The Crapbox uncovers early work from an artist I greatly admire
Writer – Kristoffer A. Silver
Artist – Ron Lim
I've said before how much respect I have for artists from the Silver and Bronze Age that met monthly deadlines while handling other obligations. When we get to the Bronze Age, the independents (looks Image's way) tended to promise and promote big while delivering very, very late.
There is a special place at the top of the heap for an artist who respects the medium enough to turn in consistently good-to-great work in a timely manner.
And a rung or two above that there sits Ron Lim.
I'm not really sure where I first encountered Ron Lim. It was most likely Silver Surfer, volume 3, a title Lim provided art for from 1988 to 1994, beginning with issue number 15 and continuing on for an unimaginable stretch with very few breaks. I know that his art was enough to get noticed by itself, but beyond that there was the proliferation of it via covers and work he did on other books while still meeting Silver Surfer’s deadlines.
One month he was doing fill in work for a Daredevil issue, next he would show up on Conan the Barbarian, then popping into Marvel's New Universe books or an issue of What If?. Basically, he appeared all over the place at Marvel while maintaining an astounding pace on Silver Surfer. He even doubled up for a month when the title went bi-monthly for a short time in December-January 1989 (the mid-January issue was Ron Frenz). And this doesn't count his later work for independent publishers on books like Image's Stormwatch.
To spot Ron Lim's work takes little effort. His distinctive style of creating the impression of polished mirrored metal surfaces and cleanly defined anatomy made Lim's art stand out in ways that other artists don't. Often times it was in a book I had on my pull list (in the 1980’s I was buying new books at my LCS, unlike my present state of “bin diving”) and I would come home to be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes I would go out of my way to pick his stuff up, even in anthology or character books I never read. His images are just that dynamic.
You instantly want to see more of them.
Silver Surfer was his big breakthrough book and it led him to work with Jim Starlin on Thanos Quest and The Infinity Gauntlet, two works that will cap off the Avengers movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I honestly can't wait to see them given that given how I enjoyed the books so much. And a lot of the credit for my enjoyment goes to Lim.
With so much Lim out there, no surprise that some of it would end up in the Crapbox. But there is something a bit special about this issue from Silver Wolf Comics.
No one jumps up to talk about it.
First a bit of background on the publisher. Silver Wolf Comics was the brainchild of Kristoffer A. Silver back in 1986. I can speculate that it probably looked like every business started in someone's garage at the time. Silver created a large amount of product by himself, acting not only as publisher but also as writer. The company however, didn't make it long.
Silver seems an ambitious little fellow, having pumped out comics, novels, RPG segments and customizable card games since then. So many pies made from so few fingers.
Silver Wolf the publisher had a somewhat rocky life. Starting in Sacramento, California, it appears the company was able to produce a steady stream of books. However, they got involved with several comic book distributors whom I would term as “shady” and they never actually paid for the books Silver Wolf delivered. Add to that the crushing volume of works produced (Silver Wolf's Facebook page mentioned 40 issues of various series were printed) and Mr. Silvers' stated policy of printing way more books than were ordered by distributors and you can see the writing on the wall for the company's future.
What you couldn't see and what remains very unclear was what happened between Lim and Silver. The letters page at the back end of the book has this to say about Lim's continued involvement beyond issue 1:
Likely it was money troubles for the startup creating issues in paying their talent what was promised. The stage is kinda set for that being the case. I’m speculating here, of course. I don’t know what caused the rift.
Three things: First, artists deserve to get paid for their work, so if this scuffle is over non-payment of Silver to Lim, I don't blame him for walking off the project and not giving any of his unpaid art back to Silver. Secondly, publicly shaming a professional in print is something you seldom want to do no matter who is at fault. Silver makes this look like Lim is the bad guy in this, but mentions none of the reasons for this falling out between the two men. And if Lim found another book to work on with a bigger publisher and jumped ship? Still shouldn’t air that dirty laundry in public.
I reached out to both men through various social media and met with cold, stony silence. With that, no further venturing from me on what happened. I will state that Lim seems an agreeable type in interviews and Silver looks to be the kind of guy that throws himself completely into his love of the genre. Neither seems the bad guy in this scenario but if it came down to earning a paycheck or not, I can see how tempers could easily get involved.
Whatever the case for future issues, we do have this one-of-a-kind preview of Lim's style before he hit the majors. Possibly before his work on Ex-Mutants too, as the cover date shows this to be around the same year as Lim's work on that book. This style certainly seems more primitive than other Lim artwork with muted tones on the reflective surfaces. It certainly has all the touches of his art, but clearly not yet refined.
And all of those visual clues tie in with what we personally know about Lim. He has publically stated that he is something of a perfectionist, someone not quite satisfied with his work product and invests lots of time in honing his drawing skill. Passionate about space and the Silver Surfer character, Lim hails from California State University, Sacramento where he earned a BA in Graphic Arts. He worked on comics on the side citing Jim Starlin and John Byrne as two of his big influences. He also belts out a mean version of “Just a Gigolo.”
I’m pretty sure many of us care about Ron Lim a great deal.
So how is this thick volume that appears to be his first comic work? I admit that it is definitely page heavy. If anything, Silver and Lim pack Too much between that glossy wrap around cover.
We begin in a park in Sacramento. Lim and Silver were both from Sacramento at the time. At first, this seems a good thing, allowing newbie writer Silver a chance to write what he knows.
But then we add in that this particular group meeting in the park have a gang of ninja stalkers intent on killing them. Pretty sure that part of Silver’s life never happened.
Silver starts the battle with this two-page spread which gives Lim a chance to shine. The heroes appear to have some superpowers and the ninjas kind of suck at this.
And here is where I run into my major gripes about the way this story unfolds. The story structure for the entire first two-thirds of the book will be
A. Show a character in the midst of battle for one full page
a. Use a standard square box text balloon to show their thoughts
b. The thoughts will be a basic exposition dump
c. The thoughts will be about how they feel about killing and being on the run
B. The next page or pages show how the character ended up on the team
a. Lots more exposition square text boxes
My main issue with this sequencing concerns how it breaks up the pacing of the first part of this book. The initial fight allows Lim to let loose in a very dramatic fashion. He gives us fight panels like the ones here with the leader of the group Rhan, an alien, and we quickly invest in the outcome of the battle.
Then Silver stops the action, skips back into the past, and shows us a page or two of history. We feel no sense of jeopardy in these flashbacks since the person in question lives to get embroiled in the battle starting on page two. The initial battle loses any sense of urgency or danger. Also we find ourselves wanting to get back to the action, so if there were nuances in the flashbacks, (spoiler, their aren’t) we miss them.
Speaking of origins, Rhan begins his in captivity, held by some space Empress for some hidden power he harbors. Rebels break him out and the Empress sends a guy called “The Master Eradicator” after him. For some reason, the group of people Rhan leads decide to call themselves Eradicators too. Because every group needs a name? I’m still puzzling this one out.
Anyway, Rhan flees the empire’s reach in a space ship, which means space battles and Lim gets to do some Kirby krakle. Note also his beginnings of showing metallic sheen in the Empress’s tiara. Rhan’s ship damaged, and the Dutch angle suggests we are crashing, suggests this a natural point to…
...Abruptly switch back to the initial battle and change perspective to another character without any visual cues to the reader that we have done so.
C’mon Silver. This is what causes whiplash in readers.
Meet Stech, the robot, everyone. Stech’s sentience never gets explored, so don’t even ask. Silver imbues him what can laughably called a sense of humor, given the ham-fisted and odd dialogue shown here. The line “In short, I’m Fun.” feels very “tell” instead of show. I realize this is possible one of Silver’s first works, but there is no excuse for that level of shortcutting to a character summary by any writer. If Stech is “fun” then make him do something we the audience would decide is fun.
Worse yet is how Silver creates this rag-tag group.
Next page is back to the crashing Rhan, who materializes on Stech’s ship because Stech plucked him off his ship via teleportation because he thought Rhan was just like himself. This is a level of convenience that we see over and over again in Silver’s plotting. He doesn’t have a smooth transition for something, so he crams a round peg into a square hole until it fits.
Already I’ve gotten a handful of infractions for the book and we barely made it to our first two teammates. Now that you understand my thoughts on this bouncy-back-‘n-forth crap, I can disperse with telling you and just let the rest of these pages play out. The story isn’t the interesting thing here, anyway. The interesting bit is Lim’s art, which you can tell isn’t quite polished (ha, because of the metal shine effects) but shows his amazing promise. The book was lucky to have him.
Stech’s ship dispatches two others but a third appears and a being teleports aboard…
Those upper panels are really well balanced and the third panel being a series of smaller panes is kind of genius. Lim had chops even back then.
Enter Lance, shown here beating up the ninjas from the first fight in a violent and bloody way. He’s supposed to be one of the top ten assassins in the realm, but he’ll let you know that he’s actually in the top three. Seems a bit arrogant, but we can allow that if the person lives up to the hype. For examples of this see Wolverine, Deathstroke, Electra, etc., etc…
Lance joins because he was hired to assist Rhan by an unknown someone or someones. This causes Rhan to think. Think-think-think, Rhan! Oh, how I wish the story did the art justice. Even Lim in learing mode deserves better than this. Rhan says yes, because reasons and we are off to meet our next team member as he beats up ninjas.
Or so we think! Surprise! We get instead a page of the Empress’s ship appearing and damaging our three-some’s vessel.
Then on with our next teammate kicking Ninja butt.
Meet Alex, a ninja-guy in training with some kind of unexplained force power. Note also that there is a bu-u-u-u-unch of killing going on so far. Kill, kill, kill! That’s all these Eradicators seem to do.
You’d think is was in their name or something?
Anyway, Alex and Diana share the same origin. They were both outside when Rhan’s ship crashed. Being near the site they rushed to investigate.
But enough of that, Diana needs a chance to Karate chop some guys and then zap them with her heat power. Kill Diana, Kill!
Then back to the origin for Diana to tell of Alex finding a round glowing marble which shrinks as he holds it.
Would serve him right if it was the Loc Nar from Heavy Metal. He tosses it Diana’s way.
Where it promptly shrinks out of existence, leaving both of them with some sort of force blasts, Diana’s of heat and Alex’s of “the writer doesn’t really describe it so we’ll possibly find out next issue after he’s put some more thought into it.”
Oh, and they rescue the aliens and their robot companion in the past. That’s our quintet’s origin in a nutshell. Now we can wrap this battle up and head home.
Which is precisely what they do, leading us to wonder what the heroes were doing in the park in the first place? I mean were they on a picnic or something? It seems contrived.
And speaking of contrived, they head home to pack up and leave town. Will they make it out before someone shows up to stop them?
Of course not, but that comes in a minute.
The finer point of all this is how directionless the group is. Silver has the audience now with an understanding of who these characters are and enough backstory to know the threat they are facing. What are their long-term goals? Just having them pack up and move digs doesn’t build an expectation in the mind of the audience of where this story will go next. If it is just one senseless battle after the next, with no clear plan of deposing the Empress or luring out the Master Eradicator or getting rid of Alex/Diana’s powers or WHATEVER, then we are left with a bunch of mindless action set pieces, that if it ends up resolving something, does so by accident. There’s no real payoff in that. Silver again drops the ball, this time by not making the goals of the team known. And here is the perfect opportunity to do so.
But we don’t get that. We just move quickly to the next attack, this time in the group’s home.
Diana is force to fight a guy before finishing her shower (‘natch).
And the she and Alex…is that side boob there?...never mind! She and Alex use their force blasts on their two guys. There is an inset after of the Master Eradicator looking all mad and coal-like, complaining as his minions are taken out. How he knows isn’t really explained.
Then we are back to getting ready to leave. Stech gathers up the bodies and takes them outside to “get rid of them.” Lance does his best to load up his comic book collection. Because it makes him relatable.
Alex realizes she doesn’t have clothes on while Stech incinerates the slain ninjas.
And then we get that moment I was begging for up above. Maybe it isn’t such a horrible book, but it needs a bit of re-arraigning to feel natural to me. The story doesn’t flow, which is sad given how good the art is.
Then we get the Master Eradicator, predating Thanos’s cut scene by a several decades.
Which oddly enough happens IMMEDIATELY before he takes out a surprised Lance who is still thinking his comic book collection will net him a great return someday. Two things: it’s the 80’s and those books certainly won’t net you near what you think they will and secondly, what the heck does an alien assassin want with Earth money in the first place?
We end with a face-off against the Master Eradicator, a showdown that seems unearned and will likely end with the heroes limping away to lick wounds. Or at least it would, if Silver follows his plan of building up the menace of the M.E. to being the major villain of this arc and not just a disposable bad guy.
Who knows, as The Eradicators number two doesn’t appear to be in my Crapbox, and even if it was, the art wouldn’t be Lim. And since Lim is for me the big draw… reading any follow-ups doesn't really excite me.