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

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

Justice League of America #103 (December, 1972)

I may be misremembering, but I have a vague recollection of my fifteen-year-old self looking at this one at the spinner rack back in October, 1972 and thinking, “The Justice League standing around a grave site?  Again?”  After all, it had only been three issues since artist Nick Cardy had built his cover for JLA #100 around a similar idea.  On the other hand, it was October — the spooky season — and what could be spookier than an open grave?  Especially when said grave was being ominously loomed over by… hey, is that the Phantom Stranger?  In an issue of Justice League of America?  Forget about repetitive cover concepts; I couldn’t wait to buy this one and take it home.  Read More

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

Forever People #9 (Jun.-Jul., 1972)

In October, 1971, Don and Maggie Thompson’s fanzine Newfangles reported:

There are indications that DC is in serious trouble. Dealers are not too keen on the 25¢ comic book[s], sales are skyrocketing for Marvel, Charlton and Gold Key (GK has 15¢ books, Marvel and Charlton 20¢)… DC’s titles are also reported to be dying in droves on the stands, if they get that far—wholesalers prefer to handle the 20¢ books, apparently.

A couple of months later, with disappointing sales reports now in for about a quarter-year’s worth of the “bigger & better” format DC had inaugurated in June, publisher Carmine Infantino prepared to make some course adjustments.  The most significant upcoming change would be to the format itself (more on that later), but there were other indicators of Infantino’s efforts to staunch the bleeding as 1972 got underway; for example, Green Lantern, one of the signature series of DC’s Silver Age, was cancelled with its 89th issue, shipping in February.  As for the titles written, drawn, and edited by Jack Kirby, with which DC had clearly hoped to clean up with sales-wise following Kirby’s 1970 defection from DC’s chief rival, Marvel Comics: Jimmy Olsen was removed from Kirby’s purview with the 148th issue (which, like GL #89, came out in February); and while Infantino wasn’t quite ready to pull the plug on Kirby’s three remaining titles — the core books of the star creator’s interconnected “Fourth World” epic — he appears to have been determined to take a more active role in guiding their respective directions than he had before.  If the King could ever have been said to have had free rein in managing “his” comics at DC (and that’s by no means an indisputable statement), that day was over.  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

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

Captain Marvel #12 (April, 1969)

Regular readers of this blog will have heard me say this before, but it bears repeating — sometimes, I just have no idea why my younger self chose to buy a particular comic book fifty years ago.

That’s certainly the case with the subject of today’s post.  After passing Captain Marvel by on the stands for almost a year, in January, 1969 I decided to gamble twelve cents on the series’ twelfth issue.  How come?

Was it the cover, by John Romita and Sal Buscema (or maybe George Tuska and Buscema — the usual reference sources differ)?  I suppose it could be.  It’s not a particularly distinguished composition (at least, not to my present-day, 61-year-old eyes), but it’s not what I’d call bad — and those bright, contrasting colors really do pop.  So, maybe.

Perhaps it was the result of a long-simmering curiosity about the character that had been sparked by my reading of the “Captain Marvin” parody in the ninth issue of Marvel’s Not Brand Echh series, back in May of ’68.  That piece, produced by the “real” Captain Marvel’s onetime writer and penciller (Roy Thomas and Gene Colan, respectively) had served as a sort of primer on the origin, powers, and modus operandi of “Marvel’s Space-Born Super-Hero!™” — though one read through a cracked glass, as it were.  It had also been pretty funny to my then ten-year-old sensibilities, even if Thomas’ gags referencing the original Captain Marvel had gone right over my head.  So, maybe I recalled this story when I saw Captain Marvel #12 on the spinner rack, and decided to give the “real thing” a try.  Read More

Batman #185 (October, 1966)

When I first began reading Batman comics, in August, 1965 (my initial issue, as I posted about around a year ago, was Detective #344), the character’s “New Look” — as developed by editor Julius Schwartz, with the help of artist Carmine Infantino and various writers — had been in place for well over a year.  Nevertheless, by the time August, 1966 rolled around I had managed to achieve some familiarity with the Caped Crusader’s pre-1964 “old look” as well.  This was thanks to several factors.  For one thing, the animated opening credits of the Batman television series were based mostly on the older look; more significantly, the huge success of that show led to an expansion in the reprinting of older Batman material.  And so, within a few months of the TV series’ January, 1966 debut, I had become the proud owner of two Signet paperbacks reprinting old Batman stories in glorious black and white, as well as an “80 Page Giant” issue of the Batman comic itself featuring tales of similar vintage in full color.     Read More