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Year of the Artist, Day 45: Marshall Rogers, Part 1 – Detective Comics #475

01-11-2014 10;57;48AM (2)

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Marshall Rogers, and the issue is Detective Comics #475, which was published by DC and is cover dated February 1978. This scan is from The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told, my beat-up edition of which came out in 1988. Enjoy!

I decided to feature Marshall Rogers because he’s one of these artists whose style changed over the years, and not necessarily for the better. His later work isn’t terrible by any means, but it’s different enough from his early work that it’s curious why it changed, and I honestly don’t have an answer about it. Rogers can’t answer, as he’s no longer with us, but I can show you what I mean over the next few days. First, though, we’ll start with his work on Detective, which came remarkably early in his career. He really hadn’t done too much before getting the gig on ‘Tec, yet he and inker Terry Austin knocked it out of the park. You all should have already seen this artwork, but let’s check it out anyway!

01-11-2014 10;45;39AM

Rogers gives us a tremendous splash page to start the issue off. The narrative boxes lead us down the page, but so does Rogers, as he places lightning in the sky that leads us from box to box. The buildings form a natural canyon/funnel, leading us down the page nicely. Our eyes go from the Gotham City pennant to the American flag to the box that reads “And the Batman prowls …” which is where Rogers stops us dead with the shadow and leads us back upward to where Batman crouches. It’s a nice, circular kind of motion, getting us into the story before introducing the hero. The building on which Batman stands helps form a triangle with Bats, his shadow, and the title credits at the bottom, so that we’re also directed along those lines to see who wrote the issue and the famous title, “The Laughing Fish.” It’s a very nicely designed page.

01-11-2014 10;48;48AM

01-11-2014 10;50;35AM

I wanted to show these two pages because they’re really a fantastic example of telling a story through pictures. Steve Englehart is writing this issue somewhat “Marvel-style,” in that subplots carry over from issue to issue, which wasn’t usually the case with DC comics at this time. So Batman is talking to his lover, Silver St. Cloud, who has figured out that he’s Bruce Wayne (really, it’s ridiculous that no one had already!). Batman knows she knows, and he’s trying to figure out how to talk to her about it. Nothing goes right, of course, and eventually Silver leaves the city (and then just as quickly comes back only to leave again, but that’s what love does to you, man!). But look at the way Rogers draws this page. In Panel 1, Silver turns away because she’s afraid to face Batman and say something crazy. Her hands shakes in Panel 3, but by Panel 5, she’s recovered enough to blithely push her hair behind her ear and get a bit snippy with Bats. When Batman leaves, Silver collapses on the floor – we don’t even see her face, but Rogers shows nicely how nervous she was about Batman being in the room. He shows her agony in Panel 1 of the second page, but even then, she’s still pulling herself together in Panel 2 when she starts thinking about Bruce and his secret identity. Rogers also does a nice job with Batman on these pages. In Panel 4 of the first page, he folds his arms and stand, statuesque, as he realizes the folly of what he’s about to do. Rogers keeps him formal and stiff even as he gallantly says good-bye to Silver, which is a nice touch. I love Panel 5 on the second page – Rogers backs away from Batman as he calls Silver, so that he becomes a small, isolated figure just as he’s distancing himself from his lover. Silver is in close-up when she receives the phone call, but in Panel 6, Rogers pulls away from her just a bit to show that they are falling away from each other. It’s a really well done way to show what Englehart is writing. Englehart does a lot to create tension and then sadness in the scene, but Rogers certainly does his part, too.

01-11-2014 10;52;32AM

This is the first time we see the Joker in this story, and Rogers nails it. The Joker is stylish, but he still looks silly because of the color choices. Unlike a lot of Joker appearances where he’s wearing more of a “costume,” he’s just wearing normal clothes that still fit in with his name and lifestyle. One thing that’s great about the Englehart/Rogers/Austin run (that is also true about other comics, to be fair) is that it’s both timeless and dated. Something is dated poorly when the characters make too many references to current events or pop culture that is no longer relevant. Englehart doesn’t do that, which makes this somewhat timeless. Rogers, on the other hand, dates this, but because it’s dated in an interesting way, it becomes more of a fascinating cultural touchstone than a painfully embarrassing reminder of the way life used to be. What do I mean? Fashion, of course! Rogers puts the Joker in striped quasi-bell bottoms and boots, so that he looks like someone from the late 1970s. But he doesn’t scream 1970s, and it’s the same way with everyone else in the book. They dress appropriately for the time period (one bad guy in this scene is wearing a cable knit sweater, which to me seems so very Seventies), which inadvertently dates them, but because it’s subtle, it becomes more of a nifty time capsule. Meanwhile, Rogers gives us a Joker who is always smiling, but the rictus looks more natural than some artists, so it just seems like he’s jolly rather than psychotic. It’s weird looking at some of the 1950s and 1960s Joker stories, because the grin looks much more artificial and makes the Joker more terrifying even though he’s committing oddball crimes and not actually killing anyone. Rogers gives him a more charming mien, which makes his casual homicides more disturbing. The sound effect swirling around him in this panel is pretty cool, too.

01-11-2014 10;56;02AM

In case you didn’t know, “The Laughing Fish” is a bit of a throwback to the first Joker story, in which he announces on the radio that he’ll kill certain people at a certain time, and even the presence of the police can’t stop him. Englehart updates that a bit with the television routine, as well as giving the Joker a more absurd scheme than simple robbery – he wants to copyright the Joker-fish that he’s been creating (they have smiles on their faces thanks to the Joker dumping a chemical into the ocean), but the bureaucrat he approaches – G. Carl Francis – can’t do it because you can’t copyright fish faces. It’s a ridiculous scheme, but it’s still a fine Joker scheme, and he only kills sparingly to achieve his goals. (One of the reasons I don’t like the Joker anymore is because he kills everyone just for the fun of it, and it seems like all of his schemes revolve around defeating Batman somehow. This Joker wants to get rich, without involving Batman, and he doesn’t kill too many people in this story. I miss this Joker.)

Rogers again draws a character with 1970s fashion, as Gordon looks very stylish but still dated. It doesn’t interfere with the storytelling, though – it’s just a nod to the fact that people wear regular clothes occasionally. What I really like about the scene is the final sequence, where Rogers shows Batman and the cops trying to “death-proof” the room. He just shows people doing their jobs, and while Englehart lets us know that the police accept Batman “as one of them,” Rogers shows it nicely, as Batman isn’t doing anything terribly spectacular, just checking the clock. This section of the page (there’s one more panel below it) also shows the way artists used space in comics back then. Rogers leads us from Panel 1 to Panel 2, where Gordon’s hand frames Francis and the television, which then dominates Panel 3. The bottom row is small, but Rogers packs a lot of information into it, as he manages to show the police and Batman doing a lot of small things to protect Francis. Yes, I know it’s a cliché to rant about how much more information a comic from the 1970s contained as opposed to one from today (whether it’s better or not is a personal opinion), but when you do see how well Rogers gets across a lot of visual information and Ben Oda fits Englehart’s words onto the page, it’s really interesting.

01-11-2014 10;57;48AM

Poor G. Carl Francis, getting on the wrong side of the Joker like that. Rogers does a really nice job showing how he dies – in the first row he comes from the left and the background and slowly staggers across the panels, moving to the right and emerging from the smoke as he falls toward the reader. I don’t know what the original comic looked like, so I don’t know how Petra Scotese originally colored this, but it’s interesting that Francis’s blue suit has become purple in this sequence, which is of course reminiscent of the Joker himself. Francis falls to the ground and we get the famous middle row, as his “facial muscles pull the dead man’s mouth into a repellent, ghastly grin.” Rogers keeps Francis upside-down in the row, which makes the movement of his mouth even more disturbing. It’s a really nice choice. The final panel on the page is well done, too – Batman is off to the side, marginalized by the Joker’s victory, while the Joker on television hovers over his victim, who lies in the foreground, the deathly smile dominating the panel. Again, we see how nicely Rogers lays out the page and how much visual information he gets onto the page. Austin does his part, too, especially in the middle row, as he adds hatching to Francis’s lips over the course of the sequence, making it creepier and creepier as the grin widens. He adds more spot blacks to Francis’s face, as it appears he actually turns evil in death. Austin does a good job with the heavy shading in Panel 11, as the smoke seems dirtier thanks to his efforts, and the hatching on Batman’s face in Panel 12 shows a man who has been defeated by his arch-enemy and isn’t happy about it. Austin’s inks are very good throughout this run, and this is one page where it’s more obvious than some others.

Rogers moved on after a few more issues of Detective, working with Englehart on some projects, one of which we’ll check out in a day or two (I’m not sure yet). First, though, we’ll check out another comic featuring a detective. It ain’t Batman, though! And if you’re interested, be sure to peruse the archives!

27 Comments

Good stuff. I was a big fan of Rogers/Austin. Recently I read Byrne’s X-Men issues and realized how similar they looked to Marshall Roger’s Detective run. Then I realized the common denominator was Terry Austin. Apparently Austin was a very dominating inker. I now realize that I’ve never seen Marshall Roger’s art without Terry Austin’s inks, so I’m very anxious to see if you give us examples of an Austin-less Rogers.

T.: Yeah, Austin was pretty dominating. You’ll notice how much he influenced Kevin Nowlan from those Doctor Strange pages I showed. And yes, I’ll be showing Rogers both with Austin (the last post in this section) and without him, so it will be fun to compare and contrast.

Dick Giordano inked Rogers on his last couple issues of Detective, the Clayface III storyline.

Greg, do you know for sure that Marshall Rogers did the word balloon/caption placements himself? From what I understand, Steve Englehart wrote all his Detective scripts at once before he left the country (and comics altogether, he thought), so I’d imagine that letterer Ben Oda or editor Julie Schwartz could have just as easily done the balloon placement. A lot of writers usually do their own balloon placement, if they’re working Marvel style and dialoguing the book after it’s drawn.

John: Unfortunately, I don’t own those later issues of Detective. C’est la vie!

No, I don’t know that Rogers did the placement of the word balloons. I didn’t know that about Englehart – that’s kind of interesting. I did just assume, which I know is never a good thing. If he didn’t, then Oda and/or Schwartz knew how to move readers’ eyes, too, which isn’t surprising!

Shortly after Rogers’ death, this G.I. Joe site had a feature on his G.I. Joe work over the years:
http://www.myuselessknowledge.com/joe/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=450&Itemid=58

Ethan: Very cool. Thanks!

Probably my favourite Batman artist, just for this run.

And I miss the pre-Moore, pre-Nolan Joker. The character is virtually unrecognisable now.

Oh my god this run was so good. I miss older Joker, too. They’ve raised the stakes about a thousand times too many with him. When he cut off his own face I just went “Oh come on!” He’s kinda like Hannibal Lecter for me. Started off kinda cool and then got really over the top silly.

What’s so weird to me is that at age nine, I mainly bought only Spider-Man, other random Marvels, and Dennis the Menace; however, I bought this issue new off the rack and I don’t remember why, but I’m sure glad I did. I must have read the hell out of it because I still have that copy and it’s pretty dog-eared. I even had Julie Schwartz and Steve Englehart sign it some twenty years ago.
That sequence on page 16, where Francis acquires his death grin, with no borders between the panels reminds me of Bernie Krigstein’s Master Race story in Impact 1, showing the passage of time. This particular issue of Detective Comics has truly wonderful storytelling, and I personally love seeing the 70s wardrobes. I am still waiting for Francavilla’s proposed graphic novel Batman ’72 where Bruce Wayne has long hair and sideburns!
As for Marshall Rogers’ later work, I don’t particularly like much of it. He had a run on Silver Surfer in the late 80s that, although I haven’t read them for years, I remember very clearly disliking them.

Above, I meant “no gutters between the panels” in the second paragraph.

Timothy: Good point about the Krigstein similarity. I never noticed that, probably because I never read “Master Race” until recently, even though I had seen panels from it. I wonder if Rogers knew about it – he would have been the right age to see it when he was young. It could have been an interesting coincidence, of course.

I don’t have any of his Silver Surfer art, but I do have a few days here where his art isn’t quite as good as it was in other instances. So we’ll see what we see in a few days!

Have you ever seen the adaptation he did of Harlan Ellison’s script for Demon With a Glass Hand? Great-looking stuff, and he NAILED the Bradbury Building.

John: No, I’ve never seen that. There’s so much I’m missing from my comics collection!!!!! :)

Love Rogers work here, but a really close second was the stuff he did on Mister Miracle, also with Engelhart.. Rogers revisited Batman later, in a pretty decent story that was a nice return for both his artwork and for Silver St. Cloud. Heck, the Vicky Vale of the Burton Batman was Silver, more than Vale. I had read that the script had been in development since not that long after Engelhart/Rogers, which is obvious: Silver St Cloud/Vicky Vale, Boss Thorne/Boss Grissom, the Joker.

There are a lot of under-rated Batman stories and artists in that era, though many were reprinted later. Loved Walt Simonson’s work on Bats, especially the Calendar Man story (I think it was reprinted in Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told or Batman in the Seventies). Howard Chaykin did a few, too, earlier on. Mike Grell also had some nice ones. Heck, I may be in the minority, but I liked Frank Robbins on Bats, very early in the decade.

Wow. Rogers, you’re reading my mind! I believe Rogers/Austin on this run is at least as good as the Austin work on Byrne’s famous X-Men spell.

I really am surprised Batman & related titles didn’t sell like hotcakes in the Bronze Age. Look at the artistic talent on it alone beginning with Adams; then Aparo, Rogers, Golden (mainly Batman Family), Colan; cameos from Simonson, Chaykin, Toth; plus underrated reliable work from Novick, Chua/Chan & co. Saying that, from what I’ve seen I thought Ernie Chan’s work at Marvel (over Buscema on Conan) was better.

I think in the early 80s, pre-DKR & Crisis, Batman sales were pretty poor, weren’t they? Although to be fair pretty much all DC bar Titans & Warlord were being steamrollered by the Shooter Marvel machine, IIRC?

Jeff: I will get to Dark Detective, although I’m not touching the controversy! Englehart goes over it pretty well on his web site.

You and Pete are right – it is somewhat surprising that Batman didn’t sell better in the 1970s. In retrospect, it’s easy to see that these are some great artists working on the books, but maybe they weren’t as well established so they didn’t sell as well? Or maybe they were few and far between the junk? Beats me – Greg Hatcher would be better suited to answering those questions!

It’s rather interesting to hear people praise this as the pre-Moore, pre-Nolan Joker, since this is the first Bronze Age story where the Joker’s plan leads him to kill a bunch of complete, harmless strangers. I think what vanished from the Joker sometime in the 1990s was what Englehart captures very well here: the sense that there’s an off-kilter kind of “anti-logic,” a sick humor to his planning. He’s not out to kill 340 people in a crowd just to do that.

IT’s also weird to lump Moore’s Joker in with later versions; say what you will about The KIlling Joke, but the Joker kills exactly one person in the entire story, and everything else he does is purposive, however twisted that purpose may be. I think it’s much more Jim Starlin’s followup in “A Death in the Family” that turns the Joker into a guy who thinks mass murder is inherently funny and worthwhile. That;s the first story I recall where the Joker literally leaves trails of bodies behind him and does stuff like take a job trying to kill the UN General Assembly just because.

Omar: I didn’t know that it was the first Bronze Age story where he kills harmless strangers, but I don’t mind that, because, as you noted, he has a twisted plan and he kills when his plan is thwarted. I don’t mind that at all.

I didn’t mention The Killing Joke, because you’re right that he only kills one person, but if I had to state when this first happened, it’s not A Death in the Family, it’s The Dark Knight Returns. He kills the entire studio audience of the David Letterman Show just for the fun of it. In that story, it was shocking, but other writers took it too far, including Starlin a few years later.

For that matter, Miller’s own “Year One” ended with Jim Gordon telling “the” Batman that some new guy calling himself the Joker had just threatened to poison the Gotham reservoir.

@Greg Burgas
I have been wanting to call you out on your comic collection for a while now. No Rogers Silver Surfer or Clayface? Not much 50s Kirby? We are around the same age and I managed to get those books. What do you do with your time and money? Get on the ball.

P.S.
The Nowlan Man-Thing art you showed last week looked pretty cool. I might have to get that book now…

And also maybe the Nowlan Batman Black and White story…

kdu2814: Well, we all have different tastes, you know! :) Why don’t you have the Man-Thing book or the Batman Black and White, huh?!?!?! :)

I started buying comics when I was 17, and for a few years after that, I just bought comics of my favorite characters – Batman, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and Moon Knight (yes, Moon Knight). I was never interested in the Silver Surfer, so I didn’t care who was writing or drawing him. I wasn’t a big fan of Kirby until relatively recently – probably the last decade or so, so before that, I wasn’t too interested in tracking down his work and now I have to catch up! When I went back to get back issues, there were often big gaps and I tended to simply get what was available, and I guess those Clayface stories weren’t around. Now I don’t as much time to find back issues and even if they’re collected in trade, I have a lot less time to sit around and read comics. I know that Clayface story is in the Marshall Rogers hardcover (I think), but I own so much of the stuff collected that I haven’t bought it yet. So that’s the story.

I have a lot of comics, but there’s far more that I don’t have, which is true for everyone. Occasionally people will write that they don’t own something, and I think “How can they not have that?” But it’s just the way things go!

I wonder how many people start as late as 17.

If you really want to know about my not having Man-Thing and Batman; Man-Thing slipped past my radar, or I did not have enough money, or I never saw it. Batman is one of my favorite heroes, but I grew to dislike the 90s and 00s trends of silent stories, black and white stories and little fringes of continuity stories that are supposed to give some unique insight into a character or are supposed to be from some great new perspective. So I only got the first two issues of Batman Black and White.

kdu2814: I was just funnin’ with you. It’s just hard to keep up with everything, as you know. I’m always learning about new stuff that I want to read!

No worries, I read your replies in the same joking manner that I was going for.

A shame most comic books of today don’t look like Marshall Roger’s stuff here.

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