Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Marvel Team-Up: The 1970s Comics of Chris Claremont & John Byrne

I'd been feeling nostalgic for early John Byrne art and recently ordered a sampling of books from his 1970s run on Marvel Team-Up. The vendor on Ebay with whom I placed my order had a nice selection of Bronze Age books in VF/NM condition, and each selling for less than the cover price of today's comics.


Iron Man #109
"Moonrise"
Cover date: May-July, 1978


Iron Man #109 is a book that I purchased solely on the strength of the John Byrne cover. Ain't it cool?

This issue of Iron Man picks up in the immediate aftermath of a battle with villans Midas and the Growing Man–a battle that has left the Stark International building in smoking rubble.

Ol' Shell-Head is joined in the opening pages by Avengers teammate Yellow Jacket, as well as the Jack of Hearts, Whitney Frost (the metal-faced love of his life), and a pretty ticked-off...Tony Stark?

"Stark" is giving Iron Man a tongue lashing over his seeming mishandling of the millionaire industrialist's orders to get the clean-up and the rebuilding of Stark International underway. Yellow Jacket quickly steps in to brief Stark on all of the recent happenings and pretty much saves Iron Man from 'himself.'

In a quick about face, Stark offers his thanks to Iron Man and everyone else for their assistance, and then exits to give his bodyguard a chance to say adios to his amigos.

As the others move to take their leave, the Jack of Hearts stays behind and asks Iron Man if might consider taking him on as an apprentice; the costumed novice realized in the battle with Midas that he has a lot to learn about being a super-hero. Iron Man obliges.

In the second act, Iron Man and Jack of Hearts take one of the Avengers' quinjets on a quick, interstellar jaunt to the moon. They want to investigate the possible existence of lunar base from which the Growing Man launched his attack.

Immediately upon their arrival, our heroes are quickly ambushed by the Soviet super-powers known as Darkstar, Vanguard and Crimson Dynamo!

How will they fare against the soviet threats? If I told you that, you wouldn't want to read it to find out for yourself.

As mentioned, Iron Man #109 is a book I judged by its cover, and I'm glad I did. It was a solid read that reminded me of days gone by when you could jump into any random comic without knowing anything about what happened in the issue before, and still find yourself entertained.

This issue's writing was skillfully handled by long-time scribe Bill Mantlo, and the art was nicely done by guest-penciller Carmine Infantino.



Iron Fist #15
"Enter the X-Men"
Cover date: September, 1977


With this issue of Iron Fist, a short-lived series featuring the pulse-pounding exploits of the books' titular character comes to an end.

In the opening pages of the story titled "Enter the X-Men," Iron Fist's young life nearly comes to an end when he is attacked--once again--by a mysterious dragon branded bruiser who's been stalking Fist and attacking from the shadows.

After this last sucker punch, Iron Fist seeks refuge at the home of his girlfriend Misty Knight, who shares a posh Greenwich Village apartment with Jean Grey of the X-Men. Misty, he groggily recalls seconds after his arrival, is away on an undercover cop assignment, and Jean Grey is out with her boyfriend Scott Summers, picking up some last minute items for a little soireƩ she has planned for that evening.

One of people on the guest list, Wolverine, arrives early and mistakes Iron Fist for a prowler when he spies the fighter entering the apartment through the skylight. Unfortunately for Fist, the hotheaded Canadian's blood is already boiling over Jean's undying love for Scott, so he charges after the apparent prowler in a red-eyed rage.

The psycho lovelorn X-Man is soon joined by his teammates in a battle that could have and, frankly, should have been avoided. But it's still fun to see.

Iron Fist is obviously over-matched, but handles himself reasonably well against the coordinated efforts of Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Banshee, Storm...and a justifiably pissed-off redhead who finally comes back from the grocery store. 

As this was the the very last issue of the Iron Fist series, fans would get to read by way of the letters column that although the title was ending, they'd be getting to see more of Danny Rand in the pages of the re-named Power Man and Iron Fist (issue #44). And, thanks to the benefit of hindsight, we all know what a historic pairing it was for two really well-liked characters.

Overall, Iron Fist #15 is a fitting end to a now classic Bronze Age title that introduced many comic book readers to Danny Rand, Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, and Sabertooth, Wolverine's ever-popular arch-rival, who was introduced in issue #14 of the series.

The writing and art chores were skillfully handled by the dynamic duo of Chris Claremont and John Byrne, who would take their talents over to Danny's new home in the pages of Luke Cage's book.


Marvel Team-Up #63
"Night of the Dragon"
Cover date: November, 1977


In my review of Iron Fist #15, I mentioned the dangling sub-plot of a mysterious martial artist who had been attacking Iron Fist from the shadows. Before moving Fist over to Luke Cage's book, this story is brought to a climactic completion in Marvel Team-Up #63, which pairs Iron Fist with the spectacular Spider-Man.

As per usual, Peter Parker's pockets are full of lint and the rent is due. As luck would have it, the Daily Bugle photographer has received an assignment to shoot the luxurious home of the wealthy Danny Rand (aka Iron Fist). At the same time that Peter arrives at his home, Danny discovers a mysterious note that had been left on the front door by Steel Serpent, a man whose fighting ability reminds him of his own.

Rand abruptly cancels his meeting with Parker so that he can meet with the Steel Serpent, but ends up being shadowed around town by a concerned wall crawler. Meanwhile, Misty Knight, operating under the alias of Maya Korday (and lookin' super-duper fine on the yacht of a character called the Bushmaster) had been starting to think that the criminal tycoon may have something to do with the attacks on her boyfriend.

She blows both her cool and her cover when she overhears Bushmaster confirming during a telephone conversation the that he's put the hit out on Iron Fist. Meanwhile, cut back to Spider-Man. He has lost Danny Rand's trail. Eventually, though, Spidey tracks down the taxi that Rand had been riding in and learns from the driver that his fare had disembarked at a public park. The web-slinger shoots over to the park and soon finds Danny Rand's abandoned clothing.

Minutes later, Spidey finds Iron Fist in the midst of trading losing blows with the chi-draining Steel Serpent! But does the K'un-Lun kid stand a chance against him?



Marvel Team-Up #63 is a fine example of Chris Claremont and John Byrne near the senses-shattering apex of their combined creative powers. The writing is intelligent, the art is impeccable, and the final page--which features Misty holding the limp body of Iron Fist like the Madonna with lifeless body of her son draped across her lap a la the famous "La Pieta"--offers a moving portrait that leads into the soul-searing conclusion in the next exciting issue of Marvel Team-Up!



 Marvel Team-Up #64
 "If Death Be My Destiny..."
Cover date: December, 1977


Danny Rand lost the battle with Steel Serpent, and was drained of the mystic power of the Iron Fist. Spider-Man and the Daughters of the Dragon (Misty Knight and Colleen Wing) team up to help Danny get back the powers that were taken from him. But Steel Serpent also has plans to to end the life his adversary altogether, to make sure that he retains the power that he has unjustly come to believe is his birth-right.

In this issue of MTU, readers get the revisionist back-story on Danny Rand and Davos, "son of Lei Kung" (a.k.a. Steel Serpent). It's a tale that goes back two decades to the magic-shrouded realms of K'un-Lun City. After the psychedelic flashback, we come to our senses to find Spider-Man and the Daughters of the Dragon trading blows with Steel Serpent. And even fighting as a gang of three, the trio is virtually outta' of their league. Will Iron Fist join the battle and tip the scales?

Marvel Team-Up #64 offers yet another fine example of early work by writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne. The issue nicely finishes up a lingering sub-plot that was started in Iron Fist #14, before the title was cancelled. The two men would stay with Marvel Team-Up for two more issues, bringing to conclusion a classic tag-team that included issues 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65 & 66 of this long-running title.

Also, before going on to make their soon-to-become legendary run on Uncanny X-Men, Claremont and Byrne would take the green and gold garbed ass-kicker from his solo book to another team-up or sorts in the knucking-cracking pages of the renamed Power-Man and Iron Fist (issue #48).



Uncanny X-Men #122
"Cry for the Children"
Cover date: June, 1979


The cover of Uncanny X-Men #122 is somewhat misleading, as any good cover should be. It shows the adamantium-skinned X-Man in the danger room flexing his "muskles" between the teeth of a hydrolic vise, under which appears the tag line "The trial of Colossus." And while the issue does feature such a trail, the actual title of this issue is "Cry for the Children."

In all frankness, this issue could actually have been called "Black Power." Because that is what came to mind for me as I read turned its pages and was hit with hit with the unexpected appearances of Luke Cage (aka Power Man) and Misty Knight.

Well, Knight's appearance wasn't all that unexpected. She shared an apartment with the X-Men member Jean Grey, and had made many cameos in Uncanny starting with issue #102.

Luke Cage (aka Power Man) on the other hand, was more of a surprise.

As a young kid in the 1970s, you often found yourself--or at least I did--dreaming of seeing more than one major character who looked like you on a comic page at the same time–because it almost never happened. This story offered one of those very rarest of times.

The greater portion of this book of is devoted to living up to its cover. It's the part in which I was least interested. The more intriguing part for me takes place in Harlem, where Storm has been chauferred in the back of Xavier's Rolls Royce by none other than Wolverine.

Approximately seven pages are devoted to Storm. She asks Wolvie to drop her on the corner of Broadway & 135th. From there, she roams the streets for several hours in a seemingly aimless attempt to find what she lost there two decades before: the American roots of her childhood. 

Entering a familiar looking, but abandoned brownstone, Storm climbs the stairs to the second floor and opens the door of what she has a hazy memory of being her childhood apartment. But to her dismay, it's a shooting den now inhabited by half a dozen or more teenage heroin junkies!

Things quickly go sideways when the young junkies see the regal-looking woman as a target for a quick shakedown––so they can score more drugs. One of the teens pulls a switchblade and slashes Storm's hand with it. She then reveals herself to be more than they bargained for.

Storm shows her mutant power for controlling the elements and the teens start scrambling. But one falls out of her line of vision and circles behind her with his knife drawn. He creeps up behind our heirone and readies his blade to strike. But Luke Cage and Misty Knight arrive to the apartment just in the nick of time to cover the exquisite X-Man's back.

 

The meeting between these three characters is short but sweet. But that it occurred at all makes me recall now why I was a particular fan of comics written by Claremont and illustrated by Byrne.

At the same time as Uncanny X-Men, the duo also handled the production of Powerman and Iron fist. Both books frequently featured various degrees of overlapping stories, and shared characters––a handful of whom were people of color. That was cool.

And I wish now that there had been just one Uncanny X-Men tale featuring just Luke Cage, Misty Knight and Storm, written and drawn by Claremont & Byrne. That would have been so fantastic. But alas...




No comments:

Post a Comment