There is DC Comics History, and then there is DC Comics History as I Personally Experienced It. For the most part, when it came to DC comics distribution in the 1970s I kept up on what was occurring with DC’s stated distribution dates that were noted in each issue. For example, there would be a box at the end of the story that would state something like, “Next Issue on Sale on or about the Third Week of November.”
However, there were times when it felt like I was in a parallel universe–where I was on my own Earth, only slightly brushing against the events that were transpiring on Earth-DC. A prime example of this “parallel universe effect” is centered around DC’s Fantasy/Adventure line of 1975. The creation of that line was a bold move that created some exciting new comics, but it was an eventual publishing crisis in DC’s world–and an instant accessibility crisis in my world.
With Marvel Comics threatening to glut the market with a bevy of new titles in early 1975–and the fledgling Atlas Comics line in full swing?DC’s publisher, Carmine Infantino, met the competition head on and unleashed a slew of new titles–including the Fantasy/Adventure line (although it was not immediately touted as such). These fantasy/adventure titles began in late January with the release of the first issue of Beowulf, Dragon Slayer (the Old English heroic epic poem adapted to comics form). However, I never saw that issue at the newsstands or on the spinner racks, so I completely missed the ground floor.
I did much better in February. The first issues of Tor (Joe Kubert’s caveman character that he created in the 1950s for St. John publishing), Justice, Inc. (starring 1930s pulp hero The Avenger), and Claw the Unconquered (a sword and sorcery character set in a parallel universe who was somewhat similar to Conan but with a demon’s claw for his right hand) were released that month–and I bought them all!
In March, I went 50/50, purchasing the first issue of Stalker (a sword and sorcery anti-hero illustrated by Steve Ditko and Wally Wood) but missing the first issue of Kong the Untamed (another caveman, but younger than Tor and with blonde hair).
In April, the official house ad came out for the Fantasy/Adventure line. While Mike Grell’s “Warlord” was inadvertently included in the ad, the character would not appear until the eighth issue of DC’s new “Showcase” book, 1st Issue Special in August. The character then spun into its own book in October. Thus, I do not count it as part of DC’s actual Fantasy/Adventure line.
Keeping abreast of the Fantasy/Adventure line was an ordeal for me throughout the entire year. I didn’t see Stalker on the stands again until issue #3 in July. In early August, I went on a family vacation to the South Pacific, and I stumbled upon Stalker #2 in New Zealand. The issue had originally been released in May (I always did well filling in collection gaps on family trips). Two weeks after our return in mid-September, I picked up Stalker #4 in Pasadena. So I went four months between issues 1 and 3 of Stalker, and then had three issues in two months.
I did worse with Claw. Local convenient stores (7-Eleven or Circle K) or newsstands (Bungalow News or Don’s Paperbacks) received the first three issues, no problem. However, I never came across issues 4 and 5. I didn’t see another until #6 came out in December.
Beowulf was a sporadic disaster. Issue #3 was the first one in the series that I found. I never came across issues 1, 2, and 4. However, #5 and #6 successfully hit the stands.
Tor was a little better. I only missed issues 3 and 5.
Kong I fared well with, finding issues 2-5.
Justice, Inc. was the only title that I purchased smoothly in chronological order.
All the books I missed in the Fantasy/Adventure line were eventually purchased as back issues, which I started ordering in 1975 from a back issue outfit in San Diego–one of many such places advertised in DC comics; thank you, thank you, Richard Alf!
When it comes to fulfilling our weekly fix of comics, comic book readers are ridiculously spoiled nowadays. Thanks to the direct market and comic book shops, I haven’t missed a newly released DC comic in decades–unless I simply couldn’t afford it. (The first comic book shop I frequented, starting in 1978, was the now closed Another World that was located in Eagle Rock, the community immediately west of Pasadena before you get to Glendale.)
Although Claw and Stalker remain my personal favorites, Beowulf was the standout of the Fantasy/Adventure line–well-written by Michael Uslan (now famous as a Hollywood producer on all six big-screen Batman films since 1989 along with numerous other comic book-related films, TV shows, and videos).
Uslan’s solid writing was matched by the atmospheric illustrations of South American artist Ricardo Villamonte. The series eased up on the gore and focused on adventure while staying true to the plot of the epic poem. Grendel’s arrival before the dark majesty of Castle Hrothgar is a stunning visual, and the creature–Hell-spawn of Satan–is a truly frightening force of evil.
The Fantasy/Adventure line never found a large audience, and poor and unwieldy distribution was certainly a key factor in that. The comics themselves were okay to very good:
- Justice Inc., the weakest of the line even with Jack Kirby artwork on three occasions, was canceled with issue 4 in August 1975;
- Stalker, which was Paul Levitz’s first ongoing series (he had just 10 stories in various titles before that) was canceled with issue 4 in September;
- Kong, a better-than-expected title despite the impossible presence of dinosaurs in the time of Cro-Magnons, ended with issue 5 in November;
- Beowulf‘s last issue was # 6 in November;
- And Tor ended with #6 in December before Joe Kubert could do new material (the first issue was a re-packaging of a “Tor” newspaper strip story that Kubert had prepared in the 1950s but never sold to a syndicate, and issues 2 through 6 were reprints from his original 1950s series at St. John’s).
Writer David Michelinie and artist Ernie Chua’s Claw the Unconquered, the most successful of the bunch, lasted into the next year (long enough for Keith Giffen to take over the artwork in #8). The series was eventually canceled with issue 9 in June of 1976.
However, living up to his billing, Claw made a comeback 19 months later in January of 1978 with #10 when DC admitted that the series had been canceled prematurely before seeing the increased sales on Giffen’s two issues. Nevertheless, Claw was finally conquered after three issues due to that summer’s evil DC Implosion.
And, no, I haven’t forgotten Michelinie’s Starfire, which began in May of 1976. However, I’ve never felt she was part of the Fantasy/Adventure line. I see Starfire more as the bridge between the Fantasy/Adventure line of 1975 and DC’s Science Fiction line of 1977. However, that’s another column.