In this episode we’ll take a look back at the first issue of Marvel Comics Micronauts that hit the spinner racks on September 19, 1978.
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When Marvel Comics launched its Epic Comics creator-owned line of titles in 1982, I had a tough time trying to decide which of the new titles would be included in my monthly comic book budget. Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar and Steve Englehart’s Coyote were occasional purchases, but there was one Epic title that stood out the most for me starting with issue #1 and would be my top purchase with each new issue: 1984’s Alien Legion by the creative team of Carl Potts, Alan Zelenetz, Frank Cirocco and Terry Austin.
Frank Cirocco’s painted cover for Alien Legion #1 drew me in from the first moment I saw it on the spinner rack of my local comic shop. The $2.00 cover price was a bit steep for me back then considering the going rate for most Marvel and DC titles on my purchase list was $.60. But at 48 pages on higher quality paper (I wish today’s comics were printed on Baxter paper!), it was worth sacrificing the two additional titles I could have bought. Though a recent look back at my purchases shows I still had a decent comics haul that month.
The inside cover’s “state of the galaxy” does a great job setting up the first story by describing the roles of the governing body, the TOPHAN Galactic Union (TGU), and the Alien Legion, mercenaries comprised of different races from throughout the Union. The TGU is made up of elected officials from the Thermor, Ophides and Auron galaxies (hence TOPHAN) with established treaties, trade agreements and peacekeeping responsibilities throughout the galaxy. The Alien Legion are the grunts sent in for the dirty work. Page one of issue #1 sums them up best: “Footsloggers and soldiers of fortune, priests and poets, killers and cads – they fight for a future Galarchy, for cash, a cause, for the thrill of adventure. Legionnaires live rough and they die hard, tough as tungsten and loyal to the dirty end.” How could I not buy this issue off the rack?
The “dossiers” of six of the main legionnaires give each of their backgrounds: Torie Montroc, the human university graduate forced to join by his wealthy father in order to earn a trust fund; Sarigar, the serpentine alien leader of the unit featured in the title; Jugger Grimrod, the anti-social weapons expert; Durge, the former wrestler known for his bravery; Meico, the kind-hearted former refugee; and Torqa Dun, the former bureaucrat who’s in it for the money more than the honor of service.
The story begins in space when a Legion ship, en route to disrupt an illegal mining operation on the nearby moon Wedifact IV, is sneak attacked by a squadron of enemy Harkilons. The Legion ship, badly damaged, fights back just long enough for two shuttles (Vector and Nomad) to escape to their destination. But despite the destruction of the main ship and the loss of half of their colleagues, the surviving 28 legionnaires still have a job to do.
Lieutenant Montroc, piloting Nomad, and Vector’s Lieutenant Birkh confirm their orders from Captain Sarigar: observe the operation from the air, then rendezvous with Captains Sarigar and Phyte to plan further action. Birkh’s team spots the illegal mining operation, but what looks to be a routine plan is thrown off when the mine’s defense battery knocks out Vector shuttle, crash landing it to the surface.
Before Birkh’s team can even assess their surroundings, they’re ambushed by rogue miners led by Prinn, who waste no time shooting to kill. Birkh curses the fact the legionnaires can’t properly fight back as their regulation weapons were replaced by eco-friendly dart guns in order not to environmentally impact the planet. Prinn, hardly sympathetic to the ecological impact of his mining operation, kills Birkh. The 28 are now down to 14.
Back at Tophan Galactic Union headquarters, Legion representatives are given little support by the committee members, who are more concerned with the ecological preservation of Wedifact IV and its species of rathosaurs over the military implications of the Harkilon empire breaking an already fragile peace. The representatives, ambivalent to the military in general, simply want the legionnaires to fulfill their mission of knocking out the pirate mining outpost with as little environmental consequences as possible, regardless of the Legion’s losses.
Back on Wedifact IV Montroc leads his seven man squad through the jungle and finds Birkh’s team dead in a clearing. As the remaining legionnaires bury and collect the dogtags of the fallen, Badj sneaks off on his own to observe the rathosaurs. Only they are not living uninterrupted in their natural habitat, they’ve been trained by the pirates to do their manual labor. Montroc’s job isn’t made any easier by infighting among the men, but a crack of Sarigar’s serpentine tail quickly restores order.
The remaining legionnaires move in on Prinn’s mining operation with a nighttime raid. The idealistic Montroc asks Sarigar if it’s worth the risk, but Sarigar quickly reminds him that as legionnaires it’s about following the orders. When their stealth attempt to breach the mine fails, it’s the legionnaires versus the entire camp. With the odds against them and nothing more than dart guns, the legionnaires ignore their disadvantage and give it everything they’ve got. Prinn uses his lackeys to save his own skin, which leads to a surprise reveal.
No spoilers here. Potts and Zelenetz crafted a fantastic story that does a great job introducing the major characters. Penciller Frank Cirocco and inker Terry Austin complemented each other perfectly on their Alien Legion run. Austin is one of a handful of inkers who’s lines worked amazingly with many pencillers: Howard Chaykin, Paul Smith and of course, John Byrne to name a few. But his all too brief work with Frank Cirocco on the pages of Alien Legion is my favorite of his penciller/inker collaborations. I’m the proud owner of three original Terry Austin inked pages, but it’s my Cirocco/Austin page from Alien Legion #4 that is my favorite of my original comic art collection. The crisp lines make me wish they worked on more Alien Legion issues and a broader range of stories together.
After reading Alien Legion #1, it was a tough wait until the next issue. But great writing, great characters, and top notch art always made subsequent issues worth the wait. Even thirty five years later, these footsloggers are well worth revisiting. Long live the Legion!
Alien Legion #1 can be found in the Alien Legion Omnibus Volume 1 on Amazon and Comixology. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you for your support!
One of my simple pleasures has always been reaching into the old box o’ comics to revisit the classic comic stories of my youth. I was fortunate to live in an era when the classic Marvel runs of Daredevil, X-Men, Fantastic Four and Thor were in full swing, but waiting another month for the next issue was a combination of excitement and torture. Even though I’m now able to buy the trades or even pull out several of my own back issues from a classic run, I have to admit that being able to reread three or four consecutive issues in one sitting is a little less satisfying to me. And more than once I found myself reading one issue in a trade only to put it down and let a little time pass before reading the next issue in the book.
By 1980 we were several years into our comic book collecting. Looking back at the early 80s it was great to buy eventual classic issues of Daredevil #181 and Thor #337 right off the rack. But we were always envious of any comic book collectors that had a first issue of any Marvel title from the Silver Age, especially X-Men #1 which to this day is still my grail comic.
So when Moon Knight #1 hit the stands in 1980, we jumped at the opportunity to add a first issue to our collection. Bill Sienkiewicz’s cover depicting Moon Knight’s white costume popped on the spinner rack, as did “Premiere Issue!” and the “1” in that beautiful corner box. That sealed the deal and this issue quickly became a favorite in our collection. But that cherished #1 did not lead to more careful treatment, and like many other comics in our collection it can now be classified as “well read.” The character of Moon Knight was created by writer Doug Moench and artist Don Perlin and debuted in Werewolf By Night #32 in 1975. He’s made several appearances in other comic titles through the late 70’s before getting his own book, which officially delivered on August 19, 1980. But it was Moench and Sienkiewicz’s Moon Knight #1 that was my personal introduction to the character and my favorite of all of Moon Knight’s volumes.
Moon Knight #1 begins with a splash page by Sienkiewicz that takes no prisoners. A squad of mercenaries led by Bushman rides into a rebel camp in Sudan at dawn, shooting every rebel in sight. Bushman’s second in command is Marc Spector, who disapproves of Bushman’s blood thirsty methods. Helicopter pilot Frenchy drops in and lets Marc in on his feelings that working for Bushman may not be in their best interests. Bushman plans an attack on Selina, a village that poses no threat but has a recently excavated pharaoh’s tomb for him to loot. Marc and Frenchy make the decision to desert that night.
During the raid on Selina, an old archeologist attempts to kill Bushman, but is stopped by Marc. Rather than taking the old man prisoner, Bushman kills him on sight. With his dying breath, the archaeologist tells Marc to find and protect his daughter. Despite her fear and anger towards the mercenaries, she heeds Marc’s threat and escapes. Bushman witnesses Spector’s “indescretion” but lets it slide and orders Marc to collect the gold artifacts and round up the remaining men in the town square. Frenchy arrives to helicopter Marc out, but Marc breaks away to unsuccessfully stop the firing squad from killing the prisoners. Marc tries to kill Bushman but is knocked out and left to die a slow death in the desert.
He wakes up and barely musters the energy to wander through the desert for the next day and night. The following night his near lifeless body is found by the locals. They pull him in to the tomb of Pharaoh Seti as they and the slain archaeologist’s daughter Missy attempt to pack up the remaining artifacts. Her initial anger gives way to mercy, as she refuses to give in to anger and hate. Under the statue of Khonshu the moon god Marc’s body shoots back to life. He inexplicably recognizes Khonshu as “the taker of vengeance” and takes the white cloak off the statue before taking off in a jeep for his revenge on Bushman.
Back at Selina, Marc takes out two of Bushman’s guards and sets a decoy to draw out Bushman and his men. After knocking the men out with an ammo dump blast, it’s just Marc and Bushman. Missy (her real name Marlene) shows up behind him, held back by a mysterious figure in the shadows. Marc turns to help her only to find that it’s Frenchy keeping her at a safe distance. Bushman escapes and Marc’s opportunity for revenge is lost.
Marc returns to New York with Frenchy and Marlene and establishes a new life in Long Island with two additional identities: Wall Street mogul Steven Grant and cab driver Jake Lockley. But Marc’s triple personality in addition to Moon Knight begins to take a toll on Marlene. “Lockley” tracks down Bushman to a club in Harlem, and once he’s in full Moon Knight costume, Frenchy rides in on their crescent shaped aircraft to drop him into Bushman’s club for a showdown.
No spoilers here. Moon Knight #1 is a great read and sets the tone for a great run on the title by Moench and Sienkiewicz. Moench’s script and Sienkiewicz’s dynamic art pack a lot of action and drama (with a higher than normal body count for a comic book of that era) into 24 pages. You definitely got your money’s worth with the 50 cent cover price back then, just as you would if you paid $3.99 for the issue today. Comixology is currently offering the digital version of Moon Knight #1 for free. It’s a great introduction to Moon Knight’s initial 80’s run that still holds up almost 40 years later.
Moon Knight #1 can be found in Moon Knight Epic Collection: Bad Moon Rising on Amazon and Comixology. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you for your support!
The Captain America Project: 20 artists, 20 drawings of Captain America on one page.
#19: Bob McLeod (The New Mutants, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Action Comics)
The Captain America Project is winding down, and the 19th spot on this jam page was filled during the 2014 New York Comic Con by one of my favorite artists, Bob McLeod.
I’ve been a fan of his work since Marvel Graphic Novel #4 (The New Mutants) and in addition to his pencils and inks on Marvel and DC titles like The Amazing Spider-Man and Action Comics, his art in The Uncanny X-Men #152 (and that issue’s fantastic cover) still stands out as a favorite of mine in the middle of Dave Cockrum’s second run on the title back in 1981.
So there’s one spot left on the page, and I have one particular artist in mind for the 20th spot. It’s been over four years since I started The Captain America Project, and I’m looking forward to finally completing it this year. I’m going to attend three New York based comic conventions in the next several months, so hopefully I’ll have the final spot filled by then and I can finally have this amazing page framed and on my wall.
The early 80’s were my prime years of comic book collecting, and Marvel’s What If? was one of my favorite titles. Each issue introduced by The Watcher would present an alternate history of Marvel characters based on one twist of fate in a previously established storyline. There were some fantastic issues of What If? from 1981-1982, particularly What If Daredevil Became an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.? (#28, August 1981), What If Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk? (#31, February 1982), What If Elektra Had Lived? (#35, October 1982), and What If The Fantastic Four Had Not Gained Their Powers? (#36, December 1982). I recently reached into the old box o’ comics and found one that stood out as one of my favorite issues of What If’s early 80’s run, and a story that truly stood out for me that entire decade: What If Phoenix Had Not Died? (#27, July 1981) written by Mary Jo Duffy with art by penciller Jerry Bingham and inker John Stuart.
We bought our copy of What If? #27 new off of the spinner rack at our comic shop back in 1981. Frank Miller’s dynamic cover stood out among most other comics released that month, with his bold line work and the intense colors capturing Phoenix’s power while flanked by the helpless X-Men.
One of the reasons this story resonated with me was because less than a year earlier Jean Grey/Phoenix was killed off in Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin’s classic X-Men #137 (Vol. 1, Sept. 1980). As I read that issue for the first time back in 1980, I held up hope that the X-Men would prevail in their battle with the Imperial Guard. But as their epic battle ended with each member of the X-Men taken down in defeat, Jean’s death was even more shocking. At that young of an age, I couldn’t understand how the folks at Marvel could have ended the story with the X-Men losing and a main character actually dying. The only other comic book story to have that big of an impact on me was the death of Elektra in Daredevil #181 (April 1982), but unfortunately as I got older I became more jaded and skeptical with every Marvel character’s death and subsequent return. That story in X-Men #137 got me more emotionally involved as a reader and fan of the X-Men, as Cyclops and the rest of the team came to terms with Jean’s death and dealt with their own issues as the decade went on. To this day, I consider the Death of Phoenix one of my favorite comic book stories of all time and one of the greatest in Marvel’s history. So when What If Phoenix Had Not Died? was published the following year in 1981, it was one of the stories I had to read. X-Men was my favorite title and I was eager to find out what would have happened to them in this alternate history.
What If Phoenix Had Not Died? begins with The Watcher providing a recap of Jean Grey’s history in the original X-Men storyline (her transition from Marvel Girl to Phoenix, mind control under Mastermind and her time as the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club, the destruction of the star D’Bari leading to the deaths of 5 billion humanoids, and the X-Men’s fight with Lilandra’s Imperial Guard leading to her death). Six pages in, the story takes an alternate turn when toward the end of their battle with the Imperial Guard Jean saves Cyclops from a blast and alters her destiny. Jean and the defeated X-Men are taken to the Shi’Ar imperial flagship, and their psychic lobotomizer removes her telepathic powers.
Upon their return to Professor Xavier’s School, a now powerless Jean tries to adapt to her diminished role within the X-Men. A distress call from Lilandra leads them to a showdown with Galactus and his herald Terrax. The X-Men, led by Cyclops are on the verge of defeat against Terrax when the Phoenix force re-manifests itself in Jean and a blast of her power relegates Terrax to a powerless human form. Galactus backs off and the old Phoenix is back. But eventually the temptations of the Phoenix force get the best of Jean, and the story takes a darker turn.
No spoilers here. Writer Mary Jo Duffy (Power Man and Iron Fist, Star Wars, Wolverine) and artist Jerry Bingham (Iron Man, Marvel Two In One) pack a lot of drama and action into What If Phoenix Had Not Died?: Jean’s emotional roller coaster as a result of her transition from mutant to human, the temptations of the Phoenix force when her powers return, and the ensuing consequences of the darkness that consumes her. At a whopping 34 pages, this qualifies as an event and it doesn’t disappoint. Even as a “done in one” single issue story, the shocking fate of the X-Men is darker than most other stories of that era and stays with the reader long after the last panel.
Nowadays our copy of What If? #27 has a worn cover and the middle pages are separating from the spine, which is a testament to how much we enjoyed this story. Ten or twenty years ago I would have kicked myself for not bagging and boarding it, but the current condition brings out the nostalgia even more. Turning through the pages the other night reminded me of quite a few lazy days at age 8 sitting on the living room floor reading and re-reading this issue, and brought back the same excitement and emotion as it did the first time I read it in 1981.
What If? #27 will be available in What If? Classic: The Complete Collection Volume 3 on Amazon and Comixology on 2/11/20. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you for your support!