You may not know this, but Marvel Comics was producing adults-only comics in the 70s. At the time the Comics Code Authority made it impossible to depict blood and other adult themes, which basically rendered a serious take on monsters like Dracula impossible. From that restriction sprouted the “Legion of Monsters” magazine featuring black and white comics in an anthology format. Get a taste of some of the best monster Marvel books of the ’70s here.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Celebrate 80 years of Marvel Comics, decade by decade — together with the groovy ghoulies of the Supernatural Seventies! It was an era of black-and-white magazines filled with macabre monsters, and unsettling new titles starring horror-themed “heroes”! Now, thrill to Marvel’s greatest horror icons: The melancholy muck monster known as the Man-Thing — whosoever knows fear burns at his touch! Morbius, the Living Vampire! Jack Russell, cursed to be a Werewolf by Night! And the flame-skulled spirit of vengeance, the Ghost Rider! But what happens when they are forced together to become…the Legion of Monsters? Plus: Stories starring Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, Manphibian, the vampire-hunter Blade…and never-before-reprinted tales of terror!
Can I jump in easily?
Marvel Comics is celebrating their 80th anniversary this year in style with this Decades line of trades and their focus this week is the 1970s. Each one gives readers a taste of what made that decade special for Marvel Comics so this curated collection is perfect to jump into. It also features first appearances from heroes such as Blade, as well as interesting essays on the period.
Reason 1: Adults-only comic storytelling
Right out of the gate this book makes it clear this is adults-only for the ’70s and probably for today too. Women are scantily clad with their nipples prominent, blood is spilled, and sexual themes are discussed by the characters. This series was for adults written by adults and it shows. That gives the book a timeless feel due to the more mature take, but also because the writers didn’t have to talk down to the audience. They knew what they were getting into.
A lot of the stories read as if they could be adapted to B-movie grandeur too. The opening Frankenstein’s monster story, for instance, has an interesting setting in an adult party and ends tragically. The Manphibian story is a great creature feature tale with the monster falling in love with a woman and tragically being cast away by his own monstrous people and humanity at large. There are also some interesting psychologically disturbing tales to enjoy too.
Reason 2: Early appearances of Blade and Morbius
It’s quite entertaining to see Morbius in a dark and shadowy horror tale depicted as a victim, a monster, and sometimes even a hero. His first appearance in this book was originally published in 1976 and it’s incredibly macabre. Later on, the Blade story reveals a character not too different from the modern version, who comes complete with extensive weapons and a leather jacket. The fashion choice of large, clear glasses is the only oddity. This story is dark and twisted too, mixing superheroes with monsters nicely.
Later on in the collection, The Legion of Monsters #28 features an in-color superhero tale with Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Morbius and Werewolf by Night. This is a decidedly more colorful and all-ages approach to monsters, but it’s an important one for the history of these characters in the Marvel universe. I actually reviewed part of this story in the Werewolf by Night series collection. Other characters like Frankenstein, Ghost Rider, and Dracula get fun one-shot introductions here.
Reason 3: Interesting and historical back matter
I was surprised Marvel also added the old essays and back-matter magazine material here. These are quite fun, like a subscription ad with a monster talking to the audience, fun pinups, and an essay or two. A major highlight is a wonderful essay/report by Don and Maggie Thompson recapping all the horror movies and the news about them that year called “The Legion Report.” Get a unique in-the-moment take on movies like Jaws, the drama around The Exorcist, and even information on Young Frankenstein to name a few. It’s a really cool take on monster movies at the time written by monster and horror movie fans for monster and horror movie fans.
Another key back matter addition is an essay by Ralph Macchio (who is still writing introductions to Marvel trades today) which outlines a bit of the history of why Marvel went in the direction of monsters in Marvel Comics. It’s full of anecdotes involving greats like Stan Lee and Marv Wolfman, and it does a good job giving a first-hand report on what the publisher was thinking and their motivations at the time.
Reasons to be wary?
If this collection does anything wrong it’s that it doesn’t publish all of the Legion of Monsters issues and the back matter that came with them. These old monster stories are great, but there are only three printed here. After this, things get a lot brighter (color has that effect) and less macabre, changing the reading experience. That said, this is a smattering of comics from the ’70s to give readers a taste of what Marvel was up to and for that, they accomplish the goal.
Is there a rationale for the reasons?
I had a blast reading these old monster tales and I think you will too. This was a forward-thinking era for Marvel as they published adult comic stories way before it was considered cool and lucrative. It’s a slice of Marvel history that is well worth returning to.