Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Omitted material: Marvel Fanfare: Strange Tales

Marvel Fanfare was one of Marvel's earliest prestigious series. Printed on high quality glossy paper and distributed only in the direct market at a high price (US $1.25 in 1982 when regular Marvels cost US $0.60) it was an anthology that featured stand alone tales by many of Marvel's top talent on characters they didn't normally work on. Naturally it contained Spider-Man stories from time to time, and he appeared on the cover of the first issue, recoloured and reused as the cover of the collected edition Marvel Fanfare: Strange Tales. Although this collection has a stand-alone title and no volume number, in all other regards it's in the standard Classic format, containing the first seven issues of the series including three Spider-Man strips.

Marvel Fanfare #1-2 written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Michael Golden

This story sees Peter Parker sent by Jonah as part of an expedition to the Savage Land alongside the Angel and Tanya Anderssen, the childhood sweetheart of Karl Lykos, the man who became Sauron after being infected when saving her from pteranodons. There they discover a plot by a group of neo-mutants to conquer the Savage Land using a device that can devolve beings to their primordial beings. Both the Angel and Spider-Man are devolved, Spidey into a giant spider creature, but they are saved by Ka-Zar and Karl, the latter who absorbs the devolver's energy into himself, restoring them but transforming himself permanently into Sauron. Peter and the Angel head home whilst Tanya stays to find a way to cure or destroy Sauron.

This story feels as though it was conceived as an issue of Marvel Team-Up and left over when Claremont's run there ended. Spider-Man is rather redundant to the overall plot which is focused heavily on Tanya and the Angel. Peter worries at first about his identity being discovered if he uses his powers, yet later on the monster in a tattered Spider-Man costume is un-devolved back into him and nobody seems to even comment on how blatant a give-away this is. The storyline continues into issues #3 & #4 featuring the X-Men, both written by Claremont and drawn by Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith respectively. Sauron now leads the neo-mutants who are ultimately all defeated and devolved back into the swamp savages they originally were. Overall this second half is just an okay X-Men tale but the first half is a very poor Spider-Man story bar the scene where Peter manages to regain some control of the monstrous form and begs Ka-Zar to kill him.

Marvel Fanfare #6, written by Mike W. Barr and drawn/co-plotted by Sandy Plunkett

Once again we get a Marvel Team-Up style story, and this time it's a sequel to issue #21. Spider-Man and the Scarlet Witch are captured and brought to a mystical dimension by the wizard Xandu who has now found the Wand of Watoomb and now uses it to revive his wife Melinda's body but can't bring his spirit back. So he transplants the Scarlet Witch's soul over and plans to make her his wife anew, whilst toying with Spider-Man for revenge. However Melinda's spirit returns and drives Xandu insane, giving Spider-Man the chance to knock him down and take the Wand. Spider-Man, the Scarlet Witch and Melinda all return to Earth via the Wand.

This story again feels like its more natural home would be in another title but it's surprisingly well constructed with Spider-Man in a key role. The art feels rather Ditko-esque at a time when nearly every rendition of Spider-Man followed Romita, whilst the story may take the character out of his comfort zone but no further than many other team-ups.

Other stories contained in this volume include:
  • A Daredevil tale written by Roger McKenzie and drawn by Paul Smith (#1)
  • A Mr Fantastic story written by Roger McKenzie and drawn by Trevor von Eeden (#2)
  • A Hawkeye adventure written by Charlie Boatner and drawn by Trevor von Eeden (#3)
  • A Deathlok tale written by David Anthony Kraft and drawn by Michael Golden (#4)
  • An Iron Man story written by David Winn & David Michelinie and drawn by Michael Golden (#4)
  • A Doctor Strange adventure written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Marshall Rogers (#5)
  • A Captain America tale written by Roger McKenzie and drawn/co-plotted by Luke McDonnell (#5)
  • Another Doctor Strange story, this time written by Roger Stern and drawn by Charles Vess (#6)
  • An Incredible Hulk adventure written by Steven Grant and drawn by Joe Barney (#7)
  • Another Daredevil tale, on this occasion written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by George Freeman (#7)
...and each issue contains a single page "Editori-Al" written & drawn by editor Al Milgrom as he talks to the readers about the series and the creators working on it.

Overall the impact of the series is rather lost in collected editions. At the time this was a very expensive series on high quality paper with work by some of the industry's top talent, but three decades on and most of the creator's stars have passed whilst the paper used here is standard and it costs about the same as similar sized tradepaperbacks. But the stories themselves are generally very good and it's amazing that such a series worked so well despite the factors being against it.

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