Writer, Editor, Author

Month: April 2021

Star Trek (Marvel) #8 (Nov. 1980)

Cover to Star Trek #8 (Nov. 1980), art by Dave Cockrum.

“The Expansionist Syndrome” (22 pages)
Writer:
Martin Pasko
Artists: Dave Cockrum & Ricardo Villamonte
Letterer: Ray Burzon
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter
Cover artist: Dave Cockrum

A few changes this issue, with Marty Pasko stepping in as writer and Ricardo Villamonte as inker on Dave Cockrum’s pencils. There’s good and bad in these changes: Pasko’s script starts off strong and action packed — the best so far of the original stories — but suffers from trying to wedge in a full TV episode’s worth of plot in a comic book space. It quickly becomes clear there’s just not enough space to give the ideas space to breathe or context to give it meaning. Villamonte fares better, bringing a much cleaner look to Cockrum’s pencils that better suits the series. It’s the best-looking book so far in the series, even with Cockrum’s design biases on clear display in the creation of the alien Machs (who look a lot like the Sidri from X-Men).

This issue begins with a solid splash page of the bridge crew reacting in pain as alien ships can seen on the main viewer — and Spock looking like he’s in a trance. The captions explain the Enterprise is on its way on an emergency medical mission to Starbase 14 and its course has taken it into the Agena system, where the inhabitants of the fourth planet have taken their appearance in their space as an invasion.

A decent splash page, but that title lettering is weak.

We then get a pretty good two-page spread, with the Agenan ships trapping the Enterprise with energy bands resembling the web seen in the third season TV episode “The Tholian Web.” The energy is causing the bridge crew extreme pain and disrupting the matter/anti-matter generators, trapping the ship in space with all other systems operational. The last panel reveals the medical mission the trap disrupts is getting an ill agricultural engineer to the Starbase for a live-saving procedure. Without it, she’ll die in 24 hours.

Shades of “The Tholian Web,” but still a pretty dynamic two-page spread from Cockrum.

Complicating matters, Spock is “digitized” off the bridge to one of the alien ships, which heads to the planet surface. So, naturally, Kirk prepares to fight back only to hear from Scotty that the energy disruption is affecting weapons systems and that unless they stop the aliens the Enterprise will explode in four hours.

Spock goes to pieces. Or maybe he just really likes the cover to Talking Heads’ 1978 album, “More Songs About Buildings and Food.” I think he and David Byrne would get on well.

Villamonte’s inks and Burzon’s very clear lettering show how mismatched Janson’s style was with the book. The story so far has breezed along easily, clearly and is quite entertaining. Cockrum’s art looks like Cockrum’s art. And it continues in some cool alien designs and layouts as Kirk leads a landing party to a surface full of interesting aliens and a fair bit of action.

And here’s where the story starts to run into itself. First, we have the humanoid aliens on the planet calling themselves Orgs and their enemies are the Mox. More on that in a bit. And then the critical patient on the Enterprise, Professor Lenore Fowler, starts smacking tools out of Dr. Chapel’s hands as she demands to see McCoy.

Cockrum again delivers with a nice alien in the first panel and then that fourth panel with the projectile-tossing arm just visible on the edge.

The Enterprise sensors pick up Spock’s life form readings as the only such readings in a 200 km radius, and lead the landing party to his location within a large temple. There’s some slug-like creatures all around called the Kamahr that generate force fields. An org named D’vid explains the Orgs and Mox are enemies fighting for control of the planet. The Mox have control and confine the Orgs to small areas unable to support their population. So they starve and are now ready to fight back with a planned invasion of the Mox temple.

Next, we find Spock inside the temple with the Mox citing self defense as they attempt to convince him to use his telepathic abilities on the Kamahr in some way. Spock refuses, of course.

Kirk and McCoy, meanwhile, are in the temple and see the Mox for the first time. Together, they figure out that the Mox are Machs, as in machines, and the Orgs are organisms. Mastering the obvious is apparently a difficult course to pass at Starfleet Academy. When the Mox guard spots D’vid, it attacks and the landing party defends itself by destroying the guard. They then find and free Spock, who, like some kind of pointy-eared Clarissa, tells it all: the Mox have learned of the Orgs invasion and are seeking a way to defend themselves as nonviolently as possible by tapping into the Kamahr and their telekinetic abilities.

Kirk and McCoy put their half-brains together and figure out the obvious.

Meanwhile, Chapel makes the mistake of turning her back on the professor, who uses a hypospray on her doctor to escape. Back on the planet, McCoy and Kirk debate whether killing the Mox is murder, when the Orgs attack. Spock, of course, fixes the whole thing by mind melding with the Kamahr and using their telekinesis to free the Enterprise from the Mox ship. Kirk orders the ship to fire its phasers in a wide target on stun mode, which stops the invasion by knocking out all the Orgs.

The Fowler stuff aside, I like the little debate in the bottom half of this page. It really evokes the feeling of the original series.

The professor, meanwhile, stuns the transporter crew and beams down in time to tell Kirk she has a solution to the planet’s problem — just as she collapses due to her fatal disease.

Suddenly, Kirk, Spock and McCoy are back on the Enterprise bridge. Kirk reveals how Spock’s mind-meld revealed that the Mox and Org were both from Earth — refugees from the Eugenics wars of the 1990s.

A good page for some typical Trek-like banter — too bad none of it makes sense.

Then Professor Fowler on the planet communicates that she’s doing great with the mechanical heart the Mox designed for her and that she’s got high hopes for the truce she arranged between them. She’s already got them building hydroponics gardens, high-rise housing and instituted a population control program.

Since THAT all worked out somehow, Kirk orders the ship on to its next mission.

And just in case you weren’t confused enough, here’s a final attempt to explain this story before it ends.

This is a script that really tries to evoke the feeling of the TV show, and succeeds in a number of ways. But it ends being too much story for a 22 page comic book. (In case you were wondering, Marvel did up its story page count in 1980 from 17 to 22 pages at the same time it raised prices from 40 cents to 50 cents.) Trying to jam this much story into a single issue fails to give any of the elements the space to build any suspense or have the payoff mean much of anything in any of its plot lines. The klunkiness of the Mox and Orgs and D’vid is pretty mawkish, and the Professor Fowler character has no rational motivation for her actions and ends up pretty much just a plot device designed to increase danger and resolve the story.

The rest of the comic is pretty solid, though. The mention of the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s predicts and pre-dates plans to bring back Khan in the next movie. The art is clean and clear and has the personality and flair you expect from Dave Cockrum. The colors aren’t flashy, but they do their job. And the lettering is clean and clear. I think Marvel must have upgraded its printing along with expanding the page rates, because there’s far less of the muddiness seen in previous issues to be found here. Even the cover is a big improvement, actually showing one of the main characters — Spock — prominently and in a perilous situation interesting-looking enough to entice readers to part with their half-dollars. No letters page this issue, but there are plenty of signs that the book is improving in many ways for hopeful Trekkers in the summer of 1980.

Comic-Shop Memories: All About Books & Comics (Part I), 1986-87, Phoenix, Ariz.

I don’t know how quickly I was able to discover All About Books & Comics after moving to Arizona, but it was pretty quick, likely within a month or so after arrival.

The shop was farther from home, about 16 miles from home or a half-hour each way in the car, at 535 E. Camelback Road. Like most comics shops, it was in an unremarkable building, albeit one that had bright letters and even characters at times painted on its street-facing windows.

It would be an understatement to say I was impressed when I first walked into the store. Not only was the space large, but it was crammed to the gills with new and back issue comics — more than I’d ever seen in any other shop. And, I quickly learned, there was lots more in the back. If you couldn’t find what you were looking for, just ask, and they’d come back shortly with the book you needed in fantastic shape. I have a stone-cold mint copy of X-Men #147 I acquired from the “back room,” and an equally nice copy of X-Men #142.

What impressed me most at first was the back issue selection, which was deep. I checked out the X-Men selection and — just in the box — they had just about every issue back to #143, the end of the John Byrne run. The issues before that were prominently displayed along the walls in mylar sleeves for “exorbitant” prices that ranged from $10 to $30 for most except the earliest issues of the “new” X-Men run. Every other title was stocked just as deeply, if not more so, since those early new X-Men issues were the hottest thing going at the time and there were no reprints. So to read them, you had to get the originals. Classic X-Men had just started and it was going to be a while before it got to the Dark Phoenix issues.

A later printing of the first X-Men trade paperback, with a great cover by Bill Sienkiewicz.

I say that with one exception, that applies directly to this visit. While checking out a rack in the corner, I came across the first X-Men trade paperback, published in 1984, collecting issues #129-137, for the cover price of $7.95. I had to have this book, but couldn’t afford it at the time. Luckily, Christmas was coming up, and I told my parents this is what I wanted. So my dad drove me down to the store again, we bought it — I was sure it would be gone by that point — and it went home to be wrapped awaiting Christmas morning. I remember reading it that Christmas Day of 1986 and absolutely loving it. I’ll have to do a whole post on that book another time.

The following May, I graduated high school and was due to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson starting in the fall. My dad was working for a personnel company that had a temp business that served American Express, which had extensive operations in the Phoenix area. So he got me a summer temp job at one of their call centers, answering a national informational toll-free number for the Amex business card. The hotline was advertised in USA Today and other high-profile places, so my job was to answer these calls, answer basic questions about the card, take down the caller’s information and pass it on so that an application would be sent to them, or — if they were a larger company — a sales rep could contact them. It was boring and easy. Most of the calls came from the East Coast, so the afternoons slowed to a crawl and I’d read sci-fi books I borrowed from the library at my desk until I was done at 4:30. The perks included being able to look up cardholder addresses in the computer — few comics folks seemed to have Amex cards, but I never stopped putting their names in the system — and a fantastic deli in the complex called The Duck and Decanter, which is still there and makes the most incredible sandwiches. And it was located at 16th Street and Camelback road, just nine blocks down the street from All About Books & Comics!

So 4:30 would hit and, about twice a week, I’d make All About my first stop. I had this summer job and sufficient financial aid to pay for university, so I felt free to spend a little money on comics. I was in full-on X-Men fandom mode at the time, and so these trips were used primarily to raid those deep back issue bins. I’d grab four or maybe five issues per visit, adding in a few other back issues to series I still had holes in — The New Mutants and Alpha Flight in particular. When I started frequenting All About, my X-Men collection ran back from the current issue (around issue #220) back to about #174, with a couple of older issues in there. By the end of the summer, I’d filled it in all the way back to #141, plus annuals. I’d also brought up to date my run of The New Mutants.

I was really interested at the time in the issues from Dave Cockrum’s second run as artist, which I was reading for the first time. They were very different in tone and style than the stuff that hooked me on X-Men: issues Claremont produced with artists Paul Smith, John Romita Jr., John Byrne and Art Adams. But the more I read the Cockrum stuff, the more I really came to love it fully and completely, faults and all.

I also started trying out more comics, still mainly Marvel. Favorites included: Avengers by Roger Stern, John Buscema and Tom Palmer; West Coast Avengers by Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom; and Silver Surfer by Englehart and Marshall Rogers. All About was well stocked, and you could pick up at cover price, new off the racks, the last six or so issues of these titles plus any recent annuals. And new comics cost 75 cents at the time, so it was not terribly expensive to try out six or so issues of a new series.

I recall flipping through a copy of an issue of Batman: Year One and not buying it — which was, again, really dumb. I did later acquire those originals for a very reasonable price.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had been getting my subs through Fog Hollow Comics until it closed, and then those subs were transferred to a shop called AAA Best Comics. On Fridays, I would often hit All About and then drive up to Fog Hollow for my subs and then home. It took an hour in the car in Phoenix summer heat — without air conditioning. But this was my thing and I was all in. I almost always went for a swim as soon as I got home to refresh my sweaty self and remember for a moment what it was like to be cool.

The day before I was scheduled to drive down to university with my parents and move into my first apartment with a roommate I had yet to meet, I wanted to get my new comics from All About. It was new comics day, but in those days that was far less of a weekly event than now. The books came in and sat in piles on the counter throughout the afternoon as the staff worked to verify quantities before they could be put on sale. So I waited. For quite a while. I looked through back issue bins. I checked out the small section next to the comics where All About stocked used paperbacks and discount comics. Finally, the new books were freed and I picked up my comics, including X-Men #224, and began the long drive home in the late-afternoon heat.

Cover to X-Men #224 (Dec. 1987). Cover art by Marc Silvestri and Bob Wiacek.

If you’ve ever been to Phoenix in the summer, you know it gets really damn hot. And when the monsoons come, it gets worse because the humidity goes up from nothing to something. This was a monsoon day. I could see the thunderheads building up in the mountains, and was driving toward them as our house was near the foothills of the McDowell mountains. I had sweat through my clothes several times over in my AC-less VW Beetle. And then I got a flat on Hayden Road, just north of Via de Ventura. I pulled off onto a side street and, having no working spare, found a nearby pay phone to call for help. Which took a very long time to come because it was rush hour and our other car was otherwise occupied. So I found some kind of shop to sit in, with my comics, and read them until I got some help and could get home, wash off the day with a dip in the pool and try to prepare for the next day’s events. But I had my comics. That made me happy. And since I had an apartment, I did take with me my collection — about three long boxes at this point.

On to Tucson, and another town of new comics shops.

Comic-Shop Memories: Fog Hollow Comics, Phoenix, Ariz., 1986-87

Old Town Scottsdale is the kind of place where tourists like to overpay for snakeskin cowboy boots, extra-hot salsa, cheap turquoise jewelry and elaborate Kachina dolls. On the plus side, you can just as easily find some really good tacos and cold Mexican beer.

My family moved Oct. 2, 1986, to Scottsdale, Arizona. We lived in a home in what was then the north edge of town, somewhere between Shea Boulevard and Cactus Road, just west of 92nd Street. My comics collection at the time fit in one long box.

Of course, the first thing I did was consult the phone book for a nearby comics shop, finding several listings but none nearby. The first one I found and the closest was Fog Hollow Comics, located at 3215 E. Thunderbird Road, almost nine miles away. (Thanks to the AZFandom.org folks for recalling its name!) It’s still today an 18 minute drive, without traffic, each way, from our old address. So it wasn’t convenient, but at least it was a place I could make it to once my perception of what’s too far away to drive to adjusted to Arizona standards.

At the time, there were no freeways in the area. Phoenix and Scottsdale were massively spread out areas with nary a two-story building in sight. It was, truly, a city built more for cars to live in than people. And being on the edge of Scottsdale made pretty much everything you wanted to do, aside from going to the grocery, a trip of 10 or more miles on surface streets with lights that never synched up except to ensure you hit every single one in red.

Not the actual car I owned, but a photo of the same model and color. It had the original floor mats, 4-speed manual transmission and ran on regular gas — back when you could still buy such a thing.

Nonetheless, with two younger sisters and two working parents, my drivers license made sure I was kept busy dropping off or picking up somebody around the entire north quarter of Phoenix in a yellow 1972 Volkswagen Super Beetle. Thank god it had a tape player. It did not have AC. That deficit’s seriousness would not make itself fully known, however, until the following spring and summer. Either way, it was a lot of time spent in the car.

At the time, I was buying pretty much only Marvel comics. I knew exactly which ones were coming out each week, thanks to Marvel Age Magazine, and I had them on subscription at Fog Hollow — my first pull file. Money was tight, so I’d calculate the exact cover price minus the discount plus the sales tax to ensure I could pay for my comics before making that drive. More than once I paid for my weekly haul to the penny.

Fog Hollow was located in a strip mall suite and, unlike many comics shops, had large windows on two sides of the space and was therefore bright and open and inviting. There was the usual back-issue bin in the center, with new releases on racks around the edge. Under the back-issue bin, behind a small door, was where the subscriber books were kept.

I remember on my first visit finding at least two comics that eluded me in Edmonton and really shouldn’t have: X-Men #192 and Power Pack #27. The former I just never could find in any of the back issue bins at the shops I frequented despite being only a couple years old and all the issues around it being easy to find. Power Pack #27 was part of the Mutant Massacre storyline and had sold out instantly in Edmonton, but was still racked in the new comics when I rolled in to Fog Hollow. That made me happy, and I was a steady customer of the shop through the summer of 1987, when it closed.

I remember stopping in on Friday afternoons to pick up my books. (New comic-book days on Wednesday were not a thing at that time — at least not one I was aware of.) I’d take home the comics I was reading at the time — from memory, standard Marvel stuff, such as X-Men, The New Mutants, Alpha Flight, The Amazing Spider-Man, Classic X-Men, X-Factor, Marvel Saga, The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, The ‘Nam, Strikeforce: Morituri, Power Pack, some New Universe titles and Cloak & Dagger — and would spend most of the evening after dinner reading, re-reading, admiring and thinking about the new books. I didn’t have anything else to do, really.

Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1 (Feb. 1987) is one of my all-time favorite comics. Cover art by Mark D. Bright.

Among the cool items I procured at this shop: A copy of X-Men #141 that I scored for a whopping 50 cents in the back-issue bin, and later took to the 1993 San Diego Comic-Con to be signed by both Chris Claremont and John Byrne; a second printing of The ‘Nam #1, as I was completely in love with this series and the great Michael Golden art; Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1, which was easily one of my most re-read books for the next year; and a copy of the first printing of the Wolverine TPB, collecting the original miniseries by Claremont and Miller, costing me a whopping $4.95, plus Arizona sales tax. (A quick note: I had a tough time adjusting at first to sales tax because there was none in Alberta. There, if it cost 99 cents and you gave them a dollar, you got back a penny. In Arizona, if it cost 99 cents, you had to hand over $1.07.)

Cover to the first printing of the Wolverine trade paperback, which collected the four-issue series by Chris Claremont, Frank Miller and Josef Rubinstein for the first time. Cost me all of $4.95!

Fog Hollow was run by a woman named Susan Putney, whom I later realized wrote a graphic novel for Marvel called Spider-Man: Hooky, that was drawn by no-less-a-great than Bernie Wrightson. When I eventually acquired a copy, I really enjoyed it. I also found a site that referenced a quote from former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who said he really liked Putney’s work and thought she could be good — but she kind of vanished after Hooky and Shooter himself was out at Marvel around the same time.

Cover to Spider-Man: Hooky, published in 1986. Art by Berni(e) Wrightson.

A little Googling reveals Putney also wrote a science-fiction novel called Against Arcturus that was published in 1972 as a a flip-book paperback with Time Thieves, by no-less-a-great than Dean R. Koontz.

From Google, the flip covers to Against Arcturus and Time Thieves, published in 1972.

I remember she would ring up my sub titles and give me a knowing “good reads,” especially the third week of the month when X-Men, The ‘Nam and Marvel Saga all arrived.

I also remember lusting after the copy of X-Men #94 displayed behind the counter. I recall her mentioning how she’d already sold one to a kid who paid the $100 or so the book cost in cash. You never know what a motivated kid can do.

There was an arcade-style video game in one corner, that played a music loop the staff had memorized and timed down to the second. And I remember one time the staff opening a box from the distributor that included fresh copies of First’s Lone Wolf & Cub reprints. I was not yet smart enough to pick those up, but the staff was sure excited.

Later that summer, I remember coming in to pick up my books one Friday afternoon and Susan was upset, said that the store was closing and subs’ orders had been transferred to another store, called AAA Best Comics, over on North Seventh Street — even farther away from home. It was sad, she was nearly in tears. I said thank you, I had really enjoyed shopping at the store and was sorry to hear it was closing. I didn’t know what else to say — I was only 17 years old.

I proceeded to get into my car, and trek on down to AAA Best Comics, which was a fixture in my life for the next eight years or so.

And I think I may track down a copy of Against Arcturus.

But before that, my next post will feature a detour to the longstanding champion of Phoenix comic-book shops, also sadly no more. Stay tuned.

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