Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1969


1969

Doug: You've reached the end of a long journey -- six months of Side-by-Sides! It's been quite a bit of fun, seeing what the Big Two published from 1962 all the way to 1985. I know I've been surprised at times at the ebb and flow of big introductions, creator mobility, and general butt-spanking that's gone on. We hope you've had fun, too. The resource books we've used, DC Comics: Year by Year and the Marvel Chronicle certainly have their faults, but I'd recommend them to anyone's library. The year 1969 is sort of a segue way to the Bronze Age, and I think you'll find quite a bit of Bronze Age goodness floating around in this post. In the outside world, the two really big events were the moon landing by the Apollo 11 astronauts in July, followed a month later by Woodstock. 1969 was also the year Richard Nixon promoted the "Vietnamization" of the Vietnam War. Additionally, Elvis began recording for his "comeback" and John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their "bed-in" for peace in Quebec. The Jackson 5 appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, and at the movies you could have seen one of Doug's all-time faves, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as well as A Boy Named Charlie Brown and the 6th Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Karen: An interesting, exciting year in the real world. I was only a wee one when the moon landing happened, but I can recall the tremendous pride people felt in that achievement. But on to the comics!

Doug: Although just three at the time, I can recall watching the moon landing on television. Probably my earliest memory.

Doug: The only entry in the DC book for the first quarter is The Witching Hour #1. Now again, I'm not a horror comics fan, and wouldn't have bought this, but check out the list of creators: Alex Toth, Neal Adams, and Denny O'Neil, among others. Wow... Over at Marvel, Yellowjacket and the Wasp got themselves hitched in Avengers #60, under a fantastic floating heads cover by Big John Buscema. January also gave us the first appearance of Arnold Drake's space team from the future -- the Guardians of the Galaxy, in Marvel Super-Heroes #18. The boys were drawn at that time by the recently departed Gene Colan. Captain America #110 saw the first appearance of Madame Hydra, later to be known as the Viper, and also featured Rick Jones' debut as the new Bucky. In March, Dr. Strange got his super-hero suit with the full facemask (Dr. Strange #177), and Alex Summers was introduced in X-Men #54 -- and wouldn't he get some cool duds a few issues hence? Whoa, hey, wait -- one more minor detail from Marvel's first quarter: A dude named Galactus had his origin presented in Mighty Thor #162. No big deal...

Karen: Those are some great books. The Galactus stories in Thor were wonderful, another reason that title was an important one to read in the 60s. I have to say, it might not have lasted long, but I actually liked Dr. Strange's full-face mask -it made him more mysterious, sort of like Dr. Fate.

Doug: In the spring, DC continued their mission of expanding genres (especially into the realm of horror) with April's House of Mystery #179. This book is significant as the lead story, "The Man Who Murdered Himself" was Marv Wolfman's first script in the genre; of course he'd define the post-Code horror book a few years later during his tenure as the scribe on Marvel's Tomb of Dracula. In Superman #216, the Man of Steel fought in the Vietnam War. While Robert Kanigher's script did not contain any moralizing or political commentary, it did feature DC dealing with a contemporary conflict; prior war stories from the company had mainly focused on the two World Wars. Also in May, J'onn J'onzz resigned from the JLA after his people were killed on Mars, in Justice League of America #71. Denny O'Neil and Dick Dillin did the creative work on that one. June's The Phantom Stranger #1 brought the character back to the DCU after a 16-year hiatus.

Karen: DC did seem to have a number of anthology-style horror books, something that never seemed to catch on at Marvel (despite Steranko's work on Tower of Shadows). The Superman story shows that DC was moving towards a more modern style of comic.

Doug: Over at the House of Ideas, Stan Lee decided that if Millie the Model was still relevant, why not give her a spin-off title? You know that his decision was mainly based on the new distribution deal that Marvel had, where they could publish as many titles each month as they wanted -- this was a ploy to crowd DC off the store shelves. Mad About Millie #1 was created by Stan Goldberg, who would later move on to Archie. Millie's friend, Chili, got her own self-titled number one a month later. And Stan and John Romita introduced Marvel's second crime lord when Silvermane made his bow in Amazing Spider-Man #73.

Karen: So we got two Millie spin-offs instead of say, oh I don't know, maybe an Ant-Man and Wasp book, or Black Panther??? Or any other super-hero?

Doug: The third quarter was a good one at Marvel with a key 1st appearance right off the bat in July -- not of a person, but of a thing. Roy Thomas created the alloy known as adamantium in Avengers #66; this is the indestructible metal that would be laced to Wolverine's skeleton in the 1970's. In September, seeking a way around the Comics Code Authority's prohibition of werewolves, Thomas and artist Neal Adams instead created a were-pterodactyl when they introduced Sauron in X-Men #60. In September Marvel chose also to re-enter the horror market and published Tower of Shadows #1; the creator-list on that one included Jim Steranko, Johnny Craig, John Buscema, and Don Heck. Not bad... Stan Lee also re-entered the romance genre with My Love #1; throughout the book's 39-issue history, Buscema, Romita, Colan, and Adams, among others, would contribute work. But the biggest 1st of the quarter was the introduction of the Falcon, Marvel's first African-American super-hero, in Captain America #117.

Karen: People tend to forget that the first character at Marvel to have adamantium in his body was Ultron, not Wolverine. Actually, he turned his entire body into adamantium, making him one of the Avengers' greatest foes. Although I love the Adams/Thomas X-Men, I never felt Sauron was a particularly strong character. But the art was lovely. The arrival of the Falcon in the Marvel Universe was huge. More than ever, it seemed like the Marvel heroes really did live in our world.

Doug: Summer's big events at the Distinguished Competition included an origin for Wonder Girl, by Marv Wolfman and Gil Kane, in Teen Titans #22. Four years after her introduction, Donna Troy was revealed to have been rescued as a baby by Wonder Woman from a burning apartment. WW took the baby to Paradise Island, where she was raised as the foster daughter of Queen Hippolyta. In September the western hero Firehair debuted in Showcase #85, rendered (and written) by Joe Kubert. A white man raised by Native Americans, Firehair told the story of the red-haired protagonist who belonged in neither world. DC Special #4 introduced us to our horror-host Cain's brother... you guessed it -- Abel. But the biggest deal as school was starting was Neal Adams re-imagining of Green Arrow, both in look and personality, in the pages of The Brave and the Bold #85.

Karen: Little did anyone know what an impact Adams' new G.A. would have on the comics world. Certainly, his costume was a huge improvement over the rather bland outfit he'd worn for years.

Doug: In the autumn, The Losers debuted in G.I. Combat #138, by Robert Kanigher and Russ Heath. In Justice League of America #75, Black Canary joined the team, and also developed her "canary cry". Bet Ollie was happy for that... The Atom and the Hawkman #45 was that series' last issue, and was again brought to readers by Denny O'Neil and Dick Dillin. December had one of the biggest stories, and really served to set up the coming of the Dark Knight in the Bronze Age -- Batman #217 featured the departure of Robin as Dick headed off to college. With that, Batman and Alfred sealed up the Batcave and moved out of Wayne Manor and into a penthouse apartment atop the Wayne Foundation building in downtown Gotham. Change was afoot...

Karen: I just don't know how you leave the Bat-cave. It's the coolest secret HQ ever!

Doug: To close out the year (and this series!), October's Avengers #69 gave us the Grandmaster -- but more importantly the Squadron Sinister. Created by Roy Thomas as a poke-fun at DC's JLA, the Squadron would go on to menace both the Avengers and the Defenders in many memorable dust-ups. Daredevil decided to reveal his secret ID as Matt Murdock when he spilled it all to Karen Page in DD #57; bet he regretted that move later (see Daredevil #227). In Captain Marvel #17, Mar-Vell and Rick Jones became bonded, a storyline that would continue for years. November's ASM #78 gave us Hobie Brown, the Prowler, and the Stingray debuted in Sub-Mariner #19, by Roy Thomas and Bill Everett.

Karen: Roy got even more mileage out of his JLA homage when he used essentially the same characters as the Squadron Supreme -heroic versions of the bad guys in another reality.

Doug: This was a fun jaunt through the Marvel Age. For my money, Marvel was just one creative explosion after another. While DC pushed the envelope here and there, with key events like the Batman television show and Neal Adams' first major comics work along the way, I just think there was no comparison in this period between the Big Two. As we've already seen in our tour of the Bronze Age, things would be a bit more back-and-forth in the 1970's and '80's, but in Marvel's infancy-to-adolescence period it's just not even close.

Karen: Agreed!

9 comments:

Edo Bosnar said...

I agree with your comments about the general superiority at this point. This is in fact why I think that by 1969 the Bronze Age was in full swing at Marvel, while it would take DC a year or two (at least) to catch up.
Also interesting that you mentioned the Prowler's debut in ASM; the first Spider-man comic I remember buying was the issue of Marvel Tales that reprinted that story.

dbutler16 said...

Ah, how I miss the floating heads.

I’ll have to check out some of those 60s Thor stories.

I agree with Karen on Dr Strange’s mask. Actually, Dr Fate has one of my al time favorite costumes.

As far as Neal Adams on the X-Men, this may be heresy but in spite of his short tenure there, he just might be my all-time favorite X-Men artist. The faces he drew were incredible! You can just see and even feel the emotions of the characters.

An awful lot of non-superhero mentions this year, between the romance stuff from Marvel and the horror and western stuff from DC.

I love the Squadron Sinister/Supreme! It started off as a little private joke, but turned into something pretty good for Marvel!

I also agree with Edo that DC was behind Marvel in getting to the Bronze Age, just as they were behind Marvel in introducing minority heroes.

J.A. Morris said...

dbutler16, what you said about Adams isn't heresy at all(and I'm a huge fan of the Byrne/Austin issues). I've said it here before, as far as I'm concerned, Adams is the best comic artist ever,period. When I want to show non-comic fans an example of great comic art, I show them some of Adams' work.
Those X-men issues he drew might not be the best stories of all time(Sauron's origin is that he was bitten by a "magic pteranodon?), but they're not terrible either, and they still look great.

I'm a big fan of the Squadron Sinister/Supreme too. I first read that Avengers story when it was reprinted in 'Marvel Super Action' #31. Silly as it sounds, I read several stories before I realized they were just Justice League doppelgängers. That's a tribute to the creativity of Roy Thomas. I still haven't read the Avengers story that introduces the Squadron Supreme, but it's on my list.
Too bad the Bronze Age never gave us a Time Travel epic where the Squadron Supreme fought the Imperial Guard! I guess they didn't want to tweak DC(and DC's lawyers!) too much.

Wasn't there a JLA story shortly after that where they fought villains who were similar to Thor and other Avengers?

dbutler16 said...

J.A. Morris, it was YEARS before I realized that the Squardon Sinister were JLA doppelgangers!

I might choose Adams second only to George Perez. Adams was better at drawing faces, but Perez show such tremendous detail, and his group shots, with a large cast of characters, are amazing.

Yes, there was a JLA issue where the JLA fought foes with Avengers-like powers. In JLA #75, the JLA fought evil counterparts of themselves. Batman throws a garbage can lid (like Captain America's shield) and evil Hawkman calls himself a "Man of iron". Apparently, Denny O'Neil and Roy Thomas were chatting about the idea of having their respective teams appear in each other's books in some fashion. Apparently, Marvel must have given more creative control than DC at that time (one reason they were to far ahead of DC) and Roy got to create new characters, whereas Denny had to settle for some lame references.

Dougie said...

Having only caught up with The Wiching Hour, House of Secrets and House of Mystery in the DC Showcase reprints, I've also wondered why Marvel's versions just didn't catch on. After Chamber of Darkness and Tower of Shadows, there were Supernatural Thrillers and Crypt of Shadows; not forgetting the Kitby/Ditko reprints Monsters on the Prowl, Fear, etc. Why did the anthology format work for DC for so long but not for Marvel?
By the way, I'm also a fan of masked Dr. Strange.I recently read the theory that he's based on the Golden Age Vision.

david_b said...

1969 was an interesting year to me. Not much more than carrying from previous years, but the Thor/Galactus issues were another set of vintage comics I was collecting. Being a big fan of awesome covers, those Thor issues had some spectacular and dramatic cover art, much more than say Ironman or other Marvel mainstays. Not to disclude DC, the Adams Superboy covers are also VERY bold, with vibrant covers and compelling flavor.

Adams has been a favorite, but it depends on the book. His jaunt on Avengers never jelled with me (he also could never draw Ben Grimm well, but that's a toughie for anyone..). To be fair, it's more so the Kirby's, Romita's, and Buscema's of Marvel strongly setting the tone of 'how Marvel characters should look', more than any hit against Adams. I did like him on X-Men and nearly every DC character.

As for the Distinquished Competition, they had the heavier burden of re-establishing credibility and keep readership up after the Batman series left, providing a huge cash cow for the previous 3 years.., basically both a blessing and a liability for serious readership. Gratefully, DC allowed Denny and Neal to move forward with the GL/GA re-focus, despite the heavy-handed preachiness. This also unfortunately permeated into the few JLA comics I had from '69 whining about larger-scale world polution, over-population, more vintage guilt trips. Enough already.

Nick Cardy's still my DC artist of choice for Silver/Bronze ~ LOVE his TT #22 cover (probably the best vintage Titans cover ever..), and really enjoyed him on Aquaman until Aparo took over. Honorable mention also goes to his covers for TT #24 and 28.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Like J.A., I first read these stories in the Marvel Super Action reprint series od the early 80s. They were some of the first comics I ever bought on my own and they really hooked me: Some of Ropy thomas' best story-telling and great art from John Buscema, GHene Colan and Barry Windsor-Smith.

It also took me years before I grasped that the Squadron Sinister were JLA spoofs. In fact, I don't think I made the connection until the Marl Geunwald mini-series of the mid-eighties!

Regarding the X-Men and Neal Adams, I recently bought a collection of those stories and was kind of disappointed. The art is great, but Roy's stories just weren't as good as his Avengers stuff. I think the basic problem is that the original X-Men just aren't as exciting of a team, no matter who is doing them.

Dougie said...

I read the Doomsters/pollution issue of JLA as a little kid. It was my introduction to both Black Canary and the Adams version of GA. It's the Western version of the Vigilante who, very oddly, seemed to be positioned as a momentous guest star. Anyone know why? Did DC have plans to revive the character in a Seventies context? I know Vig featured in Adventure in the early 70s- were those stories in a contemporary setting?

William said...

It's like I posted on the first segment of "Side-by-Side in the 1960's"...

Marvel wins the whole decade, hands down! Nuff said.

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