Marvel: Heroes & Legends #1 (October 1996)
"For Better and For Worse"
Stan Lee/Fabian Nicieza-John Buscema/Sal Buscema/Gene Colan/Steve Ditko/Ron Frenz/John Romita, Sr./Marie Severin/Terry Austin/Al Milgrom/Tom Palmer/Bill Reinhold/Joe Sinnott
Doug: Just take a look at that cast of creators, and you'll easily see why this book is a favorite of mine! I'll admit right up front that the script here stinks for the most part. I think Stan was working way too hard to seem quaint -- really wanting a throwback to Marvel's Silver Age heyday. But, he was certainly handicapped from the get-go by a weak plot from Fabian Nicieza. This book was published in the years shortly after Marvels, when the House of Ideas had ceased to be new for the most part, and became bent on a program of recycling; hence you'll find Marvels narrator and protagonist Phil Sheldon alongside a youth -- the latter serves as the catalyst to bring all of the heroes into action. But what's lost here is the fact that Kurt Busiek told the tale of Marvels through Phil Sheldon. Here, Sheldon is a bystander who just happens to find himself in the thick of things. And the young lad who gets himself lost amid the throng of celebrity watchers on the day Reed Richards married Susan Storm? He's really a pain-in-the-butt and for my money would have been better left to the mercy of the Grey Gargoyle. Sheesh, but I'm curmudgeonly in this season of brotherly love!
Doug: So given that the basic premise of the story is that the kid is along a crowd-restraining barrier, freaks out when the super-scuffle breaks out and gets separated from his dad, and encounters all of Marvel's Silver Age stable (sans the Hulk and Dr. Strange) of characters before he's eventually reunited with his father, I thought I'd approach this review just a bit differently. I've included nine images from the story, the latter eight celebrating the artists of Marvel's past (with the exception of the final sample, which is by Ron Frenz).
Doug: Leading off, above, is Our Pal Sal Buscema. I chose this page, as well as all of those that follow by this simple criteria -- I felt these pages best represented the artists as we knew them. Look at the Sal offering -- action, emotion, and those undeniably Sal-like facial expressions. One comment -- I cannot stand when stories that are written from a past perspective use modern expressions in the script. Example A is Jonah telling Robbie, "Grab your cellular phone! Gotta call the Bugle!" Given that this is an "untold tale", I don't know why any such updating was necessary.
Doug: Next up is Sal's older brother, Big John Buscema. I know we sometimes use the term "stock pose", and one could certainly argue that the second panel is just that from the pencil of JB; but ain't it great?? Love it to pieces. In case you're wondering, the story segues from one artist to the other, sometimes on the same page, but sometimes at the top of a page. In the case of the brothers Buscema, they actually share a transitional page -- very appropriate, I felt.
Doug: Jazzy Johnny takes center stage next, and on his trademark character. This was a bit ironic to me, as on the cover credits you'll notice the name of Steve Ditko. But, given that there is no mention of Dr. Strange, I thought Ditko on Spidey would be a slam dunk. But no -- you'll have to scroll down just a bit to see where he wound up.
Doug: Yep, Ditko's on the Fantastic Four. A couple of things to remember -- Jack Kirby had passed away about two years prior to the publication of this mag. And, what's more, Ditko had only a smattering of experiences as the penciller on Fantastic Four stories. So I still believe that, while his inclusion in this book was a wonderful touch, his assignment to the FF portion is dubious at best. Romita could have done it, as he'd had that short stint following Kirby; but I think we'll all agree that Romita and Spider-Man are like peanut butter and jelly.
Doug: You know what I like about Gene Colan? His energy. From the panel lay-outs to the incredible sense of speed he instills to his characters in action, Colan is a vibrant storyteller. Below you'll find yourself some vintage Daredevil.
Doug: Of all the Silver Age greats included, I felt that Marie Severin's talents had declined the most. This is unmistakably her; you can even get a sense of the caricature work she did in Not Brand Echh! I'm at a loss to know if she ever did the art on the X-Men, but given the choices that were not available (Don Heck, Werner Roth, etc.), it's fine by me that the first lady of Marvel was included on the Merry Mutants.
Doug: I'm not sure what's going on with Ron Frenz in this book. Don't get me wrong -- I enjoyed his work on Amazing Spider-Man and the Silver Surfer revival. And I suppose for those consumers who were teens in 1996, a little injection of then-modernism may have been a selling point - search me. It's good stuff (although some of his faces are really off -- there's a panel of Sue that I didn't include where her eyes are closer to her ears than to her nose!)
Doug: I'm sure there are those among our readers who didn't even know this magazine existed. There's actually a second issue that features the Avengers, but I've never seen it so can neither pump nor pan it. Despite this story's poor writing, it still remains a fave of mine. I've long contended, contrary to the opinions of just about anyone who will listen, that art carries the comics medium over story. And I'll use this book as my support. At the end of the day, Stan failed me. But the heroes of my youth -- those guys and gal who gave me the best time copying their lines as if they were my own, returned one more time to make me smile. That's what comics in the '60's and '70's were all about, after all.
BONUS: How about one more page of John B. love? Several years ago I purchased a pencil rough from a dealer on Ebay. It happens to correspond to the published page below it. We've discussed recently how by the '80's and beyond Big John was largely doing breakdowns with his inkers given the responsibility of finishing and polishing. So marvel at this creative process, and get all giddy at the sight of a JB original.