Below you’ll find our reading selections for the year of 1972, and once we’re finished reading, I’ll post the winners for hero, villain, issue, artist, and writer.
Feel free to discuss the comics and any related thoughts below in the comments!
1972 Comic Reading List
|1972||Comic Book Title||Issues|
|1||Marvel Team-Up / Shanna the She-Devil||#1 / #1|
|2||Amazing Adventures||#11, #12|
|4||Tomb of Dracula||#1, #2|
|5||Fantastic Four||#122, #123|
|6||Luke Cage, Hero for Hire||#1|
|7||Avengers||#95 to #97, #102 to #104|
|9||Defenders||#1, #2, #3|
|10||Amazing Spider-Man||#113 to #115|
Hero of the Year: The Avengers
Villain of the Year: The Sentinels
Issue of the Year: Avengers #104
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Writer of the Year: Roy Thomas
Artist of the Year: Gil Kane
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1972 was the year I started collecting comics. I actually purchased most of these issues when they came out. Of course, I don’t have them now…because my mom sold most of my collection in a garage sale. Aaarrgh. But we’ll leave that behind. I particularly remember horror creeping into the Marvel Universe (Tomb of Dracula, Ghost Rider) with a whole slew on the way (Werewolf by Night, Son of Satan, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Living Mummy, Man-Thing, etc, etc). Which is the main reason I picked Mike Ploog for Artist of the Year. Very atmospheric, stylized work. Although I did not collect Amazing Adventures at this time and, as I read them now, I realized I never knew the story of how Hank ended up blue and furry. Since this event has had enduring significance and I found his struggles so compelling, I wrote him in as Hero of the Year. Villain went to Dracula. Sentinels came close, but, come on, it’s Dracula. Roy Thomas was still carrying the weight so much this year that he was Writer of the Year.
It also felt like this year was when Marvel really tried to translate current events/movements/trends into the stories. Luke Cage has a blaxploitation feel. Shanna covers both feminism and ecology. Tomb of Dracula feels like an attempt to get the Hammer feel.
Finally, I have enjoyed Spider-Man overall lately, but this arc was weak. During the issues we have been reading, it seems like Peter always has some physical ailment that makes little stars surround his head and he almost falls off a building. Hammerhead feels like some sort of Dick Tracy reject. I love Aunt May but the whole “Otto Octavious is a good man” storyline has always bothered me-it just makes her seem dim, instead of well-meaning and generous. Oh, well, we’re coming up on one of the most pivotal Spidey stories, so I can deal.
Looking forward to the ’73 line-up!
It’s fascinating to observe this record, Marvel transforming itself, reflecting the world at the time. Too much to go into here, but there was certainly a shift in society following the sixties that played out somehow in the stories in Marvel comics. As Silver Age of Marvel wound down, it’s energy was replaced by a new movement of creativity: more diverse, less formulaic, but still with Marvel DNA at its core. 1972 certainly was not the best year for Marvel comics, but the clear contrast of eras existing simultaneously demands that the comics not be overlooked. From a business perspective, Marvel may have been aware that their readers were no longer pre-teens and early teens exclusively. The success of the earlier comics had engendered such great loyalty and following that many readers were aging beyond the typical comic book reader of previous generations, and certainly Marvel was receiving and responding to feedback to that effect.
Hero of the Year: My vote went again to the Avengers. It’s becoming clear to me that team comics inherently have an advantage over individual hero titles because the personal stories of each character play out in the individual titles, freeing up the team comics to concentrate more on action. Furthermore, in team comics, the supporting characters in the stories tend to be other heroes, rather than non-superpowered characters. It was true of the Fantastic Four as that title excelled in the early years of Marvel, only subsiding to the Amazing Spider-man after the FF’s lineup had exhausted its dynamic range (well, in addition to Amazing’s particular strengths). But the FF had a fixed lineup for the most part, and only the Human Torch had his owns series. In contrast, Avengers comics were action packed, with new heroes and fresh dynamic opportunities for hero/hero interaction, already distinguishing an advantage for Marvel comics over DC titles at the time. Marvel Team Up 1 may have been a more entertaining read than any of the Amazing Spider-man issues of the year. As mentioned by Michael, reading Peter Parker’s endless personal woes made him begin to seem more like Downer Debbie.
Issue of the Year: I selected Avengers 101. Not on the reading list, it is Roy Thomas’ adaptation of a Harlan Ellison story, starring the Avengers. It seems the Ellison stories are characterized by unexpected twists in the end. I found Shanna the She-devil’s debut to be a delightful surprise, but not worthy of best of year. I wanted to vote for Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four 123, but it’s just not as good as several Avengers comics from the year. I also would have liked to vote for Warlock’s own title debut, but that story was still in early stages of development, and its time will come.
Villain of the Year: Voted for the Sentinels. The story sufficiently built tension and suspense at the threat posed by Number 2’s plan, where the Galactus in his story really didn’t.
Artist of the Year: I voted for Rich Buckler. I can imagine that it might have been intimidating to follow runs by Neal Adams and Barry Smith in accepting the assignment to pencil the best comic of the year previous, but he took it on, and I think he did an admirable job. At this point I think it is clear that all of Marvel’s artists had felt the influence of Adams and Steranko and Smith and the art was better across the board. In consideration was Sal Buscema, but I just like Rich Buckler’s lines better. I’m starting to envision a hierarchy of artists through this evaluation Tier 1 through Tier 4. Tier 1 artists are Adams, Steranko in my mind. Tier 2 are Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Barry Smith, the Buscema brothers, John Romita and adding this year Rich Buckler. Any other thoughts on this view?
Writer of the Year: 1972 was the end of the period where Roy Thomas had shouldered the majority of the writing duties (following Stan Lee’s legendary administration), in which he demonstrated that he was worthy of the inheriting Stan’s place as lead writer and chief editor. His work on Avengers earned him the title of best of year for me. The last Silver age writer to win? As for the future for Marvel, the year saw writing duties falling more on Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin and Steve Englehart, whose work on Captain America and particularly on the Defenders in 1972 earned him strong consideration. I think evident here across the bulk of Marvel titles a wholesale departure from standard story frames that were dominant in the Silver age. The strength of the three writers (and a few more to add in the next few years) bode well for the upcoming Bronze Age of Marvel Comics!
I just can’t resist a ranking. I agree with your estimation of Adams and Steranko at Tier 1. And I have to admire your honesty in placing Ditko and Kirby in Tier 2. I agree because while they are key architects of the Marvel Universe, in the end their influence far outweighs their abilities.
Romita is a hard one to place as I feel that his style is better overall than Ditko, but yet not as good as Adams. I guess Tier 2 is where he belongs. Same for Wally Wood. And I would add Gil Kane to that level. While not as well-known as the others he is still one of the key silver age players and a great artist. I would also rank Herb Trimpe into Tier 2. His creativity and experience ads to his overall design work.
I think that Barry Smith, and Rich Buckler fall into Tier 3 for me, add to them Dick Ayers, Gene Colan, John and Marie Severin, and George Tuska.
Don Heck is at the top of Tier 4 along with the Buscema brothers.
I’m not sure how Mike Ploog will fit in yet. His name pops up more and more with the horror titles.
Not really a year for stand-out issues for me. Lots of good stuff, but it was hard to pick a singular issue as the best. I was impressed by Luke Cage, far more than I expected to be. So he got issue of the year.
I went with Adam Warlock as hero of the year just because of the importance of Adam in the near future and the ambition of the story. This also gave me the artist of the year with Gil Kane (again..he’ll win one of these days).
Writer of the year went to Gerry Conway because of his quick grasp of the pathos that is Spidey’s life. I find that these issues of ASM were quite good, I can see how some might find the continuing downward spiral of Spider-man could be repetitive, but I think that is all part of the long term story. Spidey has to go through many trials, and I find these to be well written.
Villain was a real tough choice as no one stood out for me, so I went with Hammerhead just because he was always so amusing to me.
I didn’t think much of the Beast issues, don’t see much important going on there, nor with the Marvel Team up or Shanna. Dracula was better than I expected, but not my cup of tea.
Hero: Avengers (Kree-Skrull War issues and Sentinels make this team the best of 1972)
Villain: Sentinels (great arc in Avengers)
Issue: Avengers #104
Writer: Roy Thomas (Avengers, Marvel Premiere, Incredible Hulk)
Artist: Sal Buscema (for Defenders #2’s Silver Surfer splash page, the only artistic achievement I noted for the year)
Mostly, my picks for the issues to read during 1972 aligned with Dave’s. If Defenders whetted your appetite for Hulk stories, Incredible Hulk is pretty readable during this time, particularly issues #148 and #153 (Hulk on trial).
1973 sees some big-time changes and stories for Marvel. I’m quite excited for it!
I need to check out that Hulk stretch, thanks for the rec!
This was a fun year. Marvel was in full experimentation mode this year, and it was super enjoyable to read. I actually thought the average quality was very high considering how many new and weird concepts they were throwing out there.
By far my biggest surprise issue that I enjoyed was Shanna the She-Devil, which was actually quite moving and more grounded in reality than usual. I also for whatever reason didn’t enjoy Defenders 1 at all, but 2 and 3 were excellent, and 3 actually got my vote for Issue of the Year just because I think it had it all: great villain, super hero team-ups, totally unpredictable adventure, and an ending that actually felt like an ending, albeit a sad one.
The rest of the stories were all over the place for me enjoyment-wise, but mostly good. Luke Cage was very heavy-handed (I laughed hard at him naming himself Cage because of his prison cage; so much pathos), and Ghost Rider was amazing in how it just casually threw Satan into the mix (I feel like you’d maybe try something a little less dramatic than turning to Satan first), but I also found them both engaging, so no real complaints. Tomb of Dracula was super weird and felt out of place with everything else, but I liked the artwork a lot, and it was certainly a different pace. The Beast stories were intense, and I liked the Iron Man death twist quite a bit. Also, The Avengers fighting the Sentinels was kind of amazing for how it resolved with one of the Sentinels becoming a mutant.
For the old stalwarts, I liked the Fantastic Four story with Galactus but was not impressed at all with the Spidey story. It didn’t resolve in any way (though they claimed that it did), and I think I’m just worn out from Spidey’s constant angst at this point. It’s one thing to get knocked down and get back up again, but it’s another to be in constant pain and agony both physically and emotionally. It makes his quips and anger more awkward and unpleasant than anything else, and at least for me, not enjoyable at all to read.
Writer of the Year had to go to Roy Thomas, and Artist of the Year I gave to Gil Kane, though I think there could have been multiple artist wins this year; not a clear favorite.
One thing I’ve found surprising from this era is that a number of titles that sound like they’d be miserably dated (Shanna the She Devil, Jungle Action) are actually quite strong.
I have to agree that Cage’s naming conventions are pretty funny, although this is the first time I realized Vampire Hunter Blade called himself that because… he carried a… blade.
You raise an interesting dilemma with Spidey. The early 70’s hit him particularly hard, but as a character he is largely beaten down time and time again. His ability to overcome this is a big part of what makes him such an inspiring hero. That said, it can be hard to read a character you’re rooting for slammed over, and over, and over… although we can’t expect the game to change for Spidey any time soon.
I was so surprised by how good Shanna the She-Devil was that I looked up its history and found, according to Wikipedia at least, that Stan Lee wanted to create a series of comics that appealed to women, and that Roy Thomas had the idea that they should actually be written by women, so that’s what happened with this first issue. That might explain why it felt significantly different than the other issues of the year, and why Shanna felt like a fairly well-rounded strong female character.
I think with Spidey there’s a balance to the best arcs of his where he gets beaten down but then actually gets back up again. I feel like here, it was just all doom and gloom the whole time; him defeating Doc Ock felt like it should have been a triumph but instead was almost anti-climactic because Spidey was just depressed and sick afterwards. It didn’t feel like he overcame anything!