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
When I was nine years old, I fell in love with a superheroine whose unlikely name — a name that still brings a wince of lust and embarrassment to my face when I say it — was Barda. Big Barda. I have never recovered, thank God, from my first sight of her, in Mister Miracle #8 (September 1972). — Michael Chabon, “A Woman of Valor”, 2004.
Your humble blogger’s own first meeting with Big Barda came four issues earlier than did that of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay; and I was fourteen years old at the time, not nine. Nevertheless, I can definitely relate. Read More
That was the question I had, back in the spring and summer of 1971, as Jack Kirby devoted not just one, but two issues of Jimmy Olsen — the first two following the conclusion of his initial story arc for the series, a six-chapter saga that he’d begun in his very first issue — to a tale focused on the famous insult comic.
It’s not that my fourteen-year-old self had anything against Don Rickles; I actually thought the guy was pretty funny. But that didn’t necessarily mean that I wanted to see him — or any comedian, really — in my superhero comics. I certainly didn’t expect it, in any event. Read More
The fourth issue of Jack Kirby’s Forever People brought us the second chapter in the five-part story arc which would prove to be the centerpiece of this ultimately short-lived series. But, published as it was on the first day of June, 1971, the issue was also the harbinger of a new era for its publisher, DC Comics — marking the end of the 32-page comic book at the company (at least for the next eleven months), as the standard-size comic’s page length was increased to 48 pages, and the price raised from 15 to 25 cents.
I don’t actually know whether this particular issue was the very first 25-cent DC comic I myself saw or bought — unlike the occasion of DC’s last price hike, I have no clear memory of the specific comic that presented me with the sensation of “sticker shock” that surely must have accompanied my discovery of the change. (And it was a change I would have been utterly unaware of until I was confronted by it at the spinner rack; DC had given no hint this was coming in the past month’s books, and I was not yet plugged into any fan networks, formal or otherwise, that might have broken the news.) But Forever People #4 could have been the first — it was in DC’s first batch of 25-cent releases, for sure — so I’m going to use its release as a platform for discussing the change. Read More
In May, 1971, DC Comics continued to chronicle the ongoing saga of the war between the god-worlds of New Genesis and Apokolips in three new releases: Mister Miracle #3, Jimmy Olsen #139 — and Lois Lane #111.
True, the progenitor of that cosmic saga, Jack Kirby, neither wrote, nor drew, nor edited the third of the comic books listed above; indeed, he may not even have served as an informal consultant in its production. Nevertheless, the latest episode in the continuing adventures of “Superman’s Girl Friend” leaned heavily on concepts developed by Kirby for Jimmy Olsen, with a plot centered on an attempt by the minions of Darkseid, Lord of Apokolips, to assassinate Lois’ mighty beau. And why not? Whatever else Kirby’s Fourth World was, it was clearly part of DC’s shared universe, with especially strong ties to Superman’s corner of that fictional world; after all, in his guise of Clark Kent, Superman even had a minion of Darkseid for his boss. It only made sense, therefore, that the cosmic conflict at the heart of Kirby’s four series (which included Forever People and New Gods in addition to Jimmy Olsen and Mister Miracle) would eventually spill over into the rest of DC’s line — and that any stories resulting from such a spillover would and should “count”, continuity-wise, every bit as much as did the King’s.
At least that’s how my thirteen-year-old self saw the matter, fifty years ago; and since I was then avidly following any and all developments in the Fourth World saga, that was enough to get me to pick up my first issue of Lois Lane in almost five years. Read More
(Your first Hulk vs. Thing slughest, that is. Why, what did you think I meant?)
Technically, I suppose FF #112’s “Battle of the Behemoths!”, crafted by the regular Fantastic Four creative team of scripter Stan Lee, penciller John Buscema, and inker Joe Sinnott, wasn’t really my first experience seeing these two Marvel Comics heavy hitters go at it. Rather, that would have come several months earlier, courtesy of Marvel’s Greatest Comics #29 (Dec., 1970), which reprinted the characters’ very first meeting from FF #12 (Mar., 1963); the problem there, however, was that that story (a production of Lee, Jack Kirby, and Dick Ayers) was actually a bit of a bust, at least as far as Thing-Hulk dust-ups went. The two bruisers didn’t actually encounter each other until page 17 of a 23-page story, and in the three page fight scene that followed, ol’ Jade Jaws took on the entire Fantastic Four, not just Bashful Benjy Grimm. While both big guys got in some licks, the scene ultimately wasn’t very satisfying as a one-on-one match.
Also contributing to making this story less than a slam-dunk for my thirteen-year-old self was its age — or, more accurately, what its age signified in terms of the development of the characters, both visually and personality-wise. This was a decidedly different Hulk than the one I was familiar with — among other things, this guy spoke in the first person, and he wore purple trunks, rather than the tastefully torn trousers of the same hue that I was used to seeing him in — while this Thing was a lumpier and more belligerent fellow than the hero I was accustomed to, as well. Read More
The Black Racer is undoubtedly one of the most enigmatic and ambivalent characters who ever appears within the pages of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics. Somewhat ironically, however, his creator appears not to have originally intended him to be part of the sprawling cosmic epic that ran through his DC titles in the early 1970s. According to Mark Evanier, who was working as an assistant to Kirby during that period:
At the time, it was intended as a stand-alone series, utterly unconnected to the NEW GODS, FOREVER PEOPLE or MISTER MIRACLE series, and what Jack wanted to do was to hold a big talent hunt to find a young black writer and a young black artist- or maybe one person who could do both under Jack’s supervision. He presented this all to Carmine Infantino, who was then the guy in charge at DC, and Infantino convinced Jack to launch the character himself…and to do so right away, in the pages of one of the above-mentioned three comics. (“The Soul of Willie Walker”, The Black Racer and Shilo Norman Special [Oct., 2017].)
Behind an attention-arresting cover, which — like most others Jack Kirby produced for DC Comics around this time — was built around an imaginative photo collage (and which also, like the cover of the issue of Jimmy Olsen that had immediately preceded it, featured Neal Adams’ inks over Kirby’s pencils), the comics readers of April, 1971 — including your humble blogger — were treated to the thrilling conclusion of the first multi-part storyline (indeed, the first storyline, period) of the massive Fourth World project written, drawn, and edited by Kirby. Read More
The third issue of Forever People leads off with a cover very much in the vein of several of the other covers of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics that immediately preceded it in publication date, including that of FP #2; it’s built around a drawn image, pencilled by Kirby and inked by Vince Colletta, which is then set against a photographic background, and, finally, framed by copy — a lot of it. Based simply on this visual cue, one might expect this issue’s content to be as similar to that of the second issue as are the two books’ covers — i.e., for it to follow #2’s precedent of setting our young heroes from New Genesis against a powerful servant of Darkseid, a foe that ultimately can only be vanquished by summoning the more powerful adult champion Infinity Man to take their place, with everything being set back to the status quo by the end of the issue.
But if that’s what you were expecting, you’d be wrong. Because with Forever People #3, Kirby abandons the formula he seemed to have settled into with the prior issue’s adventure, moving instead into the first chapter of a four-part narrative considerably darker and more disturbing than anything we’ve seen in a Fourth World comic to date. Ultimately, this storyline will prove to be the central arc of the entire Forever People series (which, as most of those reading this likely already know, is doomed to meet a premature end with its eleventh issue), and one of the key narratives of the entire Fourth World project. It’s where Kirby’s great theme of radical freedom versus absolute control — or, in his formulation, Life versus Anti-Life — comes to the fore more fully than it has in any previous chapter. Read More
The cover of Mister Miracle #2, with its plethora of blurbs, follows in the tradition of the second issues of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World titles which preceded it. Even more than the covers of Forever People #2 and New Gods #2, however, this one’s not just wordy, it’s shouty. To my contemporary, 63-year-old sensibilities, it’s too much, at least by half.
But back in March, 1971, my thirteen-year-old self seems to have seen things differently. That’s my prevailing theory, anyway, when I consider the fact that, unlike virtually any other comics purchases I made in the general timeframe of fifty years ago, I can remember the particular circumstances of my acquiring Mister Miracle #2. While I don’t recall actually picking the book up out of the spinner rack at the Forest Ave. Tote-Sum in Jackson, MS, or paying for it at the counter, I do have a specific recollection of gazing upon that gloriously over-the-top cover as I held the comic in the front seat of my mom’s car, our having stopped at the aforementioned convenience store (at my request, I’m certain) on the way home from school. Read More