Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Would You Rather...? Great Bronze Age Runs

Doug: Here's a poser for you, spinning out of last weekend's conversation on our buying zeniths. In terms of greatness, readability, sustainability, influence, and yada yada yada, would you rather go to the first 50 (I use that term somewhat loosely) issues of the All-New, All-Different X-Men, or the Avengers encompassing the "Kree/Skrull War" through the "Celestial Madonna"? I don't know about you, but that's a tough choice for me.

I'm going to have to lean toward the X-Men on the greatness of the art alone. And then there was the awesomeness from issues 97-104 as classic baddies like the Sentinels, the Juggernaut, and Magneto rose up to attack our new band of mutants.

Of course, on the other side there's Neal Adams. And the bi-weekly "Avengers/Defenders War". And Englehart's time/space opera that ran from Avengers #129-135 and included three Giant-Size issues. Can I reconsider?

For our purposes, your "50"-issue runs are:

Giant-Size X-Men #1
X-Men #s 94-143
X-Men Annual #3

#s 89-135
Giant-Size Avengers #s 2-4


Edo Bosnar said...

Yep, that's a doozy of a choice, Doug, and, I suspect, the responses will probably split down the line between those who had their personal golden age in the earlier '70s and in the later '70s/early '80s.
And, as someone who belongs to the latter category, my answer is X-men, because I started reading the title right in the thick of the Claremont/Byrne/Austin run (issue #120), at the perfect age (11) to just have my socks knocked off by it. Trying to be objective, I think the initial 50 or so issues of the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne/Austin X-men is just one of the finest runs of superhero comics ever.
Still, even given all of that, it's a tough choice, because that run of Avengers was quite excellent as well - Thomas and then Englehart were really firing on all cylinders in the writing department, and some fantastic artists also passed through (Adams, obviously, but also both Buscemas, Barry W. Smith, Cockrum...).

Anonymous said...

X-Men if only for the Hellfire Club/Dark Phoenix saga which had me gripped.

Anonymous said...

And, just like Edo, my first issue of Uncanny X-Men was #120 - but Marvel UK's Rampage magazine had featured the All New, All Different X-Men for several months previously (starting at the beginning obviously).

Redartz said...

A tough choice, but I'm with Edo and Colin- have to go with the X-Men. That X-Men run was so good, so consistently good, it's hard to pick a better run. Of course, part of that may be (as has been noted) my personal time frame. I missed much of that Avengers run, only reading them as back issues much after the fact. Excellent run as well, with several classic, favorite stories. And actually, I'd say a case could be made for Avengers as a 50-issue run for the next 50 issues: say 137 (when Beast enters) to about 186. I'd rank that run as equal to the preceding run; you got Englehart, Shooter, Micheline, Perez, and Byrne. That run (running right through those peak years, and a must-buy every month) might give me further consternation in trying to choose over the X-Men...

Doug said...

My love of those Avengers stories is for the most part retroactive. I had a decent collection of here-and-theres: 111, 119-123, 130-131, 133, G-S 2-3, and then I didn't hit a run until #140. On the X-Men side, I had 95-96, and then 100-on. So I came to the X-Men first hand.

I agree with Edo and others: The first 50 or so issues of that All-New X-Men run are among the finest collection of comics produced in the 1970s-80s.

Redartz, you make a great point. I can agree with you that we can stretch that Avengers run to 100 issues. Personally, I could not say the same thing about the X-Men, as I felt the quality fell off after Byrne left. Most readers agree that Cockrum's second run as penciler is not nearly as lauded as was his first.


Anonymous said...

What a great question Doug. I have thoughts. But I also have meetings all day. Groan. I'll be back.


david_b said...

Doug, you put a '1' in front of Avengers '89' so it made me take a 2nd glance at the numbering, but I know what you meant.

Not into X-Men, so will stick with Avengers.. this run was a bit uneven over that course of those issues, but the highlights MADE my childhood soooo memorable. I really liked Bob Brown's tenure on the book as much if not more than even Big John and Sal. And with an occasional visit from Barry Smith around 99 and 100..? It helped balance out Don Heck's issues, now starting to be hard to look at.

Doug said...

Jeez, David... thank you, thank you, thank you! Just goes to show that proofreading itself is not enough. Cannot tell you how many times I looked at that and never saw the 1. It's been corrected. I appreciate your eagle eyes!

You raise a great point about the stinkers in the midst of the good stuff. X-Men had that, too, particularly before the second Magneto tussle. There were a few one-offs sprinkled into the greatness. Those are certainly less memorable.


Martinex1 said...

I have to go with X-Men as well. Just a tremendous and classic run. I'd be hard pressed to think of any run that would truly compete with that series of X-Men comics as it might be my overall #1 of all time. And that's coming from a lifelong Avengers fan. The Avengers are great but they do have a lot of sporadic misses along the way.

To echo what Doug said above, I was one of those that that thought the X-Men fell off horribly when Byrne left. I actually signed up for a mail in subscription back then and my first delivered issue was 141...awesome! But a couple issues later I was really scratching my head. To me Cockrum's second run was not very good and the rhythm that Byrne and Claremont had worked out was gone. It may have just been a normal decline after such impactful stories like Proteus, Hellfire Club, Dark Phoenix, and Future Past, but in retrospect Byrne must have really contributed a lot to that success.

Doug said...

In regard to the best runs ever, I was really hard-pressed to come up with another title within our parameters to rival that X-Men run. Amazing Spider-Man? It seemed like the Gwen/Green Goblin issues and maybe the original clone saga (sorry, David) were surrounded by much more pedestrian fare. The FF? Forget it. And while there's a lot of enjoyment to be had from Bronze Age Marvel (and DC), nothing stood out to me when pitted against the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne/Austin X-Men.

I'd even say that had Avengers been missing one of their big arcs (like, for example, if the A/D War had happened only in Defenders), then the Avengers book would have been tough to compare to the X-Men.


Doug said...

All that being said, stop by Rip's Rip Jagger's Dojo where he's had a nice series of reviews on Kang the Conqueror, including the Celestial Madonna and Avengers Forever -- two of my all-time favorite storylines. I told Rip he has me really wanting to find time to pull the CM trade off my shelf and give it what would be my 5th look.


J.A. Morris said...

I'm going with X-men. I was a little sick of the X-men, with all their overexposure the last 25 years. But I recently re-read the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne/Austin era stories and they still hold up very well...except for the stupid "The X-Men are dead" stuff.

Logan said...

Tough choice because I've read both of these runs so many times. That X-Men run is one of the best in comics history and the Byrne/Austin art is almost as pretty as the Cindy Crawford Pepsi commercial and it still holds up really well today. But Avengers 89-197 is my own personal "if I were trapped on a desert island with one short comic box" run so I gotta go with Avengers.

JJ said...

Those X-Men issues remain the gold standard of superhero comics for me. Even now I have a framed, enlarged print of X-Men #100 hanging above my desk! One of the things I love about that run is the sheer variety of adventures they stumbled into. The series took place all over the world. I loved how they went from Scotland to Antartica to Japan to Canada to Chicago to New York and then finally the Blue Area of the Moon. So much fun. It was a whirlwind.

It's sad to consider how sharply the book dropped off once Byrne left. I thought Cockrum's art was still very good during that period (it looks even better in the B&W Essential volumes), but without Byrne co-plotting the story quality really took a hit. I don't think the title ever truly recovered. Still, that's when I came onboard (X-Men #150) and at the very least it made me a passionate Dave Cockrum fan.

dbutler16 said...

Tough call, but I have to go with the X-Men Great art, lots of great stories, with really, no mediocre issues. That whole run is pretty great, with the exception of maybe two issues, one of which was a dreaded fill-in. Plus, the consistency of having the same creative team for most of that run helps. Yes, the quality dropped after Bryne left, but that's not germane to this discussion.

Yes, this is a great Avengers run too (Kree/Skrull, Avengers-Defenders, Celestial Madonna), and, to be honest, the fact that the Avengers run is before my time, and I had to collect it in back issues, whereas I was able to buy about half of that X-Men run off the rack may play a role in influencing my decision.

Karen said...

Doug, I think you posted this specifically to torture me. You've chosen the two runs that are the most meaningful, most formative, to me and there is no possible way I can choose between them! I feel torn apart -like Captain Kirk when he had that transporter accident and he was turned into two halves that couldn't live apart. Well, maybe not a great analogy, since one was his 'evil' side, and went up and down the Enterprise corridors, with a bottle of Saurian brandy in hand, assaulting crewmen. But you know what I mean.

That period of Avengers was what turned me into a comic maniac. The Kree-Skrull War was what I was reading when I first really started reading comics, and it shaped my whole outlook on what comics could and should be. When the Englehart years followed, they continued the excitement, with the amazing Avengers/Defenders War, the deepening of the Vision/Scarlet Witch relationship, the tale of the sad but noble Swordsman, the mind-blowing Celestial Madonna saga -it was never a dull moment. Those Giant-Size issues were pure joy -and I say this, even with Don Heck art in issue 4!

But the all-new, all-different X-men -they hit me right at that edge of pre-teen/teenager changes, and boy did they strike a chord. I can still recall exactly when I got Giant-Size X-Men 1 and the feeling of curiosity and excitement it brought. Then to immediately be hit with the death of Thunderbird -that was shrewd! I hated it at the time, but it made me feel more invested in this team. They were vulnerable. Claremont/Cockrum and later C/B/A were firing on all cylinders. The interpersonal stories were every bit as important as the sweeping epics they were telling. I simply couldn't wait for each issue to come out.

I keep rolling it around in my head, but I can't do it; there's simply no way I can choose -I love them both.

Anonymous said...

I'd probably go with X-Men, for the simple fact that I haven't actually read all those issues, whereas I have read all the Avengers issues you mentioned.

Mike Wilson

Anonymous said...

These two runs are pretty much the bookends of my period of interest in comics. If I had to pick just one (I'm with Karen here - "torture"), it would probably be the all new, all different X-Men. For the last 20 or so issues of the X-Men run defined here, X-Men was the only comic I was buying on a regular basis. Nothing else was holding my interest and it wasn't even close. It wasn't much after this run that I was out of comics altogether.

But that Avengers run is a close 2nd. Maybe even 1A. A deciding factor in my vote is that during the early to mid 70s, that wasn't the only book that I thought was hitting on all (or maybe most) cylinders. I loved Spidey from Gwen death to Gwen clone. Cap - Secret Empire/Nomad. Thor, Hulk, FF and others had some good stories too. But, the Avengers may have been the best of this bunch. I missed the Kree-Skrull War in first run but...Avengers/Defenders on through Vision/Scarlet Witch/Mantis/Swordsman quadrangle(?) up to Celestial Madonna...Wow! Yes!


Anonymous said...

X men had an unfair advantage as it was bi monthly for the first 3 years so they had twice as much time…. and still ended up with a filler (106). Imagine if Roy had had the option of chucking a filler in for Avengers 97 while he waited for Neal Adams to deliver his amazing future-Skrull-world-history version of the end of the KS war. We’d have hated it at the time, but we’d be pretty happy now.

Avengers: I love the feeling of a giant, but seamless and continuous, storyline at this time: the KS war featuring Adams, those wonderful Barry Smith Olympus issues, Wanda becoming a real witch in 104 &128, the X men crossover – admittedly Don Heck’s art was very stick-like but the writing was good, the Swordsman’s return (which sneaks Mantis in under the radar), the Defenders war, the first Thanos crossover, Celestial Madonna, Kang / Immortus, and that whole Legion of the Unliving thing which is a test drive for Wonder Man’s return all beautifully sync’d up with developing subplots like the Wanda-Vision-Hawkeye love triangle (followed by the Wanda-Vision-Mantis-Swordsman rectangle !).

It also has the longest continuous subplot I can remember (with the Vision). Remember that Hank Pym sees the first clue in #93, but we don’t find out to what. Then the Grim Reaper reveals that the Vision’s mind is that of Wonder Man in #102, 107, 108 but paradoxically in 103 a Sentinel reveals his age to be over 30 years which makes no sense. Then we meet both the original Torch and Wonder Man in limbo and the Torch further deepens the mystery before the Vision asks Immortus to send him through time for the answers, taking us back to before his creation by Ultron. That took about 4 years to play out. Imagine the selfie generation waiting that out !!!

While this run of Avengers has superb continuity of story and character development, Xmen has a big advantage in the total continuity of the C/B/A team, even down to Tom Orz and his neat, unique lettering. X men had a real sense of authorship rather than just continuousness and consistency. We all rave, and rightly, about Dark Phoenix, but for me the joy of the plotting there is that it builds practically from 101 to 137 as a subplot, twisting through multiple storylines in a continuous and richly textured build up, before taking over the main plot, and, well, you know the rest.

I can’t choose and you can’t make me !!!!


Martinex1 said...

Richard makes some great points about the lettering and coloring having an additional impact on the success of X-Men. I think Glynis Oliver's coloring is amongst the best ever. And as mentioned Tom O. was very experimental with his font and balloons. It was very impactful but also didn't intrude.

I have to say that if Byrne, Austin, Oliver, etc were teamed with Englehart in the Celestial Madonna era, that would have really been something spectacular to see on the Avengers.

The Prowler said...

I will say this about that, my first Avengers was 139, my first X-Men was 94.

If I had to pick, I would go with the X-Men! No, wait. Um, okay, the X-Men. Probably because I experienced it first hand.

But man, I really liked the Avengers. Especially being able to read the current issues and then, with Marvel Triple Action and Marvel Super Action, catch up on the history.

On the plus side, I've been able to scan all my X-Men and Avengers issues. That is to say, only The Uncanny X-Men and The Avengers. Not the X-Men or X-Force and X-Attack or X-Mutants, Galactic Storm, or Galactic Storm Revisted. And such.

Even as I type this, I scanning my Ghost run.

The struggle continues.......

(If you don't like what you see here
Nobody wants to take you prisoner
So let me make it nice and clear dear
The exit is right there
I don't mean to be rude dude
But you'd better change your attitude

I don't like what I see here

You're all invited to the party
You know you didn't have to come
No rotten apple gonna spoil my fun

If you don't like what you see here
Get the funk out
We won't try to force feed you
Get the funk out).

Anonymous said...

Ah, Prowler, our poet in residence! Well, my opinion is a lot like Redartz's - I'll have to go with our merry mutants and say the X-men, because that was the title I read. My Bronze Age experience leaned more towards the late 70s/early 80s 'cause that's the period that coincided with my transition from childhood into early adolescence (I was born in 1970).

The Claremont/Byrne/Austin creative team ranks among the best runs of any comic book era, and, yes, you could really see the drop in quality when Byrne left; the pacing was off, and Claremont seemed to become melancholy in his plotting.

- Mike 'still trying to figure out what my mutant power is' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Doug said...

What a great day! We heard from some relatively new friends, and lord have mercy -- Prowler emerged from mothballs! Or furballs. Nice to hear from Richard and Mike from T&T, as well as our "regulars". Now, once we put that APB out for Humanbelly the gang will be all together!

Fun conversation, and I really appreciated the emotion with which some of you wrote. It is a tough decision. But, because we live in the "golden age of reprints", we really don't have to choose.

Thanks again to all of you for your time and eloquence. It's greatly appreciated!


Edo Bosnar said...

Martinex makes a good point about the creative teams; it occurred to me as well that if the Avengers of that time had a more consistent art team, like if Adams had stuck around a lot longer, and was then replaced by, say, John Buscema or Barry Smith for the remainder of that run until the end of the Celestial Madonna story, the choice would be all that more difficult for everybody.

Martinex, funny, I also bought a subscription to X-men apparently just before you did - it was after I missed issue #130. But the subscription only kicked in with the momentous issue #137 (which I had already snapped up as soon as I saw it on the spinner racks, so I had two copies of that one). And then came issue #143, and that little announcement in the letters page that Byrne was leaving (together with Austin - why didn't he at least stick around?), and the bottom almost fell out of my comics-reading world. Needless to say, I did not renew that subscription (but kept on loyally reading X-men for quite some time afterward...)

William said...

Didn't get a chance to comment on this yesterday, but better late than never I suppose.

While I really love the Avengers, I have to go with X-Men on this one. The Byrne/Claremont years are still some of my favorite comics I ever read, (in both art and story).

Now, if you'd thrown Amazing Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four into the mix, it would have been a much tougher decision.

Anonymous said...

I only just discovered this website and am sorry it's discontinued. I have checked out the Back in the Bronze Age link and it's looking good.

It says above that you're still receiving comments here, and I just couldn't resist getting my thoughts down about this great topic!

As for the question, there's really no contest for me. X-Men is my all-time favourite series, and it's 95% due to this group of issues that includes the full Cockrum 1.0 and Byrne runs. This was and is a joyful collection of childhood memories.

However, I will say the comparison gets a little narrower if we measure by a different Avengers 50-issue run. Say, Avengers #147-196! The end of the Serpent Crown (Squadron Supreme!), the great first Shooter run (Ultron/Nefaria/Korvac...Perez!), a very fun Michelenie/Byrne run and topping off with the debut of Taskmaster!

Or I might shift those goalposts a bit to #153-202, losing those Squadron Supreme issues but getting Red Ronin plus one more cool Ultron story. And of course there's a whole lot of Beast and Wonder Man in these comics, as well.

Anyway, those years represent my Avengers "golden age". Still not as big an impact as the X-Men run, but great nonetheless.

Thanks for letting an old comics fan ramble.

All the best,
david p.

Doug said...

David --

Thanks for stopping by! Hey, the site's only dead if people stop commenting, so we thank you for keeping the conversation rolling.

Concerning that Avengers run, I'd dip back into the Silver Age and start that thing running with #19 and go through your end parameter of #196. Very few "misses" in that stretch.


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