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Thursday, October 18, 2012

X-amining Marvel Team-Up Annual #6

"The Hunters and the Hunted!"
1983

In a Nutshell
Sunspot and Wolfsbane get injected with an experimental drug.

Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artists: Ron Frenz & Kevin Dzuban
Letters:Rick Parker
Colors: Bob Sharen
Editor: Tom DeFalco
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Spider-Man swings by a warehouse containing a chop shop at the same time Cloak and Dagger arrive. The three of them take out the criminals working in the shop, then discover a group of dead teenagers in a back room. Cloak and Dagger explain that the kids were likely killed by the mobsters responsible for giving Cloak and Dagger their powers via a synthesized drug, as the mobsters are now attempting to re-synthesize that drug and testing it on runaway kids. Meanwhile, the New Mutants emerge from a Broadway play, but instead of heading back to the X-Mansion, Roberto leads them into an arcade. Inside, they get into an argument with some local kids, one of whom pulls a knife on Rahne, leading to Roberto powering up and punching her assailant. A fight breaks out, and Cannonball orders the New Mutants to run back to the bus station, but they get lost. Eventually, the kids from the arcade catch up to them, and Rahne and Roberto are knocked unconscious in the melee. Unseen by their teammates, they're taken by a pair of shadowy figures.


The fight breaks up when the police arrive, with Sam and Dani running off on their own, determined to find their friends. Needing to rest, they go inside a church, the same church where Cloak and Dagger live. Spider-Man recognizes Sam and Dani's uniforms, and they tell the others about their missing friends. Worried Rahne and Roberto could be subjected to the mob's drug experiments, Cloak and Dagger depart to track them down. An hour later, Rahne and Roberto awaken inside a meat packing plant and are injected with the experimental drug by a pharmacist working for the mob. Just then, Cloak & Dagger, Spider-Man, and the rest of the New Mutants arrive. The mobsters are defeated easily, but Rahne and Roberto transform into monstrous versions of themselves. Dagger is able to use her light knives to revert Rahne to normal, transferring the effects of the drug to Dagger in the process, while Cloak envelops Roberto in his cloak, removing the drug from his system. Cloak then absorbs the drug from Dagger as well, restoring her to normal. Sam offers Cloak and Dagger a place at Xavier's school, but they decline, determined to remain on their own.

Firsts and Other Notables
Spider-Man and the New Mutants form the titular team-up in this issue, with Cloak and Dagger billed as guest-stars. Created by Bill Mantlo and Ed Hannigan and debuting in Spectacular Spider-Man #64 a couple years before this issue, Cloak and Dagger were a pair of runaway teenagers who were injected with an experimental form of heroin by the criminal Maggia organization which activated their latent super-human abilities. Since then, they've worked together to take down drug dealers and help other teen runaways (Dagger can generate "light daggers" which can temporarily paralyze people and help cure drug addictions, while Cloak's body as been transformed into a portal to a dimension of darkness, through which he can teleport himself and passengers or transport foes). They had a relatively high profile throughout the 80s, making a fair number of guest appearances and starring in a couple limited series and one ongoing series, but they never quite became mainstays of the line and have been relegated to the occasional guest appearance in recent years.  


Sunspot and Wolfsbane are transformed into monstrous versions of themselves, the ramifications of which, as well as their interactions with Cloak and Dagger, will be the focus of a future story in New Mutants.


It's not entirely clear where this story fits into the New Mutants timeline. They are sans Karma, so it must occur after issue #6, but the team is shuffled off to Brazil in the wake of Karma's apparent death, and they remain out of the country until the conclusion of the Nova Roma story in issue #12, while Professor X remarks on the events of this issue in New Mutants #13. So the New Mutants trip to the city in this issue either occurs between the pages of issue #7, before they arrive in Brazil, or between issues #12 and #13, before Amara arrives at the school on the opening page of issue #13 (or else it occurs prior to Karma's departure, and she simply didn't accompany her teammates into the city).  

This issue is written by Bill Mantlo, who contributed the fill-in issue X-Men #106 and is penciled by Ron Frenz, who will go on to have lengthy runs on Amazing Spider-Man and Thor, and will become one of the favorite partners of writer and future Marvel Editor-in-Cheif Tom DeFalco, helping him create the short-lived MC2 line of comics set in an alternate future of the Marvel Universe, featuring the fan favorite Amazing Spider-Girl book.

This issue also contains a series of pin-ups featuring villains from Marvel Team-Up's history. 

A Work in Progress
We get an indication that Roberto might enjoy Stevie Hunter's dance classes more than you'd expect.


Rahne finds the dancing in Cats hard to reconcile with her "highlands teachings".


Narrative captions continue to refer to Dani as "Psyche". 

For once, Spider-Man actually actively subverts the team-up cliche of the heroes fighting each other for a time before teaming up against the real villains.


Cloak and Dagger are offered a place at Xavier's school, but they turn it down, determined instead to continue their fight against drugs and learn about their powers on their own.


I Love the 80s
The New Mutants are in New York City to see Andrew Lloyd Weber's Cats, and later hang out at an arcade.


The sound effect associated with Cannonball's blast in this issue suggests Sunspot and Wolfsbane aren't the only characters on drugs. 


They're Students, Not Superheroes
Cannonball disputes the notion that the New Mutants are X-Men-in-training. 


Teebore's Take
In addition to the fact that the events of this issue will be the focus of a story in the regular New Mutants title down the road, the reason I wanted to look at this issue was to see how, a little more than a half dozen months after their debut, the New Mutants are depicted outside their own title. Perhaps because writer Bill Mantlo was friends with Claremont, their characterization here is fairly consistent with how they're presented in their own title. Roberto is perhaps a bit more brash, Sam a bit more of a confident leader than we've yet to see (in that regard, this Sam seems more like his later self), but for the most part, the New Mutants seem like the New Mutants. Mantlo even makes a point of stressing that they are not quite X-Men-in-training. The story itself is pretty standard, managing to get all the characters together with minimum fuss (with the help of a few obvious coincidences) and featuring the kind of "drugs are bad" message that characterized many Cloak and Dagger stories. Like the New Mutants' own book at this time, nothing here is groundbreaking. But it does make for an interesting look at how the New Mutants are being depicted in the greater Marvel Universe. 

Next Issue
Mastermind makes his big move in Uncanny X-Men #174, while the New Mutants are taken to Nova Roma in New Mutants #9.

8 comments:

  1. I didn't necessarily miss this issue in the New Mutants Classic trades, but I would've appreciated its enjoyment, simply because I find it unlikely that it will be reprinted anyplace else outside of the Essentials, and I don't have much interest in Essential Marvel Team-Up. I could buy the back issue, of course, but I like having collected comics in my bookcase.

    I like the idea of Spider-Man, Marvel's original teenage hero (okay, I guess the Human Torch predated him), teaming up with Marvel's then highest profile teen heroes, the New Mutants and Cloak and Dagger. You'd think he might be able to offer them some mentoring or something.

    Cloak and Dagger seemed to pop up everywhere when I was a kid. I never read a single issue of their regular series, but I saw them regularly in Spider-Man comics, among others. I didn't think much of it at the time, but nowadays, I can't help looking at Dagger and thinking, "she's a teenager??" I guess maybe she's supposed to be 18 instead of 15 or 16, but even so, she sure developed in a hurry. And that costume is very riqsue for a teen, too!

    Also, I didn't know Ron Frenz drew this issue. He's a favorite of mine from his run on Spider-Man. I've read some of his Thor, where he did a spot-on impression of Jack Kirby, and I read some of the MC2 stuff he did. Nowadays he seems to be getting work from IDW, where he's penciled a few issues of Larry Hama's G.I. Joe continuation series. And to tie it back to the New Mutants, Frenz's regular inker for the past several years has been Sal Buscema!

    "...or else it occurs prior to Karma's departure, and she simply didn't accompany her teammates into the city."

    That's going to be my assumption. You said yourself a few issues ago that we never saw much of Karma as Xavier's secretary, so I will take this chance to say that she's back at the school doing some filing.

    "For once, Spider-Man actually actively subverts the team-up cliche of the heroes fighting each other for a time before teaming up against the real villains."

    Well, Spidey was teaming up with everybody and their mother on a monthly basis, so you would figure he's an old hand at this sort of thing by now.

    Also, that dramatic shot of Spidey framed in the doorway looks like a very close match to his longtime corner box pose from the 60's and 70's.

    (I'm not kidding when I say longtime, either -- it appears that pose was displayed on the covers of Amazing Spider-Man from #48 - #199!)

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  2. @Matt: I don't have much interest in Essential Marvel Team-Up.

    Plus, it'll be a while before they get to it; I think they're only on the third volume of it, so it's probably another volume or two away, at best. It definitely would have been nice if this was inludes in the New Mutants Classics trades.

    I didn't think much of it at the time, but nowadays, I can't help looking at Dagger and thinking, "she's a teenager??"

    Sadly, for all the times I've had Cloak and Dagger pop up in comics I'm reading, it wasn't until I read this issue that I thought that for the first time.

    Maybe because I'd never really thought of them as being teenagers until it was stressed in this issue (despite intellectually knowing they were), but yeah, I thought the same thing: that's a hell of a costume for a teenager.

    I've read some of his Thor, where he did a spot-on impression of Jack Kirby, and I read some of the MC2 stuff he did.

    I really enjoyed his Thor stuff, and I picked up Amazing Spider-Girl after "One More Day" (mainly to vainly prove a point to Quesada) and hung with it until it was cancelled for good, and enjoyed most of that, too.

    I will take this chance to say that she's back at the school doing some filing.

    Ha! I was thinking the same thing.

    Also, that dramatic shot of Spidey framed in the doorway looks like a very close match to his longtime corner box pose from the 60's and 70's.

    You're right, it does!


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  3. It's funny what sticks with you from childhood. I got MTU Ann. 6 when I was collecting New Mutants back issues 20 years ago, and have read it, like, twice. It's a decent but unexceptional team-up comic. Still, the Cats references, Cloak & Dagger being offered a spot at Xavier's, monstrous Rahne & Roberto, and drug stuff came back to me as soon as I saw the cover.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  4. @Mike: It's a decent but unexceptional team-up comic

    Yep, that's pretty much it in a nutshell. :)

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  5. I was a fan of the early Cloak and Dagger stuff. While I remember getting this issue, I recalled virtually nothing about it and probably haven't read it since it came out.

    @Matt: And that costume is very risque for a teen, too!

    Especially a teenager living in a church whose unofficial guardian is a minister... To be fair, I believe that this and even the odd nature of their symbiotic but not explicitly romantic relationship was commented upon. And like you, I figure(d) them to be older as well as more street-savvy than, say, the New Mutants.

    On that note? Take another look at the last image Teebore posted, under "They're Students, Not Superheroes"... !!!

    @Matt: I didn't know Ron Frenz drew this issue. He's a favorite of mine from his run on Spider-Man. I've read some of his Thor, where he did a spot-on impression of Jack Kirby, and I read some of the MC2 stuff he did.

    You might enjoy this, then.

    I enjoyed Spider-Girl — partly on its own merits, partly because I always had a thing for alternate futures and generational superhero families in general, partly to, as Teebore said, send a message, albeit during a slightly earlier era of Marvel; I haven't read the relaunch(es) but I just might check out whatever's been collected to see if my nieces might like it.

    @Matt: that dramatic shot of Spidey framed in the doorway looks like a very close match to his longtime corner box pose

    I thought the same thing. Great minds!

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  6. Blam -- "Take another look at the last image Teebore posted, under "They're Students, Not Superheroes"... !!!"

    Wow! I'm not sure how I didn't spot that myself... Sometimes I see images like that, and I feel like they almost have to be intentional. It's really hard to believe no one caught it and had it changed.

    Blam -- "You might enjoy this, then."

    That's great; I think I may have seen in someplace before. Frenz does an amazing job of channeling Kirby when he puts his mind to it, and he did a pretty good Ditko too, in "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man", though he mostly drew his regular run on Amazing in his normal style.

    Blam & Teebore, Re: Spider-Girl -- Yes, when I said I read some of his MC2 stuff, that actually means all of his Spider-Girl stuff. I don't think I ever read a single issue of any of the other MC2 titles, but I read all of Spider-Girl and all of Amazing Spider-Girl. When they moved May's adventures into the Spider-Man Family title and then -- I think -- online only, I finally stopped reading.

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  7. @Blam: Take another look at the last image Teebore posted, under "They're Students, Not Superheroes"... !!!

    Cannonball, you sly dog...

    @Matt: When they moved May's adventures into the Spider-Man Family title and then -- I think -- online only, I finally stopped reading.

    Ditto. It just became too hard to keep track of where she was appearing.

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  8. @Matt: Frenz does an amazing job of channeling Kirby when he puts his mind to it, and he did a pretty good Ditko too

    He did a fair amount of Ditko on Amazing to my eye, early on especially, but you're right that it seemed more intentional at some points than others. Annual #18 sticks out for me, with a main story scripted by Stan Lee over a DeFalco plot drawn by Frenz. I always saw Frenz's "natural" style (to whatever extent he had one, to sound rude) as closest to Sal Buscema, of whose work — as we've already discussed — I'm not a particular fan, even though I respect him as a journeyman contributor to Marvel history.

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