Avengers #66 (July, 1969)

Following Gene Colan’s three-issue stint as penciller on Marvel Comics’ Avengers series, the 66th issue brought yet another artistic change — though not the one that the book’s cover appeared to indicate.  That illustration, which depicted the team of heroes — including, unusually for this era, both Thor and Iron Man — battling one of their own, the Vision, across multiple levels of their mansion HQ — was by John Buscema, who’d been the series’ regular artist for the better part of the two years immediately preceding Colan’s brief tenure.  The interior art, however, was by one of Marvel’s newest (and youngest) artists, the nineteen-year-old British import we’d eventually come to know as Barry Windsor-Smith.  Read More

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Hulk #118 (August, 1969)

By May, 1969, I’d been reading Marvel comics regularly for about a year and a half, and had sampled at least one issue of most of their superhero-fronted titles — most, but not quite all. This month, I finally got around to checking out The Incredible Hulk. 

At this time, my knowledge of the Hulk was pretty much limited to what I’d been able to glean from his guest appearances in comics I had read, the most substantial of which had been in Avengers Annual #2 (Sept.,1968) and Captain America #110 (Feb., 1969).  From those, I’d learned at least some of the basics regarding the character — I knew, for instance, that the Hulk was the super-strong alter ego of Dr. Bruce Banner, an otherwise “ordinary” human being.  I even knew a bit about his past history with a teenager named Rick Jones.  But I also knew that he was belligerent, dangerously uncontrollable, and — at least sometimes (especially as depicted by artist Jim Steranko in CA #110) — rather frightening.  Based on what I’d seen so far, I didn’t quite understand what made the Hulk a superhero.

But Marvel certainly seemed to be positioning him as a superhero, as best as I could tell; and I liked Marvel superhero comics.  Thus, it was inevitable that I’d give the Hulk’s series a shot sooner and later; and when Hulk #118 came along, it probably seemed like an ideal opportunity to take the plunge, if only because the issue guest-starred the one other Marvel heroic headliner whose title I still hadn’t sampled: Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner.  Read More

Thor #166 (July, 1969)

There’s a case to be made that the God of Thunder’s adversary in the issue of his comic we’re discussing today — the being known at this point only as “Him”, though he’d later pick up the less confusing appellation “Adam Warlock” — was the last major character creation of artist/storyteller Jack Kirby during his most important and productive stint at Marvel Comics.  As recalled by comics writer and historian — and longtime Kirby associate — Mark Evanier (and reported by numerous writers, including Mike Gartland in The Jack Kirby Collector #24), the story that Kirby plotted and drew for Fantastic Four #66 – 67 was a tale of well-intentioned scientists who create an ultimate human being, an entity who’s not only physically perfect but also possesses godlike powers, only to have this being, once it’s emerged from gestation within its cocoon, turn on them and destroy them, simply because they don’t meet his standards of perfection.  However, when it came time to script the story, Kirby’s collaborator (and editor), Stan Lee, jettisoned this theme — intended as Kirby’s ironic commentary on Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy — possibly because it didn’t present a clear-cut “bad guy”.  In Lee’s version of the story — which was the one that saw print, of course — the scientists wanted to use their creation to dominate the world; “Him” realized this, and destroyed the would-be despots before taking his leave of humanity.  Already disgruntled with Lee (and with Marvel Comics, generally) over a number of matters — including the way that Lee had appropriated and reinterpreted an earlier Kirby creation for FF, the Silver Surfer —  Kirby may have seen this latest alteration of his creative vision to be, in Gartland’s words, “the last straw”.  From this time on, the theory goes, the “King” would refrain from bringing his full creative powers to bear on the work he did for Marvel, with the result that he would introduce few, if any, truly significant new characters in his last couple of years before jumping ship for DC Comics.  Read More

Aquaman #46 (Jul.-Aug., 1969)

When I look back fifty years, attempting to recollect my early comics-buying experiences, I can readily remember all of the places where I regularly purchased my books, circa 1969.  In order of (probable) shopping frequency, they were the Tote-Sum* convenience store on Triangle Drive, the Short-Stop* on Northview Dr., a second Tote-Sum on Forest Ave., and the Ben Franklin Five-and-Dime on Meadowbrook Rd..  I have some sense memory of each of those long-gone places — how they were laid out, the lighting, the location of the Icee machine behind the checkout counter, and so forth.  By and large, however, I don’t have memories of buying specific comic books; for example, I have no idea at which store I bought either Avengers #65 or X-Men #57, the two comics I’ve blogged about here most recently.

But I do remember where, and maybe even when, I bought the subject of today’s post.  I’m quite certain that I purchased it at the Triangle Drive Tote-Sum, and I’m fairly sure it was in the evening, after dark.

Why do I recall buying this particular comic book, and not others I picked up at around the same time?  Well, it wasn’t due to artist Nick Cardy’s cover illustration, as compelling (though also, as we’ll soon see, ultimately rather misleading) as it was; or even to that illustration’s promise that within the comic’s pages, the titular hero’s months-long quest to find his kidnapped wife Mera would reach its end at last.

Rather, it was due to the fact that it was the first comic book I saw that reflected the price increase for “standard” size comic books that went into effect across the industry at that time — as the cost of a single issue rose from twelve to fifteen cents — a twenty-five percent increase.**    Read More

Avengers #65 (June, 1969)

In last month’s blog post about Avengers #64, we covered how the titular superhero team quashed the villainous scientist Egghead’s attempt to blackmail the governments of Earth using an orbiting death-ray satellite.  Our heroes’ victory, however, was marred by the violent death of their unlikely ally, a mob boss named Barney Barton — who, in an unexpected twist, turned out to be the older brother of the Avenger who, up until issue #63, had been known to one and all only as “Hawkeye”, but had now assumed the identity of Goliath — and who readers now learned had the given name of “Clint”.

Barney’s heroic sacrifice decisively ended the overarching bid for world domination by what had begun as a mad-scientist triumvirate, which consisted of the Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master in addition to Egghead.  The chronicle of this trio’s nefarious doings had actually begun in Captain Marvel #12, of all places, before weaving into Avengers #63, Sub-Mariner #14, and Captain Marvel #14, and then finally returning to Avengers for issue #64’s ultimate battle.  But Egghead had escaped at the end of that issue, meaning that there was at least one loose end left to tie off — a loose end that was given greater urgency by the fact that it involved an Avenger’s need to avenge his own dead brother.  Additionally, the revelation of Hawkeye/Goliath’s “real” name in the context of his previously unknown sibling relationship with a notorious gangster raised at least as many questions as it answered.  It would be the task of the series’ creative team, scripter Roy Thomas and penciller Gene Colan (joined this issue by new inker Sam Grainger), to address most, if not all, of this unfinished business in the pages of Avengers #65.  Read More

X-Men #57 (June, 1969)

I first made the acquaintance of Marvel Comics’ X-Men in April, 1968 — one year prior to the publication of the subject of today’s post. — when they made a guest appearance in Avengers #53.  That particular issue turned out to be the last chapter of a crossover story that had begun in the mutant team’s own book; and even though I now knew how everything would turn out, I was still curious enough about the characters and situations to go back and pick up the preceding chapter in that same month’s issue of X-Men (and even to buy the issue before that, when the opportunity presented itself).  But though I enjoyed those two comics well enough, I wasn’t taken enough with either of them to keep following the series.  As I wrote in my X-Men #45 post last year, that may have been partly due to the somewhat atypical circumstances surrounding the book at the time I sampled it.  Marvel had then just recently decided to start downplaying the team concept in the series’ cover designs, in favor of spotlighting the individual members (or, in a few cases, major story events); a decision that was soon mirrored in the stories themselves, as the team actually broke up in the issue immediately following the Avengers crossover, #46.  In addition, I was almost certainly influenced in my decision to pass on X-Men (at least for the time being), by my lack of enthusiasm for the competent but underwhelming art that then filled the title’s pages, by the likes of Don Heck and Werner Roth.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my general attitude of indifference to Marvel’s Merry Mutants, as, by virtually all accounts, the title was the publisher’s worst selling at the time — if not yet right on the edge of cancellation, then still uncomfortably close to it.  Which is why, when Neal Adams — the hottest young artist at Marvel’s main competitor, DC Comics — came to Marvel expressing an interest in doing some work for them, and editor-in-chief Stan Lee gave him his choice of assignments… Adams chose to work on X-MenRead More

Daredevil #52 (May, 1969)

When we last saw Matt Murdock, at the end of last month’s post about Daredevil #51, our Man Without Fear was in pretty bad shape.  After undergoing an ordinary blood test in his costumed identity, he’d had a drastic adverse reaction to the due to the radioactive particles in his bloodstream (or something like that), and after wandering around in a delirium for a bit, had collapsed in an alley.  Meanwhile, the New York Police Department, having been clued in about the imminent danger to the Scarlet Swashbuckler, had put out an all-points bulletin for our hero.  And while all this was going on, DD’s current nemesis, a sinister robotics genius named Starr Saxon, had accidentally stumbled onto his foe’s secret identity — and had also, on pretext of being a friend of Matt’s, had convinced the blind lawyer’s almost-girlfriend, Karen Page, to accompany him, leading her into who knows what dread danger.  Read More

Iron Man #14 (June, 1969)

By March, 1969, I’d been buying and reading Marvel comics regularly for about fifteen months, and I was gradually working my way through all of their superhero-headlining titles.  This was the month that I finally got around to Iron Man.

While I’d enjoyed the few brief guest appearances of the character I’d seen in Avengers, and also been intrigued by some of the covers I’d seen on the racks or in house ads, somehow I hadn’t bitten the bullet before now.  Maybe my younger self thought Tony Stark’s mustache made him look too old?  I really don’t remember.  Read More

Avengers #63 (April, 1969)

For younger readers of current comics, accustomed to publishers trumpeting every single guest appearance or “event” tie-in months in advance, the notion of a “stealth crossover” may seem all but incomprehensible.  Yet, that’s exactly what Marvel Comics did in the first quarter of 1969, as they carried over a plotline from the January-shipping issue of Captain Marvel into February’s Avengers (the subject of today’s post) without even so much as an editorial footnote in the first book to let fans know it was happening.  What the heck were they thinking fifty years ago, there at the “House of Ideas”?

But before we get into all that, we need to acknowledge the other two significant events happening in Avengers this month, one “in-story”, and the other behind the scenes, though both were heralded by the cover: the first, a major change concerning the superhero code-named Goliath; the second, the advent of a new regular artist — for after drawing Avengers for most of the last two years, John Buscema was being pulled off of the title to do layouts for Amazing Spider-Man, while Gene Colan was giving up Daredevil to take on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Read More

Daredevil #51 (April, 1969)

When I first saw the cover of Daredevil #51 on the spinner rack fifty years ago, I believe I must have known something was up.

After all, I’d been buying and reading this series for a whole year now, and even if I wasn’t the most sophisticated spotter and identifier of individual artists’ styles at age eleven, I believe that I could tell a Gene Colan Daredevil cover from, well, anyone else’s.

Not that there hadn’t been any non-Colan DD covers in the twelve months I’d been following the book — there’d been issue #43‘s, which was a Jack Kirby job.  But that particular issue had guest-starred Captain America, and since Kirby was Cap’s regular artist at that time (and also his co-creator, of course, though I probably didn’t know that yet), that had made sense.

But who was this, who’d drawn the cover for #51?  I mean, Daredevil’s head looked… different (and not just because it was giant and translucent).  There was something sort of Kirbyesque about it, actually, but it wasn’t Kirby.  So who?  Read More