Year of the Artist, Day 130: Walter Simonson, Part 2 – Detective Comics #470
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Walter Simonson, and the issue is Detective Comics #470, which was published by DC and cover dated June 1977. This scan is from Shadow of the Batman #1, which was published in December 1985. Enjoy!
A few years after the back-up stories in Detective, Simonson got a chance to draw a two-part story written by Steve Englehart, who began a brief but memorable run on the title with these issues before pairing up with Marshall Rogers for a six-issue epic that you may have heard of. These issues of ‘Tec were decent, but Simonson’s art is … a bit wonky. Let’s see what’s what!
One of the reasons I love seeing raw pencils is because an inker and colorist can add so much to a drawing. Al Milgrom inks this issue, and I’m not really sure who colored it. If anyone has the original, it would be great if they could let me know. According to the Grand Comics Database and the Comic Book Database (two rather invaluable resources!), Jerry Serpe colored the original issue. According to the Grand Comics Database, Marshall Rogers colored this. But did Rogers only color the reprint? On the first page of this issue, the text claims that Englehart, Simonson, and Milgrom are “aided and abetted by color man Marshall Rogers.” It appears that the text is part of the original, which would mean Rogers is the original colorist. So if Greg Hatcher or anyone else who has the actual issue, that would be groovy.
I’ve never been a big fan of Al Milgrom’s art, and this issue (and the preceding one) is one reason – this was one of the first time I saw his name on a comic, and it may have been one of the first times I saw Simonson’s pencil work, and I did not like it. Once I started seeing other examples of Simonson’s work, I realized that whatever he was doing on these two issues, Milgrom had something to do with it, and when I started seeing Milgrom’s pencil work, I understood a bit better. I don’t know Milgrom – he could be a saint for all I know – but I’ve just never been a fan. If I hadn’t seen Simonson’s pencils from three years earlier in the “Manhunter” back-up stories, I might forgive him a bit more, but this seems like it’s a big step backward for Simonson, so I don’t know if he was experimenting with a different style or if Milgrom bludgeoned any sense of grace and elegance out of his work. Milgrom’s rough inks give this page a stolid, stilted feel, as Batman looks wildly uncomfortable swinging in through the window of the hospital room. The light shade in Panel 1, the bed in Panel 5, and the pajamas Alfred wears all look somewhat simplistic, as if Simonson barely penciled them and Milgrom barely inked them. If we compare this to what Rogers brought to the table in the very next issue of the title, it’s ridiculous to consider how much better the art was. It’s very strange.
Simonson, of course, had the privilege of being the first artist to draw Silver St. Cloud (after, of course, drawing Christine St. Clair in “Manhunter” – just once, I’d like to meet someone with a “St.” in their last name), as she makes her debut right here. In this sequence, we see some of the later Simonson touches – Bruce’s face is square-jawed, with high cheekbones, which will become more of a Simonson thing as we go along, and Rupert Thorne is sufficiently toad-like. Silver herself doesn’t really have much personality yet – the most distinctive thing about her is her white hair, which makes me wonder why two different women in comics with white hair were named “Silver” by their parents, presumably before their hair was clearly white. It’s not like Steve Martin is named “Silver” or anything. Anyway, once again Milgrom’s heavy-handed inks are the “highlight” of this sequence. He uses thick hatching on Thorne to add folds of fat, sharp lines on Bruce to give him that chiseled look, and some smudges on Silver to give her cheekbones and perhaps imply that she’s not as rigid as Bruce. There’s not a lot of subtlety here.
Simonson obviously knows how to lay out a page, as this is a nice-looking fight scene. Englehart introduces Dr. Phosphorus in this story (in the issue before this, of course), and here’s Batman’s final fight with him. Batman falls and twists in Panel 1 on the first page, grabbing hold of the girders before swinging down and smashing Phosphorus in the face. He flips the villain over him a few times, before Phosphorus leaps off the beam and grabs another one, from where he kicks Batman before noticing that his power is eating through the steel. Everything is laid out quite well – Simonson has a nice flow to the panels, as they constantly move us from the left to the right, and he switches from foreground to background and back very well. In some panels, Batman is the major focus, while in others, Phosphorus is. Simonson uses motion lines well, but even without them, his characters have a fluidity that makes his action scenes move nicely across the page. I still don’t think Milgrom’s inks are very good, though. He uses thick hatching on, for instance, Batman in Panel 3 of the first page, which mimics some of Simonson’s inking lines but goes too far with them. Throughout this two-issue story, it appears that Milgrom is trying to do that – bring his inks in line with the way Simonson inked something like “Manhunter” (and I don’t know if Simonson was already known at this time for inking his own work, as I don’t own much of his 1970s stuff), but being a bit too heavy-handed with it. Simonson’s figure work helps the action, while Milgrom’s thick inks seem to slow it down a bit. It’s weird.
Simonson was still learning, and tomorrow, we’ll see what kind of work he could do with a different and better (in my humble opinion) inker. You can bide your time and wonder what it will be by checking out the archives!