Monday, May 29, 2023

Amazing Spider-Covers


While one of the pleasures of browsing a comic book store (or even a comic book display in a store's book or magazine section) is letting your eye wander across those eye-catching covers that are doing their best to entice you to take that issue home, the experience becomes even more of a reason to kill some time when the cover artist is being innovative not only with the character(s) portrayed but also with other elements of the overall image. (Bill Sienkiewicz's work might be one example that would come to mind in that respect.) And so having recently been preoccupied looking through various Spider-Man titles, I thought I'd pick out a few such issues to share which were especially eye-catching to me, where even the issue's masthead at times became collateral damage.

Let's start with what may be a surprising choice to some of you--artist/writer Ed Hannigan, whose work you may remember from The Defenders but whose covers from Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man in the early 1980s were at times groundbreaking in terms of bringing more artistry to a cover image than what you were expecting.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Jack Kirby's Secret City Saga, 1993


Though the subject of this post technically falls under the PPC's non-Marvel nods tag, it's hard to miss the telltale Marvel hallmarks on this comic book cover from industry newcomer Topps Comics:

Topps, a company founded in 1938, went on to become immensely profitable as a producer of sports-themed trading cards (primarily MLB) as well as other card collectibles (e.g., Star Wars, celebrities, films, etc.), in addition to chewing gum (Topps created the Bazooka comic-strip-in-the-package bubble gum introduced in 1947), candy, confectionery items, and, beginning in 1993, the Topps comic book division. It was here where the retired Jack Kirby licensed several designs and concepts he'd kept in his files which Topps came to collectively refer to as the "Kirbyverse," a series of eight titles published in April of 1993 which would culminate in Kirby's "Secret City Saga"--NightGlider being one of them.

As we can see, a sales pitch that would be right at home on a Marvel cover is in full swing for this issue, even featuring the familiar pet names of its creative team of Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, and Don Heck. Also now at Topps is former Marvel editor Jim Salicrup, who joined their comics division after departing Marvel in 1992 to become its Editor-In-Chief. Thomas, who had left Marvel in 1980, returned to the company in 1986 but was no longer exclusive, spreading his talent with work for DC and indie publishers (which included several titles for Topps Comics), while Gerry Conway's first and only work for the company would be the NightGlider title.

As for the character, we meet the young woman named (do I have to say it?) Glida as she awakens underneath the city of Chicago, 15,000 years from when she was placed into her slumber (which would have been approximately 13,000 BC).

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Woman Who Unmasked Spider-Man


In the fall of 1979, as he was beginning a teaching assistant position in the office of Dr. Morris Sloan, Chairman of Empire State University's Biophysics Department, Peter Parker met and became friends with Dr. Sloan's secretary--a young woman who, in time, began to see Peter as more than a friend, feelings which she struggled to see reciprocated.

As they began to spend more time together, the situation became complicated--just as it was with Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson--by Peter's responsibilities as Spider-Man, which all too often forced him to rush off from outings with this lady at a moment's notice, incidences which she couldn't help but take personally while Peter essentially treated those slights as something to be put on the back burner for the time being, if regretfully.

(And you've only seen the tip of this iceberg.)

We can debate the issue all day, and rightfully so, in regard to one person's hurt feelings weighed against what Peter accomplishes as Spider-Man in terms of a refusal to stand by while danger threatens innocent lives, while also factoring in the picture he presents to Sloan et al. as a slacker whose grades don't merit the efforts of those trying to help him. As for our distraught young lady, however, her storyline would continue without resolution for over three years before coming to a head in early 1983. Until then, however, readers were left to wonder: Just what did her writers have planned for her during this build-up? How long would she be presented as a casualty of unrequited love? Would these encounters between them come to constitute little more than a running joke?

A situation which has us running into yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

What was the story behind the strange saga of Debra Whitman?

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Spider-Man and Dr. Strange v. Dr. Doom Dormammu The Dread Dilby


It wouldn't surprise me if those of you who picked up the 1980 Amazing Spider-Man Annual found it to be something of a mixed bag--enjoyable, but falling short. There's the teaming of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, an unexpected chemistry between the characters which has worked out well in past stories but here is practically nonexistent. There's the prospect of the teaming of the two against the surprising pairing of Dr. Doom and the Dread Dormammu (the prospect, mind you). There's the artwork of Frank Miller, who is more than adept at laying out a story and who encloses this one in a clever and stylish theme comprised of passages from the Book of the Vishanti. And there's writer Denny O'Neil, who gets high marks from those within the industry and whose approach to a story I almost always find to be compelling, but whose scripting on Invincible Iron Man during the early 1980s I still recall as a trudging, enduring disappointment. In this issue, however, he turns in engaging work for nearly all of the featured characters. (O'Neil and Miller would also work on the succeeding year's ASM Annual.)

Combined, the issue's cover and its splash page give every indication of a page-turner story to look forward to:

But, caveat emptor. The cover caption, in particular.

In actuality, our two villains make little more than cameo appearances.
(You'd think the Vishanti would have divulged that up front.)

Monday, May 15, 2023

Heroines, Abandoned!


Wow! It's been 7½ years since we looked in on these ladies:

Launched in late 1972 to coincide with the women's liberation movement, widow Greer Grant, former animal specialist Shanna O'Hara, and nurses Linda Carter, Georgia Jenkins, and Christine Palmer hit the comic book spinner rack starring in, respectively, The Claws of the Cat, Shanna the She-Devil, and Night Nurse--and to further entice female comics readers, all were staffed at least in part with female creative talent.

Immediately assigned to bimonthly publication, however, all three books had only a brief run of 4-5 issues, their final covers pictured above. But how did they fare in quality and interest? Did these titles show any promise? And did they end on a high note, or simply run out of steam? Let's look back some fifty years to those issues for the answers.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Time Keeps On Slippin', Slippin', Slippin'...


Good grief, I thought in our senior years we became less busy.  Where does the time go? Wherever it's fled to, I'm running low on it this week, so I thought I'd once more raid my cache of graphics that I've stored from here and there and cobble together a little John Buscema goodness for you--mostly prior work that never saw the comics rack, with one or two homage prints thrown in.

Leading us off is someone else who appears to have run out of time--the Silver Surfer, who in an unpublished Buscema cover from his first series falls victim to none other than the heir of Frankenstein!

Monday, May 8, 2023

Todd McFarlane's Marvel Comics Work, 1988-91


From the sources I've seen on the subject, there appear to be mixed opinions among readers, and among those in the comics industry, on the work which Canadian artist/writer Todd McFarlane produced in his time at Marvel Comics during a nearly four-year period. Having been a reader throughout those years, I remember my interest waning not long after his new Spider-Man series was launched in the fall of 1990, a book he would produce as both artist and nascent writer. (Though it bears mentioning that the early 1990s presented me with a number of books which had me questioning the quality and direction of Marvel's offerings.) In the beginning, however, when McFarlane joined writer Peter David on Incredible Hulk, I found his approach to be fresh and bold, a unique style for the Hulk that was just as surprising and interesting as that of artist Jeff Purves in the character's subsequent Joe Fixit phase.

McFarlane's time on the title ended after just seven issues, though by that time he had been brought on board Amazing Spider-Man during the run of writer David Michelinie, a gifted scripter and storyteller.  (Michelinie would also later compliment McFarlane as a talented storyteller he was pleased to be partnered with.)  Like many before him, Michelinie gave Peter Parker his share of ups and downs--a certain Christmas Eve being one of the latter instances, surely.

Reportedly feeling dissatisfied at the lack of control over his work and wishing to have more of a say in the direction of stories, McFarlane was appeased with his own Spider-Man title where he would have creative control--coming into the project as a profitable talent for Marvel and taking a turn toward a future for himself that was his to chart. Yet it was a run that would last just a little over a year, which saw McFarlane eventually develop more dissatisfaction in regard to his differences with editors on story and character direction as well as artistic choices for heroic characters that would have done the Marauders proud. By this time, his variant covers were also contributing to the growth of the speculator market which preceded the near-collapse of the industry--while there was also a curious recycling of previous cover styles to coincide with costume changes.

Whether you consider McFarlane's writing at this point in time to be compelling and entertaining is a valid debate to have, with McFarlane himself weighing in on the fact that he was just beginning to dip his toes into the field. In his later work for Spawn, published by Image Comics, he eventually (i.e., after an early rough patch) came into his own in that regard; but though riding a wave of popularity at the time of Marvel's release of a new Spider-Man book, and showing promise in his first issue, it became apparent over the course of the run that the strength of his artwork wasn't supported by equally robust storytelling for a character we were growing increasingly unfamiliar with.

Following his exit from the book, McFarlane would go on to join Rob Liefeld, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio, Jim Lee, and Jim Valentino to found Image Comics, a company not without its own problems but which would turn out to be a stepping stone for McFarlane to even greater exposure and profitability, steadily establishing a media empire for himself which exists as a testament to his persistence and drive as well as his obvious affection for comics. You might find informative a 2000 documentary on the man produced by Kenton Vaughan, with appearances by McFarlane as well as industry peers; in addition, there's a column by David Wallace which covers most if not all of McFarlane's growth in the comics field. The opinion that McFarlane's best overall Marvel work can be found in his partnership with Michelinie in ASM is one that I agree with--but I found myself pleased to see how he built on his beginnings to excel in his chosen field, and remarkably so.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

"Nightmare on Bald Mountain!"


OR: "Invasion Of The Body Snatcher!"

Three months after the successful premiere of the Defenders in the pages of Marvel Feature, writer Roy Thomas and artist Ross Andru seek to reunite the team-that-is-not-a-team in order to face another threat to the entire planet, and beyond--a crisis that, at first glance, may be facilitated by the presence of none other than the Master of the Mystic Arts himself!

In light of the date on the calendar that indicates the approaching celebration of All-Hallows' Eve, Thomas would again make use of the backdrop of the rural town of Rutland, Vermont and its annual celebration of that date. Rutland, as it turns out, also happens to be overshadowed by Bald Mountain, where even now devotees of the dread Dormammu attempt once more a ritual meant to bridge the gulf between Earth and the Dark Dimension--an attempt which, to our surprise, meets with success, as we find that Dormammu and his earthly minions have made arrangements to see a carefully-laid plan through to fruition.

It's quite a compelling prelude we're presented with--and with inker Sal Buscema on board this time, thus far Andru's work has never looked better. As for our would-be hooded intruders who are about to pounce, obviously this 1972 story took place in the days when Dr. Strange had no formidable defenses surrounding his sanctum sanctorum on which to rely, nor any sorcerous means by which he would be made aware of those lurking on his roof. And given what's happening at Bald Mountain, this night he is a man preoccupied--for through his mystic orb, he sees signs of what we have seen, a threat which has already made arrangements to deal with him.

The off-panel voice which interrupts Strange's musings belongs to the astral form of his mentor, the Ancient One, whom he joins in similar fashion to take counsel with in the sky above, or so he thinks. Unfortunately, this is also a time in the past where his body is left completely vulnerable even in his sanctum should the occasion arise where he was obliged to free his astral form for whatever reason--and our robed cultists are swift to take advantage of their ruse in distracting Strange with a false summons, securing his vacant body with a spell which prevents his spirit from rejoining it before dealing brutally with his manservant, Wong, and escaping with their prize.

Fortunately, in her desperation, Clea unknowingly has sent images via the Orb of the one she cares most for to those two who were most recently in Strange's thoughts--and so, it seems, the Defenders will fight again. But even as the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk make their way to New York, Strange's captors arrive with him at a lodge at the foot of Bald Mountain, where the intricate plan of Dormammu--and its linchpin, Dr. Strange--is at last revealed.

Yikes! Can even town crier Roy Thomas prevent Rutland--not to mention all of Vermont--from biting the dust this time?

Monday, May 1, 2023

The Second Coming of... Kukulcán!


In the fall of 1966, while Jean Grey is away at Metro College, Professor X and the rest of the X-Men are tracking what they believe might be a new mutant. Readings from Cerebro, the Professor's mutant detection apparatus, are inconclusive in that regard--but the decision is made to deploy the X-Men to Manhattan to locate him. Talk about trying to find a needle in a haystack.

But we readers are more knowledgeable than even Cerebro, since we've already been introduced to Juan Meroz, better known in gem-hunting circles as El Tigre, a treasure hunter scouring the ancient sites of Central America with his two hired hands and currently attempting to locate the gold of one of the Mayan gods. His search bears fruit, but, in the process, he comes across an ornament which intrigues and dazzles him even more than his find.

When his men, however, decide that they've had enough of their master's mistreatment and move to reverse their roles while taking the gold for themselves, El Tigre discovers not only the stone's powerful abilities that can be wielded by the one who possesses it, but also that when joined with its other half within its pendant it can bestow on him the power and might of the god Kukulcán.

With his two hirelings in tow, El Tigre's research on the pendant leads him to the pre-Colombian wing of the city museum in (you guessed it) Manhattan, where, thanks to Cerebro, the X-Men have followed. But our hirelings are good at skulking as well as setting traps--and soon enough we find Cyclops on his own, taken by surprise by a museum guard who is then put under El Tigre's control. Consequently, the deputy leader of the X-Men can only stand in place helplessly as El Tigre claims his prize, and his power.

Obviously the X-Men's Danger Room training never included any sessions on how to battle your foe(s) in the dark or how to disarm someone holding a gun on you, two pieces of information that should make a lot of petty criminals happy when the news gets out. Now the team (minus Marvel Girl) have an incarnation of the Mayan god Kukulcán to deal with--and from the look of this story's two covers, this could be a battle that, win or lose, may see the X-Men paying the price.