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).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) --
Editor Milgrom wrote of his experience with the series:
“ It was intended that [Marvel Fanfare] would appeal especially to the fans. [I] tried to get the best possible stuff (...by either established pros or talented newcomers). At least part of the purpose was to use better paper, more elaborate, detailed coloring and, by charging a higher cover price, to eliminate all those unsightly ads. The creators were paid a bonus 50% rate, too. I was sometimes 'accused' of just using up inventory material — as if that was necessarily a bad thing. I did use some inventory stuff — if I thought it was of high enough quality. As with any grand vision, the results sometimes fell short of the goal... What finally killed it was the advent of incentive payments to freelancers — top creators could make far more than the rate-and-a-half Fanfare paid if they worked on many of the better-selling regular titles. That and my workload and family obligations made it tough to keep the book going. And sales had begun to drop as well.
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!