Saturday, 19 January 2013

Omitted material: What If? Classic volume 1

And so to begin my irregular look at the Spider-Man issues in the original What If? series.

#1: "What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four?", written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Jim Craig, reprinted in What If? Classic volume 1

At the time the idea of adding Spider-Man to the Fantastic Four - or indeed to any team - was seen as impossible. How times have changed. But in his very first issue Spider-Man had tried to join the Fantastic Four, only to back off when he discovered there was no salary. But what if instead they'd offered him one and he stayed?

The first What If? set out to answer that question. Spider-Man actually does quite well out of the arrangement, with Mr Fantastic getting all outstanding accusations and charges against him ditched, leading to Jonah publicly endorsing him. Now a fully fledged part of the renamed Fantastic Five, Spidey gets on quite well with his team-mates, but really the focus of this issue is on the Fantastic Four in different circumstances. The Invisible Girl was often treated as the weak link in the original stories anyway, but now she finds herself ever more marginalised. Events come to their resolution when the Sub-Mariner kidnaps her under the influence of the Puppet Master. The rest of the Fantastic Five follow and defeat the real foe, but when they confront Namor the Invisible Girl finally chooses him over Mr Fantastic and is subjected to a transformation that gives her the ability to breathe underwater. Her former team-mates leave, with Spidey wondering what might have been had he never joined the team.

As the very first What If?, some leeway can be given, but a sizeable chunk of the issue is taken up with introducing first the format and then the original saga. Then too much of the story is told as fast paced narration of successive events, leaving not very much time to actually show the Fantastic Five in action as a team. And with most of the emphasis on the Fantastic Four side of things, Spider-Man doesn't get a great deal to do or show us just what potential he could have as a team member. This is, however, a good alternate take on the Fantastic Four.

Spidey isn't in any of the other issues in the first volume. The other tales told are:
  • #2: "What If the Hulk Had the Brain of Bruce Banner?"
  • #3: "What If the Avengers Had Never Been?"
  • #4: "What If the Invaders Had Stayed Together After World War Two?"
  • #5: "What If Captain America Hadn't Vanished During World War Two?"
  • #6: "What If the Fantastic Four Had Different Super-Powers?"
The letters page for issue #4 states that it could have taken place in the regular continuity (it successfully fuses the Invaders, a 1970s retroactive creation, with the All-Winners Squad, a team that briefly existed in the immediate post-war years) and according to Comic Book Resource: Comics Should Be Good: Comic Book Legends Revealed #341 & Comic Book Resource: Comics Should Be Good: Comic Book Legends Addendum - Roy Thomas on What If...? #4 this was in fact the case, all part of Roy Thomas's work at incorporating the Golden Age Timely characters fully into regular Marvel continuity. It did finally resolve the question of the Captain America stories published from 1945 until 1950. Issue #5 is also interesting because as far as readers at the time were concerned Captain America didn't vanish during World War II but instead continuing in action until 1950 - it was only in the 1960s that this continuity was changed. However this story focuses more on how an older Captain America and Bucky operate in the 1960s, having lived all the way up to them.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Omitted material: What If?

My first ever comic that headlined Spider-Man was none other than issue #31 of the second What If? series - "What If Spider-Man had not lost his cosmic powers?" Although I was unfamiliar with either the scenario or many of the villains (both the Hobgoblin and Venom were too new to have appeared in the Spider-Man cartoons up to then), it was nevertheless an enjoyable tale told in a single issue which managed to do something different with the character and also explained everything I needed to know about the basic situation.

Historians are traditionally wary of speculating in counterfactuals for a variety of reasons. But that doesn't mean the idea can't be fun. However with any ongoing fiction the most obvious "What If"s are also really the most boring - what if a different storyline was pursued, what if a particular writer or actor hadn't left, what if a series wasn't cancelled and so forth. Far more exciting are the stories that could (usually) never have been done at the time, such as discoveries, marriages, deaths and more that would have broken the rules of the regular continuity. DC pioneered this idea with their "Imaginary Stories" of the 1950s and 1960s. Marvel came later with What If? which was more rooted in specific continuity and (until the late 1990s at least) tended to take a specific point in history and go a different root. Most were narrated by the Watcher, the all powerful alien observer of our planet.

The first What If? series ran from 1976 until 1984 and each issue was longer than the standard Marvels of the day. At first the focus was primarily upon the early Silver Age but as time went on it broadened out. In recent years the run has been collected in a series of tradepaperbacks (although with some omissions, mainly due to rights issues) though noticeably not as Essentials but rather as more conventional colour volumes containing about six issues each. Still we can but hope that this means Marvel has the issues on file in a cleaned-up form ready for any future Essential release.

In the meantime, I'm going to take a look at some of the issues featuring Spider-Man. These posts will be irregular though.

Oh and I'm not the only one who's looked at early What If? issues. Every so often the blogger the Amazing Justin Palm! gets drunk and reviews on of these old issues. His thoughts can be found at El Fresco: What If Wednesdays.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Peter David

As many of you may already know, writer Peter David recently suffered a stroke while on holiday. He is slowly recovering and his family are posting regular updates to his blog.

He has written many comics over the years (and much else besides) but for me the highlight will always be his twelve year run on the Incredible Hulk, with the Hulk/Hercules one-shot fom 1996 probably my single favourite issue. He's also written quite a bit of Spider-Man over the years, including "The Death of Jean DeWolff", the original Hobgoblin revelation and almost the entire of Spider-Man 2099. Much of this has yet to be reprinted by the Essentials but "The Death of Jean DeWolff" is reprinted in Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man volume 5.

Medical treatment in the States is expensive and so many are seeing to help. How You Can Help Peter David Recover sets out details, including how to donate directly and links to buy some of his books.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

What other Essentials has Spider-Man appeared in?

Happy New Year everyone!

Next month will see the release of the next Spider-Man volume - Essential Marvel Team-Up volume 4, containing issues #76-#78, #80-#98 & Annuals #2-#3. I'll be reviewing the volume in due course and also adding my thoughts on issue #79, which has been omitted due to rights issues.

In the meantime, this post is response to another enquiry about a minor aspect of the Essentials, namely which volumes from other series include issues from the various Spider-Man titles. I've already covered the issues not yet reached by their own volumes, but for the sake of completism here is a full list of all the volumes that contain any issues from the various Spider-Man series. The individual issues are linked to the posts containing the relevant reviews and the relevant volume links are to those reviews. As ever the co-stars of Marvel Team-Up issues are identified:

Essential Classic X-Men volume 3
Both issues come from after the X-Men's original series was cancelled and replaced by a reprint run. The Amazing issue would appear to be the first significant appearance of any of the X-Men post-cancellation.

Essential Werewolf by Night volume 1
This was one of the earliest Marvel forays into traditional horror following reforms to the Comics Code Authority in the early 1970s. As with so many other Marvel characters, the Werewolf popped up across the Marvel universe and invariably met with Spider-Man.

Essential Punisher volume 1
As noted previously, Essential Punisher volume 1 is an odd entry in the series as it collects the character's earliest appearances from multiple series rather than concentrating solely on his own titles. However it's not the only Essential volume out there to take such an approach...

Essential Marvel Horror volume 2
Essential Marvel Horror is one of the more unusual of the Essential series as it collects stories based around the various horror-based characters, mostly from the various anthology series, rather than a chronological run of an individual series. Volume 2 brings together stories featuring the likes of the Living Mummy, Gabriel the Devil Hunter, Brother Boodoo, Golem, Scarecrow and Modred the Mystic. Note that the stories in the Marvel Horror volumes are not always in chronological order...

Essential Marvel Horror volume 1
...hence Volume 1 appearing on this list after Volume 2. The first volume carries stories featuring either Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan, or his sister Satana. (I am astounded that Marvel was able to get away with using the name "Satan" in the titles of any of its series in the 1970s.)

Essential Defenders volume 2
Although the Defenders are famous for their "non-team" status, some characters were more Defenders than others and all three of the above guest-stars fall into this category.

Essential Killraven volume 1
This is one of the odder series Marvel has ever put out. Having obtained the comic rights to H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, Marvel created a sequel series set in a post-invasion apocalypse future in which the protagonist was a freedom fighter battling against the Martians. Whilst time travelling back from the 17th century Spider-Man accidentally wound up in the era and teamed up with Killraven.

Essential Marvel Two-in-One volume 1
This was half of the first ever crossover between any of Spider-Man's titles and another series, bringing the stars of the two main rotating team-up books together. It's a pity there was never a crossover with Super-Villain Team-Up to round things out.

Essential Warlock volume 1
Following the cancellation of Warlock's own series (for the second time) his story was partially continued in this issue of Marvel Team-Up. The climax then came in a two-part story run in Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2. The latter part saw Spider-Man show up to help save the day, and it is discussed in my second post on guest appearances.

Essential Nova volume 1
As previously discussed, this was the first crossover between Amazing and another series, bringing together Marvel's biggest star and their newest (and the Nova issue also appears in Essential Spider-Man volume 8). Looking back it's astounding to think that Nova was seriously expected to be the next Spider-Man. But then predicting The Next Big Thing has never been an easy science.

Essential Iron Fist volume 1
I believe the latter issue is the first time "the Daughters of the Dragon" were billed under that name. More normally they were part of Iron Fist's supporting cast.

Essential Man-Thing volume 2
The title of this volume makes many people laugh but back in the 1970s Marvel actually went one further and produced a comic with the title Giant-Size Man-Thing. How on earth did that one ever get past the Comics Code Authority? (And yes, every issue was printed with the CCA seal of approval.)

Essential Moon Knight volume 1
(Contrary to some early reports and many online listings, Marvel Team-Up Annual #4 is not included.)

Similar to the Punisher, Moon Knight began life as a one-off villain in another series (in this case Werewolf by Night) but proved so popular he kept returning and eventually graduated to a series of his own. His encounter with Spider-Man came midway through this journey.

Essential Dazzler volume 1
Dazzler was being steadily built up to be one of the Next Big Things from Marvel as part of a wider tie-in with a record company, but for various reasons the tie-ins were cancelled before they could happen and her actual series didn't materialise until 1981 when the disco fad was already fading. But before then one of her earliest appearances was in Amazing Spider-Man, an issue which ends rather suggestively between Spidey and Dazzler but unfortunately this was never followed up on.

Essential Spider-Woman volume 2
Well okay Spider-Man himself doesn't actually appear in this issue, one of the few of the later Marvel Team-Ups without him, but I've included it for completism's sake and in any case Spider-Woman does.

Essential Defenders volume 5
Once again these are team-ups with some of the more regular members of the Defenders in this era.

Essential Defenders volume 6
...and yet again we get a team-up with one of the main Defenders.

Essential Ghost Rider volume 4
Notably Ghost Rider himself doesn't actually appear in this issue, but instead we get Zarathos, the spirit previously bonded to him. This issue was also a crossover with Secret Wars II.

And so that's all the volumes I'm aware of. Unsurprisingly the vast majority of volumes reprint issues from Marvel Team-Up due to the policy of collecting some significant appearances of characters alongside their own series. However Essential Punisher volume 1 balances out the numbers somewhat.
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