Monday, July 7, 2008

Artists of the Decades

At the right of this column you'll see button links to story synopsis I've written for Martian Manhunter comics of the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's and aughts. All were considered "canonical" at the time they were published, as I plan to create separate sections for "Imaginary Stories." I also added too-long overviews of each decade of the Manhunter from Mars' history. To try to capture these eras, I chose a snapshot from the defining artist on the character for each decade. I thought I'd share the process...

  • 50's: There was never really any doubt Joe Certa was taking this slot. The guy originated the character, defining and redefining him over his 13 years on Manhunter duty.
  • 60's: Much trickier. More people were exposed to Mike Sekowsky's drawings of J'onn J'onzz than ever read a Certa story. The Justice League of America penciller definately would take it in the popular vote. However, Joe Certa spent the 60's introducing Zook, VULTURE, Marco Xavier, the Diabolu Idol-Head, and playing with his style to cover several more interpretations of his lead character. Also, while I like Sekowsky's work in general, his rendition of the Martian Manhunter is about the worst of all the Leaguers.
  • 70's: A showdown between just two men-- Dick Dillon drew the first Pale Martian when he designed Commander Blanx. However, that was technically still the 60's, and his only 70's contributions to the cannon were Bel Juz, the Last Angry God, and a number of special appearances. Michael Nasser only designed N'or Cott and Re's Eda, neither of which took. However, he was responsible for both restoring the beetle-brow of J'onn's earliest appearances and his dignity as a solo character that inspired audiences. Nasser's work made Manhunter look better than ever, and readers took notice, earning him the slot.
  • 80's: I gave in here. A slew of artists drew Martian Manhunter in this decade to varying degrees of success, but I could not pick one that stood head and shoulders above the rest. Mark Badger drew the first Martian Manhunter solo book ever, and designed the Natural Martian. Unfortunately, if you return to that mini-series, you'll note his abstractions so ill-defined the "Gumby" Martian, variations began to crop up immediately. Also, he drew four issues of a mini-series largely disliked by fandom. Kevin Maguire had the best shot at work gaining a huge following for the character, but he made no new contributions. Maguire's Manhunter was simply on-model, and he himself radically altered his depiction of Manhunter in later years based on his successors' innovations. Failing to select one artist, I made a nod toward Maguire & Oreo cookies, but replaced Badger with Tim Gula, who's idiosyncratic style and Natural Martian were closer to how fans remembered the mini-series than anything the actual artist produced.
  • 90's: I entered this decade assuming Eduardo Barreto was a lock, seeing as he was "the" Martian Manhunter artist for most of the decade. Most of the character's solo appearances were under his pen, and he also produced models used in merchandising. However, there really aren't many pages by Barreto featuring the Martian Manhunter available, as he mostly drew John Jones, and never was a pin-up artist besides. Adam Hughes and Bart Sears influenced later artists, but worked with J'Onzz on short stints that didn't associate them overly much with the character. Sal Velluto and Mike Collins also spent a lot of time producing comic pages and card art, but their long-term impact was slight. Ultimately, I chose Howard Porter, as the sum of all these artists, plus his role in propelling the character to newfound heights later in the decade. Very tough call, though.
  • 00's: The only real concern here was whether to allow Bruce Timm's animated designs in the running. I decided to stick with the comics, which meant the primary Martian Manhunter solo series artist Tom Mandrake would get the nod. Blessedly, he was tapped to draw an origin sequence for the character after Jose Ladronne redesigned Martian Manhunter for a hated mini-series. The new look had guys like Al Barrionuevo and Ethan Van Sciver in the running, but neither had the merits to rate as "the" Manhunter artist.

So, what do you folks think? Did someone get the shaft, or was I fair?


Anonymous said...

Was that Kevin Maguire's work in the pic in the top right corner of the montage? Dang. J'Onn looks like Richard Kiel as a Kanamit.

Diabolu Frank said...

If referencing a Kanamit was a geek test, I failed (passed?) Thank you Google for edjumicating me.

That's a latter-day Maguire from the cover of his "Modern Masters" edition. A period-specific headshot was used for the follow-up "Favorite Stories" post. Though he chased Porter & company at one point, I'd say that image actually looks like late 50's/early 60's Joe Certa, the Martian Manhunter's "thug" years.

Diabolu Frank said...

P.S. Do note I missed "Kanamit," but caught "Richard Kiel" immediately. Bond before Serling, shaken, not stirred...