Yesterday on Place, I alluded to the great era of Golden Age DC reprints, ushered in by the late Carmine Infantino. One of the factors that influenced my purchase of Marvel’s Treasury Editions was how many of the stories I had already read. After all, by 1976, Marvel UK had been reprinting stories in b/w – and other colours- for four years. The heyday of British Marvel was over, thanks in part to the double-dip recession of 1975. So, if Giant Superhero Team-Up went on sale in South Lanarkshire, I declined to pick it up. However, today, it’s an visually appealing souvenir of mid-Sixties Marvel.
In the Rage of Battle: my favourite story in this collection is from 1968 and the early months of the Thomas/Buscema Sub-Mariner solo series. The Sepent Crown, disguised as The Helmet of the Ancients, is in the custody of the Thing. Namor, eager to return the mind-controlling helmet to the Antartcic, becomes involved in a spectacular struggle with Ben Grimm. The conflict is only ended by the arrival of a mysterious female- revealed to be an elderly Betty Dean, the widow and ex- policewoman who was formerly Namor’s Girl Friday in the Forties.
The Thing provides humour in a melancholy story about ageing and lost love which even has time for a cameo of Thomas’ new star, the Vision, wrapped in his enigmatc musings with Goliath ( in his garish, short-lived red and blue costume).
Thomas is at the height of his powers here, evoking the elemental Golden Age clashes with the android Torch in a few deft scenes. Almost twenty years later, he would probably have devoted several issues to his nostalgia for the Forties. The cleverest element is counterpointing lovestruck Diane Arliss ( sister to Tiger Shark, effectively Namor’s mosntrous co-star in those days) with the former Betty Dean and subtly foregrounding Lady Dorma as Namor’s real romantic focus. Thomas is a much more engaging and sophisticated writer than Stan Lee as this comic proves and it makes me wonder why his Mar-Vell series stuttered and failed.
Not to denigrate Buscema, whose heroes are powerful and whose women are smouldering. Big John also brings realism to the devastation of NYC ( as we will see again later). This is a gorgeous and poignant story, which makes me want to re-read the Sub-Mariner series.
In Combat with Captain America: a violent if pointless 1968 brawl between Dardevil and the Star-Spangled Avenger. After several panels of soap opera mooning over Karen Page, Daredevil is again exposed to that old McGuffin, radioactivity.
DD subsequently displays an abrasive cocky personality, not unlike Hawkeye in the days of the Kooky Quartet. There follows a dynamic ehibition of pugilism and martial arts at Madison Square Garden. Gene Colan mastefully depicts both the angished, lovelorn Matt Murdock and the reckless boxer’s son in the ring. There is also a cameo of the villain du jour, the sinister Jester: very much DD’s Joker in the mid-sixties.
The Mighty Thor battles the Incredible Hulk: this is a 1965 vignette revisiting events from Avengers 3, the clash with the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk on Gibraltar. Thor intervenes in a squabble between two youthful factions of Thor- and Hulk- fans ( Kirby’s preppy kids in fedoras) to settle the oldest Marvel question: “Who’s the strongest?”
The Wasp gets no screen time in this “director’s cut” but it’s fun to see the original Avengers sprawling over one another. Thor entreats Odin to reduce his might to make his fight with the Hulk a fairer one. It certainly enhances the power and rage of Ol’ Greenskin. Not one of my favourite Thor episodes but it ends with a contemplative Thunder God.
The Surfer and the Spider: for me, this is the weakest story in the collection but it has beautiful art from Buscema and Adkins. This is a Silver Surfer episode I first read in b/w in the weekly Super Heroes UK reprint title. It comes from 1970 and is four issues away from the end of the Surfer’s first run.
It’s another pointless slugfest, this time with Spider-Man ( and next month will see an equally pointless, if slightly more evenly matched , clash with Johnny Storm). The selflessly noble but melodramatic Surfer is difficult to sympathise with and will soon be eclipsed by the sombre Vision as Marvel’s most popular Stranger in a Strange Land.
Stan the Man presents a self-referential world where Marvel’s heroes appear in comics. A comics-obsessed kid is an unwitting passenger on the Surfer’s board but while his unhip dad represents the square, comics-loathing establishment, how will young Henry respond to the trauma of being caught up in super-human conflict? The story rather leaves us siding with the Man, even if the Surfer is seen as a benevolent alien.
Despite some thin scripts, this Treasury is a great sampler of classic Silver Age art at Marvel and a companion piece to 1978’s paperback Marvel’s Greatest Superhero Battles.
Coming soon: The JLA in Bicentennial Year.
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