Warning: this article is an informed generalization, okay? As I research all of my comics, I will eventually graph my hypothesis and present evidence either way. As someone who has read entire runs (with no skips) of Amazing Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, Green Lantern, and who is currently reading 1988 of the Fantastic Four, the first thing that popped into my head was that the 1970′s = 1990′s in the comic book industry- a dark age, a lull, a slump, and ugly era. But then I realized how many great comics came out in the 1990′s, although for the most part they were not contained in the flagship titles from Marvel and DC.
Yes, it’s true every title had a few great issues in the 1970′s, but the consistency just wasn’t there like it was in the 1960′s. This is slightly more obvious with Marvel Comics after Stan Lee turned over scripting duties to his successors. It’s not like his successors had bad careers and most are considered legendary now, but I believe since Marvel Comics boomed, they were being spread thin. And, as Stan Lee was in the background as an editor (and at times not even there, as he was working on Hollywood projects) there were too many titles, which lead to a decrease in quality. At least that’s one explanation…another one is that the decade of the 1970′s lacked the innovation of the 1960′s, and once we start comparing comics from the 1970′s to the 1980′s, they looked very dated and unsophisticated.
DC’s Bronze Age was better, with more exceptions to the rule in terms of quality, such as almost every Neal Adams drew, like Green Lantern, Batman, and Detective Comics. Denny O’Neil was in his prime, and brought relevancy to comic books. Again, although the title of this article is Comic Book in the 1970′s Sucked, it’s not entirely true. The X-Men were revitalized, Jim Starlin was pushing the envelope with Warlock and Captain Marvel, Avengers had hot Kree-Skrull storyline by Steve Englehart, etc. I can name a lot of examples of good issues…BUT…when it comes to mainstream super-hero comics, the second and third generation of super-hero writers and artists after Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were overrated. I’m talking about guys like rookie Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, and John Buscema. Yeah, I said it. When it comes to their work on mainstream flagship titles, it’s a tough sell. I am basing this on actually reading entire runs.
It’s no wonder that John Byrne ignored the post-Stan Lee Fantastic Four writers when he took over in Fantastic Four #232 in 1981. (Not that I agree with a writer retconning an entire decade.)
A few reasons: Marvel was bought out by a shady character named Martin S. Ackerman in 1968. This was the first time Marvel literally “sold out”. The Marvel Explosion (more titles published, creators stretched, less quality, began the trend of higher price) happened a little earlier, probably to make Marvel look more profitable for Ackerman. Around this time, Jack Kirby was holding back his innovative ideas, because he was mentally DONE with Stan Lee and Marvel. He finally resigned in 1970.
It should also be mentioned that the Marvel Sliding Timeline unofficially (or perhaps behind-the-scenes officially) began in 1973 (although with the birth of Franklin Richards in 1968, some real time had to be compressed). The end of real time meant that the Marvel Universe had to be stagnated, and that any “change” was merely an illusion. Marvel was getting more opportunities to license their characters with cartoons and Stan Lee always was flirting with Hollywood, so there was a conscious effort to make the stories of the 1970′s unchanging. Yes, of course there are exceptions. For example, Sue Richards separated from Reed Richards, although this seemed like a forced Kramer vs Kramer situation. It’s like Marvel finally realized that women are not damsels in distress in the 1970′s.
Anyway, I’ll be writing more articles about this topic in the future…