Ah, summer. The time when I can not only write as much as I want, but also READ as much as I want. This summer, I have dived back into comics in a big way. One of the great things about comic books as an art form is that there’s always something spectacular to discover—even if it was published decades ago.
This summer I’m on a serious Jim Aparo kick. Aparo’s Silver Age and Bronze Age work was simply amazing. The artist is best known for his runs on Aquaman, Phantom Stranger, and Brave and the Bold (Batman), but he did tons of other work. When Neal Adams came to comics in the mid-60s, he set a new standard for stylish, photo-realistic artwork that few people could match, and he changed the face of comics. Jim Aparo was an artist in that same style.
Both of these artists could have been right at home on Madison Avenue doing high-profile advertising illustrations (and in fact Adams did come from that field). Both Neal and Aparo utterly captured the look and feel of 1960s American—and they made it look fantastic. I can’t watch an episode of MAD MEN without thinking how much certain characters look like Jim Aparo drawings.
For a long time I’ve been searching out Aparo’s issues of the original PHANTOM STRANGER comic. A couple of years ago the entire run was finally collected in DC’s SHOWCASE PRESENTS: PHANTOM STRANGER Volumes 1 and 2. Even in black-and-white Aparo’s art is gorgeous. Last year I picked up the SHOWCAWSE PRESENTS: THE SPECTRE collection, which begins in the 60s but also includes Aparo’s early 70s run on the character in the pages of ADVENTURE COMICS. Spectacular stuff. Aparo followed Neal Adams on both of these titles–which given their similar styles is no coincidence.
Now I’ve never been much of an AQUAMAN fan, and in fact I’ve laughed at the popular jokes made about this character who “fights crime underwater.” But Jim Aparo did one of the most legendary AQUAMAN runs in the character’s history, and came back to do another one a few years later. His first run on the character was in the original Silver Age AQUAMAN comic (#40 -56), and in the 70s he came back to do an 11-issue revival of the character in ADVENTURE COMICS–this was a direct follow-up to his SPECTRE run in that same title. The original AQUAMAN Aparo run has yet to be collected, but a peek at the pages of these issues reveals some truly gorgeous artwork. Both of these runs are now on my list of classic must-haves.
Fortunately, BATMAN fans will have an easier time getting a fantastic Aparo fix. The artist’s long-standing BRAVE AND THE BOLD run has been collected in a full-color hardcover edition called LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT: JIM APARO Vol. 1. These were the stories that cemented Aparo’s legend, since Batman is one of the most high-profile characters ever. I’m sure I’ll pick this volume up eventually, but it’s his non-Batman work that thrills me the most.
Phantom Stranger and The Spectre are two of my favorite comics of all time, and looking back now at the age of 43, this is all due to the great Jim Aparo. His work was my first exposure to these DC characters and—much like John Buscema’s work defined Marvel Comics for me at an impressionable age—Jim Aparo’s version of these mysterious beings became the definitive versions in my mind.
Come to think of it, the only Aquaman comics I bought as a kid had Aparo artwork as well. I’ve heard other comics fans say that the Aparo Batman is THE Batman
to their minds, and I have to agree with that as well.
Jim Aparo was a true giant of the comics field,
and we need more of his great work in collected editions.
Until then, I’ll be hitting the back issue bins.