Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1974


Doug: This is our fifth installment in our chronological tour of the Bronze Age of Comics. Thus far we've seen the retirement of Stan Lee from regular feature writing, the exodus of the talent of Jack Kirby from Marvel over to DC, the relaxation of the Comics Code Authority, and an explosion of new characters and formats. The year 1974 also saw the introduction of the UPC code, the resignation of Richard Nixon from the U.S. presidency, and Muhammad Ali defeated George Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire, regaining the heavyweight boxing championship. But, what was happening in your favorite funnybooks, you ask?

Doug: First quarter offerings? Man, Kirby got yet another #1 on the stands with the release of The Sandman. This time he collaborated with Golden Age partner Joe Simon to create a new Sandman -- one that Neil Gaiman would borrow from more than a decade later. Action Comics #432 saw the debut of the new Toyman, yet another inferior foe giving the Man of Steel all too much trouble. February brought the first wedding in the Legion of Super-Heroes -- and you recall what that means: you resign. Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel, arguably the two most expendable Legionnaires, tied the knot in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #200 by Cary Bates and Dave Cockrum. And in March, ABC-TV aired a show that had virtually nothing to do with the Amazing Amazon, when Cathy Lee Crosby starred in a program entitled Wonder Woman. If I recall, the golden lasso was a retractable rope hidden within her belt. And didn't she just wear a jumpsuit with stars on the sleeves?

Karen: Oh boy, was that Cathy Lee Crosby version of Wonder Woman a huge disappointment! I wasn't even really a Wonder Woman fan but I knew that this TV version was absolutely wrong in every way. Luckily they ditched this one and went with the Lynda Carter one that was more true to the comics.

Doug: How did '74 get rolling at the House of Ideas? Well since you seem interested... Steve Englehart and Sal Buscema got what would become the "Secret Empire" arc rolling in Captain America and the Falcon #169. Ka-Zar headlined his own self-titled mag, which co-starred his very sexy future wife, Shanna the She-Devil, and Man-Thing #1 also hit the stands. And hey -- let's not forget Bashful Benjie getting his own book with the premiere of Marvel Two-In-One! March saw perhaps one of the two biggest introductions of the year, and I say that only from the standpoint of the influence the characters would have in shaping the decade of the 1990's: Amazing Spider-Man #129 featured the debut of the Punisher. For better or for worse -- we'll see the other guy make his first appearance a bit later. Personally, I guess I'm more nostalgic about what came in the next issue of ASM -- the Spider-Mobile!

Karen: Captain America was one of my favorite titles at this time. Englehart and Buscema made a great team. The book was always exciting, and Englehart managed to weave in a lot of stuff that frankly went over my head at that age. But I knew it was smart and cool and I still think this run ranks as one of Cap's finest.

Karen: The Punisher character was very different from what we were used to at that time. He was a real anti-hero, not quite a villain but definitely not following the same code as Cap or Spidey.
It's unfortunate that he got so over-used later on, ultimately becoming something of a joke.

Doug: April featured the debut of another B&W magazine from Marvel, The Deadly Hands of Kung-fu, featuring Shang chi and also introducing one of my Marvel Team-Up faves, the Sons of the Tiger. Tigra, sticking with that theme, was introduced in Giant-Size Creatures #1, and Iron Fist first showed up in Marvel Premiere #15. Any doubt that this was still the Marvel Age? In May, DC did some consolidating, canceling Supergirl, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, and Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane and tossing them all together under the title The Superman Family. Numbering continued from the Jimmy Olsen mag. May also saw the debut of Rima the Jungle Girl, a book that was recently profiled in Back Issue. Written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Nestor Redondo, the adventure lasted only seven issues but is memorable for the interior art and the Joe Kubert covers. In June, the JLA fought the Injustice Gang in Justice League of America #111.

Karen: Ah, Iron Fist. Another of my 70s favorites. I remember having a hard time finding Marvel Premiere consistently on the spinner rack though.

Doug: OK, so I think it's pretty clear that DC was spinning its wheels in the first six months of the year? Where's the meat to their offerings? Sure, the 100-Page Giants were fun, and the Superman Family mag would inaugurate offshoots like The Batman Family, Super-Team Family, etc. But given what both companies had done over the previous few years, this is pretty weak stuff. Marvel had to be slaughtering them in market share. Maybe they are saving up for the second half of '74...

Karen: Well, this is about the time Marvel began outselling DC regularly (depending on what resource you look at). Based on what we're seeing here in terms of creative output, is it any surprise?

Doug: The summer was a bit better for DC. In July they launched their "pro-zine", The Amazing World of DC Comics and then an era began that I personally identify with: Mike Grell took over the art chores on Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #203. And he came in with a bang -- that issue saw the death of Invisible Kid at the hands of Validus. September also brought to some of us Saturday morning children the live-action Shazam! on CBS-TV. But in spite of all of this, they still couldn't touch Marvel. For example, Englehart and Buscema wrapped up the "Secret Empire" storyline with the leader being none other than Richard Nixon!! Or, at least that was the implication. Karen's fave Deathlok debuted in Astonishing Tales #25 by Doug Moench and Rich Buckler. In August the Whizzer made his first appearance since the Golden Age in Giant-Size Avengers #1 and Adam Warlock rose from the dead in Incredible Hulk #178. In September, Captain Marvel battled Nitro, the villain who would expose Mar-Vell to the gas that would cause the cancer that would eventually kill him. And lastly, Crystal married Quicksilver in Fantastic Four #150.

Karen: Wow -so much amazing stuff coming out of Marvel. I remember reading all of those stories you mention. I was really taken with Deathlok at the time. He was like the Six Million Dollar Man and Frankenstein all in one package! I was so young that the entire Warlock crucifixion story went right over my head; I guess I just saw it as another sci fi adventure! I'm still shocked that Marvel had the balls to run with that one. I think today they'd have a million religious groups screaming for their hides.

Doug: To close out the year, Kirby was at it again. He created O.M.A.C, the one-man army corps and took over The Losers. But that's about all the excitement DC could muster. Sheesh. What did Marvel do? Well, only introduce that other guy I mentioned who would dominate the 1990's (and beyond) -- Wolverine in Incredible Hulk #180-181. Oh, and the "Celestial Madonna" arc started in Avengers #129. And Cap became Nomad. Yeah, DC definitely won the last quarter. NOT!!


david_b said...

Karen, Doug:

1974 definitely cemented my love of all things Marvel, with a few DC lingering habits as well.

Karen, I'd rank Cap's 'Secret Empire' arc as my most favorite as well. The team of Englehart and Buscema was so extraordinary, and single-handedly made this mag one of the tops in Marvel for many years. Each issue seemed like a nail-biter; funny as it was, I couldn't find Cap 175 anywhere for years..?!? The story climax was a mystery I pieced together reading ish 176. And having Sal replaced by Frank Robbins..? THAT was hard, especially when Sal was still doing the cover art.

Looking back, it seemed to me that all the titles I was collecting (Spidey, DD, Avengers, FF, Captain Marvel, MTU, Two-in-One, Cap&Falc, reprints, and Defenders for Sal's art..) were all on top of their game.

And add to that the new 'giant' Treasury Edition formats and Megos..? It was the best of times.

I still enjoyed DC's 100 Page specials with Batman, Batman Family, and JLA along with a buddy and his younger sisters. I must have spent the entire summer at his place with all his Megos and vehicles, buying comics up the yin-yang. With Watergate hearings replacing all daytime TV, there wasn't much else to besides neighborhood softball. My family spent a few weeks traveling across country, to naturally each gas station stop was punctuated with the obligatory 'Are there any comics in there..?'. Ah, suffice to say, the lifespan of a quarter didn't last long with me.

On a sidenote, remember the Marvel beachtowels hawked by the Bullpen..? I still have a pristine Cap towel, never used. Too big to have framed, but it's been folded/ ziplocked all these years, aired-out only occasionally.

Ric said...

1974 was my personal golden age of comics... when I really started to get into both Marvel and DC full time. 100 pagers, treasury editions ... wow!

Your mention of Sandman #1 took me back to buying that issue off the spinner racks. Never liked or really read much Kirby work before then, but this issue was so creepy and bizarre to my young mind! I can picture the Werblink still! And, in later years, I reveled in Kirby's fertile imagination. Say what you want about his strengths as a writer (or even as an artist), but that guy created some really freaky looking creatures! Man, he was cool!

The 100 pagers were awesome... so many of us here had our first exposure to golden age or early silver age stories through these.

I wasn't as much the Marvel Zombie then as i was a DC guy, so I really missed out of some great stuff as it was happening. My top books back then were JLA, Legion and the Defenders. Favorite creators back then were (no surprise, given the books I followed) Len Wein, Dick Dillin and especially Sal!

Love your blog! I read it daily, but haven't ventured to comment until today. Keep up the good work!

Doug said...

Ric --

Thanks for the compliment, and for stopping by.


Redartz said...

Thanks Karen and Doug for this site; always fun and good reading! 1974 was the year I started collecting, and what a year it was. Aside from all that you mentioned, I loved the Giant-Size offerings from Marvel. Aunt May marrying Doc Ock? Sue leaving Reed for SubMariner? Marvel had me hooked but good. Didn't pick up much from DC at that time, but Rima was great..

Fred W. Hill said...

Hi, Gang, a very interesting year 1974 was -- in my personal life, just two months after I began Junior High School, my family moved from West Jordan, Utah (no, we weren't Mormon; my dad was in the Navy doing recruiting duty in nearby Salt Lake City), to Treasure Island, San Francisco, wherein during our first night spent in the Navy Lodge we caught the Creature Feature, with Night of the Living Dead and ... an interview with Stan Lee, hawking Origin of Marvel Comics!
Meanwhile, of the comics output that year, Captain America & the Falcon was my favorite that year, even when Steve Rogers quit being Cap. I felt your pain, David ... I got ish 175 & 176, but then I missed the next couple of issues, and throughout the remainder of Englehart's run, I missed about every other issue until Kirby's run began. I also wasn't too keen on Robbin's art. It didn't bother me too much on the Invaders but in CA&TF it just struck me as bizarre. I still loved the stories Englehart was telling but I really didn't like that art.

I also missed many of the early Man-Thing mags, but still got my Gerber fix in Daredevil, Defenders and Marvel Two-In-One. I really began to appreciate his unique humor and sensibilities that year.

I admit, the Warlock story in Hulk went over my head too. Not that I was totally oblivious to the fact that they were riffing on the Gospels, but I was too young to think much about it. Oh, and I was deeply disappointed that Starlin left Captain Marvel, but was thrilled when he came back the next year with his take on Warlock.

Anonymous said...

1974 is a special year for me... I was born in July 74. Thanks to the internets, I have enjoyed finding out about 74, movies, Dead shows, and esp. comics. I have looked into what comics were cover-dated July 74 (I know-I'm weird) and although lots of comics were bi-monthly back then, the most interesting one was Daredevil--the first app. of SILVER SAMURAI (?). I even happen to own a copy (I picked up alot of cheap 70s Daredevils when I was a kid). And I've always loved the Silver Samurai--esp, the cool costume. Well, that's the only "Bronze Age" year I have much to say about ---until I could read at least.


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