While any specific memory of the occasion has been lost to time after half a century, I feel pretty sure I was at least mildly startled when I dropped in at my neighborhood Tote-Sum in the first week of August, 1971, and discovered that all the new Marvel comics — including the latest issues of three series I was buying regularly, Daredevil, Iron Man, and Thor — were now 25 cents (up from 15), and 48 pages, not counting covers (up from 32).
I wasn’t completely surprised, of course. After all, DC Comics had raised their prices and page counts by the exact same amounts two months earlier, and it only made sense that Marvel would eventually follow suit. (The only other comics industry price hike I’d experienced personally — the move from 12 cents to 15 cents back in 1969 — had been effected by both DC and Marvel more or less simultaneously.) What was more, several Marvel titles, such as Conan the Barbarian, had already made the jump to the new format/price point back in July — a move that Marvel had at least hinted could be a harbinger of things to come via a comment on that month’s Bullpen Bulletins page. (“As for what the future holds in store for the rest of our magniloquent mags — well, keep lookin’ forward, pilgrim, ’cause that’s where the future’s coming from!”) But a hint’s not the same thing as a promise, and just because one expects something to happen eventually, doesn’t mean one won’t still be surprised when said thing happens right now. So, I’d say that at least some mild startlement was in order for my fourteen-year-old self, as well as for most of my comics-buying peers.
The lead two items on August’s Bullpen Bulletins page put a highly positive spin on the changes, the timing of which they tied to the 10th anniversary of the publication of Fantastic Four #1 in August, 1961:
“ALL-NEW Marvel masterworks of 33 (count ’em, 33) pages or more!”?? If the similar blurb on the cover of Thor #193 hadn’t already caught my eye — or if my flipping through that book’s contents hadn’t already confirmed that it did indeed feature brand-new content from cover to cover — this news would likely have floored my younger self. Because it was a significant step beyond what DC had done with its own price and page increases; to wit, every single “new” 25-center DC had put out since the beginning of June had included a substantial amount of reprinted material. For Marvel to go to an all-new giant-sized format across their whole line seemed like a very bold move — and, if I recall correctly, I was pretty excited about the idea of getting more than 10 additional pages of new art and story every issue. And while I didn’t necessarily welcome the concurrent reality of paying an extra 10 cents for that privilege, I was lucky enough to receive a generous weekly allowance from my parents (it helped that I was an only child), and I was pretty sure my budget could absorb it.
Of course, not every Marvel comics buyer was as fortunate as I was; and someone at Marvel must have realized that the celebratory tone of the Bullpen Bulletins page might not go down great with everyone. Thus, the letters pages of August’s Marvels all included the following text box, which struck a more conciliatory note:
Compared to the Bullpen Bulletins page announcement, this missive’s explanatory references to inflation, increased costs, etc., were more in line with the letter to DC Comics readers that had appeared in that company’s June comics — as well as with the “Stan’s Soapbox” column that had accompanied Marvel’s 12-to-15 cent price change, back in 1969.
Interestingly, as well-planned as these messages make Marvel’s major moves seem to have been, a number of factors were still in flux even as these books went to press in the summer of 1971. Take the third “ITEM!” on the Bullpen Bulletins page, for example (the first half of which is shared below):
Daredevil and Iron Man were evidently both having sales problems around this time — there’s really no other credible reason for Marvel to consider combining two titles into one — but although this merger never actually happened, both DD #81 and IM #43 (which, as mentioned earlier, came out in early August, simultaneously with Thor #193) were published with new lead stories of the old standard length, and supplemented by reprints from Marvel’s earlier days (a 1965 Human Torch and the Thing short from Strange Tales in Daredevil‘s case, a 1964 Giant-Man and the Wasp adventure from Tales to Astonish in Iron Man‘s). And since both titles shifted back to a 32-page format with their following issues, neither ever got to enjoy the greater room afforded to their marquee heroes’ exploits by the larger size, in the way most of the company’s other series did — if only for one month.
The announcement about Astonishing Tales is more curious. That title had actually gone to the 25-cent giant-sized format the month before, with a line-up of brand-new stories featuring Ka-Zar and Dr. Doom (who’d shared the book since issue #1) as well as a new feature, the Brothers Link (a one-off, as it turned out) — and no sign of any Inhumans. I’m inclined to think that whoever wrote the Bullpen Bulletins page this month got the bi-monthly Astonishing Tales momentarily confused with its sister title Amazing Adventures, also a bi-monthly, which up through June had double-featured the Inhumans and the Black Widow. There would in fact be an issue of Amazing Adventures published in August, and it would even feature “a 20-page Inhumans extravaganza”. What it wouldn’t feature, oddly enough, is a 25-cent price tag, or 48 pages between its covers. Rather, AA #9 came out in a 20-cent, 32-page format, anticipating what would happen with most of the rest of Marvel’s line in September (though there were a few other titles, all or partially reprint in content, that made the 20-cent jump before the end of August as well). To the best of my knowledge, the reason for Marvel’s releasing this one single all-new comic in the 20-cent format in August has never been explained; but whatever the reason for the decision, it seems to have been made at the last minute, as the comic’s letters page includes the same text box explaining the price hike to 25 cents as do all the books which really did cost a quarter that month.
But that’s probably enough analysis of August, 1971’s Bullpen Bulletins page, or speculation about what was going on behind the scenes of Marvel during that tumultuous summer half a century ago — at least for now. Some of you — maybe most of you — came here to read about Thor #193’s story and art, and your humble blogger is eager to oblige you. Though, since we’re going to be coming in in the middle of an ongoing storyline, some scene-setting will doubtlessly be helpful — and since the series has really been chugging along without a clean narrative break ever since the last issue we blogged about — Thor #188, back in March — we might as well go ahead and briefly catch you up on everything that’s gone down since the end of “The End of Infinity!”
As regular readers will doubtlessly recall, that story — the climax of a five issue arc that itself began in issue #184 — revealed that the universal threat known as Infinity was actually a dark portion of the self of Odin, Lord of Asgard, which had been created by the Goddess of Death, Hela, in a scheme not only to destroy Odin and Asgard, but to overwhelm the rest of the living cosmos as well. Odin’s son Thor and his allies ultimately stymied Hela’s plans, but as the All-Father darkly warned on #188’s final page, since Hela had been robbed of her main prey (Odin himself), she would now come after Thor.
In fact, Hela had already tried to kill Thor once earlier in the storyline, simply to keep him from interfering with her plans. On that occasion, Thor was saved via the self-sacrifice of Hela’s servant, the Silent One; but in Thor #189, readers are told that nothing can stop the Death Goddess this time, short of utterly destroying her. (My guess is that scripter Stan Lee and artist John Buscema decided after the fact that they hadn’t made quite as much of the earlier scenario as they should have, and opted to do another take.) Odin thus sends his son to Earth to hide out in the mortal form of Dr. Don Blake, which works fine for a while; but then Thor’s stepbrother Loki betrays him (of course), and Hela hunts our hero down on Midgard.
In issue #190, Odin decides that he must intervene, and strikes Hela down before she can take Thor. The result is chaos: Hela, it seems, isn’t just the ruler of a Norse underworld; she is in fact Death personified, and in her absence, nothing can die a natural death. Across the Earth, harmful insects proliferate, vegetation overgrows human habitations, and so forth; it’s a bad scene, folks. Ultimately, Odin must accede to his son’s plea to let Hela live for the sake of the whole universe, even though it will mean Thor’s own demise.
Once resuscitated, Hela promptly begins to rapidly accelerate the Thunder God’s aging process, in a sequence that’s a virtual reprise of an earlier one in issue #186. But before our hero wheezes out his last breath, his lover, the goddess Sif, appears to beg Hela for his life. Unexpectedly moved by the depth of Sif’s love, especially when she offers her own life in place of Thor’s, the Goddess of Death at last relents. She reverses the aging process, restoring Thor’s youth and health — and then she vanishes, promising that she won’t be so lenient next time.
A happy ending all around, right? Well, no; because when Odin came to Earth to save Thor, he was evidently in such a hurry that he forgot to get completely dressed. And as he, Thor, and Sif discover upon their return home, that’s going to be a problem:
“Thou knowest well, the ring spells power absolute“, Loki continues. “Not even thee [Odin] may challenge it”. And according to Asgardian law, he’s right. “The prize is his — and we must yield“, confirms Odin. “For, him who wears the Odin-Ring — let no man tell him nay“.
All you have to do to gain absolute power in Asgard is wear a certain ring of Odin’s? Though I’d never heard of this law before, it sounded like a really bad idea. And if Odin really was stuck with it (for a guy who’s always going on about how he’s the “sovereign supreme of all that was and is, and yet shall be“, the All-Father sure does seem to be subject to a lot of arbitrary rules), you’d think he’d be a little more careful about leaving such an important piece of jewelry just lying around, evidently unguarded.
However, readers who (unlike myself) had read Thor #175 (April, 1970) were likely even more dismayed by this turn of events than I was — because Loki had pulled almost this exact same stunt in that issue, published only fourteen months previously. On that occasion, Loki had stolen the ring from his stepdad while the latter was undergoing the “Odin-Sleep” — meaning he had to at least try a little that time. But otherwise, it’s the same bit, which makes Odin seem incredibly foolish and irresponsible for not taking better care with his damn ring ever since then. And it also makes it appear that Stan Lee was really flailing for story ideas as Thor approached the first anniversary of Jack Kirby’s departure from the book, given that he and current artist/co-plotter John Buscema would so baldfacedly nick a plot element from so very late in the Lee-Kirby run. (Buscema even recycled the “imperial” costume for Loki that Kirby had created especially for that storyline.)
Rehash or no, Thor #191 found Lee and Buscema carrying their story forward, with Joe Sinnott, who’d also embellished issues #189 and #190, continuing on inks. As the issue begins, Loki inaugurates his reign by ordering Odin to once again undergo the Odin-Sleep, and the All-Father acquiesces. Thor remains defiant, of course, and attempts to fight his brother, but it seems hopeless — for the Odin-Ring not only confers political authority on Loki, but also increases his power by an exponential amount. Loki therefore toys with Thor for awhile, but then seems to decide that he’ll have more fun watching a surrogate fight — and ultimately kill — the God of Thunder. He thus orders his ally, the Norn Queen Karnilla, to aid him in creating a being for that purpose:
As Thor and his friends watch in horror, a figure slowly takes form, until at last…
Once he’s brought Durok to life, Loki magically transports him to Earth, with orders to kill every living thing he sees. Thor, of course, follows after him immediately, and the stage is set for battle as we move into Thor #192 — “still 15¢”, as the cover tells us, and also still by the team of Lee and Buscema (though Sam Grainger replaces Joe Sinnott on inks with this one).
Finding Durok running amok in a city celebrating Mardi Gras (unnamed, but clearly New Orleans), the Thunder God manages to hold the Demolisher at bay, keeping him from seriously harming any of the local populace. Eventually, Loki gets bored and teleports his mute but mighty servant to yet another unnamed locale, this time a “small South-American [sic] nation”, where much the same scenario plays itself out.
Meanwhile, back in Asgard…
Balder had sworn eternal loyalty to Karnilla back in issue #189, on the condition that she help him try to save Thor from being betrayed to Hela by Loki. And the Norn Queen had done as she’d promised, although it hadn’t made any real difference in the long run — leaving Balder with little to show for the dark deal he’d struck. Now, however, he convinces Karnilla — who has no love or even respect for Loki, when it comes right down to it — that she can help him help Thor, without either of them needing to confront Loki directly. And so, while the Warriors Three (Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg) create a momentary diversion, Karnilla transports herself and Balder to Midgard — more specifically, to the island of Manhattan…
Meanwhile, in South America, Thor continues his battle against the Demolisher until the latter once again suddenly vanishes. Then, upon hearing a familiar, mocking laugh, Thor turns and sees…
With that, the images of Loki and Sif dissipate, leaving our hero distraught, yet still resolved to do his duty by once again going after Durok…
Wow — the Silver Surfer?! If I recall correctly, this last-panel revelation came as a complete surprise to me in July, 1971. But it actually made sense of a sort, since Balder had in fact met the Surfer, if briefly, back in the classic Silver Surfer #4 (Feb., 1969), whereas he’d never crossed paths with the Avengers or the Fantastic Four, to the best of my knowledge. And since Silver Surfer #4 just so happened to be one of my very favorite comic books (then and now), I was captivated by the prospect of Lee and Buscema offering up what looked like a sort of sequel to it — a notion which seemed even more apt once I discovered that, just like SS #4, Thor #193 would be a giant-sized, 25-cent comic. Wow, indeed.
Of course, things didn’t turn out precisely the way I expected — since, when I finally was able to open Thor #193 to its opening splash page, I quickly saw that although John Buscema was still on board — and what was more, had been joined by his brother Sal, who’d inked SS #4 as one of his earliest jobs for Marvel — Stan Lee was not, in fact, the writer:
As we’ve covered in a previous post, in mid-1971, Stan Lee took a sabbatical from his comic-book writing so that he could work on a film screenplay; although this was announced as being only for a couple of weeks, the break actually extended through four months’ worth of comics — and as far as a couple of Lee’s regular writing gigs (Thor and Captain America) were concerned, the sabbatical never really ended; Lee was off Captain America for good as of issue #141, and while he’d return for a single issue of Thor in 1972 (the commemorative 200th issue, which featured an out-of-continuity retelling of the myth of Ragnarok), issue #192 was essentially his swan song on the series, as Gerry Conway came on with #193 to begin a run that would last almost four years.
Interestingly, Lee actually hung on to Thor for one month longer than he did either Captain America or the other two books (Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four) he relinquished just for the duration of his sabbatical — which leads me to speculate that he really did want to write this second major encounter between Thor and the Silver Surfer,* the latter character being one he was still notoriously reluctant to let other writers handle — but ultimately just couldn’t pull it off, schedule-wise.
The Silver Surfer doesn’t appear to recognize Balder, which may be a lapse on new scripter Conway’s part — though, as best as I can recall, in 1971 my younger self simply chalked it up to the two characters never having been formally introduced back in Silver Surfer #4. We may as well run with that in 2021, too.
“The Silver Surfer bows to no female.” Jeez, I don’t remember Norrin Radd demonstrating that kind of casual sexism in earlier stories, though I may be forgetting something. Thanks, Mr. Conway.
Though Balder is banged up pretty badly, the Surfer is able to restore him with a therapeutic dose of his “power cosmic”; and presently…
Wait — “the city called Washington“? But didn’t Loki say in issue #192 that he was sending Durok “to where the United Nations building stands”? Yeah, he did — and even in the Marvel Universe, that would be New York City, not Washington D.C.. But that particular plot detail seems to have gotten lost in the transition between Lee and Conway.
In any event, the District of Columbia is indeed where the Thunder God and the Demolisher have resumed their battle. We see them trade blows for a couple of pages, and then Durok attempts to resume his more general, Loki-given mission of death and destruction by lifting and toppling a whole populated building. To prevent him, Thor has to knock the very street out from under them both…
Following this very nice full-page splash (one of four in the issue, including the title page), Loki suddenly realizes that Karnilla and Balder have gone AWOL; enraged, he immediately brings them back to Asgard by the power of the Odin-Ring. He then punishes Balder by giving him a green, scaly monster-face, but soon relents in the face of Sif’s pleas for clemency, stating: “…a god must be merciful, methinks. Yea… merciful and kind.” Reversing the disfiguring spell, he continues: ” And, above all, it must ne’er be said — that Loki were not the best of gods.”
Arriving on the Rainbow Bridge, Thor finds his way blocked by its guardian, Heimdall, who, like everyone else in Asgard, considers himself duty-bound to obey Loki. Thor quickly overcomes Heimdall, and in his battle-rage almost kills him by sending him falling from the Bridge into the void below. Thankfully, the Thunder God comes to his senses in time to rescue his longtime comrade…
Putting his new idea into action, Surfer takes Durok for a ride in the sky — but things quickly go awry when he flies a little too close to the Washington Monument, and the Demolisher grabs onto the landmark, sliding down its surface to escape his foe. Moments later, Durok begins shooting force-beams from his hands (yes, that’s new), threatening the tourists and other folks occupying the National Mall, and the Surfer inevitably comes to their defense. “Though they hate me,” he says, “the humans must not be destroyed!”
The shattering of the Surfer’s board, though ultimately ineffectual, makes for a startling, memorable moment. It’s also probably the most interesting thing that the personality-free, history-less Durok — who, when all is said and done, is a dull character, no matter how powerful he is — ever does over the course of the whole storyline.
That final panel on page 28 is the last we’ll see of the Silver Surfer — not just in this issue, but in the overall storyline, which (as we’re about to see) will spill over into #194. This abrupt exit irked me fifty years ago, and I still think it’s a poor storytelling choice (assuming it was a choice, and not simply a matter of forgetting to follow up) for Conway and J. Buscema not to show us Norrin Radd’s return from the far future, or to have a short scene with him and Thor — if only to allow the latter to say something like, “Thanks, dude, and BTW, how’d you get rid of Durok?”
Um, does Thor commending Kaggor’s soul to Hela mean that he just killed the guy? Looks like, based on what he says one page later, after felling the third and last of the Storm Giants:
Weary and aching as he is, Thor presses on until he reaches the royal chambers — but there, rather than the expected Loki, he finds…
Ah, well — I guess we don’t have to worry about Thor killing those three giants after all, because they’re baaaack…!
And that’s a wrap for this first (and last) giant-sized issue of Thor, even if not for the overall storyline. Judging it just as an extra-length installment of the Thunder God’s continuing adventures, I’d say it’s a pretty good comic book. But considered as a sequel to Silver Surfer #4, it’s a bit disappointing.
Part of that disappointment stems from the fact that, as already noted, Durok is a pretty blah adversary for our two mighty heroes. Another part comes from the failure to let Thor and the Surfer actually team up for more than a couple of the book’s 34 pages. But perhaps the most significant area in which Thor #193 fails to match Silver Surfer #4 i in its artwork.
Readers of our SS #4 post may recall how, in an interview John Buscema gave years later, the artist remembered how he had attempted to expand the parameters of his style with that job, “to try something different” — and was completely demoralized when Stan Lee was highly critical of the result. In the words of Roy Thomas, a Marvel assistant editor at the time: “From that day on, John bent his efforts to becoming more of a Kirby clone than he had been heretofore…” The work he turned out following Lee’s rejection of his more personal approach wasn’t bad, by any means; indeed, it was very good comic book art. But especially as regards John Buscema’s efforts in the superhero genre, I believe it’s fair to say that a certain amount of excitement went out of his artwork after Silver Surfer #4 — and it’s particularly evident in that comic’s unofficial sequel, Thor #193.
This has been a long post already, but we’re going to forge on ahead with a recap of Thor #194 — mostly because there really isn’t enough story here to justify giving the book its own post in September, and as regular readers know, we never like to end on a cliffhanger here at Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books.
“The Fatal Fury!”, by the same team of Conway, Buscema, and Buscema, opens a moment after the conclusion of “What Power Unleashed?” as — with considerably fewer than sixty seconds remaining until Thor turns back into the mortal Dr. Donald Blake — Loki decides to spare Sif’s tender eyes the sight of her beloved being smashed to a bloody pulp by the Storm Giants, and escorts her from the premises before the transformation actually occurs…
Thor uses Mjolnir to whip up a whirlwind that he then uses to send the three giants out of Asgard, and presumably all the way back to Jotunheim. Then, it’s on to Loki’s next line of defense — the smaller, but much more numerous trolls.
Meanwhile, as he waits for his wedding ceremony to begin, Loki’s not feeling so great…
Moments later, Thor comes bursting into the throne room, and makes short work of all who attempt to stop him. “Thy guards be dead, Loki,” Thor snarls as he advances on his brother — and it looks like these dead trolls won’t be as fortunate as the three giants the Thunder God slew earlier, because Loki is going to be too busy with other things to resuscitate them…
Odin had been roused from his slumber a little earlier by the Warriors Three, but had refused to interfere in the battle between his sons. Of course, as we now learn, he didn’t need to…
Having dispensed with Loki and his allies, Odin goes on to explain to his loyal subjects that the reason he didn’t interfere earlier was because he knew that “traitorous Loki was already doomed.”
You gotta hand it to the All-Father… he never, ever learns. (Nevertheless, he’ll keep on referring to himself as “all-wise” for years, maybe decades, to come, as will Thor and the other Asgardians — always without a trace of irony.) So, what sort of crisis has his monumental carelessness unleashed upon the universe this time? That’s a question we’ll have to leave for another day, and another post.
As you may have noticed, Thor #194’s “The Fatal Fury!” came in at only 15 pages, compared to 34 for #193’s “What Power Unleashed?” That’s because after just one month of the new 25-cent, 48-page format, Marvel’s standard size comics all dropped back down to the old 32-page format — though at the new, higher price of 20 cents. For many of Marvel’s titles, which already had stories at the longer page length in production, that required some last-minute editing to convert one issue’s worth of new content into two. For some, that also meant filling out the page count with reprinted material. (In the case of Thor #194, the last five pages were given over to a re-presentation of a classic Lee-Kirby “Tale of Asgard”, “The Golden Apples”, which had originally appeared in Journey into Mystery #114 [Mar., 1965].)
We’ll have more to say about Marvel’s sudden change of course, and its ultimate impact on the whole comics industry, later this month. For now, however, we invite you to look forward to the next installment of our special series commemorating Giant-Size Marvel Month — as, in just four days, we join Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, and Tom Palmer on “A Journey to the Center of the Android!”
*Thor and the Surfer had met one other time in between the events of Silver Surfer #4 and Thor #193 — but in Sub-Mariner #35‘s fracas between the Avengers and the proto-Defenders called the “Titans Three” (Surfy, Subby, and the Hulk), their direct interactions had been minimal.
Yes, Silver Surfer #4 was magnificent. #3 came close. This Thor ish was okay, but nowhere near those in classic status.
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I remember the price increase from 12 cents to 15 and as it was only a couple of pennies, it was no big deal. The thing I don’t think either Marvel or DC realized with the hike from 15 cents to 25 is that they were almost doubling the price of the books and new pages or not, crap-tons of re-prints or not, that was a huge hit on my ability to buy the comics I wanted. Whether the story was 32 pages or 18, the price increase meant that the number of books I could buy in a given month was cut in half and that was never a good thing. Of course, I understand the rising costs and economic factors that led to this move on Marvel and DC’s part, and I did actually land my first summer job in 1971 (in addition to my own generous allowance), so I could afford the price hike, but that just made my preferred comics purchases possible, not preferable. I guess the one monster Thor was completely powerless against was inflation, amirite? Can you imagine if we could take a time machine back to our young selves and whisper in their ears about comics costing 5-7 bucks in fifty years time? Graphic novels that are nothing really more than omnibuses that cost twenty? Talk about a Crisis of Infinite Pocketbooks!
Economics aside, however, this was a pretty good comic. Yeah, the Odin-ring thing was a re-tread and the Surfer’s guest-appearance felt incredibly shoe-horned in, but overall it was an enjoyable romp through the halls of power and chaos, etc. etc. Well, as long as you don’t look at it too closely…
I would imagine that it’s really difficult to keep track of who’s met who and how they got along when spread between so many writers and artists. Stan by himself had a helluva time keeping it all straight and he was just one guy, so Conway not remembering that Balder and the Surfer had met was forgivable (though you’d think the story notes Stan passed on to Gerry would have included some background for the characters), but you’re right, Alan, that behind all the bombast and the brouhaha, this was a pretty shallow story. We never really got any backstory as to why Loki wanted the throne (this time) or why he wanted Sif to be his wife (he’d never been interested in her before), the Surfer felt like a cosmic-powered stand-in while Thor was off doing something more important and was discarded as such when no longer needed and Durok wasn’t really a villain; he was a cardboard cut-out of a villain with no motives or agency of his own. As to the Odin Ring draining Loki’s life force, it’s a nice idea, but one that should have been foreshadowed much, MUCH earlier than it was. As is, it feels like a comic-booky deus ex machina (look what I did!) for a story that paints it’s characters into a corner and no rational way out. Oh…and Karnilla is the Worst. Girlfriend. Ever. Just sayin’…
Still, on the surface, my first impression of this book through fifty years of hindsight, is much the same as my opinion of the first Thor movie, “As long as you don’t think too hard or try to look beyond the hand-waving of it all, it’s a lot of fun!” And really, what’s wrong with that?
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Wow! What a great post! I thoroughly enjoyed your July posts, a whopping 9 of them, I believe. 50 years ago I turned 9 and began buying exclusively superhero comics, having outgrown the cartoony types. I fondly remember Thor 192 as one of my favorites. For me, Durok was a stand-in for the Hulk, and I liked getting that fight story, as well as the strange triangle of Loki, Karnilla and Balder. As you’ve sometime said, you knew you wanted the next issue, but can’t remember why you didn’t get it; after seeing the Silver Surfer in the last panel of 192, I knew I wanted the next issue. I couldn’t wait! I never bought it and I don’t know why, but most likely I never saw it in the spinner rack. This post is perfect! It catches me up to what came before and after, while exploring the changes in the industry at the time, all seamlessly entertaining, because the writing is brief, funny and well done!
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Thanks, Bill B! We aim to please, and it’s nice to know that we succeed on occasion. 🙂
According to usinflationcalculator.com, 25 cents in 1971 was the equivalent of 9 cents in 1938. Alternately, 10 cents in 1938 was the equivalent of 29 cents in 1971.
Action Comics #1, cover priced at 10 cents, or any other comic book priced at 10 cents in 1938, in real terms was priced higher than a 25 cent comic book in 1971. It would have been as if Action Comics #1 was priced at 30 cents in 1971. What did you get for your 10 cents in 1938? A lot bigger comic book. Action Comics #1 had 68 pages.
From 1938 to 1961, the base price of a comic book remained 10 cents, although the contents shrunk by almost half. Comic book publishers adjusted for inflation by cutting the number of pages in their magazines, not by raising magazine prices. Superman #1, cover dated June, 1939, had 68 pages and a cover price of 10 cents, the same as Action #1. Superman remained at 68 pages until #23, cover date July, 1943, when the page count dropped to 60. The page count dropped to 52 with #28, cover date June, 1944, and stayed at 52 until #79, cover date December, 1952, when it dropped to 44. The page count dropped to 36 with issue #97, dated May, 1955. 36 pages became the standard for the next 16 years until #244, dated November, 1971 with 52 pages and a cover price of 25 cents. The cover price of Superman had increased to 25 cents from 15 cents with issue #241 without any increase in the number of pages until #244. The page count was returned to 36 pages and the price reduced to 20 cents with Superman #254, dated July, 1972.
Until 1961, comic book cover prices remained the same but the number of pages in each issue dropped significantly until the number of pages couldn’t be realistically dropped any more, then cover prices started to increase and never stopped increasing. 1971’s 25 cent comic book would cost $1.70 today, and today’s $4 comic book would cost 63 cents, adjusted for inflation, in 1971. Today’s “Comic Books” are priced far higher than the comic books of the Gold, Silver and Bronze Age. It’s no wonder sales are so low compared to the past.
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“The cover price of Superman had increased to 25 cents from 15 cents with issue #241 without any increase in the number of pages until #244.”
I’m afraid that’s incorrect, JR. Both the price and the page count increased simultaneously for all of DC’s standard size comics in June, 1971, including Superman #241. (See http://www.mikesamazingworld.com/mikes/features/comic.php?comicid=27085 .)
Otherwise, however, this is a fascinating financial analysis — thanks for sharing it!
Thank you for the correction, Alan. I got all my data from Mycomicshop.com. They had an error about the number of pages for Superman #243, and that’s the one I used. They had the right number of pages for Superman #241 and #242.
In retrospect, it looks like DC was trying to do a reset back to the late 1940’s with the bigger comic book at the higher price, since Superman had 52 pages from June, 1944 to October, 1952 (according to Mycomicshop.com), same as August, 1971 to June, 1972, with one exception. 10 cents in 1944 was worth 23 cents in 1971 according to usinflationcalculator.com.
With regards to Thor #193, a one time only 52 page, 25 cent comic book; Marvel was smart to immediately revert it back to 36 pages with the next issue. Given Marvel’s formula of endless character driven story continuities, 35 page stories issue after issue would have been impossible, IMHO. Marvel’s endless continuities were more manageable in comic books with fewer pages each issue. Twenty page or ten page stories fit in larger continuities much better and have to be a lot easier on the writers and artists than 35 page stories month after month that were part of an endless continuity.
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JoshuaRascal, I agree that it would have been difficult tor Marvel to maintain a 34-new-pages-a-month schedule for most of their books, at least not without bringing in additional writing and artistic talent. Even if they’d done that, they would have had to have more than one writer and artist on each feature to keep on schedule — which, as you say, would wreak havoc on the kind of involved issue-to-issue continuity that was Marvel’s stock in trade — or the creators would have had to cut back on the number of features they currently handled. Either way, it seems it would have taken several months to “staff up” for the increased output. It’s difficult for me to believe Martin Goodman was ever really serious about going forward with this plan long-term — or if he was, he evidently came to his senses very quickly. 🙂
Alan, the weather might seem hot but Hell may have frozen over because in this comment I will praise Gerry Conway and criticize Stan Lee.
First though, my thoughts on the mad price swing summer of 1971. As you know, I was insulated from the effect of this because I got my comic books from my Dad’s pharmacy. However, 50 years later, re-reading D.C. and Marvel books during these months I realize new things (apart from the fascinating stuff I learned in the book “Slugfest” which you suggested to me, points which you may have covered in another blog post–I’m behind–or likely will in the near future). First of all, where does D.C. come off by raising the price ten cents and stocking the extra pages with reprints? Although you don’t have to pay for new creations, you still have to pay the costs of paper and ink and production and back in 1971, before there were, well, a lot of comic book connossieurs, probably many people weren’t happy about spending an extra dime just for older material in look, style and character. Marvel smartly provided more original material for the extra dime, but (seemingly) without hiring new people meaning that the regulars had to work harder and all of the costs usually cited to justify cost increases remained. The eventual return to the sad status quo of a smaller price increase for slightly smaller page length would seem to me to satisfy more average comic readers in 1971.
As for Stan Lee’s “sabbatical”, his timing was interesting. By leaving when he did, he missed out on having to explain all this mess to readers and to deal with the size changes on a daily basis. Also, he gave up his writing chores at the exact moment when the demand for product increased with the larger size books. I also wonder if Stan was feeling creative pressure after Kirby left. The quality of Stan’s books suffered thereafter (Exhibit A was the poorly plotted and written Infinity saga in Thor) while Kirby was dazzling at D.C. with his books (Don Rickles aside).
As far as Thor #193 goes, I really liked the book a lot. Is it Silver Surfer No. 4? No. However, if that’s your only yardstick, it’s easy to be disappointed. Practically none of the things that bother you about Thor # 193 bother me, or at least not as much. Your point on the artwork is well taken, but you still have the Buscema brothers even if one of them is trying to draw like Kirby. It’s better than Tuska or Trimpe or Heck so count your blessings. Also, the splash pages are great as well as the sequence of Durok breaking the Surfer’s board into little pieces (that shocked me too in 1971).
Gerry Conway pleasantly surprised me. Apart from his later atrocity coming in 1973, I had found Conway’s narration and dialogue in his 1971 books up to this point of the year, all of which I have re-read in Marvel Unlimited, to be absolutely awful. Alan, as you apparently bought Daredevil every month, I don’t know how you could stand it. Conway’s dialogue in Daredevil was stilted, corny, self-absorbed and repetitive, his narration is heavy handed, over-melodramatic, excessive and superfluous. That said, in Thor #193, Conway replicated the Stan Lee Silver Surfer characterization and dialogue perfectly and did just as well with all of the Asgardian characters. When I read the book in 1971, I probably assumed that Stan Lee wrote it even if I noticed Conway’s writing credit (remember that Lee’s name was still there as “Editor” although he likely did not really edit the book). Conway’s narration was still annoying at points, but bearable. I was impressed.
My problem with Durok is different than yours. My problem is that in this issue everyone says that Loki created him. However, Karnilla created Durok’s invulnerable body and powers. Loki pretty much just gave him the ability to move and turned Durok’s ignition key. I’m disappointed that more wasn’t made between Karnilla and Balder on the point that Karnilla was the one who really made Durok. The reason why Durok seems boring as a villain is because that’s all he is–a magical construct that follows orders. He’s a much stronger magic formed version of a robot without a brain. I think that the plot point of sending an indestructible unreasoning magic being to destroy Thor and anyone/anything in his way is enough for me if you throw in other interesting things.
One of those “interesting things” is the Silver Surfer. To me the Surfer’s appearance makes complete story sense. Balder attracted his attention, eventually convinced the Surfer to assist, and then the Surfer proceeded to do so in a way reminiscent of the Surfer’s own late, lamented series (in fact, with long stretches of pages without Thor, it almost seemed like it was a Surfer book). I had no problem whatsoever about the Surfer disappearing from the story when he did. The Surfer was summoned to save Thor and stop Durok, which he did. The Surfer had no intention of following Thor to Asgard to help there. By the end of the issue, obviously Thor still hasn’t resolved the situation, to say the least (I should note that, as usual, I won’t read your comments on Thor #194 until next month, when I read the issue on its 50th anniversary). Unless the Surfer went to Asgard, which to me would be puzzling given the Surfer’s motivations up to this point, there is no way for Thor and the Surfer to get immediate closure.
As for Thor possibly killing the trolls and sending them to Hela, I skimmed the discussion on heroes killing people in Marvel comics in this publication era in your recent Conan the Barbarian blog post (I never read Conan in 1971–I know, my loss–so I read those posts rather quickly) and found it interesting (although, c’mon, the guy’s name is Conan THE BARBARIAN, I doubt that he knows about the Ten Commandments). With regards to Thor, I think that Asgardians in general probably have no compunction on killing foes–it would seem incongruous to fight countless wars without trying to kill people–I mean you have the whole concept of Valhalla centered around warriors being killed in battle. However, I also think that in 1971, perhaps for Comic’s Code reasons, deaths of innocent people weren’t shown. On page 23, which you did not reproduce here, Durok appears on the National Mall and starts shooting force rays out. Considering Durok’s mission statement, I find it hard to believe that there wasn’t a death toll here of innocent people.
Finally, as for why Loki wanted to marry Sif, I think that it was just because Thor was supposed to marry Sif. Loki undoubtedly was happy to see Thor arrive in Asgard to see that Sif was preparing to marry him. I don’t think that he was really lustful about Sif herself.
Sorry to take up so much space again. I’m going to start catching up this month (I hope) on your excellent blog posts (even when I have some disagreements with them).
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“…I had found Conway’s narration and dialogue in his 1971 books up to this point of the year, all of which I have re-read in Marvel Unlimited, to be absolutely awful. Alan, as you apparently bought Daredevil every month, I don’t know how you could stand it.”
About the best I can tell you, Stu, is that my taste has grown at least a little more refined since then. 🙂 Also, it would probably be fair to say that I found some of what Conway had going on plot-wise in a couple of his books — in particular, the ongoing “Mister Kline” storyline that ran through Daredevil and Iron Man (and even Sub-Mariner, briefly) to be intriguing enough to allow me to overlook a number of sins. That didn’t last forever, though — as I’ll be covering in some detail come November.
Well, no need to feel sheepish about it. I honestly never noticed now awful Conway was in those books when I first read them in 1971 either. 😀 Also, although I did not remember the Mr. Kline storyline when I re-read those books up to this point, I can see how the storyline was engaging.
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Though I agree with your criticisms of the storyline, there was one – possibly unintentional – plot detail which I found clever. Thor may call himself a failure at the end, but if he had left it up to Odin then Sif would be married to Loki. I think that was a subtle but effective way of having a deus ex machina without it feeling like a “shaggy dog story” where the hero doesn’t accomplish anything.
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