So, last Saturday I was walking to Jeff Brady's new digs for pizza and DVDs, I passed a guy sitting on his stoop with some card tables and crates. In the crates were comics, so like any good nerd, I paused and rifled through. This made me late, but Jeff totally understood.
Most of it was Bronze Age miscellanea (and the rest was '90s miscellanea), but I found a couple of books worth my dollar apiece. The first, Avengers Annual #7, I've been looking for for a bit; it's part one of a story that's continued in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2, an issue I have because it had Spider-Man on the cover, and I've always wondered how the first part starts. The other, the Spidey Annual, is a Spidey/Dr. Strange team-up, and I've always loved those. Plus, I checked the interior credits before buying, and they said Denny O'Neill and Frank Miller, so yeah, I'm up for that.
Avengers Annual 7 is a curious bit, one of those "I didn't get to finish my story in the series because it got canceled, so I'm finishing it here" bits that happened on occasion in the '70s. The series in question here is Jim Starlin's Warlock, and Starlin himself takes writing and art duties, bringing the Avengers into Warlock's final battle against his erstwhile ally, the death-obsessed Thanos. It's standard '70s space opera (going so far as to lift the "as if a million voices cried out in terror" bit from Star Wars, slightly massaged to be relevant to the story and avoid lawsuits), but there's nothing wrong with that. One particular bit I found amusing was Iron Man having a bit of a self-deprecation crisis because he can only blow up the small alien cruisers, and Thor has to take the big ones. There's also a great splash page of the Avengers beating up on a whole army of weird-looking alien critters (although on the next page, the Vision takes on one that looks like a reject from the Henson workshop). The plot and philosophizing are a bit reliant on the Warlock series to have any impact, and since I haven't read it, they don't, but Starlin manages to give what I'd imagine was a satisfying ending to Warlock's hero's journey, while still setting things up for another slobberknocker as the coda in the Two-In-One annual. And it's very easy to draw a straight line between this one and Infinity Gauntlet. (The less said about anything after that story, the better.)
The Spidey annual, I enjoyed more, but between two comics where one has Spidey and the other doesn't, I'm probably always going to say that. This is the "Bend Sinister" story, a done-in-one where Dr. Doom and Dormammu try to fulfill some ancient and bad prophecy, and Strange & Spidey are the only ones who can stop them. The impetus to occasionally team these two up probably comes from their shared Ditko origins, and that's fine with me. They're two characters who have always played around the fringes of the Marvel Universe, Spidey mostly concerned with mundane criminal goings-on in New York, and Strange exploring mystic frontiers and combating threats that the science-based heroes of the Avengers and FF wouldn't really be able to handle. This makes them idiosyncratic, loner-type characters, and it's always fun to see those types forced to interact. (If I may digress, Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files series, handled their working relationship wonderfully in his Spider-Man novel, The Darkest Hours, which was just rereleased in a new trade edition. Definitely worth it.)
Here, Doom and Dormammu (or rather, their pawn, a poor schlub who reminded me of nothing so much as Uglyhead from Grant Morrison's Frankenstein) move to take Doc out of play before launching their plan, and he sends a desperate cry for help to anyone available. Unfortunately, Spidey's the only one available, so it's up to him to disrupt the Bend Sinister, save Doc's life, and not break his date with Deb Whitman (one of the several half-hearted love interests used during the first MJ-less period of the late '70s/early '80s; telling that the only one of them to last in the memory of the readership was basically a Catwoman ripoff, innit?). It's full of O'Neill trademarks (read: Greenwich village culture; it's utterly bizarre seeing a plot to rip a hole between dimensions get its start in CBGB, much less Doc Strange leaving Spidey a clue to go there). And since O'Neill actually had firsthand knowledge of that culture, it actually comes off as authentic, as opposed to other similar efforts (Bob Haney, I'm looking in your direction).
Miller's work is not quite at the style that would make him legendary, but it's impressive nonetheless; he handles the mood of a dark and stormy New York night, brimming with dark magic, very well. And, as with the Starlin book, he throws out some nifty creature designs. He does use a number of shortcuts to give himself an excuse not to draw all of the weblines on Spidey's costume, but I can't really bitch about that, since in his place, I would too. (This is why Mark Bagley prefers drawing the black costume, incidentally.)
It probably won't be too big a spoiler to say that Spidey and Doc do indeed save the day (although Spidey still finds something to kvetch about; he is a born kvetcher). If is rarely the story in these sorts of things; the story is how, and in this case (both these cases, actually), how is a pretty fun read.