All of us here at the Newsarama blog extend our deepest sympathies to the family of Marshall Rogers. It is probably not a stretch to say that for many fans of superhero comics, Rogers is best remembered for the six issues of Detective Comics (#s 471-76, May 1977-March/April 1978) which teamed him with writer Steve Englehart and inker Terry Austin. Back on April 22, 2005, one of my first posts at The Great Curve, this site’s predecessor, was an appreciation of the Englehart/Rogers/Austin run, so what follows is adapted from that post. Like the sign says, let’s “peruse the pencilography of Marshall Rogers.”
Englehart’s first couple of issues were pencilled by Walt Simonson, whose work then (at least to me) suffered mightily under the heavy inks of Al Milgrom. That wouldn’t be a problem with Rogers and Austin’s much cleaner, and more detailed, pages. Take a look at the care which went into this cityscape from Detective #473.
Englehart’s script also gave Rogers the opportunity to do “dramatic reveals” of Batman and Robin. I especially like the detail in the “Hudson U.” caption — the caption! — which shows a tiny, yet meticulous, cluster of campus buildings. As you can see from many of these scans, Rogers’ pencils were dense with information, including his own sound effects.
Still, nowhere was Rogers’ skill at storytelling more evident than in the sequence which opens Detective #475, as Batman confronts Silver St. Cloud about her big discovery. Page 1 sets the mood. Page 2 raises the level of tension, presenting Batman as both seductive and dangerous. That carries through to the last panel of Page 3, when Silver collapses in a mixture of shock and relief.
Rogers moved Batman with expert skill, portraying action effectively through both choreography and cinematography. As the breakup scene shows, he could do the same with character moments, using panel size, layout, and different angles to capture the shifting emotions of the moment.
Rogers also had a fantastic eye for detail, grounding stories visually with true-to-life props (normal-size and otherwise) like clock radios, eyeglasses, and pocket watches. Check out the attention paid to the checks, the car, and the flyers on the page at right. Rogers and Austin combined to produce art which, while sufficiently realistic, allowed for enough fantasy to suit the inhabitants of Batman’s world. This was not the “they’d look like how I’d draw them” Adams/Giordano Batman of the early ’70s. Although it was the height of the disco era, Rogers and Austin even toned down Bruce’s and Silver’s fashions and hair enough to give their work a timeless quality. In fact, as much as Walt Simonson is admired for his craft, the Rogers/Austin issues have an energy all their own, and I wonder whether fans would still clamor for an Englehart/Simonson/Milgrom Batman.
Marshall Rogers pencilled the next two issues of Detective for writer Len Wein before leaving the title, but he also returned to Batman — first for a Roy Thomas-written account of the Golden Age Batman’s origin in Secret Origins #6 (Sept. 1986); then, as artist on the 1989-90 Batman newspaper strip (written by Max Allan Collins) and much later, for a five-part Legends of the Dark Knight (#s 132-36, Aug.-Dec. 2000) inked by Bob Wiacek and John Ceballos, plotted by the late Archie Goodwin, and scripted by James Robinson. That LOTDK story also featured Silver’s return, but in a comparatively minor role. Of course, Englehart, Rogers, and Austin returned to Bruce, Silver, and the Joker for 2005′s Dark Detective.
On some level this is a woefully insufficient tribute to a great craftsman, because Marshall Rogers deserves to be remembered for more than Batman. Virtually every obituary of Mr. Rogers you will read on the comics interweb will mention these issues, because Detective Comics will always be a high-profile job with a great capacity for making writers and artists famous. However, that goes both ways: Batman made Marshall Rogers a star because Marshall Rogers made Batman look fantastic. Indeed, Marshall Rogers made comics look fantastic, and the medium is poorer for his loss.