Below you’ll find our reading selections for the year of 1973, 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!
Dave’s Note: Avengers #113 is disturbingly, sadly relevant to terrorism and hate in our world today. Given recent events this issue may be very troubling, so I’d like to call it out before you read.
1973 Comic Reading List
|1973||Comic Book Title||Issues|
|2||Fantastic Four||#130 to #132|
|3||Defenders||#4, #5, #6|
|4||Captain Marvel||#26, #27, #28, #29|
|5||Amazing Spider-Man||#121 to #123|
|7||Tomb of Dracula||#10|
|8||Defenders / Avengers||#9 to #11, #116 to #118|
|10||Captain America||#161 to #162|
Hero of the Year: Captain Marvel
Villain of the Year: Green Goblin
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Issue of the Year: Amazing Spider-Man #121
Writer of the Year: Steve Englehardt
Artist of the Year: Jim Starlin
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Having read every issue thoroughly (including a few extras to make sure I am getting the whole story: Captain Marvel 25, ASM 119-120, Avengers 115) I have made my votes:
Hero of the year went to Captain Marvel just because Spidey, while being the protagonist of the year, was not all that heroic. Mar-Vell became a key player with Starlin taking over…I foresee a lot of votes going his way over the next few years. Starlin has long been tier 1 for me.
Issue of the year is of course ASM 121. How could it be otherwise? 45 odd years later and it is still gut-wrenching. And relevant, a quick google search will show you that. I dubt if any other issue this year gets that kind of buzz. I had been looking forward to the Avengers-Defenders War, never having read it, but, boy, what a letdown. The art was sub-par and the whole thing was full of immense plot holes (Namor floating over Cap rather than flying off right away? Even Namor isn’t that dumb). And the whole thing seemed to be just too derivative of the old JSA-JLA crossovers. I’m not sure which came first, but the JLA-JSA team-up in Justice League of America #107-108 in 1973 had a very similar Mcguffin: Two teams competing to gather different objects.
Artist has to be Gil Kane. I know Starlin is great and will probably be the artist of the year next year, but the ASM issues this year were outstanding. The image of the Goblin pinned against the wall struggling as he breaths his last breath, wow. And how about the look on Gobby’s face as Spidey sits on his shoulders and pounds him. People make fun of his facial expressions, especially the “up the nose” shots, but this year it captures the anguish and anger of Peter Parker in a way that still haunts me. Even after reading it initially almost 40 years ago. Look at issue 124, there is a sequence as Peter goes back to class and feels the stares of all the students. He snaps his pen and storms out. No one but Kane could have captured that angst.
And so Writer has to be Gerry Conway. Again, I know Starlin is doing something special in Captain Marvel, but it’s just starting. Conway put the nail in the coffin of the Silver age with this story arc. Certainly there are other factors that contribute to the change of Age, but this is the climax. Heck, I saw Stan Lee on Comic Book Men last fall, and he still hates Gerry Conway for killing Gwen. Conway has his low points (and high points) but his writing here has to be recognized for its importance. Especially considering he was like 19 or 20 at the time.
As for villain of the year, there can be no doubt about the Goblin.
Upon occasion I am asked by folks who don’t read comics why I prefer Marvel’s characters to DC’s. I respond that DC comics are about heroes who have secret identities. Marvel characters are people who are secretly heroes. It was what distinguished Stan Lee’s characters from the competition, and consequently the interaction between the heroes; normal humans thrust into extraordinary circumstances and how they responded was what really made them interesting. I can imagine how shocking it must have been to readers at the time, current with Amazing Spider-man stories, to read Amazing 121. Peter Parker experiences a major life event, in somewhat stunning graphic detail. It must have made quite an impression! The issue is widely regarded as a benchmark, signifying Marvel’s progression to a level of more realistic storytelling. Of course, as we have seen, the transition had been going on for some time, but at the time, that story must have fully punctuated the change, so much so that it gained notoriety as the moment that Marvel comics entered the Bronze Age.
Hero of the Year: The new chapter to Marvel Cosmic that launched within the pages of Captain Marvel was what got me hooked on comics. I don’t remember how I got my hands on the back issues, but I know that immediately upon that first viewing I was blown away by the story, the art, the characters. From then on I knew to seek out all comics with Jim Starlin associated. I am very pleased Dave includes this storyarc in his 25 essential Marvel trades 1961-2000 list (as part of the Life and Death of Captain Marvel).
Issue of the Year: I voted for “Turning Point,” Amazing Spider-man 121. It’s just too well written, too well drawn, too important NOT to recognize. A strong contender, surprisingly (to me), was Fantastic Four 130. I really enjoyed that comic, it had the comedy of the bumbling villains and the new villain Thundra, a rampaging feminist, kicking butt but not really sure whose side she should be fighting for. It set up a reveal for trouble in Johnny Storm’s love life, and then dropped an emotional bomb as Sue spun out of Mr. Fantastic’s orbit. The Wizard’s dastardly bluff might have earned him…
Villain of the Year: but for Thanos! OK, so Claude was pretty convincing that the Green Goblin should be villain of the year, but when I voted I saw Thanos’ name on the list and just couldn’t resist. Yeah, the Goblin was a more villainous villain in 1973, I agree.
Artist of the Year: I voted for Jim Starlin. His work on each issue of the Thanos War got better as he gained comfort with the characters and confidence that he was onto something special. I regard Starlin as a “Tier 1” artist for Marvel at the time. I imagine that many in this group may consider Gil Kane to be at that level too, but his art just does not appeal to me as much (but Tier 2 for sure). Kane’s work is certainly dynamic and expressive, but I see too many sharp angles; more lines seem to clutter rather than define. I see in the work of Steranko, Adams, and Starlin curvy, rounded, groovier edges, channeling a hip sensibility or impression I sense when I regard pop culture of the time, like the Mod Squad on TV for instance, or Jefferson Airplane rock & roll. Imagine a Jim Steranko rendition of Luke Cage in a purple leisure suit! No way Gil Kane could pull that off half as well. One could also argue that Frank Brunner, drawing Dr. Strange stories in 1973 with Steve Englehart in the pages of Marvel Premiere (unfortunately not on Marvel Unlimited), should be considered Tier 1 as well.
Writer of the Year: Steve Englehart was lead on six different Marvel titles in 1973, and I think he developed each lead character and supporting cast for each book with his own take very effectively. I find it very easy and enjoyable to breeze through several issues of his storylines in one sitting. He certainly played a role in the success of the Avengers vs Defenders crossover. For all the praise I would give Englehart, it was so difficult to not choose Gerry Conway, who was clearly favored by Roy and Stan, given lead writing duties for Marvel’s marquee titles, and wrote the issue of the year. But Englehart was just all over the place in 1973, writing great stories. Don McGregor’s Black Panther stories in Jungle Action deserve a mention too! The best news is that it only gets better!
I’m going to get to the other categories later, but I want to go over the villain of the year category first.
I said once before that any year in which the original Goblin shows up he’s the villain of the year in my mind. I’d vote now for him as villain of the decade, too. People (fans) often talk about who (or what) the greatest comic villain is. Lots of lists are available online, usually cumulating with the Joker, Lex Luthor or Doctor Doom. In my view, however, none of them can hold a candle to the Green Goblin.
While the others are cool or interesting or malevolent and despicable, none of them ever really succeeded in their villainy as the Goblin did. The FF always stopped Galactus. The Avengers thwarted Kang. Thor always put Loki in his place. Later stories have had different results with differing amounts of success, but in 1973 none had achieved what the Goblin had. Spidey never really stopped the Goblin. Heck, for his first half dozen appearances he got away. Spidey had no idea who he was or how to stop him. And even when Spidey finally does find out whom the Goblin really is, it is because the Goblin chose to reveal his identity. Furthermore, in the end he doesn’t go to jail, he still gets off scot free because he was out of his mind and finally came to his senses.
And, I mean, Spider-Man is no slouch. By the time issue 121 of Amazing Spider-Man rolls off the presses Spidey is one of the top heroes in the business. He’d had many adventures, successfully facing off against Doctor Doom, Doctor Octopus, the Kingpin, the Hulk, even the Avengers. If you think about it, few of the era’s heroes could have stood up to the Goblin. Not Daredevil, Hank Pym, The Black Panther nor Dr. Strange could have handled him. I also think it wouldn’t have taken much for Gobby to find out who Thor or Iron Man really were, and they would have had trouble with him. Captain America would have had a hard time dealing with his particular brand of crazy, too. And if the Wizard could give the FF a run for their money, what do you think the Goblin could have done to them. Heck, latter iterations of the character had him taking over and running SHIELD.
More importantly, he was the only villain who killed the girl. If you stop and think about it, no one else achieved that: Dudley Do Right always saved Nell Fenwick from Snidely Whiplash. Dick Tracy always saved Tess Trueheart. Superman always saved Lois Lane. Even Vicky Vale has made it all the way to the New 52 unscathed. But the Green Goblin killed Gwen Stacy.
This was a major character. Gwen had been around for 90 odd issues. It is not like she was created to die or had only been around for short time. From the fan’s point of view, in 1973, Gwen was equivalent to Lois Lane, Iris West Allen, Alicia Masters or Steve Trevor. In standard comic book convention she was a supporting character that could get threatened but never die.
Not only that, he did it without ever having been incarcerated and he knew Spider-Man’s secret identity. The Joker and Luthor were always winding up in jail. And no villain ever really found out Batman or Superman’s secret identity.
Thanos is cool and will go on to be a major player, but 1974 is his year. Doctor Faustus is a fun villain, but really he’s low on the totem pole. The Frightful Four? Please. Enchantress and Executioner? Who? In 1973 there is only one villain who really lives up to the title of villain of the year.
Iron Man #55 is a very good issue. Thanos and Drax are fantastic characters, and it is a shame that Jim Starlin forgets how to write them well at certain points during his career.
Defenders is mostly average with moments of brilliance. It is a very Silver Age title at this point. Parts of #6 reminded me of Captain Kirk talking computers to death in Star Trek.
Amazing Spider-Man is recommended (all three issues). Gwen Stacy, Green Goblin, and Luke Cage all enhance the Spider-Man narrative here.
Overall, Avengers vs. Defenders is a huge hit. Parts 1-6 all get four stars, and Avengers #118 gets a rare five stars from me. That issue is such a delight because it has a great balance of using the continuity and being accessible to new readers, each character gets their moment to shine, the ending feels inevitable but not predictable, and there is a fine usage of cameos from around the Marvel universe to show the scope and potential consequences of the threat facing the heroes. On a series level, I like this arc because the reason for the heroes fighting each other makes sense. They are being manipulated by Loki and Dormammu, not just punching before thinking or talking.
Sadly, one of the biggest disappointments from 1973 is also in Avengers vs. Defenders: Defenders #11, the epilogue to the story. Dane’s story compounds weirdness with more weirdness, and it was too much for me. Even here, though, the character interaction is good, especially that between Hulk and Strange.
I can see where Avengers #113 is still relevant today, but relevance does not make an issue good by itself, and this one is simply not the best quality.
Any unmentioned issues are all of at least passable quality and make sense to read in learning about the Marvel universe.
I freaking loved this year. I’ve read several of the all-time classics from this year before (Death of Gwen Stacy, Marvel and Eon vs. Thanos) but had never read the Defenders/Avengers War, which I was very impressed by, enough to make me give Englehart Writer of the Year. It was fun, featured tons of great battles and artwork, and perhaps most important of all, was completely coherent and easy to follow order-wise. My biggest issue with many of Marvel’s crossover stories is that there are so many side stories that don’t really tie into the main narrative at all, and that make the reading order next to impossible to follow (which is why CBH is so great!), but with the Defenders/Avengers War, it was so focused that it was just a pleasure to bounce back and forth and follow the epic narrative.
Spidey 121 has to be Issue of the Year for the still shocking death of Gwen Stacy and the total change it brought to Spidey’s world (I also LOVE the epilogue in Spidey 122 where Mary Jane decided to turn back instead of leaving Peter alone; just a beautiful and unusual emotional beat to end an issue on). While I gave Englehart writer of the year because of how impressive the Defenders/Avengers war was, I’ve been on record here as madly loving Jim Starlin’s Cosmic era and I was close to giving this year to Starlin. I ended up giving him Artist of the Year though for some of those insane panels in Captain Marvel.
I also highly enjoyed both the vampire issues and the Doctor Faustus Cap arc (Peggy Carter!). Vampire Tales was surprisingly good quality for such a long anthology, and Blade was a little one-note but a well-told story. FF was also very good, with the Quicksilver/Crystal/Torch love triangle being well handled and the Annihilus arc ending in tragedy was intense. Finally, Avengers 113 was, as warned, incredibly intense given real-world events, but was also probably quite insane for the time too, with lots of pretty much civilian death.
Overall, this was a terrific year, with Roy Thomas really bringing a much bolder and more complex narrative style than Stan Lee ever really did. I’m very, very impressed, and really looking forward to more of the ’70s era.
The Defenders/Avengers War was a pleasant surprise for me as well. It sounds so childishly simple (*ahem*batmanvsuperman*cough*) but it’s a well executed crossover with a great villain team-up.
I honestly found Amazing Spider-Man #121 a lot harder to read having progressed through Marvel year by year like this. It’s not like I don’t know what’s going to happen, but man does it sting when you’ve spent so many issues seeing Peter and Gwen in love. Agree it’s certainly the most important issue of the year, and frankly in Marvel history. If we weren’t firmly in a new Bronze age, we certainly are after that issue.
Also… Vampire Tales! I had zero expectations here, and it’s kind of great. The black and white Morbius art blew my mind on several occasions.
Onwards to 1974!