[22 July 2009]
Perhaps more so than any other artist, Wally Wood has come to symbolize the frustrated genius of comics, bowdlerized and ultimately defeated by mass medium publication. What could his lasting contribution have been if the comics industry of the ‘50s had been primed for creator-ownership like the industry of the ‘90s? Or more to the point, what innovations might the creator of Daredevil’s red suit have given audiences, had he found that acknowledgement he sought from Marvel and DC and gone on to work with classic superheroes?
While Wally Wood’s will always remain as visionary inventor of the ‘32 Panels That Always Work’, the lack of his fuller impact on established superhero characters is sorely lamented. Perhaps the happiest time of his productive life was to be had at the carefree studios of MAD Magazine. Despite his frustration by mass-media corporations Wood’s genius deserves to be recognized, even celebrated.
In an example of his work from that period, Wood pens the closing panels to ‘Flesh Garden’ a parody of Flash Gordon. In an unexpected twist readers discover that Flesh did not return to earth. Instead, he chose to remain on Planet Ming. Once Dale exits, the rocketship is empty.
Wood’s empty rocketship provides a strange and unwitting reply to compliment made by the visionary Will Eisner. Speaking to Frank Miller in their book-length conversation, Eisner/Miller, Eisner appraises Wood as, ‘Wally was a genius. In 1950, he did spaceship interiors that were valid in 1980! I mean thirty years ahead of his time!’.
With ‘Flesh Garden’ Wood presents his audience with an alternative recognition; the idea of potential. Just as the empty rocketship is an exhortation to venture beyond the planet, Wood’s refusal to draw a (no doubt genius) interior reminds readers that like science fiction, comics is ultimately germinal of the world we deserve.