Twilight Comes Early
The mid-1980s are an odd moment in pulp history. There is a short window of resurgence in their popularity. At DC Comics, Howard Chaykin had released his reimagined THE SHADOW miniseries which spawned a monthly series with the writing of Andy Helfer and the art of first Bill Sienkiewicz and then Kyle Baker. THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE EIGHT DIMENSION from Earl Mac Rauch and WD Richter was an entirely different modernizing of the pulp ethos to the time, one Richter continued a few years later with John Carpenter in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Cay Van Ash teamed Denis Nayland Smith with Sherlock Holmes to fight Fu Manchu in a pair of novels. I was working at Something Unusual, a gaming store in Eagle Rock, California after school. It was morphing into a comic book store as well at that time, on the cusp of the burgeoning direct sales market. The owners were huge pulp fans. JUSTICE, INC. was one of the games played regularly in the back room. And of the books that came in was THE TWILIGHT AVENGER from Elite Comics, written by John Wooley drawn by Terry Tidwell.
Pulp 2.0 Press has recently reprinted the original two issues of the Elite Comics run, plus the third issue which was not published until years afterwards. But more than that, Wooley presents a history of the origin of THE TWILIGHT AVENGER, and by association, a first person history of the early independent comic movement. It fills in some interesting gaps in my own history of losing track of THE TWILIGHT AVENGER for several years until it resurfaced at Eternity Comics for an eight issue run. The volume is rounded out with the original 4 page pitch, a prose Twilight Avenger piece from 1990, some pinups, and some faux lobby cards, a what if of a 30s Twilight Avenger serial had been made. It’s a nice tight package of about 115 pages on nice crisp white paper. The art reprints really shine.
Terry Tidwell’s art is refreshing and exciting, even now almost 30 years after their first publication. There is a real nice thick stroke style to his work. You can follow the progression of his art here, as each page become more and more sure, his artistic talent focusing tighter, the action more defined, the pencil strokes more sure. By the third issue art, it’s as polished as any independent book from 1986-87. Interestingly, the reproductions of issues 1 and 2 in the book show Tidwell’s pencil lines underneath the inks through most of them. I don’t remember this in the originals, but it is neat to see the “ghostly” images in the panels. And to see the progression of pencil to final inked. And the details shine through. Tidwell’s style shows some of the then current 1980s touches, especially in the femme fatale posing, it really reflects the 30s setting of the book. Not just the clothing or the vehicles, which are remarkable, but in the simple evocation of the art. It has a real feel for 30s style art, the thick lines, the stuttering action. While the Twilight Avenger costume bears a superficial resemblance to DC’s 30s Sandman, Tidwell’s design work quickly makes it unique. The 4 page pitch is an interesting counterpoint, as it was designed as a contemporary Twilight Avenger, a man out of time, a la Captain America. And I found it really does not work as well. Tidwell’s pencils are still highly detailed and interesting, but they seem to really find their root in the 30s milieu. The cover for the collection reflects the spicy pulp covers more than the pulp hero covers of the time, and I have to say I did miss the more luridly colored ones of especially the Eternity run.
The prose fiction piece, “The Bride Needs Blood!”, is an odd bit. Per Wooley, it was written for a proposed collection of short stories based on independent comic titles of the time, and designed to mimic the weird menace pulps of the 30s. It’s a departure from the script work for the comic section which is based much more in the crime realm than the weird, and gives a different look into the Twilight Avenger. It’s not entirely successful, and I found myself thinking it would read better as a comic with Tidwell’s illustrations. Certain parts read more like a script outline than a developed story. Unlike the rest of the book, this section is marred with some glaring typos. It throws the reader out a few times with its periods for commas. This is not, however, an issue with the historical section, “Dawn of the Twilight Avenger”, which is after the pleasure of the collection, the secondary reason to pick up this book. Wooley’s folksy and self-deprecating style shines through. I am a sucker for comics history, give me an issue of COMIC BOOK ARTIST or THE COMICS JOURNAL or ALTER EGO and I will be happy for hours. Wooley fits well into that style; I would read more of his history of comics any day.
In short, Pulp 2.0 has one a great job with THE TWILIGHT AVENGER. It’s a nice neat package of good comic pulp adventure with sharp writing and amazing art, and comic book history. The only question I had left – when do they collect the Eternity issues.
Check out Pulp 2.0 at: http://pulp2ohpress.com/