The Marvellous Nineteen-Seventies - Summers of Stan, Superheroes and the Son of Satan.


The Marvellous Nineteen-Seventies - Summers of Stan, Superheroes and the Son of Satan.

The Marvellous Nineteen-Seventies - Summers of Stan, superheroes and the Son of Satan.

By Cloud

In the summer of 1976, a masked man in a superhero costume came in to land at Mojave airport in California, an event broadcast on TV screens around the world. That was because he was on the outside of a DC-8 jet airliner at the time, travelling at 250 miles per hour, strapped to a metal frame. The man on top of that plane was The Human Fly. He wore a red and white costume, white cape and a mask that borrowed heavily from the Lucha Libra tradition of Mexican wrestling and, as I remember it, he was riding hard on the coat tails of bus-jumping stunt cyclist Evel Knievel. A year later, The Human Fly debuted in his own Marvel Comics series.

You might think this was inevitable but I really don’t recall a case before or since where a superhero character was ‘real’. In 1976 I had seen Uri Geller (famous back then for bending spoons on TV ‘with his mind’) use his psychic abilities to bend the iron bars of a cell during a guest appearance in Daredevil #133 and in 1978 I saw but never read, the DC Comics one shot ‘Muhammad Ali vs Superman’. This however was different, The Human Fly was a clear-cut superhero with an origin story and a costume.

Unlike DC Comics with their fictional locations Metropolis, Gotham and Star City, Marvel had a foot jammed firmly in the door of the real world, their heroes mostly patrolled New York. Many Marvel Comics characters were overtly influenced by real events and cultural trends of the period. Ghost Rider (first appearance Marvel Spotlight #5, August 1972), a circus stunt bike rider who does a Faustian deal with devil, was a supernatural take on Evel Knievel. Luke Cage, the first black superhero to be the title character in his own comic,lived and operated in Harlem and he debuted at the peak of Blaxsploitation cinema (first appearance Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1, June 1972).

Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu (first appearance Special Marvel Edition #15, December 1973), Iron Fist (first appearance Marvel Premiere #15, May 1974) and White Tiger (first appearance Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #19 Dec 1975) followed hot on the martial arts mania surrounding the movie Enter The Dragon in 1973 and the death of its star Bruce Lee in the same year. The high-profile Women’s Liberation movement in the mid-70s resulted in long-time Captain Marvel cast member and vague love interest Carol Danvers becoming a superheroine in her own right as Ms. Marvel (first appearance January 1977). Not only was she a female reflection of the male Captain Marvel but she fought physically as hard and aggressively as any masculine superhero.

Eventually she inherited the title Captain Marvel and got her own movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, many iconic creations of 1970s Marvel Comics populate the MCU either as cameos or Easter Eggs to tantalise fans like myself. Personal favourites Howard the Duck (first appearance Adventure Into Fear #19 December 1973) and Nova (first appearance Nova #1 September 1976) appear in one form or another in the Guardians of the Galaxy, while Bill Foster is a supporting cast member in the Ant-Man movies. Surely the fact that Foster is played by Lawrence Fishburne means that his alter-ego Black Goliath (spectacularly appearing in his own self-titled series in Feb 1976) will also make an appearance in the MCU one day? Even Thanos debuted in comics in the seventies (Invincible Iron Man #55, February 1973).

1970s Marvel Comics, both the weekly UK black and white reprints and my much-preferred monthly full colour US imports, formed a large part of my childhood and for many reasons are still one of my favourite periods in comics. Not least because in the UK ‘Super-Spiderman Comic Weekly’ had the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant as Editor in Chief.

It’s easy to misjudge the 70s as a chaotic trend-chasing cash-in of little consequence between the Silver Age and the Dark Knight Returns but with upcoming MCU movies Nova (first appearance Nova #1 September 1976), Shang Chi, the rumoured Punisher reboot (first appearance Amazing Spider-Man #129 , February 1974). as well as Sony’s Morbius (first appearance of the Living Vampire in Amazing Spider-Man #101, January 1971), surely it’s worthy of a delve?

There are so many great titles and creations to rediscover and enjoy. Son of Satan (first appearance Marvel Spotlight #12 October 1973), Skull the Slayer (#1 August 1975) based around time travel, Invaders (1975) Captain America, Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch form a team to fight the Nazis in World War 2, The Champions (1976) the super team featuring Hercules, Black Widow, Ghost Rider, Angel and Iceman, Omega the Unknown a sort of Superman/Black Bolt hybrid (1976) and we have not even touched on Marvel’s brilliant adaptions of horror icons in Tomb of Dracula (first appearance of Blade in Tomb of Dracula #10 1973), Werewolf By Night (first appearance of Moon Knight in Werewolf By Night #32 August1975) and Frankenstein’s Monster.

Time travel, alien invasions, dystopian futures, martial artists, universal monsters, daredevil stunt riders, talking ducks and the wildest super heroes... seventies Marvel Comics were a glitter ball on top of an acid trip in 16 bit video game colour and still my favourite period in British and American comics.