Wednesday, February 19, 2020

THOSE 70s COMICS


Much as I adore 1960s comics—the innocent, inspiring DCs early in the decade and the revolutionary Marvel explosion led by Lee, Kirby and Ditko—the 70s might be my favorite comic book decade.




Kirby’s New Gods, Thomas and Smith on Conan, Wein and Wrightson on Swamp Thing, O’Neil and Adams on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Wolfman and Colan on Tomb of Dracula, Steve Gerber on…well pretty much everything he touched (but especially Man-Thing with Ploog and Mayerik), Steve Englehart and his brilliant collaborators on Doctor Strange, Batman, Captain America, and his criminally-underrated JLA run, Moench and Gulacy on Master of Kung-Fu, Starlin on Warlock and Captain Marvel.

Just a staggering body of groundbreaking work, by creators at the very top of their game, working in a variety of genres.  These are the books that kept me reading comics at a time when I might have left them behind—and the creators I still hold high regard.

I salute them all!
©copyright 2020 J.M. DeMatteis



21 comments:

  1. I am in total agreement with you. I love the 1970s more than any other decade in comics, especially for Marvel Comics.

    I grew up in the 1980s, and I have a lot of love for the 1980s as a decade also.
    DC really caught up, and then in many ways, actually surpassed Marvel in the 1980s...with creators like Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison, amongst others.
    Hey! I think the 1980s were something of a high-point for a certain creator known as J.M. DeMatteis come to think of it.
    Plus, there were amazing comics coming from the indy scene, with publishers like Eclipse and First, amongst others.

    Yeah, it can be hard to pick between the 1970s or the 1980s for my favourite, but for the sheer amount of wild ideas getting thrown at the wall, the 1970s would have to get my nod of approval.

    Steve Gerber's Howard the Duck and Man Thing would probably rank at the top of the 1970s for me.
    I seem to remember seeing the name of John Marc DeMatteis show up in the letter's column for a few Man Thing issues.

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    1. My admiration for Steve Gerber's 70s work knows no bounds. At a time when I might have abandoned comics, he was one of the voices leading me on, show ing me new pathways for the medium. And, man, did I love HOWARD THE DUCK.

      I don't recall having a letter in MAN-THING (I might have, I just don't recall), but I know I had a letter in DEFENDERS.

      Yeah, the 80s were amazing for me (and many others) as a creator, so much freedom to branch off in so many directions...but in the 70s I was a Pure Fan, so that's why I think I hold that decade especially dear.

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  2. 1980's for me, and it's not even close. Frank Miller with Daredevil, and Dark Knight Returns. Alan Moore with Swamp Thing, V for Vendetta, Miracle Man. Walt Simonson on Thor. Neil Gaiman on Sandman. JM & Keith on Justice League. Mike Grell on Green Arrow.

    Don't forget the explosion of great independent books: Howard Chaykin on American Flagg & Black Kiss, Matt Wagner on Mage & Grendel, Eastman & Laird on TMNT.

    Some of my all time favorite stories came out of the eighties too:
    (1) Superman: For the Man Who Has Everything (2) Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt (3) Death of Captain Marvel.

    Danny Fingeroth once said that the Golden Age of comic readership is the age 12. Whatever you are reading when you are 12 years of age is what will always stick with you as the best. I was 12 in the 1980s. I was 12 when Kraven's Last Hunt came out. It's still my all-time favorite Spider-Man story.

    The 70's were good, but the 80's were better. Maybe not the music...but definitely the comic books, and the movies too!

    George Travlos

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    1. I can't view the 80s with objectivity, George, because I was sitting on the creator's side of the wall. Totally different perspective; and from that perspective it was an AMAZING decade. So much creative freedom, creative expansion. Even when I was working on mainstream books, I was allowed to make them (well, some of them) as profoundly personal as my creator-owned work. I look back on that decade very fondly.

      That said, the 70s was a decade I saw purely through a fan's eyes. And I wasn't twelve then, either. I was a teenager who could have dumped comics for "cooler" things. But the amazing work by those amazing creators kept me around and reading. It's a period that will always be near and dear to my heart.

      In the end, I think you could argue for the 60s, 70s or 80s as being the best comic book decade. And there are others out there that would argue for other decades. In the end, it's less about "best" and more about our favorites. Because, in the end, it's comics and they're all magical.

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    2. It isn't exactly easy to separate the 70s and 80s in comics.

      The Bronze Age is considered to have begun in 1972, with the Death of Gwen Stacy, and ended in 1986.

      The decades largely are viewed as the same age of comics, not surprising since a lot of teh same creators worked in both decades.

      Independents are mentioned in the 80s, but teh first indie comic (that wasn't Hippie underground style) was Star*Reach. Not to mention the Warren publications that offered mainstream creators the same playground atmosphere Vertigo and in the 90s and Image in the 00s would.

      The first semi-mainstream adult comic in 1982 was Dreadstar. However, many of those seeds were planted in Starlin's Warlock run.

      Even two examples given, Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and Sandman are by no means free of 70s connections.

      Both borrow heavily from Steve Gerber's Man-Thing run.

      Sandman only structurally (with some inspiration from Marvel's rise of 70s cosmic beings for The Endless).

      Moore however seemed to be quite a fan. Even its biggest arc, of Swampy heading into Hell, is reminiscent of the storyline in Adventures into Fear, that ended with Man-Thing #1.

      Both runs even had a former hippie as a sidekick/side character. Moore's was admittedly less cynical than Richard Rory.

      Dark Knight Returns is often cited as what "got Batman's balls back" (Frank Miller's words, not mine), but that honor really belongs to Denny O'Neil.

      Speaking of O'Neil, Watchmen would not have been possible without his sociopolitical charged writing in the 70s.

      It is all a river. Things ebb and flow as they move down stream. There is really no point in arguing about when the best era was.

      Hell, Sandman was mentioned for the 80s, but most of it came out in the dreaded 90s. A decade constantly insulted, but included Robinson's Starman, Spectacular Spider-man #200, Ostrander's Spectre, and Peter David's first swing at X-Factor run... classics all.

      Jack

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  3. I believe you forgot:
    - Denny O'Neil saving Batman
    - Wein bringing back the X-Men and handing it off to Claremont
    - Rich Buckler creating Deathlok before there was a Terminator or Robocop blew up box offices a decade later
    - Weird War tales
    - Three authors (Conway, Wein, and Wolfman) writing the character in a way that can only be captured by people around his own age
    -The creation of a book based on a characters personal life and character development for he first time... Peter Parker, Spectacular Spider-Man
    -And of course... the Warren publications, EERIE and CREEPY (and StarReach) giving freedom to creators.

    Lets not pretend the reason these stories were so well done. This was the first generation of creators that WANTED to write comics.

    THey also saw potential. These folks that read comics in high school and college... seeing them as a sign of rebellion... combined them with other things. It wasn't a ghetto for creators.

    It was also before Shooter leaned hard into the business aspects.

    NO disrespect to Shooter, he probably saved the company. However, it is no secret that he was very much about making the ship run... and at times that cut out more experimental choices in mainstream universe.

    Of course the success Marvel had in the 80s made the road back to hard to get to. Things became more Regulated.

    Englehart himself once spoke about how comics became more like Hollywood in terms of how stories get made.

    I was born in the 80s. I am a Post-Crisis baby... admittedly not by much.

    Books published about Marvel mentioned all these great stories form the 70s were mentioned as things to read.

    IN high school (and a after) most of these books were hanging around dollar bins.

    Classic after classic for a dollar... even a no good teenager can afford those prices.

    I loved them. There was energy. There was creativity. There was rebellion. Most of all, there was meditation. They felt meditative on everything that was going on.

    Stan Lee had that, sure, but it was different now. It wasn't just the character... the whole story would meant to be that way.

    Wolfman once said he created the character in Dracula as if they were real people whose lives were disrupted by Dracula. If it weren't for this one monster, they could be happy.

    I don;t think I was alone in not knowing Swamp Thing COULD talk until issue #10. It was all thought balloons. Seriously, go back and look.

    Of course, the master was Jim Starlin. His stories could be so fatalistic. Even dour. Because his characters clearly contemplated meaning.

    It is a shame he will best remembered as the guy responsible for "the snap," in a movie he didn't write.

    I guess that is a round about way of saying... and I am sure you guessed it... I disagree and the 70s were terrible for comics.

    Jack

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    1. I wasn't trying to list every cool comic of the 70s, Jack, just the ones that meant the most to me.

      As I recall, Swamp Thing did talk in those early issues, but very rarely. I could be wrong, it's a few years since I read those stories. (I remember, very distinctly, reading the first issue and being blown away by it. It felt like no comic I'd ever read before. And that kind of set the tone for the decade, didn't it?)

      I've also heard stories about the incredible freedom creators had in the first half of that decade. The kids had taken over the candy store. That resulted in some truly extraordinary work, when you had extraordinary creators, but there was a fair share of self-indulgence, too. But, flaws and all, the 70s were a time whens the Gerbers, Starlins, Weins, etc. took the groundbreaking work of the 60s and built on it in surprising and deeply personal ways. It wasn't so much a moving forward as a moving outward and downward, expanding the possibilities of the form, deepening the emotions, the psychology, the philosophy. Lee, Kirby, Ditko and company created the foundation for the 70s, just as the 70s created the foundation for the creator-owned explosion of the 80s. And so on. In this business, we all stand on the shoulders of giants.

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    2. Dematteis, you were absolutely trying to name every cool comic of the 70s.

      I conversely, was pointing out that list of yours only scratched the surface of the strides being made in the decade.


      Jack

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  4. When I was a kid a bought a lot of back issues from the 70s, my favorites being Amazing Spider-Man by Wolfman and Pollard and Justice League of America by Wein and Dillin. The 70s also saw the return of Will Eisner to comics with A Contract with God, which remains one of my all time favorite graphic novels. The 70s were definitely a great time for comics.

    William

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    1. I totally forgot about Len's run on JUSTICE LEAGUE! One of my absolute favorite JL runs ever! And how could I forget A CONTRACT WITH GOD? One of the greatest achievements in comics history! Thanks, William!

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  5. Hi could you forget the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby reunion book... Silver Surfer: The Ultimate Cosmic Experience?

    Anyway, it is interesting that you picked now to write this ode to the 70s.

    I just started reading Steve Englehart's novel, which I picked up at a used book sale last year.

    Also, Jim Starlin was just at Great Lakes Comic Con this past weekend.

    Just interesting timing.


    Jack

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    1. I loved the Lee-Kirby Surfer graphic novel! The 70s is even better than I remembered!

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  6. I grew up in the 80s, so the 70s had a weird 'just-out-of-reach' mystique about them for me growing up. It was always a treat to find some old ASM issues in the back issue bin. The horrible paper quality, the garish and poorly spaced ads, it had an alien quality that somehow troubled and thrilled me.

    I think that for me, personally, the thing that sticks out the most is the lingering Kennedy-era optimism grounded by Watergate-era cynicism. The tragic burden of wasted opportunities. The crushing sense that there's still a path to the stars but damned if anyone can see it.

    The 70s are, simply put, the age of Tantalus, the time of Sisyphus; the fruit of the protagonist's labors forever out of reach, the good work immediately reversed the second it's accomplished. Alec Holland finds himself in a room with all the laboratory equipment he needs to cure his condition, but his crude, cruel form can't hold a test tube. Dr. Strange saves the earth after its utter annihilation, only to realize that those who died are in fact, still dead, and the world is forever peopled with exact likenesses created by Destiny.

    (And can I just say that Dr. Strange story has one of the most BRILLIANT twists ever and it's a crying shame that Marvel reversed its implications and made it all an illusion by the Ancient One.)

    --David





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    1. Which Doc Strange story was that? I loved the book back then but it's been a long time so I don't recall...

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    2. The earth was destroyed in DR. STRANGE #13 and Eternity created an identical copy in #14. The implications played out as a subplot through most of the rest of Englehart's run; Strange became burdened by the knowledge that Clea wasn't 'his' Clea and he could never tell her the truth.

      There's some other really out there stuff, like Dr. Strange studying America's occult past, and Ben Franklin and Clea falling in love!

      After Englehart abruptly left the book, all this was revealed to be an illusion by the Ancient One to test Dr. Strange's attachment to the material world. Because he couldn't let go, he was stripped of his Sorcerer Supreme title, and it was handled about as awfully as it sounds.

      So I can see why it's an easily forgotten story, given the lackluster payoff (through no fault of Englehart's).

      --David

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    3. No that you lay it out, I (vaguely) recall that story. Englehart did incredible work with Doctor Strange...really deepening the character and his universe. I'd love to reread it all one day.

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    4. Well, I can definitely see the 70s comics influence in your supernatural work. I recently re-read your PHANTOM STRANGER run and it just gets better every time.

      Also, I think BLIGHT might be my favorite crossover ever. At least currently--truth be told, I have many favorites.

      --David

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    5. I'm not a big fan of crossovers, but I really enjoyed working with Ray Fawkes on BLIGHT. It went on a little too long, as all these things tend to do, but, because there were just two writers involved, we could really keep things focused and meaningful. Glad you hold it in such high esteem!

      And, yes, those 70s comics left their imprint and I'm sure they still echo through my work in ways I'm not even aware of!

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    6. I believe the universe destruction and recreation being being an illusion by the Ancient One was a reton of Englehart's work.

      Also i the 70s, everyone in Brooklyn followed a religion based around Gabe Kaplan. That is where the REAL inspiration came from.

      Jack

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    7. Yes, it was definitely a retcon of Englehart's work. They basically undid the entire second half of his run in one or two issues. It's a jarring transition even by the standards of the day. It would be interesting to see the concept revisited and un-retconned? Ret-ret-conned?

      --David

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