Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Marvel Comics Presents #18

Christmas 2018
Marvel Comics Presents #18

Half a review for half a book about Christmas

When Marvel Comics Presents popped onto the scene in 1988, I had to buy it. The cover story was Wolverine and that first book contained three other favorites: Man-Thing, Shang Chi, and Silver Surfer. And once you bought one issue of the anthology, you were hooked in for the long haul, as that Wolvie story drug on for ten issues. And issue ten featured part one of a Colossus story…which hooked you for the next eight issues, while starting alongside it, around Part Three there began a multipart Black Panther story running for…

You get the picture?

Once you were suckered into Marvel Comics Presents, there was no easy way off the train. You could jump, sure! But you would miss the ending of one story or another and ten feet down the track would probably come a creator or character you wanted to read…and back on you’d find yourself.

I don’t remember liking any of the multipart stories all that much. Seems many had issues with not having enough page count to really feel impactful. Also these solo tales didn’t always mesh well with current Marvel continuity.

The book worked best with it’s short one-issue stories, in my opinion and as a Christmas treat I’m presenting you with this issue from May 1989. At least that was the cover date. Not certain why Marvel would throw out half a Christmas issue in the middle of the year, but perhaps that’s a mystery best left unsolved.

What we do get are two nicely done tales that are more comical than relevant to Marvel Universe goings-on. They are a bunch of fun though, so we need to give each one its due. Let’s start with the one drawn by our fabulous cover artist John Byrne.

John Byrne’s falling out with DC over lack of ongoing support for his revamp of Superman landed him back on Marvel’s doorstep, where he was given She-Hulk and card blanc. So ,Byrne being Byrne took She-Hulk as far out as he could. Stealing a page from DC’s Ambush Bug playbook, Byrne broke the forth wall and turned it into a laugh riot. Not that She-Hulk audiences minded. The art was great and the stories poking fun at the industry, the storytelling process and the character herself were very well done.

Let’s start there, shall we? It’s about half-way through the book and it’s a little number we call…Xmas Tease

"Xmas Tease”
Writer – John Byrne
Penciler – John Byrne
Inker – Bob Wiacek
Letterer – Michael Heister
Colorist – George Roussos
May 1989

Byrne drops us in to She-Hulk’s life and offers a stirring re-introduction to his most famous addition to the Fantastic Four. It’s interesting to note that this is most assuredly the same hair he would later use on Wonder Woman, however Byrne’s skill with crafting postures make this wholly Jennifer Walters. Even if the page had no coloring, you could recognize the more comfortable, less goddess-like She-Hulk over the serious and perfect Amazon princess.

But it appears She-Hulk is brooding over something. I wonder what that could be?

As we filp the page, Byrne lets it fall: even though it is Christmas time, She-Hulk is bored. Easy to see why, since as of Byrne’s departure and her stint with the Avengers, the character was in limbo for a time. Not the magical dimension Limbo, I mean more the creative limbo. She was last seen leaving the Avengers in disgrace after Dr. Druid’s meddling with the team’s minds. This issue marks Byrne officially taking She-Hulk off the shelf and putting her to work around the fringes of the Marvel Universe.

She begins by calling up her old FF buddy Ben Grimm, a/k/a The Thing.

And I want to point out that this is probably a little fan service on Byrne’s part. His drawings of the Thing was one of my favorite images from his FF days. I don’t know if this was consciously done or not, but that second image of Ben on this page has him reverted back to his old non-spikey self for just a moment, at least from the way I view him. 

And Byrne is playing this straight still. She-Hulk is looking for something heroic to do. Ben had no ideas for her other than check with the Avengers. And then Doc Doom crashes through the wall of She-Hulk’s apartment.

…Sorry! She-Hulk’s friend’s apartment. In fact, the place is getting plenty tore up when all of a sudden it happens. 

She-Hulk breaks the forth wall for the first time. Telling Doom they have to finish quick because they’ve only got four pages of story left. And then she puts her fist in his face.

And I meant that literally. Her fist is inside Doom’s skull.

She’s right, Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco isn’t going to like having one of his best villains reduced to a corpse. But then Doom’s hands start to make a grab for She-Hulk, and we aren’t at all certain he’s dead. 

Aww, he IS dead. It’s just that mutant master of magnetism, Magneto. But wait! In continuity, Magneto was currently a GOOD Guy. Why is he attacking She-Hulk…ya know? Never you mind. Just go with it. Byrne’s got this one.

Just as She-Hulk has this one using Doom’s body as the wrong end of a rubber band toy being held by your kid brother. The nicest thing about a rubber band is you just let go…(paraphrasing Mike Grell's Longbow Hunters here).

Love this joke about the X-Men and it is easy to see how with this issue Byrne cemented a huge opening for his She-Hulk solo series that came after. In fact, this whole piece is really nothing more than….WHOA! What’s that light?

Holy Geeze! It’s the G-Man hizzelf. Ain’t no way Shulkie can take him on alone and live. Right?

And that’s when we learn this has all been one long telephone call between Ben and Jen, none of this happened. It was all an imaginary story.

However, as Jen hangs up she spies an odd package under the tree. Since it is addressed to her, she opens it and discovers…

That Byrne has fooled us into reading a short test-run of his Shulkie series. 

As with anything, Sensational She-Hulk appealed to people with specific tastes. It ran great for eight issues with Byrne at the helm and then something broke down and he left the book. Issue 9 was titled Burn out!, a clever play on Byrne’s absence. Then around issue 31, he was added back to the struggling title, and his humor carried the book until issue 50 where he left the book again. At that absence, She-Hulk is told that John Byrne is dead and she has to choose the artist who will continue her series. Issue 50 featured art by Frank Miller, Adam Hughes, Dave Gibbons, Walter Simonson, Todd Britton, Terry Austin, Wendy Pini and Howard Chaykin…and John Byrne, himself, proving he was in on the joke this time. The title lasted ten more issues without Byrne before cancellation.

Well that tale…er, can we call it a tale?...um, I’m being told it was more a product advertisement than anything else…ANYWAY, it was fun, wasn’t it. Now on to more fun with the final tale in this four issue sampler platter. It’s a little dilly called A Christmas Card.

"A Christmas Card”
Writer – Glenn Herdling
Penciler – Richard Howell
Inker – Joe Sinnott
Letterer – Jack Morelli
Colorist – Richard Howell
May 1989

Our tale this time is the perversion of a Christmas classic. It all begins with Willie Lumpkin, the ever popular mailman who delivers the Fantastic Four’s mail. Seems they have a huge amount arrive this holiday season and we open with Lumpkin sitting astride them in the 4 Freedoms Plaza lobby.

As Willie turns down the Things offer of joining them for Christmas, a sudden impulse has him inviting the famous foursome to his nephew’s abode for Christmas. Ben accepts, and Willie goes home. In the final panel we see that specter from Dicken’s A Christmas Carol has plans to visit everyone’s favorite Daily Bugle editor and scare some holiday cheer into him. 

Fate intervenes in the form of a powerful gust of wind that rips the address card from his grasp. We know where this is going to wind up going, right gang? Cut to Wille’s apartment at midnight…

True to the Christmas Carol formula the ghost takes Willie on three sightseeing tours. First stop is Willie’s past…

…where we learn that Willie was the third wheel with a gorgeous brunette he was clearly in love with and his best friend. Due to Willie’s shy demeanor, he never makes a play for Lila, and ends up watching the two of them announce their engagement.

With that painful memory, Willie is trying to figure out what the ghost of past, present, and future Christmas is trying to tell him. The fella has no time for questions and wisks him off to his next destination…

…a past Christmas spent with the Fantastic Four. After being invited in to the odd foursome’s even odder celebrations…

…an attack by the villainous Super Skrull ends up with the FF tossing Willie into a panic room-slash-unlit closet for the duration of the battle…and then forgetting him for the next six hours. Aww!

Willie tries to escape the ghost's clutches…

… and it appears he has done so, waking up back in his apartment. But, our persistent ghost isn’t about to let Willie off the hook yet, pressing on to the second vision, that of Christmas Present…

…which happens to be a Christmas with his nephew and his family that very evening. They discuss Willie like he’s got Alzheimer’s due to his recounting his adventures being around the Fantastic Four and even go so far as to suggest putting him in a nursing home. It’s all too much for Willie.

But the shade has one final indignity which to visit on our almost postal postman. The vision of Christmas Future, where heroes gather at Willie’s gravesite only for us to discover that Willie was killed by…

…LOCKJAW! The giant teleporting dog of the Inhumans. Seems all dogs hate all mailmen.

And with that, the specter realizes he may have needed to make a right-turn at Albuquerque and promptly vanishes.

As for Willie though? His entire view of Christmas has changed. So when the Fantastic Four do come to call…

…he blows them and his nephew off. I think that’s just ensuring his commitment to a nursing home later.

Well, number two tale was in no way as fun as number one. And that ending? What a downer, huh? But it was a Christmas story and what did you expect from a blog called “The Crapbox” anyway?

Check my twitter feed for a poll on what types of reviews we do in January! Give it a click and tell us what you’d like to see next year.

1 comment:

  1. According to Mike's Amazing World of Comics, this Christmas issue went on sale on December 27, 1988.

    To quote Maxwell Smart "Missed it by THAT much!" :)


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