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Subj: Remembering Rich Buckler, and The All-Star Squadron...
Posted: Sun May 21, 2017 at 12:32:52 pm EDT (Viewed 2678 times)
News has reached the public domain thanks to Roy Thomas of the passing of veteran artist Rich Buckler at the age of 68.
With the bulk of his better known work being done in the 1970s and 80s It's likely that few modernday comicbook readers of DC and Marvel comics would be familiar with the work of Rich Buckler, which is a perfectly forgivable oversight when you understand that while the span of his carreer took in frontline titles such as the Fantastic Four, the Justice League of America, Spider-Man, Batman and The Avengers, Buckler was never one to be assigned to a book for a longterm contract, indeed the one book he did spend a considerable time on, was still a piecemeal contribution and was cast in the shadow of industry greats like Jack Kirby and John Buscema - that book being the Fantastic Four, and if you are of a certain age then that is the run you will best remember Rich Buckler's name and work from, and is significant as this was his first partnership with the influential Roy Thomas. The two going on to work together on a variety of projects in subsequent years and most significantly launching a series for DC Comics that would capitalise on the publishers largely dormant back catalogue of 1940s characters and return them to print in the form of a brand new team-book dynamic.
Success of a sort then. And yet, a failure to capitalise on that moderate success as the tenure turned out to be a very brief engagement. Buckler was seemingly content in merely being a jobbing artist, or perhaps he was simply lacking the opportunities offered for lengthy runs on a series as the Buscema brothers routinely achieved, and as a result never gaining the exposure or the association with any one title or character to leave a lasting impression on either the audience or the industry. Yet for all the relatively sparsity of his work through the 1970s to the presentday Bucklers style of art was nearly always memorable and distinct. Often evoking the expressive realism of Neal Adams there were many a short story in the 1980s that stood apart from the usual fare entirely due to Buckler's unusual-at-the-time style and so the memorable run on Spectacular Spider-Man with Peter David, or the two part Superman/Marvel Family for DC Comics Presents. Both examples stand as extremely effective examples of how striking and different Buckler was as a draftsman, and despite its relative noteworthiness as a title it would be an exaggeration to say that his creation of The All-Star Squadron with Roy Thomas in 1981 was somehow more remarkable than any of those other projects he chose to contribute to.
Far more the child of Roy Thomas than it was Buckler The All-Star Squadron owed more to Thomas' own lifelong interest in the obscure Golden-Age back catalogue of DC than any interest Buckler himself might have had in these largely obscure and obsolete stock characters, and yet for all of its verbosity and the obvious fannish labour of love it was for Thomas Rich Buckler typified Thomas' keen eye for spotting and securing fine artistic talent. Although Buckler's contribution lasted a mere five debut issues the sense of a time and place in history was as much the achievement of he as it was of Roy Thomas' evocative scripting, reintroducing the Justice Society as they appeared on the eve of the second world war while integrating that cast into something broader and much more engaged in the times they lived in. In 1981 All-Star Squadron was a new series that was quite unlike anything else which DC or Marvel were putting out, firmly set in the world of the second world war and taking the broad strokes of the Superhero narrative but avoiding the overt science-fiction plots and outright fantasy that made up the bulk of DCs published line by this point in time the All-Star Squadron inhabited a different world than any other superteam enterprise out there at the time, if the Legion of Super-heroes represented the extreme end of Super-team fantasy then Roy Thomas & Rich Buckler's new launch was set at the opposite extreme, a super-team of conscripts working under the brooding and dangerous cloud of a very real historical World War. A World where historical real world fact and incident was fuel for nearly every plot and there were no guarantees that the core cast were going to survive anymore than the brave troops out there fighting in the european or Pacific theatre of that War. Seeking out Buckler's specific talents were clearly a very deliberate and considered choice from Thomas for the prospective series, and as the book began with a graphic recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbour that faith in Buckler's ability to fuse masked Superhero with War Comic was proved an astute and successful one.
It can't be said that The All-Star Squadron is Buckler's finest achievement, neither can it be claimed with any authority that it is his most significant achievement, but with that short partnership with Roy Thomas the results of that intensive labour for those several months stood out then just as much as they stand out even now. Granted the powerful finishes of inker Jerry Ordway were a very considerable book for Buckler, and yes it is often difficult to see where Buckler's work ends and Ordway's overpowers, yet if one recongnises his high standards in the Spectacular Spider-Man some years later and the frequent fill-in contributions he made around this time one can very clearly recognise that while Ordway's finishes do alter the pencilling it is still a perfectly fine example of Buckler's exemplary skill for tight realist pencil work.
Who remembers Rich Buckler is an entirely valid question. Never as prodigious in output as the Buscema brothers or a Dick Dillin, never as truly remarkable or memorable as a Neal Adams, Michael Golden or Jackson Guice. But the argument over whether he underachieved, or merely never got the opportunity handed to him to prove his worth, shouldn't overshadow what he actually delivered in his sporadic career output - chiefly a solid gifted craftsman determined to make whatever he worked on at the given moment the very best he could make it. And no truer or finer a legacy or tribute can be made to the man than that... his work without a doubt will live on, and gain new appreciation for each new generation who comes across it.
By way of showcasing what a fine artist he was below lies a selection of Rich Buckler's eye for a dynamic first page layout, his finely rendered figurework, and, by today's standards, surprisingly dense approach to page layouts on 'The All-Star Squadron'. Buckler's constant pursuit of a convincing realist sense of drama is atypical of his work at this time and is what set the standard for all who would follow on the series...
Reunited with Roy Thomas in 2011 Buckler completed only a cover and the first fourteen pages for a special flashback tale to a familiar but long gone era, as strangely anachronistic in its own way as The All-Star Squadron had been back in its 1981 debut:
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