Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Unless they make an action figure of him, that Talky Tawny/Man-Wolf crossover's not gonna happen.

How did that tiger learn to talk? And grow thumbs?
There are some things in comics that you're either going to accept or not. More often than not, these things are going to generate in an individual reader either a unconditional worshipful love, or instinctive arachnid revulsion. For example, Talky Tawny of the Captain Marvel Family. While some readers will have stars in their eyes and little hearts around their heads at the mention of the name; others will never be able to accept a talking, anthropomorphic tiger as part of the same fictional universe Batman lives in, and will hate poor Talky for it.

Yeah, you probably already know that, but I'm building to a point here. For me it's an almost unconditional love of old school Spidey villain Man-Wolf. Sigh!

This was another Power Records adaptation, so again it was a long time before I read the actual comic. "Wolfhunt!" Written by Gerry Conway, art by Ross Andru, inks by John Romita and T. Mortellaro. From Amazing Spider-Man #125 and reprinted in Marvel Tales #102. Something that isn't mentioned on the record, and that I often forget, is that this story occurs very shortly after the deaths of Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn--yes, Norm came back, but not for years and years. In fact, the opening caption dates it in the same week as their deaths. I'm glad I hit this story first, though: it would have to be a step down in intensity, if not quality, to come from the tragic ends of Spidey's first love and greatest villain, to a space werewolf.

Spidey is attacked by the snarling Man-Wolf, for the second time that night, after previously stopping Man-Wolf's attack on J. Jonah Jameson. Dumb luck for JJJ on that one: an agitated Spidey was on his way to Jameson's apartment to finally give him that long deserved ass-kicking. While he calmed down on the web-swing over, when he got there Jonah was just realizing the lunatic in his apartment wasn't a guy in a mask, but an actual, factual, werewolf.
If I ever get so depressed I don't wanna fight a werewolf, I swear I'll take whatever meds you put in front of me.

Even though the Man-Wolf nearly killed them both by pushing them off a building, Spidey is having a hard time getting worked up for this fight: without Gwen, he doesn't care why Manny attacked JJJ, or himself, or even why a werewolf at all. Then, he notices the Man-Wolf's pendant, a shiny, maroon gem. Distracted, Man-Wolf takes Spidey down, and is about to finish him off when he notices the moon setting and flees. (Like all good werewolf stories, the timing of moonrise and moonset have only the most tenuous connection to actual astronomy: the moon rises at dusk, sets at dawn, both with alarming speed.)
Admittedly, this doesn't look like one for the win column, but...
Spider-Man tries to pursue his attacker, but collapses, weakened from blood loss from the previous attack. Yet, even as he lies bloodied and beaten in a dirty alley, verbally kicking himself for letting Man-Wolf escape and getting into this mess; Spidey has won a huge victory. Intrigued by the mystery, Peter's rediscovering his purpose and sense of adventure. We all know he does the super-hero thing because of he thinks it's his responsibility, but there is some fun involved too; and Spider-Man's taking steps back towards getting back some of what he's lost after Gwen's death. Right before he passes out in bed.

Subplot: at the local coffee shop, Flash is hassling Mary Jane for moping over Peter. Flash is being an asshat, and when Harry shows up, Flash wonders how long Peter and Flash are going to have their little pity parties going. Yeah, I really just don't like Flash Thompson. Harry sends MJ running off crying, since she's supposedly dating Harry, but spending more time on Peter. So, Harry's also a dick; and this is one of the seemingly rare occasions where Mary Jane is a sympathetic character, since often in this era she was either down on Peter for ditching her, or a complete flake. (Re-reading this story and some others, the retroactive revelation that MJ always knew Peter was Spider-Man seems flimsy as hell.) Enough subplot!
John's friend was totally expecting a favor in exchange, and that's not gonna happen.
Elsewhere, Jonah is on his way to his son John's apartment, where JJJ finds him passed out on the couch, wearing the Man-Wolf's tattered yellow costume. At first, Jonah shakes John down for an explanation, but slowly stops being concerned about scandal and becomes a dad worried about his son. John explains his predicament: on a secret moon-landing, he found a shiny red rock, and decided he wanted it. He convinces a friend to boost it out of quarantine for him, figuring one more moon rock either way wouldn't matter, even if it was completely different from anything else ever found in space. Good thinking, John; but I must confess he has a very sharp pendant made out of it. A very sharp, apparently glowing red pendant. Most grown men would probably not be as enamored of phosphorescent jewelry, but John Jameson sets trends, instead of following them. Besides, if you have the stones to steal from NASA, then wear the evidence around your neck, you can probably pull that look off. Anyway, what possible harm could a glowing alien rock do?

Hmm. I was just picturing how much cooler it would have been if Luthor's kryptonite ring had turned him into some kind of hairless Man-Wolf. "Lexoloitzquintle!"

As you already guessed, the full moon turned John into the Man-Wolf, his first transformation happening while driving to his fiance's. While the inconvenient timing is neat, because I thought a young werewolf's first transformation usually happened while walking through the moors or during sex or something; Manny crashes John's car after running a truck off the road, then attacks the trucker. The trucker escapes, but given the timeframe of this story, you would think a werewolf attack would be all over the CB airwaves, in mangled pseudo-code: "Breaker, breaker, this is Long Haul Pappy: stay off the Jersey Turnpike. I got a Fuzzy Navel all up my ass. Over." At the very least, maybe the cops would be able to track Manny down since they've got his car; although John probably eventually found it and went home.

So, John's been taking Werewolf by Night's bit for at least a couple of months, changing during the full moon and running around, although apparently without successfully eating anyone. John takes the high-tech road to trying to control himself, as opposed to chaining himself down or maybe checking the calendar to see when the moon will be rising: he has a radiation suit "made to cut out the lunar rays." That idea at least has the benefit of never being tried before, but I had thought radiation suits usually had sleeves. It looks like gym clothes for the nuclear plant, and fails miserably. Not that it would work, but maybe you want to try a larger size, so you won't just wolf out and blow out the seams?
Although I know full well Man-Wolf's never sucessfully killed anyone, I'd still scream like a girl if that was coming at me.

Jonah suggests maybe taking off the pendant, and while John is understandably a bit panicked, he doesn't verbally beatdown his dad for that: "Gee, really? That was the first goddamn thing I tried! And the second! And the ninth!" The moonstone had attached itself to his neck: suffer for fashion.

Later that afternoon, Peter wakes up, and decides to try to get some info on the pendant from Joe Robertson at the Bugle. Joe tries to warn Spidey as the cops and Jonah storm in and tear gas Spidey. And probably Joe, now that I think about it. Sadly, tear-gassing his city editor probably isn't the worst thing JJJ's done to his staff, either. Spidey smashes out a window, but falls onto a pile of garbage in an alley.

The editing seems a little off here, and I think the reprint skips another subplot page with Peter and MJ: John's fiance Kristine shows up at his apartment, and although she can see the lights on, John doesn't answer, so she gets mad and leaves. John is telling Jonah he too needs to get away before he changes again, but Jonah thinks John wanted help, and makes a speech when he should be running. Helpful tip: whenever someone grows dog ears, it's time to leave. Man-Wolf gives Jonah a swat, then takes off out a skylight...boy, lots of apartments with skylights in Marvel's New York. Manny attacks a junkie, then is distracted by Kristine, who stalls her car before she can get away, and is really regretting getting the convertible right about now.
The only way this could be sillier, is if he put all the data in the Spider-Computer for the answer.
Backing up about ten minutes, Spider-Man is swinging through the city, and musing Mary Jane's accusation that he's been "pretty grim lately." Again, a week after his girlfriend died. A week. And just like that, MJ burns through her sympathy again. Griping about his life, Spidey then stumbles across the answer to the Man-Wolf question, ala Batman on an old Super Friends episode. He gets to John's address just in time, to stop Manny's attack on Kristine.
Damn, Spidey, chill. You'd think your girlfriend just died or...ooh.
Spidey tries a similar tack to John's plan, trying to block the moonlight with his webbing. By that logic, wouldn't Man-Wolf revert if he went inside? Not a great plan there. Spidey and Manny punch it out for a bit, until Spidey gets mad and rips off the pendant, along with a good lump of fur. (I love the howl-scream on the Power Records version. If I could make it my ringtone, I would.) Spidey hadn't expected it to be attached.

Jonah arrives in time for him and Kristine both to see Man-Wolf turn back into John, who doesn't have any more lines this issue as he's probably busy trying to hold his larynx in. Spidey snarkily suggests taking him to a doctor, "like you should have in the first place." Oh, the same way you went to a doctor after you found out you could climb walls? He angrily tosses the pendant (which while torn, is now in one piece again) into the river. Jonah is worried about the publicity, and Spidey rips him, and John, a new one. Spidey's big on responsibility, and to him both father and son had been careless, and lucky someone wasn't killed.

Incredibly, Man-Wolf would return in Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1, where Morbius returns the stone to John, in order to use Man-Wolf against Spidey. From there he would appear in runs of Creatures on the Loose and Marvel Premiere. In the latter, Man-Wolf was upgraded to Stargod, an extra dimensional god with a sword, bow and arrow, and intelligence. It's an idea that sounds just insane, but it has early George Perez art. Eventually, John would be cured, and would have odd jobs in the Marvel Universe like Captain America's pilot or head of security at Ravencroft Asylum (think Spider-Man's Arkham, not too derivative there).

Recently, Man-Wolf has made a comeback, in the pages of She-Hulk; and on the toy shelves as part of Toy Biz's Spider-Man line. He also appeared in Toyfare once or twice, where the description 'Spider-Man's space werewolf' was lodged in my head.

Finally, the next issue caption box: "When stalks the Kangaroo!" Wha...really? You couldn't find a better example for the hazards of the monthly comic grind: looking six months before and after this issue, we find another Spidey-Hulk fight, Gwen and the Green Goblin's deaths, a Luke Cage guest spot, two parts for Man-Wolf, then the Kangaroo, a scab replacement Vulture, then the first appearance of the Punisher, followed by the Aunt May and Doc Ock wedding story. Kind of up and down, wouldn't you say? I would defend the Man-Wolf story as perfectly serviceable fun, but even I can't scrape up a kind word or fond remembrance for the Kangaroo.

The Talky Tawny page was from Shazam!, "The Talking Tiger" reprinted in Adventure Comics #499 (digest format), art by C.C. Beck, story by Otto Binder. No reprint info was listed in the issue, and I wonder if this doesn't date back to the original Captain Marvel issues.


Sleestak said...

Man-Wolf rules! Clearly, a science fiction epic in the making, the tale ham-strung by not being able to maintain his own title and having to appear in other books.

Ignore all appearances in anything other than a solo title and it kicks rear.

Marc Burkhardt said...

Man-Wolf as Stargod was one of my favorite things ever.