The Old Ones Are the Best

This morning’s post features Marvel’s 1976 Giant Superhero Holiday Grab Bag, the third and final Christmas collection. Yet again, this wasn’t a comic I bought back then: my copy was given to me by my friend Alex Harvey about a decade ago.

1976 Grab bag

I think there are two striking things about this Treasury. Firstly, the Gil Kane/Joe Sinott front cover is a better design than that of previous years. It also seems less kiddie-oriented than 1975.  Secondly, you can see why Gerry Conway was such a hot property, having flitted from DC to Marvel and back, shaking up both companies in the process. His writing is probably at its strongest in the examples reprinted here.

‘Tis the Season: Roger Stern and George Tuska provide a charming Yuletide framing sequence for the stories reprinted here. This is the first time this device has been used in a Treasury. It opens with a charity snowball fight between the FF and the Avengers where Spider-Man plays a prank on the Thing, ushering in…

As Those Who Will Not See: a Conway/Kane tale from the early days of Marvel Team-Up, this one presents the Secret Origin of Alicia Masters. Conway takes B-list FF foe the Puppet Master and creates a thoroughly believable character driven by guilt and fear, telling the story of  murderous jealousy that caused the girl’s blindness.

There’s a jarring note of animosity between Petey and Ben Grimm, his co-star here but Conway deftly mirrors their partnership with that of the Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker with its “bland betrayals and symbols of self-contempt”. It’s quite a sophisticated Bronze Age tale although not ostensibly festive.

Avengers 151 roster

The Avengers line-up in the framing sequence is the classic Englehart / Conway team: Cap, Iron Man and the two married couples , plus the Beast. The Wasp is wearing a fur-trimmed costume to the snowball fight, previously seen in…

Even An Android Can Cry: the most dynamic story in the Treasury is the Secret Origin of the Vision. It opens and closes with two legendary images: the Black Panther, prowling on a rooftop and, of course, the tearful synthezoid. There’s a certain irony since the Vision will immediately supplant T’Challa as the Assemblers’ resident brooding man of mystery.

Buscema draws everyone who was ever an Avenger ( except the Swordsman!) while also portraying the body language  of the  quintessential Hawkeye: a hero both loyal and yet a bit smug. Through the device of Reed Richards-stand in , Hank Pym, Thomas deftly connects Ultron with Wonder Man.  Roy the Boy creates a trope of interlinking origins that will  be employed most enthusiastically by Englehart in the 70s.

The Scarlet Witch comments to her android husband that, as a child, she believed  shooting stars were falling angels. Cue…

He Who Strikes the Silver Surfer: a Marie Severin Hulk story in which Stan’s favourite star-spanning messiah encounters Ol’ Greenskin for the first time. Ironically, the Surfer is about to permanently cure Bruce Banner with his Power Cosmic when the Hulk misinterprets his actions for a sneak attack. For me, this is the weakest story in the collection and while prettily drawn, a little staid and predictable .  I think the Vision usurped the Surfer’s role as outcast/philosopher and ran with it in the 70s without the awkward “Space Jesus” notes of Stan’s scripting.

The lonesome Hulk, celebrating Xmas with the Defenders, receives a gift of slippers from Nighthawk. It seems the neurotic rich kid has no imagination, in addition to being a tightwad. Meanwhile Nelson and Murdock are toasting their new storefront law practice, recalling…

Once Upon a Time- The Ox: a stylish and moody Conway/Colan tale of Daredevil. The Black Widow has been framed for murder thanks to the machinations of Mr. Kline ( a time-travelling android assassin. Don’t ask.) Matt and Karen Page  break their engagement due to the Sightless Swashbuckler’s burgeoning relationship with Madame Natasha. The action comes courtesy of the Ox, the old Ditko thug who was a victim of a personality-swap experiment years previously.

The Ox is a tedious C-list villain who undergoes a bizarre transformation in this story- effectively becoming a purple Hulk thanks to that venerable Marvel McGuffin, radiation. Conway wrings some pathos out of the Ox but he’s far better with the soap opera/romance elements of the story. It also ends with a snowfall which leads into…

Angel-Champion

a vignette with the Champions, although Angel isn’t sporting his 70s bare-chested/headband outfit. This Treasury reminds me that, while DC was struggling in the Bicentennial year with kitschy kids tv titles and Marvel rip-offs, the House of Ideas was mass-producing team books.  The Invaders, Inhumans and the X-Men are not represented here but the ensemble cast was very much the flavour of the month.

I liked this collection more than 1975. Although it doesn’t have the allure of the first Christmas Treasury- and nor does it have any Kirby or Ditko art- it’s a great primer for the greats of the Bronze and Silver Ages.

Next time, I’ll be speculating on what the contents of a 1977 Grab Bag might have been. Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners.

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2 comments on “The Old Ones Are the Best

  1. Kid Robson says:

    H’mm, strange. Despite your plot descriptions, this one doesn’t ring any bells (Christmas allusion) with me. Perhaps I didn’t buy it because of the absence of Kirby or Ditko, but the cover somehow seems so familiar. I’d have to actually see it – so send it to me at once. (Worth a try.)

  2. Kid Robson says:

    PS. Merry Christmas, Dougie.

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