Saturday, February 9, 2019

THE WRITE STUFF: BACK TO THE FUTURE! Pt 1

In our series on comic magazines which featured articles on the Legion, one title was conspiciously absent: BACK ISSUE!, the fine fan publication produced by TwoMorrows and edited by fervent Legion fan Michael Eury. Starting with this post, we will review all the BACK ISSUE! issues that featured Legion content.




BACK ISSUE! 15 (2006)
Sporting a glorious Mike Grell Legion commission on the cover, the issue spotlights the two artists regarded as being responsible for turning the Legion around in the 70s and restoring the title back to glory: Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell.
    At the time of the interview with Philip Schweier, Dave was finishing a Futurians project, after being involved with Soulsearchers and Company, while Mike was busy with his Shaman's Tears and Jon Sable books.




    The two men recall how they got their jobs drawing the Legion. Dave was handed the gig by editor Murray Boltinoff after working as an apprentice with Murphy Anderson, while Mike was asked to come on board after being tried out inking a Cockrum story (SUPERBOY 202), and doing it sufficiently well to impress.
    “Joe Orlando recommended me after Dave quit the Legion,” Mike recalls. “Murray said, 'Congratulations, you got the job. Now the bad news. You're going to get hate mail. You're replacing the most popular artist we ever had on the Legion, and we're killing off one of their favorite characters (Invisible Kid).”
    “He was right. It was a long time before anyone mentioned me without comparing me unfavorably to Dave, and justfiably so.”
    Dave confirms that part of the Legion's popularity owed much to his redesigning of several of the members' outfits to suit the 70s.
    “I really had to fight Murray over it. He was very conservative, he didn't like it, but reluctantly, he let me go ahead with some costume changes,” Dave said.
    This resulted in new looks for Colossal Boy, Shrinking Violet, Karate Kid, Duo Damsel and Chameleon Boy.
    “A lot of people actually think I redesigned Matter-Eater Lad too 
(SUPERBOY 193), but they just got the color wrong,” Dave said.


Some of Dave Cockrum's redesigns for Legion costumes. Courtesy Glen Cadigan.


    Mike reveals the flak he got for changing Cosmic Boy's costume (the infamous corset look). “Some guys never forgave me for it,” he said.
    “I had a funny conversation with Mike Flynn, who had been one of the key people with the fanzine The Legion Outpost, and who despised the costume.
    “He went to work for DC Comics and used his power and influence to get it changed to the way it looked before. And then he quit.
    “I asked him about that and he said, 'Hey, my job here is done.'”
    Like Dave, Mike bemoans editor Murray's conservatism and lack of humor.
    “There was one story (SUPERBOY 204) that had Brainiac 5 saying, 'I'm looking for the girl in the red and blue costume'.
    “I said, 'Murray, shouldn't that be 'I'm looking for the girl with the big S'. Murray, not getting it all, said 'Let me see if that works'.”
    Fans also remember Mike's other famous encounter with Murray over character design.
    “When I drew a Science Police officer in SUPERBOY 207, I made him a black guy. Murray said 'You can't do that because we'll get a lot of negative mail from our black readers',” Mike said.
    “But there are no black characters in the Legion. Why not use one?”
    Reluctantly, Mike changed the character slightly, leaving enough characteristics for readers to realize he had NOT been intended to be pink.
    When the opportunity did come up to draw a black hero with Tyroc, Mike was disgusted.  “One, he had the stupidest power of all; and two, his people had gone to live on an island, which sounds like the most racist concept I had heard,” he said.
    “So I cobbled up a costume that was a combination of Elvis Presley Las Vegas shows and old blaxpoitation movies.”
    Dave tells of coming up with several story concepts for the Legion, which Murray would inevitably shoot down.
    This included a team-up with the Blackhawks, which were Dave's favorite comic book group, and the inclusion of Nightcrawler as a Legionnaire.
    “Murray said he was too funny-looking,” Dave said.
    Another Marvel character that developed from potential Legionnaires was Storm, an amalgam of a wind-powered heroine named Typhoon and a bird-girl named Quetzal.




    Dave also put up a Legion villain concept featuring a group named the Devastators, and whose members comprised Foxglove, Tyr, Wolverine, Sidewinder and Manta. Only Tyr appeared in print, but it's interesting that Cockrum created a character named Wolverine a few years before Marvel's version. The design for this version of Wolverine was used by Dave for Fang, the Timber Wolf analog in the Legion-inspired Imperial Guard which Dave helped co-create when he revitalised the X-Men.
    This narrow-minded approach at the editorial office was one reason which prompted Dave's departure from DC, a decision which was boosted by an argument over the return of his original art.
    “When I did the wedding of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel, DC wasn't returning artwork even though Marvel was,” he said.
    “I asked Murray, 'could I have the double page wedding scene spread back?'”
    Although Murray agreed, publisher Carmine Infantino refused, citing company policy.
    Furious, Dave quit the book, which paved the way for Mike to follow in his footsteps.
“I did eventually get the artowork back, but not any more. Somebody quoted me such a price on it that I couldn't refuse,” Dave said.
    He remembers being asked several years later to draw a story for LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES 300, which featured creators from the Legion's past.
    Surprisingly, Mike was not asked to participate in the project, probably due to his busy schedule with the launch of Jon Sable.
    “I would've done it if I had the time,” he said.
    Both artists in fact expressed a desire to return to the Legion, even if for one-shots.
    “It's like somebody asking you, 'Remember that sports car you used to drive in the 70s? How'd you like to take it or one more turn round the track?” Mike said.
    “I have always thought I'd like to come back,” Dave said. “I did six pages for that anniversary issue but they haven't asked me back.”
    Dave notes that Alex Ross sent him a copy of his famous lithograph, signed as a personal tribute.
    While the artwork featured the Legionnaires in the costumes that Dave and Mike designed, the layout was based on a panel that Mike drew in the tabloid that featured the wedding of Imra and Garth.
    At the time of this interview, Mike said he had not seen the piece.
    Remarking on the fact that his Cosmic Boy costume was featured, Mike said: “Somewhere Mike Flynn is having a conniption right now.”
    While Dave is recognised by both fans and Mike himself as the more accomplished illustrator, it is Mike's humbleness that certainly reinforces his reputation as one of the industry's nice guys.
    Acknowledging that he based his early atwork from the likes of Neal Adams, Mike said his art paled in comparison to the work of Dave, who he believed was the best artist the Legion ever had.




    “Legion fans are absolutely the most loyal in comics,” he said. “If they take you to their heart, they will stand by you no matter what you perpetrate.
    “I could be sitting at a convention table somewhere in the world, and some guy will come up to me, obviously a fan from that era, and ask me to sign one of those early books where I drew all the people too many heads high, arms too short to reach their pockets, you know, tiny little feet, really awful anatomy, and they'll sit down and say, 'I sure wish you'd go back to the Legion. This is the best work you ever did.'”
    The entire interview features much more interesting insight from the two men, and this issue is worth acquiring for this excellent article alone.
    But read further and there's also an interesting piece on the parallel worlds of the Imperial Guard and the Legion, which compares the members of both groups.
    It's written by Ted Latner, who incidentally owns another original spread that Dave Cockrum drew that's just as gorgeous as the wedding piece: the meeting of the X-Men with the Legion dopplegangers.

The Legion analogs the Imperial Guard meet the X-Men, by Dave Cockrum. 

Dave Cockrum's wedding spread, re-colored by Brian Philbin.



MORE ON BACK ISSUE! TO COME!




Bits Boy runs the comprehensive Legion completists’ site Bits of Legionnaire Business.








Sunday, December 23, 2018

CHRISTMAS WITH THE LEGION


Art by Gary Frank.

It's that time of the year again! As has been chronicled in the comics, Christmas is still celebrated in the Legion's time. Which, arguably, is a hard sell because with the known galaxy consisting of so many different lifeforms and races, it's odd that this observance of the holiday period should continue to hold such prominence, secular or otherwise. 
    But let's not let that spoil our festive fun. In this special yuletide edition of the blog, we feature several pieces of art and commissions commemorating Christmas with the Legionnaires!


Here's a great piece by former Legion artist Chris Batista. When it snows during Christmas, Polar Boy is course the Legionnaire most associated with the weather. And note little Proty in the picture!


Chris did actually draw an official Legion story with a Christmas holiday theme. it appeared in the DCUniverse Holiday Special of 2010. Here's the last panel of the story!




Here's a lovely whimsical look at how Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel would celebrate Christmas, drawn by artist Colin Fawcett. As the couple kiss under the mistletoe, they are surrounded by their son who has inherited Luornu's original triplicate powers, and some of his dad's bouncing potion.




Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar were the names of the three wise men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. In this homage to the cover of ADVENTURE COMICS #247, Daniel Maine shows the the Legion of Super-Kings refuse membership to Santa. 



In 1980, Christmas wrapping paper licensed from DC Comics was released, featuring artwork by Dick Giordano. An assortment of characters were shown celebrating Christmas, including members of the Legion.




Fred Hembeck LOVES Christmas. Between the covers he's done for COMIC SHOP NEWS and plenty of sketches he's drawn over the years, he's illustrated many Legionnaires enjoying the holiday season. Here are a few:









Fred is always happy to accept commissions, and his rates are extremely cheap! You can contact him here




Another prolific artist is Gene Gonzales. He's probably drawn more Legion-related sketches than any other of his peers. In this piece, he uses Antennae Boy to illustrate the carol "Do You Hear What I Hear?"



Inspired by the Christmas covers of the Saturday Evening Post, Gene Gonzales drew this beautiful rendering of Ivy receiving a tree from her mentor Kent Shakespeare. Ivy was one of the children on the world of Quarantine and had the power to communicate with plant forms. At one stage she was destined to be a bona fide Legionnaire, even being included on a Legion poster.


Meet Kid Christmas! If Santa was a super-Hero, would he qualify for Legion membership? Gene Gonzales thinks he would.




This piece originally ran in the now defunct WIZARD magazine. It's a great take on the FINAL CRISIS series by Brian Douglas Ahern, in a clever play on the 12 Days of Christmas. "Legionnaires" shown include Milking Maid, leaping Lord, Prince Piper and Dancing Damsel.



The 1978 DC Comics Calendar featured the Legion for the month of December.  A glorious Jim Sherman spread detailed the Legion's battle against the Toyman, disguised as Santa,  amid Christmas decorations in the city.



Jeff Moy is best known for his long run on the Legion series. Here he draws two fan favorites enjoying the festive season: Monstress and Kinetix.



Laura Duffie draws the speedster XS having a grand time on the ice. The character has of course appeared on the CW show The Flash recently.


And here's XS again, representing the Legion in this montage of carolling heroes by Sergio Aragones.



Speaking of the CW shows, here's Luca Fantasia's sketch of Supergirl giving Mon-El a Christmas gift. The show has so far featured several Legionnaires and there is reason to believe the whole team will show up in a future season.



Steve Lightle is fondly considered one of the Legion's best pencillers. This whimsical piece shows Bouncing Boy dressed up as Santa while evading pointy Christmas stars.


Boop boop be doop! Steve Lightle also helped create Quislet, the energy being which could animate objects. Here, Violet Tanganelli shows the character putting some life into a snowman.





Former Legion scribes Tom and Mary Bierbaum used to send out personal Christmas cards in the form of illustrated Legion tales with a Christmas theme. This one (above and below) shows how Christmas is spent on Matter-Eater Lad's home of Bismoll.

The Bierbaums sent another Legion card in 1990, spanning four pages. It was based on the 5YL Legion and you can see them here.



The piece above is by talented artist Agnes Garbowska. She gives the seasonal scene a charm that has become the trademark of her work. Click on it to view it in greater detail.



Have you checked out Greg Fox's Legion blog? Best known for the syndicated comic strip Kyle's Bed and Breakfast, Greg also includes amusing strips about Legion life on the site. He drew Ultra Boy in a yuletide greeting because his costume bore the colors of Christmas.

And that's it for this year. I hope you enjoyed that visual look at Christmas and the Legion, which is a timely opportunity for me to wish all blog readers Season's Greetings and Happy Holidays. I'll be back in 2019 with more musings and articles of interest to the Legion collector, and I hope to have you with me.

I'll leave you with another gorgeous Christmas gift from Gene Gonzales.






Bits Boy runs the comprehensive Legion completists’ site Bits of Legionnaire Business.






Wednesday, July 4, 2018

COVER VERSIONS PT 3




This third part of a discussion on Legion-related variants turns the spotlight on issues that were not specifically marketed as variants, but have been regarded as such by some collectors.

WHITMAN

The Western Publishing Company's Gold Key brand ended in 1979, with the company turning its focus to the more profitable Whitman bagged comics line, sold as non-returnable items through department and other general stores.

    DC and Marvel licensed their books through Whitman so that they could have their books in two- or three-pack formats sold in department stores, where Whitman had an exclusive deal. 
    These went on sale through 1979 and1980.
    For many years, fans have debated whether these oddities should be classified as variants. But one thing is clear: because of their limited distribution, the issues are scarce and have proven to be much in demand.
    The Whitmans have for a long time been regarded as secondary prints and treated as such. But it's worth noting that DC Whitmans are not reprints. They were printed at the same time as their newsstand counterparts. 
    Only in the past few years has the value and collectible worth of these issues risen, particularly as some are so rare that less than 10 copies of the issues exist.
    Altogether, there were 13 issues of SUPERBOY which received the Whitman branding treatment: #244, #245, #246; #247; #248; #251; #252; 253; #254; #255; #256; #257; and #258.



A typical Whitman bag of comics.

SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES: Some Whitman versions.

SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES: Some Whitman versions.

   Another four issues of LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (formerly SUPERBOY) were also found in three-packs:  #261; #263; #264; and #266.
    The real gem here is #264. It is estimated that less than 100 copies of this issue exist, making it one of the rarest DC Whitmans around, and almost impossible to secure.


The extremely rare Whitman print of LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #264 is on the right, pictured next to a more common variant.

OTHER VARIANTS

Then there were issues which featured logos inside the UPC boxes, which would normally include bar codes. These were limited to distinct retailers in comic packs or multipacks. 

    During big multi-issue crossover events, the direct sales issues often also featured different  logos in the boxes: for example, the ZERO HOUR and ARMAGEDDON books.
    These are by and large ubiquitous and surely only the most compulsive of completists would endeavour to collect them all.


Issues with differing UPC boxes.

On the left is an issue with a ZERO HOUR logo in the box.

    Finally, there's one more different sort of format that some collectors hunt: comics with advertising inserts for Mark Jewelers

    In the mid 1970’s DC and Marvel comics started to include a four-page, heavy paper stock color insert from this company in many of their comics. It is believed they were distributed near US military bases, both at home and abroad, to reach out to servicemen so that they could purchase jewelry and engagement rings.
    These inserts appeared in about five per cent of most newstand comics from 1972 to 1986, which of course included many Legion-related issues.
    The inserts don't really add to the aesthetic appeal of the comics and if anything, probably makes them less attractive, but like all collectibles, these “variants” are worth only as much as a collector is happy to pay for.
    In general, demand is low for these issues, and they can sell for about the same price as guide or just slightly more.


An example of a Mark Jewelers insert.

An example of a Mark Jewelers insert.

An example of a Mark Jewelers insert.

An example of a Mark Jewelers insert.


Do you know of any more variants we may have missed? Do tell! Remember to also check Parts 1 and 2 for images of all the covers we've listed.





Bits Boy runs the comprehensive Legion completists’ site Bits of Legionnaire Business.