Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | Jerry Ordway, Pandora and the future

This issue is in the Smithsonian

This issue is in the Smithsonian

In news that will surprise no one, I enthusiastically add my voice to the chorus advising comics companies to give Jerry Ordway work. Mr. Ordway represents, for better or worse, a particular style of superhero storytelling. His detailed, textured work is both realistic and stylized. He’s also become associated with a traditional approach to superheroes, mostly by drawing the Golden Age characters and their descendants. Similarly, his modern-day Superman and Marvel Family work gave those books a pretty “classic” look.

In fact, for a long while Jerry Ordway helped define Superman. He was an original contributor to the 1986 John Byrne-led revamp, penciling Adventures of Superman first for writer Marv Wolfman and then for Byrne. When Byrne left, he took over writing Adventures before moving over to the main Superman book. In one way or another, he was involved with the Superman titles from 1986 through 1993, when he started working on Captain Marvel in the Power of Shazam! graphic novel.

Of course, Byrne and Ordway had complementary styles. (Before they started on Superman, Ordway had previously penciled a few issues of Fantastic Four for Byrne.) The Super-artists of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s also included Dan Jurgens, George Pérez, Tom Grummett, Kerry Gammill, Butch Guice, Barry Kitson and Stuart Immonen, each with his own kind of clean, stylized realism. When Jon Bogdanove brought a much more “cartoony” style to Superman: The Man of Steel in 1991, he was very much the outlier. Even Immonen’s heavier lines were instantly distinct from his colleagues’ work.

Compare the Superman artists of 2013 — Tony Daniel on Action Comics, Kenneth Rocafort on Superman, and Jim Lee on the upcoming Superman Unchained. For that matter, compare Gary Frank on the Shazam! backups to Ordway and Peter Krause’s 1990s Power of Shazam! series. Artistic styles generally have shifted, and it’s not necessarily the New 52’s supposed Image-founder nostalgia. Rags Morales and Brent Anderson penciled Grant Morrison’s issues of Action Comics, Pérez was Superman Vol. 3’s original writer/penciler, and Dan Jurgens wrote and drew a handful of issues as well. Indeed, Pérez and Jurgens have both had other New-52 gigs. Heck, Ordway himself penciled that three-issue Challengers of the Unknown story for DC Universe Presents, plus the four-issue Human Bomb miniseries that concludes this week.

So this isn’t necessarily a post about the kids today failing to appreciate craft, etc. It’s not even “Artist X is better than Artist Y, so if Y is working, X should be working more.” Instead, it’s a reminder that corporately produced comics runs on an economic model that is, to put it gently, not always friendly to the folks who actually write and draw the things. I’ve bought a lot — a lot — of Jerry Ordway comics over the years. He’s never less than good, and he can elevate an otherwise-weak script. As the Batman movie adaptation showed, he can do likenesses pretty well. (If he ever did a Star Trek comic, I’d be first in line.) His style would be great for a newspaper strip, especially a Prince Valiant-style adventure with a generous Sunday section. However, all that assumes the economics are right. Newspapers aren’t handing out Prince Valiant levels of Sunday-comics real estate when they could make more money off of Best Buy ads.

For all of you thinking “Kickstarter,” I’m there with you; but Kickstarter doesn’t guarantee success. I suppose that’s the main marketplace dilemma: are you successful enough on your own, or do you (for whatever reason) need some sort of corporate patronage? Those alternatives aren’t the only possibilities, since most of us wind up somewhere in the middle, but they’re the two basic trajectories.

Again, it drives home the reality that there are just some artists who can still contribute and aren’t. Graham Nolan and Mike Manley worked on the early-‘90s Bat-books, Paul Ryan penciled Fantastic Four and Flash, and Joe Staton is one of the definitive Green Lantern artists. Today, they’re all drawing newspaper strips: Rex Morgan, M.D. (Nolan), Judge Parker (Manley, who took over for the late Eduardo Barreto), The Phantom (Ryan) and Dick Tracy (Staton). There may be no guarantees in the newspaper biz either, and the pay’s probably not that great, but you have to think your work’s being seen by more people than the average Big Two superhero book.

Still, there are any number of ‘80s and ‘90s professionals whom I’d love to see back in comics on a regular basis. Just to name one, William Messner-Loebs created the frontier adventure Journey and had well-received stints on Flash, Wonder Woman and Doctor Fate, but apart from a Wonder Woman story in a 2011 “Retro-Active” special, I haven’t seen anything from him.

Now, on one level this sounds a lot like fannish entitlement: Why can’t I have my own fantasy roster of creators and comics? Marvel had X-Men Forever, so a while back I suggested DC could do an ongoing Retro-Active-style series based around the Earth-One Silver/Bronze Age Superman.  That’s one way to satisfy fans who like those creators (and that continuity), and it gives those creators some work. However, it’s not like DC is totally blackballing Ordway. It’s more that he’s not getting enough work — from an exclusive DC contract, mind you — to make a decent living.

Into this mix comes the new Trinity of Sin: Pandora series, to be written by Ray Fawkes and drawn by Daniel Sampere. Now, without wanting to start any feuds, it occurs to me that Ordway’s traditional approach and multiversal background suits him well for at least an arc or two, if not an extended gig on this book. However, my larger takeaway from Pandora is DC wanting to use it and Phantom Stranger as two legs of a three-legged Cosmic Forces stool. In other words, Pandora may well appeal to readers who want to know what exactly is going on with the metaphysics of the New 52. Pandora herself could turn out to be a compelling character, but I suspect people won’t be buying it because of that potential. They’ll buy it because they’re invested in the New-52-verse for its own sake, because Pandora seems integral to it, and because they’re curious about how she fits into it.

And in a larger sense, that tells me DC is more focused on the New 52’s elements than it is the professionals making the stories. Generally, this is nothing new. As Ordway put it, though, “I knew I wasn’t currently in anyone’s ‘top ten’ artists, but to find that I wasn’t in the top 52 was a shock.”  DC will always trumpet its roster of professionals, whether it’s John Byrne on Superman or Scott Snyder and Jim Lee. The New-52 relaunch certainly had its share of high-profile creative teams, including Grant Morrison and Rags Morales on Action Comics, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang on Wonder Woman, and Geoff Johns and Jim Lee on Justice League. Still, as the relaunch enters the back half of its second year, the emphasis seems more on maintaining particular titles than showcasing distinct creative visions. Again, Pandora could turn out to be a perfectly wonderful title, but at first glance I have to ask who it’s for, outside of a dedicated DC follower.

Of course, if Pandora is designed (at least initially) to appeal to cosmic-minded New-52 fans, and I’m asking why Ordway isn’t drawing it, by extension maybe I get the sense it’s not for me — and that’s not a healthy attitude. DC shouldn’t be worried about making comics for me, because my buying habits are already well-established. Instead, it needs to broaden its appeal by including a wide range of styles and storytelling approaches. I’d like to think that includes Ordway; but if he doesn’t get DC work, I’m hopeful he’ll get it from someone. (Shatner-style Trek, IDW! Like printing money, I tell ya!)

DC is fast approaching the end of Morrison’s regular superhero work, and the end of Johns and company on Green Lantern isn’t far behind. The New 52 still has some distinctive voices, but they need to be nurtured. It’s not enough to have three Superman titles, five GL-derived books, or a library wing for the Batman family. Each of them needs something to say, and needs to look good saying it. Jerry Ordway can help make DC look good.

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Comments

43 Comments

Some reprints of Ordway’s Power of Shazam! series would be nice. A few years ago, DC did some 4-issue mini TPBs which included two sets of Ordway’s POS comics. The distribution on them must have been terrible, because I couldn’t find them anywhere. (I’d hope he’d get some royalties from that, but I don’t know what kind of clauses DC was putting in their contracts back then.)

That issue of Adventures of Superman was my very first full sized superhero comic book I bought off the shelves. Before that it was mini-comics that came with Super Powers and He-Man toys.

Ordway doing Star Trek for IDW is a great idea. Didn’t Byrne do a Trek mini-series semi-recently?

The_Fourth_Man

March 7, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Ordway and Thomas’ “All Star Squadron” was one of the books that got me hooked on comics when I was a kid. Put him on an out of continuity Superman or Justice Society book with someone like Kurt Busiek and I’d buy it. It’s not like it’d be pity, the guy’s a good artist.

DC needs all the talent it can get but considering how shabbily they’re treating people they’re not likely to hold onto it.

DC seems to be hellbent into making all the wrong choices when it comes to their creative teams lately. Guys of the caliber of Jerry Ordway starving for work while Rob Liefeld (of all people!) had like three titles on his plate not too long ago replacing art teams (writers and artists, mind you!) whose work was selling reasonably well for second and third stringers and those titles sales dropped like a rock shortly afterwards (Gee, color me surprised!)

That and casting that hate monger Orson Scott Card to plot a Superman story shows that there is something really wrong at the EIC offices level.

Actually, I’d love to see Ordway draw the Orson Scott Card story.

It’s a crying damn shame that DC editorial is pretty much blind when it comes to Jerry Ordway. He has proven that he is a talented storyteller, as both a writer and artist, and that he gets the characters. Though, getting the characters is something that DC is barking down from on high. I’d have loved to read a Jerry Ordway Hawkman book, but not when it’s editorially mandated.

Let the writers write.

Adam Weissman

March 7, 2013 at 8:12 pm

The irony is that what’s happening to Ordway now is similar to what happened to Curt Swan. Curt Swan in 1986, who was pushed aside to make way for Byrne and Ordway. And while I’ve read that he retired after the reboot, was anyone really offering Kurt Schaffenberger much work to give him another option?

If enough comics fans who are on Twitter tweet DC directly, maybe Mr. Ordway will get more work. I’d pick up a title featuring a character I have no interest in just to see his take. That’s how much I enjoy and respect his work.

#JerryOrdway

Ordway is a weird case for me…I typically don’t go out of my way to find his stuff, but if I see something new by him I always give it a look and if it’s a light week, I’ll pick up books he draws…it’s happened quite a few times…

Does anyone know if he does commissions and his rates?

Adam Weissman

March 7, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Ordway responds to the point about Kurt and Curt in his comments:

http://ordstersrandomthoughts.blogspot.com/2013/03/life-over-fifty.html?spref=tw

The Original Jimmy

March 7, 2013 at 11:57 pm

I love Jerry Ordway, but he’s recently been showing up on books I’m not really interested in. It’s a real dilemma of whether or not to buy a book I’m not interested in to support a great artist.

I just think it’s a damn shame Jerry isn’t on titles like Dynamite’s Phantom, or Flash Gordon ’cause he’d be his usual brilliant self. Are independent comic companies the way to go? Imagine someone like Jerry on a title like The Walking Dead? That’d be amazing!!

Da Ordster is great. It’s a shame that some of these guys can’t get work. Why ? I’d kill to have him on Hawkman, Superman, Shazam, JSA, Wonder Woman. I’m crazy about his work. The perfect balance of contemporary and classic IMO.

C’mon, the guy even worked on COIE !

Well, the way I look at it the DC Comics today is a pale shadow of what is was even just a couple of years ago. When Paul Levitz left, I knew (along with many other pundits and observers) that DC Comics was changing for good… and not necessarily for the better.

I love Jerry Ordway’s work (along with Norm Breyfogle, who IMO was the definitive Batman artist of my generation), but I seriously doubt he’s ever gonna get any high profile projects from DC Comics any time soon since they are hell-bent on jettisoning the old, no thanks to the New 52 reboot.

As others have mentioned, John Byrne has been kept steadily busy over at IDW. Ordway would be a perfect fit over there. Heck, he could even bring back The Messenger or WildStar, two titles he worked on at Image Comics back in the day!

I think the “fans” have done a version of “tweeting” about it. If Ordway’s name appears on a book and the sales drop, DC (any company) will drop you at some point. If you want Ordway, or any other person working on something, you have to buy everything they do–and enough of it. Money is what publishers respond to.

Jake Earlewine

March 8, 2013 at 6:17 am

Ordway is one of my favorite comics artists, and I bought practically every comic he ever drew right up until the DC reboot. But since current DC editors and publishers seem hell-bent on destroying their own characters, even Ordway couldn’t attract me to buy DC again. Looking forward to the day when folks like Didio, Lee, Nelson, Harras and their ilk have moved on.

Jake Earlewine

March 8, 2013 at 6:30 am

Marc C., I think you’re right, sadly. Publishers do make those kind of decisions. But the tragic truth is, there are many reasons a book may not be selling. Yes, it may be that buyers don’t like the artist, true. But it may be that they like the artist, but they hate the writer, or the direction the book and characters are being forced into by the editor. Or maybe they just think the character looks dorky-nineties in their new Jim Lee-designed costume.

An example of this would be Marvel’s new “Age of Ultron”. Until now I have bought every comic drawn by Bryan Hitch. And his art looked as great as usual on the first issue of Age of Ultron (other than the muddy coloring). But I won’t buy any comics written by Brian Bendis, no matter how good the art is or who draws it. I can’t stand Bendis’s handling of the characters, or his pages of inane dialog, or his fluffed up “plots” that are dragged out ten times longer than necessary. No artist can save that, not even Bryan Hitch or Jerry Ordway.

It saddens and sickens me that people like Ordway are treated like that after what they have contributed to this industry. I’ve got the entire Power of Shazam series in my collection, including the graphic novel that started it all and the mail away decoder post card for the Mr. Mind storyline. His artwork is fantastic and the fact that he’s been kicked to the curb by DC further proves that this company is being run by the worst of the worst. It’s high time that this idiocy ends and fast. Legends like Ordway need work, be it on major publishers (doubtful) or working within independent publishers like Image or Dark Horse creating new comics.

Agreed on everything you say. You hit the nail on the head regarding Pandora and the appeal of that book. I have to admit, my curiosity about it (and by extension, the Phantom Stranger book) has more to do with the greater cosmic storyline of the New 52 and me being a hardcore DC fan who is interested in continuity. I also hold out hope that a more satisfiying in-story explanation for the New 52 will unfold, and that the old universe will be referred to again.

Just quick reminder. Breyfogle is drawing the digital-first Batman Beyond series. Hey, put Jerry on a digital-first book, at least the Batman and Superman anthologies!

I really loved his Superman stuff, and the only reason I haven’t picked up anything by him recently is that he hasn’t been on anything I’ve been to interested in (sounds like he’s not getting much of an opportunity at anything). I’d love to see him at IDW working on Classic Star Trek. I think that’d be a great move for both him and IDW.

His latest issue of firestorm got bad reviews for story and artwork on this very site.

Count me as another Jerry Ordway fan who has the entire run of The Power of Shazam. I bought the Human Bomb miniseries primarily for Da Ordster’s artwork, and was pleasantly surprised that the writin g by Gray & Palmiotti was also very good. But, then again, in general they do quality work. Here’s my review of the miniseries:

http://benjaminherman.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/comic-book-reviews-human-bomb/

Yeah, I agree with the suggestion that IDW ask Ordway to do some work for them. Maybe he could team up with Byrne once more to do inks / finishes.

Phineas Potter

March 10, 2013 at 7:53 am

“His artwork is fantastic and the fact that he’s been kicked to the curb by DC further proves that this company is being run by the worst of the worst.”

Ordway just drew the HUMAN BOMB miniseries for DC, the last issue of which came out last week. Did you buy it? What about the CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN miniseries from last year? Did everyone who is complaining about Ordway’s status at DC support him with their dollars as well as their internet outrage?

Jurgens did Firestorm not Ordway.

“Ordway just drew the HUMAN BOMB miniseries for DC, the last issue of which came out last week. Did you buy it? What about the CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN miniseries from last year? Did everyone who is complaining about Ordway’s status at DC support him with their dollars as well as their internet outrage?”

THIS!

I had left reading comics around the time Ordway came on board DC, but having since delved back into them I have really loved his artwork. It’s sad that a great artist like Jerry gets shuffled off into the corner in favour of people who have no style or sense of how to tell a story visually. I don’t know if it’s changing tastes or DC thinking he’s old-fashioned or something like that but it has nothing to do with his abilities that’s for sure.

@ Phineas. I buy books drawn by Ordway when the content aligns with my appreciation of his art. I have purchased many books he’s drawn in the last 6 years. There’s no reason to make assumptions pulled out of thin air.. It makes you sound accusatory and holier than thou Sadly but DC is putting him on the fringes. Give him something more high profile to illustrate. For instance if he had been drawing Hawk and Dove or Hawkman instead of you know who I would have bought those books.

I’m eager for Jerry and … I would bite the bullet and get the Pandora thing if Jerry draws it, but so much of the New 52 stinks on ice, and I’d far rather he do a book set in a better universe (such as the non-New-52 continuity Adventures of Superman, and NOT by that evil homophobe Card).

“Ordway just drew the HUMAN BOMB miniseries for DC, the last issue of which came out last week. Did you buy it? What about the CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN miniseries from last year? Did everyone who is complaining about Ordway’s status at DC support him with their dollars as well as their internet outrage?”

I got both.

Certainly this makes me want to get both miniseries, despite Didio being the writer for the CotU mini.

I have to be honest and say that I have never liked Jerry Ordway’s drawing style. And I am really old comics reader, so my tastes have nothing to do with changing fads! That being said, there should be room in comics for a variety of styles and approaches and I certainly feel that DC treated Mr. Ordway badly by signing him to an exclusive contract and then not giving him work.

DC continues to screw around with Captain Marvel. Let Jerry have it and let him run with it. But let it grow somehow.

Ordway’s a great and very underrated artist, but not being a DC fan I never bought much of his stuff.

I wish he had done more Wildstar, it was one of the best series of Image’s early years.

its a shame that dc comics is doing its long time older fan’s a great injustice by not having any art work or story lines done by mr ordway

i see Jerry’s name on books so regularly that this all seems odd.
Jerry’s work is staid and the epitome of professional, but nothing in the entertainment business lasts forever… if anything I would like to see Jerry redefine himself.
I wouldn’t look at this as a woe is me situation, he should take the this time to add some new tricks to his arsenal.
Jerry has a decidedly vintage look to his art which isn’t something that Marvel and DC are too crazy about nowadays.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again. The Big 2 should create a separate line of layered all ages books (12 to 15 titles) set in their own separate shared universe, and hire older creators to edit,write,and draw those books. These lines would feature a more commercially recognized and ionic, but updated with some new and/or refreshing takes on the MU and DCU superheroes. Of course, this won’t happen ever happen as long as the current fans turned pros are calling the shots at the Big 2.

the world has gone to a hellish place when Jerry Ordway is no longer in demand .. he has that great look to his art that used to be in high demand ..

so much of the art of the big franchises leaves me cold .. Ordway is a great big franchise artist, as his work on the Batman movie showed.

I bought his recent Human Bomb arc .. great art .. put Ordway on Superman .. this scratchy painted on computer art they’re using now leaves me cold ..

Seriously, what part of this surprises any of us? DC is treating the fans of its history like crap, so why should it treat the creators associated with that history any differently? I personally love the excuse that the NEW 52 is THE definitive DCU, yet every DC licensed product has the original, well-known versions of the characters. Oh well, Dynamite and IDW have been getting a larger share of my LCS dollars, and will continue to do so for the forseeable future. Now, Ordway on a Project Superpowers book may be pretty sweet!

flavioeldritch

March 11, 2013 at 4:59 am

Well, another article for some people use as an excuse to expose their hatred for DC Comics. Nothing new here on Robot 6.

While I share the sentiment (Jerry Ordway should get work). I think that:

a) He should get work in a book than won’t get cancelled after 6 or 12 issues, so nobody can associate his name with the failure (you know that somebody will say “maybe, if we had another artist….”)

b) Ordway should not associate himself with anything retro anymore. If he wants to stay relevant he has to walk away from projects like that or he’ll only be called when something retro is in production.

I would love to see him inking other people. Dan Jurgens and Nicola Scott, for example.

I would buy a book drawn by Jerry Ordway in a heartbeat!
Loved his work on All-Star Squadron and Power of Shazam. He did some issues of The Atom’s Teen Titans, that were enjoyable.

Not that I don’t like the art on the Earth 2 book, but that seems to be the only book DC publishes right now, where he would be an obvious fit. Other than creating a book just for him to shine on.

Jerry Ordway is one of the best comic book artist’s going, period. I agree with what The Fourth Man said earlier. His work on All-Star Squadron in the 80’s is some of my favourite art ever. I have also bought a couple of ltd series specifically for Ordway;s art, these being Red Menace and Wildstar. The guy is awesome.

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