Conan the Barbarian #25 (April, 1973)

In January, 1973, the cover of Conan the Barbarian #25 — a collaboration between Gil Kane and Ralph Reese — hardly gave any hint of the enormous artistic shift this issue represented for Marvel Comics’ award-winning series.  After all, Kane had pencilled four Conan covers prior to this one, and while two of those had graced issues that also featured Kane art on the inside (the first of those, #17, also happened to have been inked by Reese), the other two — including the most recent one, for issue #23 — had fronted stories drawn by the title’s original and primary regular artist, Barry Windsor-Smith.

So, if you were a regular Conan reader who’d somehow managed to miss issue #24 (and if you were, you have my sympathies), you may well have been startled to open #25 to its first page to see that the story had been drawn by a penciller previously unseen in these pages (though his name and work were hardly unfamiliar to Marvel fans)… namely, John Buscema:  Read More

Frankenstein #1 (January, 1973)

In October, 1972, the debut of Marvel Comics’ new title Frankenstein — or, if you prefer, The Monster of Frankenstein, as it says on the cover — is unlikely to have come as a surprise to anyone.  Given the recent relaxing of the Comics Code Authority’s rules regarding the depiction of horror, as well as the subsequent launch by Marvel of two series featuring (or at least inspired by) the other members of Universal Pictures’ classic trinity of monsters — i.e., Dracula and the Wolfman — the four-color advent of a Marvel version of Victor Frankenstein’s famous creation must have seemed all but inevitable to most observers.  Read More

Werewolf by Night #3 (January, 1973)

Back in September of last year, we took a look at Marvel Spotlight #2 (Feb., 1972), the comic book in which the feature “Werewolf by Night” made its debut.  That issue introduced readers to Jack Russell, a modern Los Angeles teenager who, on his eighteenth birthday, made the very unwelcome discovery that he’d inherited the curse of lycanthropy from his late father, who’d been a baron in some unnamed European locale (eventually revealed to be — where else? — Transylvania) before being slain by silver bullets.  We also met Jack’s younger sister, Lissa — who might share his curse — as well as his stepfather, Philip, whom both we and Jack were led to suspect by the end of this premiere episode might well be responsible for the death of Jack and Lissa’s mother, Laura, in an automobile accident.

Most of the key concepts, then, as well as the characters, that would drive storylines not only through this then-new feature’s three-issue run in Marvel Spotlight, but into the earliest issues of its own title as well, can be found in its first installment, as scripted by Gerry Conway (from a plot by Roy and Jean Thomas) and drawn by Mike Ploog.  But there was one key ingredient to the series’ early continuity that wouldn’t be mentioned until MS #3, and wouldn’t make an on-panel appearance until issue #4.  This ingredient was the Darkhold — a sinister compendium of mystical lore that would come to stand as perhaps the most significant contribution to the Marvel Universe ever made by the series, ultimately becoming rather more consequential in the grand scheme of things than the Werewolf himself.  Read More

Marvel Spotlight #5 (August, 1972)

Like many another character to arise out of the production methods of the two major American comic book companies, Marvel Comics’ supernatural superhero Ghost Rider — the one with the flaming skull — had a number of creative minds involved in his beginnings.

Or, alternatively, he was in every significant sense the creation of one sole individual.  It all depends on whom you ask. (Or perhaps that should be “asked”, as more than one of the principals involved is no longer with us.)

That’s true in regards to a number of other comics characters as well, of course — though in most cases, the difference in opinion doesn’t make it all the way to federal court.  But more on that a bit later.  For now, let’s begin with a fact that’s not in dispute — to wit, that the flaming-skull guy who debuted in the 5th issue of Marvel Spotlight half a century ago was not the first comic book hero to bear the name “Ghost Rider”.  Read More

Eerie #40 (June, 1972)

Last summer I wrote a couple of blog posts detailing how I first started buying and reading Warren Publishing’s black-and-white magazine-sized horror comics, beginning with the 1972 Eerie and Vampirella Annuals and the 36th “regular” issue of Eerie, all of which came out in July, 1971.  As I noted at the time, I was fated never to become a consistent, regular reader of Warren’s titles, their ultimately serving as but an occasional snack within my overall comic-book diet during the next ten years.  Having said that, I’m still a little surprised that after getting off to such a strong start, it ended up taking me a whole seven months to get around to buying my fourth Warren.  Possibly I was anxious about getting in trouble should my parents catch me with such “mature” reading material (which did happen, in fact, on at least one occasion).  Assuming that was indeed the case, however (and even if it wasn’t), what was it that finally compelled me to go ahead and buy this issue of Eerie, after passing on the last three?  I can’t claim to actually remember for sure, but I feel pretty confident that, as with so many other impulse purchases I’ve made over the more than half a century I’ve been buying comic books, I was sold by the cover.   Read More

Amazing Adventures #11 (March, 1972)

In December, 1971, Marvel Comics’ X-Men were in a weird kind of limbo.  The franchise was by no means dead — indeed, there was a new issue of the young mutant heroes’ titular series published every two months.  It’s just that once you got past the freshly-drawn covers (such as the one produced by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia for the latest issue, #74, as shown at right), the contents of those “new” comics were all reprinted X-stories of some five years vintage (for example, #74 featured an oldie by Roy Thomas, Werner Roth, and Dick Ayers that had originally appeared in #26).

This had been the state of affairs ever since around September, 1970, when Marvel publisher Martin Goodman — having cancelled X-Men nine months earlier, in the aftermath of Thomas, Neal Adams, and Tom Palmer’s brief but acclaimed run on the series — appears to have looked at some late sales reports, liked what he saw, and approved the “revival” of the title — but only as a reprint book.  For more than a year afterwards, this would be the only place you could find the X-Men (save for a three-part Angel adventure that ran from July to December, 1970 in the back pages of two reprint issues of Ka-Zar and one of Marvel Tales, and a single guest appearance by Iceman in Amazing Spider-Man #92, published that October).  Read More

Marvel Spotlight #2 (February, 1972)

From the perspective of a half century later, the horror boom in American comics in the early 1970s looks all but inevitable.  The appeal of the classic movie monsters to young audiences had been clear ever since the first syndicated collection of old Universal horror films started showing up on TV sets in the late 1950s, quickly becoming widely popular.  The subsequent success of Warren Publishing’s Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine (originally produced in 1958 as a one-shot publication, but almost immediately converted into an ongoing periodical), can only have reinforced the sense among U.S. comics publishers that there was gold to be mined in those dark, storm-blasted hills of Gothic horror — as must have Warren’s following up FMoF in the next decade with the black-and-white comics magazines Creepy, Eerie, and, as the 1960s drew to a close, Vampirella.  Then there was the mid-to-late Sixties success of Dark Shadows, the daytime television serial that began its broadcast life firmly planted in the genre of Gothic romance, but soon morphed into a much more freewheeling fantasy show, happily recycling the tropes of both classic horror fiction and old monster movies, and bringing vampires, werewolves, zombies, and their ghastly ilk into America’s homes five afternoons a week.  Read More