LAND OF THE GIANTS:
A Latecomer’s Overview
by Professor Matthew R. Bradley
|The very first...|
The GS format resembles that of the double-sized (more or less) annuals, with which they share a curiously entwined history. I and many others like the annuals best when they tie in with the monthly mags, as some GS books did, yet since the latter were quarterly, that was like getting four annuals in a year; how they turned out so much material, I’ll never know, but the fans back in the day must’ve thought they’d died and gone to heaven. The last wave of GS titles were nominally annual reprint-fests, making them indistinguishable from the all-reprint annuals published sporadically since the first-run Silver-Age annuals went out with a bang in the summer of ’68, while the genuine article would return in ’76.
First out of the gate in May ’74 was Giant-Size Super-Stars Featuring Fantastic Four #1, with a 35¢ price tag that coincided with an increase to 25¢ for the regular books. It was soon followed by the comparably priced inaugural issues of GS Super-Heroes Featuring Spider-Man and …Chillers Featuring the Curse of Dracula in June, and … Creatures Featuring Werewolf by Night the following month, all of whose unwieldy official titles demonstrated the original intention of revolving showcases along the lines of TV’s then-ubiquitous NBC Mystery Movie. Yet by July the winds of change were already blowing, with two further debuts whose price (now 50¢) and page count suddenly both increased.
What had been advertised as Giant-Size Super-Teams Featuring the Defenders eventually appeared simply as Giant-Size Defenders #1, while in the months to come, effective with their sophomore issues, the titles of Giant-Size Super-Stars, …Chillers, and … Creatures were streamlined as, respectively, GS Fantastic Four (August), …Dracula (September), and …Werewolf (October). Curiously, Spidey avoided the whole numeration game, and GS Super-Heroes Featuring Spider-Man #1 was instead succeeded in July by GS Spider-Man #1. I should mention that the same month’s first-and-only GS Creatures features (!) the noteworthy mutation of Greer Nelson, formerly the Cat, into Tigra, the Were-Woman.
The waters thus successfully tested, Marvel predictably opened their floodgates with the premieres in August of Giant-Size Avengers and …Man-Thing, and in September of GS Conan the Barbarian and …Master of Kung Fu. Each of these lasted for a minimum of four first-run issues, and they include some of the most notable GS books; GS Avengers was closely integrated with the Celestial Madonna epic then unfolding in their monthly mag. GS Man-Thing #4 (May 1975) featured the return of Howard the Duck—last seen free-falling into editorially imposed oblivion in Man-Thing #1—with “Frog Death,” and #5 (August 1975) was, as far as I can determine, the very last first-run issue of a GS title.
The line finally stabilized at nine titles, alternating in three quarterly groups, with what we might call Group A consisting of GS Defenders, …Spider-Man, and …Werewolf, all published punctually between July 1974 and July ’75. Group B comprised GS Avengers, …Fantastic Four, and …Man-Thing, published more or less quarterly from August 1974 to May ’75, although GS Avengers #4, with its historic dual wedding, aptly materialized in June. Group C included GS Conan, …Dracula, and …Master of Kung Fu (effectively replacing, albeit not a continuation of, GS Super-Heroes), published on schedule between September ’74 and June ’75, excepting GS Conan #3, which appeared belatedly in April.
By January 1975, having already devoted GS mags to many of their heavy hitters, Marvel began broadening the franchise further, expanding into both their popular Western genre and the reprint realm with Giant-Size Kid Colt #1. Hilariously, a mere eight months after Giant-Size Dracula had begun life—or at least undeath—as GS Chillers #1, they banked on the public’s forgiving nature and short memory with a partial reprint mag, Giant-Size Chillers Vol. 2 #1, in February, followed by GS Marvel Triple Action (a treasure trove of Avengers, Daredevil, and Dr. Strange classics) in May. Meanwhile, in March, the next phase in the rapid evolution of the line began with Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up #1.
So far, Marvel had used the giant-size books primarily to expand or capitalize on existing hits, but now, with GS-mania seemingly in full swing, they decided to use the format as a platform to launch entire new series. Yet because these trial balloons went up toward the end of the ultimately short-lived cycle, Giant-Size Invaders #1 (June 1975) lasted for only a single issue, and GSSVTU for two, before both morphed into regulation-sized comics in August. The best-known of these, indeed Marvel’s most famous GS issue by far, was the legendary Giant-Size X-Men #1 in May, featuring the initial appearances of the ill-starred Thunderbird and three soon-to-be mutant mainstays: Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus.
|... and the very last.|
By my highly unscientific count, Marvel published 24 giant-size titles during that period; setting aside the 11 that were all-reprints, only five of the remainder reached that number of first-run issues, or six for Spidey when you include GS Super-Heroes. The fact that of those five (Dracula, Defenders, Spider-Man, Werewolf, and Man-Thing), 60% were more or less monster titles—I never know how to classify Manny—shows how completely the CCA revisions changed the face of Marvel in the Bronze era. To say the least, they were fun while they lasted, and even for one who first encountered them only in their reprint twilight, they will always occupy a special place in the hearts of readers of a certain age.