"While X-MEN #46 wasn't as bad as previous issues, it still wasn't up to par with what I've come to expect from you guys."
--Tony Isabella, X-MEN #49, October, 1968
If you enjoy this journey into my back pages, you have ROBERT KEITH to thank. He sent me this letter:
Let's just say UNCANNY X-MEN #49 was a really significant book in the Marvel Universe, and if it were X-MEN #1, we'd CGC it, encase it, and, if we ever wanted to read it, we'd buy some cheap reprint of it. Right?
I just finished reading my original un-CGC'd Mile High II copy of that issue and came across a real gem. Look at the photocopy of its letters page that I've enclosed with this note.
So, could it be possible that there were two different Tony Isabellas from Ohio that were both lamenting the loss of Marvel's westerns. One Tony Isabella in 1968 and a different Tony Isabella in 2003? I don't think so.
I would appreciate it if you would reread X-MEN #46, the issue you wrote the letter about, and give us a current critique of it. Also, if I am the first CBG reader to notice this 1968 fan letter, send me my "no-prize" ASAP. Modern-day readers/investors won't understand that comment, but we do.
I've been reading comics since July, 1970, and, as far as I'm concerned, the modern-day collectors/investors can encapsulate it, CGC it, and even upgrade it--Does a 9.4 really look different from a 9.6 or a 9.8?--but they are all depriving themselves of the most important thing, the joy of reading the comics.
I'm awarding Robert both a "no-prize" and an official Isabella "tsk-tsk." The coveted "no-prize" is for bringing me face-to-face with myself from a quarter-century ago. The less coveted "tsk-tsk" is for believing CGC-rated comics are never read. Of course, they are. The holders are easily opened; they exist to verify condition at the time of purchase.
Now, if a purchaser wants to resell a comic book after opening and reading it, the CGC grade will no longer be valid. He or she will need to have the book re-graded. The grading fee is simply a cost of doing business. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know you've heard this from me before. Some things bear repeating.
Now to the fun part of the column. Here's my fan letter from that long ago issue of X-MEN:
Dear Stan and Gary,
While X-MEN #46 wasn't as bad as previous issues, it still wasn't up to par with what I've come to expect from you guys. "The End of the X-Men" had one of the worst plots Marvel has ever featured. I don't expect a simple "enter-villain-fight-villain- exit-villain" plot from any comic company, much less Marvel, whose trademark has always been complicated plots.
The only thing that saved the story was Gary's beautiful script. It was really excellent.
The idea of the X-Men splitting up is good, as long as they are all together nine-tenths of the time. Solo adventures would be out in my opinion, but I would like to see frequent guest appearances in other comics. I'd also like to see more of Amos Duncan and maybe a few spy and counter-spy type stories.
The art was good, especially the first page. But I would still like to see Werner Roth do his own layouts. He's a great artist, but 15 pages a month of his work is not enough for me. Why not bring back Kid Colt, so he can draw that again?
(No, I'm not going to let you forget discontinuing three of my favorite comics - KID COLT, GHOST RIDER, and TWO-GUN KID - I'll keep on bugging you until you bring them back.)
The Origin of Iceman was excellent, as the origin stories always are. But I still feel that they detract too much from the feature story. How about a special, one-shot Marvel Origins 25-center? You could feature the origins of the other X-Men and a few of your other characters. George Tuska did excellent art as always, but let him ink his own work. He's great at inking.
The above letter appears exactly as it was published with one alteration. It was all one paragraph in the original. I thought it would be easier to read if I broke it up some. Other than that, I didn't change a word.
The script was "beautiful?" I must have been running out of adjectives that month, not surprising since, during this period, I was writing letters to every Marvel title and a goodly number of comics from other publishers as well. In fact, if memory serves, this was the month in which I had a letter published in darn near every Marvel mag and--go figure--the month in which they started a mercifully short-lived policy of running just the fan letters with no editorial comments whatsoever. Clearly, the Marvel Bullpen was struck dumb by my profuseness.
On to the comic book itself...
X-MEN #46 (July, 1968) had a cover by Don Heck (pencils) and John Verpooten (inks) under a big title burst announcing the end of the X-Men. THE X-MEN was the weakest link in the Marvel super-hero chain at the time, so the actual title logo was not considered a major selling point. The covers of issues prior to and following this one emphasized individual members of the team or combinations thereof.
Then and now, I really liked this cover. Professor Xavier had "died," but, due to an extended battle with Magneto and a crossover with The Avengers, his students hadn't had time to mourn him. The sad figures of the X-Men in the large "X" being pulled apart by the Juggernaut made for a powerful and emotional image.
Rereading the cover story, I like it better than I did back in 1968. The Juggernaut is obviously in the story only to provide the action sequences--I'll return to that in a moment--but the heart of the story is in the X-Men coping with their loss and, at the strong insistence of the F.B.I., going their separate ways. Those scenes are very effective, even poignant.
The Juggernaut appearance works better for me now than it did then because I'm now more aware of Charles Xavier's propensity for secret plots. Knowing that the Professor faked his own death, that he would have also created a device to free the Juggernaut from his mystical, otherworldly prison, and then, if Juggy didn't behave, return Juggy to captivity, fits in perfectly with Xavier's devious disposition. The Marvel Universe's old-school continuity shines in such moments.
It shined less brightly when Xavier's lawyer turns out to be "Foggy" Nelson from Daredevil. Though I didn't mention it in my original letter, I would have thought this was pretty cool at the time. Today, it strikes me as unrealistic that almost every super- hero or super-team would have Nelson & (Matt) Murdock on retainer, especially considering how many lawyers must ply their trade in New York City and the surrounding areas. On the other hand, I suppose Xavier could have read the minds of every lawyer in Manhattan and hired Murdock's firm to keep it in the super-hero family.
I still think Friedrich's script is pretty good. It's wordy, but that was the style of the day. I was thrown by the Juggernaut exhibiting a never-before-seen power in the middle of his battle with the X-Men, but that, too, was common in Marvel comics of the 1960s. Chalk it up to growing pains.
Not mentioned in my letter is that Heck provided the layouts for this story with Roth finishing the pencils and John Tartaglione inking them. Today, I would rate it well above average, all of the artists complimenting each other's strengths.
Tartaglione also inked the Tuska-penciled Iceman origin and, tastes change, I think he did a better job on it than Tuska would have. I liked Tuska's inking on himself and other pencilers, but, in this case, I think Tartaglione brought a small-town reality to the finished work. I could believe in the lynch mob that attacks Scott Summers and Bobby Drake.
When I reread an old comic like this one, I check out the ads I ignored when I first bought the issue. This month, the come-ons included a selection of Joe Weider "muscle-building tools," English lessons, fishing gear, the "Strat-O-Matic" baseball game, a booklet teaching "Forbidden Oriental Fighting Arts;" 132 Roman Soldiers for $1.98, and a "missile-firing" tank for only $6.98!
Among the smaller advertisers were comics dealers Robert Bell, Howard M. Rogofsky, Passaic Book Center, and the Grand Book Center. The only one I ever did business with was Rogofsky, who, it seemed to me, had everything in stock. In 1964, I completed my Marvel super-hero collection by buying the first issues of Fantastic Four, Avengers, and X-Men from him...for under ten bucks total. Hard to believe that the comics fans of the day used to chide him for his "high" prices and call him "Howard Rip-off-sky." We didn't know how good we had it.
There were Marvel house ads aplenty. For a buck-sixty, you could get one of seven t-shirts: Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, the Avengers, and the brand-new "cataclysmic Captain Marvel t-shirt." For $3.15, you get a two-sided sweatshirt of either the Hulk or the Thing. One dollar bought you a coveted membership in the Merry Marvel Marching Society.
The Marvel Bullpen Page announced the debuts of the giant-size Silver Surfer and Not Brand Echh titles, reminded readers that the magazine-size Spectacular Spider-Man was still on sale, plugged the 17 other Marvel books on sale that month, and, in "Stan's Soapbox," explained that Marvel was publishing all these titles because the readers demanded them. And, y'know, that wasn't just hype. True believers like yours truly were buying every one of those books and hadn't yet reached our limit.
The oddest ad? That would be the one offering an autographed photo of Stan for "one measly dollar," first in a never-realized series of Marvel Bullpen photos. I'm hoping the hard-working CBG editorial crew can reproduce the ad here. You have to see those copious blocks of come-on copy to appreciate the peerless power of Stan unleashed. He put the "huck" in "huckster" and we loved him for it.
There was even a letters page in this issue, albeit a letters page diminished by my absence. The most notable letter was from a "Carol Baldwin" of the Oceanography Department of the University of Washington. She won a "no-prize" for challenging Marvel's command of biology and physics.
A "girl" scientist who read Marvels? No wonder I remembered her letter after all these years.
On our usual ratings scale of zero to five Tonys, I'm giving X-MEN #46 the full five of the disembodied darlings. After all, it only costs 12 cents for all that entertainment! I'd buy a hundred such comics at that price!
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1552 [August 15, 2003], which shipped July 28. I wrote it in San Diego during Comic-Con International. The cover story of this issue was the convention itself; the second lead announced that the steering committee of FREE COMIC BOOK DAY had voted overwhelmingly to have a FREE COMIC BOOK DAY in 2004. No one asked me, but, if they had, I would've told them I'm all for it. Regardless of whether or not the day is scheduled to coincide with a big movie, I very much like the idea of the comics industry having its own special day each and every year.
I apologize for not bringing you more than the cover of X-MEN #46 here. I'd hoped to have a new scanner in place and operational before reprinting the above CBG column, but some missing software and a busy schedule of parent-stuff got between me and my best-laid plans. I do have the new scanner, though, and, depending how long it takes me to figure out how to install and use it, I'll be able to feature more art in future columns.
Let's see what else is on my mind this weekend.
I can't tell you I've been enjoying THE NATION ($2.95), which is published mostly weekly, but its well-written articles have been helpful in adding depth to some of my own deeply-held convictions about where my country is going and why we should swiftly make some course corrections.
The standout article in THE NATION for August 18/25 was Trudy Lieberman's "Hungry in America." It starts off by quoting George W. Bush, our anointed/appointed faux-president:
"I have no heart for somebody who starves his folks."
Bush was speaking of Korea's Kim Jong II and not himself...the right-wing is notorious in its inability to appreciate irony...but his policies have contributed to the hunger which, unbelievably, continues to exist in the most affluent nation on Earth, the United States of America.
I readily admit Bush should not be made to accept sole blame for these conditions. His party led the attack on welfare, except for the wealthy, of course, and a great many Democrats added their voices to the unruly mob because it was the politically expedient and safe thing to do.
Lieberman covers the history of this growing problem and comes to the obvious conclusion that it is a proper use of our resources to insure that our people have enough to eat. It seems like a no-brainer to me, a commitment consistent with government by and for the people and, for that matter, every legitimate religion that I can think of. One would think Bush, who so often mixes church and state, would be the first to embrace it.
How many planks can one man fit in his eyes?
I urge you to seek out THE NATION at your local libraries. If they don't subscribe to it, ask them to do so. If they can't/won't subscribe to it, consider subscribing to it yourself. You can find more information at:
I'm not quite ready to name my August pick with a week left to go in the month, but an AKRON BEACON-JOURNAL reader is definitely a contender for the "honor."
In a letter published on August 19, CHARLES A. MARHSALL makes the claim that "the foundational concept behind the First Amendment is that both church and state get their authority directly from God and are answerable directly to God" and goes on for several more paragraphs dancing around his absurd notion. He thinks the state is answerable to the church, but that the church must never be answerable to the state. He thinks the state is an agent of God. He thinks the state is charged with "defining and enforcing for our society the law of God." Of course, when he says "God," he clearly means HIS God...which is why most of us hold dear the protections afforded us by the separation of church and state.
Marshall is hardly alone in his delusions. There's an Alabama Supreme Court justice who will...please, God...be out of a job soon because of his similar wrongheaded notions. There's a few hundred protestors outside an Alabama courthouse who, instead of, oh, maybe feeding the hungry or something, are busy worshiping a graven image of the Ten Commandments. In my less charitable moments, I consider selling t-shirts reading:
SO MANY CHRISTIANS, SO FEW LIONS
Relax. I know many Christians who, when they ask themselves what would Jesus do, come up with much better answers than Marshall or the foolish folks down South. Christians who walk the walk and give me hope for the faith I follow.
My kind of Christians live their faith with generosity toward their fellow man and a healthy sense of humor. In fact, if I did start selling such shirts, they would almost certainly be among the first to buy them.
Will Marshall be my official August moron of the month? Let's see who else turns up next week.
SURFING THE WEB
Looking for a dependable and talented inker? My dear friend BARB KAALBERG has put her impressive resume and samples online for interested parties to peruse:
Barb is good people. Be sure to check out her site and, when you do, tell her I said "Hi."
Our first letter comes from DAVID C. EVANETZ:
One of the things I especially love about reading comics from my youth is the house propaganda, Marvel's bullpen bulletins and so forth. Picture me smiling when I recently flipped through AVENGERS #19 and found your name (second down) in the listing of readers who had joined the MMMS (Merry Marvel Marching Society).
Someday, I hope I'll find my own name as I am a proud member as well. Peace and be well.
All these years, I have been remembering that my name appeared in one of the Marvel western titles...though I can't recall which one and which issue. Now I'm wondering if my name ran in more than one Marvel comic of the time.
So here's a mission for all the loyal legions of Tips readers out there. Look through your old Marvel comics and try to find our pal David Evanetz's name and, while you at it, any other MMMS lists which might have included my name. Send me a copy of the pertinent page and I'll send you a nice package of stuff from my home office. Face front, true believers, and get to work!
I also heard from a comics retailer, who sent me the touching note which follows:
Don't know if you remember me, but we exchanged a few e-mails a couple years back. Anyway, I'm dreadfully behind in my reading, and just learned about your losing a bunch of stuff in your flooded basement. I can really sympathize with you (any of us collector- types could) and might be in a position to help.
You see....I own a...wait for it...comics store. I know you said there is a lot of stuff you don't plan on replacing, but if there is anything you do want and I have it in stock, it's yours for the asking. I figure it'd be an even trade for enjoying your columns online and in CBG for years. Please let me know if there's anything I can look for.
I didn't include the retailer's name because I have received a dozen similar e-mails and decided to run his as representative of the welcome good will from all of you. You are a large part of the answer to the question of why I write these columns.
Eventually, I will post some sort of list of the items I want to replace. When I do, we can work out trades from the stuff I'll be selling on eBay...even if it's only lopsided deals like sending you some autographed comics or something.
My biggest need is going to be boxes, bags, and boards for the items I'll be keeping/selling/storing. Even though there are many many many more worthy causes you can donate to...and I urge you to donate to them instead of me...I will happily accept such supplies from you. With the following condition.
Name your favorite charity. I'll keep track of them and, when I start selling stuff on eBay, I'll send a portion of my profits to these charities to pay you back for your kindness.
Now get out of here before I get all mushy on you.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
Please send material you would like me to review to: