Avengers, big box of comics, color classics, comic books, deeper and stranger, John Buscema, Paul Chadwick, Roger Stern, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, world below
The big box of comics series is a tribute to the fun things I wouldn’t have in my life without the readers of this blog who help me earn store credit at MyComicShop.com or Amazon.com every time they use my handy “Collector’s Guides” links to make a purchase.
It’s a symbiotic relationship — much like when an alien symbiote bonds to your nervous system and drinks your adrenaline for survival.
Actually, it’s nothing like that, but you could read that story in the Spectacular Spider-man TPB #1 by Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos.
This month, thanks to readers’ generosity, I put together a run of inexpensive reprints of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2–5, courtesy of IDW’s “Color Classics” versions of early TMNT. A few months ago, readers helped me reunite with the ridiculous majesty of TMNT #6, and I couldn’t go on without reading the preceding issues at least one more time!
Was it fun? Oh, hell yes. But maybe not as great as I remember from my black-and-white collections or the original colorized graphic novels from First. IDW’s coloring is part of that, since they put dark colors over the original Zip-a-Tone midtones, and obscuring the mid-range tends to flatten the artwork and make it less dynamic. Also, one of the pages in one issue seems to be a misprint that duplicates a page from earlier in the story.
But in terms of being an affordable way to read the Turtles’ earliest adventures, these reprints did the job admirably. Because #6 is one of my all-time favorite comics, I enjoyed reliving the outrageous plot that led up to it, and seeing how the storytelling evolved and improved in the early days. As a bonus, I got a few issues from the second volume of Color Classics, including a solo Michelangelo adventure in a kind of Lone Wolf & Cub fantasy of feudal Japan mixed with mystic lizard demons from hell. That issue includes one of my favorite Turtles pages:
Also from the second volume, a color version of an issue of the Return to New York story that’s a favorite of mine. In the black-and-white original, a brain-damaged, dying Triceratops with some kind of plamsa gun kills and burns his way through the New York sewer system for his new friends: a quartet of mutated, intelligent reptiles who are also armored killing machines.
If that doesn’t sound like the greatest scene ever, then you are at the wrong blog!
Along with the batch of ninja nostalgia, I picked up some bargain-priced Fine copies of Paul Chadwick’s The World Below. It’s no secret I love Chadwick’s Concrete series. World Below and its sequel, the four-issue Deeper and Stranger, don’t have the same depth of storytelling and lush rendering as Concrete, but they are a fun romp through Chadwick’s science-fiction imagination.
I like the sequel better than the first series. The sequel uses black and white art with no color, which is almost always how I prefer to see Chadwick’s art. And, the first series suffered from too many flashbacks trying to make me care about characters I never properly met, since the story started right in the middle of the action. Each time a character faced a crisis I wasn’t invested in, the character flashed back to a similar situation in their early life to beat me over the head with how huge an emotional deal it all was. That didn’t work for me.
Also, I could have lived without seeing the characters say, “eff this” and “eff you, you effing effer” instead of using the actual profanity. Those pages in World Below #3 were physically painful to read, and even old-school characters like F@%$ would have been preferable.
It seems to me that if your dialogue depends on using the word “fuck”, then you should just say “fuck”.
The narrative problems (mostly) smooth out in the sequel, which has my favorite issue of the series and an unexpected ending that blew my mind. Deeper and Stranger fulfills the promise of the first World Below and the tagline on those covers: the deeper you go, the stranger it gets!
Finally, this month’s box of comics included a favorite from my Avengers collection that I sold off a few years ago. Recently, someone commented on my old post about the Stern/Buscema/Palmer run on Avengers in the 1980s. It reminded me that while I basically memorized those issues after reading them so many times, Avengers #266 featuring the Silver Surfer really needed to come back to my modest “Avengers favorites” collection.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: the issue is a post-script to one of the most god-awful, tragic dumpster fires Marvel produced in the 1980s: Secret Wars II. Don’t even get me started.
But this issue focuses on two powerful beings—one a respected hero, and one a reviled villain—who need to work together to heal a cataclysmic wound in the Earth before the planet falls apart and kills everyone. All in 32 ad-free pages, in which the fate of the world might depend on one total nerd’s desire to watch sitcom re-runs with his girlfriend instead of letting the disaster take its fatal course. It’s so insane!
This issue has many examples of Stern’s dialogue that endeared me to his Avengers. Namor and Hercules bust each other’s balls like only gods can do, but below their arguing I sense a mutual respect born of the knowledge that they are both beings of power, and maybe they need each other to call each other out sometimes to help keep their rages in check.
She-Hulk isn’t turned off at all by Hercules’ temper tantrums; she flatters him and straight-up asks him to dinner, which is almost as awesome as that time she hooked up with Juggernaut. Jennifer’s a being of great power, too, and she seems perfectly comfortable and relaxed about it.
Hercules’ thoughts on nobility and heroism after the villain supposedly “loses his powers” while saving the Earth — also a lovely piece of internal dialogue.
But my favorite part is the final scene where the villain reveals he never lost his powers at all, and that the hero was complicit in this deception.
The Silver Surfer’s comment on courage and vulnerability really sums up what I love about this Avengers run. Sure, it’s all fun and games in spandex with lots of punching and the fate of the universe at stake, and there’s no shortage of expositional thought balloons. But every now and then, Stern’s humanistic and thoughtful depictions of his characters meld with John Buscema’s and Tom Palmer’s artwork to create peaks of visual literature.
You know what? I might need to reclaim a few more of my favorite story arcs from this run — especially the Kang saga and the assault on Avengers Mansion.
That’s it for September’s big box of free comics, and I am excited to tell you about the October box that is on its way!
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