Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Groovin' Back in Time: Summer, 1973, Part 1

Has it really been 35 years since Watergate, Bad Bad Leroy Brown, Smoke on the Water, Delta Dawn (listen to 'em--along with a ton more hits from July, 1973 with the player on the left!), Match Game, the Waltons, American Graffiti, Enter the Dragon, Live and Let Die, and Paper Moon? Sheesh, I suppose it has. Well, if you were a kid like me back during that scintillating summer, all of that was just in the background. We kids had more important things to think about like...COMICS!

The summer of 1973 was a good one for comic fiends like me. It was truly a summer of milestones, for instance, Detective Comics #437. That issue looked different from the past year or so. Moodier, darker, scarier. Archie Goodwin had taken over editorial duties from Julie Schwartz and immediately put his experience at editing Warren horror mags to good use. He brought back the original logo, added a Jim Aparo bust of Batman scowling at us to it; hired Aparo to do the art while Goodwin himself handled the scripting--that was awesome enough. BUT, Goodwin wasn't satisfied with simply stunning us with a cool and moody Batman. Nope, Archie hunkered down with a newcomer named Walt Simonson to create a new back-up feature called Manhunter. The strip was a continent hopping mystery with enigmatic characters and slickly detailed cinematic art. It was like no other DC strip I'd ever seen and I was hooked from page one. Evidently a lot of folks were, as the Manhunter is a legend to this day, winning gobs of awards during its short run.

That wasn't enough. In the pages of the JLA, Len Wein and Dick Dillin, were giving us the latest of the summer team-ups between our heroes of Earth-1 and their Earth-2 counterparts, the Justice Society of America. For a change, this wasn't a cosmic, world shattering storyline. It wasn't an extra-special superheroes beat down supervillains romp. This issue took us to Earth-X, where a group called the Freedom Fighters (Quality heroes Uncle Sam, the Ray, Dollman, Phantom Lady, Black Condor, and the Human Bomb) are the last heroes on earth. The other heroes weren't wiped out by cosmic, sci-fi, or supernatural means. They had been annihilated by the Nazis who had won WWII! Tons of superheroes fighting Nazis in 1973? Two more dimes for DC!

My dad used to tell me about the radio shows he listened to as a kid. He made them sound so cool, especially the Lone Ranger and the Shadow. When I saw the ads for DC's new Shadow comic, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. When issue number one hit the stands, I wasn't disappointed in the least. Batman writer supreme Denny O'Neil was on hand to provide the taut, atmospheric scripting while mystery/horror mainstay Mike Kaluta turned in some of the most detailed, atmospheric, and beautiful art ever to grace a comicbook.

For a few months, a slick new Legion of Super-Heroes strip had been running in the back of Superboy. With scripts by Cary Bates and gorgeous art by (yet another newcomer!) Dave Cockrum, I was back in the habit of buying Superboy comics. Issue 197 gave us a longer tale with Superboy shoved to the back, and man, did I think that was cool. Imagine my ecstatic response when I cracked open the covers of issue 198 and found that Bates, Cockrum, and the Legion had taken over the entire issue of Superboy! Legionnaires in their cool new costumes fighting their greatest foes, the Fatal Five, in a battle that takes them back in time to Superboy's Smallville made for a rollicking great comicbook experience!

Finally (for this installment), from the twisted minds of Steve Skeates, Sergio Aragones, and Joe Orlando sprang the one and only magazine of weird humor, PLOP! From the freaky Basil Wolverton cover to the final page (with no ads to interrupt my reading pleasure!), I laughed, I groaned, and I held down my cookies (Skeates' and Bernie Wrightson's "The Gourmet" was so cool/gross!). I'd never seen anything like PLOP! before, with its mash up of DC mystery, Mad Magazine style irreverence, and downright strangeness, I doubt I'll ever see anything like it again.

Okay, okay. So DC put out some real winners in the summer of 1973. Didn't anybody else publish comics then? Glad you asked! In Part 2, we'll take a look at what Marvel was dishing up to help us beat the heat. Oh, and I'll fill you in on something a little company called Charlton sprang on us then, too.

2 comments:

  1. PLOP! was a beautiful return to the sort of material that MAD magazine used to publish in the '50s when it was a comic book. PLOP! #1 had a great assortment of talent, including Sergio Aragones, cover artist Basil Wolverton, and Berni Wrightson. Great title! These early issues were tremendous!

    ReplyDelete
  2. And to think that Walter Simonson was only 26 years old!
    And he did amazing work!
    /Mr Anonymous

    ReplyDelete

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