Friday, 5 May 2017

Fill-In Issues

Here's something we haven't talked about much: Fill-In issues. Victims of The Dreaded Deadline Doom. Those single editions that appeared, unannounced and unwelcome, right slap-bang in the middle of a story you were really enjoying and couldn't wait to read the next part of.
As much a part of the Bronze Age as those painful looking metal brassieres Conan's girlfriends habitually wore, they were often the result of lax editorial oversight, too much freedom given to creators or said creators' massive drugs intakes, depending on which chapter of Sean Howe's Marvel Comics The Untold Story you're reading.
All of those things were also, natch, responsible for some of the greatest comics ever done by anybody ever.
Probably the most well known, and most divisive, fill-in was Steve Gerber's Howard The Duck #16:

Which he wrote, as he says, while driving to Vegas. When this issue came out, I absolutely loathed it. Though to be fair to Steve, he knew we would...

Even as an adult, even as a massive Gerber fan, I still find this issue boring and pointless, though at least he didn't go reprint. ( Something that was even worse - generally a new Gil Kane cover, with a crap Silver Age reprint behind it )
Here's another one - X-Men #110:

Len Wein, Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum had just brought the X-Men back from the dead, John Byrne and Terry Austin were now on board and the book was just about to become great. Then we get some completely random bad guy called Warhawk invading the X-Mansion, with Tony DeZuniga on art duties.
Don't get me wrong, Tony was of course one of the greats, but this was blatantly a story that had been sitting in someone's draw for a while. And I didn't want DeZuniga on X-Men, I wanted Byrne & Austin.

More? Here's Marv, Sal and Dave Hunt stepping in on Avengers #169:

Again, nothing wrong with this one. In fact, it's quite a fun adventure for Cap, T'Challa & Shellhead, But it didn't fit. It wasn't part of what we'd been reading. It was another fill-in.
And it sat there in your collection, being slightly irritating, but there was no way you could get rid of it. You couldn't couldn't swap it for something better, 'cos that would mean you didn't have the complete set!
But, but, but .... It was better than a reprint.
Interestingly, whenever the writer was so late they couldn't do an HTD #16, it nearly always seemed to be Bill Mantlo who filled in, like in these two examples. Maybe he was hanging out round the offices a lot.

And you can disagree with me about this one if you like, as it's an interim issue between Len Wein & Gerry Conway's runs on Werewolf By Night, but instead of Mike Ploog you get Werner Roth, and to me, it always smelt like a fill-in.
There were loads of these in the Bronze Age, not necessarily bad comics, just... unwelcome ones.
Maybe it's time for a Marvel Essential Fill-ins?


  1. The extra-annoying thing about that X-Men #110 fill-in was that it arrived only a few months after a previous fill-in, #106, drawn by Bob Brown (who I had plenty of time for at any other time, but not in the middle of a story in what was possibly the best comic going back then).

  2. Funny blog though I wish you could have titled the post, just Fill-in Post. Would love to see more.

  3. Ah yeah, but then everyone'd think I'd just gone reprint and not read the post!
    X-Men #1-6 is another great example - a whole issue of the team just arsing about in the danger room.
    Anybody got any more?

  4. Of course I meant X-Men 106.

  5. A fill-in issue I always remember is Fantastic Four #154 which featured a lame Strange Tales Torch / Thing reprint, dumped smack in the middle of Rich Buckler's epic run on the title. Seriously underwhelming.
    Oh, and I love HTD #16, a suitably bizarre, warts 'n' all trip through Gerber's subconscious with Howard as a cynical Jiminy Cricket, constantly undermining his creator...

  6. Of course I meant X-Men 106.

  7. And that issue of FF came with a classic cheat cover that bore no relation to the inside, Cerebus. Good one.

  8. Every time I picked up a comic in the 70's & saw Mantlo's name in the credits (instead of the main writer of any particular given series) my heart would sink in despair. Not only because it meant that the regular story-line was interrupted, but because it also meant we were in for an incredibly lousy script dashed off in an hour or so that he got paid for & that we would get ripped-off on. You know I'm right. Nobody is losing any sleep thinking how keen it would be to bring back Mr. Fish or Tapping Tommy.

  9. Well, I'm half and half on Mantlo - on the one hand Tapping Tommy still irritates me, all these years later - but then you have to give the guy credit for Rom and The Micronauts. Plus I love The Sword In The Star.
    On the one hand, it was painful when he'd try to ape the styles of one-offs like Gerber or McGregor, but I'm bound to say I actually thought he made a decent fist of the Howard The Duck magazine.

  10. Howard the Duck magazine?
    For shame, Pete.
    (Mike Golden did a good job drawing duckworld though)


  11. And Marshall Rogers and Gene Colan, don't forget. Maybe it's the art that let's me read it while holding my nose, but like I say, a decent try by Mantlo.

  12. I remember reading in one of the fanzines circa 1977 or 1978 that Marvel had decided to prepare for deadline problems by laying in a supply of stories that could be plugged into multiple comics. For example, one story was commissioned that involved Spider-Man, the Human Torch, and the Thing, so that it could be used in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, MARVEL TEAM-UP, MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE, or FANTASTIC FOUR. A story with Spider-Man, Captain America, and Iron Man was concocted to be used in any of their solo comics, MARVEL TEAM-UP, or THE AVENGERS.

    That AVENGERS issue you post above looks as if it might have been one of these.

  13. I'd say that's exactly the case with that one, yeh, cheers.