Heck-a-Slammin’

Now, in later life, I often find I appreciate comics artists for whom I had little time as a child. Steve Ditko is one: the stunning psychedelic landscapes and the bizarre characters I once found wilfully obscure or grotesque now fascinate me.

Similarly, the dynamic designs -and the glamorous women- pencilled by Don Heck, I now realise, shaped my childhood  fascination with The Mighty Avengers:

avengers annual 1 1967 king size special wasp hawkeye marvel comics giant-size wasp hulk iron man captain america black widow silver age thor don heck

Heck was an artist whose work was overshadowed and often -shamefully- reviled in the Perez/Byrne/Giffen fan- favourite days of the early 80s.

Don-Heck-Book

Inspired by the Twomorrows book, Don Heck: A Work of Art, I have listed just a few of my favourite Don Heck stories from the Big Two.

Avengers_Vol_1_20

One sunny afternoon in the very early seventies, I found the remnant of a mouldering, forgotten copy of Sixties British weeklyTerrific in my dad’s garage. Only the mouse-eaten pages of this dramatic Swordsman saga remained ( and a fragment of a Bill Everett/Dr. Strange- the origin of the Ancient One.)

Widow Hawks

My introduction to the sleek mystique of the Black Widow, I think came in Marvel’s Greatest Comics 23, in 1969. These late Sixties reprint collections were  a fantastic way to get a primer of the nascent Marvel Universe.

Here, Madame Natasha gets her spider-gimmicks and fishnet costume from her Soviet paymasters. Like the grey, furry Beast later, however, I found it hard to think of the catsuited redhead of Amazing Adventures as the same person.

sunfire

Critics ofHeck’s art would do well to peruse the X-Men story from  January 1970 which introduced the solar samurai, Sunfire. Here, Tom Palmer’s inks combine with Heck’s pencils to seamlessly continue the mood of the Adams/Palmer era. The tragic, embittered Japanese mutant never really caught on but the story is exciting and has a Mod design sense.

Steel 2

Another memorable design appears in 1978’s Steel, The Indestructible Man. This patriotic DC blend of Iron Man and Capatain America is pitted in issue 2 against a monstrous sci-fi villain who reminds me a little of Heck’s Metazoid:

Metazoid

Heck’s skill at defining character is evident in 1982’s Justice League 203, where the villainous Royal Flush Gang are given tragic and squalid back stories. (The failed Broadway actress who becomes Queen is clearly Elizabeth Taylor!)

derekrestoncomics2

I could pick so many others : the first Living Laser story;Ramrod and the Changers from Iron Man; the accursed and haunted Elianne Turac in Giant-Size Dracula.  But the runners-up on this list comprise:

avengers36-30s

Ultrana_001

The Ultroids story that returned Wanda and Pietro to the Avengers. Dig that crazy Ultrana!

Captain_Marvel_Vol_1_10

The combination of  interplanetary battles and hi-tech espionage featured in the groovy Captain Marvel 10 from 1969 (And like the Beast and Black Widow,  Mar-vell would undergo an complete revamp shortly. Silver Age DC had done this of course with Flash, Green Lantern and the Atom- but at Marvel, they were still the same person!)

Wonder_Woman_v.1_287

and from DC’s 80s renaissance, the Teen Titans/Dr. Cyber story from Wonder Woman in 1982.

Dr_Cyber_PreC_h5

A Work of Art disproves the popular comics myth that Heck’s art could cost a comic its readership. In fact, his work boosted sales, according to the stats printed in the book.

Coming soon: The Savage Sword at Forty

 

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

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4 comments on “Heck-a-Slammin’

  1. Kid Robson says:

    The cover of Avengers #20, as it appeared on Terrific, is one that I associate with sitting out on a rug in my back garden against the cellar door, reading a pile of comics. Avengers #36, as it appeared in Fantastic (Terrific having ‘expired’) is one of my Favourite Don Heck tales of all time, and conjures up memories of a pleasant period of my childhood. Heck was earmarked to draw the first Avengers/Justice League team-up, although it wasn’t until many years later until it became a reality, but drawn by George Perez. I think it was Perez who expressed surprise at the original choice of artist, on the grounds that Heck wasn’t that big a draw (npi) at the time the team-up was first announced. I have to say ‘though, that I think his work later became just a tad loose for my tastes (and a little rushed-looking), especially at DC.

    • Dougie says:

      It’s only in the last year that my appreciation of Heck’s work has developed. I felt the same way as Perez and his fans in the 80s. And for me also, that Terrific/Avengers cover is redolent of the back garden and sunny days- probably even before primary school.

  2. Paul McScotty says:

    I always liked Don Hecks art especially on the early Avengers and Iron Man , although there were a few offerings in those series where his art was to say the least poor and i just bought an issue of Ka-Zar (issue 5) that his art is both good and ruddy awful in. However whist I enjoyed (and still do) most of his work but I have to admit that if I bought a new comic in the 70s and it was by Heck I was disappointed – Then again there were times he put in some lovely work I really enjoyed his early DC work on Batgirl and Teen Titans but as Kid say as the years went on it got very rushed. As I say I always liked his work in most cases unlike Frank Robbins who I initially hated with a passion but now I actively seek it out (how could I have been so wrong re Robbins). .

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