Thursday, May 26, 2011

'Conan The Barbarian' #154

Now it’s time for a trip to Cimmeria, during the Hyborian Age, as we take a look at ‘Conan The Barbarian’ #154.
Our Assistant Editor for this title is Jim Owsley, he was Larry Hama’s Assistant at the time.
Owsley has had a long career as a writer and editor for the Marvel, DC and Acclaim comic companies. He was the first African-American writer and editor in comics, and became a Marvel editor at the age of 22, making him the youngest in the business. He was also one of the founders of Milestone Media.
In the 1990s, he changed his name to Christopher J. Priest and has continued to work in the industry. He’s also an ordained Baptist Minister. For more info on him & his career, check out Priest’s website here

As for Conan #154, you’ll notice that the cover has a circle that says “MC” inside it.

That's an homage/parody of the old "checkerboard" logo DC Comics used in the 1960s.

Inside, instead of a traditional splash page, we get a “Special Edition” of 'The Hyborian Page, Conan's letters page. Owsley gives us an essay about ‘Caesar’s Commentary on the Gallic War’. By the third paragraph, he veers way off course and gives a funny review of ‘Jaws III’ (which was in theaters shortly before this issue was published).

I’m not proud to admit that I saw ‘Jaws II’ in theaters, and I have to say that Owsley was correct here.

And now we get to this issue’s story, called ‘The Man-Bats Of Ur-Xanarrh!’

Like the cover logo, the title is a reference to The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, a Batman from another planet who first appeared during the Silver Age.

I’ll admit that I’ve never been much of a Conan fan, only picked up a few issues here and there. But besides the title, I don’t notice anything funny or odd about this issue, just a typical "Conan vs. Bad Guys story". If any Conan experts happen to read this, maybe they can point out “offbeat” stuff about this story.

That's it for now, check back in a few days when AEM looks at fashions of 1983...and 1964.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

'The Incredible Hulk' #291

'Old Soldiers Never Die!'

Today we look at a Hulk issue from Assistant Editors’ Month. This was published during the era when Bruce Banner could control his transformations and Hulk kept Banner’s intellect.    n                           The Assistant Editor for this issue was Ann Nocenti

Nocenti is probably best remembered as co-creator of Longshot and for her run as writer on Daredevil in the late 80s, with John Romita Jr. and Al Williamson providing the art.     I loved that run, it was the best post-Miller run I can think of.  Typhoid was created by Nocenti in those DD issues and continues to be one of Daredevil’s greatest foes.       TPBs of these stories can be easily obtained. Nocenti’s stories often dealt with socio-political topics, which ultimately lead her to a career in Journalism and documentary filmmaking.  She currently teaches film in Haiti. You can find Nocenti's personal web site here.
The cover of this issue features a caricature of Nocenti as Hulk in the cover corner:

This story is one of the more serious to be published during AEM.  It opens with Bruce Banner paying a visit to the Marvel offices looking for his “official biographers”, the classic Hulk creative team of writer Bill Mantlo and artist Sal Buscema.  His greatest enemy, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross has recently betrayed his country by working with MODOK and the Abomination.  Banner wonders if revealing this to the world would damage the United States:

This leads us to the issue’s main feature, by the aforementioned Mantlo and Buscema with inks by Gerry Talaoc.  It’s a Thunderbolt Ross solo story, in which the General looks back on his life and endless feud with the Hulk.
We learn that Ross is a third generation officer, who married his Captain’s daughter .
It was during World War II (then)Captain Ross earned his nickname:
Victory in WWII and Korea only made Ross restless, since he was happiest when he was in combat.
Ross loved his daughter Betty.  But women couldn’t be soldiers in those days, so he would always be disappointed that she wasn’t a son.  The death of his wife created even more emotional distance between Ross and his daughter.

Ross’s flashback eventually leads to his involvement with the Gamma Bomb project, created by Dr. Bruce Banner.  Ross hated civilians, especially scientists, and was sickened to learn his daughter was in love with Banner.  The Gamma Bomb, of course, explodes and turns Banner into the Hulk, setting off the war between Ross and the Hulk.  Like past wars, this new conflict gave new meaning to Ross’ life.
Their war seemed to end when Banner gained power of his transformations, allowing the Hulk to become a full-fledged superhero.  Pres. Reagan pardoned the Hulk for his past crimes, overriding Ross’ objections. This leads Ross to conclude he must go outside the law to defeat the Hulk, seeking out super-villains, and thus, betraying his sworn oath to the United States. His daughter calls him a “traitor”.
His collaboration with criminals has destroyed his career and legacy, Ross removes his decorations and contemplates suicide.  He ultimately decides that the next war will be learning to live with his actions:

We cut back to the Marvel offices. Nocenti watches the Hulk walk away in a rain storm:
This is a powerful story, and nice example of how a comic book can be good even without action or fight scenes.  When this was published, Ross had been a comic character for 21 years.  In some ways, this story fleshes out his character more than all stories that came before it.  Ross is the sort of warrior who can never be at peace with the world or himself.  Kudos to Mantlo, Buscema and Talaoc, ‘Old Soldiers Never Die’ belongs on any list of “essential” Hulk stories!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

'Uncanny X-men' #177 and 'New Mutants' #11

We kick off our look-back at Assistant Editors' Month with a Double-Shot of mutants...and Eliot R. Brown!
As impossible as it seems today, in 1983 there were only two monthly titles dedicated to Marvel's mutants. Heck, a year earlier there was only 'Uncanny X-men'. Assistant Editor Eliot R. Brown was "filling in" for regular Editor Louise Jones (later known as Louise Simonson) on 'Uncanny X-men' and 'The New Mutants' during AEM.

A little background about Brown:In addition to being an Assistant Editor, he also contributed many sketches of Marvel vehicles, weapons and technology to 'The Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe' and other Marvel "manuals". You can find examples of Brown's technical sketches at his official site.

We begin with a look at 'Uncanny X-men' #177. The cover is normal, with the exception of the Assistant Editors "warning" on the bottom left.

There's nothing funny or offbeat about the story(it's not very good, but this wasn't a very good period of this title). But instead of the letters page, we get a visit from Brown. He's seen here sketching the X-men's SR-71 Blackbird. Professor X thinks he's taking too long and does something we've never seen him do before:

In 'New Mutants' #11, Brown shows up in the corner box, with antlers drawn on his head!

Here's a closeup:

The story inside is standard New Mutants fare, continuing a story from the previous issue. But at the end, Brown announces a "contest" for the readers:

I wonder if anyone entered that contest?

FYI:In addition to starring in both these back-up features, Brown also wrote and drew them.
Thankfully, Brown wrote and appeared in other titles during AEM, I'll discuss those issues here another time, but that's all for now,


Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Why Assistant Editors’ Month?

The early 1980s were a great time to be reading Marvel Comics.
Phoenix became Dark Phoenix and the X-men were never the same.
Spider-man gained a new arch-villain in Hobgoblin, and an alien costume.
Daredevil was battling The Kingpin, Bullseye and assorted ninjas.
Aunt May gained cosmic powers and saved the world from Galactus.

What, you don’t remember that last one?

Back in October of 1983, Marvel launched its first (and only) Assistant Editors’ Month. The comics were cover dated January,1984. The event was announced by Editor In Chief Jim Shooter in the December 1983 edition of ‘Bullpen Bulletins’, shown in this image:
Mike Carlin (Marvel’s Senior Assistant Editor at the time) discussed AEM in ‘Back Issue’ #19:
“ ...Macy’s would have sales where their assistant buyers would be in charge of buying all the stuff that they’d sell. So the idea was that Jim(Shooter,Marvel's Editor In Chief in '83) was going to be taking all the editors out to the Comic-Con in San Diego-all the main editors were going to be out of the office at the same time-and wouldn’t it be funny if the books that came out the month that they were traveling to San Diego reflected the fact that the editors were gone. That,to him, meant the books wouldn’t be quite normal.[laughs]”

In reality, it was just a gimmick. The stories were written & edited months before the editors left for the Comic-con. The issues actually edited by the assistants contained typical, “normal” stories.
I was 12 at the time, probably just the right age to appreciate the (mostly sophomoric) humor. One thing I enjoyed was the “comics insider” nature of the books. Most of the jokes would only be understood by longtime readers. Back then, Marvel made the readers feel like they belonged to a community, these stories felt like a "reward" for a Marvelite like myself!
This blog will review & recap stories from all comics that participated in Assistant Editors’ Month.

Most of the issues that month featured weird/offbeat/humorous stories. Some were great, some were just, okay. But they were certainly all memorable stories. Some just had regular stories, followed by a humorous short, or a one-page “joke” pin-up. Some sites/blogs have covered AEM(I've linked to them), but I plan to go a little further than they did.

This blog’s creation is highly inspired by the aforementioned article in ‘Back Issue’(you can order it here. I’m sure I’ll be referencing that article a few more times.
I was inspired by the blogs/sites listed below, I hope I can be half as good as you these folks:
Bronze Age Babies
Marvel Genesis
Spidey Kicks Butt!
Two Girls, A Guy And Some Comics
Diversions Of The Groovy Kind
Spider-Man Crawlspace
Marvel Comics Of The 1980s
Dave’s Long Box
And I'd also like to thank all the Marvel creators who wrote,drew or edited the stories that will be covered here.
So if you loved ‘Assistant Editors’ Month’ as much as I did, or you’ve never read any of the stories, I hope you enjoy this blog.