Thursday, September 1, 2011

Groove's Countdown: Top 5 DC Reboots of the Groovy Age

Hey, hey, hey, Groove-ophiles! Ol' Groove's back with yet another installment of...

DC's reboot (DCnU) hits the stands this month, and all of comicdom is abuzz about it. Some are looking forward to it with Carly Simon-style anticipation. Others are predicting the death of DC (and perhaps comicbooks, themselves). Still others, and you can include Ol' Groove in this group, are curious. Heck, DC has been rebooting and revamping since the 50s--it's not a new occurrence.  Even during the Groovy Age, the Distinguished Competition had a whole lotta shakin' going on. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it bombed, but I gotta say, when it worked, baby, it worked! Here are Ol' Groove's picks for the Top Five DC Reboots of the Groovy Age!

5. Manhunter: Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson's revamp of the little-known Golden Age character is the stuff of comicbook legend.  When Goodwin took over as editor of Detective Comics with issue #437 (July 1973), he wanted to create a new hero who could stand as the Batman's opposite number while still fitting into the mag's "detective" motif. At first he only intended to use the name "Manhunter", but eventually decided that his Manhunter could be better fleshed out by making him the cryogenically-revived Paul Kirk "original". Between Goodwin's taut, gritty, globe-trotting espionage adventure and Walt Simonson's outstandingly innovative art, Manhunter soon eclipsed the Batman himself as the most popular feature in 'Tec. The strip won industry awards, fandom went ga-ga (a hero with deadly weapons--before the Punisher! a hero with a healing factor--before Wolverine! a martial artist--before Shang-Chi!), and its style, both in writing and art, expanded the boundaries of comicbook storytelling, influencing future comicbook stars from Frank Miller to Jim Lee. Not bad for a strip that ran for only seven issues!

4. Superman: Once again, a new editor takes over, leading to a major shake-up of the ol' status quo. Editor Juile Schwartz, the mastermind behind DC's Silver Age revival finally got the chance to put his stamp on the company's flagship character with Superman #233 (October 1970). Schwartz's idea was to jettison former editor Mort Weisinger's whimsical (often a fanboy's synonym for "childish") world and replace it with a hipper, more "now" and with-it world. Gone were the Super-Pets, hundreds of Kryptonian survivors, Bizarros, and tons of multi-colored Kryptonite. No longer would Lois Lane's existence hinge on her ability to learn Superman's true identity and/or to marry him. Schwartz even did away with Clark Kent's job as a mild-mannered newspaper reporter for the venerable Daily Planet and made him a TV anchorman for WGBS-TV. He and writers like Denny O'Neil, Cary Bates, and Elliott S! Maggin gave Superman new supporting characters like Steve Lombard and Morgan Edge and new villains like the Atomic Skull, Galactic Golem, Master Jailer, and Microwave Man. Okay, so they didn't set the rogues gallery on fire, but they did infuse new life into the World's Oldest Superhero. This version kept the earth safe from evil until John Byrne's 1986 revamp.

3. Legion of Super-Heroes. During the Silver Age, the Legion of Super-Heroes thrilled DC fans with their bright, futuristic take on super-heroics. This 30th Century club for super-powered teens was a mainstay of the Silver Age Superman line of comics, eventually taking over the pages of Adventure Comics where it ran with and without Superboy in its membership for eighty-plus issues. The Legion fell on hard times for at the end of the 1960s, appearing occasionally in reprints or short back-ups in Action Comics. In 1972, the Legionnaires were given a semi-regular back-up berth in Superboy. It was there that their revamp began. It started slowly with stories by E. Nelson Bridwell and art by George Tuska, often introducing new, fan-created costumes for members of the LSH. Very quickly, though, newcomers Cary Bates (writer) and Dave Cockrum (artist) took over, updating the Legion's clubhouse, space-ships, membership, and costumes. Cockrum was the perfect artist for the strip, giving it a truly slick and futuristic look. His costume designs were cutting edge, and baby, the thrill was back! Within a handful of issues, the Legion was sharing cover-billing with Superboy, and by the end of the decade, they took over the title completely, forcing Superboy into a separate solo title. Cockrum was quickly replaced by Mike Grell, another uber-talented artist who continued the slick, futuristic, sci-fi look (Cockrum went to Marvel and helped reboot some team of mutants whose name escapes me). Bates was joined by writers like Jim Shooter, Gerry Conway, and Paul Levitz who kept Legion fandom growing and growing. By the early 80s, Levitz, working with artist Keith Giffen, exploded, taking the Legion to the top of the sales charts. This Legion was THE Legion until the end of the 80s. For most fans, they always will be.

2. House of Mystery.  During the mid-60s, House of Mystery, DC's mystery anthology became home to superhero strips like Dial "H" for Hero and Martian Manhunter. Sales began to slump, so the mag was handed to former EC artist Joe Orlando for a total make-over. After an issue of reprints, Orlando returned the title to its roots as a mystery anthology, but gave it a darker slant and a host, Cain, reminiscent of the legendary EC mags he had worked on in the 1950s (House of Mystery #175, April 1968). Orlando had to keep the Comics Code Authority happy, but he and his army of writers and artists delighted in pushing the envelope--and fans and casual readers ate it up. House of Mystery proved to be such a hit it spawned a whole slew of mystery mags like House of Secrets, The Witching Hour, and Ghosts. Even Mighty Marvel tried to emulate Orlando's style in the early 70s--but weren't nearly as successful. Orlando stayed at the helm until 1980, making room for everyone from Neal Adams to Sergio Aragones to Bernie Wrightson to Michael Golden to Steve Skeates to Jack Oleck to Scott Edelman to J. M. DeMatteis among dozens more. A stomping ground for established pros, a proving ground for new talent, House of Mystey kept its doors open until 1983. In an industry ruled by superheroes, this house of the supernatural carved its own niche in comicbook history.

1. The Batman. (You expected maybe the Return of the New Gods?) The campy Batman comics produced in the wake of the hit 1966 ABC-TV show were killing the Batman franchise as quickly as the fad had caused its popularity to skyrocket. Over in Brave and the Bold, artist Neal Adams was drawing campy Bob Haney-penned team-ups, but making them look way cool by drawing plenty of night scenes and giving Batman longer bat-ears, a longer cape, and a more shadowy look. Bat-editor Julie Schwartz was getting letters from fans wanting to know why THAT Batman wasn't appearing in his Batman and Detective mags. Schwartz tested the waters by letting Adams draw a bunch of covers and finally turned Neal loose with writer Denny O'Neil on Detective Comics #395 (October 1969). Fans went wild. Batman--no The Batman, the creature-of-the-night detective Batman was back. While O'Neil and Adams couldn't produce every Bat-epic (Adams actually only drew a bit more than a handful), Schwartz saw to it that his other writers and artists (mainly Frank Robbins, Bob Brown, and Irv Novick) emulated the O'Neil/Adams style. As the Groovy Age trucked on, The Batman passed through many creative hands--Archie Goodwin, Jim Aparo, Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, David V. Reed, Ernie Chan, and tons more, but the Darknight Detective aspect remained the main draw for fans. The Batman has faced many reboots from the mid-80s on, with each new incarnation going darker and darker. Me, I think Schwartz and company got it just right.

So whaddya think, Groove-ophiles? Does my Top Five turn ya on, or do you have some better ideas?


  1. You left out the "New Blackhawk Era" when the Superlative Seven became super-heroes???
    If THAT ain't groovy...

  2. That was #6, Britt! The human Metal Men was #7, the powerless Teen Titans was #8, Air-Wave II was #9, and powerless Wonder Woman was #10. Can you see, now, how much anguish went into getting this list down to a mere five? Thank goodness it was just the 70s I was covering--imagine if I had to choose from the 90s post-Zero Hour revamps!

  3. If it WAS post-Zero Hour (much less post-Crisis) Hawkman could be a Top-Five all by himself! ;-(

  4. Those are all good choices, Groove, but they're kind of spread all over the map. Superman, for instance, really was a reboot of a character that had been in continuous print for 30+ years, whereas Manhunter hadn't been seen for decades, so most folks reading it in the 1970s had probably never heard of it before.

    I don't think the Teen Titans were ever "powerless" -- for a while, they were "costumeless" in a family-friendly kind of way I mean, since they wore regular clothes rather than superhero duds.

    I'd nominate the Challs reboot in the late 1970s as a very worthy attempt at a reboot.

  5. I don't disagree with any of your picks, but what about that super-trippy Kirby Sandman with the Dream Dome and all that? Talk about groovy!!

  6. Does anybody like that period when the Blackhawks became super heroes , really? Sheesh. Go with yis on the Titans tho, and hey, any excuse to discuss how great Manhunter was is fine by me!

  7. Good choices ... I found my Manhunter reprints in my Accumulation the other day, this is a good excuse to give them a read.

  8. "Does anybody like that period when the Blackhawks became super heroes, really?"

    Never said I "liked" it, but it does give you a classic example of how drastic some reboots can be, especially ones that follow fads!
    (and it does have a weird nutso vibe I find curiously entertaining!)
    Since superheroes and spies were both "hot", DC took their war heroes and made them superheroes working for a spy organization!
    That'll boost their sales, right?

    Thank God they didn't take Sgt Rock and make him into a rocky-skinned monster ala The Thing...

  9. I'd have to flip things around. Manhunter would be #1, because he was being reintroduced to a new generation of readers. Kirby's inclusion of the Newsboy Legion in Jimmy Olsen falls into that same category, and is #3. Superman is #4. Batman is #2. Legion is #5.

    The Blackhawk reboot was in the 60s, not the 70's. The book was relaunched in '82, and rebooted back to its original concept with nice art by Dan Spiegle. They even got rid of the stereotype and made the former Chop-Chop more of a modern Asian, without the broken English. That would be #6. HOM is #7.

  10. Dave, opinions are like noses as they say, but I don't feel like my picks were "all over the map". They were 1970s reboots that worked (ie. they were successful and left a lasting impression). And I was short-cutting on the Titans--by powerless I meant they weren't supposed to use their powers. That was the gist of it, anyway. I agree that the Challengers reboot was very cool; it just didn't meet my criteria for top 5.

    Loved that S&K Sandman, Green Aaron!

    My "6-10" list was my pathetic attempt at a joke, Pete. The things I mentioned would never make my top 10. Bottom ten, more likely...

    Britt--you crack me up!

    You can flip it if ya wanna, hobbyfan--I wanted other opinions! Still, I like it my way 'cause I wound up ordering the list by each reboot's importance and longevity.

    Please, more discussion! I love it. Thanks, all!!

  11. I agree 100% with your top 5 choices Groovyman!
    Still some of the best comics ever produced.

    I would add O'Neil and Adams GREEN LANTERN & GREEN ARROW. Who actually took Green Arrow seriously before Adams? Green Lantern became a more grounded character and comic books became a relevant medium.

  12. "The Blackhawk reboot was in the 60s, not the 70's. The book was relaunched in '82, and rebooted back to its original concept with nice art by Dan Spiegle."

    There was also a reboot in the 1970s, making the team into high-tech mercenaries.
    Lasted a year, then the Blackhawks disappeared until the 1980s reboot with great Mark Evanier scripts and Dan Spiegle art (with guest artists like Toth and Cockrum tossing off backups when needed). It also produced a great paperback novel by William Rostler.

    Oddly, with all the reboots and being inactive for years at a time, Blackhawk always continued it's old numbering!
    No new #1s until the Chaykin mini-series in the '90s!

  13. DEFINITELY the best and most influential comic book reboot of the Bronze Age hit real big in 1977 when George Lucas took Jack Kirby's New Gods/believe in the Source/fear Darkseid/Moonrider/round mechanical planetoid Apokolips cosmic epic and revamped it into a New Hope/believe in the force/ fear the Dark Side/Skywalker/round mechanical planetoid Death Star cosmic epic.

    Great stuff, in both incarnations.



Blog Widget by LinkWithin
Note to "The Man": All images are presumed copyright by the respective copyright holders and are presented here as fair use under applicable laws, man! If you hold the copyright to a work I've posted and would like me to remove it, just drop me an e-mail and it's gone, baby, gone.

All other commentary and insanity copyright GroovyAge, Ltd.

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!