Amazing Spider-Man 211, 1980 “The Spider and the Sea-Scourge!”

Look out, here comes the Spider-Man! By 1980, Spider-Man was already the company darling at Marvel for quite sometime, and rightly so. His title was the best long-term book that was still performing at a high level. Not much of a down time as far as content, other than the issue here or there, it was solid.

This issue shows a lot of the normal fair in Aunt May, Debra Whitman, ESU, etc., but the big draw of this issue is none other than Namor, The Submariner! He’s peeved at the surface world once again, and is riling up his minions, demanding that they take action! Seeing Subby getting enraged isn’t anything new, but it’s always fun! there’s also a good bit of panel time for Peter Parker, and that is always a welcome sight.

Written by Denny O’Neil, John Romita Jr. pencils, Jim Mooney inks, Jim Novak letters, and a cool cover by JrJr and Al Milgrom!

 

 

 

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Daredevil 270, 1989 “BlackHeart!”

The character Daredevil is one that has so many extreme ups and downs since his creation in 1964. The last of the big names to come out of Marvel Comics Silver Age, Matt Murdoch has been all over the place. Hell’s Kitchen is his normal stomping grounds, but he spent a bit of time in San Francisco as well.

In this issue, a new villain is produced, and it’s one that’s even had a prominent role in a film! The spawn of Mephisto, Blackheart, is possibly even more vile than his father. Callously killing anyone that he wants, you get the feeling that if DD and Spider-Man can’t stop him, mankind is in big trouble!

The creative team on this one consists of Ann Nocenti (writer), John Romita jr. (pencils), AL Williamson (inks), Joe Rosen (letters), Christie ‘Max’ Scheele (colors), and Ralph Macchio (editor). That’s a pretty solid line-up with Marvel teetering on the edge of the dark times, and they deliver a solid issue. Nothing spectacular, but a good issue with a team up and first appearance. You’ll notice that Romita jr. hasn’t quite yet developed his now signature style quite yet. There are still some pages/panels that remind you of his father’s work, plus the inker makes a difference in the product as well.

 

 

A Steve Ditko tribute!

The giants are leaving us. There is no two ways about it, and a small part of me gets angry about that fact for a couple of reasons. First, because I didn’t get to meet most of them, and secondly because not enough attention is given to these brilliant creators until they pass away (except in the small community of hardcore comic book fans). A great bit of sadness fell over me when I hard of the passing of Steve Ditko.

Whether you believe it or not, the man created Spider-Man (with a bit of direction from Stan Lee), and all the classic villains that were a huge part of making the hero what he was in the comic books. He also created (co-created, depending on your opinion) my personal favorite character Dr. Strange. Not to mention The Creeper, Hawk and Dove, Speedball, The Question, Mr. A., and so on. To call him a genius is no overstatement, and just a glance at his creativity on paper is all the proof you’ll need. Monsters, Superheroes, Science fiction, horror, humor, etc., he did it all.

Why he left comics doesn’t matter, nor his personal beliefs. He was a kind man, that kept to himself and hurt no one. He gave us his imagination for a long time and we should all be grateful for that! Godspeed, Sturdy Steve!

 

 

 

 

Marvel Fanfare 20 and 21, 1985 “The Clash!”

For anyone that’s not aware, Marvel Fanfare is an incredibly awesome title. A sixty issue run that included a plethora of legendary creators, plus some up-and-comers as well. The stories varied from the macabre to straight up superhero tales, then sprinkle in some holiday themed narrative , and even the bizarre. There are certain names that in the comic book industry that are synonymous with the term bizarre (in a good way), and one of them for sure is Jim Starlin (story and pencils). In these two issues, he’s partnered with his oft time collaborator, Allen Milgrom (inks and some pencils/finishes).

The two-part story features Dr. Strange being accosted by his long time nemesis, Xandu! This powerful mage also has a multitude of minions in this story to help him carry out his devious doings. The good ol’ Doc reaches out to summon help in the form of the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing! The Doc is in a bad way, and only Ben Grimm and his power and bravery can help. The second part (issue 21), finds Dr. Strange trying to fight Xandu and referee a fight between The Thing and his long time antagonist The Hulk!

This story is one that features really cool artwork from Gemini (“Jim and I”, I being Al Milgrom,). All the characters look great, and these two creators work very well together. There are also some fantastic pin-ups in the back of issue twenty, most by Charles Vess, with a few by Carl Potts! Don’t sleep on this series, pick up the issues when possible!

 

Spectacular Spider-Man 56, 1981 “The Peril…and the Pumpkin?”

As the 1970s were in full swing, Marvel really started pumping out titles, reprints, magazines, etc. Their biggest seller by this point was undoubtedly Spider-Man! He was the company flagship, and midway through the decade, he had a spinoff title, called Spectacular Spider-Man. It was a solid title most of the time, and worth picking up. It would sometimes introduce young talent that would alter become huge in the industry. Case in point, the cover by Frank Miller (and inks by Bob Wiacek). By 1980, Spidey had multiple titles, reprints, a live action TV show under his belt, you name it.

This story revolves around the second appearance of Jack O’Lantern, and his rampage in NYC (stemming from his first appearance in Machine Man 19…believe it or not!). The interior art and story is literally a murderers row of talent. The story is by Roger Stern, who wrote some excellent Spidey stories in the 1980s (along with Captain America, Dr. Strange, The Avengers etc.). The layouts are by the former EIC himself, Jim Shooter! The finished art is by a comic book mainstay and a very underrated guy, Jim Mooney. Colors by Bob Sharen and George Roussos, letters by Janice Chiang, and edited by another giant of the industry, Denny O’Neil!

 

Captain America – Top 5 Creative Teams

The character Captain America is not only the greatest superhero to ever don the red, white, and blue, but also the only hero from the Golden Age strictly born out of patriotism that survives today. That alone says something about the strength of the character, and in a small way about patriotism in general. That being said, Captain America has had some very thought-provoking story lines over the years, and a select few men have been responsible! Here are my choices for the five best of all time!

 

 

5. Joe Simon (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist)

There are two reasons I have these gentleman on this list (and where). First, I don’t believe you can have a list like this without the creators of the character. Not having read very much material from the Golden Age is why this team isn’t higher on the list. The fact that these men created one of the most iconic characters ever, but that they had him punching the ultimate personification of evil (Adolph Hitler) in the face is absolutely fantastic.

 

4. Stan Lee (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist)

In his second run with Cap, Kirby really cranked up the visual feasts. He took Cap to new heights that haven’t been reached again and probably never will be. The stories in this era (Silver Age in Tales of Suspense, and then his own title) had more intrigue and spy material than straight up war angles, and that fit perfectly with the Cold War going on at the time.

 

 

3. Roger Stern (writer) and John Byrne (artist)

If you sit back and think how great this run was and that it only encompassed nine issues, that alone tells you how great it truly was to read. Any creative team that can produce a serious story about Cap considering running for the presidency and you believe it, has to be near the top of any list. And just the creepy Baron Blood issues alone are incredibly good!

 

2. Ed Brubaker (writer) and Steve Epting (artist)

To say that Captain America (and a lot of the Marvel Universe) needed updating after the turn of the century is an understatement. The shot in the arm was delivered by this awesome team. And yes, this is a list of Cap creative teams, but this team bringing back Bucky, and turning him into Steve’s worst nightmare was pure genius. No one has come close to this level of writing since.

 

1. Steve Englehart (writer) and Sal Buscema (artist)

From issue #153-181 (with almost no interruptions), Steve and Sal gave the readers everything they could possibly want. The political intrigue, racial bigotry, disturbing truths about a government he trusted, etc. The best part though, was Cap’s friendship with the Falcon. He and Sam Wilson grew to be best of friends, and an awesome crime fighting team! The villains were a big part of this run as well- Dr. Faustus, the 1950s Cap and Bucky (click here for details), Red Skull, Yellow Claw, Serpent Squad, Baron Zemo, Moonstone, and more! All the while having guest stars like the X-Men, S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Panther, Iron Man, you name it. This creative team pulled out all the stops (even Cap quitting!), and that is why they are number one!

 

 

Honorable mentions; first, to the team of Jack Kirby (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist)! His return to Marvel in the mid-1970s ushered in some incredible trippy stories starring Cap, and even if the stories don’t grab you, the mind-numbing artwork will! Also, Stan Lee (writer) and Gene Colan (artist). Awesome run with more action than you can ever want, and a signature art style that is absolutely unique!

 

Doctor Strange: Into Shamballa -OGN

In the 1980s, Marvel started to release OGN’s (Original Graphic Novels) on a regular basis. The stories ranged anywhere from horror to sci-fi, to straight up superheroes. These over-sized books were some of the greatest achievements of that decade, bar none. Some of these titles were books that certain creators had the chance to get their own new characters into print by Marvel (DreadstarJim Starlin, Star SlammersWalt Simonson, The FuturiansDave Cockrum, etc.). This book is not one of those, but it is nothing short of an absolute gem!

J.M. DeMatteis (writer) is one of those writers I discovered in a Bronze Age comic book (not 100% sure which one), and I loved his style from the very  beginning. I’ve read a fair share of his work, and this is his magnum opus. His ability to write stories full of raw emotion is second to none. Not to be outdone, Dan Green (artist/co-plotter) turns in the work of a lifetime as well. His pencils on Doctor Strange (the 1974 series) was great, and really showed his ability to render the supernatural.

This story is a culmination of everything that Marvel comics built from the late 1960s through the 1970s. Mysticism, philosophy, morality, religion, etc., are all touched upon in this one. DeMatteis doesn’t beat you over the head with his own beliefs or ram an agenda down your throat either. He carefully crafts a tale that is steeped in self-awareness, and really pushes Stephen Strange to the edge of the proverbial cliff. We see the good Doctor in moments of strength, and weakness, and everywhere in-between. An extreme amount of depth was added to him in this story.

The artwork is something to marvel at, and Dan Green should be extremely proud of this book (also being a co-plotter). Some creators, as consistent as they are, never produce something this incredible in a lifetime of work. His inking is very extensive from the Bronze Age up until recently (at least 2011). The visual story he tells, coupled with the script is a masterpiece. This book is right up there with any OGN…period.

As for the true meaning of Shamballa, I’ll be satisfied with this story and Three Dog Night

 

 

The Brave and the Bold 199, 1983 “The Body-Napping of Jim Corrigan!”

I’ll come right out and say it, I’m not a huge fan of The Spectre. Probably because I haven’t read very many of his appearances. Batman however, is a different story! In this penultimate issue of the series, we see the Spectre separated from Jim Corrigan (the two were sort of bonded together for most of the character’s existence). Two magic users (Kalindra and Stephos) kidnap Jim Corrigan, and The Spectre (isn’t he supposed to have cosmic awareness?) needs to locate his host (Corrigan), so he enlists the help of the greatest living detective, Batman! It isn’t long before the heroic duo find where Corrigan is being kept, and then the two begin to clean house.

The highlight of the issue is the cover, but that’s not a slam against the interiors (Ross Andru and Rick Hoberg). It’s just that Jim Aparo (cover) is so good, he overshadows the other two gentleman. There is a two page splash, where The Spectre is fighting a demon that is fantastic. The script is fine but the story (Mike Barr) is very bare bones. A nice little action issue with solid art, but nothing Earth shattering.

 

1 vs 1 Which comic is Best?

I was thinking about boxing matches the other day, and how two big-time fighters entering a boxing ring to duke it out used to be a bigger deal than what it is today. In the vein of that time-honored tradition, let us take a look at two “number ones” and see how they stack up against each another! The first round will feature two books from DC comics, and they are good ones! Batman and the Outsiders #1 (1983) vs All-Star Squadron #1 (1981), are the two participants so get ready for a throw down of epic proportions!

Batman, Metamorpho, Black Lightning, Katana, Halo, Geo-Force, and Looker. This team, mostly composed of new characters was a good mix, and that favored the book’s appeal. Not only that, but it didn’t hurt that Mike Barr (writer) and Jim Aparo (art) were the creators. A jam-packed first issue featuring the sinister Baron Bedlam!

 

Secondly, we have All-Star Squadron! A period piece starring some of the Golden and Silver Age heroes that were a part of the JSA (Justice Society of America). Hawkman, Atom, and Dr. Mid-Nite are joined by Plastic Man, Robotman, Liberty Belle, and Johnny Quick, as they meet the POTUS, FDR, as he helps them create a new super team, to fight against the Axis powers in WWII! But, before that they need to find some missing members of the JSA as well! The creative team is one of legend, as Roy Thomas (writer), Rich Buckler (pencils), and Jerry Ordway (inks) brought a fantastic new comic book to the shelves!

 

Time to break these two books down: first the covers…

Cover – All-Star Squadron (+1)

While the B&TO has tighter pencils and inks, I think All-Star Squadron is better overall. The different array of characters in the pictures is pretty cool. I do love two of the faces on the other cover though, as Superman and Metamorpho are the best reactions to Batman’s dialogue. Speaking of that dialogue, it seems a bit forced and doesn’t match the interior page, so that is definitely taking points away. Buckler and Ordway are on point with this cover for sure. Definitely in the “iconic” category.

 

Interior art – Batman and the Outsiders (+1)

This is a close one, but Aparo definitely pulls slightly ahead of Buckler and Ordway if for nothing else than his rendering of Batman. That aside, both books have some very strong work, but again, Aparo is just a bit cleaner with his style. Colors and letters are both on the same level.

 

Story – All-Star Squadron (+1)

This one isn’t even close. A good WWII story with a myriad of characters that come together to fight Nazis, plus save other heroes from Solomon Grundy, Professor Zodiak, Sky Pirate, Degaton, and Wotan! Don’t get me wrong, Barr tells a good story in the other title, but it’s just not on par with this one by Roy “the boy” Thomas. Oh, and FDR (image below) is in this comic, so that seals it!

 

So, by a score of 2-1, All-Star Squadron #1 is the winner!

 

X-Men Classics 1, 1983 “The Sentinels Live!”

Back in the Silver Age, the X-Men weren’t a big deal. The book just never seemed to be able to find an audience. The early issues were a bit tough to get through reading, but the Kirby artwork obviously helped. That said, after issue 66, it went into reprints. That’s the part that baffles me, since leading up to that last issue of new material (the title was cancelled and went into reprints for over four years, until 1975), the book was producing the strongest material to date by a long shot!

This fantastic reprint book shows us issues 57-59, with that incredible story with the return of the Sentinels! Of course that means Trask as well, but we also see the dangerous Mesmero too (and Magneto…sort of)! The interpersonal relationships between the team members is on full display in these issues for sure.

Roy Thomas (writer) was certainly a gifted writer and that was clear on any kind of book, but his keen sense on writing team books was certainly felt by the readers of the X-Men. He knew how to weave the personal nature of the X-Men and the real world applications together seamlessly. The team of Neal Adams (pencils) and Tom Palmer (inks) put on quite a show in these issues as they did in pretty much everything else they touched as creators during their storied careers. The colors were courtesy of Daina Graziunas. Throw in a great wraparound cover by Mike Zeck (and Palmer on inks again), and throw in some extra art by Adams as well, and you get to see a visual feast!

 

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