Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Bernie America! Marvel Comics Group 1983: Captain America by J.M.DeMatteis and Mike Zeck with John Beatty


Captain 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." (That's extra cute now that someone with rather similar professed values is running for President in 2016!) 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.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

An alternative Amazing Spider-Man #148, by Fixaverse (the original Clone Saga revisited in 1975)


#148 Cover: Gwen confronts Spider-Man in freakish pose with spider-abilities. Copy: a word balloon from Gwen. “I know your secrets,” “...and now I'm going to use your own powers to END THIS!”
(Pg. 1-4)When they disappear to Jackal's lair with Gwen this time, she's observing their operations and stoking the Jackal's ego in the most vanilla and pleasant way possible. She pokes around and makes the horrifying discovery: Peter's body! (Pg. 5,6)Ned Leeds and Betty Brant both visit Peter, whose embarrassment actually begins as he's answering the door fresh out the shower, expecting only Ned from the knock and the call ahead, so haha, oops, hi ex-girlfriend. Leeds discusses the as-yet-unfounded notion with Peter that this Gwen is a clone. Ned has been researching into the sudden appearance of this second Gwen Stacy, but Betty's actually spent more time with her, which points to how absurd it is not to go to the source. Ned feels like it's a crime story. He believes someone meant harm to either Peter Parker or Spider-Man or both, and asks if anyone had access to a sample of Gwen's cells. Betty tells Peter Gwen said she was heading to E.S.U. Campus to find some answers, but didn't name her contact. Peter suddenly remembers one day during one of Miles Warren's science classes, Warren had an assistant collect their cell samples: Gwen's, too. (Pg. 7,8) Yet somehow, back at the Jackal's lair, Gwen watches Peter wakes up. At this point in his memories, he reacts normally and gratefully to Gwen being alive. His memories end in their freshman year, when the cells were donated for a class project conducted by Professor Warren, and here is a chance for some version of the two to be together, happy. Oh, gosh, but now she mesmerizes him...and by the moonlight, sinks her teeth into his neck. (Pg. 9, 10)Peter and Ned rush to ESU where they ask Miles Warren about the assistant that he had used that day. Miles tells them it was a man named Anthony Serba. With this information, Ned and Peter split up to try and find Serba. Peter does his searching as Spider-Man, going to an old apartment, finds nothing there but the Tarantula waiting for the attack. (Pg. 11-13)Their fight takes them out into the streets, where Gwen appears, telling Spider-Man she knows his secret. (Pg. 14- 16) She demonstrates spider-abilities of her own, and tremendous strength. Despite this emotionally-confusing attack, Spider-Man deals with this threat and the Tarantula simultaneously. Soon, the Tarantula's own pointed shoes cause his defeat when they cause a torrent of water to knock him out when he sticks them into a water tower. (Pg. 17) Dragging the unconscious Tarantula off to the authorities, Spider-Man stops to call out to Gwen, who sees he is stalked by the Jackal. His Spider-Sense saves him from a clawed attack from behind. But it's Morbius the Living Vampire that swoops down to ambush and knock out the wall-crawler. '(Pg. 18)The Jackal leaps forth angrily, determined to play the spoiler, obsessed with his own plan. Morbius explains that he already knows everything. The Jackal uses his drugs to keep Spider-Man from struggling back to consciousness. “Take me back to your laboratory,” says Morbius. The Jackal then takes off his mask, revealing his true identity, spoken by Morbius: “Miles Warren.” Only now can I tell you: my name for this five issue plotline is, “The Gwenpyre Strikes Back”.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A More Marvelous Comics Group's Amazing Spider-Man #147, from Fixaverse

This is part of an alternative storyline, reworking the end of Gerry Conway's run up to #150 with some ideas of mine. #147 Imprisoned, the Tarantula creates new razor pointed shoes and uses them in a murderous break-out. A drug tunnel provides him access back to the United States, where he gets a lift back to NYC, where he's picked up by another bus, driven by the Jackal, who is no one, as he says. The planned rendezvous provides the money forward on the job to cover Tarantula's ride handsomely. As Anna and Mary Jane Watson escort the newly-discharged Aunt May from the hospital, she talks to Mary Jane about Peter. Upset, Mary Jane says she hasn't seen Peter since Gwen Stacy's impossible return, which feels all wrong. Aunt May lets MJ know she appreciates and understands her and her feelings for Peter, so don't give up: love can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Speaking of Gwen, she's preparing to leave Betty Brant's apartment, where she's a guest. Betty herself is leaving for work and asks Gwen where she's going. Gwen says she's asking for help on campus, to get her in touch with someone who can help her get a fix on exactly what's happened to her. Betty asks if she means a therapist. Gwen laughs a little laugh. Betty laughs a little, too. “I'm nosey. Newsroom rubbing off on me. But you can see why a person would worry for you. I'm actually glad you're interested in getting out...for your own sake.” “I don't see how a person could put themselves out like you're doing for me,” says Gwen, “and NOT wonder. I appreciate your concern more than I can say. The one person I trust the most won't even darken this door. Not that I completely blame him.” “You mean Peter?” Betty asks. “I admit, I am surprised he's not here, myself. Yet...I'm not. Can I level with you?” “What could be worse than death? Shoot.” “He's a really sincere guy. But he's not boring. I wish he was. I have never known if he could get the thrill of trying to photograph Spider-Man out of his lifestyle long enough to just...be there.” “Do you have that problem with Ned?” “With us both working, it takes a special effort...but no. I guess that's why I tolerate the lifestyle that goes with his passion for the real story. And look, I'd be happy to go along with you for one of these meetings, if you like. I just happen to be now about three minutes behind, getting to work...so good luck, Gwen.” “Thanks.” Incidentally, we join Peter as he heads to E.S. U. Campus, via webline as Spider-Man, to get some kind of grounding for these notions he's having: what if this is a genetic clone? He's so torn by the desire he feels, to accept the relief that Gwen Stacy is, against the odds, alive. But he feels a terrible, aching paranoia about her missing time. He held her in his own arms, the day she died; she was unresponsive. But he didn't take the time to attempt a resuscitation. He isn't a trained physician. He only knows that, while all of the answers surely lie somehow with this woman, even while he's seen so many impossible things, even the police on the scene said she was gone. He was there. There was no way a person comes back from that. It's just too bizarre. Worse, he can't think of a soul with whom to begin figuring it out. Then, he thinks of Professor Warren and Professor Schmidt, from his biology and chemistry studies, and recalls lectures about clones, grown from living cells, replicas of the original organism---a common practice with plants, studied now with animal cells. In fact, human cells might hold the key to re-creating lost or non-functional body parts, even limbs, just as Dr. Curt Connors explored. Dr. Connors' identity as the Lizard is a reminder of what the dark side of science holds, too. A human clone. Is it even possible? And who could even do such a thing, with what resources? What if there's multiple “Gwens” out there? Horrified, he heads now to the first place he ever participated in genetic studies, the Harinton Building on ESU Campus. In this version, the Jackal doesn't know Peter's Spider-Man. Gwen comes to him while he is simply Professor Warren. In our story, Gwen watched the Jackal, followed him, saw him change to Professor Warren. She wants to know the rest of his secrets, and he wants to tell her. First he seems nearly ready to pass out, himself, a reaction she's come to expect. We know it's because he's been growing her replacement in his spare time. His expression reveals a moment of dark thought; what is not yet revealed is that he is the Jackal, that Gwen knows this, and what he's thinking right now is, “did the clone somehow become free of her gestation chamber?” So he's pretty much GOT to go check that out on the double. He seems manic enough to actually take her there, too; after all, if the cocoon is undisturbed, there's no need to alarm the real Gwen. And he would be glad to get a tissue sample and help her work on her enigma. He expresses he's very glad she's alive, overjoyed, to a degree that she finds awkward. From here in, she seems to willingly stick with him whether he's Warren or the Jackal, which plays right into Mr. Conway's character's wildest dreams. Only, he didn't originate this Gwen Stacy, so now, it's surreal for him in a way it also is for Spider-Man. Spider-Man arrives and sees Gwen with Professor Warren. He slips off to change, to engage them as Peter Parker, lost in what to say. In the artist's best idea of an out-of-the-way place on the way into the laboratory, before he can change, he's attacked by the Tarantula. The two fight across the city streets, soon smashing into a city bus. Everyone aboard flees in panic, except for Gwen Stacy. The bus driver leads her off the bus, and reveals he is the Jackal. Distracted, Spider-Man fails to dodge a toxin-tipped razor boot. When Spidey revives, he finds himself taken to the Brooklyn Bridge. Bound in chains, Spidey hears the Jackal rant about the miracle: Gwen Stacy has returned, as an instrument to destroy Spider-Man, whom he blames for her death. The Tarantula now throws the bound web-slinger off the bridge, as per the Jackal's sick revenge. As Spider-Man shoots a web-line to save himself, the Jackal, Tarantula and Gwen Stacy get away. Before the NYPD take him into custody, a police officer unchains Spider-Man to unmasking him in front of the cameras. This is all the pause Spider-Man needs to rapidly escape. Changing back into Peter Parker, Peter returns to his apartment to find that Mary Jane is waiting for him outside. She tries to talk to Peter – unaware his day has been a macabre, surreal nightmare -- so she makes an ultimatum to him: Choose between her or "Gwen." Spaced-out, exhausted, Peter closes his apartment door on her. By the time his sinking gut tells him to reconsider, he opens the door to find no one there.