Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Jim Aparo 1932-2005

Neal Adams is given credit for creating the modern Batman, the dark creature of the night who replaced the camp figure of the 1960s but when I think of Batman I usually think of Jim Aparo's version. Like Adams, Aparo started doing Batman in Brave and Bold which featured Batman and a guest star. It was a demanding comic since it had a different cast every issue. Moreover, Aparo had a strong, realistic style that worked wonderfully for Batman but was usually at odds with how the guests were drawn (think photo realistic Metal Men). But he made it work.

Aparo turned in a completed page. He not only drew the pages, he inked, lettered, and colored them. He used a lot of shading and dark colors, reminding you that Batman was a creature of the night.

The Brave and Bold plots were imaginative. During this period, many of the Batman stories started with a cover then a plot was created in an editorial meeting to explain the cover. Finally the story was written. This process produced many forgettable stories. Brave and Bold was under less editorial control and Bob Haney, the writer, had a lot of freedom. One issue featured Aparo himself.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Aparo was always drawing one Batman book or another. When DC decided to kill Robin (one of them) Aparo was the artist they trusted to do it.

Aparo was known for other characters, Aquaman, The Specter, and the Phantom Stranger. I seldom read Aquaman so I will not say much about his run on that strip. The Spectre had a short run in the late in 1960s best remembered for the artwork by Neal Adams. At that point the Spectre was a separate entity from his human host, Jim Corrigan. Together they solved crimes involving the supernatural.

When the strip was revived in the mid-1970s, Corrigan was a homicide detective. When he found the culprit he became the Spectre, the spirit of vengeance and enacted horrible revenge on the murderer. This was the version Aparo drew.

The Phantom Strange was a problem comic. The original formula called for three related stories. Something would happen and professional debunker Dr. Thirteen would show up and relate a previous case that appeared to involve the supernatural but did not. The Phantom Stranger would show up and tell his story which did involve the supernatural. Then the original event would be resolved.

Artists and writers hated it and it had a differed team every issue. It was given an overhaul after only three issues. Neil Adams was brought in to illustrate a story that introduced an opponent for the Stranger - a temptress named Tala and a supporting cast of hip teenagers. In addition, the Stranger traded in his long overcoat and tie for a turtleneck and cape. Adams departed after one issue but Aparo joined it a few issues later.

In Issue #9 the multiple story formula was abandoned totally. In this issue a dying man killed the Stranger through magic and had the Stranger's heart transplanted into his own body. The Stranger haunted him until his heart vanished and he died.

Later stories often revolved around a character facing a difficult choice with the Stranger offering warnings and a resolution. The extent of his powers was never shown. He appeared and vanished. Sometimes he transformed things. A lot was left implied.

Like Batman, the Stranger was the perfect showcase for Aparo's ultra-realistic art and his use of color and shadows. He was the definitive Phantom Stranger artist.

During the 1970s many comics were published bi-monthly. During the 1980s comics that could not justify monthly sales were cancelled.

Aparo was not a fast artist. He was most comfortable doing around nine comics a year. DC got Aparo to speed up by assigning inking and other jobs elsewhere but as time passed, faster artists got more work.

A collection of Aparo's work will be out this Fall.

Here's the Wikipedia entry on Jim Aparo.

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