Monday, July 23, 2018

Spider-Man! Black Widow! Nick Fury! Shang-Chi! S.H.I.E.L.D.! Hell on the Hellicarrier: Best Team-Ups, 1979

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Captain (Ms,) Marvel or Thing and the gang vs. Thanos? Best Spider-Man Team-Ups, 1977

Captain (Ms.) Marvel - Thanos - Avengers! Best Spider-Man Team Ups, 1977

So, the game goes, team-ups with Spider-Man during the year 1977. Imagine if Spider-Man could’ve even once met the Superfriends, or just apppeared with Batman, drawn by Steve Ditko and Alex Toth. Ah well, when you’re a kid, publishing universes are yours to blend like phonics.

1977. How'd that go...“Night Fever,” Three’s Company….come and knock on our door, dun-na-nuh-na-nuh-na-here we go!

Marvel Team-Up #56 I guess 1st true 1977 calendar date releases. MTU probably shipped first in the rotation of new books? See, by that year, a different Spider-Man comic book series from Marvel published a new issue each week. Marvel Team-Up, Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker(bear w/ me it’s long), The Spectacular Spider-Man, and Marvel Tales. Marvel Tales settled into a groove of reprinting Amazing Spider-Man stories in order from about five years before, and remained so until 1982, the year the title started with the origin story in #137 for a whole new generation (with issues some readers still had never found in those days, too!).

I like Spider-Man team-ups because you have so many choices, the conversation could easily encompass all of Marvel at its different times, its first 25 or so years. That’s what I thought would make a fun theme this summer. Some other hero might be a blast, too, but I have a few more of these, then lots of interview work to catch up while I start my new career.

Captain Britain(65 & 66) Yellowjacket and the Wasp (#59, 60) and Power Man/ Luke Cage (#75) all make great contenders. His part in the Iron Fist wrap up is relatively minor, but if you like those characters, MTU #63 and 64 (with Iron Fist, then the Daughters of the Dragon) are key. So many examples of the co-star being female, this year. Bravo, Marvel, you’re really trying.

Some might even nominate an oddball like Man-Thing and Spidey vs. D’Spayre: those resonate at a certain age, I know, I loved #68, too.

I bet a good number of you would say, "Nova's cross-over with Amazing Spider-Man!" I don't feel like we got to see quite what made Nova unique in that two-parter, but the idea of them working together is cool! I like one thing about the track of the Nova character at Marvel: he remains a youth. Richard Ryder isn't the most important part of the equation, maybe. If we always get stories of rookies gaining the power of the Nova Corp...ah, and then there's the mission of re-establishing the Nova Corp- all these mysteries Marv and company had a hard time serving while keeping him earthbound and crossing other Marvel paths...It's hard to get a "Peter Parker-like" alter ego when space beckons with many of the best possible stories. Maybe this is why, for all his power, Firestorm at DC didn't have extraterrestrial destinations. Gerry Conway kept Ronnie close enough to his supporting cast. He also tweaked the alter ego another few notches for contrast.
Anyway, the A.I.M. plot and Jason Dean- maybe your nostalgic miles may vary.

I like the basicness of early Nova, nonetheless. The Human Rocket!

One story I don’t think I could escape nominating: the two annual crossover versus Thanos! You could argue Spidey only plays co-star in the second half, with the Thing- but was it the greatest team-up he had in ‘77?
The preview for this issue in the Bullpen Bulletins is way tiny but tantalizing! There was little other warning what Starlin had in store.

The one that surprised me- and I am going by memory before I choose these: Marvel Team Up #62. That one spins out of a problem at the Baxter Building that matches him again with Torch, though the cover simulates an FF attack and draws in your curiosity!
The second part features Ms. Marvel, and was my introduction to the heroine. I met up with her again much later, after I was busier making comics than collecting them, in the pages of Captain Marvel #1. I was sure my wife would enjoy the story. These days, buying a physical comic book is almost not worth it to me if we can’t make a date of reading it, but, still nice sometimes.

Kelly Sue Connick was a guest on the Spider-Panel, the last year I attended Comic Con. Her appearance- I think she answered a question from me afterwards about professional writing, so politely- sent me to the comics shop off Ocean Beach, Galaxy, to bike home with Angela Dawn and our carefully-protected copy. Captain Marvel we agreed, was off to a solid rebirth.

I also happen to think Yellowjacket (Antman / Giant Man also, same guy, Hank Pym) and the Wasp (Janet Van Dyne) shown more brightly in their team-up with Spider-Man than I think I ever saw them elsewhere. Their best adventure! I was tempted to tie the column in more directly at the headline – those are hard to think up sometimes!
It was certainly more melodramatic than the fight against Super Skrull. Yep, he’s the threat: warrior sent by the shape shifting alien Skrull race, with implanted receptors that allow him to beam in energy with which to duplicate the very powers of the first human obstacle to the Skrull infiltra
tion: the Fantastic Four! So, invisibility, stretching, flaming, flying, and clobbering, all with a shape-shifting touch and many nefarious impersonations to his name from the start. The one cool super villain to emerge from the creation of the Skrulls in the pages of Fantastic Four magazine.

But that Thanos fight, tho’….

I’m going to hold that one, only because it’s by now gotten so much Infinity Wars-related attention, I hope, and Spidey has a small role in it. But that doesn’t mean we won’t pick it back up, ‘cause Jim Starlin rocks! Thing is, Avengers Annual #7 crossed into Marvel Two-in-One Annual starring The Thing and Spider-Man is more of a great Thanos story, a great Warlock story- well, we’ll see upon reading.

In the MTU #62 story, Spider-Man’s more a pivotal character, Byrne’s penciling and Claremont’s writing, and the villain is frankly more awesome than the one Hank and Janet faced with Spidey. Now, I like that one in part because personal friendship moments and a touch of home life really reach me. Here, I like her- Carol’s- evolutionary tie to the Marvel character with Super-Skrull, whose race and the one that spawned her abilities, the Kree, have been at war with each other longer than man’s existed, I think. The Wasp, Ms. Marvel, Daughters of the Dragon, Tigra, Black Widow just before in yet another Claremont-penned MTU, #57 – wow, five issues of Marvel Team-Up with female character headliners, in less than a year. Man-Thing’s in that run, too, and “he’s” more a Whatchamacallit than a male. Pity we couldn’t have seen what Steve Gerber might’ve done with a real meet-up of Spidey and Man-Thing.

Female pilots were oh-so-rare in 1977; Claremont had more female pilots in his stories than I think were flying commercially in the world by the mid-80s. Now, new female politicians who flew in the military pop up around the country- I think we’re in for a time when Captain Marvel the movie will ring home a new cultural icon. But thanks to games and cosplay, most who indulge a bit of geek culture already know she exists. Anyway, Carol’s a magazine editor here so she could be tied into the Bugle publishing enterprise, thus giving us occasional J. Jonah Jameson and other faithful Bugle employees who could tie her world with Peter Parker’s. Characters were rather often running into one another while in secret identities, those days.

Anyway, Carol Danvers has evolved a long ways out of the shadows of past Stan Lee glories, that style, to emerge in the 21st century with a chance to reach her fans at last as never before. Gerry Conway took on an interesting challenge in creating her with Jim Mooney. It would be funny if in time that character outshone his contribution The Punisher! I don’t think he’d mind a bit.

This Marvel Team-Up is important because not only are Claremont/ Byrne giving the title a sense of continuity, they’re tying it to other comics on which they’ve been working, particularly Chris. He stays with Carol on her title until it’s canceled in ‘79. Then he remembers her and works her into the spy side of the X-Men world and then, the cosmic, where she goes Out of this World, as Binary. He really looks out for the character best he can.

So that considered, I bet a lot of people would call the Starlin-directed annual crossover the event of 1977, in a time when publishing events were more rare! You could totally skip it, but if you got hold of both pieces, man- like I said. But I think it means more if you read Warlock #9-15 and Strange Tales #178, 179, 180- and the more appearances of Thanos, the better, if you like them.
You get that deep in, and it should prove worth the wait! (I don’t know what you’ll think of his choices in the end.) But if you don’t have for a zillion comics, reading Avengers Annual #7 and MTIO Annual #2 ought to be perfectly cool reading experiences on their own! They stretch to epic portion.

#61 actually begins in the wreckage wrought at the end of the two-parter, #60, so we've got a nice stretch of issues knit together with no rest for Spider-Man. It's cool we get the resolution of Iron Fist's dangling storyline next, then the American debut of the character Chris wrote at the start for Marvel's UK division, Captain Britain. By 1978 we get that Havok/ Thor story mentioned in my appropriate post July 7th, and then they're too busy making X-Men the cool kid on the stands. There's reams about why Chris is not for everyone, but I honestly treasure his stories by and large. I'm so glad - I assume Archie Goodwin played a role- Marvel Team-Up got this team and consistency. There were a few multi-part stories in the title before, but I guess to my collector's adolescent eye, the pair defined modern comics. There's a lot I didn't know and much that would never be distributed so far as I lived out in the country, but I thought that team did the best rendition of Marvel Team-Up overall and would've liked to see them on Amazing Spider-Man. But, ask Iron Fist, there's only so much time to craft your issue and something has to go, even something as wild and exciting as Power Man and Iron Fist, the title the writer/ artist duo forged from Luke Cage's ongoing series, with #50. The step from Iron Fist #15 to that new series home lies in the pages of Marvel Team-Up #63, 64. Things like this made MTU feel more like a 'real' title and built on previous developments like good Marvel of this period, does.

I loved the depiction of Spider-Man under mysterious attack, spending a while dazed the FF would do this.
The Super Skrull is not revealed until the end of #61. He had last fought Tigra in Marvel Chilers #5, and Tigra is coming up in MTU #67. Lots of MTU co-headliners didn't have their own monthly books. Ms. Marvel was an exception.
Spidey puts his brain to work, like old times with Torchie- but man, they need big league help.
How about this new mystery woman?
Sure! We entrust our lives to strangers with unexplained powers all the time, they say! There's actually a nice bit going on where the situation's thrown these allies together with no time to size up anything but Super Skrull. So, no automatic misunderstanding fight, and the premise is totally launched when the story engulfs Carol Danvers.

If you've never read Marvel Team-Up #62, why spoil it for you, go ahead! Speaks for itself.

Have a killer summer!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Steve Ditko: Dr. Strange in Best Spider-Man Team-Up, 1965 R.I.P.

Spider-Man and Dr. Strange share co-creators, but once alone did those creative minds blend the mystic and the meddler: in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2. These Ditko aces were held all along, now- how would Stan Lee deal?

Both characters had been introduced, Spider-Man in 1962, and Doctor Strange in 1963, under the creative guidance of the duo of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. While Steve drew other characters (and Lee, never any), these two were driven by his ideas and influence. By this year, most of the plotting of both strips seems to have fallen into the artist's purview. I wonder whether Lee or Ditko thought of teaming these two, first? At what point did this become the story -which would be the only one featuring them both, again, by their original co-creators?
(I'd written this the morning of July 6th, the last time all of us didn't know Steve Ditko died. I then re-read my precious issue as I've planned now for weeks, to coincide with the week my family always took vacation in the mid-80s. The 1985 roadtrip began for me, at Len's Kwik Shop two blocks from 'the house' (a single wide trailer on a country acre), with the folded-up copy of Marvel Tales, still sporting its pre-price hike sixty cent cost, no less! Missed by the magazine shippers, I didn't mind it being rolled up, asked the clerk if the price on it was still valid, then spent the first of my vacation money- which wasn't much, a few dollars- on a masterpiece in classic comics."

Fifty three years ago, a summer visit to the comics rack just might’ve contained a copy of the one, the only, Steve Ditko-created adventure pairing his two enduring characters with Stan Lee, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange! The cover’s colored so Spidey’s eyes practically glow. Such life. It’s the cover to a twenty-five cent, seventy-two page comic book called an annual. This is the second annual produced for the hit series, The Amazing Spider-Man- the summer the company billed themselves “Marvel Pop Art Productions”!

The lead story is the perfect example of how to do a Marvel Team Up.

Spider-Man begins the story heading into the shadows, himself, in search of stimulation. He stumbles upon a mystery man named Xandu’s plot to unite his newly-obtained half of an occult object, the Wand of Watoomb, by robbing Doctor Strange. The entire way, Spider-Man stays in over his head! He wise cracks his way through what becomes the weirdest adventure of his career to this point. Here, the Ditko darlings make lasting friends. He knew the limitations of his characters, played up an antagonist whose modus operandi would engage them both.
Seemed so cool to find how Spanish readers pages looked- I wonder what year?

His visuals unite the seedy world of the harbor and petty crime (such as the roughnecks Xandu recruits after a bar fight) with a vision of mystic realms, half-realized or fully enveloping the conscience, menacing and wonderful at once. Dr. Stephen Strange’s search for healing took him originally to the docks, to the sea faring travelers, to desperately seek legends for a way to restore his lost self. The man of logic and medicine was gone for good, as soon was his arrogance and greed. I love how he continues wrestling with humility in the best DR. Strange stories over the years, weighing wisdom in times of crisis and mysterious powers at work.

He’s no match for a pair of common thugs, why? Because, powerful as he continues to grow into being from disciple to new master, Stephen Strange is also a vulnerable man with no innate physical super ability for protection or reaction. He can only do his best to discern each bizarre threat! Surprise and initiative, those are Xandu's advantages. ONce the Wand is in play, Ditko cuts loose on his brand of special effects.

The heroes here lose and lose -until they win!

No words of mine can replace a look on your own.

Spider-Fans, this was tough news, on Sturdy Steve's passing. But even between the panels of the confrontation itself, you can imagine even more awesome poses and fighting, what could've been a couple pages more of Strange and Spider-Man finally facing down Xandu himself, a sense of time, the matter of maybe an hour, a mind-blowing struggle for reality nestled in the shadows of New York. I'd surely love to have seen these two work together in more stories by Steve, but leave Marvel he did, in 1966. So, we get this one life, and here, we get this one classic. I think of it as a highlight: not a face-off with an existing rogue, or even one we'd see again until 1974. But wow, merging the worlds of Spider-Man and Dr. sTrange in one adventure? And every month, those two very different story lines were gestating in STeve Ditko's mind, as he tried to find new, interesting ways to play out what he saw, in that light that was his own and has gone out in mortal man. More on this illustrating hero, I will share later, but for now, let me borrow the parting lines of the new friends:
Dr. STrange: May the Vishanti WAtch Over Thee!
Spider-Man : And May your Amulet never Tickle!

Pete wonders: will he believe any of this, real- in the morning?

Friday, July 6, 2018

Thor, Red Sonja, Best Spider-Man Team-Ups of the Years series, '78

OK, Best Spider-Man Team-Ups of the Years brings you a quartet of comics this time out, so Face Front!

First, the two-parter that won the spotlight: 1978’s Best, with the grand prize, Spider-Man with Mighty Thor versus The Living Monolith in Marvel Team Up #70! What epic spectacle, the great in power shaking the city while our point-of-view character, Spidey, at one point hitches a ride on Thor’s hammer, Mjonir! That scene’s homaged on the very cover of Marvel Team-Up #148, where I first caught that tactic with my young eyes.

So, Marvel Team Up #68 set up the return of Havok, the X-Man whose origins share the source of power with the villain of our piece, the archeologist who also shares mutant solar-absorbing abilities. But should Havok fall…! Let’s say, Thor is just about the only cavalry who’d have a chance.

The 1972 first pairing of the god and the graduate, Marvel Team-Up #7, was my choice of winner in that year! Here, it’s my 2nd favorite Spider-Man/ Thor story.

Finally, 1978’s #2, such a close call, I nearly started a poll first! WE can still have one! Marvel Team-Up #79 has the distinction of being a single issue. (Imagine if that could’ve been a two-parter- with Spider-Man meeting Conan The Barbarian!) It’s paced and drawn so well. Swords, sorcery- and Spidey! Nothing like that since Howard the Duck # 1. (Now there would’ve been an offbeat choice for best team-up, ‘76!)

So! My #1 from ‘78, which is two of two; my Thor Team up choice #2; and my pick for ‘78, #2.
Let’s take’em in reverse order.

As a bonus demanded by virtually no one, I’ll end w/ my team up pick for 1978 from my childhood. What back issue fell wayward into my hands?

Marvel Team-Up #79 This Christmas holiday story actually happens on winter solstice (topically, 1978). A pattern that amuses me: there’s a Bugle-hosted party in this one, as well as my last spotlight comics, Cap #265-6.
Thanks to that party, Peter pretty much stumbles upon the true face of Captain America. Then, in my next entry?
Thor, also at the beginning of their mission together, learns Spider-Man’s unmasked face! (Peter and Thor are nabbed, like Steve was in those Cap stories.)

This issue has one more important commonality with that Howard the Duck sorcery adventure. Red Sonja, popularly rendered by Frank Thorne (whose look is homaged, Byrne-style, here), is another Marvel offering intended for mature reader appeal, with a touch of underground aesthetic that stood apart from Marvel’s very mainstream superhero offerings.
A non-fiction history of REd Sonja- brand new!
Kulan Gath not only would’ve made a badass foe against a united Conan and Spider-Man (hence, Conan in part two, natch!). When he finally does return under the Claremont pen, we get a completely epic and truly secret war, in X-Men #189-90. What a team-up -between the X-Men, Avengers, and New Mutants, with Spider-Man battling the sorcerer’s revenge as the only modern person trapped in a version of the Big Apple- re-envisioned in the Hyborian Age! My first year as a monthly collector, 1984, was a generous one in Spidey Teams. That story does indeed feature Kulan Gath’s revenge against Spider-Man! But even the reversal of his dark victory heralds dangers unknown- not from the ancient past like Gath, but from Days of Future Past, in the form of Sentinel Nimrod! That storyline goes all the back to the recently-unearthed amulet, displayed here in a museum wing made to look like civilization before recorded time.

Wendy Pini as Sonja, with the series artist who redefined the character, Frank Thorne.

Marvel Team-Up #7
Time. It gets kinda wasted over the first three pages.
I understand, do something different: at this point, rarely has Peter fought street crime without the quick change to his alter ego. He takes off his shoes and saves a woman from most likely being raped. She then wants nothing to do with the scene. Peter’s disappointed she doesn’t want to step forward to put the guys away, legally. If the point is, Peter takes responsibility where most will not, okay, but it doesn’t do a thing to connect to or move the main plot. That and a kinda lack luster splash page eat up space I’d like to have seen devoted to Kryllk the Troll’s menace.

Feel free, disagree. I guess Gerry reasoned this cross over into Spidey territory explains why Peter, in his civvies, doesn’t bother to act like he doesn’t recognize Thor! Here and in MTU #70, it’s the scenes between immortal and everyman, the nature of friendship that arises between them, that is the most appealing conceit behind tying two awesomely-mismatched heroes, in terms of power. Their different skill sets can be complementary, but rarely could you put them side-by-side fighting like on the splash.

There are two things I love here at once. Artist Ron Frenz inspired my greater appreciation for scenes of the Thunder God interacting with the Big Apple. Here, he sits astride a balcony, jostling Peter with jest filled with knowing. Mr. Know-it-all Asgardian here acts more in character with Spider-Man, here, but I’ll buy it. Peter’s abrasive and sullen after the attack he ended earlier, and whatever is his hang-up. He really ought not to be so rude to Thor, though. Not just because he’s a thunder god, but one guy to another- which is how Thor sought to address him, for some reason. Thor’s short-lived life coaching phase didn’t fuel great action scenes.
Peter usually needs that web-head mask to really cut loose on anything this side of a physics exam. Here, since he knows Thor as Spider-Man, he continues sort of forgetting he’s not in costume and talks back to Thor!

It’s really funny. Thor is really cool to this random New Yorker- though, if he did witness Peter banging up the gang-bangers, he’d find that courage impressive. It’s not clear he did, but probably! But I love how he sets Peter straight right quick not to exhaust his graciousness. It’s a weird personality struggle that tests Thor’s humilty. The impertinent youth, however, reveals he’s Spider-Man, after the sky and surroundings seem cosmically disturbed.
Thor knows Spider-Man, unmasked ! Cool. Spider-Man realizes he’s seen Captain America unmasked in our last post- in 1981. However, I think it’s this year that Steve Englehart tips that Iron Man and Thor are aware of each other’s alter egos in a cool Avengers scene (after DR. Blake and Mr. Stark had worked to save the life of...who? The Vision, that’s right!). So, maybe we are getting to the point in Marvel history where the new writers wonder about things like, who knows who-is-really. Spidey played into Daredevil’s identity secrets early on, too. Daredevil drops hints each time detects Spider-Man out-of-costume. Peter’s whisked away here in a hammer vortex, like any other mortal, as reality unravels.

To me, all that’s more interesting than the rest. The fight against Kryllk’s a cool plot if you’re a little kid, though. Pretty much a Thor-style story from here out, like that Dr. Strange team-up in ‘65 you’ll see here again, soon.
1978’s MTU # 68, 69 though, while it depends on its previous part, brings X-Man Havok and his nemesis, the Living Monolith, for a true battle royale. Because of its ties to the greater ongoing Marvel Universe story and the awesome fight scenes with giant Monolith and the Thunder God, if I was picking just the best few team-ups, this is my favorite Thor and Spider-Man story. Immortal and everyman have this very interesting back-and-forth I really enjoy, when they meet. The Norse prince’s fraternal concern and aid to brave Spider-Man makes it their best team-up!
Museum mock-ups play the setting for the Havok/ Thor two-parter as well as the story mentioned at the top, with Red Sonja. Be careful going out to museums or circuses in the Marvel U. Play it safe, stay home and read comics!

Thor of legend often fought giants, a power threat worthy of his might. Like a modern day myth, Living Monolith punches his way beyond the Avenger’s weight class! How Thor uses powers and prowess to hold the line, buying Spider-Man time to awake Havok, who substitutes cosmically as a natural power battery for the same force as Prof. Abdol- Wow! John Byrne, Tony DeZuniga, god battle shatters Fun City- read it!
I found that story when I was twelve, a new Marvel Tales. Very cool, tying the civilian lives of Alex and Lorna, retired X-Men affiliates, into a great tale of Thor and Spidey, versus his arch enemy!

My favorite team-up of 1978, when I was seven, was Defenders #61. It’s NOT a great showing for Spider-Man working with the Defenders against Lunatik. I was greatly entertained nonetheless, for never had I seen a plot like so. Little did I know, this was David Anthony Kraft entering his silliest superheroes stories run on the book. What I liked most was Hellcat and Valkyrie. Especially Hellcat- charismatic, fearless, attractive even in Ed Hannigan’s House style. Her talk with Spider-Man is my favorite part- as the true leader, she tries to bring him in Kyle’s dumb plan. Even webbed up by mistake, she’s more capable than Kyle, yet never gives him shit about it. Like the story with Cage, best of all is the conversation that brings the heroes together personally- the ones that inspire you to imagine their lives and stories you’d make for them outside those panels. As for Patsy, she’s been reincarnated from humorous romance comic about a model to superheroine to television supporting character: Patricia, or “Trish,” best friend to Jessica Jones.
I was disappointed the Hulk wouldn’t be part of the fight, but throughout DAK’s run, he’s been the most non-teammate of Defenders. He spends considerable time in these years both at peace and as Hulk, while rest used to trigger the change back to Bruce Banner. I don’t know what changed that besides storytelling and perhaps a call overall to keep Hulk on the pages rather than his brainy alter ego.
Kyle’s making a dumb plan -helps do something unexpected: not put Hulk and Bug Man on a mission together. It’s weirdly cool the two biggest stars at the company at the time, I’m guessing, appear in the same story, but don’t cross paths. Hulk and Spider-Man are hardly Marvel’s Batman and Robin!
Next: Take yet another 2nd: Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2- a pair you can gamble on, from the hand of Steve Ditko! How does Stan Lee deal?

Superman and Batman: Heroes Against Hunger

A chance to talk to artist Tom Mandrake? I should mark the occasion by finding some of his back issues at my local comics shop, What If?

(That's the Rome, GA, store's name, for realz, but don't you love that sentence?) OUr fearless shop owner Jason helps me search by my request, and through the back issue bins I dig with another person for the first time in a lil' minute. He takes out this DC Comic for $5 and says, "this one has his early work, AND look at all the people..." He then named just a few, and handed me Superman and Batman: Heroes Against Hunger.

For my budget purposes, I had to consider there's but a single page of Tom's work there. Yet, I wanted to think on what it might've meant to young Mandrake, invited to create a round-robin entry alongside such a proud array of talent. I didn't expect much of the story, and I already had the single Spectre I found (#28), New Mutants (#13- his first Marvel series), and Firestorm #2, since I've also heard from Pat Broderick AND GErry Conway about participating in BAck Issue Magazine's spotlight on Nuclear Men!

But I bit. The way each creative team carries the story along's so evocative. Such a spectrum of styles within the framework of a story with both underlying gravitas and no shortage of the wonder that makes human life so joyful, my friends.

By the time I reached Tom's page, I felt I was reading my favorite Superman/ BAtman comic book in years. The way Jim STarlin, Berni Wrightson and company (including Stephen King, as his star was really hitting the firmament in pop culture) use Lex Luthor in relation to the heroes and invaders makes it my very favorite Lex Luthor story I think I've ever read. There's gravity as the adventure concludes, and Barry Windsor-Smith's two pages of the native people enduring famine complement everyone's efforts with the most pain-staking connection to reality the story has to offer.

I love this comic book. It teaches, but it reaches into your heart with how it entertains. It challenges you. You may find your imagination primed to connect with life for people perhaps you'll never meet. But here we are, all the children of the same beautiful, sun-bathing blue orb.

next I talk with Tom,

I will pick up with his collaboration with Kevin VanHook- Superman and BAtman vs. Vampires and WErewolves!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Fight for Freedom with the Sentinel of Liberty: best Spider-Man team-up of 1981

Captain America is such a wonderful touchstone to cultural values, history, and an enduring sense of decency fostered in a time we try to preserve in us. I knew I had to participate in my country’s culture today by discussing someone whose courage transcends politics. He’s just the sort of fellow we need to make real from our own hearts and determination. From soldier to teacher to playground child to handicapped shut-in, to believe in Cap gives an intangible form to what we admire in ourselves in the face of adversity. Yes, in his stories, he’s a hero who finds a way to win. Along the way, he finds a way to never quit!

In my selection for Spider-Man’s most awesome team-up of 1981, I went with the spirit of Marvel Comics Group at that time. Frank Miller was completing the new, rather basic crime noir Daredevil; John Byrne began a back-to-basics approach with Fantastic Four. I might’ve cocked an eye at first, how Cap spouts historic object lessons throughout. But isn’t this a unique point in his speech? It’s not clear who besides him really hears most of it. But you can clear your mind and say nothing, or your self-talk will either bolster or doubt your present activity. Being Captain America not only psyches up the people in the story; Steve Rogers constantly psyches himself up, with inspiration.

My other sticking point was the sheer amount of energy it’d take to fly this Thunderhead Island through the sky for thousands of miles. But if I’d grown up on Captain America in Tales of Suspense by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, I’d know that way, way over the top is the only place to find the most thrilling Cap tales.

Fortunately, the man who wrote my pick, did. For David Anthony Kraft, Cap was a true hero and star in the Marvel firmament. Hulk, Thor, probably Iron Man- they and Cap were meant to be the vanguard of awesomeness. A second-tier, less-serious teen superhero, however, became the company’s mascot by the time DAK proof-read his first issue in the Bullpen at Marvel Comics Group. He’d figured a way inside the webbed head, so he wrote a two-parter filled with Silver Age imagination and badass art by Mike Zeck. Particularly when paired with inker John Beatty, Zeck’s Winghead is the definitive one from my childhood. He looked just as he did in Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars.

Zeck’s early in a great-looking run on CAPTAIN AMERICA when we reach issue 265. I still have quite a few of Byrne’s issues left to read and savor- Dragon Man and Baron Blood were great, and what can I say about his storytelling that’s new? For sheer awesome images, Jim Starlin and Bob McCleod’s single shot in Amazing Spider-Man #187 is the one sleeper source for magnificent depictions of both Cap and Spidey. The stealth of Spider-Man and the Ditko-esque multi-image movements, the raw power of Captain America-and versus pretty good match-up, Spidey rogue Electro, AND blessed with a twist complicating things. For a small scale duo, it’s as good as it gets. This matching of heroes has been blessed: John Romita came back to Cap in time to guest-star Spider-Man in #138, which won my pick for 1970’s best Spider-Man team-up. Zeck had also stepped in to pair Spidey with Moon Knight, in 1978. I don’t always get the choice of anatomical exaggerations Zeck makes, but he can make a figure pop off the page.

So! CAPTAIN AMERICA #265 and 266. This story’s faithful to the characterizations of its heroes, but those come out amid non-stop action, set to many cool ideas. The deMatteis run is sinking a lot of capital into a supporting cast for Steve Rogers and attempting some experimental villains. But here, walk through the holographic wall and you get Nick Fury, recruiting Spider-Man, who’s on the trail of the artist he met at the publishing party. So Spider-Man ‘knows’ Cap’s secret identity now- but there’s no time! A renegade S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist, with enormous resources as generous as Mike Zeck’s pencil can allow, plans to nuke Washington, D.C.! As the cyborg SULTAN, his modular biodroids complete his missiles and provide him an army. But what is the secret of Thunderhead?
The collection where you can find it in print! Or, go back issue hunting.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Luke Caged! Spider-Man's Best Team-Ups 1973

I was so excited, the day in 1986 I found a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #123 in the back issue bin at Amazing World of Fantasy,
For the first of only three times, I attempt to barter with Gordon, the owner. I’d read advice recently then about asking if a shop owner wants to negotiate on back issues you want to collect, especially on older, slower-moving back issues.
“That’s part of the Death of Gwen Stacy storyline!’ protested Gordon, with a whip of his long brown hair. I couldn’t argue with that. I’d have to settle for paying the most I ever had for a comic book: $3.50, as I recall. Maybe $4.50. New issues are holding the line at seventy five cents, so this was a big move in my little hobby world.
I didn’t regret it, though.
I now had the oldest copy of Amazing Spider-Man, yet- from before I was even born!
Better, the art benefits from John Romita, I believe finishing Gil Kane’s pencils. Gerry Conway was settling fandom on its ear with that trilogy: the kidnapping and accidental death (or murder, if you think Gobby already killed her, what have you) of Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s grief and vengeance on the Green Goblin, and then, the villain’s accidental death. Now, we have lasting storyline consequences- Gerry Conway’s strength as Stan’s first permanent successor. (Permanent as things are in comics publishing..)

Who do they team up to fight?
Their inner demons, of course.
But first, each other. Which is most of the story!

From Gwen’s graveside into Jonah’s plot to use the Hero For Hire to bring in the wall-crawler, we get two angry heroes making each other mad, illustrated so great. Their flaring tempers and full-on combat – as the fight goes from a paid job to a bit of a grudge match, for Luke Cage-
offer Peter some kind of release.
Luke then uses the other hot spot lead for finding Spider-Man -he basically targets the neighborhood of the Bugle since JJJ hired him, and bursts in on the dance in Empire State University’s gym to challenge Spider-Man. It’s a bluff- he has no way of knowing Spider-Man’s so very close, as a glum Peter Parker. Works, though! This time, we see what makes Peter a hero as well as a human being, as he comes to realize what this fight means to him. Luke Cage invites him to talk, then- and while we don’t see what they say, it’s fascinating to imagine. One result, however, is Cage returning his retainer for the job in memorable fashion. That’s what he gets for taking a job on his off day, I reckon.

So! They don’t team-up to fight anyone, though they end up on the same basic idea of ol’ Skinflint.
The fact that they end up talking about what’s personally been eating them and give up a senseless fight wanted by someone willing to pay the bill (the comics company- imagine 22 pages of Cage tied up talking to Spidey)- that’s the team-up. They work together on their more realistic problems, with a chat I don’t imagine lasted too much longer than the 45 minutes to an hour it’d take for Spidey’s web to dissolve. That’s not what you think of as a usual superhero team-up, to say the least.

It’s got all it takes to be the best Spider-Man Team-Up story of 1973- another pick benefiting as part three of a trilogy, each a defining one at their point in the series (I mean, also, the #17-19 story arc where Spider-Man suffers humiliation while trying to be a better nephew to his ailing aunt, in 1964). The grim idea of the End of Spider-Man is one Pete would rethink, now that his career cost Gwen, life.