A Tribute to the of

I had full intentions of paying a tribute to Joe Kubert this time around. It’s been 4 years this month since we lost the man and Dark Horse just released the entire run of his Tarzan stories in a beautiful collected edition, so it just seemed to make sense.

Then I got sucker-punched when I learned that the wonderful Gaspar Saladino passed away on the 3rd of August. I knew he’d been ailing. We still spoke on the phone from time to time, though not often enough. On the other hand, I could tell he was kind of weak and hesitated to take up any of his energy with our chats. He still sounded pretty good the last time we spoke, which was within the last several weeks, but again, it was obvious he was not at his best. He’d been enduring dialysis treatments for a few years and that will always take its toll.

Gaspar, was, of course, my very first interviewee back in January of 2007 [Sage #166]. As I look back over that interview I wince a little bit. It’s painfully obvious I didn’t have the slightest idea what I was doing. He was a little baffled over the attention and asked me not to record it, so here I am, trying to do an interview and furiously jotting down notes without the benefit of any shorthand skills. Add in the fact that as I dialed him up I was in a highly potent state of excitement and raw terror and it wasn’t my finest effort.

The good part was how incredibly kind and gracious he was and completely without pretense or guile. Gaspar was a genuinely humble man, who thought nothing of the tremendous contributions he made throughout his career. He did logos, the most famous of which is probably the Swamp Thing effort. Also such well-known designs as The Unknown Soldier, Hawk and Dove, the Creeper, Firehair, the moody House of Mystery and House of Secrets, Green Lantern and obviously he lettered many a story. I won’t even get into the Marvel work or the fact that he did every logo for the short-lived Atlas titles.

Those fabulous house ads were one of his hallmarks and “Robby Reed” at the “Dial B for Blog” website and Todd Klein on his blog entries have done an excellent job of cataloguing the many things Gaspar produced over a long and fruitful career. I have to confess that after all this time I still cannot pick out one letterer over another with any ease, but I did begin to be able to spot Gaspar’s distinctive little crossbar every time he drew an “S.” I only got a couple of good examples of his handwork when we would exchange Christmas greetings. He had a steady hand up to the end.

Everyone I ever spoke to had nothing but good things to say about the man. I was glad I had the presence of mind to record a chat I had with him when I had recently interviewed Sy Barry and Sy raved about Gaspar’s work and wanted me to be sure and pass on his best regards and tell him so. Always that hearty Saladino laugh was present, particularly during this conversation. I’ll miss it more than I can say.

Gaspar was a friend. He didn’t seem to mind my calling him up just to say hello and ask after him. Often his sweetheart, Celeste would answer the phone, always gracious herself. As a matter of fact, she showed me a great kindness and called me on the 6th to make sure I was aware of what had happened. A good team, Gaspar and Celeste.

One day he sent me one of his comps as a gift, a collection of John Constantine Hellblazer stories under the Vertigo imprint. Not my cup of tea at all, but it was a gift from Gaspar, so I treasure it.

Gaspar’s output was incredible and I struggled mightily to find something he’d worked on to review for this edition of the Sage. It took more time than I care to admit and while I don’t know that I found the perfect specimen, I’ve got a deadline to meet, so taking into account that he spent time in Japan during the war and that I’ve lived in Japan, I finally settled on the Flash, issue #180 from June of 1968. Gaspar is credited with lettering the cover of this Julius Schwartz edited book. Cover and interior art are from good ol’ Ross Andru and Mike Esposito and the script was by Frank Robbins. “The Flying Samurai!” doesn’t have interior lettering credits, at least at the Grand Comic Database and again, I’m not good enough to say, but whoever it was, I felt sorry for him. You’ll soon see why.

In Bob Haney mode, the caption on the splash page starts with, “Quite a way to split the scene, eh, cats?” A Japanese swordsman is making hay with another swordsman in full samurai armor and making mincemeat of him. He then proceeds to take out more armor-garbed warriors and finally asks Baron Katana what he wishes him to do with his felled foe. Katana urges him to spare the life of his opponent, explaining that the code of Bushido or warrior code of ancient Japan must be rerborn with a new age of the samurai. Another fallen swordsman is tossed into the “Great Sea of Nippon,” and our “hep” dialogue states, “An arrogant gesture on the part of the evil “Kat”—that he will live to regret!

On page 4 our hero finally arrives, via airplane and in his civilian identity, that is. Barry and Iris Allen are landing in Tokyo on vacation, but he reminds his bride that while the Flash will remain under wraps he does need to visit Interpol. The visit involves checking up on Baron Katana, a war criminal who was spotted heading for Japan from Alaska.

The pair are greeted by Captain Hash, a friend of Barry’s, but here is when the dialogue really takes a downward dive, as I warned: “Hai! Is esteemed ferrow criminorogist, Barry Arren-san! Wercome to Japan…” The explanatory caption is another groaner: “Difficurty of pronouncing “L’s” in Japanese Ranguage.” Oh, heaven help us… A couple of panels later they begin to use the “L” again, but the explanation caption says, “But y’want to understand diarogue, right?” I’m amazed my spell-correct is allowing all this…

First thing you know, danger strikes at the airport when Barry, Iris and Hash find themselves in the sights of a pair of heat-seeking rockets fired from a jet on the tarmac. In the confusion, Barry does what one would expect and deploys that famous red costume from his ring and leaps into action as the Flash, using a particular kind of vibration to neutralize his heat-shield aura and draw the weapons in his wake, which he promptly leads right back to the plane that fired them. Then, the Flash returns to his Barry Allen identity more quickly than anyone could note, so he pulled the whole thing off without detection, even from Iris.

A change in scenery to Interpol headquarters and we’re subjected to alliteration that would make Stan Lee, blush: “Better not bore beautiful babes with Baron business, Barry-san.” Great Scott… “Barry-san” persists just the same, flashing a photo of Katana to Hash who is flabbergasted. His dismay will have to wait, though as we again segue, this time to a spot north of Tokyo where Katana and Daisho, our intrepid swordsman from the beginning of the story are overseeing things from high atop the Black Heron castle. Meanwhile, below, a shrimp fisherman is reeling in something fantastic and Hash gets a call about it and is thunderstruck. Meanwhile, the ladies, Iris and Hash’s lady, Tushi are insisting the men take a break from work. Incidentally, after Tushi speaks perfect English our helpful caption offers this: “She talks Engrish real “straight,” huh, keeds? A graduate from UCLA, natch!” This gets old fast…

So, Barry escorts Iris off to see the sights and while they’re watching a Sumo match when Iris notes Barry’s distraction, but she will not be denied. It’s off to visit Barry’s friend Hideki Toshira, director of Nippon Artfilms. Iris is interested in his Samurai films, referred to as “Eastern Oaters,” which is explained as “Hoss Operas.”

When they meet up with “Tosh” he explains he’s going to do some on location filming at…the Black Heron. Meanwhile, at the island compound, Katana and Daisho are unleashing jet-pack propelled armored Samurai. First stop, a small police outpost in upper Hokkaido, where the local department quickly discovers bullets won’t stop the fearsome fliers. By the time reinforcements arrive, there is but one survivor who deliriously describes what had happened.

A call is made to Interpol where Hash is wishing Barry-san were there as he fields the report and is dealing with the mysterious “catch” of the fisherman, which is a full-sized armored Samurai. Barry instinctively contacts Hash and when he arrives they discover the figure has an electrical nervous and motor system. The creature was a humanoid or more correctly…a Samuroid. Part I ends with yet another annoying caption: “We pause in this captious conundrum of calibrated callisthenic corpses to bring you a commercial…

Part II has the team examining the Samuroid “corpse” and discovering just how invulnerable the armor is when Hash fires a .357 magnum into it and it doesn’t’ make so much as a dent. By the way, it sure looked like a snub-nosed .38. They continue to do detective work and note the sign of the Black Heron on the armor, which is from the house of Kayido, described as the most war-like of the extinct samurais. It is noted the Black Heron family castle still stands and that Tosh has been trying to arrange a film shoot there for his latest “six-sword” flick, explained in the caption as “six-gun” epics in the west.

So, as Tosh and Hash head upstairs, Barry whispers to Iris to cover for him so he can check things out as the Flash. She uses the cover that he’s going to continue to examine the body as our hero vibrates himself out to the street. Making a beeline for the island fortress that is the Black Heron, the Scarlet Speedster is detected by the sensitive surveillance radar employed by Baron Katana and Daisho, but they have some surprises in store for intruders, which the Flash is about to trigger when he enters the hall of the Ho Ronin. Next thing you know, armed but empty Armor torsos begin to silently follow right before he is confronted with two Samuroids.

Finding himself surrounded, the Flash uses an evasive maneuver, turning into a high speed helicopter by extending his arms and whirling at super speed. Unfortunately he didn’t have time to vibrate, so he collides with the ceiling and crashes back to earth. He manages to land practically on top of Daisho in his inner sanctum and so has another fight on his hands, but he is able to use his super speed to his advantage, but Daisho is incredibly fast with his electrified swords and it is very nearly a standoff when the Fastest Man Alive retrieves some nearby armor as a shield, but Daisho easily cuts through it.

At some point our hero has managed to get a sword of his own and in one panel the dialogue balloon contains only an asterisk. Time for another silly caption: “At a time like this who can think up a ‘funny?’” Okay… Inexplicably, Flash strikes Daisho with the sword and it breaks, revealing that this is yet another Samuroid. Right then, our speedster pulls back a curtain revealing Baron Katana, but just then we rejoin Hash and Tosh and Iris at the Interpol crime lab.

Utilizing their sophisticated roomful of computers (1968, remember?) they have come up with a punch card that tells them the castle called Black Heron is registered to Nakata, Ltd., which they quickly deduce is a cryptogram for Katana. Hash announces that they must get to Black Heron before Katana can execute his plan, but they need Barry, who, as the Flash, isn’t there. Iris frets that this could blow Barry’s cover.

So, heaven help us, this issue (described in what is thankfully the final caption in the story) as being continues in the next “ue,” which obviously is the ending to “ish,” is only part one of a 2-book tale. Oy, vey!

Oh and as a “bonus” there is a page of preview panels. I actually own a copy of #181, but we shall see if I can endure any more of this goofy mess.

I have yet to manage to appreciate Frank Robbins’ artwork. If this is indicative of his scripting, I still don’t have appreciation for his work. I will grant you this was 1968, but between the stereotypes, hokey dialogue and overall ridiculous nature of this tale, there isn’t much to recommend it. Sure, Andru and Esposito’s art is serviceable, though I tend to prefer them on the Metal Men. To me, Carmine Infantino is THE Flash artist. The cover was pretty good with a fair amount of detail, but after all is said and done, the lettering on the cover, the whole reason I finally settled on this book, may have been the best part of all. This thing is basically a turd that I’ll give a 3 rating on the 10-point scale.

Maybe a little bit down the road I can find a better example more befitting the great Gaspar Saladino.

Don’t give up, though. On the 1st of September three will be another review right here and we hope you’ll come back for more. As per usual, you’re invited to share your comments, questions or requests right here: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you then and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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