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Apocrypha Entertainment Presents:









THEY COME AND THEY GO

Who? “Superstars,” that’s who. And I come to you today not to bury one, but to praise a forgotten one.

In the 1980s, Marvel’s primary superstars could reasonably be ranked as thus:

1. Chris Claremont
2. Frank Miller
3. John Byrne

Who would you rank next? The great Roger Stern, perhaps? He’d be high on my list. John Buscema? Sure, that’s a name to rank towards the top, no doubt. But here’s the deal: superstars get high profile assignments. They work with other star names in the credits box. And they tend to wind up as the primary name in that credit box, in multiple capacities. That eliminates Stern and Big John, right? So my take on it:

4. Al Milgrom.

Editori-Al, you say? Wasn’t he really just an inker with a side business in MARVEL FANFARE?

Nope.

In the early-to-mid 80s, you only need to look at Milgrom’s assignments to see just how valuable he was to the company and its output. He spent almost three years drawing Stern’s AVENGERS, inked by hall of famer Joe Sinnot. An powerful artwork it was; grand heroes, powerful heroines, dynamic layouts… Al could do it all, and Sinnot put the finishing touches on some gorgeous comicbooks. And when Marvel saw the sales figures for the WEST COAST AVENGERS limited series and decided that they merited an ongoing book, who did they turn to for the art? You got it: Al Milgrom. Partnered with legendary Steve Englehart, Milgrom showed an incredible versatility, balancing fine character dynamics with a gift for being able to shift through various milieus with aplomb. Make no mistake- Al was The Man, and he was at the top of his game.

But if you really want a test of Milgrom’s status and power in those years, look no further than PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN. Somewhere around issue 71 or so (memory fails, and it isn’t that important), Milgrom came on to do pencils for the book. Bill Mantlo was scripting and the great Jim Mooney was inking, and while the book wasn’t as quiet-cool as Stern and John Romita Jr’s AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, it filled its niche nicely. And mind you, even though Claremont’s UNCANNY X-MEN was the company’s flagship title, Marvel has always ultimately been The Company That Makes Spider-Man. Special care was and always has been taken to assure that top talent works on the Spider-titles.

So it’s very telling that, as issue 90 rolled around and Mantlo left for other pastures, Milgrom was handed the keys to the car. He took over the writing chores on PP:SSM and kept drawing it, too. Ask yourself a question: how many people have had the chance to be writer/artist on a Spider-Man comic. Todd McFarlane springs briefly to mind, but no one else (I’m sure someone out there might correct me, though).

That’s how much pull Al Milgrom had at that time.

I’ve recently re-read his first year of PP:SSM comics where he was the driver, and you know what? They’re pretty damned solid. He eschewed Mantlo’s heavy-handed exposition, script-wise, and his artwork (aided and abetted by terrific work by Mooney) leans toward classic superhero material. He plays with panel structure, tests out some interesting storytelling and pacing techniques… it isn’t flashy, but he shows the reader, doesn’t tell, and the comics are more rewarding for it.

For better or worse, Al Milgrom may always have the albatross of SECRET WARS 2 around his neck, which is unfair. Jim Shooter’s terrible script and story are responsible for that, along with the inks of Steve Leialoha (who was just a poor fit for Milgrom’s artistic style). He may also be more recently infamous for taking a shot at Bob Harras through the inks on a cover. But he deserves better than those things; instead we should give him the credit he’s long been due. He was a creative talent that did a great deal in moving the Marvel Universe forward over a number of years. He took on high-profile assignments and did steady, strong work. And we owe him a great deal of praise and gratitude to this very day for his efforts.

So thanks, Al Milgrom. You totally rocked. I hope that today’s crop of “superstars” look at what you accomplished and feel respect for it. And I hope that they remember that “fame” is fleeting, and someday down the road, some other guy is going to be sitting at his keyboard writing a column about them and their forgotten contributions. Comics, it seems, are a harsh mistress.

Marc Mason  

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