Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Guttor #4 - Enter...The Marvel Age!

Before we dig into the series proper, there was an issue of Marvel Age promoting this series, including an interview with the creative team written by Sholly Fisch, who has apparently had a much longer history in comics than I was aware of. There’s not a ton to say about the interview; it feels very effusive in that promotional enthusiasm sort of way. 

The issue starts with a note from editor Jim Salicrup about why Marvel features so many licensed characters on Marvel Age covers. In short, comics based on licensed characters bring in a new audience:

When Marvel buys the rights to license characters from a movie, TV show, or even a toy, we usually try to find characters that are incredibly popular—that have a huge following of their own. That way, when we publish the comic book based on such a character we're hoping to reach thousands of people who may not have picked up a comic book in years!

That passage starts with a potshot at their competition, which is both kind of funny since He-Man started at DC, and kind of fitting since (for whatever reason) DC didn't hang onto the license. 

Before we cover the cover feature, there's an issue I need to head off at the pass: Mike Carlin is the writer on the first eight issues of this series, and I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his history as a (credibly alleged) sexual harasser. It sucks, and if I’d realized when I started this project that he was the main guy for a bit here, I might have had second thoughts. 

Fisch begins with a brief summary of the He-Man concept and characters, then gets into an interview with writer Mike Carlin and penciller Ron Wilson, who had previously been working on Ben Grimm's solo title, and editor Ralph Macchio. "He-Man will be a mixture of fun and adventure that won't just be for kids!" Fisch says, (the "biff! pow!" is presumably implied) before Carlin promises not to "write down" to the readers. That's a comment I'm going to come back to over Carlin's tenure on the book, because so far in my reading, it feels like it's increasingly untrue as the series progresses. 

Macchio compares Wilson's art style to Jack Kirby and John Buscema, which is high praise that I'm not sure comes through in this series. Then there's this baffling comment:

While it [Wilson & Janke's art] will be slightly different from that of the HE-MAN cartoons, it will be every bit as down to earth!" 

Nothing says "down to earth" like the show about a man in furry shorts fighting a skull-faced wizard for control of a castle shaped like a head. 

Carlin compares the simplicity of the He-Man comics to Silver Age storytelling, with "clear-cut stories without plot complications that carry on for years." He also says that the biggest shift from previous collaborations with Wilson is that now Carlin is doing full-script with panel layout thumbnails, presumably in contrast to a more Marvel Method approach to The Thing. I wonder if this change was necessary in order to get stories cleared by the people at Mattel in a timely fashion. Macchio discusses later how the stories have to be cleared by Mattel, something that's true even with modern licensed comics, but "so far, the stories have been so good that Mattel hasn't asked for any major changes!" 

Unspoken in that is how much input Mattel had on the stories before they were written, particularly in terms of which characters/vehicles get the spotlight in each issue. I suspect the answer is "a great deal."

The sample sketches Wilson did were apparently good enough that Mattel wanted to hire him on the spot. 

And then Fisch goes into a description of upcoming issues, including erroneously claiming that #2 introduces the Slime Pit. That would end up being the story for issue #3, and #4 has a slight credit change, with Wilson on breakdowns and Dennis Janke finishing, which makes me wonder what behind-the-scenes shuffling and deadline stuff was going on. 

The meat of the exuberantly effusive article (wherein nearly every sentence and quote ends with an exclamation point) ends with the claim that "Ralph was so overcome talking about HE-MAN that he leaped on his desk, pulled out a tennis racket, and cried, 'By the power of Cresskill!' (invoking the name of his hometown)." I'm trying to pinpoint exactly what makes me feel like that story absolutely did not happen as described, and I think it's the tennis racket. 

Fisch ends, as each episode of the He-Man cartoon does, by offering a moral:

Listen to your mother and father, brush your teeth after every meal, look both ways before crossing the street, never take candy from a stranger with a blue hood and a skull face, and most of all, accept no imitations!

I'll follow suit by offering this moral: sponsored content and promotional writing hasn't really changed in 30 years. Reading that gives me flashbacks to the SEO-infused content I was once paid to write for online stores. 

The next article in the issue is a promo for Doctor Who Monthly, published by "Marvel's British division," and then a new talent spotlight for the late, great Tom Lyle. 

Huh, I did not expect to fill a whole installment of this with just the Marvel Age promo, but here we are. Next time, we dig into the wild world of Marvel's Star imprint. 

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