Comic Book History: From when Marvel had swagger….

Some years ago, about the same time I started this blog, I realized I didn’t have an inventory of my comic book collection.

Why I haven’t done that before? I’ve been moving around, almost every two years. Carried the boxes with me, never checked what was in them for a long time.

I now have a few large plastic bins, not the square cardboard boxes. The square cardboard boxes got wasted in the first floods.

But a few months after leaving New York, I sat down with a software database, and took the time to enter the majority of my stock onto the database.

I admit that my most priced items are some comics from the 70’s, but I am lazy about re-reading them.

That is… until Marvel brought out the Essentials collection.

Just a sample of the books in this collection.

 

I love this collection for multiple reasons:

1)  Continuity: You can finally read it all in one shot (likely in multiple sittings) and follow the adventures of a given characters during a long period of time.

2) They are in black and white: Sorry colorist, but with the distraction of color out of the way, the work of pencilers and inkers stands more on its own.

3) It’s a really affordable way of catching up on the ins and out of the Marvel universe. Almost like if you were there when the comic was released.

 

So recently I’ve been catching up on my Captain America, from the 70’s. I kinda remember a fondness for that character from my childhood and being enthralled by many aspects of those comics published in the 1970’s. Mind you, I was reading them second-hand, many years later. For example, something initially published in 1971 I would end up catching it on a trade store, for half cover price 10 years later, in 1980 (OK, technically 9 years later).

It was hard on my continuity. For example, I would read Capt America,# 130 published in 1970 when I was 11. Then when I am 12 I would read #165 from 1973, #125 from 1970, and #195 from 1976. Then when I am 13 I would get #205 from 1977, #177 from 1974, and # 227 from 1978
You get the idea.

So I would get previous of thing to come ahead of time, and sometimes be utterly confused, like thinking “Wasn’t Steve Rogers a cop? Why is he working as a commercial artist now?”

But now, I had such a thrill reading Essential Captain America volume 3 and 4

This was a period when New York was in serious turmoil, and I was growing up there. Remember race altercations (although I didn’t witness the race riots myself) in my own neighborhood in the Bronx and a myriad of such social conflicts.

In the comics, this was a period of transition, when Stan Lee started letting go of plotting so many of the books and actually hired writers to continue his sagas, and hired a lot of good people, I may say. Doug Moench and Steve Englehart shine picking up the mantle for Stan, and the transition is not only flawless but the characters get enriched and enhanced with subtlety.

In other words, these comics get better, because the new incoming authors respect the past, and build upon it, following the same blueprint and style.

Notice something here? They don’t destroy the figure, they don’t kill the hero, they don’t take him/her to an alternative earth… they build upon, following the pattern that was handed down to them.

Now some of you may argue “But Allmighty ComicWatcher… it is impossible to continue improving upon a character for decades!” to which I call  “BULLSHIT!” It is hard, and it gets exponentially harder, but it is not impossible.

Stan Lee made legends because he tapped into a formula that was amazing.

You may know the anecdote Stan Lee tells himself often, about how he was ready to leave comics, when the wife told him “Why don’t you start doing comics the way you want to do them, instead the way they tell you to them”... and the Fantastic Four and the rest of the cadre came into existence.

And we loved them.

We loved them because the alternative was Batman being campy and Superman being chased by Lois Lane wanting to marry him.

The alternative was an imaginary city with imaginary characters.

The alternative was a Justice League building that could be interchanged with the Saturday morning cartoons of the Super Friends.

I mean, you could find some Creepy and some Heavy Metal in the stands, but since they were label “Mature Readers” a young kid could catch grief buying these.

Marvel had heroes swinging from the Empire State Building, and attending collage, and taking the subway. They had teen angst, and heroes with money problems. Heck the whole Marvel universe of the 1970’s was a large High-school, with its complements of clicks and gangs, with love interests and youthful issues, framed by real world problems such as Vietnam, women’s lib, and Watergate.

I now re-read these titles and find myself enthralled with depictions of Dick Nixon talking through a video camera to Nick Fury…and a plethora of subtexts of issues  of insecurity, immaturity, anything that may appeal to a teen.

They were relateable.

11-7-2013 3-14-41 PM
Glorious Pulp Color. Don’t expect that in the Essentials Collection.

I’m having a blast seeing Nick Fury attack Cap in a fit of jealousy over a woman… and seeing Cap try darn hard issue after issue to address Falcon as “Partner” or “Pal” or “Buddy” in a campy way that lends itself to another flavor far away from the streets of Gotham or Metropolis.

The Cap is tremendously insecure, and I can’t help to find reflections of Lee’s writing from Spiderman here, when he takes upon his shoulders self-blame, and wonders out loud why must he loose “Another partner… its been so many throughout the years… it must be my fault” Queue the Spanish TVNovela drama music!!! “Roberrrto! Eres Despreciable!!” (Thanks Google Translate!)

But all these traits made them dear to us, many readers, some even college readers at the time, who yearned for a little more drama, and more authenticity in their characters than what DC was willing to dish out.

 

I think Captain America has been pretty meaty and juicy a character, in itself, and aged well through the decades.
In the 80-90’s he went against his own government when the government was acting bad, and brought about the Nomad and o515855_600ther characters.

But Steve Rogers remains a man who only accepts the truth on its own merits, and creates the symbol of the American Dream something actually beautiful, beyond politics and beyond demagogy.

So much that sometimes he goes against the grain of what is trendy and for that, we have to thank some amazing writers that remain mostly unsung.

Antoher thing that gave so much swagger to the comic Marvel produced in this era was that artists were required to give them a city setting AND ACTUALLY DRAW THAT CITY!

Check out, for example, the panel where spidey teams with with Cap and the Falcon, and you recognize those manhattan buildings and those subway elevated tracks that were so abundant in Queens and The Bronx.

 

Nowadays, I barely can set where the action is taking place. Marvel has relocated most of their heroes to “Nameless Metropolis” and is not the same.

To that effect, check out my blog entry on State of a Project (2) dealing with urban settings in comic book art.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

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