Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Your Referee For This Issue's Bout: Stephen Strange

Before there was Marvel's Greatest Comics, there was Marvel Collectors' Item Classics, a reprint mag begun in 1965 which eventually became MGC after a 4-year run. MCIC, like MGC, reprinted earlier Fantastic Four stories; but it also supplied reprinted material from three other titles, a format which MGC would mimic only for its first five issues before shifting exclusively to the FF.

The mag's title was somewhat ostentatious, if not downright misleading, since the stories were for the most part reprinted in sequence, and of course a majority of them didn't merit being tagged as collectors' items. Whether it was for that reason or another, the masthead was changed to something a little less misleading but equally presumptuous; yet for sheer eye-catching ability, the MGIC masthead was arguably the more impressive of the two:

As with the MGC title, MCIC mostly stayed with the Jack Kirby cover art of the original FF issue--yet on occasion, readers of MGC would be treated to a different cover by another artist. The treat to be found in both titles was to come across the rare occasion where Kirby would be assigned to redesign his own cover--not an uncommon occurrence before an issue's final cover had been decided upon, but quite a head-turner when taking place five years after the fact, which was the treatment given the reprint of Fantastic Four #27:

The story itself is also a head-turner, where Sue finally makes her romantic intentions known to the Sub-Mariner, ending the three-way question mark on the matter involving Sue, Namor, and Reed that had been a hook for readers for some time.

At first glance, there's little of Kirby's original design that needs improving upon, as thick as it is with dramatic confrontation and the promise of this situation between the three being escalated, as well as hopefully settled once and for all. On the MCIC cover, Kirby's main layout stays intact for the most part, with obvious differences that bring the look of the characters up to date with their appearances in 1969 (where they're currently involved with Maximus and the other Inhumans). A difference in inking style is also likely at work, between Chic Stone on the original cover and John Verpoorten on the reprint.

Since the characters are just as prominent on the newer cover as they are on the original, if not more so, and with the corner box now twice the length it originally was, there's not as much room available for the blazing "Search for the Sub-Mariner!" caption--and so it gets downsized, with a blurb that makes mention of the Fantastic Four added to help draw attention to it, while Dr. Strange will have to be satisfied with the billing he receives with Iron Man. Despite being in the background, Strange still stands out as one of the characters who receives a more contemporary look, as well as his coloring adjusted to indicate a more vital role to the story than that of his astral self in the original.  (Though he still comes across looking like a referee!)

In terms of vitality, Namor, Reed, and the Thing all receive attention in that respect--particularly Ben, who looks positively puny standing behind Reed in the original, but who conforms to a truer interpretation of his size on the newer cover while avoiding the need to fit him into the picture in his entirety. Namor also stands out, his features more defined and the threat and intent he conveys coming across more clearly.

As for the cover's Atlantean background as well as the gradient coloring, they appear to have been deemed nonessential on the MCIC cover, which, given the character drama playing out in front of us, may very well be the case.

From FF #47, have a look at another depiction of Kirby's famous standoff layout.


Kid said...

I have very fond memories of MCIC - I think I've got most of them, as well as some MGC. Ah, those were the days.

david_b said...

Wow..., a tough comparison indeed.

While I love the original backgrounds and would plunk down $$$ for the VF+ original, I'd agree the inking and color corrections on the reprint are superior..

Geez, what a collectors' conundrum. Arrrg.

(I know, I know.., just buy 'em both..) :)

dbutler16 said...

I think that the characters are a lot more dynamic looking on the reprint, but the background is nicer on the original. Maybe they went with a bland background on the reprint to draw more attention to the characters.

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