5BC: Five Best Comics of 1974

SUPERMAN #276 gave the comic book reading world something it had been lusting for since around 1940, a battle between the Man of Steel and his publishing arch-rival Captain Marvel. Except that this issue cheated–despite having recently licensed the Big Red Cheese from Fawcett for the new SHAZAM series, here an equivalent stand-in, Captain Thunder, was substituted. But it didn’t matter, and in fact it may have even helped in translating the essence of Captain Marvel into the idiom of Superman’s world.

Writer Steve Englehart was riding the razor’s edge as to what content might be considered acceptable in a Marvel comic, politically, and nowhere more so than in this wrap-up to his Moonstone/Secret Empire saga. Here, in the shadow of the daily Watergate hearings, Englehart cast President Nixon as the sinister leader behind the Secret Empire, and had him commit suicide rather than face prison time–an appealing outcome for a young liberal audience of the era. The event causes Cap to question everything about himself, his mission and his persona, and sends him off on an almost year-long voyage of self-discovery.

Apart from being a 100-Page Super-Spectacular chock-a-block full of excellent stories from the past, this issue of DETECTIVE COMICS, Archie Goodwin’s last as writer and editor, brought the ongoing saga of the new Manhunter to a final climax, resulting in the death of the lead character. The entire Manhunter series is an often-overlooked gem, and this final team-up between Paul Kirk and Batman brought it to a satisfying conclusion–the sort typically denied super hero series, which were all designed to run in perpetuity.

Another entry that’s just a little bit self-indulgent for me. But not only did this issue represent the wrap-up of Len Wein’s excellent tenure as the writer of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, and not only did it reprint the first installment of Howard Purcell’s excellent and moody noir-esque Just A Story series, but it also reprinted both halves of the best of the Justice League/Justice Society team-ups, the one in which those heroes were forced to contend with their evil counterparts from Earth-3, the Crime Syndicate of America.

Steve Englehart’s Mantis saga was just getting rolling when this issue came out, but it was perhaps the high point of the run, featuring the surprisingly moving death of the Swordsman, the brain-twisting temporal relationship between Kang the Conqueror and Rama-Tut, and the return of Hawkeye to the book. Dave Cockrum was at his best here, during a period when AVENGERS was typically working with back-bench artists, so his work stood out all the more as a result.

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