A special thanks to Stephen Gurr who provided me with this great write-up on the Marvel Fanfare: Strange Tales TPB.
This 249-page volume, published in 2008, retailed for $24.99 and collects Marvel Fanfare 1-7 from 1982 and 1983. I found it at my local Books A Million for the low-low sale price of $9.99 and scooped it up.
There are three things this book has going for it: Michael Golden, Michael Golden and Michael Golden.
His two-part Savage Land story in issues 1 and 2 amounts to a mere 35 pages, but they are 35 pages of some of the most beautifully-rendered illustrations in all of Marvel Comics of the 80s. This story and Golden's Avengers Annual No. 10 (also written by Chris Claremont) represent to me the pinnacle of his comic book work.
Golden not only provides the covers and all his own inks, but colors the pages as well. In my opinion, no one has ever drawn Spider-Man better. Also making appearances are The Angel and Ka-Zar.
The story by Claremont, involving Sauron and the Savage Land Mutates, is only so-so. Spider-Man gets transformed into an ugly tarantula-like creature, which is drawn suitably horrific by Golden. The story seems like a rehash of the classic Neal Adams Savage Land run in X-Men.
After the Golden issues, it's pretty much downhill. We have a short back-up Daredevil story drawn by Paul Smith in some of his earliest Marvel work; his style bears only slight similarities to his later X-Men run.
Dave Cockrum does his usual workmanlike job picking up the story in issue 3, which brings the X-Men into the story, and Paul Smith carries it over into issue 4 with some sporadic flashes of the beautiful simplicity he would bring to the regular X-Men title shortly afterward.
I have to admit I did not read much of issues 5 and 6. I'm just not a big fan of Doctor Strange, and even the Marshall Rogers/P. Craig Russell art failed to win me over.
Now, for my criticisms: The back-up features in the first year or so of Marvel Fanfare were underwhelming, to say the least. There are some plain awful stories involving the FF, Captain America, and especially the Hulk.
As I understand it, when this title was started, it was meant to showcase the premiere talent in the business with improved printing quality for the artwork. But I'm assuming that with the reality of publishing deadlines and artists who were notoriously slow to meet them, that concept didn't last long.
Editor Al Milgrom was stuck with filling the pages with "try-out" stories written and drawn by unknown talent, many of whom would rightfully remain unknown. The art for the Hulk piece is just amateurish. The stories featuring the FF, Cap and Hawkeye aren't much better.
There are a few more small Golden stories, featuring Dethlok and Iron Man, but he provides pencils or breakdowns only and they don't shine like most of his stuff of this era.
I would say this book is worth a purchase just for the first two Golden issues, with the bonus of some occasionally-nifty Paul Smith art mixed in. Fans of Doctor Strange may also dig it.
Marvel Fanfare seemed to always be a mixed bag, sometimes showcasing great talents like John Byrne and Frank Miller, but more often featuring work by writers and artists who would never make a real mark in the business.
I can't help feeling this title never lived up to its original billing.
It's also worth noting that the person who did the re-coloring job on Michael Golden's classic cover for Marvel Fanfare #1 flubbed the job for the cover of the TPB! See if you can spot the mistake...