Here Comes Captain Relevant!

Since its inception in the 1930s, DC had struggled to turn their vigilante superheroes into respectable members of the establishment -- and they had succeeded! But times change, and as the Sixties progressed, the Establishment grew further and further out of favor with America’s young people. DC was becoming increasingly irrelevant to them. The DC line desperately needed modernization. So did DC as a business institution.

GasparCome mothers and fathers
throughout the land
And don't criticize
what you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
if you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'

As chronicled in the first chapter of this series, DC Comics was sold in 1967. Then, in 1968, longtime DC writers Otto Binder, John Broome, Arnold Drake, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Bob Haney, Francis Herron, and Dave Wood confronted DC management in hopes of securing higher page rates, medical insurance, and some sort of retirement plan. The only artist involved was Kurt Schaffenberger, severely limiting the Gaspargroup’s bargaining power. When DC’s Jack Liebowitz reacted by employing stall tactics, the writers attempted to form a union.

“After 25 years of acquiescence,” John Broome wrote in a letter to Julie Schwartz, “the volcano finally exploded.”

DC management reacted by “freezing out” the union agitators, slowly driving the writers who had built their universe right out of the company. By 1969, when Kinney bought Warner Bros., making DC a part of a huge national conglomerate, most of them were gone. “We were out on our necks, and other writers were brought in,” Gardner Fox told Batmania magazine. The “new talent” included Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, who went over to DC in 1970, the same year longtime Superman family editor Mort Weisinger retired. The Silver Age of comics had come to a close.

ABOVE: Original artwork for the cover of Action Comics #405 by Neal Adams, lettered by Gaspar. Photostats of Gaspar's lettering were glued directly over Adams' artwork -- the yellowish blobs surrounding the jagged word balloons are actually aged rubber cement!

The printed cover. The word balloon has been tinted magenta, the circular "PLUS" blurb is reversed into white and printed over red, and the "Reader we dare you" blurb is colored yellow.


Catering to the generation which invented the phrase “You can’t trust anyone over 30,” DC’s departed writers’ books were reassigned to hip young freelancers as the company’s new management set out to lure back lost readers. “Nobody over the age of 35 is going to write for me,” mystery line editor Joe Orlando once declared.

Despite Orlando’s rule, one freelancer over the age of 35 actually DID write for him –- literally! There was no way Orlando could call this particular freelancer’s work out of date. After all, he was the winner of the 1971 Shazam Award for Best Letterer, and had been named “Best Letterer” by the prestigious Academy of Comic Book Arts in 1972.

And so, as DC underwent yet ANOTHER crisis, relaunching nearly every title in their line, the man selected to refashion the treasures of the company’s storied past was… GASPAR SALADINO! The Treasure Keeper! GROOVY, BABY!

HEY MAN! Can you dig it? Let's get real. It’s time to survey the groovification of the DC Universe!

Echoing the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Martin Luther King Jr., DC decided to make the Teen Titans semi-responsible for killing a modern-day saint (patterned after genius humanitarian Albert Schweitzer). ABOVE: The cover, lettered by Gaspar. BELOW: The story's splash page, lettered by John Costanza.


At the forefront of DC’s march toward relevance stood the ground-breaking Green Lantern/ Green Arrow stories. “Our Green Lantern could be the instrument that will change what one generation considered junk, into the jewel of the next,” Carmine Infantino wrote in a paperback reprint of the breakthrough GL/GA stories. How did they come about? Old story: the book was on the verge of cancellation, and…
Who would DRAW the all-new, all-now GL/GA series? O’Neil recalls, “ 'No Evil Shall Escape My Sight' went to a relative newcomer, Neal Adams. I don’t know why, but Neal got the Gasparassignment instead of Gil Kane, the regular Green Lantern artist.”

Gaspar Saladino designed the GL/GA house ad seen above, and lettered the series’ covers. The title's interior was lettered by John Costanza. As Costanza (pictured right) recalls, "Gaspar did all the cover copy and logos at that time. He would come in a couple of times a week [to the DC offices in Manhattan] and sit at his table, next to mine, and do his thing. We became good friends then, and I admired his work a lot -- very inspiring!"

Below is the famous "My ward is a junkie!" cover from Green Lantern/ Green Arrow #85, art by Neal Adams, lettering by Gaspar:
According to GL/GA series writer Denny O’Neil
(pictured right, as seen by cartoonist Dave Manak), “Julie Schwartz asked me to do something with Green Lantern. Sales of the title were slipping.” Times were radical, so O’Neil was given some radical instructions: “I was told to break the rules. I was given liberty implicitly forbidden to comic books writers.”

O'Neil used that liberty to turn the series into an explosion of "relevance," tackling such complex and controversial issues as teen drug abuse, dangerous religious cults, overpopulation, and Native American unrest (in GL/GA #77, June 1970, cover shown below left):


As a police scientist with a crewcut, Barry Allen Flash was perhaps the squarest of all DC's heroes of this era.
That didn't stop DC from thrusting him squarely in the middle of several contemporary conflicts. Below, in Flash #184 (Feb. 1969), the Scarlet Speedster races into trouble during a campus protest. The slogans on the signs, lettered by Gaspar, sport real, actual protest movement slogans of the 1960s and 1970s! (Except for "Ban the Flash," of course.)
In Flash #198 (June 1970), the Fastest Man Alive, in the grip of temporary amnesia, sunk to his knees to pray for some divine intervention. The cover is by high school buddies Gil Kane and Gaspar Saladino. This cover was considered daring and controversial when it was first printed, but if it were to be printed TODAY, it would probably cause a national firestorm.

Clem Robins shares an amusing story about this cover: "When I was on staff at Marvel in 1978, I noticed that Marie Severin had a huge blowup of this cover on the wall of her office, and i asked her why. Her reply: 'Because they're a bunch of spoongroins over at DC.' "



BATMAN! Big TV star!  Just a few years ago he had been camping it up on his own hit TV show, which heavily influenced the Gaspar-designed ad seen above. Batman had been so hot! But by the late 1960s, he was colder then Mr. Freeze’s ice suit. After his TV series had been cancelled and the bright lights faded, the Caped Crusader’s comic book sales had slumped dangerously.

Ironically, to move Batman forward, DC decided to take him BACKWARD -- back to his mysterious roots. The supernatural was popular, so Batman became, once again, a frightening, almost-supernatural creature who stalked the city by night. And Saladino, showing his mysterious side, gave readers an ominous hand-drawn invitation to tag along for the stalking:

DC jumped on the Beatles' intriguing "Paul is dead" promotional scheme with this Gaspar-lettered Batman cover, drawn at midnight in a cemetery by Neal Adams:
On the creature–of-the-night Batman cover seen below, from Detective Comics #395 (January 1970), Batman is offered immortality, or...
Sadly, even creature–of-the-night Batman wasn't immune to bad press:


See the newspaper Batman's holding on the cover above? Like EVERY DC newspaper of this era, its headlines are printed in “Saladino Bold.”
Below is a montage of DC newspapers from The famed Daily Planet in Metropolis and Flash's Central City Picture News to Batman's Gotham Gazette -- all courtesy of Gaspar Saladino (with a bit of help from artists Gil Kane, Neal Adams and Jim Aparo)!
And speaking of headlines, here's one that made DC history,
this one lettered by Superman interior letterer, BEN ODA...


In 1971, the new year brought a new beginning for Superman! Julie Schwartz had revitalized Flash and Batman, now he reluctantly took the daunting job of editing Superman. Schwartz brought in young turk Denny O’Neil to write the book. O’Neil, in short order, eliminated all Kryptonite from the earth (Forever! Not.) and pitted Superman against a sand creature who sapped his powers. Here are Saladino’s house ads announcing the big change:

As mentioned in the ad above, the REST of the Superman family faced their share of changes too. Struggling to survive in the era when "Woman's Liberation" and "Feminism" were born, matronly old Lois Lane suddenly went mod and mad, as announced by the wild, op-art-ish Saladino-designed house ad seen below, followed by an angst-filled Lois Lane cover by Dick Giordano, lettered by Gaspar.


The anti-Superman mood even spread to good old Jimmy Olsen, who apparently had a large number of "hangups," (aka "problems") with his pal Superman! shown above is Gaspar's ad for an explosive Jimmy Olsen comic, and seen below is an ad for an 80-Page Giant collection of Jimmy Olsen's anti-Superman stories:

Another big Sixties/Seventies concern was preserving the "ecology" by stopping air pollution -- as seen on this JLA cover by Neal Adams, lettered by Saladino:
Another fad was mysticism and the supernatural. BELOW: The original art for the cover of JLA #94, by Adams and Saladino. Shadows reveal the edges of a photostat of the JLA logo, blocks of type with the issue number and month, and various elements of the standard cover treatment...
On the BOTTOM of the image above lies a perfect example of the scrawled words Gaspar transformed into beautiful lettering: "Sandman and Starman" can be seen in written in pencil below Gaspar's rendering of the names. Below THAT, under the page border, it says "I'm taking control of Aquaman's body! This scan cuts off the rest of the cover dialogue, "Anyone who tries to stop me -- dies!" These few scrawled words were all Gaspar needed to do his job!


As the Vietnam War continued to rage, DC continued to published their line of WAR books, which focused on World War II, but now they began telling stories that placed a new emphasis on the TRAGIC side of war. Each tale ended with a blurb that said "Make war no more," and DC even gave one of their war features a title that would have been unthinkable during WWII. Below is a Gaspar-lettered cover featuring Capt. Storm (who actually was NOT dead), Johnny Cloud, Gunner, and Sarge, aka "The Losers."

In 1974, DC introduced the Unknown Soldier, a spy with a hideously disfigured face who wore disguises on his secret missions.

According to then-staffer and current DC Comics President Paul Levitz
(pictured right, as seen by cartoonist Dave Manak), "It was decided to reduce the size of the magazine's official title and to play up the name of the star, with the word UNKNOWN in the boldest type, to attract readers of the mystery line. Production boss Jack Adler was called in to consult, and finally he sent it out to demon designer Gaspar Saladino."

Gaspar's finished "Star Spangled War Stories featuring the Unknown Soldier" logo is seen below:

During the Vietnam War, a soldier named Lt. William Calley perpetrated the so-called "My Lai Massacre," resulting in the deaths of Vietnamese civilians. This hugely controversial incident was one of many that turned American public opinion against the war. The historic cover seen below, drawn by Joe Kubert and lettered by Gaspar Saladino, depicted a Sgt. Rock story written by Robert Kanigher
that sparked comparisons to the My Lai massacre.



This cover had the unique distinction of appearing IN FULL on the front of the May 2, 1971 edition of the prestigious New York Times Magazine, illustrating an article written by Saul Braun titled “Shazam! Here Comes Captain Relevant.” See cover, below)

The article focused on the Sgt. Rock story, as well as Stan Lee’s troubles with the Comics Code after his creation of a Spider-Man plotline involving illegal drugs. Smilin’ Stan even got his picture in the New York Times magazine, Sunday magazine of “the paper of record,” in a serious article which helped legitimize the importance of comics as a RELEVANT reflection of the turbulent times.

A red-letter day for every comic fan in the world, and, as cover letterer of the My Lai story, Gaspar Saladino was there! FAR OUT MAN!


NEXT: Superman, Batman, GL, and Flash, all made RELEVANT! But what about Wonder Woman? Be here as Diana Prince recalls how she once transformed from a superpowered Amazon into a powerless Emma Peale look-alike with a closet full of white pants suits -- as logo’d and lettered by Gaspar. Plus: The Gaspar LOVE Cloud! Be here as DIAL B for BLOG opens…

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