by KC Carlson
Looooove…. exciting and… uh, old!
In 1997, Marvel Comics got all warm and gooey and published the first (and only) Marvel Valentine Special, featuring a quintet of stories with your favorite Marvel superhero characters in romantic entanglements.
Here’s Marvel’s original solicitation copy from back in the day (which nicely sums it all up):
Marvel celebrates Valentine’s Day with an all-new Special! No frilly lace and gushy prose here, tiger! It’s 48 pages of two-fisted romance a la Marvel! Celebrate Cupid’s favorite holiday with all-new tales of love and loss starring Spider-Man & Mary Jane, Cyclops & Phoenix, Daredevil, Venus, and Absorbing Man & Titania. Written by Tom Peyer, Tom DeFalco, John Ostrander, and Frank Strom. Art by Mark Buckingham & Kev Sutherland, Kyle Hotz, Mary Mitchell & Chris Ivy, Dan DeCarlo & Terry Austin, and Dan Lawlis & Jeff Albrecht. Cover by Mark Buckingham.
As you can see on the cover, the book promises “All-Out Romance in the Mighty Marvel Manner!” which I would have guessed would be 20 pages of people punching each other, and then another page or two of everybody making up and joining the Avengers. Nope. This comic was published when the Comics Code of America still ruled the Earth (just like the dinosaurs), so you can be sure that this comic book is good and wholesome — except for all the punching and hitting in the Absorbing Man and Titania story (they are villains, after all), and whatever the heck is happening in the post-apocalyptic Cyclops and Phoenix story.
But first, we start with a Peyer and Bucky Spider-Man and Mary Jane story from the period when they were actually married. (What do you mean you don’t remember that? Stupid Joe Queseda… grumble… grumble…) For Valentine’s Day, Spidey webs Mary Jane to a life-sized web heart, and since she’s stuck there for an hour until the web dissolves, we quickly cut away to not see some non-Code-approved activity. (Sorry, kids.) Then, while having a picnic on their bedroom floor, Pete relates the tale of how at school earlier that day, he helped a nerdish student to win the heart of his bombshell gal pal by showing him how to be all studly and cool. Horrified, MJ actually has to explain to him that’s not how it works, and that she was actually first attracted to Ditko-era “nerd” Peter (not Romita-era “cool” Pete).
Cut to nerd kid, now looking like a biker with leather jacket and greasy hair, trying to put the moves on bombshell girl. But it all goes wrong, he strangely trips over nothing, and nerd kid realizes that this is not really him. Bombshell confesses that she’s actually been crushing on nerd kid all along. They sweetly hug while we notice Spidey and MJ in the shadows, and if we could see under Spidey’s mask, we’d see a big wink. That tripping incident = no accident. Cute story.
Up next is a Daredevil and Karen Page story by Ostrander and Mitchell. It’s quite an important tale about abusive relationships that’s hindered by not enough pages to tell the story properly, so it comes off a little forced and a bit preachy. DD gets in a few licks with the street gang the boyfriend is a member of, but Karen actually gets through to the girl via her late-night radio alter ego “Paige Angel” (whom I completely forgot about), who provides a running commentary throughout the story. The artist generally does a great job with the emotional scenes (especially a “how blind Matt ‘sees’ Karen panel”) but is a bit lacking in how to choreograph the main fight scene. The National Domestic Violence Hotline gets a prominent plug.
IT’S ALL TOO MUCH
Venus, a character originally from Marvel’s Atlas Age of comics in the 1950s, returns in a story illustrated by Archie artist Dan DeCarlo, who hadn’t drawn for Marvel since he drew Millie the Model and other girly series in the 40s and 50s. And look: Millie and some of the cast (including Chili) from her series guest star! This should be great, right? Sadly, it falls short, because the writer (Frank Strom) tries to cram too much dialogue, too many jokes, and just sheer verbiage into the story, causing most panels to contain huge word balloons and restricting DeCarlo’s art to smaller and smaller spaces.
The massively overcrowded plot also features another 50s fave — the Kirby monster Goom, Emissary From Planet X, who attempts to take the girls as his brides. While Venus holds him off, Millie and Chili set up some “computer matchmaking” for Goom and somehow manage to teleport his perfect mate, the clingy princess Shivoor from outer space. Meanwhile, Whitney Hammond, Venus’ long-lost boyfriend from the 50s, is revealed as the secret partner of Millie’s modeling agency, now into his 60s or 70s. Venus doesn’t care — true love transcends age — and the two of them depart to Olympus. Fun, but WAY too many concepts and characters (and words!) for a nine-page story. BTW, Terry Austin inks DeCarlo here.
“The Greatest Gift” is by DeFalco and Lawlis. This fun romp stars classic Marvel villain The Absorbing Man (Crusher Creel) and his super-villain wife, Titania. He’s trying to find the perfect Valentine’s Day gift, a vintage Millie the Model doll (although it’s drawn like the vintage pillbox hat Barbie doll of the 50s). He finds one in a collectibles store in Pittsburgh, but just before he can actually purchase it, he’s attacked by hoods, who make fun of him for having dolls. Obviously, this doesn’t go well, and the fight escalates to the point where the Pittsburgh police are tossing hand grenades at Crusher (yet somehow this doesn’t really bother me), and the battle ends up on the local TV news. Which Titania, at home in the suburbs and bored to death, sees while channel surfing. She rushes to join the fight, which ultimately destroys cars and buildings and causes thousands of rounds to be fired by the police. All this manages to do is destroy the Millie doll, crushing Crusher because he’s lost his perfect gift for his sweetie. Turns out that he already got her the perfect gift — a little excitement and a huge battle with cops! Plus, she can’t wait to see what he gets her for their Anniversary! Awwww…
Finally, we have the tale of Cyclops and Phoenix (or more properly, Slim and Red) while they were in that post-apocalypse world 1,000 years in the future to baby-sit Scott’s long-lost son, aka baby Cable. Suffice to say that it’s a story of the power of love overcoming tremendous obstacles. And it’s also about a tiny cactus.
MORE MARVEL LUV
While romantic entanglements and subplots have always been a part of the Mighty Marvel Method (going all the way back to Reed and Sue and Namor), Marvel’s never really offered up much in the way of stand-alone superhero romance titles. There never was another issue of the Marvel Valentine Special.
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane spun off from the 2004 Mary Jane title, most likely to get Spidey’s name in the logo for better sales — which worked, extending the title (on and off) until 2009. A lot of readers missed seeing this Marvel Age-branded series for younger readers, which is a shame since it was one of the better Marvel books overall in that era.
In 2006, Marvel issued I (Heart) Marvel, five stand-alone one-shots starring the Marvel Superheroes, featuring Spidey, lotsa mutants, Daredevil, Black Widow, Elektra, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Bullseye, New Warriors, Squirrel Girl, and even Doop! Also in 2006, there was Marvel Romance Redux, five more individual one-shots, mocking the stories from the original Marvel Romance comics (My Love, Our Love Story, etc.) from the 50s, 60s, and 70s by giving them new dialogue. My favorite was a Peter David rewrite of an old Patsy Walker story, retitled “Patsy Loves Satan”. Good stuff, but no superheroes.
Although it’s not technically comics, just last year (2013), Hyperion experimented with chick-lit novels based on Marvel characters Rogue (Rogue Touch) and She-Hulk (The She-Hulk Diaries). They were pretty good, with She-Hulk’s standing out for its use of humor in the story of a modern professional gal trying to balance friends, work, and romance.
Here’s hoping you find some fun reading for this year’s Valentine’s Day! Just don’t neglect your gal or guy. No comic book reading while canoodling!
KC CARLSON: The Love Boat theme song was written by Daft Punk crony Paul Williams (who also hangs out with puppets), with music by Charles Fox. Lyrics mangled by me. Sorry.
Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.