Saturday, July 17, 2010

Back with a Vengeance

Famed English artist Alan Davis provided the art to the alternative cover to the omnibus.

Call off the hounds! The wait is over. The complete Vroom! saga has finally been collected into an awesome omnibus. As you may recall in my landmark posting, “See You in the Funny Papers,” I was immortalized by writer Gerry Conway and artist Sal Buscema as Stephan the Waiter in Spectacular Spider-Man #158. If you somehow missed that Closet classic, what are you waiting for? Read it… Now! It’s okay; I’ll wait…

Where was I? Oh yeah… Coming this December, Marvel will be releasing the Acts of Vengeance Omnibus, which will contain every single appearance of yours truly. Vengeance was a mega-crossover occurring in a plethora of Marvel titles in late eighties. In a nutshell, the epic was a Brobdingnagian slugfest pitting the vilest of the Marvel Universe villains against those heroes outside their normal comfort zone, a scheme devised by the Norse god of mischief and Thor nemesis, Loki. Thus, X-Men arch-rival Magneto attacked Spider-Man and Iron Man baddie The Mandarin confronted The Avengers—among other matches—in the hope that by taking on heroes unfamiliar with them they can finally check off a box in the “win” column.

I know what you’re thinking: a single appearance does not a collection make. And you’d be right. But what I’ve failed to mention ’til now is that, in the unforgettable words of Jedi Master Yoda in The Empire Strike Back, “There is another…”

In the late eighties/early nineties, I was dating a girl by the name of Jennifer. We’d worked together at the same restaurant mentioned in “There’s Got to Be a Morning After,” another time-honored telling of Closet’s past (What? Again with the “I missed it?” Where have you been?!!). Jennifer lived alone in a downtown studio; alone if you discount her cat, Prudence T. Bag, and her one hundred fifty pound Bull Mastiff, Edgar Allen Paw. Eddie, as he was affectionately known, was a teddy bear, once he got to know you. Otherwise, he was every single, living-sans-roommates, female New Yorker’s dream: a formidable protector. I nearly turned tail and fled after I heard the baleful booming barks that erupted after I knocked on Jennifer’s apartment door on the night of our first date (Let’s not even get into the first time we were intimate!).

You lookin at me?

Around the time we were dating, I met comic-book artist Paul Ryan. Ryan was another of those stalwart underrated storytellers who never got the attention and accolades he deserved, ever playing second fiddle in the popularity contests by fan boys more interested in pin-ups, cross-hatching and speed lines than exemplary storytelling. Ryan was never deemed “hot,” despite long stints on such prominent titles as Fantastic Four, Adventures of Superman and Avengers. He also happened to be selfless, soft-spoken, humble, hardworking and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, which sadly probably led to his being overlooked by the puerile pollsters who equate popularity with ego, attitude and a work ethic akin to the Grasshopper in Aesop’s fables.

An over-the-shoulder view of Ryan sketching at a convention where I appeared as Spidey

Ryan and I were featured guests at another of deranged Darwin and lissome Lola’s comic shows in Edmonton, Canada (as you surely recognize from “Survival of the Fittest” Part I and II. And if not, put it on the list… Sheesh!). As a Massachusetts native, like myself, we clicked immediately. He was penciling Avengers at the time and allowed me to rifle through the pages he had brought with him as a parting gift. A gorgeous Tom Palmer-inked, John Byrne-scripted, Ryan masterpiece from Avengers #306 has been a cherished possession ever since.

Examples of Ryan’s work from Adventures of Superman (l.)
Fantastic Four (r.)

As we got to know one another, the subject of my girlfriend’s canine companion came up. Describing a dog as weighing 150lbs, gets one to thinking that you're exaggerating. The average weight of a woman is just over 160 lbs and it’s hard for anyone to envision a dog that big. Fortunately, I had a photo of Eddie with me. Merely a headshot, but nevertheless enough to convey the immensity of the creature.

Not long afterward, Paul and I met again at another appearance. As we caught up, he revealed that he had drawn me into Avengers #313. It’s a single-panel, wordless cameo inspired by Eddie. In it I play a trench-coat–clad pedestrian, out walking his dog while staring as mute witness to an encounter between Wonder Man and The Wizard. As the restaurant featured in the story that introduced Stephan the Waiter was the same where Jennifer and I worked, I see this as a surprise guest appearance by the popular Spider-Man supporting character walking his girlfriend’s pooch. Unfortunately, size constraints prevented Ryan from including Eddie.

So now Marvel has decided to cash in on my celebrity, publishing the entire Vroom! oeuvre in one colossal compendium. At least they had the decency to include all the interstitial issues that contribute to the “Acts of Vengeance” side story, though why they named it thus, I cannot say.

“Acts of Vroom!” wouldve been more appropriate!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Battle Royale

I often got presents from my wee fans at events. Most often, these gifts took the form of artwork, 90-percent of which featured Spider-Man. I wish I could say that I’ve held onto every single work given to me by these burgeoning Botticellis, but frequently during signings, a chaperon would put the objets d’art someplace for safekeeping, only to be forgotten upon my departure. Other pieces fell victim to moves.

But I can attest that I’ve never knowingly discarded any of the thoughtful presents and still cherish the many I still possess. These fans made a special effort to thank their beloved Web-Swinger for being their hero; a friend; in many cases, a mentor or surrogate parent; and one would have to be a heartless bastard not to be touched upon receipt of these sincere acknowledgments.

Secret Wars III?

So with your kind indulgence, my faithful Bloglodytes, I will occasionally treat you to the “masterpieces” from my personal collection. Kicking off the series with a bang is this explosive battle scene from Chris Brown (As with much of the art, I have no record of the benefactor’s age or any details from the event at which I received the work—most fans simply put their first names, if that.).

Marvel Zombies will recognize immediately that this massive melee represents one of the company’s signature misunderstandings among its heroes, made famous by writer/creator Stan Lee in the blossoming days of comic-bookdom’s Silver Age. At least, there are no readily discernable villains present and, but for a lone T-rex, most of the combatants can be traced to their heroic counterparts.

I love the way Brown chose to delineate certain characters. The Hulk, for instance, appropriately leaps into the fray from the upper left corner. His maw plain to see and his gamma-irradiated pectorals cleverly depicted with a few stacked curlicues. The artist also accurately presents the misunderstood mega-muscled misanthrope’s fists and feet larger than his head.

Three-fourths of Marvel’s premiere team, The Fantastic Four, are featured. I do not blame Brown from forgoing an attempt at drawing The Thing, a onerous task for even a veteran artist. Brown makes up for Ben Grimm’s absence with his colleagues prominently displayed in full use of their respective powers. Mr. Fantastic’s pliable form nearly stretches the full right side of the canvas. The Invisible Woman may appear oddly feathery, but our creative craftsman is spot-on in his interpretation of Sue Storm’s using her powers, as often displayed by legendary artist and the quartet’s co-creator, Jack Kirby.

Human Torch, meanwhile, is gruesomely frying what could be the scene’s only true villain, if the figure’s clawed hand and evil visage are any indication. Johnny Storm’s bifurcated flame simultaneously gives the aforementioned T-rex a roasted rump.

There are many other wonderful interpretations in Brown’s piece. His use of squiggles to illustrate the Michelin-manlike striations in Colossus’s metallic form or his economy in presenting Cyclops—the sideward oval across the X-Men member’s face to signify his visor—are genius.

Strangely, there seem to be three possible Web-Spinner’s leaping about the action. It could be that Brown was feeding off the infamous “Clone Saga” of the early 90s (Don’t ask). Or he just didn’t like the first couple of Spideys that he drew. Still, I could be mistaken, and two of the three only appear to be Webheads.

A similar conundrum seems to exist with Captain America. Two red-white-and-blue Avengers appear. One stands unmoving. The star emblazoned on his shield and obvious wings book-ending his head are sure signs of his identity. But there is another, sketched in black marker, apparently flipping whilst throwing his vaunted indestructible disc. One possible explanation is that the hero in black is actually U.S. Agent (Again, don’t ask).

Another explanation for this multiplicity of the same hero is that Brown is dramatizing the battle as a whole, its combatants’ actions shown throughout. Characters, such as Spider-Man and Cap—whose quickness and athleticism know no human bounds—appear at many stages in various areas of the scene at once; a clever technique to connote the wildness and ferocity of battle.

It would be easy and lazy to dismiss the drawing as nothing more than the typical scribblings of a youngster. Or regard my erudite analysis as nothing more than the self-indulgent ramblings of someone who is looking to exalt a cherished gift to the proper heights for which he believes it should be held. That would be an injustice. The composition may appear smooshed in places, and great liberty is taken with the anatomy of the characters. There are even a couple blotted-out figures—crossed-out mistakes, as it were. But I see these “faults” as enhancements. This is a battle, after all, and as such, chaos should be the over-riding theme.

Not that Brown planned this on a conscious level, but as a youngster, whose creativity is not yet fettered by the “rules” and “properness” of society. His emotions and expression are truly unbound and totally unsuppressed. The legendary artist Picasso once said he spent his whole life learning how to draw like a child—an anecdote I cited in my review of Tim Burton’s art exhibit at the MoMA. I believe Chris Brown’s drawing exemplifies what the Spanish master meant.

It reminds me of Picasso’s “Guernica” in its representation of anarchy and carnage. Humans and animals are thrown asunder at impossible angles, and it is impossible to distinguish the details. But the drama, the energy, the emotions are palpable. Thus is the horror of war. I certainly do not mean to diminish the subject matter of the master artisan’s famous painting—the heinous bombing of the eponymous town during the Spanish civil war—in my analysis of Brown’s superhero donnybrook. But, to a lesser extent, I believe the energy and fearlessness of his work is similar. There is no doubt that this is a confrontation of epic proportions.