Monday, January 30, 2012

Pistol-packin', Sword-hackin' Mamas! Marvel Team-Up 64

Marvel Team-Up #64 (December 1977)
"If Death Be My Destiny..."
Chris Claremont-John Byrne/Dave Hunt

Karen: Our story opens just twenty minutes after the end of last issue. Iron Fist is resting in bed at his friend Colleen Wing's apartment, with his former lover Misty Knight by his side. Colleen and Spider-Man step out of the room to discuss his condition with a doctor sent over by Iron Fist's lawyer. She says that Iron Fist should be "up and around in no time." But Colleen says that what's affecting him is of a spiritual, not physical nature. One thing that puzzled me: as the doctor leaves, she says Iron Fist should be in a hospital. I thought he was going to be fine?

Doug: First, Misty's still channeling her inner Pam Grier with that dress! Second, with the hairstyles on the lovely ladies in the foreground, I can't decide if I'm watching Charlie's Angels or Saturday Night Fever -- I loved the '70's! As to the contradiction, it's almost like Claremont started writing the captions, left and went to dinner and a movie, and then came back to it without reading what he'd done prior. Like you, I don't get it. And does Spider-Man just seem like a fifth wheel so far?

Karen: In a way, he does, be
cause these two issues really should have been issues of Iron Fist. But the story needed to end somewhere, so MTU was as good a place as any! As she looks down on the unconscious Iron Fist, Misty spills her guts, saying that she hated to be forced to choose between IF and her principles. It really behooves the reader to be familiar with Iron Fist's previous series! She professes her love for him, and Danny (Iron Fist) awakes and tells her he loves her too. Awww.
Doug: I've been digging through what remains of my memory since I read this story last week -- do you (or any of our readers) know if this is the first interracial relationship at Marvel or DC? I'm thinking I must be missing something obvious? Certainly by 1978 this was not uncharted territory in pop culture, but darned if I can recall anything from comic books. At any rate, it is a touching scene -- I'm sure we've all seen similar play-outs on film and television.

Karen: It seems like it could be the first int
erracial comics relationship. Well, unless you count some of the Legion relationships, but since green and blue skinned people don't exist on Earth, I think we can disregard those. I think the first interracial relationship I can recall was in the Killraven series in Amazing Adventures, which preceded Iron Fist by a couple of years. Supporting characters M'Shulla and Carmilla Frost were an interracial couple. Of course, that series was outside mainstream Marvel, so Misty and Danny carry more weight. Back in our story, Spidey tells Colleen exactly what put IF in such bad shape -basically he recaps last issue's climactic battle with Steel Serpent. Just as he finishes talking, Misty enters the room in a skintight black outfit including a huge pistol. She says that IF has had his chi -essentially his soul -stolen from him, and will die if they don't get it back. She and Colleen prepare to go after Steel Serpent when Spidey comes to a realization: Steel Serpent will come to them to kill IF and make certain he can never reclaim his power. It's nice to see Spidey's experience in the super-hero game demonstrated so well.
Karen: Spidey was correct: Steel Serpent is on his way. He reminisces about his past and we learn who this villain truly is. He's Davos, the son of IF's martial arts instructor, Lei Kung the Thunderer. This is why IF was so puzzled by his foe - at first he thought Serpent was Lei Kung. It seems that back in the city of K'Un-Lun, Davos had battled IF's father for the right to face the dragon Shou Lou and had lost. Boy, this probably doesn't make a lick of sense if you haven't read Iron Fist! Anyway, after his defeat, Davos had gone off to face the dragon, to try to claim his power, but failed. Disgraced, he was exiled from K'Un-Lun and has spent the twenty-plus years since then planning his vengeance.

Doug: Count me among those readers
who may have felt like they were on the outside of the fence peeking through a knothole! Man... I was glad Claremont included all of the backstory (a total of 2 1/4 pages), but I remained a bit confused afterward anyway.
Karen: I really wondered how confusing this story was to people who had no prior experience with Iron Fist. He has a pretty complicated back story. Before Steel Serpent can get to Iron Fist, Spidey spots him on a nearby rooftop and engages him. Spidey gets tossed around and realizes that he's holding back because Serpent is not super-powered. But his martial arts ability -and the iron fist -make him a real threat. The Daughters of the Dragon -Misty and Colleen -show up and have the Serpent on the ropes briefly, but Spider-Man accidentally gets in the way and the Serpent busts free.

Doug: Again, Spider-Man is a complete doofus in his own book. And therein lies the danger of a team-up book. In order to make it interesting, both the star (in this case Sp
idey, but it could be the Thing or Batman) and the guest-star must by necessity decrease their star power, or at least adapt it to the presence of the other. You can't tell me that Spider-Man couldn't have taken down Steel Serpent by himself in his own mag. Did you think this guy was more of a threat than Doc Ock, or the Kingpin in a close-quarters fight?
Karen: No, and I didn't think Equinox should have given Spidey such a hard time either. I don't know if I am over-estimating Spidey or under-estimating these villains. Spidey pursues Steel Serpent, but gets cornered in a backstop on a playground -yes, a backstop.

Doug: How would one "smash the whole thing down" when said "thing" is made of chain-link fencing? Personally, I'd have liked to have seen Spidey grab the backstop and encase Steel Serpent in it. I guess I don't see that possession of the "iron fist" translates to super strength on Serpent's part.

Karen: I always felt the iron fist was a little nebulous in description -much like Thor's hammer, it seemed to develop convenient abilities at times! Just as it seems Spidey's about to get pulverized by the Serpent's two glowing fists, the real Iron Fist makes the scene. Danny's in bad shape, but it doesn't matter, as Davos has lost control of both himself and the iron fist power. The glowing energy begins to burn up the length of his arms, eventually setting him afire. Iron Fist sees his chance and grabs Davos, trying to reabsorb the iron fist. There's a huge, blinding explosion, and Misty fears for her love. But emerging from the scorched ground is Iron Fist, a bit worse for wear, but back in possession of his chi and his power. Davos, it seems, was completely disintegrated! As the heroes walk off into the night, Spidey asks Misty where he's met her before. She says he and a "dude in a flyin' bathtub" saved her a few Christmas eves ago from some muggers. This was a reference to Marvel Team-Up #1, where Spidey and the Torch rescue a woman -Claremont just retroactively made that woman Misty!

Doug: The climactic battle in this issue played better for me than the fight in the previous issue. The Kirby Krackle was very cool, and I thought we got some real pay-off -- there was some excitement building here that I felt was lacking the previous month.

Karen:Don't you dig how Byrne depicts energy and fire effects? I think he did a great job with that. In a post-script, we see the city of K'Un-Lun, high up in snowy mountains. Lei Kung the thunderer sits before a huge green crystal, where he has seen the events that have transpired, and mourns for his son. For Iron Fist fans, this was a nice way to wrap up not only this two part story but the unresolved plots from his recently-cancelled title. I thought this two-parter was very enjoyable in both story and art.
Doug: Personally, I've liked our Havok/Thor and Yellowjacket/Wasp look-ins better. But, as I said at the top of last week's review, I knew going into this story that you were going to like it better than I. And that's not a knock on the story necessarily -- I wouldn't say Claremont was totally off his game, and I'll agree that Byrne's art is very, very solid (hey, a kudo to inker Dave Hunt, too). But not being an Iron Fist fan from way back, I sort of felt like I was late to the party.
Karen: I enjoyed re-reading these issues, but I can see just how completely stupefying they might be to somebody not familiar with Iron Fist. I really hope when the second volume of Iron Fist Marvel Masterworks comes out, they think to include these two issues.


Anonymous said...

No one ever people kissing quite like John Byrne, did they? I remember Scott and Jean looking like they were going to melt into each other. And then the next caption just said ‘three hours later..’ Way to go, Scotty.

Danny and Misty are giving them a pretty good run for their money in the snogging-stakes here.


david_b said...

Yes, nice ending kiss.., but 'Daughters of the Dragon'..? Yep, now I recall why I left comics by this point. What, Black Panther or Clint were unavailable for another team-up..? Yes, yes, I know MTU's used here to cash in on current trends, try out potential new titles, etc.

But the idea's a bit weak for a Spidey book; the story-telling style of Iron Fist just isn't developed enough here to make it more interesting. Sort of like the characters were just grafted into a generic MTU story. It happened in Ben's MTIO as well ~ Got kinda boring after a while.

Also, as for Spidey's ability to take Steel Serpent, it's not so much strength. If any of us have been in the ring fighting with someone new, there's always new fighting styles/techniques you're not familiar with, that would literally throw you for a loop. Sure, Peter was used to the likes of Lizzy and Kingpin, but if you've never fought someone before, the element of unknown surprises can overtake actual ability.

(Well, ok, 'guess Spidey was having an off-day as well..)

Still loving Misty's white outfit. A bit daring for us suburban adolescent comic readers back in the day, but I'm not knockin' it.

"Cheesecake, anyone..?"

Edo Bosnar said...

I liked these stories, but maybe it's because I kind of like the whole Iron Fist mythos (although I only got interested in it when I started reading Power Man & Iron Fist regularly, and had to do some back-tracking). Karen's right, it was a nice way to wrap up the loose ends from the cancelled IF series.
I never thought of it before, but Richard's right: Byrne's renderings of kissing lovers is really striking.

J.A. Morris said...

Why-why-why hasn't Disney/Marvel produced a Daughters Of The Dragon movie? You'd think 'Kill Bill' would've shown there was a market for one. Is Avi Arad stupid? 2 attractive women PIs, one's a martial arts/weapons expert, the other a brawler with a bionic arm? Practically writes itself.

Yeah, they were sort of silly characters, but it was the 70s. The Claremont/Marshall Rogers stories that featured the Daughters were fun too, and easy to get in glossy reprint form:

Dougie said...

I'm placing the UK reprint of this issue between '79-'80: anyone know?
I loved it, anyway and the Marshall Rogers stories. But wasn't there another, earlier Steel Serpent,in one of the b/w kung fu magazines?

I'm surprised the Daughters of the Dragon haven't shown up in a Bendis book- they seem right up his street.

William said...

Nice review. I remember reading this story when I was a kid and I didn't know a whole lot about Iron Fist back then. I think the only Iron Fist comic I'd ever read up to that point was IF #12, where he fights Captain America and The Wrecking Crew (great stuff, btw).

Anyway, you guys were wondering if someone who knew nothing about Iron Fist's backstory would be able to understand and/or enjoy these issues, and I can tell you that I certainly did at the time. These days, thanks to "Essential Iron Fist", I now know pretty much everything you'd need to know about Danny's history as it would pertain to this story, but even back then (when I knew next to nothing) I still loved this story. I thought it was a really fun read, with fantastic art, etc.. However, I was a pretty comic savvy kid and I was good at making assumptions and filling in the gaps of a story like this. So, I don't recall having too much trouble following along with what was going on.

I must agree with a couple of other posters, that Byrne was the master of rendering the lip-lock. And when you think about when this comic was released (1977), showing an interracial kiss in a "kids" comic book was a pretty bold and daring move for the time. (Ohhh, and I'm sure they got letters). It just goes to show you that comics were worthy literature, and really ahead of the curve in a lot of ways over other entertainment. I believe that reading (and loving) comics truly helped shape me into a more tolerant, moral and just plain better person than I might have become if I hadn't been exposed to the lessons that many of them taught us in the form of super hero action/adventure stories.

Now, to address another point that was raised in this review… it seems that I still can't convince Karen that Equinox is potentially an FF or Avengers level villain. She again stated that she "didn't think Equinox (or 'Noxie' as we know and love him) should have given Spidey such a hard time…" That would be like saying that the Human Torch or Iceman shouldn't give Spidey a hard time. Well, Spidey has battled each of them in the past and they both pretty much fought him to a stand still. So, it would be reasonable to assume, that a single being that possessed both the powers of the Human Torch and Iceman (and was practically indestructible to boot) would give Spider-Man an extremely "hard time". I mean, the dude walked away from ground zero of an exploding gas truck. That's something The Thing probably couldn't even survive. Spider-Man is not the worlds toughest super hero anyway. There have been a lot of villains with a lot less power than "Noxie" that have given Spidey no end of trouble. I mean, The Vulture gives him a hard time, and he's just an old man in a flying suit. And what about The Rocket Racer, The Prowler, Man Mountain Marko, The Gibbon, Grizzly, or the Tarantula (well he does have those pointy chews). Let's even take the Green Goblin for example. If he went up against Equinox, he would most likely be frozen and/or barbecued in about 10 seconds, but GG is considered Spidey's greatest and most dangerous foe. Just saying. :)

Doug said...

While I would think Equinox would be a powerful adversary, I would certainly think that Peter's superior intellect and experience would benefit him. Is Equinox more powerful than the Molten Man? Probably -- but that experience would be in Peter's bag of tricks.


Doug said...

While on that subject, and since we're done with Marvel Team-Up for awhile, why wasn't there a better selection of villains in the team-up books? If you think about it, some of them were just terrible one-shot, almost throwaway baddies. There are a few memorable menaces that I can recall, notably the Griffin and Arcade. After the first few issues of MTU, established villains began to wane.

Until the Living Eraser was brought back in MTIO, that is... Bro-ther!


david_b said...

Doug, nice point. My early favs introduced in MTU were Stegron and Basilik. I like how Grey Gargoyle made a nice comeback in ish 13.

I've said this before, but Marvel missed a grand opportunity to have it's own fun flavor of supporting characters in books like MTU like that crusty longshoreman (what was his name..?) be a light-hearted running character, perhaps a panel or two or a Hitchcock cameo..

At least MTIO kept Wundarr around for a spell, to be a continuing thorn in Uncle Benjy's foot.

Edo Bosnar said...

Just to second William's point about Iron Fist's back-story: like I said, I only became a regular reader of Iron Fist (and Power Man for that matter) when the joint PM/IF title became part of my monthly purchases. And one of my favorite issues of that series was that double-sized K'un-Lun story (forgot the issue #). Not only was I undaunted by it, but like William I was able to piece together any gaps in my mind. I did some catch-up reading of back issues later. It's also a testament to the writing style in that era - even a complicated back-story like Iron Fist's wasn't so opaque as to ward off the uninitiated...

humanbelly said...

But, the title. . .

"If Death Be My Destiny!"

In 1977? We were still mainstreaming this rather silly, overwrought, artificial style of title-copy at that late date? I know I bought this issue off the ol' spinner-rack back then, but my memory's fading ear hears that kind of stuff from generally 5 to 10 years earlier. I also must confess, I suppose, that I pretty much never assimilated any of the books' titles over the years. Just kinda *bleeped* right over them.

But "If Death Be My Destiny!"-??

Cripes, hadn't that surely been used verbatim at least a dozen times already? It's not even a sentence-! IF Death Be My Destiny, THEN--- what??

Oh, that daggone Stan Lee. This stuff can all be traced directly back to him, of course. . .

HB (grumbling away)

Gray said...

I guess my love of John Byrne's are, Claremont's writing, and Spidey are just too much. I can't criticize these issues, there's just too much good stuff in them. This is coming, you understand, who was willing to buy issues of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider Man...penciled by Al Milgrom!!!

Fred W. Hill said...

Actually, I think even if the story had been in Iron Fist's own mag, some of the story would have been confusing for readers who didn't have the whole series, particularly the Marvel Premiere issues. Still, by the time these came out I'd been reading Marvel comics long enough to be used to not knowing the whole story and just grasping whatever little details were provided while hopping aboard for the ride.
As William noted, Spidey's power drift was apparent in his own series, pretty much from the beginning. But that pretty much goes for nearly all superheroes who have been around for ages (more particularly at the Distinguished Competition -- seems Superman regularly faced foes he should have been able to defeat just by exhaling in their direction). Speaking of which, anyone else recall a gag cartoon in Ghost Rider's letters pages showing how his battle with the Hulk should really have turned out? Not much left of G.R. afterwards, except for a prop for Hamlet's graveyard scene!

William said...

Human Belly, I beg to differ with you on the issue of the over the top exposition that was prevalent both inside and on the covers of old-school Marvel Comics.

I really love those pronouncements of things like "If Death Be My Destiny!", "And Only One Shall Survive!" and "This Is It... The Final Battle!" Bold statements of this nature that promised "Thrills", "Chills" and "Excitement", were part of what made Marvel Comics of the time cool. When I was a kid that kind of thing made me think I was really getting something special. It was a big part of what made reading comics so much fun.

You could also argue that it was that kind of grandiose self-promotion that made Marvel the stand-out success that it was in the sixties, seventies and eighties.

If you're really a fan of the comics of that time, then I'm quite surprised that you find that kind of thing so distasteful, and "grumble" worthy.

Anonymous said...

Humanbelly – sorry, I totally have to side with William about the Marvel style of shameless hyperbole, which, as you say, came straight from Stan himself. Seriously, I know we all cringed at his soapboxes, but cringing was part of the fun. One of the things I always loved about Marvel was the combination of insanely arrogant self-promotion, but also surprising honesty when stuff went wrong. So you’d get something advertised as ‘another triumphant milestone in what is surely going to be the most talked about extravaganza in this, the Marvel Age Of Comics’ ........and then six months later, you’d get ‘yeah,we really liked it, but no one’s buying it so we’re gonna have to axe it’.


Anonymous said...

Picking up on Edo & William’s points about starting in the middle and catching up later, Iron Fist must absolutely take the biscuit for this.

You discover him in Power Man / Iron Fist and back track to find Claremont/Byrne started it in #48 -50. Then you dig down to the MTU’s under discussion (also C&B). You dig further and get 15 issues of Claremont & Byrne magic in his own strip, and then one more layer down, you find the Premiere issues, which is full of Roy Thomas & Gil Kane goodness.

Not too shabby.


Anonymous said...

Hi Doug – where you say:
“Why wasn't there a better selection of villains in the team-up books? If you think about it, some of them were just terrible one-shot, almost throwaway baddies.”

I agree there’s an issue there, but I absolutely disagree with your point. Whilst a mediocre villain is always a bit tedious, I found it just ridiculous that someone who was a major villain in someone’s own book, posing a serious threat and commanding story arcs that went on for several issues, would suddenly rock up in a single issue of MTU/MTIO, launch a world-conquering plot, and get defeated by Spidey/Ben + A.N. Other, in the space of 3 panels. By the time the writer had established how the heroes got together on the case, then established the antagonist & plot, there would only be a couple of pages left to tie it up.

Villains I remember: The Scorpion, Modok, Kang, Mole Man, Arcade, Morbius, Silver Dagger, Frightful Four (actually, Sandman seemed to turn up a lot on his own as well), Puppet master, Mad Thinker, The Owl, Mr Fear, Griffin, Hyperion, The Circus of Crime, Hydra, Ultron, the Executioner, Blastaar, Nuklo, Electro, the Basilisk, Grey Gargoyle, Whiplash, the Living Monolith, Doc Doom, The Sphinx...and Galactus!

Galactus in a done-in-one? Really?

Where they DID get it superbly right, was, oddly not in the choice of heroes of villains, but in the running stories that supported run-on team-ups with new characters being added. This, again oddly, stemmed more from a clever choice of kit/location than people. I’m thinking of the cosmic cube, Pegasus, Doc Doom’s time machine and the Serpent Crown.


Anonymous said...

Damn, I'm getting my money's worth out of this thread!

I should probably actually read MTU #64, shouldn't I?


Karen said...

William -I don't think Equinox was as good as either the Torch or Iceman. He just seems unimpressive in the use of his powers. Maybe part of it is that he hasn't earned my respect -he hasn't proven himself in numerous battles the way someone like the Scorpion or Electro has, even though one might say those villains are not as powerful as Equinox.

Plus, I just tend to think that Spidey holds back a lot. Pete's a nice guy and he usually starts out the fight not going all out. We see this repeatedly (like with Steel Serpent). But Spidey actually is a pretty formidable opponent, at least at the light to medium weight classification. His speed and agility alone make him hard to hit, and then add in the super-strength...well, he's a tough guy to take down.

Hey, why is it that we don't seem to see as many heroes with super-agility nowadays? Even with certain characters who have been around a long time (ex. Captain America) it seems like that aspect of their abilities is de-emphasized. I guess jumping around is not heroic enough?

humanbelly said...

@ William & Richard--
Well, heck, how did I get on the wrong side of this? I agree with you guys! I've pretty much stated an identical position to yours a number of times on a different board.

Aaaaaand upon re-reading my whipped-off post, I definitely see that, where I thought I was being amusingly curmudgeonly, it was clearly coming off more as pointless kvetching. Very Andy Rooney on an off-week. Written with a loving smile & a rolling-of-the-eyes-- but boy, that surely didn't come through in the tone.

Nope, believe me, the whole hyperbolic, self-cheerleading, "this is the BIG ONE!", Marlo Furniture self-promotional style is of course part of what made Stan & Marvel so delightfully idiosyncratic. Very sorry to ruffle those feathers, eh? (Nice to be so civilly called-out, by the way-)


Redartz said...

Richard and Doug- nice listing of the villains. One I recall fondly was the Looter ( aka Meteor Man). He finally showed up in MTU years after his sole appearance in Amazing Spiderman 36. Not exactly a top rung character, yet I always liked seeing apparently forgotten stories recalled.

dicecipher said...

I loved this story. I really didnt know who Iron Fist was but I picked up on it pretty quick.

@Edo Bosnar is the the issue of PM/IF you were thinking of of?

Edo Bosnar said...

Yep, that's the one; great story and the art was really nice as well.
But, alas, another lovely cover ruined by one those obnoxious banner ads...

Unknown said...

How much would a mint vol.1, no.64 be worth?

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