Monday, November 23, 2009

BAB Two-In-One: Devils, Owls, Widows, and a Werewolf too!

Doug: Time for a little Daredevil among these hallowed posts! Today I'm going to explore DD #81 from November 1971 -- the first appearance in this title of the Black Widow! The story was written by Gerry Conway with art by Gene Colan and Jack Abel. The cover art is by Bill Everett and Gil Kane -- check out how the boys drew DD without the red over his eyes. Looks weird.

Doug: I actually got this mag as a pack-in with the Marvel Legends Black Widow figure. I'm not sure why Toy Biz/Marvel chose this particular story; I'm sure there are better Widow stories out there. But overall, it wasn't bad and it is historically significant as it began her run in Daredevil (that lasted to #124). So in terms of her history, this issue picks up after she left the pages of Amazing Adventures and served as the start of the interim before she headlined with the Champions.

Doug: History lesson over. How about this tale? We begin with a defeated DD plunging into the murky Hudson River, along with the Owl's helicopter. As usual, Gerry Conway gives us nice little bits of characterization by way of thought balloons and short interludes featuring the rest of the cast. As Daredevil sinks, he groggily thinks of Karen Page. We see Karen a few pages later, back in New York with her agent. In these days, Karen had long since left Nelson & Murdock to seek her fame in film -- it would be much later that Frank Miller would inform us just what type of films she became involved in! As Karen watches the battle between DD and the Owl on a TV monitor, she faints at the moment DD hits the drink. It's at this same moment, too, that Natasha Romanov is introduced to DD-readers as she dives into the river to save Daredevil. After bringing him to safety, Tasha's a little put out that DD doesn't "see" her.

Doug: We then take a look in on the Owl. There's more to this than appears, as ol' frizzy-hair is getting a chewing-out from some crime boss on a monitor screen. We're led to believe that the Widow's presence on the pier when DD fell into the river was not just by chance. After being fired by the shadowy guy, the Owl basically tells him to shove it and then does his best Caesar Romero/Frank Gorshin impression -- come on... henchmen??

Doug: Making a long story short: DD, still whupped from his battle with the Owl and plunge into the Hudson, staggers into Foggy Nelson's office. Fog tries to help him, but about the time he's beginning to make like a nursemaid there's a huge crash nearby. DD takes off, at the same time the Widow hears it and also responds. While the Owl and his hired baddies attempt to knock off a bank, DD and the Widow arrive to thwart the plans. This is Colan at his most frenetic, a trend noticeable as the Bronze Age dawned, and most indicative of his tenure on Tomb of Dracula. Anyway, the Owl is of course defeated and the seeds of a romance between DD and Tasha are planted.

Doug: Judgment? Pretty good superhero story, moody Colan art, and some typically good Conway words to go with the pictures. Overall, time decently spent!

Karen: This time, I read a 'new' old comic. You see, I bought this with a bunch of other comics at an antique fair (aka swap meet) a few years ago and never got around to reading it -that is, until now. My book is Marvel Spotlight #4 featuring Werewolf By Night, circa 1972. It was written (maybe over-written) by Gerry Conway, and drawn by Mike Ploog in his one-of-a-kind style.No inker is credited so I am assuming Ploog inked himself.

Karen: The art on this book is the real selling point for me. I think Ploog was Marvel's best monster artist -and I include Ghost Rider in this category as well. His work has a strange, fluid quality - almost surreal. He also knows how to use lighting very effectively to convey mood. This art reminds me of no
thing less than an old Universal horror film - and I mean that in the best possible way!

Karen: The story itself is less than stellar. Our cursed hero, Jack Russell -yes, the werewolf is named after those cute little dogs - discovers that his dead father's castle has been sold by his step-father to a Dr. Blackgar. OK, stay with me here. Blac
kgar has had the castle shipped from Europe, stone by stone, to America, where he has had it reconstructed on an island off of California! Sure, let's just roll with that. If I can accept Ego the Living Planet, surely a transplanted castle should be no stretch. But what kills me is that Jack deduces from this that his late father's magical book, the Darkhold, must still be somewhere in the castle! I mean, I guess it could be, but really, is that a certainty?

Karen: So Jack is off to investigate, and winds up a prisoner of the obviously mad Dr. Blackgar and his daughter. For reasons revealed at the end, the good doctor is pulling his own Dr. Moreau gig, experimenting on people on the island. They have become hideous freaks that he keeps locked in the depths of the dungeon. Of course, Jack wolfs out and ruins all his fun.

Karen: There is a lot of narration (by Jack), and it is a long read. It's really composed more like a short story than a comic. There are a lot of long, descriptive passages which sort of seem hokey, but I have to admit, they did build some mood and tension into the story. I didn't think the Werewolf's thought balloons was a good idea. They just come across rather dumb. " is afraid of me. Can taste fear, sweet like odor of forest," Wolfy thinks. Uh no....just no.

Karen: But all in all, I found this a fairly entertaining read, and I especially enjoyed Ploog's art. I recall a panel discussion at the San Diego Comic Con a few years ago, where Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, and Mike Ploog were the guests. I think it was Roy who said that Mike was their go-to guy for monsters because he could sure draw hairy weirdos! Well, he could draw a lot more than that. I never buy Marvel's Essential collections, because I can't stand to see my comics without color. But I'd actually consider getting an Essentials of WBN because I think Ploog's work would lend itself well to black and white art.

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