Sunday, July 28, 2013

Marvel Collectors Item Classics: Micro-Snapshot #2

Meet the Men of Bronze:

Steve Englehart in 1972

By Matthew R. Bradley

As quickly as Gerry Conway established himself as one of Marvel’s Bronze-Age writing mainstays—and future editors-in-chief, however briefly—in 1971, it could be argued that “Stainless Steve” Englehart (b. 1947) was on an even faster track to celebrity status the following year.  Consider this, for example:  although Conway’s workload going into 1972 equaled that of a Silver-Age Lee or Thomas, it had included modest stints on mid-level books such as Iron Man and Sub-Mariner, and he had yet to begin his most celebrated run, on Amazing Spider-Man.  As for Englehart, who had early experience under his belt in the black-and-white horror mags at Archie Goodwin’s alma mater, Warren Publishing, well, let’s take a look…

January:  Steve was already on staff as a proofreader and even a penciler of romance stories when he made his Marvel writing debut.  “My art jobs…weren’t exciting anyone,” he noted on his blog , “but I was still an editor.  When Gary Friedrich’s Sgt. Fury #94 came in, de facto Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas wanted major revisions in the script and had me do them.”  Several of his early efforts, some of them uncredited, were co-written with Friedrich.

February:  Like Sgt. Fury, Marvel’s monster comics were a frequent proving ground for young talent, and an entry like Englehart’s Monsters on the Prowl #15 was practically de rigueur.  He recalled, “I got my first writing credit on ‘Terror of the Pterodactyl,’ where I had the extreme good fortune to be working with people I could credit as ‘Pstan Lee, Psyd Shores, and Artie Psimek.’  Roy liked the chutzpah involved in that—and he offered me a superhero series, just like that.  All of a sudden, I were a writer.”

May:  Said series featured the Beast, whom Conway had further mutated into his furry form in the first issue, whereupon Englehart took over with Amazing Adventures #12 and wrote the remainder.  The importance of this strip was inversely proportional to its length:  it was the only regular venue for an ex-X-Man in between incarnations of their own book, and Englehart, who changed him from gray to his better-known blue, later made the Beast one of Marvel’s most popular characters as a member of the Avengers.

June:  An uncredited collaboration with Friedrich, Incredible Hulk #152 can be regarded as a sign of things to come in several ways.  In 1973, Steve would begin a modest but memorable run on the book, while this issue guest-stars then-President Nixon and Vice President Agnew, foreshadowing the conspiracy with which Englehart paralleled Watergate in Captain America.

August:  Despite its numeration, Defenders #1 did not introduce everybody’s favorite non-team, which Roy had midwifed in Marvel Feature #1-3, after planting seeds in other mags as far back as 1970.  “Roy had wanted the Silver Surfer [as a] member but Stan Lee had asked that the Surfer be reserved for his exclusive use,” Steve wrote.  “Naturally, I immediately asked Stan if I could guest-star the Surfer occasionally, and he was kind enough to go along.  I also added a Roy-character called the Valkyrie to provide some texture to the group.” Once again, the relative brevity of Englehart’s 11-issue run belies its significance, incorporating as it does one of this writer’s favorite arcs ever, the Avengers-Defenders War (or “Clash,” as he prefers to call it).

September:  Englehart and his Defenders collaborator, artist Sal Buscema (“one of my all-time favorites…a perfect comic book storyteller”), immediately added a second book to their roster with Captain America #153.  Steve’s 34-issue run is considered one of the signal achievements of the Bronze Age and, as he put it, turned a “wayward book slouching toward cancellation [into] Marvel’s Number One title.”  Our distinguished President and Dean of Students may wish to editorialize on that subject himself.

October:  Displaying his diversity, Englehart wrote the first five issues of the short-lived Doc Savage.  “I had enjoyed the Doc Savage reprints from Bantam Books even as I enjoyed Marvel Comics.  So did Roy Thomas.  He secured the rights for Marvel but ran out of time to write the book and handed it off to me.”  With any luck, we’ll get Professor Gilbert to weigh in on the mag (which I’ve never read) and its pulp origins.

November:  Englehart began the longest and, to me, most important run of his Bronze-Age Marvel tenure with Avengers #105.  Over the course of four years (culminating in a collaboration with newcomer George PĂ©rez), he would dazzle readers with the Vision’s true origin and the saga of the Celestial Madonna, as well as such new members as the Beast and Hellcat.  And I know at least one faculty member will be disappointed if I don’t mention the cross-over with one of my underdog favorites,  Super-Villain Team-Up, which he was also writing at that time.

Thus, Englehart finished his first year as a Marvel writer already at the helm of his two signature strips.  Still ahead lay such glories as shepherding Dr. Strange from Marvel Premiere back into his own book once again; co-creating Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, with artist Jim Starlin in Special Marvel Edition #15; and making a noble, if inevitably doomed, attempt to fill Starlin’s cosmically huge shoes—at least in his capacity as a writer—in Captain Marvel (an act almost as tough to follow as Jim Steranko’s S.H.I.E.L.D.).  But he was, to say the least, off to a good start.


  1. Nice piece! Englehart also wrote some of the best Batman stories of that decade.

  2. Indeed, I do believe that Stainless Steve could reign as Best 1970s Marvel Writer on that legendary "Other Cap" arc alone but he also wrote several other standout issues of Cap and, as my brother-in-arms Jack as mentioned, some of the best Batman issues ever. Only Gerry Conway will give this uy a run for the money, IMO. Great essay (as usual) Professor Matthew.

  3. Thank you both! I obviously champion much of Conway's work, but in terms of consistent quality, I consider Englehart the clear winner in that match-up. Steve's strongest competition as my own favorite Marvel Bronze writer is probably Gerber.

  4. Nice work, Prof. Matthew! It's easy to forget how many different titles these guys worked on. And nice to see Mr. Englehart agrees with me on the mighty Sal Buscema!

  5. Thanks. Knew that quote regarding Our Pal would make you sit up and take notice, Professor Joe. And it's that very mix of quantity and quality that makes me nominate Stainless as top dog, despite Merry Gerry's impressive work on AMAZING and elsewhere.

  6. Interesting essay. I just read his Avengers after reading so much about his run - I never was a big Avengers fan back then - and it is interesting, even if it has aged badly in parts. Often I wonder though if his ideas wouldn't have been better served with some more innovative art. The Brown issues are so, well, lame, and I am also not a big fan of Sal B.