Sunday, October 16, 2011

King-Size Special! Marvel Collector's Item #2!

Marvel Snapshot: 1974 
by Matthew R. Bradley

I’m kind of anal-retentive when it comes to things like lists, and when I was a lad, I actually created a 14” x 17” chart for each year from 1974 to 1980, indicating who wrote which issue of most of the major Marvel Comics. That just shows you the primacy the written word had in my life even then, although it may also have been a conscious or unconscious reaction to the fact that in, say, The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, the artist was usually the only contributor considered worth mentioning. There were a few holes in my collection when I created the charts that I didn’t bother to fill in after acquiring the back issues in later years, but even with those gaps, each chart represents a nostalgic snapshot of Marvel’s superhero strips from that particular year.

Throughout 1974, for example, one of my all-time favorites, “Stainless Steve” Englehart, was in his prime, presiding over The Avengers, Captain America—both being penciled at year’s end by “Our Pal Sal” Buscema—and the Dr. Strange strip, which in June graduated to an eponymous book brilliantly drawn by Frank Brunner. Fresh from their war with the Defenders, the Assemblers tangled with the Zodiac and kicked off the saga of the Celestial Madonna (née Mantis), while Cap met the orphaned X-Men (whose book was then devoted to reprints) and underwent a crisis of conscience in the Moonstone/Watergate/Nomad storyline. Doc’s newly vacated berth in Marvel Premiere went to newcomer Iron Fist, written by the likes of “Lively Len” Wein, Doug Moench, and Tony (“The Tiger”) Isabella.

Another paragon of continuity was “Merry Gerry” Conway, firmly at the helm of both Amazing Spider-Man and Thor all year long; the Thunder God met Firelord for the first time and Hercules repeatedly as the pencil passed from Sal’s brother “Big John” Buscema to Rich (“Swash”) Buckler. Aided and abetted by the distinctive artwork of Ross Andru, Gerry introduced Spidey to such new foes as the Punisher (debuting in #129), the Tarantula, and the Grizzly in between return gigs by old standbys Dr. Octopus, the Molten Man, and the Green Goblin. Conway also had a hand in Fantastic Four, with Buckler kicking off the lion’s share of a thirty-issue run and Ultron crashing the star-studded wedding of an Inhuman, Crystal, and a mutant ex-Avenger, Quicksilver (aka Pietro), to mark their 150th issue.

Steve (“Baby”) Gerber flourished year-round with Daredevil (who first met one of his most persistent foes, Deathstalker, in #114) and the brand-new Marvel Two-in-One, featuring an important early appearance by the Guardians of the Galaxy. He also wrote some or all of the Son of Satan stories in Marvel Spotlight, whose prior star, Ghost Rider, now had his own book with multiple issues by Isabella and at least one by “Marvelous Marv” Wolfman. Other year-long runs, both more or less bimonthly, included Mike (brother of “Groovy Gary”) Friedrich’s Iron Man, as Shellhead faced a bewildering array of foes leading up to the kitchen-sink War of the Super-Villains, and “Dauntless Don” McGregor’s Black Panther strip in Jungle Action, with Buckler replaced by the improbably named Billy Graham.

Unfortunately, my records are somewhat spotty for several books, but it looks like Wein made significant contributions (often in collaboration with Sal Buscema) to both Marvel Team-Up and The Defenders, who tackled the Squadron Sinister, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and the Wrecking Crew. Conway took over MTU by year’s end, and he, Wein, and “Rascally Roy” Thomas all wrote multiple issues of Incredible Hulk in the midst of “Happy Herb” Trimpe’s lengthy tenure as artist, highlighted by some noteworthy guest stars. Adam “Him” Warlock, then between books, resurfaced (and temporarily died for the first time) in the Counter-Earth saga chronicled in #176-8, and future X-Men mainstay Wolverine was introduced on the very last page of the now extremely expensive #180.

Representing one of the acknowledged pinnacles of Marvel’s achievements in any era, writer-artist Jim Starlin wound up the first Thanos War in Captain Marvel—as well as a memorable crossover in Avengers #125—and called it quits after #34, leaving some cosmically huge shoes for successor Englehart to fill. Meanwhile, Moench and Buckler introduced the ill-fated Deathlok the Demolisher strip in Astonishing Tales #25, following a four-issue run of It! The Living Colossus (which I never read). At the other end of the life cycle, Sub-Mariner ended a checkered Silver Age career, breathing its last with #72 in September after issues by Gerber and Wolfman, among others, and a Spidey guest-shot, but the Prince of Atlantis would be back in not one but two new books the following year.

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

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