Thursday, July 31, 2008

Groovin' Back in Time: Summer, 1973, Part 2

Welcome back to the summer of 1973! Click on the Playlist player on the left to get in the mood, and let's dive right into the wonderment that Mighty Marvel (plus a surprise publisher) was dishing out to us four color fanatics!

First up, we have one of the coolest things to ever happen in comics, writer Steve Englehart's innovative summer long "team-up" (everyone knows that in Marvel Comics, "team-up" means fight a while, then go after the baddie) between the Avengers and the Defenders. Oh, there had been crossovers before, with a story starting in one title, then ending in another, but this was to be an epic that spanned both titles for the entire summer! (Yeah, comics publishers have milked these "events" for all their worth since the 80s, but we're still in 1973, so it's cool, baby!) Englehart's premise was to have uber-villains Loki and Dormammu team up against their arch-nemeses (Loki hated Thor and the Avengers, Dormammu was steamed at Dr. Strange and the Defenders) and trick the two teams into thinking they were enemies. The bad guys accomplished this by telling the Defenders that a contraption called the "Evil Eye" would change their pal, the Black Knight, from his stone-statue form (another story, maybe later...) back to human. They then tricked the Avengers into thinking that the Defenders had gone bad and wanted the Evil Eye as a weapon for world domination. As usual, Marvel heroes always think the worst of each other, so the battle was on! And, oh, what epic battles they were! Vision and the Scarlet Witch against the Silver Surfer! Iron Man versus Hawkeye! Captain America battled the Sub-Mariner! Thor in a smack down with the Hulk! Valkyrie crossed swords with, well, the Swordsman! Dr. Strange against Mantis and the Black Panther (well, they couldn't ALL be awe-inspiring)! After several issues of big fights, our heroes learned who the real villains were and ganged up on 'em, natch. The art on the Defenders was by the always awesome Sal Buscema, while dull-but-dependable Bob Brown handled the pencils on the Avengers. All those heroes! All that fighting! Fun, fun, fun in the sun (for the readers, not our heroes)!

Marvel was also shaking up a couple titles over the summer of 73. The Sub-Mariner suddenly became the Savage Sub-Mariner, though it took writer Steve Gerber and artist Don Heck three issues to get him angry enough to be called a savage. The while Namor was battling an extra-dimensional demoness called Virago, an especially vile type of nerve gas was unleashed upon the citizens of Atlantis, placing them all in a coma, and upsetting Subby's body chemistry so that he had a hard time surviving on land or in water. After getting help from his sometimes friends, sometimes foes, the Fantastic Four--namely a sleek new "life preserving" costume courtesy Mr. Fantastic (which made Namor seem LESS savage than when he wore his green swimming trunks...)--Subby declared war on the surface world (again) and vowed to never rest until his people were revived and his kingdom restored. Sadly, it was too little too late, as his mag only lasted 5 more issues, leaving Sub-Mariner in limbo until he was revived in Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up months later.

Another Marvel hero was going through a more successful, subtle, and much more substantial change. Jim Starlin had taken over the art and plotting of Captain Marvel, pitting the good Kree Captain against Thanos and his minions, giving the strip a much more sci-fi, and yes, "cosmic" bent. With issue 29, Starlin took over the writing and things really got wild! Judo Jim had to have been smoking wildwood weed or licking postage stamps, because he put Mar-Vell in some kind of limbo/head trip that had him battling his own demons (literally!) before being given a subtle costume change (the star on his chest became more streamlined, the design of his boots and gloves were swapped out, and his hair turned from silver to blond) and the gift of "cosmic awareness" (I'm still not sure what it was, but it was a really cool effect when he used it--stars and planets appeared on his face! I kid you not!). Also, when Cap flew, he left a trail of "cosmic dust" a la Captain Atom (of whom Starlin was a big fan, hence a bit of homage). I didn't really know what was going on, but the art was awesome, the Avengers guest-starred a lot, and the fight scenes were incredible. Starlin became my favorite writer/artist, and has pretty much held that title ever since.

Just as summer was coming to a close, Charlton Comics, a publisher whom I pretty much ignored since they published "kiddie", "scary", and "romance" comics (none of which I had any interest in at the time), knocked me out with a new super-hero title. I was about to get in the check-out lane when there on the floor was a pile of new comics waiting to be placed in the spinner rack they were lying beside. On top of the stack was E-Man #1. The bright blue background and E-Man's orange costume grabbed my attention, and I grabbed the comic off the stack, got in line, pulled a quarter out of my pocket, handed to the cashier, and waited for my change (change from a quarter! Those WERE the days!). I plopped in the back seat of the car and began reading. It was one of the craziest comics I'd ever read. It was funny, thanks to the scripting talents of Nick Cuti, who knew how to do humor while keeping a straight-forward superhero tone. The art by Joe Staton wasn't as slick as Marvel or DC, but it was very cool. I was so enamoured with sci-fi (thanks to Starlin) that E-Man quickly became one of my favorite comics. How could you not love a sentient star who takes the shape of a human to battle evil and date an exotic dancer? (I had to ask my dad what an exotic dancer was. His response was, "What in the world are you reading?") E-Man was the stranger in the strange land, the innocent abroad, and his girl, Nova Kane (yeah, puns abound in the strip) was his link to humanity. (Hey, Mork and Mindy was a rip-off!) I didn't know at the time, but E-Man owed more to Golden Age comics like Jack Cole's Plastic Man, the original Captain Marvel, and Will Eisner's The Spirit than to Stan and company. All I knew was that it was a cool way to end a truly groovy summer!

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As for the rest of ya, the purpose of this blog is to (re)introduce you to the great comics of the 1970s. If you like what you see, do what I do--go to a comics shop, bookstore, e-Bay or whatever and BUY YOUR OWN!