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Year of the Artist, Day 130: Walter Simonson, Part 2 – Detective Comics #470

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

25 Comments

Chalk me up as another who doesn’t like Milgrom’s inks. I’ve never forgiven him for those X-Factor issues where he ruins Paul Smith’s work. Over the years I’ve seen numerous examples of his inks and I struggle to recall many I’ve liked.

His pencils are fine, nothing special, but workmanlike and look OK on The Avengers and WCA.

Al Migrom was one of the best editors at Marvel, mostly due to Marvel Fanfare. His Avengers work is great and he has written some very interesting things.

I most admit he is very high on my own personal list of inkers, but he does not fit when it comes to WS, check out Al’s work on Jim Starlin, now that is something.

the impression is a Meh..impression

didnt know this story..i would say that its on par with Walt first stint on Thor (with Wein wrting and De Zuniga inking)

‘Tec 450 story (written by St Maggin) has more interesting things in it (Walt inks himself there)

Jenos Idanian #13

May 10, 2014 at 3:08 pm

In that first panel, where Bats is swinging through the hospital window, Bats has a bit of an Infantino feel — and I don’t mean that in a good way.

BTW, Simonson did an issue of Superboy & The Legion of Superheroes, #237, that was really impressive. His depiction of an alien race — I wanna call them Graxls — really stuck with me to the point that when I read Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novels, I saw the Noghri as Graxls. And even though I’ve seen “official” depictions of the Noghri, I still think of them as drawn by Simonson.

Simonson also did the legendary X-Men/Teen Titans crossover, where he also got to draw Darkseid and Dark Phoenix. That was some sweet Waltiness there…

BTW, two parts down with NO discussion of Simonson’s signature…

Phosphorous looks just like Blight from Batman Beyond. Was that intentional on the part of the BB creators?

@Jenos: You’re right about X-Men/Teen Titans. I’m wondering if that will be tomorrow’s entry. Austin could very well be that better inked of whom Greg speaks.

I just checked my original and it credits the colouring to Jerry Serpe. I hope that helps.

Just to to clarify, the text actually says “aided and abetted by color man Jerry Serpe”, so it looks like they altered it for the reprint.

Morten: As an editor, I have no problem with Milgrom. And maybe you’re right – he just wasn’t a good fit with Simonson. I’ll have to go back and look at his inks with Starlin, because I don’t remember them being this brutal.

ollieno: I don’t own that issue of Detective or Simonson’s early work on Thor. I’d be interested in seeing DeZuniga ink him, though.

Jenos: I don’t know enough about Infantino to agree – I always think of Infantino as being a bit more angular even then Simonson is here.

I hope you’re preparing yourself for the worst! :)

Adam: Beats me. I don’t know Blight, the character. I wouldn’t doubt it, though.

Mitchell: Ah, different “better” inker! Will we see Austin’s inks on Simonson’s pencil? Only time will tell!!!

Eric: Thanks, sir! Those clever reprinters at DC!

Travis Pelkie

May 10, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Really, beyond “Simonson has a fuggin’ cool ass dinosaur as his signature”, what is there to say about it?

Greg: Yeah, I realized I’d missed a pretty significant “better’ inker, chronologically. That is, of course, if it’s the person of whom I’m thinking.

Bill Williamson

May 10, 2014 at 7:23 pm

Adam: Blight pretty much is Dr Phosphorus, or Corrosive Man.

tom fitzpatrick

May 10, 2014 at 10:12 pm

I think that Simonson’s art looks best when he does it all himself.

However, I will grudgingly admit that Sal Buscema was a good Simonson replacement artist on Simonson’s Thor run.

Yep, the “off” appearance of the art here is all due to the inking – as ollieno notes, you get unfiltered Simonon on a Batman story in Detective #450 (also reprinted in that wonderful Art of Walter Simonson book).
Poor Al Milgrom. He’s a damn fine editor, but his art never set the world on fire. Even so, he did some nice work on the post-Starlin Captain Marvel and Guardians of the Galaxy. However, much of this had to do with the fact that he was often paired with top-notch inkers like Klaus Jansen and Terry Austin.

Al Milgrom is right up there with Keith Pollard as worst artist in the history of comics. He must have had some really horrible blackmail material to have kept getting work.

Marshall Rogers did the colouring on the ’85 reprint and they’ve used what he’s done ever since including the Strange Apparation trade and the Batman art of Marshall Rogers omnibus. I actually wish they’d go back to the original Jerry Serpe colours. Rogers’ colouring is designed for those old baxter paper reprints with really white paper and he went with colours that really pop…which worked ok on baxter paper but looks jarring and annoying everywhere else. Also, he has some really garish colour choices generally– look at the grey/green and yellow page above. Rogers was otherwise a great artist; I wish he had left well alone.

Unlike yourself, Greg, I do think Al Milgrom is a good inker. However, having said that, he was a really poor match for Walter Simonson’s pencils. The first time I read this issue was when it was reprinted in the Batman: Strange Apparitions trade paperback, and I did NOT like the art. It’s a real shame that Simonson wasn’t inked on this by Terry Austin, who did such superb work embellishing the late, great Marshall Rogers’ pencils over the next several issues.

This is a really, really good example of the key role the inker has in the look of the finished artwork, and why it is very important to carefully pair up a penciler and inker whose styles will complement each other.

By the way, until I read that Strange Apparitions TPB, I had always thought Silver St. Cloud was designed by Marshall Rogers. Well, he’s the penciler who must have drawn her most often over the years, so that’s probably why I was under that impression.

Ben: Yeah, as I noted above, earlier in my comics-buying life, I didn’t really notice inkers, so maybe if I go back and look at some of Milgrom’s inks with other pencillers, I’ll appreciate it more.

And yes, we will see Simonson inked by Austin coming up. I wonder why he didn’t ink these issues!

Rogers drew Silver differently than Simonson (although not too differently), and that became her “look,” so it’s not surprising that people thought he first drew her.

I wrote a blog post about a year ago looking at just how important the inker is to the finished artwork, with some examples of different inkers working on the same pencil pieces…

http://benjaminherman.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/thinking-about-inking-the-role-of-comic-book-inkers/

And, yes, like yourself, Greg, it really would be interesting to be able to view Walter Simonson’s uninked pencils for the two issues of Detective that he did and compare them to the published art inked by Milgrom.

I do not have an opinion of Milgrom as an inker one way or the other, but I do think his Ditko-esqu Spider-Man was great.

Al Milgrom inking Ron Frenz created some pretty boss art in Thor and Thunderstrike.

Ben: Thanks for that link; it’s very cool. I really love to see pencil art next to inked and then colored art – the process is fascinating. Interestingly, I was reading one of the Starman Omnibuses the other day, and Peter Snejbjerg was writing about how much more fun inking was than penciling, because the inker gets to skip the hard part like storytelling and go straight to the cool stuff. I hadn’t thought of it that way!

Ah, the CBR Ludicrous Statement of the Week, thanks “paul”!

Al Milgrom isn’t my fav penciller or inker, but he usually does a professional job. Considering some of the clowns out there that can’t show action or decent motion, or god forbid, basic anatomy I’ll take Al Milgrom who understands the elements of storytelling.

Greg, it might be an idea to dig out some of the Star Wars issues that Walt Simonson did, He’s inked there by Tom Palmer, which again significantly changes the look of the art, but in that case it’s a much better match

Jouko Ruokosenmaki

July 22, 2014 at 4:19 am

I have read in several interviews that Simonson was only able to provide very rough layouts for these two issues of Detective, and Milgrom’s rough inking style was not able to fill in the blanks. I also thought Simonson was a really poor artist when I first read this story – later I saw his work on ALIEN and realized what he is capable of. MIlgrom did a great job of inking Ed Hannigan on Peter Parker, some of my favorite Spidey artwork – and he also worked well with Steve Ditko on Man-Bat.

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