5BC: Five More Times Marvel Self-Mythologized

As assorted readers pointed out, there were a lot more instances of creators at both Marvel and DC including themselves as characters in the stories that they produced than I covered in the prior two pieces about Self-Mythologizing. And so, since this is a concept that seems to have attracted some audience interest, here then are five more times when Marvel self-mythologized.

NOVA #5 – By a total fluke, this story and the one presented in FANTASTIC FOUR #176 (and talked about in one of the earlier pieces) were being worked on simultaneously in 1976. And so, writer Marv Wolfman coordinated his efforts with the FF’s Roy Thomas so that the two stories share some jokes in common–such as the door to the editor’s office having a succession of names on it, indicating the rapid turn-over in the position in the 1970s (and ending with YOUR NAME) In this issue, the new super hero Nova is contacted by the creative team on his series, Marv and artist Sal Buscema. They want to convince Marvel to launch a new comic book series based on the Human Rocket, but that will require convincing publisher and big shot Stan Lee of the commercial viability of the new young hero. This entails two visits to the Marvel offices (bracked by an adventure against Tyrannus in which Marv and Sal sneak along as observers.) As in FF #176, Stan turns Nova down for a title, saying that Marvel can only publish proven hits, not new concepts while a poster of Spider-Man is visible over his shoulder. Roy would use a derivation of this same bit in the FF issue.

HOWARD THE DUCK #16 – We’ve spoken before about how much of an individualist and an iconoclast writer Steve Gerber was. This story is a good example of how his mind worked–literally. It came about because Gerber and his creative team was late on getting HOWARD THE DUCK completed. Rather than slot in an emergency fill-in as was usually done in these instances, Gerber took it upon himself to draft in a bevy of his artist friends to each turn around a double-page illustration in jig time, and he then proceeded to write a long stream-of-consciousness autobiographical essay that ran in tiny type across all of the pages. It does seem on the one hand that the time Gerber used for this essay could have been used instead to write the needed issue of HOWARD, but that wouldn’t have gotten Gene Colan’s artwork done any sooner. It’s a bravura performance from Gerber, and probably more memorable than an ordinary issue would have been–and far more welcome than a reprint, especially this early into the run. It also features the first appearances of characters who would go on to inspire Gerber’s later Vertigo series NEVADA thirty-or-so years later. And it likely wouldn’t have worked in any other book; Gerber and Howard were synonymous in the minds of much of the title’s readership. Artistic contributors to this issue included Alan Weiss, Ed Hannigan, Marie Severin, Dave Cockrum, Tom Palmer, Al Milgrom, John Buscema, Dick Giordano and Mike Nasser

THE THING #7 – Assistant Editor’s Month was a promotional stunt that Marvel did in 1983, and which lent itself to all sorts of real-life Marvel creators and staff members showing up in the books. The conceit was that all of the main editors of the Marvel books were all going to be off at the San Diego Comic Convention for a month, and so it was their crazy, off-the-wall assistant editors who would be shepherding the comics during that time. This was mostly an excuse for wacky shenanigans (and in point of fact, while these stories were mostly handled by the assistant editors, the editors themselves were still involved with them.) In the case of John Byrne, who held some fondness for the early stories in which Stan Lee and his artists would appear in the stories, this let him run wild. We covered FANTASTIC FOUR #262 previously, but John also turns up in THE THING #7, along with the rest of the creative team of Ron Wilson, artist, and Ann Nocenti, assistant editor. The bit here is that the lead story was produced as an overblown epic in which the Thing fights a desperate fight against the absurd villain Goody Two-Shoes. In the back-up, written and drawn by Byrne, the Thing shows up at the Marvel offices to complain about his depiction in the lead tale, and to knock some sense into the egotistical Byrne. Byrne plays into his reputation as a prima donna in this story–he’s got a colossal office with his name in stars on the door, and Ann Nocenti is afraid that John will fire her on a whim. Yet somehow, whenever Byrne would do these sorts of routines, they somehow always came across as containing just a little bit of truth to them–the kind of thing Marvel editor Steve Wacker would often call “The Joke That Was Really Serious.”

UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #7 – While it wasn’t overtly billed as a part of Assistant Editor’s Month, that year’s UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL was also prepared at around that same time, and played along with the overall gag. The slapstick story involves the Impossible Man returning toe Earth as part of a scavenger hunt competition with his children. Throughout the issue, Impy rampages’ across the Marvel Universe, swiping assorted unlikely items along the way, and being pursued by his first victims, the X-Men. The chase winds up in the new offices of Marvel Comics, where Impy causes chaos very much in line with that old FANTASTIC FOUR issue that Roy Thomas had written, but this time featuring the 1980s Marvel staff (including Eliot Brown, who was the hands-on editor of this Annual.) It’s a particularly lightweight outing, and the Marvel cameos feel as though they’re being done for the people in the office rather than the audience. As with most of the X-Men stories at this time, it was written by Chris Claremont and illustrated mainly by Michael Golden, with an assist from Bret Blevins on a chunk of pages–that and the sheer number of inkers involved lead me to believe that Golden ran into some deadline problems here and had to be bailed out.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #311 – This was right at the start of Mark Gruenwald’s ten year tenure as the writer of the star-spangled avenger, and it features a development that is well remembered by those who read it, albeit one that is derided more often than it is praised. In this issue, commercial artist Steve Rogers is looking for work, and so he brings his samples to the headquarters of Marvel Comics. There, Mike Carlin, the new editor of CAPTAIN AMERICA, offers Steve the job of drawing his own comic book. This was a weird bit of meta-commentary, in that the idea was that Cap would go off and fight, say, MODOK, and then come home and draw himself fighting MODOK. But it did mean that for several issues, Carlin and other members of the Marvel Bullpen were regulars in the series–write what you know, yes? Eventually, this status quo faded away as Cap went through some other changes–primarily among them being replaced by John Walker. Still, every once in a while, the fact that Cap drew for Marvel Comics is still trotted out. The actual artist on this story was Paul Neary.

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