Monday, August 24, 2009

When Spidey Met Optimus

It’s something that all kids do instinctively. You’re sitting there with your toys, a pile of Transformers on one side and a heap of G. I. Joe guys on the other and even though you know they’re two separate things according to the toy companies and the cartoons, you start playing with both of them together and making up your own stories. It’s like putting your chocolate in your peanut butter, only with machine guns. And it’s awesome.

That’s why Marvel’s lines of licensed comic books in the 70’s and 80’s were so fun: because they played with their toys just like kids would. Licensed books are nothing new; since the birth of comics, publishers would buy the comic book rights from a TV or movie or toy company and put out a series of stories based on the property. Gold Key and Dell practically floated their entire company on the backs of popular television, and today publishers like IDW, Dark Horse and Boom! Studios compete to see who can garf the rights to the next video game first. After all, in today's market, where Transformers and G. I. Joe have become multi-media entertainment juggernauts, it never hurts to have a tie-in comic to cash in on the hype.

But back when Marvel was in charge, they did things a little differently. They didn’t just put out comics based on these toys and cartoon characters; they actually integrated the properties into their own shared Marvel Universe. Part of this was due to the fact that in many cases Marvel themselves had a hand in creating the properties to begin with; few remember that Marvel created the characters and backstory for Transformers, while G. I. Joe actually started out as a pitch for a new SHIELD comic. But even when Marvel was taking on properties that had no real or logical connection to the rest of their world, they still decided to just throw things together and see what happened. After all, if you’ve got the toys, why not play with them?

This week, then, we’ll be taking a look at one of the stranger eras in comics, when Marvel’s biggest heroes routinely rubbed elbows with Godzilla, battled Shogun Warriors, shrunk down to face the Micronauts and even teamed up with Conan and Doc Savage in some of the weirdest (and often most nonsensical) comics of the time. Along the way we’ll try to unearth some forgotten classics and examine why they became forgotten in the first place. So grab your Sectaur and cinch up your Human Fly, because when Spider-man becomes friends with Optimus Prime, you know anything can happen.

Tomorrow: In Marvel’s long history, perhaps no comic featured more team-ups, guest stars and cameos as that centerpiece of Marvel continuity… uh, Rom? We’ll take a look at the huge list of guest stars from Rom’s 75 issue run, featuring everyone from the Soviet Super Soldiers to Jack of Hearts, with a special look at a rare appearance by Rogue as a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. See you then.

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