Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1981


Doug: We are entering the home stretch of this race through the Bronze Age of comics. As we've discussed several times around here, there's certainly a debate concerning the ending date for the era. I've posited in the past that one of my indicators is the advent of the mini-series; we saw that last year from DC with the publication of The World of Krypton and The Untold Legend of the Batman. We'll see how that genre evolves this year. Out in the "real world", Iran released the American hostages (held for 444 days) on the same day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as the 40th President of the United States; only two months later Reagan would be shot in an attempted assassination. Sandra Day O'Connor became the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, and Raiders of the Lost Ark and An American Werewolf in London entertained us. In June the first cases of AIDS were reported and Superman II flew into theaters, and one month later Lady Diana married Prince Charles. MTV debuted in August, and a month after that Simon & Garfunkel performed in the "Concert in Central Park". In December, Muhammad Ali fought for the last time.

Karen: '81 was a heck of a year. I vividly recall watching on TV -and I believe it was shown split-screen style - as the hostages were released just as Reagan took the oath of office.
Strange days indeed.
Doug: DC Comics rolled out their third mini-series in January with the release of Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes #1. Of note in this three-issue series was the revelation that Chameleon Boy was RJ Brande's son (!). At Marvel, the year began with the "Days of Future Past" storyline in X-Men #141 -- a story that introduced Rachel Summers. Elektra, created by Frank Miller, made her first appearance in Daredevil #168. The very next month saw the Legion involved in another exciting development, but only because LOSH #272 contained one of the 16-page comic inserts showcasing a new book prior to its release. In this case it was the updated Dial "H" for Hero, by Marv Wolfman and Carmine Infantino, and would feature stories derived from real fan suggestions. Detective Comics #500 was cover-dated in March and featured an all-star cast of creators telling seven tales of the DCU's detective-based characters.

Karen: We've had a lot of discussion in the 1980 post about X-Men and "Days of Future Past", and its effects on the title for years to come. I have to say though, that at the time, it felt innovative and exciting.
It was also basically the last hurrah for the Claremont/Byrne/Austin team -one last great storyline before they split up. I never felt the book was as strong again. As for the Chameleon Boy reveal in Legion, it never made any sense to me.

Doug: In April the Soviet Super-Soldiers were introduced in Incredible Hulk #258, by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema. Spring saw yet another DC mini- when
Tales of the Green Lantern Corps #1 arrived. Popular GL artist Joe Staton combined with Len Wein and Mike W. Barr to tell the story.
Green Lantern was also integral in introducing the Omega Men in GL #141.

Karen: The Omega Men! I haven't thought about them in years. I can't recall much but I know I bought the series for a short time. The Soviet Super-Soldiers were fun, although they were arriving on the waning years of the USSR. It would have been fun to see such a group back during the Stan Lee days, when it seemed like almost every super-hero fought communists at some point!

Doug: Were there any holdovers from Stan's days? Were the Crimson Dynamo and the Titanium Man in the Soviet Super-Soldiers?

Doug: Summer was a time for a semi-key introduction when Vixen made the stage in Action Comics #521; she'd be a key member of the JLA as that title headed toward cancellation with the publication of Crisis on Infinite Earths a few years hence. In July Marvel and DC collaborated for the third time in Marvel Treasury Edition #28; Superman and the Amazing Spider-Man teamed up to defeat Dr. Doom and the Parasite. The story also included the Hulk and Wonder Woman, and was pencilled by John Buscema. In September, the three-issue Krypton Chronicles #1 came out. The series featured Superman discovering details of his family tree. All-Star Squadron #1, by Roy Thomas and Rich Buckler, debuted a series based around the Justice Society of America and set in WWII. For July-September, The Marvel Chronicle lists only the introduction of The Hand in Daredevil #174. However, in a small box under that entry, we find that Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (which introduced Firestar) was on the air in September, 1981.

Karen: That All-Star Squadron #1 cover is such a classic.

Doug: As summer gave way to autumn, DC and Marvel teamed again to release
DC Special Series #27 featuring a battle between the Hulk and the Batman, and the two heroes together against the Joker and the Shaper of Worlds. At the House of Ideas, about the only book of note at the end of the year was Avengers Annual #10 (which actually doesn't have a month of release noted), which introduced Rogue.
That's it. So I have to ask, what the heck was Marvel doing in 1981? You can tell that the focus was moving to a) the X-Men, and b) creators. Miller's work on Daredevil, even though it tended to have no further impact on the greater Marvel Universe, was cited almost every month. I left out the introduction of Stick above -- if you care, it was in November in DD #176. So we basically got a blow-for-blow of Matt Murdock's life with ninjas. But what really happened that was innovative?

Karen: It does seem like a pretty blah year again, doesn't it? I have to admit I didn't understand some of these Marvel/DC team-ups. Batman and Hulk? OK, I guess Hulk was a comparable seller to Batman? Just seems like Batman/Captain America would have been the obvious choice, or Spider-Man/Batman. Avengers Annual #10 was a strong book, as it served as Chris Claremont's soapbox for condemning Ms. Marvel's treatment in Avengers #200. Boy did he lay into the Avengers -and by proxy, the team that produced issue #200. Miller could get away with completely re-creating Daredevil because it seemed like no one -not fans, not creators -really cared about the character! He certainly changed that.


Inkstained Wretch said...

One funny thing about Avengers Annual #10: While Michael Golden's art was outstanding for the most part, I was confused by the way he drew Rogue. She looked like she was at least 50 in that comic. I figured that was part of her gimmick: Her superpowers rendered her age irrelevant. It was only years later when she became a regular in X-Men that I realized she was supposed to be young.

dbutler16 said...

Raiders of the Lost Ark and Superman II? Big year for movies! Back when we’d wait in line for an hour to get into a movie, I can’t imagine doing that today.
While I thought the Secrets of the Legion miniseries was fun, I’ll agree that the big reveal didn’t make a lot of sense, but I love the Legion, so I rolled with it. I also loved those 16 page inserts DC did in the early 80’s. That was a great idea by DC. I also really enjoyed Detective #500, starting with the cover. I like the way they pay homage to so many of the detectives to have appeared in that comic over the years, not just Batman.
I remember the Omega Men were hot stuff for about 5 minutes. I think I still have a couple of issues of that.
Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends! Yahoo! I’ve actually been recording and watching that on TV lately whilst I eat breakfast. That’s some good nostalgic fun!
Yes, that All-Star Squadron cover is indeed a classic.
Marvel might not have had much going on aside from a couple of biggies (Days of Future Past, Elektra) but Avenger #10 was awesome. Great Michael Golden art, and Chris Claremont shows why he is the master of writing team battles. They don’t just disintegrate into a series of one on one battles with him, but teammates work together and even use common sense and strategy. And as Karen point out, it was a nice follow up to the dreadful Avengers #200. Also right about no one caring about Daredevil before Frank Miller took over. I have to agree with Karen yet again about the Hulk and Batman team-up. Even as a dumb kid, that one never made sense to me.

J.A. Morris said...

Doug wrote:
"So I have to ask, what the heck was Marvel doing in 1981?"

Well,for starters, Byrne began his 60-issue run on FF,including the 'Terror In A Tiny Town' 20th anniversary story in issue #236. The battle with Ego in issue 235 has always been a favorite of mine.

Another all-time favorite issue of mine came out that year,'Marvel Two-In-One' #75,featuring The Thing teaming up with the Avengers against Blastaar,Annihilus and the Super Adaptoid! Here's a nice write-up of that issue:
But yeah,it wasn't a great year for Marvel's other flagship/marquee titles. 'Amazing Spider-Man'(some of Denny O'Neil's weakest stories). The post-Byrne/Austin X-men stories were pretty lackluster that year. Even the return of Magneto in #150 was disappointing at the time. For me,the most memorable X-men stories that year were found in 'Bizarre Adventures'#27, even if they were black and white. I always enjoyed the story where Nightcrawler & Vanisher grab each other and teleport into a netherworld.

Wretch, I think Rogue looks older in that annual because they were still fleshing out the character here. I read somewhere once(sorry,couldn't find it on the net)that Rogue was supposed to be a "southern housewife" in her early appearances.
I'm in agreement with everyone about the Batman/Hulk pairing. I think having the Shaper Of Worlds as the "Hulk villain" who teams with Joker was an even worse pairing. Joker's a no-brainer, but why not team him with The Leader or The Abomination?

Edo Bosnar said...

With reference to your first point, about an end to the Bronze Age, my personal view is that it is in fact 1981, at least at Marvel. Most of the main titles just seemed to be moving in a new direction, they had a kind of different "feel" to them, and by year's end Miller as writer/artist on Daredevil was joined by Byrne in the same role on FF, which seemed to herald a future trend (they would be joined by Simonson on Thor soon).
Again, with the exception of Byrne & Austin leaving X-men, I don't remember this being a rather 'blah' year, esp. at Marvel. Some pretty good comics were being produced by DC as well: you mentioned All Star Squadron, which was at least initially a really fun series, and I remember really enjoying Green Lantern at the time (although it have something to do with my fondness for Staton's art). One thing I didn't like was the Starman and Plastic Man strips being dropped from Adventure Comics in favor of Dial 'H' for Hero. And if nothing else, that Batman & Hulk team-up was gorgeously drawn by Garcia Lopez.
As for Rogue's age, I think originally she was written to be an older woman, perhaps even in her early 30s - this seemed to be so even in her first subsequent appearance in X-men after that Avengers Annual. The same thing held for White Queen: the way she was written (and drawn), and the fact that she was headmistress of a posh boarding school, made it seem like she was in her late 30s at the youngest. It was only Claremont's subsequent retcons that turned them into a teenager and early 20-something respectively - also a sign that his creativity was flagging.

Anonymous said...

By the way, Doug, Crimson Dynamo was in the original Soviet Super Soldiers, together with Vanguard, Darkstar and Ursa Major. Titanium Man appeared in a later line-up (and I think it was actually the Gremlin wearing the armor rather than the original guy who fought Iron Man). Incidentally, Hulk was another title that was really good at this point - the often underrated Mantlo/S. Buscema run. And sorry for the excessive commenting...

Edo Bosnar said...

Craaap - now I'm really sorry, the 'anonymous' comment above is me

Doug said...

Hey, we love comments around here! Positive, negative, conversation starters... Bring it on!

Now that we're 2/3 of the way through this (and I've already written my portion of the last four years that brings us to 1985's close), let's go ahead and evaluate our two sourcebooks. Do any of our readers own either of these books? I ask, because it seems like each week you give us really good information on what was being published that was significant or appealing, and yet it didn't make the cut in our sourcebooks. So what the heck were the authors thinking? I wonder how they chose what to cover in a given year, because (for example) the Byrne FF run doesn't get a mention??

Each week I look forward to Wednesday's post/comments. And I have no idea how we'll top this come the middle of May!


J.A. Morris said...

Doug, are these the books you've been using?:

I don't own them,but yeah,weird they don't mention the Byrne FF stories. It's also a bit odd(but not surprising)that the Chronicles seem to go by cover dates that appear on the issues, not publication date.
For instance, the 'Days Of Future Past' issues are cover dated January & February '81, but came out in October & November of '80. When you subtract those stories, 1981 looks even worse for Marvel.

One more '81 comics memory here:

I was never a big DC fan, but one of my favorite 80s stories was the 3-part JLA/JSA story featuring the new Secret Society Of Supervillains. It ran in JLA 195-197, my introduction to the Ultra-Humanite! And this is his first appearance in the albino-ape body. Worth checking out if you haven't.

Rob S said...

Miller & Janson Daredevil
Marshal Rodgers & Stern Dr. Strange
Gene Day Master of Kung Fu
Mantalo & Brodrick Micronauts
Leialoha & Clarmont Spider-Woman
Bryne & Clermont X-Men Days of Future Past
Bryne Fantastic Four
Jones & Anderson Ka-Zar
Gramell & M J Duffy Powerman & Iron Fist

With Walt Simonson on Steven Kings Lawnmower Man, Mike Zeck (Kung Fu & Cap), Mike Golden (Avengers Annual), Tom Sutton Starlord, Wendi Pennie (Triton), Al Williams (Star Wars), Bill Sienkiewicz, Steve Ditko, John Bolton on various stories, books and covers.

Doug said...

Yep, J.A., those are the books -- they are pictured in the logo we've been using at the top of the posts. They're great resources, but like all Dorling-Kindersley books, they certainly have their flaws. We've reviewed each book on its own -- if you go back to the 1970 post there are links to both reviews.

I can't remember, but there is a reason stated at the beginning of the Marvel Chronicle as to why cover dates were used. You are right, though -- there was always about a 3-month lag between the time the book arrived and the cover date. Other magazines do that, too. I recall as a kid my Sports Illustrated always arrived in the mail on a Thursday but was cover dated for the following Monday.


Doug said...

Edo --

I like your posit on the advent of the writer/artist.


J.A. Morris said...

Thanks to Rob for reminding me about the great Stern/Rogers/Austin run on 'Doctor Strange'. That saga is begging for a high quality reprint tbp.

Fred W. Hill said...

Oh, yeah, Stern & Rogers produced some great Dr. Strange stories, and Master of Kung Fu was still going strong, story & artwise. Maybe not a whole lot of earthshattering stuff going on, but still a lot of solid storytelling and things hadn't yet gotten so convoluted you needed a legal pad to try to keep track of what the heck was going on.

Edo Bosnar said...

J.A. - that JLA/JSA team-up was awesome; in fact, that entire run of JLA up to an including issue 200 was really outstanding in my opinion.
And I'm glad a few others mentioned two I can't believe I overlooked: Stern's Dr. Strange, and the Jones/Anderson Ka-zar. I used to like that series so much I bought a subscription - I only did that for one other title, X-men (alas, it kicked in right at the end of the Byrne's tenure as artist - my first issue was the second part of the Days of Future Past story).

dbutler16 said...

The three month lag between cover date and release date goes back a very long time. Apparently, this was originally done so that stores could keep magazines on the shelves longer. If something dated May actually came out in February, then you could have it sitting on the shelves from February-May. I can only assume that simply nobody ever bothered to switch the dates to sync up with the actual release date, perhaps because having duplicate cover dates for a few months would be confusing. Yes, I was also wondering why these books went by cover date rather than release date. Probably simply because it's easier for them that way.

I agree about the JLA/JSA team-up. In fact, many of the best JLA stories are from JLA/JSA team-ups, and the JLA/JSA/Legion of Super-Heroes team-up is an al time classic. I also agree that JLA#200 is one anniversary issue that actually lived up to the expectation, unlike Avengers #200.

Doug said...

And talk about a time lag... As Stan noted more than once in his Stan's Soapbox column, the books were actually complete and to the printer a couple of months ahead of shipment. So a book cover-dated in June was actually completed during the months of Nov.-Dec. of the previous year!

Probably no good way to get that long of a span of time to reconcile...


dbutler16 said...

Wow, that's a far cry from today, when comics seem to always be late. That's also interesting to keep in mind when comics reference real life events, the stories were probably written 6 months before the cover date.

Anonymous said...

1981 was a bit of a parting of the ways with me and most comics - I picked up my first issue of The Comics Journal, which had a long interview with Roy Thomas just as he'd left Marvel and was on the verge of starting with DC.

It was a chance to learn a lot about the behind-the-scenes activity at The House Of Ideas - and what a depressing chance it was. I felt the last vestiges of childlike wonder at comics crumbling as Roy expounded on the hassles, frustrations and problems of dealing with various parties. Though I didn't drop comics completely, reading them was never quite the same again (though I did become a diehard reader of the Journal).

By this time I was regularly buying only a few titles anyway...a year or two later I finally relented and picked up a copy of 2000AD, and began a whole new love affair :-)

B Smith

Dougie said...

I had exactly the same experience in 81 with the Comics Journal. I had just left school, Cockrum was back on X-Men, Kirby's Captain Victory was out - and this heavyweight magazine soured my comics reading experience completely. All the flaws in Claremont's writing, especially, were scrutinised, whereas Miller and Maus (which I taught last year and didn't engage my students at all)were both lauded.I got much more enjoyment out of Amazing Heroes a little later.

Doug said...

Dougie -

Just curious about your Maus comment: I've used Maus with high school freshmen for about 15 years, and in that time have had maybe 2-3 kids say they didn't like it. I've found it to be incredibly effective in dealing with the issues of the Holocaust, and the story of the relationship between Art and his father really serves to humanize the events and show how the fall-out can extend into the second generation.

Why didn't they like it, in your estimation?



Garett said...

I found this a very exciting year for comics with New Teen Titans hitting their stride, Miller's Daredevil staring the Elektra story, Sienkiewicz's Moon Knight making artistic strides, All Star Squadron bringing back the WW2 heroes, Stern's Doctor Strange, new Kazar series, Master of Kung Fu in a great era with Zeck and Day, and the great Batman/Hulk oversized comic--I think it's a great pairing and way more entertaining story than the Supes/Spidey teamups...better art too.

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