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.
When I committed to superhero comic books in the early nineteen-eighties, I was immediately enraptured by the connectivity of the Marvel universe. While the storytelling practice has reached levels of pure tedium these days, marked by supposed “event series” that pile as many costumed figures as possible into plots as hopelessly ensnarled as the wires behind a media obsessive’s entertainment center, there was still a frisson of excitement to be had back then when unlikely compatriots crossed paths. Even so, I was never a regular reader of Marvel Team-Up, the series built around such convergences. (I did read Marvel Two-in-One, but that was clearly attributable to the monthly presence of one Benjamin J. Grimm rather than excitement over the prospect of rotating crime-fighting partnerships.) I suspect even my youthful self saw the team-up series as a contrivance, developed out of the necessity of adhering to the title’s conceit rather than urgent storytelling inspiration and opportunity. The Annuals, though; those were different.
I’ve expounded on the pleasures of old Marvel Comics Annuals previously. Arriving in the summer months, when both spare time and spending money were presumably more plentiful among the pint-sized customers, these were titanic tales were too big and special to be contained in the regular monthly mag. They required the breadth of a double-sized spectacular, set aside in its own numbering system. Holding the promise of big, bombastic stories, often with multiple guest stars, the Team-Up Annuals were irresistible to me. And the issue I read to raggedy fragility was Marvel Team-Up Annual #4, written by Frank Miller and illustrated by Herb Trimpe.
I’d need to consult a relevant Bullpen Bulletins page to know for sure, but it’s entirely possible I was further enticed to grab this issue because it was written by Miller, already hitting a remarkable stride early in his run as the scribe (and artist) in a defining run on Daredevil. The Man Without Fear was one of the characters featured in the ad hoc team of heroes, and it was one of his old villains taking on the antagonist role in the issue. Before later comic books and an exceptionally well-crafted appearance in a Netflix series cemented the notion that the character should be primarily referred to a Kilgrave, his alter ego moniker nabbed unimaginatively from Crayola box still stood.
Our heroes would be battling the Purple Man. The first to encounter the violet-hued villainy was none other than the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, who tried intervening when the Purple Man instigated a street brawl. Using his mind control powers, the Purple Man commanded the web-slinger to hang upside down from a lamppost and recite Shakespeare. When Spider-Man fumbled through a couple of lines, confessing to a pitifully lack of knowledge of the Bard’s works (Peter Parker was an egghead, but devoted to science instead of literature), the Purple Man asked what might suit him better.
This was precisely the sort of little detail I loved in the Marvel comics of the era: the consistency of the characters’ quirks. Some writer had decided Peter Parker would be an Elvis Costello fan, undoubtedly inspired as much by the vague physical resemblance between the two as anything else, and it carried through across multiple titles, stories, and creators.
Looking back now, I’m equally delighted by little flourishes that would only be deployed in a joking, ironically knowing way today, such as the use of an official logo when new characters enter the story.
Since the good guys are teaming up, it only makes sense that bad guys would also form alliances. In this instance, the Purple Man winds up working with the Kingpin, in part because the hefty mob boss proves uniquely immune to the uniquely pigmented sociopath’s powers of persuasion.
Somewhere out there, there are fans of the Marvel Streaming Video Universe (if that is indeed a piece of terminology that can be used) who are longing to see this scene acted out by David Tennant and Vincent D’Onofrio. Given the elusive nature of mortality in superhero adventures, that is not outside the realm of possibility.
With the adversarial teams set, the plot moves forward to the inevitable huge confrontation. The Purple Man is employed by the Kingpin, and Spider-Man, Daredevil, Moon Knight, Power Man and Iron First have assembled in order to save the day. Of course, the Purple Man’s powers help him to draw together an unwilling army of civilians.
Elsewhere in the issue, the heroes discovered that a quick splash of cold water was enough to jolt someone from the Purple Man’s sway, so the angry mob is finally dispatched through aquatic means. Similarly, as dreadful as the villain’s irresistible influence may be (and this story hews remarkably close to the eventual chilling depiction of the character found in the Jessica Jones series), he’s also someone who can ultimately be bested by strategic use of earplugs and a gag.
It’s hardly the most dramatic conclusion, but it provides the welcome satisfaction of heroes saving the day. That it required a team-up to accomplish this goal only made it more exciting, or so it seemed to at least one eleven-year-old who plunked down three quarter to add this issue to his collection.
Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.