Friday, October 10, 2008

Marvel Team-Up Prototypes: Mutant Mayhem part 2

Spider-Man 92 Iceman
Spider-Man #92 (1971) The Iceman Cometh (come on, what else did you expect?!)

Amazing Spider-Man #92 (January 1971)
Stan Lee/Gil Kane/John Romita
“When Iceman Attacks!”

Doug: As we conclude this series, I’d just like to say it’s been a blast re-reading some classic Spider-Man stories. Even though some weren’t among the best the Silver Age had to offer, it’s never time wasted to revisit the foundations of the Marvel Universe. And to be honest, even a weak Silver Age story puts a whammy on most of what today’s newsstands have to offer!

Doug: Amazing Spider-Man #92 is about the closest to a Marvel team-up of the four books we’ve been looking at. The way the heroes meet, fight, then actually get together against a common foe is the formula that worked for years in the pages of MTU and in the Ben Grimm vehicle Marvel Two-In-One. We’ve also seen the work of four of Marvel’s Silver Age stalwarts including Don Heck and these whose work would also grace the covers/interiors of MTU: John Romita, Jim (Madman) Mooney, and Gil Kane.

Doug: Ah, Gil Kane. In the short history of our blog, this is the first story with full Kane pencils that we’ve reviewed. Previously we’ve commented on his covers during the “Celestial Madonna” arc that ran through the Avengers mags. I’d like to take a few minutes to comment on my history with Gil Kane. The first encounter with the man that I can recall was in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #150 (I’m sure I’d seen his work earlier, since he did covers for just about every Marvel comic in the early 1970’s). I was immediately struck by two things: the upshots of people’s noses, and the rigor-mortis-like fingers he drew. And I just could never escape my first impression – I just hated those depictions!! It wasn’t until much later in life that I grew to appreciate Gil Kane as a storyteller and to focus on the dynamism he brought to the four-color page. And (again later), as I discovered his Silver Age Green Lantern and Atom work at DC Comics, I grew fonder of his work even more. But, it’s still a departure from Romita’s polished, realistic pencils…

Sharon: I should disclose that I have not read this particular issue, but Romita still had a hand in the art here, right—didn’t he do the inking? And from what I’ve read, during this time he was basically co-plotting Spider-Man (even when he wasn’t penciling or laying it out); Stan entrusted Spider-Man’s direction to John.

Karen: It took many years before I could really appreciate Gil Kane’s art. I still find it quirky – as Doug mentioned, I get tired of looking up everybody’s nose – but I’ve come to find that certain elements of his work, such as his anatomy, are enjoyable. Certainly he has his own style, which is immediately recognizable. That’s one of my complaints about some of the current comics artists – many of them have styles which look alike (to me at least). Although artists of the 60s and 70s might have had what are considered to be more simplistic styles, I could always tell a Romita story from a Kane story from a Buscema story with just a glance. In this issue, I particularly liked the way Kane drew Iceman – he really looked like he was coated with ice! All in all though, when I think of Spider-Man, Romita Sr. will always be the first name to pop into my head.

Sharon: The two masters of anatomy and musculature were Buscema and Gil Kane. But while Big John’s characters all looked like gods, Kane's characters were very much human. Take a look at his depictions of Green Lantern, Atom, and Batgirl. At Marvel, Kane did a great job with Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell). I always loved how Kane positioned the human body; he did a lot of over the shoulder, dorsal and posterior shots (Adams used that shot too but Kane drew better butts). Kane’s figures were athletic and balletic at the same time. And he was like Kirby in the sense that his art was consistently dynamic and kinetic.

Sharon: As for the faces, I have always loved how individual and memorable he made features, expressions, etc. This individualization did not apply only to the villains (who were typically not as good-looking as the heroes and thus easier for artists to draw “a la carte”--they could add outsize features, for example)--but also the heroes heroines, who generally had to be drawn in accordance with a classical standard. Ray Palmer and Hal Jordan have distinct visual looks and it isn't just because of the hair.

Doug: Back to the story… The reader not up on then-current Spidey continuity was literally dropped into the middle of a story. We’ve noted elsewhere that in the late 1960’s Stan had commented on Marvel’s move to write done-in-one stories; this certainly wasn’t one of them! The cast of characters, the recent death of Captain George Stacy, and the month’s guest-star all required some backstory – overtly lacking in Stan’s storytelling but fed to the reader in a piecemeal fashion to the point where, by the end of the tale, one could at least feel somewhat familiar with the surroundings.

Sharon: I have always enjoyed this aspect of 1960s Marvel. My first Marvel books were Fantastic Four #68 and Avengers #45, and even though both issues (coincidentally) happened to be the first parts of arcs, there were clearly histories and events leading up to these issues…so it was like being dropped into the middle of an ongoing saga. The authors assumed intelligence—and curiosity--on the part of the reader.

Doug: Iceman was an interesting choice for a guest-star, as the X-Men had ceased new publications in the spring of 1970. He was here, in ASM #92 approximately seven months after X-Men #66. Only the Angel had appeared solo earlier, in a three-parter spread over two issues of Ka-Zar and a Marvel Tales. Stan writes Bobby Drake in-character for the most part – hot-headed, impulsive, but with honor. He also gives him some smarts later in the story, a nice change from this type of hero (Johnny Storm included).

Karen: Doug, it’s funny you mention Johnny Storm, because that’s exactly who I was thinking of when I read this. Although the two are on opposite extremes of the thermometer, their behavior is nearly identical.

Doug: It seemed like Bullit was a good crime boss-type. Ruthless, heavy-handed. I was somewhat surprised that the story took such a racial angle with Joe Robertson in the second half (did anyone else notice that he was referred to as “Rob” instead of the nickname “Robbie”, as if Rob was his first name?). But, given that the so-called drug issues would be coming only a few months later, perhaps Stan was testing the waters for what the traffic would bear in regard to controversy.

Karen: I thought the racism aspect that Stan brought to the story was interesting. Of course, this was not the first time Stan would show his disdain for such thinking – we had the Sons of the Serpent in the Avengers, and the Hate Monger in the FF years before. I have always respected Stan for his taking a stance on civil rights and other issues. It would have been easy for him and the other Marvel artists and writers to ignore current events, but instead they incorporated them into their stories, and were able to take a strong moral stance. As a kid, those things resonated with me and I believe reinforced the morality my parents taught me.

Karen: It’s also interesting to note how J. Jonah Jameson is portrayed here. Although often seen as a buffoon or caricature, this is one of a number of times where we see a more nuanced character. He may be blustering and have an irrational hatred of Spidey, but he also has a moral center, and it’s refreshing to see him stand by his employees and stand up for the law. After reading these old Spideys, it only confirms to me that this is probably the best supporting cast of any comic (at least during the late 60s/ early 70s).

Doug: I felt that Gwen was played somewhat poorly in regard to her intelligence. Maybe, in light of her father’s death so recently, she wasn’t thinking straight. Spidey had commented in one of the previous issues we reviewed that he couldn’t talk to Capt. Stacy for very long, as the captain was sharp enough to catch Peter’s muffled voice beneath the mask. Apparently Gwen, who by this time knew Peter as well as anyone, wasn’t that sharp.

Doug: Overall, this issue came the closest to being a true Marvel team-up. As I said above, what we would know as the formula for Marvel’s team-up books is all here – the misunderstanding, the fight, the team-up, and the parting as best buddies. This concluding issue of our Spidey survey is the best of the four, and I think it’s because of the strong plot and resolution to an ongoing situation. Iceman’s just there to stir the pot a bit plot-wise. But it doesn’t feel forced, and his rationale for engaging Spidey in battle is a lot more convincing than any of the three previous “prototypes” (Medusa, Black Widow, and Quicksilver). Stan’s just better here, and despite the absence of Romita’s pencils the book works well and left me feeling that I’d read a good book.

Karen: I agree with Doug – this is the best of the four “MTU Prototypes” that we have reviewed. It had action, introspection, great character interplay, and some nice artwork. It was a pleasure to go back and take this little walk down memory lane. One thing I noticed outside of the story: in Stan’s soapbox, he talks about how their plan to do self-contained stories each issue just hadn’t worked out – essentially because the stories themselves sometimes demanded to be longer! I’m glad they didn’t try to force themselves into such a restrictive method; think of all the great stories we would’ve missed!

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...