Saturday, April 18, 2015

More 100 Greatest Marvels


Here's another Marvel collection that I picked up for collage purposes. This is much better than the last one I tried (#9-6). Like that paperback, this one contains four "classic" reprint stories, meant to countdown the best issues ever. So in here we get #25-22.

First up is Uncanny X-Men #141, the often reprinted "Days of Future Past" opening number. It's the end of 1980 and the height of the John Byrne/Chris Claremont run of issues. Everyone probably knows the story now, which has the newly introduced Kitty Pryde possessed by her future self. There's a terrible apocalyptic timeline to be prevented, all hinging around the assassination of the apparently popular Senator Robert Kelly by, um, The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

This is fairly ridiculous stuff, but John Byrne's art really sells the "reality" of the piece. Even a bus being drawn by a team of horses seems somehow plausible as part of the future run-down environment. On the whole, Byrne's realism tends to keep Claremont's wordiness at bay, though there are a few purple prose filled captions. He also goes too far in having Professor X feel sorry for Senator Kelly. Byrne makes it pretty clear in the session scenes that the presidential hopeful is a slimy demagogue; forgiving the choice to sell a politic of fear undermines the X-Men's moral mission and shows Xavier to be a stereotypical knee-jerk liberal.

The second story is a reprint of Fantastic Four #48, "The Coming of Galactus!" Much like the Byrne/Claremont pairing, at this point Stan Lee's wordiness has been toned back a bit, letting Jack Kirby's storytelling shine. It's quite amazing to see the leap of quality between this and the earlier Marvel issues. Using a simple six-panel layout, Kirby crams in much more storytelling and visual invention than we get in today's wimpy computer-edited comics. And what IS that on the penultimate collage page, some weird combo of hair drier/vacuum cleaner/space ship that Galactus drives around? The apocalypse is here, and it's drawn by Kirby.

We also get a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #1, with two stories by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. The first, presented in the usual six-panel grid, gives us the prototypical Peter Parker story in which he does a great deed and instead of receiving adulation, is hounded by the public. For the third part, where he's tricked by The Chameleon into taking the fall for a crime, Ditko crams everything into a modern nine-panel grid. It's curious, and makes one wonder whether this is a response to having less room on a deadline, or a change of format for a story with less drama and more action. While not as good as the FF story, it's all a lot of fun. There's something particularly adorable about that way Ditko draws a loving Aunt May happily pawning her jewels to keep from losing her house.

The last entry is the Frank Miller drawn and written Daredevil #181. I know a lot of people hold these Miller issues up as some sort of high watermark of comic book culture, but to me this just looks like an amateur artist barely squeaking by. His human figures have poor anatomy, perspective is out of whack in many panels, and there's a barely recognizable helicopter. It reminds me of Rob Leifeld's later work on The X-Men. He does know how to hide his illustrative flaws, using a lot of dramatic shadows and tiny panel tiers, but there's no getting around the awful tough guy dialogue. This is told from a slightly mad villain's point-of-view, so it may be meant as parody, but there's no sign of that in the artwork. The story actually climaxes with a fairly pornographic panel of Electra being skewered and lifted into the air. The whole sequence screams of "look at me!" and while showing the importance of the event, fails to portray the supposed emotional impact of tragedy. A failure of an issue, but an interesting one.

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