Bronze Age Beginnings

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Bronze Age Marvel Greats: Sal Buscema


Despite my love for Marvel’s Bronze Age, I would be the first to admit that there are few extended runs during this period that really hold up to repeated readings. Many are flawed by inconsistent art teams, THE DREADED DEADLINE DOOM!, or sudden shifts in writers. One of my most revered Bronze Age Marvel runs is Steve Gerber’s time on The Defenders, marred only by his very sudden departure to be replaced by Gerry Conway.

In issue #41, in response to a letter, an unnamed Marvel employee (but it is most likely Gerber himself) writes:

“In any event, we’re not necessarily sorry you disagree with Steve Gerber’s plots or that they disagree with you, because Gerber’s been relieved of his duties on the book. Next issue, Gerry Conway takes over the scripting and he promises that THE DEFENDERS will shortly resemble a super-hero book – and not the outtakes from “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” – in plotting and dialogue once again.”

Ouch!

It struck me, though, after recently re-reading the run in its entirety, that the unsung hero is Sal Buscema. Never a flashy artist, he is an excellent storyteller and adds much needed consistency. His characters are always on-model (a practise a few of the later, more stylised, Marvel artists ignored, to the detriment of the Marvel Universe as a whole), and perfectly captures some of the more outrageous aspects of Gerber’s scripts. Just take a look at that panel above, with Val, Dr Strange and the Hulk wearing bozo masks, and marvel at the way Sal highlights the absurdity of the situation with an apparently matter-of-fact illustration. The tension between the absurd and the mundane is palpable.

Sal was inked by a variety of talented individuals (and Vinnie Colletta), but though Klaus Janson was nice (if a little overpowering), I am very partial to the inks of Mike Esposito. The most enduring image from Gerber’s run, for me, has always been Valkyrie’s despatch of a rat menacing a child in the slums, and Sal and Mike played the scene exceptionally. Enjoy.


4 comments:

  1. I can't say I was sorry to see the "Bozo" storyline finally end. (Though I loved Dr. Strange's parting line of suggesting they be "bozos one and all," or words to that effect.) Buscema soldiered on through Steve Gerber's quirky plots like the professional he was, perhaps wincing frequently while the Hulk was put through indignity after indignity at the keys of Gerber's typewriter. I prefer to remember his art more under Englehart's stewardship of the book.

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  2. I adore the Buscema/Esposito look too but the main thing about this piece that sticks out for me is that lettercol business. How incredibly rude and unprofessional.

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  3. As I mentioned, I think that may have actually been Gerber himself - he tended to answer The Defenders' lettercols in the third person - and it may have been a self-deprecating way of dealing with his dismisal from the book.
    I'll give you that it is quite jarring.

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  4. Can't say enough about Sal's Bronze Age work. He was perhaps the face of Marvel, when you consider his output on Spider-Man, the Hulk, and Captain America -- as well as the Defenders and others. Hard NOT to find his work in that era. And as stated above, always professionally rendered.

    Great stuff!

    Doug

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