Tuesday, January 3, 2017

NEWSSTAND REVIEW: January 1977 — 40 years ago this week!

Hey, gang! It's been a while since we've done a newsstand review, way back when we looked at what went on sale the second week of July in 1941. This time out, let's zero in on this, the first week in January, and go back 40 years, to 1977. Why, well that week featured the debut of one of my all-time favorite super-heroes, at least as originally depicted by his creator, Tony Isabella — the one and only, BLACK LIGHTNING!

Now, back in 1977, comics did not arrive at comics shops only on Wednesdays. Heck, there were precious few shops at the time actually specializing in comic books. Out four-color wonder were still mostly a phenom of the newsstand hack then, albeit playing to an increasingly dwindling number of mom 'n' pop corner stores.

Be that as it may, for our purposes, we'll consider the first week of January 1977 to be the seven-day spread that includes the first Wednesday of the month. So, Sunday, Jan. 2 to Saturday, Jan. 8. The on-sales dates from from Mike's Amazing World of Comics, which lists 130 comic books on sale in January 1977, from six different publishers — Marvel, DC, Archie, Gold Key, Harvey, and Warren. Of course, Warren's output consisted of magazines, as did a couple of Marvel books, while Archie had digests and one of the DC books was the hardcover SHAZAM: FROM THE '40s TO THE '70s volume. So, by my count, January 1977 came to 121 actual comics books, with nine (count 'em, NINE!) headlined by Richie Rich. One publisher missing is Charlton, which was near the end of its long life, having gone on hiatus, publishing one one comic book between November 1976 and April 1977.

Back in 1977, comics hit newsstands twice per week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The tally for 1977: Week One came to 31 comics, with 18 reaching newsstands on Tuesday, Jan. 4, and 13 on Thursday, Jan. 6, the latter being primarily a Gold Key dump.

Here's the run-down:

On-sale Tuesday, January 4, 1977

BLACK LIGHTNING, No. 1 (DC)

DC's "boldest," and blackest super-hero made his thunderous debut in an untitled 17-page story by Isabella, with penciller Trevor Von Eeden and inker Frank Springer, as edited by Jack C. Harris.

As I recall, DC's first headlining black super-hero was originally decathlete Jefferson Pierce who returned to his inner-city school, WELCOME BACK, KOTTER-style, to become a teacher, and there he soon ran afoul of drug pushers. To fight back, he donned a costume, along with special belt that allowed him to generate force fields and hurl lightning bolts. As Black Lightning, his speaking style was sprinkled with jive-talkin' street lingo, to help disguise his true identity.

Although Von Eeden is often listed as co-creator, Isabella has always maintained he alone invented the character, claiming to have begun work on it before bringing the property to DC — as a replacement for another character, The Black Bomber, a character rooted in racism, over which DC reportedly got cold feet — and that he stood over Von Eeden's shoulder during the design phase and told him exactly what to draw. Isabella would only remain with the title through Issue No. 10, though. Apart from that, and a switch from Springer to Vince Colletta as inker at Issue No. 3, the creative line-up remained pretty stable thoughout the title's run, as did the main adversary, Tobias Whale. He was sort of DC's answer to the Kingpin, heading up a Mafia-like crime syndicate known as The 100.

I did not notice BL on the newsstands of the day until No. 4 (on-sale June 14, 1977, when I was 9 years old). Perhaps not coincidentally, that cover featured Superman and Jimmy Olsen. But once I became cognizant, I was hooked, snapping up every issue I could find thereafter through the end of the series with No. 11 (on-sale June 22, 1978).

The title was a victim of the infamous DC Implosion, when the company hacked off about 40 percent of its line. The cancellation, we can presume, meant BL was not one of DC's top sellers, no matter how much I may have loved it. Now, as I recall, there was no announcement in No. 11 that it would be the last issue, and I have a vivid memory of biking around to area newsstands for several weeks in late July and August of 1977, searching for No. 12, and then No. 13, figuring maybe, as had happened with some earlier issues, No. 12 had just sold out before I'd found it. It took a couple of months for me to realize the title was no more, by which time Black Lightning had landed in WORLD'S FINEST COMICS, starting with a Green Arrow crossover in No. 256 (on-sale Jan. 11, 1979), then his own series with No. 257. Issue No. 260 would finally print the story intended for Black Lightning No. 12. About this time, BL appeared alongside Superman in DC COMICS PRESENTS, No. 16 and declined membership in the JLA, in iIssue No. 173-174 of its titular mag.

DC Comic house ad that announced
the coming of Black Lightning. So,
technically, his first appearance was not
in the first issue of his own magazine.
Black Lightning's WFC run ended with No. 261, at which point he moved over to DETECTIVE COMICS, for a brief run in Nos. 490,491,494, and 495. After that, the character went into limbo for about three years, finally emerging in 1983 as a member of the newly-formed BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS, a favorite title of mine of that time, written by Mike W. Barr and drawn by the incomparable Jim Aparo.

Black Lightning would get another brief series, along with a briefly used but far superior costume, in late 1994, which lasted 13 issues. Isabella returned for the first eight issues before bolting over a reported dispute with DC. It's not like he doesn't have a reason to beef. You may recall the Black Vulcan character from the 1970s SUPER FRIENDS tv show. Purportedly, the different name and costume devised for that character was an excuse to avoid paying Isabella any royalties.

Black Lightning would get a six issue YEAR ONE mini-series in 2009 which would rewrite his back story, making his powers innate from birth (i.e. he's a mutant) and giving him a wife and daughter I don't recall him having in his original appearance from January 1977. I also seem to recall a second daughter, who joined the Justice Society at one point.

Black Lightning continues to bop around the DCU, and it always seemed strange to me that he got passed over in favor of Cyborg when DC rebooted its universe with the New 52 in 2011, when TPTB wanted a more racially diverse founding membership for the JLA.

The most recent news, however, which makes this anniversary significant, is that FOX ordered a pilot for a Black Lightning tv show back in September 2016. Just this past week, DC creative honcho Geoff Johns tweeted news of an upcoming announcement, leading some to speculate the pilot may have been picked up to series. If early reports are correct, that version of the character will differ a great deal from the comic book hero. However, if you want to see the original in all its 1970s glory (I personally feel the tv series should be a late-'70s period piece, kind of a BREAKING JEFFERSON), DC did published the entire original 11-issue series, plus the story from World's Finest, No. 260, about a year ago. You can still get it on Amazon.

Okay, that's the big deal for the week, let's take a look at what was competing with Black Lightning for shelf space and buyer's attention this week in January 1977.


DAREDEVIL, No. 144 (Marvel)

Writer Jim Shooter, penciler Lee Elias, and inker Dan Green give us "Man-Bull Means Mayhem!" under a pretty nifty cover by Ed Hannigan and Joe Sinnott. As I recall, this was one of only three comics I bought fresh off the stands this week — the other two being What If and JLA. Again, I'm sure I would have bought BLACK LIGHTNING, but I never saw it.

Man-Bull was one of those gimmick villains, and part of ol' horn head's rogues gallery. First appearing in Issue Nos. 78-79, then again in No. 129, he also tangled with Iron Man  and The Cat in their respective mags, before breaking out of jail here. However, this would be the character's last appearance for more than a decade, as he would not pop up again until INCREDIBLE HULK, No. 341 (on-sale Nov. 17, 1987). He's currently on another long dry spell having last battled the Punisher in 2008.




THE INVADERS, No. 15 (Marvel)

Roy Thomas' baby, featuring the Golden Age Marvel characters in adventures set during World War II, was one of my favorites back in the day, although this issue predates my experience a bit. No. 19 would be the first issue I would see and buy.

This issue is notable for being a stealth crossover with the DC Comics series, FREEDOM FIGHTERS, in which both teams battle analogs of the other. Here, Thomas, along with penciler Frank Robbins and inker Frank Springer (who also worked on BLACK LIGHTING, No. 1, above), introduce The Crusaders in a story entitled, "God Save the King." The team includes new characters Spirit of '76 (a stand-in for Uncle Sam), Captain Wings (Black Condor), Ghost Girl (Phantom Lady), Tommy Lightning (The Ray), Dyna-Mite (Doll Man), and Thunderfirst (Human Bomb).

Meanwhile, over in FF, No. 9 (on-sale April 12, 1977) that team squares off against Americommando and Rusty (Captain American and Bucky), Fireball and Sparky (Human Torch and Toro), and Barracuda (Sub-Mariner). To the best of my knowledge, neither Crusader team or any of their members ever appeared again in comics, the team name itself only available during a lull in its use by Archie Comics. It's a nifty name and if DC or Marvel had been thinking, they would have put out a Crusaders comic in order to snipe the trademark, which I'm almost certain was not actually in use by or registered to Archie at the time.

Oh, one other thing, this issue's lettercol has a missive from Marv Wolfman, already a professional in the industry at this point.



ISIS, No. 4 (DC)

Yeah, try publishing a comic book with this title today, yo! But no matter, poor Isis and her comic did nor last for for very long. But then, neither did her tv show.

The comic book series launched July 15, 1976 and lasted only to Issue No. 8, out on Sept. 1, 1977. The show on which the comic has based, starring Joanna Cameron (no relation to Kirk), made its debut on Sept. 6, 1975 and ended its two-season, 22 episode run on  Sept. 3, 1977. So, basically, sales of the comic were not sufficient to warrant continuing the series once it was known the show would go off the air. Although maybe we should not conclude the book would have continued had the show stayed on the air. After its run as part of the SHAZAM/Isis Hour on CBS Saturday mornings, the show was re-run in syndication during 1978 as THE SECRETS OF ISIS. So, there were still cross-promotional opportunities to be had. Also, somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain, I seem to recall a web post by Rob Rozakis in which he claimed Isis was actually the best selling title during the tenure of DC's short-lived "comicmobile" experiment. But don't quote me on that.

Although the comic series was primarily written by Jack C. Harris and penciled by Mike Vosburg, other writers included Denny ONeil (#1) and Steve Skeates (#s 2-4), with artists including Ric Estrada (#1), Michael Netzer (#2), and Jose Delbo (#3). I still haven't completed my run of the series and, if I'm being honest, I've yet to read any of the issues I do own. But the Vosburg covers are pretty nifty. I'm somewhat surprised he never became a bigger deal in the industry. But, so far as Isis goes, I never really watched her tv show either. Generally, I'd tune in for the SHAZAM portion, then switch channels to something else when the "girlie-half" came on. But then, Isis was ahead of her time. It was the first female lead super-hero tv show, predating both The Bionic Woman and Wonder Woman.

Hey! IDW is currently doing a WONDER WOMAN '77 MEETS THE BIONIC WOMAN limited series. Maybe there's a call for a Vosburg-drawn WONDER WOMAN '77 MEETS THE MIGHTY ISIS? I'd buy it.



IRON FIST, No. 12 (Marvel)

As big a deal as Iron Fist is today, with his own Netflix tv series due to debut March 17, it's hard to remember when Danny Rand really wasn't all the rage. I mean, he seemed a sure thing at first. After headlining MARVEL PREMIERE from Nos. 15-25 (on-sale Feb. 19, 1974 to July 8, 1975), Iron Fist graduated to his own title, starting with No. 1 out on Aug. 12, 1975. But for some reason, maybe having to do with the sudden rise and crash of the kung-fu fad in America, the bloom soon came of the rose. At this point, the series only had three issues left, and would end with No. 15, out on May 31, 1977. It would then take a couple of years before the character would move in on Luke Cage's mag, for a long run as POWER MAN/ IRON FIST, from No. 65 (on-sale July 15, 1980) to No. 125 (June 10, 1986)

It's always surprised me that IRON FIST was not more popular on its own. After all, the series was written by Chris Claremont and drawn by John Byrne, who'd go on from here to light the world on fire with the X-Men. Of course, there may have been distribution issues, as not all comics series are created equal and, even as late as 1977, there was genuine distributor disinterest in new, untested titles. I do not recall ever seeing a copy of IRON FIST on newsstands in my youth.


JUGHEAD, No. 262 (Archie)

Well, what can we say about ol' Juggy? Not much. Today the company seems on the ropes, even with its new universe style. It only publishes a handful of titles today, but in the late '70s Archie comics were ubiquitous. Also, strictly for girls. At least that was my assessment the time. Worse, one issue seemed almost indistinguishable from any other.

But consider this: Jughead, who begun his solo series as ARCHIE'S PAL, JUGHEAD on Nov. 30, 1949 (making the title more than a quarter century old at this point in 1977!), would last another decade in his original run until No. 352, out on April 7, 1987. He'd then get another series, which would last 214 additional issues, from 1987 until 2012. His current title, which began in 2015, is now up to Issue No. 11. So, counting title variations identifying him as "Archies Pal," Jughead would now be up to Issue No. 577, had his numbering never rebooted. And that's more than almost any super-hero you can name. So, there's that.



KAMANDI, THE LAST BOY ON EARTH, No. 50 (DC)

Kamandi was on his last legs at this stage in his career, with just another nine issues to go until the end of the line at Issue No. 59 (on-sale June 29, 1978). One of Jack Kirby's more enduring creations, at least when compared to his Bronze Age output at DC, Kamandi was done in by the infamous DC Implosion. But I'm not certain how much longer this title would have lasted, even without Warner Brothers bean counters swinging the indiscriminate ax. Somehow, the series seemed an also-ran to me at the time. In fact, the penultimate issue is the only one I ever bought as a kid, and then only because it featured Karate Kid.

But as a sign of how the more things change, the more they stay the same — or, of how you can't keep a good idea down — Kamandi is due to come back this month as a year-long series in the creative round-robin style of DC CHALLENGE.



KID COLT, OUTLAW, No. 217 (Marvel)

Kid Colt was another series that was gasping for breath at the start of 1977. The title would only last two more years, until Issue No. 229, on-sale Jan. 2, 1979.

The Kid began life on June 25, 1948, galloping in on the late Golden Age round-up that largely cleared the corral of super-heroes. However, give him credit. Marvel was notorious throughout the 1950s of chasing (i.e. copying) any genre that seemed to have legs. And yet the Kid survived successive waves of funny animal, crime, horror, romance and teen humor comics that came along to supplant westerns, just as the cowboys had sent costumed heroes on a full-speed stampede out of town.

And what made Kid Colt's tenure as the longest-ruuning cowboy title in American comic book history all the more amazing is that for more than a decade to this point (since 1966) the series was running reprints of earlier issues. This one, for example, reprinted a Kid Colt story from Issue No. 81 (in 1958) and a tale from WESTERN GUNFIGHTERS, originally published in 1971.



KULL THE DESTROYER, No. 20 (Marvel)

Kull is another comic I don't recall ever seeing on the stands as a kid. Of course, I might have just looked right past it. I was all about the long-underwear types and turned up my nose at even Conan.

But again, this is another short-lived series near the end of its run. Launched in 1971 as KULL THE CONQUEROR, Kull would focus on destroying with No. 11 (on-sale Aug. 21, 1973), but would run out of barbarianing steam with Issue No. 29, on-sale July 4, 1978.

Also born from the pen of Conan creator, Robert E. Howard, Kull would get another 10 issues from Marvel between 1983 to 1985, by which time he was back to conquering. More recently he's appeared in limited series published by Dark Horse Comics.





LAUGH, No. 312 (Archie)

Laugh was an Archie title that pre-dated Archie himself, although it suffered though a schizophrenic kind of identity crisis during its early years. It started life in January 1942 as SPECIAL COMICS, quickly becoming HANGMAN COMICS with No. 2. However, with No. 9 it jumped horses to become BLACK HOOD COMICS. However, the power of the Riverdale redhead was such that, by issue No. 20 (out on Nov. 7, 1946) he took over the title, apparently not content with having similarly annexed PEP COMICS, and the title was changed to LAUGH COMICS. The "Comics" part of the title would be dropped with No. 75 (on-sale April 23, 1956) and the series would carry-on in the inimitable (though, in fact, often imitated) Archie style until Issue No. 400, out on Feb. 10, 1987.


LIFE WITH ARCHIE, No. 179 (Archie)

While most Archie titles managed to chug along for decades on the same-old, same-as-it-ever-was teen humor formula, "Life with" was a little different. Launched in 1958 as a typical Archie book, it evolved to feature longer stories, often with the Riverdale gang taking part in globe-trotting adventures. The characters also frequently found themselves cast here as super-heroes, mystery-solving sleuths, super spies, and even in far-out science fiction characters.

The series also tried occasionally for a relevant tales of the Afterschool Special variety. You'll note that in this issue, where Archie and his pals are accused of stealing a car, he's paired not with Reggie and Jughead, but with a token black kid and what I'm guessing is a token Italian kid. Someone, I'm sure, will weigh-in in the comments section to let us know exactly who these characters are.

Life lasted until Issue No. 286, on-sale June 4, 1991. It was then revived as a magazine-sized book in 2010, with issues alternating depictions of future-Archie's married lives to Betty and Veronica. The second series ended with No. 37 in 2014, one issue after garnering national attention by killing off Archie (at least in that timeline).


LITTLE ARCHIE, No. 116 (Archie)

The Little Rascals version of Archie and his gang got going in 1956. So, if nothing else, we can say it predated Scappy-Doo and the fad to infantilize every comic and cartoon character in sight. Also, early issues are much sought after on the back-issue market thanks to the charming artwork of Bob Bolling.

The series ran until Issue No. 180, out on Nov. 23, 1982. Little Arch was the one Archie comic I don't recall actually seeing on the stands in 1977, but then again, I wasn't examining the Archie oeuvre too closely.



MARVEL PREMIERE, No. 35 (Marvel)

Over at the House of Ideas, January 1977 also saw the introduction of a new character, albeit one without quite the same staying power as Black Lightning. The 3-D Man was retro-fitted into 1950s continuity by writer Roy Thomas, penciler Jim Craig, and inker Dave Hunt. Although the character was supposedly Thomas' take on Simon & Kirby's Captain 3-D, he actually looked more like the Golden Age Daredevil put out by Lex Gleason Publishing. After a three issue run that ended with No. 37 (out on May 3, 1977, as this was a bi-monthly title), 3-D Man bounced around appearing here and there in the Marvel Universe, before eventually fading into limbo. He get's trotted out every now and again, especially for stories rooted in the 1950s, and he had some connection to the short-time Avenger Triathlon, although I was never sure exactly what.

We mentioned MARVEL PREMIERE previously as the birthplace of Iron Fist. Prior to his long(ish) run, the title was home to Doctor Strange (Issue Nos. 3-14) and Adam Warlock (Nos. 1-2). After Iron Fist the title sort of became Marvel's version of DC's SHOWCASE, featuring new and revamped characters. Most of them were instantly forgettable. Buy any comics featuring The Torpedo lately? But the title, which ended at No. 61 on May 19, 1981, is forever redeemed by introducing us to the Scott Lang version of Ant-Man in Issue No. 47-48, a comics tale which remains one of my favorites ever.


MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE, No. 26 (Marvel)

Unlike today, when there are a zillion Avengers and X-Men comics, and Wolverine appears in avery third issue of every title, Marvel was more restrained in the 1970s when taking advantage of its more popular heroes. It's true the FANTASTIC FOUR has, for most of its life, really been THE AMAZING ADVENTURE OF THE EVER-LOVIN' BLUE-EYED THING AND THREE OTHER PEOPLE, but Marvel did not make broad use of the character when he was at the height of his popularity. Of course, early in the Marvel Era, DC Comics actually controlled distribution for the company through its sister company, Independent News, and limited the number of titles Marvel could put out each month. But even when Marvel gained greater control of its destiny, it was fairly reserved, at first, in taking advantage of its more popular characters and, instead of giving The Thing his own title and 12 others to go with it, Marvel was content to only augment the line with Two-In-One, as a place for Aunt Petunia's favorite nephew to team up with other Marvel heroes.

This issue's team-up with Nick Fury was kind of a meh. Not that the there's anything wrong with the story by Marv Wolfman, and the art team of Ron Wilson and Pablo Marcos. It just that the late '70s was a lull in Fury's history, between the twin peaks of Jim Steranko and Samuel L. Jackson. For me, Fury was really sort of a, "So what?" character at this stage in his career.

Two-In-One had a fairly long life, lasting to No. 100, on stands Feb. 22, 1983. Still, the highlight of the series, in my eyes, was still two years away at this point, coming with the Pegasus Project saga that ran from No. 53 (April 3, 1979) to No. 58 (Sept. 4, 1979).


SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP, No. 11 (Marvel)

SVTU stated life as a pair of giant-sized specials before launching as a series in its own right on May 6, 1975. A bi-monthly title, it was essentially a way to feature Dr. Doom, while also resolving some plot lines left dangling from the Sub-Mariner's own series, canceled at No. 72 (out June 18, 1974). I'm not sure Subby qualifies as a villain, exactly, but that's how he was billed. Starting with this issue, however, and for most of the rest of its run, SVTU paired Doom with the Red Skull

The series would end No. 14, out on July 5, 1977. Marvel would then publish three additional issues, one per year through 1980, reportedly as a way to keep DC from trademarking the word "super-villain."

This particular issue, FWIW, was written by Rocket Raccoon creator Bill Mantlo, of Micronauts and ROM fame.



TOMB OF DRACULA, No. 55 (Marvel)

Touting itself as "Comicdom's Number 1 fear magazine," because at this point the Comics Code Authority still wouldn't let publishers use the word "horror," I'm guessing, TOD was a long-running and highly regarded series, lasting from Nov. 16, 1971 until Issue No. 70, out on May 15, 1979. It's raison d'être, of course, was to showcase the moody, evocative art of Gene Colan that graced, I'm pretty sure, every issue of the run. 

Still, this is another book that I've only collected as back issues. From the point I began buying my own comics around 1975 or 1976, I don't recall ever seeing this title on the stands.








WEIRD WAR TALES, No. 52 (DC)

I joked above about CCA restrictions on the use of the word "horror," but there was a time when it also banned the word "weird." Seriously. Around 1971 it let up on the boot heel, however, and DC took that as an invitation to put out as many titles as it could think of that might reasonably use the word "weird" in the logo. Weird War was one, and it had a surprisingly long life, all the way from 1971 to No. 124, published March 24, 1983.

For me, the hightlight was the latter issues that featured the Creature Commandoes. I could still go for a DC book starring them, although DC did collect their adventures fromWWT in a 2013 trade paperback.

This particular issue features a "Day After Doomsday" story by Jack C. Harris and Marshall Rogers that made the SHOWCASE PRESENTS volume featuring The Atomic Knights and other tales of the "great disaster."


WHAT IF, No. 2 (Marvel)

And finally for Jan. 4, 1977, a title that regularly blew my adolescent brain. I mean, a reasoning Hulk is commonplace today, but it was a truly heady idea to this young comics fan back in 1977, especially in light of the tv show.

Towards the end of its run, WHAT IF seemed to run out of What ifs to wonder about, and the series ended at No. 47 on July 17, 1984, before coming back with a second wind that lasted 114 issues, from 1989 to 1998.

But early issue of this series, including "What if Captain America hadn't vanished at the end of World War II?" (No. 5) and "What if somebody else had been bitten by the radioactive spider?"(No. 7), had me running down roads (and, let's admit it, in some cases blind alleys) I could not have dreamed existed.

To this young fan, WHAT IF truly was, in its prime, the big whoop of any new comics release day.


And that brings us to the second release day of this week in 1977, which I sort of wish was something I knew about hack then. As I recall it, I was aware new comics came out on Thursdays, and generally haunted local newsstands then or on Friday. But I'm not certain I ever knew some titles had already been out for a couple of days by that point — which may explain why I don't recall seeing titles like TOMB OF DRACULA, or IRON FIST out for sale back in the day.



On-sale Thursday, January 6, 1977

THE FLASH, No. 248 (DC)

I had only just discovered the Flash in late 1976. I mean, I had met him earlier in the Justice League, but the first issue of his own mag that I recall buying was Issue No. 247, out on Dec. 2, 1976. It was the first with the now-familiar titled-stars DC bullet cover brand. However, I would somehow miss the next couple of issues, and not become a regular Flash-fantaic until Issue No. 251.

This issue, by writer Cary Bates and penciller Irv Novick, who had been the Flash team for quite some time, featured a now-familiar trope — the kid who imagines a hero or villain for the main character to fight. The story also featured a subplot with a character long since forgotten, Daphne Dean, who was Barry Allen's childhood friend from his hometown of Fallville, Iowa. Remember, this was before Smallville was relocated to the mid-west. Anyway, she went on to become an Oscar-winning actress and popped up from time-to-time during Bates' Flash run, and then never again.


GHOSTS, No. 53 (DC)

Yes, believe it or not, there was a time when super-heroes were not the be-all and end-all of the comic book market. This title launched in 1971 and sold well enough to Bronze Age buyers that it survived the DC Implosion of 1978, lasting all the way to Issue No. 112, on-sale Feb. 4, 1982.

You couldn't have pushed it off on me, though, and I think the only issues I ever bought at the time were the latter-run copies that featured The Spectre. Why he did not enjoy a longer run in this title I'll never know. But at this point (as for most of its run) GHOSTS was an anthology series, with three stories per issue. DC tried to produce the book on the cheap by hiring artists from the Philippines willing to work for the going page rate. This issue features the work of Frank Redondo, brother of the more famous Nestor Rdeondo, and E.R. Cruz

  

GRIMM'S GHOST STORIES, No. 36 (Gold Key)

When I was a kid, I would occasionally linger over some Charlton comics on the newsstands, such as the SIX-MILLION DOLLAR MAN, but ultimately pass them up because they looked cheap and amateurish when compared to comics published by DC and Marvel. The Gold Key comics of the era, however, I didn't even bother to pick up and thumb through. They weren't as readily available for one thing — you can't buy what's not there — but even where I spotted them they held no appeal to me whatsoever. Today I find the covers, at least, interesting, but at the time they were so NOT Marvel or DC that they were almost repellent to me. Maybe it was the laborious cover copy, but these titles always felt like something someone was trying to sell me, rather an something I was discovering on my own. It didn't help that the art was generally not so good in these titles. Also, I always found the square word balloons terribly off-putting.



JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, No. 141 (DC)

Now this, on the other hand, was manna from heaven to my 9-year-old self. Although much maligned today — it's said DC won't put out a JLA collection from this era because it's convinced his work won't sell — artist Dick Dillin was a favorite of mine at the time. Of course, I suppose anyone who drew the Justice League would have been okay in my book.

But what really made the JLA sparkle at this time was the brief but brilliant run of writer Steve Englehart. His stories, from Issue No. 139-146, along with No. 149 and 150, amounted to just about everything I could have ever wanted in comics as a young reader, or frankly, even today. I have nearly 19,000 comics and Englehart's JLA run is one of the few I'll pull out and re-read every few years or so. The ongoing saga with the Manhunters, and Mark Shaw held me in rapt attention. I think it helped that the title was a Giant-Size book at the time, which meant complete stories every issue, despite the ongoing subplot. Perhaps the greatest thing I can say about the run is that, at age 9, I truly felt the heartbreak of Snapper Carr's betrayal and as the Star-Tsar even though I had never even met the character before. These are GREAT comics!


SGT. ROCK, No. 303 (DC)

Meanwhile, pity poor Sgt. Rock. Though he soldiered on valiantly, commandeering OUR ARMY AT WAR with Issue No. 81 in Feb. 1959, all the way through a titular title change, to Issue No. 422, on-sale March 22, 1988, you could not force me to buy a war comic when I was a kid. I don't know why except that, again, I was all about the super-heroes and only had so much allowance money to spend each week. I guess, when it comes to it, I'm exactly the sort of fan who's directly responsible for the lack of genre diversity in the industry today. But I think another part of it is that, to my mind at least, super-hero comics always seemed to be offering something new and different with its characters, while one Sgt. Rock comic — rightly or wrongly — felt pretty much the same to me as any other. Thus, there was never any urgency, no sense that I HAD to get this issue. If I missed it, the next one to come along would offer pretty much the same.

FWIW, this issue is somewhat notable in that it's only the second published after the offical title change from OUR ARMY AT WAR to SGT. ROCK. But really, Rock had held masthead prominence since Issue No. 158 in 1965, so jettisoning the OAAW bit was sort of a minor thing, I guess. Funny when you think about it, but Rock and Easy Company fought WWII for about 25 years longer than the war lasted in real life.


Well, that brings us to what I would have referred to back in the day as the "baby comics." Harvey was flooding the stands with Richie Rich comics at the time, releasing three titles on this day alone. At least they had art that was visually appealing, even if I was unconvinced at the time it was not all just the same story reprinted over and over, ad nauseum. The funny animal comics from Gold Key at the time were the worst of the worst — at least I thought so — being both characters for kids (and at nine I was NO child, I would have told you in no uncertain terms!) and inferior looking in every way compared to other comics on the stands. But let's take a quick look at them nonetheless because, these are the books you would have had to brush past in order to get to that BLACK LIGHTNING, No. 1.



RICHIE RICH AND CASPER, No. 17 (Harvey)

This title, which teamed the Big Two from Harvey, amounted to being the publishers's version of WORLD'S FINEST COMICS. It lasted 45 issues, from 1974 until the collapse of the company in 1982. 





RICHIE RICH GOLD AND SILVER, No. 11 (Harvey)

This title lasted 42 issues, from 1975 until 1982.







RICHIE RICH JACKPOTS, No. 28 (Harvey)

And the most venerable of the Richie titles out on this day, Jackpots lasted 58 issues, from 1972 to 1982.






NEW TERRYTOONS, No. 43 (Gold Key)

This was actually the last of the run by Hackle & Jeckle, who had ruled the roost in this title from Issue No. 6, on-sale Nov. 6, 1969. But for one more outing in No. 47, this title would finish out its run to No. 54 (on-sale Nov. 2, 1978) with Mighty Mouse as the star.




PORKY PIG, No. 73 (Gold Key)

A lot of people won't believe it today, but there was a time when Porky was THE star of the Warner Brothers cartoon studios, with upstarts Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and others having the wrestle away his top-billing status. The Gold Key run of his comic book ran an amazing 109 issues, from 1965 (long after he'd been relegated to bit player, even!) until 1984. Yup, when I was in high school, Porky Pig comics were still a thing. Imagine that!


WALT DISNEY CHIP 'N' DALE, No. 45 (Gold Key)

Chip 'n' Dale also had a healthy run, lasting 83 issues from 1967 to 1984, when Gold Key finally folded. I seem to recall that one or two of my very first comics, given to me by my grandmother, were issues featuring the chattering chipmunks, although I'd be hard-pressed today to say which issues, exactly.




WALT DISNEY DONALD DUCK, No. 181 (Gold Key)

Donald, of course, had a good long run, and remains in print today, albeit reprints of overseas material put out by IDW Publishing. The current title is actually on my pull-list at my local comics shop.

Variously billed under his own name, and modified by Walt Disney (in forms both possessive and, as with this era, not), Donald began his comic book adventures as an occasional one-shot from Dell Publishing, as part of what we know today as its FOUR COLOR COMICS line. Dell counted all those issues when finally granting Donald his own series, this starting it at Issue No. 26 (on-sale Sept. 16, 1952). With No. 85 (on-sale Sept. 27, 1962), the title passed to Gold Key, following the split between Dell and Western Publishing, which had hitherto packaged Dell's books. It would last in that form until Western got out of comics in 1984, ending under the company's Whitman imprint at Issue No. 245. It would then land at Gladstone from 1986 to 1990, and again from 1993 to 1998, the intervening period filled by Disney publishing its own comics, with Donald headlining a new title, DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES. At No. 308, Gemstone picked up the title, publishing it as DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS from 2003 to 2009. BOOM Studios then took over with Issue No. 347, putting out the title until 2011 and Issue No. 367. When IDW began its Donald comic in 2015, it started over with a new No. 1.


WALTER LANTZ WOODY WOODPECKER, No. 156 (Gold Key)

And finally, we wrap with what always struck me as one of the most insipid of all cartoon characters. And yet his comics lasted 201 issues, though the Dell, Gold Key, and Whitman eras, from 1952 to 1983! Oddly, while his schtick in movie shorts was absolute anarchism, in comics Woody played a more paternal role to a couple of junior woodpeckers, who I think were his niece and nephew, although I couldn't really say for sure.



Well, gang, that's everything published the first week of January 1977, but the month held a few otehr highlights as well that are worth noting here. Personally AVENGERS. No. 158 (on-sale Jan. 18) was meaningful as my first issue of that title, and my introduction to The Vision, Wonder Man, Scarlet Witch, and many others on the team. THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, No. 133 (Jan. 20), featured Deadman's first appearance in the DCU since 1975. THE DEFENDERS, No. 46 (Jan. 18) began the Scorpio Saga, G.I. COMBAT, No. 201 (Jan. 13) and WORLD'S FINEST COMICS, No. 244 (Jan. 13) saw both titles convert to DC's new Dollar-Comic giant format, Dawnstar made her "dazzling debut" as a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes in SUPERBOY, No. 226 (Jan. 20), Metallo, the man with the kryptonite heart, made his first appearance in SUPERMAN, No. 310 (Jan. 13), and, as Sgt. Rock had done the month before, THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER, No. 205 (Jan. 18) was the first issue of what had previously been known as STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES Oh, and the cover of X-MEN, No. 104 was an homage back to their very first issue.

Okay, that's it until next time! 'Till then, I'll see ya at the newsstands. And remember, "Hey, Kids! COMICS!"


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