House of Mystery #202 (May, 1972)

In March, 1972, the format change that DC Comics editor Joe Orlando had brought to the company’s House of Mystery title at the beginning of his tenure had been in place for four years.  This format — which emulated the approach of the horror anthology comics of the early 1950s to the extent possible under the strictures of the Comics Code Authority — had proven very successful, leading to similar revamps of other DC titles (House of Secrets and Tales of the Unexpected) as well as the launch of brand new titles cut from the same rotting gravecloth (Witching Hour and Ghosts).  Even DC’s arch-rival Marvel had been moved to try its hand at the “mystery” anthology comics game (though so far without much success).

Through it all, House of Mystery had kept to the course charted by Orlando in 1968, centered on a mix of short stories of supernatural horror (generally featuring twist endings), interspersed with a page or two of macabre cartoons, all “hosted” by Cain the Caretaker.  To the extent that anything had changed in the last four years, it was largely in the makeup of the talent roster that produced the title’s content.  Even so, it was still possible to pick up an issue and be completely surprised — as was the case with the very comic we’re looking at today.  Read More

Tomb of Dracula #1 (April, 1972)

The Marvel Comics title that would become Tomb of Dracula appears to have been in the works for quite some time prior to its first issue reaching stands in November, 1971.  Perhaps the first inkling comics readers had of its development had come by way of a vague reference on the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page appearing in comics published that March; in the midst of a news item explaining the moves of several artists from one title to another, the following statement appeared:

By “another 50¢ mag labeled M”, the anonymous Bulletin scribe meant that Marvel was planning a companion to Savage Tales, a black-and-white comics magazine intended “for the mature reader” whose first issue had gone on sale in January.  Read More

Daredevil #84 (February, 1972)

In his 2013 book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Sean Howe tells of how young writer Gerry Conway first came to work for the publisher, circa 1970:

Born in Brooklyn, Conway was eight years old when Fantastic Four #1 hit the stands. By the time he was sixteen, he was writing scripts for DC Comics; soon after, he met [associate editor] Roy Thomas, who assigned him a Marvel writers’ test. But [editor Stan] Lee was, as usual, less than impressed with the way another writer handled the characters he shepherded.

 

“He writes really well for a seventeen-year-old kid,” Thomas reasoned.

 

Lee, who himself had first walked into Marvel’s offices at that age, paused. “Well, can’t we get someone who writes really well for a twenty-five-year-old kid?”

The point of the anecdote (at least for Howe) seems to be the irony of Lee’s doubting that someone could be ready to start writing for Marvel at age seventeen, when that’s exactly how old he’d been himself when he’d begun working for his cousin’s husband, Martin Goodman, circa 1940.  But, after some consideration, your humble blogger is of the opinion that Stan the Man may have been on to something.

Maybe Gerry Conway wasn’t quite ready to handle the monthly adventures of Daredevil, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, et al, fresh out of high school.  Read More

Captain America #144 (December, 1971)

In September, 1971, I bought my first issue of Captain America in almost two years; today, fifty years later, I’m not sure how to account for my long abstinence from the adventures of the Star-Spangled Avenger, especially considering that I was buying every other superhero title Marvel Comics was putting out at that time.  (Well, almost every other title.  Hulk remained a tough sell for your humble blogger, except for those occasions when his series crossed over with other books I followed, like Avengers.)  Read More

Sub-Mariner #40 (August, 1971)

In the spring of 1971, roughly four months after he’d crossed over a couple of Marvel superheroes in Iron Man #35 and Daredevil #73, writer Gerry Conway did it again — though this time, the team-up tale started in Daredevil and ended in another title (Sub-Mariner), rather than the other way around.  What was more, Conway even managed to work in a third marquee hero — the biggest star among the three, actually — although that hero’s title, Amazing Spider-Man, wasn’t itself a part of the crossover.  Perhaps oddest of all, after getting the ball rolling in Daredevil, Conway completely dropped the Man Without Fear from his narrative, so that DD’s role in the second half of the crossover was limited to appearing in a single flashback panel.

Whatever the thinking was behind doing things this way, if the intention was to get Marvel fans who weren’t currently consistent buyers of Daredevil and/or Sub-Mariner to pony up for at least one issue of each series, then it worked, at least as far as my thirteen-year-old self was concerned.  Having been a fairly regular purchaser of DD’s book in earlier days (through most of 1968-69, to be more precise), and an occasional sampler of Subby’s title as well, I very likely would have grabbed both comics even if there hadn’t been a third co-star.  But adding Spidey to the mix made it virtually a no-brainer for me — as I suspect it also did for a good number of other fans. Read More

Avengers #89 (June, 1971)

In October, 1970, I returned to Marvel Comics’ Avengers after a hiatus of one full year, during which time I hadn’t bought or read the title at all.  Avengers had been one of my most reliable Marvel purchases for a year or so prior to that break, but, for reasons lost to time, I was a little tentative about committing to the series again; and after buying (and, as I recall, enjoying) both #83 and #84, I sat out the next three months, not picking up another adventure of the Assemblers until #88, in March.  That one seemed to do the trick, however, because from that point on I wouldn’t miss another issue.  (Well, not until 1980 or thereabouts, anyway — but that’s another story.)

Or maybe it wasn’t #88 that sealed the deal — that Harlan Ellison-plotted issue, enjoyable as it was, essentially functioned as a lead-in to the same month’s issue of Hulk, and didn’t spend much energy encouraging readers to come back for the next month’s AvengersAvengers #89, on the other hand, kicked off a multi-issue storyline that just kept building and building, never offering anything like a reasonable jumping-off point.  By the time that storyline — the Kree-Skrull War, as we’d all quickly come to call it — came to an end with #97, it was December, and buying Avengers had become an ingrained habit for your humble blogger.  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

Daredevil #73 (February, 1971)

When I first started buying Marvel comics in 1968, Daredevil was one of the first of the company’s titles that I sampled; over the next couple of years, it would be one of my most consistent purchases from any publisher.  With that in mind, it seems a little odd that when I returned to the adventures of the Man Without Fear in December, 1970, after more than a year’s hiatus, I came back by way of a crossover with Iron Man — a Marvel series I’d only read intermittently up to this point. 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

Fantastic Four #94 (January, 1970)

With the 94th issue of Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics’ new single-issue story policy, first announced by editor-in-chief Stan Lee in a “Stan’s Soapbox” editorial three months earlier, finally caught up with the publisher’s flagship title — its implementation there having been delayed for a couple of issues while Lee and his collaborator Jack Kirby wrapped up their “Skrull gangster planet” multi-parter.  Prior to that storyline, the book had featured another serialized tale, involving the Mole Man, that filled up two issues and spilled over into a third; that story had in turn followed a Dr. Doom epic that ran four issues; and so on.  In fact, the last real “done-in-one” story to appear in Fantastic Four had been “Where Treads the Living Totem!” in #80 (Nov., 1968) — an issue which happened to be not only the second-ever FF comic I’d ever bought, but also my least favorite issue to date.  Outside of reprints, prior to October, 1969 that was likely the only single-issue, non-continued Fantastic Four story my twelve-year-old self had ever read. Read More