Cover Versions: THE SHADOW

March 11th, 2013

Being an irregular series wherein I spotlight some particularly beautiful cover runs, from some comics you might have forgotten about, or never seen before. This time it’s Andy Helfer and Bill Sienkiewicz / Kyle Baker’s wonderfully gonzo and short lived 80′s version of The Shadow.

Of all the radical character reinventions of the mid-80′s ‘mature’ boom, the Andy Helfer helmed Shadow series was one of the most brazenly strange; quirky, black-hearted and surreal, with gorgeous art from Bill Sienkiewicz and a young Kyle Baker. Following Howard Chaykin’s controversial mini-series Blood & Judgement, that reimagined the steely eyed pulp vigilante for the smart and cynical 1980′s, Helfer took the set up and ran with it.  He also stripped out some of the weird misogyny and nihilism from the title, bringing in a healthy sense of surrealism to the revisionism. This was a black hearted, New York art school comic, masquerading as a superhero comic, and it was thrillingly unusual as a monthly read. It lasted 24 issues, before DC pulled the plug on it, after facing severe backlash from ardent fans, and pressure from the owners of the trademark. It’s possibly my favourite of the slew of character reinventions from the late 1980s; it’s wild, creepily unsettling and beautifully drawn throughout.

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Cover Versions: JONNY QUEST

October 10th, 2012

Being an irregular series wherein I spotlight some particularly beautiful cover runs, from some comics you might have forgotten about, or never seen before. This time it’s Comico’s surprisingly high quality 80′s JONNY QUEST run.

Jonny Quest, as a franchise, never really had an impact in the UK. Not the original 1960’s TV show, the subsequent 90’s updates or the computer games. In fact it’s probably more recognisable for elements of it that crop up in the post-modern lampooning of shows like Sealab 2021 or The Venture Bros. Jonny quest was/is a plucky blond moppet who accompanied his explorer dad, Dr Benton Quest on rollicking globetrotting adventures accompanied by his faithful dog Bandit, chum Hadji and all round tough guy Roger ‘Race’ Bannon. It was, as is to be expected, good, clean and relatively insipid fun more likely to create a nostalgic glow in a certain demographic than inspire any kind of critical reappraisal. File under Scooby Doo and move on.

Which makes the 1980’s Comico series all the more surprising for the relative sophistication brought to the storytelling and the stellar list of creators it attracted. This was a franchise tie-in to a then defunct kids cartoon that featured work from William Messner-Loebs, Adam Kubert, Bill Sienkiewicz, Marc Wheatley, Marc Hempel and Dave Stevens and many more, all under a steady editorial steer from Diana Schultz (soon to depart for Dark Horse, where she helped nurture a similarly solid creative roster). Between them they crafted engaging, charming stories that caught the flavour of the original series whilst adding a good dash of narrative sophistication. There’s a strong flavour of Eisner’s The Spirit to this iteration, with the shifting perspectives and cute narrative tricks and flourishes.

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