Judging by production values alone, comic books have never been better.
Slick paper, slicker dialogue and even slicker art and coloring have transformed the once lowly funny book into a state-of-the-art periodical that … well … seems greatly overpriced at $3.99.
Understand, dear reader, I am not denigrating the talents of those who contribute to the modern industry. In fact, the art of J.H. Williams alone justifies the Big Two’s continued existence.
However, from time to time, I enjoy studying the efforts of those who scaled similar heights without the benefit of Photoshop, high-quality paper and digital coloring.
Case in point: Michael Golden’s memorable run on Marvel’s Micronauts comic.
The Micronauts series was based upon a line of action figures launched in Japan waaay back in 1974. After the toys were introduced to the American market a few years later, Bill Mantlo decided he wanted to write a comic based upon the property.
Marvel acquired the rights, assigned the resulting book to Mantlo and Golden, and the rest is history.
To Mantlo and Golden’s credit, The Micronauts comic possessed an epic sweep that hewed closer to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World series than George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise.
(Combined with the ROM and GI Joe comics, Marvel had the market cornered on surprisingly good comics based upon toys. Although I suppose DC’s Atari Force and Captain Action series come close …)
Golden’s art was truly revelatory. By the time The Micronauts debuted in 1979, many of the innovative artists who kicked off the decade (i.e. Kaluta, Ploog, Windsor-Smith, Wrightson) worked infrequently or left the comics industry entirely. With the exception of a few (Byrne, Staton, Rogers), much of the art that emanated from the Big Two reflected increasingly strict house styles.
Golden veered from the cookie-cutter approach of the era with a somewhat cartoony style wedded to a nearly cinematic sense of detail. His layout skills were also exemplary, as demonstrated by the splash page above.
Taken from The Micronauts #6, Golden depicts a young boy, a brown dog and a team of miniature warriors on the run from an android army and pulls it off masterfully. He achieves a great 3-D effect by having the chase break through the panel and adds a nice dollop of emotional tension by clearly depicting the anguished and frightened expressions of both the boy and the dog.
The Micronauts themselves are barely discernible, given their relatively small size, and the androids are too far away from the action to truly command the readers’ attention. Our eyes go directly toward the boy and his dog and we feel the danger of the situation quite clearly.
And in case we forgot just who headlines the book, there’s a handy dandy roll call of the The Micronauts below Mantlo’s splashy title. Nifty, eh?
Sadly, nothing lasts forever and Golden was gone after the 12th issue. He did, however, leave behind several striking images as seen below.
And of course, Golden would exceed the heights of his Micronauts work on Marvel’s excellent war comic, The ‘Nam. I still need to track down a few issues from that run …