Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Guest Writer - If I Had a Buck... Licensed to Thrill


Doug: You know the drill...



Martinex1: It’s yet again time for “If I Had A Buck”, the spending game we play here on the Bronze Age Babies site. If you, with a small amount of money in your pocket, enter an imaginary comic store that has only nine comics on the rack, what would you buy and why? Feel free to talk about the specific comics, the covers, the series, the writers, the artists, the characters, the motif, or anything else that catches your fancy.


The theme this time around is Marvel comics based on licensed properties. Marvel has had a long, varied, and complex history of producing comics based on other companies’ trend setting and creative assets. Over the course of decades, it is surprising just how many licensing ventures Marvel has embarked on. Novels and television shows and toys and movies and celebrities have all been represented in four color grandeur under the Marvel banner. The list includes but is not limited to: Conan, Gullivar Jones, Elric, John Carter, Tarzan, Soloman Kane, The Man From Atlantis, The Wizard of Oz, Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Logan’s Run, Star Wars, KISS, Star Trek, Alf, Battlestar Galactica, Indiana Jones, James Bond, G.I. Joe, Barbie, Muppets, Robocop, and countless others. 

Today the shop has comics with characters that were licensed that also tied directly into the Marvel Universe. To my knowledge, series like Star Wars existed in their own universe; Luke Skywalker never fought Kang or teamed up with the Starjammers. Likewise, the Mandrill, Red Ghost, and the Gibbon never ended up on The Planet of the Apes. And perhaps surprisingly Captain America, S.H.I.E.L.D, and the Black Widow (nor any other Marvel character) showed up in G.I. Joe. But many other licensed characters interacted freely and openly with the Marvel superheroes to the point of being part of a shared universe. That caused some headaches for the publisher later, particularly for reprints starring a character for which the license was no longer held. But back in the late 70’s and early 80’s it was common to see the spandex crew interacting with lifesize toys, movie creatures, and logo baring entities. The comics and covers below demonstrate that interaction very clearly.

Here are the comics to consider with some of the details around the specific titles and issues. Have fun, share your thoughts, and pray for the day that Iron Man takes his armor war to Boba Fett and the Stormtroopers!

MICRONAUTS #20 Guest Starring Ant-Man. Aug 1980. $0.40. Cover (one of my favorites of all time) by Michael Golden. Written by Bill Mantlo. Interior art by Pat Broderick and Armando Gill.  The warriors from Innerspace find themselves battling mutated bugs and a mutated Bug in a suburban grocery store.  Scott Lang makes an early appearance and puts his spring boots to use. Silver age in its feel; far ranging in its appeal!  Fits all sizes!

The Micronauts, based on the Mego toyline, would go on to meet many Marvel characters in their career including starring alongside the X Men in a 4 issue limited series. The characters that were based on the action figures such as Acroyear, Baron Karza, and Biotron went on to appear in Image and Devil’s Due comics when those companies held the licenses. Meanwhile, Commander Arcturus Rann, Marionette, and Bug continued on in the Marvel Universe as the Microns.

TEAM AMERICA #9 Guest Starring Iron Man. Feb 1983. $0.60. Cover by Dave Simons. Written by Bill Mantlo (you will see a lot of him in this post). Interior art by Mark Bright and Vince Colletta. The motorcycle team and the mysterious Marauder face Iron Man In what is surely some great misunderstanding!  Putting pedal to the metal!

The Team America toyline created by Ideal was a revamp of Evel Knievel’s cycles and figures following some legal trouble. The rather bland and archetypal color coded team would later meet Ghost Rider and Captain America. Most astonishingly they were revealed to be mutants (on an off day for Cerebro I assume). And later Honcho, Reddy, Wulf, Wrench, and Cowboy teamed with the Thing (yes, Ben Grimm) as the Thunderiders, but Ben quit before it was well known. Phew!

ROM #18 Guest Starring the X-Men. May 1981.  $0.50. Cover by Frank Miller and Terry Austin.   Written by Bill Mantlo.  Interior art by Sal Buscema and Al Milgrom. Creep fest galore as Hybrid, an offspring of a Dire Wraith and a human, wreaks havoc on a Virginia farm community. The all new all different crew show up because a new mutant was detected (there is a lot of that going around). The spacefaring toaster has his hands full and his neutralizer charged. Galactic!

ROM was a lowly reviewed toy in Time Magazine for its inarticulation and limited LED attributes.  But under Mantlo’s and Buscema’s guidance, the Marvel series lasted a whopping 75 issues and featured some horror and suspense styling as the Galadorian finished a long standing battle with his evil shape shifting enemies. The Spaceknight teamed up with the likes of Jack of Hearts, Power Man and Iron Fist, Torpedo, Nova, and the ever side kicking Rick Jones over the course of his career. 
 
SHOGUN WARRIORS #20 Guest Starring the Fantastic Four. Sept 1980. $0.50. Cover by Herb Trimpe. Written by Doug Moench with interior art by Trimpe. The giant robots reach the finale of their series.   Karen and Doug had reviewed their penultimate chapter previously on the BAB site, and this story continues the tale. If a giant robot falls in the city, can you hear the recyclers stripping the copper parts? Electric!

The giant 24-inch Shogun Warrior toys by Mattel were fairly short lived on the market. It didn’t help that there was controversy around children getting hurt by toy projectiles and small parts. The Warriors launched their spring loaded hands and fists to take out enemies.

HUMAN FLY #2 Guest Starring Ghost Rider. Oct 1977. $0.35. Cover by Carmen Infantino and Al Milgrom. Written by Bill Mantlo. Interior art by Infantino and Dan Green. In a rigged motorcycle race across the desert, Johnny Blaze and the mysterious Human Fly have to outwit and outlast a scheming promoter. Flaming skulls and amazing stunts the Marvel way! 

The Human Fly was a fictional embellishment of real life stuntman Rick Rojatt, who once appeared at the Marvel offices in full costume. And that costume sure was fantastic and one of the better designs of the era with its striking red and white contrast. Rojatt was known for jumping 27 buses on a super charged Harley, besting an Evel Knievel record. The comic character was an aerialist who had a large amount of his skeleton replaced with steel bones following a car accident; this allowed him to perform great feats and fight for the underprivileged while being pursued by an investigator intent on knowing his identity.

GODZILLA #23 Guest Starring the Avengers. June 1979. $0.40. Cover by Herb Trimpe and Dan Green.  Written by Doug Moench. Interior art by Trimpe and Green. The king of the monsters is back to full size and is running amok in New York City. Can the combined might of the FF and Avengers stop the behemoth in his own book? Can Thor withstand the creature’s atomic breath? Can Dum Dum Dugan keep his hat on? Answers to all that and more, true believers!

The Marvel version of the great movie monster had some quirky storylines and plot beats in its run, including the creature being reduced to the size of a canary and then growing back to its towering self over the course of many issues. One of the most hilarious scenes ever in comic book history is when Godzilla at human size is disguised in a trenchcoat and fedora. I kid you not! The series played on a fugitive theme with a sympathetic Dum Dum Dugan doggedly pursuing the creature.The art was actually quite good throughout from my recollection. But it is rumored Toho increased the licensing fee so Marvel ended the series, but not before Godzilla battled the Champions, Fantastic Four, S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Avengers while Spidey snapped some pictures for the Bugle.  

NFL SUPERPRO #1 Guest Starring Spider Man.  Oct 1991. $1.00. Cover by Ron Frenz and Joe Sinnott. Written by Fabian Nicieza. Interior art by Jose Delbo and Mike DeCarlo. The hard hitting 1st Issue of NFL Superpro! Nuff Said!

Okay… it is not enough said. The hero of the story is a football player who suffers a knee injury, but gains super powers as the result of exposure to rare NFL memorabilia and chemicals burning in a fire. That combined with a supersuit designed to protect running backs and we may have the most convoluted and bizarre introduction of a character ever. And believe me that I am not even getting into the nuances of his origin story which include a genius scientist NFL fan, a child saved from a fall, and a band of thieves determined to cash in on sports collectibles (but who inexplicably set them all on fire). Hard to believe this debacle lasted 12 issues with a guest appearance by Captain America along the way. Buy the first issue for the unintended humor value as the NFL superhero teams up with a Marvel icon, but be aware that there is a risk of concussion.

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #21 With Doc Savage. Nov 1976. $0.30. Cover by Ron Wilson and Joe Sinnott.  Written by Bill Mantlo. Interior art by Wilson and Pablo Marcos. The Man of Bronze teams with the Thing in a battle across eras with Blacksun, the living black hole! They will pound you to a pulp!

The adventurous hero from the 30’s had his own eight issue series with Marvel in the early 70’s and this was his first crossover; he also appeared in Marvel magazines. The art in this issue is solid and the split page approach to the different timelines is clever. Clark Savage Jr’s character and intellect are fairly well on display here in the Marvel mold. The villain’s name may be a nice nod to the pulp baddy John Sunlight; and Blacksun (Thomas Lightner) would go on to play a pivotal role in the Project Pegasus Saga as the Nth Man. Unfortunately, Doc has had a spotty comic history with additional stints at Gold Key, DC, Millenium, Dark Horse, and Dynamite.  

TRANSFORMERS #3 Guest Starring Spider Man. Jan 1985. $0.75. Cover by Mike Zeck.   Written by Jim Salicrup. Interior art by Frank Springer and Kim De Mulder. Optimus Prime!  Autobots! Peter Parker in a new disguise! Until the Skrulls and Decepticons team up to make a BJ and the Bear movie, make mine Marvel!

This 4-issue limited series based on the Hasbro line of toys was so popular that it became an ongoing that lasted 80 issues. And from what I understand the weekly Marvel UK series ran more than 300 issues. As far as I can tell, this Spider-Man one shot may be the robot’s only direct link to the Marvel Universe and hit newsstands about eight months after Spidey’s black costume debut. I found it interesting that some of the ideas and names, including the human character’s surname Witwicky, made it into the Transformers feature film.

There you have it! Nine titles of Marketing Mayhem!  Spend wisely!



16 comments:

Edo Bosnar said...

Team America. *shudder* I'm having unpleasant flashbacks...

Otherwise, it's worth noting that Mantlo really seemed to be the reigning king of Marvel's licensed properties.
Anyway, the prices are killing me here, and to be honest many of these just don't interest me, so I'll go with Rom and Micronauts, probably the two strongest of these licensed books.
By the way, a little correction: Doc Savage's first cross-over into regular Marvel continuity happened almost two years before the issue of Marvel 2-in-1 you included here, in Giant-size Spider-man #3.

Colin Bray said...

This is a tough one, Martinex1!

I was tempted to go for a Mantlo doubleheader with Rom and Micronauts but in the end settled on Rom #18 and Godzilla #23.

At it's best Rom was a fabulous comic, combining sci-fi, horror and sentimentality to great effect. #18 is a really good crossover comic and in Hybrid it featured the closest Rom got to a nemesis character. So that's an automatic buy.

I haven't read any Godzilla but throw in prime-era Avengers and Moench/Trimpe, I'm there!

Shame about the Micronauts comic though. How about I put down my remaining 10c today and I'll come and collect with my paper-round money next week?

Martinex1 said...

Edo thank you for the correction. I totally forgot about that Giant Size despite owning it. Colin, I think Mantlo did his best work on ROM and Micronauts. It seemed he was playing better with the long term story. There were some ups and downs along the way but they felt consistent in tone and characterization. The Hybrid story was a peak. And one thing I didn't mention, I thought both titles had striking logos/ mastheads. I am not sure if the toy companies designed those or vice versa. The three letter ROM was always visible on the rack.

Humanbelly said...

Two Herb Trimpe covers, here! Maybe three, 'cause I'm not sure about TRANSFORMERS. . .

And the MICRONAUTS and ROM covers are both simply excellent-- no question.

But still--- don't know if I'd even spend the whole dollar. I have that Godzilla issue, and that Human Fly-- neither book was a grabber. And as much as Micronauts and Rom have devoted fans, neither book managed to click for me, either. The non-connection (or tenuous-at-best connection) to the MU always put a big damper on my enthusiasm. I mean-- was there ever ANY acknowledgment that GODZILLA's events occurred in other titles? In the modern, fractured MU, did ROM or the MICRONAUTS ever even really happen?

Maybe there was also an element of grab-a-buck-while-it's-hot that put me off. No organic creative process at all, just jumping on the gravy train/band wagon. When Marvel decided to push it's new BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD book I believe I dropped a few of my "maybe" titles in disgust. . .

HB

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid you lost me with this one Mike/Martinex, as theres nothing here that I'd have spent money on. This may well be my loss, of course, and probably just means that I have a couple of years on you. These books all seem to date from around 1980, at which point a comic based on toys would have been "for kids" - even artwork by Michael Golden couldn't really get me interested.

So, I have to say back then I'd have saved my money for when the next issue of the far more grown up (ho-ho) Savage Sword of Conan turned up.

-sean

Redartz said...

Thanks for the post, Martinex; love your capsule descriptions!
As for the books, looks like I follow Edo wth Micronauts and Rom. Micronauts was a great series; and as HB noted it has a great cover here too.I have never read an issue of Rom, so it becomes selection number two based upon everyone's recommendation. That leftover dime might find me another issue of Rom to sample in one of those yard sale boxes I frequent...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I agree with Sean...if these are the only choices, I'd just save my money!

Mike Wilson

Dr. Oyola said...

I already own complete runs of ROM and Micronauts and REALLY REALLY want a complete run of Godzilla. So you know, if all I had was a buck, I'd be looking around to see if I could get away with the five-finger discount. ;)

Colin Bray said...

Apologies Martinex1 if this is off-topic but a thought to add: why do folks think Marvel (and DC) dropped the ball on licenced properties since the 90s?

Companies like IDW make licenced characters the tent pole of their lines and do very well with them - think My Little Pony. And the fact smaller companies can afford the licenses surely means the deals would be loose change for the majors.

Is it to do with corporate identity and branding for Disney and Warners? Or purely a profit/loss call?

Maybe it's for the best - seeing how much my young daughters enjoy MLP and other quality IDW comics, perhaps we don't want Marvel and DC to screw them up!

Colin Bray said...

PS A possible answer to my own question is that IDW is still a COMIC company and Marvel/DC simply are not. The major business model is predicated entirely on other media and merchandise with comics themselves almost a necessary inconvenience.

If that's the case it is a real shame. But more power to the smaller companies who put comics, especially all-ages comics, first.

Incidentally, my 7-year old daughter is currently reading and loving her first superhero comics - a Spider-Man pocketbook reprinting ASM #141-#148. That makes me very happy.

Right, off-topic mode - off.

Martinex1 said...

Hi all. I am not surprised that many are balking at this particular selection. As Sean and HB have pointed out, the money grab aspect and the link to toys had an appeal to a limited (and perhaps younger skewed) fan base. Transformers, Shogun Warriors, Godzilla, and most of the rest did nothing for me, and I owned just a smattering that we were gifted in some form. For me though, I would definitely choose the Micronauts and ROM. I’ve mentioned here before that those were good series, and because they were generally well plotted they lost their toy connection and “kiddy” feel very quickly.

Micronauts started out as part Star Wars knock off (with a princess, rogue starship captain, and a Darth Vader stand in) and merchandising push. But even by the second issue, the series started to take on a style of its own. The characters thrown together in the team really have good chemistry, with depictions of friendships like those between Bug and Acroyear, and Bug’s grief over loss, and the team battling with purpose, that all rival the best stories of the era. And the added aspect of this team venturing to our Earth and being mystified by it is truly fun story telling. For example, when they first land in our world at six inches tall, a swing set seems like some structure of worship and a puppy seems like some crazed and dangerous creature. There are two arcs I would recommend. The first twelve issues act as almost a maxi series with world building (Homeworld and the surrounding planets, the cultures, the Pleasure Pits, etc) and the first great battles with Karza. Later in the series (mid twenties) there was an arc about Karza returning and this time to Earth. He teams up with Hydra and the Fixer and Mentallo (and it makes sense), takes over Disneyland and battles SHIELD and the Micronauts. Sounds strange and even silly but that run was epic. Maybe I will review it sometime.

ROM was sometimes downright scary and had a much different take on superheroics. ROM was a man who literally sacrificed his body parts to become a Spaceknight to hunt the Dire Wraiths. Limbo, hybrids, wars, suspicion, trust, fear, purpose … all played into the story.

Colin mentioned IDW. I have said here before that IDW purchased the rights/ license for both ROM and Micronauts to be used in 2016. That should be interesting.

To answer Colin’s question, I think a lot of licensing comes down to margin impact (paying royalties) and control of characterization. I think in the 90s it got too expensive for Marvel, and conversely I think creative control is a little more free with smaller companies. I can only surmise that is the case.

But having said all of that, a lot of the issues I shared today are dogs. They were the opposite of ROM and Micronauts, pure formulaic fodder with limited innovation. I was hopeful that somebody would defend a title, but suspected that the two obvious frontrunners and Godzilla would most likely get the attention. Next time I will try to get your dollar more freely.

William Preston said...

Micronauts and ROM were always pretty solid; actually, Micronauts was well beyond solid. Real thought went into those. Praise be to Bill Mantlo.

Because I was a Marvel zombie at the time, I actually bought The Human Fly (for a little while), Godzilla, and Shogun Warriors. Godzilla was actually fun. Trimpe made it work.

benjaminherman said...

Good write-up. I wish that these series could all be collected into trade paperbacks. Well, okay, maybe *not* NFL Superpro, but certainly the rest!

I wrote about some of these books on my own blog last year...

https://benjaminherman.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/copyright-calamity-marvels-bronze-age-licensed-titles/

Anonymous said...

The kid in me really, really wants that Transformers comic but balks at paying 75 cents even though Transformers was his favorite cartoon and his favorite toys were Transformers and he is dying to know what happens when Spider-Man teams up with the Autobots and aaaargh 75 cents is soooo much money for one lousy comic!!!

*huff huff huff*

But lookit! The Avengers vs. Godzilla! That's gotta be AWESOME! Most of the rest of the comics look lame but that Rom comic that I never buy cuz who cares he's not a real Marvel character has the X-Men who were AWESOME on Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends especially the Australian guy Wolverine and that cover looks wicked cool so I'll get those two books even though I so want to know what Spider-Man does in a Transformers comic.

My adult self thinks the Godzilla series was a hoot and would probably buy Rom because of its good reputation. I would be enticed by the Michael Golden cover but put Micronauts back once I saw the art was by someone else.

Habits, Marvel characters have alluded to the Godzilla series. The giant robot Red Ronin and the Behemouth Helicarrier have made appearances and characters have mentioned Dugan chasing a giant monster. I can't remember which comics make reference to it (maybe '80s Avengers?) but the oblique references are in there somewhere.

- Mike Loughlin

Anonymous said...

I never was into Transformers or (american) football, so I'm gonna cheat by picking three titles - Godzilla #23, Human Fly #2 and MTIO with Ben and Doc Savage. Yes, I know it comes up to $1.05 - I'd give my buck and beg my mom to give me the extra 5 cents!

OK here's my rationale - Godzilla: back in the day my brother bought some of the early issues of this run, which we still have. Doug Moench really gave a sympathetic treatment of Godzilla, portraying him eerily similarly to the Hulk in terms of being a powerful atomically birthed monster being constantly hounded by the military. Herb Trimpe's artwork was great here too; his style was perfectly suited for giant monsters and robots! I kinda like the way he drew Godzilla with glowing red pupil-less eyes instead of the goofy muppet eyes we saw in some of the old Toho movies.

Human Fly : again, I had some issues from this series, and I felt it had potential, even with artwork by Frank Robbins! Regular readers of the BAB know how I feel about his art!

MTIO : OK here's one I never read, but hey I reckon you can't go wrong with the ever lovin' blue eyed Thing and the Man of Bronze!


- Mike 'man of tin' from Trinidad & Tobago.

William Preston said...

Mike, I loved both the Thing and Doc Savage, but if I remember correctly, they don't actually interact in the comic.

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