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