Marvel Spotlight #2 (February, 1972)

From the perspective of a half century later, the horror boom in American comics in the early 1970s looks all but inevitable.  The appeal of the classic movie monsters to young audiences had been clear ever since the first syndicated collection of old Universal horror films started showing up on TV sets in the late 1950s, quickly becoming widely popular.  The subsequent success of Warren Publishing’s Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine (originally produced in 1958 as a one-shot publication, but almost immediately converted into an ongoing periodical), can only have reinforced the sense among U.S. comics publishers that there was gold to be mined in those dark, storm-blasted hills of Gothic horror — as must have Warren’s following up FMoF in the next decade with the black-and-white comics magazines Creepy, Eerie, and, as the 1960s drew to a close, Vampirella.  Then there was the mid-to-late Sixties success of Dark Shadows, the daytime television serial that began its broadcast life firmly planted in the genre of Gothic romance, but soon morphed into a much more freewheeling fantasy show, happily recycling the tropes of both classic horror fiction and old monster movies, and bringing vampires, werewolves, zombies, and their ghastly ilk into America’s homes five afternoons a week.  Read More

Thor #193 (November, 1971)

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.  Read More

Marvel Feature #1 (December, 1971)

As regular readers will recall, we’ve begun the last two Marvel-focused posts on this blog with excerpts from the Bulletin Bulletins page that ran in the company’s comics published in July, 1971 — and we see no reason to break that run with this installment.  Especially since the very next Bulletin following those we’ve already shared is specifically about the subject of today’s post.

Coming after a Roy Thomas editorial and “ITEM!” that dealt with Lee’s decision to take a brief sabbatical from comics writing (and what that meant for the series he usually scripted, such as Amazing Spider-Man) — and directly preceded by another item announcing the move of several Marvel titles (including Conan the Barbarian) to a larger, 25-cent format — this Bulletin caught the attention of readers (well, this particular fourteen-year-old reader, at any rate) with a graphic by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer from Doctor Strange #180, featuring that book’s titular star — a hero who, in the wake of the cancellation of his series with issue #183, had been conspicuous by his absence from the Marvel Universe ever since a late-1969 guest appearance in Incredible Hulk which had effectively retired the character:  Read More

Amazing Adventures #8 (September, 1971)

When we last checked in with the Inhumans feature in Amazing Adventures, back in December, the new creative team of writer Roy Thomas and artist Neal Adams had just launched a new multi-part storyline.  The beginning of this new arc found the Inhumans’ monarch, Black Bolt, traveling to the United States — more specifically, to San Francisco — to begin the process of developing better relations between his people and the outside world.  (Exactly how he expected to accomplish this by skulking around an urban waterfront at night, especially given his self-enforced muteness, was unrevealed.)  BB got off to a somewhat rocky start, getting involved in an altercation with some petty criminals as he came to the defense of a boy named Joey, the nephew of the hoods’ leader, Roscoe.  Meanwhile, back in the Great Refuge, the king’s mad brother Maximus lay in what appeared to be a state of suspended animation — something Black Bolt had set up prior to his departure, without explaining his reasons to the other members of the Inhumans’ royal family.  A suspicious Gorgon and Karnak elected to wake Maximus up, which turned out to be a bad move, since the previously non-super Max had recently developed immense mental powers.  Maximus promptly unleashed a brain blast that traveled halfway around the world before striking down Black Bolt, simultaneously robbing him of his memory.  This ten-page installment ended with young Joey, having just managed to rouse his mysterious new friend, trying to get him to say something — unaware that if the Inhumans’ incognito ruler uttered but a mere whisper, the power of his voice would unleash terrible destruction.  Yipes!  Read More

Amazing Adventures #5 (March, 1971)

As I wrote in this space back in May, in 1970 my younger self bought the first two issues of Marvel Comics’ new double-feature title Amazing Adventures upon their release — but then skipped the next two.  Half a century later, I can’t recall what my decision-making process was (and the vagaries of distribution being what they were at the time, it’s entirely possible that I never saw AA #3 and/or #4 on the stands).  But I’d guess that I simply wasn’t all that crazy about what I’d found in #1 and #2.  Even though I liked the Inhumans a whole lot, and was an admirer of Jack Kirby’s art (I was also a fan of his plotting, of course, if only unconsciously, since I didn’t yet comprehend the extent of the King’s creative contributions to his collaborations with Marvel editor/scripter Stan Lee), the two-part tale that inaugurated the Inhumans feature, written as well as drawn by Kirby, didn’t feel like essential work.  At the time he produced these stories, Kirby was on the verge of unleashing a tremendous amount of pent-up creativity with his “Fourth World” project for DC; but, as with a lot of his other material for Marvel at the end of his monumental ’60s tenure at the publisher, his heart didn’t really seem to be in this stuff.

As for the title’s second feature, the Black Widow — she was more of an unknown quantity for me, anyway.  Besides the obvious fact that this was her first solo strip, I had at this point read very few of her earlier appearances in Avengers and elsewhere, and had little to no investment in the character.  Despite the reliably fine draftsmanship of John Buscema on her first two installments (with John Verpoorten inking Buscema’s pencils), I didn’t find enough there to hook me and bring me back.  Read More

Sub-Mariner #34 (February, 1971)

When Sub-Mariner #34 came out in November, 1970, it had been precisely one year since I’d bought an issue of the title.  It’s somewhat ironic, then, that there’s a well-known direct connection between that issue, Sub-Mariner #22 and the subject of today’s post — even if it’s a connection that’s only obvious — and perhaps even only exists — in retrospect.

That connection, of course, is that both comics are generally understood to be major building blocks in the development of the Defenders, the “non-team” that, for some of us old geezer fans, all but epitomizes 1970s Marvel Comics (at least as far as superheroes are concerned).  Read More

Thor #169 (October, 1969)

At the conclusion of our discussion of Thor #166 three months ago, we left the God of Thunder about to face the judgement of his omnipotent All-Father, Odin, for his crime in succumbing to the affliction of Warrior Madness.  Thor had been driven to this state of irrational, uncontrollable fury following the abduction of his lady, Sif, by the artificially-created superhuman called Him (later to be known as Adam Warlock).  As things turned out, Sif was safely rescued, and Him, though soundly thrashed by the scion of Asgard, escaped without mortal injury.  Nevertheless, at the issue’s end Thor was called home to the Golden Realm to face the music; what he didn’t yet know, but we readers did, is that Odin had already determined that his punishment would be to go on a cosmic quest to find the world-devouring Galactus, learn the secret of his origin, and end his threat forevermore.  Read More

Hulk #118 (August, 1969)

By May, 1969, I’d been reading Marvel comics regularly for about a year and a half, and had sampled at least one issue of most of their superhero-fronted titles — most, but not quite all. This month, I finally got around to checking out The Incredible Hulk. 

At this time, my knowledge of the Hulk was pretty much limited to what I’d been able to glean from his guest appearances in comics I had read, the most substantial of which had been in Avengers Annual #2 (Sept.,1968) and Captain America #110 (Feb., 1969).  From those, I’d learned at least some of the basics regarding the character — I knew, for instance, that the Hulk was the super-strong alter ego of Dr. Bruce Banner, an otherwise “ordinary” human being.  I even knew a bit about his past history with a teenager named Rick Jones.  But I also knew that he was belligerent, dangerously uncontrollable, and — at least sometimes (especially as depicted by artist Jim Steranko in CA #110) — rather frightening.  Based on what I’d seen so far, I didn’t quite understand what made the Hulk a superhero.

But Marvel certainly seemed to be positioning him as a superhero, as best as I could tell; and I liked Marvel superhero comics.  Thus, it was inevitable that I’d give the Hulk’s series a shot sooner and later; and when Hulk #118 came along, it probably seemed like an ideal opportunity to take the plunge, if only because the issue guest-starred the one other Marvel heroic headliner whose title I still hadn’t sampled: Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner.  Read More

Silver Surfer #4 (February, 1969)

The Mighty Thor has been my favorite Marvel Comics character for the better part of the last half-century.  The subject of today’s post is as responsible for that fact as much as is any other single comic book — even though it’s not “really” a Thor comic.

As I’ve recounted in previous posts, I first made the acquaintance of Marvel’s take on the Norse god of thunder in the summer of 1967, via Avengers #45 (which also happened to be my very first Marvel comic), in which he appeared in only the first few pages.  I didn’t encounter him again until almost a year later — this time in the pages of Avengers Annual #2, in which he played a somewhat more substantial role — but I didn’t get around to buying an issue of Thor itself until September, when the cover of #158 caught my eye.  That turned out to be a pretty good first issue to purchase, since it reprinted in full Thor’s origin story from Journey into Mystery #83, and its new-material framing sequence by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby also introduced me to a number of the settings and characters that had been brought into the series post-origin, such as Asgard, Odin, the Lady Sif, and so forth.  I enjoyed that comic book quite a bit, but for whatever reason, I didn’t pick up another issue of Thor for several months.  Read More

Thor #158 (November, 1968)

By the time September, 1968 rolled around, I’d been interested in Thor for a while.  I’d been intrigued by the couple of appearances he’d made in in Avengers issues I’d bought, and I was fascinated by the idea that this Marvel Comics superhero was apparently the same guy as the Thunder God from the Norse myths I’d studied in school (even if the Marvel version was blonde and clean-shaven, rather than red-haired and bearded, like in the myths).  I have a distinct memory of gazing at a copy of Thor #152 sitting in the spinner rack at the Short-Stop, and wondering not only who the big ugly bruiser Thor was fighting with was, but all those other strangely garbed characters in the background, as well.  But in February of ’68, when that book came out , I was still feeling my way as a new Marvel reader, and wasn’t quite ready to take the plunge.  I was feeling a lot more comfortable with Marvel by September, though.  And, in fact, I might have sampled Thor even earlier, if I hadn’t been able to tell from the Mighty Marvel Checklist’s monthly issue descriptions that the series was then in the midst of an ongoing storyline, featuring the Mangog, that lasted through the summer.  Read More