Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Classic Review from Doug -- Marvel Super-Heroes 18

Note: This review was originally published at Two Girls, A Guy, and Some Comics on 26 July 2009.

Marvel Super-Heroes #18 (January 1969)
"Earth Shall Overcome!"
Arnold Drake-Gene Colan/Mickey Demeo

Doug: I recently picked up the Marvel Premiere Hardcover, Guardians of the Galaxy: Earth Shall Overcome. I recalled the Guardians mainly from the pages of the Defenders, back in my early comics-buying days. When I saw that not only this collection was coming out, but its sequel (Guardians of the Galaxy: The Power of Starhawk), I was very excited to read them. I am a big fan of Marvel's recent strategy of getting not only important storylines from the Bronze Age back into print, but entire runs of short-lived series.

Since we tend to focus mainly on the Silver Age here at TGAGASC, I thought I'd stick to the first appearance of the Guardians from 1968 -- Marvel Super-Heroes #18 (cover-dated January 1969). The tale was authored by Arnold Drake and rendered by Gene Colan and Mike Esposito (under the latter's pen name of Mickey Demeo).

Arnold Drake, creator of the Doom Patrol and Deadman, was a longtime writer for DC Comics who fell out of favor with editorial toward the end of the 1960's. Shortly after seeing his workload dwindle to nothing, he moved over to Marvel Comics, where he created (with Colan) the Guardians. You can read more about Drake in a wonderful obituary penned by Mark Evanier at the following link:

I'll be honest -- this story reads just like a 1960's DC science fiction yarn! Colan's pencils (and I am speaking of figural form, speed lines, etc.) somewhat lend themselves more to the DC style than to what Marvel was then producing. Saying that, however, other than one splash page, there is not a single panel in the story that has right angle corners! Colan was really pushing the envelope with panel lay-outs here. Although there are no characters or backgrounds that break the panel boundaries (as we'd see a little later from not only Colan but also from the likes of Neal Adams, et al.), Colan's style is somewhat unnerving to the unsuspecting reader. A Colan-art veteran, I was nonetheless taken aback by the frenetic pace of the storytelling -- it was as if Drake's words could not keep up with Gene the Dean's pictures!
Drake's characterization is pretty basic. The bad guys, an alien race known as the Badoon, are pretty typically malevolent. They posture, they say all the right (or wrong, I suppose) things, and are pretty menacing in speech and in their looks. The goal of the Badoon is to eradicate the galaxy of humanity. On the other hand, the good guys fall into pretty basic team-book dynamics. It's difficult at this point to tell any pecking order among the four white knights, but it is pretty clear that Yondu the archer will be toward the bottom. I really had to laugh at the total lack of political correctness in Yondu's speech patterns -- reading him here was to "hear" Jay Silverheels speaking as Tonto! It really was funny. Vance Astro is a little bit of a smart aleck, and nowhere near the Captain America-clone he will become in subsequent incarnations of the team. Martinex is basically written as he will be later -- serious, focused. Charlie-27 is the one character who seems really undefined. He is listed as a survivor of the Jupiter colony, with a mass 11x that of an Earthman. However, the way Colan draws his head is quite odd, as it seems almost to flow -- it certainly changes shapes throughout the story. And, one would think that in spite of his bulk and weight that Charlie-27 possesses super-speed. He is drawn on many pages either with an overabundance of speed lines, and even at times in sequential pictures as if moving faster than the eye could normally follow -- as if he were Quicksilver or the Flash! I never remembered Charlie-27 possessing super-speed in any other stories, and indeed I can find no online references to that power in regard to his character. So perhaps Drake/Colan wanted to tinker with this later...

And that "later" wouldn't come to pass anytime soon. The Guardians, after their one-page, cliffhanger first appearance, would be back-burnered until Steve Gerber chose to unshelve them in 1974. After that, they would appear somewhat regularly as guest-stars in Marvel Two-In-One and the Defenders (1975), before gaining their own series in the pages of Marvel Presents (1977).

If you're a fan of the Bronze Age, or of science fiction, or just of today's Guardians (which I admittedly know nothing of), then you should seek out this hardcover. For my money, I wouldn't plunk down any change just for Marvel Super-Heroes #18, but for the added content the collection was the way to go.
PS (27 July 2014) -- I think I've gotten better at writing reviews over the years...


david_b said...

Sorry, for some very odddd reason, I would have preferred the group stay like this team, no Bronze Age additions.

But regardless, I've heard nothing but fantastic things about the movie, the most heart-warming is how faithful it's been to the heritage thus far. It's great to hear.

As for this comic, wow and WOW. Would love to see more of Colan really letting loose here. It's funny that for these try-out books back then, they still had the marketing need to put Captain America's face up in the corner box.., just to guarantee curious buyers back in 1969.

J.A. Morris said...

Just read this for the first time a couple weeks ago, I agree with everything Doug said.

You can't go wrong with Silver Age Gene Colan art. Otherwise it's not that great. But the Badoon have never interested me as antagonists. They're just generic aliens, Skrulls without the shape-changing powers.

William Preston said...

I wish Vance Astro had been worked into this new team (though I haven't seen the movie yet . . . so maybe they shoehorn him in?). My first thought, when the movie was announced, was that, as they had with Iron Man, they would use Cap's shield as a connecting element among these narratives. (Cap also connected to the Hulk movies, in which super-soldier formula was discussed; or was that only in the second movie?)

Doug said...

David --

There are Golden Age Sub-Mariner and Cap reprints in that issue of Marvel Super-Heroes, hence the Cap head in the corner box.

Sal Buscema's costume re-designs improved the look of these guys immensely, in my opinion.


Edo Bosnar said...

This story was reprinted somewhere, because I remember reading it back when I was about 11 or 12.
Anyway, it's all right, but I think the Guardians really only came into their own once Gerber became their main writer. So my view is basically the opposite of David's: I liked the addition of Starhawk/Aleta and Nikki.

Edo Bosnar said...

And I definitely agree with Doug about the new costume designs...

Rip Jagger said...

This is one of my most cherished comics. I got my mitts on this one when I was mere youth and toted it around with me when I had to spend a week with my grandparents. I took my whole collection (which I could still carry...not so much today), but it was MSH #18 that had my fancy then. I loved the Guardians, they were weird and distinctive. Charlie-27 was my favorite, friendly and a clone. Yondu who didn't speak was fascinating, a wild blue Indian who resembled a Celtic shark with a single arrow. Martinex was at once smart and offbeat and his thermal beams didn't make much sense but they were useful. Vance Astro, the thousand year old man from Earth was a great character, bitter and trapped but still sort of heroic. None of the Guardians came across as particularly noble (save Charlie) but were clearly brave and loyal.

Loved the concept and was disappointed at the costume changes when they reappeared many moons later. They've never been as good to me, as pure a concept as they were in that first issue, brilliantly drawn by Colan. It's rock solid sci-fi, something Drake knew all about.

Great stuff! I'm working a trade right now for my Guardians stuff, but this issue will NOT be in the mix. Long live Harkovian physics.

Rip Off

P.S. I'm still miffed this issue didn't make the Marvel Firsts volumes from a few years back. It should've.

david_b said...

Rip, thanks much for chiming in on the old uniforms. There's something oddly cool and Silvery-retro about them, but I suspect the great Mr. Colan had a lot to do with how well they looked.

To add to that, much like MarVell's initial appearance, another wonderful showcase cover here to boot.

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