Sunday, January 1, 2012

King Size Special! Marvel Collectors' Item #8

Marvel Snapshot: 1978

by Matthew R. Bradley

The sixth in a series of spotlights by Professor Matthew Bradley.

In my previous Snapshots, I have overlooked the significance of the reprints that were then so prevalent.  The impact of a given period on readers, and on what they regard as the “definitive” version of a particular strip, must take into account not only the new comics being created, but also the Marvel classics from days gone by that were made available and affordable to many of us for the first time.  In 1978, these included vintage issues of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Captain America (#103-109) and Fantastic Four (#93-99); John Romita’s Amazing Spider-Man (#108-118) and Herb Trimpe’s Incredible Hulk (#115-125), on which Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas, respectively, succeeded Stan; and the grandeur of the Thomas/John Buscema Avengers (#47-52).

The year began and ended with the final issues of writer-artist Kirby’s The Eternals and his stint on The Black Panther; also giving up the ghost in January was Bill Mantlo’s Champions, while the undistinguished Spider-Woman made its debut in April, with Marv Wolfman writing the first eight issues before turning the reins over to Mark Gruenwald.  Unbroken year-long scripting runs of the type we thrilled to in prior years were becoming rare, and of those, many were uninspiring, e.g., Doug Moench’s Godzilla (which never captured the true Toho spirit) and Mantlo’s Human Fly.  In general, 1978 was characterized by more turnover—at least as far as the writing staff—and less inspiration, with many books seeming to be on autopilot, despite occasional bright spots.

As always, Chris Claremont was a clear leader in terms of both quantity and quality, his X-Men graduating to monthly status with artwork by John Byrne and Terry Austin, return appearances by Magneto and Sauron, and the debut of Weapon Alpha (later Vindicator).  He also found time to take over John Carter, Warlord of Mars from Wolfman and write the lion’s share of the year’s Marvel Team-Up issues, highlighted by Byrne artwork.  Sadly, the Claremont/Byrne team soon departed after their Power Man and splendid but short-lived Iron Fist were grafted together into Power Man and Iron Fist; Claremont slightly outlasted Byrne on that book, and his Ms. Marvel scarcely survived ’78, despite such high-profile guest stars as the Avengers and Captain Marvel.

All hail Alan Kupperberg
Sometimes spelled by Don Glut on The Invaders, where Alan Kupperberg finally provided relief from penciler Frank Robbins, Thomas was succeeded by Archie Goodwin on Star Wars, and in turn succeeded Len Wein to begin his own long stint on Thor, with the artwork likewise shifting from Walt Simonson and Tony DeZuniga to John Buscema and Tom Palmer.  Evidently moving on, Wein passed the torch to Wolfman on Fantastic Four (with Joltin’ Joe Sinnott’s inks gracing the pencils of George Pérez or Keith Pollard) and Amazing Spider-Man (featuring Ross Andru’s art and a new Green Goblin).  Roger Stern—also handling Dr. Strange, drawn by Tom Sutton—replaced Wein on Incredible Hulk, with Our Pal Sal Buscema’s pencils smoothing the transition.

Mantlo remained a force to be reckoned with, ceding Iron Man to David Michelinie a few issues after he wrapped up his epic multi-part Midas storyline, and staying the course on Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, where a two-parter tied up some of the dangling plot threads fromThe Champions.  David Anthony Kraft continued his tenure on The Defenders, which hit a new high in absurdity with the membership fiasco surrounding Dollar Bill’s documentary, while my nemesis, newly minted editor in chief Jim Shooter, predominated on The Avengers.  At least the latter’s Korvac saga, which didn’t dazzle me the way it did many others, offered compensations, such as the presence of the Guardians of the Galaxy and, in the early issues, the pencils of Pérez.

Newcomer Roger McKenzie had a busy year alternating on the bimonthlies Daredevil and Ghost Rider; inheriting Captain America from the post-Kirby revolving door of Thomas, Glut, and Steve Gerber, with Sal once again providing continuity; and contributing an issue of Captain Marvel, which Moench took over in its last days.  Also feeling the Reaper breathing down their necks were Howard the Duck, which barely outlived creator Gerber’s departure, and Wolfman’s Nova, demoted to bimonthly status that year.  Wolfman’s run on Marvel Two-in-One gave way to a round-robin of writers, including Roger Slifer and future MTIO mainstay Ralph Macchio, while a plethora of continued stories helped to offset the repetitious meet/squabble/unite format.


  1. It was 78 or 79 that I quit buying comics. When was the price hike? The covers above are still 35 cents, but I know it went to 40 and then quickly to 50 soon after that, unless my memory is jumbled.

  2. Hey Jack!

    Those covers are from pre-May 1979 issues. The price went from 35 to 40 in May 1979 and then jumped to 50 in September 1980. Ah, for the days when we were pissed it had gone up 10 cents, right? I can't see any young kid today getting into comics when the regular price of a lousy comic is 4 bucks.

  3. In retrospect, I might have been better getting out when you did, Jack, instead of soldiering on until about 1985. With my compulsive personality, I did a lot of rote buying during those later years--behavior enabled by the convenience of subscriptions--so I have a lot of stuff in my collection that I'm not proud of (e.g., U.S. 1, TEAM AMERICA, DAZZLER). But, as always, there were compensations among the dross.