Sal Buscema’s Transcendent Moment (and a couple other observations)

I have strayed from comic book related blogging for the last few blogs; so, since Nostalgia Zone is mainly in the business of selling old comic books, let’s say I get back to the books, eh?
Today, we’ll take a look at two issues of The Defenders from December 1974 and January 1975. They are issues number 18 and 19. This two issue story features the super-villian group the Wrecking Crew.
Let’s start with the covers. Both have been penciled by the fantastic Gil Kane. Kane must have done half of all the covers of Marvel titles during that time period. And looking at his work, it’s easy to understand why. His dynamic drawing style was perfect for pulling in the buyers.
Gil Kane pencils, Dave Cockrum inks.

Gil Kane pencils, Dave Cockrum inks.

Gil Kane pencils, Joe Sinnott inks.

Gil Kane pencils, Joe Sinnott inks.

The cover of #18 is good. It’s not quite the best Kane could do, but it does set up the battle of two super-powered groups very nicely. Issue #19, however, is very good. Our defeated heroes are strew over a rubble pile in the foreground with their conquerors in the background. Look at the Hulk. Look at his hand. That is classic dynamic Gil Kane stuff! That’s the kind of cover that makes you want to buy the book.

These two issues also give me the opportunity to address the influence an inker can have on the art of a comic book. Both issues were penciled by Sal Buscema, younger brother of the brilliant John Buscema. Although, never quite achieving the level of his older brother, Sal was a good and capable story-teller. And in issue #19, he has a transcendent moment. I’ll get to that later.

The inker! Right, I was going to talk about inkers. They aren’t simply tracers as one of the running jokes in ‘Chasing Amy’ suggested. Pencilers and inkers are both artists. And as an artist, a good inker can bring up the level of the penciler, just as a bad one can bring a penciler down. Some inkers work better with certain pencilers, but not well with others. For instance, Klaus Janson’s inks gelled very well with artists such as Frank Miller and, as we shall see, Sal Buscema; but his inks on John Byrne’s pencils just didn’t work for me.

This is an example of Janson inking Byrne's pencils. Just doesn't work as well as Byrne working with Terry Austin or Joe Rubinstein.

This is an example of Janson inking Byrne’s pencils. Just doesn’t look as good as Byrne working with Terry Austin or Joe Rubinstein.

Below is a great example of how an inker affects the finished art. Issue #18 was inked by Dan Green. Green’s inks are good with Sal’s pencils. However, #19 was inked by Klaus Janson and, when paired with Sal, the art looks great.

I’ve selected two panels depicting the Hulk, one from each issue. The first was inked by Green. The second by Janson. Note the flatness of Green’s Hulk. Compare that to Janson’s Hulk. Janson’s Hulk looks alive, more real and far less flat. Both panels were penciled by Sal Buscema, but the Janson inked panel elevates Sal’s pencils from good to great. No, the inker is not just a tracer.
Green's inks on left, Janson's on right.

Green’s inks on left, Janson’s on right. And is that a Beatles’ wig the Hulk is wearing?

There’s a nice sequence of panels in #19 depicting Dr. Bruce Banner defusing some mini nuclear bomb device. Sal does a good job of showing how the tension filled moments are bringing Banner into transformation into the Hulk. He must defuse the bomb and stave off becoming the Hulk at the same time…

I can always spot a bad toupee. I wonder...

I can always spot a bad toupee. I wonder…

Now that transcendent moment I mentioned earlier. It’s page 17 of issue #19. The whole page is top-notch design, layout, and storytelling. Sal really cooks on this page. The Defenders have regrouped after their initial defeat at the hands of the Wrecking Crew. These super-powered bad guys are still basking in the afterglow of overconfidence when the Defenders mount a counter attack.

Thunderball (one of the bad guys) seems to have gotten the better of the Hulk as he had done in the previous issue. He comes at the Hulk filled with bravado, believing the Hulk can be easily defeated again. Thunderball is wrong. The Hulk catches Thunderball’s weapon, crushes it with one hand, and sends Thunderball flying. The sequence is so dramatic. Just look at the third panel. The shadow of the wrecking ball half covers the Hulk’s face, but the Hulk doesn’t care. He’s angry. Very angry. And Thunderball isn’t gonna like the Hulk when he’s angry.

Each panel is perfectly timed. The action is perfectly paced. I know it’s a weird to think of timing and pacing in such static art. Comic books may not be movies, but they are essentially storyboards and their scripts are very much like screenplays. Comic books and books with just words (ugh!) both benefit from proper timing and pacing.  And Sal nails it as he shows Thunderball slowly realizing that the Hulk will not be defeated and that he’s in for a major butt-kicking.

The page builds so well until, in mighty Marvel fashion, it culminates in the final “Nuff said!” Brilliant!

The page builds so well until, in mighty Marvel fashion, it culminates in the final “Nuff said!” Brilliant!

And I do believe both of these issues are available at Nostalgia Zone. You really ought to peruse our website at or come to the store.

Tell them Dr. Dim sent you!

Packing Peanuts!

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