Monday, June 25, 2007

Creatures on the Loose #30

Creatures on the Loose #30, July 1974, Marvel Comics
writer: Doug Moench
artist: George Tuska
inker: Vinnie Colletta
letterer: John Costanza
colorist: L. Lessman
editor: Roy Thomas

As the A Comic A Day challenge comes to its inevitable close this week, Creatures on the Loose #30 is the last Marvel comic I'll be reviewing and thus will be evaluated as such. You see, when Timely Comics became the legendary House of Ideas under the incomparable creativity of Stan Lee and his onslaught of superhero titles, Marvel developed a definitive identity as a comic book publisher that even its long-standing rival DC Comics hadn't yet achieved. Rather than waste his supplemental pages on short stories or crudely illustrated back-up features, as other publishers did, Stan Lee broke the fourth wall and communicated with his audience, founding the Bullpen, Stan's Soapbox, and FOOM, Marvel's official fan club. Lee and company quickly established that the company could be as dynamic an entity as the characters they featured, a phenomenon that affected the industry to this very day.

In fact, one might presume that the Bullpen Bulletins page was comics' first blog, offering a behind the scenes perspective and creative insight to its fans while inadvertently documenting the development of a cultural shifting corporate identity. That's quite an item!

Indeed, Marvel had created a monster, for which they were more commonly known prior to the advent of their superhero canon, and Creatures of the Night is a successful blend of these genres -- indicative of why I chose it as one of the last comics to review this year. This issue stars Man-Wolf, one of Spider-man's rogues, in a solo adventure essentially against himself. See, Man-Wolf is really astronaut John Jameson, Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson's son, whose fusion with a celestial pendant transforms him into a werewolf under a full moon. Though readers are treated to a glimpse of this back story, the real action begins when Jameson transforms, tears up his apartment, and lunges into the street, where he coincidentally rescues a helpless couple from a pair of muggers before ex-CIA agent, now special agent Stroud catches up to take the monster down. Stroud pursues Man-Wolf to the Statue of Liberty, where, after a climatic tussle, the beast falls into the ocean. The next issue blurb not only teases that Man-Wolf survived but that this is just the beginning of his tale . . . pun intended!

This issue is classic Marvel, from the trademark simplicity of a protagonist battling his own demons to the dramatic angling of artist George Tuska's page layouts. Tuska blends the Kirby and Romita styles expertly to capture that mighty Marvel manner, which some could criticize nowadays without the knowledge that such similar illustrative efforts were strategic in establishing the company's visual identity. This isn't "the swipe," but the standard of its day. Further, by focusing on supporting characters from Spider-man's ongoing series, fans gain a grander appreciation for all corners of the then-expanding Marvel Universe, nudging that sense of superhero wonder while reinforcing their roots in horror and monster yarns. Yes, Marvel was the Universal Studios of the comic book set, and though its consonant-centric lumbering behemoths aren't as memorable as Frankenstein or the Mummy, fresh takes on the werewolf motif kept Marvel's younger audience interested. Even in today's market where less isn't more anymore, and more still just don't seem like enough, how many villains, especially B-listers like Man-Wolf, get their own series, albeit a serial? Even the Joker's book, which circulated within a few years of Creatures, didn't fare as well in the long run. In this case, the emphasis is less on the characters' status and more in the strength of the story -- which is incidentally, I dare say, a thriller.

Arguably, very little happens in this issue, and like many issues from this era, the captioning is a little much, particularly since the imagery speaks for itself (panel description: Man-Wolf tears up stuff, next: repeat), but I had a similar reaction to Image's Free Comic Book Day offering The Astounding Wolf-Man. It's all foundation work with a bigger scheme, so that writers in future issues can, ahem, shoot for the moon.

Personally, I didn't know much about the Man-Wolf until this issue, fleshing out the origin points of which I was already aware. In fact, the last time I encountered the Man-Wolf was a little over a year ago when I purchased the Spider-man Legends Man-Wolf action figure, a hesitant buy since I'm oblivious to the character, yet I'm a sucker for attempting to collect and display my favorite heroes' rogues. (The toy aisles are packed with Batman and Spider-man variants; it's those bad guys that are so elusive, much like their comic book counterparts!) However, before that, the world met John Jameson (sans pendant) in Spider-man 2, in which he was abandoned by Mary Jane at the altar. Incidentally, I presumed that the third film would tie up that thread by spotlighting a John more determined in the astronaut field than ever, rocketing to the moon and inadvertently bringing back the alien symbiote, which is how the '90s Spider-man animated series introduced Venom, I think. Resolving the one conflict would have transitioned effectively into the other, implying an even stronger sense of continuity between the films and maybe even a cinematic Man-Wolf debut. Perhaps that project is yet to come -- Spider-man 4: Rise of the Man-Wolf! Call me, Sony!

Honestly, it doesn't matter who our heroes fight, because Marvel has assured us that reading the adventure will be fun regardless of the conflict. Heck, they'll even transform some B-list baddie into a bonafide bridge between superhero and creature comics, instilling him with a sense of mystery and sympathy that wouldn't have resulted from some annual appearance as a rogue elsewhere. Stan Lee and his band of merry Marvelites were the real creatures on the loose back in those days, producing comics of a creative quality that still rivals today's new release shelves! In fact, even without the inclusion of Man-Wolf, the Marvel Universe is so rich, its corporate identity so strong, that John Jameson made his way onto the screen anyway. I mean, he's a supporting character to a supporting character, for crying out loud! Thirty-three years after Creatures on the Loose #30, the Man-Wolf, and the company that spawned him, still have their claws.

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