Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Der devil made me buy Marvel Visionaries

It´s been a while since my last JLA casting post with Lindsay Lohan and even longer since we touched on Ann Nocenti and John Romita Jr´s run on DAREDEVIL. Well, I guess you expected me to continue with the INFERNO CROSSOVERS but as always I´m going for something a bit different Today.

Recently I bought three of the MARVEL VISIONARIES hardcovers and one of them ties into Ann Nocenti´s Daredevil so I thought this would be a nice intermission before we go back to the INFERNO CROSSOVERS storyline.

And as money is always a question where comics are concerned I wanted to spotlight these books as they are not too expensive. I got the books about Roy Thomas, Chris Claremont and John Romita Jr and this last one is the one I want to spotlight Today. I´d like to write about them all at length but as it has already taken five hours to prepare all the necessary material for John Romita Jr I have to do the other two some other time.

I guess the whole thing started on my last visit to the Sammlerecke comic shop in Esslingen where I was looking for some new hardcovers since at that time I was still counting on getting my new shelf porn this summer. As it is now I can count myself lucky if I get it as a late birthday present at the end of this month. Anyway, as I have mentioned a few times before the omnibus hardcovers Disney puts out are becoming more expensive at amazon, some of them demanding ridiculous prices like multiple times their original price and not all of them are available there. So I was going through all the various hardcovers when I came across these old MARVEL VISIONARY hardcovers. Okay, not that old since these books came out around 2005 / 2006, but I never paid them much attention since they contain just reprints. But since my reading tastes go more to old comics lately I paged through them and if I didn´t have a busted knee I would have probably bought some right there. These books are all oversized, like the AVENGERS ASSEMBLE books that contain the run by Kurt Busiek and George Perez and are a real treat for longtime Marvel comic fans.

Now these books cost between 30 ( like the John Romita Jr book ) and 35 bucks regular price ( for the Roy Thomas book ) but they clock in between 330 and 370 pages. That´s only 10 bucks more than a regular hardcover.

I mean unless you use the bargain section at amazon or other big chain bookstores you pay 25 EUROS for a regular hardcover that is smaller and has only around 112 pages. Especially since Disney started putting five issues into the hardcovers for the same price. Which is their way of slow price increase. At the moment DC is still putting six issues and more into their hardcovers but it´s only a matter of time before all their books get thinner too. So you can either pay 25 bucks for a regular sized 112 page hardcover or pay 30 to 35 bucks for an oversized 330 and more page hardcover. I know what sounds like a better deal to me. Okay, all of the material in the MARVEL VISIONARIES books are reprints. You will not find any new stuff in here unless you haven´t read these stories before. If you have been reading comics for as long as I have you have read most of this material in one form or another but if you are a newbie to Marvel comics - and there are a lot of those hipsters around right now - like the saying goes : the oldest story is new to someone who hasn´t heard it before.

Which is another reason why I´m pimping these books right now. At the moment the Marvel omnibus books are in such high demand because there are all these new comic geek chique guys jumping on the comic bandwagon. They have seen the movies of the Avengers, The Fantastic Four, Thor or Iron Man and so they go for these big books. And since everybody wants them the price keeps going up. Now while there are thousands of them out there they are not really that much into comic books and more interested in the status you get as a certified geek.

Which is totally legitimate. Not everybody has to be so totally immersed in comics to enjoy the movies and let´s be honest, we all have watched James Bond movies but how many books by Ian Fleming have you read ?

So not everybody who likes movies checks out the source material they are based on. Which is okay. BUT if you do that you deny yourself the best thing. Because as good as the new comic movies are ( and some are not since for me the best Fantastic Four movie is the one who never made it to cinemas ) it´s only an adaption. And one thing most people forget is that there are a lot of things you can do in a comic that you can´t do in a movie. Also you compress storylines that go on for years into a few hours and you can´t tell me that the quality doesn´t suffer because of this.

But back to the comic hipsters, while they have seen the movies most of them are not familiar with any of the names - except maybe Stan Lee - so a book about guys like Roy Thomas, John Romita Jr or Chris Claremont is not of much interest for them. If you tell them that Chris Claremont wrote X - Men they probably go : " Did he invent Wolverine ? Maybe Nightcrawler, Storm or Cyclops ? No ? So he´s not important ? " because that´s how they think. Chris Claremont did not invent the all new, all different X - Men, Len Wein and Dave Cockrum did that. But together with John Byrne he turned the UNCANNY X - MEN into the number one comic book - not only at Marvel but in general - and he wrote all the famous storylines like THE DARK PHOENIX SAGA, DAYS OF FUTURE PASTS or the first Wolverine mini series that Hollywood is milking. He wrote ALL X - Men related books between 1975 and 1991 , NEW MUTANTS and all the specials and annuals and graphic novels and whatnot. So the man has a huge mountain of work in the x - universe and for the most part it´s solid with a few clunkers.

But I will write more about Chris Claremont in another post at length because while he did not invent any of the new X - Men, he co - created Rogue, Psylocke, Kitty Pryde, Mystique, Moira MacTaggert, Emma Frost, Jubilee, Madelyne Pryor, Sabretooth, Captain Britain and sadly Gambit.

I personally could have done without the last one. Anyway, back to the MARVEL VISIONARIES, as I said before I didn´t buy any of them when I last visited the comic shop in Esslingen. Because with my bum knee it is difficult enough to go to the comic shop even if I don´t have to schlepp a lot of heavy hardcovers. But I had a chance to see what is in the books and for the most part the reproduction was not bad either. After a few bad experiences with the Marvel Collection from hachette that is currently sold in Germany I´m much more sensitive in that regard but here it was all good. So a few days later I was looking through the books amazon always recommends and there were some of the MARVEL VISIONARIES books among them. Now normally I try to avoid buying outside of amazon with the amazon marketplace as you never know what other people define as in good condition but after I had ordered a few that arrived in almost pristine condition I was willing to chance it. Especially since three of the books were sold at 20, 18 and 13 bucks. Okay, with the added cost for shipping that´s 23, 21 and 16 bucks but that´s still less than 30 bucks which is the lowest price you pay for these books at your comic store.

Now before we come to the MARVEL VISIONARIES JOHN ROMITA JR book I have to say there is one thing I didn´t like : the wasted pages. While I understand that if you are doing a collected edition there are certain skip pages you have to insert to get double page spreads right and such there is no excuse that a company as big as Marvel comics should waste pages. Especially if it´s a collection dedicated to a certain artist or writer.

I mean if it´s in the middle of a story like the 9 - 11 Spider - Man issue with the black cover I can understand that. But apart from that there should be no black, blank or pixilated pages in these books. There must be - what ? - hundreds or thousand of pages of art and covers that could not be put in these books and you couldn´t just pick any of them to fill up those pages ? That´s weak, man. Our POWER FREAKS comic was made by two guys and we did not put any blank pages in there. I even did some extra artwork just to have no blank pages in there. And this was our first comic so we really didn´t know what we were doing. But even we knew that you don´t put pages without content in a book people pay money for.

So that´s just a minor complaint but in my opinion that´s just sloppy.

But let´s get to the Daredevil stories by John Romita Jr in this collection. The first one is issue 253, called MERRY CHRISTMAS KINGPIN written by Ann Nocenti (  even if the cover says MERRY CHRISTMAS DAREDEVIL ).

As the title suggests this would work much better as a special Christmas post but since when do we do things in the normal way around here ?

The story works on various levels as it incorporates the usual holidays story tropes but also offers insight for the readers into how certain people of the supporting cast tick. There is firstly Wilson Fisk a.k.a the Kingpin, who wants to stretch the reach of his criminal empire for whom Christmas is just a day like any other. He plays the part of the Grinch who is so annoyed by Christmas that he even forbids his employees to mention it.

There is Eightball who wants to be like the Wild Boys or Daredevil or Matt Murdock - he´s insecure about himself and just wants do the right thing. 

With Darla and Ralph he is part of the trio of little kids who hang around with Daredevil that has kind of the role of the many companions in Doctor Who : they are there to question things and to give readers exposition.

Like most boys his age he doesn´t care much about girls - like Darla -

but he tries to get into the holiday spirit and to make sure somebody else has a great Christmas Day by giving away his most prized possession.

Then there is the main character of the book and while Daredevil DOES wear a red suit and sure has the whole " knowing when people have been bad " schtick down to pat I´m not so sure if he really plays the part of Santa Claus in this story. Like Jim Roeg writes in his excellent post ON CHRISTMAS : AN ATHEIST READS DAREDEVIL 253 , the story is not so much about the religious aspects of Christmas but about what the holiday means for a community like Matt Murdock´s legal help clinic entourage.

After the events of Frank Miller´s BORN AGAIN it took Matt Murdock a long time to recover but through his free legal advice clinic he has found a way not only to still work within the legal system without having a lawyer´s license and provide those who could not afford it with enough counsel to defend themselves - but also to be part of this community. 

Which is something the Kingpin can´t wrap his head around. Where the reader experiences the real meaning of Christmas he sees only a washed up has been lawyer who´s just one of humanity´s dregs living among all the other junkies, bums, snotty kids, prostitutes and working class stiffs.

It will be quite some time before Wilson Fisk finally learns the right way to break Matt Murdock / Daredevil and Typhoid Mary makes her debut.

But let´s get back to  the Daredevil issues in the MARVEL VISIONARIES JOHN ROMITA JR hardcover. There are also the first two issues of Frank Miller´s MAN WITHOUT FEAR mini series. Or was it a mini series ?

With all the hype about anything Frank Miller does a lot of people forget that this came out during the 90s, the worst period in comics history.

At least according to some people. I have always said that there was also some good stuff published and I already did various posts on that. Back to Frank Miller´s MAN WITHOUT FEAR I don´t want to say it´s not a good comic but initially it was announced as an original graphic novel. Then somebody at Marvel must have realized that they could make loads of cash if they publish it in single issue form instead with gimmick covers

You can still see that it was supposed to be a graphic novel by the fact that it is impossible to say where the first issue ends and the second issue begins. In comics that are planned as singles there are cliffhangers and splash pages that clearly show the beginning and the end of an issue but you have none of this here which is why they had to put two issues into the collection, otherwise there would have been no complete story.

There are however a few things that bug me about this comic - not graphic novel. IF Marvel had not published it in single issue format first ( the collected edition was announced when issue 4 hit the newsstands to the delight of all fans ) this would be a graphic novel. So it´s a collection of previously published material and therefore NOT a graphic novel. And if you hear anybody talk about the MAN WITHOUT FEAR graphic novel by Frank Miller you know he has no f - wording idea what he is talking about.

Second while the art by John Romita Jr in this is really excellent it does not by far surpass anything he has done during his run on DAREDEVIL with Ann Nocenti. But this gets hailed as the non plus ultra Daredevil story while one of the best runs gets ignored just because it´s not by Miller.

And last but not least, if you want to know which comic the producers of the NETFLIX Daredevil series read to come up with the fugly costume - look no further true believer. That´s also the legacy of Frank Miller.

Now before wrapping things up I want to mention a few things. I don´t have the time to go into detail about all the other issues at length but here is what is also contained in the collection : John Romita Jr´s very first comic work for Marvel, a Spider - Man story from annual 11 and issues 229 and 230 of AMAZING SPIDER - MAN where he goes up against the Juggernaut. It´s one of his most fondly remembered Spider - Man stories so it has to be in this collection. As well as the 9 / 11 issue.

There are two Iron Man issues in this book, one is - of course - issue 128, Demon in a Bottle, the culmination of the historic storyline of the same name that won numerous awards and turned Tony Stark into an alcoholic.

The other is issue 256 with Iron Man on Tony Stark´s new space station where he gets trapped under a huge pile of metal debris. I always liked that John Romita Jr drew the new Iron Man armor which was really heavy and bulky so you could believe there really was a man inside the suit.

This is an issue I was looking for without knowing it because I remember the scene where people think Tony Stark is going to fire an employee because she went against regulations but then he gives her two plane tickets for a vacation. I had no idea from which issue that was and then I bought the MARVEL VISIONARIES - JOHN ROMITA JR and there it was.

The reason why they picked this issue - at least the way I see it - is that it´s a good done in one issue that shows Tony´s character as a boss and his resourcefulness as Iron Man. It also leads directly into ARMOR WARS II for all those who want to check that out. And I guess I don´t have to point out which famous cover by Steve Ditko is hommaged in the splash page.

The collection also contains PUNISHER WAR ZONE 1 , a title that may´ve been created with the sole purpose to give him a Punisher book to draw. 

Speaking about first issues, STAR BRAND 1 is one of the issues I didn´t have in my collection. Jim Shooter was clearly ahead of his time with his NEW UNIVERSE and I still kick myself for not buying it when it came out. 

The rest of the book are two issues of HULK and here I´m not so sure what the rationale behind this is. In my opinion they could have picked issue 25 OR 34 but I´m not so sure if it was really necessary to pick both.

I would have liked it better if they had included another series of the countless John Romita Jr worked on. And last but not least two issues of UNCANNY X - MEN and since he has worked on that title for such a long time it´s impossible to narrow it down. They picked issue 183, another good done in one issue ( god, am I the only one who misses these stories ? ) with some heartbreaking moments between Kitty Pryde and Colossus.

It also continues the theme of heroes going up against the Juggernaut after the two AMAZING SPIDER - MAN issues as the stories are not ordered by the different series but rather in chronological order. Which works better in such a compilation since it lets you see the progress the artist has done over the course of his career. Which may be the reason why the other issue is issue 309 : another standalone issue and not only can you see a clear difference to the earlier story the layout is also very different and you have to turn the whole book sideways on a few pages.

So is it a perfect book ? No. I would not have chosen some of the issues and as I said the wasted pages bring me out of it. Is it a good book ? Most definitely. With John Romita Jr´s most famous stories collected here - and in chronological order - it gives you a good overview of his progress as an artist and you can spend a few hours reading this. The reproduction value on this is really high, also, for 21 EUROS this is an absolute steal.

Linking time. For more Daredevil related stuff THE REAL GENTLEMEN OF LEISURE discuss Daredevil 269, in which Daredevil goes up against X - Men´s Freedom Force and our trusty friends at SCANS DAILY have posts on Daredevil clubbing Ultron to death with a tree branch , a comparison of the Kingpin´s origin by Frank Miller and Tom DeFalco and one in various parts about the long relationship between Daredevil and Spider - Man .

David Robertson at FRED EGG COMICS blog has a post on the Daredevil Christmas stories that includes Daredevil 253, to read more about STAR BRAND check out CBR´s post Meta - Messages - The Time John Byrne nuked Jim Shooter´s Hometown , CBR´s 365 Reasons to Love Comics archive has John Romita Jr listed as number 127 and a shoutout goes to Harry Candelario for the inked splash page of INVINCIBLE IRON MAN 256.

Since this is a Marvel post that mentions the X - Men I finally get to post ComicbookGirl19´s EPIC HISTORY : X - MEN volume 1, the first of many. 

Another I wanted to post for quite some time is this documentary about Stan Lee from the Latino history Channel. Naturally it´s in latino. I tried to find the english version but couldn´t find it on YouTube. Sorry, guys.

Another sojourn into the vault of bad tv entertainment here is the GENERATION X pilot that clearly shows why there never was a series.

And talking about tv entertainment Today´s cartoon feature is from the animated Hulk series. The episode features She Hulk and Abomination. 

The last one is a dust of the cap to fellow blogger Terry Hooper, sorry for the bad quality but this stuff is like beyond ancient. Dinosaurs and stuff.

New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN : top ten posts / more posts of interest / best of the best

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