Justice League of America #87 (February, 1971)

Some fifteen months ago, I blogged about Avengers #70, which featured the first full appearance of the Squadron Sinister.  Regular readers may recall my sheepish confession in that post that, despite how blindingly obvious it is to me now that these four characters were homages to/parodies of (take your pick) DC Comics’ Superman, Batman, Flash, and Green Lantern, in September, 1969 my then twelve-year-old self didn’t pick up on the joke at all.

Nor was I aware that this comic book was one half of a “stealth crossover” of sorts between Marvel Comics’ Avengers and its counterpart title over at DC, Justice League of AmericaSaid crossover apparently had its origins at a party at which comics writer Mike Friedrich suggested to a couple of his cohorts, Roy Thomas (the writer of Avengers) and Denny O’Neil (then the writer of JLA), that they each present a “tip of the hat” of some sort from the super-team book they were writing to its rival, in issues coming out in the same month.  Thomas and O’Neil both agreed, and Avengers #70 and JLA #75 were the results.  But while the inspiration for Thomas’ Squadron Sinister was all but self-evident (though of course not to me, or to the other fans who chimed in after my September, 2019 blog post that they hadn’t caught on either), the relationship of the supposed Avengers analogues in O’Neil’s story — evil doppelgängers of the Justice League called “the Destructors” — to their Marvel models was obscure to the point of opacity, with the parallels being limited to such bits as having Superman’s dark twin refer to himself as being as powerful as Thor.  (Um, sure.)  I didn’t actually buy JLA #75 when it came out, but I’m all but 100% certain I wouldn’t have realized what O’Neil was up to with such subtle shenanigans, even if I had.  Read More

Avengers #84 (January, 1971)

As the year 1970 wound down, it seemed that mainstream American comic books had, at last, embraced the “sword and sorcery” fantasy subgenre in all its pulpy glory.  After some tentative moves in that direction — courtesy of DC Comics’ three “Nightmaster” issues of Showcase in 1969, which were followed in 1970 by Marvel’s publication of several S&S short tales in its new horror anthology titles like Chamber of Darkness and Tower of Shadows — Marvel finally jumped into the deep-end of the pool in July, 1970, with a licensed adaptation of the field’s most prototypical character, Robert E. Howard’s Conan:  Read More

Sub-Mariner #34 (February, 1971)

When Sub-Mariner #34 came out in November, 1970, it had been precisely one year since I’d bought an issue of the title.  It’s somewhat ironic, then, that there’s a well-known direct connection between that issue, Sub-Mariner #22 and the subject of today’s post — even if it’s a connection that’s only obvious — and perhaps even only exists — in retrospect.

That connection, of course, is that both comics are generally understood to be major building blocks in the development of the Defenders, the “non-team” that, for some of us old geezer fans, all but epitomizes 1970s Marvel Comics (at least as far as superheroes are concerned).  Read More

Amazing Spider-Man #85 (June, 1970)

In July, 1969, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Stan Lee announced in his “Stan’s Soapbox” column that the company was instituting a new “no continued stories” policy for all its titles.  Today, that policy (which remained in place for about a year and a half, at least officially) is widely considered to have been not Lee’s own idea, but rather one that was imposed on him by his then-boss, publisher Martin Goodman.  Assuming that’s true, it’s interesting to consider how much Lee flouted the policy in one of the relatively few books he still wrote himself, The Amazing Spider-Man — which, as it happens, was also the company’s best-selling title, and thus probably the one most likely to be noticed by Goodman.  Read More

Avengers #71 (December, 1969)

At the conclusion of Avengers #70, published fifty years and one month ago, readers were promised that the next issue would feature “the most shocking surprise guests of all!!”  A month later, those fans who picked #71 up off the spinner rack wouldn’t have to look any further than the dynamic Sal Buscema-Sam Grainger cover to learn the identity of those guest stars — though it’s likely that a lot of them had already gotten the news courtesy of the Mighty Marvel Checklist entry for the book that ran in that month’s Marvel comics’ Bullpen Bulletins text page: “The battle that time forgot!  The Avengers take on Cap, the Torch, and Namor in wartime Paris!  Don’t miss “Endgame!”

In October, 1969, my twelve-year-old self had yet to read a single Golden Age Marvel (or Timely, if you prefer) comic book story.  And while I’d gleaned enough information in my few years of reading current Marvel comics to know that Captain America, the original Human Torch, and the Sub-Mariner had all been around in the 1940s, I’m not sure if I knew whether or not they’d ever appeared in the same story together before.  I certainly didn’t know about the Invaders — and neither did anyone else, including their creator Roy Thomas (also the scribe of our current tale), since they wouldn’t actually exist for another six years.  So to see these three characters in World War II-era action was a whole new thing for me (and probably for a lot of other readers as well). Read More

Avengers #70 (November, 1969)

If you’re a regular reader, you may recall that at the conclusion of last month’s post concerning Avengers #69, your humble blogger unburdened himself of a shameful, half-century-old secret — namely, that upon his first encounter with the brand-new supervillain group the Squadron Sinister way back in August, 1969, he had not the faintest clue that they were intended as parodies of the Justice League of America — who were, of course, the Avengers’ counterparts over at Marvel Comics’ Distinguished Competition, not to mention a team that he’d been reading about regularly for almost four years.

Imagine my gratified surprise when, subsequent to that post going up, I heard from a number of fellow old fans that they, too, had failed to get writer Roy Thomas’ joke back in the day.  I’m honestly not sure whether that means that my twelve-year-old self wasn’t all that dumb after all, or simply that a lot of us were that dumb, but either way, I’ll take it as a win.  Read More

Avengers #69 (October, 1969)

In his Introduction to the 2008 Marvel Masterworks volume reprinting this issue, scripter Roy Thomas compliments his artistic collaborator Sal Buscema for the “dramatic yet difficult cover”, noting that “it’s always hard to have a bunch of little guys fighting one big guy — and Goliath’s in-between size just complicated things further.”  That’s undoubtedly true; but my recent re-reading of Thomas’ words in preparation for writing this post reminded me of another cover that met the very same challenge, with at least a couple of the same characters — namely, Sal’s big brother John’s cover for Avengers #45, which came out almost exactly two years prior to Avengers #69, and which also just so happens to have been not only my first Avengers comic, but my first Marvel comic, period.  There’s no good reason why any of that should be particularly significant to anyone except me, I realize; but I hope you’ll pardon my momentary self-indulgence in deciding to highlight it here anyway.  Read More

Captain Marvel #17 (October, 1969)

In the letters column of the comic that’s our main topic today, reader Normand LaBelle of Sherbrooke, Quebec expressed his great displeasure with the Captain Marvel series’ recent turn of direction, finding fault especially with the drastic changes to the titular hero’s powers and mission that had come about in issue #11.  In responding to Mr. LaBelle, the anonymous editorial staffer — probably Marvel Comics associate editor (and, as of this very issue, returning Captain Marvel writer) Roy Thomas — essentially agreed with him:  Read More

Avengers #68 (September, 1969)

Fifty years (and one month) after the fact, I’m honestly not sure whether, upon first seeing the cover for Avengers #67 back in June, 1969, I had any idea that it hadn’t been pencilled by John Buscema, but rather by his younger brother, Sal.  The look of the featured characters was so close to what I was accustomed to seeing from the elder Buscema that It probably didn’t occur to me to consider that the piece might have been drawn by someone else — and, after all, I only knew Sal Buscema as an inker at this point (and only of his big brother’s work on Silver Surfer, at that).

But I feel fairly confident that a month later, when I first saw the cover of Avengers #68, I realized that something was different about it, even if I can’t claim to have any distinct memory to that effect.  Sure, the Avengers still closely resembled John Buscema’s renditions, but they were “off-model” just enough that I had to know they weren’t quite the same.

And once I’d picked up the book and flipped to the first page, i realized that more than just the cover art had changed…  Read More

Avengers #67 (August, 1969)

Last month, the blog tackled Avengers #66, which featured the first chapter of writer Roy Thomas’ second-ever storyline featuring the super–villainous robot Ultron, as well as the first mention ever of Wolverine’s favorite metal, adamantium.  Today, we’re moving on to the second chapter of this three-part tale, which, like the first, was illustrated by the young British artist Barry Windsor-Smith — save for the cover, that is, which was instead drawn by an American artist, named Buscema.  Unlike with issue #66, however, the Buscema who pencilled #67’s cover (inked, as #66’s had been, by Sam Grainger) wasn’t the veteran John, but rather John’s brother, Sal.

The younger Buscema had been working as an inker for Marvel Comics for a little over half a year — among his first published jobs, he’d embellished his sibling’s pencils for the classic Silver Surfer #4 — but this cover represented his Marvel debut as a penciller.  It would soon prove a harbinger of bigger things to come, as with the very next issue of Avengers, #68, the 33-year-old artist would graduate to becoming the regular artist for its interiors.  Read More