5BC: Five Best Comics of 1973

1973 was the first year in which i was reading comic books, and only for the back half of the year. But I think i can be forgiven for that–I was only six years old. For the purposes of this survey, however, I’ve taken into account the entire output for the year, not just those books that I could have read or actually read at the time. Here, then, are my completely-subjective selections for the 5 Best Comics published in 1973.

Also, since setting up to take on this feature, my memory has jogged and I’ve remembered that the place where I saw something similar was over at http://diversionsofthegroovykind.blogspot.com/ so they’re well worth a visit if you have a few minutes or hours to kill.

I didn’t read the story in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #121 until years later when it was reprinted in MARVEL TALES, and I knew by that point what the story contained–and it still blew my socks off. This one has rightly been pegged by some as being the moment when the Silver Age turned into the Bronze Age and the death of Gwen Stacy in this issue (spoilers!) representing a loss of innocence and a turn towards darker and more emotionally complex material. All I can tell you is that I loved it. The intensity, the tragedy, even writer Gerry Conway holding the title back until the final page–all of it works magnificently.

This one I first read in a Digest, I think. It was right at the tail end of the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams collaboration that has so brought back mystery and humanity to the Batman (now always referred to with a “The” before his name) , and here they perform the same magic trick for the Joker, changing him from the colorful-but-harmless criminal he’d been for the past two decades or so back into the homicidal lunatic that he originally was. Any Adams Batman story in this era was a cause for celebration, but this one raised the bar.

First read it years later when it was reprinted in the SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING Dollar Comics. SWAMP THING was really a series that shouldn’t have worked, and yet, by combining the talents of Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, that original cool one-off was transformed into an open-ended series. This particular issue was notable in that it squarely positioned the series within the nascent DC super hero universe–and Wrightson did a version of Batman that borrowed from Neal Adams and did him one better.

This one is a totally self-indulgent pick, but there was no comic book that I loved more as a young reader than this issue of FLASH. Part of it is that I missed it at first, only eventually finding it several months later as the middle book in one of those supermarket 3-Bags (and what a chill of pure electricity raced down my spine when I separated those outer books and discovered what wonders were in the center!) It was a rare book-length epic guest-starring Green Lantern and featuring the always-compelling villainy of Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash (a favorite of mine) as well as an alien green lantern from the 25th Century. Comics like this one are the reason why I’m still reading after all these years.

Jack Kirby’s grand Fourth World experiment had run its course, and here its final survivor MISTER MIRACLE reached the end of the road. But Kirby used the opportunity to not only marry off his leads Scott Free and Big Barda, but also to bring a bevy of the characters he’d created across those titles back in front of the camera for one last bow, one final statement on the war between New Genesis and Apocalypse. Jack would get other, later opportunities to revisit these characters and themes again, but by that point too much time had passed and the ideas didn’t connect as facilely or as naturally as one might have wanted them to. This is the only true ending the Fourth World saga ever got.

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