Marvel Snapshot: 1976
by Matthew R. Bradley
The big news for Marvel fans in 1976—as always, I’m going by cover dates here—was the return of artist Jack “King” Kirby, the Golden Age veteran who had co-created most of the major characters with Stan Lee at the dawn of the Marvel Age, and then defected to archrival D.C. Comics in 1970. Kirby kicked off the year by taking over his signature character in Captain America #193 with the Madbomb saga, culminating in August with Cap’s 200th issue, coincidentally published during America’s own much-ballyhooed bicentennial. In July, he had launched a new strip, The Eternals, but at least in the eyes of this observer, Marvel’s decision to let him write as well as draw his books (which I’ve always assumed was a condition of his return) only proved that despite his prodigious talent, Kirby should have stayed an artist.
By year’s end, Steve Englehart was gone from three books he’d written religiously throughout 1975—Avengers, Captain Marvel, and Dr. Strange—as well as one he’d picked up in April, the perennial BOF underdog favorite Super-Villain Team-Up. A resurgent Gerry Conway handled the transition to new regular writers on both Avengers (highlighted by newcomer George Pérez’s pencils, Hellcat’s origin, and Wonder Man’s return) and Captain Marvel, teaming up with Bill Mantlo on #47 after a Chris Claremont fill-in, yet perhaps inevitably, despite their collective efforts, the post-Jim Starlin Mar-Vell was a shadow of his former self. Marv Wolfman began a holding action on Dr. Strange #19, following the departure of Englehart and Doc’s longtime artist, Gene Colan, while Stainless Steve introduced the Shroud in SVTU #5, and Mantlo took the reins in December with an excellent multi-part Avengers crossover.
Conway looked like a one-man writing Bullpen in December, represented on at least six books, including Ghost Rider, to which Mantlo, erstwhile mainstay Tony Isabella, and Wolfman (who provided a Daredevil crossover in #20) all contributed scripts that year. Not to be outdone in the “musical writers” department, Iron Man had previously featured the work of Len Wein, Roger Slifer, Mantlo (who introduced Blizzard in #86), Archie Goodwin, and Jim Shooter, mostly illustrated by George Tuska. Merry Gerry was also the last man standing on Defenders, after Steve Gerber wound up his Headmen saga and ended his landmark run with artist Sal Buscema in #41, while Isabella seemed to be in the descendant, tag-teaming with Mantlo and Claremont on Champions before the former finally settled in at the helm, with BOF fave Bob Hall on pencils.
Mantlo was, in fact, fast becoming the man of the moment, working with Sal on an impressive year-long Marvel Team-Up stint, highlighted by an epic time-travel storyline and broken only by a December fill-in from, you guessed it, Conway. Aptly, Boisterous Bill also wrote the lion’s share of that year’s stories in their other team-up book, Marvel Two-in-One, including Sal’s memorable MTU/MTIO Basilisk crossover. With Our Pal Sal occasionally spelling Bob Brown, Wolfman stayed the course on Daredevil (save for a December fill-in by, no, not Conway, but the equally ubiquitous Mantlo), providing the origin of DD’s soon-to-be nemesis Bullseye in #131, and created the ill-fated Nova in September, with penciller John Buscema quickly succeeded by brother Sal.
Marvel continued introducing new books at a furious clip in 1976, and although most were short-lived, few fizzled as fast as Black Goliath, introduced by Isabella in February but immediately taken over by Claremont before being cancelled with #5 in November. Collectors cornered the market on the first issue of Howard the Duck, a characteristically offbeat character whom Gerber created in the pages of Man-Thing and shepherded in January into his own cult-favorite title, on which Frank Brunner was soon supplanted by Colan. Less popular was Gerber’s collaboration with Mary Skrenes on the enigmatic Omega the Unknown, which debuted in March with artwork by Jim Mooney, while one of the few long-term success stories was Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, launched in December by, uh, you know.
Perhaps to compensate for this flurry of activity, a few strips gave up the ghost that year, but in the case of Don McGregor’s Jungle Action, which ended in November with #24, the stage was clearly set for the impending launch of Kirby’s Black Panther. Poor, doomed Luther Manning entered the special hell reserved for characters whose books have been cancelled when Deathlok, as chronicled by Rich Buckler and, yes, Mantlo, was orphaned by the demise of Astonishing Tales in July with #36. Ironically, the Gerber-scripted adventures of the Guardians of the Galaxy—whose origin from Marvel Super-Heroes #18 had been reprinted in that very same book—were undeservedly not long for this world in Marvel Presents, with art by Al Milgrom.
Surely the biggest loss was writer-artist Starlin’s Warlock, the final issue of which (#15) entered BOF lore unexpectedly the one time I entrusted my next-oldest brother, Stephen, with the responsibility of picking up my comics for that week. With his unerring eye for quality, Steve thought it looked neat and added it to the stack, but I, who had probably never seen Warlock before, couldn’t get past the fact that he had spent MY 30¢ on something I hadn’t empowered him to purchase. Understandably enraged by my incessant 13-year-old whining, he finally tore the comic to pieces, and when I think what an original Starlin Warlock would fetch today, I feel positively ill at my own stupidity.
Amid this turmoil, Doug Moench and John Warner steadily wrote the bimonthly Inhumans and Son of Satan, respectively, while Claremont not only revived the Sentinels and introduced Phoenix during his first full year with Dave Cockrum on X-Men, but also worked with future X-Men artist John Byrne on Iron Fist. Roy Thomas had unbroken runs on Invaders, introducing Baron Blood in #7, and Fantastic Four, peppered with Pérez pencils and appearances by the Hulk, Power Man, Galactus, and the High Evolutionary. Wein managed a trifecta on Incredible Hulk (as Sal lovingly delineated the Abomination, Man-Thing, and Jarella), Amazing Spider-Man (with a Nightcrawler/Punisher two-parter enhancing Ross Andru’s ongoing run), and Big John Buscema’s always-impressive rendition of Thor.
Matthew R. Bradley is the author of Richard Matheson on Screen , now in its third printing, and the co-editor—with Stanley Wiater and Paul Stuve—of The Richard Matheson Companion (Gauntlet, 2008), revised and updated as The Twilight and Other Zones: The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson (Citadel, 2009). Check out his blog, Bradley on Film.