I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
As I noted in the very first post of this series, I went all in on the Marvel Universe at a particularly fortuitous time. Not only were there several first-rate, sometimes title-defining runs poised to happen (including Frank Miller’s Daredevil, Walt Simonson’s Thor, and John Byrne’s Fantastic Four), but the publisher was expertly raiding its own history to provide classic stories for the same forty cents. I previously mentioned old Fantastic Four stories showing up in the pages of Marvel’s Greatest Comics, and there were also early X-Men tales in Amazing Adventures and, the most successful series of the lot of them, Spider-Man reprints in Marvel Tales. Marvel was built on a rigid adherence to its own continuity, so knowing the history was important. These backward-looking titles allowed me to fill in my own gaps.
One of the titles I picked up that momentous first summer of superhero reading was Marvel Super Action, in part, I’ll admit, because it was a comic that always seemed to have plenty of copies available at one of the convenience stores I frequented to sate my junkie-like habit. Though I didn’t know it at the time, Marvel Super Action began life as a Captain America reprint title before switching to his favored super-team midstream. It actually picked up Avengers reprints relatively deep into the original series’ run, all the better to catch some of more famous issues of the title. Which also meant, as with my introduction to the Fantastic Four (at least in part), I got to know these heroes through the dynamic pencil of John Buscema.
The first issue I bought promised the wedding of the winsome Wasp to a strange new hero who’d shown up the previous month, a brutish, somewhat bullying fellow who called himself Yellowjacket. It was a story whipped up by Roy Thomas, the chosen successor to writer Stan Lee when he started to shifting to more of an overseer role in the late nineteen-sixties.
This didn’t sit too well with Janet van Dyne’s teammates, in part because she barely knew this Yellowjacket fellow (they didn’t even know his secret identity!) and also due to the little fact that he claimed to have killed Hank Pym, charter member of the team (as Ant-Man) and Janet’s longtime love. (Their protests, I have to say, seem fairly reasonable.) In some ways, that’s the least of their worries, though, because this is a superhero wedding in the Marvel Universe, which means that bad guys are about to bring it on. In this case, disguising themselves as caterers to gain access to Avengers Mansion.
The villainous tendency to shape their conversation in a very exposition-friendly way is always helpful. Of course, the villains aren’t the only ones who are on premises. The place is lousy with superheroes, too. And all of them are drinking non-alcoholic punch (natch).
There’s enough firepower in that room to test Galactus, much less the far more woeful circus-themed baddies who crashed the party (led by a guy with a hypno-hat). But when the Circus of Crime launches their attack, Captain America effectively tells everyone who doesn’t have an active Avengers card to stand down, pridefully claiming it as their fight. This prolongs the conflict just long enough for Yellowjacket to reveal his true identity: Hank Pym!
This leads to an incredibly convoluted explanation of what happened, involving the accidental huffing of a mixture of toxic chemicals leading to temporary schizophrenia shaped by a fear of commitment. Jan saw through it the whole time (at least from the first smooch on), and choose not to actual help him or be honest with any of her cohorts about the situation in favor of using his warped mind as an opportunity to trick him into matrimony. Good times.
The whole thing was loopy, imaginative and illogical to the point of being borderline nonsense. And I loved every bit of it, for all of those reasons. When I try to pinpoint what’s wrong with dour modern superhero comics, the key problem is that the sense of freedom and fun that characterizes this issue is long gone. That doesn’t mean these comics were unquestionably great. The very next issue was such a muddle of Asgardian myth and Dr. Strange’s conveniently sporadic magical abilities that the only thing I retained from it was the dual splash pages that opened the story. But what splash pages they are.
I stared and stared at those Buscema drawings as if they alone held the secret to why I was suddenly a helpless devotee to Marvel’s superhero comics. And maybe they in fact did. Excelsior, indeed!
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru