Sunday, May 26, 2024

Comic Reader Résumé: Early June, 1986

I didn't realize how off my May comics reading was until I came back for June, and all the books that double-shipped in April that were then absent a month. I'm pretty sure that my brother came back for Alpha Flight #38, the last part of the one with the zombie ghost pirate with the pestilence and all the Shadow of the Hawk shamen and the Canadian kaiju and whatever. Bill Mantlo was doing some cool weird horror stuff in here, and I especially like when Snowbird goes full Sasquatch primal rage and each swipe of their claws makes the pirate go Benjamin Button. I like to think that in 100,000 years, the sentient upright cockroaches will read that paragraph and it will become one of their great archeological mysteries. But also, the book failed me as a kid, because it was both too weird and not weird enough. There's a whole B-plot with Namor and Marina involved in an Atlantean military conflict that was just-- yawn. Dave Ross' art is straight super-hero, but it's being compromised by Gerry Talaocs inks, which recalls but never reaches the heights of the great '70s Filipino horror tradition from guys like Alcala and DeZuniga. The ingredients aren't gelling, and whole approach feels like a half-measure.

Mike Zeck had a whole run on Captain America that was awesome inside & out, then became one of Marvel's top cover artists, including a return to Cap for many iconic frontpieces. With so many iconic images from this time period coming from Zeck, it's easy to forget his work on Captain America #321. When J.M. DeMatteis rage quit the book over the editor-in-chief retroactively cancelling an already approved new direction for the book, and Jim Shooter adding insult to injury by rewriting chunks of his last issue, Cap had something of a lost year. Editor Mark Gruenwald eventually took over as writer, but he was never a marquee name, and his artists weren't going to bring any heat to the book. I think Gruenwald made the conscious decision to court controversy, through heated political content, shocking large scale deaths, and so forth, to bring attention to the title. The United States was re-embracing militant jingoism, reflected in Mike Zeck's moving on to the scorching hot Punisher mini-series, and a long memorable run of G.I. Joe covers. I think Gruenwald wanted to trap some of that heat with this month's image of a howling mad Star-Spangled Avenger firing an uzi. It was a provocative image that grabbed eyeballs, and started a dialogue that has been lost to time, as it's memory was buried by other bold moves. But at the time, it was such a hot ticket that I couldn't find a copy of my own, and had to glom what I could about what happened from those peripheral conversations.

Given how much I was waxing Mike Zeck's car, you'd think I'd be more excited to cover Captain America Annual #8. Everyone knows the cover of Cap's shield being raked by Wolverine's claws, and I've lost track of how many times it's been swiped. But we don't talk much about the interiors, which are... fine. There's a lot of Logan at the front of this story, and you can see that's where Zeck spends most of his time and interest. It wouldn't shock me if he'd requested to draw the fan favorite character, but he's also competing with recent work on the Canuck by John Byrne, Art Adams, Paul Smith, Frank Miller, Barry Smith... even John Romita Jr. had a quite iconic Wolverine cover a couple months prior. Zeck drew Logan's hair weirdly plastic-- more like Deathbird's feathers, and he skimped a bit on the body hair. It's still good, but in that company, doesn't really stand out. Then the issue drags on, with Wolverine and Captain America in parallel investigations of a giant robot, and you can tell inker John Beatty is picking up more and more of the slack. We're dozens of pages in before the heroes finally meet, and their fight spans one half of two pages before they team up against the robot. After a few pages of tussle, the robot escapes, and they... split back up again? So then there's more of the detective work that fans of these two characters crave, followed by another team-up, where the main use for Wolverine's claws is to act as a lever so that Cap can wack his hands with his shield to wedge off the robot's adamantium head. Finally, three pages of the heroes... chasing the guy operating the suit? By this point, you can't even tell who's drawing the issue if you take the pages out of context. This tale is such a damp squib after that firecracker cover. A real waste of characters, time, and talent on a book that really needed a back-up feature instead of an exhausting length.

I wasn't too thrilled with G.I. Joe a Real American Hero #51, an action-heavy issue with a John Byrne cover involving Sgt. Slaughter and the Dreadnoks. I probably just tossed through lil' bro's copy. Same went for The Incredible Hulk #323, which was mostly a lot of babbling in the aftermath of the battle with the Avengers. There was a metatext about Bruce Banner fading into immateriality with his connection to the Hulk, so Vision facilitated their re-bonding. Marvel Tales shook me loose entirely this month, jumping from reprinting the early John Romita run to a triple-sized, double-priced collection of stories preceeding the deaths of Gwen Stacy and Green Goblin. I don't know what precipitated the change, and it would only last another issue before switching format to something I'd find more palatable.

The Marvel Saga, the Official History of the Marvel Universe #10 is a big one, as the Keith Pollard cover announces the debuts of the X-Men and the Avengers. The origin of Doctor Strange is not so heralded, despite taking up much of the first ten-plus pages. After some capsules, we get a lot of Namor's Atlanteans attacking New York and Dr. Curt Conners becoming The Lizard. The origins of Beast and Marvel Girl are bound up with the X-Men debut.

The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition #10 falls a bit behind the times by relegating a squatting Punisher to the back cover in favor of... Rachael Summers, Puck, and Power Man? Ouch. "Paladin to The Rhino" starts with a Brian Bolland Paladin, of all combinations. He does freakin' Purple Man in here, too. Stan Woch's Plantman is offensively cool. Like, how dare you waste the effort it took to make this mort look like a menace? He must have lost a bet or something. Just... why? David Ross offers an oddly moody Puck, but this was mostly a solid if unexceptional issue. I really liked John Buscema's Red Wolf, though.

I think maybe there was a gap in seeing my brother, because I passed on enough issues of Uncanny X-Men that I felt compelled to buy #209. The battle between Nimrod and the Hellfire Club was too good to resist, especially with multiple fatcat white guys dying.

I was never wild about Bob McLeod finishes, so even with Mike Zeck joining Peter David on The All-New, All-Daring Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #118, I just passively gave my brother's copy a toss. It was the resolution of the subplot about the kid who accidentally vaporized his abusive father with energy powers, and turned into a S.H.I.E.L.D. free-for-all wheere the kid gets gunned down.

X-Factor #8 had breakdowns by Marc Silvestri, and he was good at drawing Mystique and her Freedom Force. I like Jackson Guice, but by this point he was so associated with these awful early issues, it's nice to start putting daylight between the Layton & Simonson runs.

No comments: