As I recently observed, I’ve seen a number of very talented creators whose work I enjoy pass away in a relatively short period of time. With that in mind, I want to make more of an effort to recognize the contributions of those artists and writers who are still with us. It is definitely important to let creative individuals know how much we appreciate their work while they are still with us.
Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to wish a very happy birthday to comic book artist & writer John K. Snyder III, who was born on July 14th, 1961, and to recognize him for his artistic contributions.
The first time I ever saw Snyder’s work was in 1990 when the revival of Classics Illustrated from First Comics released his adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Snyder’s eerie artwork, his storytelling & coloring, absolutely stunned me. I had only been reading comic books regularly for a short time at this point, but even so I could immediately recognize that here was a unique, distinctive talent. That adaptation really imprinted itself on my 14 year old mind.
Throughout the 1990s I often went to comic book conventions with my father where I searched out back issues from the previous two decades. Among the many great books I found at those shows were some of Snyder’s earlier works. I picked up a few issues of Timothy Truman’s great creator-owned series Scout which had been published in the mid 1980s by Eclipse Comics, and which featured Snyder’s first published work in the “Fashion in Action” back-up serial. Looking at the “Fashion in Action” stories, it’s apparent that Snyder really hit the ground running both as an artist and a writer.
Among the other comic books I picked up at those conventions were John Ostrander & Kim Yale’s acclaimed, groundbreaking super-powered political thriller Suicide Squad published by DC Comics. Snyder penciled several issues of that title, paired up with inkers / embellishers Karl Kesel and Geof Isherwood. Once again, Snyder did great work.
Throught the 1990s and beyond I saw Synder’s artwork in a number of places. He drew several striking, offbeat character profiles for the early 1990s looseleaf edition of Who’s Who In the DC Universe, a pair of covers for Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron for Dark Horse Comics, an astonishing, atmospheric three issue painted Doctor Mid-Nite bookshelf miniseries written by the incredible Matt Wagner, and covers of the three part “Morningstar” story arc that ran in Greg Rucka’s espionage series Queen & Country from Oni Press.
I got to meet Snyder when he was a guest at Cradle Con in Garden City, Long Island in June 2019. It’s always great when you meet creators whose work you enjoy and discover that they are also good people. That was definitely the case with Snyder. I purchased a copy of the Fashion in Action collected edition from him, and at long last finally had the opportunity to read the story in full. Snyder also did a really lovely drawing in my Beautiful Dreamer sketchbook.
Since then I’ve followed Snyder on Facebook and Instagram where he regularly shares the incredible new artwork that he’s been working on. In the last decade he’s done some amazing work.
Snyder painted covers of the Infestation event from IDW that crossed over the worlds of Star Trek, Transformers, G.I. Joe and Ghostbusters. He reunited with Matt Wagner on Zorro Rides Again for Dynamite Entertainment, drew several issues of Bloodshot: Rising Spirit for Valiant Entertainment, and wrote & drew a graphic novel adaptation of Lawrence Block’s noir novel Eight Million Ways To Die. He briefly had the opportunity to return to the world of Suicide Squad, depicting the most recent incarnation of the superhuman black ops team on a pair of variant covers for the Infinite Frontier miniseries. All these years later Snyder’s work continues to astonish me.
So, once again, happy birthday to John K. Snyder III. Wishing you many more to come.
This is the third installment of my look at recurring plots, imagery and character-types in the Legion of Super-Heroes stories published by DC Comics during the Silver Age… and beyond.
This time we are looking at homages to one of the most iconic Legion images, the cover to the team’s first appearance in Adventure Comics #247.
Initially these homages were quite infrequent. By the 1990s, though, fandom had, for better or for worse, become a decades-spawning passion with a significant awareness of the medium’s past. This has resulted in the proliferation of homages to and parodies of Golden and Silver Age imagery, among these the cover to Adventure Comics #247.
The first Legion of Super-Heroes story in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) was written by Otto Binder, drawn by Al Plastino and edited by Mort Weisinger. The now-legendary cover was drawn by penciler Curt Swan & inker Stan Kaye, who regularly contributed the cover artwork to the Superman family of comics in the late 1950s.
“The Legion of Super-Heroes” saw a group of super-powered teens from 1000 years in the future offer Superboy the chance to join their club. Originally intended as a one-off tale, within a few years it would become a beloved, long-running series. Likewise, the cover image to Adventure Comics #247, with a shocked Superboy being rejected for membership in the team, would go on to be a recurring motif over the series’ history, as well as inspiring numerous parodies throughout the medium.
The earliest homage to the Adventure Comics #247 cover that I’ve located is Superman #147 (August 1961) also drawn by Curt Swan & Stan Kaye. Here we see the now-adult Man of Steel being threatened not with rejection but with death by the Legion of Super-Villains.
It’s interesting to note that this issue was published just a little over three years later, in an era when overt nods to past were rare in the comic book biz. Audience turnover was fairly rapid in the 1950s and 60s, and it would normally not be expected that current readers would be familiar with material published several years earlier. The fact that Swan & Kaye drew this cover, presumably at the direction of editor Weisinger, appears to confirm awareness by DC that the Legion was already developing an avid, long-term readership.
The cover to Adventure Comics #322 (July 1964) is again penciled by Curt Swan, now paired with inker George Klein. Although not a straight-up homage of #247, it nevertheless evokes the former’s audition format, but with the Legion of Super-Pets taking the place of Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad & Saturn Girl, and the shape-changing Proty II standing in for Superboy.
L.E.G.I.O.N. was a semi-prequel to Legion of Super-Heroes. It featured an interplanetary law-enforcement team organized by the original Brainiac’s son, the Machiavellian genius Vril Dox, in the present day. The tone of L.E.G.I.O.N. was often bleakly humorous (as any series co-starring the ultra-violent Lobo would inevitably be) but the comedic tone reached ridiculous proportions in L.E.G.I.O.N. ’94 Annual #5 (September 1994). This “Elseworlds” tie-in had the team appearing in various pop culture parodies, including this segment lampooning the Silver Age Legion.
One can only guess what Curt Swan was thinking when he was asked to draw this bizarre send-up of his earlier work! He is paired here with inker Josef Rubinstein. The script is by Tom Peyer, with letters by John Costanza and colors by Gene D’Angelo.
The cover to Legion of Super-Heroes #88 (January 1997) has Impulse, the super-fast grandson of the Flash / Barry Allen and Iris West Allen auditioning to join the Legion. Of course the hyperactive, mischievous Impulse tries to rig things in his favor! Cover pencils are by Alan Davis, inks by Mark Farmer, letters by Todd Klein and colors by Patrick Martin.
Acclaimed painter Alex Ross has done numerous reimaginings of classic comic book covers. Here is his take on Adventure Comics #247. This painting was used for one of the two covers for the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, 29th Edition (May 1999) from Gemstone Publishing. This is actually a scan of the original artwork, courtesy of Heritage Auctions. The painting was unfortunately too dark & blurry when published.
Legion of Super Heroes was an animated series that ran on WB for two seasons from September 2006 to April 2008. DC published a comic book that tied in with the animated series’ continuity. Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century lasted for 20 issues. The cover to issue #16 (September 2008) has infamous Legion reject Arm-Fall-Off-Boy attempting to join the animated incarnation of the team, with equally unsuccessful results. Cover artwork is by Alexander Serra.
When DC briefly revived Adventure Comics starring the Legion of Super-Heroes in 2009, they published a zero issue that reprinted the team’s first story. The brand new cover to issue #0 (April 2009) is drawn by Aaron Lopresti and colored by Brian Miller.
Looks like somebody took one heck of a wrong turn at Albuquerque! The very much tongue-in-cheek Legion of Super-Heroes / Bugs Bunny Special (August 2017) was part of a series of crossovers between DC Comics and Looney Tunes. “The Imposter Superboy” sees Bugs accidentally transported to the 31st Century, where he finds himself in the cross hairs (or should that be cross hares?) of the very angst-ridden Legion. Cover pencils are by Tom Grimmett, inks by Karl Kesel, and colors by Steve Buccellato.
I avoided the 12 issue Doomsday Clock miniseries (published between Jan 2018 and Feb 2020) like the plague, but someone on the LSH: Legion of Super-Heroes group on Facebook let me know that writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank utilized the above homage to Adventure Comics #267. No idea which specific issue this appeared in.
The cover of Adventure Comics #247 is such an iconic part of Legion lore that comic con cosplayers have even taken to recreating it! I have no idea when or where this was taken, or who this clever quartet are in real life, but they definitely deserve a round of applause.
Welcome to the ninth Comic Book Coffee collection. I’ve been posting these daily in the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The challenge was to see how many different pencilers I could find artwork by featuring coffee.
41) Ramona Fradon & Mike Royer
We have selected panels from Plastic Man #14, penciled by Ramona Fradon, inked by Mike Royer, and written by Elliot S! Maggin, published by DC Comics with an Aug-Sept 1976 cover date.
It’s a late night at the headquarters of the National Bureau of Investigation, and the Chief tells his secretary Sundae to put on some coffee while he briefs his agents about a dangerous new threat to national security. The Chief details to Plastic Man, Woozy Winks and Gully Foyle the gruesome origins of the oozing menace known as “Meat By-Product… The Dump That Walks!” By the time the Chief is finished describing this monstrosity in excruciating detail, Plas and Co are so completely grossed out that when Sundae attempts to serve them coffee, donuts and cream-filled Danishes, they’re ready to toss their cookies.
I love Ramona Fradon’s artwork. She has such a distinctive, unconventional, cartoony style. She brought a very offbeat, fun, comedic sensibility to Metamorpho the Element Man, the character she co-created with writer Bob Haney and editor George Kashdan in 1965. That definitely made her very well-suited to draw Plastic Man a decade later. Fradon stated in interviews that he was one of her favorite characters to have worked on.
Fradon is inked here by Mike Royer. Fradon loved Royer’s inking of her pencils on this story, and has said she wishes they’d had other opportunities to work together. It’s certainly a great collaboration.
In the November 10, 2017 strip, Iris is having late night coffee with her boyfriend Zak. Iris and Zak had previously dated, but she wasn’t certain if they should be together, since she was several years older than Zak. However, following her break-up with Wilbur she decided to give her relationship with Zak another shot.
Paralleling this, in the December 5, 2017 strip, Wilbur has returned home from his travels abroad. Over morning coffee (complete with a Hello Kitty coffee mug) he is catching up with his daughter Dawn. Wilbur had a disastrous time in Bogota, where a woman attempted to scam him out of his money. This has left him wondering if he should try to get back together with Iris, not knowing she is now involved with Zak.
Jumping forward a year to the November 26, 2018 strip, Mary agrees to foster Libby, a one-eyed tabby cat. Libby is definitely a mischievous kitty, and when Mary tries to have her morning coffee the tabby knocks over her milk. Mary ultimately cannot keep Libby, because her boyfriend Jeff is allergic to cats. Fortunately Mary’s neighbor Estelle agrees to adopt Libby.
I liked the Libby storyline. Libby reminds me of Champ, one of my girlfriend Michele’s old cats. Champ was a one-eyed cat as well, the runt of the litter. She was a sweet & affectionate kitty, and we were sad when she passed away from old age.
I’ve been a fan of June Brigman’s work ever since she co-created Power Pack with Louise Simonson at Marvel Comics in 1984. Brigman has often worked with her husband Roy Richardson, an accomplished inker. June and Roy have been drawing Mary Worth since 2016. They both love cats, so I’m sure they enjoyed introducing Libby to the strip. Please check out their awesome cat-centric sci-fi series Captain Ginger written by Stuart Moore from Ahoy Comics.
43) Mark Bright & Bob Layton
Iron Man #228, layouts by Mark Bright, finishes & co-plot by Bob Layton, script & co-plot by David Michelinie, letters by Janice Chiang, and colors by Bob Sharen, published by Marvel Comics in March 1988.
One of the qualities of David Michelinie & Bob Layton’s runs on Iron Man that I have always appreciated has been their ability to write Tony Stark as a flawed, sometimes unsympathetic person while keeping his actions completely in character and believable. Unlike some of the writers who followed them, they never had Stark acting in a wildly implausible manner simply to advance the plot.
Witness the now-classic storyline “Armor Wars” which saw Stark desperately attempting to destroy the technology he developed that was now in the hands of others. As the story progressed, Stark became more and more obsessed, manipulative and ruthless, but the execution of this made it feel this progression was genuine.
Iron Man #228 sees Stark planning to attack the Vault, the federal penitentiary for incarcerating super-powered criminals, in order to destroy the Guardsmen armor that was developed from his technology. While planning their assault, Stark and his close friend Jim Rhodes stop at a nearby greasy spoon for some coffee. This scene by Layton, Michelinie and Mark Bright allows for a momentary pause in the action, enabling us to see the friendship and rapport that exists between Stark and Rhodes.
There’s very nice lettering by Janice Chiang on display here. I love her work, and can usually spot it in an instant.
I’m not quite sure what to make of Stark’s anecdote, though…
“Took me three weeks to get rid of the blueberry stain. Had to tell the guys at the gym it was a tattoo.”
Sounds like it could be the punchline to a dirty story. Whatever the set-up might have been, I doubt the Comics Code Authority would have approved!
44) Bob Oksner & Vince Colletta
This page is from the Lois Lane story “A Deadly Day in the Life” penciled by Bob Oksner, inked by Vince Colletta, written by Paul Levitz, lettered by John Costanza, and colored by Jerry Serpe. It appeared in Superman Family #212, published by DC Comics with a November 1981 cover date.
The relationship between Lois Lane and Superman in the Bronze Age was certainly somewhat of an improvement from how it was handled in the 1950s and 60s. Lois was at least somewhat less catty and scheming and manipulative than she had been previously depicted, and Superman appeared to genuinely care for her.
At the same time, looking at in from a 21st Century perspective, it becomes much more obvious that Lois is in a relationship with a man who is actively hiding a major part of his personal life from her, and who regularly gaslights her whenever she comes close to uncovering the truth.
Nevertheless, given that the Bronze Age writers were required to maintain the Lois Lane-Clark Kent-Superman love triangle, they did fairly good work. Paul Levitz writes Lois and Superman as two people who are comfortable with each other. Bob Oksner’s background drawing romance and humor stories made him well-suited to penciling scenes like this. Likewise, Vince Colletta’s own work in the romance genre results in an effective inking job.
Plus, I love the novelty of Superman using his heat vision to brew a cup of coffee for Lois. Jim Thompson sent this page my way. Yes, this IS from the same story he spotlighted where someone hurls a grenade into Lois’ bathroom while she’s taking a shower, and she tosses it back out the window before it explodes. Good thing she had that cup of coffee beforehand!
45) Stuart Immonen & Jose Marzan Jr
As a follow-up to our last entry, these pages are from Adventures of Superman #525, penciled by Stuart Immonen, inked by Jose Marzan Jr, written by Karl Kesel, lettered by Albert DeGuzman, and colored by Glenn Whitmore, published by DC Comics in July 1995.
Prior issues of the Superman titles had introduced to Clark Kent’s old high school rival Kenny Braverman, who gained superpowers and joined a covert government agency… you know, like pretty much everyone else in comic books eventually does. Braverman, who adopted the identity Conduit, learned that Clark was Superman and attempted to murder all of Clark’s friends and family. In a final battle with Superman, the hate-filled Conduit’s powers consumed his body, killing him.
In this issue Clark is reunited with Lois Lane, who he believed had been killed by Conduit. Clark explains to Lois that he is seriously considering giving up his secret identity to be Superman full-time, to prevent anyone else from being in danger due to their association with him.
Lois tells Clark she wants to go get a cup of coffee in the nearby town, but with one proviso: Clark needs to do it a Superman. Changing into the Man of Steel, he goes to a nearby diner to order a cup of coffee, only to discover that everyone is ill-at-ease around him. Some people are expecting a super-villain to attack any minute; others simply don’t know how to act around him.
Meeting up with Superman outside of town, Lois explains to him:
“You NEED a secret identity. It’s what protects you from people… and it’s what connects you to people. Under that costume you’re Clark Kent — you’ll always be Clark Kent. You can’t live without him… and neither can I!”
I feel that the post-Crisis continuity improved Lois Lane’s character a great deal. As I explained before, I was never overly fond of Lois. I couldn’t understand why Clark / Superman wanted to be with her. Even the efforts to make her less of a caricature in the 1970s were hampered by the need to maintain the Lois Lane-Superman-Clark Kent love triangle. I think a clean break was needed for Lois, and Crisis provided John Byrne with that opportunity.
Of course, having subsequently read some of the original Siegel & Shuster stories, I now realize Byrne was actually returning Lois to her original conception, the intelligent, assertive, tough-as-nails investigative reporter of the early Golden Age, and away from the catty, scheming version that existed in the 1950s.
I also like that Byrne had Clark wanting to win Lois as himself, not as Superman, because Clark Kent was his real self, and “Superman” was the secret identity.
Byrne’s work with Lois and Clark definitely set the stage for Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern, Dan Jurgens and others to write the characters in an interesting, adult relationship, and for Lois to finally learn that Clark was Superman.
In this issue Karl Kesel does really good work with the couple. The artwork by Stuart Immonen & Jose Marzan Jr expertly tells the story. And, wow, that coloring by Glenn Whitmore on page 19, with the sun setting in a dusky star-filled sky, is beautiful.
I know there are fans that are older than me who grew up on the Silver Age or Bronze Age comic books and did not like the changes made to these characters. I can understand that. I can only say that I read these stories when I was a teenager. So for me this will always be MY version of Lois and Clark.
I am excited to announce that I have written an article that is being published in issue #104 of Back Issue magazine, which ships on May 9, 2018.
Edited by Michael Eury and published by TwoMorrows Publishing, Back Issue has been running since 2003. As per the TwoMorrows website, “Back Issue celebrates comic books of the 1970s, 1980s, and today through a variety of recurring (and rotating) departments.”
I have been reading Back Issue since it first debuted. Over the past 15 years Eury has assembled a talented line-up of writers to examine numerous interesting and diverse topics concerning the comic book medium. It is a genuine honor to now be counted among their number.
Supplementing its informative articles, Back Issue also features a wonderful selection of rare and previously-unpublished artwork by numerous talented creators.
Here are the specifics regarding this upcoming issue…
BACK ISSUE #104 (84 FULL-COLOR pages, $8.95) is the FOURTH WORLD AFTER KIRBY issue, exploring the enduring legacy of JACK KIRBY’s DC characters! The Return(s) of the New Gods, Why Can’t Mister Miracle Escape Cancellation?, the Forever People, MIKE MIGNOLA’s unrealized New Gods animated movie, the Fourth World in Hollywood, and more. With an all-star lineup, including the work of JOHN BYRNE, PARIS CULLINS, J. M. DeMATTEIS, MARK EVANIER, MICHAEL GOLDEN, RICK HOBERG, WALTER SIMONSON, and more! Cover by STEVE RUDE, re-presenting his variant cover for 2015’s Convergence #6. Edited by MICHAEL EURY.
The article I have written for Back Issue #104 is “Return To Forever: The Forever People Miniseries” which examines the six issue Forever People revival that DC Comics published in 1987. For this piece I have interviewed writer J.M. DeMatteis, penciler Paris Cullins, inker Karl Kesel, and editor Karen Berger.
I am a long-time fan of Jack Kirby groundbreaking work on the “Fourth World” titles in the early 1970s, as well as the various revivals that have been attempted over the subsequent decades. The return of the Forever People to print in the late 1980s is one that has not, as far as I am aware, been previously examined to any significant degree. I found it an enjoyable assignment to delve into the origins of this miniseries, and to offer an examination of the ways in which the changes in American society since the early 1970s were explored by DeMatteis through his writing in this series.
In addition to my article, within the pages of Back Issue #104 you will find “Forever Your Girl: A Beautiful Dreamer Art Gallery.” This will feature several of the wonderful pieces that I have obtained in my Beautiful Dreamer theme sketchbook from some of the top artists in the comic book biz.
Back Issue #104 can be previewed and ordered on the TwoMorrows website. The magazine is available in both print and digital editions.
The Jewish holiday of Chanukah is coming up, which makes this a good time to look at one of the most famous Jewish heroes in comic books: Benjamin Jacob Grimm, the orange super-strong rock-like Thing from the Fantastic Four.
The Fantastic Four, who made their debut in August 1961, were created by two Jews, writer/editor Stan Lee (born Stanley Lieber) and co-plotter/penciler Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg). The Thing was never identified as any particular religion by Lee & Kirby. However, the personality & background of Ben Grimm, a gruff-taking, street-smart, working-class Joe who grew up on the rough & tumble streets of the Lower East Side during the Great Depression, was similar to Kirby. It was often suggested that Ben Grimm was a semi-autobiographical creation. Interviewed in 1987, Kirby acknowledged the similarities…
“Yes, everybody I’ve talked to has compared me to Ben Grimm and perhaps I’ve got his temperament, I’ve got his stubbornness, probably, and I suppose if I had his strength, I’d be conservative with it. Ben Grimm is that way… If he uses his strength, he’ll use it in a justifiable manner– to save somebody, or to help somebody, or to see that fairness grows and evolves and helps people.”
In a 1976 Chanukah card Kirby drew the Thing as Jewish. It’s unknown if this meant that Kirby actually saw Ben Grimm as Jewish, or if it was just a humorous bit he did for a card he was sending to his family & friends. Nonetheless, for years this fueled speculation among both comic book fans and creators that the Thing could be Jewish.
The Thing’s faith was finally identified in Fantastic Four volume 3 #56 (August 2002). “Remembrance of Things Past” was written by Karl Kesel and drawn by Stuart Immonen & Scott Koblish. A brooding Thing finds himself back on Yancy Street, where he grew up decades earlier. He runs into Hiram Sheckerberg, a curmudgeonly pawn shop owner who knows Ben Grimm from way back when. The still-cranky Sheckerberg at first mistakenly believes the Thing is part of an extortion racket that is threatening him. However the true culprit soon turns up at the pawn shop: Powderkeg, aka “the man with the explosive aura,” a super-powered thug whose shtick is that he literally sweats nitroglycerine.
The Thing defeats Powderkeg, but during the fight Sheckerberg is knocked out. Believing the old man is dead or dying, the Thing begins say the Mourner’s Kaddish. It turns out Sheckerberg was only stunned. After getting to his feet, the crabby pawn shop owner addresses the Thing…
Sheckerberg: It’s good, too, to see you haven’t forgotten what you learned at Temple, Benjamin. All these years in the news, they never mentioned you’re Jewish. I thought maybe you were ashamed of it a little?
The Thing: Nah, that ain’t it. Anyone on the internet can find out, if they want. It’s just… I don’t talk it up, is all. Figure there’s enough trouble in this world without people thinkin’ Jews are all monsters like me.
Sheckerberg disagrees with the Thing’s assessment that he is a monster, reminding him of the legend of the Golem…
“He was a being made of clay — but he wasn’t a monster. He was a protector.”
The police and paramedics soon arrive. The Thing, having wrapped up Powderkeg in a lamppost, is ready to hand over the thug to the authorities. But first we get this little exchange…
Powderkeg: And you’re really Jewish?
The Thing: There a problem with that?
Powderkeg: No! No, it’s just… you don’t look Jewish.
In the decade and a half since that story, the Thing’s faith has been addressed by subsequent writers, usually in passing. I feel this is the best way to handle it, showing him as a super-hero who happens to be Jewish, rather than making his faith the central, defining aspect of his character.
Nevertheless, on occasion Ben Grimm’s religion has been addressed head-on, such as in the story “Last Hand” written by Dan Slott and drawn by Kieron Dwyer, in The Thing #8 (August 2006).
Sheckerberg and Rabbi Lowenthal approach Grimm about having a Bar Mitzvah. The Thing is confused, pointing out that he is much older than 13. Sheckerberg observes that it has been 13 years since Grimm was reborn as the Thing. A reluctant Grimm agrees, spending the next month studying with Sheckerberg and Lowenthal. Finally the big day comes.
It’s worth nothing that Ben’s Haftorah is from the Book of Job, which is not part of the Jewish Old Testament. However this nevertheless in an appropriate choice on Slott’s part, given the struggles that Ben has been forced to endure since his transformation.
The Thing’s faith has also been mentioned in a few Holiday Specials, with Ben being shown observing Chanukah instead of Christmas.
Truthfully, Chanukah is not a major Jewish holiday, not like Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. However, Chanukah typically falls in the month of December, around the time of Christmas. The exact dates vary from year to year, since the Jewish faith is based around a lunar calendar rather than a solar one. (Yeah, that’s Jews for you; we just have to be different!) Because of its close proximity to Christmas, often Jews will exchange gifts.
“Chinese Food for Christmas” written by Jamie S. Rich and drawn by Paco Diaz appeared in the Marvel Holiday Special 2011. Playing on the idea that Jews go out for Chinese food on Christmas, the Thing is planning to attend a big Chinese buffet organized by Kitty Pryde, aka Shadowcat of the X-Men, Marvel’s other significant Jewish hero.
En route to dinner, the Thing encounters an odd creature that has been stealing Christmas decorations. It turns out the creature was trying to put together a Christmas party for the orphans at the Yancy Street Children’s Home, which ran out of money. Ben Grimm invites the kids and their odd benefactor to the buffet dinner, where we see Shadowcat, as well as several other Jewish heroes, namely Moon Knight, Songbird, Sasquatch and Wiccan.
Casting my mind back to 2002, I recall that I was genuinely thrilled to find out that the Thing was Jewish. When I was a kid, I was definitely shy & insecure. In general I didn’t feel like I fit in. The fact that I was Jewish added to that, giving me one more thing about which to feel different. This was especially true in December, when everywhere you turned it was Christmas all the time.
It’s worth noting that I felt this way even though I lived in New York, which has a significant Jewish population. I can only imagine how much more of an outsider I would have felt if I had grown up in a different part of the country.
My experiences when I was younger definitely led me to appreciate the importance of representation in pop culture. When I was a kid there were very few Jewish characters in movies, television or comic books. This left me with almost no one to identify with, which exacerbated my feelings of being different. I was already in my mid-twenties when the Thing was revealed to be Jewish, but it nevertheless felt really significant to me that one of the most iconic Marvel Comics characters was revealed to be Jewish.
There was an excellent piece written last year by Mordechai Luchins, “That Time My Four Year-Old Schooled Me on Representation.” I definitely agree with the sentiments expressed by the author. It is crucial to have diversity in pop culture. Just as I really wanted, and needed, for there to be Jewish heroes in the stories I read and watched, so too do women, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, the LGBT community and other groups want and need the same thing.
I think it is very easy for some white Christian males to take for granted that the majority of the characters in movies and television and comic books and other media look & sound like them. I really hope that these people will eventually come to understand the importance of diversity, and to realize that pop culture is big enough for all of us.
Whoever you are, whatever you celebrate, I hope that you all have a very happy holiday season.
This installment of Strange Comic Books, my occasional look at the more odd & offbeat comics in my collection, was indirectly inspired by the recent news that the original artwork for two complete Amazing Spider-Man issues drawn by Steve Ditko had resurfaced after nearly half a century. Specifically, those two stories are “The Coming of the Scorpion” from ASM #20 and “The Final Chapter” from ASM #33. That later issue features the iconic sequence by Ditko & Stan Lee where Spider-Man struggles to lift up the massive pile of wrecked machinery that he is buried under. This, in a very roundabout way, brings us to Marvel Tails #1 and only, published by Marvel Comics in 1983.
Marvel Tails #1 saw the introduction of probably the most famous, as well as clever, Spider-Man pastiche ever, namely Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham. This porcine parody of Spider-Man was devised by Tom DeFalco and Larry Hama. DeFalco would, of course, soon after become well-regarded for his work on the actual Amazing Spider-Man title, as well as Thor and the long-running cult classic Spider-Girl. But Spider-Ham was one of his earliest associations with all things arachnid. As for Hama, though best known for his writing on G.I. Joe and Wolverine, he is also a huge fan of Carl Barks’ work, so it’s quite natural that he was involved in devising Marvel’s first funny animal character.
The title Marvel Tails is itself a pun on Marvel Tales, a long-running series which reprinted the Silver and Bronze Age Spider-Man stories. In the days before Marvel had any sort of trade paperback program, Marvel Tales was the best way for younger readers such as myself to get caught up on the Spider-Man comics of the 1960s and 70s.
“If He Should Punch Me” is written by DeFalco and edited by Hama, with artwork courtesy of penciler Mark Armstrong and inker Joe Albelo. In addition to introducing Peter Porker / Spider-Ham, we meet Steve Mouser, aka Captain Americat, and their boss, curmudgeonly Daily Beagle publisher J. Jonah Jackal. Porker and Mouser are sent by Jackal to cover the story of the Masked Marauder, a mysterious figure who is sabotaging the massive Video City arcade. There they meet Bruce Bunny, the arcade’s chief electrical engineer. While Peter and Steve are busy touring Video City, the Masked Marauder locks Bruce Bunny inside a broken “Gamma Gambit” video game. The rays from the game transform Bruce into the Incredible Hulk-Bunny, who bursts out and embarks on a rampage.
The exploding video game attracts the attention of Peter and Steve, who slip into their Spider-Ham and Captain Americat costumes. Cap comes across the Masked Marauder, while Spidey tangles with the Hulk-Bunny. During the battle, the Hulk-Bunny knocks out a support beam, causing a bunch of video games and soda machines to topple onto him.
And, yes, this is where that sequence by Ditko from “The Final Chapter” comes into the picture. DeFalco, Armstrong & Albelo give us a playfully humorous parody of that classic scene, as Spider-Ham, pinned down by the huge pile of rubble, is inspired by his sense of responsibility and finds the strength to free himself. Of course, in this version of events, after lifting up all of that wreckage, the weight causes the floor under him to collapse, dropping him on top of Captain Americat. (Click on the above scans to enlarge for maximum humorous effect.)
The story soon wraps up, as the Hulk-Bunny is defeated and the Masked Marauder is, well, unmasked. I won’t give you all the details, since it’s worth reading the story for yourself. Marvel Tails was collected in the Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man digest-sized trade paperback published in 2010. So go get it.
Rounding out Marvel Tails is a five page back-up starring the supernatural cyclist Goose Rider written & drawn by cover artist Steve Mellor. It’s a ridiculously bizarre yet humorous set of gags that make absolutely no sense, but in a good way.
A year and a half after Marvel Tails hit the newsstands, Spider-Ham graduated into his own ongoing series. Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham ran from May 1985 to September 1987, lasting 17 issues. After that, Spider-Ham became a periodic back-up feature in, appropriately enough, Marvel Tales. And then there was the story in What The–?! #3 which featured Spider-Ham facing off against Raven the Hunter in a send-up of “Kraven’s Last Hunt.” More recently Spider-Ham and his daughter Swiney-Girl showed up in Spider-Man Family, and there was a 25th Anniversary Special in 2010.
For an in-depth look at Spider-Ham’s creation and publishing history, I recommend picking up Back Issue #39 published by TwoMorrows and edited by Michael Eury. Incidentally enough, Eury was one of the writers of Spider-Ham during his time in Marvel Tales. BI #39 is topped off by a cool cover penciled by the late, great Mike Wieringo and inked by Karl Kesel.
I don’t think the first Spider-Ham TPB sold especially well, since there unfortunately haven’t been any subsequent volumes. In the absence of further collections, I think that Spider-Ham is definitely worth tracking down in the back issue bins. It was a funny, clever series that offered some witty, good-natured Marvel self-parody.
By the way, getting back to our starting point, you can view scans of the original Ditko artwork from Amazing Spider-Man #20 and #33 on the website of Mike “Romitaman” Burkey. It’s really fantastic to see.