Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1975


Doug: This here should be interesting. Last week many of our readers remarked how they had a soft spot in their hearts for 1974. I was 8 years old that year, so had a little comic book water under my bridge -- not much, but a little. But I'm looking at this year of review, and I'm thinking that no matter where your soft spot lies, it's going to be pretty doggone difficult to deny that 1975 was a watershed year in Bronze Age history; if the deaths of Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin were the #1 event of this era, then what happens in May '75 has to be #1A. Historically speaking, Saigon fell very shortly after the American pull-out, Americans and Russians had a meeting in space, the game show Wheel of Fortune debuted on NBC, and a young fella named Bill Gates founded a little company called Microsoft in Albuquerque, NM.

Doug: Roll it out, baby! January-March saw some great things from the House of Ideas, including a solo series for Warlock beginning in Strange Tales #178, written and drawn by Jim Starlin. Within the "Celestial Madonna" arc in the Avengers (#133, to be specific), scribe Steve Englehart revealed that the Kree/Skrull War had been going on a very long time and had involved another alien race called the Cotati. After watching Roscoe die at the hands of the Red Skull, Steve Rogers gave up the Nomad identity and donned the stars and stripes in CA&F #183. Dr. Doom and Namor formed an uneasy alliance in Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up #1, and those goofy guys the Headmen showed up in Defenders #21.

Karen: A solid start to the year for Marvel. I read all of those stories when they came out. I missed a book or two here and there, so the whole Nomad story was a bit choppy for me until many years later. But the fact that a kid died trying to be Cap -well, it was pretty shocking. It was good to see Steve Rogers back in the suit, although the Frank Robbins art was hard for me to take.

Doug: I am not lying here -- in the DC Comics Year By Year book that we are using for one of our two resources, there is nary a mention of anything published between January and March. Nada. Seriously? It's funny, because in the introduction to the 1975 chapter, it's noted that the paper shortage in 1974 (what, no more trees? You folks out in the Pacific Northwest notice that? It must have been true, though, as Bigfoot had a lot less room to hide, and hence was spied more often back then) had caused DC to restrict not only its offerings, but its page counts to 18 story pages! But then the author declares that publisher Carmine Infantino was to do an about-face in 1975. Harumph...

Karen: Boy, the DC Year By Year book really seems to pale in comparison to the Marvel Chronology. They have mostly different authors -Matthew Manning is common to both - and it just seems like the Marvel folks tried harder. Unless DC really didn't have anything going on of note. That's a sad thought.

Doug: Spring sprung, and so did the modern Marvel Universe as we know it today! May was the month that Giant-Size X-Men #1 hit us square across the chops. I first encountered the All-New, All-Different X-Men in X-Men #95, but had a friend who had a copy of G-S #1, so quickly got caught up on who these guys were. And what an exciting collection of heroes! Having really only known the original team from the reprint years, and a smattering of appearances here and there (Avengers #111, for example), I was basically a tabula rasa and thought they were great.

Karen: Giant Size X-Men #1 had such an impact on me that I remember exactly how I got it: my older brother gave me a lift on his motorcycle. We had to run some errands for our folks, but I saw the comic in a store and grabbed it.That cover was mesmerizing. I also remember stopping at King Falafel for burgers, but we can skip that here. In any case, I read that issue over and over.

Doug: In June,
Giant-Size Avengers #4, the concluding chapter to the "Celestial Madonna" arc, was released. Within it's pages were the following -- a disappointing ending to an otherwise great story and the weddings of the Vision to the Scarlet Witch and Mantis to the re-animated Swordsman. And to close out the spring quarter, Giant-Size Invaders #1 hit the spinner racks (also in June). Roy Thomas and Frank Robbins brought us the Allied team of Captain America and Bucky, the Sub-Mariner, and the original Human Torch and Toro. I, for one (in spite of the Robbins art) enjoyed the series -- it was a great way to attach to a history of our heroes I'd previously not known of (yeah, I know the stories were "new", but the thought that there was an important backstory to what we were seeing in the present was enlightening).

Karen: I would agree to some extent that the conclusion of the Celestial Madonna story was a little bit of a letdown. A lot of that feeling though, really comes from the Don Heck art. As I mentioned in our tribute to Roy Thomas, I always thought the Invaders was a great idea. I love the history involved, and the fact that it expanded the Marvel universe was fantastic. But I do agree with you Doug regarding the Robbins art. I bought the book for many years but often had a hard time getting through an issue due to that squiggly frenetic style.

Doug: At DC Comics, the spring saw their answer to Marvel Premiere, Marvel Spotlight, etc. with the release of 1st Issue Special #1. Being billed as "every issue is a first issue", the title served as somewhat of a try-out book, as Showcase had done years earlier. Although the book's number escalated with each month of publication, there was always a "1st DC Issue" call-out on the cover somewhere. Perhaps of greater circumstance (although ultimately only lasting 9 issues) was The Joker #1 by Denny O'Neil and Irv Novick. June closed out the end of the school year with Justice, Inc. #1, Tor #1 (by Joe Kubert), and Claw the Unconquered (David Michelinie and Ernie Chan) #1. Sorry, but outside of the Joker, I'm going to put forth a "Ho Hum" as my evaluation of DC through the first six months of 1975.

Karen: "Ho hum" -no kidding. That's some pretty weak stuff.

Doug: As we pushed into the summer, DC did indeed release more books, throwing more #1's like Stalker, Kong the Untamed, and Manhunter (1st Issue Special #5) our way. Manhunter was by Jack Kirby; Stalker was by Paul Levitz and Steve Ditko -- so you know that one was weird...

Doug: Across the street at Marvel, Steve Englehart introduced the Beast to his new teammates in the Avengers #137, and Chris Claremont took over the scripting chores on the X-Men from Len Wein as the All-New team began their monthly appearances in X-Men #94. The release of Werewolf by Night #32 introduced us to one Marc Spector, Moon Knight! I always thought Moon Knight was a very cool-looking character!

Karen: Moon Knight looked great! So mysterious, what with the hood and full-face mask. Funny to think back now that he was a Werewolf villain! Sort of like Wolfie's version of the Punisher?

Karen: Bringing the Beast into the Avengers didn't seem to make sense at the time, but boy was that a great move! The character brought some real energy to the team. He was funny and hip and shook up the more stodgy, "establishment" membership. Kudos to Englehart.

Doug: To close out the year (and what a year it's been!), Marvel released five books that I can tell you brought a smile then and now, as I review this history. In October, The Champions #1 brought a hodgepodge of characters together: former Avengers Hercules and the Black Widow, former X-Men Angel and Iceman, and the Ghost Rider. Based on the West Coast this team had many memorable adventures and to me typifies '70's Marvel. X-Men #95 saw a team member go down when the just-introduced Thunderbird sacrificed his life trying to stop Count Nefaria, and two months later Moira MacTaggert made the stage in X-Men #96. Marvel Boy, a hero from the Atlas years in the 1950's, was revived in Fantastic Four #164 in November, and in December Steve Englehart and George Perez took a team of Avengers and transplanted them to the Old West (Avengers #142) in an adventure where they teamed with Marvel's Western heroes against Kang the Conqueror. What more could you ask for?

Karen: The Champions may not have lasted very long, but I really enjoyed that book. It was such an odd mix; to be honest, I'm not sure there was really ever any solid chemistry there. But an interesting experiment nonetheless.

Karen: As we've discussed before, Thunderbird's death was a shock and a big disappointment to me. I think the character could've grown into something interesting. But he was essentially 'born to die'. It did give X-Men a sense of an edge.

Doug: DC perhaps made its biggest noise of the year at the end, releasing Batman Family #1 in October and the first collaboration with Marvel Comics on the treasury-sized MGM's Marvelous Wizard of Oz (written by Roy Thomas and beautifully rendered by John Buscema). November saw yet another #1 with the Gerry Conway/Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez Hercules Unbound. But the best was saved for last, as Mike Grell's Warlord made his debut in 1st Issue Special #8. And I think that alone saved 1975 from being an almost total loss for the Distinguished Competition.


david_b said...

Other than Heck art, I enjoyed 'Batman Family' quite a bit.. Nice lighter material, compared to my Marvel leanings.

Paper shortages..? So THAT'S why I missed issues of Cap, DD, Spidey, and the rest here and there.. Besides totally getting into the new Space:1999, that's most likely the single biggest reason (besides Robbins CA art..)why I left comic collecting. I kept missing issues and finally just lost interest.

Hmmm, makes sense now. Thanks much for the explanation.

Anonymous said...

What a year! Invaders! The Headmen! One of the best Red Skull stories ever!

Although #21 may have actually been the best story of all the Headmen's appearances. In additon, the opening sequence with the Hulk and the children playing may have been one of the best "Gump Hulk" sequences this side of Thomas/Trimpe's story with him in the desert. Defenders #21 is one of my favorite comics.

Leave Frank Robbins alone!

david_b said...


I loved the Defenders series during '74 and '75. I'll admit, I'm a big 'Buscema snob', so I enjoyed his work on both Defenders and Cap&Falc during this time.

Unfortunately, having ol' Frank follow Sal was a stark difference. Frank's work on Invaders was pretty cool and intense which worked well, but it didn't work for me in Cap (probably why Sal came back in ish 188).

'Course having Jack Kirby come back after that didn't do well for my interest either. His Silver Age work was awesome, but as what's been mentioned here a lot, his newer stuff didn't please as many as anticipated.

Edo Bosnar said...

Of course 1975 is a watershed year - that's when I got my just-out-of-kindergarten hands on my first comics (to be precise, that issue of Marvel Tales that reprints Spidey's first encounter with the Prowler and an issue of Captain America, although I'm still unsure as to which). The rest was/is history...
And since you asked, Doug, I grew up in Oregon, and don't remember any talk about tree shortages back in the 70s - and I probably would have heard something, as our across the road neighbors were loggers (that whole spotted owl/old growth forest controversy only arose years later in the 80s). By the way, your Bigfoot comment brought a smile to my face, as those sightings and related stories were really a part of the local lore - and the subject of so many jokes - back then.

Doug said...

Whoa, David!

Don't mind my saying, but you pull off Bluto Blutarsky and Barbara Gordon equally well!!

Edo --

Bigfoot sightings just scared the crap out of me when I was little. The first time I saw that $6 Million Man episode, I don't think I slept well for day!


Karen said...

Edo, if you enjoy Bigfoot stuff, you might like this very early post on our blog:

I grew up in California and it seemed like in the early 70s you couldn't turn on the TV or radio without hearing about Bigfoot! never did see the big fella, though.


Edo Bosnar said...

Karen, thanks for that link; I can't believe I missed that one when I went "spelunking" recently. And yes, Bigfoot really was ubiquitous back then, esp. out in our neck of the woods (pun intended). I even remember a wildlife field guide for the Pacific NW that I saw in about the 3rd/4th grade that actually had a 'Sasquatch' entry.
Doug, totally remember that $6 million man episode, but it didn't scare me as much. I was more spooked by the Bigfoot episode of "In Search of..." After watching that, for days I kept seeing what looked like Bigfoot in the forest across the road...

Fred W. Hill said...

From early 1972 to late 1974, my family lived in Utah and while we were out camping one summer (with a whole bunch of other Navy families), my younger brother and another kid swore they saw a bigfoot -- this was shortly after we'd seen a pseudo-documentary about bigfoot and other such creatures. We'd also seen Chariots of the Gods, and spent one afternoon watching all five original Planet of the Apes' flicks in a row, so we were primed for weird stuff.
Speaking of which, I initially found Defenders #21 a bit odd, but Gerber's Defenders became one of my favorite titles. I missed that GS X-Men, but did get issue 94 (I also missed that GS Marvel Triple Action which had the reprint to the conclusion of the cliffhanger from ish 93 -- yet another instance in which it took me several years to get the full story. Like David B, I was continually missing issues in ongoing storylines, which was annoying, but obviously I didn't lose interest myself (and at least the stories weren't as excessively convoluted as they would become in the post-Bronze Age era).
I actually loved the Invaders, although as seems the general consensus here, despite rather than due to the art. For some reason, tho', Robbins art didn't bother me as much in the Invaders as it did in Captain America & the Falcon.
But I was fully enthralled by Starlin's art and story in Warlock! A regular mix of the ridiculous and the sublime that kept me addicted to Marvel throughout the '70s. And at the time, I totally missed out on the the excellent work Moench & Gulacy were doing in Master of Kung Fu, but at least I managed to collect it all in later years.

Anonymous said...

Further to Fred’s point, I was surprised you didn’t mention Shang Chi given: how good it was, that he’d just (the previous year) taken over the title, that nothing says 1975 like Kung Fu and that failure to mention one of Jim Starlin’s finest hours is punishable by a spell in the Negative Zone if Karen catches you.

Likewise Iron Fist, which was still surely being written by Thomas and drawn by Kane doesn’t get a mention?

Karen – totally agree about the Champions. Apart from some sketchy Don Heck art, there are no bad issues of the Champions, and it actually gets better & better as it goes along.

Frank Robbins supporters....are you kidding me? His anatomy is terrible. There are arms and legs at angles all over the place. It looks like contortionists playing Twister.


Doug said...

Richard --

Just to remind, we're using the Marvel Chronicle and the DC Comics Year-By-Year books as our sole resources. For the sake of simplicity, if it isn't mentioned in those books, we're not mentioning it.

So, no offense to the son of Fu Manchu nor anyone else meant -- just sticking to the original premise of this series of posts.



Anonymous said...

ahhhh...that's what I get for showing up late and trying to be a smartarse.

I am slowly catching up on the old postings, but it's taking a while...and what a pleasant while it's been! God knows what I'll do when I've caught up. Probably have some work or something.

Cheers Doug

david_b said...

Excellent comments everyone..

Yes, there are die-hard Robbins fans out there ~ I'm just not one of 'em.

Doug, as for the switch to my 'healthy' Babs, "Hey, makeup does wonders.."

(..but these heels are killing my bunyuns..)

Redartz said...

Have a musical memory from 1975; Paul McCartney and Wings performing "Magneto and Titanium Man". Seems like an issue of FOOM from that period featured a photo of a concert backdrop featuring those characters that McCartney used.

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