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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 224: Marvel Team-Up #68

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!

At least it's not Giant-Sized!

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?

14 Comments

I learned the word “Stygian” from Robert E. Howard Conan stories myself…

Man-Thing’s arm ‘fur’ in particular is very similar to Sasquatch from Alpha Flight . . .

The twist is that we – and Spidey – are seeing MT through a large glass window. MT isn’t lunging, he’s falling forward into the glass because he is sick, a sickness caused by him having been removed from the swamp. Spidey feels sorry for the big guy, which is how the reader feels, too.

I honestly can’t remember anything else about this story!

One of the first comics I ever bought. And one of my favorites. In it Spidey is shown as compassionate – and he has a supremely heroic moment at the end (similar to Spidey beats Firelord years later)

As for the splash page – it turns out Man-Thing is in a glass cage, in some warehouse or something. Spidey helps him escape

As for critiquing the splash page, I think Byrne’s Spidey at this time was his best. Yes, it’s a bit too muscular and large at times but his figures are solid, three-dimensional and “alive”.

Those old MTUs were great fun, Claremont hadn’t yet given everyone a smug, preachy tone and Byrne was drawing all manner of folk from Thor to Red Sonja. Loved these stories when I bought them as kid when they first came out and love them still.

* snickers childishly at Greg’s caption *

If it’s the “dead of night,” why is the sky behind colored blue? Seems like a bit of a disconnect there between colorist and scripter.

Yeh, good spot. Then again, rooms changed colour from panel to panel and places were bizarrely coloured as a matter of course, so maybe they just didn’t bother too about that sort of accuracy back then. Now that you’ve brought this up and made me think about it, they definitely seemed more interested in making things bright and vivid for the eye.

Yes, Byrne’s definitely “on model” for Spidey. To me it looks like a Kane-inked-by-Romita snr version, although the hands could be straight from JRsnr himself.
Would love to have seen Byrne do a lengthy run on AMS around this period (I think he only did a few in the #190s), but I guess he HAD to do some minor run featuring some mutants, MTU, Iron Fist, Cap, Avengers, Alpha Flight…. :)

I like the contrast between the bright on-model Spidey and the swampy Man-Thing. It looks good. I think Wiacek is a very good inker. I know he inked Colleen Doran on Reign of the Zodiac and it looked alright (iirc…actually, I’m thinking I didn’t like that as much. Have to dig those issues out….). But I do know for sure that he inked Liefeld on New Mutants 87, and it made it so it didn’t suck. Which I’m guessing is a big reason why Liefeld got as hot as he did — he had a great inker to “save” him there.

If they did make a plush toy, how many do you think would sell? “Mommy, I want to play with my Man-Thing!” “Not until you’re older!”

Dave Hunt did some fab work inking Byrne at around this time on MTU and others

Comic book writers just love the word Stygian.

And Claremont just loves having a character say out loud what is right in front of his face.

“The kitchen. This coffee cup is warm. So warm. My, God! It is coming right at my mouth!”

Hey Greg,

Loving the Claremont/Byrne entries, a nice flashback to a simpler time.

I’m wondering if you’ll be doing anything from their more recent and waaaay less popular JLA arc. I’d be curious to see if the analysis turns up many big differences from their earlier collaborations.

@Pete Woodhouse: your list of “minor” Byrne runs omitted Fantastic Four, perhaps his “minor-est” work of all!
(in all seriousness, the guy churned out a ton of wonderful stuff over the years, didn’t he? )

dhole: I certainly don’t want to give away what’s coming up, but I’ll give you a hint: I can’t do an X-Men book EVERY day, can I? :)

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