The Groovy Agent's Pad

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What Made Comics Groovy! Part 3: Jim Aparo

While trying to figure out what to write about today, it hit me. We lost comicbook artist Jim Aparo a year ago this month. A year ago yesterday, to be precise. With that in mind, Ol' Groove is gonna pay tribute to the great J.A.!

My introduction to the art of Jim Aparo (or at least, the first time I took notice of it) was in Aquaman. As a pre-schooler, Ol' Groove loved to watch the Aquaman cartoons, so it was only natural that when the comic bug bit 'im, Aquaman was one of the first comics he gravitated to. This legendary run, in conjunction with the magnificent Steve Skeates (writer) and icon Dick Giordano (editor) was fantastic! Filled to overflowing with, not only slam-bang superheroics, but huge doses of sci-fi and fantasy, Aquaman became one of DC's best selling titles (I've heard that it even outsold Superman for a time!) When the "relevance" trend (comics that dealt with specific social issues of the day) hit comics in the early 1970s, Aquaman was the perfect vehicle to deal with pollution and ecology. Aparo's art gave every issue, no matter what genre it spotlighted, a flair unlike most any other DC comic of its time.

I went ape over Aparo with Brave and the Bold #100. In that issue, Batman teamed up with Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Robin to stop a drug smuggling operation. Actually, Batman didn't team up with that list of luminaries; he'd been shot and confined to a hospital bed, so he acted as the brains of the operation while the others were more his agents. Anyway it was a great story (still love it to this day), but it was Aparo's work that really jumped out at me. Aparo had a long run on Brave and the Bold (issues 98 through 200 with very few "interruptions" by other artists). In fact, Aparo's dependability made him part of an elite group in the 70s, as most comics professionals (especially artists) weren't very interested on staying on any one title for too long a time. Thus, Brave and the Bold, in no small part due to the art of Jim Aparo, was one of DC's consistently great titles, month in, month out.

Aparo did a few issues of Detective Comics during the Groovy Age, as well. Beginning with the first issue of Archie Goodwin's legendary run (Detective #437), and on and off through the famous "Batman: Murderer" arc with Len Wein and Julie Schwartz that directly followed the Goodwin issues. To my eyes between this work and his work on B&B, Aparo became the definitive Batman artist of the Groovy Age. (Not knocking Neal Adams, Marshall Rogers, or Michael Golden--I'll get to them later, promise!)

Another book Aparo made his own was the Phantom Stranger. Coupled (usually) with writer Len Wein, this book was a solid, suspenseful, and compelling read. More horror than superhero, the Phantom Stranger was wholly original. Aparo could cut loose with monsters, demons, and deep, spooky shadows. One of the most underrated comics ever!

When Aparo left Phantom Stranger, he did it to move on to my favorite Aparo run--the Spectre strip in Adventure Comics (issues 431 through 440). It was on this controversial strip that Aparo really cut loose! His Spectre dealt harsh justice to some of the nastiest criminals ever. The bad guys were EVIL in this strip, harsh, murderous slime. So the "justice" meted out by the Spectre was just as nasty. One bad guy was cut in half by a giant pair of scissors. Another was turned into wood and sawed up with a chain saw. Another turned into a mannequin and left to melt in a fire. Another...but you get the idea. The thing is, as wild and outrageous as the situations were, Aparo drew them with style and class. He never resorted to the cheap shot. He always kept in mind that there were children among his audience. But he always achieved giving me goosebumps!

When Adventure #441 appeared, the Spectre wasn't in it--but Jim Aparo was. Aquaman (remember him?) graduated from back-up to lead feature when the Spectre was discontinued. Once again, Aparo rose to the task and turned out many memorable, fun, and sometimes downright beautiful pages of undersea superhero action.

Aparo did tons of other work during the Groovy Age, especially short horror tales in a variety of DC mystery comics (like House of Mystery, House of Secrets, etc.) He continued doing fine work after the Groovy Age as well. Do a google or eBay search on Jim Aparo and get to know his work first hand. You won't be disappointed!

--Agent Out!

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