Conan the Barbarian #25 (April, 1973)

In January, 1973, the cover of Conan the Barbarian #25 — a collaboration between Gil Kane and Ralph Reese — hardly gave any hint of the enormous artistic shift this issue represented for Marvel Comics’ award-winning series.  After all, Kane had pencilled four Conan covers prior to this one, and while two of those had graced issues that also featured Kane art on the inside (the first of those, #17, also happened to have been inked by Reese), the other two — including the most recent one, for issue #23 — had fronted stories drawn by the title’s original and primary regular artist, Barry Windsor-Smith.

So, if you were a regular Conan reader who’d somehow managed to miss issue #24 (and if you were, you have my sympathies), you may well have been startled to open #25 to its first page to see that the story had been drawn by a penciller previously unseen in these pages (though his name and work were hardly unfamiliar to Marvel fans)… namely, John Buscema:  Read More

Conan the Barbarian #24 (March, 1973)

In December, 1972, Marvel Comics published the final issue of Conan the Barbarian drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith.  Again.

The young British artist’s first departure from the book had come just ten months earlier, with Conan #15.  But after a mere three issues away (the first of which in fact reprinted earlier work by Windsor-Smith), he was back on the book. reuniting with writer Roy Thomas on Conan #19 to launch an ambitious new multi-issue storyline, the “Hyrkanian War” epic.  Read More

Conan the Barbarian #23 (February, 1973)

Gil Kane’s cover for Conan the Barbarian #23 is a fine piece of work.  Nothing to complain about here.  I mean, it’s Gil Kane, right?

That said, I’ve always regretted that the story it illustrates, “The Shadow of the Vulture!”, wasn’t published under the cover that Barry Windsor-Smith had originally drawn for it…  Read More

Conan the Barbarian #21 (December, 1972)

As noted in last month’s post about Conan the Barbarian #20, at the time that issue went to press, the series had recently received the 1971 Shazam Award for Best Continuing Feature — a fact writer-editor Roy Thomas was understandably happy to publicize in the comic’s letters column.  But for anyone who’d missed the good news, they got a second chance to learn about it one month later, when Marvel trumpeted the accolade on the cover of Conan #21.  (Considering that Marvel’s rival DC Comics had done the same thing a year earlier when their own Green Lantern won the same award, it was hardly a surprise that Marvel would follow suit.)

That the blurb ended up appearing on the cover of this particular issue of Conan, however, would turn out to be somewhat ironic, as a number of the people involved in producing it would in later years view it as something of a train wreck.  As Roy Thomas put it in his 2018 book Barbarian Life: A Literary Biography of Conan the Barbarian, Volume 1:
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Conan the Barbarian #20 (November, 1972)

As we discussed on the blog last month, the 19th issue of Conan the Barbarian saw not only the beginning of the title’s most ambitious multi-issue storyline to date, but also the return of artist Barry Windsor-Smith after a hiatus of several months.  That return was marked by a noticeable improvement in the artist’s already impressive skills in the time he’d been away; but it was also marred somewhat by deadline problems that resulted in only the first nine pages of the story being fully inked (by Dan Adkins), the remaining eleven having to be reproduced from Windsor-Smith’s pencils; an intriguing, but not altogether successful experiment, given the limits of comic-book printing technology of the time.  Read More

Conan the Barbarian #19 (October, 1972)

With this issue of Marvel Comics’ Conan the Barbarian, writer-editor Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith inaugurated the first proper extended storyline to appear in the title since its inception.  A note on the letters page cited the single Conan novel written by the hero’s creator Robert E. Howard, “The Hour of the Dragon” (published in book form as Conan the Conqueror), as a model for the two storytellers; nearly half a century later, in his 2018 book Barbarian Life: A Literary Biography of Conan the Barbarian, Volume 1, Thomas would also invoke Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad, as an inspiration.  Both works scan as legitimate antecedents for the multi-issue chronicle of what would soon come to be referred to as the Hyrkanian War, or the War of the Tarim; still, I think its fair to say that of the two, the Iliad bears closer resemblance to the story that Thomas and his collaborators would unfold to Conan‘s readership over the next seven months, at least in its setting and overarching premise.  Both epics tell of the siege of a great city by an equally great army; of a bloody war in which neither side may be said to be entirely in the right.  Read More

Marvel Premiere #4 (September, 1972)

Back in April, we took a look at Marvel Premiere #3, which relaunched Doctor Strange as an ongoing solo feature following a 32-month absence.  That comic, featuring a script by the Master of the Mystic Arts’ original writer, Stan Lee, and art by rising young star Barry Windsor-Smith, inaugurated a story arc centered on a mysterious new menace — someone as yet both unseen and unnamed, but powerful enough to compel the service of Nightmare, one of Dr. Strange’s mightiest foes.  The issue ended with the sorcerous superhero returning home to his Sanctum Sanctorum following his defeat of Nightmare, unaware that a silhouetted stranger waited there for him.

Two months later, Marvel Premiere #4 picked up exactly where the previous episode left off — but with a significantly changed creative team.  In his 2009 introduction to Marvel Masterworks — Doctor Strange, Vol. 4, Marvel’s then new editor-and-chief (and once and future Dr. Strange scripter) Roy Thomas provided this explanation:  Read More

Marvel Premiere #3 (July, 1972)

As this post goes out on April 30, 2022, we’re a little less than a week away from the premiere of the second multi-million dollar motion picture from Marvel Studios starring Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts.

But fifty years ago, in the last week of April, 1972, Marvel Comics was just hoping that maybe the good Doctor might be able to sustain his own solo comic book series again, his last such having been canceled in 1969.  Although they were hedging their bets a little by bringing him back not in his own title — not yet, anyway — but in the tryout book Marvel PremiereRead More

Astonishing Tales #12 (June, 1972)

Any of you out there who aren’t already familiar with this particular comic book may be taking a look at its John Buscema-Joe Sinnott cover right now and thinking, “Nice, but what’s so special about Ka-Zar rasslin’ a big alligator, even underwater, that Astonishing Tales #12 should rate its own blog post?”  The fact of the matter, however, is that this issue (along with its immediate follow-up, Astonishing Tales #13) represents a significant chapter in the histories of not one, but two, semi-major Marvel Comics characters — neither one of whom happens to be the self-styled Lord of the Savage Land.  Read More