Wednesday, October 27, 2004


Every once in a while, I wonder whatever happened to the comic Rust and its writer, Fred Schiller.

Rust was actually created by Steve Miller (whom I assume is not the same Steve Miller who sings "Abracadabra"). It's about a cop who gets caught in an acid/chemical spill, to which metal adheres; he is hideously deformed, as his body becomes covered with scarred, rusted iron. (Hence: Rust.) But Miller only wrote the first issue or two or three of Rust's original run. (This entry is all from an admittedly faulty memory, so forgive me if I fudge some details.) The writing was then taken over by Schiller, and this is when Rust became something spectacular, if sadly short-lived.

The comic began as little more than a straightforward crime comic (though a fairly dark one), combined with the... superheroic? Supernatural? I'm not really sure how to describe the character of Rust* -- he doesn't have powers, really, he just has steel skin (and acid blood), which makes him somewhat stronger and less vulnerable to damage. But when Schiller took over, he wrapped up Miller's opening storyline, then took Rust away from the crime/superpower genres, and in markedly different and creative directions.

Rust became a bit of a road comic, with the main character, cut off from humanity by his new, disfigured appearance, searching for different ways to fit in. In one issue, he plays a monster in a horror movie, never allowing the other people on the film to know that his ingenious "mask" is really his own face. In later issues, he would battle other human misfits, called the Circle of Power -- more of a cult than a traditional rogues gallery, made up of others whose physical and mental abnormalities set them apart from humanity (kind of like "mutants", I guess, but without all the dopey costumes and melodrama inherent in the Marvel definition of that word). Later issues saw Rust swept up in the porn industry, as he tried to rescue a young girl (who had been introduced in the earliest issues) from the clutches of a loathsome adult film producer.

With Rust, nothing was set in stone. The series could go from comedy to punch-em-up action to dark and twisted extremes from one issue to the next. The storytelling was innovative, especially considering this was way back in 1987 (I believe); one striking issue had pages of talking heads narrating an epic battle in flashback, alternated with wordless, full page artwork rendering the battle. It was incredibly different for its time, and now, almost 20 years later, it's still original, eye-catching, compelling storytelling. And nobody was safe: villains died, and didn't come back. Good guys died just as easily. And in the final, staggering issue before this short-lived series was cancelled, everything was thrown out the window, as nuclear holocaust occurred, killing off all the characters (who hadn't already been killed off in previous issues) but Rust himself. I've always wondered if Schiller knew the end was coming, and planned that as the series finale, or if he really had somewhere to go from there.

The covers were also boldly unique. Here's one from the horror movie story:

The movie-poster-as-cover seems cliche now, but I don't think I'd ever seen anything like it before. (Maybe one of you can name 87 other earlier uses of this gimmick, but it was new to me, at least.)

Then there's the all-text cover:

It's a joke cover, which leaves you disarmed and unprepared for the surprisingly grim and violent issue within.

And then, from the porn storyline, we have this, which is one of the most visually striking covers I've ever seen:

Humorous, erotic, sad, and seedy in equal amounts, it's a reflection on the strange and complex world Rust explores within.

(Click on any of the covers to see a larger version at

13 issues and out, this original run was. It was revived by creator Steve Miller in subsequent years and subsequent volumes, but never made it past a handful of issues. The first volume is the only essential one, the groundbreaking one.

And what became of Fred Schiller? Is this his homepage? The resume on the page mentions comics, but neither Rust nor Now Comics, which was the original publisher. If it is the same Fred Schiller, what other comics did he write? (He mentions "The Legacy Universe," which I've never heard of.) Does anybody out there know?

If you can find it in the back issues bins (or order it from, why don't you?), I can't recommend Schiller's run on Rust highly enough. I don't know if I've done a good job describing it here or not, if you want to check it out or if it sounds stupid to you. All I can add is, in my mind it's one of the landmark series in comics.

*The character was never actually called "Rust" in the comic, as far as I recall; if my online research is accurate -- because again, this is from memory, without having my comics collection in front of me to go through -- the cop's name was Scott Baker, and that was the name he kept throughout the series.

Labels: , ,

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by