I know that I’ve written about Russ Heath before, and I’ll certainly write about him again but he’s on my brain right now, so you’re stuck with me chatting about him today. Heath is one of those artists whose work I really love, but whenever the time comes to jot down a list of top 10 or top 20 favourite artists, he just never seems to come to mind for inclusion. OK – that’s a bit of a lie, having reviewed my top 50 artists list on last year’s CBR compilation, I had him slotted at #19.
The reason I don’t often think of Heath is probably because he didn’t work on any of my favourite books when I was a kid, like Aparo, Newton or Dillin and wasn’t a huge factor in the initial wave of back issue collecting I undertook – which focused on the likes of Kirby, Ditko and Toth. Russ Heath just kind of snuck by me – who knows why? I was aware of the name, and must have seen some bits and pieces in reprint form but really didn’t get to know his work until about 10 years ago.
The first time his I really made the connection between his name and his artwork was with his arc on Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight. The arc was called Heat, and it was the way Heath was able to draw a heat wave onto the printed page. I knew the name was legendary, but I’d never actually seen the man at work. I was pretty impressed, as it looked very good when compared to most of the artwork in DC books at the time.
I don’t want to talk about Heath and his whole illustrious career and all that jazz right now. All I want to talk about is how kick ass his artwork looks in the DC Showcase Presents Haunted Tank volume. Most of my previous exposure to the Haunted Tank was through late 70s and early 80s of GI Combat. At this stage, DC’s war books were looking a little long in the tooth, and aside from the nice Kubert covers, they weren’t much to write home about. I had always found the concept of the Haunted Tank to be one of the Top 10 strangest in all of comicdom (that’s saying quite a lot).
I wanted to get my hands on the DC Showcase Presents volume as I pretty much plan on getting all of them. I had low expectations, as I knew this wasn’t a series I loved in the same way that I love Jonah Hex or Unknown Soldier. I am thrilled to report that I was happily surprised by what I’ve read so far. The stories are original and the action moves along at a good clip. The real treat, of course, is the artwork. These war books are renowned for the covers (especially those with the Jack Adler grey tones), but the interiors are pretty great too.
I have been absolutely blown away by the Russ Heath drawn issues. His artwork is so superb that I find myself having crazy thoughts like ‘Awwww, these next few stories only have Kubert art’. Who would have ever thought such thought were possible? Not me, until just last week. His artwork is just that good here.
What makes it so great? It’s the faces. He can paint any emotion with just a few strokes of the pencil. The look of panic in a soldier’s eye, the look of exhaustion in a drooping mouth, the sense of claustrophobia created by a few beads of sweat on a brow. It’s all there, in beautiful black and white. I’ve always felt that Toth’s Zorro comics should be used as a textbook for those studying comic book art. If I was Dean of such a school, I’d like to add Heath’s Haunted Tank to the reading list.