Phantom Stranger #24 (Mar.-Apr., 1973)

In recent months, we’ve followed the Phantom Stranger’s crusade against the secret society of sinister sorcerers called the Dark Circle, as chronicled by writer Len Wein and artist Jim Aparo.  That crusade finally comes to an end in the 24th issue — so after pausing just long enough to admire Aparo’s typically fine, mood-setting cover, let’s turn to the first page and get right to it, shall we?  Read More

Sword of Sorcery #1 (February, 1973)

Back in July of this year, we took a look at Wonder Woman #202 — an issue which, in addition to being the penultimate issue of that title’s four-year “Diana Prince” run (which had found the Amazing Amazon battling bad guys sans her traditional powers or costume), featured the comic-book debut of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, two heroes of sword-and-sorcery fiction who’d been appearing in the stories of Fritz Leiber since 1939.  In the comic’s story, Diana and Catwoman journeyed to the the world of Nehwon (spell it backwards), where they tussled briefly with the two blade-wielding adventurers before teaming up against their common foes.

Immediately following the story’s conclusion, a half-page ad promised us readers of 1972 that this was by no means the last we’d see of Fafhrd and the Mouser:  Read More

Phantom Stranger #23 (Jan.-Feb., 1973)

Artist Jim Aparo’s dramatic cover for Phantom Stranger #23 depicts a scene that unmistakably calls back to Gaston Leroux’s 1909-10 novel Phantom of the Opera, or one of its several film adaptations; meanwhile, a blurb at the top plugs the opening installment of a new back-up series, “Frankenstein”.  A prospective buyer eyeing this one in the spinner rack back in November, 1972, might well have wondered:  didn’t the comic’s publisher, DC Comics, know that Halloween was last month?  Why were they releasing this kind of Double Creature Feature now, after the spooky season had already passed?

On the other hand, this was the latest issue of Phantom Stranger — and “spooky” was what this comic book title was all about, not just in October, but all year long.  So I suspect most fans probably didn’t think twice about the double dose of classic horror stars, half a century ago; in any event, I’m pretty sure I didn’t, either when I first eyed the cover, or when, after buying the book and taking it home, I finally turned to the first page…  Read More

Batman #242 (June, 1972)

In addition to being a fine piece of artwork by Michael W. Kaluta, the cover of Batman #242 represents a minor milestone of sorts; outside of those for a small handful of giant-sized all-reprint issues, it was the first cover since October, 1969 for either Batman or its companion title, Detective Comics, not to have been drawn by Neal Adams.  (That particular month, not so coincidentally, was the same one in which those titles’ editor at DC Comics, Julius Schwartz, introduced the Caped Crusader’s “Big Change” — a return to a moodier, more grounded approach to the hero that was largely inspired by what Adams had been doing over in Brave and the Bold for the last year or so.) Read More

House of Mystery #202 (May, 1972)

In March, 1972, the format change that DC Comics editor Joe Orlando had brought to the company’s House of Mystery title at the beginning of his tenure had been in place for four years.  This format — which emulated the approach of the horror anthology comics of the early 1950s to the extent possible under the strictures of the Comics Code Authority — had proven very successful, leading to similar revamps of other DC titles (House of Secrets and Tales of the Unexpected) as well as the launch of brand new titles cut from the same rotting gravecloth (Witching Hour and Ghosts).  Even DC’s arch-rival Marvel had been moved to try its hand at the “mystery” anthology comics game (though so far without much success).

Through it all, House of Mystery had kept to the course charted by Orlando in 1968, centered on a mix of short stories of supernatural horror (generally featuring twist endings), interspersed with a page or two of macabre cartoons, all “hosted” by Cain the Caretaker.  To the extent that anything had changed in the last four years, it was largely in the makeup of the talent roster that produced the title’s content.  Even so, it was still possible to pick up an issue and be completely surprised — as was the case with the very comic we’re looking at today.  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

Superman #240 (July, 1971)

With this issue of DC Comics’ flagship title, the “Sand Superman” saga that writer Denny O’Neil and penciller Curt Swan had initiated with the iconic Superman #233 (“Kryptonite Nevermore!”) moved into its climactic final phase.  In the previous chapter (published in #238, incidentally, as #239 was a giant-sized reprint issue), the Man of Steel had been brought to his lowest ebb yet.  While he’d ultimately managed to save the day in that episode, the victory had been a close one; with his powers still seriously depleted from multiple encounters with his mysterious sandy doppelgänger, our hero mused to himself in the story’s final panel:  “I’m a pretty poor excuse for a Superman these days… and that must change!  I’ll regain my former might — and soon! — or die trying!

Despite these determined words, however, when we turn past Neal Adams’ simple but dramatic cover for #240 to the story’s opening pages, we find that the Man of Tomorrow’s status remains pretty much the same as it was, well, yesterday:  Read More

Green Lantern #84 (Jun.-Jul., 1971)

Although writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams had begun their tenure on Green Lantern in 1970 with a run of grounded stories featuring more-or-less realistic antagonists, as they moved into their second year they appeared more willing to incorporate the sort of colorfully code-named and costumed supervillains that had been the series’ bread-and-butter prior to their own advent.  Already in GL #82 they’d brought back Sinestro,  the renegade ex-Green Lantern; and now, two issues later, they were drafting yet another veteran foe back into active service — although you couldn’t tell that from the cover, which (like #82’s before it) gave no hint of who the story’s main bad guy actually was.  While O’Neil and Adams (and their editor, Julius Schwartz) may have decided that it was a good idea to include more old-school superhero genre elements in their storytelling, they evidently didn’t think putting a returning villain’s puss on the cover would have much if any impact on the book’s sales.  Read More