Avengers #84 (January, 1971)

As the year 1970 wound down, it seemed that mainstream American comic books had, at last, embraced the “sword and sorcery” fantasy subgenre in all its pulpy glory.  After some tentative moves in that direction — courtesy of DC Comics’ three “Nightmaster” issues of Showcase in 1969, which were followed in 1970 by Marvel’s publication of several S&S short tales in its new horror anthology titles like Chamber of Darkness and Tower of Shadows — Marvel finally jumped into the deep-end of the pool in July, 1970, with a licensed adaptation of the field’s most prototypical character, Robert E. Howard’s Conan:  Read More

Astonishing Tales #3 (December, 1970)

As I’ve discussed in a previous post, when Marvel Comics brought back their mid-Sixties double-feature format with two titles in 1970, my younger self promptly jumped on one of them — Amazing Adventures, co-starring the Inhumans and Black Widow — picking up both the first and second issues.  For some reason, however, I put off sampling the companion title — Astonishing Tales, headlined by Ka-Zar and Doctor Doom — for several months, so my first issue was the series’ third.  Yes, reader; that does indeed mean that I turned up my nose at new work from not just one, but two giants of comic book art — Jack Kirby (who already had one foot out the door at Marvel) and Wally Wood (who was just putting a foot back in).  What can I say?  I was a callow youth, who pretty much took Kirby for granted (he put a couple of new books out every month, after all; if you missed one, there’d be another one along in a couple of weeks) — and, truth to tell, I didn’t yet know who Wood even was, or why I should care.  Read More

Avengers #67 (August, 1969)

Last month, the blog tackled Avengers #66, which featured the first chapter of writer Roy Thomas’ second-ever storyline featuring the super–villainous robot Ultron, as well as the first mention ever of Wolverine’s favorite metal, adamantium.  Today, we’re moving on to the second chapter of this three-part tale, which, like the first, was illustrated by the young British artist Barry Windsor-Smith — save for the cover, that is, which was instead drawn by an American artist, named Buscema.  Unlike with issue #66, however, the Buscema who pencilled #67’s cover (inked, as #66’s had been, by Sam Grainger) wasn’t the veteran John, but rather John’s brother, Sal.

The younger Buscema had been working as an inker for Marvel Comics for a little over half a year — among his first published jobs, he’d embellished his sibling’s pencils for the classic Silver Surfer #4 — but this cover represented his Marvel debut as a penciller.  It would soon prove a harbinger of bigger things to come, as with the very next issue of Avengers, #68, the 33-year-old artist would graduate to becoming the regular artist for its interiors.  Read More

Daredevil #55 (August, 1969)

When the blog last checked in with Daredevil, back in March, we saw how, at the climax of issue #52, our hero was forced to let his defeated adversary — the murderous roboticist named Starr Saxon — get away free, due to Saxon having quite inconveniently learned that the Man Without Fear is secretly blind lawyer Matt Murdock.  Then, following a retelling of his origin story in issue #53, DD came up with the perfect solution — he’d kill off Matt!  As he put it in the issue’s last panel:  “My problem isn’t Daredevil — and never was!  It was always Matt — the blind lawyer — the hapless, helpless invalid!  He’s been my plague — since the day I first donned a costume!”

This was probably the worst idea ol’ Hornhead had come up with in a very long time — and considering all the other bad ideas he’d contemplated and then implemented over just the past year or two, that’s really saying something.  These bad ideas had included (in chronological order): faking the death of both Daredevil and his “third” identity of Mike Murdock (Matt’s fictional twin brother) in an explosion, so that he could live an unencumbered life as Matt; then, after realizing he really did still want to be a costumed hero, having to invent a new, second Daredevil, supposedly the original hero’s replacement; then deciding to retire as Daredevil yet again, a resolution that lasted less than an issue, as a robot assassin sent by Starr Saxon to kill DD instead attacked Matt, having found him by scent (long story); that event required him to suit up again, and ultimately led to his current predicament of subject to being blackmailed by Saxon over his secret identity.  Read More

Avengers #66 (July, 1969)

Following Gene Colan’s three-issue stint as penciller on Marvel Comics’ Avengers series, the 66th issue brought yet another artistic change — though not the one that the book’s cover appeared to indicate.  That illustration, which depicted the team of heroes — including, unusually for this era, both Thor and Iron Man — battling one of their own, the Vision, across multiple levels of their mansion HQ — was by John Buscema, who’d been the series’ regular artist for the better part of the two years immediately preceding Colan’s brief tenure.  The interior art, however, was by one of Marvel’s newest (and youngest) artists, the nineteen-year-old British import we’d eventually come to know as Barry Windsor-Smith.  Read More

X-Men #57 (June, 1969)

I first made the acquaintance of Marvel Comics’ X-Men in April, 1968 — one year prior to the publication of the subject of today’s post. — when they made a guest appearance in Avengers #53.  That particular issue turned out to be the last chapter of a crossover story that had begun in the mutant team’s own book; and even though I now knew how everything would turn out, I was still curious enough about the characters and situations to go back and pick up the preceding chapter in that same month’s issue of X-Men (and even to buy the issue before that, when the opportunity presented itself).  But though I enjoyed those two comics well enough, I wasn’t taken enough with either of them to keep following the series.  As I wrote in my X-Men #45 post last year, that may have been partly due to the somewhat atypical circumstances surrounding the book at the time I sampled it.  Marvel had then just recently decided to start downplaying the team concept in the series’ cover designs, in favor of spotlighting the individual members (or, in a few cases, major story events); a decision that was soon mirrored in the stories themselves, as the team actually broke up in the issue immediately following the Avengers crossover, #46.  In addition, I was almost certainly influenced in my decision to pass on X-Men (at least for the time being), by my lack of enthusiasm for the competent but underwhelming art that then filled the title’s pages, by the likes of Don Heck and Werner Roth.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my general attitude of indifference to Marvel’s Merry Mutants, as, by virtually all accounts, the title was the publisher’s worst selling at the time — if not yet right on the edge of cancellation, then still uncomfortably close to it.  Which is why, when Neal Adams — the hottest young artist at Marvel’s main competitor, DC Comics — came to Marvel expressing an interest in doing some work for them, and editor-in-chief Stan Lee gave him his choice of assignments… Adams chose to work on X-MenRead More

Daredevil #52 (May, 1969)

When we last saw Matt Murdock, at the end of last month’s post about Daredevil #51, our Man Without Fear was in pretty bad shape.  After undergoing an ordinary blood test in his costumed identity, he’d had a drastic adverse reaction to the due to the radioactive particles in his bloodstream (or something like that), and after wandering around in a delirium for a bit, had collapsed in an alley.  Meanwhile, the New York Police Department, having been clued in about the imminent danger to the Scarlet Swashbuckler, had put out an all-points bulletin for our hero.  And while all this was going on, DD’s current nemesis, a sinister robotics genius named Starr Saxon, had accidentally stumbled onto his foe’s secret identity — and had also, on pretext of being a friend of Matt’s, had convinced the blind lawyer’s almost-girlfriend, Karen Page, to accompany him, leading her into who knows what dread danger.  Read More

Daredevil #51 (April, 1969)

When I first saw the cover of Daredevil #51 on the spinner rack fifty years ago, I believe I must have known something was up.

After all, I’d been buying and reading this series for a whole year now, and even if I wasn’t the most sophisticated spotter and identifier of individual artists’ styles at age eleven, I believe that I could tell a Gene Colan Daredevil cover from, well, anyone else’s.

Not that there hadn’t been any non-Colan DD covers in the twelve months I’d been following the book — there’d been issue #43‘s, which was a Jack Kirby job.  But that particular issue had guest-starred Captain America, and since Kirby was Cap’s regular artist at that time (and also his co-creator, of course, though I probably didn’t know that yet), that had made sense.

But who was this, who’d drawn the cover for #51?  I mean, Daredevil’s head looked… different (and not just because it was giant and translucent).  There was something sort of Kirbyesque about it, actually, but it wasn’t Kirby.  So who?  Read More

Doctor Strange #179 (April, 1969)

My younger self of a half-century ago was a little slow in warming up to Marvel Comics’ Master of the Mystic Arts, Doctor Strange.  As I related a few weeks ago in my post about Avengers #61, I think it mostly had to do with the good Doctor’s look — the mustache, the white temples, the blousy tunic, etc. — which didn’t seem quite “superheroic” enough for my eleven-year-old sensibilities.  However, the “new look” that artist Gene Colan and writer Roy Thomas introduced in issue #177,  effectively giving the sorcerous hero a more conventional costume of tights and a mask (the latter actually being a magical transformation of his physiognomy), intrigued me when I saw it in Marvel’s house ads — and the deal was sealed when I bought and read the aforementioned Avengers issue, in which Dr, Strange showed off his new look in a featured guest appearance.  That book primed me to check out the Doc in his solo series, and I made plans to pick up the next issue when it came out.

But when I finally did see Doctor Strange #179 in the spinner rack, roughly a month later, I was in for a surprise.  Because the face that gazed out at me from the cover wasn’t the new, blue one — rather, it was the mustachioed, white-templed visage that I thought was now old hat.  What was going on?  I had no clue, but hey — Spider-Man was guest-starring in the issue, and the wall-crawler was by now not just my favorite Marvel hero, but my favorite comic-book hero, period.  I didn’t see how I could go wrong buying this comic; and thus, I put my twelve cents down on the convenience store counter, and took it home.   Read More

X-Men #45 (June, 1968)

Last week I blogged about Avengers #53, a classic comic book featuring the titular super-team in battle with a second band of costumed heroes whom I hadn’t previously encountered as of April, 1968 — namely, the X-Men.  That issue was actually the concluding chapter of a story that was continued from X-Men #45, making it the first comics crossover I ever experienced*.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the Avengers book was the second part of the crossover until after I’d already bought it and brought it home.  That didn’t stop me from going ahead and reading the book — but as soon as I got the chance, I headed back to the convenience store to see if I could score a copy of the first part.  Even though I already knew how the story ended, obviously, I still wanted to know how the heroes of both groups got themselves into the situation in which they found themselves at the beginning of Avengers #53 in the first place.  Read More