So I've been ill in bed for over a week and this has apparently put my muse into a coma that it still hasn't woken from, but this is why you plan ahead - or more accurately, write something then leave it for ages because you can't be arsed to make the images for it.
So I noticed that all the comic book stuff I’ve posted on this blog, with the exception of the odd entry in the Top X-Men Comic Stories list, are all relatively recent, 1990s and upwards, and I felt that this could give the wrong impression of me, I like comics from all eras, to prove this, here’s a long-ass article about a far earlier time in comics: the Editor-Go-Round period of Marvel Comic.
Ok, here’s how it worked – Stan Lee was editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics from 1945 until 1972 (when he became Publisher) that is 27 years, damn. In 1978 Jim Shooter took the EIC position and held it until 1987, a respectable 10 years, between these two holding the position there was a period of Marvel comics I like to call the Editor-Go-Round period. From 1972 to 1978 there were five editor-in-chiefs, none lasting more than three years, they were (in order): Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway and Archie Goodwin, all with different ideas about how staff and characters should be treated, all with different ideas about what stories and topics Marvel and comic books should cover and all with Stan Lee and Cadence Industries sticking their ore in at a time when the comics industry was in a massive slump and Marvel had grown into a large business with several licencing deals that affected comic content (not least toy companies Azrak-Hamway International and Mego). Behind the scenes it was a nightmare, everything from divorce to kidney trouble, but the Marvel Zombies out there might be looking at that timeframe and thinking “hang on, that’s when some of Marvel’s most acclaimed books/my favourite stories came out, that’s when Chris Claremont started on X-Men, that’s when Jim Stalin was on Warlock, that’s when they killed Gwen Stacy, that’s when Star Wars came out dammit” and you’re absolutely right, despite the company being in chaos – and sometimes because of it – the Editor-Go-Round period produced a lot of great work, a lot of cult favourites and a good deal of big stars for Marvel (which now, thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, are one and the same thing – everyone knows who Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon is now, it is very strange) and this is going to be my long tribute to that time-period by going through it chronologically and talking about key books, stories and runs by one or more creators, consider it a guide on how to read Marvel Comics from 1972 to 1978. So are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin:
Stan Lee is made Publisher at Marvel Comics, his old job as Editor-in-Chief goes to Roy Thomas, who has been employed at Marvel since the 60’s and is the first person Lee truly trusted to take over scripting the comics he began.
Marv Wolfman on Dracula!
(Tomb of Dracula #7-#70, Dracula Lives! #1-5 plus annuals)
Tomb of Dracula started before the E-G-R period when Stan Lee was still in the chair, but for the first six issues it was passed through a selection of writers (the first issue alone had three of them) before ending up in the hands of Wolfman, though this was long before he would go to DC and turn out his best work on New Teen Titans and Crisis on Infinite Earths he crafted a consistently high quality gothic horror series, effectively Marvel meets Hammer Horror, with a cast of great characters, a fantastic version of the titular vampire and introduced Blade the Vampire Hunter. Usually he was complimented by Gene Colan, who turned in shadowy plus sexy artwork to make the whole package that much better.
The Marvel Monsters Rise!
(Marvel Spotlight #2-3, Werewolf By Night #1=32, Giant Size Creatures #1; The Monster of Frankenstein #1-16, Monsters Unleashed! #1-11; Supernatural Thrillers #5, 7-15;Tales of the Zombie #1-10; Marvel Preview #3, 7, 8, 12, 16; Vampire Tales #2, 8, 9; Legion of Monsters #1; Marvel Spotlight #12-24, Son of Satan #1-81)
Speaking of which, again the first of the ‘Marvel Monsters’ debuted just before the Editor-Go-Round started with Dracula and Werewolf by Night but their heyday came around ’73 when Marvel had an equivalent for just about every classic movie monster – they had Dracula of course and the Frankenstein who showed up in his own book and Monsters Unleashed was the literary character as well but N’Kantu the Living Mummy, Manphibian, The Zombie Simon Garth and aforementioned Jack Russel – the Werewolf by Night - were all original creations. Debuting in both Marvel’s regular comics (though notably nothing with anything resembling sales) and via the black and white magazines in their Curtis imprint Marvel was keen to capitalise on the Comics Code Authorities lowering the ban on monsters (now EC Comics had thoroughly been removed from the playing field), the sales the new generation of monster kids the 1970s was bringing with them and the success of Tomb of Dracula and Ghost Rider, there was also Blade, Dracula’s daughter Lilith and two of Satan’s offspring – Satana and Daimon Hellstrom: The Son of Satan. Always creative though not always stellar the best of the bunch was easily Tales of the Zombie, with issues #1-9 following Simon Garth, a character Roy Thomas brought back from the obscure Menace #5 and featuring Steve Geber on writing duties and, from issue 2 onwards, the wonderful Peruvian Pablo Marco on artwork
The Ghost Rider Rides!
(Marvel Spotlight #5-12, Ghost Rider #1-4)
Dreamed up by Gary Friedrich as a villain for Daredevil (which he was writing at the time) E-I-C Roy Thomas said the only issue with Ghost Rider – a stunt cyclist with powers to transform into a flaming skull-headed motorcyclist via powers from Satan – was far too good to just be a Daredevil villain, and he was right, because that summary I just gave sounds like the most metal concept the early 70’s could come up with. Sadly I don’t think Ghost Rider really met expectations until Howard Mackie brought Danny Ketch to life in the 90’s (and to back up my opinion, even when Johnny Blaze is the Ghost Rider nowadays he still uses Danny Ketch’s design, signature weapon and motorcycle) but Ghost Rider was very popular back in ’73, so popular that his series ran for a ridiculous 80 issues and was directly responsible for the creation of Son of Satan. Sadly after Friedrich left the book and it was passed through various writers (including Jim Shooter who dragged Dr Druid out of comics limbo) most of the series was written by Michael Fleisher who turned in average to boring stories with similar quality art by the likes of Don Perlin (Fleisher’s first issue was #36). Beyond the original, bizarre and terminally hip story-arc (the one in the brackets below the title) that included a possessed Native American women, biker gangs and the children of the devil I’d recommend issue #35 – where Jim Stalin has Ghost Rider race death; #57 where Fleisher has a super-villain sent to the electric chair only to come back as a more powerful ghostly supervillain; and the final 14 issues of the book (#68-80) where writings duties flipped between J.M. DeMattis, Roger Stern and Bob Budiansky for the best set of stories the series had.
Steve Englehart on Captain America!
(Captain America #153-186)
Roy Thomas brought a lot of talent to Marvel when he was Editor-in-Chief, many of whom hadn’t worked in comics before as professionals. The ‘Marvel Renegades’ – Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Jim Stalin and Don McGregor – were the nosiest and most troublesome. Englehart only got Cap because its sales were so low it was in danger of cancellation. I’ll be honest though, I’ve never thought that much of Steve Englehart’s run on Captain America as a whole, he was undoubtedly good for the character but I tend to see it as a run with two really good arcs sandwiching an ok set of (slightly subversive) superhero stories and ending in a wimper. Regardless Englehart did his best work challenging Captain America’s ideals and showing him the darker side of America that everyone was realising was actually there post-Viet Nam and Watergate, returning the commie-bashing Captain America of the 1950s as an insane bigot and having the President of the United States turn out to be the man leading the villainous Secret Empire, and shooting himself, leading Steve Rogers to give up his Captain America identity and become Nomad (a man without a country, get it?). These arcs were brilliant, oh and he also created the Serpent Society, but I dunno, the last arc, Cap against the Red Skull had terrible art by Frank Robbins and Englehart didn’t even write all of his final issue (I can’t remember why? But it’s Steve Englehart so no doubt he clashed with an editor and did something dramatic) and much of the middle of his run is just not on the same level as those previously mentioned arcs.
Steve Englehart on Avengers and Defenders!
(Avengers #105-152 & Annual #15, Giant-Size Avengers #2-4, Defenders #1-11)
Those renegades are gonna turn up a lot here; Englehart got the sales on Captain America up to such a point they gave him their premiere team book! Englehart’s run is, I feel wrongly, defined by his ‘Celestial Madonna’ arc, where he got kind of fixated on the tale of his new creation Mantis – an ex-prostitute who married a tree (he was on lots of drugs) – but he’s also the man who brought the Beast into the Avengers, resurrected Wonder Man and the Original Human Torch (as a metaphor for Marvel‘s treatment of his creator Carl Burgos) and wrote the Serpent Crown arc. Meanwhile he was also given the reigns to Defenders, the ‘non-team’ that had been created in Marvel Feature before our timeframe, when they got their own series and out of this came the Avengers/Defenders War, a 12-part epic that alternated between the two books, the first time Marvel had done such a style of story (as in, one part in one, the next in the other, then the next in another/the previous book, repeat; they’d carried on stories into other books before), so now you know who to blame for that.
Steve Gerber on Man-Thing!
(Adventure into Fear #11-19, Giant-Size Man-Thing #1-52, Man-Thing #1-22)
Apparently Gerber took the job on Adventure into Fear to supplement his income (and I don’t meant that as a euphemism, despite being one of the weirdest writers of this period he didn’t touch drugs), it would be his passport to credibility, fame and bitterness; forced to work with a silent title character with the rough intelligence levels of a sheep dog, Gerber had the somehow still completely sympathetic Man-Thing (I think it’s the big eyes) wander from one person’s problems to the next, allowing for all the weirdness and social commentary Gerber liked, and turned the most unlikeliest of books into something very special, Gerber however would outdo himself in Man-Thing’s much more successful spin-off, which was about a duck, what else would it be about, have you ever heard of Steve Geber? Incidentally my favourite part of the run is Man-Thing #5-6, wherein the ghost of a clown draws several of the book’s characters together to enact a play of his life to judge if he had sufficient motivation for his suicide to representatives of Heaven, Hell and the Realm Inbetween, it is shockingly poignant and relevant stuff for a book most people write off as a dick joke.
The Night Gwen Stacy Died!
(Amazing Spider-Man #121-#122)
One of my favourite story-arcs of all of comics, in case you haven’t heard of this story – Spider-Man accidentally causes the death of his girlfriend Gwen Stacy after the Green Goblin throws her off a bridge and ultimately the Goblin is impaled on his own glider in the
beat-down that follows. This was a huge deal, Gwen Stacy was a popular main
character of Marvel’s biggest title (though sadly not as popular as Mary-Jane
Watson) and the Green Goblin was the star of the book’s arch-enemy (though most
of the GINOURMOUS fan furore that erupted was over Gwen), and they were killed
off - shit like that just didn’t happen at the time, it was the story that made
Spider-Man & Mary Jane the OTP of the franchise, allowing Mary-Jane to
mature as a character and later ended Marvels, another of my favourite
story-arcs of all time. Of all the things that happened during Thomas’ time on
the book this was probably the most significant, it set a precedent – and not a
good one – that you COULD kill off major characters and it was good for
publicity and sales to boot. Also, FYI, Stan Lee totally okayed this, then when
the backlash started (writer Gerry Conway got death threats) said that they’d
done it all behind his back, because Stan Lee is a bit of a prick.
Don McGregor on Black Panther!
(Jungle Action #4-24)
McGregor had been a proof reader until Jungle Action Volume 2 stopped publishing shitty reprints and began to chronicle the Black Panther, and after an issue McGregor got the writing gig and turned the book into something wordy but brilliant, giving the book an all-Black cast (and then a black artist too, the fantastic Billy Graham) and writing the epic Panther’s Rage where T’Challa dealt with revolt in his kingdom of Wakanda who felt he’d sold out, and then he had him take on the fucking Klu Klux Klan. Sadly McGregor was a pain to deal with and the book was a sales bomb and routinely late (thus incurring late fees). One of the few things Gerry Conway achieved during his month as Editor-in-Chief was sacking McGregor and cancelling the book, replacing it with Black Panther by Jack Kirby, oh yeah, Kirby came back but we’ll get to that. The Klan story-arc was later wrapped up by a different writer (Ed Hannigan) in three issues of Marvel Premiere once Kirby’s book was done (issues #51-53)
The Rise of Red Sonja!
(Conan the Barbarian #33-34, Savage Sword Conan #1, Conan the Barbarian #43-44 & 48, Kull and the Barbarians #1-3, Marvel Feature Volume 2 #1-7)
Ok so Red Sonja first appeared in issue 33 of Conan the Barbarian but had a different design – she basically looked like a 60s clubber who’d lost her top and someone had given her a chainmail shirt to cover her modesty, in the first issue of the black and white magazine Savage Sword of Conan3 though, was where she debuted her iconic look including her metal bikini and became the Red Sonja we know and love and Tumblr probably hates. Following that her appearances were drip-fed to us through various Conan and Conan-esque titles until she finally took over the second volume of Marvel Feature before finally getting her own series. Wanna know something else? Most of that series was written or co-written by a woman (Claire Noto), I’m sure Tumblr has names for her.
Doug Moench on Shang-Chi!
(Master of Kung-Fu #20-120, 122 & Annual #1, Giant-Size Master of Kung-Fu #1-4)
A run that lasted so long it included all five editors of the editor-go-round and Jim Shooter (who of course would end it), Shang-Chi was actually devised by renegades Englehart and Stalin and based on tv show Kung-Fu (with David Carradine) but between creation and realisation it became a bit shit, rather racist and Fu Manchu was part of it. Happily Doug Moench came in with issue 20 and made the book just, better, in every way. Though Shang-Chi’s yellow tint fluctuated things were far more awesome – generally the best thought of part of his run tends to be the 19 issues he worked with brilliant artist Gene Day (#100-118 & 120) which are good, I…honestly haven’t read it for years and I’m too lazy to read 100 issues or more for this one paragraph, I can tell you that it’s pretty damn enjoyable though, and 100 issues on a book is certainly something to celebrate anyway, it is a little dated but I think that works in its favour, I want my kung-fu to be as 1970s as possible and my Shang-Chi to be as 1970s as possible, so this is suits me fine.
The First Infinity War!
(Iron Man #55, Marvel Feature #12, Captain Marvel #25-32, Avengers #125, Captain Marvel #33)
Jim Starlin really likes Thanos, he likes Thanos so much Marvel had to ban him from using Thanos in his stories, this is where that love affair began: The Thanos War - and it was supreme. It started with Starlin getting a simple fill-in job on Iron Man which he and roommate Mike Friedrich (Friedrich co-wrote the first half-ish of this) decided they should stuff with all the crap they’d come up with, the Blood Brothers, Drax the Destroyer and Thanos amongst them, after being given Captain Marvel (again because it’s sales were shite) he turned the book into a psychedelic exploration of enlightenment and reaching your full potential, and brought Thanos and Drax back naturally, ending in a trippy blockbuster finale with the Avengers and the Cosmic Cube in Manhattan that gave Captain Marvel his youth back. Stalin left Captain Marvel an issue later, but not before giving Mar-Vell cancer (as it would turn out).
Steve Englehart on Doctor Strange!
(Marvel Premiere #9-14, Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts #1-18)
How many times am I going to mention Steve Englehart? All of the times! It’s not my fault Marvel (especially Roy Thomas) kept giving him work, and it kept being good. This is certainly the thing to read if you’ve finished The Thanos War above and think “I enjoyed that, I need more trippy shit by a man on copious amounts of LSD and pot” – wanna know what one of the more common fan letters the team got in response to this book? Free baggies of weed. And Doctor Strange wasn’t just mind-expanding it was pushing boundaries – they did God, they did God in a Marvel comic and then to stop Stan Lee forcing them to print a retraction saying it wasn’t THE God just A god they faked a praising letter to their own book (from a vicar), posted it from a different state and actually got away with it! Also featured in this fantastic run on Benedict Cumberbatch’s contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Eternity destroying and remaking the world and Shuma-Gorath and neither of these things was considered out of place.
The Punisher Takes Aim!
(Amazing Spider-Man #129, 134-135, Marvel Preview #2, Marvel Super Action #1)
The Bronze Age, as the 70’s are often called when it comes to comics, has a reputation for darkening superheroes (hell, Astro City dedicated a whole set of mini-series to it) and you can see why, I mean I’ve mentioned three Satan-powered superheroes and one Satan powered supervillain in the first three sections and Wolverine’s still to come! Here to continue to prove Kurt Busiek’s point is The Punisher, in a story that actually comes directly from the Night Gwen Stacy Died, The Jackal tricks Frank Castle into gunning for Spider-Man and lets just make this clear – The Punisher was supposed to be an antagonist, he was a stab at the gritty, violent, murderous characters like Dirty Harry that were appearing in other media - but he became very popular, and his origin made him sympathetic and so Conway brought him back4. Then he got more popular so they gave him some solo stories in their black and white magazines and then by the time the 1990s rolled around he had two comics and was appearing in anything Marvel wanted to boost in sales and he was played by Dolph Lundgren and we all got sick of the sight of him, then Garth Ennis wrote him and everything was cool again.
Roy Thomas stands down as editor-in-chief; the final straw is Stan Lee doing something unethical (shock!) – approaching DC Comics’ Carmine Infantino about sharing information on how much each freelancer is paid at each company5 after a freelancer is caught out trying to trick Marvel into paying him more by lying about how much DC pays him. Thomas is pissed off and leaves, amongst the things he has started though are luring Jim Starlin back to write Warlock (Starlin had left over an inker, don’t ask) and deciding to use Uncanny X-Men, which at the time was a reprint book and a terrible seller, as the vehicle for a suggestion about doing a book filled with non-Americans to appeal to lucrative foreign markets, Thomas had been keen to revamp the book for a while anyway. Filling Thomas’ role will be the best friend duo dubbed LenMarv – Len Wein will edit the colour comics and Marv Wolfman the black-and-white Curtis Magazines. They are as shocked as anyone; well except maybe Gerry Conway, who was promised the job by Lee.
The All-New, All-Different X-Men!
(The Incredible Hulk #180-182, Giant-Size X-Men #1)
Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum are pretty much the start of the All-New X-Men, Thomas decided to use the X-Men book for the required multicultural team and suggested to Wein and John Romita the character of Wolverine whom Romita then designed and Wein and Herb Trimpe then put in Incredible Hulk *takes deep breath* meanwhile Cockrum dug through his piles of characters – many left over from when he was working at DC for Legion of Super-Heroes, and pulled out the characters that became Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus and Thunderbird, Wein was then brought in to write their debut, Giant Size X-Men #1. Although classic neither story is amazing but the legacy of them is ginormous, this was the turning point for the X-Men, fans responded well but with Wein being bumped up to Editor-in-Chief, he wouldn’t be able to handle the workload of taking on the ongoing Uncanny X-Men book, which was going to be published new material again, so Chris Claremont volunteered to do the work.
The Invaders Retroactively Invade!
(Giant Size Invaders #1, Invaders #1-2)
The All New, All Different X-Men weren’t the only team to get a debut in a Giant-Size special; a ‘parting gift’ if you will for Roy Thomas was his own new book, The Invaders, where he could indulge his love of Golden Age Marvel. He created an official team for Captain America, The Original Human Torch and The Sub-Mariner and had them fight axis enemies, many of his own invention and later brought in new creations Union Jack and Spitfire to fill out the ranks (presumably because there wasn’t enough Marvel Golden Age Heroes lying around unused, I hate saying anything bad about Roy Thomas but seriously The Vision, The Angel, Challenger, The Black Marvel, The Falcon, Captain Terror, The Destroyer, The Black Widow - any two would have done), while the book wasn’t ground-breaking the way the renegades work was it was good Saturday morning style fun and laid a lot of foundations in the Marvel Universe.
Steve Gerber on Defenders!
(The Defenders #20-41, Annual #1)
Unsurprisingly for Gerber, he looked at the Defenders and decided ‘fuck it, let’s be absurd’ and brought back the Headmen (just…read it yourself, you won’t believe me otherwise), however he also developed Valkyrie and Nighthawk (the only two he could, the others – Doctor Strange, the Hulk, Namor etc – were the property of other books and other writers) into rounded, sympathetic characters you cared about, Englehart’s run is why I like Valkyrie. He also brought back Nebulon (for some Doctor Strange-style panel layouts), The Serpent Society, The Guardians of the Galaxy and created Starhawk, the art was also top notch the whole time.
Jim Starlin on Warlock!
(Strange Tales #178-181, Warlock #9-15, Avengers Annual #7, Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2)
Fuck yes. Starlin returns from his (first?) storm-out to do work that, for me, he has only bested on Infinity Gauntlet. Writing, drawing, lettering and colouring the superhero-as-Jesus Adam Warlock, mostly you’ll hear it lauded for its huge ideas and existential stuff, things that honestly turn me off a book, but it was also sexy, funny, clever and filled with pokes at things that needed serious jabbing; attacking organised religion, authority, complacency and even Marvel Comics themselves (Starlin, having balls the size of space hoppers, spent a whole issue painting Marvel as clowns enforcing the status quo and then got them to publish the book). And of course, Thanos – though the first half of the run was mostly concerned with the Universal Church of Truth and its leader The Magus, who was Adam Warlock from the future, Thanos turned up during that arc, and then became the main villain for the finale, this was stuffed in two unrelated annuals but the extra pages allowed the climax to be as big and as epic as it needed to be and these things always seem bigger when the hero has to call in big guns like the Avengers and The Thing (and Spider-Man), things ended with Warlock and Thanos (and Pip and Gamorra, oh yeah, Gamorra debuted in this run in all her sexy greenness) dead but like Starlin would ever let those stay that way.
The Marvellous – and DClous – Wizard of Oz!
(MGM’s Marvelous Wizard of Oz #1)
Fun fact, the first Marvel/DC collaboration was on this book, an adaptation of the Judy Garland musical version of the Wizard of Oz. What? Well it’s actually pretty simple and pretty nice; Marvel was going to do an adaptation of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book by L. Frank Baum, and at the same time DC was planning to do an adaptation of the Wizard of Oz, the film with Judy Garland, so the two decided to do one book together instead – which was based on the film in the end. Roy Thomas wrote it and John Romita Snr – with help from various people – did the art, which is lovely. Honestly I think I’d rather have had the two work on an adaptation of the book but that’s just because I have issues with the musical and I really like the book. Thomas wrote a sequel, Marvel Treasury of Oz #1, that adapted the Marvelous Land of Oz but that was published by Marvel solo.
The Phoenix Saga!
(Uncanny X-Men #98-101 and 104-109)
Though undoubtedly (and probably quite rightly) eclipsed by his brilliant partnership with John Byrne, Claremont’s work on Uncanny with Dave Cockrum was nothing to sneeze at either, and anyway Byrne had only been on the book a couple of issues when Archie Goodwin left and Jim Shooter settled into his 10 years of being editor-in-chief so I feel like it’s cheating if I include it. Anyway Anyway it was Claremont and Cockrum that had to draw new readers in and old readers back to turn the fortune of the book around, who had the job of getting those made curious by Giant Size X-Men to keep coming back each month to a book no fucker had been buying before issue #94 so they deserve some appreciation as a team. And they did good, it seemed like every issue something new and exciting was going on and the characters were becoming more likable, and more real, as they went, even leprechauns5 can be forgiven if they’re in a story with Juggernaut rampaging through a castle and Storm dealing with near paralyzing claustrophobia. But most of their run centred around Phoenix and the ramifications of Jean Grey becoming Phoenix (or Phoenix becoming Jean Grey, as it turned out) as the two turned the least interesting character in the old X-Men into the most powerful superheroine in the industry and managed to work in (in rough chronological order) Sentinels, Sentinels in space, robot duplicates, Cosmic Rays, a herald of Galactus, Magneto, space pirates, rip-offs of the entire Legion of Superheroes, Kabbalah, the overthrowing of a space dictatorship and two Canadians beating the shit out of each other. Why haven’t you stopped reading this and gone and read what I’ve just described?
The Original Clone Saga!
(Amazing Spider-Man #143-149)
Forced to bring back Gwen Stacy by Stan Lee, it felt like Gerry Conway was saying “fine, you wanted her back, well then, HERE” mostly because that’s exactly what he was doing. The result is a story filled with the agony and confusion that, y’know, someone who’s dead coming back might actually cause (Spider-man thinks he’s gone mad for a while) and plot twists abound as The Jackal gets involved (as does the Scorpion, Tarantula and, oddly, Cyclone) leading to perhaps the ultimate ending to a Spider-Man story as fans and Spidey are left wondering whether he or his clone was the one who walked away from the final fight. This ended up being the grand finale for Conway, one of if not my favourite Spider-writers, and despite what some felt, including Conway and Stan Lee, I think it was a great way to go out, I don’t love this as much as Gwen’s death, but I do love it a rather large amount. Far out.
Sal Buscema takes over Incredible Hulk!
(Incredible Hulk #194)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this, I’m not a big fan of Incredible Hulk until Peter David got it but, as he was drawing it during the time the Incredible Hulk TV series was on, for a lot of people the Buscema Hulk is their Hulk, that and the achievements of the two pencillers (yes there were only two) on Hulk for this timeframe should be acknowledged and celebrated: Herb Trimpe had been drawing Incredible Hulk since issue 106 and was considered THE Hulk artist (many still consider him this) but during Len Wein’s tenure as EIC (and as writer of the book) Sal Buscema took over (I don’t know why), starting with issue #194 and ending with issue #309. Fucking hell. On the writer side, Wein stayed on for a while before Roger Stern (with Dave Michelline to start) took over for a decent run from issues #218 to #244, then it was pretty much all Bill Mantlo all the way up to 309.
Len Wein quits the Editor-in-Chief position, his last straw is apparently being told by Marvel President Al Landau “because it’s none of you fucking business” when he demanded to know why he, as the editor-in-chief, hadn’t been told that pencilller Ross Andru was taking time off of Amazing Spider-Man to draw Superman Vs. the Amazing Spider-Man. After having to be pulled off of Landau, Wein was gone and his best mate Marv Wolfman gets the job. Archie Goodwin replaced Marv Wolfman on the magazines.
Howard for President!
(Giant Size-Man Thing 3-4, Howard the Duck #1-29 & Annual #1, Marvel Treasury Edition #12)
It’s time for satire, and the best vehicle for satire is of course, a cigar smoking anthropomorphic duck and his hot redhead girlfriend: it’s Howard the Duck time baby! Steve Gerber debuted Howard during his Man-Thing run but Roy Thomas made him get rid of him, thinking a Disney-esque cartoon duck affected the horror feel of the book (madness). Fans were unhappy and Marvel listened, the duck came back and he just got more popular. Howard the Duck #1 was a huge seller and a huge success and then nothing was safe – horror, kung-fu, sci-fi, superhero, fantasy, political thriller, Howard quacked his way deftly through them all with a cast of brilliantly bizarre characters including of course, The Space Turnip and Dr Bong, two of the best superhero creations of all time. I love Howard the Duck; from it’s out-and-out parodies like the Master of Kung-Fu issue (#3) or the horror two-parter (#6-7); the creative (like the issue that’s just a letter from Steve Geber about Steve Geber (#16) or spending an issue focusing on what do you the day after you save the world (#24)) and the surprisingly disturbing (the mental health issue, #12, although that does end with an Exorcist parody conjuring up Kiss, as in the band). You should read Howard the Duck, right now.
Superman Vs Spider-Man!
(Superman vs The Amazing Spider-Man #1)
Superman and Spider-Man team up to fight Pre-Crisis Lex Luthor and Doctor Octopus and it’s by my favourite Spider-Man writer – Gerry Conway (and Ross Andru, who did a bunch of great work on Amazing during Conway’s run too, my favourite Spider-Man artist is John Romita Snr btw), it’s a great concept and I do dearly love the book but it’s…it’s kind of like ‘Your First Comic’ featuring just about every trope you can imagine in a classic superhero tale, from exclamations and dodgy thought bubbles to giant robots and superheroes getting into a fight for the most arbitrary of reasons. But it’s big, it’s bright, it’s fun and it was the first time a Marvel and DC hero had officially teamed up together, I paid way too much money as a teenager to own this in first print and I regret not a thing (I got Superman vs Muhammed Ali at the same time, I regret that even less).
The Human Rocket Lands!
The man called Nova was a creation of Marv Wolfman for a fan publication that he brought back while E-I-C at Marvel, to try and balance out the renegades and the like and bring in some straight-up superheorics and all-ages adventure; there’s nothing wrong with this (although most of Marvel’s top talent at the time disagreed) but the book is fairly by the numbers running through a bunch of forgettable original villains and team-ups to boost sales and is probably only of interest to people who enjoy hokey 60’s and 70’s comics. Still, it enjoyed some good arcs with The Sphinx, an arc with the Yellow Claw plus a very enjoyable team-up with Spider-Man that was later used in How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.
Jack Kirby on Captain America!
(Captain America #193-214)
Jack Kirby’s return to Marvel was a big fucking deal, it happened during Len Wein’s tenure as Editor-in-Chief but was published during Wolfman’s and neither man were really involved in the return (as far as I know Kirby got pissed off at DC and came back of his own accord). I delight in Kirby’s run on Cap, it was bombastic and filled with Captain America and Falcon doing all kinds of awesome things, it’s the first thing I think of when I think of Kirby’s art and it introduced Texas Jack and Arnim Zola. It has its flaws – Kirby wasn’t really interested in the whole ‘shared universe’ thing, and he’s always had a… dramatic flair and a… unique way of writing dialogue, I don’t mind that and in fact think it suits his art and when combined it actually feels less dated than if it was paired with say, I dunno, Herb Trimpe or someone. Fans didn’t agree at the time, sales were less than expected for all of Kirby’s three books (Captain America, The Eternals and Black Panther), fan reaction was less than expected for all of the books (apparently they had trouble finding positive fan mail), and according to Jim Stalin editorial wasn’t very supportive either - mocking Kirby (he got hate mail on Marvel letterhead) and if you were involved in any of that while working at Marvel – you’re a dickhead. Kirby left and never came back to Marvel again. Opinions on his second Marvel work seems to have improved, his first Captain America arc – Mad Bomb – was reprinted oh god nearly 10 years ago now, and Eternals has had two trade paperbacks and even one of those deluxe hardcover omnibuses, oooh! Ooh! I know, shall we talk about The Eternals?
A Big as the Sky!
(The Eternals #1-19 & Annual #1)
Easily the most impactful thing Kirby did when he came back (though it doesn’t have a lot of competition), he pretty much created a New Gods for Marvel, and some people saw this as a bad thing? Actually I’m being facetious; it’s not that much like New Gods it just also has very powerful beings and lots of epicness. It follows the return of The Eternals, one of three races created from the ape (the monstrous Deviants, the humans, and the powerful Eternals), and their creators the Celestials, back to judge Earth, and how humanity and the returned Eternals – mostly Ikaris, Makkari and Sersi – deal with all of this. It was filled with giant things and powers far before mortal ken and it was pretty fucking awesome, and Sersi’s another favourite of mine (I first met when she was an Avenger though), I just love her don’t-give-a-fuckness. While immense it was never immensely popular – it has been collected now as I said - and seemingly impossible to make popular, it’s never really caught on and if the likes of Kirby and Neil Gaiman can’t make it do so then it probably won’t ever, I dunno, the Celestials are in the Marvel Cinematic Universe now and that made Groot a superstar so who knows? Popular or not, it’s been considered a major part of Marvel history ever since it came out, it was the book that introduced the Celestials and obviously I like it thus everyone else should, that’s how it works right?
Gerry Conway finally gets his promised promotion to Editor-in-Chief, Roy Thomas was going to come back to replace an exhausted Marv Wolfman but he wasn’t very keen and Conway talked him out of it. Conway lasted a month, all he really managed to do was get rid of Don McGregor and piss of Tony Isabella and Steve Engelhart so much they left, ending their runs on Avengers and Ghost Rider, thanks Gerry. His replacement was Archie Goodwin, who had been editing the black and white magazines following Wolfman becoming Editor-in-Chief. Goodwin… didn’t really want the job.
(Marvel Comics Super Special #1)
Kiss rocks? Why would you wanna kiss rocks? Oooh, I get it. Yeah Marvel really did this though I don’t know if Kiss really put their blood into the ink (rumour has it the ink they used in the photo shoot wasn’t even used for this book anyway, but I think that’s just ‘sensible’ folk piddling on something) and they got Steve Gerber to write it! The suits representing Kiss pushed for the book to be something swanky and Gerber pushed with them, getting them a graphic novel with metallic (and blood stained) ink on the cover but have you actually read this book? I’ll tell you what – Kiss debut by bursting out of a photo booth to beat up muggers after a blind barbarian in a slogan t-shirt throws a bunch of frustrated youths Lemarchand's Box from Hellraiser which naturally contains the essences of four stadium rockers. That’s just the set-up! That doesn’t even take into account the visits to heaven and hell, the sexy cat ladies and Dr Doom – only from Steve Gerber folks, only Steve Gerber could get heaven and hell from the blokes who sung ‘you pull the trigger on my love gun’.
A New Hope!
(Star Wars #1-6)
Before it was released three people believed in Star Wars – George Lucas, Roy Thomas and Kenner. Thomas convinced everyone, including Stan Lee (please remember that Stan Lee had argued with Roy Thomas about licencing Conan and that became a best seller, Lee doesn’t learn very fast) it was a good idea to licence this film – it was – in fact it was one of very few things that kept the company going for a while if I remember rightly. The adaptation of Star Wars ran through the first six issues and it’s not quite how you might remember the film, it was adapted from an earlier script for a start but it was also adapted by Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin – yes, THAT Howard Chaykin (who once spent sufficient time at a comic book convention fruitlessly hitting on a friend of mine) and they have a certain style apiece (though this is a very early Chaykin, his scratchier art isn’t here yet, and he’s surprisingly good at likenesses) and Marvel has a certain style and it isn’t quite the same style Star Wars and George Lucas has, it’s great fun but don’t expect many quiet, reflective moments. Anyway Star Wars ran for 107 issues (plus a mini-series adapting ‘Jedi), 107 issues, just to reiterate again: anyone who took a chance on Star Wars did great7
(Ms. Marvel #1, Marvel Spotlight 32)
Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman were both created to secure copyrights8 so it’s not to surprising that their early issues aren’t masterpieces but they went on to be major parts of the Marvel Universe to the point that Carol is probably their Wonder Woman now and if Werewolf by Night gets a paragraph here then they certainly should! Ms. Marvel was thrust into her own series – not a new character but a supporting character from Captain Marvel who hadn’t been seen since 1969 and was given her wonderfully nonsensical outfit that included a bare stomach and legs matched with long sleeves, a scarf and high heels, but Spider-Woman was tried out in Marvel Spotlight first, raised in Hydra but turned to the side of good by the influence of the Cigar Duo – The Thing and Nick Fury (and people say smoking’s bad for you), oh and given Wolverine’s origin.
(Marvel Preview #4, 11, 14, 15, 189)
Created by Steve Englehart of all people, future movie star
Pratt Peter Quill made his debut in Marvel’s black-and-white magazine
Marvel Preview and later featured the first team-up between Chris Claremont and
John Byrne. Being written by Englehart and Claremont the stories were good, the
art was good and the character was a loveable jerk, and thanks to the huge
popularity of the Guardians of the Galaxy films I am obliged to include this.
Actually a lot of the characters from those films have shown up here...and speaking of 'now starring in a beloved live-action endeavour':
Power Man & Iron Fist!
(Power Man 48-50, Power Man & Iron Fist 51-52)
So there was a time before Brian Michael Bendis when everyone treated Power Man & Iron Fist like the ultimate punch-line, Wizard loved mocking it, mostly because it’s back issues had the value of a bag of M&Ms, also because a big black man in a tiara and a little white guy in slippers is a pretty easy thing to poke fun at. But for once, Bendis was right, the book had some fun stuff going on in it by some great creators – amongst them Chris Claremont, Christopher Priest, Kurt Busiek, Denny O’Neil and Mike Zeck, y’know nobodies like that – and it completely succeeded at its task. Iron Fist was brought into Power Man because neither book was selling enough to keep it from cancellation, Power Man officially became Power Man and Iron fist in issue 51, and the series ended with issue 125, I make that just under 75 issues Marvel got out of a book that was about to be cancelled.
Rocket Raccoon Blasts Off!
(Marvel Preview #7)
Not much to say here as he only debuts in a short Wayfinder back-up but yeah Rocket Raccoon is a product of this era too, his ‘time’ would actually be in the early ‘80s when he starred in The Incredible Hulk #271 and his own Rocket Racoon four issue mini-series (with art by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola!) though.
Our tale ends with Archie Goodwin’s assistant, former teen comic writer sensation Jim Shooter, who REALLY wanted the Editor-in-Chief job. Depending on who you believe either Shooter kept hinting or Stan Lee decided all by himself but regardless ‘The Man’ picked ‘Trouble Shooter’ for the job THEN told Goodwin, who was pissed off and felt betrayed (side effects of betrayal) and told them to go do one, then John Verpoorten died. The death of the well-liked production manager isn’t related (that I know of) but it lead to Stan holding off on telling everyone that Shooter was getting the EIC chair, until he blurted it out at a Christmas Party a few days later because he got wankered at another Christmas Party beforehand and despite what most of the fandom seems to think Stan Lee is fairly often a bit of a dick “Happy Christmas everyone – John’s dead, Archie’s out and Shooter’s in, hope you’re not a writer/editor – excelsior!”. It went down like a like lead balloon but come 1978 Marvel had a new Editor-in-Chief, one who would last nearly a decade and end up pissing off the staff so much John Byrne burned him in effigy, no I am not joking.
1 Marvel often likes to lump Man-Thing, Brother Voodoo and Spider-Man character Morbius in with the Marvel Monsters, I don’t generally object to Brother Voodoo’s inclusion but I want to deal with Man-Thing separately.
2 stop that giggling, stop it right now!
3 it was designed, without asking, by artist Esteban Maroto
4 during a story with the Tarantula, Conway was doing a lot of villains that had sold out their morals, it’s one of the many reasons I like his run so much (though I had to have it pointed out to me).
5 Carmine Infantino asserts that he did not agree to this, Lee said he did, as Stan Lee has an infamously bad memory and is a professional bullshitter I’m personally with Infantino but who knows?
6 there was legitimately leprechauns in Uncanny X-Men, in a story set in Ireland no less, the story ran in Uncanny X-Men #102 and 103, right smack bang in the middle of the epic Phoenix Saga, can you see ‘em in Fox’s movies? “I’m the Juggernaut Bitch!” *leprechaun walks on screen, voiced by Sean Connery* “oh faith and beggorah, would ye like to see me pot o’ gold?” - horrible.
7 Star Wars: Dark Empire was originally planned to be a Marvel comic too
8 Filmation (the people behind the He-Man, She-Ra and Fat Albert cartoons) were going include a character called Spider-Woman in their show Tarzan and the Super 7 but Marvel found out and got in there quick (she later became Web Woman), I’ve never been able to find out where the threat of someone else having a character called Ms. Marvel came from, maybe it was just a general worry someone one day might? I mean it had happened with Captain Marvel, twice, so it’s not an unreasonable concern.