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

Conan the Barbarian #24 (March, 1973)

In December, 1972, Marvel Comics published the final issue of Conan the Barbarian drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith.  Again.

The young British artist’s first departure from the book had come just ten months earlier, with Conan #15.  But after a mere three issues away (the first of which in fact reprinted earlier work by Windsor-Smith), he was back on the book. reuniting with writer Roy Thomas on Conan #19 to launch an ambitious new multi-issue storyline, the “Hyrkanian War” epic.  Read More

Defenders #4 (February, 1973)

Behind an attention-grabbing cover pencilled by John Buscema from a rough layout by Jim Starlin (and inked by Frank Giacoia), the Defenders creative team of writer Steve Englehart, penciller Sal Buscema, and inker Frank McLaughlin began this latest installment of the super-team’s continuing adventures right where the previous one had left off.

It wasn’t exactly what you’d call a happy scene…  Read More

Fantastic Four #131 (February, 1973)

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

Conan the Barbarian #23 (February, 1973)

Gil Kane’s cover for Conan the Barbarian #23 is a fine piece of work.  Nothing to complain about here.  I mean, it’s Gil Kane, right?

That said, I’ve always regretted that the story it illustrates, “The Shadow of the Vulture!”, wasn’t published under the cover that Barry Windsor-Smith had originally drawn for it…  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

Conan the Barbarian #21 (December, 1972)

As noted in last month’s post about Conan the Barbarian #20, at the time that issue went to press, the series had recently received the 1971 Shazam Award for Best Continuing Feature — a fact writer-editor Roy Thomas was understandably happy to publicize in the comic’s letters column.  But for anyone who’d missed the good news, they got a second chance to learn about it one month later, when Marvel trumpeted the accolade on the cover of Conan #21.  (Considering that Marvel’s rival DC Comics had done the same thing a year earlier when their own Green Lantern won the same award, it was hardly a surprise that Marvel would follow suit.)

That the blurb ended up appearing on the cover of this particular issue of Conan, however, would turn out to be somewhat ironic, as a number of the people involved in producing it would in later years view it as something of a train wreck.  As Roy Thomas put it in his 2018 book Barbarian Life: A Literary Biography of Conan the Barbarian, Volume 1:
Read More

Conan the Barbarian #20 (November, 1972)

As we discussed on the blog last month, the 19th issue of Conan the Barbarian saw not only the beginning of the title’s most ambitious multi-issue storyline to date, but also the return of artist Barry Windsor-Smith after a hiatus of several months.  That return was marked by a noticeable improvement in the artist’s already impressive skills in the time he’d been away; but it was also marred somewhat by deadline problems that resulted in only the first nine pages of the story being fully inked (by Dan Adkins), the remaining eleven having to be reproduced from Windsor-Smith’s pencils; an intriguing, but not altogether successful experiment, given the limits of comic-book printing technology of the time.  Read More

Swamp Thing #1 (Oct.-Nov., 1972)

First off, please be advised that this blog post is going to be one of the long ones.  That’s primarily due to the fact that, in addition to covering the specific fifty-year-old comic book that gives the post its title, your humble blogger is also goiing to take a shot at answering the age-old conundrum: who came first, DC Comics’ Swamp Thing or Marvel Comics’ Man-Thing?  (Regular readers may recall that when the blog spotlighted the second Man-Thing story, back in March, I promised something of this sort would be forthcoming; that moment has at last arrived.)

But it’s also destined to be at least a bit on the long side because before I can even get into discussing Swamp Thing #1, I feel that it’s necessary to give some attention to an even older comic, one that came out over fifty-one years ago.  Of course, I’m talking about House of Secrets #92, published by DC in April, 1971; the comic book whose first eight pages gave us the very first “Swamp Thing” story, as written by Len Wein, drawn (mostly) by Bernie Wrightson, and edited by Joe Orlando.  Neither the behind-the-scenes story of how Swamp Thing-the-series came to be — nor my own initial reactions to the first issue of the latter, as a fifteen-year-old reader in August, 1972 — make a whole lot of sense outside of the context of that classic tale.  So, that’s where we’re starting, on what in all probability will indeed be a lengthy (though hopefully also enjoyable) journey.  Forewarned is forearmed, eh?  Read More

Avengers #105 (November, 1972)

Writing about Avengers #100 back in March of this year, I referred to the four issues that immediately followed that milestone as a “victory lap” for Roy Thomas, whose nearly-six-year tenure as the title’s writer was about to come to an end.   In characterizing Avengers #101-104 in such a fashion, I don’t mean to denigrate them; they’re not bad comics, by any means.  But coming directly upon the heels of the three-part “Olympus Trilogy” crafted by Thomas with Barry Windsor-Smith — and, right before that, the “Kree-Skrull War” epic by Thomas, Neal Adams, and Sal and John Buscema — these comics can’t help but seem somewhat anticlimactic by comparison.  I suppose there’s always been a part of me that kind of wishes that Thomas had just quit while he was ahead.  Read More