Friday, August 7, 2015

The Incredible Shrinking Villains

Artist Gil Kane has done his share of reinterpretations of classic Marvel covers to appear in reprint mags such as Marvel's Greatest Comics and Marvel Tales--and while many of them have been on par with the originals, his attempt to give a more contemporary look to the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #49 appears to fall short.

And coming up short when you've got three characters such as Spider-Man, the Vulture, and Kraven the Hunter clashing in battle seems like a virtual impossibility, particularly when you're speaking of an artist of Kane's caliber.

On the majority of reprint covers, we've seen the revised image retain the artwork of the original in almost all respects, offering mostly touch-up changes that accommodate the different formatting of the newer book or changes in a character's look in the years since the original story's publication. From what I recall, Kane (along with the Buscema brothers) generally opted (or was assigned) to create entirely new cover art; and in all fairness, these early '70s covers, which limited the space in which an artist could work, couldn't have been easy for an artist to cram in dramatic cover art. On the other hand, John Romita's striking (heh, literally!) artwork on the ASM issue, if reduced in size, could still have fit into the MT artwork "window," since all three characters were struggling in close quarters.

Speaking of Romita, I was frankly surprised when he chose to duplicate the first Vulture's costume so exactly when a bruiser like Blackie Drago assumed the role. Granted, the whole premise relied on Drago stealing the Vulture's costume for himself--and Drago doesn't strike me as someone who has a gift or the temperament for costume redesign. Yet for Drago, I might have kept the basic Vulture costume but given it a darker hue with more contrast. (How many green vultures do you see flying around?) Imagine how much more visually exciting the battle between Drago and the original Vulture would have looked from page to page if Drago's costume retained the same basic design but had more striking colors of, say, white and dark gray or black. Even so, Romita's cover has him looking dangerous enough; but in Kane's version, you get no sense of the Vulture's threat or power; and the same can arguably be said of Kraven.

Spider-Man, of course, is the moneymaker on this book, so Kane puts him front and center--as opposed to five years earlier, when the villains often were given as much (if not more) of the cover limelight as the title character(s). Kane has also changed the location of the battle to the open spaces of the city, as opposed to the simulated jungle environment which Kraven had lured the Vulture into. There's no doubt that Kane has all the essentials in place, but only one of these covers gives the impression that Spider-Man is fighting two powerful opponents who have him on the ropes--while for the other, it seems an actual rope is needed.


Anonymous said...

I seem to remember reading in some magazine, COMIC ARTIST or COMIC SCENE or something like that, that Gil Kane enjoyed doing covers, and his exaggerated, clean, dynamic style was certainly well suited for it. His figures would just jump off the covers.
I always enjoyed his work, with the exception of Conan, but only because his style just didn't seem to fit with the darker mood of the material, in my opinion.
Great Spider-man artist, one of the best.

Anonymous said...

One of the best but not THE best - that was John Romita. My first ever Spidey story was the UK reprint of The Kingpin vs. The Schemer so I was introduced to Spider-man via Romita. Not long after he was replaced by Gil Kane which was very disappointing at first but I got used to it - but Romita always makes me think of those early days when both Spidey and Marvel comics were new to me :)

Anonymous said...

I agree, Colin, ...Romita was the king!