Saturday, November 7, 2015

1983 Marvel Comics Group: the Last of the Best is at hand!

My well-documented love for the Marvel Comics Group of 1983 led me to collect all those issues I could find! I started collecting regularly at the end of that year, with Marvel Team-Up #138, then Marvel Tales #170, then Amazing Spider-Man #250 together opening my way into the Marvel Universe of that era!

So: the Sandman goes straight, Roger Stern and John Romita, Jr. with Klaus Janson bring the Hobgoblin mystery to its fever pitch, and Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, from 1965, begin what some call their magnum opus on the title they created together, the Amazing Spider-Man #31---that month's Marvel Tales reprint. (for me: it had really come out in September and might have been the first of these comics I collected at Len's Kwik Shop, two blocks from home.) How cool! Marvel Tales reprinted all fifty of Spider-Man's first issues plus his origin and three annuals. No, the writing didn't feel modern, but I allowed for that: still was I young enough to enjoy the suspense! My friend David's budding collection, rich with X-Men and Spider-Man comics from '83, gave me a sort of weird ten year old's nostalgia for the innocence of the year I was nine,in the arcade games years, Slurpee Cups I never could have that I'd stare at in second hand stores along with lunch boxes and Mego Dolls in years before---glimpses of my heroes. A battered issue with Spider-Man holding a severely wounded Black Cat in Pieta, a showdown with the mysterious Hobgoblin that involved a fiendish switcheroo and the public death of the (wrong!) Hobgoblin---I gave up my lunch money a few times and drank milk only, just to make a deal for a few Amazing Spider-Man comics at cover price. By now we were both well into Secret Wars; I'd soon double the collection I had all the years before. James Rhodes as Iron Man, replacing a debilitated, alcoholic Tony Stark; X-Men body horror and the advent of Paul Smith, taking the team to Japan and bringing us the best Final Cyclops story; romantic intrigue with Felicia Hardy, a.k.a. the Black Cat, with Mary Jane Watson returning on the scene, just as Peter meets swingin' Amy Powell; the end of Ghost Rider and Spider-Woman; Roger Stern's take on the Avengers spotlights the Wasp as a leader and brings aboard new blood like She-Hulk and Starfox while keeping classic secondary characters like Vision and Scarlet Witch around yet reserved for a shocking Secret Wars-era story with deconstructionist tones a couple of years ahead of The Watchmen. This was a great first year for the New Mutants, too.
I particularly loved J.M. DeMatteis on Marvel Team-Up: White Rabbit, android facsimiles of classic authors, a twisted plan to break the mind of Reed Richards, and an unlikely Christmas team-up with the Watcher. The Kree-Skrull War was reprinted in a prestige format mini-series as well! I collected so much of the output of 1983 Marvel over the years. I had a high estimation of 1984, too, with still a couple of years of faithful collecting ahead, picking up something every month. Then, I let it rest for years. In recent times, I've found SuperMegaMonkey, a chronological order of reviews and scans and comments for the entire Marvel story, including the many contradictions. With Fnord's help, I've figured out what I'm missing from that year that's really of the caliber I wanted, and can let the rest wait for whenever. 1. Ka-Zar The Savage Here's a character I didn't much appreciate in a world of flashier heroes. But Bruce Jones figured out an approach that gave Ka-Zar depth you didn't easily find in his more colorful brethren and sisters in print. My wife will love the big cat, Zabu, and also Shana, who is strong in her own right. By 1983, Spider-Man had become a regular supporting character, with interesting scenes for his alter ego as well. I look forward to checking out something written with older readers in mind.
2. Fantastic Four #250-262 I rarely found Fantastic Four on sale in my neighborhood, which is too bad, because this run is probably ranked beside Frank Miller's Daredevil, Walt Simonson's Thor, and Chris Claremont's X-Men as the most definitive of the decade for Marvel. (I personally have to hand it to Stern/ Romita, Jr for moving Peter along a bit into young adulthood and keeping the adventures thrilling!) One Christmas I got #257 I think it was, with Galactus and Nova featured in the first half. In California I got several #240's issues, but while I have Gladiator's initial attack in #249, I've never read the climax to that battle! The Negative Zone stories coming up next seem even cooler, true science fiction explorers rather than crime fighters or even simply reactionary protectors, Reed led the team into Dr. Who-inspired weirdness, in days before the Good Doctor had much cache in America.
The battle with Terrax and the showdown with Galactus seem likely to captivate me. I remember sharing "Terror In A Tiny Town" with Angela on our honeymoon, my second exposure to the early Byrne FF run. I saw some Secret Wars II-era issues but didn't get to collect FF until the brief Roger Stern tenure with John Buscema, so here are probably the most obvious treasures. It seems like I'll enjoy it on one level of wonder, and then come back to the debate and the way it's presented and some would say, stacked, to reward Reed's most unusual decision. 3. Thor #339-350 I have #337 I think and definitely #338, with the premiere of Beta Ray Thor. In this time of replacement Iron Man, Thor's replacement by this cyborg alien is only temporary; the Korbinite Guardian is a hero in his own right, and his need for a civilian identity leads Odin to erase the charm that creates Donald Blake for Thor's persona and puts it on Stormbringer, a hammer made just for Beta Ray Thor. From there, it gets very Norse epic! The Casket of Winters in #345-350 is my primary interest. It's one of, maybe the very first, instance of a story's effects carrying over into other titles, which were also affected by Malekith's weather-bending. Those references do not dictate the entire plot of those other stories, but in a cool way, you can tell the events occur side-by-side in the Marvel Universe. Simonson draws with such energy! shades of Benedict Cumberbatch, it's... 4. Doctor Strange
I love Roger Stern's writing. I wish the ads promising him and Frank Miller on this title had become true. Miller was so good on that Amazing Spider-Man annual in 1980 with Strange and Spidey. But I did get my hands on #55 with Michael Golden! Looks like it just got better.
I have one unconventional story from then where Strange simply faces a guy with a bow and arrow (#66), but it's quite interesting. We get issues here by the awesome Paul Smith! Ah, but these! These are the last of Marvel's original vampire stories, featuring the death of Dracula after a decade of haunting the Marvel Universe. He'd been used in Defenders and X-Men as a villain, but I think Jim Shooter was ready to get rid of the Horror Hangover of the Seventies when he cancelled Ghost Rider and had Stern kill off the Lord of Vampires, and indeed, ALL vampires! I may have overlooked the Hercules Limited Series because it's set in the future, but that sounds fun, too. 5. Alpha Flight #6-8 #12 was where I came aboard, when I read anything at all with Alpha Flight. One dollar WELL spent! My first issue of Alpha Flight! So very nicely drawn. I LOVED this. I enjoyed the choice of colors among all the Flight characters together, very complementary as a whole. Even with no history with Mac, I was drawn into his dilemma at the climax. How awesome/ awful for Heather to walk in right then. Upon reading his first year, I applauded Byrne's ability to make Alpha feel like real people. I am just missing the spotlight on my favorite Alphan, Aurora! I loved reading about her story with brother Northstar in the Official Handbook, but I've never had the privilege of reading those or the Snowbird tale. I like how Byrne also took an unconventional approach, using a rotation of solo stories or pairing off heroes for much of the first year, bringing Alpha Flight together for an epic showdown with Jaxon, Delphine Courtney, and Omega Flight. They really don't spend much time together assembled as a team, so different especially than the claustrophobic X-Men in their mansion together; you might argue, their special training aside, their limitations working together might have led to the tragic end of their first year of printed adventures. John Byrne didn't go into this with a lot of ideas, but this title was one of Marvel's most vibrant! David kept getting his hands on Byrne's titles on trips to town, but I still have a few left unread. I have a very good year of Alpha Flight left to collect, basically.
6. Daredevil #192 Alan Brennert seems to have written only a few comics scripts before going into television, but his Batman stories are often collected in Best of Batman editions. What will reporter Ben Urich do when he's offered a bribe? By this point, he's become the best of Miller's supporting characters especially featured in this era's Daredevil. Ben had no powers, lousy pay, and a dangerous job digging up dirt that revealed to him not only the activities of Wilson Fisk, Kingpin of Crime, but also Matt Murdock's double identity as the secretly-sightless adventurer Daredevil, whos adventures had finally become as dark as Matt's blindness, with a radar-sense of the menace and betrayal on every side.
Fnord called this issue "a hidden gem," an unusual honor given to describe a fill-in issue. A great stand-alone plot was supposedly the key to making a first sale at Marvel. My hope is this will rock my socks off in a way similar to another fill-in, Daredevil #219, "Badlands," by his famous scribe Frank Miller, with art by John Buscema.
7Captain America (#275-289) I have none of these, but I tended to enjoy J.M. DeMatteis very much, the maturity in his themes and humor, too. I picked up almost every issue of his Justice League run with Keith Giffen by 2000, and bought the mini-series sequels, too. My friend Johann and I put together a radio drama based on my script featuring the JLI and the 2000 Presidential Election, a 13-person cast---so J.M. is a developmental influence on my writing, for sure! These stories seem to have a stronger supporting cast of regular folks (a Spider-Man strength), as well a new "man out of time" to explore in Jack Monroe, a.k.a. Nomad, and a man out of the future lost, too, in the (apparent) guest shot for Deathlok. Glad to see Spider-Woman again here, too; this is just before the Jessica Drew version sort of slips off to character limbo for a long time. Her series under Chris Claremont's really good, especially if you like the unique style of artist Steve Leialoha. I liked the reveal of Viper as her mother, but even if it's retconned here, at least their rivalry continues over. Primus, Arnim Zola, Viper, and Baron Zemo all sound well-motivated and interesting, from my preview on the aforementioned Super Mega Monkey. I actually start skimming when I realize how great the stories sound, so I don't lose all element of surprise when, one day, I do get to read them. My jaw dropped when I saw the kinds of prices CAP #275's drawing, and there's no collected edition of the DeMatteis/Zeck run, but the prices do generally come down after that and hey, no rush. You know what sold me? Bernie Rosenthal, Steve Roger's girlfriend at the time, figures out his dual identity as Cap, in a very credible fashion, and then they have to work through it. As silly as the Assistant Editor's Month back-up in #289 looks, it's also meaningful to the overall story. Stood up for Thanksgiving and stuck at her family's gathering, mortified, Bernie daydreams a role playing exercise where SHE is "Bernie America." Because the writer and art team treat their character with respect and class alongside the surface whimsy, it's a genuine journey for their relationship (alas, lost to the grind of later years of serial storytelling---it's all up for change in comic books). I have a feeling I would enjoy the entire three years or so J.M. wrote the series. Mike Zeck's a wonderful storyteller, with a strong style (inked by John Beatty) I first discovered in Secret Wars (his work here promises to actually be better!). His team-up with DeMatteis on Kraven's Last Hunt is a signature work to explore. His issues of Marvel Team-Up, along with Roger Stern's impeccable Amazing Spider-Man with John Romita Jr., were my strongest initial connection to the quality of Marvel's output earlier in the year I started collecting comics monthly. I realize Marvel Team-Up is rarely a place for pivotal developments, but the stories J.M. and company told fascinated bright adolescents everywhere. One day, he'd help me not only begin my back issue collecting hobby, but also, to sit down with Dostoevsky. I was in love with 60's counterculture, too---there's another vein often mined in a DeMatteis story. I give an honorable mention to the Defenders of that year, but I am holding out first for Peter Gillis' run. I may get the Essentials Volume Seven and collect the changeover from DeMatteis to Gillis. I believe these are from my friend Joseph Braband's favorite years. Maybe then I will know how to write our long standing Defenders-inspired project. I always felt like that was one step away from being an all-original novel anyway! I'll always wonder what he planned for his favorite C-Lister ever, Devil Slayer. That guy is like a D & D Paladin with the ultimate source of hand weapons! He actually appears mostly early in the DeMatteis run; I have most of those issues. But the Gillis run, while it may kind of follow the end of the true classic Defenders made by Thomas and written by Englehart, Gerber, Kraft and company, seems like a foray into unconventional characters and situations more in tune with what I'm doing myself, which is to say, trying out some superheroics without aping the Avengers movies. But I can't say Byrne's Negative Zone stories don't sound like a distant kin, either. Difference being, Anime will have a strong impact on my work, too, as will Giffen/DeMatteis' Justice League International. Otherwise, I am not copying any show's plot as a template and have just enough plot cohesion to both baffle and bedazzle my own self to work on it! What's your favorite comics from 1983?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the callouts, Cecil, and good to see Bruce Jones' Ka-Zar at the top of that list. Definitely only of the lesser known great runs of the period.

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