Friday, July 22, 2011

'Marvel Fanfare' #12

'Marvel Annfare'

(Above:Back cover for 'Marvel Fanfare' #12)
Since the multimillion blockbuster 'Captain America' movie was released last weekend, I thought it was a good time to look at another AEM story that (sort of) featured Cap.

A little background on this series:

'Marvel Fanfare' was launched in late 1981 (#1 was cover dated March 1982). It was an anthology series printed on glossy Baxter paper. Most issues contained more than one story.

The Editor for the series was long-time writer-artist Al Milgrom. At the beginning of every issue, the inside cover featured a comic strip called 'Editori-Al', where Milgrom(who also drew the strips) spoke directly to the reader. Here's one, from 'Marvel Fanfare' #5:

And Milgrom was usually featured in the corner on most issues of the series too:

Since the book's Editor also served as its "mascot", 'Fanfare' was more AEM-ready than any other title!

But back to #12, starting with the cover. The Black Widow is the main attraction(since the first story of this issue is part 3 of a 4-part Widow story), and it's a "normal" story.

But the corner box shows Milgrom getting pushed aside by Assistant Editor Ann Nocenti, who was featured in an earlier post.

With Editor Milgrom "away" at the Comic-con, Nocenti also takes over his strip, renaming it 'Editori-Gal'. We get appearances from several Marvel creators pitching ideas for future 'Marvel Fanfare' stories. She approves all the story proposals and acting as Editor of 'Fanfare' seems to come naturally and easily to Nocenti.
Check out the "sketch" of Longshot behind Nocenti in the 2nd panel, 2 years before the character mad his debut!

After the Black Widow story, we get to 'Marvel Annfare', written by Nocenti and Roger Stern, with Milgrom providing the art. It sort of picks up where 'Editori-Gal' left off.
Stern rushes in to Nocenti's office.

Stern's upset because no Editors are present and he has ideas he wants to pitch to them. The Assistant Editors don't have the authority to approve of future storylines beyond AEM. Stern is worried he won't be able to get ahead of schedule, which was rare in those days. Nocenti points out that he has extra time to work on an upcoming Captain America story that will be published in 'Fanfare'.
Stern is too depressed to write the story, so Nocenti decides he needs inspiration. She (literally) breaks out a Captain America costume for Stern to wear, hoping to spark his creativity.
Check out panel 3 on the above page for a horrible pun about Thor's Uru Hammer!

Stern dons the Cap suit, and Nocenti is impressed with how great it looks on him!

Until she realizes she was looking at the real Cap, who pops in for a cameo. Stern looks silly in the ill-fitting costume, but Nocenti keeps offering encouragement:

Stern used to write Cap's series and remembers that Cap's principles not his strength & agility were his defining characteristic. He waxes poetic about Cap being a symbol for the qualities that make America great. Stern then gets a little gung-ho and throws Cap's shield around the Marvel offices.
The shield bounces off walls and eventually out the window into the garbage. After debating about what sound effect the shield made when it hit the dumpster, they go outside to retrieve it, but are frightened by what they see.

They stumble on a gang of tough, scary looking vandals who are defacing Marvel's exterior walls! One of them pulls the shield out of the dumpster and Stern is reluctant to ask him to give it back. Nocenti tells him to embrace his inner-Captain America and reason with the vandals.

Much to his surprise, "Captain Ameri-Stern" is able to talk down the vandals and actually convinces them to take pride in their city. They proceed to clean their graffiti off the walls!

They return inside, Stern takes off the suit. He is ready to write the Cap story and thanks Nocenti for aiding the creative process. But suddenly a package from Al Milgrom arrives. It's a stack of Avengers stories for Stern, so the 'Captain America' story is pushed to the back burner.

Feeling a sense of accomplishment, Nocenti returns to her desk. Suddenly, another writer rushes in with a similar problem:It's Bill Mantlo! His proposal for a Rocket Raccoon/Jack Of Hearts team-up has been turned down by Marvel. Nocenti realizes that she's in for a long day, and she has learned that being a full-time Editor is hard work. The end.

Another funny story from AEM. I love the "Orphan Annie" eyes that Milgrom gives Nocenti. It was nice to flashback to the old Marvel Bullpen and the cameos of 80s creators (including the late Frank Springer).

And while we're on the subject of Stern & Captain America, I recommend all readers pick up the Captain America tpb called 'War And Remembrance', written by Stern. I contains some of the all-time best Cap stories!

The issue ends with 'Robbie's Page'. 'Fanfare' normally ended with 'Shooter's Page', a column written by Editor In Chief Jim Shooter. He would talk about the industry, offer commentary on comics, storytelling techniques, stuff like that. But since it's AEM, this month's edition was written by Marvel Colorist Robbie Carosella. He talks about his work in the Marvel Stat room and the Marvel Softball team, which he managed at the time.

Coming up next:
Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Late Book!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

'Iron Man' #178 Part 2


Today's Iron Man story represents the darker side of Assistant Editors' Month. As we saw in the earlier entry that covered 'Incredible Hulk' #291, not every AEM story was a laugh riot.
We pick up from where we left off in the last post: Assistant Editor Mike Carlin's laughter over part 1 turns into tears over the second story of #178:

'Struggle!' was written by Denny O'Neil, drawn by Luke McDonnell and inked by Steve Mitchell. Once again, we get a different origin banner on the splash page, which nicely sets up the story.
It begins with a hung-over, homeless Tony Stark wandering aimlessly through New York on a hot summer day.

That's some nice descriptive text from O'Neil, I can taste copper in my mouth after reading it!

A man throws Stark a quarter, his companion says it's wrong to give their "hard-earned money away to bums!". Stark protests, saying he's no bum, but a millionaire and a superhero.

Two NYPD officers (let's call them "younger cop" and "older cop", they're never named) notice the slumped over figure of Stark and confront him. He denies being a "drunk", saying he just got out of detox for a "nervous condition". Stark's refusal to admit he has an alcohol problem disgusts younger cop and older cop says Stark is "hopeless".

I have to say that this is one of the lowest points I've seen for any comic book character. This is right up there with Spider-Man after the death of Gwen Stacy.

Younger cop makes a bet with Stark. He'll give him $50 if he can stay sober until midnight. Stark accepts and walks away. We learn that younger cop's father was an alcoholic. He made the bet with Stark knowing that staying sober will be a painful experience.

Stark spends his last quarter on a phone call to Jim Rhodes, who isn't home. Morely Irwin (a former Stark employee) answers the phone, but Stark won't talk to him.

Stark remembers another former employee named Vic Martinelli lives nearby and heads for his apartment. He passes a bar on the way, fixating on the "open" sign on the door.
Vic lends him $20, but Stark disappointed that he hasn't quit his job even though Obadiah Stane now runs the company. He tells Stark he can't expect loyalty anymore because "you drank it away." Vic regrets yelling at Stark, but the damage is done. Stark passes a bar and hears two men talk about getting "knee-walkin' drunk". He contemplates joining them for a drink, but changes his mind.

Instead, Stark enters the bar and uses the pay phone to call his former secretary Bambi Arbogast. She asks if he's been drinking and recommends Alcoholics Anonymous for Stark. He won't do it, still insisting he's not an alcoholic.
Stark is asked to leave the bar if he isn't drinking. Back on the streets, he encounters a man named Ozzie Sanborn, who recognizes Stark from detox. Ozzie says that his liver and kidneys will stop working if he keeps drinking, but his alcoholism is so intense that he doesn't care.
Ozzie's "girlfriend" Gretl(who Ozzie "just met") offers to buy drinks for everyone, Stark turns them down, which angers Ozzie. Left alone again, Stark wonders why he didn't take them up on the drink, as his withdrawal symptoms worsen and he doubles over in pain on a bench.
Stark falls asleep on the bench and is woken up by a policeman who tells him "it's almost midnight". Stark goes to meet younger cop and collect his $50. He says "in five minutes, I'll be drinking again" and thanks the officer for showing him that he is indeed an alcoholic. Younger cop is glad Stark has admitted his addiction, and cries, telling him "That's the reason I did it...You see, my old man was a drunk." The end.

Great story. Tony Stark(and Iron Man,for that matter) was never my favorite character, but I sympathized with him in this story. When I first read this, my image of alcoholics came from "very special episodes" of sitcoms. Ozzie's line about drinking even though he knows it will kill him is still chilling all these years later. O'Neil, McDonnell and Mitchell did a great job here of conveying the pain and emptiness of addiction as well as the disdain some people have for "drunks".

Ann Nocenti helps Roger Stern find creative inspiration!

Monday, July 11, 2011

'Iron Man' #178 Part 1

'Once An Avenger, Always An Avenger!'

Welcome back to 'Assistant Editors' Month', today we look at an "Iron Man" story unlike any other.

Some context:

During this era, ‘Iron Man’ was written by Denny O’Neil. Tony Stark had a relapse of his alcoholism, which cost him control of his company Stark International and forced him to give up his Iron Man armor. Obadiah Stane took over the company(renaming it ‘Stane International’) and James Rhodes(Stark’s Chief Of Security) became the new Iron Man. Stark eventually defeated Stane and regained control of his company in 'Iron Man' #200.

The Assistant Editor for this issue was Mike Carlin, we “met” him in an earlier AEM post. Let's recap 'Iron Man' #178, starting with the cover:

In the corner box, Iron Man is turning his back on the issue, and we get the checkerboards and ‘MC’ logo parodying DC’s logo of the 60s again. A disheveled Stark is walking the streets while a boy tears down & defaces posters of Iron Man. Also, if you look closely at the graffiti, you’ll see “Luke + Stevie was here”.

The cover was drawn by Luke McDonnell and inked by Steve Mitchell, that’s a nice way to “sign” the cover.

Instead of the usual "origin" recap normally found atop the splash page, we get an explanation for Editor Mark Gruenwald's "absence":

'Once An Avenger, Always An Avenger' was written by Bob Harras with art by the aforementioned McDonnell and Mitchell.

We open on a kid contemplating vandalism, but he is stopped by the Avengers…or more accurately, a group of young children in homemade “Avengers” costumes. We learn the would-be vandal is Blackie Donovan and the Kostumed Kiddies have pledged to watch the car while its owner is hospitalized.

Donovan promises them they will pay for their interference, while he is taken home by Officer Kelly, the neighborhood beat cop. He wishes Donovan would act more like the "Avenger" kids and we get the impression this isn't the first time Donovan has been caught being a bad boy.

I've always thought that Officer Kelly looked like the Avengers long-time Government Liaison Henry Peter Gyrich. I wonder if that was intentional?

Just like the “real” Avengers, the kids hold a weekly membership meeting, “Iron Man”, whose real name is Mikey, is commended for catching Donovan, but then gets some bad news. In the (then) current issues of ‘The Avengers’, Iron Man had recently left the team, therefore this Iron Man must leave their team.

This part of the story really hit home for me. When I was a kid, I had a friend who always insisted on strict adherence to comic book "continuity" when we played "superheroes". For instance, when we played with Mego dolls, we couldn't use the Joker because Joker was "dead" at the time.

Mikey begs the team to let him stay, but their decision is final.

Mikey wanders the streets, dejected, and discards his “helmet”. Unbeknownst to him, it’s picked up by a shadowy figure, who absconds with it.

On the following day, Iron Man goes on a bullying rampage, breaking toys, stealing bikes and taking lunch money.

When the Avengers go out on a neighborhood "patrol", all the children run away from them in fear.

They’re confused, until Officer Kelly tells them of Iron Man’s recent shenanigans. The Avengers are determined to get to the bottom of this!

Meanwhile, we catch up with Mikey, who just like his hero Iron Man, is “hitting the bottle”…the Coke bottle, that is.

Mikey’s former teammates chide him for Iron Man’s behavior, he pleads innocent and decides to clear his name, Iron Man-style! We get a nice "montage" of Mikey modifying a suit of armor.

A day later, we find Iron Man(literally) taking candy from a baby! Suddenly, the Avengers show up, followed by another Iron Man...on roller skates!

Before anyone has a chance to yell "Shoot Us both,Spock!", the battle is over! The bogus Iron Man is unmasked and revealed to be none other than...Blackie Donovan! . Officer Kelly shows up and tells Donovan he's taking him home to face his mother's punishment. The Avengers apologize and offer Avengers membership to Mikey. He accepts their apology, rejoins the team, and our story ends with the Avengers traditional battle cry!

The end.

Next up, we get a one-page strip written, drawn and "starring" Mike Carlin:

He's laughing over the previous tale about the kids, which prompts him to go on a tangent about 'Little Rascals' short films. But then he remembers how sad the issue's next story is and fights back tears.

And that's where I'll leave you, next time we'll cover Part 2 of this issue.

Thank you Bob Harass, Luke McDonnell,Steve Mitchell and Mike Carlin for another fun AEM story!


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Star Wars #79

(Disclaimer:'Star Wars', it's characters, names, and other elements are the sole and exclusive property of Lucasfilm Limited.)

Star Wars:The Assistant Editor Strikes Back
It is a dark time for Star Wars fans.
Return Of The Jedi has come and gone from most theaters.
Darth Vader is dead and there are no more Star Wars movies for the foreseeable future.
Many fans were disappointed in the last chapter of the trilogy.
The next novel is 8 years away.
But suddenly, a new champion of The Force appears….
Eliot R. Brown!

Today we look at the Star Wars issue that came out during AEM.
Marvel published a series of Star Wars comics that ran from 1977 until 1986. The first 6 issues adapted the first film, after that we got original stories featuring Han, Luke, Leia, et al.  The series varied in quality from great to "what were they thinking" but it was usually a lot of fun. Lucasfilm exercised strict control over the series most of the time.  For a long time it was the only thing remotely resembling an "extended" universe beyond the movies.

Let's take a look at Star Wars #79. We get a good, typical space-opera story here, no funny credits or oddball plot.  But I love the Han Solo/Harrison Ford caricature on the splash page.  Nice work here by penciler Ron Frenz and inker Tom Palmer:
At the end of the issue, we get a one-page strip featuring another appearance from Assistant Editor Eliot R. Brown (who wrote and drew the strip), who we met back in the first post of 'AEM Online'.
Let's take a closer look at this strip:
Brown offers to show the readers how to make their own Darth Vader costume.
He begins with some typical household items, but then it starts getting bizarre...and dangerous.
Brown's ridiculous "Vader" costume is complete, but someone important doesn't approve.

It's George Lucas!  Brown feels the wrath of The Force from the most powerful Jedi of them all! When I first read this, I thought Lucas might be violating one of the most important tenets of The Force.  Remember what Yoda said?:
"A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack."
But upon further review, I guess we can say that Lucas is "defending" his concept from Brown, so that makes it okay!
Thanks to Eliot R. Brown for writing and drawing a short but funny strip, and thanks to Lucasfilm for approving it.
Check back in a few days for 'Iron Man:Shame Of The City!'