Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Comics 1973


It's customary at this time of year for people ( and bloggers ) to take stock, to cast an eye back over the events of the past 12 months. Well... I'm not doing that here. Instead I'm looking back at a time 40 years ago when I was just a nipper and the universe was less than half its present size... or something. Looking at various years for my Mammoth Movie Meme series I realised that 1973 was one of my favourite years for movies, music and, indeed, comic books. So, I thought I'd do a few posts on that far-off time, starting with comics, probably not always the most important ones of the time, but long-time faves of mine  -  and I'll have to acknowledge here the wonderful work of fellow bloggers Steve W and Booksteve who have also covered similar ground on their own respective blogs...
First up is Savage Tales no. 2, a barbaric bonanza of Hyborian high jinks, featuring everyone's favourite Cimmerian in the classic Red Nails. It's a moodily faithful adaptation of Robert E Howard's short story with a fine script from Roy Thomas and absolutely jaw-dropping artwork by Barry ( Windsor ) Smith. This story definitely ties for my All-Time Fave Conan Comic Story Ever Ever with The Song Of Red Sonja from the same creative team. It really is the good stuff, by Crom...
As a total contrast, in Captain Marvel no.29 our space-faring Kree super-soldier takes time out from his battle with death-god Thanos to have a suspiciously psychedelic conversation with one of those all-knowing extra-terrestrials that always seemed to crop up in 1970s Marvel comics ( except for Night Nurse )  -  and thereby attain cosmic consciousness. OK. I'm not sure what Jim Starlin was smoking back then, but I'm glad he was, because he was really pushing the boundaries of what could be presented in mainstream comics at the time. This strip was, at the time, a fairly unique blend of science fiction, philosophy and Starlin's patented cosmic angst... before that became a bit tiresome. And that Starlin / Romita cover is awesome! Maaaan!
It's that Cimmerian again! Conan The Barbarian no. 32 sees our bare-chested battler caught up in nefarious goings-on in a fantasy version of China, and getting tangled up with the squid lady on the great Gil Kane / Ernie Chan cover above. And the John Buscema / Chan artwork inside the mag is a thing of beauty too.
Meanwhile, in Defenders no. 11, Doc Strange and his non-team of misfits have barely drawn breath after the end of the Avengers / Defenders War before they get whisked away to the Middle Ages where the Crusades are being further complicated by an evil wizard. Speaking of wizardry, continuity-magician Steve Englehart here manages to tidy up half a dozen plot-lines whilst spinning more, without seemingly batting an eyelid. I always loved these glimpses into the myths and legends of the Marvel Universe, before it all got too convoluted to follow...
Fantastic Four no. 142 introduces Darkoth the Death-Demon, a suitably Kirby-esque creation from the pencil of Rich Buckler. I always had a soft spot for ol' Darkoth, even though he wasn't exactly the sharpest tool in the box. ( Oh, and if you're wondering who is "the most sinister super-villain of all" as announced on the cover... well, it's the Fantastic Four... take a guess... )
Whoops! Spoilt it.
Over in the DC Universe, in Justice League Of America no. 110 to be precise, things get more festive as "TV's Super-Friends" have to deal with some Ho-Ho-Homicide. Someone's murdered Santa ( notice my resistance to using a "sleigh"-based pun ) and the JLA, along with stand-in Green Lantern John Stewart, have to deal with the bizarre villain The Key before everyone can eat their mince pies in peace. Quite a grim story but it ends on a positive note as Stewart uses his Power-Ring abilities to spread some Christmas cheer among the slums of the DCU. One of the reprints in the 100-page comic is a classic from the Golden Age with the Justice Society also dealing with social problems, this time juvenile delinquency. Nowadays the biggest delinquents in comics seem to be the "super heroes" themselves...
Doctor Strange is again in trouble in Marvel Premiere no. 10 as he fights the Lovecraft-inspired monstrosity Shuma-Gorath, which has taken up residency inside the Ancient One's mind. Obviously there was no room at the inn for tentacled Elder Gods. The dream Doc team of Steve Engelhart and Frank Brunner pull out all the metaphysical stops as Strange plunges deep into his master's subconscious and realises he will have to kill the Ancient One in order to save the world. As they used to say, it's far-out fantasy in the mighty Marvel manner.
In a less philosophical plot Mister Miracle no. 14 sees the world's greatest escape artist and pint-sized sidekick Oberon investigate a "haunted" house which turns out to be a front for a criminal organisation led by the fantastically-monikered Madame Evil Eyes. This is Mister Miracle with all the Fourth World references dropped from the strip ( sadly ) and Jack Kirby just having a ball with insane characters and spooky, Gothic situations. Not a great work of literature... but great fun.
Special Marvel Edition no. 15 is a landmark comic, featuring as it does the debut of Shang-Chi, Master Of Kung Fu. Although my favourite run of this strip is the Kung Fu / espionage mash-up of the Doug Moench / Paul Gulacy era, this establishing story by Steve Engelhart ( yes, him again ) and Jim Starlin ( yes, him again too ) is a terrific, two-fisted introduction to Chi, Nayland Smith, Petrie and the Devil Doctor himself, Fu Manchu. In 1973 everybody was indeed Kung Fu fightin'...
Although it's probably very uncool to say so, I was a big fan of Krypton's Last Son when I was a kid and Superman no. 263 is a great example of the kind of Supes story I grew up reading. It's a suitably dreamlike tale of an angry movie director who is given the power to have revenge on Superman by a character called Doctor Phoenix. The director sacrifices his ability to dream in return for bringing nightmarish scenarios to life. Superman goes through various torments in the story, including being turned into the titular "Man Of Molten Steel". There's some beautiful artwork throughout by the ultimate Superman art team ( in my opinion ) of Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. And that impressive photo-collage cover by Neal Adams too...
More living nightmares in Swamp Thing no. 5 as creators Len Wein and Berni Wrightson carry on working through old Horror movie themes, this issue covering witches, familiars and torch-bearing mobs. Wrightson's beautiful, intricate artwork conjures up the look of old woodcut illustrations as Swampy battles his way through a village full of gurning grotesques.
And yet more Horror in Tomb Of Dracula no. 12... but then that's what you would expect really. It's a pivotal issue in this long-running series as Edith Harker, daughter of wheelchair-bound vampire hunter Quincy Harker, is fanged by the Count himself, forcing Harker to stake his own daughter. From these early issues and all through the comic's life, main writer Marv Wolfman was never afraid to change the strip's status quo and confront his characters with realistic dilemmas and emotions. And vampires. ( I really need to post more about TOD, without doubt one of the best Marvel series ever. And I'm sure I've said that before. Maybe one day... )
I'll finish with issue no. 8 of the short-lived but fondly-remembered ( by me,
anyway ) Wanted: The World's Most Dangerous Villains. This was a showcase for Golden and Silver Age reprints featuring ( you've guessed it ) villains, villains and more villains. This issue resurrected the frankly ludicrous Mister Who and also the Flash's coolest enemy, Captain Cold. I loved the Wanted poster designs on the covers  -  real "high concept" stuff. This was an experiment that was never going to run and run but it was fun while it lasted.

So, those were some of my comic book highlights of 1973. If you'd like to share any similar memories ( dear reader ) I'd love to hear 'em. Excelsior!

Soundtrack: Fireworks going off outside ( well, it is New Year's Eve )




5 comments:

Richard Bensam said...

Excellent choices! In addition to the titles you named, that was the year characters such as Mantis and Killraven also showed up at Marvel...while DC had Manhunter by Goodwin and Simonson, and the Legion of Super-Heroes was drawn by Dave Cockrum. A lot of fond memories there...

cerebus660 said...

Thanks Richard. I must admit the only Manhunter story I've ever read is the last one, that team-up with Batman. I should really track down the TPB...

Killraven / War Of The Worlds is one of my all-time fave strips but I didn't include it in this review of '73 as I'm more of a fan of the Don McGregor / P. Craig Russell era which came a bit later I believe. I'm actually Facebook friends with Don now. It's a strange new world here in ( gulp! ) 2014 :-)

Simayl said...

What a great choice of titles! You can't really go wrong with Englehart or Starlin in the Bronze Age.

Steve W. said...

Thanks for the plug, Simon. :)

I absolutely loved some of those comics in my formative years, including that issue of Wanted, so you're definitely not alone in your appreciation of it.

cerebus660 said...

@Simayl
Thanks for commenting. Engelhart was one of my favourite writers of the Bronze Age... but he had some stiff competition from the likes of Gerber, Wolfman and Moench.

@Steve
No problem! I always love your looks back at comics of 40 years ago - so I totally ripped it off :-)

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