That was the question facing Marvel Comics in general, and Avengers writer/de facto editor Roy Thomas in particular, fifty years ago. In terms of its length and scope, the aforementioned nine-issue storyline had been all but unprecedented at the publisher. Not to mention the fact that the epic’s back half had (mostly) been visualized by perhaps the hottest artist in American comics at the time, Neal Adams.
So what do you do for an encore? Well, if you’re Thomas, you segue right into a three-parter which, even if it can’t beat the KSW for length, at least gives it a run for its money in terms of scale — and which wraps things up with a very special 100th issue featuring every single Marvel character who’s ever been an Avenger, however briefly. And as your collaborator on this trilogy, you bring back an artist who, since his first brief Avengers stint in 1969, has evolved from a raw but promising young talent to, well, another of the hottest artists in American comics, Barry Windsor-Smith. Read More
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
In October, 1971, Avengers #95 brought us what might be the most unusual installment yet in the ongoing epic of the Kree-Skrull War. From one perspective, concerned primarily with the progress of the war and the Avengers’ role in it, it could quite reasonably be deemed the least consequential chapter in the entire saga. From a different point of view, however — namely, that of the Inhumans — it might be the most significant of all.
That’s because Roy Thomas and Neal Adams took advantage of the opportunity Avengers offered not only to wrap up the story they’d begun telling in their most recent previous collaboration — the “Inhumans” strip in Amazing Adventures — but also to deepen the Inhumans’ mythos; especially that part of it wrapped up in the personal histories of the two royal brothers, Black Bolt and Maximus, whose animus had been the driver of most of the narratives Marvel Comics had produced concerning that hidden race ever since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced them back in 1965. Read More
While I can’t claim to have distinct memories of the moment my fourteen-year-old self first laid eyes on the cover of Thor #195, one half-century ago, I feel confident in telling you that I was pretty happy about it (new Marvel Comics “picture frame” cover design notwithstanding). That’s in part because penciller John Buscema and inker Frank Giacoia provided a well-crafted illustration, obviously; but for me, it had more to do with the subject of the illustration. The God of Thunder and his best buds, the Warriors Three (who just so happened to be my favorite members of Thor‘s supporting cast, but hardly ever seemed to make the cover) battling a bunch of trolls? That seemed to put us right square in the middle of the high fantasy territory that often, but not always, supplied the milieu for the Son of Odin’s adventures, both in his current run and in the old Stan Lee-Jack Kirby Journey into Mystery stories I was then enjoying in reprint form via Special Marvel Edition. More to the point, that particular territory was my favorite milieu for Thor stories, as it had been since I’d caught the high fantasy bug by way of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in the summer of 1970 — and the main reason why Thor had become my favorite Marvel superhero in the months since then. Read More
In crafting the installment of their ongoing “Kree-Skrull War” epic that arrived on stands in September, 1971, the Avengers creative team hadn’t had the luxury (or, if you prefer, the burden) of 34 pages to work with, as they’d had for a single issue with the previous month’s issue #93. Rather, the first 20-cent edition of the title featured a mere 23 pages of art and story.
Nevertheless, the reduction of space didn’t deter writer Roy Thomas from continuing to break each issue’s episode of the galaxies-spanning saga into multiple chapters — or from giving every chapter its own individual title, each inspired by a well-known work of science fiction. For #94’s “More Than Inhuman”, the reference was to Theodore Sturgeon’s 1953 novel, More Than Human: Read More
When we last checked in with the Fantastic Four, the team was dealing with the aftermath of the temporarily deranged Thing’s rampage through Manhattan in FF #111, and subsequent rumble with the Hulk in issue #112 — a battle which had apparently left Ben Grimm no longer among the living. As revealed in the following month’s #113, however, Ben wasn’t completely dead, and Reed Richards (aka Mister Fantastic) was ultimately able not only to resuscitate his old friend, but reverse the ill effects of Reed’s attempt to cure him back in #107, restoring Bashful Benjy to his old irascible (but not antisocial) self.
Notwithstanding that good news, the FF still had some major problems with which to contend. Public opinion had turned strongly against them over recent events, to the extent that there was a warrant out for their arrest; plus, their landlord at the Baxter Building was trying to throw them out of their headquarters. But most urgent of all was a surprise visit from an old friend, whose coming was teased throughout the first thirteen pages of the story by a bright light in the sky that drew steadily closer and closer until, at last, it entered in through the FF’s window, and revealed itself as… the Watcher! Read More
If there’s a single comic book that best exemplifies the potential of the all-new, 48-page format which Marvel Comics rolled out to great fanfare in August, 1971 (or, as we’ve christened it on this blog, Giant-Size Marvel Month), it surely must be the subject of today’s post: Avengers #93, featuring the 34-page story “This Beachhead Earth” — which, in addition to being the mid-point of the extended storyline known as the Kree-Skrull War, was also the first installment of a short but superlative run on the series by the creative team of scripter Roy Thomas, penciller Neal Adams, and inker Tom Palmer.
And if any set of classic comics exemplifies just how contentious two talented creators can become over the issue of who deserves the credit for which aspects of their storied collaboration, it’s the same short Avengers run by Thomas, Adams, and Palmer. Read More
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
(Your first Hulk vs. Thing slugfest, 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
Back in November of last year, we took a look at Thor #184 — the premiere installment in the first multi-issue, large scale epic that editor-scripter Stan Lee had attempted in the title since losing his longtime collaborator Jack Kirby to DC Comics. Hyping the comic in the Nov., 1970 Bullpen Bulletins, Marvel went so far as to compare it to the debut of the Inhumans in Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four, some five years previously. And upon my thirteen-year-old self’s actually reading it, it really did feel like Lee and his collaborators, penciller John Buscema and inker Joe Sinnott, had pulled out all the stops for this one.
This opening chapter of what would prove to be a five-issue story arc introduced us readers — as well as the mighty Thor, himself — to the menace of the World Beyond: a mysterious realm somewhere out past the farthest reaches of space, which was, somehow, devouring our universe from the edges in. Associated with this menace was a word — perhaps a name — of unknown significance: “Infinity”. We and Thor also met an intriguing new character, appropriately dubbed the Silent One, who had recently shown up in Asgard unannounced; All-Father Odin had since decided to let him hang around, sensing that he was in some way the key to the mystery. Read More