Sunday, May 19, 2019

Post-Graduate Studies #21








The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:
DAWN OF THE DIRECT MARKET
A look at the first four issues of
MARVEL FANFARE!
by Professor Tom Flynn



I was basically in the downslide of my Marvel Zombie status by the time I first heard the term “Direct Market” in the early 1980s — though it did date back to 1972, when Phil Seuling launched Seagate Distribution in Brooklyn, “the first wholesale company specifically created to sell new comics to specialty stores.” Now there weren’t many comic shops when Seuling made the scene, perhaps 30 or so in both the United States and Canada according to Chuck Rozanski, the founder of Denver’s legendary Mile High Comics. So, throughout the 70s, most kids were still buying their funny books in convenience stores and newsstands.  Which was what I did, bicycling the two miles or so each week to Herrick’s Stationery, a well-run business that boasted a variety of well-stocked spinner racks.



For Marvel, DC and the other publishers of the day, dealing with businesses like newsstands meant returns. If your local 7-Eleven ordered 10 of the latest The Amazing Spider-Man and only sold five, they would tear off the covers of the unsold copies and return them for a refund. But with Seagate, each comic ordered by a specialty shop was unreturnable — which actually worked well for both sides of the transaction. The publisher wouldn’t have to worry about returns and refunds while the comic shop owner would just pluck unsold stuff off the new releases racks, slip them in a bag and sell them at a higher price in the back issues section.

During the early days, direct market sales didn’t take up much of the pie. For Marvel in 1979, it was only 6%. But the numbers steadily rose each and every year, reaching a domineering 70% in 1987. In 1981, someone at the House of Ideas had the, well, idea to produce “special event” comics specifically for this rapidly expanding revenue stream. Marvel actually used the term “direct market” when promoting these titles, which seems lazy and unimaginative. Wouldn’t something like “Comic Book Shop Exclusive” have a bit more pizzazz? This must have been an aggravating development if you lived in an area not conveniently serviced by a specialty store. But not for me. Instead of pedaling east to Herrick’s Stationery, I would turn my bike west and cruise the five miles down Hillside Avenue to The Memory Bank in Floral Park, Queens. Heck, I was there at least once a month already, stocking up on back issues.

The Memory Bank was owned by identical twin sisters. I never asked their names since they usually seemed surly. Which always confused this pudgy whippersnapper: how could you possibly be in a foul mood when surrounded by comics all day long? My good pal Mitch was there once when one of the owners nearly choked to death on a chicken sandwich. Luckily, her quick-thinking sibling leaped into action and successfully applied the Heimlich maneuver. No matter how many times Mitch retold the story — complete with sound effects and gesticulating arms — I would howl with laughter. Feel quite guilty by that now: while my search for a photo of The Memory Bank was fruitless, I did sadly discover that one of the sisters was killed by a drunk driver. Sigh™.

Anyways, what was the very first direct market comic book that Marvel released? Dazzler #1 in 1981 — after that, for some reason, the rest of the disco queen’s revolting run reverted to regular distribution channels. Now ye gods, even at my unformed age, I realized that there was no need to waste tire thread on that misguided mess. However, when the company announced that it was launching its first ongoing direct market series in 1982, I made sure that the old Schwinn was greased up and ready to roll at a moment’s notice.



Marvel Fanfare #1
March 1982
Cover by Michael Golden

“Fast Descent Into Hell!”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art, Inks & Colors by Michael Golden
Letters by Jim Novak

“Snow”
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Paul Smith
Inks by Terry Austin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Shelly Leferman

Printed on the thicker, glossier stock that Marvel used for its regular covers, Marvel Fanfare was priced at $1.25, a considerable mark-up from the 60¢ the company was charging for newsstand copies at the time — though the 36 pages were ad-free. The series was envisioned as a showcase for the top names in the industry, aimed at the “sophisticated” comic buyer that frequented specialty shops. Al Milgrom was the Editor for the entire run of 60 issues: there was a revival in 1996 that lasted until #6, but that focused on newbie writers and artists. Milgrom also provided an illustrated “Editori-Al” for each issue. While Al seemed quite tickled by his scratchy panels and goofy humor, they were borderline insufferable.

There is some debate that Marvel Fanfare simply used inventory material, stories created to run when the Dreaded Deadline Doom reared its ugly head. Now that was certainly true with issue #29. Well, kinda. Created by John Byrne and originally scheduled for The Incredible Hulk #319, it featured 22 full-page “splash” panels. Supposedly, Jim Shooter panicked at the format and squashed the thing, leading to Byrne ending his short, 5-issue tenure on the title and, eventually, his exit from the publisher. But I can’t imagine that the first two issues were ever intended as fill-ins considering the talent on hand. Chris Claremont was still riding high with his bestselling work on The Uncanny X-Men. Plus, while not that active in 1982, Michael Golden was widely regarded as one the most talented artists to ever put pencil to newsprint.

“Fast Descent Into Hell!” basically lays the groundwork for the conclusion in Marvel Fanfare #2, as Claremont references a variety of back issues to tell his tale. If you want the scoop on the material he mines, I urge you to check out what the MU faculty had to say about The Uncanny X-Men #60 (September 1969), #61 (October 1969), #62, (November 1969), #63 (December 1969), #64 (January 1970), #113 (September 1978), #114 (October 1978), #115 (November 1978) and #116 (December 1978) as well as The Amazing Spider-Man #103 (December 1971) and #104 (January 1972). Besides, how could anyone possibly resist some choice cuts of Neal Adams, John Byrne and Gil Kane?

We begin in New Mexico as wealthy and beautiful Tanya Anderssen’s helicopter arrives at the isolated aerie of Warren Worthington III — aka Angel, former member of the X-Men and Champions. She asks for help to find her former lover Karl Lykos, a brilliant but cursed scientist that was transformed into the monstrous Sauron, a humanoid pteranodon. He was thought long dead, but Tanya discovered a recent photo of Lykos, alive and cured, standing next to Ka-Zar and his sabretooth companion Zabu in the Savage Land. Even though he was nearly killed by Sauron the last time he was in that deadly jungle hidden in Antarctica, Worthington reluctantly agrees to help. On the East Coast, Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson has gotten wind of the expedition and assigns photographer Peter Parker to the story. Parker, who himself had a frightening encounter in the Savage Land, is also hesitant, but eventually swayed by the promise of a tidy sum.


Angel, Parker and Anderssen fly to the South Pole in a U.S. Navy Sikorsky helicopter — which is immediately attacked and disabled by a pterosaur when they breech the mist wall surrounding the tropical preserve. The two pilots bail and parachute to safety on a high cliff far above the danger below while Angel flies Tanya to the jungle floor: Parker forms a chute with the web-shooters hidden under his jacket and floats down as well. Soon, the trio comes across the ruined remains of the huge dome constructed to honor the ancient god Garokk, the Petrified Man. Suddenly, brutish warriors that served Garokk and his high-priestess Zaladane attack. Parker pushes Tanya to safety into the river below as Angel takes wing to engage the pterodactyl riders in the sky. In the confusion, Peter changes into his Spider-Man outfit and wades into the barbarians. But the two heroes are subdued by psionic blasts as Anderssen wades to shore under the feet of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Spider-Man awakens manacled to a table alongside the still unconsciousness Angel, surrounded by the hyper-intelligent Brainchild, blind giant Gaza, four-armed Barbarus, frog-like Amphibius and Vertigo, the green-skinned woman who was the source of the crippling psychic assaults. As a machine called the Genetic Transformer is pointed at the web-slinger’s chest, Brainchild explains that Magneto used the device to transform the five villains from simple swamp savages to powerful mutants. He will now use the Transformer to devolve the captors into primordial creatures that will be used to conquer the Savage Land.

As I already mentioned, the 17-page “Fast Descent Into Hell!” really feels like a set-up for the concluding chapter. But with all those glorious Michael Golden illustrations, who gives a hoot. Golden does the heavy lifting providing pencils, inks and colors, all incredibly vibrant and finely detailed. I've never been a huge fan of Angel: to me, he wasn’t a fully realized character, just a rich guy with wings. But his blue-and-white costume is undeniably cool and Golden does a magnificent job with his powerfully beautiful feathers. He also excels on the Savage Land’s dense flora and the dinosaurs are simply boffo — Sauron also looks fantastic in Tanya’s flashback at the beginning. And the Golden One offers a bit of cheesecake for all sexes as Warren and his Gal Friday Candy Southern are attired in skimpy beachwear when Tanya arrives at his mountain sanctuary. I will say that this masterful artist does have a bit of a problem with Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Some panels, Pete looks like the young man he is; in others, he appears like an adolescent. And while Golden showed a great proclivity for lithe figures such as Bug in The Micronauts, his Spidey is a bit too muscular and awkward in spots

Claremont does a terrific job juggling themes from multiple issues of The Uncanny X-Men and The Amazing Spider-Man — and we shouldn’t expect less from another master of the form. However, his story just grades a “fine” from this professor. Seriously, it seems a stretch that J.J. would want to send Parker back to the Savage Land. Jameson was there when he went the first time in Amazing #103 and #104: the publicity-starved publisher knows far too well of the horrors that pounce within. Pete’s quick-change into Spider-Man is a bit of a bungle as well. He literally runs off panel with the barbarians in pursuit and appears in the next one completely costumed. It’s almost comical. Parker already had his web-shooters on so what was the point? All in all, an enjoyable start to this two-parter but the art carries the day a major way.

As with all Marvel Fanfares — well, far as I know — there is a back-up story, the 9-page “Snow.” The plot is a piffle but that art is also quite noteworthy: it’s the debut of the sensational Paul Smith, who would go on to great acclaim in such series as The Uncanny X-Men and Doctor Strange.

On a winter night on the Upper West Side, a dedicated Salvation Army Santa named Lewis is badly beaten by three addicts as they steal the charitable donations in his kettle for their latest fix. Later, when the faux Kris Kringle doesn’t show for a charity event hosted by Matt Murdock at a local children’s hospice, the blind attorney slips away and changes into Daredevil. After finding the bruised Lewis in an alley, the Man Without Fear tracks the muggers to Haskill, the local drug lord. When Haskill tries to escape across rooftops with his cash-stuffed briefcase, he slips and plummets to his death. His case opens during the fall, the bills fluttering to the feet of Lewis on the street below — a Christmas miracle for the little ones in need during the holiday season.

As you can guess, this one smacks of treacle yet is still quite brutal. There are cloying lines about “the children” sitting next to scenes of Daredevil absolutely beating the snot out of the bad guys. Inked by the great Terry Austin, Paul Smith’s art is superb but limited in its backgrounds. DD and Matt are spot on and his character’s poses crackle with authentic energy. Some great coloring by Glynis Wein: DD’s bright red costume absolutely pops. Of course, Roger McKenzie was writing Daredevil when Frank Miller exploded into fandom, so he had the character down pat. But, as with “Fast Descent Into Hell,” it’s the art that delivers the goods. I do give Roger props for making Haskill a white businessman complete with tie instead of the usual stereotype.

To wrap things up, the inside front and back cover spreads features a rather confusing illustration by John Byrne and Terry Austin. With spider sense activated, Spider-Man swings by the Silver Surfer cruising above the streets of Manhattan. While it does look like Spidey is going to teabag the reader, the art is great, but what’s with all the tingling? Plus, on the back cover, Frank Miller provides an atmospheric drawing of Daredevil perched on the lip of a smoke stack, warming his hands. I’ve always felt that Frank got lazier as time wore on, but he actually provides an expansive backdrop of a cityscape topped with snow. I really hope that was a direct effort to the back-up “Snow.” But the way Miller sets up his perspective, DD is on a smoke stack twice the size of the Empire State Building. Did the blind Murdock fly a plane to get up there? Well maybe, he’s done that before. And let’s not bring up all the cancerous fumes.






Marvel Fanfare #2
May 1982
Cover by Michael Golden

“To Sacrifice My Soul”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art, Inks & Colors by Michael Golden
Letters by Joe Rosen

“Annihilation”
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Trevor Von Eeden
Inks by Armando Gil
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Diana Albers

As Brainchild blasts Spider-Man with the Genetic Transformer, Tanya Anderssen is menaced by a Tyrannosaurus Rex on the riverbank below. But Ka-Zar and Zabu burst out of the tree line and leap on the lethal lizard — in the melee, Tanya is knocked cold by the fearsome dinosaur’s thrashing tail. She awakes to find herself in a hut within the village of Tongah, chief of the Fall People, her lost lover Karl Lykos kneeling by her side. After embracing, they join Ka-Zar and the tribespeople outside for a meal of T. Rex steaks.

A raid of the dead god Garokk’s ruined domed city is discussed to finally put an end to Brainchild and his murderous band of mutants. Suddenly, the brutish warriors that serve Garokk’s high-priestess Zaladane smash through the thorn barrier surrounding the settlement, one leading the way on a rampaging triceratops. Among the marauding invaders are two fearsome sites, Angel and Spider-Man, horribly transformed by Magneto’s nefarious machine, bits of their uniforms still clinging to new, misshapen forms. Angel, now an inhuman bird-man, slashes at Lykos with his razor-sharp claws as Spidey, a grotesque man-spider, trounces both Ka-Zar and Zabu. The creature that was formerly Warren Worthington flies off with Tanya but the monstrous Peter Parker hesitates just as it has the Jungle Lord defenseless — it skitters away instead of delivering the death blow. Without their two super-powered allies, the over-matched barbarians retreat as well.


After finding a remnant of Spidey’s tattered uniform, Ka-Zar realizes that he was fighting his former friend, somehow changed. Along with Zabu and Lykos, he sets off for the ruins. They arrive just as Brainchild tests the Genetic Transformer on Tanya, as he’s interested to see what the machine makes of an ordinary human. Ka-Zar and company attack and deck Amphibius and Gaza. As Ka-Zar tangles with both Angel and Barbarus, Karl manages to crease Vertigo’s skull with a bullet, knocking her unconscious. He approaches Tanya, who has been devolved into a Neanderthal. Using his ability to drain energy, he begins to siphon the Transformer’s effect — even though he knows the effort could change him into his evil alter ego, Sauron. Which, of course, it does.

Meanwhile, Parker’s subconscious begins to take hold of the spider-monster and it attacks Barbarus, hurtling the four-armed freak into the Transformer, smashing the machine to bits — as well as any hope of using it to change back. But Sauron, finished with a once-again-human Tanya, drains both Parker and Worthington as well, returning both to normal. As the mutants escape, the horny horror flies off, warning Ka-Zar that it will return to conquer the Savage Land. Days later, at an American research station just outside the hidden jungle, Pete and Warren head towards home on a rescue helicopter. Tanya stays behind with Ka-Zar, determined to finally find a cure for Karl Lykos.



We’ve all encountered “All Out Action!” issues. Well, Chris Claremont offers a comic that cried out for a “All Out Transformation!” burst on the front cover. It gets a little silly at times — but nothing is as ridiculous as Michael Golden’s handling of the Angel creature. Hate to criticize my beloved illustrator, but Warren’s head is a dead ringer for the mind-bendingly laughable turkey monster in 1972’s gonzo Blood Freak (above). Not sure what Golden was thinking, but I dearly hope that it was a tribute.

Not one of Claremont’s best efforts, though there are a ton of nasty fisticuffs. A bit confused why Zabu seems to be content grooming in the background while the battle with the mutants hits high gear. Lykos brings more to the fray by taking out Vertigo just as she was warming up her crippling psychic power. Claremont does manage to click everything into place, as Karl’s attempt to save his love unleashes the sinister Sauron. Spider-Man’s inner turmoil as he battles for his soul is also well done.  Plus, Chris dodges one of the major complaints that a few University professors had with The Amazing Spider-Man #103 and #104, the webslinger’s first foray to the Savage Land. There, Parker is knocked into a surging river and, voilà, the wallcrawler swings on the scene.  Considering that such foundational characters as J. Jonah Jameson and Gwen Stacy also made the perilous trip, it would be nigh impossible for something not to smell fishy. “Oh no, Peter’s lost! Oh look, it’s Spider-Man! Maybe he’ll know what to do!” Here, Claremont has Angel already incapacitated and Tanya in the drink when Pete suits up. Then they all get transformed. So after Sauron does the old suck-and-cut, the two blondes didn’t even know that Spidey was there. But Ka-Zar figured it out. Not that Claremont does anything at all with that tidbit. Guess we’re supposed to assume that the cut-rate Tarzan will keep his noble mouth shut. I did dig the “Once, this too was a man” caption.

As with “Fast Descent Into Hell,” Golden’s mostly transcendent art floats the boat. Heck, he even makes the dreary Ka-Zar look exciting. In fact, I originally planned to only cover the first two issues of Marvel Fanfare. Not just for the Golden One, they were the only of the entire series I actually bought. But let’s carry on and see Claremont’s four-part adventure to the end. After we get through this …

In his “Editori-Al,” editor Milgrom continues to do his unfunny shuck-and-jive about how he’s the man with the plan and will deliver the bang for your buck and a quarter. Well, with only the second issue, Al was already picking our pockets with the 15-page back-up, “Annihilation.”

First off, Trevor von Eeden’s art is surprisingly amateurish. He does provide a nice pin-up of Mr. Fantastic and Annihilus, a top-tiered villain who really shouldn’t be wasted on dreck like this. Perhaps it’s just an early work. Roger McKenzie’s story is about as warmed over as it can get. Roger starts with the Invisible Girl storming into Reed Richard’s lab, furious that he forgot their anniversary. But little does she know that her husband has been tirelessly slaving away on the umpteenth machine that would change the Thing back into Ben Grimm. Remember, this is an “All Out Transformation!” issue.

Anyways, Richards needs a nega-crystal to power up his Cosmic Converter and the only place they can be found is in  — dum da dum dum — the Negative Zone. His arms encased in metallic extendable sleeves, he manages to snag one but, in his exhausted state, unleashes Annihilus as well. After getting knocked around for a few pages, Reed realizes that the only way to send the diabolical despot back to his dark dimension is to, yup you guessed it, destroy the nega-crystal. Again, for the umpteenth time, Grimm remains trapped in his rocky hide.

Bleech. For some reason, McKenzie wastes two pages recapping the Fantastic Four’s origin. If you didn’t already know the details by the time 1982 rolled around, would you even be inside a comic book shop?



Marvel Fanfare #3
July 1982
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Bob McLeod

“Into the Land of Death”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Dave Cockrum
Inks by Bob McLeod
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Jim Novak

“Swashbucklers”
Story by Charlie Boatner
Art by Trevor Von Eeden
Inks by Joe Rubinstein
Colors by Ed Hannigan
Letters by Jim Novak


Answering Angel’s distress call from the Savage Land, four X-Men — Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler and Colossus — jet to the South Pole in the Blackbird. When a violent winter storm begins to batter the craft, Ororo uses her elemental powers to lessen the maelstrom but senses something unnatural is at work. Nightcrawler manages to land the plane at their destination, one of the underground UN installments that circle the hidden jungle to protect its priceless resources. Warren is filling in his fellow mutants about Sauron’s reappearance when a tremendous earthquake strikes the base. Many soldiers are injured.

The X-Men head out on foot to Garokk’s devastated dome to confront the devious dinosaur-man. They soon come across the smoldering remains of Tongah’s village and find some of the tribespeople crucified on X-like crosses. For some reason, the heroes find themselves becoming weaker the closer they get to their destination. So, when Gaza, Barbarus, Amphibius, Vertigo and Timberius launch a surprise attack, they are barely able to fight off the evil mutants. Amphibius is captured and made to talk: after Ka-Zar, his wife Shanna and Zabu left to explore Pangea, Tongah was killed, opening the door for Zaladane’s army and Sauron’s leadership to conquer the Savage Land.

Suddenly, Sauron himself appears in the sky and unleashes his hypnotic gaze, disabling the X-Men with horrific visions of their greatest fears. Angel manages to escape but flies too high: the colder air freezes his wings and he plummets to the ground below.  Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler and Colossus awake in the throne room of Sauron’s shining new citadel, Zaladane sitting at his side. The hideous humanoid boasts that his stronghold is surrounded by an energy field that saps the strength of anyone not protected from its power. The captives are then shacked to slabs in front of a Mutant Energy Accelerator. Not only will the machine strip them of rational thought, it will enable Sauron to endlessly feed on their mutant energy.

Something is seriously off with “Into the Land of Death.” Claremont is well known for his realistic and adult characterizations and dialogue, but this 20-pager reads like a Chuck E. Cheese giveaway. Again, Marvel Fanfare is a direct market comic aimed at true-blue collectors. So why is the story totally juvenile? It’s explained at the beginning that Cyclops stayed behind because he was ill and Kitty was taking care of him. Really? That’s the excuse? It’s mentioned that both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four were contacted to help out as well, but were unavailable. Wait, the X-Men need help against a villain they’ve defeated before? Did Claremont shoehorn that in just to reference other Marvel teams? You know, for readers who never heard of them before. Worse, it leads to this clunky bit of dialogue from Nightcrawler: “No use wishing for what cannot be. The longer we wait — for Scott to recover, or the Avengers to return from wherever — the worse things will get.” Wherever?!? Chris couldn’t have bothered to pick up the phone and call the writer of that series to find out what the team was doing in July of 1982? At the time, it was his boss, Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter. By Crom, it couldn’t have been that difficult. Heck, Shooter was probably standing over his shoulder. Well, let me look it up for you, Mr. Claremont. Hmmmm, here we go. Why, they were home at Avengers Mansion deciding on new members! That’s about as opposite of indisposed as Captain America and company could get.  Though I guess Editori-Al Milgrom shares the blame. Plus, Chris constantly feels the need to explain the X-Men’s powers. The target audience was already well aware that Colossus has “super-strong, nigh-invulnerable, organic steel” skin and Wolverine’s claws are “forged of unbreakable adamantium and honed to razor sharpness.” Oh, and don’t ask about Timberius: wasn’t in the last issue, just showed up here. He controls wolves or something.

I’ve never been a big fan of Dave Cockrum and, especially on the heels of the dazzling work of Michael Golden, his pencils are thoroughly … ordinary. Dave seemed to have a limited bag of tricks when it came to character poses so everything looks so familiar. How many times have we seen Dave draw Wolverine slashing downward with his claws, arms straight out, both hands held closely together? Lots. And his big reveal of the Savage Land on page 9 is described as such: “The first sight is awesome, the first reaction — even though all have been here before — is stunned astonishment.” Um no. Looks like Florida on a bad day.

While not as dire as “Annihilation,” the 11-page back-up, “Swashbucklers,” also didn’t merit an inclusion in a high-profile series such as Marvel Fanfare. Trevor Von Eeden returns and thankfully, the art is a big improvement from last issue: let’s chalk it up to the embellishments of the terrific Joe Rubinstein. The swashbucklers of the title are Hawkeye and El Águila, aka “the Eagle.” Not that familiar with the latter, but he first popped up in Power Man and Iron Fist #58 (August 1979) and was designed by, hey now, Dave Cockrum. Von Eeden actually illustrated his debut., inked by Dan Green. It’s not bad. El Águila seems like some type of mutant anti-hero. Now I always assumed that swashbucklers had swords, so not sure if Hawkeye fits the bill. But that’s the least of the problem.

Hawkeye is employed as the head of security at Cross Technological Enterprises when El Águila breaks into the weapons manufacturer — not to steal but exactly the opposite. The Spaniard seeks to destroy Nucleonic Radiator, a device that emits short-range radiation that kills anyone not wearing a special fabric. So it would be the perfect weapon for dictatorships looking to crush any form of protest. For the majority of the pages, Hawkeye and the Eagle engage in a game of goofy one-upmanship, trading an endless stream of lame quips — and specialized arrows and electrified blade, natch. Throughout, the bowslinger seems to realize that he is on the wrong side but he battles away regardless. Finally, El Águila disables the former Avenger with his own sleep gas arrow, stomps on the Radiator and makes his escape.

At the end, Hawkeye, almost unbelievably, is relieved that he doesn’t lose his job. After all Clint’s learned, he still wants to draw a paycheck from a corporation that builds crowd-killing weapons? And wasn’t Cross Technological Enterprises already up to no good in Marvel Premiere  #47 and #48, two issues covered by the great Cassie Tura? Whatever. Besides the two heroes, the only other major character in “Swashbucklers” is the corpulent Mr. Connors, an eeevvviiilll executive. He’s in the mix so that writer Charlie Boatner — first I’ve heard of him — can shock us with the word “wetback.” Uh, he’s Spanish not Mexican, Chuck. All in all, I assume that everyone involved thought that this would be a fast-paced, fun-filled lark. With genocide at stake of course. Sorry guys, like Hawkeye’s final arrow before the Eagle slips away, you missed the mark.

There are no bonus pin-ups this issue. Perhaps Milgrom was too busy searching for more sub-par back-up stories for perhaps Marvel’s premier publication at the time.


Marvel Fanfare #4
September 1982
Cover by Paul Smith

“Lost Souls”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Paul Smith
Inks by Terry Austin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Janice Chiang

“Mindgame”
Story by David Anthony Craft
Art by Michael Golden
Inks by Bob Downs
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by A.R.K.

“Ordeal!”
Story by David Winn and David Michelinie
Art by Michael Golden
Inks by Dan Green

After plummeting from the sky, Angel rouses in the camp of Ka-Zar and Zabu, returned from Pangea. Warren fills in the Jungle Lord on recent events, including the destruction of the Fall People’s village, the death of Tongah and the strange weakened states of the X-Men. A shaken Ka-Zar informs Angel that Shanna and Tanya Anderssen were visiting Tongah’s tribe — the mutant replies that they didn’t come across their bodies so they must be Sauron’s captives along with Storm and crew. They deduct that Sauron must have some type of energy-draining device and, since he trusts no one, must keep it close. So they hatch a plan: Angel will lure the humanoid away from his citadel while Ka-Zar will steal inside and free their friends.

Meanwhile, in Sauron’s stronghold, Brainchild is torturing Storm with the Mutant Energy Accelerator, painfully devolving her to a Neanderthal state and then back again. Outside, Ka-Zar launches a firebomb from a hastily constructed catapult as Angel flies conspicuously overhead. It explodes on the tower’s outer wall and, pausing to drain some of Ororo’s mutant energy, Sauron flies off, spotting Warren in the sky above. After slaying an underwater saurian in the lake that circles the citadel, Ka-Zar and Zabu sneak inside. While Angel manages to lead his pursuer away, he is ultimately overwhelmed by the creature’s hypnotic gaze.

With Sauron away, Brainchild has the weakened Storm taken to his quarters. When she spurns his amorous advances, he slaps her and huffs off — only to come face to face with Ka-Zar and Zabu. After leaving the evil mutant unconscious, the trio soon comes across Shanna and Tanya locked in a cell, now mindless she-beasts. Suddenly Nightcrawler screams: Zaladane has turned the Accelerator on the blue-skinned transporter. Even though she is barely able to walk, Storm blasts the high-priestess with a howling wind, knocking her away. Soon, the other X-Men are released from their shackles and a tremendous fight against the remaining evil mutants breaks out, the heroes eventually victorious. Then Sauron arrives, dropping Angel from the sky — Nightcrawler bamfs and catches his helpless friend. With their combined might, the X-Men are able to wear down the flying fiend: power spent, he transforms back to Karl Lykos. Before Colossus destroys the Accelerator, Shanna and Tanya are changed back to normal.

After saying their goodbyes to the denizens of the Savage Land, the X-Men return to the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters in Westchester, New York, bringing Karl and Tanya along. There, Professor X manages to cure Lykos of his genetic virus.

OK, I feel better now. After last issue’s serious stumble, Claremont rights the ship with a solid effort. The action is fast-paced and the dialogue crisp. Sauron’s defeat at the end does seem a bit abrupt: couldn’t he have just zapped everyone with his hypno-gaze again? But this four-issue arc had to end sometime. Even if there were other story problems — perhaps the quick fix of Lykos at the end? — the crackerjack art would mask any flaws. Newcomer Paul Smith is five months away from becoming the permanent penciler for The Uncanny X-Men in January of 1983. There, he will be inked by the reliable Bob Wiacek. Here, however, he’s teamed once again with top-of-the-heap Terry Austin, his partner on the Daredevil back-up in the premiere issue. So the art is crisp, clean and dynamic, 20 pages of wonderfulness. A bit surprisingly, Angel comes off like a complete turd over the last two issues. Last time, he basically chickened out and flew away from the conflict with Sauron, basically defeating himself with his anti-Icarus maneuver. This time, it takes a few panels for Ka-Zar to convince a cowardly Warren what needs to be done to save their friends. Not too heroic.

There’s more good stuff in the two back-ups included and it can be explained in two words: Michael Golden. Yup, he’s back in the pages of Marvel Fanfare, and while his art is not as transcendent as the first two issues, heck, it’s still Golden. Not sure if it was intended, but the plots of both are quite similar. The underused Deathlok — though I think he might have been dead by 1982 — stars in “Mindgame,” while “Ordeal” features Iron Man. In both stories, the characters are haunted by visions from their subconscious, Deathlok as scientists try to cure his violent tendencies, Tony Stark as he dreams in his Long Island penthouse. Which seem incongruous: there aren’t any skyscrapers in that next of the woods. It doesn’t end well for ’Lok, as pre-cyborg Luther Manning kills both his wife and dog in fits of anger. At the end, he’s chalked up a hopeless case, his inner pain still raging. For Stark, peaceful sleep does come after he battles living embodiments of his pride, arrogance and masculinity. A double dose of mumbo jumbo but just gaze at the pretty pictures.

We wrap up our look at the first four issues of Marvel Fanfare with “Shooters Page,” an odd duck — and actually two pages. The Editor-in-Chiefs puts out the call for new talent, providing guidelines for writers, pencilers, inkers and colorists to submit their work. They are rather complicated and very specific. He doesn’t ask for editors though. Presumably, Al Milgrom is safe for now.

Bullpen Bulletin Special!
Only issues #2 and #3 had Bullpen pages. They’re interesting snapshots of what Marvel was churning out in the summer of ’82. Two words: Team America. I see that the House of Ideas started calling newsstand copies “All-Direct.” Guess it’s better than “Direct Market.” But not by much.





















6 comments:

  1. An excellent effort, Professor Tom, and well worth the wait since your last post...if it can be called waiting when this came as a total surprise, like that image from Blood Freak! I see from my records that I bought Fanfare #1-24, although I have virtually no memory of them, and probably haven't read them, or much else of Marvel's early '80s output, since they were first published. It sounds as though, overall, the series wasn't too worthy of remembering. Thanks for a great analysis.

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  2. You are still doing this! I never knew.

    Marvel Fanfare was quite a big deal back then. It had an awesome line-up, and I bought it for the X-Men -back then I bought everything Claremont and X-Men - and for the art. I could have done without writers like McKenzie or Kraft, both I thought dull, but this was way ahead of things like MTU. After the first issues I only bought it now and then, I seem to remember that it became dull pretty quick and featured heroes I never followed. Or artists.

    I had forgotten the price. But compared to today's pricing with 3.99 for 22 pages this still was worth its money. I don't understand that these books are still bought in enough numbers. I kicked the habit a long time ago. Things like the X-Avengers or the Watchmen-JLA have no appeal for me.

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    Replies
    1. Nice to hear from you Andy! You shouldn't expect regular posts but someone might be inspired to do something new from time to time.

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  3. Good hello, Marvelite Academian. I happened upon your weblog after searching for GCAJTA, after reading your letter in MTU 35, moments ago. My search led to the entry that details your move to Kiowa, which I see, subsequently, is where your Mail-It-To-Team-Up letter was sent from. Fascinating to read your letter of then, and 'find' you, now. Almost gives one a time-travelling sensation. I will now be including your weblog to my ongoing reading queue. However, the question remains, as first pondered by Wein in '75 (and the reason for my web search): what in the name of MMMS is GCAJTA? By the many moons of Munipoor, please do tell. Thanks. Wishing you a Marvellous day!

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  4. Whoops! My preceding post is meant for Professor Barsotti, please. Enjoyed this post on Fanfare, incidentally. At the time, I dug MF, most of the time, quite a bit, but also found the Editori-al's dull though well-meaning. Golden was a favourite of mine, too. I'm looking forward to revisiting Micronauts, soon, for a marathon reading of the entire run. Nuff post. Thanks.

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  5. Hi, surrealkiller. In case Professor Barsotti hasn't seen this yet, you can learn all here...

    http://marveluniversity.blogspot.com/2014/01/marvel-collectors-item-classics-21-all.html

    ...and here:

    http://marveluniversity.blogspot.com/2014/01/marvel-university-sunday-special.html

    Thanks for reading!

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