Monday, 16 February 2015

COMICS SUCK! Marvel Team-Up #150 (February 1985)

30 YEARS AGO - February 1985
Cover artwork by Barry Windsor-Smith.
MARVEL TEAM-UP #150 (Marvel Comics)
"Tis Better to Give!"
By Louise Simonson (w); Greg LaRocque (p); Mike Esposito (i); Janice Chiang (l); Bob Sharen (c) & Danny Fingeroth (e)
This is the tear-soaked final issue of what had been a staple at Marvel Comics for well over a decade. The Spider-Man featured team-up book where every month the editors would trot out another slumping or rising hero in an effort to boost sales company-wide. I never understood their appeal as a child, but I could see why Marvel Team-Up and it's The Thing featured companion, Marvel Two-In-One could inspire some of the nostalgia I see today. It being the final issue it feels like Marvel wanted to let the world know what it was potentially missing out on by teaming Spidey with the X-Men. Either that or it was one last ditch attempt at a re-coup. Were the X-Men popular in 1985? I don't know what it was like where you lived but I couldn't find an X-Men comic on shelves during the 80's and early 90's outside of comics specialty shops, they were sold out everywhere.

The story kicks off with Spidey/Peter Parker in another of his endless awkward situations of flirting with girls while trying to maintain his secret identity. The gaiety is eventually interrupted when Juggernaut drops in to town, from a plane, without a parachute, to retrieve a second gem of the Cyttorak (that thing what gives him his power) to give to his buddy Black Tom Cassidy. Black Tom then gains the same powers as Juggernaut (invulnerability, super-strength) but is unhappy with how the power changes him. The two brawl in the streets causing millions of dollars in property damage which was par for the course in 1980's Marvel Manhattan. Spidey's there to snap pictures and get beat on until he points his eyes toward the heavens and shouts "DEUS EX MACHINA!" and the X-Men show up to save the day. Okay, he doesn't actually shout that, but that's basically what happens. The series ends when Petey discovers he's sent the wrong photos to the Daily Bugle, sending the creep stalker pics he took of his attractive young roof-dwelling sunbathing neighbors. But it ends well with approval from his editor Robbie Robertson. If nothing else, it is kind of funny to see a dejected Spidey sulking away in the upper left hand info box on the cover.

This series had some highlights (the short Chris Claremont / John Byrne creative run for one thing), but was mostly for the dogs. Many of the stories simply fell flat, or seemed inconsequential, not the least of which was a Spider-Man team-up with the cast of Saturday Night Live. Mostly, the title was a showcase for emerging artists but was usually the home of the company's least inspired writing. This issue marked the end of an era, however. Marvel Comics has tried repeatedly to revive the team-up format in the ensuing 30 years with little success.

After reading their translated copy of Marvel Team-Up #150, the cooler kids among the Italian youth of 1985 probably went out to the local record shop and snagged themselves a copy of this unheralded gem:

It's only thanks to the good people at Shadow Kingdom Records that I am able to accurately cast my mind back to 1985 Italy and know what record the youth of that time would have devoured. This totally obscure album was re-issued by SKR on CD in late 2011, the original, 7-song 'Land of Mystery' album re-packaged with the band's fifth independently issued demo from later in 1985. You can purchase and download it at this location.

The album was recorded in May & June of 1985 but since nobody remembers the actual release date I'm using poetic license in this post about February 1985 and anyway, I couldn't find a better album from that month of that year, so here we are.

This highly atmospheric album is a doom metal classic. Near as anyone can figure, Black Hole was the first band to combine horror film soundtrack moods with heavy metal. The result is a stunning record full of synthesizer organ and heavy guitars. Robert Measles's vocals are sung in English but he has a thick Italian accent, reminding me of early Doomraiser albums.

If the title track "Land of Mystery" doesn't automatically transport you mentally to a dew shrouded graveyard, your ears are broken. Not since Black Sabbath's eponymous debut had record buyers fell into such a dark, heavy abyss. I talk a lot about horror music on this page, or at least I try to, this album is one of the transcendent examples of the form.

After 'Land of Mystery' was released by Bologna Rock Records, the band would split up. Black Hole also released three demos in 1985, but it's hard to tell which came first, this record or the demos because there are no release dates. Anyway, the band would reconvene and record a second full length record in 1988-89 but that album did not surface until Andromeda Relix Records released it on CD as 'Living Mask' in 2000 (it was also issued for the first time on vinyl just last year by Jolly Roger Records). By that time the band was ten years gone and their place in doom metal history as a shadowy relic was firmly entrenched.

But after thoroughly frightening themselves with the final issue of Marvel Team-Up and being only slightly less disturbed by Black Hole's album, I'm sure the coolest among Italian youth needed a break from all the darkness and so decided to go the local movie house to see the new Terry Gilliam film, Brazil.

It's a weird mash-up of re-imagining George Orwell's 1984 with Mad Max set in an office building imagery. A (hilarious) dream of flying turned bureaucratic nightmare, Brazil is one of the most singular visions in movie history, which cemented Gilliam's place in Hollywood as an a-list creative genius, but a z-list commercial failure. Brazil stars Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Kim Greist, Michael PalinKatherine Helmond, Bob Hoskins, and Ian Holm. Watch the trailer below:


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