Friday, June 26, 2009

1981 - Superman and Spider-Man

Marvel Treasury Edition #28
Writer: Jim Shooter with plot suggestions by Marv Wolfman
Artists: John Buscema/Joe Sinnott
62 pages

"The Heroes and the Holocaust!" is the second meeting between company flagship characters and a sequel to 1976's "Superman vs the Amazing Spider-Man". Oddly enough, their first meeting isn't even brought up.

It turns out to be an entertaining story. Doctor Doom tries to put the final pieces of his latest diabolical scheme into motion, one of which includes having a rampaging Hulk make his way into downtown Metropolis. The Hulk's rampage draws the attention of Superman who deals with the threat and figures out that Doctor Doom is behind it. He confronts Doom and vows to stop him. In their own seperate ways, Spider-Man and Superman discover Doctor Doom's base of operations in New York City and they team up to prevent the Omega Project from succeeding. Doom escapes to his Latverian Embassy where hides behind his diplomatic immunity.

Wonder Woman and the Hulk kind of just get thrown into the story as their roles aren't integral to the plot, but I can see why they've been included to hype their respective live action TV shows that were big at the time. Yet, there is no advertisement for either show in the issue.

The Parasite doesn't strike me as an upper tier villain so I was curious as to why Shooter didn't bring in Luther or Brainiac to complement Dr. Doom. I'm surprised that DC didn't ask for more of a heavy weight villain to get equal coverage. Doom is easily one of Marvel's grandest villains, but Parasite, come on!

Jim Shooter provides his usual over the top dialog, especially with Doom's soliloquies:

"Once happiness seemed so much closer ... so easily within my grasp! For a darkly handsome gypsy youth ... a dabbler in sorcery, it seemed all roads led to success ... to fulfillment ... even love! Then came the accident which runined my face and my life in one single, searing instant! The paths are less clear now, for a man, whose chief please -- is shattering mirrors!"

Really nice pencilled art by "Big" John Buscema and solid inks by "Jolting" Joe Sinnott. It also seems that the backgrounds were inked by the rest of the Marvel Bullpen with Terry Austin, Klaus Janson, Bob McLeod, Al Milgrom, Steve Leialoha, Walt Simonson, Bob Layton, Joe Rubinstein, and Bob Wiacek lending a hand.
All in all, it wasn't the crossover to end all crossovers, but it did provide some pretty neats scenes: Superman taking on the Hulk, Dr. Doom trying to persuade Superman to join him, and having both Peter Parker and Clark Kent interact in each other workplaces.

Later on in 1981, DC and Marvel would come out with another cross-over featuring the Hulk and Batman and then have the X-Men co-star with the New Teen Titans. This issue is reprinted in Crossover Classics Volume 1 trade paperback which also features "Superman versus. The Amazing Spider-Man", "Batman and The Incredible Hulk", and "The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans".

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Marvel Comics of the 1980s on hiatus

The Daredevil - Born Again post will be my last for a few weeks. My wife's due date is around the corner and I need to reduce the number of things I'm doing. But, I will be back...

1985 – Daredevil: Born Again

Daredevil #226-233
January - August 1985
Writer(s): Frank Miller/Dennis O'Neil
Artist(s): David Mazzuchelli/Dennis Janke

Frank Miller, famous for his early run on this title, helps Denny O’Neil co-write Daredevil #226, “Warriors”, a 24-page story. Miller, after this issue, would replace O’Neil as the regular writer. The dialog is strong and has a sharp, chilling edge to it. David Mazzuchelli’s art is finished by Dennis Janke and doesn’t stand well compared to his solo art that will follow for the next seven issues.

Melvin Potter, a reformed foe of Daredevil called the Gladiator, is forced back into crime by a group of thugs who have kidnapped his lover and demand money, that he can only get from a series of robberies. Daredevil, who’s suffering through an emotional low with Heather’s recent suicide and the closing of his firm, hears about Potter’s latest robbery. Gloria O’Breen who is desperate trying to get through to Murdock seeks the advice of his closest friend, Foggy Nelson and both unexpectedly find pleasure in each other company. Daredevil confronts Potter, but isn’t really interested in his excuses. Daredevil beats him up and then realizes to his shame that Potter isn’t responsible, and helps Potter free his lover.

The "Born Again" story line by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli runs through Daredevil #227- 231. Miller and Mazzuchelli open issue #227, “Apocalypse”, with former supporting character (who left to become a movie star, but ended up a junkie in porn movies) Karen Page selling Daredevil’s secret identity to her drug dealer for a hit. This information filters up the ranks of organized crime to the Kingpin who sets in motion a plan that will destroy the unsuspecting Murdock. The Kingpin’s recipe is as follows: one call to the bank to put Murdock’s mortgage payments in arrears, one call to the IRS to freeze Murdock’s assets with a timely audit, one call to a cop (who needs money for his son’s surgery) to hit Murdock with a charge of perjury, a couple of calls to the local utilities to shut off his power and phone service, and let simmer until ready to serve desert which is to blow up Murdock’s home before his very eyes.

Miller provides a text book example of how to properly control the rate of revelation, which is so important in story telling. The subplots in this story effectively pace the events. Getting the Kingpin’s perspective as Murdock and Nelson battle in vain to defend against the perjury charges was brilliant. Not to forget the final “rug-pulling”, as Murdock avoid jails, but has his license to practice law revoked, at which point the reader is finally able to sigh in relief that the Murdock’s luck is finally changing. No such luck as Murdock witnesses the total destruction of his home.

In Daredevil #228, “Purgatory”, Murdock suffers a total mental breakdown, and is unable to distinguish reality from delusion and paranoia. Murdock makes his way to the Kingpin. Their battle is one sided as the Kingpin breaks Murdock physically. Their stage an accident in order to dispose of Murdock, but when it is discovered, Murdock is nowhere to be found.

In issue #229, “Pariah”, Ben Urich, a veteran reporter for the Daily Bugle, gets a whiff of what has happened to Murdock and doesn’t believe those charges against him. Urich investigates the cop, Manolis, who pressed those charges and learns that his son has died. No longer feeling any loyalty towards the Kingpin, he wants to tell Urich the whole story. A nurse working for the

Kingpin and who makes the woman from Stephen King’s Misery seem down right hospitable, hurts Urich and severely beats up Manolis as a warning. Murdock, who barely survived his encounter with the Kingpin, wanders through the streets of Hell’s Kitchen where he is gravely wounded by some thugs. Meanwhile, Foggy and Gloria fall in love. And the Kingpin begins to get worried about the fact that Murdock survived.

Miller and Mazzuchelli really get it together this issue in terms of storytelling. The dialog, the panel organization and the art flow incredibly well. Miller excels in a series of panels which are blackened out, to represent Murdock’s blindness, and only filled with powerfully paced and rhythmic dialog/monolog. The credit page which is a giant single panel has Murdock sleeping in a different position and location which provides a neat form of symbolism to what he has endured. “Armageddon”, a 30-page, no ads story.

The turning point for this entire run is issue #230, “Born Again”, where Murdock refuses to give up despite having had his life destroyed, his sanity broken, and his body crushed. Murdock is rescued by a nun who brings him to her mission and nurses him back to health. Murdock learns that this nurse is his mother. Meanwhile, Karen makes her way back to New York and meets up with Foggy, but the drug dealer who helped her get back now claims he owns her.

There is one powerful and disturbing sequence in this issue that stays with you for quite some time. The nurse, who injured Urich, lets him lisen in as she slowly and agonysingly kills Manolis as another reminder to Urich to stop his investigation. The Mazzuchelli art in this issue stands out the most of all the issues in this run (with issue #233 a close second). The alternating panels, flashbacks, and powerful colouring work very well. I also really liked the pages where the panels where uninterrupted by though ballons or narrative, and had the text in the margin.

In Daredevil #231, “Saved”, Murdock regains his strength and the Kingpin grows more anxious as he knows Murdock is still alive and that Urich is putting out a series of very damaging articles about him. The nurse, eager to clean up the loose ends, attack Urich and his wife at home, but Murdock comes to his rescue. As Karen’s drug lord attempts to reclaim his “goods”, the Kingpin arranges for a madman, garbed in a Daredevil costume, to kill Foggy and Karen which will make Daredevil a wanted man. Fortunately, Murdock intervenes and takes down both the madman and the drug lord, and finally makes a tearful reunion with Karen.

The Kingpin, in issue #232, “God and Country”, contacts the US military and rents one of their super soldiers, Nuke, to take out Daredevil. Nuke goes on a rampage in Hell’s kitchen where the Kingpin hopes he draws out Daredevil. Murdock finally dons his costume and confronts Nuke which is wonderfully depicted in a full-page panel where Daredevil is standing amid the flames of Nuke’s destruction.

More than half a year’s run comes to a dramatic conclusion in a 30-page story called “Armageddon” in Daredevil #233. Daredevil faces off against the super-solider Nuke in Hell’s Kitchen. Their battle is brought to an end by the Avengers who take Nuke into custody. Captain America, bothered by the connection between Nuke and the super solider program that created Captain America, begins to snoop around. He isn’t very happy with what he finds. Nuke goes on another rampage, but Captain stops him and tries to get him to help. The military mortally wounds him during their escape, but Daredevil gets him to the Bugle just as he dies, giving Urich the final bit of proof needed to finish his attack on the Kingpin. The Kingpin is buried in a hoard of investigations and charges, but he manages to dodge them all. Despite being unable to destroy Murdock, the Kingpin clings to having stripped him of his ability to practice law. Murdock, however, is simply happy to be alive.

Friday, June 19, 2009

1987 - Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men

Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men (4 issue miniseries)
Feb 1987 - June 1987
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: Jon Bogdanove and Terry Austin

This series took place after the Mutant Massacre story line (circa Uncanny X-Men #209-213).

The X-Men seek out Reed Richard of the Fantastic Four to help restore Kitty to her human form. However, Reed can’t help because he’s too distracted by an internal conflict among the Fantastic Four. One of his old journals surfaces with evidence that he planned the exposure to the cosmic rays that gave the Fantastic Four their powers. The X-Men are then forced to turn to Dr. Doom, who conveniently shows up and is able to help. The Fantastic Four get their act together and confront Doom, which leads to a battle with the X-Men. The battle comes to an end as Kitty’s condition worsens and Reed and Doom work together to save her.

While Bogdanove did a decent job with the art, his style was a bit too cartoony. However, Terry Austin did a miraculous job with the inking and made the overall art impressive. His fine detailed inks solidified Bogdanove’s simple style.

The most notable part of this miniseries was Claremont’s story and characterization. The Fantastic Four took center stage in this series and were treated in the usual Claremont fashion that we’ve come to know in The Uncanny X-Men. He focused on a key character trait that made each member of the Fantastic Four who they are. This technique worked surprisingly well. Although it may have something to do with the fact that it was applied to the Fantastic Four rather than the X-Men and seemed fresh.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

1989 – Atlantis Attacks!

In the summer of 1989, Marvel applied a similar premise to the Evolutionary War and rolled out the Atlantis Attacks annual crossover. This crossover event surpassed the previous year’s effort running through 14 annuals and calling on the talents of at least 10 writers and a horde of artists. Unfortunately, the combined talents of Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, and John Byrne weren’t enough to save this event.

The overall story line suffered as each annual’s quality varies greatly. The plot was stretched too thin to incorporate a wide variety of heroes, from urban vigilantes, like Spider-Man, Punisher, and Daredevil, to cosmic crusaders, like Thor and the Silver Surfer.

Ghaur, the priest king of an ancient race that worshiped the elder god Set, put a deadly plan into motion that would see the return of his banished god. He collected pieces of an artifact called the Serpent Crown that would allow Set to return to the Earth. Ghaur allied himself with Attuma the warlord of the underwater realm of Atlantis and launched a full-scale attack on the surface world. The heroes repelled the invasion and realized what Ghaur planned to do. They interrupted Ghaur’s attempt to summon Set and drove the elder god of evil back into banishment.

Marvel historian Peter Sanderson weeded through twenty years of Marvel history and put together a 14-part summary of Set’s origins and the legacy of the Serpent Crown. Unlike the Evolutionary War, these annuals had short features tied-in to the ongoing series. Most of these features are forgettable, but a few stood out featuring art by Bo Hampton, Whilce Portacio, and John Byrne.

By the end of the series, Marvel realized how unmanageable the ambitious effort truly was and broke up the next year’s annual event into several mini-crossovers.

Atlantis Attacks ran through the following annuals:
- Amazing Spider-Man Annual #23
- Avengers Annual #18
- Avengers West Coast Annual #4
- Daredevil Annual #4
-Fantastic Four Annual #22
- Iron Man Annual #10
- New Mutants Annual #5
- Punisher Annual #2
- Silver Surfer Annual #2
-Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #7
-The Mighty Thor Annual #14
-Uncanny X-Men Annual #13
-Web of Spider-Man Annual #5
-X-Factor Annual #4

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

1988 - Evolutionary War

“No matter what it takes, I shall not stop until man reigns supreme in all the universe!”
- High Evolutionary, Avengers Annual #17

In the summer of 1988, Marvel took its successful crossover formula one step further (and likely one step too far). The Evolutionary War ran through each of that year’s annuals: 11 issue in total dedicating 30 pages or more to this event. The idea itself was a simple variation of the crossover formula: To get the whole story, readers had to pick up the annuals of series they didn’t usually collect and Marvel hoped that the exposure might prompt the reader to start buying that series. Using the annuals was a great idea as the Evolutionary War didn’t interrupt the regular story line or the regular creative team.

Writer and editor Mark Gruenwald tried to pull together a summary of the High Evolutionary’s origin and history into an 11-part story that ran through each annual.

The main story surrounded the being known as the High Evolutionary. He was once a brilliant geneticist who evolved himself into a godlike being. He took it upon himself to shape humanity’s destiny and attempted to push it beyond its genetic potential.

While a general plot was established, the Evolutionary War annuals themselves represented a vague, diluted view of it. Also, keep in mind that the series was written by at least nine different writers each of whom had their own perspective on the High Evolutionary and of the plot.

Unfortunately, the story roams across the board as the High Evolutionary’s purifiers attempt to sterilize mutants to prevent them from disrupting humanity’s genetic destiny. He assembles a wealth of genetic information from the Silver Surfer’s DNA to the properties of the Inhumans’ mutating gas called the Terrigen Mists. Then near the end of the story, the High Evolutionary created a genetic bomb that would forcibly push humanity onto a higher genetic plateau. Fortunately, the Avengers got in his way and prevented him from bringing his scheme to fruition.

The majority of these annuals actually had no impact on the overall story. For example, the Web of Spider-Man and Punisher annuals had the High Evolutionary’s purifiers attacking drug dealer. And just how did that advance the story in terms of genetics or evolution? But, it did let the Punisher, who was at the height of his popularity, into this event

The series overall though was a disappointment. I’ve always had a soft spot for this benevolent, albeit mad, godlike being. To see him resurrected from the dead and put through this fate was almost painful. They should have left him dead.

The series’ main weakness was the High Evolutionary’s illogical reliance on his human underlings despite his godlike powers. For such an intellectual and powerful being, it seemed out of character that he only got personally involved at the end. Unless of course, that was the only out that you had left yourself in an unimaginative plot.

The Evolutionary War ran through:
Amazing Spider-Man #22
Avengers Annual #17
Avengers West Coast Annual #3
Fantastic Four Annual #21
New Mutants Annual #4
Punisher Annual #1
Silver Surfer Annual #1
Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #6
Uncanny X-Men Annual #12
Web of Spider-Man Annual #4
X-Factor Annual #3

Saturday, June 13, 2009

1982 - Marvel Graphic Novel #5: X-Men

Marvel Graphic Novel #5:
X-Men - God Loves, Man Kills
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Brent Anderson

I remember picking up this graphic novel early in my collecting career. Up till then I had never really read a comic book meant for a more mature audience. I was used to reading lighter fair, like Amazing Spider-Man and Uncanny X-Men, and I distinctly recall being shocked by this comic. Some of the subject matter really engraved itself in my mind; for example, the crucifixion of Professor X and the murder of those young mutants in the prologue. This graphic novel was a departure from the usual X-Men in that I really had a disturbing feeling that the X-Men were really facing a deadly threat.

Reverend Stryker, believing he is on a personal mission from God, launches a religion campaign to brutally deal with mutants. Professor X, clinging to his dream of a peaceful coexistence between humankind and mutantkind, is caught off guard by Stryker's conviction and resources. The leaderless X-Men form an temporary alliance with their former arch-enemy Magneto who views this whole situation as the true feelings of humankind rising to the surface.

Brent Anderson, of Astro City fame, provides the artwork for this graphic novel. His only other X-Men works where X-Men Annual #5 and Uncanny X-Men #159. His style really brings a realism to the story. There isn't any over-the-top muscular hero or impossibly-large chested women, just very human portraits of characters. The colourist, Steve Oliff, definitely deserves part of the praise for the artwork. His strong, moody colours really set the tone and atmosphere.

Claremont takes the Stan Lee formula from the early X-Men which saw them persecuted for being mutants and raises its a level adding a disturbing religious fervor to it. He does a fabulous job at really making you hate Stryker, but at the same time, you really understand who he is and his motivation. This story has many levels which make it the great piece of work that it is. All great storytelling arises from conflict, and this story has several conflict each on different levels. Professor X is forced to question his dream, the X-Men, the embodiment of his dream, are also challenged, and of course how this dream comes into conflict with Stryker's crusade.

Easily one of the most powerful X-Men stories and perhaps one of the most accessible as it doesn't depend on any X-Men continuity.

An interesting note is that Neal Adams was actually supposed to draw this graphic novel. However, he only drew 8 pages before his contract was terminated apparently after a contract dispute. You can see those 8 pages in the X-Men Visionaires - Neal Adams graphic novel.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My first poll

Let me know what your favorite year of the 1980s was. Was it 1980 with the Dark Phoenix Saga and Stern/Byrne's Captain America, or was it 1984 with Sienkiewicz's New Mutants, Secret Wars, and Simonson's Thor? Or how about 1985 with Daredevil Born Again, PPSPM: Death of Jean DeWolff, and Squadron Supreme.

Vote in the poll and append to this post to let me know why!


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

1983 - The Mighty Thor

The Mighty Thor #337-338
Writer/Artist: Walter Simonson

The Mighty Thor of the early 1980s wasn't all that mighty. Roy Thomas, one of Marvel Comics' strongest writers of the 1970s, had enjoyed a successful run on the title, and had moved on to other projects.

Unfortunately for Thor fans, Thomas left behind a hole that wouldn't properly be filled for three years. Several writers, like Doug Moench and Alan Zelenetz, tried to establish new directions for the Norse Thunder God, but their efforts never caught on.

The Mighty Thor's editor Mark Gruenwald was desperate to rescue the title from slumping sales and possibly cancellation. He hired Walter Simonson as the new writer and artist, and granted him full creative authority on the title.

In an interview with Comic Book Artist's Jon B. Cooke, Simonson mentioned:
We had talked earlier about my core favorite Marvels when I was a comics reader. Of those titles, the one I really wanted to do was Thor, because of my interest in mythology. I had told Mark about the Thor "annual" I'd drawn up in the late '60s. So he knew I liked the characters a lot. He wanted to bring something fresh into the book, and I'd done a little writing by that time.
Simonson had worked on The Mighty Thor three years earlier as penciller, and had since amassed an impressive portfolio, including work on Metal Men, Detective Comics, and his famous collaboration with Archie Goodwin on Manhunter (which ran as a backup feature in Detective Comics). His only previous writing experience though had been on Marvel Comics's television tie-in Battlestar Galactica.

At that time, I had no interest in Thor, but I did have a few Roy Thomas issues from the late 1970s drawn by Keith Pollard. However, all that changed in late November, 1983. I bought a copy of The Mighty Thor #337 simply because of its unforgettable cover. I had never seen a cover like this. An alien version of Thor was smashing through the Thor logo.
"At the time, yeah, it was just a way of saying, "Hey! It ain't your father's Thor!" I wasn't really trying to say, "Hey, step aside you old guys; I'm taking over now!" so much as I was attempting to engage the reader's curiosity, "Wow, what's going on here?" Although I was going to do my own thing, certainly I tried doing a Thor that was as true in spirit to Stan and Jack's work as I could manage. However, I'm not Stan and Jack, I don't channel their stuff, but I love the work they did on the character.
I don't want to do work that's not true to the spirit of the original material. But in breaking the logo up, I wanted to suggest that we were taking off in new directions, and doing things that hadn't been done before, which was the reason I had somebody else pick up Thor's hammer. These days, hefting Thor's hammer is old news; it's been done a number of times since 1983. But it really hadn't been done before that, and that's one of the main reasons I did it.
At the time, the Thor logo was the only logo Marvel had left unchanged from the '60s. Thor had the same logo since the beginning, so breaking that logo was symbolic in the sense of heralding in a new beginning. Alex Jay designed the new logo for me. He designed it, and I kind of art directed it (and that's maybe giving me more credit than I deserve). But I did ask Alex to consider old Uncial lettering. I didn't want to go to runes, because Viking runes are essentially straight lines designed for carving into stone. And Thor's got an "o" in the middle of it. But I wanted to use an archaic typeface as the basis for a logo that would have a modern feel. I think Alex did an absolutely great job on it.

- Comic Book Artist #10

Well, in issue #337, Simonson's relative inexperience certainly didn't show. His first issue on Thor was perhaps the most memorable start to a story run by any writer/artist. Simonson's distinctive art style caught your attention.

He exceeded at charging a page with energy, bringing it to life with a strong cinematic fashion that sparked the reader's imagination as they fill in what lies between the panels. The action often sprawled beyond the panels, emphasizing a bold, larger-than-life feel to it. Thor was drawn physically more impressive, more noble.

Issue #337 also featured another change, but this change was a bit more subtle. John Workman became the new regular letterer and his style added a Norse feel to the title. This new lettering style worked well with Simonson's special effects. Explosive fonts broke through panel borders leaving a clear ring in your imagination. THRAKKT! BARROOOOM! KRANNG!

One of Simonson's strongest facets as a creator was the seamless integration of the story and art. He plotted, scripted, penciled, and inked the stories which would normally require the collaborative effort of several people. In just a two issues, Simonson established a new direction, a new cover logo, and a new style for The Mighty Thor, and, in less than 2 years, Simonson would single-handedley restored Thor's majesty and grandeur and of course secured Thor financially.

The first three pages of issue #337 set up a subplot that will eventually become a major story line. In this opening sequence, a mysterious figure of cosmic proportions began the forging of a foreboding weapon. Simonson immediately captured the tension of the moment and over the story line of the next year, he carefully paced this subplot, moving it ahead, building this rising tension.

Simonson adeptly handles multiple plot threads and really uses them well to set a good pace for the story. He also does a great job with cliffhanger endings: I remember repeated trips to the local convenience store desperately seeking the next issue.

Reprinted in:
Thor: Visionaries Volume #1 by Walter Simonson
Collects issues #337-348

Monday, June 8, 2009

1986 - The 'Nam

The ‘Nam #1-12
December 1986 - November 1987
Writer: Doug Murray
Artists: Michael Golden/Armando Gil/John Beatty/John Severin/Wayne Vansant

After a successful Vietnam War series in the pages of Savage Tales magazine, called "5th to the 1st", Jim Shooter gave Doug Murray’s pitch for a new, ongoing Vietnam War series the green light.

Murray, a Vietnam War veteran himself, takes you deep into the jungles of Vietnam within the pages of The ‘Nam. He effectively uses the point of view of a green army recruit, Ed Marks, to establish the environment and atmosphere, and to create a connection with Marks and the people in his platoon.

This series won acclaim from both outside and within the comic book industry. It was nominated for the Best New Series category of the 1987 Jack Kirby Awards. It also won awards from various veteran's organizations.

I was originally drawn to this series because of Michael Golden's artwork as he had drawn some X-Men related stories. Golden drew upon legendary artists, like Harvey Kurtzman and Will Eisner. The art was surprisingly more cartoonish than I had expected and didn’t pick up any issues after reading the first issue. However, while having had difficulty appreciating this series as a kid, I found this series to be a most rewarding and compelling read.

The letter columns are also interesting as actual Vietnam vets wrote in to congratulate Murray on putting out the comic and keeping it authentic.

In an interview with’s Brian Jacks, Doug Murray stated:

“One of the things I knew about Vietnam by the 80s was that a lot of Vets, and I include myself in the group, just were uncomfortable talking about experiences in Vietnam. Especially people who were parents, they didn’t talk about it to their kids. I wanted a way to at least tell a part of the story to the kids and maybe get other people to talk about it as well.”

Issue #7 is particularly poignant in giving us an insight into the Viet Cong and the heavy conflict and turmoil Vietnam has been subjected to by external influences. This issue is also a nice change of pace from the American point of view.

The series survived longer than most expected. Its longevity was probably due to the success of the Vietnam movies, like Platoon and Hamburger Hill, as well as TV spin-offs like Tour of Duty and China Beach.

However, despite the fact that this series had nothing to do with the Marvel Universe, the Powers That Be, watching sales of this title dwindle, decided to infuse it with a Marvel Universe flavor and brought in Frank Castle, the Punisher. Unfortunately, after five years on the series, Doug Murray left the book frustrated with absurd editorial policies that demanded he include superheroes in the book.

Within the first year story-arc, Ed Marks leaves Vietnam to return to the United States to continue his education. However, Murray wanted Ed Marks to return to Vietnam as a journalist, but never got the chance to write that.

Follow this link if you’re interested in signing a petition to get Marvel to launch a new ‘Nam series with Doug Murray:

A series of trade paperbacks reprinting issues #1-12 was published in 1999, but have since fallen out of print.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

1980 – Captain America

"War and Remembrance"
America #247-255
July 1980 - March 1981
Reprinted in “War and Remembrance” Trade Paperback.
Writers: Roger Stern (script/co-plot) and John Byrne (co-plot)
Artists: John Byrne (pencils) and Joe Rubinstein (inks)

In March 1964, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived the living legend of Captain America for a whole new generation in The Avengers #4. They established him as the Avengers’ foremost leader, and as the personification of American ideals. However, there was little room for the characterization of his alter ego, Steve Rogers. Lee shaped the Captain America character using his famous angst formula. Captain America was haunted by the death of his W.W.II sidekick, Bucky. He also found himself, a 1940s man, now living in the 1960s and had difficulties adjusting.

Steve Englehart’s run on Captain America in the 1970s also focused on Captain America’s character, identity, and beliefs, but failed to provide any insight on who Steve Rogers is. Roger Stern and John Byrne, wishing to take the title in a different direction in issue #247, succeeded in bring the man behind the mask, Steve Rogers, to life. Their work on Steve Rogers’ character would be carried on by J.M. DeMatteis well into the 1980s. They established and developed Rogers’ supporting cast of characters, especially Bernadette Rosenthal who would become a serious love interest. They also filled in Rogers’ personal life and had him make a serious attempt at a career as a commercial artist.
The initial issues were typical super-hero fare featuring the Dragon Man, the Machinesmith, Batroc, and Mr. Hyde, and they are enjoyable. Issue #250 had Captain America seriously thinking about a political career, but decides that he can’t run for president. The idea was originally tossed around when Stern was editor for the title and it resurfaced again and was approved by editor-in-chief Jim Shooter. Stern told Newsarama’s Matt Brady that "John and I were just trying to come up with a different kind of story for issue #250 ... and maybe say something about the importance of symbols and idealism."

Issues #253-253 had Captain America fly to England where he was reunited with his old Invaders teammates and becomes embroiled in a battle against their oldest foe, Baron Blood. Roger Stern told Matt Brady:
"That grew out of a story idea that John had originally floated when he was drawing Avengers, We never got around to using it there, and I think it really worked better as a Cap story. There was a lot of neat stuff in the old Invaders series. John and I were both big Frank Robbins fans."
The final issue of this run is a nice end piece that retells Cap’s origin and his first run-in with Nazi forces within America. The issue’s art is printed directly from Byrne’s pencils, bypassing the inking process and giving it a golden age look and feel.
Throughout these issues, Stern reveals the pieces of Rogers’ past that have helped shape his identity. Rogers’ true memories surface through the false memories that were implanted as a W.W. II security precautions. Rogers’ youth is playfully relived, and his war time memories with the Invaders are fondly remembered. Together, Stern and Byrne accomplish a lot of characterization within an aggressively action packed story arc. Stern did his homework well, rereading issues of Captain America, Tales of Suspense, The Invaders, and The Avengers, as well as studying American society of the 1920s and 30s.
I first encountered this run in grade school and had read the black and white French reprints. The art captivated me and its impression lingered in my mind in such a way that I hunted down these issues years later. Rereading these issues now, the story is just as impressive as the art. The only thing I disliked (I use dislike rather mildly) was the use of a lot of narrative that accompanied the panel-by-panel action sequences. I felt that they were mostly unnecessary and countered the action sequence.
Byrne, as a visual storyteller, shows in this run how versatile he can be. He draws fast-paced action that pulls the reader further into the story, and then slows it down with a series of evocative, contemplative panels. Joe Rubinstein’s inks can’t be underestimated either; as they truly embellish Byrne’s pencils. Also, keep in mind that Byrne was also busy supplying the penciled art for the X- Men.

Why was their run only nine issues? Roger Stern told George Khoury of
That gets a little complicated. Marvel was starting to crack the whip on deadlines, and all the editors were under pressure to get their books on time. I’d had some stomach trouble midway through our run on Cap, and John was about to get married, and Jim Salicrup was understandably worried that we would fall further behind. I thought we could pull ahead in just a matter of weeks – my digestion was already back to normal, and I knew that John’s work ethic was as strong as mine – and to prove it, I sat down and plotted the next three issues straight through. Jim was still uneasy about the deadlines, and so he decided to schedule a fill-in by another writer. I pointed out that we already had a fill-in underway; Frank Miller was drawing a stand-alone Cap story that I was going to script. (It eventually saw print in Marvel Fanfare.)
"By the Dawn’s Early Light!" featured in Captain America #247 by Stern, John Byrne, and Joe Rubinstein. The first issue with Rog and his collaborators in their short-lived classic Captain America run. In those days before royalties, Marvel had what was called a "continuity bonus." If you wrote or drew six consecutive issues, you got a bonus. And so on for the next six, and the next. A fill-in before issue #258 would set all of our bonuses back.
But beyond that, I was worried about losing sales momentum on the series. We’d been working hard to build up the readership, and I knew from my days as an editor that fill-ins usually cost you readers. Back during those early days of the Direct Market, when the greatest percentage of sales still came from the newsstand, it was a given that sales would dip after each fill-in. It could take a book’s regular creative team as much as three issues to get the readership back up to the pre-fill-in level.
Well, I couldn’t persuade Jim not to schedule a fill-in. And, looking back, if I had been in his shoes, I might have done the same thing. But I wasn’t in his shoes. I was the freelancer, and I didn’t like the way we were being treated. I’d worked with Jim a long time and I really didn’t want to come to loggerheads with him. So, I took back all three plots, tore up the vouchers, and stepped away from the book. I figured, better to leave Cap on an up note with the 40th anniversary issue.
And about the storyline that would have been after #255:
“That was going to be our Red Skull trilogy. After we left Cap, I toyed with the idea of turning the story into a graphic novel. But later writers did some things with the Skull that would have invalidated the story. A couple of years ago, there was some talk of having John and me revisit the story as a special project – sort of "What if Roger and John hadn’t left Captain America?" But then John started having major creative differences with Marvel. I guess the story will have to remain "The One that Got Away." For now, at least. I never say never.”

Friday, June 5, 2009

X-Men: Inferno HC

Just received this wonderful hardcover this week. 

From the solicitation blurb:
The match is struck as the enigmatic geneticist Mr. Sinister and the demon-lord N’astirh set their respective master plans in motion — both centered around one woman: Madelyne Pryor, wife of Scott Summers, the X-Man called Cyclops.

The flame is fanned as Sinister’s agents, the Marauders, attack Madelyne’s protectors in the X-Men, while a horde of N’astirh’s demons prey upon the helpless, horrified populace of New York City.

The inferno burns as Madelyne strikes her own bargain with N’astirh, and as the Goblin Queen, threatens to cast a spell that would render the entire earth a hellish wasteland where demons rule.

And the sacrifice necessary is none other than her own innocent child, Nathan Christopher Summers! It’s the X-Men, X-Factor, and the New Mutants in one of their most harrowing ordeals ever, with the fate of entire dimensions hanging in the balance — and the price for victory perhaps higher than any of them can bear

It collects:
  • X-Factor #33-40
  • X-Terminators #1-4
  • Uncanny X-Men #239-243
  • New Mutants #71-73 and 
  • X-Factor Annual #4.

All in all, a great HC book. The binding is a really nice sown binding. The gutters are good. And the book lies nice and flat no matter where you are in the book. The recolouring looks great. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

1982 - The Death of Captain Marvel

The Death of Captain Marvel Graphic Novel
Writer/Artist: Jim Starlin

The Death of Captain Marvel was Marvel Comics' first graphic novel and its success would be followed by a series that would define that graphic format. Every once and a while, you come across a comic that you can proudly endorse as the reason you still read comic books. The Death of Captain Marvel is one of these.

Superhero deaths can be seen as easily been undone or gimmicky. For example, how often does a recurring villain return from the grave? Or an implied death lead to a sales bump. These deaths are usually meaningless as the reader knows that the character is too valuable to the comic company and they'll find some way to bring him back.

However, in this case, Starlin delivers on the title of this work and to this day, Marvel has seen fit to keep him among the dead. (That is, if you ignore the recent "return" of Captain Marvel during the Secret Invasion storyline.)

"I’d done Captain Marvel and then Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart and some others worked on it and the sales had gone down. It finally came to be cancelled so they thought “Well, let’s just kill him off” and bring in the Captain Marvel that eventually became Photon. So they asked me if I’d kill him off. And I said “OK”. This was a deal. I was trying to get Dreadstar happening and part of the deal was that I’d do the graphic novel and then Dreadstar. So the Death Of Captain Marvel was a side-deal for me and I figured I’d just knock it out and have him blown up in an explosion like dozens of times before, but as I kept doing it I kept thinking “I don’t want to do this story, these stories are already done, done to death. The Doom Patrol died this way, he died this way, characters die and they usually die in explosions.” And my father, at that point, was suffering from cancer. Eventually he succumbed to it. So, sort of a way for me to work out my feelings about his death was to write about it.

- interview with Daniel Best for Adelaide Comics and Books

Captain Marvel and Elysius (his wife) retire to Titan in the company of Mentor and Eros. He was helping Mentor and Eros fend off a few of Thanos' dedicated worshipers when his health began to deteriorate. Isaac, Titan's computer system, confirmed that he had cancer. He was exposed to a deadly biological cancer-causing agent during a recent battle with Nitro. His Nega-bands had kept the disease at bay, but the cancer had mutated.

The mutated cancer resisted all conventional treatments and Mar-Vell accepted his fate. Friends from Earth made a special trip including Rick Jones, the Avengers and the Thing. The Skrull general Zedrao made an appearance and awarded Mar-Vell with a Skrull Medal of Valor in respect to a worthy enemy. The Kree, however, joyfully rejoiced at their traitor's condition. Thanos returns from the dead, to "escort" Mar-Vell into death's embrace.

Starlin reminds us that dying is a part of life and that death even happens to costumed heroes. The story was inspired by the death of Jim Starlin's own father who also died from cancer. There's a strong personal feeling imparted in this story and conveys what he's learned having gone through it himself.

In terms of Captain Marvel's character, Starlin focuses on Mar-Vell's inner conflict in that a warrior such as himself must meet death in bed. Mar-Vell's struggle and gradual acceptance of his fate is endearing.

"The serenity of his passing conveys a staggering emotional impact as the story deftly treads the fine line between the trivial and the over-dramatized. Expressive pencils and inks by Starlin at his peak contribute to one of the finest comic books ever produced."

- The Slings and Arrows Comic Guide

Look for it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

1984 - Iceman

Iceman #1-4 (December 1984 - June 1985)
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Penciller: Paul Kupperberg
Inker: Mike Gustovich

I noticed that Marvel was putting out a few limited series starring core characters from the Defenders and picked up the Iceman series. I was disappointed. Kupperberg's art was too cartoonish and lacked finish. His figures are disproportionate and always seems to be caught in awkward positions. Gustovich's inks were heavy and loose, and did nothing to embellish Kupperberg's weak pencils, especially the faces. The backgrounds were almost nonexistent.

You can tell what DeMatteis wanted pull off, but he just doesn't do it. Basically, Iceman learns an important lesson as he saves the universe and helps Mirage and Oblivion resolve their differences. Mirage and Oblivion are cardboard characters with almost omnipotent powers. Iceman lacked a character with which to interact. It seemed almost like a one man play. The villains White Light, Idiot, and Kali were boring, disposable characters. The Idiot's dialog was incredible annoying.

The covers by Mike Zeck are probably the most redeemable features of this series.


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