Marvel Novel Series #9: a Marvel Superheroes anthology

#9: Stan Lee Presents: the Marvel Superheroes edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman

This is the most unique paperback of the series for several reasons:

  1. It is the only anthology of the series.
  2. It contains the only story that was originally in a comic book before being novelized (the Hulk tale)
  3. It contains the only story that was later adapted to a comic book (the Avengers tale)
  4. It ties with #10 for the longest book (208 pages, but is second in actual text pages)
  5. It is the only book of the series with a story written by a woman.
  6. (more personally) it was the only book I owned of the series at the time they were originally published. It was also the first time I read about the X-Men (I would flip over to the cover while reading to guess which character was which), Daredevil, Man-Thing and Ultron.

It says something about the quality of this book that I still remember most of it 37 years later: Tony Stark‘s techno-fear (he shivers and the temperature in the lab is automatically raised – what if Ulton is in control?), the Wasp’s disgust at the shade of green in Moondragon’s costume, the other Avengers calling Vision “Vizh” – as a kid I was fascinated at this use of phonetic dialogue, etc. (I already had some stories under my belt), Man-Thing smothering the Hulk, Nightcrawler, when told to teleport into an unknown cylinder asking, “What if it is solid?”.

 

The book was published on August 1, 1979 and contains 208 pages; the first story beginning on page 9.

Delineation pages divide the stories – a blank page, a title page with an illustration of the protagonists (or some of them in the case of the Avengers and X-Men) and another blank page before the new story begins. This only leaves 188 pages of actual text, making it actually the second-longest book of the series.

The cover art is by the late Dave Cockrum, co-creator (at least) of Nightcrawler, Colossus and Storm. His work with the Legion of Superheroes and the X-Men has achieved cult status.

Co-edited and compiled by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans.  Len Wein is introduced in the section reviewing his Hulk story …

***

The Avengers, “This Evil Undying” by James Shooter.

Speaking of the Legion of Superheroes … “Big” Jim Shooter began writing professional stories of the Legion beginning at age 14. He created Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, the Fatal Five and the Parasite (the Superman foe). He was Marvel’s editor-in-chief for nine years beginning in 1978 during the publication of this book series.

Through a post-hypnotic suggestion during their last battle, Iron Man revives Ultron. Ultron was last destroyed by the Scarlet Witch’s hex powers.

Iron Man, suspecting he might be manipulated, left a tracer for the other Avengers to find him in case he is controlled again. Good thinking. Iron Man WAS controlled and kidnapped the Witch, taking her to Ultron’s new lair.

The remaining Avengers – Captain America, Thor, Vision and Hawkeye – gave chase. The Wasp also joins in the fight- following Iron Man and the Scarlet Witch in her own way.

The final battle with Ultron is joined!

An excellent and fun story – one of the best of this series! It was adapted in comic book form in Avengers 201-202.

But the story wasn’t perfect- Hawkeye’s juvenile dialogue was grating even when I read it in 1979 – and I was the perfect age at which this story was aimed. Given more pages, his character could have been fleshed out. The “I am the weakest member which explains my sophomoric bravado” shtick (used a lot during the “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” days of the Avengers) was only touched on. He redeemed himself, of course, and showed him to be as heroic as any of the other more powerful Avengers, but by then I was sick of the shtick…

Captain America barked some commands and threw his Mighty Shield, but little else. The book focused on the members of the Avengers who hadn’t gotten their own novel yet … with one exception …

I wish there would have been more Thor!

Talk about hands-on management: Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter could still kick out a wonderful and readable tale! This could have easily been made into a full-length story with more action added (going after Ultron’s mechanical robotic “army” – two, count ‘em – with more time spent on Hawkeye, Cap and Thor). Why wasn’t it?

***

Daredevil, “Blind Justice” by Kyle Christopher.

Christopher is the pen name for Martin Pasko, an Emmy-award winning writer known by us Bronze Age fans as a writer of Superman family of stories and the Swamp Thing revival. His origin reboot of Dr. Fate is still considered canon.  He also wrote Bronze Age Wonder Woman and the World’s Greatest Superheroes comic strip.

Comic book scribe Mark Waid (Kingdom Come, Flash) lists this story as one of “the five most underrated Daredevil stories you must read” (http://13thdimension.com/the-five-most-underrated-daredevil-stories-you-must-read-by-mark-waid/) and with good reason!

A man and woman are put in witness protection after finking on the local mafia. They are treated so improperly by the government they come out of hiding and hire Nelson and Murdock to sue. The mob, headed by the Owl, go after the couple (and Foggy) with lethal force. Daredevil discovers a mob informant within their circle of office staff and friends (that’s as close as I can get without spoiling). Daredevil’s origin is also recapped.

The story is secondary compared to the parts detailing Daredevil’s abilities. His ability to “see” even though blind is superbly explained throughout the short story. He can read emotions by hearing pulse rates and heart beats; he determines body language by sensing air currents. He can read newsprint due to the shape of the ink on the paper. Describing these details in prose is handled better than when tried in comic book form – at least when Pasko is writing it.

***

The X-Men, “Children of the Atom” by Mary Jo Duffy.

This would have been among Duffy’s first work in the industry. Her first Marvel stories were in 1979: the start of her long run on Power Man/Iron Fist, an excellent story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Old Republic in Star Wars #26 (a personal favorite) and issues of Defenders and Marvel Two-in-One.

She gives us an excellent story that serves as a great primer for the X-Men. Considering the complex weave of the franchise over the past few decades, it is tempting to call the story simplistic, but it is not. It is a wonderful short story.

For ten pages we are introduced to Salem Center and Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, Professor X and six of his students: Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Banshee, Storm and Colossus.

American and Soviet missiles are straying from their projected paths during an international test. Professor X deduces they are affected by a magnetic anomaly barely traceable at the Arctic Circle.

Who could be behind it? (I know! I know! Ooo! Ooo! Mr. Kotter!)

The X-Men go to the magnetic anomaly and find the stronghold of the supervillain of the piece … a mutant named …

No, not the Toad!

***

The Incredible Hulk, “Museum Piece” by Len Wein.

Len Wein is the co-creator of Marvel’s Wolverine as well as being the one who joined him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men he also co-created DC’s Swamp Thing. Here he writes of the Hulk meeting Marvel’s version of the muck-encrusted mockery of a man. In a literary sense, Len Wein shows us his Man-Thing.

This is the only story in the Marvel Novel Series what was a comic book first – a prose story adapted from Incredible Hulk #s 197-198 (also written by Len Wein).

The Hulk battles local Florida police and ends up carried by a helicopter to the everglades. After battling alligators and snakes, the Hulk finally rests and changes back to Banner. Bruce finds a small, mute, grey-colored man and befriends him just as they are attacked by pirates. Yes, pirates.

Turning into the Hulk, he dispatches the pirates quickly but then confronts their master – the Collector! The Collector turns the grey man into the Golem and orders it to attack Hulk.

The Collector also has Man-Thing in his sway, and orders Man-Thing to attack Hulk, too.

Hulk and his two friends are locked in a pod and kept docile by ankle-bracelets. Turning back into Banner, he easily slips through the ankle-bracelets; Golem and Man-Thing then slip through their bracelets easily due to their powers.

Hulk befriends Scheherazade and eventually confronts the Collector and his minions: alien warriors, soldiers from history, etc. Man-Thing and the Golem join in.

It’s a Monster Mash and an incredibly fun story! It was a good comic book, too!

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.

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Adventure Comics #446: Aquaman and the Creeper!

DC SALUTES THE BICENTENNIAL

#31

Adventure Comics #446

Adventure_Comics_Vol_1_446

Published bi-monthly, thirty cents, August

Cover artist: Jim Aparo

Editor: Joe Orlando

            Until its first cancellation in 1982, Adventure Comics was the oldest continually running comic book on the stands (back when there were stands…). Its first issue was called New Comics dated December 1935 by someone calling themselves National Allied Publications. It changed its title with issue #12 (January 1937) to New Adventure Comics. The New was removed in November 1938 and remained that way until its cancellation (although during the Spectre’s run in the early 1970s it was called Weird Adventure Comics, as part of the Weird line: Weird Mystery, Weird War, Weird Western, etc. Weird). Some New Adventure Comics are available for viewing at the online library Comic Books Plus.

            It went from a comic of humorous stories to action/adventure tales during this time – some stories were written and drawn by eventual-Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Seigel.

            At the dawn of the superhero age Adventure dove right in with the debut of the Sandman with issue #40, Hourman (#48, March 1940), Starman (61, April, 1941) and Simon & Kirby’s Manhunter (#73, April 1942).  When More Fun Comics changed formats to humor stories, its characters moved to Adventure, including Superboy, as of issue #103 (April 1946).  In issue #247 (April 1958) the Legion of Superheroes debuted. They eventually shared billing with Superboy during their classic run. They were replaced by a solo Supergirl lead as of issue #381 (June 1969). She starred in the comic until #424 (October 1972)

            The comic switched back to its adventure roots for the next few issues (Captain Fear debuted) before Black Orchid debuted in #428 (August 1973).

            With issue #431 (February 1974), the Spectre began his iconic run of stories by Michael Fleisher/Jim Aparo that were more in the supernatural setting than the superhero one.

            Aquaman (a back-up feature for a time – with Mike Grell’s first DC work – although published after he took over the Legion’s art from Dave Cockrum) took over as the main feature as of issue #441 (October 1975).  This is where our Bicentennial issue comes in…

            During this run the readers were treated to some fantastic back-up features; including the aforementioned return of Aquaman and a “lost” story of the Seven Soldiers of Victory.

            Superboy returned home as of issue #453 (October 1977) until the comic reverted to its anthology roots by becoming a Dollar Comic as of issue #459 (October 1978) and featuring, in various issues, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Deadman, Elongated Man and Aquaman. This lasted for seven issues. As a Dollar Comic, Adventure became a bit of a repository to wrap up story arcs from cancelled comics: the New Gods and the Justice Society of America completed their storylines (most notably the JSA tale featured the death of the Earth-2 Batman, a critical moment in the creation of the Huntress).

            With the new decade Adventure returned to standard size as of issue #457 (January 1980) with a new version of Starman debuting, sharing the bill with Plastic Man (and eventually a three-way bill with the returning Aquaman) through issue #478. Issue #479 (March 1981) featured a rebooted Dial H for Hero, where two normal people turned into fan-created superheroes, until #490 (February 1982).

            The title was revived in September 1982 as a digest-sized comic featuring new tales of Shazam and Challengers of the Unknown. It was mainly a reprint series for the Legion of Superheroes. Those reprints eventually took over the book until its final cancellation as of issue 503 (September 1983).

            Adventure Comics was revived a few more times and in September 2010 was brought back with new numbering through twelve issues, but then resuming the older numbering with #516 (503 + twelve new issues, you see) again as a Legion vehicle until finally put to rest as of issue #529 (October 2011).

***

            This is the only comic of the Bicentennial line that recognizes the Bicentennial on the cover other than the top header. Aquaman, king of a foreign state, is happily waving the Stars and Stripes on the left side of the cover. Atlantis honoring our birthday! Of course, he IS half-American on his father’s side. Was he the first comic book anchor baby? 😉

The Manta-Ray Means Murder”, Paul Levitz/Marty Pasko ( w ), Jim Aparo (a)

 Adventure 466-2

            The splash page shows Topo the octopus strangling Arthur Jr., but the dumb brute was only rescuing the baby – who was crawling to the exit. Robin calls the Sea King to report he has not been able to find Aqualad. Aquaman tells Robin of recent events – his being deposed and banished from Atlantis – and tells Robin to warn Aqualad when found to avoid the undersea kingdom lest he be shot on sight!

 adventure 466-3

            Meanwhile, Aqualad and Tula (Aquagirl) are on a gambling boat in Louisiana to stop a diamond-smuggling ring. Aqualad fights off the smugglers but if finally knocked out. He is revived to discover the ringleader is Black Manta! Manta catches Tula eavesdropping and, not knowing who she is, ties her up and throws her into the sea to her supposed death!

 adventure 466-1

            Interlude: while Aquaman is away, his successor Karshon, plots an assault on Mera and Arthur Jr.

            Aquaman finds Tula and unties her. They raid the gambling boat, rescue Aqualad and beat Manta to a pulp. Black Manta ducks out and escapes, even fighting off a giant squid holding his manta-ship. On board, Aquaman discovers a cache of underwater laser rifles – the kind used by his successor Karshon. Manta was not only smuggling diamonds, but running guns to Atlantis!

            This story was reprinted in the trade paperback Death of a Prince, 2011.

***

Mind Over Murder”, Martin Pasko ( w ), Ric Estrada and Joe Staton (a). Part two of three.

 creeper

            A solo Creeper tale. He first appeared in 1968 in Showcase #73 and in his own comic for a time. He was a creation of Steve Ditko and the art here is reminiscent of his style.

            At the Humbolt Institute for the physically handicapped, the Creeper saved Dr. Joanne Russell from a brutal assault from a giant plastic monster that had already killed one therapist. The four policemen charge into the room and train their guns on our hero – thinking him responsible! The Creeper fights off the police.

            Creeper remembers the plastic killer – he saw it during an interview with Dr. Vernon Maddox in his secret identity as TV reporter Jack Ryder. Maddox could control a mannequin with his telekinetic power.

            As Ryder visits Russell, a sleeping Maddox subconsciously activates the killer mannequin. Russell tells the Creeper that she and Maddox are rivals competing for the same grant money, but is that reason enough to kill her? While they talk, the mannequin attacks!  Russell, on the Creeper’s instructions, calls Maddox and wakes him. Maddoz uses his telekinetic power to force Russell to walk out the window of her high-storied hospital room! To be continued!

 

 

Dateline Adventure: letters for Adventure Comics #444. All positive letters praising the Aquaman series (and rightly so, it was a great run) by Kevin L. Callahan, Brea, CA, Scott Gibson, Evergreen, CO and Scott R. Taylor, Portland, TX.

***

Join me next time for DC’s Bicentennial issue #32: Tarzan #251

 

Original Material copyright 2015 Michael Curry

Images used are copyright their respective holders and reproduced here under the “Fair Use” doctrine of 17 USC 106 & 106a for the purposes of criticism and comment.