Western comics do not receive a lot of entries when it comes to lists of the most collectible, important, influential and greatest comic books of all time. Knowledgeable historians will give a nod to The Lone Ranger 1939 ice cream mail order giveaway and Gene Autry Comics #1, but that’s about it. To give the western comic some credit, it’s a known fact that the second anthology comic devoted to a single theme was a western, Western Picture Stories, but why go with that when you have the more popular and enduring third anthology comic, Detective Comics, to have on the list. It’s also unfortunate that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s Boys’ Ranch, published by Harvey from 1950 to 1951, is so often overlooked, as it is one of the most entertaining western comics ever published, not to mention a delightful coda to the once popular kid gang comics. And to those who believe that Kirby’s spectacular two-page spreads began at Marvel or DC, I encourage them to locate a copy of the collected Boys’ Ranch. Are you in for a pleasant surprise!
Many comics historians cite Amazing Spider-Man #121, in which Peter Parker’s first love, Gwen Stacy, is killed, as the comic that ends Silver Age innocence. But a comic in the same vein that is often overlooked is another #121: Doom Patrol #121 (September-October, 1968), wherein the entire team is obliterated in an island explosion. There is a major difference, however. Over the years, the members of the Doom Patrol have crept back to life, while Gwen remains dead. Only her memory and reputation have been messed with.
Hailed by many as the first autobiographical comic book, praised by art spiegelman as was one of his greatest influences, noted by The Comics Journal as one of the ten best comics of the 20th Century, Justin Green’s Binky Brown Meets The Holy Virgin Mary, published in 1972, still can’t rate an entry in The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. Probably because it’s priceless.
One of the first of the independents, arriving the same year (1974) as Mike Friedrich’s Star Reach and pre-dating Dave Sims’ Cerebus by three years, The First Kingdom, written and illustrated by Jack Katz, is practically forgotten now, and yet during its publication run I always saw it around, regulated to some corner of the newsstand or comics shop, like a shadowy presence ingrained in memory but never recalled in detail. Ironically, detail was The First Kingdom‘s hallmark; Katz’s meticulous attention to it is superlative. He depicts a speculative future where humankind, ravaged by war and reduced to a Stone Age disposition, has to start over. The series ran 24 issues and lasted until 1986.
She debuted as the cousin of the Earth-2 Superman, had a stint in a Showcase revival, hung out with Infinity, Inc., was awarded her own miniseries, is a full-fledged member of the JSA, and recently kicked off the ongoing JSA Classified. And she still hardly gets any respect. Probably because the focus is more on the size of her breasts and her multiple origins, which ranks right up there with Hawkman in convoluted confusion (and just like Hawkman, it was made all the more messy after Crisis, for preposterous’ sake). I believe the time has come to give the lady her due: Power Girl makes her first appearance in All-Star Comics #58 (January-February, 1976).
The story of how Clark (Superboy) Kent lost his virginity is revealed in an obviously-controversial-but-there-was-never-much-fuss tale published in 1976’s DC Super Stars #12. And, no, it wasn’t to Lois or Lana!
In an otherwise drab comic book story in The Mighty Isis #1 (October-November, 1976), the cruel Scarab exclaims this immortal phrase as he attempts to overcome the President of the United States: “He’ll obey me and the people will obey him and life will be beautiful!” About as raw and concise a definition of utter villainy as we’re ever likely to read.
DC gets “grim and gritty” in 1979 before the term is anywhere near fashionable. Brainiac 5 of The Legion of Super-Heroes and alternate GL Guy Gardner go mad, Zatanna’s mother is killed, and The Batman of Earth-2, Barry Allen’s wife Iris, Mr. Terrific of the Justice Society, and Kathy (Batwoman) Kane are murdered. The innocent days of killing off the android Red Tornado every couple of years are gone.