Monday, June 26, 2017

America versus Russia: Probes, Cyber War, Cold Wars, and Iron Man

America versus Russia: Probes, Cyber War, Cold Wars, and Iron Man

As a set of images, the twelve page Iron Man stories of Tales of Suspense- in particular, the ones with America versus Russian intrigue simplified as “Iron Man versus the Titanium Man”-are mostly rock’em, sock’em fisticuffs and ray beams, wreaking more destruction upon one another than their surroundings.

Their return bout had resembled the first, though it was a surprise attack rather than a world-televised match. Adoring, hopeful fans of ol’ Shellhead, as nicknamed by writer Stan Lee, gaze on in panels between, faces full of fear, wonder, anxiety, speculation. As they recur among the pages of fighting, they resemble a very involved audience of sports fans. Tales of Suspense #82-84 feature a duel above the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., with mayhem a plenty but little carnage. Except for the oft-scene moment, represented by Tony Stark’s secretary and near-paramour Pepper Potts here, where a bystander becomes a temporary hostage who fuels the hero’s angry perseverance, there’s little more danger than in Titanium Man’s first appearance a year before in T.O.S. #69-71. Titanic struggle to be sure...but by image alone, little consequence. After all...it’s got to be all right for the kids.

But in the script for this simplistic, child-like confrontation, the characters inject the danger, the melodramatic level of threat. Speaking more to the actual theme, there’s a symbolic depiction where hero and villain- almost indistinguishable for pages at a time, save perhaps for Iron Man’s smaller size by comparison-represent what was thought of, in 1966, as entirely conflicting ways of life. Presciently, they evoke the futuristic championship of combat through technology- a melding of warriors, weaponry, and advanced engineering. War was already transforming into a mechanized, computerized affair more than fifty years ago- though the men put in harm’s way, who they were and the purpose of that danger, would become the crux of a transformation in how culture reflected patriotism, loyalty, and the very values of not only heroism, but those by which the veneer of civilization might continue.

By the time Titanium Man returns for his annual gladiatorial combat with the titular hero, 1967 will be a year where protests about our nation’s military draft storm the coasts. Young readers of Iron Man, and Marvel in general, are becoming increasingly older, more literate- more opinionated. While much of rural America continues under the values of the post-Depression era tradition, the alignment of good versus evil will require increasing nuance in popular culture- generally an apolitical affair up til this time. Stan Lee’s way of writing in these shades of differentiation, while still requiring clear villains and heroes, is fairly inventive, maybe more sophisticated than was expected, however out of touch aspects of it seemed in the wash of ideals of conversation, critical thinking, and peace (ever rejected by further parties).

What’s interesting is the oft-cited faith in technology and reason to pave a way into the uncertain future that marked our space race years. Technology and reason have continued afoot, but what’s depressingly clear is that warfare has also taken claim of both to invent new ways of sabotage and chaos, typified closely by the election computer hacking and counter-hacking engagement. I realize the very existence of that body of facts is under fundamental, culturally-divided debate in today’s society. Bear with my level of imagination as I work with the documentation of events in a way I consider reputable and try to piece together a discussion that will touch upon visions from conflicting sides of the divide, as relating to a run of old comic books.

In our next post, we’ll center our look on Tales Of Suspense #92-94 in 1967, where Stan humanizes the nation caught in the middle of our Cold War, with some industrious storytelling for its time. Military-organized and affiliated heroes will come into fashion in the 90’s, but independent operator Iron Man’s very clearly trusted by American soldiers scripted with loyalty and support by their New York-born writer. We’ll also branch out to plots in the couple of years before and afterwards, and touch upon how that era of Iron Man reflects opinions of the American Military-Industrial Complex, and its confederate intelligence agents, refracted more strongly- and strangely- than that time’s contemporary comics, in great controversies of today, when the Russo-American rivalry seems revived in a manner that finally connects with widespread conversation again, as it did in the 1960’s.

Evolution of a Bogey Man

Thirty, forty years ago, some commentators in fandom, particularly those schooled in counter-culture, might have viewed the jingoistic propaganda related to the millionaire protagonist of Iron Man and his milieu, apologetically, with bemusement. The era of Glasnost and the collapse of the Soviet Union threatened to make these stories passe period pieces. Yet, the Russian government has been- American government, also, has been- involved in affecting elections across the world, through psychological operations, military intervention, funding, sanctions, and alliances. Sometime in the 1990s, Russian mobsters began appearing in America’s economy and crime fiction, even as top Mafia families began to unravel due to F.B.I. efforts to flip witnesses and gather data.

Stabilizing and de-stabilizing governments is a deadly game that’s continued on, with grave consequences for nations like Syria, where Russia has established a no-fly zone excluding NATO. And now, as summer begins in the United States, the news reveals irregularities assessed regarding specific targets, such as Dallas County in Texas, where suspicious IP’s, warned about previously in a list of 600, appeared amid voter record databases. At the time of this writing, we’ve learned of the Obama-authorized cyber bomb contingency. This plan? AS per the Washington Post: Deploying implants developed by the NSA which can be detonated within the Russian infrastructure, in an emergency, which has yet to be determined by the present administration.

The Washington Post today (6/23) reported an uptick in visas applied for from Russian tech experts to work temporarily in Russian facilities, noticed by the F.B.I. and delayed by the State Department until after the last election. Wired magazine’s July cover story depicts Ukraine’s cyber invasion- a national test lab for Russia to hone cyber weapons, discredit their institutions and show them as a failed state, while testing red lines- hacking and seeing how far they can push, and where they’re stopped- pushing more!

Suddenly our subject matter is both of its time- yet, seems in touch with this strange era of Russo-American intrigue.

Be informed: it’s an age of digital warfare. The Titanium Man of today’s a wave of computer experts- a real life show of technological strength and superiority, done not with a giant armored super villain, but subtle taps of keyboards that shake world governments to the core.

Coming soon: 1967, Iron Man in Viet Nam

End of Spider-Man


The End of Spider-Man
Two degrees and a lifetime living away from my hometown later, I still find Amazing Spider-Man, by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and John Romita, eminently readable. Even when I want to strangle Peter for behaving anti-socially, there’s something in either alter ego that draws me cozily back up to those original issues. I read much of the last year of Ditko’s run and the first year of Romita’s- reprinted from 1965 and 1966- when I faithfully collected Marvel Tales.

I’ve never owned it, myself, but my absolute favorite was a 1964 issue where Spider-Man becomes the first costumed adventurer to try, out of his sense of responsibility, to hang up his super-hero career. What an inversion of formulaic comics! I was maybe eleven when I read that one; I borrowed it multiple times, a worn back issue with a rolled spine. That battered 1983 reprint left one of my strongest adolescent memories. I can still smell the near-century-old elementary school building on whose steps I first pulled it clandestinely from David’s Trapper Keeper folder. I wouldn’t be the first or last to comment on the feel of three-dimensionality I found in the characters of my very favorite issues (like my first X-Men, #188). My own budding mix of emotions as I crested adulthood-earnest, serious, curious, privately comical-found a reflection in a hero- a character-a person brought to life by imagination and those kid-worn pages.

Spider-Man is in my earliest memories; I knew who he was when I was three. There was already a sense of personal history mixed in with childish delight in our wall-crawling wonder. My Sunday School teachers thought my name, for months, was really, truly Peter Parker when I was five. I thought they were simply in on the joke- didn’t everyone realize Peter Parker is Spider-Man? My refuge with those old Spider-Man comics was a refusal to turn my back on imagination and the enchantment of stories. Perhaps that’s where the poignancy lay with that reprint of ASM #18: we were supposed to engage in ferreting out any and all knowledge of adult things, especially the forbidden adult things. Here I was, all but alone in my unwillingness to give up -to give up“being”-- Spider-Man.

Aunt May- the woman who raised Peter Parker- fell ill, and the news of her sickness affected Peter deeply while in battle as Spider-Man. In fact, Spidey left a fray with the Green Goblin, leaving the Human Torch to run off the macabre mischief maker. Already Peter examined why it is he would anonymously risk his life over and over again – not for the mixed reactions of a realistically fickle public, but at least other heroes seemed to garner respect for their sacrifices. Meanwhile, he’s got an unwell relative who would be alone, and devastated, should he be lost. Does his great power really eclipse that responsibility? He failed to act as Spider-Man, and his uncle paid the price. Now, if he acts- will his aunt suffer? Tricky, huh?



Hesitant to appear again in costume, Spider-Man even evades a battle with the rampaging Sandman, to the jeers of the crowd and the villain. But just when Peter resigns himself to trashing his secret identity for the better, he talks to his now-recovering aunt. He finds, in her words, the desire to fight on. Thus the first and shortest retirement in the pages of the newly-minted Marvel Comics superhero line comes to a close, with a last page guarantee from Spider-Man- who was given to melodramatic declarations spoken aloud and alone, but who wasn’t, hey- he’s back, he’s ready to teach the bad guys a lesson!

I think shy kids of any era can relate to the fear of being ostracized, of being thought a coward because you don’t wanna fight. But on second thought: did it work?

I’ve said before of, for example, daytime soaps that, on some level, the storytelling will forever remain at a kind of ‘B’ level because there are societal norms and predictable reactions built in with their audiences, who expect a very certain kind of story to be told, though told well, with the best plot twists and acting possible. There are also constraints found inside mass media, itself: however many feints you get, the bomb threat can’t be revealed to the characters until at least the cliffhanger Friday if the Nurse’s Ball runs all week. The heroine won’t realize she’s bisexual and bring together her lovers into a polyamorous triad. Relationships are more likely to fail and even be reunited multiple times, because viewers want a different fantasy that tries out different chemistry, and in break ups, there’s reliable amounts of drama intended to reflect the ideals as well as the pitfalls of romance. With any serial, the title character can’t be killed off (though hats off to Rick and Morty on their A-game), which is why a team makes for slightly less predictable stories, as demonstrated by the then-shocking death of the Phoenix in Uncanny X-Men. Murders get solved, marriage proposals get turned down- this observance of formula is entirely why we’re often cited as living in a golden age for television writing, when programs brutally part with formula for the kind of anything-goes daring possible in a novel (which, again, can become formalized for commercial reasons according to certain perceived audience needs). It’s the savvy creator, indeed, who will let a story tell itself in ways the story needs, and simultaneously hit upon less obvious, but deeper, audience needs by taking risks. Such risks make or break commercial storytelling.

So here, at the time, hero triumphs over villain’s plot is the strong expectation built in, limiting the sorts of stories told in 1964 superhero comics. We’re not heading for a run of issues of The Amazing Spider-Pacifist, but Stan and Steve are relying on a certain degree of self-awareness, portraying faith in the intelligence of the readers, to risk their hero’s reputation in schoolyard conversations, back when comics could BE in schoolyard conversations, the way their successors in the movies are, today- the way geek culture’s emerged from the shadows along with other behaviors once considered deviations from the social norm, when for someone, this IS normal!

Since the riff’s returned with variations several times- even bringing gravitas to the middle act of Spider-Man 2 in 2004- I can conclude “The End of Spider-Man” was a smash with more readers than not. Some may have found it average, some, boring, and many of those might’ve checked back in some other month to see if Spider-man fought anyone cool-looking in clever or brutal ways, depending on your tastes. For some, it may’ve been the end of Spider-Man, for them- but many of those, already dallying with a medium often defined by outlandish violence, were not on their way to a preference for subtle storytelling. It’s not a ruse so that Batman can foil Two-Face with an unexpected disguise or other trap. It’s a layer of self-doubt, rumination and reality never seen before in this kid’s stuff medium, which was now growing up with its baby boomer audience. Amazing Spider-Man #18 touched upon a more honest sort of depiction of the kind of less-escapist, existential problems you can’t solve with your fists, in a memorable, lasting fashion.
Transcend your fears, the negativity of others- in the clarity of intention, seek your inner hero.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming villain, the Vulture: 10 Key Stories of Spidey's Feathered Foe, and more!


The second issue of Amazing Spider-Man, cover dated May, 1963, featured the wall-crawler’s first super-powered enemy. A conflict of youth versus age, the Vulture was an inventor who used his then-rare advantage to become a daring thief. The second story in the issue introduces another villain featured in Spider-Man: Homecoming- The Tinkerer, another rogue inventor, played by Michael Chernus. Courtesy USA Today

His post-retirement plans were quite a bit more exciting than a 401 K and a house in Florida. We’re still so early in the Marvel Age at this point, a foe whose power was, primarily, flight and strength, makes a formidable challenge- maybe not as imaginative as what is to follow, but a nice use of visual and a great combatant for the neophyte wall-crawler. As super-villains go, The Vulture was not a bad start. For one, he makes a terrific test of Spider-Man’s new combat skills, as dizzyingly depicted by co-creator Steve Ditko. His technology-based abilities provide an obstacle that requires not only Spider-Man’s agility and strength, but uniquely, his Peter Parker side’s love of science, to create an engaging gadget to screw up the Vulture’s electromagnetically powered harness! Their battle features the first time Parker starts out with the idea to take photographs for money, a career that becomes a recurrent story engine for decades.

The Vulture is also the first of the Spider-Man’s Rogues to re-appear, as he does in Amazing Spider-Man #7. His craftiest move in these early stories is, once he has guards for a diamond shipment looking skyward warily, The Vulture simply pops out of a manhole to make the snatch!
When our as-yet unnamed winged thief returns next, he begins his occasional partnership with the rest of the Sinister Six, a confederation of enemies who team up in the first Amazing Spider-Man annual in 1964. It’s more important for its significance going forward than for his showing here as one villain among many (would you believe, six). He’s appeared in most incarnations of this idea since, revived over the summer of 1990. But after this, we won’t hear from the Vulture again for quite a while, and when we do, Stan Lee’s experimenting with removing the one weakness associated with this geriatric bad guy, the one trait that defines him visually nearly as much, and more uniquely, than the wings.

Our third key Vulture story comes along in Amazing Spider-Man #48, the origin of his replacement, a cellmate called Blackie Drago who engineers an accident in the prison work shop that seems to spell the original’s demise. This younger, stronger Vulture has a strong showing against a cold-ridden webspinner, with a few new improvements such as a short wave radio in his cowl, but he gets caught in a cross-up with Kraven The Hunter and Spidey that puts a quick end to his high-flying career. A couple of issues before, The Shocker debuts, with his own tech gimmick-based powers to smash safes and vaults, in #46. Cinema fans will also meet The Shocker for the first time this summer, played by Bokeem Woodbine. It’s just as well Romita vetoed Lee’s initial idea to name him The Vibrator, huh?

Over a year later, we discover the as-yet-unnamed inventor of the Vulture persona isn’t dead, after all. He arms the kidnapped Blackie Drago with a pair of wings, then kicks his butt across the skyline of New York! The Vulture nearly wins a stand-off with Spider-Man, and in fact, he gets away, after terrorizing J. Jonah Jameson and his city editor, Joe Robertson. Then he lays low for many years.

The next time we have a Vulture, it’s during Gerry Conway’s writing tenure, a murder mystery that plays out in Amazing #127 and 128. With monstrous, body-warped features, we get closer to a freakish creature Vulture, who targets witness Mary Jane Watson for a death all too similar to that of Gwen Stacy’s just a few issues before. Poking around, Parker realizes this third Vulture is a professor named Clifton Shallot, who loses his powers and never returns as the Vulture.

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #5 &6- from the second full-time all-new Spider-Man title, aside from Marvel Team-Up and his reprints in Marvel Tales- pits the returned true Vulture in a three-way battle with an Archie Goodwin mercenary called The Hitman. It’s time for a good Vulture/ Spidey dust-up by this point, but other than the cross-fire of mob-motivated foes, we don’t get anything especially unique or “key.” That’s going to require the services of writer Roger Stern, the first to really ask: who IS this old guy? What, in fact, is his darn name besides The Vulture? How did he come up with his costume and device, and what made him so bitter and anti-social? What, in short, made him not just a two-dimensional combatant and clever thief- but a person?

I’m not as familiar with the three-parter in Peter Parker #43-45, but Stern was obviously interested in giving an inner universe to the characters of his stories. What was that wistful something they just can’t reach? He wrote the sixth truly key Vulture story in Amazing Spider-Man #224. Stern names him Adrian Toomes, and ties the retiree Vulture into that of Aunt May’s first genuine love interest since the death of Ben Parker in the Spider-Man origin. From Amazing Spider-Man #224, by Roger Stern, John Romita, Jr. with inks by Pablos Marcos.

In one go, May Parker, her Sunshine Boy, Nathan Lubensky (an ex-vaudeville performer now retired and wheel-chair bound) and The Vulture all acquire a new level of characterization, with both Peter and Spider-Man caught in the middle! On his next Vulture outing in Amazing, we get the back story of inventor Adrian Toomes, and his desire for revenge on industrialist Gregory Bestman, who cheated on their company's shared profits about the time Adrian created his flying harness. It all goes down in Amazing Spider-Man #240 & 241.

It’s arguable that some of the appearances following this are more key, but the first new Vulture story I ever read began in yet another spin-off Spider-Man title (apt phrase here), the replacement for Marvel Team-Up, Web of Spider-Man #1. While wrapping up the initial Black Alien Costume storyline, we also meet The Vulturions, a costumed gang more reminiscent of the Drago approach. Differently colored, armed with blow darts of varying poisons, we get a higher-stakes variation that seems to promise a new interpretation of a classic foe. But in Web #3, we’re back to another echo of a classic story, that of ASM #63 and 64, as Toomes angrily returns to whip the young bloods with daring new stunts and his canny knowledge of mid-air combat. This sort of works to build up The Vulture as a greater threat, and ties into a side plot with the Kingpin and...Aunt May’s birthday hat? This idea was fun, as it evoked Spidey’s team-up with Cannonball of the New Mutants in MTU #149 months before, where he got the notion of buying the tea party hat, which is strangely rescued by The Kingpin as he watches from his penthouse in Web #2. That favor comes back to bite Spidey in Annual #19, with nice Mary Wilshire art depicting a bizarre supposition by yet another second generation villain, the son of the inventor of the original Spider-Slayer robots. I’ll save that one for you to look up, but I had to mention the whole spiel because it’s both a key Vulture appearance and part of the nice, if slightly superficial, way that different writers tied Spidey’s adventures together into one successful tapestry in the 1980s.

Here’s the idea behind the next key Vulture appearance, Amazing Spider-Man #336. I missed his Atlantic City return in Web #16- spotty distribution and newstand/ magazine rack sales meant you either had money when an issue came out or missed it at your own risk. But I was in my last phase as a monthly collector when the Vulture returned in Amazing Spider-Man to involve Lubensky in an altercation that leads to Nathan’s accidental death, the culmination of careful sub-plots about Nathan's fear of death and his gambling addiction. His ties to the long-time supporting character are curiously not followed through until another great Spider-writer, J.M. DeMatteis, picks up Micheleinie’s story later in Spectacular Spider-Man. One thing about J.M.: his love and reverence for the elderly showed through in his desire to flesh out May and even her elderly friends- a move above and beyond the call of duty in a title that began as the ultimate youth versus age.

J.M. comes back with a tale about mortality, and proposes the final days of the Vulture in a multi-part story “Funeral Arrangements, beginning in Spectacular #186. Will he rejuvenate through some uncanny scientific means, or must another Spider-villain perish dramatically at the hands of DeMatteis?
(We’ve got some great interview answers from J.M., such as the May 19th edition of Integr8d Fix!)

Our ideas about the aged, as you’ve seen evolving over this very post, have changed, even as the same youngsters who picked up Amazing #2 now arrive in grey-haired territory themselves. The Vulture was a bit ground-breaking in his own way, an elderly man, by all appearances, making himself virile and capable of death-defying feats in a manner that foretells the Baby Boomers’ obsession overall with remaining as young and interesting and adventuresome into their golden years. We still get a wide contrast of ages in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming movie, but our Vulture, portrayed by Michael Keaton, is more what we’d call late-middle aged, and not obviously decrepit in any way. In a wink to his film history, we’re going to have the lead actor in Bird Man- a strange character study more than anything like a conventional superhero movie- and the next blockbuster superhero hit after Superman, 1988’s Batman! If anything, Batman’s got a special significance for kicking off the first wave of big screen full-length superhero movies, as the next several years saw studios trying hard to cash in on the interest following Batman to bring us more comics-based movies like Dick Tracy, The Rocketeer, original creation Dark Man, pulp inspiration The Shadow, even more Batman.

For more than those superficial reasons, it’s Keaton’s capabilities as an actor that make the guy who had everyone but Tim Burton pretty much scratching their heads at first announcement a promising Vulture. The studio’s floated the idea that this a blue-collar answer to Tony Stark, which begins an intriguing motivation to a guy with the know-how who’s been passed over and probably cheated and ignored- a character owing to the Stern characterization that finally made him more than a simple cartoon beside his better-developed antagonist Spider-Man. In fact, with his salvaging business, Adrian's modus operandi is actually scavenging-in this case, from alien tech and weapons left behind in some of the other conflagrations that devastated New York in previous Marvel movies! The Marvel Cinema Universe itself, now that Spidey’s come “home” to their wildly-popular care, promises to care for the stories of the characters, as well as offering us the kind of outrageous spectacle film now so seemlessly integrates. Add in RDJ as Tony Stark, playing Peter’s mentor (hit or miss to the degree of how you like his Iron Man, who is bound to be somewhat chastened after the disasters of Captain America: Civil War) and I think you’ve got crowd-pleasing entertainment for fans across the age spectrum. Let's hope they avoid villain-overload and keep a focused story; the trio featured in Homecoming should work well together in a connected, close-knit story line. It helps that The Tinkerer isn't a punch-up kind of guy, usually content to arm villains, traditionally, filling orders for special devices.

The Vulture himself looks much more formidable than ever, fitted at last with the sort of devastating and wicked-looking suit that sells him as a capable menace. It looks like a new playing field for their battles, too-if anything, fans complain there’s too much given away by the previews, which I’ve mostly missed on purpose. What I read in preparation for this article, however, guarantees we’re in for a truly key Vulture story. If all goes well, I’ll be sharing opinions from Spider-Man writers such as Dave Kraft (who scripted many Spidey Super Stories, much licensed Spider-Man product outside comics, and developed supporting characters like Jameson’s son, as the Man-Wolf) and, since I asked nicely, maybe Roger Stern himself!

If you enjoyed this article, look out for Hero Duty from IDW Publishing later this year, drawn by Joe Phillips and scripted with yours truly, and Integr8d Fix: the book, presently in proposal and filling up with more fun material each month this summer, okay?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Comically Bad: Incredible Hulk #141, The Origin of Doc Samson!


Comically Bad: the Origin of Doc Samson

Yet again, we dig into the highs and lows of Marvel Comics circa 1980.
Now, if you’ve never been embarrassed by a comic book, are you a true comics fan?
That mixture of eye-widening wonder and face palming shame is the hallmark of championing old comic books. Sure as Thor is the prince of Asgard, it’s your birthright! Face front, True Believer!


Some of the dissonance, this time, can be attributed to Marvel Super-Heroes #92 being a relic of a decade before. This is a reprint from 1971- where the Silver Age meets the Bronze Age, the times when new writers and approaches outside of the Stan Lee script were only beginning, as in the hands of Marvel Universe architect Roy Thomas. Roy did so much to make the story world of Marvel coherent (and yes, sometimes incoherent), connected, gave it rules and editorially guidance to help enthusiastic young writers and artists. His efforts on Conan The Barbarian gave Marvel a new Top Five book around this time; adapting properties was his forte. He even incorporated an erudite usage of literature and some youth pop culture savvy, updating the characters in ways that were definitive of the new decade as well as occasionally awkward.

But when he created the first new, enduring Hulk supporting character (Jim Wilson had quite a run, too, and that’s no jive, dig it?) at the time, the Rascally One reached back to an ancient source of inspiration, one whose stories make the most-referenced touchstone in Western World Literature. He added a healthy dash of Golden Age comics love, in an era where collectors were first gathering to discuss such things as the apparent golden-ness of 1940’s comics and their pulp predecessors.


Then, he characterized everyone in the story as an idiot --in a uniquely Thomas style!

With Mort-of-the-Month aplomb, may I present Hulk’s newest frenemy?


“His Name Is...Samson!”


In this editorial time of transition, Lee-style bombast is still the order of the day. There’s a trope where the writer seems to talk to the character, who can’t hear him. Wait...the cover. Back up from the splash page, begin at the top. OK, there’s some story-telling set up here: a woman, who Hulk readers might recognize as Betty Ross, cowers in the back, shouting “No, Hulk---Don’t Hurt Him---Please--!” Centered, we have the imposing figure, the green haired-hippie, gripping Hulk by the wrist like a child about to have his ass whipped for stealing candy in a K-Mart. “Foolish Female!!” (I see some other Stan Lee-style stuff’s still hanging ‘round.) The Victory shall belong to---Doc Samson!” And who says comics are for kids? Well...the banner across the top, ‘Win a Toys R Us shopping Spree! Grand Prize Minimum Value $3000! Details Inside.’ Take that into consideration, and everything that follows is either much more understandable, or perhaps, by today’s standards, even more offensive. But I’m not here to get political. I’m here to get silly. And it looks like I’ve come to the right place.


Now, back to tropes, and the splash page. Narrative openings, like thought balloons, have virtually bit the dust in modern comics, which open more cinematically overall now. Hey, TV shows used to end in frozen characters, with credits rolling and studio audience applause. Conventions fall away in every medium.


There’s another trope, hammier than breakfast at Denny’s, where the narrator shouts the melodrama inside the depicted character’s head, with a burning, repetitive word. In this case, author Thomas shouts at us: ‘The Hulk is an unfeeling monster!’ Now he’s going to defy that contradiction, while, in true early ‘70’s socially-conscious fashion, indict the “predigested news—predigested views” of television. Can you dig it, blood?
He continues: “Why, then, does a single word resound noiselessly thru his clouded brain! Jarella! Jarella! Jarella!” Artie Simek’s lettered the word, increasing in size, for maximum melodramatic effect. I’ve read the previous issue before, and Hulk’s going to quickly cover why Jarella mattered so to him (but not Banner, interestingly)- so in his psyche, this is dramatic stuff.


That’s an intriguing development in the character- but it’s not going anywhere for a long, long time. This is the era where Thomas penned the fairly-clever “radical chic” issue of the Hulk, where he’s adopted as a celebrity for a posh Manhattan fund raiser, so for the first time in a while, the character who Marvel seemed to have the hardest time initially defining, who has then been stuck in a recurrent sort of storytelling engine, is having some different stories. And this one will prove no, er, different.


Betty Ross- daughter of General Thunderbolt Ross (what IS his first name, do you recall?), avowed military enemy of the Hulk- has been turned by the Sandman into a crystalline statue. Desperate for help, Ross listens to the theories of pipe-puffing psychiatrist Leonard Samson, who snootily talks down to him about a cockamamie theory. Before Betty’s permanently stuck this way, perhaps bombardment by a high energy force can reverse her condition.


Conveniently, that force will turn out to be “the Hulk’s libidinal energy.” I’m aware Freudian psychology had not fallen out of fashion yet, and sexual libido was common element of diagnosis. Slinging science terms in pseudo-scientific style is a hallmark of classic Marvel. In true “each scientist is talented in many unrelated fields” manner, Doctor Samson, in his first appearance, has also created a machine capable of siphoning and shooting weird story-driving energies.


Now if they can just capture the Hulk, this machine will enlist his libido in a Comics Code Approved way- and possibly, cure Bruce Banner of being the Hulk! If you’ve followed the character much at all, it’s a central conceit: Banner’s tormented by his helpless transformations, which leave his life, and purple pants, in tatters, usually leaving him stranded in gamma-powered blackout drunk fashion after devastating another location and/or menace.


So Air Force Lieutenant Major Talbot- another Betty Ross suitor- walks up the Hulk on the street and tries talking to him. With a handy hologram projector, Hulk’s manipulated emotionally by the waving, smiling, crystallized form of “friend Betty” and calms down enough to change to Banner. This works, to Thunderbolt’s amazement, because of what our smug psychiatrist calls “a matter of proper timing---psychological discipline.” There could be a fatal risk attached to this attempt to cure Betty, but Banner’s willing to risk his life for her. And it better work, or T-bolt will “shove those sugar-coated words” down Samson’s throat!


Thanks to Trimpe and Severin on art, we’re treated to the dramatic scientific experiment that changes Bruce to Hulk and back, before using the siphoned libidinal energy to make Betty flesh-and-blood. The machine- the Psychotron?- still contains the Hulkiness, and Samson dispassionately observes: “There is ---much that may be learned from the residues of the Hulk’s gamma-ray power. Oh, by the way—you may come out as well, Dr. Banner.” Kudos to Simek for lettering Thomas’ script to specs so that Samson’s snotty contempt drips from each italicization.


Tired of being thought of as an effete intellectual, despised by emotionally-imposing types like Major Talbot, Doctor Leonard Samson sneaks back to the machine later to give himself a controlled bombardment of the Hulk energies. One broken set of glasses, and suddenly Samson’s a buff dude with flowing green hair. Unconscious of the concept of narcissism, Len enjoys his sweet new bod in the mirror. His flexing’s interrupted by Betty Ross, who stopped in to thank Len at this odd hour. She’s been told Bruce is asleep. Doctor Lennie then spirits her away in his convertible- which would’ve been a nice enough chick magnet to get him a date, I’d think, but-- he’s ready to celebrate!


Honestly? Yes, this is a brand new character dropped in, characterized, and set up to be the issue’s Hulk nemesis. Nothing to this point is not par for the course: you either like this sort of story or not. Ridiculous science and melodrama comes with the territory.


And then we have Bruce, freshly sneaked out of the hospital, standing forlornly as Ross hops in Samson’s car. Just like that, because he’s now, by comparison, a “98 pound weakling,” Bruce just decides the woman for whom he risked his life automatically belongs to the newly-empowered suitor. It’s just accepted as a matter of fact that Samson must be using the Hulk energies, and apparently, that Betty was really into Bruce’s hunky muscles he didn’t have when he wasn’t the Hulk, anyway. Yeah, “huh?” is right!


Here, we’ve run into the deadline-driven problems that smushed dramatic developments that might’ve made decent soap opera into comically compressed proportions. It’s not clear how long Betty and Len go out, because we get a montage of him also buying his own union suit from the costume shop- an apparent homage to Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, complete with Shazam! Bolt. He then trains himself to be agile. That suit: I asked my wife what she thought of it, without any preface. She immediately saw the open, tight t-shirt, covered her mouth, and giggled. It’s all certainly quite snug. She recommended some black boots and a silver belt might’ve toned it down a bit, but, you know old comics.


So Betty’s seeing Len as “gentle, kind” and not as a raving egomaniac, while wondering all the way through dinner why Bruce, who she loves, doesn’t call. I guess she’s lost Bruce’s number? As we get Doc Samson’s feature page, complete with his wishes he had the Hulk to try to slap around, we have Banner fuming at the bottom, how his power (remember, his long-lamented curse?) has been usurped by Samson to woo Betty. My wife asked: is that Bruce? “He looks like a newscaster!” Well, he’s got a news flash cooking for our Johnny-come-lately psychiatrist.


After an entire series, on and off for nine years at this point, of Banner desperately wishing he could be cured of the Hulk, our somewhat unstable physicist decides it’s worth ruining his life again and endangering society to go use the Psychotron to bombard himself again. Wrecking the machine and the building, the explosion reveals- the Hulk!


Fresh off apparently rejecting a marriage proposal (!),Betty wonders why he’d do that, too. And our ever-astute psychiatrist suggests they both know why. Not that he’s a masochistic maniac. Doc Samson tries to dress this up with some nobility, cleaning up his responsibility, but we know he’s been itching to go toe-to-toe with the Hulk, so that’s what he rushes out to do.


There’s something a little weird about the art in the battle that follows. For one, Samson is knocked ugly in one of those staggering punches. Nevermind that the caption tells us Doc Samson strikes first AFTER he’s already punched the Hulk, dodged the Hulk, and “squared off.” That may well be a hasty addition to the reprint, which I think cuts at least a page or two somewhere. If Samson’s arm’s not tragically dislocated by their hand-squeezing stand-off, he must be double-jointed.


Now, Bruce has behaved most baffingly of everyone, with Samson revealing himself to be something of a idiot by using his new-found power to try to impress the one woman around who’s been entangled in this, while neglecting the one guy who can turn into the Hulk. Maybe he thought he was cashing in on her gratitude? But now it’s Betty’s turn to be awful and off-putting. She runs up to the battle scene, not for Hulk/ Banner, but to declare her love for Len! She coddles the newly-humbled would-be superhero, leaving Green Jeans standing stupefied in the streets for our ending and emotional cliffhanger.


It’s not impossible to see something kind of cool in the Doc Samson design and general concept- at least it’s not another generic monster this month. We’re going to see a lot of Doc, on and off, over the years. You can laugh at overwrought Thomas characters all you want, but it’s hard to think of another person who did more to translate newly-number-one Marvel Comics Group into its 1970s incarnation, as he gathered eager, idea-filled, off-the-wall scripters to carry the torch after Stan Lee left for Hollywood. It was a tough decade sales-wise, but this was also because Marvel was trying out so many ideas, so many titles!
There’s something to be said for working out an idea a bit before committing it to the page. Just ask my artistic collaborator Joe Phillips, who will probably take a year to go from off-the-cuff pitch to published first issue (with the next two or so in the can).
It might be, the key ingredient to making The Incredible Hulk #141 Comically Bad was making it Comically Rushed. But that was the business in 1971. Is it terrible of me to give it the business in 2017?





Monday, June 5, 2017

1st Marvels: John Romita on Spider-Man, The End of the Green Goblin; review: Amazing Spider-Man #27 (2017)


The image of Spider-Man most seen in toys and other 1960s, ‘70’s and 1980s merchandise was not usually derived from his rather creepy, gangly, unique look from his visual creator, Ditko, but rather, the more formulaic interpretation by Marvel’s art director, his second regular artist, John Romita. (And yes, his first-ever appearance in the throwaway Amazing Fantasy #15 was on a cover drawn by the other Marvel legend, Jack Kirby. By that count, it was the third time that was the charm, commercially.) I’ve been, in absence of sleep between part-time job shifts, flipping through Ditko’s last issues of Amazing Spider-Man, anticipating something to say for this essay, which tells the story of the passing of the torch (or web shooters) to Marvel’s new hire, John Romita, better known at this point for drawing the kinds of popular romance comics that, until recent years, not one in a hundred collectors sought anymore. The newest issue of Amazing Spider-Man, as #27, under the current numbering, contains a common thread to Mr. Romita’s first work on the character: The Green Goblin. The kid whose superheroes first publicly appeared on a school play backdrop had made the forefront.

Put in pop culture perspective, spring of 1966 still found Jimi Hendrix walking the streets of New York City with cardboard stuffed over the hole in one shoe. (If that sentence left you asking “Jimi who?” type in “Purple Haze,” “All Along The Watchtower,” and “Foxy Lady” and end your cultural deprivation!) The Viet Nam War rose in the public consciousness as more young men got draft notices. To be topical (but not so political as over in Iron Man’s Tales of Suspense), Stan Lee picks Parker frenemy Flash Thompson to be drafted- though he’ll reappear on furlough often and stay in the strip. Mostly because of said war- but also over changing attitudes about race, cultural norms, and eventually, pollution, campus protests became regular nightly news. You’ll notice a sharp change in how this is portrayed. In 1966, Ditko’s depicts protesters in an ugly light- Stan scripts them as part of the shallow, egotistical students sharing abrasive vibes with Peter. When they begin reappearing in a couple of years, ex-Army John & Stan take their concerns seriously, sympathetically. Their misunderstandings and hot tempers remain fodder for dramatic exploitation, with villains like the Kingpin wading in!

When I read the Marvel Tales #178 reprint of “How Green Was My Goblin!,” I’d regularly followed that book over the year since I’d started earning a few dollars for chores and A’s. I loved ‘60’s pop/rock music; I was beginning my fascination with that time period, and reveled in imagining the Marvel line coming out alongside the culture of the times. I’m inclined to think I was reading the best representative of what Marvel could do in 1966, with Mighty Thor and Fantastic Four and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. to round off the top of the pack.

The new artist on Amazing- the only new artist the title’d ever had!- would bring the culture of the times into Spidey’s pages in a way his visual creator, Steve Ditko, never envisioned. John Romita worked on romance comics, mostly, for eight years, with some Captain America issues back in 1953 as well. The childhood fan of the Golden Age Daredevil tried out on a couple of Marvel Daredevil stories (#13 and 14), studied Jack Kirby and Ditko’s recent work, then played to his strengths with, as they say, bated breath. His influences included Milton Caniff, Charlie Biro, Alex Raymond and Hal Foster, as well as Kirby, whose pacing, “camera distances” and angles he’d understood intuitively as a reader.

Ah, but let’s start with the covers!
In the Silver Age, as it’s often called, a cover showing the title hero, his identity, shockingly exposed, grabbed prospective readers, but c’mon, weren’t those a bluff? Usually, any development that shattered the storytelling engine’s status quo reversed itself by the end of the tale, if it wasn’t dubbed “imaginary” in the first place! But Peter Parker’s world’s always been a lot more grounded.
He’s bound! He’s openly being kidnapped by the Goblin, flying over the city! The Goblin almost certainly knows who Spider-Man is- and all the cover teases, verbally, is “Spider-Man and The Green Goblin: Both Unmasked!” This time, when the hero’s identity is uncovered by the villain, we’ll have a deadly recurrent problem. So, when you see the cover, as time’s gone by, you not only see something crying “read me!” but also, a standing milestone.
In interviews, John’s stated he tried to maintain some stylistic continuity with the years of Spider-Man before. He never quite gave Spidey Ditko’s depiction wirey sense of flowing movement during his shows of agility, and with some web-crazy misfire exceptions probably added by inker Mike Esposito (credited as Mickey Demeo) early on, drew more symmetrical webs on a more heavily-muscled, less teen-looking frame. His consistency with faces, however, made Peter and his new campus frenemies more appealing than before. His less-cartoonish J. Jonah Jameson developed a bit more dimension as a character, particularly when his astronaut son John becomes afflicted with space spores in #42. New York City remained a recognizable character of its own- a little less waterfront and water towers, but lots of identifiable landmarks like Penn Station. His knockout punch, in this artist’s opinion- and pretty women are as close to a strength as I have- was the study of fashion and new hairstyles, brought to some tastily-wrought femme figures.

It’s been said many a time, but thank Irving Forbush that the reveal of Mary Jane Watson was saved for the pencils of John Romita! Though it sat unnoticed in reference pages, Steve had already plotted the reaction of Liz Allan and Betty Brant, issues earlier, as “Peter knows someone like that? She’s beautiful!” Romita thought they were still deciding what MJ would look like up to the panel she opens the door.

The run of the new artist- who would eventually plot more and more of the stories, as did Ditko- begins by inadvertently leaning thematically on sympathetic villain portrayals, several story lines in a row. Granted, we did also get the debut of the Rhino- a raw powerhouse, in contrast to the macabre, bizarre looks overall of the classic Spider-Man Rogue’s Gallery (even Kraven had that strange divided lion face vest). I think this establishes a renewed influence of Stan Lee, if not perhaps a change to reflect the increasing complexity of the times and the emergent college-age audience growing in readership.
We also get a continuing storyline built around John Jameson’s condition, so Lee/Romita give us an ongoing story without needing a cliffhanger ending for any of them.

Even better, just as #37 set up Norman Osborn as the Goblin- at least, a villainous sort, but there are two big clues, it’s just no one realized Gobby’s I.D. was a mystery to solve!-#43 sets up Curt Connors’ return as the Lizard, when he helps Spider-Man figure out the solvent that destroys the Rhino’s protective hide! #38 also depicts Osborn with both a vendetta against Spider-Man (for mixing it up with Norman’s vengeful ex-partner? That seemed quite unclear- initially!) and a penchant for disguises, as he personally does the dirty work of circulating reward offers for Spider-Man’s defeat among toughs and underworld types. It seems Peter’s fellow student Harry Osborn’s father’s set to become a shady new foe- but cleverly, he’ll instead be revealed as pre-existing super criminal! No wonder this upsets Spidey: that’s not even covered under his health care plan!

(OH! Incidentally, you can find my interviews with J.M. DeMatteis on Integr8d Fix- I just posted one May 19th-and he’s said before this two-parter from Amazing #39 and 40 was his favorite, growing up!) (And yes, I'd love to tell the story of Marvel comics being published in other languages, as that would really be the story of how Spider-Man took over the world...I'll learn it in full for you one day.)Neat, huh?

Amazing Spider-Man #39 opens with Gobby ranting, posed nearly as he is on the cover. Stopping off at his hideout, Romita teases his hidden, true face (who knew he had one?), as for some reason (stinky mask sweat?) the villain unmasks in the shadows, opens a panel concealing him from the reader as he reaches for a new mask, and prepares his Bag of Tricks with some stun bombs (no mention of the more clever arsenal elements he’ll unload on Spidey). He brags while tuning his glider, which he alone continually refers to still as his Flying Broomstick- which was not nearly as versatile and cool as what quickly became, decades before real world science perfected a safe one, a hover board. He repeats himself a little, but Stan is, after all, underscoring his madness- and his obsession with uncovering Spider-Man’s identity this time, to humiliate him before destroying him.

The story quickly shifts to introducing Romita’s Parker and supporting cast. WE get two panels of the new Spider-Man depiction, swinging to Doctor Bromwell’s office, and one comical change and dip out of the Maintenance closet later (poor confused janitor), we get Romita’s take on Pete. JR’s Parker tends to smile a bit more and displays less scowling and anxiety-ridden countenances. He’s properly shocked and crestfallen after Bromwell informs him Aunt May can’t have any sudden shocks after this last operation (call back to the Master Planner saga in #31-33), which initially isolates him from Flash and Gwen Stacy.
Harry’s dropped off by his dad Norman, who at least seems like an a-hole, absorbed in his own world, grumpy, and unmoved by Harry’s concern. This sets up Harry brushing off longtime friend Gwen and Flash, himself, but opens the door to Harry unburdening himself for the first time to Pete- to the surprise of Gwen and Flash across the class laboratory. Peter finally buries the hatchet with Ned Leeds, his rival for Betty Brant, who will pop up for a moment next issue reconsidering her decision to leave New York. So the first thing changing under Romita’s tenure is Parker’s constant alienation from his supporting cast- a step towards maturing our socially maladjusted hero.

There’s a fight atop the Empire State Building- according to a sheepish reply in the letters page regarding this issue, much beloved and often quoted by our friend Johann, a friendly eagle’s flying by, so Spidey has something to which his webline’s attached while he swings over the highest skyscraper in the vicinity! The robbery’s apparently bait- this is a slight stretch. How many of these would it take before they encountered the high-flyin’ wall crawler?

Spidey notes how well prepared the thugs seem to pile on and tackle “someone like me”- a suspicion cemented by use of “the gimmick,” a gas that doesn’t apparently work. But as the observing Goblin notes, it’s meant to dull the Spider-Sense- that extra-sensory-like premonition of danger that tells Spidey when and how intensely trouble’s coming his way. It also would tingle whenever he’s being observed. After the fight, he’ll change and go to the Bugle before heading home in Forest Hills- and we’ll be treated to the Green Goblin hovering ominously on his glider, using a shotgun mike to pick up Peter using his own real name in conversation with Ned Leeds. Gobby’s surprise at Spider-Man’s secret youthfulness is a nice touch. After all, this strip did begin with, essentially, a kid putting on a costume and being taken for a grown man- though Romita’s already begun filling out his frame a bit more, to a more robust musculature.

When Gobby reveals his presence on the front lawn at May and Peter’s shared residence, we get Peter fighting in civvies- a first! It’s a terrific confrontation, with an underlying note of worry for Peter for his aunt’s safety, and that terrible threat of “the shock could kill her!” From the start, he remembers his web-shooters are down on his belt. He doesn’t fight as well- in a scene that works great for playing pretend in anyone’s yard- and Goblin’s surprise weapons include an asphyxiating gas he once used, he observes, on the Human Torch. The cover proves no mere hyperbole: Peter Parker, with a few modest torn bits revealing his costume beneath up close, flies away bound and towed to an unknown fate by the Green Goblin!
As if that wasn’t exciting enough, for reasons I connect to sheer ego, if not a subconscious cry for help, the victorious Goblin unmasks- and Peter recognizes him as the industrialist father of his troubled classmate Harry!

“End of the Green Goblin”

Stories excite us as much with their quantum-position-like possibilities of “what next?” as much as where they’ll go. Peter, bound and unmasked, by a deadly criminal who’s just revealed his own identity- one with personal repercussions- that’s a thrilling opening! Only upon reading it this time did I first question, I think, why Peter didn’t wonder why his spider-sense gave no warning when the Goblin spied on him. I also questioned how the Goblin had deduced he even has a spider-sense, much less how to neutralize it! Since Romita stated, in his 1999 interview with TwoMorrows, everyone anxiously anticipated the entire business folding up any year, as it had nearly done in ‘57 and ‘47, it’s a wonder this quickly-churned-out entertainment often holds together so well.

Peter observes Norman’s anxiety at being discovered as the Goblin- yes, despite having unmasked himself to what he claims is essentially a dead man- and with trepidation, taunts him into gradually unburdening himself of his origin. The art and his narrative about raising Harry alone clash ironically. Peter’s often a great point-of-view character, but for the first half of this issue, that’s his entire role- a first in Amazing Spider-Man. We see Norman blown up by a formula stolen from the partner, Professor Stromm, he swindled on a financial technicality. I don’t recall seeing brain damage used to set up a criminal’s psychopathy before this, but subsequent research has made that detail seem realistic.

Next we have an interlude threading May and her best friend Anna Watson through to a call to J. Jonah Jameson, callously dismissive of her intuitive concerns for his whereabouts. Use of sedatives, on the rise in the Sixties, has moved from strict doctor care to self-dosage since then. May might’ve been a struggling prescription pill addict if writers did not gradually break her out of this more old-fashioned, neurotic mode. Betty’s looking glamorous in a Chicago railroad station, nervously pondering her return to New York City. The haunting image of Spider-Man, whose dangerous life seems enigmatically entangled with the young man she’s believed herself in love with, veers her close to sussing out Peter’s dual identity. Thrill junkie female characters were not a supporting cast staple in those days- outside of Lois Lane. Betty dreads facing Leeds and Parker again, but never considers looking for other work besides the Bugle. It’s typical romance comic dilemma time, in the capable hands of John Romita. My one quibble is the WLS radio announcer “wondering why nothing has been heard of Spider-Man these past few days.” Breaking up a robbery at the Empire State Building’s a pretty high profile appearance, and the Goblin kidnaps Parker later that night, with no indication from the hideout scenes nor even from May and Anna that days have passed. It’s a forced bit clumsily scripted to set off a Brant inner monologue. A caption soon assures us the yucky stuff’s almost over if you’re here for web-spinnin.’

The waterfront hideout argument gains a visual element from a device called the Retroscope Helmet (“past views”- quite a gadget for a chemical company financier to have on hand). Now we get Romita’s take on scenes from each of the Goblin’s confrontations in over two years’ worth of stories. It’s good for building up the epic sense of conflict and connecting the appearances as a cumulative effort to become underworld crime lord. Five issues out of fourteen featured the Goblin, before his stated plan in #27 to lay low until he can return, forgotten, to strike unexpectedly; this underscores his intended importance to the strip. Perhaps this was lost during the last year of Ditko’s plots, but if we accept Sturdy Steve intended Osborn to be the Green Goblin, he got back on track, his last two issues.
These scenes very directly quote postures from the originals, a way of smoothing the artist change.
Interestingly, Romita believed he was filling in temporarily for the Spider-Man co-creator, rather than becoming co-author and design guru for the strip and Spidey’s public image in merchandise.
Goblin’s aware that Peter’s nearly worked his way free of his steel-coil bonds, so he frees him with a handle pull, so Peter might don his full costume for a final battle. When you count in the action-packed flashbacks and this five page battle, you get more super-charged fight scenes than any issue in memory, with much better personal stakes than anything since the Master Planner arc (which only had a Doctor Octopus/ Spider-Man battle to end its middle chapter). These fights, I maintain, always work best when they serve as metaphors for conflicting personal intents. His home base advantages don’t afford the Goblin the upper hand, in part due to the lack of room to maneuver “my greatest weapon,” the glider, and with that, “swingin’ Spider-Speed?!! It’s so sublime, I’m surprised no one’s written a sonnet about it!” Stan’s witty and clever at a peak in this era, scripting Spidey.

With an agile kick, Spider-Man sends the Green Goblin flying, though he thinks “he lost his footing!”- well, even with Gobby’s apparent super-strength, that’s hardly a shock. More likely, Spider-Man didn’t anticipate his enemy’s trajectory “knocking live wires into the vials of chemicals!” The greatest unintentionally wobbly racist sound effect in the book’s history- Sssspikkk, complete with KKK- heralds Norman’s accidental electro-shock therapy. The trauma removes the years of his criminal identity from his memory, a twist that relieves Spider-Man, for now, of his greatest feared outcome: survival and victory, but with his identity now Osborn’s knowledge. In what will prove to be his most haunting miscalculation someday since letting that studio burglar go in his origin, Peter acts as judge and jury, chalks up the brain damage as the root of Osborn’s aberrant behavior, and disposes of the costume quickly before fire fighters respond to the intense flames following the electo-chemical charge.
He mentions relying on his Spider-Sense to know Norman’s not faking. I don’t think his weird extra-sensory power can necessarily diagnose the reality of his enemies’ self-delusions, but it’s worth noting he never mentions it buzzing during the fight, and Green Goblin’s gas dulled it for an unspecified amount of time. He didn’t necessarily realize it was ever gone, though it’s a logical theory, when one thinks about the Goblin following him for what was at least an hour. Its return is taken for granted by both Spider-Man and Stan alike- but hey, they were very, very busy guys. At any rate, Peter wants to save Harry’s family further grief- a big-hearted move, for sure- but he’s depriving Osborn of adequate diagnosis for his psychosis. Perhaps analysis, with knowledge of the Goblin identity, would have uncovered Peter’s identity, but he takes a chance that all is cleanly forgotten- that the Green Goblin is dead. Understandable. But eventually, tragic.

It’s in keeping with Peter’s own great fear that his escapade has endangered his aunt, making the triumph vanish in meaning before the specter of his powerlessness to protect those who love him from the fallout of his secret life. For now, May recovers all the more quickly, attending to his flame-induced apparent fever, while Harry and Norman, at his father’s East Side luxury hospital suite, begin putting together pieces of a relationship that always suffered distance, but hopefully, less so now, with the enigmatic secret of the Goblin defused.

I never analyzed the potential plot holes until I’d been working carefully with comics scripts for a little while, myself- we’ve had a lot of time to “kick the tires” and think it through. I can only hope to achieve such an entertaining level of pathos from personal stakes in my work with artists like Joe Phillips, but I’d like it if my loving attention to detail in any way encourages you to check out IDW’s Hero Duty and other upcoming work. I drive Joe crazy trying to ring the maximum effect out of his plots! I think he'd have it no other way.

With this coda, I’d like tie together comics today- Amazing Spider-Man #27 by Dan Slott, Stuart Immomen and Wade Von Grawbadger - and comics, fifty one years ago. With Romita aboard, we’ll soon have a motorcycle coming up for Peter- and you can see a cool high tech motorcycle for Spidey now in the new issue!

You’ll also see how, while ASM #40 marked a then-very-rare ending to a villain’s story arc- handled in a humane, thoughtful way- you just can’t keep a good villain down. Returned even from years of certain, dramatic death, Osborn has been haunting the Marvel Universe, in a very-much-alive fashion, as a villain freed from the sympathetic twist on his motivations (or destroyed as a character, take your pick) to be a manipulative, Lex Luthor-like power broker bastard. More recently, his face has been ruined by a Goblin formula, a present he wishes to share with an entire country!

In the present story arc, Osborn’s taken over the Symkaran nation by becoming its primary employer- building weapons of devastation with its intimidated populace, under the aegis of its remaining royal. In a continuing development of rising stakes on both sides, Peter Parker’s changed from a crime fighting student scraping by to a connected head of a large technology development company. His inventions and aid are now primary weapons in returning the Silver Sable and her new Wild Pack as insurgents in a small scale war! Aunt May and Harry Osborn have moved from anxious victims to involved players, talking to Nick Fury himself on behalf of Parker’s company. Everyone’s so far removed from the low-key, flip side of daily reality soap opera drama that defined the strip five decades ago. Some toy enthusiasts will be more excited than ever that a legitimate story basis now exists for an outlandish array of Spider and Goblin themed vehicles and weapons. It’s either everything that’s wrong with today’s Marvel, or everything that’s right with status quo changes. Spider-Man’s still a wit, and stories still build upon characters from previous adventures. Perhaps now there’s simply too many to track- a Retro Scope flashback would take a limited maxi-series!
I do sympathize somewhat with the reality that either something different had to be created, or for story purposes, one of comics’ sacred cash cows needed a genuine ending. It’s the bane and delight of the trademarked pop culture character, is it not?

John Romita, evolving beyond a talented caretaker in an industry he expected to vanish any day, became the most important link between Lee’s era of deep hands-on involvement and the years to follow, alongside Roy Thomas on the authorial side. As Art Director, Romita developed young talent, coordinated work by industry lights such as John Buscema and Gil Kane, designed costumes for lasting characters like the Punisher, the Kingpin, and Wolverine, and worked as hard as Lee and Marvel could ask, while creating a more popular veneer for Spidey and his cast that led to stunning sales success.
I was floored by Jazzy Johnny’s son’s interpretation of the wall-crawler, years later, if I might date myself; Junior was the regular title artist in the many issues I would find posed in spinner and magazine racks, unable to buy but positively magnetized, looking. They are probably the most influential father-son team in comics history, not only talented, but very lucky to share such a fun profession together. Mom Virginia meanwhile became Art Traffic Director, getting the wild and wooly freelance teams in on time as often as humanly possible, in the Wild West days of postal delivery. I think marrying and working with your childhood sweetheart and son on one of the most enduring and fun characters in all of popular media surely constitutes, scary job pitfalls and all, some kind of charmed life!

Will someone feel the affection for the latest ASM #27 that those early issues engender? A lot of time's flown under the bridge to build (or erode) that opinion. But thanks to the movies, kids of all ages will continue bonding with the wall-crawler. In fact, we're just one month away from the very latest new Spider-Man franchise addition, spun out of the wildly-successful Avengers Marvel Cinema franchise. It's to be expected that Spider-Man: Homecoming simply won't achieve universal acclaim- not only because Spidey's a big "meh" to some people, but expectations for a Spider-Man springing from such high-profile roots, and as a sort of junior partner to Tony Stark, provide more strikes for some fans, out the gate. But those very qualities bring the movie a huge audience, and I'll be among them, with my money for two tickets already set aside. I'm still on the fence, personally, about collecting new issues of the series, though for what it is, it's very well done. But I'm ready to see how the movie continues creating a new interpretation of a character that it can- and I think, will- get right! There is something about young Spider-Man that I think moves on quite fluidly with the changing times.

http://twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/06romita.html for the first pages of the TwoMorrows Romita interview, here!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Wonder Woman and Transformers artist Jose Delbo


Warner Brothers looks like they’ve got the hit, the missing hope and optimism of super hero movies, that some say they’ve been missing, with the smash debut of Wonder Woman!
The 75th Anniversary of Wonder Woman spawning events and celebrations in publishing and at conventions all over, such as Kent State University Symposium Sept. 22-24 of last year.



At Dragon Con, Wonder Woman was celebrated, not only with the presence of George Perez, who guided DC’s relaunch of Diana almost three decades ago, but with a spotlight on the 70’s Wonder Woman artist (1976-1981)
José Delbo.


With several DC Universe cartoons since, a show-stopping appearance in Batman vs. Superman, and a major motion picture on the horizon, Wonder Woman seems as popular as ever. Before there was Nicola Scott and Liam Sharpe, there was Mr. Delbo, who drew the Amazonian Princess during her television well-spring of popularity.

The Argentinian artist began working professionally at age 16, at the side of another experienced cartoonist. “Alex (Buck Rogers) Raymond influenced me with his anatomy, early on” says Delbo. “Later, I was influenced by Milton Caniff’s treatment of black and white.”

Delbo primarily primarily drew Gold Key comics inspired by popular television shows. Among his lengthy credits in the years since: The Monkees, Lone Ranger, Transformers, Thundercats, and an adaptation of the Beatles movie,Yellow Submarine. As for TV, one of his co-creations, the super-villain Lumberjack, became a menace on Supergirl in her first season, 2015, on CBS.
José worked on Twilight Zone, Buck Rogers, and numerous comics inspired by Westerns for Gold Key. Fleeing his country during a political uprising, José came to America, and by the mid-70s, began his stint at DC Comics. With Wonder Woman #222, he began drawing the title, soon taking his position as the monthly artist.

As chronicled in the book by Michael McAvennie & Hannah Dolan, "1970s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle : Writer Martin Pasko and artist José Delbo detailed the first chronological meeting between Earth-1's modern-day Wonder Woman and her Earth-2 equivalent during World War II. When ABC-TV's popular Wonder Woman TV series was originally set during World War II, the team reflected the program. Pasko and Delbo continued in this era for the next fifteen issues.

After Lynda Carter made a star-spangled jump to CBS-TV's The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, scripter Jack C. Harris and artist José Delbo produced a story where Earth-1's Amazon helped her Golden Age counterpart apprehend the Angle Man in Wonder Woman #243, cover dated May, 1977. The death of Steve Trevor inspired Wonder Woman to leave for Paradise Island, where, in a trilogy by Gerry Conway and Delbo, Trevor returned to life, reflecting his popularity as a supporting character on the show.

During his later work at Marvel, which continued his early career predilection for licensed properties, he drew Thundercats, and later, the first seven issues of NFL Superpro.

While at Marvel, he ”really liked the Transformers, and asked for a story to draw.” He recollects beginning with issue #36, “Space Hikers.” For most of the next four years, Jose drew the Robots in Disguise, from their Generation 2 incarnations onward. His challenge was to make the robots more “human” in their movements and expressions, “not just be robotic.”


His style focused on their agility and animation. In 2013, Delbo drew an IDW Transformers Special.
He then taught for several years at the Joe Kubert School of Art. At present, he enjoys teaching children to draw. Delbo also creates six foot-high murals, based on his previous four color work in comics.

Still game to draw, Delbo continues to offer his services for books and commissions. “For more information you can look at my website at www.josedelbo.com,” he says. Hopefully, through his grand daughter, we'll have even more insights from Jose, and if so, you'll see it right here at Integr8d Fix!


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Breaking in at Marvel Comics Group: becoming a comic book writer, as told by David Anthony Kraft


Breaking in at Marvel Comics Group: becoming a comic book writer, as told by David Anthony Kraft

Happy Birthday this week to DAK- Many happy trips more 'round the sun, many howls at the moon!

Part One: Man-Wolf! Wait...Man-Wolf?

Lue Lyron: So the story goes, one day working as an assistant editor at Marvel Comics Group, you’re walking past Roy Thomas, after hearing you’d get a series to write one day for a while, and he stops his conversation with Steve Englehart, who was visiting from California. Roy just turns casually to you and says, “I’ve been meaning to assign you a book. I have your first series for you to write.” Then he picks right up talking to Steve, while you walk away savoring that bombshell.

(DAK’s account of how he and George became the new creators on the ongoing Man-Wolf series appeared in Creatures On The Loose #33, a personable text piece of that sort that delights we readers. This is the team’s introduction in their first color comics issue at Marvel in 1974.)
DAK: Everyone likes to use the phrase, “break into comics”- but I like to say, I was invited.

Not that I wouldn’t have broken in!

Lue: You already had taken on work, in high school, as a literary agent for the work of pulp writer Otis Adelbert Kline, and published several books under your own Fictioneer banner.

DAK: Before going to Marvel, I published Robert E Howard and Jack London and L Frank Baum hardcovers, plus editing and publishing sf writer A E Van Vogt's autobiography in trade pbk, along with an Otis Adelbert Kline original trade.
During that time, I put an inquiry to see if I could work for Marvel.
One day, I went to the mail, and found a letter from (Marvel Editor) Roy Thomas.
I’m excited because hey, it’s Marvel ! Their response was:
‘Problem is, not enough work for the writers we have but you’re welcome to write a script.’
Practical person that I am, I didn’t!

Years later, he was looking for an assistant. I was editing a metaphysical magazine editing in Raburn County. I got this letter going “you should work for Marvel”- so I agreed!

Part of the deal was, and why I mentioned this was, I didn’t know how expensive New York was. By today’s prices, it would look inexpensive, but- money bought more! How do you know that as a teenager? How could you not want to go to work for Marvel.

The offer was : a salary, to edit books on staff. Roy was editor-in-chief over about forty color books, and he was busy writing his own books, but didn’t waste time nitpicking. So the only other two editors in color at that point are Don McGregor and me!
I’d written for Skywald the year before. They gave me lots of assignments on the black and white magazine line. People don’t intend to do it, but they stereotype. Since I’d worked on monster books at Skywald, they started me on monster books. But that’s not what I wanted to do: I wanted to do the Marvel Super Heroes stuff.

I admired Will Eisner for what he could do with a six, seven page story. Characters, plot, dialogue- all in a short space. It’s a special skill. It’s not what comes naturally to me. I’m better in a longer format, where I have more room to develop ideas. I assumed my break would come eventually.

When it did, it was probably one of the brightest days of my life.

I’m really curious whether I talked as fast as Roy back then as now or if that was a New York thing. He’s talking to Steve Englehart, who was just in from the Left Coast, and he says “I’ve got your first color assignment,” for which I was elated. That’s what I came to Marvel to do.

So I have my first color comic at Marvel, and it’s Man-Wolf.

Remember Xerox? The more you copy it, the more it loses integrity. So, with Marvel cashing in on versions of the Universal Pictures monsters, they already had Werewolf By Night.

Lue: So how did you go from Xerox to Moon Rocks to Space Opera?

DAK : Well, let’s start with the timeless werewolf trope: change when the moon is up, then menace people: this was like the third generation Xerox, and it’s sort of a third rate werewolf. I can’t just be an echo of other things. So I was simultaneously elated and dismayed.

When I’m the audience, I want to be entertained. When I get an assignment, it’s my turn. When I start, I have no ideas! Then I’ll get one. Then another. Then I’ve got too many ideas for the book!

I wasn’t given any limitations or parameters. It’s possible (Roy) forgot to tell me, but he gave me no direction. It’s not like he said ‘you need to put JJJ in the book.’ Since he’d been running around menacing people and J. Jonah Jameson was in it, I assumed that’s what they wanted- but not what I wanted. Roy would stay home and write in the mornings, then come in and deal with the creative types. Basically Roy and Stan would raise hell if you fucked up, so I made it a policy not to!

You assume the norm of your time period’s the norm, and when I came in, Roy was too busy to worry you about the plots. I went in, co-editing Hulk and Spidey, and when I was writing Man-Wolf, nobody was editing me- I was editing me! Since I was copy-editing by day, then writing nights and weekends, I was copy-editing and writing my own stuff and it’d go straight out. I thought it was normal! So I was my own guy. I went in to Roy- I thought he was going to shoot me down on this: “I think it’s a boring idea to have him running around menacing people. I want to make him a science-fantasy character. I want to take him to space, other dimensions- I want to make him a god. I wanted to make him a legitimate Marvel character. I’m at Marvel, I’m going to make him a real Marvel character! So I told him, and he said: “sounds good to me!”

If you use an established villain, you have to check in- he kept the characters on cards. You had to coordinate with other writers- not that you couldn’t use them, but you didn’t want to step on what was done that month. So I used the Hate Monger- no one was using him. I was editing and writing my own comics- it was a dream come true!

In the shuffle, Tony Isabella had done the plot for issue thirty-three, so I worked from there. I dropped hints of what I wanted to do with this shadowy partner (of Kraven), both here and in The Defenders, Professor Turk. Basically, the same character.

So there’s this portal on the moon, and when the moon was full, more of its radiation was there. I created the stone as this mystic symbiote. When I eventually got him where he was going, he was the wolf man all the time. When this happened, these elements weren’t wide spread in the media at the time. This is why Dino De Laurentis, I think, wanted to option Man-Wolf for a movie. Thank God that wasn’t made at the time- it would’ve sucked!

“wall-crawling weasel”
First rule when you write established characters: research how they speak. So I went back to Amazing #1 and read them all, trying to capture Jonah’s voice.


I was writing off of the artwork when it came in. I think Tony (Isabella) had plans, had he stayed on the book, to bring Spidey in- which would’ve pumped sales. But it wasn’t my vision.

I wanted to segueway into the space fantasy stuff, rather than jump right in. Tallulah Gorge is the largest gorge this side of the Mississippi. Since I’d just come from here, see, it seemed like an excellent locale, thinking visually.

It isn’t like you experience the book as a reader; creatively, you work over here and there on different things, write three pages here, then deal with the plot you need today now, and so on.

When George was ready for work, I didn’t have the plot ready. George had been an assistant to Rich Buckler. I decided I wanted to keep this guy. So they were trying George out on my plot, and when it came in, it was kinetic, visually active. He didn’t draw like Kirby, but less imaginative artists would take Stan literally. He was known for getting up on a desk and showing you what the heroes were like.

He would tell you he had a long way to go when it came to perspective and anatomy, but the key important thing is to tell an exciting story! Once I saw that issue from George, he really captured the feeling I thought Man-Wolf needed. So I Mom and Dad’d Roy and John Romita. Softball in the park

He gives the book a whole different feeling. I’m OK with it if John is. So I went to John and said, “Roy is down with it.” I didn’t do it altruistically, it was to make the best show. Thinking visually is what comics is all about.
So, the second George Perez issue- where they come down to Georgia- came up and I didn’t have a plot. It was easier to show him, so I took some sheets of paper- I have no idea how things were being done before. I put him on the bike: he’s that kind of primitive beast, how does he handle that? But then, I’d had a motorcycle crash, on a Kawasaki 750.

I had a Norton, so I made it that. I passed a sign and wondered what it said, which was “T-section.” Uh oh. So I had some people behind me who gave me some perspective. My friend Brian told me “you were like a jockey riding side saddle, but the cycle wouldn’t stay up! You did everything you could.” I could see the pavement- I thought I was going to lose my eye, my face! Talk about hyper awareness. I’m doing 60 miles an hour. My helmet was all that kept my face off the pavement. I flew off the road. I flew upside down and hit the embankment, but my face was still on. AT first I’m so relieved, even though it also tore up my knee; I almost lost my leg. I turned around then and here came the bike at me! So I did very basic layouts. I have a very good storytelling sense, and I did these Keith Haring-type drawings.
More of this interview will be transcribed later.
You can find some of Kraft’s new work in the first issue of the newly-revived quarterly Tales From The Crypt! DAK wrote “Zombie Bank” along with his co-writer, Onrie Kompan- who is also co-writer on the series Dave edits, Yi Soon Shin. Yi premieres its third volume this year.