Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man (January 1976)

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It’s too bad this one doesn’t work out better, but at least it fails in an interesting way. Superman and Spider-Man simply can’t work together. It’s not so much the problems with them not matching powers—Lex Luthor zaps Spidey with some red Kryptonite powers to even the odds at one point—it’s the characters themselves, they’re too different.

The comic’s split into four parts. First is a Superman prologue, then a Spidey, then Doctor Octopus and Lex teaming up before the culminating team-up between Spidey and Superman. The first three parts work great. The fourth part barely works at all. Peter Parker and Lois Lane meeting up, professionally, it works great. Morgan Edge and Jonah getting hammered? Also great.

Superman calling Spidey “web-slinger?” Not great. Though Spidey gets away with calling him “Supes.”

The art hodgepodge makes it visually interesting, but not good.

It’s sadly charmless.

CREDITS

The Battle of the Century!; writer, Gerry Conway; pencillers, Ross Andru, Neal Adams and John Romita; inkers, Dick Giordano, Terry Austin, Josef Rubinstein, Bob Wiacek and Romita; colorist, Jerry Serpe; letterer, Gaspar Saladino; editors, Roy Thomas, Julius Schwartz, Marv Wolfman, E. Nelson Bridwell, Carmine Infantino, Stan Lee and Conway; publishers, DC Comics and Marvel Comics.

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Rip Kirby, Terror on the Thames (June-December 1948)

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This storyline, even longer than the last, again has Honey getting a smaller role than almost anyone else. She’s back, at least, even if it is just for the setup mostly. Since Rip’s been gone on his latest adventure, Honey has been apparently promoted at the modeling agency and is now organizing fashion shows in addition to modeling in them. A modeling auteur, as it were.

One of her models goes missing and Rip ends up investigating. But Greene and Raymond also take the time to show what’s actually happening with the model during her disappearance. It’s a nice narrative move—Rip Kirby’s plotting is getting more and more inventive, even if Rip himself is barely present anymore. He’s still a bigger character than Honey, but Greene and Raymond constantly shortchange him.

And that shortchanging seems to make a better strip.

Lots of great art (London, the models) from Raymond.

CREDITS

Writer, Ward Greene; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.

Captain America 250 (October 1980)

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After some hiccups, Stern finally gets the whole “Captain America for President” idea working. The problem scenes are the establishing ones. It’s Cap talking to the third party guys who want him to run on their ticket. The issue gets good once it’s Steve Rogers trying to figure out if he should run or not.

That opening is so bad, in fact, I thought the whole issue would be a disaster, but Cap’s speech explaining why he will not run is some iconic writing from Stern on the character.

Maybe the awful expository narration for the opening action scene (Cap versus a domestic terrorist) soured me to the issue prematurely.

Rubinstein’s art—Byrne’s credited with breakdowns—definitely has its moments. Unfortunately, the art’s the best while Steve Rogers is helping Bernie Rosenthal move into her apartment. That scene’s a good one anyway though.

It’s a fine issue, brief but effective.

CREDITS

Cap For President!; writer, Roger Stern; pencillers, John Byrne and Joe Rubinstein; inker, Rubinstein; colorist, George Roussos; letterer, Jim Novak; editors, Bob Budiansky and Jim Salicrup; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Rip Kirby, Bleak Prospects (October 1947-June 1948)

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For whatever reason, Greene and Raymond push Honey off panel for this entire storyline—and it’s a long one, running almost eight months. Pagan returns, bringing with her a friend who ends up as Rip’s client. There are two parts to the storyline. First, finding the villain, a woman who pretends to foster child but really sells them. Then finding the child of Pagan’s friend, who’s already been sold.

Greene and Raymond delicately weave all the details—during the first part, the child’s new “parents” are in the supporting cast so the reader always has more information than the characters. It’s a large cast for this storyline too. Maybe eight new characters.

Most of the second half—and the resolution to the first, when I think about it—is action. It’s chase stuff, Rip just missing finding the kid or getting in a scrap.

It’s compelling, but Rip’s barely necessary.

CREDITS

Writer, Ward Greene; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.

The Mystic Hands of Dr. Strange 1 (May 2010)

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This issue is an homage to Marvel’s old black and white magazines, though at the regular, modern comic size. And, with the exception of including a text story (I don’t care who wrote it, why’s it there?), the issue is a complete success.

The feature story, from Kieron Gillen and Frazer Irving, is set in the late seventies and deals with contemporary social issues. It’s a “place in the world” superhero story for Dr. Strange, even though he’s not exactly a superhero. Gillen’s writing is strong and Irving draws a scary Mephisto. With it, the issue’s off to an excellent start.

The next story, from Peter Milligan and Frank Brunner, is also good. Brunner’s artwork lends itself, on a whole, better to the form than Irving’s does. Milligan writes fine dialogue.

Ted McKeever’s action story is really a moody introspective addiction piece.

It’s all great. But why the text story?

CREDITS

The Cure; writer, Kieron Gillen; artist, Frazer Irving. Melancholia; writer, Peter Milligan; artist, Frank Brunner. So This Is How It Feels…; writer and artist, Ted McKeever. Duel In The Dark Dimension; writer, Mike Carey; artist, Marcos Martin. Letterer, Joe Caramagna; editors, John Barber and Jody Leheup; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Rip Kirby, The Dolls’ House (May-October 1947)

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This storyline is slightly goofy.

First, Honey runs off to show up Rip (she’s mad he was giving Pagan Lee attention). So he and Desmond (Desmond’s his butler, a reformed burglar) have to find her. In the meantime, Honey’s met this evil old woman on an ocean liner and it turns out she’s going to be the storyline’s main villain.

But then Greene and Raymond introduce this Hawaiian ex-Marine buddy of Rip’s—the story takes place in Hawaii—who runs around looking like Tarzan most of the time. It’s like Raymond really wanted to do a jungle adventure comic and he just added it to Rip Kirby.

The actual mystery is pretty lame and it plays more as an action story. Only the action isn’t particularly good. The bad guy’s an old lady… it’s not like Rip’s going to knock her out.

The art’s great, the story’s just tepid.

CREDITS

Writer, Ward Greene; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.

Captain America 249 (September 1980)

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The Dragon Man cliffhanger really does not resolve well. All Stern can think of to get it over with promptly is for Cap to throw his glove in Dragon Man’s eye.

Then Dragon Man heads off to confront Machinesmith and Cap tags along. This sequence, from the cliffhanger resolution to Machinesmith’s hide-out, is visually fantastic. Stern doesn’t even cloud it over with narration or exposition, we just get to see the Byrne and Rubinstein art.

Unfortunately, the Machinesmith stuff is far less satisfying. Three quarters of the issue is Cap fighting a robot (or a piece of a robot) only to discover another robot waiting to attack him.

The final resolution, coming after two flashbacks revealing Machinesmith’s tortured past (Daredevil beat him up amongst other things), has a very sci-fi feel to it. Stern inexplicably closes this sequence with some awkwardly patriotic thought balloons.

But the art’s great.

CREDITS

Death, Where Is Thy Sting?; writers, John Byrne and Roger Stern; penciller, Byrne; inker, Joe Rubinstein; colorist, Bob Sharen; letterer, Jim Novak; editors, Bob Budiansky and Jim Salicrup; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Rip Kirby, Past Imperfect (January-May 1947)

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About half this storyline is spent with Pagan Lee as the protagonist. Rip and Honey are too busy vacationing (though there’s some more implications of their intimate relationship). Pagan’s past is catching up with her, with a card shark tries to shake her down. It’s an interesting structure, with Greene and Raymond spending a lot of time introducing the card shark and detailing his efforts before meeting Pagan. It barely feels like Rip Kirby in those strips.

Rip eventually shows up to sort the whole thing out and the story races to the finish. I think, once Rip appears, the rest of the story takes place over two days, maybe three. It’s almost too fast.

The other problem is how Greene writes Rip during the first half, as he ignores Pagan’s troubles. He makes Rip petty and occasionally mean.

It’s still a compelling read, since Pagan’s a very sympathetic character.

CREDITS

Writer, Ward Greene; artist, Alex Raymond; publisher, King Features.

Spider-Man: Back in Quack 1 (November 2010)

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This issue, one of Marvel’s smorgasbord of one shots, is actually a Steve Gerber tribute issue. The feature is Howard the Duck (meets Spider-Man) and the backup is Man-Thing. Not sure why Marvel didn’t advertise it better, other than they missed a good memorial period by two years.

Stuart Moore does a fine job on the feature, with Spider-Man discovering Howard and Bev have been brainwashed by these corporate bad guys. It’s all very anti-establishment, but in a broad way. Moore’s not being a rebel, he’s just posing as one. I wouldn’t even mention it if it weren’t for the Man-Thing backup. In it, Moore discusses the problems with deranged veterans coming home from overseas. The solution? Getting zapped by Man-Thing.

The pencils on the feature are split between Mark Brooks and Ray Height. Brooks is better. Joe Suitor does the backup; he’s bad.

CREDITS

Human Slavery for Beginners; writer, Stuart Moore; pencillers, Mark Brooks and Ray Height; inker, Walden Wong; colorist, Andres Mossa; letterer, Clayton Cowles. Fear and Mister Dayton; writer, Stuart Moore; artist and colorist, Joe Suitor; letterer, Dave Lanphear. Editors, Tom Brennan, Stephen Wacker and Tom Brevoort; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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