Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1968


Doug: Last week I asked you to pay close attention for signs that the Silver Age was gradually shifting into the Bronze Age. With today's post, I think we can all agree that change is coming. We'll see a "Marvel explosion" as their distribution problems that limited them to just over a dozen titles per month would be fixed. DC, still riding the high of the Batman television show, will be forced to continue to evolve as Marvel kept growing. And in the world outside our windows, turmoil was the daily word. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis in April, and sure-to-be Democratic presidential nominee Bobby Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles in June, the same month James Earl Ray was arrested for King's murder. Students rioted around the globe, and the Soviet army put down the "Prague Spring". The men aboard Apollo 8 became the first to orbit the moon. Hot Wheels were introduced in September, 60 Minutes premiered on CBS the same month, and in December the Beatles released the White Album. At the movies, the Beatles released Yellow Submarine; Planet of the Apes and Night of the Living Dead gave us pause, and 2001: A Space Odyssey was Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece.

Karen: Kind of amazing how we went from the 'Summer of Love' to this. I guess the final nail in the coffin of the hippie movement would be with the Stones and Altamont in the following year.

Doug: In the first quarter, Marvel brought back a character from its Atlas period when Roy Thomas re-made the Black Knight in the pages of
Avengers #48. Later in the year, in Marvel Super-Heroes #17 (November), Dane Whitman met his predecessor Sir Percy of Scandia. By the way, neither was related to the dude who suited up with Baron Zemo's Masters of Evil in the early Avengers issues. Also in January, Whiplash first surfaced to menace the Golden Avenger, in the pages of Tales of Suspense #97, and Gwen Stacy's father was introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #56. George Stacy was a retired NYPD captain and close friend of Joe Robertson. Stacy was one of the few members of Spidey's supporting cast who deduced that Spider-Man was Peter Parker. The Wrecker debuted in Mighty Thor #148, and he was eventually empowered by Asgardian magic. In the 100th issue of Tales to Astonish, the Hulk and Sub-Mariner battled each other, and in X-Men #42, Professor X was believed to have perished; it was later revealed that the Professor was in reality the Changeling.

Karen: I've always liked the Black Knight, although any sword-wielding super-hero has the problem of how to not kill anyone with their sword. I recall BK and Valkyrie always saying stuff about using the flat of their sword -kind of takes all the fun out of it, doesn't it? Capt. Stacy was a nice addition to Spider-Man's cast, but I don't so much credit him with being a great sleuth; rather, the rest of Peter's associates were not very perceptive!

Doug: Across the street at DC Comics, January gave us a very liberated Lois Lane as our reporter shed her business attire in favor of more mod fashions; this "new Lois" would evolve throughout the remainder of the 1960's and into the '70's. Yep,
Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane #80 was the demarcation line. In March, John Broome and Gil Kane gave us one of the 1980's (see the DeMatteis/Giffen/Maguire Justice League if you don't believe me) most memorable characters with the first appearance of Guy Gardner (Green Lantern #59). Believe it or not, as Abin Sur was about to die, his computers had located two men who would be worthy to wear the ring of the Green Lantern Corps: Hal Jordan and Gardner. Lucky for the universe that Jordan just happened to be closer to the crash site!

Karen: It sort of blows my mind knowing that Lois Lane had her own series for years. In the 60s even. But there were all sorts of books on the racks back then. And of course, her title was really more a comedy than anything else, although I gather it got more serious around this time period.

Doug: I'll admit, I'm taken aback by how relatively late some of these stories that I actually owned as a kid as back issues were published. I had the
Thor with the Wrecker (I had the previous issue with a battle against Loki as well), and as a child I just thought a 12c comic was ancient history. To think that this was 1968 already just seems odd to me. Yeah, I understand that prior to 1961 there weren't any Marvel Comics per se, but I'm still having a sort of time disorientation here. Maybe its the proliferation of reprinted material that's throwing me off, I don't know...

Doug: As we headed into the spring,
Iron Man and Sub-Mariner #1 served as a bridge to each character getting their own solo titles; this book was not a team-up, however, as each character appeared in an 11-page story of his own. Both title characters received eponymous first issues in May. Marvel's family history began to get a little convoluted in the pages of Avengers #52 (May) with the introduction of the Grim Reaper. It would get even more twisted in a few months... Also in May, Roy Thomas brought back another Golden Age creation when Red Raven appeared in X-Men #44. Another #1 hit the stands in June, as Nick Fury moved out of strange tales and into his own Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. Writer/artist Jim Steranko introduced Scorpio in this issue, a villain who was really Jack Fury, Nick's younger brother.

Karen: This was also the brief period where Marvel had the X-Men split up and the individual characters got solo stories -as demonstrated by the cover to the left, featuring the Angel. They were trying to find something that would turn the book around. That wasn't it.

Doug: Spring at the Distinguished Competition brought several key introductions and production firsts. In April, Showcase #73 featured the debut of the Steve Ditko-created Creeper. A quite bizarre-looking fellow, the Creeper received a solo title in June. In May, the man most associated with the Bronze Age Batman penciled a full-length adventure featuring the Dark Knight for the first time. Neal Adams drew a Leo Dorfman script in World's Finest #175; the rest is history. Also in May, DC further "complicated" its multiverse in Flash #179, when Barry Allen was cast into "Earth Prime", where super-heroes only existed in comic books. Yep, Earth-Prime is our world, and Julius Schwartz was the only man who could help the Flash return to Earth-1. Two other key debuts in DC lore were Secret Six #1 (May) and the debut of the Hawk and the Dove in Showcase #75 (June) -- it's amazing how that title just kept rolling, with every issue seemingly a key. There wasn't much that appeared in Showcase that didn't stick, at least temporarily.

Karen: Showcase does seem to have a pretty good track record. I mean, if you compare it to some of Marvel's similar titles, like Marvel Premiere or Marvel Presents - well, you don't exactly have people clamoring for Woodgod or Monark Starstalker stories.

Doug: The summer at Marvel was pretty significant, as Daredevil's foe the Jester (well, not so significant) first bowed in
Daredevil #42 and Ultron (way significant) debuted in Avengers #54. Hmmm... Wonder Man, the Grim Reaper, Ultron -- what could be next? Also in July, Mangog entered the scene with the destruction of Asgard on his mind, in Mighty Thor #154. Spidey ventured into the magazine world in Spectacular Spider-Man #1, a black & white tabloid, and in August the Silver Surfer received his own title. An extra-length book priced at 25c, the book featured a full-length story of the Surfer by Stan Lee and John Buscema, and a back-up spotlighting the Watcher by Lee and Gene Colan. For my money, cover-to-cover this had to be the most beautiful book on the stands at this time.

Karen: Beautiful work by Buscema. I have a hard time reading those old Silver Surfer comics now because they were just so ridiculously 'woe is me' and preachy, but there's no denying the art was gorgeous. Of course, it was another thing that ticked Kirby off and hastened his departure from Marvel.

Doug: Summer was a bit thin (in my opinion) at DC, with only
The House of Mystery changing to a horror anthology (hosted by Cain) with issue #175, the August introduction of Bat Lash (Sergio Aragones and Nick Cardy, creators) in Showcase #76, and the introduction of Angel and the Ape in Showcase #77 by John Albano and Bob Oksner. None of these books would fall under the category of "Doug's fare". More substantially, CBS Saturday mornings welcomed the Batman/Superman Hour, which was the Caped Crusader's first animated program. And it took 30 years?

Karen: Oh boy, I really enjoyed those cartoons! It was really my initial exposure to the DC characters, and the main way I knew anything about them for many years. I can still hear the theme music from the Batman cartoon.

Doug: Well, we've been waiting for the completion of Marvel's weird, dysfunctional Avengers family. Wait no longer.
Avengers #57 was cover-dated October, and featured the introduction of the Silver Age Vision. Again, Roy Thomas often used names and/or characters already in Marvel's stable -- it's been said that Thomas did not want to create something that might go on to be hugely popular and financially lucrative; this was the era before creators' rights and royalties. This Vision, while somewhat resembling the Golden Age character, was an android created by Hank Pym's robotic construct Ultron. Imbued with the brain patterns of Simon Williams, Wonder Man, the Vision now completed what would go on to be a running story, to the present. In October, both Lorna Dane, the future Polaris, and Mesmero were introduced in X-Men #49. The issue was created by Arnold Drake and artists Don Heck and Werner Roth. The Badoon first appeared in Silver Surfer #2, and Dr. Faustus menaced Captain America for the first time in Captain America #107. In Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5, Peter learned what had happened to his parents, and in Fantastic Four Annual #6, we were introduced to Annihilus and witnessed the birth of Franklin Richards. The next month, in December, Crystal replaced Sue Richards on active duty in FF #81. Hank Pym did another costume (and personality) change in Avengers #59 when he became Yellowjacket. And to close the year, the devil himself, Mephisto, was introduced in Silver Surfer #3 as Stan further portrayed Norrin Radd as a messianic figure.

Karen: A great set of books there. It's no secret that I am a big fan of the Vision -well, up 'til the deconstruction. That whole speech by Pym about "we ask only a man's worth, not the accident of his condition" is such classic Marvel. However, I thought the story about Peter's parents being spies was a mis-step. Making them not normal folk seems to mess with Peter's everyman image. Luckily it doesn't have much effect on the title but it seems best forgotten.

Doug: Wrapping the year from DC, October featured a strange sort of "breaking the fourth wall" story in
Doom Patrol #121, when the creators implored fans to choose whether the Doom Patrol should save their own lives or the lives of 14 innocent civilians. Apparently comics buyers had been siding with the innocent civilians for many months, as the title was cancelled with this issue. The also-ill-fated Brother Power, the Geek (Joe Simon and Al Bare) #1 lasted only two issues. Simon attempted to tell his version of the Frankenstein story, but in a mod '60's style. Fish weren't bitin'. And in October, Diana Prince shed her Wonder Woman identity and became more of a Emma Peel-type of character in Wonder Woman #178.


dbutler16 said...

Hey, not only did Lois Lane have her own title, but so did Jimmy Olsen. It actually did quite well, for some reason. It just goes to show how incredibly popular Superman was in the 60’s, which seems a bit hard to fathom (to me) today.

Julie Schwartz helping the Flash is fun. You won’t see that sort of thing at DC (or Marvel, for that matter) nowadays, methinks.

Obviously, the intros of the Vision and Ultron are huge (big year for the Avengers overall!), and the Silver Surfer might just be my favorite Marvel superhero, so this was a good year. DC actually did pretty will this year, too. I’ve never seen those animated DC cartoons, though. I’ll have to check them out on youtube. The Superfriends, however, was my fist exposure to DC’s heroes, and is something that is still a big part of my childhood memories.

The birth of Franklin Richards is big, too. Reed & Sue seem to be just about the only superheroes who have truly evolved and gone through a sort of “real life” cycle. They were single, got married, stayed married, had a kid, and the kid actually even aged. Pretty unusual for comics. I wouldn’t want every superhero to get married & have kids, but it works for them. It gives us a different type of superhero, one with those “real life” family concerns that other superheroes don’t have.

The Doom Patrol deal sounds interesting. So, was the story ever resolved?

Edo Bosnar said...

Ah, finally, 1968 - that wonderful, magical year, i.e., the year I was born. And to be honest, after reading that rundown, I'm impressed - it was quite an eventful year for comics, in a good way (as opposed to eventful in the negative sense in the real world; I would add to all of the assassinations and turmoil you mentioned the Tet Offensive and the ramped up escalation in Vietnam - we all know how that unfolded...)
By the way, Karen, there's at least one person (me) clamoring for more Monark Starstalker stories - I would have loved it if Chaykin had done more of those...

Edo Bosnar said...

Ah, finally, 1968 - that wonderful, magical year, i.e., the year I was born. And to be honest, after reading that rundown, I'm impressed - it was quite an eventful year for comics, in a good way (as opposed to eventful in the negative sense in the real world; I would add to all of the assassinations and turmoil you mentioned the Tet Offensive and the ramped up escalation in Vietnam - we all know how that unfolded...)
By the way, Karen, there's at least one person (me) clamoring for more Monark Starstalker stories - I would have loved it if Chaykin had done more of those...

Edo Bosnar said...

...sorry for the double post. I got a "Word verification" error for some reason and when I clicked again my comment appeared twice. Feel free to delete.

Piperson said...

I've said it before on your blog, but I feel this is when the Bronze age should begin (and wrote about it here Many changes were happening at both companies that would influence the future of comics, things like revolutionary and highly influential work by Neal Adam's at DC and Jim Steranko at Marvel; the burst of fresh energy Thomas and Buscema brought to the Avengers and Lois Lane and Wonder Woman's liberation! Both companies had firmly moved into the future, doing things that would influence the next 10 years.
Why 1970 is given the date for the change into the Bronze age just seems arbitrary to me. So O'Neil/Adam's work on Green Lantern started then as well as Thomas/Smith's Conan, but to me these seem like the HEIGHT of the not the beginning.
From THIS point on, comics had a different look and spoke about different topics. It was truly a new age!

Inkstained Wretch said...

Yeah, this was the year that the Avengers finally began to realize its potential. I read most of these '68 stories in the reprint series Marvel Super Action at the same time as the later Jim Shooter/George Perez run on the title and it was easy to see how the former was the template for everything that followed.

On a different note: Sergio Aragones co-created Bat Lash? Sergio Aragones of Mad magazine and Groo? Wow, I did not know that.

Fred W. Hill said...

1968 was yet another banner year for Marvel, and not just because Bruce Banner and his husky alter ego finally got their own mag again. BTW, I recall reading that the new Black Knight, was the nephew of the evil B.K. The new B.K. had found his uncle just as he was dying after having taken a fall while battling Iron Man. Also, notice how many characters with the word "Black" in their name became associated with the Avengers during the mid-60s, the new B.K. and the Panther within just a few months of one another. Anyhow, even if the Vision wasn't entirely original with Roy, his revamping of the long forgotten character was one of the great highlights of his run, and having John Buscema on-board for the art made for some of the best superhero fare ever.
I actually recall reading that Red Raven/Angel story, although that was one of the mags my dad threw out a few years later.
That tactic of featuring our favorite '60s mutants in "solo" stories, or occasionally in pairs, struck me as goofy when I became aware of it decades later (I was only 6 when I read that Angel solo, and while I remembered the story, I didn't remember anything unique about the cover). Things got a bit convoluted while they tried to keep the focus on just one or two of the X-Men per issue, or in one case on Magneto himself.
As for the Spidey annual, I thought that was pretty bleh; Larry Leiber's art wasn't anything to get excited about and the story was so pedestrian. I suppose they couldn't very well do the big expose on Pete's folks and just have them die in a routine traffic accident.

Aaron said...

Yes, love Lois Lane comics, they're insane - and I always say that this was the era when they went from being funny haha to being the other kind of funny.

I agree about Peter Parker's parents, it was almost like it still would have been too radical to give a comic hero regular parents at that point. It kind of put Peter in that Hardy Boys category - not that there's anything wrong with the Hardy Boys, but Spidey is a different kind of thing.

vancouver mark said...

This was a cool time to be eight years old. I was enthralled by DC comics, and excited by all the new titles like Hawk and Dove and especially Anthro, and as I've said I was a total LSH fan.
The following year, though, was a time of real disillusionment, as so many books were cancelled and stupid Supergirl replaced the Legion in Adventure Comics.
The harbinger of impending doom happened in September '68, when most of the super-heroes were suddenly gone on Saturday morning (and I for one resented Batman taking Aquaman's place in the Power Hour), and were replaced by safe, cute fluff like Wacky Races, Scooby Doo (OK, I did like Scooby Doo), and the Archies.

Anonymous said...

I second Edo on Monark Moonstalker--at least two people are clamoring for his return! Not so much for Woodgod, though....


Karen said...

I should have known that somebody would want to see Monark Starstalker!! But where are the Woodgod fans? ;)


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