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 #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

Defenders #3 (December, 1972)

As we discussed on the blog back in May, the first issue of The Defenders (which was actually the fourth outing for the titular super-team, following their three-issue tryout run in Marvel Feature) ended on a note of mystery, as the Sub-Mariner revealed to his allies, Doctor Strange and the Hulk, that prior to the events of that comic, he’d been attacked by none other than the Silver Surfer — who had at the time appeared to be himself allied with Necrodamus, the sorcerous acolyte of the Undying Ones whose attempt to summon those evil extradimensional entities our three heroes had just then thwarted, though only barely.  Read 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

Thor #200 (June, 1972)

Cover to Journey into Mystery #1 (Jun., 1952). Art by Russ Heath.

Cover to Journey into Mystery #83 (Aug., 1962). Art by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott.

As milestone issues of long-running comic-book series go, Thor #200 is a fairly odd duck, for a number of reasons.  The first, of course, is that it’s not really the 200th issue of “Thor at all; rather, it’s the two-hundredth sequential release of a periodical publication that began its existence in 1952 as Journey into Mystery, an anthology title which had nary a thing to do with the Norse God of Thunder until the Marvel version of that mythological figure made his debut in its 83rd issue, ten years into the book’s run.

Since the title of the publication wasn’t changed from Journey into Mystery to Thor until issue #126, there hadn’t ever been a Thor #100.  (To the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been one in later years, either, despite multiple relaunches of the series over the last few decades; and given Marvel’s current publishing model, which simultaneously incorporates both successive restarts and “legacy” numbering, there probably never will be.)  The actual 100th issue of “Thor” as a continuing feature had been #182 — and though that was a pretty good issue, featuring a battle with Dr. Doom as well as marking the beginning of John Buscema’s multi-year tenure as the series’ new regular artist, it hadn’t taken any special note of the occasion.  By the time issue #200 rolled around, however, Marvel had made the 100th issues of Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man causes for celebration — and they were about to do the same with Avengers #100, which would arrive on stands one week after Thor #200 (it’ll also arrive on this blog one week from today, just in case you were wondering).  With 200 being such a nice round number, it would have been surprising if Marvel hadn’t chosen to commemorate Thor‘s issue numbering reaching it, as arbitrary as the milestone was in some ways.

But all of that represents just one way that Thor #200 was somewhat off-model as commemorative issues go.  Another was that the main story was a retread of a tale originally presented in 1966 (right around the time Journey into Mystery became Thor, coincidentally enough).  And yet another was that that story was a fill-in — or, at least, it read like one.  Read More

Monsters on the Prowl #16 (April, 1972)

You know, Marvel may have never quite licked the horror/mystery/fantasy/science fiction/what-have-you anthology format during the Bronze Age of Comics — at least not in the color comics arena — but you’ve got to give them points for trying.  From 1969 to 1975, the publisher launched at least sixteen titles that can be grouped within that admittedly broad category (more, if you include all the title changes).  It’s quite the bewildering array of funnybooks to try to get a handle on half a century later, even if you were buying and reading Marvels all through the era (as your humble blogger indeed was).  Trying to account for all those Loose Creatures and Dwelling Monsters, not to mention the Shadowy Towers and Crypts and the Chambers offering you a choice of either Darkness or Chills, can feel like a real Journey into Mystery at times; honestly, it can be hard to know if you’re coming or going.  Or Prowling or Roaming, if you catch my drift.

But never Fear, faithful reader — Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books is here to help.  While I can’t promise you’ll possess a comprehensive understanding of all the varied aspects of this little chapter in comics history by the time you finish reading this post, I believe that I can at least relieve you of feeling like you’re trapped within a Tomb of Darkness, informationally speaking.  Something like that, anyway.  At least for the first couple of years of the phenomenon.  Read More

Amazing Adventures #11 (March, 1972)

In December, 1971, Marvel Comics’ X-Men were in a weird kind of limbo.  The franchise was by no means dead — indeed, there was a new issue of the young mutant heroes’ titular series published every two months.  It’s just that once you got past the freshly-drawn covers (such as the one produced by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia for the latest issue, #74, as shown at right), the contents of those “new” comics were all reprinted X-stories of some five years vintage (for example, #74 featured an oldie by Roy Thomas, Werner Roth, and Dick Ayers that had originally appeared in #26).

This had been the state of affairs ever since around September, 1970, when Marvel publisher Martin Goodman — having cancelled X-Men nine months earlier, in the aftermath of Thomas, Neal Adams, and Tom Palmer’s brief but acclaimed run on the series — appears to have looked at some late sales reports, liked what he saw, and approved the “revival” of the title — but only as a reprint book.  For more than a year afterwards, this would be the only place you could find the X-Men (save for a three-part Angel adventure that ran from July to December, 1970 in the back pages of two reprint issues of Ka-Zar and one of Marvel Tales, and a single guest appearance by Iceman in Amazing Spider-Man #92, published that October).  Read More

Avengers #97 (March, 1972)

I’m not sure exactly what my fourteen-year-old self was expecting to see on the cover of Avengers #97 when it first turned up in the spinner rack, back in December, 1971; nevertheless, I’m pretty confident that Gil Kane and Bill Everett’s illustration highlighting Captain America, the original Human Torch, and the Sub-Mariner — plus four other guys I didn’t recognize — wasn’t anywhere near it.  I mean, it was a great image, but aside from Cap, none of those characters were Avengers.  And “Rick Jones Conquers the Universe!”?  OK, that last bit wasn’t so unexpected — it had been pretty clear from the latter scenes of the preceding issue that Rick was going to play an important role in the conclusion of the Kree-Skrull War.  But still — where the heck were the Avengers?   Or the Kree or the Skrulls, for that matter? Read More