Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Unearthed: Tigerman #1!

Welcome again to my occasional series of columns entitled "Unearthed," wherein I examine comic books which have not been considered eminent within the canon of comic books. Recently, I finished looking at the four-issue run of The Destructor, a 1970s Atlas Comics title created primarily by Archie Goodwin & Steve Ditko, and the one-issue run of The Hands of the Dragon. You can visit the reviews here:

The Hands of the Dragon #1

The Destructor #1

The Destructor #2

The Destructor #3

The Destructor #4

The Destructor proved to be a perfectly fine super hero comic. If it were representative of the quality found in the Atlas Comics line, I don't think the publisher would have gone down in history quite so maligned. Thus, I decided to give another Atlas series a try - another series which Steve Ditko contributed to: Tigerman! Ditko did not originate the character but Tigerman lasted for three issues in 1975.

As before, I am not reading these comics together and then blogging about them, rather blogging after I read a single issue - thus, sitting down to this, I have no idea what issue #2 holds beyond what appears on its cover. Speaking of covers, let's begin!

The cover of Tigerman#1 (called "Tiger-Man" here but not inside) depicts our hero poised over the corpse of what is identified as his sister, while two men boast of having done the deed. That they feel no fear in the presence of Tigerman can be evinced by their lackadasical stances. Tigerman himself is dressed in a blue leotard with an orange tigerskin top. Now, there's nothing wrong with this colour combination; on the right person it works just fine.

However, the mask Tigerman wears is rather unfortunate. It is meant to grant him a visage similar to that of a tiger but the elongated facial fears are off-putting, making him look less like a vicious jungle animal and more like a dope. The cover is signed by Ernie Colon; although the interior has no credits (or story title), the Grand Comics Database likewise attributes the interior art to him, and writing to Gabriel Levy (who?). I think it's very unfortunate that as Atlas was seeking to become a major player on the marketplace to compete with Marvel Comics, yet they did not standardize credits within their titles as Marvel had done. The best element of the cover is the logo, which is a very nice standard super hero logo.

Above: A super hero

We begin with a nurse entering an elevator, where two men accost her with a knife, demanding she give them her car. It is instantly noticeable that this comic is lettered using a machine; the GCD believes it to be Leroy lettering, though it looks nowhere near as good as the Leroy lettering Jim Wroten utilized at EC Comics (learn more about Leroy lettering here). The lettering in this comic is flat and bland; even with Leroy lettering, there are still opportunities to bold or italicize text but this comic did not bother. It's as unappealing as the similar machine-lettering seen in most Charlton comics of the time. At any rate, the woman is rescued by Tigerman on page 2 when he pounces upon the two attackers and tells the nurse to "Better take care working nights in this city." In this sequence it becomes clear there are some problems with this comic - most notably, there is no sense of space or environment. The nurse seems to enter an elevator on page 1, panel 1 but from there the action seem to occur within a void. Tigerman seems to leap into the elevator to fight, but man, it must be one of those heavy industrial elevators to accomodate the amount of space used in the action scene. There are ways this sequence could have been cleared up and been more interesting to look at, but one has the sense Colon was speeding towards the quickest means to complete the art. We also note here that Tigerman isn't wearing the blue bodystocking seen on the cover, leaving his arms and legs bare and making him appear like a transplanted jungle hero rather than a super hero.

Above: A tiger, in Africa.

On page 3 we begin a flashback narrated by an omniscient narrator. In Zambia, we see Dr. Hill employed as a physician in a "ramshackle clinic." Dr. Hill takes note of the many animals in Zambia to learn from them, noticing how gazelles seem to sense danger. Hill's superior suggests he study a captured tiger which the dialogue carefully notes was caught in India. Thus, we have a tiger in Africa but it seems to be justified (unlike the recent Phantom story I reviewed). Still, why not simply set this flashback in India? At any rate, Dr. Hill studies the tiger's blood and isolates "the chromosome that makes the creature so powerful!!"

Above: Tiger uppercut

But - uh, oh! - it's time for a stock African comic book plot! It seems the local witch doctor resents Dr. Hill because his patients prefer Hill. The witch doctor breaks the tiger out of its cage just as Hill is exposing himself to the chromosome. When the tiger pounces on Dr. Hill, Hill beats it to death with his bare hands. After two years of this internship, Hill returns to the USA, bringing with him the tiger skin, which the Zambians made into an outfit. Back in New York, Dr. Hill is reunited with his sister Anna (at which point we learn his full name is Lan Hill). Anna is an actress on Broadway and gives her brother a letter informing him he's been accepted at Harlem Hospital. Anna leaves Lan at a hotel then returns to her apartment, but two men break into her apartment to rob her, noting they had "seen your matinee performance."

Above: Death of the supporting cast

At the hotel, Lan is phoned by a police detective who summons him back to the apartment. Detective Raye reveals Anna has been murdered; her dying words were "bald... bald..." I think she wished this comic were drawn by Ken Bald, but never mind. A piece of clothing from one of the attackers was left behind and Lan can smell horses on the fabric. Lan takes a moment to shed a tear for Anna, then sets out to find Anna's killers on his own. Donning the tiger skin he becomes Tigerman, garbed in the blue nylons but... hold on... he was bare armed and bare legged in the opening, which is set after he'd become Tigerman. Were the tights simply in the wash that night?

Above: Detective work

No matter, Tigerman is on the prowl! His only clue is a horse scent and it leads him to places such as Central Park, a riding academy and the police stables, but finally a poster for an indoor rodeo leads him to spy upon a rodeo rider named Jake Milner who has a bald head. That's some pretty compelling circumstancial evidence! Tigerman waits outside the rodeo but notices Jake's scent doesn't match the scrap of cloth so he decides to follow Jake until he catches the scent of Jake's presumed accomplice. Sure enough, Jake heads to a bar with a friend whose scent is the right one; Tigerman is ready to strike now!

Above: Tension

Jake and his pal remark, "Let's git us ossified 'n then go find us a couple a heifers!" But before the beastiality can proceed, Tigerman enters the bar. "Is the circus in town, too?" Jake's friend wonders. At the sight of him, Jake smashes a bottle and gets ready to fight because... a fight has to break out. It's at this point that the comic develops some serious trouble. The fight between Tigerman and the bar patrons is very poorly told and largely because of how Colon laid out the page, placing a diagonal panel down the center of the page, with the top and lower portions held roughly in a triangular shape. See below for the gory details:

Above: Diagram

The upper triangle has two panels which read left-right (1, 2). The lower triangle has three panels which read left (4), up (5) and right (6). It does not work at all; the letterer tried vainly to guide the reader by placing the speech balloons of these three panels in the order which they should be read so that the panel 4's balloon is above that of panel 5, but I still read these panels 5, 3, 6 the first time because it wasn't intuitive. It was also poorly done because of the lack of continuity between panels. In panel 5, a man called Big Louie grabs Tigerman from behind. If panel 4 had suggested someone was creeping up behind Tigerman then the correct order would have been visually clear. Further, panel 6 shows Big Louie falling backwards onto what I assumed was a table. If Tigerman had been framed in the panel in some manner the image would have been less non sequitur. But non sequitur is what we have.

Above: Action scene

Turning the next page, the previous page's fight unfortunately continues as Big Louie falls to the ground. Wait, again? It seems the previous page's panel 6 was actually depicting Big Louie being thrown against the wall. What I took to be debris from a broken table was evidently intended to be cracked plaster. Motion lines could have cleared up the activity; again, depicting Tigerman in relation to Big Louie could also have cleared that up. Tigerman rants as he confronts the two killers: "Everything's gone too far! Someone must say enough! Someone must stop the mugging, the murdering, stealing! The pig behavior of swine like you! Someone must stop it all -- and I am that someone!"

Above: Death scene

So saying, Tigerman strikes both men in some manner. The two men's bodies are depicted being hurled through an empty void. Tigerman then leaves the bar. "Minutes later," the police arrive. Upon a rooftop, Tigerman wonders if he had done right. "The police would never have caught them - never!! But I feel so empty... so damned miserable!" He goes on to muse about killing Jake and his friend. Yes, that's right - he killed both men. None of this was clear from the art. Tigerman also muses about the two men in the hospital elevator from the opening sequence - no idea where that fit within the story of him killing his sister's killers. Anyway, Tigerman states "Let the criminal beware - Tigerman is here!!"

Thoughts: There is nothing in this comic to suggest why it exists, no mission statement. No credited writer, artist, colourist, letterer, editor. No editorial from the creators explaining how this comic came to be and how they envision its future will unfold. The entire comic gives off an air of a book which was not so much "created" as "manufactured."

I do not sense that scripter Gabriel Levy is to blame for the failure of Tigerman. He came up with a very generic super hero origin story but it was inoffensive. Much like the Destructor, it seems Atlas super heroes owed a bit of their inspiration to Charles Bronson in Death Wish as Tigerman's rants would fit Bronson's character perfectly well. The failings of this comic lie primarily in the hands of Ernie Colon, which is surprising to me.

Ernie Colon was hardly a novice at the time this comic was made, having spent more than a decade in comics. However, he had never been a super hero artist until he came to Atlas Comics. His other work was on the very family-friendly Harvey Comics and not-at-all-family-friendly Warren horror magazines. He knew his way around a comics page, which makes his layouts in this issue all the more baffling. Colon's best work in the super hero genre would come much later: Marvel's Damage Control, which took full advantage of his skills as a humourous cartoonist. If you'd like to see me write more complimentary words about Colon, check out my review of his Inner Sanctum graphic novel.

Casting an artist who couldn't compose action scenes into an action comic was a very poor idea; fortunately, I know things improved the following issue; they would have to: Steve Ditko became the artist in issue #2!

Next time: My next entry of Unearthed will be Tigerman #2, Steve Ditko Boogaloo!

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