From the Archives: Deck Log Entry # 66 Short-Term Avenger, Long-Term Party Animal

Imagine that you’re participating in one of my “Comic Book Jeopardy!” quizzes . . . .

 

Under ‘Silver-Age Avengers Tenures’ for $50, the answer is . . . . “This hero left the Avengers only five issues after being made a member.”

 

The clock is ticking, folks.  Anybody want to take a stab at it?

 

Whenever comic-book fans gather together, either in person or on line, they love to compare preferences, and certain topics can be counted on to arise.  The infamous “who can beat whom” arguments.  Or matters of taste, such as “yellow oval or no oval?”  And sooner or later, someone will ask everyone to list his favourite line-up of the Justice League or the Avengers or some other group.

 

Everybody knows how rooted I am in the Silver Age, so my chosen line-ups rarely hold any surprises.  You aren’t going to see any Rocket Reds or Tigras or Wildfires on any of my lists.  For example, my Avengers roll call of preference is

 

Captain America (Like most, I feel it just isn’t the Avengers if Cap isn’t there.)

Hawkeye

Quicksilver

The Scarlet Witch (I don’t care for magic-type powered heroes and her hex power is close enough, but you can’t have Pietro without Wanda; it just isn’t done.)

Goliath

The Wasp  (I like the Wasp even less than Wanda; Jan adds next to nothing to the team, but as with Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, if you have Goliath, you have to have the Wasp.)

Hercules

 

Hercules might be the one eye-opener.  What, no Thor?  True, the Thunder God has a certain appeal for me, but it is largely wrapped up in the nature of his dual-persona secret identity, the Thor-Doctor Blake thing.  I always find heroes with civilian identities that are separate beings intriguing.  But the intricacies of that relationship were more found in his own series, not in the Avengers.  Beyond that, I found Thor a bit too high-handed and in love with his own nobility.

 

Hercules, on the other hand, was the kind of guy that I would be---were I good-looking, loaded with muscles, immune to harm, and immortal to boot.  Honest, courageous, and possessing a strong sense of duty.  When it was time to work, I would work, but when it was time to play, I would play.  And I would make sure there was plenty of time to play.  I always loved the scenes in The Avengers when an off-duty Hercules would go clubbing, guzzling suds and collecting babes on both arms.

 

And just in case somebody needs a house to fall on him, “Who is Hercules?” is, of course, the correct question to the Comic Book Jeopardy! answer above.  It was a curious quirk in Roy Thomas’ Avengers plotting that, even though he made Hercules one of the main players for most of 1967, by the time ol’ Herc actually got his Avengers membership card, he was on his way out the door and, actually, participated in only one more mission with the Assemblers after that.

 

Going back a bit, the Lion of Olympus was introduced into the Marvel universe in “When Titans Clash!”, from Journey Into Mystery King Size Annual # 1 (1965).   When Thor accidentally stumbles across the entrance to Olympus, he encounters Hercules, and in the Typical Marvel Manner, they fight.  It’s a hell of a donnybrook too, lasting for ten full pages, kicked off when the two gods meet at opposite ends of a bridge and each refuses to give way for the other, suggesting that a more appropriate story title might have been “When Egos Clash!”

 

Under that bone-brained rationale demonstrated by most comic-book brawlers, their mutual attempt to clobber each other results in a firm friendship, and Hercules would pop up a few more times in later Thor adventures.  This established the background for the Prince of Power’s first appearance with the Avengers.

 

In The Avengers # 38 (Mar., 1967), Herc, never the brightest bulb in the marquee, is duped by the Enchantress into drinking a bewitched potion which puts him under her thrall.   She intends to use the Olympian demi-god as her instrument of revenge against Thor, and dispatches him to Earth with orders to pound the Thunder God into paste.  With his memory befogged, Herc doesn’t remember that his father Zeus, grand high poobah of the Greek gods, has declared the Earth off-limits.

 

In due time, Hercules makes his way to the Avengers Mansion and begins to tear it apart in his search for Thor.  Unfortunately for the heroes present, Herc attacks during a time when the Thunder God is not an active Avenger, and the brainwashed bruiser smites them all mightily.  Only when Hawkeye, by sheer luck, fires an exploding sulphur arrow Herc’s way is the spell broken and the battle ended.

 

The Lion of Olympus barely has time to mutter a “Sorry about that, mortals,” when daddy Zeus materialises and, ticked off over Herc breaking curfew, exiles him to Earth for one year.  Figuring that a super-strong immortal might be a handy fellow to have around, the Avengers, as soon as their heads stop ringing, offer to put him up in the mansion.

 

 

   

As it developed, it didn’t take long for Hercules to earn his keep.  In the very next issue, the Mad Thinker, assisted by a trio of super-powered henchmen, ambushes the Avengers individually.  Then he brings the defeated heroes back to the Avengers Mansion and straps them into a death trap constructed out of their own equipment.  Unfortunately, their Olympian house guest happens to be out at the time, for this story contains the first of the occasional scenes showing Hercules out on the town.  Using the alias of “Mr. Powers” and wearing a fashionable Brooks Brothers suit and tie, Herc is holding court in the Happy Islands, “a brand-new nightclub in mid-town Manhattan.” 

 

While the Avengers have been fighting for their lives, the Lion of Olympus has been downing tankards of ale brought to him by comely serving wenches.  Luckily for our heroes, though, last call comes in time for Herc to return to the mansion and save their bacon before the Mad Thinker can pull the switch. 

 

In The Avengers # 40 (May, 1967), Hercules tags along with the Avengers when they go up against the Sub-Mariner, who’s in one of his surface-people-are-no-damned-good moods, again.  Herc and Namor ram heads and get to ooze testosterone all over the place.  The muscle-bound Olympian also begins to develop an attraction for the Scarlet Witch, a plot development that never really went anywhere.

 

The next two issues of The Avengers feature an adventure against the villain Diablo, who has reanimated the monstrous Dragon Man.  Hercules, brooding over his exile, pretty much sits out the first half, but snaps out of it in time to rescue the Wasp from the clutches of Dragon Man.  It’s a titanic battle, but Herc wins out when he drops the android monstrosity into the mouth of an active volcano.

 

The story in The Avengers # 43 (Aug., 1967) finally turns attention toward a sub-plot which had been simmering for a few issues:  the forced repatriation of Hawkeye’s lady love, the Black Widow, by her native Soviet Union.  Two episodes provide looks at Hercules’ character.  The opening sequence shows Captain America, who had returned to the team in the previous issue, calling the Avengers into the meeting room for a conference.  Herc bristles at being ordered around by “a mere mortal”, and when Cap points out that he wasn’t even talking to the Olympian, since he isn’t an Avenger, the Prince of Power takes offence.

 

Like Thor, Hercules is loaded with arrogance, but while the Thunder God is able to keep his sense of superiority in check, it’s one of his Greek buddy’s most prominent traits.  Angrily, he determines to teach the star-spangled war hero a lesson.  Captain America dodges Hercules’ headlong charge and then, coolly, outmanuœvres the muscle-bound demi-god at every turn.  Herc suddenly breaks off the fight, acknowledging Cap’s courage and fighting skill, and---you guessed it!---suddenly declares his undying friendship for the shield-slinging Avenger.

 

Later, Hawkeye slips away, heading for Russia to bring back the Black Widow all by his lonesome.  Hercules learns of the archer’s love for the former Soviet spy and, inspired by his sense of the romantic, joins Hawkeye on his quest to rescue the lady. This marks the beginning of a friendship between the two hotheads (and they didn’t even have to punch each other out first!).  It ends well, but only after Hawkeye and Hercules, and Captain America, as well, wind up in Communist hands.

 

After this, comes the epic battle against the Mandarin and five other super-villains, in “The Monstrous Master Plan of the Mandarin”, from The Avengers King-Size Annual # 1 (1967).  Hercules is still a non-Avenger, but he's treated like one, getting his fair share of the action.

 

 

  

As I mentioned earlier, to this point, the Lion of Olympus had been a major player in all of the team’s adventures since he began his exile on Earth, despite the fact that he did not even have his own parking spot in the Avengers’ driveway.  In “Blitzkrieg in Central Park”, from The Avengers # 45 (Oct., 1967), the Assemblers finally get around to acknowledging that and “proclaim the mighty Hercules to be a full-fledged Avenger . . . for the duration of his stay on Earth!”

 

The Super-Adaptoid shows up to disrupt the Avengers Day ceremony.  The Avengers give him a good thumping, but as it turns out, Hercules’ Avengers membership proves to be a case of “better late than never”, because the Prince of Power will see action with the group only one more time in the Silver Age.

 

Hercules completely misses out on the major events of the next issue, when he and Hawkeye escort Wanda and Natasha out for a night on the town before the action begins.

 

The Avengers # 47 (Dec., 1967) kicks off a multi-part tale highlighting the return of the villainous mutant Magneto and, heightening the drama, sees the slow erosion of the current team of Avengers.  Before it is over, Captain America, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch all leave the group and Goliath loses his power to grow to giant size.

 

Hercules is missing in action throughout.  We learn that he has gone to Mount Olympus in hopes of persuading Zeus to lift his exile.  When Herc arrives, he finds his ancestral home completely deserted, without even so much as a “gone to the movies” note left on the front door.  During the Avengers’ battle with Magneto, there are two or three one-page scene-shifts back to Olympus, showing Hercules’ puzzlement over the mystery.

 

Not until The Avengers # 50 (Mar., 1968) does Hercules’ situation take centre stage.  By now, we have discovered that Typhon, the last of the Titans, predecessors of the Greek gods, has banished the Olympians to the Land of the Shades.  Typhon is even big and bad enough to smack down Hercules and ship him off to the Land of the Shades, too. 

 

Then, finding it boring in Olympus with no-one to kick around, Typhon heads down to Earth and, for his first trick, takes on the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet.  Drawn to the scene, the three remaining active Avengers---Hawkeye, the former Goliath, and the Wasp---tackle the renegade Titan.  The diminished team finds itself quickly outclassed, and the heroes are lucky that they manage to stay alive.  Fortunately, it’s right about then that Hercules reunites with his dad and the rest of the Olympian gods stranded in the shadowy realm.  After comparing notes, Zeus expends the last of his power to send Herc to the Mediterranean island where his teammates are scrambling to save their hides.

 

Now facing a supremely hacked-off Lion of Olympus, Typhon has a real fight on his hands.  Hawkeye and Goliath and the Wasp harass the Titan with a few minor distractions, but it is Hercules’ show all the way.  Their battle pitches back and forth, laying waste to most of the local real estate.  Hercules finally gets the upper hand against Typhon---by employing a tactic taught to him by that “mere mortal”, Captain America.

 

In short order, the Greek gods are back to revelling and carousing in Olympus, and Typhon has been cast into the Pit of Hades.  In gratitude, Zeus offers his son the choice of remaining on Earth or returning to Olympus.  Since Olympus has it all over the Happy Islands nightclub, Herc decides to go home.  Even so, he has some second thoughts.

 

“In sooth, though I undertake a thousand, thousand quests,” the Prince of Power reflects, “though I try to drown my memories in the heady nectar of adventure, a part of Hercules shall ever be . . . an Avenger!”

 

 

   

Be that as it may, the Lion of Olympus never returned to his Avenging buddies for the remainder of the Silver Age.  At least, not by where I demark its end, 1968.  But it wasn’t very long after that until Hercules was seen, again.  Ka-Zar # 1 (Aug., 1970), which was largely a reprint title, saw the inclusion of a new story, launching a plotline which saw Hercules back in dutch with Zeus for once more having sneaked off to visit Earth.  Zeus dispatches his Huntsman to track down his son and bring him back by force.

 

In this opener, Herc is briefly reunited with his fellow Avengers.  The conclusion of the story is left unresolved, serial fashion.  At the time, I got the impression that Hercules’ flight from the Huntsman was intended to be a running saga that would unreel over various Marvel titles, much in the same way that Zatanna’s quest for her father crossed over several DC titles.  However, when the next episode appeared, in Sub-Mariner # 29 (Sep., 1970), the storyline was wrapped up.

 

The presence of Hercules added a certain spark to the Avengers.  He brought a raw power to the team that not even Goliath could provide.  But more than that, his arrogance and hair-trigger temper made him a bit of a loose cannon.  This led to several hero-versus-hero fights so endearing to Stan Lee.

 

Best of all, Herc was a fun guy.  As written by Roy Thomas at the time, most of the Avengers were a pretty dour bunch.  Hank Pym was wrapped up in his test tubes.  Captain America was going though one of his frequent I-have-no-life-as-Steve-Rogers fugues.  Hawkeye was generally peeved because the group would not make Natasha an Avenger, and Pietro and Wanda grew increasingly suspicious of anti-mutant sentiments.

 

But Hercules knew how to enjoy life.  Even his exile on Earth never brought him down for very long, especially after discovering that we mere mortals had a few pleasures of our own.  Tony Stark could have taken tips from him.

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When Hank first became Goliath he was very clear that he could only change to one height, 25 feet, and only for 15 minutes. In his own series, he lost the power to shrink by the end of the run (although in a blithe bit of ignoring the previous issue, the last story has him save the day by shrinking). I believe when he and Bill Foster restored his power he got the whole range of size-changing back.

The 1980s Hercules series sent him into space precisely because he had so much fun on Earth--Zeus figured his boy was more likely to learn humility out in the stars (as happens when he runs into Galactus in a delightful story).

I know Stan Lee was strict about which heroes Roy was able to use. I don't know if Herc's departure was part of that.


Eric L. Sofer said:

Commander Adam - seems I'm a bit late to the party. Maybe I can make up for it by being sparkling and entertaining.

ITEM: Let's face facts... in the Silver Age, was there ANYBODY who didn't harbor a passion for the Scarlet Witch? Hercules, Hawkeye, Cap, and I think Iron Man may have had such a reflection or two at the time. Apparently the sexy Romany lass had the power to turn men's heads...

ITEM: Does Avengers #100 fall into the era of Silver Age by your standards?

ITEM: Hercules was such a great addition for the Avengers that I cannot imagine Roy the Boy couldn't find a way to keep him. At the point he showed up, he was part of a fantastic Avengers septet (or even octet if you count the Black Widow... who would also have added to that Avengers team.) That team probably would have had a solid shot at taking down the Hulk. But Cap was barely a part-time Avenger at the time (and it seemed that he only showed up when HIS missions involved the Avengers), and as you noted, the team was denuded down to Hank Pym (who apparently forgot he was Ant-Man... I don't recall that he lost ability to size change, but only to grow), the Wasp (who, as most female Marvel heroes, was treated horribly), and ol' br'er Hawkeye. Honestly, I am not sure what Roy or Stan thought could be done to make satisfying stories with those three. But obviously, they got past that...

ITEM: Zeus exiled Hercules for being enchanted and then forced to go to Earth? And forced him to stay there? Well, yes, he did save the Avengers one time... but he also experienced Earth's entertainments and pleasures. I guess it's very obvious why no one ever referred to Zeus as "all-wise." That and a surplus of eyes. :)

Hercules was a great fit for the Avengers. Not Thor or Iron Man (who, in addition to super strength, were loaded with other abilities); not the Hulk (who was definitely not a team player, and would have lost his villain status as an Avenger); not Wonder Man (spending the year dead for tax purposes, I guess); but the team's tank nonetheless. It's a damned shame they couldn't make him fit.

Fraser Sherman said:

I believe when he and Bill Foster restored his power he got the whole range of size-changing back.

You're correct, Mr. Fraser, in that after being trapped at ten-feet-tall (from overextending his then-limitations as Goliath) Hank Pym, with Bill Foster's aid, was able to regain his full range of size-changing abilities, as shown in The Avengers # 35 (Dec., 1966).  However, that was not the end of Pym's stature-changing woes.

Subsequently, Goliath tended to operate at a fifteen-foot height, but then, in The Avengers # 48 (Jan., 1968), he is forced to suddenly shoot up to twenty-five feet, in order to save some pedestrians from a falling chunk of masonry.  At the time, Hank reflects, “I’ve been warned not to [grow to twenty-five feet] . . . it might permanently affect my ability to grow in size.”  After the save, he returns to normal height with, apparently, no ill effects.

"Apparently" being the operant word.  In The Avengers # 49 (Feb., 1968), Hank goes through the entire issue without increasing his size.  The story is crafted in such a way that it's not noticeable---either to the in-story characters or the real-life readership.  But at the end, Pym realises, “Years of fantastic strain on my very molecules---plus the recent overtaxing of my size-changing powers---have finally had their effect on me!  Though I can still become Ant-Man . . . I can no longer become a ten-foot giant!”

The next issue features Hercules' battle with Typhon, the demi-god's last adventure with the Assemblers before returning to Olympus and canoodling with the serving wenches.  Goliath and Hawkeye and the Wasp show up to lend a hand, but even in dire straits, Hank cannot increase his size.  

In The Avengers # 51 (Apr., 1968), Pym puts all of his biochemical genius into trying to restore his growth power, to no avail.  It seems he is stuck as Ant-Man for good.  Not so, says the Collector, who pops up to accumulate all of the team members for a special exhibit.  Not wanting a flawed specimen for his trophy case, the villain uses his own advanced science to restore Goliath's enlarging power.  And he improves it; Hank can now easily attain a height of twenty-five feet with no ill effects.

That restores his size-changing status quo, at least, until the Yellowjacket thing comes up in a year or so.

And my friend Fogey, always glad to see your comments, sir!  To answer your question, with a cover-date of June, 1972, The Avengers # 100 is considerably beyond my cut-off for the Silver Age,

 

Has anyone read any interviews with Roy Thomas wherein he explains why neither Hercules nor the Black Widow became regular, long-term members of the Avengers?  Certainly it doesn't seem it was that they were in use elsewhere, as the Black Widow didn't get her brief solo series until 1970.  Maybe Roy himself just felt they didn't fit with the sort of stories he wanted to write.  The "Tremblin' Trio" Avengers only lasted an issue or two before Hank growth problem was cured, followed by the Black Panther joining and, a few issues later, the Vision joining, significantly adding more might to Earth's Mightiest Heroes.  Roy routinely played with the membership of the team, including having Goliath become Yellowjacket and Hawkeye become a new Goliath, and making the new Black Knight a quasi-member.

Maybe the cut off for the Silver Age Avengers comes amidst the Kree-Skrull War, with issue 92 Silver Age and the beginning of Neal Adams' brief tenure with 93 being the start of the Bronze Age.

If I recollect the Commander's past statement on the subject,his Silver Age cuts off in 1968. So well ahead of the war.

Fred W. Hill said:

Maybe the cut off for the Silver Age Avengers comes amidst the Kree-Skrull War, with issue 92 Silver Age and the beginning of Neal Adams' brief tenure with 93 being the start of the Bronze Age.

Commander--did you ever lay out your thinking for picking 1968 as the end of the Silver Age?  

Even though Showcase #4 is often set out as the Silver Age starting point (1956), I personally would set the beginning of the Silver Age at 1958, when Superman started its run of stories that created the foundation of the Superman mythos we still see today.  Likewise, I am inclined to put the end of the Silver Age at 1970, when GL teamed up with Green Arrow and Adams and O'Neill redefined Batman.  But I think there is a case to be made for the Kree-Skrull War to be a Silver Age story, in light of its climax with Golden Age revivals springing out of Rick Jones' head to win the war....that was a very Silver Age concept.

So maybe Showcase #4 and Kree-Skrull belong with the Silver Age, as outliers.

Yossarian said:

Commander--did you ever lay out your thinking for picking 1968 as the end of the Silver Age?  

Over in the Time Capsule threads, at the DC Archives Board, I've probably mentioned my reasons briefly, but here they are in more detail:

By 1968, most of DC's major writers---who had toiled for years as free-lancers---became, as they approached their golden years, concerned over their futures, especially, and most naturally, worries over their financial security after retirement. Several of the writers---Gardner Fox, Bill Finger, France Herron, Arnold Drake, and Otto Binder---got together to ask for certain fringe benefits, such as medical insurance and a pension plan, of National Periodical Publications (DC's corporate name in those days). The answer was swift in coming from NPP publisher Jack Liebowitz: you're fired!

Edmond Hamilton and Jerry Siegel had already left NPP for personal reasons, and Jack Miller and Dave Wood followed. John Broome would leave shortly, to spend his senior years in Japan.

Consequently, by the end of the year, DC had lost most of its stable of veteran writers, men who had inaugurated the Silver Age.

This opened the door for the "Young Turks"---Denny O'Neil, Steve Skeates, Cary Bates, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Mike Friedrich. They were the first of the "second generation" of comic-book writers, those who had grown up reading them before entering into the industry. And with them came the desire to expand the dimensions of the stories to appear on the four-colour pages, to tackle social issues and contemporary topics of the real world. They also brought a cynicism for the convention and authority that their predecessors had respected.

Thus ushered in the period of relevance in comic-book stories, either indirectly by allegory (The Hawk and the Dove) or directly by centering plots on social issues (Teen Titans).

Stepping around the issue of whether or not relevancy was a good thing on its own merit, I hated relevancy. I had no interest in seeing my super-heroes tackling pollution or the societal problems of the disenfranchised. It seemed like every issue of every title dealt with either campus unrest, racial/economic prejudice, drug usage, or corruption in government or big business. Military officers, government officials, and corporate executives were always "evil".

I wanted my super-heroes stopping bank robberies, tackling super-villains, and thwarting alien invasions.

As if that wasn't bad enough, DC seemed hellbent to upend the basic premises of many of its long-time series; thus begat "the NEW Teen Titans", "the NEW Metal Men", "the NEW Wonder Woman", and the most miserable and embarrassing of the lot---"the NEW Blackhawk Era".  The saying (actually) goes "The proof of the pudding is in the eating."  The readers sampled all of the "NEW" versions and spit them back out.  All of the radically revised series folded within the year, except for Teen Titans and Wonder Woman, which survived by reverting to their original formats.

To make it a total upheaval, 1968 marked an "artist shuffle" at DC. Long-time series pencillers were relieved of their titles, some turned over to new series, others not. Ross Andru and Mike Esposito were taken off Wonder Woman to bump Carmine Infantino from The Flash and Curt Swan from World's Finest Comics. Jim Aparo replaced Nick Cardy on Aquaman; on JLA, Sekowsky was out, Dillin was in; and Bob Brown replaced Swan and George Papp on Superboy.

The upshot, at least for this young fan who had been with DC at the start of the Silver Age, was that the look, the tenor, the feel of DC's comics were no longer what they were when I had first read "The Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt". I'm not making an argument here as to which period---pre-1968 or post-1968---was better; I'm simply pointing out that, after 1968, DC comics were different. And I think this sea change was obvious to anyone old enough to have been reading comics throughout the '60's.

If one prefers the more realistic DC stories of post-1968, then he might consider that year as the benchmark of the next period of "maturing" for comics, and if so, that even further delineates the idea that 1968 marked the end of one era and the beginning of another.



As for Marvel, it is more difficult to identify the reasons for why my satisfaction dropped off so suddenly in 1968. I hadn't read Marvel from the beginning; I hopped on around 1965. Right off, I recognised that the nature of Marvel's comics was different than that of DC's. Not better, but different. Marvel's scripts were more emotionally charged; its art was rougher. But at the same time, its universe of characters was tighter, more interwoven between titles. I preferred DC but I liked both.

(That doesn't mean, though, that I wanted DC to become more like Marvel. The two mythoi just didn't blend well. I like steak and ice cream sundaes too, but I don't want chocolate sauce poured over my filet mignon.)

My precise benchmark for the point in which the Silver Age ended for Marvel is The Avengers # 56 (Sep., 1968)---the last issue before the introduction of the Vision. And in the case of The Avengers, that line is specific. The Vision crossed the line. Marvel heroes had always been more introspective than DC's and slightly insecure, but the Vision with his constant "Am I a hero or a villain? Am I human or machine?" moaning and groaning just bugged the hell out of me. Super-heroes aren't supposed to whine; at least, not much. (And the new Red Tornado, over at DC, was even more annoying; he was, and never stopped being, a pathetic loser.)

It's difficult for me to pinpoint my reasons for feeling the rest of Marvel's line jumped the shark in 1968. It's more of a feeling than anything else. I would venture a guess, though, that part of the reason for this feeling was the lifting on Marvel's publishing restrictions by that time. Through a peculiar permutation of circumstances, DC actually controlled the number of books Marvel could publish. In 1968, Marvel had freed itself of that restriction and began to expand its line swiftly. Tales of Suspense was cleaved into separate Iron Man and Captain America titles; Tales of Suspense, into Hulk and Sub-Mariner offerings; Strange Tales, into Dr. Strange and S.H.I.E.L.D. titles; and the addition of brand-new titles, such as The Silver Surfer and Captain Marvel.

The addition of new titles and the expanded page counts for the newly cleaved strips placed a burden on the professional talent. The art grew even coarser and the scripting looser. The right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing, now. The close interweaving, which had stemmed from a few hands handling all the chores, was gone. The X-Men who guest-starred in Spider-Man this month was six months behind the current developments in the X-Men title. The sense of a unified whole, which had been Marvel's biggest drawing card for me, had slipped.

And that's pretty much it.

Weird, apparently I didn't save my comment first time, so ... Regarding Aquaman, one change I noticed reading the Showcase v. 4 is that it changes even before Cardy leaves. in Aquaman 39, the Sea King has a big (and unconvincing) fight with Mera, who disappears the rest of the issue, leaving her husband hanging with a sexy alien. Then the following issue Mera disappears completely and we get the Search for Mera plotline. Given she'd been a partner in adventure for the previous four years, it was a very sharp change.

I agree about the shift to relevance. I have much more of a problem with DC from this era than Marvel because the tonal shift wasn't as marked (I don't have a problem with Vizh--and I always loved Reddy), and I"m a bigger DC fan.

The expansion of Marvel's line was a mixed bag. Under Archie Goodwin, I thought Iron Man did well; Thor was floundering even before Lee and Kirby left (I don't know if it was Kirby's dissatisfaction, Lee's exhaustion or both but the last couple of years were mostly a mess).

I only began regularly collecting comics in 1973 and for another 8 years that was exclusively Marvel comics as the DC comics I'd read previously just did not appeal to me at all.  I actually liked that the Marvel heroes had psychological flaws and foibles and what made me admire them was that they strove to overcome their problems and do good, to help others as best they could.  When well-written, I found the internal struggle of the heroes often even more interesting than than the physical struggle against the villain.  Even something like Spider-Man, still anguished over the death of Gwen, and enraged at the latest editorial tirade of J.J.J., still saves J.J.J.'s life when he finds him endangered by the Man-Wolf.  Anyone familiar with Spider-Man's full origin story knows he is capable of mistakes, sometimes with devastating consequences, but also that he learns from his mistakes and tries to do better, which is what makes even a character with super powers recognizably human.  

Interesting that many of the old guard at DC wound up at Marvel and most of the writers among them didn't do anything really distinguished at Marvel, in my estimation.  Infantino was among the last and most prominent of the DC artists to skip over to Marvel after being let go at DC and while I knew he had previously been an artist for the Distinguished Competition, I didn't realize at the time that he had also been DC's head honcho for several years.  I wasn't particularly enamored of his art, but I kept faithfully buying the titles he was assigned to regardless.  A twilight period for many of the comics professionals who had ushered in the Silver Age and even some of those who had also shaped the Golden Age, such as Kirby.or even Bill Everett, whose Sub-Mariner was in the first ever Marvel comic and was back working on the character again when he died in 1973.

I found Spider-Man's grief very overwrought at the time--but now that I'm older and actually married, I think Conway did a solid job.

I had only bought Marvel occasionally, but that's partly because my parents only budgeted me for two comics a week. When we moved from the UK to America, I got more money, and I bought more. The first Marvel I picked up was their color Doc Savage book; then I figured, well I like the Avengers, so I bought them ... and we were off.

Curiously the first comic I started getting after the move (there was a long stretch where I had zero budget) was Teen Titans. It was never a favorite so I can't imagine why I'd have picked that up ahead of Flash or JLA.



Commander Benson said:

Yossarian said:

Commander--did you ever lay out your thinking for picking 1968 as the end of the Silver Age?  

Over in the Time Capsule threads, at the DC Archives Board, I've probably mentioned my reasons briefly, but here they are in more detail:

By 1968, most of DC's major writers---who had toiled for years as free-lancers---became, as they approached their golden years, concerned over their futures, especially, and most naturally, worries over their financial security after retirement. Several of the writers---Gardner Fox, Bill Finger, France Herron, Arnold Drake, and Otto Binder---got together to ask for certain fringe benefits, such as medical insurance and a pension plan, of National Periodical Publications (DC's corporate name in those days). The answer was swift in coming from NPP publisher Jack Liebowitz: you're fired!

.....

As for Marvel, it is more difficult to identify the reasons for why my satisfaction dropped off so suddenly in 1968. ....Marvel's scripts were more emotionally charged; its art was rougher. But at the same time, its universe of characters was tighter, more interwoven between titles. I preferred DC but I liked both.
 
It's difficult for me to pinpoint my reasons for feeling the rest of Marvel's line jumped the shark in 1968. It's more of a feeling than anything else. I would venture a guess, though, that part of the reason for this feeling was the lifting on Marvel's publishing restrictions by that time. Through a peculiar permutation of circumstances, DC actually controlled the number of books Marvel could publish. In 1968, Marvel had freed itself of that restriction and began to expand its line swiftly.  ...


The addition of new titles and the expanded page counts for the newly cleaved strips placed a burden on the professional talent. The art grew even coarser and the scripting looser. The right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing, now. The close interweaving, which had stemmed from a few hands handling all the chores, was gone.  

Commander—as usual, your reasoning for picking a 1968 end point for the Silver Age was thoughtful and fair.  In fact, the great 1960s superhero tide had substantially receded by then, with publishers other than DC and Marvel cutting back nearly all their superhero output (a couple Charlton issues, a couple Tower books, and Dr. Solar and Magnus were about all that was left from other publishers).

 

For DC, 1970 marked so many obvious turning points (the Adams-O’Neill Batman; the Adams-O’Neill Green Lantern/Green Arrow; Weisinger leaving Superman titles; and the return of Kirby) that I pick that date for the end of the Silver Age and the start of the Bronze Age.

 

The expansion of titles at Marvel in 1968 did not drive quality down immediately—there were some excellent Steranko SHIELD and Captain America issues, some good Colan Dr. Strange and Captain America, and strong Buscema Avengers, Silver Surfer, and Submariner books, and some great John Severin Sgt. Fury work.   But the dilution in quality did occur, as you note.

 

I know comics are a business, and publishers want to milk a productive property as much as they can, but it sure seems like the best work comes in short time frames over a limited number of comics—DC 1958-65; Marvel 1962-69; Tower, 1965-67; Charlton, 1965-67; Valiant, early 90s; etc.   

In a perfect world, I would like to see what would happen if you limited  publishers to about 10 books and a five-year time line to tell the best stories they could.  

In 1970 Stan Lee noted on the Bulletin Page that Fantastic Four had become more popular recently because he and Jack Kirby had gone back to an earlier style. I've always thought Kirby's last year on the series was better than the year before, even though his art style was suddenly shifting back to pre-FF#1. Had Lee been telling him to change his style during the 60s and now that he was getting ready to leave he was ignoring him?

Stan and Jack had almost nine years for the FF. There was a series some time back based on the idea what if they had decided to end it with a big final year of stories. That would have made their series ten years. In real life, Reed and Ben would have been close to forty at the start and pushing fifty by the end, a good time to hang up the old costume.

Steve Ditko gave us three years of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, with the last several issues of each sort of coasting along, possibly because Ditko was wondering at the time if he was going to stay or leave, and he didn't want to start anything big and not finish it. Or was he ready by that point to move on from those characters to others already? Even if he had stayed, would he have said he wanted to leave Spider-Man to work on, say, Shade the Changing Man? Or drop Dr. Strange to work on the Creeper? In the 70s he showed he had a lot of characters he'd come up with that he'd planned to introduce at Charlton. Where did later Ditko characters like Shag and the Corrector end up?

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