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[Insert weak Ed Sullivan impersonation here] – Marvel Super Special #4, “The Beatles Story”

March 10, 2012

My mother had a Beatles beach towel when I was growing up, a ragged remnant of her adolescence that she’d trot out every summer for sand and surf holidays — I’m pretty sure it was a twin of the one you can see here. I can still see it hanging on the clothesline in the backyard, flapping in the wind as it dried after a washing that miraculously didn’t disintegrate its aged fibers and send it up to towel heaven. I sometimes wonder whatever happened to it, whether it still sits on a shelf somewhere in the old house. Maybe my mother takes it out now and again, looks at it lovingly and remembered the days when she would have screamed her head off and fainted if she ever saw the Fab Four in the flesh. DEAR GOD I HOPE SHE DOESN’T.

All that is a roundabout way of saying that the Beatles belong to my mother’s generation, not mine. I recognize their preeminence in the music world, and gape in awe at the artistic/financial colossus that is their catalog. I appreciate their music. But I wouldn’t call myself a fan. I have only one song of theirs on my iPod, the over-in-an-instant “We Can Work It Out.” (It’s a song I truly love, and one I like to belt out whenever I’m in the middle of a heated argument. It’s a tremendous tension diffuser. Try it sometime.)

It boils down simply being born to late. I can no more fully grasp the fever of Beatlemania than I can internalize the national shock of JFK’s assassination.

It’s this from-a-distance eye that I’m forced to bring to the Beatles’ 1978 Super Special classic, which marks a sharp right turn away from the Krull and Santa Claus efforts that started of the Marvel Super Special March.

Before even getting to the boys and their story, we should pause to note the artists, as they both went on to work on books with great critical and box office acclaim. The penciller, George Perez, needs no introduction. Nor does Klaus Janson, though his inks here don’t stretch back in time as far as those in the senses-shattering introduction of Woodgod. (John Lennon. Woodgod. Paul McCartney. Woodgod. George Harrison. Woodgod. Ringo Starr. Woodgod. Okay, Ringo and Woodgod might go together, I admit.) If you’re looking forward to seeing some young Perez running wild, I think in the following scans you’ll see a lot more young Janson. His inks were by this point developing their trademark all-consuming force. BE WARNED.

Reading this biography of a band (scripted by David Kraft), I was struck by the similarities between it and the R.E.M. comic that was featured here the day that group broke up. Both aren’t the best reads, unless going through a graphic timeline checklist is something that you’d queue up for. This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened. You get the idea. This structure is perhaps unavoidable with the constraints imposed by space and the medium, but that fundamental critique remains. And much of the behind-the-scenes business chicanery is glossed over in a way that makes your eyes gloss over. It’s an overload — too much at once.

When a book has “Unauthorized” on the cover, you’re conditioned to expect some salacious Kitty Kelley scandal-mongering, but there’s none of that. This is unauthorized hagiography, if such a thing isn’t an oxymoron.

That said, I can see how a band aficionado would have fun with this book, as there’s an undeniable kick in seeing music history rendered in the comic book medium. There’s also a “before the fall” spirit when read at this late date, as the final, irrevocable sundering of the group — the tragic murder of John Lennon that made any reunion impossible — was still two years away when the comic was published. That sad foreknowledge is always on your mind.

A casual reader like myself goes through searching for the events that have seared their way into our societal pop consciousness. And they’re there. Aplenty. Here’s the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan introduction (which ranks someplace just behind the Moon landing on the BIG MOMENTS list), with some brief lead-in and follow-up:

If there’s one panel, that I’m glad was thrown in, it’s this one, representing the clash of civilizations that was the meeting between the four Brits and Elvis Presley:

I think I’d read a whole mag devoted to some fanciful imaginings about that encounter. Nothing about Monopoly games, though.

The book is split into two parts. It’s in the second, with the psychedelic influences of the counterculture, that the artwork breaks boundaries and comes out to play. There are some Technicolor LSD hallucination rainbows involved — BIG SURPRISE:

Of course, these end times also mean the introduction of rock’s great villainess. LO, THERE SHALL BE A YOKO:

A little over a month ago I posted a couple of ads for this mag, and a comment pointed out that Ringo looked odd. That’s not so much the case in the comic proper, though later in this chronicle of the Beatles’ career, when they all started sprouting facial scruff, Mr. Starr bears a passing resemblance to Baba Booey. Most of the likenesses, however, are passable at worst, and excellent at best. The photographic reference work is mentioned in a portion of the extra materials (which are the obvious discographies and fluff articles, nothing too astonishing). That morsel can be found in the Marvel biographies below, as well as a few other items of interest:

A) Perez looks like Charles Manson or something. B) I wonder what the extent of Janson’s friendship with John Lennon was. Pals? C) Is Kraft nude in his picture? It reminds one of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s capture photo.

And there you have it. If you love the Beatles — if you have a ratty Beatles beach towel hidden somewhere — than this is manna from heaven. If you’re not a fan, it’s a bit of a bore, even with two big industry names illustrating it. I found it boring. If you disagree, try to see it my way. Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong.

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