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Retro Reviews: Bring On the Bad Guys

Written by Kyle Benning on Monday, September 23 2013 and posted in Reviews

Retro Reviews: Bring On the Bad Guys

Kyle Benning takes a look at one of the first graphic novels ever published.

I’m going way back this week, to take a look at a book I first read around the age of 6, courtesy of my local public library. This week I’m going to take a look at the book Bring on the Bad Guys, which served as my first introduction to Marvel villains like Loki, Green Goblin, and Mephisto. In addition to the villains introduced to me in this collection, it was also my first introduction to the character Doctor Strange, who through his battles with the Dread Dormammu, instantly became one of my favorite Marvel characters.

This collection was originally published by Simon and Schuster in cooperation with Marvel Comics in 1976 as a part of the Fireside Book Series on Marvel Comics. The series lasted through 11 volumes (Bring on the Bad Guys being volume #3), and included books like Origins of Marvel Comics (which tells the origins of Marvel’s most popular heroes), The Superhero Women of Marvel Comics, Greatest Superhero Battles, as well as spotlight books on Marvel’s most popular properties and characters. One of these books, Silver Surfer: The Ultimate Cosmic Experience, included all new, original material, technically making it the first Graphic Novel ever. I’m sure I’ll cover some more of these collections in future segments. Bring on the Bad Guys reprints stories featuring Marvel’s greatest villains in tales hand selected by Stan Lee himself. There are seven chapters, each spotlighting a villain of one of Marvel’s most popular heroes of the time. Each chapter also features a 3-4 page introduction by Stan Lee, introducing the villain with a brief recounting of his cooperation with the artist in bringing the villain’s tale to the pages of Marvel Comics.

Chapter one features Doctor Doom, the premiere villain of Marvel’s first family, the Fantastic Four. It reprints Fantastic Four #5, which is Doom’s first appearance, as well as Fantastic Four Annual #2 from 1964, which tells Doom’s origin story, from his life as a boy living in a gypsy camp in Latveria, to his return to Latveria as its ruler following his disfigurement in a college experiment gone awry. These stories were both written by Stan Lee, with pencil art by Jack Kirby, inks by Chic Stone, and letters by Sam Rosen. I honestly believe that Stan and Jack’s run on Fantastic Four were the best comics ever produced by this creator Dream Team, and also represent their best individual works ever. This wasn’t the tired and slightly disgruntled Jack Kirby of the twilight of his career, this was Jack Kirby when he was in his prime, firing on all cylinders, and fully worthy of the “King of Comics” crown bestowed upon him by Stan Lee. His art is full of energy, and so dynamic that it nearly leaps off the page. These two Fantastic Four stories collected in this book, along with his Captain America work also collected in Bring on the Bad Guys, are two of the finest examples of Kirby’s amazing work. Nearly 50 years later and these two tales still hold up. This is by no means bashing on the comics of the time, but many of the comics produced in the Silver Age by both Marvel & DC can be very tough to read, bogged down by convulated plots and overly verbose tales. Neither of these Fantastic Four stories suffer from these problems, as Stan relies on Jack’s amazing art and storytelling to deliver these action packed tales, both of which would be combined and adapted in the 1994 Fantastic Four animated series episodes “The Mask of Doom” parts 1-3.

The next chapter stars the Dread Dormammu, arch nemesis of Master of the Mystic Arts, Doctor Strange. Reprinted in this collection are the Dormammu stories originally told in Strange Tales #126 & #127. Both of these stories were written by Stan Lee, with art by the legendary Steve Ditko, and letters by Art Simek & Sam Rosen. Ditko’s work on Doctor Strange is right up there with his great work on Amazing Spider-Man and the Question as the best of his career. In these stories we see Doctor Strange venture to the Realm of Darkness for the first time in a showdown with its ruler the Dread Dormammu, to prevent DD from coming to earth and enslaving it below his evil wrath. The Realm of Darkness is brought to life in some beautiful yet twisted art by Ditko. We see Doctor Strange overcome a gauntlet of challenges and other-worldly villains, all while shouting spells like “By the twelve moons of Munnipor.” At last Dr. Strange meets Dormammu in a final showdown, with the fate of Earth hanging in the balance. Dormammu’s introduction proved successful and loved by readers, as he would become a mainstay in the Marvel Universe, and much to my enjoyment, even appear in a couple of episodes of the 90’s Spider-Man cartoon.

Chapter Three introduces Thor’s arch-nemesis and adoptive brother Loki. Reprinted is Loki’s origin story as originally told in Journey Into Mystery #112, #113, and #115. The collection also reprints the Thor story for Journey Into Mystery #115, an action packed tale where Thor battles Loki in an attempt to rescue the kidnapped Jane Foster. Loki’s origin, as well as the battle with Thor story, are written by Stan Lee, (like all other stories collected in Bring on the Bad Guys) with this chapter showcasing some more pencils by Jack Kirby, with inks provided by long time Kirby collaborator Vince Colleta, as well as Frank Ray, and letters provided by Art Simek. Now obviously Thor & Loki represent parts of Norse mythology that predate Marvel comics by several hundreds of years, so they were not the creation of Lee and Stan, but instead were tweaked by them. From what Norse texts have been discovered and deciphered, there is no real clear indication of Loki’s origins, but it fairly evident that Loki was not connected or a part of the house of Odin. However, Stan and Jack changed this, giving Loki a clear origin of being the son of the King of the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, Laufey, who Odin slain in battle. Odin finds infant Loki, wrapped in clothes abandoned on the battlefield, and raises him as his own alongside his son Thor. This origin of course would become cemented in Marvel’s Thor mythos, and be the origin adapted for Loki in the Thor & Avengers movie franchises. As Thor and Loki grow up together as boys, and it becomes apparent very quickly that Loki has malice in his heart and is extremely jealous of his brother Thor, a dynamic that Stan nails in portraying Loki’s motivations for becoming his brother’s most dangerous antagonist.

The fourth installment is another unique scenario, as it reprints the reintroduction of Captain America’s main antagonist, the Red Skull, to 60’s Marvel Readers. Captain America, like his arch nemesis the Red Skull were the creation of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the early 1940’s, printed in the pages of one of Marvel Comic’s predecessor’s, Timely Comics. With Captain America’s revival in the 1960’s, courtesy of his frozen body being discovered in the pages of Avengers #4, it was only a matter of time before his foe the Red Skull would also return. Bring on the Bad Guys collects the Red Skull stories originally printed in Tales of Suspense #66, #67, and #68, which were written by Stan Lee, with pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Chic Stone, and letters by Art Simek & Frank Ray. Like the Fantastic Four issues reprinted in this collection, these Captain America stories in Tales of Suspense represent some of Jack Kirby’s finest work. There is so much energy in each panel, and Chic Stone’s inks are the perfect fit.

Chapter five stars the most personal of Spider-Man’s villain, the Green Goblin. Bring on the Bad Guys reprints Amazing Spider-Man #40, the issue that deals with the newly revealed secret identity of the Green Goblin, as none other than Peter’s best friend’s father, scientist & industrialist Norman Osborn. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine how much impact this revelation must have had at the time of its original release. In my entire lifetime, it has always been common knowledge that the Green Goblin and Norman Osborn have been one in the same, so I’ve always taken that knowledge for granted. In fact, since this was my first introduction to the Green Goblin, I knew he was Norman Osborn, before I ever knew who Norman Osborn was, and why this was such a big deal. Since then, every reimagining of the story as retold in comics or another media, have kept the Goblin’s identity a secret for all of 5 minutes before spilling the beans. But at the time this issue came out, readers had been introduced to the Green Goblin as early as Amazing Spider-Man #14 and had to wait another 2 years before his secret identity was finally revealed. I’m sure the big reveal left quite a few readers shocked when Amazing Spider-Man #39 and 40 first hit newsstands back in 1966. The Romita art is this issue is amazing, he definitely lives up to his legend status. At this point, it was still very early into his Spider-Man run, as #40 was only Romita’s second issue on the title. He would go on to do art on over 130 issues of Amazing Spider-Man. This issue deals with the fallout as Spider-Man is captured by the Green Goblin, and they learn each other’s secret identities, needless to say the ramifications of that can’t be just dealt with in one issue!

The next chapter reprints the debut of Hulk’s strongest villain, the Abomination. Reprinted in this collection are the first two appearances of the Abomination, originally printed in Tales to Astonish #90 & #91. This features some gorgeous Gil Kane art with letters again by Sam Rosen. Tales to Astonish became the Hulk’s main appearance book with issue #59 of the series, after his first solo title, Incredible Hulk Vol. 1, was cancelled after issue #6 at the end of 1962/early 1963. The Hulk would continue to star in Tales to Astonish as a mainstay alongside other characters such as Ant-Man and Namor. The title continued until issue #101, after which the two stars of the title, Hulk and Namor received their own solo series. Incredible Hulk Vol. 2 continued the numbering of Tales to Astonish, debuting with issue #102. Kane draws a great Hulk and it’s too bad he only drew the character for the Tales to Astonish Hulk stories in issues #87-91. Let’s face it, everyone wants to see Hulk smash! That’s one of the main reasons why the Hulk has captured the interest of so many over the decades, and what’s the only thing better than one gamma powered green monster smashing things? How about two gamma powered green monsters smashing things and they smash each other?! The Abomination would go on to be perhaps the most prominent and popular of Hulk’s villains, even today, which warranted him becoming Hulks antagonist in the 2008 Hulk movie.

The final chapter reprints Silver Surfer #3, which features the introduction of incarnation of evil itself, the Silver Surfer villain known as Mephisto. In this issue we see Mephisto offer the Silver Surfer his heart’s greatest desire, to be reunited with his one true love, Shalla-Bal in exchange for the Surfer’s soul. If you’re familiar with the Fantastic Four, you’re probably familiar with the plight of the Silver Surfer, who was first introduced in the pages of Fantastic Four #48. He served as the Herald to Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds, surfing the skyways in search for planets for Galactus to feast upon, in exchange for sparing his homeworld. Once he chooses to stand with Earth’s heroes against his master, he is punished, no longer able to surf the wide cosmos, he is confined to Earth’s solar system, no longer able to make the journey home and see his long lost love. This Stan Lee penned tale is brought to life by some absolutely gorgeous John Buscema pencils and Joe Sinnott inks. In a book full of amazing art that leaps off the page, by a cast of legendary Marvel artists, the art in this tale is my favorite, and that is truly saying something! John Buscema is a master storyteller, and his work on the Surfer and bringing Mephisto to life is absolutely breath taking. I have to be honest, the first time I read this story back at the age of 6, I was absolutely terrified. There isn’t any subtly to the fact that Mephisto is the devil himself, as we see the embodiment of evil in face-to-face showdown with the Marvel Universe embodiment of purity and goodness. Now that’s a battle for the ages!

This book served as a gateway drug for me, introducing and hooking me on the larger Marvel Superhero Universe, a Universe that at that time had been almost entirely limited to Byrne’s awesome runs on Fantastic Four (for more on that see here), Alpha Flight, and Hulk, as well as the Bill Mantlo & Sal Buscema run on Hulk. It really fueled my imagination and interest in superhero comics and what else was out there and available in addition to the comics I had already read. When I originally read Bring on the Bad Guys at the age of 6, I was only interested in the reprinted comics themselves, and not the stories from Stan before each tale. Revisiting the collection now, all of Stan’s thoughts and tales on the creation of the character are almost as enjoyable as the comic stories themselves now 50 years later.

Let’s face it, if you’re reading this, you obviously are not only interested and passionate about the comic stories themselves, but the stories behind them from the creators as well. This book had a great impact on me, and I would assume a vast number of new readers for almost two decades following its release. It lead to me being on my best behavior and begging my mom to buy me 2-3 new comics in the checkout line every time we went to our local grocery store. Rereading this book from cover to cover again this past weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to see that not just a few, BUT ALL of the stories reprinted in Bring on the Bad Guys still hold up today, almost 50 years after they were originally published. I can’t recommend this collection enough.

It’s hard to imagine a world where the comic industry didn’t revolve around collected editions and trade paperbacks. This book, along with the other volumes of the Fireside Book series stood alone as the sole collected editions of theses comics. Aside from these collected editions, the only other collections and reprints were done via the “68 Page Giant-Size” books which collected a couple of past stories as well as a new short story. Or you could track down some of Marvel’s designed reprint series, which began to pop up in the late 60’s and early 70’s, like Marvel Super-Heroes, Marvel Collector’s Item Classic, or World’s Greatest Comics Magazine, that reprinted milestone issues of Marvel series from the mid 60’s and earlier. Throw in the occasional reprint of a past issue of an ongoing series because an artist or writer or was late (such as Fantastic Four #180 which reprinted issue #101), and you’re looking at the only few options you had of finding past tales of Marvel’s favorite heroes and their vile villains.

That is almost impossible to imagine nowadays, where we as comics readers are subjugated to slow paced, drug out 6-12 issue story arcs that are written for the sole purpose of being collected and sold again as a Hardcover, soft cover trade paperback, and most likely an expensive Super Deluxe Totally Awesome Special Edition Hardcover with exclusive never before seen variant cover, all within 2 months of the conclusion issue of the series hitting shelves. That type of mentality didn’t exist back then, making this collected edition that much more special as the one stop shop for all of these villain’s origins at one heck of a deal. The book was 253 pages wrapped in a gorgeous John Romita painted cover, all for an incredible $6.95 cover price. This collection was eventually reprinted and rereleased by Marvel in the 1990’s with some new additions and tweaks. Track this one down, it truly is a collection spotlighting the best of the comics Marvel churned out during their explosion and rise to prominence in the early Silver Age of comics.

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