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:
Heck was an artist whose work was overshadowed and often -shamefully- reviled in the Perez/Byrne/Giffen fan- favourite days of the early 80s.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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:
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!)
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:
The Ultroids story that returned Wanda and Pietro to the Avengers. Dig that crazy Ultrana!
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!)
and from DC’s 80s renaissance, the Teen Titans/Dr. Cyber story from Wonder Woman in 1982.
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
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