Lobo, DC Comics’ bounty hunter from outer space, is the joke who was quickly taken very seriously.
The snarling, cigar-chomping Main Man riding his Spacehog ‘round the galaxy was introduced in 1983, in a comic book that wasn’t exactly setting newsstands on fire, Omega Men No. 3, written by Roger Slifer and drawn by Keith Giffen. Lobo was just one bad guy among several, a killer and kidnapper whose attitude and appearance was intended “as an indictment of the Punisher, Wolverine bad-ass hero prototype,” Giffen later told Newsarama.
Which people adored. Admired. Loved.
“Somehow he caught on as the high-violence poster boy,” Giffen said of The Last Czarnian. “Go figure.”
Twenty-eight years later, he’s nearly as much a DC mainstay as the holy Trinity or any other member of the Justice League. He’s carried several titles of his own, from a mini-series to specials and spinoffs to a decent run under his own banner to countless guest shots in best-selling books. Only months ago he was a key player in Dark Nights: Death Metal, the universe-resetting series that yet again made over the DC multiverse. And for years there has even been talk of a Lobo movie.
In large part, the character’s enduring popularity can be credited to the artist who made Lobo the beloved bastich he is today: Simon Bisley, the self-taught British artist who got his start rocking heavy-metal magazines, made his case drawing Judge Dredd, scored a Doom Patrol cover for DC and wound up owning the intergalactic mercenary who bounced around a few other titles until scoring his own eponymous mini-series in 1990.
And it’s that very first cover to that very first issue that now heads to auction for the very first time.
Bisley’s painted cover for Lobo No. 1 is a centerpiece in Heritage Auctions’ April 1-4 Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction event. For a generation of readers and artists, Bisley’s work in – and on – this book changed everything.
In a 2019 interview with the webzine DC in the 80s, Eisner Award-winning illustrator Jim Rugg said that when he first saw Bisley’s cover to the 99-cent book, his initial reaction was a simple, “WTF?”
Said Rugg, “Simon Bisley’s Lobo was radically different than what I was familiar with. I bought it and read it immediately. Reading just ratcheted up the weirdness. The unusual art and the strange story combined for a very memorable experience. Shocking — not because of the violence per se, but the overall tone of the book was unlike any comic I had encountered up to that point. It was disturbing but also funny. Unique and weird and looked amazing. It represents what I like in a comic book and nailing story/art is very rare.
“When I read it, it blew my mind. Simon Bisley’s art was a revelation. This was 1990. I was reading Mark Bagley’s New Warriors, Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man, Rob Liefeld’s New Mutants, Jim Lee’s Uncanny X-Men. This was an era of dark, violent superheroes, but I had never seen anything that looked like Lobo or read like Lobo. I wanted more. It was so different and wild. It felt like anything could happen. Lobo was a maniac. I liked the Punisher and Wolverine, but Lobo was a whole other level of madness.”
Bisley’s cover to Lobo No. 1 serves as perfect introduction and quintessential portrait – a drop of blood drawn by the psychotic grin beneath a maniac’s mane, that half-stare-half-squint with eyes red as the devil, and the rock-and-roll get up more mental than metal.
There’s no doubt Bisley’s Lobo is beloved – and highly coveted. Earlier this year, Heritage offered his original painted cover to the 1991 trade paperback Lobo: The Last Czarnian, which collected the four-issue mini-series, and it realized more than $50,000 after heated bidding. Now comes the very first Lobo. The main attraction featuring The Main Man.
In a 2019 interview, Bisley said of all the characters he’s ever drawn, of course Lobo is “my ultimate favorite, because I reinvented him and made him my own.”
Soon, it will be someone else’s.