Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Just filling pages? Maybe

In one way “filler” is an odd word to describe a given comic-book issue. It’s the nature of the medium that you have to have something to fill next month’s issue, and the month after that; inevitably some of them serve no higher purpose than avoiding blank pages. As I’ve written before, Jack Schiff’s Tales of the Unexpected never seemed to aspire to anything more, where Julius Schwartz’ anthology books often went above and beyond.If I label a story “filler” it’s because it’s in a series I expect better of. A series where the creators seem to care. I freely admit it’s a subjective judgment in most cases. There are exceptions like Avengers #145-6, a two-part inventory story held in case the creators missed a deadline and the next issue needed filling. Jarringly inserted into the middle of Steve Englehart’s ongoing plotline involving the Squadron Supreme and the debut of Patsy Walker as Hellcat, it accomplished the goal of ensuring Avengers didn’t have to skip two months.

In other cases it’s not as obvious but I still find issues that scream (to me, at least) “Filler” as I read through the Silver Age. Case in point, “The Scourge of the Super-Skrull” by Lee and Kirby in Thor #142.

It’s not that it’s a bad story, it’s that Thor has been a non-stop roller-coaster for about two years. One storyline moves to the finish as another ramps up, keeping the action and emotion constantly churning. Then, after Thor and Sif defeat a Troll invasion of Asgard in #139, we get a string of one-shots. Thor battles one of Kang’s Growing Men. Thor battles a robot and a gang boss. Then in #142, the Super-Skrull (the others are arguably filler too — maybe being third in a row is what makes this one stand out in my head). Loki, floating around in space, plants the idea in the Skrull’s mind to redeem his reputation by defeating the Thunder God. With no more motivation than that, the Super-Skrull attacks and unsurprisingly gets his butt handed to him.It’s an enjoyable story but well below the level that Lee and Kirby have been working at in Thor. While I know there’s some good stuff ahead before Kirby leaves, there’s also some sub-par stories (an amnesiac Thor goes to work for the Circus of Crime!), making me wonder if Kirby’s already looking at the exit.

Over at DC we have the Doom Patrol battling “Kor—the Conqueror” (Arnold Drake, Bruno Premiani) in DP #114. Much as I love the Silver Age Doom Patrol, this is a forgettable story. The Chief’s friend Dr. Koravyk, hounded by various governments to put his genius into their service, attempts to escape it all by going back to prehistoric time. Instead he turns himself into a Neanderthal titan who has just enough brains to make use of Koravyk’s super-tech.

What makes me think of it as filler is that it’s devoid of the running subplots of the previous (and subsequent) issues. The scheming by the Brotherhood of Evil. The ongoing efforts of Beast Boy and new dad Steve Dayton to get used to each other. Madame Rouge’s interest in the Chief, and his efforts to undo the operation (courtesy of the Brain) that turned her evil. It’s just Steve, Rita and Larry battling Kor and a couple of other prehistoric threats, then a reference to Madame Rouge at the end. As with the Kirby stuff, I don’t know that it was meant as filler, but it feels like that.

There’s also filler within an issue, moments that neither add to character or plot but do fill up a couple of pages. Due to the “Marvel method” of having artists do a lot of plotting, Marvel suffers from this more than DC. Don Heck, as I’ve mentioned before, would have villains spend a couple of pages testing their weapons in the lab, thereby avoiding having to write another fight scene. Likewise Gene Colan often seems to pad out his Iron Man stories as I’ve noted before (also here). In Tales of Suspense #92 the entire story (Lee, Colan) feels like padding.

Iron Man learns there’s a mysterious Chi-Com mad scientist in Vietnam, Half-Face, plotting fiendish oriental plots against the upright American soldiers trying to save Vietnam from the threat of International Communism (dammit, where there’s the button for sarcasm font?). Iron Man spends most of the issue clobbering hopelessly outmatched Vietnamese soldiers, though Colan certainly makes it look good, whether Tony’s working out with Our Boys —

—or fighting the Vietnamese.

Like the scenes leading into Iron Man’s recent battle with the Mole Man, the ending of the story shows Colan loves working in horror tropes.It wouldn’t be surprising if Tony found himself facing Frankenstein’s Creature after a build-up like that. Instead it’s a resurrected Titanium Man which is a lot less cool — Iron Man’s clobbered him thoroughly twice already — but as usual Colan’s action scenes next issue are thoroughly entertaining (there’s less padding in Daredevil but the Lee/Colan team turns out a much worse book). Got to say, though, that a guy named Half-Face (unsurprisingly a disability stereotype) ought to look like he has, you know, half a face, not that he’s wearing a neck brace.

#SFWApro. Art top to bottom by Dick Dillin, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, Bob Brown, then two Gene Colans.



  1. Le Messor

    I’ve commented about TV shows before that I grew up in a time when the word ‘filler’ would have never made sense and was never used.

    The way you use it here does make sense, though.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.