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

Amazing Spider-Man #109 (June, 1972)

In early 1972, despite the fact that I’d been reading Amazing Spider-Man for four years (albeit with a single ten-month hiatus between March, 1970, and February, 1971), one of his longest-established supporting characters — Eugene “Flash” Thompson — was, if not exactly an unknown quantity to me, still less than a truly familiar face.  My first issue of Spidey’s title, #59, had been released one full year following #47, the issue in which storytellers Stan Lee and John Romita had shipped Flash off to military service in the Vietnam War.  Sure, I had read enough reprints of the early, high-school-set material by Lee and Steve Ditko to have a good grasp of the character’s original bullying-Peter-Parker-while-idolizing-Spider-Man shtick.  But my “real time” encounters with Flash had been limited to a few scenes that appeared in a run of late-’69 to early-’70 issues, where the young soldier had made a return visit stateside just long enough to incur Peter’s jealousy over Gwen Stacy, due to a misunderstanding that thankfully got cleared up (more or less) before Flash headed back to Southeast Asia.  Read More

Avengers #100 (June, 1972)

The final panel of Avengers #99 had promised that “this hour” would see an imminent invasion of “the hallowed halls of Olympus!!“, as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes prepared to mount a rescue of their amnesiac comrade, Hercules, who’d just been snatched away by servants of Ares, the Greco-Roman God of War.  So you’d naturally expect the next issue to begin with such a scene — or if not, then maybe a scene of something happening simultaneously to the invasion, just to draw out the suspense a little bit longer.

As we’ll see momentarily, that’s not quite what happens in the opening pages of the Avengers’ hundredth issue.  But our heroes’ delay in launching their assault on the home of the gods turns out to have some justification behind it.  After all, it takes a little time to gather all of the characters on view in artist Barry Windsor-Smith’s instant-classic cover image — a first-time-ever assemblage of every Marvel character who’d ever been an Avenger as of March, 1972. Read More

Conan the Barbarian #15 (May, 1972)

When we last left Conan back in December, he and his two companions — Zephra (daughter of Conan’s old foe, the wizard Zukala), and Elric (ruler of an otherworldly realm called Melniboné) had just fended off an attack by Prince Gaynor the Damned and his Chaos Pack of beast-men.  We now pick up the tale where Conan the Barbarian #14 left off, as presented by the same storytellers — plotters Michael Moorcock (creator of Elric) and James Cawthorn, scripter Roy Thomas, artist Barry Windsor-Smith, and co-inker (with Windsor-Smith) Sal Buscema:  Read More