Artist Jim Aparo’s dramatic cover for Phantom Stranger #23 depicts a scene that unmistakably calls back to Gaston Leroux’s 1909-10 novel Phantom of the Opera, or one of its several film adaptations; meanwhile, a blurb at the top plugs the opening installment of a new back-up series, “Frankenstein”. A prospective buyer eyeing this one in the spinner rack back in November, 1972, might well have wondered: didn’t the comic’s publisher, DC Comics, know that Halloween was last month? Why were they releasing this kind of Double Creature Feature now, after the spooky season had already passed?
On the other hand, this was the latest issue of Phantom Stranger — and “spooky” was what this comic book title was all about, not just in October, but all year long. So I suspect most fans probably didn’t think twice about the double dose of classic horror stars, half a century ago; in any event, I’m pretty sure I didn’t, either when I first eyed the cover, or when, after buying the book and taking it home, I finally turned to the first page… Read More
According to an interview with Bernie Wrightson published in Back Issue #6 (Sep., 2004), the artist was initially reluctant to take on Swamp Thing, in large part because he wasn’t sure he’d be able to handle the deadlines required in producing a regularly published full-length comic book — even one that came out on a bi-monthly schedule. What ultimately convinced him? Mostly, he said, it was because he realized he’d never get a better chance to draw a series that would be “wall-to-wall monsters”.
That opportunity didn’t come immediately, of course; as readers of Swamp Thing #1 (or our August 13 blog post on same) already know, there’s just one bona fide monster in that issue — and he doesn’t even show up until well into the story. But as we’re about to see, by only the series’ second installment, young Mr. Wrightson would be able to make his dreams come true. Read More
First off, please be advised that this blog post is going to be one of the long ones. That’s primarily due to the fact that, in addition to covering the specific fifty-year-old comic book that gives the post its title, your humble blogger is also goiing to take a shot at answering the age-old conundrum: who came first, DC Comics’ Swamp Thing or Marvel Comics’ Man-Thing? (Regular readers may recall that when the blog spotlighted the second Man-Thing story, back in March, I promised something of this sort would be forthcoming; that moment has at last arrived.)
But it’s also destined to be at least a bit on the long side because before I can even get into discussing Swamp Thing #1, I feel that it’s necessary to give some attention to an even older comic, one that came out over fifty-one years ago. Of course, I’m talking about House of Secrets #92, published by DC in April, 1971; the comic book whose first eight pages gave us the very first “Swamp Thing” story, as written by Len Wein, drawn (mostly) by Bernie Wrightson, and edited by Joe Orlando. Neither the behind-the-scenes story of how Swamp Thing-the-series came to be — nor my own initial reactions to the first issue of the latter, as a fifteen-year-old reader in August, 1972 — make a whole lot of sense outside of the context of that classic tale. So, that’s where we’re starting, on what in all probability will indeed be a lengthy (though hopefully also enjoyable) journey. Forewarned is forearmed, eh? Read More
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
But it was almost certainly the best of the bunch.
That’s really not surprising, given that the story was crafted by one of the most outstanding creative teams of the era — writer Denny O’Neil, penciller Neal Adams, and inker Dick Giordano — as well as that it, more than most of its fellows, aspired to be about something more than either the Parade itself, or conventional superheroic goings-on — something decidedly more serious, in fact — and was largely successful in achieving this aim, ultimately addressing the subject of the Holocaust in a dramatic, but sensitive, manner.
Nevertheless, the origins of this classic story in certain actual (but not very serious) events — and the appearance within its pages of several equally actual persons who either already were, or would soon become, well-known comics industry professionals — can’t help but be responsible for a certain amount of “Night of the Reaper!” lasting appeal. And it’s with those events, and persons, that we begin. Read More
In the waning months of 1970, with the early sales reports on their new Conan the Barbarian series good enough to warrant bumping the title up from bi-monthly to monthly publication, Marvel Comics — likely driven at least in part by the enthusiasm of Conan writer (and Marvel associate editor) Roy Thomas — decided to take a chance on another sword-and-sorcery barbarian hero created decades earlier by pulp writer Robert E. Howard: King Kull.
Though he’d almost immediately come to be seen by comics fans (well, by this one, anyway) as Howard’s “number two” hero, Kull was actually the earlier creation, predating the author’s imagining of Conan the Cimmerian by some three years. Kull could even be seen as the prototype for the later, more commercially successful hero, as the very first Conan story, “The Phoenix on the Sword” (published in the magazine Weird Tales in 1932) was a reworked version of an unsold Kull yarn, “By This Axe I Rule!”Read More
Although writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams had begun their tenure on Green Lantern in 1970 with a run of grounded stories featuring more-or-less realistic antagonists, as they moved into their second year they appeared more willing to incorporate the sort of colorfully code-named and costumed supervillains that had been the series’ bread-and-butter prior to their own advent. Already in GL #82 they’d brought back Sinestro, the renegade ex-Green Lantern; and now, two issues later, they were drafting yet another veteran foe back into active service — although you couldn’t tell that from the cover, which (like #82’s before it) gave no hint of who the story’s main bad guy actually was. While O’Neil and Adams (and their editor, Julius Schwartz) may have decided that it was a good idea to include more old-school superhero genre elements in their storytelling, they evidently didn’t think putting a returning villain’s puss on the cover would have much if any impact on the book’s sales. Read More
As I noted in my post about Green Lantern #81 back in October, that issue had concluded on a note of finality, with Denny O’Neil’s script commemorating the end of the cross-country (and cross-galaxy) journey that the title character and his fellow emerald-hued hero, Green Arrow, had been on since O’Neil and artist Neal Adams had launched the series on a new, “relevant” trajectory, beginning with issue #76. Readers at the time might well have wondered if Green Lantern had been cancelled, especially when an issue of the title, previously published on an eight-times-a-year schedule, didn’t appear on the racks in November, as had been the case since the 10th issue back in 1961.
But, in December, 1970, a new issue of Green Lantern (now being published bi-monthly) did finally show up — and things didn’t seem to have changed much, if at all. As proclaimed by the cover logo, this was still the “all-NEW! all-NOW! Green Lantern co-starring Green Arrow”. Neal Adams’ presence as cover artist indicated continuity with preceding issues as well. If anything seemed off at all, it might have been that after a couple of issues whose covers heralded their socially relevant themes quite overtly — i.e., #80‘s graphic evocation of the Chicago 8 trial, and #81’s direct reference to the “population explosion” in its blurb text — #82’s depiction of our two heroes being besieged by mythological harpies suggested that we’d moved back into the area of pure fantasy.
Or did it? Could it be, perhaps, that those harpies… weren’t just harpies? Read More
Fifty years ago, whenever I picked up an issue of one of DC Comics’ “mystery” (i.e., Comics Code-approved horror) anthology titles, I knew I would see work from multiple creators. Any given issue would feature a mix of talents, most likely including some that I’d been a fan of for quite a while, others who were somewhat less well-known to me (but whom I was becoming more familiar with all the time, due mostly to their frequent appearances in these very titles), and probably at least one or two I’d never heard of before.
This was definitely the case with the comic that’s the subject of today’s post, House of Mystery #188, which started things off with another spooky cover by the very familiar (and always dependable) Neal Adams, and then launched into a story drawn by an artist whose work was altogether new to me (and probably new to most of this issue’s other original readers, as well), though I wouldn’t know this for sure until I got to the credits box on the story’s second page: Read More
In 1969, Alex Toth had been a professional comic book artist for over two decades; but prior to the summer of that year, I’d never seen his work. That’s because I didn’t start buying comics until the summer of 1965, and the work that Toth was producing at that time only appeared in Warren Publishing’s black-and-white horror comics and in DC Comics’ romance titles, both of which were beyond my ken (though for different reasons) as an eight-year-old lad. And then, approximately one year after my own initiation into comic books, Toth left the industry (though, thankfully, only temporarily) to go work in TV animation. Read More