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posted March 24, 2005
Mark Gruenwald, Paul Ryan, Al Williamson, Paul Becton, Phil Felix, Ralph Macchio and Jim Shooter
Marvel Comics, 32 pages. $.75
The weirdest thing about reading a Marvel Comic from the 1980s is how chock full of plot this sucker is. This character named Mastodon, whom we learn was a wimpy guy with an unrealized crush and dead mommy issues who grew a lot and became super strong yet homeless looking, undergoes training with a deep woods sensei, wanders into the real world, tries to fight off some bounty hunters, finds himself in a haunted house, quickly locates a family of ESP-savvy survivors that live there, and then wanders away again. The subplot, by which the rest of D.P.7
has been captured by an evil institute, has not one but two full sections in which a bad guy is both set-up as a threat and eliminated. I swear, this would be three years of a modern comic book.
It's still not very good. It looks fine, with competent, three-tier storytelling from Paul Ryan and great-looking superhero inks from the breaks-your-heart-to-hear-it Al Williamson. But the story is so talky it's like reading a comic that intentionally hashes out every point because it's aimed at a specialty audience of dimwits or non-English speakers. "I think I heard something move upstairs," thinks our hero, moving upstairs. He manages to muse, "They're never going to let up on me! Somehow as soon as I knew where I was, they did, too. All the hand-to-hand combat skills The Woodsman taught me are worthless while I'm a sitting duck" while leaping from a movie truck, where most of us would be thinking, "Ow! GRRR! Unnh!" This may be an affectation of Marvel Comics derived from Stan Lee's work, but it's the wrong lesson to be taken from Stan Lee, turning The Man's occasional poor reading of the action in front of him into a style.
The New Universe in which D.P.7
took place was Jim Shooter's attempt to start another comics "universe" and therefore provide readers with an exciting experience akin to that enjoyed by readers encountering the original Marvel comics. If it had worked, it would have cemented both Marvel's corporate identity as a maker of fantasy worlds and maybe even Shooter's status in comics history. It was a big disaster, mostly because the early Marvel comics were about unique execution, not conceptual work, and there wasn't a new way of looking at comics to be had along with these new comics. I don't mean to suggest that the concepts were any good, either -- escaped mental patient superheroes? -- but that they were obviously all high concepts rather than inspired innovation from one creative mind. I always expected some of the characters to return in a surprise attack on Marvel's traditional superheroes, but as far as I know, they haven't.