Comics Ate My Brain

January 12, 2006

The Sucker and the Suck

Filed under: fantastic four, howard the duck, hulk, meta, she-hulk, spider-man — Tom Bondurant @ 3:48 am
I am a sucker for ’70s Marvel. Lately I am tempted by the Essential Nova solicitation. (Naturally, while I was noodling around with this post, Jim Roeg professed his love for ’70s Marvel and the Onion AV Club posted its list of Essential Essentials. That’s me, always a half-step behind the zeitgeist.)

Sometimes the temptation pays off, as with Essential Howard the Duck and most of Essential Tomb of Dracula, but sometimes it just yields cultural relics like Essential Super-Villain Team-Up and Essential Spider-Woman. (Spider-Woman wasn’t exactly headlight comics; but if there had been a WB Network in the mid-’70s, “Spider-Woman” would have been on it, complete with Mike Post soundtrack.)

Still, why the ’70s? In those grade-school days, I did read a decent amount of Marvel, probably even approaching my DC intake. Most of it was Avengers, Iron Man, and Spider-Man (both monthlies and Marvel Team-Up), with the odd issues of What If?, Fantastic Four, Howard the Duck, Godzilla, and (yes) Spider-Woman.

Since the late ’80s, though, my Marvel intake has been creator-driven. I got the Michelinie/McFarlane Amazing Spider-Man, the Peter David Incredible Hulk (probably kicked off by David and Perez’ Future Imperfect miniseries), the Waid/Garney Captain America, the Busiek/Perez Avengers, and the Busiek/Chen Iron Man. Now I get the Brubaker/Epting/Lark Captain America. As for the other current Marvel buys, all the great word of mouth on She-Hulk convinced me to pick it up, because I had no particular affection for the character and didn’t know much more about Dan Slott. Fantastic Four is the only Marvel book I read solely for the characters, although Walt Simonson first got me to buy it regularly.

The thing about Marvel, of course, is that its superhero line aims for consistency, as if all the books were charting the same fictional history. It’s therefore easy to justify a love of ’60s Marvel, when the stories were relatively simple but the foundations were still being laid. Accordingly, it’s harder to love Marvel the farther away it gets from those foundations.

While I’m sure someone has tried, I don’t know where the line is which separates the foundations of Marvel from the structures resting upon them. I do think the ’70s represent the beginnings of those structures. Although Marvel in the ’70s tried to expand its line around Spidey and the Hulk, it hadn’t yet exploded with miniseries and spinoffs. Instead, there were new characters like Howard, Dracula, Shang-Chi, and Killraven, which today inspire curious old fans like me to plop down $16.99 for their Essential collections.

To me the Essentials represent two categories of comics: those I’d revisit out of nostalgia and curiosity to see how well they held up; and those I only remember by reputation. Essential Nova is in the first group, and Essential Killraven is in the second. (Essential Howard the Duck was good either way.) I tend to be more satisfied with the second group, but because I am a sucker, the first group will always be well-represented.

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