Monday, June 11, 2007

The silver lining in the cloud

After complaining about my emotional fallout from attending the comic con last week, I felt I needed to balance up the scales a bit with a bit of bright news from that day. These covers are pretty darn bright, so they should serve nicely:

Freedom Fighters #8 & 9, DC Comics, 1977: Bob Rozakis, Dick Ayers, Jack Abel
Invaders #14 & 15, Marvel Comics, 1977: Roy Thomas, Frank Robbins, Frank Springer

The first item of note about this purchase says more about me than the comics: I have had these four issues on my want list for some time, but I haven't purchased them yet because this was the first time I could get all four at one go. I have gone into comics shops and visited online stores and could have purchased two or three of the four issues, but I wouldn't do it. Something - a version of OCD? - made me want to wait until I could get all of them at once. And I did - at a good price, too!

Why would I want these four issues at all, much less all in one bundle? Neither series was particularly noted for quality or for momentous developments. Freedom Fighters was DC's showcase for the heroes acquired from the Quality stable: Uncle Sam, Doll Man, Phantom Lady, the Human Bomb, the Ray, and the Black Condor, after finally defeating the Nazis on Earth-X, became yet another group of super-powered crimefighters in the present day. Invaders was Marvel's period piece, a revival of the WW2 team: Captain American & Bucky, Human Torch & Toro, and the Sub-Mariner, with the addition of the female Spitfire, fought the Axis in the nineteen-forties. Neither series wrought any major changes to the comicscape, and most of the stories have probably been retconned away by now anyway.

But what these two two-part sagas have is a feature that is a particular favorite of mine, which was the subject of one of the first posts on this blog: the stealth crossover.

You see, the Freedom Fighters meet some new costumed heroes while on the run after being framed for a crime they did not commit. Their opponents are patriotic hero Americommando and his sidekick Rusty; flying flaming guy Fireball and his sidekick Sparky; and the fish-man tough guy Barracuda. Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, in the other publisher's universe, the Invaders come into conflict with a heretofore unknown group of costumed adventurers. Their opponents are patriotic American hero Spirit of '76; little guy DynaMite; the hard-to-see-clearly Ghost Girl; the explosive Thunderfist; the bright and crackling Tommy Lightning; and the flying guy Captain Wings. Hmmmm.

So yes, over the summer of '77, Marvel's and DC's old WW2 groups took turns whaling on each other in a cross-company cross-over mega-event! Who needs JLAvengers?

Needless to say, the comics actually weren't all that hot. The crossover characters were basically one-off gimmicks; I don't think any of them ever returned, much less received the development that Squadron Supreme or the Champions of Angor did. They were inserted into the ongoing stories and came and went without making much of a dent. And while there is some classic Frank Robbins art in these issues (and a Kirby cover), the production values are so crappy they are hardly noteworthy as artistic artifacts. No, the saving grace these comics have is their sense of fun.

Take a look at this sequence from the denouement of the Freedom Fighters story:

That's Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, and Archie Goodwin getting turned into superheroes by a villain named the Silver Ghost. Yep, comic creators actually having a good time, spoofing each other and each other's creations, and not taking all of this So Damn Seriously. How cool is that?

The comics also provide some nice examples of pre-decompression narrative. Take a look at this sequence, wherein the faux Freedom Fighters literally introduce themselves:

(Scipio would call this introposition, I believe.)

Now, an issue later, Lady Spitfire recounts it all for you, in case you missed last month:

I'm not saying I'd want a steady diet of that kind of dialogue, but it sure makes the comic accessible, doesn't it?

So, mark one purchase of the list and put it in the win column. Now to start looking for the complete Captain Fear...


RAB said...

I probably embarass myself by remembering this, but a small correction: the Doll Man substitute Dyna-Mite went on to appear in several more issues of The Invaders as part of an ongoing subplot about his true identity, and the Uncle Sam surrogate Spirit of '76 plays a major role in What If? #4. I always thought this stealth crossover was fun, but there's no doubt that Roy Thomas totally whupped Tony Isabella's ass: the characters Roy came up with for his story were way cooler than Tony's less imaginative ones. In fact, given Marvel's profligacy with superhero teams at the time (remember the Liberty Legion?) I was surprised the Crusaders were tossed away at the end rather than getting their own tryout...

Walaka said...

I can always count on you, RAB - even as I was posting, I had a dim memory somewhere that in some continuity, Spirit of '76 became Capt. America for a while, but I never knew about the DynaMite deal.

It's good to have you back here and on your own blog after too long away!

plok said...

I was disappointed when the Crusaders gave up their powers at the end of this "crossover" -- always love it when someone mentions this stuff!