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

Hulk #140 (June, 1971)

“Harlan Ellison Month” (well, “Harlan Ellison Week +1”, anyway) continues here today at “Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books”, as we take a look at the second half of a two-issue crossover between Avengers and Hulk, originally published in March, 1971, which the writer of those two Marvel series, Roy Thomas, adapted from a plot synopsis by Mr. Ellison.

I’m not going to provide a summary of the tale’s opening chapter here, mostly because the recap provided on the first three pages of Hulk #140 (which’ll be coming up shortly) will tell you pretty much everything you need to know to be able to follow the rest of the story — and also because you can, at any time, click on this link for the Avengers #88 post if you missed reading it a few days ago, and you really do want all the details.  Even so, before we plunge head-first into the comic’s narrative, we need to take a moment to note what Thomas, as scripter, is going to be getting up to in these pages.  And to facilitate our doing that, we’re going to quickly flip to the back of the book, to have a look at the letters column. Read More

Star Trek #10 (May, 1971)

As I’ve mentioned in passing a time or two before on this blog, I didn’t get to see Star Trek when it originally aired on the NBC television network from 1966 to 1969.  Until 1970, we only had two TV stations in the Jackson, MS metro area; and although one of them was an NBC affiliate, it sometimes pre-empted that network’s programming to carry something else (usually a program from ABC, the odd-network-out in our market).  My maiden voyage upon the starship Enterprise would thus have to wait until reruns of the by-then-cancelled show started airing locally in syndication, probably sometime in 1970.

Once first contact was finally made, however, I immediately (and unsurprisingly, considering the other stuff I was into) became a big Trek fan.  And I was keen to extend my enjoyment of the show through what we would now call ancillary media.  The thing was, in 1970 and 1971, there wasn’t a whole lot of licensed Trek story-product available.  Read More

Witching Hour #13 (Feb.-Mar., 1971)

Portrait of Dick Giordano by Joe Orlando, published in many of Giordano’s inaugural DC letters columns in1968.

In October, 1970, Dick Giordano had been an editor at DC Comics for roughly two and a half years.  Since moving over from a similar position at the smaller Charlton Comics, Giordano had made his mark on such DC titles as Beware the Creeper, The Hawk and the Dove, Aquaman, and Teen Titans — all of which featured work by creators he’d previously employed at Charlton, including Steve Ditko, Denny O’Neil, Jim Aparo, and Steve Skeates.  He had also served in the vanguard of a new cohort of DC editors who, like himself, had worked as comics artists before ascending into editorial positions.  This was an innovation driven largely by Carmine Infantino, himself a veteran freelance artist who had recently moved into an executive role at DC; Giordano, however, had been hired not by Infantino, who in early 1968 was still “only” DC’s Art Director, but rather by Executive Vice President Irwin Donenfeld.  Very soon after Giordano’s arrival, Donenfeld was ousted from the company, with Infantino being promoted to Editorial Director — a change which made him Giordano’s new boss.  And although Giordano highly respected Infantino as an artist, he soon found it difficult — and ultimately, impossible — to work with him within their new roles.  Read More

Detective Comics #408 (February, 1971)

There’s an interesting story behind Detective #408’s lead Batman feature (and cover story), “The House That Haunted Batman!”.  Or perhaps we should say, in the interest of total accuracy, that there are four of them.

Back in 1998, in the 1st issue of Comic Book Artist, editor Jon B. Cooke published “The Story That Haunted Julie Schwartz”, a collection of interviews with four of the personnel who’d been involved with producing this classic Detective story:  editor Julius Schwartz, writers Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, and penciller Neal Adams.  The funny thing about it, though, was that in spite of the interviews’ brevity (the entire article ran only two pages) the four veteran comics pros’ recollections differed in certain details, lending the whole enterprise a Rashomon-like quality.

This much, at least, the quartet could agree on:  Quite early on in their professional careers, longtime friends Len Wein and Marv Wolfman wrote a Batman story together which they hoped to sell to Julius Schwartz.  Somewhere along the line, Neal Adams took an interest in the as-yet-unbought script and ended up drawing it in his spare time, on spec — a remarkably generous gesture, considering how busy the artist was (not to mention what his time was worth).  Ultimately, despite the irregularity of the process, editor Schwartz did indeed buy the completed 15-pager, and scheduled it for the next available issue of Detective ComicsRead More

Justice League of America #87 (February, 1971)

Some fifteen months ago, I blogged about Avengers #70, which featured the first full appearance of the Squadron Sinister.  Regular readers may recall my sheepish confession in that post that, despite how blindingly obvious it is to me now that these four characters were homages to/parodies of (take your pick) DC Comics’ Superman, Batman, Flash, and Green Lantern, in September, 1969 my then twelve-year-old self didn’t pick up on the joke at all.

Nor was I aware that this comic book was one half of a “stealth crossover” of sorts between Marvel Comics’ Avengers and its counterpart title over at DC, Justice League of AmericaSaid crossover apparently had its origins at a party at which comics writer Mike Friedrich suggested to a couple of his cohorts, Roy Thomas (the writer of Avengers) and Denny O’Neil (then the writer of JLA), that they each present a “tip of the hat” of some sort from the super-team book they were writing to its rival, in issues coming out in the same month.  Thomas and O’Neil both agreed, and Avengers #70 and JLA #75 were the results.  But while the inspiration for Thomas’ Squadron Sinister was all but self-evident (though of course not to me, or to the other fans who chimed in after my September, 2019 blog post that they hadn’t caught on either), the relationship of the supposed Avengers analogues in O’Neil’s story — evil doppelgängers of the Justice League called “the Destructors” — to their Marvel models was obscure to the point of opacity, with the parallels being limited to such bits as having Superman’s dark twin refer to himself as being as powerful as Thor.  (Um, sure.)  I didn’t actually buy JLA #75 when it came out, but I’m all but 100% certain I wouldn’t have realized what O’Neil was up to with such subtle shenanigans, even if I had.  Read More

Phantom Stranger #11 (January, 1971)

In August, 1970, DC Comics retired the logo that had, with minor adjustments, appeared on the cover of their publications since 1949.  (For the record, the red lettering had been added in 1954.)  It was replaced by a new branding approach that basically consisted of the letters “DC”, the comic’s title, and a graphic representing the comic’s subject matter.  That approach gave us a few imaginative and distinctive new logos, such as the eagle-and-shield emblem that graced the Justice League of America’s covers for a couple of years; for the most part, however, the publisher’s books defaulted to a simple formula of “DC” + title + image of the headliner(s), often with some or all of those elements enclosed within a circle.  The end result was that every series seemed to have its own individual (if not necessarily memorable) logo, with even those comics that were part of a larger “family” of titles — such as those starring Superman or Batman — standing on their own, with little sense of a shared identity.

There were a couple of exceptions, however, both of which involved anthology titles that didn’t have continuing characters who starred in every issue — specifically, DC’s romance and mystery comics.  Read More

Amazing Spider-Man #85 (June, 1970)

In July, 1969, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Stan Lee announced in his “Stan’s Soapbox” column that the company was instituting a new “no continued stories” policy for all its titles.  Today, that policy (which remained in place for about a year and a half, at least officially) is widely considered to have been not Lee’s own idea, but rather one that was imposed on him by his then-boss, publisher Martin Goodman.  Assuming that’s true, it’s interesting to consider how much Lee flouted the policy in one of the relatively few books he still wrote himself, The Amazing Spider-Man — which, as it happens, was also the company’s best-selling title, and thus probably the one most likely to be noticed by Goodman.  Read More