SEMI-REGULAR MUSINGS FROM THE SEMI-REGULAR MIND OF WRITER J.M. DeMATTEIS
Happy Birthday to the one and only Stan Lee—wherever in the multiverse he is! (And if you want to know how much Stan and his work mean to me, just read this.)
I actually think I may have realized some elements to the Marvel revolution that I believe have gone unconsidered for decades. Stan's plans may have been further reaching than he succeeded at, and longer coming than people want. Also, I think proof that Stan did not steal credit as some claim.It all rests on a series everyone both remembers and forgets.Jack
That comic is... Amazing Fantasy. Its importance is far more than JUST introducing everyone's friendly neighborhood wall crawler.I have recently come into the session of Marvel's Amazing Fantasy Omnibus (second printing), and I think it is the key to understanding the evolution of Marvel, and maybe even a failure in the shadow of unbridled success.Before we proceed, two things have to be stated. First, Stan Lee had said that Amazing Fantasy was in his opinion the best of the old anthology books. Second There are three distinct eras of the book that only lasted a little over a year.Every school child knows that the original name for Amazing Fantasy was Amazing Adventures, and that it is where Doctor Droom... later renamed Dr. Druid... came to be.He was actually created by Stan , Jack, AND Ditko. Fittingly, this was the first silver age Marvel creation, That alone makes this book important, but there is more.Before I continue, it is worth noting that Droom is hardly a Marvel character in the classic sense. He was just an inverted Dr. Strange. An The only honorable man willing to travel to the far east to help an aging mystic.He was however magicked into becoming Asian... 100% serious... and then two issues later claimed magic was not real, and that is how he knew a "magician" was actually a Saturnian alien was the culprit. Even arrested... before there was a Fantastic Four. How does THAT effect the "world outside your window" narrative?Most of the stories are pretty basic in this era. Fun, but no great lost masterpieces. There is one monster story that echos the later F.F> story "Infant Terrible: and one where a robot who is created to be able to think is persecuted in a way similar to both Spidey and The Hulk... sort of combined.However, the real story here is the text stories. AS text stories they were Stan and only Stan.The first one is about a man who has been so serious in his life he never enjoyed... well a lot of things, he then goes to the wrong party and meets fairy tale characters. He then realizes he should maybe lighten up a bit.However, one is about a painter who no longer wants to paint portraits. Aches to escape the tedium, and escapes into a world of his own makingOne is about a comedian who has has great success, but is unhappy with it and want to return the small clubs.One is a T.V. repairman who only focuses on the problems with a set, and realizes he has to care about just what is on.Those are all in the first four issues. Lee clearly obsessed with job dissatisfaction. Finally setting on the fact that he has to care.Amazing Adventures #6, the last issue to bear that name came out the the same month as Fantastic Four #1.But the real interesting stuff is in the next era... Amazing ADULT Fantasy #7-15to be continued...Jack
So... Amazing ADULT Fantasy was called as such because it was porn. That was a joke Dematteis, you should work on being less gullible.By the way, I don;t know how much of this you have read, so I am going to write like none for context purposes.It did however take a turn, there was a specific change however. The stories started to become more... Twilight Zoney.Quite frankly, a lot of the issues with these stories are the length. Things happen quickly and dialogue is in elegant in some cases.Overall however, there is a notable step up in heft of story content. Stories that had social heft to them, dealt with issues like atomic war. Not necessarily away from kids thoughts in 1961... but, confronting the idea.Adult was a bit of a misnomer, it was heftier and taken a little more seriously. There were now stories of looking at strange visitors with compassion, fear of potential persecution for being different (more on that in a bit), and so on and so on. Stan wasn't doing "A Contract with God" 20 years early, but it was more than simple "you should do good because it is good, and that is good, so obviously you will win or be rewarded because you are good."Interestingly, it did appeal to adults... sort of. SO the omnibus has the letters page in in it. It includes a letter from UCLA, and one from a 16 year-old who wanted to make sure it was okay he bought it... given the "Adult" in the title.I submit the idea that Lee planned not for a superhero revolution, but one for the medium. He wanted to make comics a medium for everything that could be taken at least some what seriously. He saw the potential.However, Marvel obviously got stuck in the superhero game, and the anthologies fell by the wayside DC's were fun, but nothing really amazing until the 70s.I believe Lee wasted Marvel to lead the way in having everything be taken up a notch, but the stars just didn't align... and despite the notable exception that was the 70s... mainstream comic still have not quite caught up.I also submit that this is where the Marvel U gestated into what it is. Amazing Adult Fantasy #14 came out the same month as Doctor Doom premiered. A Doctor Doom who was a a time-travel thief. Yeah, people forget that.You also see a lot of Lee's personal storytelling loves come to fruition. Most notably the misunderstood protagonist.I can't think of any Kirby solo creation with that spin. Nor Ditko... except for the Creeper. However, Stan made heroes misunderstood and hated frequently just for being, Ditko did it once (as far as I know), and it was because he was mistaken for a murderer, due to bad circumstance.... not a blind prejudice of some sort.This is so much the case, There is a story with a character, with powers, who is called a mutant, and says he needs to hide his power because he would be hated and feared.Amazing Adult Fantasy had the first X-Men story, but without powers or villains.Stan was crafting the Marvel Universe without intent, while the book everyone gives credit to, the Fantastic Four, was still founding its voice.Then came the final chapter, when Stan had to accept defeat and forged a new path. A path that makes more sense than anyone gives it credit for...continued...Jack
Before I continue to the final chapter... Dematteis... I would lie to add a thought to the last bit I wrote.It would make sense that Sci-Fi seems the best way for Lee to use a springboard. It has only recently had its own breaking into begrudging tolerance.Any way.... Amazing Fantasy 15.The conventional wisdom is that Spider-Man was simply thrown in the last issue of a failed series, because Martin Goodman didn't like the character. Against all odds he became the most popular character MArvel dared to have.It is a good story. And why not Stan started saying it... but I think he was selling himself short.Look, Marvel didn't act as randomly as people think. Journey into Mystery was a sci0Fi/ Fantasy Hybrid. It became the home of a Thunder god who fought aliens,Tales of Suspense was a harder Sci-Fi look, and it got a guy in a robot suit. Later, it was split with Captain America... a fellow Avenger.Tales to Astonish was story of screwier sci-fi, you got a gut who shrank and talked to bugs. He eventually shared the book with a atomic age, werewolf made of pure muscle. Then HUlk shred it with NAmor... a fellow loner emotional anti-hero.Human Torch in Strange Tales made no sense, but Dr, Strange filling the roll of the spooky tales the book had does.Stan knew what he was doing. So... why wouldn't do the same for Spider-man? As you may recall, a few months ago I talked about how anthology books played a huge roll in the forming of Marvel, and made them unique by having the characters try to fill nitches, while also giving Lee plausible deniability of they didn't pan out. No where is that more true than with Spidey.Spider-man is the least superhero debut of a Superhero in the Silver age... Hank Pym doesn't count, he was not created to be a superhero, it was an after thought.Spidey doesn't even fight crime, he just fixes a mistake he caused. And mistake is not too far separated from the Twilight Zone twists I talked about. I mean couldn't you see that in a Serling script... even if maybe not Twilight Zone?The origin is even darker than your standard fair. The closes you get is, what Batman? But he didn't cause his parents death because he was a dick.Spider-man isn't even a costume for crime-fighting, it is for showbiz, thus cutting through an unrealistic standard in comics while still preserving it. There is even a theory in the book 'Webspinner," a series of essays, that SPider-Man is a horror story, and makes some very convincing points.Think abut the heft of story translates, even if not horror. The "typical Parker luck,' with Pete never catching a break and hurting people in their life could even be viewed as the ultimate Twilight Zone tale. Love of the common man, karmic payback, and a fortunate thing being a curse. Not to mention hated by an ignorant populace racing to conclusions.Even beyond that, in just he one issue we are talking about there is ostracization, someone misusing a power, and losing what he loves most. Heavy for a superhero story, but not for a story in a book called Amazing ADULT Fantasy, had letters from college students, and had the slogan "The magazine that respects your intelligence."continued...
In the first issue, and as a running pl0t element, Peter is forced to deal with the fall-out of his actions in the form of Aunt May being alone and unable to make money. Even in those early days showing Peter giving up his own care-free Youth for a life of responsibility, having to form another identity to express that part of himself. From issue #1.Not to mention the humanity many of his villains had... even early on.Spider-Man is the culmination and combination of everything the book had been. A book that was intended to skew older and bring the comic book industry respectability, and give chance to write the type of stories he wanted, and was forged by the failure of the first part of that goal. Lee always expected Spider-Man to skew older... probably teenagers... which the character eventually did while beginning the end of the anthology series at Marvel and the unique potential it had.It is both a victory lap and a concession speech.The other stories in the book even back that up. One is about a crook that hides in a museum, but is tricked into going back in time and becoming a slave in ancient Eygpt.Martians being hunted, only to reveal the group that is worried are martians worried about being found out. An old man trying to warn people on his island about a volcano erupting, and is unable to flee himself, and is reused by God, after being thought to be useless.They match the tone of the previous story AND spider-Man.There you are Amazing Fantasy... the Dynasty that never was, and took over the world.Jackdone... NOW you can mock me,
I would never mock you, Jack. Especially since you always have fascinating insights and opinions.Happy New Year!
You know, "Happy New Year" is what they told me this time last year.Anyway, since my Amazing Fantasy thoughts didn't strike up any conversation, I will say this...I am convinced Rocky and the Twilight Zone episode "The Printer's Devil" take place in the same universeBoth have Burgess Meredith as a man who comes out of nowhere and offers help to a man whose dream is at stake.He then has crazy methodology that miraculously get them ahead. Chasing a chicken and hitting beef gets Rocky 15 rounds with basically Muhammad Ali if he were flashier, and didn't convert to Islam.You are probably thinking that Rocky never signed the contract. Yeah, and he lost.He wins in Rocky !!, then Burgess Meredith is gone from the series, and a series of completely improbable things happen.Think about how much the tone changes, In Rocky, he is just a normal working class guy... who might be a little off. He's trying to make it in a rough city, and start a relationship with a nice normal girl. The victory is that he could last. Then after he wins he's meeting Mr. T, fiends with his old opponent who is supposed to be this huge athletic celebrity, buying robots, defeating Soviet super boxers who beat people do death and break computers with one punch. The soviet government applauds the loss they sunk all their money into? This is 85, they have been in an economic downward spiral for to decades, they are pissing away money on a losing war in Afghanistan... whose opponents country is funding their adversaries... the empire is crumbling, they almost had a thermonuclear war to years earlier (its true, look it up), they had already lost to America at Lake Placid, and they applaud? Ridiculous.Rocky clearly signed the contract off camera. Mickey didn't die, because there was no Mickey. He was teh Devil, and he went back to Hell.You. Are. Welcome.Also, I am not and don;t plan to become a Disney Plus subscriber, but I am glad Gruenwald's work seems to be at least somewhat finally being put on screen, with the intro of U.S. Agent. Though, I think the original story would have made for a compelling story in its own right.Everyone knows Gruenwal loved both Marvel AND DC, but few talk about how amazing it was that his work at Marvel actually predicted DC trends.Said Captain America story... where Steve is forced to resign and another Cap takes his place to show how important Cap is to the Marvel U... was pretty similar to the Death of Superman and the Knightfall trilogy conceptually. Also, I think all were used as a way to counter complaints about what the character "should be" by readers through story and character development of both the original and a replacement that resembles the suggested "better versions." Of course exploring why it is not the same.Also Squadron Supreme predated DC;s seeming love with having heroes act unheroiclly for a perceived greater good that is not quite so.Sorry, didnlt mean to praise another creater on your site.Now, because I am not completely heartless.... close, but not quite...this:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPs64HfQYA0Jack
Feel free to praise Mark G as much as you'd like, Jack. (And, yes, I know you were joking when you said you were sorry.)Mark was a great guy, wonderful writer, superb editor and, all these years later, he's still sorely missed.
What of what I said is that Mark Grunewald had a fantastic mustache?Know this though, that is a hill I am more than ready to die on.Jack
In the 80s we ALL had fantastic mustaches!
Dematteis, I have seen pictures of you with a mustache in the 80s. I believe on the back of "Into Shambla" but definitely with Greenberg.You had a good mustache. Maybe even a great one. But Gruenwald...he had a fantastic one.There is no comparison.On the bright side, you could rock a beard. I feel it would have looked odd on Gruenwald. I know people had mustaches int eh 80s, and into the90. It was a baby boomer thing.I was born in he 80s, and my father has had a bear as long as I have known him. One of my uncles had a beard, the other two mustaches. MAny of my friend's fathers had mustache growing up. Jereme Howell and Matt Gueboard's dads for sure. I think the real reason beards and mustaches made a comeback in the past decade or so is because all of us with baby boomer dads and there assorted adults in our lives just got it imprinted on us.I know I will never shave.For that matter, Peter Parker was teh archetypal baby boomer... come on even on the 90s, you guys were writing he and MJ as boomers in younger bodies, admit it... so why don't he have a mustache in the 70s? I thought every baby boomer tried facial hair at some point.Also, it is a common misconception that Edward R. Murrow's oped about McCarthy is what ended his career. What actually turned people against him was how much and how fiercely he tried to defend himself against the piece, and how odd he came off.Just a fun fact on the way things used to be. Yep, just a fun fact.Jack
Well, Ben Reilly had a beard, albeit a short scruffy one, during the LOST YEARS mini. I guess that's as close as we can get!
That was a beard? I always though it was just five o'clock shadow.However, if I remember correctly, your old nemesis, Tom "hey nice to meet ya" Defalco... terrible nickname by the way... gave Peter Parker a circle beard (often confused with a goatee) in Spider-girl. Though whether that was his or Ron Frenz idea is not known to me.Also, since that reality was both a divergence, and an alternate reality where the 'Age of Heroes' happened earlier... and they say comics can be confusing... he is both the mainstream SPider-Man and not.May first appeared in a comic with February, 1998 on the cover, which means it was actually December 1997.She was about 16 or 17. We'll say 16 for this exercise, an also bump it up to 1998... since it is so close.That would mean May was born in 1981, or there's about.Peter Parker was... I believe 25 during the Clone Saga, aka the point of divergence.That would mean at the moment or publication, Peter PArker of that reality was born in 1956 or 57... maybe even 55.That would put him squarely as a baby boomer (1946-1964) and May the first year of a Millennial (1981-1997).So, your old nemesis fulfilled Peter's destiny, accept... a circle beard? In the 90s? seems a little off for Pete. Little trying to stay young ad youthful.We'll keep working on this Dematteis, you and I. If it takes months, you and I will crack the Peter/facial hair code. The most important question of our time.He is supposed to be an every man, has been published for damn near 60 years continuously. For 35+ years i was common for men to have facial hair especially in New York. He hung around with hippies. Was complaining about money... so theoretically would save cash by not shaving, He has a mask that covers everything. It makes no sense he would always be so clean shaven.Hell, Stan Lee, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Roger Stern, Al Milgrom, Bill MAntlo,Peter David, J.M. Dematteis, Tom Defalco, Howard Mackie, and J. Michael Straczynski all had facial hair, including while writing the character. So there was clearly not a bias against it, and a knowledge of this phenomenonEven John ROmita... arguably the most imitated Spidey artist... has a beard.It's maddening.Jack
The truth is, Jack, that Peter did have a beard, but only between issues. He always shaved when the story started.