Monday, October 14, 2019

Slugfest: Inside the Epic, 50-Year Battle Between Marvel and DC - Reed Tucker

When I was a kid, the first superhero comic books I ever read were issues of BATMAN and SUPERMAN that must have been published in the late Fifties, because this was around 1960 and those issues were old and beat up. I don’t know how they came to be around our house. Maybe they were my brother’s, but I don’t remember him ever reading comic books. Likely they were something my dad picked up, or one of his customers gave him. (He was a TV repairman.)

I read other DC comics over the next few years, including what I now know was a very early issue of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, #5, I think. I vaguely remember seeing some of the monster books published by Timely or Atlas or whatever they were calling themselves in those days, but they didn’t interest me. I liked superheroes.

Then, as I’ve mentioned before, on Christmas Day 1963, a couple of my girl cousins gave me a stack of comics they didn’t want, which included FANTASTIC FOUR #16 and #17, AVENGERS #1, SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS #3, and TALES OF SUSPENSE #42. That was the first time I knew something called Marvel existed, but as soon as I’d read those comics, I read ’em again and then as soon as possible started hitting all the spinner racks in our little town and grabbing all the current issues I could find. For years I read almost everything Marvel published, but I continued to read a lot of DC books as well, all through the Sixties and Seventies.

So Reed Tucker’s non-fiction book SLUGFEST: THE EPIC, 50-YEAR BATTLE BETWEEN MARVEL AND DC packs a tremendous amount of nostalgia value for me. I was there on the spinner rack front lines of that war for many years, allowance clutched in my grubby little paws, trying to figure out which comics I really wanted, because I couldn’t afford to buy all of them.

Tucker does a fine job of detailing all the behind-the-scenes stuff going on at the time, including chicanery and shenanigans on both sides, and as it turns out, some things that puzzled me at the time actually had hard-headed business reasons behind them, rather than being any sort of creative decisions, for example turning TALES OF SUSPENSE and TALES TO ASTONISH into split books featuring two different superheroes. He also brings the personalities involved (writers, artists, editors, executives) to life and reveals some things I didn’t know. Again, for example, I wasn’t aware that DC editor Mort Weisinger was so widely despised in the industry, and evidently for good reason. I just knew Weisinger as a former pulp editor and writer who was in charge of the Superman titles for years and years.

As SLUGFEST progresses later into the Seventies and on into the Eighties and Nineties, some of the nostalgia value goes away for me, but I still found it very interesting, because many of the people involved at Marvel and DC during that era are guys that I’ve met and like, such as Marv Wolfman. And during those decades, I was still buying a lot (but not all, anymore) of Marvel’s books and many of DC’s. It wasn’t until later in the Nineties that a long run of what I considered absolutely terrible creative decisions at Marvel soured me on comics in general and I didn’t read any of them for close to a decade.

Since then I’ve worked my back into being a sporadic comics reader, although mostly revisiting older stuff I loved back then or older stuff I never got around to reading when it was new. (Allowance, remember?) I have no desire to read any of the stuff coming out now, although I’m sure some of it isn’t bad, but Tucker’s book still held my interest all the way to the end. It came out in 2017, which means he probably finished writing it in 2016, and quite a bit has happened in the comics industry since then, very little of it good, from what I know. (And in the spirit of fairness, I haven’t read today’s books except for some independently published projects from people whose work I know and trust to be top-notch. I’m just going by the gossip I see and hear, so take my opinions for whatever they’re worth to you.)

At any rate, SLUGFEST is a really enjoyable book, especially the first half or so, and if you’re a long-time comics fan, I can’t help but think you’d enjoy it, too. It gets a high recommendation from me.

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