Thursday, February 7, 2019

On The Shelf: The joy of reprints, and rediscovering lost titles

Marvel's True Believers reprint series picks one topic each month, enabling the publisher to reach into the vaults for some classics, some of which hadn't seen the light of day in years.

February brings back the original Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers, in time for next month's "Captain Marvel" feature film, as Carol is the latest to adopt that guise. In 1976, veteran writer Gerry Conway came up with the idea of bringing back Carol, who had appeared as a supporting character in the earlier Captain Marvel series, which had ended a year earlier, but now suffering from amnesia and a split personality of a sort. Conway, to start, decided to use the trope of Carol becoming Ms. Marvel when Carol herself was unconscious, not unlike DC's Rose & The Thorn a few years earlier. Carol's "blackouts", being unable to remember what she does in costume, also recalls the earliest tales of the Incredible Hulk, which itself was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.

Unfortunately, Carol also ends up working for J. Jonah Jameson, who at the time wasn't exactly winning sympathy points with his anti-hero diatribes, usually reserved for Spider-Man. And, yep, the teaming of Spidey & Ms. Marvel (Marvel Team-Up 62, by Chris Claremont & John Byrne), is reissued this week, as well. Unfortunately, the gimmick falls short by not offering a synopsis of what happens next if the story continues elsewhere.

Unlike Conan The Barbarian, showcased last month, and whose early tales were usually done in one, this exposes the flaw in the gimmick.

It would be nice, though, if Marvel actually bothered to release their trade paperback collections at lower prices as an incentive for today's readers to rediscover these characters as Marvel originally presented them.

The Ms. Marvel reprints get a B.
The Conan reprints merit an A-.

As part of its 80th anniversary celebration, Marvel is also reviving selected short-lived series from the 70's. In January, we saw a War is Hell 1-shot, with a lead feature written & illustrated by Howard Chaykin. While it isn't typical Chaykin fare, for which we should be thankful, he takes a page from DC's short-lived 1975 series, Blitzkrieg, by taking a look at things from the enemy's point of view. The upside is that John Kowalski, the character introduced in the series in its dying days, wasn't included, and hasn't been seen in years. Marvel's probably either forgotten him, or is looking for a more appropriate venue for his return.

Rating: B.

This month sees a Gunhawks 1-off by the husband & wife team of David & Maria Lapham (Stray Bullets). It's a decent story, but keeping the title as a plural is a misnomer, as neither lead from the 1972-3 series, Reno Jones or Kid Cassidy, figures into the story. Apparently, the Laphams were given carte blanche to create their own character, with the thought of a future spin-off. Nice idea, but there's a reason why Jonah Hex's last series at DC ended after three years. Today's readers don't have that much interest in westerns.

Rating: B.

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