Sunday, April 5, 2020

RIP Professor Thomas Flynn


Word reached us this morning that one of the most important pieces of the Marvel University passed away last night.

Professor Thomas Flynn was not only the preeminent scholar on everything Conan but also a die hard Lucio Fulci and Spaghetti Western defender. Most importantly though, Tom was a good guy. There are not enough of those to go around these days so his passing is that much harder.

Those wishing to read a heart-felt appreciation from Tom's best bud, Professor Matthew Bradley should go here.

Marvel University may well have been possible without Tom but it sure as hell would not have been as much fun.

Thomas, we are going to miss you, my friend. The lights will remain dimmed and the Cap flag will stay at half mast for the foreseeable future.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Post-Graduate Studies #23

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:
by Professor Matthew Bradley

In our coverage of Ms. Marvel #23 (April 1979), I noted that the book was abruptly axed with a brace of Claremont/Vosburg issues in various stages of development.  By the time the would-be #24-5 were belatedly completed and published in Marvel Super-Heroes in 1992, Carol Danvers had undergone such, uhm, seminal experiences as her rape/impregnation by Marcus, having her powers stolen by Rogue, and evolving into Binary.  It would be another 27 years before I finally obtained those issues through the good offices of Professor Tom, during which time she had not only assumed yet another identity, Warbird, but also claimed the mantle of the original Captain Marvel—in whose strip she’d been introduced—and become a major movie star in the process…

Marvel Super-Heroes Vol. 2 #10 (July 1992)

The Vision and the Scarlet Witch in “The Terror!”
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Mike Mignola and Armando Gil
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Richard Starkings

Namor in “…I Won’t Take ‘No’ for an Answer!”
Story by Barry Dutter
Art by Patrick Archibald and Andrew Pepoy
Colors by Mike Rockwitz
Letters by Clem Robins

Ms. Marvel in “Sabretooth Stalks the Subway!”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Mike Vosburg
Colors by Heidi Goodhue (seriously?)
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Craig Brasfield and Jeff Albrecht

At Avengers Mansion, Ms. Marvel engages in a training-room session, with a worrisome lack of stamina, and some mixed-message banter with new teammate Iron Man.  Meanwhile, in the New York field office, S.H.I.E.L.D. Deputy Director Jasper Sitwell is overruled when refusing to train psycho Sabretooth in unarmed combat against the day the Canadian Ministry of Defense sets him to capture Weapon X (that’s Wolverine to you).  After a semi-gratuitous shower, Carol attempts a phone call she’s been dreading to “psychiatrist-cum-boyfriend” Barnett; the reason Mike’s not  picking up is that somebody needs to pick him up, lying slain as he is on the floor of his trashed office, and since he was last seen in #22 being watched by Mystique, we can likely do the math.

In Sheridan Square, Carol has lunch with John and Nancy Jellicoe, respectively her accountant and literary agent, who warn that her firing from Woman will require her to resume freelancing.  They are rudely interrupted by a S.H.I.E.L.D. security truck that crashes into the restaurant and disgorges Sabretooth, who flees into the subway while Carol changes into Ms. Marvel to free a trapped John.  He laughs off contact with the third rail, if not with a half-ton I-beam wielded by MM, who must also stop an express train that passed 14th Street before the police closed the line; losing speed herself after averting a crash, she finally fells her foe with a score of stun punches to his neck, but as the tale ends, she is stricken with seventh-sense images of Mystique…and Death.

Although given cover honors, this resurrected tale is relegated to the back of the book—perhaps due to its then-standard 17-page length—following a pin-up gallery featuring Wolverine, the FF, Dr. Doom, Machine Man, and the X-Men.  But complete with abortive original Cockrum/Austin cover, it’s worth the wait, in all senses, to be back in the mind of a nuanced Claremont character, even if Vosburg’s work sometimes looks better suited to Little Annie Fanny (and I say that as an unabashed cheesecake-lover).  MM’s banter with IM is a good example:  she’s flirtatious, noting that she essays to keep it light when not engaged in their “grim business,” yet the self-described “closet chauvinist” raises her hackles with the same sexism to which her father subjected Carol.

On a related note, her description of Mike (“he’s been hinting at a more…permanent relationship between us.  He really wants to marry me”) seems a bit charitable for a guy who evidently wants to blackmail her into drudgery.  But in a development I consider long overdue, Chris resolves the whole dysfunctional doctor-patient relationship by killing Mike off, and I for one will not mourn him.  In addition to sharing the name of Professor Tom’s late and much-loved cat, Sabretooth is, of course, a Claremont creation, introduced in Iron Fist #14 (August 1977), and as one of Chris’s more formidable villains he makes a good match for an opponent who is still being established as one of Marvel’s strongest super-heroines, although again, he believably acknowledges her limits.

Nothing here to make me revise my lukewarm opinion of Vosburg, who makes MM look goofy (e.g., story page 2, panel 2; page 12, panel 5, left) when she doesn’t seem like a PG Kurtzman/Elder outtake, and considering they had 13 years to polish this thing, the artwork looks pretty sketchy to me.  The montage depicting a dead Barnett on page 8 is a Psycho riff, starting on a close-up of his staring eye as the “camera” gradually pulls back to reveal Mike and the destruction.  Chris’s customarily complex characterization is always welcome, yet the story’s overall pacing leaves its climactic battle—which, given the respective threat levels of its participants, should have been a pretty impressive donnybrook—feeling rushed, and it is especially sad under the circumstances.

Bill Mantlo’s 22-page lead-off takes place before The Vision and the Scarlet Witch Vol. 2, and builds on his story in Marvel Fanfare #58 (August 1991), also inked by Armando Gil, here over  Mike Mignola’s pencils.  A town meeting in Leonia High School, at which their NIMBY New Jersey neighbors decry the “freaks,” is interrupted by a zombie eruption from the cemetery and the appearance of another “pillar of power,” for which Wanda is typically blamed.  But as her hubby points out, her mutant powers only simulate magic, and the ghostly Inquisitors emerging from the pillar were summoned by the town’s hate and prejudice, given a mystical manifestation by her “magic,” thus requiring the unhappy couple “to save even those who would destroy us.”

Also weighing in at 22 pages, with art by Patrick Archibald and Andrew Pepoy, Barry Dutter’s yarn precedes Namor the Sub-Mariner #8 (November 1990) and has multimillionaire J.Q. Stamp hire the Rhino to enforce his “art of the steal” attempt on Oracle, Inc.  Making like Br’er Rabbit, Namor dupes the Rhino into belting him near his indoor pool, but Stamp takes the next round by holding Carrie and Caleb Alexander hostage.  As Namor arrives to clean out his desk, a shapely Tigress Shark appears to avenge Oracle’s alleged exploitation of the oceans, so Subby directs her to the new owner; in return for rescue, Stamp agrees to cancel the takeover and confess to killing his rivals, only to learn that Namor freed his friends and Tigress Shark is really cousin Namorita.

Marvel Super-Heroes Vol. 2 #11 (October 1992)

Ghost Rider in “Fireworks”
Story by Tina Chrioproces
Art by Greg LaRocque and Vincent Colletta
Colors by Tom Vincent
Letters by Diana Albers
Cover by Bob Budiansky and Jeff Albrecht

Giant-Man in “Not to Touch the Earth”
Plot by Jim Shooter
Script by Dwayne McDuffie
Art by Bob Budiansky and Manny Manos (seriously!; pp. 24-37) and Don Hudson and Chris Ivy (pp. 38-42)
Colors by Steve Mattsson
Letters by Richard Starkings

Ms. Marvel in “Cry, Vengeance!”
Story by Chris Claremont and Simon Furman
Art by Mike Vosburg (pp. 43-69) and Mike Gustovich (pp. 70-79)
Colors by Heidi Goodhue
Letters by Jim Novak

In Mike’s office, Iron Man uses Mr. Fantastic’s Heat Image Tracer to record the “radiant energy patterns,” and projects a holographic replay of his murder; he and Ms. Marvel watch as a woman appearing to be Carol enters, kisses him, is recognized as an impostor, beats him to death, reveals her true form as Mystique (as yet unknown to MM), rifles the office to find Carol’s file, makes a phone call, and leaves.  At Mike’s gravesite, Carol is hit by seventh-sense images of flames and a collapsing skyscraper that literally knock her into his grave.  Tracing the phone number leads to the office of Southern Star Imports in a JFK cargo hangar, where she finds arms smuggler Peter Coelho’s Hong Kong airline ticket and hotel reservation…plus crates of cutting-edge armaments.

After being attacked by flaming replicas of herself in another flash, MM observes Coelho and the buyers he plans to betray, the Hellfire Club’s Harry Leland and Donald Pierce, but she is spotted by Sebastian Shaw’s aide, Tessa, and a fight ensues.  Disarming the cyborg Pierce (literally), she escapes by shattering a floor already weakened by mutant Leland’s “ultra-mass effect,” and falls into the sewer below.  Carol wangles the seat next to ladies’ man Coelho; while she beguiles him on the overnight flight—during which she sees herself clad as the Black Queen in another trance, being presented by her shadowy lover with a teenaged Rogue to kill—Raven ignores the warning of Irené Adler to leave Carol alone, desperate to forestall Destiny’s prediction of harm to Rogue.

She sends evil mutants Avalanche and Pyro to the Crown Colony Hotel to kill Carol, and as Pyro mentions Mystique, MM’s seventh sense shows an image of Mike’s killer; taking Avalanche out before he can fulfill her vision by collapsing the hotel, she realizes they won’t talk.  Coelho, the only lead left, is found in his room, killed by Shaw after Tessa learned of his double game selling the armaments to the Brotherhood.  “Weeks pass,” full of meaningless battles with the Avengers, until Destiny says that Carol “has gone from all possible futures I can perceive,” yet after “time passes once more” and she is sensed in San Francisco, Mystique again ignores Destiny’s warning that her hatred “leads to a dark, uncertain future,” and dispatches protégé Rogue to finish Carol.

Fighting to “forget about Michael, about Marcus, about the so-called friends who betrayed me!,” Carol explodes when Rogue mentions Mystique and—past caring who she is, or why she means Carol harm—turns into MM for a grudge match.  In the meantime, Raven arrives in full “What have I done?” mode, and is there to pick up the pieces after Rogue O.D.’s on MM and tosses her off the Golden Gate Bridge to be saved, now a powerless amnesiac, by Spider-Woman.  We end by flashing forward (or back, depending on how you look at it) to the events that made Rogue, like many a so-called “evil” mutant before her, defect to the side of the Angel et alia, while “an alien evolutionary ray unlocks buried potential in [the recovering Carol’s] augmented genes…”

At a whopping 30 pages drawn by two Mikes—Vosburg on the first 20, Gustovich on the rest—and again batting clean-up, this was clearly expanded to fit the new format, with an additional writing credit for Simon Furman and a series of false endings that awkwardly tries to bridge the gap in between the cancellation of MM’s book and Carol’s current status as Binary.  A figure as important as Marcus is mentioned only in passing, with no explanation, so it’s difficult to guess whether this material is intended primarily to enlighten the uninitiated, or for those who would take the interim events as a given.  Either way, it leaves the feeling that editor Rob Tokar wants to have his cake and eat it, too, when it might have been better just to complete it as envisioned.

Even as a hitherto “untold tale” of my beloved Claremontiverse, this feels overly ambitious, with Coelho—addressed by Carol as “lover” after the acquaintance of less than one plane trip—being identified as not just an ex-employee of the Deterrence Research Corporation, but an apprentice of founder Moses Magnum.  The story also crams in not one but two groups of X-Men foes, the Brotherhood du jour and the Hellfire Club, yet they have no interaction and, really, nothing to do with each other.  Worse, several elements (e.g., Carol severing Pierce’s bionic arm, plummeting into the sewer while having her mass increased by Leland and, above all, undergoing that Dark Phoenix-style vision) seem like unforgivable rip-offs of earlier and far better Claremont stories.

In short, it’s a mess, right from Reed’s convenient doohickey that was probably never heard of before or since; Mike being the scumbag that he was, it would have been far more plausible if he had hidden a video camera in his own office, so replaying that tape would accomplish the same objective.  And the artwork is so consistently amateurish that changing horses in midstream only makes it incrementally, rather than drastically, worse.  If finished and published in its intended state, this might have made a reasonably satisfying send-off for MM, and would certainly form enlightening connective tissue linking Mystique—who was, let us not forget, introduced in this strip—with the far-reaching events that Claremont depicted in Avengers Annual #10 soon after.

Arts lowlights include the practically simian Barnett in page 45, panels 5-7 (above); the squirm-inducing “naughtiness at 35,000 feet” scene on page 67 (left); Carol as evil crimson chipmunk in page 66, panel 9; and the utterly unrecognizable Shaw in page 73, panel 8.  Page 71, panel 6 (below): who is this figure we’ve never seen before?  Oh, it’s Ms. Marvel, whose formerly form-fitting mask has suddenly and inexplicably, in Gustovich’s clumsy hands, been completely redesigned in mid-issue!  But in fairness, I’ll give grudging points to the uncharacteristically detail-packed splash page; the reveal of Pyro’s flamebird in page 69, panel 2; the ECU of Avalanche—looking a lot like Juggernaut—in page 72, panel 5; and pretty much their entire portrayal of Raven, who looks good throughout.

Illustrated by faculty bêtes noires Greg LaRocque and Vincent Colletta, the cover story by Tina Chrioproces precedes Ghost Rider Vol. 1 #80 as the vacationing Johnny and Red enter Altro, a backwater town.  Sheriff Kuhn (who briefly jails them for DWW) suspects that Rev. Stryker, the leader of the survivalist Power Cult, killed his daughter Veronica’s fiancé, Frank Anders, when she broke with him and got a job at the local nuclear plant.  But she killed Frank herself, after he refused to leave the cult, which she and the boys infiltrate; released by Johnny, Zarathos plans to substitute Veronica, a willing sacrifice to this fiery “savior,” as Mephisto’s thrall, yet as the Rev tries to “save” her with explosives, Zarathos absorbs the flames and, weakened, reverts to Blaze.

The Giant-Man story seems to be another tag-team effort, scripted by Dwayne McDuffie from a Jim Shooter plot, with 12 pages done by Bob Budiansky and Manny Manos (presumably a close relative of Diverse Hands) and 5 by Don Hudson and Chris Ivy.  Defining “disposable” on every count, it has Bill brush off jobless Arlo Samuelson, who—afraid of losing material girl Donna—tries his untested levitation serum; economical substitutions leave him levitating uncontrollably, a boon in heisting the gold needed to stabilize his formula.  Increasingly irrational, Arie believes that if he touches the ground, feedback will kill him, but after reading his work, Bill realizes that it will discharge the levitational energy driving him insane, and Foster, proven correct, hires him. 

Note to Professor Tom:  The bulk of this post was written while wearing your “Keep Calm and Play Motörhead” t-shirt.

Bradley out (of Dodge).

And, just because we love you all so much...
The long-awaited return of MU cheesescake!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Post-Graduate Studies #22

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:
by Professor Tom Flynn

It really didn’t take long for Frank Miller to become a superstar. His first published work — well, maybe — was a letter printed in The Cat #3 (April 1973) when he was 16, so he was a comics fan at a fairly early age. By 1978, Miller was illustrating shorts for Gold Key Comics, mainly in The Twilight Zone series. That same year, he brought his portfolio to DC, impressing “The Dreaded Eraser” himself, art director Vince Colletta, who tossed him bottom-rung assignments for Weird War Tales and Unknown Soldier. In a few short months, Frank jumped to Marvel, settling in as a regular fill-in and cover artist. 

Miller’s first job at The House of Ideas was issue #18 of John Carter, Warlord of Mars (November 1978). But it was his work on Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #27 and #28 (February and March 1979), which guest-starred Daredevil, that set his career in motion. While the Man Without Fear’s bi-monthly solo series was on the verge of cancellation, Miller saw great potential in the character — “a blind protagonist in a purely visual medium” he thought — and lobbied to become DD’s permanent penciller. Frank joined writer Roger McKenzie and inker Klaus Janson on Daredevil #158 (May 1979). By January 1981and issue #168, Miller had forced McKenzie out and took over scripting duties as well. Three issues after that, the title became monthly and one of Marvel’s hottest properties. 

In our continuing series of Post-Graduate Studies on notable issues and stories from Bizarre Adventures, let’s take a look at Frank Miller’s contributions to that scattershot black-and-white magazine. He only did two stories, both rather short.

Bizarre Adventures #28
October 1981
Cover by Bob Larkin

“The Mongoose Gambit”
Story, Art & Inks by Frank Miller

Letters by Jim Novak

The ninja assassin Elektra steals aboard a fishing trawler and kills the radio operator as he attempts to send out an SOS. After planting a bomb, she struggles with another crewman: they both fall overboard as the boat explodes. The mercenary breaks the surface of the water and grabs on to a floating piece of wreckage — on the other end is the man she fought on deck, his gun pointed at her head. They enter into an uneasy truce, realizing that they will need to work together if there is any chance to reach land, many miles away. As they paddle, he claims that his holy mission will continue on even without his ship and that Von Eisenbluth will suffer for his crimes. When Elektra asks why he would want to kill a simple spice merchant, her reluctant companion insists that Von Eisenbluth is a Nazi and the murderer of thousands, including his parents and sister.

Two days later, Von Eisenbluth’s island appears on the horizon: the Nazi hunter fires and creases Elektra’s skull. She sinks into the ocean but revives and makes it to shore. There, she encounters a pair of body builders and steals their dune buggy. After killing two guard dogs with her bladed sai, the woman warrior slips into the German’s compound. She comes across the boatman standing before Von Eisenbluth, who is consigned to a wheelchair. The intruder shoots the old man in both knees but it has no effect: the enfeebled criminal mumbles that his legs have had no feelings for years and that heart medications have scrambled his brain. The hunter pauses — but the Nazi has been feigning his mental disabilities. He kills his would-be assassin with a concealed pistol.

Elektra makes her presence known and the clear-eyed Von Eisenbluth smiles. He apologizes for killing the target he paid her to assassinate, adding that it’s been far too long since he shot a Jew. The woman turns to walk away but suddenly spins and impales the Nazi to his wheelchair with a thrown sai to the heart.

Like Frank Miller’s fast-rising stardom, it didn’t take his creation Elektra long to appear in her first solo story. As mentioned before, she debuted in Daredevil #168 in January of 1981, the same issue that Miller solidified his grip on the series. So she had only four full-color appearances under her waist sash by the time she took the lead position in Bizarre Adventures

#28. At this point in Daredevil, Frank was only providing breakdowns for Klaus Janson. But for the 10-page “The Mongoose Gambit” — often referred to as simply “Elektra” — he provided full pencils and inked his own work. It’s hard to exactly call Miller a great artist: he’s sloppy, his characters use stilted poses, facial features are not well defined, and detailed backgrounds are rarely attempted. However, he’s a master of mood and shadows as well as quick and deadly violence. And he’s at the top of his game here. Surprisingly, there are a few close-ups of Ms. Natchios and she actually looks quite beautiful. Not something I would expect for an illustrator who revels in the grotesque. She looks a bit like a transvestite in the pin-up below though. From what I’ve read, this story is supposed to take place before Elektra first entered Matt Murdock’s troubled life.

Yes, we can check the box on Miller’s art, but there are quite a few issues with his story. Now Von Eisenbluth hired Elektra to destroy the nameless Nazi hunter’s boat, so she should have hardly been surprised that the “spice merchant” was a vile creep. Von Eisenbluth is dealing with assassins so he’s obviously not all cloves and allspice. Was she once approached by Mrs. Dash to knock-off Mr. McCormick and this stuff is all second nature? Plus, her “plan” of exploding the boat doesn’t seem very well thought out. The ship is in the middle of the ocean when she slips on board — how is not shown — so when it goes “WHOOMMMM,” Elektra is lucky that there is a large enough piece of debris floating on the surface of the water. Couldn’t she have used a pontoon boat and attached the explosive to the trawler’s hull? Also not sure what purpose the two bodybuilders on the beach serve. They claim that their “Dad’s swinging a deal” with Von Eisenbluth, but that goes nowhere. Elektra just does an old shuck and jive and makes off with their dune buggy. Plus, they are middle-aged men, one nearly bald, so that’s a bit confusing. Finally, Von Eisenbluth is totally nonchalant when the boatman caps him in both knees. Even though his legs have no feeling, I’d imagine that the Nazi would be a bit concerned about all the blood loss, considering the amount of splatter Miller illustrates. With all that aside, “The Mongoose Gambit” is a decent little time waster.

The rest of  Bizarre Adventures #28 is a mixed bag, about the standard for the series. “Shadow Hunter” is a lengthy, 20-page tale about a pint-sized ninja sent to infiltrate a U.S. Army base by his evil Chinese master — at the end, he switches side and foils the warlord’s plans. Doug Moench’s story is pretty dopey but the team of Larry Hama and Neal Adams provide more than agreeable artwork. Heck, Neal Adams. Next up is “Huntsman,” a shockingly shameless rip-off of

Logan’s Run by Archie Goodwin and Michael Golden. I’ll go more in-depth on this short in the upcoming “The Bizarre Michael Golden” post. Mary Jo Duffy and Elfquest’s Wendy Pini team on the sophomoric Triton tale, “Conscience of the King.” As usual, there’s yet another insufferable Bucky Bizarre farce by Steve Skeates and Steve Smallwood.

Bizarre Adventures #31
April 1982
Cover by Joe Jusko

“The Philistine”
Story by Denny O’Neil
Art & Inks by Frank Miller
Letters by Jim Novak

In a post-apocalyptic future, a swordsman makes his way across the burnt plains of eastern Missouri. In the distance, he notices a light — striding closer, he discovers that it’s a museum, a skeleton sprawled across the front steps. A voice beckons him inside: it is the bespectacled curator, a short, rotund elderly man. The warrior is welcomed with a feast of fruit and a cup of “special” tea, all free of charge. The curator begins to rant, complaining about the swinish herd that used to trample through his beloved institution before the coming of “The Shift.” Not only could they not comprehend great art, their presence would actually desecrate the fine objects on display. None of them understood the need to cast aside their defenses and let the paintings and sculptures assault them.

Suddenly, the figure from a Rembrandt portrait strides out of the painting, rapier raised. As the museum’s guardian continues to rant that art must be engaged with whatever weapon you possess, the swordsman kills the living portrait with a vicious slash of his samurai sword. Seductive creatures from a Michelangelo fresco start to emerge as the curator shouts that art can give you an awareness of life even as your very existence is threatened. With three well-thrown ninja stars, the swordsman slays the demons. A suit of armor lurches to life as the little man vows

that art will never be bested by sniveling, mincing buffoons. The swordsman beheads the silver spirit with its own lance.

As the wanderer tends to his wounds, the curator groans about the mess that has been made and the hours that it will take to clean it up. The warrior picks up the knight’s lance and impales his tormentor on an ornamental cartouche hanging from a wall. With his dying breath, the old man mutters “I don’t suppose I had … any right to expect … anything else from a … philistine.”

Um, yeah. I know that René Descartes was all “I think, therefore I am” and Nietzsche had a beef with organized religion, but don’t ask me what branch of philosophy Denny O’Neil and Frank Miller were aping with “The Philistine.” It’s basically eight pages of the curator pontificating about art while his rhetoric comes alive in real time. “You must permit art to assault you” and, BAM, a swordfight breaks out. “Art can be seductive as well as fierce” and, POW, naked succubi appear. “Art will ever be victorious” and, WHAM, the suit of amour strikes. What’s the point? I can’t imagine that O’Neil and Miller are anti-art. Is it about art snobbery? Maybe I’m just missing something obvious. 

In 1982, Miller was still only providing breakdowns for Klaus Janson on Daredevil, but, like “The Mongoose Gambit,” he goes whole hog here. There’s a very effective —  and prodigious — use of black, which makes up most of the backgrounds. Other panels are simply battling figures against the white of the paper. Miller doesn’t use the entire frame on many pages, leaving a lot of areas empty, though sometimes those spaces are used for the curator’s dialogue. He also experiments with washes and Zip-a-Tone, adding welcomed shades of grey and texture. I’ve said before that I thought that Frank got lazier — though some might say more stylized — as time went on, but he puts a great deal of effort into the paintings and other objects d’art. They are far from photo-realistic, but have that feeling. Maybe it’s just because their fine details stand out against the simple strokes of the characters. Now I’m guessing that’s supposed to be the work of Rembrandt and Michelangelo on display, but don’t make me swear on it. The swordsman has a nice design, kind of like a samurai El Topo.

As Bizarre Adventures #31 promised “A Hard Look at Violence,” according to the front cover at least, the rest of the seven stories are packed with bloodshed and death. But not much entertainment.  Of note are “The Hangman,” by Mark Gruenwald and the great Bill Sienkiewicz, a tale of a reporter trapped in a horror movie come alive. John Byrne offers a two-pager about book burning that’s way too short to work up any gravitas. And the talented Steve Bissette delivers some uber-creepy artwork for “A Frog is a Frog.”

Bonus: LOC published in Claws of the Cat #3 (April 1973)

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:
A look at the first four issues of
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

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

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

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

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

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.