Sunday, October 6, 2013

Marvel Monster Makeovers

Last year, when I posted my popular Ten Lesser Known Bronze Age Monsters, one commenter asked about Man-Wolf (who probably should have made the list, but that's the problem with Top Ten lists. There's only so much room.)

Thinking about Man-Wolf though, it occurred to me that when he appeared in his first solo outing in the pages of Creatures On The Loose...

He was still in full-on werewolf mode. However when he later appeared in his second solo outing in the pages of Marvel Premiere 45...

... the monsterous element was no longer an essential part of the character. He was more of a sword and sorcery character who just happened to look like a werewolf.

This caused me to ponder: What other creature characters had undergone a similar personality or appearance metamorphosis wherein they evolved into something less monstrous?

The first and best representative of this group has got to be the Fantastic Four's Thing. Originally, Jack Kirby DID play up the monstrous aspect of Ben Grimm:

But by the time the Bronze Age rolled around, his appearance and personality had changed. His face became more expressive and his lumpy clay hide became the trademarked rocky scales.

John Byrne dramatically demonstrated the differences in his early appearances when he had The Thing travel into the past to adminster a cure to his younger self in the pages of Marvel Two-In-One 50.

Later, when he became the regular writer on Fantastic Four, John Bryne tried to revert the character back to his roots in the 80's, but I think my reaction as a kid was like most fans, so that was quickly rectified. Over the years, other people have tried to tinker with his appearance...

...but those alterations never stick.

Now another character who went through a different monster-makeover is Deathlok.
When he first appeared in the pages of Marvel Spotlight, his decayed facial appearance and futuristic army outfit made for a striking contrast.

But most recently, Marvel has revamped (or is it a retcon?) the character to where he now pretty much looks like Cyborg from Teen Titans.

And while I'm not wild about losing so much of the original look, the latest version is a far cry better than the Marvel M-Tech version that appeared for a few issues in the early 2000's.

Another example of a personality makeover is Werewolf By Night. When Jack Russell's furry alter ego first appeared, there was no mistaking his grisly intent.

But as the series continued through the years (and the Bronze Age Monster fad lost its charm) the beastial nature was downplayed as Russell gained control of the werewolf aspect (except on nights with a full moon.)

Over the years, attempts have been made to revitalize this character by bringing him back to his roots. The most recent being the 2009 Dead of Night limited series:

But ultimately, I think these attempts to revitalize the monster characters by restoring their roots fail because when the creatures all first appeared, their hook was the suggested potential for violence and terror which they had by dint of their monsterous nature.

Now, however, in a world where Wolverine routinely stabs 30 people in an issue of X-men and DC can't go 7 pages with someone getting a sword shoved in their back...

...a flesh rending werewolf and blood sucking vampire seem a bit quaint.

- Jim


Trey said...

Good post. I think these changes are interesting in that they all occurred for sort of different (but all market driven) reasons.

MattComix said...

DC's pathetic reliance on the stab-in-the-back shot is kind of a metaphor for how they treat these characters and people who like them.

As for Deathlock it's weird that they would pick now to give him a normal face when zombies have been so popular. His look would be right at home.

Talking about the monsters, part of the appeal of those monster characters originally were that they were a contrast to the norm. Basically horror characters running around in a superhero story working on superhero rules. (Though one might could argue that it's redundant for Marvel when they already have a monster tailor made for a superhero universe in the form of the Hulk.)

Now we have a gazillion superhero books that want to be anything but a superhero books. Many of which are just horror stories with capes. So there is no contrast there. They aren't an exception so they don't really stand out.

It's kind of the same for the Punisher. When he was an antagonist in Spider-Man the inherent greyness of the character was interesting put up against how superhero stories work. But when the whole damn genre is drowning in grey the Punisher is just another morally ambiguous character with a gun. Guys like him and Wolverine are a dime a dozen across our entire entertainment spectrum at this point.

Jim Shelley said...

@Trey - yes, I sort of thought the same thing. In a way, they provide an interesting reflection of how those same influences are applied to the superhero set as well.

Jim Shelley said...

@MattComix - you and DC just need to hug it out. ;)

But seriously, yes, I agree with you, you would think that by now, comics by the big two would show more diversity of character and personality but instead, they seem to actually be doing the opposite.

Unknown said...

It sounds like an interesting series. I will check it out

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