Marvel Comics in the 1980s

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The third volume in Pierre Comtois heralded series covers Marvels final historical phase, when the movement begun by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko moved into a darker 1980s era that has yet to run its course. Covers comics such as the Chris Claremont/John Byrne X-Men, Frank Miller's Daredevil, the New Universe, Roger Stern's Avengers and Spider-Man, dark heroes like Wolverine and the Punisher, and more are all covered, in the analytic detailand often irreverent mannerreaders have come to expect from the previous 1960s and 1970s volumes.


<ul><li><p>Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6</p><p>The Dark Ages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9</p><p>Creator Spotlights:Roy Thomas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10</p><p>Gene Colan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15</p><p>Stan Lee . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48</p><p>Mike Zeck . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96</p><p>Herb Trimpe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110</p><p>John Buscema . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117</p><p>Don Heck . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .223</p><p>Key Marvel Moments:The New Universe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 169</p><p>The Wedding of Spidey and Mary Jane . . . . . . . . . . . . .187</p><p>The Dark Ages 3</p><p>Contents</p></li><li><p>The Dark Ages 5</p><p>never planned to write a Marvel Comics in the 1980sbook. In fact, I never planned to write a MarvelComics in the 1970s book either. Originally, all four</p><p>phases of Marvels history (the Early Years, Years ofConsolidation, Grandiose Years, and Twilight Years)were all supposed to be included in a single vol-ume, but due to the exigencies of the publishingworld, it was decided to split the book in two. Allwell and good...until the question from readersbegan to come in both to myself and my publisherasking if there was going to be a volume coveringthe 1980s (each decade, it seems, is someonesfavorite). When I replied to those queries that Idnot planned on writing such a book, the questionssoon became demands, forcing me to actually givethe idea serious thought.</p><p>Right off, however, I knew that my approach to aMarvel Comics in the 1980s book would have to differsomewhat from the first two volumes. The problemwas twofold: the number of titles released by Marvelin the Eighties was enormous when compared to pastdecades and unfortunately, much of it wasnt verygood. I say that with much reluctance as I realize artis subjective: what might be one persons drosscould be anothers favorite. In these volumes, Imake no attempt to speak definitively for everyreader but only myself. In doing so, however, Ivetried to at least give what I hope are convincing argu-ments for my conclusions. That said, it was easy tobe less critical in the Early Years and through theGrandiose Years and Years of Consolidation whenalmost all the work discussed was written by ahandful of good writers and drawn by a few solidprofessionals under the direction of a single editor.It became less so in the 1970s when Marvel began toexpand its line of comics and hired many new butoften inexperienced writers and artists to pick up theslack. Luckily, many of those quickly developed intoexciting creators in their own right. Others, unfortu-nately, became stuck in second gear. My philosophy</p><p>early on had been that if I couldnt say anything niceabout someone, I wouldnt say anything at all. Butas time went on and the project passed among differ-ent prospective publishers, I was asked to add to theentries to the Twilight Years in order to form a morecomplete picture of the era. As a result, I ended upincluding entries on books I didnt feel measured upand was forced to be more critical about them thanId preferred. In short, I ended by saying those notnice things that Id tried to avoid.</p><p>Which brings us to the 1980s, that Ive attemptedto separate from the 1970s as the earlier and laterTwilight Years. When I began to write the earlierbooks, Id never intended to cover the 1980s as Ithought there just wouldnt be enough qualitymaterial there to fill up a book (at least not if Iwanted it to consist of issues from more than threeor four titles). But in proceeding to write the entries,I was pleased to rediscover that there was muchmore to like about Marvel in those years than Iremembered. However, the sheer amount of unin-teresting material was still enough to stagger areviewer with any idea of drawing a completepicture of the era. And so, in order to provide thatbalance, I arrived at the difficult decision to includefar more of the product that I felt just did not measureup to the level of quality and even greatness ofearlier years. That meant there would be morecritical commentary in this volume than in previousones and if some readers dont like that, so be it.There is always room for more books analyzingthe whys and wherefores of Marvel comics in everyera and every opinion is equally valuable. In short, ifyou disagree with the opinions expressed in this andprevious volumes, consider writing your own booksmaking the case for the comics I didnt care for. Illbe the first in line to buy a copy! </p><p>Pierre V. ComtoisApril 2014</p><p>Authors Note</p><p>I</p></li><li><p>Introduction 9</p><p>Conan the Barbarian #114The Shadow of the Beast Roy Thomas (script);John Buscema (pencils); Ernie Chan (inks)Was it only coincidence that the year 1980 markedthe divide between the first and second halves of theTwilight Years? That was the year when Roy Thomas,longtime writer and former editor-in-chief of MarvelComics, finally called it quits with his longtimeemployer. By then, Stan Lee had ceased being a day-to-day presence in the bullpen, and Thomas himselfhad moved 3,000 miles away to California afterhaving given up the editor-in-chiefs chair to LenWein back in 1974. Since then, the position had beenpassed along to a number of people before ArchieGoodwin in 1978. But over the years, the position ofeditor-in-chief had become less distinct with a numberof former holders granted semi-independence anddesignated as writer/editors. Such was the casewith Thomas as the fateful year 1978 rolled around.One day late in 1977 it suddenly occurred to me thatArchie (Goodwin) had been editor-in-chief for a yearand a half, and I just felt he wasnt likely to stickaround much longer, recalled Thomas in an interviewwith Jim Amash. Since theyd always promoted thenext-in-line assistant editor to the editor-in-chief job,that meant Jim Shooter would be taking over. Foryears, Thomas had enjoyed near independence as hisown editor on books such as Conan the Barbarian. Andwhy not? After being the sole guide of the battlingCimmerians career since 1970, both in the color comicsand the black-and-white magazines, as well as being</p><p>editor-in-chief himself, Thomas knew the character,as well as the rules of the game, better than anyone.But after colleagues, such as Marv Wolfman, who alsoenjoyed the status of writer/editor, were relieved oftheir privileges, Thomas became justifiably concernedabout his own. For his part, Shooter was determinedto bring every area of comics production under oneroof and that was the roof over the bullpen at MarvelsNew York City headquarters. For years, the companyhad been too loosely led, resulting in many misseddeadlines and haphazard production methods. As partof his mandate, Shooter felt he needed to consolidateall editorial responsibilities where he could properlyoversee them. Unfortunately, there was a failure tocommunicate, culminating with Thomas feeling thatShooter had not lived up to a verbal assurance that hecould continue as his own writer/editor; the upshotbeing that an angry Thomas immediately turnedto rival DC Comics, signing an exclusive three-yearcontract with them. And so, after an association withMarvel Comics of 15 years and being responsible forwriting any number of classic titles, inventing scoresof characters, and developing whole lines of newtitles, Thomas was gone. In some ways, however, hisdeparture may have been for the best. After 114 issuesof Conan the Barbarian and any number of issues ofSavage Sword of Conan, even the stellar team of Thomasand John Buscema were growing somewhat stale.Take Conan the Barbarian #114 (Sept. 1980) for instance.Although the art team of Buscema and Ernie Chan wasstill on the job (the latter had been inking Buscemaspower-packed pencils since issue #26 and in the processhelping to create some of the most beautiful sword-and-sorcery comics ever), their work was definitelybeginning to look tired. Buscemas panels could stillpack a wallop here and there, but as with most artistsas the end of their career approached, his powers werebeginning to wane. More was left to Chan to firm up,perhaps explaining the two mens co-credit thisissue as illustrators rather than penciler and inker.In many places, Buscemas figure work took all toofamiliar poses and details were dropped from back-grounds, with Chan picking up the slack. For his part,Thomas too seemed to be mailing it in as the script(though apparently based on a short story by Conancreator Robert E. Howard) was solid but overly familiarto longtime readers. After so many issues, therewere no new supernatural menaces with which tochallenge Conan, so that this time, readers are left withonly a big talking dog that walks on its hind legs likea man. As things turn out, the dogs body has beeninhabited by the spirit of an evil sorcerer (naturally!)who wants to keep Conan and his latest squeezearound for puppy chow. Naturally Conan handles the</p><p>The literary works of Conan creator Robert E.Howard provided an alternative to super-heroesand had propelled Marvels successful forayinto outright fantasy through the 1970s. Theywould continue to do so, offering fertileground for writers in the 1980s.</p></li><li><p>10 Marvel Comics in the 1980s</p><p>situation after a little bit of running around and allswell that ends well. Yeah, it all looked and read well,but...there was nothing new here. Thomas final issuewould be #115, promised as a double-sized edition butby this time, neither his nor Buscemas hearts seemedto be in it. With Thomas departure, the Conan bookwould go on under other writers and other artists, butnever again would it electrify readers as did those firstfew issues, or so thoroughly entertain as it continued todo through its 100th issue. Thomas leave-taking markedthe end of an era, just as Stan Lees did in the previousdecade. With the loss of talent that had produced orgrown up reading Marvel comics of the Early toGrandiose Years, and who had produced their mostmemorable successors in the first half of the TwilightYears, there would be no institutional memory left inthe bullpen to advise and perhaps halt the slide intothe Dark Age to come. All of it formed an inauspiciousbeginning to Marvel Comics in the 1980s.</p><p>Amazing Spider-Man Annual #14Denny ONeil (script); Frank Miller (pencils);Tom Palmer (inks)Now heres something you dont see every day: FrankMiller being inked by Tom Palmer! It was a once-in-a-lifetime pairing and if it had to happen, then what betterplace than Amazing Spider-Man Annual #14 (1980)?And what better artist to draw a 40-page blockbusterstory starring Spider-Man and Dr. Strange than FrankMiller? Actually, at the time this book came out, Miller</p><p>wasnt such a strange choice to pencil it, as early inhis career, elements of his art style were noted for theirsimilarity in places to that of Steve Ditko, co-creatorof this issues two stars. In fact, even after Millersname had become synonymous with Daredevil later inthe decade, when it was announced at one point that hewould be taking over the art chores on the Dr. Strangestrip, fans sat up and took notice remembering the workhe did here as well as Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15.In that case, all Miller ended up doing was a full-pagead heralding his imminent arrival on the Dr. Strangefeature, something that didnt end up happening. Still,the reason for the initial excitement can be traced backto this issue where Miller unabashedly channels thespirit of Ditko in a story ripped from the pages of theBook of the Vishanti! In it, Dr. Doom, sometime dabblerin the mystic arts, and Dormammu, ruler of the DarkDimension, team-up to create the bend sinister, aninterface between science and sorcery. Using a haplessdupe as their tool, the two masters of menace createa robotic thing that attacks Strange in his sanctumsanctorum, leaving him only enough time to summonSpidey for help before being captured. Then thingsreally get weird as writer Denny ONeil and Miller adda rock n roll group into the mix whose music is used towhip the inhabitants of New York into a frenzy. All thatwas needed to complete the spell and create the bendsinister was for Dr. Strange to be sacrificed; somethingSpidey manages to avoid at the last minute of course.Looked at too closely, the plot turned out to be rather</p><p>Roy ThomasWhen Roy Thomas left Marvel in 1981, he signed a three-yearcontract with DC Comics for whom he scripted many differenttitles from Wonder Woman to Legion of Super-Heroes. But his greatestclaim to fame, and the feature that was closest to his heart, wasAll-Star Squadron, where he was able to continue the adventures of theGolden Age characters he loved. Other strips he created for DC includedArak, Son of Thunder; Capt. Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew; and Infinity, Inc. At thesame time, Thomas made various attempts to break into screenwriting, collaboratingwith Gerry Conway on the script for Conan the Destroyer starring ArnoldSchwarzenegger. By the late 80s, Thomas returned to Marvel for a time beforedoing work for other, independent publishers. Finally, in 1999, he revived his oldfan magazine Alter Ego on a regular basis and has been editing it ever since. Asthe new century progressed, Thomas returned to regular comics from time to timepenning such features as Dracula and new adventures of Conan and Red Sonja.</p></li><li><p>The Dark Ages 11</p><p>simple with the attendant action filling out the majorityof the pages, but what pages! Again and again, Millercomes through with incredible shots and vistas morethan worthy of Ditko himself while not sacrificing hisown style in the process. From its splash page donein the style of a medieval woodcut, to opening pagespresaging Millers future work on DCs Ronin as well asold issues of Strange Tales, this issue serves up pure eyecandy for the comics connoisseur. Why, pages 8 and 9,panel 1 alone is worth the 75 price of admission! There,Miller perfectly captures the midnight moodiness ofthe early Ditko with a view from beneath a rain-soakedcornice looking over to Dr. Stranges Bleeker Streetresidence with its distinctive Ditko designed skylight.Fast forward to pages 14 and 15 where Miller breaks the</p><p>pages down into nine-panel grids, a favorite of Ditko,and proceeds to give a tour of rain-swept cityscapes anda night-time rendezvous between Peter Parker and hisdate by way of angering Dean Jastrow. Cut to a double-page spread across pages 16 and 17 with a spectacularaction shot of Spider-Man in full-bore Ditkoesque stylelimned against a background of skyscrapers andlightning bolts! Whew! But theres no rest for thestunned reader as the POV shifts to a series of panelsat the bottom of the same two pages showing Spideyamong rooftops suddenly infested with creepinggargoyles. Pages 18 and 19 is action all the way withinker Tom Palmer not shy at all...</p></li></ul>