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A Secret Wars Apologist

Longbox Graveyard #99

Mark Ginocchio from a recently redesigned Chasing Amazing is back! You might remember him from his two-part look at the Top 10 Spider-Man Battles (Part 1/Part 2). While Mark normally blogs about his affection for all things Spider-Man at Chasing Amazing (and has even started talking about the “Wall Crawler” on the Superior Spider-Talk podcast), Longbox Graveyard is delighted to welcome him back to write about the larger comic book universe. This week, Mark shares his thoughts about the grand-daddy Marvel cross-over event of them all, 1984-85’s Secret Wars series. Take it away Mark!

Living in and around New York City for my entire life has made me elitist about certain things … and I hate that. A few weeks ago, my wife and I caught a Saturday matinee of the Broadway revival of the musical Pippin. Upon getting out of the theater, I found myself mumbling and cursing the Times Square crowd under my breath. Really, you’re going to stop foot traffic to look at a cowboy in his underwear? Really, you flew in from Europe just to see the Lion King on Broadway when there’s a dozen other quality shows that are dying on the vine right now due to lack of sales? (No, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark is not one of those shows that I sympathize with).

I hate that I’m like this, because the same kind of snobby elitism has been used against me and my love of certain things in pop culture. In the case of my comic book fandom, that would mean my adoration of Marvel’s Secret Wars series.

Secret Wars Heroes

Published in 12 issues between 1984 and 1985, Secret Wars is considered to be the comic book industry’s first true “event,” pitting all of Marvel’s A-List heroes against an assembly of (mostly) A-list villains in a fight to the “death” on another planet that’s simplistically dubbed “Battleworld.” The series is the brain child of then-Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, certainly one of the industry’s biggest lighting rods, with pencils courtesy of Mike Zeck and Bob Layton.

Secret Wars villains

The series is largely considered a joke and a gimmick by anyone who calls themselves a serious comic book aficionado and with good reason – Marvel folks have been unashamed in the fact that the whole event was created to help market a line of action figures designed to compete with the “Distinguished Competition’s” Legion of Super Heroes line. With toys being the driving force behind the series, the plot is mostly flimsy and the characterization of some of Marvel’s most beloved heroes and villains is often quite puzzling. So you would think a guy who pens a column on the internet called “Gimmick or Good” would just rightly dismiss this series and instead focus my energy on the plethora of great comics that were released in the 1980s.

But I can’t do that. I love this series.

Secret Wars #1

Never underestimate the power of a child’s rose-colored glasses. First, let’s talk about those action figures. I owned them all as a kid and my mother still has my “black suit” Spider-Man figure sitting on the windowsill in her kitchen as a joke after finding the toy buried in the backyard many years ago (I must have been recreating the events of “Kraven’s Last Hunt”). Last year, while watching an episode of AMC’s Comic Book Men and seeing Secret Stash store owner Walt become child-like with glee when a vintage Marvel World board game came into his store, I started to openly reminisce to my wife about the Secret Wars figures. I knew whatever wasn’t buried in the backyard was probably buried in my parent’s basement, and I was likely to never see them again. A few months later for Christmas, the first series of the action figures was waiting in my stocking. My wife found a used set on eBay – surely not for collectors. But I was ecstatic regardless because a piece of my childhood had been preserved.

SecretWarsFigures

But beyond toys, the series defined the Marvel Universe for me. As a (very) young child, these were some of the first comic books I ever purchased. Yes, my ownership of Secret Wars even predates my first copy of Amazing Spider-Man, which as many of you will note, is my ultimate obsession in the comic book universe. It was from these comics I was able to identify all of Marvel’s heavy hitters: Captain America, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Hulk, the X-Men (the REAL X-Men, i.e. Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Rogue and Professor X), Doctor Doom, Magneto, Kang, Doc Ock, Ultron, etc. etc. etc. While I’ve read and enjoyed some DC stories throughout my lifetime, I have always been firmly entrenched in the “make mine Marvel” camp, and Secret Wars is almost entirely responsible for instilling that affection at an early age.

Yes, when re-reading the series today, there are plenty of cringe-worthy moments. Shooter’s choices for some of the characters border on downright bizarre in sections: does the Wasp survive a near-death experience and really complain about her hair and make-up? Did She Hulk just say “tubular?” And why is “Rhodey” Rhodes (filling in for Tony Stark as Iron Man) getting all “what do you mean you people” with everyone?

Secret Wars Wasp

Every issue is basically just building up for another confrontation between good and evil. Having Doom eliminate a character as awesome as Kang via Ultron so early in the series is questionable. The Lizard’s presence is a flat-out mystery to me. Was he even a featured Spidey villain during this time? Having Ultron get so easily manipulated by Doom is also disappointing.

Secret Wars battles

Irrelevant. The fights are fun and everyone gets their moment, whether it’s Hulk holding up an ENTIRE MOUNTAIN to save his teammates, or Spider-Man outfoxing the X-Men who operate as a pseudo-rogue third party based on how the heroes mistrust the “mutants.” On the villains side, watching all of these immense egos try to get along is more entertaining than any season of the Real World. Plus, as the series goes along, it becomes perfectly clear that this is Doom’s story, and considering I find Doom to be one of the most compelling villains in comics, I’m alright with that.

Secret Wars Hulk

There might be some panels where there’s just too much going on – too many people – for the art team to effectively draw, but Zeck creates three unquestionably iconic covers in the series’ first, eighth and tenth issues. Other artists continue to homage these covers to this day, which is always the ultimate testament to an illustration’s influence.

And despite the fluffiness of the series, there are a few moments that have gone on to have a long-term impact on the comic book industry. At the end of the series, The Thing, who has mysteriously been transforming back and forth between his rockman persona and Ben Grimm, decides to hang back on Battleworld to figure some stuff out, leading to a period of Fantastic Four where She Hulk is the fourth member. We get the first appearance of the second Spider Woman, Julia Carpenter, who also happens to have “nice legs” per the data collected by Rhodey’s Iron Man technology (or maybe that was just his own observation).

Secret Wars SpiderWoman

But more than anything else – and of course as one of the web’s biggest webheads you know I would zero in on this – the series’ eighth issue marks the official first appearance of the alien symbiote. While it initially looked like this moment was just another gimmick to get Spider-Man in a svelte black costume (complete with action figure), the symbiote would later be used to create one of the most significant entries to Marvel’s rogues gallery over the past 30 years – Venom.

Secret Wars 8cover

Yes, as I’m sure most members of the cult of symbiote know, Venom’s first appearance wasn’t “technically” Amazing Spider-Man #300, but rather Secret Wars #8. I did in fact own this issue as a kid, but read it into a non-collectible pulp. I haven’t picked up a replacement issue because I’m more focused on using my (limited) financial resources to finish out my run of Amazing Spider-Man, but mark my words, I will come to own a nice copy of Secret Wars #8 at some point. It’s a must own for any fan of Spider-Man or Venom.

Secret Wars Spiderman

So, just like it’s futile to tell an NYC tourist to not waste their time and money staring at wax figurines at Madame Tussauds (and seriously, why are you eating at a TGIF’s when you’re in the culinary capital of America?), don’t expect to ever get me to change my opinion on Secret Wars. You’d essentially be arguing with a five-year-old, which is analogous to my mental state of comic book euphoria every time the words “Secret Wars” are so much as whispered around me.  The series is just a demonstration of how hopelessly subjective our opinions about comic books can be.

Thanks to Mark for this week’s blog! Be sure to visit him at the all-new Chasing Amazing!

NEXT WEDNESDAY: It’s my big anniversary issue … #100 Top Ten One Hundreds!

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Reader Appreciation Award!

Longbox Graveyard #82

Last November, Flodo was kind enough to honor me with a Reader Appreciation Award, and it took me all the way to 2013 to finally return the favor!

Flodo!

The Reader Appreciation Award is a blogging chain letter of the benign variety, an excuse to say, “thank you” to blogs you enjoy, and pay your thanks forward with an easy bit of blog fodder for your friends to write about. You can find the details at Flodo’s post, which started this all for me, but in a nutshell, by accepting this award I am compelled to …

1) Thank the blogger who gave me the award (thanks, Flodo!), and link back to their site.

2) Pick a dozen or so blogs that entertain and inspire me and link to their sites, thereby nominating THEM for this same honorific:

Besides good Flodo, of course, in no specific order I count the following comics book blogs among my favorites:

Mars Will Send No More

Dave Olbrich’s Funny Book Fanatic

Diversions of the Groovy Kind

BENDIS!

Alan’s Eyes & Ears

We Talk Comics

Proactive Continuity

Mike Deodato Jr.

Foogos

The Peerless Power of Comics

Stash My Comics

Tom Mason’s Comix 411

Bronze Age Babies

The Marvel Age of Comics

Read Comic Books

The Long Shot

Comicosity

Comic Book And Movie Reviews

Worthy sites all, for reasons too numerous to list … I hope you will include them in your blog rotation! (And apologies if I overlooked your site in my survey).

3) Answer ten questions provided by the blogger who put my name up for the award (which follow below).

4) Add ten questions for my nominees to answer (and here I will lay up and request that my nominees answer Flodo’s excellent questions, just as I have).

5) Include the Reader Appreciation Award Award logo on my site.

Yuck, the logo is horrible. But a deal is a deal:

horrible Reader Appreciation Award logo

If we’re talking flowers, I far prefer …

a Longbox Graveyard kind of flower

Maybe a more Photoshop-savvy blog downstream from me can do something with Mike Zeck‘s Thanos image above so we can send that yellow flower back to whatever Geocities site where it originally bloomed!

6) Get in touch with my own nominees to let them know about the award, and invite them to keep the chain going!

(Which I will do).

And so on to Flodo’s questions!

1. DC, Marvel or Other? Which comics publisher is your favorite?

I am a Marvel guy, I suppose, that is where I started, Marvel books comprise the majority of my Accumulation, and most of my columns here at Longbox Graveyard have concerned Marvel titles. The record is clear! I stand naked before your baleful eye of judgment.

Make Mine Marvel!

2. Who is your favorite writer or artist currently working?

Regular readers of Longbox Graveyard will know that I am stuck in 1978 (though I did recently offer some Best of 2012 praise for Saga). I don’t read a lot of contemporary comics but I am a great admirer of Ed Brubaker’s writing on titles like Captain America, Criminal, Incognito, Catwoman, and Gotham Central.

3. Who is your favorite writer or artist from the past?

Too many to list, but I will try … Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, John Buscema, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Jim Starlin, Alan Moore, Bernie Wrightson, and Will Eisner all deserve spots on my plus-sized comic book Mount Rushmore.

comic book Mount Rushmore

not quite what I had in mind, but it’s a start

But here I am talking pencilers like an amateur, where professionals such as we should really be talking inkers … but that’s a whole different blog, and I’ll save that topic for later.

4. What superhero do you think makes the best team player?

Captain America, of course! The consummate comic book leader … always loved him in 1970s Avengers books.

5. Whose superhero costume do you hate the most, and why?

It’s an obscure thing to hate, but I really dislike the new version of Star Lord from the rebooted Guardians of the Galaxy. He looks like a bellhop with a radiator grill for a face. (And more about Star-Lord shortly!)

new Star Lord

6. If you could bring one title back from comic book limbo what would it be?

For the most part I like the past to remain in the past. I just wrote an appreciation of Captain Marvel that I might have to entirely reconsider if that character was brought back in any meaningful way. If I could grant a blanket amnesty I suppose I’d bring back the entire range of Malibu’s Ultraverse characters, either on their own or as part of the Marvel Universe.

7. What’s the best comic book cover you’ve ever seen?

Trying to pick the “best” is a blog post all by itself (hmm …), but I’ll give you a favorite, and one not often referenced:

Captain America #224

8. Comic book action figures – way cool, or a step too far?

I never got much into them myself, but I write a weekly comic book blog. That’s what’s known as a “glass house” and I ain’t throwing stones at anyone.

9. What was the best comic book single issue that you read in the last 2 months?

In the last two months? Honestly, it was the Claremont/Byrne/Austin reboot of Star-Lord from Marvel Preview #11, which I will get around to writing about here at Longbox Graveyard sooner or later. Told you I was stuck in 1978! (And now maybe you see why I dislike that new costume).

Star-Lord

yep, I said Star-Lord!

10. Finally, the age old question: if you were writing, who would win a fight between Superman and Hulk? What’s your logic?

If I was writing a Superman/Hulk fight I’d write whatever my cruel corporate masters at Marvel and DC told me to write! And then I’d cash that check, baby!

Superman vs. Hulk

Thanks to mighty, green, and amorphous Flodo for thinking of me for this recognition, and thanks to all the worthy comic book bloggers everywhere who provide us with a free flood of love and joy for this art form we all admire.

NEXT WEDNESDAY: #83 Farewell To The King

Super Tuesday: Handing It To Shang-Chi

Two weeks ago Super Tuesday looked at a house ad for a collection of Marvel Comics that presumably weren’t doing so well, sales-wise, and today we have an ad for another book that was never the top-of-the heap for the House of Ideas. This ad promotes Master of Kung Fu, which in 1978 was in the middle of what would eventually be a 109-issue run. The best and longest-running of Marvel’s martial arts comics, this series would be blessed by distinguished runs from superior artists through it’s relatively brief existence. This ad showcases the work of Mike Zeck, but MoKF fans will happily get into a swirling debate of flying fists and feet if you want to try ranking the book’s best artists between Zeck, Gene Day, and Paul Gulacy.

I love them all — and I love Master of Kung Fu, too. I’m nearing eighteen months of continual publication for Longbox Graveyard and have yet to assess Master of Kung Fu … an oversight I will correct tomorrow, with the first of what I hope will be several columns on this seminal and largely-forgotten series. See you then!

TOMORROW AT LONGBOX GRAVEYARD: Master of Kung Fu: Snowbuster!

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