Embellishing the Details: Fanzine Flashback – Amazing Heroes #76

We’re hopping in the wayback machine and Amazing Heroes #76 – with the cover date of August 1, 1985 – is coming with us.

Amazing Heroes #76Under a spiffy Mike Mignola and John Byrne cover featuring the Hulk and Alpha Flight, we kick off this issue with some news:

  • Marvel’s hiking price to 75¢ for most of their books.
  • Frank Miller is returning to write Daredevil with #226, taking our hero in completely new directions and taking away his “yuppie-philanthropist” lifestyle and making him dirt-poor. Miller claims he’ll be with the book for the foreseeable future and not just a few issues. David Mazzuchelli will remain as the artist of the series.
  • X-Men #201, in which a decision is made about the leader of the team, will be penciled by Rick Leonardi.
  • Weirdworld returns in Marvel Fanfare #24-26, written by Doug Moench.
  • The creative teams for the 12-issue DC Challenge are revealed: Mark Evanier, Gene Colan, and Bob Smith; Len Wein, Chuck Patton, and Mike DeCarlo; Doug Moench, Carmine Infantino, and Bob Smith; Paul Levitz, Gil Kane, and Klaus Janson; Mike W. Barr, Dave Gibbons, and Mark Farmer; Elliot S. Maggin, Dan Jurgens, and Larry Mahlstedt; Paul Kupperberg, Joe Staton, and Steve Mitchell; Gerry Conway, Rick Hoberg, and Dick Giordano; Roy Thomas, Don Heck, and Karl Kesel; Dan Mishkin, Curt Swan, and Terry Austin; Marv Wolfman, Keith Giffen, and Romeo Tanghal; and the final issue will be written by the aforementioned writers and drawn by George Perez and Terry Austin.
  • Badger’s going monthly with #11 or 12 and a backup will be added to help artist Bill Reinhold stay on schedule.
  • Zot! #10 will be the last issue for a while, as Eclipse is suspending the title due to low sales (something the editorial in this issue of Amazing Heroes touches on).

Coming Distractions includes Cerebus the Aardvark #77, Batman #390, Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (RIP, Barry), Hex #4 (a seriously underrated and rarely remembered series), Legion of Super-Heroes #17 (which is promised to be a special “primer” issue for new Legion readers), Shadow of the Batman #1 (a new deluxe reprint series), Star Trek #21, Tales of the Teen Titans #59, Judge Dredd’s Crime File #5, Mr. Monster #2, The Unknown Worlds of Frank Brunner, Love and Rockets #13, Grimjack #8, Megaton Man #5 (more on Megaton’s romance with See-Thru Girl), Dave Cockrum’s Futurians #1 (picking up after the conclusion of the Marvel Graphic Novel), Alpha Flight #28 (should be #29), Amazing Spider-Man #271 (ever wondered what happened to that wrestler from Amazing Fantasy #15? DeFalco, Frenz, and Rubinstein help you remember Crusher Hogan), Balder the Brave #1 (spinoff of Simonson’s Thor), Longshot #4, Micronauts (second volume) #15, New Mutants #34, Power Pack #17, Vision and the Scarlet Witch #3, West Coast Avengers #3, Fugitoid #1, and a bunch more.

This issue also includes a history lesson on Eclipso, who I really didn’t care about until that little gemstone-covered event, Eclipso: The Darkness Within, complete with a character checklist, by Michael J. O’Connell.

Another feature is the First Lady of the Comics, which starts off making the case that Lois Lane is, very likely, “the oldest established female character in comics”, appearing in Action Comics #1. Written by Jeffrey Saltarella, we get a rundown of Lois from the Golden Age and through her solo stories into the 80s.

Thunderbunny #1, Elfquest #1, Sheena 3-D Special #1, Judge Dredd’s Crime File #1, Dragonfly #1, and the first issue of a little something known as Miracleman are your Comics in Review.

The Top 100 wraps up the issue, where stores reported that Marvel published 80% of the ten best-selling books in March.

But the main course, the cover story by Peter Sanderson, is the big switch of the creative teams between Alpha Flight and The Incredible Hulk.

Alpha Flight was a unique title at the start. A team book that wasn’t really a team book. For most of the first year, each issue focused on a member of the team, bringing everyone together for a big battle and right before Heather Hudson killed her husband in #12. I think the first issue I bought was #2, from the newsstand, but I was able to get the first issue during my next trip to the comic shop. For two years John Byrne wrote and penciled a series that was different than Fantastic Four, not as superhero-y, maybe a bit more …layered. Kind of on its own, even though it was connected to the X-Men and had a Secret Wars II tie-in with Byrne’s last issue (it also had most of the Marvel Universe on the first issue’s cover) I enjoyed getting more Byrne and was interested in seeing heroes based in a different, non-Manhattan setting.

On the flip side, I was buying The Incredible Hulk every month, getting a big kick out of what Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema, and Gerry Talaoc (for the most part. There were other inkers, such as Joe Sinnott, Chic Stone, Kim DeMulder, and Danny Bulanadi; to name some) were doing, giving us a smarter Hulk, at least until he returned from the first Secret Wars extravaganza. And how cool was that corner box, telling a story from #292-300? With #300, Hulk was sent into, for lack of a better term, exile. Sal stayed on as penciler until #309, Bret Blevins and Al Williamson drew #310, and then Mike Mignola and Gerry Talaoc take over. For three issues.

Alpha Flight (the team) brings Hulk back from the Crossroads and into Alpha Flight (the comicbook). Alpha Flight #29, cover-dated December, allowed Mantlo to finish the story he started in The Incredible Hulk while at the same time establish himself as the new writer of Alpha Flight. The Incredible Hulk #314 begins after Alpha Flight #29 with Hulk leaping across the Rockies after having his way with Alpha Flight and Canada and sets the stage for what Byrne wanted to do with the book.

Byrne is his usual frank self in the Amazing Heroes article, saying that he misread the audience, thinking “they wanted something other than another X-Men” and now, with Mantlo, it will be a team book. Regarding Mantlo, he felt he did everything he wanted to and could do on The Incredible Hulk. Realizing after the Crossroads story he’d come full circle, Bill considered two options: bring the character right back where he was when he started writing him or create a new Hulk – a glorious, physically handsome, guardian of the Earth Hulk.

Except John Byrne called.

Bill, bowled over by John’s proposal of swapping titles, said yes to the switch and began thinking about making the team book an actual team book. This included restoring their financial support from the Canadian government and a base of operations, a headquarters for the group. The article gives a brief rundown of upcoming issues, touching on artists (working together with Mignola for three more issues, longtime collaborator Sal Buscema for an issue or two, and then Dave Ross will come on as the regular penciler) and the team (turning Heather from the damsel-in-distress and victim type to someone who can handle herself (and brings Wolverine in as a guest star), where to put Walter Langkowski, what to do with Talisman (since she would not be moving to Doctor Strange) and Marrina (complete with foreshadowing that was meant to be picked up in an upcoming Alpha Flight graphic novel), dealing with Aurora and Northstar (the least interesting members, according to Mantlo), and Puck (something I’ll get back to in a bit)).

Sanderson also writes about Byrne’s plans for The Incredible Hulk, which mostly means recapturing the essence of the creature, more or less, which the series’ new writer states will take him about six issues to get to. This includes both physical and mental changes. Byrne doesn’t give a play-by-play of each issue, instead he speaks about where he wants to take the story, compares this approach to his past works (and jokingly jabs at past runs like Len Wein’s “capital ‘G’ Goofy Hulk”). Column space is devoted to separating “Jekyll and Hyde” and how the two can survive separately. We also get to learn about Byrne bringing Betty Ross back to the book and her relationship with Bruce and her father. We read about Byrne’s plans up to #321. That’s where this article gets a little bittersweet for me.

John Byrne left The Incredible Hulk with #319 (but not before letting us see Betty in her grandmother’s hideous wedding dress), meaning he only wrote seven issues (starting with #314 and including The Incredible Hulk Annual #14 (which takes place between some pages of his first issue)). I’ve read these issues plenty of times (even turning one of them into a Marvel Tales segment many years ago on Marvel Noise) and while it was a treat seeing Byrne’s tweaks, something was off. This was definitely a case where I was buying a book for the creator, story be damned. There are things written about in this article that Byrne was able to accomplish in his handful of issues, so I’m glad what’s referenced here was able to make it into the book so I could see it play out. But I’m not going to dwell on what could have been because what was wasn’t thrilling enough for me to dwell on.

I do believe this was also a case of Byrne having this need to work on Stan’s and Jack’s (and Steve’s) creations. Just like he approached Fantastic Four, ignoring almost everything after #115. Byrne likes taking characters back to their beginnings, bring them back to their roots and rebuild from there. He did it with Fantastic Four, tried it with the Hulk and Spider-Man, and I’d argue he did it with Superman, depowering and ‘humanizing’ the alien.

And getting back to Puck for a second: I thought Puck was a great character in Byrne’s hands. I dug his personality, thought the look was pretty much perfect, he was the one member of the team that probably felt the most ‘real’ to me. Unfortunately, I can’t say I was all that thrilled with Puck’s origin. Neither was Byrne. The article quotes him as saying he’s only seen the plot for Bill’s first issue, “but he has captured each and every character” and that he “has some great bits [Byrne] wishes he thought of.” It’s too bad he didn’t see the plots for the next three issues… One thing I remember reading (and I don’t recall where at the moment) is Byrne’s reaction to Puck’s origin. John Byrne’s Puck is a dwarf. He was always a dwarf. But, in Bill Mantlo’s hands (along with Jon Bogdanove and Gerry Talaoc), Puck is actually 6’6” and has had an evil mystical force – Razer – inside him since 1939. Capturing Razer reduced ol’ Eugene in size while extending his life. It’s a neat twist, but bummed me out just the same.

Nonetheless, this switch worked for me. This wasn’t your usual cold “hey, this is the new creative team, taking this title in a new direction” announcement. I enjoyed the work of every creator on both books over the years, so while they may have read and looked different than the previous month I thought the swap made sense. The stories felt like they were progressing naturally. At least until Alpha Flight #32. And The Incredible Hulk #319. Kidding. Kind of.

Making sure I was kept in check, some of the details were referenced with help from Marvel Database and ComicBookDB.

Thoughts, comments, and “This is what it was like without the Internet?” can be sent to david@11oclockcomics.com. I can also be found on Twitter.