Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1984

1984

Doug: Here's your penultimate chapter to our survey of the Bronze Age of Comics. By the fall of this year I'd be a college man, majoring in accounting. Alas, in the days before computers that pencil-pushing was a little tedious, so I opted to take a potential $100K cut in pay and become a high school history teacher. And it's been a fun ride. News of note from the year included the introduction of Apple's Macintosh computer, the boycott of the Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games by the Communist bloc, and among hit films were The Terminator, Ghostbusters, This Is Spinal Tap, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Supergirl also flew into theaters in November, but I wouldn't call it a hit. Ronald Reagan (I ended up at his alma mater, Eureka College) won re-election, and Band Aid, a conglomeration of British recording artists, released the hit single Do They Know It's Christmas as a fund-raiser for Ethiopian famine relief.

Doug: The introductions to this year, from each of our source books, contain information that bears mention here. At DC, Dick Giordano ascended to the Vice-President/Executive Editor chair and was credited with improving already-good relations with the company's freelancers and of carrying forth a company edict to make comics "fun"; the book does note, however, that "fun" will become a thing of the past in just a few years.
The Marvel Chronicle reports on further licensing ventures between Marvel Comics and Hasbro, Tomy, Adventure International, and Mattel. The latter alliance would of course spawn the Secret Wars.

Karen: It does seem like the fun of making comics became secondary to marketing decisions sometime in the early 80s. I know, comics is a business, they're out to make money, but it's also an art form and there has to be some balance.

Doug: Anyone out there a big Swamp Thing fan? I think when I was little I had one issue, but I have no real memory of it. I know the Alan Moore run on the book is significant, a must-read to some. I've never gotten to it. Anyway, January saw the release of Saga of the Swamp Thing #21, Moore's second issue. In the story, he debunks the notion that the Swamp Thing was the transformed Alec Holland, but was instead a being of plant life with a consciousness that believed itself to be Holland. The story arc is credited as being heavily influential in the march toward "mature themed" comics -- the Vertigo imprint that would come in the early 1990's being a primary outgrowth. World's Finest #300 was another of DC's giant-sized anniversary issues featuring a gaggle of creators. Robin returned to the Batman mythos in Batman #368 as Jason Todd donned the Boy Wonder's togs. And in March, Roy Thomas's and Jerry Ordway's Infinity, Inc. #1 hit the shelves.

Karen: I read Swamp Thing regularly not too long after Moore's run began, but honestly, it never really was a "number one" type book for me. Although I can see that he was doing things that were novel, which I can appreciate.

Doug: At Marvel, the only two things of note in the first months of the year are the release of
The Elektra Saga four-issue mini-series. This book collected much of Frank Miller's Daredevil run, often with some new story pages and pin-ups. Bob Layton followed up his 1982 Hercules: Prince of Power mini with another four-issue jaunt that involved the Recorder and the Skrulls.

Karen: The Hercules mini-series was a fun book. Just goofy and over the top. I really enjoyed it. Layton's art was spectacular.

Doug: In the spring,
Phoenix: The Untold Story #1 was released, showing the original ending to the "Dark Phoenix Saga" as intended by creators Chris Claremont and John Byrne. EiC Jim Shooter had nixed this ending in favor of a harsher punishment for Jean Grey for her genocidal tendencies. And speaking of Shooter, there were two huge May-dated books released when Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars and Amazing Spider-Man #252 came out. To some extent the cart was driving the horse, as Mattel wanted a comic book that would support a toy line. You can read about these days on Shooter's blog; of course ASM #252 featured the debut of the black costume in that mag.

Karen: Ugh. When Secret Wars came out, I knew that my own golden age of comics was over. It was so blatantly crass, so without purpose other than to sell toys -it was appalling. On top of that, many of the characters seemed to have undergone some sort of personality disorder, as their behavior was completely out of line with what was going on in their own books. I consider this a low point for Marvel, despite sales figures.

Karen: The Phoenix book, however, was a great read. I think Jean's death was certainly the better dramatic choice (if she had stayed dead), but it was interesting to read the original intentions.

Doug: DC's spring featured the kick-off of one of their most renowned storylines when "The Judas Contract" began in
Tales of the Teen Titans #42. In the next issue, Dick Grayson would leave the Robin identity (DC obviously couldn't have two of them running around) and become Nightwing. June featured the introduction of Blue Devil, but in the 16-page insert found within Fury of Firestorm #24.

Karen: I thought the move to Nightwing was a great idea. Dick had really developed into his own man, and a better leader than his mentor. I wasn't crazy about that first costume though.

Doug: I guess because we've seen it so much now in the past 20 years, there was a comment in the August entry of the DC Comics Year by Year book that I'd never considered: when the Legion of Super-Heroes launched a Baxter paper series #1, it was their first-ever first issue. They'd always been tied up in some other title. Just a strange occurrence for a team that had been around for about 25 years by this time. The same month, the New Teen Titans slid into their own Baxter paper series with a #1 issue. Marv Wolfman and George Perez continued to be the creative force. At Marvel there were a series of minor introductions in the summer months with the debuts of Forge (
Uncanny X-Men #184), Terminus (Fantastic Four #269), Power Pack (Power Pack #1), and Puma (Amazing Spider-Man #256). Much more significantly, the mini-series West Coast Avengers appeared with a September cover date, the same month Transformers #1 showed up.

Karen: Funny - I recall being sort of shocked that DC was putting out two titles for those teams -were they trying to bankrupt me? Little did I know what the future held in store.

Doug: Neither company went out with a bang. Marvel released a Machine Man mini-series in October, perhaps most notable for Barry Windsor-Smith's inks over Herb Trimpe's pencils. At DC, Karate Kid was killed in action against the Legion of Super-Villains in
Legion of Super-Heroes #4. And in Green Lantern #182, John Stewart got the job of protecting Space Sector 2814 on a permanent basis.

22 comments:

dbutler16 said...

That Soviet Olympic boycott was wonderful! Does anyone remember the McDonalds scratch off cards where you won free food if the USA won a medal? McDonalds sure wasn’t counting on a Soviet boycott when they thought that up! I do remember riding my bike to Micky D’s for a free Big mac. Yum!
I’ve never gotten around to Swamp Thing either. Maybe if I win the lottery and can retire…
For me, West Coast Avengers, Phoenix, and Tales of the Teen Titans were the high points of this year. The Legion of Super-Heroes was putting out good stuff, but Karate Kid was one of my favorite characters, so I’d rather they hadn’t killed him.

Edo Bosnar said...

My own comics reading was really diminishing by this time for a number of reasons, and I find your comments about "fun" in comics and the increasing lack thereof rather pertinent. And at the time, the whole Secret Wars thing at Marvel made me shudder - to this day I have never gone back and read that series. One thing that really annoyed me at the time was how it kind of disrupted the titles I was still regularly reading at the time, like FF and X-men for example. They disappeared at the end of one issue and in the next they're, say, wearing different costumes and talking about this big cosmic mash-up they had...

david_b said...

This year marks my 're-entry' into comic collecting in college, by-in-large collecting vintage CA&F and Titans, and some current titles, like New Titans, FF, and Avengers.

The big 'ramp-up' of all the Secret War merchandising did go a long way in making Marvel more commercial and attractive, especially with the dominance of pleasing Byrne art on those Marvel cloth patches, and other merchandising.

All in all, this marked the end for our beloved Bronze Age for me. I just read Shooter's blog (thanks for the link..), and it was good to hear about all the commotion about the cross-over stories and over characters like Doom being up 'updated'. Was that so wrong..? All these changes seemed like 'evil incarnate' at the time perhaps, but did the decisions age well..?

SW did seem to bring in a lot of new readers, and open up the Marvel Universe to many casual lurkers, much like the Avengers-Defenders clash did for me back in '73. Obviously, SW was blatantly commercial in nature, which caused most of the ire of seasoned Marvelites (and the Bullpen it seems..).

The Shooter blog was key in fleshing out his SW viewpoints (as well as the age-old Pym 'beater' argument..), but Doug, I'd be interested in your mention a few weeks back about the 'Rise of Shooter', along with DC's Crisis contributing to the demise of our Bronze Age.

Anonymous said...

I’m probably about to get myself banned from this website, but I actually have quite fond memories of the Secret Wars (although it has been 25 years since I read it). Let me see if I can justify myself here. Firstly, I fully intended to avoid it, but as Edo said, it soon became clear you weren’t gonna understand ANYTHING in any comic if you hadn’t read it.

So, I sat down to read it thinking it would be dreadful as it was (and they admitted it at the time) purely done to sell plastic figures. I remember thinking it was going to be like those Hostess Twinkie advert pages from the 70’s. So firstly, it was better than I expected as it was a proper Marvel comic. Secondly, I liked the fact that the characters weren’t butchered (Karen, I seem to be flat out disagreeing with you here). I might be remembering this wrongly, but I remember that Magneto got put into the goodies not the baddies because the Beyonder looked at his motives (to make the world safe for mutants) and assessed him to be selfless and therefore a goody, I remember Professor X took the Xmen off to observe from afar or be in reserve or something, which seemed like the kind of tangential relationship that the Xmen had originally had to the rest of the Marvel Universe, and of course, VVD was completely unphased and immediately saw a situation that he could use to his own advantage, trying to steal the Beyonder’s power as he once did the Surfers’.

I also thought that philosophically, the Beyonder was interesting, and they raised an interesting question: in the beginning, when nothing but God’s consciousness existed, how did he know he existed, with nothing to reflect upon, experience or think about. When nothing is ‘other’, what is self?

You’re going to tell me that I’ve remembered the absolute highlights and all the rest of it was crap, aren’t you?
Richard

Doug said...

I am not qualified to judge Secret Wars, as I've never read it. I have the incredibly-large tpb, but to be honest, some of the Zeck (and I really like Mike Zeck) art seems rushed at times. So it's on the shelf -- I've just never been inspired to read it.

David_B -- wait one more week and Karen and I will give our evaluation of the Bronze Age parameters. Hopefully you all will have a comment of your own!

Doug

dbutler16 said...

To Edo Bosnar's point about Secret Wars disrupting titles, I remember an Avengers story arc where Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau, that one) was transported to another galaxy, such that it would take even her thousands of years to get back under her own power, and she winds up siding with the Skrulls against Nebula (late 250s-early 260s). Anyway, I was thoroughly enjoying this arc, finding myself liking Captain Marvel (and Nebula) when the Beyonder shows up and, dues ex machina, everything is solved. I don't know the back-story behind this, but it just felt to me like something Editorial crammed down Roger Stern's throat in order to promote Secret Wars. What an unsatisfying conclusion to a good story.

Anyway, having said that, I agree with anonymous that I enjoyed this series back in the day (hey, I was only 15) but I have not re-read it since then, so it's quite possible I'd hate it today. I did, by the way, hate Secret Wars 2, even when it first came out. Even if I was only 10, I'd have been able to tell that sucked.

dbutler16 said...

I also meant to say, that DC Anniversay Issue logo brings back fond memories. I didn't have the World's Finest Anniversay Issue, but I did have Detective and Brave & Bold What a great design - regal and classy, as I'd expect out of those particular magazines.

Anonymous said...

Hi Doug,

Something to consider: we all agree that the start of the Bronze Age is really easy to define, but the end is not. I actually think that that is because the key events of the end are more about how we FEEL about them and what came next.

The start of the Bronze Age is easy because all the key events are so packed together in the space of a few months from 1970....Kirby went to DC, Gwen’s dad got killed presaging her own demise, the Spidey drugs story came out and led to changes in the comics code authority which is really the key-note difference between Silver and Bronze ages, Conan opened up a whole new genre, with more to follow, some of Marvel’s long term & key characters ( Surfer, Subby, Doc Strange, Xmen) were cancelled along with most of the War, Western & Romance series and they started the try-outs ( Am Advs, Ast Tales, and slightly later Spotlight & Premiere). By 1972, we're clearly somewhere else.

I would actually argue that you CAN do the same thing for the END (perhaps even more easily!) From 1984 -1986, you have the Secret Wars and other tie ins and miniseries taking over from the main, long-series comics, some of the series that were started in the Bronze Age and maybe defined it (Defenders, Power Man) were cancelled in favour of the New Universe (whatever the Hell that was) and suddenly everything seemed to have an X in front of it. I never buy DC, but even I bought Watchmen and Dark Knight at this time and realised I was seeing something new. And I remember being in a comic shop in London (Comic Showcase, for the Brits) when they opened a crate of Crisis and there was a near riot, so I wondered what I was missing. And, of course, Quick test: is Jean dead or alive?

Everyone on this website could have written these 2 lists, I’m sure. So why is it that we regard the start of the Bronze Age as easy to pin down and the end as difficult?

I think it’s because we all have fond memories of the Bronze Age, so saying that something is Bronze rather than Silver is no insult. But telling someone that a comic they love is ‘modern age’ is fighting talk. We hate the fact that the Bronze Age ended because we don’t like what came next.

(Quick test: Hey Doug....the Stern-Buscema-Palmer run on Avengers is MODERN AGE!!).

Ahhhh.....I feel the conflict within you....let go of your hate.

Richard

david_b said...

Two points to add...:

Anonymous, I agree with you on your approval of SW (other than adding the new characters like Monica Rambeau basically out of nowhere, and what was with that Jan Pym look..??). What I immediately draw from reading the first few issues was that Shooter seemed not so much 'dumb down' our heroes, but present them more in a commercial (thinner) light here.

If you look at SW solely as a marketing tool for selling toys, it was an innovative concept for that time, lifting all the heroes out of the MU for commercial intentions. It's non-acceptance by older readers, and seasoned Bullpen (who subtly ignored it by not addressing the absence in the source book continuities) which is the issue here.

So I believe it works better when looked at it's intention, and regarded as a 'blip' on the overall continuity view.

A basic question for us would have been, comparitively, 'How would Stan Lee have done it differently if he was approached by Hasbro, Ideal, or some other heavyweight with a lucrative marketing deal in the 60s?'

I somehow believe Stan wouldn't have compromised back in his heyday.

Oh, and second..? My BIGGEST regret was not seeing Spinal Tap when they filmed their concert scenes here in Milwaukee, WI. I lived a block away on campus when they came, and I ignored the limited concert promo. 'Course, no one knew what Spinal Tap was at the time.

Doug said...

Richard --

I'd not dispute that the Stern/Buscema/Palmer Avengers run is modern age. I would say that (aside from the convoluted Kang mess -- or wait, was that over in FF?) most that run would have fit in the Bronze Age. It's just (for the most part) classic storytelling.

Doug

Anonymous said...

Damn Doug, you’re no fun when you won’t rise to the bait! Too many years of breaking up fights in the corridors, I guess :0)

BTW, when I read that post back, the phrase ‘they opened a crate of Crisis’ leapt out at me. Sums up my in-box in the mornings!

Richard

Edo Bosnar said...

To clarify my comments on SW: it's not that I'm faulting anyone for liking it, and I realize that at the time it probably generated a ton of new young comics readers. It's just that by the time it started, my interest in comics was starting to wane, and this big, sprawling series in which I had no interest showed up - it was kind of like one of the last nails in the coffin for me. I pretty much stopped reading comics regularly about a year later.
And Richard: don't be so sure about the consensus over the beginning of the Bronze Age. I've seen a number blog/forum discussions on the topic over the past few years in which the 1970/Kirby-goes-to-DC starting point is seriously disputed (personally, I think at Marvel the Bronze Age was already in full swing in the late 60s, esp. in titles like Avengers and X-men, and even Spider-man). By the same token, I'd that say that the Bronze Age was over by about 1981, for a number of reasons - but mainly the increasing number of titles identified with a single writer/artist (and again, Marvel takes the lead here): Miller's Daredevil, Byrne's FF, later Simonson on Thor; even New Teen Titans and the Levitz/Giffen run on LoSH have a post-Bronze feel to me. Also, Pacific Comics started publishing its line of largely creator-controlled titles in 1981, marking the beginning of the major market presence of small and indy publishers. But this is becoming a discussion for an entirely separate blog post...

dbutler16 said...

Anonymous,

I agree with what you're saying about the end of the Bronze Age, in particular about your point that we don't like calling a comic we love as being a Modern Age comic, since the Modern Age kinda sucks. In fact, I'm always in favor as pushing the ending date for the Bronze Age out as far as possible - 1986, at least, and preferably to when I stopped collecting comics, around 1990!

starfoxxx said...

Judas Contract, West Coast Avengers, and Secret Wars are STILL among my favorites. They were very early in my comic collecting life, and are my personal "classics".

And yes, even at eleven, I could see that Secret Wars 2 was dumb.

And Spinal Tap is among my all-time faves, too.

"TAP into the 80s"

William said...

1984 - very Orwellian year. Not the best year in comics for me, but I really liked the "Judas Contract" and I was enjoying some of the stuff in Amazing Spider-Man. Mostly because I loved the artwork that Ron Frenz was doing on the title then. His style at that time was like a ramped up version of Steve Ditko. Frenz is still one of my favorite Spidey artsists ever (if not my out and out favorite).

At the time I really wanted to like Secret Wars, but it was just so god-awful. It just seemed like the story meandered on for 12 issues, never really going anywhere and then it just ended.

Funny story about the art on Secret Wars... I read somewhere that the reason Mike Zeck's art was not up to it's usual standards was that Jim Shooter kept having him change it over and over again. Apparently this didn't sit too well with Zeck, and once when someone asked him why Shooter had him redo so much of his initial art on the book, Zeck replied "Because it wasn't dull enough."

J.A. Morris said...

I'm surprised the Marvel book doesn't mention Assistant Editors' Month(AEM). I always thought it was a fun event,lots of Marvel inside jokes, writers & artists poking fun of themselves. One last cry for the Bronze Age before Secret Wars.

Speaking of Assistant Editors' Month:
I have taken the plunge and started my own,dedicated to AEM. It's called 'Assistant Editors' Month Online', here's the first entry:

http://assistanteditorsmonth.blogspot.com/2011/05/uncanny-x-men-177-and-new-mutants-11.html

It was a big comic "event" during my adolescence and there didn't seem to be too much info online about it.

Thanks to Doug and Karen for the inspiration!

J.A. Morris said...

I didn't hate Secret Wars, but it was disappointing at the time. And I agree with what other said about Zeck's art in that series. I love his work on MOKF,Captain America and Spider-man, but he never drew a team series and was out of his element drawing so many characters.

Some "fall-out" from Secret Wars worked for me. I like the black Spider-man costume and I enjoyed She-hulk's presence in the FF.
I didn't like Colossus falling in love with someone he barely knew.

West Coast Avengers was another favorite from that year. I guess I'm just a fan of "B-level" super teams. WCA reminded me a bit of the Champions and Defenders. Plus, it was nice to see Hawkeye as a leader, not the disgruntled Avenger bickering with the leader.

Redartz said...

I agree with William regarding Amazing Spiderman circa 1984. This was one of the few titles I still followed regularly ( as with many of you, my interest was waning at the time). Thor, Legion, and Fantastic Four pretty much rounded out my pull list.

I started SW, but only stuck with it a couple issues. It did seem that mainstream comics were becoming more convoluted and less "fun"; X-Men being a good example. Of course, this trend was to continue...

Regarding Jim Shooter, his current series of articles on storytelling fundamentals should be required reading for anyone hoping to produce comics today.

Fred W. Hill said...

I was among those thoroughly unimpressed with the Secret Wars when I read it and I believe Zeck's quote about Shooter making him redo the art until it became boring, as I loved his art on Master of Kung Fu and Captain America, but in SW it was bleh. It just reeked of everything I disdained about old DC Comics, predominantly characters with cardboard personalities. I turned 22 that year, but I think even if I'd been 10 years old, SW would have irritated me.
On the other hand, somewhere along the line, I did latch onto Moore's run on Swamp Thing and that actually excited me. Bissette and Totlebon provided some fantastic art, but it was Moore's writing that blew me away. I also collected most of his Miracle Man series from Eclipse. Cerebus was another comic I discovered in 1984 -- this was at the beginning of the High Society storyline, a comedic and artistic peak for Dave Sim, long before he went bonkers.
Overall, although Marvel was still putting out some great stuff, I was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the House of Ideas and more enthralled with output from other companies.

dbutler16 said...

J.A. Morris, AE month is a great idea for a blog. Just plain fun. I'm looking forward to more posts there.

Karen said...

J.A., I just saw the Assistant Editors month blog -nice idea! I only vaguely recall all the stuff that went on, so it will be fun to refresh my memory.

Karen

david_b said...

William:

Interesting comments on 'dulling-down' the Zeck art. Was this from pressure from Mattel..? Perhaps wishing to save time and use the same art in kids SW coloring books or something..? It's a great point, that if the art was done by perhaps a John Buscema or more of a heavier-weight artist, it would have been welcomed much more.

It's probably one reason why the Shooter Pym-beater incident was so unpopular as well..: The Bob Hall art and page printing by then was so murky and weak, that it was shown in perhaps the worst of circumstances, not to say it would be positive in any light, just not as unsettling and awkward to see perhaps.

As for SW, it's funny that 'dulling down' the art and characters made them seem 'more DC~ish' and less-dimensional than ever before, both heroes and villains alike.

J.A., great comments on AEM and good points to come out of SW. I never cared for She-Hulk as an Avenger; she was much better as a FF member. The black suit was a pretty radical costume change for a 'major leaguer' like Spidey.

You have to admit, that took some nice guts.

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