Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Good Week to be a Roger Stern fan

Although I don't believe he has any current regular assignment in comics, Roger Stern had three different stories released this week from Marvel Comics. As an immense fan of Stern's work (his Dr. Strange#55 is my all-time personal favorite comic), I was all too happy to find so much from him all at once.

Some time ago, Stern wrote an issue of Thor (#394) about a television writer who interviewed people who had met Thor to help her compose a script proposal. The people interviewed included supporting characters from Thor's past, but also random passerbys from old stories. Last year Stern had a new story in Giant-Size Incredible Hulk which took a similar tack, with old Hulk supporting character Fred Sloan interviewing people who had encountered the Hulk. Each of the three Stern stories released this week were of a similar retrospective nature.

First up, Captain America#600. This issue won a little publicity and was released in the USA on Monday rather than the standard Wednesday date. The main story deals with people meditating on the anniversary of Captain America's death and Stern provides a back-up story on that subject. Stern's story features Bernie Rosenthal, a supporting character he created for Cap back when he wrote the book, but she hasn't been seen since Mark Gruenwald's last issue (Cap#443, 1995). Also appearing is Josh Cooper, another character who appeared in Stern's run. Bernie and Josh have a private celebration of Cap's life and recall the time they spent with him. With only 12 pages to work with, it doesn't get around to much, but mostly it's overshadowed by the main story, featuring characters with contemporary ties to Cap.

Next is Amazing Spider-Man Family#7. This series is an anthology book which features a number of Spider-Man characters by various creative teams. Stern leads off this issue with a story of Peter Parker and his Aunt May going through the family photo album. May relates the stories of how she met Uncle Ben, their engagement, marriage and the birth of Peter. Some of this was familiar to me, a fair bit wasn't. There are also some cute touches to explain Marvel's sliding timeline. The most interesting facet of the story is that it examines how May made her share of mistakes over the years and went through troubles with Ben; it proves that Peter isn't the only one who suffers from the "Parker luck" and draws the two closer. The tragic story of May's miscarriage also alters the way we view her constant doting on Peter, demonstrating that he was the son she couldn't have.

Last up is Young Allies Comics: 70th Anniversary Special#1. This is one of several such one-shots which have been released to celebrate Marvel's 70th year of publishing (I have one too). This book looks back on the Young Allies, a team of teenage boys led by Captain America's sidekick Bucky and the Human Torch's sidekick Toro. The other four boys were pretty identifiable stereotypes - the fat kid, the smart kid, the tough kid and the unfortunate racist caricature kid. Stern's story goes some way to making amends for those comics by simultaneously bringing the Young Allies firmly into continuity while kicking their actual appearances out by dismissing them as comics published within Marvel's fictional universe.

At any rate, the present-day Captain America is the grown-up Bucky Barnes and he finally decides to look up his old pals from the Young Allies. It's a moving story, wonderfully illustrated by Paolo Rivera and has the adventure, pathos and love that I associate with the best of Stern's work.

I enjoyed the Young Allies special the most of the three books. If it were the only Roger Stern comic which came out this week, I would be a very happy man. As one of three? I'm fairly giddy!

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