Or – “Days Of Future Black-And-White…”

After the big alternative comix boom of the 1970s, even Marvel Comics fell into periods of experimental and unusual storytelling.  Their black-and-white magazine line featured the likes of Conan, Dracula, and occasionally, more adult tales featuring their regular four-color cast of characters.  By the early 80s, only a few of the b&w’s remained, but Marvel still used them to tell stories that might not have worked in the pages of their regular books, but were they worthy of their more expensive format?  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!

BizarreAdventuresCoverBIZARRE ADVENTURES #27
Writer: Chris Claremont/Mary Jo Duffy/Bob Layton
Artist: John Buscema/George Perez/Dave Cockrum
Colorist: Klaus Janson/Alfredo Alcala/Ricardo Villamonte
Letterer: Uncredited
Editor: Denny O’Neil
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $1.25
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $16.00

Previously, in Bizarre Adventures:  Originally launched as Marvel Preview, Marvel’s eponymous magazine featured a varied cast of characters, ranging from Sherlock Holmes to an adaptation of Wylie’s proto-superhero story ‘Gladiator,’ and even the first appearance of Star-Lord, late of the Guardians Of The Galaxy.  As the book aged, it became Bizarre Adventures, telling tales set in the fringes of the Marvel Universe.  After a truly amazing full-color cover by Paul Gulacy, this issue opens with a quietly moving scene, as a young woman named Sara Grey visits the grave of her sister, Jean, whom even the most inexperienced comics reader could identify as the doomed hero known as Phoenix…


For references sake, this book came out in the summer of ’81, whereas Jean (or, as wouldn’t be revealed for a few more years, a pseudo-creature wearing Jean’s face) sacrificed herself in September of 1980.  Of course, that storyline was the culmination of a series of excellent stories that made the X-Men the best-selling title in Marvel history, as well.  Sara’s worries about whether her own children are mutants causes her to remember the last time she and Jean spent much time together, a sailing expedition some years earlier, during which they sailed into a mysterious fog-bank…


I’m a huge fan of the Marvel magazines, allowing as they do for a more measured pace and more nuanced art, as we see in these scenes.  The grey-scale (you should excuse the expression) makes things feel entirely different from the usual frenetic pace of an X-title, while Jean’s slow descent into the depths of the ocean is accompanied by an extended (and expanded) version of her origins as a mutant, and her early days at Xavier’s School. In a heart-rending moment, we find that her telepathy was triggered early by the death of her best friend Annie in a car accident.  Phoenix unexpectedly returns to consciousness, finding herself still underwater, but subtly changed…


Once again, the grey-tones are wonderful, showing us a change in the Grey sisters skin-tones even without any color in the book.  Jean telepathically calms her big sister, only for both of them to be called into the presence of their “host”: the Atlantean overlord called Attuma!  (There’s an Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘Kindergarten Cop’ joke in there somewhere, but damned if I can figure it out…)


“…PHOENIX!”  Jean flames on, and easily overcomes Attuma’s psionic dampeners and his guards alike.  She even overcomes the power of his giant butter-knife, wielded with strength sufficient enough to test the might Sub-Mariner himself!


The Grey sisters escape Attuma’s clutches, thanks to a few Phoenix-powered force-bolts, but are horrified when they climb out of the sea and find themselves unable to breathe air!  Jean comes up with a desperate plan…


…to use her telekinetic abilities to literally rebuild her sibling cell-by-cell from the ground up!  It’s a pretty amazing moment for the character, although it’s kind of a shame that it only came to light a year after her death.  Of course, that was by design, as Phoenix altered her sister’s memories of the incident to spare her the shocking truth…


I remember the first time I read this story, finding myself wishing that all the X-Men stories could have that much depth and real emotion in them.  Now, I understand why they don’t, as every reading of this tale leaves me feeling melancholy, even knowing that Jean returned and that it wasn’t really her who died in the first place.  Thankfully, the issue immediately switches gears, turning its attention to another founding X-Man, this one young Bobby Drake, the Iceman, who has taken a break from his college studies to enjoy the fun of the Winter Carnival…


Iceman even gets involved in a snowball fight (which, frankly, seems a bit unfair of him) before his super-hero luck kicks in, and a gang of thieves burst out of a nearby campus building…


That sixth panel is pretty amazing, serving not only as an excellent dynamic moment, but making Iceman look as cool as any superhero around, thanks to the work of a young George Perez.  That in itself is pretty amazing, especially since no one at Marvel seems to take the character seriously, given that he has a coming-of-age moment every year or so despite being one of the longest-serving heroes in the Marvel Universe.  Iceman easily takes down the thugs, and for the first time in his career, finds himself lauded as a hero.  At the urging of the students, he even joins in the festivities, making this Winter Carnival more wintry than ever!


Of course, the theft was actually just a ruse by one of the professors, to allow him access to the Henry-Pym designed new computer components being installed in the university’s mainframe, a secondary plan that goes off without a hitch…


…until the SECOND Iceman sculpture leaps out and begins freezing his goons in their tracks.  Heh.  And, Faithful Spoilerites, this issue once again does something that might have previously been unthinkable, in making Iceman look EVEN COOLER THAN HE DID BEFORE!


The villainous professor sets his blaster weapon (built from the stolen components, donchaknow) to overload, and Iceman realizes that a massive explosion is about to engulf the campus and kill all his new-found Ice-fans.  What’s a hero to do?


The story ends with Iceman vowing to become a successful solo hero, telling the local police that they’ll be hearing much more from him in the future!  Sadly, that never really came true, although he did have extended runs with the Defenders, X-Factor, and various sub-teams of the X-Men, which is more than can be said for some mutants.  Case in point:  The Vanisher.  The Uncanny X-Men find themselves drawn out by Cerebro’s report of “half-a-mutant”, when things get complicated…


Dave.  Mother#@#in.  Cockrum.  God, but I love Dave Cockrum.  The teleportation powers of Nightcrawler and the Vanisher, combined with the strange abilities of the Darkforce, create a vortex through which hero and villain fall, before coming to a rather unceremonious landing that reminds me of what would happen to young Den Of Earth not long after…


…right down to the half-naked women.  With both their ‘porting powers offline, Vanisher and Nightcrawler find themselves taken by separate tribes of women to serve as their temporary gods, a job that tends to have a very high turnover rate.  Nightcrawler convinces his Amazon tribe to take him to their Oracle, so that he can figure out what in the aitch-ee-double-hockeysticks is going on.  The answer:  The Universal Wellspring!


The Oracle’s message is clear:  To get home, Nightcrawler needs the Vanisher.  Unfortunately, Vanisher enjoys being the center of attention for an entire tribe of manless half-clad Amazong girls too much fun, and refuses to go.  Nightcrawler is less-than-amused as Vanisher tried first to out-fight him (Vanny fails miserably), then out-smart him (likewise), then outrun him, which leads Nightcrawler to leap down and apply the dreaded cross-face chickenwing hold!


Traveling to the well, the villain tries to fight Nightcrawler off again, succeeding only in lessening the power of his Darkforce clothing, before they discover the secret of the loud “OOOOGA!” noises that have been following them around this dimension…


You almost feel bad for the Vanisher, until you remember that he ends up as a drug-dealer with seriously unpleasant undertones and a taste for young teenage girls in just a couple of years.  Nightcrawler then teleports away, rounding out an interesting trio of stories with a comedic “BAMF!”, and making me miss the late Dave Cockrum even more.  This issue is one of the more sought-after pieces of the Marvel Black-and-white line, serving as a prequel to the later Nightcrawler miniseries as well as a quiet farewell to Phoenix after her first “death,” but it’s an issue worth the time and effort it takes to find a good copy.  Not only is it one of the best Iceman stories in existence (and I totally heard Frank Welker in every line), it’s a beautiful issue to look at, with three now-legendary artists plying their trade in fine form.  Bizarre Adventures #27 is a lost treasure of 70s Marvel, a period piece that works both comedy and tragedy to its benefit, earning a nostalgic 4 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★☆


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About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


  1. Thanks for reviewing this gem. I miss those old Marvel B&W magazines. It seems like they offered so many different formats when we were kids as compared to now: You had digests, magazines, the Star Comics line, Epic, and so forth.

    All three installments are great. Phoenix really should have stayed dead after 1980, given that the best Jean Grey stories happened during her tenure as Phoenix and (as seen here) after her demise. Nothing worthwhile was done with her character from ’86 to the time Grant Morrison dispatched her again.

    I couldn’t have told you that was George Perez on the Iceman piece thanks to the grey-scale. It gives his work a whole different feel. Iceman could indeed be a major player in the MU if only he were treated as an adult for once. Johnny Storm has the same problem, ironically enough. I think Iceman can work as an elder statesman while still sounding like Frank Welker. DC once pulled it off with Firestorm, so why not Bobby Drake?

    Lastly, the Cockrum Nightcrawler short brings to mind how much the X-books have changed. Dave and Kurt are now both gone, as is the style of storytelling that we grew up with, let alone the humor. That in itself, is probably far bittersweet than Jean dying back in the day.

  2. I always hated the Black & White mags, when I was a kid (especially when they had such dynamic color covers). But now as an adult, they are some of the best reads to return to.

    I too have a love of the solo iceman story, and always wished that future writers and artists could recapture that magic.

    Nice review of an old fave.

  3. Thanks for reminding me about one of my favorite titles back in the day. This book used to be a great bargain on the news stand and I used to love the storytelling format. The anthology nature meant you got exposure to a great variety of stories and characters with each issue. The stories were generally all self contained which was nice. And the B&W Magazine stand format always made my pre-teen self think I was reading more adult stories, even though in reality most of the material wasn’t anymore mature than the main lines.

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