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Marvel Value Stamps 1-8

Welcome back to the chamber of horrors that is the Marvel Value Stamp book.

Today we crack open the book of doom to regard the first page of this book of woe. Screw your courage to the sticking place!

There you go. I managed to score exactly half of the stamps required to fill out this page. This will be a recurring theme.

And before we go any further, you know those “stamps” weren’t stamps, right? They just had a little stamp graphic around the outside. You cut them out of comics, and they were made of comics newsprint. Did this stop twelve-year-old me from licking the back of one? You know it did not.

Spitting out that taste of ink, I instead folded a little cylinder of Scotch Tape behind each stamp, and lovingly stuck them into my album, where they remain to this day.

A pretty standard selection of Marvel heroes here, but seeing Conan and those monsters lets you know you’re in the seventies. Conan featured on the cover of the album, too — he was big Marvel’s Bronze Age (and is making a comeback — Jason Aaron’s new Conan book is pretty good).

Hang on! That’s too chatty, too optimistic! I’m supposed to be angry and scared about what happened here!

So let’s take a look at where these diabolical “stamps” came from, and what their books of origin might cost today if I didn’t cut them up with a razor!

  • #1 Spider-Man: Captain Marvel #35 – $8
  • #2 Hulk: Iron Man #70 – $14
  • #7 Werewolf: Daredevil #114 – $66 (Romita begins)
  • #8 Captain America: Defenders #15 – $16

Looking for those books in VF/8.0 condition, those books together would cost me $104.00 today. Not too terrible a price to pay for a young man’s folly. I shouldn’t take it so hard, I know.

(I know.)

Marvel Value Stamp info sourced through the Marvel Value Stamps Index. Thanks to Billy King for Marvel Value Stamp horror scenes Photoshop wizardry and indexing back order prices!

TOMORROW: Reopening The Tomb of Dracula!

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Tournament of Terror Round of 16!

Welcome to the first proper round of the Longbox Graveyard Tournament of Terror. Thanks to everyone who voted to set our field of sixteen! In the end, there was a pretty clear divsion between the top fourteen monsters and the rest of the field, letting us go forward with clear voters’ favorties plus two write-ins based on reader comments. So before we get to the bracket, join me in bidding a not-so-fond farewell to Man-Wolf, Brother Voodoo, Satana, the Zombie, the Living Mummy, Scarecrow, the Golem, and It! The Living Colossus.

(Poor It! scored but a single vote … and then only after I went to Twitter to plead his case).

All right, on to the main event.

In years past, I’ve seeded our tournaments according to the selection round vote, but this has lead to static and predictable tournaments, with the higher seeds naturally marching through the early rounds. This time — given that our topic is monsters, and given that monsters are all about chaos and mayhem — I randomized the seeds of the qualifying creatures. It could have been a disaster, but the RNG gods were on-point, yielding some intriguing brackets and tasty first-round match-ups.

Let’s get to it! Please vote for your favorite monster in each of the eight contests below, then join me back here in a week for tournament results and voting in the round of eight!

Our Bracket!

The Match Ups!

Man-Bat: Punch line? Unwise line extension? Doesn’t matter — Man-Bat is in our tournament! Wikipedia credits Man-Bat’s creation to Frank Robbins, Neal Adams, and Julius Schwartz, and also notes his first appearance was in 1970 (earlier than I would have guessed). I remembered Man-Bat from his short-lived solo series in the mid-seventies, which ran just long enough to qualify Man-Bat for our ballot. And the world is better for it! He’s a freaking bat guy! And he fights Batman! And he got his powers from injecting himself with a bat extract. If someone injected themselves with a Batman extract, would they become Man-Bat-Man? (I need that book!). A bit of good luck awarded Man-Bat the #1 seed in our tournament … immediately offset by being matched with a #16 seed Swamp Thing! Alas, poor Man-Bat …

Swamp Thing: Top vote-getter in our preliminary voting, and the odds-on favorite to win it all. The immortal creation of the late and deeply-missed team of Len Wein and Bernie Wrightston, blessed by later and brilliant re-invention by Alan Moore, Swamp Thing isn’t just a great horror comics character, he is one of the all-time great comics characters of any genre.

Vampirella: I didn’t try to sneak Vampirella into my house when I first started buying comics at twelve years old — the Warren books in general were pushing my parental luck, and Vampirella surely would have been a bridge too far. Character creation is credited to my horror godfather, Forrest J. Ackerman, but I doubt we’d still be buying Vampirella comics without the costume design by Trina Robbins and Frank Frazetta’s cover work. Vampirella started off as a “horror host” character before being developed into a protagonist by Archie Goodwin — so I suppose a vote for Vampirella can serve as a vote for her Warren stablemates Uncle Creepy and Cousin Eerie, too.

Fin Fang Foom: Got into the field as an Editor’s Choice, as he failed the series headlining requirement, but gets a pass because of his Jack Kirby pedigree and those ludicrous, giant blue shorts. He’s supposed to show up in the Shang-Chi movie but you know the film version will never measure up against the original. Fin Fang Foom enters our tournament as the unofficial standard-bearer for decades of one-and-done monsters from Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko in Marvel’s pre-superhero days.

Blade the Vampire Slayer: The most memorable of the supporting cast from Tomb of Dracula, Blade has more than held his own, spinning off into several solo series, and most memorably transitioning to film in a series of movies that (along with X-Men) arguably birthed Marvel’s modern cinematic presence. A vampire who hunts vampires is cool enough by itself — when you mix in all of Blade’s vampire-fighting gadgets and add in the “daywalker” business you have a rich character that maybe still hasn’t lived up to his full potential. A new film has been announced and I expect Blade’s best days are still to come.

Werewolf (Werewolf by Night): Every time I remember this character’s name is Jack Russell, I can’t help but think he should be Terrier By Night. The Hardest Working Werewolf in Show Business (he never takes a night off, baby!), Werewolf By Night was one of the more successful 70s Marvel horror books, running 40-odd issues and assorted Giant-Sizes.

Morbius, the Living Vampire: Got his start as a super-villain, and sported a Gil Kane-designed supersuit pretty much throughout his career. He’s got a bit of everything — there’s a mad scientist angle, the anti-hero angle, of course all the vampire stuff, and super-hero origins that made him easier to cross-over with mainstream Marvel books than was the case with Marvel’s other monsters. He’s pretty irredeemably evil in his black & white Vampire Tales appearances.

Ghost Rider: Born of the Satanic Panic era of Marvel comics, Ghost Rider has remained more relevant than many of his contemporary characters thanks to frequent reinvention. Not every reboot has been for the best (and those Nic Cage films didn’t help), but Ghost Rider continues to get times at bat. A burning skull on a flaming motorcycle will always be kewl.

Frankenstein (Monster of Frankenstein): Frankenstein got his book as part of Marvel’s “try everything” horror explosion of the 1970s. Hey, he’s public domain, why not? He got his solo series start under Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog (Marvel’s horror book go-to guy) in what was initially a fairly faithful gothic-era adaptation; later he would come to the present day, where he’d cross-over with Marvel’s superhero characters (rarely to good effect). More recently, he was part of Phil Coulson’s Howling Commandos … poor Frankenstein can never die.

Solomon Grundy: A “play-in” monster who wasn’t part of our initial ballot, but was one of the best suggestions to come out of our reader comments. His solo series was brief, but it was longer than Man-Bat, so he’s in! Plus he brings an additional DC Comics presence to a Marvel-heavy tournament, AND he traces his origins to a 1944 Green Lantern story by Alfred Freakin’ Bester … so he’ll also serve for all the forgotten monsters of Golden Age Comics. And no, it doesn’t matter that “Grundy” doesn’t really rhyme with “Monday!”

Hellboy: I admitted to a DC and Marvel Bronze Age fixation when I put together the first contenders of this tournament, but even that doesn’t excuse overlooking Hellboy, the singular and intriguing creation by Mike Mignola who has also enjoyed his share of film success. His series has demons, monsters, weird science, Nazis … really, I hang my head in shame for failing to mention him. So into the field he goes!

Man-Thing: Eternally the “other” swamp monster, but don’t sleep on Man-Thing. He polled exceptionally well in our first voting, and he has a Steve Gerber pedigree. Plus, with out Man-Thing there would be no Giant-Sized Man-Thing jokes.

Dracula (Tomb of Dracula): The Wolfman/Colan/Palmer run is an all-timer, though little remembered today outside of places like Longbox Graveyard. Had one of the longest headlining runs of the characters in our tournament.

Son of Satan: Exhibit A in any survey of “Books You Could Never Make Today,” I always loved that Damien Hellstrom was shocked to discover that he was Satan’s son. I mean, the guy has a horned haircut, a pentagram on his chest, and the name of the book is freaking SON OF SATAN! His solo series was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair, but Steve Gerber (the patron saint of weird and abandoned characters) made room for Damien in the Defenders, where he probably enjoyed his best years.

Godzilla: I don’t know if giant monsters really fit with “horror” monsters, but Godzilla has appeared on more than one cover of Famous Monsters magazine, and that’s good enough for me. His Marvel Comics run in the 1970s was better than it had and right to be (and he fought the Avengers, the Champions, the Fantastic Four, and S.H.I.E.L.D. to a standstill), and of course Godzilla has had a long comics career at other publishers, as well.

The Demon: One of several off-kilter books Jack Kirby created at DC after bolting Marvel in the 1970s, the Demon was a bit of a bastard child. Kirby reportedly had little interest in horror characters, and fans may well wonder why we got the Demon instead of more Fourth World stories. But considered on his own, the Demon has much to offer, from his penchant for rhyme through the opportunity his stories provided for Kirby to draw Arthurian knights and monsters.

That’s the field! Vote early, vote often, tell your friends, and explain your hardest choices in the comments section, below!

TOMORROW: Marvel Value Stamps!

King of the Monsters!

The long and winding road that has been the Longbox Graveyard has taken some unexpected side trips. When I began this blog I intended it only as a means of keeping myself on track as I cataloged and sold off my Accumulation of unwanted comics.

But a funny thing happened on the way to eBay … I started reading my comics again, and found that I kinda sorta still liked them. After decades away from funny books, suddenly I was hip deep in the buggers, not only reviewing favorite books like Conan and Thor, but also looking at newer series like Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America, and even exploring the intersection of comics and technology with books like Operation Ajax and the vintage comics on offer through Marvel’s Digital subscription service.

Surprises all! What I never expected — with so many issues of Master of Kung Fu, Fantastic Four, Batman, Daredevil, and Swamp Thing as yet unexamined — was that I would devote an entire column to Marvel’s Godzilla.

Inspiration comes when you least expect it. There I was, arguing the merits of John Carter with fellow blogger Mars Will Send No More when the conversation turned — as it will among learned men — to the merits of fictional T-Rexes. Before I knew it I was committed not only to reviewing Godzilla, but also to participating in a March Madness T-Rex Beat-Down tournament (for the results of which, mouse over to Mars’ blog).

Mars and I don’t always see eye-to-eye, but I echo his blog comments excluding Godzilla from our tournament, and not merely because Godzilla isn’t a proper T-Rex. As Mars put it, “… Godzilla annihilates everything, everyone, everywhere, always. And any story where he didn’t is a lie.” Godzilla is an outsized character who can’t help but dominate any scene he enters, whether he’s sharing the stage with a field of cinematic dinosaurs or the headline characters of the Marvel Universe.

Godzilla annihilates the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier (and the Golden Gate Bridge for good measure)

And so what of Marvel’s Godzilla? Does this big green galoot annihilate everything and everyone, everywhere and always? Or is Marvel’s version of the King of Monsters a big pile of lies?

My plan was to review just those Godzilla books I had in the Accumulation — issues one to six or so — but after the first half dozen books I found myself unaccountably caught up in the admittedly thin story. So rather than dump my Godzillas for pennies on eBay, I instead went into WonderCon determined to fill out my run, but found that the dealers on the convention floor thought their Godzilla back-issues were worth ten bucks a pop.

Hey, I like the book, but there’s a limit. My first impulse was to review what I had and offer the first “incomplete” grade on the Longbox Graveyard report card, but then thirteen bucks and a trip to eBay secured a copy of the black & white Essential Godzilla, and the great Godzilla review project was on once more!

So what was the deal with Godzilla, anyways? The year was 1977, and Marvel would try just about anything, including adding the Godzilla license to the Marvel Universe. What could have been a disaster was instead a workman-like book in the tradition of late 1970s Marvel, where solid editorial standards and dependable mid-list talent ensured a firm floor for the entire comics line. It’s rare to find a truly dreadful Marvel book from the late 70s, and thanks to an energetic effort from the Doug Moench on scripts and a professional job from penciller Herb Trimpe we have two years of Godzilla books that for the most part deliver the goods — neither very good nor very bad, but always entertaining and probably better than the series had any right to be.

A snappy first issue introduces Godzilla to the Marvel Universe (and you can read that issue online, in it’s entirety, over at Mars Will Send No More). It does feel like Marvel was hedging their bets, at least at first. Pitting Godzilla against S.H.I.E.L.D. was an inspired choice, but we get the S.H.I.E.L.D. B-team here, with secondary Helicarriers commanded by Dum Dum Dugan rather than the iconic Nick Fury. When Godzilla stomps Alaska, Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego in short order, it really should get the attention of the Avengers and Fantastic Four (but we will have to wait until the end of the series for that moment). Rather than scrambling even the B-team Defenders to the rescue, we get the forgettable Champions for a serviceable superhero battle with the Big G most memorable for Hercules taking down Godzilla with a judo flip.

The Marvel Universe has always been New York-centric, but you figure it would get national attention when Godzilla destroys Hoover Dam, stomps Las Vegas, and wrecks Salt Lake City during a battle with bizarre space monsters … but Godzilla is still regarded as a hoax when he finally makes it to Manhattan in issue #20, and only then do Marvel’s most iconic heroes scramble for a pretty decent superhero fight against Godzilla.

(image grabbed from Comic Vine)

But I’m not sure Moench could have handled Godzilla any other way. In contemporary terms, Godzilla attacking the United States would warrant a summer’s worth of Marvel Comics cross-overs, bleeding into every book in the line, but in 1978 Moench and Marvel elected to keep Godzilla partitioned in his own little bubble of the Marvel Universe. The only alternative would have been to go right at it — to deeply integrate Godzilla in the line with increasingly improbable cross-overs every issue, which would have been a hoot with an absurdist writer like Steve Gerber or David Anthony Kraft, but there’s no way it could have been a sustainable premise.

Instead, Moench went to the Marvel monster playbook, adopting the tropes on display in books like Man-Thing, Tomb of Dracula, and even Hulk, where his title character is a remote and sometimes unfathomable anti-hero, while the subplots and characterization revolve around supporting characters trying to help or hinder the star of the book. And this proves one of the weaknesses of Godzilla. Along with the aforementioned S.H.I.E.L.D. back-up squad we have a team of generic Japanese scientists trying to stop Godzilla, including a twelve-year-old boy who (of course) bonds with a giant robot to fight the monster that he is convinced is good at heart.

Godzilla versus obligatory giant robot Red Ronin

In the first year of the book, Moench also gets some play out of examining Godzilla’s motivation. Is he a rampaging monster, or a misunderstood victim? The cast eventually comes down on Godzilla’s side, but Dum Dum Dugan needs some convincing.

The second year of the book is a little more whimsical, and while the plot contrivances of pitting Godzilla against cowboys (in a distant echo of Valley of the Gwangi), or having Godzilla shrunk down by Hank Pym’s reducing gas to fight rats in the sewers of New York will make Godzilla purists apoplectic, I found the less leaden tone of these later tales more entertaining. The last half of the book also gave me a renewed appreciation for Herb Trimpe, about whom I always thought the best I could say is that he wasn’t Sal Buscema. Trimpe struggles with facial expressions — Dum Dum’s cigar pops out his mouth the hundred-odd times he wears his “surprised” face, which is identical to his “angry” face. There are plenty of those recycled Trimpe panels where a character’s foreshortened index finger fills half the frame, as someone points, blank-faced, at something happening beyond our view. But Trimpe has real strengths when it comes to draftsmanship, and the backgrounds of his New York are appropriately detailed and authentic. The two-part western interlude also let Trimpe draw horses — Trimpe got his start doing western comics, and he draws good horses, something that’s not as common among comic book artists as you might think.

And he pulled off the odd inspired Godzilla panel, too.

In all, Godzilla does what you’d expect. Our hero stomps a bunch of cities, and he battles but is never really beaten by S.H.I.E.L.D. and Marvel’s superheroes. He crosses-over with Devil Dinosaur, fights a sewer rat, and he shares a panel with Spider-Man. He’s at the center of some ridiculous story lines (at one point reduced to human-size, led around the New York Bowery in a hat and trench coat!), but it didn’t bother me as I’m one of those ignorant gaijin who finds it hard to parse “Godzilla” and “quality” in the same sentence. No matter these indignities, Godzilla emerges from his weird, twenty-four-issue Marvel odyssey with his reputation intact, clearly still King of the Monsters, and having delivered a solid, entertaining run of comic books.

trench coat Godzilla!

Godzilla in a trench coat! (image via Tars Tarkas.net)

In all, Marvel’s Godzilla isn’t a bad read. I won’t tumble to the inflated prices those WonderCon guys want for this book, but I’d happily fish an issue or two out of the dollar box, and the out-of-print but readily-available black & white Essential Godzilla is an inexpensive way to experience this series for yourself. Where else where you see Thor bonk Godzilla on the nose with his enchanted hammer?

Yep, that happened. Godzilla really was part of the Marvel Universe! A second-class citizen, sure, and this might seem a second-rate book. But Godzilla is not a second-rate effort. Sometimes comics are art, but most of the time comics are just comics, and as a guy who wrote a lot of inventory assignments himself, I have genuine admiration for the team that turned in such consistent effort along the way to bringing this self-contained run to a satisfactory conclusion. I doubt I’ll go back to this series, but I’m happy to have spent a couple nights with Godzilla, stomping through the Marvel Universe. Hail to the King!

Originally published as Longbox Graveyard #43, April 2014.

MONDAY: The Tournament of Terror Begins!

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