a nice way to link all the elements of the page.
I must say, this story makes very little sense. It’s basically an excuse for the Spectre to kill bad guys in gruesome ways, but that’s okay, I guess. The story begins with those three black-clad bad guys sneaking onto an estate and planting a bomb in a swimming pool. Then we get this page, in which we discover that two of the baddies own a salon, and the third is a model. Yet on the previous two pages, they perform like a highly-trained SEAL team or something. Weird. Anyway, I like this page because of the way Aparo quickly builds tension in the middle row. We know the bomb is set to go off at 8.30, so the clock in the corner of each panel helps push us toward the deadly hour. The final panel is very nice, too, as Aparo’s rough art gives us a good impression of a brutal explosion, especially with the silhouette of the victim’s body being thrown in the air. Tilting the panel helps create a sense of chaos, too, which works well. It also helps move our eyes off the page to the next one.
Jim Corrigan investigates the murder, and is put onto the main suspect by the victim’s daughter, who, I should note, on the same day that her father was blown up, puts some serious moves on Corrigan while he’s interviewing her about the suspects. He rebuffs her, but he does go check out Maxwell Flood, the victim’s business partner. This is a nice sequence, as Aparo uses the panel borders to reveal his transformation into the “ghost of Adrian Sterling.” Aparo switches from heavy inks to light lines and shading as Corrigan becomes ethereal, and it works well. He also does a good job looping the point of view around, but making sure that the word balloon in the final panel (Aparo lettered this, as he often did in his career) leads us off the page even though Corrigan is going against the grain.
This is a 13-page story, so Michael Fleisher doesn’t have a lot of time to create a complicated tale, so of course Flood is the killer … or rather, he hired the three people to plant the bomb. Flood calls Eric, one of the bombers, who tells him to come over to the salon, where Eric decides to kill him. The Spectre is having none of it! This is, of course, what the Spectre is known for: horrifying and ironic deaths. Aparo’s heavy inks add some weight to the scene, making Eric’s death more terrifying than humorous, which, let’s face it, it could be. He’s getting cut to death by his own scissors, for crying out loud. But the terror on his face helps make it the slightest bit sad even though he know he deserves it. It’s well done by Aparo.
The second killer, Peter, turns to sand after he menaces Gwen, the victim’s daughter, and then we get this page, where Jim Corrigan tells her to forget him (she doesn’t; she shows up again in this series). Then he goes after Vera, the third killer. This is another horrifying fate, as Vera ages years in seconds and dies an old woman, and Aparo nails it. I love the almost pointillist work Aparo does on the Spectre when he becomes ghostly, as he doesn’t want anyone to see the Spectre. The stippling on Vera as the lights hit her in Panel 3 is wonderful, too – as we saw yesterday, Aparo in this early stage makes good use of shadows to highlight the lighting, and he does it here very well. Obviously, he inks more heavily as Vera ages, but it works nicely. The most horrifying panel is probably Panel 5, where Vera isn’t quite old yet. Aparo turns her monstrous, and her true nature is revealed. Then, of course, she dies. The Spectre doesn’t play games!
Aparo’s art is excellent on this story, and it’s one of those ones that people who were reading comics in the 1970s can point to when schmucks like me say they don’t like Aparo’s art. Before we leave, let’s review: In this story, two men who own a hair salon and a female model get dressed up like spies, sneak onto an estate, and plant a bomb to kill a businessman, whose business we never learn. They were hired by his partner, who was stealing from the company. The victim’s daughter tries to seduce the detective investigating her father’s death even before the coroner can take the body off the estate, and she keeps trying even after she finds out the object of her lust is, in fact, dead. The man who hired the three killers, mind you, doesn’t appear to be punished, nor does it appear that there’s any evidence of him stealing from the company. The Spectre, apparently, doesn’t care if you hire murderers, just if you actually commit the murders. Comics in the Seventies were awesome, man.
Tomorrow: Aparo in the 1980s! Will we see worse art, better art, or the same kind of art? We shall see!!!! You can also see stuff in the archives!
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