I note this type casting of sorts where, when you need to put characters through a rough time- when you want to tantalize or depict their downfall or hard times-Mr. McDonnell looks like the go-to guy! If you start from putting clean-cut square nebbish Peter Parker in jail, you then get Tony Stark penniless on the streets, the premier DC Comics team Justice League of America in crisis free fall, and end up with an even bigger set of doomed rejects in The Suicide Squad!
For my theory about McDonnell’s grimier comics work, he’s nonetheless from the start done a lot of work that ties into film. For one, his Marvel debut adapted the venerable, seminal science fiction television classic, Star Trek. He draws Star Trek #12, 14, 16 (1981) Mar ‘81 May ‘81 July ‘81 Those three issues overlap with Luke’s debut in mainstream superhero comics, which we briefly covered in “Peter Parker finds a voice in Roger Stern”:
Spec Spider-man #55 June 1981 Here, the former Champions lawyer overrides Nitro’s worried daughter to essentially get him legally freed to wreck havoc.
So when we’re talking first Marvels, bear with me as I pick one beloved in my childhood, printed later in spring of ‘81. It teases a shocking, out-of-character development, complete with a seething, tormented Frank Miller cover (and you know what a business Frank went on to, drawing noir-ish tales of seedy disarray).
Amazing Spider-man #219 has a terrific, unique plot. It’s the best O’Neil-penned issue I’ve read, bar none (except Peter, who’s barred effectively). Expectations for Denny must’ve been sky-high, after he Marvelized Superman and took Batman back to his night creature roots with Neal Adams- his collaborator on an innovative, youthful approach to social realism shaping his team-up of the previously far-out Green Lantern and the counter cultural, hot-tempered bleeding heart take on new partner Green Arrow. In the Kupperberg essay I mentioned the episodic nature of O’Neil’s Spider-Man, and this, again, is a stand-alone story. There’s a whiff of that realism hinted in the prison breaks and life in jail. If Peter had spent more time on the inside, we might’ve gotten some of Denny’s strengths writing people from recognizable walks of life. And it might’ve been cringe-worthy. Playing safe with a character who’s about to be in two new cartoon series by fall, and keeping action compact, Denny plays up a misunderstanding: Spider-Man breaks IN to Ryker’s Island Prison, so as Peter Parker, he can investigate the “revolving door” of known criminals shedding their incarcerations. Camera at hand, Peter catches a glimpse of a jail break, but gets caught trespassing!
I love McDonnell’s Spider-Man, inked by Jim Mooney: he looks classic, he moves with way-cool agility. His Peter Parker’s nicely on-model with the recent Romita take; Matt Murdock and Aunt May look just right. McDonnell perfectly paces a story I found just slightly confusing as a little boy, a suspenseful build-up unraveling the mystery of just what Parker witnessed and what’s really happening at Ryker’s. He has a lot of story to squeeze into twenty-two pages, but he does his best to draw Grey Gargoyle with impact and some smooth movies, while his skulking Jonas Harrow’s just fine as the crackpot mad scientist who’s been plaguing Spidey with super-criminals he’s enhanced since the Kangaroo in #126.
We actually saw the Wizard broken out of Ryker’s going into the Frightful Four story months ago, so this is one of Dennis’ ongoing ideas across his tenure.
Ryker’s provides a desolate, formidable setting, so the opening pictures are very atmospheric, different than our usual Manhattan skylines, warehouses & apartments. Luke’s splash makes you want this comic! Pete dispenses with his costume, so he’s in civvies when he runs across a trio breaking out. He takes a photo before he knows who they are, but he’s detained immediately as a trespasser. Soon we’ll see Armand DuBroth, a trustee with blackmail over the warden, testify in court that Parker’s the real break-out ring leader! Peter Parker in prison is an idea that could’ve taken up more space for sure- but maybe it would’ve been too different for The Amazing Spider-Man as a title. It’s certainly in line with Denny’s work later on The Question: dignity of prisoners, jail yard politics, personal stories. He took this on without any idea from Jonah, who refuses to make bail. Pete gets free counsel provided by Matt Murdock, whose senses can pick out the power of Spider-Man, costume or no, but bail’s provided by Aunt May. I really like this: she and her retirement home friends believe in Pete’s innocence and take a big chance for him. Spider-Man- and Peter- has played her hero many times, so it’s nice to be reminded, should he be helpless, May Parker has always and will always be there for him!
That’s what sets up the issue’s stakes: Peter still needs evidence of the crime he witnessed, and with his skill at skeevy characters, McDonnell’s shown us the alcoholic janitor make off with Pete’s very nice camera, to pawn. Suspense builds, but we get a Parker Luck detour where Peter utilizes his original Spider-Man costume, recently ruined by a detergent he’s concocted to wash out the brine from his encounter offshore in #213 with Prince Namor.
With May’s friends’ bail at risk, Spider-Man breaks into Ryker’s a second time, presented by Don Warfield as a pale-colored ghost. I had a washed-out Spidey Underoos t-shirt myself; maybe that’s part of why this scene connected with me. He finds the replacement Spider-suit he abandoned on Ryker’s Island, changes, then webs up the ruined original one with some reflective thoughts about disposing this part of his history “like sinking a part of myself.”
This nostalgic attachment for a long-time memento of his years-long career fascinated, moved me. After years of presentations of his differently-aged incarnations, I’d realize he’d have filled out a bit since he was fifteen and replaced his costume long since, but I found Spider-Man’s attachment to his old disguise, the secret personal decisions and dangers it represented, relatable. As a child, I was already gaining a sense of life passing along through eras. I wondered at the meaning of “sinking a part of myself.” This was also the first comic book I was conscious I’d lost, and so, appropriately, I’d one day hunt down and replace it- a lost piece of my own past. I imagine that’s an appeal of this book to many of you, too.
Spider-Man hunts down the pawned camera by tracking the Grey Gargoyle and Dr. Harrow, who want it destroyed, and Parker, framed. Personal stakes hinge now on a single, fragile camera, and the battle’s on. Gargoyle demonstrates his deadly power to turn things to stone and use superhuman strength to grind them to powder. As Thor and Iron Man discovered early on, it’s hard to fight someone you can’t let touch you. (Spidey had found out about that stone touch while teamed up with Cap against G.G. and A.I.M. in Marvel Team-Up #13) Harrow’s always played behind the scenes, as he has no powers and uses no special weapons, but while Spidey ducks a deadly stone basketball, clunks Gargoyle with a television set, and after Spider-Man’s webbed Grey Gargoyle to the ground, Harrow gets his hand on the camera and smashes it into the wall-obliterates it, really. Now that might’ve ruined the film, but it’s safe now for the pawn shop owner to come forward with the roll- which he’d taken out so he could use the camera- as we saw-to take pictures of his grandson. Spider-Man: “Mister, you just saved a man’s freedom...and for that, he is eternally grateful.”
DeFalco kept putting together teams that gave us Spidey on-time and in-character every month, tapping a trio of sub artists (and on writing chores for the creepily-covered ASM #220, the suitably Michael Fleischer-style “A Coffin For Spider-Man!”) while Romita plays catch-up here and on Invincible Iron Man. Now, just as Romita’s about to leave Iron Man...
Iron Man #151 : McDonnell fills in after the very cool anniversary issue battle with Dr. Doom that hurtles he and Iron Man back in time- with another buggy hero as the guest headliner. Luke’s solo Ant Man tale’s based at Stark Enterprise nonetheless, complete with a run- amok computer security system and the signature humor defining the Scott Lang version of the hero, from these Iron Man guest stints to his eventual star movie turn. Luke’s next shot also comes with a guest star, the rising-popular Moon Knight- and then, away Luke and Denny go on a near-unbroken run of almost three years. The set-up for Tony Stark’s problems with raider Obadiah Stane marks the new era (Iron Man) 161, 163–187, 189–195 (1981–1985). By #167, the bottle’s back in a splash page sort of way.
Is it just me, or does this art team put Iron Man in the air more than ever? Early Iron Man soon could fly, but the interlocking demands on his power supply- the finite, self-created superman-fit with the overall Marvel motif of not introducing many conventionally-flying superheroes. (Torch and Namor, of course, are the two holdover creations from the original World War II-era Marvel.) Rhodey’s a pilot; once he gets used to the mighty strength and susses out the armory with Morley Erwin, the original “guy in the chair,” I daresay what he still loves most about being Invincible Iron Man is one of his very best qualifications. It certainly seems Luke McD enjoys the flight scenes like his hero does!
One more thing about the look of the strip under McDonnell/ Mitchell.
Outside of the initial Chessmen motif, and a clash with the intellectual Wrecking Crew member Thunderball, we get quirkier villains, and several new ones, too: no more repeat bouts with the Titanium Man. Perhaps the most classic foe of Iron Man’s run, however, does return, this time with a cowed Radioactive Man as his henchman, before the newest-look Mandarin steps from the shadows to get the jump on Iron Man.
Luke then joins DC, a company going through an editorially-driven change towards mature content perfect for McDonnell, including an increasingly-grim Justice League run and, grittiest yet, his dominant presence on John Ostrander’s maturely-themed government villains, the Dirty Dozen-like Suicide Squad. So not only did Luke work on stories that influenced the successful Iron Man franchise, but he also illustrated most of the first four years of the series inspiring “the other guys’” hit movie starring Margot Robbie and Jared Leto!
Suicide Squad #1–24, 35, 38–39, 44, 46, 49–51 (1987–1991) Drew debut of Oracle in #23 (1987-1991)
Justice League of America #245–261 (1985–1987) Outlaws #1–8 (1991–1992) The Phantom #1–13 (1989–1990)
As per Wiki, McDonnell mainly works as a toy designer and illustrator at Craig Yoe's Yoe! Studio. We at Integr8d Fix wish Luke Many Happy Trips More ‘round The Sun!