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CSBG Archive

Year of the Artist, Day 22: Jim Aparo, Part 2 – Adventure Comics #432

11-09-2013 04;17;18PM (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 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.

11-09-2013 04;09;58PM

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.

11-09-2013 04;12;03PM

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.

11-09-2013 04;14;01PM

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.

11-09-2013 04;17;18PM

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.

11-09-2013 04;19;03PM

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!

20 Comments

Jim Aparo was the first comic book artist that I really took notice of, and I went out of my way to buy books that had his covers or interior art. The comic you mention above, is one of the few that I still remember owning before Mom threw out all my comics. I loved how Aparo drew Batman and Commissioner Gordon, as well as his Spectre and Jim Corrigan. Thank you for featuring this comic, it brings back great memories!

The story credits list “ART CONTINUITY” ahead of the actual artwork itself. I’ve never heard of such a credit. Anyone know what it means?

The Spectre might be the most underutilized character in comics. Such and awesome concept and not much is done with it. Aparo was easily one of the best to ever draw the character.

I read this issue as a kid. It horrified me! That scene with the scissors stuck with me long after I couldn’t remember what the issue was about. Talk about unsuitable for kids… well, at least for this kid. :)

The storytelling skill is undeniable and the expressions really sell the action. As you say, it’s a slim tale with not much to it, but the art makes it work.

I’m very interested to see what you’ll have to say about Mr. Aparo’s later work.

Kon Krypton: No problem!

Rockgolf: In the introduction to the trade, we learn that Fleisher didn’t know how to write comics, as his experience had been in prose. So he and Carley would plot the story and then Carley would break it down into panels, and the Fleisher would write the script. Today I guess Carley would be credited with layouts, but the intro doesn’t say how closely Aparo followed those layouts – maybe Fleisher converted it into a script and then let Aparo lay it out however he liked. The introduction doesn’t get into what happened once it left Fleisher. But that’s what “art continuity” means!

Anonymous: Well, the Ostrander/Mandrake run is superb, so while he hasn’t been used too often over the years, he did get one long run that’s really excellent.

Derek: WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!!!

Yeah, but the Ostrander run is just one run. Not much for a character that’s been around nearly as long as Batman.

The local library has this trade in the kids’ section, an aisle over from the Dr. Seuss books. I’ve mentioned to them several times that it really should be with the separate graphic novel section upstairs, but nothing ever comes of it.

Anyway, this is a trade I liked quite a lot, but I gave it away when the Spectre “Showcase Presents” collection came out a couple of years ago. Aparo’s art looks even better in black & white!

I loved this series. The stories were trifles, but the art was fantastic.

One thing I always remember from this series: there was a reporter character who was always on The Spectre’s trail. Aparo drew him to look an awful lot like Clark Kent. In one issue, he’s talking to a couple of cops. They jokingly call him Clark Kent, then one asks, “Hey, Clark Kent. Is it true you’re Superman?”

WTF??!!??!!??

Speaking of cops, Aparo drew the best uniforms. Cops, soldiers, astronauts, he nailed them all.

He also drew fantastic cars and airplanes. Just outstanding.

He was definitely better in the 70s, but even his “bad” artwork, like his Knightfall issues, where I first discovereed and fell in love with his pencils, was better than a lot of guys working at the time. Aparo is still my second favorite Batman artist, right behind Breyfogle.

I remember one old story where the Spectre follows a bunch of gangsters back to their hideout, then turns one of them into wood and throws him into a bank of mill saws, then freezes a few others of them into a pile of ice. Good wholesome entertainment! With a cool Aquaman story in front of it.

I never liked the later version of him as some giant cosmic guardian like a second-hand Starlin character, he’s much more fun as the spookiest badass out there. Best not to over-explain him.

I think the Spectre is underused because it’s pretty hard to reconcile him with the rest of the DCU. Why isn’t he taking care of the Joker and Luthor? Why isn’t he using his pretty much unlimited powers to take care of this cosmic hogwash that’s going to destroy the world today? They try to handwave it as some mysterious rules he has to follow but it comes across as weak. The Spectre should be on his own. I guess what I’m saying is, a Spectre Vertigo series pretty please?

BeccaDannysWife

January 23, 2014 at 8:23 am

A couple of years back, when DC was making quality animated features instead of junk like The Flashpoint Paradox and War, they included shorts with their main features. I remember seeing the Spectre one, which happened to be this story, before one of them — I want to say it was Crisis on Two Earths, but I’m not 100% sure.

What I remember is that the animation had an almost nihilistic, noir styling that apparently wasn’t part of the original tale here — a lot of dark action under a pitiless California sun. Might be one time animation served a story better than the comic?

And, no, I do not want to relive the conversation I had with my niece and nephew regarding some of the things the Spectre did.

Thanks for the Spectre spot light. I remember when the Wrath of the Spectre mini reprinted this run, plus the never before published conclusion. I only got the last issue and then began buying the originals, getting my first on in VF-NM for fifty cents.

I agree that Aparo looks better on newsprint type paper, which leads me to two slight tangents, one of which might interest readers here…

First I am one of the people who think that catering to collectors and/or copying magazines by using better paper is a bit of a mistake. I am sure a cheaper acid free newsprint is available, and could make regular issues more affordable. Cheaper paper additions would be a better gimmick than alternate covers I think. If applied to a whole (or most of a) line suddenly it would be a great way to undercut the competition.

This led to my second tangent, where I though Dark Horses’s black and white Creepy and Eerie would look better on pulpier paper. Some of you might be interested to know the most recent issue of Eerie (#4) has a story by Kelly Jones and one by Norm Breyfogle.

kdu2814: Thanks for the information about Eerie #4. I didn’t see that at my shop; I’ll have to take a look at it if I can find it.

The paper thing has bugged me for a long time, because it’s a shame to see some artists whose work doesn’t look as good on nicer stock but who can’t adapt or don’t want to. Similarly, I see some artists whose work does transition well, and some whose work would look awful on “worse” paper stock, and it’s interesting to note the differences. I also don’t think companies think about the paper as much as they should and don’t try to figure out what works best for the different kinds of paper. I’ve written about this for the past few years with regard to reprinting digital stuff on paper – occasionally the coloring on a digital comic is brighter than when it’s printed, and the printed version looks far darker than the digital version. Could that be alleviated by using a different paper stock? Beats me, but I doubt if the companies even think about it.

There are people who don’t like Aparo’s art???

Digital art is usually presented in rgb (red, green, blue), which is light based, like a tv screen. Printed material uses cmyk (cyan, magenta, yellow, black), which is different combinations of ink on paper. RGB will always be brighter, and if you print from a digital piece of art the translation to ink will always muddy the colors, sometimes to a great extent.

Thanks, Dr. Bob. I knew about the CMYK thing, but I didn’t know about the digital thing. That’s kind of annoying, and I wish they could figure out a better way to transition from digital to print.

The best way would be to prepare the files in two formats: digital and print. There would be adjustments to play up to the best aspects of each. I’m pretty sure that’s how they do it now, but you never know…

Aparo + Spectre = awesome. Must track down that Ostrander-Mandrake run.

Pete: DC has just announced that they’re collecting the first 12 issues of the Ostrander/Mandrake run in a trade, so let’s hope it’s the beginning of a bunch collecting the entire run.

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