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for Thursday, March 25, 2010

Unusual Tales #28

Today's "Year of the Tiger" cover is Unusual Tales #28 [Charlton; June 1961]. Rocco Mastroserio drew the cover and also the cover story: "The SaberToothed Tiger and Modern Man." That's a somewhat less than exciting title for a story, but what's really unusual about this cover is that around 15-20% of it is taken up by a coupon come-on. At least the advertisement is at the bottom of the cover; when Marvel did this for two months each in 1980, 1981, and 1982, their ads were at the top of the cover and almost as big and annoying as this cheap-looking effort.

Besides the Mastroserio effort, there were three other comics tales in this issue: "The Man Who Wasn't," "Bail Out to Venus," and "In The Beginning." All three were penciled by Bill Molno with inks by Sal Trapani on one of them and most likely Vince Alascia on the other two. I can't tell you anything else about the issue. If I had seen it on the comics rack in the spring of 1961, I probably wouldn't have given it a second glance.

And now, by popular demand...

Daredevil #119

Whenever Marvel reprints my stories, I get e-mails asking me questions about them. The most recent questions were occasioned by the publications of Essential Daredevil Vol. 5 [$19.99] and Essential Moon Knight Vol. 3 [$19.99]. So, from time to time, I'll reread one of my oldies-but-hopefully-goodies and share with you what I remember about them.

We'll launch this feature with "They're Tearing Down Fogwell's Gym" from Daredevil #119 [March 1975].

Daredevil was a favorite of mine, so I was excited when then-editor-in-chief Roy Thomas asked me to be the title's new writer. I spend the weekend reading every Daredevil appearance ever. This stand-alone story was closer to what I wanted to do with Daredevil than the Hydra four-parter which followed it. The Hydra story was intended to accomplish specific goals, but we'll talk about those in a future TOT.

"They're Tearing Down Fogwell's Gym!" was very much a back-to-the-roots story. In a sense, Daredevil was born in the boxing ring and I wanted him to revisit that world on occasion.

The title came from "They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar," an episode of TV's Night Gallery by series creator and host Rod Serling. The episode was nominated for an Emmy. Serling ranked it one of two scripts he'd most like to be remembered for, the other being "Requiem for a Heavyweight."

Roy approved my plot and the general plot for the subsequent Hydra storyline. However, before the book got all the way through the production process, Roy left the editor-in-chief job; Len Wein was promoted to fill the vacant position. The next few years would be chaotic at Marvel with a total of four editors-in-chief between Roy's run and the long reign of Jim Shooter.

I was very excited about working with artist Bob Brown because I loved his DC work (Challengers of the Unknown, Batman, Superboy). Don Heck was an interesting choice for the inker of this story. It wasn't an entirely successful pairing, but it was light-years more suitable for Daredevil and for Brown's style than what we got from Vince Colletta over the next four issues.

Save for a clunky line or two, I like my opening sequence for the issue. I was feeling good about living in New York City at the time - that wasn't always the case - and it showed in Daredevil's near-giddiness as he traveled above and below the city. I thought I did nice stuff with the average New Yorkers and was particularly pleased with two elements of the subway scene: DD carrying subway tokens in his billy club and, after a dicey moment, giving up his seat to an elderly woman.

Steve Gerber had brought Candace Nelson, Foggy's kid sister, into the book, but I wasn't sure how I felt about her as a future love interest for Matt Murdock. Since Candace would have gotten in the way of the story I wanted to tell with the Black Widow, I wrote her out of the title using some Man-Thing continuity. I tried to use Marvel's rich history when I could do so without slowing down a story. Had I remained on Daredevil, I could have brought Candace back whenever I wanted, but I think I made the right call. I remain inordinately fond of Foggy's parting remark as she exits his office and the series:

"Thus departs Candace Nelson as a kind of gentle serenity is restored to the D.A.'s office."

Some comics fans cite this issue and credit me as the writer who established Matt Murdock was a Catholic. I don't disagree with them, but it wasn't something I consciously planned when plotting this story. Priests seemed to be a regular component of Hollywood boxing movies, so my boxing story had a priest...and I just assumed Matt was both Irish and a Catholic.

Using Pop Fenton and Kid/Father Gawaine from an earlier issue of Daredevil was the sort of thing I did when I could. Why should I introduce new characters when characters who has appeared before could be used? It was my way of making the growing Marvel Universe a little more cohesive.

On rereading this story, I winced at "Dr. Jakkleburr" moniker name for the "mad scientist" of the issue. That was really a dumb name, though, in retrospect, I seem to have predicted the problem of steroids and other chemical enhancements in real-world sports, and the use of MGH (Mutant Growth Hormone) in recent Marvel comics. This was likely unintentional as I have no memory of knowing about steroid use in 1974 and surely wasn't thinking about anything like MGH. Giant-Size X-Men #1 was still a year or two away, which means the X-Men were likewise a number of years away from becoming a dominant force in the Marvel Universe.

While the "Jakkelburr" name was dumb, it wasn't the dumbest thing I did in this issue. That would be having the mutated boxer growl "The Crusher!" over and over again. I don't know why I did it...unless I was so caught up in scripting this fight scene that I failed to realize how annoying/bad/stupid that was.

Other than that, I think the fight scene plays out very well. I was in the habit of writing panel-by-panel plots because, as one of the lower writers in the pecking order, I never knew for certain who'd draw my stories. For almost a year, I had a different artist on every issue of Ghost Rider. I was lucky to have Brown on all five of my Daredevil issues.

Getting back to the fight, while I probably choreographed it, I likely also told Brown he was free to rework it if he so desired. What was important to me was that it ended with the young boxer's sacrifice. Reading it today, the ending seems kind of heavy-handed and rushed to me. It's still effective, but I really need one more page for this story.

I hope you enjoyed my "writer's workshop" blast from the past. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

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Zero Tonys
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.

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