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Monday, March 18, 2019

Marvel Two-In-One 7 - a Review

Marvel Two-In-One #7 (January 1975)
"Name That Doom!"
Steve Gerber-Sal Buscema/Mike Esposito

Just last week I reviewed a color Hulk story from the Rampaging Hulk magazine, but reprinted in Marvel's Essentials line. The results were not pretty. Nope - not pleasing to the eye aesthetically nor in terms of ease of reading. Today I'll rectify that situation with the good things the Essentials line could do.

Marvel Two-In-One #7 was among the first comics I can recall buying myself. I know I'd had comics since the time I was 5, and this one would have been for sale before I hit 8 1/2. So for the sake of argument, we can just assume this was probably in that first dozen or so books that I bought myself. When this was on the spinner rack, we lived in Milwaukee. There was a drug store in a shopping plaza about a four block bike ride from where we lived. I was allowed to pedal over there alone and search for comics. Think about that in today's society - when my own sons were 8 (and that would have been roughly around 2000), there is no way I'd have let them go to a shopping center alone. Times change. Anyway, what a great cover! At the time I knew the Thing from some Fantastic Four comics I owned, but I'm almost certain I'd not had any experience with the Executioner and the Enchantress. My Thor reading hadn't really taken off, and it would be almost a year until Giant-Size Avengers #5 landed (which I loved!). But the Valkyrie. She... I knew. Between a buddy and I, we had Defenders #s 13-19, #19 of which would have been on sale near the same time as this MtiO. So I was fully aware of her weird history and behavior (at times). What, then, was to keep me from purchasing this book? Nothing!

NOTE: Because of the thickness of the Essentials, I'll be using photographs from the story pages, rather than scans. Please excuse the distortions, due to the lack of flatness of the pages when attempting to take pictures. I know - 1st-World problems...

100-Word Review:
What do you get when you toss two Defenders, two renegade Asgardians, a celestial harmonica, a down-on-his-luck attorney, and the Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing together in a comic? You get this stew of Steve Gerber weirdness! Landing smack in the middle of events taking place in MtiO #6 as well as the Defenders, we find a distraught Valkyrie, her biological father, Dr. Strange and the Thing working to secure a cosmic harmonica while the Enchantress and Executioner seek to steal it, and some Sal Buscema punches. It’s offbeat, full of wonderful characterization, and just good enough to leave the reader with a smile. Twenty-five cents well spent!
The Good: Gerber writes these characters as we'd expect them to be written, and for me that's fulfilling an obligation. I've long advocated creators thinking of themselves as caretakers. Feel the need for life-changing plot points? I can roll with that. But make the characters recognizable through whatever illusion of change is crafted. Gerber's done that here. I have to say, on my recent re-read of this comic I was taken right back to when I was a 3rd grader and reading this for the first time. There was such a sense of scope to the story, and a real sense that I was happy to have been following Val's struggles with her identity in the pages of her regular Defenders mag. Because really, to have been dropped into the middle of this would not have been good. Granted, I didn't acquire and read MtiO #6 until years later, but there was enough of a recap in this issue that I could handle what had gone before with a little additional inferencing. But I loved that about the Marvel Comics of the Bronze Age, how neatly they were often woven together - there truly was a sense that you were missing out if you weren't up to speed on the happenings across the line.

How could anyone not count the Thing in their top 2-3 favorite characters? His larger-than-life personality, his craggy countenance, and his big heart are endearing. All of that's on display in this story, from his patience in working with Dr. Strange to his dedication first to Alvin Denton and then later to Denton's daughter, Barbara Norris - the Valkyrie. Ben didn't know the half of what had been going on for Val, but there he was in the thick of it all, trying to do the right thing. Ben Grimm's a man of principle and loyalty, and Gerber nails that here.

Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito turn in their usual above-average performance on the pictures. The one-page recap of previous events is nice, but the scene when the ol' cosmic harmonica comes into play is just a bit underwhelming. However, that scene is followed shortly by a nifty little slugfest between the Executioner and our hero, followed again a couple of pages later by that signature Buscema-blast (complete with a robust "It's Clobberin' Time!!"). Love it! I did like that, contributing to the comments I'd made above concerning Gerber's characterizations, Val and Dr. Strange looked just as a reader would have seen them in the Defenders of this vintage (also drawn by Sal but inked by Dan Green or Klaus Janson).

The Bad: So all praise being heaped, I have to admit I'm not the biggest Steve Gerber fan. He certainly was one of Marvel's top scribes of the 1970s, and I've enjoyed some of his work across multiple titles (MtiO, Man-Thing, etc.), but overall I find his writing on the cusp of my tolerance for the strange. I did not care for his Man-Thing stories that centered around the Nexus of Reality, and you can basically have the Marvel Presents Guardians of the Galaxy series. Despite my nostalgia on the re-read, I did have a bit of concern for that person who might have come to this as a single issue. It was confusing! There were quite a few plot points that were based on prerequisites in other comic books, and characters from three different pantheons (Defenders, FF, and Thor) all tossed together. Did Gerber make it work? Yes. Are my reservations perhaps misplaced? Everyone's mileage varies. I'll say again - I was glad that I'd been privy to the plotlines in the Defenders back in 1974, or I might have gone no further.

The Ugly: Nothing really to say here, other than to rip on last week's presentation of a color magazine in black and white, but shot from a color source. Yuck! Today's fare, apparently produced from original art or stats of that art, is fabulous. It's nice and clean, no muddiness anywhere. The Essentials is a perfectly acceptable way to read this material, when presented in this clean format.

BONUS: Here are three pages of original art from today's story, courtesy of the collectors at Comic Art Fans.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Appreciating Arsenio "Sonny" Trinidad

Arsenio "Sonny" Trinidad was one of the B&W masters. Whether as penciler, inker, or both, I think the samples below will show that. Here's a bit about his career, from his Wikipedia page (hyperlinks have been left in, if you're so inclined to make those jumps):

Along with a number of other Filipino comics creators in the 1970s, Trinidad found work in the American comics industry, initially for DC Comics on such titles as The Witching Hour, House of Mystery, The Unexpected, and Weird Western Tales.[5]

It was in the U.S. that he began using the pen name "Sonny" Trinidad. When he moved to Marvel Comics in 1974, he was given the moniker "Slammin' Sonny Trinidad" in the "Bullpen Bulletins".[6] Trinidad supplied full art or inks over other artists (frequently John Romita Sr. and John Buscema) on horror titles such as Vampire Tales (Morbius the Living Vampire stories written by Doug Moench), Dracula Lives!, Marvel Chillers, and The Son of Satan, as well as fantasy and adventure titles like Skull the Slayer, The Savage Sword of Conan, and Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. Other highlights of Trinidad's tenure at Marvel included "Hellfire Helix Hex!," written by John Warner, for Marvel Presents #2 (Dec. 1975); in addition, Trinidad inked the feature story (written by Bill Mantlo and penciled by Tom Sutton) in Man From Atlantis #1 (Feb. 1978).[7]

Trinidad was often hired to do adaptations. One of his biggest commissions was the black-and-white magazine one-shot Marvel Movie Premiere, which featured his and writer Marv Wolfman's adaptation of the 1975 movie The Land That Time Forgot. With writer Roy Thomas and penciler John Buscema, Trinidad adapted Robert E. Howard's "The Pool of the Black One" in Savage Sword of Conan #22–23 (Sept.–Oct. 1977). And with writer Doug Moench, Trinidad adapted H. G. Wells' The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth for Marvel Classics Comics #22 (1977).[7]

I think you'll agree that man left us a feast for our eyes.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Hulk 16: "Masks" - a Review

The Hulk #16 (August 1979)
Doug Moench-Mike Zeck/John Tartaglione

What's that? A color comic, reviewed on a blog that touts the merits of the black & white magazines of the Bronze Age? Yup, but with a catch. Today's review comes to you from the Essential Rampaging Hulk, volume 2. That... is going to present some issues, as we'll soon see. If you were around this space a few days ago, you read my lamentations of those various Essentials and Showcase Presents that used color copies in production rather than original art. The reproduction problems could be egregious, and we'll get a heaping helping of that today. It's such an issue for me, in fact, that I'll be flipping my review format on its head.

But let's start with the now-familiar 100-Word Review:
We open on a dark street in New Orleans, with Bruce Banner’s attention grabbed - by a sharp object with a note attached. It’s obvious his assailant knows of Banner’s alter ego and implores Banner to show at the airport. He does, and meets Valerie and Jannar. They spin a tale of money, enough to finance Banner’s finding of a cure for his... gamma condition. But first - a test. Banner Hulks out and takes out a gator, and later is introduced to his would-be benefactor: Drago. Drago wants to enlist the Hulk’s aid to secure a Spanish treasure - half of which could lead to the end of the Hulk!
I've wanted to read the Rampaging Hulk mags for years. As a kid, I only had one issue, and it was pretty late in the run. I purchased the second volume via an Amazon 3rd-party seller. The book's in decent-enough shape and will serve my purposes. But darned if I didn't even consider that the book would have contained black & white reprints of color material. Which brings us to...

The Ugly: Man, this book was hard to read! I'll be honest - it detracted from my enjoyment of the story. I was able to get my hands on an actual copy of the magazine, and provide a few color scans today side-by-side with the Essentials pages that I scanned to show the difference. And my burden. As I remarked in the post last week, it was really a mistake whenever Marvel or DC had to shoot from color guides or color comics rather than original art in the creation of the Essentials or Showcase Presents. Those books overall were a great idea at the time - a ton of continuity for around $15-16. But I just can't take the way they read, and in today's case those pages that literally could not be read.


The Bad: This Drago dude looks like Terry Long. So while he is the "villain" of today's story, he gets extra baddie-points for being Terry Long's doppelganger. Terry Long... is he my least-favorite character in all of comics? He may be. Right up on the Mt. Rushmore of idiots alongside Snapper Carr and Dr. Druid. Come to think of it, I should consider that fourth spot on the Mount.

I thought the plot was just a bit thin. Drago came off as a typical mad scientist-type, while Valerie and Jannar seemed cookie-cutter lackeys. Banner's behavior also struck me as formulaic, but then I've never been cursed by the terror that is the Hulk. I guess I'd be desperate for a way out and would probably fall in with some seedy characters along the way as well.

There was one other quibble with the story, and this specifically falls to Doug Moench's script. If you look below, you'll find the last page of the story. The Hulk goes on a moralistic rant to Valerie and I wonder if Moench didn't lose the Hulk's voice momentarily. I find that as a possibility, or I've also wondered if he didn't show us a glimpse of Bruce Banner's half being somewhat in control. Either way I think it can be explained away... I mention it here only because I noticed that there was a departure from the Hulk's speech patterns from earlier in the story, a style that was quite familiar in the Bronze Age.


The Good: Call me positive if you will (you won't), but today I've saved the best thoughts for last. I did enjoy the story overall, and I think part of that sense is nostalgic. If you were a Rampaging Hulk reader when these stories were published, you recall that as the magazine progressed it had more and more of the feel of the television show that was airing weekly on CBS. Surely that was intentional, as Marvel sought to cross-market itself where possible.

Doug Moench, and I've said it before on this blog, has been a rising star among my list of favorite comics writers and that's wholly due to his work on the Marvel magazines. As I've remarked previously, I was certainly aware of him across my color comics reading, but I did not have the appreciation for either the volume of work he produced in the B&W format or for simply how good it is. Whether kung fu, monsters, sci fi, or here with a tragic hero, Moench delivers an entertaining read. Yes, I called the plot formulaic above, but I don't want to send the message that I didn't have several minutes of fun. I did.

Mike Zeck and John Tartaglione turned in nice work, as well. I enjoyed Zeck's depiction of the Hulk. His other characters stayed consistent throughout the story. Valerie was particularly beautiful. And sometimes the artist really earns his or her stripes when having to branch outside people. Zeck and Tartaglione really sold the airplane, the swamp setting, and the alligator. All-in-all a nice issue; but I'd still like to have been able to see it without the influence of the color.

Thanks for stopping by today. If you have thoughts on any of the issues I've raised, please leave a note below in the comments section.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Guest Writer - Comics Are Better Than Candy!

We have a treat for you today, friends. Longtime contributor to the Bronze Age Babies, PFGavigan, is back with his first post for this space. Readers have long loved his prowess with online editing tools, in addition to his skill as an artist in his own right. Today he's along to share some memories from Halloween 2018, featuring (of course) comics. So buckle in and enjoy, and leave him a comment at the bottom. Thanks in advance for your participation on PFG's wonderful efforts today! -Doug

Monday, March 4, 2019

Spider-Man Newspaper Strips: Kraven the Hunter - a Review

Spider-Man Newspaper Strips, volume 1 (2009)
"Kraven the Hunter", October 31, 1977-December 25, 1977
Stan Lee-John Romita

Raise your hand if, back when you were a Bronze Age Baby, you peddled your bike to the local gas station or convenience store to pick up the daily paper that carried the Spidey newspaper strip. Yup - me, too! For me, it was around a 6-block ride to the Convenient Food Mart on Main Street. They sold the Chicago Tribune, and once Stan Lee had told me in the Bullpen Bulletins that the strip was starting, I started saving my pennies! I didn't get there everyday, but man - did I make the effort! I'm sure I clipped-and-saved, but darned if I know whatever happened to those strips. I also recall being somewhat disappointed that some of the arcs did not include the rogues gallery I'd come to know and love from the comics. If you don't have access to the strips, the first storyline featured Dr. Doom. I'm certain I don't recall that at all. I do, however remember an extended run that featured the Kingpin. But all that aside, today we're looking in on Kraven the Hunter! And a BWBC thank you/acknowledgement to Matt from the Not a Hoax/Not a Dream blog for his scanning (stolen and presented today) and to Al Bigley for the color Sunday strips (also stolen and presented today). Just so you think I'm not a total loser, I've also included some of my own photographs from the strips. There...

Let's roll, in the Mighty BWBC Manner!

100-Word Review:
Mary Jane Watson and Flash Thompson are on a working vacation in Florida, where they take in the animal act of Kraven the Hunter. Back in Manhattan, J. Jonah Jameson and city editor Joe Robertson debate sending Peter Parker to cover Kraven. But Jonah has an epiphany - if Kraven is the world’s greatest hunter, then why couldn’t he hunt a Spider? Robbie protests, and walks out the Daily Bugle’s door. Jonah hires Kraven anyway - and brings him to New York, and fisticuffs between he and our wallcrawling friend ensue. But… will Jonah sabotage Kraven’s victory?

The Good: What's better than a Stan Lee/John Romita collaboration on our favorite Web-spinner? Not much, unless you wanted to look for some Lee/Jack Kirby Fantastic Four stories? Let me warn you ahead of time: I'm going to contradict myself in the next section. But for now, I want to say that if the goal of the various Marvel (and DC, too) newspaper strips was to introduce our heroes to a wider audience, then this should be considered a success. All the elements you'd expect from a Spidey story are here - his supporting cast, Peter's "lovable loser" persona, an over-the-top villain with ego-stroking as his sole motivation, and so on. This story was a warm blanket on a cold day (which, as I'm writing this on 1/31/19, the outside temp is 5 degrees below 0).

You can argue with me if you like (you'll lose), but the characters in the Amazing Spider-Man universe are the best across all comics. I'll further posit that J. Jonah Jameson may be the best villain - super-powered or otherwise - in comics. He's a foil, an antagonist, a plotter & schemer, and a perpetual pain-in-the-butt. He doesn't have to wait 12-14 issues to reappear, because he's always there! And his presence is certainly felt on both ends of these shenanigans, from setting it up to bringing down the curtain... it's JJJ, all the way!

How good is John Romita? Really good. What a wonderful illustrator. Some would say that he doesn't take a lot of chances, that his style is very clean. For me, that's what I like about it. I've heard some say that once Kirby left Marvel, John Buscema sort of became the caretaker of the "house style". I can see that. But running through the Silver and Bronze Ages was the watchful eye of Romita. His steadiness in providing promotional art, book covers, calendar pages, etc. put the Marvel pantheon of characters in a nice, neat box. I appreciate him for that.

And Stan Lee? I like his Spider-Man writing perhaps best of all. I'd have to fist fight myself to see if I really enjoyed his Fantastic Four more, but those two books would be out in front with a gap to third place. I guarantee I like this stuff better than Lee's Silver Surfer, which can really wear on a man's patience if too many issues are read in close proximity. Hoo-boy... But here all of the voices just sound "right". And I love it.

The Bad: A little over six years ago, I reviewed this hardcover on the BAB. You can read my thoughts on the structure of the book itself, the layout and design, and also on the first story arc (again, featuring Dr. Doom). Let's just say the book, as a book, doesn't get high marks. I'll also add here that the reproductions of the strips seem uneven throughout the book. At times, it looks like they were able to shoot from the original art; in other places it appears that photocopies were used as the "original" imagery. However they did it, without color, the choppy lines are more noticeable.

I'm going to say something that I feel a little badly about writing. However, when you have some history in the rearview mirror with these characters, there's a sense of been-there, done-that. That's what I got when I read today's featured tale. As a peruser of many a Spidey comic over the past 45+ years, I hate to say I've seen it all, but hey - there just wasn't much new here. We had Peter's angst, Aunt May's ailments, Jonah's bluster, Kraven's megalomania, MJ's restlessness - it was all here. Now on one hand, you can argue that it's like comfort food. I can get on board with that. But if you're looking for anything that sets this story apart, you'll find yourself dissatisfied.

The Ugly: Zilch.

Please leave me a comment, whether it be on this story, the Spidey strips in general, or even other newspaper strips of the superhero (or Conan the Barbarian, too) variety. I have three trades that reprint the Batman strips from the Golden Age and hope to get to those at some point. I'd love to hear about your experiences with other strips. Thanks in advance!

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