One Fan's Opinion: Issue #63

Fri, November 10th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

It's hard not to turn into George Lucas.

And I don't mean that it's hard not to become a multi-gazillionaire creator of an enduring icon whose name is known by nearly every human being on the bloody planet - I mean it's hard to let things go out, warts and all, without giving it a tweak or two. Like "Star Wars" with its original released version and the re-mastered special edition version and the more recent re-mastered again version.

I dunno who started it, but I know who's done the same.

I can recall Roy Thomas talking about "Red Nails" and mentioning that he rewrote a line or two and Barry Smith couldn't help tampering with his work when it was being reprinted.

Even before that it was not uncommon for stories to be re-colored when they were reprinted.

In "Amazing Fantasy" #15, Spider-Man had a blue spider on his back and visible pupils in a panel at the end of the tale. Those two details were fixed in later collections. The Hulk was gray in his first printing and then green thereafter and it was common for his first issue to be re-colored and the original colors to be written off as an issue-long coloring error. In the '70s as the interior page counts went from 20 to 18 and then 17 pages, books being reprinted frequently had a couple pages removed. Editing was not unusual. Galactus would be colored his traditional purple instead of red and green -embarrassing typos would be caught and fixed. In romance books, fashions would be updated to reflect the times.

In the '80s, things really got out of hand. Spider-Man stories in "Marvel Tales" were heavily edited with references updated so that Aunt May was complaining about missing the "Dukes of Hazard" instead of the Beverly Hillbillies. With the success of Frank Miller's "Daredevil," Marvel released an "Elektra" miniseries which featured selected pages from Daredevil that focused on her, re-colored, re-mastered, and shuffled so that her story read in chronological order and flashbacks were put in the front while new pages that fleshed out certain scenes were interspersed. John Byrne drew a splendid wraparound cover for a reprint of the first "Fantastic Four Annual" and drew a few new pages that were worked into the Lee/Kirby/Ayers mix. And then there was "Classic X-Men" in which classic X-Men tales were expanded on and pages added to.

Painted books started taking off. Peter Ledger had done a terrific job on a "Weird World" project called "Warriors of the Shadow Realm" (a remarkable Marvel mag, written by Doug Moench and drawn by John Buscema and Rudy Nebres with painted color by Ledger - it was in "Marvel Comics Super Special" #11-13 from 1979) and the black and white "Rampaging Hulk" magazine was upgraded to the "Hulk Magazine," which became a painted book that emulated the more personal "Incredible Hulk" TV show type stories. It was there that I first saw the work of Steve Oliff, an outstanding colorist who knocked himself out coloring Bill Sienkiewicz's Neal Adams -inspired work on the "Moon Knight" backup story therein. Hand-painted color was on its way.

But not everybody was as talented as Steve Oliff or Peter Ledger.

Sure, Lynn Varley made Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Returns" sing at DC, but following the success of that everybody decided painted books were the way to go. DC put together a few Dark Knight-esque projects and Marvel reprinted a number of comics in a hand-painted color form. Roy Thomas and Neal Adams' run on the X-Men was re-colored (horribly) and other stories were worked over as well. Regrettably, the mad dash to produce painted books marred a few projects that should have been better than they ended up being. Jack Kirby's "Silver Star" miniseries at Pacific Comics started off strong with terrific flat color, but the last two issues with painted colors paled in comparison and it didn't end up looking like a cohesive whole when complete. Other projects suffered as well as publishers filled the racks with hand-painted atrocities.

It wasn't long before the bloom was off the rose. Once it stopped being special, people stopped caring and the hand-painted color was fazed out.

The '90s brought in computer coloring. Steve Oliff and his crew at Olyoptics blazed that trail and his efforts changed the face of comics. In short order, Steve and his squad were coloring nearly every book at the fledgling Image Comics and Marvel and DC scrambled to complete with often-hideous results. Where comics had once been filled with bright primary colors, now everything was a nightmarish mush of gray and brown.

Roy and Neal's X-Men run was collected again - this time with garish computer coloring. Steranko's S.H.I.E.L.D. was re-colored and destroyed. Marvel Masterworks were anything but faithful to the originals.

Re-mastering is not re-mastering without masters as part of the mix.

And at Image, the inmates were running the asylum.

With creators in charge of their creations, they could demand more of the people who worked with them. At the other companies it was almost unheard of for artists to talk to colorists - much less letterers and printers. At Image, that was the way business was done.

When "Savage Dragon" was collected for its first time, I went the Miller/Elektra route. I didn't omit pages to focus on a supporting character, but I did put them in chronological order and added pages and I had things re-colored, rewritten (just a line or two) and reworked.

Each time I collected "Savage Dragon," I messed with something. It was hard not to. There was always something that looked wrong to me. It was mine - I could do it, why not?

There wasn't anything as drastic as fixing things so that Han Solo no longer fired first, but I wasn't shy about fixing things that (to me) needed fixing.

Mike Mignola added pages to a "Hellboy" story or two.

And then there was "Bone."

Jeff Smith is a talented cartoonist - of that there can be little doubt - but his own deadlines had, at times, forced him to make compromises and it didn't take an eagle eyed reader to notice that some pages from his first printings of Bone were enhanced for the later collections. Backgrounds, details and moody lighting enhanced pages that had looked a bit lacking in previous publications.

The most drastic (to me) was the recent three-issue collection of Neal Adams Batman.

Now, I love Neal. I'm a Neal fan. I think Neal does outstanding stuff and he's done some of the greatest comics ever.

But Neal Adams today does not draw the same as that Neal Adams drew thirty years ago. I don't mean that in a judgmental fanboy "your-old-stuff-was-better" kind of way - it's just a simple statement of fact. The lines Neal puts to a page today are not the lines he put to the page decades earlier.

The recent collections are far from seamless.

And I can understand why he did it - better printing, better paper - posterity staring at him in the face and an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past - to show readers that the reality of Neal Adams' Batman lived up to the Hype of Neal Adams' Batman. For years readers have heard of Adams' spooky atmospheric Batman. It has become something of a legend. Neal's Batman was the barometer against which all other versions of Batman were measured. As the years progressed, Neal's Batman grew darker, spookier - his ears became longer and he worked it out.

In these collections, it appeared as though Neal was attempting to make it look more consistent. Batman's ears were adjusted in earlier stories and there was a considerable amount of re-inking done in order to bring things up to snuff, but that's where it suffered. As cool as Neal's work became, the line Neal put to paper now does not seamlessly blend in with the lines he put down then and the thicker, more expressive inks of today look out of place on the thinner, more delicate inks of years ago. When Superman appears, it's especially apparent as his hair keeps flipping back and forth from the flat, more restrained hair of years gone by to the fuller, fluffier hair Neal draws today. Maybe it's me, but it looked pieced together. Now, sitting on the other side of the altered work, I long to see what was under those fixes and get a glimpse at it "warts and all."

I love Neal - I love Neal's Batman - but I'd much rather see new Batman stories by Neal than to see him tampering with the old ones.

Neal's X-Men was collected again. This time in a Marvel Masterwork and the original flat coloring has been restored.

It looks awesome.

So, what's good enough for the goose isn't good enough for the gander?

I dunno.

There are certainly loads of folks that cried long and hard about George Lucas and what he did to Star Wars in an effort to turn it into the movie he had always wanted it to be.

I guess - in my own case - the comics in their original form are certainly out there and available for those that want them in their original form and there is something nifty about comparing things as they're re-worked and re-mastered.

Or maybe I haven't grown as much as an artist as Neal has and my tweaks don't stand out as much because of it.

Christ, I hate the way that sounds. I mean, I love Neal's stuff - I really do. I bought everything of his I could find when I was growing up. The only Batman story was one of the last in these recent collections (the one where he fought a werewolf), but I bought everything else from "Ms. Mystic" to "Megalith" and "Skateman" to "Crazy Man." It pains me to say anything negative about the man - it really does - but there you go. It's how I feel. I wish there were three "warts and all" Batman books available so I could compare the two and see the reasons why he felt compelled to monkey with them.

Sigh.

It's a tricky game this re-mastering stuff. The recent Miller "Daredevil" collections were enhanced a bit and there were readers that felt it hurt, rather than helped. I thought they were relatively well executed, but I can see where readers might feel otherwise. I miss Klaus Janson's color holds with their big dots.

The recent "EC Archives" collection left me cold with its semi-transparent logo superimposed over the old one and colors that were too airbrushed and modeled to bring me back to memories of my Dad's old comics. The Russ Cochran versions in black and white will do for now.

Maybe I'm a hypocrite. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there are readers out there that get as annoyed at me for fixing a miss-colored hand or drawing in a missing ear as I get annoyed at seeing Steranko's S.H.I.E.L.D. get butchered or Adams' X-Men get re-colored. I'd like to think I'm helping and that the end result is of a superior quality, but I'm pretty damned close to it.

But that's the kind of thing you get when a guy gets the kind of control over his work that I have. That's the kind of thing you get at a company where the creators can be as anal as they want to be.

I guess, at the end of the day, it depends on what you're trying to do. If you're trying to make the experience identical to reading the original comics - you do one thing - if you want to transform the work into something else - you do something else. And the fan with his or her money in his or her hand can spend it in whatever way they choose.

Including - not at all.

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