I know a lot of fans would argue that the 1960s was the best decade for Marvel because they introduced iconic characters like Spider-Man, Hulk, Doctor Doom, Silver Surfer, and Thing as well as some of the best-remembered stories such as The Coming of Galactus and This Man, This Monster. It’s hard to disagree, but I’m going to because the 1970s were awesome. They were so awesome I probably can’t even coherently explain it all, but I’m going to give it my best shot.
In 1971 Marvel teamed up with Third Eye Inc. to make 24 kick-ass posters for use with blacklights so that kids could listen to Jimi Hendrix, smoke a little doob, and marvel at some awesome artwork.
Now that this little slice of grooviness is out of the way let’s talk about what was happening in the books.
Possibly the most underrated series of the decade The Defenders pretty much got started because Doctor Strange was canceled and Roy Thomas wanted to finish a story he was writing. The only way to do so was to incorporate it into other books he was working on namely Sub-Mariner and The Incredible Hulk.
A year or so later these three ended up with their own title and were soon joined by Silver Surfer, Valkyrie, Nighthawk, and several other heroes that came and went in a revolving door of a handful of appearances.
Some of their notable early adventures saw them crossover with the Avengers, travel back in time to the Holy Land 12th Century where they fight a giant gnome named Temax and rescue King Richard.
When Steve Gerber took over the writing duties he brought some pretty wild concepts with him. Two of the most notable were the Headmen villains (who obviously had some sort of gimmick where their heads didn’t match their bodies) and the “Elf With A Gun” who was a Garden Gnome looking guy that would randomly show up and then shoot somebody. He never faced the Defenders because he got run over by a truck before that could happen.
The best things that involved the Hulk in the 1970s besides joining the Defenders were the introduction of Wolverine in his book The Incredible Hulk as well as his love of beans (both compliments of Len Wein).
Besides Wolverine, another new character that was an adversary for Ol’ Jade Jaws was Doc Samson, a psychiatrist that got super-strength based on the length of his hair. You see, he was trying to help Bruce Banner when he got exposed to those pesky Gamma Rays that turned Bruce into the Hulk.
Banner and the Hulk had their share of romantic problems as well. The villain M.O.D.O.K used Gamma Rays (shock!) to turn Banner’s longtime love interest into an insane monster called The Harpy.
Hulk’s main squeeze during this era was Jarella, princess of the subatomic kingdom of K’Ai. The Hulk and Jarella have a romance and she loves both Banner and the Hulk unconditionally. Tragically, Jarella is crushed to death in a battle with Crypto-Man in a New Mexico, while saving a child from a collapsing wall.
The Hulk was also integral in the creation of a third green lady, his cousin-
Although She-Hulk first appeared in 1979 she deserves a mention in this article. Jennifer Walters is a lawyer who received an emergency blood transfusion from her cousin, Bruce Banner. Because of this, Walters becomes a large, powerful green-hued version of herself; however, unlike Banner, she still largely retains her personality – in particular, she retains the majority of her intelligence and emotional control, but can still fly into fits of rage when provoked like her male counterpart.
The X-Men started the decade with their book being a reprint title. It’s hard to believe given what would happen a few years later but they were one of the least popular sets of characters at Marvel.
Marvel even put the team back in their original school uniforms when they made guest appearances in other titles to match what they wore in the reprint stories.
Things started to pick up steam for the team in 1975 when the All-New, All-Different X-Men were introduced. Characters like Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Colossus struck a chord with readers (artwork by Dave Cockrum and John Byrne didn’t hurt either).
The X-Men had some really cool stories during the latter part of the decade including The Phoenix Saga, going to the Savage Land as well as fighting the likes of Alpha Flight, Black Tom, Magento, and Juggernaught.
The decade ended with the first half of The Dark Phoenix Saga, which is considered the high benchmark on the series.
What can be said about the FF in the 1970s? Plenty!
The decade started with the centennial issue of Marvel’s flagship title, which saw the team taken on the Puppet Master and Mad Thinker as well as Android versions of just about all of their greatest foes.
The team had its ups and downs with breakups and makeups (or members turning evil) which led to a couple of replacement members like Medusa, Dr. Doom, and Power Man (in addition to Crystal who was on the team in the 60s too). The Torch got some red threads and a broken heart when Crystal married Quicksilver.
Mister Fantastic had an evil doppelganger from Counter-Earth, an alternate reality version created by the High Evolutionary, named Brute. Brute joined the Frightful Four and almost succeeded in permanently trapping the 3 male members of the FF in the Negative Zone.
The lead up to issue 200 was a pretty big story about the “son of Dr. Doom”. This “son” was actually a clone of Doom that was aged to adulthood and would be the new ruler of Latveria. Doom intended on giving the clone the powers of the FF but Mister Fantastic disrupted the process causing the clone to have an appearance of handsome Dr. Doom and the Thing. Furious, Doom kills the clone for his imperfections.
Howard the Duck
Steve Gerber’s Howard the Duck was a bizarre comic and definitely a product of its time. A parody title with villains such as Doctor Bong this was possibly Marvel’s strangest comic of the decade.
It also is responsible for the moment George Lucas lost it. Hickory Dickory Duck, my ass.
In 1970, the Surfer’s solo series was wrapping up. As previously mentioned he would be an integral part of the Defenders series, while also having the occasional guest appearance in the pages of more popular Marvel characters’ series including The Mighty Thor and the Fantastic Four.
In 1978, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would reunite on the character in a Graphic Novel that retold the origin of the titular character.
To Be Continued…