Sunday, November 6, 2011

King-Size Special! Marvel Collector's Item #5!

Marvel Snapshot: 1977
by Matthew R. Bradley

I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but 1977 got off to a sad start when penciler Bob Brown died on January 29, and if not a household name, he is fondly remembered for his pre-Starlin Warlock and rarely broken runs on Avengers #113-126 (including their half of the epic Avengers/Defenders War) and Daredevil #107-43.  Several books followed him into the Great Beyond that year, including two in August that I felt had real promise:  Doug Moench’s The Inhumans, with beautiful Keith Pollard artwork, and Marvel Presents, featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy and written by Roger Stern after Steve Gerber’s departure.  Others arose to replace them, but in my opinion were not nearly as strong, e.g., Moench’s Godzilla, penciled by Herb Trimpe and then Tom Sutton; Bill Mantlo’s allegedly fact-based Human Fly, drawn mostly by Lee Elias; and Star Wars, which went downhill pretty fast after Roy Thomas adapted the movie with artist Howard Chaykin.

BOF favorite Super-Villain Team-Up effectively ended in October with #14 (despite sporadic appearances into 1980), yet went out in a blaze of glory as Mantlo and penciler Bob Hall not only threw the Red Skull and Magneto into the mix, but also engineered cross-overs with both The Avengers and Mantlo’s The Champions.  The latter likewise folded in January 1978 after John Byrne spelled Hall for most of ’77, while the Avengers storyline—one of my favorites—involved the Whizzer and Wonder Man as well as SVTU stars Sub-Mariner and Dr. Doom and formidable Subby villain Attuma.  Ace inker Pablo Marcos gave the Assemblers some welcome continuity as Jim Shooter supplanted scripter Gerry Conway and the pencils ping-ponged among George Pérez (including a luscious Ultron two-parter), Sal Buscema, Don Heck, George Tuska, and Byrne.

By June, the on-again, off-again Conway had departed from numerous books, succeeded by Scott Edelman on the so-so Captain Marvel; David Anthony Kraft on The Defenders, featuring Keith Giffen art and the return of Scorpio; Shooter—again—on Ghost Rider, with Don Perlin relieving Heck on pencils; and Mantlo on Iron Man, where he and Tuska kicked off the great Midas/Madame Masque/Jack of Hearts saga.  Conway was followed on Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man by a revolving door (somewhat stabilized with Our Pal Sal’s pencils) of Shooter, Archie Goodwin, Mantlo, and Chris Claremont, who also took over Ms. Marvel two months after Gerry and Sal’s big brother John had created it in January.  Early in his record-setting sixteen-year run on X-Men, Claremont presided over the sad absorption of Iron Fist into Power Man; both were then being drawn by Byrne, who succeeded Dave Cockrum on X-Men at year’s end, while #106 was a Mantlo fill-in featuring some of Brown’s last published work, also seen in Daredevil.

In January, writer-artist Jack Kirby launched his own Black Panther, dispensing with the supporting cast and storyline from T’Challa’s Jungle Action strip, and helmed that book as well as his original creation The Eternals—which also ended the following January—all year.  He remained on Captain America (where he introduced Arnim Zola in #208) through #214 in October, after which the book regrouped with a Thomas origin story and a reprint.  Thomas continued chronicling Cap’s wartime adventures in The Invaders, let down only by the pencils of the dreaded Frank Robbins, but fortunately the same could not be said when Roy collaborated with Big John on Tarzan, one of two Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations launched in June, the other being John Carter, Warlord of Mars.

Gerber kept his hand in throughout 1977 with Howard the Duck, drawn by Gene Colan, although his Omega the Unknown endured fill-ins by Edleman and Stern and cancellation in October with #10.  Marv Wolfman took over a relatively established title, Marvel Two-in-One (with art by Ron Wilson and a valiant attempt to keep Deathlok in play), while keeping the home fires burning on one new book, the underappreciated Nova—including an Amazing Spider-Man cross-over—and launching another with John Carter, illustrated by Gil Kane.  On Daredevil, he too turned the reins over to Shooter, under whose aegis the comic slipped to bimonthly status, while no lesser talent than Jim Starlin went from penciling to writing Dr. Strange once Wolfman vacated it, albeit only for three issues.

The 1977 Consistency Award went once again to Len Wein, who stayed the course on Incredible Hulk, featuring a Jack of Hearts guest-shot and a round-robin of inkers over Sal’s pencils; Amazing Spider-Man, with Lizard/Stegron and Punisher/Hitman two-parters drawn by Ross Andru; and Thor, with an interstellar quest delineated by Big John and, later, Walt Simonson.  Wein also briefly inherited Fantastic Four from Thomas after an interregnum involving Mantlo, Shooter, and Goodwin, with a complex Counter-Earth/Negative Zone storyline and a plethora of pencilers such as Pérez, Wilson, and the ubiquitous Sal, mostly under Joe Sinnott’s incomparable inking.  Mantlo, in turn, gave way to Claremont on Marvel Team-Up, where Chris was reunited with Byrne and Iron Fist during an excellent run, but not before Bill featured his own creation of Woodgod (introduced in Marvel Premiere #31 the previous year) and the now-homeless Warlock.

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. Nice post, Matthew. It's sad to relive the downhill slide of the late-1970s at Marvel, along with yet another price hike. I never thought Power Man was as good as Hero for Hire--I missed the gritty, urban stories and the ever-malfunctioning coffee machine! I agree with you that Nova was underrated and I also liked Omega. I was glad to see it get some play in The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem's excellent novel that is a must-read for fans who were reading Marvel comics in the 70s.

  2. Thanks so much, Jack. We can continue to enjoy our friendly debate over the relative merits of 1975 and '76, but it's clear to me as well that by '77 Marvel was incontrovertibly headed downward. Never did warm to OMEGA myself, but Infantino aside, I thought NOVA achieved some of its stated intention (as I recall) of trying to recapture some of that early Spider-Man feeling. As for Mr. Cage, I never read his book until Iron Fist was forced into it, and the Claremont/Byrne tenure there was so brief that it almost immediately became a poster child for rote-buying, of which I'm sorry to say I did a lot in the late '70s and early '80s.