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.