Friday, August 04, 2006

It Came from the Longbox! Marvel Presents (Wolverine) #42, 1990

Marvel Comics Presents was an attempt at anthology book, allowing for stories starring characters who either didn’t have their own books, which were generally anchored by a lead story featuring an immensely popular character to help pimp sales. Each issue would feature four different eight-page stories, usually chapters of some larger narratives. When one tale was wrapped up after several issues, another adventure starring (generally) a different superhero would begin.

To help draw fans to the comic book stores on a regular basis, this book was published every two weeks, a rarity in the history of the comic book. (DC Comics had a similar book at the same time, which I think actually came out on a weekly basis, but I don’t recall what that one was called.)

Since I grabbed this comic at random from one of my many moldering comic boxes, I don’t really remember what the overarching storylines were like. So I’ll be reacting to them like someone who picked up the book for the first time and was just sticking his toe in.

The first tale is Chapter Five of a Wolverine story. Wolverine was like the hottest comic book character in the world back then and Marvel pimped him mercilessly. (Unlike the Punisher or Ghost Rider in later years.) The Chapter is entitled “Village of Blood!” and the overarching story seems to be called “Black Shadow! White Shadow!” Marv Wolfman wrote it, and John Buscema drew it.

We open on Wolverine (in his neutral brown costume that followed his traditional yellow one) standing in the middle of a horse stampede. A dialogue box seeks to brusquely set the scene for newcomers: “Not just anybody can get trampled by stampedin’ horses somewhere in the middle of China.” Given the dropped ‘g’, I assume the box represents Wolverine’s narration.

Wolverine extricates himself from the stampede, of course, and lands near some Asian people, two men and a woman. They call him “Patch” (complete with quotation marks—which are used every time, and thus gets pretty tiresome), which I vaguely remember was Wolverine’s then alias in the Pacific Rim.

The party moves on and soon comes upon a razed village. In the middle of the destruction is a big black blobby shape, unsurprisingly the Black Shadow. One of the guys with Wolverine has some grenades, and pulls the pins and jumps into the monster. SKRBLAMMOOOOO! (That’s what it says.) The Black Shadow is unaffected. “H-how could you let him die like that?” Mai, the woman, asks Our Hero. “There’s a look in some people’s eyes that says they’re already dead,” Wolverine responds. Whatever, dude.

Then the White Shadow (no, sadly, it’s not Ken Howard) appears, a blank white figure to match the Black Shadow. The two creatures tussle, but not before Wolverine scoops up Mai and runs off. “Wants us out of here,” he notes of the White Shadow. “I agree.” If you say so.

The Shadows trade blows and then disappear, leaving behind a wasteland where the village formerly stood. “Black Shadow made a bad mistake leaving us alive,” Wolverine promises. Big talk from a ‘superhero’ who spent eight pages not being turned into paste by horses, standing by as a companion committed suicide, and finally running away from a donnybrook.

(By the way, I know Asians are comparatively short, but how come Wolverine looms over everyone? He’s 5” 3’. And yes, that’s his official height, according to the Marvel Handbook.)

Grade: Lame!!

The second story stars Wonder Man*, a venerable second banana member of the Avengers going all the way back to his first appearance in Issue #9 back in 1964. Wonder Man was a dying guy granted a temporary reprieve and god-level superstrength by Thor’s Asgardian enemies the Enchantress and the Executioner.

[*Wonder Man is one of those b-level heroes, like Luke Cage (whose profile has admittedly risen since Brian Michael Bendis adopted him) and Ghost Rider, who has always been a favorite of mine. However, I really just like him during his ‘safari jacket’ stage, as his ‘superhero’ costumes have been uniformly dumb. Thus I was highly comforted by the news that a new Avengers title being started soon would feature the “leisure suit clad Wonder Man.” (Again, though, it was a safari jacket.)

Actually, now that I think about it, the three heroes I mentioned all were maskless and had costumes that were basically street clothes, although superhero boots were usually added. Ghost Rider has a costume (and a blazing skull head), but it was just Johnny Blaze’s performance leathers that he wore during his motorcycle stunt act. Wonder Man had slacks, red boots and a matching red safari jacket, along with sunglasses. Luke Cage wore slacks, boots and a yellow silk shirt, accessorized by a chain and metal headband. Maybe it was the (comparatively) costume-less look that drew me to these characters.

Sadly, the Wonder Man featured here is the one with a mullet and one of his numerous bad superhero costumes featuring a big red ‘W’ on the chest.]

Trojan Horse Wonder Man managed to join the Avengers (there weren’t a lot of superheroes back in those days), and led them into a trap. However, he reformed at the last minute, saved the Avengers, and apparently died. Years later he returned, having undergone a transformation into basically a walking fusion reactor. He was gun shy due to having already ‘died’ once, but otherwise had nearly Thor-esque levels of strength and invulnerability. Wonder Man has been an off and on member of the Avengers ever since.

As we open this tale (Chapter 5, “She Belongs to Me,” of the story “Stardust Memories”) we see fellow Avengers Iron Man (in damaged armor) and The Beast (Wonder Man’s best pal during this period—in entirely groovy news, he will be reunited with Wonder Man in the new Avengers book) looking around in bewilderment. Apparently in the last episode Wonder Man had just disappeared before their eyes.

Wonder Man appears before none other than the Enchantress herself, who, being the Norse Goddess of Sexy, is wearing a very skimpy swimsuit. Apparently Wonder Man is in her thrall again, and it was he who attacked and smashed up Iron Man’s armor.

This established, we cut to Janet Van Dyne, a.k.a. The Wasp, another old school Avenger. The Enchantress wants Janet, for some reason, and has sent Wonder Man after her, albeit while mystical disguised as Janet’s estranged husband, Hank Pym (a.k.a. Ant-Man, Giant-Man, and a zillion other identities.) Janet is indeed thrown off by “Hank’s” appearance, and eventually the two start tussling. Finally the confused and tearful Wasp falls into her ersatz husband’s arms, where she is squeezed into unconsciousness and delivered to the Enchantress. It’s all part of another evil scheme to destroy the Avengers. I don’t have the following chapters, but I’m assuming the plan ultimately fails.

Grade: Eh, OK. You better know your Avengers backstories to have it make any sense, though.

In the next tale, “The Establishment,” we cross the pond for a single chapter short starring Union Jack, sort of the UK version of Captain America. Since he’s a fairly obscure figure even to Marvel maniacs, we get a backstory recap. This explains that the current UJ is Joey Chapman, a second generation Union Jack, newly following in the footsteps of the recently deceased original one who fought in World War II. He’s a Cockney bloke, as is revealed by his painfully rendered phonetic dialogue: “Run. An’ I wanna ‘ear yoor lungs suckin’ air.” Seriously, that’s one of his dialogue balloons.

UJ appears between some Bobbies and a gang of hooligans (all wearing Margaret Thatcher masks!), but to the surprise of the police attacks them, so as to allow the rioters to escape arrest. “The people of Great Britain should reserve the roit to express their views, especially if they don’t agree with the bloody Queen’s upper class snobbery!” UJ opines to the understandably pissed off cops.

We learn that Joey is buddies with the vandals (although they don’t know his of his superhero secret identity), and himself a rabid hater of Thatcher. This is an interesting idea, having a hardcore political leftie take over the mantle of a formerly traditionalist superhero. However, with only eight pages to work with, things quickly take a lazy turn when Joey learns that his buddies are planning to trash the estate of…none other than the deceased Lord Falsworth, the original Union Jack. Well, that certainly throws things into stark contrast, doesn’t it?

“I knew the boys had been vandalizin’ property, but it was just Tories they was hittin.’” Joey muses. Now, though, they aren’t attacking people with different political views than Our Hero, but the home of someone he personally has an attachment to. So obviously he’ll intercede. He intercepts the vandals, and after laying a little hurtin’ on them, teaches them a valuable lesson by pointing out Lord Falsworth’s tombstone, which is conveniently close at hand.

“Wot you’re foitin’ for is roit an’ true,” Union Jack concedes, “an’ you should foit for your stake in loife, but you can’t do it by hurtin’ the past.” Actually, ‘progressive’ politics are, in fact, largely based on tearing down the past. Sorry UJ, you should probably think this through a bit more.

And thus the novice Union Jack has learned an important lesson, that committing crimes against people is wrong, even if the victims are conservatives. (Originally things ended with Union Jack breaking into a rendition of “With a Little Bit of Luck,” but sadly they couldn’t fit this into the eight page limit and it got cut.)

Grade: A for effort, C+ for result, but take away part of a grade for UJ’s accented dialogue. C-.

“Armed & Dangerous” stars The Daughters of the Dragon, a pair of female PIs who were then part of the supporting cast in the (Luke Cage) Power Man and Iron Fist series. (The story is written by the series’ then regular writer, Mary Jo Duffy.) Colleen Wing, a Caucasian high-level martial artist, is at a circus hearing about a prospective job. Her partner, not yet on the scene, is a blaxploitation, Pam Grier-type ass-kicker named Misty Knight. She carries a .44 Magnum and furthermore has a bionic arm.

Anyway, somebody is trying to bring down the Vandenburg Circus. The ladies’ job is to find out who, and stop them. The employer takes this all very seriously. “The spirits of all our ancestors—a hundred generations of circus folk—would rise up in shame if we yielded to terrorism,” he claims. (Really? His family has been running circuses for the last two thousand years?!)

Meanwhile, Misty is finally introduced, seen undercover as the living target in the circus’ knife throwing act. Hilariously, since they only have eight pages to tell the ‘story,’ Colleen here just turns to the owner and basically says, “The bad guy is your brother, the knife thrower.” See, if either brother dies, the other inherits the entire circus. Anyway, this express-line unmasking leaves three pages for ‘action’ stuff involving the more or less superpowered Colleen and Misty capturing a rather inept knife thrower and his cowardly clown (really) accomplice.

Sadly, I don’t have the next week’s story at hand, which I imagined involved Misty and Colleen dealing with some kids who run their bikes across the road over the objections of the duly constituted crossing guard.

Grade: Snort.


At 10:19 AM, Anonymous KurtVon said...

I beleive a "generation" is normally marked at 30 years, which means not only has his family been running a circus since 1000 BC, but he can actually trace that ancestry (shades of the Grand Pooh-Bah).

And personally I enjoyed the volume where DotD worked undercover with an elderly gentleman to "get those damn kids off my lawn."

At 8:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a new Avengers lineup on the way?

John Nowak

At 2:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work film editing classes


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