Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Spinner Rack Flashback: June 1977

Hi there! One of my favorite blogs is Diversions of the Groovy Kind which is dedicated to comic books from the late 1960s through the 1970s or what is referred to in the blog as "the Groovy Age".

The Groovy Age was a time of struggle for the comics industry with rapidly downward spiraling newsstand sales and a really bad feeling that this might be the end of comic books as we knew them.

But this was when I became a serious comics reader so its is an era that has a special interest for me. Recently, Diversion posted some covers from books that went on sale in June 1977. With today as the last Wednesday of June, I thought I would look back to 40 years ago at some of the comics I bought off the ol' spinner racks in my hometown.

All Star Comics starring the Justice Society was one of my favorite books from DC. Writer Paul Levitz was developing a signature style that would serve him well on the even more expansive membership of the Legion of Super Heroes with long term plotting and taking moments to check in on and develop individual characters.

The interior art was by Joe Staton and Bob Layton. Staton would go on to become a definitive artist for Green Lantern while Layton would become best known for his work at Marvel on Iron Man.

By the way, that kick ass cover was penciled by Al Milgrom who would co-create DC's Fitrestorm with writer Gerry Conway. 

The Batman title was a frustrating book at this point. It was written by David V. Reed AKA David Vern who wrote for Batman back in the 1950s for editor Jack Schiff during the Batman meets aliens and fends off marriage minded Batwoman era. In the 1970s, Reed mostly focused on once and done crime stories without super villains.

This issue was a major exception to that. "Where Were You the Night Batman Was Killed?" was a four issue arc as the Gotham City underworld learns that Batman has been killed and tries to sort out which of the competing claims is the one that's true. It's actually a very clever concept; yeah there are plot holes you could drive a Batmobile through but this is a wild story that has Ras A Ghul as the judge and Two Face as the prosecutor while Catwoman, Riddler, Lex Luthor and the Joker take turns making their case that they and not anyone else should have the glory of being known as the person who killed Batman.

(Spoiler: Batman really isn't dead.)

What really mars this story is some rather atrocious art by John Calnan & Tex Blaisdell. Calnan needed a cleaner line from some one like Dick Giordano or Bob Smith, not the darker, sketchier inks of Blaisdell.

Still, you can't beat that fantastic Jim Aparo cover.

I began reading DC Comics just after the big guns had moved away. I missed Neal Adams on Batman, Murphy Anderson paired wit h Curt Swan on Superman and Len wein and Bernie Wrightson on Swamp Thing. But on DC made that last one up to me by releasing a series reprints of the classic Wein/Wrightson stories. My mind was blown that such things were even possible in comics. 

DC had a bit of a cottage industry of reprinting the Wein/Wrightson issues of Swamp Thing in a variety of formats over the years.

Less mind blowing was this issue of The Flash. I recognize the cover; I know I bought this issue but I'll be damned if I can remember what happened in it. Cary Bates was an effective and creative writer for the Flash but the villains he created were mostly forgettable compared to those created by Gardner Fox and John Broome back in the 1960s. In other words, the Molder was not the next Captain Cold or Pied Piper. I believe Irv Novick was the interior penciller. By 1979, Irv was off the Flash and no subsequent artists ever came close to mastering the Flash like Irv Novick. 

Steve Englehart's turn at writing Batman in detective Comics with artists Marshall Rogers is rightfully an iconic run. But it was Steve writing Justice League of America that really captured my young attention. The heroes of the JLA interacted like real people even as they had fantastic adventures. It was a run that benefit from a double length format as Steve had not 17 pages but 32 pages an issue to weave his stories. And it didn't hurt that Dick Dillin, perhaps the best JLA artist ever, was at the drawing board.

So that was a few the comics that a young Dave-El plunked down his change for back in June 1977. 

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