Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1976


Doug: It's 1976, America's Bicentennial birthday -- celebrating the Declaration of Independence that was signed on July 4, 1776. It was a big year in the music industry, as the Ramones released their first album. But some other fellas in Dublin got a little act together and called it "U2". I seem to have heard of them... A platter by the name of Hotel California was released by the California band The Eagles -- loved that disc! And in politics and business, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer, Inc. and the first commercial flight of the Concorde took off. At the movies, it was quite a year: Rocky, Taxi Driver, and All the President's Men... wow! The Olympic Summer Games were held in Montreal and featured stars Bruce Jenner and Nadia Comaneci, and at DC Comics, former children's publisher Jeanette Kahn replaced Carmine Infantino. But what of our four-color fun?

Doug: I'll go on record right away and say that as much as I bashed DC for a ho-hum 1975, this year looks to be a bit more fun (and lasting). Starting off the first quarter was yet another #1 issue (man, did any of these really last? I think not...), Man-Bat by Gerry Conway and Steve Ditko. And no, this one didn't last past its second issue -- too bad the mini-series hadn't been invented yet. Lady Shiva was introduced in Richard Dragon Kung-fu Fighter #5. Yeah, so? February and March were better, though. One of my favorite series as a kid began in the pages of the revived All-Star Comics #58, with the debut of the Super Squad: Star-Spangled Kid, Robin, and Power Girl. Set on Earth-2, this was somewhat of a precursor to Infinity, Inc. The first issue was brought to you by Conway and Ric Estrada. The Warlord #1 hit, by creator Mike Grell, and in March Wonder Woman rejoined the JLA in issue #128 after having been reinstated in Wonder Woman #222.

Karen: All-Star and Warlord make this a pretty decent quarter for DC. Warlord is one of those books I never read as a kid, but might have to go back and check out now, as I've heard good things about it.

Doug: Me, too, on Warlord. I would think that I would like it -- just have to pull the trigger sometime.

Doug: Marvel's first quarter looked like this --
Howard the Duck #1 by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerick waddled into our world. I've said before that I was never interested in Howard when I was a youth, but so many of our commenters have recommended it that I'm about to break down and give it a try. In the pages of The Avengers #144 Patsy Walker became the Hellcat, and the Guardians of the Galaxy got their own series beginning in Marvel Presents #3. Bullseye made his bow in Daredevil #131 -- who knew then what an important character he'd become in the hands of Frank Miller a few years later? Omega the Unknown #1 was cover-dated March, but the biggest news of the first part of '76 was certainly the return of the King, as Jack Kirby took over the writing and artwork on his most well-known creation, Captain America in CA and the Falcon #194.

Karen: I was so disappointed when Kirby came on Cap. We'd had such intelligent stories and character development under Englehart, and then suddenly we got a Cap who was perpetually screaming at us, in a bunch of nonsensical stories. Of the two Gerber books above, I preferred the Guardians. Just as weird as Howard, but it was superheroes in outer space -always a great combination.

Doug: The spring brought more great fun from DC, and some treasured kidhood memories! In April, DC and Marvel collaborated to release Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man, by Conway (jeez, this dude wrote everything for DC!), Ross Andru, and company (see the link to read more about this -- other sources concerning the artists controversy are readily available on the web). The Legion's Karate Kid got his own mag in the same month, as did the Secret Society of Super-Villains in a fun magazine that showcased Captain Comet and Kid Flash (among other heroes) against a ragtag band of some of DC's fun super-baddies. The Secret Society was one DC mag I always tried to get my grubby little mitts on. At the House of Ideas, one of my favorite storylines was on the shelves as the Invaders were pitted against the Liberty Legion, some of Marvel's lesser-known heroes from World War II -- part 2 of the story was in Marvel Premiere #29. And in a "strange" sort of crossover, Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan told a 2-parter that had Dr. Strange and Count Dracula squaring off in Doctor Strange #14 and Tomb of Dracula #44.

Karen: Good stuff from both companies. I only had a couple of issues of Secret Society of Super-Villains, but always thought it was pretty cool -offbeat for DC. I'm looking forward to the TPB collection coming out later this year. As for Conway writing everything at DC, didn't he do the same thing when he was at Marvel? Seems like every other 70s comic I look at was written by him!

Doug: The summer months were pretty inconsequential story-wise at DC -- I'm sure something happened, but the only thing noted in my resource was that for the first time since 1947 Jerry Siegel's and Joe Shuster's names appeared as the creators of the Man of Steel. That is a big deal, and an issue that Marvel is currently in litigation with concerning the creations of Jack Kirby. Speaking again of the King, his most famous '70's creation at Marvel debuted in July with The Eternals #1. Also in the summer Jean Grey sacrificed her life (yeah, right...) to save the X-Men in X-Men #100. Kirby's treasury Captain America's Bicentennial Battles celebrated our nation's 200th birthday as Cap toured different eras of American history -- and by the way, in response to a comment Karen made above, this is the only Kirby 2nd wave of Cap that I owned.

Karen: As much as I disliked Kirby's return to Cap, I actually enjoyed The Eternals. It had all that great ancient astronauts stuff that was so prevalent in the early 70s.

Doug: The Eternals are a group I passed on back then. I am thinking, however, of giving them a try-out in the recently-released Thor tpbs that spotlight the epic that involved the Celestials. But as far as checking out the Kirby stuff -- I'm reluctant.

Doug: Autumn brought another first issue with the debut of
Ragman #1, by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert and the Redondos: Nestor, Frank, and Quico. After four years off the shelves, Green Lantern and Green Arrow returned in Green Lantern/Green Arrow #90 by Denny O'Neil and Mike Grell. This was my GL/GA, and Mike Grell was my guy as I was a bit too young when O'Neil and Adams were doing their thing. Over at Marvel, another of my fave books debuted with The Man Called Nova #1, by Wolfman and John Buscema. Loved that book, until Carmine Infantino took over the art chores. Wonder Man returned from the dead in The Avengers #151, beginning a storyline that would provide fireworks for the Vision and Scarlet Witch well into the 21st century. The main part of the story occurred in October in The Avengers #152 .

Karen: You know, I've never read any of those Grell GA/GLs- another title to add to my want list. I agree with you whole-heartedly on Nova -loved it 'til I couldn't take the art any more. And of course Nova was essentially Marv Wolfman's version of Spidey with a Green Lantern flavor!

Doug: Closing out the year, DC offered some television tie-ins in November with another couple of #1's -- Super Friends by E. Nelson Bridwell and Estrada and Welcome Back, Kotter by Elliot S! Maggin and Jack Sparling. And also in November, the Teen Titans headlined their own magazine once again after a 3-year hiatus in Teen Titans #44 by Paul Levitz, Bob Rozakis and Pablo Marcos. Marvel had a bunch of fun stuff on the shelves as we headed into 1977. Spidey teamed up with Nightcrawler against the Punisher in Amazing Spider-Man #'s 161-162, and the Tarantula struck again in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #1 (Spidey's fourth ongoing title, alongside ASM, Marvel Team-Up, and Spidey Super Stories), by Conway and Sal Buscema. The FF had to deal with the Impossible Man running amok in the Marvel Bullpen in Fantastic Four #176, and Howard the Duck ran for president of the United States beginning in Howard the Duck #7. If you say so...


HannibalCat said...

I agree that, at the time, Kirby's return to Captain America was a bit of a wrench stylistically, but rereading his stories now - in collection form - isolated from what had gone before him, I really enjoy them. As for '76, it saw the single best Captain America story ever produced - the Treasury Bicentennial Battles. Kirby's simple patriotism and humanism just shines through every panel and I love Barry Smith's inks on the first chapter.

david_b said...


Wow, nice review of the Bicentennial Battles. I've seen the cover of this Treasury Edition, but wasn't interested because I was (still am) a bit of a Buscema snob when it came to Cap (although the Smith and Colan ishs were done well, too). Based on your liking, I'll have to pick it up..

1976 was bit of a watershed year where I needed something to sustain my comic interest, but nothing seemed to avail. I did like the newly-installed Perez Avengers art, so I picked that up a bit, but with Kirby back I kiboshed my Cap collecting (this being in a small town without any vintage comic shops for hundreds of miles around..), and serious collecting as a whole until investing in vintage Silver Age comics 10yrs later in college.

I tried the restarted Titans for a dozen issues in '76 based on the success of their DC SuperStars ish that year, but the art was terrible after a spell.

Same with GL/GA coming back, since the DC had introduced GL as well with 'DC Special' issue in 1975. Mike Grell was alright at the start, but as in the Legion issues, tended to draw everyone the same way, same poses, etc..

Anonymous said...

As much as I am a Kirby fanboy, I was a little disappointed to see Kirby's return to Cap too. (After the fact, of course.)

Oddly enough, it was a much better year for DC after Kirby left. I wonder if his leaving shocked them into trying a wider variety of different things?

Edo Bosnar said...

Yeah, this is the stuff. I was still picking things out of the spinner racks pretty haphazardly at this point, but I had so many of the books you mentioned in this post that it's making me all misty with nostalgia.
One title I didn't read at the time, but did much later, was Kirby's Eternals. And I have to say, I understand Doug's reluctance about diving in: I found that series rather disappointing. The basic idea was really good, but Kirby's follow-through in terms of both story and art was really sub-par.

Kevin said...

What a wonderful year for comics for this 3rd grader at the time. Always was a DC guy (who read a few marvels here and there) and to have Grell on Legion and GL/GA, all the super villains in one mag and Wonder Woman join the JLA again made my fanboyish heart almost burst.

I remember reading the Kirby Caps during this time, and liking them OK. I hadn't yet read his earlier work on the title, so really had nothing to compare it to, except for his DC stuff, which I felt was better.

Wasn't this the year for the Underworld Olympics in Batman as well? Loved that storyline....

Love the blog, Karen and Doug! Thanks for the daily trip down memory lane!

Dougie said...

I'm bingeing on nostalgia too. In the autumn of 76,I was 13 and buying a comic a day from one of the two newsagents in the town where I went to school. Distribution was quite sporadic in the West of Scotland but I bought the first issues of Nova, Omega and the Eternals; and regularly picked up the Avengers, Defenders, Champions and Conan. I dipped in and out of Howard the Duck- but didn't really get it- and Iron Fist, MTU...even Skull the Slayer!
DC's books tended to be less demanding in terms of themes and imagery: All-Star and JLA, SLSH, SSOV, the occasional Teen Titans...
Today, my first-ever copy of the Superman/Spidey tabloid arrived from ebay; I'm saving it for the weekend and another Bronze Age nostalgia-fest!

david_b said...

I was just noticing the price increases as well.. Not sure how long they were 12 and 15 cents precisely, but I see they went from the newly-priced 25 cents to 30 pretty quickly that year.

Those precious nickels were starting to add up; luckily my new paper route was just taking off..

Redartz said...

Ah, the summer of 1976; taking driver's ed and anticipating my license! Meanwhile, I was pleased that Marvel reintroduced the summr Annuals. I most enjoyed the Fantastic Four annual that teamed them with the Invaders, sporting a pretty striking Kirby cover!

Inkstained Wretch said...

1976 was a good year all-around for comics.

Kirby's Cap -- remember this was his third stint with the character -- appeared to be on a different planet from pretty much everything else being published at Marvel before or since. But I love the exaggerated art and the sheer craziness of it. In retrospect it was a last hurrah for Kirby.

As for Howard the Duck, the early issues are fun (though Gerber's writing got awfully self-indulgent later on). It must have been a real revelation at the time to see a funny animal character who was not warm and cuddily but a cussing, cigar-chomping misanthrope. Nobody had done that outside of underground comic artists like Robert Crumb. And yet Howard was right there on the spinner racks! It's a pity we're all so jaded now that we cannot see it as it must have appeared at the time.

As for DC, the Mike Grell art on GL/GA is excellent, as are the stories. It's an underappreciated run.

The Flash was good fun around this time too.

I also have the entire run of the revived All-Star Comics. I think I picked them up in the quarter bins. It was a fun read though the art and stories could be iffy at times -- a combination of youngsters like Keith Giffen and and old hands like Wally Wood who seemed not quite sure what they were supposed to do.

Fred W. Hill said...

I remember getting that first issue of Nova while my family was traveling across the country from California to Texas (for a cousin's wedding) -- we stopped at a diner to eat and spotting the comics rack in there I managed to get my dad to buy some comics, including Nova #1. I can't remember what else I got that day -- I think Avengers #150, and maybe even the first issue of Peter Parker. Those particular number 1's had a distinct nostalgic appeal to them. I also got the initial Guardians of the Galaxy ish, but missed the first few issues of Omega and Howard. Finally, I did pick up Howard's 4th issue and I loved it. I even got my mom to read it and she loved it too (and she hadn't read comics since she was a kid!). I didn't even mind when Gerber went a bit over the top -- I just dug his sense of absurdity and outrage at the ridiculous aspects of our culture. Omega struck me as strange but intriguing but what most got my attention was the controversy in the letters pages prompted by some blue-nosed group that was outraged by Gerber's depiction of a violent Hell's Kitchen high school. Ultimately, I was sorry the series ended as abrubtly as it did.
As for Kirby, I was lukewarm on his return to Captain America like many others here, although I did collect his entire run. The Eternals was better but didn't really excite me.
1976 was also the year my family moved from San Francisco to a small town called Lemoore, between Fresno & Bakersfield, where I began high school. I was horribly introverted in those days, and delving into Marvel comics was admittedly part of my retreat from a world I found too aggravating. Perhaps much of what appealed to me about Gerber's writing was that although it was still fantasy, it was also strongly-tinged with real world frustrations and anxieties which I could relate to. And my problem with Kirby's writing was likely that his characterizations struck me as too unreal, too beyond what I could relate to even in my imagination.

Daniel Graves said...

I agree about the GL/GA series. This was when I began reading comics and I remember several issues of that run with fondness. It would be great if you guys could do a post (or series) on that run. I've always hoped it would be collected, but it hasn't been. I did go back and pick up some fairly inexpensive back issues a few years ago.

It would also be great to see you do an entry on the Secret Society of Super Villains. I'm looking forward to the reprint (with trepidation). It probably really wasn't that good, but as a kid, what a thrill to have a series devoted to a whole bunch of villains, and I think I was also introduced to several 4th world characters there, as well as Captain Comet and the very odd Funky Flashman.

Finally, I would also love to see an entry on the "Joker" series of the 70's. I tracked down all the back issues as a kid and loved them. I think Novick did the art on many of them (He was one of my favourite 70's Batman artists, sort of Batman's Curt Swan, I always felt). I think maybe Aparo did some of the covers, but I may be wrong about that.

Fr. Dan Graves

Doug said...

Father Dan --

I'll pessimistically say "no luck" on the GL/GA and Joker series. I know that I no longer have my GL/GA stuff, and I never did have any of the Joker series. Take that back -- I believe I have a Joker/Creeper story in The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told hardcover. Maybe I'll get to that sometime.

However, if I can speak for my partner-in-review, you can count on some Secret Society stuff toward the end of 2011 after the tpb/hardcover (can anyone confirm? I've heard both) comes out. I, too, loved that series, and like you hope that it will still have some luster on it 35 years later!

Thanks for stopping by today,


david_b said...

The Joker series is one I've been wanting to hunt down.. I saw those issues back on the stands and didn't pick'em up, instead heading to the FF or Spidey. I'm anxious to start collecting them.

Doug/Daniel: I know we've covered some of the 'Traveling Trio' GL/GA O'Neil/Adams series on this blog (and 'More is Coming', per the left side announcements). Daniel, are you referring to the '76 restart..?

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