Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1978

Doug: We're downhill on our examination of the 16 years that, at least in some circles, comprise the Bronze Age of comics. The past few years have been high-water marks for many of our readers, as it seems like we've hit a run of 3-4 years when people are really taken back to those first few years of comics buying. The year 1978 saw the birth of the world's first "test tube" baby in the UK, and the ascension to the papacy of John Paul II. The Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, pleaded guilty to six murders, and the Camp David Accords were signed between Egypt and Israel. The mass suicide in Guyana at the direction of the reverend Jim Jones occurred. The comic strip Garfield debuted, and the Sony Walkman debuted. And at the theaters, we believed a man could fly; other major pictures included Grease, The Deer Hunter, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Halloween (egad, was that a fright fest!!).

Doug: National Periodical Publications kicked off the first quarter with
GL/GA #100 which introduced the new Air Wave. Had that one -- and I know just where I bought it! One of my faves (you wouldn't know it from reading my reviews!) was canceled but went out in style when Teen Titans #53 ended the book's revival. Steve Englehart's and Marshall Rogers' Joker Fish story was in Detective Comics #'s 475-476. Maybe the biggest going-on to come out of DC was the introduction of Firestorm the Nuclear Man in the eponymous #1, cover-dated March. As I said in a previous Open Forum, this is a character that's done nothing for me over the years. Maybe I just don't get it. Same thing for Steel, who also debuted that month in Steel #1. The Don Heck art alone would have kept me away from that one! But All New Collectors' Edition C-55 did get my hard-earned $2.00, as it was a treasury-sized dose of the Legion of Super-Heroes and featured the wedding of Lightning Lad to Saturn Girl. Great story! And they weren't done yet, as the Superman vs. Muhammad Ali treasury (All New Collectors' Edition C-56) shipped in March as well. Man, was March 1978 DC's best month in a long time, or what?

Karen: I remember that DC biggie well! I think the Legion one was the only treasury-sized book I had from DC.

Doug: However, the House of Ideas was in no way caught napping! Wendell Vaughn debuted in the pages of Captain America and the Falcon #217 by Roy Thomas, Don Glut, and John Buscema --Vaughn would of course later become known as Quasar. Also in January, Captain Britain made his American debut in Marvel Team-Up #65 (which also introduced the villain Arcade). Jim Shooter and George Perez kicked off the "Korvac Saga" in Avengers #167, one of the classic storylines involving Earth's Mightiest Heroes (EDIT: Jim Shooter has recently entered the blogosphere -- see the link on the sidebar. Interestingly, a recent post discusses how the Marvel Method led to the now-decades old personification of Hank Pym as a wife-beater). In February Weapon Alpha, James Hudson, showed up in X-Men #109 to bring Wolverine back to Canada. He failed.

Karen: I believe I had all those Marvel titles you just mentioned. For some reason, I really wanted to see more of Captain Britain after this team-up, but I don't think I ever paid much attention to Excalibur.

Doug: The Captain's costume pictured at right is, in my opinion, far superior to his later duds. I especially like the mask.

Doug: As spring sprung, Showcase turned 100 -- issues, that is. Many of our readers have implored your favorite reviewers to give this one a whirl. Trouble is, neither of us own it! That ish was cover-dated May, and featured somewhat of a prelude to Crisis on Infinite Earths as writers Paul Levitz and Paul Kupperberg and artist Joe Staton combined the powers of five dozen heroes to combat an intergalactic menace that threatened to pull the Earth from its orbit, and in the process disrupted the time stream.
At Marvel, the month of April showcased four major events: Jack Kirby put another two #1's on the shelves with Devil Dinosaur #1 and Machine Man #1, the debut of Spider-Woman #1 by Marv Wolfman and Carmine Infantino, and Luke Cage shared billing with his new partner in Power Man and Iron Fist #50.

Karen: I recall at the time thinking that the pairing of Luke Cage and Iron Fist was just crazy; it reeked of desperation. Yet 30 years later, they're still hanging out together -and both Avengers (although who isn't an Avenger now?).

Doug: DC's summer saw Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes begin the Earthwar in SLOSH #241 in July. The next month Superman began his monthly team-up series in DC Comics Presents #1. And perhaps one of the most well-known (though rarely seen) collectibles was "published" in the summer months, as DC's editors decided to make available many of the stories lost during the so-called DC Implosion -- but only to DC personnel. This was in two volumes of Cancelled Comic Cavalcade, which carried a price tag of 10c, even though it was never sold. On the frontispiece to this chapter of the DC Comics Year By Year, the author writes that in spite of the December release of Superman: The Movie DC dropped 31 titles. Blame was tossed toward the recession, increasing printer costs, and spotty distribution due to blizzards on the East Coast. Maybe... but how about the fact that Marvel was kicking the snot out of DC for shelf space?

Karen: Earthwar was one of my favorite Legion stories -I prefer it to Great Darkness actually. Jim Sherman did a fine job as Legion artist but seems to be forgotten by many. I'd love to get my hands on a copy of Canceled Comic Cavalcade; I keep reading things about it. I wasn't that aware of the DC Implosion at the time as I was still mainly a Marvel reader, but it was obviously a very painful period for the company. On the other hand, we did get Superman:the Movie, which I think is still one of the best super-hero films.

Doug: Marvel's summer of comics love included the introduction of Mystique in a story that ran through Ms. Marvel #'s 16-18, and the renaming of the Rampaging Hulk black-and-white magazine to simply The Hulk! as it attempted to tie-in more closely to the television show.

Doug: As for DC, the
DC Comics Year By Year does not have any entries for September-December. I guess that's because everything was canceled! But Marvel gave fans a costume revamp for Ms. Marvel by noted costume revamper Dave Cockrum in Ms. Marvel #20. The "Korvac Saga" ended in Avengers #177, and David Michelinie and Bob Layton began their classic collaboration in Iron Man #116. In December Marvel's first graphic novel, by none other than Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, hit the shelves and was entitled The Silver Surfer. Incidentally, 1978 was another watershed year at Marvel personnel-wise, as Kirby departed for the last time to enter the animation field. This perhaps also coincided with the ascension of Jim Shooter to the position of Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics.

Karen: I'm shocked by how many times the DC book has nothing to say for a given time period. There can't have been nothing happening. Seems like laziness to me. I was glad to see Ms. Marvel's costume change. The black outfit is much better than her Capt. Marvel-lite version.


dbutler16 said...

First of all, that treasury-sized Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes brings back such memories! The LOSH was probably my favorite comic at that time, and I had that issue, as well as the C-49 issue. Sadly, both have gone AWOL.
In reading this, 1978 might be my favorite year in this series so far. The Korvac Saga is my all time favorite Avengers story, and Earthwar is a very close second to me in the Legion tales, just barely behind the Great Darkness Saga. I hadn't discovered the X-Men yet, but they seem to be really hitting their stride by now. You've also got Machine Man #1. MM is one of those characters I'd never paid much attention to, but in re-reading my old Avengers last year, he made a guest appearance and I realized "hey, this is a really good character." Finally, I agree with Doug on Captain Britain's costume. His old costume seems more inventive to me, with the British lion on the chest. The new one is a bit over the top, sort of like he's just wearing a British flag.

HannibalCat said...

Some real Marvel gems in this period - loved seeing Captain Britain entering mainstream American Marvel and the Korvac saga was great; but didn't George Perez leave before it was finished? Was it Dave Wenzel who took over at short notice? I also loved the Superman/Ali treasury; Neal Adams' art was awe inspiring! As was Byrne and Austin's X-Men. And yes, I also prefer Captain Britain's original costume, although the extendable pole gadget he started out with seemed like a "what can we give him that isn't Captain America's shield?" half arsed idea. Anyone know whatever happened to Cap B's Fred Kida?

david_b said...

Not much for me this year, out of comic collecting, per se..

But while I initially shunned 'Galactica' on TV, once they started adding depth with secondary characters (like Anne Lockhart) after the first half-dozen 'Star-Wars-each-week' stories, I started enjoying it much more and was sad when they cancelled it.

And.., yes, I even 'believed a man could fly'..

Other minor noteables: Eric Idle and Lorne Michaels snuck a whiff of 'Rutlemania' on the world, WKRP and Taxi premiered and Marvel did the 'Beatles' on one of their nice Special Editions.

dbutler16 said...

HannibalCat, yes, Perez left before the Korvac Saga was over. He did four issues, Sal Buscema did two issues (not including #169, a fill-in issue) and Dave Wenzel did the last four issues. For my money, Perez is the best ever, but I think that Buscema and Wenzel did a very good job (especially Wenzel, especially in #177) plus Palo Marcos inked every issue, which probably helped to give the series some consistency.

Edo Bosnar said...

Man, I'm almost tempted to send one of you guys my battered copy of Showcase 100 just so you can review it; your comparison to CoIE is pertinent. In retrospect, the former does seem like a single-issue trial run for the latter, albeit much more fun.
Interesting, I recall that it was in 1978 (or maybe late 77) that my comics-reading interests started branching out, and I went through an Archie and Disney phase that lasted for about 2 years. It actually meant I cut back on super-hero comics, so I missed a lot of the stuff you mentioned here, like most of the Korvac saga and that SLOSH story, and had to play catch-up later.

William said...

Yes, this has got to be my favorite year of this series so far. 1978 is the year that John Byrne really started making his presence known in the Marvel U. His legendary stint on the X-Men was really starting to pick up steam. I also think that his run, along with Chris Claremont, on Team-Up produced some of most fun, exciting and best comics ever. They did some incredible work on that series - and the two Cap. Britain issues are a couple of my all time faves. I also agree with Doug that Capn' B's original duds were far superior to his later design. Loved the mask, the lion, the wristbands and the decision to give him both red pants and boots. (I always thought that was kinda cool). It should be noted that those 2 issues also introduced the theme park loving assassin, Arcade. (One of those whacky old school villains that I've always had a soft spot for). Byrne and Claremont must have liked him too, as they brought him back a couple of months later to menace the X-Men.

I am also a big fan of the Avengers: Korvac Saga. The final issue of that story totally blew my little mind at the time. The only downside was that Perez didn't draw that issue. Oh well, you can't have everything.

Redartz said...

Add my voice to the chorus lauding Showcase 100. The issue was a lot of fun, and trying to identify all the brief cameos was a challenge. They even snuck Sugar and Spike into the mix.
Speaking of fun, Marvel Team-Up 74 paired Spiderman with the Not-Ready For Primetime Players! This was another opportunity to pick out guest stars, including Stan Lee himself.
One other highlight of 1978 was Will Eisner's "A Contract With God". This was the first graphic novel I ever read, and it was (and still is ) powerful stuff. A good year indeed...

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the store that carried comics in my town decided to stop carrying them in early 78 and the nearest place for me to buy them was 30 miles away, which might as well have been 300 miles away back then. I did get the Lee/Kirby SLiver Surfer graphic novel though. I don't see much written about it, but I enjoyed it.


Dougie said...

I'm in complete agreement about Firestorm: never cared for him, even in JLA. Like Steel, he seemed like an import from the Marvel Universe. I also think Captain Britain's original costume is superior.
My first Byrne issue of the X-Men was the Weapon Alpha one and I loved the art. Due to the haphazard distribution of comics in my area, it was the first issue I'd read since 100 and because it was bimonthly, that had been a year and a half earlier!
The best thing about the SLSH issues around the Earthwar was the text pages. I was tantalised by all the characters I'd never seen: White Witch, The Hag, Ornitho, Mr. Mxyzptlk of the Adult Legion. I spent the next five years tracking down old issues of Adventure.

Anonymous said...

I’m not sure I have such happy memories of 1978 as the general consensus here.

I had every issue of Captain Britain in my youth (and you know what that means...i.e. I still have them in the attic). Given that Claremont created & wrote him, it should have been better than it was, but I think he left pretty quickly.

I remember Captain America being very disappointing at this time. There was loads going on (the search for his forgotten past, disappearance of the Falcon, SHIELD & the Avengers cameo-ing, yet another big mysterious outfit of super baddies behind the scenes) but none of it was handled with any focus or consistency. Oh my Englehart. Oh my Kirby, come to that. Even Madbomb was a masterpiece compared to what came after.

Great stuff like the Champions & Tomb of Dracula was ending, to be replaced with franchise stuff like Star Wars, Godzilla, Tarzan, Man from Atlantis and the Human Fly (was he a franchise? Actually, who cares?). The Invaders was badly drawn. Marvel Premiere, after long but superb stints of Doc Strange & Iron Fist, was finally doing what it was supposed to do and premiering new characters...and it was NOT the better for it! Claremont/Byrne’s Iron Fist was cancelled and, as you say Karen, he was put with his natural soul mate, Luke Cage. Next month: Galactus and Millie the Model. Defenders started what was to be a 10 year decline into (expedient) death. Captain Marvel was on the way out. Daredevil was in pre-Miller malaise...bloody Hell, I’m depressing MYSELF now.

Admittedly the Avengers & X men were having high points; I think FF was pretty good then too, and Team up was Claremont & Byrne.


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