Comic Book Fever: A Celebration Of Comics: 1976-1986 by George Khoury (book review).

October 1, 2016 | By | Reply More

As the title of George Khoury’s book, ‘Comic Book Fever: A Celebration Of Comics: 1976-1986’ says, he’s going to be looking at the last decade of comics before big changes happened in the big two’s realities, let alone the companies and fans. However, having lived through these years, I also know a lot to things were happening in that period and hits on the various other comicbook companies and various merchandise of the time. In other words, we have here a decade long time capsule. If you’re of a certain age, like me, then you can relive what happened and see a different perspective or additional detail. If you just missed out, then at least you can see what was going on at the time. I should also add that Khuory allows various comicbook contributors to have their own pieces within, allowing for different observations.

Layout 1

I’m going to jump in and comment on some things I see here rather than give a blow-by-blow, mostly because a lot of subjects are covered, together with illustrations and photos. It is far more than just comicbooks but a whole look at the American culture around them at that time.

Do you remember the Bulletman and Bulletgirl dolls? I remember the ads but never saw them in the UK. I did think that they were based on the Fawcett characters but been put right here that they weren’t. I still have to giggle over Hasbro’s bionic Mike Power, their answer to ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ after missing out on the franchise. After all, he does his own surgery which involves amputation and replacing one arm, one leg and one eye with cyborg parts and yet no one seems to cotton on that his human leg isn’t likely to keep up but he’d make an incredibly fast hop to get anywhere.

Boos and hoos to Harvey Comics who, by company policy, never credited their artists and writers but if you want to see their work credited then you need to turn to Marvel’s Star Comics, who later employed many of them and never neglected their credits.

There were a lot of big things in the 1970s, all suitably covered from the X-Men to ‘Star Wars’ to Treasury Editions and you couldn’t get bigger comics than them. With the X-Men, there is also a large tribute to artist Dave Cockrum, whose contribution to creating characters and costumes is so undeservedly under-rated. Looking at writer Jo Duffy’s comments on the death of Phoenix in the ‘What If’ section, considering how well-known the events are, she is either being intensely diplomatic or forgetful.

I loved Dennis O’Neil’s comments on why DC Comics were always so late in following a trend and coming across as an after-thought with the section on Kung Fu comics. Seeing the number of titles and how the various creators contributed is still insightful in how much research is done. Gerry Conway’s assessment of DC’s then editor-in-chief Carmine Infantino is equally scathing but also true illustrating odd behaviour that no-one else picked up at the time. The limits of Stan Lee’s clout had with the management at the time isn’t something you come across very often but with the examination of the ‘Kiss Super-Special’, there is also a demonstration of Marvel’s own heavy-handedness regarding ownership and less than subtle revenge on Steve Gerber’s career. The first graphic novel, ‘The Death Of Captain Marvel’, for the record, was favoured by editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who over-rode his editorial staff’s objections.

What makes this a book more than a travel down memory lane of comicbooks and companies is the look at the various things often promoted in it. For a Britisher like me, this fills in a lot of things I didn’t know from the ‘Grit’ magazine to Spalding basketballs to Hostess cakes. Likewise, Mile High Comics getting their adverts into Marvel Comics also illustrated how comics increasing value made everything do a second take on the value of their own collections. From my own UK pov, I did think over the decade things did get somewhat out of hand though with the over-pricing of comics that made them far too expensive for genuine fans. Oh, in case you didn’t know, the super-hero on the front cover, as shown inside, is Synderman, who fronted The Superhero Shop stores in the USA, as originally drawn by Joe Kubert.

It’s hardly surprising that several artists get an individual look. Neal Adams explains the ‘work-for-hire’ contract should never have gotten into practice and the reason why he stopped working for the big two companies. Both John and Sal Buscema have individual entries showing how much they dominated the 70s.

It’s interesting comparing how Frank Miller changed Daredevil to Walt Simonson with Thor, as both are given carte blanche to do what they liked with the characters and filled in gaps in their histories. The repercussions of which have been felt ever since.

I’m glad the look at Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez included a look at his ‘Atari Force’ because I’ve always thought it was amongst his best work.

Oddly, the last major influence of the 1980s, John Byrne, is left until nearly the end of the book. No doubt Khoury is spreading the look at people throughout the book, it must have been a tough call to decide upon an order.

Of the writers, only Alan Moore, at the end, who gets a section to himself than individual works.

As much as I liked the ‘Rom Spaceknight’ title, seeing the photo of the original toy here, I did wonder if I would have followed the comic seeing its source in a good photo. It’s one of those rare occasions where the illustrations were far better. Although ‘The Micronauts’ only got a brief mention, I suspect if the comic had been produced today that the manufacturer would have made toys of the lead characters later as well.

It’s not always wise to let people like me think while I read in regard to what was missed. I suspect Khoury’s choices are based on what he read or remembered and investigated further. Hence, although ‘Love & Rockets’, ‘Nexus’ and ‘Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles’ are covered, not ‘The Rocketeer’ (1982) or ‘American Flagg’ (1983). I also wish an index was included because there is a lot of material in this book that could do with a ready reference.

It’s hardly surprising that DC’s ‘The Titans’ gets a massive page examination as it really brought DC Comics a new younger audience. For those reading today, it’s also something today’s editors need to have a think about because it shows how letting creators have their heads more that they might find the necessary gold of sales. Writer Marv Wolfman’s comment that each generation of readers should have their own characters as well as the traditional ones to me means something is sorely lacking in today’s comics.

Two of the most significant series from Marvel, ‘Secret Wars’, and DC’s ‘Crisis On Infinite Earths’ are covered in some detail, too. I will address one question that was never covered in the interview with writer Marv Wolfman and that despite the complexity of reducing so many characters, how did the 31st century and the Legion Of Super-Heroes get over-looked. Not that I wanted them to be killed off, just that nothing was done about the repercussions that would affect them.

There is a brief section on Superboy finally leaving the Legion Of Super-Heroes forever, though. Khoury does query about the length of time Superboy spends in the future and how much he must surely have aged when he returns to Smallville. I can provide a very simple argument to that. Kar-el is a Kryptonian and he might well have a far longer teen-age period than humans. When you compare this to his cousin, Supergirl aka Kara Zor-el who seems to have had an equally long teen-age years, then it does tend to make sense. In many respects, the LSH was doing them a favour in the future. There was also one LSH issue that disclosed that they themselves were retarding their own aging so Superboy would have people of their own age and the ever helpful Saturn Girl hypnotising him so he wouldn’t question it.

In the final seection, Khoury’s observations about how comicbook companies have become far too businesslike and forgetting that creativity is what draws people to reading comicbooks in the first place should hang like a stone around their necks. Hopefully, things might eventually swing back the other way before they think they no longer need the source material and just a film studio.

This is a marvellous nostalgia book and although there are a few things missed out, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t for the want of trying. 1976-1986 was an important decade for comicbooks for all sorts of reasons and certainly the milestone for a lot of what we have today. It’s a shame that more of its lessons weren’t learnt from. Don’t miss out.

GF Willmetts

September 2016

(pub: TwoMorrows Publishing. 329 page illustrated softcover. Price: $34.95 (US) or $ 29.71 (US) direct from them. ISBN: 978-1-60549-063-2. Ebook Price: $12.95 (US))

check out websites: http://www.twomorrows.comand http://twomorrows.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=95_94&products_id=1195

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Category: Books, Comics, Superheroes

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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