Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1977


Doug: The King is dead; long live the King! The King of Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis Presley, passed away in August of 1977 -- truly a date and time that most Bronze Age babies can mark the where/when in their lives. Jimmy Carter took the oath of office as President of the United States earlier that year, in January. New York City experienced a 25-hour blackout, the Alaska Pipeline (which I'm sure you can see from Sarah Palin's home) was finished, and smallpox was eliminated as a disease of epidemic proportions. Roots began its epic six-night run on American television (truly, that was "can't miss" tv -- wow -- still impactful after all these years) and Fleetwood Mac released Rumours. Oh, and a movie named Star Wars was in the theaters; followed closely by a pic called Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Sort of a down year at the cinema, ya think?

Doug: Speaking of Star Wars, the introductory material to 1977 in the Marvel Chronicle hails the year as a breakthrough for Marvel in mass media, and I'd have to agree. In that year, Stan Lee and John Romita debuted the Spider-Man newspaper strip, which runs to this day. It's still written by Stan, with art by Larry Lieber. Spidey's advent would pave the way for other, shorter-lived series, such as Howard the Duck, Conan the Barbarian, and The Incredible Hulk. That same Hulk (well, sort of) found his way to the small-screen when CBS television aired two made-for-tv movies starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. And yeah -- I said we were speaking of Star Wars: Roy Thomas convinced the powers-that-be to let him license a Star Wars comic, months before the motion picture debuted. Sight unseen, Marvel began to publish an adaptation of the film before it even hit theaters. I guess it worked out all right...

Karen: There are some who claim that the Star Wars deal saved Marvel from bankruptcy, but I don't know enough about it to comment on that. I will say that it was a brilliant move. There was really no way to know that the film would be so huge, but it was a good risk to take. However, I think the licensed comics for the most part were fairly lame. Stuff like Micronauts and ROM were interesting books, but a lot of the other stuff was pure junk.

Doug: I had a few issues of ROM, but no Micronauts. Like you, I've heard good things about both books. Michael Golden art on Micronauts? And hey, what's up with Darth Vader on the cover of Star Wars #1?

Doug: As long as I'm on the subject of the "cover sheet" material, in the
DC Comics: Year By Year book, the authors state that by 1977 DC had introduced 49 new titles since 1975, largely in an effort to supplant Marvel atop the market share. We've remarked at the spate of first issues with which DC had been bombarding the public; we'd see more this year. We'd also see DC diversify a bit, with the introduction of Dawnstar to the Legion in
Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #226 and of Black Lightning in the eponymous #1. For some of us, though, we fondly recall that many of DC's books became "Dollar Comics"; however, the page count in the regular books went down again, this time to only 17 pages!

Karen: Ah yes, the DC Explosion -soon to be followed by the DC Implosion! That's a lot of books. As for bringing some diversity to their characters, it still seems like they had a ways to go to catch up to Marvel.

Doug: "Diverse" characters at both of the Big Two still lingered in stereotype-land, though, didn't they?

Doug: To begin 1977, Marvel introduced a couple of future Avengers in Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman. Although Carol Danvers had been around since 1968, she didn't become super-powered until
Ms. Marvel #1 (by Gerry and Carla Conway on the words and John Buscema and Joe Sinnott on the pictures). Spider-Woman showed up in Marvel Spotlight #32, a tale crafted by Archie Goodwin, Sal Buscema, and Jim "Madman" Mooney. Her origin was sort of goofy -- a spider evolved to human form by the High Evolutionary; it's had a few revisions since. Oh, and one more "girl power" debut came from the pages of The Invaders #12 when Spitfire, the daughter of Union Jack, joined the Allied heroes.

Karen: While it was good to see more female characters coming out of Marvel, I wasn't that impressed with these particular characters -I'm talking about Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman - since they seemed like obvious efforts to play off male characters. Plus Ms. Marvel had that silly stomach cut-out on her uniform! I will say though that both got better over time, although I was never a regular reader of either character. Now Spitfire I did like immediately -she had a cool history and a great personality.

Doug: Yep, in regard to Ms. Marvel, even when the book was supposed to be about liberated women, it was still mired in sexism and the above-mentioned stereotypes. I think overall Marvel always knew that the "girl power" books were still going to be bought by males.

Doug: Over at DC, the company unveiled a smart new logo, the DC Bullet.
It's since gone by the wayside, but for those of us reading DC's in the latter half of the 1970's it's quite a familiar friend. On the telly, Wonder Woman had been set in the years of WWII. In a big case of the tail wagging the dog, DC instructed creators Martin Pasko and Jose Delbo to do likewise -- a change that lasted for 15 issues.

Karen: I still think of the bullet when I think of DC logos!

Doug: In the spring, the House of Ideas showcased another hero who would be retconned into Avengers history when the 3-D Man took his bow in Marvel Premiere #35. Jack Kirby introduced us to the quite-weird Arnim Zola in CA & the Falcon #209. In June, Marvel had acquired the license to the Edgar Rice Burroughs stable of characters after DC let it lapse. Thomas and John Buscema told their version of Tarzan of the Apes, and Marv Wolfman and Gil Kane brought us John Carter, Warlord of Mars. At DC, the aforementioned Dawnstar debut hit the stands, and two western heroes got books of their own: Jonah Hex #1 was out in April, and Scalphunter took over Weird Western Tales #39. Black Lightning #1, by Tony Isabella and Trevor von Eeden (presently locked in a he said/she said about the character's creation) was available the same month.

Karen: The 3D Man was a lot of fun; it was a chance for Marvel (Roy Thomas really) to do a hero set in the 50s, a decade that really was a blank slate (other than the 'fake' Cap from that period). I'm glad they brought the character back and have used him in the Agents of Atlas, even if it is not the same person under the mask.

Karen: I recall getting some of those John Carter comics, as this was around the time I had started reading some Edgar Rice Burroughs. But I never bought it regularly. Wikipedia tells me that there were 28 issues and 3 annuals! I might have to revisit this one.

Doug: Marvel continued to publish licensed properties as the summer began. In July, Godzilla was on the spinner racks, by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe. The series brought the radioactive lizard into contact with the Marvel Universe, notably SHIELD and the Avengers. September saw me looking like a giddy fanboy when two of my childhood favorites, KISS and Marvel Comics, collided in Marvel Super Special #5. Man, that was SO cool! By the way, the Star Wars series lasted well past the first trilogy of films, all the way to 1986! Oh, and one other event was worth mentioning that summer, although I'm sure we didn't think it was a big deal back then: Sabretooth debuted in Iron Fist #14. At DC, Kirby's New Gods received new life from the hands of Gerry Conway and Don Newton with The New Gods #12 in July. The same month Steve Ditko's Shade the Changing Man #1 was on sale, and Steve Englehart wrote a new origin for the JLA in Justice League of America #144. But August is where Englehart perhaps made his biggest impact at DC, when his teaming with artists Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin led to the so-called Dark Detective run through Detective Comics #'s 471-478. To conclude, Aquaman moved out of Adventure Comics and into his own monthly (Aquaman #57) and Paul Levitz and Joe Staton gave us the secret origin of the Justice Society of America in DC Special #29.

Karen: I've read all of those Englehart-Rogers-Austin Batman stories now, years after they were published, and while I think they're excellent, I don't think they are earth-shattering. It makes me wonder what was going on in Detective to that point -had it been plagued by years of mediocrity? I like the stories but I feel like I am missing something here.

Doug: To tie this one up neat as a Christmas bow, October and December (because the X-Men was unbelievably bi-monthly!) saw Dave Cockrum's homage to his own Legion of Super-Heroes work. In X-Men #107 he introduced us to the Shi'ar Imperial Guard, and then inexplicably (to us young'uns at the time) left the title! John Byrne came aboard in X-Men #108 to finish the story, and I guess he worked out OK over the next few years (you think?). Zan, Jayna, and Gleek made their comic book debut in October in Super Friends #7 and the Huntress, who had premiered shortly before, got a "secret origin" in DC Super-Stars #17 in December; I used to have this book, and it was one of my favorites. Tales of the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman, married, were a prize.


david_b said...

An excellent year in most cases, not of which for my comic passion.
Other than recently collecting some back issues of Avengers from this year to fill holes, there was nothing else of interest for me.

I believe it was said that if it wasn't for the Star Wars license that Marvel may have gone under..? Not sure it if that claim is accurate, but the main titles seemed to be soldiering on from former glories. The KISS book was certainly a lucurative and clever for Marvel, with the popular Beatles issue coming out the following year..

Interesting, 1977 also marked the first Clarement/Byrne on Marvel Team-Up, with my favorite hero guest-staring, YellowJacket.

Edo Bosnar said...

I've probably said it before, but I just loved those DC dollar comics. At the time, those were probably my favorite DC books.
Since I became an avid Star Wars geek back then, I was really excited about the Star Wars comic, but then the excitement wore off really quick when Carmine Infantino became the title's main artist (I think I've already made clear my opinion of his output at Marvel...)
As for Marvel's other licensed titles, I didn't really like Godzilla much (although I followed it pretty regularly) and never even touched Shogun Warriors, but I really, really enjoyed the Tarzan series. For some reason, though, I pretty much entirely missed Marvel's John Carter series, and I'm really happy that Dark Horse is doing an Essentials-type reprint of the entire run.

Karen said...

Hey Edo, thanks for mentioning the Dark horse John Carter reprint - I may have to grab that.


Inkstained Wretch said...

Yeah, I loved those DC Dollar comics and Marvel Treasury editions. Great value for your money.

I think the first one I got was the Brave & Bold issue where the Atom reanimates a brain-dead Batman for one last case by shrinking to microscopic size and bouncing on different parts of his brain. Hey, it made sense to me at the time ...

I also remeber getting a Marvel Treasury Edition that reprinted the original Star Wars adaptation. I'm convinced that those issues had as much to do with the whole Luke-Leia "incest" thing as the movies themselves. I remember comic's depiction of their kiss before the rope swing over the chasm being far more passionate in the comic than in the movie. Of course, Roy Thomas had no way of knowing what their real relationship was ...

Richard Guion said...

So many memories! 1976 was a year full of change.

John Carter of Mars - I picked up a set of the old comics on eBay a year ago. Really fun stuff, but I think the first couple of issues by Gil Kane have inspired artwork. I had a letter printed in one of Marvel's comics, and in return, a few people from Africa wrote and asked if I would send them some Marvel Comics. They really wanted Conan, Tarzan, and John Carter. I did it a couple of times, wish I still had their correspondence.

Detective Comics: there was a boring period right before Steve Englehart took over. Batman lost that "dark creature of the night" feel that he had from the O'Neill / Adams run, but Englehart and Rogers brought it back. I was a big Englehart fan and followed him over from Marvel to DC. His Justice League run was pretty good, but both Detective and Mister Miracle were amazing to me. I can see that if you read this fresh today, it may not seem as revolutionary. The amazing thing was that Rogers and Englehart only met after the comics were done!

DC Bullet, DC Dollar Comics: I share your love for those! I liked the Batman Family comics, too. they had some nice Golden art.

Completely forgot that Dawnstar was created that year.

I would love to forget about Jimmy Carter.

J.A. Morris said...

I had the 'Star Wars' Treasury Edition reprint, one of my all-time favorite comics. It was especially valuable in the pre-VHS era, as it was the easiest way to re-live the movie experience.

Inkstained Wretch is right about the Luke-Leia kiss, there's another kiss right before Luke gets in his X-wing near the end of the comic. To their credit,Dark Horse/Lucasfilm never edited the Luke-Leia "romance" out of later reprints of the comics.

Re:Sabretooth, yes his first appearance became much more important in the 80s. I've never been crazy about him being anointed to "major character" status. Before he became connected to Wolverine, he was teaming up with Constrictor to fight Powerman & Iron Fist, so it's hard for me to get into him take him seriously. Wolverine was more interesting before he had a back story that involved Victor Creed. And the spandex/fur costume doesn't do much for me either.

dbutler16 said...

Doug, you [gasp] have no issue of Micronauts?! I love that series - it is probably my favorite of the Marvel licensed comics. The first series was just a good, straightforward action comic, while the second series was far slower paced and more thought proviking, but both were excellent in their own right.

Reading this review makes me realize how awesome 1977 was in many ways! Perhaps the hieght of the Bronze Age, as well.

Redartz said...

One highlight from 1977 that comes to my mind is the Death of Warlock story in the Avengers and Marvel Two-in-One Annuals. Warlock, Thanos, the Avengers, the Thing and Spider-Man; all with some fine Starlin art!

Ric said...

The above comment regarding the summer Avengers and Two-In-One annuals really evoked a strong memory of reading each of those. These were the first Warlock and Starlin stories I'd ever read, and they blew me away! I thereafter read bits and pieces of Warlock's backstory through borrowed comics, until reading the entire storyline as reprinted in Fantasy Masterpieces a few years later.

1977 was a great comics year for me, as my comics interest continued to blossom. I remember buying and loving the Return of the New Gods and Mister Miracle. These were my first exposure to Kirby's Fourth World. I still hold these two storylines in the same high regard I have for Kirby's original version. I guess nostalgia works wonders!

My two favorite titles, JLA and Legion moved to giant-size books! Dollar Comics were everywhere! The Atom's quest in Super-Team Family! And, wasn't 1977 the start of the DC Hotline? How many nights did I wake up in the middle of the night and sneak a call to the Hotline to thrill to DC's latest news (couldn't get through during daylight hours!)? Aquaman was never better than in 1977! The gorgeous Treasury Edition of the Ras Al Ghul saga! Firestorm #1, Superman vs. Ali and the Legion wedding treasury were all on sale in December, 1977, according to Mike's DC Indexes website timeline!

I was still a DC fan much more than a Marvelite, but I was starting to read more and more at Marvel in 1977. Claremont and Byrne moved into Marvel Team-Up! I bought and devoured every Marvel annual, whether I'd had experience with the regular title or not! Reprint comics abounded! Kirby finally left Cap, so it was safe for me (at the time, a non-Kirby fan) to read Cap again! I started reading Savage Sword of Conan with the Tower of the Elephant issue. I started collecting the Spider-Man titles regularly! The end of the year saw the beginning of the Korvac Saga in Avengers! Wow, there was alot to like in the comics in 1977!

Sorry, so long winded! I just took a major trip down memory lane!


Dallan said...

I turned 9 in 1977, and had already been reading/collecting comics (mostly Marvel) for a couple of years, so this was truly my heyday.
My greatest comics reading joy today is going back and filling in the holes from the mid to late '70s, then (re)reading an entire run with all the puzzles pieces in place. Nothing else comes close to returning me to my youth and approximating that same, magical, comic book joy I felt in and around our nation's bicentennial.
Viva les '70s! :)

Related Posts with Thumbnails