On July 21, 2015, this blog made its debut with a post entitled “It was the summer of ’65…”. In that first installment, I described my earliest experiences with comic books, leading up to to my very first comics purchase in the, well, summer of ’65. Since then, I’ve been writing about some of the most interesting individual issues I bought in my first few years as an avid comics reader (and nascent collector), while also attempting to chronicle, more generally, the evolution of my own comics tastes and interests, and setting that personal narrative in the broader context of what was going on in the funnybook industry (and, more broadly, in American culture), during those years.
But now, almost half a decade after starting this project, I’ve reached the point in the narrative of my comic book buying and reading where that story almost came to an end, fifty years ago. I’ve arrived at the time in my life when, at least for a while, I stopped buying comics.
How long was “a while”? Well, that’s a good question. In my memory, it seems like a significant period of time, perhaps half a year or so. But I was only twelve years old when all this was going on, and time passed more slowly for me then. The only real way I can know for sure is to look up what was being published at that time, and check that information against what I own in my collection.* Luckily, we have Mike Voiles’ excellent web site Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, and especially its invaluable “Newsstand” feature, to allow me to do just that.
My comics purchasing had actually started slowing down in the fall of 1969, when I dropped some titles I’d been buying pretty consistently for a year or so, such as Avengers and Daredevil, and also began making fewer “impulse” purchases, in general. Still, I continued to pick up the odd comic here and there through the end of the year. But then came January, 1970, and out of all the comic books that were published that month (according to the Newsstand) I bought only one off the stands: Justice League of America #79. The story was much the same in February, when I again only bought one comic — though this time, it was Dark Shadows #5. But then, in March? Nary a comic did I purchase. Nor did I buy anything off the stands in April.
I need to clarify here, however, that although I only bought two comics in the first four months of 1970, they weren’t the only two that I acquired and read. This was due to the fact that I had year-long subscriptions to both Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four that had begun in 1969, and which continued into the early months of 1970. So, despite my evident growing disaffection with comic books in general, I still had comics I’d already paid for showing up in the mail, and of course, I read (and kept) them. But the very last of those, Amazing Spider-Man #85, arrived in March; and since I hadn’t re-upped my subscription to it, or to FF, there were no new comics at all for me in April.
This sad state of affairs only lasted a month, I’m happy to say (so much for the accuracy of my memory). But rather simply consign April, 1970 to the dustbin of my personal comic book history, I’ve decided it might be fun to give the ol’ spinner rack a whirl, and take a very brief look at some comics from that month that I didn’t buy at the time, but wished later that I had. Some of these are books that I would indeed eventually acquire for my collection as back issues, but there are others whose contents I would only ever enjoy in reprint or digital editions.
And so, here they are, presented more-or-less in order of when they arrived on the stands, fifty years ago this month: The Ones That Got Away…
The Mighty Thor #177 (June, 1970)
This issue featured the conclusion of the last continued storyline in Thor that had all installments drawn by Jack Kirby. (It was also his penultimate issue of Thor, period.) Coming on the heels of a quartet of thoroughly unmemorable done-in-ones (any or all of which could serve as evidence of Marvel’s recently adopted “no continued stories” policy having been a really bad mistake), the three-parter that ran from #175 to #177 was, perhaps, a pale shadow of the great sprawling epics Kirby had produced with scripter-editor Stan Lee in years past. Nevertheless, this Asgardian free-for-all, which pitted the Thunder God and his buddies against Loki and Surtur, was still a blast, filled with action and spectacle (if occasionally short on narrative logic).
Green Lantern #77 (June, 1970)
This was actually the second issue of “the new Green Lantern co-starring Green Arrow” — or, as just about everyone called it at the time, “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” (despite the fact that, per the indicia, DC never officially changed the book’s title). Following on from the introduction of GL‘s new, “relevant” direction in issue #76, “Journey to Desolation” found our two “hard travelin’ heroes”, Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen, hitting the road to search for the soul of America; their first stop came in a small mining town, where they got caught up in an especially fractious labor dispute. Ignoring the cover’s command, however, my younger self didn’t “Stop!” for this issue any more than I had for the previous one; in fact, four more months would pass before I got around to checking out the groundbreaking work of writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams on the title. Once I did, though, I was hooked.
Amazing Spider-Man #86 (July, 1970)
As I mentioned earlier, my subscription to Amazing Spider-Man had run out in March with issue #85, so I just missed getting this one. To tell the truth, it’s no great shakes as a Spidey tale, but it does bear the distinction of featuring the second, and most successful makeover of the Black Widow. Courtesy of artist John Romita, the new look Natasha Romanoff received here — “more in keeping with the swingy [sic] Seventies!“, as the one-time Soviet super-agent put it in her Stan Lee-penned dialogue — would serve her in good stead not only through the rest of that decade, but also, with a few minor alterations along the way, well into the next century — and even, via the Marvel Cinematic Universe, on to a level of mass public awareness few comics readers could have imagined for the character in April, 1970.
Avengers #77 (June, 1970)
The Avengers had seen a couple of important changes since the last time I’d bought an issue (#71, back in October, 1969). One was that the mutant siblings Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch had rejoined the team; another was that John Buscema, who’d previously served a long stint as the series’ regular artist, had returned to the title. For most of this run, “Big John” was paired with inker Tom Palmer, whose illustrative style proved an excellent fit for Buscema’s pencils. On the other hand, this was a somewhat less distinguished period for the series writing-wise (the return of the Maximoffs notwithstanding), as Roy Thomas’ plots inevitably suffered under the “no continued stories” policy. Nevertheless, Thomas still spun spin some diverting yarns, and also managed to plant seeds of later, more memorable storylines even in such seemingly inconsequential done-in-ones as #77’s “Heroes for Hire” (catchy title, right?) which introduced unscrupulous businessman Cornelius Van Lunt — an apparently minor figure who would eventually be revealed to be the founder and leader of the Zodiac, a major criminal cartel that would bedevil the Avengers (and other Marvel heroes) for years to come.
Fantastic Four #100 (July, 1970)
As with Amazing Spider-Man, my subscription to Fantastic Four ran out before I could receive this issue in the mail. Honestly, though, I wasn’t actually all that chuffed about missing it, even after I resumed buying FF more-or-less regularly just a couple of months later, as the lettercol commentary about the story clued me in that with only two exceptions (the Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master), the “Villains! Villains! Villains!” heralded on the cover were all mere android replicas — the kind of bait-and-switch that I hated then (and am still not all that crazy about, frankly). Still, Jack Kirby drew all those ‘droids just as well as he did the real deals; and the issue was indisputably a milestone, as the title that had inaugurated the Marvel Age of Comics back in 1961 hit the century mark. In retrospect, of course, FF #100 also serves as a sort of valediction for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s epic run on the series; a run which would come to its rather anti-climactic end just two issues later, although most readers didn’t know that yet.
Batman #222 (June, 1970)
“Paul is dead” was definitely a thing at my junior high school in ’69 and ’70, and I imagine that most other Comics Fans of a Certain Age have similar memories. This comic’s take on that conspiracy theory, written by Frank Robbins and illustrated by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano, is, admittedly, fairly silly stuff; but it’s a fun read, nevertheless, with a neat twist at the end (though you’ll probably see it coming a mile off). The classic cover by Neal Adams seals the deal, and makes this comic a valuable artifact of Beatles memorabilia all by itself.
Aquaman #52 (Jul.-Aug., 1970)
April, 1970 was a good month for Neal Adams fans. While he drew neither the cover of Aquaman #52 (the lovely piece of work you see above is by Nick Cardy) nor the Sea King-starring lead story (that would have been Jim Aparo), he did both draw and write the book’s nine-page “Deadman” back-up. This issue was actually the conclusion of a trilogy, in which both the “Aquaman” feature by Aparo and writer Steve Skeates (continuing the excellent run of stories they’d begun with their nine-part “Search for Mera” saga) and Adams’ “Deadman” each presented one narrative thread of the same overall story. This was some highly innovative comic book making for 1970, which easily retains its status as an unusual (and quite entertaining) experiment fifty years later.
Detective Comics #400 (June, 1970)
And speaking of Neal Adams… here’s his third interior art job for April, 1970, gracing yet another comics milestone — the 400th issue of DC Comics’ namesake title. To my mind, DC did better by their special occasion this month than did Marvel, delivering a commemorative issue that was not only very well-drawn, but also featured the debut of a major new foe for the Caped Crusader — Man-Bat, the first such A-list adversary to be introduced since the advent of Poison Ivy back in Batman #181 (June, 1966). (It should be noted for the record, however, that “Challenge of the Man-Bat” [by Adams and writer Frank Robbins] didn’t fill the whole issue, as the comic’s back eight pages were given over to the first chapter of a Batgirl/Robin serial; but while that latter story was hardly a classic in the same league as the issue’s lead, it at least featured the pencils of Gil Kane, so I’d hardly call it a complete washout.)
And there you have it. These eight comics were far from being the only worthwhile ones among the 120-plus individual issues listed by Mike’s Amazing World as being released in April, 1970 — in fact, they may not even be the eight “best” of that lot — but a half-century on, they’re the eight books I most regret not picking up when they first came out.
As I’ve already stated, April, 1970 was the one and only month in which no comics were published that I bought new off the stands. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I started buying new comics again as early as May, 1970. Lemme ‘splain, OK?
The problem here is that my recollections of how I got seriously interested in comics again are every bit as vague as my memories of how and why my interest ebbed in the first place. I’ve described in earlier posts how Marvel’s move towards done-in-one stories probably had at least some influence in my increasing disaffection with comics over the latter months of 1969, and it’s logical to assume that the publisher’s gravitation back towards continued stories around the middle of 1970 helped bring me back, as well. But of course, I would have had to have some inkling of what was going on in Marvel’s books to realize that that was even happening, and it’s doubtful I would have picked up on it just by browsing the spinner rack.
In September, 1970, I began eighth grade at a new school, and I made a new friend there who happened to be an avid comics reader. (If you’re out there, Olney Gibson, I hope you’re well.) I can remember him bringing some recent issues to school one day — I’m pretty sure that there was one of John Buscema’s earliest Thors among them — and I think it’s likely that my renewed interest in comics either stemmed directly from my giddy perusal of my friend’s books at that time, or, at the very least, got a large boost from that experience. The chronology is a little tricky, of course, since I own “new” comics from that period that actually came out from May through August, before I ever met my new friend. It’s possible that I was able to go comics-shopping in September and find books from May, June, et al, still available, as we had some local retail outlets, such as the Ben Franklin Five-and-Dime, that kept books on the racks longer than than was the usual practice. Or maybe I never quit comics cold turkey after all** (despite what my memory tells me), and kept picking books up here and there, throughout the spring and summer. If that’s the case, then it may be just a fluke that April was a “no new comics” month. The truth is, I’ll never really know.
It’s also quite likely to be true that nobody but me really cares; but, let’s face it, if I wasn’t the kind of person inclined to fret over such minutiae, I probably wouldn’t be the kind of person inclined to produce a blog like this one, either. It’s all part of the package, folks!
The irony is not lost on me — nor, I imagine, on most of this blog’s readers — that I’m writing a post about April, 1970, my own personal Month Without New Comic Books, in the middle of April, 2020 — a month that, at the time of this writing, seems likely to be a Month Without New Comic Books for everybody, not just your humble blogger.
For that reason, I feel that I would be remiss not to point out than any comic book you haven’t read before is a new comic book for you. And so, if you (like me) have the financial wherewithal to do so, this might be a great time to check out some “old” comics — which, in this context, could be anything from fifty years’ vintage to fifty days’ — in digital editions. So much of what’s ever been produced in the comics medium (including most of the comics discussed above) is now available in e-format, and at prices comparable to “new” comics, that all but the most obsessively omnivorous fans should be able to find something new out there to buy and read. No, these digital comics aren’t “collectible” (i.e., you won’t be able to sell them later for more money), but that was never really the main point, right?
Even if you’re absolutely 100% committed to paper comics, you could take some time in these weeks to build up your want list, so that you’ll be ready to spend some coin at your local comic shop (or other favored retailer) once non-essential, real-world shopping becomes a thing again.
Because I’d love to imagine that, in the year 2071, somebody (not me, obviously) will still be writing a blog (or whatever newfangled format they use in The Future) about fifty-year-old comic books. But that’s never going to happen if there are no new comic books published in 2021, to be written about a half-century later. And that’s a real possibility, if those of us who can step up in this moment to help support the comics industry, don’t.
Or to put it more succinctly: if you’re able, go buy some comic books, OK?
And now, before I finally wrap this up, one last little bit of housekeeping…
Before I began this blog back in July, 2015, I decided that its header should be comprised of the covers of comic books from my collection that were a half-century old — roughly speaking, that is. Since I didn’t want the header to be immediately out of date, I actually used comics that were a bit less than 50 years old — books that had in fact been published from 1966 all the way up to 1968. Books that the blog could grow into, if you will.
That worked pretty well all the way up through late 2018. But considering that the two most recent comics pictured in it, Aquaman #42 and Thor #158, both came out in September, 1968, the original header has been looking a bit long in the tooth for well over a year. It’s past time for a change, in other words.
I considered holding off until the blog’s fifth anniversary, three months from now, but the semicentennial of my very brief hiatus from comic-book buying ultimately seemed like a more natural place to make the shift to a new header. We’re already in the Bronze Age of Comics, after all (at least according to most reckonings). And so, with this very post, we say goodbye to Blog Header Mark I.
Here’s one last look at out old friend (or, if you’ve started reading this blog since May, 2020, and have just come across this post in the archives, one first look). And if for some reason you’re curious to see what it would have looked like without all the typography, you can click here.
Thanks for reading this far, friends. I — and our new header! — look forward to seeing you back here next month. (OK, so the header can’t actually “see” anything. You know what I mean.)
*Or, in some cases, what I remember owning. Because, like most people who’ve collected comics for a long time, I don’t still have every single issue I ever bought (though I feel pretty comfortable in stating that I still have most of ’em.)
**On a certain, technical level, it’s entirely accurate to say that I never completely stopped buying comics, simply because I continued to buy Dark Shadows. The last comic book I bought off the stands prior to my supposed “break” in April was Dark Shadows #5, back in February; I would in fact buy the very next issue of that series just as soon as I was able, but since the title was on a quarterly schedule at the time, DS #6 wouldn’t be released until May.