Monday, October 26, 2015


Seven years ago this month, Roy Thomas and Ross Andru began a triumphant new chapter in the life of the amazing Spider-Man, with the creation of MARVEL TEAM-UP. Today, that milestone is both celebrated and reaffirmed as…
Stan Lee presents: SPIDER-MAN and RED SONJA!

Author/Co-Plotters/Penciler: Chris Claremont & John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin | Letterer: Tom Orzechoswki | Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Allen Milgrom | Consulting Editor: Roy Thomas | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: At the New York Metropolitan Muesum of Art, a night watchman is tempted by an ancient amulet and picks it up. Meanwhile, Spider-Man arrives at the Daily Bugle and changes into Peter Parker for the Bugle’s Christmas party. Mary Jane Watson is present as well, to surprise Peter, but his revelry is short-lived when Robbie Robertson orders Peter and reporter Charley Snow to the Museum to investigate something strange. Mary Jane sneaks into their car and tags along, to their irritation.

At the museum, a pillar of crimson flame projects up into the sky. Peter ducks away from Charley and MJ to change into Spider-Man, and enters the museum to check it out. But Mary Jane, sick of constantly being left behind by Peter, goes in as well. Inside, while Spider-Man is assaulted by a group of monsters, Mary Jane comes across a glowing sword and picks it up. It transforms her into Red Sonja and she comes to Spider-Man’s aid.

The sorcerer Kulan Gath, an enemy of Sonja’s, reveals himself and captures both heroes. They awaken shortly, chained to large slabs, which Kulan begins to lower into a boiling pit. Spider-Man manages to free himself, destroying the pit, then rescues Sonja. The fight continues and leaves the museum, where Sonja and Gath are both shocked to see how the world has changed. Spider-Man takes advantage of Gath’s confusion and knocks him out, grabbing the glowing amulet from his neck in the process. Gath reverts to the form of the night watchman, while Sonja changes back to Mary Jane.

The next morning, Peter takes the Staten Island Ferry out onto the water and flings the amulet out to sea.

Continuity Notes: Narration on the first page tells us that this story occurs on December 22nd, 1978, the Winter Solstice (and 21 days after I came into this world, for those who care to know).

Clark Kent puts in an appearance at the Daily Bugle, seen in conversation with Robbie. Also present, besides Charley and MJ, are Glory Grant (seen only from the back), Jonah Jameson, and his girlfriend, Marla Madison. Peter thanks Jonah for his Christmas bonus of ten dollars.

Despite issue 75’s note that she and Peter broke up, Mary Jane seems quite willing to rekindle their romance, whipping out a sprig of mistletoe in order to lay a big wet one on Peter. Though Peter's facial expression and dialogue in the first panel below seem to indicate he's not thrilled to see MJ. Also notable is that Peter indicates earlier in the day he was with Cissy Ironwood, his MARVEL TEAM-UP love interest, before heading for the party.

At the party, someone declares it was a mistake for Jameson to fire Carol Danvers, as seen in MS. MARVEL #22, also by Chris Claremont. Danvers was, for a time, the editor of WOMAN magazine, published by Jameson. (It tends to be oft forgotten that Jameson published more than just the Bugle; dating all the way back to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #6, in fact, he was known to dabble in magazines.)

This issue features the first appearance of Charey Snow (subsequently spelled "Charlie"), a character who will go on to appear in a whopping ten issues across the next two decades (including a Roger Stern AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in 1982 and Stern’s HOBGOBLIN LIVES mini-series in 1996).

Whether intentional or not by Claremont and Byrne, Mary Jane exhibits a bit of her classic persona this issue, stowing away to check out the museum with Peter and Charley. In her very first full-issue appearance in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #43, she forced Peter to bring her along when he headed out to photograph the rampaging Rhino.

Red Sonja’s first appearance was in Marvel’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN #23. On the page where she first appears, a footnote tells us to check out Sonja’s ongoing comic for more info on her.

Throughout the issue, Sonja speaks in her native tongue, which is unintelligible to Spider-Man, while she can’t understand the wall-crawler’s modern English. Kulan Gath, however, through his magic, is able to be understood by both. It leads to some funny bits as you read both characters’ dialogue but realize they can’t tell what’s being said and are only picking up what little they manage indirectly, by way of Gath speaking to one or the other.

Kulan Gath first appeared in CONAN #14. To this day I don’t understand how his rights work. He debuted in a Conan comic published by Marvel, so you’d think either the Robert E. Howard estate or Marvel would own him. But Marvel has used him even when they lacked the Howard rights, and Dynamite has used him in their Red Sonja comics (and Sonja’s rights are completely separate from Conan’s!)

Gath brags that he is a high priest of the N’Garai, demons who debuted in Claremont’s X-MEN #96. Later, he declares that two of the Earth’s three Sa’arpools have been sealed -- one here by Spider-Man, and one in GIANT-SIZE DRACULA #2.

Claremont would write a sequel to this story about seven years later in X-MEN, depicting Gath taking his revenge on Spider-Man.

My Thoughts: Once upon a time, Marvel had the license to produce comics about Red Sonja, a character loosely derived from the works of Robert E. Howard. But the license lapsed and was eventually picked up by Dynamite Entertainment. As a result, Marvel was unable to include MARVEL TEAM-UP #79 in the 2011 trade collecting all the other Claremont/Byrne issues. But fortunately, when Marvel and Dynamite teamed up for a Spider-Man/Sonja crossover mini-series a few years earlier, in 2007, someone had the foresight to use that opportunity to reprint this gem of an issue in the collected edition, and I'm glad they did. This may be my favorite of all the Claremont/Byrne MARVEL TEAM-UP collaborations.

For one thing, check out those credits above: this isn't just a Claremont/Byrne production, it's inked by Terry Austin, Byrne’s X-MEN inker, making it, hands-down, the best looking of all Byrne’s TEAM-UPs. Add to that letters from Tom Orzechowski and colors from Glynis Wein, and what we have here is an issue produced by the entire creative “A”-team of the classic Claremont/Byrne X-MEN. That alone makes it special in my book, but that's not all there is to love about this one.

From the brilliant opening splash, this issue just feels special. The blurb at the top announcing it as an anniversary issue (though celebrating the seventh year of publication seems a bit odd). The beautiful, moody image of Spider-Man swinging through a light snowfall past the Metropolitan Museum. The gorgeous title by Tom Orzechoswki. And that box that reads, “By Chris Claremont & John Byrne” in Orz’s distinctive style. I can’t put my finger on why, but somehow all these pieces just click magnificently.

The bits at the Bugle are fun too, and something we’ve sorely missed in much of this TEAM-UP run -- not that I’m complaining. I’ve enjoyed almost every one of these Claremont/Byrne issues! But to finally see Jameson, Robbie and the Bugle, just as Claremont and Byrne finish their run together, makes you realize how much they’ve been missed.

Plus we have Mary Jane, sort of reverting to type, as discussed above, which I like. Stan Lee’s "carefree party girl" Mary Jane is my favorite version of the character. And while this isn’t quite her, it’s nice to see a bit of that version peek through the more serious shell she had developed by this point.

And then there’s Red Sonja. Yowza. Byrne may draw the best Sonja this side of Frank Thorne, at least at this point in time. I’ll freely admit that, much as with DC’s Power Girl, I’ve been a fan of Sonja’s for a long time, due exclusively to her costume. This is the only Sonja comic I had read for ages, though I have since read her early Roy Thomas-scripted appearances. Someday I intend to look at some of the Dynamite stuff.

But I digress: I love the archetype that Sonja represents. There’s something really cool about a warrior woman in a metal bikini, kicking ass and taking names. It’s exploitative and shameless and fantastic.

Did I say "yowza?" Surely this is Byrne's finest work.
So if Byrne and Claremont had to end their run on MARVEL TEAM-UP, at least they did it on a high note. (It should be noted, though, that Claremont would stick around as regular writer for another ten issues with other artists). They do, however, have one more short MTU back-up story in them, published a few years later, which we’ll cover next time.

And what about that SPIDER-MAN/RED SONJA limited series I mentioned earlier? It's sort of a sequel to this series, though it was produced by neither Claremont nor Byrne. But since I have the collected edition (purchased mainly for this particular issue), watch for a review at some point in the not-too-distant future.


  1. I get the impression that Michael Moorcock may have retained creative ownership over Kulan Gath. It's the only answer that makes sense. Moorcock was the co-writer on Gath's first appearance.

    1. Thanks! I was unaware of Moorcock's involvement, but that certainly seems reasonable. If he's a single person who owns one character, I could see him licensing Gath out to whatever company wants to use him for a modest fee.

  2. That Giant Size Dracula #2 (and #3, available on Marvel Unlimited) was also by Claremont, who carried on the practice of stating the date on the first page from there. Dracula didn't come out of nowhere to the pages of UNCANNY so. "Unique juxtaposition of occult forces" may refer partially to it being the Winter Solstice and full moon, perhaps not unrelated to GSD #2 taking place on Walburgis Night (or Beltane, it being Scotland, on April #30, at right between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, and right opposite of Halloween, or Samhaim) and also full moon. "Stygia" was the Conan mythos name for the Egypt equivalent.

    Gotta love how halfway from Staten Island means "bottom of the Atlantic" to Pete. That's going to bite your ass, man-spider. The final panel you posted is great for in-jokes. Talking of which, you of course deliberately "forgot" naming one of the people at Bugle, the mildmannered reporter of metropolitan television talking to Robbie. Someone was telegraphing in early on what book he really would like to be making.

    Kulan amulet misses no beat while being gone fishing, what it says to Pete just before is close to verbatim what it'll say to Jaime Rodriguez later on.

    The whole Belasco mythos ties in to this too, as he also was a servant to N'Garai and the Elder Gods, who he'll try to open the portal for through Illyana. But what happened to the final Sa'arpool?

    1. GSD #2 btw stars and premiers Kate Fraser, the police psychic and apparently a mutant, who will later pop up in some Captain Britain stories.

    2. ... and to answer my own question, the third Sa'arpool: DR. STRANGE #45, Feb 81, and Claremont, of course.

    3. It may be the artists just like to draw full moon, but when the single N'Garai pushes through the broken column near X-Mansion to come and harass Kitty, it's again a full moon and pretty close to Winter Solstice.

    4. No, wait, idiot me again. You did mention Clark Kent being there, I just managed to skip that sentence completely somehow. I think Clark does much more one panel cameos on Marvel books than ever on DC.

      My favorite one is the one on Simonson's THOR where he bumps right into Thor who has just adopted the new civilian disguise of extremely wellbuilt Scandinavian man with eyeglasses.

    5. I thought I had mentioned Clark, but you had me second guessing myself! It's amazing how Byrne's version here looks almost exactly like the version he would draw years later at DC. I agree that he probably puts in more joke appearances in Marvel comics than anywhere else; I guess there's something to be said for being the "first" superhero. It gives you a certain degree of cross-company cameo clout.

      Thanks for the info on Kate Fraser. I remember her from my CAPTAIN BRITAIN reviews; it looked like Claremont was setting her up as a recurring character before she left.

      I sometimes wish Claremont had not been shoehorned as "the mutant guy". He wrote a very wide sample of Marvel characters early on: Spider-Man, Dracula, Ms. Marvel, Iron Fist, Captain Britain, Doctor Strange, Man-Thing... and he did many of them well. Then, somehow, he got pigeonholed.

    6. Not so big wonder I think... that went on up to the early 80's, right after which the NEW MUTANTS took the place as his secondary title. Which I remember was his answer to the publisher's calls for other X-title in the vein of West Coast X-Men or something. And after that, WOLVERINE, again kind of forcedly, with the hindsight how things had gone with the X-FACTOR. A case could be made it was all in bid to keep hold of UNCANNY amidst the ever-loudening calls for X-pansion.

    7. Y'know, after reading your comment and mine, it occurred to me that Claremont was a lot more prolific in the seventies than in the eighties. Looking back a few months, while IRON FIST was still running, he was the regular writer on X-MEN, MARVEL TEAM-UP, IRON FIST, and MS. MARVEL. Four books a month! By the eighties, for the most part he stuck to no more than two a month, notwithstanding mini-series, one-shots, etc. And as we've seen from Teebore's recent reviews, near the end of his time at Marvel he could barely manage two a month with all those breaks he took from EXCALIBUR.

    8. You got me check things up from , and I don't necessarily wish to argue, and it's of course only natural that at some point you wish to have other life too besides work, but: some of those 70's titles were bi-monthly (as in, every other month), incl. UNCANNY, while at particular points in late 80's UNCANNY was shipping twice a month making it impossible for example to Silvestri to keep up. CLASSIC X-MEN's need for the back-up stories may have been an annoyance if not actual workload, but the ANNUALs and oneshots tend to be double-size so there's that, and I don't know how much Marvel had changed as a working environment, but back in the day he at least got John Byrne as the co-plotter for many of his books, so that's a load off not only from the burden but also from the excessive communications hassle. Meanwhile in the 90's he couldn't trust leaving Jim Lee alone for one minute lest he start co-plotting.

    9. Good point; I hadn't thought about bi-monthly schedules, which were pretty common back in the seventies for second-tier titles like the ones Claremont wrote. It's also possible that Claremont was, by most accounts, making so much money off of UNCANNY in the mid- to late eighties that he really didn't need to write more than one series, and could pick and choose his other assignments at will.

    10. I shied away from bringing up money, but yours is certainly a not-ignorable pointer. Though if any of the early stuff was made mainly for the paycheck, it certainly does not show.