Friday, October 3, 2008

Marvel Team-Up Prototypes: Mutant Mayhem part 1

Spider-Man 71-JohnRomita-JimMooney
Spider-Man #71 (1969)

Amazing Spider-Man #71 (April 1969)
Stan Lee/John Romita/Jim Mooney
“The Speedster and the Spider!”

Doug: As we move into the second phase of our look at some possible precursors to the Bronze Age classic Marvel Team-Up, it might be a good idea to actually do some data analysis and see if we’re even close to the possibility that Marvel was test-marketing this idea of teaming their most popular character, Spider-Man, with other lesser-known characters throughout the Marvel Universe. DC had been successful with this strategy for years, teaming virtually any of their properties with Batman in the pages of The Brave and the Bold. The dates for the issues we’ve chosen (and these are cover dates – newsstand dates would be about three months earlier on the average) for this blog series are:

Amazing Spider-Man #62 (July 1968) – Medusa
Amazing Spider-Man #71 (April 1969) – Quicksilver
Amazing Spider-Man #86 (July 1970) – Black Widow
Amazing Spider-Man #92 (January 1971) – Iceman

Also of note would be the following issues, which we may get to at a later date!

Amazing Spider-Man #77 (October 1969) – Human Torch
Amazing Spider-Man #104 (January 1972) – Ka-Zar
Amazing Spider-Man #108-109 (May-June 1972) – Dr. Strange
Amazing Spider-Man #119-120 (April-May 1973) – Hulk
Amazing Spider-Man #161-162 (November-December 1976) – Nightcrawler

What’s interesting about this run of guest appearances is that the cover date for Marvel Team-Up #1 is March 1972. One could then argue, looking at the temporal proximity of ASM #’s 92 and 104 to the release of MTU, that those issues were the true try-outs. I would say, however, that unless ASM #104’s sales figures totally tanked, that MTU was on the docket for release, a done deal. I do find it curious, if there was indeed any relation between the events in ASM and MTU, that Marvel went right away again to a guest appearance in ASM with Dr. Strange’s appearance only two months after MTU’s debut. Even more curious is that once MTU was an apparent success, ASM virtually stopped as a vehicle for B-list guest appearances; witness the 3 ½ year gap between the Hulk’s guest appearance and Nightcrawler’s. At any rate, on to this week’s review…

Doug: This issue predates our last review, but one thing that’s consistent is the creative team. Stan’s dialogue and Jazzy Johnny’s pencils really carry the title over these years; I do want to point out the inks of this period. Jim Mooney, perhaps better known for his pencils over at the Distinguished Competition on such characters as Supergirl, is the embellisher for Romita. While generally doing an admirable job, I think his presence is most noticeable in the faces of the characters in the book. His eyes in particular are very much his own, and not Romita’s – not necessarily a bad thing, but just noticeable.

Karen: I have to admit that I would prefer another inker on Romita, like Mike Esposito (aka Mickey Demeo). Mooney’s influence is strong, especially on the faces, as you say Doug, which is a shame, since Romita draws such pretty women and handsome men! Although as far as the general story-telling/layout goes, it flows well and is typical, dynamic Romita. What was up with the credits anyway? I suppose it was just Stan’s zany sense of humor, but Romita is listed as “innovator” and Mooney as “illustrator”. I know we’ve talked about how Romita was mostly doing layouts at this point, but it still seemed an odd way to put it.

Sharon: There’s a harmonious assonance at play here: Stan: Author…Romita: Innovator…Mooney, Illustrator.

Sharon: Apart from that, by calling Romita the “Innovator,” Stan makes sure to acknowledge Romita’s contributions, which would have been plotting (layouts), touch ups, and probably (from what I’ve read) major participation in the story discussions. Mooney did the finishes (if not more) and the inking, so I think “Illustrator” is apt. But it’s Romita who did the storytelling by laying out the action, or at least providing the breakdowns. The overall direction of Spider-Man was firmly in Stan and John’s hands.

Sharon: You know, I was never a regular reader of Spider-Man back then, but of course I’d heard of Romita. So when he took over as the penciler for the Fantastic Four (in 1970 when Kirby left), I remember being very disappointed at his work in FF #103-106—this was the great Romita I’d read so much about? His FF work seemed very simplistic and cartoony.

Sharon: But now, nearly 40 years later, I understand why his FF work back then seemed so “unfinished” to me. As we’ve noted, Romita could not pencil very quickly (he’s admitted as much in many interviews), which is in part why Stan often had other artists (Mooney, Heck) finish Romita’s pencils. With the FF, it seemed like Romita would be responsible for the full pencils and he did not think he was up for the task (and why Romita was so apprehensive about taking over the Fantastic Four --as he has related many times). This is not to denigrate Romita, who not only was a good penciler but also was invaluable to Stan as his art director (first unofficially, then officially) and someone who picked up a lot of the production slack. He was definitely one of Stan’s right hand men.

Doug: Early in this tale Stan begins a recap of sorts of events in the recent lives of the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and the Toad. In an editorial box Stan tells the reader that if they’re not up on the Avengers mag, not to worry – all will be clear. Well, being a regular reader of that comic, even I didn’t feel like this story made all that much sense. For my money, I felt Quicksilver was sort of shoe-horned into this story. I never bought Pietro’s explanation that he was out to redeem himself for events gone wrong in the recent past, and I certainly didn’t think that he’d be so easily duped by of all things the Daily Bugle into going after Spider-Man.

Sharon: And why would Pietro zoom off and leave his sister stranded in the Adirondacks, alone with the Toad –when he knew that the Toad had sexual designs on her (at least, he had in the past)? Remember, Wanda was powerless at this time; she’d lost her hex power. Why wouldn’t Pietro take Wanda with him?

Sharon: And in the hindsight is 20-20 department: Pietro strikes a very Magneto-esque pose in the last panel on page 5, doesn’t he?

Doug: As to the fight itself, it was pretty well-choreographed. Romita did a nice job of showcasing Quicksilver’s powers, and Spider-Man’s frustration in fighting one so fast was believable. I’m not sure I cared for how easily Spidey defeated Pietro – yes, Pietro’s prone to carelessness and oft over-confidence, but I still thought it seemed a bit too easy. But then, it did happen on page 19!

Karen: I guess as a kid it never occurred to me how ridiculous it was, that these heroes would constantly run into one another and immediately start fighting. But now, looking back, it really seems so silly. Still, the story was exciting, and the art really conveys Quicksilver’s speed.

Doug: Overall, a good issue – an OK read, good Romita art (although not top-of-the-line), and it was nice to see Wanda and Pietro. I think the strength of the story, though, was not the battle or the guest appearances at all, but the continued use of the supporting cast to move Peter Parker from trial to trial.

Sharon: That’s an excellent point and one that illustrates the key component of the Spider-Man comic. It’s almost like the villains- -or here, the guest appearances- - are an afterthought to the real story, which is Peter’s personal life. At times the two converge, as with the continuing saga of the Green Goblin/Norman Osborne.

Doug: For all the times Stan commented in his “Stan’s Soapbox” that Marvel was moving to a one-and-done format for their storytelling, it was this use of subplots with the Spidey regulars that kept the serial format alive and important. As far as this particular magazine as a try-out for Marvel Team-Up? I’d say it’s possible. All of the characteristics of MTU are here: B-listers, characters brought together by a misunderstanding, and a fight that basically proves nothing. And, as Wanda and Pietro weren’t apparently headed to any solo adventures (as were Medusa and the Black Widow), one could question if this issue was even any kind of marketing device.

Sharon: I agree; I think their appearance in ASM #71 was not a marketing device, but rather Stan’s way of keeping Wanda and Pietro in readers’ minds. Prior to this appearance, the twins not been seen for nine months, since Avengers #53 (in 1968). And after this Spider-Man issue, their next appearance would be about five months later, in X-Men #59. In the X-Men issue, I was glad to see them with the Toad in tow—ah, continuity!

Karen: Well, with Spidey being their most popular character, what better way to expose readers to other characters or books than to have them featured in Amazing Spider-Man? I also have to believe that Stan just really liked having a complete, inter-connected universe. One of the things I really enjoy about looking at these old issues (and I am using the excellent DVD-ROM) is the incredible sense of fun they had. The stories were exciting and the characters were interesting. And unlike today, a lot of story was packed into every issue. I also agree with Doug about the development of Spidey’s cast. In this issue for example, we see a lot of Joe Robertson, who I always felt was an important character in the book, particularly given the times. He feels like a real person here – concerned over his work, his son, the state of the world. While the dialogue certainly sounds corny at times, there is a real depth to these people.

Sharon: Back then I normally didn’t read the solo Marvel books, so a supporting cast full of non-powered people seems unusual to me. I was used to the FF, the Avengers, and the X-Men and their insular circle of friends populated by super-powered beings (okay, there was Alicia and Wyatt, but they were few and far between). As we have mentioned, Peter’s personal life is the dominant element of the book and probably the reason the Spider-Man comic was so popular; his everyday crises (girlfriends, money, relatives, work) seemed more realistic and relatable than, say, Tony Stark’s or Cap’s or Reed’s concerns.

Karen: Two more things that make these books so enjoyable are the letters pages and bullpen bulletins. The sense of camaraderie that Marvel fostered with the readers was remarkable. Back in those days, you felt less like you were purchasing a product, and more like you were dropping in on old friends. I miss that.


Dr. Pym said...

Sorry for the late comment... I've been very busy lately, and my laptop has been on the fritz, so my net time is limited!!

I liked this story, but I agree with everyone else in that it had that odd cookie cutter feeling that most two-parter Spidey Marvel Team-Up's had. The Quicksilver/Spidey battle reminded me of the many two part Team-Up's in which Spidey would battle the hero in the first part, but then team up with them in the second part! Of course, here Pietro runs off after Spidey finishes him off.

I also agree that it's weird that Pietro would just listen to what the Daily Bugle says, or that he would be wandering around New York City in the first place! Considering how over-protective of Wanda he was during the early years of the two, it just seems too out of character. Especially since we wouldn't hear from them for months! What, did Pietro just leave Wanda alone with Toad for all that time? Poor girl...

Of the Spidey cameos, don't forget his battle with Luke Cage, which occured a bit after Gwen Stacy's death! ;)

My memory on Wanda and Quicksilver is very hazy during their in-between run as prisoners of Magneto, from Avengers 47 to 75. Were they really villains from that timeframe?

Sharon said...

Dr. Pym,

Here's the timeline (all dates are cover dates, unless otherwise noted):

December 1967, Avengers #47:
Wanda and Pietro are captured by Magneto.

January 1968, Avengers #48: Still Magneto's prisoners...

February 1968, Avengers #49:
Pietro turns against the Avengers because he thinks a vile human has injured Wanda (her injury was really Magneto's doing).

April-June 1968, X-Men #43-45:
The Magneto storyline then crosses over into the X-Men comic, with Wanda and Pietro appearing in X-Men #43-#45. They don't appear at all in Avengers #50-#52, so it's pretty clear Roy Thomas is forging ahead with a new Avengers line-up (Hank, Jan, Hawkeye, the Black Panther, and later...the Vision) that does not include our merry mutants.

June 1968, Avengers #53:
The Magneto storyline concludes in Avengers #53. At the end of this issue, which features the Avengers and the X-Men, Wanda and Pietro run off with the Toad. Magneto is presumed dead.

After this, the pair's appearances are sporadic, to say the least.

April 1969, Spider-Man #71:
They don't show up as characters in any comic for nine months, until Spider-Man #71, in which a misguided Pietro battles Spidey- -but then, you already knew that, since you've read our blog ;).

August-Sept.1969, X-Men #59-60:
Wanda and Pietro --along with the Toad-- next appeared in X-Men #59 as captives of the Sentinels...and in one panel of X-Men #60.

April 1970, Avengers #75:
A little over half a year later, Wanda and Pietro appeared in Avengers #75; they've been part of the Marvel universe in one way or another ever since.

I have always felt the primary reason Roy brought them back at that particular time (Avengers #75 in 1970) was to jumpstart the Vision's story by introducing a human love interest for the synthezoid.

Dr. Pym said...

Wonderful, that's exactly what I was looking for, thanks Sharon! :)

Sorry for the late comment, I've been busy and haven't been able to visit this blog all that much! My apologies...

I think it's crummy that their appearances were so sporadic. They were two of the most interesting characters in Marvel at that point, no one had even cared enough to give them SOMETHING to do inbetween those nine months?

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