Spectacular Spider-Man 56, 1981 “The Peril…and the Pumpkin?”

As the 1970s were in full swing, Marvel really started pumping out titles, reprints, magazines, etc. Their biggest seller by this point was undoubtedly Spider-Man! He was the company flagship, and midway through the decade, he had a spinoff title, called Spectacular Spider-Man. It was a solid title most of the time, and worth picking up. It would sometimes introduce young talent that would alter become huge in the industry. Case in point, the cover by Frank Miller (and inks by Bob Wiacek). By 1980, Spidey had multiple titles, reprints, a live action TV show under his belt, you name it.

This story revolves around the second appearance of Jack O’Lantern, and his rampage in NYC (stemming from his first appearance in Machine Man 19…believe it or not!). The interior art and story is literally a murderers row of talent. The story is by Roger Stern, who wrote some excellent Spidey stories in the 1980s (along with Captain America, Dr. Strange, The Avengers etc.). The layouts are by the former EIC himself, Jim Shooter! The finished art is by a comic book mainstay and a very underrated guy, Jim Mooney. Colors by Bob Sharen and George Roussos, letters by Janice Chiang, and edited by another giant of the industry, Denny O’Neil!

 

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Giant-Size Chillers 1, 1975

You know, Treasury Editions aside, there’s no better format than the Giant Size comic books of the 1970s. From Superheroes to horror, they were great, and really packed a wallop as far as content. Yeah a good portion of the time they were reprints, but in this day and age the original material  they show is extremely pricey and every-day Joes just can’t afford them. Probably the most important editions of this title were in The Avengers, where it was new material and tied into a huge arc (The Celestial Madonna).

Instead of making a joke about a character that was also given the Giant Size treatment, let us journey into this book, Giant-Size Chillers 1, from 1975. With only two reprinted stories it showcases some oddities, traditional stories, and some definite re-hashed work as well. With work from Tony Isabella, Gene Colan, Tom Palmer, Carl Wessler, Alfredo Alcala, Larry Lieber, Miguel Ripoll Guadayol, Doug Moench, Win Mortimer, Ralph AlphonsoAdolfo Buylla, Paul Reinman, Dave Gibbons, Dick Ayers, Mike Lombo, George Roussos, Mike Esposito, and John Romita.

 

Marvel Spotlight – The Scarecrow (A.K.A. the Straw Man)!

After recently obtaining the last appearance that I needed of this character from the Bronze Age, I felt compelled to spotlight this crazy character. He’s definitely right up there with my other oddball favorites (The Tatterdemalion, The Orb, etc.). After a few years in dormancy, the character’s name was changed to avoid confusion with another Scarecrow, so he was then called The Straw Man in the late 1980s. No matter what you call him, he’s a ridiculous character that makes absolutely no sense, and that’s probably why I love him so much.

His first in a comic was in Dead of Night 11, 1975. A year later, he was in two more, but then took some time off for a while. He reappeared in Doctor Strange Sorcerer Supreme where he was relabeled. He wasn’t given much panel time in that series but by then the other Scarecrow was in full swing in the Marvel Universe. It seems there was only room for one. Ah well, we still have the few Bronze Age books to look back on with nostalgia.

 

Marvel Treasury Edition 2, 1974 “The Fabulous Fantastic Four”

In the comic book hall of fame, there are a lot of great stories. Single issues, trades, whatever the format, dozens come across one’s mind immediately. Star-spanning adventures, tales of morality, love, tragedy, etc., take your pick. The format is one of the most underappreciated of all time, no doubt. One of the best examples of the different story types is none other than Marvel’s first family, the Fantastic Four! The familial aspect, love, loss, tragedy, comedy, etc., you get it all with them, especially under the creative eyes of Jack “King” Kirby and Stan “The Man” Lee!

After recently purchasing Marvel Treasury Edition 2, I finally read the epic story The Galactus Trilogy! This first encounter for Earth with a literal and figurative giant of the cosmos is so incredible, you will feel as if you’ve been through a war after reading it! And, not only do you get that incredible story, but also Dr. Doom, the Submariner, and The Impossible Man! With the back issues being extremely pricey, this is a great way to get to read these legendary stories and not break the bank! Finally, apologies for the low quality of the images (my scanner isn’t big enough to accommodate Treasury sized books). Enjoy!

 

 

 

Masters of Terror 1, 1975

The black and white magazines from the Bronze Age have so much great material in them! Even if you don’t like horror comics, you can get Conan, The Hulk, etc., but trust me, the horror books are outstanding. Most have excellent artwork, and solid stories as well. Speaking of storytelling, What if I told you (yes, that was in my Laurence Fishburne voice) that Marvel one produced a magazine with names like Robert Bloch (Psycho), Robert E. Howard (Conan), H.P. Lovecraft (The Call of Cthulhu), and Theodore Sturgeon (More than Human). Would you believe me? Well luckily you don’t have to take my word for it. In this issue of Masters of Terror, that incredible list of writers are coupled with top artist of that era, and the results is mind-numbing.

The artistic talent is a murderers row if there ever was one. Marie Severin and Frank Giacoia show us a monster (It! adapted by Roy Thomas) that definitely inspired The Heap, Man-Thing, and Swamp Thing! The second tale is brought to us by Frank Brunner (story adapted by Gardner Fox), and anyone that’s read this blog (or anything else I’ve written about him)knows how much praise I’ll heap on the artwork of Frank Brunner (his collaboration with Steve Englehart on Dr. Strange/Marvel Premiere is a masterpiece). The Lovecraft adaptation has Roy Thomas scripting, and a powerhouse team on art that includes Barry Smith, Dan Adkins, and John Verpoorten! The next adaptation is scripted by Ron Goulart, and the art team is the incredibly talented duo of Jim Starlin and Tom Palmer! Finally, Ron Goulart, Gil Kane, and Ralph Reese bring a story about Jack the Ripper!

All of these stories are reprints that appeared in other titles before. Even the cover is a reproduction by Gray Morrow (from a cover by Jim Steranko – Supernatural Thrillers 1, 1972).  Another lesser known story in this issue that was adapted (originally by August Derleth) is called The Drifting Snow. Tony Isabella and Esteban Maroto deliver an absolute gem with this story. You will love this story because it’s very suspenseful and creepy!

 

 

Spider-Man/Dr. Strange: The Way to Dusty Death

By the time the 1990s rolled around, Spider-Man was a household name for quite sometime, and Doctor Strange was also becoming a big part of the mainstream Marvel Universe. Some still consider him a fringe character, but after the 2016 film, that’s mostly changed. A team up with the likes of Spider-Man doesn’t hurt for some added exposure no doubt, but even though his name is in small letters on the cover, the Doc is front and center in this tale!

The story was co-plotted by Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas (with Thomas scripting), and the artwork was a team effort with Michael Bair (pencils/inks), and Mark Texeira and Mark Beachum inking, Joe Rosen and Rick Parker lettering, and Bob Sharen colors. Bair has a huge list of credits but isn’t a household name. His work in this book is pretty good though. We all know that Conway and Thomas can plot/write a good story, and this one is no exception. No, it isn’t their finest hour, but it is a good yarn featuring the Doc and Spidey, the beautiful Melinda Morrison, and the psychotic mind of Xandu!

 

Dracula Lives! 11, 1975 “Pit of Death!” and ” Lilith Unleashed!”

In trying to focus on more mags from the Bronze Age, I thought it was time Dracula made an appearance! The Count has a long history in Marvel Comics, and although the black and white mags are awesome, nothing compares to the Tomb of Dracula series that Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan worked on together. That said, don’t sell these stories short, because they have some fantastic creators on them! Speaking of which, inside the front cover, we see an incredible illustration by Bob Hall (first image after the cover)! It remains one of my all time favorite images of Dracula.

The meat of the book has some excellent work. The biggest part of the book is the adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel Dracula by Roy “The Boy” Thomas and Dick Giordano. It’s only one chapter but the pages are incredible. It was never finished in these format but both men finished it years later and it was reproduced in a trade/HC.

Another magnificent tale (part two) “Agents of Hell” is by Doug Moench and Tony DeZuniga. We see a young man trapped in the catacombs of a castle, and he must fight off the brides of Dracula, but even if he survives, can he defeat the greatest vampire that ever existed? That story is followed by “The Vampire of Mednegna.” This story shows a man named Arnold Paole, as he returns from a trip to Greece, but he has returned a very different man. Again, we get Doug Moench (writer) but the artwork was by Golden Age stalwart, Win Mortimer!

Finally we see a very graphic tale starring none other than Dracula’s daughter, Lilith! Within just a few short panels, she tears a rapist to pieces! This is a very different story though (not just blood and guts), and a must read because the author is none other than Steve “Baby” Gerber! The artwork is credited to three gentlemen that are names synonymous with the Bronze Age- Bob Brown, Frank Chiaramonte, and Pablo Marcos!

And let us not forget the cover that was painted by Steve Fabian!

 

 

 

Marvel Spotlight 7, 1972 “Die, Die My Daughter!”

In the 1970s, there wasn’t a better time for comic book readers. You had Golden and Silver Age creators still pumping out material, but you also had younger writers and artists that had been inspired by those giants, and were determined to leave their own mark on the industry. There’s also another aspect to consider as far as the content, and that is what was in the zeitgeist of the times. One of those things was most certainly the occult. Marvel then decided to re-purpose a character from a western comic that was all but forgotten. His name was the Ghost Rider (later Phantom Rider), and this time around, he wasn’t going to be lassoing people or shooting at them with a six-shooter!

In Marvel Spotlight 5 (a lot of the newer characters started off in books like this one and once they proved themselves, were transitioned to their own book), we see the tragic story of Johnny Blaze. A young kid working at a carnival, and watching his father doing motorcycle stunts. His father ends up getting killed in an accident, and the carnival owners (The Simpsons…no, not Homer and Marge) adopt him. The show becomes a huge success but then his step-mother is killed, but right before she dies, she makes Johnny promise he won’t ride in the show anymore. He doesn’t ride but the show still gets even bigger than it was before. Johnny still practices privately, and becomes an excellent rider. One day, Crash Simpson gets a phone call and he’s made the big time, as his show will be at Madison Square Garden! He seems less than excited and then tells Johnny and Roxanne that he has “the disease” and the doctor told him he only has one month to live.

After thinking about this for thirty seconds, Johnny decides as any normal teenage in the 1970s would, he uses a book to summon “Satan” to grant him a wish to heal Crash Simpson (Satan is in quotes because Marvel would later retcon it wasn’t actually Satan himself, but a demon). Yes, he really did that…so, then “Satan” obliges him and tells him that he’ll be back to collect a fee in the future. We all know that means he’s in big trouble, but Johnny apparently doesn’t care because of dealing with the grief of his own father and step-mother dying. Of course, Crash dies not from cancer, but a motorcycle accident.  Then Johnny makes the jump, but is later confronted by “Satan” and his soul is bonded to a demon, which in-turn is why he changes into the new Ghost Rider!

In this issue, we see Johnny after a man named Curly, but we eventually see it’s actually a reanimated Crash Simpson! Curly is trying to sacrifice Roxanne to his master (again “Satan”), but Johnny will not allow the love of his life to perish! He fights off some occultists, then has a showdown with Crash himself!

The creative team on this issue is the same since the first appearance. Gary Friedrich (writer), Mike Ploog (art), Frank Chiaramonte (inks), Herb Cooper (letters), and Roy Thomas (editor). A few years back, there was a little controversy over who actually created most of the character of Ghost Rider. Friedrich claimed he did, and sued Marvel for creators rights. He lost of course, simply because everything was work for hire back then, and any attempts to seize control of a character simply fell short. Sadly, a lot of these creators have fallen on hard times, and could really use a helping hand from the companies that they helped become so financially robust. There is a great organization called The Hero Initiative, that can help creators in need. Definitely swing by and donate if you can at the next convention you visit.

 

 

 

Thor 229″Where Darkness Dwells, Dwell I!” and 230 “The Sky Above, The Pits Below!” 1974

There are certain quirky characters and areas of the comic book universe that I feel I might be the only fan of, either because they’re so odd or maybe just not well-known. The Fear Lords are one such group! Probably the most popular member of this group is definitely the Dr. Strange nemesis, Nightmare! Another heavyweight that’s a member is D’Spayre (see Fear Lords), and he had a memorable appearance in Marvel Team-Up (during the heralded Claremont/Byrne run), and a few others as well. All that said, in these two issues of Thor, we get to see another member of that group, in the form of the Dweller-in-Darkness!

In these two issues, we see Thor, and his good buddy Hercules! The two heroes are trying to unravel a mystery about why people in New York are going absolutely crazy, with seemingly no explanation. There is murder, robberies, suicide, muggings, etc., the city is in mass hysteria. Hercules tries to help, but is assaulted by a dark, mysterious figure wearing a trench coat. Before he knows what’s going on, he’s dragged into the sewers by a horde of demons! He returns to the surface later, but the son of Zeus is visibly shaken, and in fear for his life!

The creative forces behind these two issues are incredible but in two ways. The cover of the first issue is by Ron Wilson and Mike Esposito. Both men were awesome but vastly underappreciated. Do yourself a favor, and go to one of the many database websites and check out these two creators. Again with the same theme of being underappreciated, we have Rich Buckler (interior pencils on both issues, and cover pencils on #230). After his recent passing (May 2017), I really felt terrible because I’d only met him one time, and was sorry I didn’t talk to him more often, as he seemed like a great guy. The interior inkers are an interesting contrast. In #229, we have Chic Stone, whose style is a bit cartoony over Buckler’s pencils (see the splash/first page). Not bad, but definitely not the best either. The next issue sees Joe Sinnott inking (cover and interiors), and you can clearly see the detail and high level this man brought to the industry. The Bronze Age stalwart, Gerry Conway, is the writer for both issues. He had a pretty long run on the title (#193-238), following Stan Lee. Linda Lessmann, Stan Goldberg, and John Costanza round out the creative team.

 

Giant Size Man-Thing 3 and 4, 1975

The character Man-Thing is not only one of the best from the Bronze Age, but also for all time in the horror genre. Yes, the Heap predates him (also  another character called “IT” from the pulp era in a sci-fi story by Theodore Sturgeon predates The Heap) but his staying power wasn’t so great for one reason or another. Manny has been around since the early 1970s, and still going to this day. A lot of horror characters (other than the public domain ones), fizzled out and all but disappeared after the  Bronze Age came to a close, but not Man-Thing. One of the reasons is because he had great creators behind him virtually all of the time.

You may ask yourself, what does a wizard, a viking, a barbarian, a high school full of kids, and a duck have in common? Nothing, and that’s the sheer brilliance of Steve Gerber (writer, both issues, the Man-Thing stories plus Howard the Duck). He can take these random things and deliver a great story using a swamp monster that can’t even speak. On the surface, most Man-Thing stories just appear as action/adventure stories, but there is usually an underlying message that is/was very relevant.

The artwork in these two books is nothing short of excellent. In issue three, you get Alfredo Alcala (pencils/inks), Petra Goldberg (colors), and Marcos Pelayo (letters) on the interiors. The cover is by Gil Kane (pencils) and Klaus Janson (inks, with alterations by John Romita). There are two back-ups that feature work by Paul Reinman, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, and Jack “King” Kirby!

The following issue contains more incredible work, starting with an amazing cover by Frank Brunner! Ed Hannigan, Ron Wilson, Frank Springer, Phil Rachelson, Tom Orzechowski, round out the creative team, and a back-up story by Gerber and Brunner to top it all off!