My Own Personal Silver Age A fond look back at DC in 1975
In late 1974, I did something I hadn’t done in almost three years of collecting comics. I started buying Marvel comics (there was one exception back in 1973, but that’s another story). Though still loyal to National Periodical Publications (DC), I was looking for something new and different. DC only released two new titles in 1974: OMAC: One Man Army Corps, by Jack Kirby, which I definitely liked, and Rima, The Jungle Girl, which I had no interest in at the time (yes, I know Joe Simon and Kirby’s The Sandman #1 came out in January of 1974, but it was only one issue!). So to quench my thirst for something new I picked up Marvel’s Captain America #181. Cap wasn’t even Cap anymore, he had become a new hero called Nomad. He was questioning his identity as both a superhero and a patriot. Topical issues of the time, such as Watergate and the war in Vietnam, were brought up in the characters’ conversations. This wasn’t happening over at DC. Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth was still good, and the mystery titles were going strong (although not for much longer), but the superhero line had unfortunately fallen into a rut of tame action fare. (I am happy to say that I enjoy those particular comics more at this stage of my life than I did then.)
Fortunately, for both DC and myself, something unexpected and wonderful happened in January of 1975. DC began to advertise titles that were geared towards adventure and fantasy (not to mention those ads for Hostess products!). Suddenly it seemed like every other week throughout the Winter and Spring found a new comic on the stands: Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter; Stalker; Tor; Claw, the Unconquered; Justice, Inc.; Beowulf; First Issue Special; Tales of Ghost Castle. Even The Sandman returned! The 100 Page Spectacular format was dropped, and most of the titles in that format returned to standard comic book size and a monthly or eight-issues-a-year schedule. DC had become affordable and exciting again. Also around this time, pop musician Elton John was arguably the most popular entertainer/celebrity on the planet (Evel Knievel was cool, but he had failed jumping over Snake River Canyon, and he didn’t sing). To cash in on Elton’s success, MCA Records rereleased his 1969 debut, Empty Sky, and I played it repeatedly while reading all these great new comics. To this day, the opening bongo drum ‘riff’ of “Empty Sky” brings to mind the whole story in Stalker #1.
During the Summer of 1975, DC kept cranking the new books out: Batman Family (starring the Dynamic Duo team of Robin and Batgirl), Sherlock Holmes (all of one issue!), Super-Team Family, Hercules Unbound (a Kamandi tie-in series that has, surprisingly, aged well). Some of these comics were advertised in the comics, others came as a surprise to me on the newsstand. (I remember picking up the first issues of Super-Team Family and Hercules Unbound at a drug store while on a family vacation in Honolulu, Hawaii; I had no idea these comics were coming, and I was ecstatic to have them.) Even with Jack Kirby’s departing DC for Marvel, I was still having the best time reading comics. Sure, there were some real clunkers: the annual JLA/JSA team-up guest-starred the writers of the story, Cary Bates and Elliot S! Maggin, and has been critically panned ever since, but I didn’t care, it was wild! Even the goofy and outrageous “Sons of Superman and Batman” series in World’s Finest Comics was fun to read! And all Summer long I had something new to listen to by Elton John: Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. To this day the opening acoustic riff of “Captain Fantastic” brings to mind the thrill of reading Kirby’s “The Dingbats of Danger Street.”
There was no end in sight. Writer Gerry Conway had come on board as an editor at DC, and he almost immediately began revitalizing the superhero line. In the Fall of 1975, Man-Bat got his own comic; the Blackhawks returned; the Justice Society of America returned again to the pages of All-Star Comics; Plastic Man was once again the star of his own mag; a strange new villain named Kobra hit the stands; a new war title, Blitzkreig, debuted; and the Freedom Fighters (Uncle Sam, The Black Condor, Phantom Lady, The Human Bomb, The Ray, and Doll Man) came to Earth-1 from Earth-X in their own bi-monthly book. During this time there was again something new to listen to by Elton John: Rock of the Westies. To this day the opening electric guitar crash of “Yell Help” reminds me of the excitement I felt when I held All-Star Comics #58 for the first time at the 7-Eleven. And whenever I hear “Island Girl” I think “Code Name: Assassin” (introduced in First Issue Special #10, then never seen again).
In terms of categorization and history, 1972-1974 was my Golden Age of comics collecting. 1975 was the beginning of my Silver Age. Green Lantern was featured in two issues of DC Special, and there was positive buzz of my favorite superhero returning to his own title. Mike Grell’s “The Warlord” made his first appearance in First Issue Special #8 and then graduated to his own comic. Batman’s greatest nemesis, The Joker, got his own mag. Superman starred in a classic four-part tale (Superman #296-299). Jim Shooter returned to writing the Legion of Super-Heroes. Aquaman took over the lead spot in Adventure Comics. Deadman had a back-up feature in The Phantom Stranger. Wonder Woman returned to the Justice League of America. Karate Kid was the first Legionnaire to get his own comic. Even Swamp Thing‘s Patchwork Man got into the act, appearing in his own feature in House of Secrets #140 (okay, so that didn’t work, but you had to give DC credit for trying almost everything!).
It was quite a year. Sadly, the adventure/fantasy line didn’t quite win over a new audience. Stalker, Tor, Kong the Untamed, Justice, Inc. , and Beowulf didn’t last into 1976. The much-anticipated and much-hyped “The Bible” series only saw one issue. (As for Elton John, well, his popularity peaked in 1975, and the next few years would be pretty rough on him — and his fans.) Still, DC really flexed its publishing muscle throughout the entire year. They even teamed up with Marvel (of all publishers!) for a tabloid-size adaptation of The Wizard of Oz! It’s almost like they knew I was worried about them! As 1975 drew to a close, there was much to look forward to, a far cry from how I felt a year before. Waiting in the early wings of 1976: Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man, Metal Men, and The Secret Society of Super-Villains. My personal Silver Age of comics was in full swing, and would continue unabated until the DC Implosion of 1978. But again, that’s another story!