Thursday, June 17, 2010

Episode #130: Happy Birthday, Ross Andru!

Comic book writer and editor Ross Andru was born on June 15, 1927 and died on November 9, 1993. He was most well known as the penciller for The Amazing Spider-Man, with almost career long collaborator inker Mike Esposito. Andru was also known as the co-creator of the Punisher, with writer Gerry Conway. Other stories say Andru worked from sketches supplied by Conway in designing the Punisher.

His early interest was in animation, but he switched to comic book art. He received art training from Burne Hogarth at the School Of Visual Arts in New York City. His first porfessional job was on the weekly Tarzan strip, working for Burne Hogarth. Andru's comic book career began in the early 1950's, along with his work relationship with Mike Esposito, who would ink much of his pencilled art over the years.

Together they drew for a number of publishers, such as Standard Comics, fawcett, and Ziff-Davis. Andru's earliest Marvel work was for the story When Time Stood Still for Marvel Tales #103, September 1951. He drew steadily for Marvel during 1955 and 1956, for such titles as Annie Oakley.

Ross Andru's long association with DC Comics also began in the 1950's. His first story art for them was in All-American Men Of War #6, August/September 1953. Throughout that decade, and into tieh 1960's, Andru pencilled stories for DC's various war titles.

His first superhero work with DC was for Wonder Woman #98, May 1958. He would draw Wonder Woman stories throu #172, September/October 1967, collaborating with writer Robert Kanigher. Together they created much of Princess Diana's silver age continuity and supporting cast. Andru also drew for other various DC titles, such as Suicide Squad, Brave And The Bold and Green Lantern.

During the early 1960's Ross Andru created the Metal Men with writer and editor Robert Kanigher. They made their first appearance in Showcase #37, March/April 1962. The Metal Men had their own title for 56 issues, 1 - 41, April/May 1963 to December/January 1969, and 42 - 56, published sporadically from February/March 1969 to February?March 1978.

Around 1971 Ross Andru returned to Marvel, with Sub-Mariner #37, May 1971. He drew for a variety of Marvel titles. He was the first artist for The Defenders, who premiered in Marvel Features #1, December 1971.

Ross Andru began his long stint on The Amazing Spider-Man with #127, December 1973 through #185, October 1978. The Punisher premiered in The Amazing Spider-Man #129, February 1974, creted by Andru and writer Gerry Conway.

In 1976, Andru pencilled the first DC / Marvel crossover, Superman vs. the Amazing Spider Man, written by Gerry Conway.

Ross Andru returned to DC Comics in 1978 as an editor and cover artist. He eventually returned to pencilling story art for such titles as Jonah Hex, Vigilante, Blue Beetle, Teen Titans Spotlight and other titles. He also contributed story art for the 300th issues of both Wonder Woman and World's Finest Comics.

He also did a small number of Superman stories. Andru pencilled about four stories for Superman, beginning with issue 204, February 1968, and ending with issue 216, May 1969. For Action Comics he drew seven issues, beginning with issue 363, May 1968 and ending with issue 393, October 1970. The majority of Andru's Superman stories were for World's Finest Comics issues 180, November 1968 through 195, August 1970. He also drew a handful of Lois Lane stories for Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane 105 through 110, May 1971.

The featured story for this episode is The Case Of The Lethal Letters, Ross Andru's first Superman story, which appeared in Superman 204, published on December 14, 1967. Mort Weisinger was still the editor (he would retire in 1970), and the cover featuring this story was drawn by Neal Adams. The story was written by Cary Bates, pencilled by Andru and inked b y Mike Esposito. The second and third stories were drawn by longtime Superman artist Al Plastino. Otto Binder wrote the second story, The Duplicate Superman. The third story was The Fortress Of Fear, written by Cary Bates.

The Case Of The Lethal Letters was reprinted in Limited collectors' Edition #C-31, October/November 1974. The cover was a picture of the Hugh J. Ward painting of Superman, which hung in DC Comics publisher Harry Donenfeld's office for many years. The painting can now be seen in the library of Lehman college in the Bronx, New York City. This edition also reprinted the Superman origin laid out by Carmine Infantino, finished by Curt Swan and inked by Murphy Anderson, with dialogue provided by E. Nelson Bridwell. The story began with Clark Kent being interviewed on a TV interview show hosted by Lorraine Delon. She asked Clark if the Daily Planet newspaper owed all of its success to Superman. Clark reminded her that Perry won his Pulitzer Prize long before Superman appeared. Suddenly Lorraine went into a trance and seemed to channel someone else, who warned Superman to give up his crimefighting career. The consequences if he didn't would be that harm would come to those closest of him. Then Lorraine came out of her trance and was dazed.

In the days after that, Clark kept his eyes peeled for trouble. A few days after the interview, he and Lana covered a new monorail that opened in Metropolis. Unknown to them, a mysterious person tampered with the controls. As soon as Lana boarded the monorail, the doors closed behind her, trapping her and separating her from Clark. As the monorail traveled down the track, someone warned that the train was traveling too fast, and was in danger of derailing. Clark quickly changed into Superman and saved the monorail moments after it flew off the track. After he put the train on the ground Superman discovered that Lana had disappeared without a trace.

The next day in his apartment, Clark received a telepathic message from mermaid Lori Lemaris. She was under attack by a sea creature. Moments later Superman flew into the ocean and watched her vanish before his eyes, before he could save her.

Superman did not leave anything to chance with Lois. He carried her in his arms as he flew over Metropolis. An unknown gunman hit Superman with a high tech rifle, stunning him and making him drop Lois. The Man of Steel recovered quickly, but Lois had disappeared into thin air.

That evening Superman made an appearance at TV station WMET and announced on the air that he was ending his crimefighting career. TV host Lorraine Delon seemed unusually pleased with the announcement as she left the station. She went to an abandoned warehouse which was her hideout (but isn't an abandoned warehouse always a criminal hideout?). There she had kidnapped Lana, Lori and Lois. Superman crashed through the wall to find two giant "L"'s. When they burst into flame Superman was suddenly weakened and in pain. Lorraine appeared, and took off her wig, revealing that she was actually Lorraine Lewis, a brilliant scientist who had disappeared. She informed Superman that the flaming letters radiated Q-energy, which she had discovered, from another dimension. It had the same affect on Superman as kryptonite.

She informed the Man of Steel that her motive for kidnapping the three women was jealousy, because she had wanted to prove herself worthy of being Superman's wife. The three women, however, had upstaged her, which we see in a series of quick flashbacks.

The first flashback was when the criminal Bal-Gra escaped the Phantom Zone. Lorraine had built a second Phantom Zone projector. Before she could adjust the settings to send Bal-Gra back to the Zone, Lois threw a small piece of gold krpytonite to the criminal. That stalled the criminal long enough for Lorraine to make the final adjustments and send him back to the Phantom Zone. But she felt that Lois had upstaged her.

In the second flashback, Lorraine was on stage, presenting a new invention to Superman at a banquet. A crazed gunman created a disturbance during the presentation. Lana Lang knocked down the gunman, but a shot grazed her arm. Once again Lorraine was upstaged by one of the women in Superman's life.

Later, Lorraine drove a mini-sub in the ocean, as she attempted to find an unmanned space capsule that had splashed down in the ocean, and was lost. Lori Lemaris and some other merpeople had found it and were taking it to the ocean surface.

After she reminisced about her humiliations, Lorraine decided to kill Superman with the Q-energy. But the Man of Steel had enough strength to break through the weak floorboards to get of range of the radiation. After he quickly recovered, Superman burst back through the floor on the other side of the warehouse, out of range of the radiation. That startled Lorraine, and she fell back onto the flaming "L"'s and was instantly cremated. Superman then rescued all three women.

I couldn't help but wonder, as I finished reading the story, why the warehouse didn't catch on fire, and why Lorraine wasn't poisoned by the Q-energy as well as Superman.

Overall, Ross Andru's art was good. He's not my favorite comic book artist, but in this story, his figures showed a lot of action. He drew a lot of diagonal figures, and in several places they extended beyond the panel borders, giving the art a 3-D effect. the only drawback to the layout was that in a few places, the panel flow had to be indicated by arrows. Otherwise Andru did a good job of panel layout.

For more information about the comic book career about Ross Andru, read the book Andru & Esposito: Partners For Life, written by Mike Esposito and Dan Best, published in 2006.

Next Episode: Al Williamson: Superman Inker!

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