Monday, April 18, 2016

A Modern Stone Age Fantasy - Marvel Fanfare 1-2

Marvel Fanfare #1 (March 1982)
"Fast Descent Into Hell!"
Chris Claremont-Michael Golden

Marvel Fanfare #2 (May 1982)
"To Sacrifice My Soul"
Chris Claremont-Michael Golden

Doug: Hey, it's a Two for Tuesday! Except today is Monday. Well, you're still going to get some extra bang for your time spent on the BAB today, kids. Marvel Fanfare was a book that landed during my hiatus from comics, which stretched from around the spring of 1980 to the spring of 1985 (give or take). The whole direct market thing, comic shops, creator-owned properties, the "Indies"... all of that rose up while I was chillin' in high school and my first three semesters of college. Today's review material came to me in the form of one of Marvel's very early forays into the trade paperback business, in a tome titled The Savage Land (1987) and containing reprints of Marvel Fanfare #s 1-4 -- all for the low, low cost of $5.95! I also have the collected Wolverine mini-series in the same format; maybe we'll get to that some day (if I can stand Claremont's repeated "I'm the best at what I do, and...").

Doug: That's a sweet cover above left, isn't it? I always gape at it in all its airborne terror. That is, until I look at Spidey's legs. Umm... yeah, it just looks weird. But then I come back to the flying lizard from the bowels of hell, Spider-Man's hands working to free himself, and the Angel -- and I gape at it some more. But those legs.

Doug: Today, as you can see, we're going to look at the first two issues of Marvel Fanfare, brought to you by long tenured (even by 1982) X-Men scribe Chris Claremont and artist Michael Golden. At the time Golden was perhaps best known as the penciler of the Man-Bat feature that ran in Batman Family, the Mister Miracle book, and long runs at Marvel on Micronauts, ROM, and Savage She-Hulk. To me, Golden's detailed and expressive style at times channels Alan Davis, but also Marshall Rogers. Not bad company, huh? -- at least in my mind. Here's some background on the series, from Wikipedia (one reference is left in for those concerned with such things):

Marvel Fanfare was envisioned as a showcase of the comics industry's best talent. Each issue featured 36 pages of material with no advertisements and it was printed on magazine-style slick paper. it was more than twice as expensive as standard comic books ($1.25 in 1982 when most titles were 60 cents and $2.25 in 1991 when most were $1).
Editor Milgrom wrote of his experience with the series:
Doug: I know not whether the material we're looking at today was "inventory" or specifically created to launch the book. My guess is that even if it was inventory for an annual or some such thing, Al Milgrom made a solid choice in choosing it. I think you'll agree that the story is OK, but the art is simply gorgeous! Let's get rolling then, with not one but two 100-Word Reviews (one for each issue) --
Marvel Fanfare #1 (17 pages): Tanya Anderssen loved Karl Lykos. Trouble was, Lykos was the mutant energy vampire Sauron, who leached life force from others to keep himself alive. Lykos was believed killed in the Savage Land, until a photograph of him surfaced, taken six months prior. Anderssen enlisted the Angel to find Lykos. Meanwhile, the Daily Bugle is doing a feature on the Savage Land and sends Peter Parker to do the photos; he ends up on the same transport as the Angel and Anderssen. The chopper is wrecked and our heroes are captured by Magneto’s Savage Land mutates. To be continued!

Marvel Fanfare #2 (19 pages): Brain Child hooked Spider-Man and the Angel up to some nefarious gizmo that would in turn mutate each of our heroes. Ka-Zar and his warrior friends rescue Tanya Anderssen from a t-rex attack, but later they themselves are attacked by the horribly disfigured Angel and Spider-Man. Anderssen is kidnapped by the Angel; Spider-Man fights his transformation. Ka-Zar figures out that our heroes are at Zaladane’s citadel, so leads a band to rescue them. Brain Child, however, has subjected Anderssen to his ray, devolving her. Lykos knows only one way to reverse the process, so drains some of her life force. And Sauron returns…

The Good: As you may have guessed, and can see plainly for yourself from the samples I've provided, Michael Golden's art is fabulous. He is also the credited colorist on both issues. You can see that the evolution of paper and printing technologies really gives the art a clean, lush look. I mentioned above the level of detail -- there is great care taken in the rendering of each panel, every figure and even most backgrounds. Golden truly took no shortcuts here. And I think the fact that he was the whole enchilada on the pictures really gave him an investment in the work.

The teaming of Spider-Man and the Angel provides some solid visuals, although I'd argue that dropping Spidey into the Savage Land strips the character of some of his strengths -- notably web-swinging. Still, Golden's backgrounds, colors, and detailed clothing pulled my attention away from that small gripe. I enjoyed the links between this story and X-Men #s 60-63 and #s 113-116 with appearances by Magneto's Savage Land Mutates and references to Garokk and Zaladane. The Savage Land truly is a great backdrop for a story; who doesn't like dinosaurs?

The Bad: I don't really have any severe complaints at all about the story. Sure, Claremont's writing is Claremont's writing, and I can't say I didn't get what I was expecting. But I think taking Spider-Man and mutating him into a voiceless Spider-creature detracted from what one might normally wish to receive in a Spidey mag. In that regard, this was a loss -- sort of like Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye in Marvel's The Avengers. Dude spent 2/3 of the film possessed! Same thing here. But the Ka-Zar and Zabu action sort of made up for it.

The Ugly: Brain Child is one ugly dude. Barbarus is another. Sauron is also one ugly dude. A flying lizard with tattered pants and a gun. But then, what's not to like? I would say, on the serious side, that Ka-Zar comics suffer from one of the same tropes that Tarzan stories suffer, and that's the great white hope coming to save (and even subjugate) the local savages. We get a little of that here, but it's somewhat tame.

Doug: In that Wikipedia article linked above there was a section that shows where several Marvel Fanfare stories have been reprinted. I have the Marvel Premiere Hardcover Black Widow: Web of Intrigue that reprints a George Perez-drawn Widow story. There are plenty of other locations for this material. However, it's high time Marvel did a nice, neat package in their relatively new Epic Collection format and put this varied product between two covers.

Doug: At some point maybe I'll return to finish this tale -- obviously it ends in a pteranodon-level cliffhanger! Marvel Fanfare #3 features the X-Men and was drafted/finished by Dave Cockrum and Bob McLeod; Marvel Fanfare #4 has pictures provided by Paul Smith and Terry Austin. Shoot, those art teams alone are reason enough to revisit!


Anonymous said...

Yeah, whatever the ins and outs of Marvel Fanfare generally, I'm calling inventory on this story - what are the odds that it didn't at least start out as a Claremont MTU script?

So its no surprise that its the wonderful Golden artwork that makes this memorable, unlike the continuation in issues 3 and 4 which was pretty standard issue for X-Men at the time. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but when Claremont wrote as "star creator" or whatever, aiming at the enthusiast, he produced stuff like those Classic X-Men shorts with John Bolton or God Loves Man Kills. Or, indeed, the Wolverine mini with Miller.

Thats what Marvel should have been aiming for with Fanfare. If they'd been really committed to the original idea of a showcase title for their best stuff, it would have made a lot of sense for, say, the Miller/Claremont Wolverine to have been serialized over four issues.
But instead... as I recall, one of those two first issues also had an awful Daredevil short (with, er, Santa Claus) which didn't suggest Marvel had a particularly high opinion of their fans.


Doug said...

Sean --

So am I hearing that your suggestion might have been to forego the mini-series route in favor of a title like Marvel Fanfare where serialized short stories would have been housed? From a marketing standpoint you'd lose all the #1 issues. Like I care now, but back then...

To all -- here is the link to our general discussion of Marvel Fanfare from 2014. Enjoy!


Anonymous said...

Doug - I take your point, but would argue that a more long term approach to the (then) new direct market would ultimately have served Marvel - and the comic biz generally - better than rapid short term exploitation.
Weren't they on the verge of bankruptcy by the early 90s?


Redartz said...

I recall being pretty excited about the debut of Marvel Fanfare. Loved the first few issues, the conclusion to the story a bit less. You are right Doug, Golden's artwork sparkles. Between his work here and in Micronauts, he rivaled Byrne as my favorite artist at the time. Golden'state faces are incredible: unique and very expressive. And he seems to have had a field day with the Savage Land and the dinosaurs; that Pteranodon on the cover deserves framing...

Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, when I saw these issues were up for review, I pulled out my tpb collecting these (Marvel Fanfare: Strange Tales) and read them again for the first time in many years. No arguments about the art, and I still enjoyed the story for the most part - I'd say my only major criticism is just the back-story that got our heroes to the Savage Land. I can mostly look through my fingers at the Daily Bugle angle for Peter/Spidey, but why would Tanya enlist the aid of the Angel of all possible super-guys, and why would Angel not then just contact the X-men to come with him (or at least his buddy Iceman)?

As for your point about Ka-Zar serving as a Tarzan-like 'white savior,' I recall that the ongoing series at the time by Bruce Jones and Brent Anderson (which I absolutely loved) sort of moved away from that trope, as Ka-Zar's interactions with the natives of the Savage Land and Pangea were depicted with a little more nuance. Plus, the focus was more on his bickering yet frisky relationship with Shanna.

Doug said...

Edo, thank you for doing your homework!

I like the panel where Spidey gets hit upside the head, specifically the way Golden draws his right eye. It evokes memories of the 1967 cartoon. And, we'll see a similar treatment of the eyes on Spidey's mask in the upcoming Civil War film.


William said...

I bought this when it first came out, but I don't own the originals anymore. I do have the TPB that reprints the first few issues of Fanfare though. I'll have to dig it out and read this one again.

I love Michael Golden's artwork (especially his Batman work), but I think he draws Spider-Man a little to muscular in this. I've never been a fan of body-builder Spidey.

Still though, Michael Golden is one of my favorite artists. His stuff is similar of other favorite artists of mine like Art Adams and Mike Weiringo. I've always been a fan of the guys with a more cartoony style (with a dash of realism).

Martinex1 said...

I really enjoyed Golden's art when this first came out. The paper, printing and coloring really helped as some of his finer line work really showed. In Micronauts the printing clouded or muddied his work; if they ever reprint that series it would benefit from the upgraded technology. I liked his Spider-Man. I thought Spidey was at his wiry best and I liked that he had the underarm webs. I also liked Golden's Angel as the wings were really good. I think this, Avengers Annual 10, and the first 8 Micronauts are his best work. Some of the pages Doug showed are etched in my memory because I looked at them frequently. I also enjoyed Golden's use of color. I like when he went monochromatic as was his habit sometimes on background characters. Or in the example on some of the savage land denizens. I like that technique.

I remember the 3rd issue of Fanfare letting me down. I like Cockrum, but didn't feel it was his best work, and I actually think the format hurt him particularly when compared to the previous two issues. Smith bounces back in issue 4 a bit; I remember his Storm being fantastic. I think the new printing process helped the guys who had more fine lines and details in the features. And those with broader strokes seemed lacking.

Fanfare was really hit or miss. The Perez Black Widow was worth reading and I remember a Dr Strange with Scarlet Witch that I liked. But most of the time I couldn't justify the cost. Now I find these in cheap bins all over the place.

Edo Bosnar said...

Martinex, the initial run of Micronauts issues drawn by Golden were reprinted in the early '80s as part of the Special Edition line, five issues in all. It's on higher quality paper and the art looks really nice as a result.
Generally, I agree with you about Marvel Fanfare, i.e., it was kind of hit and miss. I thought the initial dozen or so issues were generally pretty good, and that's why I really recommend that reprint book I mentioned in my first comment (Strange Tales) as it collects the entirety of the first seven issues, back-up stories and all.

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