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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Marshall Rogers: One Of The Good Ones

A few weeks ago when Arnold Drake died, I mentioned that I'm often uncomfortable eulogizing comics creators, even the ones whose work means something to me beyond just my standard affection. To be honest, it's not something that I think really plays to my strengths, but when I heard yesterday that Marshall Rogers had died, I felt like I had something to say about it.

Longtime ISB readers may be familiar with the fact that Batman is my favorite character, and even sitting here years after the first time I read it as a set of Baxter paper reprints, Marshall Rogers' run with Steve Englehart still ranks as one of my all-time favorite portrayals of the character.

That one image alone ought to explain why I like his art so much, and with any other artist, Batman leaping forward with every good intention of beating the living hell out of some hapless thug would be enough. With Rogers, though, it goes beyond that. He's not just a good draftsman or a great penciller; he was a great comics artist and a true master of the sequential format of the page.

I could go on all night about the sound effects alone. They're one of the truly unique aspects of comics, and the way Rogers worked them into the art--whether it's the screech of a car peeling out written out along its tire tracks or the way his characters dodge around the sounds of their own punches in a fight--just makes for an amazing visual.

And his page layouts work along the same lines:

Reading through these issues when I was a teenager blew my mind, and made me realize how much you could actually cram onto the page. The middle section of the image above could've been a page all on its own with the amount of tension that builds from the panels, each one a heartbeat racing faster as Batman has to decide whether beating on a criminal's going to really make him feel better about breaking up with Silver St. Cloud.

It probably would, which is what's so cool about the way Batman nonchalantly drops the guy, insults him, and then cruises out like a cool breeze, but really: once you've already wailed on a guy for third of a page...

...there's only so much stress you can relieve.

And then there's the Joker.

Brandon over at Random Panels already posted that panel, but it's always worth another look, because it's hands-down one of the best single images of the Joker ever printed: Lanky and sinister, wrapped in his own evil laughter as he strolls in, literally dropping his calling card as he casually holds a city for ransom with menace in his eyes and a smile on his face.

According to an interview I once read in Back Issue, Rogers believed that the Joker was actually physically incapable of not smiling, and as much as I like the way he's drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, or even the wildly exaggerated emotions that give him so much character with Bruce Timm's designs, I agree with his line of thinking. It's adds such a great element of tragedy to him and his motivations if he's a guy that can see the worst the world has to offer and literally have no choice but to laugh at it.

Even so, I can't help but imagine that if there was one thing that could wrench his permanent smile back into something a little sadder, it'd be the thought of a world without Marshall Rogers.

BONUS FEATURE: One More Awesome Page...

That image of the Joker ranting about infecting cattle with poison, then helpfully turning the page has got to be one of my favorite things in comics. If you've managed to get this far without ever reading Englehart, Rogers, Wein, and Simonson's Strange Apparitions, then you really, really ought to.


Blogger Steve Flanagan said...

It's easy for that Detective Comics run to overwhelm our recollections of Rogers' whole career. I wanted to post bits of comics continuity from a range of different strips, but, dammit, there's so much wonderful Batman stuff!

The bit at the end of "Sign of the Joker" where Silver St Cloud runs off and we just get two panels of Batman's cape billowing sadly gets me every time. But those panels from the first Len Wein issue that you've posted are equally good, if very different, examples of Rogers's mastery of his craft.

Typo alert: "actually physically incapable of smiling" - surely it should be "actually physically incapable of not smiling" (as in the still of Conrad Veidt from "The Man Who Laughs" which Rogers used as the basis of his Joker and actually copied for one Panel of "The Laughing Fish").

3/28/2007 2:23 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That EXACT panel of the Joker was one of two that made me decide I had to try learning to draw all the comics I was reading. The other was Zeck's Spider-Man crawling out of the grave Kraven put him in.

Didn't take much time for me to realize-- I was much better at reading em. But I still remember it, that panel hit me in the gut like a car battery.

3/28/2007 3:16 AM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

Whoops, you're right, Steve. There, it's fixed.

... Just as it always has been.

3/28/2007 9:55 AM

Blogger Keath said...

A great post. That's the classic Joker shot - I agree it's perfection. But that first panel of Batman - he looks rather - erm - well-endowed in the left chest area. Or have I just spent too much time reading posts about the Michael Turner cover?

3/28/2007 10:59 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What, nothing from Rogers' run on Dr Strange? Clearly a man who had fun w/ his work, without self-parody.

3/28/2007 1:16 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had read many, many years ago ... somewhere... that the Joker, INDEED was unable frown. And that (much like what they attempted in the 1st Michael Keaton BATMAN movie) it was that the muscles were PERMANENTLY frozen in a rigored, smiling grimace.

It used to piss the heck out of me to see him drawn otherwise.
But that was MANY years ago, and sadly, with all the Crisis-type revamps at DC, I never knew if that bit of Joker goodness was tossed away.

It certainly adds another dimension to his madness.

As for Marshall... his work was always very much appreciated by me although, many of his females seemed a little too "odd" looking to me. Much like Ditko's women. Sorta "Olive Oyl"-like.

OK...EXCEPT for Silver St. Cloud.

His work on DR. STRANGE was FANTASTIC, however. Such amazing layouts and effects going on there.
I may have to crack out a few and read them in tribute (along with the BATMAN "Strange Apparitions" issues).

Hey! Did you get that STRANGE WESTERNS: BLACK RIDER issue that he and Englehart made for Marvel a few months back?

Beautiful work!
Dang...He shall be missed.



3/28/2007 1:19 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved that first splash of Rupert Thorne tossing the playing card almost RIGHT AT YOU. It was so cool and really signaled the reader that this artist wasn't just a Neal Adams or Dick Sprang worshipper; he was going to do something DIFFERENT, dammit.

I also liked Rogers' work in Coyote Vol. 1: The Origin, though Englehart's scripting is, uh, REALLY BAD.

3/28/2007 1:22 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aw crap ... .
"Daughters of th the Dragon" in Deadly Hands of Kung Fu -- I didn't feel it suited the story but it was beautiful. Capt. Quick - his art was delightful. Ditko, Brunner, and him are my favorite Dr. Strange artists. He even made the Calculator readable.

rgl thanks

3/28/2007 9:09 PM

Blogger R.Nav said...

Wow. What collection are those pages in? I really need to check them out.

3/28/2007 11:25 PM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

They're in Batman: Strange Apparitions, and in fact, there's a link to that very collection on Amazon in the last sentence of the post.

3/29/2007 1:32 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe you didn't put that panel where Batman disarms a thug with a fishtank.
It's right before that one you posted where Batman it's jumping to beat the living hell out of him.

Why, yes, I have memorized it.

Word verification: "sansjob", my current state.

3/29/2007 11:53 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rogers drew an issue of the black & white Howard the Duck magazine that was basically a parody of his Batman stuff. I don't remember much about it except that Beverly's "Robin" outfit was... uh, gotta go.

3/30/2007 1:07 AM

Blogger Steve Flanagan said...

I hope it's not too pushy of me to say that I've posted the details of, and some panels from, that Howard the Duck story here.

3/30/2007 5:15 AM

Blogger Ferrous Buller said...

Am I the only one who's disturbed to see Batman thinking about gettin' it on with his lady-friend as he's whaling on that guy?

3/30/2007 6:08 PM


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