Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Unearthed: Tigerman #2!

Welcome back! In case you missed it, I unearthed Atlas Comics' Tigerman #1 here. Much has changed between issues and the big changes start with the cover:

The Grand Comics Database credits this cover to artist Frank Thorne. As covers are typically produced before the issue's interior art, the absence of issue #1's artist Ernie Colon is quite notable - he didn't so much as contribute the subsequent cover, much less the interior. This cover feels like an attempted do-over of the character to reintroduce him after the debut issue's underwhelming image. Here, we have a series of dynamic action shots and the words "He stalks the night!" Tiger-Man's face is also much more fearsome - no longer a long-faced sad sack. Also visible is a costumed criminal for Tiger-Man to fight, a caucasian man wearing a blue outfit with leopard spots (not quite, as the interior will demonstrate).

Perhaps the first big change in the series is the hero's name - no longer is he "Tigerman" but rather "Tiger-Man" - thus, his cover logo is no longer an aberration. Likewise, this issue has a title and credits! We have here "Stalker in a Concrete Jungle!" by Gerry Conway and Steve Ditko (the GCD says Frank Giacoia inked Ditko here). The lettering is likewise improved, no longer the stiff machine font from before. These are minor victories, but we shall savour them.

We open on a robbery as three men in yellow & red uniforms have blasted their way out of a bank with sacks of money in their hands. Tiger-Man follows the crooks but a pair of security guards catch up to the robbers first. The crooks eagerly show the powers their special suits grant them, which include bulletproof armor and an electrifying punch. Now that he knows their powers, Tiger-Man pounces! "The name is Tiger-Man! Remember it well, friend! Take it with you to Hell!" Tiger-Man seems to kill two of the thieves with his claws and tears at the third one, demanding to know who gave them their technology; the terrified criminal finally blurts out the name Professor Anderson Kobart; Tiger-Man lets the last criminal live.

As Tiger-Man departs via the rooftops he is suddenly himself tracked by another figure - man garbed in an orange costume with leopard spots. This is the correctly-coloured Blue Leopard who is not white, but black - and Zambian! Tiger-Man is shocked to hear Blue Leopard call him "Dr. Hill," and Blue Leopard refers to Na'Bantu, the evil witch doctor from Tiger-Man's origin. But what exactly is the connection between the two of them? This is not the time for Tiger-Man to find out as Blue Leopard knocks him out with his poison-tipped claws.

Tiger-Man recalls his origin as he slumbers (handy, for those who came in late) and awakens in the early dawn to find Blue Leopard left him alone after drugging him. Racing to his job at Harlem Hospital, Dr. Hill quickly goes to work assisting his patients. It should be noted that Hill's long floppy hair is a visual which Ditko's style is not accustomed to - Ditko's heroes tend to have short haircuts. Finally, when his duties are complete, Hill sets out to investigate the Professor Kobart mentioned before. En route to Kobart's office, Tiger-Man ponders how easily he's taken to killing enemies and wonders about the need for vengeance he's felt since his sister's death. He feels that when he finds Kobart, he will probably kill again. It's a textbook monologue, straight out of Stan Lee's playbook.

Tiger-Man bursts into Kobart's office, only to find the scientist dead. Waiting for Tiger-Man is the Blue Leopard, who had overheard Kobart's name when Tiger-Man interrogated the criminal. Blue Leopard finally explains his origins, revealing how after Dr. Hill left Zambia their village suffered a terrible famine and 200 people died. Na'Bantu placed the blame on Dr. Hill and gave "the skin of the sacred leopard" to one of his followers, the man who is now the Blue Leopard. This skin is enchanted and grants him powers similar to Tiger-Man (even though Tiger-Man's powers come from science). Blue Leopard explains his plan is to repeatedly humiliate Tiger-Man before killing him.

Another fight breaks out between the two of them, with Tiger-Man deftly avoiding Blue Leopard's claws until they hear police sirens approaching. Blue Leopard chooses to depart and let Tiger-Man explain Kobart's body. As a final taunt he tells the hero "Tonight was just a dry run, Dr. Hill. There are still things you have to learn about me... and learn them, you will... before you die!" Recalling his own intent to kill Kobart, Tiger-Man is left wondering if he and Blue Leopard truly are alike - if Tiger-Man could be turning into a madman.

The series still has no editorials but there is a house ad for other Atlas Comics, which gives this book some sense of identity.

Comments: How strange is it to find a comic book character from Zambia - a costumed character no less! Reading the comic I kept hoping Blue Leopard would prove to be a misguided character with a noble heart, but that doesn't appear to be where Conway intended to take the character. We'll see where this plot goes in issue #3, I'm interested in finding out how it ends!

And what a change, eh, to have a sense of continuity already? The previous issue's events are recalled and from Tiger-Man's origin a new character is forged. The lackluster Tigerman #1 is somewhat shored up by the work Conway performed here. Conway and Ditko are two men who can deliver an acceptable super hero comic book in their sleep and they were certainly awake while crafting this one. Ditko brings the dynamic action which a character like Tiger-Man desperately requires. Ditko's visuals of the hero leaping and climbing are impressive and the fight choreography is top-notch (unlike Colon). This is not a remarkable find, but comparing to Colon's work, it shows how effortlessly Ditko could make drawing super hero comics seem. Ditko is often quite minimalist in his designs and that's true of Tiger-Man - he strips everything down to only what's needed to get the story told. Conway, for his part, wrote a straight forward plot with a hint of mystery. Good on them.

The next installment of Unearthed will bring you Tigerman #3! Look for it in January!

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