In March, 1972, Marvel Comics published the first issue of Hero for Hire. The new comic’s titular star, Luke Cage, wasn’t Marvel’s first Black superhero (that distinction belonged to the Black Panther, who debuted in 1966), or even its first Black American superhero (that would be the Falcon, whose first appearance came in 1969). But he was the first Black superhero to star in his very own comics title — not just from Marvel, but from any major American company — and that made the release of Hero for Hire #1 a milestone.
According to Roy Thomas, the initiative to create Luke Cage came from Stan Lee, who was then on the verge of ascending from his longtime role as Marvel’s editor-in-chief to become its publisher — and who was determined to diversify Marvel’s line on a number of levels, one of which was race. Taking obvious inspiration from the “blaxpoitation” trend in early 1970s American cinema, Lee and Thomas worked with writer Archie Goodwin and artist John Romita to conceptualize and design the new hero, before bringing two more artists on board — George Tuska and Billy Graham. (the latter being the only Black person among this assortment of talents) — to craft the first issue’s story with Goodwin. Read More
Readers of our Avengers #105 post back in July may recall how that issue’s plot — the first from the title’s brand new writer, Steve Englehart — concerned the team’s search for their missing member Quicksilver, who’d disappeared towards the end of the previous issue. Following the inconclusive resolution to their efforts in that tale, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes would continue their quest for the mutant speedster for months to come. But, surprisingly — well, it surprised me, back in November, 1972 — when Pietro Maximoff was finally “found”, it didn’t happen in the pages of Avengers; instead, Quicksilver resurfaced in, of all things, an issue of Fantastic Four — which, as it happened, was the new super-team scripting gig of Roy Thomas, the man who’d written Avengers for the last five-plus years prior to Englehart taking over, and thus the guy who’d launched the whole “where is Pietro?” mystery in the first place. From a creative standpoint, it made a certain kind of sense that Thomas would be the one to ultimately wrap things up; but in terms of the ongoing mega-story of the Marvel Universe, it seemed to come out of nowhere. How did Quicksilver ever manage to end up in the Himalayan homeland of the Inhumans, the Great Refuge? And why the heck was he fighting the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch, Johnny Storm? 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 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
Avengers #92 was a transitional issue for the Marvel Comics series in several ways, a couple of which are signified by the issue’s cover. For one, the cover marks the arrival of artist Neal Adams, who’d begin a brief but glorious run as the title’s penciller and co-plotter with the very next issue. For another, the prominence given to Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America presages the end of an era in which those heroes only appeared on a semi-regular basis in Avengers; while the old dictum of editor Stan Lee that none of the “Big Three” could appear in the title except as occasional guest stars had been honored largely in the breach for a couple of years now, up to this point you might still have stretches in which none of them showed up at all (in fact, none had appeared in the previous three issues, and, as we’ll soon see, they barely play a role in #92, cover prominence notwithstanding). From issue #93 forward, Cap, Thor, and Iron Man would simply be “Avengers”, on the same basis as their fellow members who didn’t have their own books — effectively ending what had been the status quo of the title ever since issue #16 (May, 1965). 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
In October, 1970, I returned to Marvel Comics’ Avengers after a hiatus of one full year, during which time I hadn’t bought or read the title at all. Avengers had been one of my most reliable Marvel purchases for a year or so prior to that break, but, for reasons lost to time, I was a little tentative about committing to the series again; and after buying (and, as I recall, enjoying) both #83 and #84, I sat out the next three months, not picking up another adventure of the Assemblers until #88, in March. That one seemed to do the trick, however, because from that point on I wouldn’t miss another issue. (Well, not until 1980 or thereabouts, anyway — but that’s another story.)
Or maybe it wasn’t #88 that sealed the deal — that Harlan Ellison-plotted issue, enjoyable as it was, essentially functioned as a lead-in to the same month’s issue of Hulk, and didn’t spend much energy encouraging readers to come back for the next month’s Avengers. Avengers #89, on the other hand, kicked off a multi-issue storyline that just kept building and building, never offering anything like a reasonable jumping-off point. By the time that storyline — the Kree-Skrull War, as we’d all quickly come to call it — came to an end with #97, it was December, and buying Avengers had become an ingrained habit for your humble blogger. Read More
In our last post, we took a look at Justice League of America #89 — a very special issue of DC Comic’s premiere super-team book, in which writer Mike Friedrich paid homage to one of his literary heroes by basing his story’s central character of “Harlequin Ellis” on the noted science fiction author and screenwriter, Harlan Ellison.
By a remarkable (but apparently entirely random) coincidence, the same month that saw the publication pf JLA #89 (March, 1971) also saw the release of a very special issue of the Marvel Comics series featuring that publisher’s nearest analogue to the Justice League, Avengers, which writer Roy Thomas had scripted from a plot outline by the real Harlan Ellison. You really can’t make this stuff up, y’know? Read More