Top 10 Most Underrated Bronze Age ComicsA column article, Top Ten by: Andrew Wahl
The Chris Claremont/John Byrne X-Men sure get a lot of attention. As does Frank Miller's Daredevil. And Jack Kirby, in general — the King still gets a lot of ink. Same goes for Neal Adams, Walter Simonson's run on Thorand even the off-kilter output of writer Steve Gerber. There's no shortage of critically acclaimed, Bronze Age classics, all worthy of the praise, awards and headlines they've received over the years. But, this week, Tuesday Top Ten hopes to spread the love around a bit, shining the spotlight on the era's underrated gems. There is no shortage of these secret classics, either, so here's a list of 10 to get the conversation started. (Note that the list is in alphabetical order, as this writer had enough trouble winnowing this list down to ten. And please use the Top Ten Tips Message Board to add your two cents to the list: What Bronze Age creators and comics do you think deserve a bit more love?)
Astonishing Tales #25-28, 30-36
Rich Buckler was once one of the rising stars of the comic-book industry, and Deathlok was one of the reasons why. This future dystopian storyline saw the popular penciler spread his wings, plotting and scripting and generally giving this feature a unique voice and look. Buckler never reached the same heights after Astonishing Tales was canceled — and no one has ever captured his cyborg creation as well (though J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck sure gave it a shot in Captain America #286-288).
The Atlas (Seaboard) line of comics
Martin Goodman's get-back-at-Marvel startup company burned brightly in 1975 —then flamed out. On whole, the line might not have lived up to its potential, but there are flashes of goodness scattered throughout. The company's creative lineup reads like a who's who of comics at the time — from old masters like Steve Ditko and Wally Wood to young guns like Buckler and Howard Chaykin. For a time, these comics were a part of every Bronze Age fan's collection, but they seem to be fading into unfortunate obscurity today.
Kirby's 1970s oeuvre
How can anything by The King be underrated? Well, his post-New-Gods work during the '70s certainly has its share of detractors. But this work is due for a serious reevaluation. Much like his art, Kirby's stories grew bolder, simpler and more abstract during this period. Conflict was reduced to its essence, as The King crafted tales in big strokes. Though not well received at the time, this work crackles with power and imagination. Taken for what they are, books from Kamandi to The Eternals are classics. Heck, even Devil Dinosaur is deserving of its recent collected-in-hardcover treatment.
Logan's Run #1-5
Marvel did a great job adapting this sci-fi property to comic-book form, largely by turning the art reins over to George Pérez and getting out of his way. Pérez wasn't yet the total package he would become, but his storytelling was already top notch. And the youth-vs.-the-system concepts of this series still hold up well today.
Reading interviews with editors from the period, it seems Mantlo was often regarded as a B-list talent. That's a shame, because he had a real knack for crafting an entertaining tale. Mantlo seemed incapable of mailing it in, putting his best effort into every fill-in issue or toy tie-in that was tossed his way. And, given a chance to spread out a bit on series like Micronauts or ROM, he had a gift for world building, too. Mantlo's work might not have been high art, but it was almost always good fun. (Editor's note: Sadly, a rollerblading accident in 1992 left Mantlo with severe brain damage; learn more at the Bill Mantlo Benefit Projects Web site.)
Marvel Team-Up #82-85
This story is a typically fun Claremont romp bringing together a cool assortment of Marvel's espionage characters (Black Widow, Nick Fury and Shang-Chi) to stop terrorists from crashing the S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier into the Capitol Building. (Yikes! That plot carries a bit more weight these days.) But the real treat here is the art team of Sal Buscema (breakdowns) and Steve Leialoha (finishes); on paper, that might sound like an odd pairing, but the results are quite striking.
Marvel Team-Up #100
Perhaps the era's most underrated single issue. The lead story — by Bronze Age stars Claremont and Miller — pits Spider-Man against the FF and features the first appearance of the New Mutant's Karma. Not enough goodness for you? How about a backup tale by the classic X-team of Claremont and Byrne, featuring the origin of Storm. But, wait, there's more: Said backup story is also the first to establish Ororo's relationship with future husband, the Black Panther. Why isn't this back issue worth oodles?
Mantlo's signature opus was Secret Invasion done almost three decades earlier — and quite a bit better. Bringing together sci-fi genre tropes and a strong supporting cast, Mantlo documents ROM's struggle to rid the Earth of the shape-shifting Dire Wraiths for 75 issues (plus four annuals). Art support was provided first by Sal Buscema (the definitive ROM artist), and then by Ditko and an interesting assortment of inkers. Like much of Mantlo's work, ROM might not be a classic, but it's certainly oodles of fun.
Warlord by Mike Grell
Right from the start, this series had the making of something special. Not because it was strikingly original — indeed, it borrows heavily from established genre trappings (especially Hollow Earth fantasy) — but because of Grell's obvious passion for the material. He also had a knack for crafting characters who were sexy and smart, making the book all the more attractive.
No, not John Workman the letterer. John Workman the writer and artist. Yes, they're the same guy, but not nearly enough people know about the wonderful body of short pieces Workman penned for publications like Star*Reach and Heavy Metal (where he was also art director). His stories often featured twist endings and/or philosophical musings sure to make a reader think. His knack for drawing beautiful, buxom women didn't hurt, either. An underrated master of the comics form.