Friday, August 11, 2017

This Artist Unleashed!

To make way for Bill Sienkiewicz, Sal Buscema--whose unwaveringly straightforward style had offset the absurdity of Steve Gerber's The Defenders and Steve Englehart's Captain America--had been taken off New Mutants. "I knew you couldn't have an old-fashioned artist on something geared to bring in new readers," said [editor Ann] Nocenti. "Probably the hardest call I ever made at Marvel was to Sal Buscema, to say, bluntly--too bluntly--'I am taking you off this book.' He asked why, and I said, 'You're old fashioned. This needs to be new.' And he was really mad, then upset. Then he turned around, and in the next issue of The Incredible Hulk ... it was fucking magnificent. It was like Sal saying, 'You want to see what I can do?' He just pulled all the guns out."

-- Excerpt from Marvel Comics The Untold Story by Sean Howe

Buscema, the regular artist on New Mutants from its inception, stayed on the book for a little over a year before Sienkiewicz was brought aboard in the late summer of 1984. In her points on style and reaching out to new readers, Nocenti may have been onto something, at least when it came to my own tastes, since even Buscema's work, which I very much admire, wasn't enough to make me pick up a single issue of New Mutants (though the main reason for my reticence was that I just didn't care about the characters, their homework, their growing pains, or their adventures). But it was Sienkiewicz's painted covers, which Howe describes as "near abstractions ... that would push the boundaries of Marvel's visual style," which piqued my interest in picking up an issue or three--just around the time when the character of Rachel Summers had been introduced and shunted to New Mutants for further exploration. I still didn't latch onto the book as a regular reader--but in terms of sales, Nocenti's instincts were spot-on. In my case, the change to Sienkiewicz did exactly what it was meant to accomplish.

But I became curious about Nocenti's description of how the decision made Buscema cut loose on the issue of Incredible Hulk that followed getting his pink slip from New Mutants. As near as I can pin it down, that would have been the issue where Nightmare revealed himself as the one who was deliberately undermining Bruce Banner's efforts to remain in control of the Hulk--and judging by the first few pages alone, that seems to be the case. Although he's working with the same inker (Gerry Taloc), Buscema has obviously taken his work up a few notches from the pages he turned in for the prior issue; and with a good deal of the story taking place in Nightmare's realm, Buscema demonstrates that his own skills in the abstract aren't exactly chopped liver. (That said, one can't help but note that the issue's abstract cover* was assigned to another artist, Kevin Nowlan.)

*Though it's indeed Nightmare who's pulling the Hulk's strings in the issue, Nowlan's depiction almost makes you wonder if we're going to find Mastermind to be the culprit, instead.

In fact, opening to page one, it's tempting to believe that the smug character who greets us isn't Nightmare, but rather a certain artist whose satisfied expression here speaks volumes and whose work speaks for itself.

The story continues the events of the prior issue that has Nightmare solidifying his hold over the Hulk's savage nature and bringing it to the fore--his goal being to manipulate the monster into attacking Dr. Strange. With devilish delight, he recounts for the reader how much pleasure he takes in the torment of those whose dreams make them vulnerable to his influence--as well as how methodically he has planned and worked to make use of the Hulk in his revenge against Strange. Buscema's interpretations and presentation of this villain's machinations are striking. Clearly, the gloves have come off--even as Bruce Banner has been forced to cast aside his hope for his own future, perhaps forever.

As he moves us from Nightmare's realm to rejoin the now wide-awake Hulk, Buscema doesn't loosen the reins--following the Hulk's progress as he rampages across the countryside, terrorizing innocents and defying those in authority. Nightmare has done his work well--and Buscema has undoubtedly proven his point.


Anonymous said...

That's a good book, that Marvel Comics the Untold Story. I've got it. And I completely agree with you about Sal Buscema.
That guy doesn't get enough credit. He pulled out all the stops here.
He's my favorite Hulk artist, and his work on the Avengers and Sub-Mariner in the late 60's was incredible. And there's so much else.
Clearly, he had some great work left in him at this point.
Sal's work as both an inker and on one issue as a penciller on D.C.'s late '90's revamp of the Creeper was amazing, and worth checking out.


Comicsfan said...

If I had to name a favorite Incredible Hulk artist, I'd have to pick the Trimpe/Severin team, hands down--but Buscema has more than left his mark on the book, no doubt.

There are a few more observations on Marvel Comics The Untold Story on the way, M.P., so stay tuned.

-3- said...

Sal started out as "the other Buscema" for me, but over time grew to a distinctive presence of his own. While sometimes not as flashy as some, that always seemed like an intentional choice, going for solid storytelling over attention getting. The story you've highlighted here seems to confirm that idea, as was likely his intent. Thanks for showing it. I'll be going back to look closer.
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is still sitting unread at the moment, but it being the Kirby Centennial it's slated for the upcoming week. I'm now looking forward to the read.

Comicsfan said...

3, at the rate I'm going I'm sure I'll still be trudging my way through the book several weeks after you've polished it off!

Jared said...

I think Nocenti probably made the right call with New Mutants. The only stories from New Mutants I really consider worth reading are the Demon Bear Saga and the battle inside of Legion's mind. I cannot imagine those stories would work as well without Sienkiewicz's beautiful art.

It is strange to think of the days when a penciler could handle more than one monthly title.

I don't think the Mantlo/Buscema Hulk run gets enough credit as one of the great Marvel runs of the 80s. I think the whole run is outstanding and makes for some great Hulk stories. I also think it has some of Buscema's best art of his long Hulk run. I think it is forgotten because Peter David started about a year and a half later. The other reason it is forgotten is Mantlo's tragedy pretty much left him out of sight and out of mind. He has been forgotten while creators Stern and Claremont stay in our minds.

Comicsfan said...

Jared, Mantlo's run on Incredible Hulk has a number of issues I'd definitely recommend. There were some tangents here and there that he went off on that virtually pushed the popularity of the Hulk character down our throats, which came off a little as pandering (though he didn't limit himself to the Hulk in that respect), and at times there were books for which he wasn't a good fit (I wasn't crazy about his Iron Man work)--but inbetween, there were truly exceptional stories which he rolled up his sleeves on, such as the exploration of the roots of the Hulk's rage... or the disgrace of Ross's treason... or his adaptation of Harlan Ellison's "Soldier From Tomorrow"... or his handling of Glenn Talbot's fall... or even his creation of the U-Foes with Buscema. He became one of Marvel's most dependable writers.

Jared said...

I don't think I have ever read Mantlo's Iron Man. Doesn't sound like a great fit. I'm a big fan of his work on Hulk and Spectacular Spider-Man. I think some of his best work was on Micronauts and ROM, which stupidly isn't available right now in any form.

On the subject of this issue, when was the last time Marvel used Nightmare, and did he ever look as good as Buscema drew him here?