After the awful, shocking events in the US yesterday, it seems a little asinine to post about fantasy violence. But the spirit of the season is peace, after all.
Today’s post concerns 1975’s Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag. Again, this was a comic that I bought on ebay and added to my collection in the last couple of years. The whimsical front cover implies ( perhaps misleadingly) that the contents are entirely suitable for a tot resembling the US Dennis the Menace. The back cover was reprinted for seasonal copies of Marvel UK’s black-and white weeklies.
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: I had read almost all the material in this treasury before but this Nick Fury story was the only one I’d read in the original US edition. It had been part of my cousin Jim’s collection which was passed down to me, circa1971
Gary Friedrich and Frank Springer produce a swingin’ super-spy story for the late Sixties with references to Sinatra and daiquiris. Fury dispatches some muggers (who flee with a jarring cry of “Let’s shag!” Really? Did hipsters say that, when they meant “run away”?) The SHIELD boss is about to spend Xmas Eve in the arms of old flame Laura when he gets a call that the Hate-Monger ( presumably not Adolf Hitler, killed in the FF) is threatening the world with germ warfare from his satellite. Essentially, this is the plot of Moonraker but with a twist. Fury, it is implied, is saved from death in space by Santa! Probably my favourite story here -it looks classy, it’s a bit sexy and very widescreen, although a double-page spread of the Hate-Monger in his lair is halved.
Spidey Goes Mad!: a gorgeous Lee/Ditko collaboration. Spidey ends up on the psychiatrist’s couch when the illusionist Mysterio poses as a European headshrinker. The villain has an incredibly elaborate plan but one that hinges on his unlikely knowledge that the web-spinner is neurotic to begin with. It struck me that the Romita version of Puny Parker was here in essence – Petey is quite the pretty boy already. There are plenty of soap opera moments but it seems strange, when you have a villain with an appearance as outré as Mysterio, to show him in civilian disguise. This episode is not a great favourite of mine but the plot would work as a Spidey movie. There is no Xmas connection at all.
Jingle Bombs!: An Englehart/ Tuska production, this is a Yuletide story but a bizarre and ludicrous one: Hero for Hire Luke Cage plays out a bonkers version of A Christmas Carol. He encounters a terrorist who disguises himself as a Victorian Fusilier; a paraplegic Viet Nam vet; and a laser-wielding security officer from the exotic future of 1984. Held hostage by the schizo villain, Cage learns he has an atomic bomb. The plot is eventually foiled when a burglar falls down the chimney. The entire ridiculous premise is also peppered with Cage’s oddball ghetto-slang and the steel-skinned Blaxplotation star is a cheery, grinning figure throughout. Although Englehart’s plot is no more silly than the Spidey story, its achingly ” relevant” ambition makes it toe-curling.
Heaven is a Very Small Place: a beautifully-drawn Thomas/Trimpe/Severin short story. The Hulk interacts with the eerie mirage of a classic American small town. The community is so idyllic that the Emerald One declares ” Hulk will protect it–stand guard over it.” He also encounters a ghostly child in a wheelchair, which is a saccharine moment that suggests the whole episode is a delusion. Like an episode of the Twilight Zone, this vignette wrings pathos from Ol’ Greenskin but it’s hardly very Xmas-sy
Eternity! Eternity! an hallucinatory fantasy from Thomas and Colan, this story features Dr. Strange in his late Sixties super-hero phase, when he resembled the Golden Age Vision. I always liked the bald, blue-skinned Sorcerer Supreme and here, he spends New Year’s Eve in Times Square with the stunning Clea. The entity known as Nightmare unleashes dinosaurs and Vikings on NYC ( a typical Thomas gimmick) and the big reveal is that Eternity, the embodiment of the universe, is his prisoner. Frustratingly, it’s only one part of a three-part story but it is a moody piece of Marvel’s late Sixties psychedelia. Despite its brevity, probably my second-favourite story in the Treasury.
Some memorable art but on the other hand, forgettable stories. Maybe it’s just the context – coming to it nearly forty year later- but I don’t think it has quite the appeal of the first Grab-Bag. Prophetically, it also looks like a gathering of Brian Bendis’ New Avengers.
Next: Marvel’s Yuletide Gift of the Bicentennial Year
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