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Issue #46

Bad books happen to good people.

It's true, sometimes, despite their best efforts, qualified professionals squeeze out the occasional turd.

Now, nobody intends to do a bad comic book. Nobody gets up in the morning and says to themselves, "I'm going to crank out a real dog today." But regardless of intent, it happens.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's run on the "Fantastic Four" is often cited as legitimately being "the World's Greatest Comic Magazine" and rightly so. Between the two of them (and I'm not going to go into who created what here, there are those who claim Stan did nothing more than transcribe Jack's liner notes and those who'll say Stan was calling all the shots) the book introduced a veritable universe of imaginative creations. And yet there are several issues in the run, which were, frankly, less than stellar.

"Fantastic Four" #32, for example, was a pedestrian issue with a murder mystery that anybody paying a lick of attention could solve well before our heroes doped it out.

"Fantastic Four" #34 was no prize either and several other issues during this period were pretty standard fare.

The "Fantastic Four" really kicked into high gear with #44, Joltin' Joe Sinnott came on board as the regular inker and the Uncanny Inhumans debuted. The book got so good it eclipsed everything on the stands as Galactus, the Silver Surfer, Black Panther, Klaw, Blastaar and a host of others were introduced in rapid succession. There were issues that were, comparatively, less exciting than others, but no outright stinkers.

But even Stan and Jack weren't infallible. "Fantastic Four" #80 was something of a dog. It gave the world Tomazooma, the Living Totem, and it just wasn't as awesome as all the rest.

And "Fantastic Four" #95 (despite having an awe-inspiring full page interior splash of the Thing holding up a building) was pretty dull stuff. The world's greatest super-team fought a guy in a suit who called himself the Monocle.

Ouch.

"Fantastic Four" #98 wasn't all that good either as it attempted to tie-in the then-recent moon landing with the FF tackling a Sentry here on earth. And "Fantastic Four" #100 was a real disappointment. Lee and Kirby stuck in a mess of the FF's greatest foes (okay, they were life-like androids, but they looked like the real guys -- or would have, had they been colored right) into a 19-page story and there were just too many panels with too many tiny figures and nothing getting much room to breathe. The whole production just fell flat. Years later, I'd heard that originally they had planned on making this a double-length epic much like their annuals and I can believe it. The book read like it was two issues' worth of material crammed into one.

The "Amazing Spider-Man" had its ups and downs as well. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were behind the wheel and, for most of their 38-issue run, outstanding comics were the order of the day. Stan and Steve introduced nearly all of the characters that would comprise Spidey's ogues' gallery for decades to come.

But there were a few clunkers in there.

Stan and Steve may have started out seeing eye-to-eye on the book, but after a short while, Steve was getting a plotting credit and it was painfully obvious that these two were not communicating. The worst of it came in the "Amazing Spider-Man" #30. In that inadequate epic, a character called the Cat was introduced. The Cat was a small time second-story man, but in the story there were pages of his minions at work who seemed to have a somewhat different agenda and their story and the Cat's story really didn't seem to make a hell of a lot of sense. It didn't really gel. By the story's end, the Cat had been captured but there was no closure to the minions' part of the plot.

The reason was, that Sturdy Steve had not conveyed to Smilin' Stan just what the deal was. It may be a case where Steve was obtuse or it could be that Stan neglected to read the liner notes that Steve scribbled on the outside of his pages, but whatever the excuse there was a definite failure to communicate.

You see, in the next issue, the minions' tale continued and they were working for the "Master Planner." Steve must have stuck those characters in the previous issue in an effort to foreshadow the events in the subsequent issue, but Stan was blissfully unaware of that when he put words into the mouths of characters in "Amazing Spider-Man" #30 and he simply coped with Steve's perplexing pages as best he could. The result was a comic book that, frankly, didn't make much sense. Especially if you read that string of issues back-to-back.

Not every issue can be a winner. That's just the way things go. When you have to grind out monthly books year in and year out, there are times when you'll lay an egg. It's inevitable.

In Frank Miller and Klaus Janson's run on "Daredevil" there was issue #167 that just sat there, stinking up the place. It was competently drawn, but it was somewhat lackluster and the story itself didn't add a whole hell of a lot. "Daredevil" #178 was the second part of a story continued from an issue of "Powerman/Iron Fist" and despite the best intentions and (we're told) coordination between creators, it simply fell short. Characters changed appearance from one story to the next and it just didn't work out all that well as a two-part tale. It was nicely drawn and there were some good bits, but it didn't measure up to the issues around it.

There are times when deadlines present themselves and choices must be made. Nobody wants to make comics that are less than outstanding, but the reality is these are periodicals and if they are to come out on a monthly basis, sometimes something is going to slip. I've turned out comics that I was less than pleased with on more than one occasion. I'll leave it up to the readers to determine which ones sucked ass, but there are several that I wouldn't include in my greatest hits package.

"Do you want it good or do you want it on time?" I've heard creators say and the answer is "both," but the reality is that if you want it on time that the answer can't be "both." Not all the time at least.

The fact of the matter is that some days you come up with Galactus. Some days you come up with the Silver Surfer. And some days you come up with the Monocle. All you can do is plow ahead and try to get it right the next day.

They can't all be winners.

But that's just one fan's opinion. I'm willing to concede that I could be wrong.

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