Writer, Editor, Author

Author: Thomas J. McLean Page 1 of 23

Tom McLean is a writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles. He writes mainly about the entertainment industry for such trade publications as Variety and Animation Magazine, with a focus on animation, visual effects and comic book movies. He wrote the book Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen.

Star Trek (Marvel) #11 (Feb. 1981)

Cover to Star Trek #11. Art by Joe Brozowski and Tom Palmer.

“… Like A Woman Scorned!” (22 pages)
Writer: Martin Pasko
Artists: Joe Brozowski and Tom Palmer
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter
Cover: Joe Brozowski and Tom Palmer

A much better effort this issue, though the plots continue to be plagued by the embarrassing and not-very-interesting trope of the Enterprise crew encountering ancient Earth myths in the depths of space. Star Trek’s gone there on more than one occasion, but these are rarely the best episodes. Time travel and more straight-on, traditional sci-fi conventions that are integrated with character are the real hallmarks of Star Trek. And Marvel just can’t quite get there.

This issue we get a decidedly new look with art by Joe Brozowski and Tom Palmer. This is Brozowski’s first work on a Star Trek comic, not it’s not his last as he contributed to a number of issues in DC’s first series.

Tom Palmer is a legendary comic book inker. He’s inked tons of Avengers for Marvel, as well as having inked Neal Adams’ legendary run on X-Men. He also did finishes over Walt Simonson’s breakdowns on Marvel’s Star Wars. His work is detailed and organic, and his style is unmistakable and always welcome in any comic book I read. He has a real talent for likenesses, as well, which makes him well-suited to Star Trek.

Now that’s a splash page!

This issue starts off with a great image on the splash page of Starfleet officers dying of exposure to Berthold rays on the planet Andronicus. It’s dramatic, and exciting! There’s actually something going on this issue.

The officers died a while back, but the Enterprise is headed to Andronicus because it’s the home of a clinic founded by psychiatrist Carl Wentworth. The clinic had protected Wentworth and his staff from the Berthold rays with a transparent neutronium shield that is now failing. The Enterprise is to transport the doctor and his crew to Starbase 28.

I have to mention Wentworth for a moment, because he’s described before his appearance in this story as the founder of the “anti-apologists movement.” McCoy calls him a con artist, Kirk admits some call him a cult leader. And Spock describes his teachings as training people base their conduct on “enlightened self-interest.” McCoy remarks that he senses disdain in Spock’s voice, which he denies.

Lots and lots of words on this page.

Enlightened self-interest is a philosophy that dates back to Alexis de Toqueville as a kind of “treat others as you would have them treat you.” But it also evokes Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, which uses the term “rational self-interest” to describe the idea that improving and enriching yourself is the best way to improve the world. Like everything associated with Rand, her views are controversial and evoke extreme devotion among a small set of devotees and general derision from the rest of the world. And of course any discussion of Ayn Rand and comics leads back to Steve Ditko and the controversies associated with his career. Let’s see what happens …

The first member of Wentworth’s party to beam aboard is a lovely woman in a tiny wisp of a dress named Andrea Manning, who shares some unpleasant history with Scotty that he’s embarrassed by.

All of this, by the way, happens in the first three pages of this comic!

En route to Starbase 28, Spock notes a decrease in Scotty’s efficiency, while Wentworth gets a tour of the ship. Of course, he’s dressed like a cult leader: robes, sandals, balding with long white hair and a beard. And, of course, an attitude. On the bridge, he gives Uhura an earful about following orders when she should decide what she wants to do on a moment to moment basis. She dismisses him as a kook.

What the heck’s going on here? At least the art is pretty to look at.

Then this story gets really strange. The intruder alert alarm sounds in engineering as a “witch-hag” appears and rips through crewmen as it goes after Scotty. The hag is pretty powerful, redirecting and amplifying phaser fire back at crew members, then enlarging a security guard’s phaser so much that he’s pinned underneath it. Kirk jumps in and is knocked back, while Spock’s nerve-pinch goes right through the hag’s shoulder and she makes him dance like he’s in a Beyonce video before disappearing.

Spock gets jiggy with it in panel 4.

In sickbay, Bones says Scotty shows signs of fear but otherwise should be OK. While he’s out, he whispers “Black Annis” and Spock heads off to look it up in the computer banks.

Wentworth, meanwhile, is in the recreation deck telling Uhura and Sulu they should follow their whims and change course to Drexler II for shore leave. Somehow, they find themselves following his lead. And Dr. Chapel checks in on Andrea Manning to find her downing a bottle of saurian brandy by herself and going off on how much she loved Scotty and how much she gave up for him, only to less important to him than a rivet on a baffle plate.

Andrea Manning’s apparently a lightweight when it comes to drinking. No wonder Scotty left her.

Spock learns Black Annis is a character from ancient Scottish folklore that used to eat small children. Then Kirk finds the ship’s off course and headed to Drexler II. Kirk orders security to the bridge to arrest Sulu and Uhura and put them in the brig. And then another intruder alert comes in as another creature from Scottish folklore — a birdlike creature called a direach — is attacking Bones, Spock and Scotty. Spock tries to nerve pinch it, but it responds by kicking his ass. Bones shoots it with a phaser, to no avail. Kirk then tries to throttle it. Yes, throttle it! At that moment, Andrea Manning passes out from too much brandy and the creature disappears.

This page is all kinds of crazy: Kirk throttling a mythical creature and Andrea passes out drunk.

Chekov then reports that a full-fledged mutiny is underway as Wentworth takes control of the Enterprise. He rants about having leaned mind-direction techniques from ancient archives on Andronicus and he plans to create a new base on Drexler II, with the Enterprise at its command. Spock decides to mind-meld with Scotty to erase his memories of Scottish folklore as a way to cut off the source of Andrea’s power, while Kirk storms the bridge. Wentworth appears to win over Kirk, Andrea wakes up ranting about how much she hates Scotty and the ship is rocked by a giant alien creature wrapping itself around the ship.

Wentworth looks a little like Hitler in panel 5.

As the entirety of Star Trek up to this point has made clear, the only thing Kirk really loves is the Enterprise and his mission. So he overcomes Wentworth’s influence and decks him with a left cross. He realizes the creature is, of course, the Loch Ness Monster. Bones knocks out Andrea with a sedative, and the monster disappears. The Enterprise drops off Andrea, Wentworth and the rest of their people at a rehabilitation center. Kirk notes no charges against the crew because they were under Wentworth and Andrea’s influence, and the ship warps off to the next issue.

As you might expect from what I wrote above about the artists on this issue, I like the way this looks. The problem is the story, which tries to pack way too much into a mere 22-page comic to work. There are quite a few seven-panel pages in this book, and one nine-panel page — just to keep up! There’s also a lot of script to explain things going on that the art can’t convey.

But it’s just a mess, overall. The folklore creatures, the mutiny, Scotty’s bad breakup, the heavy drinking, the cult leader — it’s all too much. None of it has space or time to develop into anything of note. And the villain, who’s clear from the start and about as one-dimensional as you can get, is practically squeezed out of his own story. It evokes enough Star Trek flavor to feel kind of like a Star Trek story, but it’s too crammed full of elements for the story to deliver anything more than a surface experience.

No letters column appears in this issue, replaced by a house ad for Spider-Woman.

Star Trek (Marvel) #10 (Jan. 1981)

Cover to Star Trek (Marvel) #10 (Jan. 1981).
Art by Frank Miller and Gene Day.

“Domain of the Dragon God!” (17 pages)
Writer:
Michael Fleisher
Artists: Leo Duranona and Klaus Janson
Letterer: Rick Parker
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter
Cover: Frank Miller and Gene Day

“From the Files of Starfleet Command Headquarters” (5 pages)
Artist: Dave Cockrum

Based on the page count, this must have been an inventory story commissioned before Marvel raised its page count starting with issues cover-dated September 1980.

I’m not too familiar with the creative crew on this issue: Micheal Fleisher was best known for his work at DC on characters like Jonah Hex and The Spectre. Leo Duranona was from Argentina and worked in the 1970s on comics stories for the Warren line of magazines before working as a storyboard artist in animation and returning to comics in the 1990s to do some Predator work at Dark Horse. Janson, as finisher/inker on this issue, makes it look consistent with Marvel’s other Star Trek comics.

A decent splash page, but these shots of the USS Enterprise lack drama unless something’s happening to the ship. Also, I wonder how Gene Roddenberry felt about his name being so small and Stan Lee’s so large on the page.

This starts with the Enterprise orbiting Barak-7 to investigate the strange properties of its magnetic fields. The fields make it impossible to transport to the surface or use communicators. Kirk is recovering from the flu, so Spock and McCoy take it upon themselves to head up the short surface survey needed to complete their mission. Of course, the engine filters get clogged and the engines overheat, forcing the shuttlecraft to land. Thanks, Obama!

Not sure where this shuttlecraft design comes from. The one that appears at the end of the story is based on the shuttle design from the original TV series.

Spock says he can unclog the filters, while McCoy spots a tribe of primitive humanoids who are about to sacrifice a young woman by tossing her into a pool of hideous reptile creatures. McCoy wants to help her; Spock says they can’t violate the prime directive.

The girl breaks free and runs for the hills — right into Spock and McCoy. The tribesmen attack and the officers defend themselves with phasers set on stun. Spock decides to hold off the attack so McCoy and the girl can escape. Spock is soon overwhelmed by their numbers and captured.

Meanwhile, McCoy gets a history from the girl, whose name is N’Shulu. She say her brother and his followers are trying to destroy the evil ruler Ragnok, whose minions were the ones who just captured Spock.

Solid, but not very dynamic.
The bottom panel is as close as this issue gets to fulfilling the promise of the cover.

Spock meets Ragnok, who sentences him to work as a slave shaping a mountain into a likeness of Ragnok. Back on the Enterprise, Kirk is worried for two thirds of a page.

Spock makes friends and enemies by showing the workers how they can use leverage to lift large rocks more easily. A fight breaks out and Spock gets clubbed.

McCoy meets N’Shulu’s brother, K’Barrgh, and decides the only way to save Spock is to teach these people how to fight. So he creates a bow and arrow and shows them how to use archery to attack from a distance.

McCoy easily and completely violates the prime directive.

Now Kirk is really getting worried, taking a whole page this time asking the crew to find ways to contact Spock and McCoy.

Back on Barak-7, K’Barrgh’s people attack with arrows, and K’Barrgh defeats Ragnok in battle to become the new leader of both tribes. Spock and McCoy are reunited, though disappointed to find out that K’Barrgh’s first act is remake the mountain visage of his defeated foe into a tribute to his own.

The story’s climax is something no one who bought the issue wanted to see: The non-exciting final battle between Ragnok and K’Barrgh! Thanks, Barak-7!
Also, what’s with the random panel break on the left side of the page?

The tribes all turn on McCoy and Spock, who make a break for it and are rescued by the arrival of Kirk in a shuttle modified to not get its engine filters clogged. He picks up his pals and they pass the mountain visage of Ragnok as they head back to the Enterprise.

This is the least interesting story to date in Marvel’s version of Star Trek. It offers very little in terms of plot, character or action. The art by Duranona and Janson is solid and professional, but lacks excitement and drama. This issue is so bland that it’s hard even to make fun of it.

The last five pages of this issue include some rather nice model sheets by artist Dave Cockrum that explains the various uniforms and their markings worn by the Enterprise crew. Cockrum did lots of sheets like this, and his “How to Draw the X-Men” series is like a master class in the art form. These are similarly useful and interesting for the level of detail put into the drawings and explanations.

There is a truncated letters page in this issue with a few short missives from fans and responses from Mike W. Barr, whose involvement in the series at this point is a mystery as even he writes that Martin Pasko is the regular scripter. The only bit of note is that one letter mentions a Spock reference to Sherlock Holmes, which Barr says he wrote in with the consent of editor Louise Jones and artist Dave Cockrum because it made sense that the Vulcan and the detective would be kindred spirits. This kind of foreshadows the more explicity Trek-Holmes connection with Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Lastly, the best part of the whole issue is arguably the cover. Frank Miller and Gene Day make a solid pairing and the cover copy promising “Spock — The Barbarian!” makes a great sales hook. Even the colors are nice, with the purple background, though the light yellow in the logo fails to pop as well as it could have.

Comic-Shop Memories: AAA Best Comics, 1988-1989, Phoenix, Ariz., Part 1

Completing my freshman year at University of Arizona, I returned to Scottsdale for the summer. I think I took a short visit back to Edmonton, and then returned to Scottsdale and secured a summer job in the engineering department at the Hilton Scottsdale Resort & Villas, located at 6333 N. Scottsdale Road. I remember getting my first check and heading to the comics shops, the closest of which that I knew to be a good one was AAA Best Comics, located at 9204 N. Seventh St. in Phoenix.

This was the shop to which Fog Hollow transferred its subscription accounts when it closed the year before. I don’t remember much about my single visit to the store the year before, but I do remember pulling up to AAA Best on a sunny morning in June 1988 and walking in to find an older woman sitting by the door and announcing to her son, the owner, that he had a customer. The man was Ken Strack, and he was a terrific comic shop owner who earned a lot of my business for the next five or six years.

Excalibur #1 (Oct. 1988). Art by Alan Davis and Paul Neary.

On that day, Ken was busy sorting and the new issues were just laid out on a table in near the front entrance. The store occupied a long and narrow space at the end of a strip mall structure. I distinctly recall Excalibur #1 was just out and I scooped it up ASAP to flip through the lovely artwork by Alan Davis and Paul Neary. The other book I recall grabbing, either on that visit or one shortly thereafter, was Marvel Comics Presents #1, with that cool Walt Simonson wrap-around cover.

Marvel Comics Presents #1 (Early Sept. 1988). Cover art by Walt Simonson (and friends).

This also was the summer when Marvel experimented with twice-monthly publication of its top titles, which included X-Men and The Amazing Spider-Man. The latter was, of course, drawn by Todd McFarlane and was taking off like a rocket.

I still visited other stores, most notably All About Books & Comics, during this time. But AAA Best was my favorite. Ken was quick to spark a discussion and recommend new books based on what he knew you liked. I looked forward to visiting the shop as much to talk with him about comics as to buy my weekly stash. I once was checking out with a large stack and as he rang them up, I said it should keep me busy for a week or so. His reply was something along the lines of “No way! You gotta grab a bowl of cereal and stay up all night reading them!”

I kept my subscriptions with AAA Best even when I went back to school in Tucson that fall for my sophomore year. I had a new place to live in a different part of town, but I also had a car and a girlfriend I met in traffic school that summer. She was starting as a freshman at U of A, but I was so insecure about my comics habit that I didn’t tell her about it until we’d been dating a few months already. I need not have worried. She thought it was kind of cool and even read some of the books — she liked McFarlane’s Amazing Spider-Man — when I’d acquire a new stack of stuff.

I had braces at this time, and at least once a month would come up to Scottsdale to have the orthodontist adjust them. He had office hours on Saturday morning, so after my appointment, I’d head over to AAA Best. One day in January 1989, Ken was on the phone when I walked into the store. He was having an animated conversation with someone about flying in for an event, weekend accommodations, etc. At the end, he pulled out a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man, #315, which was the most-recent issue at the time, to look up the circulation figures in the statement of ownership in the back, and said he’d be happy to pop a few copies in the mail. That was when I realized he was talking to the one and only Todd McFarlane. When Ken hung up, he looked at me and said, “You are sworn to secrecy!” He then told me that McFarlane was coming for a store signing that spring and that subscribers like myself would get a special poster signed by Todd, whether they could make the event or not. This was quite exciting news, to be sure, but it was easy to keep to myself since I knew almost no one who would have known who McFarlane was.

The front page of the Life & Leisure section from The Arizona Republic newspaper on March 23, 1989, featured this interview with Todd McFarlane.
He says at the end that he ultimately wants to do a gag strip like Garfield.

The signing itself was March 25, 1989 — a Saturday. There was an article with and interview with McFarlane on the front of the Life & Leisure section of The Arizona Republic newspaper on March 23, 1989, promoting the signing and, when I arrived fairly early on there was already a long line of folks ready to meet Todd. It took a long time, and I’m glad this was March instead of July. Todd at one point agreed to take a short break to review the portfolios of artists looking for feedback. But eventually, I got to the front of the line. Todd was sitting at a table in the back of the shop, with a stack of original Spider-Man art that was for sale, as well as copies of most of his books for sale at then-relevant prices. I regret not buying any of that art, but at the time $75 or $100 a page was out of my price range. I remember the guy in front of me bought a copy of The Incredible Hulk #340 for $10, and Todd teased him by saying he could buy 10 Spider-Mans instead for the same price.

My signed copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #300 (May 1988), which I’ve kept in a mylar sleeve for more than three decades now. It is not now, nor will it ever be, for sale.

I got my copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #300 signed — I’d never been to a signing before and hadn’t thought to bring more than the one comic for him to sign! He also signed the poster the store had printed up. That poster now hangs, framed, quite visibly near the dining table in my house.

My signed poster from Todd McFarlane’s 1989 appearance at AAA Best Comics. I have number 52 out of 2000 because my subscription box number at the shop was 52.

That summer, I worked again in Phoenix at American Express — this time tracking down, repairing and cleaning credit-card authorization. Not very exciting — and sometimes quite disgusting — but it did put me in position to visit All About Books & Comics and then swing by AAA Best on the way home. I remember buying a copy of Marvel Graphic Novel #5: X-Men — God Loves, Man Kills that summer at AAA Best, and being completely blown away by it.

And for those who don’t remember or weren’t there yet, 1989 was a huge summer for movies, starting with the release in May of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and followed by Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, License to Kill, Ghostbusters II and, of course, Tim Burton’s Batman. The rest of the summer was pretty good too, with Lethal Weapon 2 and James Cameron’s The Abyss. It was all very exciting at the time, even though most of those movies haven’t held up especially well. (One thing to remember is there was a writer’s strike in Hollywood in 1988 that limited rewrites on a lot of those movies, including most notably Batman and Star Trek V. The TV networks were so starved for cash, they started re-shooting old Mission: Impossible scripts as a new series, and Star Trek: The Next Generation used a few scripts that were originally written 10 years prior for the never-made Star Trek: Phase II series that eventually became Star Trek: The Motion Picture.)

The runaway success of Batman showed a comic-book property could result in a good movie and make a ton money at both the box office as well as with sales of T-shirts, toys, books and comics. The teaser trailer Warner Bros. released in early 1989 got everyone very excited and Batman comics started selling in big numbers, picking up lots of new readers. New comics at the time were still only 75 cents or $1, so they were cheap enough for kids excited by the movie to buy and read.

The movie came out at a good time for DC Comics, which had been doing right by Batman for a few years with things like The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, Batman: Year Two, Batman: Ten Nights of the Beast and Batman: A Death in the Family. DC’s investment in quality was really paying off for them.

Leading into the movie was DC’s celebration of Batman’s 50th anniversary with a really terrific story in Detective Comics #598-600 that was written by the new movie’s scripter, Sam Hamm, and drawn by Denys Cowan and Dick Giordano. (That writer’s strike idled Hamm, who I recall reading was quite pleased he was being paid to write comics when there were no movie or TV work to be had.) Issues #598 and 600 were 80-page giants, featuring lots of tributes in the back to Batman from top artists and writers in comics and beyond. I remember how impressive it was that the likes of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, along with the unexpected tribute from Stan Lee, had classed up those books.

There also was a booming business in selling trade paperbacks of The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. And Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke was also in the mix, proving endlessly popular that summer with a spot-on $3.50 cover price because it was the closest of any of them to the movie’s plot.

And the public interest was extremely intense. Demand was so high for Batman T-shirts that there was a worldwide shortage of black cotton. (I read this in Variety years later in an article interviewing the then-head of Warner Bros. Consumer Products, but I don’t have the specific citation.) Every newspaper, TV station and radio outlet was doing something Batman related, from interviewing fans to “morning zoo” DJs joking about what kind of sound-effect would appear on screen when Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale got intimate.

I was late to the game on Batman comics, but Ken set me up with trade paperbacks and enough recent issues of Detective Comics and Batman to keep me happy. This was my first regular pathway into DC Comics, which were really strong in those first few years after the reset of Crisis on Infinite Earths. I discovered the Justice League comics by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, and loved that affectionate and funny take on superheroes. I tried stuff like Emerald Dawn, which relaunched Green Lantern, but it didn’t take with me.

Marvel was, of course, still going strong with all the Spider-Man, X-Men, The Punisher, Silver Surfer and Avengers titles. I also really dug Marvel Comics Presents, an anthology that exposed me to a lot of characters I hadn’t read before, including Black Panther in an excellent 25-part serial by Don McGregor and Gene Colan.

When I went back to Tucson that August for school, I again had a new place to live, in a new part of town. I also had broken up with my girlfriend and was now intent on majoring in journalism. I don’t know why I stopped getting my new comics from AAA Best, but it was a temporary situation, to be sure.

More to come …

Comic-Shop Memories: David’s Used Books And Comics, aka Comics Corner, 1987-1988, Tucson, Ariz.

Picking up from where I left off: I left home in Scottsdale, Arizona, to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson shortly after my 18th birthday, in late August of 1987. My birthday gifts that year included a box of Tide powder, to do my own laundry with; and a dish-drying rack. All profoundly sensible items I needed and used.

I did not live in the dorms at U of A because doing so was so popular at the time that you had to apply a year in advance to get a spot. A year before, I still was in Edmonton, so my application was far too late to get me in. Instead, my Dad took me down to the Tucson sometime that summer and we found a two-bedroom apartment to rent and put out an ad for a roommate. I eventually got a response to the ad from a student coming to Tucson from New Jersey — also a freshman. We ate a lot of Domino’s Pizza those first months.

The apartment complex was quite nice. Our lower-level apartment had plenty of space and came furnished. There was a pool and hot tub in the complex, along with coin-operated laundry machines and grills for cooking. There were plenty of students living in the complex. A few fun girls, too. It’s still there, now called the Arcadia Park Apartments. There was an ABCO grocery nearby and bus lines we could pick up along East Fifth Street that took us directly to campus for classes. Neither me nor my roommate had a car.

I brought along my comics, and stuck them in my bedroom closet. I had maybe two and a half long boxes at this point. What I wasn’t sure of was where I could get comics in Tucson. Turns out, the answer was easier than I thought.

A quick look at the phone book revealed a comic shop within walking distance — not far from where I caught the bus to campus. It was called David’s Used Books And Comics most of the time; other times it was The Comic Corner. I don’t remember what the sign out front said, but I do remember it being in a small mall-type building at 5031 E. Fifth St. that is still there today.

The shop was set up in the standard way: New comics on racks around the side, with bins full of back issues in the center. There was a section at the back that had magazines, British comics and fanzines. The walls featured the usual higher-value back-issue comics, with the counter area at the front with display cases for the most-valuable and rare comics. This was all on the left half of the store as you walked in; the right side featuring mostly used paperbacks of all sorts.

So this solved my comic book sourcing problem, and I quickly set up a free pull list for all the titles I was following at the time. Still pretty heavy on the Marvel and X-Men line, which was gearing up for The Fall of the Mutants crossover.

I have a very clear memory of awaiting Excalibur, and buying the bookshelf special edition in December 1987, on probably my last visit to the shop before my first semester wrapped up. (I did well with grades — 3.6 GPA that first semester, I think.)

Cover to Excalibur Special Edition, released in December 1987. Cover art by Alan Davis and Paul Neary.

I also remember looking forward to Marvel ramping up its annuals with the Evolutionary War storyline that spring. And the artwork of Marc Silvestri on X-Men and Walter Simonson on X-Factor was exciting and vital.

Cover to The Incredible Hulk #340 (Feb. 1988). Art by Todd McFarlane and Bob Wiacek.

I definitely remember buying everything related to Fall of the Mutants at David’s, including a copy of The Incredible Hulk #340, with the now-famous Todd McFarlane cover, for cover price. McFarlane’s art was starting to gain attention in Hulk, especially once he started inking his own pencils.

I was already subscribing to The Amazing Spider-Man when Todd started working on that title with issue #298, meaning I bought my copy for 20 percent off the cover price of 75 cents! And I distinctly remember the sense of excitement that came along with picking up The Amazing Spider-Man #300, which McFarlane penciled and inked, and features the first full appearance of Venom. It’s still a very popular book. I will get soon to the tale of how I got my copy signed by McFarlane the following year.

I also remember very vividly the debut that fall of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show aired on the Tucson Fox station in syndication on weekends, which meant episodes aired on Saturday afternoon and repeated the following Sunday morning. That made it an easy show to catch, and I remember the hubbub when the DC Comics adaptation arrived at David’s, with that great Bill Sienkiewicz cover, the same week the show premiered. I didn’t scoop it up that first day it was on sale, and had to wait a while to grab a copy.

Cover to Star Trek: The Next Generation #1 (Feb. 1988). Cover art by Bill Sienkiewicz.

It’s hard to explain now how much that show meant to fans back then, even as it was roundly and correctly criticized for not being especially good. And the only reason I can think of that sticks is that at the time there was almost no sci-fi of any kind on TV at that time.

Earlier in 1987, ABC had a minor hit airing the sci-fi series Max Headroom, which starred Matt Frewer as futuristic journalist Edison Carter and was based on the British talk-show character concept. (I’d like to think it had some kind of influence on Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan comic book, which came along about ten years later). It was really good — a minor classic, even — but short-lived.

There also had been a very interesting ABC series called Probe, which Isaac Asimov was involved in and featured former The Hardy Boys star Parker Stevenson as a scientific prodigy who drove his assistant, played by Michelle Castle, more than a little crazy in the mode of Holmes and Watson. It ran for eight episodes in 1988 and was canceled. One of its producers, Michael Piller, later went on to contribute many great episodes to Star Trek: The Next Generation and co-created Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager before cancer took him at far too young an age in 2005.

And there was Sable, based on Mike Grell’s excellent First Comics series, Jon Sable, Freelance. This one only lasted seven episodes in late 1987 and early 1988, but was almost a decent adaptation of the comic. I recall reading a few issues of the book back in the day and seeing a trade paperback as one of the first graphic novel collections to be found in regular bookstores at the time, alongside Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and Saga of the Swamp Thing. I’ve since read the whole series and really enjoyed it. The show was a pale imitation, but it was at the time the only TV adaptation of a comic to air on a network since The Incredible Hulk.

Cover to the Warner Books edition of Jon Sable, Freelance. Art by Mike Grell. Collects Jon Sable, Freelance #1-6, originally published by First Comics.

I think with Star Trek: The Next Generation, the collective audience for that kind of material — today scattered across endless series and streaming services — was concentrated in this one show. The ratings for it were very good, and I remember hearing very soon after it began airing that a second season was already ordered. The rest, of course, is history.

I really enjoyed the show, myself. It didn’t really matter that it wasn’t as good as the original. It was new Star Trek, and I liked the characters despite the often-weak early scripts. I remember one rainy Saturday afternoon when I took a study break to grab some comics at David’s, a sandwich from the deli next door, and watch the newest episode of the show, in which Tasha Yar met her demise at the hands of a pile of oily goo. I also spent a lot of time reading news magazines and newspapers, and watching current-affairs shows like Nightline with Ted Koppel. That was part of what led me to study journalism. Good times.

Back to comics: There was a growing sense that something was happening in comics. As I mentioned, graphic-novel collections from Warner Books started showing up in bookstores, and almost every newspaper and magazine in the country ran at some point a story on comics like Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Love & Rockets and Art Spiegelman’s Maus. I’d noticed for the first time fans buying multiple copies of new issues in the hopes their value would go up. And the entire hobby seemed to be rising. Debates in shops were lively, respectful and pretty fun to take part in.

When that first year ended, I packed up and went back to Scottsdale for the summer. I didn’t know then that David’s would be gone when I came back a few months later. It was a great spot and a lot of fun to visit. I don’t know if I would have continued buying comics without it being so close to my first home away from home.

Star Trek (Marvel) #9 (Dec. 1980)

Cover to Star Trek #9 (Dec. 1980). Art is unsigned, but credited on Comics.org to Dave Cockrum and Joe Rubinstein.

“Experiment in Vengeance!” (22 pages)
Writer: Martin Pasko
Artists: Dave Cockrum & Frank Springer
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter
Cover artists: Dave Cockrum & Joe Rubinstein

This one’s complicated, and not in a good way. I do give Marty Pasko credit for trying to do an issue of the comic that evokes the feel of the show, but this is an excellent example of trying to do a TV show in a comic book format instead of adapting the show to comics.

Not a terrible start, but drawing the USS Enterprise is tricky and even artists as experienced as Cockrum and Springer struggle to get it right.

This one starts off with the USS Enterprise locating the USS Endeavor, a starship lost in action 22 years ago whose fate has puzzled Starfleet ever since. As the Enterprise approaches, Lt. Karen Hester-Jones reports to Kirk as the ship’s new zoologist. She and Kirk have an obvious history together, one that obviously didn’t end well and, for her, not happily. The Endeavor then surprises everyone by intercepting the Enterprise and attacking!

All this happens by the end of page 2!

Page 3 is where the seams start to show. Spock detects no life forms, but the Enterprise is able to immobilize the Endeavor in a panel that sees the word balloons pointing at the wrong ships. The script’s also been all over the place in terms of technobabble, with the Endeavor reported as being found a half-parsec from its last known location (which doesn’t seem that far off in Trek terms), and then distances tossed around inconsistently — 25,000 km out is far out, but then it seems closer at 200,000 before instantly getting down to 1,000 km. A sure sign this issue was under the deadline gun.

It’s interesting to note, as the crew beams over to the Endeavor’s bridge (in environment suits) that the ship’s exteriors and interiors, as well as the crew’s uniforms, evoke the TV series very strongly. With the sweater-like collars on the crew’s tunics, it looks very much like the second Star Trek TV pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before.

Then it gets weird — and familiar in a not-s0-good way. There’s a mysterious, sparkly cloud that “possesses” one of the crew members. We just had a ghost story in issues #4 and #5, and here we are going down that same path again! There’s a three-page action sequence that’s better than it should be, really, but still fails to be interesting because all the characters are fighting each other in big, clunky, monotone-colored environment suits. It’s a bit of a chore to figure out who’s who in this mess. But they end up beaming back to the Enterprise with the possessed crewman — and the sparkly cloud tags along in the transporter beam.

Figures in environment suits fight on the USS Endeavor. Nice attempt to spice things up with the color holds in those last two panels.

While the sparkly cloud sneaks around the ship, Hester-Jones and Kirk have it out. Turns out they were a couple, until Kirk was drawn back to Starfleet. She was angry at him and married Bill Jones, who realized he couldn’t compete with Kirk and didn’t renew their marriage license. (This was something Gene Roddenberry mentioned in the novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Marriage licenses in the 23rd century have to be renewed or they expire. Kirk’s marriage to Vice Admiral Lori Ciani ended the same way.) She’s still angry with Kirk, but he has a job to do!

Will Jim Kirk ever allow himself … to be loved?

On cue, Spock reveals that the Endeavor’s logs reveal its last mission was responding to a distress call from Janet Hester on a moon called Mycena. Hester-Jones says that was her grandmother’s name, but it couldn’t have been because Janet Hester died at the age of 36 in 2139. Spock then shows it was her, producing a photo of her at age 89. He continues: Shortly after the Endeavor rescued Janet Hester, the crew started going crazy and the crew was eventually murdered or killed by cutting life support. The madness, of course, resembles what happened to the Enterprise crewmember on the Endeavor, so Kirk receives new orders to investigate and orders a course to Mycena.

Ten pages in, you can see how dense this story is, though not in a good way. It’s very episodic and clunky when it wants so very much to be mysterious and interconnected.

And it doesn’t get any better once the Enterprise arrives at Mycena, which is an ice planet. Kirk, Bones, Spock and Sulu beam down in parkas and split up to explore two tunnels that both lead to an underground chamber. Bones and Spock are immediately attacked by a giant lobster creature that resists all phaser fire and can’t be detected by a tricorder. It also has flexible spine, so it can follow Spock and McCoy into the tunnels. Kirk and Sulu somehow spot a human body underneath the ice that isn’t shown in the artwork, and then meet up with Spock and McCoy in a chamber with a device that, when Spock activates it, creates a defense field that keeps out the creature. And if that wasn’t enough, Sulu notices that this alien technology has Starfleet technology added to it.

Lots of talking heads and pointing — all in that inimitable Cockrum style!

Then Bones finds some early transporter technology and Spock digs up computer records of the “Hester Project.” Kirk calls the ship, where Uhura is the most-recent crewmember to be possessed. He sends McCoy up to help with that, and orders Hester-Jones beamed down. He asks her to take some samples from the lobster thing and she explains her grandmother “died” when she was lost in space while being transported from the her assignment at the Deneva Research Station. Kirk then realizes she was part of the team that invented the transporter and that, after they were ordered to discontinue the project, she and six of her colleagues ended up getting “lost,” landing on Mycena and continuing their experiments.

An angry Lt. Uhura starts tearing things apart as she looks for a script that isn’t lame.

You’re not the only one struggling to keep up. The pages stopped even being numbered half-way through this one.

Doctor, heal thyself.

And it gets weirder. The possessed crewmembers all start chanting in unison: “We seek Hester! The Unity seeks Hester!” They then bust out of sickbay, giving McCoy a black eye, and beam down to attack Hester-Jones. Kirk realizes they want Janet Hester and that there are six beings who were all Hester’s colleagues and became trapped as spirit-like creatures because of the transporter experiments. When she was rescued by the Endeavor, they followed and killed the crew trying to kill her. But she escaped in a shuttlecraft and died in a crash landing … on Mycena.

That’s the body Sulu spotted, and Kirk uses it to lure the Unity into the shuttle, and then tosses in some overloaded phasers and beams up just before the whole thing blows up.

If all else fails, blow it up! The throwback shuttlecraft is a nice touch and drawing it was probably the only fun Cockrum had while working on this issue.

Finally, the end is in sight. Spock’s puzzled by their hatred, the “possessed” crewmembers are all back to normal, and Hester-Jones decides to move on from Jim Kirk and transfers off the Enterprise.

The only woman Jim Kirk can love is named … Enterprise!

Just understanding the plot in this one is difficult. It’s way too much crammed into too small a space to work in any way, shape or form. The art by Cockrum and Springer is, in a way, a minor miracle for not making the entire affair even worse. Visually, it’s not terrible. But it’s not good either.

And let’s look at the cover for this issue, which is confusing in so many ways. I’m going to assume the woman in the Starfleet uniform is supposed to be Karen Hester-Jones, though her outfit and hair are colored differently than inside the issue. If the man is supposed to be Kirk, it’s not at all clear, but who else would it be? I thought on first glance that these were Endeavor crewmembers, but that’s obviously wrong. And the story has six alien ghosts, and this cover features nine heads. I do like the overall composition, with the swooping Tholian-style lines, but that also has nothing to do with the story inside.

Last thing: the letters column is still being written by Mike W. Barr, who didn’t write this issue and won’t write another one until issue #17.

Clearly, this is a title in disarray. Marvel had more success with Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, in part because those books found sympatico creative leaders in, respectively, Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson. And while affection among the Marvel staff for Star Trek was clearly high, that direction was lacking in the comics themselves.

At least the next issue has a Frank Miller cover to look forward to.

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.

Star Trek (Marvel) #7 (Oct. 1980)

Cover to Star Trek #7 (Oct. 1980), by Michael Nasser.

“Tomorrow or Yesterday” (17 pages)
Scripter: Tom DeFalco
Penciler: Mike Nasser
Inker: Klaus Janson
Letterer: Ray Burzon
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor in chief: Jim Shooter
Cover: Mike Nasser

There’s a lot to like in this issue, which reads like a comic-book equivalent of a TV episode. It’s all done in one, and has all the basics of a standard TV story, with an A plot involving Kirk, Spock and McCoy on the planet, and a complementary B plot with Scotty and the ship.

Tom DeFalco does a nice job on the scripting end. This reads very much like a classic TV episode, even if it doesn’t always make a ton of sense. The pencils by Mike Nasser (now known as Mike Netzer), opens up the panels to tell the story and brings some dynamism an visual splash to the proceedings. Klaus Janson’s inks give Nasser’s pencils continuity with the previous issues, while the colors and letters are suitably well done enough to not be noticeable. There’s no fancy use of color holds here — just solid work.

Solid scripting by Tom DeFalco on this splash page. The title is pretty much lifted from the original series episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” which was one of the better first-season shows.

So this one starts off with the Enterprise heading to a section of the galaxy threatened by a cloud of Vega radiation. Kirk is to find and help any threatened populated planets by evacuating the threatened populations until the cloud passes. This is all conveyed rather nicely via “Captain’s Log” narration captions on the splash page, setting up the story quickly and clearly.

Page two is a good example of how this comic recreates the feel of the original show. Nasser starts with a large, irregularly shaped panel that gives a good view of the bridge crew and their urgency in discovering a small group of 200 intelligent life forms living on Andrea IV, right in the path of the Vega cloud We get a nice closeup of Kirk as he delivers a line that would come straight of the show and is easy to hear being spoken by William Shatner.

Page 2. A good example of how to hook your readers with solid layouts and scripting.

Pages three and four get the plot going even more quickly, with more transporter shenanigans (acknowledged this time with footnote from Louise Jones), and taking the transporter off the board as a deus ex machina solution to the crew’s problems.

Then things get weird, as the aliens show up and state they have been awaiting the Enterprise’s arrival for a very long time. I really dig Nasser’s design of the alien for its unusual graphic look, even as it’s unclear how a thing like that could move about in any useful way. I have to say it’s a nice lettering effect to give the Andreans a script style in their dialog balloons.

Again, Nasser does a fine job keeping things dynamic with good layouts and a really interesting alien design of the type you could only do in the comics at this time.

Pages six and seven are both very solid, with the former revealing that the Andreans have build massive statues of Kirk, Spock and McCoy that is a great shocker and would be an ideal spot for a commercial break if this was a TV episode. Page seven fades back in with Spock revealing the statues to have been built some 24,000 years ago. It’s a great panel that actually shows the characters — something the small-box layouts seen so far in the series have been unable to deliver. Kirk asks the lead Andrean what’s going on, but he’s about to “step beyond.”

Another nice page with interesting layouts in service to a good story point. I like the alien hand breaking the panel and the reaction shots of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
Coming back from the commercial break, Nasser again gives us a nice big look at the heroes with that lead establishing panel. The dialog moves things along well, too. This stands out in contrast to the extremely boxy layouts and small drawings seen so far in the series of the lead characters, who are really the main draw to all of this stuff.

Now we spend a couple pages on plot, with McCoy explaining the Andreans are dying, and the Andreans denying any danger from the Vega radiation — because they know that Kirk et. al are “the protectors.” Kirk and company do their best to persuade the Andreans to evacuate, but they refuse because of their complete belief in the belief that the protectors will be save them. Spock comes up with a long-shot possible solution in which very precise phaser strikes by the Enterprise could disperse the Vega radiation. Kirk says they’ll go for it, but the transporter is still out. So Kirk orders Scotty to disperse the cloud and come back.

I really like this layout, with the mirrored effect in panels 1 and 3 at the top of the page, with Kirk’s changing expression, and then again at the bottom. I should say that Janson’s inks are, as always, very polished.

Unable to help Scotty, Kirk follows a hunch of Spock’s that leads them to discover a massive solar collector, which their Andrean host tells them is one of many on the planet. Again, taking a page from TV pacing, McCoy tells Kirk he’s made a major discovery without explaining what it is.

Meanwhile, Scotty leads the crew as they try to disperse the Vega radiation, which doesn’t work and strands the Enterprise without warp capability and they put everything they’ve got into the deflectors to try to shield themselves from the approaching cloud. Back on the planet, McCoy tells Kirk that one of the Andreans is evolving at a fantastic rate, which is what the aliens mean by “stepping beyond.” A doorway in the base of the giant statues opens to admit the transitioning alien, and Kirk, Spock and McCoy follow.

Another nice example of showing the characters up close and large as a way to bring some dynamism to the proceedings. By the way, Scotty injured his hands in the earlier transporter accident.

Here we get some more interesting art, as the passage reveals a massive underground complex. Spock mind melds with the Andrean, and gets enough information from it to relay that this species is always in evolutionary flux and can see all periods of time simultaneously. They prepared for the Vega cloud accordingly by building the solar collectors to amass the energy needed to disperse the cloud, and knew that Spock would figure all this out in time to push the activation button and save the day for the Andreans and the Enterprise.

So here’s the underground complex under the statues, as well as Spock’s mind meld. I like the extreme perspective in panel 1 to give this a sense of scale. The rest of it’s a bit compressed, but still clear.

The tale ends with a cryptic, almost pun-like observation from Spock about how he would love to ponder this paradox “… if only I had the time.”

The story concludes with more nice layouts. I like that panel of Spock for its expressiveness and the steady point of view of the final three panels playing against the pun-like concluding dialog.

All in all, a decent issue. You know this because the obvious criticisms are all more about the story itself than how it was executed. The book looks good — or as good as a comic like this could look in 1980 — and the story does evoke the style of the old TV show. But like too many episodes, the aliens are never fleshed out or made to be interesting in any way, even though we’re told that their intelligence far outstrips even Spock’s. The Vega cloud also is really not developed as a specific idea that has any kind of scientific credibility.

There’s a letter’s page in this issue, though no great revelations this time from editor Louise Jones. She does say that every issue of the comic is scrutinized and approved by Gene Roddenberry, and gives co-plotting credit on issue #5 to Denny O’Neil.

I think if Marvel had started off the comic with an issue like this one it would have earned more attention from fans. But coming out as it did in the summer of 1980, its thunder was stolen by the excitement among sci-fi fans surrounding The Empire Strikes Back, and by the Dark Phoenix saga in X-Men among comics readers and Marvel fans.

This issue was later reprinted in Marvel’s second paperback collection of Star Trek comics, the first having collected the movie adaptation. It also included issues #11 and #12, so I’ll talk about that after getting through the original issues in the run.

Star Trek (Marvel) #6 (Sept. 1980)

Cover to Star Trek #6, by Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson.

“The Enterprise Murder Case!” (17 pages)
Writer: Mike W. Barr
Artists: Dave Cockrum & Klaus Janson
Letterer: Rick Parker
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor in chief: Jim Shooter
Cover: Dave Cockrum & Klaus Janson
“Historian First Class”: Marian Stensgard

This one hurt my brain. The splash page for this one is pretty good for a Star Trek comic: Kirk and Spock rushing to Lt. Rand in the transporter room, where something appears to be going wrong with the beaming up of an important ambassador. I especially like on this page the color hold effect of the transporter, which uses the limitations of the printing technology to good effect. Less impressive is the rather pointless “computer paper” effect on the captain’s log captions. In 1980, that might have seemed futuristic, but anyone who had to use that kind of paper will tell you what a pain it was to remove neatly those perforated side sprockets.

The lesson of this page is: Never use the transporter when Rand’s in charge.

The real problem with this image, though, is that it’s lifted almost directly from the movie. Another transporter accident? Really?

When they pull the transportee through, it turns out that Ambassador Phral is dead, thanks to a dagger that apparently found its way into his back during transport.

That’s a decent premise for a Star Trek story, I’ll admit. I just wish the rest of the issue had lived up to its potential.

The captions reveal the setup for this issue: Kirk is to ferry Ambassador Phral from his home planet of Yannid IV to a ceremony admitting the planet to the Federation, essentially a defeat for its rival, the Klingon Empire. But the death of the ambassador is, clearly, a problem. Especially when it’s revealed that Phral was dead for 10 minutes before appearing on the Enterprise — impossible given he was alive just moments before the transport, which did experience some unusual interference.

Spock, by the way, has this plot figured out by the end of page three. The rest of us have 14 more pages to endure.

Throughout all this, Kirk is more on-edge than normal – snapping at crew members and living up to his lower-decks nickname, “Kirk the Jerk (Off).” There’s a bunch of exposition setting up a subplot for the captain that almost completely crowds the art off the page.

Some nice color work here gives some depth to this panel.

Meanwhile, Sulu, Chekov and Chief DiFalco are boozing it up on Yannid IV and get into a classic bar fight. Barr’s narration is blunt and appears ripped from the pages of a prohibitionist group. I’m not sure if Sulu, et. al, are escaping via beam-up the swords of the Yannidians or the captions.

Writer Mike W. Barr fights with the captions for a … bar fight.

After a cursory appearance from Admiral Fitzpatrick (who looks like he was originally Commander Adama cut and pasted from Marvel’s Battlestar Galactica comic), Kirk comes clean to McCoy and Spock about his past screw-ups on Yannid IV.

Finally, we get a cool page as Cockrum gets to conjure up some of the wacky space machinery and costumes he did much better in X-Men. We also get to see a tantalizing glimpse of young Kirk, wearing the old green sweater uniforms seen only in the original Trek pilots, “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” There’s also an original phaser! Yay, Original Series!

Cockrum almost makes this page work. Almost.

Kirk’s version of what happened is that he was an ensign just out of Starfleet Academy, leading an away team into a war on Yannid IV. The pro-Federation King Geror had been killed by pro-Klingon forces that also had captured the king’s son, Prince Arlph. Kirk led a landing party to find the prince and succeeded in liberating him, although a into the fray and rescue Prince Arlph — without casualties. It worked, except a warning shot Kirk fired ricocheted unexpectedly and put Prince Arlph into a coma. Arlph’s brother became king and blamed Kirk, as did Arlph when he came out of his coma, changed his name to Pharl and became the ambassador who died in the transporter accident. Starfleet, of course, exonerated Kirk. That’s a lot to convey in less than two pages, so it’s a lot of cranky copy supported by Cockrum doing his damnedest to make it work.

There’s also signs of just plain crap. Arlph and Phral are both anagrams of Ralph. Geror is one for Roger. And Storf is one for Frost. I don’t know what the anagram is for Yannid, but I assume there is one. Barr is not exactly pulling a Marc Okrand on this one. It pulls me out, because as soon as I realized this, I couldn’t help but read Arlph and Phral as Ralph and Geror as Roger.

Spock comes up with a theory of what happened, and pulls out some really lame proof that apparently so discombobulated Cockrum that he couldn’t keep track of who he was drawing in a single panel.

The rest of the comic is about solving the mystery — something it does in the most comic-book-y fashion imaginable. Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down in disguise — in this case, that means pirate costumes, “purpleface” makeup (Prince would love it), tails, and some really bad hairdos and facial hair.

It’s here that Spock reveals his deep affection for Calgary Flames icon Lanny McDonald. Don’t listen to me — decide for yourselves!

The trio tracks down a clue leading to “Doctor Loroc,” who’s a female plastic surgeon, and gets shot in her third panel. The idiocy continues as Spock et. al deduce the real killer has changed his appearance and is one of three aliens in the clinic.

In classic Trek fashion, Spock’s bluff exposes — with the current leaders of Yannid VI now assembled in the room — the ambassador and how they subbed the dead body for his during mid-transport. The exposed Phral grabs a weapon and holds the princess hostage. Bones, once again, thinks fast and stabs Phral with a hypo spray conveniently loaded with “the most potent knockout drug I’ve got!”

Bones “shoots” someone for the second issue in a row.

The grateful Yannid VI leaders agree to sign the Federation treaty and hang out on the Enterprise for a few days before beaming home.

Strangely enough, this is all done in 16 pages — leaving a real clunker of a final page for Kirk, Spock and Bones to tease each other before the ship finally warps off past more overwritten copy and on to the next issue.

The creative team on this issue was clearly attempting to compress a story as complex as a full episode of the original series into a mere 17 pages. And it really doesn’t work, especially when the plot is as underdeveloped and overwrought as this one.

Some nice color work here, even if the story is by this point incoherent.

Cockrum and Janson are clearly not meshing any better. This issue struggles to find moments where the art can shine, and way too often has to rely on color effects to get any kind of “wow” factor into the mix.

The covers are an obvious problem for this series. This issue’s cover — marred, as were all Marvel comics that month — with an ad promoting a contest for fans as a way to apologize for raising the price to 50 cents, is just plain awful. Again, there’s an apparent aversion to putting Kirk, Spock and McCoy on the cover in favor of a not-great rendering of the inanimate object kn0wn as the U.S.S. Enterprise. And the bit with Ambassador Ralph, I mean Phral, evokes old DC Comics but lacks any kind of visual hook for the story inside.

This issue also features a letters page, with no great revelations from editor Louise Jones. However, at the bottom of the page is “The Mighty Marvel Checklist” of comics on sale this month, at least two of which are stone-cold classics: Star Wars #39, the first episode of Marvel’s adaptation of “The Empire Strikes Back,” by Archie Goodwin, Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon; and the double-size X-Men #137, featuring the final fate of Phoenix, by Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin.

Star Trek #6 is not in the same league.

Page 1 of 23

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén