Sunday 3 December 2023

Fifty years ago today - December 1973.

Thanks to Charlie Horse 47 and Killdumpster for their sponsorship of this post, via the magic of Patreon

I may not wish that Christmas might occur on an endless 24-hour loop but, this month, exactly fifty years ago, I did because it was the month in which Wizzard's I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday and Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody first hit the charts, and Yuletide in Britain would never be the same again.

But what of the Marvel comics which bore that date upon their very frontages?

Would they ever be the same again?

Amazing Spider-Man #127, the Vulture

I sometimes get the feeling nobody but me likes this tale.

Not that I care. I am, after all, pathologically incapable of hating any story from this era.

And this one brings high drama to our lives, as we get the gravity-thwarting return of the Vulture, intent on snuffing out
Mary Jane Watson before she can dob him in to the cops, over a murder she's seen him commit.

But, is everything as it seems?

Also, judging by the cover, we're going to be getting more of Harry Osborn's descent into madness, mayhem and menace.

The Avengers #118, the Defenders, Dormammu and Loki

The Evil Eye saga hits its thrilling climax
as the Avengers and Defenders enter another dimension to confront Loki and Dormammu, while any super-doers who've been left behind on Earth - even the bad guys - get to battle the chaos and confusion the villains have created there.

Captain America and the Falcon #168

I do have to announce that Cap looks strangely unbothered by the prospect of being both boiled and zapped at the same time.

All I know of this one is Baron Zemo's demented son's started calling himself the Phoenix and is out to inflict his own brand of vengeance upon the star-spangled superstar.

Conan the Barbarian #33

It's another one I know little of, but that cover makes it clear our hero's going to have to face the Gauntlet of the Seven Deaths which is six more deaths than most of us would bother having.

Judging by the absence of the obligatory cowering blonde on the cover, I can only assume it must be her month off. It seems that even cowering blondes must take a break sometimes.

Daredevil and the Black Widow, Terrex

Daredevil and the Black Widow find themselves up against the menace of Terrex who I assume to be no relation to Terrax.

It's a packed tale that features such luminaries as Kerwin J Broderick, Moondragon, the Dark Messiah, Ramrod and Angar. Not to mention Daredevil and the Black Widow. And, of course, Terrex.

I do believe this is the one in which Hornhead's given his sight back by Moondragon but then demands she send him blind again, as he's no good at fighting when he can see what he's doing.
Fantastic Four #141

Is this the one where Reed Richards does whatever it is to his son that Fantastic Four fans have been complaining about him doing, ever since?

As you can tell, I remember it all very clearly.

Incredible Hulk, Island of Monsters

It's another classic - and a strange one, at that - as the Hulk finds himself up against an island full of monsters and a Betty Ross who's still not quite the full shilling.

Iron Man #65

At last, Iron Man has the sense to do what I'd do if I had a suit of armour. He goes on a murderous rampage.

Apart from that, Dr Spectrum's prism convinces the villain to let Iron Man in on their origin.

But the prism has ulterior motives. You see, it plans to use the distraction created by the story to abandon its current host and take control of the armoured Avenger.

Thor #218

Is this the one where Thor and his mates come up against a giant planet populated by giant people with a giant Hoover?

I'm never sure about this era of Thor. He and his sidekicks seem to spend all their time on quests into deep space; when they could be on Earth, bashing up top-notch foes like Mr Hyde and the Cobra.

X-Men #85

Hooray! It's one of the rare stories featuring the Original X-Men that I actually like, as our heroes find themselves confronting the mysterious menace of the Mutant Master and Factor Three!

Sadly, I seem to remember the next issue failing to live up to its standards.

Adventure Comics #430, the Black Orchid

Well, that's Marvel's big-hitter taken care of.

But what of that company's Distinguished Competition? Just what was it producing in the tales that wore the month as their cover date?

The Black Orchid gets her second-ever adventure. And how great is it?

I've no idea. I must confess I can't remember a thing about it.

I've no doubt, though, she'll be up against common, everyday hoods who prove unsuited to tangling with a woman whose powers rival and replicate those of Supergirl.

But not only do we have the adventures of a woman named after an exciting flower, we also get a backup strip featuring Colonel Strong. And, no, I don't recall what happens in that one either.

Justice League of America #108

Can it be? An epic collision between the Justice League, the Justice Society and the Freedom Fighters?

Too right it can, as the three teams split up to tackle machines controlling the Earth. Machines created by the Nazis.

However, those machines turned on their creators - and Adolf Hitler - seeing them as inferior.

Hold on. This is the plot of 1975's Genesis of the Daleks. Could this be mere coincidence?

Secret Origins #5, the Spectre

This is it, my favourite issue of Secret Origins, when we're treated to the grave-defying truth of how the Spectre came to be. And just in time for his impending return, in the pages of Adventure Comics.

Cop Joe Corrigan's killed by hoods. But it takes more than that to stop him, as he's sent back to Earth by a higher power, who's clearly God, in order to put paid to all crime on the planet.

That might seem like a tough ask but Jim now has the power to kill criminals in every conceivable way. Including simply reducing them to skeletons where they stand.

Shazam! #8, 100 pages

The Original Captain Marvel gets the 100-page treatment - and does so with a batch of yarns that include such fare as A Twice-Told Tale!, The Original Captain Marvel Introduces Mary Marvel, The Mighty Marvels Join Forces!, The Vest Pocket Levitator, Mary Marvel and the Dog-NappersThe Adventure in Time!The Talking Tiger and The Return of Mr Tawny.

The Vest Pocket Levitator is the one I most want to read. They don't come up with titles like that anymore.

Swamp Thing #7, Batman

Holy walking heaps of vegetation, Robin! The Swamp Thing only goes and meets Batman!

It all happens when Alec visits Gotham City to rescue his friends, and stumbles across the location of the Conclave, the organisation to blame for him having become the Swamp Thing in the first place.

And, of course, there's no way someone who looks like him's going to blunder around that city without attracting the attention of the caped crusader...


Colin Jones said...

It's also the 50th anniversary of Howard The Duck who made his debut in a Man-Thing story in Adventure Into Fear #19 dated December 1973. Last week Marvel published Howard The Duck #1 (2023 version) to celebrate the 50th anniversary.

That FF story was reprinted in Marvel UK's Complete Fantastic Four #9 dated November 23rd 1977 but the cover was replaced with an inferior UK-only cover and I've always wondered why. Could it be because the Thing is pushing Reed through a window on the original cover and this was deemed too violent for British readers?

Colin Jones said...

In 1973 Slade's 'Merry Xmas Everybody' spent 5 weeks at #1 while Wizzard had to settle for #4 but 50 years later it's Wizzard who are the more popular - in this week's UK singles chart Wizzard are at #55 and Slade at #70.

dangermash aka The Artistic Actuary said...

As a standalone, ASM #127 is great. It's only after reading #128 and finding out that this isn't the original vulture Adrian Toomes but some uni professor who drinks some potion making him look like AT that #127 becomes a letdown.

Fantastic Four follower said...

The Hulk issue is a particular favourite,as was every issue between #161 and 174,and Fantastic Four between #129 and #150.Great time period for Marvel.Everything issue seemed better than the last and for me Marvel was never as strong or interesting when the Giant size issues ended in 1975.Spiderman was non distributed as was Avengers and others for various reasons which added to their appeal and they cost 3 times the normal distributed comics which was expensive and also hard to find.Just a brilliant time for comics which was sadly followed by a gradual decline .Just my opinion but that period from 1973 to 1975 was brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I like ASM 127 too. Unlike dangermash (whose critique is totally fair) I like 128 even more, if only because it was The First Issue Of Spider-Man I Ever Owned.

Many of these comics were purchased in the first few weeks of my Comics Awakening — CAP 168, CTB 33, FF 141 and THOR 218 — and I treasure them all, even if the actual contents don’t fully deserve it, in some cases.

AVENGERS 118 was one of the five comics I bought the fateful day at Smith’s Food King that jump-started my obsession with Comics. Objectively, it’s not really all that wonderful but I adore it. I do think the cover is genuinely awesome.

Yes, this is the Thor arc with the giants and their silly Space Hoover. The set-up in 218 is pretty dramatic and spectacular but it really REALLY doesn’t stick the landing.

And this is in fact the FF ish where Reed zaps little Franklin with a scary-looking sci-fi rifle to keep him from exploding. Romita’s cover is totally misleading, implying that Franklin is glowing “LIKE AN ATOMIC BOMB!’ because Reed did Something Bad to him — in the actual comic, Franklin was glowing as his brain was powering up to critical mass BEFORE Reed hit him with the convenient Deus Ex Machina Gun. But hey, I get it — “Sell The Sizzle, Not The Steak” — it’s still a terrific cover.



Anonymous said...

Hey, Fantastic Four follower is back!
Now we just need M.P. to surface again. Is it my imagination, or has he been AWOL for a while now?

Anyway, another great post, Steve. Gotta say that again the DCs are better than the Marvels this month (yes, its been surprising me too). Best cover is obviously Swamp Thing #7, and the Wrightson artwork inside is great too.
Although personally I find the Batman crossover one of the weaker stories of the original run.

The comic here that really floats my boat though is JLA #108, even if the cover has got it wrong, and it actually features the heroes of THREE different Earths not two. You'd think the editors would have caught that error, as anyone can clearly see that Nick Cardy has drawn the Batman of Earth-1 with the JSA on that cover!
(Actually, it seems like Cardy messed up a bit too, as that looks more like the Supes of Earth-1, rather than Earth-2)

Still, I had that issue back then, and the previous one with the first part - pretty sure it was the first time I had two consecutive issues of an American comic (no mean achievement in the south-west of Ireland in the early 70s) - and they were brilliant.
Even better than that JLA/JSA/Seven Soldiers of Victory crossover the previous year. Possibly it helped that I had more of a handle on the whole multiple earth thing by then (hey, I was a kid, and at the time that was still something of a rarefied concept). Although of course I didn't have a clue about who the Quality Comics characters were, or the history behind them.

The similarity to 'Genesis of the Daleks' has never occured to me. Tbh it seems like a bit of a stretch, as the-machine-turning-on-its-creator thing isn't - and wasn't - an unusual theme in science fiction. A better comparison might be with 'Man In The High Castle', and I think of that JLA story as Phillip K Dick for kids.


Anonymous said...

Btw Steve, thats a little misleading about the back-up in Adventure Comics #430.
I mean, it did feature Colonel Strong in the on-going Adventurers Club, but unlike the other series of the short-lived post-Supergirl anthology era (which continued for a while as alternating back ups) - Captain Fear and The Vigilante - it wasn't about a particular character. Strong was the host for different stories, like Cain or Abel in the mystery books.

Perhaps I'm giving away I know too much about forgotten DC comics of the early 70s. I suspect you do too, more than you're letting on...


Anonymous said...

The Marvel covers have definitely gone word balloon crazy by this point. The characters and even by-standers seem pretty determined to explain an exaggerated outline of the plot in ridiculously dramatic dialogue.


Steve W. said...

Thanks for all your comments, so far. A quick check with the internet tells me I owned four of this month's DC's books, one Charlton, and one Marvel which was X-Men #85.

Sean, I can only mourn my ignorance on the subject of Colonel Strong. I'm assuming he wasn't related to the Captain Strong who showed up in Superman stories around the time.

It's only just struck me that none of the above DC covers have word balloons on them. Now I'm starting to wonder if that's why I always preferred DC covers to Marvel ones.

Then again, that could just be because they were often done by the likes of Nick Cardy, Mike Kaluta and Jim Aparo.

Bt, I do remember the build-up to that Thor adventure being far more dramatic than the story itself.

FFf, I do agree that, after around 1975, Marvel comics seemed to become less interesting.

Dangermash, it did seem that, in that period, Spider-Man comics had a thing about fake versions of long-standing villains. Around that time, we also got a fake Mysterio showing up.

Colin, whatever happens on the charts, Slade will always be Number One in my icy heart.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Ole Charlie grabbed 5 off the spinner:

Secret Origins
And somehow I ended up with Cpt Marvel... err... Shazam

Wish Mike's World of Comics was available b/c I know I bought a few not shown here from DC in particular. (That Mike really did comic fandom a solid by creating that site. Glad to read that there is the intent it will be available forever!)

SEAN - I'm with you on the JLA /JSA / Quality Heroes. NOt that the stories were superior but man oh man... seeing all those characters in one book! Especially since the Quality ones had hardly seen the light of day since the mid-50s but for 100-page reprints.

Redartz said...

Nice post Steve!
Agreeing with Sean that Swamp Thing wins the cover competition. Wrightson on Swampy and Bats? Perfect.

As for the relative quality of Marvel circa 1973: For my part, hindsight is necessary ; but I'd give high marks to the company through 1975. And then again, a high marks period running from, say, 1978 to 1983. Overall a pretty solid output, really.

Steve- you nailed it regarding Spidey and his remade rogue's gallery. Admittedly i've fond feelings for that Mysterio two parter, and Quentin Beck explained it away as part of his overall scheme some years later anyway. Oh, that Mysterio- always making you question what you are reading . Hmmmm, perhaps he's not such a baddie afterall.
As for Vulture, that was the third incarnation, following Toomes and Drago. And, of course, we had the arrival of Green Goblin 2, in the persona of Harry Osborn. At least we only had one Lizard. And one Scorpion. And one Hammerhead...

Fantastic Four follower said...

Great to be back and see all the old gang!My disappointment with Marvel from the drop in quality in the mid 70s is from the time I read everything until 1990 and loved them all.Marvel was overstretched at the time and the Dreaded Deadline Doom(look it up if you have no idea what I am referring to...)resulted in reprints everywhere which led into awful printing of said comics which resulted in a shoddy product!Again I loved them all but 1972 to 1975 was my golden age.Kerp up the good work everyone.

Anonymous said...

I tend to think the period Marvel went off the boil is very much dependent on our age at the time in question, FFf. Its sometimes said the golden age of comics is twelve, and while you can point to seemingly objective factors - like the departure of some key artists around the mid 70s, declining circulation through the decade etc - theres some truth to that imo.

Steve, I agree about DC covers generally being better, and that its probably down to the artists they used.
But a lighter touch with cover balloons might well have helped. Look at Swamp Thing #7 for example Its a great Wrightson image, enhanced by the atmospheric use of colour... now imagine it with the addition of Marvel-style word (and thought) balloons -
"That swamp creature has to be stopped before it destroys Gotham!"
"I can't make him understand, so to save Matt and Abby -- I have to KILL THE BATMAN first!!"
It wouldn't be as effective, would it?