Marvel Premiere #7, 1973 “The Shadows of the Starstone!”

As my look at Marvel Premiere rolls on, this next issue brings more intrigue with Shuma-Gorath, and the sorcerer supreme, Dr. Strange! After defeating three seemingly invincible foes recently, the Doc must now travel to Stonehenge, and then to some far out dimension to battle more horrors! This one has Clea, Wong, and others, as guest stars! The good Doctor must battle for his life, and soon, that of his aged mentor, as well!

Another issue written by Gardner Fox, this one starts out with one of the best lines ever in a comic book (Clea speaking)…”What is it that disturbs you, Stephen?” The artwork on the inside is a n incredible creative team. First, on pencils you have an artistic genius in P. Craig Russell. Next, you get inks by committee, with Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt! Those three gentleman are synonymous with the decade, and really do a great job on this issue. Jean Izzo was the letterer, and Mimi Gold, the colorist. One thing of note about the interiors is that the colors really pop in this issue. That was something that was outright awesome, and unseen before this time period. And if that wasn’t enough, you get another incredible cover by Mike Ploog!

 

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Marvel Premiere #5, 1972 “The Lurker in the Labyrinth”

Continuing with more of the Doctor Strange run in Marvel Premiere, this story is a continuation from the last, and shows the Doc fighting for his life against some crazy cult that has people looking like the Sleestak’s from Land of the Lost! These worshipers of evil also can apparently summon an unseen force to stop people, and even severely weaken the Sorcerer Supreme himself. So, in short, the Doc must overcome a lizard-like entity, his hundreds of hypnotized followers, and restore the town to its peaceful regularity, and oh yeah, all without hurting/killing any of the people who are enthralled! Yeesh!

This magnificent story, like the last issue, is loosely based off of a story by the legend himself, Robert E. Howard. The book’s creative team is nothing short of groovy as well! Writer extraordinaire, Gardner Fox, did very little work for Marvel Comics, but his overall contributions to the comic book industry are nothing short of Herculean. The pencils for this issue are by a man I’m not too familiar with (I’ve seen a couple of pages of his works in reprints of Golden/Silver Age horror/sci-fi stuff), but Irv Wesley (Sam Kweskin) did a fine job. One of the reasons I feel the artwork looks as good as it does, is from the inks of Don Perlin! I’m a big fan of his work, and you should be too! Rounding out the creative team is letter Sam Rosen, and editor Roy Thomas! Oh, and let us not forget the unbelievable cover by the one and only Mike Ploog!

 

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Marvel Premiere #4, 1972 “The Spawn of Sligguth!”

Anyone that’s read any of my work knows I frequently salivate over certain creators, characters, and books. One of these things being Dr. Strange. Not just anything that the Doc has been in, but specifically his solo series from 1974, and his appearances in Marvel Premiere (1972). In issue #4, we see some material taken from the mind of Robert E. Howard (Conan, Kull, Red Sonja, etc.). In this adventure, the Doc has just survived a grave encounter with Nightmare, and now faces an even more vile thereat. An old friend has come calling about a problem in the New England area, and once there, Dr. Strange will meet his doom!

The creative team on this one is certainly top-notch. The story was written by “Amiable” Archie Goodwin, with the plot and editing by “Rascally” Roy Thomas. The pencils by none other than “Bashful” Barry Windsor-Smith, inks by “Far Out” Frank Brunner! Letters by John Costanza, and cover by BWS and Tom Palmer! Enjoy this classic tale from the past of Dr. Strange!

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Dr. Strange King-Size Annual #1, 1976 “and there will be worlds anew!”

Different decades mean different things to all of us, but certain eras are definitely made more spectacular by a select few. A couple of those names for me personally (for the 1970’s) are most certainly Marv Wolfman and P. Craig Russell. Both of these gentleman became big names in the 1970’s, and rightfully so. Wolfman for his work with Marvel Comics horror titles, initially (Tomb of Dracula, and wrote/edited many black & white mags), and Russell with his work also for Marvel, on the title Amazing Adventures featuring Killraven. Of course, both did spot jobs here and there on whatever they could get their hands on, but both have a knack for creating on titles with a supernatural or mystical aspect to them.

In this wild adventure, Dr. Strange must travel to an otherworldly plane to battle for his lover, Clea. The enemy he must face is beautiful as well though, but very dangerous and powerful! Get ready, because this one’s a real head trip! Co-plotted by Russell and Wolfman, scripted by Marv Wolfman, pencils, inks, and colors by P. Craig Russell, letters by John Costanza, and cover by Dave Cockrum! Enjoy!

 

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Doctor Strange #1, 1974 “Through an Orb Darkly”

As a tribute to my favorite Marvel character, I’ll be spotlighting Dr. Strange for the entire month of December! No matter who the creative team is, I’ll always give any title featuring the Doc a try! For me, he’s kind of like pizza – even when it’s not so great, it still isn’t half bad either! My personal favorite run is Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner in the pages of Marvel Premiere (1972), and this team led the charge for the character into his own solo series, starting in 1974. Honestly though, there is still great work being done with this character, as recent as 2012 (Doctor Strange: Season One, by Greg Pak (writer) and Emma Rios (artist), which is a slight re-imagining of his origin in an OGN).

Back to the Bronze Age though, and the true greatness of creativity in the medium, especially with characters in the magical or cosmic realms. It was a perfect time for these characters to take off, due to the creative minds that were entering the medium. This series begins with Steve Englehart writing, Frank Brunner pencils (and cover art), Dick Giordano inking, Glynis Wein on colors, John Costanza lettering, and Roy Thomas editing. This issue also brought us one of Dr. Strange’s most evil enemies, Silver Dagger! And now, for your enjoyment, let’s take a look at the wondrous world of the Sorcerer Supreme!

 

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Man-Thing #4, 1980 “Death-Knell”

My love for Manny is documented, and of course, as most people agree, the first volume was better than the second. Mostly because of Steve Gerber and Mike Ploog, and obviously those two gentlemen had an incredible grasp on the character that was difficult to follow. I will admit though, that Chris Claremont and Don Perlin also seemed to be able to relay the silent emotions of the character quite well. In this story, Doc Strange travels to the swamps of Florida, and runs into Manny. For some unknown reason, his magicks are not working on the muck monster, and this spells trouble for Steven!

I know there is a lot of love out there for Swamp Thing, especially the Alan Moore stuff, and rightly so, but definitely give Manny a chance. The Gerber stuff is outstanding, and this second volume is very underrated, and deserves a shot! Written by Mister X-Men himself, Chris Claremont, pencils by Dandy Don Perlin, inks by Bob Wiacek, colors by Ben Sean, letters by John Costanza, and edited by Denny O’Neil (cover by Bob Wiacek)!

 

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Dr. Strange #183, 1969 “Beware The Undying Ones”

Well, Halloween is over, so the monster theme will die down, for now, but don’t worry, I wont stray too long from going back to the horror well once again soon! What I will do is gravitate back to my all-time favorite artist, Gene ‘The Dean’ Colan! Before his legendary run on Tomb of Dracula, Gene had a short run on the Dr. Strange title, written by Roy Thomas. The two seemed tailor-made for each others style,  and we saw some absolute magic (pun intended)! In issue #183, we see a story called “They Walk by Night,” and the Doc is in his mask phase, which never bothered me per se, but I certainly prefer him “unmasked.” Colan’s style was perfect for this character, and he did do some more work with the Doc in his second volume that started in 1974. Some great covers in that series came from Gene as well.

The story is from the mind of Roy Thomas, and he’s one of my (if not tops)all time favorite writers. He seemed to excel more at team books, but make no mistake, he can write anything. This story, along with a myriad of others is proof. Let us travel to the realm of darkness, and seek out these demonic beings, so that the Sorcerer Supreme may do battle with them! Story by Roy Thomas, art by Gene Colan, inks by Tom Palmer (cover inks by Bill Everett, Colan pencils), and Jean Izzo on letters! I know (and understand) why people love to talk about Steve Ditko’s work on Dr. Strange, but I think Colan did a better job at showing the worlds of the mystic arts that the Doc traversed!

 

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Comic Book Legends: An Interview with – Steve Englehart!

I think it’s safe to say, that in the 1970’s, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more diverse, determined, and dominant writer. From The Avengers, to Batman, and Captain America, Steve Englehart wrote stories that were interesting, thought-provoking, humorous, and socially significant. Among these treasures was his work on Dr. Strange.

Along with collaborator Frank Brunner (and later artwork by Gene ‘the Dean’ Colan and others), Steve spun a web involving just about every major villain the Doc had up until that point in the characters history. He also molded Clea, (apprentice/ lover of the Doc) to be more important, and not just a wallflower. The original run began in the pages of Marvel Premiere, and continued on in the Doc’s solo series. I spotlighted that run not too long ago (click here for that one), showing the mind-blowing artwork of Frank Brunner.

Alright, now that the pleasantries are done with, let’s get on with the interview!

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Billy: Did you read and/or draw any motivation from the Lee & Ditko work for your Doc Strange run?

Steve: Very definitely. Ditko’s Doc was legendary, and everyone thereafter tried to emulate him to some degree. Ditko’s Spidey got completely overwhelmed when Romita took it over, because Johnny was much better at the people and world that Spidey inhabited – but Ditko’s Doc remained a touchstone of “Strangeness” for everyone who followed on that strip. I had read all of it, just as I’d read all of Marvel, being a fan. I took my own approach to what I did with it, of course, but Ditko’s Doc was always the one I was fleshing out.


Billy: What was the impetus for your Dr. Strange stories? And did you approach editorial with the ideas or did they ask you (what was the process)?

Steve: Frank (Brunner) was taking over the strip full-time and did the then-unusual thing of asking for a specific writer. We knew each other only casually, socially, but he liked what I’d done on other books, so he asked that I be assigned. I had written Doc in DEFENDERS, but figured I’d need to get more mystical for his own book, so I started reading up on magick, which turned out to be interesting on its own, and my reading increasingly shaped my understanding of a sorcerer supreme. I could do this because editorial left each writer to do his job and figure out how to approach it on his own.


Billy: How tough is it juggling multiple titles on a monthly basis?

Steve: I enjoyed it. I loved all the characters, I loved working with artists…there was no real downside to it. I could do a book a week so I did four books a month, and there was always something new going on. Fun!


Billy: Did you guys use the “Marvel Method” or fully flesh out scripts together?

Steve: We did them together. Every two months we’d have dinner at his place or mine, and then talk late into the night putting the issue together. I always had concepts I wanted to explore and he had concepts he wanted to draw, and we’d make something that was more than the sum of those parts, until I, as the writer, was satisfied we had a solid issue. That was the most collaborative of any relationship I ever had with an artist.


Billy: Was killing the Ancient One something you felt fit the story (did it feel organic) or was it something you wanted to do from the get-go?

Steve: That evolved in our first late-night session. I thought Doc had been a disciple for quite a while now – and we’d inherited Shuma-Gorath and knew we had to resolve that at some point, preferably ASAP – and by the time we were done, it all came together (image below- the death of the Ancient One- Marvel Premiere #10, 1973).

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Billy: Can you speak about the whole atmosphere/work environment at Marvel at the time (other creators you enjoyed working with, etc. in the 1970’s)?

Steve: It was just a time of complete freedom. Everyone working there was assumed to be competent to handle his own titles and was not held back in any way. If you proved yourself _unable_ to handle your titles, they became someone else’s titles, but there was no micromanaging from editorial. Thus, if you _could_ handle your titles, you could be, and were encouraged to be, as creative as possible. And this was all taking place with everyone living in the New York metro area, so pretty much everyone else in comics, at every company, was someone you knew personally. When I moved to New York, as you had to do in those days, I felt from day one like I had three hundred new friends to work and party with. Both of which we did.


Billy: When did you and Frank find out about Dr. Strange becoming an ongoing or was that known from the beginning?

Steve: The book took off with us on it, and we knew what that would lead to, but we didn’t know when. The problem, as it turned out, was that Frank couldn’t do more than a bimonthly book, so when it became an ongoing series that was monthly, he struggled and then dropped off.


Billy: You inserted many of the best villains from Dr. Strange’s rogues gallery into your stories (Shuma Gorath, Mordo, Silver Dagger, Dormammu, etc.), what was the process like for combing thru them to choose which one you’d use?

Steve: I’d always think of character concepts, then go looking for a villain to cause the story I wanted to do. With Doc, Frank and I started, and then I continued, the idea of several-issue arcs exploring a particular concept, so then it was just a question of looking back through my collection. I took every character as real within the Marvel Universe, so I knew them personally you might say, and when I wanted somebody to a certain thing, I could usually go straight to him.


Billy: I’ve read that Frank’s (Brunner) style really wasn’t conducive to the rigors of a monthly title. Is that the reason he left the book?

Steve: Yes. Even on the books he did do, you’ll occasionally see a page or two by another artist. Art was not a slap-dash thing for him.


Billy: Obviously, transitioning to a legendary artist like Gene Colan, who had previously worked on Dr. Strange, wasn’t too bad of a draw, but was it intimidating at all?

Steve: Not really, because I knew Gene’s approach intimately, from having been a fan and then having worked in the same environment. Nobody intimidated me by then; I just saw the possibilities his more photographic approach would open up, after the more designy work by Frank. I consider them equally great at what they did, and Frank’s Doc is legitimately legendary in its own right, but Gene offered new worlds to explore. (And Gene didn’t want to be involved in the stories, so I was also taking that on completely – and that was fun, too.)


Billy: Gene is my favorite artist of all time, but I never got the chance to speak with him. Could you talk about him not only from a professional stand point, but also the man himself?

Steve: As a pro, he drew what you asked him to draw, exceptionally well, without any complaint – what a writer hopes for, and usually gets from pro artists, but not always. There was nothing that stood out in the work process, which is a good thing. (The only caveat was, he wasn’t great at pacing his stories, so writers generally broke their plots down page by page for him – a minor flaw, easily corrected.) As a person, he was just a sweet guy. He knew he was good but he never acted like it, and in fact, he told me that after many years of freelancing, he never assumed that he’d get another job once he turned the current one in.


Billy: Lastly, could you speak about having Roy Thomas as an editor, and what he brought to the table?

Steve: Roy brought the gift of freedom. It was his decision to let us be as creative as possible, without his interference, and I’m forever thankful for that.

Well, that’s it for today, but before I go, I want to send out a huge thank you to Steve for doing the interview, and allowing this fan to ask one of his favorite creators of all time some questions! Below is a link to Steve’s webpage, so click and take a look!

Marvel Comics: The 1970’s: Great Mash-Ups- Dr. Strange and Dracula!

Thanks for all the cheers, high fives, fist bumps, etc., I know you missed me while I was on vacation! Now that I’m back, I want to get back in the groove with one of my all time favorite mash-ups! In the 1970’s, the horror scene went wild, and so did the psychedelic books like Warlock, Man-Thing,  and Dr. Strange (Strange had been that way since the Ditko years, but it continued)! Two awesome things that dominated the 1970’s (and early 1980’s) were horror and sorcery. This is the subject of today’s “Mash-up”! The year was 1976, and it was time that Dracula, lord of all vampires, and this dimension’s (616) Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange had to meet!

Both books were selling well at the time (of their fist meeting), and a conflict seemed inevitable. Marvel had the incredible team of Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, and Tom Palmer on The Tomb of Dracula, but not to be outdone, Marvel super-scribe, Steve Englehart (and later, Roger Stern) was writing Dr. Strange at the time (along with Colan and Palmer on art duties – later Green, Leialoha, and others)! So, not only did this story make sense from a buyer’s perspective (most readers probably read both books), but also from an editorial angle as well. Now, without further interruption, here are a few of the great pages/panels from some of those early meetings between Dracula and Dr. Strange! Enjoy! For these stories check out Dr. Strange #14 & Tomb of Dracula #44 (their first meeting), & Dr. Strange #58-62 (The Montesi Formula).

 

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Marvel’s Unsung Heroes! -George Tuska!

The name George Tuska (RIP) doesn’t stand out for a lot of people, but this guy had quite a career beginning way back in the Golden Age. Titles such as “Crime Does Not Pay” and “Captain Marvel Adventures“, were home to hard-working guys like George. He really is the textbook definition of a  journeyman. He has a ton of credits, but personally, I don’t own many of his books. That being said, he’s made an impression on me, and I think he deserves to get some love! So, here’s to you, George, thanks for all the work you put in over the years in the world of comic books!

 

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