Monday, 5 December 2011

Comics Year Zero - 1971

My own personal Year Zero, that is... comics themselves have been around a little bit longer. Looking at my collection of beaten-up, torn, often coverless comics from my formative years it seems that 1971 was the year I really got into comics. ( American ones specifically for the purposes of this post. ) I had a few before from 1969/70 ( like Thor no. 181 ) but 1971 was the year my habit really started.

Fantastic Four no. 106 was my first ever glimpse of the FF, predating their appearances in Marvel UK's Mighty World Of Marvel. This was part of John Romita's short-lived tenure on the mag when he had the unenviable task of following Kirby's ground-breaking, 102-issue run. Of course, I didn't know any of this stuff back then. All I knew was I loved the comic! Three superheroes were battling an energy-blasting "monster" ( actually a scientist's son trapped in an out-of-control, experimental suit ) which was rampaging through New York. Meanwhile, another "monster" ( The Thing ) was similarly enduring the effects of a dangerous experiment, midway through one of Reed Richards' periodic attempts to cure him.

Being one of my first ever comics, FF 106 left a lifetime-lasting effect on my eager imagination. While not a "classic" by most people's reckoning it still contains some great Stan Lee dialogue
( "As a scientist you're the tops, Rambow! But as a liar... you're a washout, hear? I can see right thru you!" ) as well as some indelible images: the Invisible Girl desperately trying to contain the "monster" in her force field; the Human Torch absorbing all the heat from the Baxter Building then blazing through the sky to release it in a Nova burst; the Thing in cryogenic suspension, unable to help his team-mates. All good, melodramatic fun.

Meanwhile, Marvel were also publishing double-sized 25 cent "Specials", showcasing classic reprints from the beginning of the Silver Age.

The Avengers were battling Baron Zemo's Masters Of Evil, who really didn't seem capable of holding their own against our heroes, as well as the bizarre threat of the subterranean Lava Men, who were intent on pushing a deadly, sonic-wave-creating "living stone" up through the Earth's crust and somehow destroying humanity. Hmmm. Like a lot of Silver Age stories it didn't make much sense but it was exciting, goofy and dynamically illustrated by King Kirby.

Marvel's Prince Namor of Atlantis was also hitting the reprint trail in Sub-Mariner Special no. 1.

This was a re-presenting of Namor's first solo tales ( fish tails? ) from Tales To Astonish. The permanently pissed-off, arrogant undersea monarch returns to Atlantis from one of his frequent adventures in the surface world, only to find his people have deposed him in his absence and replaced him with Warlord Krang. Honestly, would you appoint a military commander with a name like "Krang"? He's sure to be trouble.
Namor sets out on a quest to find Neptune's Trident which will ensure his royal credentials, encountering en route a giant squid, the dreaded Faceless Ones, a Seaweed Man and many more sub-aquatic menaces. Oh, and the lovely Lady Dorma who looks absolutely gorgeous as depicted by Gene Colan and the much-maligned Vince Coletta.

Over at DC, we find more reprints in the shape, or shapes, of Plastic Man. And if Silver Age Marvel can seem goofy at times, then Golden Age DC is positively mental. The stretcheable sleuth tangles with gangsters, admen and soothsayers, all the while contorting himself into the most ludicrous shapes thrown up by the crazed imagination of Jack Cole. Even though it's all very light-hearted I found some of Plas's shape-changing disturbing as a kid
( I was only about 4 or 5! ), especially the origin scenes where he's splashed by acid and then finds he can stretch his face into any shape. ( That image actually popped up in a very vivid childhood nightmare. Maybe Dr. Wertham was right after all! )

Of course, you can't visit the DC universe without stopping off for some sight-seeing in Metropolis. Unfortunately for Superman, that's exactly what the "Electronic Ghost" does in Superman no. 244, causing chaos at Clark Kent's workplace, Galaxy Broadcasting. ( Yep, that's GBS not CBS... )
Again, this story is no classic but is a perfect example of that era's premier Super-art team, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, or "Swanderson" as they were sometimes known. There have been countless different iterations of Supes over the decades but, personally, when I think of the Man Of Tomorrow, it's their version I see.

While the glory days of Carmine Infantino's Flash artwork were over by this point, The Flash no. 204 is still a fine DC Silver Age comic... and check out those groovy fashions on the cover, baby!

World's Finest no. 201 kicks off with one of my favourite covers of the period which is typical of DC's "high concept" approach to grabbing the reader. Upon first glance the astute comic reader is asking him/herself questions: why are our two heroes fighting? Why is Doctor Fate playing referee? Why has this story been kept secret until now?

Naturally, the story doesn't quite deliver on the promise of the cover. The art by Dick Dillin is functional and clear as you'd expect from an old pro, but hardly sensational. The story heads down some vaguely psychedelic pathways as each hero has his mind messed with by the villain( Felix Faust masquerading as Doc Fate ) but the resolution is dull. However, you do get to see Superman being spanked (!) by a giant, imaginary projection of his long-lost father, Jor-El.
Which is nice...

I'll leave you with some Kosmic Kirby Kreations from the pages of Superman's Best Friend, Jimmy Olsen. After jumping ship from Marvel, The King took over this ailing title and injected his own brand of mad concepts, nostalgia and action. Although short-lived it was a hell of a ride, and the concepts and characters such as The ( Cadmus ) Project, the DNAliens and the revamped Newsboy Legion still crop up in the DCU today.

( I am cheating slightly here, as these Jimmy Olsen pages, like the Superman page above, are actually nicked from obscure corners of t'internet. All others in this post - the tatty-looking ones - are scans from my collection. )


Steve W. said...

For me it was 1972; when I first started to get my hands on American comics, and Mighty World of Marvel came along to make every Friday a magical experience.

During the summer of that year, within mere days of each other, I became acquainted with Captain America, Superman, Supergirl, the Flash, the X-Men and the Teen Titans. And I discovered that Batman had a comic of his own, as well as a TV show.

Richard said...

Mister, you are talking my language. Not only am I constantly pursuing the act of personal archaeology, I also seek out the introspective surveys of other Bronze Age fans to see how my recollections match up with theirs. So this post is right up my street. If I'm trying to place a memory in its historical context, I head to the Newsstand site and check out all the other titles that would have been appearing on the racks (at least here in the States) at the same time. For instance, everything that would have been on sale the same month as Fantastic Four #106. You can look up books by the actual release date, or by the (misleading) cover date as you prefer. And then I just go forward or backward at whim, wasting a whole evening and getting nothing else done. No need to thank me, destroying other people's productivity is its own reward!

Also, I never cease to be amazed at the extra hoops UK fans had to go through with the weekly reprint comics, in that stuff might appear out of order or without context just as continuity and interrelated chronology started to become important in US comics. I often think you guys had to be more devoted fans than your US counterparts to be able to make sense of it all.

cerebus660 said...

The early years of UK Marvel was a special time, wasn't it?
BTW your regular looks back at Marvel Comics 40 years ago inspired this very post, so thanks, Steve. Take a bow...

Thanks for pointing out that website. Now I know some of my "1971" comics actually came out in 1970 :-)
Damn those misleading cover dates :-)
Well, I was certainly reading them in 1972...

You could be right about UK fans having extra devotion to our hobby. If you found part one of a story in an imported Marvel or DC comic, you could never count on finding the second part, distribution being so random. But this hit-and-miss comic collecting did make every issue seem more special. And, as I've said here before, I do feel lucky that I could experience the Silver and Bronze Ages of Marvel simultaneously, through current issues and UK reprints.

Dougie said...

I love the description "personal archaeology" for what we've been doing on-line.

My Year Zero would probably be 1971 for DC. I had read Marvels since the days of Power Comics: mostly the FF and the Avengers from 68-70. But I was aware of the Fourth World and the New Wonder Woman and then through the Super-Spectaculars, of the long history of DC.

My Marvel Year Zero was 72,however, especially the advent of FOOM because the barbarians, vampires and Satanism glimpsed in its pages made Marvel seem illict and heady.

cerebus660 said...

Hi Dougie! FOOM was certainly a big deal for me when it first appeared. All those glimpses behind the scenes at Marvel Comics and those tantalising views of comics I thought I'd never be able to own. And, of course, that awesome Steranko poster...

John Pitt said...

Hi again, Simon, you know you SHOULD do more comics posts like this, these days!
Anyway, I don't think I've read FF#106, not even in reprint ( nor ANY of the DC comics on this post )!
I am familiar though with the original Avengers and Subby stories.
Anyway, your "Year Zero" seems as good a starting point as any, from the scans above!

Kid said...

If I remember correctly, FF #106 was the first non-Kirby ish I ever bought, and it was that pic of Susie on the cover that made me buy it. I reckon I bought it around 1971, from a shop called Corson's - which still exists. Incidentally, Cer, the covers of some of those comics have appeared on my blog, so you could probably restore them to your comics by means of the 'clickety-click' method that JP is so fond of. (True, you may have to reduce them to the required size, but I'm sure you could manage that.)

cerebus660 said...

Yes, I should definitely do more posts about comics - it was one of the main reasons I started blogging, back in the mists of time. I have bought a few Bronze Age goodies recently so may have to post about them...

You really can't go wrong with John Romita drawing Sue Storm :-)
Ref. those covers - I may have to do just that. Thanks for the offer. I did a similar thing with a couple of coverless Silver Age comics I own ( an early '60s Flash and X-Men #4 ) - nicked some cover images from the Grand Comics Database.

John Pitt said...

Might have guessed it was Susie that attracted you to it, Kid!
You old scoundrel, you!

John Pitt said...

Kid's are much better than GCD's, Simon. I have noticed if you enlarge their covers, everything becomes blurry!


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