by KC Carlson
1. Fear Itself: Prologue: Okay, let’s break it down. According to Marvel, Fear Itself is their first universe-wide crossover since 2006’s Civil War. While technically that may be true, the accomplishment pales a little when you consider that Marvel has produced at least 12 big crossover events since then — World War Hulk, Annihilation: Conquest, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, War of Kings, Siege, Realm of Kings, X-Men: Second Coming, The Heroic Age, The Thanos Imperative, Shadowland, and Chaos War — seven of them in 2010 alone. I’m sure that Marvel would quibble by saying a couple of those (Dark Reign and The Heroic Age) were just “branding” and not actual events, but when you begin to realize just how many books had that branding… well, if it wasn’t an actual story event, then at least it was a publishing event. (And they say there is no Event Fatigue…)
So you may find it unusual that I’m endorsing Fear Itself, but it’s a qualified endorsement, and I’ll explain why. From what we know so far, the main Fear Itself title will be a seven-part miniseries written by Matt Fraction, pencilled by Stuart Immonen, and inked by Wade Von Grawbadger. Fraction has been one of Marvel’s best writers for a number of years, and he will be continuing to script both Invincible Iron Man and Thor (both of whom will be substantially featured in Fear Itself, as will the Uncanny X-Men, which Fraction will be scaling back from writing during the event). Immonen and Von Grawbadger are a long-time artistic pair, best known recently for long runs on three Ultimate series (Ultimate Fantastic Four, Ultimate X-Men, and Ultimate Spider-Man) as well as New Avengers and the cult favorite Nextwave. For my money, they are one of the very best artistic teams in comics right now, and I’m hoping that their work on Fear Itself will finally catapult them into full-fledged superstardom, as they are (and have been for a long time) well-deserving of the accolade.
Since the best indicator of comic quality is the talent of those working on the books, Fear Itself stands a very good chance of being one of the best event series of all time, based on the people producing it. This core miniseries is what gets my wholehearted support and recommendation. The teaser art alone is pretty thought-provoking — especially that shot of Cyclops dressed up as Magneto, which is just scary enough to be possible, given what Scott’s been through the last few years!
But as you know, most comic events these days are so much more than just the core, and my particular jury is still out on the endless number of crossovers, tie-ins, miniseries, and one-shots that will most likely encompass the entire Fear Itself Event. Recent history tells us they will vary wildly in quality or may not even have anything at all to do with what’s going on in the core book. This situation encompasses several of my comic-related 2011 New Year’s resolutions — including Don’t Believe the Hype!, You Don’t Have to Read Everything, and You Don’t Have to Read It Right This Second. (There’s always the trade, and back issues are cheap if you know where to look.) Once Fear Itself gets rolling, all your pals at Westfield (and around the internets) will be more than happy to keep you posted on which tie-ins are hot and which are not!
Fear Itself itself (I meant to do that) doesn’t actually get rolling until next month (or April, for you slaves to “real” time). So right now, check out the Fear Itself: Prologue, written by Ed Brubaker and pencilled by Scott Eaton. It features Captain America and Namor going up against the whack-a-doodle Sin, who’s now got access to her dad’s (the Red Skull) secret plans (including a previously unknown one dating back to World War II). It’s the opening blast for the Real Deal, so chances are pretty good that something pretty big is probably going down there!
And don’t miss the Fear Itself Poster by Stuart Immonen (and probably Wade Von Grawbadger, although it’s not credited as such) available for order this month.
(Silly aside: When I type too fast, Fear Itself becomes Feet Itself. I hope that’s the sequel! There is nothing to feet but feet itself!!!)
2. Sugar and Spike Archives Volume 1: I’m not sure exactly how many folks have been waiting patiently for this collection to happen, but I know at least a couple of hundred diehards who started jumping up and down with excitement when this project was finally announced earlier this month. Most of us had given up hope that this much-beloved comic series — created, written, and drawn by comics legend Sheldon Mayer — would ever be collected. The original series appeared from 1956 to 1971, and except for a few one-shot reprintings (and a couple of DC Direct plushies), hasn’t been seen since.
Although the characters are so beloved that they’ve made several clandestine appearances throughout the DCU over the years. They pop up as decorations in Planet Krypton in Kingdom Come, as theme park characters in the Justice League Spectacular, and are shown being baby-sat by Cassie Sandsmark in Wonder Woman (v.2) #113. Most recently, they cameoed on the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon in “The Siege of Starro: Part 1” on the side of an S & S Diapers delivery truck. I personally got in on the fun in the early 90s. I got to pay tribute to my favorite Sugar & Spike story (#82, in which we get to see what they are like when they grow up to be teenagers) by slipping their teenage selves onto the cover of Legionnaires #43. Artist Jeff Moy thought I was crazy — while he was busy sneaking several anime characters onto the cover, thinking that I wouldn’t notice. While at least one DC exec wasn’t pleased with this Sugar & Spike appearance, I was secretly thrilled that so many people recognized them (even as teenagers) and made a point of telling me so at conventions.
Why all the love for Sugar and Spike? Simply because it was one of the most unique and utterly charming series that DC (or anybody) had ever done. Sugar Plumm and Cecil “Spike” Wilson were toddlers who lived next door to each other and played together frequently. Being too young to speak, they communicated in “baby talk” — depicted as English for the readers, but displayed as seemingly nonsense syllables as heard by the kid’s hapless parents. One of the more common phrases was “GLX SPTZL GLAAH!!!” — which if I remember correctly, became the name of a popular early fanzine or APA (Amateur Press Association). Later on, it was understood that “baby talk” was obviously limited, so the duo came up with their own words for many things: a pencil was a scribble stick; a spoon was a mouth shovel; and a telephone was the Yakity-Yak Box.
The two characters also had distinctive personalities. Sugar was bossy, spoiled, determined, and liked to order Spike around to do her dirty work. She was the dominant leader of the duo and quite infatuated with Spike, whom she constantly called “Doll-Boy”. Red-headed Spike was a tough little guy, except when it came to Sugar. Obviously smitten with her, he would act as her protector and do pretty much whatever she told him to. Sugar returned this devotion by pushing him down every chance she got. It was obviously true love.
Many early adventures of the two were about trying to figure out a grown-up thing, completely getting it wrong, and inadvertently causing much mayhem and occasional destruction while trying to figure it out. Many Sugar and Spike stories ended with the twosome sitting quietly in the corner, occasionally arguing about what went wrong this time. Occasionally, the pair would end up in the corner for picking up a “grown-up word” and repeating it, such as when they learned the phrase “Toopit ijit.”
Later on, the formula changed a bit. Additional characters were introduced to the mix, including Little Arthur, an older kid (and a bully to boot) who tormented the babies. He wore an old Civil War Confederate-style gray jacket and hat for no apparent reason, and usually, Sugar and Spike managed to outwit him. Another was Great Gran’Pa Plumm, who was so old, he was experiencing “second childhood” and could understand baby talk. Amusingly, he always dressed like a cowboy, and the parents probably thought he was senile. Probably the most popular supporting character was Bernie the Brain, a child genius and inventor the same age as Sugar and Spike, but so intellectually advanced that he understands “grown-up talk”. His eventual role is as an interpreter of grown-up concepts and behavior, and his wacky inventions are often the catalysts for crazy adventures. Bernie famously cameos in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, watching WGBS reporter Clark Kent reporting on Crisis events on television.
One of the other reasons that Sugar and Spike was so popular among its fans was its interactivity. One of the earliest (non-E.C.) comics to have a lettercolumn (called “We Got Letters!”), it contained correspondence from toddlers to grandparents and every age in between. (And each letter was signed off with the author’s age.) Readers were encouraged to send in ideas and suggestions, many of which were used in subsequent stories. Further, Mayer devoted a few pages of each issue to other kinds of reader participation. Most popular were the two pages of paper dolls (carefully planned out not to have story pages on the back side), with clothing designs sent in (and credited to) the readers. Holiday themes were popular, and the best outfits were almost always reserved for clever Halloween and Christmas costumes. These paper doll pages — or lack thereof — are a major reason why the Sugar and Spike title is so collectible today. It’s hard to find copies with all the pages intact! This is also why so many fans were clamoring for Sugar and Spike collections. Back issues, especially of the early years of the series, are incredibly expensive — when you can find them at all!
In addition to one-page stories presented in black & white (for kids to color), there were two other very popular features: “You Be the Editor” was a five- or six-panel gag with the panels out of order. Fans were encouraged to cut out the panels and arrange them in the right order. In “Write Your Own Comic Page”, Mayer would draw a page of a short story, and indicate the dialogue balloons, but leave them blank for the readers to create their own story. Both of these were also in black-and-white, encouraging the readers to color the pages and then mail in their finished work. The “Write Your Own Comic” winner was occasionally awarded a small cash prize or original art and sometimes published in the comic, with full credit.
Sugar and Spike ran for 98 issues before being canceled in 1971. (A final #99 was published in 1992 as part of the DC Silver Age Classics series, the last comics printed at World Color Press in Sparta, Illinois.) One of the reasons the book was originally canceled was Sheldon Mayer’s failing eyesight. Following corrective surgery, he was able to draw again, producing Sugar and Spike stories until his death in 1992. However, only a handful of these later stories have ever seen print in the U.S.
Sugar and Spike was the first DC comic series I ever bought, and collected, as a young child, along with my Uncle Scrooge and Huckleberry Hound comics. Seeing the house ads in Sugar and Spike for the Superman line of comics (including, especially, Adventure Comics starring the Legion of Super-Heroes) eventually led me away from “kid” comics into the world of superheroes. But I never dropped Sugar and Spike. I collected it until the end, and I had quite a few issues — until I foolishly traded all of them away, probably for Legion back issues. Eventually, I managed to find a few battered issues at conventions around the country, but most collector’s copies were beyond my means. A comprehensive Sugar and Spike collection has been on my wish list seemingly forever. So I am counting the days until Sugar and Spike Archives Volume 1 (which reprints the first 10 issues of the series) – hopefully the first of many subsequent volumes.
But the Archives are big, expensive collector’s volumes. I think DC’s missing a bet by not issuing these wonderful children’s comics in their relatively inexpensive Showcase Presents format. They’re ideal for coloring, and cutting out the paper dolls, and just plain having fun. Plus, I’ve always dreamed of the opportunity to play “You Be the Editor!”
KC CARLSON sez: Hey, wait a minute! That was only two things! Where’s all the rest?
Don’t worry! The rest of the list will be here next Monday. I ran off so long on these two things that I made my “new” eyes all vibrate-y, and they need to calm down a bit before I can tackle the rest of the cool stuff scheduled for March. It’s a great month!
Classic Sugar & Spike covers are from the Grand Comics Database.