Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Marvel Unbound - DC and Marvel Present: Batman vs. the Incredible Hulk

A while back, I was digging around in some boxes of old stuff my parents had delivered to our house that were mostly filled with books and toys from my childhood. My old James Bond books, my original Star Wars and G.I. Joe action figures and vehicles, my football cards, a basketball program from a trip to the Richfield Coliseum to see the World B. Free-led Cleveland Cavaliers against the Philadelphia 76ers, novelizations of WarGames, E.T. the Extraterrestrial, and Star Wars were all uncovered. My Marvel Illustrated Books were also in there. I mention these in my book Deus ex Comica: The Rebirth of a Comic Book Fan as a sort of precursor to today’s trade paperbacks.

I had Marvel’s comic adaptations of Conan the Barbarian and Blade Runner, along with collections of Avengers, Daredevil, and the Fantastic Four among the black-and-white Marvel Illustrated Books. But there was another book in the box that I somehow overlooked when I first rooted through it, and didn’t stumble upon it until a week or so back when I was looking for some other things in the basement. This other book is that same mass paperback size as the Marvel Illustrated Books, but this one was printed “In Full Color!” It’s DC and Marvel Present: Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk.

Besides 1982’s baxter-papered Marvel and DC Present: The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans in “Apokolips... Now!” single issue, this is the only other DC/Marvel crossover story I own. It reprints the last issue of the DC Special Series line, which began in 1977 and ran for 27 issues before ending with this “Fall 1981” dated book.

The single issue sized original printing of this story went for $2.50, but I shelled out an extra forty-five cents for this in book format. For some perspective, the going rate for Marvel’s monthly issues was fifty-cents at the time, although the aforementioned X-Men/Teen Titans book set me back two bucks.

The Len Wein written story finds the ever-wandering Dr. Robert Bruce Banner working odd jobs under an alias. He’s trying to get close to an experimental Gamma-Gun that the Gotham City Branch of Wayne Research is developing, believing it could spell the eradication of Banner’s rampaging alter ego, the Hulk. Similarly, the mechano-Skrull amalgam entity known as Shaper of Worlds is also after the gun because gamma radiation seems to alleviate his anguish. He sends the Joker into Wayne Research to steal the Gamma-Gun and the battles unfold from there across five “chapters” (much like the old Giant-Size Marvel books), bookended by a prologue and an epilogue.

What I remembered most about the story were specific Jose Garcia Lopez illustrated and Dick Giordano embellished panels, like the Joker offing Kenny, one of his own henchmen, with the poison-dipped thorns of a rose boutonnière for insinuating the Joker is afraid of Shaper of Worlds. There’s also the full-page shot of Hulk bear-hugging Batman, then later another full-pager of Banner and Bruce Wayne shaking hands with their shadows revealing their respective alter egos, and the giant Dough-Creature absorbing and containing the Hulk!

Touted on the cover as containing “The Blazing Battle You Never Expected to See!”, the 160 or so pages pack their fair share of action. Beyond just the headline DC and Marvel heroes and villains of the story, we get a nice cross-section of cameos from both sides of the fence. Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, Killer Moth, Two-Face, and Scarecrow show up from DC’s lineup, while Marvel offers Abomination, the Leader, Rhino, General Thunderbolt Ross, Doc Sampson, and Rick Jones.

Although DC and Marvel Present: Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk is not my typical reading choice (I’ve never been a huge fan of the publisher crossovers, either back in the day or now), I enjoyed the nostalgia uncovered in this little gem and time travelling back to the world of my 11-year-old self, if only for an hour or so.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The End of the Eighties, Track 12

“Time Has Got Nothing to Do with It”
Peter Murphy
Love Hysteria

Peter Murphy’s Love Hysteria album is another with close associations with Pam. She made me a mix tape early on in our relationship that began with Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” (genius song!) and included the likes of Alphaville’s “Forever Young”, Real Life’s “Send Me an Angel”, and a one-two punch of “Dragnet Drag” and “Indigo Eyes” from Murphy.

(“Dragnet Drag” side note: I originally thought Murphy was singing “World-proof world” instead of “Whirlpools whirl” the first time I heard the song, and even though I’ve known the proper lyrics for decades, there is still a part of me that stubbornly maintains my reading of it would be just as appropriate.)

Like a lot of my punk attitude, my love of this music was unlocked by Pam but grew into something wholly my own. I devoured the entire Bauhaus genealogy: the original band, Dali’s Car, Tones on Tail, Love and Rockets, and all the other side and solo projects. Murphy’s first three solo albums (1986’s Should the World Fail to Fall Apart, 1988’s Love Hysteria, 1990’s Deep) were paramount to the expansion of my musical appreciation, and I love them equally to this day.

As much as I loved those two tracks Pam put on the mix tape, it was the quiet romance of “Time Has Got Nothing to Do with It” that really spoke to me. Love Hysteria was the first album with Murphy’s new backing band, the Hundred Men, and they positively shine on this love song. After a minute-and-a-half of subtle keyboards and ringing bells, Murphy’s rich vocals usher in a solid rhythm section, and the song evolves from delicate to muscular without ever feeling overwhelming.

Murphy’s lyrics here are understated, instead playing to a feeling more than any specific or overt emotion. While Love Hysteria is solid from beginning to end, “Time Has Got Nothing to Do with It” is the point at which Murphy truly finds his voice and steps from the looming shadows of his idols (Bowie and Iggy Pop) and his past (Bauhaus).