Sunday, May 10, 2020

Marvel's 1994 X-Men/Captain Universe personalized comic

The above advertisement and mail-in form appeared in a lot of Marvel Comics in 1994; I remember seeing it all the time, but I never went ahead and placed an order. The ad was for an X-Men/Captain Universe crossover comic (officially titled "X-Men/Captain Universe: Sleeping Giants") that would be personalized for each and every order. If that weren't cool enough, the book had a cover by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt.

I probably never got this because of a combination of things: I was never a big X-Men fan, I didn't want to rip anything out of my comics, and at 13, $14.95 plus shipping seemed like a lot of money. Still, probably because of that dang cover, it was one of the various promotional comics that has managed to stick in my mind ever since I saw it.

Twenty-five years later, the book is relatively hard to find and usually not cheap, either, but after searching for a number of years, I managed to get a copy. It was a little beat up and didn't have the accompanying trading card, but at least I was able to get one for a price that wasn't too steep.

And then, of course, two weeks later, I found another, nicer copy for even cheaper. What can I say? The (Captain) universe is funny like that. So now I have two copies of this mail-in book, ones that once belonged to Josh Meinhausen and Allen Bechy. Josh's copy was more well-read, to be sure. I also get the feeling that the post office didn't take great care of these in transit back in '94. Nice copies are tough to come by.

Captain Universe is a relatively obscure cosmic Marvel character, which combines the "Enigma Force" (sometimes called the "Uni-Power") with a nearby host; the idea here is that Captain Universe is "the hero who could be you!" So in times of crisis, the power is granted to someone in need. That seems built in for a story like this, where folks could write in and get their name in an actual Marvel Comic.

From what I can gather, the trading card (also personalized) came stuck, face down, to the front cover when it arrived. Maybe the white strip had sticky stuff (official term) on it or something. Anyway, mine is detached, but it doesn't take anything away from the presentation. And the card is harder to find than the book, for obvious reasons. This also features Hildebrandt Bros. artwork!

Let's take a look inside the book. One thing that became obvious really quickly was that the book takes absolutely every opportunity to put the buyer's name in. It probably shows up, almost shamelessly, 30 times throughout the book. You're welcomed on the inside front cover with a letter from Stan Lee himself.

Allen Bechy's copy had text that didn't line up super well in the printing process, which I'm sure what a disappointment at the time. And the personalized text has a different weight and feel to it than the other, standard stuff, but it's still kind of impressive that this worked out at all on such a large scale.

The story is by Bob Budiansky and Jim Craig, both industry veterans if not stars. The plot is fairly generic: a kid (ostensibly you) travels to New York City where bad stuff happens. You're transformed into Captain Universe, team up with the X-Men (after a brief confrontation), and save the day. Everything about it is very 1990s, but it's about what you might expect from a comic like this from '94.

"Suddenly, I'm not plain old Allen Bechy anymore!"

The X-Men show up at the shopping mall where this all goes down. Wolverine is unnecessarily aggressive the whole way through.

See? Wolverine threatens to rip your lungs out. For no reason! Why did this make it into the book?

The mail-in form asked for your home town, for the purpose of tossing it out there a few times. So now we're closer to showing up at Allen Bechy's house in Utica, NY.

It also asked for a friend's name, as your character stops to make a phone call. Josh's friend was "Dad".

Well, it looks like Captain Universe saves the day! Here's some more poorly aligned text! Oh well.

On the inside back cover, you can get a personalized letter from Charles Xavier.

The back cover also folds out into a double-sided poster, complete with your name on both. These are also by the Hildebrandts, and are more satisfying to look at than the entire interior comic.

A lot of kids tore their posters out, as well, so I'm lucky that I was able to get a copy that was in good shape.

The very back cover - also personalized, as no space could go to waste - tells you a little bit about Captain Universe.

There are two versions of this book: one with a male Captain Universe and one with a female version. As you might expect, the female version of the book is much more rare and thus expensive. I don't know if I'll ever shell out $300 for that version, but I'm at least happy to have finally found a copy for myself. It was an ambitious and fun concept and I'm sure it made a lot of kids happy for Christmas of '94.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Marvel Fanfare 46 original art

Hello everyone! It's been a while since I've gotten any original art, but I was recently able to grab the above page and I wanted to show it off.

This page comes from Marvel Fanfare #46, an '80s anthology title; this issue, as you can see by the cover, featured the Fantastic Four. The cover story has the Mad Thinker stuck in the body of his Awesome Android, so he comes to the FF for help.

The artwork is by Louis Williams with inks by Bob Wiacek. And since this page is pre-2000s, it's got all of the glorious lettering, as well. Jim Novak added them right on the art, as opposed to pasting them on as some letterers would.

I'm especially excited to have all four team members on the page. Reed certainly gets his share of panel space on this page.

But of course, there's also good ol' Ben Grimm, who manages to get a few good lines in, as well. That panel on the left is a great one, with really nice linework from Williams and Wiacek. Oh, and there's the tiny little page number pasted on at the bottom!

Flipping the page over, there's an extra sketch, presumably by Williams, too! I love little additions like this. The page is surprisingly clean overall, with only a little Wite Out on the front, and none of the editorial notes that I'm used to seeing. It's another great FF page to add to the collection!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Whatcha reading?

If you've got a comic book collection, then you probably have a few stacks of unread books. Over the past few years, I've slowly fallen behind on reading the new comics I get every month coupled with the back issues I've also picked up. I've kind of been resigned to the fact that I would never catch up - ever - but then, what do you know? A global pandemic can stop almost all comic book production in North America.

The last full week of comics shipping from Diamond distributors was at the end of March, and Diamond recently announced that they would start shipping once again for books that go on sale May 20th. That means we've got about two months with only a few new comics coming out - DC managed to get a few books to stores in April through some new distribution channels - and I actually got to the end of my "new comics" pile a few days ago.

Because there's not much else going on, I thought I'd share a few titles that I've got lined up to read during these interesting times.

The last few books I read from my "new" stack were DC's oversized 80th anniversary titles that just came out: Flash, Wonder Woman and Robin. I was surprised to find that the Robin issue was the best of the bunch. DC obviously had a hit with Action Comics and Detective Comics #1000, and now they're doing it with every book they have. Ah well.

The first new books to come out after the March shutdown were the Walmart DC Giants in the middle of April. I'll admit that I was somewhat comforted when I found them in their usual place at the checkout line. Our Fighting Forces, in particular, was actually pretty good. Oh, and the Batman: Caped Crusader Giant was actually a Target exclusive from a couple months ago, but I only found it recently (before we all went on lockdown).

I finally took the time to complete my run of Route 666 from the now-defunct Crossgen Comics. I came very late to the Crossgen party when they were up and running; I started reading El Cazador and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, just about a year before the company went belly-up in the early 2000s. Route 666 is something of a PG horror story; I'm enjoying it, even though it gets repetitive at times.

Any suggestions for other Crossgen titles I should pick up? I've got my eye on Negation. I know this company crashed quite spectacularly back in the day, but I appreciate their willingness to try out different genres.

The X-Men's Beast had a short run on Amazing Adventures back in the '70s - this is where he first changed to his furry form, although he's grey in this series. I don't know what possessed me to pick up his appearances in this title; I'm not a great fan of Hank McCoy or the X-Men in general, but I guess he's only in seven issues and only the first is a bit pricey. It's pretty much what you'd expect - overwrought superhero drama that tends to be a bit over-expository. But the covers are nice and it was an interesting change for the character that has seemed to stick.

Back in November, at the Rhode Island Comic Con, I found and bought the entire "Just Imagine Stan Lee" line of DC titles. It interested me when I first saw it, about 20 years ago, but there were too many titles and the prestige format meant a price tag that was too hefty for me at the time. Luckily, these books have not held their value at all, so I was able to get them all for a pretty cheap price. These books are currently in the on-deck circle, so to speak (remember sports?). I don't have great expectations for any of these, but the art on most of these looks great, and it's an interesting concept, at least.

Lastly, we've got Friday, a new digital series from Ed Brubaker and Marcos Martin, published by Panel Syndicate. I don't have any great interest in digital comics, especially ones that I know will eventually be printed. But I enjoy Brubaker and absolutely love Martin, and other books from Panel Syndicate have been top notch, so I got this first issue. And what do you know? It's great. I highly recommend it. You can download it here:

Well, that's it for now. I hope that everyone is safe and continues to, you know, stay inside and read comics. What are you reading these days? Leave a comment and let me know!