Friday, August 14, 2009

The Comics Code Authority: Revised to Relax, part 5


Amazing Spider-Man #102 (November 1971)
“Vampire At Large!”
Roy Thomas/Gil Kane-Frank Giacoia

Doug: We’re back to wrap up our Monster Mash, as we’ve looked at Marvel’s handling of the revisions to the Comics Code Authority. For a look back at our previous discussions of the Man-Wolf, Wonder Man as a zuvembie, and the first installment of this latest feature concerning Morbius, the Living Vampire, just click on this link:

Doug: But wait, there’s more! Karen and I will discuss a few other issues that relate, perhaps directly, to the Code’s revision. We’d like to actually kick off our last story-dissection on this topic with a look at the letters page from Amazing Spider-Man #100, in which readers reflected on the opening installment of the so-called “drug issues” that ran in ASM #’s 96-98. Then we’ll close it out with an actual discussion of those same issues. This has been a long series, but it’s been a fun one for us to kick off the new blog.

Doug: On to Spidey and his amazing fiends… Issue #102 starts off right where #101 left off – with Spidey caught in between Morbius and the newly-arrived Dr. Curt Connors, transformed into the Lizard. A knock down/drag out ensues, with some nice battle scenes. A panel that was a particular fave of mine showed Morbius swinging the Lizard around by his tail. I’d also like to comment that in regard to the Lizard’s face, and I have been a regular maligner of Gil Kane in the face dept., Kane does a swell job here. Dr. Connors really looks reptilian – it looks like Kane consulted some photo stock of iguanas, perhaps. At any rate, I like his depiction.

Karen: Kane has always been very hit or miss for me. As a kid, I really didn’t appreciate his style at all – I liked the simpler, cleaner look of Romita. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to enjoy his work more. I would agree, his lizard looks pretty good. The fight scene also has a very fluid quality to it – you can feel the motion. Nicely done.

Doug: In the midst of battle, the Lizard is knocked backwards into some equipment and takes an electric charge. It’s enough to knock him out, and Morbius is quick to leap upon him and sink his teeth into the Lizard’s neck – this is not shown, so in spite of vampires now being A-OK, apparently fangs-meeting-neck was not OK (?). This development provides an interesting plot twist, as Spidey manages to chase Morbius away and discovers that the Lizard has regained consciousness with Dr. Connors’ mind!

Karen: The bite not being shown I would again chalk up to Stan’s policies. He’s said in a number of interviews that his goal was action but not real violence. Of course, he was still thinking about the kids back then! Sometimes I feel a little sad that today’s comics are so obviously not aimed at kids – I don’t even know if the average 10 year old of today would find a typical comic accessible, or even interesting! But I digress…

Doug: I just finished reading Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book by Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon (and I would highly recommend it!), and the authors relate that Stan has indeed said on many occasions that he prefers comics that he could hand to a mom and tell her that her kids would be safe reading it. I found that interesting given some of the failed attempts Stan has made to branch out, including a proposal to Playboy for a VERY racy pornographic comic strip that Stan would have written, with art by John Romita!! But now I digress…

Doug: After much discussion, Spidey and Doc Connors come to the realization that Morbius must have transfused some type of enzyme to the Lizard, allowing him to become a composite of Connors’ mind and the Lizard’s body – giving Connors two arms, which he’d long sought.

Doug: What follows is a very long origin story for Morbius. It’s very vampire-y, which is fitting as Roy Thomas would be the editor-in-chief over Marv Wolfman and the other authors of Tomb of Dracula – this tale was the test market for that later series. All the familiar elements of vampire tales are present, and Kane does a nice job posturing Morbius. His origin is tragic, and he becomes a pitiable character, not unlike Dracula. As mentioned above, Morbius is shown attacking several victims, but most of the violence and blood-sucking occurs off-panel.

Karen: I hate to say this, but when I saw Morbius in the flashback, with his pale, pointed face and almost non-existent nose, I couldn’t help but think of Michael Jackson.

Doug: Yet another subject for potential digression…

Doug: The push-pull between Connors’ mind and the Lizard’s mind is interesting, and adds suspense to move the tale forward. Thomas does a nice job keeping the reader on the edge of his/her seat as this subplot runs. There’s also a nice chase scene involving our three combatants and the New York cityscape that is well done. You know, they sure could cram a lot of action into a mag in the days before decompressed storytelling!

Karen: No kidding, Doug, it always takes me a good 20-30 minutes to read these old books, but since this was a giant-size, it took even longer! You really got your money’s worth in those days.

Karen: The fight and chase was well-done, and we even get some Spidey-angst over his not saving Morbius.

Doug: But all’s well that ends well. Spidey and Dr. Connors are both able to get a dose of Morbius’ blood, replete with the enzyme they were after that they hoped would give Connors an additional arm and subtract four arms from Peter (huh? – smart enzyme!). Let’s just say that only one of the desired effects came to pass – hey, if Connors grew another arm, we wouldn’t have any more Lizard stories, you know?

Doug: So, what was the big deal with the Marvel monsters that popped up in the early 1970’s? Not much if you ask me. I think, though, that it’s important to understand that Marvel tested these waters in their mainstream comics – but really went for the gusto in their black and white magazines which were always aimed at an older audience and never had to obey the same conventions that the four-color comics did. We mentioned earlier that Simon Garth, the Zombie, didn’t see mainstream comics until Daredevil Annual #9, and although Werewolf by Night, Tomb of Dracula, and others did appear with comics like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, it was pretty tame fare as compared to the magazines in which many of them concurrently appeared.

Karen: Agreed, the monsters are not scary or disturbing at all. Honestly, they were typical Marvel characters: they had problems, and most did not want to be monsters. Look at characters like Werewolf by Night, or Ghost Rider -- many of their stories revolved around them trying to free themselves of their curse. So we had very sympathetic monsters!

Karen: I think where Marvel took more of a chance was their depiction of Satan and Hell in some of their books. Having a character running around calling himself the Son of Satan seems likely to offend somebody! We also had Satan himself showing up to hassle his son, as well as the Ghost Rider, until Marvel chickened out and ret-conned it into being Mephisto. Making Satan into a recurring character just seems risky. But things were a lot looser back in the early 70s.

Doug: I always thought Mephisto was Satan anyway – Silver Surfer #3, as well as the Surfer graphic novel that Buscema illustrated around 1980 basically take the stories from the Bible when Satan tempted Christ. It was never a stretch for me to see them as one and the same. And if Marvel was always telling stories about gods anyway, why couldn’t Satan have been in their funny books?

Karen: In Marvel’s attempt to avoid the gore and shock tactics of the old EC Comics, did they go too far in “softening” their monsters? I’m talking about just the comics, not the B&W mags. Did the monsters really differ that much from the super-heroes? I tend to think not.

Doug: I agree with your posit – was this truly a stretching of the revised Code? There really wasn’t much that was different from before. There certainly is no more violence, no blood, etc. We never saw decapitation panels, or overt sexuality (other than what had progressed organically from the sexual revolution of the 1960’s) suddenly leap back onto the four-color page. But sometimes when you think you’re getting away with something – that’s when the real fun begins!


Chris PV said...

See, my first exposure to Morbius was the Spidey cartoon from the mid '90s. I was aware of him, but had never read him. In that show, he only went after "plasma" and (man this is lame) attacked people with suckers on the palms of his hands. Even back then, I was offended. I get not wanting to have throat biting on you Saturday morning cartoon. That's fine. But then why on EARTH would you want to include a vampire?

And then, to make it worse, Blade showed up. He had a lightsaber made of solar energy and, to my recollection, never actually succeeded in killing a vampire. Sad days.

Karen said...

Suckers in his hands!? Wow - that IS bad! I have to agree with you Chris - why would they even broach the subject of vampires if they were going to water it down to such an extreme? The comics may have been reluctant to show any real violence, but at least they never went that far from the subject matter. Just terrible!

Chris PV said...

It is pretty abominable. You just can't describe the letdown a young man feels when he has to see a vampire reduced to giving someone the Vulcan Mind Meld of death.


Related Posts with Thumbnails