Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Marvel Comics Presents #9

Marvel Comics Presents #9, Late December 1988, Marvel Comics
writers: Chris Claremont, Steve Gerber, Marc McLaurin, Scott Lobdell
pencillers: John Buscema, Brad Joyce, Tony Salmons, Larry Alexander
inkers: Klaus Janson, Tom Sutton, Al Gordon, Jim Sinclair
letterers: Ken Lopez, Bill Oakley, Diana Albers, Tim Harkins
colorists: Glynis Oliver, Petra Scotese, Steve Bucellato, Mike Rockwitz

I discovered Cloak and Dagger in my early adolescence, when I presume their creators intended them to be discovered. Volleying between the themes of purposeful self-discovery, battling internal demons, and unrequited love, Cloak and Dagger, initially adolescents themselves, are the perfect heroes for the struggling teenager, particularly those compensating their social inadequacies by escaping into comic books . . . like me. If Peter Parker represented the pratfalls of '60s youth, which were predominantly domestic, Tyrone and Tandy took it to the next level in the Reagan years, battling drug dealers, pimps, and mystics. Yes, times had changed, but the fact that adolescence is simply a trying time never will. As I did with Spidey B-listers Cloak and Dagger, we find out support systems where we can.

In this issue of Marvel Comics Presents, predominantly featuring Wolverine, Cloak stars in a short solo adventure, with a viability worthy of his then-native Strange Tales or Mutant Misadventures of Cloak & Dagger titles. In a story ripped from the headlines of that era, Cloak beholds a news story about a girl trapped in a well, and he decides to utilize his unique powers of transportation to save her, in the hopes of impressing his partner and uber-crush Dagger and of satisfying his endless struggle to achieve heroic status in the public and in himself. So, recklessly materializing on the scene, the authorities futilely attacked, and again, when he discovered the girl underground, her new, strange mole man friends pummel him, mysteriously immune to his light-draining powers. Cloak realizes his affront to them sparked their attack, and just as he resigns to self pity, a flood rushes through the tunnel and Cloak manages to save them all. The girl, who had just minutes prior cursed him, thanks him, and as her under-dwelling friends, who are never identified and simply look like Kirby-esque drones, flee, Cloak dubs himself a hero after all, as if we needed the reassurance. Actually, despite its holes, this is a tight solo story, and this classic depiction of Cloak, his garb flowing around him with a life of its own even as he stands in melodramatic thought, is a tough contrast to the tough talking punk from Monday's Marvel Knights issue. I prefer this incarnation, for, while his whining is annoying, you can't help but cheer for the guy. For a superhero with the looks of an enigmatic villain, Cloak still has the girl and saves the day -- which reveals the mark of a hero to me.

If only the rest of this issue could've balanced action and insight so seamlessly. The lead story starring Wolverine was entertaining, as Wolvie faces off against the derivative Razorfist, and though everyone's favorite X-Man boasts about the durability of his adamantium skeleton, his real power in this short story is his ability to succinctly sum up each panel's events. Truly, Claremont went very pulp in this chapter, which may be his style for all I know, but I enjoyed it to the point that it didn't repeat previous points or clash with the action-oriented dynamics of a panel. I mean, really, if this battle was as intense as the artist would have us believe, Wolverine wouldn't be lost in such contemplative thought. Further, the time it takes us the readers to absorb these captions are deceptive and inaccurate to the break neck speed at which these master scrappers should be fighting. Still, the ongoing synopsis of Wolverine's powers made the eventual "snikt" all the more meaningful; he holds off on the claws to the very end, making their appearance significant: "Claws. Three to a hand. Pure adamantium, honed so sharp they'll cut through anything. I can see why my friends preferred Wolvie over my Cloak and Dagger any day . . . and while his claws are much sharper than adolescent angst, the latter leaves a deeper wound, eh?

The Man-Thing and El Aguila (Who?) tales in this issue are mere filler if you ask me, propping up the series for Wolverine's benefit. The Man-Thing story was the ninth part in an ongoing story (as was Wolverine's, but with less strings and a worthy attempt at catch-up), and the Aguila yarn was too goofy to take seriously. It takes place in Mexico, and though the writer or editor captions that the dialogue is "translated" from Spanish, words like "bueno" and "si" pepper the script -- If the translation holds, shouldn't these words read "yes" and "good?" No, the writer just wanted to use some freshman knowledge of the Mexican language to create a stereotypical impression of the culture, which was Aguila's nemesis more so than some Earth-absorbing mutant. This issue of Marvel Presents would have retained a sense of goth appeal had this story not spoiled the mix. You can't win 'em all.

I should also comment that I'm impressed to see each of these stories completed by four totally different creative teams. Now, with contracted companies monopolizing coloring and lettering, it's nice to see that even anthology books like this were worthy of individually hand-crafted skills back in the day.

Thus concludes my Cloak, Dagger, and Bret Blevins series. The experience was both a walk down memory lane and a reminder of why I'll be reading comics well into my future -- a thorough explorations of the foundations of my fanaticism. The comic book is definitely a medium that will grow up with you, if you let it, if you pursue the kinds of books that appeal to your current lot in life. While the perpetually young Cloak and Dagger are no longer my peers, my surpassing them in age only affirms the solidity of their characters, of how a few runaway heroes can make a difference in a seemingly powerless kid in Phoenix. Do you think I'm exaggerating? Who showed you the light?

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