Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1973


Doug: Political issues dominated the media in 1973 as a cease-fire was called in the long standing Vietnam War. President Richard Nixon was linked to the Watergate break-in from 1972, and a worldwide oil shortage began. The second tower of the World Trade Center opened, making it (temporarily) the world's tallest building at 110 stories. In pop culture, Pink Floyd released The Dark Side of the Moon and Elvis Presley's concert from Hawaii was viewed by more people worldwide than the Apollo moon landing. In the land of comics, both Marvel and DC continued to introduce new characters and push the envelope as far as what hit the newsstands. And perhaps the watershed event of the Bronze Age would shake the comics world as school let out in 1973.

Doug: I think it's really amazing as we've gotten some ground behind us now how these two publishing powerhouses often matched each other blow for blow. I've read, as I'm certain many of you have, that creators and even editors from both companies would have lunch or drinks from time to time. I don't know how close to the vest everyone played it, but I keep seeing these months or even quarters where there's just bombshell after bombshell. The year 1973 started off that way as well.

Doug: The House of Ideas introduced Moondragon (
Iron Man #54), the Frankenstein Monster (The Monster of Frankenstein #1), the Valkyrie we all know and love (Defenders #4), FOOM, Red Sonja (Conan the Barbarian #23), and Thanos and the Gods of Titan (Iron Man #55), and Medusa joined the FF to replace Sue Richards (Fantastic Four #132). That was all in the first three months! Oh, and who was responsible for all of that, you ask? How about creators like Jim Starlin, Mike Friedrich, Gary Friedrich, Mike Ploog, Jim Steranko, Sal Buscema, Barry Smith, Roy Thomas, and John Buscema? Man, if that isn't a hall of fame from the decade, I don't know what is!

Karen: That's what I'm talking about! Look at the explosion of creativity right there. That's a whole lot of characters, most of whom are still around today. And that list of talent - well, it works for me.

Doug: DC countered in the same period with a revival of the traditional Wonder Woman -- after five years as an Emma Peel clone, Diana once again regained her powers and her familiar costume (Wonder Woman #204). A longstanding lawsuit was finally put to bed and in its wake came the publication of Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family in Shazam! #1, by Denny O'Neil and original Captain Marvel artist C.C. Beck. Not bad...

Karen: I picked up issue #1 of Shazam at a swap meet pretty cheap (along with a whole bunch of other books). It's interesting that DC brought C.C. Beck back to work on the title. I'm assuming this was done more to help the guy out than out of the idea that it would sell more issues. I say this because of his dated style. I'm really surprised they didn't try to bring in Neal Adams or some other 'name', modern guy.

Doug: That being said, I am one who always thinks the Captain looks a bit odd when drawn without the puffy musculature and Fred MacMurray face!

Doug: Marvel headed into spring with more of what we'd come to love about the '70's. In April, Dracula joined the ranks of Marvel's B&W mags in Dracula Lives #1. May saw the debut of the character with perhaps the ugliest outfit this side of the Legion's Cosmic Boy -- I'm speaking of course of Killraven, designed by no less than Neal Adams! Killraven's first appearance was in Amazing Adventures #18. And then came June. There were two major events in that month -- one that resonates with Avengers fans, the other that resonates with comic book fans. Mantis, who some would say was a pet character of writer Steve Englehart, was introduced in issue #112. But Amazing Spider-Man #121 produced perhaps the biggest event of the Bronze Age when Peter Parker's love Gwen Stacy was killed by the Green Goblin. Much has been written about this issue, and we'd certainly refer you to our fave history resource Back Issue! magazine for lots and lots of details. But what a development, and one of the few that has never been reversed (at least not completely, although they've certainly messed around with it). What about DC, you say? Well, I guess nothing of note took place, because DC Comics: Year by Year doesn't say anything about publications between March and August!

Karen: Obviously the death of Gwen Stacy is the headliner for this year. But there really was so much going on at the same time. I missed the early issues of Killraven so I was spared that horrific bikini outfit until years later, when I got the back issues. But it was an exciting concept, another case of Roy Thomas spinning off an idea for someone else to write. Over in Avengers, I'd say Englehart was still finding his way but starting to pick up some steam, as the Avengers-Defenders war was right around the corner.

Doug: Summer belonged to Marvel, which was seemingly dominating DC this year. In July Blade the Vampire Hunter, created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, debuted in The Tomb of Dracula #10. In Amazing Spider-Man #122 Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin, met his fate (and should have stayed dead!!). Marvel continued to stay ahead in the B&W magazine genre with Monsters Unleashed #1 and Tales of the Zombie #1. And in September, the Black Panther received a solo book when he took over Jungle Action #6. DC offered up the Black Orchid in Adventure Comics #428, but I'd argue that she wasn't popular before Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean got ahold of her in their 1988 mini-series. Prez #1 hit the stands, and Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams brought us the first maniacal Joker (Batman #251) -- a homicidal killing machine who recognized that the Batman was his antithesis, and thus necessary for his very existence.

Doug: Ending the year and sliding toward 1974, the annual JLA/JSA crossover included the Freedom Fighters in an adventure set on Earth-X, where the Nazis had won World War II (Justice League of America #107). Plop! #1 was on the spinner racks, containing some very strange humor -- it lasted for 24 issues! That's a full year longer than I'd have ever guessed. Walter Simonson's Manhunter first showed up in Detective Comics #437, co-created with Archie Goodwin. And to close it out, DC licensed the Shadow and offered him up in The Shadow #1, by Denny O'Neil and Michael Kaluta. October saw Marvel counter DC's Plop! with a magazine of silliness called Crazy -- it would last a decade! But much as the year began, it ended for Marvel -- significant character after significant character came to the fore. Again, when you think of Marvel in the '70's, you think of Son of Satan (Marvel Spotlight #12), the Man-Wolf (Amazing Spider-Man #125), Howard the Duck (Adventure Into Fear #19), and Shang-chi (Special Marvel Edition #15. And one more thing... how about the Avengers/Defenders War in the double-barreled release of Avengers #116 and Defenders #9 in October?

Karen: This was a great year to be a comics reader. I recall well that JLA/JSA crossover with the Freedom Fighters -probably my earliest JLA (although I only had the first issue of the story). I came across those Goodwin/Simonson Detectives about 5 years later and really dug them. I'd say those stories were on par with the kind of work coming out of Marvel at the time. More new character intros from Marvel, and as I mentioned earlier, the big A/D was an exciting time to be getting comics! I recall trading a kid at school for the Hulk vs. Thor issue, and being so excited about it that I kept peeking into my desk at the comic! Thankfully I was not caught. I wish I could conjure up that enthusiasm today.

Doug: Had you been caught, then you'd be one to tell the story of how your funnybooks were ripped from your little hands by a mean old mom/grandma/nun/schoolteacher!


david_b said...

Yes, 1973 was my first year 'truely' collecting.

Man.., what a year. I missed Gwen's death ish, but luckily managed to pick up Spidey 122 as one of those bagged '3-for-49-cents' deals at a department store. A new, bouncin' baby Marvelite was birthed.

With Team Up #13 in my hand, I couldn't get enough of Cap or Spidey. 'Course, finding my first ishs of Avengers during their Defenders fight made me pick up Ironman and other Marvel mags. I was collecting 5-6 regular mags (and FOOM) by the end of '73, checking all the cushions for a measly 20 cents each week.

Yeah.., Stan Lee would have been proud.

Edo Bosnar said...

Heh - I *did* get a few of my comics confiscated in my early school years, by a nun to boot (went to a Catholic elementary). As I recall, it was pretty tame stuff like Spidey Super Stories & nothing with racy pictures of scantily clad heroines that would have prompted panicky phone calls to my parents...
Nice rundown. 1973 sure was an explosive year in comics - to me, it would be worth remembering for the debut of Goodwin/Simonson's Manhunter alone. That is such a brilliantly written and executed story, and it's lost none of its shine after all this time.

Anonymous said...

One of the highlights for me in '73 was when DC expanded their 100 page format into several of their regular books, like Detective, Batman, etc.... I think this started in the latter part of the year, but I was able to read and learn a lot more about the new heroes I had just discovered the year before....not necessarily Bronze Age Material, but helpful in filling in some of the gaps for me.


Fred W. Hill said...

1973 was the year I became a full-fledged Marvel junkie, collecting most of the superhero mags (as I could find and afford them) and a few of the horror mags. Conway & Thomas were really putting both Spidey & the FF through emotional wringers at the time, with not only Gwen being murdered, but also the year beginning with Johnny & Crystal broken up and Sue and Reed separated and Reed forced to shut down little Franklin's mind to prevent a catastrophe.
For me, the Avengers/Defenders clash was the great highlight of the year, although I wasn't able to find Defenders #10 with the Thor/Hulk standoff. From an adult perspective, it's not such a great story, but it was all great fun for my 11 year old self. Oh, and of course, there was also that ongoing first Thanos War going on in Captain Marvel -- I missed Starlin's first two issues, but got ahold of #27, which I'd rate as my favorite comic of 1973 for both art & story.
Marvel's output for that year provided a heady mixture of serious and escapist fare for their four-color adventure fans.
BTW, one of my teachers that year actually gave me a copy of FF #107 when I noticed it on his desk one afternoon when I happened to be the last kid to leave the class. Yeah, sometimes I got lucky, lol.

david_b said...


Ditto on nearly all fronts.. 'cept for the nice teacher giving me a copy of FF.

My parents had just divorced, so the Reed and Sue bit it home for me in '73. The Avengers/Defenders battle started my interest in collecting other solo Avengers mags, and funny you should mention this..: I couldn't find Defenders 10 anywhere either..?!? I had to buy it NM just a few years back.

Seeing the cover of FF 141 about Franklin's mind being shut down was pretty stark. I believe it's both those situations in the Baxter Building, Swordsman & Mantis in the Avengers, and in Spidey's mag that really made it such a pivotal year for Marvellites..

That and all the new merchandise Marvel was hawking ~ I bought the huge Captain America beach towel, NEVER used, it's still is in pristine condition at my house. My mom bought me the Spiderman 'Beyond the Grave' LP with poster as well.. I didn't get any of the bronze medallions, but I'm always hunting for 'em now on eBay.

And with Megos starting to roll out, what an incredible year to Make Mine Marvel..!

jefsview said...

I was 8 years old then.

I can recall reading Manhunter by Goodwin and Simonson, and the images never left my mind.

Can't recall much else, except my love for all of the Marvel reprint mags at the time, and for DC's 100 page reprints; to a comic book newbie, these were fantastic primers.

For some reason, even though I loved classic horror and Universal monsters, the Marvel monsters really didn't stick with me; guess I was more fascinated by the heroes.

And Man-Thing. For some reason, I was always drawn in.

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