Being a comics collector does lead you to some strange places and I’m not just talking about backstreet comic shops in forgotten towns, although they are strange as well as great. In this case I am talking about Marvel’s 1993 annuals. For their 1993 annuals Marvel decided to create a new character, hero or villain, for each and to include a trading card for that character. Now the odd thing is, by 1993 I wasn’t reading Marvel books at all. I was all about Fantagraphics, Love and Rockets, Hate, Eightball…all that good stuff. So I missed out on these the first time around. In many cases that is not a bad thing.
So why, in 2020 did I decide to collect 27 different books? My gateway book was the Guardians of the Galaxy annual which I grabbed because it features the best ever Shamrock story. The new character and card that came with that was The Irish Wolfhound. Now he was not a bad character, and it was a good story. Then came lockdown and plenty of time to browse eBay. And a few months later here we are. Or nearly. I still don’t have the Silver Surfer Annual, although I did read it on Marvel Unlimited. That book features the debut of Genis Vell, who went on to feature in Marvel movies like Captain Marvel. Therefore it attracts a premium price tag. I may weaken to complete the run. Or I may stand firm. We shall see.
Having got hold of the books, how best to appreciate them? As far as reading material goes they vary wildly. There are some great characters and some fairly meh. Similarly the stories vary in quality. The X-Force Annual being a truly terrible book which seems to have the premise ‘the kids like Wolverine so let’s make a team where everyone is a bit like Wolverine’ – real one-note drivel with Maverick the outstandingly bad character.
There were some characters I loved though. And of those, I decided to commission some artwork from a few of my favourite UK indie creators. They were puzzled but took my money anyway. And I’m very glad they did. Check out these amazing illustrations from Nick Prolix, Gustaffo Vargas and Andy Bloor.
What did I subject them to?
First up we have The Flame from The Mighty Thor Annual 18. This is a great looking character with a real Kirby style to him, created by writer Ron Marz and penciler Tom Grindberg. The Flame was half Fire-Demon and half Elf. A tough childhood left him with a chip on his shoulder and an urge to destroy. He was to appear again in the 2004 Thor Annual where he met his demise (as much as norse gods and Marvel characters ever meet their demise.)
I love what Nick has done with the character. Very dynamic and Kirbyesque.
Next we have a Daredevil villain, the Devourer. Featuring in Daredevil Annual 9, this character is of Mayan origin and inspired by the statues of Mayan snake gods to be found in old Mayan cities. Gustaffo Vargas was a perfect choice for this one, if you are familiar with his Mayan influenced cyberpunk stories.
The Devourer was to return in a later Daredevil issue. Not a typical DD villain really, and unlikely we will see this kind of mystic character in the very street level DD we see today. But who knows, would be nice to see them again!
Finally we have one of my favourites. The Bantam. A hero this time from Captain America Annual 12 where the writers were Mark Gruenwald and David Wohl while the art was from M.C Wyman and Charles Barnett III. A Puerto-Rican boxer who is inspired to use his fists to fight crime. I love this rendition by Andy Bloor which depicted a teak-hard Bantam ready to mix it up with anyone who thinks a chicken themed hero is something to smirk about. Sadly Bantam was killed during the Civil War event, but it would be nice to see someone else pick up the gloves and get back into the ring.
If you want to hear more about these characters then there is also an episode of the House to Astonish podcast which dug into them. And if you fancy doing a sketch of one of the remaining 24 characters yourself then let me know!