Friday, September 17, 2010

Shrouded in Mystery, Part 3: Super-Villain Team-Up 7

Super-Villain Team-Up #7 (August 1976)
"Who is... the Shroud?"
Steve Englehart-Herb Trimpe/Pablo Marcos

Doug: OK, now hear this: I am happy to see Pablo Marcos' inks. Yep -- for all the detracting I've done over the past few months, I am telling our readers here and now that ol' Pablo is a savior.
I was never happier for my eyes to greet his work.

Karen: Savior? I don't know if I'd go that far.
Maybe better than the previous inkers, but honestly, all these issues have been relatively mediocre art-wise. Marcos certainly couldn't be any worse!

Doug: OK, yeah -- so savior might be a tad over-the-top. But he did clean up Trimpe's pencils, and inflect a little dynamism; he also made the faces look less 1950's-ish (if you know what I mean).

Doug: We pick this one up as the FF depart Doom's castle. Doom and Dr. Henry Kissinger (US Secretary of State during the Nixon and Ford administrations) have just signed a non-aggression pact. As per that agreement, the FF is ordered to desist in attacking Doom. Sullen and defeated, the team exits as Doom gloats to himself. Namor is also present, and resigns himself to his situation of slavery to Doom. Author Steve Englehart uses the next several pages as his political pulpit, but to be quite honest, he provides balance. Reed plays the part of the conservative, not wanting change or really to upset the apple cart. Johnny is the flaming liberal (pun intended), while Namor muses to himself as (somewhat surprisingly) a moderate. It's an interesting spectrum, and for the most part well done.

Karen: The political angle is one of the more bizarre elements of what has been a fairly bland story. We get a whole page of the FF arguing about whether to defy the authorities or not. I was amused by Reed saying,"After winning the confidence of every president from Kennedy to Ford, the Fantastic Four is not about to buck the government's decisions!" Boy, I loved those days when the comics were essentially operating in real time! And how about that reference by Johnny, comparing Doom to Hitler? That's certainly not something you see now -but probably for the better. I'm tired of people dragging out Hitler every time they want to besmirch someone.

Doug: As Namor concludes his soliloquy, he is suddenly aware that he is not alone. Stepping from the shadows is the mystery man we've encountered in each of the previous two issues -- the Shroud! The Shroud introduces himself, and then tells Namor his entire backstory. And what do you know? I think we've heard this before! Hey, I don't know if there was a lawsuit back in the day, filed by DC Comics, but there should have been! Wow -- Englehart's not even hiding the fact that he's ripping off Bob Kane and Bill Finger, as this is the exact origin of Bruce Wayne as it's played out over the years. And I thought it just really detracted from the story. Look, I've been taking both Trimpe and Englehart to task during this 3-issue run we've looked at, and today is no exception. There's just a lot here not to like. Don't get me wrong -- this isn't an issue of "it doesn't hold up"; instead, it's just sloppy storytelling.

Karen: Actually I thought that Englehart was ripping off two characters: Batman and Kwai Chang Caine from the TV series Kung Fu! First we get the Batman stuff -the kid who sees his parents gunned down by a thug and swears vengeance. Then he goes off to study at a monastery, gets branded, and runs out into the snow -all like in Kung Fu! Engelhart has already said in a few interviews that he and Jim Starlin were very influenced by that show when they created Shang-Chi. I guess that influence carried over here.

Karen: But the 'borrowing' didn't really bother me. Hey, if you're going to steal, steal from the best! I liked the Shroud, probably precisely because he was so Batman-like.
For me, he was the best thing to come out of this storyline.
Doug: So the Shroud announces that his mission is to kill Doom. Namor laughs it off, but the Shroud leaves anyway. Then we get a couple of really strange scenes. We see Doom walking through the streets of Latveria with his hounds, and entering a family home. He declares that he has come to exercise an ages-old right, and requests the daughter of the house. Creeeeee-py! Oh, and what's the deal with Latveria's location? Earlier it was stated that it's in the Balkans; if that's true, it's closer to Austria than Greece, as the family here speaks German. However, in the same scene Doom uses a French phrase. Next, we see the FF speeding home, still arguing, only to have Reed whip the Fantasticar around and head for Hydrobase -- where Namor's allies have holed up. And then we get to a multi-page battle between Doom and the Shroud, where the Shroud comes off, again, as a Batman-clone.

Karen: Doom's claiming of the peasant girl was icky. Luckily the Comics Code was still in place, so it never went much further than Doom ranting at her. Still, it was a little disturbing.
Doug: The story ends with Doom casting away his burning chestplate, only to be attacked by wolves and his hounds and toppled over a cliff to his seeming death. Until you turn to the last page...

Karen: The battle with Doom was fun. I don't know if I really believed for a minute that the Shroud could do so well against Doom, but it was fun to see Doom go down. I think perhaps his over-confidence was what's really on display here. The part where he's attacked by his own dogs and goes over the cliff reminded me of nothing so much as an old Hammer horror film -I could easily visualize Dracula in place of Doom! And the dogs turning on "their master" - it's what the Latverians would like to do, I'm sure, but are too afraid to try. Despite our lackluster reviews, I have to admit, the ending made me want to go get the next issue!


Edo Bosnar said...

Actually, "droit de signeur" is the generally accepted term that you'll probably find in any English-language text on medieval/feudal history, if the topic comes up.
As to Latveria and language, since my own ethnic background is E. European/Balkan, even back in the 70s/early 80s I found it alternatingly confounding and amusing that Marvel's writers located Latveria, and Transia (where Mt. Wundagore is), in Eastern Europe or the Balkans, but whenever they needed a local to say something 'ethnic' it would usually be in German, instead of some, say, Slavic language which would be more likely. And even though the stories take place "now," the clothes everybody's wearing looks like they just stepped out of one of those 18th century pastoral paintings.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Strange coincidence - I pulled this one out of my collection the other day at random and read it.

Anyhow, I liked the story even though I hadn't read any of the issues leading up to it. The Shroud kicking Doom's butt was quite a stretch.

That bit about the "Droit de signeur" really leapt off the page though. I thought it was daring, especially for 1976, and really served to underline Doom's villiany.

Is it wrong though that I kept think of Mel Brooks in History of the World? You know: "It's good to be the king."

Fred W. Hill said...

Seems Englehart really wanted to tell a Batman vs. Dr. Doom story and this was the closest he could come to it. And this was just a few years after Gerber's Superman parody, Wundarr! Would they have been the Marvel Universe's "finest" if they had teamed up? Super-Villain Team-Up wasn't Marvel's finest, but, yeah, at the time I was hooked enough to keep on collecting it whenever I came across the latest issue while the series lasted, even some of those truly weird final issues when it was printed about once a year, presumably to keep the copyright.

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