My Early days with comics – Retrospective

By Bronze Oldie

Nerd Dimension claims no ownership and copyrights of Marvel IPs or artwork.

I came into to comics at the point of transition from the Silver Age to the Bronze Age. At the Time, Marvel was publishing a lot of re-prints of classic Silver age material, most notably Marvel tales (re-printing Spider-man) Marvels Greatest Comics (re-printing Fantastic Four) Marvel Triple Action (re-printing Avengers) and X-men (reprinting X-men). So I am something of an authority on Silver Age Marvel, as well as Bronze Age.

During the actual Silver Age, I was too young to read. But I was already into superheroes through the medium of television. There was a Batman series on TV at the time starring Adam West that I loved and had toys of and the show still shares a cult status among fans and marks a specific time in American Television. The DC cartoons were in my opinion were much superior to the Marvel ones. Most of the Marvel cartoons consisted of someone waving panels of Jack Kirby art while someone narrated and fell short of translating the excited from the page. The DC cartoons where much better animated, the exception being the Spiderman cartoon. So when I started learning how to read, I came into comics with a bias in favor of DC.

Unfortunately, DC squandered this advantage with comics that were so much lower in quality than the Marvel ones, even to a 6-year-old’s eyes and that is saying something. In the Early DC comics I first read, Batman was fighting ordinary criminals with no costumes or powers, Superman was fighting Terra Man (the space cowboy), Clark Kent had a new co-worker, Guy Lombardo, a sportscaster who would bully Clark (while Clark pretended to be bullied), Wonder Woman had no powers and was a Kung Fu Fighting Private Detective, The Metal Men all got melted, and the Justice League teamed up with the Justice Society to search for the Seven Soldiers of Victory.

The first Marvel comic I read, in contrast, features the climax of the Skrull/Kree War, a reprint of the Fantastic Four defeating Galactus, Ragnarok, the Mimic (with the combined powers of the X-men) fighting the Super Adaptoid (with the combined powers of the Avengers), MODOK and Dr Doom fighting over the Cosmic Cube, and in the same issue: Captain America vs Nick Fury and the Falcon vs. the Captain America and Bucky from the 1950’s. With that beginning, although I occasionally bought DC comics, I was mostly a Marvelite from then on.

Comics in those days were $0.20 each. I’m pretty certain that they were deliberately priced at double the cost of a chocolate bar, which costed $0.10 in those days. At 20 cents per comic, that should have meant, if I got hold of a dollar, that I should have been able to get 5 comics for a dollar. It should have been that way. . . . But Americans like to make tax paying as painful a process as possible. Every Spring Americans get super stressed trying to fill out the income tax form and I am sure many have seen this play out in sitcoms through the years. But unlike other countries, in the States, sales tax is tacked on on top of the labeled price, not included in it. So a dollar bought me 4 comics and some change. Then a period of inflation began under president Nixon. Chocolate bars became slightly larger and rose to $0.15 and comics added a couple of pages and rose to $0.25 each. Again, this should have been 4 for a dollar. Instead, it was 3 for a dollar and some change leftover.

Every pharmacy, or 7-11 small store had a rotating rack that would hold more than 50 different comics within its thin frame. And I was very dependent on the good will of parents to buy me that comic I wanted so bad. Often I had to choose one over the other as was the case for most kids growing up. So I chose not to find out what happened with the Avengers and the Space Phantom, because I wanted to see Quicksilver and the Human Torch fight over Crystal. Most comics stories were two of three issues long and I would often miss the beginning or conclusion of a story, after all it is hard to develop consistent buying patterns as an infant with no disposable income! There were a few instances where I was able to get every issue of a particular comic for several months in a row. Because if a story lasted longer than one issue, it would be a whole month before I got to see what happened next.

I was just the right age to be coming in at the very beginning of a lot of Bronze Age things. My very second Avengers story was based on a idea suggested by an intern named Chris Claremont, in which the Avengers fought the Sentinels. I came in at the beginning of the Defenders, and just before Steve Englehart began writing the Avengers and Captain America. I was there for the beginning of Jim Starlin’s run on Captain Marvel and Roy Thomas’ run on Fantastic Four.

I thought I liked particular characters. I didn’t realize that I actually like particular writers, including: Stan Lee (Fantastic Four, Avengers), Roy Thomas (Avengers, X-men, Fantastic Four), Steve Englehart (Defenders, Avengers, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Amazing Adventures featuring: the Beast), Steve Gerber (Defenders), and Jim Starlin (Captain Marvel). Because of this I missed things I would have liked and later discovered like Warlock (Jim Starlin), early issues of Master of Kung Fu (Jim Starlin and Steve Englehart), Guardians of the Galaxy (Steve Gerber) and Man Thing (Steve Gerber).    

The Marvel Universe was much more coherent back then. It was only ten years old at that point and several writers had very long runs in the Silver age. Most notably Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who did more than a hundred issues of Fantastic Four, as well as a long run on Thor and Roy Thomas who had very long runs on both Avengers and X-men. Comics would often reference events in past issues, and would often include a panel showing the events they were talking about with a footnote, indicating which issue they were referring to. Writers would spin very long subplots and then tell the next writer what they had been doing. So, for example, Roy Thomas had been laying clues for years that something was strange about the Vision. And it was years more before Steve Englehart finally revealed that the vision had been built from the android body of the original Human Torch.

Also, the Comics Code was loosening its’ grip a bit, allowing horror comics to be produced. DC mostly did anthology horror comics. (Swamp Thing was an exception) But Marvel was doing ongoing series featuring Dracula, Frankenstein, the Living Mummy, Werewolf by Night, Man Thing and the Ghost Rider. And Western and War comics were still around too. 

But then, this era of my comics fandom came to an end, when I moved to a place where comics were not available. As a result, I missed things. But when I moved back, I returned to comics. Again, just in time.

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Who are the Defenders?

The premier piece from our latest contributor Pat. Read about a Super Hero team that never was really a team and learn something new about The Defenders. The show sucked but like with most things, the original content is was way better!

Who are the Defenders?

 

When The Defenders television series was just announced by Netflix, a friend of mine asked me who they were. This seemed a bit odd to me because they were such a major superhero team for Marvel Comics in the 1970’s. But now they have become forgotten. So allow me to remind you. . . .

The Defenders started as separate team ups between Doctor Strange and the Incredible Hulk, and Doctor Strange and Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. This was followed by a three way team up of the Hulk, Sub-Mariner and the Silver Surfer. Finally, all four of them were given their own book: the Defenders. The prequel team-ups had been written by “Rascally” Roy Thomas, who continued to write stories about them in Marvel Feature. But once the Defenders got their own title, the writing chores were handed off to “Stainless” Steve Englehart. Several of the Early issues were inked by Bill Everett, the artist who co- created both the Sub-Mariner in the 1940’s and Daredevil in the 1960’s. From the beginning it was obvious that The Defenders would have a different vibe that the other team books. The Avengers were a semi military organization. The Fantastic Four were a Family whereas the X-men were more of a school club. The Defenders however were something entirely different and new to comics, they were the Non-Team. They had no set members or roster to speak of. In fact, when Valkyrie asked to become the fifth member of The Defenders, the Sub-Mariner told her that she could not join The Defenders because, The Defenders were not a Team. Each issue hit the shelves and you never knew who would be in The Defenders that Month. In one of the later issues The Defenders were Doctor Strange, Iceman and Mister Fantastic. A cover of one the early issues shows The Defenders (Doctor Strange, Valkyrie, Nighthawk and Yellowjacket) being rescued by The Defenders (Hulk, Luke Cage, Daredevil and the Son of Satan). At one point The Defenders held a television interview and the next day twenty heroes (including Iron Fist) showed up at Nighthawk’s home, asking to sign up and join The Defenders. At the same time, two different groups of villains banded together and proclaimed themselves to be the ‘real’ Defenders! Still even though the membership was constantly in flux, (there was an extended period in the middle of their run where Doctor Strange was absent) There were certain heroes who showed up in the pages of the Defenders more often than others did.

That list of Heroes is: Doctor Strange, Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Silver Surfer, the Valkyrie, Nighthawk, Hellcat, Son of Satan, Gargoyle and Beast.

Some of their Major Stories include: the Avengers/Defenders War (When Steve Englehart wrote both books, and in which Hawkeye was a Defender), a crossover with the Guardians of the Galaxy (Which writer, Steve Gerber spun off into their on series), the ascension to cosmic power levels of the Red Guardian and the Presence, the Six Fingered Hand saga (written by J.M. DeMatteis) And the liberation of the Squadron Supreme’s world from the mental domination of the Overmind. (Also by J.M. DeMatteis)

But unlike other comics, The Defenders had almost no recurring villains. Xemu the Titan fought them a couple of times in their early issues. Nebulon the Celestial Man fought them three times. Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants only fought The Defenders one time. But this was a major turning point in the mutant mastermind’s life, as the battle left him reverted to childhood. When, a few years later in the pages of the New Uncanny X- men, he was restored, it was to the peak of his powers.

After the 100th issue, the Beast became a regular member of the Defenders. This worked out so well that Iceman and Angel were brought in too. This changed the whole feel of the group under writer Peter Gillis’ tenure, which lasted a couple of more years before the book was canceled and the original X-Men re-united in the pages of X-Factor.

In the decades since, there have been a few attempts to revive the Defenders and reintroduce them to new fans. Though many of the heroes who have appeared in the Defenders did appear on television screens in the 90s (Silver Surfer, Mister Fantastic, X-men etc.) it was not until recently that Luke Cage, Dr. Strange and Iron fist  recently releasing theatrical releases and Netflix shows. But prior to the live action shows and the Cumberbatch film Fist and Cage had been getting more spotlight through starring in the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series with Dr. Strange having a recurring role, Marvel obviously doing good in setting up these characters with the younger audience. In the realm of comics none of the attempts after print cancellation lasted as long as the original run. So when, in the recent Doctor Strange film, the Evil Eye, the McGuffin from the Avengers/Defenders war was used as a club; I was brought back to the early days of the Defenders.

Book and photograph property of Nerd Dimension

Hope you enjoyed my piece on the Defenders and will look forward to my next one that will have me shed light on Nighthawk.

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