Superman #240 (July, 1971)

With this issue of DC Comics’ flagship title, the “Sand Superman” saga that writer Denny O’Neil and penciller Curt Swan had initiated with the iconic Superman #233 (“Kryptonite Nevermore!”) moved into its climactic final phase.  In the previous chapter (published in #238, incidentally, as #239 was a giant-sized reprint issue), the Man of Steel had been brought to his lowest ebb yet.  While he’d ultimately managed to save the day in that episode, the victory had been a close one; with his powers still seriously depleted from multiple encounters with his mysterious sandy doppelgänger, our hero mused to himself in the story’s final panel:  “I’m a pretty poor excuse for a Superman these days… and that must change!  I’ll regain my former might — and soon! — or die trying!

Despite these determined words, however, when we turn past Neal Adams’ simple but dramatic cover for #240 to the story’s opening pages, we find that the Man of Tomorrow’s status remains pretty much the same as it was, well, yesterday:  Read More

Lois Lane #111 (July, 1971)

In May, 1971, DC Comics continued to chronicle the ongoing saga of the war between the god-worlds of New Genesis and Apokolips in three new releases:  Mister Miracle #3, Jimmy Olsen #139 — and Lois Lane #111.

True, the progenitor of that cosmic saga, Jack Kirby, neither wrote, nor drew, nor edited the third of the comic books listed above; indeed, he may not even have served as an informal consultant in its production.  Nevertheless, the latest episode in the continuing adventures of “Superman’s Girl Friend” leaned heavily on concepts developed by Kirby for Jimmy Olsen, with a plot centered on an attempt by the minions of Darkseid, Lord of Apokolips, to assassinate Lois’ mighty beau.  And why not?  Whatever else Kirby’s Fourth World was, it was clearly part of DC’s  shared universe, with especially strong ties to Superman’s corner of that fictional world; after all, in his guise of Clark Kent, Superman even had a minion of Darkseid for his boss.  It only made sense, therefore, that the cosmic conflict at the heart of Kirby’s four series (which included Forever People and New Gods in addition to Jimmy Olsen and Mister Miracle) would eventually spill over into the rest of DC’s line — and that any stories resulting from such a spillover would and should “count”, continuity-wise, every bit as much as did the King’s.

At least that’s how my thirteen-year-old self saw the matter, fifty years ago; and since I was then avidly following any and all developments in the Fourth World saga, that was enough to get me to pick up my first issue of Lois Lane in almost five years.  Read More

Sub-Mariner #40 (August, 1971)

In the spring of 1971, roughly four months after he’d crossed over a couple of Marvel superheroes in Iron Man #35 and Daredevil #73, writer Gerry Conway did it again — though this time, the team-up tale started in Daredevil and ended in another title (Sub-Mariner), rather than the other way around.  What was more, Conway even managed to work in a third marquee hero — the biggest star among the three, actually — although that hero’s title, Amazing Spider-Man, wasn’t itself a part of the crossover.  Perhaps oddest of all, after getting the ball rolling in Daredevil, Conway completely dropped the Man Without Fear from his narrative, so that DD’s role in the second half of the crossover was limited to appearing in a single flashback panel.

Whatever the thinking was behind doing things this way, if the intention was to get Marvel fans who weren’t currently consistent buyers of Daredevil and/or Sub-Mariner to pony up for at least one issue of each series, then it worked, at least as far as my thirteen-year-old self was concerned.  Having been a fairly regular purchaser of DD’s book in earlier days (through most of 1968-69, to be more precise), and an occasional sampler of Subby’s title as well, I very likely would have grabbed both comics even if there hadn’t been a third co-star.  But adding Spidey to the mix made it virtually a no-brainer for me — as I suspect it also did for a good number of other fans. Read More

Fantastic Four #112 (July, 1971)

You always remember your first.

(Your first Hulk vs. Thing slughest, that is.  Why, what did you think I meant?)

Technically, I suppose FF #112’s “Battle of the Behemoths!”, crafted by the regular Fantastic Four creative team of scripter Stan Lee, penciller John Buscema, and inker Joe Sinnott, wasn’t really my first experience seeing these two Marvel Comics heavy hitters go at it.  Rather, that would have come several months earlier, courtesy of  Marvel’s Greatest Comics #29 (Dec., 1970), which reprinted the characters’ very first meeting from FF #12 (Mar., 1963); the problem there, however, was that that story (a production of Lee, Jack Kirby, and Dick Ayers) was actually a bit of a bust, at least as far as Thing-Hulk dust-ups went.  The two bruisers didn’t actually encounter each other until page 17 of a 23-page story, and in the three page fight scene that followed, ol’ Jade Jaws took on the entire Fantastic Four, not just Bashful Benjy Grimm.  While both big guys got in some licks, the scene ultimately wasn’t very satisfying as a one-on-one match.

Also contributing to making this story less than a slam-dunk for my thirteen-year-old self was its age — or, more accurately, what its age signified in terms of the development of the characters, both visually and personality-wise.  This was a decidedly different Hulk than the one I was familiar with — among other things, this guy spoke in the first person, and he wore purple trunks, rather than the tastefully torn trousers of the same hue that I was used to seeing him in — while this Thing was a lumpier and more belligerent fellow than the hero I was accustomed to, as well.  Read More

New Gods #3 (Jun.-Jul., 1971)

The Black Racer is undoubtedly one of the most enigmatic and ambivalent characters who ever appears within the pages of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics.  Somewhat ironically, however, his creator appears not to have originally intended him to be part of the sprawling cosmic epic that ran through his DC titles in the early 1970s.  According to Mark Evanier, who was working as an assistant to Kirby during that period:

At the time, it was intended as a stand-alone series, utterly unconnected to the NEW GODS, FOREVER PEOPLE or MISTER MIRACLE series, and what Jack wanted to do was to hold a big talent hunt to find a young black writer and a young black artist- or maybe one person who could do both under Jack’s supervision. He presented this all to Carmine Infantino, who was then the guy in charge at DC, and Infantino convinced Jack to launch the character himself…and to do so right away, in the pages of one of the above-mentioned three comics.  (“The Soul of Willie Walker”, The Black Racer and Shilo Norman Special [Oct., 2017].)

Read More

Green Lantern #84 (Jun.-Jul., 1971)

Although writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams had begun their tenure on Green Lantern in 1970 with a run of grounded stories featuring more-or-less realistic antagonists, as they moved into their second year they appeared more willing to incorporate the sort of colorfully code-named and costumed supervillains that had been the series’ bread-and-butter prior to their own advent.  Already in GL #82 they’d brought back Sinestro,  the renegade ex-Green Lantern; and now, two issues later, they were drafting yet another veteran foe back into active service — although you couldn’t tell that from the cover, which (like #82’s before it) gave no hint of who the story’s main bad guy actually was.  While O’Neil and Adams (and their editor, Julius Schwartz) may have decided that it was a good idea to include more old-school superhero genre elements in their storytelling, they evidently didn’t think putting a returning villain’s puss on the cover would have much if any impact on the book’s sales.  Read More

Batman #232 (June, 1971)

Panel from Detective #411. Text by Denny O’Neil (and, presumably, Julius Schwartz), art by Bob Brown and Dick Giordano.

Last month we took a look at Detective Comics #411, featuring the first appearance of Talia al Ghul, and the first mention of her father, Ra’s.  As we noted at the time, despite that story giving the appearance of being one chapter in an extended story arc dating back to the first appearance of the League of Assassins in Detective #405, with the next installment already lined up for the very next issue of Batman, #432 (per a blurb in the story’s final panel), that wasn’t writer Denny O’Neil’s original intention at all.  Rather, as he’d later tell fellow Bat-writer Mike W. Barr in an interview for Amazing Heroes #50 (July 1, 1984), Talia was created specifically “to serve the needs of that plot and that story [i.e., Detective #411’s “Into the Den of the Death-Dealers”], with no thought that she would ever appear again, or that she would have a father, or any of that stuff.”  But somewhere in between the writer’s original conception and the story’s final published form, someone — perhaps Detective and Batman editor Julius Schwartz — had another idea; and the League of Assassins story arc, rather than concluding tidily with its third installment (fourth, if you count Detective #408’s “The House That Haunted Batman!”), instead became just the prelude to what was ultimately a much more influential saga, that of Ra’s al Ghul, “the Demon’s Head”.

But whence came Ra’s al Ghul?  Read More

Superman #238 (June, 1971)

Please –-” begs a kneeling Man of Steel on the cover of Superman #238, “You’re the only one on Earth who can help –”

No!” replies the figure standing before him with arms impassively folded.  “I am not human!  I care nothing for you and your world!”  The figure is Superman’s doppelgänger in every respect — save that it appears to be made completely out of yellow sand.

If all that you knew about early-’70s Superman comics was what you’d previously read on this blog, you’d still be able to tell that quite a bit had happened since the last issue I wrote about, back in November.  In that heralded first installment of “The Amazing New Adventures of Superman”, a scientific experiment gone haywire resulted in an explosion that  temporarily knocked our hero down and out, but then was revealed to have had the welcome, and apparently permanent, effect of turning all kryptonite on Earth into iron.  The first indication that something rather less welcome had also resulted from the blast came thirteen pages into the story, when Superman experienced a moment of weakness as he flew over the spot in Death Valley where he’d fallen during the explosion.  Two pages later, a figure slowly rose from the desert sands of that very spot, and while this “thing” had a marked resemblance to the Man of Tomorrow, it didn’t yet have a face — so you could hardly expect it to speak, as we now see it doing on Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson’s dramatic cover for issue #238 (which, incidentally, is the first Superman cover since #230 to be neither pencilled nor inked by Neal Adams.  Now you know.)

So, yeah, a lot happened in the last four issues.  Let’s see if we can get you caught up, shall we? Read More

Jimmy Olsen #138 (June, 1971)

Behind an attention-arresting cover, which — like most others Jack Kirby produced for DC Comics around this time — was built around an imaginative photo collage (and which also, like the cover of the issue of Jimmy Olsen that had immediately preceded it, featured Neal Adams’ inks over Kirby’s pencils), the comics readers of April, 1971 — including your humble blogger — were treated to the thrilling conclusion of the first multi-part storyline (indeed, the first storyline, period) of the massive Fourth World project written, drawn, and edited by Kirby.  Read More

Avengers #89 (June, 1971)

In October, 1970, I returned to Marvel Comics’ Avengers after a hiatus of one full year, during which time I hadn’t bought or read the title at all.  Avengers had been one of my most reliable Marvel purchases for a year or so prior to that break, but, for reasons lost to time, I was a little tentative about committing to the series again; and after buying (and, as I recall, enjoying) both #83 and #84, I sat out the next three months, not picking up another adventure of the Assemblers until #88, in March.  That one seemed to do the trick, however, because from that point on I wouldn’t miss another issue.  (Well, not until 1980 or thereabouts, anyway — but that’s another story.)

Or maybe it wasn’t #88 that sealed the deal — that Harlan Ellison-plotted issue, enjoyable as it was, essentially functioned as a lead-in to the same month’s issue of Hulk, and didn’t spend much energy encouraging readers to come back for the next month’s AvengersAvengers #89, on the other hand, kicked off a multi-issue storyline that just kept building and building, never offering anything like a reasonable jumping-off point.  By the time that storyline — the Kree-Skrull War, as we’d all quickly come to call it — came to an end with #97, it was December, and buying Avengers had become an ingrained habit for your humble blogger.  Read More