Monday, February 27, 2012

Marvel Firsts: The Bouncing GREY Beast!

Amazing Adventures #11 (March 1972)
"Lo! A Beast is Born!"
Gerry Conway-Tom Sutton/Syd Shores

Karen: Welcome to the inaugural post in a little series that Doug and I will be running out from time to time called 'Marvel Firsts.' We'll be taking a look at the first appearance of a Marvel character, although, in the case of this review, it is a first appearance based on a new look for a character. Original X-Man The Beast got his own brief series in 1971 in Amazing Adventures, but rather than the red and blue suited mutant we all knew, he would now look much more like his appellation.

Doug: I'd be curious to see sales figures from the short time that X-Men switched to the solo format (issues 44-48); surely the issue with Hank and Bobby didn't sell better tha
n the others. I just think the Beast was a curious case for a solo magazine. Surely the Angel would have more cover appeal; trouble there is, he really doesn't have an interesting super power. At least Hawkman looks cool with the medieval weaponry. But a change in form would basically change Hank McCoy, the character, irrevocably.

Karen: Enjoy that striking Gil Kane artwork on the cover while you can, though, because the inside is illustrated by Tom Sutton and Syd Shores, and it's rough going. Honestly, every time I see the Beast in this issue I feel myself scowling. I actually have always liked his hairy, ape-like (not cat-like!) form, but it just looks terrible here. The rest of the art is serviceable, but the Beast in particular looks appallingly bad.

Doug: Karen and I have had a few conv
ersations through email ahead of today's publication of this post. To be honest, neither of us has been looking forward to the art. And I can't really put my finger on it. I'll agree that it's serviceable. The "humanoids" (for lack of a better term) hearken back to the X-days of Werner Roth. That's not a bad thing, just not up with some of the other Marvel mags of this day. One thought I told Karen was that this book looked at times like a pre-hero Atlas mag. Specifically in regard to Sutton's depiction of our hairy protagonist, my impression is that he never got comfortable with the Beast's look -- at times he resembles (I'm talking angular aspects of the body mainly) a gorilla, a werewolf, and at others a plain ol' wolf. There are certain postures that seem to run inconsistent even from panel to panel. But overall the lay-outs and camera angles are varied and there are some nice panels throughout.
Karen: This issue came out at the time when Marvel seemed to be struggling to figure out some way to use the X-Men. Their own title had gone into reprints, and the strangest teens of all would occasionally show up in other titles. Apparently it was felt that the Beast might do well, if there were some changes. I can't help but think that his new look was a part of the whole monster mania that swept through Marvel in the early 70s.

Doug: As an aside here, I am reading from the Marvel Masterworks - X-Men, volume 7. Marvel did a great thing with volumes 7 and 8 in this series by reprinting the interim appearances of the Merry Mutants between X-Men #66 and G-S X-Men #1. The book I'm looking at, for example, contains Amazing Spider-Man #92, Incredible Hulk #'s 150 and 161, Marvel Team-Up #4, and Amazing Adventures #'s 11-17. It's a cool book! I'm not going to buy the MM volume 8, as I have all of those issues reprinted in other formats.

Karen: Our tale opens in the dark of night at the Brand Corporation. From high above a bestial humanoid gazes down on an unsuspecting nightwatchman making his rounds. When the watchman gets to a door marked "Genetic Research Subdivision 12" the man uses a device to burn through the lock on the door. Just as he's about to enter, the shaggy watcher jumps down on him. The monstrous attacker slams the watchman/spy into a piece of machinery, and the spy pulls a gun and fires. The bullets hit him in the chest but still the creature keeps coming. He disarms the man but is then attacked by more guards. He high tails it to another lab but hears the guards fire on the spy and he knows the man has been killed. He feels filled with guilt.

Doug: Early here we're not completely certain that this Beast is Hank McCoy, so this display of nobility... well, if sorrow qualifies a guy who just attacked another guy as noble -- is a bit of a head-scratcher.

Karen: We soon learn that our protagonist is indeed the Beast, aka Hank McCoy, but he has undergone some intentional metamorphosis. However, he soon finds that he is unable to turn back to his human form. He
's stuck in his hairy form. Anguished by the turn of events, he trashes his lab and we get a flashback (isn't that how it always works?). He recalls leaving his team-mates to go work for the Brand Corporation, a gigantic company. On his first day there, he's given a tour and meets both the attractive Miss Linda Donaldson and the belligerent Professor Maddicks. Hank soon starts seeing Linda and he's over the moon.

Doug: I really liked the flashback scene to the day Hank left the nest of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Gerry Conway made that a tender part of the tale, and as I said above about Sutton's art these panels really took us back in time. It is always a bit over the top, however, when we see our heroes all dressed to kill in their leisure ti
me. Doesn't anyone own a pair of Levi's?

Karen: It was a nice scene, and helps to provide a reason for
Hank's leaving the team. It is kind of funny though to see them all in their costumes as Hank drives off.

Doug: I enjoyed the new cast for their stereotypical natures. Professor Maddicks is a throwback to some of the commie nasties of the Silver Age, and Linda is appropriately pretty and smart. I also enjoyed the pages with Hank getting around town a la Spidey or DD, flashing the red-and-blues. I always liked that costume.
When X-Factor began the costumes they wore were a nice homage to the "graduation costumes" of the latter years of the original five.
Karen: Hank's work involves the study of his own genetic structure. He's trying to isolate the cause of mutation. He has a breakthrough and discovers a way to turn any human into a mutant - "for a carefully controlled period of time." When I read this I really wondered why Hank would want to do this. It doesn't make much sense to me. Hank overhears Maddicks on the phone telling someone named 'Agent Nine' that Hank is on to something big, and they arrange to break into Hank's lab. Hearing this, Hank feels desperate. He's afraid if he shows up in his X-Men gear, his identity will be revealed -because of his unusual build. So of course he decides to drink the chemical extract and mutate further. I guess it was one of those, "It seemed like a good idea at the time" choices.

Doug: Question -- Hank claims that he's discovered the "chemical cause of mutation". How exactly does that fit into the whole "children of the atom" deal? Wasn't Stan's original intent with mutants to be some sort of commentary on the nuclear age? Additionally, would one really be a "mutant" if it was through chemical means and temporary? Because if that's the case, the
n Hank and Janet Pym would have been mutants whenever they were doing their bug stuff. So many queries, so few answers...

Karen: Yeah, it's more than a little weak! Hank drinks his serum and transforms into a still hulking but now grey-furred Beast. There's some indication that he may also have lost some of his intellect -he notes that he's no longer talking in polysyllables all the time.
And then we're back to the present, with Hank once again growing angry over his inability to return to his human or at least human enough form. He recalls that Maddicks was going to meet Agent Nine at midnight, and as the clock strikes 12 the Beast bursts through the window to find him. He knocks a door off its hinges easily and begins pounding a half-dozen armed guards. Another interesting bit here: when the Beast is shot, he seems to recover almost instantly. I got the impression he had a healing power similar to that other wild X-Man, Wolverine -but of course, this was a good three years before we'd see that pesky mutant.
Doug: Hey, in my reprint of this story, the Beast is heading towards purple. You ever see a Daredevil with Killgrave the Purple Man? Like that color. Not a becoming look. Speaking of his intellect, there is a concerted effort on Conway's part to animalize Mr. McCoy, so the speech patterns decline in the smarts department. But it's not too bad. You want bad? How about what Walter Simonson did to Hank in the aforementioned X-Factor when he traded a return to plain old skin for Hank's brain? Rather than being animalized, Simonson vegetableized him. Not a fan.
Doug: As you mentioned, the healing factor was noticeable right away. Hank took quite a few bullets as well as a lot of other damage. This was an origin story of discovery for Hank and his readers alike!

Karen: When the Beast finally reaches Maddicks, he goes nuts and nearly strangles the man. He manages to stop himself in time but
is alarmed at how wild he's become. He leaps off into the night, leaving Maddicks alive. But not for long -Agent Nine shows up and shoots him. And who should Agent Nine turn out to be but Linda!

Doug: Linda! All is not what it seemed! Oh, the intrigue! By the time this was over, I struggled a bit with the question "who is Hank McCoy?" I just wasn't certain. For most of Conway's script, at least the middle part, it was the Hank last seen in the Roy Thomas days. Now he looks different, sounds different, and certainly behaves differently. My first impression really wasn't all that favorable. What do you think -- is the only thing that separates this character from Werewolf by Night or the Man-Wolf is that backstory of the X-Men? Because I'm thinking they could have just made up a whole 'nother dude for this.

Karen: They seemed, at least in
itially, to be going for that whole "struggling to remain civilized" thing with the Beast. I'm glad that was dropped at some point. I much prefer the idea of the brainy guy trapped in the monstrous body. I think I would have enjoyed this tale a lot more if I wasn't cringing at the art. Sure, it doesn't make a ton of sense, but it moves along nicely and I'm sure it was an interesting direction for the character at the time.

Doug: You're right. In proofreading our comments (because we want to look good for all of our readers), it sometimes seems like we're complaining, but I think we're really just reacting to how different this depiction of a favorite character was. And I guess as we look at this through the lens of history, it's not only the X-Men's Hank McCoy at issue here, but the guy that became a favorite in the Avengers as well. I can say that since I now hold this series in my hands, I will be interested to see where next issue's scribe, Steve Englehart, takes our now-furry mutant.


Britt Reid said...

With changes to the Comics Code once more allowing horror elements in mainstream comics, Marvel was going thru their "Monster" phase with Dracula, Werewolf by Night, Frankenstein, Man-Thing, etc. all making their premieres during this period.
I suppose they thought a monster-hero would be more marketable than just a solo X-Man strip.

The reason The Beast looks "purple" rather than "grey" is because the "grey" isn't a black ink screen, but a combination of the printing colors 25% Cyan (blue) 25% Magenta (a pink-red) and 25% yellow.
The "purple" is what you get when the yellow screen isn't added.
It's the same "grey" used on Batman's costume pre-1990 or so, and on Marvel characters like the Grey Gargoyle and Asgardian Destroyer as well as Iron Man's first armor!
Since the advent of computer coloring and better printing, comic book grey is usually a black ink screen.
That's why tv's Batman wore light purple and blue.
Some of the comics the producers had as reference lacked the 25% yellow screen!

david_b said...

Interesting column today, great idea. I do recall seeing this title on the racks when I'd walk into a new store scoping out Marvels, but was typically left mangled in the racks along with Two-Gun Kid and other non-flagship titles.

I don't know a lot about pre-Avengers Hank in the 70s, but I remember actually groaning when he joined the team as a regular. Then as an Avenger, I frankly never saw him offering much besides some comic relief and later, a buddy for Simon.

I started liking him more when he reverted back to his former self in X-Factor, but like WCA, couldn't stomach more than the first dozen issues...: I was looking for a return to the classic 60s team, but was disappointed when it ended up more as 'just another mutant book'.

As for his coloring, I'm assuming it was an editorial decision, much like the once-grey Hulk.. Grey monsters don't stand out much on comic covers.

Inkstained Wretch said...

I was never much of a fan of the furry Beast, blue or gray. (It's like he was fighting a civil war against his animal nature! Ba-dump-bump! Thanks, folks, I'll be here all week. Enjoy the veal.)

Hank McCoy was a much more interesting character, visually and otherwise, when he was human yet oddly simian in appearance. It was a nice contrast to his braininess and all the more effective because it was fairly subtle. I liked the blue and red costume too.

The furry version struck me as just too much and ultimately kind of boring.

Like david b, I never did care much for him as an Avenger either. He seemed to be little more than comic relief and not very funny at that. You'd think a guy transformed into a furry monster would be a little more complex and at least ambivalent about his appearance, but the writers never brought that out. I was glad when they wrote him out of the series.

One final thought: Didn't the Beast's change to a furry creature occur right around the same time that interest in finding Bigfoot/Sasquatch was becoming an obsession in 70s popular culture? I think this comic came out a just few years after that famous footage supposedly showing Bigfoot walking through a northwestern forest. I remember it being a big deal at the time, filling up books, magazines and TV shows like In Search Of ...

My guess is that Marvel was trying to get in on some of that action by creating their own Bigfoot superhero and Hank McCoy was drafted for the cause.

Anonymous said...

Britt - really interesting points about the colour process. Thanks.

D & K - I kind of agree about the art, although there were things I did like about it. I agree, it’s got a bad problem in that it’s too ‘stick-man’. You can get away with this on some strips, but where you have a character who is specifically meant to be agile and acrobatic, you need fluid, flowing pencils. Or that Kane / Miller touch, where the figure is static, but you show him in ‘ghost form’ as he flows from pose to pose. What I did like was that it captured the savagery of new Beast and the solidity of his new body. When he brings that door down, you feel it smashing into matchsticks. And you easily believe he could break someone’s neck before he got a grip on himself.

Thomas / Conway / Englehart clearly wanted to get Hank away from sounding like his mutant power was changing into a thesaurus and they (probably Roy) chose to do it as part of the mutation, which I thought was good.

Doug – to your point about why didn’t they just invent a new character? I think the whole point was to keep the Xmen on the radar:

“Believe it or not, there once was a time when the X-Men couldn't support their own book. Despite a wonderful run, capped off by some classic Roy Thomas-Neal Adams issues, X-MEN had died and gone to reprint heaven. But Roy thought maybe a series starring one of the X-Men, with the others guest-starring, would work. Gerry Conway kicked it off, in AMAZING ADVENTURES #11, and then the series was handed over to a brand-new writer for his very first superhero. Over the next year I wrote the only X-MEN there was.” (SE)

Karen – I agree about the great cover, it just me or is Bill Everett doing an impression of Klaus Janson?


Anonymous said...

LOL - regarding our conversation about Hank's reversion to animalism, I just looked on the Marvel database for Am Adv #11. It says:

'First appearance in fury form'.


William Preston said...

Thanks to Britt for that explanation of the coloring. Every time I see Batman, I think back to how I colored him in coloring books when I was a kid in the '60s: that purplish tone. I loved that coloring.

Jeremy Aron Patterson. said...

About the sequence with the X-Men team: During that interim, Marvel was indecisive about which costumes they should wear.

In the flashback here, they wore the costumes from the end of their run, while in other issues, they were back in their black/yellows.


MattComix said...

Myself I like the Beast in blue fur but maybe it's because that's how I first saw him. It wasn't until I read Marvel Comics: Bring On the Bad Guys which had X-Men no.1 in there for Magneto's first appearance that I knew he was ever furless.

..and it also looks like wanting to give various X-Men solo titles goes waaay back. My god the idea of there being exactly one X-Men title feels like an apparition spoken of in whispers and legend by this point.

I realize that spinning a character off into a solo title goes back in further than the Bronze Age but I think there are a lot of good characters that don't work in solo books and it's not because of anything actually wrong with them. Beast for example, is interesting in relation to the other members of the X-Men.

I think a smarter way to go would be something the Bronze Age did which was to use books like Marvel Team-Up and anthology titles to showcase characters that people do really enjoy but just not enough to buy a solo title featuring that character.

Britt Reid said...

"I think a smarter way to go would be something the Bronze Age did which was to use books like Marvel Team-Up and anthology titles to showcase characters that people do really enjoy but just not enough to buy a solo title featuring that character."

Team-Up and Two-in-One were primarily used to keep trademarks active for characters who may not have appeared anywhere else in the line for a given period.
(If you don't use the trademark on a product available for sale to the public for two years, you lose it.)
That's how Marvel ended up with the TM for Captain Marvel, despite DC's owning the original character, and there being another short-lived Captain Marvel in 1966.

Marvel also took names of other companies' Golden Age characters like Daredevil and Ghost Rider, and did new characters with those names.

humanbelly said...

@ BrittReid (Didja know that the guy that voiced him on the radio program was, like, 19 years old when he started-??)

This is certainly a tangential topic, but THANK YOU for confirming specifically a trademark rule that I had always just assumed to be true. Did NOT know that trademark-protection window was a mere two years long, though! Wow-- I would've guessed maybe five. That, of course, explains why Marvel was always delighted to have Fred Hembeck drag Brother Voodoo back into the light every so-often. And, of course, why we kept getting so many iterations of Captain Marvels. And Spider-Woman(s). And why not too long after Adam Warlock died/disappeared, we got a New Mutant techno-being named. . . Warlock. Who ultimately sort of died just in time for the ORIGINAL Warlock to make a return. Or why every couple of years SOME title will feature a battle with a variation of a "Legion of the Unliving".

It's like there's a big calendar with inactive characters' expiration dates pasted in, and Marvel has a mandate to stick them in SOMEwhere before they can be poached. . .


Fred W. Hill said...

I got this issue off the rack when I was 9 or 10, although it disappeared from my collection sometime later. Anyhow, this was really my introduction to the character and it rather intrigued me. Within the next year I became more familiar with his previous guise through those X-Men reprints. I liked both versions of the Beast, although his attempts at trying to disguise his new, furrier, more animalistic self didn't quite work for me and it made sense when Steve Englehart had him drop it when he brought him to the Avengers. It was natural in this first appearance of the revised Beast, Hank McCoy had trouble adjusting psychologically, but I'm glad they didn't have him become yet another tormented man-monster (as seemed the slant of the first two issues), instead having him maintain his keen intelligence and sense of humor.
As to Sutton's art, I preferred his humorous work but he seemed ill-suited to more action-orientated work.

B Smith said...

With Sutton's work, I find it's sometimes a matter of who's inking it...this particular issue looked a little patchy, but the next issue, inked by Mike Ploog, was great!

The next issue was also the first regular series work by Steve Engelhart...perhaps you should have covered that one instead :-)

Britt Reid said...

"Did NOT know that trademark-protection window was a mere two years long, though! Wow-- I would've guessed maybe five."

Trademarks with a "TM" (which means an unregistered trademark) are good for two years.
Trademarks with an "R in a circle" are registered and have a longer life-span before being declared "abandoned".
Since it costs money to register a trademark, many just use the "TM" unless the property becomes a hit, in which case they register it post-haste.

The Golden Age Captain Marvel had been registered, so the name didn't become available until 10 years after his last appearance in comics or on merchandise in 1954.
The 1966 Cap didn't have a registered name (in fact, he didn't even have a "TM"!), so it was available only two years after it's last use, at which point Kree Captain Mar-Vell made his debut.

If you look at the logos for the various MTU and MTiO guest-stars, almost all have "TM"s.

Edo Bosnar said...

Re: Tom Sutton's art, I generally like it although the panels here are rather unattractive. I agree that it depends on the inker, and would add that he was usually his own best inker. Also, I don't agree that he's only suited to humorous work. He did a lot of beautifully drawn horror and romance stories for Charlton and there's also the unforgettable (to me, anyway) Seeker 3000 and Paladin stories in Marvel Premiere (which he inked himself).

johnlindwall said...

I never read this issue as a kid but read it in an Essentials volume last year, so I missed out on the purply-grey color mess.

First let me say that I love the blue ape-like Beast that was a member of the Avengers of my youth. The cat-beast is not my Beast, though I understand for a generation of readers he is _the_ Beast.

I agree on the art for this issue; not my cup of tea to be sure. The storyline remains confused and uninspired for the rest of the run as I recall. Especially cringe-worthy are the laughably impractical rubber masks and prosthetics that Hank devises to ape (ha!) a human appearance... In some scenes he is up close to other folks -- I think even kissing a lady -- and they DON'T NOTICE HE'S WEARING A BIG HALLOWEEN MASK! Ug.

Anonymous said...

"Especially cringe-worthy are the laughably impractical rubber masks and prosthetics that Hank devises to ape (ha!) a human appearance..."

Hey, it worked on tv shows like Mission: Impossible, Batman, even Buck Rogers!
And in the recent Captain America film, the Red Skull's "Johann Shmidt" mask was pretty convincing! ;-)

It's like accepting that wearing a skintight costume will fool those closest to you into thinking you're someone else.

You just go with it to get on with the story.

Anonymous said...

Skin tight costume?? How about just putting on a pair of glasses?


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