Sunday, October 30, 2011

King-Size Special! Marvel Collector's Item #4!

Marvel Snapshot: 1976
by Matthew R. Bradley

The big news for Marvel fans in 1976—as always, I’m going by cover dates here—was the return of artist Jack “King” Kirby, the Golden Age veteran who had co-created most of the major characters with Stan Lee at the dawn of the Marvel Age, and then defected to archrival D.C. Comics in 1970.  Kirby kicked off the year by taking over his signature character in Captain America #193 with the Madbomb saga, culminating in August with Cap’s 200th issue, coincidentally published during America’s own much-ballyhooed bicentennial.  In July, he had launched a new strip, The Eternals, but at least in the eyes of this observer, Marvel’s decision to let him write as well as draw his books (which I’ve always assumed was a condition of his return) only proved that despite his prodigious talent, Kirby should have stayed an artist.

By year’s end, Steve Englehart was gone from three books he’d written religiously throughout 1975—Avengers, Captain Marvel, and Dr. Strange—as well as one he’d picked up in April, the perennial BOF underdog favorite Super-Villain Team-Up.  A resurgent Gerry Conway handled the transition to new regular writers on both Avengers (highlighted by newcomer George Pérez’s pencils, Hellcat’s origin, and Wonder Man’s return) and Captain Marvel, teaming up with Bill Mantlo on #47 after a Chris Claremont fill-in, yet perhaps inevitably, despite their collective efforts, the post-Jim Starlin Mar-Vell was a shadow of his former self.  Marv Wolfman began a holding action on Dr. Strange #19, following the departure of Englehart and Doc’s longtime artist, Gene Colan, while Stainless Steve introduced the Shroud in SVTU #5, and Mantlo took the reins in December with an excellent multi-part Avengers crossover.

Conway looked like a one-man writing Bullpen in December, represented on at least six books, including Ghost Rider, to which Mantlo, erstwhile mainstay Tony Isabella, and Wolfman (who provided a Daredevil crossover in #20) all contributed scripts that year.  Not to be outdone in the “musical writers” department, Iron Man had previously featured the work of Len Wein, Roger Slifer, Mantlo (who introduced Blizzard in #86), Archie Goodwin, and Jim Shooter, mostly illustrated by George Tuska.  Merry Gerry was also the last man standing on Defenders, after Steve Gerber wound up his Headmen saga and ended his landmark run with artist Sal Buscema in #41, while Isabella seemed to be in the descendant, tag-teaming with Mantlo and Claremont on Champions before the former finally settled in at the helm, with BOF fave Bob Hall on pencils.

Mantlo was, in fact, fast becoming the man of the moment, working with Sal on an impressive year-long Marvel Team-Up stint, highlighted by an epic time-travel storyline and broken only by a December fill-in from, you guessed it, Conway.  Aptly, Boisterous Bill also wrote the lion’s share of that year’s stories in their other team-up book, Marvel Two-in-One, including Sal’s memorable MTU/MTIO Basilisk crossover.  With Our Pal Sal occasionally spelling Bob Brown, Wolfman stayed the course on Daredevil (save for a December fill-in by, no, not Conway, but the equally ubiquitous Mantlo), providing the origin of DD’s soon-to-be nemesis Bullseye in #131, and created the ill-fated Nova in September, with penciller John Buscema quickly succeeded by brother Sal.

Marvel continued introducing new books at a furious clip in 1976, and although most were short-lived, few fizzled as fast as Black Goliath, introduced by Isabella in February but immediately taken over by Claremont before being cancelled with #5 in November.  Collectors cornered the market on the first issue of Howard the Duck, a characteristically offbeat character whom Gerber created in the pages of Man-Thing and shepherded in January into his own cult-favorite title, on which Frank Brunner was soon supplanted by Colan.  Less popular was Gerber’s collaboration with Mary Skrenes on the enigmatic Omega the Unknown, which debuted in March with artwork by Jim Mooney, while one of the few long-term success stories was Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, launched in December by, uh, you know.

Perhaps to compensate for this flurry of activity, a few strips gave up the ghost that year, but in the case of Don McGregor’s Jungle Action, which ended in November with #24, the stage was clearly set for the impending launch of Kirby’s Black Panther.  Poor, doomed Luther Manning entered the special hell reserved for characters whose books have been cancelled when Deathlok, as chronicled by Rich Buckler and, yes, Mantlo, was orphaned by the demise of Astonishing Tales in July with #36.  Ironically, the Gerber-scripted adventures of the Guardians of the Galaxy—whose origin from Marvel Super-Heroes #18 had been reprinted in that very same book—were undeservedly not long for this world in Marvel Presents, with art by Al Milgrom.
Surely the biggest loss was writer-artist Starlin’s Warlock, the final issue of which (#15) entered BOF lore unexpectedly the one time I entrusted my next-oldest brother, Stephen, with the responsibility of picking up my comics for that week.  With his unerring eye for quality, Steve thought it looked neat and added it to the stack, but I, who had probably never seen Warlock before, couldn’t get past the fact that he had spent MY 30¢ on something I hadn’t empowered him to purchase.  Understandably enraged by my incessant 13-year-old whining, he finally tore the comic to pieces, and when I think what an original Starlin Warlock would fetch today, I feel positively ill at my own stupidity.

Amid this turmoil, Doug Moench and John Warner steadily wrote the bimonthly Inhumans and Son of Satan, respectively, while Claremont not only revived the Sentinels and introduced Phoenix during his first full year with Dave Cockrum on X-Men, but also worked with future X-Men artist John Byrne on Iron Fist.  Roy Thomas had unbroken runs on Invaders, introducing Baron Blood in #7, and Fantastic Four, peppered with Pérez pencils and appearances by the Hulk, Power Man, Galactus, and the High Evolutionary.  Wein managed a trifecta on Incredible Hulk (as Sal lovingly delineated the Abomination, Man-Thing, and Jarella), Amazing Spider-Man (with a Nightcrawler/Punisher two-parter enhancing Ross Andru’s ongoing run), and Big John Buscema’s always-impressive rendition of Thor.

Matthew R. Bradley is the author of Richard Matheson on Screen , now in its third printing, and the co-editor—with Stanley Wiater and Paul Stuve—of The Richard Matheson Companion (Gauntlet, 2008), revised and updated as The Twilight and Other Zones: The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson (Citadel, 2009).  Check out his blog, Bradley on Film


  1. Another fascinating entry, Professor Bradley! I remember quite well Kirby's return to Cap for the bicentennial. Didn't like it too much but it was loads better than the Frank Robbins tripe.
    Here's a good time to mention the publication of Pierre Comtois' new book, Marvel Comics in the 1970s, now available at Amazon. This is the sequel to last year's MC in the 1960s, a book that so enthralled me I decided we had to launch Marvel University. I actually only read the first 30 or so pages of that volume before putting it down lest it influence my thoughts on these comics. Since Comtois' new book focuses on the 70s, I have no problem diving into this one. Other than Comtois' assessment of Marvel's output in the 70s as a disintegration of the company and its morals, it's a fabulous read. Comtois doesn't do an exhaustive overview of the line (as we do here) but he covers the highlights. Highly recommended!

  2. Matthew, your post confirms my suspicion that 1976 was the beginning of the long decline at Marvel. Deathlok and Warlock canceled, and a price hike to 30 cents in the fall. I agree about Kirby, though at the time there were a lot of fans who criticized his art, too. I had a letter published in The Comics Journal around 1977 defending Kirby. Were you mainly interested in the hero titles? I thought Master of Kung Fu had some great work around this time. I also liked Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, among other cool Marvel mags.

  3. Belated thanks to you both for the kind and thoughtful words.

    Pete, the Cap situation at that time was truly a half-loaf: either we had interesting stories with crap Robbins art, or Kirby art with--alas--Kirby writing. Appreciate the tip on the book by Comtois, which sounds right up my alley.

    Jack, you're quite right that I focused pretty exclusively on Marvel's four-color super-hero line. The omission of, for example, MOKF and such horror titles as TOMB OF DRACULA, as well as all of the b&w books, should not be taken as any reflection on the work being done there. It had more to do with my personal interests and (as you can tell from the squabble I got into over a mere 30 cents) limited resources!

  4. A friend put me on to your "university" and it has immediately caught my interest! Thanks for the kind words about my books although I was disappointed to hear that you haven't finished the 1960s volume! And if Jack's interested in Marvel's more offbeat titles, he should definitely check out my 70s volume...end of shameless plug! I should say that I don't think I railed against marvel's moral decline in the late 70s although I may have made a comparison between Miller's treatment of violence toward women compared to how Ditko handled it in Spidey during the 60s! It wasn't until the nineties that a moral decline really set in at the company...first with "grim and gritty" and then under Quesada when the Comics Code was completely thrown out.

  5. Pierre!

    I'm honored you found us. I intend to return to your 1960s volume once the present blog runs its course. I was afraid I might be swayed by your commentary on the key issues. I figured the 1970s volume was okay to jump into though since our 1970s coverage doesn't start for over a year. I've been praising your books to anyone who'll listen (perfect starngers on the street, my girlfriend, President Obama, etc) as I think they're incredibly entertaining. If you'd like to contribute anything to the Marvel University blog, we'd be overjoyed. Please drop me a line at Thanks!