Tuesday, June 12, 2018

When Editors Step Out


During his run on Fantastic Four, artist John Byrne gave the book's readers a healthy assortment of noteworthy issue covers that were representative of the adventures they'd come to expect from Marvel's premiere super-team. It's no exaggeration that during the early 1980s, Byrne was riding a wave of popularity for his work on the mag--and as a triple threat of being the book's writer, artist, and inker for much of his stay, it's fair to say that he certainly deserved the accolades. Yet since no artist bats 1,000 with every piece of work, and even Jack Kirby and other artists at times were asked to come up with a different concept for a cover rather than going with their original submission, there were some rather unusual cover choices by Byrne that nevertheless still made the cut and were given the green light by the book's revolving door of editors (who were presumably the ones who had to sign off on any cover art which would bear the responsibility for selling the issue).

Here are a few such covers that caught my eye--with the editor for each issue duly noted, since the issue in question couldn't have made it to your local retailer without their approval. To Byrne's credit, there aren't really that many covers to choose from, though perhaps you'll have your own suggestions on this topic.

To begin with--well, gosh, we might as well get this one out of the way:

Issue 238
Editor: Jim Salicrup




I've previously touched on my sentiments on this cover briefly: "...with Byrne putting himself on the cover, it literally illustrated his growing sense of self-importance at now being the definitive FF writer/artist. It was unnerving to see, to say the least." At only seven issues into his run on the book, it's perhaps too early in the game for its new writer to flirt with this level of exposure--and breaking the fourth wall, at that. That aside, the "cameo" of the FF, worked up over a villain who doesn't appear in the story, accomplishes next to nothing in terms of enticing the reader to pick up the issue, aside from sheer curiosity.


Issue 263
Editor: Bob Budiansky


At a glance, we can tell that the Thing is fighting his way through flaming wreckage in order to reach the Human Torch--who, of all people, wouldn't be in any danger from the heat and flames that Byrne makes such a prominent part of this dramatic image, as Ben himself attests.



So perhaps the cover would be better served by an image that is more convincing as to what exactly has happened to put the Torch in danger? Or at least supplementing the image with a caption that replaces Ben's exclamation with something that reaches out to the reader--maybe something alone the lines of "Target: The Torch!"


Issue 253
Editor: Al Milgrom


Symbolically speaking, it would seem here that the FF are under the control of powerful aliens, which isn't at all the case in the story. And if my eyes aren't playing tricks on me, they also appear to be trapped in the strangely inflated fabric of their own uniforms, which probably wasn't the impression that Byrne was trying to get across. I can at least make a guess as to what the cross-out "energy" lines depicted in the background might represent:  the futility of the search for a new world conducted by the Kestorians, fleeing their world after a planetary disaster and searching in vain for the new planet on which they were to settle, the coordinates of which were lost when the navigation core of their vast ship of migration was damaged. As to the rest... well, it's a cover that begs for Milgrom to have asked, "So, John--exactly what are you going for with these heads of the FF trapped in blue Play-doh?"


Issues 245 & 287
Editors: Jim Salicrup and Michael Carlin (respectively)


Two covers, over forty issues apart, which take the same approach: its characters in dire straits, facing something or someone that alarms and even frightens them to some degree. This time there are captions a'plenty, even one which shamelessly rides the coattails of work by Arthur C. Clarke. Salicrup is likely a happy camper since it's made reasonably clear that the Invisible Girl's foe who appears to have her at their mercy has something to do with her son. As for Carlin's head-scratcher--will anyone walking by this issue in a store really care what Peggy McArthur, completely unfamiliar to any reader, has to do with anything, when even the issue's cover artist hasn't bothered with providing visual context? It's also telling that Dr. Doom's modest portrait in the background, as well as the revelation that Peggy's next move will determine the fate of the FF, are needed to bolster this character's full-page presentation.


Issue 267
Editor: Bob Budiansky


Thanks to the caption, we at least know that these shadowy extensions belong to Doc Ock--but without the villain himself present to enhance the danger to Reed (with maybe a word balloon or two from Ock, whose threats are second to none), there seems to be little to no marketing to speak of here, aside from Reed being stretched every which way (which he tends to do anyway). Let's see how something like this was handled old school in 1970, courtesy of John Romita:


Very little variation in the wording of the caption announcing the identity of Ock, but the end result represents a world of difference between these covers.


Issue 254
Editor: Al Milgrom


Whoever the FF are grappling with appear to be unremarkable, particularly if they're focusing on shredding the Thing's garment; and though it appears to be four against four here, I'm not too worried about the FF's chances. But how tiny the FF--the primary draw of this mag--appear to be, on a cover that has so much of its space wasted by the cloak of this story's mysterious antagonist. Shouldn't the FF be facing off against that character, instead of four unnamed assailants?




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can't be 100% certain but I think the cover where the Thing rushes into the burning wreckage was my final Marvel comic before abandoning comics - until I returned to the Marvel fold in 2007 of course :)

But I definitely remember the Spidey/Doc Ock cover - or rather I remember the UK version, "Spider-Man Comics Weekly" No. 113 from April 1975. It was my very first encounter with Doctor Octopus!

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