Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1972


Welcome back to the third installment in our four-month look at what was going on at DC Comics and Marvel Comics as they went head-to-head in the Bronze Age of Comics. It's around the time of our first three posts that Marvel began to give DC some serious trouble in terms of market share. Both companies tried to occupy as much shelf space as possible, and each company attempted to modernize itself with a variety of offerings into new genres not seen for sale since the Comics Code Authority had come into being. In January, the Bloody Sunday that U2 immortalized occurred in Northern Ireland. Five men were arrested while breaking into the Democratic Party's headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. In August, Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Summer Olympics. And Hewlett-Packard released the first hand held calculator, at a retail price of $395!

Doug: Let's get this one rolling! January on into February was like "introduction month" at both companies.
In Green Lantern #87 DC debuted a new Green Lantern as John Stewart (later to become the Green Lantern in the Justice League cartoon series) became Earth's back-up to the back-up; with regular #2 Guy Gardner out of commission the Guardians selected architect Stewart to be the first runner-up to Hal Jordan. At Marvel February saw Roy Thomas take full advantage of the now-relaxed CCA and publish a new anti-hero known as "Werewolf by Night" in the try-out book Marvel Spotlight. February also saw Jack Kirby unleash a not-so-veiled attack on Stan Lee through the character "Funky Flashman" in the pages of Mister Miracle #6 -- Flashman sought to be Mister Miracle's manager, but when rebuffed attempted to steal from the escape master. And in March, each company launched a character who would eventually reach the silver screen in the 21st century: Steve Englehart turned Hank McCoy into an actual Beast in the pages of Amazing Adventures #11, and Jonah Hex made his debut in All-Star Western #10.

Karen: Lots of firsts! John Stewart has certainly grown and changed over the years. I think he got a huge boost by being the Green Lantern in the excellent Justice League animated series. Werewolf by Night opened the doors for the Monster Era of Marvel, which I personally enjoyed. However, I found Kirby's spoof of Stan Lee more than a little nasty -and he also abused Roy Thomas, depicting him as "Houseroy," Flashman's fawning assistant.

Doug: Sort of makes one wonder, through the years, how many creators took a jab at a former colleague, boss, ex-girlfriend, etc. I wonder how open the welcoming arms were when Kirby returned to Marvel after his stint at DC? The more I read about the relationship between Lee and Kirby the more frustrated I get -- a) just over the general human relations aspect of it and b) we're left never knowing if their zenith years would have lasted longer.

Karen: It's sort of like Lennon and McCartney - two tremendous talents that did incredible work together, but there were always ego problems. I was very saddened to hear that Kirby was treated with less than respect on his return to Marvel. Most of the people there wouldn't have had their jobs without that man helping to create the characters, books, etc. He deserved better.

Doug: The spring showed continued innovation by both publishers. Following the release of the Werewolf, Marvel debuted The Tomb of Dracula #1, by Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, and Gene Colan (Marv Wolfman and Tom Palmer would come aboard with issue #7) in April. Over at DC, the company acquired the license to publish Tarzan and did so beautifully under the pen and pencil of Joe Kubert. DC chose to continue the numbering from the Gold Key series, so their 1st issue was actually Tarzan of the Apes #207. April cover dates also saw two other important comics: Marvel Premiere #1 featured Lee/Kirby's creation "Him" in a story with the High Evolutionary and the Man-Beast, and over at DC Dave Cockrum landed the art chores on the back-up feature running in Superboy #184 -- the Legion of Super-Heroes. And running through the first half of 1972 was the concluding chapters of the Kree/Skrull War in the pages of the Avengers. Oh, wait -- lest we forget... A certain fellow by the name of Luke Cage made his first appearance in Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1. Sweet Christmas!

Karen: Bursting with creativity - this is why the 70s are without a doubt my favorite era of comics! There's also tremendous variety. Tomb of Dracula went through a rough first year, with multiple writers, before Marv Wolfman would come on board and give it a real direction. Marvel Premiere would feature Him as a Jesus-like hero, renamed Warlock, who would play out biblical parallels in a super-hero genre. I think it was a bold idea, but ultimately impossible to depict a peaceful savior in a medium driven by fights and action. The arrival of Luke Cage is the direct result of all of the popular blaxploitation films of the time. Although we can look back now at the book and find it more than a tad ridiculous, I'm sure at the time it must have felt like an exciting new idea.

Doug: It's interesting to me that you bring up that last point. Is this what "holding up" means to today's readers? I guess I rarely find story elements from days gone by that don't hold up, simply because my mind reads the story in context. So when I see a Richard Nixon caricature or Watergate reference, I'm anchored in that time period anyway. Now writing style, or artwork -- those things I can go along with in regard to the "holding up" conversation.

Karen: I hear you, although I'm probably guilty of looking on Golden Age material as corny or quaint.

Doug: So we've for the most part gone back-and-forth through the first six months of 1972. I guess I'd have to declare it a draw thus far. But what would the summer months hold? I think we'd be remiss if we didn't mark July as the end of an era -- perhaps the most important era in the history of the medium. With Amazing Spider-Man #110, Stan Lee retired from monthly comics writing. The co-architect of the Marvel Universe, and certainly the driving force behind the marketing of such, with that issue Stan left to devote his full attention to enhancing Marvel's presence in ventures outside the four-color world. August was also an important month of debuts from the House of Ideas, with the publication of The Power of Warlock #1 and the introduction of Ghost Rider in Marvel Spotlight #5, by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, and Mike Ploog. Maybe the biggest news at the end of summer was a change to the Editor-in-Chief chair at Marvel, as Roy Thomas succeeded Stan Lee. Thomas also took the reins of the "World's Greatest Comic Magazine" with Fantastic Four #126. Werewolf by Night #1 hit the stands in September. Over at DC? Well, if the re-introduction of the Seven Soldiers of Victory excites you, then I'm glad for you. That was part of the annual JLA/JSA crossover from Justice League of America #100. Kirby did get another title on the shelves as summer became fall, with The Demon #1.

Karen: Stan's departure from regular writing chores truly marked the end of an era. Yet, he had picked out good people to succeed him. I don't think Roy Thomas gets near enough credit for how he shaped and guided Marvel in the early 70s. From everything I've heard and read, Roy really allowed writers and artists to flex their creative muscles, only requiring that books continue to sell well. Based on the output from this time, I think that worked out very well.

Doug: Another of Marvel's monsters, the Man-Thing, arrived in Adventure Into Fear #10 in October -- how appropriate! The remainder of the year at Marvel was somewhat uneventful (in my humble opinion), as headlines included the changing of DD's mag to Daredevil and the Black Widow with #92 and Marvel's acquisition of the Doc Savage license. The Claws of the Cat #1 was cover-dated in November, and Shanna the She-Devil #1 closed out the year with some more girl power! DC, however, went out with a bang. Kirby's influence continued with the release of Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth #1 in November. Swamp Thing #1 came out the same month, as did a new Supergirl book.

Karen: We see more and more licensing as we progress through the 70s. At this point, I don't feel that's a bad thing. The 4 or so "girl-oriented" titles that Marvel put out were all dismal failures. I don't think they put their best effort into these, and the time maybe just wasn't right yet for it. The near-simultaneous arrivals of Swamp Thing and Man-Thing seems to have been a coincidence from all I've read. But it's not unusual for different people to fix on certain concepts at the same time. A few years ago we had two killer asteroid movies come out at the same time. Swamp Thing has proved to be the stronger concept, but I always enjoyed the goofiness of Man-Thing's appearance.


Edo Bosnar said...

I'm really enjoying these posts - I always like timelines like these for when certain titles appeared, esp. during that period before I became an active comics reader.
And Karen, I totally agree with you about Roy Thomas and the major role he played at Marvel during this period - I don't think it can be emphasized enough.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea John Stewart was introduced back in 1972! Wow.

david_b said...

I love that GL cover.. It's definitely one of the best Bronze Age DC covers ever done.

david_b said...

Yes, didn't mention it, but Mr. Thomas really did shape much of what we know Marvel to be for many, many years.

LOVED his work on FF and other mags..

Inkstained Wretch said...

Wasn't 1972 also a year of serious declines in overall comics sales? I believe it was and that explains a lot of the experimentation by the companies. They were frantic to find whatever was that next big thing that would sell.

Stressful times for the companies, maybe, but good for the comics buying public.

Fred W. Hill said...

BTW, when Len Wein wrote the first Swamp Thing story and Gerry Conway wrote the first Man-Thing story, they were roommates! And Wein wound up writing the 2nd Man-Thing story to see print, before Swamp Thing was resurrected in his first regular series. Of course, both were largely based on the Heap, who was in turn based on a swamp creature from Theodore Sturgeon novel. Whether the appearnce of the new muckmonsters so close together was truly coincidence is hard to say, but it's telling that neither company sued the other over the matter and at least they made some significant differences in the characters. With Berni Wrightson at hand, Swamp Thing had the better art (not to slight the many fine artists who produced some classic work on Manny, particularly Ploog!), but I mostly preferred Gerber's stories to Wein's. Of course, no other writer ever did as well as Gerber on Man-Thing, while Alan Moore, Bissette & Totleben crafted one of the best comics runs ever with their take on Swampy.
Amusingly, I missed Stan's last issues on FF & Spidey but I got the very next issues not realizing I'd just missed the end of an era. Of course, considering that Roy started off with a retelling of FF #1, I should've gotten the hint.
This is the year I really began to get sucked deep into the Marvel-verse, just as the Silver Age was slipping away and the Bronze Age dawning.

Murray said...

I should never read "time capsule" blog comments. I always find myself unable to toss in my two bits, even three years too late.

I was ignorant of the Heap and "It!" by Theodore Sturgeon. The connect-the-dots chain to Man-Thing and Swamp Thing is pretty obvious, now. Previous to today, I had unwittingly given Roy Thomas the muck monster merit badge by coming out with "The Glob!" in "Hulk" #121, latter half of 1969. Beat his two peers by a couple of years.

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