Comic Art Friday: Let me do right to all, and harm no man

As noted last week, I’ve developed a new focus for Comic Art Friday in 2013 — revisiting (more or less chronologically) some of the milestone artworks in my galleries, and considering from a fresh perspective why these pieces helped elevate my collection to its present heights. Because I’ve written about most of these pieces (and the characters they portray) in detail over the years, I’m seizing this opportunity to reflect more on what each of these drawings says about me, not only as a collector and connoisseur of original comic art, but as a human being as well.

Today our spotlight falls onto this potent pinup by Darryl Banks, best known as the penciler of DC’s Green Lantern from 1994 through 2001. Featured here are the seminal pulp magazine hero Doc Savage — often cited as a precursor to Superman — and his cousin Patricia, who periodically accompanied Doc and his assistants on their adventures.

Doc Savage and Patricia Savage, pencils and inks by comics artist Darryl Banks

I commissioned this piece from Darryl sometime in the closing weeks of 2004 (I could look up the exact date, but then, you know, I’d have to look it up), and he drew it during the first few days of 2005. For all I know, it may have been the first commissioned artwork he created that year. I know for certain that it was the first Darryl ever drew for me, but it was far from the last. We’ve done a dozen more projects since this one, including three for my Common Elements theme and a set of four — featuring the key female characters from Will Eisner’s The Spirit — for my Bombshells! gallery. But I’ll always hold a special fondness for this one, the nexus at which my relationship with Mr. Banks began.

As noted above, most comics aficionados know Darryl from his long run on Green Lantern, during which he co-created Kyle Rayner (DC’s Green Lantern standard-bearer for most of the 1990s). I, on the other hand, remembered him as the artist who drew the 1991 Millennium Comics miniseries Doc Savage: The Monarch of Armageddon. That book still holds up as the most effective translation of the Man of Bronze to the comic book medium. (It’s astounding how many attempts at a Doc comic there have been — by both of the major publishers, and by several smaller concerns — and how horribly wrong almost all of them have gone. Case in point: DC’s recent First Wave line, which managed to mangle Doc and several other classic heroes all in one fell swoop.) When I heard that Darryl was taking on commissions, I couldn’t wait to have him draw Doc once again.

You have to understand how important this was to me. Outside of comics, Doc Savage might be my favorite fictional character of all time. Throughout the 1970s, I devoured the Bantam Books paperback reprints of the original Doc novels, the moment each one was published. I practically memorized Philip Jose Farmer’s tongue-in-cheek “biography,” Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, in which the author connects Doc to dozens of legendary characters as part of his Wold Newton chronology. (Capsule summary: Farmer posited that a meteorite strike near the English hamlet of Wold Newton altered the genetic structure of a handful of people who happened to be nearby. The descendants of these folks became, in Farmer’s alternate history, many of literature and popular culture’s seminal heroes, including Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, and of course, Doc Savage.) To my mind, Darryl Banks (along with Mark Ellis, who wrote The Monarch of Armageddon) was one of the very few creators to see Doc the way I envisioned him through all 181 of the original pulp tales. To have a new Doc drawing from Darryl represented an incredible opportunity.

Doc Savage appealed to me, I think, because although he was an unparalleled physical specimen, his primary weapon was his powerhouse intellect. He surrounded himself with other brilliant minds as well — his assistants included the world’s greatest chemist, attorney, civil engineer, archaeologist, and electrical technologist. (Where Doc’s creator, writer Lester Dent, fell short was in giving Doc helpers whose talents were rarely of genuine benefit. Doc’s chemical expertise ran circles around “Monk” Mayfair’s, he knew more about archaeology than “Johnny” Littlejohn, and he possessed more inventive creativity than “Long Tom” Roberts. And when did a globetrotting superhero ever have need for a lawyer, or a guy who built bridges for a living?) Growing up as “the smart kid,” I loved a hero whose brainpower equaled or surpassed his brawn.

I also like a dash of nobility in my heroes, and Doc most certainly had that. By “nobility,” I don’t mean social status or an aristocratic background. I mean it in the sense of character. We’ve become accustomed in the modern era to heroes whose morals and ethics often barely distinguish them from the villains. Think of the post-Frank Miller Batman, and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t misunderstand — I want my heroes to have human flaws and foibles. The reason I favored Marvel over DC in my youth had much to do with the way Marvel’s heroes always had realistic problems, life challenges, and weaknesses, whereas DC’s Silver Age characters always seemed too good to be true. But I want even my imperfect heroes to be well-intentioned. Spider-Man made mistakes and poor decisions — sometimes horrifically poor ones (ask Uncle Ben) — but you never doubted that behind the mask, Peter Parker was a good guy trying to do the right thing.

Doc Savage had that noble character I admire, and would wish to emulate, in a hero. (As did many of my favorites, both in the comics — Wonder Woman, the Black Panther, the aforementioned Wall-Crawler — and in other media — Bruce Lee’s enigmatic protagonist in Enter the Dragon, to cite an example from a beloved film.) Witness Doc’s oft-repeated credo:

Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it.
Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice.
Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage.
Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens, and my associates in everything I say and do.
Let me do right to all, and wrong no man.

Wouldn’t it be a brighter world if we all tried to live by the Doc Savage code?

It always saddened me that Doc never got his just due in present-day pop culture. Most of the comics about him have been wretched, and don’t get me started about George Pal’s ludicrous 1975 film, Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. But that Millennium miniseries pretty much nailed Doc. So, what a treat it was to get the artist who created the art for it draw Doc for me! (Later, I acquired from Darryl Banks about two-thirds of his original art pages from the first issue of The Monarch of Armageddon. A stunning double-page cityscape Darryl created for that issue adorns the entranceway of our house.)

Although I had only commissioned one other two-character piece at the time, I felt inspired to pair Doc with his indomitable cousin Pat. Even the most cursory review of my art collection reveals that many of my favorite heroes are, in fact, heroines, and Pat Savage could stand with the best of them. Although she appeared in fewer of her stalwart relative’s adventures than any of his male sidekicks, Pat always showed herself to be as smart and confident as (and often more mature than) any member of the “Famous Five.” Even when Dent and the other Doc Savage scribes fell into the trope of Pat as cliched damsel in distress — everybody in Doc’s inner circle got kidnapped a lot — they generally avoided making her seem foolish or weak in the process.

I very rarely offer specific direction to the artists I commission. In this instance, though, I remember asking Darryl to draw Pat without shoes. I had seen a then-recent example of Darryl’s commission work that depicted Wonder Woman barefoot, and I liked that concept for Pat here. Since James Bama, the artist who painted the iconic covers for Bantam’s reprint paperbacks, frequently portrayed Doc with his shirt hanging in tatters from his muscular torso, it made sense to me that if Pat were duking it out with some nefarious characters alongside Doc, she’d kick off her stiletto pumps to give herself better footing for the fight. (I’ve never understood why any heroine would wade into the fray teetering on high heels. Then again, it worked for Ginger Rogers… even backward.)

One of these days, someone will produce another worthwhile Doc Savage comic series, or better yet, a truly excellent Doc Savage film.  Until that day comes, I’ll keep admiring this fine drawing by Darryl Banks. And, like Doc, I’ll keep striving to make myself better and better, to do right to all, and harm no man. (Or woman. Or transgendered person. I’m an equal opportunity good guy.)

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Comic Art Friday, Reminiscing, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

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