Marvel Fanfare (#56 – 59) – Steve Gerber, Various

2 out of 5

Having only read these final issues of Marvel Fanfare (its first outing ended with issue 60), what I’m reviewing isn’t likely indicative of the run, which I do like the concept of. It’s the kind of mag I wish Marvel or DC had the space for nowadays, although we see it pop up as mini-imprints like Black Label or one-off trades: showcasing top-line creators working on mainline characters, but in a slightly more siloed and mature format. It’s like the Marvel Masterpieces (the trading card line) of comics. While there is a letter writer in one of the issues calling for continuity within the pages of Fanfare, I still get the sense that the stories here were intended as continuity adjacent – giving the aforementioned creators the time and pages to work on a story they maybe wanted to work on, instead of that month’s deadline job. My impression of Fanfare could be entirely off, but regardless, it has the whiff of a prestige line, and editor Al Milgrom’s illustrated intros to each issue are suggestive of the kind of hands-on oversight that makes for good anthologies.

Unfortunately, the content of these issues: not so good.

I picked these up because of Gerber, who has a four-part Shanna the She-Devil story tucked therein. It’s… messy. He’d started it several years prior, and then scripted the conclusion for Fanfare (13 years after the fact), when Milgrom unearthed the older entries. There’s also a comment from Al that suggests the tale was maybe intended to be longer, and so perhaps the surprise cancellation compounded the time-divide factor of Steve’s scripting to make for a very uneven story, because it’s very much going somewhere – Shanna and three others are gathered up by a group called Pride (animal headed beings who apparently can’t be seen by anyone besides Shanna and the other three) to commit murder; Shanna refuses and finds herself plunged into a dreamscape, of sorts, in which she struggles with her own killer instincts – and then the sudden slam of the conclusion goes somewhere else. Along the way, the strip is very unevenly arted, starting with extreme stylization from Carmine Infantino which doesn’t match the tone of the tale, to middle sections which are Bret Blevins going kind of grossly pin-up cheese with the whole thing, and then concluding with Tony DeZuniga, who’s probably best suited for the story, but completely biffs the ending, to an extent that I can’t really say what Steve was intending with the script. There are too many dropped storypoints along the way, and the mismatch between some of the social commentary in the first three sections versus the Shanna origin revamping Steve attempts in the last section makes it, ultimately, a bummer: one wishes we’d gotten the full version of the “original” story, or more room for Gerber to smooth the transition between that and the conclusion.

The backups are passable fare, they’re just generally not very interesting. Bill Mantlo’s ‘Toys Night Out!’ is pretty good: a Marvel version of Toy Story, way before the fact – plagiarism! – with fun, chunky art from Don Heck; but Mantlo’s followups – a Monica Rambeau Captain Marvel story; a Vision and Scarlet Witch tale – feel like they’re character first, story second; that is, the narratives feel hardly held together, and it was just a decision to highlight those particular heroes. Issue 59’s romance tale tribute by Richard Howell and starring Patsy Walker and Daimon Hellstrom looks good, and I love the idea of mixing Marvel characters with the genre, but there’s not much there beyond the concept.

These issues are, I have to assume not the best showings for Marvel Fanfare. But they “feel” good, have a few intriguing ideas in their contents, and feature fantastic Chiodo covers and some quality pinup sections.