Doug: As we're in the midst of our reviews of "The Serpent Crown Affair", how about taking a look at two of the Bronze Age's great scribes, Steve Englehart and Jim Shooter? And, what better place than to compare them than in the pages of Earth's Mightiest Heroes?
Doug: Englehart's tenure on the book ran from Avengers #105 (November 1972)-#152 (October 1976). Englehart is perhaps best remembered for the epic "Celestial Madonna" arc, of which he famously declares it the first bi-weekly story (once the Giant-Size issues were factored in). Also of note is the aforementioned "Serpent Crown Affair" and the Zodiac 3-parter. Points in characterizing his run are the absence of Captain America for the first 2/3 of his stories, his "pet characters" Mantis, the Swordsman, Moondragon, and the Beast, and the inclusion of most of the heavy-hitters (Thor, Iron Man, and the Vision) throughout his run.
Doug: Shooter came aboard in Avengers #156 in February 1977 (#151 was his first credit) and was the writer to #224 (October 1982, but with some gaps). Some BAB love has been thrown in his direction for the "Bride of Ultron" 4-parter and the Count Nefaria 3-parter. The long but quite swell "Korvac Saga" still sits on our to-do list. Pet characters used during his run include Henry Peter Gyrich, Ms. Marvel, and the Beast/Wonder Man buddy concept.
Doug: So who's your favorite during our decade of choice, the Swinging Seventies?
Avengers #142 (December 1975) "Go West, Young Gods!" Steve Englehart-George Perez/Vince Colletta
Doug: If you thought our first installment contained a lot of energy, this one's even more exciting! Thinking of Peaches & Herb, last week we saw Captain America reunited with the Avengers, the Beast reunited with Patsy Walker, Iron Man and Moondragon reunited with the rest of the team, and all of the above reunited with the Squadron Sinister and Kang -- although not all at the same time! Whoo-boy! And I say this one's more exciting? Let's see...
Doug: We open right where we left off, with a show of surprise on the faces of Thor, Moondragon, and their guide across the eons, Immortus. The subject of that astonishment is revealed in the persons of five of the Wild West's heroes: the Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt, the Rawhide Kid, the Ringo Kid, and the Night Rider (formerly known as the Ghost Rider -- but of course, there was a certain flame-headed motorcycle rider by that moniker in the MU in 1975!). The Western heroes quickly divulge that these new arrivals are even nuttier than Hawkeye -- it's Thor's quickly come/quickly go thunderstorm that riles up the locals. After enticing the cowboys to take them to see Hawkeye, the entire group rides off to the town of Tombstone, Arizona.
Karen: Just a quick comment here: Moondragon looked gigantic on the back of the Rawhide Kid's horse! Intentional or not?
Doug: She did, didn't she? And her straight-backed posture only added to her haughtiness. Doug: Once in the law office of Matt Hawk (aka Two-Gun), the Avengers are excited to see the once-lost Hawkeye. Clint reveals how he became lost in the timestream on his way to the 12th Century, and encountered Kang. After a tussle, the two of them fell out of time travel and landed in the middle of a desert. Hawkeye, alone, set off on a trek toward any civilization he could find. Walking into Tombstone, he encountered two major threats: Kang's citadel, and some ornery locals. Losing the bad guys, Hawkeye located the office of Matt Hawk, and soon joined up with the heroes of yesterday. At the conclusion of his tale, Immortus pipes up to tell the assemblage of Kang's master plan: in order to conquer the 20th Century, he will first conquer the 19th!
Karen: Hawkeye has ditched his mask and shirt to "blend in". This is thankfully not as horrific a look as his mini-skirt costume from a few years prior, but it's certainly not appealing. As for Kang's plan, I guess he decided to take the easy way out. It does make one wonder though; if he's the master of time, he could choose any era to exert his will. I always assumed he chose the modern one because it was most challenging. After the constant defeats though, I could see taking the path of least resistance.
Doug: Speaking of the 20th Century, Englehart and Perez give us a look in on the rest of the Avengers, captured at the end of the previous issue by the Squadron Supreme -- now in the employ of Roxxon Oil. Encased in a cage of Dr. Spectrum's making, all the Avengers can do is hurl a few challenges down to the gloating Buzz Baxter and Hugh Jones, as well as the Squadron. At the end of this little vignette, Captain America announces that he has a plan... that we'll have to wait until next week to discover!
Karen: I liked the perspective in that opening shot. Perez would perfect such things eventually. Even after all these years though, I still don't like a nose on Iron Man! From what I understand, the Kang/Old West story was originally slated for the next Giant Size before it got canceled. I do think that it might have worked better that way. Although I enjoyed both stories, I was frustrated by jumping back and forth between them.
Doug: I wonder if the Old West story would have "worked" as a standalone? With only three Avengers (and do we count Moondragon as a team member at this time?), I think they'd have had to concoct some other backstory to get IM, Vision, and the Scarlet Witch involved to some degree. It's interesting that you bring that up, as G-S Avengers #5 was a reprint of Avengers Annual #1, and Avengers Annual #6 was originally advertised as Giant-Size Avengers #6! Could the Dreaded Deadline Doom have reared its ugly head in the midst of the production of this tale?
Doug: Back to the West, Hawkeye tells his team that Kang will probably move against a coming train, a train loaded with uranium. While the "old-timers" don't know of it's importance, Clint assures them that Kang does. So, formulating a plan of both attack and defense, the six (Hawkeye included) cowboys mount up and take their places. There's a funny scene here where it looks like Clint is going to ban Thor and Moondragon from the mission. You can just feel the tension rise as Thor's hackles get all up. But ol' Hawk assures him that with a few minor changes, the God of Thunder will surely play an important role.
Karen: How goofy is it to see Moondragon all prim and proper in a dress and bonnet?
Doug: Just as they suspected, some bad guys ambush the train; they certainly didn't plan on being met by the most notorious lawmen of the 1800's! This part of the book is really, really fun. The young Perez shows that he's as comfortable drawing cowboys and horses as he is the longjohn crowd. There's some gunplay, some great moments (Rawhide in the coal bin is a favorite), and a chance for Hawkeye to shine. All this takes place while Thor and Moondragon are disguised as passengers aboard the train (Thor's long blond hair and hulking body draw a sideways glance from the passenger across the aisle), the insurance policy against Kang taking the train should the cowboys fail. They don't fail, though, and once all of the baddies are rounded up, Hawkeye begins his interrogation and announces that the assault on Castle Kang is about to begin!
Karen: That last section was pretty rousing adventure. You're right, Perez handles the western action as easily as he handles the modern. It was a great fun, even though I never read any western comics growing up (although I do enjoy western movies). The sub-plot with Two-Gun and his fascination with our Avengers was a nice idea.
Doug: I'd seen some Western reprints when I was a kid, but I guess the Dick Ayers or Larry Lieber art put me off a bit. But here -- this Perez guy could really draw and he made the Western heroes quite exciting. I think some of the same issues with Vinnie Colletta's inks are present again, but overall I can't really complain -- there are times when the inks are OK. And, in the midst of what will become a great super-team slugfest across two worlds, Englehart manages to work in his epilogue to his epic "Celestial Madonna" story. And it works!
Doug: Today's question requires some Bronze Age reflection on your part. We want you to think of all of the books that you bought regularly, or even off and on over the decade 1970-1979 (again, we'll just use those parameters to keep things simple). Here's your job: Which title or character do you think was far better off at the end of the decade than the beginning, and if you're so inclined, which title or character was worse off by 1979? And I suppose for the indifferent-leaners out there, which title or character seemed to plateau (either satisfactorily or unsatisfactorily) during this time frame?
Doug: You can judge this several different ways -- creatively, the "life" of the character or his/her book's "universe", or some other evaluation that you come up with.
Doug: For example, I don't think anyone would argue that the X-Men (both the book and the characters) were far better off by the end of the decade than they had been at the beginning. Even though the Thomas/Adams issues were winding to a close, reprint banishment soon ensued. But from 1975 on, that book was on an astronomical escalation creatively and in the lives of the characters (Dark Phoenix soon to be aside).
Karen: Life was good as a Marvel fanatic back in the seventies. It was a time of unparalleled creativity, when a new generation of writers and artists appeared to expand upon the Lee-Kirby universe. We had superheroes, barbarians, monsters, cowboys...anything you could want could be found in the pages of a Marvel comic -or magazine. It was a fun time.
Karen: One of the extra little joys for Marvel fans was the new Marvel fan club, inaugurated in 1973, called FOOM: Friends Of Ol' Marvel. When you joined FOOM, you got a package of cool goodies that included a gold membership card, a 22" x 28" Steranko poster of many of Marvel's finest, some stickers, and best of all, a subscription to the FOOM magazine. This quarterly magazine was chock full of news (remember, no internet in those days!), articles, games, art, and pictures. It was like being a real Marvel insider.
Karen: I'll be taking a look at a different issue of FOOM on these FOOM Fridays. We'll start with the first issue. My own issues are in pretty bad shape -they were read and re-read, and since I was still a youngster, I also *gasp* colored some of the pictures! So please excuse the appearance of some images.
Karen: Issue #1 readers were greeted by a full page image of Smilin' Stan Lee on the cover. Lee saluted the reader in his typical flowery, over the top prose. He described the magazine as "an endless bounty of all that is best, all that is noblest, all that most truly symbolizes the soul and the spirit of we who follow FOOM!"
Karen: Inside, editor Steranko explained the concept of the magazine, and announced a contest: design a hero or villain to appear in a new Marvel comic! (More on this in future reviews.)
Karen: Next followed pages with biographies and photos of Lee, John Buscema, Roy Thomas, Joe Sinnott, and Gerry Conway. I love the photo of the 'hip' Stan Lee! WHile we have a ton of information on all of these men now, and it's easily accesible, back in the day, these bios were really very informative. Of course I was always interested in any information I could get about Marvel and the bullpen. The main article in the issue, written by one Ed Noonchester (?), was on the birth of the Fantastic Four. A detailed index of all FF issues to that point -which would only be issue 132! - followed.
Karen: Interspersed throughout the magazine are puzzles and games with Marvel themes. I dutifully scribbled away in every one of these, I'm afraid.
Karen: Perhaps the most interesting section of the magazine, to me anyway, was the part on upcoming books, titled Far-Out Fanfare and Infoomation. The Marvel magazines were discussed first, announcing that Marvel was launching four black and white magazines: Dracula ( although the cover picture shows the title as Dracula Lives!), Monsters Unleashed, Tales of the Zombie, and Vampire Tales. Also discussed is Marvel's pulp digest book, The Haunt of Horror. Hard to believe but each of the magazines had a price of 75 cents! Marvel was going whole hog into the horror business with these titles, which were to be released one each month over a four month period. Karen: Some staff changes are discussed, including that John Romita has been made art director, and will be laying out most of the covers. Marie Severin has been made Chief Colorist. Young Marv Wolfman has been made an Assistant Editor. It's funny to read some of the 'upcoming' news now. Some never went anywhere, and some were portentious. Some of the news:
The Thing is going to star in his own team-up book in Marvel Features
Strange Tales will return with Len Wein and Gene Colan collaborating on a project "too secret to reveal at the moment...all we can reveal now is its name -Brother Voodoo"!!
Don Heck will take over Sub-Mariner until Bill Everett recovers from his heart attack. "You might want to drop Wild Bill a note wishing him a speedy recovery!"
The Spider-Man LP record was so successful, Gerry Conway is writing the script for a second one (Was this Rock Reflections of A Super-Hero? I had both albums, and I recall they were pretty terrible)
This was a tantalizing tidbit that never went anywhere as far as I can tell: "There has been some talk around the bullpen concerning a one hour, animated Christmas special that will feature all the Marvel characters. This show would not be a Saturday morning special, but a prime time show with nationwide distribution. Remember FOOM fans, you read it here first!" And last -never happened.
Karen: The back of our first issue features coupons to cut out and send in to buy Marvel T-shirts ( I did) and the Spider-Man record album (ditto). So about 1/4 of my back cover (featuring a Steranko-drawn Spidey) is missing! But dang...those t-shirts were only $2.50 a pop! Man, do I miss the seventies.
Karen: I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. When times are tough it can be hard to feel thankful, but I am very grateful for the presence of my family and friends in my life. They have been the rock that keeps me anchored in difficult times. May all of you find comfort and peace on this day of thanks.
Doug: And a Happy Thanksgiving from me, as well. I am thankful for a great family, a good job, and this little community that's formed on the Bronze Age Babies -- you folks really enrich my love of comics reading. All the best to you and yours during this holiday season!
X-Men #105 (June 1977) "Phoenix Unleashed!" writer: Chris Claremont Artist: Dave Cockrum Inker: Bob Layton
Karen: Buckle your seat belts tight kids, because this one starts off with a bang! The X-Men arrive at their private airfield to find the villainous Eric the Red waiting for them. They attack him and are suddenly met with -the fury of Firelord! In less than two pages, the former herald of Galactus makes quick work of the X-Men, knocking them all out. It turns out that Eric has conned the fiery one into thinking that the X-Men are out to rule the world. Apparently it's not that hard to put one over on Firelord.
Doug: Yeah, he did seem a bit dense. Is it just me, or have I missed the "Watch out 'cause Eric the Red is a MAJOR player" announcement? I've read his first appearances back when Steranko was doing the X-Men (c. the early #50's), and he didn't strike me as that big and bad then, either. But I guess he's fitting into a much larger, more cosmic picture this time around. I loved that opening 2-page spread!
Karen: My understanding is they're different characters. I thought the original Eric the Red was Cyclops in disguise. But Claremont loves bringing back obscure characters! Now we move to the bridge of the starship Enterpr - I mean, a Shi'ar starship. Cockrum does a fun homage to the original Star Trek here. The Shi'ar are pursuing Princess Lilandra to Earth. They're ready to take her ship out, when they discover that Earth has successfully driven off Galactus four times! This news so rattles them that they veer off; but their photon torpedoes eventually hit Lilandra's ship. Luckily, she stepped into her transporter in the nick of time, and beams down -right into Jean Grey's apartment, where Jean, her room-mate Misty Knight, Jean's parents, and Prof. Xavier are enjoying some coffee!
Doug: I thought that scene where the Shi'ar hightail it out of attack-mode was funny. I guess they are smarter than the Badoon! Has it ever been explained why the Shi'ar use a bug motif for their space travel, yet the race itself is more aviary?
Karen: I've wondered that myself! As Prof. X and Jean help Lilandra, who should show up and blow a hole in the wall but that crazy Firelord? What he doesn't know is that Jean has some tricks of her own. She turns into Phoenix and telekinetically blasts the erstwhile herald out of the apartment. "Incredible! In all my days on this misbegotten world, only Thor has struck me with such power!", he says, startled. We get to see some of Jean's new power displayed, and it's a quantum leap past her Marvel Girl days.
Doug: As we've jumped around a bit in our reviews of the X-Men, I'd forgotten that this was the first real appearance of Phoenix in action. Realizing that, the excitement I'd had way back when was rekindled. I guess I always like a scene where an underdog just rocks a bully -- that shock, anger, etc. on the part of the bully is always a treat. What did you think of Claremont and Cockrum writing themselves into that scene? Shades of Lee and Kirby...
Karen: While Firelord keeps Phoenix occupied, Eric the Red goes after Lilandra and Xavier. The X-Men come flying to their rescue in a hovercraft, only to -once again -have a vehicle blown out from under them. As Nightcrawler says, "Oh no! Not again!"
Doug: What's the "body count" on ships now? Gotta be up to at least four...
Karen: Back with the two fiery foes, Phoenix decides she's had enough and blasts Firelord 12 miles away! We get some foreshadowing here, as Jean thinks she should go "finish him off" -that doesn't sound like our dear Marvel Girl! She realizes that her power is like a drug.
Doug: Yes, that is foreshadowing -- and talk about slow-cooking it! With the bi-monthly publishing schedule, it was about three years before the Dark Phoenix storyline. Claremont was a master (in this case) with the slow reveal.
Karen: The other X-Men manage to survive their craft's explosion, but Eric is able to assemble a stargate and escape with Lilandra. Just as Nightcralwer is about to go through the gate it is shut off. Xavier is frantic, thinking they'll never get to Lilandra. But amazingly, Jean is able to power up the gate, and the X-Men head off after Lilandra. Unfortunately, Firelord has recovered and comes seeking vengeance. But eventually the Prof and the ex-herald would come to an understanding and everything would be peachy. But we wouldn't find that out until issue #108. Doug: Aren't comics great? Think of all the ways that things go cosmic -- Boom Tubes, stargates, Immortus, Thor's hammer, Superboy's speed, Dr. Doom's time machine... All means to a spectacular end. And another thing -- the definition of "hero"? Nightcrawler's jumping blindly after Eric the Red -- not having a clue what was going on, where he was going, etc. For the weakest team member, that just took guts.
Karen: Now that we've covered the story, how about that team of Cockrum and Layton? I thought this issue looked great! I've always liked Layton's inks. I know, some people say his stuff looks too slick, but I like his linework and detail.
Doug: As we've seen the inks of Sam Grainger lately, I could tell in certain places the influence Layton had, particularly in some of the facial expressions. It was a winning combination. And as we know, Layton's no slouch as a penciller, either.
Karen: This was just the start of Jean's transformation from, as Cyclops put it ,"the weakest X-Man," to someone with godlike power. It was also very unusual for a female character to be depicted as so powerful. In fact, when I think of the first really powerful Marvel heroines, they're all basically Claremont girls: Phoenix, Storm, and Ms. Marvel! I recall when I read this issue, I was incredulous over Firelord's line about Phoenix hitting like Thor -that just seemed ridiculous to me! How times have changed.
Doug: Yeah, just a closing thought -- how in the world could Cyke say Jean had been the weakest X-Man when the Angel was there all along? Bro-therrrr... again, shades of Stan Lee!
Doug: In today's who-do-you-choose, we're going to look at comics' first family, the Fantastic Four. But, throughout their history all has not been fantastic all the time -- there've been maternity leaves, personal leaves, and leaves in a snit! And in those times, heroes from outside the bonds of the family were brought in to fill the void and keep the membership at 4.
Doug: Over the years, we've seen Crystal and Medusa from the Inhumans, everyone's favorite Hero-For-Hire Luke Cage, and the femizon Thundra (although I'm not sure if she was ever officially a substitute member). And what about the time immediately after Cage's tenure when the depowered Ben Grimm was given his exo-skeleton, and had the ability to become the Thing at will? Would you count him as a substitute during those issues?
Doug: But let's stick to the first two substitutes -- Crystal and later her sister Medusa. Crystal was on board beginning in FF #81 as Sue's replacement after her delivery of Franklin. She'd actually been hanging out with Johnny since her debut way back in issue #45. Medusa on the other hand, was introduced as a super-baddie member of the Frightful Four. She didn't become a member of the FF until the Bronze Age, when Sue left Reed after Reed had lobotomized young Franklin -- seems the lad's mind was about to ruin the universe! Each sister's official tenure as a member of the FF was rather brief, but important nonetheless in the whole "family matters" scheme of things.
Doug: So who was your favorite? Which would you have lobbied for to attain permanent membership? Who was just a bad fit/plot vehicle/never should have been considered in the first place?
Avengers #141 (November 1975) "The Phantom Empire!" Steve Englehart-George Perez/Vince Colletta
Doug: As if our tour of the All-New, All-Different X-Men wasn't enough to set your collective hearts to racing, we're now going to begin a 7-week (egad!) look at one of my favorite Avengers stories, the epic "Serpent Crown Affair"! And you know what -- I find myself turning to the Bronze Age for most of my Avengers joy: the Sentinels story early on, the Zodiac story around #120-122, the Celestial Madonna, and the 2-parter where YJ grows really big to whup up on the Whirlwind. Yeah -- good, good stuff!
Karen: Englehart's Avengers never had a dull moment. This is especially true from about 118 up.
Doug: This one sort of seems to hit the ground running. The bouncing Beast is on his way (home from the hospital?) when he's accosted by a gang of tech-thugs. Hank works them over easily at first, but then succumbs to a blast from some sort of ray gun. As the pile-on begins, help arrives in the form of the red-white-and-blue Avenger, Captain America! Long gone from the title, Cap makes a triumphant return in this issue after the "Secret Empire" and "Nomad" arcs in his own book. Between our two heroes, the Beast's attackers have no chance.
Karen: It was great to have Cap back in the Avengers! If there was anything missing during Englehart's run, it was Cap. But it made sense, considering what was going on in his own title.
Doug: Cap and the Beast compare notes, and decide that Roxxon Oil is at the center of the controversy. Making their way to the hospital to see the Avengers, who are visiting the healing Pyms, Cap takes over immediately. He asks Thor and the others to step outside, and tells them his suspicions about Roxxon, and a possible tie-in with the Brand Corporation. Asking for a team to join him, the team is interupted by a returning quinjet. Back in New York are Iron Man (hey, man -- this was the "nose era"!) and Moondragon, having failed in their effort to find the missing Hawkeye. After debriefing back at the Mansion, Moondragon requests that Thor accompany her into the timestream in search of Hawkeye. Then, in a statement that must make all of those unfortunate enough to have read "Civil War" scratch their heads, Tony Stark tells Cap "I'm with you all the way."
Karen: The scenes with Cap and the other Avengers at the hospital were nicely done. Thor's thoughts about Cap returning to them "at last!" show how valued the star-spangled hero was, and Cap's comment to the bed-ridden Yellowjacket -"Hank -ditch those roses, huh?" -was just perfect.
Karen: Of course, we did have Moondragon to put up with, She was supposed to be annoying and insufferable, and she did a good job of it! I really could not stand her. First we had to deal with Mantis and her self-absorption, and next we got Baldy! However, she did serve a role on the team, in forcing Thor to examine his reasons for being an Avenger. I think the conclusions she drove him to (that he was "slumming") were absolutely false, but it was an interesting sub-plot. Iron Man's friendship with Cap was still pretty solid at this point. There had been no Armor Wars, Galactic Storm, or Civil War yet to rip them apart.
Doug: Now in the midst of this, we have a brewing subplot with the arrival of Patsy Walker to the Avengers. Of course she had long before been the center of Marvel's teen universe, along with such titles as Millie the Model. I had not been a reader of the Beast's solo series in Amazing Adventures, which also guested Patsy, so when I first came to this story I was somewhat in the dark. It's pretty obvious that scribe Steve Englehart is going to do something here, as Patsy gets in on the action and leads to the defeat of the team later in this story.
Karen: I had no idea who Patsy Walker was or what the heck she was doing in Avengers! Her arrival did leave me shaking my head, but I trusted Englehart knew what he was doing. And he did!
Doug: And as long as we're discussing the writing, how about the art? This was the introduction of George Perez, and even in his first assignment it's pretty obvious that he would go on to superstardom. I will say that I didn't care for some of the backgrounds he employed (weird geometric shapes and such), and the light inking of Vince Colletta certainly did him no favors, with the exception of the Beast. Vinnie's feathering could always make hair look good. Later in this series Sam Grainger will arrive, and I think we'd all agree that in some of the X-Men books we've reviewed, he very ably inked Dave Cockrum.
Karen: Perez was a welcome sight, even if his initial work was relatively simplistic in both style and layout. It was fun to see him develop into such an incredible artist. As for Colletta, what can I say that hasn't been said? I did notice an abundance of blank backgrounds or very simple backgrounds in this issue.It'd be fun to see the original pencils and do a comparison.
Doug: As Thor and Moondragon prepare to leave, Moondragon summons Immortus -- he easily draws the heroes into the timestream. As they set off on their mission, they are confronted by Kang the Conqueror, still smarting from losing the Celestial Madonna back in G-S Avengers #4. Thor is able to defeat Kang, and the journey continues. It's conclusion lands our heroes in 1873 America -- in the Wild West!
Karen: I have to say, Kang's reappearance was not entirely welcome to me. As the Vision said, "Again? This is getting monotonous!"
Doug: Back in the present, the Avengers are about to lay seige to the Brand Corporation when they are confronted by the Squadron Supreme. These characters were last seen back in Avengers #85-86. Mirroring DC's Justice League of America, Hyperion (Superman), Doctor Spectrum (Green Lantern), Golden Archer (Green Arrow), Lady Lark (Black Canary), and the Whizzer (Flash) engage the Avengers and make short work of them. In the end, it's the meddling Patsy Walker that turns the tide, preventing Wanda from using her hex power at its fullest power. It's a nice cliffhanger ending, seeing a very powerful team carried away, while Thor and Moondragon appear to have troubles of their own in the distant past.
Karen: I loved what Englehart was doing with the Squadron. He could have taken the easy way out, and just used the Squadron Sinister, who were bad guys. But instead, he chose to use the Squadron Supreme, who were the heroes of their world. Heroes who had gone bad -"we sold out!" We'd find out just how much they sold out in the coming issues. Marvel didn't shy away from politics -at least not in Englehart's books.
Doug: Great lead-off issue for what will be a fun tale! Englehart was really clicking on the book by this time, and it's hard to believe that he was within a year of being done. One has to wonder what would have happened had he stayed on the book. Of course, a fella named Shooter came along, and he did OK...
Karen: Comics have lots of teams, and those teams all have leaders. But who, in youropinion, was the best team leader?
Karen: I'll go ahead and throw out my choice, which is a pretty safe one: Captain America. The guy not only has the strategic and tactical know-how to command a team, he also has the moral authority to command respect, and the people skills to get along with everyone, from a Norse God to an android!
Karen: My second choice would be Cyclops -but only up to when I stopped regularly reading X-Men, which was right around the time Paul Smith took over the art. That Cyclops was a strong leader -heck, he kept Wolverine in line!
Karen: There area lot of options out there. People other than Cap have lead the Avengers -how about Iron Man, Thor, the Wasp? What about big-brained Reed Richards? Or the leadership skills of Dick Grayson? How does Superman size up as a leader?
Karen: So let's hear it, at both Marvel and DC -who is your choice for best team leader?
DC and Marvel Present: Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man (1976) "The Battle of the Century!" Gerry Conway-Ross Andru/Dick Giordano (with Superman retouches by Neal Adams and Peter and Mary Jane retouches by John Romita)
Doug: Epic? You want epic? Well if our ongoing coverage of the many scintillating story arcs of the Bronze Age isn't enough, then how about this 92-page monster? You could have gotten this bad boy hot off the magazine racks at the grocery store (no spinner rack could hold this) during our nation's bicentennial -- that's when I got mine, and it's been well-loved (and read) over the years.
Karen: Somehow the book was sold out at our local bookstore and the other places I would buy comics -liquor stores, convenience stores - didn't carry the treasury books. I was in near-panic, convinced I was missing the most important event of my life. Thankfully, I had a very determined mother, who contacted the distributor and managed to get me a copy!
Doug: That's a great story -- doesn't top my story about my mom running me by a porn shop in search of Avengers #161, but hey, I have to admire your mom's diligence...
Doug: Let's discuss the creative team first. I would imagine there was great discussion concerning who would be given control over the flagship characters of each company -- not just anyone was going to garner this assignment. But unless you happened to read Daniel Best's article that was printed in Back Issue #11, you may not know just how deeply this whole thing involved creators at both companies. Rather than rehash Best's fine research, I've linked to the online (and expanded) version of his article. You can also find numerous examples of original art from this story. After rereading this tale for this post, I was almost left to wonder if Best's article wasn't more interesting than Conway's story that ushered in the now-many Marvel-DC crossovers? By the way, the art we've chosen for this post is supposed to generate opinions from you, the reader, as to just who had the most influence on a given sample -- Andru, Giordano, Adams, or Romita. Have fun with it.
Karen: Best's article is pretty entertaining, a little bit of lost comics history. I'm not certain if it was that article I've read or another, but I do recall hearing about some of the politics that went into this first cross-over. Of course, it really hit bottom with the original Avengers -JLA cross-over, which never saw the light of day.
Doug: So while your head is still spinning from that, let's get after the plot: Superman fights a giant robot (which happens to be controlled by Lex Luthor), Spidey fights Doc Ock and his Flying Octopus, Lex and Ock meet in jail, Lex and Ock bust out of jail, Peter Parker and Clark Kent show up at the same newsman convention, through a misunderstanding engineered by Luthor Superman and Spider-Man do battle, Supes and Spidey team-up, and the good guys win after a little tension and super-daring-do. All-in-all pretty standard team-up fare. So what sets this one apart?
Doug: This one's unique obviously because it was the first cross-company publication that involved any of their major characters (the Wizard of Oz treasury was the first effort). I can recall seeing this one on the shelf when I was little and just being swept by that "gotta have this!!" feeling. At $2.00, I'm sure there was some question from my mom on just whether or not it was going to happen. But she probably relented, and boy was I glad she did. This was such a fun read when I was 10! But I'm not sure it's held up overall.
Karen: Your description of the story is about as far as I'd want to get into it either. It's a long rambling beast that looks pretty but was a real effort to read again. Formulaic to be certain: each hero has their own little adventure, they get together , there's a misunderstanding and they fight (the red sun radiation trick was pretty silly), then they team up. As a Marvel reader at the time, I felt like Spider-Man was definitely out-matched in every way; Superman even had a super-brain and could solve problems faster than Spider-Man! But of course, the DC heroes (at that time) were all far more powerful than their Marvel counterparts.
Doug: I guess, looking back on what must have gone on in those smoke-filled rooms at the meetings between Stan and Carmine (and all of their other assistants), Gerry Conway did a good job with what he had. I mean, there aren't any risks at all taken here -- everyone's in their firmly entrenched characterization, neither company's character really gets the upper hand over the other's (although I'd certainly argue that Ock got the short end of the stick in the bad guy dept. -- he comes off looking pretty inept), and even the supporting casts are pretty vanilla. But I keep coming back to -- what would I have expected?
Karen: I agree, there's nothing very exciting here. If you weren't a regular reader of either title before you bought this, you probably wouldn't be after. Just so cut and dried. Although all these years later, I still feel like Superman comes off just way too perfect!
Doug: As for the art, if you don't like Ross Andru then you are probably disappointed with this one. I thought the comments from and about Mike Esposito in Daniel Best's article were very interesting. How much sense would that have made? Conway-Andru-Esposito: all worked on both Superman and Spider-Man. What difference did it make that both artists were employed by Marvel at the time? See, that's where politics may have crept in and diminished what got published. But then, if Dick Giordano hadn't been inking the book, then Neal Adams never would have gotten his hands on it.
Karen: I wonder how many artists who were still working had worked at both companies? Certainly there was Gil Kane, although I'm not sure if he drew Superman. It seems to me that in the 70s there was a lot of cross-pollinating of writers, but I don't recall too many artists going back and forth. Bob Brown?
Doug: Kane's certainly someone who worked for both, as was Bob Brown. Andru's work on Spidey and formerly on Wonder Woman probably made him the high-profile guy to go with. When I read this last Sunday, I was eagle-eyeing those Adams corrections the whole way. It's not even close -- as much as the various creators in that article want to say that Giordano "looks" like Adams, there was no mistaking Adams. And it was wholly obvious at times when he redrew the entire figure. Shoot -- you don't see Adams all over the cover of this book? What's your opinion on Adams "tightening things up"? At least in the case of Jazzy Johnny Romita, Marvel editorial asked him to redraw many of the Peter and MJ faces (although it seemed that the rest of the cast, including Jonah, was left alone). As to DC, wouldn't it have made more sense, if they thought Andru was not the guy, to have had Curt Swan do the corrections?
Karen: Although they say Romita only touched up Peter and Mary Jane's faces, there are a few shots of Spidey that scream Romita to me. It's harder for me to tell about the Adams' retouches of Superman, as Giordano's inking looks very much like Adams to me. But I did notice a few figures of Supes flying that felt very much like Adams to me. You got me regarding Swan. I know I never saw a Kirby-drawn Superman face in all those Fourth World stories -it was so obvious that they had Swan redraw them all! Not sure why they wouldn't do that here. Doug: So overall, this was a fun book, and a decent enough story that I did remember it going through it again after at least a hiatus of 25 years (whoa!). Personally, I thought Marvel's style was a bit more dominant in the mood of the book than was DC's more sterile demeanor of storytelling. And if you liked what Ross Andru was turning out in Amazing Spider-Man, then you probably weren't unhappy with his performance here. And hey -- doesn't J. Jonah Jameson just carry any scene he's in? So this book had that going for it!
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Upcoming Reading List:
In May, it's the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Pyms! Avengers 140 (5/27)
In June we're going to hang out with the mad Titan, Thanos! Detective Comics 569 (5/31) Detective Comics 570 (6/1) Marvel Feature 12 (6/3) Captain Marvel 32 (6/10) Bizarre Adventures 27 (Phoenix story) (6/14) Avengers 125 (6/17) Captain Marvel 33 (6/24)
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Dig Karen's Work Here? Then You Should Check Her Out in Back Issue!
BI #44 is available for digital download and in print. I've read Karen's article on reader reaction to Gerry Conway's ASM #121-122, and it's excellent. This entire magazine was fun! -- Doug
Back Issue #45
As if Karen's work on Spidey in the Bronze Age wasn't awesome enough, she's at it again with a look at the romance of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch in Back Issue's "Odd Couples" issue -- from TwoMorrows!
Karen's talking the Mighty Thor in the Bronze Age!
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