Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1983


Doug: We have a baker's dozen in the books -- three more years to go! Today's year was the end of my junior year/beginning of my senior year of high school. It, again, was during the time that I was absent from comics-buying. Although I own (or at one time owned) several of the books we'll discuss, I bought none of these as they were released. Catching up was one of the joys of the hobby, finding out what all of my "old friends" had been up to. In some cases, it wasn't as good as what they'd been doing when I left; in others, some nice changes had been made. In the three-dimensional world, Michael Jackson performed arguably the most famous single dance move of the 20th century when he "moonwalked" on the Motown 25 television special (how many of you remember that?). Ronald Reagan began to talk of the Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars" Defense System, a bluff that many argue would contribute to the fall of the Soviet Union by decade's end. M*A*S*H ended its critically-acclaimed run on American television, and Scarface and Trading Places were big at the cinema. Superman III came out in June, and is quite possibly the worst comic movie ever made. But let's get to the reason why you stopped by today...

Doug: January at Marvel showcases another innovation so-related to the 1980's: The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. I looked through the DC book, not only ahead in 1983 but into the next two years -- I couldn't find Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. Wanna know why? It wasn't published until 1985! I always thought there was a battle between the two companies as to who had the idea/published first. But I guess it was Marvel's Volume II that competed with DC's book. You can learn something doing this research. Anyway, Larry Hama is credited with the overarching idea, having done the Handbook treatment for his G.I. Joe stable of characters. It was Mark Gruenwald who wanted to do the same dossier-style pages for the Marvel Universe. And the rest is history... what an indispensable resource, of course now available on various sites on the Web. Additionally to begin the year, Marvel released the No-Prize Book in January -- it was a compilation of some of the company's gaffes over the years. In March, there was a major event that would go on to dominate the Spider-decade: the introduction of the Hobgoblin in Amazing Spider-Man #238. One more thing -- another Marvel book appeared that I associate with the 1980's: Marvel Age, the in-house fan magazine. Picture the Bullpen Bulletins page, but comic-length.

Karen: When the Marvel Universe handbooks came out, I absolutely devoured them. I've always been a data-nut, so being able to quantitatively measure the abilities of all my favorite characters was like a dream come true. However, in the long run, I think it may have been unwise for Marvel to give hard numbers, as pretty soon, that became another thing that fans could nitpick about, as far as who was stronger than who and so forth. I thought DC's method was probably better, where they never used numbers but gave sort of vague definitions. Less satisfying to those of us who like stats but at least they didn't paint themselves into a corner by creating a hierarchy of strength amongst their characters.

Doug: DC blasted off '83 with a big celebration in Wonder Woman #300, by Roy and Dann Thomas and a bevy of the Amazing Amazon's best-known artists. In February, Killer Croc made his debut in Detective Comics #523. It's funny, because I guess I thought he was older than that. Oh, and if he wasn't enough trouble, Batman was headlining against Solomon Grundy in that same issue! Over in Batman #357, we met a youth named Jason Todd for the first time. What a debacle he would turn out to be...

Karen: That's funny, I would have assumed Killer Croc was older too. He's certainly become one of the Dark Knight's regular foes. I have mixed feelings about Jason Todd. Never liked him as Robin, but on the other hand, he's turned out to be Batman's failure and that is sort of interesting in the long run.

Doug: As we headed into spring, Madeline Pryor (speaking of debacles) made her first appearance in Uncanny X-Men #168. To say her story would become a bit convoluted is an understatement. In the pages of Iron Man #169, James "Rhodey" Rhodes took over for the Golden Avenger when Tony Stark's addiction to alcohol got the better of him. Rhodey would don that armor through IM #199. Back to the X-Men, Callisto and the Morlocks followed Madeline Pryor's debut by one month. I'll admit -- when I started reading books again, this was a whole subplot (Morlocks in the sewers, Storm with the mohawk) that made me feel not-too-badly about having missed some of this stuff. Jack Monroe first appeared as Nomad in Captain America #282, by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck.

Karen: I always thought the Morlocks were a mis-step on Claremont's part. Now we had this big group of mutants living secretly among us; it was the beginning of the mutant population explosion! Plus, it gave us punk Storm, which never worked for me. I can't help but think that if Byrne or Cockrum had still been on the title, that look would never have happened.

Doug: At DC, they were still inserting 16-page promo comics in the pages of their best-sellers. Legion of Super-Heroes #298 featured Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld -- the young lady would go on to her own series the next month. Green Arrow #1, by Mike W. Barr and Trevor Von Eeden launched in May, the same month that Batman's 500th appearance in Detective Comics (issue #526) was on the stands. In that issue, by Gerry Conway and Don Newton, the Dark Knight decided to adopt Jason Todd, who had discovered the Batcave. There were also some significant doings in Action Comics #544, as after four decades of screwing up Luthor and Brainiac decided to try a new strategy. Luthor's battlesuit and Brainiac's transition to a true robot both headlined this issue. Legion of Super-Heroes #300 was cover-dated June and was a giant-sized anniversary issue.

Doug: For the first time, the Marvel Chronicle skips a quarter! We've been on the DC book (hard) for not publicizing what they did in certain quarters through the years. Well, I guess Marvel did nothing of note between July and September. The Distinguished Competition wasn't caught napping, however, as July and August were really quite important. July's cover dated mags featured Frank Miller's Ronin #1, a 6-issue mini-series. We discussed this story a few weeks ago in our Spotlight On... Frank Miller post. The Brave and the Bold #200 was the final issue and featured a team-up between the Batmans of Earths 1 and 2, told in alternating modern/Golden Age styles (Dave Gibbons was the penciller, over a Mike W. Barr script). The issue featured the introduction of the Outsiders in a 16-page insert; Batman and the Outsiders replaced B&B in August with a #1 issue. The busy DC summer featured another blockbuster story, as Barry Allen got revenge for his wife's death when he killed Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash, in Flash #324. And finally, as if they weren't kicking Marvel's collective butt enough by this time, DC rolled out Infinity, Inc. in the pages of All-Star Squadron #25 by Roy Thomas and Jerry Ordway.

Karen: Some good stuff there by DC. I read Batman and the Outsiders for awhile; I never thought there was great chemistry between the characters though -sort of like Champions. All-Star Squadron was an occasional pick-up for me, mainly due to Roy Thomas' being the writer.

Doug: So back to our friends from the House of Ideas, who finished the year (in my humble opinion) somewhat meekly with Marvel Tales Starring Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham #1 and the introduction of Beta Ray Bill in Thor #337. Yeah, yeah -- I know that issue of Thor began Walter Simonson's acclaimed run on the magazine. But a) I'm not a Simonson fan, and b) I've never read any of those Thors. So sue me... And hey -- DC has no entries for the end of the year. But they'd certainly made their mark in the previous nine months, don't you think? If you're scoring at home, it would be very difficult not to give this year to National Periodical Publications. Want to argue?


The Groovy Agent said...

I got married on the 14th of May in '83. Michael Jackson moonwalked on the Motown special the next night, and I picked up the first issues of both Batman and the Outsiders and Alpha Flight one week later.

Yep, BatO and AF came out the same day.

Doug said...

Marking time with Michael Jackson and funnybooks -- it doesn't get any better than that! Shoot, you can have that depressing stuff we often recall... I've only ever had a handful of comics that I can specifically recall the where and when of their acquisition -- good memories!


Edo Bosnar said...

I devoured those Marvel Universe Handbook issues, too - in fact, I think I often dedicated more time to studying them than my school books. Those were kind of like porn for the out-of-control comic geek...
As for other stuff, specifically the Morlocks: Claremont's various 'mis-steps' have been generating quite a bit of discussion here lately, haven't they? This two-parter where they were introduced was actually kind of like 'Days of Future Past' - the original story was actually pretty good, but it just had multiple negative repercussions later.

dbutler16 said...

I absolutely loved The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Like Karen, I’m a stat geek, and ate that stuff up with a spoon. Also like her, I have reservations as to whether or not Marvel painted themselves into a corner by giving hard numbers, but I loved it at the time.
I’m glad Karen mention the Morlocks beginning the mutant population explosion at Marvel. I had mentioned that in the “Where did the X-Men go wrong?” discussion. Tough I did enjoy some of the Morlock characters, they were one of the things that led to the X-Men’s downfall, in my opinion. I also could have done without the punk Storm. It seemed to go against everything I knew about the character.
Finally, I have to agree that, in spite of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, DC kicked Marvel’s butt for this year. I was still loving those free 16 page pull-outs, Detective #500 and B&B #200 were both a lot of fun, and I thought Legion of Super-Heroes #300 was great. And, as Karen indicated, Roy Thomas made All-Star Squadron worth reading.

Karen said...

Ugh - Blogger has struck again! I had a long comment written out and got the error message.

I still enjoy reading those handbooks. The quantification of power is appealing in the same way baseball stats are appealing -providing some greater insight -but of course, there are many intangibles that cannot be measured. Who is bravest? who is most daring? that is still for the reader to decide.

Dbutler -I do recall in our past conversations on X-Men you mentioning the Morlocks and mutant population explosion, and I totally agree. I recall at the time wondering where all these mutants came from, how they had gathered, stayed hidden, etc without Xavier or someone knowing about them. But more disturbing was the change in Storm. I have to wonder if Claremont had gotten bored with her and decided to do something to rekindle his interest? I think it was against her characterization and it never worked for me.


J.A. Morris said...

Once again,I'm amazed at what gets omitted from these books. I remember '83 like it was yesterday,big comic year for me:

Herb Trimpe returned to pencil the Hulk in Annual#12. Written by Bill Mantlo,the story featured the Hulk transported to an alien world were greenskinned people were oppressed by a ruling race of who's skin was red. Hulk helps overthrow the "reds", but there are tragic consequences.

Byrne's FF gave us another solid year, with the 6-part 'Into The Negative Zone' story. That included the "widescreen" #252:
This was followed by a 3-part story where Doom attempted to regain the Power Cosmic.
And the FF Annual featured a sequel to the Skrull invasion story from FF#2.

Mantlo,Milgrom & Mooney gave us a multi-part Doc Ock story in Spectacular Spider-man,ending with Ock a broken man. Hobgoblin also appeared in that title.

Speaking of Spider-man,Avengers #236-237 saw him audition for that team. Not a groundbreaking story,but it was fun enough.

Hawkeye got a fun little mini-series written & drawn by Mark Gruenwald that paired him with Mockingbird for the first time. A good series if you're a Hawkeye(and Gruenwald)fan.
Doug wrote:
"Jack Monroe first appeared as Nomad in Captain America #282, by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck."
Later that year, we saw a good time-travel story where Cap teamed up with Deathlok against Brand Corporation(Cap#286-288).

Not a "classic" year,but better than it's described in the "official" Marvel history.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Hmmm, 1983 was a really good, active year for the industry. I hadn't realized that all of those events happened around the same time.

I'm a huge fan of Action Comics #544. The new Luthor and Brainiac were great creations. It really annoyed me that DC scrapped them just a few years later.

I also got really into the Flash murder trial storyline and the Dave Gibbons Green Lantern and the Doug Monech Batman stories.

I also loved the Marvel Universe issues. Such a great resource, even if some of the details were too well detailed. I can still quote from some entries.

Man, I was one hooked fanboy in those days.

dbutler16 said...

Karen, sorry to hear about the lost comment! I've taken to either writing long comments in Word FIRST, or doing a CRTL + C before clicking that dreaded button!

J.A. Morris said...

I've noticed that Blogger has been acting up the past few weeks in re posting comments. I just copy and paste everything longer than a paragraph anymore.

Count me as a fan of the Official Handbook' of Marvel. Yes, it's flawed in that it tells you who's stronger, how many tons they can lift,etc. But how many comic fights involve competitive weight lifting? The Handbooks don't take intangibles into account, which explains why "lightweights" like Daredevil & Captain America can hold their own against super-heavyweights.

Prior to the Handbooks,there was a "strength level" feature in 'Amazing Spider-man Annual #15'.
Page 1 is here:

Here's the rest:

The Handbooks later "contradicted" this, but it's still fun.

starfoxxx said...

I count the Official Marvel Handbooks as one of the greatest achievements in history. I STILL love them (my LCS guy knows to pull them for me). We joke when a new one comes out, that I have some new "toilet" reading.

Karen said...

I recall that Spider-Man annual fondly! What's interesting is how, over time, many characters' strength levels have really shot up. She-Hulk is now in that top class I believe. Ms. Marvel is also around 70 tons now, Luke Cage has gone up, so has Colossus, etc. Seems like there are fewer mid-range heroes now.


david_b said...


Jeez, I had that 'blogger' rejection happen a few times a few weeks ago. Made me do the CTRL-C **many** times since then, just to be safe.

I'm out in Denver this week, and typically I take a dozen vintage Marvels with me (Silver/Bronze types..), and decided to take the first few issues of 'Secret Wars' with me.

I know we'll talk about that for '84 next time, but despite not liking the female Captain Marvel, pre-FF She-Hulk, and Wasp's outfit/hairdo, I find it the end of our beloved Bronze Age.

The Handbooks would have been very cool to have around, but with my limited funds back then, I decided to invest in more vintage Silver Age at that time.

teresarollins said...

The Legion Of Superheroes were at their peak for me. LSH # 300 is still one of my all time favorites.

I devoured the Marvel Universe Handbook too. Loved comparing the stats and histories. Later when DC's version came out it was all out war comparing them side to side. However DC's hurt their characters believability.

Me and my other comic book friend would spend hours drawing/tracing the characters from the MUH, while listening to bad 80s music.

We were kids with no concept of destroying collectibles.

Great times.

Doug said...

Whoa, whoa, whoa...

There was bad music in the '80's?


Redartz said...

Had a lot of fun that year; in art school listening to the 'New British Invasion' and Thriller. And, of course, reading a lot of comics, such as:

X-Men Annual, by Claremont and Golden. A fun story with the Impossible Man (yes, I like him).

Amazing Spiderman 248- "The Kid Who Collects Spiderman". This remains one of my favorite comic stories ever. Roger Stern and Ron Frenz at their finest.

As Inkstained Wretch mentioned, Action Comics 544. Actually, there was a nice series there with Gil Kane artwork and Marv Wolfman scripts.

Edo Bosnar said...

Re: the Blogger commenting problem; mainly dogged me last week. To get around the blockage, I actually reactivated an old Blogger account I had opened a few years ago when experiencing the same problem on another site. A real pain...
As for the year, I have to add that I agree with the others above that 1983 was a pretty strong year for both companies - I also enjoyed that FF Negative Zone story, and Teresa is right about the Legion experiencing their peak.
And Doug, Teresa's just messin' with ya: music in the '80s was so damn gnarly the decade had to end or all of our heads would have exploded from the sheer awesomeness of it all...

Anonymous said...

Is this a Marvel and DC-only reflection?

Several other independent comic publishers began business around this time - First Comics made a splash in 1983, IMO, with Howard Chaykin's "American Flagg!" title (though I missed the first three issues initially and had a hard time figuring who was who and what was what for a while).

B Smith

dbutler16 said...

I agree with Karen. It seems like almost every character has gotten "powered up" in the past 20 or so years. The writers must be under the misguided assumption that more powerful = better.

dbutler16 said...

By the way, there was no bad music in the 80's!

teresarollins said...

I didn't like Punk Storm either and the Morlock mutant pop explosion was a bad idea that made the X-Men not so unique.
I loved Byrne's FF soft reboot. It really took the characters back to their intended roots. Roy Thomas took All Star Squadron and reinvigorated the Golden Age DC characters. Ordway's art made it perfect. Both the FF and All Stars are great example of breathing new life into old books/characters. The later habits of cleaning the slate of a character/book is lazy.

I should clarify my offhand 80s music comment. The best way I can put it is by using a slogan from another cause. "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." It is a similar situation. (-;

BTW if I haven't mentioned it before, love the BAB.

Doug said...

Teresa --

Glad you like it here! And, I didn't take your music comment all too seriously. I mean, c'mon...


teresarollins said...

Doug: I know what you mean about the music. (-;
Besides, I'm a long time Ah-Ha fan.


Karen said...

Sounds like everyone is up for a review of Byrne's FF stories -good, we have that scheduled to start next week! Who says we don't pay attention to our readers?

B Smith, to answer your questions,we are using two books, Marvel Chronicle and DC:Year by Year to do these posts, so it's just the big two. But I agree, there were many interesting developments in the world of independents. I recall regularly reading Elfquest, Nexus, Love and Rockets...


Redartz said...

I join B Smith and Karen in applauding the independents from this era. Two more favorites: Bill Loeb's Journey and Mr.X. There really was a lot of variety out there in 1983 (and not just in oomics!)...

Edo Bosnar said...

On the topic of independents, I was always fond of that initial burst of publishing by Pacific Comics. By 1983 I think the company was already starting to fizzle out, but they produced some pretty good comics in that short time and kind of blazed the trail for a bunch of other independents.

Dougie said...

I have to be the dissenting voice about Punk Storm: I loved that look and it made sense to me as Ororo's "puberty". Even though Claremont had locked her into her late 20s (while stealing Modesty Blaise's origin!), I saw her relationship with Yukio as the rebellious adolescence she had never had and an effective mirror for much of the readership.
The sheer number of Morlocks evading Cerebro did stretch my credulity enormously however. I think someone realised that though, hence the Mutant Massacre.

starfoxxx said...

I could deal with the Punk Storm better than the mid 80s crappy costumes of Kitty (the blue "suit" with the mask that tied around her head), Colossus' "choker and giant belt" mess, and of course anything Rogue wore after her first X-men costume, which wasn't great, but she was just a mess. I like her modern, hooded, green with white stripes look she has now best.

I love the brown Wolverine costume.

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