Monday, December 29, 2008

Family Matters: The Fantastic Four's Triumphs and Tribulations, part 1

Sue Reed Wedding-Annual 3

Part One – The Wedding of Reed and Sue

Fantastic Four Annual #3, 1965

“Bedlam at the Baxter Building!”
Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Vince Colletta

Doug: The story begins with a raging Doctor Doom at home in Latveria, railing about revenge against Reed Richards, the only man to defeat him. As a means of in turn humiliating Reed on his wedding day, the good Doctor seeks to bring forth an army of do-badders to bring terror and turmoil to the nuptials. Doom reaches for his “Emotion Charger” and begins to kindle hatred in already black hearts. This was not a weapon that we’d seen prior, nor do I think it’s been used since – am I wrong?

Karen: I think this was the first and last time it appeared. Regarding the plot though, if I recall correctly, I believe it was mentioned in the Ronin Ro book, Tales to Astonish, that Kirby intended for Doom’s ranting to be directed towards the Thing, and not Richards. The Thing had crushed Doom’s hands in issue 40 (not long before this annual), and if you look at those drawings, the way Doom is holding his hands up, he seems in pain, so that seems to verify it to some degree. However, it does seem like Stan took the more logical route, that Doom would be out to ruin Richards’ wedding, because he hates Richards.
Doug: Right away I noticed Colletta’s clean line over Kirby’s pencils, in spite of the fact that most panels have backgrounds! This issue had a very similar look to the Thor books those two collaborated on – it’s still Kirby action, but somewhat softer, as opposed to Joe Sinnott’s more vibrant embellishing.

Karen: While I find Colletta’s inking agreeable on Thor, I’d much prefer to see Sinnott’s smooth lines here. But still, the issue overall looks really nice.

Sharon: I really like Colletta's inks here, but this issue is kind of the last we see of the "old school” FF; after this, the book adopted a new look and really took off. With the very next issue in continuity- - #44- - Joe Sinnott starts his run as the regular inker and the book's look immediately moves from old-fashioned and soft focus (as here) to high tech and modern; it even becomes futuristic. The stories themselves reflect this change as well, becoming more and more cosmic as the FF embark on what many consider their greatest run--the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer, the Black Panther. Now, I think this progression would have occurred if Colletta or Chic Stone or whomever was the inker--obviously Jack was the mastermind of all the new characters and plots; and he had introduced Medusa months earlier in #36--but the Kirby-Sinnott pairing was certainly a matter of right place, right time; and it served as a very clear, distinct visual earmark of the new direction.

Doug: Stan’s dialoguing is pretty standard fare from this time period. Really, you could pick up a DC from 1965 and not find a lot of difference. The heroes still speak with bravado and in clich├ęs. The women still seem dumb – “Reed, what does it mean?” “We’re under attack by some powerful unknown foe, darling!” Well, duh! What was your first clue??

Karen: It was 1965, so the women (where was the Scarlet Witch, or the Wasp?) were pretty useless. Marvel Girl contributes, but when the big fight occurs, Sue is back at the Baxter Building, no more useful than Alicia. As for the dialogue, I’m certainly no DC expert, but I think the Marvel folks always spoke with a little more panache.

Sharon: Really ridiculous that Sue is relegated to staying with Alicia. Thank goodness Sue would finally begin to show some backbone in the early 1970s!

Karen: I still wish she’d left Reed for Namor…but more on that in our later reviews!

Doug: Kirby really did a Perez-like job, cramming so many characters into one story. To list:

The Fantastic Four, Dr. Doom, Tony Stark, Patsy Walker and Hedy Wolfe,Puppet Master, Nick Fury and SHIELD, Red Ghost and his Super Apes, Professor X, Mole Man and the Subterraneans, The X-Men, Dr. Strange, The Mandarin, The Black Knight, Kang the Conqueror, The Mad Thinker’s Awesome Android, The Grey Gargoyle, Thor, The Super Skrull, Matt Murdock, Karen Page, and Foggy Nelson, Daredevil, Hydra, Iron Man, Captain America, Quicksilver, The Cobra, The Executioner, The Enchantress, Mr. Hyde, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Electro, The Unicorn, The Melter, The Beetle, The Eel, The Mad Thinker, The Human Top, Attuma and his Atlantean army, The Watcher, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

NOTE: The cover contains even more characters that are not in the story, including the Sub-Mariner, Kid Colt, the Hulk, Sgt. Fury, the Wasp, Medusa, the Leader, the Red Skull, Loki, the Scarlet Witch, and the Wizard.

Sharon: Quite a list. The cover is magnificent, even if some characters did not appear in the story (as you noted, Doug). It's a cover that has been paid homage to many times; one such famous instance is Byrne's cover to FF # 236.

Sharon: Also, this issue would have been contemporaneous with Avengers #21, so this could be said to be the first time since Avengers #16 the old Avengers (at least, Thor and Iron Man) appeared with the new Avengers (even if Wanda was conspicuously MIA in the story, you have to assume she was there with the rest of the Kooky Quartet…in the Marvels version of this event, she’s actually shown at the wedding).

Doug: Yes, and this could be a slight continuity gaffe, as I recall that it was a big deal in Avengers Annual #1 when Thor and Iron Man returned – seemed at the time that none of the newbies had been with the veterans since Avengers #16.

Sharon: Here, Quicksilver says he's heard of the Human Top and promptly bests him with a single punch. But a few years later (Avengers #46) Pietro acts as if he'd never met the Human Top before (now known as Whirlwind, but still sporting the same costume as he did in FF Annual #3).

Doug: Do you suppose Roy Thomas hadn’t read FF Annual #3? Surely he had… Of course, with Roy always telling us how faulty his memory is, perhaps this has been an ongoing problem for him!

Karen: I first read this book as a small kid, in reprint form, and the sheer number of guest stars was over-whelming (and exciting)! The reader really got a sense of a thriving, interconnected universe. I really got a kick out of Stan and Jack’s cameo. Just another reason Marvel was always so much fun.

Sharon: It was always a treat to see Stan and Jack in a story!

Doug: I have one minor coloring complaint – I used the FF DVD-ROM as my resource, which contains scans of over 500 comics. So I’m assuming that the copy I read was indicative of an entire print run back in 1965. My complaint is the coloring on Kang’s outfit. Where it should be purple and green, it is instead orange, blue, and purple.

Karen: I used the DVD too, and heck, on the final page, Gabe Jones is purple!

Doug: Overall, this book is everything that Annuals were meant to be – a plain old FUN story, lots of good guys and bad guys beating each other’s brains in, and a happy ending. The book also contained three reprints from early in the FF’s career.

Karen: All in all, I agree with Doug: a very enjoyable, action-packed romp! I liked the sub-plot with the blind Daredevil driving the truck loaded with the explosive to the Hudson River – only to accidentally (and fortuitously) drop it right on top of Attuma and his army! We also get one of Kirby’s photo collages (could this be his first one?) when Reed travels with the Watcher.

Sharon: Kirby had been using photo collages here and there for about a year or so prior to this issue, most famously on the cover of FF #33. From what I’ve read he was enamored of this technique, though I must confess this reader didn't like it--I wanted to see his art, not photographs! And I am in good company; I’ve read Joe Sinnott felt the same way about Kirby. But who am I to begrudge the King the right to experiment with new techniques.

Doug: I can take or leave the Kirby collages. I recall the first time I saw one, in the pages of a Marvel’s Greatest Comics, that I thought it was a little odd, yet powerful at the same time. I think they work for scenes like “universe travel” or the Negative Zone. Kind of gimmicky and probably shouldn’t have been overused.

Karen: It’s fun to look at his collages and identify individual photos; I was reading through the Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus, vol.1, and noticed a lot of strange stuff in the numerous photo collages: bottles on a conveyor belt, skulls, the soles of shoes, buddhas, karyotypes, circuit boards…everything but the kitchen sink. All very trippy.

Doug: Now, some specific thoughts on the plot – Stan seemed to borrow from this story about a year later, in regard to the scene where the Watcher takes Reed away and gives him a device that will undo the damage that Doom had wrought. The Watcher will repeat this with Johnny in the glorious Galactus trilogy only a year after this story.

Sharon: Actually the Galactus trilogy was closer to four-six months later, that is if we go by issue release dates. This Annual was issued around the same time as FF #44 and a mere four months later Stan and Jack produced the Galactus trilogy, which started in FF #48 (concluding in #50).

Karen: I hadn’t thought about that before, but it’s true. The Watcher saved their bacon at least twice, if not more often. I think eventually he was put on trial by his fellow Watchers in the late 70s, in Captain Marvel, not long after Starlin left.

Doug: As for the wedding – of course it comes off, and quite nicely.

Sharon: Yes, but will someone please explain to me how, in the scene where Sue and Reed are actually pronounced man and wife, Professor X appears to be --standing? Sure, Sharon, there’s a simple explanation: would you believe the Professor’s supporting himself by his mental powers, with Jean throwing in some telekinetic help? Or that Dr. Strange is levitating him? Or that he is standing by means of less mystical methods, such as crutches?
Doug: Poor Charles probably had no choice but to stand – these were the days before the ADA!!

Doug: This story has all of the elements of a Silver Age Marvel: colorful characters, characterization done right so that readers new to any of the characters in the book might feel comfortable in giving another magazine a try-out, and an ending where good triumphs over evil with no body count left in the wake. Unfortunately, there isn’t a reveal on what Doom thought when his plan was undone – in fact, Reed never does figure out (or at least he doesn’t let on that he has) that Doom was behind it all.

Karen: Whoa, partner, Reed’s thought balloons on the next-to-last page show that he has concluded Doom was behind it all! Maybe he used the sub-atronic time displacer on you, so you forgot you read that page!

Doug: Gah!! On the fourth look, I see it as plain as the nose on Ben Grimm! Man, I looked at that panel with Hawkeye in it three times (3x!!!) and did not read the balloon, skipping to the panel at the top of the next page. Like you’ve said before, Karen, all of these words – just not used to it in comparison to today’s mags!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Thoughts on Jack Kirby and "Tales to Astonish" by Ronin Ro

Karen: Recently, Doug and I read a book called “Tales to Astonish – Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution” by Ronin Ro. Sharon had read the book long ago and was the one to encourage us to read it. It chronicles Kirby’s life and also looks at the comic book industry over the years, with a fair chunk of time spent examining the early years of Marvel Comics. Now that we’ve all read it, we’ve decided to do a group review and discussion.

Doug: Many thanks to Sharon, and to the close-out bookseller from whom I bought this tome! It was a steal at $5!! What an interesting resource to have in my library.

Sharon: I had a suspicion you both would be interested in reading this…I’m so glad you picked it up! Since I’ve waxed poetic many times about the subject of Kirby and Marvel for the past couple of years on the Avengers Assembled boards, it’s exciting to see the two of you avail yourselves of the information in Ro’s book. His book provides a readable, basic introduction to that era.

Karen: While I had known some basic history in this area, this book really filled in a lot of details. There are quotes from many comics professionals and a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ stories. It’s a fun, quick read, despite some rather pedestrian writing by “Ronin Ro” (what a goofy pseudonym). My biggest complaint about the book itself is the lack of any annotation – no footnotes or even simple attribution of quotes in the text itself. There’s also no bibliography or index! From what I gather, many of the quotes in the book have been found in other sources. So it may be that the book is a hodge podge of previous works, all lumped together here.

Sharon: The lack of “academic annotation” is maddening, but he does list the names of people whom he says he consulted for the book…plus there’s a great list of source material, items no self-respecting comic historian or even plain ol’ fan should be without!

Doug: I have to tell you that as a history teacher and reader of many research-based books that I was academically offended by this book. Hear me: it’s an interesting read, a serious grabber! But I simply could not believe that any author would think it satisfactory to make such claims as were made, to offer quotes from particular people – some matter-of-fact, some to be honest quite damning toward other players – and never cite the source of the information. I’m serious – if Ro was a student in one of my college-bound classes and turned in a paper like this he would fail solely on his lack of referencing.

Doug: Saying that, I suppose I (we, if I can speak for my colleagues) am guilty of throwing my two cents into these discussions each week without directly citing sources for information that might not be common knowledge to our average reader. However, you the reader have the ability to leave me (us) a comment – I certainly feel I would owe an inquisitor the courtesy of revealing any source material I use in making these wonderful posits!

Doug: I especially liked that Ro began the story in the Golden Age, an era of comics history that I know too little about. One of the interesting facts about the Golden Age that continues to stand out for me is the proliferation of Jewish creators working in the industry: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Will Eisner, Gil Kane, and on and on. As a history teacher who focuses on Holocaust study, I just find this an interesting legacy – that these men have given me one of the loves of my life.

Karen: The focus is on Jack Kirby, and he appears to be a somewhat tragic (almost pathetic) figure. It’s clear that Kirby never felt like he got the recognition he deserved. Certainly one could argue this was true. It’s clear today that both he and Stan Lee – and not Lee alone – were responsible for the creation of the Marvel Universe, and that Kirby was far more involved in plotting stories than originally thought.

Karen: It does seem like Lee got most of the glory in the past, but in recent years he seems to be more willing to share credit for the characters with the artists. But back in the late 60’s, seeing Lee get so much attention obviously drove Kirby to prove he could stand on his own, and he left Marvel for DC, where he thought he’d have a chance to create his own universe with the New Gods. But I think his obsession with being successful on his own probably made it impossible for him to ever really succeed again.

Doug: Several weeks ago when we did the 1st Appearance post about the Incredible Hulk, I cited Origins of Marvel Comics as my source for the material. In that book, each origin story was introduced by Stan relating the formative conversations/presentations of these iconic Marvel characters. As Ro points out in this text (over and over), Stan was quick to take credit for just about every idea that became a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. In fact, Jack is said to have been thoroughly disgusted at Stan’s boldness in allowing only his name to appear on the cover of all of the Origins series books. As Karen said, it was just another thorn in Jack’s side, another source of hurt feelings and long-festering animosity.

Karen: When I first started reading comics, Kirby was already at DC. From reading reprint titles like Marvel’s Greatest Comics, I knew who he was and that he was the artist behind all the great Marvel heroes. But I guess I didn’t feel any special reverence for him. In fact, when he returned to Marvel in the 70’s, I found myself unimpressed with most of his work. The primary reason was that his writing was terrible. There, I’ve said it. I know some Kirby fans love everything he did, but his writing was excruciating. I still feel annoyed when I think of his “Mad Bomb” story in Captain America. It was obvious to me, even at a young age, what Lee had brought to their collaborations.

Doug: I, too, came to know Kirby in the pages of Marvel’s Greatest Comics. At the time, Rich Buckler, then George Perez, was penciling the Fantastic Four. While there was no doubt that Kirby’s books were full of fast-paced action in the mighty Marvel manner, I didn’t think his rendering fit in with what I was then-accustomed to: Buckler, Perez, Sal Buscema, John Buscema (who interestingly enough, would have been down my list at this time), Ross Andru, Jim Aparo, Joe Staton, and Dave Cockrum. Kirby’s fingers were square (a point made in Ro’s book, specifically in discussion about Kirby near the end of his career), his facial expressions sometimes extreme. A few years later, when (as you say, Karen) Kirby was given Captain America, his style was so dramatically different that I could hardly stand it. I bought the Marvel Treasury Special Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles, but didn’t appreciate it. Now, many years removed, I can say that I have an appreciation for this material, and truly treasure it as representative of the twilight of the King’s career.

Karen: Despite my dislike of his writing, I feel badly for how Kirby was treated when he returned to Marvel. It seems like many of the younger staff had no respect for him, which is ludicrous when you consider he built the universe they were playing in. Granted, the man needed a good scripter to work with, but the kind of petty acts that occurred during his second tenure at Marvel are inexcusable. And of course, on top of all that was the problem with getting his original art returned, which became huge and the over-riding cause in Kirby’s later years.

Doug: As Sharon so aptly paid homage to men like Neal Adams (in our earlier series of X-Men discussions) for their work in obtaining creator rights/benefits, it is a shame that Kirby’s pages were stolen from Marvel and ultimately from him. Anyone who peruses the original art section on Ebay knows that it is difficult to find any Kirby page that sells for less than $800. Literally, he was deprived of a treasure worthy of a King’s ransom (how’s that for a pun??).

Karen: One of the most shocking things to me was that artists would steal other artists’ original art and sell it! Both John Verpoorten and Gil Kane are mentioned as having done this. How low can you get?

Doug: Yes… “snake” was a term that leapt to mind.

Karen: Despite adversity, Kirby was incredibly productive. It’s mind-blowing, especially in the context of today’s artists, that Kirby would produce 15 pages of artwork a week! I imagine most pros today don’t produce 15 pages in a month. Besides that, he was also designing characters all the time, and in the early days of Marvel, he was laying out a lot of the issues, and doing covers! When he finally got his original art back from Marvel, it’s shocking to think that the 2100 pages he did get back were only a small fraction of what he produced over the years.

Doug: Karen, your guess of 15 pages a month is not far off. As you know, a standard comic these days is 20 pages (although with the recent habit of making the former page one splash a recap page, new art drops to 19 pages), which comes out to five pages a week. And given how many books today have a tough time staying on any kind of regular shipping schedule, you are right that today’s pencillers can’t seem to get it done at even what would have been a snail’s pace for Kirby.

Karen: I’m left with mixed feelings after reading this book. While it’s interesting to learn about what was going on in the comics industry, it does shatter the illusion of the ‘happy’ Marvel bullpen. All those Marvel Bullpen Bulletin pages gave me the impression that Marvel was a wacky, fun place to work. But the more I read about what was going on, the more disabused I become of that notion. I’m sure there were good times but, like any workplace, it had its share of problems. I guess despite all this, I still find I can enjoy the stories from that era, even if I know better now about what was really going on behind the scenes.

Doug: I wonder if it was Stan who wrote the copy for the entire Bulletins pages. They certainly read with that Stan Lee bombasticism that we all knew and loved – but I doubt that, given all of his other responsibilities, he had the time to churn out that propaganda each month.

Sharon: According to Danny Fingeroth in Write Now! #18: yes, Stan wrote all the copy, at least up through 1972. For more details, see the great article by David Kasakove, "Finding Marvel's Voice: An Appreciation of Stan Lee's Bullpen Bulletins and Soapboxes.” I’d mentioned this article on the AA! boards not too long ago and it’s a fantastic read.

Friday, December 12, 2008

It's on My Shelf -- Maybe It Should Be on Yours!!

Consider this the first in an ongoing series of book reviews spotlighting various comics histories. We’ll look at books about particular artists, companies, eras, etc. Sometimes each of your three hosts will fly solo – at other times we may chime in on another’s review (just because we can’t keep quiet about our love of this literary genre!). So buckle in, and maybe even start scaring up some loose change!

For the kick-off I thought we’d examine one of my favorite subjects: the life and work of Big John Buscema! A recent release paying homage to the master is Dr. Emilio Soltero’s John Buscema: A Life in Sketches (Pearl Press 2008; msrp $24.95). I purchased this tome just a few weeks ago at one of my local comic shop haunts.

I’ll have to say up front – it is difficult for me to give any sort of review of this book without comparing it to two previous biographies of Buscema: J. David Spurlock’s John Buscema Sketchbook (Vanguard Productions 2001; msrp for the signed/numbered hardcover $39.95) and the out-of-print The Art of John Buscema by Sal Quartuccio and Bob Keenan (Sal Q. Productions 1978).

Perhaps it’s because both Quartuccio and Spurlock included lengthy interviews with Big John, and there is additional material from and about Buscema in many of TwoMorrows Publishing’s various magazines (Comic Book Artist, Alter Ego, Back Issue, et al.), that I just find Dr. Soltero’s lack of text to leave his labor of love looking more like unfinished potential. Don’t get me wrong – despite what I thought was a bit of a hefty price tag, I am still happy to have purchased this book. It’s an extensive collection of John’s sketches (many from the backs of comic pages he was penciling as a hired assignment) and roughs that fits in the palms of my hands. But I have a confession to make – I’ve been pilfering scans of John’s artworks from Ebay dealers and other websites for years. I’ve amassed quite a digital collection of pencil/inks, roughs, covers, and finished pages – perhaps over 500 images. Soltero’s work (with no recently-discovered interview material) just wasn’t much different (nor compelling) from what I already own.

Soltero does include snippets of interviews with Sal Buscema, Neal Adams, Ernie Chan, Kevin Nowlan, Juan Gimenez, and even a comic convention panel featuring John Buscema responding to questions from Jim Shooter. But these are generally short in length, and don’t necessarily illuminate the accompanying illustrations. And while no one could argue the importance of Sal Buscema or Chan (or the authority of Adams), where are others who were John’s contemporaries – creators like Stan Lee, John Romita, Roy Thomas, Marie Severin, George Roussos, Tom Palmer, or Dan Adkins? Even researching and securing permission for use of existing interviews/tributes would have added to this book.

Spurlock’s book benefits from organizing Buscema’s sketches into chapters such as Warriors, Women, etc. Quartuccio’s interview covers many aspects of John’s career and really deals with then-contemporary work such as John’s assignment to Marvel’s Wizard of Oz adaptation and the How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way book. John’s art serves simply as examples of his prowess but does help to move the interview along. While Soltero certainly has no dearth of any type of Buscema’s work, it’s displayed pell-mell throughout the book with no real flow to it. Also of note is the frequent inclusion of rough panels and pages from the Conan story, Isle of Pirates Doom. This is a nice touch, but begins to wear on the reader after awhile – could the author not have secured similar panel/page samples from Buscema’s Fantastic Four or Avengers work, either of which there is a treasure trove of material?

But if you are a true fan who enjoys John’s renditions of major Marvel characters (and even a JLA rough to boot!), his Tarzan and Conan work, animals, women, and just generally mean-looking barbarians, wizards, and guys in suits, then this book should find it’s way to your library. I know I’ve come across as overtly negative toward my recent purchase. Please understand – there are few bigger Buscema fans than me. But because of that, I want more, more, and more about Big John. Where’s that long lost interview, that colleague who after all these years decided to tell a few new anecdotes? Perhaps that wasn’t at all Soltero’s intent with this book. He does, after all, remark in his introduction that in his opinion the Quartuccio and Spurlock books fell short in including the vast amount of sketchwork that he has been able to give the reader. So I guess it depends on what you’re after – if it’s a vast display of John’s beautiful renderings, then this book is for you. If it’s a lesser amount of drafting but with information about the man and his career, then I’d urge you to seek out the Spurlock book from Vanguard.

Sharon: I'll chime in here...I have the Spurlock book and as Doug says, it's quite informative about Big John's career and techniques and contains a great interview with John. Its only flaw, to my mind, is that it does not contain repros of his penciled costumed superheroes work in it; there's no Avengers, or the Surfer, or Namor, or... well, you get the idea. But it's a handy overall guide to Buscema and contains beautiful illustrations of non-superheroes. Okay, back to Doug...

Either way, you really can’t go wrong. I’ve said it before – there are few who could be called master in the four-color field, and John Buscema is near the top of any list of that nature.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Thomas-Adams X-Men: X-Men 59

X-Men 59-Neal Adams-Roy Thomas
X-Men #59  (1969)

X-Men #59 (August 1969)
“Do or Die, Baby!”
Scripter – Roy Thomas
Artist – Neal Adams
Embellisher –Tom Palmer

Karen: This is our fourth and final review (for now) of the Roy Thomas –Neal Adams X-Men stories. I can say without hesitation that it has been a real pleasure to read these stories, and they are a great example of how to do comics right. There’s plenty of action, characterization, and just excitement in these books.

Doug: An interesting note from my reading source, X-Men Classics #1 – the story that is in X-Men #59 is cut off right in the middle and left as a cliffhanger, actually continuing in X-Men Classics #2! Here I was, settling in to finish up this little series of reviews, when Whoa! An unsolicited return to the basement to retrieve more comics!

Sharon: The division of the story struck me as odd in X-Men Classics #1; there’s even an “intro” page summarizing X-Men #56 at the start. I’ll stick with the Adams Visionaries tpb and my recollections of the original issues! These stories (and the entire Thomas-Adams X-Men run) will also be included in the forthcoming Essential Classic X-Men volume 3 (in black and white).

Karen: Adams again gives us a wonderful, almost theatrical experience. There are so many good scenes in the book I almost don’t know where to begin. I think the panel of Cyclops cutting loose on a Sentinel on page 8 really conveys raw power, and the full page shot of the Sentinels flying into the sun is spectacular. I also liked Roy’s captions on this page – it was dramatic yet poetic: ”On the surface of this world of solar winds…of moment to moment thermonuclear cataclysm…a handful of humanoid forms will make but the most imperceptible of ripples…!”

Sharon: In an interview in Comic Book Artist, Adams himself cites this passage as a great example of how well Roy and he meshed, and of how Roy’s text complemented the art perfectly.

Doug: Agreed on all points. About the only bone I’d pick with Roy in this book is the continued effort of Marvel to play down their female characters. Jean is just portrayed as a dope – never knowing what to do unless Scott tells her, unsure of her abilities, etc. She is characterized here in much the same way we’ve seen the Silver Age Scarlet Witch and Invisible Girl. It’s interesting, though, that as the Bronze Age got under way (and into the Modern Age) other writers would take these three female supporting characters and make them the most powerful members of their respective teams.

Karen: I also really like the coloring job Adams did here. He wasn’t credited in the book, but the Bullpen Bulletins page mentions him as coloring his own work. His work has a sense of light and shadow, warmth and coolness. Of course, Tom Palmer’s inking also helps out in these areas, providing so much texture to the work.

Sharon: Adams made it a point to learn about coloring and printing technologies; he always wanted his work to be presented in the best possible light (as we know, he’s very hands on with his reprinted work and how it’s presented). Anyway, back then when he started to pencil for Marvel, he noticed that Marvel had a slightly larger color palette than DC did. As Neal has related in interviews, he advised DC to expand their palette (DC had thought it would be more expensive but it was not the case). So in the late 60s-early 70s you’ll start to see some DC coloring changes, such as DC’s “skin” tone changed from a pink to a more flesh color, or Batman’s costume from purplish to gray.

Doug: Yes, and I’d just reiterate what I think I’ve said for each of the previous three issues – the camera angles that Adams chose, the pacing, etc. is just so good and for its time largely revolutionary.

Karen: We see a ton of mutants in this issue, although unfortunately they are all cameos, as none of them get anything to do! Cyke, Jean, and Beast exchange costumes with the captured Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Toad, in order to throw off the Sentinel’s ability to adapt to powers. But unfortunately the three now free mutants don’t help out our X-Men! It would have been nice to see all six running around together.

Sharon: Yes, I never understood why the X-Men didn’t want at least Pietro helping out (Wanda was depowered at the time). I also had a hard time believing the X-Men would have donned the trio’s clothing, and I assume vice versa…ughh (thinking of sanitary issues). Also, isn’t the Beast a lot larger and taller than the short, puny Toad? Anyway, I liked how Adams made Wanda’s face slightly different from Jean’s (when they were shown in nearly identical panels, identically dressed in Wanda’s costume and tiara, in different panels on the same page); Jean’s face was a bit narrower and more angular.

Sharon: It was great to get a glimpse of how Wanda and Pietro would look in Adams’ hands. The shot of Pietro battling the Sentinels calls to mind the profile shot of Magneto later on at the end of X-Men #62; there’s a facial similarity between the two characters…in hindsight, of course! I’ve never read that Adams had intended a resemblance, but others sure picked up on it or may have been influenced by it. Too bad when Adams penciled the Avengers book later on, Wanda and Pietro were mostly comatose throughout his short-lived stint.

Sharon: And I loved the shot of Jean as Wanda using her “hex” (really telekinetic) power. In this instance, I felt Adams’ flourishes were warranted; style served substance, instead of distracting from it.

Karen: In order to stop the Sentinels, Cyclops pulls a play straight out of Captain Kirk’s playbook: he talks them into destroying themselves, by seeking out the source of all mutation, the sun itself! This could have felt like a cheat, but the way it was handled it, I felt it was a satisfying conclusion.

Sharon: The idea of the Sentinels flying into the sun, and the sun as the source of all mutation, was suggested by then-Marvel intern/office assistant…a fellow by the name of Chris Claremont. He was also included in the credits of Avengers #102, which continued the Sentinels’ story. Never one to rest on his laurels, later on Claremont famously supplied the plot point of the Living Island in a little book called Giant-Size X-Men. Talk about a fertile imagination!

Doug: Do either of you recall another Sentinels story where the constructs are able to carry on a conversation with non-Sentinels? It seems to me that their speech in this story is more akin to the Master Mold and not to ordinary Sentinels. I could be wrong, and admittedly haven’t gone to look up any other examples. But I found the conversations with Judge Chalmers to be a little more sentient than I’d recalled them having in other books.

Karen: After reading these issues, it seems like a shame that this creative team could not have stayed around for many years. I’m really curious where the book would have gone. But then, we might not have gotten the equally wonderful Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne years.

Doug: The heritage of this collaboration lives on in reprints – how many times? X-Men Classics 1-3, X-Men Visionaries: Neal Adams, Essential X-Men, Marvel Masterworks, the X-Men DVD-ROM, etc. That Marvel has gone back to this particular well so many times speaks to the “classic” nature of this creative team. As you said, Karen, although they weren’t together long, it seems that whatever they touched (Avengers, X-Men, Inhumans) turned to gold!

Sharon: In an earlier entry I mentioned Adams’ Ben Casey work and wished aloud that someone would package it—well, just TODAY I see my prayers have been answered! IDW Publishing has just announced a two-volume collection of the Adams Ben Casey strips, to be published in the summer of 2009. Ah, there is a God…
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