Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be looking at four writer/artist duos, as voted on by you, the readers! This week features Chris Claremont and John Byrne! Today’s page is from Marvel Team-Up #68, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated April 1978. Once again, I’d like to thank Mr. Brian Cronin for this scan – he didn’t even need a computer to send it, because his brain is a computer and he just thought about sending it to me, and it was there! Enjoy!
As we go through this week, we’ll notice that Byrne has different inkers, influencing his work in different ways. Tomorrow’s entry will show this very clearly, but notice that Wiacek adds a bit more definition than Austin did to Byrne’s X-Men page, which could just be because Spidey is in a swamp. Spider-Man himself is on-model – in the late 1970s, Marvel still had a house style that they wanted every artist to work in, and they were even able to make distinctive artists like Frank Miller to draw heroes like Spider-Man in the 1970s model (I’m not very good at identifying art styles, but this looks more like a Gil Kane Spider-Man than a Romita, Sr. Spider-Man … and I’m sure people will tell me I’m wrong if I am). Neither Byrne nor Wiacek were old enough (neither was 30 yet) or powerful enough (Byrne was not even three years into his Marvel career, and Wiacek had just started working for them) to challenge this house style, so we get a fairly bland Spider-Man in the foreground. I haven’t seen a lot of early Man-Thing depictions, but Byrne’s version looks a bit more … furry, I guess, than he was usually drawn back in the 1970s. Phil Rachelson seems to color him greener than usual, too – there’s no muddy brown on ol’ Man-Thing, which makes him a bit more cuddly than I think he’s supposed to be. Byrne doesn’t draw him with long branches (or roots) on his arms, which also lessens his fearsome impact. It’s not like I’d want to meet him in a swamp in any case, but if Disney were to make a Man-Thing plush toy, they’d use Byrne’s design rather than, say, Gray Morrow’s version.
Byrne does lay out the page nicely, with the trees behind the two principals forming a tableau in which Man-Thing can lunge at Spidey. Even though Spider-Man is in the foreground, Man-Thing is still bigger than he is, which helps inform us that Man-Thing is really big. There’s a good sense of motion on the page – even without Spidey telling us that Man-Thing is moving, the way Byrne draws his arm sweeping down and the way he draws Spidey recoiling tells us what’s going on, and also helps show the revulsion people feel when they see Man-Thing. Poor Man-Thing! So we get a nice, kinetic opening that sets the scene and also has some emotional resonance, all without needing words.
Of course, because it’s Claremont, we get words! As you know, I haven’t actually read this issue, so I’m very puzzled by the way Claremont begins the story – “It seems that it’s the dead of night …” This makes me think that perhaps Spider-Man is dreaming, and on the next page he’ll wake up? I don’t know, but that “seems” bugs me. The final caption, “appearances can be deceiving,” implies that the Man-Thing’s appearance can be deceiving and he’s not really such a “creature,” but it could also mean that this entire page’s appearance is deceiving. In the Marvel Universe, this could be anything from a dream to a session in the X-Men’s Danger Room – who the hell knows? Claremont does a nice job of planting some doubt in the readers’ minds, so that even if the dynamic artwork didn’t get you to turn the page, the doubts about the page’s verisimilitude would. Of course, Claremont goes a bit nuts with the description of what the swamp looks like, but that’s okay. I can’t be totally sure, but I’m fairly confident that I learned the word “Stygian” from comic books – not this one, of course, but from one of them. Comics = EDUCATIONAL!!!!!
I’m sure someone can tell me what happens on the next page of this epic. Greg Hatcher can probably quote the entire issue AND do different voices for each character!
Tomorrow, we’ll check out another issue of MTU, this time with a radically different inker. Who will it be? I’ll give you a hint: he died pretty recently. And his work hasn’t shown up in the archives yet. Who could it be?