Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Marvel Premiere #56

Marvel Premiere #56, October 1980, Marvel Comics
writers: Len Wein, Howard Chaykin, David Micheline
layouts: Howard Chaykin
finishing artist: Terry Austin
letterer: Joe Rosen
colorist: G. Wein
editor: Jim Salicrup
EIC: Jim Shooter

When I opened this issue of Marvel Premiere this morning, I was excited to see a veritable who’s who of creative talent in its credits. Wein, Chaykin, Micheline (who I remember fondly from his pre-clone run on Amazing Spider-man), Austin, even letterer Rosen are all respected names in the industry today, and if they collaborated on a contemporary title, the series would undoubtedly warrant attention from Comic Shop News or Comic Book Resources. I purchased this comic on a whim from the same back issue bin that produced Chesty Sanchez, so go figure. What would’ve driven this issue to inevitable burial in light of its headline talent?

Perhaps its obscure hero, the adventurer Dominic Fortune, had something to do with it. Not that I didn’t enjoy his adventure, and in fact thanks to the combined talent of all involved both Fortune’s story and visuals were smooth and easy to digest. This issue takes place on a casino cruise, where Dum Dum Dugan (who I thought was an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.) loses his traveling circus to the house on a bet gone wrong. When Fortune’s fling and cruise ship owner Sabbath nearly sells the circus but ultimately denies it to corporate kingpin Spencer Keene, old Spence privately reveals that his motives were to force the circus’ mentalist to open an inherited, booby trapped safe . . . oh, and that he has a metal hand, an injury he acquired trying to open another mysterious safe. When Keene kidnaps the mentalist on his own terms and Fortune comes to the perilous rescue, Spencer plays that hand against our hero, whose ingenuity wins out in the end. Again, this was a fun adventure, though a bit too shallow for the likes of Chaykin, which may explain why Fortune hasn’t achieved the acclaim of follow-up projects like American Flagg. Sometimes having fun just isn’t fun enough.

Further, Dominic Fortune, a determined, gun-slinging adventurer, really isn’t that unique as a character. Thanks in part to James Bond and Mission: Impossible, film and comics both sought to establish the heroic Everyman, a superhero sans superpowers, armed only with his wits, a wanton ignorance (or recklessness) toward danger, and maybe some buzzsaw cufflinks, if he’s lucky. In Fortune’s case, he busts out a pair of wrist grapples, and although they look like the removable claws that came with the old Secret Wars Wolverine action figure, they prove effective against Spencer Keene’s Doctor Doom gauntlet rip-off. To be clear, the Fortune-like adventurer archetype is not the same as the Cobb-like tough guy I analyzed a few months ago; primarily missing from the former in contrast to the latter is that a certain sense of self-loathing, a definitively pulp quality that, when missing, tends to play more as camp. The likes of James Bond, or Christopher Chance, or Dominic Fortune court danger, like one of the many women they’ve slept with. While we pity the tough guy, we want to be the adventurer. Though essentially irrelevant, adventurers are extremely entertaining, and when handled well, have a certain staying power.

Unfortunately, as far as I know, Dominic Fortune wasn’t a mainstay in the Marvel Universe. (Unless someone can tell me which side he chose in the Marvel heroes’ Civil War . . .?) Still, I took a gamble on this Fortune and won, thanks to the discovery and exposure to these early Modern Age masters. They’re the ones with the staying power; their respective careers have only raised the stakes for comic book entertainment, and that’s a wager we all win.

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