Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1980


Doug: The '80's. The "Me Decade" was over and the Reagan era would begin. Doug spent 8 1/2 years of the decade in high school and college, got married, and by 1990 was even gainfully employed!
I bought my last comic book with the offerings cover dated for May. In the world that exists in more than four colors, President Carter announced that the United States Olympic team would boycott the Moscow Summer Games, ex-Beatle John Lennon was murdered outside his Manhattan condominium, Mount St. Helens erupted, everyone who cared found out "who shot J.R.?" and The Empire Strikes Back, The Shining, and Raging Bull were at the cinema.

Karen: I'm right there with you. Went from teen-age years to adulthood in that decade. By 1988 I had graduated college and had my first 'real' job. I can readily recall John Lennon's death, the Challenger disaster, and the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake - the last one was especially significant to me, as I was living in the Bay Area at the time and felt every bit of that quake. But in 1980, I was still living at home and still reading comics...

Doug: January began with Marvels priced at 40c; by the end of this year they'd be 50c. Man, a quarter just wasn't worth what it used to be! On the spinner racks, the "Dark Phoenix Saga" began in
X-Men #129 with the introduction of the Hellfire Club. The Marvel Chronicle reports that as the "Dark Phoenix Saga" came to a head in X-Men #137, the book had grown to become Marvel's 3rd-best seller behind Amazing Spider-Man and Star Wars. Anyone else out there surprised that Star Wars was in 2nd place above all other longjohn comics? I am. Speaking of Spidey, ASM #200 hit with a story about the burglar who had murdered Uncle Ben way back in Amazing Fantasy #15. As I recall, this one ended a multi-month cliffhanger with Aunt May on death's door. Did it involve Mysterio? Or was that some other multi-month cliffhanger with Aunt May at death's door? The memory fades... Dazzler debuted in X-Men #130 (the last issue of that title I bought -- duh. Totally missed the "Dark Phoenix Saga" when it was new), as Marvel missed the boat on the disco craze. She-Hulk #1 was cover-dated February and was created by Stan Lee and John Buscema. She was the last major Marvel character created by Lee. In March, Epic Illustrated began publication and ran as an adult-themed (not like those adult-themed magazines) magazine overseen by Archie Goodwin.

Karen: I'm not too surprised about Star Wars selling so well; after all, it was (and still is) a huge phenomenon. I bought a few issues, but once Carmine Infantino started drawing it I lost all interest. I do fondly remember those issues of X-Men, Dazzler not withstanding. The book was electric at that time.

Doug: I think we'll see as we go through this year that DC was determined to avoid the pitfalls and general dismality (just made that word up) of the previous two years. One marketing technique that DC began to employ was stapling 16-page previews of upcoming releases, full color, into their leading magazines. This couldn't help but create buzz -- face it, a free comic just to get you to buy a new comic? How could a fan lose? Anyway, January saw Superboy kicked out of his own mag, as the title became simply
The Legion of Super-Heroes with issue #259. Young Clark landed on his feet, however, in The New Adventures of Superboy #1. I bought that, but it was less than memorable. By this time, Superboy was firmly entrenched in my mind as a team player, and his solo adventures seemed stuck in the 1960's.

Karen: The Legion around this time really had lost the feel of a teen team, at least to me.

Doug: In the spring, the last issue of Avengers I purchased was #195, which introduced the Taskmaster. You think Wolfman and Perez ripped him off with Deathstroke the Terminator? I do -- and shoot, Perez even drew Taskmaster's debut! DC Comics Year By Year gives no entry for April-June. Nada. I thought this was going to be a better year for them?

Karen: The colors, the abilities -those two were separated at birth!

Doug: Summer's biggest event, according to
The Marvel Chronicle, was the introduction of Bernie Rosenthal as a love interest for Steve Rogers in Captain America #248 by David Michelinie and John Byrne. That's it. No wait -- Foggy Nelson got married in Daredevil #166 by Frank Miller. Yeah, that's about as exciting as the first "event". DC was a bit stronger, releasing a Batman 3-issue mini, The Untold Legend of the Batman, by Len Wein, John Byrne, and Jim Aparo. I actually got a reduced-size reprint of this as a cereal giveaway after the Batman movie came out, in late '89 or 1990. DC continued to move its heroes around, looking for the best place to market them. Aquaman landed in Adventure Comics #475, oddly sharing billing with not one but two other features (Plastic Man and Starman). Similarly, the Huntress moved into the pages of Wonder Woman #271 -- both Adventure and Wonder Woman advertised 8 extra pages, and were priced at 50c.

Karen:Yawn. Oh excuse me....

Doug: I'll be honest -- this is a pretty weak year overall for Marvel. In fact, outside of the first couple of months, this looks like the last 2-3 years DC has had. You want to know the big deals in the fall of '80? How about the introduction of Nathan Lubensky as a lover for Aunt May in Spectacular Spider-Man #47, Cap making a one-issue run for president in CA #250, the debut of Madame Web in ASM #210, Moon Knight #1, and the bow of the U-Foes in Incredible Hulk #254, by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema. I feel about as excitable as Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off...

Karen: I do recall that issue of Captain America, and the U-Foes, but yeah, not a whole lot of excitement there.

Doug: But DC dropped a bomb akin to Marvel's
Giant-Size X-Men #1 when Marv Wolfman's and George Perez's New Teen Titans hit the shelves cover-dated November. They had debuted as the above-mentioned color insert in the middle of DC Comics Presents #26 (Superman and Green Lantern). In that insert fans saw Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven for the first time. Old hands Robin, Kid Flash, Beast Boy (now called Changeling) and Wonder Girl were along for the ride. The original series ran 91 issues, then went into a Baxter paper series that lasted another 130 issues. Not bad. I mentioned Deathstroke the Terminator above as well -- he debuted in NTT #2. I think I'm going to have to give a slight edge to DC for 1980.

Karen: The rebirth of the Teen Titans was huge. Finally, it felt like DC had something that could really compete with Marvel. That series had it all -great stories, character development, new characters and new realms to explore, and of course that gorgeous George Perez art. I was hooked, despite my long-time Marvel Zombie affliction. I was still more of an X-Men fan, but by the time Byrne left that title, my enthusiasm for it waned. I think I was with Teen Titans for at least the first three years of its run. Definitely a high point for 80s comics.


david_b said...

Great comments, definitely agreed on the general lackluster of comic originality and spark, the 'currents of change' for teenage interest was moving towards everything Star Wars, etc.

The Titans with Wolfman and George Perez were a HUGE homerun for DC, partially because Marvel didn't have any innovative concepts going on to hold interest. I didn't get into the Titans until about twenty issues in, so I spent a lot of $$ buying up the past issues, then José Luis García-López took over, which was painful.

Inkstained Wretch said...

I have a fair amount of nostalgia for this year since it was the first onw where I really got into collecting.

I am surprised you didn't mention one of the biggest, more baffling events of 1980: Ms. Marvel's pregnancy and birth. Whatever it was that the powers that be intended (It was written by Jim Shooter, right?) with that story, it came out horribly.

Doug said...

Inkstained --

Remember, we are only citing stories/books/goings on if they are mentioned in our two resources. Avengers #200 wasn't mentioned in the Marvel Chronicle -- and I think you've already intimated at why. Some things are better left unsaid.

But since you brought it up -- anyone want to jump in on that train wreck?



dbutler16 said...

Don’t forget about the Soviet boycott of the ’84 Olympics. I still remember riding my bike to McDonalds to get free burgers and fries because the USA had won yet another gold medal in some event we probably wouldn’t have won if the Soviets were there. Mmmm, I’m loving it!
I’m a little surprised that Star wars was #2 in sales, but not totally shocked. After all, this is the “comic that saved Marvel” plus, the original trilogy was still coming out, so interest would have been very high. I agree with Karen about Infantino, though. By the time the Dark Phoenix Saga came out, the X-Men were my favorite comic, so I was there for the whole wonderful ride.
Yes, the Legion seemed to have grown out of their teens by this time, but I still thought it was a very well done book. Yeah, the Taskmaster definitely evokes ol’ Deathstroke!
Oh, that New Teen Titans cover you’re posted gives me a warm fuzzy. Definitely one of best Bronze Age things (after the Legion and maybe O’Neil/Adams Batman & Adams GL/GA) DC had going for it. This was Perez at his absolute best. Also, those DC inserts were fun. Besides the Legion, I remember my Captain Carrot and Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld inserts.

dbutler16 said...

Oh, regarding Avengers #200. That was a bit of a mess, wasn't it? What a waste of some wonderful Perez art. also, Dave Micheline had been writing some really good stuff for the previous 6 issues, and that all lead up to...this? Ugh. Oddly enough, I had finally started warming up to Ms Marvel, up to this point my least favorite Avenger, with issue #197.

Karen said...

Avengers 200...ugh. Well, if I recall correctly, David Michelinie's original plan was that the Kree Supreme Intelligence had caused the pregnancy -Ms. Marvel was well-suited as her genetic structure was now half-kree, half-human. I think the idea was that the off-spring would be capable of evolving, which the Kree no longer were. But the storyline was too similar to some other book that had been recently published and so Shooter demanded they change it.

With the changes came all of the insensitivity to the issue of a woman who had essentially been raped. Instead of righteous anger, Ms. Marvel actually falls in love with her rapist and runs off with him. So yeah -not a highpoint for Marvel.


Inkstained Wretch said...

Ah, so it was Micheline, not Shooter. My bad.

I guess there is just a knee-jerk response to blame anything bad that happened at Marvel in those years on Shooter.

dbutler16 said...

Great background info, Karen. That helps explain that mess. Shooter did a lot of great things, but that wasn't one of them! I think the original plan sounds better, even if it was derivative.

To inkstained, I believe Micheline, Shooter, Perez, & Layton all got writing credits on that issue.

Edo Bosnar said...

Yeah, Avengers #200 - I'll admit I was still young enough that the full implications of the story pretty much flew over my head at the time, although I remember even then it kind of creeped me out that Ms. Marvel left to be with a 'lover' she had just given birth to. It was only after I read Claremont's "response" in Avengers Annual #11 that I realized how truly atrocious that story was.
And Dazzler - I couldn't believe they introduced a disco-themed heroine at a time when the whole disco fad had not only passed but had already become the butt of jokes...
Otherwise, the tone of your review makes it seem like 1980 was a dull year in comics (with the exception of the X-men) just waiting for the burst of color brought by the New Teen Titans. I kind of remember it as a rather exciting year in comics: besides X-men and Teen Titans, Avengers was still a great title (until #200), Captain America was being done by the Stern/Byrne dream team (best Cap run, ever), Miller's run on Daredevil was really hitting its stride and personally I really liked DC's Adventure: I loved those Plastic Man and Starman features - fun stories and great art by Staton and Ditko.

Edo Bosnar said...

Ooops. Sorry, I just realized I made a mistake: Avengers Annual #10, not #11.

Doug said...

Edo --

I agree with you that our tone seems negative. I think much of that stems from (I cannot believe I am going to say this) the lack of big events. And I mean that from the standpoint of big-time character introductions, a new writer or artist coming onto a title and revolutionizing/revitalizing it, etc.

Wait until 1982 -- you'll see what I mean. There were some genre-changing things in that year.


Karen said...

Wretch - it was still Shooter who made the final call and as DButler says, I believe all were credited as a sort of written by committee on that issue.

I'm not a fan of what Marvel became under Shooter. This was definitely a low point. On the other hand, I think the Dark Phoenix storyline played out better with Jean's death (which Shooter belatedly demanded) than it would have if she'd remained alive but essentially lobotomized.

In both cases, I think the main problem was, editors were not doing their jobs on these titles and drastic changes had to be undertaken rapidly to change stories. With X-Men, it actually worked to its benefit, but with Avengers, it turned out to be a travesty.


J.A. Morris said...

I'll have to give Marvel the edge over DC for this year, based on 'Dark Phoenix'. Plus that was followed by the 2-part 'Days Of Future Past' Sentinels story. Both these stories impact Marvel's continuity(for better or worse)to this day. We've seen multiple adaptations of 'Days' on film and in X-men animated shows. And to close out '80, we got the Christmas-themed #143, where Kitty showed defeated the N'Gari demon all by herself.

I liked 'New Teen Titans', I never bought it regularly but I read a friend's in the book's early days. The Perez art was great looking, and Terminator was cool. But I never liked Robin, his presence brought down the Titans' cool quotient for me ten fold. I've expressed my feelings about Robin here in the past:
So I'll leave it at that.

A sentimental favorite for me from 1980 is Roger Stern's run on 'Spectacular Spider-Man'(which was better than 'Amazing Spider-Man' that year), from about #43-52. Stern gave us some nice stories featuring Vulture,Mysterio,Cobra. A revolving door of artists makes these issues a notch below "classic",but these stories are fun and can be found in a tpb that was published a few years back:
Worth checking out if you're unfamiliar with the stories.

Redartz said...

Have to agree with J.A. Morris that Spectacular eclipsed Amazing at the time. The Spiderman Annual with Dr. Strange and Dr. Doom was pretty nice, though...

Fred W. Hill said...

1980 retains some melancholy memories for me -- the year I graduated high school and last saw a woman I had a mad crush on during the previous 3 years, and then the shock of John Lennon's murder.
Comics-wise, for me X-Men and Daredevil were the highlights, but as J. A. mentioned, Stern told some great tales in Spectacular Spider-Man and Captain America had some great writing & art too.
IMO, however, the Avengers were on a downswing even before ish 200. That particular issue I initially regarded as just rather lame, but Claremont's response in that later Annual truly did point out how truly awful it was.
I didn't get into the Teen Titans myself, but by the late '80s I'd quit collecting Marvel titles altogether but was collecting a few DC or Vertigo titles. The differences in the house styles of Marvel and DC became less distinct during the decade, especially with so many artists & writers going back & forth or working for both companies at the same time. Generally, though, I think DC stories took on a more mature tone, with much better writing, while with few exceptions Marvel went into decline, despite a few highlights, particularly Simonson's run on Thor.

dbutler16 said...

Regarding J.A. Morris' comment about "Days of Future Past" I just have to say, since he mentioned it, that while I loved the Dark Phoenix Saga, and everything Claremont had done up to then, I never did care for "Days of Future Past". I didn't like it then, and I like it even less now, as I believe it's responsible for much of what has been wrong with the X-Men for about the past 25 years. All of these characters from some bleak alternate future timeline joining the mainstream X-Men is just ridiculous, in my opinion.

Karen said...

"Days of Future past" was a great story on its own, but yes, it gunked up the works when people saw it as being an inevitable future. Sort of like the way the Adult legion stories made certain events seem to be cast in stone. Although I think the situation with X-Men was worse than with Legion.


dbutler16 said...

I agree on both counts, Karen. The adult Legion was a bad idea, IMO, because it hemmed in future writers, but Days of Future Past was the beginning of the end for me with the X-Men, though it was still great for several years afterwards, it planted the seeds of self-destruction...

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen and dbutler, you make some good points - in fact, it might be worth an entire post. Namely, I've often found myself thinking about where X-men went wrong, and came to the conclusion that the seeds were planted at the peak of Claremont's powers, in stories that were otherwise really good: the Dark Phoenix saga (i.e. Jean Grey should have stayed dead. Period.) and "Days of Future Past" - using characters and situations from that dystopian future pretty much became a storytelling crutch for Claremont. I would also add the introduction of that whole Belasco/limbo/Magick thing as the third major harbinger of woe in the X-universe...

Karen said...

Edo -what a great idea for a post! Thank you! 'Where did the X-Men go wrong?' is sure to stir up a lot of debate. Look for it next Friday.


Anonymous said...

Avengers #200 is my all-time favorite comic book cover.
At the time i first read it (around 1984- i think i ordered it from Mile High for 50 cents), I wasn't even phased by the adult themes.

Also, Karen's comment about the Legion losing it's "teen team" appeal is apt. When I first picked up some Legion comics (@ 1984), the team seemed to be well established (duh) and full of adults. It wasn't until Who's Who that I learned about the whole "teens from the future" origin of the Legion.

This post reminded me why I became a comic book nut. When i started seriously (??) collecting comics was 1984-1985. And Teen Titan's "Judas Contract" just BLEW MY MIND. Also Secret Wars, Crisis,Byrne's FF, Simonson's Thor, Claremont's X-men and New Mutants, Marvel Team-up and DC PRESENTs were still around, West Coast Avengers, and of course, Marvel Universe Handbook and Who's Who.......what a great time to be ten years old, and a couple bucks bought you 3 Marvel comics. I'm not sure if 84 is considered the Bronze Age, but i think comics were still pretty good.

Speaking of "Judas Contract", I WAS pretty weirded out that Terra and Slade had a semi-erotic relationship.


Marcus said...

This was when I was buying a ton of Marvels. What struck me about Avengers #200 is that Ms. Marvel's offspring/lover was named Marcus. Which is my name and that kinda freaked me out.

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