Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Fill-Ins

Still nothing to show art-wise but I thought I'd post about something that crossed my mind. I was thumbing through the second volume of ESSENTIAL GHOST RIDER the other day and came across an issue drawn by Jim Starlin in which GR races against Death on a motorcycle. That got me thinking about all the great fill-in issues Marvel used to have. Most people remember the great runs that regular creative teams had. Miller and Janson on DAREDEVIL. Micheline, Romita, Jr. and Layton on IRON MAN. Claremont and Byrne on UNCANNY X-MEN. And those were terrific reading. But nobody ever talks about the memorable fill-in issues.

Back then, the most important thing was getting the books out on time every month. For insurance against a sick regular-artist or some other unforseeable problem, the editors would stockpile "inventory" stories, completely written and drawn and just sitting in a drawer waiting to be unleashed. In those days, before mega-company-wide crossovers and endless "event" epics, most storylines were done-in-ones or, at most two or three issues long. That made it a lot easier to just slip in an inventory story to meet a deadline should the need arise. A lot of folks found fill-ins annoying but not me. I thought they were great little visual treats. A way to see another artist's take on a character and it allowed you to see a stagnating character in a whole new light.



These are the covers to some of my favorite fill-ins. Jim Starlin did three of them (IRON MAN #55, GHOST RIDER #35 and INCREDIBLE HULK #222.) Mike and I had an unwritten agreement that certain artists (Starlin and Byrne among them) were exclusive to him. If they were assigned to a book, he'd get to buy it. The only exception to this was the fill-in. So, when these guys drew an issue of one of the books that I got to buy, it was a special treat for me. Mike and I traded collections back and forth all the time (though I could never pry the X-MEN or CAPTAIN MARVEL books away from him). At the time these fill-ins showed up, I was buying the books. Starlin always brought a realistic moodiness to his books and it really got me excited. I read those books over and over.

It was the same with Paul Smith's IRON MAN fill-in. It was the first time I'd ever seen his artwork and it was a real eye-opener. It's certainly not his best work but it was so raw and full of energy, like nothing I'd ever seen before. He managed to have ol' Shellhead showing expressions with his iron mask.

While not exactly fill-ins, I got the same "treat" from the Annuals and Giant-Size issues that came out then. A lot of the stories that showed up in those comics probably came from the same drawer as the fill-in issues. John Byrne did a great SPIDER-MAN annual (with X-MEN partner Terry Austin) and INCREDIBLE HULK annual (with Bob Layton) at the time. I read those two books to tatters and practically copied the HULK annual panel for panel, trying to draw like Byrne.

Sadly, those days are gone. In this era of trade paperback collections and fluid deadlines, there's no longer any need for the inventory drawer. Modern readers would rather wait three or more months for the next issue of their favorite comic than be emotionally scarred by getting a fill-in issue in the middle of their super-mega-Earth-shattering-crossover-epic. That's a real shame. I really miss the pleasant surprise of opening up a new comic to find it drawn by somebody completely different and containing a story completely unrelated to anything else. To paraphrase a line from THE INCREDIBLES, when every comic is special, none of them are.

So, what are your favorite fill-ins?

UPDATE:

I'm no longer a member of the John Byrne Forum messageboard and can't post on this topic but I found it interesting. Just not interesting enough for its own post. Apparently everybody there is in agreement that similarities between two books (LIVING WITH THE DEAD and LIVING WITH ZOMBIES) warrant legal action. I find this amusing since nobody mentions the fact that, based on the nature of the complaints, George Romero should be able to sue everybody, including Marvel Comics for intellectual property theft. I haven't read ZOMBIES but I am reading LIVING WITH THE DEAD and it seems to me that neither would exist without Romero's movies. The same goes for MARVEL ZOMBIES, XXXOMBIES, WALKING DEAD, blah blah blah. I love zombie comics as much as the next guy but lets not go throwing stones in glass houses.

UPDATE AGAIN:

Nevermind. Somebody just made that very point on the messageboard. Hey! He stole my idea!

13 comments:

todd said...

dude!

i'm sitting here writing my blog for tomorrow and recounting my love of all the old annuals--specifically the jim starlin avengers/marvel two-in-one two parter--and i check over here to find that you already beat me to it! damn!
great minds, i guess...
loved all you mentioned but don't think i remember paul smith's iron man...! i stopped reading iron man after a while and that's prob'ly when it was. gotta check the number...
love the reminiscences though--
later, tater!
todd

Leaf said...

As to the zombie debacle...Romero would have a leg to stand on, but unfortunately, when he released NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD there wasn't a "TM" or "®" at the end of the title. This lead to a mass of asshats quickly jumping on the dead bandwagon and robbing Romero. So while he's recognized as the King of the Undead, legally he has to grin and bear it. (This was from a documentary or audio commentary on the Savini NOTD, I believe.)

But as to the recent stories, it's a crap shoot. We've all come up with stories only to find that someone else has already done a variation of the same thing.

McGill said...

You would think Romero would slap all these people, but he can't. I forget the legal mojo over NOTLD (Night of the Living Dead for those who do not know), and why everybody and their brother can distribute it.
Let's hope Diary of the Dead is better than Land (had to throw that in there).
Romero did take the "zombie" out of voodoo mysticism, and gave us the "X zombie"...one of unknown origin (nowadays though, everyone has an angle on that), that craves the flesh of the living.
I do agree with you that he should see something from every book,video game, comic, & movie put out that depicts this (and there is a ton out there!). They each give their own twist on the lore, maybe in the translation of it all lies the safety to do so? Not saying its right/wrong...bleh...
Sorry, felt like contributing, but the fill-in comic book was few and far while I collected in the 90's (or at least in the books I collected-and I cannot remember all the books I had-long stoy).

McGill said...

Ok, leaf beat me to the punch...

todd said...

ah--just saw the cover to iron man 159 and it all came flooding back!
well, not ALL of it--i'm gonna hafta go read it again...

MY favorite fill-in...
i loved the jim starlin fill-in on amazing spider-man 187, with captain america and electro!!

loved the three issue story arc that jose luis garcia lopez filled in for on superman! (never really apprecaiated curt swan until recently-felt he was a little too vanilla--and garcia lopez lit the place up!)

dug the brent anderson cyclops/d'spayre solo-story fill-in in x-men...

having a brain-lock--can't think of anymore...

Matt Wieringo said...

I never truly appreciated Swan either until, in an issue of COMICS SCENE, when I was in college, I saw some of his uninked pencils. My GOD, the man could draw! If you could somehow mix the imagination and dynamism of Kirby with the draftsmanship of Swan...

The Anonymous said...
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Heywood Jablomie said...

Hhey P71 made it here as well! Woohoo awesome!! Man these spammers are @ssholes!!

I'm not sure what to think with all the zombie stuff out there these days. There's too much if you ask me, although I did give the new XXXombies/Crawl Space book by Rick Remender a try and it was pretty good for what it was, nothing to go nuts over though.

I do love me some Paul Smith though. His X-men stuff is some of my favorite stuff to this day, as well as his Leave It To Chance series. That's the kind of work I love to read/look at, and Mike's work reminded me of Paul's work at times.

As for Fill-ins. I don't know if I have a particular fave. I can't seem to pull any into memory that stands out. But I think I will have to get that second volume of GR, I'm almost halfway through the first and knowing Jim Starlin did an issue in there I definately have to get it now. I posted this on Todd's blog, but man I love me some Jim Starlin as well!

Brian said...

I never was able to get comics on a regular basis when I was younger, so never really had the experience of an actually fill in story.

I do remember that Hulk annual that Byrne did and that, along with the starlin avengers/marvel two in one is also one of my all time favorites.

Matt Wieringo said...

Thanks to Renee for showing me how to delete our intrusive spammer.

Just went through my collection and found the Starlin AVENGERS Annual, which will be much-perused this evening. I don't even know if I have a copy of the TWO-IN-ONE Annual. Sadly, neither of these was reprinted in the LIFE AND DEATH OF CAPTAIN MARVEL trade. I also have the next two AVENGERS Annuals, one by Perez and the other by Newton. Those were also treasures.

Warren said...

I have that Iron Man with Drax the Destroyer somewhere in my boxes, and it was one of my favorite fill-ins also. It was like a prelude to his Captain Marvel series (one of the best comic book series ever!) And somewhere I also have a Marvel Two-in-One fill-in he did which sorta continued the story he did in Iron Man. I loved everything he did back then, but not so much his later stuff.

And off-subject: That time-period -- mid-seventies -- was a great time for Marvel. There were five series I remember that were so fresh and different from everything else that was being done at the time. The aforementioned Captain Marvel by (Starlin, with I believe some writing help from Steve Englehart), Master of Kung Fu (Moench, Gulacy), Dr. Strange (Englehart, Brunner), Jungle Action with the Black Panther (McGregor, Buckler/Graham), and Deathlok the Demolisher (Moench again?, and Buckler). Those were the comics I found myself looking forward to each month.

Matt Wieringo said...

Hmm. Starlin did those early MASTER OF KUNG FU books (MARVEL SPECIAL EDITION?), didn't he? It's amazing how many Marvel's best books he was involved with back then. He also did that MARVEL FEATURE that was a sort of MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE prototype. The one with the Hulk fighting the Thing and that creepy little dude with the mohawk walkin' around.

The '70s were indeed a great time of creativity at Marvel. I love all those comics from that time that only lasted 10-25 issues. Like NOVA, OMEGA, MACHINE MAN, etc. Good, good stuff.

rhombus said...

Gotta agree that the Starlin Avengers/Two-in-One two parter was one of my all time favorite couple of issues. And its never been collected? Marvel is full of craziness! Also loved the Ghost Rider 35 ish, probably my favorite GR other than the Ploog issues.

Other great fill-ins of my youth: Avenger 98-100 by Barry Smith, Capt. America 110,111,113 by Steranko and X-Men 49,50,51 also Steranko, who also created the new X-Men logo that is still used today. Of course, one could debate whether these were truly fill-ins as they were more like short story arcs, mini-events really. Good stuff though!