Wednesday 17 March 2010

Frank Robbins' The Shadow.

The Shadow #8, Frank Robbins, Night of the MummyIf there was any DC Comics' series I wanted when I was a kid it was The Shadow.

Mostly this was because of their habit of using the mag's first couple of Mike Kaluta covers as full page ads in their other comics. "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" asked the ads as the titular hero loomed over haunting cityscapes. Who indeed?

As it turned out, I never got my hands on any of the Mike Kaluta tales. The only ones I ever had were the Frank Robbins and the E R Cruz ones.

The E R Cruz issues I was always going to like. I'd been a fan of his work in DC's horror mags and his fluid and enigmatic style was always going to be perfect for a strip like that.

Frank Robbins on the other hand was a revelation.

Like an awful lot of people I'd always seen him as Don Heck's more demented doppelganger. His figures always looked like they were falling apart halfway through some mad, nerve-toxin induced dance of death. A natural cartoonist, I think even his biggest fan wouldn't deny his style really wasn't suited in any way shape or form to the conventional super-hero genre.

DC Comics' The Shadow #7, Frank Robbins
With The Shadow however, Robbins found the perfect vehicle for his talents.

As I've already said, I didn't have any of the Kaluta tales back then - but I have seen them since and I have to say I far prefer the Robbins version. The Kaluta tales are things of beauty all right but, like all things that strive for perfection, they're oddly uninvolving. Robbins' more frenetic and disjointed style somehow brought a life and a vigour to a character who wasn't inherently interesting.

After all, the Shadow isn't exactly the world's greatest conversationalist and the inevitability of his victories against mostly ordinary foes could drain the tension from any story. Kaluta's art, fine as it was, never overcame that problem but Robbins' greater vigour, energy and sheer strangeness went a long way to injecting animation into what at heart were inevitably lifeless tales.


Simon B said...

Hi Steve! I've just discovered your blog, via Bronze Age Babies. Great stuff! I liked your Avengers review: any more UK Marvel stuff to come? I always think we had the best of both worlds in the UK back then - Bronze Age imports ( when you could find them! ) and Silver Age reprints. At the same time! Were we spoilt or what? As I said, great blog, mind if I stick around?

Steve said...

Hi, Cerebus. You can stick around all you like. I've no immediate plans to do any more UK Marvel mags, mostly because I don't have any of them at the moment, having thrown them all away years ago. Happily, growing up in Sheffield, the American Marvels were pretty easy to get hold of.

joe ackerman said...

liking the blog, Steve, mate. found my way over here through Cerebus' site, and like Cerebus I think I might stick around for a wee while.

glad to see someone sharing the Frank-Robbins-love. too many people like to write him off as a kind of sub-par Milton Caniff, but I've always loved his work. I remember his Invaders run, in particular, as a high point in my younger comic buying days.

keep up the sterling work, my good man! there can never be enough worthwhile comics blogs out there!

Steve said...

Thanks for visiting, Joe, and thanks for the praise.It's always nice to be reminded I'm not just speaking to myself on here.

Anthony Tollin said...

When I went to work as DC's head proofreader in the summer of 1974, I was disappointed to learn that THE SHADOW was cancelled and that #8 was scheduled to be the final issue. However, the series was saved (briefly) when the sales figures came in on Frank Robbins' first issue (#5). In those pre-direct sale/comic store days, comics still depended upon a larger audience of actual readers and kids, who apparently preferred Robbins' action-packed storytelling to Mike Kaluta's work. Sales jumped markedly over the previous issues, and THE SHADOW went back on the schedule because of the sales of Robbins' first issue. Unfortunately, Robbins had a falling out with publisher Carmine Infantino and had moved on to Marvel, and the post-Robbins series was cancelled with #12. --Anthony Tollin

Steve W. said...

Hello, Anthony. It's nice to know Frank Robbins' presence wasn't as off-putting for readers as it sometimes seemed to be. It's a shame it only led to a temporary reprieve for the strip.

Dougie said...

I love your description of Robbins' pencils!

Steve W. said...

Thanks, Dougie.

Actually, it's just occurred to me, reading the above article, that I never got round to saying what I thought of that actual issue. Sometimes I'm so clueless.

Steve W. said...

Egads! What's happened to the Comments page? Is it looking this un-user-friendly to everyone? Why can't Blogger stop messing about with things and stop trying to fix things that already work?

Anonymous said...

There have been a lot of complaints about the verification code words getting too hard to read. It seemed to improve for the past few weeks, but now they seem to be getting user un-friendly again. Anyway, getting back to the original topic, I always thought Frank Robbins' style was well suited to a comic with a 1930's pulp magazine feel (The Shadow, and sometimes Batman), or a 1940's Golden Age of Comics setting (The Invaders).

Steve W. said...

The verification codes are a nightmare. I think I've switched them off for this site but I'm not certain. I don't see them any more but that might be because I'm the blog owner.