Thursday, February 28, 2013

1981 - Anatomy of a cover - Defenders #94

1990 - Mike Mignola's Ghost Rider

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Spider-Man characters mash-up with the Simpsons

The Star Brand Returns!

Avengers #8

1986 - 1-on-1 Adventure Gamebooks

These 1-on-1 Gamebooks were released in sets of two boxed books. The idea was to have two players reading each book at the same time and would encounter each other and battle it out. Only 10 of the 11 books were published and there were only 2 Marvel Super Heroes books of the 10.
Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Gamebooks, based on the popular Marvel Super Heroes roleplaying game, allows you to play as your favorite hero and battle some of the vilest villains in the Marvel Universe. One-on-One allows you play as either the hero or the villain. Includes two gaming books. Softcover (2 vollumes with Slipcase), 5-in. x 7 1/2-in., 320 pages (2 Volumes), B&W. Cover price $5.95.
For more details, check out:  Demian's game book web page

Daredevil/Kingpin - The King Takes a Dare (1987)

Fantastic Four/Doctor Doom - The Doomsday Device (1986)

Doctor Strange/The High Priest - Prisoner of Pharaoh's Tomb (unpublished)

Starfox by Jim Starlin

For Starfox's entry in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe:

Monday, February 25, 2013

Simonson's Hulk (and Thor too!)

Grabbed from the Walt Simonson Appreciation Society Facebook page:


Iron Man Omnibus has shipped!

Looking forward to getting this lovely book dropped on my doorstep tomorrow... weighting in at just over 5 pounds... Not too keen on the logo, wish they would have gone with the classic one.

Up-and-coming talents David Michelinie, Bob Layton and John Romita Jr. joined forces to take on Marvel's Golden Avenger in 1978 - and captured lighting in a bottle! Now, their history-making first run is collected in one massive volume! From Tony Stark's taboo-shattering struggle with alcoholism to Iron Man's legendary clash with Dr. Doom during King Arthur's time, this one's got it all - including Justin Hammer's introduction; a brutal battle against the Hulk; the menaces of Madame Masque, the Melter, Blizzard, Whiplash, the Dreadnoughts, the Titanium Man and more; and the debut of Tony's outer-space and stealth armors!

COLLECTING: Iron Man (1968) 115-157

Although I like this one, better than the direct market one...

I'll have pics up tomorrow...

1984 - Uncanny X-Men #186 "Lifedeath"

Uncanny X-Men #186
October 1984
Writers - Chris Claremont 
   with plot assist by Barry Windsor-Smith
Artists - Barry Windsor-Smith/Terry Austin

"Once upon a time, there was a woman who could fly."

Chris Claremont teamed up with Barry Windsor-Smith in 1984 for a double-sized issue of Uncanny X-Men. The art was a jarring break from the usual John Romita Jr. art.

However, this collaborative effort generated a sequel in Uncanny X-Men #198 "Lifedeath II" and a couple of other stand-alone stories in Uncanny X-Men #205 (which focused on Wolverine) and Uncanny X-Men #214.

This story was as elusive as its title "Lifedeath". "Lifedeath" is not a real word, but a mash-up of two opposed themes. These themes can be seen from several conflicting points-of-view, Storm’s and Forge’s. Storm had been stripped of her mutant powers and Forge was the mutant genius responsible for the weapon that stole her powers.

Their encounters were awkward, displaying their unfamiliarity with love and their need to deal with the attraction they felt for each other.

The awkwardness of a new relationship was in full display as Forge stumbled on every opportunity Storm gave him. Instead of emotionally investing himself, he doesn't say a word, doesn't try to understand or sympathize, and withdrew.

Storm felt she was living dead without her powers, living a “lifedeath”. Forge wanted her to emerge from this traumatized state, an emotional death, to living her new reality. The beauty of that conflict was that in between it was their love.

Driven by his guilt, Forge tried to help Storm readjust to her life without powers. But, she resisted his efforts. "This is not life, Forge, merely existence -- A shadow of what was. To believe otherwise is but the cruelest of deceptions." "I won't accept that. And now you've got to walk, like everybody else. The goddess has become just plain folks."

Forge's own troubled past surfaced in their interactions and he wanted to teach Storm the lessons that helped him recover. "With life, there are always options, possibilities -- hope. You never know what'll happen next -- for better or worse. Death may be certain, but it's also final. Once done, it's done -- there're no second thoughts, no going back." That early attraction they felt for each other was abruptly killed when Storm learned that Forge was responsible for her de-powered state.

“Lifedeath” is about the death of a dream, Storm's dream. But, it's also about the birth of hope, of hope for a future worth living for. As Storm said: "My feet may never leave the ground... but someday, I shall learn to fly again!"

Claremont explained his collaboration with Windsor-Smith (Amazing Heroes #75, July 1985):
"[Barry] had written long involved notes on the characterization, on aspects of the relationship between Storm and Forge, on how he might handle scenes. He was commenting on things that I had written in terms of the plot, making suggestions, all of which were germane, fascinating, interesting – and used, for the most part."

Re-reading this issue, I was reminded how I didn't like Barry Windsor-Smith's take on Storm. I loved the softer Storm drawn by Paul Smith and felt that Barry's Storm was too masculine. Although, there are a few stunning panels where I felt Barry actually got Storm right, he overall effort is impressive. I realized was how well Smith used body language. The emotional impact of a scene, whether it was tender moment or a moment of anger or an argument, you can see how it amplified the moment.

“Lifedeath” was a conflict between two characters with no real external forces, so there was a lot of Storm and Forge moving around, posturing, displaying their emotions while engaging in discussions. Glynnis Oliver's lavish colours and Terry Austin's lovely inks enhanced the beauty of Smith's work.

This memorable book is worth your time to track down. It's also available in the X-Men: Lifedeath Marvel Premier Edition.

# # #

- "The Uncanny" part of the logo was left off for this issue. I'm assuming it allowed more of Barry's art to show through

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Saturday, February 23, 2013

"Marvel Now-ish"

Have a read of Sequart's take on Marvel current direction in Marvel Now-ish.

"Marvel, on the other hand, pretty much admitted defeat in trying to expand their audience beyond the core super-hero fans. But even new titles and characters are given a link to an already established brand name..."

"This reeks of desperation – they basically admit to themselves that House of Ideas ™ has no new ones."

"Despite putting its people on the same-old-concepts, one cannot deny that Marvel employs some of the better writers and artists on the market; they have creators with extremely distinct voices that, thankfully, are not stifled by the weight of the titles they work on. One could easily argue about the quality of the titles Marvel produces nowadays (and certainly most of them will end up on my shelf) but not with their distinctness."

"There’s a sense of uniqueness to Marvel’s output. DC’s latest work seems, more and more, to be the result of committee"

Your thoughts? I find the lack of continuity in the Marvel titles distracting. While I love the creative direction of some of the Marvel books, I feel that they don't mesh well together. For example, Captain America is off in the Z-Dimension, but at the same time is being mind-controlled by the Illuminati and then leads the defence of the Earth against an alien attack. That's where the editorial control is lacking.

There's no overall attempt to help guide new readers, let alone old ones. If someone loved the Avengers movie, how the hell are they supposed to go into a comic book store and figure out which Avengers title to pick up. I can just imagine the look on their face as the comic book store guy breaks down all the Avengers titles. A great book like Fraction's Hawkeye is getting overlooked amid all the Avengers titles.

And then on the cosmic side, Marvel is actually doing a reboot of Star-Lord, Nova, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. This effort confuses me as the rest of the Marvel Universe isn't undergoing a reboot, so the inner fanboy in me struggles to reconcile past continuity. I'm also frustrated as I loved Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's run on Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy and I feel that this reboot wipes out the great run they had.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

1981: The Defenders Go Demonic Coda: All Bad Things Do Come To An End

By Jef Willemsen (

Being a superhero during the silver age must have been rough. No matter how big your adventures, you were expected back on the job the next day, chipper as can be. DeMatteis’ Defenders broke with that tradition in favor of realism.

Blame the zeitgeist. 1981 proved a watershed year for Marvel’s writers fleshing out their characters by having them reflect on how their previous adventures affected them. A prime example was Chris Claremont’s 1981 Avengers Annual.

Famous for introducing Rogue, but also controversial for shedding new light on the events of Avengers # 200, in which Ms. Marvel gave birth to Marcus Immortus, a man she fell head over heels in love with and decided to leave for Limbo with him. As Claremont pointed out, Marcus had been little more than a rapist who had both violated and mind controlled her while the Avengers cheered them on. Ouch.

J.M. DeMatteis used issue # 101 of The Defenders to reflect as well, showing how the team had emerged from their war with the Six Fingered Hand experiencing severe discomfort and depression. Sure, they had won, but the conflict had left them demoralized and even emotionally scarred. A fact the childlike Hulk had considerable difficulty grasping, thereby acting like a perfect intermediary for both inexperienced, young fans and readers new to the book…

“Why does everyone act like something bad happened? We beat devils, didn’t we? World is safe, isn’t it?”

While the Hulk wasn’t too wrong, the loss of Daimon and the corruption of Hellcat weighed heavily on the others… Let alone the fact Doctor Strange was suckered in and almost doomed Earth. Morale was at an all time low, which was what DeMatteis had intended.

After Namor, Hulk and Nighthawk left the pity party, the remaining members made their own plans for the rest of the night. While Gargoyle, Hellcat and Valkyrie decided to visit Patsy’s injured housekeeper Dolly Donahue in the hospital, Doctor Strange and Clea accompanied the Silver Surfer on a rather unique road trip.

Their visit to Dolly takes Hellcat, Valkyrie and Gargoyle straight to the pediatric oncology ward where the old lady spends her time reading to the children. Hellcat was still distraught over being a spawn of the devil ├índ losing her lover who might actually be her half brother. Sobbing away, Patsy got a bit of a reality check…

Having a young girl, clearly suffering from cancer, took center stage in a Comics Code approved title was certainly unique at the time… Especially considering it would take another year or so before Jim Starlin’s Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel would bring the disease into comics. According to DeMatteis, the inclusion of Serina went off without a hitch:

“There was no sign of trepidation from editorial at all.  One of the best things about Defenders is that it wasn’t a high-profile book.  We were off in a corner and I could get as weird and personal as I wanted to without worrying about stepping on anyone’s toes.”

And while Patsy received an ever so gentle reminder that hope was all one needs for a precious and magical life, Doctor Strange, Clea and the Surfer reached their destination and a remarkable multi page scene unfolded…

Setting down in a small African community that had accepted Norrin Rad as one of their own, the locals welcomed their other two supernatural guests by preparing a feast in their honor.

“The doors of the soul do indeed fling open as Doctor Strange and Clea are enveloped in the unfettered, unconditional love that exists between the Silver Surfer and his adopted tribe.”
Forgiving DeMatteis that rather flowery bit of exposition, the simple yet thoroughly joyful rituals and festivities had an obvious effect on Strange.

A profound moment of genuine bliss without repercussion is rare in superhero comics. So, seeing Doctor Strange and Clea throw caution to the wind and, however briefly, forgetting their many, many problems was heart-warming to say the least. And that’s even before the Silver Surfer offered up a nugget or two of wisdom from his unique perspective.

While his dialogue almost made it schmaltzy, DeMatteis’ intended message was crystal clear: no matter who or where you are world, inherent goodness can be found everywhere, if you’re only willing to look for it. An encouraging message, one that spread to all of the Defenders as Devil Slayer discovered when he returned to Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum and found the entire team hanging out on the front steps…

After this opening arc, DeMatteis wrote the title for over two years, delivering several other memorable story lines before shifting the book into the New Defenders. Yet, his initial Six Fingered Hand storyline remained a remarkably early high point. A meticulously, well-constructed, and engaging story with plenty of twists and turns, the Six Fingered Hand Saga has easily withstood the test of time and should have been released in trade paperback ages ago.

Or, as DeMatteis himself stated when asked by this blog how he feels about the Defenders some 30+ years on:

“Looking back I see my younger self:  a writer, with a lot to learn, who poured his heart and soul, every bit of passion he had, into that series.  Defenders was my training ground, a way to explore telling more personal stories in the commercial context of the Marvel Universe.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but writing Defenders got me ready for ‘Moonshadow’ and the other creator-owned, personal projects I’ve done over the years.”
“Having come a long way as a writer, when I read these stories I see all the warts, all the stumbles, all the errors DeMatteis the Younger made; but I also see how much I cared about that book.  And what a good time I had working with Don Perlin.  So I look back on my Defenders days with great fondness.”

And the morning light never seemed brighter indeed…                                                            

Interview with J.M. DeMatteis

You might have already seen Jef's posts on the 1981 Defenders. We thought it would be fun to post up Jef's full interview with J.M. DeMatteis.

Jef: How and when were you approached and persuaded to take over the Defenders?  What was the team’s appeal for you at the time?

JMD: I’d always been a big fan of the series—especially the Steve Gerber era—because of it’s barrier-crashing, “anything goes” sensibility.  That said, I certainly didn’t lobby for the gig—Ed Hannigan was writing the book at the time and doing a fine job of it—so I was very surprised when I walked into Jim Shooter’s office one day and he told me I was taking over Defenders:  “Because,” he said, “I know you like Doctor Strange.”  Which is true:  I love Doctor Strange!

Jef: A propos your writing style at the time: was the Six Fingered Hand arc all planned out in advance or did the editor allow a certain amount of improvisation as you went along?

JMD: Even when you’ve got plans and plans and more plans, there’s always improvisation involved; and, back then, being a newbie still finding his way in the business, there was plenty of improvisation going on.  I had a general sense of the story and where I wanted it to go, but it was no carefully planned out epic.  I still love to write that way:  You have your destination in mind, your general themes and character arcs, but you remain open to happy accidents and spontaneous creativity.  The best stories write themselves and, in order for that to happen, you’ve got to get yourself—and your carefully-laid plans—out of the way.  My editor, Al Milgrom, was a great guy who allowed me to follow my story yet was always there to backstop me if I was going off the rails,

Jef: Don Perlin was the artist during your entire run. Could you briefly describe your working relationship? Did you provide full scripts or was it the brief plot summary aka ‘classic Marvel style’? And: did he offer any suggestions or input on the stories?

JMD: By the 80’s the Marvel plot-first style wan’t a “brief plot summary”:  plots were, for the most part, lengthy and detailed.  There was still room for the artist to pace and play with the story but the writer was in firm control of the material.

Don Perlin was one of the nicest people, and hardest working artists, I’ve ever worked with.  He was passionate about the book and about my stories and put everything he had into it.  More than that, he was willing to experiment, leave his comfort zone and grow as an artist—which he really did throughout our run.  I loved working with him.

As I recall, we spoke on the phone regularly and discussed the stories; but, for the most part, he left the plotting to me and concentrated on the visual interpretations.  I’m sure he had suggestions along the way (and I think there were a few issues he co-plotted, too) and I was always open to them.

Jef: What were some of your initial feelings about the team (Strange, Hulk, Valkyrie, Nighthawk, Clea and Hellcat) at the time? Who did you feel most comfortable with?

JMD: My motto was:  the more obscure the characters, the better.  That gave me room to really push characterization and make them my own.  That’s one of the reasons you saw characters like Devil Slayer and Son of Satan come into the book.  You didn’t have to worry about anyone else complaining about their evolution; you could do what you wanted.

That said, I liked the group I was handed at the start—especially Doc Strange.  The only one I wasn’t all that comfortable with, as I recall, was the Hulk.  He was phased out along the way.  I liked the character, but he didn’t seem to fit with my Defenders.

Jef: Why paralyzed Nighthawk? It seemed to come out of left field at the time, despite its tying into established early Defenders continuity. And, considering you’d have him sacrifice his life in # 106, is it unfair to say you had it in for poor ol’ Kyle Richmond?

JMD: I think I was playing to his name:  Nighthawk.  Thus he only functioned at night.  During the day he was paralyzed and when the sun went down he came alive.  I thought it was a fun idea.  I still do.  Whether I executed it well is another story!  As for “having it in for him”—no, I thought Kyle Richmond was an interesting character and I was just following where he, and the stories, led me.

Jef: How did you come up with the concept of the Six Fingered Hand, and how did you flesh out the six demons? With names like Avarrish (avarice), Hyppokri (hypocrisy) and Unnthinkk (ignorance), can it be considered an homage to DC’s Captain Marvel and his Seven Deadly Sins?

JMD: No Captain Marvel connection whatsovever.  As for where the concept came from—to be honest, I don’t recall; beyond the idea that I wanted to take the book in a supernatural direction and a six-fingered hand was a creepy concept.

Jef: What prompted Hellcat's reveal as Satan's daughter? It was played up as a big deal during the Six Fingered arc, while a year and a half down the road you have Patsy learn Satan lied about it after all. While that is not uncommon for the lord of lies, from a story perspective it does feel like a bit of a cheat. What's the real story behind this bait 'n switch?

It wasn’t a cheat for me.  It was a way to take Patsy down an intense, character-revealing road; a way to dig deeper into her character, to turn her relationship with Hellstrom on its head, and a perfect piece of manipulation of Satan’s part.  Again, you can fault the execution—I was a young writer, still learning my craft—but I don’t see it as a cheat at all.

Jef: Certainly during the early 80s, the character of Isaac Christiaans the Gargoyle was more than a little unusual. What inspired the notion of an elderly gentleman/ mystic/worrywart locked in the form of an immortal demon?

JMD: It was just one of those ideas that popped into my head.  This horrific, demonic figure that’s really this sweet, gentle old man.  Don P came up with a great design for the character and, as the storyline progressed, Gargoyle became more and more important to the team.  I loved that character; in fact the Gargoyle mini-series I did with Mark Badger remains one of my favorite projects out of all the stories I’ve done for mainstream Marvel.

Jef: In retrospect, isn’t the character of the Gargoyle a prime example of quintessential DeMatteis characterization? Isaac Christiaans starts out as a basically noble, well meaning character that falls prey to his own human fallibilities, in the end becoming, however cruelly that what he loathes the most?  One might see shades of Vermin, Kraven the Hunter and Harry Osborn during the 1990s ‘Child Within’ arc?

JMD: Yes, up to a point.  But Isaac, after giving in to temptation, almost instantly regrets his fall and, from then on, remains the same decent and compassionate man he was before.  The tension between the horrific outer shell and the sweet person beneath it is what I love about the character.  I don’t think he’s as dark as Kraven or Vermin.

Jef: What urged you to bring in the relatively unknown character Devil Slayer? Certainly at the time, a former Vietnam vet turned hired killer/demon vanquisher couldn’t possibly have been Comics Code Approved? Did his inclusion go off without a hitch, or did you have to argue to get him in?

JMD: No arguments at all.  Milgrom, as noted, let me follow my muses where they led.  Devil-Slayer had been used in Defenders before and, being another obscure character with a fascinating back-story (war vet, hit-man, demon-hunter), I thought he was ripe for exploration.  The story in Defenders #110, “Hunger,” is one of my favorites of my run.

Jef: Speaking of the Code… The Six-Fingered Hand empowered  David Kessler to become the healing guru known as 'the messiah'… An obvious Jesus Christ analogy if ever there was one. Back in the 70s, Tony Isabella caught considerable flack when he introduced Ghost Rider to ‘The Friend’ who for all intents and purposes was Christ as well. Did you receive any comments on this new ‘son of God’?

JMD: I didn’t see David Kessler as a Jesus stand-in.  He was a cult leader, a spiritual figure, but he was essentially a flawed human like the rest of us,

Jef: In issue # 100, Hellcat shortly returns to her demonic form from # 94. Was it always your intention to revert Patsy back to normal, or did you consider exploring the notion of having a true ‘hell cat' on the team?

JMD: I don’t remember!  I’m sure I played with every outcome in my mind.

Jef: Defenders #101 feels like a coda, with the Defenders in need of spiritual renewing. Val, Patsy and Isaac’s visiting Dolly in a hospital’s cancer ward was particularly striking. Jim Starlin’s 1982 graphic novel The Death of Captain Marvel  is generally considered to be the first Marvel publication dealing with the disease head on, yet Defenders  # 101 came out a year earlier and was even more graphic in its depiction of the illness. Was there any in house trepidation about featuring a young, bald cancer patient?

JMD: Again, no trepidation at all.  One of the best things about Defenders is that it wasn’t a high-profile book.  We were off in a corner and I could get as weird and personal as I wanted to without worrying about stepping on anyone’s toes.  And, yes, that story was very much intended as a kind of spiritual cleansing after the literal hell the team went through in the Six-Fingered hand story.

Jef: With the Six Fingered Hand arc over 30 years old, how do you look back on it? Were you satisfied with it then and has it stood up to the test of time?

JMD: I have no idea if it’s stood the test of time. I’m the last person who’d know!  Looking back I see my younger self:  a writer, with a lot to learn, who poured his heart and soul, every bit of passion he had, into that series.  Defenders was my training ground, a way to explore telling more personal stories in the commercial context of the Marvel Universe. I didn’t realize it at the time, but writing Defenders got me ready for Moonshadow and the other creator-owned, personal projects I’ve done over the years.

Having come a long way as a writer, when I read these stories I see all the warts, all the stumbles, all the errors DeMatteis the Younger made; but I also see how much I cared about that book.  And what a good time I had working with Don Perlin.  So I look back on my Defenders days with great fondness.

1979 - Simonson's Battlestar Galactica

(Issue #18 was actually drawn by Michael Golden.)


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