The Avengers 131, 1974 “A quiet half hour in Saigon!”

It’s no secret that Stainless Steve Englehart is one of the best comic book writers from the Bronze Age (and maybe of all time?). One of his most important legacies is his work on The Avengers. Being only the third person to write that title (Lee and Thomas preceded him), is quite an honor in and of itself, but Englehart took what was there and built a mansion on top of that foundation. He took the team to new heights with his reality spanning story, The Celestial Madonna.

Kang, the main antagonist of the story, was elevated from a more simplified villain, to a complex character that had many layers. In this issue, we see him overpower not only another version of himself (Rama-Tut) but a third version (Immortus) all within mere pages! As if that wasn’t enough, Kang then summons (using the technology of the master of time, Immortus), six characters from the past- Midnight (from Shang-Chi), Wonder Man, Baron Zemo, The Ghost (from Silver Surfer), and Frankenstein’s Monster! He uses them as pawns to attack The Avengers inside a castle!

Top to bottom, Englehart, Sal Buscema and Joe Staton (artists), Tom Orzechowski (letters) and Phil Rachelson (colors), did a magnificent job on this book!

 

 

Advertisements

Captain America – Top 5 Creative Teams

The character Captain America is not only the greatest superhero to ever don the red, white, and blue, but also the only hero from the Golden Age strictly born out of patriotism that survives today. That alone says something about the strength of the character, and in a small way about patriotism in general. That being said, Captain America has had some very thought-provoking story lines over the years, and a select few men have been responsible! Here are my choices for the five best of all time!

 

 

5. Joe Simon (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist)

There are two reasons I have these gentleman on this list (and where). First, I don’t believe you can have a list like this without the creators of the character. Not having read very much material from the Golden Age is why this team isn’t higher on the list. The fact that these men created one of the most iconic characters ever, but that they had him punching the ultimate personification of evil (Adolph Hitler) in the face is absolutely fantastic.

 

4. Stan Lee (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist)

In his second run with Cap, Kirby really cranked up the visual feasts. He took Cap to new heights that haven’t been reached again and probably never will be. The stories in this era (Silver Age in Tales of Suspense, and then his own title) had more intrigue and spy material than straight up war angles, and that fit perfectly with the Cold War going on at the time.

 

 

3. Roger Stern (writer) and John Byrne (artist)

If you sit back and think how great this run was and that it only encompassed nine issues, that alone tells you how great it truly was to read. Any creative team that can produce a serious story about Cap considering running for the presidency and you believe it, has to be near the top of any list. And just the creepy Baron Blood issues alone are incredibly good!

 

2. Ed Brubaker (writer) and Steve Epting (artist)

To say that Captain America (and a lot of the Marvel Universe) needed updating after the turn of the century is an understatement. The shot in the arm was delivered by this awesome team. And yes, this is a list of Cap creative teams, but this team bringing back Bucky, and turning him into Steve’s worst nightmare was pure genius. No one has come close to this level of writing since.

 

1. Steve Englehart (writer) and Sal Buscema (artist)

From issue #153-181 (with almost no interruptions), Steve and Sal gave the readers everything they could possibly want. The political intrigue, racial bigotry, disturbing truths about a government he trusted, etc. The best part though, was Cap’s friendship with the Falcon. He and Sam Wilson grew to be best of friends, and an awesome crime fighting team! The villains were a big part of this run as well- Dr. Faustus, the 1950s Cap and Bucky (click here for details), Red Skull, Yellow Claw, Serpent Squad, Baron Zemo, Moonstone, and more! All the while having guest stars like the X-Men, S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Panther, Iron Man, you name it. This creative team pulled out all the stops (even Cap quitting!), and that is why they are number one!

 

 

Honorable mentions; first, to the team of Jack Kirby (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist)! His return to Marvel in the mid-1970s ushered in some incredible trippy stories starring Cap, and even if the stories don’t grab you, the mind-numbing artwork will! Also, Stan Lee (writer) and Gene Colan (artist). Awesome run with more action than you can ever want, and a signature art style that is absolutely unique!

 

The Avengers 148, 1976 “20,000 Leagues Under Justice!”

After leaving Marvel (Timely/Atlas) for the second time, Jack Kirby created the Fourth World. To put it simply, he created an entire universe full of characters from the vast, galactic brain of his that had already spawned the likes of Captain America (with Joe Simon), the Romance genre, the Boy Commandos, Challengers of the Unknown, The Sky Masters of the Space Force, and…well, you get it. Oh and he also co-engineered (if not engineered) much of the Marvel Silver Age.

After a few short years at DC, he returned to Marvel once again, and he gave us all something very different, and very cool. Titles like Machine Man, Devil Dinosaur, 2001: A Space Odyssey, drove our imaginations to new heights. Kirby also did numerous covers for the Fantastic Four, and The Avengers! Books like this one are a comic book lovers dream. Cover by Jack “King” Kirby, story by “Stainless” Steve Englehart, pencils by “Gorgeous” George PĂ©rez, inks by Sam Grainger, colors by Hugh Paley, and letters by “Titanic” Tom Orzechowski! This issue features one of the teams that could consistently give The Avengers a run for their money- The Squadron Supreme!

 

 

img396

img398

img428

img429

img430

img431

Doctor Strange 12, 1976 “Final Curtain!”

It’s no secret that Doctor Strange is my favorite character. His 1974 series is undoubtedly one of the most underrated series of all time. From start to finish it’s incredible. And let’s be honest, with creators like Steve Englehart, Gene Colan, Roger Stern, Jim Starlin, Tom Sutton, Marv Wolfman, Rudy Nebres, Paul Smith (and more!), you can’t go wrong! This particular issue deals with the Doc, as he’s about to be in conflict with Eternity himself, for the soul of his recently deceased master, the Ancient One! A flashback of the insidious Baron Mordo, and the Doc and Clea see the world die!

As the creative tag-team of Steve Englehart (writer) and Gene Colan (pencils) was beginning to wind down, one might think that the material might suffer, but this is not so. Both men brought their “A” game until the end of the run. It’s to be expected though, as both were consummate pros throughout their comic book careers. Another link in the awesome creative chain, is Tom Palmer (inks, colors). His work alongside Colan is legendary, even if you only look at this title or Tomb of Dracula. Yet another name synonymous with Bronze Age royalty is Tom Orzechowski (letters). He was a constant at Marvel and definitely earned his place among these other greats with his diligence. Throw in Marv Wolfman (editor), and the credits are full of amazing creators that gave their best!

 

img993

img996

img997

img998

img999

Captain America #154, 1972 “The Falcon Fights Alone!”

After two solid runs (one by Gary Friedrich and the other by Gerry Conway) on this title, the book was in need of another direction. The days of Cap fighting Nazis and Commies was over, and the character was basically spinning his wheels. Sure, you had some good stories in the Avengers, but his solo book was about to be redirected and there would be no going back. The issue before this one started a storyline where Cap had seemingly turned into a flaming racist, and his old partner (believed dead after this retcon story) Bucky was also back and spouting racist remarks towards the Falcon. It was an obvious imposter, but who are these two, and how do they know so much about the history of the star-spangled Avenger?

When “Stainless” Steve Englehart (writer) took over this book, most probably had no clue what was in store, and what a wild ride it was! Add into the mix “Our Pal” Sal Buscema (interior pencils and cover, inks by Frank Giacoia) and “Jumbo” John Verpoorten (inks), as the art team, John Costanza letters, and Roy Thomas editing, and you get one of the best the Bronze Age has to offer!

 

img377

img378

img380

img381

img382

img383

Marvel Premiere #13, 1974 “Time Doom”

Time marches on, and so does my look at Marvel Premiere! As the good Doctor is being drawn into a mad adventure through time, we see the emergence of a powerful mage named Cagliostro! This man is from the past seems to be so powerful, that Dr. Strange and Baron Mordo both seem to be jut pawns to him, but is he really who he claims to be? As the Doc and Baron Mordo attempt to convince Cagliostro that each of them is worthy of his attention, but he seemingly couldn’t care less!

Time travel can be one of those things that get terribly convoluted and quite frankly foolish. One man who has proved on more than one occasion that he’s up to the task of writing a good time travel story, is Steve Englehart. If this story isn’t enough, pick up a copy of the trade paperback, “Celestial Madonna” for another tale with the time-hopping Kang the Conqueror! Once again, Frank Brunner shows us how incredibly talented he is, by giving us another issue filled with fantasy and magic! Throw in the Crusty Bunkers (inks), John Costanza (letters), and Roy Thomas (editor), and you’ve got one fantastic creative team!

 

Image (57)

Image (58)

Image (59)

Image (60)

Image (61)

Image (62)

 

Marvel Premiere #12, 1973 “Portal to the Past”

Some of you may be wondering why I skipped issue #11. Easy answer is because it basically just reprints the origin of Dr. Strange, by Ditko and Lee. Not that the material isn’t great, but that’s not what this is about. There was a little bridging material, where the Doc went to the former dwelling of the Ancient One, and told his followers that the master is dead. In this issue, the Doc runs into a bunch of gypsies, and a huge Gargoyle! The run of Doc Strange in this title was coming to an end soon, but Englehart and Brunner sure didn’t slow down with the excitement!

For reasons unknown to me, Mike Friedrich scripted some of this issue, and he’s obviously a capable writer, and left a good imprint wherever he traveled. We know that Englehart and Brunner were just getting started with the good Doctor, and they would bring him to new heights, never before seen. No disrespect to Ditko/Lee or Thomas/Colan, but this team set the tone for decades to come, and along with John Costanza lettering, and the Crusty Bunkers inks, this issue is another gem of the run!

 

Image (39)

Image (40)

Image (41)

Image (67)

Image (68)

Image (69)

 

Marvel Premiere #10, 1973 “Finally, Shuma-Gorath!”

You know something, writing about Dr. Strange, and actually comics in general is one of the most edifying things I can think of to share. Why is that, some of you may ask? Well, explaining it isn’t easy, but I’ll try. You see, the vast array of subject matter, the varying intensity of the stories, the mind-blowing artwork, and just the overall satisfaction of reading these great stories and then sharing them with those who might never have read them or even thought about reading them, is quite a thrill. Over the years, people have had differing opinions on comic books (speaking of those who have never read them). Most seem to think they’re for adolescents or weirdos, and just never give them a fair shake. That is nothing short of foolish, and I would guarantee that anyone that considers themselves a fan of fiction (even though most stories draw parallels to everyday events from history), would be impressed by the more complex works of the industries greats.

OK, mild diatribe over. Let us now forge our way into the past, and see the death of one of the Marvel Universe’s great characters. If you go back and read the wondrous stories of the early years, and origin of Dr. Strange, by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, you’ll see just how much of an influence the Ancient One was on Strange. When you understand that, you’ll know how difficult it was for Strange to kill his mentor. Possessed by Shuma-Gorath, the vile creature that intends on killing Dr. Strange, and invading the universe that he and the Ancient One protect!

In only their second issue together, Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner show us that they mix incredibly well as a creative team. Their styles seem to be a match made in heaven. Englehart at this point had already written some great stories as only the third person to write the Avengers title (after Lee and Roy Thomas). He proved that he was more than worthy of taking the reigns of any book and either continuing the greatness or amplifying it. It’s true that these issues (as with a majority of the Bronze Age) are very trippy, and if you don’t appreciate that kind of material, you might not find these stories to your liking. With that said, these two creators (along with the Crusty Bunkers inking, John Costanza lettering, and Roy Thomas, editor) do their best to present a story that is chocked full of action, drama, and of course, magic!

 

Image (23)

Image (24)

Image (25)

Image (26)

Image (27)

Image (28)

Image (29)

Image (30)

 

Marvel Premiere #9, 1973 “The Crypts of KAA-U!”

As my look at Marvel Premiere marches on (specifically the Dr. Strange issues), this issue is a momentous one because of the arrival of the new creative team going forward. Until now, a few different creators were involved, and they did an admirable job, but now, the theme takes a bit of a turn, and the Doc must not only continue to fight against Shuma-Gorath and its minions, but also try to deal with the death of his mentor, the Ancient One!

When I interviewed “Stainless” Steve Englehart (writer) about his fabled run with this character, he mentioned some late night brainstorming sessions between he and artist Frank Brunner (pencils on the interiors and the cover). How they would meet and carefully concoct where they wanted things to go, and why. I’ve been a part of other interviews before where a duo worked closely together on a certain title (Dan Abnett, about his work Andy Lanning), and it’s always fun to hear about these jam sessions between two great minds! The inks on this issue are by Ernie Chan, and he’s definitely one of my favorites from the decade. John Costanza (letters) and Dave Hunt (colors) round out the team on this fabulous first collaboration between two of comic book’s definitive creators from the Bronze Age!

 

Image (7)

Image (8)

Image (9)

Image (10)

Image (11)

Image (12)

Image (13)

 

Captain Marvel #42, 1976 “Shootout at The O.K. Cosmic Corral!”

Taking a quick break from my look at Marvel Premiere, let us now see what the Marvel cosmic universe holds! As the Bronze Age rolled on, it was quite clear that Marvel was going to keep the cosmic train rolling, and heroes such as the Guardians of the Galaxy, Starlord, and of course, Captain Marvel! The creative minds behind this invigorating time were varying but exquisite nonetheless. In this particular story, we get to see not only the Kree man, Mar-Vell, but also Rick Jones, and the mysterious cosmic being the Stranger! One of the reasons I love this issue is because of the title. I’m a sucker for anything related to the old West, such as movies like “Tombstone” and the like. The scene in that film where the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral occurs is fantastic, so the idea of naming this story after that event is doubly as cool!

The writer of this issue is none other than “Stainless” Steve Englehart! His abilities for concocting incredible stories are well-known, and anyone out there that doesn’t own first hand evidence of that, pick up his Avengers stories, Captain America, Dr. Strange, etc. The pencils (and plot assist) are by the ever reliable Al Milgrom (cover as well, with inks by Alan Weiss). This guy is very underrated, and when you look at the pencils, inks, plots, scripts, etc., you have to give the man his due. The inks are by two consummate pros, and no one can deny that Frank Giacoia and Mike Esposito are anything other than that. The colors are by Phil Rachelson and the letters by Marvel mainstay Tom Orzechowski!

 

Image (80)

Image (81)

Image (82)

Image (83)

Image (103)

Image (104)