Friday, May 6, 2011

31 Days of Comics #6

Marvel Tales starring Spider-Man #200
By Denny O’Neil and Frank Miller

This reprint of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #14 is one of my favourite Spider-Man stories ever, with a spooky and energetic story by two creators at their peak.

It’s hard to remember when comic annuals stopped becoming essential and became big comics filled with filler dreck. (I think it was three-quarters of the way through the Evolutionary Wars) They used to be big, important comics created by insanely talented people – something that was worth the extra money and effort.

Amazing Spider-Man’s 14th annual was one of the last greats, before Ace came along in 1985’s Spectacular annual and ruined it for everybody. Doctor Doom plays a game of Gods with Dormammu, leading to a horde of people turned into mindless drones and going to Central Park to “cavort in a dance of beasts”, before a big battle between Spider-Man and a nerd’s idea of evil, and a brilliant panel of Doc Strange bringing the pain to somebody who dared to mess with him.

It’s firmly of a time and place with Debbie Whitman and a swinging Petey Parker, even if it’s kinda hard to imagine Shrapnel going up at CBGBs after Talking Heads, but it’s also a timeless Spidey story that would fit quite happily in the current continuity. (Which also says something unfortunate about the evolution of superhero characters.)

Frank Miller’s art is at its most rounded and fluid, and there is already that exceptional use of negative space going on. Denny O’Neill was always at his best on little special projects like this, and delivered up plenty of action and gloom for Miller’s pencils.

I’ve never actually read Amazing Spider-Man annual #14, but I’ve had this story since I was 12, buying it brand new as Marvel Tales #200 in 1987. I used to own hundreds and hundreds of Spider-Man comics and now I have 34 – I somehow have more issues of Groo than Spider-Man - but these 34 comics are my absolute favourites, and Marvel Tales #200 is one of them.

(Another half dozen of other issues of Marvel Tales from the late eighties, mainly reprinting Claremont/Byrne Marvel team-up comics).

The great thing about reading this comic now is that it is actually starting show its age. It was one of the earliest comics to get that new printing process that gave 1980s comics more spark and pop, without having to worry about paying for more expensive paper. This was, after all, back in the day when comics would specifically mention if they were printed on Baxter paper in their advertisements.

The effect was colourful, but it did lead to some horrible colour bleeding and a lot of garish and unnatural tones. In the case of this particular story, that worked surprisingly well, giving the spooky New York city an extra ambience.

And now, 24 yerars after it was published, those colours used in that printing process have now run off the page. In particular, the comic is now covered in small pink spots where it’s all gone horribly wrong.

Or horribly right: This is a story from the Book of Vishani. It probably should look all messed up. It takes a modern comic and makes it look aged and learned. For a Spider-Man/Doctor Strange team-up, that’s always going to be pretty damn appropriate.

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