Phantom Stranger #22 (Nov.-Dec., 1972)

Last November, we discussed Phantom Stranger #17, the fourth outing on the title for writer Len Wein. In that issue, Wein and his collaborator, artist Jim Aparo, showed us a more human side of the mysterious titular hero than we’d seen previously, largely through the introduction of a potential romantic interest.  But the Phantom Stranger bid farewell to that interest — a beautiful blind psychic named Cassandra Craft — at the end of #17; and the potential for more characterization-rich storytelling (and perhaps even a touch of issue-to-issue continuity) that Ms. Craft’s advent had seemed to signify wasn’t followed up on in the next couple of issues, both of which featured standalone adventures in which the Stranger operated as solitarily as he had before. Read More

Justice League of America #102 (October, 1972)

Fifty years ago, this issue brought the conclusion of the tenth annual Justice League-Justice Society summer team-up extravaganza — a special event which also served to commemorate the League’s reaching its 100th issue milestone.  Making the occasion even more memorable, this JLA-JSA get-together was the first to take up three whole issues; it also featured the unexpected return, after twenty-seven years, of yet another DC Comics superhero team: the Seven Soldiers of Victory.

Or maybe that should be most of the Seven Soldiers of Victory, since one of the key mysteries of the storyline concerns a lonely grave standing on a Himalayan peak, with a stone marker inscribed to an “Unknown Soldier of Victory”.  As of the conclusion of JLA #101, small teams of Justice League and Justice Society members have retrieved four out of seven of the time-lost Soldiers (or Law’s Legionnaires, as they’re also called) — the Crimson Avenger, the Shining Knight, Green Arrow, and Stripesy — with three more left to go.  So who’s buried in the Unknown Soldier’s grave?  Is it Vigilante?  The Star-Spangled Kid?  Speedy?

The answer, as many of you reading this already know, is:  none of the above.  Which is, and simultaneously is not, a cheat.  But we’ll get to that soon enough — just as we’ll get to the solution to the separate mystery posed by Nick Cardy’s superb cover (his best yet for the title, in the opinion of your humble blogger) — who else among our heroes is doomed to die?  Read More

Swamp Thing #1 (Oct.-Nov., 1972)

First off, please be advised that this blog post is going to be one of the long ones.  That’s primarily due to the fact that, in addition to covering the specific fifty-year-old comic book that gives the post its title, your humble blogger is also goiing to take a shot at answering the age-old conundrum: who came first, DC Comics’ Swamp Thing or Marvel Comics’ Man-Thing?  (Regular readers may recall that when the blog spotlighted the second Man-Thing story, back in March, I promised something of this sort would be forthcoming; that moment has at last arrived.)

But it’s also destined to be at least a bit on the long side because before I can even get into discussing Swamp Thing #1, I feel that it’s necessary to give some attention to an even older comic, one that came out over fifty-one years ago.  Of course, I’m talking about House of Secrets #92, published by DC in April, 1971; the comic book whose first eight pages gave us the very first “Swamp Thing” story, as written by Len Wein, drawn (mostly) by Bernie Wrightson, and edited by Joe Orlando.  Neither the behind-the-scenes story of how Swamp Thing-the-series came to be — nor my own initial reactions to the first issue of the latter, as a fifteen-year-old reader in August, 1972 — make a whole lot of sense outside of the context of that classic tale.  So, that’s where we’re starting, on what in all probability will indeed be a lengthy (though hopefully also enjoyable) journey.  Forewarned is forearmed, eh?  Read More

Justice League of America #101 (September, 1972)

The fifty-year old comic book that’s the subject of today’s post features the middle chapter of the three-month-long celebration of Justice League of America‘s reaching its hundredth-issue milestone, as well as of the tenth annual summer event co-starring the JLA’s predecessors from the Golden Age of Comics, the Justice Society.  Your humble blogger is as eager as the rest of you to jump back into the story by writer Len Wein, penciller Dick Dillin, and inker Joe Giella — but before we do, let’s take a good, close look at the cover by Nick Cardy.

Like all of the other JLA covers of this era, it features a left-hand column of League members’ floating heads (this particular issue also includes a right-hand column of JSA heads as an added bonus).  But unlike virtually any other such cover, there are only three full-time active members of the League included in this group of five — the presently non-powered Diana Prince being on a leave of absence, while Metamorpho is only a “reserve member”.  That meager number is the max number of “official” JLAers appearing in the story as well. Read More

Justice League of America #100 (August, 1972)

In the spring of 1972, Len Wein had been writing comics professionally for almost four years.  The career trajectory of the 23-year-old fan-turned-pro had thus far taken him from writing scripts for DC titles like The Adventures of Jerry Lewis, House of Secrets, and Hot Wheels, to similar work at other publishers including Marvel, Skywald, and Gold Key (Star Trek being among his gigs at the latter outfit), and then back to DC, where he’d been scripting Phantom Stranger for about a year, among other assignments.  But his experience with the publisher’s best-known super-heroes had largely been limited to a single issue of Teen Titans, one Batman story in Detective (both co-written with his friend Marv Wolfman), and, more recently, a smattering of tales in Superman, Flash, World’s Finest, and Adventure.  So you can imagine his surprise (and excitement, and trepidation) when, out of the blue, editor Julius Schwartz asked him if he’d like to write Justice League of America on a regular basis:  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

Korak, Son of Tarzan #46 (May-Jun., 1972)

As I wrote last month in my post about Tarzan #207, I firmly believe that it would have been all but impossible for an American child of my generation to grow up not knowing who Tarzan was.  Korak, son of Tarzan, on the other hand… well, maybe not so much.  Sure, the scion of the Lord of the Jungle had been around since 1914, when he appeared as the infant Jack Clayton in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel The Eternal Lover.  But he’d made a much smaller imprint on popular culture, at least as a solo adventurer, only appearing in a single film, the 1920 serial The Son of Tarzan; as far as most moviegoers (or movies-on-TV viewers) were concerned, the Ape Man’s kid was a boy named, er, “Boy”.  Seriously, unless you were a reader of the novels, about the only way you’d know the name “Korak” was from comics — and even there, the poor guy had to work to stake his claim. Read More

Phantom Stranger #17 (Jan.-Feb., 1972)

About a year ago I wrote my first blog post about an issue of Phantom Stranger; if you happened to read that one, you may recall that PS #11 was the first issue of the title I’d ever bought, and that I ended up liking it enough to become a regular reader henceforth.  Beyond the basic appeal of the series’ supernatural subject matter, my younger self was highly intrigued by the mysterious but noble-seeming title character; I was also a fan of the look given the comic by artist Jim Aparo, who not only pencilled and inked but also lettered each installment.  Meanwhile, Neal Adams continued to turn out one classic cover after another for the title, which, even if it wasn’t enough to make me buy the book just by itself, certainly didn’t hurt its appeal.  About the only thing in Phantom Stranger I wasn’t all that crazy about was the backup strip, which featured Dr. Thirteen, the Ghost-Breaker; but even that had the appealing artwork of Tony DeZuniga going for it, and anyway, it didn’t appear in every single issue.  Read More

Batman #237 (December, 1971)

Batman #237’s “Night of the Reaper!” wasn’t the first comic book story set at the real-life Rutland, VT Halloween Parade; that distinction goes to Avengers #83, which was published one year earlier (and was covered here on this blog last October).  Nor would it be the last such tale.

But it was almost certainly the best of the bunch.

That’s really not surprising, given that the story was crafted by one of the most outstanding creative teams of the era — writer Denny O’Neil, penciller Neal Adams, and inker Dick Giordano — as well as that it, more than most of its fellows, aspired to be about something more than either the Parade itself, or conventional superheroic goings-on — something decidedly more serious, in fact — and was largely successful in achieving this aim, ultimately addressing the subject of the Holocaust in a dramatic, but sensitive, manner.

Nevertheless, the origins of this classic story in certain actual (but not very serious) events — and the appearance within its pages of several equally actual persons who either already were, or would soon become, well-known comics industry professionals — can’t help but be responsible for a certain amount of “Night of the Reaper!” lasting appeal.  And it’s with those events, and persons, that we begin.  Read More

Forever People #3 (Jun.-Jul., 1971)

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